Wednesday, May 28, 2008

West Texas Murder Mystery by Bartee Haile

While I usually write my own stories, I sometimes stray and publish someone else’s work. While researching the case of Hazel and Nancy Frome, I ran across a man named Bartee Haile. What a great writer! He had already done the story and I knew I couldn’t improve on it so I asked permission to use it. He graciously agreed. For 25 years, Haile has written a column entitled “This Week in Texas History.” is his website and contains lots of info about him and his work.

On April 9, 1938, six days after two women were found murdered in Far West Texas, the El Paso sheriff announced "the first real break" in the sensational case.

Hazel Frome, 46-year-old wife of a power company executive, and her daughter Nancy, 23, arrived in Texas’ westernmost town on March 25, 1938. The women were driving cross-country from their home in Berkeley, California to Parris Island, South Carolina to visit a second daughter and her husband, an active-duty Marine.

Nancy’s showroom-new Packard, a college graduation present, developed engine trouble in the New Mexico desert. While it was being fixed, the two tourists took in the sights of El Paso and its sister city Juarez, Mexico.

The car was ready on March 30. The Fromes picked it up at the repair shop, asked for directions to Dallas, and resumed their transcontinental trip.

The next day, the Packard was found abandoned alongside the San Antonio highway a few miles west of Balmorhea. Gone were Hazel and Nancy Frome, their luggage and any clue to their whereabouts. The car had been wiped clean of fingerprints, and a painstaking inspection failed to detect a single drop of blood.

Within hours an exhaustive air-and-ground search was launched. There was no progress until a truck driver came forward with a clear recollection of a roadside incident the day the women disappeared.

He pointed out the very spot, where he had seen the Packard and a smaller automobile parked on the highway east of Van Horn. Two sets of tire tracks led a search party half a mile into the sagebrush and straight to the bodies of the missing women.

Both had been badly beaten, shot in the head, and laid side-by-side face-down in the sand. Much of their clothing had been removed, but autopsies would show neither victim had been sexually assaulted.

The bodies bore signs of torture. "The flesh looked like it had been bitten from the forearm of Mrs. Frome," read the coroner’s report. He added that her daughter’s "right hand was seared to the bone by flame or embers from a burning cigar or cigarette."

The day after the gruesome find, Gov. James V. Allred offered a thousand-dollar reward for the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for the heinous crime. He did so in part "because it is the second instance in recent years of the disappearance of motorists in that area of the state."

The governor was referring to two couples from Illinois last seen in Albuquerque in May 1935. Their car turned up in Dallas weeks after the quartet vanished without a trace.

Half of the Texas Ranger force joined the highway patrol and the sheriffs of the far western counties in the unprecedented manhunt. Motorists gave them descriptions of a car that seemed to be following the Fromes on that fateful day. The number of occupants ranged from two to four, but the witnesses all agreed that one of the suspects was a woman with blond hair.

It was the sighting of a "nervous blonde" at Sonora that caused the El Paso sheriff to jump the gun on April 9. "I believe we have located the trail of the killers for the first time since the bodies of Mrs. Frome and Nancy were left on the desert," Chris Fox confidently assured an army of newsmen. But the female and her male companion slipped through the borderland dragnet.

Other blondes were the source of similar false alarms. A yellow-haired hitchhiker was hauled in for questioning at Temple but let go after convincing authorities she was thumbing her way to San Francisco. The report of a blonde passing through Carrizo Springs resulted in the closure of all roads in and out of Laredo.

From the start, most investigators felt the Fromes were the target of a random robbery that got out of hand. However, the fact that a diamond wrist watch and a gold wedding band were left behind prompted some lawmen to theorize the women were mistaken for drug smugglers and tortured to divulge the hiding place of their dope.

As the investigation dragged on, new theories were presented by the hard-pressed sheriff of El Paso. For a time he argued that the brutality of the slayings suggested a crime of passion, most likely revenge killings committed by somebody from California known to the victims. Then he briefly tossed around the idea that the Fromes might have met their murderers in a Juarez bar. But after awhile, even Sheriff Fox ran out of straws to grasp.

The closest Lone Star lawmen came to cracking the case was the 1943 extradition of two men and a woman from California and the arrest of a woman in Mexia. Charges were filed for the first and last time only to be dropped after everybody’s story checked out.

In a 1953 interview, Col Homer Garrison, head Ranger and director of the Department of Public Safety, stated for the record that Texas’ most baffling murder mystery of the Twentieth Century would not be solved until somebody finally talked.

Fifty-five years later, no one has said a word, and the killers, if alive, remain at large.

Bartee Haile welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at or P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Knoxville Girl

[Pictured is the home of James White, built in 1786 in Knoxville, Tennessee when it was still called White's Fort. The name of the town was changed to "Knoxville" in 1791.]

Researchers contend that the murder of a young woman in 1684 inspired the popular American folk song “Knoxville Girl.” The crime occurred in the English town of Wittam, and not long after, a 23-stanza broadside appeared describing the murder, the confession, the trial, and the hanging of the killer. It had the following heavy-handed title: “The Berkshire Tragedy; Or, The Wittam Miller. With an Account of his Murdering his Sweetheart.” In the fashion of the day, the last verses warned others to avoid the killer's fate.

Many derivatives followed, including “The Oxford Girl,” “The Cruel Miller,” and “The Bloody Miller.”

English, Scottish, and Welsh settlers began moving into Appalachia before 1800. The wilderness and isolation made life hard. In an era when the average life-expectancy was about 35, living could sometimes be crueler than death. In the early days, death found settlers in many ways: childbirth, war, poverty, and lack of medical care were just a few.

Then there was murder.

The new settlers of Appalachia brought the music of Europe to America, but they were quick to change the songs to accommodate their own experiences and values. Hard work, self-sufficiency, and an unshakeable faith in God ruled their lives. On the other hand, hard drinking, quick tempers, and occasional infidelities created a brew of violence. Into this backdrop, the Knoxville girl was born.

Knoxville wasn't even a city when the song morphed from “The Berkshire Tragedy” into “Knoxville Girl.” The town was an outpost still subject to Indian attacks. It had a rowdy reputation and, according to the local newspaper, murder was common. But to the farmers and trappers and hunters who lived alone in the backwoods many miles away, Knoxville must have seemed like a dream.

Who wrote the song? I like to think the tune blew in off the wind like the hard-scrabble existence and cold anonymous deaths of the inhabitants of Appalachia. Some poet playing a dulcimer or guitar or banjo may have first thought of those lines: “I met a little girl in Knoxville...” Then he may have used the English murder ballads as the cloth through which to thread his own words. The song doesn’t have the “feel” of an English city--instead, it has the timelessness of the Appalachian mountains.

One question remains: why did the girl’s lover kill her? Infidelity? Unwanted pregnancy? Because she wouldn’t marry him? Sometimes the best stories leave the reader hanging. The nameless girl who pleads for her life with the poignant cry, “I’m not prepared for eternity,” is ageless. The cruel murderer is, too. And that’s what makes a song last for hundreds of years.

Dozens of artists have recorded this song. One of the best-known versions is by the Louvin Brothers. Charlie and Ira Loudermilk were born in Alabama but changed their last names to Louvin when they began to record music. They started out as gospel singers, but later became popular recording artists. Ira was killed in an automobile crash in 1965. The Louvin Brothers were elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Knoxville Girl (Traditional)
Sung by the Louvin Brothers

I met a little girl in Knoxville,
A town we all know well;
And every Sunday evening,
Out in her home I'd dwell.
We went to take an evening walk,
About a mile from town.
I picked a stick up off the ground
And knocked that fair girl down.

She fell down on her bended knee,
For mercy she did cry.
"Oh, Willie, dear, don't kill me here!
I'm unprepared to die."
She never spoke another word,
I only beat her more
Until the ground around me
Within her blood did flow.

I grabbed her by her golden curls,
I drug her 'round and 'round,
Throwing her into the river
That flows through Knoxville town.
"Go there, go there, you Knoxville girl,
With the dark and rolling eyes.
Go there, go there, you Knoxville girl,
You can never be my bride."

I started back for Knoxville,
Got there about midnight.
My mother, she was worried
And woke up in a fright,
Saying, "Dear son, what have you done
To bloody your clothes so?"
I told my anxious mother
I was bleeding at my nose.

They took me down to Knoxville
And put me in a cell.
My friends all tried to get me out,
But none could go my bail.
I'm here to waste my life away,
Down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl,
The girl I loved so well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Death Row Pedo - Mark Dean Schwab's Early Crimes

When the U. S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 that lethal injection is an appropriate method of capital punishment, Florida Governor Charlie Crist stated that he’s ready to resume executions, starting with the “worst” first. Mark Dean Schwab certainly fits that description. [Please see my previous post entitled “Death Row Pedo.”]

Before the premeditated rape and murder of eleven-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, Schwab had repeatedly molested young boys in the most violent manner. In fact, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for a particularly brutal assault. In one of those decisions that are incomprehensible to laypersons, Schwab was released from prison after serving only three years. One month later, he assaulted and murdered Junny.

Some of the crimes he committed against children are recorded below. (The names of the victims have been changed.)

Bobby, 14, was walking to school one morning when he saw a man in a bank parking lot with the hood of his truck raised. The man, Mark Dean Schwab, asked Bobby to start the truck while he fiddled with the engine. Bobby got in and started it. Schwab then asked Bobby if he needed a ride to school. Bobby agreed but noticed Schwab drive off in the opposite direction. Before he could complain, Schwab grabbed Bobby’s hair and yanked his head into Schwab’s lap. Then he placed a knife to Bobby’s throat. After subduing his victim, Schwab drove to a remote location where he sexually assaulted Bobby.

Joey, also 14, accepted a ride home from a party with Schwab. Schwab took the teen to a secluded area, put a knife to his throat, and attempted to rape him. When Joey resisted, Schwab offered him $ 1,000 to let him complete the act. Still struggling with his assailant, Joey was able to open the door and jump out of the truck. He didn’t report the attempted rape until later.

Thirteen-year-old Marty met Schwab at the Brevard County Humane Society where Marty had taken a dog. Schwab adopted the animal and befriended the boy and his parents. Several weeks later Schwab told Marty that he had a job painting a house and offered to pay Marty $ 200 if he would help. Marty agreed and they went to the house. Once there, Schwab pulled a knife on Marty, forced him inside, and spent several hours assaulting him. Afterwards, he let the teen go after warning him not to tell anyone. Marty and his parents went to the police and Schwab was arrested. He quickly confessed.

For this rape, on February 22, 1988, he pled guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by fifteen years’ probation. According to a report from the Florida Commission on Capital Cases, “the agreement included the waiving of five counts, including Lewd and Lascivious Assault upon a Child, False Imprisonment, and three counts of Sexual Battery.” In March, 1991, his sentence was “commuted” and he was freed.

Four mental health professionals evaluated Schwab while he was in prison. Three of the four were convinced that he was a pedophile and sexual sadist. The other, a psychologist, diagnosed him as having an anti-social personality and being “a mentally disordered sex offender.” With all the information available, it was pure negligence that he was released early.

After his conviction for the murder of Junny Rios-Martinez, Schwab launched numerous appeals. All were denied. His execution date is now set for July 1, 2008.

If it is carried out, Schwab would have been incarcerated six years longer than Junny Rios-Martinez lived.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Death Row Dr. Jekyll

On Saturday, March 20, 2000, at exactly 11:50 a.m., Heather Young was brutally murdered and Marisha Scott’s life was changed forever.

A few minutes earlier, Heather and Marisha were completing their last-minute assignments before closing the United Southern Bank of Mt. Dora, Florida. They were the only employees in the bank when Fred Anderson, Jr. walked in. He held two loaded handguns: a .22-caliber revolver and .357-Magnum semi-automatic. “I want you to go to the vault and don’t set off any alarms,” Anderson calmly told the women.

Marisha assured him that they would comply. She opened her drawer and got out the keys. Anderson, Marisha, and Heather then walked to the vault. Upon entering, Anderson forced the bank employees to open the cash drawers and put the money in a trash can he’d found. They retrieved $ 72,500 in cash and gave it to him.

Then time froze for the clerks.

“Which one of you wants to die first?” the gunman asked.

Marisha screamed, “Please don’t shoot...” But before she could complete the sentence, Stewart opened fire.

Heather Young, 39, was hit first. Seven bullets, three .22-caliber rounds and four .357 rounds, slammed into her. She was shot in the head, the chin, and the chest. Tests showed that the guns were less than eight inches from her when fired. According to an autopsy report, she bled to death as she lay on the floor of the vault.

Marisha Scott was hit three times. One bullet entered her neck and blew out the top portion of her spinal cord. Although she survived, she would be a paraplegic for the rest of her life.

After shooting the defenseless women, Anderson walked to the manager’s office and yanked the video recorder from the credenza where it sat. It was, he thought, the only witness to the crime.

He was wrong.

Sherry Howard and her two children had entered the bank at the same time Anderson was robbing it. She noticed that the inside of the bank was dark and no one was in the lobby or at the teller windows. According to her later testimony, she heard a woman shout, “Please don’t.”

Then she heard gunshots.

Sherry grabbed her children and ran from the bank. At a nearby grocery store, she asked someone to call 911.

Mt. Dora police arrived in less than a minute. Two officers peered in the bank’s front window and saw Anderson removing the VCR. Quickly entering the lobby, the cops ordered him to lay face-down on the floor.

Anderson, caught completely by surprise, looked wide-eyed at the officers. He dropped the trash can full of money and the VCR. “I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” he said. “Please don’t shoot me.”

The irony of his plea wasn’t lost on investigators who discovered the victims in the vault.

Anderson was arrested and charged with Grand Theft, Robbery with a Firearm, and First Degree Murder. The evidence was overwhelming and he was convicted.

At sentencing, his defense attorneys brought out another side of Fred Anderson, Jr. In high school, he had been designated “most talented” and was active in many school functions. He was a member of the Christian Athletes and Future Business Leaders of America. After graduating, Anderson worked as a cook at a Boy Scout camp and later as a convenience store clerk. He also performed odd jobs as a caregiver to the disabled. He was highly praised by co-workers and supervisors.

Anderson was active in the Piney Grove Baptist Church in nearby Umatilla. He sang in the choir and helped decorate the church bulletin board. His mother was in advanced stages of cancer, and he was her sole support. By all accounts, he loved her deeply and had provided excellent care throughout her illness.

In fact, he seemed to be a real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Just as Jekyll couldn’t escape from Hyde, Anderson couldn’t escape his own evil impulses. Despite the glowing praise from those who knew him, the jury voted 12-0 to give him the death penalty. The judge concurred and Anderson now sits on Florida’s Death Row.

One reason that the court ruled the death penalty appropriate was because the robbery and murder had been carefully planned. Anderson, calling himself “John Stewart,” had come into the bank the day before claiming to be a college student writing a research paper on the banking industry. While talking to the bank manager, Anderson learned that the video recorder was not in a secure place. It was simply sitting on a credenza in the manager’s office.

Anderson was desperate for money. He needed to pay restitution to his victims from a previous theft. (In a year, he’d paid just $ 96.00 of $ 4,000 owed.) His parole officer had been ordered by the courts to arrange for him to be sent to a half-way house so they could monitor his employment and work out a payment schedule.

Anderson dreaded going to the half-way house. He figured if he could rob the bank, steal the video recorder, and leave no witnesses, he could pay his restitution and have money left over. In fact, the day before the robbery he had opened a small savings account at another bank.

Heather Young became yet another statistic, another victim of the psychopaths who inhabit America. Despite my efforts, I was unable to find any additional information about her.

Marisha Scott hired a law firm to sue Foreline Security Corp., the company that had installed the video recorder. Marisha received a record 26.9 million dollar award because, as attorney Raymond Bodiford said, "We had a criminologist testify that Foreline made the bank a soft target by placing the VCR in an unsecured place."

Fred Anderson, Jr. is currently housed in Florida State Prison at Raiford. He has been a model inmate as he waits out his appeals. It will be years before he’s executed, if ever.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another Murder Ballad: Frankie and Johnny

Murder ballads can be somber (“Knoxville Girl”) or depressing (“Leona”). “Frankie and Johnny” has an early 1900s ebullient feel to it. It should, the real murder supposedly happened in 1899. Within weeks, the song was being sung in the cabarets and honky-tonks of St. Louis. There are hundreds of versions. If you don't like one, try another. [The photo shows the apartment building on 212 Targee Street in St. Louis, Missouri where the shooting took place.]

According to modern research, the song was based on the murder of a black pimp, Allen Britt, by his “kept woman,” Frankie Baker. It was originally called “Frankie and Albert” (a contraction of Al Britt). Legend has it that Al Britt’s parents asked the now-unknown song-writer to change the victim’s name so as not to embarrass the family. However, the writer may have changed it because “Johnny” has a more musical ring to it than “Albert.”

Here’s one story, the story Frankie Baker told when she filed a suit against Paramount Pictures, Mae West, and other Hollywood producers after they made the 1933 film “He Done Her Wrong.” Baker claimed in court that the studio was making money on her story without paying her. She said that she was Albert’s “housemaid” when he walked into her bedroom with another woman. Frankie said she told him to leave, but he drew a knife on her. So, in fear of her life, she pulled out her gun (actually a Harrington and Richardson .38, not a .44 as the song states) and shot him. “Oh, you have me,” Albert called out as he fell to the floor. Frankie exclaimed, “You just want to get up and cut me.” But Albert wouldn’t be getting up. He was dead. Frankie was acquitted of the murder on the grounds of self-defense.

Another story is that Frankie shot Albert for his infidelity. Still another has it that she was tired of working the streets and killed him for her freedom. Yet another story is that she was tired of Albert beating her. Whatever the truth, the song has become one of America’s most recognized folk-songs. It has been recorded by everyone from Sam Cooke to Guy Lombardo to Elvis to Johnny Cash and almost every other singer at one time or another.

Frankie Baker moved to Portland, Oregon to get away from her notoriety in St. Louis. It’s said that she lived on a small welfare check that she drew each month. Year after year she sat in her run-down shack overlooking a drab street while she played solitaire. Over the years, she wore out pack after pack of playing cards. As if the ghost of Albert was haunting her, neighborhood children would taunt her by standing outside her window and singing “Frankie and Johnny.” In 1938 she filed her lawsuit against the studios but it was quickly dismissed. It is said that she went insane and died in an institution.

Below I’ve posted the words to the version of “Frankie and Johnny” performed by an Arkansas folk-singer named B. J. Anderson. His guitar work in this song is outstanding and he has one of those old-time country voices to kill for. To listen to this version of the song, google "The John Quincy Wolf Collection Ozark Folksongs." (Sorry, I wasn't able to directly link the song to this page.)

Sung by: B. F. Anderson

Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts.
Lordy, how they could love.
They swore to be true to each other,
True as the stars above.
He was her man; He wouldn’t do her wrong.

Frankie went down the corner,
Just for a bucket of beer.
She said, “Mr. Bartender,
Has my lovin’ Johnny been here?
He is my man, But he’s doing me wrong.”

“I don’t want to cause you no trouble.
I don’t aim to tell you no lie.
I saw your lover ‘bout an hour ago
With a girl named Nelly Bly.
He is your man, But he’s doing you wrong.”

Frankie looked over the transom.
She saw to her surprise,
There on a cot sat Johnny,
Making love to Nelly Bly.
He was her man, But he’s doing her wrong.

Frankie drew back her kimono,
Pulled out a little ’44.
A rooty toot toot, three times she shot
Right through that barroom door.
Yes, she shot her man; He was doing her wrong.

“Call out a thousand policemen;
Bring ‘em around today.
Lock me down in the dungeon cell,
And throw that key away,
‘Cause I shot my man," ‘Cause he done her wrong.

Frankie said to the warden,
“What are they going to do?”
The warden, he said to Frankie,
“It’s the electric chair for you,
'Cause you shot your man," ‘Cause he done her wrong.

Roll out your rubber-tired buggy,
Roll out your rubber-tired hack.
I’m taking my man to the graveyard,
But I ain’t gonna bring him back.
She shot her man ‘Cause he done her wrong.

This story has no moral,
This story has no end,
This story just goes to show
That there ain't no good in men.
Yes, she shot her man, ‘Cause he done her wrong.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Crack Murder

Kathyanna Nguyen awoke every morning for twenty years and went to work at the convenience store she owned: eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred-sixty-five days a year. Then one fine morning a thug walked in and killed her. Kathyanna’s story is one of grit and heroism, and the senselessness of inner-city crack crimes. [Photo of Kathyanna Nguyen]

A few days before Johnny Ray Conner was executed for murdering Kathyanna, her daughter, Marie Nguyen, was interviewed by a reporter from the Houston Chronicle. “Growing up,” Marie said, “my mother always reminded me of how fortunate I was to be in a land where opportunity was everywhere. She told me stories of how she grew up on the streets of Vietnam since she had lost her family when her village was raided by soldiers...”

From the time she was five, Kathyanna had to work, first as a nanny and later as a farm-worker. She had Marie while she was still in Vietnam. After Saigon fell, Kathyanna and her daughter fled to this country. They were sponsored by a family in Fort Chafee, Arkansas who had lost their only son in the war. Her sponsors were “country” people who treated Kathyanna and Marie “just like family.”

Kathyanna moved to Houston because she thought it offered more opportunity. Over the years, she bought several businesses before settling in at the store where she was murdered.

“She enjoyed the neighborhoods she worked in,” Marie said. “She always made it a point to make friends with her neighbors...People would come by and sit for coffee. She knew most of her customers by name. She knew their kids and what everybody liked. She was very attentive to people’s needs and wants.”

Kathyanna studied hard to learn English. One of the happiest days of her life was when she became an American citizen.

She worked alone most of the time. Cops had recommended that she install a bulletproof window encasing the counter. She did, but she never liked it. She was a “people person” who enjoyed being on the floor where she could associate with her customers.

On the morning of May 17, 1998, a man rushed into the store waving a .32-caliber handgun. He shoved it under the opening in the glass and ordered Kathyanna to hand him the money. She opened the drawer, pulled out the cash, and tried to give it to him. But suddenly a customer walked in. The gunman turned and fired, hitting Julian Gutierrez in the shoulder. Gutierrez was not seriously injured. He fled.

The robber then shoved the gun under the glass and opened fire. Kathyanna never had a chance — she was hit three times in the head and was dead before she crumpled to the floor.

Several passersby saw the robber running from the scene. One man even wrestled with him in an attempt to hold him for police, but he got away.

Johnny Ray Conner was arrested and identified by three witnesses (including Gutierrez) as the killer. In addition, a fingerprint belonging to Conner was found on a soda bottle on the counter.

He had a violent past. By the time he was ten, he’d been arrested for criminal trespass. He was a crack addict by the time he was twelve. While being arrested for possession of crack, he attacked the officer who apprehended him. He was placed on probation and sent to a drug rehabilitation program. He refused to attend and also missed nineteen appointments with his probation officer.

Conner had gang tattoos on his face and arms but denied being a member of a gang. He also had anti-women tattoos. He assaulted at least two of his girlfriends while threatening to kill them.

Police theorized that he tried to rob the jiffy store to score money for his crack habit. He was tried and sentenced to death. Although he denied that he was the killer, on August 22, 2007, Conner became the 400th inmate executed by the state of Texas since 1982.

After her mother died, Marie went through her Kathyanna’s belongings and learned things she never knew. “I discovered her need to buy things in bulk and store them,” Marie said, “[was] because she was a child of war and poverty. She always lived in fear of having to uproot and run...When 9/11 happened, I was not totally surprised...My mother had told me to never be too secure anywhere, even in the United States. I always thought she was overreacting until September 11, 2001.”

Murder is far-reaching. Marie married and had two children, but she still grieves for her mother. She sold the convenience store and took a job with Continental Airlines. Like her mother, Marie comes across as intelligent, perceptive, and having a generous spirit. But there is a pain in her soul that won’t go away.

And in the crack alleys of America, life goes on. Like monsters in some horror flick that keep multiplying, there are thousands more crack-head robbers to replace Johnny Ray Conner. Only this ain’t no movie. They’re real, just like death is real.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Forgetting Lisa, Forgetting Gloria

I’ve always thought that many people who oppose the death penalty might feel different if they were to stand a few feet away and watch the murderer committing his or her crimes. There would be spine-curdling screams, groans, whimpers; blood splashing, dripping, soaking the bed and carpet; sweat, fear, the smell of the dying; gasping, gurgling for that last breath. Reading about murder is like seeing shadows, not the real thing. Words desensitize the reader. Lisa Hullinger and Gloria Gomez felt murder. Now they’re gone, evaporated from this earth like dust in a storm. [Photo shows Gloria Gomez and William Coday]

NOTE: If you don’t want to read the gruesome details of the murder of Gloria Gomez as described in court documents, skip the italicized text in the center of the story.

When he placed an ad for pen pals on the Internet, William Coday conveniently forgot to mention one thing: that he was a twice-convicted murderer sitting on Florida’s death row. “Hi, I’m Bill,” he wrote. “I’m a compassionate, 6’2” 200 lbs athletic guy who enjoys Mediterranean food, the poetry of Keats and Kavafy and baroque music.” Most people know that death row prisoners try to come across as sensitive, high-intelligent achievers. Their literary and artsy act attracts the ladies, the lawyers, and the money.

What Bill Coday left out is all in the court records.

“When [Gloria Gomez] told [Coday] that she did not love him in the manner that he had thought and that she had to get her things from his apartment, he flew into a rage and punched her. He then picked up a hammer and struck her, causing her to fall. While in the process of striking her again, he lost his balance and fell on top of her. She managed to grab the hammer out of his hand. However, he found another hammer and continued striking her. Coday then went to the kitchen, retrieved a knife, and began stabbing her. Finally, he drove the knife into her throat and held it there until she died. The cause of death was multiple blunt and sharp force trauma injuries.

“According to Dr. Eroston Price, the Associate Broward County Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy, there were 144 wounds inflicted on her, fifty-seven of which were blunt force trauma injuries consistent with being struck by the flat and claw side of a hammer. The remaining eighty-seven wounds were sharp force wounds consisting of forty-one stab wounds (i.e., the wounds were deeper than they were long) and forty-six incise wounds (i.e., the wounds were longer than they were deep). She had multiple defensive wounds on the palms of her hands…”

According to the Medical Examiner, Gloria was alive during the entire assault, until the final thrust of the knife into her throat.

Gloria Gomez had come to Ft. Lauderdale from Colombia. She met Coday, twice divorced, at the Broward County Library as she was researching her immigration status. He worked there as a foreign languages librarian and impressed her with his command of Spanish and his willingness to help her. According to a 200-page confession he later wrote, he was more interested in her body than her mind but he told her he loved her.

For nearly a year, Coday and Gloria had an on-again, off-again relationship. Finally, she’d had enough of his controlling behavior and left him. For a month, he stalked her, but was unable to get her alone. He later stated that he spent that month planning how to kill her. Since she was ignoring his requests to get together, Coday sent a message through a friend telling her that he was dying of cancer and wanted to see her one last time. Gloria made the mistake of believing that lie and went to his house to console him.

After attacking and murdering Gloria, Coday fled to Europe. Three months later, he was arrested. He confessed – in fact, he wrote a document that described his obsession with Gloria. On the last page, he claimed that he didn’t remember his fatal attack on her. He wrote: "I don't remember anything else, dear Gloria. Only returning to my senses, looking down, seeing me there on top of you, the knife plunged deep into your throat, and blood everywhere, you crying out, why Bill why, and uttering those final words."

The jury never heard that this was not the first murder he’d committed. Even so, Coday was sentenced to death. Years of appeals followed, and during that time he placed his pen pal ad on an anti-death penalty website.

In 1978, Lisa Hullinger was a smart, attractive 19-year-old exchange student visiting Germany. She’d met Coday, also an exchange student, and dated him for a few months. However, he was so possessive that he frightened her. She broke off the relationship. As in the case of Gloria Gomez, he lured Lisa to his apartment and bashed her head twelve times with a hammer, killing her. He was convicted of Germany’s equivalent of manslaughter and sentenced to eighteen months in prison.

After serving his time, Coday returned to America and married twice. He inflicted such verbal and physical abuse on both women that they divorced him. In fact, every relationship he ever had was marred by extreme possessive behavior, stalking, and violent outbursts.

Like Gloria Gomez, Lisa shouldn’t be forgotten. She played tennis, violin, and was involved in the Campus Christian Fellowship at Miami University. An A-student who was interested in foreign cultures and languages, she also had a down-home quality about her.

On April 28, 2008, Coday was found dead in his cell. Although a report hasn’t been released, prison guards who were at the scene indicate he bled to death from a self-inflicted wound.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Video: Clerk Shoots Robber

Among the most dangerous jobs in America is that of a convenience store clerk. Clerks have been robbed, shot, beaten, stabbed, kidnapped, raped, and abused in other ways. Rarely a day goes by that a clerk isn’t murdered or assaulted somewhere in this country. For that reason, many keep guns beneath the counter for protection. Most convenience stores have video cameras and it was such a camera that caught a robbery in progress on December 4, 2004. [Prison photo of Desmond Thompson.]

To view the video, click the link at the end of the story.

At 7:30 a.m., on December 4, 2004, Karen Smith was working behind the counter of the Sunoco gas station on Cleveland Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. When a man walked into the store, Karen instinctively knew he wasn’t there to buy gas. She later said he acted nervous, glancing around stealthily until all the customers left.

Desmond Thompson was an addict with a long criminal past. When the store emptied, he walked to the counter and demanded money. Later, after viewing the video, Detective Drew McEvoy said, “You can see where [Thompson has] got his left hand in his pocket and he’s banging on the counter, implying he’s got a gun.”

Karen decided not to be a hero. She opened the drawer and handed over the the cash, expecting him to take it and bolt out the door. He didn’t. Instead, Thompson ordered her to come out from behind the counter. Karen knew that this spelled the ultimate danger. She could be assaulted, kidnapped, or worse.

The video shows Karen reaching into a drawer beneath the counter and coming up with a .38-caliber revolver. She fires once and Thompson drops to the floor. “I didn’t hesitate,” Karen said. “He acted like he [had a gun].” After shooting the robber, Karen called 911. It was discovered by paramedics that Thomspon had been shot in the shoulder.

McEvoy later quipped to reporters: “The best advice I can give [to potential robbers] is don’t rob a store where Mrs. Smith is working.”

The following cases illustrate the dangers convenience store clerks face every day. In 1999, pretty Katie Poirier was abducted from a Conoco station in Moose Lake, Minnesota by a convicted sex offender named Donald Blom. He took her to his home where he raped and murdered her then burned her body so that only bone and tooth fragments were ever found.

Lee Ann Larmon, 22, worked at a rural convenience store in Hernando County, Florida, near Brooksville. Two wannabe-Satanists abducted her and drove her into a swamp where they tortured, raped, and murdered her. The brutality of the crime was so horrific that when a local newspaper published the gory details, it was driven out of business. This crime also inspired a Florida law that requires two clerks to work night-shifts in convenience stores.

Johnny James was executed in Texas for abducting two women, forcing them to have sex with each other, sodomizing them, and then shooting them in the head. One of the women was a clerk he had kidnapped from a convenience store.

Desmond Thompson was sentenced to 4 years in prison. He’ll be released in 2010, presumably to go back to committing new crimes. The shooting was ruled self-defense and Karen Smith was not charged.
NOTE: Thanks to my daughter for showing a computer-limited practitioner the pleasures of YouTube.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Ballad of Tom Dooley

Thanks to the Wilkes County, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce for allowing me to publish this history of Tom Dooley. To hear the Kingston Trio's version of the song, check out the link below. I love this song!

Tom Dula, pronounced "Dooley," known far and wide for the ballad, Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley, was a real person. He was born in 1845 in Elkville, North Carolina, now Ferguson, Wilkes County. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Keaton Dula and was known to be handsome, gifted with the fiddle, and a delight to the ladies.

Tom enjoyed the company of the ladies, especially Ann Foster, who later married James Melton. He played for the local square dances and was a very popular young man around the community. When the War Between The States, known as the Civil War, broke out, Tom enlisted at Elkville when he was only 17 years old. As a private [in the Confederacy], he served as regiment musician for four years. Toward the end of the war, he was captured and taken to Point Lookout, Maryland as a prisoner of war.

When he was released he came home and resumed his life here in the valley. He not only resumed his life, but he resumed his relationship with Ann Melton. He was also involved with other ladies, including Ann's cousin, Laura Foster. He and Laura planned to be married and on the morning they eloped, Laura disappeared, only to be found weeks later murdered and buried in a shallow grave. She had been stabbed in the heart.

Tom, knowing that he was the last known person to see her alive, left the village and went to Watauga County and worked on Col. James Grayson's farm. He stayed long enough to earn money for a pair of boots and continued on to Trade, Tenn. Here the posse from Wilkes County found him with the help of Col. Grayson.

He was taken back and placed in the Wilkes County jail.

Col. James Horton, a cousin of Tom's, asked Col. Zebulon Vance, former Governor of North Carolina to defend Tom. The trial was moved to Statesville because of the strong feeling against Tom in Wilkes County. The case was lost and Tom was sentenced to be hanged.

On the gallows, Tom stated, "Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn't harm a hair on the girl's head." Tom was hanged and his body brought back to his home overlooking the Yadkin River. Here he was buried under the apple tree. Ann and her cousin, Pauline Foster, were arrested and were successfully defended by Col. Vance and were released. Ann had stated that "there would never be a rope put around this pretty neck!"

The ballad was written by a local poet, Thomas C. Land around the time of the hanging. It was very popular among the mountain people. In 1958, it was revived and made popular worldwide by the Kingston Trio.

The graves of Laura and Ann are visited each year by a large number of tourists. Tom Dula's grave is on private property and is not open to the public. The "Tom Dooley" museum is located in Ferguson, North Carolina at the Whippoorwill Academy and Village and is open to the public. Visit the Old Wilkes Jail, where Tom was held until his trial.

There is an annual presentation of the play "Tom Dooley" by the Wilkes Playmakers. Visit their website at

© Copyright Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, 2000 - 2008. All Rights Reserved.