Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Close Encounters of the Second Kind

Billy Dean Riley, shot and killed in self-defense by a woman home alone

Many times, criminals attack the most vulnerable among us. A woman home alone, a wheelchair-bound man--these are two recent cases in which the Second Amendment came into play. Or, as I like to call them, Close Encounters of the Second Kind.

At 12:40 a.m., on December 4, 2009, a call came in to the 9-1-1 center in Cushing, Oklahoma. It was 56-year-old Donna Jackson, home alone while her husband was at work.

“There’s a man at my back door,” she said. “He’s trying to get in.”

The stranger, Billy Dean Riley, had a long history of drug and alcohol offenses. The 9-1-1 dispatcher could hear him banging on the backdoor and screaming. She informed Jackson that police were on the way. For ten long, excruciating minutes Jackson spoke with the dispatcher. Eventually, as the situation escalated, the homeowner grabbed a gun and clicked off the safety.

“I have a shotgun and I’ll use it,” Jackson said. “He’s crazy. He’s crazy.”

Jackson described the actions of the stranger as he walked around the house, from front to back, trying to get inside. Finally, the man slammed a patio chair through the screen-glass window on the back porch. A series of loud crashes could be heard on the 9-1-1 audio later released by the police.

“I don’t want to have to kill the man,” Jackson said, “but if I have to, I’ll kill him graveyard dead.”

“Please hurry," Jackson begged the dispatcher. Because the house was in a rural section of the county, deputies were still several minutes away.

Finally, she said, “He’s gotten in the house. I’m going to shoot.”

With that, the blast of a shotgun can be clearly heard on the tape. After a pause, Jackson sobs into the phone: “I shot. I’m going out front. I hit him. God help me. Oh please, dear God. I think I’ve killed him. Please Father in heaven. Please father in heaven...”

An obvious case of self-defense, Donna Jackson was not charged with any crime.


On December 16, 2009, at 10:45 p.m., Gary Wroblewski heard a knock on his door. The wheelchair-bound homeowner lived in Silver Springs Shores, a community not far from Ocala, Florida. A stranger yelled that his car had broken down and he needed to use a telephone. Before cracking the door, Wroblewski grabbed his .45-caliber handgun.

As soon as he nudged the door open so that he could see who was there, a second man rushed from the bushes and knocked the door open. Wroblewski went sprawling. The intruder wore a mask and held what appeared to be a gun. "I was suspicious [and] I didn't really want to open [the door], but I did,” the homeowner said. “He hit [it] and I went tumbling over and just pulled the gun up and started firing. He was laying across the floor."

Jeffrey Alan Kenney, the home invader who died at the scene, was described by his aunt as a “lost soul.” She stated that she knew he would end up dead or in trouble. “He couldn’t deal with life,” she said. “He had to be drinking and doing drugs. He wasn’t capable of living an honest life without drugs and alcohol.”

Two accomplices were quickly arrested.

Wroblewski was not charged.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Three Florida Cold Case Playing Cards

How many unsolved murders are there in America? One source I read estimated the figure to be 200,000 since 1960.

In some states, cold case playing cards have brought attention to a few of those murders. Shown below are three cards disseminated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pancho and Lefty

A Review of Pancho and Lefty
by Robert A. Waters

One day, many years ago, a friend of mine named Charlie Robertson came to visit. I can’t remember if it was when I was living in Tennessee or after I moved back down to my home state of Florida. Charlie was a great songwriter, a fine singer, and I always envied his guitar playing--he was a natural musician. Every time he came to my house, he’d play a bunch of outstanding new songs that he’d written. But he also sang and played songs that others, mostly friends of his, had written.

On that day, he opened his hard-shell case and pulled out his Yamaha guitar. Then he proceeded to sing a new song by Townes Van Zandt called “Pancho and Lefty.” The lyrics flowed back in time to a desert somewhere in Mexico, maybe around the turn of the century. People were hard-ass back then, breaking their backs and their lives to dredge a few morsels from those dry-bed sands. Pancho, according to the song, robbed and murdered many of those hardworking farmers and businessmen. Lefty may have been a bounty hunter, or a former friend or even a cohort of Pancho. At any rate, he was hired to put an end to the notorious bandit and killer.

Charlie’s voice broke as he sang that song.

Enter the Federales. As I said, the song is understated, but it’s pretty obvious that the lawmen hired Lefty to kill Pancho. Then they paid the murderer and allowed him to “split.” Lefty ended up in a cold, distant country. Maybe he spent time reflecting on his sins. Or maybe he just felt sorry for himself. Maybe he was paranoid, always looking back.

Life moves on, as the song indicates. Things change, friends come and go, and mothers grieve for the lost souls of their children. Some of those children die in a blaze of headlines. Others die in prisons or stinking nursing homes or on the streets or in lonely rooms God knows where. Do their lives matter? As long as a poet like Townes Van Zandt could write about them, these empty lives mattered.

Below are the lyrics.

Pancho and Lefty
By Townes Van Zandt

Livin’ on the road, my friend,
What’s gonna keep you free and clean?
Now you wear your skin like iron
And your breath's as hard as kerosene.
You weren't your mama's only boy
But her favorite one it seems.
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams.

Pancho, he was a bandit, boys.
His horse was fast as polished steel.
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel.
Pancho met his match, you know,
On the deserts down in Mexico.
Nobody heard his dying words,
But that's the way it goes.

CHORUS: All the Federales say
They could have had him any day.
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness I suppose.

Now Lefty, he can't sing the blues
All night long like he used to.
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty's mouth.
The day they laid poor Pancho low,
Lefty split for Ohio.
Where he got the bread to go
There ain't nobody knows.

CHORUS: All the Federales say
They could have had him any day.
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose.

Now the poets tell how Pancho fell
And Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel.
The desert's hot and Cleveland's cold
And so the story ends we're told
Pancho needs your prayers, it's true,
But save a few for Lefty, too.
He only did what he had to do
And now he's growing old

CHORUS: All the Federales say
they could have had ‘em any day.
They only let ‘em go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose...

CHORUS: A few gray Federales say
They could have had him any day.
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson had a number one hit with the song. They did a good job, but it was a little too slick for my tastes. Many other singers have recorded it, but none got the feel of it like my old buddy Charlie or its author, Townes Van Zandt.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Piltdown Hoax

Science is one of man’s greatest tools--as long as scientists maintain objectivity. When they attempt to cook the books, everyone loses. Man-made global warming, for instance, seems to be an unquestionable tenet among some researchers. At the University of East Anglia, home of England’s Climate Research Unit, purloined emails suggest that climatologists will brook no dissent from their view that man is destroying the planet. Recently, while reading about their heavy-handed attempts to destroy scientists who question man-made global warming, the Piltdown Hoax came to mind.

In 1908, Piltdown, a small village near Lickfield in East Sussex, England, had a few pubs and churches and not much else. It also had a pit where workers sometimes extracted gravel. In their excavations, they would occasionally discover flint carved into tools by early man.

Charles Dawson, a collector of ancient relics, happened by the pit one day. He asked the workers if they had ever found any old bones or skulls. When they told him they hadn’t, he implored them to look out for such things and save them for him. A few months later, Dawson claimed that a worker had indeed found part of a skull. The relic hunter took possession of it, estimating its age at 300,000-years-old.

After several searches of the gravel pit, Dawson gathered a small team of well-known scientists and began to assemble the fragments of bone he claimed to have found there. In 1912, he announced to the world that he had found the skull of a human fused with the jaw of an ape. This, Dawson asserted, was the “missing link.”

The announcement was a sensation. The printed press couldn’t get enough of the story. The skull was called Piltdown Man, and trumpeted as proof that the evolutionists were right.

Since Charles Darwin had published The Origin of Species in 1859, a battle to the death had been raging over the origins of man. Christians believed in the literal accuracy of the Bible while evolutionists declared that humans evolved from apes or ape-like creatures. The debate struck at the core of religion: if man evolved, then the Biblical version of creation was wrong.

The press continued to be giddy with excitement. The missing link had been found--Darwin was right all along. But some scientists who had seen the skull complained that the jaw and cranium didn’t match. They couldn’t belong to the same “person.” These skeptics, however, were soon silenced by the outrage of the reputable scientific community. The authenticity of the Piltdown Man could not be challenged.

The skull was donated to the British Museum. Plaster casts were sent to museums and scientists all around the world, but the original skull was placed under lock and key. Scientists who wanted to study the phenomenon could only view the plaster casts.

Between 1920 and 1950, textbooks were re-written. Generations of school-children were taught that man had evolved from apes, and that Piltdown Man provided the proof. Dawson and his fellow-scientists were knighted. As the years rolled by, Piltdown Man became accepted as scientific gospel. Any scientist who dared to raise questions about its authenticity was quickly silenced.

In 1953, a paleontologist and anthropologist who worked at the British Museum was allowed to study the original Piltdown skull. Kenneth Oakley, along with anthropologist Joseph Weiner and anatomy professor Le Gros Clark, tested the fragments with a fluorine solution designed to determine the age of bones. After their tests were run, they concluded that the bones were recent.

On further examination, it turned out that the bone fragments had been deliberately stained with bichromate (a photographic printing ink) so they would appear ancient. Additional testing proved that Piltdown had been faked from top to bottom. In fact, later radiocarbon tests revealed that the cranium was human, and about 600-years-old. The jaw was that of a 500-year-old orangutan.

According to scientists who investigated the affair, all of the bone fragments found at the gravel pit had likely been planted. The whole Piltdown Man episode was a 40-year-old hoax.

Charles Dawson was almost certainly the hoaxer, although some of the scientists who worked with him may have been complicit. All went to their graves praised and acclaimed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

32-Year-Old Murder of Mary Pierce Solved by DNA

For more than two decades, the green smock with the 7-Eleven logo lay in a box inside the Greeley Police Department evidence room. It was one of the remaining pieces of a puzzle that had haunted the town for all those years. Little did cops know that one day the smock would help them solve the murder of Mary Elizabeth Pierce.

Pierce, 22, had recently graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. She had joined the U. S. Navy and would have been inducted within a few weeks.

On the evening of August 25, 1977, a customer entered the 7-Eleven Store at 11th Avenue and 9th Street. Finding no one there, she called police. Investigators contacted the store’s manager and Pierce was identified as the missing clerk.

Even though a witness reported seeing a suspicious man loitering near the telephone outside the store, investigators assumed that Pierce had left on her own. Maybe she decided to abandon ship and meet up with a boyfriend, they reasoned. Or maybe she hated her job. The cops were wrong.

Four days later, Pierce’s body was found in a cornfield a few miles outside of Greeley. She’d been sexually assaulted and stabbed numerous times. Just another in a string of abductions and murders of female convenience store workers across the country.

When she was found, Pierce was still wearing her 7-Eleven smock. Now the green was splashed with red, causing police to revise their original “runaway” theory.

Two convenient suspects lived nearby. Brothers Juan and Jesus Bautista had served hard time in Utah for a similar crime. Their alibis were shaky, and police honed in on the pair. Cops wouldn’t know it for years, but again they were wrong.

As time ticked away, detectives continued to investigate the crime. In a sure sign of desperation, they hired a psychic. Three men were involved, the seer said. One man alone committed the murder, but look for three. Police already had two suspects--now they wondered who the third man might be.

In 1981, the Bautista brothers were charged with Mary Pierce’s murder. At the time, their residence was a Texas prison. Seven years later, the two were brought back to Greeley to face trial. But even though the prosecutor was convinced that they were the killers, he had no real evidence. As that fact became evident, the brothers were quietly released and remanded back to the Lone Star State to complete their sentences.

The years continued to creep along like a slow-moving stream. But the world was changing. Science had dropped a gift into the lap of law enforcement: DNA. A nearly fool-proof way to identify killers and exonerate the wrongly accused.

At some point during those years, the Mary Pierce case was removed from the Greeley Police Department and placed in the hands of the Weld County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2003, sheriff’s investigator Jan Lemay dug into the evidence box and pulled out Pierce’s smock. The specialist packed off the blood-stained vest to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for testing. Sure enough, several splotches of blood were identified as belonging to someone other than Pierce. Detectives raced to obtain a DNA sample from the Bautistas, who were still being housed by the Texas Department of Corrections. But there was no match.

Someone else had committed the murder.

A glass slide containing semen from Mary Pierce’s body was found later and also submitted to CBI. It was identified as coming from the same person whose blood was found on the victim’s smock. Cops entered the unidentified DNA into a nationwide database and waited.

In 2009, thirty-two years after the murder of Mary Pierce, a cold hit shocked investigators. The DNA of long-time criminal Marcello Maldonado-Perez matched that found on Pierce’s smock and the semen recovered from her body. Maldonado-Perez had been released in 2008 after serving a long prison sentence in Texas. While there, his DNA had been entered into the FBI’s database. (In addition to the DNA, investigators discovered a fingerprint from Maldonado-Perez on a soda can that had been found at the store.)

As is so often the case, little is known about Mary Pierce. In the criminal justice system, the victim is almost always short-changed. As the case rocks along, we’ll hear more than we ever want to know about Maldonado-Perez. It’s doubtful that true justice will ever be served since only one inmate has been executed by the state since 1976 and Coloradans seem reluctant to pull the plug on any of the three prisoners currently on death row.

Mary Pierce deserves better.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Two Gold Coast Robbers Shot by Intended Victims

Willie Byrd wounded an armed suspect who attempted to rob him
Store owners recently took a bite out of crime in Brevard County, Florida. In separate incidents, would-be robbers were shot by their intended victims. Neither store owner was charged and, in fact, were praised by police officials.

At 6:30 p.m., on November 18, two men entered the Gloco Grocery and Soul Food Restaurant in Melbourne, Florida. At first, Willie Byrd, 70, who has owned the restaurant for 22 years, wasn’t suspicious.

One of the men, still not identified by police, ordered a sandwich. Then, according to a recent newspaper article, Byrd “made the sandwich and rang the transaction up on the cash register, but instead of paying for the food the men held a gun to Byrd’s head and demanded cash.”

Byrd handed money to one of the robbers. But when the man became distracted, the store owner grabbed a .357 Magnum he kept beneath the counter. Byrd fired two or three shots at the robbers. One robber raced from the store while the second man staggered outside.

When the Melbourne Police Department arrived, they found a suspect lying in front of the business, still holding a “wad of cash.” The man was transported to Holmes Regional Medical Center where he remains in serious but stable condition. His partner has yet to be identified.

“I’m not trying to send a message,” Byrd said. “I was just protecting myself.”

Commander Ron Bell, spokesman for the police department, said, “[Byrd] was well within his rights.”

A week later, Sowann Suy shot a robber inside the Tower Chevron store and gas station in Cocoa.

“He opened my door, walked through it, and I asked him, ‘Can I help you, sir?’” Suy said. Stephen Hunt pulled a gun and demanded money. The store owner backed up to the cash register, then grabbed his own weapon from a shelf underneath. Suy fired one shot from a .45-caliber pistol, hitting the robber in the stomach. Hunt stumbled outside where he collapsed onto the pavement.

Cocoa Police Department spokesperson Barbara Matthews informed the media that Suy will not be charged. “This man [Hunt] came in and threatened his life with a gun,” she said. “[Suy] had the right to protect himself. We, as citizens, always have the right to protect our lives.”

Suy told the media that he had prepared for this day, knowing that small stores are often targeted by robbers. “I got no choice,” he said. “He threatened me and pulled a gun on me. I gotta fight back. If I don’t do it, they kill me.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and this won't be a crime blog--instead, it'll be about a few of the many, many things that I'm thankful for. I thank God for having been born in America during the 1940s. I thank God for my family, my wife and two children. I thank God for the church that I attend, for my fellow-Christians who make it a little easier to walk those final steps. I'm thankful for having published my fourth book earlier this year--the odds of getting published are huge, and I got lucky when Sun Struck: 16 Infamous Murders in the Sunshine State hit the bookstores a few weeks ago.

During this holiday season, for some reason I've been thinking of the great music that has sustained me over the years. Many readers of this blog know of my love for country music. I plan to list a Baker's dozen songs that I love. There are many more, but these are some of my all-time favorites.

1 - "Kawliga," by Hank Williams. Hank is my favorite singer/song-writer. "Kawliga" is one of the most creative country songs ever written. The antique wooden Indian standing by the door waiting for his lost love is an image my mind has never forgotten.

2 - "The Homecoming," by Tom T. Hall. This is one of most poignant songs I've ever heard. It touches on the estrangement of family and the reuniting, in a superficial way, of father and son. Tom T. Hall had many great songs and is one of my favorite writers.

3 - "She's Never Coming Back," by Mark Collie. This is a whimsical, yet sad story of lost love. I love the refrain, "Like the king of Rock 'n' Roll, she's never coming back."

4 - "Hillbilly Highway," by Steve Earle. Great, great song about the hillbillies who moved from the South to Detroit and yet retained their "country" ways.

5 - "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash. What else can you say? This is a country classic. In fact, most anything Cash did during the 1960s could have been included in this list.

6 - "Two More Bottles of Wine," by Emmy Lou Harris. This is a rockin' song with that poignant feel of the isolated woman, alone on the west coast and longing for home.

7 - "Be Careful of Stones That You Throw," by Luke the Drifter. Okay, it was really Hank Williams. I'm a sucker for tear-jerkers and this one is the mother of all tear-jerkers. Luke the Drifter recorded 13 talking songs, many from old poems, that will breach the defenses of your soul.

8 - "City Lights," by Bill Anderson. Another "country boy goes to the city and loses himself in the bright lights" song. Many people have recorded this song, but I like Anderson's best. He wrote many great songs before descending into his "Whispering Bill" mode.

9 - "Tulsa Time," by Don Williams. Another song about a country boy trying to make it in the big city, this time Hollywood. Great tune, great lyrics.

10 - "Smoke Along the Tracks," by Stonewall Jackson. The singers back in the 1960s had some great songs and this is typical. Modern pseudo-country music tries to forget these great singers and song-writers, but I predict the old music will be played long after the modern songs are forgotten.

11 - "Living on Love," by Alan Jackson. This song reminds me of my upbringing. My grandparents had a nice front porch with a swing and we spent hours sitting out there talking politics and life and playing music. This is country music at its best.

12 - "Cold Hard Facts of Life," by Porter Wagoner. This is another song written by Bill Anderson. I love revenge songs and stories, and this one is a classic about the husband who finds his wife partying while he's supposed to be away.

13 - "The Titanic," by Graveyard Johnny Fast. Okay, this version of the song was recorded only on YouTube, as far as I can tell. Canadian Graveyard Johnny makes this Roy Acuff song his own. He does it a little slower and without all the steel guitars and fiddles and such. It's a great simple version of a great song.

Okay, that's it. I could go on and on. Old-Time country music. It's timeless and priceless. I'm thankful for the country music of the past.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Couple filmed entering murdered man's apartment

“I wouldn’t knock old fellows in the dust,” from John Crowe Ransom’s Captain Carpenter.

Charles Pickell [pictured] was a 74-year-old military veteran who lived alone in his Beauvoir Manor apartment in Biloxi, Mississippi. Although he had health problems, neighbors said he was friendly and always spoke. According to Bernard Brown, who lived across the hall, people in the apartment complex kept an eye on each other.

At about 7:45 a.m., on September 19, 2009, Brown heard two people banging on Pickell’s window. “It was strange,” Brown said. “He’s sickly and doesn’t have company that early. I didn’t recognize [the visitors].”

The couple, a man and woman, left Pickell’s apartment, loitered in the parking lot for a few minutes, then returned. By this time, Brown was thoroughly suspicious and grabbed his video recorder. “I saw them coming back to his apartment and I just...started filming,” he said. The strangers entered the invalid’s apartment and stayed for several minutes.

A few hours later, Pickell was found dead inside his apartment.
“We found a scene that led us to believe it was probably a homicide,” said Biloxi Police Department Captain Darrin Peterson. “[Pickell] appeared to have been struck with some type of object.”

When Brown learned of the murder of his friend, he contacted police and gave investigators the videotape he’d made.

Cops contacted local media and soon pictures of the unknown suspects were filling the local airways. They were quickly identified as Jeremy William Radau and Megan Kinberger. The two were arrested a few hours later. In addition to being charged with murder, the couple also admitted to the burglary of the Cabana Bar and Grill in Gulfport.

In Mississippi, the murder of an elderly person can result in a charge of capital murder, meaning the defendants could face the death penalty.

Bernard Brown said suspicious activity at the apartment had convinced him to set up his camera. “There’s been some other stuff happening,” he said. “So I just left [my video camera] set up by my window there.”

Captain Peterson said, “From what we’ve found out, [Pickell] was just a very nice guy. [He] would help anybody.”

Robbery may have been the motive for the murder.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Tragic Murder of Coralrose Fullwood

Coralrose Fullwood was reported missing on September 17, 2006. A few hours later, the body of the six-year-old was found in a wooded area near her North Port, Florida home. She had been raped and murdered. During the investigation, her father, Dale Fullwood, was arrested for having child pornography on his computer. He was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

On August 12, 2008, Patrick D. Murphy was charged with the murder of Coralrose after police say DNA linked him to the crime-scene. Murphy had a record of arrests for possession of drugs, burglary, and theft and spent two years in prison on a burglary charge. Murphy’s trial for the murder of Coralrose has been set for 2010. Prosecutors say he is eligible for the death penalty.

North Port Police Chief Terry Lewis said the investigation is not over. “We believe that other people are involved,” he said.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sun Struck: 16 Infamous Murders in the Sunshine State

Sun Struck: 16 Infamous Murders in the Sunshine State by Robert A. Waters and John T. Waters, Jr. has arrived in bookstores across the country. If you enjoy reading the stories in this blog, you'll love this book. It describes similar stories, but much more in-depth. If you'll indulge me a bit of balatant self-promotion, this book would make a great Christmas gift for that true-crimer in your family.

One more thing: before you move to Florida or come down for vacation, read this book. It tells the real story of the Sunshine State. (Okay, that's kind of a weak joke--Florida is good, it just has a few bad characters.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Missing in Missouri by Robert A. Waters

Hero Mitchell Hults

October 21, 2009. As a young girl in Cole County, Missouri walked home from a friend’s house, she vanished. Two days later, Elizabeth Olten, 9, was found dead in a nearby wooded area. A fifteen-year-old acquaintance led cops to her body. He was later arrested and charged with her murder.

In 2002, Shawn Hornbeck, 11, was riding his bicycle one summer afternoon near Richwoods when he was abducted. Four years later, in the same area, thirteen-year-old Ben Ownby was kidnapped. Mitchell Hults, a neighbor of Ben’s, gave police a detailed description of a truck seen in that area. Because of this lead, both Shawn and Ben were rescued. Michael Devlin was convicted of the kidnappings and sentenced to life in prison.

Missouri is similar to many other Midwestern and southern states. Suburbia has crept into many sections, but there are still vast chunks of wilderness. As they’ve always done, children play along forest-lined streets or in isolated fields. The rural settings make perfect trolling grounds for predators.

On July 5, 1991, Charles Arlin Henderson, 11, was riding his bicycle near his Moscow Mills home when he vanished. Rumors and false confessions dogged the case, but the most logical explanation for the disappearance is a Devlin-style abduction. (When Devlin decided he wanted to kidnap a child, he drove to rural areas and stalked young boys. In the case of Shawn Hornbeck, Devlin used his truck to knock the youngster from his bike, then snatched him. Four years later, he used a handgun to force Ben Ownby into his truck.) It seems likely that such an event occurred with Charles Henderson. To this date, no one knows for sure.

Nine-year-old Scott Allen Kleeschulte was seen walking in his St. Charles neighborhood shortly before a tremendous thunderstorm deluged the area. It was June 8, 1988, when the child vanished without a trace. At first, investigators believed he may have drowned in a flash flood, but full-scale searches of nearby rivers and creeks and caves and tunnels never turned up any sign of the missing boy. Police now think that Scott was taken. Eleven years later, he remains missing.

On the night of August 5, 1989, Gina Dawn Brooks, 13, rode her bicycle toward her friend’s home in Fredericktown. At that time, a neighbor claimed to have seen a strange light-blue station wagon in the area. Another neighbor was said to have heard a girl screaming. Gina was never seen again. Her bicycle was found a few blocks away. Three men were eventually charged in her abduction and murder, but were never tried. Even though there is not enough evidence to convict, investigators still believe that some or all of these men are responsible. The truth is that Gina has never been seen since the night she vanished.

Other Missouri abductions are just as baffling. In 1999, Heather Kullorn, 9, was babysitting in Richmond Heights when she disappeared. Blood found on a couch in the home tested positive for Heather, indicating a gruesome end. Heather has never been found. In 1994, in Columbia, thirteen-year-old Kristina Renae Bishop disappeared while walking to school. Bianca Piper, also 13, disappeared near her Foley, Missouri home. It’s been four years since she was last seen.

Into the darkness they went, children as lost as yesterday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shooting Back

Sometimes crooks just can’t get it right. Breaking into a stranger’s home can be dangerous, but many thugs seem oblivious to the fact that 80 million Americans own firearms. Those home invaders who survive often seem surprised when they end up being shot by their intended victims. I’ve summarized four recent cases in which intruders had the tables violently turned against them.

At just after five o’clock on the morning of October 15, 2009, Charles Haithcock, 80, dialed 911. “A man broke in on me and pulled a gun,” the Greensboro, North Carolina resident told the dispatcher. “I shot him and he’s laying out in the yard...He broke in [through] the window. He pulled the air conditioning out in the living room. I heard something and he come back to the bedroom. I was in the bed and I opened the door and he had pulled what looked like a shotgun [and] was pointing it at me...” Haithcock fired three rounds from a handgun, killing Michael Lamont Medley, 19. The intruder had a long, violent criminal record. Cops refused to charge the elderly victim, citing self-defense.

On October 13, 81-year-old Ralph Burkett shot and killed a masked home invader who had just been released from prison. The homeowner and his wife were sleeping in their Brewton, Alabama home when Jeremy Paul McCall, 35, kicked in the door, entered Burkett’s bedroom, and demanded money. The homeowner, however, pulled a .357-Magnum from a stand beside his bed. When the intruder threatened Burkett with his own gun, the intended victim shot and killed McCall. No charges were filed. “The man [Burkett] was in his home,” Sheriff Grover Smith said, “[and] in bed with his wife. He acted in self-defense.”

Schroeppel, in Oswego County, New York, is the last town most people would expect a violent home invasion to take place. But on Saturday evening, October 17, Deanna Candee, 48, and her son Adam, 28, returned home from shopping. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, they found their house “ransacked with doors broken, glass smashed, and pictures and knick-knacks knocked from their walls.” As they entered their home, the residents were attacked by an intruder. Timothy Hartigan, 39, grabbed Deanna by her hair and threatened her. Adam, hearing his mother’s screams, ran to her aid. He pulled Hartigan off his mother and the two men engaged in a horrific knock-down, drag-out fight. During the struggle, Deanna grabbed her handgun and fired once, killing the assailant. According to family members, Hartigan had a history of mental illness. Both Deanna and Adam Candee were transported to the hospital for injuries suffered in the assault. They were expected to recover.

On the night of October 12, Jorge Guzman of Houston, Texas, awoke to the sound of someone breaking a window in his home. While called 9-1-1, the homeowner grabbed his pistol. As Guzman pleaded for help, he heard the intruder enter his house. The dispatcher urged Guzman to put down his gun, but the homeowner refused. Guzman waited in his bedroom, hoping police would arrive. Suddenly, the invader began kicking the door. “As soon as he put his foot there,” Guzman said, “that’s when I shot because he had a big tattoo on his face...The [dispatcher] was telling me that’s the sheriff’s department [but] when he came [through] that door I said that’s not the sheriff’s department.” The intruder, who had a bullet wound, was later arrested, along with a female accomplice.

Sometimes, crime really doesn’t pay.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Amazing DNA Hits

Susannah Chase

In The Blooding, author Joseph Wambaugh describes the 1987 case of serial murderer Colin Pitchfork. After the rapes and murders of two 15-year-old schoolgirls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, police in Leicestershire, England had no leads. They were certain the killer was local, but could find no clues as to his identity. When investigators learned that a local scientist named Alec Jeffreys had developed a method of “fingerprinting” blood, they contacted the mad scientist and he agreed to help them.

After years of intense investigation, police arrested a dim-witted 17-year-old kitchen porter named Richard Buckland. The evidence against him, however, was so weak that detectives decided to ask Jeffreys to use the new science to cement the case. Fortunately for Buckland, his DNA profile did not match the profile Jeffreys had developed from semen collected at the scene of the crimes. Police released Buckland, then took the desperate steps of collecting blood from all 17 to 35-year-old males in the area. Investigators eventually “blooded” 4,500 men and identified the aptly-named Pitchfork as the killer.

So began one of the most amazing breakthroughs in criminal history.

After just two decades, DNA has helped identify thousands of rapists and murderers. In addition, hundreds of accused killers have been exonerated by the same techniques. There is now a national databank of DNA profiles collected from convicted felons. Most states also have databases. Many state and local police departments currently have cold case units that focus on old unsolved cases. DNA gathered from victims and crime scenes by former investigators have contributed to solving many of those cold cases.

For instance, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has solved more than 1,500 cases, some dating as far back as eighteen years.

On Halloween night, in 2007, a 68-year-old woman was murdered in Jonesboro, Georgia. Geneva Strickland was tied up, beaten, robbed, and her house set afire. Criminalists were able to gather foreign DNA from the scene. Running it through their database, they identified Timothy Alan Booth as the perpetrator. Booth had been in and out of prison for years, and had been forced to submit his saliva for a DNA profile while incarcerated. “I doubt the case would have been solved without DNA,” Jack Ivey said. “They talked to everybody in the family and had no idea who did this to mom.”

Eleven years after University of Colorado student Susannah Chase was abducted, raped, and murdered, DNA tests proved that Diego Olmos-Alcade was responsible for her death. Before murdering Chase, he had been sentenced to 10 years for another kidnapping. While in prison, he was required to give a sample of his DNA. Olmos-Alcade was not even on the radar as a suspect before the DNA hit.

Scientific advances in DNA technology have allowed investigators to test smaller and smaller traces of blood, saliva, or even skin cells. In 1984, Bradley Perry worked the graveyard shift at the Texaco Short Stop convenience store in Brigham City, Utah. At about 4:00 a.m., he was murdered and the store robbed. Police found a dollar bill at the scene and were surprised to discover minute traces of blood on it. In 2005, a lab was able to swab enough blood from the bill to get a DNA profile. Glenn Howard Griffin, a career criminal, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Perry’s murder.

DNA also has a history of clearing the innocent. After a woman in a Dallas, Texas suburb was raped, she picked Charles Chatman out of a lineup. Based only on that identification, the 20-year-old was arrested. Convicted of aggravated sexual assault, he was sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-seven years later, a vaginal swab taken from the victim was tested. It didn’t match the DNA profile of Chatman and he was released. More than half his life had been spent behind bars.

Polygraphs can fail. Eyewitnesses are fallible. Cops can make mistakes or worse, frame the innocent. But a science developed only two decades ago is proving to be as reliable as fingerprints.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pets gone wild

African Death Adder

Pets gone wild
by Robert A. Waters

“These things are not tame animals, they’re wild animals.” Tim Conway, Pennsylvania Game Commission.

In July, 2009, near my hometown of Ocala, Florida, an eight-foot-long Burmese python slithered out of its cage for the second time in one night. While its owners slept, the serpent coiled around the neck of two-year-old Shaiunna Hare. Later that morning, Charles Jason Darnell, 32, awoke to find that the python had killed the child. Darnell and his girlfriend, Jaren Ashley Hare, 21, face numerous charges including third-degree murder, manslaughter, and child neglect.

A few months earlier, in Connecticut, Charla Nash, 55, was brutally mauled by a 200 pound chimp called Travis. Nash had been called to the home of her friend Sandra Herold to help round up the chimp and put it back inside the house. Nash was permanently maimed and blinded by the beast. In what many people considered irresponsible behavior, Herold had raised the chimp as if it were her child.

Now I read in the news where a 350 pound black bear killed Kelly Ann Walz, 37, as she was cleaning its cage. According to the Associated Press, Walz “went into the bear’s 15-by-15-foot steel cage about 5 p.m. Sunday, throwing a shovelful of dog food to one side to distract the bear while she cleaned the other side...At some point, the bear attacked her.” A neighbor, who used a handgun to kill the bear, said it was a pet.

There have been hundreds of other cases of serious attacks. One of the most well-known was the mauling of Roy (of the act Siegfried and Roy) in front of hundreds of Las Vegas spectators. A white Bengal tiger used in the show severely injured the entertainer during a performance. Michael Peterman, an Ohio firefighter who collected exotic snakes, was bitten by his pet African rhino viper. He died before anti-venom could arrive. In Australia, a pet Death adder nearly killed its owner after striking him several times.

I’ll admit that I don’t see the joy in keeping wild animals as pets. That doesn’t mean I’m not an animal lover. I like them where they belong: in the wild. I love watching nature shows such as “Animal Kingdom” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” But most of what I see on those shows are animals eating one another. Those violent scenes are not for the faint-hearted. Many animals eat their prey alive, tearing away its flesh bit by bit. Some snakes swallow their victims whole as venom destroys internal organs and causes paralysis. Whatever the case, death is usually prolonged and agonizing.

It stands to reason if beasts are taken out of the wild, they’ll eat whatever is available--including humans. In my opinion, people who attempt to raise animals as surrogate children are close to being clinically insane.

While I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, this kind of thing drives me berserk. My mom used to have a yellow and white-striped cat (yep, he looked like a miniature tiger) that wasn’t content with assassinating mice and lizards and murdering fish in the lake behind the house. This thing would climb the huge oaks in my parents’ yard and catch and eat squirrels. There always seemed to be bones and tails of the unfortunate victims of this carnivore scattered about the front yard. I’ve hated cats ever since.

Many pet-owners will no doubt disagree. But I’ve just never understood the need to make wild predatory animals into lovable pets. Get yourself a bred-to-be-a-pet Chihuahua or Boston terrier and let wild animals live in the jungle and kill each other--not humans.

[This is obviously an opinion piece. Regardless of my feelings about this matter, I don’t favor additional laws restricting what a person can and can’t own. In all things, I believe in more freedom, not less.]

Monday, October 5, 2009

Where's Beaner?

Chisolm stands in the heart of the “iron range” in southwestern Minnesota. It’s a relaxed Midwestern town with about 5,000 residents.

On June 14, 2003, Leeanna Warner, 5, was reported missing by her parents. Nicknamed “Beaner,” she walked to a neighbor’s home to play with a friend but never returned. Two neighbors noticed her leaving the home but no one saw what happened after that.

Beaner was wearing a sleeveless blue denim dress and no shoes. Only three-feet-two-inches tall, she weighed 48 pounds. Her mother said that at about 4:45 she asked to go to the neighbor’s home. Thirty minutes later, she was gone.

At first, police thought the child had wandered away. Their immediate efforts were to search nearby lakes and ponds. After finding no evidence that she’d been the victim of an accident, investigators concluded that Beaner had been abducted.

Her father, Chris, and mother, Kaelin, were quickly eliminated from suspicion.

Neighbors claimed that a strange man had been lurking nearby. He was said to be of medium height and weight and had a dark-colored tattoo on his right arm. The tattoo resembled a “star” or maybe the “sun.” Police never identified this man.

A few months later, a local resident, Matthew James Curtis, 24, was arrested when police found child pornography on his computer. Although the charges were unrelated, detectives interrogated Curtis about Beaner’s disappearance. After being released, Curtis drove to a gravel pit and used a plastic bag to suffocate himself. Further investigation concluded that he had no involvement in the case.

The case went stagnant until 2005 when Joseph E. Duncan III was arrested in Couer D’Alene, Idaho. A child predator and serial killer, he was charged with kidnapping nine-year-old Dylan and eight-year-old Shasta Groene after murdering their mother, stepfather, and brother. Duncan later shot-gunned Dylan to death in a remote Montana campground. Shasta survived weeks of horrendous sexual attacks before being rescued. When investigators deciphered an incripted document on Duncan’s computer, they found a reference to Beaner’s disappearance. However, a timeline of the killer's life led police to conclude that he had not been in the Chisolm, Minnesota area at the time of Leeanna Warner’s disappearance. Duncan was later convicted of numerous charges unrelated to Beaner's disappearance.

In truth, police have had no real solid leads in this case.

It’s as if Beaner vanished from the face of the earth. The little girl who loved playing with dolls and riding her bicycle is simply gone. For six years, residents of Chisolm have endured an emptiness that won’t go away.

Where’s Beaner?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Georgia clerk is murdered

Convenience stores are easy targets for hit-and-run robbers. Because of our mobile society and the randomness of such crimes, many of the heists go unsolved. In some cases, the isolation and vulnerability of store clerks can lead to murder. The senseless shooting of Linda Raulerson comes to mind. The Lake City, Florida wife and mother was working alone in a Joy Food Store near I-10 when a robber gunned her down. More than a year later, her killer is still unknown. Now, in rural Douglas County, Georgia, another clerk has died.

On September 22, 2009, it was raining, a steady downpour that would last for days. Rivers and creeks were rising and would soon overflow, flooding hundreds of homes and businesses in the area. The deluge was so horrific that a woman would disappear when she drove her Jeep into the raging waters of Dog Creek. After two weeks of almost unabated rain, several local counties would be declared federal disaster areas.

At eleven o’clock that Monday night in Douglasville, Georgia, a robber entered the Circle K Food Store on Highway 5 near the Arbor Place Mall. He was pale, and had a slight build. He wore a baseball-style cap underneath a hoodie and his face was covered with a towel that portrayed an American flag and American Legion-type patches. In his right hand the man held a small handgun.

Because the weather had deterred most shoppers from venturing out, Maryann Humphrey, 63, was alone in the store. She cooperated with the robber, opening the cash register. Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller told reporters that “she gave him the money, but she struggled with him and he shot her.” During the struggle, Maryann was able to remove the towel, allowing the robber's face to be captured by the store’s surveillance video.

Once his face was exposed, the gunman shot Maryann in the chest. As she fell to the floor, he shot her again in the head. She was later found by a customer.

Maryann had a large extended family. Brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews lived all across the country. Born in Maryland, she had six brothers and two sisters. Twice-married, Maryann lived near her daughter and granddaughter. According to family members, she’d worked as a clerk or cashier for most of her adult life. “She was very good at her work, a job that most people wouldn’t have valued,” said Barbara Humphrey, her former sister-in-law.

Maryann loved computers, movies, and handheld games such as Yahtzee and poker.

Lt. Bruce Ferguson of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said the killer looks to be between 13 and 19 years of age. He stands between five-feet-two and five-feet-four inches tall. His face is thin and bloodless, and police said he is either Caucasian or Hispanic. Because of the heavy flooding and the fact that few people were able to drive, investigators believe the teenager is from the area. “I think he’s a local boy,” Ferguson said “because you couldn’t get in here. You couldn’t leave, either, because we had our own little island. It was all shut down.”

The best clue may be the towel. Investigators determined that it can only be obtained from the Paralyzed Veterans of America by individuals who donate to the organization.

A $ 20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the killer. As of this writing, he still had not been identified.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gone Missing

Lindsey Baum vanished a few blocks from her home on June 26, 2009

Their faces are locked in perpetual smiles from better times. At present, sixty-three men, women, and children are pictured on the FBI’s “Missing and Kidnapped” website. Some were headline-grabbers, others barely known. Some have been missing for a few months, others for decades. Each portrait spirals back in time to tell a tale of mystery and loss.

Three months ago, Lindsey Baum, 10, left a friend’s residence in McCleary, Washington to walk home. Somewhere along the ten-minute route she vanished. Lindsey hasn’t been seen since. She’s eleven now, if she’s still alive. Police believe she was abducted.

On the night of May 25, 1996, Kristin Denise Smart headed toward her dorm on the California Polytechnic University campus. Another student walked part of the way with her. Then she disappeared. It’s been thirteen years and still there’s been no sign of the missing coed.

Three teenage girls vanished from the same area in Cleveland, Ohio. Amanda Berry, 16, went missing from her west side neighborhood in 2003. Fourteen-year-old Gina DeJesus disappeared in 2004. And Ashley Summers, 14, vanished in 2007. The local media has speculated that a serial kidnapper is responsible. Police have confirmed that they are investigating that possibility.

What happened to seven-year-old Alexis Patterson? In 2002, she walked toward her school in Milwaukee and was never seen again. Both her father and step-father have criminal records but were eliminated from suspicion by police. Alexis had had an argument with her mother before school and at first police thought she’d run way. Later, however, investigators said they suspected foul play.

The list goes on. Eight years ago, eleven-year-old Bethany Markowski disappeared from a shopping mall in Jackson, Tennessee. In 2005, 64-year-old Nita Mayo left her home in Hawthorne, Nevada and has never been seen again. In 2002, college student Rachel Cook went jogging in her hometown of Georgetown, Texas and never came home. Tionda Bradley, 10, and her sister Diamond, 3, walked to a nearby store in Chicago and vanished. It’s as if they all were lost in a black hole.

Their loved ones grieve; the public wonders how someone could just vanish without a trace; and the cops struggle to find answers. Some of the missing may never be found--others will turn up dead.

But as long as their bodies haven’t been found, there’s hope. Elizabeth Smart, Shawn Hornbeck, Shasta Groene, and Jaycee Lee Dugard are four among many who have been found alive after having been abducted.

For more information on these and other cases, go to http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/kidnap/kidmiss.htm

Monday, September 14, 2009

Christians in the cross-hairs

Jeanne Assam may have saved hundreds of lives when she shot a madman who attacked the New Life Church in Colorado Springs

A Shootist Named Jeanne Assam
by Robert A .Waters

In Ecclesiastes, the poet writes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun…” From the foundation of the church 2000 years ago, Christians have always faced violent attack.

Saul of Tarsus (who later became the apostle Paul) tormented Christians, subjecting many to imprisonment, torture, and even death. Nero used Christians as torches to light his gardens, and persecuted them for starting the conflagration that burned much of Rome to the ground. (Nero actually set the fires.) Throughout the centuries, Christians have been targets for violence.

Today is no different. Those who attack churches in the modern era may be anti-Christian zealots; they may be mentally disturbed individuals; they may carry a grudge or hatred against a particular church or certain members; or they may be disillusioned former members. For whatever reason, attacks on churches and Christians continue to this day.

When Oklahoma police recently found the mutilated body of Carol Daniels, pastor of a small church in Anadarko, Oklahoma, she was posed in a “crucifix” position. Many speculated that a serial killer was responsible. But the murder proved that there is no safety inside the church.

In Wisconsin, a disgruntled member of the Living Church of God pulled a 9mm semiautomatic pistol and blasted away. When it was over, seven members of the church were dead, including the pastor.

In Kansas, an abortion doctor was shot and killed inside the church he attended. In Knoxville, Tennessee, a psycho entered the Unitarian Evangelist Church and opened fire with a shotgun. One parishioner died, six more were wounded. At the Mount Olive Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, a masked man entered and began blasting away with a shotgun. Two women were killed, and two others wounded.

On March 8, 2009, Fred Winters, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, was delivering his weekly sermon when a stranger walked down the aisle. As he neared the podium, the man pulled out a pistol and fired. The minister held his Bible up to his chest, and the first bullet sent pages flying as it ricocheted into a wall. The second, third and fourth bullets felled Winters, who died at the scene. Several members of the congregation rushed the gunman and subdued him. According to reports, the shooter, Ted Sedlacek, suffered from a severe case of Lyme Disease which had altered his mental faculties.

Recently, a Kentucky minister invited his congregation to bring their guns to services for protection from random attacks. Predictably, the intelligentsia railed against him and others who would use weapons to fend off attacks in churches. In an article for the Washington Post entitled “Support Your Religious Gun Nut,” columnist Susan Jacoby wrote, “This country is in the grip of a powerful anti-rationalism that, while it is the work of a minority, is nevertheless seeping like poison into the body politic.” Calling pastors and rabbis who wish to arm their congregations “lunatics,” she suggests that “about the only justification I can think of for writing about them [the ministers who call for arming their congregants] is that the articles may alert the FBI to the clerical threats in our midst—men who use titles like ‘Reverend’ and ‘Rabbi’ to make the world less, not more safe.”

The Kentucky minister’s plea to bring weapons to church makes more sense than the intelligentsia will admit. Since the mid-1980s, concealed carry statutes have been passed in more than forty states. Permits to carry concealed weapons are now routinely granted to adults who take a course in gun safety and have no criminal record. These are among the most successful laws ever passed. There are millions of permit holders all over America. Thousands of rapes, robberies, and murders have been stopped by individuals who carry concealed weapons, and very few crimes have been committed by them.

Two weeks before Christmas in 2007, a gunman walked into the massive New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Matthew Murray had already murdered four people. According to the Los Angeles Times, Murray had once attended a training program in the missionary school run by the church. “School officials refused to assign Murray to a mission,” reported the Times, “because of an unspecified health problem that could make such work unsafe.” Murray, 21, was gunning for revenge.

Before arriving in Colorado Springs, Murray gunned down two church members in Arvada. Outside the church, he shot and killed two teenaged sisters who were getting out of their car. The gunshots were clearly audible in the auditorium and parishioners began to scamper for cover. As Murray walked into the sanctuary holding a semiautomatic rifle and carrying 1,000 rounds of ammunition, Jeanne Assam hid and pulled out her pistol. “I just prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide me,” she said later. “I give the credit to God. This has got to be God, because of the firepower he had versus what I have.”

Assam was one of twelve volunteers that the church had enlisted to act as security guards. A former police officer, she had a permit to carry a weapon. As Murray entered the church, Assam said, “I came out of cover, identified myself, and took him down. My hand wasn’t even shaking. It seemed like it was me, the gunman, and God.”

Assam shot Murray four times. As he lay bleeding on the floor, Murray put his own gun to head and killed himself.

Assam was credited with saving dozens, if not hundreds of lives.

New Life’s Senior Pastor explained the church's security system. Volunteers attend one of the morning services, then remain for a second service to be available in case of trouble. There are more than a dozen security guards. The ones who have concealed carry permits are armed, the others are not. The guards are all members of the church and “not mercenaries that we hire to walk around our campus to provide security.”

Regardless of the out-of-touch leftists, other churches might consider such a system.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Unsolved Murder of Amber Hagerman

Snatched from her bicycle
by Robert A. Waters

On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, Amber Hagerman, 9, and her five-year-old brother, Ricky, pedaled their bicycles to an abandoned grocery store in Arlington, Texas. Minutes later, Ricky turned to head back home, about a block away.

Jim Kevil, a 78-year-old retiree, stood in his backyard not far away. “I saw [Amber] riding up and down,” he said later. “She was by herself. I saw this pickup. He pulled up, jumped out and grabbed her. When she screamed, I figured the police ought to know about it, so I called them.”

Kevil described the truck as being dark, possibly black. The abductor was white or Hispanic.

Police arrived within a minute or two. By that time, Jimmie Whitson, Amber’s grandfather, was on his way to the locale of the former Winn-Dixie store to check on her. (When Ricky had arrived back home without Amber, Whitson had grown worried.) By the time he arrived, cops were there.

Experts say that stranger abductions are rare. They are also among the most difficult cases to solve. Even with an eyewitness, investigators were stymied. They theorized that it was a crime of opportunity, that the kidnapper saw Amber alone and impulsively decided to snatch her. The vacant lot where children liked to play was on East Abram Street, not far from a huge General Motors plant. From the beginning, cops felt that the abductor was almost certainly familiar with the area.

Local police were joined by volunteers and the FBI in the massive search that followed. A truck similar to that of the kidnapper had been spotted outside a nearby laundromat before Amber was taken, but investigators never located the vehicle.

Four days later, a man was walking his dog near the Forest Hill Apartments, just a few miles from where the child had been snatched. At the bottom of a creek bed, he saw a child’s body. Amber Hagerman had been found.

An autopsy determined that Amber had been held alive for two days. During that time she was sexually assaulted.

Arlington police and the FBI formed a task force to search for the killer. Investigators followed up thousands of leads, but none turned up the murderer.

By 1999, the task force had been disbanded and the case had gone cold. The killer has gone undetected now for eleven years. Arlington detective Jim Ford recently said, “There would be nothing more important or rewarding than seeing this case get resolved because [it] is as bad as they get.”

Shortly after Amber went missing, a caller to a Dallas radio station asked a simple question: why can’t law enforcement team with the media to quickly provide information to the public when a child is abducted? The idea caught on, and the Amber Alert was born. It began locally as the Dallas Amber Alert. Then it became a state-wide program and finally went national.

Since its formation, the Amber Alert is credited with the rescue of more than three hundred missing and abducted children.

Glenda Whitson, Amber’s grandmother, prays that the killer will be caught. However, she’s not optimistic. “[Police] really don’t have much to go on,” she said. “A few fibers they found on her body, they tell us. They’re still working on it, and they call us now and then. They say they’ll never give up. After ten years, you lose hope that they’ll ever find him, but I still have a little bit of hope.”

A psychological profile was issued by police a few weeks after the murder. Unfortunately, it was a generic rehash of profiles released after many such crimes. The killer was at least 25, cops said. He lived or worked near the scene of the crime. Since Amber was alive for two days after she was kidnapped, the killer had to have had some place to keep the child. Something probably caused him to snap, police said.

Since 1996, a killer has roamed free. Did he keep trophies of his victim so he can relive his crime? Has he killed again? Is he free or incarcerated? Amber Hagerman deserves justice and her killer deserves a Texas send-off to Hell.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Police Patches

Police and law enforcement memorabilia are popular among collectors. I have a small collection that consists of patches, cold case playing cards, books, old pulp magazines such as "True Detective," letters from inmates, and other items. Many of the things I’ve collected over the years are related to articles and books I’ve written.

Of all my collectibles, I think the patches are my favorites. They’re inexpensive (unless you run up on a true rarity or a vintage patch) and easy to store. I use acid-free holders for all my patches and paper items. Anytime I see a cop the first thing I look at are his or her patches.

Okay, this article isn't long or profound. I just wanted to show off a couple of my police patches.

Monday, August 31, 2009

UNSOLVED SERIAL MURDERS -- The Arcadia Street Graveyard by Robert A. Waters

Reconstruction of Victim B. Based on the remains, experts think this white male was about 20-30 years old, was very tall, was very active and had bone fractures in the right calf.

In fiction, there’s Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter--in real-life, Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer. There are novels, true crime books, comic books, trading cards, television series, and movies chronicling the lives of serial killers. We fear monsters we can’t see, and these deranged humans lurking in the shadows fit that bill. Over the next few months, I plan to examine some recent and past cases of serial murders that have gone unsolved.

Thirty feet into the undergrowth of a dense melaleuca forest, a surveyor stopped in his tracks. The fast-growing trees had been brought from Australia to Florida years before, and they formed a canopy over the ten acre forest. The surveyor had spotted something: the skull of a deer or wild boar, so he thought. Looking closer, he realized it was human. The area, just three miles from downtown Fort Myers, was off a remote dirt road known as Arcadia Street.

By late afternoon, on March 23, 2007, a swarm of police investigators had sealed off the whole thicket. Before darkness fell, detectives, with the aid of cadaver dogs, had uncovered eight skeletal bodies. The experienced detectives could tell that the remains had been there for years. Time and animals had stripped all the flesh from the bones.

John Douglas, former FBI profiler and author, later said: “To find eight bodies in one place--that’s really bizarre. If you’re in the killing business, that’s a great disposal area. You’ve got the remoteness, the elements, the insects, animal predation. You put a body out there and probably within a week or so, there’s not going to be much left.”

Who were the victims? How did they get there? How did they die? Who killed them? These questions would haunt investigators as they attempted to piece together the lives of eight lost souls.

Except for the skeletons, there were few clues. The killer had removed the clothes and personal effects of each victim. The elements had long since eliminated any trace of the murderer. A forensic anthropologist was called in. Heather Walsh-Haney and her team used archaeological methods to remove the bodies and preserve the bones.

Dental impressions and DNA were taken from each victim. They were all males, between 18 and 49, and had been dumped there between 1980 and 2000. The television show “America’s Most Wanted” arranged for a forensic artist, Sharon Long, to reconstruct the faces of each victim.

Police had a possible suspect. Daniel Conahan, the so-called “Hog Trail Killer,” was currently sitting on Florida’s death row. He’d been convicted of murdering a drifter named Richard Montgomery. According to court documents, Conahan picked up homeless men at Port Charlotte shelters. He would take each man to a remote, wooded area where he would rape and strangle his victim. Although he was convicted of only one murder, Conahan was suspected of at least five more. Several of the murders involved castration and mutilation.

Even though Conahan lived in Chicago from the late 1970s until 1993, many local investigators continue to view him as a suspect in the Ft. Myers murders.

Three of the bodies have been identified. John Blevins, 38, and Erik Kohler, 21, lived in the area before they disappeared. According to family members, they both lived transient lifestyles and had minor police records.

Jonathan Tihay, 24, was recently identified. His life seemed to mirror those found at the Arcadia Street graveyard. Originally from Illinois, he developed a drug addiction and had several scrapes with the law. He spent six months in jail for burglary and served a brief sentence in the Joliet Correctional Center for destroying property. After he got out, Tihay wandered the country, finally landing in Ft. Myers to be near his mother. In 1995, he disappeared.

Serial murderers often choose the most vulnerable: the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes, and others living on the fringes of society. The lives of the Arcadia Street victims seem to fit that pattern.

A killer has lived among us for years. Was he bold enough to go back to the shadows beneath the melaleuca trees and relive his sick crimes? Did he keep souvenirs such as clothing or watches or shoes? Does he still follow the case in the news, secure in the knowledge that he will never be caught, that he’s smarter than the cops?

The website of “America’s Most Wanted” has the facial profiles of each of the five remaining unidentified victims. Check it out. If you have information about this case, contact the Fort Myers Police Department at 239-321-7700.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Unsolved Murder of Jennifer Lynn Stone

The Unsolved Murder of Jennifer Lynn Stone
by Robert A. Waters

In 1983, I received my Master’s Degree from the University of Georgia. Even though it’s been two-and-a-half decades since I last returned, I have fond memories of the place. At the time, Athens was a beautiful city with narrow roads, centuries-old trees, and antebellum homes. Downtown had a typical collegiate flavor. I remember that there was a bookstore beneath the sidewalk on Main Street and artsy, trendy businesses all along the road. It was close to that location in 1992 that a student named Jennifer Lynn Stone was murdered. Even though police obtained a DNA profile of the killer, he has never been caught.

Jennifer Lynn Stone was a pretty advertising student at the University of Georgia. Her drive, personality, and intelligence made her a sure success in her chosen field. In the early morning hours of April 23, 1992, Jennifer stepped outside her home on North Hull Street. A few minutes later, she returned to a nightmare.

Athens-Clarke County police investigators later surmised that a burglar entered her house during the brief time she was away. When Jennifer came back inside, she was forced to her bedroom and raped. Then the rapist strangled her to death.

The assailant left Jennifer’s home, described by an Athens Banner-Herald reporter as a “carriage house,” and walked down the street to where a crack dealer waited. “We know that Jenny was...alive at 1:00 a.m.,” former investigator J. W. Smith said, “because that’s when her boyfriend called to check on her...Her cameras were being sold or traded for dope at around 3:00 a.m.”

During interrogations, local dope dealers told cops the assailant was a stranger to them. Investigators figured he was passing through. He was described as a light-skinned African-American with a thin mustache. DNA collected from the scene confirmed that he was of mixed race. Investigators later took samples from dozens of people, but none matched.

After murdering the innocent coed, the killer calmly walked down West Hancock Avenue and ended up at a pool hall “where the dopers hung out.” According to the Banner-Herald, “the man traded one of Stone’s cameras there for a rock of crack cocaine, then crossed West Broad Street to trade the other camera for more crack at the Parkview Homes housing complex.”

The next morning, Jennifer was scheduled to meet several classmates to work on a project for their advertising class. After she failed to show up, friends stopped by to investigate. They found Jennifer lying motionless on the floor in her home.

Most investigators think the killer was a transient who quickly left Athens behind in a Greyhound Bus. The depot was close by, and it would have been easy for him to catch a ride and never be seen again.

Each month, year after year, police submit the murderer’s DNA profile into the FBI’s national database, hoping for a match. Someday they might get lucky: the killer no doubt was a crackhead who has probably been arrested numerous times--that is, if he’s still alive.

The Athens Banner-Herald once sued the department to obtain files from the case under Georgia’s open records law. They lost the suit, however, so much of the information obtained by police will remain secret until the culprit is caught. Or until investigators determine that he may have died of old age.

Anyone who has information on this case should contact the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-597-TIPS.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Down for the count

Corbett vs. Mitchell (This inaccurate painting shows the two pugilists with bare knuckles in their championship match. Actually, they wore gloves under the recently adopted Marquess of Queensberry rules.)

Down for the count
by Robert A. Waters

The morning of January 25, 1894 broke in Jacksonville, Florida with thunderous claps of lightning and a heavy downpour. Not exactly what the members of the Duval Athletic Club had hoped for. At two-thirty that afternoon, a heavyweight title fight was scheduled. Because of the political overtones, the whole civilized world would be watching.

“Uncivilized.” The catch-phrase rang from newspaper to newspaper as editors and politicians and the intelligentsia lined up against the public in a fight to the finish. Boxing, the high-hats grumbled, is not civilized. In addition to violence, it breeds gambling and liquor. (At the time, even popular sports such as football and baseball were frowned on by many elites.)

Members of the Duval Athletic Club countered. Boxing is a sport, they contended, a “scientific glove contest.” In fact, the Marquess of Queensberry rules had been adopted a few years earlier, doing away with the brutal bare-knuckles bouts of the past. Now each fighter was required to wear five-inch boxing gloves and could no longer foul an opponent or strike him while he was down. Californian Corbett had recently defeated the venerable John L. Sullivan in a bout that lasted 26 rounds. Now he was matched against English heavyweight champ Charles Mitchell.

The Duval Athletic Club was supported by local businesses and the general public. In fact, when two militias--the Ocala Rifles and the Gates City Rifle Company of Sanford--were called in to quell an anticipated riot, they were roundly booed and pelted with eggs.

Despite the political uproar, the fight moved inexorably closer. Corbett set up training camp in nearby Mayport while Mitchell worked out in St. Augustine. Both fighters remained detached from the furor.

As soon as the match had been announced, a horrified Florida state legislature had passed a law outlawing “prizefighting, pugilistic exhibitions and kindred offenses.” The day before the match, however, the statute was struck down as unconstitutional. But that didn’t keep newspapers such as the New York Times from touting the law as a model for other states to follow.

Despite the driving rain, large crowds began to arrive at the gate. The Athletic Club charged $25.00 a head, and ended up with nearly two thousand paying customers.

At two-thirty that afternoon, the fighters stepped into the ring. While receiving instructions from the referee, the British fighter began to curse and scream at the champ. This caused great excitement--frenzied spectators cheered and hissed as tension throbbed in the throng.

Corbett was not intimidated by the tactics of his opponent. Near the end of the second round, the champ landed a series of punches that sent Mitchell reeling. The stunned fighter dropped to the canvas just before the bell sounded.

Early in the third round, Corbett continued his assault. He again knocked his opponent down, but Mitchell rose at the count of nine. Finally, a vicious right hand sent the Englishman down for the last time. When he was unable to get up, the victorious Corbett raised his gloves in victory.

State and county officials were enraged by the success of the match. Instead of accepting their loss graciously, the powers-that-be prevailed on Duval County Sheriff Napoleon Broward to arrest the two combatants. Both were charged with assault. The fighters quickly posted bail and left Jacksonville. But not before Gentleman Jim Corbett collected his $20,000 winner-takes-all purse plus an extra ten grand in bets he’d placed on himself.

In February, Corbett was hauled back to Jacksonville to stand trial for his part in the match. Once again, fight fans lined the streets leading to the courthouse. Within hours, the pugilist was once again victorious. He was acquitted.

Mitchell was never tried. After Corbett’s second victory in Jacksonville, all charges against the Englishman were dropped.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Missing in Marion County

Photos of Christine Blackburn Wiles and her daughter, Tobi Callaway

As readers of my blog know, I’m a native of Marion County, Florida. A local mystery has gone unsolved for more than two years. In the spring of 2007, Christine Blackburn Wiles left a bar near Belleview and went missing. The mother of a son and daughter, Christine has never been found.

On February 29, 2008, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement: “A search is scheduled to take place in the Ocala National Forest on Saturday, March 1 for Christine Wiles, W/F, 11-02-67. Wiles was last seen April 21, 2007 and was reported missing by her father in early May, 2007. An ongoing investigation supports the possibility of foul play in Wiles’ disappearance. DNA evidence found in the trunk of a 1995 Chrysler New Yorker, which may have been seen in the Ocala National Forest in the area of Wild Cat Lake, has led detectives to conduct the search scheduled Saturday. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office hopes to bring closure to the family of Christine Wiles and possibly locate additional evidence that may aid in the investigation of her disappearance.”

That search, as was the case with other searches, ended with no evidence being found.

Christine’s mother, Connie Blackburn, emailed me recently describing the events that occurred on the night Christine went missing. “On the evening of April 21, 2007,” she wrote, “Christine and her sister [Leah] went out together for a few drinks. Sometime during the evening they met up with Billy Ashton whom Christy was living with at the time. At one point during the evening, the girls left him at a bar just wanting to have girl time, but he ended up following them in a Chrysler New Yorker.”

Although Christine may not have known it, Ashton had a lengthy criminal history. In 1998, he’d been convicted of kidnapping and assaulting a former girlfriend and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Ashton had just been released from prison a few months before he met Christine.

“Fearing Ashton was going to run her off the road,” Christine’s mother wrote, “Christy’s sister pulled over. She begged Christy not to go with Ashton but to spend the night with her at a friend’s home. At the time, Christy had stitches in her eye where Ashton had elbowed her. Unfortunately, Christy did get in Ashton’s car and was never seen again. The car was later recovered at the home of his mother where he and Christy had been living.”

Leah believed that Ashton would have run them off the road had they not stopped. She stated that she thought he was angry because the sisters left the bar without telling him.

Marion County Homicide Detective Rhonda Stroup, who is in charge of the investigation, said, “I do believe that this is a solvable case, and we can bring this to an end.”

Anyone with information about this case should call Detective Stroup at 352-368-6845. Crime Stoppers is offering a $ 1,000 reward leading to the location of Christine Blackburn Wiles.

While Billy Ashton is a suspect in the disappearance of Christine, he has not been charged. He is currently in jail on other charges.

NOTE: On March 1, 2013, the Ocala Star Banner reported that all charges against Billy Ashton have been dropped: "The State Attorney’s Office has dropped its murder charge against Billy Joe Ashton, the man accused of killing Christine Blackburn-Wiles six years ago.
"State Attorney Brad King, in a three-page explanation, wrote that much of the evidence linking Ashton to the death was entirely circumstantial.
"'That is,' King wrote, 'there is no direct proof by either witnesses nor admissible statements of the defendant that Ashton killed the victim, and the victim’s body has never been located.'"


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

20 Years and More - Tiffany Sessions

On a cool evening in February, 1989, Tiffany Sessions stepped outside her Gainesville apartment and vanished. It is one of central Florida’s most enduring mysteries. What happened to the pretty University of Florida student?

In the 20 years since her disappearance, the world has changed. Computers and cell phones are used by nearly everyone. In fact, without these electronic marvels, the world as we know it wouldn’t exist.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has introduced many innovative measures in their attempts to deter crime and capture those who commit violent acts. One such method is to distribute playing cards to inmates in Florida’s prisons. The cards summarize cases like that of Tiffany Sessions. It is hoped that prisoners will remember something and come forward. Several cases have indeed been solved by these playing cards.

20 years later, where is Tiffany Sessions?