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.