Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review of A Small but Spartan Band

Review of A Small but Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia by Zack C. Waters and James C. Edmonds
University of Alabama Press

by Robert A. Waters

All male ancestors of fighting age that Waters family historians have been able to trace fought for the Confederacy during the War Between the States. They hailed from Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. When I was growing up, that war mattered more to many of our family members than the recently-fought conflict in Korea. My great-great grandmother received a Confederate pension because she was the widow of a southern veteran. I still fondly remember family conversations about the struggle for Southern independence and our family’s participation in that lost cause. That’s why I’m ecstatic that my brother Zack and his writing partner Jimmy Edmonds have published this long-needed book.

Even though Florida was a backwater country in 1861, it already had a long history of conflict.

Native Americans had populated the state for at least 8,000 years--the wars they fought amongst themselves are unknown. But when the Spanish arrived to establish a settlement in 1527, they were driven off by the fierceness of the local Indians. It was four decades later that the Spaniards finally set up a small fort called San Augustin. Shortly after that, Jean Ribault led a band of French Hugenot settlers to an area near Jacksonville, but he and his men were quickly massacred by the Spanish.

From that time on, the history of Florida was drenched in blood. There was the razing of the fort in St. Augustine by British pirates; the Apalachee massacre; the Battle of Pensacola; the near-extermination of native Florida Indians by the invading Seminoles; the Dade Massacre and Chief Osceola’s determined campaign against settlers in central and southern Florida; and slave raids. In 1810, a rebellion of settlers against Spanish rule led to further violence and established the Free and Independent Republic of West Florida.

In the 1820s, Andrew Jackson fought and eventually subdued the Seminoles, thereby opening up the territory for settlement.

On March 3, 1845, Florida, the land of flowers, became the 27th state to join the union.

By 1861, when Florida became the third state to secede from that same United States of America, it had about 140,000 residents. Most weren’t available to fight: women, children, and slaves made up the bulk of the population. In fact, only about 15,000 males in the state were able to take up arms. Many of those fought in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

A Small but Spartan Band describes the Florida soldiers’ travails from the beginning of the war in 1861 until Lee’s surrender in 1865. Florida troops fought bravely in some instances, and less so in others, mostly depending on their leadership. They gained a reputation after the war as having been poor soldiers, or worse, deserters. This book shows that much of that reputation came about because Southern historians of the post-war era were looking for scapegoats to blame for the loss of the war to the hated Yankees.

During the four years of the conflict, Florida Rebels were isolated from family and friends back home. The mail was unreliable and they rarely received letters from loved ones. Their own letters to the homefolks were sometimes poignant, telling tales of suffering and death. On December 7, 1864, C. O. Bailey of the Seventh Florida regiment wrote: “We had an awful time of it--the ground was frozen all the time. It had rained a hard rain a few days before we started and the roads were badly cut up and then being frozen it was like walking on sharp rocks...” Many of the Florida soldiers had no shoes as they marched in the freezing Virginia sleet.

In one of the early tests of the mettle of the Floridians, the Battle of Seven Pines, E. A. Perry’s Second Florida Infantry fought impressively, charging through artillery bombardment to finally rout the enemy. A Federal soldier later wrote about the battle: “Our shot tore their ranks wide open, and shattered them asunder in a manner that was frightful to witness; but they closed up again at once, and came on as steady as English veterans. When they got within 400 yards, we closed our case-shot and opened on them with canister; and such destruction I never elsewhere witnessed.”

The Floridians fought in almost all the major campaigns, as well as many little-known skirmishes.

At Fredericksburg, the Eighth Florida performed miserably. The regiment was divided into two groups, with Companies A, D, and F commanded by Captain William Baya. During the engagement, Baya was ordered to fire on the bluecoats. Because his troops had been placed in an unprotected open area, he refused. Captain Andrew Govan of the Seventh Mississippi, wrote: “[The Floridians] failed repeatedly to obey my commands when ordered to fire on the bridge-builders.” Because of such occasional lapses, the Florida troops gained a reputation as being unreliable.

On the other hand, at Gettysburg, they performed with great valor. They were part of Pickett’s charge and suffered appalling casualties.

After the war, the surviving Florida troops went home to desolation. Many had lost everything--others were able to re-start their lives and eventually prosper. Some became farmers, ranchers, business-owners, doctors, lawyers, and politicians, contributing to the re-building of the state. For more than a hundred years after the last shot was fired, the War Between the States shaped many of the beliefs and actions of Floridians.

A Small but Spartan Band does something remarkable: with thousands of books covering every aspect of the so-called Civil War, the authors plow NEW ground. No full study of the Florida troops has been done in 110 years--certainly none that meet academic standards. (Don’t let the word “academic” fool you--the writing is brisk and fast-paced, sometimes leaving the reader breathless from the descriptions of the action.)

For my brother Zack, this book was a labor of love, consuming 25 years of reading, researching, and writing about the war that changed American history. His articles on the subject have been published in many journals and periodicals.

If you have any interest at all in this subject, buy A Small but Spartan Band. It stands to be a classic in the literature.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

DNA Helps Cops Crack Cold Case

The killer of Ellen Rutchick was identified 38 years later by DNA

DNA Helps Cops Crack Cold Case
by Brooklyn White

If there is one thing that is worse than being the victim of a crime or the loved one of a victim, it is probably being in the dark because of an unsolved crime. Your loved one has been gone for years, but there is no closure for you because their killer has not been arrested, tried and punished. You have no idea why they were killed and any kind of speculation only makes you more confused and bewildered. Cold cases are a thorn not just in the side of the detectives who are unable to solve them, but also for the victims’ families who desperately want answers, and with them closure.

So when new evidence opens up and the case is solved, there is reason to rejoice, even if nearly four decades have gone by and the perpetrator of the crime is now deceased. Relatives and descendants of Ellen Rutchick can now heave a sigh of relief, 38 years after she was raped and strangled to death in her apartment in Boston in 1972. Police identified the perpetrator as Michael Sumpter after DNA from the crime scene matched his samples; incidentally, Sumpter’s DNA also matched evidence in another rape case in 1985 when a 21-year-old who lived in the same areas as Rutchick was raped and the case went cold because of the lack of leads.

Unfortunately, Sumpter is now dead – he passed away because of cancer in 2001 when in jail serving a sentence on another rape charge. The only solace in the whole issue for the victims’ families is that Sumpter was finally caught and jailed for rape, and was serving time when he died.

DNA matching technology was used to identify the culprit on the initiative of Rutchick’s relatives. They had heard of a project that was started in 2002 to revive sexual assault cold cases and attempt to solve them using DNA evidence. With over 600 cases having been solved by this method, they wanted to see if Ellen’s murderer could be identified, even though 38 years had gone by. The detectives assigned to this project had already matched Sumpter to the 1985 rape case, so when they reopened Ellen Rutchick’s case, it was just a matter of time before they found that Sumpter’s DNA matched evidence stored from the case all those years ago.

DNA evidence is now increasingly being used to identify criminals in violent cases. Thanks to CODIS, the nationwide federal database that holds over 7 million DNA profiles, it is easy to identify criminals who have a past or who are repeat offenders. While the solving of Ellen Rutchick’s rape and murder brings relief to her relatives and friends, it also proves to the rest of us that criminals are not beyond capture – no matter how many years go by, as long as the technology exists, the bad guys will eventually be caught.

This guest post is contributed by Brooklyn White, who writes on the topic of Forensic Science Technician Schools. She can be reached at

Friday, February 19, 2010

Duke lacrosse accuser Crystal Gail Mangum arrested again

How could you, Crystal Gail?
by Robert A. Waters

In her short mis-spent life, Crystal Gail Mangum has made headlines more than most. We all remember the Duke debacle, in which she accused Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans of raping her. The charge came at the perfect time for Mike Nifong--he was running for district attorney of Durham County, North Carolina and needed the black vote to get elected. Lo and behold, he latched onto the rape allegations and, like a bulldog, held on to the bitter end.

It was the perfect meta-narrative for the national media: privileged white jocks brutalize a down-trodden black mother, student, and all-American girl. While the case was being tried in the media, Crystal Gail’s name wasn’t published. At least, not at first. But the three lacrosse players weren’t so lucky. They were threatened and smeared and sent packing from Duke University. Worse, they faced the prospect of spending thirty years in prison.

It soon became apparent to most Americans that there was no truth to the charges. Yet Nifong and Mangum continued to pursue the case. Nifong did indeed win his election, but from that point on his life went downhill. He ended up losing his job, getting disbarred, and being sued by the players.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper finally put an end to the legal witch hunt by announcing that “based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals [Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans], are innocent of these charges.”

However, he recommended that no action be taken against Crystal Gail, whose name had finally been published. Mangum had mental issues, Cooper said, and it would do no good to arrest her for making a false charge. Because of Cooper’s charitable interpretation of the law, the All-American girl walked away scot-free.

This wasn’t Crystal Gail’s first brush with the legal system. In 2000, her driver’s license was revoked after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

In 2002, Crystal Gail stole a taxi. After a high-speed chase in which she attempted to run down a police officer, she was arrested and pled guilty to driving while impaired, attempting to elude arrest, larceny, and attempted assault on a government official.

Of course, since it didn’t fit the formula, little of this was published by the media for many months.

By 2006, Crystal Gail Mangum was working as a stripper and an escort. On March 13, she claimed to have been gang-raped by numerous lacrosse players. DNA from three or five different men (depending on what article you read) was indeed found on her clothes or in her body. None, however, came from the lacrosse players.

Now Crystal Gail is back in the news. A report in the Raleigh News and Observer reads: “According to authorities, Mangum, 31, and her boyfriend, Milton Walker, were fighting in their apartment at 2220 Lincoln St. She then set fire to Walker’s clothing inside a bathroom tub, located in a bathroom in the middle of the apartment, police said. She tried to start another fire after officers arrived, according to an arrest warrant read during Mangum’s first court appearance this morning. Police said Mangum also threatened to stab Walker.”

She’s in jail with a million dollar bond and an attempted murder charge hanging over her head. In a way, I feel sorry for Crystal Gail Mangum. She does seem to have mental problems. But the false accusations she made against the lacrosse players were so egregious that any sympathy I may have is outweighed by her obvious dangerousness. (False accusations can be as harmful as a physical assault.) If the charges against her are proven to be true, she should be isolated from society.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Searching for an identity: "Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee"

Two artist sketches of a woman found murdered benath the Lake Panasoffkee Bridge in central Florida

Unquiet Rest
by Robert A. Waters

Sometime in the waning winter of 1971, a young woman was murdered. Her killer placed a leather belt around her neck, pulled it tight, and held on until the girl quit struggling. Then he dumped her off a bridge in central Florida.

She has no name. Or at least not a name that anybody knows. Shortly after she died, the young woman was discovered floating in the black acidic waters just beneath the Lake Panasoffkee Bridge on Interstate 75. For nearly forty years, all efforts to identify her have failed.

The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office has investigated the case with a fierce doggedness. Before the advent of computers, investigators sent out flyers describing the case to thousands of police agencies across the country. They contacted the news media in hopes of generating stories about the case. Investigators even contacted the popular television show “Unsolved Mysteries” and the case was featured in a chilling segment that has been repeated many times. In the beginning, numerous leads came in--all were investigated, including hundreds of calls from parents who thought the remains might be their missing daughter.

In 1986, Sheriff James Adams gave the woman a nickname: “Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee.” He arranged for her body to be exhumed and examined by forensic anthropologist Dr. William Maples. In addition to what was already known, the autopsy uncovered several key facts about the young woman.

She was Caucasian with possibly a touch of Native American ancestry. She was five-feet-two and weighed about 100 pounds. The woman was between 18 and 23 years of age, and had given birth to at least one child, probably two. At some point in her life, the woman had been well-taken care of. She had extensive dental work which included silver fillings and a porcelain cap. An orthopedic surgical procedure known as the Watson-Jones technique had repaired a weakness in her right ankle that caused her to fall and sprain it many times. After learning of the Watson-Jones procedure, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office advertised in medical journals hoping to jog the memory of some doctor who might have performed the surgery.

Several composite sketches have been done over the years. They were shown on “Unsolved Mysteries” and have been publicized over the Internet.

Investigators theorize that Little Miss Panasoffkee was raised in a caring family that provided for her. At some point, possibly in her teens, her life may have gone off track. At the time of her death, four lower and two upper teeth were missing, pointing to a later lack of dental care or violence. The young woman may have become estranged from her family. “We believe it’s a person from a disenfranchised family,” said Captain Gary Brannen. “[She’s] not in the family fold, so to speak.”

Recently, a section of one of the girl’s bones was sent to the FBI for genetic analysis. A DNA profile was extracted, so if her family is ever located, she can be identified and returned home.

A few other pieces of information are available: Little Miss Panasoffkee was probably right-handed; she was wearing a thin gold-colored neck chain; she wore a gold-colored ring with a transparent stone on her right hand; and she had a seventeen-jewel Baylor watch on her left wrist.

Little Miss Panasoffkee’s killer has escaped justice for four decades. It is unlikely that he’ll ever be caught.

While the murderer has gone about his own life, the lost soul of an unknown daughter rests fitfully in a grave far away from home. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells of a straying child who “came to his senses” and returned home to his father. Little Miss Panasoffkee never had that chance.

If anyone has any information about this case, please contact Captain Gary Brannen at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office by telephone at (352) 793-0222 or (352) 793-0278.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three Unsolved Cases from Tennessee

China Videon has been missing for nearly eleven years

Tennessee’s Unsolved
by Robert A. Waters

I lived in Tennessee from 1969 to 1974. I met the lady who would become my wife there and got my undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Since the Marcia Trimble murder, I’ve been interested in crimes that have taken place in the Volunteer State. In a previous post, I wrote about the kidnap and murder of six-year-old Dorothy Ann Distelhurst in Nashville. Here are sketches of three other unsolved cases in the state.

On the morning of June 11, 1973, Nashville police were called to Rothberg’s Shoe Store at 4914 Charlotte Avenue. The business had been a fixture in the city for many years. When investigators arrived, they found the body of fifty-nine-year-old Mollie Rothberg behind the counter. She’d been stabbed repeatedly. The motive appeared to have been robbery. A person of interest was seen in the area riding a “chopper” motorcycle. His jacket displayed a skull, crossbones, and Nazi-style cross. He was never located and the case has never been solved.

It’s been more than ten years since China Videon disappeared off the face of the earth. She was a student at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro. On the evening of October 19, 1999, China got off work at the Bi-Lo Grocery Store and visited her mother at a nearby beauty salon. After chatting for a few minutes, she left to go to a friend’s house. She has never been seen since. China’s car, a black Mazda, was found nine months later at an apartment complex in Antioch, a few miles from Murfreesboro. Items she’d bought at the grocery store were still in the car. Rutherford County Sheriff’s Detective Bill Goodwin said, “It’s clear that China Videon was a victim of a crime.” But investigators never had any good leads. Her mother, Suzanne Videon, believes her daughter is dead. “China and I were almost like friends,” Suzanne said. “[But] I’m denied a chance to bury her, to say goodbye to her.”

At about two o’clock on the afternoon of March 7, 1991, Pauline George, 50, drove to her home just outside of Knoxville. She checked her mail, took a shower, and put on a housecoat. Three hours later, she was found dead in her basement. Pauline worked as an admissions clerk at Fort Sanders Parkwest Medical Center. At five that afternoon, she planned to go to dinner and a movie with her boyfriend, Jack Lane. Lane discovered her body when he arrived to pick her up. A terrific struggle had taken place. Pauline had been brutally beaten but died from multiple stab wounds. It’s unclear if a sexual assault had occurred--DNA testing proved inconclusive. Pauline’s purse with money still inside was left on the bed and no jewelry was missing. Her home stood near a railroad track and some investigators theorize that she was murdered by a transient who’d hopped a train. Others think it was someone she knew, although Jack Lane and family members have been eliminated from suspicion. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate this baffling mystery.

Murderers walk among us.

From decades-old graves, their victims cry for justice.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Daniel Dewey, murdered by a twisted serial killer

An Unknown Serial Killer in Louisiana?

by Robert A. Waters

The last struggles of Danny Dewey ended in a patch of woods near Greensburg, Louisiana. The seventeen-year-old lay in a fetal position, hog-tied on the cold ground.

According to an article from, Dewey “was bound alive with [an] elaborate rigging. Knotted ropes lashed him wrist-to-wrist, ankle-to-ankle, wrists-to-ankle. Another cord was wrapped around his neck to his feet. The more the victim squirmed to break free, the tighter the ropes constricted his breathing until he was asphyxiated.”

No doubt, the killer stood watching, experiencing pleasure as the helpless boy’s final breaths rendered him lifeless. Some accounts of the crime assert that the boy had been sexually assaulted--others state that he wasn’t.

In any event, it was a horrible end to a short, sad life.

On November 12, 1979, deer hunters came upon the body. The victim had long blonde hair, blue-gray eyes, and wore pants that were too big for him.

Police were unable to identify the remains, so residents of the community took up donations to bury him. For twenty-nine years, his headstone read simply: “Unidentified Homicide Victim.”

Louisiana State Police Detective Dennis Stewart had been a child when Dewey was found. In 2000, Stewart obtained necessary court documents to have the body exhumed so additional tests could be performed. Dental records were taken, and DNA obtained from bone marrow. The new information was submitted to several state and national databases, including the FBI’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Still, there was no match.

Later that year, Stewart submitted fingerprints that had been taken at the time of the boy’s discovery to another FBI database. This time there was a match. Records show that Daniel Dewey had been arrested in Baytown, Texas not long before he was murdered. He’d been stopped for driving a motorcycle without a helmet or driver’s license.

The detective contacted Billy Dewey, Danny’s older brother, who described a chaotic childhood. There were four boys, and they grew up in Texas.

“Our mother died in a car accident when I was seven and Danny was six,” Billy Dewey said. “We were all just sort of farmed out after that, going from relative to relative. Our upbringing was pretty rough.”

When Danny was seventeen, the family they were living with moved away, leaving the boys homeless. “The last time I saw Danny,” Billy said, “he was getting on a bus.”

In 2000, Danny was exhumed for the final time. This time he was given a family funeral.

While Detective Stewart was happy to identify Dewey, he can’t rest. There’s still an unidentified killer out there who has gotten away with murder for thirty years.

In fact, Daniel Dewey’s killer is almost certainly responsible for two other murders in the area. On February 1, 1978, the body of Dennis Turcotte, 22, was discovered near Abita Springs, Louisiana. The next month, the remains of Raymond Mark Richardson, 17, were found in a wooded area near Gulfport, Mississippi.

In both cases, the method of killing was the same as that of the Dewey case. “[Turcotte and Richardson] were in a fetal position,” Stewart said, “hog-tied, if you will. When they struggled, the ropes constricted and caused their deaths.”

It seems unlikely that two killers with the same unique MO would be operating in the same area.

What happened to the killer?

“I’m sure it was the same person,” Stewart said. “But after those three it ended. Either the killer died or went to prison.”

Or maybe he was institutionalized, became disabled, moved to another location, or simply stopped killing.

Whatever the case, the deaths of three young men scream for justice. And Detective Stewart is to be commended for his persistence and dedication. Without him, it’s doubtful anyone would have ever known the sad story of Daniel Dewey.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Orwell and Duranty

A Re-Reading of Animal Farm
by Robert A. Waters

In 1932, Walter Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles that minimized one of Russia’s several holocausts--the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Stalin’s communist government. A few years later, a well-known British author named George Orwell was turned down by publisher after publisher when he submitted a “fable” critical of the revolution. Needless to say, once it was published, Animal Farm did not win a Pulitzer.

Orwell’s own publisher wouldn’t touch the book because of its depiction of the brutal murderousness of the Russian regime. After several more rejections, a small anti-communist company called Secker & Warburg published it in 1945. Despite its inauspicious debut, Animal Farm has been named one of the top 100 novels in the English language.

A few days ago, I re-read the book. I first encountered Animal Farm while in college. I’d just read 1984, a sci-fyish yet realistic novel that literally scared any tendencies toward communistic thought straight out of me. Then I picked up Animal Farm.

The story itself is well-known. The animals at Jones’s Manor Farm, downtrodden with heavy work-loads, revolt and take the farm from its be-sotted owner. They rename it Animal Farm, and pledge to run the place with the idealistic view that “all animals are equal.” But within months, the pigs, smarter than the rest, hijack the revolution. They murder animal “comrades” that don’t agree with them. They force low-intelligent animals to work even harder and longer than they ever did under their human owner. All the while, the pigs lounge around and grow fat while the other animals starve and die of over-work. Orwell’s final conclusion is that some animals are “more equal” than others.

One of his several conclusions seems to be that Russian citizens were better off with the Czars than under Stalin’s murderous communist dictatorship.

He was right, of course. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of a staggering 20 million people. Author R. J. Rummel wrote an article entitled, “How Many Did Communist Regimes Murder?” In it he states, “Few would deny any longer that communism--Marxist-Leninism and its variants--meant in practice bloody terrorism, deadly purges, lethal gulags and forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions and show trials, and genocide.”

While Duranty blind-eyed the obvious, Orwell wrote two long-lasting works describing the terror of totalitarian rule. With the exception of the Bible, Animal Farm and 1984 have had a greater impact on my views than most other books. In my world-view, freedom always trumps restriction. Dictators, left or right, scare me.

While the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner’s writings are generally scorned today as propaganda, Orwell’s books are still influencing readers.