Saturday, July 31, 2010

When Crime Strikes Home

Joseph Doody, suspect in the robbery of my wife
My wife was robbed yesterday in a brazen daylight attack
by Robert A. Waters

This will be a detailed account of a robbery that happened to my wife a few hours ago. Marilyn and I have been married for almost 38 years. We’ve worked hard all our lives and never had any type of run-in with the law. I’ve published four crime-related books but, except for a house burglary many years ago, have never been an actual crime victim.

Marilyn is originally from Tennessee. She’s known for her sense of humor and friendliness. After we graduated from college, we moved to my home town of Ocala, Florida. Last year, after working for thirty-one years as a teacher in nearby Levy County, she retired. We consider ourselves to be gentle, decent people--what cops call low-risk crime subjects.

On July 30, 2010, however, that changed.

At about 5:00 p.m., we drove to a local Walgreen’s, located at the corner of Silver Springs Boulevard and Northeast 8th Avenue. I needed to pick up a prescription and Marilyn had a couple of items she wanted to buy. I parked in a space about fifteen feet from the plate-glass doors at the entrance of the store. As we entered, I noticed a man standing just outside the door.

I picked up my medicine, then handed Marilyn my brown leather Tommy Hilfiger wallet so she could pay for her items. I told her that I planned to go back out and wait in the car and read. When I walked back outside, I noticed the same man still standing near the front door. I didn't think much about it and got in my car where I had a perfect view of the entrance to the store and the people entering and leaving.

A few minutes later, Marilyn walked out.

Suddenly, the man standing in front of the door rushed toward my wife and grabbed her. I was horrified to watch Marilyn struggling with a stranger. My heart sank--she’d fallen a couple of years earlier and broken both wrists. I knew her hands were not strong, yet she kept fighting with the man. From a distance, it looked as if she was flailing as he attempted to control her.

After the initial shock, I threw open the door of the car and raced toward the scene. My fear was that Marilyn would fall again or that her assailant would knock her down. I prayed that he didn’t have a weapon.

I planned to try to intervene but had only gone a few steps when the assailant raced away. Marilyn began to scream: “He stole my wallet! He stole my wallet! He stole my wallet!” It was the best thing she could have done as it alerted everyone within hearing distance that a crime had occurred.

Two bystanders chased after her attacker. One was a man driving a pickup truck. The second was a woman whom we later learned was an off-duty cop. In the meantime, store employees called 911.

I checked to make sure Marilyn was okay. She was breathing hard and I was stressed from the run across the parking lot, but neither of us was hurt. We walked back into the store and waited. In less than two minutes, the first officer arrived. She was an attractive brunette who had a nurturing manner about her.

As she took the information, she asked the manager to check the store’s video-tape. Other officers arrived and store personnel informed them that the robber had been in the store earlier in the day. They stated that he’d unsuccessfully attempted to get a refund for two pregnancy kits. Two days earlier, the manager had asked him to leave the premises because he was harassing older patrons.

In my missing billfold was $72.00 in cash, my driver’s license, a debit card, a Medicare card, insurance card, and other such items. Marilyn and I described the billfold to the officer. Then the manager informed us that he had found a video-tape that showed the presumed assailant standing around outside. Although at that time we were unable to view a tape of the actual robbery, we did see film showing the suspect in the same area where he attacked Marilyn. We also saw a clear, color video of him attempting to get a refund for the pregnancy kits.

Other Ocala Police Department officers arrived, including a detective. Marilyn and I were beginning to calm down although we were still stunned by the attack. The detective asked if we would be able to wait at the store for a few minutes to see if they could catch the robber--if so, they wanted us to try to identify him.

After another half-hour or so, we were notified that officers had detained a possible suspect about three blocks from the store. We piled into the back seat of the detective’s unmarked car and were driven to the scene. Marilyn and I both identified the suspect as her attacker and he was arrested.

At that point, we were transported back to our car. We stopped at Zaxby’s for a bite to eat and debriefed ourselves. Finally, we went home feeling lucky that Marilyn wasn’t injured.

Shortly after ten o’clock that night, there was a knock on our door. A smiling police officer handed me my wallet. It had my money and driver's license and cards inside. I could hardly believe it.

Marilyn and I were informed that the suspect had allegedly confessed to the robbery and had directed officers to the location where he’d discarded the wallet. He stated that as he fled the scene, he’d pulled out the cash and dropped the billfold beside a nearby house. In addition to the confession, the Walgreen’s manager had finally found a video showing the actual assault.

Joseph Doody was arrested and charged with strong-arm robbery. A check of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office public records revealed that he’d been arrested at least twelve times for offenses such as grand theft auto, dealing in stolen property, domestic battery, drug possession, and other offenses. In one instance, he allegedly stole $672 from his girlfriend and went on a crack cocaine binge.

Here are a few observations about the day’s events. First, the officers from the Ocala Police Department did outstanding work. In my blogs, I’m sometimes critical of law enforcement, but these officers were professional, well-trained, and highly-motivated to find the assailant and my wallet. My wife and I can’t thank them enough.

The staff at Walgreen’s was very supportive. The manager spent a couple of hours viewing the videos and assisting police in their investigation. Other personnel gave us encouragement and attended to our immediate needs.

We are also thankful to the young man and the off-duty police officer who chased after the suspect. They were able to give detectives a direction in which to narrow their search.

I’m proud of the way my wife reacted. She raised the cry that sent civilians and police officers on the trail of the suspect.

Most of all, we’re thankful to be safe and uninjured. We feel fortunate the incident turned out the way it did.

During the episode, my wife’s sense of humor did not entirely vanish. As police officers questioned her, she noticed a dirty spot on the collar of her blouse. She said, “If I’d known I was going to get robbed I’d have dressed a little better.” Everyone had a good laugh and we knew she was okay after that.

Finally, this blog is written entirely from my point of view. The suspect has not been found guilty and will be presumed innocent by the courts until his guilt is proven.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rampage at Soda Butte

Recent Bear Attacks
by Robert A. Waters

It’s a fine line between humans encroaching on the territory of predatory animals and enjoying the wonders of nature. We love our state and national parks but sometimes danger lurks. Here are a few examples.

On July 28, at around 2:00 a.m., a bear attacked three campers at the Soda Butte Campground in southern Montana. Kevin Kammer, 48, was killed and two others were badly mauled. Kammer, who was in the area to fly-fish, had pitched a tent and was likely sleeping when the animal pounced.

The campground is near Yellowstone National Park.

After the rampage, Fish, Wildlife & Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim addressed the media. “The campsites are being combed for evidence,” he said. “We’re not certain if it was one bear or more than one, and we haven’t determined if it was a grizzly or a black bear. We’ve extracted DNA samples from evidence found on this site. This will help us identify the bear or bears involved, once captured.”

It was later announced that a mother bear and two cubs had returned to the scene and were captured. If it can be proven that she was the killer, the mother bear will be euthanized and the cubs sent to zoos.

In yet another attack, TV personality Jack Hannah fought off a charging bear by using pepper spray. He was hiking with a group in Montana’s Glacier National Park when they encountered a mother bear and two cubs. One of the cubs rushed toward him, forcing Hannah to launch three bursts of spray at the bear. The final burst did the trick and the cub turned and ran off.

All of these victims had used precautions to minimize the risk of attack. The campers left no food which would have attracted bears. Hannah and the other hikers were on a trail talking loudly so the wildlife would be aware of their presence--experts say that this will generally keep bears away.

A month earlier, Erwin Frank Evert, 70, was attacked and killed in Shoshone National Park, again near Yellowstone. Evert was a botanist who took bear warnings seriously. In this case, authorities say a sign that warned of the presence of bears had been removed before Evert arrived. The animal that attacked Evert had been trapped and tranquilized by researchers a few hours earlier then released near the spot where it attacked the elderly man. The bear was tracked and killed by park rangers.

The natural wonders of earth can be exhilarating.

They can also be deadly.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Murder on Doolan Creek

Rosie Grover’s sad death
by Robert A. Waters

At 4:35 a.m., on the morning of July 19, 1985, a California Highway Patrol dispatcher in Ukiah took a call from a frightened fifteen-year-old girl. Rosie Grover had just gotten off a Greyhound bus and was calling from a pay phone at the depot. She’d borrowed a quarter from another passenger so she could make a call to her mother. The sleeping woman, however, was not expecting her daughter at that time of night and didn’t hear the phone ringing.

After trying to call home several times, Rosie decided to phone the Highway Patrol. Surely they would help. She told the dispatcher that she was stranded and needed a ride home. She was returning that night after visiting family members in San Francisco, Rosie explained. In the darkness, she was afraid to walk the deserted road to her house.

We don’t provide rides, the dispatcher retorted. Call the local police.

The dispatcher hung up.

The thin slight girl with the pretty smile would have to walk home after all. She’d run out of quarters.

She’d also run out of luck.

Later that morning, Richard Dean Clark entered the Ron-Dee-Voo Restaurant in Ukiah. He wore mirrored sunglasses and carried a half-empty wine cooler. Handing it to the waitress, he said, “There’s a body down by the creek.” Pausing for effect, he added, “She’s hurt bad, maybe raped.” Witnesses later said that he seemed calm and sober.

The regulars in the small, family-owned restaurant barely knew Clark. In fact, he’d only been in town for four months. He’d been hired as a caregiver for a local paraplegic but the two spent most of their time boozing it up and ingesting copious amounts of pot, crack, and meth.

While the waitress called 911, several patrons rushed outside. There in the rocky, dry bed of Doolan Creek, they saw the body of Rosie Grover. Her face had been battered to an unrecognizable pulp.

A few minutes later, investigators arrived. Walking down the bank behind the restaurant, they examined the girl’s body. She was fully clothed, wearing jeans and a shirt. Cops saw that the victim’s belt had been loosened and her jacket and blouse were open, leaving her breasts exposed. A duffel bag and a small suitcase sat beside her.

Two blood-stained concrete blocks lay just a few feet from Rosie’s head.

Cops cordoned off the area and began interviewing those at the scene. Who is this girl? they asked. No one knew.

Richard Clark was one of the first witnesses they spoke with. He stated that he was walking to a convenience store to buy cigarettes when he spotted the body. He thought the dead girl may have been stabbed, he said.

The waitress handed investigators the wine cooler Clark had brought into the restaurant. When they opened the duffel bag next to the corpse, detectives found another wine cooler identical to the one Clark had.

He was taken to the station for a further interview. As cops began to grill him, Clark denied killing the girl, who had still not been identified. He first said he didn’t know anything about the murder and had merely stumbled onto the scene. In his second statement, he stated that he met the girl as she walked along the road and had consensual sex with her. Afterward, she told Clark she planned to report him for rape, he said, so he killed her.

In a final statement, taped by police, Clark said he thought he may have killed her but was so drunk he blacked out and didn’t remember the actual deed.

An autopsy confirmed that the dead girl had been raped and battered. A court document reads: “Ten stab wounds were found on the body. Eight were superficial. Two deeper wounds were inflicted in the middle of the back, one of which penetrated a lung and the other the heart. The wounds could have been inflicted by a screwdriver found in Smith's car. These wounds preceded the blunt trauma injuries to the victim's head and neck. While either of the deep stab wounds could have independently caused the victim's death, the actual cause of death was blunt trauma to the head and neck. Although [Medical Examiner Dr. Boyd] Stephens was unable to determine how many blows had been struck, 19 separate areas of blunt trauma were visible. The vast majority of these trauma injuries would have independently caused death. The damage was so extensive that the victim's entire facial structure was collapsed and flattened. The two pieces of concrete found near the victim's body could have inflicted the trauma to the skull.”

Finally, the victim was identified as Rosie Grover.

A series of unfortunate events had brought her to this place. She’d visited family members for several weeks in San Francisco. When she was ready to return home, a friend in Ukiah had agreed to meet Rosie at the bus depot and transport her home. But the friend’s car had broken down and her telephone was out of order. Since Rosie’s mother expected her daughter to come home with the friend, she went to bed and didn’t wake up until later in the morning. After discovering Rosie missing, she contacted the police.

Although DNA wasn’t available at the time, blood enzymes found on Clark’s clothing and shoes were consistent with that of the victim. A sharpened screwdriver in his possession had blood on it, but the sample was so small it couldn’t be tested. Clark’s fingerprints were found on Rosie’s suitcase. The wine coolers, bought by Rosie as a present for her mother, were the same brand. Semen found on the girl’s clothes and body “could not be eliminated” as having come from the suspect. That evidence, along with the taped confession, sealed his fate.

Investigators believe Rosie began walking home after the Highway Patrol dispatcher turned down her request for a ride. Along the way, she met Clark, who was walking to a convenience store. He saw the opportunity to rape the lone woman and forced her down to the creek where he assaulted her. Then, in order to silence the victim, he murdered her by slamming concrete blocks on her head and stabbing her with his screwdriver.

The murderer was convicted and sentenced to death. Twenty-five years later, Richard Dean Clark still sits on California’s death row. He is unlikely to be executed for many years to come, if at all.

Rosie Grover’s short life ended because of a series of unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which was the California Highway Patrol dispatcher who refused her request for assistance. I was unable to learn whether the dispatcher was disciplined or fired.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Norma Lopez is Dead

Body Identified
by Robert A. Waters

A week after she was abducted, the body of missing teenager Norma Lopez has been found. A resident in Moreno Valley was mowing a field when he discovered the decomposed remains.

While investigators did not release the cause of death, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Joseph Borja stated that Norma was identified through dental records. She lay face down in a grove of trees, and was wearing only her blue jeans.

After the kidnapped girl's parents were notified, Borja held a press conference. “I believe this has been made personal because we all have children,” he said. “It’s probably our worst nightmare that our kids can just be taken from a street and killed. We haven’t caught the suspect who killed Norma so obviously there is at least a murderer out there. So I would be vigilant, I would be aware. If I was a parent, I would keep track of my children.”

Cops have few leads. They are still searching for a green SUV seen speeding from the area where Norma was kidnapped. Investigators are asking the public for help and a reward of $35,000 has been offered.

Yesterday, after hearing that Norma's body had been found, stunned friends and neighbors gathered at Valley View High School. "We've had so many kids come in,” Principal Kristen Hunter said, “that I had to call the district to bring in the crisis response team. It was heartbreaking to see how much pain they were in. Some of them went to school with Norma since elementary school. They were hitting their fists on the table, saying ‘Why? Why?’”

Others gathered at the bleachers for an impromptu memorial for Norma. "I just want to say I miss you, Norma,” Caroline Benjamin said. “Nobody deserves this. She could have changed the world one day."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Missing in California

Norma Lopez was wearing this black and white blouse when she went missing

The Search for Norma Lopez
by Robert A. Waters

In Los Angeles, Lola, an African gray parrot, is missing. The bird flew its coop on June 28. Searchers have combed the Hollywood hills for weeks looking for the lost bird. There have been possible sightings of a parrot that looks like Lola, but nothing definite has been found to confirm that she is still in the area. Traveling billboards, like Amber Alerts, roll up and down the streets advising the populace about the runaway. Lola’s owners have even contacted a psychic who recommended having a séance to try to summon the spirit of the missing bird.

There was no Amber Alert for Norma Lopez, although in all fairness, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department jumped on the case as soon as they were notified. On July 15, the seventeen-year-old student vanished on her way home from Valley View High School after taking a summer class.

Shortly after ten that morning, Norma began walking home. She headed south on Nason Street. After turning onto Dracaea Avenue, Norma took a shortcut through a field. She was just a few hundred yards from her home on Cottonwood Avenue when she disappeared. She wore a black and white sleeveless blouse and dark blue “skinny” jeans.

Norma’s sister, Sonja, and a friend, were waiting for her to arrive. Sergeant Joe Borja of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, described what happened next. “[Norma] had plans to meet her sister and another friend,” he said. “When she didn’t arrive, they began looking for her. They looked for approximately two hours. They looked in the dirt field and along the trail that she normally walks through and found some property belonging to her.”

There were signs of a struggle, Borja said. Although he wouldn’t divulge to reporters what items were found, he stated that "they’re personal belongings and they do belong to her. We’ve confirmed that. [Norma] has never been in trouble [and] she’s never run away in the past.”

He concluded that she had likely been abducted.

Searchers combed the neighborhood, then branched out into the hills surrounding the community. Detectives spoke with possible witnesses and learned that a newer-model green SUV was seen speeding from the area at about the time of Norma’s disappearance.

A $ 7,500 reward has been posted.

Norma’s sister is the spokeswoman for the family. “We miss her and we want her home safe,” Sonja said at a recent news conference.

Here’s hoping Norma Lopez comes home soon.

And here’s also hoping that Lola, the wayward yet much-loved parrot, will return to her grieving family.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Four Cold Cases Solved by DNA

Mia Zapata

by Robert A. Waters

Time ticks away, each day lonelier than the last. Those days morph into years and the years decades. For families of unsolved murders, hope fades and loneliness hardens into despair. Then comes a phone call or a knock on the door--DNA has identified a killer. Here are four long-cold cases solved by DNA.

1—Death of a Rock Star. Louisville-born Mia Zapata was on the verge of stardom. The founder and lead singer of a punk rock band named The Gits, she had re-located to Seattle, Washington where she had scheduled a national tour to promote her music. On July 7, 1993, at about 2:00 a.m., Zapata left the Comet Tavern and began walking home. An hour later, her body was found on a deserted street. She’d been beaten, raped, and strangled to death, then posed in what detectives called a “Christ-like position.” Investigators could find no witnesses and no suspects. In 2003, a DNA profile that had been obtained from Zapata’s body was placed into a national databank. The profile matched a career criminal named Jesus Mezquia. The Cuban-born laborer had a long history of assaulting women, as well as arrests for burglary and domestic violence. After more than ten years of walking free, Mezquia was convicted of Zapata’s murder and sentenced to 36 years in prison.

2—Justice Denied. It took 34 years, but the 1976 murder of Marcia Lynn Christian was finally solved. The victim, of Newhall, California, had gone for a job interview and never returned home. “[Mrs.] Christian was sexually assaulted in her own car,” said Captain Paul Becker of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Office. “Hikers...spotted her buried with her hand exposed.” A blanket found in Christian’s car was stored for decades in an evidence room. It was recently sent to a lab and tested for DNA. The resulting profile was placed into a California databank where it matched Mark David Jackson. The killer, however, would never be brought to justice. He’d died of a drug overdose in 1997. Jackson had committed numerous crimes in his life, including kidnappings, rapes, and child molestations. He’d spent decades behind bars. This is one of the oldest cases in California to be solved by the use of DNA.

3-Why We Have the Death Penalty. On November 14, 1978, Armida Wiltsey left her house to go for a jog. A few hours later, her body was found off a running trail near Contra Costa, California. Wiltsey, a forty-year-old housewife, had been assaulted in a blitzkrieg attack. Police said she fought savagely for her life, however, and they recovered evidence from underneath her fingernails. At the time, it was of little value, but detectives saved the nail clippings. Cops focused their investigation on a man who had been convicted of murdering three other women, but were unable to find evidence to link him to the murder. Finally, in 2000, detective Roxanne Gruenheid pulled out the cold case and sent the clippings to the lab. DNA was extracted and matched to a long-time criminal named Darryl Kemp. In 1957, he’d been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Marjorie Hipperson. Fifteen years later, however, the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, resulting in the eventual freeing of thousands of murderers across the country. Kemp was one of those. Within a few days after winning his freedom, police theorize that he confronted Wiltsey on the jogging trail, abducted and raped her, and strangled her death. In 2009, Darryl Kemp was again sentenced to death by a California court.

4—The Killer with Satan’s Name. This was the very first case in which DNA was used to convict a murderer. It also provided the first exoneration of an innocent man. On November 21, 1983, in Leicestershire, England, fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann was raped and murdered as she walked a lonely path home from a friend’s house. Three years later, Dawn Ashworth, 15, was also raped and murdered on the same path. Richard Buckland, 17, was charged. Except for a shaky, coerced confession, however, cops had no evidence. Investigators decided to try a new technology to strengthen their case. A local university professor named Alec Jeffreys had developed something called “genetic fingerprinting” and was asked to test semen collected from the two girls. Dr. Jeffreys found that the DNA profiles matched the same offender--but he was not Buckland. After collecting blood samples from most of the male population in the village, Colin Pitchfork was arrested. A convicted sex offender, his DNA profile matched that of the killer. Pitchfork quickly confessed and was sentenced to life in prison. The story is told in Joseph Wambaugh’s classic book, The Blooding.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Easy Money, Easy Death

Tyrone Roy Pinkney

Ten Seconds
by Robert A. Waters

Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.—Matthew 26:52, King James Version

In ten seconds, it was all over. Anwar Jouda, 36, and Sami Hammad, 23, were working behind the counter of the Community Food Market in Delray Beach, Florida when a man burst through the door. His face was covered with a black bandana and he carried a gun in his right hand.

The clerks didn’t need a roadmap--they knew a robbery when they saw one.

Thunderous cracks of gunfire rocketed from the robber’s semiautomatic. Bullets thudded against the counter as the clerks ducked for cover. Two customers bolted from the store and ran for their lives. The robber, single-focused, sprayed the counter with bullets and made straight for the clerks.

Hammad grabbed a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistol from his waist. He raised the weapon above the counter, aimed it at the gunman, and squeezed off several rounds. In the den and confusion, he couldn’t remember how many.

As if in slow-mo, the robber screeched on brakes, turned and charged back out the door he’d entered.

Ten seconds that felt like an hour. Two shaken clerks fumbling with cell phones to call 911. Sirens screaming through the darkness.

Minutes later, police found the suspect lying on a sidewalk not far from the store. He’d made it a full sixty feet before collapsing. He still clutched his gun, still had the bandana over his face. His bravado was gone, however, as blood drained from his chest, pooling on the sidewalk. Before an ambulance could arrive, the gunman was dead.

“All you can do is react,” Hammad told reporters the next day. “If I would have thought [it through], I would not be here.”

Community Food Store has been robbed four times in the last few years. Speaking of armed robbers, Hammad said, “They think it’s an easy hit-and-go when it’s not. Easy money is not really that easy...It’s maybe $ 60.00, and no amount of money is worth anybody’s life.”

Convenience store robberies happen somewhere in America every day. Clerks, easy targets for dopers, thugs, and gangbangers, never know if they’re going to make it home after work.

Community Food Store in Delray Beach, Florida

Investigators quickly identified the dead man as Tyrone Roy Pinkney, 23. For twelve years, he’d been a one-man crime wave in south Florida. He had 17 arrests, two stints in the state penitentiary, and was suspected of at least three murders and one attempted murder.

In fact, just thirty minutes before being shot, police said Pinkney shot and killed two people at the Dixie Food and Beverage Store in West Palm Beach. Clerk Mohammad Rahman, 54, and customer Felipe Rixtun-Escobar, 50, were found dead by customers. Shell casings matched those at the scene of the Community Food Market, linking Pinkney to the killings.

A few months earlier, the same gunman was identified as the killer of another clerk, Miguel Gonzalez Huicochea, 38, at the Los Cunaos Grocery in Lake Worth. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Pinkney and get him off the streets.

In yet another case, the killer shot his brother-in-law in the back. The victim survived but was too terrified to testify against Pinkney.

Ten seconds.

Unknown potential victims no doubt will live out full lives because a brave convenience store clerk had the nerve to fight back.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

UNSOLVED: The Morgan Violi Kidnapping and Murder

Innocent Blood
by Robert A. Waters

The distance between an unsolved murder and a decade seems to drag on forever. During that time, families are shattered and communities devastated. The brazen mid-day abduction and murder of seven-year-old Morgan Violi from Bowling Green, Kentucky was said to have snatched the innocence from the sleepy, Bible-belt community. As her mother Stacey said, “That’s the day I lost faith in the human race.”

Shortly after noon, on July 24, 1996, Morgan was kidnapped from the front of her home. She and her sister and a friend were playing just outside the door of the Colony Apartments when a van stopped beside them. A man got out, pulled Morgan into his vehicle, and sped away.

The Bowling Green Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department didn’t waste time. The Amber Alert system was not yet in place, but they recognized the danger to the child and launched a determined search. Deputy Roger Osborne described the police response. “We went up to the first overpass on Interstate 65,” he said, “and watched the vehicles for one matching the description. We had the entire area surrounded.” Osborne said he is still amazed that the suspect was able to slip through the dragnet.

The FBI was called in to help coordinate the investigation. Over the years, local detectives and the feds have investigated thousands of leads. A reward of $67,000 is currently being offered.

Stacey Violi, Morgan’s mother, had finalized her divorce from her husband, Glen, just two hours before the kidnapping. Investigators quickly tapped him as the main suspect, but he had an airtight alibi: Glen Violi was at work during the time of the abduction and was eventually eliminated as a suspect.

The family wanted answers. Where was their little girl? Was she still alive and being held captive by some monster? Or had her voice been silenced forever? Morgan would have started the second grade when school began in the fall. She was a friendly girl with a beautiful smile. The family couldn’t imagine life without her.

Four months later, on October 20, 1996, a hiker found Morgan’s remains. She was located about 40 miles south of Bowling Green, in Robertson County, Tennessee, near a culvert along the side of North Swift Road. Detectives have released little information about this part of the investigation.

On the day Morgan went missing, witnesses noticed an older model white Ford van parked beside a rundown barn about a hundred feet from where the child’s body was found. It had lingered there for about four hours. The van had unusual louvered windows in the sliding door. Investigators searched extensively for this vehicle but never found it.

The maroon van used in the abduction was found parked at a truck stop in Franklin, Tennessee. It had been stolen from Dayton, Ohio two days earlier.

Several eyewitnesses described the suspect as a white male with shoulder-length sandy-brown hair. According to the Robertson County Sheriff’s Department, “he appeared to be in his twenties at the time. He had a slender build but with defined muscles. At that time he had a mustache and some beard. He did have one outstanding feature that was noticed by all witnesses--he had a sharp, distinct nose.” The suspect was about six feet, one inch tall and weighed approximately 180 pounds.

A devastated Stacey Violi told reporters: “I never realized there was anyone that evil who could just take [Morgan] and do that.”

Ten years later, her outrage still has not faded. “Revenge is a double-edged sword,” she said. “But I’ll suffer the rest of my life and I want [the killer] to suffer for the rest of [his] life.”

Below is a police sketch of the suspect. Since he had almost certainly stolen a van in Dayton, Ohio, he may well be a career criminal and may be incarcerated somewhere. If you think back to ten years ago and recognize the suspect, please call the Bowling Green FBI office at 270-781-4734.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Guest Post - In Cold Blood: The Bible of True Crime Writing

In Cold Blood: The Bible of Crime Writing
by Jessica Cortez

The art of crime writing is perhaps one of the most complex forms of writing there is. This is simply because it seeks to investigate and explain the more disturbing parts of human nature, the parts about which we would rather not discuss. While true crime writing has probably been around since the beginning of the written word, the one modern piece that set true crime writing in motion is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Anyone who is interested in true crime should be reminded of the book's significance--both in crime writing and in our popular imagination of American homicide.

Since the release of the award-winning movie Capote, based largely on In Cold Blood and the mysterious circumstances by which it was created, the crime story is now quite familiar. The story revolves around the gruesome murder of a rural family in Kansas. The perpetrators--two men, Richard Hickock and Perry Edward Smith. Both had similar rural upbringings, and both came from lives that were peppered by struggle. After a failed marriage, Hickock engaged in several petty, fraud-related crimes, while Smith spent time in orphanages as a juvenile before being reunited with his father. Smith lived through the suicide of two siblings before joining the Marines and fighting in the Korean war. Hickock and Smith met in prison.

Capote's interest in the murder emerged from the apparent lack of motive, considering the homicides committed were brutal to an astonishing degree. Although Hickock and Smith were eventually tried, found guilty, and executed, still much was left unexplained. Capote's involvement in the trial and investigation is itself a point of contention among critics. Was Capote involved in a relationship with Perry Smith? Were the details recounted in In Cold Blood even all accurate, considering Capote relied largely on his memory during interviews and other research?

We will perhaps never know the answers to these questions, but this is precisely the reason why crime interests us in the first place. Homicide and other violent crimes--in which man is pitted against one of his own species--arouse our curiosity because of their inability to be fully explained, regardless if their respective cases are closed. From this perspective, the thorough exploration of true crime is, and will always be, a fount from which to draw infinite material to explain the mystery of human nature. In Cold Blood was only the beginning.

This guest post is contributed by Jessica Cortez, who writes on the topics of online degree programs. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: cortez.jessi23 at