Saturday, January 29, 2011

Help Find Hailey Dunn

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Texas cheerleader vanished
by Robert A. Waters

NOTE: Many "persons of interest" turn out to be innocent. A few high-profile examples are Richard Jewel, Richard Ricci, and Steven Hatfill. I have no idea whether Shawn Adkins, now designated a person of interest, is responsible for the disappearance of Hailey Dunn. In this story, I've attempted to report "just the facts, ma'am." Nothing more, nothing less.

The last known person to see Hailey Dunn was Shawn Adkins, the live-in boyfriend of her mother, Billie Dunn. On the afternoon of December 27, 2010, Adkins claims that Hailey walked out the door of their Colorado City, Texas home and headed toward a friend’s house. She never made it.

When last seen, the thirteen-year-old middle school cheerleader wore navy blue sweat pants, a light-colored T-shirt, and pink and white shoes. Five feet, one inch tall, Hailey has hazel eyes and brown hair.

The investigation hit a snag almost immediately. At first, local investigators assumed that Hailey had run away from home. But she left behind her new IPod, a new MP3 player, money, and her favorite jacket. Since it was very cold on the day she disappeared, police began to suspect there might be more to the case than a simple runaway.

Hailey’s biological father, Clint Dunn, lives less than a block from the home where his daughter was last seen. He and Hailey are on good terms, he said. He told investigators that he has been concerned about Hailey's well-being and had moved close by to monitor her living conditions.

Shawn Adkins quickly peaked the interest of investigators. Public documents reveal that in February police had been called to a domestic disturbance at the girl’s home. Reports made by officers at the scene state that Adkins threatened both Billie Dunn and Hailey. After Hailey went missing, he failed one polygraph test and walked out of two others.

ABC News reported that “both [Billie] Dunn and Adkins failed polygraph exams. Dunn took a lie detector test twice. The first test ended prematurely when investigators discovered Dunn was under the influence of narcotics. The second exam indicated that she had been deceptive...”

When police searched the home, they located more than 250 pages of computer-generated documents about serial killers, mass murderers, sexual sadists, and family murders. Billie Dunn stated that collecting such material, including posters from “slasher” movies, was one of her hobbies.

After weeks of investigation, police named Shawn Adkins as a person of interest.

What happened to Hailey Dunn? Did she run away? Was she murdered by a family member? Did she walk out the door of her home and fall into the clutches of a kidnapper?

If you have information about this case, please call Colorado City Police Department at 352-728-5294. There is a $25,000 reward leading to the whereabouts and safe return of Hailey Dunn.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When the Golden State Limited Rode into History

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Crimes, Mayhem, and Tragedy on the Rock Island Line
by Robert A. Waters

For more than six decades, from 1902 into the 1960s, the Golden State Limited passenger train ran a regular route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Unlike most dull black locomotives of the day, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific’s Limited was painted bright orange with shiny aluminum siding. She must have incited many a dream of freedom to rural farmers and cowboys across the western United States each time she roared by.

Even though the Limited had a long ride through the history of train lore, it wasn’t without tragedy. In 1908, a west-bound Limited wrecked near Benson, Arizona when a rail broke. Two sleepers and the dining car left the track and several persons were seriously injured. Less than a year later, in the same area, an engineer and fireman were killed when the train again left the rails. This time, an investigation determined that the Limited was going too fast at 30 miles per hour.

Near dawn, on May 15, 1922, the Limited was making its way toward Jaynes, Arizona, just west of Tucson. The following story from the Deming Headlight described what happened:

“Robbers who attempted to hold up the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific's crack train, the Golden State Limited, at a point eight miles west of Tucson on Monday morning, were driven off after one of their number had been killed and another had been wounded by the express messenger, Harry Stewart. The dead man was later identified as Tom Dugat, a goat rancher near Tucson and a hanger-on in the Tucson pool rooms.

“The robbers used a red fuse, a railroad stop signal, to halt the train at an isolated spot, when three of their number, wearing masks, forced the engine crew, at the point of a gun, to drive the mail and express cars, that were uncoupled from the passenger coaches, a short distance down the track, where four other masked men were waiting in an automobile.

“Conductor Madigan stuck his head out of a vestibule between two of the cars to see what had caused the train to stop, when one of the bandits opened fire on him, shattering the glass above his head and showering him with the splinters. Stewart at that moment opened the door of the express car and opened fire on the bandit who was shooting at Madigan, killing him instantly. Stewart then fired at four of the robbers who were approaching the express car, wounding one of them, when the thieves beat a hasty retreat, escaping in the automobiles.

“Posses were immediately put on the trail of the robbers, all of the roads leading into Mexico being watched closely, but late reports indicate that the robbers had made good their escape in the mountains of southern Arizona.”

Authorities learned that two Ford cars had stopped at around midnight before the robbery at a Tucson service station and loaded up tanks with extra gas and oil.

Tom Dugat’s body was identified by his wife and daughter.

Winnie Ruth Judd

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The Golden State Limited had at least one other brush with infamy. In 1931, Winnie Ruth Judd booked a ride from Phoenix to Los Angeles via the well-known passenger train. With the help of a cohort, she placed two heavy trunks in the baggage compartment. Once she arrived at her destination, Judd attempted to claim the trunks. When the baggage handler at Union Station saw that the trunks were dripping an odorous fluid, he called authorities. On opening the trunks, investigators found two dismembered bodies inside. Winnie Ruth Judd was later convicted of the murders of her roommates, Agnes Anne LeRoi and Hedvig Samuelson. In a sensational sex-drenched trial, Judd was sentenced to hang but was later found to be insane and spent much of the next forty years of her life in an institution.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: The Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Texas

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The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas
by Ron Franscell
Globe Pequot: November, 2010

Review by Robert A. Waters

“If you want a wine museum, go to Sonoma County. If you want a movie museum, go to Hollywood. And if you want a prison museum, go to Huntsville, Texas.” So begins a brief section from The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas about the museum that houses memorabilia from one of the most infamous prisons in the country. In addition to the original electric chair and other grotesque artifacts, you can even take the Prison Driving Tour which will show you where freed inmates catch a ride away from Hell. In this section, as in all the stories, you’ll find GPS coordinates that will help you easily locate the site.

Cemeteries all across the state hold the remains of Texas law-breakers who caused mayhem and misery before meeting their maker, sometimes at the end of six-gun. There are other sites such as the University of Texas Tower in Austin where Charles Whitman holed up as he methodically slaughtered the innocent. You can travel to a real hanging tree, or you can visit bullet-pocked banks that were robbed and shot up by hardened outlaws. There are former whorehouses, a Texas “body farm,” and many more such curiosities. There are literally hundreds of places in Texas where you can hang out with the ghosts of famous outlaws such as Bonnie and Clyde, Sam Bass, serial murderer Joe Ball, or David Koresh.

Or you can search out those who upheld the law, such as famed lawman Frank Hamer, who coordinated the assassination of Bonnie and Clyde. The Texas Ranger museum has a display of relics from that organization’s storied past. And there are the graves and homes of little-known lawmen who died while upholding the law in lonely, out-of-the-way towns across the state.

Unlike so many books about crime, there are even stories about some of the victims.

If you’re hankering for serial killers, Texas has what you’re looking for. GPS coordinates lead you past the house where “Candyman” Dean Corll raped and murdered dozens of teenage boys. There’s the property that Chicago serial killer H. H. Holmes attempted to embezzle from a wealthy Texas heiress. There’s the courthouse where Tommy Lee Sells was sentenced to death. And on it goes.

The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas was designed to be used as a travel guide. But the arm-chair traveler can also read the stories and learn of those long-ago days when guns blazed across the heart of Texas and took the souls of many an outlaw to eternity.

While some might think such a book is bizarre, history itself is not only about politics or religion or institutions, it's also about anti-social behavior and the effects of criminal activity on society.

If you want a guide to the vast world of Texas criminal history, go to your local bookstore and pick up The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The First Woman to Die in the Electric Chair

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The Execution of Martha Place
by Robert A. Waters

Martha Place’s last gasp of breath came on the morning of March 21, 1899, in Sing Sing Prison. Her crimes were brutal, her guilt indisputable, but her execution was virulently opposed by many Americans. And for those who think today’s political dialog is caustic, read on.

Martha Place was described by the press as a “half-demented, homely, old, and ill-tempered” woman. “Mrs. Place has the face of a woman subject to a fierce anger which might drive to dreadful ends,” wrote the editor of one small-town newspaper. Still others commented on her “triangular-shaped” face and gray piercing eyes.

William Place married Martha eighteen months after having hired her to be the nanny to his teenage daughter, Ida. There seemed to be little love in the four-year marriage. William had willed his home and estate in Brooklyn, New York to Ida and that became a sticking point as his wife, Martha, wanted it all in case he died. To make matters worse, William wouldn’t let her son from a previous marriage live in the family home. It seemed to be the classic marriage of convenience, at least for William.

Martha’s dislike of Ida slowly boiled into a cauldron of seething hatred and jealousy. A story in the Trenton Evening News described the relationship: “Martha was of a morose disposition and possessed an ungovernable temper that frequently broke out in an alarming way. She was an immaculate housekeeper, but possessed no other accomplishments and no personal attractions. Mr. Place was devoted to his daughter. They studied amateur photography and often took long walks together. Mrs. Place regarded this as neglect of her on the part of her husband.”

On the evening of February 9, 1898, Martha followed Ida into her bedroom, threw carbolic acid in her face, and attacked the helpless girl. Some news reports indicated that Martha smothered Ida to death, others that she strangled her stepdaughter then attacked her with the blunt end of an ax. However it happened, by the time Martha left the room, Ida was no longer the heir to William’s property.

As soon as her husband came home, Martha went after him with the ax. After absorbing several blows to the head, William staggered from the house and collapsed outside. An alarm was sounded and police rushed to the scene. There they found Ida dead. Martha, covered with pillows and with the gas jets on full-tilt, was unconscious but alive.

Her attempt at suicide failed, leading some to conclude that she was too mean to die.

William Place also survived. His wounds told a horrible tale, as did his voice once he was able to speak. Martha was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.

By 1899, twenty-five men had succumbed to Old Sparky, but not one woman, and most people assumed that the execution would never take place. The case was hotly debated not only in America but in countries across the globe.

The governor of New York was none other than Theodore Roosevelt, and it was his job to make the final decision.

Letters from the public poured in urging the governor to spare the woman’s life. Newspapers editorialized about the case, the overwhelming number seeking a commutation. But in the end, Roosevelt determined that if the only reason for sparing Martha’s life was that she was a woman, he would order the execution to go forward.

So, on March 21, 1899, at exactly 11:00 a.m., Martha Place paid for her crime. Her last words were, “God save me.”

Many Americans never forgave Roosevelt.

A year later, as he was running for president of the United States, anti-Roosevelt newspapers around the country published the following commentary:

“It was a murder so shocking, nothing worse could be thought of. Nothing worse could be thought of--that is to say, only one thing worse could be thought of, and that was the electric killing of the old woman. Newspapers had predicted that she never would die in the electric chair. Governor Morton, a plain, kindly old gentleman, who had never shot anybody in the back and had no especial claims to glory, had twice declared when governor that he would not allow a woman to be killed by electricity.

“None--not even the very worst [woman]--had been executed in the state for years. But Martha Place committed her murder and was convicted when Roosevelt was governor.

“Roosevelt feared nothing. When urged by his friends and family not to allow the old woman to be killed so brutally, he snapped his white teeth and declared that ‘mawkish sentimentality’ could not move him.

“Women and decent men appealed to him, but his ‘courage’ could not be moved.

“‘What,’ he asked, ‘an electric chair paid for by the state and no governor has had the courage to send a woman to that electric chair? I'll show them what I dare do.’

“It was no idle boast.

“The day came, the old woman was half-pushed, half-carted into the death room. The back of her head was shaved so that the current might easily reach her brain. One of her legs was bared to the hip so that the second electrode might burn her without setting fire to her clothing.

“A score of men looked on at this sight, which history owes to the ‘brave’ Governor Roosevelt. It was a sight to be seen only once. Roosevelt will never again be governor. There will never again be a man at the head of a great state capable of sending a woman in shameful dress to a shameful death before many men.

“Roosevelt had gone to war. After heroic performances--told over his own signature in numerous magazines--he informs us that he took San Juan hill.

“At one stage of his glorious progress he saw fleeing before him a miserable Spaniard. The man's back was turned, of course. He was turning away. He had never hurt Roosevelt. He was in the army because [he was] compelled to be there. The real conflict was over. But as he ran, his back offered a most inviting shot. Roosevelt, you must remember, had never killed a man.

“He had once killed a bear in a trap according to western stories. He had killed rabbits and robins, he had indirectly killed old Martha Place. But he had not actually had the satisfaction of pressing the button.

“Here was a chance to enjoy the sensation of killing a fellow creature. It was not a foolhardy undertaking, for the man's back was turned. He could not suddenly face round and do harm, for he had dropped his weapon in his flight. If ever Roosevelt was to enjoy the sensation of taking human life, here was his chance to enjoy the sensation safely.

“He says in the shameful story which he himself has signed and left for his children to read: ‘Shot him dead with my revolver.’

“We do not pretend to guess what the next ‘brave’ deed of this brave man may be, if offices and opportunities continue to pour in upon him.

“We simply narrate these two sample deeds of heroism as guides to those who must vote this fall.

“An old woman electrocuted.

“A fleeing unarmed man shot in the back.

“Such are Roosevelt's chief claims to heroism at present. If you indorse such heroism vote for him by all means.”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mystery in Pacific Northwest Deepens

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The Tenth Foot
by Robert A. Waters

On December 5, 2010, a boot with the remains of a foot inside was found in the tideflats near Tacoma, Washington. It was an OzArk Trail hiking boot, size 6. This type of boot was sold at Walmart stores in 2004 and 2005. Authorities told reporters that it would have been worn by a juvenile or small adult.

This is the tenth foot that has washed ashore in the Pacific Northwest since 2007. Some experts say it’s normal--most non-experts see nothing at all normal about it.

The first foot to wash ashore was identified as having belonged to a depressed individual whom investigators believe committed suicide. None of the others have been connected to any missing person.

Because it is so unusual to find shoe-clad feet along the shores of America, media speculation has been rampant. Some contend that the unidentified feet belong to persons killed in a plane crash. Or they’re the last remnants of victims of a serial killer. Or maybe they floated in from Asia, just a few thousand miles away.

The fact is that nobody knows where the feet came from. The one thing we do know is that it’s rare for feet encased in shoes to drift in on the tide. And it’s even more unusual for them to be clustered in one area.

While I don’t subscribe to the theory that the feet belong to victims of a serial killer, I think it’s irresponsible for police and experts to categorically deny it. Investigators contend that since there are no cut-marks on the feet, they can’t belong to a killer. But if the victim was shot, stabbed, strangled, smothered, or died in any other way, violence wouldn’t have shown up on the feet. Again, I don’t think it happened, but it can’t be discounted.

The plane crash theory keeps popping up. A small plane did indeed crash in 2005 near Quadra Island, not far from Vancouver. Only one of the five occupants was recovered. But DNA tests conclusively eliminated the plane crash victims.

Is the Puget Sound area around Tacoma and Vancouver a kind of gyre that funnels debris from the Pacific? Maybe, maybe not. Still, the questions remain. How did the bodies get into the water? Where did they originate? How many unfound feet have washed up in the area--feet that were buried in the sand or ended up unseen in a crevice of rock somewhere or on some lonely, deserted beach?

The mystery deepens as feet continue to make their appearance on shorelines across the Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Canada's Most Wanted Fugitive

Murder victim Sharin' Morningstar Keenan

Is Dennis Melvyn Howe Still Alive?
by Robert A. Waters

The crime Dennis Melvyn Howe committed on the afternoon of January 23, 1983 was a stain on humanity. At about four o’clock that afternoon, he stepped outside his boarding house in downtown Toronto, walked about a hundred yards, and slithered into Jean Sibelius Park. It had been raining off and on all day, and just one lone child played there, a nine-year-old girl named Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan.

Somehow, no one saw Howe and Sharin’ walk back through the neighborhood and climb the stairs to his second-story room. What ruse he used to get the creative, intelligent girl to accompany him is unknown. That night, her parents reported their child missing. Hundreds of investigators and volunteers searched the park and row houses surrounding it. They spoke with neighbors, checked nearby businesses, and even drove through the streets with a megaphone urging tipsters to come forward. For nine long, depressing days, cops and a stunned public searched for Sharin'.

Then detectives got a call from the landlord at 482 Brunswick Avenue informing them that one of her tenants had unexpectedly dropped out of sight the day after Sharin’ vanished. Investigators entered the boarder’s drab room and noticed shelving from the refrigerator lying on the floor. When they opened the door, a half-frozen body spilled out. An autopsy revealed that the trusting child had been savagely raped.

The scene was so horrible, so gruesome, so surreal that ten days later, one of the detectives who found the body quit the force. (The second, never able to forget that heart-grinding scene, killed himself a few years later.)

It seemed almost beyond belief. In the heart of Toronto, a child had been kidnapped, raped, and strangled to death. In one fell swoop, the normally peaceful city lost its innocence.

The boarder turned out to be a parole violator living and working in the city using an alias. Dennis Melvyn Howe had spent most of his adult life in prison. He’d recently been paroled from Prince Albert Penitentiary in Saskatchewan after serving 17 years. His 20-year rap sheet included theft, armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment, indecent assault on a thirteen-year-old girl, kidnapping a woman and holding her hostage, as well as dozens of other crimes. Many questioned why this obviously dangerous felon was out on the streets at all.

After murdering Sharin’, Howe borrowed $200 from his employer and bought a bus ticket. A day later, he arrived in North Bay. Howe is then thought to have continued to Winnipeg, a city of a half-million souls. After that, he vanished.

Investigators were confident the fugitive would soon be captured. Yet Dennis Melvyn Howe somehow escaped. Forty-one years later, he is still Canada’s most wanted fugitive. In those years, he has been featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and other television shows. A $100,000 reward has been in effect for decades. Cops have checked out thousands of leads over the years, all to no avail. In 1998, the Canadian Community Newspapers Association launched a campaign called “Nowhere to Hide”--it was an attempt to get an age-enhanced photograph of Howe to ten million Canadians.

How did the career criminal who was unable to avoid being arrested for more than a few weeks while out on the streets manage to evade cops for decades? Is he even still alive? At 84, time is ticking away for cops to bring him to justice. A few years ago, the current lead investigator, Detective-Sergeant Jim Crowley, said: “There are those who think Howe may be dead, but I don’t think so. After so many years in this business, you get gut feelings. I figure he is in a small out of the way Western town or lumber camp. He may have found a safe haven with female company.” Wayne Oldham, another investigator who was once involved in the search for Howe, said: “Presuming he’s alive, and with each passing year that assumption dwindles a little, I can see him in a rural setting, essentially a recluse, employed in a menial job where identity is not critical.”

A great deal is known about Howe. He was born on September 26, 1940. Howe is five feet ten inches tall and at the time of Sharin’s murder weighed about 170 pounds. His hair was brown when he fled, but now would be gray or white. His eyes are brown. He has a scar under the left side of his chin and short, crooked fingers. Howe is left-handed and has a hairy chest, hairy arms, and square shoulders. He walks quickly and is a heavy smoker.

He goes by many aliases, all common names. A few of his known aliases were: Michael Burns; Wayne King; Ralph Ferguson; and Jim Meyers.

At the time of Sharin’s murder, Howe’s teeth were black and abscessed. Due to the constant pain he endured, investigators believe Howe would have been forced to get dental assistance. It’s possible he now has dentures, if he's still alive. In fact, after the murder, Royal Canadian Mounted Police published Howe’s dental charts in the Canadian Dental Journal with the hope that a dentist might spot the killer.

Howe’s DNA has been linked to Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan. It is available to law enforcement officials in North America.

While most Canadian investigators think Howe would never have left the country of his birth, it is possible that he fled to the United States. (What better way to throw the hounds off your tracks than to go somewhere totally unexpected?) While Howe was estranged from most of his family, he had a brother who occasionally loaned him money. In the years following the murder of Sharin’, cops learned that his brother made a dozen trips to Montana and Washington. After being questioned about the reasons for those visits, they suddenly stopped. His brother died several years ago, taking any secret he may have had to his grave.

Is Dennis Melvyn Howe still alive? Is he hiding in plain sight, maybe in some small town, cared for by a wife and children? Is he languishing in a nursing facility, his identity unknown?

To me, the most likely scenario is that he died or was killed shortly after the murder, while still on the run. Otherwise, with his deviant sexual compulsions and anti-social personality, he would have quickly come into contact with law enforcement officials, either in Canada or the United States. There is even a rumor in Canada that cops tracked him down and killed him.

Wherever Howe is, Hell will be his final destination.