Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Happened to Tabitha Tuders

Missing without a trace for nine years
by Robert A. Waters

At about 7:30 a.m., Tabitha Danielle Tuders walked down the road toward her bus stop. Nashville, Tennessee investigators confirmed that Tabitha made it there before she vanished. Numerous theories have been floated in the nine years she’s been gone. Was she abducted and sold into the sex trade? Did she run away? Was she snatched by a sex predator? Did she go willingly with a friend who murdered her? Shortly after Tabitha’s disappearance, her social security card was used once in Las Vegas. The individual who used it was never found.

At first, local police thought Tabitha had run away from home. But no evidence pointed to this theory. Eventually, most investigators came to the conclusion that she was abducted.

Nine years later, no other clues have surfaced. It's as if she fell off the face of the earth. The FBI has posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of Tabitha Tuders.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Only Undertaker Ever Executed in Florida

Avon Elwood North and his wife
The Murder of Betty Albritton
by Robert A. Waters

Betty Albritton, 57, was an old-time Florida Cracker. In 1951, she lived on a ranch near Frostproof. Known for her frugal living, Betty rarely spent money on necessities, much less non-essentials. It wasn’t that she didn’t have adequate finances--her husband had recently died, leaving his widow hundreds of acres, 400 head of cattle, a half-interest in nearby Ft. Meade’s only funeral parlor, and about $35,000 in local banks.

Betty lived with Henry, her developmentally disabled teenage son, and a black hired hand named James Hobbs, whom she treated like a member of her family.

On June 25, her nephew came by for a visit. Delighted to see him, she insisted that he and his family stay for supper. Betty prepared rice, sausage, gravy, and macaroni and cheese. Her nephew later told police that she said she felt “hale and hearty.”

Shortly before her company left, Avon Elwood North drove up. Co-owner of the funeral home, North had a secret past. His first wife had fled his violent outbursts, and his second had been shot dead. The mortician, who admitted pulling the trigger, claimed the shotgun had gone off accidently, and he was never charged with a crime.

North, who lived in Tampa at the time of the shooting, moved to Fort Meade and opened his funeral parlor. A few years later, Betty’s husband invested in the concern.

Rumors swirled about the young mortician. Some local residents claimed that when the funeral parlor encountered slow periods, North had a ready supply of poison available to improve business.

After Betty’s nephew left, North insisted that she, Henry, and James eat some candy he’d brought. He also requested that they ride with him to Ft. Meade. Betty hesitated, but a laughing North said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going juking.” This persuaded her, and the group drove to town, about fifteen miles away. By the time they arrived, Betty complained of severe stomach pain. On the way home to her ranch, she vomited twice. James would later testify that she told him the candy had made her sick.

By the time they arrived back at the ranch, North had to drag Betty up the steps and onto the porch. Betty had no telephone, so Henry and James wanted to fetch neighbors to come and help. At first Betty refused, but as her condition weakened, she agreed.

North, however, told them to drive his Jeep to the funeral home and get the “big car,” an ambulance. With James driving, the two set off down the road, leaving North alone with Betty. By the time James and Henry arrived back at the ranch, it was after midnight.

Betty Albritton lay dead on the front porch.

North sent James back to get his apprentice, William Arnold. North and Arnold transported Betty to the funeral home. Charleston Gazette reporter Ruth Reynolds wrote that Arnold noticed “bruises on [Betty’s] rear left shoulder, the right temple, across the nose, on the chin, on her left hand and on the fleshy part of both sides of her throat. Both the eyes were blackening. There was a cut through the upper lip, on the right cheek, on the lobes of the ears.”

Betty Albritton’s many relatives began arriving at the funeral home. They quickly became suspicious since, as far as they knew, she’d been in good health. Their misgivings, and those of law enforcement, were aroused even more when it became known that Betty had left all her property and money to her partner Elwood North. She’d even appointed him as the guardian of Henry.

North helped Arnold with the embalming. According to the apprentice, his employer seemed obsessed with covering up the bruises on Betty’s face and neck. He wasn’t successful, and her relatives were shocked when they saw her laid out in her casket. Morgan Albritton, her brother-in-law, stated: "What ails her? [She] looks worse than anybody I've ever seen in a funeral home."

Reynolds wrote that “Mrs. Albritton was buried in Mount Eden, an isolated little family cemetery off a clay road six miles from Frostproof, in spite of Morgan's grumbling. Tradition in the locality said that a body should be buried with the head to the west so that when the Savior comes the dead can rise from the grave and face east to greet Him. North had Mrs. Albritton's head to the east and feet to the west because she looked better that way to people who filed past the casket…”

A few days later, Deputy Sheriff Hamp Rogers, District Attorney Walter Woolfolk, and Special Investigator Neil Keen had the body exhumed. Physicians from the State Board of Health in Jacksonville arrived and performed an autopsy. They wrote that Mrs. Albritton's “throat was plainly marked as though someone had throttled her--with a thumb on one side of the throat and three fingers on the other.” The doctors from Jacksonville also discovered “unidentified alkaloids” in Betty’s stomach, which they took to be a mysterious poison.

One month after her death, Deputy Sheriff Rogers arrested Elwood North for the murder of Betty Albritton.

The trial was a sensation, attended by many national newspapers, wire services, and even Time magazine. North pled innocent. His attorneys attempted to convince jurors that Betty hadn’t been strangled at all, but had died of a heart attack. Two high-profile physicians insisted that the bruises on her face and neck might have been caused from thrashing around on the porch as she died. One doctor said Betty likely scratched her own face while in the midst of oxygen deprivation.

The shady funeral director’s defense didn’t work. It took the jury an hour and a half to find North guilty. The trial judge sentenced him to death in the electric chair.

Three years later, after many failed appeals, Avon Elwood North took his last breaths in Old Sparky, perhaps becoming the only mortician ever executed in the state of Florida.

After his execution, North’s wife published a letter he’d left her claiming he was innocent. Residents and relatives who lived in the normally peaceful area around Frostproof and Fort Meade had a difficult time swallowing North’s words. They still remembered the kind woman who liked to cook and herd cattle and who treated her neighbors with love and respect.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Execution Files

Courtney LeBlanc
“Justice will be done”
by Robert A. Waters

A rampage of rape and murder ended on the evening of January 7, 2010, when Gerald Bordelon fell asleep and never woke up. His execution at Angola Prison in Louisiana ended the career of a vicious serial rapist and child-killer.

Bordelon’s first recorded sex offense took place in 1979, when he abducted and raped an 18-year-old girl in Baton Rouge. Committed to a mental institution, he gained his freedom in less than two years.

In 1982, he picked a woman up off the street and raped her. Tried and convicted, Bordelon received a sentence of 10 years in prison.

In the criminal justice system, ten years never means ten years. By 1990, Bordelon was out on parole. It didn’t take him long to abduct a 22-year-old East Baton Rouge woman. Forcing her into an abandoned building, he raped her. For this brutal crime, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But since twenty years never means twenty years, the rapist was released on parole after less than ten.

In 2001, Bordelon met Jennifer Kocke online, and they soon married. Part of the attraction for Bordelon were Kocke’s two pretty daughters. Twelve-year-old Courtney LeBlanc had blonde hair and blue eyes, and Bordelon couldn’t wait to get his hands on her.

Although the State Parole Board informed Kocke that Bordelon was a twice-convicted sex predator, she allowed him to move in with her and her children. Soon the inevitable happened. Courtney and her sister informed their mom that their step-father had fondled them. Jennifer Bordelon belatedly separated from her husband.

On November 15, 2002, Bordelon drove by his wife’s Denham Springs mobile home. Seeing her car gone, he parked in a wooded area behind the house. The twice-paroled registered sex offender then entered the house through the back door.

Courtney was alone, sleeping on the sofa. Bordelon threatened her with a kitchen knife and abducted her. In his videotaped cofession eleven days later, he said, "I took Courtney and told her if she screamed or hollered or tried to get away, I was going to kill her."

He drove the frightened pre-teen into nearby Mississippi. There Bordelon forced Courtney to perform oral sex on him. Then he took her to Baton Rouge where he parked near the Amite River. At knife-point, the sex offender compelled the child to walk down a trail to the water. Bordelon strangled Courtney, but she fought back, biting him. His blood was later found on her shirt.

After hiding her body in the brush, he drove to his sister’s house and washed his clothes.

It didn’t take police long to connect Bordelon to the missing girl. Eleven days after the murder, he was caught. He confessed and led police to Courtney’s body.

In 2003, he briefly escaped from the Livingston Parish jail. Then he set his cell on fire.

In 2006, a jury convicted Bordelon of kidnapping, rape, and capital murder. A judge sentenced him to death.

In 2007, he waived his appeals. Bordelon said: “I’m not one of the guys who is going to say: ‘I’m not guilty.’ I am guilty. If someone did to my daughter or to anyone what I did to Courtney then in my opinion they deserve the death penalty. Why should I look at it any differently for myself?”

True to his word, he went to his death never having filed an appeal.

Bordelon's execution brought the anti-death penalty groups out of the woodwork. The ACLU asked Governor Bobby Jindal to stop the execution. Jindal turned them down, saying, “In Louisiana, as across this country, the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous, the most violent, the most atrocious crimes. I think justice will be done...”

One anti-death penalty website claimed that “Bordelon’s death was the result of multiple, compounded perversions of our criminal justice system.” To most, however, his death seemed rather to be the inevitable result of his own brutal and perverted actions.

Gerald Bordelon suffered little during his final minutes. Unlike Courtney LeBlanc, he simply went to sleep and never woke up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lola Sanchez, Confederate Spy

William D. Chisolm at the grave of Panchita Sanchez Miot
The Battle of Horse Landing
by Robert A. Waters

The issues that led to America’s Civil War were varied and complex, and those who fought did so for many reasons. Twice as many Hispanics fought for the South as for the North.

In 1855, the Sanchez family moved from Cuba to Pilatka (now Palatka), Florida. They bought a farm near the St. John’s River and enjoyed a bountiful life until the outbreak of the war. By 1862, Union forces had occupied most of Florida’s coastal cities, including St. Augustine and the area around Palatka.

As the war progressed, a Confederate raider named Captain J. J. Dickison continued to thwart Yankee advances inland. In skirmish after skirmish, the so-called “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy” defeated forces several times his size. Part of the reason for his success was information he received from Confederate sympathizers in the region.

The three beautiful Sanchez girls, Panchita, Lola, and Eugenia, provided on-going intelligence to Dickison. According to a 2008 article in the Columbia (SC) Star, written by William D. “Bill” Chisolm, “it was usual for Yankee officers to visit at the Sanchez home. The girls were cordial and gained some protection from thieving [Union] soldiers. Though the conversations were light and airy, and the girls often played the guitar and sang, they were able to glean information and feed it to the Confederates.”

Federal troops eventually accused the patriarch of the family, Mauritia Sanchez, of being the source of the leaks and imprisoned him in St. Augustine. Despite the old Cuban’s arrest, however, Dickison continued to keep the Yankees at bay.

On the evening of May 21, 1864, three Union officers dined at the Sanchez home. As the girls prepared supper, they overheard a soldier discussing a plan to attack Dickison in his camp near the river. The Yankees planned to send several gunboats upriver the following day and surprise the Rebels.

While Panchita and Eugenia diverted the Union officers, Lola crept outside, mounted her horse, and rode into the night. She knew that Dickison’s camp was about a mile and a half from the house, on the other side of the river. Chisolm describes her ride into the forest: “[Lola rode] to the ferry about a mile distant. The ferryman took her horse and gave her a boat. She rowed across the St. John’s River where she met a Confederate picket.” Borrowing his horse, Lola rode into camp.

After informing Dickison of the trap being set for him, she quickly headed home. The whole trip took less than two hours and Lola had not been missed by the enamored Union officers.

That night, Dickison moved his camp to a different, more strategic location along the river. He placed two cannons on a dock called Horse Landing and hid his cavalrymen behind cypress trees at the edge of the water. At about 3:00 the next afternoon, his men saw black smoke chugging above the tree-line less than a mile away. As the USS Columbine appeared, Dickison ordered his men to wait before firing.

The ship soon came within range of their guns, and the Confederate cannons opened up. In the book, J. J. Dickison: Swamp Fox of the Confederacy, author John J. Koblas recounts what happened: “The second volley of Confederate fire cut the wheel chains of the Columbine, taking out the steering and soon stranding it on a sandbar in the river. The Columbine carried a pair of thirty-two-pounder cannons and 148 men, all with small rifle arms, and these weapons returned fire on the concealed Confederates. The battle lasted about forty-five minutes."

With his ship decimated, and many of his soldiers leaping into the water to avoid the withering fire, the commander of the Columbine was forced to raise the white flag.

Only sixty-six men on the Columbine made it out alive, one-third wounded. Dickison’s men captured the survivors, looted the ship of its weapons and other valuables, and then sank it.

There were no Rebel casualties.

Later, the Confederate States of America named a ship The Three Sisters, after the Sanchez girls.

Panchita eventually obtained the release of her father.

After the war, Lola married a former Confederate officer named Emanuel Lopez. He'd served in Co. B, 3rd Florida Infantry, known as "The St. Augustine Blues." They had a daughter.

Panchita married Captain John R. Miot and moved to South Carolina. Miot had fought in the Mexican War. In the War Between the States, he served in the regiment led by General Wade Hampton. The Miots had six children. Panchita died in Columbia, South Carolina in 1931.

Eugenia married Albert Rogero of St. Augustine. During the Civil War, Rogero had served in the same unit as Emanuel Lopez.

After war, the sisters became proud members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization designed to preserve the history of those who fought for the South. They are honored with a plaque in the UDC Memorial Building in Richmond.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Murder of Tori Stafford...

Tori Stafford

...Or, why the death penalty exists
by Robert A. Waters

The cruelty of humans is sometimes beyond belief. This is the story of a beautiful child abducted from her school, raped twice, and murdered in the most violent way. If you’re squeamish, don’t read this.

At 3:30 p.m., April 8, 2009, Victoria “Tori” Stafford went missing from Oliver Stephens School in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Surveillance videos showed a woman walking away from the school hand-in-hand with the eight-year-old. It also showed a teal-colored van in the parking lot at the time Tori vanished.

Ontario Provincial Police launched the largest manhunt in Canadian history. Then, a month after the abduction, investigators identified Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, as the mystery woman. She and her boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, 31, were soon arrested. Two months later, police located Tori’s decomposing remains in a rural area.

McClintic, a drug addict, owned a teal-colored van and confessed to the appalling murder. She later pled guilty, describing the events to a jury. When the details of Tori’s last hours became known, McClintic and Rafferty replaced serial killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka as the most hated couple in Canada.

At her trial, McClintic testified that she lured the child to her car by asking Tori to come see a schitzu puppy, the same breed as the girl’s pet. (McClintic knew Tori’s mother because they both raised schitzus and had done drugs together.)

McClintic testified that she had smoked marijuana and took Oxycontin earlier that day. After the abduction, the couple switched to Rafferty's car. Then, according to the UK Daily Mail, “the drug-addicted couple made three stops…to pick up Percocet, a highly-addictive narcotic pain killer, coffee and a hammer and garbage bags before arriving at the remote area chosen to kill the innocent school girl.”

Rafferty raped the child in the front seat of his car while McClintic walked around outside. She said she heard Tori’s screams as the child was being brutalized. After he finished, Rafferty called McClintic to take Tori outside so she could urinate.

While they were away from the car, the sobbing victim pleaded with McClintic to help her. “Please don’t let him do that to me again,” Tori cried. The newspaper reported that Mclintic told her she was sorry and to be strong. Then she led Tori back to the car.

UK Daily News reported that “[McClintic] told the packed courtroom that as they were walking back to the car, Tori wouldn't let go of her hand… ‘She asked me to stay with her. I tried to hold on to her hand but I couldn’t stay because I knew what was going to happen,’ said the former drug addict. ‘I couldn’t be there for that. I left.’”

Rafferty raped the child again.

McClintic testified that she came back to the car, placed a garbage bag over Tori’s head, and began beating her with the hammer. Angry because she’d been raped when she was Tori’s age, McClintic said, “I savagely murdered that little girl.”

Rafferty and McClintic took their captive out of the car and began kicking and stomping her. The coroner testified that she'd been found in a fetal position, that she had at least four skull fractures, and that sixteen of her ribs were broken. Her liver had been lacerated while she was still alive.

After murdering the child, McClintic and Rafferty placed rocks over her body to hide the remains. They then went to a car wash and cleaned the car.

Rafferty was convicted of first degree murder, sexual assault, causing bodily harm, and kidnapping. Since Canada no longer has the death penalty, he will receive mandatory life in prison when he is sentenced.

As a side-note, almost everybody in the case except Tori had been addicted to drugs: Tori’s mother and step-father; McClintic’s mother; Rafferty and McClintic; and many of their friends and relatives.

Tori Stafford deserved a better life.

And her killers deserved worse than life. Much worse.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NYPD's Botched Investigation

Karl Vanderwoude ain’t the “Gentleman Groper”
by Robert A. Waters

The media and bloggers had a lot of fun destroying a man’s reputation.

When a well-dressed stranger groped the crotches and buttocks of four women in some of New York City’s “toniest” neighborhoods, journalists had a field day. The attacks had been filmed on the surveillance cameras of several businesses, so NYPD released still shots of the suspect to the media. The "Gentleman Groper" suddenly became big news.

A reader called and identified Karl Vanderwoude as a look-alike for the "sicko." Dragged from his bed, the twenty-six-year-old businessman was subjected to NYPD’s infamous perp walk--complete with a grim-faced detective and hardass-looking female deputy. As the smirking cops guided the handcuffed suspect through a gauntlet of reporters, flash-bulbs popped and journalists shouted insulting questions.

While in custody, two victims picked Vanderwoude from a lineup, once again proving the fallacy of witness identification. The suspect denied that he had been in the area where the attacks had occurred. He gave detectives his cell phone and asked them to check it so they could determine his whereabouts at the time the groper struck. But NYPD dicks couldn't be bothered to actually check a suspect's alibi, so they ditched the cell phone and charged Vanderwoude with “forcible touching, unlawful surveillance, and sexual abuse.” If convicted, he could have served up to three years in prison.

The headlines said it all. Police pinch dapper ‘groper.’ Manhattan ‘grope’ goon charged. Some reporters were kind enough to throw the “a-word” (alleged) into their stories once or twice, but the damage was done.

Because Vanderwoude had attended a Christian college and held Bible studies in his apartment, he came under the glare of an atheist blog with the ill-chosen name, “Deep Thoughts.” The title of one of their articles read: Hands that pray also prey. Hehehe. Get it? “Karl VanderWoude likes to hang out with friends,” the editor wrote, “host bible studies, pray, and allegedly grope young women and snap upskirt photos. Don’t worry though, he’s a nice Christian.”

Fortunately for the suspect, job records proved he was innocent. MVision, the private equity firm Vanderwoude works for, provided its own surveillance videos and emails showing him at work during the hours of one of the attacks. A restaurant receipt proved he’d been dining with co-workers when another assault occurred. (Vanderwoude's attorney stated that NYPD investigators never checked any of his client's statements until the documents were given to them by his lawyers.)

Yesterday, a judge dropped all the charges against Vanderwoude and pronounced him “exonerated.”

For the media, the fun was over.

At least until a new suspect can be found.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Who Murdered the Camp Fire Girl?

Candy Rogers kidnapping and murder was never solved
by Robert A. Waters

On March 6, 1959, in Spokane, Washington, nine-year-old Candice Elaine "Candy" Rogers vanished while going door-to-door selling mints for her Camp Fire Girl troop.

Late that afternoon, when Candy didn’t return home, her mother reported her missing. The Spokane Police Department immediately launched an all-out search. Lawmen and volunteers swept the area for miles around. Known sex offenders, called “perverts” by the media, were questioned. Helicopters from nearby Fairchild Air Force Base circled above the search grid in a desperate effort to spot the girl--tragically, one of the choppers crashed killing three airmen.

Twelve hours into the hunt for the missing girl, searchers located six boxes of mints scattered beneath a nearby bridge. The discovery seemed to foreshadow what was to come.

Seventeen days after Candy disappeared, hunters found a pair of girl’s shoes in a remote field. Police were called and, after a brief search, located the remains of the missing girl. Candy lay in a clump of bushes, her body covered by pine boughs and brush.

United Press International reported that the body had been discovered twelve miles from her home. "Her legs were tied together at the ankles with parts of her own slip," the article read. "[Candy] had been raped and death was due to strangulation, Coroner William Jones said. Parts of her slip were found around her throat. The body, fully clothed except for her shoes and red leotard, was completely covered with underbrush except for one knee. Death probably came on the night she disappeared, Jones said."

Spokane Police Chief Clifford Payne, clearly shaken and angry, spoke to reporters. “We'll put every available man on the case and keep them there until the thing is solved,” he said. “We know what we're looking for now. We're looking for a maniac."

Candy's mother, Elaine, a divorcee, collapsed when told the news.

Hundreds of leads poured in. Police checked out an Idaho mental patient named Donald Dean Stokes, but he was quickly eliminated. Tommy Lee Miller told friends that he'd murdered a girl in Spokane, but police determined that he’d been in Colorado at the time of the kidnapping. In Sacramento, another former mental patient, William Edward Beckwith, went on an hours-long “joy ride” with a thirteen-year-old girl. After arresting him for kidnapping, police questioned Beckwith about Candy Rogers, then released him to a mental institution.

Investigators seemed to be swimming upstream. Leo Freed, described as a “floater,” who regularly faked illnesses to receive public hospitalization, was questioned and released. Two suspects committed suicide after Candy’s body was found, but neither could be definitively linked to the crime.

Several deranged men confessed to the murder, but police eliminated them all. Over the years, every promising lead wilted under the glare of police scrutiny.

Decades passed, and still the murder remained unsolved.

Then, in 2001, a DNA profile developed from Candy’s clothing renewed hope that the murderer might yet be identified. Police began collecting genetic samples from major suspects. One, a convicted serial killer named Hugh Bion Morse, had long been considered the prime suspect in Candy’s death. A drifter who'd murdered two Spokane women in a cross-country killing spree, Morse had attempted to molest two young girls who were selling Girl Scout cookies. Although he admitted killing three women, the murderer always denied any connection with Candy Rogers. In 2003, Morse died in prison. When his DNA was compared to that found on Candy's clothing, it didn’t match.

Several other suspects have been eliminated by DNA. Others are still under suspicion.

Fifty-three years after Candy Rogers walked away from her home into a nightmare, the outrage still haunts the Spokane Police Department. While the unknown murderer may be dead, investigators still search for answers.