Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Cinder Car Mystery

Brother comes back from the dead
by Robert A. Waters

When Theodore Furman walked into his mother’s home on April 5, 1912, he had no idea that the whole town of Middletown, New York thought he'd been murdered. On seeing her son, Ellen Thurmond fainted. Her four other sons jumped up and down, shouting with joy.

Ellen soon revived and told Theodore a bizarre and terrifying tale. On the next day, she said, the Middletown Police Department planned to hold a grand jury hearing in an attempt to indict two of Theodore’s brothers for his murder.

The nineteen-year-old had been missing for five months. During that time, Ellen said, police detectives had “coerced” confessions from Eugene and Joseph.

Two months after Joseph left town, railroad employees found parts of a human corpse in one of the cinder cars. The Sheboygan Press reported that “a human skull, attached to the right shoulder and arm, was found in a car of hot cinders on the Ontario & Western railroad near Middletown on January 8. Theodore Furman, a railroad fireman, had been missing since November 11. A piece of cloth on the charred bones matched a pair of trousers which Theodore Furman had worn. Eugene Furman, seventeen, was arrested and told the police that his brother, Joseph, had killed his brother Theodore in a quarrel and had cut the body up and buried it in the cinder car. Joseph Furman was arrested and said that Eugene had killed Theodore.”

In addition, Ellen had been convicted of forgery for cashing the final check Theodore had drawn on the railroad.

After his arrest, Eugene made numerous contradictory statements, first implicating himself as the killer and then blaming Joseph. The Middletown Daily Times Press reported that “Eugene told several other stories of the crime to the officers, and one thing at least has been settled to the satisfaction of the authorities, and that is that Eugene is gifted with a most fertile imagination.”

In one of his confessions, Eugene stated that he alone had murdered Theodore and cut his body in half. He said he loaded each section of the body onto different cinder cars hoping the intense heat of the burning cinders would incinerate the remains.

Joseph told detectives that he thought Theodore had left town. But after being interrogated for 48 hours without sleep, he said Eugene may have killed his brother.

In a way, Theodore had created this strange series of events. Tiring of his job, he decided to leave his hometown and look for a new profession. Unfortunately, he failed to notify anyone--not even his family.

After returning home, Theodore told reporters that after traveling through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, he ended up in Philadelphia. While there, he decided to enlist in the army. Since he was only nineteen, the recruiter informed him that he needed his mother’s signature. The recruiter and Theodore wrote to Ellen Thurman asking her to sign the form. Two days later, the recruiter told Theodore he'd received a letter from home with news that he was “missing.”

The wandering boy then hurriedly returned to Middletown and the joyous welcome described above.

Theodore told news reporters that his mother should not have been convicted of forgery. “I did not intend to come back and withdraw what money I had coming from the O & W,” he said. “It was understood at home that they could try and get the money.”

He also said that he thought Eugene was not “exactly right,” which is why his brother continued to change his stories.

An embarrassed police department dropped all plans to charge Eugene and Joseph with Theodore's murder.  Ellen Thurman's conviction was also vacated.

The mysterious remains of the corpse in the cinder car were never identified.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Football Follies

NFL brand is threatened by thuggish players
by Robert A. Waters

Listed below are just a few of the National Football League players who have been arrested this off-season.

Dallas Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant was accused of beating up his own mother and charged with family violence and assault.

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was arrested for DUI.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt of the Tennessee Titans was arrested for DUI.

Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumerville was arrested for aggravated assault with a firearm.

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Corey Williams was charged with DUI.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was arrested for assaulting a police officer outside a nightclub.

Aaron Berry, cornerback of the Detroit Lions, was arrested on two different occacsions, once for DUI and the other for assault.

And that's just a start.

NFL Commish Roger Goodell, aware that “brand” is all-important in the league’s money-making machine, has attempted to stamp out crime among players. But it ain’t working. As long as teams continue to draft criminals, recidivism will continue to stigmatize America’s greatest sport.

While many NFL fans minimize the unlawful actions of their star players, others wonder how multi-millionaires continue to find themselves in legal hot water. Many followers are amazed that the wealthy moguls of the gridiron can’t do the minimum required to keep from getting arrested.

Anybody want to start a Fantasy Football game for suspended ex-cons?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Permit Holder Destroys Armed Robbers

The Shootist
by Robert Waters

On July 13, 2012, two robbers barged into Palms Internet Cafe in Ocala, Florida. You could tell they thought they looked cool, wearing hoodies fitted with masks. As customers held up their hands or ducked for cover, Davis Dawkins beat computers into submission with a baseball bat while DuWayne Henderson rushed forward, pointing a handgun at the crowd.

It could have been a disaster--two armed thugs pumped up with adrenalin inside a playhouse with 30 senior citizens. Just picture the bodies lying like cordwood on the slick-tiled floor.

But, fortunately, some stories have happy endings.

The robbers were so busy playing cool they didn't see Sam Williams, 71, rise out of his chair and draw a .380 semi-automatic pistol. After making sure no customers were within the line of fire, Williams moved forward.

The sudden crack of gunfire startled the hoods. Panicked, they fled. Williams kept firing as the two tripped over themselves trying to get out the door. They dropped the gun, the bat, and a backpack. So cops should have plenty of physical evidence to convict them.

The suspects, both 19, were treated at a Gainesville hospital. Dawkins received a superficial wound to his shoulder while Henderson suffered the ignominious fate of having been drilled in the butt, as well as the hip.  They were both charged with attempted robbery with a firearm and criminal mischief.

Bill Gladson, assistant state attorney general, wrote that Sam Williams’ “use of force was lawful under Florida's statutes regarding individuals rights to use deadly force when resisting a forcible felony, like a robbery.”

Most hailed him a hero. And rightfully so.

Henderson consented to an interview with the Ocala Star Banner.  He and Dawkins planned to commandeer all the cellphones, he said, so no one there could call police.

Henderson claimed his “gun was broken and rusty and wasn’t loaded. Nobody was going to get hurt.” (Of course, if that were true, no one at the business could have known.)

After Williams opened fire, Henderson said, “I turned around to run and my leg gave out. That was when I got shot. I hit the ground, and he was still shooting. I thought I was going to die. By the grace of God, [my] leg came back. I ran.”

Henderson was critical of Williams, who continued shooting while he was on the floor. “I was down, and I’m not going to continue to shoot you,” he said.

One of the great things about the Internet is that it has helped to change the dynamics of the gun control debate. Twenty years ago, anti-gunners could minimize the use of guns for self-defense. (New York Senator Chuck Schumer once famously quipped to gun-rights advocates that their stories of self-defense were mere “anecdotes.”) Today, that argument no longer flies. A quick Google search at any one time reveals hundreds of such cases.

Since Palms Internet CafĂ© had video surveillance, Williams’ brief burst of heroism made national news.

Take that, Senator Schumer.

    Davis Dawkins            Duwayne Henderson

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Murder and Mayhem in 1912

Headlines from 100 years ago
by Robert A. Waters



Thirty packages of Currency Known to Have Been in Safe on Train.

Waterloo Reporter
May 15, 1912

New Orleans--Robbers who held up a Queen and Crescent express train near Hattiesburg, Miss. yesterday got at least $200,000, according to best information obtainable here today. It is positively known that from the safe which was blown open, the bandit got more than thirty packages of currency, one of which contained in excess of $50.000. One [other] package of currency contained $140,000, according to an express messenger.


Eight Babies Slain

Woman is Accused of Wholesale Murder of Infants

Associated Press
February 24, 1912

Winifred Anders, a nurse in the Brooklyn [New York] nursery and infants hospital, was held in the Brooklyn court today without bail on a charge of having caused the death of eight babies by putting oxalic acid in their milk.

Detectives who arrested the woman claim that she made a full confession but the motive for the terrible series of crimes is a mystery. The woman appeared in court indifferent and pleaded to have a baby, that she claims is her own, restored to her.


An 18-Year Sentence Given to Two Boys by Judge Grimm Today


Prisoners for First Time Appeared to Realize Enormity of Their Crime and Stood With Heads Bowed As Sentence Was Passed.

Janesville Daily Gazette
November 25, 1912

Edward Meyer, aged 19, and Harry Berger, aged 17, convicted of rape and of third degree murder when they caused the death of Tilly Bergsterman September 30, last were each sentenced to 18 years at hard labor at the state's prison at Waupun by Judge George Grimm at the circuit court this afternoon. The first day only of their imprisonment shall be in solitary confinement.

The two boys stood before the bar of justice with heads bowed down and were more deeply affected than at any time during their extended trial. They arrived in the court room accompanied by Turnkey Philo Kemp shortly before two o'clock and sat quietly until court was called. They glanced neither to the right nor left and paid no heed to the large audience which filled the court room.

A hush fell over the court room when Judge Grimm rapped for order and ordered Sheriff Ransom to open court for their sentence. "You each stand convicted of the crime of third degree murder and of rape," said Judge Grimm. “Have you, Edward Meyer, any reason to give why sentence should not be passed?” Meyer's head hung lower and [he] shook it negatively. “Have you, Harry Berger?” He had none.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review - By the Noble Daring of Her Sons: The Florida Brigade of the Army of Tennessee

Guest Review by Zack C. Waters

By the Noble Daring of Her Sons: The Florida Brigade of the Army of Tennessee
Author: Jonathan C. Sheppard
University of Alabama Press

Jonathan C. Sheppard introduces us to George Hartsfield in the opening line of his book, By the Noble Daring of Her Sons. The illiterate Cracker farmer, who owned no slaves and scratched a meager living from a hardscrabble farm, had already survived the horrible bloodletting at Perryville, Kentucky. Hartsfield’s luck ran out at Murfreesboro, Tennessee on the 1st day of January, 1863. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Middle Tennessee.

The record of the Florida Confederates who endured combat in the Army of the Heartland (in other words, those who did not fight in Virginia or in “The Land of Flowers”) closely resembles that of George Hartsfield. They fought hard, won few victories, and were quickly forgotten.

With the nation celebrating the 150th anniversary of our Civil War, the Florida troops, who served in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina, have finally found a worthy historian to tell their story.

By the Noble Daring of Her Sons provides a wonderful account of the battles the Floridians fought, from Shiloh to Nashville, but even more interesting is the cast of characters we meet along the way. Samuel Pasco, for example, was born in England, raised in Canada and Massachusetts, and sent by Harvard University to teach school in Jefferson County, Florida two years prior to war. The teacher joined the Confederate army with his students, served until captured at Missionary Ridge, and despite the pleading of his family (who had the clout to have him released), endured fifteen months of horror at the Federal prison of Camp Morton. He would become a political heavyweight in postwar Florida, even having a county named for him.

Equally intriguing is Colonel D. L. Kenan, a lowly wheelwright, who led the Florida boys in their final fight of the war, losing his leg (to amputation) only thirty miles from his home town. In this highly readable book, the reader meets a host of interesting characters who will bring the units and the men who served them to life.

I highly recommend By the Noble Daring of Her Sons. Well-written and researched, it reveals again the truth that history can be fun, and that, despite a million-plus books on the well-worn topic of the War Between the States, there is a great deal that we don’t know about the defining point in our national history.

This was the battle flag of the Florida Independent Blues, Company B, 3rd Florida Infantry.  The regiment was formed near Pensacola in July, 1861.  They fought at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Jackson, Chickamauga, and Bentonville.  The carnage to this small company of Florida troops was horrendous, and few were left to surrender in April, 1865.

Zack C. Waters is an acclaimed author of many articles about the Civil War.  His latest book, A Small But Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Viriginia, became an instant classic and won the coveted Charlton Tebeau Award for best book on Florida history in 2011.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Mansfield Clubber

Killer was never caught
by Robert A. Waters

Sixty-five-year-old George Marginean was a nobody.

He lived in a converted garage behind a small grocery market at 328 Grace Street in Mansfield, Ohio. The store's owner, Peter Such, and his wife took care of the feeble old man. In coming days, local newspapers would call Marginean “a frugal and temperate man" who had little money. Around town he was known as a hermit. In fact, he lived hand-to-mouth on city relief.

Even though he lived in deperate circumstances, Marginean had a dream.

It was 1942, and war raged in his home country of Romania. It seemed to the old man that his country was always at war. Nazis. Bolsheviks. Communists. It didn’t matter, they all seemed to love killing. He had two sons in that dangerous faraway land, but hadn’t heard from them in months.

On September 25, Mrs. Such and her son Emil walked over to the make-shift apartment to take food to Marginean. Emil, the first to enter the room, found Marginean dead.

The Mansfield News Journal reported that “police said Marginean was apparently asleep when his assailant crept into his home and struck him with a blunt instrument. There were two blows on the forehead and one across the nose. Because of Marginean's financial circumstances and the fact that nothing in the place was disturbed, officers ruled out all possibilities of robbery.”

Several neighbors informed police that they had seen a tall, thin stranger in the alley beside Marginean’s garage. Despite appeals, the man never came forward and investigators were never able to track him down.

A background check revealed that Marginean had come to the United States 27 years earlier. He’d moved to Mansfield 15 years before, after working in Willard, Ohio as a railroad section hand. In addition to his meager welfare check, he occasionally worked odd jobs around town.

The News Journal reminded readers of a previous unsolved crime: “Marginean's murder recalled the slaying of Sherman Reed, aged WPA worker in his three-room cottage on Seventh Ave. on March 30, 1938. Both men were found slain in their small homes where they lived alone. Both were killed by blows on the head from heavy instruments. Sheriff Frank E. Robinson, in office at the time of the Marginean murder and deputy at the time of Reed's murder, theorized the two men might have been slain by the same person.”

No suspects ever emerged in Marginean’s killing. It was as if a phantom appeared, snuffed out the old man's life, and vanished like smoke.

Marginean’s dream died with him. His single, obsessive hope in life had been to become a naturalized citizen of his adopted country. He’d taken the test twice, but had failed both times, possibly due to a language barrier. The News Journal reported that on the day the old man died “he’d been studying to prepare himself to pass the next citizenship examination.”

George Marginean's brief, inconsequential time on earth was soon forgotten.

Life is not always kind, and sometimes dreams die lonely in the night.