Saturday, December 20, 2014

Who Killed Leah Lloyd Johnson?

Church Street, Near the Scene of the Murder
Teen’s murder was never solved…
by Robert A. Waters

The Leah Lloyd Johnson murder case in North Adams, Massachusetts baffled investigators for decades before it died of old age.

It was April 28, 1933 when Edward Dolan found Leah’s remains.  The body of the eighteen-year-old lay in a thornapple thicket east of Church Street.  Less than a mile from the murder scene, searchers located Johnson’s leather pocketbook.  Inside, police found a wrist watch that had stopped at 11:10, a comb, and a mirror.  The watch had been dented, as if it had met foul play.

The North Adams Transcript reported that “in order to reach the place where the pocketbook was found a person leaving the scene of the crime would have to cross the road, go down the steep embankment toward the tracks of the Boston & Maine railroad, and cross the land formerly occupied by the Hoosac Lumber Company, up another embankment and down the other side.  A person standing at the top of the second embankment might have thrown the articles away.”

Before nightfall, thousands of curious residents trooped through the brush-covered hillside where the body was found.  Any possible evidence that the killer left vanished as the crowds trampled the scene.

Investigators determined that Leah lived with her grandfather, A. M. Burdick, a retired janitor.  Grief-stricken, he arranged for funeral services and asked that only family and close friends attend.

Rumors began almost immediately.  The most persistent was that on the night of her murder she had attended a “whoopee party” with two couples.  This alleged night of “merrymaking” took place at a lakeside bungalow where women became “hopelessly intoxicated.”   Police questioned those who were supposedly involved, including a Navy sailor, and determined the rumor to be false.  Another discounted report was that Leah had eloped with a mysterious young man.

After finding letters written to the murder victim by Albert Reynolds, 23, police grilled him.  He stated that he had met Leah when she was sixteen, and they had become friends.  But he said he broke off the correspondence when his sister advised him that Leah was not the “type of girl” that he should date.  By the following morning, Reynolds, who had an iron-tight alibi, was cleared by police.

Leah had worked as a housekeeper for Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brunson.  They stated that she rarely spoke of her personal life, and seemed content to attend movies, read, or listen to the radio.  She was a reliable worker who often spoke on the telephone with her close friend, Ruth Crapo.  Ruth and several friends were interrogated for 48 hours, but provided no useful information.

Dr. Ellis Kellert conducted the autopsy.  The Transcript reported that “Leah was not carnally attacked on the night of the crime and [Ellert] indicates that there was nothing about her condition which needed to cause her or a boy friend to worry.”  Leah had been stabbed and strangled with a shoestring designed for use in a heavy work boot or a high-top shoe.  Police tracked down the owner of a local shoe store who stated that he routinely sold similar laces.

Throughout the investigation, the motive for the murder remained a mystery.  In fact, cops quickly became frustrated with the lack of leads.  On May 6, 1933, the Transcript reported that “Assistant District Attorney Harold Goewey and State Detective Silas P. Smith today suspended their investigation of the slaying of 18-year-old Leah Lloyd Johnson, convinced that the mystery is probably beyond solution.  The girl, employed by her neighbors as a household helper, was found stabbed and garroted in a remote field after she had left the home of her grandparents last Saturday night, ostensibly to go to a neighbor’s home to mind their children.  Investigators determined that the girl had misled her grandparents and did not have an appointment at the neighbor’s home.”

Periodically, police would take another look at the case.  In 1936, two confessed killers of a cab driver were questioned about the Johnson murder, but they were quickly eliminated.  In 1942, investigators spoke again with Edward Dolan, who found the body.  He reiterated that he was merely taking a walk when he stumbled onto the scene.  No evidence contradicted his story and Dolan was never charged.

Eventually, the case was shelved and the unanswered question remains: who murdered Leah Lloyd Johnson?    

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“Bumpkins and Yeehaws”

Taking refuge in the Second Amendment…
by Robert A. Waters

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post wrote that the Second Amendment is “the refuge of bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches.”  Well, not quite.  Here are just three of many true (not imagined) stories of homeowners protecting themselves and their families.

In November, 2014, Nashville (TN) Police Department issued the following press release: “Homeowner Gary Jonathan McCormick, 34, reported that he was watching television in the living room of his Long Branch residence while his wife was asleep on the couch when a gunman unknown to him (Jonathan William Corke), whose face was masked by a bandana, entered through an unlocked screen door shortly after 9 a.m.  McCormick said the gunman demanded money and other belongings.  McCormick complied, but the gunman continued to demand more.  While the gunman was dealing with the wife, McCormick walked into a bedroom, retrieved a .45 caliber pistol, and came out.  McCormick said when Corke raised a 9 millimeter pistol in his direction, he opened fire.  Corke was hit several times and fled to the front yard where he collapsed.  He died shortly after arriving at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”  At the time of his death, Corke was under indictment on multiple counts of home burglary and theft.  Police said the shooting was justified.

Indianapolis homeowner Howard Murphy retrieved his shotgun when he heard someone breaking into his home.  As Murphy hid in the pantry, Kocho Long entered the kitchen.  Murphy confronted Long, but the intruder attacked him.  After a brief struggle, Murphy shot Long in the leg.  The invader stumbled outside, and screamed for neighbors to call an ambulance.  Instead, they called the cops.  “Either I was going to get hurt or he was going to get hurt,” Murphy said. “I know I didn’t want to get hurt in my own house.”  After a stay in the hospital, Long was arrested for burglary.  Murphy, who was not charged, said, “If I can work for what’s mine, then people like that can work for what’s theirs.”  Murphy also had some advice for Long: “Get a job. Do things the honest way and stop breaking into people’s houses.  Because you don’t know who is waiting around the corner.”

In Lakewood, Washington, three violent intruders forced their way into the home of Harry Lodholm and his wife.  The robbers had been told there would be “weed, money, and gold” there.  None of those items were in the home, but the invaders wouldn’t be satisfied.  They pistol-whipped Lodholm, and dragged his wife from the shower.  Both were tied up as the intruders ransacked their home.  After they left, Lodholm untied himself and his wife and they retreated to their bedroom.  There, Lodholm took a handgun from its case as his wife called 911.  Suddenly, the intruders fired gunshots through the front door (which Lodholm had locked) and attempted to enter the bedroom.  Lodholm fired, killing Taijon Voorhees.  An accomplice has been arrested, and police are searching for the third man.  “I feel bad for their families,” Lodholm said.  “But they basically put us in an untenable position.”  Lodholm was not charged with any crime.

Is it really that difficult to understand that millions of normal citizens—black, white, male, female—own guns for self-protection?  And that in many cases every year, homeowners would be dead or injured if they did not have those guns? 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Murder in the Snow-Bound Alps

Death of the Iceman
by Robert A. Waters

5300 years ago, a solitary man met a violent death in the Alps.  Called “Iceman” because he was found half-frozen in ice, he has been subjected to scientific scrutiny for more than two decades.  The results of those studies have constantly shifted, but some things are known.

In September, 1991, while climbing a mountain pass on the border between what is now Italy and Austria, hikers found a frozen corpse.  They called local gendarmes, who pried the remains from its icy grave.  Once inspectors hauled the Iceman to a police lab, they realized his age and called scientists.  Otzi, as he is also known, soon became the world’s most ancient celebrity.  Suddenly, a routine police investigation became an international inquiry to discover everything possible about some of the oldest known remains in the world.

Investigators returned to the site and found numerous items carried by the Iceman.  These included the oldest copper axe ever found, as well as a bow and arrows, and a flint-bladed knife.  Scientists also recovered clothing, including shoes, a cloak, coat, leggings, cap, and other apparel.  The Iceman had worn a belt with a leather pouch that contained a scraper, drill, flint flake, and bone awl—this was probably a fire-starting kit.  A basket contained medicinal herbs and berries for food.

The Iceman seemed prepared for the cold climes of the Alps.

But he was not prepared for the attackers who killed him.

The thing that fascinates me about Otzi is that he is so similar to modern man.  Research has shown that he had many of the ailments that we’re afflicted with, including cavities, worn bones (arthritis), Lyme disease, and even lactose intolerance.  He had nearly fifty tattoos covering his body.  During his lifetime, he faced danger, and carried weapons for protection.  The Iceman attempted to keep himself warm by wearing the best clothing possible.  He ate relatively well, and traveled long distances.

He engaged in many battles during his 45 years on earth.  His hands, back, and legs showed signs of many wounds.  The Iceman’s last encounter left him dying in an ice-flow high above the meadow where he likely lived.

Who were his enemies?  Researchers don’t know.  One guess is that another clan may have attacked his village and Otzi fled into the mountains.  There he was chased down and shot in the back with an arrow.  (Doctors discovered a flint arrow less than an inch from his heart.)  After being shot, he may have fallen, or been unable to flee, because it is known that he engaged in hand-to-hand combat shortly before he died.  The Iceman was likely killed by a blow to the back of his head.

National Geographic published this report of his final fight: “[Archaeologist Thomas] Loy believes that the Iceman died in a boundary dispute with several individuals and that the Copper Age male received his first wound as early as 48 hours before his death.  According to Loy, the Iceman shot two different people with his arrow (DNA of two individuals were found on his arrow), each time managing to retrieve the arrow from his victim.  The Iceman's success, however, was short-lived.  He missed his last target, shattering his arrow-shaft.  The Iceman died before he could fix his weapon.  He was shot in the back with an arrow and was also badly cut on one hand.  Loy's reconstruction suggests the Iceman stacked his gear carefully on a nearby ledge, slumped over a rock, and died.”

This is just one interpretation of what may have happened high on the Alps that fateful day.  Other theories abound.  But what we do know is that the Iceman lived and breathed and died more than 5,000 years ago.  Continued study will no doubt open new windows into his short, sad life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida’s Lindbergh Case by Robert A. Waters and Zack C. Waters.

For 75 years, one of the most important cases in FBI history lay forgotten.  While dozens of books describe how the Feds took down John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Pretty Boy Floyd, and other gangsters in the 1930s, another audacious crime went un-noticed by historians.  Had the G-men not received credit for solving this case, the FBI would look much different today.  In fact, it might not even exist.

How could such an important case fall under the radar?

It happened a few months before the beginning of World War II.  From that point on, news of the war dominated headlines.  After the war, the case was all but forgotten, except by the unfortunate parents of the murdered child and their friends and neighbors.

On the night of May 28, 1938, five-year-old James Bailey “Skeegie” Cash, Jr. disappeared from his home.  A search mounted by the parents and townspeople failed to turn up the child.  They did, however, find a series of notes that demanded $10,000 for the return of Skeegie.  Within hours, the FBI had been notified.  Soon the small town of Princeton, Florida was crawling with more than 100 agents.

Why did the FBI care so much about a missing boy in a backwater town?

It all boils down to cold, hard cash.  By May, before the fiscal year ended, the FBI had run out of money.  In fact, J. Edgar Hoover had furloughed half his G-men.  This embarrassment allowed his political enemies to publicly denounce him.  But when Hoover got wind of the Cash kidnapping, he realized that if he could solve it, he might re-establish the FBI’s credibility with skeptical Congressmen.

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash plays out against a back-drop of weird characters, heart-pounding suspense, and the overwhelming presence of the FBI.

The book would make a fine Christmas gift. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Another Riot, Another Time

“We got caught up in the minute…”
by Robert A. Waters

Regardless of what anybody says, there is no excuse for rioting, looting, and violence.  The Ferguson crowd should be prosecuted, but if previous riots are a measure, the thugs committing these acts will serve little time.  In 1991, the Rodney King riots left dozens dead and large swaths of businesses destroyed.  In most cases, the perpetrators were not held accountable.

Reginald was a working stiff.

Damian, Antoine, Henry, and Gary never worked.  Gang members, they made their living hustling and committing street crimes.

On that afternoon, Reginald drove a Kenworth T800 Tandem Axle Dump Truck through the heart of Los Angeles.  He was hauling 27 tons of sand to a plant in Inglewood.  His truck had no radio, so he was unaware of the riots that had exploded earlier that day.  At 6:56 p.m., he stopped at an intersection on Florence Avenue.

As groups of people blocked the juncture, Antoine opened the door of Reginald’s cab.  Several men pulled Reginald out and threw him onto the road.  A group of unidentified men began kicking him, while another smashed his head with a claw-hammer.  Damian hurled a slab of concrete at the downed man, hitting him in the skull and knocking him unconscious.  Henry and Gary helped in the assault, and afterwards, Gary danced over the injured man.

A news helicopter covering the riots recorded the whole sequence.  As the beating played out live on the evening news, Anthony spat on Reginald.  Others in the area made no attempt to assist the fallen trucker, nor did nearby LAPD officers.

From their homes, several residents watched in horror as the beating continued.  Eventually, at least four went out into the street to help.  After Reginald regained consciousness, he climbed back into the cab and attempted to get away.  One of the residents helped drive him to the hospital.

Reginald Denny survived, but his skull was fractured in 91 places.  Bone pushed into his brain.  His left eye was dislocated, the socket shattered, and doctors had to rebuild the sinus cavities.  Denny underwent decades of therapy.  His speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged.  His injuries ruined him financially, as well as physically.  Today, he lives and works in Arizona, avoiding the spotlight.

Four of Denny’s attackers were identified as Damian “Football” Williams, Antoine “Twan” Miller, Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson, and Gary Williams.  Watson later said: “Nobody specifically sought out Reginald Denny to cause him any harm.  We got caught up in the moment, just like everyone else.”

The “L. A. Four,” as they came to be known, served little time for their crimes.  All got light sentences or no sentences at all.

Damian “Football” Williams served four years of a ten-year sentence.  He was later convicted of murdering an acquaintance and sentenced to 46 years.

Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson had previously served a prison sentence for robbery.  After being convicted only of a misdemeanor for his role in the Denny beating, he walked free.  He later served another sentence for drug offenses.

Gary Williams, a drug addict and panhandler, also walked free.  He hasn’t been heard from since.

Antoine “Twan” Miller served no time for the attack on Denny.  He was shot and killed in 2004.  A Los Angeles Times article informed readers that “Miller had an extensive criminal record that included arrests and convictions for gun possession, burglary, theft and assault.”

While many minimized the behavior of the “L. A. Four,” even a quick glance at the Reginald Denny beating shines a light on viciousness that is rarely seen in the open.  Regardless of any supposed grievances, there was no excuse for the crime.

Monday, November 17, 2014

When my brother Zack and I began writing The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida’s Lindbergh Case, our assessment of the FBI’s leader was neutral.  That changed as we read through thousands of pages of FBI files.

We came to the conclusion that Hoover was a sociopath.

Recent studies have determined that sociopathic personalities run many successful businesses.  Their ruthless, uncaring natures are many times masked by outgoing and jovial personas.  They can lull unsuspecting competitors into making mistakes, and often smile as they crush their opponents.

Hoover didn’t bother with smiles and deception.  He developed a pit bull personality early on.  Because of this, many people hated him.  But in most cases, he had obtained information that could cripple their careers, so most avoided conflict with Hoover.  In our book, we describe some of the dirty secrets that Hoover knew about President and First Lady Roosevelt.  The FBI director likely used these indiscretions to maneuver FDR to his side when the FBI suddenly ran out of money a few weeks before Skeegie was abducted.  FDR, like a puppy-dog, allocated funds solely for the Cash kidnapping case.

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash tells a poignant story of child abduction, a mother and father’s disabling grief, and the search for a psychopath.

But behind the scenes, J. Edgar Hoover’s manipulation of all people in his orbit shows that he was a deeply disturbed and dangerous individual.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Execution of Herbert Smulls

Murder victim Stephen Honickman
“It was a horrific crime…”
by Robert A. Waters

F & M Crown Jewels was a mom-and-pop jewelry retailer in Chesterfield, Missouri.  On July 27, 1991, Herbert Smulls and a teenage accomplice entered the store, pretending to shop for diamonds.  Moments later, Smulls pulled a handgun.  The Lawrence Journal-World reported that “a jeweler’s wife feigned death and listened to [her husband] plead with a gunman not to shoot him before he was fatally wounded during a robbery of their small store.”  Florence Honickman was shot twice, while her husband, Stephen, died of four gunshot wounds.

Cops quickly captured Smulls speeding from the scene.  Inside his car, investigators found the stolen jewelry.  The smoking gun was recovered a few miles away—Smulls had thrown it from the car.

On July 29, 2014, Smulls died for his crimes.  Death penalty opponents had fought hard to distract the public from learning the details of the murders.  The Associated Press reported: “Smulls’ attorney, Cheryl Pilate, had filed numerous appeals challenging the state’s refusal to disclose where it obtained its execution drug, pentobarbital, saying that refusal made it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution.”

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch responded.  “It was a horrific crime,” he said.  “With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it’s simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed.  They planned it out, including killing people, whoever was there.”

It was indeed horrific.  It was also unnecessary.  While begging for his life, Honickman offered to give Smulls everything in the store.

After the execution, Florence Honickman spoke to the media.  “Make no mistake,” she said, “the long, winding and painful road leading up to this day has been a travesty of justice.  I felt pain and terror while I lay on the floor playing dead while the murderers ransacked our office.”  She had been shot in the side and the arm, and lay in a pool of blood, forcing herself not to move.  She suffered permanent injuries from the attack.

The victim also said it was a travesty of justice that the state had to spend millions of dollars to get justice for her family.  Florence Honickman stated that it was her family, not Smulls, who suffered cruel and unusual punishment by having to wait 20 years for justice to prevail.

According to the Associated Press report of the execution, “Smulls mouthed a few words to the two witnesses there for him, who were not identified, then breathed heavily twice and shut his eyes for good.  He showed no outward signs of distress.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yankee Confederates

Many northerners fought for the Confederacy
by Robert A. Waters

Tens of thousands of northerners fought for the Confederate States of America. These fascinating profiles speak to a side of the conflict rarely written about.

General Otho French Strahl was born and raised in Ohio.  Of German-American stock, he became an attorney after graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University.  Through the influence of his Southern grandmothers, he became a staunch advocate of states’ rights.  Strahl eventually settled in Dyersburg, Tennessee.  When the war broke out, he commissioned a CSA company, the 4th Tennessee Infantry, and defended the Confederacy against his former countrymen.  He fought in many of the war’s most significant battles, including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Perryville, and the Battle of Stones River.  In 1863, Strahl was promoted to Brigadier General.  He later commanded a brigade at Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.  Just a few months before the war’s end, Strahl was killed while leading an infantry charge at the Battle of Franklin in his adopted state of Tennessee.  (NOTE: In this battle, the Confederacy suffered a casualty rate of 39%, even higher than at Gettysburg.  Six generals were killed and one captured.)

Lieutenant General John Pemberton, the defender of Vicksburg, was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After marrying a Virginian, his sympathies shifted to the Southern cause.  As a member of the United States Army, Pemberton fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War.  When Virginia seceded from the union, he resigned his commission in the United States Army and was appointed brigadier general in the CSA.  Pemberton was initially appointed the duties of strengthening coastal defenses in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.  According to historians, he was unable to get along with the governors of those states, and was transferred west where he was promoted to Lieutenant General.

Unfortunately for him, Pemberton was assigned command of the District of Mississippi and East Louisiana.  One of his key assignments was to hold Vicksburg.  He worked diligently to secure areas around the city, and to fortify Vicksburg.  However, the overwhelming force of numbers of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army could not be denied.  Adding to his problems, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston refused all requests for assistance, leaving Pemberton to the mercy of the Union armies.  On July 4, 1863, after a siege lasting 46 days, Pemberton surrendered to the Federals.

The disillusioned Yankee Confederate would be forever branded a traitor to the south.  After the war, he carried on a running feud with Johnston and eventually moved back to Philadelphia.  He died there in 1881, and was buried beside his Unionist relatives.

General Samuel Cooper, born and raised in New Hackensack, New York, married Sarah Maria Mason, a distant relative of the Lee family from Virginia.  Cooper was an outstanding student at the United States Military Academy, and later served as U. S. Secretary of War.  His sympathies, however, were with the South, and when the Southern states seceded, Cooper joined the Confederate army.  He quickly became a full-fledged general, outranking even the great Robert E. Lee.  According to Wikipedia, “Cooper’s last official act in office was to preserve the official records of the Confederate Army and turn them over intact to the United States government, where they form a part of the Official Records, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.”  He died impoverished near Alexandria, Virginia.  General Lee and other former Confederates assisted Cooper financially in his old age.

General Daniel Ruggles was a native of Barre, Massachusetts.  After graduating from West Point, Ruggles served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War.  On May 7, 1861, while living in Texas, he enlisted in the Confederate army.  Ruggles was quickly promoted to Brigadier General, and fought with General John T. Breckenridge.  His aggressive actions at the Battle of Shiloh led to the defeat of an entrenched Union line known as the “Hornet’s Nest.”  After numerous Confederate charges were repulsed, Ruggles gathered every piece of artillery he could find, eventually numbering 62 cannons.  For two hours, he bombarded the Hornet’s Nest.  The final charge of the Confederates sent the Union lines reeling, and secured a hard-won victory for the Rebels.

Ruggles fought in the western theater during the rest of the conflict.  In 1865, he became head of the Confederate prison system, and was instrumental in exchanging prisoners after the Confederate surrender.

Ruggles moved to Virginia where he became a real estate agent.  He died in 1897.

Captain S. R. Latta was born in Alexandra, Pennsylvania.  He graduated from Jefferson College at Kinnesburn, PA and moved to Tennessee where he became a teacher.  In June, 1861, Latta organized a CSA company in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and became its captain.  His Company K, 13th Regiment of the Army of Tennessee fought at Shiloh, Richmond, Perryville, and Murfreesboro.  During each of those battles, his troops suffered enormous casualties, yet they fought with courage and ferocity.  Before the Battle of Murfreesboro, many were disabled temporarily when a bout of smallpox swept through the camp.

After the war, Latta became a lawyer in Dyersburg.  He was a Mason and an elder in the Presbyterian Chruch.  A long-time member of the Confederate Veteran Camp in Dyersburg, each year he held a picnic for the survivors of his company.  Latta died July 12, 1911, survived by his wife and three daughters.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Compliant Victim Shot Dead

“I shot to kill him…”
by Robert A. Waters

As killings go, the shooting at Papa John’s in Columbia, Tennessee seemed more senseless than most.  Two robbers got the money from a compliant clerk, and headed toward the door.  That’s when Darious Fitzpatrick, 17, allegedly turned back and shot the clerk in the chest.

WTVF News in Nashville reported that “two masked men entered the Papa John’s on Shady Brook Street just before 10 p.m. Monday.   One of the men was carrying a gun.  The pair demanded that 22-year-old Gordon Schaffer, who was one of the store’s managers, open the cash register and they took cash from the drawer.  At the time of the robbery, a co-worker was on the phone with Schaffer and heard it all happen.  That person called police.”

The Columbia Police Department issued a statement about the murder.  Schaffer was “compliant and offered no resistance,” it read.  Sgt. Michael Kash told reporters that “Mr. [Schaffer] did everything he was supposed to do.  He complied [with] everything, he gave them the money they asked for.  The reason we’re saying [this murder is] senseless is because it didn’t have to happen.  He was compliant and they still shot him.”

Detectives quickly focused their investigation on convicted robber Darious Fitzpatrick.  While being interrogated, he allegedly admitted the murder.  When asked why he shot the clerk, Fitzpatrick replied, “He wouldn’t give me more money or my money.”

Then, in a chilling confession, the cold-eyed shooter said, “I shot him to kill him.”

Fitzpatrick’s Facebook page shows a young man on the wrong track.  At 17, he seemed obsessed with smoking dope and watching online brawls that turned fatal.  Unlike his victim, Fitzpatrick had no job and seemed to have no interest in working.

After his arrest, he was charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated robbery, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen firearm, and three counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a felony.  He was also charged with committing two previous unsolved robberies.

A year earlier, Fitzpatrick had been found guilty of yet another armed robbery, but was charged as a juvenile and released early.

On the other hand, Gordon “Gordo” Schaffer worked for his living, and had a dream of moving west to Washington.  He’d been saving his money to relocate when his dream was cut short.  Police and Schaffer’s family told reporters that Fitzpatrick should have been in prison instead of on the streets trolling for victims.

A statement released by Schaffer’s family read, in part, “[Gordon] was a free spirit that truly absorbed every aspect of life and spent his time trying to enjoy everything life had to offer.  He was also one of the most loving and generous people to walk this Earth.”

Because Fitzpatrick is only 17, the death penalty cannot be sought by prosecutors.  If convicted, the most he can be sentenced to is life in prison.

It just doesn’t seem to be enough. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Should Missouri Halt this Execution?

Susan Brouk, Adrian Brouk, and Kyle Brouk
Mark A. Christeson is scheduled to die in Missouri’s execution chamber at 12:01 A.M., on Wednesday, October 29.  His attorneys, however, missed a deadline for his last appeal, and the state is being pressured to stay Christeson’s execution until the appeal can be heard.  Whatever happens, below is a summary of one of the most brutal crimes you’ll ever read about.

State of Missouri vs. Mark A. Christeson

Missouri Supreme Court Case Number: SC82082 (June, 2001)

Missouri Supreme Court Case Number: SC85329 (April, 2004)

Case Facts:

“On Saturday, January 31, 1998, Christeson, 18, and his cousin Jesse Carter, 17, who were living in the home of a relative, David Bolin, concocted a plan to run away.

“The Bolin home was located in a rural area near Vichy, Missouri. Susan Brouk, along with her children, twelve year old Adrian and nine year old Kyle, lived about a half mile away.

“On Sunday morning, February 1, 1998, after Mr. Bolin left for work, Christeson and Carter each took shotguns and went to Ms. Brouk’s home.

“After hiding outside for a few minutes, they entered the home and found Adrian and Kyle sitting on the living room floor. Ms. Brouk came in from the kitchen and encountered Carter binding her children’s hands with shoelaces that he had brought for that purpose.

“Christeson forced Ms. Brouk into her daughter Adrian’s bedroom at gunpoint, where he then raped her on Adrian’s bed. When Christeson brought her back out to the living room, Carter bound her hands behind her back with a piece of yellow rope. Ms. Brouk said, ‘You had your fun, now get out.’

“At some point during the confrontation, Ms. Brouk and Kyle were both struck in the head with a blunt object.

“About that time, Adrian recognized Carter and said ‘J. R.,’ Carter’s nickname, and ‘Jesse Carter,’ which prompted Christeson to tell Carter ‘we got to get rid of ‘em.’

“They forced Ms. Brouk and her children into the back seat of Ms. Brouk’s Bronco and also loaded her television, VCR, car stereo, video game player, checkbook, and a few other small items. Christeson drove down the highway, down a gravel road, and then across a neighbor’s field to a pond at the edge of a wooded area.

“They forced Ms. Brouk and her children to the bank of the pond. Christeson kicked Ms. Brouk just below her ribs with enough force that she was knocked to the ground.

“Christeson then placed his foot on her mid-section, and reached down and cut her throat with a bone knife. She bled profusely, but she did not die immediately, and as she lay on the bank of the pond, she told Adrian and Kyle that she loved them.

“Then Christeson cut Kyle’s throat twice and held him under the pond water until he drowned. Carter pushed Kyle’s body farther out into the pond so the body would sink.

“At Christeson’s direction, Carter retrieved cinder blocks from a nearby barn, and while there, heard Christeson fire a shot from one of the shotguns. When Carter returned to the pond, Adrian was struggling to free herself from Christeson.

“Carter held Adrian’s feet while Christeson pressed down on her throat until she suffocated, and Carter then pushed Adrian’s body into the pond. While Ms. Brouk was still alive, but barely breathing, Christeson grabbed her arms and Carter grabbed her legs, and they threw her into the pond on top of her children’s bodies. As she drowned, Carter went into the woods to get a long stick, which he used to push the Brouks’ bodies further out into the pond.

“Christeson and Carter returned to Mr. Bolin’s property in the Bronco and parked it near a garbage pile. They took one of the shotguns back into Mr. Bolin’s house, loaded their personal belongings into an Oldsmobile, and then drove the Oldsmobile back to the garbage pile and transferred their belongings to the Bronco. At that point, they drove off in the Bronco, eventually heading west on Interstate 44.

“Ms. Brouk’s sister, Kay Hayes, thought it was unusual that Ms. Brouk and her children did not come to Sunday dinner, as planned, but she was not concerned until Tuesday evening, when she called Ms. Brouk’s home and there was no answer. That evening Ms. Hayes called another sister, Joy Lemoine, to inquire if she had heard from Ms. Brouk, but she had had no contact either.

“When family members went to Ms. Brouk’s house the next evening, they discovered that Ms. Brouk’s prescription glasses and the children’s and Ms. Brouk’s coats were still in the house and that the television, VCR, and Bronco were missing. They called the police, and that night officers from the Maries County Sheriff’s Department secured the home and searched the premises.

“The next morning, officers in a Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter conducting an aerial search spotted a body floating in a pond located slightly southeast of the Brouk’s residence. After landing the helicopter in a field just south of the pond, they found the bodies of Ms. Brouk, Adrian, and Kyle partially submerged.

“The officers then investigated the area around the pond and found a sixteen-gauge shotgun shell on the south bank, some leaves and soil splattered with blood, shoe impressions, and two cinder blocks on the west bank near the area where the bodies were recovered. There were also tire impressions leading from the pond to the garbage pile on Mr. Bolin’s property where Christeson and Carter had parked the Bronco.

“In the meantime, Christeson and Carter were driving from Missouri to California. On the way, they sold several items of Ms. Brouk’s property to pay for gas and food. Christeson also pawned the sixteen-gauge shotgun at a pawnshop in Amarillo, Texas.

“On February 9, 1998, a detective with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, stationed in Blythe, California, recognized Christeson and Carter from their photographs on a flyer that had been circulated by law enforcement officials, and later that day the fugitives were arrested.

“Missouri officials continued to investigate the crimes. A medical examiner’s autopsy report showed that the cuts to Ms. Brouk’s neck were not severe enough to cause her death immediately and that the actual cause of death was drowning. Autopsies also revealed that Ms. Brouk and Kyle had hemorrhaging or bleeding under the scalp, indicating a blunt impact injury or blow to the head, and that there were two superficial cuts across Kyle’s neck, but that he, too, died from drowning. Adrian died from suffocation, but there also was a small, shallow puncture wound in Adrian’s left arm that could have been caused by a pellet from a shotgun shell, although no pellet was present. DNA testing performed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Laboratory established that genetic material from semen recovered from Ms. Brouk’s body and from Adrian’s sheets matched Christeson’s genetic profile. Firearms-identification testing established conclusively that the sixteen-gauge shotgun that Christeson pawned in Texas was the one that fired the shell found on the bank of the pond.”

NOTE: The execution has been halted indefinitely.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Clearwater, Florida’s Coldest Case

Nick and Demetra Jeatran
by Robert A. Waters

In 1968, slightly more than 50,000 inhabitants lived in Clearwater.  A quiet city located along the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast, murder was rare.

Eighty-two-year-old Nick Jeatran and his wife, Demetra Jane, 74, had retired to Florida from the wintry climes of Wisconsin.  They lived on 1135 Jackson Road, in west Clearwater.  Friends said their favorite pastime was driving to the beach at dusk.  There they would sit for hours, viewing the night-lights and waves washing onto the shore.

On December 24, Christmas Eve, a neighbor stopped by to leave Christmas gifts for the couple.  Unable to get a response, she peered through a window and spotted Nick and Demetra lying on the living room floor.  A Christmas tree still blinked, and holiday cookies sat on the kitchen counter.

The neighbor called the Clearwater Police Department.  Investigators discovered that both victims had been beaten in the head with a heavy object.  Demetra was dead, but Nick survived for three days before succumbing to his injuries.

A recent burglary in the neighborhood, as well as items stolen from the home, convinced lawmen that Nick and Demetra had interrupted a burglary.

The victims’ granddaughter, Nicky Ahrens, lives in nearby Temple Terrace.  She continues to hound police about the unsolved case.  Ahrens recently explained to reporters that the murders were “pretty senseless, really.  They weren't rich.  They didn't have a lot of money.”

After 46 years, an anonymous donor has offered a $5,000 reward to go with a Crime Stopper’s $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect.  Nick and Demetra Jeatran haven’t been forgotten.

If you have information on this case, call the Clearwater Police Hotline at (727) 562-4080.