Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Trail of Ruined Lives

Sara Ylen
Serial accuser sentenced for false rape claims…
by Robert A. Waters

In 2009, reporter Mike Connell wrote a “sweetheart” story for the Port Huron Times Herald about thirty-four-year-old Sara Ylen.  She was dying, he wrote, fighting a losing battle with cancer.  The myeloma had been contracted because of a sexually transmitted disease brought about by a brutal rape that occurred in 2001.  (Fortunately, Connell wrote, the rapist, James Grissom, was serving 15 years to life in a Michigan State Prison.)

“The disease has spread through her body,” he reported, “including tumors on her spine and clavicle…Ylen is partially paralyzed.  Her bones snap at the slightest misstep.  The options for treating her cancer are complicated by the hepatitis, which is destroying her liver.”

“Yet hope remains,” Connell wrote, “a fragile tendril, a rootlet reaching for moist soil.”

It was all a lie.

In fact, Ylen’s whole life seems to have been one of falsehood and deception.  Doctors recently discovered that Ylen has no life-threatening diseases, and never had.  She pleaded no contest to health care fraud for collecting more than $100,000 in services and donations.  She currently is awaiting sentencing on that charge.

Last week, she was also convicted of making a false rape report and sentenced to five years in prison.  In 2012, Ylen accused two men, Terry Stone and Kevelin Patton, of breaking into her home and gang-raping her.  In addition, she claimed the men brutally beat her.  Stone and Patton were lucky—police secured documentation proving that the accused couldn’t have done it because they were at work when the attack occurred.  In addition, the physician who examined her rape claims used gauze to wipe the “bruises” off her face.

Even worse, in 2003, her false accusation of James Grissom sent him to prison for ten years.  There had been absolutely no evidence against him.  He was convicted only on Ylen’s testimony.  The alleged victim then appeared on several television documentaries recreating her alleged rape and later ordeal.  It took a decade, but investigators finally determined that the rape was a figment of her imagination.  Grissom was released last year.

Throughout her life, Ylen has made numerous other claims of rape.  She accused her own father and brother of sexually assaulting her. Then she said her brother tracked her from Michigan to California and, with several friends, gang-raped her.  In Bakersfield, California, she told police she had been raped in a restaurant parking lot, then kidnapped and gang-raped numerous times.  All of these claims turned out to be lies.

In sentencing Ylen to five years in prison for the false rape accusation against Stone and Patton, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Daniel Kelly said: “This is a tormented and disturbed woman who will go to extraordinary lengths to wreak havoc upon other individuals, potentially subjecting them to life imprisonment in order to gain sympathy and notoriety for herself.  Nothing in the guidelines gives adequate weight to the diabolical nature, the methodical orchestrations, or the callousness of her treachery.”

But even five years didn’t satisfy James Grissom.  “I did ten years,” he said.  “She should have gotten at least ten years.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Protecting Her Own

Home of Elzie Pipkins
Self-Defense in Shreveport
by Robert A. Waters

Sixty-three-year-old Elzie Pipkins described to Shreveport Times reporter Michael Doughty how she defended her home a few days ago.

At 6:30 p.m., a stranger named Devon Antonio Young, 16, walked up the driveway.

“My grandbaby said, ‘Momma, who is that coming up to the house?’  And before she could get up to check the door, he done bust in the house and said, ‘Nobody move.’  And my grandbaby said, ‘Oh Lord, Granny, he has a gun.’”

“We’re innocent people,” Pipkins said, “and he came up on us in the house with a loaded shotgun.  I looked him dead in the eyes, like I’m looking at you, and I said, ‘Please, please, please don’t hurt us.’”

Young demanded that Pipkins take her to the safe.  “I said, ‘I got some money in my purse, you’re welcome to that, and please take that and leave.’  But he said, ‘I want the money from your safe.’”

Pipkins suddenly realized that Young was the burglar who had ransacked her home a month before.  He’d attempted to open the safe, but couldn’t.

“I was so nervous,” Pipkins said.  “I messed up two or three times as I was unlocking the safe.  I prayed, ‘Oh Lord, help me get through this.  Oh Lord, it’s going to be him or me.’”

The safe contained only a bag full of change—about fifty-five dollars. And a .38-caliber handgun.

“I took the coins in my left hand, and I had put my other hand on my gun, on the trigger, and I said, ‘Here you go.’  He reached for the bag of coins, and that’s when I fired my gun and hit him with the first round, and he went back and then he tried to grab his gun to aim it at me.  I grabbed the barrel and I pushed the barrel up and I fired another shot and that’s when he broke and ran out of the house.”

Investigators found Young about a block from the home he’d tried to rob.  He was taken to University Health where doctors pronounced him dead.  He’d been hit in the chest.

Pipkins said: “Just fifty-five dollars in coins, and he lost his life.  Lord Jesus, I wish the young people today would just think, go to school, get an education and a good job and buy what you want.  Don’t try to take from someone who has worked all their life and still doesn’t have nothing to give.”

“The Lord was just in the midst of me,” Pipkins said.  “I don’t know if you would call it instincts or what you would call it.  I just call it by the grace of God.”

She concluded by expressing her pain at having to take a life.  “I didn’t want to kill him,” Pipkins said.  “Lord Jesus, I did not want to.  My heart goes out to his family.  I didn’t want to do this but I had to protect us and I just thank God He was with us.”

Elzie Pipkins will not be charged with any crime.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Axman of Asheboro

Murder on the railroad line
by Robert A. Waters

On January 12, 1905, the Washington Post reported: “Milton Bunnell, a Confederate veteran, was found dead by the side of the track of the Aberdeen and Ashboro Railroad, near Star, N. C., where a freight train had run over the deceased during the night.  One leg and one arm was severed, and the body was cut and bruised in numerous places.”

At first, authorities thought the victim had died after being run over by a train.  But a closer examination revealed that Bunnell had been attacked by an ax-wielding “maniac.”  The investigation exposed a twisted plot to rob and murder the sixty-three-year-old resident of Asheboro.

A trail of blood showed that the body had been dragged about three hundred yards to a curve in the track where the engineer would be unable to see the corpse before hitting it.  Searchers found the blood-stained ax in a nearby pond.

Court documents published in the Asheboro Courier reported that “the killing was done with an axe by splitting [Bunnell’s] head open by a lick from behind and by two other severe wounds with the blade of an axe, one on the jaw and one on the neck near the collarbone.  Soon after the killing a northbound train knocked the body off the track, mutilating it.  On his person was found $460 sewed up in his clothes, but his purse, which contained four ten dollar bills, two one dollar bills, two ten dollar gold pieces, one five dollar gold piece, and some silver was missing.  It was clear that the deceased had been killed and robbed by someone who had taken his purse, not knowing he had any other money on his person...”

Court documents don’t record how Bunnell earned his living after the war, but he must have done well.

In June, 1864, Milton Bunnell joined the First North Carolina Junior Reserves.  By then, Union invaders were over-running much of the doomed Confederacy.  Made up of teenagers as young as 15, the Reserves fought in several skirmishes before being tested by fire at the Battle of Bentonville.  They fought bravely in a losing effort, and surrendered a month later with Gen. Joseph P. Johnston and the Army of Tennessee.

After showing off a ten dollar gold piece to a friend, Charles Smith, 18, became the chief suspect.  Charles was the son of Malcolm “Make” Smith, and they lived near the Aberdeen and Asheboro Railroad line.

Lawmen brought Charles in for questioning, and he soon admitted that he had killed Bunnell.  According to the suspect, Bunnell had visited Charles’ grandmother, Dorcas Brewer, then left to go visit his sister.  While at his grandmother’s home, Charles had seen the victim displaying gold coins and “greenbacks.”  He stated that he told his father about it, and they plotted to kill Bunnell for the money.

According to the confession, Make ordered Charles to pick up an ax, and they walked to a nearby bridge that Bunnell would have to pass to get to his sister’s home.  As Bunnell walked by, Make told Charles to strike the victim with his ax.  After Bunnell fell to the ground, Charles hit him twice more, killing him.

After stealing the purse from Bunnell’s body, the killers dragged him to the railroad track in an attempt to hide their deed.  Make then gave Charles a ten-dollar gold piece, and took the rest of the money.

Once Charles confessed, he led lawmen to the place where Make had hidden the loot.  Court documents stated that “they went to a small outhouse in which was a large box containing cotton-seed.  [Charles] looked about and finally the box was prized open and Bunnell’s purse containing $59.85 was found under the box, one of the gold pieces being gone.”

Charles was tried first, and convicted of second-degree murder.  He was sentenced to 30 years at hard labor.  Make got eighteen years.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Boy Who Got Away

Ellis Richins
Escaped from serial kidnapper…
by Robert A. Waters

On July 14, 1927, a young boy ran down a mountainside.  Falling, sobbing, begging for help, thirteen-year-old Ellis Richins stumbled into the Union Construction Company work-site near Silver Creek, Utah.  Amazed workers watched as the dirty, wild-faced youngster with chains on his legs ran toward them.  Gathering him up, the workers quickly called the Summit County sheriff. 

Thirty-five years after being abducted, Ellis Richins recounted his harrowing tale to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Stan Taggart.  Richins, small for his age, had been playing with a nephew outside his father’s sheep camp when a stranger lunged from the woods and grabbed him.  As his playmate ran to get help, the assailant forced Ellis up into the mountains above Coalville.

“The ransom-seeking bad-man,” Taggart wrote, “kept Ellis walking that night by prodding him with a rifle barrel, and by threatening to shoot if the boy made a sound.  Keeping to the ridges, they pushed toward Snyderville Valley.  Ellis was told that his father, Jared Richins, had left some money there. Just before daylight they reached a saddle above the Devil Creek fork of Tollgate Canyon.  There the kidnaper chained Ellis to a tree, and they both went to sleep.”

Leonidas “Bally” Dean, 51, was a gaunt, bald-pated ex-con who eschewed hard work.  Because he’d attempted two unsuccessful kidnappings, Dean had spent much of his adult life in prison.  In Idaho, he abducted businessman Ernest Empey, tied him to a tree, and attempted to collect $5,000 in gold coins as a ransom.  Like Richins, Empey escaped.  After being caught, Dean told reporters that he planned to use the money to “live in a right and proper way, perchance to have a family and fulfill a man’s proper sphere, which is impossible to the wage earner under present conditions.”

Dean was sentenced to ten years in prison for that offense, but got out in six.  Not one to learn from his mistakes, Dean kidnapped two children in Oregon and made off with a $500 ransom before being caught and sent to prison again.

He’d just been released when he abducted Ellis Richins.

Dean placed a six-page ransom letter on a stone near the sheep camp.  It began: “If you want to save the life of this fellow Richins, take ten thousand dollars, two thousand in gold coin; eight thousand in federal reserve notes, in five, ten and twenty dollar denominations, equal amounts of each, and do with them exactly as we tell you. The prisoner has just two days to live, if our orders are not strictly obeyed. We are as determined as war and ill treatment can make us.”

The letter instructed Ellis’s father not to contact authorities, and directed him to drive down Lincoln Highway at 9:30 the following night.  Somewhere between Coalville and Wanship, Jared would hear two gunshots.  At that point, he was to stop and leave the money alongside the road.  If the instructions were followed, the letter read, Ellis would be released within six hours.

Upon receiving the letter, Jared Richins immediately contacted Summit County Sheriff Joseph C. Clark. 

Within an hour, armed searchers began combing the mountains.  Sheriff Clark contacted the National Guard which loaned guns to those who needed them.  Four hundred men, armed to the gills, began combing the mountains above Coalville.

In the meantime, Dean had stopped to make camp.  He chained Ellis to a tree, started a fire, and cooked breakfast.  Sometime early that morning, Dean heard someone walking through the woods.  Holding a gun to Ellis’s head, Dean ordered the youngster to remain quiet while he went to investigate. 

There Dean got the drop on Jay Healy, a businessman from Salt Lake City who was searching for Ellis.  Disarming Healy, Dean stuck a gun against his victim’s back and forced him to walk seven miles through the mountains.  Unknown to Healy, they were going farther and farther away from Ellis.

Dean seemed to have forgotten about the kidnapped boy.    

As soon as Dean left, Ellis picked up a sharp rock and began chopping at his chains.  Eventually, he broke one of the links and fled down the mountain.  Taggart wrote: “A short time later [Ellis] arrived breathlessly at a highway construction camp in Silver Creek.  Ellis telephoned his mother, assured her that he was okay, and then asked his dad to drive up and get him.  After making the call he sat down—surrounded by nearly a hundred admirers—and ate a hearty meal. Within fifteen minutes his overjoyed parents drove into the camp.”

As they wandered through the mountains, Healy informed the kidnapper that hundreds of armed men were searching for Ellis, and there was no way Dean could escape.  After walking for about five hours, Dean seemed defeated.  He asked Healy what he should do.  “Give yourself up,” Healy said.

Dean said he couldn’t do that, but informed Healy that he was free to leave.  “Go back to where the boy is,” the kidnapper told Healy.  “Let him loose.  I’ll take a chance on getting away.”  Healy, unable to locate the boy, followed a trail down the mountain and ended up at the same construction site that Ellis had fled to.  

Using the mountains to his advantage, Dean eluded the posse.  A week later, he made it to Salem, Utah.  There, acting on a tip, sheriff’s deputies and railroad detectives captured the kidnapper.  Dean told Sheriff Clark that he planned to go to California, then on to Mexico.  

Sentenced to five years in prison, Dean didn’t live out his time.  He was killed by another inmate during a fight in the Utah State Penitentiary.

Like his father, Ellis Richins raised sheep for a living.

In his later years, he often spoke about his experience. Speaking of Bally Dean, he complimented his kidnapper for being a good woodsman.  “That old rascal was clever as a coyote,” Ellis said.

Maybe so, but he could never carry out a successful kidnapping.