Saturday, August 30, 2014

So Predictable

 Joshua Drake, killed in shootout with clerk

“I wish he’d treated life a whole lot better…”
by Robert A. Waters

At noon on Thursday, August 15, 2014, 22-year-old Joshua Drake lay in a pool of blood, gasping his last breath.  With a pistol by his side and a mask still draped over his face, Drake’s young life drained away.

Innovative Optique, in Fox Point near Milwaukee, sells fashionable eye-glasses.  As such, the store is occasionally a target for robbers.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel described the chaotic scene that occurred that day: “The criminal complaint says [Tedric] Sanders, Drake and Darius Ricks pulled into Innovative Optique, in the Audubon Shopping Center, in a silver Dodge Charger.

“Because they backed it into a space near the store, owner Guadalupe Aguilar told his brother, Marty, who was working in the store, to note the license number.

“Marty Aguilar told investigators that just as he wrote down the number, three masked men exited the car, and one entered the store, pointed a gun at Guadalupe Aguilar and asked where the money was, then pointed the gun at a female employee.

“At that point, Marty Aguilar fired at the gunman, later identified as Drake, who fired back, the complaint says. Drake was killed, while Sanders and Ricks took off in the Charger, the complaint says.”

No charges are expected to be filed against Aguilar.

The same can’t be said for Tedric Sanders.  He recently appeared in court on a charge of felony murder.  (In Wisconsin, as in many states, suspects can be charged with felony murder if someone is killed during the commission of a crime.)

The lives of each suspect followed a predictable pattern.

Having been convicted of robbery in 2010, Drake served a year in jail and three years’ probation.  He had previous arrests, and had become so uncontrollable that his parents kicked him out of their home.  “We couldn’t take it no more,” Drake’s father told reporters. “His mom’s sick, [and] couldn’t take it no more.  I just wish he treated life a whole lot better than he did.”

Tedric Sanders also had a long criminal rap-sheet.  In fact, Fox News-Milwaukee reported that “at the time of the attempted armed robbery and shooting, police say Sanders was supposed to be in court for a charge related to a high-speed chase.”

That’s right.  He was due in court at the very hour he was allegedly committing the armed robbery.

If convicted, Sanders could face up to forty years in prison.

Since neither Drake nor Sanders seem to have had any respect for themselves or others, it’s likely that future lives were saved because Marty Aguilar fought back.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

“The Road Goes on Forever…And the Party Never Ends…”

Joe Ely’s stolen guitar is returned
by Robert A. Waters

He’s been called a “Texas country rocker,” and maybe that fits.  But for me, Joe Ely’s best songs describe real-life stories with a touch of gritty macabre.  “Me and Billy the Kid” twists the legendary outlaw’s tale like a Texas windstorm, and who couldn’t love “The Road Goes on Forever?”

In 1986, Ely played a gig at Slim’s, a club in San Francisco.  According to the Los Angeles Times, one of the guitars he used that night was a custom-built “solid-body electric made for him by Austin, Texas, guitar maker Ted Newman-Jones, who, at Ely’s request, created an instrument with a billiards theme that was painted pool table felt blue and with pool ball-shaped inlays on the neck.”  Newman-Jones had built several one-of-a-kind instruments for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard.

After the gig, an unknown crack-head (okay, I don’t know the thief was a crack-head, but I’d bet on it) stole two guitars from the singer.  In addition to the custom Newman-Jones, a valuable 1957 Fender Stratocaster also disappeared.

Fast-forward to 2013, and a Californian named Matt Wright.  Twenty-seven years earlier, Wright had bought the guitar from a pawnshop in Merced.  For decades, he wondered about the unusual instrument he’d purchased.  Who did it belong to?  Where did it come from?

One night, as he watched the replay of an old Austin City Limits show, he saw Ely playing the unique instrument.  Suddenly, he knew.  He’d likely purchased the Texas legend’s favorite guitar.  A few strokes of an Internet keyboard revealed the story: Wright owned a stolen guitar.

Ely later recounted what happened next.  “It was amazing,” he said. “The guy came and brought the guitar yesterday, and presented it to me onstage last night.  After he told the whole story onstage, we figured out where the guitar had been stolen, and it was only about three blocks from Slim’s.  We were all exhilarated.  We were dancing around and passing the guitar back and forth.”

Wright refused to accept payment, and everyone left happy.

Now, all that’s left is to listen to my favorite Joe Ely song, “The Road Goes on Forever.”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Just a Boy"

Murderer is “afraid of getting killed in prison”
by Robert A. Waters

Two years ago, I wrote about the murder of Judi Simpson-Beaver.  American justice works slowly and fitfully, if at all, but finally there’s been some resolution in this case.

At trial, a shaken jury was forced to view the killing of forty-eight-year-old store clerk Judi Simpson-Beaver.  Recorded by surveillance cameras, Lake Superior Court Judge Clarence Murray remarked that he found the video “profoundly difficult for everyone to watch.”

On March 4, 2012, Jeremy Blue, 20, and two accomplices, Donvell Edwards, 23, and Edward Lee Perry, 28, conspired to rob the Lucky Mart convenience store at 5695 Cleveland Street in Merrillville, Indiana.  The video showed Blue entering the store wearing a “Jason-style” hockey mask.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Blue “pointed a black handgun at Simpson-Beaver, who was behind the counter, and she began removing money from the cash register.  The man removed both cash drawers and moved toward the exit.  He suddenly changed his direction, went to the counter and fired a single shot hitting Simpson-Beaver in her upper body.  He put the register drawers down, and went behind the counter where he pursued the cashier and fired another round at Simpson-Beaver’s head, causing her to collapse.  The man picked up the cash drawers and fled on foot.”

As Blue ran outside, coins began spilling from the register drawers.  That alerted a bystander, who looked up just as the killer removed his mask.  The onlooker later picked Blue out of a lineup, as did several other witnesses.

Despite his lawyer’s protestations that he was mentally ill, the jury convicted Jeremy Blue and he received 80 years in prison.  According to the Chicago Sun Times, Judge Murray “took the unusual step of not awarding credit for the 729 days Blue spent in the Lake County Jail because of numerous write-ups for fighting, disrespecting correctional officers, and throwing urine and feces on other inmates.”

Donvell Edwards got 12 years for his part in planning and carrying out the crime.

Edward Lee Perry, who provided the mask and gun used in the robbery, received immunity for his testimony.  (At the time of Blue's trial, Perry was serving time in prison for an unrelated robbery.)  Perry testified that before the murder, the friends had snorted cocaine and planned the heist.  He stated that Blue later told him he had to kill the clerk because she recognized him.  Before he shot her in the face, Simpson-Beaver allegedly asked: “Jeremy, why are you doing this?”

The conspirators and Judi Simpson-Beaver lived in different worlds.  Despite their young ages, Blue, Edwards, and Perry were hardened career criminals, just the opposite of their victim.

Zachary Beaver spoke about the kindness of his mother.  She taught her sons to be honest and forthright, he said.  He joined the Army and was serving in Afghanistan when his mother was murdered.  Her second son, an Army veteran, had served in Iraq.  In the 1990s, Simpson-Beaver moved to Lubbock, Texas where she obtained her bachelor's degree in paralegal studies from Texas Tech.  She later moved back to her native Indiana to be with family.

Unlike her killer, Simpson-Beaver worked for a living.  In Texas, she was employed as a paralegal, and started a music production company.  After moving back to Indiana, she did title research as well as working a second job in the convenience store.

At the time of her death, Simpson-Beaver had been helping Zachary raise his son while he served overseas.

Before being sentenced, Jeremy Blue’s mother asked for leniency.  “He is afraid of going to jail,” she said.  “He’s afraid for his life, of getting killed in prison.  He’s just a boy.”
Jeremy K. Blue

Monday, August 11, 2014

Canada's Most Wanted Killer

Sharin' Morningstar Keenan
[I'm re-publishing a previous article from my blog to bring attention to this stranger abduction and murder.  If you know the whereabouts of Dennis Howe, contact the Toronto Police Department or the FBI.  There is a $100,000 reward.]

At 74, is Dennis Melvyn Howe still alive?
by Robert A. Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the career criminal who was unable to avoid being arrested for more than a few weeks while out of the streets manage to evade cops for decades?  Is he even still alive?  At 74, time is ticking away for cops to bring him to justice.  A few years ago, the current lead investigator, Detective-Sergeant Jim Crowley, said: “There are those who think Howe may be dead, but I don’t think so.  After so many years in this business, you get gut feelings.  I figure he is in a small out of the way Western town or lumber camp.  He may have found a safe haven with female company.”  Wayne Oldham, another investigator who was once involved in the search for Howe, said: “Presuming he’s alive, and with each passing year that assumption dwindles a little, I can see him in a rural setting, essentially a recluse, employed in a menial job where identity is not critical.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wherever Howe is, Hell will likely be his final destination.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Whitewashing the Elkhart 4

The Real Victim
by Robert A. Waters

Last week, ABC Nightline aired a documentary entitled, “A Costly Mistake.”  The story is a good example of why I never trust anything I see on television.  Heavily biased toward proving that the sentences of four home invaders were too harsh, the producers ignored much of what was significant in the case.

On October 3, 2012, in broad daylight, Danzele Johnson, 21, Blake Layman, 16, Anthony Sharp, 18, and Jose Quiroz, 16, broke into the home of Rodney Scott.  Levi Sparks, 17, waited across the street as a lookout.  Scott, sleeping upstairs, was jarred awake by his back door being kicked in.  He grabbed his handgun and, seeing four strangers inside his house, opened fire.  He killed Johnson, and wounded Layman.

ABC treated the real victim, Scott, as a mere afterthought. 

Rodney Scott had lived in his home on Frances Street for eighteen years.  Unemployed at the time of the break-in, he took a nap about noon.  Due to sleep apnea, Scott slept with a mask hooked up to a machine beside his bed.  At about 2:30, he awoke to the sound of a “boom and the whole house shook.”  (In fact, there were three loud “booms” as Johnson repeatedly kicked the door.)  Scott took the reasonable step of arming himself—he grabbed his handgun, loaded it, and went downstairs to investigate.  He stated that as he descended toward his living room, he “ran” down the steps in an attempt to alert the intruders that someone was home.  He hoped they would hear him and leave.  They didn’t.

Once downstairs, Scott entered the living room.  He saw no one.  In the kitchen, however, he suddenly encountered four strangers.  Scott later testified that he was in fear for his life “because when you see that many people in your house, that you didn't invite into your house, fear comes over you.  You don’t know if you're going to be hurt or you’re going to be killed.”

Scott said that as he entered the kitchen, one intruder ran out the back door.  Two or three others stood in a downstairs bedroom.  Scott fired several rounds at the group, hoping to herd them into the bedroom closet.  As they hid in the closet, he called 911.  The closet door kept opening and closing, as the invaders searched for a way out.  Finally, the door popped open again and Danzele Johnson fell out onto the bedroom floor.  While speaking with the dispatcher, Scott asked for an ambulance to be sent to his home.

When police arrived, they first treated Scott as a suspect, but eventually his actions were ruled justified, and he was not charged.

After the home invasion, Scott was so traumatized that he moved away from his home.  To this day, he has trouble sleeping because of the distress he suffered.  The real victim, who was simply at home minding his own business, barely rated a mention in the ABC documentary.

In ABC’s portrayal of the case, the five friends are depicted as innocent schoolboys who, on “impulse,” happened to make a “mistake.”  (Those words are used at least a half-dozen times in the 20-minute segment.)  What went un-mentioned in the ABC story is a statement Quiroz made at a court hearing.  “…Quiroz testified that on the day of the shooting, he and co-defendants Blake Layman and Levi Sparks were identifying homes in the neighborhood to target for burglary.  Quiroz testified that Levi Sparks had gone down Frances Avenue knocking on doors.  After recruiting the assistance of Danzele Johnson and Anthony Sharp, the group of five acted on the victim’s house across the street from Quiroz.  Quiroz further testified that Sparks remained on Quiroz’s front porch across the street from the victim’s home while Quiroz, Layman, Johnson and Sharp proceeded to break in to the home…”

It could reasonably be concluded from Quiroz’s confession that the five friends were experienced in committing home break-ins.  In fact, residents complained to reporters that police did not actively investigate numerous reported burglaries in the area until after Johnson was shot.

According to the prosecutor, several of the home invaders armed themselves with kitchen knives once they entered the home.  Again, this was never mentioned in the documentary.

In the hail of gunfire, one round struck Layman in the leg, and another mortally wounded Danzele Johnson.  Never mentioned in the story was the fact that the homeowner’s wallet was found in the closet where several of the suspects tried to hide.  Court testimony revealed that a kitchen knife, stolen from a neighbor during a previous burglary, was also found near the invaders in the closet.

Also never mentioned is the fact that at least one of the “boys” had a history of drug abuse and had been suspended from school for fighting.

Layman, Sharp, and Sparks were convicted of “felony murder” and sentenced to 50 years in prison.  Quiroz pled guilty and got 45 years.

Is 50 years a just sentence for the crimes the four teenagers committed?  Maybe not.

But ABC should at least give its viewers all the facts so they can make an informed decision.