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.