Friday, May 29, 2015

The Wife who Murdered Herself

Dynamite-shotgun slayer pays a gruesome price…
by Robert A. Waters

On the evening of February 9, 1937, in Iowa City, Iowa, a thunderous explosion rocked the home of Walter and Mabel Rhodes.  Walter, crouching behind a basement partition, escaped unharmed.  Mabel wasn’t so lucky—her head was blown almost completely off.  Walter had succeeded with his plan to get rid of his wife, but would go to the gallows because of it.

Walter H. “Dusty” Rhodes had a problem as old as the institution of marriage: an attractive girlfriend and a wife he loathed.  He decided to eliminate the unwanted spouse, and came up with a unique plan.

A part-time quarry worker, Rhodes had repeatedly lied to his mistress, also named Mabel—Mabel Skriver.  He told her that divorce proceedings were under way, and that as soon as he was legally free, he would marry her.  Skriver fell for his lies, and for six months the couple met in secluded spots where their passion could be temporarily sated.  But soon enough, the second Mabel began to press her paramour for a wedding date.  Since he had never even filed for divorce, Rhodes was in a pickle.  It was then that he concocted his diabolical plan to have his wife kill herself.

In his job, Rhodes worked with explosives.  So one night he replaced the gunpowder in a shotgun shell with dynamite and chambered the shell into his antique gun.  The clever Rhodes knew the gun would detonate like a pipe bomb when the trigger was pulled.

The next day, he took Mabel out shooting.  But his plan fell apart when she insisted that he shoot first.  Rhodes and Mabel got into a heated argument, and went home without either of them firing a shot.

Soon, the second Mabel issued an ultimatum to Rhodes.  Get a divorce or we’re done.

On the evening of February 9, Rhodes asked his wife to come into the basement.  He stated that the firing pin of the shotgun didn’t work, and asked Mabel to try it.  She aimed it at the ceiling and pulled the trigger, causing a massive explosion.

When the sheriff arrived, he immediately became suspicious.  The blast was like nothing he’d ever seen.  Most of Mabel’s head was gone, her right hand was missing, and her left hand and left shoulder were badly mangled.  The sheriff’s misgivings arose further when he found no pellets in the wall (Rhodes had removed them from the shotgun shell to pack in more dynamite).  But even more worrisome was the shotgun breach which had passed clean through the basement ceiling, the first story floor, and had become embedded in the first-floor ceiling.

The sheriff sent the shotgun and its components to several firearms experts.  All agreed that dynamite had caused the death of Mrs. Rhodes.

Soon the sheriff interviewed the second Mabel, and learned of the sordid lies that Rhodes had fed her. Investigators also discovered that the suspect had recently taken out a double indemnity life insurance policy on his wife.

Under pressure from investigators, he quickly confessed.  Rhodes was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.

On May 7, 1940, Rhodes went cringing to the gallows at the Fort Madison penitentiary.  According to Dick Haws’ book, Iowa and the Death Penalty, “the eight-foot drop ruptured an artery in Dusty’s neck.  A river of blood saturated his white pants and shirt and dripped onto the sawdust beneath.  Three of the hundred-plus witnesses collapsed.  Rhodes was pronounced dead after 12 minutes.”

Before dying, Rhodes handed reporters a 500 word treatise that, among other things, blasted the death penalty as immoral.  Not one word of his statement mentioned the immorality of blowing his innocent wife to bits.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Caitlyn Williams Missing

NOTE: Caitlyn Williams was found alive in Bossier City, Louisiana.  Her alleged abductor was killed in a struggle with FBI agents.  The AMBER ALERT was said to have contributed to locating the pair.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

BENBROOK TEXAS— Police in Benbrook issued an Amber Alert Monday afternoon for a nine-year-old girl who was last seen on Friday.

The parents of Caitlyn Williams told investigators that she left home on her bicycle around 3:30 Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with a friend just a few blocks away. She had been expected to return on Sunday.

Police were summoned on Monday after the Benbrook Elementary School student did not come home. The FBI has joined the investigation of her disappearance.

“The investigators are talking with the parents, they’re talking with relatives, they’re talking with friends, they’ve been out canvassing neighbors, fliers have been printed up,” said police spokesman Officer Sandy Eubanks. “We hope that maybe there’s some information out there that someone has that they don’t know that’s important that the investigators may turn up.”

Caitlyn was last seen wearing a yellow T-shirt with a “Benbrook Field Day” logo, blue jeans, and pink-and-black tennis shoes.  She was riding a pink, purple and white bicycle in the neighborhood near her home in the 1100 block of Wade Hampton Street, about a mile north of Benbrook Lake.

Caitlyn is described as white, and four feet, four inches tall.  She weighs 95 pounds and has brown, wavy hair to the middle of her back.

If you have any information about Caitlyn Williams, contact Benbrook police at 817-249-1610 or call 911.

(This article was published by WFAA.COM)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

World War I Vet Never Returns Home

Wanders for 24 years…
by Robert A. Waters

On March 12, 1943, World War II showed no signs of ending.  The headline in The Ogden Standard Examiner screamed: “Reds Take Vyazma, Nazis Kharkov; British Destroy 21 Rommel Tanks; Yankees Bomb Jap Bases at Kiska.”  It would be two more long years before the conflict bled to a stop.

Underneath that huge headline, a smaller one, almost an afterthought, read: “Officers Seek Man’s Identity.”  Then came the poignant story of a forgotten soldier from what seemed at the time to be a distant memory—the “war to end all wars.”

The United Press story read: “Colorado officers today were taking fingerprints to establish definitely the identity of a wandering ‘hermit’ believed to be Donald Matheson of Beaver, Utah in the hope of clearing up a 20 year-old mystery.  The hermit, who said his name was Donald Matheson, 51, was taken into custody yesterday by Trinidad, Colo., police because they feared he might die of exposure.

“He had a long flowing beard and hair, was shabbily dressed, and officers discovered he had been living in the open—sleeping wherever he could find a rude shelter, in crevices, abandoned shacks and under bridges.

“Utah relatives reported [that] the Donald Matheson from Beaver was drafted into the army in 1918, and was later reported wounded in action. This was the last heard of him until the Trinidad man said he was the long-missing Matheson.

“During the years since her son disappeared, Mrs. Caroline Matheson, mother of the missing soldier, died.  His sister, Mrs. Jean Hickman said scars reported on the Trinidad hermit’s face corresponded with scars her brother carried when he entered the army. A cousin, Scott M. Matheson, assistant U. S. district attorney, was helping the attempts to clear the mystery.”  Relatives informed Sheriff Marty that they believed Donald Matheson had been killed in World War I.

The hermit, as newspapers called him, had recently wandered into the Aguilar district, living on handouts from concerned residents.

County Judge William T. Eckhart interviewed Matheson, who said he had served in the U. S. Army until 1919.  After being honorably discharged, he told lawmen that he had wandered the Arizona and California deserts for years before coming to Colorado.  Judge Eckhart asked Matheson why he didn’t go home after the war, and he replied, “I had nothing to go home for.”

Eckhart contacted Beaver County authorities and learned that the Matheson family had moved away many years before.

Matheson seemed surprised when told that the U. S. was fighting yet another world war.  He informed Eckhart that he never fought on the front lines in France but had been stationed at St. Nazaire.

After his uncle retrieved his military records, Donald Matheson was transferred to the veterans’ hospital in Fort Lyons, Colorado.

By the time World War II ended, Donald Matheson and his sad story had faded into the annals of history.

NOTE: If anyone has additional information about Donald Matheson, I’ll be glad to publish it.  Too much is unknown about his story.

Friday, May 15, 2015

World War II Seaman Drifts for 83 Days

Survives after ship is sunk…
by Robert A. Waters

At 4:30 on the afternoon of November 2, 1942, a German torpedo struck the Dutch merchant ship SSZaandam.  Carrying U. S. Navy armed guards, as well as a Dutch crew, the ship didn’t sink immediately.  A second torpedo, however, doomed the vessel.  Seaman Second Class Basil Dominic Izzi of Massachusetts was one of the few survivors.

In 83 Days: The Survival of Seaman Izzi, Mark Murphy writes: “The ship, loaded with ammunition, food supplies, and equipment for overseas work, put out from an East Coast port in July, 1942.  She stopped in Recife [Brazil] for water and food, and set out for Africa.”

In the middle of the Atlantic, disaster struck.  Izzi recalled: “It was a clear day and the sun was shining bright.  About 4:15 we were in my cabin playing cards, four of the fellows besides myself. Our radio man walked in and told us our position, where we were and everything.  He just walked out and as soon as he walked out our first torpedo [fired by German submarine U-174] struck us.  We got up and ran out to the door, we were trying to get to the guns but the shortest way was blocked by the wreckage from the torpedo from topside, so we had to go back inside the ship and through the lounge up on the next deck [as] the easiest way we could get to the guns.  When we were getting there we saw the ship’s crew was letting the rafts get underway.  Well, after the first torpedo the ship didn’t stop right away, it kept on going for a few hundred yards, and when the rafts did hit the water they just drifted off...”

Soon a second torpedo hit, and the boat sank quickly.  Izzi jumped from the stern, found some debris to cling to, and swam away from the ship.

It would be 83 long days before he was picked up.

After two days of floating in the ocean, Izzi was nearly delirious when he came upon a life raft.  Inside were Ensign James Maddox, a U. S. sailor named George Beezley, and two Dutch sailors, Cornelius van der Slot and Nicko Hoogendam.  As Maddox pulled Izzi into the raft, he exclaimed: “Where have you been hiding?”  Maddox, an ordained minister and a professor at Purdue University, would help the survivors by guiding them spiritually.

The rations in the raft lasted for 19 days.  After that, they survived on fish, birds, and rainwater.  Two days after their rations ran out, a thunderstorm descended on them and they used a canvas trough to catch the water.  In order to catch sharks, they dangled their feet over the edge and improvised a lasso to corral the curious creatures.  That day, they caught a four-footer that provided meat for several days.

A few days later, Izzi turned 20 and the rafters celebrated with an extra portion of food.  But the ordeal was beginning to take its toll.  By the 40th day, their clothing had rotted off, and Beezley lost his hearing and began going blind.  On the 66th day he died.  Maddox performed the rites as they tossed Beezley overboard.

On the 77th day, Maddox died.  The survivors buried him at sea while saying the prayers he had taught them.  (Izzi saved his wedding rings and later returned them to his widow.)

Van der Slot, Hoogendam, and Izzi drifted for six more days before a PC boat rescued them.  By that time, they were mere skeletons.  They were taken to Brazil, then the United States Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  Later, Izzi became a spokesperson for Navy, touring the country to improve morale.  After his tour of duty was over, Izzi returned to his hometown of Barre, Massachusetts.  There he lived in relative anonymity until 1977.

I have only the highest admiration for those who fought in previous wars so that we might live in peace.  Freedom from the tyranny of totalitarianism was bought with the blood and valor of millions.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Craigslist Murders

Iraq veteran James Vester
Be safe out there…
by Robert A. Waters

Craigslist murders have become so prevalent that some police agencies are opening “safe havens” for online transactions.  A recent study revealed that at least 86 murders have been “linked to the popular classifieds website.”  Listed below are a few Craigslist crimes that have made the news recently.

James Vester survived a year in Iraq, but died in an Indianapolis parking lot.  The National Guardsman had answered a Craigslist ad to buy an Apple iPad when two assailants robbed and murdered him.  Tyshaune and Tyron Kincade were accused of the crime.  Tyshaune was recently convicted—his brother awaits trial in June.  Vester had served in the military for 12 years.  He planned to buy the iPad as a Christmas present for his parents.

In Missouri, Michael Gordon has been charged with murdering Taylor Clark, a college student who had listed his 2007 Nissan 350ZX for sale on Craigslist.  Gordon arranged to take a test drive and met Clark in a public parking lot at the MTC Truck Driver Training School in Hazelwood, Mo.  Later that day, when friends reported Clark missing, investigators had only to check Craigslist to find that Gordon had inquired about the car.  Police discovered the victim’s body in a patch of woods behind MTC.  Clark had been shot once in the head.  Gordon worked at the school and police allege that he committed the crime on his lunch break.

In February, police allege that three men murdered James Jones after he met them to purchase an iPhone.  Jordan Baker, Jonathan Myles, and Kaylnn Ruthenberg have been charged with numerous counts, including murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.  When Jones, a student at Clark Atlanta University, answered a Craigslist ad, the three allegedly robbed him of his Nike shoes.  As he attempted to drive away, police say Ruthenberg shot Jones.  The victim then crashed his car, and Ruthenberg shot him in the head.  The three had attempted the same crime earlier, according to cops, but the intended victim became spooked by the men and fled.

In 2010, Oregon resident Korena Roberts pleaded guilty to killing Heather Snively, and was sentenced to life in prison.  Roberts admitted she contacted the pregnant Snively on Craigslist, and the expectant mother met Roberts hoping to purchase baby clothes.  After beating Snively to death, Roberts used a straight razor to cut her seven-month-old child from her womb.  The child never took a breath, however, and Roberts’ boyfriend found her and the dead infant in their home.  For several years, Roberts had been obsessed with having a baby, feigning pregnancy and purchasing baby items.

Ralph Geiger, 56, David Pauley, 51, and Timothy Kern, 47 answered Craigslist ads, then disappeared.  Police later discovered the men had been murdered by an ex-con and his teenage accomplice.  Richard Beasley placed the bogus ads seeking farmhands to work on a non-existent ranch he owned.  When the victims arrived in Akron, Ohio to begin their new jobs, Beasley and Brogan Rafferty, 17, drove them to a rural area and shot them dead.  Beasley then sold their belongings.  The scheme worked perfectly until they attempted to rob a South Carolinian named Scott Davis.  After being shot, Davis escaped and led police to the killers.  Beasley received the death penalty, while Rafferty got life in prison without parole.

NOTE: I’ve used Craigslist to sell a few items.  While no amount of protection is foolproof, I always bring along a partner and meet the buyer in a crowded store parking lot.  I also carry a handgun (thanks to Florida’s concealed carry laws) and a cellphone.  If the buyer looks or acts suspicious, I’m outa there.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lisa Rose Comes Home

St. Peter’s Hospital, Brooklyn, NY
Kidnapped two-and-a-half hours after birth…
by Robert A. Waters

Lisa Rose Chionchio entered this world on January 2, 1959, at St. Peter’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.  Nurses dutifully fingerprinted the child and took photos of her.  Immediately after birth, her parents, Frances, a teacher, and Frank, a lawyer, cuddled their newborn, then allowed hospital staff to take her to the nursery.

Two-and-a-half hours later, Lisa Rose vanished.

A frustrating nine-day search ended when an anonymous phone call sent police cars screaming to a tenement two blocks from the hospital.  There they burst through the door of a one-room apartment and found 43-year-old Jean Iavarone rocking an infant.  At first, Iavarone denied she’d kidnapped the child, but fingerprints, blood tests, and a distinctive birthmark positively identified Lisa Rose.

All of New York had been following the case, and people cheered in the streets when they heard the good news of the girl’s return.  After Lisa Rose was examined at St. Peter’s Hospital, her happy parents took her home.  She was in good health, having been well cared for.

Who would kidnap an infant from the nursery of a hospital?

Even though Jean Iavarone had never been arrested, she had a troubled past.  By the time she abducted Lisa Rose, everyone in her life had left her, died, or been forcibly taken from her.  All of her eight living children had been placed in orphans’ homes or foster care.  She’d been married twice—her first husband divorced her; her second husband died.

An Associated Press story reported that “the motive for the kidnaping, police said, was Mrs. Iavarone’s desire to pressure a boyfriend, Joseph Pizzimenti, into marriage by having him believe he was the father.”  She also believed the courts would return four of her children if she was married to a reputable husband.  (All her children had been removed from her “because she was considered incapable of caring for them.”)

This troubled, lonely woman’s obsession caused heartbreak and havoc for an entire city, and especially the Chianchio family.  But surprisingly, Frances and Frank forgave the kidnapper.  Reluctant to press charges, they stated that they were grateful Iavarone kept their daughter safe.  The couple even invited her into their home to see Lisa Rose.

Iavarano was tried and convicted.  Sentenced to one-to-three years in prison, the judge recommended psychiatric treatment.

And there Jean Iavarone disappeared into the fog of history.

NOTE: Many thanks to Sue Z Smith for permission to use her photograph of the hospital that played such a large part in the disappearance of Lisa Rose.  Check out her great blog, The Ninth House.