Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Review

A Matter of Record: The Commonwealth vs. Richard Charles Haefner  
Derek J. Sherwood 

Review by Robert A. Waters 

Derek J. Sherwood is the author of the successful true crime book, Who Killed Betsy?: Uncovering Penn State University's Most Notorious Unsolved Crime.  Like that book, A Matter of Record is meticulously researched and written in a readable and dramatic styleRichard Haefner, who had a Ph.D. in Geology from Penn State University, was later fingered as the probable killer of Betsy Aardsma, but never charged.    

Haefner, a former professor at several universities, bounced from job to job.  Everywhere he worked, valuable rocks would disappear.  Eventually, he drifted back home and worked in his family's rock shop which had a large contract to provide samples to the Smithsonian InstituteHaefner, a genius when it came to identifying rock specimens, even identified a once-undiscovered stone.  He was known to be socially awkward, vindictive toward perceived enemies, and had a history of abusing women. 
While still a doctoral student, Haefner was questioned by police about the stabbing death of Aardsma in Penn State's Pattee Library, but was never considered a suspect. 

The family's rock shop hired young teenaged boys to help collect rocks.  When two young teens accused Haefner of molesting them, he was hauled to the police station and interrogated for five hours.  Although he admitted nothing, and the young men could offer no tangible proof that the sexual encounters had occurred, Haefner was arrested and brought to trial.   

A Matter of Record describes this case, which, according to the author, "had set a precedent in [Pennsylvania] law and after I uncovered the related items mentioned in the book, I was able to write a story about police incompetence, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial prejudice, and the ultimate vindication of a man who should have gone to jail, but didn't." 

Sherwood located thousands of file documents related to the case, including formerly expunged transcripts of the trialHaefner filed a complaint against the Lancaster Police Department alleging civil rights violations for their treatment of him, and Sherwood found these documents as well.  Along with interviews with many of the participants, A Matter of Record is well-researched. 

The book is at once the record of a major criminal trial, an exploration of local history, and the continued documentation of Richard Haefner's sordid past.  It should be added to your true crime book collection.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Who Murdered the California Schoolgirls?

Karen Lynn Tomkins

More than 50 years later, the cases are unsolved…
by Robert A. Waters

On July 3, 1962, eleven-year-old Dorothy Gale Brown (called Gale) was reported missing from Torrance, California. Her bicycle lay on the sidewalk a block from her home, but the girl was nowhere to be found.

Police immediately suspected she’d been kidnapped because of a previous abduction. Karen Lynn Tompkins, also 11, had disappeared from almost the exact same spot a year before. Karen’s case was still unsolved.

A massive search for Gale turned up nothing until July 6 when the Torrance Herald reported that “the nude body of the girl was discovered by skin divers near Corona del Mar about noon Wednesday. It was floating in a kelp bed about 150 yards off shore.”

The article continued, “About an hour and a half before the body was discovered, the 12-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Shanklin, Long Beach, found the girl’s white dress stuffed in a beer can in the water at Tin Can Beach. The dress was taken home and laundered by Mrs. Shanklin, who said she knew nothing about Gale’s disappearance at the time. After reading about the disappearance in the newspapers, Mrs. Shanklin turned the dress over to police. Mr. and Mrs. Brown identified it here Friday morning. A pink plastic hair band was discovered later. It was also in a beer can near Tin Can Beach. Police have questioned several known sex offend- ers in the area…”

The coroner stated that Gale had been in the water for six to eight hours, and that she’d drowned.

Gale’s parents, William and Charlene Brown, were so distraught that they offered to give their daughter’s clothes to a needy child. Gale was buried, but not before the pastor prayed for her killer to be caught and “punished as he ought to be.”

In the first two years after Gale’s murder, the Torrance Police Department interviewed thousands of people. All known sex offenders in the area were grilled—several were given lie detector tests and “truth serum.” All were eliminated as suspects.

Karen Lynn Tomkins was never found, and is still missing today. Dorothy Gale Brown’s murder remains unsolved.

A child-rapist and serial killer named Mack Ray Edwards roamed California in the 1950s and 1960s raping and murdering children. He confessed to killing six children and was convicted of the murders of Stella Darlene Nolan, 8, Gary Rochet, 16, and Donald Allen Todd, 13.

Edwards also confessed to killing Donald Lee Baker, 15, and Brenda Jo Howell, 12, who were kidnapped from Azusa in 1956. He was not charged because their bodies were never found. He claimed to have killed one other victim, fifteen-year-old Roger Dale Madison.

Did Edwards also murder Dorothy Gale Brown and Karen Lynn Tomkins?  Police suspected as much, but were never able to prove a connection.

Sentenced to death, Edwards hung himself in San Quentin Prison in 1971.

His many sordid secrets were buried with him.