Saturday, March 31, 2018

"The constant drip, drip, drip of innuendo"

Remembering Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill
by Robert A. Waters

In 2007, Richard Jewell died of complications from diabetes.  Only 47, this mild-mannered "mama’s boy" became entrapped in a storm of intrigue orchestrated by the FBI.

An obituary in the New York Times described the affable, Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving security guard: “The heavy-set Mr. Jewell, with a country drawl and a deferential manner, became an instant celebrity after a bomb exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park on the evening of July 27, 1996, at the midpoint of the Summer Games. The explosion, which propelled hundreds of nails through the darkness, killed one woman, injured 111 people and changed the mood of the Olympiad.”  Jewell had discovered the package containing the bomb, alerted his superiors, and moved hundreds of spectators away from danger.

Not content to let a hero be a hero, the FBI quickly set its sights on Jewell.  Through leaks to the press, agents surreptitiously assassinated his character, leading a lynch mob of journalists to accuse Jewell of murder.  Hounding him unmercifully, the Feds hoped to break the mild-mannered security guard.  It soon became evident that he had nothing to do with the bombing, and he was dropped as a suspect.  But by then, millions of Americans still suspected he was the murderous bomber.  In a series of lawsuits, Jewell won millions of dollars from various newspapers and television networks that had libeled him.  Eric Rudolph later pleaded guilty to planting four bombs in Atlanta (including the Olympic nail-bomb) that killed two people.  He is currently serving life in a Federal prison.

The crucifixion of Dr. Steven Hatfill was even worse.  In a profile of the virologist and bio-weapons expert, The Atlantic wrote: “His story provides a cautionary tale about how federal authorities, fueled by the general panic over terrorism, embraced conjecture and coincidence as evidence, and blindly pursued one suspect while the real anthrax killer roamed free for more than six years. Hatfill’s experience is also the wrenching saga of how an American citizen who saw himself as a patriot came to be vilified and presumed guilty, as his country turned against him.”

In 2002, with television cameras rolling and news helicopters swooping low, the FBI searched Hatfill’s apartment twice.  Attorney General John Ashcroft took to the White House podium and named Hatfill a “person of interest.”  For two years, the Feds trailed Hatfill like a pack of feral dogs.  His phone was bugged, surveillance cameras set up around his apartment, and the scientist was hounded everywhere he went.  Hatfill felt backed into a corner.  Again, the FBI purposely set out to break an innocent man.  Hatfill lost his job at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and when he was accepted for a new job at Louisiana State University, the FBI pressured the institution to rescind its decision.  After one day of employment, the university withdrew its offer.

Hatfill told The Atlantic that “it’s like death by a thousand cuts. There’s a sheer feeling of hopelessness. You can’t fight back. You have to just sit there and take it, day after day, the constant drip-drip-drip of innuendo, a punching bag for the government and the press.  And the thing was, I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me.  I mean, I was one of the good guys.”

Hatfill did muster the resolve to fight back, holding press conferences in which he refuted the lies about him.  After two years, it became obvious that he could not have been the anthrax killer.  Hatfill eventually won more than ten million dollars in lawsuits against the Department of Justice and television networks.

Having been KOed by Hatfill, the Bureau next turned its sinister spotlight on Bruce Ivins.  An eccentric, mentally-fragile scientist who worked in the bio-lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland, he allegedly fit the profile of the anthrax killer.  FBI agents orchestrated a program of harassment designed to break Ivins’ will.  With the media bearing down on him and the Feds threatening to charge him with murder, Ivins could no longer take it.  On July 29, 2008, he downed a whole bottle of Tylenol, killing himself.  That’s all the FBI needed—they pinned the blame for the anthrax letters on him.  Had he been mentally tough enough to withstand the FBI’s constant persecution, Ivins, like Hatfill, would probably be a millionaire today. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Murders Unsolved

Louise Lawson
 Ghosts of the Unquiet Dead 
by Robert A. Waters 

Almost every town, village, and city in America has unsolved murder cases.  Some date as far back as the founding of this country, while others are recent.  This is a sampling of murders unsolved, and of souls that still cry out for justice. 

Louise Lawson.  The New York media called her a gold-digger, a "moth," a hustler, and other harsh names.  But to the folks in her hometown of Alvarado, Texas, the beautiful Louise Lawson was a rose cut down in her prime.  She came to the big city to study piano and voice, but her singing career never got off the ground.  Although Lou (as she was called) landed bit parts in a few movies and worked as a chorus girl in Flo Ziegfield's follies, she eventually gravitated to procuring "sugar daddies."  For certain favors, the famous and not-so-famous plied Lou with a stylish apartment, cash, stocks, and expensive jewelry.  It may have been the jewelry that got her killed.  On the morning of February 8, 1924, the 26-year-old Texan opened her door to two men who allegedly were bringing her a case of bootleg whiskey.  But during the few minutes they were in the apartment, the men strangled Lou to death.  When cops arrived, her apartment had been ransacked and $20,000 worth of jewelry was missing.  Lou's loyal Texas family brought her home and buried her—a crowd of 2,000 filled the local Baptist Church.  In New York, the search for her killers quickly stalled.  While several other vulnerable women in the city were also murdered for their jewelry, the killers were never caught. 

Patricia Rebholz.  On the steamy night of August 6, 1963, 15-year-old Patricia left a teenage dance party at the American Legion Hall in Greenhills, Ohio.  The pretty, popular cheerleader began walking toward her boyfriend's home.  She never made it.  After a brief search, her bludgeoned body was found in a yard across the street from Michael Wehrung's home.  Michael, her boyfriend, also 15, immediately became the chief and only suspect in the brutal slaying.  Day after day, police interrogated the teen.  Investigators leaked information and misinformation to the press, soon turning most of the town against him.  In truth, there was no hard evidence to connect Wehrung to his girlfriend's death, and he was not charged.  Fast-forward to December 6, 2001, 38 years after the murder.  A new prosecutor, convinced of Wehrung's guilt, indicted him on one count of second-degree murder.  After a week-long trial, the jury found the defendant not guilty.  It's unlikely that Patricia's still-grieving family will ever learn who killed her. 

Georgia Jane Crews. "Hello… yeah… you know that girl that you looking for… yeah, the twelve-year-old… yeah… she's dead."  The call came in to the Lake County, Florida Sheriff's Department on April 10, 1980, two days after 12- year-old Georgia Crews vanished.  Lake County was sparsely populated, and Montverde, where Georgia and her family lived, had a population of only about 200 souls.  On the evening of April 8, Georgia left her home to go to a nearby market.  Or maybe it was to visit a friend.  No one really knew.  What is known is that she never returned.  A week later, after a massive search, the child's remains were found 30 miles away, in Casselberry.  She'd been stabbed once in the back.  Investigators never determined whether she had been sexually assaulted, though her pants were unbuttoned.  Thirty-eight years later, there are no real leads.  Even the recorded message left by the killer has been lost, like the little girl who walked down the street and vanished. 

Paul Burch.  The brutal torture and murder of Paul Burch, a gas station attendant in Santa Fe, New Mexico, generated local headlines, but no national publicity.  According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, on November 13, 1957, two customers looking to pay for gas found Burch's body "sprawled facedown between the runners of the station's grease rack."  He'd been stabbed 14 times with a blunt-bladed knife about five inches long after being knocked out with a blow to the back of the head. Fifty-seven-year-old Burch was married, with five children.  He was planning to purchase the service station and had been to see a lawyer that very day to work out details.  More than $200 in cash and a $250 check were stolen, presumably by his killers.  The Santa Fe Police Department worked diligently to solve the case but came up empty.  Not only has no one been charged, but there have never been any real suspects. 

Tens of thousands of murderers walk our streets every day.  And every day, millions of long-forgotten victims cry out for vengeance.  Unfortunately, their voices can no longer be heard. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Teen and the Handyman

Gripping First-Hand Account of Kidnapping and Murder 
by Robert A. Waters 

At 9:00 a.m., on normally peaceful Stony Brook Road, violence exploded inside a well-kept two-story home.  For many years, textile designer Pierre Sillan, his wife Isabelle, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Gail, had lived a comfortable life in Westport, Connecticut, about 50 miles north of New York City. 

On that morning of November 12, 1962, Pierre had already gone to work when Harlis Miller, 32, crept into the home.    

The following police statement given by Gail Sillan describes a thirteen-hour ordeal of murder, kidnapping, and rape: 

"I awoke suddenly and I thought my watch had stopped.  I couldn't seem to figure out what time it was.  I put on a red wardrobe over my flowered nightgown and I went out into the second-floor hallway.  I was going to check the time on a grandfather's clock downstairs. 

"As I walked into the hallway, a man was standing there. He was a tall, light-skinned Negro.  He had worked in our house as a handyman about two weeks ago. 

"He grabbed me and put a piece of cord around my neck and started choking me.  I tried to pull the cord loose and he forced me back into my bedroom, and held me with the cord as he locked the door.  Then he started choking me again.  

"I fought him as hard as I could, but he pushed me back onto my bed.  Just then, my mother must have heard me struggling and choking and she started pounding on the door, and shouting my name.  I guess then I must have fainted. 

"Apparently [Miller] went to the door, unlocked it, and started choking my mother.  When I came to I ran out into the hallway and the man was bending over my mother and was choking her with the cord.  She had been forced down to the floor and was fighting and screaming.  The man then forced us into my mother's bedroom. 

"My mother asked him if he wanted money, and he said he didn't want any money.  She then asked, 'Why are you doing this?' and he said, 'You wouldn't understand.'" 

Gail spoke to him.  "Why do you hate us?" she asked.  He then lunged at her and said, "I don't hate wouldn't understand."  He began choking her and she again lost consciousness 

"I kept fainting and waking up, fainting and waking up," Gail said "When I came to he was choking mother again and I screamed, 'Stop. Stop.'" 

The man then ran to Gail and dragged her into her own bedroom.  He tied her hands and feet.  She said he then retreated to her mother's room and she heard him pulling out drawers and dumping items on the floor.  "I called to my mother but there was no answer," Gail said. 

She didn't know it, but her mother had been strangled to death. 

Gail continued her statement: "When the man returns, he wrapped me in a blanket after warning me to keep quiet and took me downstairs and outside where he put me in the back of his car on the floor.  We drove around for a long time, and then he stopped in a lonely place and put me in the trunk of the car.  My hands were tied behind my back." 

She said the attacker drove her around again, and then the car stopped near what she later learned was a restaurant. 

"He opened the trunk and asked me if I wanted some chicken sandwich.  I shook my head and told him I wanted to go home." 

She told police the assailant moved her to the back seat of the car, pulled up her nightgown, and raped her Then he placed her on the floor with her hands tied behind her back and used another rope to tie her to the door-handle.  After he left to return to the restaurant, Gail said, "I then pushed the handle with my head and fell out." 

Gail ran blindly down the street in her blood-soaked night-clothing, her hands still tied behind her, sobbing, and frightened that her attacker would pursue her.  She ran to the nearest home and kicked at the door.  It was shortly after 6 p.m.  She had been a prisoner for more than ten hours.  

Mrs. Mary Burgo of Norwalk found Gail on her front porch and ushered her inside.  After hearing the terrified teen's story, Burgo called police.  Then she called the Sillan home to let her family know that Gail was alive.  The victim was then transported to Norwalk Hospital. 

A police officer told reporters that "she is a very brave girlNo one could have gone through a more terrible experience, but she is feeling much better today and eventually she will have to know about her mother." 

Gail quickly identified her attacker as Miller. 

Immediately after Gail escaped, Harlis Miller returned home and went to bed.  The next morning, he and his common-law wife left Connecticut and drove to his mother's home in Soperton, Georgia. 

Police launched a nation-wide manhunt to track down the suspect.  Three days later, Georgia police arrested Miller. 

Tried and convicted of first degree murder and rape, Miller was sentenced to life in prison.  On appeal, that decision was overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court because detectives had searched Miller's car without a warrant.  A few months later, the murderous handyman was convicted once again and again sentenced to life in prison. 

Gail Sillan later attended the New York School of Interior Design and worked for many years at Vital Enterprises in Vista, New York.  She died in 2013, at 64 years of age.