Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Man Without a Heart
by Robert A. Waters

The Blackwater River flows through the wilds of Alabama into Florida’s Panhandle.  Its ink-black water meanders along, lapping sugar-white sand beaches while centuries-old cypress trees line the banks.

On May 1, 1956, three young boys played along the water’s edge.  They were David Earl Wilson, 7, his younger brother Douglas Cecil, 4, and a friend, seven-year-old Michael McCauley.  The Wilson family’s mobile house trailer sat back on a hill, looking down over the shirtless boys as they yelled and romped.

The playmates parted as their neighbor, thirty-three-year-old Dallas E. Withers, approached a motorboat tethered to a nearby tree.  While climbing in, the unemployed electrician turned to the boys and asked, “You want to go for a short ride?”

The excited youngsters hesitated briefly, then crowded into the boat.  But McCauley, fearful that his father would be angry, jumped out and waded back to shore.

A sudden roar of the engine alerted Mary Alice Wilson, the brothers’ mother.  She sprinted from the house down to the river’s bank, screaming for her neighbor to return with her boys.  Withers never looked back.  The distraught woman watched in horror as the boat motored into the fog and disappeared around a bend.

Since she didn’t have a telephone, Mrs. Wilson rushed to a neighbor’s home and called the Bay County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff M. J. “Doc” Daffin and his lead investigator, Floyd D. Saxon, raced to the residence at 414 Second Court in Millville.  The unincorporated community sat on a spit of land between Watson Bayou and St. Andrews Bay in Panama City.  After Mrs. Wilson and Michael McCauley breathlessly described the events of the afternoon, Daffin quickly organized teams of deputies to search the shoreline.

News of the abduction spread quickly.  With a population of around 50,000 residents, Bay County was home to several military installations, including Tyndall Air Force Base.  In addition to law enforcement officials, local fishermen and servicemen soon joined the hunt for the missing brothers.


Three hours after casting off with the youngsters, Withers docked his boat at Polecat Bayou, fifteen miles from the Wilson home.

He was alone.

Waiting deputies arrested him on the spot.

Lawmen transported Withers to an undisclosed jail for his own safety.  Weather-hard, with dark eyes, the suspect said little.  When asked where the boys were, he feigned surprise and denied taking them.

Darkness fell, and the long night passed with no word from the missing brothers.  The next morning, Mrs. Wilson, sobbing, released a tape-recorded statement: “Please, Mr. Withers,” she said, “Tell me where you left my sons.  I want them back dead or alive.”  The Fort Pierce News Tribune reported that “the boys’ father, Willard E. Wilson, was taken to a veteran’s hospital in Birmingham for treatment of shock.”

The Wilson family had lived in Panama City for only three weeks.  Originally from Mississippi, Willard worked as a civilian employee at Tyndall Air Force Base.

Shortly after noon, searchers in a military helicopter spotted four-year-old Douglas.

Floating face-down in the murky waters, his remains were located about 300 yards from the mouth of Cook’s Bayou.  Lawmen grimly pulled Douglas from the river and transported him to Smith Funeral Home in Panama City.  Soon the coroner arrived.  After conducting an autopsy, he announced the cause of death was drowning.

Though searchers combed the river all day, David was not found.

On the second day, after hearing Mrs. Wilson’s taped appeal and learning that Douglas had been found, Withers confessed to killing the boys.  Sheriff Daffin told reporters that in his first confession, Withers claimed that while making a sharp turn around a bend, David fell out of the boat.  Withers stated that after David drowned, he panicked and tossed Douglas into the water.

The next day Withers admitted his sordid reason for the abduction and murders.  He informed investigators that he had molested young boys for years, but had never been caught.  When he saw the children playing on the bank outside their home, he immediately felt drawn to the older Wilson boy.

Withers stated that after finding an isolated spot, he forced David to commit “indecent acts.”  He described how he flung the child into the dark water and watched him flounder until he slowly sank out of sight.  The boy had cried out just before disappearing.  Detectives noted that Withers was matter-of-fact when describing what happened.  In order to cover his crime, the killer said he also tossed four-year-old Douglas into the river.  Like David, the youngster quickly drowned.

Investigators believed Withers had stopped at a sand-bank to molest David, though for some reason he never admitted it.  Tracks on one of the sandbars in the river contained footprints of a man and two young children.  After the assault, Withers likely forced the brothers back into the boat and tossed them out.

For the next three days, hundreds of searchers scoured the river and its banks for the older boy.  During this time, women of the community grouped together in local churches to make sandwiches and iced tea for the men.  Finally, four days after having been snatched from the shoreline in broad daylight, two local fishermen radioed that they had located the remains of a young boy.

David’s body had floated up only a few feet from where his brother had been found.


Dallas Withers had spent time in a reform school before joining the U. S. Army in 1943.

Trained as a machine gunner, Withers was assigned to Company D, 304th Infantry Regiment, 76th Infantry Division.  As he spoke to investigators, the suspect made a shocking claim.  He stated that in 1945, during a night bombardment near Oberinheim, Germany, while supporting a squad of riflemen from the rear, he lowered his machine gun and turned it on his fellow GIs.

He informed detectives that he and another soldier were having “sexual relations,” and he was afraid of being found out.  Withers said casualties from the enemy bombardment were so horrific that no one realized some soldiers had been shot from behind.

Sheriff Daffin reported that Withers passed a lie detector test about the episode.  However, Detective Saxon told reporters that he didn’t believe the suspect’s claims.  (The army never fully investigated the incident, evidently writing the “confession” off as an attention-seeking ploy—or perhaps they were unwilling to open up a can of worms that could destroy many lives.)

Sheriff Daffin told reporters that Withers “showed absolutely no remorse or emotion in answering my questions.  He is a man without a heart.”

At ten o’clock on the morning of May 7, hundreds of mourners attended funeral services for Douglas and David Wilson.  A local newspaper reported that after the services in Panama City, “the two were taken to Louisville, Miss., by a [Smith Funeral Home] hearse for services at the Middleton Methodist Church there.”


The trial of Dallas E. Withers, scheduled for January 7, 1959, promised to be a sensation.  It did not disappoint.

The Panama City courtroom was packed to capacity with 250 spectators.  Willard and Mary Alice Wilson sat behind prosecutors while Withers’ aged mother took a seat behind her son and the defense team.  (His wife and seven children were nowhere to be seen.)

Thomas Beasley, a former state representative from DeFuniak Springs, represented Withers.  (He was known for having tried 30 death penalty cases in which not one of his defendants was sent to the chair.)  But in this case, the attorney had little to work with.  Withers had confessed twice.  In addition, witnesses had seen him leave with the children.  Finally, physical evidence found in his boat proved the brothers had been there.

At first, Beasley made a half-hearted attempt to show that Withers was insane.  But the defendant’s obvious planning and confessions shot down that argument.

Beasley then claimed that Withers had been “drunk and unaccountable” for his actions.  But while he had been drinking, witnesses testified that he was not drunk.  (An appeals court later wrote that “there was ample competent substantial evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that Withers was not so intoxicated at the time of the commission of the crime as to be incapable of premeditation.”)

Finally, in desperation, the defense argued that Withers had suffered a work-related accident that may have damaged his brain and made him impulsive.  This could have caused him to “snap” and perform an act he couldn’t control.

Prosecutor J. Frank Adams told jurors that the crime Withers committed was the worst ever recorded in Bay County.  He stated that it was obvious from his confession that Withers knew right from wrong.

Four hours after receiving instructions, jurors returned with their verdict.


Circuit Judge E. Clay Lewis, Jr. immediately sentenced Dallas E. Withers to death in the electric chair.

Mary Alice Wilson agreed with the verdict.  “He had a trial,” she said.  “My boys did not.”

On February 2, 1959, nearly three years after the heinous murders of two innocent boys, Withers walked solemnly to Florida’s Old Sparky.  Reporters said he remained calm to the very end.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Other Side of Gun Control

Survivor of brutal home invasion speaks about gun control

Foster Coker III, his wife, Pam, and their seven-year-old grandson survived a shock attack inside their home.  The Jacksonville, Florida family were innocent victims targeted by a gang of felons that called themselves the “Cutthroat Committee.”  Both Foster and Pam suffered permanent injuries in the assault and their grandson was forced to live with the trauma.  There is one reason the family is still alive and that is because they were able to get their guns and finally dispatch the assailant.

After the home invasion, Foster wrote his thoughts about gun control.  Here is the article:

“On August 15, 2014, my wife, Pamela Howell Coker, my grandson, and I were targeted in a ruthless home invasion.  Four people took part in the planning and execution of the cowardly crime, including three convicted felons.

“They came up with their plan while driving ar0und the night before in a stolen car.  There is a law against driving around in a stolen car, but they ignored it.

“During this planning session, certain drugs were consumed.  There is a law against using these drugs, but they ignored it.

“When it came time to invade our home, they jumped the privacy fence into our back yard.  There is a law against trespassing, but they ignored it.

“One of the criminals proceeded to kick in our back door and enter our home.  There is a law against doing this, but he ignored it.

“This criminal was armed with a stolen handgun.  There is a law against possessing stolen property, but he ignored it.

“The criminal, as mentioned, was already a convicted felon.  There is a law against convicted criminals possessing firearms, but he ignored it.

“Once inside, the criminal attacked my wife, knocking her down on a hardwood floor and causing severe injuries.  There is a law against physically attacking people, but he ignored it.

“When I came to my wife’s defense, the criminal repeatedly pistol-whipped me.  There is a law against assaulting someone with a deadly weapon, but he ignored it.

“Because of our Second Amendment rights, my wife and I were able to arm ourselves.  This resulted in an exchange of gunfire with the criminal.  His bullet grazed my head and came within an inch or two of killing me.  There is a law against trying to murder someone, but he ignored it.

“So don’t tell me how some new gun law is going to make anyone safer.  Laws affect only one part of the population…law-abiding citizens.  Criminals, by their very definition, ignore any and all laws as they see fit.

“Limiting the kinds of weapons or ammunition the general public can implement in the defense of their own lives from criminal trash like the ones we had to deal with only helps make the criminals’ tasks easier.”

Reprinted with permission of Foster Coker III.  For a detailed description of this case, read the chapter, “Demise of the Cutthroat Committee” in Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms.    

Saturday, August 3, 2019

New Review of Guns and Self-Defense

Guns and Self-Defense: A Study of Real-Life Personal Protection

Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms is a new book by Robert A. Waters and Sim Waters. The authors describe 23 cases involving ordinary citizens who used their defensive firearms to survive criminal attacks. As the authors point out, these self-defense success stories are rarely covered by the national media because they don’t fit the media’s bias.

Besides reading 23 stories in which the bad guys lose, defensive shooters can pick up some pointers by carefully studying each story. One of the learning points that immediately caught my attention was the number of home invasion cases where the victims had to run to other parts of the house to retrieve their firearm. Several of these folks sustained serious injuries before they could arm themselves and fight back. It makes a good case for keeping the firearm on your person while at home or possibly having a gun stashed in every room. Because the home invasion is usually quite dynamic and very violent, the citizen may not have time to wander off into another room and collect that defensive firearm.

On the other hand, there are several cases of citizens being alert enough to suspect trouble and take appropriate action while there was still time. These examples make it clear that, whether we are in our homes, place of business or out on the street, being alert is a key factor in surviving a criminal attack.

I also found it interesting to read about one of the attacks being survived by proper deployment of a .410-bore revolver. These guns have become fairly popular, and I have been curious about their use in defeating a criminal attack.

Another obvious fact is that the attack can occur anywhere, at home, at work or on the street. One victim had pulled into her own driveway, getting home after work, when confronted. Because she was alert to suspicious activity around her, she prevailed and survived.

Robert A. Waters is the author of five books that cover citizen’s use of defensive firearms to defeat criminals. This is the first book, however, that includes his son, Sim Waters, as co-author. Guns and Self-Defense can be ordered from Amazon or
www.robertwaters.netI have found that Waters’ books are interesting reading as well as being a good study guide for the armed citizen. I will be using some of these incidents as training illustrations in a team-tactics class that I am sponsoring at Gunsite Academy in spring 2020.

Reprinted by permission of the author.