Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Serial Killer in Jacksonville?

The Vanishings

By Robert A. Waters

Jacksonville, Florida. 1974. With a population of slightly more than 500,000 souls, murders were not rare, but the abduction and killing of pre-teen children was almost unheard of. Then, within the space of three months, as summer edged into fall, five children went missing. Two were later discovered deceased, three were never found. Cops had little evidence. Investigators couldn't figure out if there was one serial killer, two serial killers, or several random murderers. After nearly fifty years, the crimes have never been solved.

Kidnapped on a bicycle

It started with nine-year-old Jean “Jeanie” Marie Schoen. On July 21, 1974, the child walked to Hannah’s Food Store on the corner of Pearl Street and 19th Street, just two blocks from her home. Her uncle had given her money to buy him a pack of cigarettes. Jeanie sported blonde hair, green eyes, and a missing front tooth. She loved life and wore a perpetual smile. After Jeanie purchased the cigarettes, she decided to walk to "The Hangout," a nearby arcade store.

Once there, she found the manager mopping the floor. He directed her to leave until it dried. Jeanie found one of her playmates and they wandered to a nearby laundromat.

After fifteen minutes, her mother, concerned that Jeanie hadn’t returned, sent Jeanie's brother to locate her. He came back empty-handed, so she directed her own brother (the uncle who had sent her out for tobacco) to look for Jeanie. He also found no trace of the girl.

The family never saw Jeanie again.

At the laundromat, things spun out of control. Her friend claimed she saw a man grab Jeanie and force her into the rest room. She and the stranger came out a few minutes later and Jeanie was crying. The stranger then picked her up, propped her onto the seat of his bicycle, and pedaled off. Within seconds, the two had vanished.

Witnesses described the kidnapper as a white male, with blondish hair styled like Elvis Presley.

A weird story. Whoever heard of using a bicycle to abduct a child? Yet witnesses confirmed the incident.

Jeanie’s broken-hearted mother, Pam Schoen, searched for her lost child until she died. "I don’t have life or death," she told reporters. She stated that never knowing what happened to her baby was the hardest part of living. She died at age 57, still hoping…

Two sisters abducted from home

A week and a half later, on August 1, Lillian Annette Anderson, 11, and her sister, Mylette Josephine Anderson, 6, vanished from their residence, never to be seen again. Like the earlier abduction of Jeanie Schoen, bizarre elements of the case stymied detectives. Annette and Mylette had been left home alone while their mother and older sister went to check on a sick relative. Their father, Jack, a commercial fisherman, was at work.

Jack called the house at 7:00 p.m. and spoke to the girls. He told them his outboard had stopped working and he planned to fix it before coming home. Jack heard the dog barking in the background, but the girls told him everything was fine. Concerned, he called back at 7:20. However, his daughters did not answer. When he arrived home a few minutes later, the girls weren’t there.

Jack found the dog locked in a back bedroom. The only thing missing (other than the girls) was a doll Mylette carried everywhere. Detectives suspected the sisters were snatched in that 20-minute window between calls.

The Pumpkin Hill area where the Anderson family lived was rural. An old cemetery, dotted with washed-out gravestones, sat behind the house, but most of the area was wooded. Hundreds of searchers combed the surrounding forests and swamps for days, but never found a clue.

Jack and Elizabeth Anderson barely survived the aftermath. Grief, guilt, and loss tormented them until they died. They never found out what happened to their beloved daughters.

The "sexual pervert" theory

September 27, 1974. Virginia Suzanne Helm disappeared. On October 2, 1974, pine-cone hunters found her body partially buried in a wooded area near Beachwood and Beach Boulevard. Virginia had been shot in the head with a .22-caliber bullet. Although she wore only a blouse when found, the coroner stated he saw "no sign of rape." A sheriff's department spokesperson informed reporters that child molesters don't always rape their victims. He called it the "sexual pervert theory."

Virginia had walked to a convenience store to buy soap for her mother. The store was just two blocks from her home. She never returned.

Three days after Virginia disappeared, a couple driving on New King's Road spied a red Volkswagen bug beside the highway. They stopped to offer help and saw a disturbing sight. According to newspaper accounts, "The couple got out of the car to see if the man driving needed help. They noticed a young girl in the backseat of the car. The girl's knees were on the floorboard and her hands were on the seat as if she was trying to get up. Her pupils were dilated and she was looking back and forth rapidly and she appeared to be scared."

The car roared away so fast the couple could not get the license tag number. They contacted investigators and told them they were sure the girl was Virginia. Deputies flooded the area with patrol cars, but never found the red VW.

After Virginia's remains were located, lawmen conducted a determined search of the area, hoping to locate the other missing children. Their searches came up empty.

Virginia's killer has never been identified.

The skeleton on the beach

On October 16, twelve-year-old Rebecca Ann Greene went missing after having walked to a neighborhood food store five blocks away from her home. A clerk told cops she had seen Rebecca purchase several soft drinks, then leave out a side door. On her way home, however, the auburn-haired, blue-eyed girl vanished into thin air.

Three years later, a skeleton washed up on the shore of Little St. George Island, in the mouth of the St. John's River. A picnicker spotted the remains among driftwood and seaweed. Duval County Medical Examiner Dr. Peter Lipkovic identified the remains as Rebecca. According to a story in the Fort Myers News-Press, "Lipkovic said he is still unable to determine the girl's cause of death. By the looks of the bones, he said, the girl had been dead for six months to several years."

The coroner scoured her remains for clues, finding a single foreign hair.

Like the parents of the other missing girls, Ed and Reba Greene were devastated by the loss of their daughter. They moved to Georgia but never stopped looking for her. The News-Press reported that "members of the Greene family were certain about a year ago they had located Rebecca when they were watching the telecast of a church revival in North Carolina and saw a girl in the audience who looked like Rebecca." Investigators determined the girl at the revival was not Rebecca.

Who murdered the five girls?

Throughout the decades, much speculation has centered on various suspects in these murders. 

A serial murderer named John Paul Knowles confessed to abducting and killing Mylette and Annette Anderson. While it has been confirmed that he committed at least 18 murders in the southeastern United States, cops said his confession to the sisters' killings was dubious since he did not know all the facts. A few years later, Knowles was shot to death during an escape attempt.

Theodore Bundy has been named as a possible suspect, but no evidence was ever found to corroborate his involvement.

In October of 1974, a man driving a pickup truck snatched a seven-year-old girl. He took the child to a remote area in the woods and fondled her. Then he severely beat her and left the girl for dead. Somehow, she survived and found her way out of the dark forest by following a power transmission line.

Earl Taylor Higginbotham was convicted of the kidnapping and assault of the young girl. Investigators did everything possible to connect their suspect to the five previous abductions and murders, but concluded he was innocent of those crimes. Higginbotham died in prison.

What happened during that murder season? 

Will we ever know?

Monday, December 12, 2022

Execution Date Set for Mississippi Killer Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr.

The Stranger

Written by Robert A. Waters

Note: Some content in this story is graphic. Just a warning!

On June 22, 2000, at 10:30 p.m., sixteen-year-old Leesa Marie Gray left Comer's Restaurant in Dorsey, Mississippi to drive home. A part-time waitress and high school junior, Leesa felt edgy. A strange man had come into the cafeteria around noon and tried flirting with her. He stood well over six feet tall, looked to be in his mid-to-late thirties, and had a hard face with weird-looking green eyes. Leesa ignored him, and after he ate a cheeseburger, the stranger left.

Unincorporated, the community of Dorsey lies in Itawamba County, Mississippi with a population of about 4,000. Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, is about 20 miles away.

At 9:00 that night, Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. returned to the restaurant and ordered another cheeseburger to go. The day before, he had driven from his home in Vicksburg to visit his ailing grandmother. Years before, Loden had grown up in Dorsey, attending the same high school as Leesa Marie.

As she left for the night, Leesa saw the strange man leaning against his two-tone green Ford Econoline van. He gave her the creeps, so she scurried into her car and sped off. Out on the highway, she suddenly felt and heard the tell-tale sign of a tire rim grinding against the asphalt. Oh no, she must have thought. A flat tire. Leesa pulled off the road, less than a half-mile from her home.

Court documents report that "when Leesa did not return home from work as expected, her mother, Wanda Marie Farris, became worried and began making phone calls in an attempt to locate her daughter. Mrs. Farris called Comer's Restaurant cook, Richard Tallant, who told her that as he was driving home, he had seen a car on the side of the road with hazard lights flashing. [After the call], Tallant immediately returned to the abandoned car, saw that it was Leesa's, and drove to Mrs. Farris' home. They discovered that one of the tires on the vehicle was flat, the doors were unlocked, and Leesa's purse and cell phone were inside the car. They called the Itawamba County Sheriff's Office, and an investigation began into Leesa's disappearance."

During questioning, Tallant stated that he had recognized Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. in the restaurant earlier that day. The cook informed detectives that Loden had driven 400 miles to visit his grandmother who owned a farm nearby. Loden, he said, had made inappropriate comments to the attractive blonde high schooler.

Detectives quickly drove to the home of Rena Loden, grandmother of the suspect. In the driveway, they noticed Loden's van and a beige Oldsmobile 88 Regency that belonged to Mrs. Loden. They learned the suspect was in the house asleep. At the time, they had no warrant to search the home or the vehicles, so they left. Investigators soon located two witnesses from the restaurant who identified Loden's van as the one seen on the premises that night.

Deputies returned shortly with a search warrant. In the house, investigators found a pair of shorts stained with blood. Inside the Olds, they located a "rope fashioned into a handcuff style knot."

Detectives towed the car and van to Highway Patrol Headquarters in New Albany.  There "Leesa's body was found pushed under a fold-down seat in Loden's van. Along with other evidence, a JVC camcorder was recovered from the van, and a VHS compact video cassette was removed from it. Footage from the video depicts Leesa Marie Gray being forced to engage in fellatio on Loden, Loden vaginally raping her, and anal penetration of Leesa with his fingers." In addition, the killer used a cucumber to repeatedly assault the teenager. According to court documents, "footage depicts Loden twisting the breast of an unconscious Leesa in an apparent attempt to bring her back to consciousness." *

The coroner ruled that Leesa's death had been caused by suffocation and manual strangulation.

Cops, stunned by the brutality of Loden's crimes, expanded their search for him.

In a bizarre twist to an already strange case, a passerby found Loden lying in a ditch beside the road and called 911. Using a broken beer bottle, the suspect had carved the words, "I'm sorry," across his chest. He also had superficial cuts to his wrists. After treatment for his injuries, detectives questioned Loden. He initially denied having murdered Leesa, but the evidence against him was so strong he later admitted he "may have" done it, although he claimed not to remember.

Loden had never had any serious run-ins with the law. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Marine Corps. He worked his way up to gunnery sergeant and at the time of his arrest had spent four years as a Marine Corps recruiter. He fought in Operation Desert Storm. Standing six-feet-four inches tall, and weighing nearly two hundred pounds, Loden could have easily subdued Leesa.

In an article form the AFA Journal, Rusty Benson writes, "Loden stepped outside [the restaurant], pretending to tend to something in his van. It was parked next to Leesa's 1992 opal green Honda Accord. A perfect plan and perfect execution, he must have thought, as he knelt down between his van and Leesa's car, out of view of anyone who might happen along. Then he buried the business end of a utility knife deep into Leesa's passenger side tire. The blade broke off. He probably figured she would be a few thousand feet down the road toward home before the tire completely deflated and forced her to stop. He was right." Investigators later found the blade wedged between the threads of the flat tire.

Addicted to hard core pornography, Loden had likely acted out a violent sexual fantasy on the innocent girl. Leesa Marie Gray had endured more than four hours of extreme sexual torture before being killed.

Pleading guilty to murder, rape, kidnapping and sexual battery of Leesa, the court sentenced Loden to death. For more than twenty years, he has fought justice through appeal after appeal, but Mississippi has now set a date for the killer's execution: December 14, 2022. 

It can't come too soon.

*(The court stated that a copy of the videotape had been placed in a vault to be protected from public scrutiny.)

NOTE: Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. was executed at 6:12 p.m. on December 15, 2022.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Richard Allen's Defense Team Releases Statement in the Delphi Murder Case

I don't know whether Richard Allen is guilty or innocent of the murders of Liberty German and Abigail Williams. But I do think the defense should have as much right to speak publicly about the case as the Sheriff and prosecutors. I'm publishing the recent defense press release for your information.


As Richard (Rick) Allen's attorneys, we have received multiple requests from local and national media for interviews and comment since the unsealing of the probable cause affidavit. It would be virtually impossible to comply with the requests and to continue to focus on the merits of Rick's defense. Therefore, we offer up these thoughts:

We do not want to try this case in the media and we intend to adhere to the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct that provide guidance on pretrial publicity. However, the police and prosecutor's office have conducted many press conferences over the five-plus years of this investigation and following our client's arrest. On the other hand, Rick's ability to assert his innocence has been reduced to only one short, post-hearing press conference. Accordingly, we feel it appropriate, necessary, and within the bounds of our rules of professional conduct to make a few comments concerning the probable cause affidavit and Rick's innocence.

*  Rick is a 50-year-old man who has never been arrested nor accused of any crime in his entire life. He is innocent and completely confused as to why he has been charged with these crimes.

*  The police did not contact Rick after Libby German and Abby Williams went missing, rather Rick contacted the police and voluntarily discussed being on the trail that day. Like many people in Delphi, Rick wanted to help in any way he could. Rick contacted the police to let them know that he had walked on the trail that day, as he often did. Without Rick coming forward, the police probably would not have had any way of knowing that he was on the trail that day.

* Rick volunteered to meet with a Conservation Officer outside of the local grocery store to offer up details of his trip to the trail on the day in question. Rick tried to assist with the investigation and told the police that he did recall seeing three younger girls on the trail that day. His contact with the girls was brief and of little significance. Rick does not recall if this interaction with the Conservation Officer was tape-recorded but believes that the Conservation Officer scribbled notes on a notepad as Rick spoke to him.

* After Rick shared this information with law enforcement officials, he went back to his job at the local CVS and didn't hear from the police for more than 5 years.

* The next time Rick heard from the police was in October, 2022. This was approximately two weeks before a contested Sheriff's election and within days of a federal lawsuit filed against the Carroll County Sheriff's Office by its former second in command, Michael Thomas.

* In the lawsuit, Thomas claims that he (Thomas) "had made suggestions and offered assistance in the investigation of a high-profile child homicide investigation" but those suggestions and offers were rejected by the Sheriff. Thomas further claimed that the Sheriff and others in the department feared the disagreements with Thomas would become publicized as a result of the political campaign for Sheriff.

* Thomas claims in the suit that he was ultimately demoted and replaced by Tony Liggett, who later won the 2022 election for Sheriff. Furthermore, Thomas feels he was also removed from high profile cases.

* Rick was ultimately arrested on or about October 28, 2022.

* In the 5+ years since Rick volunteered to provide information to the police, Rick did not get rid of his vehicle or his guns and did not throw out his clothing. He did not alter his appearance; he did not relocate himself to another community. He did what every innocent man would do and continued with his normal routine.

* The probable cause affidavit seems to suggest that a single magic bullet is proof of Rick's guilt. It is a bit premature to engage in any detailed discussions regarding the veracity of this evidence until more discovery in received, but it is safe to say that the discipline of tool-mark identification is anything but a science. The entire discipline has been under attack in courtrooms across the country as being unreliable and lacking scientific validity. We anticipate a vigorous legal and factual challenge to any claims by the prosecution of its conclusions concerning the single magic bullet.

* On Rick's behalf, we argued to have the PCA unsealed. Rick has nothing to hide. As importantly, we were hoping that we could receive tips that would assist us in proving up his innocence. Not surprisingly, we have been inundated with tips from a variety of sources, all of which will be vetted by our team. Although it is the burden of the prosecutor to prove Rick's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense team looks forward to conducting its own investigation concerning Rick's innocence. We appreciate those who have reached out to support his cause.

* The prosecutor mentioned, at the last hearing, his belief that others may have been involved in the killing (sic), yet there was no mention in the PCA about a suspect involved in the killing (sic). The defense is confused by such discrepancies in the investigation and will be in a better position to respond as more discovery is received.

* Rick Allen owned a Ford Focus in February of 2017. His Ford Focus is not, in any way, similar to the distinctive look of the PT Cruiser or Smart car that was described by the witnesses. It seems that CCSD is trying to bend facts to fit their narrative.

* At this point in time, we have received very limited information about this case and look forward to having something more to view than that which was offered in the sparse PCA.

Moving forward, it is our intent to scrutinize the discovery, as it is received, and give the necessary attention to the volumes of tips that we are receiving. To the extent we continue to discover information that points to Rick's innocence, we will offer up this information to the public, so long as we are not prohibited from doing so as a result of the recent request by the Prosecutor for a gag order or by the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.

Attorneys from the law firm of Hillis, Hillis, Rozzi and Dean published the briefing.