Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Unsolved Murder of Cynthia Clements

 Ghouls Among Us

By Robert A. Waters

Nineteen-year-old Cynthia Clements vanished on Labor Day, September 1, 1980.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that “Miss Clements was last seen inside the Li’l General Store at 6185 54th Avenue North in Kenneth City [Florida], where she had just taken a job as a night clerk. A St. Petersburg Times delivery man dropped off a load of newspapers and spoke with her briefly. The delivery man said later that nothing appeared unusual.”

At about 5:30 A.M., customers flagged down a Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy and informed him the clerk was missing. Investigators found Cynthia’s purse still in the store, an unfinished crossword puzzle on the counter, the radio playing, and the cash drawer unopened. There appeared to be no signs of a struggle—the cashier had just…disappeared. Cynthia had no car, so she had likely been taken away by someone in a vehicle. A detective told reporters that “there is no shred of evidence to indicate that Miss Clements left the store voluntarily.”

Pinellas County spokesperson Merrill Stebbins said that Cynthia “has no criminal record. There is no suggestion she had done this kind of thing before. There’s just nothing to indicate she was anything but a personable, quiet, religious person.” Cynthia, who studied her Bible often, had written her former pastor back home to tell him she was searching for a “good” church.

Just a month earlier, the family had moved to the St. Petersburg area from Birmingham, Alabama. Her father, John, told investigators he’d worried when she told him she was taking the convenience store job, but she assured him the neighborhood was safe. “Cynthia was never involved in any drugs, any alcohol, any misfits,” said her mother, Nancy. “That’s why we know something bad happened to her, because we know her.” 

Six weeks after she disappeared, on October 14, a hiker found Cynthia’s decomposed body in the woods off Bryan Dairy Road near Largo. She had been strangled. Although no semen was found on or inside her (due to the decomposed state of the corpse), cops believed she had been raped. At the time, there were no surveillance cameras in the store. Due to a lack of physical evidence or an eyewitness, the case quickly went cold.

Numerous other girls and young women had gone missing from the same area, so this case garnered a lot of local publicity. At the time, none of the cases had been solved. The Tampa Times received a letter that spoke for many. “There are…ghouls among us,” said the writer, “who wait for the cover of darkness to carry out their ghastly deeds.” He suggested that convenience stores hire two clerks for the night shift.

On October 21, Cynthia’s parents laid her to rest in Memorial Park Cemetery. The Tampa Bay Times reported that “while Pinellas County sheriff’s detectives stood behind trees watching for her killer, a young Baptist preacher prayed for the quiet 19-year-old woman and stunned survivors she left behind.” No suspicious individuals showed up for the funeral, and cops went home with no leads.

As the search for Cynthia’s killer went on, Li’l General stores offered a $2,500 reward.

Since many young women had gone missing or were murdered in various locales around St. Petersburg and Tampa during that time, investigators thought it likely that a serial killer might be responsible for some of those crimes, including that of Cynthia Clements. For instance, a career criminal named James Delano Winkles abducted and murdered at least two young women, one in 1980, the other in 1981. He kidnapped real estate agent Margo Delimon, held her for several days while he brutally raped her multiple times, and then killed her. He also snatched and murdered a dog groomer named Elizabeth Graham. Detectives questioned Winkles about Cynthia’s murder but could never find the evidence needed to confirm his involvement. The killer died while on Florida’s death row.

Fast-forward forty-three years: her killer still has not been identified and justice seems a long way off.

NOTE: Here is a list of several girls and women who disappeared or were murdered in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area in the early 1980s. None of these cases have been solved. 

Leandra Hogan, 16. A runaway, Leandra's body was located off Hillsborough Avenue in Hillsborough County near Tampa. She died as a result of upper body trauma.

Barbara Barkley, 22. (Pictured). Disappeared from Pipe Furniture Store in Pinellas County. Although her car was later located in nearby Clearwater, her remains have never been found.

Melinda Harder, 20. Disappeared while walking to her boyfriend’s home in St. Petersburg. Remains were found 9 years later in Maximo Park.

Carla Hanavin, 14. A runaway, her body was located in Tampa. As far as I can tell, this case was never solved.

ANOTHER NOTE: From 1976 to 1983, at least 35 young women and teenaged girls were murdered inside the city of Tampa. At the time, none of the crimes had been solved. In several of the cases, investigators suspected one or more serial killers were working the area.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Rampant "Disease" of Gun Violence

Review of America, Guns, and Freedom: A Journey into Politics and the Public Health & Gun Control Movements by Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

Publisher: Mascot Books, 2019

Review written by Robert A. Waters


Civilian disarmament has been a long-time goal of many liberal Americans. As with most progressive issues, the anti-gun crowd has spread its tentacles into all sorts of little-related or even non-related areas in its effort to convince the public of their cause. “Gun violence,” said Judy Schaechter, M. D., “is America’s most preventable disease.” Who would have thought that gun violence could be classified as a disease? Like cancer? Or polio? Or diabetes? Yet this has become a standard argument for some who wish to eliminate, or heavily curtail, the ownership of guns.

Dr. Miguel Faria, Jr., a brilliant neurosurgeon, has different beliefs. Dr. Faria, born in Cuba, saw what happened after communist dictator Fidel Castro confiscated all civilian-owned guns. Dr. Faria’s danger-antenna warned him that his adopted homeland could be next. As a physician, he realized how easily data can be skewed in one direction or another. And as editor of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, he had enough clout to at least attempt to bring clarity to the issue. “Gun violence studies,” Dr. Faria writes, “do not fall within the discipline of biology, but within the spheres of sociology or criminology.”

Under President George W. Bush, Dr. Faria became a member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During his tenure there, he blocked grants that were blatantly anti-gun.

America, Guns, and Freedom picks apart each argument of the medical professions’ attempts to link guns and public health. Several chapters deal with that issue.

Since my personal interest in the gun control debate lies in the self-defense issue, I’ll concentrate most of this review on that aspect of the controversy.

In today’s world, even the right to self-defense is being questioned. The Declaration of Independence declares that citizens have the “unalienable right of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” If that is so, the right of self-defense is paramount to human existence. The problem for the anti-gunners is that self-defense stories can be highly emotional and, if allowed to become widely known to a suggestible public, can turn the argument against the controllers.

For instance, did you know that a rape victim shot and killed her attacker when he returned to assault her in her Lake City, Florida home? Did you know that a ring of carjackers in Milwaukee were captured after a nurse shot one of the violent gang members who tried to steal her car? Did you know that an 11-year-old boy shot a home invader who broke into his residence and threatened to kill him? Did you know that numerous attempted mass murders have been stopped by armed citizens? Even when a gun is not used, it can deter a violent attack. For instance, all an Idaho woman had to do to get a home invader to flee was point her gun at him. As soon as he saw the weapon, he hightailed it. There are thousands of such true cases on the internet. And these are just the stories that made a local newspaper somewhere.

The CDC, the media, and other gun control advocates like to stick these stories on a back shelf when discussing the issue. In fact, in their “research” into gun violence, they rarely mention the other side of the issue, i.e., the numerous cases of successful self-defense by everyday citizens. The elephant standing in the room is completely ignored. Dr. Faria discusses this phenomenon at length.

“Backed by the public health establishments,” Dr. Faria informs readers, “liberal politicians…continue to espouse the erroneous concept of guns and bullets as virulent pathogens that need to be stamped out by limiting gun availability and ultimately eradicating guns from the citizenry.” Dr. Faria writes that researchers such as Florida State University Professor Dr. Gary Kleck studied the issue of self-defensive uses of firearms for many years. Kleck’s studies revealed that each year up to two-and-a-half million Americans may use firearms for self-protection. Only two percent actually fire their weapon—in most cases, just showing a gun will deter a criminal.

For instance, when Hurricane Andrew blasted through south Florida in 1992, it destroyed billions worth of property, leaving citizens to fend for themselves for months. It was not unusual for news photos and television broadcasts to show residents of destroyed homes guarding their property with shotguns, rifles and even AK-47-type weapons. Few of those citizens ever fired on a looter. Just the knowledge that armed citizens were not going to be easy targets deterred most predators. This has happened in many cases, such as the Los Angeles riots, the Ferguson riots, and many, many others.

These historical precedents do not fit into the narrative that no citizen needs a gun, so they're rarely mentioned by the anti-gunners.

Throughout the book, Dr. Faria hits the reader with facts that tear into the liberal narrative. Whether it’s a blackout on the issue of self-defense, biased information in medical journals, the prejudices of the American Medical Association (AMA) and CDC against gun ownership, or the media’s complicity in narrating a one-way version of events, Dr. Faria takes them all on.

I highly recommend America, Guns, and Freedom to anyone who has an interest in the gun control debate. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Quiet, Sad Life and Death of Little Georgie Melber

No Room in her Life for Georgie

By Robert A. Waters

Be warned in advance--this story is disturbing.


On a bitterly cold afternoon in 1911, Edith Gibeau Melber visited an apothecary in Schenectady, New York. There she purchased a small bottle of carbolic acid, also known as phenol. Attractive and personable (when she wished to be), Edith had been widowed five years earlier. Her husband, George, had worked as a machinist for General Electric Company. After squandering the $2,500 life insurance she received, she began placing her five-year-old son, Georgie, in various "orphan's homes" in the area. He would remain in each institution for a few weeks, then she would move him to another. 

On January 6, Edith picked Georgie up from his great-uncle's home. The Schenectady Gazette reported that "her attitude toward her husband's family was cold and reserved." Charles F. Smith, a musician, and his wife Margaret, relatives on her husband's side of the family, had kept Georgie during the Christmas holidays. They loved the bright, attractive child. Disapproving of Edith's wild, erratic lifestyle, the well-to-do couple attempted to persuade her to let them adopt Georgie. She refused.

Edith walked with the boy to the Schenectady Children's Home and asked staff to admit him. She had left him there on previous occasions but had neglected to pay the small fee they required. Because of this, the Children's Home turned her down. Georgie wore a brand-new white Buster Brown suit (given to him at Christmas by a couple she had briefly worked for). 

Edith and her son took a trolley headed toward Albany. Somewhere between Schenectady and the state capitol, they disembarked. In a rural, isolated area, the mother and son began walking aimlessly through the countryside. Edith handed Georgie a bag of chocolate drops which he ate as they trudged along. For the last five years, she had resented the boy and his need for her. Because of him, she found it hard to hold a job and had little social life. Many men wished to date her, but none seemed to want to raise another man's child.

As they walked, Georgie looked up at his mom and asked for something to drink. His mother handed the boy the bottle of carbolic acid. She later told investigators he drank from the bottle. The medicine is corrosive to whatever it touches. As it reached his respiratory tract and his stomach, the child must have been in excruciating pain. (Since no one would willingly drink the acidic poison, detectives surmised that she had forced the drink down the boy's throat--burns on her hands backed up that theory.)

Edith left Georgie lying on the frozen ground, his white suit standing out against the yellowed weeds.

Later that day, Edith was back in Schenectady where she visited her new lover, Howard Kirk, a draftsman for General Electric. On January 12, two days after she'd murdered her son, Kirk drove her to the train depot. She bought a ticket for an early train headed west. "I kissed her goodbye," Kirk told reporters, "and she said, 'I may never see you again.'"

On January 14, a hunter found Georgie's body. The Elmira Star Gazette reported that "Little George Melber's body, badly burned in the face by carbolic acid, frozen stiff by the cold, was found Wednesday afternoon by Harry Sprankland, a hunter, as he followed his dogs across a stretch of frozen swamp-land, about 1,000 feet south of the Schenectady turnpike and just inside the city limits. The autopsy, postponed until Thursday morning to allow the body to thaw out, proved conclusively that death was due to the effect of carbolic acid."

Charles F. Smith was among those who formally identified the sad corpse. Georgie's father's relatives saw that he received a church funeral and was interred at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Schenectady.

Detectives soon arrested Edith and, within an hour, she had confessed.

On March 6, 1911, Edith went on trial. More than a thousand spectators fought to get into the courthouse. While most were there to see her receive justice, a few sympathized with Edith.

On March 16, a twelve-man jury found the mother guilty of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced Edith to a prison term of 20 years to life--at hard labor.

Five years later, Edith fashioned her bedsheet into a noose and hanged herself. Was she unable to live with herself for what she had done? Or was she depressed about her loss of freedom while in prison? We'll never know, but her death brought an end one of the most poignant and senseless cases of murder.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Four Long Years of War in Florida

A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerillas in East and South Florida, 1861-1865.

By Zack C. Waters

Mercer University Press, April, 2023

Review is written by Robert A. Waters

(Today's Florida is a tourist mecca, a gathering place for northerners fleeing sub-zero temperatures, a retiree's paradise, and a haven for the wealthy who wish to flee high-tax states. It was nothing like that in 1861. Florida, with a population of 140,000, had far fewer residents than any of the other states that seceded from the Union. Many of its citizens hailed from southern states, particularly South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. A scattering of Yankees had moved to the "Land of Flowers," and others came from Cuba and Spain, as well as several European countries. 60,000 enslaved persons made up the mix, and, in the Everglades, licking their wounds, were remnants of the Seminole Indian tribes. On January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to tear away from what its citizens believed was a tyrannical United States government.)

Award-winning author Zack C. Waters has once again delved into uncharted territory in historical research. His new book, A Wilderness of Destruction, is a fast-paced telling of how Confederate Floridians fought a long-term guerilla war against northern invaders. Because of this resistance, the Union could never control the interior of the state. Tallahassee was the only Confederate capitol to never be captured. Waters has discovered many little-known, or in some cases, previously unknown skirmishes, that occurred between Union invaders and Confederate sympathizers.

Almost immediately after the war started, the Union began an assault on Florida's coastal cities. Since Florida had no manufacturing industry, except for the making of salt, Northern military strategists reasoned that St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Tampa, Key West, Pensacola, and Cedar Key would quickly become a pipeline for goods flowing from Europe into the Confederacy. Within the first year, Union armies occupied all those cities. Yankee ships endeavored, with some success, to stop the flow of gunrunners and smugglers. As the war progressed, it became harder for Southern partisans to sneak through the armada of ships lined up along the coasts.

Throughout the war, Union soldiers attempted to occupy inland Florida. Raiders such as Confederate Captain J. J. Dickison, with the help of Rebel supporters, made life miserable for the Yanks. In the Battle of Horse Landing, for instance, three Cuban sisters warned him of a planned attack on his camp. In the dead of night, Dickison moved his troops to a more strategic location and destroyed the attackers, with no loss of his own men. Throughout the war, Southern civilians provided information to guerillas, helping to keep the Union armies bottled up in the coastal cities.

As the war progressed and the tide turned in favor of the northern invaders, it became more difficult to keep the Rebel armies fed. Once Vicksburg fell, the conduit of Texas beef to the Confederacy ended. Confederate General Braxton Bragg, leader of the Army of Tennessee, wrote to Florida leaders: "We are now dependent on your state for beef. The future of the army depends on how well it is fed, and this in turn depends upon our ability to secure food from Florida." Unfortunately, there was no railroad from Florida to Georgia, so the armies of Lee and Bragg would be dependent on old-fashioned cattle drives for their sustenance.

Waters writes that "the huge herds of half-wild cattle that roamed the prairies of South Florida came from the Andalusian cattle brought to the New World by Spanish conquistadors, settlers and monks. By 1860, estimates of the size of the herds in the southernmost state numbered at 658,609..." Jacob Summerlin, a die-hard Confederate, was one of several ranchers in Florida to be tasked with getting the beef to Georgia. There the Southern government would move the cattle by train to the theaters of war. Waters writes: "The task of maintaining an avenue to drive the cattle to the Confederate supply centers would become a job for the guerilla companies of Florida."

The actual driving of the cattle was a difficult endeavor. "The cowmen," Waters writes, "had to traverse a wilderness region inhabited by bears, panthers, wolves, Unionists, deserters and other predators." Even as General William Sherman was burning Georgia to desolation, the Florida cowboys continued to find ways to get the coveted beef to Confederate armies.

In the spring of 1865, when the Confederate States of America surrendered, members of the Confederate cabinet faced a conundrum. If captured by Union troops, they might be tried and executed. Jefferson Davis was arrested in Georgia. Others were captured or gave themselves up. None were hanged, although Davis faced that prospect for several years.

As northern newspapers howled for the blood of Confederate "traitors," Judah P. Benjamin, former Secretary of State, devised a plan to outwit his pursuers. His scheme depended on former Florida guerillas leading him to freedom. By disguising himself as various tradesmen, and sometimes as a French traveler, he eventually made it to the Bahamas. From there, he traveled to England where he became a respected barrister. For many years, he kept in touch with the men and women of Florida who assisted him.

Confederate Vice President John C. Breckinridge was the most wanted of all. Even the Union general who burned Atlanta advised him to make a run for it. "General Sherman--at a meeting with Confederate officers following their capitulation--advised Breckinridge to flee, explaining that the people of the Northern states felt especially bitter toward the former U. S. Vice President who took up arms against the government."

Once again, Captain Dickison took charge. He advised Breckenridge to flee to Cuba. Waters writes that "Breckinridge's party began their escape from the United States on the west bank of the St. John's River, near Palatka. They traveled up the waterway, constantly beset by swarms of gnats, mosquitoes, and a scorching sun..." Eventually, they landed in Cuba. Breckinridge traveled to Europe and the Holy Land before settling in Canada. Had he been captured he almost certainly would have been executed.

During the 1960s, Zack C. Waters learned his writing skills from some of the finest Southern authors at the University of Florida. Over the years, he has written dozens of articles about his favorite subject, the Civil War. A Wilderness of Destruction is his third book about that war that changed history. I HIGHLY recommend it.

NOTE: This book is a goldmine for genealogists. If you, like me, are interested in learning more about your Florida ancestors, buy this book.