Thursday, August 24, 2023

"...In the prime of his predatory years"

The Murder of Kristin Lodge-Miller

By Robert A. Waters

The Crime

At 6:00, on the morning of July 15, 1993, Kristin Ann Lodge-Miller, 26, headed out for a jog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She had no idea she would never come home.

The (Raleigh) News and Observer reported that Kristin “slipped on an old T-shirt and a pair of orange and pink jogging shorts, grabbed her keychain with a small can of mace, and headed out the door for her morning run.” The tree-lined running trail on Estes Drive near her home seemed especially peaceful. After a three-mile run, she planned to drive to her job as a speech therapist for children and elderly stroke victims.

Kristin, a stunningly beautiful mid-western girl, had earned her undergraduate degree in speech-language pathology, and later obtained her master’s degree in the same field.  She and her husband, Erik, moved to Chapel Hill when he was accepted into the graduate business school at the University of North Carolina.

As the sun rose, citizens of the college town began milling about. On the sidewalk that runs parallel to Estes Boulevard (pictured), Kristin passed walkers and other joggers. She must have felt safe. Who would attack someone with so many people around?

From a stand of trees beside the walkway, a teenaged boy jumped Kristin. He attempted to drag her into some bushes, but she fought back. Spraying her assailant with mace, she broke away and fled. Her attacker, who later told cops Kristin made him angry by fighting back, chased her. As he closed the gap, he pulled a .32-caliber handgun from his pocket and fired six shots. Three bullets pierced her back. Staggering, Kristin dropped to the ground. Her assailant then ran up to her, placed the gun to the back of her head and pulled the trigger.

According to The Chapel Hill Herald, “Police found four spent shell casings on the road—two located within three feet of her body…A fifth spent shell was found about 11 feet away and a sixth forty-five feet away, indicating that the assailant fired the gun while chasing her, then shot her at close range as she fell, police said.” They located Kristin’s mace cannister near her body. It was half-empty, with sticky residue still on it.

The crime happened so fast onlookers couldn’t help. Numerous calls from horrified witnesses crackled into the 9-1-1 system and within a couple of minutes, cops and paramedics arrived. EMTs raced Kristin to a nearby hospital where she was officially pronounced dead.

Observers provided investigators a detailed description of the shooter. In less than an hour, cops arrested 18-year-old Anthony Georg Simpson. The killer was riding his bicycle through the heart of the city, seemingly without a care in the world.

In November of 1992, the teen had moved with his mother, Karen, into a new condominium. Coventry, on Weaver Dairy Road in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was high-end, owned by Ethan Horton, a cousin of Karen. Horton, who had been a football star at the University of North Carolina, now played for the Los Angeles Raiders.

The News and Observer reported that in his home state of Virginia, Simpson “had been suspended from school 23 times for insubordination, fistfights, and disrespect. He appeared in juvenile court three times and was labeled ‘beyond parental control.’”

The Daily Tar Hill reported that he had served time in two Virginia facilities. “When [Simpson] was 14,” the article read, “he spent about three months in the Norfolk Detention Home for smacking an enemy classmate on the head with a shovel during a home economics project. In early 1992, Simpson served nine months in the Beaumont Learning Center for shooting into a moving car during a drug deal.”

In Chapel Hill, his crimes continued. Less than a month before murdering Kristin, police arrested Simpson for stealing a Honda. Instead of jail time, a judge released Simpson and ordered him to perform a few hours of community service.

Just like that—voila—he was back on the streets. A below-average student, he dropped out of summer school. The few acquaintances he made in school described him as a loner and wannabe gangster. He bragged about raping women and being a hitman. (Police later investigated those claims and said they never happened.) At some point, violent fantasies had become hardwired into Simpson’s psyche. Kristin’s murder was just a step up the ladder of rage.

Once caught, the teenager quickly confessed. Police were surprised he didn’t come from the “poor side of the tracks.” In fact, his mother was an officer in the United States Air Force. However, his father was long-gone and Simpson spent lots of time alone since his mother’s job took her away from home at times.

Four witnesses identified Simpson as the shooter. The Chapel Hill Herald reported “Simpson led police to an abandoned shed off Estes Road where he tossed the gun. [Cops] made the case stronger when [they] matched Simpson’s fingerprints with fingerprints on the six-shot ammunition clip found in the weapon used to kill the jogger.”


“The sign Thursday at an impromptu memorial for slain jogger Kristin Lodge-Miller asked ‘Where is the justice?’’’ So wrote the editors of the News and Observer after Anthony Georg Simpson’s trial ended with a verdict of second-degree murder. Citizens of Chapel Hill were outraged to learn Simpson could be eligible for parole after only ten years. Prosecutors had asked the jury to find him guilty of first-degree murder—he would have had to serve twenty years before being considered for parole if he had been convicted of the higher charge.

For weeks, newspapers had a hard time finding room to print the deluge of letters to the editors that complained about the verdict. One letter protested Simpson's sentence because he was “in the prime of his predatory years.” Women’s groups, rape crisis organizations, even high school students held vigils lamenting the decision. And letters from ordinary citizens kept coming. Even years later, an occasional letter arrived at some local newspaper denouncing the verdict.

Kristin’s murder had struck a chord.

One juror spoke anonymously to the press. He stated three jurors refused to vote for first-degree murder, thereby causing the group to go with the lesser charge. The three stated they were not convinced that Simpson’s intent was to rape Kristin. They also considered the fact that the victim pepper-sprayed her attacker. That, in the killer’s own words, angered him. The News and Observer wrote that “apparently, jurors agreed with the argument that Simpson became enraged after Lodge-Miller attempted to spray him with Mace when he approached during her early morning jog last July.” That, some of the jury seemed to believe, mitigated his crime.

In hindsight, citizens need not have worried about Simpson cheating the system and being released early. He seemed unable to comply with prison rules. Throughout his imprisonment, Simpson has racked up an amazing 47 infractions. These included such offenses as sexual crimes, drug infractions, fighting, possession of a weapon, disobeying orders, assault on an officer, assaulting staff with a weapon, and countless other violations. Because of this, Simpson has not been seriously considered for release.

After the verdict, Erik Miller wrote a letter to the people of Chapel Hill. In the note, he stated, “Our loss has been total and final. We know we cannot have Kristin back, and neither can this society. Kristin Ann Lodge-Miller was one of the few people who I can truly say positively affected society. She certainly had a positive effect on myself and my family. Her beauty was far beyond the physical and it is, indeed, a severe blow to all now that she is gone.” 

Random crimes always frighten people. They shatter what people perceive as order in the universe. Such cases always generate more publicity than most other crimes. This case was a prime example. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Octogenarian Murders


Did a Fourteen-Year-Old Boy Get Away with Two Cold-Blooded Slayings?

By Robert A. Waters

The Murders

On October 20, 1941, in Media, Pennsylvania, two elderly women suffered a brutal attack that would ultimately kill them.

In late afternoon, Elizabeth Watson, 83, and her sister, Belle Geary, 80, walked toward home after dining at a local restaurant. Elizabeth had long been widowed and Belle never married. As they made their way through a secluded alley toward their residence, the sisters realized someone was following them. Suddenly, the stalker blitzed the women. Using a rock, he beat Elizabeth to the ground, then pummeled Belle. As the octogenarians lay bleeding, the assailant flung the stone at Belle’s head, knocking her cold. Then he fled. He took nothing.

Someone heard screams and called police.

Elizabeth suffered a skull fracture while Belle’s lacerated face and head bled profusely. An ambulance crew raced them to Chester Hospital. Three days later, Elizabeth died. Belle lingered for nearly four months before she passed away. The coroner said her death was a direct result of the assault.

Investigators quickly identified a suspect, 14-year-old John “Jackie” Leeds. On the day of the murder, he had escaped from Glen Mills Reformatory, a nearby reform school for juvenile delinquents. Another inmate, who had also escaped that day, ratted him out to authorities. The Republican and Herald quoted District Attorney William B. McClenachen: “Leeds has made a complete confession and admitted the murder of Mrs. Watson and severely beating her sister. He told us he did the job by himself.” In fact, he wrote out one confession, and signed two others written by officers. In addition, the other teenager who fled the reformatory at the same time as Leeds told detectives his friend had bragged about killing Elizabeth and showed off a “roll of bills.”

The next day, investigators took Leeds from the jail intending to participate in a reenactment of the crime. However, before he could lead them to the crime scene, cops ended the walk-through after local media descended en masse.

Prosecutors thought they had a slam dunk case and held Jackie Leeds without bond on a first-degree murder charge. In fact, the District Attorney was so confident in his case he went on vacation.

But the local justice system had never reckoned with a mom like Margaret Leeds Braden. Immediately after her son’s arrest, she spoke with reporters. Sobbing, she said, “He didn’t do it. I know he didn’t do it.” And with those words hanging in the air, she hired E. Leroy van Roden, one of the finest attorneys in Pennsylvania.

Before leaving, McClenachen released one of Jackie Leeds’ confessions to reporters. It read: “I was broke and hungry and I saw one of [the sisters] carrying a pocketbook. I grabbed at it and the ladies resisted. One of them hit at me with her cane. I got mad and hit her with my fist. Then I picked up a rock and beat the one lady (i.e., Elizabeth Watson) over the head until she fell down. Then I threw the rock at the other one and hit her in the head. Then I kept on beating them. It was horrible the way I beat them. They were both unconscious. I got frightened and ran away.”   

His mother responded: “If they got a confession from Johnny, they beat it out of him. They beat him at Glen Mills although he is just a boy. After he left Glen Mills, he walked all the way to the home of my brother, a few blocks from ours, and slept in my brother’s car. We found him there…He still had on the uniform that he had on when he left school. There was not a scratch on him except the black and blue spots from the beating school attendants gave him that caused him to leave.”

A persistent truant, Leeds had been examined by psychiatrists at Allentown State Hospital, referred to in the media as an “insane asylum.” Over the years, he had been arrested numerous times for truancy, loitering, theft, and trespassing. Try as she might, John’s mother could not control his rebellious behavior. As a last resort, on the recommendation of psychiatrists at Allentown State, she admitted Jackie to Glen Mills Reformatory. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “Mrs. Braden sent her intelligent but wayward son [to Glen Mills] in an effort to rehabilitate him.” She later said she thought it was a “school.”

The Trials

On January 19, 1942, just three months after the crimes, Leeds stood trial for the murder of Elizabeth Watson. The prosecution relied heavily on his written confessions, as well the testimony of Charles Mitchell, the boy who escaped the same day John did. Mitchell told the court he saw John at Broad Street Railroad Station in Philadelphia and John had flashed a wad of cash. After allegedly revealing to Mitchell that he’d killed an old “broad,” John supposedly gave his friend one dollar.

The defense tackled the written confessions first. John took the stand and said he did indeed write the confessions, but only because interrogating detectives threatened to arrest his mother if he didn’t confess. He said they told him his mother was already in custody and could be given life in prison or even the death penalty. John, who did not look like a “hardened” criminal, made a good impression on the jurors. Cops, suddenly placed on the defensive, denied they’d coerced the teenager.

The second strategy for the defense was to show that John was nowhere near the location where the octogenarians were attacked. The Republican and Herald reported John’s mother “denied that he was in the Media area at the time. She contended that he had walked 20 miles from the reformatory to the home of her brother in Germantown.” Her brother, a respected businessman, told the court he found John sleeping in his car the following morning. In addition, John Dickinson, a truck driver, testified he gave Leeds a ride from Westtown, 16 miles from Media, to Philadelphia the night of the slayings.

On January 26, the jury acquitted Leeds.

The decision stunned Judge Albert Dutton McDade. The Delaware County Daily Times reported that Dutton “denounced the verdict from the bench and told the jurors they were guilty of a ‘miscarriage of justice.’” He said he’d heard that Leeds had molested a nurse at Glen Mills Reformatory and was a danger to the community.

On the same day he was found not guilty of Elizabeth Watson’s murder, Miss Belle Geary died. The coroner told reporters her death was a direct result of the beating.

In June, 1942, the court committed John to Fairview State Hospital where he was diagnosed as “mentally ill with criminal tendencies.” The hospital released him a few months later.

Immediately after leaving the hospital, prosecutors ordered Leeds to stand trial for the murder of Belle Geary. This time, the prosecution’s case was even weaker than before. Charles Mitchell, the reformatory inmate who claimed Leeds confessed to him, could not testify since he was fighting with the United States Marines in the South Pacific.

And this time, the defense’s case was stronger than at the first trial. The lawyers had located additional witnesses who claimed to have seen Leeds in Philadelphia at the time of the attack.

Once again, the “bad boy” was acquitted.

His mother celebrated with her son, telling the press, “I told you so.”


John “Jackie” Leeds had accomplished something few people have. He’d been acquitted of two murders in separate trials. Now all he had to do was live a clean life. Alas, he seemed to not be able to do that.

After his acquittal, Leeds joined the United States Army.

On December 4, 1945, Mrs. Anna E. Reiker had just returned to her home in Germantown. Her husband was overseas in the military. The Delaware County Daily Times reported “John J. (Jackie) Leeds, now in Army uniform, who was acquitted of a charge of murdering the aged Geary sisters in Media four years ago, was arrested in Germantown Monday on charges of attacking a soldier’s wife.”

The victim told investigators that before she removed her coat, she heard a knock on the door. “As I opened the door,” she said, “a man in uniform grabbed me by the neck and threw me to the floor. I struggled and he broke my glasses and I started to scream.” She told investigators the stranger punched her in the face several times, then attempted to pull her to him and kiss her.

Fortunately for Mrs. Reiker, her two sisters were visiting and ran to her aid. When he saw them, Leeds fled as one of her sisters called police.

As responding officers spoke to Mrs. Reiker, Leeds arrived back at the house. He said he wanted to “apologize” to his victim. Cops, noticing Mrs. Reiker's bruised and battered face, quickly arrested Leeds and charged him “with aggravated assault and battery and attempt to ravish.”

On December 12, 1945, Leeds went on trial. Although he was acquitted of “attempt to ravish,” the jury convicted him of “aggravated assault and battery.” The judge sentenced Leeds to three years in prison.

On November 26, 1947, the Philadelphia Times-Tribune reported the following: “John (Jackie) Leeds, twenty-two, who as a teenager was acquitted in the slayings of two Media sisters, was sentenced to fifteen to thirty years in prison after pleading guilty to burglary charges. Burglaries of a private house, two churches and a parked car netted $4.35 in cash and a chalice. A lunacy commission which examined the youth said he was not insane but had a ‘psychic illness.’”

At this point, John Leeds disappeared from history.