Monday, October 30, 2023

The Schoolgirl Killer

Murder of 11-year-old Elizabeth DeBruicker

By Robert A. Waters

On Friday, July 21, 1939, in Attica, Indiana, local newspaper headlines speculated on the intentions of Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer had assured the world that the German people were "100% against going to war." Few believed him, with good reason. Just two months later, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II.

Elizabeth DeBruicker (pictured), 11, had no interest in happenings 3,000 miles away. She lived with her parents and two sisters on a small farm two-and-a-half miles from town. The Lafayette (IN) Journal and Courier wrote that "at about noon, Peter DeBruicker arrived in Attica…to deliver two of his young daughters to Attica School, where their 4-H club was meeting. He planned to drive back into town later in the afternoon and pick them up." Peter was described in the newspapers as a "Dutchman" who ran a modest spread.

The club meeting ended at 1:00, and an excited Elizabeth informed her sister, Loretta, that she planned to go swimming at the Harrison Hills Country Club pool, a few blocks away. Elizabeth told her sister and a friend, Lorraine Ward, to meet her at the pool at 3:00. As the sun scorched the earth, Elizabeth, a smart, pretty seventh grader who attended Logan Township School, walked away.

At the time, the rural community of Attica had about 3,700 residents.

When Elizabeth's sister and friend made it to the pool, they found no sign of her. They asked around, but no one had seen the girl. Peter arrived and quickly began searching for his daughter. The search soon spread into town, but the child had vanished.

Finally, as darkness fell, Peter reported the missing girl to police.

Early the next morning, searchers began combing the country club and golf course. The Journal and Courier reported "their search of the rolling golf greens was soon rewarded when [Ike] Rensville found Elizabeth’s sewing basket and powder compact beneath a tree. Nearby was a 300-foot-long rainwater catch basin, and near the pond, [a] trio of searchers found a mound of freshly turned earth. A mere six inches beneath the gravel they found the child’s body.  The belt of her dress, used to strangle her, still was knotted tightly around her neck. Her shoes were missing."

An autopsy confirmed investigators' worst fears: Elizabeth had been brutally raped as well as strangled.

The greenskeeper of the country club, Thomas Allen Boys, 27, was brought in for questioning. His home lay directly on the route Elizabeth would have taken from the school to the pool. Police knew he’d been convicted of molesting a 9-year-old girl several years before, but surprisingly, had only received a 6-month suspended sentence for the crime. (He had offered the child a nickel to undress for him.) Boys had a wife and three sons.

Lt. Paul Rule, commander of the West Lafayette State Police, interrogated Boys. After many hours of questioning, the suspect broke.

Rule made the following statement to reporters: "[Boys] told us he saw the little girl walking across the sixth green at the golf course Friday afternoon and that he called to her to walk across to the other side of the course with him. They sat down on a hillside and he became familiar with her. He became panicky and made a garrote from her belt and strangled her. After that, he related, he carried her body down to a small pond and held her face under the water until he was satisfied she had drowned. He said he then buried her in the place where her body was found."

Boys denied raping Elizabeth but since the autopsy revealed she'd been "criminally assaulted," no one believed his denial.

Boys admitted he dug the shallow grave with his hands, and, when one of Elizabeth's shoes fell off, he threw it in the pond. Searchers located the shoe where he said it would be. Near the grave, they discovered the sewing basket. In the basket, cops found sewing items (for her 4-H club meeting), a bloodstained handkerchief, and Elizabeth’s "underclothing."

After searching Boys' home, investigators found bloody pants and a shirt.

During that era, lynchings were always a possibility in crimes against children. As cops questioned the suspect, more than 300 people gathered outside the Attica jail. To keep him safe, Lt. Rule transferred Boys to the Marion County jail in Indianapolis, about eighty miles away.

On March 12, 1940, Boys was being held in the Montgomery County jail. The Capital Times reported: "Late yesterday, Harry Anderson, 60-year-old day jailor, was taking Boys back to his second-floor cell from the basement, where the prisoner had bathed. Suddenly, Anderson said, Boys kicked him in the groin, beat him with a broomstick he had snatched up somewhere, and, trampling him, ran downstairs and out the front door. The spring lock had failed to catch."

He fled into a nearby back yard as eighty officers searched for him. He stated he went to sleep, and when he awoke, asked the resident, Louis Stanford, to call police. Within four hours, the escaped suspect was back in jail.

On May 1, 1940, Boys, after having pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, was convicted of the first-degree murder and rape of Elizabeth DeBruicker. He escaped the death penalty, however, and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1956, Boys applied for clemency, but was denied.

NOTE: Boys' name was sometimes misspelled "Boyce" by news agencies.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Story of the First Submarine in History to Sink an Enemy Ship

The CSS H. L. Hunley Rises Again

By Robert A. Waters

“[The Hunley] is more dangerous to those who use it than the enemy.” Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard.

George E. Dixon and Queenie

On April 6, 1862, a year after the United States of America invaded the Confederate States of America, the two armies collided near a small village called Pittsburgh Landing, in southern Tennessee. The carnage at what was later called the Battle of Shiloh was unprecedented in the history of the Americas. In two days of fighting, tens of thousands were killed or wounded. One Alabama regiment, the 21st, lost 200 men out of 650. Sergeant George E. Dixon, a Kentuckian who had enlisted with the regiment in Mobile, was among the injured. Before the war, he had worked as a steamboat engineer in New Orleans, but resided in Mobile when the war broke out.

Dixon should have been just one more dead soldier hauled from the field and hastily interred in a mass grave. But he was lucky. Before he left for battle, his teenaged girlfriend and Mobile resident, Queenie Bennett, slipped a newly-minted twenty-dollar gold coin into his pocket as a good luck charm. In the battle, Dixon was shot point-blank. The Yankee Minnie ball struck the coin in his trouser pocket. Instead of plowing through flesh and bone and arteries, it absorbed the impact, sparing Dixon's life.

Queenie, daughter of a prosperous steamboat captain, was known around Mobile as the “the little Rebel.” Dixon, a blonde-haired, highly intelligent 22-year-old, was smitten with Queenie and, had he survived the war, they likely would have married.

Dixon’s wound was severe, a broken left femur, which caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his short life.

When he returned from Shiloh to Mobile to recuperate, Dixon became aware of a “torpedo boat” being constructed nearby. The project was supposed to be top-secret, concocted by local pro-Southern entrepreneurs and the Confederate Secret Service. One of those loyal benefactors was Horace Lawson Hunley, a wealthy marine engineer originally from Tennessee. Dixon became friendly with Hunley as the Confederate Navy feverishly attempted to mold the submarine into a viable weapon. The Kentuckian would eventually be promoted to lieutenant and given command of the torpedo boat.

The Confederacy’s purpose in building a workable submarine was a direct result of the Union blockade of New Orleans, Mobile and other ports. The shutting down of Southern harbors had been one of the first actions taken by Abraham Lincoln and his war machine. While in New Orleans, Horace Hunley and others had begun a serious quest to build an underwater “fish” that could blow up the blockaders.

The Torpedo Boat

During 1862 and the early part of 1863, attempts to construct a workable submarine had failed miserably. As boat after boat sank or capsized during trials, resulting in the deaths of numerous crew members, the project faltered. But as the war progressed and the South continued hemorrhaging its limited manpower in battle after battle, the situation became dire. The charismatic general P. G. T. Beauregard issued a command that the new submarine, the Hunley, be moved from Mobile to the besieged city of Charleston, South Carolina. On August 12, 1863, the submarine arrived by rail.

In a test trial while still in Mobile, this underwater torpedo boat had blown up an antique coal-hauling barge, bringing a glimmer of hope to those in the know.

Constructed from iron boilerplate, the submarine was shaped like a shark, 40 feet long and just wide and high enough to carry her cramped crew. “The Hunley could dive by opening a valve and letting sea water fill the ballast tank,” wrote Gerald Teaster. “A set of crude diving planes, sticking out the side of the boat, was also provided for up and down motion. A mercury manometer, or pressure gauge, was mounted inside to show the depth. Two small hatches were installed on the top of the boat for getting in and out. Each of these had a small glass viewing port.” The propeller in the back of the submarine rotated inside a circular metal shroud that protected it from snagging on nets or other debris. Eight hand-cranks were spaced so the crew could sit along the length of the torpedo ship and drive the propeller shaft.

On its final voyage, the shark-boat held seven crew members as well as Captain Dixon. The crew, using the hand-cranks, was responsible for propelling the ship. Dixon stood in the front of the boat with his head in the forward hatch, looking out the glass window and guiding the crew. He also operated the diving planes and was responsible for setting off the explosive.

A press release from the Hunley excavation team explained that “the Hunley used an innovative lanyard system to detonate the torpedo. The idea was to ram the spar torpedo into a target and then back away, causing the torpedo to slip off the spar. A rope from the torpedo to the submarine would spool out. Once the submarine was at a safe distance, the line would tighten and detonate the warhead.” The shark-boat had to be up close and personal to work effectively.

In Charleston, the Hunley team took the boat out into the harbor numerous times to test it. However, on August 29, 1863, it sank, killing all its crew. The boat was raised and refurbished and new trial runs began. On October 15, 1863, it sank again. Four of its crew died, including Horace L. Hunley, while three survived.

After this new debacle, General Beauregard famously said, “[The CSS Hunley] is more dangerous to those who use it than the enemy.” But he reluctantly agreed to let Lieutenant Dixon have one last opportunity to prove that a submarine could sink an enemy vessel.

Engineers again raised the boat and began new tests. They renamed it CSS H. L. Hunley, for the man who had done so much to bring it to life.

The Attack

Like a shark, the gray boat knifed through the water. Just beneath the glassy sea in Charleston Harbor, the hunter had set her sights on an outsized prey.

The night of February 17, 1864 saw calm seas in the harbor. Seven miles out, the silhouettes of many Yankee ships could be seen waiting to apprehend smugglers and blockade-runners. But Dixon noticed a lone Union vessel anchored just four miles away. It was the USS Housatonic, a three-master that was 207 feet long. The sixteen-gun “sloop of war” had been instrumental in capturing several blockade runners. As she sat in the harbor, Captain Charles R. Pickering kept the boilers running and nine guards on deck.

The Confederate torpedo boat, CSS Hunley, was about to make history. Never in the history of the world had a submarine made a successful attack on an enemy ship.

Just a few hundred yards from the Housatonic, Lieutenant Dixon urged on his crew as they sped the boat forward. Besides Kentuckian Dixon, three came from the states of Alabama, Florida and Maryland. Little is known about the other four except they were of foreign descent. At least one, who was only known only as “Miller,” hailed from Germany.

One hundred fifty sailors manned the Housatonic. At 8:45 P.M., through the darkness, several men standing guard noticed a wake streaking towards their ship. At first, they thought it was a log, but soon determined it was moving too fast to be a natural phenomenon. By then, the shark-boat was closing fast. The Housatonic crew did what they could: they opened fire with rifles. Captain Dickering rushed up on deck and fired a double-barrel shotgun at the intruder. The small arms fire ricocheted off the iron skin of the submarine, and it kept coming.

Less than two minutes later, an explosi0n rocked the Housatonic. The copper keg, filled with 135 pounds of black powder, detonated just below the waterline at the stern of the ship. The explosion was muffled, but sent a cascade of sea-water billowing toward the sky. Five sailors died instantly, and two were wounded. Within five minutes, the ship had sunk to the bottom.

The Union sailors were lucky. The ship came to rest with part of its masts rising out of the shallow water. Many sailors climbed the masts, holding on for dear life until the USS Canandaigua appeared to rescue them. Other crew members boarded lifeboats and were rescued.

The Housatonic was lost.

But what happened to the Hunley? No one knew. It never returned to shore--it had just vanished.

Raising the first submarine to sink an enemy ship

Fast forward to May 3, 1995. Archeologists from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, financed in part by novelist and adventurer Clive Cussler, discovered a rusted hull at the bottom of Charleston Harbor. Four miles offshore, it lay in 30 feet of water. After lying on the ocean’s floor for 131 years, experts identified the ship as the fabled CSS Hunley.

In 2000, as millions watched on television, the ship was raised intact from the ocean. A time capsule, it contained bodies of the crew and artifacts of the soldiers. Because of the delicate condition of the ship, it was placed in a 75,000-gallon steel tank filled with fresh water to protect the boat. From there, archaeologists would spend years excavating the H. L. Hunley.

Among the interesting finds was a $20.00 Lady Liberty gold piece. The coin and a gold pocket-watch lay underneath the skeletonized remains of George Dixon. For more than a century, historians had debated whether the story of Queenie and the gold coin that saved the young Kentuckian was true. Many thought the tale, like countless war-time stories, had been fabricated. But the finding of the coin confirmed the story. Dixon had engraved the following statement into the back of the coin: “Shiloh. April 6th, 1862 My Life Preserver G. E. D.”

In addition to Dixon’s artifacts, archaeologists found artillery buttons, a pipe, a pencil, a leather wallet, and other personal items. One item stirred much interest. A Union dog tag was found beneath the body of crew member Joseph Ridgeway. At first, researchers thought he may have been a spy, but later determined that he had picked up the souvenir after one of the battles he’d fought in.

How did the Hunley sink, and how did the crew die? These questions loomed large throughout the years as archaeologists worked to uncover the mystery. There had been little damage to the boat, eliminating the possibility that it had been sunk by enemy fire or had been blown up when the dynamite exploded.

CBC News reported that “the crew were killed by massive lung and brain injuries caused indirectly by their own torpedo…The exit hatches were closed and the bilge pumps that would have been used if the sub started to take on water were not set to pump, suggesting that the crew never tried to save themselves as the sub sunk.”

Dr. Rachel Lance, who graduated from Duke University with a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, said “There were some holes in the hull that were the result of time under the sea. But there was no actual damage caused by the blast itself.”

CBC News reported that “when the charge exploded, the blast would have caused the submarine’s hull to transmit a powerful, secondary shock wave into the submarine, crushing their lungs and brain (sic) and killing them instantly.”

While there are other theories about how the Hunley met its doom, this seems to be the most likely.

On April 17, 2004, the crew of the first submarine to sink an enemy ship were interred. Thousands of Americans, many of them descendants of Confederate veterans, attended the funeral. After a memorial service and a four-and-a-half mile march through Charleston, the eight-man crew was laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery.

My friend and fellow-Southerner, Max Northcutt, made the trip from Tennessee to South Carolina to attend the services. He was kind enough to lend me his extensive archives about the Hunley, which I used for this story. 


The Confederate Submarine H. L Hunley by Gerald F. Teaster

The CSS Hunley: The Greatest Undersea Adventure of the CIVIL WAR by Richard Bak

The CSS H. L. Hunley: Confederate Submarine by R. Thomas Campbell

The Hunley website: The Friends of The Hunley – The World's First Successful Combat Submarine 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Mystery on Route 66

Infatuated Uncle Kidnaps, Murders 11-Year-Old Niece

By Robert A. Waters

On November 17, 1954, Jeanette Earnest disappeared. She’d been waiting for her mother to pick her up at a Fort Worth, Texas washateria after school. But when Nadine Earnest arrived, Jeanette was gone.

The hairs on Nadine's neck stood up. She knew immediately who had taken her daughter.

A few months before Jeanette went missing, Nadine had developed strong suspicions about her brother-in-law, forty-eight-year-old Thurman Priest. She abruptly moved her family's worshipping place from the Baptist Church they attended to a nearby Methodist Church. It wasn’t because of doctrinal issues—it was because Thurman, married to Nadine's sister, had started attending eleven-year-old Jeanette's Sunday School class. It seemed so weird that even the minister got involved, asking Priest to take part in one of the adult classes instead.

Married to Nadine’s sister, Priest worked as a bookkeeper for a local airline company. Newspapers characterized him "as a strange little man." In his spare time, he'd begun coming over to the Earnest home to play with Jeanette and her brothers and sisters. After it became obvious that Priest had developed a crush on the young girl, Nadine forcefully warned him to stay away.

The concerned mother had even considered moving out of state to eliminate the problem.

Now that Jeanette had vanished, Nadine called police and reported her daughter missing. She  informed investigators about Priest, describing his obsession with Jeanette. Then she called her estranged husband and Jeanette's father, H. M. Earnest, who became so upset he had to be administered sedatives.

Fort Worth Police Department officers began a frantic search for Priest. He had a head start of several hours and could be anywhere. But cops knew the danger and made the case a top priority. In addition to launching a manhunt locally, they contacted surrounding states asking that their lawmen "be on the lookout" for Priest.

As he drove out of Fort Worth, Priest told Jeanette they were moving to Ohio. She asked if "Auntie" was coming. (Auntie was Priest's wife, Etta Mae.) Priest informed the child that when he found a job, Auntie would join them.

After less than an hour on the road, Priest stopped at a motel in Irving, Texas, but spent only an hour there. No one knows what happened in that room because Priest never told.

Their next stop was a tourist court called the Holiday Motel, in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Priest rented a cabin for one night. In a later interview, the manager, Mrs.  Johnnie Page, told investigators a frightening story. She said Jeanette ran out of the cabin Tuesday afternoon, in obvious distress. Priest chased her down, shoved her into the car, and sped off. Later, a maid found bloodspots on the bathroom floor of the cabin, a small bloodstain on a towel, and an earring cops identified as Jeanette's. (Inexplicably, Page had not called police. With a phone call, Jeanette's life may have been saved.)

A few hours later, Priest stopped at a tourist court in Stanton, Missouri. There he registered the two as man and wife. At about 6:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, they left.

Jeanette was never seen alive again.

Mount Vernon, Missouri police arrested Priest after he stopped at a motel and called his wife. Etta Mae spoke to the manager and asked if a little girl was with Priest. When the manager responded that Thurman was the only person in his car, Etta Mae asked her to call police.

Detectives interviewed the suspect. At first, he claimed he didn't remember what happened to Jeanette. But when one of the interrogators mentioned that she was a "beautiful girl," it was like turning on a faucet. He turned "dreamy-eyed" and assured the detective he was right.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Priest "admitted Sunday he killed his 11-year-old niece, Jeanette Earnest, and led officers to a spot four miles east of [Lebanon, Missouri] where he had hidden the body."

The reporter wrote that "the child's fully clothed, unburied body was found in a heavy oak grove about three hundred yards off U. S. Highway 66 and almost eight miles from where the girl's blouse was found Wednesday. She had been shot once in the right temple with a .32 automatic."

During the police interview, Priest told cops where they could find the gun used to murder Jeanette. The Star-Telegram reported the FBI "identified a .32 automatic pistol and an empty cartridge found near the girl's body as having microscopic marks which showed it had been fired in the chamber of the pistol." 

The community of Fort Worth reeled in horror. Her classmates had prayed en mass for Jeanette's safe return at school on Tuesday. Her father was still bed-ridden. But Nadine remained stoic in public. Her focus was on bringing Priest to justice.

Priest claimed he and Jeanette were in love. "The last two years," he said, "I [was] always so lonesome and depressed when [Jeanette] wasn't with me. I just couldn't stand it. I was afraid the family was going to take the girl away from me. If I couldn't have her, no one could."

He claimed he loved her like a father and had never "raped" her. But Dr. Paul Jenkins, who performed the autopsy, stated he "could not determine whether she had been criminally assaulted. [He] also could not definitely show that she hadn't been."

On April 29, 1955, Priest was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On July 6, 1960, Thurman Priest died of a heart attack while still in a Missouri prison.

In his confessions, Priest alleged that Jeanette "loved" him. That is doubtful. When she was younger, she may have been flattered by his attentions as they played children's games, but later she told her mother she viewed him as a nuisance. She also said she was embarrassed when he began attending Sunday School with her.

After abducting Jeanette, it's likely he made sexual advances toward her. At the cabin in Baxter Springs, he almost certainly attempted to molest the child. She likely fought back and tried to escape. In addition to the constant threat of sexual assault, Jeanette likely felt uncomfortable spending hours and hours alone in a car with Priest. 

Perhaps Nadine said it best: "I think he was mad at her because she was crying and wanted to go home. He decided that if he couldn't have her he didn't want anyone else to have her and decided to kill her." 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Women and Self-Defense

Compilation: Female Victims Fighting Back--Stories from my Blog

By Robert A. Waters

I started my blog in 2008. Over the years, I’ve published more than 700 stories. Most deal with crime, although I also enjoy writing about the Civil War, historical events, archaeological discoveries, my family’s genealogy, etc. I also occasionally write book reviews, but only about books I enjoy.

One of my major interests concerns citizens using guns in self-defense. As a storyteller, I seldom engage in political discussions. I feel that a dramatized account of what occurred is more effective than a long political lecture. Of the 700 posts, about 100 recount true, documented stories of citizens defending themselves (or others) with firearms.

This blog entry will provide the reader a compilation of ten of those stories--focusing on women and their guns. Whether you believe a gun is an equalizer or not, check these stories.

Young home invader forces elderly, disabled Shreveport woman to open her safe. Fatal mistake.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Protecting Her Own (

Persistent career criminal breaks into an elderly widow's home and pays the price.  

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Woman Kills Intruder in Self-Defense (

Young Chinese businesswoman is racially profiled by three armed robbers in Georgia. One invader dies at the scene, the others flee like cowards. High-definition video records the entire gunfight.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Video Shows Chen Fengzhu Self-Defense Shooting (

Pretty real estate agent uses concealed carry handgun to fight off would-be rapist.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Real Estate Agent Uses Gun to Survive Attack (

Armed mother hides in a secluded closet with her young twins waiting as home intruder comes closer...and closer. 

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Self-Defense Files 7 (

Two armed robbers burst into a check-cashing store and...surprise...surprise.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Life and Death at Mr. Money USA by Robert A. Waters (

Elderly St. Petersburg woman hears a noise just outside her home. A stranger tries to climb in through a window...

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: A Lady and Her Ruger (

Trapped in her bedroom, a wife and gang member engage in one of the wildest gun battles you'll ever read about.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: GUNS SAVE LIVES - Chapter 1 - POINT BLANK (

Criminal on the run from police breaks down a 150-pound steel door. He meets a woman with her .38. 

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Self-Defense in Knightdale, North Carolina (

Milwaukee nurse returning home after her shift stops a violent carjacker.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Justice for a Carjacker (

For much more detailed full-chapter stories of armed self-defense, check out my latest book, co-written with Sim Waters, at Guns and Self-Defense.