Tuesday, November 28, 2023

"Which one of you guys wants to die first?"

Violent Bank Robbery Stuns Peaceful Community

By Robert A. Waters

There are no mountains anywhere close to Mount Dora, Florida. However, it is situated on a plateau 185 feet above sea level. In 1888, surveyors, possibly in jest, named the town after an early settler and its high elevation. The normally peaceful community sits in Lake County. A hundred years after receiving its name, Mount Dora had a population of about 10,000 souls.

At 11:51 A.M., March 20, 1999, a 9-1-1 call crackled in from the Publix grocery store in Mount Dora. 

Dispatcher: 9-1-1. Do you need police, fire or rescue?

Caller: Police. There's been a shooting over at the bank at United Southern.

Dispatcher: In Southern?

Caller: Yes. Everybody's running in here screaming, saying there's been a shooting over at the bank.

Dispatcher: Hold on...(internal dialog to police officers) There's been a shooting at United Southern Bank. There's a shooting at United Southern Bank.

(Internal dispatch dialog)

Dispatcher: Did they say how many people are involved?

Caller: I have no idea...people were just screaming and crying.

(More internal dialog)

Dispatcher: Can you stay on the line? Can anyone give you a description? See if anyone can give you a description.

(More internal dispatch dialogue)

(A second voice appears on the line)

Dispatcher: Did you see the shooter?

Second voice: Well, I saw...I walked into the bank, and there was nobody in the lobby. And I heard screams...And there was somebody in the vault...

Mount Dora police officers arrived at the bank within seconds of the call.

It was a placid morning when thirty-one-year-old Fred Anderson, Jr. (pictured below) entered United Southern Bank for the second time in two days. Earlier, he had informed bank employees he was a college student writing a paper on banking and finance, and wanted to learn all he could about the subject. With no reason to suspect treachery, the manager chatted with Anderson for nearly an hour. When he left, staff seemed impressed with the "student."

He came back the next day. Anderson vs State lays out what happened: "Anderson took a second revolver from his mother's house (he had another gun he'd stolen) and headed to USB with donuts and juice, ostensibly to thank the employees for their help the day before. Victims Heather Young and Marishia Scott (pictured below) were the only employees working at the time. After leaving the bank briefly [Anderson] returned with both revolvers, forced Young and Scott into the bank vault, and ordered them to fill a trash bag with money. Then after asking the women who wanted to die first, Anderson began firing both [.22-caliber] revolvers, killing Young and paralyzing Scott. Anderson fired a total of ten shots, nine of which hit the victims."

As the robbery and murder was unfolding in real time, Sherry Howard entered the bank with her two children. She saw Anderson in the vault firing multiple handguns, and quickly exited. Anderson had not seen her. She raced to Publix and yelled for someone to call police. Howard later testified she heard Scott yell, "Please don't" or "Please, no." Immediately after that, the witness heard additional gunshots.

After cops arrived, officers spotted Anderson still inside the bank, attempting to remove a VCR containing surveillance video. More officers arrived and arrested Anderson holding a "trash can" containing $75,000.

Paramedics rushed Young and Scott to local hospitals.

Heather Young died while being transported to the hospital. According to court documents, "the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Heather Young testified that Young had a total of seven gunshot wounds. She said that all of Young's wounds could have been fatal, with the possible exception of a wound that had entered Young's chin and exited near the eye. [Another] of the wounds had a pattern of gunpower 'tattooing' around it, which indicated that it had been fired at close range."

Scott had been shot twice. One round hit her in the shoulder. Another struck her neck, severing her spinal cord. She would be a paraplegic for the rest of her life.

The verdict in Anderson's trial was a foregone conclusion. Overwhelming evidence included DNA matches of the victims' blood on Anderson's clothing and shoes; ballistics matches of bullets from one of the guns used in the crime; the killer having been caught at the scene; and several confessions. At trial, Anderson was convicted of the first-degree murder of Young, attempted first-degree murder of Scott, armed robbery, and grand theft of a firearm. The jury unanimously sentenced him to death.

On February 4, 2015, Marishia Scott died of complications from her paralysis. Her death ended sixteen years of hard suffering.

Before being shot, Scott had been at a good point in her life. A "country" girl, she lived on a farm with her long-time partner and fiance, Clint Brighurst. In addition to farming, they raised cattle. One friend told reporters that Marishia was "such a happy person. Both she and Clint are very hard workers, and they were always planning ahead." From 1999 to her death 16 years later, Scott remained a paraplegic.

Heather Young's longtime boyfriend, David Curlow, spoke of romantic trips they'd taken to the Caribbean, of parasailing in Key West, and of spending "quiet evenings in lawn chairs by the lake."

After Scott's death, prosecutors considered charging Anderson with her murder. However, they, along with Scott's family, decided not to take him to trial. Scott has run out of appeals on his death sentence, and the district attorney knew a conviction in Scott's case would open a pandora's box of future appeals.

When will Anderson face the vaunted needle? Who knows? It might be decades. It could be never. Many people realize there's little real justice in America. This case proves the point.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

McCown's Longspur Is No More


The Moralists Among Us

By Robert A. Waters

Like so many Southerners in 1861, Tennessean John P. McCown (pictured below), a career soldier and graduate of West Point, joined the Confederate army. His resume up to that point had been typical of lifers. He’d fought with the United States army in the Mexican American war, the Seminole Wars, and in Utah, Nebraska, and the Dakota Territory. His service, while not spectacular, was above average.

In the Civil War, his record was spotty. In 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg court-martialed McCown, ostensibly for disobeying orders at the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee. After his six-month suspension without pay, he continued to fight until the very end. He surrendered and was paroled on May 12, 1865. (Later evidence indicates the court-martial of McCown was likely triggered by his virulent criticism of the tactics of Bragg and CSA President Jefferson Davis.)

While serving in the west before the Civil War, McCown became interested in ornithology.

According to Audubon Magazine, "In 1851, John P. McCown, an amateur ornithologist and army officer stationed in Texas, shot a group of larks on the prairie. Examining his kills, he noted two examples of birds he'd never seen before: pale gray longspurs with a spot of chestnut on the wings and prominent white patches in the tail. After preparing the specimens, he sent [them] off to an ornithologist friend, who gave it the name McCown's Longpsur."

In the 1800s, amateur ornithologists across the country often mailed specimens to places such as the Smithsonian Institution for identification. Many times, new birds would be named for its discoverer or the place it was found. This method of documenting species led to the naming of thousands of birds, fish and animals.

But in 2018, ornithologists began a campaign to rob many a bird of its given name. Slave-owners, colonizers, Confederates, alleged white supremacists, and other "deplorable" humans were to be banned from having his or her name grace any fowl.

Even John James Audubon doesn't make the cut with ornithologists now because he owned slaves and hated abolitionists. In the near future, we can expect the Frenchman who did so much to define our natural environment to be banned from polite society with other reviled Americans, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and, of course, Robert E. Lee. 

In fact, almost no person who lived 150 years ago or more can meet the insane standards of today's moralists. (NOTE: If you don't believe it, look up some of Abraham Lincoln's comments about black Americans.)

So, goodbye McCown's Longspur. Hello Thick-Billed Longspur.

It might be wise for the name-changers to remember the old saying, "What goes around comes around."

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

New Review of A Wilderness of Destruction

Here is another review of my brother Zack's great Civil War book, A Wilderness of Destruction, about Florida's role in attempting to save the homeland during that devastating conflict. Zack has several possible awards coming up, and I hope he is honored for the massive amount of research he did and the fine writing that he is known for.

Perspectives on the Civil War Era from the Journal, Civil War Book Review

A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas of East and South Florida, 1861–1865

Author: Zack C. Waters

Book Review by Ralph Mann

University of Colorado

Zack Waters, a veteran researcher and writer on Florida’s Civil War, has written a very comprehensive survey of guerrilla warfare in east and south Florida. It is based on a huge amount of reading and research in the available secondary literature, as well as in the records of Florida’s Civil War government and federal records of the War of the Rebellion (OR) and Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (ORN). He looks at engagements at all levels, from ambushes to pitched, although small-scale, battles. He recounts Union officers being captured while partying and wagon trains seized on the way to Union-held towns and fortifications, as well as battles for towns—Gainesville, Jacksonville. It is hard to imagine a fight he has missed, including a bloodless skirmish on a creek I crossed every day going to junior high and high school. As long as the conflict can be classified as a guerrilla action, or involves men he identifies as guerrillas, he recounts it. 

This coverage is vital for understanding Florida’s Civil War, because all the Confederate government wanted from Florida [were] soldiers and cattle, and it essentially abandoned the state early in the war. Florida’s Confederate soldiers would fight in the Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee, leaving the defense of the state to its own resources—which, as Florida’s governor, John Milton, quickly realized, meant a regiment under state control. His efforts resulted by mid-1862 in the 2nd Florida Cavalry, raised by locally influential men, generally large planters, and soon operating as guerrillas. One of the companies, from Marion County (Ocala), was led by John J. Dickison, who would be the state’s most effective partisan raider, and whose memoir would become Waters’ prime source for combat descriptions.

Waters is very aware of the dangers of research into a topic as controversial, then and now, as guerrilla warfare. His sources are inherently biased—often for self-glorification or self-defense. Postwar memoirs could easily be caught up in “Lost Cause” rhetoric of gallant knights and loyal squires. Northern newspapers were just as prone to puffery as Southern, and even Dickison, Waters notes, was never modest. 

Waters deals with this by juxtaposing accounts by both sides, to an effect that sometimes makes it hard to believe they are depicting the same engagement. Civilians caught up in the fighting suffered disproportionately and bitterly resented guerrilla leaders who enforced conscription or impressed supplies. Especially late in the war, the fighting devolved into robbery, revenge murder, arson, and family rivalry for local power, completely divorced from military goals. Race, of course, was central to the war, and Waters does not shy away from the bigotry that hamstrung cooperation between white unionist Floridians and the African Americans in the United States Army. It is clear that some guerrillas imprisoned white captives but lynched black ones as runaways or “deserters.” (Waters applauds Dickison for, unlike other guerrillas, not killing captives white or black.) And, in the end, there were totally meaningless murders.

The book is organized chronologically and by region, and that results in some repetition. And while Florida was isolated from the rest of the Confederacy, some national policies relevant to the Florida conflict should be noted. Particularly relevant is the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act of 1862, which attempted to regulate partisan warfare—and its subsequent revocation because partisan warfare, independent and close to home, was too attractive and drew men from the regular army. Did the act have any impact on Florida? The Lieber Code of 1863, which defined how Union troops were supposed to distinguish between legitimate partisans and outlaws, might also have been worth discussion, as some Florida battles combined units of the 2nd Florida, temporary outfits led by local politicians, and random rebel enthusiasts with rifles.

Was the Lieber Code ever applied in Florida? But it is never fair to ask an author to write about issues outside of his primary goal in a book, and taken as it is, it is hard to imagine that anyone else will try to duplicate Waters’s exhaustive coverage of Florida’s war.

Ralph Mann, who is Emeritus in history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High, in Jacksonville, Florida.