Thursday, July 18, 2024

Sex Offender Shot by Woman Home Alone

 Jayson Magrum
The Equalizer

By Robert A. Waters

On the afternoon of August 11, 2023, Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies arrived with sirens blazing to a neat residence in Tucson, Arizona. Cops quickly spied a body lying in the middle of the driveway. Blood pooled the concrete around him, and trailed back to the front of the house.

Deputies applied chest compressions to the man, but he was already dead.

Sandra Stacy, 54, the homeowner, was shaken...but alive!

FOX 10 News reported that "a convicted sex offender was shot and killed by an Arizona woman as he tried to break into her home last Friday...

"The fatal encounter occurred about 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11, at a residence near Garvey and Pyle Roads in Tucson when a woman defended herself by fatally shooting the man attempting to break into her house.

"The 54-year-old woman was home alone when the suspect, identified as Jayson Magrum, 42, tried to break into her residence, the Pima County Sherriff's Department said.

"The woman saw Magrum...and began yelling at him to leave, yet he reportedly continued in his efforts to gain access to the house.

"As a result, the woman obtained a firearm and defended herself.

"The female armed herself with a handgun and fired a shot out of a window to attempt to scare the male away.

"Following the warning shot, Magrum reportedly reached into the home and tried to disarm the woman, but she opened fire and struck the intruder..."

After being shot, Magrum tried to flee. He made it as far as the driveway where he collapsed and died.

News reports stated that the dead man was a registered sex offender in Utah.

The Arizona Republic reported "Magrum had a lengthy criminal record with Pima County, including at least eight charges dating back to 2006. Among them: multiple charges of threatening or intimidating, disorderly conduct as well as assault. Most recently, a case filed in Pima County Justice Court in January says Magrum was accused of threatening to cause damage to the property of another."

NOTE: I could only find four news articles describing this case. The stories were brief, without much detail, and poorly written. I'd like to know more. For instance, what kind of gun was used? Had Magrum been stalking Tracy? (Although she didn't know her attacker, he lived nearby.) Why didn't this case receive more publicity?

I did find one brief article about why he was labeled a Registered Sex Offender. On March 21, 2001, the Gunnison Valley News reported: "MAGRUM, Jayson Keith, 20, Elsinore, Utah, committed to jail for 6 months on a commitment out of District Court for attempted forcible sexual abuse."

It's likely Sandra Tracy would have been yet another victim of violent sexual attack had she not used an "equalizer" to protect herself.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Murdered for Four Bucks and a Nickel

The Sad Death of Morris "Rick" Fleming
By Robert A. Waters

It was March 5, 1986. Standing in the shadows of a patch of woods, Jerry Wickham (pictured) waited. Stone-broke, his battered old car was running on fumes. But he had a plan. On the grass beside a rural road, his vehicle sat with its hood up. Two bedraggled-looking women stood in front of the car.

One day earlier, this "odyssey" had started in Gaylesville, Alabama. Ten family members and friends, with Jerry Wickham the leader, had packed into two cars and headed out for Tampa, Florida. The trip was poorly planned, and they had no real prospects in Tampa, but they drove toward that city, ending up on U. S. Highway 319 near the Georgia-Florida line. Court documents reported that, along the way, the group members "consumed large quantities of alcohol and drugs."

Sylvia, Wickham's wife, held a baby so passing motorists would notice. Tammy Jordan, Wickham's daughter-in-law, stood close to the road to flag down a driver. (The second car had been stowed out of sight a mile away.)

Morris F. "Rick" Fleming drove a baby-blue 1977 Grand Prix. He noticed the women and braked to a stop. The twenty-seven-year-old, a loan officer for Blazer Finance Company, had a wife and young daughter at home. A regular church-goer, Fleming was known for helping those in need. Sylvia told him her car had broken down. As Rick leaned over to check out the engine, he never saw Jerry Wickham step out of the woods. 

Rick fiddled with the motor and concluded there was nothing amiss. It was then he noticed Wickham coming toward him holding a .22-caliber revolver. Rick, recognizing the threat, turned and began to walk back to his own car.

Wickham fired. The first bullet hit Rick in the back, near his shoulder. It spun him around and he fell to the ground. As he lay dazed, Wickham fired again, placing a bullet into Rick's chest. A Florida appeals court later wrote that "while Fleming pled for his life, Wickham shot the victim twice in the head. He then dragged the body away from the roadside and rummaged through Fleming's pockets. He found only four dollars and five cents." (NOTE: my italics.)

Turning to Sylvia, Wickham screamed, "Why didn't you stop someone with more money?" In shock, Sylvia burst into tears. She had been against the robbery all along, telling Wickham they could go to a church and get money. But he had decided on the robbery.

According to court documents, "the group drove to a gas station and put two dollars' worth of gas in one of the cars, and two dollars' worth in a gas can [which they put in the second car]. Wickham then changed his clothes and threw his bloodstained pants and shoes into a dumpster. Wickham directed one of the others to throw the empty bullet casings and live rounds out the window."

They later stopped at a church and obtained enough gas money to take them to Tampa.

Soon after the robbers left, a passerby spotted Rick's body and contacted police.
 
For nearly two years, cops had little luck in determining the identity of Rick's murderers. Then, in Ocala, Florida, a man charged with burglary decided to make a deal with investigators. For a reduced charge, the thief said he would tell cops about an unsolved murder that occurred near Tallahassee. He said he'd been with the group that murdered Rick Fleming.

Leon County Sheriff's Office investigators arrested Jerry Wickham. On December 8, 1988, a Florida court gave him an early Christmas present. Jurors found him guilty of First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery with a firearm and sentenced him to death.

Sylvia Wickham was convicted of Second Degree Murder and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Several other members of the group were convicted of lesser crimes. 

For 36 years, Jerry Wickham has cheated justice. He has filed appeal after appeal, all of which have been denied. Due to the broken criminal justice system in Florida, he'll likely die in prison before he comes up close and personal with a poison needle.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Coast-to-Coast Killer

Hiking Toward a Nightmare
By Robert A. Waters

On August 8, 2023, the Baltimore Sun reported "police have opened a homicide investigation after a dead body, believed to be a woman recently reported missing, was found Sunday afternoon near a popular trail in Bel Air (Maryland)..."

Rachel Hannah Morin, 37, had been reported missing on August 6. A mother of five, Rachel was a fitness enthusiast. Late in the afternoon, she drove to the Maryland and Pennsylvania Trail (also called the Ma-Pa Trail) and began jogging through the heavily forested park. When she failed to return home, her boyfriend, Richard Tobin, reported her missing.

The next morning, a tracker named Michael Gabriszeski, with the help of his daughter, Cynthia, found Rachel's body in a drainage tunnel about 70 yards off the trail. Although this information had not yet been released by authorities, Gabriszeski told Daily Mail that Rachel "was laying on her back, fully naked, and she had brutal head trauma...it looked like her head had been smashed in with a rock." A blood trail leading to the tunnel helped Gabriszeski find the body.

WBALTV confirmed the tracker's account, reporting that "Martinez-Hernandez laid in wait for Morin as she was out for a jog. Prosecutors said he then attacked and dragged her through the woods to a drainage ditch tunnel. The medical examiner found 10-15 head wounds, and the report indicated Morin died from blunt force trauma and strangulation."

From the start, this case had the feel of a stranger-on-stranger crime. The Harford County district attorney told reporters "it was the most brutal and violent offense that has ever happened in Harford County."

Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler quickly called in the FBI for assistance. The killer had left DNA, so investigators obtained a genetic profile and entered it into CODIS, the FBI databank. 

They quickly got a hit.

In Los Angeles, 2,657 miles from Harford County, a mother and her nine-year-old daughter had managed to survive a violent home invasion. An unidentified Hispanic male broke into the home and sexually assaulted the two. Police speculated he would likely have murdered them, but another member of the household interrupted the attack. Doorbell camera footage recorded the intruder fleeing the home. After LAPD entered the killer's DNA profile into CODIS, they got the call from Harford County.

It took ten months, but, using genetic genealogy, investigators determined the suspect to be Victor Martinez Hernandez. According to Daily Mail, "Hernandez had illegally crossed the southern border in February 2023 after he also allegedly murdered another woman in El Salvador a month earlier."

Law enforcement officers gave reporters a timeline of the alleged crimes of Hernandez. According to police, Hernandez murdered the El Salvador woman in January. In March, investigators claim he assaulted the mother and daughter in California. Then in August, his DNA profile matched that of the rapist and killer of Rachel in Maryland.

FBI agent Bill DelBango informed reporters that "our investigative genetic genealogy team in Baltimore worked countless hours to identify the suspect by using crime scene DNA and tracing that DNA to potential family members."  

In June, 2024, cops captured Hernandez in a bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

He has been extradited back to Maryland.

So how many other victims has Hernandez assaulted or murdered? A reputed gang member, he had no problem traveling the length of the United States more than once in a ten-month period. Where did he obtain funds to travel? Why is our border wide open to unvetted criminals and terrorists? At least ten million known illegal aliens from every country in the world have come unimpeded into our country since 2020. There are likely millions more "getaways," (i.e., unknown migrants).

Why is Rachel Morin dead? Why isn't she living her normal life today? Why is her family grieving her untimely death?

At a press conference, Sheriff Gahler echoed the thoughts of millions of Americans. "Victor Hernandez," he said, "did not come to this country to make a better life for him or his family, he came here to escape the crimes he committed in El Salvador. He came here to murder Rachel and, God willing, no one else. But that should never have been allowed to happen." (NOTE: my italics)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

9-1-1 Calls, Bodycam Footage, and Arrest Video in Julian Wood Murder

Bionca Ellis has been arrested for the stabbing of Margot Wood, 37, and the murder of her three-year-old son, Julian Wood.

This dramatic video from Law & Crime Network shows the scene outside Giant Eagle store in North Olmsted, Ohio seconds after the attack. The murder seems to be yet another random crime. The video lasts for 21 minutes.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Murder in Micanopy

 Pearle Bartley
55 Years Later, Pearle Bartley's Murder is still Unsolved

By Robert A. Waters

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), there are at least 350,000 unsolved murders in America. In Florida, 20,000 cases have gone cold. Florida's clearance rate on murders is the national average, about 66%, meaning one-third of murders in the state are still open. I find those numbers staggering. How many killers live among us? In 1969, a 72-year-old store owner met a gruesome death in a historic central Florida town. There isn't a great deal of information about the case, but here's what is known.

Micanopy, named after a Seminole chieftain, was founded in 1821. It is the oldest inland town in the state. During the Seminole Indian wars, many residents holed up in Fort Defiance, located near the town. In 1836, Seminole chief Osceola unsuccessfully attacked the fort. After a battle lasting a little more than an hour, Osceola retreated. More soldiers in Fort Defiance died of malaria than fighting Indians. Major J. F. Hieleman, who led the counter-attack on Osceola, perished from the disease a few days after the battle.

In 1969, Micanopy had a population of about 750. Pearle Bartley, born in 1897, owned a small general store there. Called "Pearle's Place," she resided alone in a home attached to the store. On October 29, two customers walked into the business and found her lying on the floor. She'd been strangled to death and money was missing from the cash drawer.

Pearle's granddaughter, Marci Buchanan, said, "She was a very caring, gentle, docile person. She would have given anybody anything. So it just really shocked our family she was murdered like that." Marci remembers Pearle playing the "Missouri Waltz" on the piano. She told reporters her grandmother taught her to "tend a garden and crochet."

Micanopy lies about 12 miles south of Gainesville and 26 miles north of Ocala. Today it still has a population of less than 1,000. Canopied by hundreds of huge oak trees, the village is known for its eclectic mix of stores that sell vintage books, art, crafts, rare jewelry, music, and antiques. Many of the businesses are located in 19th century-era  buildings (see picture below). The town has no police force, so the Alachua County Sheriff's Office investigates any major criminal activity in the area.

After the murder, Alachua County homicide investigator Kevin Allen said deputies set up roadblocks to question drivers coming into or going out of Micanopy. While canvassing the area, many residents had noticed "that there was a blue or black motorcycle at or around the scene at the time of the homicide." No local citizen was known to own such a motorcycle.

Decades after the murder, two suspects emerged. Georgia serial killer Carlton Gary (pictured below) resided in Gainesville at the time of the murder. Pearle fit the killer's profile--he enjoyed strangling elderly white women to death while raping them. (Investigators have never said whether Pearle was sexually assaulted.)

A fingerprint found at the crime scene did not match Gary. Detective Allen spoke with Gary while he was on death row and said "he made admissions to almost every crime he had committed including robberies and burglaries, but he said he was not involved with any sexual murders of elderly females in Georgia or the state of Florida." On March 15, 2018, the killer was executed for the rapes and murders of three women in Georgia.

The fingerprint had been lifted off a Coca Cola cooler that sat near the body of Pearle. It came back to a "hustler and con-man" named Austin Felker. According to Allen, Felker had recently moved to Florida and "was the new owner of a blue and black motorcycle." But he had no history of violence. Was he the killer or just a customer? It's likely no one will ever know since he died many years ago.

The murder of Pearle Bartley is still being investigated. It speaks highly of Detective Allen and others who won't let the coldest of cases rest.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Unsolved Double Murder in North Carolina

Who Killed Jenna and Ethen Nielsen?

By Robert A. Waters


Seventeen years ago, twenty-two-year-old Jennifer “Jenna” Kathleen Nielsen (pictured above) died in a convenience store parking lot.

At 4:45 A.M., on June 14, 2007, a 9-1-1 call came in to the Raleigh, North Carolina Police Department.

Dispatcher: "What is your emergency?"

Caller: "Yeah, I don't know if this is an emergency or not but there's a car sitting in front of another newspaper box and I can tell it's normally a newspaper guy's also. The lights are on inside the car. There's papers laying on the ground outside his car. So I rode around the building to see if he was outside or anything. I don't see anybody beside the building."

(The Ameriking Food Mart on Lake Wheeler Road had news racks outside. In the early mornings, carriers would load newspapers into them, removing coins from the previous day.)

Dispatcher: "You say the car was empty?"

Caller: "Yeah, the car was empty. It was funny because the light was on inside the car. The car was pulled over right in front of the paper box."

Dispatcher: "Are you calling from a payphone?"

Caller: "Yeah, I'm at the corner gas station on the south side...I'm still on my paper route. And the car still has Utah license plates on it."

Dispatcher: "What kind of car is it?"

Caller: "I think it's a Honda civic."

Dispatcher: "You have the color on it?"

Caller: "Gray."

The dispatcher told the caller she would send officers to the scene. 

 
A few minutes after the 9-1-1 call, two officers from the Raleigh Police Department arrived. 

Jim Sughrue, spokesman for the police department, described the scene to reporters. “As [police] investigated the area,” he said, “they located a female behind the building who is a homicide victim.” Robbery seemed an unlikely motive since Jenna Nielsen’s purse and other personal belongings were found in the vehicle. The victim’s pants had been pulled down to her knees, causing investigators to theorize that she may have been murdered while fighting off a sexual attack.

When she died, Jenna was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with a boy already named Ethen. Married and the mother of two boys, Jenna had been going about her job restocking newspaper boxes for USA Today. Her husband, Tim, worked during the day and kept the children at night while his wife delivered papers.

An autopsy revealed a single stab wound to the neck. Only three inches deep, it had slashed her carotid artery and jugular vein, causing her to bleed to death. There were abrasions on Jenna’s arms and legs, as if she’d been dragged or had fallen. The autopsy also showed that Ethen was 39-40 weeks old, weighed 6.35 pounds, and was 19.9 inches long. He was healthy and normal in every way.

Even though he would have been delivered within a few days, at the time, North Carolina had no fetal victim law that would allow for the conviction of Ethen's killer.

After detectives interviewed area residents and business owners, they released a sketch of a “person of interest” (pictured below) who had been seen in the area near the time of the murder. According to police, that neighborhood is usually deserted at four-forty-five in the morning.


From the start, leads were few. It seemed to be a random attack, possibly committed by a sexual predator. The double murder made national headlines for a few weeks, and America's Most Wanted, a popular true crime show, picked up the case. USA Today published ads calling for information about the case.

As the investigation continued, the family released a statement to the press. “Jenna was a loving mother, wife and daughter,” the statement said. “She had a very outgoing personality, [and] was everyone’s friend. Jenna and her Husband Tim had 2 wonderful sons: Schyler, 3, and Kaiden, 11 months. They were expecting their third son Ethen on July 8th. Jenna’s family recently relocated to the area from Utah when her father and husband’s jobs were relocated. She enjoyed living in the Raleigh area for the warm weather and the friendly people. She fit right in.”

Seventeen years later, the family is still waiting for an arrest. The news crews are long-gone, and stories about their beloved wife and daughter only seem to come on anniversaries of Jenna's murder.

The family has a website, justice4jenna.

Tim and Jenna's father, Kevin Blaine, worked to pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in North Carolina. The law, enacted in 2011, reads: “AN ACT TO PROVIDE THAT A PERSON WHO commits the crime of murder or manslaughter OF A PREGNANT WOMAN is GUILTY OF A SEPARATE OFFENSE for THE RESULTING DEATH OF THE unborn child and to provide that a person who commits a felony or a misdemeanor that is an act of domestic violence and injures a pregnant woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth by the woman is guilty of a separate offense that is punishable at the same class and level as the underlying offense.”

The day after Jenna's murder, someone discovered a bloody knife discarded near a sidewalk not far from the crime scene. Police quickly confiscated the weapon, but remained tight-lipped on its significance to the case. Investigators also found a single human hair in Jenna's hand. Other items collected from the scene were a broken earring, a flip-flop, two shirts, bloodstains, cigarette butts, and a broken red vehicle light lens. Whether any of those items belonged to the killer remains to be seen. 

Investigators are still searching for the person of interest noticed by a witness in the area of the murder. The suspect was thought to be in his late teens or early twenties and is about five-feet-three-inches tall, weighing 120 pounds. Police said he may be Hispanic. At the time of the murder, he wore a dark-colored sleeveless shirt and baggy denim shorts. His most noticeable characteristic was black hair pulled into a long pony-tail.

Police have one major clue that could lead to the killer’s capture. Family members informed reporters that police have DNA thought to be from the killer. Investigators continue to run the sample through CODIS, the FBI's national database that contains profiles of convicted offenders. So far, they have not gotten a match. 

Meanwhile, a murderer, unless he's in prison for another crime or dead, lives and breathes free air. Justice waits to be served.

If you have any information about this case, please contact the Raleigh Police Department at 919-227-6220.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Drifting Towards Death -- Or Freedom

Cuban Boat Washed up on Marquesas Keys

Quiet Martyrs
By Robert A. Waters


In the dead of night, on March 3, 1964, a rickety 22-foot-long fishing boat called the Delfin moved slowly off a beach near Santiago de Cuba. Equipped only with an antique outboard motor and sails made from flour sacks, eighteen men, women and children crowded its decks. They were bound for Jamaica, 140 miles away. From there, they knew they could obtain visas to freedom (i.e., the United States of America).

If caught by patrolling Cuban gunboats or Russian helicopters, they would be machine-gunned. But they decided freedom was worth the risk.

After working for many years as a salesman, Vicente Mayans saved up enough money to purchase the Delfin. When friends and neighbors learned of his plan to flee, many asked to join. Mayans later said he couldn't turn them down. Thinking the trip would take two days, they stocked up with only six cans of ham and ten gallons of water.

Almost immediately, things went wrong. First, the motor quit. A mechanic named Alberto spent 24 hours attempting to repair it, but to no avail. Next, heavy winds blew down the flimsy mast. Now the boat was at the mercy of the ocean currents. And soon their food and water ran out.

Mayans later told Ian Glass, a reporter for the Miami News, "We became hopelessly lost." The boat began drifting, first in one direction, then another. Vicente's pretty wife, Digna, had joined him in their quest for freedom but now it seemed they both might die. 

It never rained. The sun beat down all day every day. They tried fishing, using a few crumbs of bread for bait. Luis, a former hotel worker, landed a small shark. "We tore it apart with our hands like animals," Mayans said. "We ate it raw." 

The refugees tried to row, but the current was too strong. As the boat floated aimlessly through heavy seas, some began slowly losing their minds. Two men jumped into the water and were never seen again. Starving, dehydrated, sunken-eyed and so thin they looked like skeletons, one-by-one the freedom-seekers dropped dead on the deck. Many died clutching their rosaries.

Mayans said, "Death came almost quietly. They would just lie down in the boat to conserve strength and assumed when they woke up we would have been rescued. But they never woke up." A trail of vicious sharks, smelling death, followed the boat. Mayans and his fellow Cubans reluctantly pushed corpses over the edge and watched the sharks fight for the bodies.

Day after day, the sad boat drifted.

Mayans recounted, "Soon there was only Digna and me. And then she, too, died. One minute she was asleep, and the next..." Unwilling to throw his beloved wife to the sharks, he held her and vowed they would die together.

After seventeen days, the boat washed up on the shores of Grand Cayman, one of a group of British-owned islands. Beachgoers found the sole survivor, Vicente Mayans.

He was hospitalized for nearly a week, then finally made it to the United States. He spent many years working to commemorate lost freedom-seekers from Cuba.

The Straits of Florida, called the "Death Corridor," lies between Cuba and Florida. For Cubans, the 92 miles of ocean has remained a watery gauntlet to be sailed through. Refugees face hurricanes, Cuban militia patrols, man-hungry sharks, exposure to scorching weather, high seas and rogue waves, the loneliness of the open ocean, and other deadly obstacles to reach freedom.

Perhaps Vicente Mayans said it best. Cuban refugees "are quiet martyrs who are testimony to the hell that Cuba must be, if they are willing to give up their lives rather than live there."

Here are some other stories I've written on this subject.




Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Unsolved Murder of "Old Man" John Maxwell

Prospector Led a Solitary Life
By Robert A. Waters

For nearly a hundred years, the one-room log cabin sat high up in the Continental Divide, seven miles above Butte, Montana. It weathered blizzards and freezing weather each winter, and summer thunderstorms that rocked the landscape with killer bolts of lightning.  

In 1957, seventy-six-year-old John Maxwell called the cabin home.

The Montana Standard reported that "at the age of 26 [he] was employed by the Corry Consolidated Mining Co., as a stationary engineer and later in charge of mining operations." Many years later, when the gold and silver "played out," the company hired Maxwell to remain there as caretaker. During those decades alone on the mountain, he enjoyed prospecting, occasionally finding a nugget or two missed by the mining company.

But Maxwell was no miser. He made monthly trips down steep, dangerous mountain trails to resupply and meet with friends. The Standard said his modest cabin "was a haven for hikers, skiers, and Boy Scouts out on an adventure. Everyone passing by received a warm welcome and most returned again and again to visit with the friendly prospector."

On August 7, Curley Robbins, a forest ranger, saw smoke rising near Maxwell's cabin. While checking to find the exact location of the fire, he stopped by to see if his prospector friend could direct him to the source. As he entered the cabin, Robbins encountered a gruesome sight. Maxwell lay near his bed, severely beaten and shot twice.

When Jefferson County Sheriff George Paradis and Coroner Kyle Scott arrived at the scene, the place was neat and orderly. They found no sign of ransacking, or any other clue to provide a reason for the violence inflicted on the old man. Maxwell's own gun, an old Colt Peacemaker, "a 38-40 caliber revolver" he had brought home after serving in the Spanish-American War, was the murder weapon.

Maxwell's eyes were swollen shut from heavy blows, and two of his teeth had been knocked out. Paradis found them on the bed. Coroner Scott said "the slug that killed Maxwell entered the back near the left shoulder blade, coursed through the body, and emerged near the groin. The bullet was found embedded in the cabin's wooden floor..." It's possible that Maxwell had been sleeping when attacked.

The neatness of the cabin surprised the sheriff. A bookcase held many well-worn editions, such as the complete works of Dickens, The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, The Plattsburg Manual, and hundreds more. A transistor radio sat beside Maxwell's bed. Friends said he could sometimes pick up music stations at night.

Maxwell's body was taken down the mountain to the Scott Funeral Home in Whitehall. A few days later, staff transported him to the Masonic Temple in Butte where services were held. His remains were then shipped to his hometown of Portland, Oregon for burial.

Although the sheriff put a lot of effort into solving the case, there seemed to be no viable clues to follow. In addition to the bullet that killed him, a second round hit him in the back and exited his shoulder. But cops never found the old man's gun.

The Standard reported that "lawmen rummaged inch-by-inch through Maxwell's cabin Friday night. They found a bullet embedded in the cabin's wooden floor near a large, iron-posted bed and was found about five feet from Maxwell's body." The sheriff interviewed everyone known to be in the area at the time of the murder, but all were cleared.

Sheriff Paradis told reporters he'd found nothing of any real value inside the cabin.

The years passed, and the old prospector eventually faded from memory. 

And there the case remains. Unsolved and cold as a Montana winter. In 2024, bare remnants of the old log cabin remain, still fighting harsh winters and summer thunderstorms that break down on it like random cannon blasts.


NOTE: The cabin pictured above is from an old postcard. It is not the prospector's original home.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

"The Silent City of the Dead"

A Twist of Fate

By Robert A. Waters

Vanished

On April 16, 1960, a mild spring day in middle Tennessee, a seventeen-year-old girl walked toward the Duck River (pictured below) carrying a fishing rod and a can of worms. Given the nice weather, fish should be biting, she thought. Bass, perch, catfish, maybe even a rainbow trout might be tempted by her bait. But while fishing would be fun, she had confided to friends her real motive was to get a suntan.

In a twist of fate, her brother had planned to drive her to the river, but the family's car wouldn't start. So the shy country girl decided to hike the four miles to the river. 

She never returned home. Late that afternoon, her mother reported her missing. As the investigation began, three residents who knew the girl reported seeing her walking toward the river. They told investigators she wore red shorts and carried a rod and reel. 

"Searchers beat through miles of rugged backwoods near here yesterday," the Nashville Tennessean reported, "without finding a trace of a pretty blonde teenage girl who vanished Wednesday. More than 50 persons searched on the ground and from the air for Anna Kelnhofer...National Guardsmen also checked an empty house at Devil's Backbone, a ridge along the Duck River a few miles east of Riley Creek Road. They also checked a burned house in a small field spotted by a CAP plane."

Coffee County Sheriff Dan Daniel seemed perplexed. "You can't help but think there was foul play," he said. "You look at it any way you want to, and you come up with the same thing." In addition to the sheriff's department, the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Identification joined the search.

The area Anna walked was sparsely populated. A few houses lay scattered along the road, but as it neared the river, craggy outcrops appeared in the heavily forested terrain. 

According to friends, Anna seemed happy one day and depressed the next. A few days before, she'd broken up with her boyfriend. Then she decided to quit school. Friends told cops she could be "moody" at times. Years later, someone would coin the term teenage angst, but in the early 1960s, her attitude seemed relatively normal.

Anna's father, Harold Kelnhofer, employed by the U. S. army corps of engineers in Seattle, Washington, was said to be flying back home to join the hunt.

For two days, the search continued. In frustration, Daniels called in the Tullahoma National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol, boy scouts, and dozens of volunteers.

The Rod and Reel

On the second day of the search, Fred Hickerson, of Tullahoma, a city of 12,000, reported to police that Arthur Roger Ivey, a local insurance salesman, had given him a rod and reel. Detectives soon determined it was the same one Anna had carried. Hickerson said Ivey had first attempted to sell it for $2.00 at a pawn shop, but was unsuccessful.

Cops quickly descended on Ivey.

As they interrogated the suspect, he quickly broke. The Tennessean reported that "Ivey said he hit the girl accidentally, then panicked, piled her body into the trunk of his car, and drove to the old military reservation." (Camp Forrest, one of the army's largest military bases during World War II, had long been abandoned and was now undergoing new forest growth.) Investigators went to the location where Ivey said he ran into the girl, but saw no skid marks or disturbances on or near the road. In addition, they found no damage to Ivey's vehicle.

Ivey led cops to Camp Forrest, eight miles from Tullahoma. There he pointed out the gravesite where he buried the girl. She lay in a shallow grave, covered by brush and trash. After finding the victim, detectives charged Ivey with first degree murder and ordered him held without bail. 

Dr. W. J. Core performed the autopsy. He stated that in his opinion "the pretty young girl died as a result of a fractured skull caused by repeated blows on the head by a heavy, jagged instrument...Dr. Core, who said he examined the body six and a half days after death, said he discovered brush and thorn marks on Miss Kelnhofer's legs which strongly indicated to him that she had been running through heavy brush just prior to her death." Dr. Core found no broken bones or other injuries to her body, except for the head area.

He said he could not tell if she had been sexually assaulted because of decomposition. 

The Trials

At trial, Special Prosecutor Walter "Pete" Haynes stated that only two people know for sure what happened. One is Ivey, he said. The other is Anna Kelnhofer, who now "sleeps in the silent city of the dead."

The prosecution theorized that Ivey was driving his insurance route when he saw Kelnhofer walking toward the Duck River. He offered the pretty teen a ride, which she accepted, then drove her to Camp Forrest. There, according to the prosecution, he likely made sexual advances toward Kelnhofer and she resisted. At some point, she escaped from his vehicle and fled through the woods. Ivey chased her down and struck her with a tire iron or possibly a rock. Then he hastily buried her.

Jurors convicted Arthur Roger Ivey of the first degree murder of Anna Kelnhofer and he received a sentence of 99 years. 

But in 1963, the State Supreme Court overturned Ivey's conviction and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the presiding judge in the first trial "erred in allowing testimony on Ivey's moral character to be introduced." In the first trial, two women testified that they'd had affairs with the defendant. This testimony was meant to convince jurors that Ivey wanted to have sexual relations with Kelnhofer and her rejection was the motive for he murder.

In the second trial, Ivey's attorneys convinced a new set of jurors that he had indeed accidentally hit Kelnhofer with his car and, in a panic, hid the body. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to one-to-five years. 

Ivy was released from prison  in 1966.

He died in 2001, a free man. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Be Careful, It's Dangerous Out There

True Stories of Robbers Who Faced Instant Justice

By Robert A. Waters

California Robbers Learn a Hard Lesson

So two career criminals from California thought it might be a good idea to travel to Springdale, Arkansas and rob a gun shop. What could go wrong?

On one frigid morning in December, 2014, Marcus Gould and Leon Roberson entered C & S Gun and Pawn. As they walked in, the duo leveled down on shop owners Clint and Shirley Cornett (pictured above). Holding a semi-automatic handgun, Gould leaped over a glass case to get behind the counters. As he did so, Shirley pulled a .38 caliber revolver from her pocket and fired three rounds. Gould, hit in the shoulder, turned and fired at Shirley as she took cover behind the counter. The robbers, deciding the heist was not such a good idea, fled.

The Californians jumped into Roberson's car and took off for Fort Smith. There, he deposited Gould at a local hospital. But he soon returned to check on his buddy and both were arrested. Shirley, who was grazed by one of Gould's rounds, was not charged with any crime. Both men faced Attempted Capital Murder charges as well as Aggravated Robbery counts. At trial, each got 37 years in the Arkansas State Prison system.

Uber Driver Kills Armed Robber

Early on the morning of December 18, 2016, Uber driver Namique Anderson picked up a fare from a condo in Miami, Florida. Driving a Toyota Carolla, they headed toward Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The Sun-Sentinel reported that "as they headed west on Northeast 192nd Street, the Toyota was cut off by someone driving a newer model Dodge Caravan."

Just an hour earlier, the driver of the Caravan, Kevin DeVincent Johnson (pictured above), had committed an armed robbery. Now he jumped out of his car and walked toward the Uber driver. Holding two handguns, Johnson announced he was robbing the occupants of the Toyota. That's when Anderson pulled his own licensed firearm and fired four shots. Johnson, hit by all four rounds, crumpled to the asphalt and died. Anderson was not charged, but since Uber policy prohibits drivers from carrying firearms, he faced termination. In response, Anderson said, "Honestly, it doesn't matter if I lose the job. I have to protect my life. That's all I did."

Shotgun-Toting Robber Learns a Painful Lesson

It's amazing that Gabriel Gonzales and his two cohorts didn't notice the firearm. Maybe their masks got in the way, or maybe it was the darkness. The gun hung in plain sight, inside a holster on Zane Friend's hip. The night clerk (pictured above) at Chip's Quick Stop in Joelton, Tennessee stood outside the convenience store, taking a smoke break. A former Marine, he'd worked there for 19 years.

With Gonzales holding a stolen shotgun, the three robbers rushed Friend. Two thugs sidled up behind their intended victim while Gonzales aimed his firearm at the clerk's chest and ordered him to go back inside the store. It was over in a second. Friend pulled his weapon and fired one shot, hitting Gonzales in the abdomen. The others fled. Friend moved the shotgun to a safe place, then helped two customers who had just arrived provide first aid for the robber. Gonzales, in critical condition, was transported to Skyline Medical Center.

The robbers were suspected of several other armed robberies in the area. According to WZTV in Nashville, "A Clarksville teen who tried to rob a Nashville store with a shotgun but was shot by the clerk now faces federal charges." 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Dollar Tree Murder


Random Machete Attack Stuns Law-Abiding Citizens in Middle America

By Robert A. Waters

Twenty-two-year-old Keris Riebel (pictured above) died on the cold floor of a Dollar Tree store in Upper Sandusky, Ohio on New Year's Day, 2023. She'd been slashed numerous times with a machete. As far as investigators could tell, she had no relationship with her killer.

Below is a partial transcript of the 9-1-1 call that came in at 4:25 P.M. As happens often in a state of panic, the caller seems confused, or maybe even in denial.

Dispatcher: 9-1-1. What is the address of your emergency?

Unidentified female caller: The Dollar Tree in Upper Sandusky.

Dispatcher (to responding officers): They're saying there is a guy there with an axe.

Dispatcher (to caller): Did he hurt the cashier?

Caller: She fell straight to the ground. He hit her in the back of the neck. I didn't know if it was for real or not because he walked in and said something to her and hit her and she fell to the ground and he ran out. But he didn't like try to come after us. It didn't look like a real machete.

Dispatcher: Is the guy still there or did he leave?

Caller: He walked out and is wearing all black...

The Dollar Tree where the murder occurred sat on the corner of River's Edge Lane and East Wyandot Avenue. In 2023, Upper Sandusky had a population of about 7,000 souls.

According to police, Bethel Bekele, 27, (pictured below) entered the store and "struck Riebel numerous times with the machete." She fell to the floor and Bekele continued to strike her. Within minutes, police arrived and found the young cashier dead.

Police arrested Bekele within an hour of the attack. Detectives said he quickly confessed to the crime. In addition, the murder was captured on surveillance video cameras.

What was the motive for the attack? Cops don't know. The crime seemed to be about as random as you'll get. It was likely not robbery, since no money or goods were taken. Investigators said the killer had no known criminal record. Maybe he just wanted to kill somebody. Anybody.

For many years, Dollar Tree sold all items in the store for a dollar. It was the go-to place for many working class citizens. Customers could shop for silverware, greeting cards, dinnerware and dish sets, pottery, groceries, washcloths and towels, party supplies, as well as thousands of other goods. Alas, in today's economic climate, the store has been forced to raise prices to $1.25.

Keris Riebel was well-known and well-liked in her community. According to her obituary, "Keris was a 2019 graduate of Wynford High School who actively participated in cheerleading. Her classmates remember seeing her walk through the halls with a huge smile and a Bible in her hand. Keris attended Cedarville University and later transferred to Franklin University where she received a BA in [Human Resources] Business Management." She was a member of the Antioch Christian Church.

Keris met her husband, Jordan Riebel, while working at Rural King, a retail hardware store. They had been married for only two months when Keris was murdered.

Bekele was indicted on six felony charges, including aggravated murder, and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Court documents state that he was placed in the Twin Valley Behavioral Health Care Hospital. A judge issued the following statement: "The court finds the defendant is competent to stand trial insofar as his ability to understand the nature and objectives of the proceedings against him; however, the court finds the defendant is incompetent to stand trial at this time due to his inability to assist in his own defense." 

Whatever that means.

The killer will be evaluated every six months to determine whether he has improved enough to stand trial.

The victim had a full life in front of her. She set goals and worked hard to achieve those goals--only to be savagely murdered by a random killer. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Convicted Sex Offender Stabbed to Death by Victim

Woman Speaks About Attack
By Robert A. Waters

"I knew I was being attacked," Bre Morgan (pictured above) said. "I knew it was something...uh, it was sexual."

On Sunday afternoon, March 3, 2024, in Lacombe, Louisiana, Nicholas Tranchant was prowling for yet another victim. He'd been out of prison for less than three months after serving 15 years for Attempted Aggravated Rape and Aggravated Burglary. Five years before that, he'd been convicted of Indecent Behavior with Juveniles.

More than six feet tall, Tranchant (pictured above), a registered sex offender, towered over his would-be victim.

Brecan "Bre" Morgan, 27, had gone to The Laundry Room, a local coin laundry, to wash clothes for her two children. She was having trouble getting the automated washer to accept her dollar bill when Tranchant sidled up, supposedly to help. At the time, they were the only people in the business.

Bre, a single mother of two, works as a mental health technician and plans to attend nursing school.

In order to focus public attention on the numerous sex offenders living in Lacombe, she decided to identify herself and give interviews to reporters from WDSU News and WWLTV. (NOTE: I've compiled statements given by the victim into sequential order.) 

"He came up to me ," Bre said, "and he pretended like he was trying to help me put my dollar in [the automatic washer] and he got right up behind me. That's when he made it clear like he was, his intentions were to assault me. I actually didn't see the weapon at first. He said, 'Give [it up] and you won't die.'"

The predator wasted no time. Tranchant grabbed her hair and attempted to drag her into the bathroom. Bre fought back, grabbing anything she could to keep from moving toward the back room.

Bre explained that "I was hanging onto the wall at one point. My shirt and my jacket came off. I was just trying everything like to get away. My biggest fear was my kids would have to grow up without me."

As they struggled, Tranchant pulled out his knife and stabbed her in the side. By this time, he had dragged her into the bathroom. That's when the attacker set his knife aside.

Bre wasted no time in grabbing the blade and stabbing her assailant--twice. She then fled to the parking lot and called St. Tammany's Parish Sheriff's Office. Deputies quickly responded. They found the lifeless body of Tranchant on the floor of the laundromat.

As Bre ended the interview, she said something that seemed to startle the reporter: "If you don't believe in God, you should. As soon as I got done asking God to help me, [Tranchant] put the knife down. That's when I picked it up and used it against him."

Bre was transported to a local hospital for treatment of her wounds.

St. Tammany's Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said, "I want to compliment this woman on the courage and strength she showed in fighting back against her attacker and ask for prayers for her continued recovery."

This story might have ended differently. Deputies could have found Bre dead inside the laundromat. Without her heroic actions, Nicholas Tranchant would almost certainly have targeted other women. Rapists rarely stop until they're caught, become disabled, or die. Bre's actions no doubt saved many women.

Reporters soon learned that in the small town of Lacombe, Louisiana, there are numerous registered sex offenders. WGNO reported that "according to data from the National Sex Offender Registry, there are more than 200 sex offenders living in Lacombe. That's something residents say needs to change." Bre is calling for local officials to reduce the number of offenders living in one area.

Some residents think there may have been other rape attempts or unreported assaults by Tranchant in the three months he lived there.

A friend started a gofundme page to help Bre Morgan with her medical bills until she can recover. If you're interested, click here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/bre-morgan-recover-from-attack

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"Righteous" Self-Defense Stories


By Robert A. Waters and Sim Waters


Here's a little-kept secret: tens of millions of liberals, independents, and conservatives in America own firearms. Gun ownership is one of the few issues that crosses all sides of the political spectrum. The book,
Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms, describes exciting stories in which a cross-section of every-day citizens used guns to fend off violent assaults.

These are real-life stories most media outlets chose not to report.

Have you ever heard of Harry and Janet Lodholm? This Lakewood, Washington couple survived a brutal home invasion by a murderous gang that mistook their house for that of a drug-dealer they planned to rob. Crashing through the front door, the gang pistol-whipped Harry and slashed Janet with a knife. When the assailants finally realized they had chosen the wrong house, they took what valuables they could find and fled, leaving the bound and tortured victims stunned and bloody. In their haste to leave, however, the robbers left their backpack in the house--worse yet, the backpack contained their cellphones. In the meantime, the couple had freed themselves and relocked the front door. The frustrated gang broke into the house for the second time, determined now to silence the victims who could identify them and retrieve the evidence that would send them back to prison. But the robbers hadn't counted on the couple's resilience. Harry and Janet had retreated to their bedroom. As Janet dialed 9-1-1, Harry grabbed his firearm. When the gang kicked down the bedroom door, Harry and his 9mm semiautomatic made quick work of the robbers.

What a story! But the mainstream media never reported it, likely because it didn't fit their anti-gun narrative.

Based on police reports, interviews with victims, court documents, media sources, and other public records, Guns and Self-Defense recounts the courage and resourcefulness of armed citizens who refused to become easy prey.

Each story is set in a time and place. Characters are delineated in depth, both would-be victims and attackers. The aftermath of many of these stories are poignant. In some cases, the victims suffered life-altering injuries, as well as lingering mental trauma. Without a weapon, most would have been murdered. Many of the assailants were hardcore drug users; others had mental health issues. In still other cases, street gangs, unconcerned with any sense of right and wrong, preyed on the innocent. The majority of attackers had been in prison, and most had been released early.

By the way, for those who fancy identity politics, the would-be victims in this book represent a microcosm of America: liberals, conservatives, independents, white people, black people, other minorities, males, females, the able-bodied, and the disabled.

What kinds of weapons did these would-be victims use? A woman home alone used a shotgun. Several used semiautomatic handguns. Others used revolvers. In one case, a wheelchair-bound victim used a pistol loaded with 16-gauge shotgun shells. In two cases, convenience stores had a "house gun," a weapon stashed beneath the counter that employees could use in case it was needed.

All these cases involved "righteous" self-defense--meaning the would-be victim acted legally and was not charged with any crime. In many of the cases, law enforcement officials praised the citizens' actions.

You'll read about the drug-addled thug who tried to rob two disabled old ladies in a low-income retirement home. (It might have been funny if it wasn't deadly serious.) After being severely injured by the assailant, one of the women used a small .22-caliber handgun she called a "derringer" to stop the violent assault. The "derringer" did its job: it paralyzed the assailant so he can never hurt anyone else.

You'll read about the nurse who helped police capture a gang of carjackers that had been terrorizing the city of Milwaukee for months. The night before, they shot an innocent victim in the jaw, nearly killing him. The nurse, however, had a concealed carry permit, and put an end to the crime spree when they attempted to carjack her. (One member of this gang also ended up partially paralyzed.) Sometimes what goes around comes around!

The last chapter in the book involves a street gang that actually named themselves "The Cutthroat Committee." One summer morning, in Jacksonville, Florida, as Pam Coker got ready to go to work, she heard a loud bang, then the back door exploded open. Her husband, Foster, didn't have to be at work until later, so he was sleeping. An intruder raced toward Pam and pummeled her to the floor. Foster heard the commotion and ran out to help his wife. He engaged the much younger home invader, and the two fought a horrific hand-to-hand battle in the middle of the living room. Finally, Foster, bloody and about to pass out, told Pam, "Honey, you've got to get my gun." The intruder, armed with an Beretta Centurion (pictured above) that had a "30 clip," kept hitting Foster with the butt of the gun. Blood flowed all over the home as Foster and the invader fought from room to room. While Pam, with severely injured legs, stumbled to the bedroom to retrieve her husband's gun, the wild fight continued. Pam returned with a five-shot revolver and handed it to Foster. The homeowner emptied it, hitting the assailant three times. That's when the intruder fired a shot that grazed Foster's head. With his gun empty, Foster realized the attacker still wasn't dead. He jumped back onto the invader, pinning down the Beretta to keep him from shooting again. Pam once again hobbled back to the bedroom, grabbed a second pistol, came back, and shot the invader twice. This intruder, like the Lodholm gang, had mistakenly pegged the Coker home to be that of drug dealers. Because of the actions of Foster and Pam Coker, the Cutthroat Committee was disbanded by police. All the members of the gang ended up in prison. Their attacker, a founding member, ended up in the graveyard.

I like stories that uplift my soul. Maybe you do, too.

NOTE: For more than 30 years, Robert A. Waters has researched and written about armed self-defense cases. If you enjoyed Guns and Self-Defense, co-written with Robert's son, Sim, you might also like Guns Save Lives: 22 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival and Self-Defense with Firearms.