Thursday, June 26, 2008

What Universe Do the Other Four Supremes Live In?

John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer would deny you and me the right to own the most effective means of defending our lives against violent attack. In doing so, they illustrate the very reason the Second Amendment was written into the Bill of Rights.

Kudos to Dick Anthony Heller, a Special Police Officer for the District of Columbia, who brought suit against the city when it refused to allow him to keep a handgun in his home. Yesterday, five members of the Supreme Court made a historic ruling upholding the Second Amendment as an individual right while four justices showed their cowardice and contempt for ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

In their sanctuaries of mansions and maids and gated communities guarded by armed security forces, the Four Supremes live in luxury. Meanwhile, the following video shows the real world, a world of crime and violence and dead bodies.

New Kid on the Row

One of the most horrific murders you’ll ever read about occurred on February 25, 2006 in Ocoee, Florida. There was never any question about the killer’s identity and he was quickly convicted and sentenced to death. But it’s questionable whether the murderer will ever see justice. You see, a psychologist hired by the defense diagnosed him with a learning disability and that gives future courts plenty of wiggle room to find a way out of actually executing him. [Photo of murder victim Amelia Sookdeo]

As she’d done many times, 17-year-old Amelia Sookdeo waited until her parents went to sleep then climbed out her bedroom window to meet her lover. Dane Abdool, 19, a high school dropout and automobile mechanic, met her in his Volkswagon and they drove the short distance to his apartment. There they drank liquor and made love.

In the afterglow of the act, Amelia informed Abdool that she was pregnant. Whether she was pressuring him to marry her or break up with his other girlfriend is unknown, but post-mortem tests revealed that she was mistaken or lying. Amelia was not pregnant.

Whatever the case, Abdool decided he’d had enough. He told Amelia he was taking her home. Instead, he stopped at a local 7-11 convenience store where he purchased duct tape and a gasoline can. Then he went to the pump and filled the can. Instead of taking Amelia home, Abdool drove to a secluded area on County Road 545 in nearby Winter Garden.

By this time, Amelia was suspicious. She tried to fight back as Abdool began tapng her wrists and feet together. She screamed and struggled, but he succeeded in binding her. Then he pulled her out of the car. As Amelia lay on the ground, Abdool started to pour the gasoline on her. The spout on the can only let the liquid drip out, so he took off the cap and doused Amelia from head to toe.

Like a monster looming over his frightened victim, Abdool used a cigarette lighter to ignite the girl. As the blaze flashed into the darkness, Abdool ran back to his car. Mesmerized, he watched for several minutes as his girlfriend burned. Finally, he screeched away.

Later, a police officer spotted the fire. But it was too late. The once-beautiful girl was dead.

The evidence against Abdool was overwhelming. The 7-11 store produced videos of him purchasing tape, a can, and gasoline. Cops found that he had burned his shoe and foot when he lit the fire. His tire tracks were found next to the dead girl. Two friends testified that Abdool had offered them $400 to kill Amelia. After he saw the evidence against him, Abdool made a lengthy confession to police.

In court, prosecutors showed jurors a photo of the charred body of Amelia. She lay in a fetal position. Her feet and wrists were still taped. In addition to eighty percent of her body being burned, the flames had entered her mouth and seared her throat and esophagus to charcoal.

The defense never challenged the evidence. Instead, they called a psychologist who proposed that Abdool has “personality disorders, is emotionally immature and has low intelligence.”

After he was found guilty, Orange County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Munyon stated that the cruel viciousness of the murder and the “excruciating pain” felt by the victim were among her reasons for sentencing Abdool to death. She also stated that his “cold, calculated planning” of the crime qualified him for execution. Judge Munyon ended by saying: “May almighty God have mercy on your soul.”

Jack Sookdeo, grandfather of the murdered girl, stated that lethal injection isn’t good enough. “[Abdool] should have been burned, the way he burned my granddaughter,” Sookdeo said. No doubt many spectators felt the same way.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Dark Forest

The Ocala National Forest is a land of squatters, fugitives, dopers, and ne’er-do-wells. Its once-pure waters have been stained with the blood of innocents. Serial killers have raped and murdered and hidden bodies there. People have disappeared never to be seen again. Unidentified bodies are regularly discovered in remote corners of the wilderness. What used to be a fisherman’s paradise and a hunter’s delight has been despoiled. [Photo of Christine Wiles whose blood-soaked car was found in the Forest. She hasn't been seen since.]

Every winter, a group of hippies, left over from the sixties and their minds long ago burnt out on drugs, descend on the place like a plague. Thousands of them camp out and smoke dope and pilfer from the locals. They seem to think taking a bath is a mortal sin. They call themselves the Rainbow Group. As soon as they arrive, local shop-owners nail down everything in their stores.

The Forest even has its own bombing range. Every year thousands of fighter jets from the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville swoop in and drop tons of explosives on the long-suffering landscape. Sometimes the bombs set off forest fires. Other times they merely shake the residents of nearby towns.

The Forest, as it is called by locals, covers more than 600 square miles. Hundreds of lakes and ponds dot the area. Rivers, creeks, and swamps add to the mix. Huge cypress trees and wild palmetto grow thick in the marsh. In other areas, sandy scrub-lands create trees and plants that look like thin ghostly apparitions. In this wilderness, bear and whitetail deer and wild boar roam about. Bobcats, coyote, foxes, and other predators are prevalent, along with the ever-present alligators. Rattlesnakes, water moccasins, including the deadly cottonmouth, and dozens of species of non-poisonous snakes, live in the Forest.

Like much of Florida, paradise has been spoiled by an influx of too many people. And where there are people, there's violence. I’ve listed a few of the Forest’s killings, disappearances, and unidentified bodies.

October 2, 1966. Two beautiful girls vanished from a crowded recreation area, never to be seen again. 20-year-old Pamela Nater and 21-year-old Nancy Leichner were snorkeling with their boyfriends in Alexander Springs when they decided to go for a walk. They never returned and no trace was ever found to indicate what happened to them. In 2007, authorities located a long-lost letter that convicted serial killer Gerard Schaefer had written in which he confessed to abducting and murdering the two girls. The crime certainly fit his M.O. Schaefer enjoyed doing “doubles.” He liked to abduct two girls, take them into a swamp, and tie them to trees. Then he would force his victims to decide which one would die first. The psychological torture thrilled him. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1973. Schaefer was murdered by another inmate in 1995. Due to Schaefer's alleged confession, authorities recently closed the case.

July 22, 1976. Twelve-year-old Dorothy “Dee” Scofield was abducted from a parking lot in Ocala. She was last seen in a car with two men heading into the Ocala National Forest. Although the Forest was searched extensively, her body was never found. Many law enforcement officials think she was murdered and her body dumped in the Forest. [For more information about this case, read my blog entitled, “All American Girl.”]

April 18, 1984. The unidentified body of a woman was found in the Lake Dorr Recreation Area in the Forest. She was in her early twenties, weighed about a hundred pounds, and wore a black T-shirt with the prescient moniker “Here Comes Trouble” written across the front. The medical examiner estimated that she'd been dead for two-to-four weeks and had been murdered. In 2002, a traffic ticket was found dated April 17, 1984 written for confessed serial killer Michael Running. The convicted murderer lived in nearby Umatilla at the time and had a habit of dumping his victims in wooded areas near his home. Running, who is serving a life sentence in Arkansas for another murder, has never spoken to officials about the case and the girl has never been identified.

July 30, 1990. Troy Burress was a truck driver for Gilchrist Sausage Company in Ocala. When he disappeared, a search was launched. Five days later, his body was found by hikers in the Forest. He had been killed by two shots from a .22-caliber handgun. Serial killer Aileen Wuornos later confessed to the murder. She stated that he picked her up and proposed that they have sex and she became enraged and shot him. A more likely scenario is that Burress felt sorry for a lone, pathetic-looking woman hitch-hiking the dangerous Highway 40 that runs through the Forest and decided to give her a lift into town. As she did numerous times, the notorious man-hater simply decided to kill Burress for the few dollars he carried.

December 29, 1992. A hunter found a body in the Forest. The man had committed suicide using a .38-caliber pistol. [For more information on this case, see my post “Unidentified Body in Ocala National Forest."]

February 20, 1994. College students John and Pam Edwards decided to camp out in the Ocala National Forest for a couple of days. The clean-cut brother and sister were accosted by two career criminals who were squatting on Hopkins Prairie. Loran K. Cole and William Christopher Paul used a baseball bat-sized stick to beat John unconscious. Then Cole slashed John’s throat and he bled to death. He raped Pam twice and tied her to a tree in a remote location. Fortunately, she escaped and testified against him in court. Cole now sits on Florida’s death row while Paul was sentenced to life in prison. A chronic whiner, Cole continues to publish illiterate anti-death penalty “essays” on the Internet.

February 5, 2000. A troubled youth, 12-year-old Michael Wiltsie had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Opposition Defiance Disorder. He had already been arrested for battery, burglary, trespassing, and resisting a law enforcement officer when he was sent to Camp E-Kel-Etu in the Ocala National Forest. The place was designed as a “boot camp” for juveniles with criminal records. On February 5, Wiltsie attempted to assault another inmate. Joseph C. Cooley, a camp counselor, restrained Wiltsie, but in doing so choked him to death. The counselor weighed 300 pounds and Wiltsie weighed 60 pounds. A grand jury refused to indict Cooley because he was "following procedures for the safety of camp inmates."

March 5, 2000. A few months after Alicia Eakins was reported missing from St. Augustine, her boyfriend, Ralph John Faba, Jr., was discovered near the strangled body of 16-year-old Angela Durling. Faba pled guilty to murdering the girl and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Fast-forward to March, 2008. The body of Eakins was discovered in the Putnam County section of the Ocala National Forest. Faba admitted murdering her and to hanging his own father, which was staged to look like a suicide. His current release date is listed as 2063.

March 25, 2003. After an argument, Bladimir Rios stabbed Elvin Rodriguez to death. Then he and Edwardo Mercado drove the victim into the Forest and began digging a grave. Marion County sheriff’s officers found Rios’s car parked by the road and saw blood dripping from its trunk. Tracking dogs located the killers and cops arrested them. According to Mercado, Rios blamed Rodriguez for being a “snitch” and wanted to eliminate him. Rios was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Febuary 9, 2005. Lake County Deputy Wayne Koester and other officers responded to a domestic disturbance in the Ocala National Forest. Little did they know that Jason Wheeler was waiting behind a group of trees to ambush them. As the deputies walked toward the house where the call had originated, Wheeler opened fire. Deputy Koester was killed and another deputy wounded. Wheeler escaped but was tracked down by deputies and was shot in a gun-battle. Wheeler was paralyzed from the chest down. He was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death. (As far as I know, he's the only paraplegic on Florida's Death Row.)

January 4, 2006. Two college students, Amber Marie Peck and John Parker, were camping in the Forest when a man walked up and gunned them down. Leo Boatman had been in trouble most of his life and had been arrested numerous times. A few days after Christmas, he dreamed up the idea of randomly murdering someone in, of all places, the Ocala National Forest. He hitched a ride to the Forest and walked up on the unsuspecting students. Without warning, he shot them. Boatman was sentenced to life in prison.

August 27, 2006. Two-year-old Trenton Duckett was last seen in Lady Lake, Florida with his mother, Melinda Duckett. Later that day, Melinda reported that her son had been kidnapped. Because of inconsistent statements, Melinda became a suspect. According to the website on America’s Most Wanted, “Police spent several days using dogs, ATVs, and helicopters to search through the saw palmettos and slash pines of the Ocala National Forest. Dive teams searched muddy lake bottoms...” They were acting on a tip from Melinda’s lawyer in which she implied that she killed her son and discarded his body in the Forest. Trenton may well be buried in a lonely grave somewhere in that remote wilderness, but he was never found. Melinda later committed suicide.

April 21, 2007. 41-year-old Christine Wiles was last seen leaving a Belleview tavern. Later, her 1995 Chrysler New Yorker was found near Wildcat Lake in the Forest. A pool of blood in the car was matched to Wiles’ DNA. Police believe she was murdered and disposed of either in the lake or near it. Her body has not been found.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Kidnapping in New Mexico

The ransom note read: “Your child has-been kidnaped...The amount is $ 20,000 cash or negotiable bonds. Put same in envelope on top of your Sol y Lomas gate tonight if you can. If not until tomorrow night put a red rag as a sign...If not at all, your kid will die of cold and hunger. New Mexico is an easy place to lose a body. Do not talk about this to police, FBI, or friends. Any effort to interfere with our messenger, the child dies.”

It was the evening of November 10, 1950, at a comfortable farmhouse on the outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The house was surrounded by acres of wooded property.

As Mrs. Allen Stamm, wife of a prominent contractor, entered the house, the family’s maid handed her an envelope. A man had taken their nine-year-old daughter, Linda, the maid said. He stated he was taking her to the bridge party that Mrs. Stamm had been attending. As she opened the envelope, the mother recoiled in horror. “I got cold and numb and began to cry,” she later testified.

Police were notified and the maid described a strange-looking man who wore a stocking cap and dark sunglasses. Murdo Smith of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was contacted and took charge of the case.

The following night, dozens of police and FBI agents hid in the woods near the Stamm house. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a shadow emerged and headed toward the gate. As the person grabbed an envelope filled with dummy bills, authorities pounced.

“I’m only a go-between,” a voice screamed. “You don’t need to be rough.”

The figure, dressed in men’s clothing, identified herself as Dr. Nancy DuVal Campbell. Surprised agents patted her down and found two more ransom notes and a .32-caliber pistol.

About a hundred yards away, parked in the woods, police found a yellow Buick convertible. Inside the car, they discovered the kidnapped girl. Although she’d been tied up and drugged, she was alive.

In court testimony, her mother later described the reunion with her daughter: “She was incoherent. Her clothes were dirty and she acted like she was on a drunk. Her eyes were swollen pretty badly, and she couldn’t walk straight without someone holding her up.”

43-year-old Nancy Campbell was one of the strangest kidnappers in history. She was a well-respected gynecologist, a graduate of Yale University, and a Phi Beta Kappa. In her fourteen years in Santa Fe, she had built a thriving practice. Residents were stunned, but none more so than the area’s physicians. Close friends in the Santa Fe County Medical Association helped procure her $ 25,000 bond. After her release from jail, she was quickly spirited to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Albuquerque “for the medical attention she needs so badly.”

Her attorney stated that Dr. Campbell was insane at the time of the abduction and was therefore not responsible for her actions.

The trial began on April 16, 1951. The star witness was the victim. An article from the Albuquerque Tribune described her appearance before the jury: “Nine-year-old Linda Stamm prayed a ‘little’ while she was held a kidnap victim in a barren shack near Santa Fe last November 10. Swinging back and forth in the witness chair, Linda described to a District Court jury here today how she was abducted from her home, bound and blindfolded, and given a red pill.”

Linda stated that she answered the door on the night of the abduction and saw a “man” who later turned out to be a “woman.” The man told her that he needed to take her to the bridge club to see her mother. Before leaving, he gave Linda an envelope to give to the maid.

They got into a yellow car and drove for a few minutes. Then the “man” stopped and bound her hands and feet and placed duct tape around her face, leaving only enough space so that she could breathe. Linda was placed in the back compartment of the car. During this time she realized that her abductor was a woman.

They arrived at a ramshackle building and Linda was given two sandwiches. After eating, she was forced to swallow a red pill and made to lie on the floor inside an old army blanket. A few minutes later, the abductor left Linda alone. In her riveting testimony, Linda stated that she was cold and spent some of her time playing cards.

The abductor returned the following day and Linda was taken to a cabin. Again she was tied and her mouth taped. “After it got dark,” Linda testified, “we got in the car again and went home. There were a lot of men with guns there.”

There was no doubt that the crime had been committed by Dr. Campbell. As expected, the defense called several psychiatrists who claimed that she was insane at the time she committed the crime. The prosecution countered with the fact that Dr. Campbell had confessed to FBI agents that she kidnapped the girl because of large debts she owed.

It didn’t take the jury long to reject the argument of the defense. Dr. Campbell was convicted and sentenced to 10-15 years in prison.

She was a model prisoner. Dr. Campbell’s work in the prison consisted of washing dishes and doing laundry. She was denied parole in 1955, but was released two years later because of accumulated “gain time.” She moved to San Antonio and worked at the state hospital for many years. In 1968, liberal New Mexico Governor “Lonesome” Dave Cargo granted a pardon to Dr. Campbell and restored her rights of citizenship.

Since my sympathies are always with the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators, I attempted to find out what happened to Linda Stamm. I could find nothing about her later years. If any of my readers has any information about her, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"There's No Such Thing as a Perfect Crime"

One of the most obvious fallacies ever foisted on long-suffering true crime readers is the notion that “there is no such thing as a perfect crime.” I heard that claim voiced again on television last night. While we can debate the meaning of a “perfect crime,” to me it is one in which the identity of the perpetrator is never learned and he or she is never brought to justice. [Photo of Elizabeth Short, the so-called “Black Dahlia”]

Listed below are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of perfect murders in America that were never solved. I haven't included any case from the 1970s on because some of them could still be solved.

Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia. This has been one of America’s most infamous unsolved cases ever since Short’s body was found January 15, 1947 in Leimart Park in Los Angeles. Her face had been sliced ear-to-ear in a grotesque smile. Her torso was cut in half, yet little if any blood was found. Cops believed she was murdered elsewhere and transported to the scene. Even though police worked the case hard, they never got any real leads. While books and movies have endeavored to convince us that the identity of the killer is known, the fact is that someone committed the perfect murder.

Virginia Brooks. On February 11, 1931, ten-year-old Virginia Brooks was abducted off the streets of San Diego while walking to school. On March 9, her body was found on the Fort Kearney military reservation. She’d been dismembered with an ax. Human hairs were grasped in her fingers, meaning that Virginia probably grappled with the killer. Unfortunately, her murderer was never found. (Police and newspapers were convinced that the killer was responsible for at least five additional unsolved murders in the area.)

Evelyn Hartley. On October 24, 1953, Evelyn was babysitting in her hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin when she was abducted. Blood was found at various locations inside the house and furniture was knocked over, indicating that the 15-year-old had fought hard for her life. The baby she was watching lay undisturbed in her crib. It was apparent that someone had broken into the home through a basement window, attacked Evelyn, and dragged her out into the street to a waiting vehicle. While serial murderer and weirdo Ed Gein is usually mentioned in connection with the abduction, he always denied it and none of her remains or other connecting evidence was found in his home. No good suspect was ever identified and the horrific case has never been solved.

The Boy in the Box. On February 25, 1957, a college student found a cardboard box in a thicket in the northeast section of Philadelphia. Inside the box was the body of a young boy, estimated to be between four and six years old. The coroner stated that the boy had died of head injuries. Despite massive publicity throughout the years, he was never identified. This was almost certainly a case of abuse within a family but no one ever came forward. Against all odds, this case remains unsolved and someone got away with murder.

Rachel Taylor. On March 29, 1940, the mutilated body of the 17-year-old coed was found near the Pennsylvania State University campus. No real leads ever developed and her killer was never located.

Then there are the un-caught serial killers. The so-called Cincinnati Ripper allegedly murdered at least five women between 1904 and 1910. During the Depression, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run committed as many as 16 perfect murders of men, women, and children. In 1918 and 1919, the Axeman of New Orleans hacked 11 people to death and was never caught (contrary to popular belief there is no record that he was tracked down and killed in California by the wife of one of his victims). In 1925, an unknown psychopath called the Toledo Clubber bashed in the heads of 11 women, killing five. The Zodiac Killer murdered at least six people in the late 1960s and was never apprehended.

The unfortunate victims in these and thousands of other unsolved murders deserved justice. But utopia does not exist, and while it is comforting to think that there are no “perfect crimes,” the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Murder at Penn State by Robert A. Waters

Why do some murders gain media notoriety and others don’t? I don’t know the answer to that. I know I had never heard about the Betsy Aardsma murder until a few weeks ago when I stumbled on the website. The senselessness of the murder drew me to the case as well as the fact that it was new to me. Someone has gotten away with this brutal crime for nearly forty years. Here’s hoping Betsy's story will jog a memory or conscience and justice can be served.

On the afternoon of November 28, 1969, Betsy Aardsma was visiting the Pattee Library at Pennsylvania State University when someone pushed the blade of a knife through her heart and walked away. To this day, there are no suspects in the murder. But a new website hopes to shed light on this long-cold case.

According to the website’s introduction, “Betsy was a 22-year-old graduate student from Ann Arbor, Michigan who was enrolled in a Master's Program in English at Penn State University in August of 1969. She had come back to State College, Pennsylvania over the Thanksgiving holiday break in November of 1969 in order to work on a research paper for her English 501 class, which was an Introduction to Research. She was not scheduled to be in State College, but had cut her Thanksgiving vacation with her fiancee in Hershey, Pennsylvania, short to get a jump on her class project. Betsy was not a drug user, not a criminal, and in fact was regarded as an intelligent, well-liked girl who had recently become engaged to her fiancee, a medical student at the University. At approximately 4:00 p.m. on November 28th, Betsy and her roommate parted ways at the library after planning to meet at 7:00 p.m. that evening for dinner. Betsy met with a professor, Harrison Meserole, to talk about her research paper, and then she headed into the Level 2 Core ‘stacks’ to find some materials. At some point around 4:45 p.m., she was stabbed one single time in the heart by an unknown assailant, presumably male, and fell to the floor. She was found lying on the floor shortly thereafter, but her red dress made what little blood that had spilled look as though she’d had a seizure and bitten her tongue...Betsy was transported to the Ritenour Health Center and pronounced dead there at 5:20 p. m. Early the following morning, her death was ruled a homicide and the investigation began -- an investigation which, after almost 40 years, has produced no good suspects, few witnesses, and no resolution. The purpose of this site is to kick-start the investigation and assist police in bringing the case to a close.”

Derek Sherwood was a child when his father worked at Penn State. He remembers hearing about the unsolved murder. “The more I read about [the case],” he said, “the more I was sucked in.” He and a friend recently created the website in an attempt to generate interest in the case and develop new leads that police can follow up on.

Betsy was on the second level of the library, among rows of long, high shelves filled with vintage hardback books. Approximately 650 people were in the library that afternoon, but in the section where Betsy stood browsing, there were few patrons. A female student who was in Betsy’s class sat at a nearby table and saw two men exit the area. One said, “Somebody better help that girl,” and led her back to where Betsy lay. Other than a few books that had fallen from the shelves, there was no sign of a struggle.

As her classmate (interviewed but never identified by police) stooped to help Betsy, the two men kept walking. They were never identified although a composite of one of the men was published in the local newspapers.

It was only after the autopsy, performed by Dr. Thomas Magnani, that it was determined that Betsy Aardsma had been murdered. A four-inch blade had penetrated the sternum and gone through the heart. Death had come within a minute or two.

By the time police began an investigation, the crime scene had been compromised and everyone who had been in the library was long gone. Investigators eventually interviewed about 85 patrons and employees, but came up with no leads. A task force was formed but was disbanded after a few months.

Two questions remain: why was Betsy Aardsma targeted and who murdered her? Was Betsy the target of a random killer or did someone want her dead?

When I first visited, I was impressed with both its simplicity and ease of navigation. I’ve visited thousands of websites dedicated to murder victims and missing persons. This is one of the best.

The website has its own domain, which is always a plus. That means the creator can keep those annoying ads out of the face of the viewer and indeed, there are no such ads here. Another thing I like about this website is that there are dozens of articles about the case and they are cached within the website so that the links won’t disappear.

There’s also a Theory/Rumor FAQ, another nice touch. For instance, there was a rumor going around campus that Ted Bundy may have killed Betsy.

“Q: Could Ted Bundy have killed her? I heard he was in the area in 1969. A: Ted Bundy found out in early 1969 that his real father lived in the Philadelphia area. It is rumored that he went to visit him. However, Bundy's movements have been highly documented and he was not in the area at the time. Furthermore, the murder was not his 'style' and fingerprints found at the scene have never been matched to anyone in the NCIC database -- a database which Bundy's prints were in.”

Other such questions are dealt with in like manner.

In an email to me, Derek wrote: “I decided to start the website in March of 2008. I wanted a way to publicize the case and hopefully jog some folks’ memories, as well as to be a centralized hub for contacting the police with new information.

“The theory of the police was either that Betsy witnessed a drug deal, or that she caught some homosexuals/exhibitionists in the act and was killed to keep her from talking. I do think they messed up big-time by trying to find a pothead or gay men when in reality the motive was likely a lot more obtuse.

“Between 4:30 and 5:15 roughly 440 people came into or left the library, according to the foot counters at the doors. So anyone could have come or gone in that time. The police investigation was hampered by the fact that, at first, no one knew it was a homicide.”

If you wish to learn more about this case or have information, you are encouraged to visit the website which has an email address where you can contact Derek.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Armed Robber Shot in Indy

Here’s another video of a career criminal getting shot by his intended victim. These two thugs rush into the store looking cocky and self-assured. Then, when the tables are turned, they flee like routed rats. [Photo of Nurdeen Anderson]

It was November 26, 2007. Three employees were working in a backroom of Universal Gold and Silver pawn shop in Indianapolis. The crook in the white hoodie, Nurdeen Anderson, pulled a gun and jumped over the counter.

Two employees grabbed their own weapons and began firing. One bullet hit Anderson. Police later determined that clerk Nicholas Kassoumis had fired the shot that struck home. Twenty minutes later, Anderson arrived at Methodist Hospital with a bullet wound to the neck. After he recuperated, he was arrested. On February 13, 2008, Anderson was found guilty of Attempted Armed Robbery and Unlawful Firearm Possession by a Felon. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. Anderson, a long-term drug dealer, had served previous prison sentences in 2000 and 2002.

I love seeing the bad guys get what’s coming to them. Check out the link and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Murder Ballad - John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man

Photo of John Hardy on the Gallows
On October 13, 1893, the Wheeling Daily Register published the following article:

WELCH, W. VA, October 12. “At 8 o’clock this morning the jury in the case of the State against John Hardy, colored, for the murder of Thomas Drews, colored, at Eckman, this county, in January last, brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The trouble arose over a game of craps and was a cold blooded crime. Motion has been made for a new trial with but small hopes of success on account of the Criminal Court Judge’s indisposition. A recess has been taken until Monday.”

According to former West Virginia governor William MacCorkle, the case was a “classic tale of women, cards, and liquor.” Drews beat Hardy in a game of craps and, in front of dozens of witnesses, Hardy pulled out his gun and killed Drews. (I’m not sure what women had to do with the murder although the song states that Hardy had two girlfriends as well as a wife.)

In the 1890s, the booming market for coal was bringing thousands of people to West Virginia. Hardy and Drews were part of the labor pool that helped gouge the black gold from the ground for the Shawnee Coal Company. After work, many of the miners would gamble away all that they’d earned during the day. It is said that John Hardy lost twenty-five cents to Drews before shooting him.

Hardy attempted to escape, but was tracked down on the back of an out-bound train by Sheriff John Effler. When the sheriff attempted to arrest Hardy, he fought back. Effler later recalled that they fought for several minutes before falling off the train together. Effler was injured in the fall but bystanders subdued Hardy and Effler arrested him.

Judge Herndon [first name unknown] and Walter Taylor defended Hardy. It was said that the defendant had no money and gave the judge his pistol for his fee. After being convicted, John Hardy got religion. As the song states, he was baptized a few hours before his execution. It was said that he gave an impassioned speech before being hung. Hardy expressed remorse and cautioned others about the dangers of drinking liquor.

On January 19, 1894, the Register published the following story:

“John Hardy, for killing Thomas Drews, both colored, was hung at 2:09 p.m. today. Three thousand people witnessed his death. His neck was broken and he died in 17 ½ minutes. He exhibited great nerve, attributed his downfall to whiskey, and said he had made peace with God. His body was cut down at 2:39, placed in a coffin, and given to the proper parties for interment. He was baptized in the river this morning. Ten drunken and disorderly persons among the spectators were promptly arrested and jailed.”

As with most folk songs, it is not known who penned the verses that would become one of the most popular murder ballads ever written. Eva Davis was the first to record the song. Davis, a fiddle player and vocalist, teamed with banjoist Samantha Bumgarner and in 1924 traveled from North Carolina to New York to record about a dozen songs for Columbia Records.

Hundreds of others have recorded it since, including Bob Dylan, Uncle Tupelo, Doc Watson, and Johnny Cash. As with many folk songs, every singer seems to have a different version.

I’ve linked the Carter Family version of the song. A. P. and Sara Carter along with Maybelle Carter recorded “John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man” in 1928. Maybelle, who was in her early twenties at the time, said she had heard the song all her life so it didn’t take long for the melody to become popular. It not only has catchy lyrics for vocalists but is played as an instrumental by bluegrass and jazz bands.

John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man

John Hardy, he was a desperate little man,
He carried two guns every day.
He shot a man on the West Virginia line,
You oughta seen John Hardy get away.

John Hardy, he got to the Keystone Bridge,
He thought that he would be free.
Up steps a man and takes him by his arm
Saying, “Johnny, walk along with me.”

He sent for his papa and his mama, too,
To come and go his bail.
But money won’t go a murdering case
And they locked John Hardy back in jail.

John Hardy, he had a pretty little girl,
The dress she wore was blue.
She came skipping through the old jail hall
Saying, “Poppy, I’ve been true to you.”

John Hardy, he had another little girl,
The dress she wore was red.
She followed John Hardy to his hanging ground
Saying, “Poppy, I would rather be dead.”

I’ve been to the east and I’ve been to the west,
I’ve been this wide world around.
I’ve been to the river and I’ve been baptized
And now I’m on my hanging ground.

John Hardy walked out on the scaffold high
With his loving little wife by his side.
And the last words she heard poor Johnny say,
“I’ll meet you in that sweet bye-and-bye.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Paradise Defiled

How does a young child cope when her mother vanishes into thin air? It has long been known that the effects of violent crime spread like a circle when a stone is thrown into a pond because those closest to the victim have to live with the memories and consequences. When Diana Lynn Harris [pictured] disappeared in 1981, her daughter Christine was ten-years-old. This is her story.

Key West has a history. From wreckers to rum-runners to drug smugglers to official corruption, life in America’s southern-most city has always seethed with crime and violence. By the early 1980s, slimy drug runners had infested paradise. It was into this culture that Diana Lynn Harris moved.

Diana left Michigan and came south for a new start. She brought along her two children, Chrissy, 10, and Mikey, 8. And she brought a new boyfriend. The group settled into an old hotel that had been converted into efficiency apartments on Big Pine Key. Diana wasn’t afraid of hard work. She quickly landed two jobs, at the No Name Pub and Sugarloaf Lodge. Life for the children was idyllic. They’d escaped the winters of Michigan for palm trees and sun and surf. Chrissy and Mikey loved the beach and hanging out with their mom.

Unfortunately, many of the friends Diana made were shady at best.

In fact, she landed in a nest of drug smugglers. Diana’s boyfriend didn’t like Florida and moved on. Soon she began dating Gary Argenzio. He conveniently forgot to tell her that he had once been charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment, lewdness, and rape.

After having spent three months in paradise, Chrissy and Mikey were sent back to Michigan. They flew out of Miami on June 7. Diana was scheduled to pick them up on August 15 when they would all attend her sister’s wedding.

She never made it.

One of Argenzio’s friends was Mitchell Denker, an attorney who owned what locals called a “party house.” Argenzio and Diana Lynn Harris moved into that house. Denker was known as a “drug lawyer.” In late 1980, the “Big Pine 29” drug bust occurred. Twenty-nine people were arrested as they attempted to off-load a boat filled with marijuana. Federal officers seized more than fifteen tons of the stuff from a fenced lot near Denker’s house. The lawyer was quick to represent the smugglers.

After an investigation by the Feds, the Key West Police Department was declared a “criminal enterprise” under the RICO statute. Many of the KWPD officers partied at Denker’s house. Several were later fired for their ties with drug smugglers.

Diana’s mother last spoke with her on July 15. After being unable to contact her daughter, her mother reported Diana missing. A week later, Argenzio stole a boat and fled the country. He was later arrested in Mexico and charged with theft. His attorney was a cousin of Mitchell Denker. Argenzio was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.

Chrissy’s life changed after her mother disappeared. She became restless, moving with the winds, and living with relatives and friends in Michigan and Texas. At 16, she was drawn back to south Florida. She ran away to Miami and began searching for her mother. Chrissy, who now goes by Christine, learned that three years after her mother vanished, KWPD had purged the files concerning the investigation of Diana’s disappearance. “There are no documents whatsoever,” Christine said. “All of the 1981 records were destroyed in 1984.”

Since buying a computer, Christine has been able to contact others who research missing persons on the Internet. One such site is the Doe Network. In a recent email, she wrote: “I had stopped eating because I spent all my time searching for info online. I still feel like the information I need is right under my nose. It deeply frustrates me that I can’t find it. I feel Mom’s killer is running free today, living a good life and many in the Florida Keys know about the person, knows who murdered her and how she died and will never tell.”

Over the years, Christine has entertained several theories about what happened to her mother. The most obvious is that Diana was murdered in the “party house” and her body dumped at sea.

At Christine’s urging, the case was reinvestigated in 1995. At that time, police claimed that Diana disappeared from another house, this one also owned by Mitchell Denker. Police interviewed a friend of Denker named Mark Ripin. According to a police report dated August 15, 1995, “Ripin said that he and Mitch Denker arrived at the residence one Sunday evening and found a hole in the wall. They asked Argenzio about the hole and he made some comment about assaulting his girlfriend, Diane Harris. Harris was not at the residence and never showed back up after the incident...It is the opinion of Ripin that Argenzio killed Harris, took the body out on the boat and dumped it in the ocean.” Since Argenzio died after being released from prison, he makes a convenient scapegoat. The original investigators dispute Ripin’s 1995 claims about there being a “hole in the wall” at the residence. They are adamant that there was no such hole.

A friend of Diana’s reported that she got a phone call from Diana the day before she disappeared. Diana confided in her friend that a big shipment of drugs was coming in and she feared the phones might be tapped. Did someone murder her because she had knowledge she shouldn’t have had or because she informed an outsider about the shipment?

Another theory is that Diana was sold into “white slavery” in Turkey or Asia. Although this seems far-fetched, Mark Ripin was known to have made many trips to Asia.

Many of those connected with the party house have been convicted of various crimes. Mitchell Denker was convicted of two felonies, sentenced to prison, and disbarred from practicing law in the state of Florida. Mark Ripin spent time in prison for armed robbery. Others were convicted of drug offenses.

In August, 1981, shortly after Diana’s disappearance, Gerald Douglas Oxby dispappeared from Key West. He has never been heard from. In 1995, a man named Tom Stump also disappeared from the same area as Diana. He was an associate of many of the players in Diana’s disappearance. No arrest has ever been made in any of those cases.

“I’ll never let go of my mom,” Christine wrote. “I talk about her so I don’t forget the little things about her that I loved so much. She loved the beach and always took us there in Michigan and in Florida. [In Michigan] we used to go to a beach called Sleepy Hollow. In Florida we went every time she wasn’t at work to Bahia Honda Beach. We went to the zoo often, too.”

What happened to Diana Lynn Harris? Someone knows. If anyone has any information about this case, please email Christine Hill at or for additional reading, check out the links below.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Who Killed Candy?

Who Killed Candy?
by Robert A. Waters

It’s been 40 years since Candace Clothier was murdered. The case is as much a mystery today as it was back in 1968 when the pretty sixteen-year-old went missing. My good friend Todd Matthews came across this case when he was researching the “Tent Girl” mystery which he later solved. For a while, investigators thought the two murders might be linked but no evidence was ever found to support that conclusion. [Photo of Candace Clothier]

Candy, as she was known to her friends, left her home in the Torresdale section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the evening of March 9, 1968. She was five feet tall and weighed 116 pounds. On that blustery evening, the dark-eyed high school student wore olive-green slacks, a gold-yellow sweater, and a tan jacket with a black fur-trimmed hood. She had only a dollar in her pocket which she intended to use for bus fare. She planned to hang out for a couple of hours with her boyfriend who worked at a filling station in nearby Mayfair.

When she didn’t return home that night, her father contacted police. Elmer Clothier was a well-respected city fireman. A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that Candy was “from a good family and had been doing well in school. Her parents said she had no reason to run away.”

In the first days, 150 police officers, including 100 recruits, searched a five square mile radius near her home. A reporter for the Inquirer wrote: “As [searchers] worked their way through the largely wooded area, a State Police helicopter circled overhead trying to find traces of the girl. Aiding were 13 police dogs and handlers.” A communications truck was stationed nearby and cops used walkie-talkies to communicate. Unfortunately, nothing of importance was found.

Then, on April 14, three fishermen noticed a burlap sack that had washed up on an island in Neshaminy Creek. It was in a rural area of Northampton township in Bucks County, a few miles north of Philadelphia. When the curious fishermen opened the bag they found a body. According to newspaper reports, the bag resembled a mail sack and was tied around the neck of the body.

When Elmer Clothier arrived at the morgue to identify his daughter, he had to be sedated. Within three months, the 49-year-old firefighter would die of “natural causes” while on the job. Although most of her clothing was missing, the pitiful remains of Candy were identified through her yellow sweater and a ring. Later, her dentist confirmed the match.

Northampton township Police Chief Anthony Fergione took charge of the investigation. He announced that the body had probably been thrown or dropped from Chain Bridge and floated downstream where it lodged on the bank of the island. Fergione ordered dive teams to search the creek which was about eight feet deep. Police searched the area surrounding the creek and found Candy’s bra between Chain Bridge and Worthington Mill Bridge. No other evidence was located.

David E. Bassert, M. D., performed the autopsy. “This examiner began his investigations at 3:15 P. M.,” Bassert wrote. “By that time, police had removed the bag in which the body is reported to have been encased and the stocking-like cap which had been over her head, and her underpants. Also retrieved was a yellow sweater...” Although he found fractures of the fourth right rib, collarbone, and hyoid bone, Bassert concluded they occurred after death. Candy had no fluid in the lungs, meaning she did not drown. His conclusion was that “no definite anatomical cause of death is recognized.” He could not tell if she had been sexually assaulted although there seemed no other reason for the crime.

Even though her death was “undetermined,” it was obvious to all that the teenager had been murdered.

Police interrogated her boyfriend. He insisted that Candy had never shown up. Since he was working, he was never considered a serious suspect. Investigators also spoke to all bus drivers who were working that evening. None recalled seeing anyone who resembled Candy. Cops concluded that she was probably abducted before making it to the bus stop, possibly in the parking lot of a grocery store she would have had to cross to get there.

Chief Fergione and his investigators interviewed more than 1,000 people and polygraphed at least eighty of them. But he never developed a suspect. Then he learned about the “Tent Girl.” In 1968, the body of an unknown girl had been found off a desolate highway near Georgetown, Kentucky. She was wrapped like a cocoon and tied in a canvas bag used by carnivals for storing tents—-hence the nickname “tent girl.” Cops estimated she was 16-19 years old. Despite their dedicated efforts, she remained unidentified.

Chief Fergione used his vacation to drive to Kentucky to compare notes. There were so many similarities between the Tent Girl and Candy Clothier that he became convinced that the cases were somehow related. “Autopsy findings were the same in both cases,” he said. “[There was] no cause of death. Both showed a slight discoloration of the skin covering the skull in the same spot on the right side. Both bodies were wrapped in cloth bags, tied with lengths of rope from top to bottom, and the feet tucked under the torso.”

Thirty years later, Todd Matthews would solve the Tent Girl case. The unknown girl was identified as Barbara Hackman-Taylor, the wife of an itinerant carnival worker named Earl Taylor. Investigators determined that he likely murdered his wife because she planned to leave him.

Here are a few questions that need to be answered:

Was Earl Taylor anywhere near Philadelphia on the day of Candace Clothier’s disappearance? Can he be linked to a carnival in the area?

Were any of Candy’s old classmates later convicted of serious violent crimes?

Was anyone in her neighborhood later convicted of a violent crime?

Were there similar murders in the area during that time? It so, were those murders solved or unsolved?

Was a foreign hair found in her hand? It has been reported that police found several hairs in her hand. All belonged to Candy except one. (This is not mentioned in the coroner’s report.) If there was a foreign hair, is it available for DNA testing?

If anyone has additional information about this case, please contact me. I would also invite readers to check out the new Discovery Channel true crime blog hosted by Todd Matthews. It promises to be a dynamite blog that focuses on unsolved murders and unidentified victims.