Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where is Professor Stees?

Where is Professor Stees?
by Robert A. Waters

On February 21, 1970, Gene Isaac Stees walked away from the state prison in Columbus, Ohio and disappeared. He’d been convicted of bludgeoning his pregnant wife and dumping her body in Dow Lake, near Athens. For 38 years, he’s escaped justice. Today, if he’s still living, he would be 76.

It was a classic love triangle. Gene Stees, 31, a professor at Ohio University, and his wife, Helen, 30, had separated because of his dalliance with a third woman. Patricia Weathers had caught his eye. Married and with three children, local newspapers described Weathers as “svelt,” “doe-eyed,” and “beautiful.”

Gene and Helen had met at Grace College in Indiana where both were students. They married in 1955. A nurse, she worked to put him through school. He obtained his Master’s Degree from the University of Indiana and began working toward his doctorate. During the course of their marriage, Gene and Helen had two children.

While attending classes at the university, Stees met Weathers and they became lovers. She later testified that he told her he was divorcing his wife. After the divorce was legal, he said, they would get married.

A few months before the murder, Stees took a job as an assistant professor at Ohio University in Athens. He rented a small farmhouse and moved in with his lover.

On October 20, 1962, Helen, who was living with her parents in Ashland, Ohio, arranged to meet her husband in Athens. She told them she hoped they could work out their problems and reconcile. (Weathers had flown to Florida to see her husband and children.) The next day, when Helen didn’t come home, her parents called police.

Investigators found a pool of blood on the seat of Stees’ car. An article from the Athens Messenger describes his confession: “Shortly after [Gene and Helen] arrived at the farm, Stees [said he] struck his wife in the head with a crow bar and then pulled a plastic bag over her head. That night, he stuffed her body into a metal drum, placed it in his station wagon and drove to the upper end of Dow Lake. There he carried the barrel to a boat, lifted it into the craft, rowed out into the lake near where the swimming area is located, and dumped the metal coffin with his wife’s body over the side.”

At the trial, prosecutors established two motives for the slaying: the desire to marry his lover and the fact that at their last meeting Helen had informed Stees that she had become pregnant.

The evidence was overwhelming and Stees was convicted of “first degree with mercy.” That meant he wouldn’t face the death penalty, but he would have to serve life without the possibility of parole for twenty years.

Stees entered the Ohio Penitentiary on February 14, 1963. He was a model inmate and was eventually transferred to the records office, where he became a clerk. The job had two major benefits for Stees: first, instead of wearing striped prison clothes, he dressed in khakis, much like blue collar workers on the outside; second, the records section was only a few feet from the door that led outside.

On February 18, 1970, almost exactly seven years after entering prison, Stees simply walked out the door and vanished.

Several glitches in prison protocol gave him a head-start. Although Stees was thought to have left the prison in the morning, a head count wasn’t made until late in the afternoon. Once he was reported missing, the Ohio State Police wasn’t notified until three days later. By that time, the trail had run cold.

Where did he go after his escape? Did he have help? Police interrogated Patricia Weathers but found no sign that she had ever contacted Stees after he was arrested for the murder. In fact, she made up with her husband and had lived in Florida since 1963.

The best guess is that Stees had saved some money from his job. (He made a few cents an hour.) On the day he vanished, he may have taken his money, walked out onto Spring Street, a busy thoroughfare, and blended in with construction workers nearby. Had he boarded a Greyhound bus, he could have been anywhere within a few hours.

Athens County Sheriff Harold Shields, who arrested Stees, often transported prisoners to the penitentiary. While there, he spoke with Stees, who helped with the paperwork for the new inmates, on many occasions. Several times Stees spoke of his interest in Australia. Shields always maintained that Stees could have easily caught a bus to Canada, changed his name, and migrated to Australia.

While it was possible that Stees had outside help, prison officials regularly monitored all inmates’ mail and phone calls. They never got an indication that he had any friends on the outside.

For years, Ohio officials and the FBI searched for Stees. The FBI eventually closed their books on him. However, his 1960s-style mug is still shown on the Ohio cold case website.

Is the deadly professor still alive? Or is he lying in some anonymous grave? It’s a mystery that may never be solved.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

DNA Solves South Daytona Cold Case

The hotels along Atlantic Boulevard are packed to the gills during Bike Week, Spring Break, and the Daytona 500 stock car race. At those events, cops have to deal with drunkenness and disorder on a regular basis. But in 1982, investigators had a bigger problem. On September 23, 66-year-old Bernice Allen [pictured] was found inside her home, raped and murdered.

Allen lived at 102 Blue Skies Drive. When she didn’t show up for her regular shift at Signorelli’s Elderly Care Facility, her employer and neighbors checked her home. Peering through a window, they saw her lying on a blood-soaked bed.

Police arrived and found Allen dead. She still had curlers in her hair and her nightgown was pulled up around her neck. Police reported that “a subsequent autopsy revealed that the death was the result of a homicide, caused by a blow to the head with a blunt object.”

A tiny spot of sperm was found on Allen’s bed-sheet, but at the time, DNA was unknown to investigators. The semen was stored in a police evidence room where it sat for nearly twenty-five years, waiting for science to catch up with a killer.

Police had no suspects in Allen’s murder, and the case eventually faded away. Then, in 1996, almost fifteen years later, five elderly women were attacked and sexually assaulted in their homes. Other homes in South Daytona were burglarized and police staked out the neighborhood. Late one night, an officer on patrol saw a man loitering around an elderly woman’s home in nearby Ormond-by-the-Sea. Thomas Morris Franklin, 53, a well-known petty criminal, was arrested.

Evidence revealed that Morris was guilty of the rapes as well as numerous burglaries. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

A few years later, South Daytona investigators sent the DNA sample from Bernice Allen’s old bed-sheet to the Florida State Crime Lab. It matched Thomas Franklin. In 2007, he pled guilty to her murder and was sentenced to a second life term.

While this case was finally solved, Volusia County has dozens of cold cases dating back to the 1970s.

A recent series of unsolved murders made national news. In 2005, Laquetta Gunther was raped and shot to death. In 2006, Julie Green and Iwana Patton suffered the same fate. Stacey Gage was murdered in a similar manner in 2007. Gunther, Green, and Patton were known prostitutes and Gage was a recovering drug addict. DNA linked one perpetrator to all four women.

Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood offered a warning to the killer. “Every night,” Chitwood said, “what I want him to know is [that] we’re one day closer to getting him. Every single night when he lays his head down, he’s gotta be wondering if the SWAT team is coming through the door. ‘Cause I got one thing that’ll never change and that’s his DNA.”

In another unsolved case, police haven’t announced whether they have DNA evidence. On April 26, 1994, 15-year-old DeLand High School student Laralee Spear was abducted and murdered. Spear, a cheerleader and honor student, stepped off her bus on Deerfoot Road and disappeared. She was found hours later, a quarter of a mile from her house. She was nude and her hands had been tied. Spear had been raped and shot in the head.

Jennifer L. Duffy was attacked in her own bed on September 17, 1991. The New Smyrna Beach resident was sleeping when an intruder broke into her home and stabbed her in the chest. Her roommate, asleep on a couch in the living room, awoke to loud screams and was also stabbed. The assailant fled out the front door. Duffy died but her roommate, who was not seriously injured, was able to provide a description of a blond-haired white man with a thin build. The case remains unsolved.

On December 20, 2001, 78-year-old Leigh Abel went missing. An avid fisherman, he was surf-fishing on the National Seashore in New Smyrna Beach. Friends saw him there at about 2:00 in the afternoon. He was never seen again. A year later, Abel’s 1999 GMA Suburban was found a hundred miles away in Boca Raton. Witnesses saw a young white man exit the car but a police sketch has yielded no clues.

So far, the murderers of these victims have gotten away with it. But, like the Thomas Franklin case, sometimes long-cold cases are solved.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Suicide by Court

The crime was unspeakable. Marco Allen Chapman murdered two children, left a third child for dead, and raped and stabbed the mother of the victims. There is no doubt about his guilt. He wants to die for his crimes and may get his wish. Some people call it “suicide by court.” Others call it justice.

At 4:40 a.m., on August 23, 2002, Marco Chapman knocked on the door of the home of Chuck and Carolyn Marksberry. Chuck was away on business. When Carolyn opened the door, Chapman attacked her. Marksberry, the city clerk of Warsaw, Kentucky, had counseled Chapman’s abused girlfriend, advising her to leave him. The ex-con, who had recently been released from prison, wanted revenge.

An article in the Cincinnati Inquirer explains what happened next. “Once inside the house...Mr. Chapman punched Mrs. Marksberry in the stomach, held a knife to her throat and robbed her of $ 120. Then Mr. Chapman took Mrs. Marksberry to the master bedroom where he restrained her with duct tape and a vacuum cleaner cord before sexually assaulting her.”

When Marksberry’s cries brought her daughters, Courtney, 10, Chelbi, 7, and her son, Cody, 6, to her aid, the assailant turned his attentions to them. He stabbed each child numerous times, and ended the attacks by slitting their throats. Chelbi and Cody bled to death at the scene.

Courtney played dead until Chapman left the room. Then she sprinted to a neighbor’s house to get help. When Chapman heard the outside door slam, he fled. After her assailant left, Carolyn was finally able to break free of her restraints. Bleeding, and with her arms still bound, she crawled over her son’s dead body and ran to safety.

A few hours later, police arrested Chapman in West Virginia. He readily admitted his crimes and asked to die.

Courtney had minor wounds, but her mother hovered between life and death for days. “Her wounds were deep,” Sandra Miller, a University of Cincinnati surgeon, said. “[There were] cuts to her neck and trachea. She had a collapsed lung due to a stab wound to the chest, but the lung has re-expanded now...” There was also “eye trauma.”

From the beginning, Chapman has requested execution. "My life has never really been worth much," he said. "It will never be worthy of the children, but I give it freely to them." He pled guilty to the assaults, robbery, and murders and a judge granted him his wish. Chapman has been on death row since 2004.

Chapman isn’t the only murderer to request execution. In fact, experts say about 11% of inmates who have been executed were willing participants in their own deaths.

While those who favor the death penalty call it justice, opponents say the inmates are mentally ill and call their executions “suicide by court.” Chapman, however, denies this. “I guess it’s kind of my Christian upbringing,” he said. “Suicide is unforgivable. I figure if I’m not doing it to myself, it’s not suicide.”

The real victims in this tragedy are the children who had their lives snuffed out and the living victims who must now suffer the nightmares and remember the dead. After Courtney was attacked, she watched in horror as Chapman knifed Cody.

Courtney recalled what happened after Chapman left the room: “I grabbed my brother’s hand and I said, ‘I gotta go get help.’ He said, ‘No, don’t leave me.’ And I said, ‘I’ll be there in a minute. I’ll be back.’”

Carolyn, in an interview with Primetime, said: “I was terrified, absolutely terrified...[Courtney] keeps me busy. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know that I would get up in the morning. She’s my hero.”

The state of Kentucky has set Marco Allen Chapman’s execution date for November 21, 2008.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ninja Killer by Robert A. Waters

On the night of November 20, 1989, Louis Gaskin dressed for murder. He planned to kill and pillage. The would-be assassin put on a black ninja costume to blend in with the night. Ninjas are trained assassins, he later told police in a detailed confession. Gaskin’s dream was to be ninja killer. As he walked out the door of his home, he armed himself with a semi-automatic .22-caliber rifle.

The unsuspecting victims of his dark fantasy lounged in the den of their Palm Coast, Florida home watching television. Robert Sturmfels, 56, had settled into his recliner while his wife Georgette, 55, sat on the sofa. They’d never heard of the career criminal who was about to end their lives.

Gaskin drove aimlessly through the darkness, searching for a target. When he passed 10 Ricker Place, he saw a light shining through a patch of woods. Parking his car beneath a grove of trees, he moved silently toward the house. He stood for long moments in silence, watching, scoping it ninja-style. Then he circled the house. Once, twice, six times. Gaskin fancied himself a warrior moving in for the kill. Looking through the den window, he had a clear shot.

He raised the rifle to his shoulder, aimed, and fired. Robert felt the bullet smash into his chest and came up out of his chair. Gaskin fired again. This time, Robert collapsed onto the floor. It took Georgette a few seconds to realize what was happening. She leaped out of her chair and began running toward the hallway. A bullet took her down. Robert somehow stood again and began to stagger away. A third shot hit him in the back and he fell again.

Georgette, bleeding heavily from a back wound, crawled down the hallway, out of Gaskin’s sight. He circled the house until he came to a set of French doors. There he saw Georgette struggling to get to her feet. He fired once more and she crumpled to the floor.

Gaskin inhaled the cool Florida air. Of all the many crimes he’d committed — burglary, robbery, selling and using drugs, sexually assaulting children — this was the most exciting. He pulled a hunting knife and slashed a window screen at the back of the house. Unlatching the window, he entered. He reloaded his gun, walked over to Robert and shot him in the back of the head. Then he placed the barrel of the rifle against the back of Georgette’s head and blew her brains out.

Gaskin knew that the nearest house was a quarter of a mile away so he relaxed as he gathered up items he could sell: jewelry, VCRs, lamps, a clock, an iron, household appliances. He looked for guns and drugs but found none. He checked Georgette’s purse but found only credit cards. Robert’s wallet contained $ 300 and more cards so he took it. Gaskin placed the items in the victims’ truck. He then drove through the woods to his own car where he transferred his loot.

As he drove away, he left the bodies of two innocent victims inside the silent house.

But Gaskin wasn’t done. He’d spied a second secluded house just down the road. Joseph and Mary Rector had watched the eleven o’clock news and were on their way to bed when they heard a thump outside. Joseph investigated but saw nothing. The noises continued. Court documents state that “after hearing a similar noise for the third time, Rector told his wife to call the sheriff. Mrs. Rector soon discovered that their phone was not working. They took the phone into bedroom where they tried plugging it into another jack without success. As he stood in the dark bedroom, Rector saw his window shade appear to explode. He looked down, saw blood, and realized he had been shot.”

The ninja killer had thrown rocks and logs against the house to get his victims to come into view so he could shoot them.

Robert and Mary rushed out of the house and climbed into their car. Robert needed to get to the hospital. As they screeched out of the driveway, more shots rang out and the Rectors heard bullets thudding into the car. With Mary driving, they were able to reach the hospital and call police.

Detectives arrived at the Rector home. It had been ransacked. As they continued their investigation, a postal carrier noticed a broken window at the Sturmfels home and reported it. There cops found the bodies of Robert and Georgette.

After burglarizing the Rector home, Gaskin drove to Alfonso Golden’s home. He asked his cousin to store the stolen items for him. Golden agreed. Gaskin volunteered that he’d “jacked” the loot and told Golden that the victims are “stiff.” “If you don’t believe it,” Gaskin bragged, “watch the news.”

Golden, who also had a police record, waited a few days but eventually contacted police. Gaskin was arrested and quickly gave a detailed confession. He led authorities to a canal where he’d hidden the credit cards, wallet, and other items.

When asked why he’d done it, Gaskin replied, “God said, ‘No.’ The devil said, ‘Yes’...The devil had more of a hold [on me] than God did.”

Joseph Rector recovered from his wounds.

Louis Bernard Gaskin was tried and convicted of two counts of first degree murder. He was given two death sentences.

He claims to have has found religion. “I think of God,” he said. “I play checkers and read the Bible.”

His victims, Robert and Georgette Sturmfels, have been dead for nearly twenty years.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The South Florida Sod Farm Murders

Charlotte County, situated on the Gulf of Mexico, has one incorporated city: Punta Gorda. Most of the county is rural and many jobs in the area are agricultural. James Dennis “Jimbo” Ford worked at the South Florida Sod Farm in Charlotte County. The 7,000 acre business was located in the most remote region of the county.

Ford was a trackhoe and heavy equipment operator. He fancied himself an outdoorsman and had a campsite on the company’s property. He hunted for wild boar and fished the many lakes and ponds there.

Greg Malnory was a “fuel man” at the farm. His job was to keep all company vehicles gassed up. He and his attractive wife Kimberly had a 22-month-old daughter named Maranda. Malnory and Ford worked closely together and were, if not friends, familiar acquaintances.

On the afternoon of April 5, 1997, Malnory obtained permission from the general manager for him and his wife to go fishing on company property. Later, Ford met up with Greg, Kimberly, and Maranda. At about 1:30, they all drove down to the pond, Ford driving a red pickup and Malnory a blue truck.

When Greg didn’t show up for work the following morning, his employer became concerned. He’d worked for the company for two years and was known for being a dedicated worker. At around ten o’clock, a farm manager noticed his pickup on the dike road above the pond a few hundred yards from the company office. Several employees went to investigate. According to court documents, “they found Kim Malnory lying next to the truck, face down, and Greg Malnory in a field some distance from the truck; both people appeared to be dead. The baby was alive in the truck...the doors to the pickup were open, and the girl had mosquito bites all over her.”

Deputies from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office were called and took the child from the truck. She’d been strapped into a car seat. Maranda was dehydrated, and had welts all over her body from insect bites. She was taken by ambulance to nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital where she eventually made a full recovery. (Maranda was later adopted by relatives.)

Dr. Rosa Robison, assistant medical examiner, arrived and inspected both bodies. She testified that she saw “oval-shaped discolorations on both sides of [Kim’s] thighs” and that the one-piece swim-suit she was wearing “was cut or ripped at the crotch.” Kim had nine “chopping” wounds to the head, as well as a gunshot wound to the upper palate of her mouth. Medical Examiner Dr. Manfred Clark Borges ruled that death occurred due to a combination of the gunshot to the mouth and the “sharp force injuries.” Semen was found inside her body.

Greg had been shot in the back of the head. His throat had been cut and he too had chopping wounds to his head and face. No drugs and no alcohol were detected in either victim.

Farm employees explained to cops that Jimbo Ford had been with the victims the previous afternoon. After leaving the farm, he appeared at a friend’s house wearing bloody clothes. He explained to the friend that the blood was from a hog he’d killed.

Investigators searched his house and truck. In the house, they found a pocket-knife.

Court records established Ford’s guilt. It read: “Ford was seen with the victims in the area of the crime just prior to the killings; Ford was seen in a distracted state with blood on his face, hands, and clothes; he was observed the next day, Monday, with scratches on his body; the rifle stock of a .22-caliber single-shot Remington rifle that belonged to Ford was found in a drainage ditch in the area where Ford’s truck ran out of gas Sunday evening; DNA from human debris found inside an Old Timer’s folding knife recovered from Ford’s bedroom matched Greg Malnory’s DNA type; DNA from a stain in Ford’s truck matched Kim Malnory’s type; DNA from a stain on the seat cover in Ford’s truck matched Kim’s type; DNA from semen found on the shirt Kim was wearing when murdered matched Ford’s type. DNA from vaginal swabs taken from Kim matched Ford’s type.”

At trial, prosecutors laid out the following timeline of events in the murders of Greg and Kim. After they arrived, Greg left his truck and began to walk toward the pond. Ford followed behind and shot him in the back of the head. He then chopped his face and head with an ax-type tool and used his pocket-knife to cut the victim’s throat, severing the jugular vein.

Kim saw the attack and attempted to protect her daughter. But Ford ran back to the truck and assaulted her. He raped Kim, using his knife to cut the crotch of her swimsuit. Defensive wounds showed she fought hard but was overpowered. She was then chopped and stabbed, but still didn’t die. To finish the job, Ford stuck the barrel of his rifle in her mouth and pulled the trigger, finally killing Kim. At some point, it is thought she tried to grab her daughter and run away because her blood was found on Maranda.

Two years later, Ford was tried and convicted of armed sexual battery, aggravated child abuse, and two counts of first degree murder. He was sentenced to death.

Ford’s appeals have all been denied.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


It’s a defense attorney’s worst nightmare when DNA from his client is found on the victim. In this article, I’ll describe four cases in which the so-called genetic fingerprint identified and helped convict murderers. In a future article, I’ll write about some of the many innocent inmates DNA has helped exonerate.

William Morrisette. On July 25, 1980, 47-year-old Dorothy White didn’t show up for work and didn’t call in sick. The Hampton, Virginia woman was always reliable so co-workers drove to her home to check on her. There they found White’s body lying on the kitchen floor. Blood seemed to be everywhere, and she was nude except for her blouse which had been pulled up above her breasts.

Investigators determined that White had been raped and stabbed repeatedly. According to a court document, the fatal injury was “a slash wound across her throat, which totally severed the trachea, the right carotid artery, [and] the jugular vein...” Police technicians extracted semen from White’s body. Cops interviewed hundreds of suspects, but the murder remained unsolved for nineteen years.

Between 1980 and 1999, a new technology came onto the stage. DNA. In 1988, Virginia had used genetic markers left on the bodies of several murder victims to convict a serial killer named Timothy Spencer. The sister-in-law of Dorothy White heard about the so-called Southside Strangler and the miracle DNA that had sent him to death row. She contacted the Hampton Police Department and asked them to take another look at the long-cold case of Dorothy White.

By this time, Virginia had created a databank that contained DNA profiles of all convicted felons in the state. The semen from White’s body was tested and entered into the system. A hit confirmed that William Wilton Morrisette had left the DNA. Morrisette had been an employee of White’s boyfriend and had done yard work for the victim. His DNA was in the databank because he’d been convicted of an “abduction and maiming” and burglary. It is believed that he used an offer to do additional yard work as a ruse to get inside the victim’s home. He was convicted of sexual assault and murder and sentenced to death.

Diego Olmos-Alcade. In the early morning, three nights before Christmas, 1997, Colorado University student Susannah Chase [pictured above] quarreled with her boyfriend. She left his house and began walking to her apartment in Boulder. She never made it. She was abducted, raped, beaten with a baseball bat, and left for dead. Semen was recovered from Chase’s body and the DNA placed in the national registry.

It took ten years, but investigators finally got a cold hit on a serial sex offender named Diego Olmos-Alcade. When he was convicted of abducting and raping a woman in Wyoming, his DNA was submitted to the national databank. Olmos-Alcade had an extensive arrest record for sexual offenses. In addition to spending seven years in a Wyoming prison, he was suspected of sexual assaults in Colorado and New Jersey.

Olmos-Alcade faces the death penalty when he is brought to trial, probably sometime next year.

Gerald Abernathy. On April 10, 1982, Wendy Stark stopped at the Hillandale Shopping Center in Rockville, Maryland. Stark, a former cheerleader and a student at the University of Maryland, planned to shop at Zayre’s department store before continuing to her job as a waitress. She was tall and blonde, just the type of victim Gerald Abernathy was searching for.

Five months earlier, Abernathy had escaped from the Prince William County Jail. He’d spent most of his life in prison for numerous sexual assaults and at least one other murder.

Abernathy kidnapped Stark at gunpoint. He drove her to a secluded area and raped her. At some point, Stark bolted out of the car and ran toward a house. She made it to the front porch and tried to open the door while Abernathy followed behind her. Once Stark reached the porch, he caught up to her and fired four slugs into her body. She died a few hours later.

The case was a mystery from the beginning. The killer had fled and, because it was a random attack, could not be identified.

In 2007, a cold case detective accidentally found a box containing a cotton swab and hair samples from the case. He submitted the evidence to the lab for testing. According to an article in the Washington Post, “investigators linked the genetic fingerprint through a nationwide database to Gerald A. Abernathy, who died of lung cancer last year at age 66 in a North Carolina prison. He had been serving a life sentence for an unrelated kidnapping and murder since 1994.”

While Abernathy escaped justice, Stark’s mother was pleased just to know the name of the killer. “I’m glad he’s dead,” she said, explaining that she wouldn’t have to “hear any terrible details of what happened to her” at a trial.

Robert Rhoades. Rhoades was a sexual predator and serial murderer who was already on California’s death row when a DNA cold hit linked him to the torture murder of 18-year-old Julie Connell. He’d previously been convicted of the kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder of 8-year-old Michael Lyons of Yuba City.

Julie Connell was a studious straight “A” student who attended Arroyo High School in San Leandro. On the afternoon of April 20, 1984, she was abducted from Kennedy Park in Hayward. Five days later, her body was found in an animal corral near Castro Valley. She’d been raped and her wrists tied with green twine. One of her wrists had been slashed as if the killer wanted to “bleed her out.” When that didn’t work, he cut her throat.

The case went cold and was unsolved for fourteen years. In 1998, investigators submitted foreign DNA recovered from Connell’s body to the California databank. It matched the death row inmate. At his trial, the prosecutor said, “[Rhoades] silenced the only witness to these atrocities by slitting her throat – not once, not twice, but three times. The jury took an hour to convict him and he was again sentenced to death.

In addition to Lyons and Connell, Rhoades had been convicted of sexually molesting his 4-year-old stepdaughter and kidnapping and sexually assaulting yet another victim. She survived only because she jumped out of his truck and escaped.

Robert Rhoades is currently on death row at San Quentin.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Unsolved Murder of Alexander Winspeare

The Unsolved Murder of Alexander Winspeare
by Robert A. Waters

Alexander Anthony Winspeare had been a widower for twenty years. On October 26, 1987, the 93-year-old army veteran was found dead inside his small mobile home in Largo, Florida. He’d been murdered. For 21 years, his killer has gone free.

Winspeare spent every day including weekends at a down-home restaurant called the Fireplace. His friend, Walter Francisco, would pick him up and they would eat breakfast together. Then Winspeare hung around, eating lunch and dinner. The lonely man would chat up the waitresses and patrons, occasionally even doing a two-step to the music. Sometimes he fed the birds outside. Other times he would show off his old army medals.

He was well-liked. The owner of the Fireplace, Thomas Spiradakos, said, “[Winspeare] would come in about nine in the morning and stay until four or five in the afternoon. He [felt it was] home here. He was lonesome so we all talked to him.”

At night, Winspeare would have a few beers, then go to bed. His small lonely life flowed to the same beat every day.

On the morning of October 26, 1987, Francisco drove up to the trailer and blew his horn. When Winspeare didn’t answer, his friend went inside and found him dead. Although cops have never released the cause of death, they did acknowledge blunt trauma to the head.

Investigators learned that Winspeare’s trailer had been burglarized five weeks earlier. While the old man slept, an intruder broke in and stole $ 250. Winspeare, fearing retaliation from the burglar, didn’t report it. Cops suspect the burglar may have returned for a second helping of his money. “Maybe [Winspeare] woke up and recognized them,” said Cold Case detective Keith Barton. “I don’t have any reason to think they had any intention of [killing him].”

No real leads were ever developed. A group of teenagers who lived nearby were suspected of committing a series of similar burglaries. But they were never connected to Winspeare’s murder.

Alexander Winspeare was born in England in 1894. He migrated to Michigan in his teens. After serving in the army during World War I, he worked for many years as a machinist for Pontiac Motors. He retired in 1962 and moved to Florida. Four years later, his wife died.

A lonely, gentle man died twenty-one years ago. There has been no justice for him. Alexander Winspeare is the Joker in the Third Edition of Florida’s cold case playing cards. Here’s hoping Detective Barton finds an Ace among the inmates inside Florida’s prisons.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Tamiami Strangler

The southernmost tip of U. S. Highway 41 runs from Tampa, Florida to Naples, then across the Everglades to Miami. Along most of its 250 miles, travelers might catch a glimpse of deer, alligators, snakes, even an occasional Florida panther. It’s a scenic route long known as the Tamiami Trail.

Once Highway 41 reaches Miami, it runs into Little Havana. The road is no longer scenic: it’s flanked by low-rent motels, porno shops, strip joints, abandoned buildings, and desperate souls who sell their bodies for one more high. In the mid-1990s, it was along this street that a monster lurked.

On June 26, 1995, neighbors at a small apartment complex heard a woman screaming and banging the walls inside an apartment. Police were called and quickly broke into the unit. There they found a woman bound with duct tape. She was a prostitute, she admitted, and she’d willingly accompanied a man there for sex. Once inside, her john, identified as Rory Conde, had repeatedly raped her. When he left, she used the opportunity to create such a ruckus that she was rescued.

In the apartment, a detective noticed a green beeper similar to one stolen from a prostitute who’d been murdered. In fact, a series of at least six murders had been linked by DNA to one killer. The press, never at a loss for a phrase, had dubbed him the “Tamiami Strangler.” Conde was taken into custody and held as a possible suspect. After his DNA matched samples taken from the bodies of all six victims, he confessed.

For many years, Conde had been addicted to prostitutes. Even after he married and had two children, he continued indulging his habit. One day, he picked up a girl and brought her home. While there, Conde dressed her in his wife’s lingerie and had sex with her. He filmed the episode and his wife later found it. She immediately left him, taking the children with her.

Instead of blaming himself for the breakup of his marriage, Conde blamed prostitutes.

On September 15, 1994, he picked up a prostitute along the Tamiami Trail in Little Havana. While having oral sex, Conde discovered the prostitute was actually a man. Enraged, he strangled the transvestite, Lazaro Comesana. Court documents described what Conde did after the murder: “Rory explained that he killed Comesana out of his anger about Comesana’s deception and his belief that [his wife] and children had left him because of his use of prostitutes. He described kneeling over Comesana’s body for 10 minutes while he blamed him for the loss of his wife and children. He then made the sign of the cross over Comesana’s body.”

He then redressed the body, placed it in his car, and drove to a middle-class neighborhood. There he dumped the corpse in an area where it would be quickly discovered the following morning.

The same routine would be followed with each victim until Conde was caught.

Detectives recovered DNA from the body of Comesana but had no real clues to follow. When the next victim, Eliza Martinez, was also strangled, redressed, and dumped in a middle-class neighborhood, police suspected a serial killer was on the loose. They retrieved DNA from Martinez and matched it to the same person who had left semen on Lazaro Comesana, confirming their suspicions.

Conde stated that after the first murder, he became paranoid. He thought he would be arrested at any moment and even missed work the next day. Eventually, he convinced himself that police had no evidence. After the murders, his rage would subside but would eventually boil up inside him again until he was ready to explode.

His next victim was Charity Nava. After murdering her, he decided to leave police a message. “Rory decided to write on Nava’s back with black magic marker,” court documents read. “He wrote ‘Third’ because this was his third murder. Under this he wrote: ‘I will call Dwight [a well-known local T. V. news anchorperson] C.H.A.N. 10.’ Under this he wrote ‘See If You Can Catch Me.’ Under this he wrote ‘N y R,’ meaning his mother, Nadia, and him.”

Nava was also dumped in a residential area along the Tamiami Trail. Although Conde never called the television station, by now the local media was agog with its new serial killer. The pathetic prostitutes who’d been murdered were even graced with “sweetheart” stories sympathizing with their plight.

Wanda Crawford was the next victim. She, too, was dumped alongside the Trail. Necole Schneider was next. She was strangled and dumped within a block of Conde’s wife’s house.

His final victim was Rhonda Dunn. She struggled mightily but was overpowered and strangled. While most of his victims were chosen because they happened to be available, Dunn was taken because she was a look-alike for his wife.

Conde’s confessions to the murders put to rest any lingering doubts that he was the killer. His DNA matched all the victims, making his trial a foregone conclusion. The beeper found in his apartment proved to be that of Charity Nava.

Conde was sentenced to death for the murder of Rhonda Dunn and to life in prison for the other murders. He currently resides on Florida’s death row. His appeals have consistently been denied.