Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Unsolved Georgia Murders

Levi's Call, Georgia's equivalent of the Amber Alert, was named for eleven-year-old Levi Frady after he was abducted and murdered

Still in the Shadows
by Robert A. Waters

Two shadows slipped into the upscale East Point, Georgia home after Joe Wood turned off his burglar alarm. It was about seven o’clock on the morning of November 29, 2001 and Joe had gone outside to feed his cats. When he returned, he was met with a burst of pepper-spray. Wood, 71, fought back hard, but was overpowered by two intruders. He was pistol-whipped until he passed out, then the hapless victim was hogtied. As he lay on the floor, drifting in and out of consciousness, he heard his wife Lourine being attacked in the bedroom. The invaders demanded to know where the safe was located. But when informed that there was no safe, they tortured Joe some more. Finally, they left. Joe lay on the floor for two days before cops arrived. He survived the attack, but Lourine was dead. She’d been beaten with antique statues that the couple had in their home. In a bizarre twist, her body was found in the trunk of their car inside the garage. For all the violence and murder, the final take for the home assailants was $ 400 and a ring. Joe died two years later, but police and family members remember him as a man devoted to his disabled wife and to hard work. The case has never been solved, and the killers are still shadows, with no discernible shapes or features.

It’s been 24 years since Chuckie Mauk, 13, was shot to death in the parking lot of Giant Food Store in Warner Robins. He and a friend had ridden their bicycles to the store to buy bubble gum. He was seen talking to a man through a car window. Then there was loud bang and Chuckie slumped to the asphalt. According to cops, he’d been shot in the head and was dead before he hit the pavement. Investigators found the gum he’d bought still clutched in his hand. The shooter sped off and got away with murder. There was never any physical evidence, not even a motive. Some in the community speculated that Chuckie witnessed a drug deal going down, but no one really knows. “I need to know what happened,” said Cathy Miller, the murdered boy’s mother. “He’s the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning, and he’s the last thing I think of every night before I go to bed.”

On the evening of October 22, 1997, eleven-year-old Levi Frady left a friend’s house to ride his bicycle home. He was last seen on Little Mill Road in Forsyth County. The following morning, his bike was discovered by the side of the road. Later that day, Levi’s remains were located by hunters in neighboring Dawson County. He’d been shot in the head. The place where his remains were found was soon to become something of a body dump. It was called the Dawson Forest, and Patrice Endres, a beauty shop owner, was found dead there in 2005. In 2008, Meredith Emerson was abducted and found murdered about a mile from where Levi’s body was discovered. Gary Michael Hilton, 61, was arrested and charged with the murder of Meredith Emerson. Investigators think there is a chance that Hilton kidnapped and murdered both Levi Frady and Patrice Endres. However, there is little evidence in either case and both killings remain unsolved.

Shadow people--killers who walk among us, who have dark secrets and murderous pasts. How long will their bloody deeds go unexposed?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Another Senseless Murder

Thomas Woodel brutally murdered Clifford and Bernice Moody

Snowbird Season
By Robert A. Waters

On December 31, 1996, Clifford Moody, 79, and his wife, Bernice, 74, were murdered in their Polk County, Florida home. The Moody’s were what Floridians call “snowbirds,” or seasonal visitors to the state. They came south in the winter and went back to their home in Kankakee, Illinois for the summer.

The couple owned two mobile homes at Outdoor Resorts of America on Lake Davenport, near Bartow. They lived in a house on Lot # 533 and rented out their second home which was next door.

Clifford Moody was in poor health. He had an enlarged heart, and had recently endured triple by-pass surgery. He’d had a knee replacement and walked with a decided limp. Even with his physical problems, Clifford was active. He loved to fish for bass and spent many hours on the lake. Bernice Moody, on the other hand, was the picture of health. She looked much younger than her age. She loved to garden, and her trailer was brilliant with flora, even in the winter.

On December 30, the weather was picture-perfect for visitors to the Sunshine State, with temperatures in the mid-70s and sunny skies. Clifford and Bernice worked all day on the second trailer they owned, getting it ready for a new renter. They were seen by many of the residents of the trailer park pressure-cleaning and making repairs.

At about 12:45 p.m. on the following day, New Year’s Eve, LaVern O’Connell arrived at the rental unit. He’d arranged to lease the home for three months. He knocked on the door but received no answer. Inching his way in through an unlocked door, O’Connell discovered the bodies of the couple.

Investigators from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office were called. Court documents state that Clifford lay “on the flat of his back in the kitchen/dining room area. His eyeglasses had been knocked off and were lying beside him, about two feet from his head. He was wearing a silver-colored chain with a cross on it, and a watch on his left arm. His underwear and trousers had been pulled down to his knees or ankles.” Clifford had been stabbed eight times. The coroner later ruled that his death was due to loss of blood.

Bernice was lying in the back bedroom. She’d been stabbed 58 times. She’d also been attacked with the lid of a toilet. It had broken into several pieces as she was slammed in the head with it. Bernice had defensive injuries and died, like her husband, due to loss of blood.

Deputies interviewed almost everyone at Outdoor Resorts, but got no real leads. Then they decided to check out the dumpsters in the park. “Among the items found,” stated one court document, “were Pizza Hut boxes, pieces of [a] porcelain toilet tank lid, a wallet containing identification and credit cards belonging to Clifford Moody, keys with a tag that said ‘Cliff’s keys,’ glasses, bloody socks, paperwork with the address of Lot 301, and paperwork bearing the name of...Thomas Woodel.”

Not surprisingly, Thomas Woodel lived in a trailer on Lot # 301.
His sister, Bobbi, owned the trailer and let Woodel live with her. They both worked at a nearby Pizza Hut.

Tommy Woodel had a difficult childhood. “Albert Davis, Thomas Woodel’s father, was deaf,” one document read. “He used to drink heavily, but stopped drinking so much 20 years ago. Thomas Woodel’s mother, Jackie, was also hard of hearing [and] drank a lot. She would go out and drink, and not return until late at night when the children were in bed; as a result, they never really got to talk with their mother. Jackie was an unfit mother, and Albert Woodel sometimes had to assume the roles of both mother and father. He and Jackie would get into fist fights after he found her in a bar. The kids would sometimes go and hide when their parents were fighting.”

The home was unstable, with many moves, and for a time, Thomas and Bobbi lived in a children’s home. Other times they lived with relatives. When Tommy was eight, his father moved out, causing more chaos. At eighteen, Woodel enlisted in the Navy but was dishonorably discharged after going AWOL. Tommy was a hard worker, but also an alcoholic. He was easy-going and his co-workers at Pizza Hut were astonished when they found out that he had murdered two people. His sister Bobbi said, “[Tommy’s] a very nice, loving person that gets misunderstood a lot because he has a hard time communicating. But violence doesn’t even come close to being anything near his personality.”

Unfortunately, the evidence for the brutal murders of two innocent people lay directly at the feet of Thomas Woodel. When he was interviewed, he quickly confessed, although he tried to make the murders seem like self-defense. After working at Pizza Hut on New Year’s Eve night, Woodel got off at around eleven o’clock that night. He drank several beers and started walking home. He said he saw Bernice Moody (whom he did not know) cleaning a window and asked her what time it was. According to his statement, she pulled out a knife and said, “You need to leave or I’m going to cut you.” He said he pushed her down but she got up and came at him with the knife. As he struggled with her, she “poked” herself.

He took the knife from her, he said, and held it out in a defensive posture. She tried to attack him again, but “ran into the knife.” She fell, then got up and attacked him again. The process was repeated over and over, Woodel said, with Bernice running into the knife several more times. She continued to struggle and Woodel took the lid of the toilet and struck her to subdue her. As they fought, they ended up in one of the bedrooms and both fell on the bed where Woodel cut Bernice’s throat.

It was one of the most unlikely stories the detectives had ever heard. Woodel then continued his account. At some point, he said, Clifford Moody heard the commotion and came to his wife’s aid. With his physical condition, he was no match for Woodel, and was stabbed to death. A court document read: “As Woodel was preparing to leave the trailer, he thought he would take Clifford Moody’s wallet. He could not get the wallet out of Moody’s pants, so he lowered the pants to the ankles in order to get it out.”

The crime seemed senseless, as so many do.

Woodel had served a prison sentence in Michigan for auto theft. He’d been released in April, and moved to Florida to live with his sister. She'd helped him get a job at Pizza Hut as a cook.

Woodel was tried and convicted of the first degree murder of both Clifford and Bernice Woodel. Jurors didn’t buy his “self-defense” version of the events and sentenced him to death.

Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace acknowledged that Woodel had a difficult childhood. Then he added, “But what does that have to do with what he chose to do? It has nothing to do with what he chose to do. He was not lashing out at the people who harmed him.”

Woodel’s appeals are running out and he could be executed in the near future.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Murder of Christine Jessop

DNA Exoneration--Guy Paul Morin
by Robert A. Waters

DNA has been the gateway to freedom for many inmates--too many for Americans to have much faith in their judicial system. In Canada, DNA has also been used to clear inmates. The murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop and the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin was one of the first cases in Canada in which DNA proved the innocence of an alleged killer. This is a dark tale of kidnapping, rape and murder, and an even darker tale of cops and prosecutors framing a completely innocent man. The saddest thing about this case is that for more than 25 years, a child-killer has walked free.

On October 3, 1984, at about 3:50 p.m., Christine Jessop, a pretty nine-year-old, got off her school bus, picked up her family's mail, and bounded into her home. No one was there--her father was at work and her mother was running errands. Sometime between 4:00 and 4:30, Christine walked into a nearby convenience store and bought a pack of bubble gum.

The Queensville, Ontario schoolgirl was never seen alive again, except by her killer.

When Janet and Kenneth Jessop returned home at about 4:10, they saw Christine’s book bag on a kitchen counter, as well as the mail and a newspaper. Unable to find Christine, they called her friends and searched the neighborhood and a nearby park. No one had seen her. Sometime between seven and eight o’clock, Janet called police.

Christine was a “normal little girl,” Janet told investigators. She liked sports, especially baseball. She could be a tomboy, but she also had a sensitive side. She loved her dog, Freckles, and other animals. Christine was four feet nine inches tall, and “weighed about 40 pounds soaking wet.” She attended Queensville Public School and was in the fourth grade. Her mother told police that Christine had no reason to run away.

Within minutes of being contacted, York Regional Police began a search of the area. After interviewing neighbors, cops began to turn their attention to the Jessop’s next door neighbor. Guy Paul Morin, 23, was weird, neighbors said. He lived with his mother and father and worked at Interiors International Limited, a local furniture store. He played saxophone and clarinet in a band. A beekeeper, he kept beehives in his back yard, another “oddity,” according to neighbors.

Morin had little contact with his peers. He worked, played music with his band, and stayed home. He didn’t go to pubs and drink, spending most of his time indulging in his hobbies. He also had a girlfriend. Even though he’d never been in any trouble with police, detectives thought the neighbor fit the profile of a child-killer.

When Morin’s mother was interviewed, investigators later testified that they found his actions “strange.” Detectives said that during the session he “stared straight ahead” and never spoke. His so-called suspicious behavior caused cops to further focus on Morin as their one and only suspect.

The furniture maker, however, had an alibi.

According to a later investigation into the wrongful conviction of Morin, the court wrote: “On October 3, 1984, Guy Paul Morin was at his place of employment at IIL. His time card confirmed that he left work that day at 3:32 p.m. He testified that he drove the family Honda north in the direction of his home. He stopped at the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket on the way and purchased a lottery ticket from Susan Scott at the Infoplace Ticket Centre. He bought groceries at the Dominion Store. He may then have filled up his gas tank at a nearby gas station. He continued to shop at Loblaws and then at Mr. Grocers. He then drove north on Leslie Street, arriving home, he swore, between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. As he walked towards his house, his brother-in-law was leaving. They spoke briefly. Guy Paul Morin's parents and his sister, Yvette, were at home. He carried the groceries into the kitchen and then, he said, he napped until approximately 6:30 p.m. He had supper with his parents after which he worked with his father outside the house into the evening, using trilights as makeshift floodlights. At his second trial, the prosecution alleged that this alibi evidence was false and that the alibi put forward by Guy Paul Morin and his family had been concocted. (At the first trial, the prosecution contended that Guy Paul’s family [was] mistaken in their support of his alibi.)”

During the initial search for Christine, a police dog “hit” on the Morin’s car. A search of the vehicle turned up fibers that the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences later said belonged to Christine.

On December 31, 1984, Christine’s body was found in a field near Sunderland.

According to court documents, “Christine Jessop's body was on its back and her legs were spread apart in an unnatural position, with her knees spread outward. She was wearing a beige turtleneck sweater, a blue pullover sweater, a blouse from which some buttons were missing and a pair of white socks with blue stripes. Subsequently, it was determined she was in fact wearing two pairs of socks. Her panties were found at her right foot. Blue corduroy pants with a belt and a pair of Nike running shoes were found just south of her feet.”

An autopsy report revealed that Christine had been killed by multiple stab wounds to the upper body. Semen was found on her panties, but in 1984, DNA testing was still just a gleam in the eye of genetic biologists. There was no way to identify who the semen came from. Fortunately for Morin, the panties were stored in an evidence locker.

Since the child’s remains had been found in their district, the Durham Regional Police Service took over the lead in the case. Investigators met with the York Regional Police and were told to question Guy Paul Morin.

After further interviews, in which Morin continued to proclaim his innocence, he was arrested and charged with the murder of Christine Jessop.

The first trial took place in January, 1986. The prosecution’s theory was that Morin was an oddball who snapped on the day of the kidnapping. He raped and murdered Christine and then took her body several miles away to dispose of it. A technician from the Ontario Centre of Forensic Sciences testified that red fibers found in Morin’s car came from a sweater worn by Christine. This, the prosecution claimed, “linked” Morin to the murdered child. In addition, two jailhouse snitches, including one identified only as “Mr. X,” testified that while Morin was waiting in jail for his trial, he confessed to killing the girl.

On February 7, with little evidence against the suspect, he was acquitted by the jury.

That should have ended the case, but it didn’t. In Canada, the prosecution can appeal for a new trial if an accused person is acquitted. The prosecution did just that and won.

If a jury trial is a gamble, then Morin drew a dead man’s hand on his second trial. On July 23, 1992, he was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The same jailhouse snitches, including the infamous “Mr. X,” were viewed more favorably by this jury. But it was said that scientists from the Quebec Centre of Forensic Sciences carried the day when they swore that fibers in Morin’s car matched fibers from a sweater worn by Christine and that a single hair on a necklace the child wore matched that of Morin.

Guy Paul Morin entered the prison as a child-killer. He was abused and raped by other inmates, even as his defense attorneys worked to get him a third trial.

An article from the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys summarized what happened next. “While Morin's appeal was pending before the Ontario Court of Appeal,” it read, “a forensic DNA test [on the semen] unavailable to either party during the first two trials eliminated Morin as the perpetrator. On January 23, 1995, Guy Paul Morin's appeal of his conviction for murder was allowed based on the DNA report, his conviction was set aside, and a directed verdict of acquittal was entered.”

Morin was set free and was eventually awarded nearly $ 1.5 million dollars. An inquest to determine what went wrong was devastating to the Canadian criminal justice system. Testimony revealed that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence. Technicians in the forensic lab contaminated the samples presented to them and withheld that information from the defense. The prosecution was aware of the problems in the lab, but illegally chose not to reveal them to the defense. “Mr. X” and the second jailhouse snitch were coached by prosecutors and their sentences cut short for testifying against Morin. In the hearing, it became clear that cops and prosecutors zeroed in on Morin to the exclusion of all evidence, including an airtight alibi that would have cleared him.

An article in The Canadian Encyclopedia illustrates how hard cops worked to convict Morin. “Some of the most dramatic moments in the Morin inquiry came,” the article read, “when Janet and Ken Jessop alleged that two veteran Durham regional police detectives, Bernie Fitzpatrick and John Shephard, convinced them to alter their original versions of events. The Jessops originally told the detectives that they arrived home at 4:10 p.m...But Morin could not have made it home from work before 4:14. In order to convince the court that he had enough time to kidnap and murder Christine, the Jessops changed their story to say they arrived home at 4:35.”

Ken Jessop tearfully apologized to Morin, as did many of those involved in the case.

Christine Jessop’s murderer is still unknown.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Animal attacks on humans

Animals wild and tame
by Robert A. Waters

Wild animals don’t abide by the rules of man. Instead, they live by the law of the jungle: kill or be killed. Even pets and creatures in captivity can have killer instincts. The much-publicized chimpanzee attack that left Charla Nash blinded and mutilated is a grim reminder of this unalterable fact. While more animals are killed by man than vice versa, it is still true that lions, tigers, snakes, and bears attack thousands of humans each year, particularly in so-called Third World countries. In the water, alligators, crocodiles, sharks, and other creatures take a similar toll on humans. Even in our civilized domiciles, we’re never quite safe from predators--human or animal.

Less than a week ago, a mountain lion entered the home of Michelle Bese in Chaffee County, Colorado. The lion came inside through a doggy door while chasing one of Bese’s five dogs. The other four dogs attacked the young lion. The fight between the dogs and the lion raged for several minutes as Michele and her five-year-old son hid in a bedroom. After responding to a 911 call, deputies who entered the home found a bloodbath. One dog had been killed, and two blinded by the lion. After officers shot the creature, investigators from the Colorado Department of Wildlife said the young lion weighed about 40 pounds, much less than he should have weighed. A newspaper report stated that humans are moving into wildlife habitat and that encounters are becoming more common.

In August, 2009, again in Colorado, Donna Munson, 74, was killed and partially eaten by a 450-pound bear. Munson, who lived in a remote area of the wilderness, took joy in feeding bears. In fact, she built a fence around her porch so she could hand food out to them without getting too close. On August 7, she was attempting to feed a small bear that had been injured. As she fed the young cub, a much larger bear appeared. Munson, who was on the phone to her son, told him she was going to use a broom to drive the large bear away. According to an article in the Denver News, “Sheriff's investigators said that the bear ‘clubbed’ her through the wire fence that she had built around her porch, rendering her unconscious. It then grabbed her, pulled her underneath the fence to the back yard and then slashed her to death.” Forestry officials said they had warned Munson time and again about feeding the bears.

In Lee County, South Carolina, a woman was mauled by a pit bull. Ethel Mae Horton rushed from the house to help her husband who had first been attacked. During the confrontation, she died of a heart attack. Newspaper articles said the couple was trying to feed several dogs in their back yard when the pit bull named Brutus attacked.

And who can forget this attack at one of Florida’s most popular tourist spots?

“A whale trainer at SeaWorld died from ‘multiple traumatic injuries and drowning’ after a 12,000-pound killer whale grabbed her ponytail and pulled her underwater in front of shocked onlookers at Shamu Stadium,” the Orange County Sheriff's Office said. The headlines were everywhere--Dawn Brancheau, 40, the whale’s trainer, was mangled by the Orca. It turns out that Tilikum, the 22-foot-long whale, had killed twice before. Authorities say they don’t know whether the whale was attempting to play or whether it launched a full-fledged attack. One tourist said that the whale seemed upset. Officials will not euthanize the whale. According to friends and family, Brancheau, who had worked as a park trainer for 13 years, would not want her killer put to death.

Killer bees. Deadly frogs. Scorpions that have more venom than a rattlesnake. Snails with enough toxin to kill in minutes. These are just a few of the less well-known killers. They are more numerous in some parts of the world than lions, tigers, and other animals that attack. They all take a deadly toll each year.