Saturday, January 28, 2012

No Miracles Yet

The Sofia Juarez Case
by Robert A. Waters

It’s been nine years since four-year-old Sofia Juarez disappeared from her Kennewick, Washington home. Clues have been few and far between.

Sofia, who would have turned five the following day, lived in a small bungalow with her mother, Maria, her stepfather, four brothers, and two sisters. At about 9:30 p.m., on February 4, 2003, Sofia vanished. Maria told authorities that Sofia wanted to go to a nearby store with her grandmother’s boyfriend, Jose Torres. He had already left the house, but Maria gave her daughter a dollar and the child ran outside to catch up with him. Her ten-year-old brother said he saw her walking down the driveway with a man dressed in dark clothing. Sofia was never seen again.

Torres returned to the house 45 minutes later and claimed he hadn’t seen her.

Police swarmed the neighborhood, searching homes and questioning those who lived nearby. The Kennewick Police Department issued an Amber Alert while divers scoured rivers, streams, and ponds in the area. A National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging sensors hovered over woooded lots and nearby forests, without success. Three weeks after Sofia vanished, the national crime-fighting show, “America’s Most Wanted,” publicized the case.

As the days and weeks wore on with no clues, other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, became involved. Searches in Mexico, where Sofia had relatives, turned up nothing. One rumor persisted for years: Sofia had been struck by a car, then taken to a remote area and buried. No evidence was found to substantiate the story.

In 2009, Maria died of an unknown illness, never knowing what happened to her daughter.

Even years after the disappearance, authorities never felt like they knew exactly what occurred that evening. Kennewick Police Detective Craig Hanson said, “It's been very frustrating. One, we don't know originally what happened to Sofia. We've had various accounts coming through the...years of what's happened to her. They've ranged from familial abductions to stranger abductions and so on."

On the night she vanished, Sofia wore blue overalls, a red shirt, violet socks, and white Converse shoes. She also had on gold hoop earrings.

Police reported that they've eliminated all family members as suspects. Investigators also cleared Jose Torres.

What happened to Sofia? Unless some stranger randomly appeared and took her, the answer must lie within the family or neighborhood. My guess is that someone who lived nearby has the answer.

There are few miracles like that of Elizabeth Smart of Shawn Hornbeck, but here's hoping for one in this case.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pictures from Life’s Other Side

Luke the Drifter
by Robert A. Waters

On a bone-freezing night somewhere between Tennessee and West Virginia, the soul of Luke the Drifter passed into eternity. It was 1952. The South was still rural, American boys were dying in a little-known place named Korea, and country music was still country.

Luke the Drifter was the “Dr. Jekyll” side of a musician named Hank Williams: kind; generous; spiritual; a man of honor. On the other hand, Hank was an adulterous, addicted, and profligate “Mr. Hyde.”

Luke the Drifter liked to spin morality tales in songs and poems.

“Be Careful of Stones That You Throw” told the story of a town gossip and the neighbor girl who drank too much. “She knows not to speak to my child or to me,” the gossip tells a friend. Then, as the child plays in the street, a speeding car bears down on her. Suddenly, the neighbor girl pushes the child out of the way and is killed by the car.

The child was unhurt and my neighbor cried out,
"Oh, who was that brave girl so sweet?"
I covered the crushed, broken body and said,
"It’s that bad girl who lives down the street."

Okay, it’s kinda hokey, but I love it. It’s a morality tale straight out of the Bible, stuff you won’t get in today’s pseudo-country music, much less any other music. Stuff we need to hear in today’s world.

Luke the Drifter recorded thirteen of these tales. My favorite is “Pictures from Life’s Other Side.” This recording of the song describes four sad vignettes, including a rare verse about the war in Korea. The original recording didn’t have that verse--this version of the song was made during a radio broadcast, most likely just a few months before Hank's death.

(I might add that Hank ain’t for everybody. Neither is this song. But if you like good no-compromise hillbilly tear-jerkers, you might give it a shot.)

Pictures from Life’s Other Side

In the world's mighty galleries of pictures
Hang the scenes that are painted from life.
There’s pictures of love and of passion,
There’s pictures of peace and of strife.
There’s pictures of youth and of beauty,
Of old age and the blushing young bride.
They all hang on the wall, but the saddest of all
Are the pictures from life's other side.

There’s pictures from life's other side
Someone has fell by the way.
A life has gone out with the tide
That might have been happy someday.
There’s a poor old mother at home
Just watching and waiting alone,
Longing to hear from her loved one so dear.
That’s a picture from life's other side.

The first scene is that of a gambler
Who had lost all his money at play.
Drew his dead mother's ring from his finger,
Yes, the one she wore on her wedding day.
It's his last earthly treasure, but he stakes it,
Then he bows his head his shame he may hide.
But when they lifted his head, they found he was dead.
Another picture from life's other side.

Now the next scene is that of two brothers
Whose paths in life differently led.
For one was in luxury living,
But the other brother begged for his bread.
Then one night they met on the highway.
“Your money or life,” the thief cried.
And then with his knife took his own brother's life.
That’s a picture from life's other side.

Now the last scene is that by the river
Of a heart-broken mother and babe.
The harbor lights shine and they shiver
On an outcast whom no one will save.
And yet she was once a true woman,
She was somebody's darlin' and pride.
God help her, she leaps for there's no one to weep,
It’s just a picture from life's other side.

There’s a new scene now in Korea
Of a boy with a gun in the snow.
In a foxhole frozen and homesick,
He’s fighting for us, don’t you know?
He’s lonesome and weary and frightened,
His life may go out with the tide.
But pray God he’ll return
To the loved ones who yearn,
It’s just a picture from life’s other side.

Luke the Drifter knew about life’s other side. He’d lived on the raw edge, and fallen off many times. He’d felt pain, desolation, and desperate hardship with no hope. Except for God.

Near the end of his life, Hank stopped by a church in Louisiana, walked into the empty building, and prayed that God would save his sin-filled soul. He knew he was dying. His body, racked by agony and weighing barely 100 pounds, couldn’t tolerate life anymore. Within days he lay half-frozen in the back of his Cadillac.

On that cold night, as he motored down the Lost Highway between Tennessee and West Virginia, Luke the Drifter flew away from the pain and into clouds of glory.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chain Killer

The 3-X Madman
by Robert A. Waters

In 1948, the phrase “serial killer” had yet to be invented, so writers used many different terms to describe the Ted Bundys, Jeffrey Dahmers, and John Wayne Gacys of the day.

An Associated Press article described a “chain killer.” He was a “non-professional who kills more than once [and] usually is demented. That, investigators agree, makes him the hardest type of criminal to catch. He kills without apparent motive, or with a motive obscured by the distortions of his own mind. His trail can lead anywhere.”

The article recalled an old unsolved case as an example of the chain killer.

On June 12, 1930, a man and woman sat parked in a Queens, New York lover’s lane. The blazing heat of the summer was matched only by the passion of Joseph Mozynski and Catherine May. Suddenly, a stranger came out of the shadows and stepped up to the car window on the driver’s side. May heard a popping sound and watched in horror as her boyfriend slumped over in the seat, dead. He’d been shot in the head.

May was jerked from the car and raped. Then the madman escorted the traumatized girl to a bus stop and helped her board a trolley.

Newspapers reported that investigators “are seeking a shabbily dressed man of about 40, five feet, six inches tall, who talks like a cultured man, but with a foreign accent, and stares at his victims with the cold, unblinking stare that betrays a deranged mind.” The surviving victim stated that he wore a black suit, bow-tie, and black fedora.

Cops considered the story so bizarre they didn’t believe it. Catherine May was arrested and held as a material witness in Mozynski’s murder. Investigators believed she had set up the murder with a former boyfriend.

Four days later, on June 16, a second bloody killing eliminated any doubt. At another isolated lover’s lane, or “trysting spot,” Noel Sowley sat in a car with Elizabeth Ring, described as policeman’s daughter. Once again a man appeared at the window. He shouted, “You’ll get it like the other fellow.” With that, he fired two shots, killing Sowley. The killer then placed a newspaper on the victim’s body and rummaged through his pockets. Cops later discovered the newspaper contained articles about the Mozynski murder.

Ring told investigators the madman yanked her from the car and began to rape her. Thinking quickly, she held a “religious medallion” in front of her attacker’s face. As suddenly as he'd begun, he ended his attack. The killer then escorted Ring to a nearby bus stop.

By now, even the dullest of investigators realized that Catherine May had not been lying. The innocent girl was released.

In the meantime, a series of strange letters began arriving at police headquarters. All were signed “3-X.” The writer took credit for both murders. He claimed to be a member of a foreign faction sent to assassinate Mozynski and his friends. He threatened to kill 14 more people. The letters were filled with strange crytograms and symbols containing threats and weird ramblings.

For instance, one missive stated: “I am the agent of a secret international order. The papers must be returned to us at once.” Another stated: “Kindly print this letter in your paper for Mozynski's friends: CC-NY ADCM-Y16a- DQR-PA...241 PM6 Queens. By doing this you may save their lives. We do not want any more shooting unless we have to.” Because the writer provided details unknown to the public, investigators declared that the letters were definitely from the killer.

Police conducted what was at the time the largest manhunt in New York history as they searched for a Son of Sam-type killer. Although several crackpots confessed, no real suspects emerged. In the teeming millions of New York, police seemed to be chasing a phantom.

Two weeks later, a final missive arrived at police headquarters. The 3-X killer stated that his mission had been accomplished. He would never be heard from again, he said.

No other letters were ever received and the killer was never caught.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Trunk Murder in Detroit

The murderous trap drummer
by Robert A. Waters

On the afternoon of September 20, 1934, ten-year-old Lillian Gallaher left her tenement home in Detroit to sell tickets to a school benefit. Several neighbors said they saw her walking door-to-door with her tickets. Then she vanished.

Police mounted a search the likes of which the city had never seen. For seven days, more than ten thousand cops, volunteers, and boy scouts searched for the child while her parents endured the sleeplessness of the lost.

As soon as local media announced that the child was missing, leads began pouring in. A man was said to have been “chasing little girls” near Lillian’s apartment, but investigators found no one who matched his description. After a bloody handkerchief and looped wire were found near Lillian’s home, detectives scoured the area for further clues. None were found. Cops later determined that the handkerchief and wire were unrelated to the case.

Mayor Frank Couzens implored every family in the city to explore their property for Lillian or clues to her disappearance. He ordered city workers to check all vacant lots and yards in their territory as they made their rounds. Tailors and laundry workers were asked to call police if blood-soaked clothing or shoes were brought in.

The Ludington Daily News reported that “public interest in the case has reached such a degree police have been assigned to the Gallaher home to hold back the crowds of curious constantly gathering there.”

Although her father, Frank Gallaher, worked as a laborer for a lumber company, the family’s financial situation was dire. He had no money for a ransom, the father said. Police suspected something far more sinister, that his daughter been kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Mrs. Gallaher, bed-ridden, could not bear the emotional strain of knowing her daughter might be in the hands of a kidnapper.

Finally, a week after she went missing, Lillian’s little body was found. It would have been her eleventh birthday.

Clyde Burgess, a janitor at an apartment complex six blocks from Lillian’s home, made the discovery as he cleaned a vacant apartment. The child’s body lay stuffed inside a trunk, strangled and "criminally attacked." Her hands and feet had been bound and a towel tied across her mouth as a gag.

The former tenants of the fourth floor apartment were identified as Merton Ward Goodrich, and his wife, Florence. Newspaper accounts revealed that police believed Lillian “knocked on the door of a degenerate who had induced her to come inside, then had attacked and killed her.”

In the room, investigators discovered a drum set and a grand piano. Flyers distributed by police stated that Goodrich had been employed as a musician in “cheap clubs and beer-gardens.”

As the hunt for the killer intensified, detectives searching the apartment discovered an assortment of obscene pictures. One official told reporters that "there is no doubt that whoever committed this hideous crime had been going over its details for a long time and probably had been lying in wait for some victim suited to his purpose to fall into his hands." A search of the room also revealed newspaper clippings describing the police search for Lillian.

Police quickly learned that Goodrich had escaped a few months before from Lima (Ohio) State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He'd been committed in 1931 after attacking another little girl. In fact, over the years he’d been committed and released three times.

Mrs. Ethel Goodrich, mother of the suspect, claimed that her son had been “mentally deficient” since childhood. She stated that on each occasion she had opposed his release. Doctors at the hospital refused to publicize what condition he was being treated for.

The Sandusky Register wrote that “the warrant [for Goodrich’s arrest] accused the 26-year-old trap drummer of strangling and beating to death the unsuccessful little salesgirl whose futile efforts to sell chances on a punchboard for her school brought her to the door of the Goodrich apartment last Thursday afternoon, with only one sale to show for five hours of pitiful endeavor.”

Because Lillian's parents had no money, police took up a collection to provide a “fitting” burial for the girl. She was interred in a local Catholic cemetery.

For ten months, cops chased a ghost. Then, on July 2, 1935, the Associated Press announced that the fugitive had been caught: “Goodrich, sallow and weasel-faced, was arrested for indecent actions as he watched children playing in the wading pool behind the Central Park zoo” in New York. His wife, Florence, was also arrested.

Goodrich quickly confessed to murdering Lillian and hiding her body. In his statement, he said he lied to his wife about an altercation he'd had with the piano player in the orchestra he played with. "This fellow has been chiseling [me]," Goodrich said. "I told my wife that we got into a fight and I showed her bloodstains on the piano in the apartment and told her I didn't know how badly he was hurt.

"We had about $10 and I persuaded her to leave Detroit at once with me for Pontiac, Michigan, by bus. Then we went to Port Huron, hitchhiking. Then we went to Kincardine, Ontario, and from there to Montreal. We crossed the border again and went to the White Mountains in Vermont working in summer resorts and on farms along the way. We next came down to Boston and Hartford and arrived in New York in January."

On July 19, Goodrich pled guilty to murder. Since Michigan had no death penalty, he was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor.

His wife, Florence, was charged as an accessory after the fact and held without bond for ten months. A judge finally released her, ruling that a wife couldn’t be "charged as an accessory against her husband."

Lillian Gallaher was quickly forgotten. The child's pathetic story now lies buried in the dank archives of several Michigan newspapers, testimony to the fact that child predators have always walked among us.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Self Defense Files 4

Sarah McKinley
A Tale of Two Dispatchers
by Robert A. Waters

On New Years’ Eve, Sarah McKinley, 18, called 911 to report someone trying to break into her home. She waited 21 minutes for cops to arrive. By that time, Justin Shane Martin had forced his way through a locked door and pushed away a sofa McKinley had placed there as a barricade. The teen then shot the intruder.

Here’s part of the conversation between the dispatcher and the would-be victim:

SARAH MCKINLEY: There’s a guy at my door. I’ve got some dogs that keep coming up missing. This guy’s up to no good. My husband just passed away. I’m here by myself with my infant baby. Can I please get a dispatch out here immediately?

DISPATCHER: Hang with me a second. Are your doors locked?

SARAH MCKINLEY: Yes, I’ve got two guns in my hands. Is it okay to shoot him if he comes in this door?

DISPATCHER: Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself. I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you do what you have to do to protect your baby...

Martin died at the scene, a hunting knife still clutched in his hand.

Under Oklahoma's Castle Doctrine law, McKinley will not be charged.

Two days earlier, in Henderson, North Carolina, a 14-year-old boy was home with his 17-year-old sister when a gang of four men forced their way inside. While his sister hid in a closet, the teen (never identified by police) also used a shotgun to kill one of the men.

Here’s a portion of the 911 call he made.

TEEN: I just shot the man. He came around the corner. I shot him. He broke the whole glass out [of the back door]...I don’t know how many it was. Just one came around the corner. I got one more [shell] in the chamber. I’m going to shoot again.

DISPATCHER: Do not, while I’m on the phone, do not fire that firearm. OK?

TEEN: What if another one comes in the house, ma’am?

Michael Anthony Henderson, shot by the teen, died in the backyard of the home he'd invaded. Three other members of the gang fled. They’ve all been arrested. The teen, protected under North Carolina’s Castle Doctrine law, will not be charged.

It is irresponsible for a dispatcher to tell the victim of a home invasion that he can’t protect himself. If that's the policy of the Henderson Police Department, they need to change it.

On the other hand, the Oklahoma dispatcher told McKinley to "do what you have to do to protect your baby." That helped give the mother the courage to defend herself and her child.

In any case, the victims got it right. There are now two less thugs to prey on others, and several more who’ll be spending time in prison.

Police rarely stop crimes, they merely mop up crime scenes.

What would have happened if these victims hadn’t been armed?

Michael Anthony Henderson

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doomsday Again

Countdown to Apocalypse
by Robert A. Waters

Forget Hale-Bopp. Forget Y2K. Forget Harold Camping’s failed prophecies. Those were just minor blips on the doomsday radar. Here comes the real thing, so the story goes, a confluence of events that on December 21, 2012, will destroy the earth.

Armageddon may be caused by galactic alignment, or magnetic pole reversal, or a near-collision with Planet X, even a black hole alignment deep in outer space--any or all these events may kill our planet or wound it so severely that it becomes uninhabitable.

Doomsday 2012 was foretold by Mayan priests who, when they weren’t sacrificing their own children to the gods, spent their time interpreting the movements of the planets and stars.

So, faced with almost certain extinction, what can we do to save ourselves?

Peter Gersten says that at 11:11 a.m., the exact moment of doom, he plans to jump off Bell Rock, a cliff in Arizona. Before he hits the ground, he's convinced a cosmic portal will open and he’ll be freed from earth's imprisoning time-loop.

Others are building secret, unshakeable compounds stocked with enough food to last for decades. Many of the rich and famous are said to have bought in.

Some people are moving away from the coast, or from known fault lines, or volcanic regions. Others are fleeing over-populated cities on the assumption that after Armageddon, survivors, if there are any, will riot, rob, and murder in an outburst of chaos unseen in history.

People are learning to farm, hunt, trap, fish, and prepare for an agrarian society.

What am I going to do on December 21, 2011? I think I’ll turn on George Noory’s “Coast to Coast” early-morning radio show and listen to the hype. Then I might eat breakfast, take a nap, and ask my wife to get me up before 11:11 a.m. (I want to watch the news to see if Gersten actually jumps and is transported to another dimension.)

Later that evening, we’ll drive over to the coast and maybe dine at some fancy restaurant in Daytona Beach. To celebrate the fact that Planet Earth has withstood yet another doomsday.

On the way home, I’ll ask my wife when the next apocalyptic prophecy will occur.

They’re so much fun!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Random Murder in South Carolina

Hope Melton

Daylight attack leaves innocent woman dead
by Robert A. Waters

On December 27, 2011, thirty-year-old Hope Melton’s life chugged along like always. She worked as manager of “T & T Country Store” in McBee, South Carolina. Twelve years before, she’d begun as a clerk, then worked her way up.

In the early afternoon, she planned to visit her grandmother in rural Chesterfield County. Along the way, Hope stopped at Jack’s convenience store, pumped ten dollars worth of gas, and headed inside to pay for it. A man, later identified as Nikolas Miller, watched her from the doorway. As Hope walked back out the door to return to her white Chevy sedan, he got into his SUV, drove to a corner of the parking lot, and waited. When she drove off, Miller pulled out behind her.

Frankie Melton, Hope’s brother-in-law, described what happened next: “[Miller] got right up on her back bumper and she, at that point, called her grandmother and said that someone was following her and it was a black man from the store, [someone] that she had seen at the store. Her grandmother told her not to stop for anything and come straight on to her house and...that's the last they heard from her.”

A few minutes later, after Hope didn’t show up, family members set out searching for her. They found her car in a ditch, still running. Hope was nowhere in sight.

The family called 911. Sheriff's investigators quickly arrived at Jack’s and viewed videotapes from the store's surveillance cameras. Miller, identified as the man following Hope from the parking lot, appeared to be stalking her. He was tracked down and arrested.

It was too late for Hope.

She was already dead.

The suspect allegedly confessed to the kidnap, rape, and murder of Hope. He said he ran her car off the road, abducted her, and drove her to various locations where he sexually assaulted her. After an hour, he bludgeoned her to death with a baseball bat. Miller led authorities to an abandoned field where they located Hope's body.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, in whose county the murder took place, said: "This was a horribly brutal and senseless crime. One of the worst I have ever seen. To our knowledge, Ms. Melton did not know her killer."

Miller is presumed legally innocent until his trial. But it’s the kind of case that inflames passions. The victim led a productive life with a husband and loving family. She was simply driving to a relative's house. Such a random crime could happen to anybody.

If the suspect is convicted, he deserves the death penalty.

Here's hoping South Carolina won't wait twenty-five years to carry it out!