Thursday, December 26, 2013

Executions in 2013

The long, slow journey to American justice
by Robert A. Waters

In 2013, thirty-eight killers were executed for their crimes.  For those who oppose the death penalty, that was thirty-eight too many.  For most of the rest of us, it was justice finally served.  Listed below are a few of the worst killers.

Steven T. Smith beat, choked, raped, and sodomized his live-in girlfriend’s six-month-old daughter, Autumn Carter, before killing her.  After Smith died of lethal injection, his attorney, Joseph Wilhelm, told reporters that “Ohio is no safer having executed Steven Smith than had he lived the remainder of his natural life in prison.”  Autumn’s grandfather, Patrick Hicks, disagreed: “It's just unfortunate that this man [got] to die a peaceful death after the torture he put Autumn through.”

Carl H. Blue went to his former girlfriend’s apartment, rang the doorbell, and set her on fire when she opened the door.  (A roommate who went to her aid was also set ablaze, but survived.)   Blue’s victim, Carmen Richards-Sanders, suffered third degree burns on 40% of her body.  It took Richards-Sanders 19 agonizing days to succumb, but Blue quickly expired on a Texas gurney.

Stephen Ray Thacker murdered three people.  The following court transcript describes his crimes: “Thacker met 25 year old Laci Dawn Hill in her home on Dec. 23, 1999, answering an ad Hill placed to sell a pool table.  When his attempt to rob her failed, Thacker kidnapped her and took her to a rural cabin and raped her.  Thacker attempted to strangle Hill, but eventually stabbed her in the chest and neck.  Her lifeless body was left on the cabin floor, covered by box springs and several mattresses. Thacker fled to Missouri where he killed Forrest Reed Boyd and stole his car along with his credit cards.  Thacker drove to Tennessee where the car ultimately broke down, and he called a tow truck. Thacker murdered Ray Patterson, the tow truck driver, after being confronted for using a stolen credit card. Thacker was apprehended in Tennessee.”  A friend of Laci’s described Thacker’s execution: “So humane,” she said. “He just got to go to sleep…it’s nothing like what the victims endured.”

Seventy-three dollars.  That’s what James Lewis DeRosa and an accomplice got when they robbed and murdered Curtis and Gloria Plummer.  The elderly ranchers had once hired DeRosa to do odd jobs, so they let him in when he knocked on their door.  DeRosa and Eric Castleberry stabbed the couple numerous times, finally slitting their throats from ear to ear.  (Castleberry avoided the death penalty by testifying against DeRosa.)  After Oklahoma executed DeRosa, Janet Tolbert, daughter of the victims, said her parents suffered a “horrendous” end to their lives in contrast to DeRosa’s “light death.”

In a previous blog, I wrote about the only woman who was executed in 2013.  Kimberly McCarthy robbed and murdered her neighbor, seventy-one-year-old Dorothy Booth.  DNA evidence linked McCarthy to the slayings of two other elderly women, but she was never tried for those murders.

You can read my earlier blog about the seven executions that occurred in Florida.  Governor Rick Scott promised to thin out the “worst of the worst” from the state’s death row, and in 2013, he began making good on that promise.  Murderous pedophiles, serial killers, a mass murderer, and assassins were executed last year, making Florida a safer place.

What’s to come on the death penalty front in 2014?

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Real Face

Christmas Murder, 1963
by Robert A. Waters

Fifty years ago on Christmas day, with carols blaring from loudspeakers, a young man was shot to death scaling the Berlin Wall.  Eighteen-year-old Paul Schultz and a friend made it safely past several concrete barriers then began climbing the final obstruction to freedom.  Schultz’s friend made it over the barbed-wire top and jumped to the West German side.  But Schultz, an electrician, wasn't so lucky.

An eyewitness in West Berlin recounted what he saw.  “[Schultz] was about to climb the wall when suddenly his back stiffened and both his arms shot up into the air as if he were reaching for something,” said the unidentified observer.  “His mate, who was already on top of the wall, reached down, grabbed him by his right hand and pulled him up on the barbed wire strung along the top of the wall.  Three guards ran toward them, then there were more shots and the boy screamed and went limp.  He fell into the arms of a West Berlin policeman who had rushed up to the wall at the sound of the first shot.  The policeman then helped the other fellow untangle himself from the barbed wire.”

Schultz died later that day.
Paul Schultz

The murder of Paul Schultz came during a sixteen-day “grace” period when West German residents were allowed pass through communist checkpoints and visit relatives in the East.  Each day, thousands of West Germans made the trek, with Stasi guards smiling broadly, as they’d been under orders to do.

The surreal picture of smiling killers was not lost on residents of West Berlin.  After the public execution of Schultz, a young Red Cross worker at one of the crossing points, said: “Now you see their real face.  Here they smile and there they shoot.”

West German vice chancellor Erich Mende told the media that it was incomprehensible “that on the Christmas holiday shots were aimed and fired at a young person who wanted to do in a big city what is totally normal in a civilized society: go from one side of the city to the other…”

On December 28, Paul Schultz was returned to East Germany for burial.  Only his immediate family attended the funeral—the communists wouldn’t allow friends and colleagues to be present.  East Germany awarded the two guards who killed Schultz a watch and briefcase for their so-called heroic intervention. 

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and West Germany reunited with the east.

Had it happened on any other day, Paul Schultz’s murder may have seemed meaningless.  After all, hundreds of anonymous East Germans died trying to escape the crushing regime that had been foisted upon them.  And yet, coming as it did on Christmas day, a time of “peace,” the world took notice.  Hundreds of editorials vilified the East German government, and politicians across the world delivered stinging rebukes to a country without freedom.  In some small way, the murder may have contributed to the rebellion that brought down East Germany and the Communist bloc.

Fifty years later, I pay tribute to Paul Schultz.

May you rest in peace.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

And the Winner is…

The Heisman Trust’s mission is to recognize a football player each year who “exhibits a pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

Jameis Winston wins 2013 Heisman

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Did a Serial Killer Stalk McAllen, Texas During World War II?

Murders of young girls went unsolved…
by Robert A. Waters

On December 2, 1942, bold headlines in the Brownsville Herald read: “Yankee Fleet Wins Another Round in Battle of Guadacanal—Sinks 9” and “Heavy Losses in Tunisia as German Attack is Repelled.”  World War II, raging in all its fury, dominated the news even in local newspapers.

But beneath those stories of profound events sweeping the world, another caption caught the attention of some readers.  “McAllen Child Missing: Clue is Found,” it announced.

On the previous afternoon, Virginia Espenlaub, twelve-year-old daughter of a “pioneer” McAllen, Texas family, had gone into her family’s orchard to tend to a cow.  The slight, pretty girl carried a wooden box to sit on, candy to eat, and magazines to read while the cow grazed.  She was seen at about 5:30 p.m. by a newspaper delivery boy as he made his rounds.

McAllen, with a population of about 12,000 residents, was mostly rural.  Farmers in the area produced cotton, alfalfa, corn, citrus, grapes, and figs.  Harold Espenlaub and his wife owned a small spread on the outskirts of town.  In addition to raising cattle and vegetables, Harold worked as a civilian fireman at nearby Moore Field, a training facility for the US Army Air Force.

Somehow, just a hundred feet from her home, the girl vanished.  In fact, the Herald reported that “officers say ‘the earth seems to have opened up and swallowed her.’”

A massive search for Virginia began on the night she went missing.  Hundreds of police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and civilian volunteers searched the orchard.  So that the searchers could see in the darkness, parachute flares from the air base lit the night sky, and shots from flare guns illuminated the surrounding areas.

As morning approached, the Border Patrol brought in an “autogyro” (a slow-moving plane similar to a modern helicopter) to scan the region from the air.  On the ground, a six-mile by three-mile area beginning from the Espenlaub residence was laid out in 15 foot strips and methodically searched.

Finally, a possible clue surfaced.  The Herald reported that a mile and a half from Virginia’s home, “signs of a struggle were found on the banks of a resaca, and footprints trailed into high mesquite grass and disappeared.”  Professional trackers were called in to help after investigators determined that one of the footprints may have belonged to the missing girl.  Unfortunately, no other evidence was found.

As 1942 faded away, the hunt for Virginia faltered.  Her parents grieved in private, but the real news, that of the world at war, squeezed Virginia’s disappearance from the papers.

Some local residents recalled another still-unsolved case that had happened three years earlier.  On the afternoon of May 7, 1939, fifteen-year-old Margaret Lucille Bush left McAllen High School to walk home.  Two hours later, neighborhood children found her lying on the ground in a pool of blood.  They called to their mother who notified police.

Margaret, who had been stabbed in the lungs and the neck, lay near death.  She’d also been “ravished,” as newspapers of the day called rape.  She was just two blocks from the school and 100 feet from the nearest occupied residence.

Margaret died a few hours later in a local hospital, unable to explain what happened to her.  Her assailant was never found.

On January 7, 1943, a laborer walking home from work discovered Virginia Espenlaub’s body.  She was about a half mile from her home, in a “nearly impenetrable jungle of brush” along an irrigation canal.  Dr. H. E. Wigham performed an autopsy and determined that the girl had been shot in the head.  The weapon used was a .32-caliber rifle.

Local citizens gathered up a reward of $1,532 for apprehension of the slayer.  The Texas Rangers, assigned to investigate the Espenlaub case, checked out about a dozen .32-caliber firearms, but none proved to be the gun that killed Virginia.

In 1945, three years after Virginia’s murder, an article in the San Antonio Light revealed that in-fighting among law enforcement agencies had hindered the investigation. Because of the friction between cops, the Light reported, “interest in the case more or less faded away and there it stands today—unsolved.”

For whatever reason, one or more killers got away with two child murders.  The cases, long-cold, still beg answers.

Did a serial killer stalk young girls in McAllen, Texas 70 years ago?

We’ll probably never know. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mother-in-Law from Hell

Elizabeth Ann "Ma" Duncan
The Day Ma Duncan Died
by Robert A. Waters

On August 8, 1962, while the Cold War between the United States and Russia hovered in the background, national headlines reported the execution of fifty-eight-year-old Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan.
By all accounts, Ma was unstable.  She’d been married an astounding 11 times, mostly to anonymous men who quickly fled once they found out what she was really like.  The only relationship she sustained over the years was with her son Frank, a lawyer.
As she drifted through husbands and towns, Ma worked infrequently.  For a while, she ran a brothel in San Francisco.  But after being arrested, she pulled up stakes and moved to Oxnard in Ventura County.  There, she performed occasional odd jobs at the local Salvation Army store.  However, her most enthusiastic calling was attending the court cases her son tried.  When he won, Ma would celebrate with raucous clapping.
Despite his mother’s bizarre behavior, Frank Duncan, 29, developed a reputation as an able attorney.  Many of the shady characters he defended got off, or ended up with light sentences.  During most of his career, Frank lived with his mother amid rumors that their relationship was incestuous.  There was no proof, however, and Frank always denied it.  It now seems likely that while his mother was overbearing and mentally unsound, there was no sexual intimacy between the two.
Whatever the case, sometime in 1958, Ma overdosed on sleeping pills.  During her recovery, Frank hired an attractive brunette named Olga Kupczyk to nurse his mother back to health.  Soon, Frank and Olga began dating, much to the chagrin of Ma.  Once they married, Ma vowed to kill the woman she saw as her rival for Frank’s affections.
It was at this point that she committed one of the most bizarre acts in the history of petty criminality.  She and a male friend from the “underworld,” posing as Frank and Olga, went to the Ventura courthouse and had the marriage annulled.  Legally, and unknown to them, the couple was no longer man and wife.
In the meantime, Olga got pregnant.  When she found out, Ma's simmering anger became white-hot.  The enraged mother-in-law approached several would-be hit-men before two career criminals, Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya, agreed to make the inconvenient bride disappear.  Ma told the gullible duo that she would pay them $6,000—half after the deed was done, and the second half six months later.
On the night of November 17, 1958, Baldonado and Moya drove to Frank and Olga’s apartment while Frank was away.  Moya knocked on the door and lured Olga outside by informing her that Frank was lying drunk in the back of the car.  In reality, it was Baldonado pretending to be Frank.  As soon as Olga opened the back door of the car to help Frank out, Moya shoved her inside, and Baldonado smashed her in the head with a pistol.
They sped through Ventura with Olga fighting for her life.  Baldonado eventually knocked her completely unconscious with the gun, breaking it in the process.  Driving into the mountains, the thugs found a place to dump their victim.  Since they couldn’t get the pistol to work, Baldonado and Moya took turns attempting to strangle Olga to death.  Finally, satisfied that she’d expired, they buried her in a shallow grave.  (The coroner later ruled that she died not from strangulation but from suffocation after breathing dirt into her lungs.)  Olga’s unborn baby perished with her mother.
It didn’t take police long to track down the culprits, who quickly fingered Ma as the mastermind.  The three were tried separately, and each was convicted and sentenced to death.
On August 8, 1962, after all their appeals were turned down, the killers stepped into the gas chamber.  As Ma entered the chemical-laden room, she looked around expectantly.
She didn’t see her son.
“Where’s Frank?” she asked.
Those were the last words Ma Duncan ever spoke.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Law Enforcement Patches

I have a very small collection of law enforcement patches.  These patches are fun to collect and inexpensive (most cost under $10.00).  They are very colorful when displayed.

Here are a few of my latest additions.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

White House Blues

Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers
The assassination of President William McKinley
by Robert A. Waters

“White House Blues,” first recorded in 1926 by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, quickly became popular among country and bluegrass singers.  The lyrics provide a straightforward timeline of President William McKinley’s assassination, as well as the aftermath.

McKinley, who’d just been re-elected to his second term, was meeting and greeting crowds at the World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot him.  Doctors, unable to find the bullet, left it in his well-endowed stomach while McKinley succumbed to an agonizing gangrenous death.  (The first verse in Poole’s version of the song describes this scene in gruesome detail: “McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled.  Doctor said, ‘McKinley, I can’t find the ball.  You’re bound to die, you’re bound to die.’”)

Like many assassins, Leon Czolgosz had few, if any, friends.  He fixated on President McKinley as the source of his financial woes (he’d lost his job due to union agitation). Milling among the crowd as the President stood shaking hands, Czolgosz hid his pistol beneath a handkerchief that covered his hand.  He fired twice, the first round grazing McKinley, the second hitting him dead-on in the belly.

After McKinley died, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became president.

Charlie Poole was a boozer of the worst sort.  Born in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, he developed a unique three-fingered style of plucking the banjo.  In 1925, Poole, his brother-in-law and fiddler, Posey Rorer, and guitarist Norman Woodlieff, traveled to New York and signed a record deal.  His song, “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” is credited with being the first recorded country music “hit.”  The success of the North Carolina Ramblers allowed Poole and his band to escape the back-breaking labor in the cotton mills where they worked.  

In 1931, a Hollywood studio signed Poole up to play background music for a movie.  This was enough to start him on a drinking binge that lasted for 13 weeks.  He never left North Carolina, dying of heart failure.

As with all folk songs, there are numerous versions to this one.  It’s sometimes called “White House Blues,” “McKinley’s Gone,” or just “McKinley.”  My favorite version is this old Greenbriar Boys recording done in the 1960s.


Say Mr. McKinley, why didn’t you run?
See that man a-comin’ with a Johnson 41
From Buffalo to Washington.

Doctor, oh Doctor, do all you can,
A man just shot my husband with a handkerchief over his hand

From Buffalo down to Washington.

Doctor comes a-running, takes of his specs,
Says, “Mr. McKinley, you’ve done cashed your checks”

From Buffalo to Washington.

Mrs. McKinley in Brooklyn dressed all in red
Weeping and a-mourning ‘cause her husband was dead

From Buffalo to Washington.

Roosevelt’s in the White House doing his best,
McKinley’s in the graveyard taking his rest,

He’s gone a long, long time.

Hush little children, don’t you fret,
You know you’ll draw a pension at your pappy’s death

From Buffalo to Washington.

Jailer said to Czolgosz, “What you doing here?”

“Done took and shot McKinley, gonna take the electric chair.”

From Buffalo to Washington.

Czolgosz told the jailer, “Treat me like a man,
You know that when I die I’ve got to go to Dixieland.”

From Buffalo to Washington.

Say Mr. McKinley, why didn’t you run?
You saw that man a-coming with a Johnson 41,

From Buffalo to Washington.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Florida Executions in 2013

Child-Killer Larry Mann
The Florida legislature recently passed the Timely Justice Act which “requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of review by the Florida Supreme Court; and it requires the state to execute the defendant within 180 days of the warrant.” Suddenly, child killers, serial killers, and other violent offenders actually face justice for their crimes. Governor Rick Scott has already signed more than a dozen death warrants.  So far this year, seven have been carried out.

Larry Mann (Executed April 10) – On November 4, 1980, Mann kidnapped Elisa Nelson off her bicycle as she rode to school.  He murdered her when she attempted to escape.  There was no doubt about his guilt.  His fingerprints were found on Elisa’s bike, and he confessed that he strangled Elisa and smashed her head in with a cement block.  Mann had previous convictions of sexual assault, including the rape of a seven-year-old girl.  The killer spent 30 years on death row avoiding justice for killing Elisa.  Finally, on April 10, Mann received an injection containing pentobarbital and went to sleep peacefully.  After the execution, Elisa’s brother Jeff Nelson said, “It is glaringly apparent that there is something fundamentally flawed with a justice system that takes over 32 years to bring to justice a pedophile who confessed to kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old girl.”
Elmer Carroll (Executed May 29) – Twenty-three years after murdering Orange County youngster Christine McGowen, Carroll died for his crimes.  On October 30, 1990, he raped and strangled the ten-year-old in her own bed as her stepfather slept in another room.  Christine lived next door to the halfway house where Carroll, who had just been released from prison, was staying.  Carroll had two previous convictions for lewd conduct with children. Although there was no doubt as to his guilt, death penalty opponents rallied to stop the execution.  “[The death penalty] is a destructive tool rather than a preventive tool,” said Bishop John Noonan of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando.  Julie McGowan, Christine’s mother, said, “Thank you to all that have worked so hard [to bring justice to Christine].”
William Van Poyck (Executed June 12) – Van Poyck was executed for the 1987 murder of a correctional officer.  In West Palm Beach, Van Poyck and Frank Valdez ambushed a prison van in which their cohort, inmate James O’Brien, was being transported for medical treatment.  Guard Fred Griffis died in a volley of gunfire after he threw away the keys to prevent O’Brien’s escape.  Van Poyck claimed that Valdez fired the shots that killed Griffis.  During his 26 years on death row, he wrote a prison blog and published three books.  (Valdez was later stomped to death, allegedly by prison guards in revenge for Griffis’ murder.)  On June 12, Van Poyck died peacefully, unlike Griffis.  Lisa Van Poyck, sister of the convicted killer, said, “He’s finally free from those prison walls.”  Norman Traylor, Griffis’ cousin, expressed frustration at the news media for always focusing on Van Poyck instead of his victim.  “It's been a very traumatic experience,” he said.
John Ferguson (Executed August 5) – Ferguson murdered at least eight people in the Miami area.  The victims of a drug-fueled mass shooting were: Livingstone Stocker, 33; Michael Miller, 24; Henry Clayton, 35; John Holmes, 26; Gilbert Williams, 37, Charles Cesar Stinson, 35.  In a separate crime, Ferguson murdered teenagers Belinda Worley and Brian Glenfeldt.  The killer sat on death row for 35 years, claiming to be the “Prince of God” and convincing many that he was crazy.  Michael Worley, Belinda’s brother, told reporters that he felt Ferguson’s so-called mental illness had been “fabricated and coached.”  After the execution, Worley said, “I think he got off easy compared to what he did to the victims.”
Marshall Lee Gore (Executed October 1) Serial predator Gore raped 14 women in the Miami area.  He murdered two others, Susan Marie Roark and Robyn Novick.  He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Tina Coralis and the kidnapping of her two-year-old son.  Gore’s death warrant was for Novick’s murder.  He attempted to cheat the needle by feigning mental illness, and actually spent 23 years on death row, filing appeal after appeal.  Finally, facing his own death, he cringed on the gurney and refused to open his eyes.  Retired Miami-Dade Detective Dave Simmons, who investigated Gore’s slew of rapes, may have said it best: “[Gore] played the system for years faking insanity, saying outlandish things to judges and witnesses, and in his moment of truth, he had nothing to say for himself.  He was the ultimate coward in the end.”
William Happ (Executed October 15) Minutes before his execution, Happ made a final statement: “To my agonizing shame, I must confess to the crime.  I wish to offer my most sincere, heartfelt apology.  I have prayed for the good Lord to forgive me for my sins.  But I understand why those here cannot.”  The world’s media made a big deal out of Florida’s new choice of a death drug, midazolam hydrochloride, claiming it might cause undue pain.  The drug did take a few moments longer to work, but the killer didn’t seem to be in severe pain.  Happ kidnapped, raped, and murdered Angie Crowley, dumping her body in a canal near Crystal River.  Crowley’s brother said: “[Happ] killed my sister, he took her life.  But when he took that life, he created so many other victims.  What he did affected everybody.  It ate my mother up.  I changed jobs and moved all within three months.  He took away the potential.  There were seven kids in that family and she had the greatest potential of everybody.  She had the personality, she had the looks, she had the smarts, and she had the attitude. She really, really accomplished things and he took that.  We were never able to see it.”
Darius Kimbrough (Executed November 12) In 1991, Kimbrough climbed a ladder and broke into the second-story apartment of 28-year-old Denise Collins.  After raping her, he beat her so severely that he broke her jaw and fractured her skull.  Then he strangled his helpless victim to death.  Blood and semen samples taken from the scene matched Kimbrough.  Collins’s mother, Diane Stewart, told the media that “there’s no closure [and] there’s no forgiveness for him...No forgiveness whatsoever. Twenty-two years is outrageous. It’s just outrageous.”  After the execution, she said that Kimbrough “went out a lot cleaner and neater” than her daughter.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Help Identify Jimmy the Pedo

The following pictures are from child sex videos that have been on the Internet for quite some time.  The FBI needs help in identifying the man shown allegedly abusing children.

He is a white male who speaks with a Southern accent.  He looks to be between 40 and 50 years of age, and has graying sideburns and brown hair with a bald spot.  The man who calls himself “Jimmy” wears glasses and a ring on his right hand.

A distinctive plaid chair shown in the videos is pictured below.

If you know who this man is, call 1-800-CALL-FBI.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Monster on Death Row

Innocent Victim Courtney Wilkes
Justice for Courtney?
by Robert A. Waters

Steven Cozzie didn’t look like a monster, but a strange aura encircled him.  The 21-year-old unabashedly lusted for girls in their early teens.  And he had violent fantasies toward those weaker than him.  Two weeks after nearly killing a 14-year-old girl, he raped and murdered Courtney Wilkes, 15.

Courtney, a Georgia resident, seemed to be the polar opposite of her killer.  A straight-A student and a standout soccer player at Toombs County High School, Courtney was a well-adjusted young teen.  She loved animals, and was a leader in the local Future Farmers of America (FFA).  She was also active in the Bible Baptist Church in Vidalia.

Courtney and her family were visiting Seagrove Beach on Florida’s Gulf coast when Cozzie befriended them.  While walking along the beach with Courtney, he forced her into a wooded area where he beat, raped, and strangled the young student. She fought hard for her life, but in the end was overpowered.

On October 17, 2013, a Walton County, Florida judge sentenced Cozzie to death.

In the penalty phase of his trial, Cozzie’s attorneys admitted his guilt, but attempted to get the jury to spare his life by—you guessed it—whining about his rotten childhood.  Oh yeah, you guessed it again—he had an IQ of “only” 83.  Oh yeah again—he was homeless because his parents had kicked him out of the house.

If those tired, lame excuses were supposed to sway the jury’s sympathies, it didn’t work.  The jurors understood that millions of people grow up in less than perfect environments, but few commit heinous crimes.  And not everyone is a genius, but few IQ-deficient people kill for pleasure.

Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson summed it up.  “This is nothing more than pure evil,” he said.

Now the do-gooders will spend decades helping the killer bob and weave through the criminal justice system.  If they’re lucky, some court will give Florida’s death penalty a knockout punch.  Or some judge will overturn Cozzie’s verdict on a technicality.  Justice in America is an elusive thing, and the odds are that the killer will die of old age.

In the meantime, Courtney’s family has been sentenced to a life of pain.  Day after day, their hearts will ache.  Each time the case is brought up again, the hurt will throb in their souls.  The pain will last until each family member passes on.

Courtney was buried on the family farm, near the animals she loved.  Her tombstone carries a reference to Joshua 1:9.  The verse reads “Remember I commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't be afraid, because the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Day in the Life of Crime in America

Shine Thornton and his Wife, Mary
October 28, 2013
by Robert A. Waters

In Dallas, the trial of Matthew Johnson commenced.  Prosecutors started out with a bang—they played a videotape showing 76-year-old Nancy Harris going up in flames.  Johnson is alleged to have set Harris, a clerk, on fire as he robbed the gas station where she worked.  All he got out of it was Harris’ ring, a few dollars, and some cigarettes.  The surveillance video viewed by jurors showed Johnson pouring lighter fluid on Harris, then using a cigarette lighter to ignite it.  She died four days later, in torment from severe burns to nearly half her body.  If convicted, Johnson faces the death penalty, as he should.

In Ohio, Tanai Fortman pleaded guilty to sexually abusing her four-year-old daughter and filming the attacks.  Her boyfriend found the videos on her cell phone and turned her in to police.  Fortman claims she doesn’t remember the incidents, though she sent the vids to various “friends.”  She’ll serve fifteen years in prison, and register as a sex offender for life.  Many people wondered if fifteen years was enough for such a sick crime.

In Yorba Linda, California, a homeowner shot and killed a zonked-out intruder.  Paul Michael Bracamontes spoke of being a zombie and wanting to get a gun so he could kill people.  (Instead of being one of the “walking dead,” he ended up just plain dead.)  The homeowners, a man and wife, awoke to Bracamontes screaming in their backyard.  While his wife called police and held their two children, the husband armed himself.  Bracamontes then kicked in the sliding glass door and died in a hail of gunfire.  The intruder was a stranger to the family.  Police called the shooting an obvious case of self-defense.

It was announced that more than two dozen of Jerry Sandusky’s victims will split 59 million dollars from Pennsylvania State University.

Two men suspected in yet another Craigslist murder were arrested in Los Angeles.  Markell Thomas and Ryan Roth are accused of killing Rene Balbuena in a robbery gone bad.  Balbuena and his fifteen-year-old son met the two in response to an ad that the killers placed on Craigslist.  After pulling guns on Balbuena and his son, Thomas and Roth opened fire.  Police said the two are members of the “Bloods” gang, and had pulled the same type of robbery at least seven times.  Craigslist crimes have become commonplace in the last decade.

In Massachusetts, a judge ruled that Michael Skakel will get a new trial.  This is the first step in freeing yet another Kennedy.

Also in the Bay State, Mike Pouncey was served a subpoena after the game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.  Pouncey, a former friend of Aaron Hernandez, will be questioned about a little thing called gun-running—oh yeah, and don’t forget murder.  Hernandez should be the poster boy for the old saying that “some people can’t stand prosperity.”

Finally, a Mississippi World War II veteran named Lawrence “Shine” Thornton was buried today.  Four punks mugged the 87-year-old man near his home in Greenville.  Thornton died of his injuries.  He received the name “Shine” after whistling the song “You Are My Sunshine” while in high school.  Thornton worked for 37 years Delta Electric Company.  Then, after the company closed, he became a local legend by creating “Maria’s Hot Tamales,” named after his Sicilian-born wife.  During World War II, Shine served in the Pacific as a Fireman First Class aboard the minesweeper, USS Herald.  So, four cowards slaughtered one of the few remaining soldiers from the Greatest Generation.  As Mark Collie sang, “Another old soldier fades away.”

So it went on October 28, 2013. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Sucker-Punch Game

Cowardly gangs attack at random…
by Robert A. Waters

Most people in St. Louis breathed easier when a homeowner shot and killed Demetrius Murphy.

Police suspected that Murphy and his gang had attacked up to 300 innocent people while participating in the so-called “Knockout Game.”  In this “game,” a group of young hoodlums would approach an unsuspecting victim and attempt to knock him out with one punch.  As the victim lay on the ground, he would be kicked and beaten until the assailants grew tired.

In one notorious case, Matt Quain and a neighbor, Jon Kelly, were walking home one night.  Kelly recalled what happened to his friend: Murphy’s gang “came out of the shadows and popped him. One guy hit him once.  He dropped like a rock.”  Quain suffered numerous injuries, including a shattered jaw and other facial fractures.

However, he considers himself fortunate to be alive. Had not Francis Slay, the mayor of St. Louis, and his bodyguard, Blaise Peluso, happened by, Quain may have suffered more severe wounds.  Peluso noticed Quain lying unconscious in a pool of blood and stopped to help while the attackers slipped away into the shadows.

A 13-year-old girl identified the assailant as Demetrius Murphy.  Unfortunately, all charges were dropped after the witness suddenly refused to testify.

Murphy walked, but his violent nature would catch up to him.  Two years later, as he attempted to burglarize a residence on Tennessee Avenue, the homeowner shot him.  (In typical cowardly fashion, Murphy died begging the homeowner not to shoot him again.)  The shooter was not charged because he acted in self-defense.

The so-called “Knockout Game” should be called the “Sucker-Punch Game.”  Groups of mostly young African-Americans generally target whites or Asians, delivering vicious assaults when the victim least expects it.

These assaults can be deadly.  Elderly St. Louis resident Hoang Nguyen died from a brutal attack, and his wife was severely injured.  Alex Murphy, A.K.A “The Knockout King,” was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Hoang Nguyen
My advice: be careful out there.  If you’re comfortable with guns, get a concealed carry permit and never forget your weapon. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Where is Abigail Hernandez?

Six days have passed since Abigail Hernandez vanished.  The fifteen-year-old North Conway, New Hampshire student was last seen on Wednesday, October 9.  Did she voluntarily run away, did she meet with an accident, or was she abducted?  So far, no one knows.

Abigail left Kennett High School at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.  Police believe she made it home.  Four hours later, someone used her cell phone near Cranmore Mountain, a ski resort about two miles away.  Since then, there has been no activity on her phone.

One of the most methodical missing person’s searches in New Hampshire history is currently taking place.  In fact, the search has been so thorough that the remains of two missing hikers have been discovered by searchers.  But so far, nothing has been located that points to Abigail.

Abigail turned fifteen on Saturday.  Police reported that she is good student who ran on the track team.  She is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 118 pounds.  Abigail has brown hair and eyes. She was last seen wearing black stretch pants, tall brown boots and a grey sweater.

As a footnote, another strange disappearance occurred about 75 miles from North Conway.  On February 9, 2004, Maura Murray vanished mysteriously on a lonely stretch of road near Haverhill, New Hampshire.  Her disappearance has never been solved, and foul play is suspected.

If you have information on either case, call the FBI at 1-800-225-5324.


Friday, October 11, 2013

10 Brutal Murders on the Home Front during World War II

Murders on the Home Front
by Robert A. Waters

During the Second World War, not everyone who died a violent death perished in battle.  As the conflict raged, numerous war-time murders ravaged America.  Because almost all able-bodied men were serving in the military, many local police investigators were less than competent.  In addition, with troops constantly moving from town to town, killers often had the advantage of anonymity.  Here are ten little-known murders that occurred during that chaotic period.

10 – The Unsolved Murder of President Roosevelt’s Nurse

On August 28, 1943, Maoma L. Ridings, a corporal in the Women’s Army Corps, was murdered in Room 729 at the Claypool Hotel in Indianapolis.  That afternoon, she took a bus from nearby Camp Atterbury, stopped at a liquor store where she bought a bottle of whiskey, and registered at the hotel. Around 2:30, she ordered soft drinks and ice from room service.  At 8:00, a bell boy delivered more ice and said that, in addition to Maoma, he noticed a “woman dressed in black” lounging on the bed.  The hotel’s cleaning staff discovered Maoma’s body early next morning.  No one admitted to hearing the cries of the woman as she was being slashed to death with the broken whiskey bottle she’d bought.  At the time, Indianapolis teemed with military personnel and war workers, and the killer was never caught.  The death of Maoma Ridings briefly made national news because she’d once been a nurse to President Roosevelt on his visits to her hometown of Warm Springs, Georgia.

9 – Death of a WAC

In 1943, 2nd Lt. Naomi Kathleen Cheney, a Personnel Officer in the Women’s Army Corps, was found beaten to death in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  At about 8:00 p.m., the pretty Alabama native left an armed forces hospital and began walking home.  Along the way, an assailant dragged Naomi into a wooded area and viciously attacked her.  The WAC died from a basal skull fracture and other facial injuries.  There seemed to be no motive for the crime.  She’d only been in the area for five days, and journalists were quick to report that she had not, in the jargon of the day, been “criminally assaulted.”  Local authorities and military police investigated, but never developed any real leads.  A faceless killer got away with the crime.

8 – Murder at the National Cathedral

Catherine Cooper Reardon met her demise between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on March 1, 1944.  Reardon, a librarian at Washington’s Great National Cathedral, had complained to her supervisor about the shoddy work of a handyman named Julius Fisher.  When word got back to him about her complaints, he decided to take revenge.  After an exchange of words, Fisher slapped the librarian.  When she began screaming, Fisher struck her with a stick, stabbed her, and strangled her.  Then he heaved Reardon’s body into a dump pit.

Fisher was black, and in later confessions said he snapped when Reardon used a racial epithet as they shouted insults back and forth.  (He didn’t mention this in initial police interrogations, leading prosecutors to discount the claim.)  In 1946, Fisher was executed in Washington DC’s electric chair.  This murder later became the basis for a story by novelist Richard Wright.

7 – Blood Feud

In Littlefield, Texas, on October 27, 1943, five-year-old Jo-Ann Hunt ran next door and told a neighbor that her mother and father had been killed.  Police found Dr. Roy Elwin Hunt and his wife, Mae, lying side-by-side in bed, tied tightly together with rope and coat hangers.  Hunt had been shot, his wife bludgeoned to death.  There was a suspect: eighteen months earlier, Dr. William Newton had been convicted of attempting to kill Dr. Hunt, though the conviction was soon overturned.  Bad blood between the two resonated all the way back to medical school, when both dated a co-ed who eventually became Newton’s wife.  The murders officially went unsolved, though investigators suspected Newton of hiring a hit-man to carry out the crime. 

6 – Stalked and Slashed to Death

On a sun-drenched day in 1942, eighteen-year-old Fidelia Briand walked along a path beside the Charles River in Boston.  Suddenly, a knife-wielding stranger rushed toward her.  Fidelia, pursued by her assailant, began to run.  Her screams alerted the neighborhood, and residents called police.  As the chase continued, three Boston College students raced to help.  After about a hundred yards, the frightened girl stumbled and fell to the ground.  Her attacker leaped on her, and stabbed her to death.  He then flung the knife into the river and fled.  While one BC student stopped to help Fidelia, the other two caught up with Harry Adams.  “Don’t hit me,” he cried.  Police quickly arrested him.  When asked why he attacked Fidelia, his reply was simple: “I wanted a woman.”

5 – Just Plain Evil

On March 10, 1944, Ernest Hoefgen’s long criminal career ended.  During his life, he’d committed at least three murders, including the one for which he was hanged.  Driving through Kansas in a stolen car, Hoefgen, an escapee from a Texas prison, picked up hitchhiker Bruce Smoll.  As they talked, the fugitive began to suspect that Smoll recognized him, so Hoefgen shot the hitchhiker in cold blood.

Bruce’s father, A. E. Smoll, watched the execution with little enthusiasm.  He told reporters he held no grudge against his son’s killer, but that Hoefgen was the “worst kind of traitor we have in the country.  He took the life of my boy, who was preparing to be a soldier.”

4 – Murdered for $28.00

On December 15, 1944, Phillip Heincy, 71, and his son, William, 45, boarded a train in Quincy, Illinois, and rode to Spirit Lake, Iowa.  After spending much of the day in local bars, they walked five miles to a resort owned by Robert Raebel.  They’d heard he kept a safe filled with cash in his home, and their purpose was to rob the wealthy business-owner.  As Robert’s wife, Esther, filled out Christmas cards, Phillip and William broke into the house.  They shot Robert, killing him.  Clubbing Esther with blackjacks, they took $28 from her purse, but found no safe.  Esther survived to identify the killers.  Each had long criminal records, and had served multiple prison sentences.  This time, they were sentenced to death.  Phillip and William Heincy became the first and only father and son to be executed in Iowa.

3 – The Lipstick Killer

As the war wound down, a murder in Chicago signaled the arrival of a serial killer.  On June 5, 1945, Josephine Alice Ross was found slashed to death in her apartment.  A bloody mattress indicated that the attack began on her bed, likely as she slept.  Every drawer in the room had been dumped out, and a few items stolen.  Police were stumped, though they suspected the murder was a burglary gone bad.  After the war ended, two more victims, Frances Brown and six-year-old Suzanne Degnan, died in a killing spree that ended with the arrest of William Heirens.  The University of Chicago student earned his moniker when he used Brown’s own lipstick to write a message to police: “For heavens sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.”  A brilliant student, Heirens was also a petty burglar known to cops.  Heirens confessed to all three murders and was sentenced to life in prison.

2 – Judge Murdered in Revenge

Before being executed, the Utah judge who sentenced Austin Cox to death wrote, “It is my opinion that the defendant has a mean, revengeful and surly disposition, and that he is dangerous to the lives of the people of this state.”  There was little doubt about that, just as there was no doubt as to his guilt in the murders of five innocent people.  On July 23, 1942, Cox seethed with rage because his wife, Wanda Mae, had divorced him.  Cox felt he hadn’t gotten a fair hearing, so he shot Lewis Trueman, the judge who’d presided over the divorce, as well as four strangers.  Wanda Mae survived only because Cox couldn’t locate her.  In 1944, the mass murderer died from a hail of firing squad bullets.

1 – Japanese Balloon Bomb Murders Six

During World War II, the Japanese government launched thousands of high-altitude bomb-laden balloons.  Drifting across the Pacific, some landed in America and Canada.  The only known casualties of these traveling booby-traps were Elsie Mitchell and five children from her church.  They’d gone to Gearhart Mountain in Oregon for a picnic.  Finding a balloon lying on the ground, they approached it.  When one of the boys touched the balloon, an explosion rocked the forest, killing Mrs. Mitchell and the picnickers.  Military personnel surmised that the bomb had fallen to earth weeks before, lying in wait for some unfortunate soul to activate it.