Monday, January 28, 2013

Brutal Cold Case Murders Connected

24 years later, cases remain unsolved
by Robert A. Waters

On January 29, 1989, Robert F. McRae, 72, and his wife, Katherine, 70, were found murdered in their Graceville, Florida home.  Neighborhood children who decided to visit the couple found two ski masks in the back yard.  Running to a neighbor’s house, they reported the unusual find.  Investigators from the Graceville Police Department soon arrived and found the couple dead.

Katherine had been thumb-cuffed with her hands behind her back.  She and Robert had each been shot once in the back of the head.   According to the Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the type of bullet used in the attack was unusual, at least in rural Florida: a 124 grain, 9mm, Israeli T.Z.Z. cartridge. (Not many run-of-the-mill burglars use such a round.)  An Uzi-type firearm had been used.
Robert, a wealthy executive, often carried large sums of cash.  The killers took money from his wallet, as well as Katherine’s diamond ring, but left other valuables behind.  Detectives assured the media that robbery was a secondary motive--execution of the couple seemed to be the driving cause.

On October 15, 1989, two hundred miles to the north, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Acie Worthy, 67, and his wife, Carolyn, 54, met the same fate as the McRaes.  As they returned home from church that Sunday evening, gunmen ambushed the couple in their driveway.  The killers then dragged Acie and Carolyn into the residence and set it on fire. 
Like Robert and Katherine McRae, the Worthy family was wealthy.  They were in the process of building a 10,000 square foot house, and had been living in a rental home.

Acie had fought in World War II, and served as an officer for the Bessemer Veterans of Foreign Wars, while Carolyn was director of the Lakeview Baptist Church choir.  Relatives said she sometimes wore jewelry worth more than $50,000.

The killer stole jewelry and cash from the Alabama couple, but left other valuable items.

The bullets used in the crime were 124 grain, 9mm, Israeli T.Z.Z. cartridges.

Because of this and other evidence, authorities are certain the murders are linked.  Several agencies, including the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Georgia Bureau of Investigation have worked the cases.  Investigators say they’ve eliminated the possibility of “contract” killers.  They believe that more than one person committed the crimes.  Detectives also claim to have unreleased incontrovertible evidence the four murders were committed by the same people.

Police believe the murderers planned the crimes in meticulous detail.  (Four months earlier, an unidentified man dressed in camouflage clothing had been spotted watching the Worthy home with a scope.) 

After 24 years, the cases are still open.  If you know anything about this case, contact SAS Tommy Ford, FDLE, 850-767-3490.

Meanwhile, the families still grieve, and wait for justice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Crazy and the Weird

Carlos R. Romero, donkey rapist
Donkey rapist and other stories
By Robert A. Waters

In my hometown of Ocala, Florida, a man kept a miniature donkey for a concubine.  Yep, that’s right, Carlos R. Romero pled guilty to using a jackass named Doodle for sexual gratification.  The culprit seemed genuinely shocked that everyone else in the world thought his actions were weird and disgusting.  When police confiscated Romero’s donkey, he demanded that it be returned.  “I paid $500 for her,” he said. 

You wonder what someone was thinking when cops arrested a woman in 2013 for stealing a pack of cigarettes in 1991.  Brevard County sheriff’s deputies arrested Robin Hall, 41, after she returned to Port Canaveral from a cruise with her family.  She was placed in the slammer and will be held until Orange County Sheriff’s Office picks her up.  After her early brush with the law, Hall obtained a degree in architecture, and currently works for Pratt & Whitney, a jet design firm.  A quick search of unsolved cases in Brevard County reveals at least 38.  The obvious question is: wouldn’t a cop’s time be better spent trying to solve cold case murders instead of chasing down a cigarette thief 22 years after the fact?

In Portland, Oregon, Russell K. Gordon is accused of placing a hidden camera that resembled a pen to spy on a female co-worker.  He allegedly placed the video camera in a cup on the victim’s desk where he recorded her using a breast pump in the privacy of her office.  Noticing the “new” pen among her other writing utensils, the victim opened it and discovered the video recorder, along with an attached USB drive.  After Gordon was fired, cops arrested him and charged him with invasion of privacy.   

In Salem, Oregon, Marion County sheriff’s deputies arrested Kevin Dean Parrish on an aggravated battery charge after he allegedly grilled his grandfather's dog.  The Chihuahua mixed breed named Kudo “nipped” Parrish, according to deputies, and he placed it in the oven.  Turning up the heat to 350 degrees, the dog allegedly received massive burns to his paws.  Parrish’s father was so outraged he called police.  The pet is now being treated by a veterinarian and is expected to recover.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review

Drawn to Injustice: The Wrongful Conviction of Timothy Masters
Timothy Masters with Steve Lehto
Berkley Books, New York, 2012

Review written by Robert A. Waters 

The problem with the conviction of Tim Masters is it could be anybody.  There wasn’t any evidence, not one iota, yet with the help of a shrink-for-hire, prosecutors fabricated a case that resulted in a life sentence.  Ten years later, when DNA exonerated Masters, none of those who convicted him has had the decency to apologize.

In Drawn to Injustice: The Wrongful Conviction of Timothy Masters, the characters are straight out of Hollywood. 

There’s beady-eyed Fort Collins Police Department detective James Broderick who, within minutes of beginning the investigation, concluded that Masters was guilty of killing Peggy Hettrick.  Broderick hounded his suspect for a decade before finally making the arrest.

Then there's Reid Meloy, an odious dabbler in pseudo-science.  Having been paid more than $50,000, he testified that a series of violent teenage drawings proved Masters had murdered Hettrick.  Meloy never interviewed Masters, but on the stand he spun an intricate web “demonstrating” that the writings and sketches of a lonely teenager told a tale of murder. (In reality, Masters was a wannabe writer and artist influenced by horror novels and gothic comic books.)

Enter prosecutors Jolene Blair and Terry Gilmore.  Slick, confident, and corrupt, and with absolutely no evidence, they sent a young man to prison for life.  They did so by illegally withholding evidence from the defense, and by using Meloy’s weird theories.  Since juries almost always convict, Blair and Gilmore had little trouble railroading Masters.

Drawn to Injustice tells the tale of this fiasco.

And it describes the horrors endured by Tim Masters.  On February 11, 1987, the day of the killing,  Masters was a thin-as-a-rail fifteen-year-old.  He lived with his father in a trailer adjacent to the field where Hettrick was found dead.  In fact, he walked by her body on his way to school.  Thinking the corpse was a mannequin, he didn’t report it.  For hours and hours, interrogators cajoled the inexperienced teen, trying to get him to confess.  They screamed at him, illegally taped him and his father having a conversation, and gave him a phony lie detector test.  Through it all, the teenager never confessed.

After graduating from high school, Masters spent eight years in the Navy, and, at the time of his arrest, was working for a defense contractor.

Peggy Hettrick, 38, worked at a fashion store and had a love of writing and native American art.  On the night she died, she may have been walking home after spending much of the night at several bars.  Somewhere along the way, she was likely kidnapped, murdered, and dumped in the field near Tim Masters’ home.  Death had been caused by a single stab wound to the back.  Her left nipple had been cut off, and the skin removed from her clitoris with a scalpel-like instrument.  (The coroner said that only a trained physician could have performed such a surgical procedure.)

It just so happened that a perverted physician lived in a house behind the field where Hettrick's body was found.  Dr. Richard Hammond had set up video cameras behind vents in several rooms, including the guest bathroom.  Three years after the Hettrick murder, police were called to the house and discovered hundreds of lewd videos.  Hammond had been taping women as they used the toilet.  He seemed to have an obsession with vaginas.  Thousands of pornographic tapes were found in a storage unit he owned.  After his secret was discovered, Hammond committed suicide.

The doctor would certainly have had the skill to perform a female circumcision, but he was never investigated for the Hettrick murder.  In fact, Broderick and the Fort Collins Police Department quickly destroyed all the evidence. 

Masters spent ten years in prison.  Finally, DNA tests proved his innocence.  He was released, and eventually received 10 million dollars in compensation.

Blair and Gilmore were censured by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Broderick was indicted for withholding evidence, but the charges were recently dropped.

Reid Meloy never received any punishment for his role in railroading an innocent man.

None of these people have ever admitted any guilt in the framing of Tim Masters. 

If you wish to read a truly frightening book, read Drawn to Justice.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Self-Defense Files 7

Three lives saved by armed wife…
by Robert A. Waters

Melinda Herman, hiding in an upstairs crawlspace with her nine-year-old twins, waited for the inevitable.  A stranger, armed with a crowbar, had broken through three doors to get into her home.  Making his way up two flights of stairs, he stopped along the way to check each room.  Melinda heard the intruder as he finally reached the door behind which the family had concealed themselves.
That Friday, January 4, had started out like most days on Henderson Ridge Drive in Loganville, Georgia.  Melinda’s husband, Donnie, left for work while she cared for the children and worked a stay-at-home job in her office.  A normal family, just minding their own business.  Then came the loud knocks on the front door, the continual manic ringing of the doorbell, and finally, the sound of doors being broken open.

Melinda called Donnie.  He told her to hide, and she and the children went to the bedroom adjoining her office.  Locking the door, she entered a bathroom, then ushered the children into the cramped crawlspace.  Along the way, she opened a safe and grabbed her husband’s six-shot .38-caliber revolver.

With his wife still on the line, Donnie called 911.  As he spoke to the dispatcher, he coached Melinda, reminding her that she had been trained for this moment.  “If he opens that door, you shoot him, you understand?” Donnie said.  “Just remember everything that I showed you, everything that I taught you, all right?"  He later explained that he’d taken his wife to a gun range for target practice and instruction on defending herself with a firearm.

In the crawlspace, the mother and two children waited.  Time seemed to go on forever.  Then Melinda saw the closet door open.

Point-blank, she opened fire.

Six shots later, the once-violent intruder lay on the floor, crying, begging her not to shoot him again.  Melinda and the children stepped over him, and fled to a neighbor’s house. 

Police arrived minutes later. 

Down the street, they found a car that had run off the road and into a tree.  Nearby, a man moaned that he was dying.  Rushed to the hospital, Paul Ali Slater, a long-time criminal, lay in critical condition.  Five rounds had hit him in the face and neck.  Unable to breathe on his own, Slater was placed on a ventilator.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that “the Long Island native, who now lives in Gwinnett County, was released from the Gwinnett jail in late August after serving six months for simple battery and three counts of probation violation.  Slater has six other arrests in Gwinnett dating back to 2008, according to jail records.”

In an interview with CNN, Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman perhaps said it best: “Had it not turned out the way that it did, I would possibly be working a triple homicide, not having a clue as to who it is we're looking for.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

Platinum Blonde Bombshell Disappears

Was she kidnapped?
by Robert A. Waters

Leychester Lane played a bit part in the history of American kidnapping.  If the beautiful flapper wished to receive publicity for her disappearance (as some journalists speculated), she picked the wrong day to vanish.  On May 10, 1932, newspapers broke the news that a passerby had found the body of Charles Lindbergh, Jr.  Not even the President of the United States could muscle the Lindbergh case from the front pages--Lane's alleged abduction from Joliet, Illinois barely got any mention except on the back pages of a few Midwest journals.

One wire service reported: "Police searched Tuesday night for a clue to the strange disappearance of Leychester Lane, 24-year-old New York dancer who is easily identified by her striking platinum blonde hair.

"'I'm afraid she has been kidnapped, or possibly slain,' said Sheriff Oliver Flint.

"Mrs. Lane, who was described as a beauty prize winner and former owner of a Fifth avenue shoe store, disappeared while en route from her rooming house to a riding academy Sunday morning.  Miss Lane came here two months ago to receive treatment from Dr. George Woodruff, eye specialist.  To be near her physician, she obtained a room from the home of Mrs. Thomas Ferguson.

"After breakfast Sunday, she dressed in a riding habit, as was her custom, told Mrs. Ferguson she was going for a canter, and started toward the riding academy where she ordinarily obtained her mounts.

"Miss Lane left Mrs. Ferguson's home in her sport roadster.  The car has never been found."

Then, out of the blue, Leychester Lane reappeared.

On May 13, the International News Service reported that "after spending four days in the clutches of kidnapers, beautiful Leychester Lane, 28-year-old former actress, was back at her home here today. An accomplished equestrienne, she was snatched up by a gang of abductors as she drove toward Pilcher Park bridle path Sunday morning, Miss Lane stated. Her abductors kicked and beat her and tore her riding habit to shreds during her incarceration in a remote farmhouse. Miss Lane said she was placed on a starvation diet while her tormentors demanded that she arrange to turn over $3,000 in securities."

One day later, the last public mention of the case appeared in an Illinois newspaper: "As suddenly as she disappeared, Leychester Lane, 24, beautiful platinum blonde dancer, reappeared and Friday told a story of being kidnaped for ransom. Miss Lane said her abductors released her despite threats to 'cut my throat' if she did not meet their demands. She had been missing since Sunday."

The Lindbergh case continued its grip on the headlines even as Leychester Lane vanished from public consciousness.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Crossbow Incident

Psychos among us...
by Robert A. Waters

Eighty-nine-year-old Ralph Aldrich, lounging in his back yard, saw a stranger approaching from the woods behind his home in Grays County, Washington.  The man, wearing camouflage, said, "I know what you are."  Looking up in alarm, Aldrich turned to walk back into his house.  That's when John F. Chase shot him with a crossbow.  The arrow pierced Aldrich's back, and the startled homeowner fell to the ground.  Chase dragged the wounded man to the carport, and left him there.

Chase entered the home and encountered June Aldrich, 83.  Striking her in the head with the blunt end of a hatchet, the assailant stole the couple's pickup truck and drove to a friend's home.

The arrest warrant describes what happened next: "On the evening of November 4, 2011, Jarrod M. Byron was contacted by the defendant at Byron's residence in Hoquiam.  The defendant explained to Byron that demons were out to get him.  He told Byron that he had killed the demons.  Byron noticed that the defendant had blood on his clothing.  Byron noted that the defendant had driven to the residence in a gray Chevrolet S10 pickup...The pickup was registered to Ralph and June Aldrich of Humptulips, Washington.

"Byron spoke to the Hoquiam police who spoke to the defendant.  [Chase] was eventually taken to Grays Harbor Community Hospital to be seen by a mental health professional.  He was taken to the Grays Harbor Crisis Clinic to spend the evening.

"On the morning of November 5, 2011, Byron, based upon information he had seen in the pickup truck drove to the Aldrich address in Humptulips.  He found an elderly male, later identified as Ralph Aldrich, face down on the ground outside the residence.  Byron called 911 and deputies responded.  Mr. Aldrich was found to be dead.  Deputies observed injuries consistent with an assault and observed blood on the ground near the body.  Mr. Aldrich was later observed to have a through and through wound to his chest.

"[A] deputy went into the residence and found an elderly female, later identified as June Aldrich, Mr. Aldrich's wife.  She was on the floor in the residence.  Officers observed significant blunt force injuries to her head.  However, she was still alive.  An aid crew was called and Mrs. Aldrich was transported to Community Hospital and thereafter to Harborview Medical Center.

"Byron was later reinterviewed.  He advised that the defendant told him that he had killed the demons with a crossbow and hatchet.  Officers had observed a crossbow near Mr. Aldrich's body.  Byron told officers that he had observed a hatchet inside the S10 pickup truck that the defendant had driven to his residence.

"The defendant was located and taken into custody.  Following advice of Miranda, the defendant admitted that he had been camping in the woods near the Aldrich residence.  He described going to the Aldrich residence and killing the demons.  Deputies were later able to locate a small campsite near the Aldrich residence."

The injuries suffered by June Aldrich were horrific.  Her teeth had been knocked out, and her face crushed.  One week later, the victim died of her wounds.

Controversy quickly erupted.

The family of Ralph and June Aldrich blamed the Hoquiam Police Department for mishandling the case.  "I think the Hoquiam police are responsible for my aunt's death," David Aldrich said.

Bob Riddell, June's son and stepson of Ralph, said: "I think they definitely dropped the ball.  If they could have at least contacted the county sheriff and asked them to do a stop by, then my mom might still be alive.  She lay there for about 18 or 19 hours. According to what the doctors told us, if she would have been found sooner, there was a possibility she would have still been alive."  Since Ralph bled to death, family members feel that a quick response may have saved his life, too.

After hearing the criticism directed at his department, Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers responded, "I believe the officers acted on the information they had that evening."

Chase was charged with the murders of Ralph and June Aldrich.  But after several mental evaluations, a judge found John Francis Chase not guilty by reason of insanity.  The man who claimed to see demons escaped prison--he was sent to a mental institution.