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.