Saturday, November 29, 2014

Another Riot, Another Time

“We got caught up in the minute…”
by Robert A. Waters

Regardless of what anybody says, there is no excuse for rioting, looting, and violence.  The Ferguson crowd should be prosecuted, but if previous riots are a measure, the thugs committing these acts will serve little time.  In 1991, the Rodney King riots left dozens dead and large swaths of businesses destroyed.  In most cases, the perpetrators were not held accountable.

Reginald was a working stiff.

Damian, Antoine, Henry, and Gary never worked.  Gang members, they made their living hustling and committing street crimes.

On that afternoon, Reginald drove a Kenworth T800 Tandem Axle Dump Truck through the heart of Los Angeles.  He was hauling 27 tons of sand to a plant in Inglewood.  His truck had no radio, so he was unaware of the riots that had exploded earlier that day.  At 6:56 p.m., he stopped at an intersection on Florence Avenue.

As groups of people blocked the juncture, Antoine opened the door of Reginald’s cab.  Several men pulled Reginald out and threw him onto the road.  A group of unidentified men began kicking him, while another smashed his head with a claw-hammer.  Damian hurled a slab of concrete at the downed man, hitting him in the skull and knocking him unconscious.  Henry and Gary helped in the assault, and afterwards, Gary danced over the injured man.

A news helicopter covering the riots recorded the whole sequence.  As the beating played out live on the evening news, Anthony spat on Reginald.  Others in the area made no attempt to assist the fallen trucker, nor did nearby LAPD officers.

From their homes, several residents watched in horror as the beating continued.  Eventually, at least four went out into the street to help.  After Reginald regained consciousness, he climbed back into the cab and attempted to get away.  One of the residents helped drive him to the hospital.

Reginald Denny survived, but his skull was fractured in 91 places.  Bone pushed into his brain.  His left eye was dislocated, the socket shattered, and doctors had to rebuild the sinus cavities.  Denny underwent decades of therapy.  His speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged.  His injuries ruined him financially, as well as physically.  Today, he lives and works in Arizona, avoiding the spotlight.

Four of Denny’s attackers were identified as Damian “Football” Williams, Antoine “Twan” Miller, Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson, and Gary Williams.  Watson later said: “Nobody specifically sought out Reginald Denny to cause him any harm.  We got caught up in the moment, just like everyone else.”

The “L. A. Four,” as they came to be known, served little time for their crimes.  All got light sentences or no sentences at all.

Damian “Football” Williams served four years of a ten-year sentence.  He was later convicted of murdering an acquaintance and sentenced to 46 years.

Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson had previously served a prison sentence for robbery.  After being convicted only of a misdemeanor for his role in the Denny beating, he walked free.  He later served another sentence for drug offenses.

Gary Williams, a drug addict and panhandler, also walked free.  He hasn’t been heard from since.

Antoine “Twan” Miller served no time for the attack on Denny.  He was shot and killed in 2004.  A Los Angeles Times article informed readers that “Miller had an extensive criminal record that included arrests and convictions for gun possession, burglary, theft and assault.”

While many minimized the behavior of the “L. A. Four,” even a quick glance at the Reginald Denny beating shines a light on viciousness that is rarely seen in the open.  Regardless of any supposed grievances, there was no excuse for the crime.

Monday, November 17, 2014

When my brother Zack and I began writing The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida’s Lindbergh Case, our assessment of the FBI’s leader was neutral.  That changed as we read through thousands of pages of FBI files.

We came to the conclusion that Hoover was a sociopath.

Recent studies have determined that sociopathic personalities run many successful businesses.  Their ruthless, uncaring natures are many times masked by outgoing and jovial personas.  They can lull unsuspecting competitors into making mistakes, and often smile as they crush their opponents.

Hoover didn’t bother with smiles and deception.  He developed a pit bull personality early on.  Because of this, many people hated him.  But in most cases, he had obtained information that could cripple their careers, so most avoided conflict with Hoover.  In our book, we describe some of the dirty secrets that Hoover knew about President and First Lady Roosevelt.  The FBI director likely used these indiscretions to maneuver FDR to his side when the FBI suddenly ran out of money a few weeks before Skeegie was abducted.  FDR, like a puppy-dog, allocated funds solely for the Cash kidnapping case.

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash tells a poignant story of child abduction, a mother and father’s disabling grief, and the search for a psychopath.

But behind the scenes, J. Edgar Hoover’s manipulation of all people in his orbit shows that he was a deeply disturbed and dangerous individual.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Execution of Herbert Smulls

Murder victim Stephen Honickman
“It was a horrific crime…”
by Robert A. Waters

F & M Crown Jewels was a mom-and-pop jewelry retailer in Chesterfield, Missouri.  On July 27, 1991, Herbert Smulls and a teenage accomplice entered the store, pretending to shop for diamonds.  Moments later, Smulls pulled a handgun.  The Lawrence Journal-World reported that “a jeweler’s wife feigned death and listened to [her husband] plead with a gunman not to shoot him before he was fatally wounded during a robbery of their small store.”  Florence Honickman was shot twice, while her husband, Stephen, died of four gunshot wounds.

Cops quickly captured Smulls speeding from the scene.  Inside his car, investigators found the stolen jewelry.  The smoking gun was recovered a few miles away—Smulls had thrown it from the car.

On July 29, 2014, Smulls died for his crimes.  Death penalty opponents had fought hard to distract the public from learning the details of the murders.  The Associated Press reported: “Smulls’ attorney, Cheryl Pilate, had filed numerous appeals challenging the state’s refusal to disclose where it obtained its execution drug, pentobarbital, saying that refusal made it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution.”

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch responded.  “It was a horrific crime,” he said.  “With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it’s simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed.  They planned it out, including killing people, whoever was there.”

It was indeed horrific.  It was also unnecessary.  While begging for his life, Honickman offered to give Smulls everything in the store.

After the execution, Florence Honickman spoke to the media.  “Make no mistake,” she said, “the long, winding and painful road leading up to this day has been a travesty of justice.  I felt pain and terror while I lay on the floor playing dead while the murderers ransacked our office.”  She had been shot in the side and the arm, and lay in a pool of blood, forcing herself not to move.  She suffered permanent injuries from the attack.

The victim also said it was a travesty of justice that the state had to spend millions of dollars to get justice for her family.  Florence Honickman stated that it was her family, not Smulls, who suffered cruel and unusual punishment by having to wait 20 years for justice to prevail.

According to the Associated Press report of the execution, “Smulls mouthed a few words to the two witnesses there for him, who were not identified, then breathed heavily twice and shut his eyes for good.  He showed no outward signs of distress.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yankee Confederates

Many northerners fought for the Confederacy
by Robert A. Waters

Tens of thousands of northerners fought for the Confederate States of America. These fascinating profiles speak to a side of the conflict rarely written about.

General Otho French Strahl was born and raised in Ohio.  Of German-American stock, he became an attorney after graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University.  Through the influence of his Southern grandmothers, he became a staunch advocate of states’ rights.  Strahl eventually settled in Dyersburg, Tennessee.  When the war broke out, he commissioned a CSA company, the 4th Tennessee Infantry, and defended the Confederacy against his former countrymen.  He fought in many of the war’s most significant battles, including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Perryville, and the Battle of Stones River.  In 1863, Strahl was promoted to Brigadier General.  He later commanded a brigade at Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.  Just a few months before the war’s end, Strahl was killed while leading an infantry charge at the Battle of Franklin in his adopted state of Tennessee.  (NOTE: In this battle, the Confederacy suffered a casualty rate of 39%, even higher than at Gettysburg.  Six generals were killed and one captured.)

Lieutenant General John Pemberton, the defender of Vicksburg, was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After marrying a Virginian, his sympathies shifted to the Southern cause.  As a member of the United States Army, Pemberton fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War.  When Virginia seceded from the union, he resigned his commission in the United States Army and was appointed brigadier general in the CSA.  Pemberton was initially appointed the duties of strengthening coastal defenses in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.  According to historians, he was unable to get along with the governors of those states, and was transferred west where he was promoted to Lieutenant General.

Unfortunately for him, Pemberton was assigned command of the District of Mississippi and East Louisiana.  One of his key assignments was to hold Vicksburg.  He worked diligently to secure areas around the city, and to fortify Vicksburg.  However, the overwhelming force of numbers of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army could not be denied.  Adding to his problems, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston refused all requests for assistance, leaving Pemberton to the mercy of the Union armies.  On July 4, 1863, after a siege lasting 46 days, Pemberton surrendered to the Federals.

The disillusioned Yankee Confederate would be forever branded a traitor to the south.  After the war, he carried on a running feud with Johnston and eventually moved back to Philadelphia.  He died there in 1881, and was buried beside his Unionist relatives.

General Samuel Cooper, born and raised in New Hackensack, New York, married Sarah Maria Mason, a distant relative of the Lee family from Virginia.  Cooper was an outstanding student at the United States Military Academy, and later served as U. S. Secretary of War.  His sympathies, however, were with the South, and when the Southern states seceded, Cooper joined the Confederate army.  He quickly became a full-fledged general, outranking even the great Robert E. Lee.  According to Wikipedia, “Cooper’s last official act in office was to preserve the official records of the Confederate Army and turn them over intact to the United States government, where they form a part of the Official Records, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.”  He died impoverished near Alexandria, Virginia.  General Lee and other former Confederates assisted Cooper financially in his old age.

General Daniel Ruggles was a native of Barre, Massachusetts.  After graduating from West Point, Ruggles served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War.  On May 7, 1861, while living in Texas, he enlisted in the Confederate army.  Ruggles was quickly promoted to Brigadier General, and fought with General John T. Breckenridge.  His aggressive actions at the Battle of Shiloh led to the defeat of an entrenched Union line known as the “Hornet’s Nest.”  After numerous Confederate charges were repulsed, Ruggles gathered every piece of artillery he could find, eventually numbering 62 cannons.  For two hours, he bombarded the Hornet’s Nest.  The final charge of the Confederates sent the Union lines reeling, and secured a hard-won victory for the Rebels.

Ruggles fought in the western theater during the rest of the conflict.  In 1865, he became head of the Confederate prison system, and was instrumental in exchanging prisoners after the Confederate surrender.

Ruggles moved to Virginia where he became a real estate agent.  He died in 1897.

Captain S. R. Latta was born in Alexandra, Pennsylvania.  He graduated from Jefferson College at Kinnesburn, PA and moved to Tennessee where he became a teacher.  In June, 1861, Latta organized a CSA company in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and became its captain.  His Company K, 13th Regiment of the Army of Tennessee fought at Shiloh, Richmond, Perryville, and Murfreesboro.  During each of those battles, his troops suffered enormous casualties, yet they fought with courage and ferocity.  Before the Battle of Murfreesboro, many were disabled temporarily when a bout of smallpox swept through the camp.

After the war, Latta became a lawyer in Dyersburg.  He was a Mason and an elder in the Presbyterian Chruch.  A long-time member of the Confederate Veteran Camp in Dyersburg, each year he held a picnic for the survivors of his company.  Latta died July 12, 1911, survived by his wife and three daughters.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Compliant Victim Shot Dead

“I shot to kill him…”
by Robert A. Waters

As killings go, the shooting at Papa John’s in Columbia, Tennessee seemed more senseless than most.  Two robbers got the money from a compliant clerk, and headed toward the door.  That’s when Darious Fitzpatrick, 17, allegedly turned back and shot the clerk in the chest.

WTVF News in Nashville reported that “two masked men entered the Papa John’s on Shady Brook Street just before 10 p.m. Monday.   One of the men was carrying a gun.  The pair demanded that 22-year-old Gordon Schaffer, who was one of the store’s managers, open the cash register and they took cash from the drawer.  At the time of the robbery, a co-worker was on the phone with Schaffer and heard it all happen.  That person called police.”

The Columbia Police Department issued a statement about the murder.  Schaffer was “compliant and offered no resistance,” it read.  Sgt. Michael Kash told reporters that “Mr. [Schaffer] did everything he was supposed to do.  He complied [with] everything, he gave them the money they asked for.  The reason we’re saying [this murder is] senseless is because it didn’t have to happen.  He was compliant and they still shot him.”

Detectives quickly focused their investigation on convicted robber Darious Fitzpatrick.  While being interrogated, he allegedly admitted the murder.  When asked why he shot the clerk, Fitzpatrick replied, “He wouldn’t give me more money or my money.”

Then, in a chilling confession, the cold-eyed shooter said, “I shot him to kill him.”

Fitzpatrick’s Facebook page shows a young man on the wrong track.  At 17, he seemed obsessed with smoking dope and watching online brawls that turned fatal.  Unlike his victim, Fitzpatrick had no job and seemed to have no interest in working.

After his arrest, he was charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated robbery, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen firearm, and three counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a felony.  He was also charged with committing two previous unsolved robberies.

A year earlier, Fitzpatrick had been found guilty of yet another armed robbery, but was charged as a juvenile and released early.

On the other hand, Gordon “Gordo” Schaffer worked for his living, and had a dream of moving west to Washington.  He’d been saving his money to relocate when his dream was cut short.  Police and Schaffer’s family told reporters that Fitzpatrick should have been in prison instead of on the streets trolling for victims.

A statement released by Schaffer’s family read, in part, “[Gordon] was a free spirit that truly absorbed every aspect of life and spent his time trying to enjoy everything life had to offer.  He was also one of the most loving and generous people to walk this Earth.”

Because Fitzpatrick is only 17, the death penalty cannot be sought by prosecutors.  If convicted, the most he can be sentenced to is life in prison.

It just doesn’t seem to be enough.