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Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Wayne Mills Murder Case

     Jerald Wayne Mills grew up in the town of Arab, Georgia in the northern part of the state. At the University of Alabama where he played football, he earned a degree in education. But instead of becoming a teacher, Mills formed a band and for fifteen years performed primarily on the college circuit.

     Mills, in 2010, was charged with driving under the influence and reckless endangerment after he bumped a police officer who was standing on the side of the highway. Between tours in 2013, Mills busied himself by working on his seventh album. The 44-year-old was married and had a 6-year-old son.

     A friend of Mills, Chris Ferrell, owned the Pit and Barrel Bar located in downtown Nashville. In July 2013, police arrested Ferrell on charges of domestic violence and vandalism. The complaining witness in the case was a bartender he dated. Notwithstanding that arrest, Ferrell possessed a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

     In mid-November 2013, Ferrell and his bar were featured on a TV series on the Spike Network called "Bar Rescue." In the series, experts helped save struggling bars and nightclub businesses.

     During the early morning hours of Saturday, November 23, 2013, Wayne Mills and a handful of friends and acquaintances were drinking with Chris Ferrell in his bar after it had closed. Just before five that morning an argument broke out between Mills and Ferrell. The trouble started when Mills lit up a cigarette in the non-smoking section of the bar. The two men became so angry, bystanders, fearing violence, left the premises.

     Shortly after 5 that morning, a small group of people outside the Pit and Barrel heard three gunshots. One of the bystanders called 911.

     Police officers arrived at the bar to find Mills dead or dying from three shots to the head. One of the bullets had entered the back of his skull. A short time after being taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors pronounced Mills dead.

     Chris Ferrell told detectives that fearing for his life, he had shot his friend in self defense. As the only witness to the shooting, detectives accepted Ferrell's account pending further investigation and the results of the autopsy. The bar owner was not taken into custody.

     Detectives with the Davidson County Police Department, for ten hours following the fatal shooting, worked under the false belief that the man shot by Ferrell was Clayton Mills, a Nashville songwriter. Given the fact several people who knew Wayne Mills had witnessed his argument with Ferrell, then heard gunshots, it's hard to image how detectives didn't immediately acquire the true identify of the victim. And why had it taken them so long to sort out their mistake?

     On November 26, 3013, a spokesperson for the Nashville Medical Examiner's Office announced that while a forensic pathologist had performed the autopsy on Wayne Mills, results of that post-mortem work would not be released for up to fourteen weeks. The spokesperson also refused to say if Mr. Ferrell had sustained injuries from the fight.

     In the meantime, Wayne Mills' friends, fans, and family, having heard that one of Ferrell's bullets had entered the back of Mills' head, questioned the believability of the self defense claim.  A rumor surfaced that the shooting occurred when the men were standing on opposite sides of a physical barrier.

     On December 6, 2013, a Davidson County grand jury indicted Chris Ferrell on one count of second-degree murder. Following the indictment, the bar owner turned himself over to the police. Officers booked Ferrell into the Davidson County Jail and the judge set his bail at $150,000. At a bond hearing on December 16, the judge lowered Ferrell's bail which led to his release from custody.

     In January 2014, the Nashville Medical Examiner's Office released the Mills autopsy report. The victim had been killed by a single bullet to the back of the head. The absence of gunpowder staining around the entrance wound suggested the shot had been fired from a distance of at least eighteen inches. The shooting victim had also suffered two broken ribs, abrasions on his head and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh and right knee. According to the toxicology report, Mills had a blood-alcohol level of .221, three times the legal limit for driving intoxicated. He also had amphetamine in his system.

     The Wayne Mills murder trial got underway in Nashville on March 2, 2015. In his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Wesley King said that the victim had been shot in the back of the head as he was leaving the bar.

     Defense attorney David Raybin told the jury that the defendant wouldn't have murdered his best friend, that the killing had been in self defense. "He [Mills] was my client's best friend. My client loved him and cared for him and wouldn't murder him," Raybin said. "Never in the ten years they had known each other was there ever a harsh, loud episode between them."

     Prosecutor King put songwriter Thomas Howard on the stand who testified that he saw Ferrell smack a cigarette out of Mills' hand that made Mills angry. "At that point Mills got up and turned around and said, "You ever smack my hand like that again, I'll kill you." Howard said he heard gunshots as he left the bar.

     After the prosecution rested its case on March 4, 2015, the defense attorney put 24-year-old Nadia Markum on the stand. She had been in the bar that night and said Mills and Ferrell were yelling at each other. While she didn't recall the specifics of the argument because she was drunk, she remembered Wayne Mills throwing a glass to the floor. Right after she exited the bar she heard three shots.

     On Markum's cross-examination, prosecutor King got the witness to admit that when questioned by the police, she had said, "All that Mills did was smoke a cigarette." She had also told detectives that Mills was trying to leave the bar when he was shot.

     Defense attorney Raybin, as his final defense witness, put Chris Ferrell on the stand. The defendant testified that Mills became agitated when he couldn't get a cab. "I can't get a cab!" he said. "There are no whores, and no f-ing cocaine here. Why am I here?" At the time of the outburst, Ferrell was walking around the bar turning out lights in anticipation of closing up the place. It was then Mills lit a cigarette.

     The defendant testified that he asked Mills to put out the cigarette. Mills refused, saying that he had helped "build this bar." Ferrell said he reached across the bar and grabbed the cigarette out of Mills' mouth, crushed it and threw it on the floor. Mills responded to this by saying, "If you ever take a cigarette from me again, I will kill you!" According to the defendant, he told Mills to leave the bar but not with the drink he held in his hand. To that Mills said, "If you talk to me like that again I'm going to f-ing kill you." Mills then threw his drink to the floor, smashing the glass into pieces, "You know what?" he said, "I'm going to f-ing kill you!"

     The defendant said that in response to that threats to his life "I fired in fear. I panicked. I believed he had a weapon."

     On March 6, 2015, the jury found Chris Ferrell guilty of second-degree murder. On April 28, 2015, at his sentence hearing, Chris Ferrell, in addressing the court, said, "I stand here today with the heaviest heart, conscious and soul. I will carry the memory of that horrible night forever. I am so sorry for my actions that in an instant changed so many lives." The judge sentenced Ferrell to twenty years in prison.

The Meth Lab Contaminated Home

     Methamphetamine is an addictive, synthetic stimulant that causes the brain to release a surge of dopamine that, depending upon how it is ingested, and its potency, creates a high that lasts from a few minutes to 24 hours. Meth comes in two forms, powder and rock. The powder can be snorted, smoked, eaten, or dissolved into a drink. Rock, the crystalized form of the drug, is usually smoked or injected. One hit costs the meth user between $25 and $80. There are 1.4 million users of methamphetamine in the United States, and this number is rising.

     Meth is addictive because it depletes the brain of dopamine. Once this happens, users are unable to experience pleasure without the chemicals. Addicts who try to quit become depressed, and in some cases, psychotic. The prolonged use of meth permanently destroys the brain, and can cause heart attacks and strokes.

     Manufacturing or "cooking" meth is a multi-step operation that takes 48 hours to complete. The process produces toxic fumes, and there is always the potential for an explosion. There are a handful of large, commercial super labs, and thousands of small home laboratories. Super labs, like the one featured on the AMC TV series "Breaking Bad," are staffed by trained chemists who purchase the key ingredients--ephedrine and pseudoephedrine--in bulk from chemical suppliers. A super lab can manufacture more than 100,000 does per cook.

     Amateur meth cooks who operate home labs use chemicals derived from over-the-counter cold, cough, and allergy medicines. These shade-tree chemists acquire ingredients such as ammonia and lye from everyday household items. For example, they can obtain red phosphorus by scraping it off matches. The operator of a home meth lab can only produce about 300 doses a cook, enough product for himself and a few sales.

     The vast majority of meth factories raided by narcotics officers are amateur operations. In 2011, drug enforcement agents in the U.S. seized 10,287 residential meth labs. (One of the largest meth lab raids occurred in San Jose, California where, in March 2012, DEA agents seized 750 pounds of meth with a street value of $34 million.) Because of the highly toxic nature of meth production, these sites have to be professionally scrubbed.

     The government spent about $200 million a year de-contaminating meth labs. But not all of the homes that were once meth labs were sanitized, and some of them went on the real estate market. People who moved into these places become very sick. As a result, about half of the states passed residential meth lab disclosure laws.

The Bates Family

     Unfortunately for John Bates, his wife Jessie, and their 7-year-old son, the state of Washington didn't have a meth disclosure law in 2007 when they purchased a house for $235,000 in Suquamish, a town near Seattle. Shortly after moving into the dwelling, their son Tyler developed breathing problems. Mr. Bates developed a variety of unexplained symptoms, and his wife kept getting horrible skin rashes. The family and their physicians didn't have a clue what was causing these ailments until a neighbor, 18 months after the onset of the illnesses, casually mentioned that the former occupant of the home had made his living cooking meth.

     A state inspection of the Bates home revealed that toxic chemicals had soaked into the carpets, walls, studs, and flooring. Instead of shelling out $90,000 to replace the contaminated areas of the house, the Bates demolished the place and built a new home on the two-acre lot. The project cost them $184,000. Today, the Bates are healthy, and the state of Washington has a residential meth lab disclosure law.  

Murder Among Friends

     Tewana Sullivan, 50, was visiting her godfather in HUD housing in the Detroit suburb of Livonia when something went horribly wrong. It ended with 66-year-old Cheryl Livy dead and Sullivan in custody for her murder. Sullivan's godfather, Marvin Jones, said, "All of us were good friends and for something like this to happen, I just don't see it. It was such a shock that something like that would happen between two good friends…"

     Sullivan stands accused of beating Livy to death with a crock-pot. Police say the women fought, though they don't know why. When asked if he was disappointed in his goddaughter, Mr. Jones replied, "I'm not really disappointed in her because nobody knows what happened. So why would I be disappointed in her?" After being informed of what police were alleging, Jones said, "The police might be saying that, but I don't see it that way. I see them being friends and something happened." [In July 2015, the judge sentenced Sullivan to 23 to 50 years in prison.]

Derek Hunter, "Detroit: Woman Beats Friend to Death With a Crock-Pot," Daily Caller, October 28, 2014 

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Janet and William Strickland Murder-For-Hire Case

     Seventy-two-year-old William Strickland had lived with his 64-year-old wife Janet thirty years in the same house in south Chicago. Their neighbors considered them a happy couple. Mr. Strickland, a dialysis patient, may have been a contented husband, but his wife Janet wanted him dead.

     In February 2013, Janet Strickland informed her 19-year-old grandson--also named William Strickland--that she was "sick" of his grandfather and wanted him "gone." By "gone" she meant murdered. The old guy had money in the bank that couldn't be spent until he was "gone." Janet wanted that money, and she wanted it now.

     In one of their discussions about Mr. Strickland's fate, Janet told her grandson that she had decided against hiring an outside hit-man because she wanted the job done now. Young William, anticipating a share of his grandfather's wealth, said he would assassinate his namesake. Grandma sealed the deal by giving the young man his grandfather's handgun, a weapon he kept around the house for protection.

     At three-thirty on the afternoon of March 2, 2013, Janet said good-bye to her husband as he stepped out of the house to await a ride to his dialysis treatment. The murder target had been standing on the sidewalk a few minutes when he was approached from behind by his grandson. The younger William Strickland, using his grandfather's handgun, shot the elderly man six times in the back. Mr. Strickland fell to the ground and died.

     A few days after what the Chicago Police first considered a random robbery-murder--a common crime in the Windy City--Janet Strickland purchased her grandson a new car. A red one. She also went furniture shopping for herself.

     William rewarded himself with an expensive sound system for his new ride, a pair of high-end sneakers, and a fancy cellphone. He also spent some of his grandfather's money at his favorite tattoo parlor. With old guy dead, life was good.

     Detectives arrested William Strickland on the charge of first-degree murder on March 30, 2013. He confessed to the execution-style homicide, and identified his grandmother as the mastermind behind the deadly get-rich-quick plot.

     On April 6, 2013, officers took Janet Strickland into custody. She confessed as well. The murder-for-hire grandmother and her assassin grandson were held on $50,000 bond in the Cook County Jail.

     On February 19, 2016, a jury in Chicago, after deliberating less than three hours, found William Strickland guilty of his grandfather's murder. Judge James Linn, on March 23, 2016, sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

     Janet Strickland went on trial a month later and was found guilty as charged. The judge sentenced the 67-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to eighteen years in prison.

The Case Of The Butt-Fired Bottle Rocket

     The fireworks began at one-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2011 at the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity house not far from the campus of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. During the house party, Travis Hughes launched, from the frat house deck, a bottle rocket (a fireworks product on the end of a stick) out of his ass. (If I had to guess, I'd peg this kid as a criminal justice or elementary education major.) The rocket man's startled fraternity brother, Louis Helmburg III, jumped back and fell off the frat house deck. According to Helmburg's account of the incident, he ended up lodged between the deck and an air conditioning unit. Both students had been drinking.

     Not long after the fireworks display, the injured student's attorney filed a personal injury lawsuit against the university, the fraternity, the Marshall University inter-fraternity council, the company that owns the fraternity property, and Travis Hughes, the human rocket launcher. The plaintiff asserts that the ATO fraternity was negligent in failing to install a deck railing. As for defendant Hughes, his consumption of alcohol had led to "stupid and dangerous activities." (Hey, don't blame the booze. How many drunks can fire rockets out of their butts? Someday this skill could become an Olympic sport. It certainly would be more exciting than the shot put and could take place at night.)

     In June 2013, a judge dismissed the suit against Marshall University on grounds the plaintiff failed to follow in-house procedures for bringing such an action. The rest of the case, however, stood.

     Given the humorous facts underlying this suit, it appeared frivolous. The outcome, however, would depend on whether or not the fraternity house deck, because it didn't have a railing, was unsafe. Assuming that it was safe, there was still the question of whether the frat boy's ass-launch made him civilly liable for the student's tumble off the platform.

     On November 4, 2013, the plaintiff, through Huntington attorney Thomas P. Rosinsky, a slip-and-fall lawyer who also handled dog bite, DUI, car repossession and drug cases, settled the case with the company that owned the fraternity house. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. If Louis Helmberg III paid a price for winning his case, it was that he would become the butt of every butt joke known to man.

     Travis Hughes, the bottle rocket butt-launcher, now works for NASA. (Just kidding.)

     

America's First Bomb Murder Case

The earliest case which I have found of the use of a bomb to commit murder was in 1854, when William Arrison sent one to the head of an asylum where he had been confined.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

JFK Assassination: Americans Comforted by Conspiracy Theories

     We have lived with it for half a century, and still what happened that day in Dallas is shocking beyond almost anything else in American history--by shocking, I mean it hits like a blast of electric current and stupefies. One minute the President of the United States is smiling and waving. A moment later, he stiffens and clutches at his wounded throat. Then his head explodes; blood and gore bathe the First Lady, who crawls onto the truck lid of the moving car in a wild and hopeless attempt to collect the pieces.

     The victim was one of the most powerful, glamorous, wealthy, charismatic individuals on the planet. Snuffed out in an instant. This whiplash convergence of  extremes--so sudden, so horrific, such enormity--makes the assassination of John F. Kennedy an almost uniquely deranging event. In a matter of seconds, the mighty are rendered helpless; the beautiful is made hideous; tranquillity turns turbulent; the familiar becomes alien.

     Amid the shards of all those shattered assumptions, 50 years of doubt was born. Clear majorities of Americans--as high at 81 percent in 2001 and about 60 percent in a recent Associated Press poll--believe that a conspiracy was swept under a tattered rug. The conclusions of the Warren Commission, that one man alone delivered this devastating blow, got little traction compared with the desperate, at times unhinged, efforts to assemble a more satisfying account.

     Like a tornado, the Kennedy conspiracy theories have spun off whirlwinds of doubt about other national traumas and controversies, from 9/11 and FEMA camps to TWA flight 800 and genetically modified foods. The legacy of that shocking instant is a troubling habit of the modern American mind: suspicion is a reflex now, trust a figment. [It's no wonder that citizens, after decades of being lied to by politicians and government officials about everything under the sun, don't trust the official version of anything.]

David Von Drehle, "John F. Kennedy's Assassination and the Conspiracy Industry," Time, November 20, 2013 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

     The February 14, 1929 mass murder of seven men in a Chicago bootlegger's garage, one of America's most atrocious crimes, became the centerpiece homicide case of the so-called lawless decade. The bloodbath capped ten years of wholesale murder in America's prohibition era. The mastermind behind the murders, Chicago gangster Al Capone, had gone too far. The St. Valentine's day massacre marked the beginning of the end of "Dr. Death's" murderous career. The mass murder also highlighted the emerging science of forensic firearms identification.

     For several years there had been bad blood between rival bootleggers George "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone. The feud reached its peak when Moran and his North Chicago Gang began hijacking shipments of whisky en route to Capone from Detroit. With his supply of illegal booze endangered, Capone decided to eliminate his competition.

     A Capone undercover operative working in the Moran camp arranged for a shipment of stolen Capone whisky to be delivered to Moran's north side warehouse. The load would arrive at the garage on February 14 at ten-thirty in the morning. Capone wanted to get Moran and his men together in one spot so they could be eliminated en masse. 

     On the morning of the big day, as Capone's men watched from a boarding room across the street, Johnny May, a $50-a-week mechanic, showed up for work. A few minutes later, Moran's accountant, Adam Heyer arrived at the garage. James Clark, Moran's brother-in-law, followed the ex-con accountant to the scene. Clark had served time for burglary and robbery, and had recently beaten a rap for murder. The next to arrive were the Gusenberg brothers, Pete and Frank. Both men possessed rap sheets featuring aggravated assault, theft, and burglary. The sixth man to walk into the death trap didn't belong to the Moran outfit. He was Dr. Reihardt H. Schwimmer, a local optometrist. Dr. Schwimmer, a gangster groupie, had stopped by the warehouse on his way to his office to say hello to his heroes. Albert R. Weinshank, a speakeasy owner, was the seventh man to arrive at the garage that fateful morning. Because Weinshank looked and dressed like Bugs Moran, Capone's lookouts across the street believed that the boss had taken the bait and had arrived at the warehouse. Shortly after Weinshank entered the garage, one of Capone's men ran to a phone to set the murder plan into action.

     Bugs Moran, Ted Newberry, and the third Gusenberg brother, Henry, were still on their way to the warehouse. As they approached their destination, they saw a black Packard pull up in front of the building. It looked like the kind of car used by Chicago police detectives. Five men climbed out of the Packard. Two of them were dressed in police uniforms while the other three wore civilian overcoats. Thinking that the warehouse was being raided by the Chicago police, Moran and his companions fled the scene.

     Capone's uniformed men walked through the front office into the warehouse area. With revolvers drawn, they ordered the seven men up against a yellow brick wall. After the phony cops disarmed the rival crew, two of the men in overcoats pulled Thompson sub-machine guns out from under their coats. The two gunmen opened fire, sweeping their tommy-guns back and forth three times across the backs of their collapsing victims. After the guns fell silent, one of the shooters noticed that one of the victims was still twitching. The gunman walked over to the dying man and blasted him in the face with a double-barreled shotgun.

     Following the massacre, the gunmen walked out of the warehouse with their hands in the air. Behind them walked the uniformed men with their guns drawn. The mass murder had taken less than eight minutes.

     The police officers and detectives who responded to the scene were greeted by a gruesome sight. Four of the victims had fallen backward from the wall and were staring up at the ceiling. Another was face down, stretched along the base of the wall. A sixth man was on his knees slumped forward against a wooden chair. From the bullet-pocked, blood-splattered wall, streams of blood snaked cross the cement floor from the row of bodies. One of the men, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive. Having been shot fourteen times, with seven bullets lodged in his body, he had managed to crawl about twenty feet from the wall. When asked by a police officer to identify the people who shot him, Gusenberg replied, "Nobody shot me." He died ninety minutes later without identifying or describing the gunmen.

     Before the bodies were moved to the morgue, Cook County Coroner Dr. Herman N. Bundeesen showed up at the warehouse to take charge of the crime scene investigation. He had dozens of photographs taken and ordered a careful collection of the empty shell casings, bullets, and bullet fragments. He ordered the firearms evidence placed into sealed envelopes. Bullets later dug out of the seven bodies were placed into envelopes that were each labeled with the name of the person who had been shot by the enclosed slugs.

     Dr. Bundesen established a coroner's jury made up of seven prominent citizens of Chicago who went to the warehouse shortly after the killings to view the scene firsthand. A few days later, the foreman of the jury, Bert A. Massee, called Dr. Calvin Goddard, the world's best known ballistics expert. Dr. Goddard, the former U. S. Army surgeon and ordinance authority who three years earlier,with two other firearms identification pioneers, had formed a private laboratory in New York City called the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, traveled to Chicago to analyze the crime scene bullets and shell casings.

     When Dr. Goddard arrived in Chicago the following day, he encountered the largest collection of bullets and shell casings he had ever received in a single murder case. Crime scene investigators had recovered, from the warehouse floor, seventy .45-caliber cartridge shells. By examining these casings, Goddard determined that they had all been fired by an automatic weapon. Goddard knew there were only two automatic guns made in the United States that fired .45-caliber ammunition. One was the Colt 45 automatic pistol and the other the Thompson sub-machine gun, also manufactured by the Colt Company.

     By examining the marks made on the casings by the breech bolt, Goddard knew that all of the shells had been fired through a Thompson sub-machine gun. By differentiating two distinct sets of ejector marks on the cartridge cases, Goddard determined that two Thompsons had fired the seventy shells. Fifty cartridges had been fired through one Thompson, and twenty from the other. From this, Dr. Goddard concluded that one sub-machine gun had been loaded with a twenty-shot clip and the other with a fifty-shot drum.

     Crime scene investigators had picked up fourteen bullets from the garage floor. These projectiles had either missed or passed through their targets. All but two were deformed from impact. The rifling marks on the slugs (scratches made by the interior of the barrel) indicated they had been fired though a barrel with six grooves twisting to the right. This was characteristic of a Thompson sub-machine gun. The bullets all contained manufacturer's marks made by the U.S. Cartridge Company. Goddard learned that ammunition so marked had been produced during the period July 1927 to July 1928.

     Dr. Goddard also examined forty-seven bullet fragments that had been collected from the murder scene. Many of these pieces of lead were large enough to contain the imprints of the U.S. Cartridge Company. Most of the fragments showed rifling marks that bore groove characteristics of the Thompson type of rifling. Two empty twelve-gauge shotgun shells had also been recovered from the scene. The shotgun shells contained traces of smokeless powder and had been loaded with buck-shot. The firing pin impressions on the shotgun casings indicated that they had been fired from the same weapon.

     Thirty-nine bullets and bullet fragments had been removed from the bodies of the seven dead men. The body of Adam Heyer, the accountant, yielded fourteen. The bodies of James Clark and Frank Gusenberg produced seven each, and six had been extracted from Albert Weinshank. The remaining five slugs were shared by the other three victims. In addition to the bullets, seven buck-shot pellets had been removed from Dr. Schwimmer's head.

     The magnitude of the St. Valentine's Day mass murder put the Chicago Police Department under tremendous pressure. The fact that many citizens believed that police officers had been involved in the shootings created an additional incentive for detectives to identify the killers. Coroner Bundesen asked Dr. Goddard to test several shotguns and Thompson sub-machine guns owned by the Chicago Police Department to exclude them as potential murder weapons. Dr. Goddard concluded that none of these weapons had been used in the crime.

     After Dr. Goddard completed his initial firearms work, he returned to the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. Over the next several months Corner Bundesen mailed Goddard dozens of Thompson sub-machine guns. None of them turned out to be weapons used in the massacre.

     The day after the killings, Bug Moran read in the newspaper that the police wanted to question him about the massacre. The gangster voluntarily showed up at Chicago Police headquarters. When investigators asked him about his theory of the murders, he stated, "Only Capone kills like that."

     While the mass murder was being investigated in Chicago, Al Capone was relaxing at his villa in Miami. The authorities in Florida had given him the perfect alibi. On the morning of February 14, 1929, Capone was in the office of the Dade County Solicitor being questioned about his criminal activies in the Miami area.

     The first arrest in the case came on February 27, 1929. The arrestee, Jack McGurn, a hoodlum with twenty-two murders under his belt, was Al Capone's favorite executioner. A witness who had passed by the warehouse on the fatal morning had heard one of the killers say, "Come on, Mac." The witness identified a photograph of McGurn as one of the St. Valentine's Day shooters. Following his arrest, McGurn immediately posted his $50,000 bail and was back on the street.

     On March 14, 1929, detectives announced that they had developed several other suspects in the mass murder case. They were Joseph Lolordo and James Ray. Lolordo had dropped out of sight and would remain at large. James Ray, a hood out of East St. Louis, Illinois, had vanished.

     The Chicago pollice also made some arrests in the case. Three of Capone's hired killers, John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Joseph Guinta were taken into custody. The authorities, due to lack of evidence, had to release Guinta shortly after his arrest. Scalise and Anselmi made bail and were also released. Scalise and Jack McGurn were later indicted on seven counts of murder. McGurn eventually beat the case on a technicality and all charges against him were permanently dropped.

     Al Capone returned to Chicago on May 7, 1929. On the evening of his arrival, Scalise, Guinta, and Anselmi were the guests of honor at a Capone-hosted dinner attended by a dozen or so of his gangster associates. After an elaborate meal, Capone walked up behind the three men and beat them to death with a baseball bat. Their bodies were found early the next morning in the back seat of a car that had been rolled into a ditch alongside a rural Indiana road. The triple murder, related to other Capone business, had nothing to do with the St. Valentine's Day killings.

     Ten months following the massacre in Bugs Moran's garage, when it seemed as though the investigation had died on the vine, the case came back to life. On December 14, 1929, when a police officer in St. Joseph Michigan was escorting two motorists involved in a traffic accident to the police station for questioning, one of the men, a bank robber and Capone associate named Fred Burke, pulled out a pistol and killed the officer. Burke escaped in a hijacked car. Not long after the shooting, in the abandoned get-a-way car, police officers found documents that led them to Fred Burke's wife who lived with him in St. Joseph, Michigan. Burke, an early suspect in the St. Valentine's Day case, wasn't at home. But a search of the dwelling revealed an arsenal that included two Thompson sub-machine guns. The police seized the weapons along with ammunition clips and drums.

     Five days after the seizure at the Burke house, the district attorney in St. Joseph, Michigan delivered the weapons and ammunition to Dr. Calvin Goddard in New York. Goddard test-fired twenty-five bullets through one gun and fifteen through the other. When he compared these bullets and their shell casings with those found at the St. Valentine's Day murder scene, he was certain that the tommy guns found in Fred Burke's home had been the weapons used in the Chicago slaughter.

     On December 23, 1929, Dr. Goddard presented  his firearms identification evidence to the Cook County Coroner's Jury. As a result of his testimony and exhibits, the jurors recommended that Fred Burke be apprehended and held for the Cook County Grand Jury on seven counts of murder.

     Police officers in Michigan captured Burke the following April. Because he was being held for the murder of the police officer, the authorities in Michigan refused to surrender him to Illinois. Instead, Fred Burke was tried in Michigan for the murder of the police officer. Following the guilty verdict, the judge sentenced him to life. He later died in the Michigan State Penitentiary.

     As for Al Capone, his criminal career was coming to an end. In October 1931, he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years at the federal prison in Atlanta. Suffering from syphilis, Capone was released in 1939. He died eight year later. Jack McGurn, the suspected brains behind the massacre, was machined-gunned to death by other gangsters in 1936. He died on a Chicago street with fourteen bullets in his body. Bugs Moran, a few years after the mass murder in his warehouse, was convicted of bank robbery. He died in 1957 while serving his time at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

     The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the firearms identification work performed by Dr. Calvin Goddard led to the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory funded by Northwestern University. Dr. Goddard became the head of the laboratory which specialized in firearms identification, polygraph research, and forensic document examination. In 1938, the Chicago Police Department purchased the lab for $25,000.
     

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Officer James Peters: Scottsdale's Dirty Harry

     American law enforcement has become more militaristic, and zero-tolerant. In 201l, the police shot just under 1,200 people, killing slightly more than half of them. (In 2009, the police shot and killed 406 citizens.) Still, 90 percent of police officers, during the course of their entire careers, don't shoot anyone. Most don't even discharge their weapons outside of the firing range. In 2011, of the police officers who did shoot someone, 15 had used this form of deadly force before. One of these officers had a rather provocative history of three previous police involved shootings.

     So, what would you say about a police officer, who, in a span of nine years, shot and killed, in separate shooting incidences, six people? In 2011, the entire police forces of Delaware, North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, and Alaska, combined, shot less than six people.

     During the period November 2002 through February 2012, Scottsdale, Arizona police officer James Peters shot at seven people, killing six of them. From this, one might conclude that Scottsdale, the Phoenix area suburb of 220,000, is the site of daily shootouts between the police and a large population of violent criminals. But this isn't the case. In 2011, the Scottsdale police only shot one person, and it wasn't fatal. By comparison, the police in Phoenix that year shot 16, killing 9.

     How could one member of a police department made up of 435 sworn officers, shoot so many people in a relatively low crime city? After say, the third shooting incident, why wasn't this man psychologically evaluated, and at the very least, put behind a desk? Moreover, didn't the officer himself ask himself why he was the only guy on the force doing all of the killing?

     On November 3, 2002, roughly two years after joining the police department, Peters, as a member of the SWAT team, responded to a domestic violence call at the home of a man named Albert Redford. Following a 4-hour standoff, Peters and two other SWAT officers fired seven shots at the suspect, hitting him three times. Mr. Redford died a few hours later in the emergency room. As it turned out, none of the fatal bullets had been fired from Peter's rifle. An investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cleared all three officers of wrongdoing

     Officer Peters, on March 25, 2003, responded to a call regarding shotgun blasts coming from the home of a distraught, disbarred attorney named Brent Bradshaw. Three hours later, Peters and his follow officers encountered the 47-year-old suspect wandering along the Arizona Canal carrying a shotgun. When Mr. Bradshaw refused to drop his weapon, Peters dropped him with a shot to the head. This shooting was declared justified.

     On October 10, 2005, Officer Peters shot and killed Mark Wesley Smith. High on methamphetamine, Smith was smashing car windows with a pipe outside an auto-body shop.  In justifying his use of deadly force in this case, Peters said the subject had threatened a fellow officer with the pipe.

     Brian Daniel Brown, 28, took a Safeway grocery store employee hostage on April 23, 2006 after he had hijacked a Krispy Kreme delivery truck. After killing this hostage taker, the department awarded Officer Peters a medal of valor.

     Peters and Scottsdale officer Tom Myers were in Mesa, Arizona on August 30, 2006 hoping to question Kevin Hutchings, a suspect in an assault committed earlier that evening in Scottsdale. After Mr. Hutchings fired a shot from inside his house, the officers had the power company cut off electricity to the dwelling. When the armed man came out of his house to investigate the power outage, Peters shot him to death. The city, in this case, ended up paying the Hutchings family an out of court settlement of $75,000. Even so, the department declared this shooting justified, and Officer Peters kept his assignment as a street cop even though he had killed two people in one year.

     On February 17, 2010, Officer Peters and Detective Scott Gailbraith confronted 46-year-old Jimmy Hammack, a suspect in five Phoenix and Scottsdale bank robberies. When Hammack drove his pickup truck toward the detective, Peters shot him. A few days later, Hammack died in the hospital. This shooting, on the grounds the subject was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon, went into the books as justified.

The Killing of John Loxas

     John Loxas, 50, lived alone in a trash-littered house near Vista De Camino Park in Scottsdale. In 2010, police arrested him for displaying a handgun in public. On February 14, 2012, Peters and five other officers responded to a 911 call concerning Loxas who reportedly was threatening his neighbors with a firearm. To complicate matters, Loxas, who regularly babysat his 9-month-old grandson, had the child in his arms while intimidating the neighbors.

     When Peters and the other officers arrived at the scene, Mr. Loxas and the baby were back inside the house. When ordered to exit the dwelling, Loxas, still holding the child, appeared in the doorway. As the subject turned to reenter the house, and lowered the baby exposing his upper torso and head, Peters, thinking he saw a black object in Loxas' hand, shot him in the head from 18 feet. The subject, killed instantly by the bullet from Peter's rifle, collapsed to the ground still holding the baby. Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, the infant was not injured.

     As it turned out, at the time Officer Peters killed Mr. Loxas, the subject was not armed, or within reach of a weapon. Police did find, in the dead man's living room, a loaded handgun hidden between the arm and cushion of a stuffed chair. Farther into the dwelling, searchers discovered a shotgun, several "Airsoft"-type rifles and pistols, and a "functional improvised explosive device."

     In explaining why he had shot Mr. Loxas, Officer Peters said he had been concerned for the safety of the baby. Peters was placed on paid administrative leave pending yet another police involved shooting investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Critics of the shooting, including some of Loxas' neighbors, protested the incident outside the police department.

     Except for the Safeway hostage case in April 2006, most police officers, faced with the choices presented to Officer Peters, probably would not have exercised deadly force. This didn't mean that Peters had committed criminal acts, or that his shootings were even  administratively unjustified. It just meant that most officers wouldn't have been so quick to pull the trigger. If it were otherwise, every year thousands rather than hundreds of people would die at the hands of the police.

     Because Mr. Loxas had been armed shortly before the police arrived at the scene, and Officer Peters thought the subject was holding a handgun when he shot him, this case was ruled a justifiable homicide. Whether or not, under the circumstances, the killing of Mr. Loxas was the right thing to do, was another question altogether.
 
     On June 22, 2012, the Scottsdale police board for the Public Safety Retirement System approved Officer Peters' application for early retirement based on some unnamed disability. He received a pension of $4,500 a month for life. Not bad for 12 years of work. No wonder the country was going broke, and people in the private sector resented the government.

     In September 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, on behalf of John Loxas' relatives, sued the city of Scottsdale. The Scottsdale City Council, in June 2013, approved a court settlement of $4.25 million. The Loxas family had originally sought $7.5 million in damages. The city of Scottsdale, in this case, was self-insured up to $2 million, a sum that would have to be paid by municipal taxpayers. Officer Peters had been one costly cop. 

The Rise And Fall Of A Chief of Police

     I guess it's not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline has a troubled and shrinking police department and a history of disgraced police administrators. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit moved out of the city to the suburbs. Today, there are 700,000 people living in a city that in the 1950s had a population of 2 million.

     In 2012, 300 victims were murdered in Detroit, a ten percent increase over the previous year. There were cities the size of Detroit that had under 20 murders a year. In 2012, Detroit's murderers were dumping their victims' corpses around several decaying inner city neighborhoods. Because the police don't patrol these districts, the bodies laid around for days, even weeks, rotting and stinking up the city. It was hard to believe there was a place like this in America.

     Because of massive budget cuts, the Detroit Police Department grew smaller while the crime problem got bigger. Police response time, even to major crime scenes, had significantly slowed. A man who had committed a murder called the Detroit Police Department and asked to be picked-up. When no one showed, the killer walked to a precinct station to turn himself in. In Detroit, it was actually difficult to get arrested.

     When Ralph Godbee jointed the Detroit Police Department in 1986, the city, while a shell of its former self, had not entered its final stage of decline and decomposition. The 19-year-old high school graduate, after just a few years on patrol, was assigned to the elite Executive Protection Unit. (That's how it works in a lot of police departments, you have to have someone upstairs who likes you.) In 1995, when Godbee was 26, the chief named him commander of the unit.

     Seven years after taking over the Executive Protection Unit, Chief Jerry Oliver appointed Godbee commander of the 1st Precinct. In 2005, Godbee made Assistant Chief of Police, but three years later, was demoted. Godbee retired, and started a private security consulting agency. Just a year into Godbee's retirement, Chief Warren Evans brought him back into law enforcement by making him the Assistant Chief of Police.

     In July 2010, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing promoted Ralph Godbee to interim chief of police after Chief Warren Evans had to step down as a result of a sexual affair he had with a subordinate police officer. The following month, Godbee, after having taken up with the same female officer, Lieutenant Monique Patterson, filed for divorce. Notwithstanding Godbee's relationship with officer Patterson, Mayor Bing promoted him to the permanent position of chief of police.

     The beginning of the end of Chief Godbee's law enforcement career came on October 2, 2012 when Mayor Dave Bing suspended him for thirty days. The assistant chief, Chester Logan, took over his duties. Like his predecessor, Warren Evans, Godbee's problem involved having an affair with a subordinate departmental employee. In Godbee's case, the woman was an internal affairs officer named Angelica Robinson.

     Angelica Robinson's attorney said this to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press: "She was trying to cut it off and he [Godbee] didn't like that. And apparently she was very depressed, and the concern was whether or not she was going to take her own life, and Godbee got wind of that. I guess he tried to intervene." Other Detroit media outlets reported that Angelic Robinson became upset after discovering that Godbee may have been attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego with another woman.

     Ralph Godbee, on October 4, 2012, announced his intention to step down as Detroit's chief of police. Retired Detroit police officer David Malhalab, a longtime Godbee critic, in speaking to a reporter with The Detroit News, said: "Godbee was a stink bomb waiting to go off. I've said from day one that because of his past actions, he shouldn't have been the face of the DPD. But [Mayor Bing] went ahead and appointed him anyway. Now he's reaping the consequences of his bad choices."

     In police work, the higher up the ranks you go, the less power you have. The cop on the street, armed with the discretionary power of arrest, exercises the real muscle. Moreover, the street officer is protected by civil service, and the police union. A street cop can abuse his authority and behave in a manner unbecoming a police officer and still keep his job. The chief, on the other hand, is wedged between the rank-and-file and the major, and is vulnerable to politics and bad publicity. Chief Godbee knew this, but risked his career and good name anyway. He may or may not have turned out to be a effective police administrator, but we will never know because of his reckless choices.

     Ralph Godbee's career, like the sad city of Detroit, started in glory, and ended in ignominy.