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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Raymond Roth: A Scam Artist Who Faked His Death

     On July 28, 2012, Jonathan Roth reported his 48-year-old father, Raymond Roth, missing. Raymond, his wife Evana, and their 22-year-old son lived on Long Island in Massapequa, New York. According to Jonathan, his father, while swimming off Nassau County's Jones Beach, had been swept out into the Atlantic Ocean.

     As officers from the U. S. Coast Guard and various law enforcement agencies searched for Raymond Roth, he was relaxing in Orlando, Florida at his timeshare condo. A couple of days into the search for Raymond's body, his 43-year-old wife Evana came across emails between her missing husband and their son that laid out their plan to defraud the life insurance company of $410,000.

     According the scheme, Evana would receive the life insurance payout, and Raymond would start a new life in Florida. Evana Roth, not a party to the fraud, called the Nassau County Police.

     On August 2, 2012, Raymond was driving back to New York. He had agreed to meet with law enforcement authorities in Massapequa. In Santee, South Carolina, a police officer pulled him over for driving 90 mph. After Roth failed to show up for his meeting with the authorities in Nassau County, a prosecutor charged him with insurance fraud, conspiracy, and filing a false report.

     Police officers, on August 6, 2012, took Raymond Roth and his son into custody. Both men made bail, and entered not guilty pleas to the criminal charges.

     On March 22, 2013, Raymond Roth and a Nassau County prosecutor agreed on a plea deal. In return for his guilty plea, the judge, on May 21, 2013, sentenced him to 90 days in jail and five years of probation. If Roth didn't pay $27,000 in restitution to the U. S. Coast Guard, and $9,000 to the Nassau Police Department, the judge would incarcerate him up to four years.

     Jonathan Roth pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

     People who fake their own deaths as a method of defrauding an insurance company rarely succeed. The most common technique in crimes like this involves staging phony drownings. Whenever a heavily insured person goes swimming or boating and doesn't come back, and the body is not recovered, alarm bells go of in the insurance company's office. In a world in which we are under constant video and computer surveillance, it's hard for insurance scam artists to remain dead very long.

     Shortly after pleading guilty to insurance fraud, Raymond Roth was in trouble again with the law. In Freeport, New York, he identified himself to a woman as a police officer and ordered her into his van. She fled into a nearby store and called the police. Instead of jail, the authorities took Roth to a psychiatric ward where he tried to commit suicide. A local prosecutor charged him with criminal impersonation and attempted kidnapping.

     In April 2014, Raymond Roth pleaded guilty to impersonation of a police officer and attempted unlawful imprisonment. The judge sentenced him to two to seven years in prison.

    

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Streeter Brothers Murder Case

     Douglas Ivor Streeter and his brother John owned and operated the Merino sheep farm near Maryborough, Australia, a town northwest of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. The brothers, in their mid-60s, had worked on the 7,000-acre farm since they were teenagers. They lived in the hamlet of Natte Yallock, and attended the local Anglican Church.

     While John Streeter was reclusive, Douglas and his wife Helen had been quite active in the local community. The couple had two adult sons, Ross and Anthony. In December 2012, Douglas was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease. His son, 30-year-old Ross Streeter, lived in the town of Bendigo, and worked on the sprawling farm with his father and his uncle.

     At six in the evening of Thursday, March 16, 2013, Douglas Streeter's wife Helen discovered the bodies of her husband and her brother-in-law. Someone had shot both men in the head with a shotgun. The double murder shocked this rural community. Who would have reason to kill these too well-respected farmers?

     At eleven-thirty the next morning, police officers followed an ambulance en route to Ross Streeter's house in Bendigo where paramedics treated the son for unspecified self-inflicted injuries. They transported Streeter to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where the patient was treated under police guard.

     Investigators believed that sometime after eight in the morning the previous day, Ross had used a shotgun to kill his Uncle John. After the murder the suspect left the farm, then sometime before noon, returned and killed his father.

     On Saturday, March 18, 2013, upon Ross Streeter's discharge from the hospital, police officers placed him under arrest for the two murders. Later that day investigators recovered the murder weapon. Charged with two counts of murder, he was held without bail. The motive for the double murder was a mystery.

     On March 14, 2014, Ross Streeter pleaded guilty to both killings. Supreme Court Justice Lex Laspry, at the November 2014 sentencing hearing, said he was dubious of Streeter's claim that he had no memory of the shootings. A psychiatrist had testified that the defendant did not suffer from any kind of mental illness and that his memory loss assertion was probably false.

     The judge imposed a sentence of 34 years. Mr. Streeter will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years of that sentence. That meant he had no chance of freedom until he turned 55. The motive for the murders remained a mystery. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Jean Soriano Vehicular Homicide Case

     In the early morning hours of March 30, 2013, on Interstate 15 eighty miles northeast of Las Vegas, a violent traffic accident took the lives of five people. All of the dead, and two others who were injured, had been in a Chevrolet van smashed from behind by a Dodge Durango SUV occupied by 18-year-old Jean Erwin Soriano and Alfred Gomez, 23. The dead and injured were members of a single family who were returning to the Los Angeles area from Denver, Colorado where they had been visiting a sick relative.

     Because there were several empty beer bottles in the SUV, police officers immediately suspected that the driver of the Dodge SUV had been under the influence of alcohol. Soriano, the 18-year-old, told police officers at the scene that he had been the one behind the wheel. Three weeks earlier, Soriano had fled from a juvenile guidance center in Santa Ana, California where teenagers with serious drug and alcohol problems were treated. An analysis of Soriano's blood revealed a blood-alcohol content of 0.12, a percentage well about the Nevada legal limit of 0.08 percent.

     On April 10, 2013, a Clark County prosecutor charged Soriano with seven felony counts of driving under the influence causing death or substantial injury. The magistrate set Soriano's bail at $3.5 million.

     Not long after the filing of the criminal charges, Jean Soriano's attorney, Frank Cofer, announced to the media that his client had not been driving the Dodge that night. On July 10, 2013, following an evidentiary hearing pertaining to the fatal accident, the judge dropped all of the charges against Soriano. To a Los Angeles Times reporter covering the case, attorney Cofer said, "Blood evidence on the passenger window and console matched Mr. Soriano." This meant that Soriano had been a passenger, not the driver of the SUV. According to the attorney, a shoe-print on the driver's side of the vehicle did not match his client's footwear. According to the defense attorney, Alfred Gomez had "manipulated" and "intimidated" Soriano into identifying himself as the driver of the Dodge. (Because Mr. Gomez had not been a suspect that night, the officers had not tested him for drugs or alcohol.)

     At the time the charges against Jean Soriano were dropped, Alfred Gomez's whereabouts were unknown. To the Los Angeles Times reporter, attorney Cofer said, "Police should never rely solely on a confession that's not corroborated by the physical evidence. Physical evidence can't be intimidated, it can't be coerced." (That's true, but unfortunately forensic scientists can be intimidated and coerced into presenting false science.) This case illustrates the power of forensic science to exonerate as well as incriminate.

     As of February 2016, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the traffic accident that killed five people.

     The Sorpriano case called to mind the death of New York Yankees manager Billy Martin. On December 25, 1989, Martin was killed in a low speed, single vehicle collision during an ice storm not far from his home in upstate New York. Questions arose regarding who had been driving Martin's Ford pickup, Martin or his friend William Reedy. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden, after performing the autopsy and analyzing the physical evidence in the truck, concluded that Billy Martin, not Reedy, had been behind the wheel of the vehicle at the time of the crash. Billy Martin had been drinking and was intoxicated when the accident occurred. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Kareem Andre Williams Murder Case

     On January 11, 2013, Lauren Kanoff from New York City was in Boynton Beach, a Palm Beach County town north of Hallandale Beach, visiting her 80-year-old father, Albert Honigman. Mr. Honigman lived in the Aberdeen Development, a gated retirement community considered safe from crime. Mr. Honigman had grown up on Long Island, New York, and after retirement, had moved to Florida's southeast coast with his wife Phyllis. In 2011 Phyllis passed away.

     At ten o'clock Friday night, January 11, 2013, Lauren and her father were unloading packages from their car in their open garage after an evening of shopping. A man walked up behind Lauren, and when she turned around, he punched her in the eye and side of the face. The blow knocked her down, and for a few seconds rendered her unconscious. When Lauren came to, she saw the assailant over her downed father punching him in the face. "You stay down old man," he said, "I have a friend in the car with a gun."

     Lauren did not see the car, but she got a good look at the attacker, describing him to the police as a 6-foot, athletically built black man in his 20s and 30s. Before the assailant left the scene, he stole several pieces of jewelry and Mr. Honigman's $26,000 Rolex watch.

     Paramedics rushed Albert Honigman to the Bethesda West Hospital where he was given a brain CAT scan. The next morning, the patient went home, but later in the day, was called back to the hospital after the CAT scan revealed blood on his brain. The following day, January 13, Mr. Honigman returned to his retirement condo. He went to bed where, a few hours later, his daughter found him dead.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy determined that Mr. Honigman had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's office classified the manner of this 80-year-old's death as criminal homicide.

     In speaking to a reporter after her father's murder, his daughter said, "I don't know if he [the assailant/robber] followed us in, I have no idea. All we know is we turned around...and suddenly I'm down, my father's down."

     In the wake of the robbery and homicide, residents of the Aberdeen Development in Boynton Beach were apprehensive. Mr. Honigman's murder destroyed the sense of security in this retirement community. One of the Boynton Beach retirees said this to a reporter: "It's a very frustrating experience to have someone who lives in [your] gated community get murdered. It's terrifying."

     Homicide detectives, by reviewing surveillance camera tapes,  determined that Lauren Kanoff and her father had been followed home from the Boca Raton Town Center Mall by two young men in a silver Camaro. On February 6, 2013, officers in West Palm Beach arrested 25-year-old Kareem Andre Williams. The murder suspect, a personal trainer with L. A. Fitness, resided in Loxachatche, Florida. In Palm Beach County, Williams had been arrested for grand theft, and carrying a concealed weapon. In 2011, Williams was released from a Florida prison after serving time for armed burglary and several firearms offenses.

     Kareem Williams, the owner of a car that matched the Camero seen following the victims home from their shopping trip, was placed, through cellphone records, at the mall at the same time the victims were there. A mall surveillance camera tape also showed Williams and Albert Honigman in the same proximity near one of the shopping mall's exits.

     On February 15, 2013, a Palm Beach County prosecutor charged Kareem Williams with first-degree murder and other offenses. The magistrate denied bail for the suspect of this brutal home invasion homicide.

     On February 9, 2016, a jury found Williams guilty of first-degree murder, burglary with assault, and robbery. Two days after the verdict, the judge sentenced Williams to two consecutive life sentences.

     

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Michael David Elliot: Breaking Out of Prison Was the Easy Part

     In August 1993, a 19-year-old armed robber and arsonist named Michael David Elliot and a criminal associate entered a house near Midland, Michigan with their guns drawn. They had come to the Bentley Township home 140 miles northwest of Detroit to rob Michael and Bruce Tufnell and their friends Vickie Currie and Kathy Lane. Elliot and his accomplice needed the money for drugs. When the home invaders didn't find any cash in the house, they opened fired on the victims, killing all four of them. Before leaving the murder scene, Elliot set fire to the house.

     Four days after the mass murder, police officers arrested Elliot in Saginaw, Michigan. He still possessed the .38-caliber revolver that had fired ten of the fifteen bullets removed from the bodies of the four murder victims.

     At his August 1994 trial, Elliot claimed that he had purchased the murder weapon the day after the massacre from the real killer. He also asserted that at the time of the murders he was at his aunt's house. The jury found the defendant guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing, Elliot told the judge that despite his conviction, he was innocent. The judge sentenced him to four life terms to be served at the Ionia Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Ionia, Michigan.

     During the first 14 years of his incarceration, Elliot was a problem inmate with 20 acts of misconduct. But after December 2008, he began serving his time as a model prisoner. Perhaps he decided that a low profile would enhance his chances to escape.

     On February 2, 2014--Super Bowl Sunday--while the other inmates were headed for dinner, the five-foot-eight, 165 pound Elliot made his move. Dressed in a white kitchen uniform to blend in with the snow, Elliot pulled back the bottoms of two fences and crawled to freedom. (Is this what passed for maximum security in Michigan? Where was the fence electricity, the motion detectors, and the prison guards? Were all the guards watching the Super Bowl?)

     After trudging through fields and woods, the escapee walked into the town of Ionia where he used a box cutter to abduct a woman. Elliot and his hostage, in her 2004 red Jeep Liberty, crossed the Michigan border into Indiana. At 9:15 that night, correction officers performing a routine head-count discovered that inmate Elliot was missing.

     Just before midnight, Elliot and his captive stopped for gas at a Marathon station in the town of Middlebury. While he paid for the gas, she entered the gas station restroom and locked the door. Using the cellphone she had kept hidden, the kidnapped woman called 911. After calmly reporting the carjacking and describing her captor, Elliot came to the restroom door and told her to hurry-up. "Yeah, in a little bit," she said. "Sorry, it's taking me longer than what I thought." At that point Elliot decided to drive off without her.

     At 5 PM on February 3, 2014, Elliot pulled into Shipshewan, a town twenty miles east of Elkhart, Indiana. There he abandoned the Jeep Liberty and stole a Chevy Monte Carlo.

     Not long after the prison escapee stole the Monte Carlo, a La Porte County sheriff's deputy spotted the stolen vehicle and tried to pull it over. The high-speed chase that followed ended abruptly when Elliot drove over stop sticks that flattened the Chevy's tires. Officers took him into custody. He had been free less than 48 hours.

     In speaking to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press after his capture, Elliott said, "I just seen an opportunity. It was really simple." Of the five main strategies inmates use to escape low-security facilities--the cut-and-run, the ruse, the tunnel, the outside accomplice, and the walk-away, Elliott's methodology combined the ruse and the cut-and-run. The problem was, he was not incarcerated in a minimum security facility.

     On February 6, 2014, a spokesperson for the prison announced that two corrections employees had been suspended in connection with the escape. One was a corrections officer and the other a shift commander.

     Michael Elliot had found a way to escape from a maximum security penitentiary, but he wasn't equipped to elude capture once he got outside prison fences. While prison escapes are rare, it's even more unusual for escapees to remain at large for more than a few days.