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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Hickory Street Four Murder Case

     On the night of January 9, 2013, 24-year-old Joshua Miner and his girlfriend, Alisa Massaro, 18, were drinking and doing drugs at a house in Joliet, Illinois, a town of 150,000 forty miles southwest of Chicago. They were partying in Massaro's Hickory Street home where she resided with her father, Phillip. Bethany McKee, an 18-year-old who lived in Shorewood, Illinois was at the booze and drug party as well. Adam Landerman, a 19-year-old whose father worked as a sergeant with the Joliet Police Department, rounded out the group. Mr. Massaro, the father of the host, was in the house that night.

     Joshua Miner, the oldest partygoer, possessed a serious criminal record. When he was sixteen he pleaded guilty to filming a child pornography video. In 2010, a jury convicted him of residential burglary. Instead of prison, the judge enrolled the heavy drug user into a boot camp program As the oldest and most criminally experienced member of the party group, Miner assumed the role of leader.

     Later that evening, Joshua Miner invited two more people to the Hickory Street house. These young men, Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin, were acquainted with the party attendees. The 22-year-old men no idea what lay in store for them.

     On Friday, January 11, 2013, Bethany McKee's father, a resident of Shorewood, Illinois, reported to the police that his daughter had just called him with a disturbing request. She and her friends needed help in disposing of the bodies of two men murdered a day or so earlier in the house on Hickory Street.

     When the Joliet police stormed into the Massaro home they found two of the original partygoers, Minder and Landerman, still boozing it up, snorting cocaine and playing video games. Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin were in the house as well, but they were dead. Both men had been strangled, and someone and had tied plastic bags around their heads.

     Bethany McKee had left the house before the police stormed into the dwelling. Police officers picked her up a short time later in Kankakee, Illinois. Alisa Massaro's father, the owner of the dwelling, was at the murder scene when police raided the house.

     Not long after being taken into custody, the four partygoers opened-up to detectives about the double murder. Joshua Miner informed his interrogators that he had lured Glover and Rankin to the party by giving them the impression they would be having sex with Massaro and McKee. Once in the house, Miner and Landerman strangled the victims to death. The victims were killed for their cash and drugs.

     Miner said he planned to dismember the bodies and dump the remains in a river or lake, or put the body parts into trash bags and curb them in another town on garbage day. Landerman, in furtherance of the garbage disposal plan, had purchased rubber gloves, bleach, a saw and a blow torch. Police arrested the men before they had the chance to dismember the victims for disposal.

     Joshua Miner, in confessing to detectives, painted Alisa Massaro as a woman as depraved and sexually deviant as himself. According to the 24-year-old child pornographer, Alisa had fantasized about having sex with a dead man. (I'm not sure how that would work.) After Miner and the police officer's son strangled the victims, they lined-up their bodies side-by-side and covered them with a blanket. Miner and Massaro then engaged in sex on top of the corpses.

     Bethany McKee, the 18-year-old who had asked her father for help in disposing of the bodies, told detectives that Joshua Miner had planned to save the victims' teeth as trophies. After helping Miner murder Glover and Rankin, Adam Landerman, according to McKee, danced around the room and speculated about how much money the dead men carried in their pockets. Miner and Landerman then drove off in Eric Glover's car to score cocaine from Miner's drug supplier.

     On Monday, January 14, 2013, a Will County prosecutor charged the four suspects with two counts each of first-degree murder. The judge set bail for each defendant at $10 million. Fortunately for these defendants, Illinois did not have the death penalty. In the the local media, the accused killers were referred to as the "Hickory Street Four." The sensational nature of the case led to a court battle over how much information the authorities were allowed to share with reporters. Not long after the arrests, a judge issued a gag order in the case.

     In May 2014, Alisa Massaro, the daughter of the man who owned the Hickory Street house, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and two counts of concealing a homicide. Will County Judge Gerald Kinney sentenced her to ten years in prison. Given time served and other factors, Massaro could be out of prison in less than four years. As part of the plea deal, Massaro agreed to testify against the other three defendants at their upcoming murder trials.

     Joshua Miner and Bethany McKee, in separate murder trials in November 2014, were found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. The jury, in June 2015, found Adam Landerman guilty as charged. The Will County judge sentenced him to life without parole.    

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Richard Savage: The Classified Ad Hit Man

     In January 1985, Richard Savage, a Vietnam veteran with a criminal justice degree and a brief stint as a police officer, placed the following ad in Soldier of Fortune Magazine: "Gun-For-Hire: 37-year-old professional mercenary desires jobs. Vietnam veteran. Discrete and very private. Body guard, courier and other skills. All jobs considered."(Italics mine.) 

     In response to Richard Savage's ad, people asked him to guard gold in Alaska and to find men still missing in Vietnam. But most of the people who answered his ad wanted him to kill someone.

     Within weeks following the publishing of Savage's gun-for-hire ad, he accepted his first assignment, the murder of a 43-year-old businessman from Atlanta named Richard Braun. Savage dispatched a crew of three hit men to Atlanta to kill the murder-for-hire target.

     In June 1985, just before Mr. Braun climbed into his van, it blew up. He survived the blast, but two months later, Savage's hit men killed him with a hand grenade attached to his vehicle.

     Savage's murder-for-hire gang, in August 1985, were in Marietta, Georgia to kill Dana Free, a building contractor. Savage had been paid $20,000 for the hit by a Denver woman who was furious with Mr. Free over a business investment. Two of Savage's men planted a grenade under Mr. Free's car. The murder-for-hire target drove around for a day with the unexploded grenade attached to the underside of his vehicle. The following night, one of the hit men slid under the target's car to make adjustments. The next morning, as Mr. Free backed out of his driveway, the grenade shook loose and rolled out from under the car. After that, Mr. Free got the message that someone was trying to kill him. He went into hiding.

     In late August 1985, Richard Savage accepted a murder assignment from Larry Gray who wanted his ex-wife's boyfriend, a Fayetteville, Arkansas law student named Doug Norwood, killed. In October 1985, when Doug Norwood started his car in a University of Arkansas parking lot, it exploded. The law student escaped the blast with minor injuries.

     In January 1986, as Doug Norwood drove from his home to the university, he realized he was being followed. The murder-for-hire target called the campus police department and officers pulled over the suspicious vehicle. From the car, officers recovered a machine gun and arrested the driver, Michael Wayne Jackson, a member of Richard Savage's murder crew.

     When questioned by the police, Michael Jackson confessed that he had been hired by Richard Savage to kill Doug Norwood. According to Jackson, the mastermind, Larry Gray, had found Richard Savage through his gun-for-hire ad in Soldiers of Fortune magazine.

     In the spring of 1986, Michael Wayne Jackson and Richard Savage were convicted of a murder unrelated to the Doug Norwood case. The judge sentenced Savage 40 years in prison. A year later, Savage was convicted of the attempted murder of Doug Norwood and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

     In 1986, Soldier of Fortune magazine discontinued publishing the gun-for-hire ads.

     Doug Norwood, in January 1987, sued Soldier of Fortune for publishing Richard Savage's ad. Attorneys for the magazine filed a motion to dismiss the suit on grounds the First Amendment right to free speech protected the magazine. The judge denied the magazine's First Amendment claim.

     In 1989, Richard Savage and three members of his crew were convicted of the 1985 bombing murder of Atlanta businessman Richard Braun. Mr. Braun's son, in 1990, filed a wrongful death suit against Soldier of Fortune magazine for running the hit man's classified ad. In 1991, a jury in Atlanta awarded the plaintiff $12 million. The trial judge later reduced the damages to $4.3 million. An appeals court, in 1992, upheld the wrongful death verdict. In so doing, the appellate judge wrote:"The publisher could recognize the offer of criminal activity as readily as its readers obviously did."

     In August 1992, the magazine settled the Doug Norwood lawsuit out of court.

     Beginning in April 2016, after 40 years of publishing the magazine in print form, Soldier of Fortune became an online magazine. At its peak in the mid-1980s, the magazine sold 150,000 copies a month. 

Monday, May 29, 2023

The Confessions of Reverend Juan D. McFarland

     The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.

     On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.

     The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)

     The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Wells Fargo bank.

     On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."

     The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.

     In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery and rejection of the Ten Commandments."

     According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."

     On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price ruled against the preacher requiring him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Donald Williams Jr.: Dumb And Dangerous

     Donald Williams Jr., born and raised in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood to parents who physically abused him and spent their welfare money on crack, murdered a man in 1994. The 20-year-old with a low I.Q. and no idea how to make his way in civilized society, had assaulted his former girlfriend, then killed her boyfriend. Convicted of third-degree murder in 1996, the judge sentenced Williams to ten years in prison. (In Pennsylvania third-degree murder convictions are almost always the result of plea deals.)

     Early in 2009 Williams began dating a woman from Reading, Pennsylvania named Maria Serrano. In May of that year, after letting him move in with her, Serrano kicked the 35-year-old out of her house. The infuriated ex-con took up residence in a halfway house in Reading.

     On June 25, 2009, Williams returned to Serrano's home. That night he raped her. But he didn't leave it at that. While she took a shower he stabbed her with a screwdriver. Williams then threw the 49-year-old woman down her basement steps, doused her with gasoline, lit her up and left her for dead.

     To the 911 dispatcher, Maria Serrano screamed, "Oh my God, I am bleeding! Hurry up! There is a fire, I am burning all over the place! There is a fire in the house! Hurry up!" Paramedics rushed the badly burned woman to the Lehigh Valley Burn Center near Allentown, Pennsylvania. On August 8, 2009 she died of her injuries.

     A Berks County prosecutor charged Williams, who was already in custody on the rape, arson and aggravated assault charges, with first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in this case.

     The Williams trial got underway on September 12, 2013 before Berks County Judge Scott D. Keller and a jury of seven women and five men. When Assistant District Attorney Dennis J. Skayhan rested his case there was no doubt who had tortured and murdered Maria Serrano. Before she died the victim had identified Williams as her attacker. A state forensic expert had connected the defendant to the rape though his DNA.

     Public defender Paul Yessler put Williams on the stand. The defendant did not deny that he had raped, stabbed and set fire to the woman he had thrown down a flight of stairs. In a bold and obvious lie that did not go over well with the jurors, Williams claimed to have "flipped-out" that night after catching Serrano having sex with his younger brother.

     Prosecutor Skayhan, as part of his closing argument, played the victim's 911 tape. Public defender Yessler, in his closing statement, emphasized the defendant's 83 I.Q., his ghetto upbringing and his childhood abuse. In referring to Williams, Yessler said, "This guy did not have a chance from the get-go."

     Six days after the opening of the trial, the jury, after deliberating six hours, found Williams guilty of rape, arson and first-degree murder. The defendant showed no emotion at the reading of the verdict.

     Because the prosecution sought the death penalty in this case the judge scheduled a two-day sentence hearing. In arguing for the death sentence, prosecutor Skayhan focused on how the tortured victim had died a slow, agonizing death. Public defender Yessler, in pushing for life, highlighted the defendant's low I.Q. and inability to control his impulses.

     The jury, after deliberating two hours on the sentencing issue, informed Judge Keller that a consensus could not be reached. The judge had no choice but to sentence Donald Williams to life in prison without parole.

     In speaking directly to the convicted murderer, Judge Keller made no secret of where he stood on the question of punishment in this case. "You deserved the death penalty," he said without trying to disguise his disgust at the jury's performance. "It was torture in any man or woman's world. You inflicted a considerable amount of pain and suffering on a victim which is unnecessary, heinous, atrocious and cruel."

     While few would disagree with the judge's analysis of this murderer, William's low I.Q. would probably have kept him out of the death chamber anyway. Appellate judges do not like the idea of executing mentally slow people. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Lauren Harrington-Cooper Student Sex Case

     In 2013, 31-year-old Lauren Harrington-Cooper earned $45,075 a year as an English teacher and lunch room monitor at Wyoming Valley West High School in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. She and her husband Raphael resided in nearby Kingston, a suburban community across the Susquehanna River from Wiles-Barre in the northeastern part of the state.

     In August 2012, Harrington-Cooper and Raphael started the Cooper Dance Academy that offered instruction in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, ballroom and Zumba dancing. She also held a position as adjunct professor at Misericordia University, a four-year Catholic school in the town of Dallas not far from Wilkes-Barre.

     On December 12, 2013, the parents of an 18-year-old Wyoming Valley West senior informed the school's principal of sexually explicit text messages sent by Harrington-Cooper to their son. When questioned by his parents and the police, the student said his English teacher, during the past week, had performed oral sex on him three times. He also claimed to have engaged in sexual intercourse with her twice.

     Harrington-Cooper, when interviewed by detectives admitted picking up the student and driving around with him before they had sex in her vehicle.

     Plymouth police officers and Luzerne County detectives booked Harrington-Cooper into the county jail on December 18, 2013 on the charge of institutional sexual assault. (In Pennsylvania, a teacher who has sex with a student over 18 can be charged with this third-degree felony. A teacher who has sex with a student younger than 16 can be charged with statutory rape. If the victim is between 16 and 18, the appropriate charge is corrupting a minor.) If convicted of institutional sexual assault, Harrington-Cooper could be imprisoned up to seven years. Shortly after her arrest the judge released the suspect on $25,000 bond.

     Police arrested the English teacher again on January 9, 2014 on charges of corrupting a minor. According to the criminal complaint, Harrington-Cooper, in October and November of 2013, had performed oral sex on a 17-year-old student. The relationship had allegedly started after Harrington-Cooper told one of her female students that she thought the boy was good looking. The male student responded by leaving the teacher a note that included his cell phone number. Following her arrest on this charge the judge released the suspect on another $25,000.

     On January 22, 2014, Lauren Harrington-Cooper resigned from her Wyoming Valley West teaching job. Six days later police officers took her into custody again. This time the criminal allegations involved two boys, one 16 and the other 17. The teacher, in October, November and December 2013, after meeting the 16-year-old boy at a shopping center, allegedly kissed and rubbed against him in her car. She also showed him the butterfly tattoo on her breast.

     The 16-year-old student told detectives that he had taken English from Harrington-Cooper in seventh grade then had her again when he was a junior. Because they were carrying on in a public place he felt uncomfortable. She allegedly informed him that she was having trouble in her marriage.

     Later on the teacher asked both boys to delete the sexually explicit text messages she had sent them, noting that they would soon be questioned by the police.

     In the case involving the 16-year-old, the Luzerne County prosecutor charged Harrington-Cooper with unlawful sexual contact. The judge released her on $50,000 bail. She pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     On March 21, 2014, an attorney from Scranton, Pennsylvania named Susan L. Luckenell informed the Wyoming Valley West School District of her intent, on behalf of the 16-year-old boy, to sue the district and the former English teacher for allowing the teen to become a "victim of sexual abuse." According to the attorney, her client had been damaged and injured as a result of the sexual experience with the adult teacher.

     In response to Luckenell's expression of intent to sue, the school district solicitor said, "I don't see where the district was negligent in any way."

     Lauren Harrington-Cooper, free on bail, awaited her trial on the sex offense charges. According to reports, following her first arrest, she tried to kill herself. There were no reports regarding the status of her marriage.

     In November 2014, Harrington-Cooper pleaded guilty to two felony counts of sexual contact with students, and two counts of corrupting minors. The judge sentenced the former teacher to 23 months in prison.

     In August 2015, after serving eleven months of her sentence Harrington-Cooper was released from prison. The law required that she register as a sex offender.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte: Twice Deported Cop Killer

     In 1996, police in Arizona arrested an illegal alien from Mexico named Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte on charges of narcotics possession with the intent to sell. Following the 18-year-old's conviction in the drug case, immigration authorities sent him back to Mexico. Federal narcotics agents arrested Monroy-Brackamonte again in 2001, and again the authorities deported him to Mexico. This drug criminal, however, had no intention of living in his home country. The people who had money to buy drugs lived in the U.S. Shortly after being thrown out of America in 2001, Monroy-Bracamonte was back, this time living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

     On Friday October 24, 2014, Monroy-Brackamonte, 34, and his 38-year-old wife Janelle Marquez Monroy, were sitting in a car in a Motel 6 parking lot in the Arden Way section of Sacramento, California. At ten-thirty that morning the couple encountered Sacramento County sheriff's deputy Danny Oliver, a 47-year-old veteran of the department who approached the suspicious couple.

     Monroy-Bracamonte responded to the deputy sheriff's investigative inquiry by shooting him in the forehead at close range with an AR-15 assault rifle. Deputy Oliver died on the spot. He left behind a wife and two daughters.

     Eager to flee the murder scene in another vehicle, the cop killer and his wife tried to commandeer a car driven by 38-year-old Anthony Holmes. When Mr. Holmes tried to fight off the car thief, the Mexican shot him in the head. (This victim survived the attempted murder.)

     Monroy-Bracamonte next carjacked a red 2002 Ford F-150 cab pickup truck with an ice chest in the back. He and his wife drove the stolen vehicle 30 miles northwest into northern California's Placer County. At this point, law enforcement officers in Sacramento and Placer counties were on the lookout for a cop killing Hispanic man in his thirties with buzz-cut hair who was in a red, stolen pickup truck with a Hispanic woman about his age.

     Later in the day of the Sacramento County shootings, two Placer County deputies spotted the red Ford and its occupants sitting on the side of a rural road. They decided to approach the suspicious vehicle.

     Once again Monroy-Bracamonte greeted the approaching police officers with deadly force. Using his AR-15 assault rifle, he shot 42-year-old homicide detective Michael D. Davis in the head. (The deputy died a short time later in a nearby hospital.) The armed and dangerous Mexican then shot the other Placer County officer, Jeff Davis, in the arm.

     A couple of hours after the shooting of the Placer County deputies, in the Carmichael, California area of Sacramento County a few miles northeast of where Monroy-Bracamonte shot Deputy Danny Oliver and Anthony Holmes, a park ranger saw the Hispanic couple and the stolen red Ford Pickup. Monroy-Bracamonte and his wife were changing clothes next to the parked vehicle.

     Not long after being spotted in Sacramento County by the park ranger, deputies arrested Janelle Marquez Monroy. When taken into custody she possessed a handgun. Shortly thereafter, police officers took Monroy-Bracamonte into custody at a house in Auburn, California.

     Questioned by detectives, the cop killer identified himself as Marcelo Marquez. However, when his fingerprints were run through the national fingerprint databank the authorities learned of his true identify. A check of Monroy-Bracamonte's arrest record in Utah revealed that between 2003 and 2009 he had been issued ten traffic tickets for speeding and other violations. (Did he have a valid driver's license?)

     Prosecutors in Sacramento and Placer Counties charged Monroy-Brackamonte with two counts of murder, attempted murder and two counts of carjacking. The judge denied him bail.

     The suspected cop killer's wife, Janelle Marquez Monroy, was charged with attempted murder and carjacking. 

     In January 2017, Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte, after a judge ruled that the defendant could not fire his attorneys and represent himself, threatened to kill the lawyers. Monroy-Bracamonte also told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White that he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced to death. The judge informed the cop killer that he could not do that.

     During his February 2018 murder trial, after the judge denied Monroy-Bracamonte's not guilty by reason of insanity plea, the defendant laughed, shouted profanities and threatened to kill police officers and members of the jury. His attorney explained that his client's behavior stemmed from his insane belief that he could not be physically killed. After the jury found Monroy-Bracamonte guilty as charged, the judge sentenced him to death.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Red Sash Murder Case

     In September 1995, the daughter-in-law of Josephine Galbraith found the 76-year-old woman dead in the guest bedroom of her Palo Alto, California home. Josephine  Galbraith's husband, 79-year-old Nelson Galbraith, a retired music school owner and insurance salesman, said he was watching TV in another room when she passed away. A detective from the Palo Alto Police Department and an investigator from the Santa Clara Coroner's Office arrived at the scene to find Josephine lying face-up on the bed with three superficial cuts on her left wrist and a red bathrobe sash tied around her neck. Next to her body, investigators found a bloody eight-inch knife, a razor blade with some blood on it and a white, 5-gallon bucket containing a small quantity of blood.

     The bathrobe sash, 62 inches in length, had been tightly wrapped around Josephine Galbraith's neck three times. After each wrap the sash had been tied with a double-knot. The three cuts on her wrist, referred to as "hesitation marks," were typical of the half-hearted attempt of a suicidal person who couldn't bring herself to make the deeper, more painful slashes necessary to cause death by bleeding. There was no suicide note. The coroner's investigator, a man who had been on the job 28 years recognized the scene as a suicide. The Palo Alto detective, based on the evidence at the scene, agreed with this assessment.

     The investigators figured that if Josephine Galbraith had been murdered, the killer would not have made the hesitation cuts. Moreover, the pattern of blood spatter did not suggest a struggle. And the presence of the bucket intended to make the scene less messy, was not consistent with a murder scene. Both investigators also knew that while people cannot manually strangle themselves (they pass out before they die), people can strangle themselves to death by ligature--the use of a rope, electrical wire, necktie or other length of cloth such as a bathrobe sash. They also knew that Josephine Galbraith's death would have been slow enough to allow her to wrap and tie the sash three times. Given the nature of the people involved, and the physical evidence at the scene, the investigators had no doubt that this woman had taken her own life.

     Two days after the death, Dr. Angelo Ozoa, the Santa Clara County Coroner, performed the autopsy, a procedure that took him only 45 minutes. Dr. Ozoa found the cause of death to be "asphyxiation by ligature." This did not surprise anyone. What did shock a lot of people, including the investigators, was his manner of death ruling: "strangled by assailant." Dr. Ozoa had based this finding on two assumptions: Josephine Galbraith was too old and frail to have tied the three knots so tightly; and even if she did have the strength, she wouldn't have remained conscious long enough to complete the task. Since Nelson Galbraith was the only other person in the house at the time of his wife's death, if she had been murdered, he must have been the assailant.

     Just days before her death Josephine Galbraith had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, an illness that five years earlier had caused the slow and painful death of her sister. Even before the diagnosis, she had told friends and relatives that she wanted to kill herself. She had informed one of her sons that she would like to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, and asked another son, a physician, to provide her with the drugs to end her life. He refused.

     Nelson Galbraith, the man implicitly incriminated by Dr. Ozoa's manner of death ruling, had severe arthritis of the hands, which would have made it difficult, in not impossible, for him to have tied the knots around his wife's neck. Moreover, there was nothing in Mr. Galbraith's background or in his relationship with his wife that made him a likely murderer. Investigators, urged on by the county prosecutor's office, nevertheless pushed forward with the case against him, albeit at a snail's pace. In the meantime, Mr. Galbraith's life became a living hell. He complained to a journalist about being referred to in the media as the "Red Sash Murderer," and was spending thousands of dollars on his defense. (Ultimately, his defense costs would reach more than $300,000.)

     Palo Alto Police, guns drawn, stormed Mr. Galbraith's house in January 1997 and hauled the 81-year-old suspect away on the charge of first-degree murder. In August 1998, almost three years after his wife's death, Nelson Galbraith, who had been allowed to make bail, went on trial for murder. The prosecution's key witness, Dr. Ozoa, told the jury that in all his years as a forensic pathologist he had never heard of a woman killing herself by ligature. (Suicide by ligature, however, was a well-recognized method of death that was well documented in textbooks and scientific journals.)

     The defense called to the stand forensic pathologists who disagreed with Dr. Ozoa, and argued that the defendant could not have physically committed the crime. Following two and a half weeks of testimony, the jury deliberated for one day and returned a verdict of not guilty. Following the acquittal, the prosecutor's office sought the opinion of a forensic pathologist in the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office regarding the manner of Josephine Galbraith's death. The pathologist agreed with the defense experts: the poor woman had killed herself.

     Nelson Galbraith, convinced he had been maliciously prosecuted, sued Dr. Ozoa for $10 million. To bolster his case, Mr Galbraith spent $10,000 to have his wife's body exhumed and sent to Salt Lake City to be examined by Dr. Todd Grey, the medical examiner for the state of Utah. According to Dr. Grey, Dr. Ozoa's incorrect finding of homicide was predicated on an incomplete autopsy. Dr. Ozoa had, among other things, neglected to dissect the dead woman's neck, a procedure that could have helped determine how long it had taken her to die. He had also failed to interpret the swelling in her brain, and the broken blood vessels in her face and eyes, as evidence of a slow death. Dr. Ozoa, when confronted with Dr Grey's opinion of his work in the Galbraith case, insisted he had performed a complete autopsy and that the woman had been murdered.

     In 2002, almost seven years after Dr. Ozoa's autopsy in the Galbraith case, the Medical Board of California, citing Dr Ozoa's work in that case, voted to suspend the 77-year-old's license to practice medicine in the state. Two months later, Nelson Galbraith died. Two of his sons kept the civil case alive, and in 2008, Santa Clara County settled the matter for $400,000. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Kevin Wallin: "Monsignor Meth"

     In 1996, Father Kevin Wallin became pastor of the St. Peter's Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut. Six years later the 50-year-old priest was transferred to the St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport. Citing health and personal problems, Father Wallin asked for and was granted a sabbatical in July 2011. A year later the Diocese of Bridgeport suspended Wallin from public ministry.

     While performing his duties as a Catholic priest, Father Wallin was buying and selling crystal methamphetamine out of his apartment in Waterbury.

     From September 20, 2012 to January 3, 2013 a state narcotics undercover agent purchased 23 grams of crystal meth from Wallin in six transactions. Because the priest was part of an interstate drug operation the state turned the case over to the FBI.

     On January 3, 2013, FBI agents who had been working with the state drug task force arrested Father Wallin at his Waterbury apartment where searchers recovered a quantity of meth, drug paraphernalia and drug packaging materials.

     Based on the state undercover buys, federal wiretaps and informant drug purchases, Father Wallin was charged with the federal offense of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams of crystal meth. Four co-conspirators in California, between June and December 2012, had mailed the priest $300,000 worth of meth.

     Dubbed by the local media as "Monsignor Meth," Father Wallin also owned an adult video and sex toy shop in North Haven, Connecticut. 

     On April 2, 2013 the defrocked Wallin pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Hartford, Connecticut. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge, on June 25, 2013 sentenced the 61-year-old drug dealer to 11 to 14 years in prison.

     In 2017 Kevin Wallin was let out of prison and placed on supervised release. In April 2018 Wallin failed a drug test, but instead of being sent back to prison, was placed on home confinement and ordered to enter a drug treatment program. Five months later, after failing another drug test, the federal judge send Wallin back to prison for another nine months.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Rabbi Bernard Freundel Criminal Voyeurism Case

     For 25 years Modern Orthodox Rabbi Bernard "Barry" Freundel was the spiritual leader of the Kesher Israel Synagogue in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Former U.S. Senator from Connecticut Joe Lieberman and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were members of Rabbi Freundel's congregation.

     A resident of O Street in Washington, the 62-year-old rabbi was known for his success in helping women convert to Orthodox Judaism. An expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Freundel held the position of Vice President of the Vaad (Rabbinical Counsel) of Greater Washington. He also worked as a professor at nearby Townson University where he taught courses on Judaism and ethics. As a widely known expert on these subjects, the rabbi was a visiting scholar at Princeton, Yale, and Cornell and regularly presented guest lectures at Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

     While Rabbi Freundel enjoyed a sterling reputation in academia and among the vast majority of his congregants, concerns were raised in 2012 regarding his treatment of women undergoing conversion under his guidance. Several women going through the process complained that the Rabbi enjoyed wielding power over their lives. For example, they felt coerced into performing clerical duties such as organizing his files, opening his mail, paying his bills, taking dictation and responding to emails on his behalf. Moreover, these vulnerable women felt pressured to donate money to the rabbi's favorite causes.

     On October 14, 2014, the roof collapsed on Rabbi Freundel's personal and professional life of privilege and respect when officers with the Washington D.C. Police Department placed him under arrest. He was charged with six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

     Rabbi Freundel stood accused of installing a clock radio equipped with a hidden video camera in a synagogue shower room. He had allegedly filmed women showering before taking their ritualistic purification baths in a large tub called the Mikvah.

     Jewish women and women converting to Judaism are required under Orthodox religious law to immerse themselves in the Mikvah every month after menstruating and before having sex with their husbands.

     Shortly after Rabbi Freundel's arrest, Jewish authorities suspended him without pay from his position at the Kesher Israel Synagogue.

     On October 20, 2014, a Townson University spokesperson announced that the school had opened an internal Title IX investigation to determine if the rabbi had practiced gender or sex discrimination at the university. The school banned the former Judaism and ethics professor from its campus which is located in Maryland between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

     The Freundel voyeurism scandal triggered a discussion and inquiry into the possible widespread abuse of female converts by Orthodox rabbis.

     Rabbi Freundel pleaded not guilty to the charges and was set free after posting his bail. If convicted of all six counts he faced up to six years behind bars.

     On February 11, 2015, several of the rabbi's alleged victims met with federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. The meeting had been called to discuss the benefits of a plea bargained deal in the case. Prosecutors, in discussing the Freundel investigation, said that since 2009 the former rabbi had secretly filmed 152 women. Of these crimes 88 were more than three years old and therefore couldn't be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations. Prosecutors did not reveal to the media how the victims at the meeting responded to the idea of a plea bargained deal for the ex-rabbi.

     Freundel, on February 19, 2015, pleaded guilty to having secretly videotaped 52 naked women as they prepared to immerse themselves in the ritual bath.

     On May 16, 2015, after sixteen of his victims--some in tears--addressed the court, Judge Geoffrey Alprin sentenced Bernard Freundel to six and a half years in federal prison. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Kurt Myers Killing Spree

      There has been, over the years, several spree-shooting cases involving elderly white men. Generally this is not a demographic usually associated with criminal homicide. What drives these older men to mass murder?

     At nine-thirty in the morning of Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 64-year-old Kurt Myers started a fire in his apartment building in the upstate New York village of Mohawk 65 miles east of Syracuse. The tense, jittery loner with a full white beard was not married and seldom spoke to his neighbors. Other than an old DUI arrest he did not have a history with the police.

     After starting the fire Mr. Myers walked around the corner to John's Barber Shop. He entered the place carrying a shotgun. Speaking to the  owner, John Seymour, Myers said, "Hi John, do you remember me?"

      "Yes, Kurt, how are you?"

     Without saying more, Myers raised his shotgun and shot the barber, wounding him severely but not killing him. Myers then fired on the three customers in the shop. Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57 were killed on the spot. Ransear had been a retired corrections officer. Dan Haslauer, the third customer, was shot in the hand and hip. He survived the shotgun blasts.

     Having murdered two men and injuring two others, Kurt Myers climbed into his red Jeep and drove to Herkimer, a town of 7,770 one mile from Mohawk. At Gaffey's Fast Lube he shot and killed employee Thomas Stefka and a 23-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections named Michael Renshaw. All of the shootings appeared random.

     By that Wednesday afternoon a small army of police officers had Myers trapped inside an abandoned building in downtown Herkimer. At one point Myers fired at the police from a window. The stand-off dragged on through Wednesday and into Thursday. Joseph Malone, the chief of police of both Mohawk Valley towns told reporters that Myers "...had come out of nowhere. He was not on our radar and hasn't caused any problems." A woman who for the past ten years has waited on Myers at a local bar said that "He wasn't a people person and he would never talk to anyone."

     Myers worked as a machine operator in the early 1980s at Waterbury Felt, a manufacturer of industrial textiles. The Waterbury Felt executive who had hired him, Steve Copperwheat, ran into Myers three months earlier in a Walmart parking lot. The two men had not seen each other in ten years. Copperwheat described the encounter to a reporter with The Washington Post: "I yelled over to him and he looked at me and said my name, said he was retired and just went booking away. It was almost like he didn't want anybody to know where he was. He was trying to be very distant, which surprised me." According to Copperwheat, Myers, who had never married, had been an exemplary employee who worked twice as fast as his fellow workers.

    Late Thursday morning, March 14, police officers stormed the abandoned building on Main Street. As the SWAT team entered the structure Myers fired on the officers. The police returned fire, killing the 64-year-old mass murderer. An FBI dog was shot and killed in the exchange.

     When things went quiet again in Herkimer and Mohawk, citizens of these communities were left with six shooting victims and the mystery of what turned Kurt Myers into a mass murderer at the age of sixty-four.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Grace Anne Hall's Unusual Death

     Twenty-three-year-old Grace Anne Hall was last seen at eight o'clock on the evening of March 20, 2013. She was driving her 1997 silver-gray Toyota Camry in the Serra Mesa section of San Diego, California. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound blonde with tattoos on her upper back was reportedly on her way to an unknown location in the Los Angeles area city of Sherman Oaks for a job interview.

     According to detectives with the San Diego Police Department, Hall used her credit card in the Mira Mesa part of San Diego one week after her disappearance.

     On April 18, 2013, at nine-thirty in the morning, a San Diego patrol officer spotted Hall's Toyota parked in front of the Grab-n-Go Sub Shop in the Kearny Mesa community. According to witnesses, the vehicle had been sitting there for a week.

     When homicide investigators opened the Toyota's trunk they discovered Hall's remains. An autopsy conducted by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office revealed no sighs of external trauma on Hall's body. In other words, she had not been bludgeoned, stabbed, strangled or shot.    

     Pending the results of toxicology tests detectives began to consider the possibility of suicide. Hall's father, who she had been living with at the time of her disappearance, said the victim had been unemployed and was despondent. According to Lieutenant Jorge Duran of the San Diego Police Homicide Unit, "The more we discuss the case the more it seems this was not a homicide."

     On June 30, 2013 the San Diego County Medical Examiner announced the cause of Grace Anne Hall's death as acute ethylene glycol poisoning. Because she had ingested a quantity of automobile antifreeze the medical examiner ruled the manner of death in this highly unusual case as suicide.

     According to suicide experts it is extremely rare for a person to commit suicide in the trunk of a car. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Albert Hamilton: Courtroom Charlatan

     In 1908, Albert Hamilton self-published a brochure about himself called, That Man From Auburn.  In this piece of self-advertisement, the druggist from Auburn, New York presented himself as an expert in chemistry, microscopy, handwriting identification, ink analysis, photography, fingerprints and forensic toxicology. He also claimed expertise in the fields of gunshot wounds, bullet identification, blood stain analysis, cause of death determination, anatomy, embalming and toxicology. To match his impressive qualifications he awarded himself a medical degree and from then on was known as Dr. Hamilton.

     Hamilton came into prominence in 1915 when he testified for the prosecution as a firearms identification expert in a rural New York murder case. The defendant, Charlie Stielow, an illiterate farmhand who stood accused of shooting to death the elderly couple who owned the farm where he worked, was facing the death sentence. The jury found Stielow guilty of first-degree murder on the strength of a coerced confession and the testimony of Albert Hamilton who identified a defect inside the barrel of the defendant's .22-caliber revolver as having left its individualistic mark on one of the fatal bullets. Having earned $50 a day for his work on the case, Hamilton impressed the jury with his enlarged photographs of the murder bullet. It all looked quite scientific.

     In reality, Hamilton's testimony was pure hokum. The science of firearms identification, as it came to be practiced in the mid-1930s, did not exist in 1915. The comparison microscope, an instrument essential to the comparison and analysis of firearms evidence, was invented in 1926. Nevertheless, Hamilton assured the jurors that the fatal bullet had been fired from the defendant's handgun. His findings went unchallenged by the defense and no one seemed to notice that he hadn't even test-fired the so-called murder weapon. The judge sentenced Mr. Stielow to death.

    Two years later, after pair of felons confessed to the murder, the governor of New York formed a commission to review the Stielow case. The governor appointed Charles Waite, an investigator in the New York State Attorney General's office, to lead the inquiry. Waite took Stielow's revolver to a New York City police detective who knew about guns. An examination of the weapon convinced the officer that the revolver had not been fired in years. Moreover, a naked eye examination of the bullets the New York police officer test-fired from the .22-caliber revolver showed vastly different barrel marks than those on the murder slugs.

     As a result of these and other post-conviction findings, the governor granted Charlie Stielow, and another defendant in the case, full pardons. Charles Waite, having been introduced to the possibilities of forensic firearms identification, went on to become a prominent practitioner in the field. In 1922 he formed the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. The bureau, the first of its kind, was taken over in 1926 by Dr. Calvin Goddard, an Army surgeon and ordinance officer from Baltimore who became the most important and qualified firearms identification expert in the world.

     In 1923, two Italian-American anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolemo Vanzetti, were convicted of shooting a factory paymaster and his bodyguard to death in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The defendants' attorneys were seeking grounds for a new trial and called upon the services of Albert Hamilton. Since the Sacco-Vanzetti case had been grabbing headlines for months, Hamilton eagerly got involved in the case.

     Nicola Sacco's conviction was based chiefly on the testimony of three firearms identification witnesses who said the bullet that killed the guard had been fired from his Colt .32-caliber handgun. The experts also believed that the gun the police found on Vanzetti had belonged to the slain guard.

     After examining the firearms evidence, Hamilton reported that the fatal bullet had not been fired from Sacco's gun and the weapon that had been in Vanzetti's possession was not the weapon that had once belonged to the bodyguard. Relying on Albert Hamilton's report, the Sacco-Vanzetti defense team filed a motion for a new trial. To counter the motion, the prosecution acquired the services of two experts who had not testified at the trial.

     In November 1933, during the hearing on the motion for the new trial, Albert Hamilton conducted an in-court demonstration involving two new Colt revolvers and Sacco's handgun. The two Colt .32-caliber demonstration revolvers belonged to Hamilton. In front of the judge, and lawyers for both sides, Hamilton disassembled all three revolvers and placed their parts in three piles on the defense table. He then explained the functions of each part and demonstrated how they were interchangeable. After reassembling the handguns, Hamilton placed the two new weapons back into his pocket and handed Sacco's Colt to the court clerk. Before he left the courtroom, the judge asked Hamilton to leave his two guns behind.

     Several months later, when the judge asked one of the prosecution firearms experts to reinspect Sacco's revolver, the expert discovered that the barrel to Sacco's gun was brand new. Following an inquiry, Albert Hamilton admitted that the new barrel on Sacco's Colt had come from one of his revolvers. Although it was obvious to everyone that Hamilton had made the switch, presumably with a mistrial in mind, he denied any wrongdoing. Hamilton continued his association with the Sacco-Vanzetti defense but he no longer played an important role in the case. He had destroyed his credibility as a firearms expert and witness.

     The Sacco-Vanzetti motion for a new trial was denied, and in 1927, the two men died in the electric chair. Prior to their deaths, Dr. Calvin Goddard, the most qualified firearms identification expert in the world, stated that Sacco's gun had in fact been the murder weapon. (Several modern firearms identification experts have examined the ballistics evidence in the case and agree with Dr. Goddard's findings.)

     The barrel-switching incident in the Sacco-Vanzetti case apparently had little effect on Hamilton's phony career as a forensic scientist. Eight years after the Sacco-Vanzetti debacle he testified for the defense in a New York murder case. In 1932, Stephen Witherell murdered his father, Charles. The defendant admitted shooting his father at point blank range with a Remington rifle he had stolen from his cousin. An expert with the New York City Police Department identified this rifle as the murder weapon.

     By the time the trial rolled around, Stephen Witherell had recanted his confession. He took the stand on his own behalf and denied shooting anyone. In fact, he denied the body in question was even his father's. (Decomposition and the massive gunshot wound to the victim's head had made the corpse unrecognizable.) Albert Hamilton took the stand and testified that there were two gunshot wounds on the body: the head wound caused by a rifle, and a wound on the victim's hand, made by a handgun. Actually, there was no hand wound at all. The victim had lost two fingers in an industrial accident. Once again, Hamilton had proven that he was incompetent, and a charlatan.

     In 1934, Albert Hamilton tried to insert himself in the Lindbergh kidnapping case by identifying a man named Manny Strewl as the writer of the ransom letters. Hamilton was not a qualified questioned document expert and the writer of the extortion notes turned out to be Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The carpenter from the Bronx, an illegal alien from Germany with a criminal history in his home country, was executed in 1936 for the murder of the Lindbergh baby.

     Albert Hamilton continued to disgrace himself as an expert witness in several forensic fields for another ten years, making him one of the most notorious forensic charlatans in American history. If there is anything to learn from this man's career it is that the woods are full of phony experts, and if judges let down their guards, we will have charlatans in our court rooms and baloney in our verdicts.   

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Henry Mapps Triple Murder Case

     Reggie Tuttle and his wife Kim lived in Rye, a southern Colorado town not far from Pueblo. The 51-year-old owner of a trucking company and his wife had three children at home and a 33-year-old daughter, Dawn Roderick, who lived with her husband and three children in Pueblo. Kim Tuttle worked on the culinary staff at the Parkview Medical Center.

     Henry Carl Mapps, a former long distance truck driver, resided in the Tuttle's mountainside home where he worked as an in-house handyman. The 59-year-old had once lived in Dimmitt, a town of 4,000 in the Texas panhandle. Prior to being taken in by the Tuttles, Mapps had lived out of his 2004 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

     On November 27, 2013, a fire broke out at the Tuttle house. After extinguishing the blaze firefighters discovered the bodies of three adults in the fire-damaged dwelling. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, the three victims--Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle and their adult daughter Dawn Roderick--had been shot to death.

     Investigators determined that the killer had set the fire after committing the triple murder.

     When the killings occurred three of the Tuttle children were visiting a relative. Handyman Mapps and his minivan had disappeared.

     A few days after the murders investigators learned that Henry Mapps had passed checks drawn on the Tuttle's bank account. This made him a prime suspect in the case. A Pueblo County prosecutor charged Mapps with three counts of first-degree murder as well as arson, identify theft and forgery.

     After the U.S. Marshals Office acquired a federal warrant for Mapp's arrest, police launched a nationwide manhunt for the six foot, 125 pound fugitive with red hair.

     On Saturday night, December 28, 2013, 700 miles from Rye, Colorado, U.S. Marshals and police officers arrested Mapps at a motel in Roland, Oklahoma. When taken into custody the suspect was not in possession of a gun. 

     Homicide investigators believed that Mapps murdered Reggie and Kim Tuttle for financial gain. They suspected he had killed Dawn Roderick simply because she happened to be in the house. If this were true, it was one of those instances in which decent, successful people brought a loser into their lives, a man who secretly hated them and resented their material wealth.

     It was also possible that Mapps killed these three innocent victims out of a sense of entitlement to their money. If this were the case, Mapps was fortunate that the authorities in Colorado had only executed one person since 1977.

     In May 2014, following his guilty plea to triple murder and arson after the death penalty had been taken off the table, District Court Judge William Alexander sentenced Mapps to three consecutive life sentences.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Randy Alana Murder Case

     In 2013, 50-year-old Sandra Coke, a capital case investigator for the federal public defender's office headquartered in Sacramento, California resided in Oakland with her 15-year-old daughter. As a federal investigator in cases involving death row inmates who had appealed their sentences, Coke interviewed them, their family members and acquaintances for the public defenders office in the Eastern District of California. The job often involved travel around California and into other states.

     In May 2013, someone broke into Sandra Coke's home and stole her beloved cocker spaniel, Ginny. After that, in her spare time, Sandra ran down leads regarding her pet's whereabouts by posting missing dog flyers around her neighborhood. The posters offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to Ginny's return.

     On Saturday, August 3, 2013 someone called Sandra with information about the dog. At eight-thirty the following evening she left her house to meet with the person who had called about Ginny. Before leaving the dwelling Sandra told her daughter that she'd be gone no more than thirty minutes. When she did not return to the house as promised her daughter reported her missing to the Oakland Police Department.

     Doing some detective work of her own, the missing woman's daughter tracked her mother's two iPhones using a GPS application. One of the phones had been dumped along a highway near Richmond, California. The other device had been ditched in Oakland.

     At seven-forty-five the evening following Sandra Coke's disappearance, Oakland police found her 2007 Mini Cooper convertible parked two miles from her home. In a quest for leads regarding her whereabouts officers removed bags of evidence from the Coke residence. Included among the items seized were two laptop computers.

     A few days into the missing person's case investigators developed a suspect from Oakland named Randy Alana. The 56-year-old career criminal had been seen with Sandra Coke on the night she went missing. The two had dated twenty years earlier.

     In June 2012 Alana was paroled from a fifteen-year prison sentence for armed robbery. He also had convictions for kidnapping and rape and was registered in California as a high-risk sex offender. The fact he and Sandra had been together on the night she went missing raised the possibility of murder.

     For Randy Alana this was not the first time he became a suspect in a murder case. In September 1983 Alameda County, California prosecutor Russ Giutini charged the then 26-year-old criminal with using a hammer to beat to death Marilyn Pigott, a woman he had known since elementary school. Pigott had been murdered on August 13, 1983 in her North Oakland apartment.

     In June 1984, while awaiting his murder trial in the Alameda County Jail, Alana and a fellow inmate named James Hodari Benson were accused of killing 40-year-old Al Ingram. The victim had been stabbed 93 times. Alana and Benson were members of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang. They killed Ingram under the false belief he was a police informant.

      In the fall of 1984, the jury in the Marilyn Pigott murder trial deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting Alana. In his second trial the jury acquitted him because the witnesses who testified against him were "street types." In the Pigott case, Prosecutor Giutini managed to convict Alana of receiving stolen property in connection with his possession of the murder victim's ring.

     In 1986, as a defendant in the Al Ingram murder trial, the jury couldn't reach an unanimous verdict on the issue of Alana's guilt. The judge declared a mistrial. James Hodari Benson was convicted of the murder in 1987. A year later, Alana pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the Benson case in return for a prison sentence of six years.

     Police officers, on August 6, 2013, arrested Randy Alana on a parole violation and booked him into the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin, California. The magistrate denied Alana bail.

     Three days after Alana's arrest, a Contra County search and rescue team near Lagoons Valley Park, an unincorporated area in Solano County outside of Vacaville, California, found Sandra Coke's body in a creek bed. She had been strangled to death.

     Former Alameda prosecutor Russ Giutini in speaking to a CBS reporter described Alana as a good-looking career criminal who was cunning and manipulative.

     On August 18, 2013, in a jailhouse interview, Randy Alana told a reporter with The Oakland Tribune that he and Sandra Coke had been in love and had planned to get married. During the past several months, according to Alana, they had shared a house and regularly attended the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm being treated like a suspect," he said.

     In November 2013 an Alameda County prosecutor charged Alana with murder in connection with Sandra Coke's death. Al Wax, Alana's longtime criminal defense attorney, calling the case against his client "very weak and circumstantial," asked a judge in June 2014 to dismiss the case. The judge denied the defense motion to drop the charges. The case would progress to the trial stage.

     The Randy Alana murder trial got underway on March 16, 2015 in the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Prosecutor Colleen McMahon, in her opening remarks to the jury, said that after the defendant stole Sandra Coke's dog Ginny on May 9, 2013, he tried to extort $1,000 from her for the pet's return. She didn't file charges against him and didn't pay him the ransom. She did, however, speak to his parole officer, accusing Alana of stealing her car, abducting her dog and stealing her daughter's expensive headphones. This discussion led to Alana's incarceration that spring and summer for violating his parole.

     Infuriated that Coke had spoken to his parole agent, the defendant, on August 3, 2013, strangled Coke to death in the rear seat of her Mini Cooper parked behind the Nights Inn in North Oakland.

     Defense attorney Al Wax, in his opening statement, said that without an eyewitness or a confession the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial and insufficient.

     Over the next four weeks prosecutor McMahon presented her evidence that included incriminating surveillance camera footage, cellphone data and records from the defendant's electronic ankle monitor. When police officers arrested him on August 6, 2013 in Dublin, California Alana was in possession of the murder victim's car keys and credit cards.

     Two of the defendant's former cellmates at the Santa Rita County Jail took the stand for the prosecution and testified that following his arrest, he remarked that while he had assaulted many women in the past, things didn't look good for him this time.

     Prosecutor McMahon, to establish motive, played a recording of a phone call from Alana to Sandra Coke made on May 9, 2013 from the Santa Rita County Jail. In that call Alana expressed his rage at her for getting him into trouble with his parole officer.

     A 40-year-old homeless woman took the stand and said that just hours after Sandra Coke's murder, the defendant took her, in his "wife's" Mini Cooper, to a motel in Oakland where they smoked crack and she gave him oral sex.

     Randy Alana took the stand on his own behalf on April 20, 2015. Under direct examination by defense attorney Wax the defendant gave an account of his activities on the day of Coke's murder, a story he was telling for the first time. According to Alana, on August 3, 2013 he and Sandra Coke in her Mini Cooper followed two people she believed would lead them to her dog Ginny. At the point of destination, a crack house in Richmond, California, he went inside to smoke dope while she remained outside talking to the unidentified people.

     When Alana came out of the crack house Sandra asked him to take her car and bank card and withdraw cash from her bank account. When he returned to the crack house with the money she was gone, presumably murdered by these mysterious people.

     On May 4, 2015, the last day of Alana's self-serving testimony, prosecutor McMahon, during a blistering cross-examination, poked several holes in the defendant's story. The next day, following the testimony of the defendant's 33-year-old daughter from a short-lived marriage in the 1980s, the defense rested. The judge excused the jury until May 18, 2015.

     On May 20, 2015, after the closing arguments, the jury, following a two-hour deliberation found Randy Alana guilty as charged. He faced up to 96 years in prison.

     The Alameda County judge, on June 18, 2015, before sentencing the murderer to 131 years in prison, called Alana a "black hole that sucks the life out of anything positive." 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Shane M. Piche: The Sex Offender Who Got Off Light

     In 2018, Shane M. Piche drove a school bus for the Watertown City School District in upstate New York. For a year the 25-year-old driver had his eye on one of his passengers, a 14-year-girl he had been communicating with on social media. In June 2018 Piche invited the girl and her friends to his house outside of Watertown. It was there he provided his bus riders with alcohol, and it was there he and the 14-year-old engaged in sex. In New York, a girl under 17 is incapable, by law, of consenting to sexual intercourse. In the eyes of the law, and anyone with a sense of decency, Shane M. Piche had raped that 14-year-old girl.

     In September 2018 Watertown police officers took Shane Piche into custody and booked him into the Jefferson County Jail on charges of second-degree rape. He also faced the charge of endangering the welfare of a child. Second-degree rape in New York carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The school district also fired him.

     In February 2019, pursuant to a plea agreement between Jefferson County Chief Assistant District Attorney Patricia Dzuiba and defense attorney Eric Swartz, Shane Piche was allowed to plead guilty to third-degree rape, an offense that could result in a sentence of four years in prison. The prosecutor, in justifying her decision to let Piche plea bargain down to the lesser felony said she wanted to spare the victim the ordeal of testifying before a grand jury and a rape trial.

     Two months after Piche's guilty plea, Judge James P. McClusky sentenced the former school bus driver to ten years probation. In addition, the judge fined him $1,375. As a Level One sex offender, Piche would not be added to the Department of Criminal Justice Service's online sex offender registry. That meant when someone looked him up on the computer, his name wouldn't show up on the site. Had Piche been convicted of second-degree rape as initially charged, his name would have been included on the sex offender registry.

     The 14-year-old rape victim's mother, in a victim impact statement she did not read in court, wrote: "I hope Shane Piche spends time in prison for the harm he caused my child. He took everything from my daughter... and has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety."

     In responding to public outrage over the light sentence, Judge McClusky said that because Shane Piche had no other known rape victims, he did not believe there was a high risk that this rapist would re-offend. The judge, elected to a 14-year-term on the bench in 2011, insisted that his sentence was well within the guidelines for third-degree rape.

     Amid the public outrage over the outcome of this case, Assistant District Attorney Patricia Dziuba came to Judge McClusky's defense with this statement: "The sexual contact occurred between the defendant and the victim was away from school property and a good point in time after they met on the school bus..." 

     Not long after Shane Piche's sentencing, offended residents of Jefferson County circulated a petition calling for Judge McClusky's removal from the bench. While 70,000 residents of the county signed the petition, the judge kept his job.

     Advocates for harsher sentences in rape cases make the argument that rapists should not be given one "free" rape before they become serial offenders. The Piche case is an example of how practitioners in our criminal justice are more concerned about the welfare of the criminal than the victim. Most people would agree that a 25-year-old school bus driver who takes sexual advantage of a 14-year-old student deserves at least some time behind bars.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Wrongful Convictions Of Cathy Woods

     On February 24, 1976, a 19-year-old nursing student at the University of Nevada-Reno named Michelle Mitchell went missing after her car broke down near the campus. Shortly thereafter, Mitchell's body was found in a nearby garage. Her hands were tied behind her back and her throat had been slashed.

     Reno detectives, without any solid leads in the case, were unable to identify a suspect until March 1979. The suspect was a 29-year-old diagnosed psychotic named Cathy Woods, an impatient at a Louisiana mental hospital. The patient's counsellor called the local police and reported that Cathy Woods had said something to the effect that she had been involved in the murder of a girl named Michelle in Reno. The Louisiana authorities passed this information on to detectives working the case in Nevada.

     At the time of Michelle Mitchell's disappearance and murder, Cathy Woods was 26 and working in Reno as a bartender. Following her mental breakdown her mother committed her to the mental institution in Louisiana.

     Reno detectives traveled to Louisiana to question Cathy Woods. When they returned to Nevada they claimed to have acquired a confession from the schizophrenic woman. Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, on the strength of the confession, charged Cathy Woods with first-degree murder. The authorities extradited her back to Nevada to stand trial.

     At the 1980 murder trial Woods' public defender attorney argued that the state did not have enough evidence to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney pointed out that the prosecutor had no physical evidence connecting his client to the murder, and not one eyewitness who had seen the defendant and the victim together. Moreover, the detectives who had questioned the mentally ill Woods had contrived the so-called confession.

     According to Cathy Woods, she had made up the statement about murdering a girl named Michelle in Reno because the only way to get a private room in the mental institution was to be classified as dangerous.

     The Washoe County jury, after a short deliberation, found Cathy Woods guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     After the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Cathy Woods' murder conviction, District Attorney Cal Dunlap brought her to trial again. In 1984 the second jury also found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge again sentenced her to life in prison.

     Cathy Woods' attorney appealed the second murder conviction but this time the appellate court upheld the verdict.

     In 2014, more than three decades after Cathy Woods' arrest, a DNA analysis of a Marlboro cigarette found near Michelle Mitchell's body matched the DNA of an inmate in an Oregon prison named Rodney Halbower. Halbower, known as the "Gypsy Hills Killer," had been convicted of murdering and raping six women and girls in San Francisco. The serial killer had also murdered a woman in Oregon and in all probability Michelle Mitchell.

     Based upon the DNA evidence linking Halbower to the Michelle Mitchell murder and the overall weakness of the evidence that led to Cathy Woods' convictions, a Nevada judge, in 2014, vacated her conviction. Less than a year later she walked free after serving more than 35 years behind bars.

     In 2016 Cathy Woods' lawyer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap and the state of Nevada. In August 2019 the Washoe County Commissioners voted 4 to 0 to settle Woods' suit for $3 million. 
     Cathy Woods, now 73, has the dubious distinction of being the longest serving wrongfully convicted woman in U.S. history.

Monday, May 15, 2023

"The Dingo Ate My Baby" Case

     According to Lindy Chamberlain, on August 17, 1980, while she, her husband Michael and their three children were camping near Ayer's Rock in Australia's outback, she saw a dingo (a wild dog) come out of the family's tent with her 9-week-old baby in it's mouth. "The dingo's got my baby!" she screamed. The infant, named Azaria, was never found. The incident grabbed headlines around the world. In Australia the media portrayed Lindy Chamberlain as a remorseless killer.

     In Darwin, at the Magistrates Court, a coroner's inquest jury found no cause to charge the parents with criminal homicide. This was not a popular verdict, and in 1981, a second coroner's jury heard evidence in the case. This time, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were ordered to stand trial for the murder of Azaria.

     Although the prosecutor lacked evidence of a crime--he didn't even have a body--the trial jury found Lindy guilty of first-degree murder. The media applauded the verdict, and the judge, bending to public opinion, sentenced her to life in prison. Michael Chamberlain, found guilty of accessory after the fact, received a suspended sentence.

     In 1985 a hiker found a piece of the baby's clothing in a dingo's den near Ayer's Rock. Presented with this new, exonerating evidence, an appellate court in 1987 overturned the convictions. Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison. Many Australians were not happy with this decision. The following year a movie came out about the case called "A Cry in the Dark" starring Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain.

     Because many people in Australia believed that Lindy Chamberlain had murdered her baby, the authorities, in anticipation of a retrial, convened a third coroner's inquest in Darwin's Magistrates Court. The jury in the 1995 inquiry returned an open verdict, declaring the cause and manner of the baby's death unknown.

     On February 24, 2012, the Magistrates Court in Darwin was for the fourth time the site of a coroner's inquest into the death of the Chamberlain baby. Lindy Chamberlain asked for the hearing to clear her name. Specifically, she wanted the coroner's jurors to change Azaria's manner of death from "unknown" to "accidental death by animal attack." Both parents, now divorced, were in the courtroom to hear testimony bearing on the case.

     According to an expert on such matters, from 1990 to 2011 there were 239 dingo attacks in Queensland, Australia. Since 1982 at least three children had been killed by wild dogs. These statistics were presented to make Lindy Chamberlain's account of her baby's death seem less farfetched. While public opinion had already shifted in her favor, she wanted to make it official.

     The coroner's verdict exonerated the Chamberlains of any wrongdoing in the death of their child. While there has never been any evidence of foul play in this case, there will always be, notwithstanding the coroner's verdict, doubters. And a lot of this doubt can be traced back to the irresponsible journalism in this case. In this regard, the case is not unlike the JonBenet Ramsey murder case in the United States.

     As late as 2016 Lindy Chamberlain was still speaking publicly about her ordeal. Surprisingly, she held no grudge against those responsible for her wrongful imprisonment.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Harold Montague Ax Murder Case

     In 2010, 33-year-old Harold E. Montague lived in a single-story house with his wife Erricca, their two grade school children and Erricca's disabled mother, Monica O'Dazier. The family resided on San Pedro Avenue in the central valley area of Las Vegas. Erricca worked outside the home while her husband cared for her mother who had cerebral palsy and suffered seizures. Harold had been his mother-in-law's principal caregiver for the past five years.

     At eleven-forty on the morning of Thursday, February 11, 2010, Harold Montague removed a medieval-style battle ax that hung on a wall in his house and used the weapon to hack his mother-in-law twenty times. Leaving the gravely wounded O'Dazier bleeding in the rear bedroom of the dwelling, Montague, with the bloody battle ax in hand, walked out onto Pedro Avenue where he encountered a young mother pushing her 4-month-old son in a stroller.

     Montague walked up to Sonia Castro and her son Damian and started swing the weapon. He quickly hacked the baby to death, then struck Sonia several times in the head and hands as she tried to protect herself. During the murderous rampage Castro begged her attacker to stop. Instead of letting up, Montague laughed in her face. With the dead baby under the overturned stroller and the infant's mother on the ground with her jaw hanging loosely from her face, Montague walked back into his house.

     A neighbor, 52-year-old Teresa Garner, witnessed the attack and called 911. After making the emergency call, Garner ran to the victims. She found the baby dead and Sonia alive but horribly disfigured and bleeding profusely.

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious Monica O'Dazier to the University Medical Center. Sonia Castrol was taken to the same facility where she was listed in "extremely critical" condition. Both women would survive Montague's vicious attacks.

     Following a brief scuffle, Las Vegas officers arrested Harold Montague at his house. He told the officers that he had no memory of the assaults. They booked him into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

     The next day, at Montague's arraignment, the judge denied him bail. At that hearing, defense attorney Norm Reed characterized his client as delusional and paranoid. The lawyer said he would have his client examined by a psychiatrist, and depending upon the results of that examination, make a decision as to whether he would plead his client legally insane.

     In October 2010, attorney Reed informed the court that he planned to put on an insanity defense. The judge set the trial for June 2011.

     By 2013, due to several postponements, the Montague case had not come to trial. At a preliminary hearing on December 6, 2013, attorney Reed put a Reno, Nevada psychiatrist named Dr. Tom Bittker on the stand. Dr. Bittker said that several interviews of Montague had given him a profile of this disturbed man's life. For example, as a child, Montague had been beaten, raped and emotionally tormented by his drug-abusing parents. At age six someone murdered the boy's father.

     According to Dr. Bittker, Harold didn't go beyond the fifth grade and grew up in and out of a Las Vegas juvenile detention center. As an adult he married Erricca, and fathered two children with her. She worked out of the house while he stayed at home, unable to hold down a job. In 2004, he began taking care of Erricca's mother.

     Dr. Bittker testified that in his expert medical opinion, when Mr. Montague attacked Monica O'Dazier, Sonia Castro and little Damian, he was in the midst of a psychotic episode that included the delusion that God was speaking to him directly.

     Erricca Montague took the stand at the hearing and testified that for several days before the attacks her husband's behavior had been bizarre. He hadn't slept for days, stopped eating and refused to drink water. He spent his nights pacing the house and talking to himself.

     Following the preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that the defense had produced enough evidence to go forward with an insanity defense. (In Nevada as in most states, legal insanity is a so-called affirmative defense which means the defendant has the burden of proving, with a preponderance of evidence, that the defendant was insane at the time of the alleged criminal act.)

     On May 22, 2014, the Montague case came to an abrupt conclusion when attorney Reed announced that his client had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and battery of a police officer. Under the plea agreement the defendant was sentenced on July 30, 2014 to life in prison without the chance of parole. In prison he would receive treatment for his mental illness.

     The plea agreement meant that Sonia Castro would not have to testify at Montague's trial. Earlier, at a April 2010 preliminary hearing, she had testified that when she begged him to stop his murderous assault, he laughed at her. After the rampage her jaw had to be surgically reattached. The attack had also left her with an irreparably damaged eye.

     Montague's guilty plea also spared eyewitness Teresa Garner from the ordeal of re-living the crime in court. After Montague's ax-wielding madness, Garner suffered a nervous breakdown.

     Harold Montague, on anti-psychotic medication, expressed a desire to apologize to his victims and to explain that he had acted out of a psychotic delusion. I doubt that his apology and explanation helped his victims, people who had been permanently scarred physically and emotionally as a result of his bloody rampage.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Diane McDermott Murder Case

     Americans have enjoyed detective fiction since the 1930s. The early police detectives of literature and film were far more impressive than their thick-skulled real-life contemporaries. In the U.S. criminal investigation as practiced by the police didn't become anything resembling a profession well into the 20th Century. The first widely read criminal investigation textbook didn't come out until 1958. (Criminal Investigation by Charles O'Hara) Colleges and universities didn't start criminal justice programs until the early 1970s and most of them were puerile.

     As late as the 1950s and 60s police detectives, instead of employing interrogation techniques to acquire confessions, simply beat suspects until they broke down and confessed. In the 1940s Fred Inbau of Northwestern University Law School developed a set of interrogation techniques designed to psychologically induce admissions of guilt without the use of force. As a polygraph examiner in the Chicago Crime Lab he knew that confessions beat out of people by the Chicago Police were unreliable, not to mention inhumane. Inbau's methods, however, weren't universally practiced until after the 1966 Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona. detectives liked the third-degree and old habits were hard to break.

     During the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, police detectives didn't routinely conduct professional crime scene investigations, take detailed notes, write complete case reports or submit physical evidence to crime labs. Crimes were not systematically investigated and solved, and if a case didn't present an obvious suspect, detectives quickly closed it. Crime novelists and their readers loved murder mysteries, cops didn't. Homicide detectives regularly ignored or bungled murder cases, no one knew how to investigate arson, and burglars were rarely caught because these crimes did not produce eyewitnesses. Most rape complaints received no investigation whatsoever. Cops who wore suits and carried gold badges were detectives in name only. (The word "detective" wasn't introduced into the English language until 1853 when Charles Dickens coined the term in his novel Bleak House.)

     Today, police detectives are well-paid and have access to cutting edge forensic science. They also can avail themselves of all sorts of relevant education and training. Still, in some big cities, small towns and suburban communities criminal investigations are regularly bungled due to indifference, laziness, corruption and a shortage of qualified personnel. Modern law enforcement is principally focused on street crime and the war on drugs. Criminal investigation has taken a backseat to these law enforcement priorities. The nation's crime labs are also underfunded and understaffed. 

The Diane McDermott Case

     A murder ignored by the police in 1967 drew attention in the spring of 2012 because the victim's son, a TV actor named Dylan McDermott, prevailed upon the authorities to take a second look at his mother's violent death. The Diane McDermott case is one of thousands of suspicious deaths in the past 100 years never investigated seriously or competently by the police.

     In 1967 Diane McDermott lived in a Waterbury, Connecticut apartment with her 5-year-old son Dylan, her 7-month-old daughter Robin and John Sponza, her 27-year-old boyfriend. In February of that year Sponza shot Diane McDermott in the head at point-blank range, placed a handgun next to her body that wasn't the firearm he had shot her with, then called the police. Sponza, a heroin addict with organized crime connections, told detectives with the Waterbury Police Department that Diane had picked up the gun he had been cleaning and accidentally shot herself in the head.

     Police interviews of Dylan McDermott, neighbors and friends of the victim contradicted Sponza's claim that he and Diane rarely argued. Dylan said he had seen the boyfriend who had once locked him out of the apartment point a gun at his mother. Moreover, the two of them were often heard yelling at each other.

     Following a cursory investigation, the Waterbury Police closed the McDermott case as an accidental shooting. Four years later, police in Waltham, Massachusetts found Sponza's body in the trunk of a car parked in front of a a grocery store.

     The fact Sponza had murdered Diane McDermott in 1967 before DNA and other forensic science breakthroughs did not excuse the bungling of this case. (I don't know if McDermott's body had been autopsied, or if a forensic pathologist had recovered the fatal bullet. Media coverage of the case was focused on the actor's angst.) Even if the fatal slug had been too damaged for microscopic comparison with a test-fired bullet from the death scene handgun, a forensic firearms identification expert could have determined if the two projectiles were the same caliber. The victim's hands could have been tested for traces of gunshot residue and the firearm next to her body could have been processed for latent fingerprints.

     In June 2012, Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner for the state of Connecticut, reviewed the McDermott case file and concluded that the gun next to the victim's body was too small a caliber to have fired the fatal shot. In his report, Dr. Carver wrote, "The wound also showed that the murder weapon had been pressed to the back of the head." (This suggested that the victim had been autopsied and photographs had been taken.)

     Since people don't accidentally shoot themselves in the back of the head, Diane McDermott had obviously been murdered, and the last person to have seen her alive was John Sponza.

     While the detectives in charge of the McDermott case could have been incompetent, lazy or simply indifferent, they may have also been corrupt. Although the Connecticut criminal justice system failed to do its job in this case, John Sponza ended up where he belonged, dead in the trunk of a car.

Friday, May 12, 2023

The Infamous Dozier School For Boys

     The Arthur G. Dozier School For Boys opened in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna in 1900. The reform school housed boys from the ages 8 to 20. Most of the school's residents were run-a-ways, truants and kids who had committed minor crimes. A few were orphans who had nowhere else to live and children classified by their parents or guardians as "incorrigible."

     The Dozier School was established to take wayward boys off the street and to mold them into decent youngsters who would grow up to be law abiding productive citizens. Instead, the institution became from the beginning a house of horrors where boys would suffer unspeakable abuse and in many cases violent death at the hands of sadistic sex offending staff members. And this would go on under the noses of the authorities for decades.

     In 1903, state inspectors visited the Dozier School and found children restrained in leg irons. No one was held accountable so the abuse continued. Eleven years later a dormitory fire of suspicious origin killed six children and two members of the staff. The dead boys were buried in the school cemetery, a section of the 1,400-acre campus the boys called "Boot Hill". The graves were marked with simple crosses made of steel pipe. In 1918 another dormitory fire killed eleven more boys.

     By 1973 the Dozier School cemetery--Boot Hill- contained 31 graves. According to the school's highly unreliable records, most of these institutional deaths had involved illness and drowning. None of the deaths of these young incarcerated boys sparked a cause and manner of death investigation.

     A century after the creation of the Dozier School more than a hundred men who had lived at the school in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, members of a support group called the White House Boys (named after a white cottage where some of the worst abuse took place) started petitioning the state of Florida to investigate the school, hold some of the sadistic staff members and administrators accountable, and shut the place down. These Dozier School alumni chronicled their experiences at the institution. The abuse included psychological torture, neglect, flogging and sexual assault. The former residents even spoke of murder.

     In 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, pressured by lobbying from the White House Boys and other Dozier alumni support groups, ordered an investigations into these criminal accusations. The case was taken up by the Florida State Department of Law Enforcement (the state police) and came to nothing. According to investigators, they could not uncover enough evidence to justify criminal charges.

     Frustrated by the failure of the state to expose decades of abuse, and to hold the Dozier School abusers accountable, the White House Boys, in 2010, launched their own investigation. The results of this inquiry, documented in a thick report, were so convincing and shocking the state in 2011 closed the school for good.

     In 2013 a team of forensic pathologists using radar equipment that can penetrate the soil, depicted  55 unmarked graves. All of these suspicious sites were located outside the school cemetery. Exhumations and DNA analysis resulted in the identification of 21 Dozier children. The skeletal remains revealed that some of these boys had died from shotgun wounds, others from blunt force trauma and the rest from malnutrition and infection.

     Investigators with the University of South Florida in 2014 found that between 1903 and 1913, children at the Dozier School were denied food and clothing, shackled, whipped, raped and hired out to work for other people. From 1900 to 1973 more than 100 boys died at the school.

     Following Hurricane Michael in 2016, an engineering firm hired by the Florida State Environmental Protection Agency to help clean up the mess, discovered 27 "anomalies" in the soil on the grounds of the old Dozier School. These anomalies were consistent with unmarked graves.

     By April 2019 forensic anthropologists with South Florida University confirmed the existence of the 27 graves. The remains at these sites revealed more evidence of child abuse and violent death.

     Cases like this remind us of the unlimited human capacity for cruelty and that institutions housing the young and the old cannot be trusted and must be closely monitored. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Doris Payne: Celebrity Thief

     Slab Fork, West Virginia, a tiny unincorporated community in the southern part of the state, is the birthplace and childhood home of one infamous person. That person, born on October 10, 1930, is Doris Payne.

     In 1950 Doris and her family moved from West Virginia to Cleveland, Ohio where she began her notorious, lifelong career as a retail thief. Over the next 65 years Doris collected 20 aliases, 10 social security numbers, 9 dates of birth and dozens of shoplifting arrests in places such as Monaco, Paris, Monte Carlo and Tokyo. Most of her arrests, however, occurred in the United States.

     Payne's criminal career mainly featured her stealing expensive jewelry from high-end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. Her modus operandi was simple: she would ask the store clerk to show her so many pieces of jewelry that the sales employee lost track of what was out of the showcase. Payne waited for the clerk to become distracted at which point she would scoop up an item, put it into her pocket and walk out of the store.

     In 2003, at the age of 73, Payne got caught stealing an expensive ring in Los Angeles. On September 23, 2005 police arrested her for shoplifting at a high-end store in Las Vegas.

     In January 2011, the elderly woman with the sticky fingers was caught stealing a diamond ring from a store in San Diego. That theft brought her a prison sentence of two years.

     In Costa Mesa, California, on January 2013, a Saks Fifth Avenue store detective caught Doris Payne removing the price tag from a $1,300 Burberry trench coat. (She probably planned to walk out of the store wearing the garment.) She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years behind bars. However, because of prison overcrowding in the state, a judge released Payne from custody after she had served only three months of her sentence.

     In 2013, Doris Payne was featured in a television documentary called "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne." The film included interviews with Payne along with her daughter and son, her best friend and police officers from around the country. The documentary was marketed as a rags to riches story of how a poor, single, African-American mother from the segregated 1950s wound up as one of the world's most notorious jewel thieves. 

     In July 2015, the 85-year-old retail thief got caught stealing a $32,000 diamond-studded David Yurman engagement ring from a store in the South Park Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina. Following her arrest she made bail and fled the state.

     On October 26, 2015, a loss prevention officer at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta saw Doris Payne pocket a set of Christian Dior earrings and walk out of the store. When police officers ran a crime history check on the suspect, they realized they had nabbed the notorious thief and fugitive who was wanted on a warrant out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

     Shortly after the authorities booked Payne into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, she paid her $2,500 bond and was released. Her attorney, Scott McCullers told reporters that Payne planned to plead not guilty to the shoplifting charge. The lawyer said that because of the 2013 TV documentary about his client's life of crime she was being persecuted.

     In December 2016, the police arrested Payne at a department store outside of Atlanta for stealing diamond necklaces worth $2,000. She made bail and was released on the condition she wear an ankle bracelet.

     On March 6, 2017, when Payne didn't show for a court proceeding, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest.

     The 86-year-old thief, on July 18, 2017, was caught stealing merchandise from a Walmart store in Chamblee, Georgia. She had $86.22 in un-purchased items tucked into her handbag. At the time of her apprehension Payne was wearing her ankle bracelet. Officers booked her into the Fulton County Jail.

     Payne, in September 2017, pleaded guilty to the Chamblee, Georgia Walmart theft. A month later the judge gave her credit for the 58 days she had spent in the Fulton County Jail. Before she walked out of the courtroom, the judge said, "Don't come back." (The judge had dismissed the charges regarding Payne's 2015 Saks Fifth Avenue theft.)

     In October 2019 the 89-year-old Payne appeared at a book festival in Decatur, Georgia to hawk her memoir, Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World's Most Notorious Jewel Thief.  Books in this genre appeal to readers who find professional thieves romantic figures. Other fans of this kind of book harbor deep resentment for the wealthy and fantasize about stealing rather than working for a living.

     In Diamond Doris Payne justified stealing jewelry and other merchandise this way: "[Stealing] beat being a teacher or a maid." This rationale reveals the mind of the sociopath. America has a long tradition of turning criminals like Willie Sutton, John Dillinger, Jesse James and Billy The Kid into criminal legends.  Doris Payne will not, however, go down in history as one of our great anti-heroes. In the end, she was just a serial shoplifter with a sob story.

     One can only guess how many times, in Doris Payne's life of crime a store detective, after catching her conceal un-purchased merchandise in her purse, let her go after retrieving the stolen items. Many retail security officers were probably reluctant to call the police on an elderly woman. One can also image how many times she walked out of the store undetected. When shoplifters get away with their crimes honest customers pick up the bill. Where is the glamor in that?