Tag Archives: murder

Isn’t in There

“I can’t do this.  I just can’t!  WE can’t!”  Danny looked at Veronica with a mix of frustration and anxiety.  Even…hatred?  As if this was completely her fault.

She didn’t know what to think.  Not now – not at this moment.  She could only stare back at him with a sense of uncertainty.  But that’s usually what she ever saw whenever she gazed intently at his forever-grizzled face; his verdant eyes spiraling like little green apples.  If there was one thing she truly liked about him – perhaps the only thing – it was that unique shade of green his eyes bore.

“You can’t do what?”  She knew the answer, but she still wanted him to say it out loud.  The way she made him say out loud that he loved her.

She always had to force him to say things like that; force him to reveal his emotions.  Her mother had told her men were that way.  And warned her not to drag it out of them; the way you drag an incorrigible child into church.

Now she regretted forcing him to say or do anything.  Her body contorted into the letter ‘N’ on the couch, hands on her stomach and her deep auburn hair a stringy mess.

She was shivering.

“This!” Danny finally muttered.  His eyes had darkened to near-brown.  “I didn’t expect – this.”  He waved a hand in front of him, as if he’d suddenly begun worrying about weight gain.

She worried, too.  Worried now that he’d never put a ring on her finger.  Why would he, she pondered, the sinking realization that she’d soon be alone – in this condition.

And why hadn’t this apple tree bore any fruit?  She stood in the back yard, pressing her hands against the tree’s crumbling bark.

When they leased this house nearly four years ago, the owner told them the tree might be dead, or at least dying and that she might have to remove it altogether.  It hadn’t produced any apples in a few years.

It was the largest tree in the back yard and the one closest to the house.  It still provided some shade, even with a sparse number of leaves clutching to its branches.  Cutting it down seemed almost sacrilegious.

Despite its pathetic appearance and looming demise, Veronica felt comfortable standing near it.  The tension that coated the house like honey on a sweater dissipated in the yard.

“I can’t do this,” Danny muttered.

His eyes were the last things Veronica ever saw.  And his words were the last things she ever heard.

“I can’t do this.”

He obliterated what little blood had spilled into the tub with bleach and some other chemical.  She had begun to bleed, but wrapping her in the plastic tarp from his boat kept it from reaching the floor.

The ground in the back yard was too firm to dig.  Too dry?  Too much clay in the soil?  He didn’t know and couldn’t worry about that now.  He was already growing tired; his entire form dripping like a soda bottle beneath a glaring sun; his hands and arms aching from the firm grip he had on the shovel.

It was close to midnight.

They would find her out here, he realized.  He dropped the shovel in the middle of the yard and dragged her – still ensconced in the tarp – towards the garage.  He couldn’t see the streaks of blood along the grass, as he ambled past the apple tree.  Her pink blouse had begun to soak up blood draining from her nose.  He grabbed an old sheet from the garage and draped it over the driver’s seat of her car.  He didn’t want to take his own vehicle.

He had to get her out of here – away from here.

The drive to the far eastern end of the county, near an old industrial area, took what seemed like hours.  But driving in the darkness always felt longer.

He could only hope the sheet and a pair of old work gloves would conceal any trace of him.  He thought it ingenious that he’d shut off her phone, before dropping it into her purse when he left the house.

He plowed through the darkness of the industrial park and the dimly-lit unsafe neighborhoods nearby, dragging both the sheet and the tarp with him.  Disposing of each in different dumpsters along the way, he continued walking back west.

It would have been too easy to flag down a truck driver or get a cab.  Even easier to drive her car back to the house and say she left with someone else; someone he didn’t know.

But he just couldn’t take the chance in being seen.  He was shrewd enough to leave his own phone at the house.  What an odd position: phoneless and shirtless, plodding the thirty or so miles back to the house on foot.  Who does that?

“I can’t do this,” he kept repeating, during the trek.

The sun had begun to crawl onto the horizon, when he staggered into the house.  His body was more sore than it had ever been in his entire life.  He could hardly stand in the shower.  He called his supervisor and said he’d come down with some kind of stomach virus.

His body ached – throughout the day and into the evening.  Every movement – no matter how slight – drove knives into his muscles.  Even picking up his phone and calling family and friends to ask Veronica’s whereabouts hurt.

He also called Veronica’s phone a few times; had to be sincere.

“Do you have any idea where Veronica might have gone at that time of night?”  The detective, Alafia, had a voice that made her sound more like an executive secretary than a law enforcement official.  Her neatly-aligned corn rows seemed to glisten.

Danny pretended to think for a moment, before uttering a quiet, “Uh-uh, no.”  He forced himself to look directly at her and not swallow.

Her steadfast gaze made him feel she didn’t really believe him.  I guess they haven’t found Veronica and the car yet, he surmised.  His stomach started to cramp, only adding to the crippling pain that gripped his body.

“May we search the house?” Alafia asked.

A sharp ‘no’ prepared to leap off his tongue, but he managed to stop it.  “Um…yeah.  I guess so.”

But nothing – they found nothing.  Nothing bad.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Even both bathrooms looked good.

They finally left, and Danny could breathe normally.  Almost.  As he sat back down on the couch, a sharp pain rolled through his midsection and traveled up and down his spine.  He doubled over and scrunched himself into a fetal position.  He wanted to lay down in bed, but he could barely move, much less stand and walk.

He remained on the couch for what seemed like hours.  Then Alafia called.

They’d found the car.

He swallowed audibly.  “Where?”

“On the east end of town – way out there.”

He shouldn’t have felt surprised.  Someone was bound to find the car.  And her.

“We had it towed back to the station for analysis,” Alafia continued.  “But we checked it first.  Veronica isn’t in there.”

Another sharp pain ran through his gut.

“So she’s still missing.”

Isn’t in there, he repeated to himself.  Isn’t in there?!  “So…um, what now?”

“Well, we’re searching the entire area.  It’s a large place.  We hope we can find surveillance cameras anywhere that might have captured the car.”

Surveillance cameras!  Shit!  ‘Oh, God,’ he sputtered.

“What’s that?” asked Alafia.

“Um…maybe she…um…left with some…someone.”  His stomach felt like it was flipping over.  “I mean…”

“Well, we just found the car, which is a major development.  An important one, too.”

“Right.”

Isn’t in there?  What the fuck?!

His phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.   Family, friends, neighbors – almost everyone they knew kept calling.

And his stomach wouldn’t stop cramping.  Every movement, every step sent nauseous spears through him.  His hands, legs and back still ached unmercifully.  It had been two days.  And he hurt as bad as that moment when he finally got back to the house.

He couldn’t go into work – again.  And he couldn’t make it down to police headquarters for a more detailed interview.

So Alafia and two colleagues returned to the house and made Danny recount every moment up to the time Veronica left.  He managed to sputter out the details; his stomach still cramping.

“What’s wrong?” Alafia asked.

“I don’t know.  I must’ve ate something bad.”  He grunted between words and tried taking deep breaths.

Police told him to stay away from Veronica’s family; not to even contact them.  Fine with me, he grunted.  They had already stopped calling.
Her phone revealed nothing incriminating, except the usual angst of a woman feeling dejected; sentiments that manifested in text messages to him and close friends.  Surveillance cameras were also devoid of anything concrete.  Except one – one showing the car entering the industrial park.  But it vanished into the maze of buildings and the cover of darkness.  They couldn’t see who was driving it and they couldn’t see anyone leave on foot.

Danny grinned in the solitude of the house.  He was more clever than even he thought he could be.  Still – isn’t in there?  He still didn’t understand that; couldn’t understand it.  How the hell did that happen?!

Too many people eyed him suspiciously.  Appearing on local media didn’t seem to help, even if he looked realistically sad and distressed.

Maybe all pretending is what irritated his stomach.  The daggers of nausea came with unrelenting ferocity.  He could even feel them in his back.

“What’s wrong?” his supervisor asked – again.

He’d grown used to the question, but he’d grown tired of it, too.  “Fucking nausea,” he groaned.  “I swear that stomach virus is still in me.”

Something was inside of him.  He just didn’t know what.  But it felt like a hamburger that refused to digest.

“Isn’t in there?” he continuously mumbled to himself.  Isn’t in there?  Then where did she go?  Who came by and took her?  He could’ve sworn he was alone when he entered that industrial park.  Isn’t in there?!

She was still alive!  Or had survived long enough to crawl out of the car.  But where did she go?

Oh hell!  She couldn’t have survived.  He was certain she was dead.

Or maybe…”Fuck!” he hollered into the quiet darkness of the bedroom, bolting upright.  It was three in the morning, and he was asking himself way too many questions and driving himself crazy.

And that must have been making his entire body hurt.  Aching, aching, aching!  All over!  He still hadn’t healed from that night.  All that walking!  He’d never walked thirty miles anywhere!

His stomach continued cramping.

“Goddamn!  What did I eat?”  He hadn’t been able to eat much since that night, so he could probably narrow it down.  But he couldn’t remember what.  His mind was too discombobulated.

He got to the point where even standing upright hurt.  Walking around slightly bent at the waist made some people think he’d thrown out his back.

“Are you alright?” his boss inquired.

“Oh, yeah!  I’m just pretending to hurt like hell!”  He was so tired of people asking if he was okay.

“I wouldn’t put it past you.”

Alafia called early one morning, as he headed out the door.

“Ouch,” is how he answered.

“What happened?” she asked.  “Are you okay?”

Goddamn!  “No!  It’s my gut!  And my back.  Everything is hurting like crazy!”

“Oh…well, sorry to call you so early.  But we need to come over here to the station.”

“Now?”

“Yes.”

“What’s up?”

“The FBI is now involved in Veronica’s disappearance.  They need you to go over some details with us.”

Veronica’s family had contacted the FBI out of frustration; feeling local police weren’t doing enough.

“Can’t we do this over the phone?” Danny asked.

“No.”

He scooted into police headquarters, still bent at the waist.  This time his back seemed to be the source of his agony.

Alafia and two FBI agents greeted him cordially, as a young police officer escorted him into a room.  But they made him sit alone sit alone for several minutes.

They’re watching me, he told himself.  He’d expected that.  But then, everyone was watching him.

“Are you alright?” one of the agents inquired.

“Yeah,” Danny mumbled.  “All things considered.  What can you tell me?”

“We’re hoping you can tell us something?”

“Like what?”

“Anything you couldn’t recall immediately.”

“I’ve already told you people everything about that night!  Or told them.”  He gestured to Alafia.  He leaned back in the hard chair and realized all three of them – Alafia and both agents – glared at him incredulously.  Their calm demeanor began to unnerve him.  And make him hurt even more.

While Danny was at the station, FBI forensics people towed his car and descended upon the house; scouring every inch of both – as well as the back yard.  They took his and Veronica’s laptops, every linen in the house, and even grabbed his boat.  They had learned about the new boat cover.  They coated almost everything in the house with luminol.  The bath tub yielded only trace amounts of blood.

They had already confiscated Danny’s phone.

Isn’t in there?

“We had an argument, and she left,” he reiterated.  He tried to maintain his composure, before adding, “She’d never done that before.  Just take off like that.”

Veronica’s family confirmed it: she wasn’t the type to leave abruptly.  Danny was – but not her.

“I don’t know where she went after she left the house!” he groused to the FBI.  Another sharp pain seared his midsection.

“Are you alright?” the agent asked.

If he had a dollar every time someone asked that question…“I don’t know where she went.”  He made certain to enunciate each word, as if he was talking to a pack of immigrants.  He hunched over.  “Goddamn!  This shit is getting to me.  It’s making me sick.”

Yeah, yeah, he thought.  That’s what it was!  Or how he could prove he was genuinely upset about Veronica’s disappearance.

Isn’t in there?

Veronica’s family marked the six-month anniversary of her disappearance with a candlelight vigil and another plea for help from the public.  Danny stayed away.  Even if he wanted to go, he didn’t think he could – not the way he’d been feeling since that night.

I guess my conscious really is getting to me, he grimaced to himself the evening of the vigil.  But because the pained anguish on his face was genuine, hostility towards him abated – somewhat – and sympathy increased – somewhat.

He knew police had him under constant surveillance.  He didn’t see any unfamiliar vehicles lurking in the neighborhood, but he sensed they were somewhere nearby – especially with the FBI now involved.  He could almost feel the heat of peering eyes – even more than the ongoing cramps in his gut.  Even taking out the trash and doing the simplest of yardwork tasks required every ounce of strength he could muster.

He started tiring more easily.  A small discreet lounge at his work place offered some mid-day respite.  Two female colleagues – both pregnant – often joined him.  They’d all chat a little and then doze off.

At least they have a reason to be tired, he said.  I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with me!

“You just need to go home,” his boss told him one day.  “Don’t risk screwing things up.  Besides, you’re under just too much stress right now.”

“Tell me about it!” Danny replied.

After another month, the ‘you-need-to-go-home’ advice became an order.

“Go see a doctor,” a coworker suggested.  “I’ve never seen you this way.”

Danny finally bowed to that pressure and made an appointment with a doctor he hadn’t seen in a few years.  Simple blood tests and X-rays showed nothing extraordinary.  But then, the doctor’s assistant called and said they needed him to undergo an MRI.

“An MRI!” exclaimed Danny.

“Yes,” the assistant replied.  “We did notice something a little off in one of the X-rays, so we need to make sure it’s not something wrong with us.”

“Nothing’s wrong with you people,” he mumbled after ending the call.  “But goddamn!  Some shit’s wrong with me!”  He hated to admit that.

Just laying down on the bed hurt.  The constant cramping had made a near-45° angle his new normal posture, but the machine induced claustrophobia in him.  He had to stretch out his entire form and remain still.

Isn’t in there?

He had to wait a couple of days after the MRI, before the doctor’s assistant called him.  “There’s something odd,” she stated plainly.

“Define odd,” he answered.

“We need you to come back into our office to discuss the results and so we can show you.  The doctor also wants to run some more intense blood tests.

Define ‘more intense’, he wondered.  Something odd?  What the fuck’s going on with me?!  His mind remained frazzled, as he ambled out of his workplace around 1 p.m. and made his way to the doctor’s office.  Parking lots in front of the complex were filled, so he had to park in the garage next to the hospital.  On the fifth level.  He’d normally take the stairs, but his body felt too exhausted.  It didn’t help that a couple – obviously much older than him – decided to take the stairs down from that fifth level, while he waited for the elevator; leaning up against the wall.  Its cranky arrival suddenly became one of the sweetest sounds he’d ever heard.

“Right there,” the doctor said, pointing to the MRI plastered against a wall.

Danny squinted, as if he was either developing glaucoma or just getting old, and finally saw the point of concern.  A mass of indiscriminate shape lay at the top of his abdominal region.

“We don’t know what that is,” noted the doctor.

That’s never a good thing, when a doctor says shit like that.  He cleared his throat.  “Well, um…what do YOU think it is?”

“I really don’t know.  I hate to speculate at this point.  We just found it.  Now don’t panic!  I need to run some more tests on you.  I have to refer you to a gastroenterologist.  They can study this more closely.  It may just be a mass of tissue.  But it could also be a blood clot – or even a tumor.”

“Oh…wow.”

Isn’t in there?

He had to wait another month to see the gastroenterologist.  By then, his midsection wasn’t just aching in perpetuity – it had begun to bulge noticeably.  The mass had to be growing.

Walking from the parking lot into the building again required every fiber of strength he had.  But, like the posture 45°, it had become his new normal.

The specialist was even more awestruck by the mass in the new MRI image.

This time, Danny could see it more clearly; no squinting required.  As his hands rested on his stomach, he started trembling.  “What is that?”

“I really can’t tell from here,” the doctor stated.  “I might need to do an internal exam.”  She was as calm as Danny’s regular doctor.

“You mean some kind of surgery?!”

“Maybe.  Not day surgery.  I’d actually have to admit you to the hospital.  Now, it may just be a mass of tissue.  So don’t panic!  But I am concerned.”

Telling his boss and a handful of others about these new developments was more intrusive to him than annoying.  Most everything up until this point had just been a nuisance – the police, the FBI, the strange looks from neighbors.  Up until this point.  Again, he felt vulnerable.

Isn’t in there?

The cramping had become unbearable.  His only consolation was that fewer people seemed to believe he was responsible for Veronica’s disappearance.  Her family remained suspicious, though, as did some of their mutual friends.  Her friends, really.

But just thinking about it only increased the intensity of the pain.  Which coincided with the growing bulge in his stomach.  The normally smooth contours had slowly vanished into a dome shape.

What the fuck is this thing?!  I can’t stand it anymore!  He wanted to call the gastroenterologist, but didn’t know if they could do anything now.  Could any of those people do anything now?!  The pain in his gut had intensified to the point where he had trouble breathing.  He felt as if something was pushing up into his chest.

“We think your appendix might have burst,” someone said.  “We’re taking you into surgery now.”

He didn’t care.  He gasped, his chest undulating with each breath.  Goddamn, he screamed.  But no sound.  Just wheezing.  He didn’t know how he’d gotten here – some hospital.

“Blood pressure dropping!” a miscellaneous voice blurted.

He felt it – something pushing up into his chest cavity, as if his stomach was expanding.

Someone draped an oxygen mask over his face, but it only made him feel claustrophobic.

“Heart rate accelerating!”

Pushing, pushing, pushing up into his lungs.  His vision had blurred – water pouring from them.  He felt light-headed and delirious.  His entire body convulsed.

The appendix – or whatever it was – had seemingly expanded.  And he couldn’t breathe!

He began to panic.

His entire body heaved and undulated violently; a single trembling wave of flesh and sweat.  They could barely hold him down long enough to carve into his side.

The bulge in his gut expanded and – with a large gust of air and a burst of blood – he finally lay still.

The shrill scream of the heart monitor didn’t move anyone from their positions; their brows all furrowed and eyes gazing at the mass of tissue and fluid bubbling in front of them.

And at the tiny figure with tangled auburn hair – quivering in the maroon blood.

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From the ‘Get a Rope’ Files

Most Americans remember the tragedy and miscarriage of justice surrounding Casey Anthony.  She’s the Florida woman whose toddler daughter mysteriously vanished from her parents’ home in Florida in 2008.  The child’s body turned up just down the road several months later, but only after Anthony’s mother reported the disappearance.  Cindy Anthony called police after she opened the trunk of her daughter’s car, some 3 weeks following the little girl’s last known sighting.  Casey Anthony led police on a long road of deception before they realized she was most likely responsible for her daughter’s death.  Casey’s 2011 trial became a theatrical event, as people stormed the courtroom every day, and a slew of legal and media pundits offered their opinions and viewpoints.  When the jury found Anthony not guilty of all charges, except lying, outrage became palpable.

And now, just as we got rid of Donald Trump, Casey Anthony has surfaced again – like a mole you thought you’d excised from your face a decade ago.  Last December Anthony filed paperwork in Florida to open a private investigation firm.  Named Case Research & Consulting Services, LLC, Anthony hopes to help other “wrongfully accused people, especially women, and help them get justice.”

I feel this witch got away with infanticide only because she’s a woman, mainly a White woman, and serves no purpose on Earth.

As the old Texas saying goes – get a rope!

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Coming Back Around

“Golden State Killer” suspect Joseph James DeAngelo in a Sacramento court room on April 27, 2018.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” muttered my coworker, Darrin*, with a dismissive eye roll and an exaggerated sigh.

“It’s true!” I insisted.  “What goes around comes around!”  I provided a number of examples of what I believed were people experiencing hellacious bouts of bad karma because of what they had said or done in the past.  Some of the people I mentioned to him were relatives, friends and former colleagues.  “It may seem people get away with stuff,” I told my incredulous friend.  “But eventually, it comes back around to bite them in the ass and smack them upside the head.”

‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you’ isn’t just some quixotic biblical phrase; it’s a natural factor of our universe; a vital forced that – like natural gas and radio waves – surrounds us silently, yet powerfully.  Overused and trite as it may seem, it’s real.

Presently, social and political conservatives across the U.S. are irritated at the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.  Even President Donald Trump has dismissed it as a “witch hunt.”  But I’m quick to remind my conservative friends and relatives about the concerted attempts by Republicans 20 years ago to impeach Bill Clinton over his assignation with a White House intern.  The economy was more robust than it is now, and the unemployment rate was lower.  We weren’t involved in any foreign conflicts.  The American populace was excited about the upcoming millennium change.  But the self-righteous clowns of the GOP who considered Clinton’s off-duty sexual dalliances – even before he got elected – paramount to the country’s global image.  They had been upset about his alleged “draft dodging” antics during the Vietnam War.  Now, we have a Chief Executive who received multiple draft deferments during the Vietnam era, boasted of fondling women, supposedly frolicked with an adult film “actress”, and mocked a former U.S. prisoner-of-war.  The glaring hypocrisy would be funny if it wasn’t so ironic.

But I’ve always been a strong believer in the ‘what goes around comes around’ ideology.  I don’t view it as a cute, antiquitous saying; a naïve vision of a complicated and brutal world.  It’s very real and somewhat ubiquitous.  Someone may escape with questionable behavior for a certain amount of time.  But eventually, it really does come back around to haunt the transgressor.  Currently, there are no better examples than two criminal matters – one a long-running rampage that redefined law enforcement tactics and forensics; the other a missing person case that garnered little media attention.

On April 24, 2018, law enforcement officials with both the State of California and the U.S. federal government announced that they had made an arrest in one of nation’s oldest cold case criminal sprees: the “Golden State Killer.”  From at least 1974 to at least 1986, the burglar / rapist / murderer – known variously as “The Visalia Ransacker”, the “East Area Rapist”, the “Diamond Knot Killer” and (unimaginatively) the “Original Night Stalker” – now has a name: James Joseph DeAngelo.  Starting with his suspected origins as a burglar who terrorized the central California farming community of Visalia for nearly two years to his last documented attack in Irvine, California, officials claim DeAngelo committed one of the longest and most brutal series of crimes both California and the nation has ever experienced.  The numbers are staggering: at least 50 rapes (including two girls ages 12 and 16) and at least a dozen murders have been attributed to the man who miscellaneous criminal incarnations ultimately gave him the name “Golden State Killer”, a moniker created by the late author Michelle Eileen McNamara for her book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

A map of just some of the crimes committed by the “East Area Rapist” / “Golden State Killer”.

Criminologists declare that the “Golden State Killer” (GSK) is a perfect example of a criminal whose offenses metamorphose from the seemingly mundane (burglary and ransacking) to brutal (the sexual assaults) to the worst kind of crime (murder).  Officials haven’t confirmed it yet, but they strongly believe DeAngelo got his start as “The Visalia Ransacker” (VR).  From about April of 1974 to December 1975, the culprit burglarized and ransacked up to 100 homes; often stealing mostly small items, such as photos, costume jewelry and trinkets.  In one burglary, he purloined a teenage girl’s bra, but he also nabbed her father’s gun.  That same gun may have been used in the only homicide attributed to the VR: the murder of Claude Snelling, a professor at the College of the Sequoias.  The local police had set up a variety of covert stakeouts and came very close to apprehending the crook three months later, when he committed another violent act by shooting at a police officer.  The bullet glanced off the officer’s flashlight and plowed into his eye.  The policeman survived.  The VR rampage stopped with that.  Six months later the “East Area Rapist” (EAR) began his violent assaults upon the East Side of Sacramento, the state capital.

Within two years the EAR had attacked more than 20 women and girls when he increased the tension in the city and surrounding communities by brutalizing female / male couples.  His viciousness knew no bounds.  At least 2 of his female victims were pregnant; others were menstruating; in one incident, he molested a 7-year-old girl while her mother and older sister were tied up in the same room; and, in one of his earliest attacks, he tied up and raped an Air Force nurse, as her 3year-old son slept next to her.  At the end of 1979, the EAR graduated from tying up couples and raping the woman to finishing his act by murdering them.

His methods were the same.  He’d sneak into a dwelling in the earliest morning hours, tie up his victims (face-down with their arms twisted behind them), blindfold them, place dishes atop the man’s back – a sort of impromptu alarm system and a trait criminologists claim they’ve never seen anywhere else – sexually abuse the female and ransack the house.  He always wore gloves and a mask and spoke through clenched teeth, as if he was trying to disguise his voice.  He usually declared he was only there to steal food and money.  Then he’d vanish into the night.  The dishes on the back trick was perversely innovative and would ultimately tie a few of the VR burglaries to some of the EAR assaults and ultimately to the murders; thus giving him the all-encompassing name of “Golden State Killer.”

A number of residents near crime scenes received anonymous phone calls before the assaults.  Others reported finding fence gates opened or knocked down; doors that had pry marks on them; window screens removed; unfamiliar footprints around the house; and trampled flower beds.  Some people actually saw prowlers in their neighborhoods.  Many dog-owners claim their animals alerted them to something amiss in or around the house.  The dogs would bark and growl incessantly at windows and doors inside a home, or people could hear the dogs making a fuss in the back yard.  One teenage girl in the small coastal town of Goleta says her dog barked relentlessly at the patio door.  She was alarmed to find it unlocked, but even more horrified to see a masked man standing outside with a knife.  He bolted from the scene.

At the time, my parents and I owned a German shepherd who resided mostly in the back yard.  His uniquely vociferous bark could be heard from far away.  One neighbor told us she knew when someone was near our house because of that dog’s bark.  In the 1990s, a coworker said she and her son couldn’t figure out why his pitbull was making such a racket in the back yard one night.  He kept telling the dog to be quiet.  Then, he awoke the next day to find his car had been burglarized.

People need to pay attention to their animals.  Like crying babies, a barking dog or a moaning cat is trying to tell you there’s something wrong.  There are unknown numbers of people in the GSK strike zones whose frustrated animals scared the assailant away.  In other words, the victim count could have been much higher had it not been for a family pet.

While all assaults are brutal – sexual or otherwise – and all home invasions are frightening (even if the residents aren’t present), the GSK added psychological torture to his crimes.  He’d often call his victims after the attack.  Millennials may find this hard to imagine now, but in a time before caller ID and call-return – when computers were the size of refrigerators and no one got ticketed for driving without a seat belt – you’d actually have to pick up a ringing phone to find out who was on the other end.  If you were lucky, you had an answering machine, which some people used more as a call-screening device.  One victim claimed a man called her former work place in 1982 – four years after his attack – and left a message with a former colleague; verbiage on the note provided certain details only the victim and the assailant would know.  A 1977 victim claims she received a call at home in April of 2001 – after a news article had come out announcing DNA profile matches linked the GSK cases together – and spoke in the same voice that she clearly recalled from nearly a quarter-century earlier.  “Do you remember when we played?” was all he said.

Even now, a sketch of the “East Area Rapist” bears a striking resemblance to alleged perpetrator Joseph James DeAngelo.

One thing that made the GSK’s crime spree so successful is that he most likely stalked his victims.  It’s not uncommon for criminals to “case” a house before burglarizing it.  But the GSK appeared to engage in covert surveillance of just about everyone in a given neighborhood to find his perfect target.  His first known victim, a 23-year-old woman, claims she got the eerie feeling that someone was watching her, weeks before the assault at her father’s home in June of 1976.

All crime victims suffer immense psychological trauma related directly to the attack.  Surviving GSK victims are certainly no different.  The aforementioned Air Force nurse said, for weeks afterward, she didn’t even want her own husband touching her and grew worried that her son would grow into such a monster as the EAR.

Crime victims aren’t the only ones who suffer; their families are victimized as well.  The men in the lives of the EAR victims felt angry and powerless, like most normally would, that this could happen to them.  Most men would fight back, even if it meant dying, to escape such a criminal.  Yet, with the lives of their loved ones at risk, only a few men in the GSK cases dared to act – and most lost their lives in the process.

Mike Williams with his newborn daughter in 1999.

The family of Jerry Michael (“Mike”) Williams certainly felt they were being victimized as well – not just by the absence of their loved one, but by a police department that seemed uninterested in discovering what happened to him.  Just weeks after DeAngelo was arrested at his home, police on the opposite side of the country – in Tallahassee, Florida – announced they’d made an arrest in Williams’ murder.  His widow, Denise Williams (nee Denise Merrell, nee Denise Winchester), had claimed that Mike got up early on the morning of Saturday, December 16, 2000 to visit nearby Lake Seminole for a brief duck-hunting excursion.  No one ever saw him again.

Denise said she initially thought Mike may have decided to visit either his recently-widowed mother, Cheryl, or his older brother, Nick, before coming home and that time got away from him.  When he didn’t return by evening to join her in celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary, she allegedly became concerned and began calling people.  When no one could explain Mike’s whereabouts, Denise eventually called police to report him missing.

In contrast to later high-profile missing persons cases (e.g. Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway), local law enforcement told Denise to wait.  Adults, after all, have a right to disappear, if they want.  And, as an adult male, Mike Williams definitely could vanish of his own accord, without a need (legally) to explain himself to anyone.  It didn’t seem to matter that the young couple had an 18-month-old daughter; there were no signs of embezzlement at his work place and no information about a mistress; that Mike had no criminal records; that the couple hadn’t reported any strange phone calls or previous threats to their safety; and that Denise refused to let police search their home.

Ten days after Mike’s disappearance, wildlife officials – searching the lake once again – came upon a camouflage hat, similar to the one Mike had and would have worn.  The hat hadn’t been there 9 days earlier, when authorities had scoured the lake.  But they’d only searched the lake once before they discovered the hat.  The item seemed relatively new and didn’t appear to have been in the water for nearly two weeks.  DNA tests came back negative for any connection to Mike, but if he had worn it, the hat would have been in the water for several days; so any trace evidence would have been lost to the elements.  Then, in June of 2001, authorities made another shocking find in the lake: a pair of waders that hunters often wear when going into the water.  As with the hat, however, no evidence that Mike had worn them could be found.

Nonetheless, wildlife officials pointed out that 80 people had previously drowned in Lake Seminole, and the body of each one had been recovered.  Cheryl and Nick Williams hired private investigators to search for Mike.  Although they couldn’t find any new evidence or witnesses, they did produce an outlandish theory: somehow Mike must have fallen out of his boat, they hypothesized, drowned as he became entangled in weeds and other lake detritus, and was then eaten by one or more alligators, with other aquatic wildlife – such as turtles and catfish – consuming what was left.

Alligators have been known to attack humans, so initially some thought it was a remote possibility.  But reptilian experts informed police that alligators don’t feed during cold weather.  They enter a near-dormant state, as they remain submerged in water and try to keep their body temperature warm.  In December of 2000, temperatures in the waters of Lake Seminole had dropped to 46°F (8°C), and the lake iced out to as much as 20 feet (6.1 m) from shore.  Even when large reptiles, including alligators and crocodiles, have attacked and tried to consume a human, there’s almost always some part of the body left behind.  Mike stood 5’10” (1.7 m) and weighed about 170 lbs. (77 kg).  If no part of the body remains, then some chewed up piece of clothing or footwear is usually left behind.  No sign of Mike could be found.

Moreover, the areas around the lake weren’t secured by police.  Many people suspected the hat and waders were deliberately placed in the lake waters after Mike disappeared and – along with the hungry alligator theory – was a ruse to mislead investigators.  After the waders were found, though, police seemed to stop looking for Mike.

The discovery of the hat and waders allowed for officials to declare Mike legally dead – and ultimately for his widow to collect his life insurance.  Much to the astonishment of family and friends, Denise had vigorously pursued the declaration, and the insurance company finally relented – but only if a public memorial service was held.  And that’s just what happened in early 2002.

Even after investigators reopened the case in 2004, nothing came of it.  Cheryl claims she received threats to her personal safety, as she insisted authorities continue investigating Mike’s disappearance.

Aside from the hat, waders and hungry alligator theory, investigators made note of some other odd details:

  • The boat launch where Mike’s Ford Bronco was found, which he would presumably have used to put his boat in the lake, was an undeveloped patch of mud.  Yet nearby were finished concrete launches that he was known to use in the past.
  • A storm the night after Mike was reported missing had easterly winds that should have blown the abandoned, unmoored boat across the lake to the Georgia side.  But it was found closer to the Florida side.
  • When the boat was recovered, its engine was off, yet the gas tank was full.  According to the manufacturer, if it had been on when Mike allegedly fell out, the engine should have stayed on, causing the boat to run in circles until its fuel was exhausted.
  • Friends who’d gone hunting and/or fishing with Mike told investigators that Mike never did so alone.  His concern for personal safety was paramount, which is one reason why he kept his firearms at work.  They added that no one they knew wore waders while piloting a boat because they’re cumbersome, and maneuvering a vessel would be nearly impossible while clad in them.

“My gut feeling is Mike did not die in Lake Seminole,” Ronnie Austin, a former Florida state attorney, said in 2006.  He had just left the state’s attorney’s office for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and added that his belief was shared by all the investigators at that point.  “I would say this is a suspicious missing person.”

Despite police doubts, Mike Williams obviously wasn’t ranked among the valuable people (generally meaning White females) for whom police must search.  I personally didn’t hear about this case until 2011, when I saw a report about it on the true-crime series “Disappeared.”  And I can literally count on one hand the number of times the disappearance of an adult male made national headlines.

But there are even stranger facts involving both Denise and someone else in Mike’s life: his best friend, Brian Winchester.  Family and friends noticed the two seemed to grow close in the months after Mike’s disappearance, with Brian spending a great deal of time visiting Denise.  Family and friends thought it curious that Brian, an insurance agent, had sold the Williams insurance policies totaling some $1 million.  They found it downright bizarre that Brian had asked investigators how much time needed to pass before someone is declared legally dead.  Finally, everyone realized that Denise and Brian had committed the ultimate betrayal: they had an affair.  Even more shocking, 6 years after Mike vanished, Denise and Brian got married, and Brian moved into the same house where Mike had lived.  The union inspired more dubious thoughts about the couple, and they became ostracized in their own neighborhood.  In announcing Denise’s arrest, police claim that Denise and Brian Winchester went further with that betrayal: they murdered Mike solely so they could be together and collect on the life insurance.

These events would normally send up the proverbial cavalcade of “red flags,” but police apparently thought nothing of it in the immediate aftermath of Mike’s evanescence.  While the disappearances of the above-mentioned Peterson and Holloway launched worldwide searches and garnered global media coverage, Mike Williams’ family was forced to engage in their own inquiries, which ultimately metamorphosed into a lengthy letter-writing campaign to then-Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

In October of 2007, Nick Williams found a photograph of a .22 caliber Ruger pistol (and its serial number) that their late father had once owned.  Mike inherited the firearm from his father, and after Mike was declared legally dead, it was one of the few items belonging to him that Denise had NOT returned to her former in-laws.  In 2008, Florida insurance investigators began looking into the Williams case from a financial angle.  They discovered that Denise had collected only the policies sold to her and Mike by Brian.  But fraud investigators closed their case shortly afterwards, citing a lack of evidence as a barrier to proceeding further.  They did concede, however, that they felt there was more evidence and that the entire situation was suspicious.  By then, however, rumors of a grand jury looking into Mike’s disappearance began circulating.  Police remained silent on the matter, but I can only imagine that – along with the previous insurance fraud instigation – Denise and Brian became nervous.  If there’s no honor among thieves, there’s even less among murderers.

How exactly the FDLE deduced that Mike Williams had been murdered (as most family and friends already believed) and didn’t just abandon his family (as Denise and Brian repeatedly and publicly stated) has not been revealed yet.  But I feel the confirmation source is none other than Winchester himself.

In 2012, Denise and Brian separated and divorced 3 years later – allegedly due to Brian’s sex addiction.  In August of 2016, matters between them reached a violent crescendo, when Brian broke into Denise’s car.  She had seen him and confronted him; whereupon they got into a heated argument.  Brian managed to grab Denise’s cell phone and then produced a gun.  That compelled her to get into the car.  But, instead of driving home, she drove to a drug store.  Brian threatened to kill himself.  Denise apparently was able to calm him down and drove him to a park near her work where he’d left his truck.  He then pulled a large tan-colored sheet, a large plastic sheet, a spray bottle of bleach and a tool from Denise’s car.  Despite her insistence that she wouldn’t contact police, that’s exactly what she did.  She drove to a nearby police station and recounted what had happened.  Brian was arrested and convicted of kidnapping and other crimes.  In December 2017, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Police allege that Mike Williams’ wife, Denise, and best friend, Brian Winchester, not only had an affair, but conspired to murder him and make his disappearance look like an accidental drowning.

Cheryl and Nick Williams openly declared they hoped Brian’s incarceration would prompt him to reveal what he knows about Mike’s disappearance.  That certainly may have happened.  But, just after Brian’s sentencing, police announced they’d recovered Mike’s remains two months earlier.  He’d been interred in a spot more than 50 miles (80 km) from Lake Seminole.

According to some sources, however, the break didn’t come necessarily from someone with knowledge of or involvement in the crime.  It came from law enforcement officials who had been searching the area where Mike’s body was found, as they scoured the area for the body of a drug informant who vanished nearby in 2008.  Understand the irony of this: police were literally moving Heaven and Earth to find the remains of a drug addict-turned-police-informant when they accidentally uncovered Mike Williams’ corpse.

At a press conference earlier this year, John Pugh, an attorney with the State of Florida said, “In cases I have prosecuted, I often tell victims and the families of victims that the wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly, but they do turn.”

For Mike’s family and friends, there’s little comfort in the discovery of his body.

“People say I should be happy, but I’m not,” Cheryl Williams said.  “I honestly wasn’t looking for a body.  I was looking for Mike to come home.”

Cheryl and Nick Williams still can’t hug Mike, and his daughter will never get to know her father.  As of this writing, it remains unknown how Mike was murdered and hastily buried and who all was involved.  Was it really just Denise and Brian?  Or, as some have speculated, did Denise’s father also play a role?  This case is intriguing on so many levels and would probably be laughably implausible if it wasn’t true.

When Joseph DeAngelo made his first appearance in court, he sat in a wheelchair – as if he was too old and feeble to stand on his own – but was shackled.  No one felt sympathy for him.  He had been seen riding his motorcycle recently and was prone to verbal outbursts against his neighbors.  He had served 4 years in the U.S. Navy and had been a police officer in the California cities of Exeter and Auburn at the time of the EAR rampage.  He was fired from Auburn in 1979, after he was caught stealing a hammer and dog repellant from a drugstore.

Officials now believe he may be responsible for yet another murder (the 13th one) in the mid-1970s.  A number of miscellaneous assaults and attempted assaults occurred around the time of the EAR rampage.  Investigators wonder if DeAngelo could be responsible for some, if not all, of them.  Some unsolved homicides and disappearances are attached to known serial criminals; thus leaving open the question of just how many victims there really are.  The “Golden State Killer” meticulously planned his attacks, by stalking his targets and studying the neighborhoods where they lived.  He was careful not to show his face or leave fingerprints.  And he always managed to escape, even from areas where police had set up perimeters and had helicopters searching overhead.  But, despite his intricate preparations, he unknowingly betrayed himself with something even he couldn’t have foreseen: DNA.  As one female official addressed the court, DeAngelo glared at her; his viciously misogynistic personality overshadowing his 72-year-old form, and everyone got a glimpse of the true monster lurking beneath the wrinkled face.

For Denise Merrell and Brian Winchester, months of secret assignations and fastidious plotting collapsed under the weight of the instability of their own relationship.  Mike Williams lost his life, but his widow and best friend will lose their own lives – without actually dying.  Mike’s daughter now knows the truth of her father’s disappearance; the man didn’t abandon her and her mother.  Her mother murdered him – another brutally cold act of betrayal.  Essentially, she’s now an orphan.  Denise got at least $1 million in insurance proceeds, but where is that money now and what good will it do?  As ill-gotten gains, the money is basically useless, and the insurance company may sue to get it back.

In both the “Golden State Killer” and Mike Williams cases, the perpetrators ultimately lost.  They will have nothing left but anger and bitterness over…what?  Themselves?  They can blame no one else – not really.  All that time, all that energy, all that money – and it came around to haunt them.

 

Additional reading: “Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer” by Kat Winters and Keith Komos, © 2017, Cold Case Writer.

Disappeared” Blog.

*Name changed.

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Sometimes People Do Deserve to Die Like That

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One of my favorite television shows is “The First 48” on the A&E Network.  Camera crews follow homicide detectives around major metropolitan areas as they try to solve murders.  The show’s title is based on the concept that police must try to solve a killing within 48 hours of its occurrence, or the chances of finding the culprits decreases exponentially.  People who know me may find it’s a strange choice, considering I’m suspicious of law enforcement.  The few times I’ve needed the help of a police officer none are around.  But, if I should exceed the speed limit by 5 miles, or have an expired inspection sticker, suddenly they’re on the scene.  Still, I admire the tenacity of the homicide detectives I’ve seen on “The First 48.”  I also admire their tendency to remain neutral in the face of such tragedies; the worst that humanity has to offer.

While consoling the victim’s relatives, the detectives almost always declare that the person “didn’t deserve to die like that.”  True, no one really deserves to be murdered.  The adage about playing with fire and getting burned applies just as well to criminal activity.

In one of the “The First 48” episodes, a Miami homicide detective stood in the middle of a street in a particularly crime-riddled neighborhood and announced that it was “haunted by the ghosts of young Black men.”  Indeed, it seems so many of the crime victims and perpetrators are either Black or Hispanic.  I’m honestly surprised when a White person shows up as either a victim or a suspect.  That feeds into the mythology, though, that Blacks and Hispanics are more crime-prone than their White and Asian counterparts.

But, I’ve also noticed many of the homicide detectives – at least half – are either Black or Hispanic also.  So are many of the regular police officers.  They somehow go unnoticed in discussions of race and crime.

It’s not so much, however, that non-Whites are more likely to commit crimes.  Civil rights activists have long accused the criminal justice system in the U.S. as being skewered against non-Whites, especially non-White men.  The U.S. also maintains the highest number of incarcerated individuals in the world: roughly 2.3 million people, or 25% of the global prison population.  When one realizes that the U.S.’s 300 million residents comprise only 5% of the people on planet Earth, it should make folks stop and think.  While Blacks and Hispanics each represent less than a quarter of the U.S. population, together they make up 58% of the U.S. prison population.

People may scoff at these statistics and proclaim the U.S. just has a better legal system.  If that’s the case, then why do we boast the highest violent crime rate in the world?  As of 2011, the U.S. experienced 1.2 million violent criminal acts.  One would think we’re akin to Somalia: a completely lawless state with no functioning government.

I’m neither a criminologist nor a psychologist, so I have to rely on whatever statistics I can find and verify, instead of on personal or professional knowledge.  But, in viewing “The First 48,” I’ve noticed something critical: whenever police enter a crime-ridden neighborhood and seek help, they’re often met with a wall of silence.  No one saw anything; no one heard anything; no one knows anything.  It’s as if the victim abruptly turned up with a bullet in their brain, while nearby residents were sleeping, watching TV, or talking on the phone and ‘didn’t hear anything,’ or ‘don’t know nothing.’  At times, it seems such neighborhoods are group homes for the mentally retarded.

In one of the show’s episodes here in Dallas, officials arrived to investigate a shooting death in an apartment complex.  When one of the detectives approached a group of young men sitting on the hood of a car, the latter jumped off the vehicle and walked away.  They didn’t say anything, but their actions spoke for them: ‘we don’t want to talk to you.’  But, if you’re upset about crime in your neighborhood, then why don’t you talk to the police and tell them what you know?  Of course, that’s always easier said than done.  The police don’t have to live there.  People are often mired in poverty and can’t afford just to get up and move to a safer place.

In one episode of “The First 48,” a resident of a Miami housing complex complained to a detective that police only come around to issue tickets for cars parked in front of the trash dumpsters.  I can understand her point.  Police get frustrated when people won’t communicate with them.  But, why should they, if all police officers are going to do is write up parking tickets?  I can see both sides of this issue.  Criminals don’t just hurt one person; they terrorize the entire community.  People become scared and lose hope that law enforcement will help them.

There are no easy answers to these complex social issues where race, gender and socio-economic circumstances often factor into the discomforting mix.  People have noted that, when a White female goes missing or turns up dead, police not only move Heaven and Earth to find out what happened, the story goes national.  Think Jon Benet Ramsey; think Natalee Holloway.

Still, things really are different when you compare a child who is kidnapped from their own home in the middle of the night to a 20-something in an impoverished neighborhood who’s trying to get into the drug trade because of the easy money.

Consider the case of Gary Leon Ridgeway, known colloquially as the “Green River Killer.”  From 1982 to 1998, Ridgeway murdered as many as 66 women and teenage girls in the state of Washington.  He dumped the bodies in wooded areas near the Green River.  Most, if not all, of his known victims were prostitutes.  The teenaged ones were most likely runaways.  Ridgeway had become a suspect in 1983, a year after he’d been arrested in Seattle for patronizing a prostitute.  He took and passed a polygraph in 1984, when police again questioned him about the string of murders.  Thus, he remained on police radar for nearly two decades, before being arrested in 2001.  In 2003, a judge sentenced him to life in prison; a shocking outcome to one of this nation’s worst serial murderers.  But, prosecutors took the death penalty off the legal bargaining table to coax Ridgeway into confessing to other slayings; including some in the state of Oregon.  How he managed to escape a massive police dragnet for so long confounds even the most seasoned homicide detectives.

But, the families of many of the victims say they know why: Ridgeway murdered prostitutes, not choir girls.  That many of his victims were Black or Native American added the ubiquitous and disturbing racial component.  Except for Ridgeway’s teenaged victims – naïve girls who may have fled broken homes – I think it’s fair to say the adult women knew what they were doing.  Yes, prostitution is illegal.  But, don’t expect police to stand by and ignore the interactions between hooker and client, unless the latter turns violent.  Police can only do so much to protect average citizens.

It’s tough for me to have empathy for someone who consumes alcohol for half a century and then complains when they develop cirrhosis.  As a former alcoholic, I can see where my life was headed and got hold of the problem years ago.  And, it’s equally tough for me to have sympathy for a drug dealer who ends up in a dark alley with scores of bullet holes in his or her body.  I’m not being judgmental.  I’m just pointing out the obvious.

In yet another episode of “The First 48,” homicide detectives in Memphis looked strangely at a suspect when he told them that murder is just how some people die.

“Do you realize how serious this is?” responded one of the detectives.

Obviously he didn’t, as he sat in the interrogation room with a sour expression.  He was young, but already emotionally hardened by a community that seemingly had accepted its dire fate as a crime pit.

Most people don’t deserve to be murdered.  But, when individuals deliberately engage in criminal activity and end up on a mortician’s table, what did you expect?

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