Tag Archives: sexual assault

Sexual Dealings

“The hearings ripped open the subject of sexual harassment like some long-festering sore.”

Nina Totenberg

 

The U.S. Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have gone from the mundane (replete with the standard and predictable inquiries into the candidate’s judiciary paper trail) to the hyper-dramatic.  Not since Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation has an otherwise routine and constitutionally required procedure descended into the chaos normally reserved for daytime melodramas.

The Thomas fiasco was a ready-made soap opera.  Gossip columnists and entertainment industry executives all felt they’d died and gone to ‘Trash TV Heaven.’  In general, only the nerdiest of academic scholars viewed SCOTUS hearings with rapt attention.  But the Thomas proceedings quickly devolved into a media event when the Senate discovered – among the slew of Thomas documents – a complaint by one of his former colleagues, Anita Hill, accusing the judge of sexual harassment on the job.  Hill had worked for Thomas in the early 1980s, when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.  The hearings had technically concluded, and a vote was about to take place.  Then Nina Totenberg, a correspondent with National Public Radio (NPR), received a copy of an affidavit Hill had completed several weeks earlier in response to a Senate request for any and all information regarding her dealings with Thomas.  Such requests are standard for Supreme Court nominations, as well as other high-level government positions.  The vote on Thomas most likely would have taken place without further discussion had the Hill affidavit not appeared.  (The source of the leak to Totenberg has never been revealed.)

The vote was delayed, and the soap opera commenced.  Hill described in graphic detail how Thomas asked her out repeatedly during their time working together.  She made it clear, however, that he never touched her and never threatened her.  But his behavior made her uncomfortable, and she was concerned for her job.  Apparently, he got the message and stopped.  Hill wasn’t the only woman to file a formal complaint against Thomas, but she had been the first.  And she was the only one called to testify before the Senate during Thomas’ hearing.  Despite her testimony, Thomas was confirmed 52-48, in one of the narrowest Supreme Court votes in history.

The controversy – especially the sight of an all-male Senate committee questioning Hill – prompted a feminist backlash.  Months later, 1992 was dubbed the “Year of the Woman”.  It also happened to be an election year, which subsequently saw large numbers of women elected to public office across the nation.  It also put Bill Clinton into the White House.  As anyone of a certain age might recall, Clinton became the focus of his own sexual indiscretions.  Ironically, many of the same people who demonized Clarence Thomas championed Bill Clinton and proclaimed accusations of his flirtatious peccadillos were simply good old-fashioned sludge politics.  Or what Hilary Clinton deemed a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Apparently, the New Feminist Order didn’t include the likes of Gennifer Flowers or Paula Jones.  I recall plenty of women scoffing at the news that – in 1990 – Jones visited then-Governor Bill Clinton in his hotel room late at night on the promise of a job offer.

“What a dumb broad!” my mother told me one day.  She, as well as some of my female friends and colleagues, laughed at the idea that Jones believed Clinton would invite her to his hotel room at 11:00 p.m. wanting to conduct a job interview.  Right-wing sycophants portrayed Jones as a naïve 20-something who didn’t know any better.  James Carville, Clinton’s campaign manager, remarked, “Drag a $100 bill through a trailer camp and there’s no telling what you will find.”

When Clinton’s sexual tryst with Monica Lewinsky came to light, self-righteous conservatives actually tried to impeach him for lying about it under oath.  But again, no word came from the feminist camp.  In fact, they were suspiciously silent throughout the entire ordeal.  Clinton supported abortion, so I guess that’s all some women’s rights activists cared about.

Personally, I always liked Bill Clinton (Hilary not so much) and didn’t appreciate the news media focused so much attention on his hormonally-driven conquests.  Yes, he likes women.  He’s also one of the smartest and most verbally eloquent men ever to serve as Chief Executive.  What a stark contrast to his immediate successor or the buffoon currently in the White House!  But, if character counts – as so many social and religious conservatives proclaim – why are sexual indiscretions more important than, say, financial irregularities?  Conservatives were quick to defend Thomas and just as quick to defend Trump.  But they championed the ousting of Clinton because he got a blow-job from some unknown overweight intern.  Conversely, liberals were quick to defend Clinton, but had no problems dragging Thomas through the mud.  Character may be important for public officials, but politics keeps interfering.

All of that came back – like another “Rocky” sequel – recently with the Kavanaugh ordeal.  This situation is different, however, but much more disturbing.  Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward about her traumatizing encounter with Kavanaugh in the summer of 1982, when both were high school students.  Whereas Clarence Thomas allegedly asked Anita Hill out on dates repeatedly and made one too many off-color jokes, Blasey Ford claims Kavanaugh and another teenage boy ambushed her at a house, dragged her into a bedroom and tried to rape her.  If true, Blasey Ford is recounting an incident that goes far beyond mere uncouth behavior.  It’s a harrowing tale of a felonious assault; one where she literally felt she could die at the age of 15.

I know first-hand what both sexual harassment and general bullying-type harassment on the job can do to a person’s sense of self-worth.  I know it happens.  I’ve experienced it from men AND women.  In the fall of 1985, I was a naïve 21-year-old working at a country club when my openly gay male supervisor admitted to me one night that he’d “really like to suck your dick off.”  It startled me more than it offended, but I didn’t know what to do.  Working at a retail store just a few years later, I got into a verbal altercation with my immediate supervisor who threatened to “bounce me right out of here.”  We eventually made amends, realizing it was just a bad misunderstanding.

While working at a large bank in downtown Dallas a few years after that, a woman came up behind me as I stood at a copier and literally jabbed a well-manicured fingernail into my back.  We’d had an ongoing dispute about some otherwise small business matter.

“Oh please tell me you didn’t just poke me in the back like that!” I said to her.

She promptly jabbed me in the chest with that same finger and said something like, “I’ll stick it up your ass…”

Whereupon I literally shoved her back and told her never to touch me again.  She marched out of the room and had someone call security on me.  When I relayed what all had happened, attention turned back to her; she had merely said I’d “physically accosted” her in the copier room for “no good reason.”  I informed management that, if I lost my job because of that, she’d “better come out with me” or the bank will buy me a new vehicle and give me an early retirement.

In 2006, while laboring as a contractor at a government agency elsewhere in downtown Dallas, a woman with the security division deliberately ran into me, as I and a male colleague started to enter through a secure doorway.  I didn’t see her approach; she’d moved in on me that quick.  She then grabbed my upper left arm and demanded to see my badge.  When I told her (shouted at her) never to touch me again, she threatened to walk me out of the building.  My immediate supervisor was more upset with me for talking back to her than the fact she’d literally attacked me.  Again, I threatened legal action.

“I can be a real asshole about this,” I told him, “and tell everyone she hit me and tried punch and scratch me.”

My constituent vouched for the veracity of what happened.  I suppose if he hadn’t been with me, I might have lost that job.  But I had no fear of that.  I would have ensured the same happened to her.  But the matter quietly (amazingly) went away.  Still, my supervisor and a few others seemed to be more upset that I’d actually had the nerve to talk back to a woman and not that she grabbed my arm.

I’m aware that, in this politically correct society, gender politics has taken an ugly turn.  And it seems, whenever men are accused of sexual abuse and harassment of females, they are presumed guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proof lies with them.  In other words, the standard protocol of due process is undermined.  But only in those cases where a female – especially an adult White female – is victimized.  Or claims to be have been victimized.

It was with all of that in mind that I viewed the life story scuffles between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.  I compelled myself to view it all with an open mind and hear both sides of each tale.  I noted that Anita Hill had been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, but that Dr. Blasey Ford had written to her local congresswoman about a one-time incident with Kavanaugh five presidents ago.  And, when the Senate asked Blasey Ford to testify under oath, she agreed (via her attorneys), but only after a long list of conditions were met.

Who is she, I asked myself.  Why is JUST NOW coming forward with this?  And how pertinent is it to Kavanugh’s confirmation?  His judicial record opposing abortion and gay rights, while recklessly supporting large corporations is more critical.

Even after listening to Blasey Ford’s statement and all the vitriolic after-effects, I wondered where this would lead.  Then I witnessed with some degree of amusement Kavanaugh literally lose it, as he tried to defend himself and rebut Blasey Ford’s claims.  The once-stoic, almost bland, jurist melted into near hysteria.  His loudly defensive behavior was telling.  I’ve been around long enough to know that people who grow hostile in such a manner are most likely guilty of the accusations laid before them.

But then, I realized something even more important; something about Blasey Ford.  She had stated repeatedly that, while her involuntary interaction with a teenage Kavanaugh was a “sexual assault,” it didn’t culminate (apparently) in an actual rape.  Neither Kavanaugh nor his friend managed to penetrate any part of her body with some part of theirs.  She credits much of that to the fact she fought so hard – terrified for her life – and that she had on a one-piece bathing suit, which would be more difficult to tear off.

Yet, if she had fabricated this entire story, or at least had embellished it, there would be no such ending.  If the story was born from the mind of a bitter middle-age female, both boys would have penetrated her somehow or another.  In fact, there probably would have been more assailants.  She would have ended up bruised and bloodied; stumbling out of the house naked and screaming.  But that’s not what she says happened.  That’s what made me realize she can’t be lying about this.

It’s not that I doubted her altogether.  I didn’t have an opinion either way about the alleged incident.  I’ve become accustomed to seeing male public figures – politicians and sports stars alike – be targeted by supposedly scorned women.  Almost every man who has entered public life (at least here in the U.S.) has fallen victim to a plethora of accusations from a gallery of victims.  And, once again, understand that men accused of sexual violence in this country aren’t always accorded due process.

But now, I realize Blasey Ford can’t be lying.  It’s still odd that she wrote to her local congresswoman about Kavanaugh just this past summer.  Yet, I’m certainly glad she did.  Now other stories about Kavanaugh are coming to light; stories of his alleged drunken binges in high school and college; of verbal slurs and physical attacks.  The accusers are both women and men.  It’s not that the men are more believable – at least not to me.

Kavanaugh had portrayed himself as a studious, virginal, choir boy-type puppy dog in his youth; a kid who volunteered to help old women cross the street and attended church as he was headed for the priesthood.  He proclaimed as much before the Judiciary Committee.  Under oath.  In public.  With his wife and daughters seated behind him.  Now all of that’s in question.

If character really does count – and we know it does sometimes – then people like Kavanaugh don’t stand a chance.  And it’s fair game to dredge up their past indiscretions the way archaeologists dredge up ancient coins.

Sadly, this fiasco is not quite over.  It will continue into this coming week.  Sometimes, true-life soap operas are just too overbearing.  Stay tuned.

 

Supreme Court Historical Society

Image: Rob Rogers

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Goddamn the Roman Catholic Church

“Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated, which is what the word “rape” means. This is not a defense – it is meant to set the record straight and debunk the worst case scenarios attributed to the offenders.” – Bill Donohue, PhD, Catholics for Religious and Civil Rights, “Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked”, 16 August 2018

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Albert Einstein

 

Once more, the ugly head of hypocrisy has arisen for the Roman Catholic Church.  A mammoth report issued by the state of Pennsylvania last month has left the oldest and largest denomination of Christianity in turmoil – again.  According to the results of a grand jury, top Catholic leaders covered up roughly seven decades of abusive child behavior by hundreds of priests.  More than 1,000 victims, the report alleges, fell prey to the antics of pedophilic clergy.  During that lengthy period (more than half a century, if you think about it), the Church put the welfare of itself over that of the affected children.  That should surprise no one.  One of the wealthiest and most powerful institutions on Earth, the Roman Catholic Church has metamorphosed from its humble beginnings as an ideology that regards everyone as essential and vital to the construct of humanity into an omnipotent criminal organization more intent on destroying anyone who dares question its authority.

The Pennsylvania scandal is painfully reminiscent of a similar fiasco that tore through the diocese of Boston nearly two decades ago.  That mess centered mainly on one man, John J. Geoghan, a former priest who had molested a gallery of young boys in the Boston area starting in the 1960s.  The focus then shifted to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston who was forced to resign in 2002, when proof arose that he became aware of Geoghan’s perverted predilections not long after he had arrived in Boston in 1984 to helm the diocese.  Like any criminal syndicate (think a street gang or a drug cartel), the Church decided to handle the matter quietly and internally.  The results have been catastrophic – and sometimes deadly.

Instead of doing something reasonable and decent, such as turning Geoghan over to outside authorities, Law moved him around.  Even one of Law’s own bishops thought assigning Geoghan to another parish was too risky and wrote a letter to the prelate that same year, 1984, protesting the transfer.  As early as 1980, Geoghan himself admitted to church officials that he’d engaged in predatory behavior with children!  In one case, he repeatedly abused 7 boys in one extended family – something he claimed wasn’t a “serious” problem.

These various allegations and the Church’s documentation analyzing them were eventually uncovered by the “Boston Globe” and revealed in 2002 in a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials by 5 investigative journalists.

Not until the mid-1990s did some of the Boston-area survivors begin coming forward to tell their stories.  These couldn’t have been easy decisions for them, especially when confronting such an indomitable monolith as the Roman Catholic Church.  No one wants to believe that someone like a priest, or any religious official for that matter, is capable of such horrors as sexual assault and child molestation.  People often look to their places of worship as refuges of safety and hope; places to seek guidance in moments of trouble and despair or to reaffirm their faith in the greater good of humanity.  The men and women who function as leaders in these institutions are supposed to be above such humanly transgressions as sexual perversions.

We often forget those leaders and officials weren’t born into those roles.  They came into this world like the rest of us; they’re human beings first and foremost.  But they made the decision to lead lives of religious individualism.  Being a faith leader may be a spiritual calling for some individuals, but it is also a profession; something that person chooses to do with their lives.  People, therefore, choose to become drunk on the power bestowed upon them – supposedly by some deity – but, in reality, by elders in those organizations.  They choose to take vows of celibacy or piety and to stand as the proverbial beacons of hope.  And they choose to use their positions for good or bad.

In the Roman Catholic Church, priests don the fanciful regalia befitting their roles as leaders of the masses.  They dress differently and (are supposed to) behave differently.  Sex, which is a natural part of the human experience, is strangely viewed as base and demeaning.  It is too much of a distraction for the individual; hence, the vow of chastity.

But the human libido is often stronger than the human-designed definitions of proper individuality.  Thus, many priests (and nuns) stray from those vows and either hide their moral transgressions or leave the Church altogether.  Church history is replete with priests and nuns who had the audacity to fall in love.  I personally feel it’s perfectly normal and don’t see anything wrong with that.

Yet no one in their right mind can look upon the scourge of pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church and consider it misguided love.  The tap-dancing semantics that people like Bill Donohue spit out to explain these transgressions doesn’t mitigate the significance of it; it only amplifies it.

Me at my 1978 confirmation with the late Thomas Tschoepe, then Bishop of the Dallas Roman Catholic Diocese.

I was once a strong devotee of the Catholic faith.  Like most Hispanic-Americans, I grew up in it.  It was a fact of life for me.  I even became an altar boy at a church in Dallas in the 1970s and served that church – and what I felt was the greater good of my community – with some measure of faith and distinction.  And, in case you’re wondering, no, I was never molested by anyone in the Church.  I was never molested by anyone outside of the Church, for that matter.  I never knew of anyone at that particular church who suffered physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a priest or a nun.  In retrospect, I realize most were good and decent; a few of them were actually fun to be around.  And sadly, some were assholes.  But I can’t find that any scandal erupted within its walls.

It’s ironic, though, because the Dallas diocese was the nexus of one of the largest pedophile priest scandals within the Church.  In 1997, a Dallas County jury awarded 11 plaintiffs of a class-action suit $119.6 million; the largest monetary award of its kind at the time.  Eleven young men claimed they had been molested by a former priest, Rudy Kos.  Tragically, by the time the case went to court, one of the young men had committed suicide.  He was 21, and his family had pursued the matter.  The Kos case served as the proverbial catalyst for the avalanche of similar claims and subsequent lawsuits across the U.S.  Then Bishop Charles Grahmann testified in court that he knew nothing of Kos’s antics; claiming he’d never even opened Kos’s personnel file.  If he had, he surely would have found letters dating to the 1980s from other priests warning of Kos; that the latter often gave alcohol and even drugs to some of the boys.  Grahmann surely knew something was amiss, as he moved Kos around – which apparently had become standard procedure within the Church by then.  Grahmann only exacerbated the dilemma when he blatantly insinuated that some of those boys were partly responsible for the abuse.  That, of course, is a typical reflex-type response to sexual assault victims, especially those who are male.  Remember, in the bloodthirsty psyche that is American culture, males – even very young ones – are never supposed to be victims.  Kos was sent to prison, and Grahmann remained bishop for another decade before resigning.  He passed away recently.

As with serial killers, I often wonder how many victims of a pedophile remain hidden.  Who else is out there who just didn’t have the courage and / or support to come forward and tell their story?  Like I stated earlier, these matters aren’t easy to discuss.  Going up against an outfit as powerful and affluent as the Roman Catholic Church is overwhelming and sometimes impossible.  What the Church has done to distance itself from these crimes – and even discredit the victims, in some instances – is beyond abominable.  Their actions are truly monstrous.

One thing I find curious, though, is that other people within individual parishes had become aware of the pedophilia (or whatever crimes were taking place) and chose to put their concerns in writing.  They apparently tried to do something; to bring it to the attention of higher authorities within the institution.  Yet, when nothing was done, what did those other people do?  Were they so bound to the laws and regulations of the Church that they felt it could go no further?  It had to stop there and then?  It is against the law to fail to report child abuse.  But, with the separation of church and state a building block of the United States, how is that to be handled?

I haven’t waited for either the Roman Catholic Church or the U.S. government to respond.  I left the Church more than a quarter-century ago over its disrespectful behavior towards women who comprise more than half of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics.  Like its siblings, Judaism and Islam, Christianity is patriarchal at its core.  A number of men within its environs had dared to say women should hold more leadership positions than head nun or head housekeeper.  While other branches of Christianity have moved towards gender parity, the Roman Catholic Church remains unyielding.  But the pedophile priest scandals that have exploded over the past several years solidified my decision to leave the Church in the dust of its own glittering arrogance.  Shortly after the Boston fiasco, many wondered if the Church would survive the chaos.  And I thought, who cares?  The real question should be if the Church will admit not only that it has a serious problem in its ranks, but that it has been conducive to that problem.

I also have to be fair in that I know the majority of people who run the Church aren’t pedophiles or accessories after the fact.  Most do try to uphold to the Church’s two millennia old principals that all humans are valuable and should be treated with respect.  They work hard to ensure a safe community for everyone.  When I think of those who embodied this dogma, I always think of Oscar Romero; the former archbishop in El Salvador who spoke out against the country’s dictatorial regime and was gunned down while performing mass in 1980.  While Romero tried desperately to feed and clothe his parishioners in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, his counterparts in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world were paying out millions in settlements because they didn’t want any bad press.

Yet, I now feel the Church has run its course.  It’s done; it’s served its purpose.  It no longer has the right or the power to dictate how people should live their lives.  Indeed, it is wishful thinking on my part that the mighty Roman Catholic Church simply fold up and somehow melt into the rest of society.  It has too strong of a grip on the world.

In the late 1930s, my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, landed an ideal contract with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas: build a new parochial school.  My grandfather, Epimenio, had mixed feelings about the Church.  Sometime before then, my grandmother had fallen ill, and my grandfather had called their local parish priest to ask for some money to take her to the doctor.  When he arrived at the rectory, the grumpy old priest flung the few dollar bills at his feet.

“If this wasn’t for my wife,” my grandfather told him in Spanish, “I’d make you pick this up and hand it to me like a real man should.”

One afternoon, as my grandfather and some of his men were atop the newly-attached roof of the school, the bishop appeared at the construction site to survey the project.  One of Epimenio’s employees immediately stopped what he was doing and began bowing, as was the custom at the time, upon seeing a high-ranking Catholic official.  Bowing to the bishop while perched on a slanted roof of a 2-story structure.

“Pendejo!” Epimenio muttered to the man, a Spanish curse word whose closest (polite) translation is moron.  “You’re going to roll off this roof and die when you hit the ground!  Then the bishop is going to wonder what happened!”

That’s what I’m thinking now.  The Roman Catholic Church seems to be marching itself into oblivion.  Its acolytes are literally dying to keep it relevant.  Can any of them see that?

 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro releases the findings of a two-year grand jury investigation into clergy abuse at six of the state’s Roman Catholic Dioceses:

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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.

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