Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Real Death Row Stories 

Bundy's Last Victim 
by Robert A. Waters 

The CNN series Death Row Stories "explores cases that pose hard questions about the U. S. capital punishment system."  In other words, it's anti-death penalty.  Here's a death row story of a different sort.

The morning was cool and rainy in Lake City, Florida.  A town of about 10,000 souls, Lake City had somehow escaped the wild growth afflicting the rest of the state.  The only notable thing that had ever happened there was the 1864 Battle of Olustee, when an invading Union army was repulsed by a rag-tag Confederate group of regulars, old men, and boys.   

On the cold morning of February 9, 1978, twelve-year-old Kimberly Diane Leach was beaming.  She'd just been elected first runner-up to the queen at Lake City Junior High School's annual Valentine's Day dance.  A straight-A student, she was popular and smart.  But as her class met in the gymnasium, Kimberly realized that she'd left her purse in her homeroom.  She asked her teacher if she could go back and retrieve it, and was given permission.   

Kimberly's homeroom was in a separate building, away from the gymnasium, and she had to walk across a field to get there. 

Kimberly was reported missing when she didn't show up for her next class.  There was little doubt that she'd been abducted, so lawmen quickly launched one of the largest searches in the history of Florida.     

Later that day, an EMT who had been visiting the school told detectives that he had seen a young girl leaving with a manThe child seemed upset, but the witness assumed it was only a father who had come to pick up his daughter.  The witness placed the time at around ten o'clock when the two got into a white van and drove away. 

A few days later, on February 15, serial killer Ted Bundy was arrested 300 miles away, in Pensacola.  Driving a stolen orange VW bug and presenting a fake name, Bundy was charged with several offenses, including automobile theft.  He was soon identified as the notorious fugitive, and arrested by Tallahassee police for the brutal murders of Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman, two college students at the Chi Omega sorority house.   

Bundy was questioned by Lake City detectives about Kimberly Leach's disappearance, but refused to give out any information. 

The search for Kimberly lasted for two months.  Finally, on April 7, 1978, a state trooper found her body in an abandoned hog shed near the Suwannee River, about 40 miles from her school.  She was partially decomposed and partly mummified.  A bunched-up turtleneck sweater had been pulled around her neck, and the rest of her clothes scattered nearby.  Her throat had been cut and she'd been strangled.  In addition, she'd been sexually violated with a sharp object.  Semen stains had been found on her underpants. 

Medical Examiner Dr. Peter Lipkovic testified that Kimberly's death likely occurred during a brutal sexual assault.  Her positioning indicated that "at the time when death occurred...most probably sexual intercourse was going on." 

In the Time-Life book, Serial Killers, the authors write that "the coroner's inquest revealed a severe neck wound and massive damage to the pelvic region.  These facts, and the position of the remains when they were found, implied that the child had been on her hands and knees when Bundy slit her throat from behind, as if he were butchering a hog." 

In time, Ted Bundy confessed to more than thirty murders.  Each victim had her own story, and each family was radically changed by the grief caused by senseless loss.  Bundy was convicted in the Florida murders of Lisa Levy, Margaret Bowman, and Kimberly Leach and sentenced to death After unsuccessfully attempting to ransom even more confessions for life in prison, Bundy met his fate in Old Sparky, Florida's electric chair. 

Few Floridians mourned.  On January 24, 1989, at exactly seven o'clock, disc jockeys all over the state played the sound of bacon frying.  As if exorcising a demon from their midst, more than a thousand sign-holding demonstrators outside Florida State Prison at Raiford cheered when word came that Bundy was dead. 

This is one of many death row stories that won't be featured on the CNN television show.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Los Angeles

Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Los Angeles

Ron Franscell
WildBlue Press, 2017

Review by Robert A. Waters

In the city of dreams, nightmares haunt its sad streets like a plague. For everyone who makes it big, thousands, maybe millions, fail. Most do not revert to crime, but Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Los Angeles describes several hundred who did. There's the brutal, the wacky, and the mysterious crimes solved and unsolved. And, as an added bonus for the visitor or researcher, you can turn on your GPS and head directly to where these murders unfolded.

Los Angeles is unlike most cities. It was built on fantasy, and continues to enthrall the masses in the heartland. Film stars live in mansions while ghettoes steam like volcanoes ready to explode. But whether you live the high life or the low life, almost everyone seems dependent on some form of illicit drug.

Even the stars who have fame and ka-trillions of dollars can't seem to hold their lives together. The first story in Outlaw Los Angeles describes the murder of Lana Clarkson. A waitress at a high end bar, the House of Blues, Clarkson's dreams of movie stardom was fading with each passing year. So when music mogul Phil Spector entered the restaurant, Clarkson may have felt a spark of hope. When he insisted that she come home with him, she did so. Sometime during the night, a gunshot rang out and Lana Clarkson ate a .38-caliber slug. After two trials, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder. It turns out that the world-famous music producer hated being alone, and may have killed Clarkson because she saw how weird he was and wanted to leave.

When a celebrity dies, cover-ups are the norm. George Reeves, AKA Superman, committed suicide. Or did he? Gangster and serial wife-beater Johnny Stompanato was killed by Lana Turner's fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane. Or was he? Marilyn Monroe overdosed. Or did she?

Some of the world's best defense attorneys seem to reside in LA for one purpose: to keep the stars out of prison. Robert “In Cold Blood” Blake was tried for killing his grifter wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, but he was acquitted, leaving many questions unanswered. Michael Jackson beat the rap on child molestation charges.  O. J. Simpson's acquittal shook America but launched the careers of several lawyers. 

What happens when the world's biggest porn star becomes diseased and impotent? Since this is Hollywood, he turns to buying, selling, and using cocaine. Coke eats into bank accounts like cancer, so John Holmes soon became desperate for a quick cash fix. Cops accused him of setting up the robbery and brutal murders of his dealer and the dealer's cronies. Or did he commit the murders himself? We'll never know because Holmes was acquitted of the murders. But he wasn't acquitted of AIDS—he died of the disease a few years after his trial.

Serial killers flock to LA like vultures. The Hillside Stranglers. The Lonely Hearts Killer. Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. But one of the strangest was Rodney Alcala. A creepy-looking dude, he actually appeared on The Dating Game...and WON—while he was wanted for child-rape and attempted murder. Alcala eventually plea-bargained those charges down to 38 months. As soon as he was out on the streets, he assaulted a schoolgirl and served two more years behind bars. Before he was caught the final time, he had murdered seven women and girls. Alcala currently sits on California's unused Death Row.

Outlaw Los Angeles is one of those books you can't put down. Every page seems more interesting than the last, and when the reader finishes reading it, he wants to contact the author and ask for Outlaw Los Angeles II.