Archive for the ‘True Crime’ Category
Intimate partner homicide is the 7th leading cause of premature death for women in the United States. It’s the number one cause of premature death among African American women between the ages of 15-45. Are those numbers not scary enough? How about this: Of all the women murdered in this country each year, half of them are killed by their intimate partners. And those figures do not include ex-boyfriends.
Is there a means to prevent these deaths? Should a woman be able to see this coming? Are there indicators that her partner is approaching the point of no return? Well, possibly.
Several risk factors have been associated with the murders of battered women. However, many of the women who were killed by their domestic partner never realized the severity of the abuse. Sure, they knew they’d been beaten, had bones broken, etc., but they never actually thought they’d be killed. They suffered from the, “He’d never really do it because I know he loves me…” syndrome. And that’s not a bad thing, wanting to believe the best in your partner. But denying a problem is harmful, especially when it comes to abuse.
So what are some of the indicators that a partner’s violence may be escalating to the point of no return?
Studies have found a direct correlation between gun ownership and intimate partner homicide. In fact, women who are threatened with a gun are more likely than other women to be murdered—20 times more likely. Just the mere presence of a gun in the house causes an abused woman’s chance of being murdered to be 6 times higher than a woman living in a gun-free home.
Other risk factors include:
- Serious alcohol and drug abuse, where the abuser is high or drunk on a daily basis.
- Threats to kill
- Forced sex
- Partner controls all activity (when to leave the house, etc.)
- Woman is beaten while pregnant
- Partner beats the children
- Partner is violent outside the home as well
- Partner has threatened suicide
- Abused victim has thoughts that her partner will attempt to kill her at some point during their relationship
- Abused victim has thoughts of suicide to escape the violence
Photo credit – FBI
Has your partner ever done or caused any of these things? If so, you are at risk. Please seek help immediately.
- Slapping, pushing—no injuries and/or lasting pain
- Punching, kicking—bruises, cuts, and/or continuing pain
- “Beating up”—severe contusions, burns, broken bones
- Threat to use weapon—head injury, internal injury, permanent injury
- Use of weapon—wounds from weapon
Ask yourself the following questions. If your answer to any of the questions is yes, you are at risk. Please seek help immediately. Do not wait!
- Has the physical violence increased in frequency over the past year?
- Does he ever try to choke you?
- Does he keep a gun in the house? In his vehicle?
- Has he ever forced you to have sex?
- Does he use drugs? Any drugs?
- Does he threaten to kill you?
- Is he drunk every every day?
- Does he control most or all of your daily activities, like who you can be friends with, how much money you can have, or when you can take the car, when can use the phone, etc.) Does he always have to be with you when you visit family, or go shopping? Does he tell what clothing you can and cannot wear?
- Have you ever been beaten by him while you were pregnant?
- Is he extremely jealous?
- Have you ever threatened or tried to commit suicide?
- Has he ever threatened or tried to commit suicide?
- Is he violent toward your children?
- Is he violent outside of the home? Does he fight with others?
Laci Peterson – murdered by her husband, Scott.
In 2008, 14% of all homicides were committed by intimate partners (70% of the victims were female).
Scott Peterson is currently awaiting his appointment with San Quentin’s executioner. He was sentenced to death for murdering his wife and unborn child, and tossing them in the San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve of 2002. It is believed that Peterson fabricated homemade anchors from blocks of concrete and them fastened them to Laci’s body, hoping she’d remain on the bottom of the sea, forever.
Now, Peterson spends his days playing basketball and cards with other murderers. Oh, perhaps I should mention all the letters and money he receives from female admirers from all over the world. He deposits the cash into his inmate account, spending up to $180 per month on frilly things, like soda, cookies, and deodorant.
Modern-day policing is not the Wild West, where the town marshal sits beside the front door of the jail shooting bad guys from the backs of their horses as they gallop past. Things are much different these days. We’re a civilized nation. We treat people fairly, justly, and humanely. Well, until last Saturday, that is.
By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the headline about the S.C. police officer who shot a fleeing suspect in the back, a man who died as a result of those gunshot wounds. This case, my friends, sickens me all the way to the very core of my soul. But, before we talk about the incident here’s a bit of background about cops shooting people who are running away from them.
First of all, there are times when it’s legally permissible to shoot a fleeing felon, but only during the most extreme, exigent/emergency circumstances. A 1985 Supreme Court case, Tennessee vs. Garner, held that the police may not shoot at a fleeing person unless the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger/threat to the officer or others.
In other words, short of exigent circumstances, police officers are required to capture fleeing criminals using methods other than deadly force—pursue and restrain, K-9’s, wait until the suspect is at home, call for backup and surround the immediate area, obtain a warrant and catch them at a later time/date, etc.
Again, the use of deadly force against a fleeing felon is justified only when an officer reasonably believes that allowing the suspect to escape would endanger the lives of others/endanger the community. For example, a psycho-crazy maniac who’d just butchered twelve random strangers and was running away while yelling, “I’m going to kill everyone I see!” In this case the officer would have every reason to believe the killer would make good on his threats, therefore, he’d need to stop the murderer using any means possible, including shooting him in the back if that’s what it took to stop him.
In the S.C. incident, however, the initial stop was for a broken taillight. No murder or threat of world destruction. No imminent danger to others. Instead, a minor traffic offense. A summons. Fix the light and the judge will let you off the hook.
During the initial encounter the officer and the subject, Walter Scott, engaged in some sort of tussle where the officer, Michael Slager, deployed his TASER. Slager later claimed Scott took the TASER from him and that’s why he said he felt his life was in danger, an act he apparently felt would justify the use of deadly force.
Scott escaped custody and took off, running away from Slager. Then, in jaw-dropping horror, Slager pulled his service weapon and fired at Scott’s back…eight times. Scott was running in a straight line away from the officer which made his body practically a stationary target (no side to side movement). This was as close to shooting a paper target at the range as one could get. To put it bluntly, Slager had an easy shot. I believe Scott was wounded at least five times, three in the back (one of which entered his heart), once in the buttocks, and another round to an ear.
Actually, I’ve seen deer hunters bag their prey in similar fashion.
And, by the way, the TASER, the justification/excuse/reason Slager gave for using deadly force, was nowhere near Scott’s body when he fell to ground. In fact, it appeared that Slager picked it up at the place of the original scuffle, carried it over to where Scott lay, and dropped it on the ground beside his body.
Even if it’s true that Slager felt threatened when/if Scott took the TASER, that threat immediately ceased to exist when Scott dropped it and fled. And, no threat = NO justification for deadly force.
Slager drops what appears to be a TASER next to the body of Walter Scott
An attempted cover up? Time will tell.
How else can I put this other than to say Slager murdered Walter Scott. There, I said it and I’m not taking it back. That’s my opinion based on what I saw in the video.
Yes, I believe this was a murder. Not a death that occurred accidentally while attempting to cuff a suspect. Nor was it a death that happened while an officer was being attacked. This was a killing that took place while a man was merely running away from a police officer, and people run away from cops every single day of every single year.
People run from the police and cops chase them. It’s part of the job. Sometimes they’re caught and sometimes they’re not. I’ve seen young men run away just for the mere fun of seeing officers chase after them. But it’s not a sci-fi movie where, for sport, cops give the bad guys a running start and then shoot them in the back.
One question that’s popped up as result of this case is about handcuffing wounded or dead suspects? People have asked why? Well, it is standard procedure because more than one wounded or “dead” person has suddenly popped up to shoot, cut, fight, run away, etc. Therefore, even though it may seem cold and cruel, cops always handcuff suspects, even those who’ve been shot and appear to be deceased.
This was a sad day for the family of Walter Scott. It was also a sad day for law enforcement, when one of their own does something as despicable as the act committed by Michael Slager.
I have to say, though, that Slager’s actions are by no means reflective of all officers. By far, most want to serve their fellow man in any way they can. Unfortunately, a few bad apples slip through the cracks and their actions deepen the divide between citizens and the badge.
Michael Slager was arrested and charged with the murder of Walter Scott, and he remains in the Charleston County Detention Center under no bond status.
I think it’s safe to say that most police officers across the U.S. believe Slager is where he belongs, behind bars.
Hamilton, Ohio – Forty years ago on this very day—Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975—probably about the same time of day you’re reading this article, James Ruppert was in the process of killing his entire family.
James was an excellent marksman so there was no better way to execute his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and each of their eight kids than to shoot them point blank, as if they were nothing more than a row of discarded tin cans. And that’s precisely what he did, starting with his brother Leonard.
Next came Leonard’s wife, Alma, followed by James’ own mother, Charity. And, before either of the children could escape disaster, James shot and killed them, including four-year-old John Ruppert, the youngest of the Ruppert brood.
Leonard Ruppert, his wife, Alma, and their children.
The massacre took no more than five minutes.
James positioned his weapons throughout the house, staging the scene as if he were a Realtor preparing to show the house to potential clients. Then he called the police and calmly stated, “There’s been a shooting.”
Ruppert crime scene photo – living room
Officer Bob Minor was the officer who responded to the call. Officer Terry Roberts would arrive a few moments later, as backup.
Officer Minor, no stranger to gruesome homicide scenes, had never witnessed anything close to the carnage he saw inside the Ruppert House—the once neat-as-a-pin living room cluttered with the corpses of Charity Ruppert’s precious grandchildren, and a kitchen so full of dead bodies that Minor couldn’t make his way through without stepping on an arm, leg, or a torso. There was so much blood, Minor later told me, that it had begun to seep through the floorboards, dripping into the basement.
Ruppert crime scene photo – kitchen
James Ruppert was originally found guilty of eleven counts of 1st degree murder. However, on appeal, a three-judge panel found Ruppert guilty only of the murders of his mother and brother. They ruled him not guilty by reason of insanity for the nine other deaths.
James Ruppert is up for parole next month, in April 2015.
James Ruppert inmate photo
Twenty years after the Ruppert murders, a second gruesome murder would occur directly across the street from the house—635 Minor Avenue—where James killed his family.
It was at 622 Minor Avenue where Timothy Bradford slashed the throat of his girlfriend, Tina Mott, killing her.
622 Minor Ave. I stood in the front yard of the Ruppert house to take this photo.
Bradford, in attempt to cover his tracks, slowly and methodically used 19 knives, a hacksaw, a meat cleaver, and a pair of pliers to dismember his girlfriend’s body. He later scattered her remains in a nearby field and lake.
Bathtub where Timothy Braford dismembered and skinned the body of his girlfriend, Tina Mott.
Two young boys found Tina’s skull while fishing.
Marks on the skull indicated the use of a serrated knife blade to scrape away flesh and tissue.
Per a negotiated plea agreement, Timothy Bradford was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to 12-25 years for his crimes. He, too, is eligible for parole in 2015.
Timothy Bradford’s inmate photo.
* * *
I wrote about each of these murders and the story was published in the true crime anthology, Masters of True Crime, Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre.
Masters of True Crime is soon to be released as an audio book.
The job is fantastic. Everything you wanted and more. Excitement, fulfillment, serving mankind, and all the action you could ever hope for. However, dreams sometimes come with a price, a cost that is all too often quite steep…
Yes, everything you’d always wanted out of life. The perfect wife (or husband), two beautiful, healthy children, a nice home with a not-so-bad mortgage, a fairly new vehicle—a mini-van for hauling the kids to ballgames, scouting events, and family vacations, and an always-by-your-side dog the kids forced you to rescue from a local shelter. Work is going great, too. You’ve just reached the five-year, unofficial, no-longer-a-rookie status. And along with that milestone came a permanent day-shift assignment.
No more graveyard shifts. More awake time at home with the family. Normal meals and meal times. No more Denny’s Lumberjack Slams with a side of hash browns at 4 a.m., or the not-quite-finished-because-of-the-shooting, three piece, extra-crispy meals with the Colonel. Yes, things were looking good for you.
You feel good. You’re well-rested. You’ve finally watched your favorite TV show at its actual air time, not as a recording after everyone else has seen it and talked about it for days.
You feel so good, actually, that you volunteered for extra-duty. Running a little radar on your off time would be an easy assignment, and the extra money would come in handy during the holidays. Besides, little Sally Sue needs braces and Jimmie Joe had already been dropping hints about attending a Boy Scout summer camp. It would only be a few hours each week. Not so bad.
Your supervisor likes what she sees. You’re a hard-worker. A real go-getter. She writes a letter recommending you for the Emergency Response Team (ERT). You interview and before you know it you’re in. Training is only twice a week, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, your days off. Well, there’s the bi-monthly night training exercises, and the team competitions. You don’t get called out all that often—two, three times a month at the most? The last time you were gone for two days, but that’s not too bad. Well, maybe you could cut back on the radar assignment. But…the money’s nice. After the holidays. Yes, that’s it. You’ll cut back after the holidays.
The hostage situation was a tense one. Took 14 hours before the sniper finally popped one in the guy’s T-box. That piece of crap never had a chance to think about pulling the trigger before his lights went out. At least his victim came out okay. She’d probably be scarred for life, but she’d live. Might spend a few days with a shrink, but she’d be okay, probably.
Man, that sniper is good, huh? Blew that guy’s brains all over the block wall. Sat him down in a hurry, too. Now that’s what a bloodstain pattern is supposed to look like. TV directors should see this stuff.
To celebrate a job well done the team goes to a bar for a few drinks and to unwind. You make it home at 3 a.m., drunk. Your wife and kids are fast asleep. There’s a piece of birthday cake on the counter. The frosting has hardened just a bit. Damn, you forgot your kid’s party.
You can’t sleep. Brains and blood. That’s all you see when you close your eyes.
You know she’s awake and can smell the Jack Daniels.
But brains and blood…that’s what’s on your mind.
You stare at the ceiling, knowing in two hours the clock will ring. Will the Jack odor be gone?
Brains and blood keep you awake.
The buzzer sounds and you’re up, shower, and dress. Skip breakfast.
Breath like a dirty ashtray and stale booze.
A domestic he-said-she-said, a lost kid, and an overnight B&E at a midtown mom and pop grocery store. Your head is pounding. Pearl-size beads of sweat run down your back, following your spine until they dip below your waistband. You’re dreading the overtime radar detail. Two more months. Only two more months and the holidays will be over.
A drug raid at 10 p.m. A good bust, too. Two kilos and some stolen guns. What’s a couple of beers to unwind? Sure, you’ll go.
3 a.m., again.
Pass out on the couch. Late for work. Forty minutes late, actually. A written warning.
A week later you’re late again, but this time the sergeant smells the Jack on your breath. Suspended. Ten days.
Your wife goes shopping with her friends. You watch the kids. She comes home late, really late. The stores closed hours ago.
Back at work. Another shooting. This time you fire a few rounds at the guy. He runs. You chase. Her turns and fires, so you pop off a couple in return. He drops, bleeding on the pavement.
The kid dies. He’d turned thirteen just four days ago.
Suspended pending an investigation.
Your shrink prescribes a couple of meds to help you sleep.
Brains and blood.
Pills help, some.
Jack Daniels, more.
She’s out shopping…again. This time she wears her “going out” makeup and a tight skirt and top.
More Jack Daniels and a pill or two.
She comes home drunk and smells of cheap aftershave.
You’re awake, staring at the ceiling, knowing the clock is set to go off in three hours. She’s snoring gently. You smell the Jack with each tiny exhale. The aftershave burns your nostrils.
Two more pills. No, make it four.
Sitting in the garage at the workbench where you’ve mended countless toys, appliances, and fixed the heels on her favorite shoes, you glance down at the off-duty weapon in your hand.
It would be over in a second.
You open your mouth and place the barrel inside. It tastes like bitter gun oil.
The metal is cool against your tongue, almost comforting.
A lone tear trickles down your cheek.
Brains and blood…
* * *
* In 2008, 2009, and 2012 combined, 410 police officers committed suicide. The average age of officers who committed suicide in 2012 was 42. They’d served an average of 16 years on the job. ~ Badge of Life stats.
You’ve probably heard the old saying “it’s all fun and games until…” fill in the black. Usually the statement is followed by until someone gets hurt, or until someone gets killed.
In my world, nothing could be a more true testament to “it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed,” than writing in the True Crime genre. I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction and without a doubt, the non-fiction is the one that took its tole.
My first published book (Unholy Covenant, Addicus Book, 2000) was in the true crime genre. It was the story of two brothers who conspired to kill the older brother’s devoted wife. I was fortunate that the murder happened in my own community so there was no travel or years long research involved. I knew both families, the victims and the suspects.
Technical research was minimal because at that time, I owned and published a community newspaper who covered the story from the crime through the trial. During the first brother’s trial I sat in the courtroom every day, every hour, through every minute of testimony. I knew shortly into the trial, the story would make a good book.
It had all the elements: murder, money, greed, young beautiful bride, and deep religious overtones. The late Reverend Jerry Falwell even testified, creating a local media feeding frenzy. It was all so sensational! Just what the public craved.
It’s one thing to do research for your fiction, you know—how to murder someone 101—but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re sitting across the kitchen table from the victim’s mother asking her to share her thoughts on her daughter’s cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Some writers can do it and not blink twice. I discovered, after the fact, I wasn’t one of those writers.
The case, and book, garnered national attention. I did radio shows, television and newspaper interviews and even negotiated with a producer who wanted to buy the movie rights. I walked away from the bargaining table when he told me what he had planned—he wanted to make the victim a school teacher and the veteran detective a rookie. These are real people, I kept telling myself. They’re not made up characters.
I did agree to do a couple detective-type shows because they were based on the facts of the case, not characters created by a producer. One was for the Lifetime network and featured interviews and recreations. By this time, the book had been out a few years and the victim’s death had occurred several years prior. Yet, for the victim’s mother and brother—the pain was still there. No matter how many years had passed, each time another network called, the wounds were opened yet again. How could they ever move past the trauma of losing their daughter and sister when we kept pulling them back in?
With all the local and national exposure the case and book received, I had several people contact me with their “story”. Would I look into their brother’s death? Would I look into their son’s suicide? Here’s a story for you—I was told many times. Do you know how hard it is to tell someone who has lost a loved one to crime that sorry, your son/husband/brother/sister’s murder wasn’t sensational enough? Did it involve sex? Money? Greed? Was the victim a good person? Sorry, your loved ones death wasn’t the stuff books and movies are made of.
Although I don’t have plans to ever write another true crime book, I’m using what I learned from that experience in my fiction. Primarily, the varied emotions of the victims of crime or like in Wink of an Eye, the survivors.
In Wink of an Eye, a young boy hires a private investigator to investigate his father’s alleged suicide. The kid doesn’t believe his father would have ever taken his own life and wants to prove he was, in fact, murdered. I drew on those past interviews with the mother of the victim in Unholy Covenant to tap into the raw emotions of losing someone to murder. The longing to see them again, the need to know why, the confusion of not understanding how an investigation works…I used this knowledge to create the drive and tenacity of a twelve year-old boy out to prove his father didn’t kill himself.
I have no regrets about writing Unholy Covenant. It’s a tragic story and because it’s down on paper, Patricia’s story is immortalized. The book is in its third printing which means, fifteen years later, people are still reading Patricia’s story. For that, I’m truly thankful.
* * *
Lynn Chandler Willis is the first woman in ten years to win the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best 1st PI Novel competition with her novel, Wink of an Eye (Minotaur 2014). Her other works, The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013) is an INSPY Award finalist and Grace Award winner for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction, and Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books, 2000) is now in it’s third printing.
In 1993, Marcus Wellons was convicted of raping and killing a 15-year-old girl back in 1989. His punishment…the death penalty.
A witness told officials they’d seen Wellons carrying a large object wrapped in a sheet into a wooded area near his home. Police located the girl’s nude body in that same wooded area. Evidence of the murder was also found in Wellons’ girlfriend’s apartment.
Marcus Wellons entered death row at the age of 34, where he waited to die. In the months and years since he first walked through the prison gates, Wellons’ probably passed time by watching TV, reading, exercising, and eating the meals that were delivered to him. His cell was cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Wellons’ and his attorneys kept the courts busy by filing various appeals, hoping to find someone who could somehow spare the life of the man who brutally raped and murdered a young girl. Even at the end, those same attorneys made a last minute plea to Justice Clarence Thomas, who, by the way, is from Georgia. Justice Thomas passed on the appeal to the full Court, who rejected it.
Last night, twenty-five long years after the crime was committed, Georgia prison officials finally carried out the execution of Marcus Wellons, by lethal injection. He was 59-years-old.
Early this morning, in Missouri, officials there executed John Winfield. Winfield was convicted of shooting three women in the head in 1996, killing two of them. Another execution is scheduled later today, in Florida.
Each time an execution is carried out, my mind takes me back to a night in 1994 when I served as witness to an execution by electrocution/electric chair.
Since it was my job to arrest murderers for their crimes, I figured I should see what could be the end result of my investigations.
And it was that thinking that brought me to this…
Have you ever sat looking into the eyes of a serial killer, watching for some sign of remorse for his crimes, wondering if he would take back what he’d done, if he could? Have you ever smelled the burning flesh of a condemned killer as 1,800 volts of electricity ripped through his body? No? Well, I have.
Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.
Timothy W. Spencer
The Southside Strangler
Other women in the area were killed by someone who committed those murders in a very similar manner. Was there a copycat killer who was never caught? Or, did Spencer kill those women too? We’ll probably never learn the truth.
Spencer was, however, later tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the aforementioned murders. I requested to serve as a witness to his execution. I figured if I had the power to arrest and charge someone with capital murder, then I needed to see a death penalty case through to the end.
On the evening of Spencer’s execution, corrections officials met me at the state police area headquarters. I left my unmarked Chevrolet Caprice there and they drove me to the prison. We passed through the sally port and then through a couple of interior gates, stopping outside the building where death row inmates await their turn to die.
Once inside, I was led to a room where other witnesses waited for a briefing about what to expect. Then we, in single file, were led to where we’d soon watch a condemned person be put to death.
The room where I and other witnesses sat waiting was inside the death house at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center. At the time, the execution chamber was pretty much a bare room, with the exception of Old Sparky, the state’s electric chair, an instrument of death that, ironically, was built by prison inmates.
Death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center
Old Sparky, Virginia’s electric chair, was built by inmates.
State executions in Virginia are carried out at Greensville Correctional Center.
Timothy Spencer was put to death on April 27, 1994 at 11:13 pm.
The atmosphere that night was nothing short of surreal. No one spoke. No one coughed. Nothing. Not a sound as we waited for the door at the rear of “the chamber” to open. After an eternity passed, it did. A couple of prison officials entered first, and then Spencer walked into the chamber surrounded by members of the prison’s death squad (specially trained corrections officers).
I later learned that Spencer had walked the eight short steps to the chamber from a death watch cell, and he’d done so on his own, without assistance from members of the squad. Sometimes the squad is forced to physically deliver the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber. I cannot fathom what sort mindset it takes to make that short and very final walk. Spencer seemed prepared for what was to come, and he’d made his peace with it.
Spencer was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a brutal serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and was the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration were scattered across his forehead and bare scalp.
Spencer scanned the brightly lit room, looking from side to side, taking in the faces of the witnesses. I wondered if the blonde woman beside me reminded him of either of his victims. Perhaps, the lady in the back row who sat glaring at the condemned killer was the mother of one of the women Spencer had so brutally raped and murdered.
After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. His arms and legs were securely fixed to the oak chair. He looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing, as if he’d just settled in to watch TV, or a movie.
I was seated directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so. His face was expressionless. No sign of sadness, regret, or fear.
The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap was lined with a brine-soaked sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.
I wondered if Spencer felt the presence of the former killers who’d died in the chair before him—Morris Mason, Michael Smith, Ricky Boggs, Alton Wayne, Albert Clozza, Derrick Peterson, Willie Jones, Wilbert Evans, Charles Stamper, and Roger Coleman, to name a few.
Morris Mason had raped his 71-year-old neighbor. Then he’d hit her in the head with an ax, nailed her to a chair, set her house on fire, and then left her to die.
Alton Wayne stabbed an elderly woman with a butcher knife, bit her repeatedly, and then dragged her nude body to a bathtub and doused it with bleach.
A prison chaplain once described Wilbert Evans’ execution as brutal. “Blood was pouring down onto his shirt and his body was making the sound of a pressure cooker ready to blow.” The preacher had also said, “I detest what goes on here.”
Yes, I wondered if Spencer felt any of those vibes coming from the chair. And I wondered if he’d heard that his muscles would contract, causing his body to lunge forward. That the heat would literally make his blood boil. That the electrode contact points were going to burn his skin. Did he know that his joints were going to fuse, leaving him in a sitting position? Had anyone told him that later someone would have to use sandbags to straighten out his body? Had he wondered why they’d replaced the metal buttons buttons on his clothes with Velcro? Did they tell him that the buttons would have melted?
For the previous twenty-four hours, Spencer had seen the flurry of activity inside the death house. He’d heard the death squad practicing and testing the chair. He’d seen them rehearsing their take-down techniques in case he decided to resist while they escorted him to the chamber. He watched them swing their batons at a make-believe prisoner. He saw their glances and he heard their mutterings.
Was he thinking about what he’d done?
I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?
The warden asked Spencer if he cared to say any final words—a time when many condemned murderers ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to family members of the people they’d murdered. Spencer opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, offering no apology and showing no remorse. Whatever he’d been about to say, well, he took it with him to his grave.
He made eye contact with me again. And believe me, this time it was a chilling experience to look into the eyes of a serial killer just mere seconds before he himself was killed. All the way to the end, he kept his gaze on me.
Suddenly all eyes were on the red telephone hanging on the wall at the rear of the chamber—the direct line to the governor. Spencer’s last hope to live beyond the next few seconds. It did not ring.
The warden nodded to the executioner, who, by the way, remained behind a wall inside the chamber, out of our view. Spencer must have sensed what was coming and, while looking directly into my eyes, turned both thumbs upward. A last second display of his arrogance. A death squad member placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face, then he and the rest of the team left the room. The remaining officials stepped back, away from the chair.
Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.
Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, the executioner sent a second burst to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.
The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.
It was over and an eerie calm filled the chamber. The woman beside me cried softly. I realized that I’d been holding my breath and exhaled, slowly. No one moved for five long minutes (I later learned that this wait-time was to allow the body to cool down. The hot flesh would have burned anyone who touched it).
The prison doctor slowly walked to the chair, placed a stethoscope against Spencer’s chest, and listened for a heartbeat. A few seconds passed before the doctor looked up and said, “Warden, this man has expired.”
That was it. Timothy Spencer, one of the worse serial killers in America was dead, finally.
Strange, but true facts about Spencer’s case:
– Spencer raped and killed all five of his victims while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He committed the murders on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.
– Spencer was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.
– David Vasquez, a mentally handicapped man, falsely confessed to murdering one of the victims in the Spencer case after intense interrogation by police detectives. He was later convicted of the crime and served five years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. It was learned that Vasquez didn’t understand the questions he’d been asked and merely told the officers what he thought they wanted to hear.
– Spencer used neck ligatures to strangle each of the victims to death, fashioning them in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.
– Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.