Friday, October 31, 2014

A Killer on the Road



There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad
                                                   Riders on the Storm, The Doors

It's Halloween morning, the sun isn't up yet.  On Facebook, I saw a picture with the following text:

"Fun Fact* The average person walks past a murderer 36 times in their life.
* It's a fun fact because they didn't kill you."

There were already a number of postings regarding killers other readers had come across in their lifetimes.  The following is one of ours, trimmed from a much longer version:

At the time, Flo and I were investigating an historical crime that had occurred over a century before here in Indianapolis, and as the calendar was a match with that of the murders, Flo and I returned to the scene with newspaper clippings, camera and camcorder, to walk the scene on the exact anniversary.  More than a hundred years ago, this place was isolated, a popular rendezvous for lovers.  Today, the site is at the edge of a public golf course.

We followed our countdown to the double-loaded shotgun blast that took the first victim's life, and the report of the .44 that killed his wife.  We noted the escape route of one of the killers-two boys fishing on the East bank were repeatedly shot at by a man with a pistol, advancing from the sandbar where the bodies lay.  The balls struck near enough that they sent the boys scrambling into the woods-from where they watched a man cross a bridge that no longer stands today.  They returned to their fishing-only to be fired upon again by what appeared to be the same man, several hours later.  The man crossed back to the West side, shortly before the wife's body was doused in coal oil and set ablaze.

After only about ten minutes of filming at the site, the camcorder battery went dead, and the camera shut down.  Very odd, because it was a new two-hour battery that had been fully charged the night before, just for this outing.  Not quite rain, but more of a wet mist dropped to the sand bar, much as it had that same evening over a century before.  Another argument against a smoldering calico dress that waited three hours to burst into flames.  We packed up our gear and headed back a little earlier than we had intended.  The mist was gone before we left the golf course.

At the foot of the hill, we looked up and saw two golfers coming down from the fourth tee; these retired gentlemen were cheerful and a nice contrast to a surly fellow we'd met earlier.  As we passed them on the incline, I noticed a young man in the shadows of the trees that encircle the creek, and instinctively I moved to Flo's left side, to place myself between her and the stranger.

I can't quite articulate it, but there was something wrong about this fellow.  Perhaps he was a little shifty-eyed, perhaps something about his gait implied more of a lurk than a stroll.  I noticed an unlit cigarette in his hand, and anticipated his approaching me for a light, since I had a lit cigarette in my hand.  We passed all manner of people in this public venue; golfers, bicyclers, children playing, couples and individuals walking and jogging.  I just didn't want this particular fellow to get near us for some reason.

Flo took a cue from me and we picked up our pace a little, but not obviously.  As we passed the young man, neither of us said a word, and I felt some relief-but about ten feet past, he turned and raised his cigarette and in words I couldn't make out all of asked for a light; I raised my cigarette and, as if I had misunderstood his request, cheerily said "Sorry, last one!"  He mumbled something I'm glad I didn't hear, and we booked toward the parking lot.  A hundred yards or so from the gorge, I glanced over my left shoulder and made sure he wasn't following us.

The next evening, blurbs for the upcoming 6 o'clock news told of a breaking story, about a murder that took place on a golf course.  I saw an ambulance backed up on the green, and yellow crime scene tape around trees cordoning off the crime scene.  Wilbur L. Colen Jr., 69, had been shot during a robbery while golfing.  A young man approached Wilbur and his party with an unlit cigarette, asking for a light.  Some rudeness ensued as he interrupted the golfers at tee, and he walked away, only to return moments later, producing a pistol.  Colen's grandson-in-law had attempted to wrestle the pistol from the robber, who, when free, raised the gun and fired one shot into Wilbur Colen's chest.  Colen died at Wishard Hospital at approximately 5:15 P.M.

By the late news, James Sears had been arrested for the robbery and killing, and had added kidnapping to a growing list of charges.  The next day, from newspaper photos and video-taped news broadcasts, we identified Sears as the young man who had approached us at the fourth tee; the same place where Colen was killed.

Flo and I discussed the situation, and decided to call the police and see if they were interested in our experience from the previous day.  Sears, in an arrogant TV interview, insisted that the robbery and murder were both unintentional.  That didn't seem to be the case, if he had been lurking about the fourth tee with an unlit cigarette, 24 hours before.

The police turned out to be very interested in what we had to say.  While they had all the witnesses and evidence necessary to convict him of murder, our testimony would rebut his only excuse - that it went down as a spontaneous response to the rudeness of the golfers.  We could prove that Sears had been stalking for a kill.

To make a long story short-we went through the interviews and depositions, and ended up as the final two witnesses in another murder trial from that scene-126 years apart from the original.

Sears was convicted on all counts, and sentenced to 200 years in prison.

I could tell you how we first came across the tombstone that initiated our interest in the case, but that's another long story, and one you would have a difficult time believing.
 
 
 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Double Troubles Part 2: The Imposter


One would think that the most mundane version of the "doppelgänger" would be the imposter.  No supernatural hokum to contend with, no worries of neurological glitches.  However, the damage they do can haunt you for years.  It can't be undone.
 
My father was a police officer, as I've mentioned before on this blog.  On the police force were two other officers, one with the same last name, and one who bore an uncanny resemblance to my dad.  The latter was a friend of my father's.  Murdered in the City-County building, by a criminal he was taking to lockup.  My father tracked the killer to his hideout, then as was the right thing to do, called in the troops to make the arrest, and walked away, avoiding an explosive confrontation.  He shunned the credit for the catch.  I think that took a lot of will and professionalism.
 
One day when I was in junior high, my father was enjoying a day off when he received a phone call most parents hope they will never receive: "Your son has been arrested.  Come down and bail him out."  Not pleasant for any parent, but believe me, it's worse if you're a cop.  Understandably upset, my folks rushed to change clothes and get ready for the long drive downtown.
 
As they pulled out of the driveway, it occurred to my father to check by my school-it was only a block and a half away.  My folks stopped in at the principal's office first.  My schedule was checked, and they were escorted to the room where I was supposed to be.  When they peeked through the narrow window, there I was, sitting in my assigned seat.
 
When I returned home that afternoon, Dad was in a great mood.  He told me all about what had happened, and laughed with relief.  He didn't bother to call back and inform anybody of the mistake, but was determined to find out what had happened, during his next shift.
 
Mom, on the other hand, was fuming in the kitchen.  She was still angry, and eyed me with mistrust and suspicion for weeks.  It was bad enough that I tried to joke her out of her mood.  What had I done?  Did I break out of jail, escape with a jet pack (Thunderball was big at the time), and then slip into my seat moments before they peeked in my classroom?  Still, Mom treated me as if I had somehow gotten away with something.
 
Later, Dad told me that the other Stanton at work also had a son, who was a few years older than me.  Fearing his own father's wrath, he had bought himself only a little time by giving my name when he was arrested.  To this day, I don't know his first name, or what he was arrested for.  I can't attest to the fact that he was ever arrested, just what I was told at the time.
 
I do know that, when my father was up for a promotion he had hard earned, the Captain had said, "Promote Stanton, and transfer him to Internal Affairs."  Instead, they promoted the Stanton who was already in Internal Affairs.  Politics being what they are, Dad had to wait for the next promotion cycle.
 
Spin the clock ahead, to around the time Flo and I had been married for about a year.  We still lived in the tiny third-floor apartment on Central Avenue.  My father had retired from the police force, and for a time served as a Sherriff's deputy.  In uniform, he approached me as I was heading off to work.  He had a very serious look on his face.  I was told that he had received a distressing call from another police officer.  He was told that I had run up to a cordoned-off crime scene, and tried to push my way in, demanding to know what had happened to a murdered woman, with whom I was supposedly having an affair.  He was told that I was offensive enough to the officers that they were about to arrest me, when I told them I was Police Officer John Stanton's son John, and that I had made further demands per his authority.  My father was told that out of respect for him, I had not been arrested, but it was made clear how pissed they were at me.
 
Dad then said, "I'm only going to ask you this once, son, was that you?"
 
I told him the truth.  No.  I didn't have the vaguest clue what he was talking about.

(What about modus operandi? If it worked before...)
 
After that day, Dad didn't look at me the same.  He still loved me, but he didn't quite trust me.
 
To this day, I still don't know if the imposter was the other Stanton boy, or if someone else knew enough about both my father and myself to leverage the name.
 
As far as I know, that was the last time someone used my name when arrest was threatened.  My father has been gone for a long time, so there wouldn't be any advantage now.
 
At some point, the Imposter sheds its cocoon and takes flight as Rumor.
 
Rumor is a peculiar form of the Double.  If it is juicy, smarmy or threatening enough, it takes on a life of its own, mutating as it moves from mouth to ear, to mouth again.  It can overshadow and outlive both its creator and its subject.  Like some of its supernatural counterparts, there is no known way to kill it.
 
An extra shadow, one that often precedes me, and still follows wherever I go.

Double Troubles Part 3