True Crime Books by Jason Lucky Morrow

Welcome to HistoricalCrimeDetective.com [Est. 2013], where you will discover forgotten crimes and forgotten criminals lost to history. You will not find high profile cases that have been rehashed and retold ad infinitum to ad nauseam. This blog is the official website for true crime writer Jason Lucky Morrow, author of four books including the popular series: Famous Crimes the World Forgot, Volume I and Volume II. If you would like to send me a comment, old crime tip, or exchange links with a related website, Contact Me Here. - Please follow this historical true crime blog on FACEBOOK.

New Book: Bobby BlueJacket, The Tribe, The Joint, The Tulsa Underworld

Home | New Books | New Book: Bobby BlueJacket, The Tribe, The Joint, The Tulsa Underworld


From HCD: The biography of Native American Bobby BlueJacket, a safecracker & killer who redeemed himself inside and out of prison, will go on sale in February, 2018.  The book, Bobby BlueJacket: The Tribe, The  Joint, The Tulsa Underworld, is available for preorder from the publisher, First to Knock. Author Michael P. Daley, was kind enough to share with Historical Crime Detective a short story excerpt titled, “Always Take a Limousine to a Safe Burglary.” The story is just one of the fascinating episodes in the life of this forgotten criminal considered “a legend amongst Tulsans who considered themselves outsiders.”

The Book Trailer:

“…I had such a hatred inside of me
that I was as dangerous as
any son-of-a-bitch that ever lived.”

—Bobby BlueJacket

Watch this book trailer on Vimeo.

About the Book:

Bobby BlueJacket is the extraordinary true story of a career thief who first gained notoriety as a convicted teenaged killer. Based on over 5 years of research, the book draws from BlueJacket’s own memories, long-buried law enforcement and trial records, prison archives, news accounts, as well as interviews with others such as photographer Larry Clark and veteran reporters of Tulsa’s mid-century crime beat.

Born in 1930, BlueJacket came of age as a Native American in white Oklahoma—passing through teenage rumbles, scheming pool halls, and Midwest safecracker crews. While incarcerated, he remade himself as a celebrated prison journalist. By the 1970s, he would act as a political impresario, used tire salesman, and prison rodeo emcee—ultimately becoming an Eastern Shawnee activist and respected tribal elder. At each turn, BlueJacket sought out success and self-definition by any means necessary. More than just an underworld tale—Bobby BlueJacket is an in-depth exploration of one man’s experience in a brutal post-war world.

Bobby BlueJacket is illustrated with almost 90 photographs from never-before-seen personal archives, as well as images from prison publications and newspaper clippings.

Softcover / 6 x 9 / 752 pgs. (Includes 87 pgs. of b&w photography and 106 pgs. of source notes)

Always Take the Limousine to a Safe Burglary

by Michael P. Daley

The following piece is excerpted from Bobby BlueJacket: The Tribe, The Joint, The Tulsa Underworld by Michael P. Daley. Publisher: First To Knock, 2018. This piece was adapted for Historical Crime Detective.

The years following World War II are often seen as a jubilee and a time of growth. But it wasn’t all tickertape parades back home. The hard reentry into civilian life led many veterans to booze, narcotics, crime, and violence. It was a troubling time even for those, like 18-year-old Bobby BlueJacket, who hadn’t seen any traumatic fighting overseas. Tulsa’s wartime boom had come to an end and the job market shrank, leaving few openings for the newly expanded applicant pool of returning soldiers. It seemed to BlueJacket like his whole city desperately needed a paycheck. The unskilled, of course, had it the worst.

Job prospects were grim. But the bonds between BlueJacket and his buddies only cemented. All back from the War, the teenage boys joined together to form a Golden Gloves boxing team. Their manager was a Sapulpa man nicknamed “Knobby,” due to his likeness to the bald-headed manager of funny paper heavyweight Joe Palooka. Knobby and the boys toured the Midwest, going as far as New York—fighting in social halls, gymnasiums, Masonic lodges, and even at the Tulsa Coliseum. The boys were carted around in an old stretch limousine that BlueJacket and Lewis had bought, likely with stolen dough.

It would have been nice to train at the local YMCA with the rest of Tulsa’s boxers, but BlueJacket’s crew was barred from the place. “The old boy that was the head of the boxing club up there, for some reason, he didn’t like us,” BlueJacket said in a 2014 interview with the author. “I guess he thought we was a bunch of thugs.” Instead, the boys trained in the basement of the Tulsa police station. The police basement was also ground zero for professional wrestling run-throughs in the late 1940s. And police, pro wrestlers, and teenage boxers were an even more dramatic juxtaposition than it appeared, because BlueJacket’s boxing squad also doubled as a safe burglary crew in the afterhours.

The young boxers had been stealing for a few years now. Such early capers included the jacking of a Wurlitzer jukebox at Capshaw’s 24-hour restaurant. But safecracking is a technical expertise and so the boys needed a little education before moving up the ranks. Luckily Tulsa, in the mid to late 1940s, was probably the best place to get a schooling on burglary. The city was uniquely positioned, geographically, forming a bottom third of an underworld triangle that included Omaha and Chicago. These cities, according to BlueJacket, produced some of the finest safe burglars that ever lived. “Tulsa was quite a town in those days, kind of crossroads,” he remembered while driving through the city in 2013. “And it just seemed like everybody congregated around Tulsa.” Each city’s crews did jobs on their own, but the big ones required merging. Through crew mergers, tips and skills circulated. “Tulsa was a real safecracking institute,” BlueJacket continued. “Some of the biggest and best safecrackers in the country come out of Tulsa, and that’s where we all learned the business.”

Perhaps Tulsa’s most notable safecracking professors were the Wilson brothers: Ted, Paul, and Ray. Ted Wilson had come back from World War II and used his G.I. Bill opportunities to attend safe and lock school. “Before [Ted] died he showed everybody how to open them safes,” BlueJacket noted. “These guys were big time.”

Many of Tulsa’s burglars came from the neighborhood around Pine and Utica, an intersection marked by the Rightway Skating Rink and Morris Pastry. “Everybody out there went to prison, was in reformatories and things. It’s where they all come from in Tulsa. It was a real hard neighborhood. If a kid got out of the neighborhood, he could get out but he was still scarred,” BlueJacket described. “Most people didn’t come down here unless they was goin’ to go skatin’.” The area was also where out-of-town thieves and bank robbers rested their heads.

BlueJacket utilized a number of safecracking methods while apprenticing with older crews, but punching safes was most common in those days. “Most of us around this country, you know, was punch n’ hammer, you see?” BlueJacket said, “We got into peeling ’em at the end, but I started out with the old punch.”

BlueJacket, with his young boxing squad, also took part in a less technical style of safe burglary—taking the entire safe with you instead of trying to crack it on location. This was where that old stretch limousine came into play. Besides its inherent flashiness, the automobile happened to have a wide enough passenger door to fit a large safe through. “We had snatched a couple of safes around town, where you couldn’t really beat ’em open there because there’s traffic and people livin’ above ’em in apartments and things,” BlueJacket explained. “So we’d snatch ’em out of there and throw ’em in the back seat of that car and drive off.” They would take the safes out to empty fields in rural areas, “and beat ’em open.”

Targets were identified based on the potential for cash-flow. In the first months of 1948, BlueJacket’s crew hit the Osage School Gymnasium, the East Admiral Boulevard Bar, Hamburger King on West Third Street, and the Kid Cola plant at Third and Guthrie. The Cozy Theater was hit three times. The boys also got $120 from the Triple J Café, whereas a burglary of the Little Mayo Café reportedly yielded only 15 cents.

Towards the end of March, BlueJacket had a line on some gambling money. “If anybody was gambling, I usually knew about it,” he said. This job involved two different Greek diners across the street from one another on Boulder between 4th and 5th. One side of the street had a small, six-stool café called Purity Lunch. Across the street was the Boulder Café at 415 S. Boulder. Between these two places a lot of gambling was going on. Because gambling money can’t go in a bank, the Boulder Café had a mighty safe underneath the counter, stuffed full of cash and built into concrete.

On March 24th, BlueJacket, Rafael, and Chub made out for the Boulder Café. They didn’t have the limousine that night, but had access to a ’48 Plymouth four-door thanks to a boy named Griffin who would drive. The plan was to chip and pry the safe out of the concrete with bars, and then use Griffin’s Plymouth to cart the thing off. Punching or peeling on site would be too loud.

Griffin parked across the street. The others approached from the alleyway, where a big, inactive ventilation fan was. “We bent the blades on that fan and went on in,” BlueJacket described. “Took pry bars and beat that safe out of the ground. Pried it enough to where we weren’t making a lot of noise.”

Bobby BlueJacket seen here in a mugshot dated three and one-half months after the Boulder Cafe safe robbery.

When the chipping and prying was done, Rafael flashed a lighter in the window. That was the signal. Griffin pulled his Plymouth around. The boys came plowing through the front door with the safe in their arms. The plan was to throw the thing in the Plymouth’s back seat, like they usually did with the limousine. The quicker the better as it was heavy as hell. But there was a problem. The safe wouldn’t fit in the Plymouth’s backseat. BlueJacket said, “The reason the son of a bitch won’t fit is we was goin’ by that big Buick seven or nine passenger limousine we had with the big wide door.” They were confused, now stuck out on the sidewalk holding the Boulder Café’s safe. Their arms were growing real weary. A cruiser could roll by any second.

The boys decided to set the safe down in BlueJacket’s lap and figure out a backup plan. “There on the curb, I’m holding the safe in my goddamn lap and I’m pinned to the ground, can’t move,” he said. “It pinned me to the ground.”

After further consternation, they dropped the safe into the trunk, bringing the back of the car down low, nearly scraping the pavement. Now it was time to move. The boys jumped in. Griffin hit the gas. The Plymouth peeled out, porpoising like a speeding motorboat through the empty streets.

In 2014, BlueJacket revisited the location of the Boulder Café, which is now a parking garage. Thinking back on his times as a safe burglar, BlueJacket said there was a lesson to be learned:  “The moral of the story is don’t try to put a goddamn safe in the back seat of your car ’til you measure the door.”

415 South Boulder, Tulsa, OK, former site of the Boulder Cafe which was burglarized on March 24, 1948 by Bobby BlueJacket and associates. Click to open larger image in new window.

About the Author:

Michael P. Daley writes about crime and cultural history. His previous books include Enjoy The Experience: Homemade Records 1958–1992, which was featured in BBC, NPR, Vice, Book Forum, Rolling Stone, and was called the greatest music book of the year by Los Angeles Magazine. He was founder/Editor of Parallax News, a digital news service for the 2016 U.S. Election. Michael was also a founding member of Boo-Hooray and Sinecure Books. He has worked on productions for Rizzoli, Four Corners, Zero Books, Brookings, and Warner Brothers.

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The Murder of Judge Chillingworth and his Wife, 1955, as Detailed in a New Book, Grim Justice

Home | New Books | The Murder of Judge Chillingworth and his Wife, 1955, as Detailed in a New Book, Grim Justice


In the early morning hours of June 15, 1955, Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie were snatched from their beachfront home in Palm Beach County, Florida and were never seen again.

Curtis E. Chillingworth was born to an upper-class family in 1896. His grandfather had moved down from New York and served as sheriff. His father, Charles had acquired over 12,000 acres of land and served as the first city attorney. Curtis was more than a rich, white boy, he was local royalty. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1917 and was admitted to the Florida Bar a few months later.  He joined the United States Naval Academy and served in two world wars.  Between his stints in war, Chillingworth married the love of his life Marjorie McKinley and had three daughters.

In 1921, Chillingworth became the youngest person to ever hold the circuit judge position. He was only 24. This title he would hold for 32 years until his disappearance in 1955.

Chillingworth was known as a truly honest judge. He was a stickler for the law and punctuality. He was the type to stand outside the courtroom and stare at his watch waiting for the hand to move. So, when Judge Chillingworth missed an appointment to meet two repairmen at 8 a.m., everyone knew something was terribly wrong.

The two carpenters waited at Chillingworth’s beachfront cottage in Manalapan, Florida hoping the judge would return shortly. Growing tired of waiting the pair decided to take a swim. They took the footpath around the home and down to the beach. There they noticed what looked like blood. Alarmed they began to take stock of the area. The floodlight had been shattered. Something was wrong.

By noon, police officers were swarming the area. Evidence was slim at best. All that was left were the shards of glass, an empty spool of tape, blood on the porch steps, and signs of a scuffle in the sand. It would be five long years before the community would learn the truth. Unfortunately, the truth would be even more shocking. A young judge who grew up down the street from the Chillingworth girls would eventually become the mastermind behind Florida’s Crime of the Century.

Joseph A. Peel was the polar opposite of the honorable Judge Chillingworth. While the elder was a stern upholder of the law, the younger was a rowdy playboy who loved to manipulate it. Peel was all about making money and living a flashy lifestyle.

In 1953, Peel represented both the wife and the husband in a divorce case. This unethical manipulation of the law earned him a hearing with the higher-ranking Judge Curtis Chillingworth. Considering his youth, Chillingworth gave Peel a warning but declared it would be the final one. This would be enough to scare any honest person onto the straight and narrow path, but not Joseph Peel.

A judge’s salary was only $3,000/year, but somehow Peel could afford all the top luxuries of life. No one ever questioned him, but Joe Peel was playing both sides of the law. With two cohorts, Floyd Holzapfel and Bobby Lincoln, Judge Peel ran a protection racket in Palm Beach County. It was a simple scam. If the police needed a warrant, they had to see Judge Peel. Peel would issue the legal documentation, and then call his cohorts and warn them of the coming raid. Criminals paid big money to have this protection and soon Peel was making a year’s salary in a week. This scheme probably wouldn’t have been discovered if Peel had done his legal work properly. But in 1955, Peel was again set to face Judge Chillingworth for unethical conduct. This time he would be disbarred.

Judge Peel was still acting as an attorney during his judgeship and again he chose to handle a divorce case deceitfully. This time he told a woman that she was divorced and never filed the final paperwork. When she remarried and tried to adopt a child she discovered that she was a bigamist.

In a panic, Peel called in Floyd Holzapfel and hatched a plan for murder. The details wouldn’t come out for five years and the bodies would never be found. You can read more about this story in Synova Cantrell’s latest book Grim Justice available for pre-order on Amazon now.

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Vintage Detective Story: Mrs. Evelyn Romadka’s Scandalous Downfall, 1907

Home | Short Feature Story | Vintage Detective Story: Mrs. Evelyn Romadka’s Scandalous Downfall, 1907


Story Summary:

The high-society wife of a millionaire trunk manufacturer undergoes an unspecified operation, which alters her personality (or so it is claimed). In 1907 she runs away to Chicago where she falls in love with a black man. To keep him happy, she works as a maid for a string of wealthy Chicago families. While in their employ, she steals expensive items from their homes and brings the goods back to her beau who fences them. She is eventually caught, sent to prison, her husband divorces her, and takes their child. In a later incident, she is proclaimed “Queen of the Vampire Women” of Chicago.

 

Story written by Lieutenant James V. Larkin, Detective Bureau, Chicago Police Department, and Dalton O’Sullivan, Private Detective, and Author of Enemies of the Underworld, 1917.

 

Evelyn Romadka after her arrest in 1907

A most remarkable case of dual personality was revealed in the arrest and confession of Mrs. Evelyn Caine Romadka, beautiful wife of Charles Romadka, millionaire trunk manufacturer of Milwaukee, Wis.

Her arrest and conviction was the result of a clever bit of detective work on the part of Lieut. James V. Larkin, of the Chicago detective bureau. Many startling revelations were made at the trial and it developed, that this amazing woman, despite the fact that she possessed an abundance of wealth, had actually burglarized a number of homes in Chicago and had stolen more than $25,000 worth of jewelry.

The Romadka case became notorious in police annals. It revealed the existence of one of those peculiar cases where a person steals, whose only motive, perhaps, for committing theft, is the excitement attendant upon the experience itself; habits developing in a person of abnormal mental faculties.

Prior to her marriage Mrs. Romadka was Miss Evelyn Caine, a pretty school teacher in a small town in the northern woods of Wisconsin. One day Romadka, while on a hunting expedition, happened to meet the little country schoolteacher on her way to school. An innocent little flirtation finally resulted in a love match.

Romadka returned to Milwaukee to inform his parents of his decision to marry the girl. There was much parental objection, principally because of a difference in religious views. Young Romadka finally prevailed upon his family to accept the woman of his choice, and a short time later, he returned home with his bride.

The young couple lived happily for a short time. About a year later a child was born. The young wife fell dangerously ill. An operation was necessary. The best physicians and specialists in the country were summoned. Mrs. Romadka survived but she apparently did not recover fully from the shock of the operation.

One day, she disappeared, and was next heard of in Chicago, where she stopped at the Victoria Hotel. It was learned later that she devoted much time to the meetings of a secret organization.

She studied the ad columns in the newspapers and in this manner obtained positions as a maid in the homes of wealthy Chicago families. She would remain in one place long enough to ascertain where the family jewels were kept and then make away with them.

After continuing these operations for some time, her arrest and conviction followed a robbery at the home of C. E. Beck, 5520 South Park Avenue, Chicago. Mr. and Mrs. Beck were absent from home on Labor Day, and had neglected to lock the front door. It so happened that in leaving the house, the couple was seen by Mrs. Romadka.

She boldly entered the house shortly after the couple disappeared and ransacked every room in the place. In one of the bedrooms, she found a large alligator skin pocketbook, which contained more than a thousand dollars’ worth of jewels.

When Mr. and Mrs. Beck returned home later, they discovered the robbery and immediately notified the police. Lieutenant Larkin was furnished with a complete description of the stolen pocketbook and the jewelry it contained.

A short time after that Lieutenant Larkin stepped into the Baltimore Inn, one of the fashionable cafes in Chicago, and while dining there, he happened to notice a well-dressed woman at a nearby table, in company with a prominent Chicago businessman.

It was not the woman that attracted Lieutenant Larkin’s attention so much as it was the leather pocketbook the woman carried and which she had placed in full view on the table. Its description tallied exactly with the one Mrs. Beck reported had been stolen.

Lieutenant Larkin immediately began an investigation. When the woman left the cafe, the officer followed. He made some rather sensational discoveries. He learned that the woman whom he suspected was a Mrs. Romadka, prominent member of society of Milwaukee, and reputed to be quite wealthy.

The police officer learned, somewhat to his consternation at first, that Mrs. Romadka was much given to strange whims and fancies. Among other things, she apparently delighted in posing as a poor maid and seeking employment in the homes of the wealthy, only to remain at a place a few days and then disappear.

All these deductions only strengthened his first impression that in this woman he had discovered one responsible for a number of mysterious robberies in Chicago. She was finally arrested (October 16, 1907) and taken to police headquarters where she was questioned.

Her husband was notified and he hastened to Chicago. No one appeared to be more surprised than the husband to learn that his wife had been working as a maid in the homes of several Chicago people, and his surprise knew no bounds when he was told his wife had been accused of burglary.

At first, the woman declared the leather pocketbook and jewels, found in her possession and identified as having been stolen from the Beck home, were given to her by her husband. Later, she confessed having committed the robbery, together with many other thefts in Chicago.

Her confession involved William Jones, a black man in Chicago, with whom the Milwaukee millionaire’s wife had evidently become infatuated. She admitted having stolen jewels and articles of value in order that she could make presents to this lover of hers.

Another piece of clever detective work was necessary to effect the capture of her lover, whom the pretty young wife of the millionaire trunk manufacturer frankly declared she loved and preferred to the man she had lawfully wed.

In making her confession, Mrs. Romadka’s love for William Jones (another source lists his name as Albert Jones) proved even greater than her desire to prevent the shame and humiliation, which her arrest brought upon her husband and his family in Milwaukee.

She told the police she could not recall the name of her African-American lover. At all events, she refused to divulge any information concerning this man that would aid the police in bringing about his arrest.

The police were anxious to capture him, for in his arrest the police hoped to be able to recover some of the jewelry the woman admitted having stolen. Mrs. Romadka was ordered locked up.

Lieutenant Larkin then visited the apartment Mrs. Romadka had occupied and made a thorough search in every room. He found nothing there that appeared to be an aid in determining the name and address of the colored man whom he sought.

The police officer did find, however, tucked in a desk drawer in the living room, a small slip of paper containing several telephone numbers. He traced each of these numbers and finally discovered that one telephone number brought him to the home of her [black] paramour.

When the officer called, he was told by a white woman, who said she was the black man’s wife, that the man he sought was absent. The wife said she did not know where he had gone or when he would return.

Lieutenant Larkin managed to find quarters near this house and succeeded in rigging up an extension telephone connecting directly with the wire leading to the man’s home. He waited for results and in a short time a call came.

He heard the woman at one end of the wire advise the man at the other end of the wire that detectives had called at the house and that he had better remain away for a time. Lieutenant Larkin also heard the man instruct the woman to destroy a certain trunk in a bedroom in the second floor, and to secrete the contents.

This was enough. The detectives hastened to the man’s home and confiscated the trunk. It was taken immediately to police headquarters and opened. Many of the articles Mrs. Romadka admitted stealing from the homes of wealthy Chicago people were found in the trunk.

Lieutenant Larkin also learned from whence the man had telephoned and located the man at this address. His arrest followed immediately. Later, the man admitted he had taught Mrs. Romadka to rob homes and turn the loot over to him. He converted all the stolen articles into cash whenever possible.

He boasted of having an evil influence over the woman, and told the police she had been but a tool in his hands to do with as he pleased. When confronted with her “negro master,” the woman fainted. Mrs. Romadka was convicted of burglary and the man was found guilty of receiving stolen property.

They were both sentenced to long terms in prison. This ended one of the most sensational cases ever brought to the attention of the police and at the time it attracted nation-wide publicity in the press.

Epilogue: Charles Romadka divorced his wife in 1908 and gained sole custody of their daughter. Because of the scandal caused by his wife, his family shut-off all contact with him and tried to oust him from the company.

Evelyn Romadka was released from Joliet Prison on January 5, 1910. In July 1911, police in Chicago were searching for Evelyn in connection with the theft of nearly $1,000 from several bar hopping companions. Two of them, a Kansas City millionaire in town for business and pleasure, along with his date—a local good-time girl, told police that a woman they had partied, “Mrs. Graves,”  with slipped “sleeping powder” into their drinks several hours into the festivities.

After they passed out, the woman stole $860 in cash and a diamond stickpin from the Kansas City millionaire, and $80 from his female companion, a woman once known in Denver as the “Pink Pajama girl.”

Police learned her true identity after Evelyn’s photograph was identified by the victims from a police mugshot book.

In a sensational new story published the day after the theft was reported, the Chicago Examiner proclaimed Evelyn was actually the leader of a gang of eight “Vampire Women,” who preyed on wealthy male travelers to Chicago. It was her idea, they said, to use sleeping powders to drug the unsuspecting men and steal their money.

The Kansas City millionaire left town before he could swear out a warrant against Evelyn. Although he promised to return to do so, he never did.

Evelyn Romadka apparently left Chicago after this incident. At this time, I could not find any further information about her life or death.  

In 1912, The Romadka Brothers Trunk Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee filed for bankruptcy. Her ex-husband had remarried by then, and was working as a turnstile operator at a summer park for $10 a week.

1911 theft story from the Chicago Examiner

1911 theft story from the Chicago Inter-Ocean

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Mug Shot Monday: Robert Edward Stansbury, 1963-1982

Home | Mug Shot Monday, Short Feature Story | Mug Shot Monday: Robert Edward Stansbury, 1963-1982


Lenient Sentences for Serial-Rapist and Molester Lead to More Crimes

DNA Connected Stansbury to 1974 Murder Seven Years After He Died in Prison

Robert Edward Stansbury, died in 2003 while awaiting execution at San Quentin State Prison. Short prison sentences in the 1960s and 70s allowed him to rape and murder again in the 1980s.
Barbara Hall, murdered 1974. In 2010, Los Angeles County cold case detectives were able to link DNA found on Hall to Stansbury. By then, he had already died in prison.
Robyn Leigh Jackson, murdered by Stansbury 1982. Stansbury represented himself and turned the trial into a fiasco that frustrated his own defense attorney. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

In the summer of 1974, twenty-nine-year old Barbara Hall was found dead near a horse trail in the San Dimas/Claremont area near Pomona, California. Her life was tragically ended at the hands of a murderer who had kidnapped her from Pomona, sexually assaulted her, and took her life.

Her murder remained unsolved until December 2010 when the Cold Case Unit of L.A. County Sheriff’s Homicide, working with the Sheriff’s Crime Lab, was able to use more advanced DNA testing capabilities to solve the case.

Through their analysis of DNA found on Hall in 1974, a Pomona man who drove an ice cream truck throughout the San Gabriel Valley during the 1970’s was proven to be the murderer.

Robert Edward Stansbury died in 2003 in San Quentin prison at age 60.  He was serving time on death row for the 1982 rape and murder of a ten-year-old girl whose body was found in Pasadena, after being abducted from Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County.

Sheriff’s Cold Case Homicide investigators re-opened Hall’s case in 2010 and found there was sufficient DNA that in past years would not necessarily have been sufficient to identify the murderer of Barbara Hall.  Sheriff’s Crime Lab (Scientific Services Bureau) technicians soon got a DNA match, and proved the killer was Stansbury.

The story of this horrible crime began on August 13, 1974, when Barbara was found strangled to death on a trail near Mills Avenue and Mount Baldy Road, in an area bordering unincorporated San Dimas and Claremont.  At the time, homicide investigators learned that Barbara, who was developmentally disabled, had been abducted from Pomona on August 12, 1974. The case lingered for decades until it was re-opened by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Cold Case Unit Sgt. Richard Longshore in 2005.

In re-tracing the suspect’s steps back over forty-one-years ago, Cold Case detectives learned that Stansbury drove an ice cream truck in the San Gabriel Valley and the unincorporated areas of East Los Angeles. Stansbury used the truck as a ruse to commit his criminal acts.

His criminal history included sexual assaults on adults and minors of both genders, dating back to 1963.

In November 1963, Stansbury was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct for oral copulation on two ten-year-old boys in the San Joaquin Valley. He was sentenced to ten years in prison but was released early in January 1969.

From California, Stansbury went to Oklahoma City where he raped a woman in December 1970, but only received a two-year sentence. He was released in November 1973.

On November 24, 1974, a few months after Barbara Hall was murdered, Stansbury forced a fourteen-year-old girl into his car at gunpoint, raped her twice, and then released her in Pomona. Five days later, Stansbury abducted a twenty-one-year-old Montclair woman outside a bar and raped her twice before letting her go. He was convicted in a single trial on both counts and only served six and one-half years in prison. He was released on October 10, 1981.

To get closer to children, Stansbury began driving an ice-cream truck during the summer of 1982. His strategy seemed to have worked for him. On September 28 of that year, Stansbury kidnapped, raped, and beat ten-year-old Robyn Jackson from Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County. When he was finished, he stuffed her into the ice cream truck’s freezer, between the Fudgsicles and Sno-Kones, while she was still alive. He then drove to Pasadena where he threw her like a ragdoll into a concrete-lined ditch. The force of the landing cracked her skull and killed her.

An arrogant, egotistical Stansbury chose to represent himself at his trial which began in 1984 and ended eleven-months later after he filed 160 motions. His conduct not only annoyed the judge and prosecutor, but his own defense attorney who sat on the sidelines. He was sentenced to death in on July 16, 1985.

He died in 2003 at the age of sixty before he could be linked to the 1974 murder of Barbara Hall in 2010.

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Read More on Robert Stansbury


Charleston’s Most Inhospitable Hosts: The Story of John and Lavinia Fisher

Home | Short Feature Story | Charleston’s Most Inhospitable Hosts: The Story of John and Lavinia Fisher


 

Guest Post by Harry Parsons,
Content Manager, Arcadia Publishing

We all know the horror film trope: the motel, the inn, the guesthouse at the side of the road that is, for some reason, curiously empty. The friendly, welcoming, eager proprietors who usher you in and tell you to make yourself at home, but somehow seem a little too keen, too forceful about the questions they ask you.

Hundreds of horror films and books use this same setting to thrill and unnerve their audience. It’s not surprising that these themes retain their power to shock and terrify us, especially when they are inspired by real events.

Movies and stories often have a basis in fact. The story of John and Lavinia Fisher exemplifies a perfect made-for-film, true horror story that happened long ago. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Fishers lived just outside Charleston, SC. They split their time between running an inn for travelers and heading up a gang of highwaymen who made a living by trapping and killing unwary visitors and then stripping the corpses of valuables.

The Legend of John and Lavinia Fisher

Operating in the early 1800s, the Six Mile Wayfarer House — so named because it was six miles outside of Charleston, South Carolina — developed a local reputation as a popular place for travelers to rest on their way to Charleston. However, the local authorities began to catch a whiff of something untoward when people noticed a few too many of the patrons of the inn checked in but never seemed to check out.

According to the legend, Lavinia greeted travelers at the door and ushered them into a living area, where she would begin to question them about themselves, their lives, and their business. Based on the answers, she and her husband determined which guests had enough valuables to make robbing them worthwhile.

For the chosen victims, Lavinia provided them with a cup of tea containing a poison or sleeping agent strong enough to force them to quickly retire to bed. Unfortunately, the Fishers had customized the bed in that room to fall through the floor, dropping its occupant onto a specially-crafted spiked room lying underneath the house. To add to the macabre, John finished off anyone who survived the poison and the fall.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the Fishers dispatched of hundreds of people in this gruesome manner.

David Ross

Several versions of the infamous couple’s downfall exist in popular folklore.

One version asserts that the town fathers decided to investigate the disappearances and formed a posse to search the road. When most of the exploratory group returned to Charleston, the posse left one man –David Ross – to stand watch along the road.

That night, two people in Fisher’s gang ambushed Ross, beating him and dragging him to where the gang had gathered. As the story goes, Ross recognized Lavinia and begged her to help him. Instead, she started choking him and putting his head through a window. During the struggle, he managed to escape and made it back to Charleston to alert the authorities.

John Peeples

Another version of the legend focuses on a man named John Peeples. On his way to Charleston from Georgia, he decided to stop at the Six Mile House. Lavinia and John Fisher set the usual trap, with Lavinia telling him a room wasn’t quite ready while offering him a meal and chance to rest. She asked Peeples the standard questions about his life and work.

Peeples did not enjoy tea, but he didn’t want to seem rude to his hosts. When Lavinia offered him a cup, he accepted and poured it out when she wasn’t looking. The questions continued, and Peeples evidently began to feel uncomfortable with the line of questioning. He also heard people moving around in other rooms, despite his hosts assurance that they were alone.

After a while, Lavinia informed Peeples that a room had become available. Already suspicious, he accepted the room, but he elected to sit in a chair by the door instead of sleeping in the bed. In the middle of the night, he woke to see the bed falling through the floor right in front of him. He leapt out the window and ran to the authorities rather than sticking around to see what else they had planned for him!

Separating Legend from Reality

The tales of David Ross and John Peeples both have kernels of truth. Unfortunately, their horrifying stories about the falling bed and hundreds of human bones found on the property remain either unverifiable or stand in contradiction to official records.

Local newspapers from the period focused more on theft than murders or disappearances, and while investigators did discover some bodies on the property, the notion of hundreds of corpses under the Six Mile is almost certainly an invention.

There is no concrete link between the Fishers and the bodies, either. The court eventually convicted John and Lavinia of highway robbery, which was recognized as a capital crime just like murder.

The Conclusion of the Story

The record indicates the court sentenced John and Lavinia to an execution by hanging.

On the day of their scheduled execution, John Fisher accepted the counsel of a local Reverend and attempted to repent in hopes of a last-minute commutation. He told the gathered crowd that as a Christian man, he should not be put to death.

Terrifying to very end, Lavinia arrived at the gallows in her wedding dress, clinging to the hope that as a married woman, she could not be hanged. Neither ploy worked; the judge presiding over the executions simply stated John would hang first. Though the law forbid the execution of married women, the law had no rules against hanging widows.

Press reports at the time recorded Lavinia’s uttered chilling last words before she leapt from the scaffold on her own rather than allow the hangman to do his job. Before she jumped, she yelled “If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it.”

It’s the perfect end to a spine-tingling tale of true crime!

Related Book: Six Miles to Charleston: The True Story of John and Lavinia Fisher, by Bruce Orr, Foreword by John Laverne

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