Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

Public Hysteria Rocked Columbus During the Stocking Strangling Murders

December 16, 2009

The Stocking Strangler stories sent Columbus  TV news ratings through the roof. The newscast I was anchoring, the 7 p.m. on WRBL, which was then easily the dominant newscast in the Chattahoochee Valley, got its highest ratings ever.  But, I wanted it to end.  I wanted the perpetrator of such heinous crimes to be caught and for it to be over.  High ratings didn’t compensate for the toxic atmosphere in the community at the time.

The Columbus area was in a state of hysteria.   Not only elderly women – all of the victims were elderly women – were terrified, but so were their relatives and friends.  Burglar bars were installed all over town, but especially in the Wynnton area.  Children insisted that their mothers who were living alone move in with them. Some did. Some didn’t.  

This hysteria caused a great deal of anxiety for one young man.  The son of a  prominent TV personality was rumored to be a suspect.  I would get nasty calls from people about it. “You know who is doing this and you’re just covering it up!” one woman told me on the phone.  I didn’t know any such thing.  It got so bad that Police Chief Curtis McClung,  in a talk to the Rotary Club of Columbus,  said  the young man was not a suspect.  Turns out that he was out of town when some of the murders occurred.  It really took a toll on him.  He later told me how traumatic it got for him.   

Covering the Stocking Strangling story sent me to the hospital.  I got so upset when I couldn’t get any information at the scene of one of the attacks, that I evidenced heart attack symptoms.  My photographer, alarmed at my symptoms, urged me to go to the emergency room.  I did and was admitted to cardiac care.  The Ledger-Enquirer ran a story that I was being treated for a heart attack.  That generated a slew of get-well cards that I appreciated, but it turned out to be hyperventilation.  Coincidentally, one of the detectives on the case was also admitted the same day for the same problem.

I was interviewing a police official one day when he shared with me the strain that  it was putting on him.  The public pressure on the police department to put a stop to the killing was very intense.  He opened his desk drawer, reached in and pulled out and showed me a bottle of  Valium, the most used tranquilizer of the time.

When the murders stopped,  I was quite happy to go back to lower ratings.  It was an exciting story to cover, but excitement is not necessarily a good thing.

Josh McKoon on Georgia 85, Georgia Legislature Coverage, Excessive Crime Reporting, and Gaza

January 7, 2009

  Josh McKoon, chair of the the Muscogee County Republican Party, sent the following email to me about recent  posts on this blog.  I decided to use it as a post rather than run it as a comment to one of the posts he addresses. 

Dear Dick,
As always I enjoy reading your blog posts and just wanted to share a few comments with you.
I am glad you reminded people they can travel on Georgia 85, it is much better than I-85 given the mess between Exit 41 and 47.  And as you mentioned, it is a more pleasant drive.
And I could not agree more with your January 3 post regarding news coverage of the Georgia Legislature.  I wonder if the various local media organizations could pool resources to send one reporter up for the session.  I get tired of having to read the Atlanta and Savannah papers to find out what our legislators are up to under the Gold Dome.  Lawmakers is an excellent resource, as is Dick Pettys web site, Peach, the AJC’s political insider on, the Georgia Gang (if you can get Atlanta television stations) and Insider Advantage online.  I am interested to see how Richard Hyatt and hopefully you, provide information to local citizens on the upcoming session.  But it is right to put a big spotlight on this issue as the lack of coverage the last few years is a dereliction of duty on the part of the press.
I also have to agree with you regarding the overemphasis on crime in the media.  If I want to hear about the police 24/7, I will buy a scanner.  If you really want to cover crime, how about an in depth story on the incredible success of the Muscogee County Juvenile Drug Court program, or the Junior Marshal program or the Truancy Intervention Project, or Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the hundreds of volunteers that devote time to helping at-risk children from becoming another crime blotter story?
Finally I do have to take issue with you on your most recent entry regarding the conflict in Gaza.  I agree with you that any short take on the conflict is necessarily simplistic given the history.  However, take this most recent upsurge in violence and what I see is the Israeli government making significant territorial concessions (Sharon’s effort to abandon settlements in Gaza and leave it to the PA to control).  In return, terrorists take control of the government and now being even closer to Israeli population centers they fire rockets indiscriminately, killing men, women and children.  The Israelis suffer this for so long before finally saying, we cannot let the killing of our people continue unanswered and take military action to end the violence. 
To put this in perspective, let us say that Mexico wanted to reclaim portions of California and Texas and, that after lengthy negotiation, the U.S. agreed to territorial concessions.  Within a short period of time, militant Mexican nationalists start firing rockets into Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans.  What would the U.S. do in response?  I highly doubt we would have negotiated for any period of that time and given the aggressors the opportunity to cease and desist.  I expect U.S. tanks would be rolling immediately into those areas and taking those responsible out of commission.
Unfortunately, the terrorists in Gaza not only target innocent Israeli civilians, when they are confronted with a counterattack they hide behind innocent people as well, and then when someone is killed in the ensuing fighting the terrorists seek to blame the Israelis for killing people they are using as human shields.
So it is unsurprising to me that Republicans and Democrats widely agree on the subject of supporting our ally Israel, the only totally functioning democracy in the whole of the Middle East, over the terrorists running Gaza.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you and keep up the great work, it is always a delight to read your take on what is going on in our community and elsewhere.

Why Crime, Crime, Crime All the Time?

January 4, 2009

  It seems like 90 percent of television drama is about crime, and, the movies concentrate intensely on the subject; local television news is totally dedicated to reporting it, and the newspaper is loaded with it also. Though, I must admit, the paper does the best job of filling us in on other truly important local non-crime news, too.

Frankly, I find a steady diet of crime entertainment depressing. Maybe I’m not alone and that’s why American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Million-Dollar Password and such programs are attracting large audiences. They are a break from crime, crime, crime, crime.

Sure, crime is important and has to be dealt with, and our law enforcement agencies need our full support, but do we have to be inundated with it all the time? Thank goodness for the great live football coverage on the networks, also, because that, too, is a break from crime, crime, crime all the time.

Redoubt Doubts Correctness of Richard Hyatt’s Comment on Taking the Law into Your Own Hands

October 24, 2008

  Once again I have decided to post a comment sent in by Redoubt. As I said last time, not everyone who reads a post reads the comments that follow.

  I decided that Redoubt’s comment really focuses the issue that a lot of people are thinking about in the Frank Lumpkin III chase and shooting incident: is it wise to take the law into your own hands?  

  He is commenting on my post about the Richard Hyatt’s Columbus article on the chase and shooting incident.


  That article certainly offers a lot more detail than what you’ll find in any other individual story, but I am forced to disagree with his closing remarks, “In the end, he put his life on the line for the price of a possession that isn’t worth a person’s life.”

  After a while, people simply have enough. Enough of the robberies, enough of the home invasions, enough of the crime.

  In the end, I can’t bring myself to pass judgement on Mr. Lumpkin for doing what any of us should be willing to do when protecting our life, liberty and right to happiness… not to mention just being able to live without fear.

  Isn’t high time we stopped blaming the victims of crime for its consequences?


  To be honest, I am not sure what I would have done had  I been in Frank Lumpkin’s shoes. I never was much of a hero. But I have surprised myself from time to time so I won’t say I wouldn’t have done something. The question, though, is should I have?

  I would certianly want to do something, and  he tried what I know I would have done, call 911. I would probably have also looked for the stolen vehicle and would carttainly have called 911 again if I found it. I probably would not have tried to take back the vehicle on my own, especially since I don’t carry a handgun in my car. My NRA friends would propbably tell me that was my first mistake. Maybe they are right. Maybe I should get one. Maybe I will.

  Is an SUV worth a life? No is the easy anwser. You can probably get another SUV. However, we don’t expect our police officers to go for the easy anwser. We can reason that they are the pros trained to do such things, and that’s true, but they are still risking their lives for our property.

  Now, if your (or a loved one’s) life is threatened, that’s a different matter. The obvious anwser there is that you do whatever it takes to protect yourself or your loved one. Even then, though, maintaining one’s cool is paramount; however, I realize that is easier said than done. I remember Earnest Hemingway’s definition of courage: “grace under pressure.”

Hyatt Illustrates That Blog Journalism Can Be First Rate

October 23, 2008

   Richard Hyatt’s article on Frank Lumpkin III’s actions in tracking down his stolen vehicle and allegedly shooting the driver is an example of the excellent reporting that can be found on some blogs.  You can check out the article by going to this link.

  Blog reporting has gotten a bad name because some bloggers just don’t pratice responsible journalism. They don’t really check to make sure their facts are correct, for one thing. But, fortunately, seasoned pros like Richard are blogging now.

General White Leads Victory Coaltion’s Fight to Improve The Image of South Columbus

July 28, 2008

  When people come to the Columbus area to visit the National Infantry Museum, Major General (Ret.) Jerry White doesn’t want them leaving with a bad impression. That’s why he is working hard for the Victory Coalition.


Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry White

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry White



  He has been instrumental in forming the group of business leaders in South Columbus who are working to improve the reputation of that part of town. They want to put an end to its reputation as a crime infested haven for drugs and prostitution.


  I recounted to him a conversation I had with a young Army wife about why she and her Airborne School husband didn’t live in South Columbus. “Just think of the gas money you could save by living close to the post.”


  “Well, we looked it over. When saw the conditions of some of the neighborhoods with things like cars sitting on blocks in the front yards, we decided we didn’t want to live there.”


  “It doesn’t have to be that way, Dick,” General White told me. “We have to get the city to enforce the laws on things like that in the same way it does in other parts of town. We have to have a greater police presence in South Columbus in order for people to feel it’s a safe place. It wasn’t always like this.”


  I told him that I could remember when it wasn’t like that, when a lot of people from all over Columbus went to South Columbus to go to the nice restaurants like the Coco Super Club. “And,” he added to my list, “the Villa Nova and Black Angus. Black Angus was my favorite,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t understand. They don’t even know why Victory Drive is called Victory Drive, that it’s named that in honor of the great victory that ended World War Two.”


  General White is getting some solid backing in his quest to improve the area. His good friend Sam Friedman recently opened the new Suburban Extended Stay Hotel on Victory Drive.  Columbus’ only USO is located there. The United Service Organization came into being during World War Two to help soldiers away from home fight loneliness with things like dances, ping pong, basketball, and movies. Columbus had a big one on 9th Street  for white soldiers and a smaller one for African American soldiers. Jim Crow was alive and well then. They were packed during the war, but Columbus had been without one for years.


Suburban Extended Stay Hotel

Suburban Extended Stay Hotel



  The hotel, which boasts an impressive pool and patio area for outdoor barbeques, has a military theme, including a General’s Suite, and a model of the new National Infantry Museum in the lobby.


Suburban Extended Stay Hotel Patio and Pool Area

Suburban Extended Stay Hotel Patio and Pool Area



  Two more hotels will open soon, a new Holiday Inn Express and a Candlewood, and a fourth hotel is in the works that will locate on the National Infantry Museum site.


  “We are talking major change,” General White said. We are going to have 500,000 people coming into this area to visit the Infantry Museum. This is going to mean, in addition to the new hotels, restaurants,  4 to 5 hundred jobs. We are working with an already formed group of business leaders called Columbus South in calling on business people in the area to clean up their places, to become a part of the Victory Coalition and change the reputation of South Columbus.”



Georgia Corrections Commissioner Backs LOST

June 26, 2008

  Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington, Georgia’s former Commissioner of Corrections,  picked up  support by the present Commissioner for his Local Option Sales Tax initiative. James E. Donald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, told Rotary Club of Columbus members that Georgians need to come together to do something about the prison problem in the state, and he believes that Columbus folks need to pitch in by voting for the LOST.





James E. Donald

Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections 



  He says his plan to stop putting away non-violent drug abusers, who are filling up the state’s prison system, will take the support of strong local police departments. Mayor Wetherington promises to spend the majority of the LOST money on beefing up the city’s safety department.


  It costs the state about 1.2 billion dollars a year to operate its Corrections Department, he said. And Governor Perdue has cut the department’s budget by 38 million dollars. Commissioner Donald says he takes that cut as an opportunity to be more creative about ways to make the prison system work better.  


  Donald, a retired infantry general, hopes judges will start sentencing drug abusers to rehabilitation programs that require them to report regularly to day reporting centers, one of which is being built for Columbus. They go to the centers to be checked to see that they are not violating their probationary sentences and not returning to their old drug abusing ways.


  Georgia,” he says, “has the second highest rate of incarceration in the nation, second only to Florida.”


  He says just locking people up treats the symptom, but not the root cause of the problem itself. If only the symptom is treated, when the inmates are released back into society they return to their old criminal ways. He wants to lean more on crime prevention, education and rehabilitation.


  And he wants us to support Mayor Wetherington’s LOST. Maybe we will, but I know a lot of people, including a number of Rotarians, who are not for the LOST. Me? Well, I’m torn. We’ll get into that in a future post on this blog. Stay tuned.