I complete my series of wristwatch lists with Casio. My own watch is a Casio, a black Baby G. I got it as a birthday present in 2012. (Thanks, Justin!) They’re tough; you can literally run one over with a car and it’ll still work fine. So, MPs with their wrists adorned by a Casio:
Selected by Celeste: virtually the entire Brown family who vanished from St. Lucie, Florida on July 25, 1985. There’s mom Carolyn Denise, age 27, oldest child Sheketah Michele, age 11, and the two younger children, Barry Michael, age 6, and Brandon Mitchell, age 2. They vanished together with the father of the family, James, in July 1985.
Now, these are not terribly mysterious disappearances: they are MWAB (murder-without-a-body) cases and the perpetrator was James. James confessed to all four murders, but he was tried only for Sheketah and Carolyn’s deaths because he had dumped Barry’s and Brandon’s in a different spot along an interstate highway and authorities weren’t sure whether this was in Georgia or Florida. It looks like it was supposed to be a murder-suicide, since James also shot himself in the head.
James was diagnosed with schizophrenia, found not guilty by reason of insanity later in 1985, and confined to a mental hospital. He was sent to a halfway house in 1996 and then released altogether in 1997. Last I knew, he was still having psychiatric problems and they were thinking about re-committing him, but that was a long time ago and I don’t know where he is or how he’s doing today. It’s pretty hard to find a guy with a name like “James Brown.”
[I found an article about James from 2002. It says he’s living in a small town in Florida, keeping very much to himself and working part-time at his brother’s funeral home. He’s still taking anti-psychotic drugs and sees a social worker every month but that seems to be it as far as “supervision” goes. He has very little to say about his wife and children, and his own family copes by pretending they just disappeared and he didn’t kill them.]
Now, let me say first that I think we need to use not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) a lot more often than we do. I see so many people who are clearly bat-guano crazy — Jared Lee Loughner comes to mind, and also Andrea Yates — and were sentenced to life in prison anyway. (Yes, I know Andrea got a new trial and is now in a mental hospital. I think that’s where she should have been placed the first time around. I actually contributed to her defense fund.) America’s prisons are full of people who are very mentally sick and need treatment, not punishment; I’ve read that the largest psychiatric ward in California is located in the Los Angeles County Jail. It’s not helping them, and it’s not helping society, because these people don’t get adequate treatment for their illnesses in jail, and when they get out and they are probably going to get locked up again very quickly as a result of their brain conditions. So much money is spent incarcerating people, and so little on beds in psychiatric hospitals, and adequate community care so people don’t get so sick they need to be hospitalized. It’s a disgrace and, in my opinion, a human rights violation. (Feel free to debate this in the comments section, but please, no flame wars or general nastiness.)
But getting off my soapbox, and back to the Brown family, from what little information I have, I’m not sure James was truly insane at the time he committed the murders.
I believe he must have had schizophrenia, the most disabling of all psychiatric illnesses, or the psychiatrists wouldn’t have diagnosed him as such. [According to the aforementioned article, there was a history of both mental illness and violence in his family.] Assuming he was around the same age as Carolyn, he was the right age: it usually hits you in your late teens or early twenties and gets steadily worse without treatment. So it could have hit him in late high school or in college and his mental condition could have been deteriorated until by his late twenties/early thirties he was in a sorry state (though still, curiously, doing well enough to keep a job as a teacher).
[The article I found doesn’t state his age but now I think he must actually have been several years older than Carolyn. I’m judging this because it said he had been married before, and Carolyn was only around seventeen when she married James. It says his symptoms of mental illness began in the mid-1970s, before he married Carolyn, and so his schizophrenia had around ten years to manifest itself by the time of the shooting in 1985.]
But to be found NGI, you have to be not only mentally ill but so severely sick you don’t know right from wrong. James made clear attempts to cover up his crimes: he painted over the bloodstains in his home, fled the area without telling anyone, disposed of his wife and children’s bodies in such a way that they have never been found, and sought hospital treatment for his gunshot wound while using a false name and lying about how he sustained the injury. He didn’t confess to the murders until after they found out his story about being mugged was a lie. [The article says James admitted to the reporter that he lied in his confession also, which explains why the police couldn’t find a lot of evidence to back it up and why they never found the bodies.] All of this sounds like cognizance of guilt to me.
But what do I know? Not that much. There must have been some reason why the psychiatrists thought he was NGI and why the jury [article says it was actually a judge] came to agree with them. Maybe it was because he had tried to commit suicide after the murders. I really don’t know. I wish I could see the trial documents, at least the psychiatrists’ testimony.
In any event, the case can’t truly be closed until the bodies of this poor family have been located and buried properly. I hope this happens — one or more of them may be listed as John Does somewhere — but I’m not holding my breath.
If they were still alive, Carolyn would be 56, Sheketah would be 39, Barry 35 (today is his birthday actually), and Brandon 30. Madness struck them all down.
I posted an anniversary remembrance for Amanda “Nikki” Campbell earlier today. Just because I have nothing else to do I thought I’d post the other Charley Project cases who vanished on December 27. Don’t expect me to make a habit of these, though. I’ve got enough to do without posting an anniversary list every single friggin’ day or even every week. I’ll do this as a once-in-awhile treat, if I do it again at all.
Melvin Horst, 1928 (85 years)
Joanne Elaine Coughlin, 1974 (39 years)
Rebecca Pauline Gary, 1988 (35 years)
Raymond S. Mutchler, 1989 (34 years)
Lisa Renee Zochowski, 1990( 23 years)
Amanda Nicole Eileen “Nikki” Campbell, 1991 (22 years)
Windsor Dennan Thomason, 1991 (22 years)
Bertha Michelle Burkholder, 1992 (21 years)
Phyllis Ellen Lewellen, 1996 (17 years)
Richard Edward McCrary, 1999 (14 years)
Stephen Horace Pearson, 2000 (13 years)
Karen Jo Smith, 2000 (11 years)
Fatil Algul, 2001 (12 years)
Laura Leticia Ramirez, 2002 (11 years)
Earnest Lee Franklin, 2003 (10 years)
Gabriel Scott Johnson, 2009 (4 years)
David M. Mekvold, 2010 (3 years)
Gabriel Scott Johnson, 2009 (4 years)
Dan Binh Nguyen, 2010 (3 years)
Isabeth Yanez, 2010 (years)
Lacey Marie Buenfil, 2011 (2 years)
April Michelle Pickens, 2011 (2 years)
This list turned out much longer than I thought it would, actually. Has it really been THAT long since baby Gabriel Johnson was kidnapped? And we’re still no closer to an answer, even any kind of legal resolution, to his disappearance.
This week I’ll be profiling Gracie Nash, who disappeared 30 years ago last Thursday, in 1983, from Texas. Gracie, an employee at an Austin nursing home, was last seen after she finished her shift at 11:00 p.m. Authorities found her car abandoned, spattered with large amounts of blood. There were other signs of a violent struggle. As a result, Gracie is presumed deceased.
Six weeks later, Gracie’s brother John Davis was murdered. A few weeks after that, John and Gracie’s brother Melvin was shot by his girlfriend. He survived. The girlfriend, Naomi Easley, was convicted of aggravated assault and also convicted of murdering her husband. She was doing time last I knew, though she was supposed to come up for parole in 2009. (I last updated Gracie’s case in 2006.) I can’t find out whether she was paroled or not, but given that this is “lock ’em up and throw away the key” Texas we’re talking about, I doubt she was. Authorities believe Melvin’s girlfriend might have also been involved in Gracie’s disappearance and John’s murder, but she has never been charged for lack of evidence.
I hope Gracie and her brothers’ parents were not alive to see this. I cannot imagine losing three of your children to violence in the space of two months. Assuming Easley killed all three of them, I wonder what her motive was. Eliminating witnesses perhaps?
Four Three deaths (including her husband’s) would technically make her a serial killer. This was a black family, and from the sounds of it they were working-class. If it was a middle- or upper-class white family, I’m sure there would have been a lot more publicity. But what’s done is done.
You can read a few more more details about Easley’s husband’s murder case in her appeal, which was filed in 1992.
As I was reminded by Holly, Amanda Nicole Eileen “Nikki” Campbell, age four, disappeared 22 years ago today, two days after Christmas. She was last seen riding her bicycle outside her Fairfield, California home that afternoon/evening. (Probably, during the winter, 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. counts as evening.) She seemingly vanished without a trace. No witnesses to anything suspicious, no one heard any screaming, etc. She was gone. Makes me wonder if she was taken by someone she knew and trusted, but who knows?
I updated her case recently, without posting a notice on the updates page, to add a photo of Nikki’s bike which was found abandoned.
She was young enough to make it possible that someone is keeping her alive and she doesn’t remember where she came from. If so, she would be 26 years old today. Wherever you are, Nikki, I hope you make it home way or another.
This is a very rough day for families of the missing. I have no idea how they cope with it. In different ways, I suppose. Perhaps some of them leave an empty chair at the dinner table, a present marked for their MP under the tree. Perhaps some families never mention the lost person’s name, but they remain conspicuous by their absence.
I don’t have any members of my family who are missing, but my brother Brian died in 1988 while still in his teens. Car accident. No one ever talks about him. He’s not exactly a taboo subject, it’s just that no one brings him up. I know Mom and Dad think of him often but they’ve said there’s no point in talking about him because it won’t bring him back. He was never mentioned this Christmas Day, though I’m sure my parents and my older siblings were carrying him around in their minds. In some ways I feel lucky that I was too young to really remember Brian, too young to remember that tragedy and the grief.
For me, so far things are going fine. Much better than yesterday.
Well, the first half of Christmas Eve was hell. There’s no way getting around that. Going into more details would result in all kinds of “airing our dirty laundry” flack from two different families.
Things improved after I went the extended family party. This actually went pretty well. I spent most of the time in conversation with my brother’s girlfriend and then my niece. I just hope things continue to do well tomorrow.