Battling Entrenched Corruption in Alabama
Booby Trap: Flooded House, Hot Water Heater and a 220 Line Run Into Water
What Happens When Lawlessness Appears Rampant
Until a few months ago, I could count on one hand the times I felt truly afraid. Except for midnight slumber parties when childhood friends told scary tales into the wee hours, I can’t remember when I didn’t feel safe and protected. My alarm system: two small feisty Schnauzers, later, a small Feist or squirrel dog, and after they went to the pet cemetery on our family farm (a few yards from the graves of my great-grandparents), I acquired a homeless lab, Sambo. What more could I want?
Fear: A Different Emotion
Today, all that has changed. Over the last five months, I’ve gone from being an independent woman who greeted each new day as an adventure, to a woman whose feelings and emotions are quite different. After experiencing five months of burglaries into both my house and my car, I spent most of December 2013 in a local woman’s shelter because of the fear caused by multiple break-ins. I filed police reports.
Fingerprints were visible on most occasions, and I showed them to the police. I was able to convince an investigator to get the fingerprints on one occasion. The investigator told me later that his supervisor determined that the print would not be sent to the state until more evidence could be gathered. But a series of "glitches" prevented gathering more evidence,including two store videos. A video that would have shown someone stealing my phone in a public restaurant. On another occasion,another video from Gander Mountain parking lot, could have shown the person or persons who entered my car and took a small digital recorder. Police refused to call the toll free number and order that video.
A video camera at my front door gave me a brief glimpse one morning of a young man approaching my house and car. A few weeks later, a private detective, Allsouth Investigations in Birmingham, came to my house and determined that someone had cut the land line under my house. Between November 2013 and March 2014, I changed or re-keyed house locks four or five times. I could never figure out how they were getting into my house. I put “kickers” under all doorknobs, taking every precaution that I could think of. Pictures of my front and back door indicate clear tampering with the locks on more than one occasion. And the method of gaining entrance to my car, a 2002 Chrysler Sebring? Some type of “clicker.”
Ironically, my credibility was not the major issue. After I completed a Ph.D. from Auburn University in 2008, I enjoyed a full life of teaching in college, tutoring, and publishing in university journals, mostly stories about the South. Actually, the major problem I encountered with friends and law enforcement alike: fear of the people doing this to me.
Culmination of Events: Fire
On March 26, 2014, I returned home from an overnight trip to Birmingham for a UAB health appointment regarding foot surgery. Because of a broken water pump, the trip turned into a two-day trip instead of one. I was with my house guest, John Caylor,an investigative journalist who had traveled from Virginia to do an interview with me concerning attorneys and others shaking down people 65+ for their estates. He also planned to interview me regarding any possible experiences connected with "the Enterprise." He and I opened the back door to be greeted by swirling waters and the acrid smell of smoke. Soot---black soot---and dirt seemed to cover everything. We took a few steps, and after determining that any fire appeared to be out, we stepped outside. I called 911 immediately. The police determined that the fire, caused by arson, began in John’s bedroom, the living room, and one other place, which the police told us they would not disclose to us.
My car, still parked in the carport, showed clear handprints and fingerprints all over the driver side windows. I asked the police to please get the handprints.....they did not. Although the prints may not have belonged to whoever started the fire, the owner of those prints might have had information if the police had been willing to question them.
After two-three hours, we were shaking and cold, and went to a motel and fell asleep. The police gave us strict orders not to return to the house, and we stayed away, not wanting to interfere with the investigation in any way.
Within a day or two, I returned to my house to get a closer look at the devastation. My house guest, John Caylor, an investigative journalist, wanted to take pictures. We entered the house, touching nothing, but going from room to room. Family mementos saved over a lifetime, now gone. But when we entered the master bedroom closet, we both gasped.
Above the electric hot water heater, someone had broken a hole in the wall, and the obvious remains of a fire could be seen. A water line had been broken, which explained the flooded house, and a 220 electrical plug dangled onto the wet carpet. The carpet had been several inches deep in water when we entered the house. The police had withheld this information from us. We later learned that the Alabama State Fire Marshall should have been called immediately; however, the Headland police allowed the insurance investigator into the house and no mention was made of the State Fire Marshall. A few weeks after the fire, I called the office of the state fire marshall and received a voice mail stating that the Headland Police Department would be handling this fire. The message clearly indicated that the state fire marshall's office would not get involved.
What would have happened if we had not entered the house with rubber-soled shoes.
Would we have been electrocuted if our shoes had been different? Did someone try to kills us, or was this outfit rigged purely by chance?
Freedom of the Press and Our Civil Rights as Americans
Yesterday, April 3, 2014, John posted the pictures on his website: www.insider-magazine.com along with an article about the fire. A number of his articles over the years have focused on corruption in Alabama, Florida, and other states. However, most of his research and writing has focused on corruption in Alabama and often involves attorneys, judges, and others in high positions in the state. He always writes an article with documentation in hand. Shortly after putting the article on his website in PDF format, someone hacked into his website, and the article with details about the hot water heater disappeared.
The Beginning: A Quick Glimpse—Additional Details Later
On November 18, 2014, I reluctantly called the police, and Officer X came to my house regarding the burglary, the first break-in of my house on Veteran’s Day. Papers, approximately 30 or 40 pages, had been taken from my home. He was police and courteous, as the case with all local police I had met since 1999 when I built my house in a neighborhood called Willow Oaks. But I was not prepared for his next words:
“Don’t say anything,” he cautioned.
He continued, “Be careful, you probably have a tracker on your car as well as a listening device. They have probably put listening devices in your house as well. You need to go to Sadie’s Flea Market and get a Taser. You may need one.”
Shocked, I listened, unable to take it all in at once.
A Second Opinion
Quietly, I talked with a former Headland police officer, one I highly respected. Although the two officers had never met, this one said almost the same words: probably a tracker on or in your car, listening devices in house and/or car, dangerous criminal organization. But his advice: You need a gun.
A gun? Not me, I thought. For years, I lived alone, in Mobile and in Headland. With yappy dogs, my house had never been burglarized. Besides, I couldn’t afford a gun right now.
For months, I dreaded calling the police every time an incident occurred. Often, the items would be returned---weeks later and in a different location---but returned. Some items never came back. I have receipts from nearby motels in December when I had left the women’s shelter, the House of Ruth, and I was afraid to spend the night at my house. I knew someone had been inside my house, but I was as afraid of the police as I was of the intruders? I told my sister-in-law, “A couple of these policemen act as though I’m the criminal. I’m afraid of them. I’m even afraid they could try to plant drugs on me.”
She laughed, “That’s ridiculous; at your age, they would know that wouldn’t fly, and besides, you’re too much of a health nut for anyone to believe that.”
But still, I felt uneasy.
My Pleas for Help
For months, I have begged the local police and the District Attorney for help. In January a new investigator came to the local police department. He appeared to be concerned. I expressed my concern to him, "You know Chaplain, "Your supervisors are not going to allow you to follow through with this." He disagreed. I was hopeful. He looked up the law for each incident in my presence. Several were felonies. However, a few weeks later, his tone changed.
He told me, "You know, if these people are caught, these are all misdemeanors. You (emphasis on the you) will be the one to prosecute, not us. The police will not prosecute these incidents. And I can assure you, the captain and the chief are going to want to close this case soon. This is taking a lot of time and no results."
I said nothing. I expressed my thoughts in a letter I wrote to him but never mailed. I did send a copy of the letter to the District Attorney of Henry and Houston counties on March 5th. These letters are displayed in my next hub.