Tomahawk, hatchet, axe, Pick a noun. Tomahawk sounds cooler. The last few years, my Facebook and Youtube pages have been peppered with various superstar guys doing/teaching theee….Tomahawk! Or Axe! I absorb the clips with some amazement, confusion, trepidation and distaste. Am I seeing an audition for Flash Dance or real-life, “Axe Combatives?”
The fad goes viral. Seeing the videos, geared to make ignorant jaws-drop. Mistakes? Before I start with this somewhat satirical, tongues-inside-cheeks review, I will state my “bona fidis” that qualifies my twisted opinion. In police work I have had an hand axe thrown at me. I was also attacked by a man rushing at me with a full, big axe. I have worked an axe murder, and several criminal investigations involving axe attacks. For many years I attended an annual “Death and Violent Assault “week long training school, where medical examiners from big cities flew in to discuss, show and explain their major cases for the year. Slide shows and narrative. Synopsis. These included reviews and slides on the occasional axe/hatchet murders and autopsy reviews. I am also history buff and have made several deep-dive studies into edged weapons in modern combat.
I have co-instructed a few seminars with the late-great, Dwight McClemore doing “historic tomahawk.” Dwight has spent a lifetime studying this very subject. And after hanging out for years with full-blooded Apache, Snake Blocker – an obsessive American Indian researcher and Apache, these guys might be 100 times greater than most of these other folks parading the globe with this-or-that axe/tomahawk course. I therefore, offer my sardonic observations…So, what about “axe-ical” training in war, crime and the martial arts? Well, sir and ma’am, it’s all about the “KATHUMP!”
In short, for starters, with the fads, I am asked about my own tomahawk, axe program. I have none and here’s why. if I were to dare initiate my very own, axe fighting course, I would officially call it, yes – Kathump! “Kathump” because when you actually hit a human being with an axe/tomahawk it goes…kathump. In fact, it might go so far deep, a kathump, it might take a foot on that body part to work, wiggle and pump the axe out. I am bedazzled by the flowing figure fours and multiple-step, follow-ups that the axe masters demonstrate when showing their moves in combat scenarios. Most of all that should really stop at the first good, kathump.
For example, there’s a video clip of an art-axe-man teaching a seminar, showing a sweeping, replica blow to head (simulated of course by going over the head because we can’t really hit the head) then he majestically sweeps down with the weapon and hits the Achilles tendon or at very least, hooks the ankle and pulls in a successful foot sweep, and said stuntman/uke cooperates and is pulled down. The mouth-watering, viewing masses, watching with their various rubber and plastic facsimiles in their hands cannot wait to simulate this two step, axe attack! I said to myself upon viewing this,
“Hold on a minute…wouldn’t that vicious swing into the head…just go…kathump? Thereby ending the flow, thereby stopping at step 1, thereby no cool step 2, ankle chop-chop or ankle, sweep-pull?”
Two steps? What of the three or more step sets they do? I have seen 3, 4 and 5 step, fake-axe moves taught, which clearly couldn’t be finished because of the step 1 or step 2 kathump. I watch and I just kept spotting motion-stopping kathumps. Doesn’t ANYONE realize the folly of what they are doing? Do they care? Should they care? Do they not know they have to remove-wrestle with the many embedded axe strikes? More on these problem steps later. Right now, who can claim rights to the tomahawk-hatchet-axe heritage?
The Universal Axe. there a culture, or a country on the planet that in their early history, didn’t need and develop an axe of some sort for work or war? Axes were and are everywhere. Thus, it becomes easy for any martial arts maestro to whip a cool, axe-axe, choppy-choppy, course because…because who in hell will actually research-challenge their info, especially those folks enveloped in fads and “system-love” and “system-leader” love. You just follow the leader with the exotic premise that, “the martial grass is always greener elsewhere,” one can conjure/invent/claim any axe course from anywhere.
Different countries. For example, here is a brief, McLemore-ian history of the tomahawk. USA. “The term tomahawk was derived from the Algonquian words “tamahak” or “tamahakan.” The Native American Indians regularly used tomahawks made from stone heads which were attached to wooden handles secured by strips of rawhide. They used tomahawks for general uses such as hunting, chopping, cutting, or also as a weapon.”
It would be odd, at least an eyebrow-raiser for me if a guy in Norway suddenly started teaching “American Indian Tomahawk.” Who from? Viking Tomahawk? Well okay. I also have my suspicions about lifelong FMA teachers who suddenly conjure a hatchet course from thin air, from say, ohhh… “Mindanao (?)” swinging…American tomahawk trainers from Cold Steel? All because it’s a fun fad they want to cash in on.
But exotics aside, having a simple, flat hammer head on one side stout rubber coated ergonomic, handle like a worker’s tool, seems very useful, unlike these classic 1776-like hawks. After all, as with knives, soldiers use axes in the field for all kinds of lifestyle chores. Modern axes tech evolved for problem-solving. (How about those hand axes with the hollow handles? Inside – fishing line, hook, compass, Hersey bars, toothpicks, condoms, whatever!)
Tomahawk-ian Figure Eights? All these flows and motions? Look, I know it’s important to spend time holding a tool, a weapon, swinging it around. Hitting things, etc. Bonding with the weapon. I see films of people by themselves, just doing that work with axes. A lot of things like figure 8s in the air, etc. I get the idea. I also see that the axe or tomahawk is used in hooking-trapping-moving the limbs of an opponent. I get that too. But to me, they seem to do and expect way too much of a performance. When the expert stands before an “opponent” and does 9 steps of buzz saw, figure 8 magic, that would really have ended at step 2 because of the…ka…thump. Jeremy Mayes calls it, “the tomahawk ballet.”
Axe versus axe? We live in a very mixed weapons world, would you always be fighting axe-to-axe? Ever? Nope, I don’t think so. That duel expectation is a little crazy and off the crime and war kilter. But if just a hobby? Who cares, as long as they know it’s a fun hobby. Have fun and exercise with your hobbies. Just don’t forget the kaaaa-thunk reality!
As a European friend and life-long martial artist told me recently – he questioned a martial arts axe teacher at a axe seminar, with these same kathump doubts. “You couldn’t continue after that first chop!” The internationally known instructor actually replied to all present – “but where’s the fun in that?” I once asked a guy about his axe god/hero and how the demos and training would be cut by 2/3rds if they recognized the kathumps as real. He actually said, “Then there wouldn’t be enough material for a seminar.”
And you know, people like to throw axes-tomahawks for fun, sport and hobby. Okay. Fine. Fun hobby. And who knows someday you may have to toss one like our Mr. Tomahawk here, America’s favorite frontier hero!
The soldier’s story.“The Tomahawk was a popular weapon in Viet Nam. Some Spec Op teams still use it today,” is a common, loose comment we hear today. I say loose because of the choice of the words “popular weapon.” It’s a misnomer as opposed to better terms like “popular tool” or “popular carry.” Of course it could be a weapon, and has been used as such within the vast variety of events in the modern combat, firearms age. I think military history proves the hatchet-axe has been carried-used all over the world by ALL of the world’s soldiers for centuries, but I remind, way more enemy soldiers were killed by bullets and explosions in modern combat. And more fires, construction and deconstruction jobs were done with axes. A very brief, short-list of war weapons, use-continuum for combat (not chores) –
in comparison, rare use – knives,
in comparison, then rarer use – axes. But when it’s down to “axe time?” It’s axe time.
“Some argue that hatchets aren’t practical, while others defend their usage — and, of course, the image associated with it. ‘While I appreciate the history of the hatchet, I wouldn’t carry one for any practical purpose,” said Alex Green, a former U.S. Army Ranger who deployed four times with 3rd Ranger Battalion. “For jungle or dense vegetation, machetes are much more practical. For urban warfare, hoolie tools (fireman wrench bars) and bolt cutters are much more useful. In today’s world, I honestly don’t know why I would carry a hatchet.’ ” -Coffee of Die”
Sergeant Wayne Capacillo said. “I used it more than I thought — mainly breaking into gates, doors, and locks.” – Coffee or Die
The axe-tomahawk-hatchet is handy in the field for a multitude of chores. Surely many, many special ops folks carry one today when heading out to the field for whatever comes up, within the weapon’s continuum and the other mission requirements.
Okay. Hang on! Let’s Make Some Ax Courses! What I would do if I invented an axe course? If truly pressed into the fad? The course would be much shorter. So short, the course might only be 60 minutes? No chance for a whole day or a two-day seminar. The scenarios would absolutely include the deadly, flow-stopping, kathump realities. Basically, I would process the axe through the classic Force Necessary formats, with nuance changes specific to the axe, and add mixed weapon fights. And, I wouldn’t call it “Texican Axe Fighting,” just because I am from Texas. Here are some great names for axe courses I’ve invented to catch the attention of fad martial artists…
“Secrets of Monte Carlo Axe Fighting.”
“The Bali Tomahawk.”
“Sudanese Axe Combatives.”
“Tai Chi Axe.”
“BJJ Axe Combatives “(taught by nephews)
“Shit I Made Up, Tommy-Hawk Course!” Well, if it kills people (the whole point right?) I guess it’s okay.
Navy SEAL…Something! (ANY SEAL deal will sell like mad.)
Or, mine – “Kathump!”
Or… I reserve the right to “Toma-HOCK!” You know, just in case someone really-REALLY wants me to convert the SFC foundation to a tommy-hawks.
In Summary. Back on Target.The unrealistic training distortions invented by fad martial artists bugs me, not that people should ignore axes. I support the axe! For fun? For history? For exercise? For hobby? For…self defense? The next time you see one of these axe or tomahawk martial masters do their flash-dance-ballet thing in scenarios? Stop and take a hard look, an examination of exactly who, what, when, where, how and why that edged weapon goes…kathump and ruins the flash dance.
(And that is my somewhat, tongue-in-cheek review of axe fighting courses. Axe-on, axe-off, amigo.)
Frigid to Red Hot Fighting – Fighting Cold from Red Hot No, fighting cold is not about being mugged in Alaska or just a concern for the 10th Mountain Division. “Shooting cold” is a term thrown around here and there by smart people in the gun training business, but also relates the ambush in hand, stick and knife world too. It should be a major concern for all, because generically, it’s really about the ambush, the surprise attack. And you must respond – cold. Usually you hear the term with snipers or hunters. Folks who have to suddenly shoot a long gun from a distance. And from a clean barrel. Once in a while you will hear of a “one-shot” competition-
“Participants will be allotted a single shot, cold-bore (unfired rifle) @ 1000 yards. (30 Caliber & under) Time & hit determines the winner.”
They have those things because, they are challenging. The sin weighs heavy with that icy-cold rifle, but what of the shooter? There’s also an important concept of “cold bore shooters.” I guess you could remove the word “bore.” Cold shooters. I think in terms of training and then real life crime and war ambushes, there might be a nickname, “Frigid Bore Shooting,” or “frigid shooting.” Here’s what I mean.
Chilly? Cold? Frigid? After all, who wants to fight cold or shoot cold in competitions for scores, trophies, money and bragging rights? Who doesn’t want to take a few warm up shots? I know I often like to do a few dry-fires before live-fires. I use to participate in some police shooting competitions and they were often complicated paths, chores and obstacles involved. You had to be briefed on your routes and goals, and this would include a “walk-thru,” or a dry-run,” or even a live-fire run before the official run. Same with police training courses and qualifications. It could be safety issue.
How cold is it, though? Completely frigid? Cold? Or chilly? They call it “cold shooting,” or reverse the phrase, “shooting cold,” and it kind of’ is, in a way. Sadly, oddly, some of the best shooters I know, don’t do as spectacular in their first set, as they wish, and this is one reason why they keep score of this process over time. And often they do about as good as I can when we all start, and I do not shoot as much as they do, nor do I labor and belabor and ponder the art, science, love and dedication to trigger pressure and bulls eye, pistol, target shooting as they do.
They admit, fighting and shooting cold is challenging for most. And, it frustrates some. Then they very quickly get much, much better after a “warm-up.
The subject of cold shooting comes up on the web once in a while. Some regular, range shooters I know and hear about will always keep score of their first set, their “cold shooting” when they first step up to the firing line and shoot a set. A virgin experience of the day? Was it completely virgin? They want to keep track of how well they do after they:
set the time and date, pack their gear at home,
drive to the range,
get out of the cars,
get some gear from the “back” of the car,
maybe sip some coffee, talk about guns,
chat with the “range masters,” and course instructors,
carry their gear to the spot/stand/table/shelf,
If at a class? Listen to the instructors intro, lecture and in some cases.
shuffle up to the target and paste up a new,
wander back to the shooting line and shoot…”cold.”
So a cold shooter on gun day is not “frozen-solid-ambush” when they shoot at a range. Neither are folks starting a gym workout or a hand, stick , knife class. The mind and body are cooking just a little to go train. A hunter has worked on the trip, sometimes insanely so, before departure, going over equipment and plans in his or her head.
I became interested by this idea of shooting and fighting cold. What does it mean in the bigger picture? How does it relate to self-defense, in crime and in war? You know, all the “who, what, where, when how and why” questions I like to kick around. Subliminal preparation? Years ago it was common knowledge in the fitness field that if you packed for the gym and drove to the gym about the same times, your body/brain knew the routine as we are such creatures of habit. You drive, park, walk the lot, climb the stairs. All the while your body/brain is saying, “Okay, okay, we’re coming. We’re getting ready.” Once in the gym, is this moment a true zero? Or, maybe 10? 10 to 60? Last month I parked on my gym parking lot and saw another guy, a bit older than me, park too. He got out of his car, got a gym bag and stopped. He took his ball cap off, looked to the sky and said a prayer. I spied his lips moving. Then he donned his cap and made for the gym doors. He really pre-prepped for a work-out! What did he say in prayer, I wonder?
“Dear Lord, let me crush everything?” “Dear Lord, don’t let me die of a heart attack this morning?” What would your prep prayer be? Have one? Need one?
Routines. Preparation. Getting ready. Not always short term. We have all gone to a shooting class, or a martial tournament that we anticipated and our inner engine was revved up more than just the morning before. Even the night before. Even longer than that. I once took a shooting course, to prepare for the tougher shooting course the following weekend.
How powerful can mental preparation be? Surely you have heard of, or read the studies about how positive this mental approach can be. It is important. I recall even back in 1972, in Ed Parker Kenpo Karate, teachers and students gossiping about another martial arts system and how the system sequestered students in dark rooms, assigned them to imagine the moves over and over in their heads as a basis of performance. 1972! None of us could fathom this being successful. Yet, quite a number of studies say this works! It somehow works for some. So, does the simple act of going to the range to shoot on gun day, mentally prepare you for the target/bulls eye process? I think so. A bit. It is one step back from dry-firing if you think about it.
Just getting dressed for work, be it a guard, or police, lawyer, truck driver, or an accountant starts churning up, the work mind, whether you realize it or not.
Frigid? How about being asleep? It’s especially cold-cold when you consider the old attempts at testing the responses of police when THEY WERE ASLEEP! Yes. They would bed down a series of state troopers in a sleep clinic environment and tell them that they would be harshly awakened at some point and they would have to wake up, grab a nearby gun and shoot a target near the foot of their bed. The results were not so good. Often bad in fact. Another similar sleep-study let tested police wake up on their own and they had to remember this assigned chore of immediately shooting. They were groggy-slow to remember the assigned chore, but most did grab and shoot…and also not too well, but they did remember. Where does this information fit in the “chilly, cold and frigid” charts of our considerations? Frankly, I don’t exactly know, but it’s interesting.
It starts in the mind. When you actual started doing physical stuff on your jogging route, or at the gym, or at the “dojo,” or the shooting range, you are not really, fully working out “cold.” The same is true with getting your uniform on for work, or slinging your vest on in the military. You are not cold-cold (unless of course, much time passes between the prep and action and you “chill out,” which is a whole other set of study we talk about in other essays). And the same mental prep is true of the drive to shooting range, the lugging of gear, the chat with the range master. The inner gears are working. This type of first round scoring, cold shooting is not as frigid as you think. Not like a zero-to-sixty ambush frigid. (Think for a moment about all the mental and physical prep before SWAT arrives on a scene.)
Life is either… My old catch phrase is – “life is either an interview or an ambush” that people hear each week that I teach. I hope they never tire of it. The greatest armies in the world have been defeated by ambush. The simple element of surprise. The greatest fighters too. I get a kick out the internet comments when location cameras around the world catch a criminal jumping a victim in the most “ambushy” types of locales.
It does come back to the element of surprise and the ambush, doesn’t it. There is always a wise-guy, arm-chair-est that comments “that person was not alert!” and the sage advice, “you must always stay alert.” As if he, she, or we all, walk around with enough cortisol scarring our veins and heart, to be scanning EVERYWHERE, ALL the time. We always hear the expression “you don’t pick the time and place of your attack, the enemy does,” so as everyday walk-around folks, or someone on common police and military patrol, you will probably, suddenly be fighting chilly or cold. It is certainly a good idea to worry about and consider “cold-fighting” and “cold shooting,” in your training, even though we simply cannot really replicate that “zero-to-sixty” frigid to red hot, encounter. I don’t think we need a chart the size of a doorway like the new OODA Loop demo diagrams have become, to explain this simple “Boo/Surprise” idea. The element of surprise and reaction to it, can be as simple as a foot fake in football, rugby or soccer.
There are many startle responses to the sudden boo/jump, (one modern textbook counted 30 responses) not just one or two, hands-up, as you might have been sold to believe by martial and gun marketeers. Let’s hope you don’t fall right down or feint, which are two of the startle responses! You instead, have to deal with the attack.
Immediate Action Drills The element of surprise has defeated the greatest militaries of the world. I first learned about all this Ambush/Counter- Ambush in the U.S. Army in 1973, and it was a big deal. They trained us in what was called back then, “Immediate Action Drills,” things done so many times that you may well jump right into that response groove when ambushed. Hopefully. It is reinforced by many, many repetitions. Here are some of my old Army manual notes (minus the small and large unit suggestions they offer) on the ambush drill idea that relates to citizens and police.
“Immediate action drills” are drills designed to provide swift and positive reaction. They are simple courses of action, dome immediately. It is not feasible to attempt to design an immediate action drill to cover every possible situation. It is better to know few immediate action drills for a limited number of situations that usually occur (in a combat area.)
1- Can be designed, developed, and used by anyone, (any unit) 2- Are designed and developed as needed for the anticipated combat situation. 3- When contact/ambush, is at very close range and maneuver may restricted.”
This does work often, and then…sometimes not, because you might be too frigid, or too cold to respond well. Just some notes. As I have stated many times before, when students approach you with concerns about “how-fast” and “will-they” react properly to an sudden attack, you can honestly shove them back on the floor and tell them to do more reps, and explain why. “Fortune favors the prepared.” Build confidence, yes, but darn it, cold is still cold, and frigid is still worse.
But, back to the shooting guns cold subject. One of my friends said after reading this when first published in 2011-
“Hock is right about this. I suck shooting cold, but that is how I am going to shoot, cold, stepping out of the Waffle House and suddenly in trouble, on any given night.”
So, it’s hard to replicate shooting cold or fighting cold in training, because you are never completely cold-cold when you plan, dress and travel and lug-in and gear-up for training. Maybe they should call a real ambush response “Shooting Frigid?” or “Fighting Frigid” instead of just being cold? Frigid bore shooting? Am I getting warm, yet?
Death Notifications. All Horrible. All this talk about Trump and his death notification, made me think of the thee WORST one I ever had to do. It is bizarre and funny and twisted…
It was tough being Iranian in Texas after the embassy hostage takeover in the 1970s. We had a warrant officer, Merle Culbert, who spent his workweek arresting people with active traffic warrants. After the hostage grab, Merle declared a personal war on Iranians and put them on the top of his hunting list each day. It gave him great personal pleasure to shackle up an “A-rab” like that and toss him in jail while our hostages were blindfolded and held captive. BUT, the pastime proved fairly pointless because the happy Iranians in the USA were the exact opposite of those radicals in their homeland!
Iranians started calling themselves Persians back then; and most of us dull-headed Americans, who could barely learn to drive to the big city shopping mall, were not historically and geographically hip enough to make this Iran-Persia connection.
“What? Persia? Ya mean that place where they make them pointy slippers?”
While off duty when I was a young cop, I frequently hung out in a nightclub called the Esalom. The slightly upscale bar and restaurant with sort of a Casablanca look was owned by a “Persian” named “Matt.” American nicknames like “Matt” were common. Inside the club each night, a clutch of interesting characters like an airline pilot, a biker, a few cops, and a few others (the ones I can’t recall because of alcohol or brain damage) drank and caroused as “the regulars.” Later in the evenings, I might troll some of the country Western bars in the city if I was feeling horsy. Well, that about wraps up approximately eight years of my elite social life! But Matt would often run the bar on some weeknights; and on quiet ones, he would tell me stories about his Persia-Iran. Crazy place. Very Americanized and modern except for, as he would put it, “very crazy religious people.” I had no idea how crazy. Matt did. That was why he left his homeland. I began to discover that Matt was highly educated from several American colleges. In fact, most “Persians” were here for college and tried to stay after they graduated.
During and then, well, after the Hostage Crisis, there were many educated and successful “Persians” … living and working among us (as McCarthy would say)! Americanized or not, there were still unshakeable cultural differences. One such Persian family ran a hair salon and nail shop in the main shopping center. Through the years, cops and detectives generally got to know many business people in their areas and cities. I got to meet the Shans: Momma Shan, Daddy Shan, and 18-year-old daughter Shan. And it was there, in the 1980s and in the political, multi-cultural maelstrom, that my tale began one spring evening….
“Hock, there is a dead guy at the hospital from a traffic accident,” Patrol Lieutenant Walter Keene told me on the phone. It was about 6 p.m., and I was eating dinner at my house with my second wife and first and second kids. The evening-shift detectives had left town on a case; and I was on call for the week, so “call” started at 5 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. as usual.
“Traffic?” I mumbled with a mouthful. I don’t do traffic."
“Well, the doctor at the hospital said when they looked over his body, his body had about 20 large, fresh circular … wounds all over it. He said something wasn’t right about it.”
“Fresh circular wounds?”
“Enjoying that dinner are ya?” Keene chided, hearing me chew. He loved interrupting my life for call-outs, whether morning, noon, or night.
“Well, set it aside Mister Detective; and you can eat it nice and cold later,” he laughed out loud. It was just a routine he and I had. When he woke me at night, I’d answer the phone and hear his gravelly voice ask, “Sleepin’ good are ya? Havin’ ya a real nice, sleepy-time dream, are ya? HAHAHA-haha!”
Within about 20 minutes, I was at the hospital emergency room.
A patrol woman was finishing a fatality accident report.
“This is a mystery crash, Hock,” she said, showing me her diagram on a clipboard. “He was driving south on Mingo Road and veered off smack into a telephone pole at a high speed. When we got there, he was dead.”
She handed me a Polaroid of the car. It was totaled. A giant, v-shaped crash wrapped around a telephone pole. “No skids. Just straight into the pole.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Ahram Shan. The guy who owns the hair salon on University Drive in the Johnson Center.”
I nodded, and we walked to one of the ER surgery rooms. I was no traffic investigator; and, frankly, I deeply despised all aspects of traffic work—the tickets, the endless accident reports, all that. My version of an upper rung of hell would be an assignment in a traffic division. But I knew that often those kinds of crashes involved sudden heart attacks, passing out, sleep deprivation, or whatever glitch caused a feller to black out and drive high speed straight into his smashing death.
Shan was naked on a metal gurney. The doctor followed us in.
“Look at these,” the doc pointed out to me. Sure enough there were tens of fresh, circular cuts and bruises all over his body on his face, arms, chest, and legs; and when we turned him over, we saw them on his back. All about the size of small jar lid. One side worse and deeper than the other. I took a real close look. They were not complete, perfect circles. They were somewhat oblong. What the hell? That was before Scully, Mulder, and the X-Files; otherwise, I’d have called them for help.
“Did … something blow up in the car that…?”
“Nope,” the officer said.
Did a really odd beating happen just before the car drive that caused this man to pass out? What would cause those oddball wounds? Some kind of sex fetish deal? What? “Well, I guess I need to find out from whence he was coming.
And I have to go to the Shan house. Where does he live?”
She handed me his driver’s license AND with it, she handed off another major, nasty responsibility, the dreaded death notification. Before our county organized a medical examiner’s office in the 1990s, we used our nearby Dallas and Ft. Worth offices for autopsies and major forensics; and these modern offices now have investigators who go to the scenes and make the death notification. But back then, death notices were performed by patrolmen and detectives. Detectives did it when it might matter in their investigation. Such as now.
There was an art to death notifications. There were police schools for death notifications. I had been to them; and it was touchy, touchy business. I was not “Mister Warmth,” but was not cold-hearted enough not to try to do a good job with it. Good God, what a terrible thing to have to tell people. I had delivered many; and this unique, American-Persian one I am telling you about was the worst death message I had ever had to do and the worst I had ever heard of anywhere else! So get yourself ready for this ugly ride.
I telephoned the police station and asked for our forensics guy, Russell Lewis, to come out and take some 35 mm photos of the wounds on the body. I ordered an autopsy. I called the evening-shift Detective Sergeant Howard Kelly as protocol indicated and informed him of my little mess. He, too, was eating dinner at home; and there was no need for him to stop because I was holding the bag, so to speak. Then I girded my loins for the trip to the Shan house and the death notification.
I rehearsed the speech in my mind as I drove across the city. The lines are pretty short and not sweet. My guess is that anyone who is at home, has a loved one not at home, and then sees the police show up with grim, sober expressions at the door is already expecting bad news before an officer opens his mouth. I often wonder about the miserable job of doing this chore for the military. Imagine having a full-time job of making death notifications? Anyhow, I kept in mind that the Shan house might contain the secret source of the wounds; so I would approach this as an investigator AND as a death notifier. A greasy tightrope.
The Shan house was a typical residence in a middle-class housing addition. Cars in the driveway. Grass cut. Clean. I parked, took a deep breath, and approached the door. Listened first. Nothing. Then rang the doorbell.
Daughter Shan answered. She recognized me and smiled. No surprise on her face. Just a genuine half smile.
“Is your mother home?” I asked.
“Yes,” she turned to summon her and left the door open. I stepped right in and scanned the joint. Clean, orderly, nothing out of the usual; it was just a lived-in house with some lived-in clutter here and there.
Mrs. Shan walked in with a welcoming smile and a curious expression. I was glad the daughter was there because they could comfort each other when they heard the news. Always good to have support handy.
“Mrs. Shan,” I started, “I have some bad news. Your husband had a car crash. I hate to tell you this, but … he is dead. He crashed into a telephone pole just two hours ago.” There it was. Boom.
She stared at me with the same expression. Unchanged. The curious smile. The daughter was a little more serious.
“Oh, Hock, that is funny,” she said.
“Ahh … funny?”
“I know what you are doing,” she said.
“What am I doing?” I asked. Then I noticed a wound on her neck. That same oblong shape, cut, and bruise.
“You are trying to make the peace.”
“But it is a cruel joke for you to play. I will not forgive him.”
“I am not trying to make any joke, Mrs. Shan.”
“Ooooh, yes you are!” she wagged her finger in my face. The smile disappeared.
“Momma!” the daughter said and stepped back into the dining room. I remember her moving or crossing her arms in some way that indicated she was getting nervous and believing me.
“It is very cruel for you to do this favor for him.”
“Favor? Mrs. Shan, your husband was killed on Mingo Road in a traffic accident.”
“No, he was not.”
“Yes, he was.”
“You are here to scare me for him,” she said. She was getting angry. The lips curled.
“His body is at the hospital.”
“No, it is not. He has asked you to do this.”
“And his body is full of round bruises and cuts just like the one on your neck,” I proclaimed.
“Momma!” the daughter declared.
“You are trying to make me feel bad about fighting with my husband. I know he has asked you to come here and tell me he is dead to make me feel bad. This is such a rotten trick,” she said. As her words progressed, the anger grew in her face. Lots of teeth. Red skin. She started moving around.
“He is dead,” I insisted.
“HE IS NOT DEAD!”
“HE IS DEAD!” I shouted back.
“Where did he get those bruises? How did YOU get those bruises?” I demanded. My eyes shifted from the mother and the daughter.
“We had a fight! You know this! He told you this!”
“A fight with what?”
“Belts! We … we had a fight with belts.”
There was a belt on the floor and one lying over the back of a living room couch. They both had large buckles. Oblong in shape.
“Belts? You were swinging belt buckles at each other?” I picked them up, with intention to keep.
“Yes, this is how we fight. It is not the first time. We have these fights. I will not forgive him for this evil lie!”
“Well, he is dead. Dead at the Westgate Hospital Emergency Room.”
“YOU are lying! LYING. You are just as bad as he is!” she screamed with a banshee face. “LIAR!” She went for the belt on the couch.
How did it come to this? DAMN! This all went to hell in less than two minutes. It is not too often you yell at the surviving spouse in a death notification.
“He is not dead!”
“Your husband is dead! Dead, I tell you. Dead.”
“No! Liar! LIAR!”
“Come down to the hospital with me. Right now. And I will show you. Both of you.”
The daughter convinced the mother to go. The daughter was in a state of shock. While they grabbed their purses, I decided to grab up those two belts. I had many legal reasons to do so. I was there on an official death notice. Heard a spontaneous admission from the wife. Belts in plain view. My safety issues. I had many reasons to seize those belts, so seize them I did.
It was now nightfall. We got into our cars—me in mine, the mother and daughter in theirs—and I led the way to Westgate. I was steaming a bit, and all pretense of my caring about her feelings was pretty much gone.
We entered the ER, and I walked them straight through and into the operating room. Mr. Shan was still there. Naked. Gray. Deader than hell.
The daughter stopped at the doorway and gasped. The mother marched right up to the body.
“Wake up!” she shouted, inches from his face.
“This joke is over. I will never forgive you. Stop this joke!”
She started beating the body and the face, and a nurse and I pulled her off.
“Momma! Momma! Daddy is dead! He is dead!” the daughter shouted to her, gushing with emotion and tears. She helped us pull Mrs. Shan from the body.
The mother froze. Then she began emitting that shrill scream of the Middle Eastern women we hear on the news these days. She ran down the hallway bouncing off the walls, swinging her purse wildly, and striking her back and chest in an act of self-flagellation. Some of her purse items flew through the air. She dashed outside in the parking lot. Needless to say, she was indeed the main show of the emergency room. The daughter scooped up the items and chased out after her.
The nurse and I just looked at each. I could only mumble, “Iranian,” as some sort of excuse for the behavior?
About 20 minutes later, I had a quiet conversation with the daughter and the ER doctor. She told us that her parents had a vicious belt-buckle battle that afternoon at home. She said he left the house in a fit of anger. And then and there he crashed. I asked her if he had a heart condition. She said no. Anyone in her family have one? Her grandfather did, Shan’s father. In the week of her grandfather’s 54th birthday, he dropped dead of a heart attack.
“And how old was your dad?” I asked.
“He was 54. His birthday was just 4 days ago.”
Father and son! Both men died in the same week of their 54th birthdays. Sound amazing? That coincidence was not all that amazing and was not medically uncommon. I knew the syndrome existed; but for my final reports, I had to do a little research to support my findings. The doctor nodded. Of course, he knew right away. That’s the kind of stuff docs know.
Within a week, the autopsy results were in. Mr. Shan died of a sudden heart attack while driving and coasted right into a telephone pole. Did he also die from the rage of his belt-buckle fight? I didn’t know, and I couldn’t prove it if I did know.
When I left the hospital that night, Mrs. Shan was in the dark leaning against the wall outside the hospital. Exhausted. Crying. Mumbling. Her daughter was inside taking care of the paperwork. I guess I could have stopped. You know … said something. Apologized. Sympathy. Whatever. But instead, I passed her right by and walked to my car, got in, and left. I was not a social worker or a psychiatrist. I was a detective. I just investigated shit.
I got home; and, indeed, the dinner was cold. My second wife started ragging on me for some insignificant thing I did or didn’t do. I poured a shot of whiskey and grabbed the cold pork chop off the plate and stepped out into the backyard. She followed me, of course. In the pasture out back, some cattle were up and moving slowly, uneasily about in the dark. I strolled up to the barbed-wire fence, put the glass on a fence post, and gnawed on the chop. She went on; I missed dinner and I missed the kids’ going to bed. I missed this. Missed that. The complaining droned on and on behind me.
I gnawed on that pork chop bone, and I hoped they’d call me out again for serious crime.
This and other great stories appear in "Don't Even Think About It!"
Knives have personalities. The generic look. The generic history. Slashing look. Stabbers. The personal attachment look. What is the personality or your knife?
I think there are several factors in knife personalities.
Culture of the knife Personality – One is the culture of the knife. Certain edged weapons have a history, a geographic flavor. Just think of the Japanese Tanto. The Kris. The Bowie knife. The Italian stiletto. The medieval dagger. The double-edged, commando knife. One in the martial business, or the knife aficionados, or makers recognize the aura/genre of many knives. This cultural attraction alone might be a main reason someone buys to collect, or buys to carry a knife. Somehow, some way, the look captures one’s fancy, imagination, expectation or whatever connection to books, movies, TV or past affiliation. Sort of a mysticism we mentally project upon a simple inanimate knife. After all, what makes us select the cars, pants, churches or sports teams we do? We are tribal, particular and peculiar from our hats down to our shoes. Hats and shoes as in style that is, not in size. We can’t change the size of our head or our feet. We can change the size and shape of a knife, but will the size be appropriate for our…”heads” and ”feet?”
Slashing, hacking and stabbing personalities – The shape and size of the knife tells an experienced handler what it can do best. Some are better hackers. Some long, thin ones are better stabbers. Some are wide and are better shaped for slicing. Like a carpet layer needs a certain angle for exactly what is needed, so do all knife users. A novice to so-called, knife “fighting,” a new-be to say, construction work, will not know what kind of knife does what best. Experience and education is called for.
Personal, knife personality examples – I knew a Green Beret, Vietnam vet who passed on standard Army/government issue knives and preferred his old own Bowie Knife, replete with a carved stag handle. It was a family heirloom you might say, and therefore more important to him than any generic, legend of Jim Bowie. He said it gave him a certain power, a certain mojo from which he garnered mental and physical strength. This is a personal touchstone, reminiscent of many cultures, such as some of the native Americans might carry a medicine bag of mojo. Same-same.
Another friend of mind sought an old-fashioned, traditional looking (and hard to open) pocket, folding knife with stag handles, with multiple blades, because his dad had a similar one and it was lost through time. Both, more “personal, private” personality, touchstone selections. Still, with game points awarded for symbolic and personal mojo, on the battlefield or for back porch whittling, the knife size, shape and handle must fall within a scope and range of usable practicality and common sense. Switch this over to a parallel concept – you wouldn’t a pack a flintlock pistol around for self defense, just because you love the early American history era. Extrapolate this idea over to other weapons and survival.
What personality knife do you really need? – Not just want for whatever abstract reason, but need? I think we have to return to the classic, Who, What, Where, When, How and Why questions I use all the time to best determine this.
Who are you to need a knife?
Who are you to carry a knife?
What do you really need or want a knife exactly for?
What do you exactly expect to do with this knife?
What training do you have to make this a wise choice?What are the local laws for such a knife? What state and, or country do you live in?
What happens next? You use the knife and what will the police and prosecutors think of the name and look of your knife?
Where will you carry this knife? Job? Protection? Handiness?
Where on your body will you clip, or sheath or cart your knife?
When will you need this knife? Work time? Off-time? Daytime? Nighttime?
How will you acquire this knife?
How will you use it? Do you know how?
Why will you select a specific knife?
Another, longer “what” question. The chicken or the egg? What came first for you? Or, what will come first, if you are just now thinking about knives? That mysterious adulation of …“the knife,” and then a knife training course? Or did you need a knife first for a task first, then seek a training course? This consideration might help clear a path for your knife selection and proper training. The collector, the historian, the practical user, the adulator? Who are you?
But that last line of questioning…the “why.” Why will you select a specific knife? I suggest that you do not make a selection based on looks, genres, eras and or culture alone. I think you should select a knife on its ultimate practicality. Of course if you are a collector looking for this or that showpiece – “I own one! It’s a beauty!” – have fun! (I am not much of a collector of things so I cannot relate to this, but of course, I do understand the hobby.) Or, if you are fanatic about say, old European sword and dagger fighting. Whatever. Get those weapons and mess around with them. Have fun and exercise. Shoot flintlock firearms (just don’t carry them as a self defense weapon).
Knives have personalities – The generic look. The generic history. The personal attachment. If you plan to actually carry and use a knife? Whether on the job as a telephone lineman, a surgeon, a soldier or a cop, or just a citizen with a hankering for a knife, think of them as tools and well…think of them as shoes. You’ll be wearing them too, and like your hat and shoes, you can change the style, but you can’t change the size of your head and feet. Get the appropriate tool/knife. See clearly, be fleet of foot for the trails and paths of life, Kemosabe. Don’t stumble around with the wrong size, else you’ll trip, fall and fail. And like “running with scissors,” running with the wrong knife can be a minor or costly mistake.
“If I pull my knife? And he is carrying a gun? Will this cause him to pull his gun out? Will I cause the problem to escalate?”
An attendee to a seminar in Kentucky, someone with zero martial or martial arts experience, just a regular guy legally walking around with a gun and a knife, asked me this question.
What did I say? I said “yeah, that could happen.”
“That’s pretty messy,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
And everyone stared at me for words of wisdom and solution. I have none.
So often people want Magic Bullet answers to a lot of self-defense questions. There’s always big talk in the self-defense industry about “avoidance.” If too late to avoid, then next up in the event list is what they call “de-escalation.” Avoiding and de-escalating a common knucklehead before a fight starts is a cottage industry. Some folks confidently dole out solutions to confrontations in three to five steps or present mandatory checklists. “Say these things!” “Do this!” “Do that!” “Stand like this!” “Don’t ever….“
Now, I think it is certainly good to be exposed to all these ideas and methods. Sure. Do so. But as an obsessed skeptic, I see the caveats beyond the advice. I don’t know about certain kinds of solutions, magic words, or stances when confronted or attacked.
I have investigated a whole lot of crimes through the decades; and while there are identifiable patterns and surprises, chaos can sure still reign supreme. But let me summarize by calling it all “situational.”
In the end, solutions are situational. Like calling plays in a football game, it depends on the situation. How you stand and what you say or do should be situational. Custom-built. (This essay is primarily about pulling out a knife but does and could certainly relate to pulling a pistol, too. It’s just that if this was a “pistol-centric” essay, I would be writing more about pistol situations.)
So there’s an argument! Then a fight! Given you have already performed all your pop/psych avoidance and de-escalation steps. You are armed under your coat or in your pocket with a knife or even a gun, and this verbal stuff just ain’t working! The mean man won’t leave! Or worse, the men (plural) won’t leave. Do you pull that knife out? That weapon out? There are some situational concerns with doing this; and these concerns certainly do involve his possible knives and guns and the overall escalating ladder of weaponry, violence, and legal problems.
Here are a few facts and related ideas on the subject to kick around:
Fact: Some people do leave. For many a year now, 65% to 70% of the time when a knife or pistol is pulled in the USA, the criminal leaves you alone. (old DOJ stats) Simple statement. I have often heard the easy average of 67% used (sticks, by the way, are not in these study figures.) I must warn folks that this is not as clean and simple an escape as it sounds. There are many emotional, ugly events that happen in this weapon presentation / confrontation, even if the bad guy does leave. In my experience and investigation, if the criminal is alone he might be quicker to leave, if he is in or around a group, “his” group, he puts on more of a show before leaving. Trauma and drama. We discuss these details in certain topical seminars and other specific essays.
Fact: Some people don’t leave. The good news with the 65%/35% split is you may only have to fight about 30% of the time! So 30% of the time, the opponent does not leave and the fight is on, whether he is unarmed or armed. The bad news is when you are now in that “unlucky 30%,” or you might say you are now a 100%-er. You are 100% there and stuck in it. A hand, stick, knife, or gunfight!
Fact: Some people are armed. General USA stats quoted for many years past say that 40% of the time the people we fight are armed. A few years back the FBI upped that anti. More being armed! And another gem to add in is that 40% of the time we fight two or more people. Hmmm. So 40% or more armed times 40% multiple opponents. Not a healthy equation. Lots of people. Lots of weapons. Lots of numerical possibilities. The “smart money” in the USA or anywhere else is always bet that the opponent is armed.
Facts: Times and reasons to pull. Logical and physical. Time and reason might seem the same, but defining times and reasons in your mind and for your training is smart.
Time equals “when” and reason equals “why.” Two different questions. The motive and the moment to move. Either way, remember …
Home Invasions. It usually slightly annoys cops to hear people declare, “my house was robbed!” Houses don’t get robbed. People get robbed. Or, we hear, “I was robbed!” when their house was burglarized. Houses get burglarized, or experience theft. But it is a problem for police dispatchers answering 911 lines and hearing some yell, “I’ve been robbed!” when their house was burglarized 7 hours earlier, discovered when arriving home. Other than that, I guess it’s case of semantics and impatient policing.
But houses can be involved with robbery crimes – consider the home Invasion. Simply put, a home invasion is when a criminal enters a home for crime while occupants are there. Actually Wikipedia has a nice and true definition – “Persons charged with “home invasion” are actually charged with robbery, and, or kidnapping, or a homicide , rape , or even assault charges. But law enforcement has been seeing the increase in “home-invasion robberies” since at least June 1995, when “home-invasion robberies” were the topic of the cover story of The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. They state the crime is considered an alternative to bank or convenience store robberies, which are getting harder to pull off cleanly due to technological advances in security. In this same article, the FBI recommends educating the public about home invasion. Before the term “home invasion” came in use, the term “hot burglary” was often used in the literature. Early references also use “burglary of occupied homes” and “burglar striking an occupied residence.”
Usually, often victims get shoved around, roughed up and hurt. Some killed. As a detective, I have investigated numerous, such, mixed-category “home invasion” crimes that included robbery, assault, rape even murder through the years. I have hunted down and caught home invaders. So, from experience, training and further research, I have some information for you. In the “who, what, where, when, how and why” of the crimes, there are some important patterns to worry over.
Anywhere in the world, Omaha, NE or Budapest, Hungary, there are two kinds of home invasions. One is the premeditated home invasion, where the suspect absolutely knows, expects and wants you to be home. And then there are accidental home invasions when criminals break in, thinking no one is home and are as surprised as you are when face to face. Most thieves/burglars prefer an empty house. Many are unprepared for a resident to be home, or come home. This shock on both parties makes for unpredictable results.
While I really want to remain on the subject of occupied home invasions and not the common, empty house burglaries, some pre-hit basics must be covered that include both subjects.
The criminal stake-out? Was there one? Burglary victims often assume that burglars are stealthy masterminds staking out their houses from various clever vantage points for days or weeks on end. But more often than not, they skunks are not so movie-like, and the criminals are just quick creatures of opportunity. Some burglars do prowl a bit and quickly watch over neighborhoods for the easiest, superficial signs. One method is at early, common, rush hours, burglars try and catch residents leaving for work. Some congess when caught that they follow a resident out of the neighborhood to ensure they do not return and head back for the house. (This is an issue especially for homes with garages that face front, as burglars can see how many cars are in the garage as the driver leaves.)
Many burglars are not such early risers and will just do a quick visual inspection of your home looking for signs of interior life, and good cover to break in. They will knock on the door or ring the doorbell. No answer? They invade. Often through the covered, concealed areas of your house like the backyard, but there are plenty of bad guys that bust right in through the front door (certainly so in apartments.) You, being home, hearing and then not responding to the doorbell, the knock or the phone, are assumptions of vacancy and parts of their invitation to bust in.
Two types of home invaders. An official home invader either wants to creep around while you are asleep, or wants to ambush people to essentially take them hostage for other crimes. He strikes at evening, night or on weekends hoping people will be inside to capture and mess with. The creepers are a different breed of criminal. Some of these a.m. home invaders for example thrill at bring in your house and just stealing things, thrill at spying on you asleep. Their entries are quiet. And then some are rapists, and have other plans and crimes in mind.
Many home invasions occur when residents are present and awake! Daytime or evening hours. I would like to define here the three main ways in which criminals invade houses while you are there in the usual waking times. In old school, cop talk, this covers the big three – the surprise, the con and the blitz.
1: Where? The front door. How? The con – a ruse at the front door.
2: Where? Driveway/Garage: How? You are followed or waited for and rushed/attacked as you pull onto your driveway or into your garage.
3: Where? Entry Points: All windows and doors. How? The criminal breaks into your house. The surprise entry into your house and your life is a shock and awe ambush. The blitz is being rushed and over whelmed and overcome.
The Con: The Front Door Ruse. The con is at the front door – any number of participants may get you to answer, to open the door or get themselves invited even to use the phone, bathroom, escape the weather, etc. One evening, in a gated, housing edition in Jupiter, Florida, a man answered his front door to find a young woman acting distraught.
“I am lost! Can I use your phone?” The home owner kept the girl at the door trying to guide her out of the edition with verbal directions.
“I can’t keep track of what you are saying! Just let me use your phone.”
The home owner said, “don’t worry, I just called 911 and the police will be here to guide you out.”
“What? 911?” she said, “you just called 911!”
With that she ran from the front door and suddenly two men jumped from the bushes and ran off with her. Guess what they were up to? How did they get onto this gated community? We don’t know, but these gated communities are not impervious to all criminal entries. Most likely the woman was going to pull a gun on the occupants once inside and then let her friends inside the house. Or, once the door was wide open, they all would barge in.
Many of us have seen or recall the comical bug exterminator TV commercial where a giant insect rings a doorbell with a silly excuse to get in the house and use the phone. Funny, but a stranger at the door should be regarded with the same concern as a giant insect.These are classic examples of front door ruses. Not unlike all the others you should not fall for. No matter the set up, always be very suspicious of ALL people who come to your door with a story. They might not even ask to come in, but linger long enough for your door to open wider, then barge in.
Remember to have and use a peephole on your door. Some people even have security cameras combing the front area of their homes. (Even a dummy camera high up over your front door bothers these ruse criminals and they chose another house.)
An elderly couple in my city ate a very expensive, local restaurant one night. When finished, they got into their new, expensive car and drove home. They drove into their residential area of nice homes and pulled into the driveway. The man punched the garage door button and the door slowly open. He pulled his car into his garage. And with no great haste, hit the button again to close the garage door. As he opened his car door he was rushed by a young man with a pistol who ran into the garage, before the garage door was half-closed. The door’s electric eye stopped the descent and several others entered also. This began several hours of torment and hell. They were beaten, robbed, but were left alive.
Within a month, after a few breaks in the case, I identified the home invaders. They were career criminals from Ft. Worth, TX. Their MO (method of operation) was indeed to follow elderly people home from expensive restaurants and rush them in their garages before the garage door closed. I arrested them, but this couple was too afraid to fully press charges in this case. They simply denied the unequivocal identification of the robbers I presented them, my other collected evidence so they could dodge any further legal proceedings. The couple feared gang retribution. Fortunately, we had other charges on these thugs and they still did hard time.
Home invaders use this method and many other similar schemes. So, you should identify places where you visit that might be construed as a victim, pick up for potential victims. Take note to see if you are being followed, from anywhere really but certainly from these “prime hunting” grounds locations. If you are suspicious that you are being followed? Make several, sudden turns to test your guess. If you are still followed? Use your cell phone to call the police and try to set up a trap. No phone? Shame on you! But, you might drive to a police station, or drive to a populated area to call the police.
In August, 2010 in North Texas a group of thugs were out “on the hunt,” trying to catch anyone pulling up to their house in the early am hours. It’s like fishing for them, and they netted a big one. They attacked a family returning from a vacation as they unpacked on their driveway. Do you see how this could have been a home invasion had the “fishermen” forced the family into the house. Instead, it’s just an outdoor, armed robbery. But what about such unplanned driveway attacks?
What if you might be jumped right at your house? Front or back? What if they operated on some intelligence and identified you and yours as a potential and “just ripe” victim, coming home at a certain time? If it is driveway robbery or a home invasion, where around your driveway would attackers hide, within range of ambushing you and/or barging into your garage and house? Install lights there. Clear brush. Watch to see if someone sneaks into the garage as you pull in. Let your eyes run over your property. In some very familiar locales, you might even spot strange cars parked on your street, road or area.
As a rule, don’t exit your car until the garage door has closed behind you. This way you can stay in your locked car if confronted. Have a gun. Have a cell phone. If caught in your garage after the door is closed?, Open the door electronically. If criminals interfere with the door opening, hit the gas pedal and crash out. A new door is cheaper than the horrors to follow if taken hostage, and cheaper than any funeral.
Are your doors locked in the daytime even when you are home? Or early evenings? Most people say no. They ask,” why? We are home.” But when you and yours are home, your most valuable possessions are inside your house. You! Anyone in policing (and crime) will tell you that most house burglars strike in the daytime, hoping that no one is home.
But if the plan is an evening or weekend home invasion/robbery, multiple criminals are usually involved and they might enter your house anyway they can. Windows, doors, open garage doors, any way. And you won’t have your alarm on either.
The safety rules here are: lock your doors and that includes your garage door and the door between the garage and your house. Buy your doors solid! Lock your windows. In fact, follow the basic and common tips that deter and defeat house burglars, and you will slow down or stop the surprise entry. Common crime prevention pamphlets will wisely warn you that criminals break into the cars on your driveway to get your garage door openers. The invasion begins.
Make a plan with your family about such a sudden entry. I will tell you one of mine since it won’t matter. If I or my wife see a sudden invasion inside the house or even at the door, we plan to yell at the top of our lungs one word. One. “GUN!” Maybe we’ll yell it a few times if we can. This way me or in your case, other members of your family deeper in the house have time to react. Get the gun. Have a plan for them to react. If you don’t have a gun or two around your house? Well, you’re an idiot or have a thinking disorder, or you are stuck in a naive, idiot’s regime. Good luck with all that.
A quick summary
Be aware of cars and the heads/faces of the drivers and occupants when you are leaving your garage or just leaving your house.
Be aware of cars following you at any time.
Be aware of cars and the heads/faces of the drivers and occupants when you are entering your garage.
Be leery of all strangers at your front door.
Keep your house as secure as possible at all times, whether you are home or not.
Have a plan to alert your fellow residents if you are blitzed anywhere in your house.
In this age of widespread interest in de-escalation and verbal skills to defuse any and all encounters, this is a tale about how convoluted and difficult a quick, on-the-spot verbal solution might be. It’s a short story from a case I worked on.
A driver pulled his truck up into a handicapped parking space to drop his wife off at a post office. He did not put his truck into “park.” She got out and walked away. He reached down, did something for a second, and was about to back out of the spot, when a man walked by the front of his truck, scowling and yelling at him, waving a hand in the air.
The driver rolled down the window and said, “What?”
The man yelled in outrage about the driver parking in a handicapped spot. The driver, aghast at the outrage said, “I am not parked. I am leaving. I just dropped someone off!”
The man started cursing and closing in. “I had to park over there,” and he pointed down the lot. “You can’t park here!” “I’m not parked here!” he said again. But then he now was, as the driver put his truck into the parking gear and got out, telling me later he thought that the man would come over and kick in and dent his truck, or reach into the open window after him.
The driver got between the man and his truck and said, “WHAT is your problem?” (oh, what a classic line! The classic answer is – “you’re my problem” and so on and so on. The very common low-brow script of a fight). And so it goes. You know the dialogue of this bad movie from this point on. You already know it. I often tell you that these pre-fights words are like movie scripts and usually quite predictable.
The complainer swings at the driver. The driver fights back. There are witnesses. The police are called and the man gets arrested for assault. Later this complainer files an assault case back on the driver and it becomes a “he-said, he-said” deal.
My sad part of the story is that one morning in a detective squad meeting, I got both cases dropped on my desk. My CID Lieutenant says, “this ain’t going away.” Meaning these two guys are calling us and complaining about each other and how each were in the right. And of course, one of the two had even called the chief. Another day in Detective Heaven.
I started with this angry man, the complainer. I asked him to come in and give us a written statement, which he jumped at the chance to vent. He showed up for the appointment, loaded for vocal bear, and in a small, interview office I let him unload. The guy was panting when the oratory was over. I did not say a word.
“Okay,” says I. “let’s get that whole story down on paper.” I had to read him his rights and now the story was officially counted. And line by line, we got it all down as I typed his words as he said them. He calmed down and his remarks took a turn to another topic. The real cause and motivation of his complaining. Handicapped people and handicapped parking…
“What’s the ratio of handicapped people compared to non-handicapped people?” he asked. “I don’t know.” Now he was getting mad at me. “Well you should know. People like you in your business should know.” “Hmmm” “I know this much,” he continued. “I know that there are too many handicapped parking places. There has to be too many of them compared to regular people. If you go down to Kmart you’ll see all those good, front parking places are reserved for the handicapped. What a dozen? Dozen and a half? Are there that many handicapped people parking there, compared to others? A regular person has to hike to the store.”
I did not answer. Then I said,” you want me to mention your parking spot concerns in the statement?” “Hell yeah! Maybe someone will read it for a change?”
This theme rolled on. I realized that the guy wasn’t mad at the driver because the driver had pulled into the handicapped slot for a second. He wasn’t protecting the rights of the handicapped. This guy was mad at handicapped people! And how many parking places they got. He was ripping mad because of proliferation of handicapped parking! It would really be difficult, it is really difficult to de-escalate such an encounter without…ESP.
It’s always wise to explore de-escalation. Sure. But, there are a lot of people “out there” teaching de-escalation. In my opinion, most of them (and I know many of them) are very logical, very nice people but have never really stood before face-to-face rage. Real rage and its bizarre twists. Seen its ugly face. Or stood before someone who fights every Friday night, who just wants to fight for fight’s sake, and its Friday night, 11:30 p.m.!
When was this? This big, “Filipino martial arts turning point” for me? Keep in mind, this is just me and my personal view on things. Don’t hate me cuz I’m viewtiful!
I started doing FMA in 1986, in among other arts like JKD, and had been doing the classic karate and jujitsu (not the Brazilian wrestling version of today). By about 1993 I had covered a lot of FMA material, been to the Philippines twice. Got black belts from both Ernesto Presas and Remy Presas.
The big turning point came with double sticks, of all odd, obscure things. In 1993, a friend called me and said, “Hey Hock, this weekend, Guro ______ is coming into Dallas! He is going to do two full days of the ______ double stick drills. Are you coming?”
Two full days of…double sticks? I guess this phone call had an epiphany moment for me when several ideas flashed through my head. I found myself confessing…
“Two days? Double sticks? Well, I think I’ll pass. I mean, how many double stick drills are there anyway?”
“You’re gonna miss it! A chance to learn THEE _______ double stick drills!”
When we hung up, I examined my epiphany moment. Well, from the Inosanto world, the Remy Presas world, and Ernesto Presas world, I’d already collected about 50 double stick drills according to my anal retentive lists I keep. FIFTY ! I suddenly asked myself,
“Why am I doing this?”
“How many more double stick drills could there be, anyway?”
“How different could they be after a certain basic point?”
“What makes them different and worth knowing?”
“How are they the same?”
How ARE they the same? I realized that it was more important to organize the drills, not from the hero-worship-“who” or the hero worship-“what” fan club systems, but instead how are the drills all the same? (It is counter productive and stifling to worship system-heads and systems.)
How are they so similar. And how and why am I wasting my time collecting endless double stick drills from a nearly endless group of known and unknown system-heads who all think theirs are ever-so-special. Many of which are so much the same and with only one slight different tweak here or there. Rather, smarter, I should instead try to understand the essence of all of them. The essential core. Then, teach the universal core.
I was already contemplating the differences between the Remy and Ernesto double stick programs. Remy seemed to have 5 or 6 basic patterns with variations. Ernesto had the classic “must know” list.
Then…then I asked myself why I didn’t view ALL aspects of the varied FMAs the same way? Why not find the universal core of FMA itself? Find the very of essence…
…in this clean, kind of scientific manner? Study these cores first. Deal with the needed and dismiss the probably unneeded and-or redundant and-or prissy variables.
There will always be happy museum and happy history collectors, who collect ANYTHING from ANYBODY. And then those who like to sort-of, name-drop stuff like – “at this point, Roohan moved his kneecap this way, while Roohan kept his meniscus right here…” I can talk some of that artsy smack too, just from training years osmosis. I can delight the esoteric fanatics with these tidbits of meniscus positioning. I can also tell you that Ed Kranepool played first base for the Mets in the 1960s. Hey! I do know stuff! But how useful is it?)
Annnnd with that idea? I started constructing the generic PAC course. Pacific Archipelago Concepts, an irreverent, skeptical look at the related core of those related arts. This includes all the big systems in the Pacific Ocean. A lot of this work had been done, like with Kajukenbo (karate, jujitsu, kenpo, boxing).
This clean, generic, non-worship approach did not make me popular with some existing FMA entities, (some are cult-like) in fact I was suddenly shunned by some. And in the seminar business, it is still not my most popular or even my favorite course to teach, as I usually cover generic “combatives” for lack of a better term. But hey, FMA is fun to do, good exercise, a hobby with numerous abstract mental and physical benefits. And when asked to, I will happily cover it. I feel like if I can spread the core-foundation. Then anyone can more quickly blend into any FMA system they wish to pursue.
(By the way, I carried this “core” perspective over to combatives. In a way, this “double stick epiphany” in 1993 was an important idea in more ways than one. It gave me a mission. A purpose. A vision if you will. My pursuit, my study, my interest, my goal, is the universal generic.)
Back to 1993! I later asked that friend back in 1993, “How was the _______ double stick seminar?”
“It was great!” he said, “We did 30 drills. Most of them we already do, others just a little different here and there.”
Back in the 1970s, the 80s and even the 90s, this phrase “the car as a coffin” was a warning, a cop-training-phrase, a “word to the wise” about being stuck in the car and being killed while stuck by an outside shooter. The advice was to…
“Get out of the car! Because the car is a coffin.”
When things got hot and you predicted bullets could/would fly, or while bullets were indeed flying, you have to try and get out of the car. Get out of the car because the car is an enclosed coffin. So, we got out if we could, because you know, sometimes you can’t! We got out the driver’s side, or we planned on traversing across the front seat to escape, low and crawling, to get out the passenger side if need be. OR, I have had friends successfully dive under the dashboard while under fire.
But alas, that was the good ol’ days of big cars. Who can dive for cover under a dashboard in today’s cars or worse, today’s patrol cars? They have some small patrol cars today, and some big police SUVs too. But, have you seen the front seat of a police car lately? It resembles a miniature version of the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise. Computer systems, like a Robby the Robot, if you will, sits in the middle of the front seat. You CANNOT traverse the front seat anymore! And in civilian cars, the popularity of the console traps you in the driver’s seat more than ever.
I followed this golden rule, but even when you believe in it, you can still get caught there in an instant. Like I did this one disturbing Saturday, summer night in 1980.
“Sixty-one,” the dispatcher said.
“Go ahead,” my reserve police partner Joe Reilly said.
“Domestic. Brothers fighting in back yard. The Starnes brothers. Mother called it in. 15 Jasper Street.”
“Ask if the two brothers are wanted,” I told Reilly.
“Dispatcher, check wants and warrants on the brothers.”
“In progress. They’re clear.”
Damn. The Starnes brothers. Bout half-crazy, trouble makers. Almost twins, born so close and virtually look-alikes. In just about the same kinds of twin trouble. Drugs. Fighting. Burglaries. It wasn’t too late yet in the evening. About 8 p.m. Too early for the real trouble these neighborhoods brewed. We drove through the busy streets on the warm night. We didn’t need to look 615 Jasper up on the map. We’d been there before.
When we pulled up, Reilly and I got out and heard the loud argument in the backyard, behind the long, old white house. We walked up the driveway beside the house, passed through the metal, chain-link gate and into the yard.
The mom was there in a house dress, arms folded. A neighbor we knew by sight, a very big dude was calmly standing by and when he needed to, pushing the brothers apart. The bothers were neck vein, popping mad over something.
“Hey!” I said loudly. “What’s going on?”
The mother spoke up and relayed the problem which frankly, I don’t recall to report here. We all talked it over for a moment, and I appreciated the presence of the neighbor. But, upon our very arrival, the brothers wanted to disappear. Afraid of being arrested again? Something else? I don’t know. It seemed like our very appearance ended the fight.
Brother Buddy Starnes was shirtless and wearing very tight, light-colored jeans. This is important later.
Just about the time I was officially wrapping up the conversation, Buddy left prematurely. Looking back now, it was obvious he had something to hide or be worried about. He turned and walked away well before I finished, and I, casually, walked after him down the driveway. Reilly lagged back just a few seconds more to finish up with the mom.
I felt Buddy’s exit was a little too soon, but I really didn’t know what to do about it. He led the way down the driveway to the street, and I looked him over from behind. There weren’t any clothing prints of weapons that I could see in those tight pants.
“Buddy, next time, don’t leave until we’re through,” I said.
I wasn’t trying to be bossy, or a prick, but I wanted to say something to…to see what he would say or do.
He looked over his shoulder at me and gave me a real dirty look. Which, you know, “sticks and stones,” and a look never hurt me. But he strutted off onto the street heading in the way of a crowd of folks up the next avenue.
I walked around the front of the patrol car, opened the door and sat in behind the wheel. The very instant my butt hit the seat? I caught motion in the corner of my left eye.
Buddy was strutting back to me, his right hand borrowing into his tight right pocket.
Shit. I instinctively, instantly pulled my revolver. The window was already down, and I laid the 4 inch barrel of my magnum on the top of the door. Barrel right at him. It’s big and he saw it.
“WHAT you pulling?” I growled.
He yanked his empty hand out of his pocket and stood there. Expressionless. Looking at the hole in the barrel of my gun.
Now, I tell you I stared hard at the pocket. It was flat, flat, flat and his jeans were very tight. I made a snap decision that he could not have anything at all in that pocket, or any pocket for that matter.
“Get the fuck outta here,” I told him in a very quiet, sinister way.
Expressionless, he waited in a stare down with me and the gun, then turned and walked away in his original direction. I did not holster my Python. I just watched him walk off.
Reilly slipped into the passenger side, sat and was shocked at my position. Gun out, barrel on the door.
“I don’t know,” I told him. “He turned back on me, and it looked like he was pulling something from his pocket.”
“But I can’t imagine he had anything in that pocket. Those pants are skin tight.”
I put my gun away, started the car and drove off. Not even a half a minute later…
“Sixty-one, are you still on Jasper street?” the dispatcher asked.
“Just a block away,” Reilly answered.
“Man shot on porch. 12 Jasper. Ambulance in route.”
What? I whipped the car around and blasted over to 10 Jasper. We slid up in front, ran up the to the porch where an older woman was tending to man lying on the porch. He was down and shot in the chest. I propped him up just a bit. We told her to get us a towel, and Reilly made for the trunk for our first aid kit. We plugged the hole. Applied pressure.
The old man could talk. He said he was sitting on his porch when “that boy” without a shirt in tan pants walked by, out in the street, looked at him and then shot him.
“Was that Buddy Starnes?” I asked while the ambulance sirens closed in on us.
“It coulda been, but I don’t sees real well. Real far. At night.”
The bullet hole didn’t look very big on his chest, but a chest wound is a chest wound. The EMTs got there and took over. Reilly and I jumped back in our car and I checked in with the dispatcher. I put Buddy Starnes out on the air as the shooting suspect.
We and other units scoured the streets for Buddy. Reilly and I made every nightclub in the district. Asked everyone on the street. For hours. Nothing. And boy-howdy, I knew I screwed up. I made a snap decision to let that little piece of shit walk off. He did have a thin gun after all, must have, probably a small, semi-auto in that pocket. That bullet was meant for me. But since he couldn’t shoot me, he, frustrated, walked off a few houses away and shot that old man. I should have stepped out, and patted him down. But, I let a visual-search-only, trick my judgement.
I met with the detective on call that night, and I told him what had happened. He also hunted Starnes with us in his own car. I can’t remember which detective it was. He asked Reilly and I to write supplements to the shooting crime report when we got back to HQ.
CID worked up a case on Starnes. The old man lived. It was a .32 caliber bullet that didn’t do much damage at all. Within a day or two, the detectives found Buddy, but they never found the gun. He confessed to shooting the old man because he said he’d always had trouble with him as he was growing up. A cranky old neighbor motive?
But deep down, I knew what happened. I first ticked Buddy off. He wanted to shoot me in the car but I got the drop on him. And since I let him walk off, he shot that old man instead.
Months and a few years later, I would stop and talk to this old man a time or two, when I saw him on the porch in that same chair.
Even years later as a detective. He frequently reminded me that he and Buddy had problems since Buddy was a kid, and that is why he was shot, but I still feel like I was a precursor to his shooting. I know I was. What…what do you say to this guy, to make any kind of amends? The old man died in the 90s. I still think about it sometimes. A missed chance. A missed chance!
“The car as a coffin.” My good, trusty friend and working Texas cop, Jeff “Rawhide” Laun, told me that even now, 40 years later, they still use that phrase in police work and training. Even though they are now more captured today on the driver’s side of their cars with the techno systems in the middle of the front seat. No crawling across the front seat to escape! No dropping out the passenger door! No diving under the dash! You are stuck. The coffin shrinks.
But, this was as close as I got to being stuck in a car and shot. My friends have been shot at while inside cars and those are other stories. But, no matter how well I understood, and how much I believed and worried about that classic training line – “the car is a coffin” – in a single instant, I still got stuck in there.
I am alive today because several times over the years I got my gun out first and fast. I am not some kind of a quick draw artist, not at all. I am…just quick-to-draw. My gun just “appeared” when I needed it. Practice, I guess? If you have to shoot through the glass of your car? Shoot. Don’t worry about the finer points of trajectory and how the bullets will go slightly up or down due to the angle of the car glass. You don’t have time to run the math. Just shoot. Make a hole and shoot through that hole!
It was a head. I mean a skull. Just a skull. Laying there on the ground. And I realized why I was there.
I was there because of the radio message:
“Eighty-nine, Meet Texas Ranger Phil Ryan at the southwest intersection of Highway 55 and Juniper Road.”
That message came over the air and not from the regular police dispatcher, but rather from my CID Captain. That was unusual for him to be on the radio sending anyone, anywhere.
“Ten-four,” I said, wondering what was going on. Ranger Ryan worked the next county over and not ours.
I drove across the city to the west side and under Interstate 55. West of the highway, south of Juniper was nothing but scrub brush fields. North of Juniper was hotels and stores and a truck stop. Why was I going to the south west corner?
Clearing the overpass, I looked over the fields and saw several men walking around in the distance. I could see that two of them were county deputies from neighboring Brooks County, along with a small, thin man. It was easy to spot Phil Ryan, who dressed like the classic Ranger, white shirt, white hat and big, tooled, brown gun belt.
I turned onto the field and parked my unmarked sedan on some low grass, got out of the car and made my way to these wanderers.
It was then I saw it. The human skull. Laying in the open. Not 40 feet from the road and right across the street from a busy truck stop, cars buzzing by every which way. The loud hum of interstate traffic loomed.
“And that,” I said aloud, “is why I am here.”
I walked across the field and up to Ranger Ryan.
“Hi, Hock,” he said quite normally.
“Hi, Phil,” I said.
“We’re out here looking for a body,” he said.
I saw the strange, thin man with a bad eye, unhandcuffed, standing around and he smiled at me.
“Hock this here is Henry. Henry Lee Lucas,” Phil said. “He killed a girl and cut her up out here. He’s killed some other folks too.”
“Well, I about stepped on a skull back up there by my car,” I pointed my thumb over my shoulder back toward Juniper.”
Phil looked at the deputies and Henry.
“I didn’t put no head up thare,” Henry said with a quizzical face.
Phil started out for my car and we all followed. We knew that animals would spread body parts all over and these fields had bobcats and coyotes to name a few critters.
I keyed up my handset and asked the dispatcher for our crime scene man, if Russell hadn’t already been notified.
Phil walked over by me to explain.
“Henry killed a woman in Brooks County. He confessed, and when I got him to talking, he wouldn’t stop,” Phil said. “He said he killed his girlfriend Becky here in this field. He killed her, had sex with her body, then cut her up and buried her in different spots.”
The longer story, the one I found out later was that an 80 year-old, Kate Poor of Ringsilver, Tx was a small landowner and she’d vanished. She let some travelers stay on her property frequently in exchange for some labor around the farm. She suddenly disappeared and her friends contacted the police about it. As the case grew more suspicious, the Ringsilver PD, a small department, asked for help from their local friend and Ranger Phil Ryan. I’ve written about Phil before in this book and Don’t Even Think ABout It. Phil was a terrific Ranger and a dedicated investigator. Phil began questioning everyone and Henry’s actions and words didn’t add up. Then, Phil found and collected a “deadly weapon” on Henry, and Phil put Henry in jail.
The next day Henry called out to a Brook County jailer, “I’ve done some bad things! I need to talk to that Ranger.”
That he had.
We walked up on the skull and we all solemnly looked it over. Henry kept sizing up the field and the distances.
“I kilt her over thar,” he said. “How’d her head get here?”
“Probably animals, Henry,” Phil said calmly. I knew that he’d stay calm and friendly with him for as long as possible to keep him talking. I would and the in the coming days, would more.
CID Sgt Howard Kelly pulled up and so did our crime scene guy Russell Lewis. We filled them in. Russell started on the skull and its area and we all walked back to the center of the field.
“I buried parts of her here,” Henry said. “You’ll find her leg bones over there and her arms bones over there.”
Sounds like a lot of digging. I looked at Howard Kelly.
“Hock,” he said, “bring Henry in. Get a statement from him, if you can.”
In meant book and arrest him. He knew I would.
“I’ll get some of the boys out and start digging.”
I have done some digging for bodies before, and I thought this arrangement might get me out of that ugly, shovel chore. I will go ahead and ruin the suspense for you right now. It didn’t.
“Hey, Henry,” I said, “we need to take a little trip downtown. And, I have to handcuff you.”
He was expressionless. I cuffed his hands around back and walked him all the way back to my car. I let him sit up front on the passenger seat. This was a detective car with no screen or cage.
“Where you from, Henry?”
And it went like that. Light conversation. Very light. I took him into our jail and drew up a quick arrest report. Printed him and got the classic mugshot below, a photo used in dozens and dozens of news reports and about 30 or so books.
“Come on with me,” I walked him down to my office in the CID section of the building.
I sat at my desk and put my feet up. He sat in a chair, now cuffed around front and we relaxed.
“What in the world is going on?” I asked.
“Well, like I told Ranger Phil, I killed that ol’ lady in Ringsilver, and…”
“Before we talk about this,” I interrupted, “let me go ahead and read you your rights, otherwise you know we can’t talk. And I want to talk to you for sure.”
And that we did, but first I got us some coffee. Then covered the classic Miranda warnings. He told me that he and his girlfriend, Becky Rowlett, this girl in the field, hitchhiked away from Brooks County and were dropped off at the Interstate by the field. They bought some food from the stores at that intersection, with stolen money from Kate Poor, walked to the center of the field, started a fire and camped.
They had some kind of an argument. She slapped him and he pulled his knife from a sheath on his belt and stabbed her right in the chest. He watched her die. Then he had sex with her body. (As you get to know Henry, you learn this happens a lot). With that same knife, he cut up her body, head off, arms off, legs off. He put some parts in pillowcases that he traveled with. He decided to gather up his belongings and cross the street to stay in a motel.
He hitchhiked around and walked around for about two weeks and returned to that campsite. He told me he wanted to bury her.
“Why,” I asked.
“Because I loved her.”
“Okay,” I said.
Henry said that when he walked out onto the field that dark night and saw her decomposing body parts, he buried most of them he could find. He told me that his and 14 year-old Becky’s relationship was like a father/daughter “thing.” He had pictures of her in his wallet and he carried those photos from jail to jail, state to state, thereafter. How did this Texas killer go state to state later? A Texas Ranger Task Force, that’s how. Stand by on that.
We were about three cups of coffee into this by now.
“I need to get this down in writing, Henry. We need a statement about all this from you. Can we do that?”
“Yeah. I already fessed up to Phil. So, yeah.”
And I got a statement on the murder, which was my job. Other crimes in other jurisdictions would be secondary to me tightening up this one. We finished off that typed statement. I typed line by line as he told me line by line.
“I’ve got a problem,” he said.
As if I needed to confirm my suspicions.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been killing things. Dogs, Sheep. Cattle…and having sex with them. Something just snaps in my head, a sex thing. He told me about a man named Bernie who “taught” him how.
“When I kilt my mother…”
“You killed your mother?’”
Keep in mind this was the early 1980s. There wasn’t much literature and psychology collected and disseminated on serial killers. The FBI VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) was fairly new and largely unheard of at the time, and frankly were not very helpful when we needed them through the years. In short they match up violent crimes around the US and develop profiles of suspects. So, what has become this textbook case of someone killing small animals and the sex was news. Serial killer movies like the “Silence of the Lambs” were not popular. (But Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was! Huh? Norman Bates killed his mother and dressed up in her clothes. Weird was weird.)
Lucas killed his mother when he was 24 years old. He told me (and other psychiatrists) that he had sex with his dead mother, but years later he denied that. He killed her in the kitchen with a knife and then fled the state in a stolen car. He ditched the car and was arrested while hitchhiking in Ohio. He said that was his first murder.
So, I am sitting in this office with a lunatic who killed his mother about 20 years ago. What was he doing roaming the streets? Obviously, somehow released, like…parole or something?
“How did you get out of jail,” I asked him.
“I was in mental prison. The doctors said I was alright one day. I wasn’t. But they said I was. One morning they just let me out the front door.”
He started to tell me about all kinds of murders, all over the country that I just found hard to believe. It started to look like he wanted to shock me, like a braggart. I still have these details in my notes. And I knew we would be talking about all that again and all too soon.
I walked him back into the jail and locked him up.
Then I jumped back in my car and drove to the site by the highway. A lot was underway there. Four detectives and Howard Kelly were combing the area and digging up body parts. Newspaper and TV crews were showing up.
“You get a confession?” Howard Kelly asked me.
“I did. He’s a real nut-job. He killed his mother, that woman in Brook county and this girl. And he started telling me he’s killed a bunch of women all over while hitchhiking.”
Howard’s eyes widened and head tilted. He had a certain way of looking at you over his glasses.
“We are going to have to spend a lot of time with him,” I said.
We had about four unsolved murders in recent years that we would have to run by him. Then, there’s the county, the state and what now? All 50 states? Boy howdy, how far could this go?
“Well, Phil will hep’ us on all that,” Kelly said.
I got my “crime scene shovel” out of my trunk. (This wasn’t my first dead-body-rodeo.) and got with the guys and started digging.
The Justice of the Peace was finally called. I say “finally” because I remember he was really mad at us. He’d heard the news at about 11 a.m. He needed to be called out to the death scene. And he knew that we knew. We had a body parts he needed to officially presiding over. No one called him all day until it was his dinner time. He got out to the field at about 6 p.m. and he really pitched a high-holey, embarrassing fit.
“You know I could have you all arrested!” he yelled at us. “By law you are supposed to notify a magistrate as soon as reasonably possible! I could have all of you arrested right now.”
Whew! The judge looked like he was about to have a heart attack, but he finally calmed down. Dinner is really important to some folks! But apparently not so much to us as we worked well into the night. We called a funeral home to transport the remains of the body to the forensic morgue in Dallas.
Nowadays, police agencies have special forensic, like “archaeological” teams that sift through the turf like they look for Tyrannosaurus Rex bones. Not back then. We just had five shovels, a Polaroid camera and some trash bags. (More or less. We also had a tape measure and a 35mm camera. I am just being dramatic.)
I drew up diagrams of the parts in relation to fixed objects in the filed, triangulating the dig sites. Ranger Phil Ryan and the Brooks deputies went home. Lucas was in our jail, and we felt we could leave the field until the next day. End of day one.
I drove home a filthy mess and stripped naked in the back yard. Bad news. The itching started. It was getting worse and worse. I was covered in chigger bites that were growing and expanding into a leper’s landscape on my skin from my sock line up to my chest. I ran into the bathroom and got into the bathtub while my wife tried to look up in a medical encyclopedia what to do. It started to drive me insane. Finally, I took pain-killers we had left over from my various injuries. That took an edge off. That and a little whiskey.
I know some folks reading this won’t know what a chigger is. I hope you never do. A chigger is a bug I’ve only run across in Texas. Virtually invisible, they get on you and scamper up as far as it can. Then they bite and burrow into your flesh. Parties, and legend has it, procreates in there until for some reason the clan dies off. (Experts say they die quick and don’t reproduce, but once bit, it sure feels like chigger generations stay and have an orgy.)
I arrived at work the next morning and all of us that had toiled in the field, even the poor angry, judge I heard, were suffering from these chigger bites. And we had to go out there again! Not without a visit to the pharmacy for nuclear, bug protection, though. But Detective Jack Breasley had another plan.
“You see this raw potato?” Jack said, holding one up.
“If you keep a raw potato in your pocket, chiggers won’t bite you.”
“That so,” I said.
“I got some potatoes out in the car for us.”
“I think I will stick with the nuclear, bug spray, thank ya kindly.”
“OKAY then!” Jack said, as though I were a fool.
We returned to the field and worked all morning. By lunchtime, we were through. I hadn’t accumulated any more bites, that I could tell anyway over the red rubble of my lower chest and legs. But Jack? Jack’s chigger bites had chigger bites. I can’t really say I remember for sure? But I think he went to the emergency room at the hospital that night. I think the chiggers even ate the potato.
In the afternoon, we sat back down with Henry at the police department. We ran some unsolved murders past him, showed him photographs. This is routine in a situation like this. A kidnapped and killed young teen, found in a Dallas gravel pit. Strangled woman found out in the woods by some railroad tracks. At first, he said no to them, then fudged on his “no,” and said maybe. I watched him look at photos of the victims and had a feeling that they were strangers to him.
Howard and I talked in the hallway. We didn’t believe him, but we were obligated to test him through and through.
“Me and Breasley will run him around these crime scenes. You catch up here,” Howard said.
There was plenty for me to catch-upward-with. Reports. Warrants. Body parts in the morgue. Confirm Henry was at that hotel. Etc.
Howard and I spoke about two full days later and in summary, he discounted all the other Lucas verbal confessions.
We filed the only case we had in our jurisdiction, the murder of Becky in the field. Henry was then quickly out of our hair, and Ranger Phil Ryan’s hair too.
Henry was convicted and sentenced to many decades in prison. Phil Ryan had his case over in Ringsilver. But Henry would not shut up about killing a lot of people. I mean a LOT of people. So mnay, Henry was next embedded with a special Texas Ranger Task Force to look into his stories.
The Dallas Observer newspaper reported, “A special task force, manned by the Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell and members of the Texas Rangers, was formed to help other agencies sort out the stream of horrors that Lucas couldn’t confess to fast enough. Soon, he was being jetted all over the country to lead investigators to crime scenes and recount the terrifying manner in which his victims had met their fates. Henry said, “I done it every way imaginable,” he liked to say. “Shootings, stabbings, strangulations, drownings. Killing somebody, to me, was just like walking outdoors.’ For good measure, he occasionally added details of post-Mortem sex or experiments in cannibalism. ”
None of us locals, including Phil Ryan thought Henry had killed all the people he’d suddenly claimed at the time. We read in the newspapers the toll was running up to 300 people. What?
Phil told me early on, that he’d accompanied one of these crime scene visits with other detectives from another Texas city and murder. The body was found under an overpass. With two detectives, with Phil and Henry in the back seat, Phil recalled for me what happened on that trip.
“Henry had been shown, and had studied all the crime scene photos before we left the station. He collected the crime story and evidence in the course of the first interview. As we drove up the highway, they kept asking him. ‘Look familiar? Look familiar?’
Finally, Henry said, ‘Stop here.’ We all got out and looked around. Henry pointed to this or that. Back at the station he gave them a bare-bones confession to the killing. I said to Henry later,
‘why did you take that killing, Henry. You didn’t do that?’
Henry smiled at me.
I asked, ‘how did you know which overpass to stop at?’
Henry said, ‘well, the driver kept slowing down and slowing down and I just guessed.’ Henry didn’t kill all those people, Hock. He’s working the cops.’ ”
Working the cops. Then one morning, about two years after I snapped that popular mugshot of Lucas in our jail, I bought a weekday copy of the Dallas Times Herald and a headline declared that the Henry Lee Lucas murder spree was all false. A local reporter Hugh Aynesworth, had constructed a map and a time line of Henry’s confessions and found it physically impossible for him to travel all across the United States and commit most of them. Hugh inserted into the time-line, proven facts of Henry’s whereabouts. For example:
Henry collected a paycheck on one date, than claimed he killed a girl six states away later that same day. Anyesworth concluded, “Lucas would have had to drive 11,000 miles in the space of a month to have murdered all of the victims on his confession list.”
Now, I ask you, why didn’t this Texas Ranger Task Force run a simple chart like this on their headquarters wall? We all asked this. Phil Ryan too, and he couldn’t believe the mess. Why did it take a local newsman to do this?
In the middle of this is an odd tale of the Waco, Tx. prosecutor Vic Frizzell, which is another complicated story, too long to shoot off-course here with, but that you might care to look up on the web.
The New York Times concluded, “After his arrest in 1983, Lucas claimed to have killed as many as 600 people around the country, and detectives from 40 states talked to him about an estimated 3,000 homicides. Mr. Lucas later recanted, and many of the murder cases attributed to him were never reopened. He attributed the false confessions to a steady diet of task force tranquilizers, steaks, hamburgers and milkshakes fed to him by investigators, along with crime scene clues that he said he had parroted back to detectives.” Henry also got to travel, play cards and watch television and enjoyed numerous other benefits at the “Lucas Headquarters.”
Lucas’ lawyer Don Higginbotham, said that, “Henry lies to everybody. That`s how he maintains control over his situation. Anybody in authority. He`s playing with the system.”
Get this mess. While I was hanging out with Henry before he wet hog-wild with tall tales of killing, he told me about his traveling, murdering buddy Ottis Toole, and how they killed people. He also told me that Ottis had kidnapped and killed young Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh. John had gone on to become the famous host of “America’s Most Wanted” TV show. Was this yet another lie? Not up to me to decide, so when the dust settled a bit, I called the detective division of the Hollywood, Florida Police Department and reported all these details to them. Never heard back from them.
Years later, Toole became infamous thanks to Henry’s popularity. But, apparently my early 80s phone call to Hollywood, Florida CID fell upon deaf ears! And unchecked? Then months later I learned the Texas Ranger, Lucas Task Force called them also with the same news. Read what Time Magazine wrote about this:
“While the FBI would credit “America’s Most Wanted” for helping nab at least 17 of the agency’s “10 Most Wanted” fugitives, John Walsh had to wait 27 years for the Hollywood Police Department to both admit that drifter and serial killer Ottis E. Toole abducted and murdered his son and apologize for investigative mistakes that transpired during the early years of this investigation,” as police chief Chad Wagner said in a news conference.
Toole first confessed to the Walsh killing in October of 1983, but, as the department’s police chief told TIME in the mid-’90s, Toole and his accomplice Henry Lee Lucas were notorious for ‘confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.’ Toole would end up dying in prison in 1996 while serving five life sentences for other crimes.”
But, there was also supporting evidence against Toole. Walsh would later write a book about this. In the late 1990s, Walsh was on a book tour and I was hired to assist FOX security with protecting John on his trip through Texas. I had a chance to get to know John and we discussed this overall situation. Ironic, isn’t it?
And now for even more madness and weirdness, in the mid 1990s, then Sheriff, Weldon Lucas (no relation) called me at home. Weldon was a former Texas Ranger and was indirectly involved in Henry’s local case with us. He told me there was some new ado about a woman claiming to be Becky Rowlett in the media. Becky alive and well? Whose skull was that I’d almost tripped over that fateful day? He warned me that there might be a quick, new court date/hearing over the issue.
But, this was quickly dismissed as a fraud. Some bizarre married woman named Phyllis had befriended the imprisoned Henry. You know, first pen pals. Jail visits. Then, “prison love.” She thought she could somehow throw a monkey wrench into the works of Henry’s death sentence by suggesting Becky was still alive. She was quickly arrested for this fraud. Like the entire Henry Lee Lucas penumbra, this too was very, very strange. Years later, even Geraldo Rivera did a TV show on Henry and Phyllis.
Of course, Henry’s story morphed into books, documentaries and, even a movie. All of these are available on the internet for further investigation, with the proper names and locations. I was
interviewed once in awhile by them, but Lucas disgusted me so, I didn’t add much more to their stories. I have only decided to tell my small involvement in this book, for the purpose of history.
But, I feel as reporter Carlton Stowers felt when he wrote in the Dallas Observer: “The furor over the latest Lucas scam attempt had already died when, one evening, I answered the phone to hear a long-distance operator say that I had a collect call from Lucas (in prison). “Will you accept charges?” she asked.
‘No,’ I replied for the first time. Then, realizing that he was likely listening for my response, I added emphasis. ‘Not only no,’ I said, ‘but hell no.’ Finally, I had too belatedly realize, the time had come to put the life and lies of Henry Lee Lucas behind me.”
I guess I should sum up by saying that Lucas died in prison from a heart attack. All the stories about Henry’s killing spree, lies, and manipulations still fascinate people, but all agree that he did kill “some” people, and the murders they mention as real include our Becky case and Phil Ryan’s case.
Of course, I and all others are also convinced he killed Becky in our city. I still remember that afternoon, all of us standing in the field west of the interstate, and Henry pointing to the ground and telling me, after I almost tripped over a human skull, “If you dig here, you’ll find a pillowcase with arm bones in it.”