Read an Excerpt
Shadows of Evil
By Carlton Smith
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Carlton Smith
All rights reserved.
OVER THE PAST TEN YEARS I HAVE WRITTEN A DOZEN BOOKS about murder — the ultimate crime, as some have called it, because a life, once taken, can never be replaced.
Of these "dirty dozen," as I have sometimes called them, three involved sensational cases that to this date remain unsolved: the horrific Green River murders in Washington State, in which forty-nine women and at least two unborn fetuses were murdered by a single (or perhaps two) unknown killer(s) between 1982 and 1984; the eleven mysterious murders near New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1989, which were so reminiscent of the depredations of the Green River killer; and the still-controversial death of JonBenét Ramsey on Christmas night in Boulder, Colorado.
In none of those cases were authorities able to identify a prosecutable suspect; and in the absence of a suspect, the writing of the facts of the case was made far more difficult by the understandable desire of law enforcement officials to keep secrets necessary to positively identify the perpetrator.
Six other books involved cases in which charges had been brought, but which had not yet gone to trial, at least at the time of writing: these included the murder of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz by the wealthy madman John Du Pont in 1996; the assassinations of the father, mother and sister blamed on would-be multimillionaire heir Dana Ewell in 1992; the serial murders of his wife, two children, and mother, all charged to Jack Barron of Sacramento from 1992 to 1995; the killings of four women charged to motel handyman Cary Stayner near Yosemite National Park in 1999; the wanton, sexdriven murder allegedly committed by James DaVeggio and his female accomplice Michelle Michaud in 1997; and finally, the four murders attributed to Wayne Adam Ford in this book, which took place in 1997 and 1998.
Of these six cases that were unresolved at the time of writing, Du Pont was later found guilty but insane. Ewell and his college acquaintance–accomplice, Joel Radovcich (cq), were later found guilty but spared the death penalty by a Fresno County jury for the murders of the Ewell family; Jack Barron was likewise found guilty in Sacramento County for the serial killings of his own family, but spared the death penalty by negotiated agreement. Stayner pled guilty to murdering Yosemite naturalist Joie Armstrong after the U.S. Government agreed not to seek the death penalty, and still awaits state justice in Mariposa County for the deaths of Yosemite tourists Carole Sund, Juli Sund, and Silvino Pelosso as of this writing, as do DaVeggio and Michaud in Alameda County, where authorities are seeking the death penalty for both. As for Ford, as the year 2000 nears its end, a trial date remains far in the future.
In only three of the twelve murder cases had a jury reached a verdict before I began writing, and in two of those three, the defendants were either acquitted by a jury or had the charges dismissed by prosecutors.
Based on this record, I am sometimes asked: Why write anything at all, before the final verdict is in?
The answer is simple: justice in America, at least as practiced in the current legal environment, is extraordinarily slow. Today, especially in California, it may take three years, or even longer, before a complex case comes to trial.
Despite these delays, prosecutors and defense lawyers alike earnestly wish to keep the facts of such cases out of public awareness for as long as possible, while they argue their legal points, even as the months and years after an arrest unfold. They believe that any publicity may be deleterious to a fair trial; as a result, they believe that the public should be kept in the dark about what happens when someone is murdered, a crime is then charged, and the legal system begins its inexorable if excruciatingly slow grind to a conclusion, even as years elapse before a resolution.
I believe this is wrong. I believe the public is entitled to know what happened, how the police dealt with the event, how the government attempted (or is attempting) to prosecute it, and how the accused attempted (or is attempting) to defend himself.
And, if it's at all possible to know, I believe the public is entitled to know the theories of why such a crime took place — because, by knowing what may have caused such horrors, we might be able to prevent them in the future.
Most certainly I do not believe that the public should be shut out of this information for years, as this fundamentally important function of democracy — justice — goes forward. After all, the authority to charge an individual with a crime is the most potent power in the government's possession, and its use should never be lightly dismissed, especially by legal advocates, as "none of the public's business."
When the government charges a person with a crime, all of the immense power of the State has been focused on a single individual; and when this happens, we must always demand that the government rigorously follow the law. To permit the government to arrest, charge and convict someone in secrecy is surely the fastest and most slippery slope down to a police state. That is why I have persisted in writing about criminal cases even before a verdict has been delivered.
I especially do not concur with the view, so often advanced by the legal authorities involved in these most notorious cases, that, once such publicity occurs, it will be impossible to impanel an unbiased jury to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Indeed, after having attended nearly one hundred highly publicized criminal trials over the past thirty years, I believe that even a juror exposed to extensive publicity has the capacity to take his or her oath seriously: to judge the case based upon the evidence presented in court, and on nothing else.
All that this requires is awareness on the part of the juror of what is evidence acceptable in a court of law, and what is not — which implies an understanding of the easily grasped rules of evidence, and which in any case is the responsibility of the judge to interpret, and to instruct.
No matter what the lawyers may argue, this is not brain surgery, nor even rocket science. Instead, it is, as the rules of evidence make clear, only simple, common sense; and it is the very heart of the notion that, in the United States of America, the final power always rests with the people.
Nevertheless, it seems to be an article of faith among lawyers, both prosecutors or defenders, that the ordinary person is incapable of making these discriminations. In my view this only illustrates the elitism which has afflicted our legal practitioners over the past few decades.
In stark contrast to the firmly held and often-expressed beliefs of such legal luminaries as Abraham Lincoln, Harlan Stone, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hugo Black, Earl Warren, William Brennan, Lewis Powell and other stalwart defenders of the Constitution over the last two hundred years of American juridical experience, today's lawyers believe that the average person cannot possibly understand the complexities of a convoluted criminal case. In essence, they believe that the nuances of the law are best left to the experts — namely, them.
Again, I do not agree. The average person, I am convinced, can easily distinguish between what they read in a newspaper or see on television, or what they read in a magazine or book, and what they hear, see or read as sworn testimony in a court of law.
And the average person can quite readily grasp the rules of court: that the issue they are being asked to decide must be decided only on the information they receive while sitting in the jury box, and on nothing else — no prejudices, no outside reading, no extralegal influences. In short, I believe the people are not nearly as stupid as the lawyers like to think they are.
In that sense, what has been presented in the books I have written — these "dirty dozen" — is not much different, at least in philosophy, than that which is published in a newspaper, or broadcast by a television station; except that it is better — better by being more complete, placed in context, and including facts that the mainstream media usually overlook, or indeed, never obtain at all, in their rush to get to the next story.
For this reason, I have never attempted to call myself a writer; rather I am a journalist, collecting the information that is available and presenting it in such a way, that, hopefully, by the time a case finally reaches trial, the reader will have a well-grounded understanding of the issues presented in the case.
My jocularity about the "dirty dozen," above, is, of course, an emotional defense.
In my life as a journalist I have covered, written about, or investigated well over 200 murders, beginning in August of 1969 with the slaying of Sharon Tate and her companions in their death house in the Hollywood Hills; over the years I have written about parents killing children, children killing parents, murders over drugs, murders over money, murders for so-called "kicks"; and even accidental murders, as I believe the JonBenét Ramsey case may well have been.
Over these thirty years I have seen crime scenes that were indoors, in which the bloodspatter on the walls stood as a most visceral signpost of the emotions that preceded the act, or outdoor crime scenes which told unspeakable tales of loneliness and desolation. Even now I can recall a trip through the Sacramento County morgue, where scores of toe-tagged bodies awaiting post-mortem examinations lay stacked in gray plastic body bags, one on top of the other, tier on tier all the way to the ceiling of the "cold room"; and where five murder or suicide autopsies were then underway nearby. I will hear the whine of the bonesaws and the look and smell of the newly dead for the rest of my life.
In the dozen books I have so far written, a total of eighty-six people were murdered. Eighty-six people, people who were alive as you and I, one day; but gone forever the next.
Eighty-six lives, wiped out, cut short: real people with real friends, with families, with feelings, with pets; with problems, with joys, with dreams, with hopes, suddenly robbed of the chance to breathe, to live, to love, to laugh and to forgive.
Over the past three decades I have encountered scores of parents, children, husbands, wives, lovers and friends of the dead, and there was never one who did not feel the inconsolable pain that comes from being told that someone they loved had their life taken by another person, and always, for no good reason.
After so many killings, after so much pain, I readily confess to be weary of death.
All death, whether that inflicted by an accused perpetrator, or by the government — in other words, by us, in the form of capital punishment. No matter who is killing, killing is wrong. And especially so in the case that is the subject of this book, Wayne Adam Ford, who has been said to have confessed to at least four murders, two of them involving his victims' dismemberment.
For there should be no mistake: if not for the government's insistence that Wayne Adam Ford should be put to death for his alleged crimes, the charges against him would have been settled years ago.
And it is not just the moral ambiguity of society acting exactly like that which it deplores that is so troubling about this, or even the expense — although, by the time the Ford case is finally determined by all the courts, perhaps a decade into the future, millions of taxpayer dollars will have been spent on a case that could easily have been settled almost immediately with Ford's willing plea of guilty, if then followed by a sentence of life without parole.
If only an agreement not to seek the death penalty had been offered to Ford by us, things might have been much different; but it is the futility of trying to kill someone for killing that remains, for me, as one of the most disturbing aspects of the life and desperate times of Wayne Adam Ford. And why?
Because, as the reader will discover, it was not until Wayne Adam Ford presented himself for arrest — turned himself in — that anyone, anywhere, had the slightest idea that he was a possible serial murderer. In other words, if Ford hadn't delivered himself for justice, he likely would still be killing today.
In coming forward, Ford admitted that he had been doing wrong, and needed to be stopped before he killed again. But, in seeking to execute him for his admissions, the authorities are sending exactly the wrong message to the score or so of others who, somewhere in America, are even now doing exactly the same thing that Wayne Adam Ford claimed to have done — murdering desperate young women who are easy targets of opportunity.
Isn't executing Wayne Adam Ford for confessing his sins the same as telling other serial killers to stay in the shadows? That is, "If you come out and confess, we will kill you"? And isn't that the same as encouraging or at least permitting these unknown others to keep back, and thereby to go on killing? What sort of incentive for solving the hundreds of other unsolved serial murders in the United States does the execution of Wayne Adam Ford provide? Is this justice, or is it vengeance?
Or is it simply politics: the all-too-base desire to be seen as doing something about which it is far too late to do anything, as the dead would readily agree?
So many dead, so many stories: where does one end and the other begin?
This has always been the charge against those, like me, who have tried to tell those still living what has happened.
Why write anything at all? When all is said and done, isn't this book nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the fright, the pain, the sadness; of the evil that permitted these events to happen?
Over the past few years I have spent many nights thinking about these questions. What, indeed, are the ethics here? What are the issues: for the survivors, for the perpetrators, for the prosecutors and defenders? For the public? For the writer, or even journalist?
These are complicated matters, and not easily answerable. A police lieutenant in one of the dirty dozen cases once tried to answer these questions, at least for me:
"You do it," he said, "because that is what you do."
In other words, he went on, it was my responsibility to tell the story — of the perpetrator, of the victims, of the police — to tell something of the history of our lives.
And, he concluded, it was useful — for people to understand what happened, to whom it happened, and why. Otherwise, he said, no one would know.
And as the years have passed since that police lieutenant — a good friend, now dead — provided this benediction, I have tried to see each of the criminal cases I have written about in terms of what it contributes to our understanding of the social contract that binds us, that underlies our acceptance of the rule of law: first, that the public has a right to know what happened; second, that the survivors have a right to the same knowledge, unfiltered from the spinning of those, such as prosecutors or defenders, who often have a political interest in how the information is portrayed; and third, that the public itself has an interest in observing the government's efforts to prosecute, especially when its criminal justice machinery threatens to take someone's liberty, or most of all, his life.
As a journalist, I have a sacred obligation: to collect the facts, to put them into some sort of coherent order, and to let the people decide; and that's what I've tried to do in this book.
I must say it hasn't always been easy, and it certainly wasn't in the case of Wayne Adam Ford. By the time I finished this book, I had traveled thousands of miles by road and air, from the misty hills of the northern California coast to the barren wastelands of the Mojave Desert, from the glitter that is Las Vegas to the barrios of San Bernardino County, and scores of other places in between. I spent thousands of dollars from my own savings, toiled for weeks in law libraries, pored over thousands of pages of difficult-to-obtain documents, and logged more hours on the telephone than a telemarketer. I tried to get the story, the one that would otherwise have never come to light. I did it for my friend, the cop, who had told me to do it because it had to be done.
Excerpted from Shadows of Evil by Carlton Smith. Copyright © 2001 Carlton Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.