On January 30, 2005, the small, quiet communities surrounding Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee awaken to the gruesome double murders of a drug dealer and a respected businesswoman. With no apparent motive or connection between the two victims, the only hope the police have is an anonymous tip pointing to local guides Todd and Sam Baskin, whose prior criminal history makes them fast and easy targets for suspicion.
Veteran Judge Jim Gordon presides over the sensational trial and watches as the state endeavors to turn one brother against the other, determined to seek the death penalty. While the evidence looks convincing, the judge can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right.
When the truth ﬁnally rears its head after ten long years, the retired Gordon faces a decision: to keep the secret and preserve his distinguished track record or own up to the mistake of a lifetime.
|Publisher:||Dog Ear Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
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By Joe G. Riley
Dog Ear PublishingCopyright © 2017 Joe G. Riley
All rights reserved.
Dateline: January 30, 2005 (eleven years earlier) Lake County, Tennessee
Elaine Bronson, a forty-five-year-old, white, blonde-haired divorcèe, slept peacefully on the fateful Sunday morning. She resided in a luxurious home on Reelfoot Lake near Tiptonville, Lake County, Tennessee, approximately 100 miles north of Memphis. Bronson had a successful real estate business, selling nearby Reelfoot Lake properties, and was well-respected in the county.
Bronson had moved to Lake County from Florida fifteen years earlier. She was then, and remained, a very attractive lady. According to Bronson herself, she had sold real estate in the Gulf area of northern Florida and was divorced with no children. She had heard about Reelfoot and the opportunities it offered for the real estate market. Even though she had no relatives in the area, she had seized upon the opportunity. She was very personable and had quickly made friends in the small rural area. She had dated various men in the area but had never remarried.
Around two o'clock the morning of January 30, 2005, two men disarmed the alarm system at her residence. They then proceeded to the large storage building behind the residence, where they also disarmed its alarm system. Based upon their prior experience, arson was no obstacle for the men. They poured gasoline throughout the inside of the structure, as well as around its outside base. They carefully poured a line of gasoline leading from the building to a point about 100 feet away. They ignited the gasoline at the end of the line, and the fire scurried its course to the building. It immediately went up in flames.
Within a minute, the two men broke through her front door and entered her bedroom. She awakened to the crash of the door and found the two masked men armed with pistols at the foot of her bed. The tall, brawny man calmly stated, "This is your payback, bitch." They immediately bound her ankles and wrists with duct tape, crammed a sock in her mouth, and dragged her by the hair of her head to their waiting truck in this isolated area of the lake. Her muffled attempts at screaming were inaudible. She was only clad in her nightgown. They hurled her in the backseat of their crew-cab pickup truck over a carefully placed drop cloth, which covered the entire rear area of the truck. The smell of her expensive perfume lingered from its application the day before. The two men set her residence ablaze, utilizing the same method they had employed on the storage building.
The second abductee of the night was Reggie "Cut Throat" Traborn, a wiry, forty-two-year-old, single white male. He resided in Ridgely, LakeCounty, Tennessee, some eight miles south of Tiptonville. Traborn had resided in Ridgely his entire life. His high school years had been marked by his many expulsions due to fighting. He had earned distinction on the football field, however, where he had been an all-state running back, setting numerous records for the local high school team. Because of his football exploits, he was well-known in this small community, which closely followed the long-time successes of its football team.
Upon graduating from high school, he had eschewed the opportunity to play football at several major universities, both in-state and out-of-state, where he had been offered full scholarships. Both of his parents were deceased, and he had then been living with an aunt. He had no other family. At the time, his aunt was barely eking out a living waiting tables at a Reelfoot restaurant. Drugs had invaded the small community, and Traborn had seized upon that as a business opportunity. He was intelligent, mean as hell, and did not use drugs. Selling drugs, however, appeared to him to be an easy way to make a good living. After several months of benefitting from his newly established business, he had moved from his aunt's residence and had purchased a small house in Ridgely.
He began selling marijuana and quickly moved into cocaine, which was much more addictive to its users and more profitable for Traborn. The Mexican cartel smuggled the drugs into the United States, and the drugs easily snaked their way into Traborn's hands through his supplier. He considered peddling methamphetamine, commonly called "meth" on the streets, but found it far too risky. Meth could be snorted, smoked or injected. Regardless of the method of intake, users often became quickly addicted. The devastating effect of meth upon the physical appearance of its users made them easily identifiable to law enforcement. Traborn feared one or more desperate users would be arrested and rat on him. He opted out of meth.
Traborn now worked directly under a distributor for the West Tennessee area. He was handsomely rewarded for his deliveries. Although he handled some cocaine, Traborn and the distributor were now into the relatively new market of "Oxycotton," the street name for OxyContin. The street use of Oxycotton, where the pills were crushed and then snorted or injected, gave a tremendous high to the user.
Traborn still lived in the same small house he had bought shortly after his graduation from high school. His neighborhood was far from affluent. He liked it that way, even though he had plenty of cash to buy a new home. He preferred spending his lucre elsewhere, and an expensive home would have sent an obvious signal of his illicit profession. The small Lake County community assumed he must be involved with drugs, but Traborn was clever enough to avoid detection by authorities. Their previous stings had left him unscathed. Those caught in the snare had dared not rat on Traborn, who was known for violence. Remarkably, he was admired by many of the young people in the rural community who envied his accumulation of automobiles, a War Eagle fishing/hunting boat, an RV camper, and a host of other "finer things of life."
At about 2:15 a.m. that same evening, Traborn heard a knock on his door while he was watching an adult channel on television. Thinking it was a visit from one of his dealers, he immediately went to the door. He found himself facing the two masked men. His musky smell clashed with the expensive perfume of Elaine Bronson, who was bound in the truck. The short, weatherworn man pointed his 9mm Glock pistol directly between Traborn's eyes and said in his Southern drawl, "Cut Throat, ain't you a hot shot son uf a bitch. You gonna wish you wuzn't a double-crossing bastard." The two masked men then performed the same ducttaping and gagging on Traborn that they had on Bronson and threw Traborn in the back seat of the truck.
Along the south shores of Reelfoot Lake were numerous boat slips where fishermen and duck hunters harbored their boats. Virtually all of the duck hunting guides had grown up around Reelfoot, and the good ones were booked virtually every day during the sixty-day waterfowl hunting season. The guides were on the lake with their parties from before sunrise until 3 p.m. each day, when hunting was required to cease according to waterfowl regulations. Unless they were on the lake breaking ice in order to get to their duck blinds for the next day's hunt, the guides were sleeping soundly at 2:30 in the morning.
On this particular night, Haverly's Boat Dock along the southern shore of Reelfoot held several boats belonging to duck hunting guides. The dock was obscured by large cypress trees and not visible to lake residents in nearby houses. The arrival of the pickup truck at the secluded dock in the wee hour's darkness went unnoticed.
Upon opening the front doors of the pickup, the two kidnappers were greeted with a fierce blast of biting air. This was the third day and night of freezing temperatures, and some parts of the lake had already frozen, especially in the shallow areas, many of which were surrounded by trees and grass. The ducks that found their way to Reelfoot were dabbling ducks, which meant they often fed upon aquatic vegetation just under the water's surface. The dabblers loved the shallow water areas; thus, such areas hosted many of the duck blinds. The main part of the lake, more open to the wind, did not freeze as rapidly as the shallow water areas.
The two kidnappers opened the back doors of the pickup, confronting their two victims, whose fear was evident in their questioning eyes. The short man seized the terrified Bronson by her hair, bringing her face directly before his own. Bronson smelled the man's rank breath. He delivered a vicious blow to Bronson's forehead, rendering her temporarily unconscious and causing a gaping wound that unleashed a torrent of blood. He then delivered vicious blows to Traborn's face. Unlike Bronson, Traborn remained conscious despite the beating. The blood from Bronson and Traborn oozed from their serrated wounds onto the drop cloth. Bronson regained consciousness a few seconds later as she, along with Traborn, was being dragged from the truck. The kidnappers, following the instructions they had received, wanted both their victims to experience torture and fear.CHAPTER 2
Dateline: January 30, 2005 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
The masked assailants herded the victims from the truck to the gravel parking lot and down onto the pier. Bronson was barefoot and still wearing only her nightgown; Traborn was attired in his street clothes. The kidnappers did not wrap either victim in outer wear, thus forcing them to endure the cold temperatures. The blood streamed down the faces of the victims, which neither could wipe away because of their taped hands.
Upon their arrival at the fifth boat slip on the right, a seventeen-foot Monarch duck hunting boat awaited them. Each victim was shoved and kicked into the front section of the boat. The short, burly kidnapper got behind the steering wheel, and the tall one sat behind the two victims, who were on the front floor of the boat. The short man easily got the four-stroke motor started, and it hummed with a low purring sound. On that particular night, it was heard by no one other than the boat occupants.
The short kidnapper backed the boat out of the slip over a skim of ice and approached the main body of the lake. The deeper part of the lake in front of the boat dock had not yet frozen. There was a full moon with cloudless skies, and the short man had no trouble navigating the boat without the aid of a spotlight. The destination had been pre-determined as the southern point of Willow Bar. Willow Bar, clearly visible from the southern shore of Reelfoot, was a short distance from the boat dock and had no frozen water in its path.
The boat navigated the Reelfoot waters and parted the four-foot reeds on the southern end of Willow Bar before running ashore about ten minutes after their departure from the dock. Willow Bar's shallow water and thick matted reeds, fully capable of slicing the hands of those who grabbed them, prevented its regular use by Reelfoot's sportsmen. The two assailants, however, wore rubber knee-boots, which allowed them to traverse the shallow water on the tip of the bar. The masked man-handlers dragged the cold and shaking victims from the craft and then some twenty yards farther into the thick reeds.
Once they were a few yards from the tip of the bar and into the reeds, the shallow water was completely frozen. The tall man, clearly the leader of the two, ordered the half-frozen victims to get on their knees. He then sauntered around to the front of the victims while the short man remained behind them. The tall man said, "I'm going to take the socks out of your nasty-assed mouths in a second. But if either of you screams or hollers, I'll shoot you both between those little beady eyes of yours. So you gotta depend on each other, you got it?"
He then extracted the socks from Bronson's and Traborn's mouths. Both remained mute, except for the chattering of their teeth. The tall man then asked Bronson in his deep baritone voice, "Can you tell me why you're a double-crosser?"
Bronson replied, "Please have mercy on me. I don't know what you're talking about."
The tall man was holding his 9mm Smith & Wesson, as opposed to the 9mm Glock of his comrade. He then dispatched a vicious blow across her face with the pistol. "Shut up, bitch. I'm through with you."
The man then queried Traborn. "How about you there, infamous Cut Throat? You want to tell me why you're a double-crosser?"
Traborn, normally "much of a man," as they said in these parts, was by then weeping and begging. "Oh, my God, please. I'm just a low man on the chain, dude. I just do what de boss say, man. And I sho as hell ain't no double-crosser."
The tall man bent down, facing Traborn and staring piercingly at him with moonlit eyes. "You speak with a forked tongue, little redneck. That's not the way I hear it." Just as he had with Bronson, he swung the full weight of the Smith & Wesson, catching the side of Traborn's face.
Wanting to further mentally torture Bronson and Traborn and give them false hope, the tall man addressed both victims. "I follow orders, too. If it were up to me, I'd kill both of you lying bastards right here, right now. But it's not up to me. We're going to leave you here to fend for yourselves. Who knows? You might even figure out a way to free each other and flag down somebody in a couple of hours — assuming you survive the cold. I personally don't give a shit whether you make it or not. If you do make it out of here, you better make up one hell of a story about how you got here. You got it?"
Both victims quickly agreed to the hollow request.
The leader demanded of his short servant, "Jerk 'em back so they're kneeling upright to show us some respect."
The shorter servant promptly heeded the command.
The leader then gave his final command to the two victims, who remained ungagged: "You remain just like this until you can't hear the boat no more. Then, plot your escape strategy, you double-crossing pieces of shit."
The leader then strode behind Bronson and Traborn in their kneeling positions on the ice. He looked at his comrade and nodded. The two men, who had purchased silencers from a not-so-reputable gun dealer a few days earlier, secured them on their pistols. Based on the silent one-two-three finger count of the leader, the men simultaneously fired shots into the backs of the heads of Bronson and Traborn. Brain matter and blood saturated the reeds, and both victims toppled forward into the reeds and ice-covered water of Reelfoot Lake's Willow Bar. As if the sight of the bullet-pierced heads of the victims was not enough to convince the killers of immediate death, each man placed another security bullet into the head of each victim.
"Dey gone," said the faithful servant.
"Reckon they got the message," the leader wryly commented.
Mission accomplished, thought the tall leader on the boat ride back to the dock. The bald eagles and scavenging carnivores would likely devour the carcasses before any chance of discovery.
The servant thought only of the payoff he would receive in a few days. Shit, he thought, in just a few hours, he had earned more money than he had pocketed the entire previous year.
Though bumping a couple of the underwater stumps on the return trip, the boat safely moored back in the fifth boat slip. The short man recovered an old rag in the boat and wiped away most of the blood. They walked up the pier, got into their truck, and exited the parking lot shortly after 3:15 a.m. Not a creature was stirring. No people or vehicles were to be seen. The killers threw the bloody rag and drop cloth in a dumpster at a closed convenient store some eight miles away. They then tossed the pistols and gas cans into the Obion River from the bridge on Highway 78 south of Ridgely. They punched several small holes in the gas cans so they would float downstream before submerging.
The perfect crime, the tall man thought on the wintery morning. They had done exactly what they had been told to do, including the torture and execution somewhere on Reelfoot Lake. He had picked the perfect spot. He had little doubt the money would be paid as promised. What a hell of a way to make money, he mused.CHAPTER 3
Dateline: January 30, 2005 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
On the Sunday morning of the murders, Reelfoot was abuzz with activity shortly before sunrise. It was the last day of the 2004–2005 duck season. The wintery cold front from the north had pushed the ducks further south from the states north of Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake was the ducks' first Tennessee stop. Reelfoot and its federal refuge were teeming with waterfowl. In light of the cold front, duck harvests had been excellent the last three days. Sunday was expected to be the same in the minds of the duck guides and other duck hunters on Reelfoot. Guides, along with their hunters and the regular hunters in other blinds, needed to be in their blinds and ready to shoot by the legal shooting time of 6:27 a.m., which was thirty minutes before sunrise.
Excerpted from Reelfoot Killins' by Joe G. Riley. Copyright © 2017 Joe G. Riley. Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
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