Archive for 1990s

Death and (Low) Taxes

On an overcast Tennessee morning about a month before the 1998 election, State Senator Tommy Burks was more concerned about the work to be done on his Putnam County farm than about the upcoming vote. There was no reason for him to feel otherwise.
 
A conservative Southern Democrat, Burks was highly regarded by his constituents and was almost assured of reelection. His Republican opponent in the race, Putnam County Tax Assessor Byron “Low Tax” Looper, had been so quiet during the election season that most folks in Burks’ district thought he was running unopposed.
 
Looper had a history of bizarre behavior. His reputation was such that Burks presciently expressed concerns to a friend about what Looper might do during the campaign.
 
Although he adopted the moniker “Low Tax” as an election gimmick, he eventually legally changed his name to include it. Looper believed because he was the only Republican in office in Putnam County, he was the victim of an ongoing political plot to ruin him. Worse than his paranoia was his ambition. He was frequently levying outrageous charges against perceived opponents or praising himself in lengthy press releases that he faxed across the country at county expense. Burks’s state Senate seat was supposed to be the next step in a journey that would end in Washington, D.C.
 
An alternative newspaper, The Putnam Pit, supported Looper and advanced his conspiracy theories. The paper remains convinced that Looper was set up by a Cumberland County political cabal.
 
His election to county office was more luck than anything Looper himself did. The Democrats had such a stranglehold on the seat that the GOP establishment did not even put up a candidate. Looper added his name to the ballot as a Republican without any knowledge of the party. However, the long-serving assessor was accused of malfeasance in office and was under a cloud of suspicion. Voters — but not as many as one might expect — simply chose the only other name on the ballot.
 
Low Tax was both corrupt and inept, although the ineptitude was far more troubling than over-staffing the office with political cronies and his own lackadaisical approach to showing up for work (He was enrolled in law school across the border in Georgia and would be absent from work for days at a time). Assessments were not recorded if they were made at all, tax records were not updated and Putnam County missed the state deadline to distribute tax bills, prompting the state to step in. Once an audit was completed the state took control over the office. Looper was left to manage his press releases and dream up new conspiracies.
 
Undeterred, Looper put his own name on the ballot to challenge Tommy Burks. The party considered the race such a lost cause that it provided no support. Looper did not want or need their help. He had a plan.

Murder

 
Even with a practically nonexistent opponent, Burks had planned a busy day of meet-and-greet in Putnam, Clay and Macon counties. Among the other things on the politician’s schedule, it was his daughter’s birthday and Burks was looking forward seeing his grandchildren for a celebration later that day.
 
A light rain was falling when Burks drove away from his two-story brick house and turned down Hog House Road to speak to farmhand Wesley Rex. Wes was on his way to a pumpkin field where a wagon had broken down. It was important for him to get the wagon fixed because on this day a group of elementary school children were coming on their annual pumpkin patch field trip.
Tenn. State Sen. Tommy Burks
 
They sat in their respective trucks and chatted about the chores for the day but stopped talking briefly as an older dark-colored car started down the road. After speaking for a minute, the two men went their separate ways. The strange car probably belonged to a constituent, they must have thought.
 
Wesley Rex was approaching the pumpkin field when he heard a “pop” sound, much like the backfiring of an engine. He looked in his rear-view mirror and saw the dark car approaching at high speed. He averted his eyes as the car zoomed past, trying to keep the dust out of his face, but not before getting a look at the man behind the wheel. Wesley did not think he had ever seen the man before.
 
He briefly considered the car, but quickly put it out of his mind as he set about fixing the wagon. As he headed back to pick up a forgotten tool, he passed Burks’s truck and noticed Burks had his head down. The truck was idling and Burks still had his foot on the brake. Wes had no reason to think anything was wrong at that point. Retrieving his wrenches, Wes started back toward the wagon and saw Burks was still sitting with his foot on the brake. This time, Wes thought something looked odd and stopped his truck. Burks’s head had dropped lower and his forehead was resting on the steering wheel.
 
Charlotte Burks was on her way to Cookeville when she saw Wes Rex driving toward her. She swerved to the side of the road as Rex slammed on the brakes and his truck slid on the gravel road.
 
“Miss Charlotte, something’s wrong with Burks,” Wes was saying, breathlessly. “He’s hurt awful bad. He’s bleeding from his ears.”
 
“Go get help!” Charlotte shouted at the teenager. “Call 911.”
 
Tommy Burks sat in his Ford pickup, his head resting on the steering wheel. There was blood everywhere in the cab and a glance by Charlotte revealed that Burks wasn’t just bleeding from his ears. Blood was flowing from a large gunshot wound to his forehead, just above his left eye. The back of his head was swollen. State Sen. Tommy Burks, popular politician and well-to-do hog farmer, was dead.

Looking for Looper


 
When Putnam County investigators arrived on the scene, they realized that they would not have jurisdiction in this case. Burks’s spread straddled two counties, and Burks had died just over the county line. They called in Sheriff Butch Burgess, District Attorney General Billy Gibson and the Cumberland County authorities.
 
Burks’s body was taken to the morgue where the medical examiner reported the senator had died from the single gunshot wound to his head. Death was almost instantaneous, the coroner told police.
 
The murder of a political candidate and long-time elected official prompted media inquiries from around the nation, and put Gibson and Butch Burgess in the center of a media storm. The word around town was that Looper had a hand in the crime, so reporters grilled them on the Putnam County Assessor’s status. The authorities would not commit.
 
“We have reached a point in the investigation where it is necessary to talk to Mr. Looper,” said one Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent cautiously.
 
What authorities weren’t saying was that Wesley Rex had positively identified Looper as the sole occupant of the dark-colored car he had seen on Hog House Road on the morning Burks was slain.
 
Wesley Rex’s ID only served to strengthen investigators’ suspicions. Looper was the only person authorities could find who had any plausible motive for shooting Burks. Rex’s positive identification put Looper at the top of a very short list of suspects and police made interviewing Looper their top priority.
 
But Looper was gone. His home on 4th Street in Cookeville was vacant and his car was missing. The media, both local and national, reported that a manhunt was on for the opponent of the deceased state senator from Tennessee.
 
Perhaps the most wanted man in America, Looper took a long road trip. Heading first to Little Rock, he bragged to an unbelieving former school-mate that he had killed his opponent and obliquely asked him to provide an alibi. The man, Joe Bond, testified that the word of “Loopifer,” as he was known in school, could not be trusted, so he discounted Looper’s claim. After borrowing a suitcase, Looper was on the road again before Bond saw the news and contacted police.
 
The fugitive headed across the Smokey Mountains to South Carolina, where he briefly talked to a former colleague in the Georgia House of Representatives where Looper served as a page (not as a legislative aide as he claimed on his resume). When she told him he was a wanted man, he seemed unperturbed, she said. Then he left, refusing to tell her his plans.
 
Putnam County authorities had Looper’s home under surveillance, never thinking that the assessor would simply return home and walk into their grasp. But that’s what Looper did. Acting like a man who had no reason to believe he was wanted for questioning in connection with a murder, Looper returned to his house at about 1 a.m. Friday morning, almost five days after Tommy Burks’s death.
 
Officer Michael Matt of the Cookeville police was sitting in a prowl car near Looper’s home when he saw Looper drive up in a dark Chevrolet. He radioed the news in as Looper went inside and disappeared from view for a few moments. He returned to the living room, where Matt observed him sitting in a chair reading his mail. In a few moments, TBI agents and investigators from Bill Gibson’s office showed up and summoned Looper outside. They placed him under arrest and took him to the Cumberland County jail.

Election

 
While Looper sat in jail, his political opponents and friends of Tommy Burks moved fast to have him removed from the ballot and his office as tax assessor. They quickly filed an ouster suit naming several Putnam County landowners as plaintiffs, charging that Looper’s mere arrest constituted moral ineptitude, one of several factors required for removal.
 
Charlotte Burks also took action to prevent Looper from winning her husband’s place in the General Assembly. She mounted an aggressive write-in campaign for the Senate seat, and picked up nearly every supporter who had previously endorsed her husband. Normally apathetic citizens took part in the campaign, working door-to-door to educate voters about Charlotte’s campaign. Stickers were printed to be affixed to ballots, handbills announcing the change were passed out and political ads were run in the local media.
 
Even the state GOP took the extraordinary step of endorsing Charlotte Burks.
 
Looper spent the day of the election in the Cumberland County jail and was handily defeated by Charlotte. Ironically, one the votes his alleged act cost him was his own: Looper had not voted early, and had not made arrangements for any absentee voting. In keeping with standard jail policy, inmates were not taken to the polls. Charlotte outpolled Looper 25 to 1.

Courtroom Antics

 
A week after his arrest, Looper appeared in court for the first time, entering a not guilty plea during his arraignment. Looper’s attorneys for the arraignment were Lionel Barrett, a prominent Nashville criminal defense attorney described as “an institution around the criminal courts” and Jerry Burgess, a local lawyer who had once faced off against Gibson in the district attorney election.
 
Barrett was an ardent death penalty foe: “No circumstances, period, would ever make me favor the death penalty,” he said once. Barrett served as the president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers twice and was the first recipient of the association’s award for “extraordinary effort” in defending capital murder cases. The award now bears his name.
 
(It is appropriate to point out that Barrett’s management of a Tennessee death row inmate’s was heavily criticized by the American Bar Association in a 2011 Journal article. The piece blamed Barrett’s lack of attention to the case as the major reason the convict could
be executed. In the article Barrett agreed to the allegations made by the ABA Journal.)
 
A packed courtroom in Crossville was the scene of Looper’s preliminary hearing. Security was tight in the courthouse, and observers had to pass through several metal detectors and searches before they could enter the courtroom.
 
Looper was brought to the courthouse in handcuffs and leg chains, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. He changed into a suit before the hearing and was not handcuffed or shackled in court. He looked a little haggard, and it was clear he hadn’t been able to keep up his deportment. His face was drawn and pale, and there were noticeable dark patches under his eyes.
 
First up was the Coroner, Dr. Sullivan Smith, who described how Tommy Burks had been shot in the head with a 9mm weapon. Smith testified that Burks had been shot from close range by a gunman who fired from an upward angle. The bullet was recovered from Burks’s body and was in good shape for analysis.
 
Following Smith, Putnam County Election Chairman Perry Bartlett gave testimony that pointed toward the motive. Since Burks’ death on October 19 fell within 30 days of the November 3 election, state law required that his name be removed from the ballot.
 
“It’s such an obscure law that we didn’t know it existed before this occurrence,” he testified.
 
Gibson chose not to put farm hand Wesley Rex on the stand because his background as a special education student could have provided Barrett with grounds to challenge his competency. But Bill Gibson didn’t need Wes to take the stand because he had what was considered “a powerful and explosive witness”: Joe Bond, the friend of Looper’s whom he visited immediately after the shooting and to whom Looper allegedly confessed.
 
Looper’s sole emotional demonstration occurred when Gibson called Bond to the stand. He appeared visibly surprised when Bond appeared in the courtroom and consulted quickly with his attorneys. Bond was the prosecution’s final witness in the nearly three-hour hearing, but his testimony was by far the most damaging.
 
“He said ‘I did it, man. I did it,'” Bond testified under questioning by Gibson. “He said: ‘I killed that dude.'”
 
Bond confirmed the suspected motive when he testified that Looper had told him about the statute during his confession.
 
The judge didn’t have to deliberate long to determine that probable cause existed to charge Looper with first degree murder. After Looper was returned to the jail, Barrett tried to downplay the effect Joe Bond had on his case. Burgess, however, was a little more reticent.
 
“The state has produced a very powerful and explosive witness,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
 
While prosecutors took advantage of the holiday break to prepare their cases, Looper, in a move that he was to repeat several times during the next several years, fired his legal staff. Looper’s new defense attorney, Doug Trant was present when Looper appeared in court on February 5, 1999 to enter a plea.
 
The Honorable J. Steve Daniel of Murfreesburo, a 15-year veteran of the Tennessee bench, was named to oversee the case. Daniel had an impressive resume: He was former president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee Trial Judges Association. He spent 28 years in the U.S. Army, serving as the Reserve Military Judge for Kentucky and Tennessee and holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Daniel had been awarded the Outstanding Service Award by the Tennessee Judicial Conference in 1995.

Evidence and Allegations

 
Prosecutors got a break in the Looper case in early March when a road crew found a 9mm handgun along Interstate 40. Ballistic tests showed that the weapon was the gun that killed Tommy Burks. The pistol was in poor shape, but its serial number was readable and was quickly traced back to a close Looper friend – former Monterey Mayor and Assessor’s office employee John Bowden. Bowden acknowledged that he had once owned the gun, but said he had sold it in 1997 or 1998 to a flea market gun dealer. Bowden and Looper had been political cronies, and when Bowden was defeated in a December 1997 election, Looper hired him as a “tax investigator”.
 
A central part of Looper’s defense was his insistence that he was framed as part of a wide-reaching political plot, and as proof of that plot he offered the testimony of John Wayne Dedmon, 33, who had rented a room from Looper and worked off criminal charges of his own by serving as a police informant.
 
In 1997, Dedmon, facing charges of passing bad checks, began working for Gibson. He infilted a local gambling ring that was using pinball machines for gaming. However, Dedmon became angry when Gibson confiscated his earnings from the undercover work to cover his fines and restitution. He claimed that he secretly recorded the prosecutor asking the informant to “set him up,” meaning Looper. Gibson denied that any such conversation ever took place and some people who heard the tape said the voice was clearly not his.
 
Trant said that he intended to introduce the tape into evidence in Looper’s murder trial and a hearing was set by Daniel. But Dedmon vanished and the $42,000 Corvette he had purchased — with a worthless check –turned up abandoned.
 
“I am afraid that something bad has happened to my friend John,” Looper told a Nashville newspaper. “It could be that he has met with foul play.”
 
Something bad did happen to Dedmon, but it was of his own making. Dedmon, an admitted drug abuser, showed up at his mother’s home about a week later and in a fit of rage destroyed the windows of a parked car. A few hours later he was involuntarily committed to a Chattanooga psychiatric hospital.
 
Dedmon later appeared before Daniels and said he could not recall anything before the last few weeks. “I’ve been on drugs real bad,” he said as his role in the case ended.
 
Gibson allowed the deadline for seeking the death penalty to pass without posting a notice of intent. The Burks family had a strong say in Gibson’s decision, and said they felt life in prison in general population would be worse punishment than a solitary cell on death row.

Lawyers Go, Lawyers Come

 
At the next court hearing in July, 1999, approximately one month before the case was set to go to trial, Trant, a 20-year trial lawyer and former head of the Knox County Democratic Committee, told the court he could no longer represent Looper. He previously filed a motion citing irreconcilable differences with his client and made vague references to ethical concerns.
 
“I regret that I have to make this motion, but it has come to the point where I can no longer ethically represent Mr. Looper,” Trant told Daniel. Trant said defending the case in the manner Looper wanted would result in a violation of Tennessee Code of Professional Conduct which deals with representing a client within the bounds of the law.
 
Daniel granted Trant’s request, ordering him to file under court seal the exact nature of his ethical dilemma. Daniel agreed to a court-appointed attorney for Looper. Crossville attorney Larry Warner was appointed to act as defense counsel in the case. Through no fault of his own, Warner’s fate would be the same as all Looper’s previous lawyers.
 
The prosecution announced in court filings that TBI agents had found the Audi that Looper allegedly drove when he assassinated Burks. After the shooting Looper left the car at a repair shop, and then advised the shop to sell it and keep the proceeds. It was confiscated from the subsequent owner and turned over to the TBI.
 
Here and there, little bits of evidence turned up. A cashier at the drive-up window at Hardee’s in Crossville said a man matching Looper’s description caused a small scene shortly before the slaying; his order was incorrect and he sat at the drive-thru waiting for it to be corrected, the woman testified. When the order was complete, Looper “threw the money at the window,” she said.
 
Looper summoned the editor of the Crossville Chronicle and complained that he was not being represented fairly. Looper said he distrusted his court-appointed lawyers and that the case was not progressing as he wanted. Looper was reluctant to talk about specifics of his case, except to say that his family had found two other attorneys that he would like to see take it on.
 
McCraken “Ken” Poston, a skilled defense attorney who served in the Georgia legislature and had known Looper from his days as an aide, wanted in on the case. Looper said his mother had taken out a second mortgage on her home to pay his fee. The second lawyer, Ron Cordova, was a former Orange County, California prosecutor who had been following the case out of personal interest and said if Poston was going to serve as counsel, he would donate his services for free.
 
With extreme reluctance, Daniel allowed the men to take over the case, noting that their trial experience meant he was going to adhere to the set timeline and would grant no more continuances.

Trial

 
Five hundred people were summoned for jury duty and two hundred showed up at the Sullivan County Courthouse to be selected for jury duty in mid-August, twenty-two months after Tommy Burks was gunned down on his hog farm. About 100 miles or so from Crossville, Sullivan County was chosen for the jury pool because it was hoped that the distance from the scene of the crime would mitigate any sensational news coverage.
 
When jury selection was completed on Saturday afternoon, Daniel dismissed the jury, admonishing them not to talk with anyone about the specifics of the case, and ordering them to report for transportation to Crossville the next afternoon.
 
“Pack enough clothes for two weeks,” he told them.
 
Before a crowded courtroom which held members of the Burks and Looper families, as well as District Attorney Bill Gibson’s mother, the prosecutor stood before the 16-member panel and opened the state’s case against Byron Looper. The state would show, Gibson said, that Looper wanted power and that he would do anything – including murder — to achieve it.
 
“Looper is a man obsessed with a burning desire for power,” Gibson began. “He knew he didn’t have a chance in the fair election to defeat Tommy Burks, and that caused him to formulate a plan to resolve this election with a bullet instead of a ballot.”
 
He told them they would hear from a Hardee’s restaurant employee who could testify that Looper was the angry customer in her restaurant a half-hour before the shooting. Wesley Rex would testify how he saw Looper at the scene of the crime when Burks was shot, and Joe Bond would tell them how Looper had confessed.
 
Other witnesses would testify to Looper’s predilection for violence as an electoral strategy. Those witnesses included a political consultant from Louisiana who answered an ad in Campaigns & Elections magazine placed by Looper. The consultant turned down the job after Looper said the cost of winning his race was only 35 cents — the price of a bullet, Looper clarified.
 
Ken Poston opened for the defense and was severely limited in his options to refute the state’s circumstantial case. Poston had no plausible defense to present, so he painted Looper as the victim of conspiratorial political enemies. Looper was a zealot, Poston admitted. He did like to attack the system and he held a take-no-prisoners approach. But Looper was no murderer, he said.
 
“He was the first Republican elected in Putnam County, at least in recent memory, and he made quite a name for himself, but not a good name,” said Poston. “He had a bombastic campaign style, a way of offending anyone that was status quo, and he did it repeatedly.”
 
Why Tommy Burks would be sacrificed by the cabal when any victim would suffice was never brought up.
 
Opening statements took most of the morning, and after a short break, Gibson began laying out the state’s case in more detail.
 
Wheeling in a television set and VCR, Gibson warned the court that what he was about to show might be disturbing to some, but he was not showing the tape for shock value. In a silent courtroom, he pushed the play button on the VCR and took the jury back to October 19, 1998. In sometimes erratic, amateurish quality, the tape showed Burks slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup truck, the interior of which was covered with blood. The tape had no sound, which added to its eerie quality. Burks’s corpse could plainly be seen, his foot still on the brake, his face mottled with blood and gunshot residue.
 
The state presented 34 witnesses during its phase of the trial, everyone from the Hardee’s manager to employees of Looper’s office, in an effort to link Looper to the crime.
 
No witness was more damaging to Looper’s fate than Joe Bond. He spent two-and-a-half hours on the stand, but no matter how hard Poston and Cordova tried, they could not crack a hole in the Marine’s story.
 
Gibson and his team took four days to lay out their case, painting a strong circumstantial version of what happened. They were never able to put the gun in Looper’s hands, and never explained how gunshot residue could be found in a car that they said was not driven to the murder scene.
 
First up for the defense was Looper’s ally, John Bowden. The 73-year-old ex-mayor took the stand and Poston used his testimony to try and wedge in that concept of reasonable doubt. On cross-examination Bowden admitted he had lied to the TBI about where he bought the gun. It was a police issue weapon available only to peace officers. One of Bowden’s cop buddies completed the straw purchase. Bowden acknowledged his timeline of events in his sale of the weapon was hazy. Most importantly for the defense, Bowden claimed Looper had never touched the handgun.
 
With the last of the 19 defense witnesses done testifying, Daniel began closing arguments a little more than a week after the trial began. Assistant District Attorneys Tony Craighead and David Patterson laid out the prosecution’s case point by point.
 
“He had a method to win the election,” Craighead told the jurors. By killing Burks, Looper would be the only name on the ballot. He was the only person who stood to gain by Tommy Burks’ murder. Witnesses could place Looper in Monterey on the morning of the slaying, both before and after the event.
 
As if eyewitness identification wasn’t enough, Joe Bond testified that Looper confessed the crime to him, prosecutors argued. Other witnesses told the jury about how Looper had thought about killing an opponent to win a race, as well.
 
McCracken Poston made the defense’s closing statement. They never linked Looper to the murder weapon, he said. The prosecution laid out a fine circumstantial case, but when it came right down to it, they weren’t able to finish it. Poston said the evidence shows that Looper was a victim of a conspiracy, because the loose ends just didn’t come together.
 
There were still a few hours of daylight left when the jury announced it had reached a verdict. They had weighed the evidence and deliberated for a little more than 21/2 hours when Judge Daniel recalled the parties to his courtroom. When the verdict of “Guilty” was announced, Looper stood ramrod straight and showed no emotion. His only demonstration was to look back toward his mother and brother and offer a small, reassuring smile.
 
The jury’s work was not done, because in Tennessee, the panel had to recommend a sentence to Daniel. He had some latitude to deviate, but that was unusual. It took another half-hour, but the jury returned to the courtroom and recommended that Byron Looper spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance for parole. Had they chosen the parole option, Looper would have been eligible for parole when he was 87 years old.
 
Again, Looper showed no emotion as the decision was announced.
 
In 2013, Byron Looper was found dead in his prison cell from an apparent heart attack. Although he had been placed in restraints earlier for assaulting a pregnant civilian prison employee, he was not restrained at the time of his death. The subsequent investigation concluded his death was from natural causes. He was 48 years old.

Pushing Her Luck

Dorothy Glaser

Experienced gamblers do not depend on luck. If they believe in it at all, they do not ever count on its help.
 
A frequent gambler favoring bingo and dog tracks, Dorothy Glaser had ample opportunity to learn this but her greed made her careless. With one successful murder under her belt, Dorothy had the bright idea that lightning could strike twice; it did, but not in the way she expected.
 
The twice-widowed homemaker from Warner Robins, Georgia, did benefit from the murder of her third husband, Jerry Glaser, although it was only temporary: She did not get away with the crime and so will die behind prison walls.
 
There are not many new lessons for us to learn from this tragedy. Yet Dorothy’s lethal bravado, the coldness in which she pursued a plot that came straight from Hitchcock’s pile of rejected scripts, and the twists of fate (or was it luck?) that helped bring her to justice certainly make its study worthy of our time.

Jerry and Dorothy

Dorothy’s motivation to kill Jerry remains a mystery. There was conflicting testimony whether Dorothy and Jerry fought over money, and her actions following the crimes prove she is a cold-blooded murderer who may have been on the cusp of achieving serial killer status. Dorothy’s own words about her complete and utter lack of regard for Jerry — and for that matter her own children — reveal her true character.
 
Dorothy’s first marriage ended tragically. Although the facts remain hazy and the investigation has long since been closed, re-opened and closed again after Dorothy was convicted of Jerry’s murder, that first death was still considered suspicious although ruled an accident.
 
Death ended Dorothy’s second marriage when her husband died of cancer before he was 30. He left Dorothy with two sons, both under the age of 3.
 
Dorothy didn’t seem particularly upset with losing two husbands back-to-back. During a police interview, Dorothy’s son remarked that the only photograph he had of his father was the man’s driver’s license.
 
Sometime later, she met Jerry and they were wed. Jerry was very close to Dorothy’s boys, whom he adopted and who was the only father they had ever known. He and Dorothy had a daughter together who was a young teen at the time of his murder.
 
After his death, police could not find a single person who had anything bad to say about 41-year-old Jerry, and it is clear why. He was was described as a strong, confident, loving husband and father, (a “man’s man,” his son told police) who was a civilian contractor at a nearby military base. He was an active athletic booster and a community baseball league coach.
 
Nobody had much to say about Dorothy — bad or good — except that she liked to spend money and did not care about running up credit card bills, something that exasperated Jerry. She could be found twice a week at a local Moose Lodge playing Bingo, and with her husband went to the nearby dog track when she wanted some faster action.
 
Aside from monetary policy disagreements, which Jerry told his counselor resulted in “mild-to-moderate marital problems,” and a neighborhood peeping tom who had spied on his daughter recently, Jerry had no reason to think anything was wrong in his life.

The Failed Attempt

Dorothy’s plot called for Jerry’s murder to happen on Oct. 4, 1985, a typical Friday when the Glaser family planned to attend the Northside High School football game. Sometime after the family left, the hitman entered the Glaser home and waited in Jerry’s own bedroom to complete the contract.
 
During halftime at the football game, Dorothy complained of nausea and other flu symptoms before pretending to vomit. Naturally concerned for her welfare, Jerry offered to take her home. Their son and his younger sister (the oldest son was married and away at college) each had other means of getting home and stayed behind.
 
Shortly after 9:30 p.m., while most potential witnesses were miles away at the football game, Dorothy followed her husband through the carport into the home where she expected him to die.
 
According to the statements Dorothy gave that night and again repeatedly to investigators over the next few months, she decided to rest on the couch. She asked Jerry to go into their bedroom to fetch a pillow.
 
Inspector Hank Lowry of the Houston County Sheriff’s Department testified to what happened next. According to Lowry, both Jerry and Dorothy told similar stories.

Question: Tell me what you spoke to [Jerry] about and what the nature of the conversation was…
Insp. Hank Lowry, HCSD: …When they arrived at the residence, they entered through the garage door into the residence. She went into the den and was going to lay down on the sofa…She stated she asked him to go back and get her a pillow.
Q: Did he state that that was so, that she did ask him to go get her a pillow?
HL: That’s correct. And at that point he started telling me that he was walking down the hallway to the master bedroom, which is the last bedroom on the left down at the end of the hallway…
He started entering the bedroom door, turned to the right to turn on a light switch, and at that point he heard an explosion, saw a bright flash from the right side of his face.

The explosion knocked Jerry to the ground. As the gunman continued to fire, Jerry tried to get to his own guns by crawling toward the closet where the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver, a .22 rifle and an expensive shotgun were stored. As Jerry unsuccessfully tried to find the pistol, the shooter approached him and pointed the gun — Jerry’s gun, it turns out — at him and pulled the trigger. The gun, never found, misfired.
 
The intruder left clues that he was very familiar with the Glaser property. Not only did he know how to get into the house without breaking in, more importantly he also knew where Jerry kept his firearms. Because nothing in the house was disturbed, investigators wondered if the killer had been tipped to their location, strongly indicating an inside job.
 
The list of possible suspects was quite large, according to the initial police report: “An inspection of the exterior of the residence and the area was made and it was noted that there was no signs (sic) of forced entry into the house through the window or back door…Mr. Glaser stated that they kept a key in the dresser drawer out in the carport area and all of the kids’ friends knew the key was kept there.”
 
The first responding officers found what appeared to be a bloodbath.

Upon entering the house it was noted that there was blood on the door leading from the carport into the house. It was also noted that there was blood on the telephone in the kitchen and drops on the kitchen floor leading into the back bedroom…
An inspection of the bedroom revealed blood on the inside door facing, blood on the shelf of the closet, and two bullet holes on the west wall near the window. There was also a bullet hole at the foot of the bed in the center.

Based on the amount of blood found at the scene, it was a fair assumption that Jerry had been seriously hurt in the attack. That was not the case.
 
Despite firing four shots, the gunman only hit his target once and that was by the narrowest of margins. The bullet grazed Jerry’s temple, cutting the skin but otherwise doing no physical damage to his skull or brain. That the wound was to his head explained the amount of blood. He was treated and released from the ER before investigators had cleared the crime scene.
 
The only description either Dorothy or Jerry could provide was that the shooter was a white/Hispanic male dressed in blue jeans.
 
Foiled in his attempt, the luckless gunman fled and left Dorothy to figure out a contingency plan on her own. Like an expert gambler, Dorothy — who had apparently recovered from her bout of the flu — kept her head despite holding what looked to be a losing hand. But walking away from the table was not an option. The alternative, according to Dorothy, meant doing nothing until Jerry “put 2 and 2 together,” followed by a long prison term.
 
Where frontal attack had failed, perhaps bluff would succeed, she reasoned. Adopting as her guide the ancient proverb that whom the gods destroy, they first make mad, Dorothy hatched a cruel plot to push her husband over the edge mentally. The plan would culminate in an “accidental shooting” caused by Jerry’s paranoid behavior.
 
Dorothy and the investigators went to work, everyone anxious to the solve the problem of this failed murder.

Investigation

There were no fingerprints or forensic evidence at the scene that could not be accounted for by the family, and the few neighbors who were home that night were unhelpful.
 
The first person of interest was the man suspected of being the neighborhood peeping tom. Warner Robins Police Detective Andy Chratian and Lt. Mac Derrick met with Lowry from the Sheriff’s Department who was handling the peeper case. However, the man was quickly eliminated as a suspect in the shooting — but not the peeping — due to a solid alibi of sitting around with friends and being too high to do anything except ponder the lint in his navel.
 
Almost from the get-go, Dorothy began reporting harassing telephone calls from someone who she alleged was watching the house.
 
The investigators put a strap on the two lines in the Glaser house which would trigger a recorder when a call was connected, but were unsuccessful in catching the caller although the harassment continued.
 
From the beginning police looked for any role Dorothy may have played in the crime. Because no one could be eliminated as a suspect, Dorothy was at the top of the persons-of-interest list. However, she did nothing to incriminate herself. While police continued to follow every lead they encountered, no matter how odd, the aggravated assault and burglary cases quickly went cold.
 
Until a new lead on the gunman was developed, there was little they could do except wait to for the killer’s next play. No one realized that it was already happening right before their eyes.

Madness

Dorothy was working twice as hard, driving Jerry insane and making the police waste their time chasing bogus leads.
 
Jerry was prescribed tranquilizers but he did not like to take them. His reluctance proved no problem for Dorothy, who laced his food with Benadryl. Living in a semi-permanent dissociative state multiplied the effect of normal post-traumatic stress to the point where Jerry could not sleep, was incoherent and amnesiac. He would not move — literally — without taking his new handgun with him.
 
At the suggestion of the case investigators, Jerry agreed to see a psychiatrist. The doctor’s visit with Jerry shows how Jerry was doing less than one week after the shooting.

The patient was visibly upset throughout the session, was quite concerned that he suffers from periods of amnesia, and has adopted phobic behavior when outside the home environment. Apparently he is quite uncomfortable when he and his wife go to the shopping mall because he anticipates that someone is watching him and is out to harm both him and his wife…
The patient also reports that on one occasion his wife said he went into an amnesiac state and had pointed a gun at her, although he was not consciously aware of any of these actions and the situation was conveyed to him by his wife.

The doctor agreed with police and recommended all of the firearms be removed from the Glaser house. The guns remained in the home. There was no legal basis at that point for the authorities to get an order, and Jerry was unable to decide what to do. At times he would admit the guns were a danger and that they should be removed, but as his son testified, he went nowhere unarmed.
 
The psychiatrist’s report, delivered to the Warner Robins Police, also describes Dorothy’s demeanor in a very unflattering way.

The patient was seen individually which did apparently cause some distress to his wife and she would frequently ask the secretary “What is is he asking him and why does he have to see him all by himself?” The wife appeared to be quite resistant to psychological intervention and was visibly upset with her husband for wanting mental health assistance.

Jerry never saw the counselor again. On Oct. 22, Dorothy called and cancelled his appointment, saying “all the talking in the world is not going to help this problem. We are going to put him in the hospital.”
 
Suffice to say that Jerry’s natural fear, compounded by the surreptitious drugging and its side effects, turned into full-blown paranoia within a few weeks of the murder attempt. While many people could attest to the profound change in Jerry’s personality, John Dillon saw first-hand how far gone his father was.

He didn’t trust himself and he didn’t trust me and he didn’t trust my mom, he didn’t trust nobody. He went out and got that other gun…and he told me not to come in that house until I knocked and said who it is because he was afraid he’d shoot me. He said he was afraid he’d (PAUSE) Just he said he didn’t trust himself and he was afraid…

His brother told police of watching Jerry mow the lawn with the revolver tucked in the back of his pants and how he would watch television with the pistol in his lap covered by a sweater or blanket.
 
Dorothy described the scene at home after the murder attempt to officers investigating the fatal shooting:

He depended on me for everything, even in the mornings. On the mornings he would go to work I would walk out into the garage because he was scared. He would look around. Took his gun with him and look around and always breathe or look a sigh of relief when he got in his car and drove off.


He would have (PAUSE) sometimes he would be sitting there as normal as I’m sitting here talking to you and all of a sudden he’d like doze asleep a few minutes and then he’d wake up and he’d act normal, but he had no recollection of it (PAUSE) He would talk to friends that would come over and he didn’t remember. He would lose 16 hours one time, 24 hours another time and then this morning he didn’t know me.

Whether by luck or just because of her meticulous malevolence, Dorothy’s plan was right on the money. It looked like this dog could be a winner.

The Murder

Sometime shortly before 11 a.m. on Halloween 1985, Lowry received a frantic call from Dorothy Glaser. Working the voyeur case and over the past several weeks, he had taken a special interest in Jerry and Dorothy’s plight. Lowry was not part of the official shooting investigation team, but he was the one Dorothy called when the showdown came.
 
“Hank, this is Dorothy. Please help me,” Lowry reported Dorothy as saying. “I’ve shot him.”
 
“Shot who?” Lowry asked, possibly expecting her to say she shot an intruder — either the gunman or the peeper (who by this time had added a panty fetish).
 
Instead he was shocked to hear that the casualty was Jerry. He left the Sheriff’s office and headed to Warner Robins, on the way alerting the local police and EMS.

Hank Lowry, HCSD. Supplemental Report
We arrived at the residence at 11:14 a.m. I approached the door in the garage leading into the residence and knocked on it. Mrs. Glaser opened the door and was holding a blue steel pistol in her left hand by the handle. I asked her 3 times to drop the weapon. She finally put it on an end table just behind her. I…went to the master bedroom. I found Jerry Glaser laying on the bed, his right arm was hanging off the bed on the left side as you are looking at the bed from foot to head. Also, his head was hanging off the same side. I checked for a pulse at the wrist and throat but could not find one. I noticed a blood stain on his t-shirt near the middle of his chest. I also noticed a tan holster laying on the floor near his right hand.

Being a few minutes ahead of the Warner Robins detectives, Lowry was the first to hear the story Dorothy would stick with until the bitter end.
 
Dorothy told Lowry that she awoke early in the morning and Jerry told her he was not going in to work that day as he felt awful. She let him sleep and tended to her morning chores.
 
This much was confirmed by the children. She dropped the children at school and returned home, resuming her work. She was interrupted by a call from her son who had forgotten a project for French class, so she ran to the store and then delivered a plate of croissants for him. She headed home, passing Lowry who was at the time on the road. He noted it was 10:45 a.m.
 
By this time Dorothy was wondering about Jerry’s plans and went into the room where he was sleeping. She got into bed with him and spooned. Dorothy told the inspector that Jerry rolled over and looked at her with a blank stare. She saw he had his pistol and was pointing it at her.
 
“Who are you and what do you want?” Dorothy said her husband asked.
 
She instinctively struggled for the gun and it went off, shooting him in the upper abdomen.
 
Dorothy, perhaps with a touch for the melodramatic, made sure that Lowry knew Jerry’s last words were “Oh, Dorothy. I’m sorry.”
 
This time the shooter did not miss. The single gunshot wound right below the sternum could not have been better placed if it had been aimed.

Questions, Answers and More Questions

Dorothy Glaser was taken to the Warner Robins police headquarters for her initial interview. While she was booked on Suspicion of Voluntary Manslaughter, she was not under arrest. The men who interviewed her, Detective Andy Chratian and Lt. Mac Derrick, took no chances and they Mirandized Dorothy anyway.
 
On the surface, the story is not that bad, particularly when compared to her original “burglar killed my husband but not me” plan. That plot would not have held water past dinner time. But police were not interested in what was on the surface, and that is where Dorothy almost messed up.
 
Dorothy’s performance in this crucial interview was pitiful. This was one conversation she had to know was coming and yet she was woefully unprepared. As she had no intention of telling what truly happened, we should expect someone as cunning as Dorothy to have a cover story that has an answer for every question a detective might ask.
 
Answering “I don’t know” to a basic question such as “In which hand did you grab the gun?” is a warning bell for investigators and Dorothy was setting off a lot of them.
 

Det. Andy Chratian, WRPD: Okay and after you screamed, what did you do?
Dorothy Glaser: I reached for the gun.
AC: Did you grab the gun?
DG: Yes.
AC: How did you grab it?
DG: I don’t know.
AC: With one hand, with both hands?
DG: I don’t know. I was just wrestling with it to get away from him and he was like in a weird, I don’t know what it was he just was (PAUSE) when I reached for it it just went off. I guess I pulled the trigger. I don’t know.

Continuing to probe this most important aspect of the shooting, Chratian and Derrick get stonewalled again:

Det. Andy Chratian, WRPD: Did you get the gun away from him?
Dorothy Glaser: Um hum. He had it in his hands and he had the hammer pulled back. It was pulled back and when I grabbed it all of a sudden it was just BOOM!


;
Lt. Mac Derrick, WRPD: All right. When you got it away from him…why would it be pointed back at him?
DG: No. It was just like I was wrestling with it. (PAUSE) And I don’t know how it happened.


MD: Okay, Dorothy, I’m gonna ask you one more thing and then I’ll let Andy here finish it up. Approximately how far away were you when the gun went off?
DG: Okay, I’m going to try to be precise. (PAUSE) I’ve got a king size bed. (PAUSE) Jerry was laying here. (PAUSE) I came in and laid down on my pillow at first and then I reached over to hug him. I don’t know exactly how close but I had my arms around him when I realized he had a gun…
MD: You don’t know if you were right up on him or…
DG: No, I wasn’t. I was back a little bit because when I saw it I got back and I screamed “Jerry!” like that, you know. And I saw the gun come down like that and I reached. I just don’t know. I just (PAUSE) It was so fast (PAUSE) I don’t know.

The problem with the telephone recordings also came up and Dorothy’s only means of addressing it was to throw her teen daughter under the bus.
 
The tap was put into place the day after Dorothy reported receiving a menacing phone call. Whenever a call was received by the Glasers, a tape would begin recording and the telephone company would trace the number. However, the single tap was moved randomly back and forth between the children’s phone and the main line. As if by magic, almost every call went to the untapped line. The calls that were caught were traced to local payphones.

Lt. Mac Derrick, WRPD: Okay, Miss Dorothy, I want to go back and ask you some questions that’s puzzling me. Maybe you can give me an answer: On these phone taps that Det. Lowry has placed on one phone and on the other, how do you suppose that this person that is making these calls knows when these different phones are changed?
Dorothy Glaser: I don’t know.
MD: Doesn’t it make you think that it’s somebody that’s in your house — that’s been in your house that knows what’s going on.
DG: Let me explain that most of the time when these calls would come through that as far as the tapes are concerned, he didn’t talk. He just made deep breathing sounds. There was a couple of times that he did talk, a few times, he did talk, but unfortunately it was at the times when we had turned that tape off or either we put it on the other phone.
MD: Okay, that’s what I’m saying.

Only the family was supposed to know of the phone taps, but Dorothy speculated that word had gotten out. She particularly blamed her teenage daughter, who was reportedly upset that her phone calls may be recorded.
 
Unlike her statement to police, Dorothy confessed to the informant she told Jerry the caller was watching the house because he knew when they were coming and going. Jerry shared this with the psychiatrist.
 
As a red herring, Dorothy suggested perhaps the gunman was a parent who disagreed with how their child was being coached. Sometimes, Dorothy said, these parents would “cuss him out until they were blue in the face.”
 
It was not until about 30 minutes into the interview that Dorothy realized she was missing one important piece of information that might have made all of this drama meaningless. As far as she knew, Jerry was alive when he was taken to the hospital. Before Dorothy could get there, Jerry was pronounced dead and she was driven to police headquarters.
 
“Oh, God! Did he ever regain consciousness?” she asked. “I wanted to see him so bad.”
 
Chratian’s response was non-committal: “I didn’t go to the hospital.”
 
The rest of Dorothy’s interview was a recitation of how much she loved Jerry, how she wished it had been her, how they had no money problems, and other lies. There is one exchange, however, where Dorothy makes a very odd statement that provokes a number of chilling questions:
 

Lt. Mac Derrick: We’re just trying to cover all of the bases, Mrs. Glaser.
Dorothy Glaser: You know I want you to believe me. I feel so terrible. I feel like a murderer.
MD: Well, I wouldn’t be mentioning that kind of word at this point.
DG: Oh, God. (INAUDIBLE)
MD: You’ve got enough on your mind.

Was it the most oblique confession ever, a taunt, or a bluff meant to draw out her opponent?

Forensic Evidence

Autopsy report for Jerry Glaser
…Located 22 inches from the top of the head and in the midline of the upper abdomen at the xyphoid, there is a gunshot wound of entrance which measures up to 1/4 by 3/16 in. No powder residue is noted on the skin. Free flow of blood is present from this wound. No powder residue is noted on the skin of the anterior chest or of the abdomen. Examination of the clothing includes a V-necked tee shirt that is blood stained. No powder residue is identified on the shirt…

Once the autopsy results were delivered to police, investigators knew that Dorothy’s story was untrue.
 
The angle of the wound and the gunshot residue results were not consistent with the struggle as she described it. Rather than having the expected circular shape made by a bullet striking the body at a 90 degree angle, the wound was slightly oblate. This evidence was interesting but not useful as a one sixteenth-inch difference from perpendicular could easily be challenged as rounding error.
 
More importantly, there was no stippling, or gunpowder tattooing, on Jerry’s body, as there should be if the shot was fired from as close as Dorothy claimed.
 
When a gun is fired, soot, unburned powder, wadding, and dust is propelled out the barrel along with the bullet. Depending on the amount of residue found near the wound, investigators can estimate the distance the shot traveled.
 
The process for estimating distance based on what are erroneously called “powder burns” (the powder is present because it did not burn) is more complicated than one might think at first. Instead, investigators must know a great deal about the type of bullet and the quantity and chemical portrait of the gunpowder. Once those variables have been calculated and environmental conditions are factored in, a distance estimate can be made.
 
The accepted scientific standards for stippling determine that if the struggle happened the way Dorothy said, Jerry’s body would have a ring of soot with powder embedded in his skin. There was a strong likelihood that his body would also bear an imprint of the muzzle and front sight of the gun. Autopsy photo close-up of muzzle imprint
 
Yet the ME reported four times that no powder residue was present. For that to occur the muzzle of a gun would holding .357 caliber bullets of the type that killed Jerry would have to be no closer than 5 feet away.
 
By the time investigators received the results, Dorothy was no longer cooperating, so they never got a chance to ask her about it.

Cold Case Closed

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but Dorothy asked for a coroner’s inquest to look into the death. On December 30, 1985, the coroner’s jury — 2 persons who took the only sworn testimony Dorothy ever gave about the incident, overruled the medical examiner and said Jerry’s death was accidental.
 
No charges were filed, nor should any have been at that time. With only the lack of stippling as solid evidence that the shooting did not occur as she described it, the investigation was stalled. There was plenty of other evidence — that of Jerry’s bizarre behavior, for example — that a savvy attorney could easily use concoct a plausible alternative theory of what happened.
 
Frustrated, the detectives were also confident that the case would eventually get hot again. Someone knew who did this and they could lay good money that person was no stranger to local police somewhere. In cases like this, sooner or later that somebody else who knows more than they should will be happy to supply the lead that breaks the case.
 
In the end they were right, but even so, they had no idea how much they had underestimated Dorothy Glaser.
 
Over the next few years, Dorothy concentrated on collecting the double indemnity insurance policy and suing the shrink who failed to cure her husband in the one session they had together. The insurance company was balking at making the payout because it suspected Jerry’s death was not accidental and did not want the main suspect, Dorothy Glaser, to profit from her crime. The psychiatrist should have known that Jerry was a danger to himself and others, she argued, asking for $1 million.
 
It was a lot of money on the table — around $1.25 million and Dorothy was determined not to leave any there. In the end both the life and malpractice insurance companies folded, paying Dorothy the $250,000 life insurance payout and a $40,000 nuisance settlement on the malpractice allegations — a little gravy to top things off.
 
By the time the lawyers took their share, Dorothy’s walked away with “just” $180,000 — a little less than 15 percent of what she was hoping.
 
Dorothy lived well on the blood money for a while, but all good things must end. It is surprising how fast $180k disappears when you spend it on things like new cars, trips, a swimming pool and gifts for family. In almost no time at all, Dorothy was back where she started.
 
In need of a cash influx, Dorothy and her sister, Nell Matkin, agreed to repeat the crime with Nell’s husband as the victim.
 
dorothyglaser2Dorothy contacted her nephew, Bobby Spargo, hoping that Bobby would do the killing.
 
Instead, Bobby, a career criminal facing legal troubles of his own, went to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which wired him with a listening device to catch the conspirators. Bobby came back with more than just a request to kill Andy Matkin.
 
For Dorothy to commit herself on tape, Bobby had to get her to talk about the crime. Bobby opened the discussion by expressing a reluctance to do the job. To the stunned amazement of everyone involved, she tried to encourage him by sharing her experience five years earlier and provided a solid gold revelation served up on a silver platter: a step-by-step admission of guilt. For years Dorothy stood just out of reach of the long arm of the law and here she was talking herself into a murder charge.
 
In one conversation Dorothy told Bobby how she hired someone to kill Jerry on October 4, but “the little son-of-a-bitch didn’t do the job right.”
 
Dorothy also confessed to planning and carrying out the October 31 murder.

He was acting delirious and going crazy and all this shit and paranoid. I had set that scene, too, for a whole month. I had a whole month to prepare the police and neighbors and friends about his delirium, his paranoia, his schizophrenia, his idea that someone was coming back to get him.

In answer to the prosecutor’s prayers, she admitted she “shot Jerry with his own gun.”
 
She was tried for attempted murder and malice murder, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Nell Matkin was convicted of conspiracy and received five years.
 
If Dorothy learned anything from her crimes it was probably if you want something done right, do it yourself.