Tag Archive for robbery

Doughnuts and Death

Doughnut shops and a .32 caliber pistol were common threads in a strange tapestry woven by the McCrary family of Athens, Texas in the 1970s.
 
The family, a close-knit clan of hard-drinking sexual predators and their compliant women, traveled throughout the south and west part of the United States, leaving a trail of hold-ups, kidnappings, rapes, and murders until a botched grocery store robbery provided the link police needed to solve at least a dozen murders in California, Texas, Colorado, and Florida.
 
Authorities could prove that Sherman McCrary, his son, Danny, Sherman’s wife, Carolyn, their daughter, Ginger, and her husband, Raymond Taylor were responsible for 12 murders and suspected that their death toll was closer to 24 killings.
 
They were “a family in which criminality was a way of life,” said one investigator.
 
The McCrary clan’s crime spree was spread out in terms of distance, but not in terms of time.
 
The first killing linked to them occurred in August 12, 1971 and the last was in March 1972, but during that time police believe the men of the family robbed and raped numerous doughnut shop waitresses who were kidnapped and slain to avoid leaving witnesses to their robberies.
 
Meanwhile, the women stood by and knowingly allowed the crimes to happen.
 
“I am guilty of staying with my husban while he cometed robberys because I don’t have anywhere to go,” wrote Carolyn, who was described by a probation officer as very limited in both intellectual and social levels. “Most people wont hair because I don’t have an ecition and am in poor helth or am not large enough so I stay with my husban. It may sound crazy but I love him so very much.”
 
The McCrarys were known in Athens as troublemakers, but nothing beyond car break-ins and public drunkenness were found in police files there. The men worked as itinerant ranch hands and carnies, while the women worked as waitresses. From their base of operations in East Texas, they would travel around the south, sometimes working, most often committing crimes.
 
“There is no question that the family operated as a family group and participated knowingly in the various acts and benefited from these acts,” a probation officer wrote about the family after the Santa Barbara, California, robbery that brought an end to the spree.
 
Danny and Ginger both concurred in the officer’s statement.
 
“In the family,” Danny told police, “children don’t question the parents.”
 
Ginger’s statement echoed her mother’s viewpoint.
 
“I love my husband and it never occurred to me to do anything but stay with him,” the 22-year-old mother of four told authorities. “I guess staying with him and doing what my husband told me to do was born and raised into me.”
 
Sherman confessed that he began doing stick ups when he began suffering from a bad back and couldn’t get work. That made him feel “like less than a man,” he said. His health began to suffer because he was drinking a quart of whiskey each day.
 
“Crime became like a business to me,” he said.
 
Raymond Taylor justified his crimes because he was “a family man.”
 
“I know what I done was morally and legally wrong,” he wrote in a confession to California police. “However all the money that I have taken was spent to support my family. I spent all my time and money with my wife and family.”
 
Neither Taylor nor the McCrary men commented on how their wives felt about the rapes committed before their female hostages were killed.
 
The first crime laid at the feet of the McCrary clan happened when the family kidnapped Sherri Lee Martin, 17, from a Salt Lake City doughnut stand. At least two men robbed the shop of $200 and took Sherri with them in her car. Her body was found on September 4 in the Nevada desert. She had been shot several times with a .32 pistol.
 
A week later, Leeora Rose Looney, 20, was taken from a doughnut store in Lakewood, Colorado. Again, the robbers fled in their victim’s car. Leeora was found three days after the robbery in a cattle pasture. She had been strangled and shot several times with a .32 pistol.
 
This time, police had witnesses who later identified the elder McCrary and Taylor as having been in the store a little while before the robbery.
 
On September 28, 1971, the clan struck again. They robbed and kidnapped 26-year-old Elizabeth Parryman from a restaurant near Texas Tech University. Her body was found near Amarillo on December 19.
 
Less than a month later, Forrest Covey, 24, and his 19-year-old wife, Jena, disappeared from a drive-in grocery store which Jena managed. Their bodies turned up in an abandoned barn east of Dallas on October 24. Each had been shot at least six times. This time, in addition to the .32 caliber pistol, a .22 was also used.
 
By this time, police knew that the same .32 was used in each of the crimes, thanks to NIBIN, the National Integrated Ballistics Information Program, which allows law enforcement agencies to compare ballistics data from their crime scenes to others.
 
Despite the knowledge that a serial killer was on the loose, police were no closer to catching the killer or killers.
 
Three days after the Covey disappearances, on October 20, 1971, Susan Darlene Shaw, 16, was kidnapped from a doughnut shop in Mesquite, Texas. Her ravished body was also found on October 24, floating in Lake Ray Hubbard, north of Dallas. She had been shot a half-dozen times by a .22 and a .32 caliber handgun.
 
Two Florida beauticians, Bobbie Turner and Patricia Marr, disappeared on November 30. Their bodies turned up about 40 miles away. Bobbie’s daughter, 16-year-old Valerie was also missing and her skeleton would not be found until June 25, 1972 outside Starke, Florida.
 
In February 1972, Cynthia Ann Glass was found shot to death in Woodland, Washington. She had been killed with a .22 that matched the slugs taken out of the Coveys. Police also believe the family was responsible for the murders of a 69-year-old janitor and a barmaid who disappeared from their tavern in Kansas City.
 
Those crimes only scratched the surface, authorities said.
 
“We don’t know the number that may be involved,” said Santa Barbara police Captain Charles Thompson. “Murders all over the country are being investigated.”
 
It was a botched heist in Santa Barbara, where a police officer was shot in the head that finally brought the spree to an end.
 
Raymond Taylor tried to pull the robbery himself and shot Officer Dennis Huddle, seriously wounding him. The bullet surgeons removed from Huddle’s head was fired from a .32 that set off alarm bells in NIBIN and alerted agencies from Washington to Florida.
 
After the shootout with Huddle, Taylor commandeered a car and escaped, but he was quickly traced through another car he had abandoned in the supermarket parking lot.
 
“He came to the house, and he come in, and he was scared up,” Danny McCrary told police. “He come in and was pretty white and he had a few marks on his side. He said ‘I think I killed a police.’”
 
Sherman McCrary and Raymond Taylor were subsequently convicted of robbery and attempted murder and sentenced to 5-years-to-life. Sherman went to Folsom, while Raymond was sent to San Quentin. Danny McCrary, who was 19 at the time, and his mother were sentenced to county jail for harboring fugitives. Ginger was extradited to Colorado to face a bad check charge. While she was there, she gave birth to her fourth child, a son.
 
Shortly after the NIBIN results were confirmed, Danny McCrary was extradited to Texas to face murder charges in connection with the Covey slayings.
 
Appearing before a Colorado grand jury, Ginger implicated her father, mother, and husband in the murder of Leeora Looney. She was given immunity from prosecution for her cooperation. The trio was extradited there to stand trial. Murder charges had, by that time, also been filed in Nevada.
 
Carolyn pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact in the Looney murder and received a two-year sentence.
 
The men from the McCrary clan all went on trial at about the same time in 1973 — Danny in Texas, and Sherman and Taylor in Colorado.
 
Eventually, Taylor won a motion to have his trial severed from Sherman’s and at Sherman’s trial, a tape was played where he blamed the killing on his son-in-law.
 
“I heard him holler something back to her,” he claimed. “He was socking her or something. I was too far away to see. I was disgusted.”
 
The jury didn’t believe him and Sherman McCrary was convicted on Leeora Looney’s murder. Shortly after, Raymond Taylor was also convicted. They received life terms.
 
A few weeks after his father was convicted of murder in Colorado, Danny McCrary was found guilty of murdering Jena Covey (he was not on trial for killing her husband). He stood emotionless while he received a life sentence from the judge.

Prince of Thieves

Bernard Welch

There are some remarkable parallels between the criminal histories of Charles Peace, “the king of the cat burglars,” and Bernard Welch Jr., who was described by police as “one of the most prolific burglars in the recent annals of American crime.”
 
His former lawyer, Sol Rosen, once described him as “the most dangerous criminal in American history.”
 
Both Peace and Welch were professional burglars who both committed hundreds of break-ins during their careers. In between crime sprees, each spent a good portion of their adult life behind bars, and it was murder — not burglary — that ended their careers.
 
Peace, however, died on the gallows, a remorseful and penitent sinner, while Welch died in 1998 in the federal prison system without expressing the least bit of regret for his life of crime. He was serving his time in protective custody because he acted as an informant on the activities of the Aryan Brotherhood, a nationwide prison gang.
 
Other similarities exist, as well. Both men led double lives and were well-liked by those who didn’t know they were master criminals and each was considered a master of disguise. Their public lives ended in high-profile cases.
 
But for some reason, While Charley Peace enjoys a somewhat romantic reputation as a man with some kind of sense of honor, Bernard Welch was simply a dangerous, selfish sociopath.
 
In 1980, Welch killed a prominent Washington, D.C. cardiologist, Dr. Michael Halberstam, who was a noted man in his own right but had the bad fortune of having an even more well-known brother, author David Halberstam. This relationship overshadowed the tragedy of Halberstam’s murder in many news articles.
 
“I had admired him for his fame as a surgeon and I liked his joviality, his principled views on personal behavior
 
and his fundamental conviction that every man owed the world his best,” columnist Tom Braden wrote about his friend in a retrospective five years after the cardiologist’s death. “Hundreds, maybe thousands of people with heart trouble have been deprived of his skillful care.”
 
The murder of Halberstam represented the crescendo of Welch’s lifelong career as a professional criminal, but Welch had made a name for himself long before he turned to murder.
 
Convicted in the 1970s of multiple counts of burglary, Welch burst on the media radar when he and another inmate escaped from New York prison in upstate Dannemora in 1974.
 
He was just months away from receiving parole for a series of burglaries in the Finger Lakes area. When he was arrested there, police found $500,000 worth of rare coins, silver and gold, and valuable paintings.
 
After escaping from Dannemora, Welch eluded authorities for five years, living in suburban Washington and renewing his spectacular career as a burglar while passing himself off as an art collector and successful investor.
 
“Welch was one of the most prolific burglars … in the recent annals of American crime,” said Warren Carmichael,
 
spokesman for police in Fairfax County, Va., where Welch was living. “We believe that in the time he was operating in the Washington area he committed literally thousands of burglaries.”
 
His Fairfax home was worth more than $1 million and was filled with swag. Welch specialized in stealing precious metals and melting them down into ingots that made it easier to fence.
 
Welch was wintering in Virginia but spending the summers in Duluth, Minnesota. At his $100,000 home in Duluth, authorities found more stolen goods apparently taken from that community’s well-to-do residents. Like he did in Virginia, Welch carefully cased his victims and took only items that were easily fenced.
 
It was December, 1980 when Welch’s career came to a crashing halt.
 
In the dark winter evening, he had entered the Halberstams’ home while Dr. and Mrs. Halberstam were out for dinner and a movie. Unfortunately, they opted to skip the film, returned early, and caught Welch red-handed.
 
Welch, who (like Peace) always traveled armed, fired five shots, police paid, two of which struck Halberstam
 
in the chest. Welch fled from the house.
 
With two slugs in his chest, Halberstam rushed to his car and with his wife started driving to a nearby hospital. On the way there, the physician saw his assailant running down the street. He ran over Welch with his car after shouting to his wife, “That’s the guy.”
 
Welch suffered minor injuries while Halberstam managed to drive on a little further before losing consciousness and striking a tree. His wife summoned help and Halberstam was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
 
Police found a .38 caliber revolver, a pair of brown gloves, and a screw driver near the spot where Halberstam hit Welch with his car. About 30 feet away from where the criminal tools were found, investigators located the injured Welch.
 
He went on trial in federal court because the crime occurred within the District of Columbia and was convicted of murder and other charges. He was sentenced to 143 years in prison, which would have made him eligible for parole in 2023.
 
A known escape risk, Welch originally went to the supermax prison in Marion, Illinois. While there he became friendly with the Aryan Brotherhood but soon became a stoolie, advising authorities about escape plans, illicit activities, and threats against guards. As a result he was put into the prison system’s witness protection program and transferred to a less secure facility in Chicago.
 
In May 1985 while serving his sentence there, Welch, with a little help from outside persons, managed to use a hacksaw blade to cut his way through a three-foot wide window. He and another killer shimmied down a 75-foot heavy-duty extension cord and escaped.
 
He remained at large for three months until authorities tracked him down in Philadelphia. Welch was driving a stolen, 8-year-old BMW with plates from another stolen vehicle. He made the stupid mistake of parking the car in someone’s reserved spot and when that angry driver called police, they arrested the fugitive while he was sleeping in the car.
 
“I don’t think it was Bernard Welch’s finest hour,” said Associate Deputy Attorney General Jay Stephens, who had prosecuted Welch for the Halberstam murder.
 
Welch was returned to federal custody where he remained until he died.