Authors: Fred Rosen
“I just seen Justin in Fort Walton Beach with a girl,” said the caller.
There was something about the message that didn’t sound right to Hand. Unfortunately, he neglected to save it. But it gnawed at him.
Then just when I start to suspect those two assholes, I get a report from somebody again who says he saw Justin. And another in the second or third week I’m working on the case from a minister’s son. He swore up and down he’d seen Justin,” Hand related.
But all the sightings were dead ends. By the end of the month, Justin still hadn’t shown up. Finally Hand got Jeremiah Rodgers on the phone.
“He was kind of squirrelly with me. Not real helpful, but definitely not rude. He was real smooth and very soft-spoken. I felt something when I talked to him.” he later recounted.
“Why don’t you come in and talk with me?’” Hand asked him.
“Okay, I’ll come over,” Rodgers replied.
They made an appointment, but at the last minute, Rodgers called and said he couldn’t make it A few days later, Rodgers called back.
Saturday, April 18, 1998
“When was the last time you saw Justin Livingston?” Hand asked over the phone.
Rodgers answered that he last saw Justin on Thursday, April 9, walking southbound on West Spencer Field Road at approximately 2:30
. He figured Livingston was walking down to find cigarettes and pick up a rental at the video store.
Rodgers said that sometime in the middle of the afternoon, he had gone over to Lawrence’s trailer home. He socialized with Lawrence, Rick and their uncle Roy while Rick and Roy were repairing Rick’s truck. Sometime during that period, Justin arrived on foot. He hung around, joked and acted stupid, like he usually did. Justin spent the rest of the afternoon bumming cigarettes from him. He gave Hand the same story about watching
, with the added detail that Livingston left during the climactic scene in the film involving the maze. He said good-bye and left to go rent a video.
Up until that last detail about
, Rodgers had been consistent with Lawrence’s version of what had happened. It certainly was plausible. But what fan goes out of his way to see a movie only to walk away before the climax, especially one with as bloody and dramatic an ending as
“I liked Justin,” said Rodgers. “Justin’d walk around the neighborhood all the time. He would bum cigarettes, food, beer and weed from everybody on a regular basis.”
“Do you think he was in danger?”
“No.” Rodgers added that he had no idea where Justin might be.
“Did he have any cash on him?”
Hand needed to rule out robbery conclusively.
“I don’t know if he did or not. Justin received money for some type of disability from the government.”
He told him to call back if he had any additional information.
April 22, 1998
Hand picked up the ringing telephone. Justin Livingston’s mother, Elizabeth, was on the other end of the line. Like most mothers with missing children, she was anxious, calling at least once a day to see if any progress was being made in tracking her baby down.
“I’m talking to her at least once a day on the phone, usually twice. What I have learned over the years is that mothers have an especially strong intuition about their sons and you have to listen to that intuition. She may be goofy, but she had that feeling that something happened to him. He would never just disappear like that.”
Elizabeth told Hand that there was a bad smell up the road from her house. “I got ahold of Lucas McCain. He has a bloodhound from the Jimmy Ryce Center.”
Jimmy Ryce was a nine-year-old boy who was kidnapped at gunpoint, raped and murdered on September 11, 1995. The Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abduction was established in his memory. Among other functions, the organization provides bloodhounds—what cops call cadaver dogs—free to law enforcement to find abducted and lost children.
That was how, in late April, Lucas McCain showed up with his bloodhound, Mark. Hand filled McCain in on the case and the dog was let go in the neighborhood to see if he could pick up Justin’s scent. But the dog found nothing in Justin’s neighborhood. On a hunch, Hand suggested they go to the Lawrence compound and try the dog over there. They drove over and parked in the driveway. Rick Lawrence was home.
“Ricky, do you mind if I run the bloodhound around the property,” Hand asked.
“No problem,” Ricky answered.
McCain took the dog off the leash and it went running. While McCain was taking care of that, Hand was standing on the drive chatting with Ricky and Uncle Roy when a red sports car with two people in it drove up. In the passenger seat was a guy with his shirt off.
The man looked to be in his early twenties. He was short, with a bright smile. When he got out of the car, Hand saw that he was well built, just like a guy who had been hitting the weights in prison. His body, covered in tattoos, seemed to confirm that hypothesis.
As for the woman who drove, “she looked like the cover girl on a poison bottle,” Hand later said about the woman. “She looked like so many females in Santa Rosa County—no chin and bulbous stomach.”
The man put his shirt back on and Ricky introduced Hand to Jeremiah Rodgers and his girlfriend, Lisa Johnson. Everyone shook hands like they were meeting at a party instead of in the middle of a missing-persons investigation. Hand thought to himself that it was luck he was driving an unmarked car. Had Rodgers seen a marked cruiser as he drove in, he could easily have driven right back out.
“You know, Justin might be in Florida town at Jack’s. Jack’s a homosexual who had furnished weed and rush to Justin in exchange for some type of sexual favors,” Rodgers volunteered.
That’s a new one
, Hand thought.
He’s implying that Justin was in some sort of strange homosexual/drug deal that caused his death
. Lisa said very little but supported Rodgers’s version of events by physical head nodding and occasional “yeahs.”
“I liked Worm,” Rodgers added, “and I’m concerned about him.”
After about fifteen or twenty minutes spent scouring the property, the dog began to paw at the earth. It was digging a hole down, down.… There was a small skeleton. McCain put the dog back on its leash as Hand bent down to check out the discovery.
It was a skeleton, all right, of a bird, which somebody had buried. The closest Hand could come to seeing that any crime was committed on the property was a cursory search of the house that yielded a little marijuana plant growing in a pot.
“Ricky,” Hand called.
Ricky came over.
“Get rid of it,” Hand ordered. “I’m not going to do anything about it.”
The possession of that plant was a misdemeanor. The last thing a good cop would do in a situation like this is arrest somebody for a misdemeanor when he might be helpful later on in prosecuting a felony.
“Just get rid of it,” Hand repeated.
As he got back into his car, Hand took another look at Lisa.
He’s using her
, Hand thought.
“She could never get anybody as good-looking as Rodgers. The only reason Rodgers was with her was because he was using her. He’d pork her because he had no place to live and she was stupid enough to let him,” Hand later said.
As he drove out of the compound, Hand said good-bye to Rodgers, who smiled and shouted, “see ya.” Later, back at the office, Hand thought about the anonymous message he had erased weeks before.
“I could have sworn it was Jeremiah Rodgers’s voice on the tape I didn’t keep. That fucker called me and left that anonymous message.”
Back upstairs, Hand looked again at Lawrence’s file. There was a notation about him having an uncle, Gary Lawrence. Gary was Lawrence’s father’s baby brother. Hand went on-line and visited the Florida State Prisons site. Once there, Hand typed in Gary Lawrence’s name. This is what came up:
Hair Color: BLONDE OR STRAWBERRY
Eye Color: BLUE
Birth Date: 06/29/1957
Initial Receipt Date: 02/21/1991
Current Facility: UNION C. I.
Current Classification Status: DEATH ROW
Current Custody: MAXIMUM, DEATH SENTENCE
Aliases: GARY LAWRENCE
Identifiers: FINGERPRINT CLASS—POPI15PO19130914CI16
Scars, Marks, and Tattoos: STOMACH SCAR, LONG AND VERTICAL FROM SURGERY; TATTOOS ON FACE, DOT ON LEFT CHEEK AND TIME MARK ON RIGHT CHEEK; AX GOING THROUGH SKULL HEAD ON LEFT ARM; HEART ON LEFT CHEST; HARLEY WINGS ON LEFT SHOUDLER; BRACELET OR CHAIN ON RIGHT ARM; DAGGER GOING THROUGH STAR ON RIGHT ARM; SURFER CROSS ON RIGHT ARM
There followed a long criminal record stretching back two decades. That helped to explain why he was covered in tattoos. Prison culture encourages festooning the body with those decorations. At one time or another, Gary Lawrence had been arrested and convicted of numerous offenses, including burglary and grand-theft firearm. He had been paroled for those offenses and had to report in every week to his parole officer.
He committed first-degree murder, commission of felony, on July 22, 1994. Sentenced on May 5, 1995, he was condemned to die. The judge also tacked on convictions for conspiracy to commit murder and grand-theft motor vehicle, with concurrent five-year sentences. Reading farther, Hand saw earlier convictions on a variety of criminal charges for which he served ten more years behind bars.
Hand finished reading. Jon Lawrence was the nephew of a murderer on Florida’s death row, with a record as long as the proverbial arm. Could the apple fall far from the tree?
Hand knew that in Florida, death meant death. Unlike some other states that have the death penalty on the books and never use it, Florida did so frequently. Few murderers had their sentences overturned or commuted on appeal. Most were “fried” in the state’s electric chair.
May 7, 1998
Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Robinson lived in a small tract house in Pace, with her mother, Diane Robinson, and Diane’s boyfriend, Dennis Randall.
When Jenny Robinson woke up in her bedroom that day, she was staring Elvis Presley right in the face. It made no difference that “the King” had died two decades before. In Jenny’s small bedroom, the King lived. On the wall directly across from her single bed was a giant four-by-four poster of Elvis. This wasn’t the portly prince of pop from the late 1970s, but the earlier Elvis,
the real Elvis
as Jenny often thought.
There he was, posing above her dresser, circa 1960, dressed in black jacket and black pants, black vest, black bow tie, posed against a foreground of stuffed animals. The stuffed animals were on the dresser and their heads obscured part of Elvis’s white shirt.
Her cat, Sidewinder, shoved its paw around on the floor, cluttered with school work. There were tons of paperwork and books and reports covering every exposed surface, including the desk in the corner, where Jenny did her homework. The papers and books competed for space with Elvis CDs and eight or nine videos of Elvis’s films. Jenny thought his 1950s films were vastly superior to the stuff he churned out in the ’60s.
When she got up that day, she was excited. Today was the day she had her date with Jeremiah Rodgers. He was this good-looking guy she met down at the convenience store where she worked. She looked over at her desk. There, sitting on her homework, was her graduation yearbook. She had gotten it just a few days before, in time to bring it to graduation and get all of her friends to sign it. They would bring their copies to graduation, the last time they would all be together.
She got up and padded across the room. As she had so many times since she had gotten it, Jenny opened the book and leafed through it. It was the usual collection of sophomoric humor and false nostalgia of kids who suddenly realize the world is never going to be quite the same safe place again.
In the yearbook, the pictures of the graduating seniors are the only ones in color. Placed in the “well,” or center of the book, Jenny’s was on page 93, top row, second from right. There she was, her head tilted to the left as the photographer had ordered, the head tilt offering a question to the future. Jenny Robinson hadn’t been the most popular girl in high school, or the least. She wasn’t a great athlete or student, but she had the purest red hair. It was unique in its hue and vibrancy. Coupling that with her outgoing personality and zaftig figure, she was found attractive by boys. It was a specific part of that zaftig figure that Jonathan Lawrence would later fantasize about.
Across town at the Lawrence compound, Jonathan Lawrence woke up in his grungy bedroom. He had all kinds of stuff scattered about. There was the white supremacist literature, the books about devil worship and the application to join one of the country’s biggest devil worshiping groups. On his nightstand was a book Lawrence read faithfully called
The Incredible Machine
. He picked it up to read.
An anatomy book,
The Incredible Machine
had numerous diagrams of the human body. Lawrence paged through it, noticing the sections that he’d marked in ink, including a picture of a female body. He had circled the calf muscle on one leg of the body in the diagram and looked at it longingly. Eventually he put the book down and got dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. On the way to the door, he passed by his footlocker, where he kept his real treasures.
from Time-Life Books. It contained pictorial essays on serial killers, whom Lawrence admired: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz and Dennis Nielsen. He also had two books about snipers: Major John L. Plaster’s
The Ultimate Sniper: An Advanced Training Manual for Military Police Snipers
and J. David Truby’s
Silencers, Snipers and Assassins: An Overview of Whispering Death