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Authors: Fred Rosen

Flesh Collectors (6 page)

BOOK: Flesh Collectors

Elsewhere in the trunk was a battered faux-leather scrapbook that included his GED certificate, karate certificate, numerous articles on the Ku Klux Klan and, of course, serial killers. Perhaps his most valuable possession was the certification of his “citizenship” in the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, dated February 23, 1998.

That morning when he left his house, Jon Lawrence was bound for the sheriff’s department, where he was supposed to take some sort of test that Todd Hand had set up. Hand was already there, waiting for him to arrive. During the month that Hand had been on the Livingston disappearance, no hard evidence had turned up to indicate where Justin was or, indeed, if he was still alive. Hand casually called Rodgers and Lawrence separately. Each time, he went over their story. Each time, they stuck to it: they were watching
The Shining
and then Justin walked off before the bloody climax.

Hand knew the movie. He had seen it; he just couldn’t believe Justin would walk away before Jack Nicholson got to do his thing at the end. Plus the tape story itself just sounded too convenient. Add that to their squirrelly backgrounds and the sum total was a firm belief that if Rodgers and Lawrence were not directly responsible for Justin’s disappearance, they were certainly involved and knew more than they were telling.

The weak link of the two appeared to be Lawrence. While Jeremiah Rodgers never volunteered information and remained aloof, Jonathan Lawrence seemed eager to please. Playing on this, Hand managed to convince Lawrence to voluntarily come in for a voice stress analysis.

“Jon, if you do this, it’ll help us eliminate you once and for all as a suspect,” he told Lawrence, who not only acquiesced, but had no fear that he might fail the test.

Voice stress analysis is a more accurate way than a conventional lie detector in telling whether or not a suspect, under questioning, is telling the truth. According to Paul Dennis at the Voice Stress Analysis Web site, “all muscles in the body, including the vocal cords, vibrate in the eight-to-twelve-Hz range. This is considered a feedback loop, similar to a thermostat/heater.”

If the temperature goes too high or low, the body adjusts accordingly to bring it back within normal range.

Just as the temperature swings up and down over time, so too do the muscles tighten and loosen as they seek to maintain a constant tension. This is known to be caused by the production and release of a chemical, as explained in the
Scientific American
article “Psychological Tremor,” Volume 224, Number 3, 1971. “In moments of stress, like when you tell a lie that you dare not get caught at, the body prepares for fight or flight by increasing the readiness of its muscles to spring into action,” Dennis explained. Their vibration increases from the relaxed eight to nine Hz, to the stressed eleven-to-twelve-Hz range.

That was the key. Vibrations in the eleven-to-twelve-Hz range meant the subject was lying. Hand stood in the observation room. Through the two-way glass, he watched Lawrence undergoing the voice stress analysis. The ex-con was seated in a plain green interview room. His only company was Harman Newman, the analyst, who stood before the machine, asking questions and watching the readout.

During a break in the examination, Hand went in to talk to his suspect. He asked casual questions, designed to relax Lawrence and get him to trust him.

“How’d you get down here for the interview?” Hand asked casually.

“My mother drove me,” Lawrence answered.

That would be interesting, to meet Jon Lawrence’s mother
, Hand thought.

Separated from the rest of the community by a long back road, the Santa Rosa County Police Department is a sprawling complex distinguished by a low-lying white brick building that houses, among other things, the detective bureau and forensic section. In the building’s outer lobby, Hand found a woman seated alone on a scratched plastic chair. Her right leg was unusually straight. A cane lounged against the chair’s back.

“Hi, I’m Todd Hand,” he said.

He explained who he was, while his brown eyes went to the cane by her side, then down to her right leg, which looked withered.

“What happened to your leg?” he asked sympathetically.

“I got a staph infection,” Iona Lawrence answered. “It worsened upon hospitalization. I can’t even bend it now.”

She quickly changed the subject from her leg to her son.

“I want to tell you what a good person my son is. When my leg was really bad, Jon waited on me hand and foot. He came by to feed me, to help me get around,” she said, obviously proud of her son. Then she confided that her other son Wesley put a shotgun to his head at a party. It went off accidentally and killed him. The incident affected Jon quite a bit Hand planned to look into that later.

He went back to look at Jonathan Lawrence, who was just finishing up the voice polygraph. Afterward, he told Lawrence, “I’ll review the results and call you, okay?” Hand went to consult with Harman Newman, the voice stress analyst.

“Every time I asked him something specific about Justin Livingston’s disappearance, his answer was a lie,” Newman told him promptly.

In other words, Jon Lawrence, despite his mother’s assurances to the contrary, was a liar. He knew something about Justin’s disappearance, all right, which only made things that much more frustrating. Without hard evidence, there was nothing Hand could do to move on Lawrence and Rodgers. Without more evidence, he could never get a warrant to search the Lawrence home, where he felt certain he would find something implicating him. It was a legal conundrum.

By 4:00
., at the end of his shift, Hand had found nothing new. He left, hopeful he might come up with something new tomorrow. But while Hand’s day was ending, for Rodgers and Lawrence, theirs was just beginning.

“There’s this little convenience store [the Corner Store] a few blocks from our house. Jenny’s uncle by marriage managed it. She filled out an application and he hired her as a stocker,” recalled Diane Robinson.

For four to five hours every day after school, five days a week, Jenny came into the convenience store to stock the shelves. It was a safe job, her mother thought. She was working for a family member a few blocks away and Jenny’s aunt even popped in every now and then to see how she was doing. Other people stopped in too.

“That’s how she met Rodgers,” continued Diane. “For three weeks, Rodgers kept coming in and asked Jenny to go out. She was a little unsure; he kept pursuing her.

“Jenny really didn’t have much experience with guys,” her mother recalled. “She dated some, but not often. There had been a special boyfriend she had for a while, but Jenny was redheaded and hot-tempered. When the boy called at eleven one night, she told him, ‘You don’t call my house at this time!’ and that was that.”

For a full week before Rodgers took Jenny out, he had been bragging to his brother, Elijah Waldrop, and anyone else who would listen, “about this new girl that works at the Corner Store.” Rodgers never mentioned her name, but Elijah knew her by her nickname around school.

“Everybody called her ‘Red,’” Waldrop stated in court documents. “She dated four or five of my friends,” Elijah recalled.

At five feet three and a half inches and 145 pounds, Jenny “was a little chunky,” according to her mother. She had a pretty, round face, framed by a mass of flowing reddish blond hair. She concentrated more on her studies and her extracurricular activities than anything else. An inveterate animal lover, from the ages of nine to eleven, she had volunteered at a nearby animal shelter every afternoon. She had a mean old cat named Sidewinder, which she loved dearly.

Rodgers told her nothing of his criminal background or his “relationship” with Lisa Johnson. He made it seem like he was just any other working-class single guy. No matter her previous experience with boys, to a con man like Rodgers, she was an easy mark. Con men smell vulnerability like an animal smells food, and they go after innocence just as voraciously.

“Rodgers kept telling her that they were going to go out,” said Diane Robinson. “He kept the pressure up.” Unwittingly, he was aided by another employee at the store.

“This woman who worked there, she told Jenny that Rodgers had just the prettiest eyes. She said, ‘If I was eighteen years old, I’d give him a run for his money.’”

Jenny was feeling pressured to go out with Rodgers, not only by him, and his obvious attraction to the opposite sex, but perhaps most of all by her own yearnings. Finally, after one month of a “courtship,” Jennifer Robinson finally decided to date Jeremiah Rodgers. The morning of their date, Jenny dressed, kissed her mother good-bye and got on the bus that took her to Pace High School.

Jenny had a crush on her math teacher. It also happened that math was her favorite subject. Perhaps the only thing she enjoyed more was the NJROTC. NJROTC is the acronym for Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Established by congressional act in 1984, the NJROTC program is conducted at accredited secondary schools throughout the country by retired navy, marine corps and coast guard officers and enlisted personnel.

The NJROTC curriculum emphasizes citizenship and leadership development, the significance of sea power and naval topics, such as the fundamentals of naval operations, seamanship, navigation and meteorology. Classroom instruction is augmented throughout the year by community service activities, drill competition, field meets, flights, visits to naval activities, marksmanship training and other military training. Uniforms, textbooks, training aids, travel allowance and a substantial portion of instructors’ salaries are provided by the navy.

“I want to be the first woman to drive a tank in the marines,” Jenny told her mom earnestly. “Or maybe open a day-care center.”

Jenny loved working with kids and thought if the marines didn’t work out the way she wanted, her own day-care center would be a great way to make a living. Diane had raised her children that way—to make their own way in the world and not rely on anyone else.

After school that day, Jenny went over to the Corner Store to stock the shelves. Rodgers came in to talk about their date that night.

“Why don’t we leave from here?” Rodgers told Jenny.

It was a smart move. By not picking her up at her home, Rodgers would not have to meet her mother, another witness who could place them together.

“My mom doesn’t allow me to leave unless she meets [my friends] and knows who they are,” Jenny told him.

Rodgers could see that the girl was holding her ground, and if he wanted her, he would have to agree. They set a time of eight o’clock for him to pick her up at her house. Then they would go out on their date.

It was late afternoon when Jenny came home from work. The sun was still high in the sky. One thing Floridians have over their northern brethren, they are closer to the equator, which means the sun sets an hour later every day. For Jenny, it was extra time to spend with friends. Some of her girlfriends came over and they went out together to Wal-Mart.

Driving up Route 90, Jenny got stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle. Her friends kept coaxing her to pass it, until the car pulled slowly off to the side of the road and stopped in a weed-strewn patch of roadway. Jenny drove past; then her conscience kicked in and she stepped on the brakes. Backing up, she pulled in right behind the car and got out to see if something was wrong. She found an old man behind the wheel.

“Sir, are you all right?” Jenny asked, concerned.

The old man smiled and said that he was fine.

“Just pulled off to let all these cars pass me,” he said with a smile, exposing a mouth of broken teeth. “I’m okay, thanks, young lady.”

Jenny smiled and ran back to her car.

“Come on, Jenny, let’s go,” her friends coaxed.

Putting the car into gear, Jenny began to talk about Senior Skip Day, which was tomorrow. It was when seniors got to legally cut school and go to the beach. Jenny was really looking forward to it. She finally got home at 4:30
. and decided to go next door to her big brother Jason’s house to hang out for a while.

Jenny worshiped her brother, Jason, older by three years. When she was a child, she would follow him everyplace. “Mom,” Jason would complain to his mother, “will you make her come inside. Me and my friends are trying to play.” But Jason adored his baby sister and would do anything for her. As they grew, their relationship deepened into friendship and respect. They regularly shared confidences.

Before her daughter went next door to Jason’s, Diane Robinson told her that Rodgers had called. “He said he’d call back to speak to you, Jenny,” but he hadn’t. What she didn’t tell her was that another name besides Rodgers came up on the caller ID. That in itself was not odd and that’s why she said nothing: many people make calls from other people’s homes. What Diane Robinson would not know until later was that Rodgers had called from Lisa Johnson’s mother’s house.

As for Rodgers, he was getting a little leery of Diane Robinson. After all, she was forcing him to pick up the girl at her house. That really wasn’t part of the plan. He would have to look her right in the eye and lie through his teeth. Robinson was a tough character and no pushover for a con man like Rodgers.

Born in Plant City, Florida—the self-described “strawberry capital of the world”—Diane Robinson moved with her parents to Georgia when she was a year old. After only four years there, the family moved to Pensacola, where they planted their roots.

Diane Robinson had led a full life and was still very young, only forty-three years old. Her first son had died at four months from SIDS. Undeterred, she had two more children, Jason, her twenty-year-old, who lived next door, and eighteen-year-old Jennifer. She had been divorced for over seventeen years and was what the media likes to call a “single mom.” Diane Robinson supported the family as an administrator with the Central Pacific Insurance Company in Pensacola.

“Jenny’s father, Sam, and I split up when Jenny was eight months old,” she related. “I divorced him because he never supported his kids. He also had a history of problems with the law. Jenny and Jason didn’t have any contact with him until Jason was fifteen and Jenny was thirteen, in 1993.”

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