Authors: Edna Buchanan
Tags: #"BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY/Editors, Journalists, Publishers"
She saw them off. “I hugged and kissed each one goodbye,” she told me, weeping. They had laughed.
“Do you think you're not going to see us again?” one asked.
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
The woman who died in her place agreed to go at the last moment, to help with the driving. Nine miles north of Andytown and five miles south of Bean City in Palm Beach County, a south-bound tractor trailer, hauling frozen vegetables to supermarkets, sideswiped a Dodge towing an airboat on a trailer. The huge truck swerved out of control, crossed the northbound lane, slammed into the guardrails, careened back onto the road and crashed head-on into the young teachers' car, which burst into flames. The burned bodies were identified by the identical silver rings that matched their friend's.
The small boy in white first began to haunt Maria Zarabozo's dreams in Cuba when she was sevenâbefore an aunt's fatal accident. She wishes she had never seen his small pale face. “I wish this didn't happen,” she said tearfully. I believed her, but she was alive.
Other nightmares are dead right and need no interpretation. A Miami man's dream of death solved his own murder and led police to his killer. Rafael Gonzalez, owner of a wholesale fish and poultry market, had a terrifying nightmare one Friday. He told employees that in his dream he was robbed and shot by a former employee named Roberto Alvarez. The vivid dream was so chilling that when the former employee appeared on Sunday, asking to buy shrimp, Gonzalez refused to open the door.
Tuesday night another knock came. The next morning a customer saw blood seeping from beneath the locked door of the market. Gonzalez had been shot three times. The cash box was empty. Police had no suspects. A shocked employee told detectives about the dead man's dream. Cops and reporters are skeptical at best about dreams, premonitions and psychic phenomena, but this was at the height of Miami's 1981 murder epidemic and detectives were crime-weary and overworked.
“It's spooky,” Homicide Sergeant Richard Napoli told me, “but I'll take help from anywhere.”
Dubious detectives, who had no other leads, visited Alvarez, who agreed to be fingerprinted. Then police found a witness, a neighbor, who had seen former employee Roberto Alvarez leaving the market around the time of the murder. Crime-lab experts matched Alvarez's fingerprints to those found on the cash box and the dead man's car. Confronted, he confessed.
Some people know they are about to die.
James Edward Jenrette, eighteen, told his brother he dreamed he would be shot down by police. He was.
Soon after the dream Jenrette's girlfriend complained that a man had slapped her. Jenrette took his brother's gun to seek justice. He and the man were fighting when police arrived in the neighborhood on an unrelated call. Jenrette saw them and ran, but he still had the gun. They ordered him to halt. He did, but when he turned, still holding the weapon, they shot him down.
“I won't be seeing you again,” a regular customer told a Miami barmaid. He said he had just purchased a cemetery plot and asked her to “put a Schlitz on my grave.” Just the whiskey talking, she thought, as he waved and walked out the door.
Moments later he was dead, hurled a hundred feet by a car as he crossed the street.
The sense of dÃ©jÃ vu is palpable as I cover story after story of history that repeats over and over. Almost as though there is a cruel lesson to be learned, a fateful pattern that, if somehow deciphered, would all make sense.
At age seventeen Ruth Betty Porven, who loved music and played the piano, survived the car crash that killed her date. Her injuries were critical. Ten months later, Ruth Betty Porven, now eighteen and still recovering, went on a date with a nice boy with a new car. There was another crash. This time Ruth Betty Porven and her date were both killed.
Robbers murdered Serafin Lopez, seventy-three, shot him in the head and stole the money from the family supermarket. I covered the killing and interviewed his daughter-in-law. Four years later, almost to the day, robbers murdered the dead man's son, Jorge Lopez, forty-nine, shot him in the head and stole the money from the family supermarket. I covered the killing and interviewed the same woman, now widowed.
A twenty-two-year-old Dade County Jail prisoner died in his cell, hanged himself with strips of bedsheet. Eight years later, his twenty-two-year-old brother, a Dade County Jail prisoner, died in his cell, hanged himself with strips of bedsheet.
Milton Facen was never tried for killing a man in an argument over a crap game. The week before his trial he was killed in an argument over a crap game.
A jury acquitted Glen Watkins, twenty-one, of drunk driving. He went out to celebrate and died in a crash, driving drunk.
I don't believe in Big Foot, the Bermuda Triangle or UFOs, but how do you explain the helicopter that slammed upside-down into a huge, water-filled rock pit in northwest Dade Countyâthe precise location of a mysterious cargo plane crash exactly two weeks earlier?
this? What the heck is going on here?
And how is it that some people just can't seem to be killed?
A suicidal youth, age nineteen, threatened to leap from the ninth-floor roof of a Miami Beach apartment house. As two Miami Beach policemen edged toward him in a desperate rescue attempt, he flung himself off the ledge to certain death. He plummeted nine floors and splashed into the building's small pool, sending a geyser of water high into the air. He emerged from the shallow end and trudged to a waiting ambulance. He had missed the paved patio by inches, a feat no trained stuntman would dare.
The gunman who shot King Dixon five times in the head at close range was astonished. He had emptied his gun into Dixon's skull but Dixon, forty-six, still stood, staring at him in shocked surprise. The startled gunman finally succeeded in decking Dixon by slamming him over the head with the empty weapon. Then he ran, along with everybody else in the bar. A passing patrolman witnessed the stampede and asked why they were all running. “A man's been shot in the bar,” somebody cried.
“Who shot him?” the cop asked.
“I did,” burst the shooter, still unnerved.
The cop locked the man in his patrol car and ran inside. Dixon lay on the floor bleeding from multiple bullet wounds in his head. The cop took one look and radioed for homicide. But then the wounded man sat up, staggered to his feet and began to complain to the cop about what had just occurred.
Not one of the .22-caliber bullets had penetrated his skull.
Dixon was treated at a hospital and sent home, where I talked to him the next day. “My ears are still ringing,” he said. “The gun was right at my ear. Those shots were really loud.” Other than that, he felt fine. “I guess you have to ask the good Lord why I'm still alive.”
But the bullets did kill him. I found King Dixon at the morgue eight years later. Since the shooting he had suffered seizures, and one of them killed him.
The medical examiner blamed the old bullet wounds and ruled the death a homicide.
King Dixon became Miami's only murder victim in 1984 killed by bullets fired in 1976.
Three days before Christmas a robber shot college student Barry Williams in the face, at point-blank range, at the gas station where he worked nights: cold-blooded murder, but Williams did not die. He did not even fall down. The startled robber squeezed the trigger again. That slug grazed Williams's hand. When the robber leveled the gun a third time, Williams fought back. The gunman fled. The first bullet had penetrated the skin, then stoppedâno fractures, only an Excedrin headache.
“It's a miracle,” said Homicide Detective Luis Albuerne, a man never given to exaggeration. “It must have been old ammunition.”
Some people seem impossible to kill, yet innocent bystanders die suddenly, struck by stray bullets that fall from the sky.
Such anomalies always remind me of my friend D. P. “Book âEm” Hughes, former cop and chief of operations at the Broward Medical Examiner's Office. Book âEm's Blackboard Theory: “There must be a big blackboard in the sky. If your name is on it, you're gonna die today. If it ain't, you ain't.”
Take the Chicago fireman who retired to North Miami for the good life and was killed by a bullet that hurtled straight down out of the sky as he stood outside his home. Police theorized that the slug may have been fired into the air three quarters of a mile away. They never learned who fired that one, or the bullet that wounded a fifty-five-year-old carpenter during a springtime stroll. The bullet entered his upper back, trajectory straight down. “It dropped out of nowhere,” he said, nervously eyeing Miami's wide and innocent blue sky.
Some things bigger than bullets seem to tumble out of nowhere and appear in unexpected places. The strange case of Sevanda Margarita Hernandez Pacheco would have mystified Rod Serling himself.
Her last afternoon was spent happily. She and two friends talked, fished and cooked hamburgers on Watson Island, until a cloudburst ended their pleasant weekend picnic. The three women piled into their car as the rains came. Sevanda sat in the right rear seat of the two-door Chevrolet. The other women sat in the front. Turning left to leave Watson Island in a heavy downpour, the driver pulled into the path of a Lincoln driven by a Miami man. His car hit theirs, just behind the driver's door.
A Miami Beach city employee saw the accident. He notified Miami police and medics at 7:42
. and gave first aid to the two women in the Chevrolet. The driver of the Lincoln, stunned by the crash, also saw only two women. They told rescuers that their friend had been in the backseat. Puzzled police could not find her.
.âsixteen minutes laterâa caller to Miami Beach police reported “something lying in the street.” An unidentified woman lay dead in an intersection at Lenox Avenue and Fourth Street.
A car had run over her body, leaving tail pipe and muffler bums.
The day after the Watson Island accident, Sevanda's niece reported her missing. Her aunt was found at the morgue, listed as a Miami Beach accident victim. The puzzle is how she traveled from the scene of the accident to the place where she was found, minutes later, in another city, 2.2 miles away. The body had not been dragged. Where did she die? Was she Miami's forty-sixth auto fatality of the year, or Miami Beach's twenty-fourth?
Maybe she was ejected out the car window on impact.
Maybe a passing motorist picked her up, panicked and dumped her when she passed out or died. But why would anyone pick up a victim at an accident scene and drive her away?
Maybe she landed atop a passing car or truck headed to South Beach where she rolled off. But wouldn't any motorist be aware of a body on top of his or her car?
Maybe she was scooped up into the undercarriage of a large truck and later disengaged at the spot where she was found.
None of the theories makes sense.
“It's unreal,” the Miami investigator said.
“It's very weird,” the Miami Beach investigator said.
“We're not going to charge anybody with anything. We just want to know how she got there,” one said, issuing a public appeal for the answer. None came.
So many mysteries go unsolved.
Who is buried in James E. McCoy's military grave? And who collected his death benefits?
McCoy died of natural causes in a Miami VA hospital. His widow's attempts to bury him in a military grave, however, were rejected. The burial site had already been used and his death benefits collected eight years earlier. The name, serial number, Social Security number and dates of military service were identical. The first man was obviously not the real McCoy.
Who was he?
And why would a Miami Beach fireman strip naked and ride his high-powered motorcycle at speeds in excess of eighty-five miles an hour at 10:45
., roaring through a toll booth, off an expressway ramp, through a red light, crashing, his body bouncing off the autos of four horrified motorists? He wasn't even wearing a helmet.
What is going on here?
A powerful explosion with green flashes, a white glow and a green fireball shattered the upscale home of a Miami realtor, nearly killing his two college-age sons. Floor beams were blown out, the front door hurtled onto the lawn, and windows, still in their frames, landed in the treetops. First theory was a gas leak, but truth was that the blast was triggered when one of the boys plugged in a television set and turned it on. He lost his right leg and an eye, and was burned over 90 percent of his body. His severely burned brother had stolen the TV set from a parked car. The set was riggedâbooby-trapped.
Investigators first suspected that “somebody got tired of getting ripped off and set it up for a thief,” but that theory faded in light of the bomb's complex construction, a sophisticated combination of high- and low-order explosives that rained a never-identified silver dust down on the wreckage. Was the deadly device built to retaliate against thieves? Or did the boy steal it before a bomber could deliver it to its intended target? Were the plans of some international terrorist thwarted by a petty thief?
We have all walked into buildings where we felt at ease, comfortable and at home, and we have all walked into places where we did not. Perhaps it is design, decorâor perhaps, the history. Such as the Miami Beach high-rise constructed on a historic and troubled site. In a relatively young city, only seventy-five years old, few addresses conceal such secrets and stories. Carl Fisher, the eccentric, far-sighted millionaire who founded the city, chose the oceanfront site to build a home for his teenage bride, Jane. Finished in 1915, their elegant mansion, The Shadows, surrounded by green lawn and blue sea, was the hub of high society. As Fisher's workmen literally tore a city from a morass of worthless swamp, the finest house in all of Florida was alive with music, laughter and grand parties.
But things went wrong, and the splendor faded. Jane left him. Fisher died a broken man, down to his last $400,000. Jane died destitute, in New York.