The Day the Laughter Died

Polly and her sister Annie Nichol

Polly and her sister Annie Nichol

It’s a common refrain for people in my situation. Your child is kidnapped. Time passes and answers are not forthcoming. You sink into despair as you contemplate why God has forsaken your family, yourself, and most importantly your child. What are you to do if you are thrashing about in total darkness without a flashlight to guide you to the path of hope?


Robin Williams was not a friend of mine. However, we lived in the same general community in Northern California. He was known to pop up unexpectedly and without an entourage at local comedy clubs, restaurants, county fairs, and other places that normal people would frequent. At any rate our paths had never crossed until the dark days after Polly’s abduction on October 1, 1993.


mrs-doubtfireMr. Williams was but one of many who assisted with the Polly search. I learned that he had reached out to Polly’s half-sister Annie (not my daughter) and the girls who were with Polly on the night that she was kidnapped. He spent time with them. He gave them autographed copies of the Mrs. Doubtfire script, and ultimately reintroduced laughter into the broken hearts of suffering children.


When he showed up during a fundraising event in Santa Rosa he brought light into the darkness. When he took over auctioneer duties the trickle of support became a river of sustenance. An autographed Willie Mays baseball bat which had been languishing at around $100 quickly sold for more than $2,000 and the man who purchased it couldn’t have been happier. And so it went throughout the evening as the manic styling of the comic with the sad eyes stole hearts and induced much needed laughter.


The last time I saw him was at Piatti Restaurant in Mill Valley. He was seated alone at a table for four, facing away from the panoramic view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands. When Violet and I were seated I nodded to him. He smiled in response. Violet encouraged me to approach Mr. Williams to thank him for the unsolicited $10,000 donation that he had made some years later and his overall kindness, but I declined. I wish I could take that moment back, because I don’t think I ever formally thanked him for his benevolence and caring. Now it is too late, because although my season in Hell is long past, his did not end until last Monday: the day the laughter died.

Who Killed Jenise Wright?

402764def040dcb6ca08b8f7b02580edSix-year-old Jenise Wright, whose remains were found in the woods near the trailer park where she lived with her parents and two siblings in Bremerton, WA, was one of those children who never had a chance. She was a trusting, loving little girl who never met a stranger and she was apparently given free rein to run wild and unsupervised from the time she was only three-years-old. As a result she will never celebrate her seventh birthday.

Jenise Wright's Parents

Jenise Wright’s Parents

As difficult as it is to look past her father’s criminal history, it is his comments since Jenise disappeared that are particularly troubling. I want to be clear that the foundation for my concerns is based on my own reaction and state of mind when Polly disappeared more than 20-years ago. One of the many life changing experiences that are still seared into my brain was the immediate, laser focus I was able to achieve upon learning that Polly had been kidnapped. There was no ambiguity about my purpose, or question as to my intent. My job, for better or worse, was to find Polly.


However, the day after Jenise was reported missing her father told a local reporter that, “my mind is still spinning”. I can understand psychological or spiritual turmoil because I too grappled with both of those emotions, but intellectually I was in blinders with one goal in mind. To complicate matters even more so, James Wright called his missing daughter “a spoiled little brat” and “the princess of the household” who “always gets her way most of the time.”  I am at a total loss as to why, given the gravity of the situation, the father of a missing child would characterize her in such unflattering terms. He should be investing people in the search for Jenise, not whining about her perceived shortcoming.


Hillary Clinton popularized the term it takes a village to raise a child, but she did not mean that as an excuse to defer parental responsibility and allow friends, neighbors, and strangers to assist in that role. Combined with Mr. Wright’s criminal history and his odd behavior and statements since the search started and a very troubling possibility rears its ugly head.


Finally, the omission of any statement from the authorities warning the community that a cold blooded killer is on the loose speaks volumes.

How Abigail Hernanzed Escaped from the Belly of the Beast!

Abigail-HernandezPretty young girls like Abigail Hernandez are kidnapped so that they can be sexually exploited. That is what happened to Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Shouf, Shasta Groene, Tara Burke, Shawn Hornbeck, and Steven Staynor (all of whom lived to tell their stories). It was also the motivation behind the kidnappings of the vast majority of kids, including my Polly, who were ultimately murdered as a result of their abduction.


I suspect that she got away by earning her kidnappers trust and securing enough freedom to affect her escape, or he was distracted and she took advantage of an opportunity, or some combination of the two. It is also possible that she convinced him to let her go, although knowing the mind set of desperate sexual predators, I find that unlikely.

Crazy Nate Kibby

Crazy Nate Kibby

The important lesson here is that she managed to stay alive long enough to escape Crazy Nate Kibby, a dangerous sexual predator.

No Justice for Polly

Polly Klaas

Polly Klaas

I feel like I have been betrayed by my beloved California, as have the other families of people killed by California’s death row killers, who are responsible for murdering more than 1,000 people, including 229 children and 43 police officers. By extension the victim families and friends of the nearly 1,400 lifers that Governor Brown has paroled since taking office in 2011 have also been betrayed, as have the victims of the 18,000 felons who were released from prison early as a result of Governor Brown’s prison realignment plan.

Killer RA Davis

Richard Davis killed Polly Klaas

As a crime victim whose 12-year-old daughter was killed by an unrepentant and violent psychopath, I fully expected that it would only be a matter of time before justice would be served after Judge William Hastings imposed the death sentence with this admonition, “Mr. Davis, this is always a traumatic and emotional decision for a judge. You made it very easy today by your conduct.”

Alex Hamilton killed Police officer Larry Alasater

Alex Hamilton killed Police officer Larry Alasater

Unfortunately, in California, courtroom sentences literally aren’t worth the paper that they are printed on. Just the other day United States District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional because a sense of uncertainty and delay, “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Trailside Killer David Carpenter murdered raped & murdered at least five women

Trailside Killer David Carpenter raped & murdered at least five women

That Polly’s killer has been on death row for seventeen-years without being executed may be unusual, but it is certainly not cruel. It was cruel when he kidnapped, raped and strangled my Polly in order to, “avoid AIDS by getting a young one,” as was revealed at trial. It was cruel when the judge arbitrarily decided that neither he nor California’s other 747 death row killers will face the sentence imposed upon them by a jury of their peers. It is cruel when the will of the people and the law of the land are subverted by a powerful and unrepresentative minority.


Ramon Salcido murdered seven relatives including his wife and two daughters

I will never understand how activist judges, the ACLU, the defense bar, and other prison rights apologists are willing to undermine the criminal justice system, betray victims and their families, and endanger innocent people for the approval of killers, rapists and thugs. That they seek the endorsement of society’s underbelly links them to depravity, amorality and future victimization, yet they will never be held accountable for their actions. Might these decisions and this trend represent the death of punishment in California?

California Death Penalty Found Unconstitutional: Cruel & Unusual?

By Mike Rushford*

Earnest Dewayne Jones

Earnest Dewayne Jones

Shortly after midnight on August 25, 1992, in Los Angeles, Chester Miller returned home from work and noticed the family station wagon was missing from the driveway. Mr. Miller went into his house and found his wife, Julia, lying dead at the foot of their bed. Mrs. Miller’s robe was open, her nightgown was bunched above her waist, and she was naked from the waist down. A telephone cord and a purse strap had been used to tie Mrs. Miller’s arms over her head, and a nightgown had been used to loosely tie her ankles together. Mrs. Miller had been gagged with two rags, one in her mouth and another around her face. Two kitchen knives were sticking out of her neck. Pieces of three other knives were found on or around her body.   Homicide investigators identified Earnest Dewayne Jones, who lived with Mrs. Miller’s daughter, as the murderer based upon significant evidence.


The deputy medical examiner with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office who performed the autopsy on Mrs. Miller’s body concluded, on the basis of the following evidence, that she had been stabbed to death: Two knives were sticking out of Mrs. Miller’s neck. She also had 14 stab wounds in her abdomen and one in her vagina, but the fatal stab wound, which penetrated to the spine, was the one in the middle of her chest. Aside from the stab wound, there was no evidence of trauma to the vaginal region.


At the crime scene, a criminalist with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office took swabs of Mrs. Miller’s vagina. Another criminalist found a great abundance of intact spermatozoa on the vaginal swab, leading him to conclude that ejaculation occurred no more than five to 10 hours before Mrs. Miller’s death.  A blood sample was taken from defendant. A molecular biologist for Cellmark Diagnostics performed deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on the blood sample taken from defendant and on the vaginal swabs taken from Mrs. Miller. This testing yields banding patterns that are, with the exception of identical twins, unique to every individual. There is only one chance in 78 million that a random individual would have the same DNA banding pattern as defendant. The tests showed that the banding pattern in the DNA from defendant’s blood sample matched the banding pattern of the semen on the vaginal swab taken from Mrs. Miller.

Mike Rushford is the Executive Director of the Sacramento based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

California: Don’t Screw with the Sex Offender Registry

Megan's Law Namesake Megan Kanka

Megan’s Law Namesake Megan Kanka

The California Sex Offender Management Board is recommending an overhaul of the system that would change the criteria for lifetime registration, taking into account the severity of the crime and the likely risk posed by the offender. They recommend a 3-tiered system. Level one sex offenders, non-serious and non-violent sex offenders would be removed from the list after 10-years. Level two sex offenders, serious or violent offenders who are not high-risk would be removed from the list after 20-years. Level three sex offenders, sexual predators would continue to register for life.


As of 8/25/2013, there are 81,112 registrants displayed on the Megan’s Law Internet site. Information on approximately 30,421 other offenders is not included on this site and cannot be posted online. That means that more than 27% of registered sex offenders are already not subject to the terms of Megan’s Law. They are protected from public scrutiny.


A mechanism already exists to be removed from California’s Sex Offender Registry. Once convicted or adjudicated, this is lifetime requirement for both juveniles and adults. In order to be relieved of this requirement, juveniles adjudicated in juvenile court may petition to have their record sealed; adults may petition the court for a Certificate of Rehabilitation in some cases or a full Governor’s Pardon in most cases.


I can appreciate and understand that certain individuals: offenders forced to register because they were caught peeing on a fireplug, or those caught up in Romeo & Juliet scenario’s, wish to be distanced from hard core offenders, but this is a small sub-set that can be dealt with on an individual basis without a sweeping overhaul of the entire system.


We live in a society where the NSA can capture, organize, collate, listen to, and categorize every phone call made in this country, or an ATM can calculate our bank accounts from among 10’s of millions of bank accounts millions of times per day, down to the penny. Therefore, I would suggest that the CA DOJ needs an IT overhaul more than it needs a SOR overhaul if they are having trouble monitoring 100,000 individuals.


According to the CATO Institute, something like 90% of criminal cases end in a plea bargain. That means that the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser crime and receive a lesser sentence, rather than go to trial on a more severe charge where he faces the possibility of a harsher sentence.


The cynical recommendations by the California Sex Offender Management Board are simply another attempt to weaken California’s criminal code. Look at some of the damage that has already been caused during Governor Jerry Brown’s administration:

  • AB 109 Transferred responsibility of tens of thousands of felons convicted for so called non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crimes from the state to the counties
  • SB 9 grants freedom to juvenile killers previously sentenced prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP)
  • Prop 36 that effectively gutted the 3-Strikes and You’re Out law.

I am not opposed to tiering sex offenders. It would enable to public to better assess their threat. But that does not mean that huge numbers of individuals should be removed from the sex offender registry based upon an arbitrary number.


I will actively oppose the recommendations of the California Sex Offender Management Board just as I actively opposed AB 109, SB 9, and Proposition 36. Just look back before Megan’s Law, before 3-Strikes, before any attempt was made to hold criminals accountable. Back in the early ‘90’s when Polly was tragically taken from us California had soaring crime rates. We had the highest crime rates in history. After the implementation of these programs, and I know that they are controversial in certain circles; crime in California had been reduced by half. I think that this is a legacy to be proud of. I think attempts to undermine those efforts are cynical. I think they are based on flawed ideology and I think that they place the good citizens of California at risk.

Father Hits Teacher with Baseball Bat and Other Examples of Instant Karma

Marc & Polly 001A Maryland father will not be facing charges after hitting one of his daughter’s teachers with a baseball bat after the teacher refused to leave the family’s home following a texting scandal.


Fathers have a sworn duty to protect their children. We repeatedly tell our sons and daughters that we will, “Always be there to protect you,” knowing the whole time that we have vowed to do the impossible. We then pray that they will be safe when we cannot be there to protect them.


We have to let go. Beginning when they are very young we allow them to go to pre-school and then school, secure in our belief that responsible adults will prepare them to be productive and well-rounded citizens. In this case the educational community failed to protect a 15-year-old girl from the predatory behavior of one of her teachers.


When the family discovered what the police agreed was an “inappropriate emotional relationship” between the 42-year old teacher and his 15-year-old student they went to the police at 3:00 a.m. The authorities took no action against the teacher because they couldn’t determine that laws had been broken. At approximately 9:45 a.m. the teacher showed up at the girl’s house. When he refused to leave the girl’s father beat him with a baseball bat.


Within six hours the girl’s father had learned about a much older man who was making sexual advances toward his teen-aged daughter and then confronted the man when he showed up unannounced at the family home. For the second time in a brief period of time the teacher had failed to respect social boundaries.


The teacher acted very aggressively when he first showed up at the girl’s house, and then refused to leave. The girl’s father simply sent a very strong message to the teacher that the police could or would not send, “You will not mess with my little girl.


That he sent that message via a swinging baseball bat is appropriate given that at least two trusted institutions had failed to protect his child from a much older man whose intentions, as illustrated by his actions, were predatory.


Similar Cases

Facebook, Twitter & the Fate of the Missing!

girlsTwo recent kidnapping cases that have captured the world’s attention have demonstrated the importance and power of Social Media as it applies to missing children. In one case a foreign government’s ambivalence over a mass kidnapping was exposed as the world took note and promised action. In the other social media empowered a girl held captive for decade to break the bonds of abduction and abuse.


A militant Islamist group called Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in the northern town of Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014. This jaw-dropping mass abduction received little attention outside of Africa and the Nigerian Government’s indifference to girl’s plight prompted the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign which has thus far been tweeted more than a million times. As a result the world has taken note and France, China, Canada, and Great Britain have all joined the United States in sending advisors to Nigeria to help recover the girls. The case remains wide open and it is difficult to envision a happy ending, but if it hadn’t been for the Twitter campaign the girls would have either been killed or sold into slavery in obscure anonymity.

Alleged kidnapper Isidro Garcia

Alleged kidnapper Isidro Garcia

Ten years ago a fifteen-year-old girl who had just arrived in the United States from Mexico was stolen from a park near her mother’s apartment in Santa Ana, California. The incident was reported to the police, but the case soon went cold, until this week when the now twenty-five-year-old woman told her story to the Bell Gardens Police. She had been kidnapped, drugged, raped, tortured, conditioned and told that her family would be deported if she went to the authorities. The kidnapper eventually forced her to marry him and two years ago she had his baby. Finding her sister’s Facebook account finally empowered the young victim to break the chains of her psychological captivity. Her abductor, forty-two-year-old Isidro Garcia, has been charged with kidnap for rape, lewd acts with a minor and imprisonment.


Less than a decade ago both of these cases could have easily disappeared altogether. Instead, because of Social Media and the Internet, several things have happened. Many countries with no dog in this fight have volunteered to aid in the recovery of more than 200 young kidnap victims, so the morally bankrupt Nigerian government can no longer sweep their plight under the rug. Unlike Nigeria, our government and our people care very much about the rights of the individual. Now, one child, kidnapped more than a decade ago, has an opportunity to put her life back in order knowing that her tormentor will never be able to touch her again.


As the Internet and Social Media become more ubiquitous there will be even more opportunities to expose the plight of the unfortunate and rescue the victims of abduction and abuse. This is an exciting time in the war to recover kidnapped children: a very exciting time.

The Botched Execution of Clayton Lockett

Murder victim Stephanie Neiman

Murder victim Stephanie Neiman

People seem to have forgotten that after raping her friend, Clayton Lockett shot and then ordered his friends to bury his teenage victim alive. Stephanie Neiman’s parents, who have spent the past 15-years going through the motions of living, are constantly faced with terrifying images of her last moments. They eat, they sleep, and her father goes to work and comes home again. Stephanie’s mother says that, “We do what we have to do to make it through the day and we start all over again the next. We exist.”


All Stephanie Neiman’s family has ever wanted was for justice to be served. In this case that meant that Stephanie’s killer needed to be executed because that was the sentence imposed at trial. In a statement released to the press on the killer’s execution day they said in part, “God blessed us with our precious daughter, Stephanie for 19 years. Stephanie loved children. She was the joy of our life. We are thankful this day has finally arrived and justice will finally be served.”

Stephanie Neiman and Parents

Stephanie Neiman and Parents

Now, because of arguments being made by death penalty opponents Mr. and Mrs. Neiman are implicated in death by torture through association. Lockett was an unrepentant, sexually sadistic psychopath, and the case against him was solid, making it impossible for abolitionists to argue that an innocent man had been executed, or that his trial lawyer was incompetent. Instead their best case scenario was realized when his vein collapsed, because it provided them with an opportunity to pass moral judgment. They say that he was tortured to death, that the death penalty is inhumane, that it is beneath us as a civilization, and that it is immoral. The obvious implication is that if you favor the death penalty as a fair and just punishment then you favor torture, are unenlightened, and are morally bankrupt.


The ironies of the death penalty are not lost on me. Good people who lost loved ones to maniacal killers are portrayed as cold and vindictive, while killers being led to the death gurney are victims of a cruel society. Death penalty abolitionists want a factually innocent person executed so that they can gloat, while death penalty proponents fear that possibility.


It is also worth noting that the states that execute the worst of the worst are scrambling to purchase death penalty approved drugs. They now pursue a back alley and black market approach to securing the drugs used in the executioner’s cocktail because of the abolitionist’s success in convincing drug manufacturers to stop selling execution approved drugs.

Killer Clayton Lockett

Killer Clayton Lockett

Stephanie Neiman and Clayton Lockett are both dead. But, as was alluded to by Stephanie’s parents; her last moments were rushed, solitary, terrifying, and tortured. She was an innocent victim who was abused in the worst way possible and then buried alive. She did not have an opportunity to make amends with her God, say good bye to her family, or reconcile her brief life on earth. Lockett, on the other hand, benefited from a major public investment. After murdering Stephanie the state hired a lawyer, provided due process, held a trial, and subsequently housed, clothed and fed Lockett as the appeals process wound its way through the system. He had 15-years to contemplate his deed, make peace with his Lord, and put his affairs in order. An army of abolitionists fought for his life as surely as he isolated Stephanie prior to assassinating her. Lockett died with full knowledge that a jury carefully and deliberately weighed the evidence and found him worthy of execution. He never showed remorse, and he never apologized for killing a teen aged girl. The manner in which he died cannot be compared to the soulless evil he inflicted upon Stephanie Neiman.


Will the botched execution of Clayton Lockett represent a watershed moment in the United States ongoing death penalty debate? The abolitionists and other prison rights apologists certainly hope so and will play it for everything they can. However, I have faith that the American public will see through their disingenuous arguments and administrative bottlenecks and continue to support the death penalty as they have throughout our history.

A Child Coming Home: Surviving A Family Abduction

By Steven Slinkard

Slinkard family during better times

Slinkard family during better times

Almost 20-years ago, my ex-wife had our three children on a court-ordered visit. After our divorce some time before, I had been granted custody of our two sons and daughter in our hometown of Greenfield, Indiana.  But I wanted them to have a normal relationship with their mother, and so off they went for a brief visit.


They never came back. They remained missing for the next 18-years.

Nathan, Andrew, & Sydney Slinkard

Nathan, Andrew, & Sydney Slinkard

The personal impact was devastating. My desire and willingness to do anything to bring my kids home never faltered. However, my hopes of fulfilling that dream developed into a nightmare of despair. I became withdrawn and depressed as time went on – years passing without any knowledge or likelihood of finding my children. I stopped socializing with friends, while attending family functions became difficult and church no longer was a place of solace for me. I listened to my friends and family talk about their children, but I wasn’t able to add anything to the conversation since my sources of inspiration were no longer part of my life.


I began to think I was being punished for something I had done and that I didn’t deserve to be happy. Unfortunately, I did not seek professional counseling because I didn’t believe anyone could help me without experiencing the same type of loss. My lifecycle became robotic in nature…sleep, eat, and work.


My spare time was spent surfing the Internet, placing information about my missing children on various websites. I sent flyers and letters to various organizations, schools, police stations and hospitals around the world to keep their abduction story alive.  I hoped that someone, somewhere, someday would recognize a picture of my children and advise authorities of their location.


The best thing I did was to become involved as a parent advocate with Team Hope, an association of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. I might not have taken advantage of counseling for myself, but I was able to positively impact other parents suffering a similar fate. It helped me to help them understand the process, show them how to locate resources, and give them an avenue to discuss their feelings with someone who could relate.

Nathan Slinkard

Nathan Slinkard

But my story – at least partially – ended far more happily than is the fortune of many parents of missing children. On January 27, 2014, my son Nathan, whom I had last seen when he was five years old, walked into the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico. He had been living in that country under an assumed name since 1995. He told them his American name and said he wanted to go home.


Nathan was able to provide the consulate agents with his original birth certificate, social security card, a picture of him with me when he was about four years old, and other important documents. He was also able to show identifying body marks to confirm his identity. DNA comparison was not necessary since they were able to prove his identity without it.

Nathan Slinkard

Nathan Slinkard

Although Nathan is 18-years older and his facial features have matured from those of a little boy to a man, it only took a couple of seconds of looking at his picture to recognize him as my little brown-eyed, blond-haired boy whom I love more than life. The U.S. Consulate, National Center, F.B.I., and Hancock County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department coordinated their efforts to quickly bring my boy home.


Now, nearly 20-years after my children went missing, I have one of my children back in my life. I cannot begin to describe the elation and new sense of wholeness I feel. Nathan’s return has provided me with a rejuvenated, renewed awareness in life’s vigor. While I still don’t have complete closure, as I have had no contact with my other children, I have a renewed degree of resolution. Nathan’s assurance of Andrew and Sydney’s safety and good health gives me great comfort and relief.


The old saying, “as one door closes, another one opens,” has always held strong meaning for me. Having Nathan back and the probability of someday becoming reacquainted with Andrew and Sydney has closed a long and painful chapter of my life. But it isn’t over yet. There are more aspects to closure than simply being reunified with your missing loved one. Unfortunately, I hadn’t allowed myself to fully process my grief back when my children were taken from me and I didn’t process it over the many years they were missing.


I now find myself working through the remaining stages of grief, as well as feelings of confusion, anger, and anxiety. I am anxious to understand the experiences my children have had over the hears and about them accepting me, wanting to be a part of my life, and allowing me to  be a part of their lives. I am angry when I think of the milestones, memories, the hurts and joys of their lives that I missed out on while they were growing up. I am confused by how my life has changed, once again, on a dime.


The life, routine, and norm I lived the past 18-years changed. I am a dad again. I no longer have to suffer the complete unknown and uncertainty about my missing children’s wellbeing, safety, and welfare. I now can worry in the same fashion as most other parents for their adult children. My daily routine, as well as my spare time, is no longer spent in the same way as I did for so many years.


Looking back over the past two decades of my life, I am now able to better scrutinize my actions and thoughts. Of course there are some things I wish I would have done differently. No two people react to tragedy in the same way; everyone responds in their individual, unique manner. There is no right or wrong way for a parent or family to approach the fear, pain, and uncertainty of a missing child. Although Nathan is the only one of my children who has returned home so far, I maintain hope to be blessed with a relationship with Andrew and Sydney om the future.