Thursday, April 26, 2012

Unsolved Murder in Katy

It's a nice house in a nice neighborhood.  It is your stereotypical suburbia where people keep nice houses, manicured lawns, and all the dirty laundry locked away in the closet (but that's another post).  Today this neighborhood lies among a busy, metropolitan area crammed with businesses and traffic.  However back in 1987 this area was developing.  The main road, Mason, was mostly prairie with a BBQ joint and a 7-11.  People were starting to move out west from Houston to settle the Katy area.  This house on Kent Falls was a model home being used by Standard Pacific Homes to lure new settlers.  A young mother of two, Ester Collins worked for this company.  On November 06, 1987, a home seeking couple came here and found Ester's body.  Ester had been bound, gagged, and stabbed numerous times.  24 years later and detectives have virtually no leads.  Her two children are still involved in trying to find their mother's killer.  I drove out here one night and looked at the house.  I don't know if it's my knowledge of this house's history or just the fact the street light here didn't seem to work but I had an erie feeling.  I stared at the house where Ester spent her final minutes, terrified, probably hoping and praying she would survive this ordeal to see her family again.  I hope one day they can find who did this and give her family some peace.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Japan's Suicide Forest (videos)

A compassionate mini-documentary done by a man named Ken in Japan. If you have an ad box in the lower right corner just move your cursor over it and click the X to get rid of it. Ken walks the forests telling the story like a bard. He encounters a man in a yellow tent. You'll have to watch to the end to see what happens. Another video of a man named Chad Daniel giving a tour through the forest. He is talking about the "suicide culture" and blames a particular book for glamorizing it. Fair warning, it is rather preachy however it is against the act of suicide. This footage isn't in Chad's original mini-documentary. Here Chad finds a man hanging and then preaches.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Unsolved Murders at 5900 Glenmont

Welcome to the Las Americas apartments at 5900 Glenmont in south west Houston. Back in 1979 they were called The Orchard Apartments. The complex (and many more like it) was built to accommodate the mass of young adults coming to work in Houston's energy boom. On July 27, 1979, a man arrived here to pick up a co worker however he found her body. Aside from the mass of blood he found that her head was missing. He followed a blood trail to the parking lot where it disappeared.
33 year old Alys Elaine Rankin had been raped and beheaded here. Her head was never found. Two weeks later Mary Calcutta was found murdered just two floors above Alys. She had been stabbed so hard, so many times that the blade bent. The killer was never caught. Naturally folks here were on edge.

I know this location. I've driven through here several times. One night I drove out here. I looked at the complex (now under a new name). A gate now surrounds the property as a security guard sits (or sleeps) in his car with a flashing blue light attached. It's been over 30 years since these horrific murders. As I took in the scene I wondered what path did the killer take? Did he live here too? How many of these people sleeping peacefully know about these murders? Which apartments did they occur in? Do the spirits of these women haunt the complex? Why did the killer stop so soon? What happened to him? Could he possibly still be here? Could he be watching me?

Read the chronicle story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Japan's Suicide Forest (Warning-Graphic Images)

When I hear Japan, I think of cutting edge robotic technology as well as ancient mysticism. Japan is home to the feudal system, samurai, Bushido, and repressed desires. Mount Fuji serves as a symbol of the tiny island's majesty. However Mount Fuji also marks one of the world's darkest, creepiest places. On its north western basin lay the Aokigahara Forest (Sea of Trees). The forest comprises of volcanic rock, caverns, and a sea of trees (hence its name), spirits, and demons according to the local lore. The locals knew the forest to be an end to many a wary soul who gave up on life. The rest of the island learned of its sinister reputation in 1960 when Seicho Matsumoto wrote Nami no To (Tower of Waves). In the novel two lovers commit suicide in the forest and since then Aokigahara became known as the end road for the hopeless. The record year for suicides was 2004 when 108 hopeless souls ended their misery. The Japanese government quit publicizing the suicide rates hoping to discourage people from going into the woods to kill themselves. In 2010, 58 people ended their lives as 247 attempted it. The forest entrances are littered with signs discouraging people from going through with it. Despite this, there will always be people who have given up hope and somehow have romanticized the idea of their corpse becoming part of the forest landscape until the periodic body round up conducted by the authorities.

Happy 115th Anniversary Aurora

Today is observed by conspiracy theorists, UFOlogists, and listeners of Coast to Coast AM as the 115th anniversary of the UFO crash in Aurora, Texas. Just about anyone with an internet connection or watched the X Files about 20 years ago has heard of the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO crash. However relatively few have heard of the Texas UFO crash 50 years prior. In the skies over Aurora in 1897, residents reported seeing a cigar shaped object. According to local legend on April 17, an unknown aircraft struck a windmill and crashed killing the pilot. According to an army officer, the pilot was not of this earth and was buried in the Aurora Cemetery and the evidence of the crash buried under the windmill. There have been several investigations into this story and not one has proved conclusive. The alien body is said to have been buried in an unmarked grave. The site of the windmill is said to have been converted to a well but was then sealed due to contamination (from the UFO?). In 1979, an article in Time Magazine quoted a long time resident as saying the story had been made up to help keep the town (which had been besieged by a fire and disease) alive. Despite this, a historical marker at the cemetery mentions the incident and people continue to discuss the long lost alien body. Regardless it makes a good story.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ricky's Cafe Tanzania

Whether you're an expat, a traveler, or an aid worker in Tanzania, Africa you'll find that your food choices are rather limited. Africa is a land of vast wonder, majestic animals, and harsh living. For whatever reason foreigners in Africa come across poverty at its worst aside from the thieves, the bandits, and the prostitutes. The term "Mzungo" is shouted as young kids come demanding money in an entitlement sort of manner. Most (if not all) the foreigners that find themselves in Morogoro, Tanzania, are thrilled to come across Ricky's Cafe. This is the closest to western food as one will get and it's mostly full of foreigners rather than the locals. Before setting off into the deep African forest be sure to stop by here for a milkshake or a "pimp" steak.

Huntsville Day Trip Pt. 2

The display for the famous prison rodeo.

Celebrities who performed at the prison rodeo.

This tells the story of the 1974 Carrasco siege. The two women were held hostage and murdered.

Tools used in the siege

Assortment of prison made weapons.

Crudely made tattoo guns.

The Walls Unit where the final punishment is carried out.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hunstville Day Trip Pt. 1

I lived in Huntsville, Texas, for four years. I like to tell people I did four years in Huntsville at one of the state institutions (for those of you non locals there is Sam Houston State University and the state prison system). In case you're wondering I went to SHSU and graduated back in the late 1990s. The whole time there I heard of the prison museum and kept putting it off. I figured one day I'd get around to it but alas I never did. A short 15 years later the opportunity arose so I took it. My first surprise was that the prison museum moved from it's original location in downtown Huntsville to the other side of town. This bigger facility provides visitors with a deeper (and sometimes darker) look into prison life.

A model of the Walls Unit.

This pistol was found in the car after Bonnie and Clyde were killed in Louisiana.

This memoriam honors those TDC employees killed in the line of duty.
This pistol was carried by Wallace Pack (on the left) and taken from him by inmate Eroy Brown. Brown shot and killed Billy Moore (on the right) and drowned Warden Pack. Brown was tried three times for the murder and was actually acquitted. As a result Brown serves his sentence in South Carolina because the courts felt he wouldn't survive inside a Texas prison. According to this article the jury bought the inmate's self defense claim.
Weapons used to keep control in the prisons.
This exhibit serves to inform people about the highly controversial death penalty in Texas. Two of the cause celebs of the anti death penalty crowd were Karla Faye Tucker and Gary Graham. They like the picture of the smiling Karla to evoke sympathy but never show the brutal pictures (I've seen them) of her victims. Karla took a pick ax and murdered two people and said with each strike felt an orgasm. Imagine a scene from a bloody zombie movie and that's what those pictures looked like. Gary Graham was a burglar, rapist, and murderer. His supporters argued he didn't kill the man from Arizona that got him the death penalty. They used the usual arguments (frame up, racism, etc). It shouldn't be forgotten that Graham was found drunk after raping an elderly woman. When he was executed it was a circus. Black activists from Houston staged a rally and walked with their rifles out in the open. What many people don't know is members of the KKK had planned to attend in support of the execution but law enforcement officials stopped them at the county line and convinced them to turn back.
A saw used in the fields turned into a canvass for prison artists.

The bicycle in this picture was left outside a prison and an inmate rode off in a failed escape attempt.

Old Sparky. The electric chair. Many inmates met their fates here.
A model cell. Could you live in one of these for 5? 10? 20 years?

A Bible meant to give hope, enlightenment, and salvation to the condemned. It's thick pages could be cut to conceal contraband.

A sampling of weapons made by creative inmates. In here are two tattoo guns, home made guns, and many edged weapons.