Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kenneth Dyar Wood: Man of God or Rapist?

The following is taken from
Shoalanda Speaks dated May 2, 2009, and October 8, 2011.

Kenneth Dyar Wood is a 70 year-old Pentecostal minister, the father of three daughters, and an accused child rapist. Currently, Wood is being held in the Morgan County Jail with bond set at $70,000.00. According to Morgan County Sheriff Gene Mitchell, the Speake resident has been the subject of a two-month investigation that culminated with his arrest for the rape of a child under the age of twelve.

Specifically, Wood is charged with raping an eleven year-old Colbert County girl at his home in December 2008. During the investigation, two other girls stated that Wood had sexually molested them. According to investigators, more girls and young women have indicated they will now come forward and further charges are likely.

The Barnett Chapel Pentecostal Church where the accused rapist had served as pulpit minister for several years has publicly announced that Wood resigned as of last Sunday. Officials there refused further comment.

Obviously, we will hope no one previously knew of this man's deviant behavior. Married to 68 year-old former Wanda Marie Gillespie, Wood is the father of 42 year-old Tracy Marie Wood HIcks, 38 year-old Wendy Scarlett Wood, and 34 year-old Shelly Kenya Wood. Certainly his church must have seen him as a God-fearing family man who could be trusted with the children of the congregation. Yet, over 13% of religious leaders have admitted to having sex with congregants, consensual and otherwise.

Sadly, the next few days and weeks will reveal the scope of Kenneth Dyar Wood's deviance. It won't be a pretty picture.


The wheels of justice frequently turn slowly; therefore we are never surprised at the length of time between an arrest and indictment, or between an indictment and the actual plea or trial. A reader has sent us a link to an obituary for Wood.

It seems that after being arrested in May 2009 on at least one count of rape of a child under the age of 12, Kenneth Dyar Wood reported to a higher judge than the one he would have faced in Lawrence County. The Pentecostal preacher passed away on May 28, 2010, and was buried June 2nd at Morris Chapel Cemetery. The 71 year-old Wood had possibly faced more charges as other victims were reported to be coming forward.

If Wood was innocent, it's sad that he did not have a chance to redeem his reputation. If guilty, at least his victims and their families know they are now safe from the pedophile who robbed them of so much.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Crime Blogs

All crime is different, but every reader should find something to their taste in one of these. Bon Appetit!

1947project: A weblog about crime and architectural reporting from 1947 Los Angeles and today.

Blood of the Scribe: The State of The True Crime Union.

Clews: A historic true crime blog.

Crime Interrupted: True crime from the four corners.

Crime Rant: Deliberating crime coast to coast.

Denny Griffin on BlogTalk: Following a 20-year career in investigations and law enforcement in New York State, Denny decided to try writing stories about what he saw.

In Cold Blog: A blog for historical true crime fans.

Las Vegas and the Mob Blog: Las Vegas police and organized crime history.

Malefactor's Register: Crime, Punishment, Law and Writing.

Michelle Says So: Crime, Missing Persons, Sex Predators, Women's Issues, and Controversial News.

Parents Behaving Badly: Please don't make us blog you!

Sarcastic Crime: Talk about headlines, participate in chat, and enjoy the cynical debate and conversation.

The Murder Book 2008: A record of all the murders in New York City in 2008 that appear in the city's three daily newspapers.

Today's Atrocities: Bad things daily.

The True Crime Weblog: In-depth commentary and investigation into high profile crimes in the news today.

When a Child Goes Missing: Does a child go missing in the United States every forty seconds?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is Sweetwater a "Crime?"

The Sweetwater Mansion Debacle

A Guest Commentary By

Sarah Savant

All my life I've been surrounded by people who volunteer to improve the community. I've always worked with various well-established school clubs and when I volunteered to work with Sweetwater Mansion, I expected it to be the same. I couldn't have been more wrong.

My first day as a volunteer was in the middle of August, and the director immediately handed me a camera and told me to take photos inside the house and on the grounds. Cynthia Johnson told me she was specifically looking for orbs that would suggest a ghostly presence. I do believe in ghosts, but I had volunteered to help restore the mansion, not take snapshots of what Ms. Johnson wanted to prove was on the property.

Nevertheless, I followed her instructions, and several of us volunteers took photos for Cynthia. After we finished up, Cynthia told one young man he had captured the image of a werewolf in his photos. She then proceeded to show off what she called her psychic powers by offering predictions to our group. My friends and I thought the whole set up was odd, but we believed that the director really cared about the house so her behavior didn't bother us that much at the time.

When we returned in October to begin the tours, we found that absolutely nothing had been done to restore the old home. These things take time and money, so we told ourselves "Rome wasn't built in a day." Cynthia told us that restoration would begin in earnest in early December, and we still had no real reason to doubt her.

As Cynthia began to tell us about the history of the house, she mentioned she had been William McDonald's personal assistant at one time. We found this impressive, but then she continued to tell us about Susan Leigh Smithson, the property's owner. According to Cynthia, Ms. Smithson had been a high fashion model in her younger days and was now a fashion designer. I consider myself pretty fashion savvy and had never heard of Ms. Smithson, so I decided to Google her when I returned home. I found that Susan owned a shop in Atlanta that specialized in prom dresses and she had some odd comments and reviews attached to her name.

Things definitely weren't adding up. I was left to wonder just what other statements we needed to take with a grain of salt...

Sweetwater's director Cynthia Johnson liked to paint a perfect picture of the supposedly wealthy owner. She never spoke of Susan Smithson without mentioning her great wealth, but by October of 2010, we began considering the source. We soon saw that Susan didn't pay for anything related to the house. Her mother Edith Smithson paid the bills, and we also soon learned that the money earned from any events was paid directly to Susan's mother.

At first I thought this looked shady, but Cynthia said Mrs. Smithson paid the utilities and taxes for Susan. When I asked Cynthia why the plantation hadn't received tax exempt status, she told me she had sent the paperwork to Susan's mother who had lost it. I didn't ask after that.

I did talk with two other volunteers who had similar stories about the finances at the mansion, but there was never a great deal of money involved. I would guesstimate less than four thousand was taken in each year the mansion was open to the public. Still, we thought this money should have gone to restoration rather than to pay Susan's electric or tax bill. We began to think the mansion would never be restored with Cynthia as director.

As the tours took shape, Cynthia told us stories of the original land owner, Gen. John Brahan, practicing voodoo in the basement and other ghost tales which she seemed to relish. About this time I became friends with another local historian who worked there. She shared her knowledge of Mr. McDonald's history of Sweetwater and also many things she had discovered through her own research. She was in possession of some writings of Jane Patton and other first hand material from that era. The two stories were so different, and Cynthia's was so unbelievable.

I began to use the story told to me by my friend when I lead the tours, rather than the more lurid voodoo story that Cynthia had told me to relate. Cynthia then began to follow me around during the tours and "correct" me. I was becoming more and more disenchanted, but Cynthia told me in late October that massive restoration work was set to begin in early December.

I knew that Cynthia had promised this before, but I hoped this time it was true. When I returned to the home after Christmas break, again absolutely nothing had been done. It was then that I decided to call owner Susan Leigh Smithson...

I looked up the number for Miz Scarletts in Atlanta, called, and asked to speak to Susan. I was told Susan was at fashion week in Paris. This was early in January, and I knew the only shows in Paris at that time were haute couture and men's fashion. What prom dress store owner would be invited to something like that? I started laughing, but I did manage to say I worked at Sweetwater and gave them a false name.

Apparently I still gave store personnel too much information because it was only about five minutes later that Cynthia Johnson called me. It seems Susan had called her and was livid. How had I found her "private number?" She related that Susan didn't take calls because she got death threats, was involved in lawsuits, and the list just went on an on. I don't know what any of Susan's personal problems had to do with me, but if I had problems with Cynthia before, I really had them now.

She began telling other volunteers that I was out to get her and wanted her "job." At first I just shook it off, but then something happened that I couldn't just overlook. Cynthia was always relating things using her self-proclaimed psychic abilities, but now she began to tell others that she had a vision of me in the future and in this vision I was being raped.

When I heard this I was angry beyond words; I was sick to my stomach. When I confronted Cynthia she told me she was only concerned for my well being. Apparently she wasn't concerned enough to come to me privately and tell me this. What should I do? I didn't want to be around Cynthia any more, but I really loved Sweetwater, so I decided to stay at least until the Living History Days in April.

I wanted to be sure the stories told during the program were accurate, but Cynthia had her own version of things leading up to the actual event. If anyone ever asked about Susan, Cynthia told them that Smithson was in London working on Kate Middleton's dress for the royal wedding. I wish I could say she was joking, but she was completely serious. If this didn't kill any interest I had in the project, what happened next did.

Things actually went very well for the living history event, and some of us decided to spend the night at Sweetwater. There were only volunteers present, and we were having fun playing with some of the ghost hunting equipment. At least it was fun until two to the committee members got into an argument that turned nasty very quickly.

One of the two involved was my friend who had helped me with Sweetwater's history. She resigned the next morning and most of us were extremely upset. We thought that Cynthia Johnson as director should do something about it. Instead, Cynthia acted as if nothing odd or out of the way had happened. I then decided to distance myself from the project, only dropping by if someone I knew well was going to be there.

Some time later I received a phone call from this friend who had been "thrown under the bus." She had heard that someone was taking up money for Sweetwater at First Fridays and asked that I go with her to the next event and see what we could find out. Before we could go, I heard that Cynthia was accusing me and still another former committee member of being the ones who were collecting the funds. I decided to call Cynthia to ask why she was accusing us. She told me she had received a description of the pair and they sounded much like my male friend and me.

I still love Sweetwater and want it to be restored. I don't know what it will take, but I honestly and sincerely believe that Cynthia Johnson is holding the project back. Volunteers don't stay long and no real work is ever done. If exposing what is really going on at Sweetwater will help, I feel that I have finally accomplished something.

Originally published in Shoalanda Speaks July 28-August 1, 2011.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Saga of the Reedtown Rapist

The Franklin County community of Reedtown is an anachronism, a racially segregated town that sits at the southwest corner of Russellville. Known for its copious drug dealers, Reedtown is the home of Marcus Anthony Hurley, a self-proclaimed member of the Reedtown Crip and Folk Nation and a convicted sex offender with a laundry list of other lesser convictions.

Known as Mark Anthony, the 6'1" bearded Hurley was convicted in 2002 of 1st degree sexual torture, his victim a 17 year-old girl. Sentenced to prison on April 5, 2002, he was a free man by July 16, 2003.

On September 18, 2003, Hurley visited the Hotskees Lounge in nearby Littleville. The small Colbert county town borders Franklin County on the north and is the closest community to Russellville that legally sells alcohol. There Hurley met an exotic dancer whom he repeatedly raped. This is the account of the ordeal as presented in case records:

The victim testified that in the early morning hours on September 18, 2003, she was working her second night as a dancer at Hotskee's Lounge in Littleville. As part of her job, she was required to dance in a bikini or bra and panties for tips and to persuade patrons to buy her at least six non-alcoholic drinks. She would also perform lap dances for customers, one-on-one personal dances performed in a back room. She testified that her shift had begun on the evening of September 17, 2003, and that it was not a busy night at the lounge. She testified that Hurley entered the club at approximately 10:00 p.m. Following her dance on the stage, Hurley tipped her, bought her some drinks, and they talked for about an hour and a half. She asked Hurley if she could perform a lap dance for him, and he agreed. She testified that she performed for him for one four-or-five minute song. During this time, she said, Hurley was respectful and did nothing inappropriate. That dance was the last one of the night for the victim. She testified that she went into the dressing room, changed clothes, and prepared to go home. As she was leaving through the front door, Hurley was waiting for her and asked her if he could walk her to her car. Because he had been a "perfect gentlemen" throughout the night, she agreed to let him walk her to her car. As they were walking to her car, she assumed Hurley had stopped under a breezeway, because he was no longer walking next to her. She testified that she got in her car, buckled her seatbelt, and began lighting a cigarette, when the passenger door opened. Hurley got into the car, and told the victim to "shut up." She testified that Hurley hit her twice in the head and told her to "shut up and drive." Hurley directed her to drive and pull into "what looked like it used to be a driveway" leading to an abandoned house.

Hurley instructed the victim to turn off the car's ignition and lights. He then placed her head in a "headlock," exposed his genitals, and forced her to perform oral sex on him. He then ordered her to remove her pants and underwear, pulled her on top of him while he was in the passenger seat, and forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. Although the victim continued to tell him "no," and that she needed to go home to her baby, he held onto her to prevent her from leaving the car. Following the rape, Hurley smoked a cigarette and allowed the victim to do so as well. Before she finished her cigarette, however, Hurley again forced her to perform oral sex and to have sexual intercourse with him a second time. She testified that they engaged in conversation and smoked another cigarette and that Hurley stepped out of the vehicle with his back to the victim to "use the restroom." The victim testified that she was too scared to start her vehicle. Hurley turned around and told the victim that she could leave, but that she better not tell anyone about the incident, because he would be back at Hotskee's. The victim testified that she pulled onto the main highway and was speeding toward the Littleville Police Department, when she was pulled over by an officer of the Russellville Police Department. After she explained that she had been raped, the officer escorted her to the nearest hospital.

The victim identified Hurley from a photographic line up, as the perpetrator of the crimes against her. Evidence was presented indicating that shortly after the incident occurred, police found Hurley sleeping on the porch of the abandoned home where the rape and sodomy had taken place. When he saw the police, Hurley immediately rolled over and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. He admitted that he had been at Hotskee's lounge that night. Evidence was also presented indicating that the DNA profile, taken from Hurley after his arrest, matched that taken from the vaginal swabs from the rape kit analysis performed on the victim on the night of the incident.

For his crimes, Franklin County Judge Sharon Hester sentenced habitual offender Hurley to life in prison. Two years later, he was free again.

Joseph S. Rushing prosecuted the Hotskees rape case against Mark Anthony Hurley, winning a conviction; however, Rushing used what the Alabama Appeals Court later termed inadmissible evidence of yet another previous rape. While not appearing on official Alabama sex offender records, Hurley had committed a very similar sexual assault for which he was convicted in 2000. From court records:

She testified that she first met Hurley on April 7, 2000, at a friend's house. She testified that a group of her friends was at the house when she arrived. Hurley was there, but she did not know him. Hurley took part in the group's conversations and mentioned several times going to the Waffle House breakfast restaurant. After he asked several times, she eventually agreed to go, observing that the appellant appeared to be a "nice guy." She testified that she went alone with him to the Waffle House "[j]ust to go eat." Instead of taking her to the restaurant, however, Hurley took her to his apartment, explaining that he needed to make a telephone call before they went to the restaurant. Hurley asked her to come into his apartment while he made the call. When they entered the apartment, Hurley lit a candle and pretended to make a telephone call before asking her if she wanted to go to the Waffle House. When she replied that she no longer wanted to go and asked that he take her back to her friend's house, he agreed and proceeded toward the front door. She testified that he then closed the door and pushed her toward the living room into a chair. As she begged him to take her home, Hurley began trying to take off her clothes. He proceeded to pull her pants down; he did not remove her underwear or remove the tampon she had inserted earlier before forcibly raping her. After he finished, she asked him to take her home. Although Hurley initially blocked her at the doorway, he finally agreed and drove her back to her friend's house. She testified that no words were spoken on the return drive.

During Hurley's second trial for the Hotskees rape, Joey Rushing, now Franklin County District Attorney, was forbidden to introduce the above facts and otherwise failed to prove force in the Littleville incident. To the delight of Hurley's Reedtown family and friends, the self-proclaimed gang banger was found not guilty.

Hurley returned to Reedtown, but moved often, and in March 2008 was indicted for failing to comply with the sexual predator registration act. Receiving only probation for that crime, Hurley once again remained free.

Soon the Reedtown Rapist was accused of a fourth illicit sex act, specifically the rape of a 17 year-old girl on June 7, 2009. His alleged victim stated she was beaten during the assault that took place at Hurley's Filmore Street residence. Hurley had disappeared by the time officers arrived at his home with the arrest warrant, and U.S. Marshals joined the Russellville Police force in a massive man hunt. Six days later, acting on a tip, authorities found Hurley at the residence of Desmond Hamilton.

Hurley posted a $75,000.00 property bond and returned to his home to await trial, but he was obviously not subdued by his plight. In February 2010, he was arrested again while out on bail--this time on drug charges. He was then indicted by a Franklin County Grand Jury on the charges of Possession of Marijuana and Drug Paraphernalia. What does it take to keep this man in prison?

Perhaps Rushing and Hurley's victims felt a plea was the only sure way to incarcerate Hurley. Now, he will serve at least three years and one day in jail for his latest rape. In March 2011, Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing deemed the split sentence the best way to ensure Hurley would do a substantial amount of time in prison and, considering previous jury verdicts, we agree.

After his release from prison, the 34 year-old Hurley will then face five years of probation. Any violation of the terms of his probation will send the Reedtown Rapist to prison to serve the remainder of his twenty year sentence. Mark Anthony Hurley's record goes back at least ten years; besides several rape/assault charges, Hurley has also previously been convicted of second degree escape.

Look for another chapter in the ongoing saga of the Reedtown Rapist after his release in two years...yes, two years. The year Hurley spent incarcerated after his bail revocation will count toward his time served. As VOCAL says, justice for all, even the victims.

The above account was taken from Shoalanda Speaks originally published June 17-18, 2009, April 14, 2010, and April 3, 2011.