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'Gun for Hire' Had Many Clients : Bumbling Gang of Killers Left Trail of Death, Terror

September 06, 1987|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writer

As Herring listened to this, he became more and more skeptical. For one thing, Norwood remembered too much, or so it seemed. In Herring's experience, people under stress forgot more than they remembered, but here was Norwood reeling off not only the names of the hotels involved but also the room numbers.

Much as Herring doubted the story, he was a good enough cop to know that even the most bizarre and seemingly unrelated incidents might have a connection. He began running down Norwood's background, as well as the Memphis hotels Norwood had described, but it was truly a confusing case.

Herring did not have the only confusing case. There were others happening in other parts of the country.

Unexploded Bomb in Bar

Harold Hayes of Rochester, Minn., found an unexploded bomb in his bar and later found out that a rival had sent the gang members to break his kneecaps. He was never alone long enough for them to do that part of the job.

While in that part of the country, the gang also contracted to blow up the chicken shed in Iowa, which it did quite well.

The family of Albert Thielman was on a flight that had landed in Dallas when a bomb went off in the cargo hold, causing a great deal of smoke but no injuries. That was alarming enough, but Mrs. Thielman was even more shocked to discover that the bomb had been in her cosmetic case. One of the gang members now in prison has been indicted for selling Thielman the bomb.

Mary Alice Wolf wanted Victoria Brashear killed, but the two gang members sent to Lexington, Ky., to do the job decided that the intended victim was too pretty to be killed.

Car Blown Up

Dana Free, a Marietta, Ga., businessman, fled for his life in August, 1985, after two hand grenades exploded in his car. He was not injured and hid out at his ex-wife's home in Houston. While he was staying there, two hand grenades were thrown into the living room. They exploded, but no one was in the room at the time.

Then the killers started getting better at their work. Richard Braun, an Atlanta businessman, was shot as he was driving from his suburban home. His son, who was also in the car, watched him die.

Anita Spearman, the assistant city manager of West Palm Beach, Fla., was bludgeoned to death in November, 1985, as she lay in bed recovering from a mastectomy. The killer took her jewelry and a shotgun that belonged to her husband, Robert.

A few days later, a policeman in Maryville, Tenn., arrested a man identified as Sean Trevor Doutre. Doutre was carrying a shotgun, a machine pistol, a silencer and $6,000 in cash. It was only after he had posted a $10,000 bond and had been released that police learned the shotgun belonged to Robert Spearman.

Always Carried Gun

In Fayetteville, Doug Norwood was becoming a pain. Although Herring and his boss, Lt. Jim Swearingen, had run out of leads, Norwood was constantly calling them to report that he was being followed.

"We did get a little weary of it," Herring said.

One day, Norwood called again. The story was the same--someone was tailing him. Herring and Swearingen got into their unmarked university patrol car and drove to the law school, where they spotted the Ford sedan Norwood had just described leaving the parking lot. They followed it for a couple of miles, then pulled the driver over. A pleasant enough man jumped out of the front seat and identified himself as Michael Wayne Jackson. He pulled out a badge and said he was the former police chief of Tatum, Tex., and was looking into a couple of programs at the school.

While Swearingen talked to Jackson, Herring went to the car and looked in the window. Under a sweater was the end of an assault rifle. From the window on the other side of the car, he could see a semi-automatic pistol equipped with a silencer under the steering wheel. Both weapons were illegal. Herring signaled Swearingen to be careful. They arrested Jackson without a fight and brought him to the University of Arkansas police station.

Jackson started talking very quickly.

"We interviewed Michael Jackson and we suddenly had our eyes open as to what was happening," Herring said. "Jackson told us of other bombings and murders that he was aware of. I think I can say that the arrest of Michael Jackson led to the snowball effect."

Checking Out Details

Just having Jackson admit the crimes wasn't enough, however. The officers began checking out the details to make sure he was telling the truth.

"It was an arduous, long process," Herring said of the investigation. "It kept expanding and expanding and expanding."

Before it was over, Herring's department alone would compile 20 volumes, of 150 pages each, on the case.

In February, 1986, Doutre was arrested again in Athens, Ga. He talked, as Jackson had, and this led to further arrests. All of those involved, the hired guns and those who did the hiring, have since been tried and sentenced. Savage, Jackson, Doutre, Buckley, DeLuca and Mattingly are all behind bars.

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