Aggravated rape, aggravated robbery, and the prospect of violent death came through a bedroom window at 518 Dolphin Place, Corpus Christi, Texas, on a work night, Monday, Sept. 17, 1979…
CORPUS CHRISTI – VICKY KORN, 17, was the first to arrive home that evening – at about 9:10 p.m., following her work shift at Padre Staples mall.
The stereo was playing. She switched on the television and sat down to change her shoes, and according to a statement she gave a detective later that night, she began to feel very uncomfortable because she thought she heard whispering in another room.
And then she saw the two-tone baseball cap where it lay on the dining room table.
The cap didn’t belong there. She knew that very well because she had turned the house upside down several weeks earlier looking for a baseball cap to wear on an outing; though she searched high and low, she could not find one. The sudden recognition with its fleeting thoughts and flash of cognition was the portentous beginning of an evening of terror.
In those moments while she sat there feeling “uncomfortable,” she struggled to decide whether to leave the house. That’s when two men stepped out of hiding into the dining area brandishing pistols; as they approached her from each side, they told her to sit still while they put masking tape over her eyes and led her to a chair in a back corner of the room. During the 10 minutes she sat there, they asked questions about who would be coming home; when a car drove up in the driveway, she said it was either her father, or her mother.
The masked strangers asked which door her father would use, and she said the front; that’s when they told her to keep quiet or they would hurt her. It was the first of many threats leveled at she and other members of her family. When Marvin Korn came in, he called out to see if anyone was at home, and the two invaders ushered him into the living area at gunpoint, where they masked his eyes and made him lay on the floor.
Korn later recalled for police that one intruder wore a camouflage jacket; eerily, both wore pillow cases over their heads.
They asked many questions, all about his place of business, what kind of burglar alarm they would find there, which key unlocked the door and which disarmed the alarm, and they bound him with the kind of ultra-sticky silver air conditioning duct tape most people keep handy, fresh from where they’d found it in his garage.
That’s when Mrs. Annabelle Korn and her 15-year-old son Jeffrey walked in the back door. As the two men robbed her, she recalled for detectives, the duo seemed unsatisfied with the 1.6 carat pear-shaped diamond, the gold 50-peso coin pendant and necklace, $140 in endorsed money orders, and $170 in cash they took from her; they kept asking her for more money.
She told them she would be glad to write them a check.
Of the two Anglos, one was much older, possibly 30 to 40 years of age. She said he pulled up her skirt and shucked her pantyhose down while he fondled her. After he disappeared, the younger man, whom she guessed was about 20, was polite; he courteously pulled her hose back up, then calmly smoothed her skirt back down.
The older Anglo left with the keys to Mr. Korn’s place of business, a pharmacy in Flour Bluff, where he broke in to steal drugs and money.
Everyone recalled that at some point, a third man they perceived as black from the fitful snatches of vision they got through their masking tape blindfolds of his dark complexion and from hearing his heavily accented ghetto patois, mumbled to himself non-stop about the violent prospects the family faced. As the two Anglos reassured them they would not be harmed if they cooperated, he mentioned he ought to kill them all “just for the hell of it.”
Investigators later agreed that this “black” man was actually Anthony Melendez, younger brother of Gilbert Melendez, and a co-defendant of he and David Wayne Spence, who later entered a guilty plea to capital murder and testified against Spence in the ritual torture deaths by knife and the use of his teeth to attack Jill Montgomery, Raylene Rice, and Kenneth Franks in a park at Lake Waco in July, 1982.
For the crimes at the Korn residence, they charged him with aggravated robbery, aggravated rape, and burglary. He was still at large and wanted for his part in the alleged crimes at the Korn residence when Waco police arrested him in 1983. Transferred to the Nueces County Jail at Corpus on the robbey and rape warrant obtained in 1979, he was later overheard by jailhouse snitches in Corpus Christi admitting that he was at Lake Waco when the trio of teenagers were murdered there in July, 1982.
In addition to numerous incisive defensive knife wounds to her hands, arms and fingers, Jill Montgomery also lost the entire nipple of one her breasts in the gnawing attack. Evidence presented at trial convinced jurors that the murderers raped both she and Ms. Rice.
Evidence from the Lake Murders crime scene awaits mitochondrial DNA testing, financed by a freelance author named Frederic Dannen who is under advance contract to publisher Simon & Schuster to produce a book abuut the Lake Murders.
DNA testing paid for by Dannen has exonerated two men who were serving life for the murder of Spence’s mother, Juanita White. Medical examiners and an odontologist testified that Mrs. White had suffered a bite wound on one of her buttocks, said to have been “payback” for Spence’s alleged biting attacks at the Lake.
DNA testing proved by an estimated 1 in 19 billion odds that another suspect who lived in the North Waco neighborhood – right around the corner from Mrs. White’s home – had carried out her murder. Benny Carroll allegedly left her face a “bloody mess” after beating her to death with his fists. He had been previously convicted of the rape of another elderly woman who lived nearby.
Needless to say, among Lake Murders buffs, the Juanita White murder is a serious who-done-it.
A California testing lab is holding the DNA evidence hostage because preparations for a type of testing have already been made; thus the evidentiary material to be tgested is deemed by their attorney to be “work product.”
To further confuse matters, Innocence Project of Texas Vice President Walter Reaves, who is serving as Melendez’ appellate attorney, has enlisted Dannen, the free-lance book author, former “New Yorker” staff writer, and former New York “Times” reporter as a legal assistant in the case. He is thereby subject to the attorney-client privilege rule.
Prosecutors and a forensic odontologist caused jurors in two separate capital murder trials to believe Spence carried out the murderous attack on Ms. Montgomery – the most extensive of the three – as a case of mistaken identity in exchange for half of the proceeds of a $10,000 life insurance policy a store keeper named Mohammed Muneer Deeb had allegedly offered him for the murder-for-hire of another young girl named Gail Kelly; she also lived at the Methodist Home where Ms. Montgomery had lived, as had Kenneth Franks, a beau of Ms. Kelly whom Deeb admittedly fancied as a possible marriage partner who could anchor the Jordanian computer student’s claim on a green card and resident alien status.
MARVIN KORN’S 1979 HOME INVASION ORDEAL ended about 11 p.m., when he realized that he was no longer hearing people moving around, ransacking the house. He called out to ask if they had gone, and after he worked free of his bonds about 11:20, he freed his wife, son, and daughter.
Korn later recalled that the phone rang repeatedly and for minutes at a time during the hour and a half-long invasion, something he speculated must have spooked the attackers and sent them packing. It was a neighbor who became alarmed when no one at the Korn home answered during the hour between 9 and 10, when the family usually reunited after a busy day on a work night.
Mrs. Korn fled to a neighbor’s house across the street, where she called police. When she told them she thought the invaders intended to rob her husband’s drug store, they said the silent alarm had just then begun to ring at headquarters. His children took refuge at another neighbor’s home; while he waited for police, he called yet another neighbor, the family doctor, and requested that he meet them at a local hospital.
According to Sgt. G.R. Lazo, the pharmacist was not really sure how long the home invasion lasted; he was “considerably upset,” and though one assailant had struck him and another had fondled his wife, he showed no real physical evidence of assault.
He told the investigators he really had no idea what, exactly, had happened while he was bound and blind-folded. Nevertheless, the investigator remarked that he seemed especially nervous, ill at ease.
His daughter Vicky, however, suffered a small cut on her “backside” where she had sat on some broken glass on her parents’ bed. The intruders had applied masking tape to the glass, then cut it with a glass cutter in an attempt to keep the shattered glazing material from spreading far and wide.
In a poignant aside, the detective reported that when he first arrived, there were a few drops of blood on her parents’ bed, muddy shoe prints on the window sill, and some glass shards strewn across the bed and floor. The room was a mess, as were the other two bedrooms. Lazo noted that Vicky was dressed in “a hospital gown over which she had some type of night robe.”
“She was cooperative, easy to be interviewed and related the entire story as to the events without much hesitation.” Though he noted that she had been treated with a rape kit, he tactfully stated that her condition was unknown. However, authorities later charged the suspects with aggravated rape. Just like aggravated robbery, it was defined in 1979 as an offense during which the perpetrator has made the victims believe they will be killed or otherwise seriously harmed; the offense is a felony of the first degree, punishable by 5 to 99 years in the penitentiary, a $10,000 fine, or both.
The robbers took a gold ring with 4 sapphire stones from Vicky, which, along with other items of personal adornment, was later found at the home of two brothers, Ronnie and Kenneth Clark. They charged both with the crimes at the Korn home, and later, based on information they obtained in their investigation, obtained an arrest warrant for Anthony Melendez, as well.
Two other Clark brothers, Jeff and Douglas, one of whom worked at Gateway Pharmacy, were interrogated closely. Detectives learned that during the police investigation, they passed along information to their brothers about what they learned police were doing to bring the attackers to justice.
Following his transfer back to Waco to answer for his alleged part in the Lake Murders, Tony Melendez suddenly changed his mind under the continuing interrogation of former Waco Police Sergeant Truman Simons, who had quit his job as a city police officer to take on the entry-level duties of a jailer at the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office. He promised Sheriff Jack Harwell that if he hired him in that slot, he could clear the triple murders at Lake Waco within a week.
Defense attorneys and the defendants David Wayne Spence and Melendez’ brother Gilbert were surprised when he suddenly decided to plead guilty to capital murder and testify against Spence, even though his trial attorneys went on record with his former employer that he had an airtight alibi. They claimed they had evidence that he was on the job at Bryan, Texas, on the Tuesday evening the triple murders at the lake occurred, that his former boss’s payroll records he was painting apartments until Friday evening, when he caught a ride back to Waco.
One may only speculate that, offered his druthers, he chose to plead guilty and go to the penitentiary as a self-convicted capital murderer rather than a convicted home invader, robber and rapist, an offense fraternally considered in the criminal hierarchy to carry a very low social status behind bars – or anywhere else.
His co-defendants are both dead. Spence lost his life to the executioner’s needle; his brother Gilbert Melendez died of AIDS.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles earlier this month announced it has agreed to investigate a petition for executive clemency in order to make a recommendation to Governor Greg Abbott.