by Tim Gilmore, 7/29/2017
cont’d from What Ever Happened to Beverly June? Part 1
The Dream Killer
Emmett Spencer was in jail on charges of two murders and told police he’d dreamt about seven others. Soon headlines would refer to Spencer as the “Dream Killer.”
Spencer identified a photograph of Virginia Tomlinson, a 48 year old Jacksonville Beach waitress, who’d been stabbed to death and dumped far south in “a wooded area” of Vero Beach three weeks before her body was found.
On July 28, 1960, The Orlando Sentinel reported Spencer’s claim that he was in the car with a man named Shorty and his 17 year old girlfriend, Mary Catherine Hampton, who was, at the time of the story, in jail in Key West for larceny.
Spencer had been in jail since April 15th, the day he bludgeoned John Keen to death in Key West. He’d been arrested after shooting a state trooper “in a wild highway chase,” then driving through a roadblock of police cars in Leesburg.
Two weeks before the Sentinel ran this story, Mary Catherine had given birth to Spencer’s son, who was placed in foster care.
Spencer said he was there when Tomlinson was murdered, but that he didn’t do it. After leading deputies to the place where her body was found, he told them, “This looks to be the same place, but it was getting dark when I saw her.”
“In another development at Jacksonville,” the story concludes, “investigators said Spencer bore a close resemblance to an artist’s sketch of a stranger seen near the home of a woman who disappeared in February.”
The very next day, July 29th, the UPI reported, “Detectives said the parolee, 29 year old Emmett Spencer, was living in Jacksonville at the time a pretty 19 year old housewife disappeared, Feb. 24. She was gone when her husband, James Edward Cochran, 23, came home from work. Their year old child was alone and crying.”
Though 10 or 20 years younger than the assumed age of the stranger who parked his car across from the Cochrans’, the police said Spencer matched the sketch of the stranger. Both faces were gaunt.
He and Mary Catherine had been staying in downtown boarding houses on Church Street and on Liberty Street by the Maxwell House Coffee factory, six miles south of the Cochrans’ place. They’d hitchhiked around the country. The artist’s sketch depicted a stranger who’d been sitting in a car near the Cochrans’ house for several weeks, but Spencer didn’t own a car.
In her 2005 Folio Weekly cover story, Susan Clark Armstrong reports that Chief Investigator J.C. Patrick and Sheriff Dale Carson traveled to Miami to interrogate Spencer. “While interviewing Spencer,” Armstrong writes, “J.C. Patrick beat the convicted murderer to the point of unconsciousness, breaking two of Spencer’s ribs.” Carson claimed Spencer denied murdering Beverly Cochran, then claimed Spencer confessed, but that Carson didn’t believe him.
Though Spencer claimed not to have murdered Tomlinson, but to have been present when she was stabbed to death, he led investigators to a body, just north of Key West on Big Coppitt Key, which he identified as belonging to a 45 year old Jacksonville Beach bartender named Leon Hammell whom Spencer admitted to killing.
No Killer, But a Hero
A significant part of Spencer’s court defense relied on his having dreamed several murders instead of committing them. Defense attorney Robert Youmans argued that Spencer was no killer, but a hero.
On August 22, 1960, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky called Spencer “the lanky Kentucky wanderer whose jail-cell dreams started a nationwide body hunt.”
Youmans argued that Jacksonville Beach barkeep Leon Hammell, not Emmett Spencer, murdered John Keen in Key West, and that Spencer had “dealt deadly justice” to Hammell for Keen’s murder.
Since being in police custody, Youmans argued, Spencer had dreamt of several murders that had happened across the state, thus helping Florida investigators solve crimes they seemed unable to solve without him.
“Every time he helps them to solve a mysterious killing,” Youmans said, “they turn around and charge him with the crime!”
Though Emmett Spencer had dreamt of the killings, despite what the police told the public, he had never once “confessed to any murder.”
It was criminal that Spencer should be tried for these crimes, since “What he did do was tell them he was involved in the killing of the actual murderer (of Keen).”
On August 25th, Mary Catherine Hampton testified in court that Spencer told her he’d “put Keen out of the world.” Furthermore, Hammell couldn’t have killed Keen, she said, because he’d already disappeared somewhere along their road trip.
Hampton, however, “implicated both Spencer and Hammell in the slaying of Mrs. Virginia Tomlinson.”
With My Own Hands
“A curly-haired young farmer” from Mississippi “confessed to strangling a pretty 19 year old housewife from Florida.”
Roland Lee Lindsey, the UPI reported on December 17, 1961, “had been farming near Oxford, Mississippi,” shortly before he was arrested for public drunkenness in Memphis, Tennessee, and told police, “I want to get something off my chest.”
Lindsey said he visited the Cochrans’ home, though he didn’t know their names, as a traveling salesman “to demonstrate a portable sewing machine. He said he’d been drinking and got angry with Mrs. Cochran while making his sales pitch.”
He told Memphis cops, “I strangled her with my own hands.”
Lindsey confessed he’d put Beverly’s body in the trunk of his car, drove south of Jacksonville, and buried her in a shallow grave in the woods.
He said he’d left his baseball cap in the Cochrans’ house. Police described him as “mighty nervous.” Lindsey had stayed with his wife in a Jacksonville boarding house in 1959, but their landlady said the couple “left the same year.”
The UPI reported that “another Jacksonville landlady said she rented [Lindsey] a room and said she understood he and his wife were divorced.” The former Mrs. Lindsey had moved back to Mississippi where the couple was from.
James Cochran had told the UPI in February, a year after his wife’s disappearance, that he’d never stop hoping for Beverly’s return home, but by December, 22 months after she was gone, he said, “After six months I became resigned to the idea that if Beverly June were alive, she would have found some way to contact me.”
He said, “I knew I couldn’t go on living as I had those six months. If I had, I believe I would have become totally insane.”
As quickly as Roland Lee Lindsey confessed to having murdered Beverly June Cochran, he recanted, and Duval County Chief Investigator J.C. Patrick believed Lindsey’s retraction of his confession.
Patrick told the UPI that when he’d talked to Lindsey by phone, Lindsey had kept to his story of strangling Beverly June. After Patrick drove from Jacksonville to Memphis to interrogate Lindsey, the investigator told the press the 23 year old farmer had denied his confession in night-long talks. The UPI would not have included Patrick’s history of violent interrogations. Patrick was bringing Lindsey back to Jacksonville for further questioning.
“Patrick declined to speculate,” the UPI reported, “on the validity of Lindsey’s earlier confession until investigators dug into the case more thoroughly at Jacksonville.”
Two days later, the Associated Press reported, “Authorities are convinced Ronald [not “Roland”] Lee Lindsey, 23, didn’t kill a young Jacksonville housewife.”
Patrick said Lindsey failed a lie detector test, that Lindsey, whether Ronald or Roland, would be released unless investigators could match his Jacksonville whereabouts to Beverly Cochran’s disappearance, and that Lindsey had made up his murder confession “to get out of the drunk tank in the Memphis jail.”
Patrick would be placed on sick leave after allegedly tampering with evidence in a later murder investigation. In 1969, 19 year old J.C. Patrick Jr. confronted his father beating his mother at three in the morning, raised a hunting rifle, and killed J.C. Patrick Sr.
Out of This World
On September 24, 1962, Emmett Spencer was brought to Jacksonville from Death Row down at Raiford State Prison and questioned about the disappearance of Beverly Cochran.
By now the Associated Press was reporting that “at various times,” Spencer had “claimed” that “he knew about or took part in slayings in half a dozen or more states.”
The Dream Killer now nebulously claimed either knowledge of or involvement in multiple murders. He’d gone from claiming he’d dreamt them to some vague position between knowledge and action.
The AP reported that Spencer was “believed questioned” about “the disappearance two and a half years ago of Mrs. Beverly June Cochran. He once said he had a part in killing the woman.”
Without explanation, Duval County Sheriff Dale Carson was reported as saying he had “no reason to suspect Spencer” any longer. His saying so apparently sufficed.
Meanwhile, as Armstrong’s Folio Weekly story details, Beverly’s mother, Ethel Jarrell, had become suspicious of Carson after his vacillating stories about interviewing Emmett Spencer down in Miami. She’d asked Police Captain James Wingate to visit Spencer at Raiford. Wingate oversaw missing persons cases, but told her he had no jurisdiction in this case. He did, however, take on the case pro bono in his off-hours.
Soon Wingate, Detective Donald Coleman, and Beverly’s parents paid repeated visits to Spencer in prison. Detectives found that in addition to the downtown boarding houses, he’d also lived in the Ann Platt Apartments on 2nd Street in Jacksonville Beach, where he’d soon claim Beverly was murdered.
Spencer told Beverly’s mother, “Beverly June is no longer of this world,” but claimed he didn’t kill her. He was there, however, he said, when she was murdered.
These claims echoed his telling Mary Catherine Hampton that he’d put John Keen “out of the world,” but testifying in court that he didn’t kill Keen, but was there when Leon Hammell did.
Spencer’s landlady at the Ann Platt said “she remembered finding a blood-soaked mattress in the empty apartment next to his, several days after he moved out.” Why she never reported it, she didn’t say.
According to the UPI, J.C. Patrick “said information developed within recent weeks caused officers to take a new approach to the case and it is believed the woman is alive and left home of her own accord.”
Explicit Details and More Questions
What the hell was J.C. Patrick talking about?
What “information developed within recent weeks”?
What “new approach” was the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office taking to the case?
“It is believed?” By whom? Public speakers so often use passive voice sentence constructions when they don’t want to say who’s doing what.
If “it [was] believed the woman [was] alive,” who believed it?
Who believed that Beverly June Cochran was alive, and why?
“Left home of her own accord”?
The story left this striking statement dangling with no further explanation.
Why would Beverly just walk away from her new home and her 13 month old child?
If she merely stood up, after neighbors had noticed her watching TV, and left her husband and her baby, where did she go?
How did she so successfully disappear?
And which was more difficult? For a man to steal a woman from her house, leaving “no sign of struggle,” or for a woman to walk away from her new home, new marriage, new motherhood, and never be seen again?
And which was more likely?
Was there something about Beverly June Cochran’s dissatisfaction with her new life that neither her husband, nor her father, both of whom personally assured police of her domestic happiness, knew, or were willing to say?
Why would Duval County Sheriff’s Office investigators throw cold water on two seemingly plausible confessions, especially when confession was considered the holy grail of murder investigation?
Nearly every murder Ottis Toole confessed to committing, 20 years later, investigators happily cleared from their cold case files, though none of his confessions carried validity and investigators themselves suggested to him many of his answers.
Other Duval County investigators, however, did give credence to Spencer’s stories. As Armstrong reports in 2005, Spencer gave Coleman, Wingate and Beverly’s parents “explicit details of murders in California, Louisiana, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Florida. Three more murder victims were from Jacksonville.”
Three more? Who? Three more after Beverly? Who, other than Virginia Tomlinson and Leon Hammell?
Ottis Toole also gave investigators gruesome details of murders from California to Florida and up the East Coast. At one point, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole claimed to have murdered as many as 600 people. The Dallas Morning-News conducted its own investigation and concluded that Toole and Lucas would have to have been in several states at one time to have committed every murder to which they’d confessed.
Armstrong writes, “The inmate gave names, dates, places and details of gruesome killings. Spencer proudly told the men that he always bound his victims with a gag he fashioned himself. He said he took a piece of clothing, tied a ‘granny knot,’ wrapped it in heavy twine and stuck it in the victim’s mouth.”
Major Minor Details
Newspaper journalism was fast and sharp and objective, but as its purpose was to present the news as quickly as possible, fact-checking often just grazed the surface.
The names of the characters in this tragedy are spelled multiple ways.
The murdered Jacksonville Beach bartender’s name is spelled equally between stories both “Leon Hammel” and “Leon Hammell.” Keen is also “Keene.”
The Mississippi farmer who boarded in Jacksonville and was arrested in Memphis and who confessed to murdering Beverly June is named both “Roland Lee Lindsey” and “Ronald Lee Lindsey.”
Emmett Spencer’s first name is spelled also “Emmit” and “Emit.”
Spencer’s girlfriend, sometimes called his “common-law wife,” has her name spelled both “Mary Catherine Hampton” and “Mary Katherine Hampton.”
And every syndicated newspaper article referred to Beverly June Cochran as Beverly Jean Cochran.
Tim Gilmore’s talk on the case will take place at Chamblin’s Uptown, August 16th, at 7 pm.