by Tim Gilmore, 8/5/2017
cont’d from What Ever Happened to Beverly June? Part 2
Evidence of Evidence
In the fall of 1962, two Miami police detectives joined Jacksonville’s James Wingate and Donald Coleman to bring Emmett Spencer to town from Raiford State Prison for questioning in Beverly Cochran’s disappearance.
The five men holed up in the Roosevelt Hotel, today’s Carling Apartments, 13 stories, built in 1925 and ’26 at 33 West Adams Street, while a hard driving rain battered the downtown streets.
Police investigators had often used the Roosevelt, writes Susan Clark Armstrong in her 2005 Folio Weekly cover story, “for polygraphs and other sensitive information.”
From downtown’s gothic skyscraper’d streets, the investigators had Spencer guide them through the rain to the house where he claimed to have abducted Beverly Cochran. “The rain obscured their vision, and the subdivision, under construction, had no streetlights.”
Spencer directed the detectives to the Cochrans’ house on Lincrest Drive. The men sat in the car, parked across the street in the pouring rain, while Spencer drew a floorplan of the house. Of course most floorplans, in such a subdivision, were nearly identical.
Next Spencer directed them across town to Silver’s Bar on Atlantic Boulevard in Neptune Beach, where he said Beverly was buried.
Other than the Jacksonville and Miami detectives who accompanied Spencer, only Sheriff Dale Carson knew where the men were staying, but when they left the Roosevelt the next morning, reporters mobbed them. The front page of The Jacksonville Journal featured photos of Emmett Spencer, Mary Catherine Hampton, and Beverly June Cochran.
Coleman believed the sheriff was obstructing the investigation on purpose by alerting the news media to the investigators’ plans every morning. The group dodged reporters for days and reported less specific details to the sheriff in order to keep the media off their trail.
Coleman said Spencer took them back again to Silver’s Bar, the supposed burial site. “The area,” Armstrong writes, “was overgrown, a deep foundation had been dug and a small concrete slab had been poured. It appeared the site was abandoned soon after the slab was poured.”Spencer led the investigators through tall weeds, “then stopped, smiled and pointed to an object that lay in a palmetto patch. The object hung on the barbs of the plant, the palmetto fans protecting it from full exposure to the elements. Though weathered, it was clearly a pair of panties. They were tied in a granny knot and wrapped with heavy twine.”
Coleman collected and bagged “the evidence.” He later said his evidence disappeared while under police custody, not an isolated incident, and Carson’s long tenure as sheriff has been shown rife with favoritism and corruption.
Still, what was the condition of this “weathered” underwear dangling from its palmetto frond? Why would the underwear be hanging from a palmetto and not buried with Beverly’s body? Almost three years had passed since Beverly Cochran had disappeared, and Florida’s brutal climate quickly decimates most any fragile and frangible material caught in its heat, humidity, armies of hungry insects, and decay.
And when was the cement poured for this abandoned foundation? If after the burial, would not the builders who’d poured it have found Beverly’s body, or at least noticed the underwear hanging on palmetto spikes?
It seems a long time for a woman’s underwear to hang perched in Florida’s monstrous climate, without being found, without such significant decay that a granny-knot wrapped in twine would be preserved.
And conveniently for Sheriff Dale Carson or not, no evidence persisted of that evidence. Certainly no evidence of that evidence exists today.
A Talent for Duping Policemen
Two years later, December of 1964, Emmett Spencer claimed 36 murders, but still denied killing Johnnie Keen in Key West. The “Dream Killer” no longer claimed to know of murders merely by dreaming them.
Miami Herald reporter Gene Miller would win a Pulitzer for his reporting on Spencer and Hampton.
Miller reported that homicide investigators had come from 14 states to question Spencer on Death Row. Spencer was charming, persuasive, and usually inculcated his former teenage “common-law wife.”
Sounding so much like the talk 20 years later of that great fake serial killer Ottis Toole, Miller quotes Spencer as saying, “Me and Mary Katherine [sic] Hampton killed maybe 25 or 28 persons. We carried a shovel for burying.”
Telephone conversations recorded in the mid-1980s between Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, from their respective prisons in Florida and Texas, document dialogues like:
Toole: How many people did ya kill, Henry?
Lucas: I’d say 150. Between 150 and 160.
Toole: By yourself?
Lucas: No, not by myself.
Toole: I was with ya on some ’a them myself, wudden I?
Lucas: If you want to admit that, yes. It’s up to you.
Miller wrote that most of Spencer’s confessions were lies, called him a “cunning and accomplished storyteller,” and depicted him as “enjoying immensely a talent for duping policemen.”
Two decades later, Toole would falsely convince authorities that he and Lucas had murdered hundreds of people across the country, and more than a decade after Toole’s death, the Hollywood [Florida] Police Department would declare Toole, by “exceptional clearance,” no trial necessary, the murderer of six year old Adam Walsh in 1981, though his multiple confessions and recantations contain scores of contradictions despite homicide investigators feeding Toole answers.
Emmett Spencer had confessed to Texas Rangers that he’d murdered a young girl who’d vanished while delivering Christmas gifts.
Said Ranger Clint Peoples, “He showed us landmarks. He told us he hid her body off a highway east of Dallas.” Then Spencer’s Dallas murder victim “turned up alive, a happily married housewife” in Gary, Indiana. “She had merely ran [sic] away from home.” Merely.
The Liz Taylor of the Prison Set
Gene Miller reported that “Mary Hampton” was known in prison as “a beauty.” He calls her a “dark-haired attractive girl from the backhills of Kentucky.” Detectives called her “the Liz Taylor of the prison set.” She had a facial tic.
Hampton was confined to prison in Louisiana for pleading guilty to helping Spencer murder “an oilman and a barmaid,” Benjamin Yount and Hermine Fiedler, both of whose deaths occurred in Louisiana while Hampton and Spencer were documented to have been in Florida.
At first, Spencer got all the details of the murders wrong. Then he read a story in a detective magazine about the murders and his answers improved.
There was hardly a trial. A psychologist who claimed Hampton’s IQ was 72 was cut off in the middle of his statement and dismissed. No evidence was presented. Mary Catherine Hampton merely pled guilty.
According to Warren Holmes, “an ex-Miami detective,” in Miller’s December 1964 story, “The [Louisiana] deputies brainwashed her—just as Spencer brainwashed them. She pleaded guilty because they promised her leniency and convinced her she’d go to the electric chair if she didn’t.”
Mary Catherine’s testimony had sent Emmett Spencer to Death Row where he waited for the electric chair, so Spencer implicated her in Louisiana killings while the two of them were in Florida. Astonishingly, or maybe not, it worked.
F. Lee Bailey, who would become one of the nation’s most famous attorneys, defending the Boston Strangler, Patty Hearst, and O.J. Simpson, took up Hampton’s defense for free and succeeded in getting her conviction overturned.
Miller quoted Emmett Spencer as saying, “I’ll get that bitch if it’s the last thing I do.”
True-crime magazines called Mary Catherine Hampton the “Hillbilly Lolita.”
As Matthew Doig wrote in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune on April 6, 2008, “She would still be in prison today if not for the efforts of attorney F. Lee Bailey, a Miami police officer and a Miami Herald reporter whose stories about Hampton won him a Pulitzer Prize.”
Bailey told the reporter Hampton “was a very pretty girl back then, but very, very slow mentally.”
Now, she was telling her story to exonerate herself from half-century old magazine articles that depicted her as a sexy serial killer and to help her find the son she’d put up for adoption “because she was poor and his father looked headed for Florida’s death row.”
She’d left rural Kentucky with a 28 year old man named Sonny when she was 16 in 1959. It was a Florida sheriff’s deputy who first told her Sonny was really Emmett Spencer, an ex-con who’d served a decade in Kentucky for shooting a doctor in the head on his front porch.
“He kind of raped me is what he done,” Mary Catherine said about leaving with Spencer. She said “poor people” were “never taught how to get away from somebody like that.” It didn’t help that she’d lived with “somebody like that,” her father, “all her life.”
The couple drifted to Idaho, then California and Oregon, then back east to Florida, where, somewhere in the north of the state, she didn’t know where, Spencer picked up hitchhikers and forced them to have sex at gunpoint.
In Jacksonville, they rented a room close to the Maxwell House coffee plant, while Spencer worked in a scrapyard, paved roads, robbed houses and apartments, and wrote bad checks. Hampton decided not to kill herself because she was pregnant with Spencer’s child.
At Jacksonville Beach, Spencer became friends with Virginia Tomlinson and Leon Hammell, who went by the nickname “Shorty,” and Spencer and Hampton hung out with Tomlinson and Hammell in bars like Smitty’s, Mom’s Place, and the Bamboo Club.
Shorty told them he could get them jobs in Key West. He had a friend down there, a connection. So Emmett Spencer stole a Chevy, cashed his last check, bought a fifth of whiskey, and the four headed south on what Florida Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Thornal would call “an orgy of drunkenness, robbery, and murder.”
Hampton said she’d heard Spencer tell “Shorty,” Leon Hammell, that he wanted to kill “the woman,” and she’d assumed he meant her. Near Vero Beach, she watched Spencer walk off with Tomlinson and never saw her again.
Further south, near Key West, “Shorty” disappeared with Spencer between the dunes amidst the roaring of the ocean.
When Spencer sped back north, a state trooper pulled him over and ordered him out of the car. Catherine Hampton leapt from the stolen Chevy and crawled into the patrol car. Spencer shot the trooper and sped off, and the cop followed Spencer at 110 miles per hour for 30 miles. Spencer finally ploughed through a roadblock of police cars, the Chevy riddled with bullets, and emerged uninjured.
Same Story, 46 Years Later
In May 2006, two years prior to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s exposé, Mary Catherine Hampton told the Indian River County Sheriff’s Department, where Virginia Tomlinson’s body was found in 1960, the same thing she’d told them 46 years earlier.
She told them Emmett Spencer had murdered the Jacksonville Beach waitress. This time they listened to her.
Detective Calvin Jones told The Vero Beach Press Journal, “I have never experienced something like this. This case was basically forgotten about until a month ago.”
Jones said, “We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to find [the case]. It looked like it hadn’t been touched for decades. I don’t know why [Spencer] wasn’t charged.”
No Mention of Beverly June
Mary Catherine Hampton told The Indian River County Sheriff’s Department about Spencer’s murder of Tomlinson a year after Folio Weekly’s story, and The Sarasota Herald-Tribune published Hampton’s tell-all three years after. In her return, of her own accord, to the public spotlight, Hampton never mentioned Beverly June Cochran.
Folio’s story depended on Detective Donald Coleman’s narrative, burnished by court records and the indirect recollection of others like Police Captain Wingate.
If Coleman’s version of events is true, why didn’t Mary Catherine Hampton mention Beverly June Cochran when she recalled her time with Emmett Spencer?
The Folio story says the Jacksonville and Miami detectives flew to Louisiana to interview Hampton, but says she was serving a life sentence for participating in murdering Johnnie Keen, not for the two Louisiana convictions that would later be overturned. The story presents Hampton as Spencer’s “associate,” not as a victim Spencer brainwashed, raped, and psychologically imprisoned.
Hampton is reported to have told the investigators “she witnessed [Cochran’s] assault and murder in the Ann Platt Apartments [at Jacksonville Beach] in late February 1960.” There’s no mention of how suggestible Hampton was, of her being, in F. Lee Bailey’s words, “very, very slow mentally,” nor of how leading the detectives’ questions may have been.
When, late in life, Mary Catherine Hampton finally publicly recalled her time with Emmett Spencer, she never mentioned Beverly June Cochran at all.
Tim Gilmore’s talk on the case will take place at Chamblin’s Uptown, August 16th, at 7 pm.