this day in crime history: february 10, 1981

 Phillip Bruce Cline
Philip Bruce Cline

On this date in 1981, a fire broke out at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel. The fire came 90 days after a fatal fire at the Las Vegas MGM Grand had killed 85 people. As a result of the MGM Grand fire, the Hilton was undergoing a modernization of its fire safety system on the day the fire started.

Eight people were killed in the fire and dozens more were injured. An investigation into the cause of the fire revealed it to be arson. Police quickly zeroed in on a suspect: hotel employee Philip Cline. Cline eventually confessed to starting the blaze, but claimed it was an accident. The fact that the fire had four apparent points of origin cast serious doubt on Cline’s story. He was tried and convicted on eight counts of murder and was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison. He is currently incarcerated at Southern Desert Correctional Center.

Further reading:

Clark County Nevada – Las Vegas Hilton Fire – February 10, 1981

Las Vegas Review JournalKiller says deadly Hilton blaze in 1981 ‘wasn’t meant to hurt anybody’

Wikipedia – Las Vegas Hilton

this day in crime history: december 8, 1980

loozer

On this date in 1980, former Beatle John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment building in New York City by a pathetic loser named Mark David Chapman. Chapman was arrested and charged with second degree murder. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison. He first came up for parole in 2000. His parole was denied. He has been denied at every subsequent parole hearing. He is eligible again in August 2016.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – The Murder of John Lennon

Wikipedia – Death of John Lennon

this day in crime history: october 20, 1981

brinks

On this date in 1981, members of the Black Liberation Army and several former members of the Weather Underground robbed a Brinks armored car in Nanuet, NY. The robbery resulted in the deaths of a Brink’s guard and two police officers.

The incident began when the Brinks truck was making a pick-up at the Nanuet Mall. The robbers ambushed the guards, killing guard Peter Paige and wounding his partner, Joe Trombino. Trombino managed to get off one shot before he was hit, but failed to hit any of the robbers.

After the attack on the guards, the robbers took $1.6 million and fled the scene in a van. The went to a nearby parking lot where they ditched the van and made their getaway in a car and a U-haul truck that were waiting for them. A college student who lived across the street saw the robbers making the switch and called the police.

Police spotted the getaway vehicles at an on-ramp to the New York State Thruway. As they approached the U-Haul, they suspected they may have had the wrong vehicle. The two people in the cab of the truck were white, but all of the robbers were described as black. The driver of the U-Haul, former Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin managed to convince the police that she was innocent. As they lowered their guard, several armed men emerged from the back of the truck and opened fire. Nyack Police Officers Edward O’Grady and Waverly Brown were killed. Officer Brian Lennon was injured. Lennon managed to return fire but wasn’t able to hit any of his attackers.

Boudin fled the scene on foot, but was apprehended by an off-duty corrections officer. Former Weather Underground members Samuel Brown, Judith Clark and Chris Dobbs were arrested after they crashed their getaway car while fleeing the shootout scene.

Police traced the license plates of the getaway car to an apartment in New Jersey. A search of the apartment yielded weapons, bomb-making materials, and blueprints for NYPD stations in Manhattan. They also found an address in Mt. Vernon, NY, not far from the robbery scene. When they searched that location, they found weapons and some bloody clothes.

After running the license plates of cars seen near the Mt. Vernon address, they managed to track down two of the robbers, BLA members Samuel Smith and Sekou Odinga. When NYPD detectives tried to pull the two men over, they crashed while trying to flee. After a shootout with police, Smith was killed, while Odinga was taken into custody.

The investigation continued with several more arrests following over the next few years. The last suspect arrested was former Weather Underground member Marilyn Buck, who had rented one of the apartments that the gang had used. It was Buck’s blood that was found on the clothes at the Mt. Vernon apartment. She had apparently shot herself by accident when she tried to draw her gun during the shootout with the Nyack police officers after the robbery.

The participants were all tried and convicted. All received lengthy prison sentences. Kathy Boudin was paroled in 2003. Marilyn Buck was released in 2010 and died of cancer shortly afterword.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Brink’s Robbery (1981)

ODMP pages – Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady

this day in crime history: may 15, 1981


On this date in 1981, Donna Payant became the first female corrections officer in New York State to be killed in the line of duty. Payant, 31, was assigned to the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, NY.

At the end of her scheduled shift, Payant had turned up missing. An exhaustive search was conducted of the prison and the surrounding grounds, but there was no sign of her. Officials expanded their search to a local landfill where trash from the prison had been dumped earlier in the day. They found her mutilated body buried in the trash.

Police and prison officials began an investigation into the murder of Officer Payant. Bite marks had been left, and the medical examiner thought that the pattern looked familiar. As it turns out, he had seen the same pattern on a previous case he had worked: one of the victims of rapist and serial killer Lemuel Smith. Smith was an inmate at Green Haven CF when Officer Payant was murdered.

Once the case was built, Smith was tried for murdering Officer Payant. He was represented by C. Vernon Mason (of Tawana Brawley fame/infamy) and William “Black Rage” Kuntsler. In spite of such big-name legal representation , Smith was convicted of 1st degree murder and given the mandatory death sentence. In 1984, his death sentence was overturned as unconstitutional.

Lemuel Smith is currently incarcerated at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York. He is eligible for parole in 2029, when he is 87 years old.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Lemuel Smith

The Officer Down Memorial Page – Corrections Officer Donna A. Payant

Find-a-Grave – Donna Payant

this day in crime history: march 30, 1981

On this date in 1981, a pathetic loser named John Hinckley, Jr. made a play for the attention of actress Jodie Foster by attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan and three others were wounded in the attempt. Hinckley, who wound up buried under a mountain of Secret Service agents and cops, was arrested at the scene. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC, and is now allowed out to visit his mommy several times a year. Still no date with Jodie Foster, though. Keep the faith, Johnny, she’ll be stopping by any day now.

Further reading:

The Trial of John Hinckley

Wikipedia – Reagan assassination attempt