Friday, November 12, 2010






"Mordern day Lynching" The Keith Warren Murder Case

Blair Adams

Airliner Crash at Gander

Keith Warren
A Maryland teen is poisoned, but police say he committed suicide.

Keith Warren

The scene looked like suicide


Whose shoes was he wearing, and why?

On July 31, 1986, a mother’s quiet world was shattered. Her only son, 19-year-old Keith Warren, was dead. Keith had lived with his sister and mother since his parents' divorce when he was 10. By all accounts, Keith seemed destined for a promising future. Instead, his life had come to an untimely end.

Paramedics found Keith in a wooded area behind his family's townhouse. He was hanging by the neck from a small tree that was bent double with his weight. The elaborate arrangement of the hanging rope would later be the source of bitter debate. The cord was anchored around the base of a large tree. It extended some 25 feet to a small sapling. It encircled the sapling's trunk and then arched up through a fork. However, authorities saw nothing suspicious about the scene. After a brief visual inspection, the county's deputy medical examiner determined that Keith Warren had committed suicide. No autopsy was ordered and the body was dispatched to a funeral home for embalming. It was already dark when Keith's mother, Mary Couey, was informed of her son’s death:

“I didn't realize at the time that Keith's body was not in a morgue. There'd been no investigation and his body had been discovered maybe five or six hours earlier… I didn't know at the time that the officer had chosen a funeral home.”

Leaves on his back suggested he was lying down

Initially Keith's mother accepted the finding of suicide, but over time she found discrepancies too numerous to ignore. Her doubts began after she heard from a friend of Keith's named Rodney Kendell. Rodney reported that a parade of suspicious characters had been looking for Keith shortly before his death:

“It was mainly black males that were in the car. And Keith did not associate much with black males. Most of his friends were white males, so I thought that was pretty strange. After I told them I hadn't seen Keith, they left.”

Several days later, Rodney Kendell had another odd encounter, this time with a high school acquaintance of Keith’s named Mark Finley:

“He seemed pretty urgent. I thought it was strange because he acted like he needed to find Keith very quickly. And I told him I didn't know where Keith was and he left.”

Weeks after Keith’s death, Mary asked Rodney to show her the tree where her son’s body was found. But when they arrived to the site, they noticed that only the stump remained. Mary panicked and called the police:

“And they were very rude and told me that ‘Well, what do you want us to do? Yeah, we cut it down. What do you want us to do about it?’”

The body was exhumed and tested

The police said they needed to cut down the tree for evidence, but this seemed strange since they had already closed the case. Keith's mother no longer trusted the police or their explanations. She launched a letter-writing campaign, targeting state and federal officials. But for six long years, Mary Couey hit a stone wall every way she turned.

Then came April 9, 1992, her son's birthday. Keith would've been 25. That afternoon, Mary found a plain manila envelope at her doorstep. The stunning contents swept her back to the day of her son’s death. There were five pictures inside the envelope. Each showed a different view of Keith hanging by his neck. Mary forced herself to look, and in the process, found a glaring discrepancy:

“His clothing didn't fit him. He was wearing somebody else's clothing. But the real eye-catcher was that he was wearing white sneakers.”

For Mary Couey, it was a nightmarish inconsistency. It was her son in the photographs but whose clothes was he wearing? Whose white tennis shoes, and why was he wearing them? The only items of clothing the police returned to the family were Keith's jacket and brown boots. Neither was shown in the photographs, although authorities said that they had been found near Keith's body. Mary now feared police were working against her and hired private investigator, Joe Alercia:

“The police department conceded that they were copies of original police photos, but they had no idea where they came from, none whatsoever. They were questioned numerous times.”

When Joe Alercia examined the pictures, he noticed leaves on the back of Keith's shirt. To Alercia, this suggested Keith had been lying on the ground and was hoisted into a hanging position by someone else. Alercia said that his theory was bolstered by the complex path of the rope found at the scene:

“The perpetrators noticed that the tree was small and wouldn't hold the body. Therefore they needed some security by tying it around the big tree.”

Finally Keith's family had his body exhumed for an autopsy. The results were shocking. Tests on Keith’s body showed deadly levels of several powerful chemicals that are usually found in glue and solvents. According to forensic pathologist Dr. Isidore Mihalakis, the levels found in Keith’s body were more than enough to kill him:

“These substances can get in there by inhalation, or they can actually even be taken in by mouth… I believe that Keith Warren's death being listed as suicide is medically not supportable.”

Maryland's chief medical examiner reviewed the report and claimed the toxic chemicals were part of the embalming process. But Dr. Mihalakis disagreed:

“The substances found in Keith Warren's body could not have been introduced by the embalming fluid because, the embalmer, in his report never mentioned using any of those substances... Secondly the distribution of the key substance trichloroethane is more consistent with inhalation... And third, two additional substances were found which are totally unrelated to any embalming solution.”

But if the chemicals were not in the embalming fluid, where did they come from? Joe Alercia had his own theory:

“He could've been at a party with some drugs involved and he accidentally killed himself and they were afraid. And then they decided to take and hang him, make it look like a suicide… Or he could've been attacked from the back. And that particular chemical is so potent, that one chemist said that he was dead before he hit the ground.”

If Keith Warren didn’t hang himself, then who did hang him? In a final disturbing twist, the one person who might’ve answered that question also turned up dead under suspicious circumstances. Mark Finley was one of those who came looking for Keith a few days before he died. Six years later, when Mary received the photographs, a note attached to one said “don’t worry, Mark Finley will be next.” Two months after Mark learned he had been singled out, he contacted Mary Couey:

“Mark called my residence, left a message on my answering machine to the effect of something that said ‘Miss Warren, this is Mark Finley. I got your message and I will be by to see you.’ I do remember the specific words were ‘I need to unload.’”
One month later, Mark Finley was dead. According to the police, Finley died accidentally when he struck a curb and was thrown from his bike. But why was Mark Finley targeted in a threatening note? Did he truly have information about Keith Warren’s death? As with all the other nagging questions, the authorities have a standard answer—this case is closed.

Eight years after teen's death was ruled a suicide, family fights to get case opened as possible lynching in MD | Jet | Find Articles at BNET

Eight years after teen's death was ruled a suicide, family fights to get case opened as possible lynching in MD | Jet | Find Articles at BNET: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

"In memory of Natasha Jennings"

"The murder of Natasha Jennings."


Tammy searched for answers

In the summer of 1997, Carson City, Nevada, resident Sandra Jennings received an urgent call from her brother, Clarence Jennings. He was trying to locate his 16-year-old daughter, Natasha, who was visiting from California:

“I had called home. My sister answered the phone. I asked her if Tash was home. She set the phone down and she peeked out the back door. She didn't see her, so she went upstairs. And that's when I heard her scream.”

Sandra told Clearance that she had found Natasha on the floor. She's wasn’t breathing:

“I told her, ‘Well, hang up right now and call 911. I'm on my way’."

Natasha Jennings was already dead when the paramedics arrived. Ultimately, three theories about the cause of her death would emerge: drug abuse, sexual assault, and foul play.

Traces of cocaine were discovered

When Natasha Jennings was very young, her parents divorced. Natasha lived with her mother in southern California. By the time she was 16, Natasha wanted to reconnect with her father, Clarence. She hoped an extended visit to his home in Nevada would bridge the years of separation. At first, Natasha’s mother, Tammy Stelton, wasn’t keen on the idea:

“I told her no at first. I said, ‘No you're not going.’ But then I didn't want to put her in the middle of our disagreements. What I feel towards her father is my own business and doesn't involve her. That is her father.”

Sandra, Natasha’s aunt, was the last person to see her alive. They ate lunch together around 1:00. Later that afternoon, Clarence placed several calls to his daughter. He became more and more worried when he couldn’t reach her.

The cause of death is still undetermined

When police arrived at the scene, they found Natasha slumped on the bedroom floor. Her hair was damp as if she had just taken a shower. An electric fan lay on top of her.
Scott Burau of the Carson City Sheriff’s Office said police had to investigate the death as a homicide:

“Any time you have a young individual that's deceased for no specific apparent cause or reason, it's suspicious. It's treated as a homicide until such time as we can shift gears and say that it's something else.”

There were no signs of trauma. Still, investigators turned their attention to a young man Natasha had become close to, who we will call Chris. Allegations had been raised that Chris had sexually assaulted her just days before. The investigation revealed that Natasha and Chris went to a party together a few nights before she died. Those who had been drinking were invited to wait until morning to drive home. No one saw what Natasha and Chris did the rest of the night. According to Ingrid Cotar, a friend in California, a confused and traumatized Natasha called the following morning to tell her something had happened after the party:

“Natasha told me she was drinking and she had blacked out and that Chris had raped her.”

Chris was interrogated, but according to Scott Burau, detectives concluded that whatever happened between him and Natasha could not be considered criminal:

“The autopsy report was conclusive that she was not sexually assaulted.”

As soon as Natasha's mother, Tammy, learned about her daughter’s death, she rushed to Carson City:

“I spoke with everybody that she was around. I went to places that she had been. I handed out flyers—I mean, thousands upon thousands upon thousands.”

Then, one day, a woman approached her at a shopping center with some new information:

“And she was very scared. I said, ‘Please help me. Anything that you know.’ She was very skittish and watching over her shoulder and she said, ‘I know what happened to your daughter." She wrote her telephone number down, and she goes, ‘Here.’ She goes, ‘Call me.’"

The woman claimed that Natasha's father, Clarence, was a drug informant for local law enforcement. She said his cover had been blown and the drug dealers killed Natasha in retaliation. Clarence Jennings denied the claim:

“My ex-wife had asked me, is there any possibility that they might have had something to do with it in retaliation for my being an informant for the police department? And my jaw dropped. I've never been an informant for the police department.”

Natasha's mother said she and other relatives confronted one of the Carson City detectives assigned to Natasha's case:

“And we asked him if he was aware that Natasha's father was an informant, and he didn't deny it at all. He said, yes, he was aware of it.”

Scott Burau claimed that Tammy was mistaken:

“I can say based upon our records, Clarence Jennings was not, nor was he ever, a documented informant for either agency.”

But soon, another theory emerged. Investigators thought that Natasha might have overdosed on drugs. A scrap of plastic recovered on a landing outside Natasha's bedroom contained traces of speed and cocaine. And there was a very small amount of the drugs in her nose. Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht outlined a possible scenario:

“The cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to increased body temperature, hyperthermia. I think she probably took a bath to cool down, and she was then in the process of drying her hair when she collapsed, most likely in a spasm.”

Tammy Stelton rejected that theory:

“They said she was on a five-day drug and drink and sex party. And I was like, ‘Uh-uh. No.’ I just know my daughter. She wouldn't have used.”

During the autopsy, the medical examiner found no drug residue in Natasha's system.
According to Scott Burau, that does not rule out a drug overdose:

“If you snort cocaine on Monday, and you're deceased on Friday, and we do a toxicology test, we may find remnants of the drug, perhaps in the nose or maybe in an injection point, or something like that, but the actual toxicology of your blood and urine and whatnot may produce a zero amount.”

Today, the investigation has hit a dead end, leaving Tammy Stelton frustrated:

“All I wanted was answers, for somebody to talk to me and explain to me what's been going on with her, but nobody will. Nobody has.”

Scott Burau said his department is stumped:

“This girl was 16 years old. She had her entire life ahead of her, and we don't have any answers. We don't have the bottom line.”
Officially, the investigation into the death of Natasha Jennings is still open.

Sadie Natasha Jennings (1981 - 1997) - Find A Grave Memorial

Sadie Natasha Jennings (1981 - 1997) - Find A Grave Memorial: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"