FBI Laboratory Publishes Results of Their Major Handwriting Analysis Study

As a licensed private investigator in Texas many moons ago, I studied Graphology and examined documents for various crime cases and court proceedings. Today, I retain an interest in this forensic activity and it’s a fun hobby and exercise at parties and get togethers with friends.

Recently I learned of a five year study performed by researchers evaluating many examiners, most of them government employees, where they undertook 100 handwriting comparisons using digital images of such writing produced by 230 people.

Of the 100 tasks:

🔹44 were comparison of documents handwritten by the same person

🔹56 were comparison of documents written by two individuals.

🔹Unknown to the participants, a tenth of the comparison sets were repeats of sets they had already seen—a way to test how consistent each participant was over time.

The FBI’s Laboratory Division, in conjunction with Noblis, Inc., recently published their scientific research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the accuracy and reliability of forensic handwriting comparison.

The paper, “Accuracy and Reliability of Forensic Handwriting Comparisons,” summarizes the results of the five-year project.

The FBI Laboratory undertook this research to provide estimates of error rates—how often document examiners make correct writership decisions—as well as how often an examiner reaches the same conclusion when seeing the same documents again, and how often other examiners reach the same conclusions.

This study was the largest of its kind, involving examiners from U.S. and international crime laboratories and private practice. Collectively, these examiners made more than 7,000 document comparisons and provided information with which to correlate results to levels of education and experience, along with other metadata.

Examiners in the FBI study expressed their conclusions in the form of five ratings: definitive that the same writer had or had not written the compared samples, probable that the same writer had or had not written them, or no conclusion.

Features of interest included letter spacing, how letters connect, and the drop or rise of “legs” below or above a letter, such as the tail of a small letter “g” or the upsweep of a small letter “d.”

Overall, in 3.1 percent of cases, examiners incorrectly concluded that the same writer had composed the comparison samples. Different writers who were twins tripped the examiners up more often, leading to a false-positive rate of 8.7 percent. The false-negative rate of samples that were incorrectly attributed to two different writers was even lower, at 1.1 percent.

The study is part of a portfolio of research projects conducted by the FBI Laboratory to evaluate the accuracy, repeatability, and reproducibility of pattern evidence examiner decisions.

It was modeled after a highly acclaimed 2011 FBI Laboratory study about the accuracy and reliability of fingerprint examiner decisions, which is widely regarded within the forensic community as a gold standard in pattern evidence study design. That research project formed the basic design for this study and resulted in more than 15 scientific publications to date.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Chilling New Information in the Frightening True Story of ‘Unholy Matrimony” Murder Revealed

Puppies in the doctor’s back yard gave San Antonio police detective Walter Dennis a firm suspicion that the St. Bernards were more than just mere coincidence.

After he knocked on the front door of Dr. Charles James Guilliam’s house, a woman with long, straight blond hair opened it. It was a cool Sunday afternoon, February 17, 1974, when Dennis introduced himself and the other suited gentleman standing with him on the porch of the Tuxford Street residence in northeast San Antonio.

“…and this is detective John Dillmann from the New Orleans Police Department,” Dennis began. The lady shook their hands and identified herself as Dr. Guilliam’s wife, Katherine. “We are here to speak with your husband.”

“I’m sorry, but he is out of town on business and can’t be reached by phone right now,” the twenty-something-year-old woman reacted. The detectives verified with her that Dr. Guilliam was a consulting psychologist currently working on a project in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

“We are also attempting to locate a Mr. Claudius Giesick,” Dennis requested. “Do you know Claudius Giesick?”

“Yes, I believe he is a business associate of my husband,” she responded.

“How about Sam Corey,” the other detective asked. “Do you know a Sam Corey?”

Katherine’s faced twitched. Dennis could hear the puppies barking outside and noticed she had difficulty focusing on the enquiry. She asked detective Dillmann to repeat the name.

Sam Corey

“You know–Sam Corey,” Detective Dennis replied for the New Orleans investigator. “The big, heavy man. He ran for Mayor of San Antonio and owns the Tokyo Massage Parlor here.”

“Oh yes,” Katherine swiftly remembered. “Jim has gone to his parlor for a massage a few times.”

When asked, she had no photos of her husband she could provide the detectives and asserted that her spouse would have to be the one to answer these questions about him. Dennis gave her his business card and asked her to have Dr. Guilliam call him as quickly as possible.

“Look in the back yard,” Dennis whispered to Dillmann as they walked back to the police car. Dillmann said yes, he had noticed the puppies too when they started barking during their questioning of Katherine.

As Dennis drove back to police headquarters, the two officers compared notes. Dennis had received a call from Giesick on Friday after telling the police operator he needed to speak to a detective. He told Dennis a strange account of how he had spent the last two years in virtual hiding because he was in extreme danger from a criminal named Zent.

Unholy Matrimony book (John Dillman)

Giesick said that his bride, Patricia, had been killed by an oncoming car while they were enjoying their honeymoon in New Orleans the previous month. He wanted to let the detective know that the New Orleans police may be notifying them. Should New Orleans make any inquiries into this death, Giesick was requesting that the SAPD tell them he had to disappear because he was their police informer against this violent gangster, Zent.

Detective magazine account of the Unholy Matrimony case (W. Dennis)

Dennis, suspicious of this bizarre request, went to a nearby office to run a computer check on Giesick’s background. When he discovered there was a warrant out for passing hot checks, Dennis instantly arrested him. Dennis then contacted New Orleans and reached Dillmann, who flew into San Antonio Sunday morning. By then, Giesick had been released. Someone posted a bail bond on his behalf. Dennis discovered that someone was Sam Corey.

When Dennis picked up Dillmann at the International Airport Sunday morning, he had already arranged for a 10 a.m. meeting with Corey at the police station downtown. They took a formal statement in which the more than 300 pound Corey wrote that he “emphatically and positively” did not know Patricia. He did not know if Giesick has worked in any massage parlor. He claimed to hear of her death some days later from the bride’s mother who called him from New Jersey. Corey admitted he knew Giesick and had actually met him in Richardson, near Dallas, since the death.

If Corey had known that Dillmann was working on this case for a couple of weeks, he may have been more truthful. The New Orleans detective, by this time, knew that pretty, strawberry blond 24-year-old Patricia Ann Albanowski had been employed in a massage parlor and had been heavily pursued by Giesick.

Two different insurance agency investigators had concerns. Giesick purchased insurance policies totaling over $300,000 on the day of their wedding, prior to embarking on their honeymoon flight to New Orleans.

Patricia’s mother said that in a New Orleans hotel room, the night of her death, her daughter called very worried. Her new husband had left to take their rental car back for some kind of repairs.

Patricia told her mom that Giesick was a psychologist, but didn’t have an office. He often had to go undercover and disappear because he had helped the federal government arrest a major gold smuggling organization. The government was so concerned about his safety and reprisals from this smuggling gang, they had provided Giesick with a new identity. The name he said the Feds gave him was Charles James Guilliam.

Unholy Matrimony movie starring Patrick Duffy and Charles Durning

When the detectives called Patricia’s mother to confirm information, they learned more startling clues. Patricia, or Trish, as her family called her, commented that Giesick said had been married twice before. His first wife, a former Miss Texas, was killed in a hit-and-run accident along with their only child. His second marriage ended in divorce.

But what she revealed next alarmed both men to the core. On January 2, 1974, Claudius Giesick and Patricia Albanowski were married. Their pastor’s name? Sam Corey.

Before they left for their New Orleans honeymoon trip on January 13, Giesick presented his wife with a wedding present: a St. Bernard puppy.

The detectives soon uncovered information to prove Sam Corey, in a scheme to save on taxes and protect his massage parlors from police troubles, became an ordained minister with the Calvary Grace Christian Church of Faith. He filed a request with Bexar County to change the name of his business from Tokyo House of Massage to Tokyo House Massage Temple.

They also learned that Corey had provided money to Giesick to deposit into his Harlandale State Bank account in San Antonio. The money was used to buy several insurance policies, pay some rent and a few bills after he had performed the marriage ceremony.

As the investigation progressed, it was revealed that Corey was in New Orleans on the night Patricia was hit by a car. The rental car Corey used was checked for evidence which exposed and matched Patricia’s hair. In his formal confession, in order to cut a deal for a lighter sentence, Giesick implicated Corey as the driver of the car that killed Patricia on January 16, 1974.

Giesick had asked his wife to go for a walk that foggy and chilling night. He wanted to show her a family of ducks near the romantic water at a bridge up the street from their hotel. On cue, he noted Corey was waiting nearby in the rental car.

“I tripped her into the road, and he came by and hit her. It was him. He was driving the car and I did see him.”

Giesick (center)

“I waited about four or five seconds to give him enough time to get started,” Giesick confirmed with no remorse. “I tripped her into the road, and he came by and hit her. It was him. He was driving the car and I did see him. Seconds later the police were there because a guy came by and called the police. Then Mr. Corey came by in the Monte Carlo, just drove by.”

Giesick confessed that his new wife, at the moment of impact, was on the road “on her hands trying to get back up again, but she was facing up. As she was trying to get up, she had sandals on and she was slipping. She couldn’t get up…There was a double thud. It very distinctly hit her twice.”

Several days later Giesick and Corey flew to Trenton, New Jersey for Patricia’s funeral. Corey “was wearing Catholic-priest clothes and was paid by the Albanowski family as a priest; he accepted several donations…for prayers for Patricia.”

On February 22, Dennis and other San Antonio police arrested Giesick for bigamy. It was confirmed that Giesick had been married four times. A one year marriage ending in divorce, a California marriage annulled after three days, to his existing wife Katherine in 1969, and illegally to Patricia.

Eventually Sam Corey was sentenced to death which was later reduced to life in prison. He died at Angola State Prison in Louisiana. Giesick received a 21 year prison sentence, but was released in 1986 at age 54. By 2000, he was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison for submitting false auto theft reports in an attempt to collect insurance funds.

Years later, when asked what he remembered most about the case Dennis, a then retired detective, had two answers.

Patrick Duffy played detective in Unholy Matrimony

“Well, of course I remember the book by Dillmann and the 1987 TV movie, ‘Unholy Matrimony’ with Patrick Duffy of the Dallas television show starring in it,” Dennis offered. “But the most disturbing thing that sticks in my mind was going back to Giesick’s house on Tuxford to talk with his wife again during the investigation. This time I brought a patrolman with me that actually knew the couple for a few years, hoping she would trust him enough, maybe we could get better information from her.”

The blond hair lady at the door with the St. Bernard puppies was Katherine Kiser Giesick, the real wife of Claudius Giesick, aka Jim Guilliam. They had been married since September 1969. She recognized the friend, the police officer with Dennis, immediately.

During their conversation, the young policeman revealed that her husband had called him to ask if he would say they had been divorced for a couple of years.

“She was puzzled by this, we could tell,” Dennis remarked. “It was obvious we hit a nerve and she acted like she was both hurt and confused.”

“I will never forget the look on her face when we told her about Patricia (Albanowski)—her death and the insurance,” Dennis shook his head. “She started crying in disbelief.”

“It was a life insurance policy he had recently, and unexpectedly, took out on her life and the family.”

“We thought she was crying because of the news we just told her,” Dennis continued. “But she got up and went to a drawer in the kitchen area and brought back a file—a paper.”

“It still brings me chills to think how evil Giesick and Corey were when I saw what the paper was,” Dennis revealed. “It was a life insurance policy he had recently, and unexpectedly, took out on her life and the family.”

During the April 1975 trial, court evidence showed that when the FBI analyzed the pieces of human hair taken from underneath Corey’s New Orleans rental car and from the exhumed body of the bride, “all 15 characteristics were matched perfectly.”

The District Attorney showed how Giesick, all through his adult life was a “con man who made his living off ripping off insurance” companies. “Claudius Giesick literally lied his way through life. He posed as a psychologist. Dr. Jim Gillium and even collected fees.”

“Claudius Giesick told friends he had a plan by which he could hook Sam Corey on a murder charge in New Orleans.” Testimony and evidence also showed how he attempted to get two women to take out insurance policies on their husbands and have them murdered.

Katherine and Claudius Giesick’s divorce was final on Oct. 19, 1976. They both remarried. He lived in Louisiana for a while, but moved back to San Antonio in 2006. If alive in 2022, Giesick would be 75.

Personal Note

My father was Detective Walter Dennis. As a teen, Dad would often take me to the scenes of crimes and investigations he was currently, or previously, worked on. I became the youngest licensed private investigator in Texas at age 18 and oversaw investigations, missing persons, and personal security protection services for over seven years.

My father, Detective Walter Dennis, giving a briefing at the San Antonio Police Dept.

Years later, after my father passed away, I heard Giesick served his term in prison but was incarcerated again in 2000 for insurance fraud. I tracked him down when he was age 70. Giesick was living in a rundown one bedroom apartment just southwest of downtown San Antonio. He was sitting on a lawn chair with a cheap bottle of wine in his hand.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

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The Murder of Anne Walsh 43 Years Ago Today

Caution. This article, a true story, contains graphic information and descriptions that could be disturbing to some people.

Anne Walsh was being kind and offered to make a sandwich for the monster who would kill her 43 years ago today, September 30, 1977.

In her memory, Dodie and I visited her grave at Saint Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery in Bandera, Texas. Although I never met her, it was my first time to pay respects.

Four decades ago, I was a 23-year-old private investigator on her murder case. This would be my first homicide assignment and the one that haunts me to this day.

On that ominous day in 1977, Mrs. Walsh returned home for lunch and paused at the front drive of her Babcock Road home to ask Joseph John Cannon if he was hungry.

Cannon had been using a sickle and clippers to cut weeds and hedges along the street entrance gate. It was a way to work in exchange for room and board.

“Wash up and I’ll make us some sandwiches,” Walsh said. “Maybe some lemonade.”

Cannon used a waterhose to wash himself off. He went to the bathroom, toweled off, and pulled a .22 caliber pistol he had hidden in his pocket.

He startled Walsh as she was bringing the sandwiches out of the kitchen. Seeing the gun in his hand, she tried to hide under the pool table.

“I shot her seven times,” Cannon told me. “I picked her up and pulled her out from under the pool table. I tried to screw her but I just couldn’t get it up enough. I panicked, grabbed her car and sped off.”

He wrecked the car into a fence at a small bar on the corner of Babcock and Huebner. Witnesses said he got out with a gun in his hand and ran into the woods (there’s a Church’s Chicken there today).

Cannon.

Shortly before noon on September 30, 1977, the body of Anne Walsh was found by San Antonio Police Officer Shelton Spears, lying in a pool of blood on the floor of her Bexar County home. She had suffered seven gunshot wounds. Three wounds were to the chest, one was to the center of the abdomen, and one to her head. The others were to her arms. The wounds and the paths of the bullets were consistent with someone standing over her and firing.

There was a large trail of smeared blood which indicated that the body had been dragged out from under a pool table where the deceased had crawled in an attempt to escape the shots. The blouse of her dress had been ripped open, her skirt had been pulled up to her waist and her panty hose had been ripped and pulled down to her knees.

Officer Spears found the body when he brought the appellant to the Walsh home. Appellant had been involved in an automobile wreck and had been arrested. Spears found the Ford Maverick vehicle registered to a member of the Walsh family, and suspecting it was stolen, took the appellant to the Walsh home to check out his story that he was in rightful possession of the vehicle.

Reserve Deputy Constable Robert Wenzel drove by the Walsh residence on September 30, 1977, and saw appellant in the white Ford Maverick.

Retired San Antonio homicide detective Walter Dennis (my father, who wasn’t on the case, but provided me with information at the time for my investigation) and deputy constable Robert Wenzel in 2009.

Wenzel knew that the vehicle belonged to a Walsh family member and that appellant was not a family member. Wenzel drove on but watched the Maverick through his rear window of his automobile.

The Maverick suddenly lunged onto the road and proceeded in an erratic manner in the same direction as Wenzel was driving. The Maverick sped past Wenzel and Wenzel gave chase. The Maverick swerved from one side of the road to the other. The chase ended when the Maverick crashed into a chainlink fence beside “Al’s Corner,” a restaurant/bar.

Kenneth Kizer, a bartender, saw the appellant exit the Maverick after the crash and run across the road into a brush-covered field as he discarded his shirt.

Kizer called the San Antonio Police. Twenty minutes later appellant returned and entered the bar and bought a Coke. Appellant remained in the bar with Kizer and Wenzel until the police arrived.

Officer Spears took the appellant into custody, gave him the Miranda warnings, and then took him to the nearby Walsh home to check out his story about lawful possession of the Maverick. The body of Anne Walsh was then discovered. Other officers were called.

Later Spears transported appellant to the homicide division of the San Antonio Police Department. Later in the day after interrogation by Detective Frank Castillon, the appellant gave the officer a written statement which reads in part in its original form:

“I would like to say that I have been staying at 6048 Babcock for about a week now. I’am staying there because I’am on probation for burglary and my attorney arranged for me to stay with his sister Anne C. Walsh. My attorney;s name is Dan Carabin.

“Today about noon Anne returned home in a white car that I have never seen before. She drove into the drive way and went in the house. I was outside triming the bushes out front because she had asked me to do it the day before.

I guess I just went crazy because I went inside and got a gun off the bunk bed in the oldest boy’s bedroom.

The next thing I knew was that Anne was on the floor of the den crying and saying “please don’t shoot again” and I don’t know why but I kept shooting.

While I was shooting her she crawled under the pool table. I then pulled her out from under the pool table and ripped her cloths off. I then pulled my jeans down and got on top of her. I think she was dead at this time because she was bleeding alot and she was not moving or breathing.

I then got on top of Anne and tried to have sex with her. By this I mean I tried to screw her but I got peranoid and just could not do it. I then got up and pulled up my jeans and went to the kitchen where I found Anne’s purse on the counter.

I took three or four dollars and two fifty dollar travelers checks and ran out the side door. I got into the white car Anne was driving and drove off real fast. As I was going out the gate I almost hit a car on abcock Road. At this time a man in a green car started chasing me. He chased me down the street until I ran into fense near the bar at the corner.

I got out of the car and jumped a fense and ran into a field were I took my shirt off and threw it. I also burried the traverliers checks under some brush in the field. After that I walked out of the field and back to the car. I don’t know why I did this I guess I wanted to get caught.

I would like to say that before Anne came home I wentinto the oldest son’s bedroom and saw all of these shotguns, rifles and guns on the bunk bed and just went crazy and started throwing them around. I think one of the went through the window.

While I was in the bedroom I found a gun in a holster with bullets already in thegun. I left the holster on the bed and put the gun my pants. From there I went out into the yard and cut the bushes.

I also would like to say that I found the gun in theholster while I was looking for coins under the matress of the lower bunk. The coins I took are the same coins I had on me when you took them off me.

“I would like to say that before I told you I went into the bedroom and got the gun after Anne got home But the truth is I had already got the gun before Anne came home.

I would like to tell you that I did this because I go crazy sometime and just a couple of nights ago I woke up in early hours in themorning I was very sick and something inside kept telling me to kill everyone in thehouse while they slept.

Again I went to tell you that I don’t know why I did this but I have been sick for a long time and I was hit by a car when I was four years old and from then on I have been in nothing but trouble.

I had no gruge or any reason to kill Anne in fact she went out of her way to be nice to me. I do not know to read and Det. Castillon told me that julia smith would read this to me and I have read this and find it to be true and correct to thebest of my knowledge.” (All spelling and punctuation as it appears in original.)

When I asked him about the gun in 1980, he said he tossed it in the woods. Later I took a metal detector out there with Cannon, sheriff deputies and media. Thinking he would attempt escape, he was cuffed on his ankles and wrists. We never found a weapon.

I’m the bearded investigator carrying a metal detector. Cannon is handcuffed in the foreground.

He confessed later the gun was not there and indeed, his intent was to leave the jail and run.

“I couldn’t run with those shackles,” Cannon yelled at me as he reached across a table of the prisoner holding room table in the Bexar County Courthouse. He grabbed a pencil out of my shirt pocket and tried to stab me with it.

I knocked the hell out of him. He fell out of his chair and yelled. Bailiff Horace Gonzalez heard the scuffle and rushed in to help me subdue him.

Bexar County Courthouse

In 2016, I released new information in the case of Joseph John Cannon, the murderer. I was the private investigator in the first trial, hired by Bexar County to gather evidence for the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and the defendant’s attorney.

The information cast a fresh look at the murder trial that reached the Supreme Court, prompted reaction from the Pope, and caused a national debate about executing someone who committed such a crime at age 17.

If Cannon was alive today, he would have turned 60 on January 13, 2020. But on April 22, 1998 the 38 year-old ate his last meal. Cannon ordered “fried chicken, barbecue ribs, baked potato, green salad with Italian dressing, chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream or both, a thick chocolate shake or malt and iced tea.”

Cannon in Huntsville Penitentiary

The meal was delivered in the afternoon, not long after he entered a holding room located about 30 feet from where he was set to die. While eating, little did Cannon know that 160 miles away, at the State Capitol, Texas Governor George W. Bush had received pleas from Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, and members from the Parliament in Italy, to stop the execution. 

About 3 p.m. Warden Jim Willett reviewed the file of Cannon, known as inmate 634. Willett said he prayed for Cannon and asked “God to make this a smooth and trouble-free day for him.”

By 4 p.m. Willett entered the holding cell to find that Cannon had completed his meal. He verified that Cannon would make a last statement as this would help the warden cue the execution’s commencement. Chaplain Jim Brazel stayed with Cannon while Willett went back to the office.

Wayne Scott, the director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, along with a few regional and deputy directors waited with Willett until about 5:45 when they received a phone call from Gov. Bush’s office confirming they could proceed. Shortly afterwards, the State’s attorney general’s office called to ratify the execution.

Willett walked down the hall to the cell holding Cannon and the chaplain.

“Inmate Cannon,” Willett announced, “it’s time for you to go into the next room with me.”

Cannon stood up and followed Willett without saying a word. When Cannon reached the doorway to the 9-by-12-foot death chamber, he paused. No one knows what was going through Cannon’s mind at the moment, but what he saw was a tie down team of corrections officers waiting for him in the light green room with white floors and brown coving.

He immediately walked to the gurney and laid down. The team began strapping Cannon in place with five yellowish-tan straps buckled across him.

Looking up, he could see a 2-by-6 foot rectangle fixture crossing over him, casting light. As the straps began to tighten, he observed to the left of the light. Coming out of the ceiling, was a dark escutcheoned conduit bent to the right and downward so a microphone could record his last words.

Looking downward to his left, Cannon saw the executioner’s room through a window. He closed his eyes, then gazed to his right. There were two curtained windows, both with light green colored jail bars. Each window represented two separate rooms, one for his family, and one for the victim’s family to watch him being executed.

Knowing Cannon was securely strapped, Warden Willett stood at the head of the inmate. The chaplain stood at his feet.

Two members of the medical team entered the room, while the third member, the executioner, stayed in the room to Cannon’s left.

Typically, the medical team takes about five to ten minutes to insert and secure two IVs into an inmate, with one serving as a backup. Willet and the chaplain could tell the medical techs were having difficulty as the female tech prodded and poked Cannon’s arm.

Later, Willett would admit it was the longest IV preparation he’d ever witnessed. It took over 20 minutes before the technician peered up and asked, “Warden, I think we’ve got a good one in this arm. Can we go with just the one?” Willett nodded affirmatively and the technician left the room.

Cannon gazed at the IV in his arm and looked right to see people entering the first witness viewing room. Through the window, Cannon saw his mother, Mary Hale. He looked at her with no expression. When someone nudged her she moved in closer to the plate glass window.

Cannon then looked over to the next window as members of his victim’s family entered their viewing room. It was the first time some of them had seen Joseph John Cannon since the day he brutally murdered their mother.

The five sons of Anne C. Walsh noticed the man strapped to the gurney appeared far different from the way he looked in 1977. After spending decades in prison, Cannon was now haggard and weighed far more than when he was 17, the age he decided to leave his home in Houston to hitchhike to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mrs. Walsh was a San Antonio attorney when she was killed. Her brother, Dan Carabin, also an attorney, had represented Cannon in a burglary case and persuaded her to let him live at her home in September 1977 so he could remain on probation and avoid jail.

“The good Samaritan story was turned upside down by him,” said Paul Canales, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Cannon in the second trial. “He’s the type of guy that makes you want to lock your doors and not pick up hitchhikers.”

Cannon had already made his final statement and goodbyes when the first injection began.

After closing his eyes momentarily, he turned toward a window where witnesses were standing.

“It’s come undone,” he said, referring to his IV.

Prison officials then shut a drape that blocked him from witnesses.

Witnesses were led outside, where they waited for 15 minutes while prison officials worked to establish another injection.

“I kind of lost my cool a while ago,” a smiling Cannon said, greeting witnesses as they entered a second time.

During a second round of final statements, witnesses for Cannon cried and prayed together.

During his trials there was a claim Cannon was not in full possession of his faculties when he killed Walsh.

At 4, Cannon had been hit by a car, resulting in severe head injuries. Beginning at age 7, he was subjected to constant sexual abuse and beatings from his stepfather and grandfather.

At 9, he had pushed a boy into a Louisiana bayou. The boy drowned. At age 10, he was hospitalized for sipping gasoline to get high. At age 15, he was diagnosed as psychotic and attempted suicide by drinking insecticide.

As the investigator, I was tasked by Attorney William G. Brown in 1980 to find witnesses including Cannon’s mother. I traced her as hitchhiking, accepting rides at trucks stops on IH10 and 87 in exchange for food, booze and companionship.

After a two day search, with only a photo and conversations with truck stop employees, I found Cannon’s mother at a dance hall in San Angelo, Texas.

When I interviewed his mother, she admitted she had suffered beatings and rapes by her father, Joseph’s grandfather. On the drive back to San Antonio, she told me she feared her pregnancy with Joseph could actually be the product from a rape by her father.

“He had me chained and tied outside to a tree,” she cried. “He beat me so much I thought I’d die right there. He was drunk and finally let me go. I got out of there and made it to Houston and never went back. This might be why he’s so crazy. He takes after his grandpa, my daddy.”

I took this information to Brown and prosecutor Larry Souza. We then went into Judge Mike Machado’s chamber to present it to him.

“Is there any collaborative testimony or evidence to support what she says?,” the judge asked.

Both attorney’s agreed, they didn’t know of any.

“Let’s see what she testifies–what is brought about under oath,” Judge Machado said and dismissed us.

It was never mentioned again.

Eighteen years later, Cannon spoke to Walsh’s family.

“I’m sorry for what I did to your mom,” he said to five sons of victim Anne Walsh, all of whom attended the execution. “I am sorry for all of you. I love you all. I thank you all for being kind to me when I was small.”

After Cannon finally died from the injection, reactions of Mrs. Walsh’s sons were terse.

Son Christopher Walsh made a statement to the media, “Job well-done, end of story.”

Their sister Stephani Walsh, who later became a judge in Bexar County, said her brothers were not emotionally prepared for Cannon’s execution.

“There was closure but it was traumatic,” Walsh said. “And it did create another anniversary date.”

Roadtrip 2020 Day 9: Alcatraz East

Rain in eastern Tennessee didn’t hamper our travel as we made our way to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains at Pigeon Forge, TN.

We received good news about our blog, Clever Journeys. June 30th we broke records with over 4,000 hits (4,070 to be exact), the most ‘Likes,’ and now we have followers from 22 different countries.

One of our first stops was the Alcatraz East Crime Museum. Dedicated to the history of crime and crime fighting in America, we explored a number of interactive exhibits and saw rare artifacts that belonged to some of the nation’s most notorious criminals.

Alcatraz East is modeled after the real islanded prison in the San Francisco Bay and a Tennessee penitentiary.

Alcatraz East is the successor to the National Museum of Crime & Punishment, which was located in Washington D.C. Established in 2008.  This popular museum once served as the studio for the TV show America’s Most Wanted. When the National Museum of Crime & Punishment closed in 2015, its owner John Morgan decided to open an even more ambitious attraction in Pigeon Forge.

One of the most popular exhibits is the white Ford Bronco from the O.J. Simpson case. It was vehicle involved in infamous low-speed car chase in 1994 when Simpson failed to turn himself in to the police after being named a person of interest in the murder of his ex-wife Nichole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

I was at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas when I sensed a wave (opposite of a wave of applause at a sporting event) of silence flowing across the casino. The entire casino became quiet as gamblers were drawn to the gigantic sports screens. We joined an estimated 95 million people Who watched the car chase live on TV. O.J. Simpson’s former agent Mike Gilbert has said that “After the limo that JFK was shot in, this is the second-most-viewed car in American history.”

Another notable item is a guitar that belonged to Charles Manson. In addition to being a murderous cult leader, Manson was also an aspiring musician who had a brief friendship with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. The famous California band even recorded a reworded version of a song penned by Manson, which they called “Never Learn Not to Love.” He was very angry for not getting credit.

The guitar was seized from the Manson Family’s home at the Barker Ranch in Inyo County, California.

The artifacts that gave me the biggest creep factor were the clown costumes of John Wayne Gacy. In the 1970s, he was known as Killer Clown who assaulted and murdered at least 33 young men and boys. Gacy regularly performed at children’s hospitals and charitable events as “Pogo the Clown” or “Patches the Clown”, personas he had devised.

Serial killer Ted Bundy was represented with the Volkswagen he kidnapped victims in, his typewriter, radio and other items.

Dodie and I visited the actual ambush site of Bonnie and Clyde last week so it was interesting to see their items here. The car, nestled between gangster Bugsy Siegel’s automobile and the OJ Simpson Bronco, is actually the one used in the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway movie, “Bonnie and Clyde” from 1967.

Other displays I thought were particularly interesting included the machine gun of “Scarface,” John Dillinger’s death mask, and Jeffrey Dahmer’s handcuffs.

The museum was particularly interesting for not only displaying over 500 artifacts, but for the interactive exhibitions covering primitive torture devices, pirates and piracy, Old West, serial killers, famous crimes, forensic science and more.

Dodie trying out Salem Witch Trial artifact.

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The Buzzard Lesson: Words May Lie, Bodies Don’t


“Finding her body was easy. The buzzards signaled the way. Finding the killer was the hard part.”

So said my dad at the kitchen table at our home on Ansley Boulevard in south San Antonio.

Having a homicide detective for a father made for conversations I was aware my classmates didn’t experience.

Normal talk at dinner time in the Dennis family often centered on Dad’s latest crime cases. He’d skirt around the particulars while we ate, but later he’d give me more detail. Usually there were intriguing nuggets
of wisdom peppered in.

Detective investigation was a fantastic topic for a curious 10-year-old kid. In retrospect, I realize Dad allowed me to follow along in such a way that I could begin to solve a crime or unravel a mystery.

Going into teenage years,  it became obvious he would purposefully include clues and red herrings for my mind to tackle.

He paid attention, even if people didn’t think he was. I noticed around some individuals, he’d actually play dumb–even ignorant, when I knew he was keenly aware and knowledgeable.

His sense of observation and ability to get information from others was amazing. Brilliant.

“Remember that body language is always truthful and what people say isn’t necessarily true,” he coached. “They are especially easy to read when they’re hungry or thirsty–especially for coffee.”

He drilled me to rely on all the senses to observe my surroundings. It evolved and as I grew closer to adulthood, he would step up the challenges and test me.

One Saturday, in the summer, we stopped off to eat lunch at Bud Jones Meal-a-Minute Restaurant, a Southside institution on Commercial Avenue and S.W. Military Drive.

“When we go in there, we’re going to sit down with some men I’ve known for a long time,” he said as he turned off the ignition. “When we’re done,  I want you to tell me about them based on what you observed.”

What an unexpected challenge, but I was ready. “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” was playing on Bud’s jukebox. I heard two ladies talking about “Marcus Welby, M.D” as we approached a man waiting at a table for four. Dad sat across from him and I went to the chair between them on the man’s right.

About the time we shook hands and my father introduced me, the second man joined us.

It was just as much fun observing them, taking mental notes, as it was enjoying the All You Can Eat Fish plate in front of me.

“Tell me about the first man,” Dad asked as we drove off. “What did you notice?”

“He’s outside a lot and works or lives south of here, maybe in Pleasanton or somewhere around there. He probably smokes and drinks a lot too.”

Dad was listening carefully, and as he backed his pickup out of the parking space, he glanced straight at me for more than a second.

“What else?”

“When he shook your hand he seemed nervous, but he slipped something to you in the handshake. Then he was like instantly relieved.”

Dad grinned.

“He, maybe is like, either accident prone, very careful or used to spilling things.”

“Ha. How did you get that idea?” Dad laughed.

“Every time he took a sip of coffee, he didn’t just drink it like you two did,” I continued. “He leaned over to the cup and held it with both hands. He didn’t bring the cup to his lips with one hand. His lips went to the cup.”

“He works in Jourdanton, tending cows, goats and chickens,” Dad responded. “That’s close to Pleasanton. How did you know that? We didn’t even talk about that.  That’s pretty good.”

“His fingers and boots,” I proudly answered, somewhat relieved I was getting the hang of this. “Hands are tough and calloused. When Grandpa Dennis took me to Dilley to get watermelons (I had a produce stand) one morning, we came back through Pleasanton so he could show me their hanging tree where he saw a man hang from there once.”

“He showed it to you?”

“Yes, he said people came from all around to see it,” I answered. “I think he was a cattle rustler or stole some cows or horses He even showed me where he was standing when he saw it. Anyway, there’s red dirt–almost like sand in Pleasanton–on his boots and the knees of his khaki pants. He also doesn’t have a ring on his finger but no tan where it used to be. His teeth are yellow like some smokers I’ve seen. His lips are chapped. “

My father was pleased and emphasized how good my clue gathering was. It turned out my Dad had loaned him some money. The man was a friend from their school days at Harlandale High. He recently went through a divorce and had a Driving While Intoxicated arrest. Dad had loaned him some money to bail him out. That’s what he passed to my father’s hand.

I surmised the other man may have been in the milItary or was a veteran because of his crew cut, polished shoes and regimented demeanor.

“When he walked up to the table, he stood like he was in attention with his hands behind his back,” was one of the things I recall telling Dad. “It was like when you put your hand forward to shake, it was his ‘at ease.'”

“You’ve been paying attention,” Dad acknowledged. “What else?

“They knew each other but hadn’t seen each other in a long time. (The second man) looked stern at first but when he told (the first man) to order what he wanted because he was paying, the intial tension at the table went away. But I’m not sure what that was all about. Maybe I was just noticing too much and making a bigger deal out of it than it was.”

“No Son, you’re right,” he explained. “It was a big deal. Doing something good can make you feel better about something bad that’s happened. Or it can make you feel less guilty about doing something bad later.”

As a 14-year old, I needed elaboration. Whew, did I get it!

Look for the signals.

Man #1 was divorced because his wife left him. He never really knew why.

Man #2 was the reason.

After the divorce, the ex-wife left Man #2 for another man (let’s call him Man #3). #2 was both angry and hurt, but most of all felt great guilt for what he did to Man #1.

I never knew if #1 found out about #2, but I do know this:

1. A few weeks later I was a laborer replacing roofs on houses working with #1 and #2. We all worked hard together from dawn to dusk, except for lunch and naps under nearby shade trees.

2. The ex-wife/ex-girlfriend and Man #3 were later arrested and charged with writing hot checks and other thefts. #3 was on probation and was sent back to the penitentiary. The rumor was she moved to Alabama where she belonged.

3. The hard work, valuable lessons and acknowledgement received from my Dad were rewarding.

4. In a homicide investigation, the spouse is always the first suspect. And buzzards signal the way.

This is an excerpt from my next book in progress, tentatively entitled Whataburger With Ralph. See Lesson 1 here.

The Execution of Joseph John Cannon

New information in the case of Joseph John Cannon, being revealed for the first time today, casts a fresh look at the murder trial that reached the Supreme Court, prompted reaction from the Pope, and caused a nation to debate executing someone who committed a crime at age 17.

If Cannon was alive today, he would have turned 60 on January 13, 2020. But on April 22, 1998 the 38 year-old ate his last meal. Cannon ordered “fried chicken, barbecue ribs, baked potato, green salad with Italian dressing, chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream or both, a thick chocolate shake or malt and iced tea.”

The meal was delivered in the afternoon, not long after he entered a holding room located about 30 feet from where he was set to die. While eating, little did Cannon know that 160 miles away, at the State Capitol, Texas Governor George W. Bush had received pleas from Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, and members from the Parliament in Italy, to stop the execution.

About 3 p.m. Warden Jim Willett reviewed the file of Cannon, known as inmate 634. Willett said he prayed for Cannon and asked “God to make this a smooth and trouble-free day for him.”

By 4 p.m. Willett entered the holding cell to find that Cannon had completed his meal. He verified that Cannon would make a last statement as this would help the warden cue the execution’s commencement.

Chaplain Jim Brazel stayed with Cannon while Willett went back to the office.

Wayne Scott, the director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, along with a few regional and deputy directors waited with Willett until about 5:45 when they received a phone call from Gov. Bush’s office confirming they could proceed. Shortly afterwards, the State’s attorney general’s office called to ratify the execution. Willett walked down to hall to the cell holding Cannon and the chaplain.

“Inmate Cannon,” Willett announced, “it’s time for you to go into the next room with me.”

Cannon stood up and followed Willett without saying a word.

Death Row, Huntsville.

When Cannon reached the doorway to the 9-by-12-foot death chamber, he paused. No one knows what was going through Cannon’s mind at the moment, but what he saw was a tie down team of corrections officers waiting for him in the light green room with white floors and brown coving.

He immediately walked to the gurney and laid down. The team began strapping Cannon in place with 5 yellowish-tan straps buckled across him. Looking up, he could see a 2-by-6 foot rectangle fixture crossing over him, casting light. As the straps began to tighten, he observed to the left of the light. Coming out of the ceiling, was a dark escutcheoned conduit bent to the right and downward so a microphone could record his last words.

Looking downward to his left, Cannon saw the executioner’s room through a window. He closed his eyes and gazed to his right. There were 2 curtained windows, both with light green colored jail bars. Each window represented 2 separate rooms, 1 for his family, and 1 for the victim’s family to watch him being executed.

Knowing Cannon was securely strapped, Warden Willett stood at the head of the inmate, while the chaplain stood at his feet.

Two members of the medical team entered the room, while the third member, the executioner, stayed in the room to Cannon’s left. Typically, the medical team takes about 5 to 10 minutes to insert and secure two IVs into an inmate, with one serving as a backup. Willet and the chaplain could tell the medical techs were having difficulty as the female tech prodded and poked Cannon’s arm.

Later, Willett would admit it was the longest IV preparation he’d ever witnessed. It took over 20 minutes before the technician peered up and asked, “Warden, I think we’ve got a good one in this arm. Can we go with just the one?”

Willett nodded affirmatively and the technician left the room. Cannon gazed at the IV in his arm and looked right to see people entering the first witness viewing room. Through the window, Cannon saw his mother. He looked at her with no expression. When someone nudged her she moved in closer to the plate glass window.

Cannon then looked over to the next window as members of his victim’s family entered their viewing room. It was the first time some of them had seen Joseph John Cannon since the day he brutally murdered their mother in 1977.

Mrs. Walsh, 45, was a San Antonio attorney. Her brother, Dan Cariben, also an attorney, had represented Cannon in a burglary case and persuaded her to let him live at her home in September 1977 so he could remain on probation and avoid jail.

A week later, Mrs. Walsh — the mother of eight — was shot six times at close range with a .22 pistol by Cannon after she came home for lunch. High on alcohol and drugs, he also tried to rape her dead body on the pool table and then drove away in one of the family’s cars.

“The good Samaritan story was turned upside down by him,” said Paul Canales, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Cannon in the second trial. “He’s the type of guy that makes you want to lock your doors and not pick up hitchhiker

After spending decades in prison, Cannon was now haggard and weighed far more than when he was 17, the age he decided to leave his home in Houston to hitchhike to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Cannon had already made his final statement and goodbyes when the first injection began.

After closing his eyes momentarily, he turned toward a window where witnesses were standing.

“It’s come undone,” he said.

Prison officials then shut a drape that blocked him from witnesses.

Witnesses were led outside, where they waited for 15 minutes while prison officials worked to establish another injection.

“I kind of lost my cool a while ago,” a smiling Cannon said, greeting witnesses as they entered a second time.

During a second round of final statements, witnesses for Cannon cried and prayed together.

During his trials there was a claim Cannon was not in full possession of his faculties when he killed Walsh.

At 4, Cannon had been hit by a car, resulting in severe head injuries. Beginning at age 7 was subjected to constant sexual abuse and beatings from his stepfather and grandfather.

At 9, he had pushed a boy into a Louisiana bayou. The boy drowned. At age 10, he was hospitalized for sipping gasoline to get high. At age 15, he was diagnosed as psychotic and attempted suicide by drinking insecticide.

Private investigator Jack Dennis was tasked by Attorney William G. Brown in 1980 to find witnesses including Cannon’s mother. Dennis traced her as hitchhiking, accepting rides at trucks stops on IH10 and 87 in exchange for food, booze and companionship. After a two day search, with only a photo and conversations with truck stop employees, Dennis found Cannon’s mother at a dance hall in San Angelo.

When Dennis interviewed his mother, she admitted she had suffered beatings and rapes by her father, Joseph’s grandfather. On the drive back to San Antonio she told Dennis she feared her pregnancy with Joseph could actually be the product from a rape by her father.

“He had me chained and tied outside to a tree,” she cried. “He beat me so much I thought I’d die right there. He was drunk and finally let me go. I got out of there and made it to Houston and never went back. This might be why he’s so crazy. He takes after his grandpa, my daddy.”

I’m sorry for what I did to your mom,” he said to five sons of victim Anne Walsh, all of whom attended the execution. “I am sorry for all of you. I love you all. I thank you all for being kind to me when I was small.”

After Cannon finally died from the injection, reactions of Mrs. Walsh’s sons were terse.

Son Christopher Walsh made a statement to the media, “Job well-done, end of story.”

About Jack Dennis

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  • Raised in San Antonio, Texas Jack Dennis’ early experiences were as a newspaper reporter and private investigator. With a Texas State University bachelor’s degree, Jack studied journalism and won numerous awards, including Investigative Reporter of 1976 from Rocky Mountain Press Association.
  • Jack has interviewed Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood, B.B. King, Kenny Rogers, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Lady Bird Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Mike Myers, Larry King, May Pang (John Lennon’s girlfriend) and Taylor Lautner.
  • Roger Staubach, Nolan Ryan, David Robinson, Terry Bradshaw and Yogi Berra are a few of the sports legends Jack has met.
  • Astronauts or space legends Jack has met include Buzz Aldrin, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Jr., Walt Cunnginham, Bruce McCandless and Gene Kranz (Apollo Flight Director).
  • Hollywood legends Jack has conversed with include Roslyn Russell, James Earl Jones, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, and more.
  • Jack is a pioneer in the retail facility management industry as Director of Facilities of a large retailer, H-E-B FOODS/DRUGS for 26 years. Prior to that position, he was a construction estimator and project estimator.
  • Among his responsibilities in Texas and Mexico, he oversaw  Emergency Operations, Store Services, Building-Equipment-HVAC-Refrigeration Maintence, Sanitation, Landscaping and influenced Security, Construction, Loss Prevention, Real Estate, Warehousing, Distribution, and Manufacturing.
  • Jack co-founded Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM, now CONNEX) and was elected President to establish PRSM magazine. He gave over 40 major speeches and dozens of training sessions on their behalf in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Orlando, Chicago, Nashville, Atlantic City, Seattle and more.
  • Jack wrote over 1200 articles for Examiner and has also written online for AXS Entertainment, The Rowdy, and others.
  • Through the years he has contributed to print publications such as Texas Monthly, Dallas Times-Herald, Austin American-Statesman, Memphis Flash, San Marcos Daily Record and more.

Jack married the girl he admired most from high school, Loralyn “Dodie” Bailey on his birthday in 2019. Their children (oldest to youngest) are Jennifer Dennis, Mark Dennis, Jackson McMeans, Bailey McMeans, Jack Dennis and Brady Dennis.