The War At Home

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Criticism of the militarization of local police forces is commonplace in the post-9/11 world, but the issue has been amplified by the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.

In the wake of a controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, the small town of about  20,000 has been besieged by riots, looting and instances of police brutality. While neither the protestors or police can be exonerated for their behavior over the past month, one take away has been the perplexing amount of military equipment utilized by law enforcement.

As various media outlets reported, Ferguson police responded to the riots with snipers, combat vehicles and a general approach toward protestors — peaceful or not — as enemies of the state.

In Arkansas, a state vastly similar to Missouri regarding culture and race relations, would an similar police response occur? In light of the equipment that the authorities have at their disposal, it’s a chilling thought.

New York TimesThis website, which emanates from a frightening report by the New York Times about the proliferation of military-grade equipment in several police precincts across the country, allows users to research the various hardware used by law enforcement, and is sortable by state and county. Arkansas, a state with just over 2 million people, possesses a shocking array of firearms and vehicles that seem more appropriate on the battlefield.

For example, Pulaski County, home to the state’s largest and most metropolitan city, Little Rock, owns several weapons that seem excessive for urban crime. Amid the usual provisions like firearms, utility trucks, and flash lights, police have a grenade launcher, a mine-resistant vehicle and a combat/assault/tactical vehicle. According the website, the total value of those three items — designed specifically for modern warfare — are valued at just north of $1 million.

Even the rural counties aren’t immune. Randolph County has a cargo plane. Baxter, Faulkner, and Mississippi Counties each have an “observation helicopter.” Meanwhile, Benton County, which has 160,000 fewer people than Pulaski County, has two mine-resistant vehicles.

Police simply being in possession of this equipment doesn’t mean they’ll use it. But like John Oliver noted on Last Week Tonight, the dissemination of military-grade weapons, combined with untrained police units, make for a volatile situation.

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5 Iconic Stadiums That Didn’t Get A Proper Farewell

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Dozens of iconic American stadiums have come and gone over the last two centuries. Unfortunately, some of them weren’t spared the agony of decay and neglect. The five stadiums on this list were once sanctuaries for their teams and landmarks in the community. Sadly, their legacies were tarnished thanks to years of abandonment.

5. Metropolitan Stadium — Bloomington, Minn.

Known affectionately to Minnesotans as “the Met,” Metropolitan stadium was the original home of the Vikings and the Twins. Built on a farm in 1956 for the minor league Minneapolis Millers, the stadium eventually lured the Washington Senators to Bloomington, and later, the NFL expansion Vikings.

Minn. Star TribuneDespite its disjointed seating — the outfield bleachers weren’t even connected — the Met (1961-1981) proved to be indispensable for its tenants.

Only four years after leaving D.C., the Twins won the American League pennant by seven games before losing a hard-fought World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Earlier that summer, the Met hosted the annual MLB All-Star Game, which saw six Twins make the American League squad. And while the brutal Minnesota winters were great for the Vikings, they were anathema for their opponents. The Purple People Eaters reached four Super Bowls during their 20-year tenure at the Met, largely thanks to the decisive home-field advantage.

Even The Beatles dropped by the Met for a concert. It was the group’s lone gig in The Gopher State.

But during the 1970s, the Met fell into disrepair. The stadium was notorious for its dilapidated facilities, poorly maintained field, and considered one of the worst venues in professional sports.

By 1982, both the Twins and Vikings had moved into the Metrodome. The Met was officially abandoned, and it became a breeding ground for vandalism and urban explorers. Eventually razed in 1985, the Mall of America was erected in its place nearly a decade later.

4. Tulane Stadium — New Orleans, La.

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For almost half a century, Tulane Stadium was one of the most revered football venues in America. The home of the Sugar Bowl from its inaugural game in 1935 until 1974, Tulane Stadium holds a special place in the annals of both college and pro football.

Opened in 1926 as the third home of the Tulane Green Wave football team, Tulane Stadium (1926-1980) became a household name thanks to the prestige of the Sugar Bowl. When the NFL expanded to New Orleans in the late 1960s, the Saints used Tulane Stadium for their home field from 1967-1974. It was there in 1970 that Saints kicker Tom Demspey booted a then-record 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions.

Nola.com - Times-Picayune ArchivesThanks to its seating capacity of nearly 81,000 and ideal location in the Big Easy, Tulane Stadium was a popular choice for the Super Bowl. The stadium hosted three NFL championships in a six year span, and is one of five host stadiums no longer standing.

But in 1975, on the same day that the lavish Superdome opened, Tulane Stadium was condemned. Much of the stadium was shuttered, but thanks the outcry of university officials, it remained viable for NFL practices, high school football games, and other low profile events.

A gloomy relic in its twilight years, Tulane Stadium was completely demolished by 1980. Dorm rooms and other university facilities occupy the site today.

3. Astrodome — Houston, Tex.

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Hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in 1965, the Houston Astrodome was the Arc de Triomphe of American stadiums. For visionary Roy Hofheinz, the Astrodome wasn’t just the center of Houston’s sports universe, but its entertainment hub as well.

The world’s first indoor, multipurpose domed stadium, the Astrodome was replete with swanky restaurants, upholstered seats, and opulent luxury boxes. Everything the modern fan (and athlete) takes for granted today was pioneered by the Astrodome.

But the dome’s influence wasn’t limited to its wondrous engineering. In 1968, the Astrodome (1965-2006) inadvertently revolutionized the sports landscape when it hosted college basketball’s “Game of the Century.” The showdown pitted No. 1 UCLA against No. 2 Houston, with the Cougars edging the Bruins 71-69 in front of more than 50,000 fans. The positive response to college basketball’s first regular season game aired in prime time nationwide was unprecedented, and the NCAA picked the Astrodome to host the 1971 Final Four. Nearly four decades later, practically every Final Four is played in a football stadium.Houston Astrodome, 1965

In the fall of ’68 the Astrodome opened its doors to the NFL’s Houston Oilers. The notion that football could be  virtually weatherproof  was groundbreaking. The dome’s affect on football can still be felt today, as evidenced by the proliferation of domed stadiums — most of which keep the roof closed all season.

Despite its extravagance,  Oilers owner Bud Adams felt that the Astrodome wasn’t enough for his troubled franchise. In the mid-1990s, Adams threatened to move the team if Houston didn’t fund construction for a new stadium. The city had already buckled to his demands before, removing the stadium’s iconic, “Astrolite” scoreboard in 1988.

City officials refused to budge this time, and the Oilers departed for Tennessee in 1997. The Astros made a similar request, but stayed put when funding for Minute Maid Park was secured. Despite voters rejecting a measure to renovate the Astrodome in November 2013, the stadium has yet to be demolished as of this writing. Its fate is still uncertain.

2. Silverdome — Pontiac, Mich.

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Once a state-of-the-art domed facility built to house a multitude of events, the Pontiac Silverdome is nearly unrecognizable today.

Originally part of a larger “urban renewal” project for Pontiac, Mich. — which included plans for a dual stadium complex — the palatial Silverdome was the only building to materialize from C. Don Davidson’s vision to revitalize the sleepy suburb.

Opened in 1975, the Silverdome was declared the world’s largest inflatable domed stadium. One of the few facilities of its era built without accommodations for baseball, it paved the way for facilities like the Hoosier Dome and the Metrodome.

Due to its cavernous seating capacity — just north of 80,000 — the Silverdome was the NFL’s largest stadium for more than two decades. Despite its short lifespan (1975-2001), the Silverdome hosted a number of prestigious events, including Super Bowl XVI, the 1979 NBA All-Star Game, Wrestlemania III, a handful of World Cup matches, the 1988 NBA Finals, and several legendary musicians. It was also the site of the Lions’ last home playoff victory.

SilverdomeBut when the Lions bolted to Ford Field in 2002, the Silverdome was left without a primary tenant. Pontiac experienced a financial crisis trying to maintain the stadium, and the Silverdome quickly fell into ruin. There dome hosted a handful of events between 2003-2005, but it closed in 2006. Auctioned off in 2009, it reopened in 2010, and its parking lot was briefly used as a drive-in.

There were plans to use the Silverdome as a stadium for an MLS team. But when that fell through, the dome again was left untended, and it deteriorated rapidly. The roof collapsed in 2012, and mother nature took over from there. Most of the field is submerged, dotted with Teflon corpses. Hallways are flooded, expensive equipment languishes, and the once glitzy luxury boxes are decrepit.

The Silverdome’s most recent owner started auctioning off parts of the stadium in June 2014. Despite the Silverdome’s likely fate, the high cost of demolition has postponed its demise.

1. Tiger Stadium — Detroit, Mich.

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Opened the same week the Titanic sank, Tiger Stadium (1912-1999) was one of Major League Baseball’s most storied venues.

Tiger Stadium’s location on the intersection of Michigan Ave. and Trumble Ave. gave rise to its nickname, “The Corner.” Its compact and intimate design allowed fans to get close to the game, especially when equipped for baseball. Despite a handful of obstructed views common to parks of its era, Tiger Stadium’s upper deck was considered one of the best in the majors for watching a baseball game.

For power hitters though, it was something of an enigma. The upper deck in left field was practically two stories tall and about 340 feet from home plate. Only four players ever cleared the roof in left: Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Cecil Feilder, and Mark McGwire.

The home of the Tigers and the NFL’s Detroit Lions for more than four decades, Tiger Stadium saw an incredible run of success for its two professional sports teams. The Tigers won four World Series and eight of their 11 American League pennants at The Corner.

Tigers2The Lions, meanwhile, had their most successful tenure in team history at Tiger Stadium, winning three NFL Championships in a five year span.

The Corner also hosted other monumental sporting events through the early 1970s. Joe Louis defended his world heavyweight title in 1939, knocking out Bob Pastor in what was then called Briggs Stadium. MLB also awarded three All-Star games to The Corner. The final midsummer classic in the venerable park was in 1971, when Reggie Jackson smash the longest home run in All-Star history.

In 1989, Tiger Stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places. But by the mid 1990s, the antiquated facility started to wear on management. Plans to refurbish Tiger Stadium failed to get traction, and when construction began for a new ballpark in 1997, The Corner seemed destined for demolition.

Tiger Stadium’s sendoff was bittersweet. Detroit won its final home game, but the stadium was shuttered soon after. Efforts to save or preserve it fell on deaf ears, and The Corner became little more than a backdrop for movies and TV specials.

Unlike most American sports facilities, Tiger Stadium wasn’t demolished after its successor opened, and the new millennium offered little respite to The Corner. Its continued deterioration brought comparisons to  the urban decay sweeping Detroit. But in 2008, demolition finally began. By Sept. 2009, there was nothing left but its frayed baseball diamond. Still, the community rallied around what remained, and worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of one of baseball’s sanctuaries.

Unexplained, Arkansas

Editor’s note — This is an excerpt from a piece originally written for THV11. Parts of it have been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

The Denver Post

Mike Huckabee made an unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2008.

Huckabee’s missing files

In January 2007, outgoing Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made a peculiar request of his staff: destroy the office computers.

Huckabee’s staff obliged, wiping the memory of more than 100 computers before smashing their hard drives beyond repair.

The reason behind the frenzied housecleaning has never been fully explained. Huckabee briefly addressed the issue in 2007, saying the hard drives were destroyed to “protect the privacy” of his staff.

But one unearthed memo referred to potential backups of the destroyed drives. The memo also says the backups were supposed to be delivered to a Huckabee aide.

As of this writing, however, the story was last mentioned in 2011.

Clinton associate murdered execution style

A well known, quasi-political figure around Arkansas in the late 1980s and early 90s, Luther Gerald “Jerry” Parks, Jr. oversaw Bill Clinton’s security detail while Clinton was governor. Parks’ security firm was later contracted to guard Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters in 1992.

But only nine months after Clinton won the White House, Parks was gunned down in West Little Rock. Parks was leaving El Chico when he was ambushed by two men in a white Chevrolet Caprice at the intersection of Chenal Parkway and Highway 10, where witnesses said the men shot Parks to death before speeding away. The only evidence left behind were 10 9-mm bullet casings scattered on the pavement.

Clinton’s far-right critics pounced on the murder. They said it had political overtones, pointing to the untimely suicide of Vincent Foster – a childhood friend of Clinton’s and one of his closest allies – only months earlier as evidence of a conspiracy.

Parks’ son, Gary, also tried to link Clinton to the murders. He claimed that his father had collected a file on Clinton’s salacious activities and that he was executed due to its contents. The Little Rock Police Department dismissed such claims as “unsubstantiated”.

Adding another twist in the case, Gary was recently charged with the murder of his mother’s new husband, David Millstein. Police in Baxter County think Gary had help, and they believe that the unnamed suspect might also have ties to Jerry’s murder.

Despite the passing of two decades, LRPD says its investigation into the elder Parks’ murder is ongoing.

Wikipedia

The West Memphis Three were freed in 2011 after spending nearly two decades in prison.

Does a killer still roam free in Arkansas?

Damien Echols was the lead suspect in the murders of three West Memphis boys in 1993. After serving 18 years in prison, Echols, along with the two other suspects, Jessie Miskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – subsequently dubbed the West Memphis Three – were released per a controversial Alford Plea in 2011.

In one of Echols’ many interviews while in prison, he issued a sobering notion to filmmakers of the West of Memphis documentary: “The person who killed those three kids is still out there walking on the street.”

Investigators never found any physical evidence linking the WM3 to the crime scene. Moreover, witnesses who originally testified against the trio later said their confessions were coerced by law enforcement. And thanks to improving forensic science, investigators uncovered a strand of DNA from one of the shoelaces used to subdue the victims that didn’t match any of the WM3.

Further complicating the case was the mysterious “Mr. Bojangles.” On the evening of the murders, a “disoriented” African American man, covered in blood and mud, entered a Bojangles restaurant not far from where the bodies were found.

The suspect’s race was an important factor in the case, as the hair of black male was discovered in one of the sheets used to wrap the victims.

Police were summoned to the restaurant, but officers took the report via the drive-thru window and never entered the building to interview the suspect. Blood samples taken from the bathroom were later lost by WMPD investigators before the WM3 went to trial.

Other advocates of the WM3’s innocence point to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, as the real killer. Hobbs had a history of child abuse and was reportedly the last person seen with three boys.

Sadly, after more than 20 years, it appears that the deaths of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers will forever remain unsolved.

Razorback Stadium: 75 Years In Pictures

Razorback Stadium celebrated its 75th season as Arkansas’ primary football home in 2013. This gallery showcases the stadium’s evolution over the past seven decades.

Unintended Consequences

www.wholehogsports.com

Ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII, www.ArkansasRazorbacks.com ran a story on former Arkansas coaches and players who appeared in the NFL’s championship game. The list was meant to showcase the litany of players the Razorbacks have sent to football’s most hallowed game.

Instead, it served as a sad reminder of the shortage of decent pro players who attended the state’s flagship university.

Outside of Steve Atwater and Dan Hampton, only a handful of former Hogs have ever had any measurable impact on their team’s championship season, let alone effected the outcome of a Super Bowl.

A few Hogs have shined on Super Sunday, though. All-SWC tailback Lance Alworth caught the first touchdown pass in Super Bowl VI. Hampton anchored Chicago’s ferocious defensive line when the Bears trounced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Meanwhile, Atwater, who knocked out a Broncos teammate in Super Bowl XXXII, headlined a stingy Denver secondary.

However, to today’s fan, this all happened eons ago.

The most recent Razorback to appear in the Super Bowl? Seattle lineman Alvin Bailey. While his team did win the game, his only noteworthy play was a holding penalty which brought back a Seahawks first down.

Oh lord, it’s hard to be humble.

www.suntimes.com

Dan Hampton (99) and Lance Alworth are the only two Razorbacks to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

However, Arkansas has sent a litany of coaches to the NFL, many of whom not only found success at the pro level, but attained Super Bowl glory.

Joe Gibbs, Barry Switzer, and Jimmy Johnson all guided teams to NFL titles. Pete Carroll, despite spending only one year with the team — as a graduate assistant in 1977 — joined that hallowed fraternity on Sunday. Even more remarkable, all three joined the short list of coaches who have won an NCAA national championship and an NFL title.

Others, like Baltimore Colts legend Raymond Berry, Arkansas’ receivers coach from 1970-72, guided the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1985. Monte Kiffin, the Hogs defensive coordinator in the late 70s, was the defensive play-caller for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2008. His innovative Tampa-2 defense helped the Bucs thrash the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Most of the aforementioned coaches emanated from one man: Frank Broyles. The legendary Arkansas coach sullied his legacy thanks to his tumultuous reign as the school’s athletic directory, but fans can’t deride his coaching career. He presided over the Hogs lone national championship and is largely responsible for the success of Razorbacks athletics.

Now that’s something to showcase.

Unsolved, Arkansas

Editor’s note — This is an excerpt from a story originally written for Listverse. Parts of it have been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

The Crawford Disappearance

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Maud Crawford, center, with Arkansas Girls State participants.

Arkansas was a hotbed for mob activity in the first half of the 20th century. Al Capone regularly visited the state in the 1920s, spending ample time in Hot Springs betting on horse races at Oaklawn and relaxing in some of the many bathhouses that lined Central Avenue.

Naturally, a state so amiable to mobsters was bound to have a fair amount of shady business deals. That’s where Maud Crawford came in.

A well-known public figure in Camden and a pioneer for women in Arkansas, Crawford worked as a court stenographer before she decided to take the bar exam. Having had no formal legal classes, she aced the exam and eventually became an expert in abstract and title law. At the time of her disappearance, she was even assisting U.S. Sen. John McClellan of Arkansas with a congressional investigation into supposed mob ties with organized labor.

Crawford’s last known whereabouts place her at home. Her husband, Clyde, returned to find her car still in the driveway, the TV on, and money in her purse. Their supposed guard dog wasn’t even fazed. The police began searching for Crawford the next morning, but found few clues for her disappearance. Crawford’s body was never recovered.

In 1986, a series of articles in the Arkansas Gazette by Beth Brickell alleged that Crawford’s disappearance involved then-Arkansas State Police Commissioner Mike Berg. Crawford was looking into a potentially illegal transfer of assets between Berg and some of his family members. Only days before disappearing, she had confronted Berg face-to-face about the issue, Brickell wrote.

Meanwhile, Odis A. Henley, the officer originally assigned to the case, reported to his superiors that evidence he uncovered implicated Berg as Crawford’s killer. This contradicted official statements from the Ouachita County Sheriff’s Office, which said it failed to turn up any clues regarding her disappearance.

Henley’s findings did little to sway the rest of the force, though, and he was reportedly told by his superiors that “there’s too much money involved” before being reassigned. Adding to the intrigue, all of his files on Crawford disappeared after a short trip away from the office.

Legally declared dead by Ouachita County in 1969, Crawford’s death certificate officially lists her demise as the result of “foul play perpetrated by person or persons unknown.”

The Edwards Murder

www.lindaedwards.com

Linda Edwards’ mysterious death has alleged ties to Saline County officials.

Arkansas in the 1970s wasn’t the most hospitable place for an unwed mother of three. So when Linda Edwards got a job as dispatcher for the Garland County Sheriff’s Office, she considered it a godsend — but just six months after joining the force, she vanished.

Rumors began to circulate that the man she had been having an affair with, Sgt. Thurman Abernathy, had gotten her pregnant. The pair had argued over whether or not to keep the baby — she wanted it; he didn’t.

Their spat escalated past verbal exchanges and Abernathy allegedly killed her. Along with their stormy relationship, further implicating Abernathy in Edwards’ murder was testimony from her friend, Mary Patterson, who told police that Edwards was going to meet Abernathy the night she disappeared.

While the missing person’s case dragged on for nearly a year, things took a frightening turn when a hunter stumbled upon Edwards’ partially buried remains in the woods. After exhuming the body, medical examiners reported that she died from blunt-force trauma to her skull. A few months later, Abernathy was formally charged with her murder.

Arguing that most of the evidence against him was hearsay, Abernathy appealed his case. While the appeal wound its way through the courts, the case was passed along to Dan Harmon, the newly appointed prosecutor for Saline County.

Harmon dropped all charges against Abernathy, who had recently been promoted to lieutenant at the sheriff’s office. The decision to indict Abernathy was left to a grand jury, which cited insufficient evidence for its reason against bringing new charges.

Despite an intense statewide investigation, no tangible evidence has ever surfaced linking Abernathy to Edwards’ murder, and the case remains unsolved.

The Train Deaths (aka the Boys on The Tracks, the Mena Murders)

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The murder of Don Henry, left, and Kevin Ives was featured on Unsolved Mysteries in 1988.

Arguably the state’s most notorious cold case, the mysterious deaths of Don Henry and Kevin Ives still haunt Central Arkansas.

The mangled bodies of Henry and Ives were discovered near dawn on Aug. 23, 1987 on a set of railroad tracks in Bryant, a suburb just south of Little Rock.

The train’s engineer saw the boys’ bodies from a distance, but didn’t have enough time to bring the train to a complete stop. He told police they were laying motionless on the tracks, parallel to one another with their arms straight down at their sides, their bodies partially covered by a green tarp.

The initial investigation was swift.

Fahmy Malak, the state medical examiner, ruled Henry and Ives’ deaths accidental. Malak declared that the boys were under the influence of marijuana and tragically had passed out on the tracks. However, the boys’ parents didn’t agree with that conclusion — they were certain their sons died of foul play.

After fighting to get the case reopened, they finally succeed in early 1988. One of the families’ first goals was to get their sons’  bodies exhumed. Their findings where chilling.

Dr. Joseph Burton, an out of state forensic pathologist, examined the remains and concluded both boys had suffered injuries prior to being crushed by the train. Henry’s shirt was in tatters, with lacerations all over his body indicative of stabbing. Ives, meanwhile, had blunt force trauma to his skull. Burton concluded the boys were likely unconscious or dead before being run over by the train. The reported green tarp was never seen again.

The case got stranger. Witnesses came forward with testimony that they’d seen police officers beating Henry and Ives unconscious before tossing them in the back of a truck and speeding off. Others reported seeing a man in military fatigues loitering near the section of tracks where the bodies were discovered. Meanwhile, alleged witnesses with potential information about the murder died in droves.

Speculation about the case was rampant, with many in Bryant wondering if the boys had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some thought the boys had seen a “drug drop” that was connected to alleged cocaine smuggling via the Mena Airport.

Others insisted that the boys saw a Bryant official — that Dan Harmon fellow we mentioned earlier, to be exact — partaking in a drug deal, and Kevin and Don were simply victims of being potential witnesses that could jeopardize Harmon’s career.

Harmon, who previously had been investigated for drug trafficking, was later arrested on charges for running a drug ring, selling primarily cocaine, from his law office.

The parents did receive some closure for their efforts. A grand jury reversed its original verdict of “probable homicide” to “definite homicide” due to more contradictory evidence.

Arkansans haven’t forgotten the boys on the tracks. Residents honored their memory with a memorial last spring. But after 25 years, it appears that the case will forever remain unsolved.