Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who Killed Melissa Trotter? Ninfa's

Maria Ninfa Rodriquez Laurenzo was much better known as Mama Ninfa. She died in 2001 at 77 years of age. Members of the Houston City Counsel postponed their regularly scheduled meeting so that they could attend her funeral.

Seven years earlier, in 1994, Mama Ninfa was named Business Woman of the Year by the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In 1988, the year Preston Hughes was framed for two murders, Mama Ninfa was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. In 1979, the Texas Restaurant Association named her the Woman Restaurateur of the Year.

From Wikipedia:
She was a personal friend of President of the United States George H.W. Bush. In 1984, Bush, then Vice President of the United States appointed her as one of the five goodwill ambassadors to welcome Pope John Paul II in Puerto Rico. ... In 1988, while in New Orleans, Louisiana, she delivered a speech that seconded Bush's nomination for president in the 1988 United States presidential election. She delivered the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening session of the 1992 Republican National Convention on August 17, 1992.
Her awards and recognition stemmed from her restaurant chain. This is her original restaurant.

Ninfa's Original Restaurant at 2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston
She must have made some mighty fine food.

Her little restaurant was so popular that in 1975 she opened a second one, a larger one at 10694 Westheimer Boulevard. From Wikipedia.
Around June 1977 the original Ninfa's on Navigation averaged 400 customers daily for lunch and 700 daily for dinner. During the same time the Ninfa's on Westheimer averaged 600 customers daily for lunch and 1,000 daily for dinner. The averages remained constant for all seven days of the week. In 1978 the restaurant chain had 500 employees, including 60 workers in the kitchens. ... Throughout the restaurant's history, many celebrities, including Aerosmith, George H.W. Bush, George Benson, Dyan Cannon, Michael Douglas, Crystal Gayle, Rock Hudson, Reba McEntire, John Travolta, Ben Vereen, and ZZ Top ate at Ninfa's. Travolta had a private corner at the Westheimer Ninfa's location while he filmed Urban Cowboy, and while flying in his private aircraft he often stopped in Houston to pick up Ninfa's food.
As I said, she must have made some mighty fine food.

Ninfa's eventually expanded to 55 restaurants. The business became too large for her to manage effectively. Quality suffered and many of the restaurants closed. Today only the original on Navigation Boulevard maintains some semblance of the magic Mama Ninfa created back in 1973.

The restaurant on Westheimer is now gone. In its place stands a tire store.

On September 26, 1986, Anthony Allen Shore dumped the body of 15-year-old Laurie Lee Tremblay behind the Ninfa's restaurant that used to be there on Westheimer. The area wasn't all that private. An overhead view looking from the rear of the tire store shows that the area was hidden from passers by on Westheimer, but not much else.

That's a car wash just to the side of the building. Shore mentioned it in his statement.
There was not, I mean people around the parking lot but there was cars coming and going There was a car wash or some shit and there was people standing around outside and I couldn't believe this.
One of the people he saw behind Ninfa as he was dumping the body of Laurie Lee Tremblay was Homer Fernandez. Homer was Mama Ninfa's nephew. He managed the restaurant on Westheimer. He arrived early that day to prepare for the crowds that were sure to follow.

He arrived around 7:20 A.M. He parked in back as he usually did. He turned off the engine and went through some paperwork. He looked out his car window. From Corey Mitchell's book Strangler:
Once Fernandez gathered his information, he looked out his car window. He was surprised to see another car pull up directly behind the restaurant. This was quite unusual, as the restaurant did not officially open until lunch, so there were never any employees on the premises at this time of the morning. Hernandez [sic] looked up to see who it was, but the driver did not get out of the car. Hernandez [sic] turned his attention back to his paperwork. When he glanced up again, he saw a man outside the parked vehicle standing in between the car and the Dumpster at the back of the restaurant. 
The morning glare of the sun prevented Fernandez from getting a close look. 
The restaurant manager looked down to the other driver's feet. He was shocked to see a body there. He believed the other driver was staring back at him; however, he could not be certain. Fernandez had dark tint on all of his windows, so it was difficult to make out the driver's expression. 
Fernandez was frightened, so he looked back down at his papers. He was afraid he would attract the attention of the driver. 
The man by the Dumpster jumped back into his small light-blue vehicle and hightailed it out of the restaurant parking lot. Fernandez could tell the man was white and had dark hair, but that was all he saw. 
Fernandez didn't know what to do and panicked. Once he knew the driver had taken off, he turned his attention back to the Dumpster behind his restaurant. He stepped out of his car and headed over to the trash area. As he walked up to the area, he noticed what could only be described as a human pretzel. 
A young teenage girl's mangled body lay on her back next to the curb by the Dumpster. Her blue jean Capri-clad legs were splayed out to her left, with her right leg crossing over her left leg at the ankles. She wore a pink interlaced woven shoe on her left foot, but no shoe on her right. Her left leg, which lay under her right leg, was bent up at a 115-degree angle, with her knee pointing toward her left shoulder and the left side of her face. Her left arm had snaked under her bent left knee and appeared to be grasping the side of her jeans on her right leg. The girl's upper half was covered with a short-sleeved white half-shirt, with an exposed midriff. Lying in between her stomach and left thigh was her right shoe. Apparently, the man, who had so deliberately disposed of her body, had almost forgotten one of her shoes and tossed it on her as he sped off. The girl's right arm was also extended above her head, with a slight bend at the elbow, which touched the curb. 
Fernandez bent down to take a closer look at the young blood girl. He noticed that she seemed a little puffy, especially around the lips, which were discolored, like sour milk. He also noticed an abrasion underneath her right nostril, as well as a few scratches on the lower portion of the right cheek. Her left eye appeared swollen and purplish. Fernandez also noticed a bright red contusion that seemed to stretch around her neck like a coral snake. ... 
Fernandez bolted up from the body, unlocked the back door, disarmed the restaurant security system, and went into his office. ... When the emergency operator answered his call, Fernandez stated, "I want to report a dead body outside my restaurant." ... 
The three officers dispatched to the scene at Ninfa's were Jim Ramsey, Larry Boyd Smith, and John Swaim.
Seventeen years after investigating the scene behind Ninfa's, John Swaim would take Anthony Allen Shore's confession to the murder of Laurie Lee Tremblay and others. John Swaim quite properly preserved those confessions by recording them. Good on him for that.

Just two years after investigating the scene behind Ninfa's, however, John Swaim would "witness" Preston Hughes' second confession.

Actually, neither John Swaim nor anyone else actually witnessed any portion of either of Preston's two confessions. Sgt. Dennis Gafford took Preston's first confession, but excluded all others from the room while he did so. Sgt. D.A. Ferguson took Preston's second confession, but excluded all others from the room while he did so. Both Gafford and Ferguson declined to use the equipment made available for recording interrogations. Instead, after extracting the confessions (via offers of extreme leniency), Gafford and then Ferguson called in two officers to "witness" the confession. John Swaim was one of the two officers called in to witness the second confession. He did so once he satisfied himself that the confession was voluntary. However, despite signing as a witness, he had no direct knowledge of how that confession was obtained.

John Swam is but an incidental, inconsequential link between Anthony Allen Shore and the murders of Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor. What caught my attention was the proximity of their murders to that of Laurie Lee Tremblay. As it turns out, Shandra and Marcell were murdered only 2 miles from where Laurie was abducted, only 1.2 miles from where her body was dumped, and only 1.6 miles from where Anthony Allen Shore lived.

Click on the map to enlarge it.

Working from left to right, the three green pins locate the apartment complex where Laurie lived, the bus stop from which she was abducted, and the Ninfa's restaurant where her body was dumped. The blue pin locates the home (at the time) of Anthony Allen Shore. The red pin locates where Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor were murdered.

Those of you who are already familiar with the nature of Anthony Shore's other attacks will recognize immediately that Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor do not fit his modus operandi, at least not the MO people typically formulate based on his acknowledged murders. I'll discuss that more as the series progresses, but for now I'll simply concede that it might be mere coincidence that a serial killer and his first victim each lived close to the field in which Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor were killed.

If so, then it would also be a mere coincidence Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor were murdered two years to the day after Laurie Lee Tremblay. All three were murdered on September 26.