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Eight Hours of Terror

Roberta Thompson spent eight hours locked in the trunk, while four teen-agers went joy riding in her car. When their fun was over, one of them attacked her so severely that her own sister didn't recog

By MARY HARGROVE

This article was published February 29, 2000 at 4:05 a.m.

The boy's voice in her ear was soft, Roberta Thompson remembers. It sounded almost kind. At 3 a.m. on April 13, 1997, she had been his prisoner for eight hours.

Now, he was dragging her out of a car trunk into the night. He wrapped his arm around her neck from behind and whispered, "Did you wet yourself?"

Thompson told him she had.

"He said 'I'm so sorry.' And then he cut my throat."

Thompson was standing near a small roadway in Chickasha Heritage Park in Memphis. She had been abducted from the parking lot at her apartment complex in West Memphis.

Thompson -- 65 years old, 5 feet 1 inch, 113 pounds -- was then stabbed 27 times, savagely kicked and stomped, and then run over with her own car before her attacker was scared off by a park security guard.

She was not expected to live. Her throat had been slashed from ear to ear. Both wrists were fractured, six ribs were crushed, her left shoulder was broken, and her liver was punctured. Her pelvic bone was broken in two places. Deep gashes covered the right side of her body. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut.

"The hospital told my family they had never seen anybody that was that injured and was still alive," Thompson said.

When her sister, Brenda Bradley, arrived at the hospital, she learned that Thompson was in the recovery room with other patients.

"I rushed in and glanced around. I would have walked past her if I hadn't noticed her name on a chart. I didn't recognize her," Bradley said.

Three teen-agers who confessed to being involved in the kidnapping are in state prison at the Grimes Unit at Newport. Clinton Flowers is serving 40 years for aggravated robbery and criminal attempt to commit capital murder; Robert Shaw is serving 25 years for criminal conspiracy and aggravated robbery; and Donnie Terel Allen is serving 25 years for aggravated robbery. A fourth teen-ager, Sam Mayfield, was not charged.

Thompson returned to her job as manager of the Days Inn/West Pyramid in West Memphis two months later. But nothing in her life is the same.

The emotional trauma is as imbedded as the imprint of the buckle on the top of her foot where her sandals were stomped.

Her bones ache. Her right wrist is so weak, she can't open a jar and can barely lift a fork. She is getting arthritis in her shoulder. She has had all her teeth removed and is having trouble with her dentures because her gums were damaged.

And, she is still afraid.

Thompson does not cry when talking about the attack and its aftermath. She does not have nightmares. But her car windows are tinted so no one can see inside. She avoids being around black teen-agers. "I can't stand for anybody to walk up to me," she said. "I get chills."

"I'm not ever going to be fully recovered," she said. "I try not to whine. I'm lucky to be alive. But it's hard not to be angry."

Angry about the brutality of the crime. Angry because her sense of security is forever lost. And angry, she says, because it need never have happened.

Two of the boys involved, Shaw and Allen, are half brothers who were in the custody of the Division of Youth Services, a part of the Arkansas Department of Human Services. They had spent several months at serious-offender wilderness camps for an armed robbery.

Shortly before Thompson was abducted, Shaw and Allen had been sent home to West Memphis as part of the "aftercare" program, a type of juvenile probation.

They were supposed to be personally supervised by an employee of the wilderness camps affiliated with Associated Marine Institutes Inc. of Tampa, Fla. AMI had a contract with the state to run the camps.

After Thompson was attacked, DYS authorities said they learned that the aftercare worker had not made all of the required visits to Shaw and Allen. The state audited both wilderness programs operated by AMI, and AMI repaid $87,000 for various aftercare related problems.

Thompson has sued AMI in federal court in Jonesboro claiming negligence and breach of contract, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. The case is set for trial in July.

"I'm angry about aftercare," Thompson said. "While AMI was using the money for other things, those boys were running free."

Her lawyer, Tony Wilcox, said he questions why someone like Allen, who DYS evaluated as "high on the psychopathic deviant scale," was sent home without extensive mental evaluation and intensive supervision.

AMI attorney George S. Petkoff said in a written statement: "The facts are that the program was not responsible for the alleged criminal acts of former juvenile students who were no longer under the direct care and supervision of the program."

TWO TEENS APPEARED OUT OF THE NIGHT

Russell Rigsby, DYS director since January 1999, said evaluation and placement of children in DYS custody will be handled differently after his five-year reorganization of the juvenile-offender system is completed.

Rigsby is concentrating on defining a target population -- separating the "true juvenile delinquent" who can be helped at DYS from children in the system who have mental health problems and should be sent directly into treatment.

That will require adding hundreds of treatment options.

DYS currently has contracts with treatment programs for 18 sex offenders, seven mental-health cases, and 23 alcohol and drug patients. There are no special arrangements for children who are developmentally disabled or who suffer from acute psychiatric problems.

Rigsby is expanding treatment to accommodate 65 sex offenders, and to create 103 mental health slots, including 35 for the developmentally disabled and 12 for youths with acute psychiatric needs. The 50 alcohol and drug treatment openings are for 30- to 60-day programs and would treat 300 children a year.

Identifying antisocial children who would be a danger to the public if they are released from DYS is another part of his plan.

That will take time to research, Rigsby said.

"That should have been done in 1993 when DYS was created," Rigsby said. "I have literally hundreds of boys that fit that antisocial profile. That doesn't mean they all will run out and try to kill someone. It means I need to further define the delinquent population and try to choose which ones might hurt someone."

"Right now, we reward kids who do well in a structured environment," Rigsby said. "Yet kids who tend to be the most deviant are your greatest manipulators. They escape our grasp because they do so well."

Rigsby said no one can predict with certainty what delinquent children will do.

"That's why you have aftercare," he said. "You're supposed to be with them to determine if you should continue aftercare or pull them back in."

Meanwhile, Roberta Thompson remembers how two of those boys nearly destroyed her life.

Roberta "Bert" Thompson's green eyes scanned the nearly deserted parking lot of her apartment complex in West Memphis before she drove in. It was April 12, 1997, about 7 p.m. and it was not quite dark.

She was driving a 1996 light blue Toyota Camry she had bought two days earlier.

"The apartment had increasingly got less-desirable people, and I was more cautious than normal," she said. "Nobody was in sight."

Thompson, who was divorced, had been the manager of the Days Inn for two years. That Saturday started out no different than any other day. She had worked from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and afterward had gone to Wal-Mart. She bought cleaning supplies for the motel and a plaid skirt for herself.

"I have a friend who is a bartender at a club. I pulled in there and thought I'd have a drink," Thompson said.

At the last minute, she changed her mind. She already had planned to visit her boyfriend. She drove to his apartment, but he was not yet home. So, Thompson went to her apartment to check her mail. She planned to stop for only a moment, then return to her boyfriend's apartment.

"I almost didn't go home that day," she said. "It goes through my mind -- how close I came to not going home."

In the parking lot, she opened the car door and turned around in the seat to get her purchases when two boys appeared. Robert Shaw was holding a .32-caliber gun across his stomach so only she could see it.

"Give me your keys, bitch," he ordered.

"You boys get out of here," she replied.

Later she would explain, "I debated on whether to cause a scene, but there were no cars in the immediate area."

Instead, Thompson gave him the keys and sat down in the driver's seat. Robert Shaw made her slide over into the passenger's seat. He sat behind the wheel, and Donnie Allen climbed into the back seat. Thompson tried to jump out, but Allen grabbed her white jacket and held her. He made her put on her seat belt so she could not escape.

They drove away, not saying a word. "The silence was as threatening as talking," Thompson said. "I don't know how I kept from panicking. I knew when they didn't talk that they had this planned out."

They stopped on a gravel road near the West Memphis Municipal Airport, where the boys ordered her to get out of the car.

"As you can see, we're out here where nobody can help you," said Shaw, who told her to get into the trunk.

She refused, and Allen said, "Just pop her."

Thompson ran but was caught after going only a few steps, then was beaten in the face and head with the gun. The boys threw her inside the trunk. She learned later that her right cheekbone had been fractured.

"Ain't nobody going to hear you," Allen told Thompson after she yelled for help.

Shaw started the car and turned onto the road to Crawfordsville. The boys went through her purse, overlooking an envelope with $500 cash. They found $7 in her wallet and some credit cards. Afraid to use the credit cards, they threw the purse and its contents out the window.

They laughed about the purse, saying, "Somebody's gonna have fun when they find that."

After an hour, they picked up two other boys -- Clinton Flowers and Sam Mayfield.

With his friends laughing, Shaw raced around, zigzagging the car and making it fishtail. Shaw pushed the speed up to more than 100 mph, then slammed on the brakes -- in an attempt to injure their captive in the trunk.

"Boys, please stop and let me out of here," Thompson begged.

In answer, they played a rap song called "Body Parts" by Three 6 Mafia. Its chorus: "Kill 'em/and rob 'em/and beat 'em/ and dump all the body parts into my trunk." They played the song over and over and over.

"We turned the rap music up real loud so we couldn't hear her talking," Allen told police.

The noise in the trunk was deafening. Thompson thought about pulling the wires to the speaker, but was afraid the boys would become enraged and kill her. She also was well-aware of the lyrics. She tried not to think about them.

For the next few hours, they drove to small towns in eastern Arkansas -- Proctor, Marion, Sunset -- stopping to chat with friends. They bragged that they "had a white lady in the trunk."

Several times, they pulled down the back seat to show her off.

"Everybody they talked to, they thought it was funny that they had a woman in the trunk," Thompson said.

'GET OUT AND DON'T TURN AROUND'

She begged to be freed, but no one tried to help her. No one called the police.

She overheard Shaw and Allen talking about setting the car on fire or pushing it into the river.

"They went to three or four different places like they were trying to find a place they could do that," Thompson said. "I could tell we were going into some slush and mud. I heard them say, 'Just push it in the water, man. Just push it.'

"I got scared and thought, 'Who's going to find me, even after I'm dead, if the car is in the water?'"

She asked them repeatedly to stop and let her go to the bathroom, but they ignored her. Several times, they assured her that they would not hurt her. But as the night wore on, she feared the worst.

Although there was little room to maneuver in the trunk, she opened the toolbox, urinated on a shop towel and wrung it out in the box so the trunk wouldn't be wet.

She stuffed all her jewelry in her jeans pocket. And willed herself to live.

Everything changed between 2 and 3 a.m.

Mayfield, Shaw and Allen had been dropped off one by one at various locations. She was alone with the 18-year-old Flowers, who drove her across the bridge to Memphis.

Finally, he stopped the car, popped the trunk and waited for her.

Thompson climbed out and tried to get her bearings. It had been eight hours since she had been thrust inside.

She was aware that she was in a park because she could hear water and see shrubs.

"Get out and don't turn around," Flowers told her. Seconds later, he cut her throat.

Although the wound was 6 inches long, the knife was dull and the cut did not hit an artery. Thompson was still very much alive. "After he cut my throat, I kicked into another mode."

She ran and he chased her, stabbing her and knocking her down.

"He cut my lips in a crisscross pattern like a Halloween pumpkin," she said. "He kicked me in the mouth and knocked out my front teeth."

"I got away three or four times, but I didn't get far," she said.

Flowers kicked and stomped her. He stabbed her 27 times.

"Finally, I thought I'd stay down and he'd think I was dead and maybe he'd quit."

She got a glimpse of a boy standing by the car behind her before she passed out.

When she came to, the car was gone. She didn't know until later that he had run over her.

He was about to run over her a second time when park security guard Ronald Smith spotted them. Smith thought someone was running over an animal.

When Flowers realized that the security guard had seen him, he turned off the car lights and raced away.

As Smith began to follow him, he saw Thompson lying on the ground. He stopped, turned the car around and called 911.

Unbelievably, Thompson was not only alive, but coherent. She provided the names and phone numbers of her boyfriend and her sister. She told the guard and his co-worker Michael Brewer what had happened.

Blood ran out of her slashed throat, and Smith urged her to stay still.

Hospital personnel were not sure she would live. But Thompson wanted the boys brought to justice. She didn't know who they were. And she wasn't about to die until she found out.

BOYS: PROFILES OF ANGER

The boys had a history of criminal violations.

Shaw, who was two years older than Allen, had been before a juvenile court judge six times from 1990 to 1995. His crimes were mostly thefts or burglaries for which he was placed on probation, ordered to perform community service and given a curfew.

He spent several months at a community treatment center on his most recent charge of theft of property and criminal impersonation.

In April 1995, he was awaiting a court appearance on a theft charge when he stole a bicycle and was sent to the Alexander Youth Services Center. He was released after three months, according to records.

In February 1996, Shaw, 15, and Allen, 13, robbed a Shell station with a third boy. Allen held a gun on the cashier.

Afterward, the boys ran home to their apartment complex. Police chased the boys and caught Shaw climbing a fence. The two other boys were soon arrested.

DYS had Robert Shaw evaluated by a clinical psychologist after that robbery. "This was a very negative and antisocial profile. Right now he is angry and resentful," wrote Paul Deyoub.

"He is often inappropriate and does not seem to know about social boundaries. ...This profile is achieved by the most inadequate individuals who have difficulty obeying the rules of society."

He recommended that Shaw be sent to a serious-offender wilderness camp.

And when Shaw returned home: "Robert is 15 years of age with a poor prognosis unless there is serious intervention," Deyoub wrote. "He cannot have run of the streets, and supervision needs to be on a 24-hour basis."

Shaw's younger, half brother, Donnie Allen, had previously been to juvenile court for theft of property and criminal impersonation, records indicate. He had never been placed at the Alexander campus or in one of the wilderness camps.

Allen was "significantly antisocial in spite of his efforts to appear socially correct on the test," Deyoub wrote on Feb. 9, 1996. His evaluation indicated "a marked disregard for social standards and values ... and a poorly developed sense of right and wrong."

Deyoub concluded that Allen "seems to have little remorse or regret." Allen also placed "high on the psychopathic deviant scale."

He recommended that Allen be sent to a serious-offender wilderness camp.

Shaw was sent to the AMI camp near Colt, called the East Arkansas Wilderness Institute Inc. Allen was sent to the AMI camp near Mansfield, called Ouachita Wilderness Institute Inc.

Despite the boys' mental health problems, DYS did not send them to treatment centers. It had contracts for only a few residential slots for disturbed youths. Wilderness camps are not set up to treat kids who are emotionally disturbed. The camps are simply for incarceration, DYS officials said.

Allen was released and sent back to West Memphis on Jan. 6, 1997. Shaw returned March 4, 1997.

Linda DeWitt was a community coordinator for the East Arkansas Wilderness Institute. She was responsible for supervising certain children on aftercare, including Shaw and Allen.

On the morning after Thompson's kidnapping, the boys called her office to report that they had not been in any trouble. Everything was fine, they said.

In general, children on aftercare should receive a minimum of two face-to-face visits a week and four phone contacts. The family, the school and employer should be seen once a week. Usually, the boys should have a 7 p.m. curfew.

Allen should have been seen approximately 24 times by DeWitt or someone from AMI, state officials said. DeWitt's report to DYS showed nine visits.

"No behaviorial problem was reported. I feel that he will do very well in aftercare," DeWitt wrote of her Jan. 16 visit to West Memphis.

She was on sick leave in February, and AMI conceded that no one saw Allen during that time.

Shaw should have been seen approximately 10 times by DeWitt or someone from AMI, state officials said.

"Robert was seen in March four times," according to a memo to DYS from DeWitt. "Each time he appeared to be doing great. He showed no behavioral problems. ... I witnessed him on two occasions getting off the school bus."

However, others have questioned how many times DeWitt actually did see the boys. The lawsuit by Thompson against AMI alleges:

"According to Allen and Shaw, only one in-person interview/counseling session occurred [that was in March]. AMI has falsified records so as to cover up the lack of personal contact with minors Allen and Shaw in violation of AMI's obligations to properly administer the aftercare program."

The lawsuit also contends that the executive director of the Eastern Arkansas Wilderness Institute, James Culverhouse, received a bonus based on the amount of funds left over at the end of the year.

"It appears that the executive director ordered Linda DeWitt, a counselor for AMI, to stop face to face contacts during the aftercare portion of the program in order to increase his own compensation," the suit alleges.

AMI has denied these allegations. Calls to DeWitt's attorney have not been returned.

GETTING JUSTICE FOR THE LADY

On Monday, April 14, a first-grade student provided the tip that led to the arrests of Shaw, Allen and Flowers.

About 8:30 a.m., a girl excitedly told her teacher that her cousin's brothers had kidnapped a woman, put her in the trunk of a car, drove her around and threw her in the river.

Teacher Tamara Farr had heard about the attack on the morning news and was aware that there were no suspects.

She wondered if the little girl had also heard the news accounts and might be making up the story. She pulled the child aside and questioned her. The little girl said her cousin had told another student all about it that morning and that she had overheard the story.

When the teacher questioned the cousin, who was in the sixth grade, the details came out.

The older girl said that her brothers, Donnie and Robert, had come by her house Saturday night, wanting her to drive around with them.

She was not home, but they talked to another cousin, "The boys told him [the cousin] that they had took a car and killed a woman and that the woman was in the trunk of the car," the girl said.

School officials called the police. Shaw and Allen were arrested. They occasionally laughed while telling police what they had done to Thompson. They said that Thompson was alive when Flowers drove away.

But they did think that Thompson was dead because that's what Flowers told Shaw the morning after the kidnapping.

Allen explained to police. "After Robert got off the phone, he told me that Clint [Clinton] said he killed the little old lady in the trunk."

Flowers was arrested. He denied hurting Thompson. But Thompson's car keys were found in his trash.

The detective questioning Flowers at the police station noticed red stains on Flowers' shoes.

"If that DNA matches the victim, you are in a world of trouble," he told Flowers. "Start with the truth. ... We've got a lady who got hurt, and she's gonna get justice."

A soft-spoken Roberta Thompson talks almost casually about the events of that night.

But when she is asked about her attackers, her voice grows cold.

"I'd like to kill them," she says. "I could do it and it would not bother me at all. I never felt that way before."

Thompson spent months immobile in a recliner at her sister's home in Jonesboro. Family members and her boyfriend slept nearby on the floor in case she needed something in the night. She could do nothing for herself.

She had large painful burn spots on her right hip and on the back of her head from the exhaust of the car.

"They didn't know about the burn on my head for a while," she said. "My hair was so bloody."

"SHE'S NOT THE SAME"

Thompson couldn't believe that there would be any more bad news.

But, a neighbor she did not know stole her mail. It contained a credit card on which the woman ran up more than $1,000 in charges in Thompson's name.

A woman, who found Thompson's purse along the road, spent the $500.

But there were some good deeds.

The Covington Pike Toyota dealership read about her assault in the paper and offered to take back the new blue car that held such horrifying memories for her. Thompson exchanged it for a green Camry.

Smith and Brewer, the park security guards, visited her while she was convalescing in Jonesboro, and she kept in touch with them for a while.

Her sister and brother-in-law, toting guns, moved her furniture into storage. She couldn't stand the thought of returning to her apartment -- and the parking lot.

"She's not the same," Bradley said. "Before this happened, we didn't have to do anything to laugh. She was not an elderly woman in mind or body. Now, she has a hard time finding pleasure in life."

Thompson agrees that she hasn't been able to reconstruct her old life.

"My health will never be real good. I'll probably have to retire earlier than I had planned. I'm living with my boyfriend because I would be very uneasy moving out on my own. That's a major change because I was so independent before."

It also changed the future of the two wilderness camps.

The news of what Shaw and Allen had done to Thompson led to a DYS audit of the camps. The state had been paying AMI for four community coordinators to supervise aftercare children at the Colt camp. The audit showed that AMI had hired only two community coordinators.

AMI returned $87,000 in aftercare related funds to the state. DHS did not renew its contracts with AMI the next year.

The lawsuit against AMI won't restore Thompson's health or her peace of mind.

But, she says, Shaw and Allen should never have been allowed to run free and endanger the public.

"I would like someone to pay for what happened. It's like everybody's forgotten about it, except me. For me, it's just gone on and on and on. And it always will."

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