By Michael M . . . Here in America, we like to think that people who are convicted of a crime will be punished by court decree and according to the laws of the land, not by roving bands of killers and arsonists. We also like to believe that it is only in tin-pot dictatorships like North Korea or in lawless, primitive regions of the world that an entire family could be punished – sometimes even by death – for one man’s crime. Surely, such a thing can’t happen here, right?
Unfortunately, it does, and with alarming regularity. Granted, it isn’t our government that is directly performing these atrocities. They simply facilitate them by publishing a list of preferred targets, complete with photos and home addresses. The only thing missing is the Mission Impossible theme song and a recording saying, “Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to eliminate these people. If you are captured or killed, we will disavow any knowledge of your activities. This recording will self-destruct in 60 seconds.”
Far less dramatic and not nearly as effective at keeping the government’s hands clean, is the obligatory disclaimer that adorns nearly every sex offender registry website: “The Department of Justice accepts no responsibility or liability for damages of any kind resulting from reliance on this information or lack thereof… Any person who uses the information contained in or accessed through this website to threaten, intimidate, or harass any individual, including registrants or family members, or who otherwise misuses this information may be subject to criminal prosecution or civil liability under federal and/or state law.”
As warnings go, it’s about as intimidating as that label on your pillow threatening you with legal action if you tear it off. It is, at best, a transparent attempt to absolve the government of any blame when the inevitable happens and people start using the public registry as a hit list. The exact number of registrants who have been injured or killed by self-styled vigilantes using the registry to identify targets in the past decade is unknown, but they number in the hundreds. Even so, there seems to be very little societal awareness or compassion for registrants who become the victims of vigilantism. Apparently, a distressingly significant segment of our society has rejected outright the notion of personal redemption, venerating instead a system of perpetual extra-legal punishment, culminating in brutal murder by one’s crazed neighbors.
Sympathy for registrants can be a tough sell these days. I get it. So, instead of banging that tired old drum, let’s see what you think about this very disturbing (at least, to me) practice of murdering the innocent family members and friends of registrants.
Rhonda Ballow, a 27-year old homeless woman in Las Vegas, Nevada, was shot and killed simply because she refused to leave the side of her friend Alfred Wilhelm who was on the state’s sexual offense registry for a conviction 33 years ago in Hawaii. The pair, who were homeless, were sleeping on a mattress in an alleyway near a Las Vegas swap meet on the day after Christmas, 2017, when the shooting occurred. The killer, 32-year old Michael Thompson, bragged to friends that he’d killed Wilhelm because he was a sex offender. Thompson told them that he’d been sexually abused as a child, and that was why he “took offense” to people on the registry. He also said that he’d killed Rhonda Ballow, who wasn’t a registrant, simply because she refused to leave the scene of the shooting.
A friend of Thompson’s who witnessed the shooting said he saw Thompson shoot Wilhelm twice, but claimed he never saw Ballow at the time. The witness then ran off and heard more gunshots. Later, the same witness met with Thompson and smoked a cigarette with him before returning alone to the site of the shooting about 45 minutes later. There, he saw Alfred Wilhelm’s lifeless body and Rhonda Ballow, still alive and crawling down a loading dock ramp, crying out for help. Instead of rendering assistance or calling an ambulance, the witness left the scene and remained silent. Rhonda Ballow died a lingering, excruciatingly painful death, alone in an alleyway, calling out for help and receiving none.
The nature of the relationship between Wilhelm and Ballow is uncertain, but there can be no doubt that Wilhelm was killed because he was on the registry and Ballow was murdered simply because she knew him and wouldn’t leave his side.
Gretchen Parker, the 51-year old wife of Butch Parker, a 59-year old registrant, was murdered along with her husband in their own home in July 2013. Their killers were self-avowed neo-Nazis named Jeremy Moody, 30, and his wife, Christine Moody, 36.
The victims’ residential security cameras captured footage of the moments leading up to the killings. In the video obtained by investigators, the Parkers were first seen talking to Jeremy Moody in their front yard shortly before Christine Moody got out of the car holding something behind her back. Jeremy Moody then produced a gun and forced the Parkers back into the house. Butch Parker reportedly told the Moodys, “We don’t have any money,” to which Jeremy Moody responded, “I’m not here to rob you. I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.” Butch and Gretchen Parker were then shot and stabbed multiple times. Both died at the scene.
At their sentencing hearing, Jeremy Moody told Judge Lee Alford, “Child molesters do not deserve to live. They got exactly what they deserved. If I had to do it over again, I’d kill more.” Later, as he was led out of the courtroom by bailiffs to begin serving his three life sentences, he shouted out to the victims’ families, “See you perverts later! That’s what child molesters get!”
Christine Moody, for her part, was also sentenced to three life sentences. On her way out of the courtroom, she told reporters, “My lawyer made me say that I repented. It was a lie.” When asked by the reporters if she had anything to say to the families of the victims, she replied, “May they die also!”
Melissa “Missy” Chandler, 37, the wife of 53-year old registrant Timothy Chandler, was killed in Helenwood, Tennessee, in September 2007 when vigilantes burned down their family home. The arsonists, Robert “Bobby” Bell, a 37-year-old construction worker, and Gary Lamar Sellers, a 39-year-old coal-mining equipment mechanic, had recently learned that Timothy, a registrant since 1990, had recently been re-arrested for possession of child pornography. In August 2007 Timothy’s mother-in-law discovered nude photos depicting minors on one of his computer disks and turned them over to the police.
According to police, on the night of the fire, Bell and Sellers engaged the Chandlers in a shouting match on their front lawn, after which they torched the house and retreated in their red pickup truck to a nearby vantage point, where they turned off the engine and headlights and settled in to watch the fire. A neighbor rushed to the burning house, broke through a window, and helped Timothy escape the flames. Timothy and the neighbor then broke down a door and rushed into the burning house, looking for his wife, Missy. Timothy found her and was able to pull her out of the house and onto the lawn where he performed CPR on her, but she never recovered and was pronounced dead at the emergency room.
Sellers and Bell later told police that they did not intend for anyone to die. They just wanted Timothy Chandler “out of the neighborhood because he was a pervert.” We won’t even go into the rank perversity of killing a man’s wife in order to encourage him to relocate.
It isn’t just the family members of registrants who become the victims of vigilante violence. Sometimes, even “man’s best friend” gets whacked. In Orlando, Florida, a resident of a group home for registrants was out walking his dog in April 2012 when he was approached by three belligerent teenagers. They told him that they knew he was on the registry and that he wasn’t welcome in their neighborhood. They then proceeded to savagely beat the man while kicking and stomping on his little dog Daisy, a female Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix. Following the attack, the severely injured victim rushed Daisy to an emergency veterinary clinic but, unfortunately, she died on the way. It was only after rushing to the vet and giving the police a statement that Daisy’s owner allowed himself to be taken to a hospital and treated for his own injuries.
In Weatherford, Texas, Mike Grottalio told the New Yorker magazine about how his two young sons were put on the Texas sexual offense registry when they were ten and twelve years old for having sexual contact with their seven-year old sister. The boys were sentenced to two years of detention, after which they returned home only to have their beloved family dog shot and killed by a bellicose neighbor. Then, after an over-zealous neighbor passed out warning flyers to everyone in the neighborhood, flaming Molotov cocktails were thrown onto the property and BB-guns were fired at the house. The local media piled on, listing the boys’ names and address under the headline: “County Sex-Offender Roundup.” On Halloween, the boys were featured in an article entitled, “Know Where the Monsters Are.”
It’s also worth noting here that the young female victim of the original crime was still living in the home and was subjected to the same pet killing, fire bombing, sniping, and constant humiliation as her older brothers. Grottalio is understandably bitter about the whole thing, saying, “It’s made outcasts of our whole family.”
It’s time that we, as a society, ask ourselves some tough questions. The murder, assault, harassment, and humiliation of innocent people (and yes, pets) who have never been accused or convicted of any crime other than choosing to care for or associating with someone on the registry is unacceptable. We like to think we are an enlightened society that has progressed beyond the blind hatred of vigilante mob justice, but have we really? Our government has effectively made itself an accomplice to these atrocities. It has given thugs and murderers, with a wink and a nod, the critical information they need to commit crimes against those on the registry and their families. The government’s ridiculously impotent “standard disclaimer” discourages no one; it protects no one, and they know it.
Where is the outrage?
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.