Thursday, September 27, 2018


Here a while back the Oxygen Channel did a two part documentary on Ted Bundy which basically plowed the same furrows which have been plowed by the various documentaries made about Bundy over the past 30+ years--placing major emphasis on the western cases, doing lots of emoting over how charismatic and charming Bundy was, and almost completely ignoring the crime for which he was executed.

It is not hard to figure out why Bundy's last murder has gone largely overlooked. There is no glitz or glamor, nothing charismatic or charming, about a murdering child molester. Having prosecuted several men who committed crimes fitting the FBI's definition of "serial murder," I was always somewhat disappointed that people could not see how remarkably unremarkable Ted Bundy really was.

I have high hopes that a new CNN documentary might help to demonstrate the ugliness of this twisted mediocrity who succeeded in making himself famous by committing unspeakable crimes. It is the first documentary production which has ever asked my opinion on the subject, and I was not shy about sharing my lack of admiration for Bundy.

“How It Really Happened: Ted Bundy,” a four-part documentary, premieres on CNN Headline News in early October.  Dates and times are below:  

“Part One: The Girls Are Missing” is Sunday, October 7 at 8pm 

“Part Two: Ted Escapes” follows Sunday, October 7 at 9pm 

“Part Three: The Murder Trials” is Sunday, October 14 at 8pm

“Part Four: The Death Row Confessions” follows Sunday, October 14 at 9pm. 

It will also be available on demand on cable systems and on CNNgo (

I look forward to watching it, and I hope that it serves to damage Bundy's image as a charismatic super-criminal.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Jim Dekle at 17 years of age

About 30 or more years ago, my car broke down on West Duval Street in Lake City. I was able to get it to one of the garages on a side street off Duval, and I took a seat waiting for my wife Lane to come get me while the mechanic worked on my car. A gentleman who was sitting on a bench near me asked me if I was a Dekle. I admitted it. He then asked me if I was Sonny Dekle’s boy. I immediately knew from the question that he was an old-time citizen of Union County. Nobody in Lake City called my father Sonny. He hated that nickname, and when we moved to Lake City, he became Jim Dekle. I emulated his name change. When we lived in Union County I was Bobby—a name which I also hated. When we moved to Lake City in 1960, I became Bob.

Anyhow, I said yes, I was Sonny Dekle’s boy. He told me I looked just like my father, which was not really news to me. Then a sort of a nostalgic expression came on his face and he told me that one time shortly after World War II, he saw my father lay out six sailors in a ditch in front of the Women’s Club in Lake Butler. He said he was upstairs at the dance, and he could hear the licks Dad was giving them over the music. When he got downstairs, the fight was over, and Dad was victorious. Of course, I had to ask Dad about the incident the next time I saw him.

Dad got angry and said that no Lake Butlerite came to his aid and he had to handle the six men all by himself. He thought that being a hometown boy and being jumped by soldiers from Camp Blanding, he deserved some help from his fellow citizens. Were they soldiers or sailors? He remembered them being soldiers. What happened?

Dad had just got back to Lake Butler after being mustered out of the Marine Corps, and he had come home with a fellow Marine from the area. There was a dance being held at the Women’s Club the very night he got home, but his mother was sick and his father (who was the Sheriff) was on patrol. Dad and his friend agreed that they would take turns going to the dance. Dad went first, and his friend stayed at the house with his mother. All they had to wear was their Marine uniforms, so Dad went in a neatly pressed uniform. Dad was a very good dancer in his time, and he put in to dance with all the girls at the dance. Everyone knew him, and they were all glad to see him. Except there were some soldiers there from Camp Blanding who decided he was a stranger and was horning in on their territory and dancing with their girls. It soon became apparent that the soldiers were looking for trouble, so Dad decided to leave.  As he approached the front door to leave, two soldiers blocked his way and wouldn’t let him out. He hit them both under the chin with a double uppercut, and four more soldiers piled on him. After the fight was over, his uniform was shredded, but he was the last man standing. He went back home and told his friend, “Now it’s your turn to go to the dance.” His friend declined.

I asked Dad how he was able to single-handedly defeat six soldiers. He again became angry, “They had been playing soldier, and I had been fighting a war.”

Over the years I have had a number of men volunteer to me that they thought Dad was utterly fearless. I think one of the best compliments I ever got was from a deputy sheriff who told me, “You’re just like your Dad; you’ve got b@lls the size of watermelons.” He was, of course, wrong about me, but I can’t argue with his assessment of my father.

When Dad came back from the war, he had a full-blown case of PTSD. Of course, PTSD hadn’t been “invented” yet. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned of PTSD, and that explained a lot about some of Dad’s personality quirks. I recall watching a documentary about the 50th anniversary of D-Day with Dad, and I had never seen him get so upset. As they were talking about the planning of the invasion, he said they were going to get men needlessly killed. The assault was timed for just after low tide. When the tide is low, Dad explained, there is more beach to cross. Soldiers running from a landing boat across an open beach are sitting ducks for enemy fire. The less beach you must cover, the fewer casualties you suffer. The assault should have been made at high tide. In the leadup to Desert Storm, there was a good deal of talk about the Marines making an amphibious assault on Kuwait as a part of the attack. Again Dad became extremely agitated. “If there’s any way they can invade without making an amphibious assault,” he said, “they need to do it that way.” I didn’t really understand why he was so upset until I read Joseph H. Alexander’s Storm Landings: Epic Amphibious Battles in the Central Pacific.

My father seldom talked about his experiences in the Pacific during World War II, and when he did he it was almost never about combat. I decided to find out about what he experienced by reading histories of the war in the Pacific, and that is how I came to read Storm Landings. I have read two very good first-person accounts of the war in the Pacific—Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific, and E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. The best overview of the Marine experience in the Pacific is, in my opinion, Robert Leckie’s Strong Men Armed: The United States Marines Against Japan. The title, of course, is an allusion to Luke 11:21 (KJV): “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.”

Dad’s last campaign was Iwo Jima, the only battle of World War II where the Marines took more casualties than they inflicted. Dad was in the Third Marine Division, which was supposed to be floating reserves. He would talk about the great fireworks display of the shelling and the young Marines from the Fourth and Fifth Divisions going over the side into the landing boats. And he would talk about getting the word that the Third was also going into action. All he would say about what happened after he hit the beach was that he really wasn't needed. He had a specialty as a telephone man. He ran wire for communications, but they owned so little of the island when he got there that they didn't need to run telephone wires--they could shout orders to the front lines. He did tell Mom what he did, and she later shared his experience with us. He was assigned to bag the bodies of fallen Marines--to match severed limbs to torsos and put the pieces in body bags, which were stacked like firewood. 
An Advertisement from Life Magazine Featuring 
a Photo of Dad Stringing Wire
Dad considered Iwo Jima a worthless piece of rock that the United States wasted thousands of lives on to no purpose. After having done enough reading about the Pacific war, I was able to explain to him the strategic value of Iwo Jima. I think it was some comfort to him.
Dad did tell one story about being point man on a patrol. He loved bananas, and when they came up on a banana tree, he just had to climb it to "harvest" some bananas. As he made his way to the tree, he came up on a Japanese Imperial Marine sleeping on the ground. He reached down to take the safety off of his M-1 carbine when disaster struck. The magazine release on an M-1 carbine is very close to the safety. He hit the magazine release by accident and dumped his magazine onto the ground. The noise woke the Japanese soldier, and Dad was almost immediately looking down the barrel of the soldier's Arisaka. He began to call out "Whup, whup, whup!" Somehow this frightened the soldier, and he jumped up and fled without shooting Dad. Dad didn't climb the banana tree, having lost his appetite for bananas.
Jim Dekle Climbing a Palm Tree in the Pacific 
(He's the One on Top)
Dad came home from the Pacific with three bronze campaign stars, a Purple Heart, and a Bronze Star for what his discharge papers described as "Duty beyond call." I tried to get him to tell what he did to earn the Bronze Star, but he would only say it had something to do with his squad being pinned down by machine gun fire.

William Tecumseh Sherman is supposed to have said that “War is Hell,” and Dad (who was 17 when he enlisted) suffered his share of Hell. Apparently, he dished out some Hell also. In conversations with his pastor, Bo Hammock, he said he didn’t think that he deserved to go to Heaven and didn’t see how he could ever do enough good to get there. Bo was able to comfort him with the explanation that nobody deserves to go to heaven, and nobody can do enough good to get there—that’s where God’s grace comes in.

What got me to thinking about all this again was a project my son John is working on. He’s a musician, and he’s writing a song about Dad’s experiences in the war. It’s sketchy on details because we don’t know many details, but I think it evokes the trauma of combat and the lasting emotional scars of PTSD quite well.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Last week I went to Illinois to give a lecture to the Second Annual Abraham Lincoln's Legacy--Lessons for Today's Lawyers Seminar, which was put on by the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA). What was really neat about the seminar was that it was held in the very courtroom where Abraham Lincoln tried his famous Almanac Trial. And the topic that I was going to speak on? The Almanac Trial, of course.

The less said about the airplane trip the better. The cheapest ticket I could find was a flight out of Orlando with a change of planes in Chicago. I got up at 6:00 AM, drove 2 1/2 hours to Orlando, got on the plane, flew for 2 1/2 hours to Chicago, and discovered that my connecting flight had been cancelled. I wound up sitting in O'Hare Airport for over 9 hours waiting on another connecting flight which kept being changed and postponed. I didn't get into the hotel in Springfield until 2:00 AM. It would have taken less time to get to the hotel if I had driven straight through from home. The only bright side of the flight was that I was able to polish off a 300 page book while sitting in O'Hare.

The next day I gave a lecture on Lincoln as a lawyer at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Christian McWhirter, the Research Historian at the library was a gracious host and made me feel very much at home.

One thing that struck me was that they had on display a replica of a statue of Lincoln which is located in Beijing, China. Instead of trying to describe it, I'll just show a picture I took of it and also a picture of the plaque describing it:


After the presentation I went down to Books on the Square and renewed acquaintances there. They had just gotten in a huge shipment of books on Lincoln and were in the process of uncrating the books and sorting them out. I managed to get out of there without buying too many books. I only bought four books--"Lincoln's Generals," "Lincoln and his Generals," "American Iliad," and "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant." If I had more room in my suitcase, I probably would have gotten more. I slept like a log at the hotel that night.

The next day Judge Ron Spears, who acted as my unofficial host during my stay in Illinois, gave me a ride to Beardstown for the lecture to the ISBA. I was disappointed to find that my old friend, Corky Kinstle, was no longer manning the gift shop on the first floor of the old courthouse. He had recently fallen ill and was still recuperating. This did not prevent him, however, from coming to the courthouse for a brief visit, and I got the opportunity to thank him again for all the help he had given me when I was researching my first book on Lincoln the lawyer.

The old courthouse is mostly a museum of Illinois history, but they still hold court in the courtroom on the second floor. I actually got to meet the judge who holds proceedings in the old courtroom--Judge Bobby G. Hardwick, who was the program coordinator for the seminar.

I thoroughly examined the museum's collection of antique firearms, both long guns and handguns, and sorely regretted that they were locked behind glass where I couldn't get the feel of some of the weapons. One weapon in particular intrigued me. It was a wagon gun--a huge long gun with a massive bore designed to fire scrap metal. The gun would be placed on the tail gate of a Conestoga wagon and used as artillery for the protection of wagon trains.

Wagon Gun

The pictures hung on the walls of the courtroom had almost all been changed, and there was a photograph of Duff Armstrong that I had never seen before.

Duff Armstrong

He certainly looked more presentable in the picture than he does in the more common picture of him in his uniform as a Union soldier.

Armstrong in Uniform

I was the first speaker of the morning, and I gave them my interpretation of the conflicting eyewitness reports of the course of the Almanac Trial. I think the presentation was well-received. At least nobody threw rotten fruit at me.

The second hour I gave a lecture which surveyed all of Lincoln's murder trials--at least all of those murder trials for which we have enough information to say something about. After delivering that lecture I joined the audience and spent the rest of the day listening to the other presentations.

The gift shop downstairs had stocked up on my books on Lincoln. When I got there that morning, I saw a table which was "chock-a-block" full of the books. When I went downstairs at the end of the day, I saw that the table was almost empty. I spent some time signing books that some of the attendees had bought, and then it was time to go back to Springfield. 

Judge Spears drove me back and treated me to supper at Smokey Bones Barbecue, and then he took me back to the hotel. I fell into bed and slept like a log until it was time to get up and go back to the airport. There were more delays at the airport, but I got home in time to see the second half of the Gator game. I might as well have been delayed a little longer.

All-in-all, it was an enjoyable trip despite the troubles at the airports. I met a lot of nice people, and I learned a lot about Lincoln's law practice from the other presenters.