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Thursday, January 22, 2015

KIMBERLY JO DOTTS - MOTHERS DAY MURDER


      MURDERED MOTHERS DAY 1998
     BY 7 OF HER PEERS - 6 OF WHICH WERE TEENS


                                                                                                                                                   THE VICTIM -
                                15 YEAR OLD
                     
                                         Kimberly Jo Dotts
 
                                                                                               



                            Gallows Harbor
                                                     West Branch Of The Susquehanna 
                                               Clearfield,  Pennsylvania - United States




        As a native of Clearfield Pennsylvania, I can tell you that the name ''Gallows Harbor" has not always been synonymous with murder and evil. Yes, there was a time that it was used for public executions. It also served as a navigation point, one of many situated along the river during its use for logging and transportation. From Indians to early Colonial settlers, all walks of life have used the area for its geographic convenience. The name derives from the Gallows men used to hang from, and a time when men had floated the river on logs destined for sale and rafts destined for travel to counties further South East.  ''Gallows Harbor" (Shiloh, Pa.) provided convenient access to the railroad, a place to moor vessels, regroup, rest, and re-tally log counts as many would be lost en-route to milling.

         My decision to review this case wasn't an easy one. First and foremost, because of my respect for the Dotts family. I know them personally. They were kind enough to invite me into their house as a homeless teen, and had welcomed me as family. Being homeless as a young adult was, among other things, embarrassing. Not with the Dotts family though. They were so welcoming and so genuine that it was all but impossible to feel intruding or unwelcome. I was encouraged to attend school regularly during my stay with them, and they had even spoken to my parents about trying to reconcile with me. A long story made short - the Dotts family was good to me. Out of the kindness of their hearts, they took me in and fed me, gave me shelter, and treated me as one of their own. They are good people.  No income tax credit, and no child support or federal assistance for motivation. Only their own good old fashion kindness and compassion.  

          Furthermore, part of my motivation in discussing this case is a desire to set the record straight on a few things. Every small town has its gossip. Clearfield however has it's own particularly nasty brand of the rumor mill. The deeply personal and offensive, for no good reason other than I like to hear myself talk kind of gossip and rumors. The faces change but the people remain the same - or so the saying goes. To the outside traveler or passer by, today's Clearfield is notorious for one of two things, ''Denny's Beer Barrell Pub'' - The Guinness Book Record holder for the ''Worlds Largest Cheeseburger'', and - on a much darker note - we are also home to the notorious murder of 15 year old Kimberly Jo Dotts. When I started this blog I had no intention of reviewing this case. Even after my first few entries, it never crossed my mind. Then I was contacted by the Dotts family, and a production company called 44Blue (with the A&E channel), about being a part of an upcoming show concerning Kims murder, and more specifically, Jessica Holtmeyer. For reasons of my own I could not, and would not participate (regretfully). However, after some deliberation and consideration, I found myself having an interview / conversation with the victims mother, (and family friend) Jodi Dotts. Now I recognize the opportunity that I have to dispel some rumors and offer my somewhat unique perspective on this particular case to the public.



         The Murder Of Kimberly Jo Dotts

           In the months leading up to her murder, the family had patiently and persistently encouraged Kim to begin exploring alternative bonds and friendships outside of her immediate family. While it is true that Kim was learning disabled, she was still able to handle the age appropriate responsibilities that came with growing up. I never did know the root cause of Kims difficulties, only that her mentality was always about 2 - 3 years behind that of her current grade level.
     
            When she never came home me and her brother were notified by his parents that she was missing. Even though she wasn't found for almost ten days, to me, the period that she was missing went by in a blur. I was a busy teenager at the time. During the investigation, Kims brother Rikki had stayed and worked with me at a local food vendors. Me and him didn't talk about what was going on with his sister a whole lot. I remember wondering privately if she was still alive and o.k. - and racking my brains wondering who could possibly be the one person that knew something, anything, to bring us closer to finding her. As time transpired I found the realization that she was likely dead or seriously hurt creeping into my mind with increasing regularity. She was officially a missing person, a police report had been filed. There was a story that she was last seen at the old Sheetz in downtown Clearfield. Each and everyday brought new efforts. She had her picture in the paper. Flyers were made and were being taped up and handed out all over town. Then we started actually working the streets. Driving around looking for packs of random teens and kids to talk to. Anyone that would stop and listen or who we could ask a few questions. At the time her brother and I were fairly popular teenagers ourselves, we were really confident that we could find out what was going on.

           The day was May 19, 1998. Kims brother and I had been picked up by their parents, and we had been asked to ride along for another day of driving around and chasing leads, Our tips were about to lead us to a junkyard where a local junker claimed to have heard something about Kims whereabouts. I don't remember why exactly, but we were expecting trouble. Kims dad was teaching us a few tricks to junkyard fighting along the ride, such as clutching bic lighters in your fist, in turn protecting your wrist and strengthening your punches. (Not recommended)* We never made it to the junkyard though. The trip would never be necessary. From the front seat of the car Kims mother Jodi answered her cell phone. I could see her body language change immediately, it went from a look of confidence and anger to what I would say was the look of despair and urgency. The call ended. A body had been found in the woods at Gallows Harbor, and before I knew it, we were driving as fast as I have ever ridden in a car, and I was giving directions to Gallows Harbor.


                                       

Jessica Holtmeyer   (16)                                  Aaron Straw    (18)                             Tracy Lewis   (24)


         I was convinced we were going to crash and die ourselves long before we ever made it to the woods. The trip, which was normally about a 30 min ride amid narrow twisting and winding roads, was made in well under twenty minutes. We were all piling out of the car before it even came to a stop. 
                                                           
                                                        
                                                                         
                                                                          Canaway 18          






                                      


       Wolfe 14                                           Lucas 16                                                    Lanager 14


        Looking back on it now, I am able to appreciate things previously overlooked. For instance, I can't imagine what the first responders who were on scene must have thought when we pulled in. Everyone went in a different direction. I remember hearing her mother screaming and pleading something, she was yelling something, and I could see people dressed in some kind of a Hazmat suit & working their way out of the woods. Fortunately, the first responders who were on scene were somehow able to intercept not only Kims mother, but her brother and father as well. I do remember seeing them both struggling to fight their way to the tree line of the forest where they were bringing Kimmy out. The whole thing seemed so surreal, almost like a movie that was unfolding before me. 
             As for what happened next, I can only speak for myself. I took off running as fast as I could. One of the few instances in life that I've ever experienced a true ''fight or flight'' situation. To the reader it may sound amusing. Run Forrest run. To be completely forthright, it is somewhat embarrassing. I didn't wait to say goodbye to anyone or try to pacify anybody. I couldn't. That's the thing about the whole ''fight or flight'' response, it's completely involuntary. When I started running I didn't stop until I was about two miles from the scene, at which point I promptly threw up, and after collecting myself, used a phone to call for a ride.
             



     THE FUNERAL  -  THE MEDIA  -  TRIAL & VERDICT  


          As far as funerals go, Kims service was traditional. The turn-out was impressive in every way. It was the first real sense of a communal impact from the crime. People were affected. The family had friends, droves of friends, and for awhile it must have seemed as if the whole town showed up to pay its respects. Sadly, those in attendance were forced to mourn pictures placed atop a closed casket. Of the many funerals I have attended throughout my life, this one above all was particularly difficult. The family was inconsolable, understandably. There were none of the usual pleasantries and rationalizations you hear exchanged at a funeral service. No silver lining in the murder of an innocent.
      The floral arrangements were beautiful and permeated the air throughout, and I remember Wal-Mart in particular had sent a beautiful spread and was helpful in several ways as employer to Kims parents. The service didn't get any easier when the media showed up. I guess we should have anticipated from then on the demeanor in which the media would approach the case. They turned out to be really aggressive and rude overall. I understand there was a story to cover, and they could have done that while atleast trying to respect the families need for some privacy and sensitivity. They never let up, not until the very end.
              Of course it didn't help that my small town gossip mill was constantly feeding the fire with nonsense like "The Run Away Gang" to print in bold face. There was no gang, at least not by real world standards. Truthfully, these kids were social rejects. At a crowded inner city school, they wouldn't have had a table in the lunch room. In my own private thoughts, I consider this to be a motivating factor to their crime. At the very least a subconscious factor. They never had anyone to pick on or bully because they were never at that end of the spectrum. This is why they reacted so hoggishly and savagely. What's sad is they lashed out at pure innocence. If they lashed out anywhere else, had they acted like a "gang" anywhere else, they would have been returned to reality almost immediately. They did what they did, because they could. Because no one was there to stop them. Foolish false senses of bravado and ridiculous grandstanding fueled a pack mentality that took the life of an innocent child. That's why every single one of them should have had to face real, palpable justice. Not vengeance. Not life sentences throughout. Real justice. 
               The trial was very difficult for the family.Kims mother and father in particular. I can't fathom how much strength it must have taken to sit and relive their daughters last moments time and time again. There was much to consider, then and now, & while the trials were overseen by President Judge Fredrick Ammerman, ultimately what happened was Clearfield Counties District Attorney at the time - Paul Cherry - dropped the ball and mismanaged any chance of justice for Kim and her family. I don't know if it was his fear of the publicity that charging six juveniles and one adult with murder would reap, or just an inability to handle the pressure. Regardless, he settled for convicting Straw and Holtmeyer with LWOP first degree murder convictions, and virtual slaps on the wrist for the remaining Defendants in exchange for their cooperating testimony.  Sound dramatic ?? Take a look at the actual numbers. 

  • Tracy Lynn Lewis = Sentenced to only 5 years. Showed no remorse for Kims murder at any point. Despite being related to the victim, Traci planted the ''snitch'' seed that led to Kims torture and murder. It was also Traci that instructed Aaron & Jessica to "yank it - pull her up" referring to the noose tied around Kims neck. Traci was the only true adult present during the murder and the events leading to it. She also admittedly drug Kim around the woods by her neck with the stolen rope that was used for her hanging. Today Lewis is incarcerated on unrelated charges.

  • Patrick Lucas =  negative 6 months juvenile time, in exchange for testimony against Straw & Holtmeyer. Admitted to watching the torture and hangings of Dotts and doing nothing. Helped to hide and bury Kims body. Yet to display any real remorse or regret. He helped murder and torture an innocent girl yet received less time than people get in prison for technical parole violations  (not even a graded criminal offense). I was actually incarcerated along side Lucas in a maximum security juvenile detention center during his stay. I kept my hatred and knowledge of him from staff so I could avoid any additional supervision or separation from him. I wanted as many chances to attack him as I could get. Needless to say I ended up losing my temper when he had a tantrum and declared to the staff and residents that "this was bullshit and he shouldn't even be there - he should be able to go home". His exact whereabouts today are unknown, he is believed to live in the Maryland area. To my knowledge he hasn't been in anymore noteworthy trouble. He has children and appears to have married.

  • Teresa Wolfe = 6 months juvenile time in exchange for her testimony against Straw & Holtmeyer. Admitted to placing noose around Kims neck and tightening it, and helping to hide and bury the body. I was also incarcerated at the juvenile detention center with her during her stay there. She did not seem particularly remorseful, sad, or troubled. To be fair though, she was awfully quiet and withdrawn, so it was hard to get a read on her. Her whereabouts are unknown. She is rumored to be a mother.

  • Dawn Lanager = 6 months juvenile time for burglary charges. The rope used to hang Kim came from a camp Dawn had burglarized. In many other states,  her involvement  would have made her just as responsible as the others, with her having committed a felony or crime that resulted in murder. Dawn still lives locally, and is a stay at home mother. 

  • Clint Canaway = 6 months juvenile time. Lives locally. Recently lost the use of his arm in an auto accident.

  • Jessica Holtmeyer = LWOP First degree murder. Her life was spared only at the pleas of the Dotts family. Responsible for hanging Kim repeatedly, and ending her life with several blows to the head from a basketball sized rock. Her trial and defense were ridiculous, as were the resulting appeals. Despite having never shown remorse or regret, Holtmeyer is quoted as saying especially cold and disturbing things in response to Kim's murder, none of which will be shared here. Furthermore, recent Supreme Court rulings have led to gross instances of injustice for the Dotts family, like being forced to attend a parole hearing for Holtmeyer on what would have been the day of Kims birthday.
  • Aaron Straw = LWOP First Degree Murder. Doing time in Dallas Prison and enjoying a new found sexual preference for men. Yet to show any signs of remorse or regret for his hand in the torture and murder of Kimberly Jo Dotts. Pretended to be a volunteer search team member and "helped" to find "Kims" body. He was also the first to co-operate in the investigation.

  • *All of the defendants claim being incapable of going for help or stopping Kims murder because Jessica had them all so afraid. From the site of Kims murder, the nearest home or residence for help was only about 200 yrds away. Certainly within running or yelling distance.

                  CREATIVE CONVICT GALLERY 
                 INTERVIEW WITH JODI DOTTS
                                                        JANUARY 12, 2015



 CCG: In the 17 years since her murder, do you feel justice was served for Kim ? Did any of  the defendants show any genuine remorse either during or after the trial?


 MS.DOTTS: No, never, none of the kids ever showed any real remorse, not                                  that I've seen - nothing genuine.  Except for Clint Canaway.....he has, he does.                            Every year since Kim's murder, on mother's day, Clint sends 13 roses. One for                            Kim, for her grave, and twelve for me. As for the rest, I never would                                              have dreamed so many would be walking free. We spared Jessica's life, it was                            us that took the death sentence off the table. She still says such horrible things                          about Kim's murder. I never dreamed her and Aaron would be in jail all these                            years, totally indifferent, living it up and having a good time. I even got a letter                          from a cell mate of Jessica's from prison. She said some pretty crazy things to                            me, she blamed me for ruining Jessica's life ! I just couldn't believe the things                            she said to me. To top it all off, now because of a new law we spent Kim's last                              birthday anniversary driving to and attending a parole hearing for Holtmeyer.                            We have to attend a lifetime of these hearings now, it will never be over.

 CCG: Any idea why the focus at trial switched from prosecuting everyone responsible          for Kim's murder, to concentrating on slam dunk convictions for Straw and Holtmeyer? What made D.A. Paul Cherry take that approach?

Ms.Dotts: I really don't know or remember. I was still trying to wrap my head around everything and was dealing with a lot of grief and sadness at the time. We were confident in the system, we believed in it. That was a mistake. My son has done more jail time for probation violations than most of Kim's killers, and he has never killed anyone, not even close. 

CCG: They all claimed to be afraid of Jessica, and therefore at her mercy. Do you believe that to be true?

Ms.Dotts: no never, I never believed that for one second. You know where Gallows Harbor is. There are houses within a few hundred yards. Nothing stopped any of them from speaking up, not at any point.


CCG: Did you attend all of the hearings ? Any particular moment that sticks out in your memory? Any closure come from the hearings?

Ms.Dotts: I did attend all the hearings, right up to present day. The trials  didn't provide any real level of closure, no. Aaron's trial was wild. I don't know if you believe in paranormal stuff but there was a lot going on at that trial. At one point while court was in session one of the big courtroom windows flew open. Those windows are never opened, let alone unlocked, yet it just opened. The whole courtroom witnessed a huge freak gust of air blew around the courtroom. I said "that is Kimmy - that was her" There were a lot of things going on at that trial. I just knew Kim was there.                           



UPDATE*
Kimberly Dott's  Killer Kids Episode is scheduled to air on LME, March 25th of 2015 @ 9 p.m. EST Check your local TV Guide for listings.

                                                                         

                                            



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