MURDERED MOTHERS DAY 1998
BY 7 OF HER PEERS - 6 OF WHICH WERE TEENS
Kimberly Jo Dotts
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)
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.
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