Military, obits, true crime

Rest in peace, Colin Powell…

Yesterday, the news reported that General Colin Powell died at age 84. He’d been suffering from multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s Disease, and then he got COVID-19, even though he was fully vaccinated. Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune response by making plasma cells go haywire. So even though General Powell was vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease process made the vaccine less effective for him. Add in the Parkinson’s Disease and his advanced age, and it makes sense that he passed.

I’ve seen a number of people lamenting that Colin Powell died, with some blaming unvaccinated people. While I think any regular reader of this blog knows that I am for the vaccines, I don’t think it’s productive to blame the unvaccinated. The truth is, he was battling some serious illnesses even before COVID-19 struck. He was also 84 years old. Even if COVID never existed, his time was probably drawing short. I just hope his passing was peaceful.

General Powell lived a full lifespan, and he made great use of his time. Besides being a highly respected Army officer, Powell was also the United States’ first Black Secretary of State. And he had a long, loving, and enduring marriage to his wife, Alma, as well as loving relationships with his children, grandchildren, and friends. Personally, I think he was a great man, but even great men have to die someday. It’s just life.

Hearing about General Powell’s death reminded me of a very old friend of mine who died at age 21. Her name was Lisa Bryant, and at the time of her death, it had been years since our last visit. Lisa and I both lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England, back in the late 1970s. My dad was the base engineer there, and her dad was an Army officer who had gotten a special assignment at Mildenhall (or maybe Lakenheath– I’m not sure). Lisa had an older brother who was my sister’s age.

The Bryants were a Black family, but other than that, they weren’t all that different… or, at least it hadn’t seemed so to me at the time. I just remember that Lisa and I used to play together and attended the neighborhood birthday parties. Somewhere in my storage back in Texas, I have pictures from my fifth birthday party, and Lisa is there.

When our fathers were transferred, our families both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia. I remember going to Lisa’s house for another birthday party in Virginia. After that, we lost touch, mainly because my parents only lasted two years in Fairfax before they decided to move to Gloucester County and open their own business.

I never saw Lisa again, but if we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have definitely known who she was and probably would have known her well. She graduated from James W. Robinson Secondary School, the same school where one of my sisters and two of my cousins got their high school diplomas. My aunt also taught math there for years. Lisa was a big woman on campus in high school, having been homecoming queen for the class of ’89 and making top grades. Although we were born in the same year, she was a year ahead of me in school. If we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school.

After she graduated high school, Lisa went to Princeton University. She was there on a ROTC scholarship, so she was required to fulfill a commitment to the Army post graduation. Lisa did big things at Princeton, too. She recruited students from the Washington, DC area and founded the cheerleading team. She graduated summa cum laude, and joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority. From what I read at the time of her death, Lisa meant to do her time in the Army and leave the service for a civilian career. She had big plans for her life. Sadly, she never had the chance.

Colin Powell was a close friend of Lisa’s father’s. They knew each other from their Army days. I remember reading that Powell had attended her wake, and his wife, Alma, went to Lisa’s closed casket funeral. The reason her casket was closed was because Lisa was murdered at Fort Bragg. She had gone there for a brief training course before she was to move to Germany for her first assignment. On the evening of July 9th, 1993, she had gone to a bar that was adjacent to her dormitory. That’s where she met Ervin Graves, who was a staff sergeant and ROTC instructor.

Graves had reportedly asked Lisa to dance with him. She said no, which was entirely appropriate. Not only was she an officer, while Graves was a non-commissioned officer, but she also had a boyfriend. Graves was also a married man. When Graves persisted in trying to get Lisa to dance with him, she decided to go back to her dorm. Graves was staying in the same dorm.

Lisa called her boyfriend, who was in California. She’d used the pay phone, because she didn’t want to bother her roommate. While she was on the phone, Graves attacked her, marching her to his dorm room where he meant to rape her. She managed to break away from him as he was attempting to restrain her. He responded by shooting her four times in the face with a 357 Magnum he inexplicably had with him in the dorm. She died in the hallway of her dormitory, right in front of the door to Graves’ dorm room.

Prior to the murder, Ervin Graves had been an exemplary soldier. He’d been a member of the Old Guard, where he had participated in presidential inaugurations, led parades, and been part of many ceremonies, both solemn and festive. His family was reportedly shocked that he was accused of a crime. His wife and sons were devastated. And Lisa’s family, especially her parents, were also extremely devastated. It had been many years since I had last seen Lisa, but even I was totally shocked when I heard about her death. She was a woman who was going to go places.

My mom called me at college to tell me about Lisa’s murder. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of months after it happened. People Magazine, which I used to read religiously, ran a story about Lisa. I remember later reading that Colin Powell and his wife were there to comfort the Bryants in their time of need. That always stuck with me, especially since Powell was such a powerful and famous man. But before he was an important man, he was also primarily a soldier, and when one of his brothers needed him, he was there.

In an article I read about Colin Powell’s death, Washington Post reporter, editor, and author, Bob Woodward, wrote that he’d spoken to General Powell in July. Powell reportedly said, “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”

Even up to the end of his life, Powell remained personable and friendly to Bob Woodward, even though his wife didn’t like him speaking to Woodward. He offered his thoughts on President Biden’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Powell wisely noted that we had to get out of Afghanistan eventually, and that with the massive drawdown of troops in recent years, it needed to be done expeditiously.

When Woodward asked who was the greatest man, woman, or person Powell had ever known, his response was immediate. He said, “It’s Alma Powell. She was with me the whole time. We’ve been married 58 years. And she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”

I know not everyone approved or appreciated Colin Powell’s politics or even his leadership, but I think of him as one of the good ones… While he had been a Republican throughout his career, he was not a Trump style Republican. He didn’t approve of Trump’s tactics. And when Woodward told Powell that one of his journalism students had asked, “What does the truth accomplish?”, Powell’s response was:

“This is scary… You just scared the hell out of me if this is what our kids are saying and thinking. Where are they getting it from? Media?”

I tend to agree with Powell. It IS scary that so many people are willing to overlook the importance of the truth, or the need to have good and decent– humane– people in power. Colin Powell was basically an honest man with integrity and strength, and he deeply loved and was loved by many. My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife, Alma, as they mourn their great loss. I’m sure the Bryant family is mourning, too… but maybe if there is a place after life, General Powell is with Lisa now.

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true crime

Repost: Crime blasts from the past…

Here’s one more true crime repost for good measure. It originally appeared on October 30, 2013 and is reposted as/is.

In early June 1992, I was about to turn 20 years old.  I worked at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia and was a rising junior at college.  I remember being shocked like so many other people in my community when a suicidal fifteen year old girl, her boyfriend, and another boy decided that they were going to kill her family and take off for California. 

Jennifer Kszepka was supposedly angry with her father, 42 year old Jerome Kszepka, because he didn’t approve of her boyfriend, Dominic Hendrix.  So, on the evening of June 7, 1992, they murdered him and Jennifer’s sister, 21 year old Ranae.  When Jennifer’s mother, Sieglinde, came home to the murder scene, they tried to kill her, too.  Their weapon jammed, so Michael Gaumer, a mutual friend of the teen couple’s, clubbed Sieglinde Kszepka on the head with a metal pipe, fracturing her skull.  Sieglinde Kszepka ultimately survived the attack.  But her husband and older daughter had been murdered by her younger daughter…  what a horrible thing to have to live with.

Jennifer Kszepka could have faced the death penalty, but she ended up getting life plus 90 years in prison.  Parole in Virginia was abolished in 1995, but Kszepka and her male friends committed their crimes prior to then.  Consequently, all three are eligible to be considered for parole.  Kszepka just had a hearing and was denied parole.  The next time she will be considered will be in 2016 (ETA: in 2021, Jennifer Kszepka remains in prison).

I remember all too well when this happened.  I had only recently graduated from the high school where Kszepka and her partners in crime attended.  My boss at Busch Gardens had known Ranae Kszepka, because she had once worked at Busch Gardens.  I remember reading the newspaper every day as Kszepka and her friends drove her mother’s car west.  They hoped to get to California and made it as far as Eureka, Nevada, where they were stopped for a routine traffic violation.  Their identities were discovered and they were shipped back to Virginia to face their crimes.

Jennifer Kszepka is incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, which is the same place where Erin McCay George is imprisoned.  I note that both Jennifer Kszepka and Erin McCay George are involved with dog training… or at least they were ten years ago.  It appears that she has tried to straighten up and fly right.

Another case I remember from the 90s involved a guy named Frederick West Greene.  A friend of mine from college had grown up in tiny Franklin, Virginia.  She had a cute male friend named West who attended Virginia Military Institute.  My friend had the hots for this guy and was positively giddy when he visited her at our college.

Later, it came out that he and a friend had murdered a classmate over an insult.  They killed the young man and buried him, leaving his family and friends to wonder what happened to him for about two years.  I remember how distraught my friend was over finding out that this cute, popular, handsome friend of hers was actually a murderer.  She was very upset and kept asking, “How could he do that?” 

I was reminded of West a few weeks ago and started looking for more information about his case.  I had to do some digging before I found an old article about him and his friend and the terrible crime they committed.  I imagine that they are now about to be eligible for parole.  Actually, Michael M. Jervey, who was the accomplice in this case, may already be out of prison. 

I remember back in July 1993, a woman I knew when we were both little kids living on Mildenhall Air Force Base in England was murdered.  Her name was Lisa N. Bryant, and she had grown up to be a remarkable young woman with a bright future.  A graduate of Princeton University and a 2nd lieutenant in the Army, Bryant was about to go on her first assignment to Germany when fate put her in the path of her murderer, SGT 1st class Ervin Graves, a ROTC instructor who was staying in the same dormitory at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Graves apparently meant to rape Bryant but, when she struggled, he shot her.

Lisa Bryant is in a photo taken at my fifth birthday party in the base housing at Mildenhall where we lived at the time.  After England, we both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia and I saw her one last time at her birthday party in the Burke area of Fairfax.  Had we stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school she attended and excelled at. 

My mom called me at school to tell me about an article she’d read about it in People Magazine several months after the murder.  I remembered what she’d looked like when we were kids and was shocked that at age 21, her life had been callously snuffed out.

It’s always creepy and unnerving when you realize how close true crime is to you…  

And here are the original comments from this post.

Mary Beth DooleyMarch 21, 2014 at 11:18 PM

I think I am the friend from college you spoke of in your blog. I am guessing you went to Longwood. Mike is out of prison & married. I believe he is living in Franklin. I don’t live there anymore so I only hear the gossip every now & then. West will not see a chance at parole for at least another 20 to 30 years. He was sentenced to Life + 45 years. He is serving his time in a federal prison because his father was a warden with the Virginia Bureau of Prisons. There is a far darker story that was never told in the press. There really should be a book written. Not sure who this is, but would love reconnect. I am happy to say my choice in men got exponentially better! You can email me at the3dooleys@gmail.com if you woildblijr.

  1. knottyMarch 22, 2014 at 8:28 PMHi Mary Beth! Glad to “see” you on my blog!

    Thanks for the update about West and that case. Sometimes I remember things and go looking for information. I remember meeting West and being really shocked when it turned out he was a killer. I’m sure my shock was nothing compared to yours!

Terry Mandy TeagueApril 9, 2016 at 5:58 AM

The Kszepkas are my family. To this day it still haunts all of us. By no means do we wish to have Jennifer or these guys that was involved the ability to see the outside world. I dont want that little bitch anywhere near my family. They can rot in there. My Aunt is doing well and has moved on as best as anyone could surviving this. Jennifer was a spoiled kid that threw a temper tantrums and has mental issues. She was supposed to be receiving help when this all occured. They all needed the death penalty. No reason to waste tax payers money on this, I dont even think the word “TRASH” fits it. Thank you.

  1. knottyApril 9, 2016 at 8:55 AMThanks for the comment. Given that the death penalty costs taxpayers much more money than life in prison does, I think it’s probably better from a fiscal standpoint that she got a prison sentence. It really is sad when someone so young screws up so badly that they spend most of their lives in prison.  

UnknownJanuary 12, 2019 at 9:29 AM

The case you speak about from the 90s where West and the other young man killed another student I remember very well. I knew the father of the victim for many years. As some one else stated there was a lot more to the story than was ever told to the public. I still live only 15 mins grfr Franklin and only about 10mins from where they buried his body. You can Google Trent Whitney Franklin VA to get a short version of what happened but there was a lot more to it. The reason Michael came forward was because West was planning to kill a girl he was dating and had threatened to kill Michael if he didn’t help him. I didn’t know either of the guys but from what I’ve been told Michael really did have a hard time with the first muder and he knew the girl West wanted help killing and he couldn’t go through with it so he turned it all in. There is much more to this story. If you would like feel free to contact me at mayopulley@gmail.com please put something in the subject to catch my attention such as Trent Whitney etc

UnknownJanuary 12, 2019 at 9:31 AM

If you’re interested in more information on the West guy from Franklin that killed another student contact me @ mayopulley@gmail.com lot more to it

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