Fri, 2 November 2018
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Hey, folks. Before we begin, I just want to let you know that I am running a giveaway for the podcast right now. If you go to the show’s webpage at principleduncertainty.libsyn.com, there is a link to a giveaway for Judith A. Yates’s book ‘When Nashville Bled,’ about the crimes of one Paul Dennis Reid. All you have to do is click the link, join the newsletter, and BAM!--you’re done. I’m running the giveaway from now until the next episode airs, and I’ll announce the winner on that podcast’s episode, so you’ll have to tune in to find out if you’ve won or not. One more time, all you need to do is go to the podcast’s main page, principleduncertainty.L-I-B-S-Y-N.com and click the ‘When Nashville Bled Giveaway’ link. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. Anyway, enough of that. On to the podcast.
PUPodcast, Episode 264: Paul Dennis Reid
Hello, and welcome to the Principled Uncertainty Podcast. I’m your host Tyler, and this week’s episode will be the second chapter in a multi-part exploration of one of the more infamous series of crimes in Nashville’s history. If you haven’t listened to Ep 263 -- part one of the series -- back up and listen to that one. This one will make much more sense, if you do.
If you aren’t aware of the case of Paul Dennis Reid, hang tight. We’ll be going into great detail about not just the crimes but also the killer’s history. I found a wonderful book called When Nashville Bled, by Judith A. Yates, which is a super detailed account of the whole ordeal that gripped Metro Nashville in the late 90s. There will be links in the episode’s description, as well as a PDF transcript of this entire ep. I’m starting a newsletter for the show, just to let people know when new episodes are coming out and whatnot, so if you’re interested in that, check out the show’s description to sign up. Now, on to the show.
[Date. Location. Set the scene]
History of Hermitage.
March 23, 1997. McDonald’s, in Hermitage, TN. This particular Mickey D’s is about 3.4 miles from the location of the Donelson Captain D’s where the first murders occurred.
After all the employees working the night shift are done cleaning up, they slip outside and into the chilly, early spring evening.
There is Andrea Brown, a high school student who has just used the money from working at McDonald’s to buy her first car. She is looking forward to getting the tag for said car the following day and has been telling everyone about her recent purchase.
Robert Sewell is six years older than Andrea Brown, but to hear him talk, you’d think he was just a kid himself. He has been excitedly talking about going to see the Star Wars 20th anniversary re-release in the theaters the next day.
The new employee in the group is Jose Gonzalez. This evening, Robert Sewell (he of the Jedi) has been training Jose on kitchen responsibilities. Jose doesn’t speak English very well, but he’s learning it as he goes along from his coworkers in the store.
And finally, there is Ronald Santiago, who is filling in for the night’s scheduled manager. In a grim coincidence, Ronald stopped by earlier in the evening and saw that the manager working that night did not feel well. Telling her he’d fill in, he encourages her to go home.
A tall, dark-haired man — the same from Captain D’s not even a month ago — steps out of the darkness and into the path of the employees. He’s holding a gun, and he tells Ronald Santiago “Call them” — the other employees — “back over, or I’ll kill them.”
“Hey guys,” night manager Ronald Santiago says shakily, “come back here a minute?”
Employees Jose Gonzalez and Robert Sewell turn to go back to the restaurant’s location. When employee Andrea Brown sees the man with the gun — especially the gun — she begins to cry. Robert comforts her, placing an arm around her shoulders and telling her everything will be okay.
The tall, dark-haired man — whom we all know to be Paul Dennis Reid — follows them inside, where he forces them to the back of the store. Ronald Santiago pleads with him to take what he wants but leave them be. As a result, the man with the gun demands money and is then shown to the safe.
Ronald, continuing to calm everyone around him, kneels and shovels money into a bag, just as he is instructed. In a move that is reminiscent of the robbery at Captain D’s, he forces the group of fast food employees into the restaurant’s storage room.
What they must have thought, in those moments. Did they think they were the follow-up to the Captain D’s murders, or were they just hoping it was an average, run-of-the-mill robbery? Did they think if they were compliant enough that they would survive, or were they acutely aware of the danger they were in?
[Start playing music. Slowly raise it through the next paragraph.]
The gun-wielding monster with the bag of money instructs them to lie down, telling them he will leave them and go away.
They all pile into the back room and struggle into place.
Paul Dennis Reid leans down and whispers something into Robert Sewell’s ear before shooting him twice, once in the back of the head. Reid then turns his attention to Andrea Brown and whispers into her ear, too, before killing her with two more rounds.
Finally, he turns the gun on Jose Gonzalez, who has the unlucky distinction of listening to his friends’ and coworkers’ final, gasping breaths.
However, when the stranger pulls the trigger on his handgun, the weapon merely goes click.
[Let’s take a quick commercial break. We’ll be back in a moment with more podcast.]
If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you probably already know that I’m obsessed with true crime, particularly stories set in the south. What you may not know is that I’m also an author, with four published books on shelves, both physical and digital for your enjoyment.
My Rolson McKane series follows a former cop who is severely flawed but somehow manages to do the right thing when needed. The first novel, Boogie House, is available for FREE in the Kindle store. I spent several years writing that book, and from there the series has blossomed into its own strange beast. The second and third novels, The Devil Came Calling and Dirt Merchant, take Rolson from his humble beginnings in the small Georgia town based on the one I grew up in. There’s a fair amount of violence and murder, and just enough horror to call it southern gothic. There will be a link in the show description to sign up for my author newsletter, and if you decide to join, you’ll receive a copy of the prequel to Boogie House, Crystal Queen, absolutely free. Just go to http://principleduncertainty.libsyn.com/ -- that’s P-R-I-N-C-I-P-L-E-D-U-N-C-E-R-T-A-I-N-T-Y.L-I-B-S-Y-N.COM -- stands for liberated syndication -- and click on the newsletter link. If I’ve done my job on the digital side, the instructions should be mighty clear.
Now, back to the podcast.
[Play the music.]
When he realizes his weapon has misfired, Paul Dennis Reid backs up and tries to snatch something from the shelves.
This is when the story gets out of control.
Seeing his opening, Gonzalez leaps up and attacks the man who killed his friends, grabbing him around the waist and trying to knock him over or pull him to the ground. He thinks he’s making some progress, but it is short-lived.
Jose feels first an intense but acute pain, and it isn’t until the second, third, fourth strike that Jose Gonzalez realizes he is being stabbed by his attacker. I’m just going to quote from When Nashville Bled here, because it is so absolutely brutal.
He could hear the swish of the blade and each stab felt like a hot poker jutting through his skin. He tried not to cry out, but the pain was intense and horrific. The blade struck him in the skull, in the shoulders, in the torso, sending a spray of blood each time. Twice the knife plunged through his back and exited out of his lower chest area. The man was screaming obscenities. He could not count the stab wounds: three, eight, eleven.
Eventually, Gonzalez drops to the ground, and he is covered seventeen stab wounds. According to the book, quote “one of his fingers dangled by a shred of skin.” His only option at this point, he feels, is to pretend to be dead. He thinks maybe the stranger will go away, if he only stops breathing. He waits there, breathing shallowly only when he absolutely has to, praying for the man to go away. He hears him rifling through registers and other things, and when he finally does take a chance at looking the opposite direction, he sees his coworkers lying cold and still on the floor next to him.
Gonzalez, using his elbows to drag himself, crawls toward the nearest phone. He is losing a gargantuan amount of blood, at this point, but nevertheless, he perseveres, managing to drag the phone from the nearby table and dialing 911.
The call is made at exactly 12:01 am.
Since he does not speak a whole lot of English, he can only plead for help when the operator answers, but over the course of the stunted back-and-forth between them, she is able to pinpoint the location of the call: 3470 Lebanon Road. When he hangs up, he calls his home and asks his family for help.
The traced call is forwarded to Metro PD, and South sector police officer Traci Holmes is the first to arrive, just under three minutes later. Holmes approaches the drive-thru window with her weapon drawn and peeks in. Upon seeing the trail of blood on the floor, she pulls her baton and smashes the window of the locked side door and steps cautiously inside. There, in the back of the store, Holmes finds three bodies packed together, and a fourth -- Jose Gonzalez -- next to a phone.
When the “all clear” is given, EMTs rush in to help those in need. They find that one of the victims, Andrea Brown, still has a pulse, and so they get her on a gurney and rush her to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Between calling 911 and the arrival of the ambulances, Jose Gonzalez -- the real hero of this situation -- had succumbed to his injuries, and EMTs could initially feel no pulse. However, after initiating CPR, they manage to get a weak pulse out of him and rush him, too, off to Vanderbilt. For now, the horror show of Paul Dennis Reid is over, but it’s just beginning for Jose Gonzalez and Andrea Brown. The others present that night, Robert Sewell and Ronald Santiago, are not so lucky.
[Phew! After that, I’ll need a quick break, and I hope you do too. Be back with more podcast in just a moment.]
Okay, so Stephen King is releasing a new book in a few weeks, and if you’re anything like me, you are STOKED anytime The King of Horror releases anything new.
To celebrate the book’s release, I am giving away one hardcover copy of ‘Elevation,’ the new book by Stephen King. To enter, all you need to do is find the ‘Stephen King Elevation Giveaway’ link on the show’s description, and you’ll be able to enter right away.
Just go to principleduncertainty.libsyn.com, and the link should be there. This only runs until October 27, so if you listen after that date unfortunately, you’re out of luck. But I will be doing more giveaways in the future, so feel free to follow the newsletter anyway!
[Now, back to the show.]
At the hospital, surgeons are able to re-attach Jose Gonzalez’s finger and stitch up even his most gruesome wounds. Since none of the stab wounds pierced vital organs, it looks like Jose will survive. He continues to fight for life, as the remaining families deal with the outcomes of this pointless and barbaric event.
Andrea Brown’s parents each learn of the attack at the Hermitage McDonald’s and rush to Vanderbilt University Hospital to see her. They are admitted under the code name ‘Moby Dick’ -- don’t ask me why -- and see a broken and bloodied version of their daughter on the gurney. She is alive, but barely, and by dawn the next morning, she is found to be clinically braindead. Having made the decision to pull her from life support, Andrea’s parents agree to donate her organs. She’s wheeled into an operating room, where her organs are removed and transported to where they could have an impact on someone else’s life. Andrea Brown is pronounced dead on March 24, the latest victim of one Paul Dennis Reid.
On the other end of things, Ronald Sewell’s father is obliged to pick his only son’s truck up from the site of his last working shift and his murder. Robert had only been working there about four months, he tells the reporters lingering at the crime scene. He then takes the red pickup truck to a family member’s residence, because Ronald’s mother cannot bear to see anyone else pull into the driveway behind the wheel.
After being fingerprinted, Ronald Santiago’s body is shipped first to the morgue in Nashville and then down to San German, Puerto Rico, where it arrives on a Friday. At the funeral home, Ronald’s brother, Wallington, meticulously cleans and preps the body for the memorial service, to be held the following day. He cleans the ink from Ronald’s fingers and clips and grooms his hair. He dresses his brother in a navy blue suit and silk tie. He is laid to rest on Palm Sunday, with family and friends filling the pews of the funeral home to say goodbye to a man known for his kindness and generosity.
In the wake of this second horrendous attack, the press dubs the monster in their midst “The Fast Food Killer,” and Nashvillians are forced to confront a new and dangerous reality. The Metro PD establishes a hotline designed to seek information leading to the arrest and conviction of the crime’s perpetrator. City Council members in Donelson request a new police precinct “as soon as possible.” In addition, a $6,000 reward is offered for information related to the shootings is offered, and a $25,000 memorial fund is set up for the victims’ families. Eventually, the memorial fund will nearly double, in the amount of $46,000.
The manhunt for the brutal and elusive killer then begins in earnest. The officers involved work 16/7s, which means 16 hours per day, 7 days per week. There are no holidays, no vacations. It is all fast food killer, all the time. They barely have time for sleep, let alone their families. The mood in and around the Donelson area is the police equivalent of a four alarm fire, so the cops are placed under extra pressure to solve this one quickly.
Even though the hotline yields nearly 1,000 calls, nothing of substance ever really comes out of this gesture. And in spite of the similar circumstances of each crime, investigators announce that “no hard evidence” links the Captain D’s shooting to the one which happened at McDonald’s. Despite that, Detectives Pat Postiglione and Mike Roland ultimately decide that the crimes most definitely have been committed by the same person. The circumstances are just too similar to be mere coincidence.
For example, look at the crimes themselves. A man approaches a fast food restaurant off-hours -- once in the morning, once later at at night -- and forces his way in. The victims are all young -- each is under thirty -- which compounds the senseless misery of the crimes. Once inside, they are all shepherded to the back cooler, where they are forced to lie down as the killer brutally executes them, one-by-one. Honestly, it’s like something out of the Blair Witch Project, which wouldn’t be released for another few years. The fact that the killer isn’t just a killer but is also taking thousands upon thousands of dollars from each establishment muddies the motive. Is he a vicious murderer, using robbery as a pretext to satisfy his dark desires, or does he believe killing his victims is a mere consequence of trying not to get caught?
Detectives Postiglione and Roland visit the single living victim of either attack -- Jose Gonzalez -- at his hospital room at Vanderbilt. A translator is needed, and Jose can barely speak due to the severity of his injuries and the tubes running in and out of him, but they are able to establish a few important facts to help guide the resulting investigation.
First of all, Gonzalez reveals that it is a single man who committed these atrocities. Second, he is able to ID the killer as a white male and gives them specific details about his physical appearance, which the cops use to make a composite sketch to be released to the public on March 29th.
It soon becomes the largest manhunt in Nashville’s history -- definitely since the 1964 Metro Nashville merger -- and as a result, the investigation quickly ramps up. The investigators set up four special phone lines to handle incoming calls, and they follow each lead as it comes in. Detectives surveil nearly 500 fast food restaurants in the area, trying all the meanwhile to decipher a pattern of some kind. In Mt. Juliet, PD officers encourage fast food employees to sticker their cars so cops can keep an eye on non-employee vehicles in the parking lot after hours. Cops in the area even secretly go undercover as cooks and dishwashers in an attempt to catch the killer.
Very soon, they get a small break in the case, when they discover that a business across the street from the McDonald’s has a video camera which is angled in such a way to get a glimpse of the action at the fast food location. They resolve to check the footage for any kind of action that might clue them in to the killer’s as-yet unknown identity.
On March 31, 1997, the Hermitage McDonald’s reopens, and a portion of the proceeds from that day’s business goes to the families of the victims. Andrea Brown’s family uses the money to donate books to Hume-Fogg High School. Robert Sewell’s family pays off their son’s truck so they can keep one lasting memento of their slain child. And two weeks later, on April 14, stabbing victim Jose Gonzalez is released from Vanderbilt hospital and is placed immediately in protective custody.
Meanwhile, despite the police department’s best efforts in the case, a third brutal crime is brewing in Nashville, and nothing they’ve done will be sufficient to stop the next installment in Paul Dennis Reid’s savage murder spree.
And that’s where we’ll pick up for part three of this exploration of the Fast Food Killer, Paul Dennis Reid. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, or rate and review it for me. That will sincerely help the show gain a new audience and more visibility among the scores and scores of true crime podcasts out there in the world. I sincerely thank you for listening. See you next time.
The Principled Uncertainty Podcast is written and produced by me, T. Blake Braddy. The theme song is “All Night Long,” by Lobo Loco. You can find them all over the internet, but I’ll also include links in the show description. Follow me on Twitter @blakebraddy or the podcast @pupodcast. You can email the podcast at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com. Check out my instagram feed @tblakebraddy, and just for good measure, find all the information you need at principleduncertainty.libsyn.com. Thanks for listening. Bye.