The Thick of the Woods

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Very early on Tuesday morning we flew to Illinois to see firsthand the community where the murders of Laura Hobbs (search) and Krystal Tobias (search) occurred. We decided late on Monday to go because we often get more information for you simply by going. We never know what we will learn or discover, but we always see things that we bring back for you.

I have posted pictures on today's Gretawire that we took for you in Illinois (and, of course, we shot the video that we showed you last night.) Click on the links in the photo box above to check out my photo essays. I took the pictures ... the video was shot by our professionals. The pictures show you the community — a very nice Midwestern one hit by an unthinkable crime.

One piece of information that we learned from going there is how big the woods is and how dense the area is where the bodies were found. Once you left the bike path in the woods, you could not walk through the woods without holding your hands out to push away brush and protect your eyes from it flapping back in your face. At one point we got lost thrashing through the wooded area. We had made so many twists and turns in our search for the actual area where the body was found that we were unsure which way was out. It was a bit disorienting and not pleasant. I received an e-mail on my blackberry from Jim Hammer in the Jackson trial as we were lost and searching for some familiar area and I messaged back to him that we were lost in the woods in Illinois. I think he probably thought I was kidding. I was not.

As we tried to find our way out of the thick of the woods with at first no luck, I mumbled to my producer, "How could anyone find any bodies in here? You can't even see!" It then occurred to me that the person who DID "find" the bodies was the person who the police were then talking to and now have charged with the double murders. The father, Jerry Hobbs, "found" the bodies just after daylight on Monday morning. Either he was the luckiest searcher in the world, or he knew EXACTLY where to look. The police believe he knew EXACTLY where to look. This is a "piece" of information that I would probably use if I were prosecuting the case. Of course I don't know what other evidence they do have or don't have ... but the dense area and the fact that the father found the bodies would probably make it to my case.

When we exited the woods, we encountered many people from the community who had gathered for an informal memorial and because they were curious. At one point as we were standing around, I called my senior producer in New York to give her details of our plans — including our travel back to D.C. As we talked, I started to lose my cell connection to her and I could not hear since so many people were talking in my immediate area. I thus strolled about 15 feet away from the crowd to have the conversation. I learned after my call that one person standing in the group asked Paul Ciolino, who was standing at the edge of the woods with us, if I was really a "witch." Apparently she thought my strolling away to talk on the cell phone was rude. I just could not hear where I was standing!

We had planned to take the 4 p.m. flight back to D.C. — getting in after 7 p.m. (and, of course the show is at 10 p.m.) En route to O'Hare, we learned that our flight had been cancelled. We were told it was mechanical problems, but I am suspicious. I can't help but think they wanted to combine two flights ... or that there was some other reason. Maybe I am just too suspicious. The airline had placed us on the 3 p.m. flight and we just barely made it ... but at least we got back to D.C. earlier in order to prepare for the night's show. We would have been "cooked" if we had to take a later flight (none of us had extra clothes and we were all muddy from our trekking around the woods) and the Chicago bureau would have had to scramble to staff our show. But, we got lucky.

E-mail No. 1 — This e-mailer is responding to yesterday's poll question and adding his thoughts:

Children are not in more danger. What is different is: What used to be local news is now national news! The advent of 24-hour cable TV has created the problem or illusion. You have to have something to talk about every night on your show ... so you have to go to all corners of the earth to dig up dirt. Like accusing the runaway bride's fiancé of killing her before she was found to be OK. Haven't heard your apology for that yet.
Dave Riffey
Shell Lake, WI

E-mail No. 2

Greta, I love FOX News but not your show. Your interview with the coroner in the investigation of the murderer of the two girls was sick. Asking question about wounds and blood and if blood would be on the murderer shows you are a sick pup and I could imagine the family and friends watching.
Maybe CBS isn't that bad after all.
Tom L'Estrange
West Des Moines, IA

ANSWER: First, I edited out a remark Tom made about one of our guests. I will respond to his e-mail that relates to my questioning of the coroner: There is NOTHING pretty or nice about murder. There are no pretty or nice questions. I cannot imagine what "pretty" or "nice" question you ask of the man or woman whose job it is to do an autopsy and provide information to the DA to help prosecute the killer. The reason I asked those questions about blood is to inform viewers how crimes are investigated and solved. For years I was involved in murder investigations and I would assume you would want to learn how crimes are solved and proven or you would watch something else. I assume you don't want to just hear raging about the crime. Of course everyone is enraged about these murders and others. But you need to control your emotion as we work hard towards getting justice for these little girls. Getting too emotional sometimes makes people use bad judgment. This show provides you information — not histrionics and drama. Sometimes the information is cold and ugly — but this is the way that murder investigations are conducted. The point of the question about whether he could tell from the wounds whether the killer would have blood on him is obvious — at least I thought it was. I am not sure why Tom needs to have that explained. But, because he apparently does, so here goes — this is why it is important: When people are stabbed, often the killer is covered with or has spatter of the victim's blood on him or her. This is because blood is so fluid and stabbing requires such close contact. Hence the D.A. will want to also know information about when the father returned home: Did he have blood on him? Did he go to the washing machine? Did he throw his clothes out? Etc. All those answers would tend towards proving a case.

E-mail No. 3

So, let me get this straight: Jason's wife never shows up at the party. He doesn't call her (at least he didn't tell you did). He doesn't bother to get home until 3 a.m. (evidently he wasn't worried at all). She's not home, but he (goes to bed?) and waits until 10 a.m. to call the police? Something sounds fishy about all of that to me.
Laura Kirkland
Williamsport, PA

E-mail No. 4

If the woman who lied about finding the finger in her chili at Wendy's is being prosecuted (and she should be) why should Jennifer Wilbanks get away without being prosecuted? She gave a false report to 911 and false rape accusation even submitting to a rape test.
Both women have a prior history of criminal actions.
Pat Parker
Philadelphia, PA

E-mail No. 5

Another good show. You have been doing some traveling lately! Out there and back in one day and still have time to do the show from D.C. Pretty impressive.
I spent a year in the Zion area compliments of the U.S. Navy. The Waukegan, Zion, Kenosha, Racine area is really nice. Boring for a single sailor, but a great place for families with young children. Fortunately for us squids, Milwaukee and Chicago were nearby. When walking through the park with the private detective you mentioned how great a place it would be for kids. I agree. Where I grew up it was similar. A quarter mile away was open fields and a half-mile away woods. Running right through the neighborhood was a heavily wooded creek.
One of the few things I've regretted about raising my kids in SoCal is there are no such places for kids to play. Yes, there are some great places, but you have to get into cars and drive there. All that's available nearby are organized activities. No free play, no making up your own games with mutually agreeable rules, etc. Rather if a kid isn't involved in organized activities, it's basically, "No kids allowed, no kids wanted around here." For us, we had places to play sports, have mud ball fights, swing off grapevines into creeks and have horseback relay races, all with no adult supervision or intervention. I think these kinds of activities help physical fitness, encourage creativity and promote working cooperation (from the rule-making), etc.
It's a shame a place as perfect of a playground to a kid as that park in Zion became a hellhole for two precious young girls at the hands of a monster. Good for you to make that point on your walk.
Bruce Crawford
Fountain Valley, CA

E-mail No. 6

I just finished reading "My Turn at the Bully Pulpit" — PLEASE re-broadcast this interview you did with Muhammad's Tacoma neighbor. Please, Please, Please!

ANSWER: This e-mail is about an interview I wrote about in my book. It was my worst TV experience ... or one of them. It was SO BAD, that it was extremely funny. I just wanted to crawl off the set after doing it. If the topic were not so serious — the sniper and murder — I would replay it so we could all laugh.

E-mail No. 7 — note from Laura Ingle inside the Michael Jackson (search) trial:

Photos of bare breasted, blonde, and blindfolded dolls with leather straps binding their plastic chests were shown to jurors today.

These are the sort of “knick-knacks” Michael Jackson had on his desk in his office. Prosecutors splashed the photos up on a big screen projector during the cross-exam of Neverland property manager Joe Marcus. He was asked about the November 18, 2003 search warrant. Marcus said at the time, he told investigators he had no knowledge of Jackson sleeping with children — he says he does now, and did then. He says he didn't tell cops that because he was overwhelmed with the chaos. This came in the strong of questions where the doll photos were shown. Marcus was asked if he knew if Jackson possesses adult erotic materials. Marcus said he didn't know that he does. That's when the pictures went up. It felt very surprising to see them again in the courtroom, some jurors looked away. Prosecution pressed on, “Would you consider these figurines adult materials?” Marcus: “A type artwork of an adult nature.” Prosecutor: “Do you think it's appropriate for children to be exposed to these?” Marcus looked down for a second and said no.

Marcus mainly talked about his directive to keep the teenage accuser and his family on the Neverland grounds. He said he sent out that word because the kids had been getting into the vehicles of Jackson and his staff and had been caught driving around.

Ramone Bain was here again. Michael Jackson's spokesperson said she needed to revise her predicted defense case timeline. Yesterday she told us it would be 8-10 weeks. Today she said six. The question of Macaulay Culkin coming to testify tomorrow is the hottest buzz around the courthouse. Bain was asked if she could confirm his appearance, she said she couldn't. I asked her if Macaulay would be staying at Neverland Ranch like Brett Barnes and Wade Robeson did last week — they were two other boys who ranch employees say they saw M.J. touch inappropriately. She said she didn't know. It was a half-day of court today — Bain told me Michael would be spending the afternoon with his kids when they get out of school.

And finally — there was a BBQ thrown for reporters by the city of Santa Maria today. It was a very welcome treat for all of us, considering there are no lunch breaks at this trial and no one ever gets to sit down and actually have a meal during the day (we are all keeping the makers of Zone Bars in business here ... that's all there is time for!) The city put up a big ol' Santa Maria-style BBQ in the court parking lot and fed everyone at the Lawn Bowling Club. I took some photos that I will try to send to you, so you can see everyone in this rare social setting at “Camp Jackson."

E-mail No. 8 — e-mail from Jim Hammer at the Jackson trial:

Trial Note — May 10, 2005

The bulk of today’s testimony was finishing up the cross and re-direct examinations of Joe Marcus, the Neverland Valley Ranch manager. Under the surface and hovering over so much this trial was Jackson’s sexuality. Without intending to, the defense had reinforced the clear evidence that Jackson was obsessed with young 11-13 old boys. Most of them looked very similar and a lot like the current accuser. The defense tried to point out that Jackson occasionally slept with little girls, but the truth emerging from this trial is that Jackson slept not just at Neverland but as he traveled around the world on tour with a series of these young boys.

Today, Marcus tried to point out that Jackson was married to Lisa Marie Presley, but the D.A. pressed on asking whether Jackson also had “special friends” who were girls or women. All the witness could come up with were Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor and two young girls.

Jackson is not charged with being a pedophile or of being obsessed with young boys, but the evidence on those issues is mounting. And it is troubling. Seeing these young men (now) up close in court and their mothers who handed them over to Jackson’s bedroom leaves me feel uneasy and disturbed. How much weight the jury eventually gives this evidence may be the key to the verdict in this case. Stay tuned….
Jim Hammer
Santa Maria Courthouse

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