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Remembering the dead; Obsessed with justice

Doug Evans

Doug Evans

By Jonathon King, browardbulldog.org

His right eye is swollen and sightless, the victim of diabetes, blinded by age and bursting blood vessels. But behind its brown glaze are the memories of one man’s accounting of the dead. So many dead.

“I worked more homicides than I can count,” says retired Detective Doug Evans, sitting at the kitchen table in his small northwest Fort Lauderdale home. “Some we solved. Others, no. But I remember them. It takes a toll.”

It is perhaps the burden of anyone who spent a career chasing killers, especially a homicide detective who dedicated so many of his 20 years on the Fort Lauderdale police department trying to rid his own neighborhoods of pure evil.

Few in law enforcement get to exult when they finally get their man. Even fewer get to exult twice, when justice rings a second bell to show that they were right when everyone else said they were wrong.

Today, at 75, Doug Evans can say he helped put away perhaps the most prolific serial killer in Florida history. And he can also say he had a part in freeing an innocent man for a murder that that serial killer committed.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office recently agreed to pay Jerry Frank Townsend, who spent 22 years in prison, $2 million to settle civil charges that its detectives framed Townsend for murders and rapes committed by Eddie Lee Mosley. [See Anatomy of a Frame-Up, Oct. 29]

Last year, Townsend settled a similar lawsuit against the city of Miami for $2.2 million.

Obsessed with stopping a shark

In the late 1980s, Eddie Lee Mosley – once described by a court appointed psychiatrist as “a shark who simply feeds on possible victims to satisfy his basic sexual needs with no more remorse than a killing machine” – was indicted on two counts of first degree murder. He was ruled incompetent to stand trial was sent to a state prison hospital to live out his life.

Mosley was the “shark” that Detective Evans had been tracking in the northwest neighborhoods for years, a remorseless killer who left at least 13 documented rapes and at least 19 documented killings of women and young girls in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Lakeland in his wake

Despite being arrested ten times during his reign of rape and murder, Mosley was continually released from custody after doctors found him incompetent to stand trial and after repeated mental hospital convalescence determined he was “ready to return to the community.”

But as Doug Evans attempted to tell anyone who would listen -“when Mosley was in custody, the killings stopped. When he was released, they began again.”

Evans, one of the first black officers hired by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, was convinced in the late 1970s that Mosley was his man, but his assessment was not shared. Instead, after several years of tracking Mosley, the detective had gained a reputation as being obsessed.

“Was I obsessed? Maybe,” says Evans today. “One of my own cousins was a victim of Mosley’s. You take that personally and I knew Mosley was responsible. We didn’t have the technology of DNA testing back then. We just couldn’t prove it.”

Another suspect emerges

It was at the time when Mosley was out and on the prowl – and Doug Evans had attained the reputation of having tunnel vision – that Townsend was arrested by the Miami Police Department for an attempted sexual battery.

Jerry Frank Townsend

Jerry Frank Townsend

It was then that detectives said that Townsend, then 22, and with a minimal IQ, began to confess to multiple unsolved murders in Dade and Broward Counties.

Detectives with both the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Miami P.D. were putting together a case. But Doug Evans did not falter from his gut feeling that his colleagues were about to wrongly pin Mosley’s crimes on Townsend. Instead, Evans went out on a career-ending limb by testifying in Townsend’s defense.

The case against Townsend, completely circumstantial, was remarkably similar to the rapes and murders committed by Mosley. When Evans was put on the stand to testify in Townsend’s trial to say that there was another, more plausible suspect, he was shut down by the Broward County prosecutor and the judge.

“The judge basically asked me if I was saying that the BSO detectives were lying,” Evans says today. “I told him, no. I told him we just have a difference of opinion.”

The BSO detective who put the case against Townsend was not so kind. At trial, Det. Anthony Fantigrassi told the court that Evans had an “irrational vengeance” against Mosley.

“He would pursue him to no end. Any time any sort of homicide investigation broke out, he wanted us to check out Eddie Lee Mosley,” said Fantigrassi. “And as a precaution, when I was investigating the ’79 cases I did just that. I did check Eddie Lee Mosley. I discarded him as a suspect.”

The theory of a second possible suspect in the Townsend case was ignored by the jury and in 1980 Jerry Frank Townsend was sentenced to life in prison.

But as detective Evans had said for years, if Mosley was out, the killings would continue. And while Townsend was incarcerated, six more bodies of raped black women were found within Eddie Mosley’s hunting ground.

A new believer appears

It wasn’t until 1987 when a detective new to the Fort Lauderdale homicide beat caught a case of a young black woman raped and murdered in the northwest section that Mosley’s rampage started to unravel.

On February 12, 1987 Detective Kevin Allen was working general duty when he was called to the scene of a homicide and was assigned to the follow up.          

“When I started asking around for help, I spoke to Doug Evans,” Allen said in a deposition in the Townsend case. “I told him I was working a rape homicide in the northwest section and he goes ‘Let me tell you about your case’, which I thought was really unusual. He said ‘Your victim is a black female. She was raped before she was murdered. Her body was found nude from the waist down and the top portion of her clothing was pulled over her breasts.’”

“I’m like, you weren’t at the crime scene, how would you know that? He goes well that’s what’s happened here for 15, 20 years. That’s when he told me about Eddie Mosley. He said Mosley had been a prolific killer in Fort Lauderdale and had basically, in his opinion, been ignored by law enforcement. 

“He said that Mosley had been incarcerated and released several times for sexual battery and had manipulated the forensic psychiatrist and psychologist within the criminal justice system to get released. And within days of his release, Doug said other black females were raped and murdered in the city of Fort Lauderdale and adjoining areas.”

“The more questions I asked Doug about Mosley the quieter he got and finally he said he’d been telling people in the police department all these years.

“But Doug said ‘You go do your own investigation. I don’t want to prejudice you. Just be thorough and objective.’”

Detective Allen did exactly that, documenting years of unsolved rapes and homicides in the vicinity of Mosley’s family home and the dark alleys and open fields where he was known to push his grocery cart and shop for drugs. Finally, when confronted the mass of detailed locations and the names and descriptions of the victims, Eddie Mosley finally cracked. After several hours of being questioned and shown the overall picture of his killing fields by Allen, the man confessed.

“He simply said: You got me,” Allen recalled.

Eddie Lee Mosley

Eddie Lee Mosley

And later, sitting in the back seat of a car with Mosley while taking him to identify some of the crimes scenes where he was suspected of raping and killing women, Detective Allen also absorbed the gut feeling that Doug Evans had been dealing with for so many years.

“I never had such a sensation as a law enforcement officer,” Allen said later in a deposition. “Just all of the hair on my neck just stood up. He just is a spooky guy. That’s the only way to describe him. You could just feel that if he could, he would just crush the life out of you in an instant without any remorse, I never felt that way with any other defendant.”

Allen brought a case to prosecutors, based on a definitive pattern, and a confession.

Mosley was again ruled incompetent to stand trial for the rape strangulation of two women, and in 1987 was committed to a state psychiatric program where he remains in custody today.

Once Eddie Lee Mosley was taken off the streets, the killings in northwest Fort Lauderdale stopped. Doug Evans says now that he was “satisfied.” He had bucked the system, and admittedly with the help of Kevin Allen, he had gotten his man.

In a 1987 article in the Sun-Sentinel’s Sunshine Magazine, the late Ron Cochran, then Fort Lauderdale Chief said “Doug Evans had been right all along.” That admission and recognition might have been enough to make a man smile during his retirement.

But even though Mosley was gone, another injustice remained. Jerry Townsend was still in prison for a crime that Evans was sure Mosley had committed.

Righting wrongs

It wouldn’t be until 2001, when DNA evidence recovered in one of the cases against Townsend was tested and shown to belong to none other than Eddie Lee Mosley.

Townsend, the man Doug Evans had testified for as a defense witness, was exonerated and the case cast doubt on the validity of the rest of his convictions, all of which were based on rambling confessions loaded with inaccuracies. The taped confessions were interrupted by stops and starts that raised questions about whether Townsend was led by detectives to make those statements.     

When Townsend was released from prison in 2001 Evans was there, “when Jerry came over and hugged me like to squeeze the life outta me,” Evans said.

“I felt good for him. The man spent half his life in prison for something he didn’t do, for something Eddie Lee Mosley did.

“I never believed he was guilty, and he wasn’t. Others, well, they have to live with their own beliefs.” 

Using the science of DNA, Mosley has now been linked to seven murders in and around northwest Fort Lauderdale between 1973 and 1987. And Evans believes even more unsolved homicides will eventually lead to his man.

“Mosley was bigger than Gacy. Bigger than Bundy,” says Evans. “But he wasn’t doing college girls. And he wasn’t hiding the corpses under his house. He was doing it in neighborhoods where nobody cared.”

Evans knows the racial angles involved, but he rarely tries to bring it into discussion. He was one of the first two black officers hired in Fort Lauderdale in 1963 and his career was a long and tumultuous dance as the city moved from blatant segregation to the muddled mess of racial politics that still pervade.

In 1987 when Evans’ tale, “The 15-year Search for a Serial Killer,” was published in the Sun-Sentinel, editors at the newspaper refused to put the story on the cover of the magazine, saying that they didn’t want to spotlight yet another “black man doing bad things.” They ran a photo of a fuzzy zoo animal on the cover instead.

“I had to laugh at that,” Evans says today. “I’m a black man. Was I doing bad things by chasing down a killer who also happened to be black? 

“Did they ask those questions when they were slapping Ted Bundy stories all over the front pages? And that wasn’t even in their own town.”

But Evans, like the crimes of the serial killer he “obsessed” over, ran under the popular radar.

“I don’t think Doug has ever been given the credit he deserved in his pursuit of Mosley,” said Barbara Heyer, the attorney who for seven years worked on the civil cases representing Townsend. “Kevin Allen’s arrest of Mosley was ultimately on the back of Doug Evan’s work for years.

“And he really did go out on a limb to dispute the case against Jerry. When he tried to testify in Jerry’s trial they basically cut him off and then Judge Franza basically said that to accept Evans’ testimony would be saying that the other detectives fabricated evidence. Well, that’s exactly what they did.”

Epilogue

And still, 22 years into retirement, his hair and mustache gone grey and his body wracked by diabetes “that’s kickin’ my behind,” Evans does not crow over the incarceration of Mosley.

He does not gloat over the freedom of Jerry Townsend, who once believed he would never get out after being falsely convicted for Mosley’s murders – convictions that Evans knew were bad all along.

“Yeah, I’m glad that I was proved to be right. But I figured one day the truth would come out,” he says instead, looking across the table in his small northwest Fort Lauderdale home, seeing nothing, but seeing everything.

“Mostly I think about all those young women,” he says. “All those lives lost. I remember them. You know, it takes a toll.”

Jonathan King, a police and court reporter for 24 years with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Philadelphia Daily News, is an Edgar-award winning author and the creator of the Max Freeman crime series set in the Everglades and on the hard streets of urban South Florida. His new novel is The Styx.

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  • nothing short of awesome jon – as always.
    so happy you are a part of dan’s dream endeavor.
    i look forward to more super police stories from you.

  • Detective Evans is still protecting those who refused to protect him. He was a Black Police Officer in Fort Lauderdale at a time when the Black population was not equally respected, equally protected, or equally represented at any level in Fort Lauderdale. I will always admire the fact that he stood his ground. The FLPD couldn’t support him, after all, he was contradicting the conclusions of their white detectives. Judge Arthur, “Hang ’em High” Franza was a “Law and Order” judge. That meant, he weighed the evidence. Sometimes, back in those days, the testimony of those who were White might have carried more weight than the testimony of those who were Black. Doug Evans, I worked with you. I am proud to have known you. You know, it’s not even about saying, “I told you so.” As you said, “…there were all those girls.” Thank you for trying your best.

  • Great article. I felt like I was actually learning something about the town I live in. I’m glad I ran into this website, and learned Doug Evan’s story.

  • This was a great article!

  • Excellent stuff, Jon.

    Miss ya’ (and all the good reads you produced, like this one).

    –Your former pod-mate.

  • This guy is a real hero, I wish him well and hope his doctors are able to get his diabetes under control. Who knows how many lives he saved by being a really excellent police officer. Other departments could learn a lot from this man, God Bless him. I hope he is enjoying his well earned retirement.

  • Great Work,

    However, the system is trying to set this animal free again. You may want to check what has happened during the past 18 months.’

  • Thank you Mr. Evans. I lost so many nights of sleep over the death of my mother and people acted as if they did not care. I still shed many tears over her death. But to know someone was on her side gives me comfort. I am just reading this article because the newspaper never came to our family to get our story. But I want to say thank you.

    daughter of Geraldine Barfiled

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