(Introduction to show begins)
(Introduction to show begins)
TODD MATTHEWS (Host of Missing Pieces): I’m Todd Matthews. This is Missing Pieces. Tonight we have Dr, Joe Teal as a guest. Welcome Joe.
DR JOE TEAL (Guest): Well, thank you, Mr. Matthews.
TODD: Or, Doc. I’m going to call you Doc, and you call me Todd. (Laughs)
DOC TEAL: Actually, I’d rather call you Mr. Matthews because I understand you had a rough time at one time; folks gave you a hard time, and then when they got on national TV, they called you Mr. Matthews, so just out of respect… (Laughter) …okay, I’ll call you Todd.
TODD: I know exactly what you're talking about. I told you that story. I've had people that actually laughed at me and made fun of me, and then later on had to come back and it was a different story, but you know, it's perseverance. And I think that's what you've done in the case we're going to talk about tonight. You're a freelance reporter, and what else do you do?
DOC TEAL: Well, I’m an independent freelance reporter.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: I graduated from Connecticut School of Broadcasting about 17 years ago. I teach there now; I teach business and motivational success for people who want to be broadcasters. I teach different groups of journalists and broadcasters on how to be successful, even when they're in the field. And I am a member of the Atlanta Press Club. I have been on TBS, PBS, Ecuadorian National Television and several regional networks in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.
TODD: Now the doctor...what kind of doctor are you?
DOC TEAL: I'm an S.R.D.C. A Successfully Retired Doctor of Chiropractic.
TODD: Okay, so you are actually a medical-related doctor?
DOC TEAL: Pardon me?
TODD: So you are actually related to the medical field as a doctor?
DOC TEAL: Yes, as a chiropractor, I am. And I also teach classes for the American Academy of Pain Management and the International Association of Counselors and Therapists, and the majority of their audience is either M.D. or Ph.D.
TODD: Wow. Well, how does that tie into freelance reporting?
DOC TEAL: (Laughs) It gives me a good background as far as some of the evidence and the terminology that might be used. And anytime that you have, I guess, 'Doctor' in front of your name, it gives you a bit more credibility.
TODD: Uh huh. So you’re improvised something you’ve learned in one field and it helps you in another field.
DOC TEAL: Yeah, what I did, I also have training as I was going through school, I studied and became certified in certain aspects of civil and criminal investigation. So when I tied everything together, I had the civil and criminal investigation, I had my broadcasting background, and then I had my doctor background, so it was kind of a nice little meld of the three areas.
TODD: Wow. Well you've been quite busy; I've seen that. Now, I first heard from Doc a few weeks back, in fact, he contacted a lot of people with a mass blanket of media. He was working on a case, and he was looking for the ability to kind of throw it out there and get people to look at it. It's a six-year-old homicide case in Haleyville, Alabama, right?
DOC TEAL: Yes, the birthplace of the 9-1-1 Emergency phone system.
TODD: We'll talk about that too. Don't let me forget that. I'd like to talk about that during the rest of the conversation because that's an interesting point you bring up there. We're looking at the triple homicide of Randy Whitfield, Elmer Thrasher and Joette Thrasher, Haleyville's six-year-old cold case. Randall Harold Whitfield disappeared from his home without a trace, on December 8, 2001. Okay, can we pick up at that point and maybe you give us that in your own words?
DOC TEAL: Okay, Randy, apparently, was a well-known, well-liked young man; I say young, he was younger than me. He just suddenly disappeared, which was unusual and family members, when they found out that he was missing, they started looking for him. And he was, I guess, officially missing 2 days before the Thrashers were killed.
TODD: Uh huh. And has his body been located? What’s the status of him, right now?
DOC TEAL: Randy disappeared and he has never been found. He just totally disappeared without a trace. There has been no evidence of his remains. The local law enforcement has looked for his body in different areas. They've taken cadaver dogs and they thought, and this is…we'll talk more about this later, but you wonder why some people don't follow up when they get a lead on something like this. They had the cadaver dog, and they said that they hit the scent of a cadaver. Cadaver dogs just find cadavers, it's not like a bloodhound where they go after a specific smell of a person, the way I understand it, but the dog struck 3 times in this one particular area, and they kind of dug around a little bit, and then packed up and went home. And, as far as I know, it's never been followed back up on again. I do know that, at one time I was talking with Randy's mother, Virginia Horsley, and she has just been frantic over the past 6 years, trying to get somebody to pursue this and to continue. When I got involved in the case, unfortunately, it was pretty much dead in the water, and the family members had not heard anything from law enforcement in about 3 years. And poor Miss Horsley, she had tried for ever and ever, and there were situations where they would say, "Yes, we have a vehicle that we think Randy was transported in after he was killed." It went to the crime lab and one particular person who is a politician, he's not a law enforcement agent, but he's a politician, he said that he went to the state crime lab, and then they kind of say this as a disclaimer, I don't know any of this to be a fact, I didn't even know the victims, and I only knew the family members after I got started with the investigation. But I was told that this official told Miss Horsley, "I went with that vehicle and law enforcement to the state crime lab, and I watched as they disassembled that vehicle piece by piece, and all that we found was one shotgun pellet." One shotgun pellet. And after I started trying to put the pieces together, and understanding that the Thrashers had been shot by a shotgun, I asked Miss Horsley to follow up with that official and find out what type of shotgun shell or ball that is was…pellet that it was. Is it duckshot? Buckshot? Or what I call the pumpkin ball, or some people call it a 'slug.' Is it birdshot? Just what is it? And when she asked the man, he said, "I don't remember that but I'll go find out," and when he got back in touch with her, he said, "It wasn't a single shotgun pellet, it was 125 BBs." Now that takes your breath away. How can a single shotgun pellet end up being 125 BBs? And Miss Horsley got upset about it and called another crime lab, who did a little bit of searching, and their response was, "It could have been shotgun pellets and it could have been BBs." So that's how exact the science was on this, and when certain people checked into the whereabouts of that vehicle that had been disassembled so laboriously, there's no record of it ever having, as far as I know at this point, there was no record of it ever having been checked in at that facility. So there are a lot of questions there and I can understand why Miss Horsley would be so frustrated.
TODD: And I've spoken to her, in fact, she's quite compassionate about this, and frustrated, and everything all in one. We talked until my cell phone battery died, and I know she still didn't get it out, and that's no discredit to her, that's her compassion for this. She's had a hard time reaching to the media because, as you know, you have to put it into a nice little package, so that they can use that. And that's why it's taken us long to actually get you on this show because we were waiting for a good media release to help have something to present to the public, so that we'd have something. And I recommend that everybody actually read the media before actually listening to this broadcast, it'll help you understand exactly what we're trying to go for. One of the things I'm curious about, how do I know for a fact that Randy is dead? Randy Whitfield?
DOC TEAL: That’s a good question.
TODD: Homicide…the story says, “Triple homicide.” Now, do I know that he’s dead?
DOC TEAL: No. At first they thought that Randy was the perpetrator that either committed or assisted in committing the Thrasher murders.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: And then they later decided that, no, he was a victim also. There are theories that he may have encountered some information or maybe some threats and that he is on the run for his life. We don't know that, but I've even suggested the possibility that he might be in a Witness Protection Program somewhere, but I'm told that where that may be possible, it's not very probable. But again, all I know is what I'm told, and I don't always get the straight scoop on stuff. Back to Randy's mother, she is 72, going on 73 years old.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: She has had a mild stroke that just really set her back, and emotionally she is up and down and up and down, and can get very deeply depressed. I can understand why, she gets very frustrated, and I can understand why, but then she does get very energetic and enthusiastic and she just goes to talking again, and I think one of the reasons that the case has stayed alive is because she just kept talking about it.
TODD: Well she's lucky to have somebody like you and the crew that you work with, and we've got their picture on this page where everybody can see the people that you've been working with on this to help give her a more focused voice and, you know, it kind of levels out the highs and lows that she's going through. It's difficult. But we're going to go to the next part now. Now this is interesting, 72 hours later, on December 12, 2001, a 9-1-1 receives a mysterious hang-up call from the Thrasher residence. So, both Elmer and Joette Thrasher were murdered in their living room, both shot through a window.
DOC TEAL: Yes.
TODD: And their 5-year-old granddaughter was found sleeping on a sofa in one of the bedrooms. How are these murders, now these are known murders, how have they been related to Randy Whitfield?
DOC TEAL: You know it’s an interesting question. Some people do not think that they’re related, and others just swear that they are.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: It's a small community and everybody knows each other, and they had been seen together out and about so they apparently knew each other, at least casually, and possibly more. Randy was a well-liked fella. He sold cars and used vehicles, and the Thrashers sold furniture. I don't know how that worked out but they, apparently, were in some way tied together, at least as friends or acquaintances. And, like I said, at first they thought that Randy had committed the crime, and then they decided that, no, he is a victim.
TODD: So does Randy’s mother…did she know Joette and Elmer Thrasher, or know any of their relatives? Any light that she can shed on this situation?
DOC TEAL: I don't think that she knew any of them until after the fact, but since that time, she has become good friends with some of the Thrasher family members and they converse quite often. Some of the Thrasher family is more outspoken, as she tends to be, and some are very withdrawn and private, and they don't talk very much and it's kind of hard to get anything from them. But she has gone on her crusade to find her son and, in the meantime, she's trying to give support and receive support from the Thrasher family members as well. Some of them are very outspoken and just as passionate about the whole situation as Miss Horsley is.
TODD: Now when I first started talking to you, a few weeks back, and got to know you really well, it seems, over the past few weeks, but there was very, very, very little media, and we were waiting for this one piece of media to come out so that we could actually have something to build this show on; something to kind of launch it out. But, since then, you know you put out a pretty good blanket. You've got other media involved and interested right now. Is there any that you can talk about at this time?
DOC TEAL: Yes there is.
DOC TEAL: And I feel safe doing this. To give a little background, the way that I got involved in this…
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: …was that, some years ago, 4 or 5 years ago I guess, I asked a friend of mine who is an independent film maker in Atlanta; I talked so nicely about Haleyville, I love Haleyville, I'm from Haleyville, I was away from here for 25 years and I missed it every day of my life, and I moved back. I'm here about half the time and I'm in Georgia about half the time, if I'm not traveling and teaching. And I kept bragging about it and, "Oh, I've got to go to Alabama, got to go back home," and Patrick McGuire, he would ask me questions about Haleyville and he kind of got intrigued by it, and I told him he really needed to do a documentary because Haleyville is the birthplace of the 9-1-1 emergency phone system, and it's located in Winston County, which is known as the Free State of Winston. When Alabama seceded from the Union during the Civil War, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and they became known as the Free State of Winston. So it has a lot of rich history and legacy, and he said, "Yeah," he was going to look into it, and after he looked into it, he said, "I have walked among you and I am concerned about what I see." And I guess I was looking at it through 'rose-colored glasses' but he looked at it from an objective standpoint. He said, referring to us who live in Haleyville, he said, "You are a people who live in the shadow of apathy and fear." And he said apathy because the problems either don't pertain to you, it doesn't affect you at all, or maybe you have tried to overcome the problem and just had to give up because you were beat down. As far as the fear aspect, he said that there was an awful lot of allegations of political intimidation, waste, unchecked pollution, racism, cover-ups and unsolved crimes. And he asked me for information about a lot of these and one of the things he asked me about specifically was the Thrasher/Whitfield case, and I put together some details and I got it to him, and as I was gathering information and talking to people, I got an interest in it and I thought, "You know maybe I can help in this way. As Patrick is working on his documentary, maybe I can do something else." So what I did was, I brought in a team of investigative reporters from Atlanta – Bridget Snapp, Allen Chen and Lannie Walker. And they, at that time, they were working under contract with PBS in Atlanta, investigating politicians, in the state capital in Atlanta, and they were just finishing up their contract, and Lannie moved onto the island of Saipan in the Pacific; she's a news director there. Allen went back to Taiwan, where he has a lot of family connections in media. And Bridget Snapp stayed around; she's an attorney and an investigative reporter, and she stuck around in Atlanta, but also goes to California and New York on some stories. But, anyway, they came in on their own time and their own expense, and they came in in February, and spent 2 or 3 days investigating, filming, interviewing family members and law enforcement; they came back then in August, and did kind of a wrap up on it and put together a DVD, which we plan to have, somehow, on your website at some point in time.
TODD: It just needs a little minor editing, I think, and we’ll be able to have that up.
DOC TEAL: Yes, just a little bit of editing, and I hope you'll be ready to go with that. What they did, it's what I call 'stirring the soup.' I told Bridget and I tell all the newspapers and media people that I've talked to and teach, I say, "Just stir the soup and see what surfaces," and then go on that. Find the pain, and follow the money, and follow the anger, and when people are angry, it's usually because they're afraid of something, and in some cases, they're afraid that you're going to discover something. So, anyway, they came in, they 'stirred the soup' and everything just came along really well, and the Times Daily newspaper, which is owned by the New York Times, is a regional newspaper in Florence, Alabama, which is north of Haleyville; they did a story when Bridget and her crew first came into Haleyville in February. And then, they have been investigating along the way, and recently concluded their investigation, and this past Sunday, which was kind of ironic, it was the day in between the anniversary that Randy disappeared and the Thrashers were murdered. On December 9th, they came out with a wonderful article about that, and things from there have just gone crazy. I had called and contacted all kinds of media and everyone was sympathetic, but it was very hard to get their attention. The only thing that really helped it stick to begin with is the fact that I'm a freelance reporter. I was able to get through, like with 'America's Most Wanted,' instead of just talking to a phone operator who would say, "Put it in writing and send it to us," and maybe you'd get a postcard back saying, "We can't help you." They immediately put me through to a producer so, in that respect, I was lucky in being part of the media. But since that time, coming up now we have, this coming Monday, which is the day after tomorrow…no…what day is this? This is Friday.
TODD: Yeah, it’s Friday. (Laughter)
DOC TEAL: You ever do that? I get lost sometimes. This is Friday. Well, anyway, this coming Monday, 'Crime Stoppers' out of the ABC affiliates in Birmingham, they're coming into Haleyville to do an update on the situation and the investigation. They were the first, and I guess the only, outside media source that came in 6 years ago, and Jeremy King, who is the reporter that works with 'Crime Stoppers' through the ABC affiliate there, he went back into the archives and invested his time and efforts, which was great, and he came up with the original tapes from 6 years ago to use as a foundation. And now they're coming in on Monday to do an update on that. I got great news yesterday, or the day before, I got an email from the producer that I've been talking to for about 6 months at 'America's Most Wanted.' He said he apologized a blue streak for everything taking so long. He has covered…there are so many unsolved crimes out there, as you well know, but what he did, he assigned this story, officially assigned it to a producer, and we anticipate, no promises because things aren't that predictable in the news outlets, but we hope that by this next week some time, and I'm told that it will happen, that this story will be up on the webpage…
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: …for ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ and once they get that going, then they’re going to talk to me about how we can possibly get the story featured on the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ TV show.
TODD: And I'm just as happy to have it featured on the website because that's more permanent. And even some of the news media, you get in run on your ABC affiliates and a lot of times it runs, and unless you're there to see it, you miss it. And I think it's important to leave it stuck out there; that's what we try to do with Missing Pieces, try to leave it stuck out there so that somebody can pick it up.
DOC TEAL: Well I thank you so much for this because I've noticed on your webpages and I hope that that will be out there forever too. It's very impressive and I think it will get a lot of attention. Over the last year and a half, there have been at least 6 outside, independent media investigations into the goings-on in the city of Haleyville, and I'm proud to say that in one way or another, that I have been involved, to at least a small degree, in each one of those. It may have been a tip that led to it. It may have been…like with 'Dateline NBC', they were in last year investigating another unsolved crime and I hosted them at my wife's and my historic building on Main Street in Haleyville, and that's where I met the producer from 'Dateline,' and I've been conversing with her the whole year. It was December of last year that I met her and I told her about this case and she and everyone was swamped, but she recently sent it onto a colleague of hers and told me about it and said if she's interested, she'll contact you. And the new producer from 'Dateline' did contact me and talked to me about it, and she's interested in it enough, that she's pitching it to her bosses, to the powers that be, to get their approval to go with this story. '48 Hours Mystery' called me, that massive email information that I sent out to so many people, I got a response back from a CBS '48 Hours Mystery' producer, who talked to me at length and did some investigation, and ended up pretty much telling me that they would be interested after someone has been arrested…
DOC TEAL: …prosecuted and gone through the Crime TV, Court TV, that type of thing. And then recently, your website, as soon as I made it available to other people, you were listed up in Toronto. So your website is getting some good publicity up in the Toronto area as well.
TODD: It's amazing…I know how much…I used to wonder why' 48 Hours,' 'Dateline,' and you know, I've been involved with some of those guys on other projects, you know I thought they probably get all these wonderful emails, and why don't they just answer them, because I've been turned down on the Tent Girl case many times, you know, these rejection letters, I could paper a wall with them.
DOC TEAL: I’m sure.
TODD: But now that I'm doing this, I'm getting to understand, because I can't even handle what I'm getting, and I can imagine what they're getting. You know, it's probably a million times more than the letters I get, and you want to help everybody, but there has to be a certain criteria. You have to have somebody that can be the spokesperson for the group, and you've been able to do that effectively but, sometimes, in doing these interviews, I can't find anybody that I can actually interview and be able to get a good, solid, credible interview out of it where they're so passionate one way of the other that it kind of tips the scales the wrong way, and it's hard to really give them a good show, and a good way of presenting their case when they're so left-handed with something. So they're very lucky.
DOC TEAL: Not everyone is that good of an interview and I don’t claim to be the best. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time in the media, is being interviewed.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: And it's like I told you, I believe in choreographed spontaneity; I'm not that spontaneous with things, but I do welcome any opportunity. To give you a little bit of good news, I mentioned the name of a producer at 'America's Most Wanted,' you said that there were some new people and you didn't recognize her name…
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: …well she recognized yours when I told her we were working together and planning for this interview, so you're probably better known than you realize because this is someone that you don't know that has heard of you, and she said, "Yes, that 'America's Most Wanted' has worked with you in the past and they've interviewed you on at least one occasion."
TODD: Yeah. Yeah, I've actually got to work with them. The thing of it is, with the producers, unless you're working with them, you can watch a whole show that they had their hands all over it and never see the name of that producer, if you're watching it from a public standpoint. You know, a lot of times they're asking questions but only see your answers when it gets on television. Now, I worked with Paul LaRosa at '48 Hours' as the producer of that segment and you see nothing of him in that entire segment, period. Except in the end credits. And he's my most visual remembrance of doing that interview, you know, I see his face, as we were doing the interview.
DOC TEAL: Wow. Amazing. Isn't that amazing? And I'm impressed with you. I know this is not about you, it's not about me; it's about Randy, Elmer and Joette. But kudos to you, my hat's off to you; I'm so pleased that a producer at NBC is pitching a story about your life for a regular series and I hope that that will follow through. It'll be a great venue for you to expose a lot of the problems that people are having with unsolved crimes. You can actually use that and work it into some of the scripts.
TODD: Could, and you know, that was the plan. That was the plan to try to work it in that way and I'm hoping that I can get to work with them in that fashion. It's a dream. I hope it will happen. But if it doesn't, I've definitely got a few other things going that will help bring things to light, and I'm hoping a lot of things, but the bottom line is to help some of the people with these cases that just have nowhere to go, you know. I want the most forgotten, the most neglected, or a case like this where I can teach by example, and I think that's what we can do with this case, kind of show a how-to before '48 Hours' gets here, before 'Dateline' gets here, before 'America's Most Wanted' gets here, and I'm like you, I'm used to being interviewed, not being the interviewer.
DOC TEAL: (Chuckles) Uh huh.
TODD: So I had to learn how to do that too, and not that I do it really well, but at least people are listening. And that’s the good thing; people are listening.
DOC TEAL: That's right. And if you're passionate, knowledgeable and direct, and stand up and speak up and then shut up, you know, you say your piece and get it out there and let people act on it accordingly. One thing that you do, and you've kind of become my hero, I found out you've been doing for 20 years what I've been struggling through for just one year, and I thought, "Wow, how did you handle it for 20 years?" What you do is, you offer people hope, and you know, hope has been broken down into 'helping other people escape.'
DOC TEAL: It is a horrible situation that people live in when they have family members that have just disappeared without a trace, and nobody, nobody will give them any information, and it seems like the case is going nowhere. Or maybe your parents or some other family member has been killed in a horrific manner, you give these people hope, and you don't want it to be false hope and it's like, when I was working with the Thrasher family and the Whitfield family, I told them, "The only thing I promise you is that I will never give up."
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: “I don’t know what I’m doing, but what I’m doing seems to work, so I’m going to keep at it.”
TODD: A lot of time people just want to say something. You know it's just like, "I've been dying to say something for 20 years and nobody will let me say it. Nobody will ever let me say it." A lot of time you're interviewed, you're interviewed for 10 minutes and you're trimmed down to 15 seconds, so you never really got it out. You know, it's how you feel, if it's not too extreme or too ridiculous or just too slanderous or libelous, we try to go ahead and let you speak, it's completely unedited, and let people say exactly what's on their mind, and express some of the challenges that they've actually run into trying to get to this point. And what were some of your challenges?
DOC TEAL: (sighs)
TODD: With this case in particular?
DOC TEAL: One of my challenges was keeping the family members motivated. Again, the only thing I promised them is that I will keep trying.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: Even if I get publicity, I said, "My goal is to get the publicity and then let the powers that be, that are paid to do that kind of thing and do it much better than I do, even though I'm trained in civil and criminal investigation, it's been a while." I just wanted to keep them motivated and say, "I'm going to do the publicity, but I can't guarantee we'll get it. And once we get it, I can't guarantee that there'll be any solutions to the case. We just don't know." But I told them, "All I ask of you is to keep yourselves motivated, and if I ask you to do something very quickly, please do it, because, as you know, timing is everything in this. If you want to get something on the TV, you've got to get it at the right time."
TODD: And be ready to respond. That’s it.
DOC TEAL: That's it. You've got to, in order to get their attention. Many times I've said, "I wish you'd contacted me earlier this morning. It's too late now." Sometimes, you've maybe waited a week, and they say, "Well, you know, we needed that 2 weeks ago. We're doing something else now, or we've decided not to do that." But, anyway, the thing with trying to keep them motivated, and God bless them, I don't know how they've stayed motivated this long, but that was one thing, trying to keep them going so they could keep me motivated because I'm just volunteering my time on this. All of us that are working on this, from my angle of it, we're doing it completely as a community service, just trying to get justice for people. And it's like I told you, you're the voice for people that have no voice. And that's what we're trying to be for them and offer them hope. That was one thing. The other total frustration is the lack of cooperation from some of the officials here. Now, let me say, Haleyville is a wonderful place or I never would have come back here. I love the place. I love the people; 99.99% of the people are just fabulous, wonderful people, but we have a handful of people here who try to impose their will on other people, and they don't want the case investigation renewed. They want it to just stay on the vine and finish drying up. And some of the official, I had to jump through so many hoops, needlessly. We could have had this on national television 6 months ago if we had not had so much interference from people who, I have to think, did it deliberately. Either that, or they're just so careless that they'll tell you something and just hope you'll go away, and there was no fact to it whatsoever. But I've been sent in totally the wrong direction, looking for something, by officials; now some of these are law enforcement officials, some of them are elected officials, some are merely appointed officials; but I was given misinformation and then when I would say, "I looked at such and such and it didn't turn out," and I would be almost accused of being stupid. "Well, why did you do that? You know we've looked at that already," but that's not what they told me initially. Or they might say, "Make a phone call and I will authorize the release of this information," and you line all of your ducks in a row, and the phone call is made, and the person's promised information will be released, and then later you get yelled at. And, you know, rudeness is not a virtue.
DOC TEAL: Rudeness is not a virtue, and yet so many of the people that you encounter, that have the answers and the solutions, or at least the resources to solve things, they become rude. Anyway, they would yell at me and tell me that I shouldn't be doing this, or I shouldn't be doing that. And, like in this case, the phone call, "Well, we made the phone call." "Well, you weren't supposed to make a phone call, you were supposed to put it in writing." Well, they never said that. I know that a producer at 'America's Most Wanted' was promised, just with a phone call, that a certain law enforcement agency would release information. And then it never happened, and when I followed up, I got yelled at and told that 'America's Most Wanted' is not interested in this; if they were interested in this, they would have put it in writing, like I told them to do. And that's just one of the many frustrating hoops that I've had to jump through. Plus, someone, and you've gone through the same thing too, people try to discredit me on the local level. In this investigation, family members of the victims have been told not to talk to me and that I'm only in for a book deal.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: Well, it never crossed my mind, although it is idea. If we could get a bestseller, then millions of people would know about this case and maybe help get it solved. But that wasn't where my thoughts were, but yet, that was the accusation that was made. Poor…I won't say who it was, but one of the family members, who was just distraught, someone who is an appointed official who has a lot of authority, who has a lot of potential resource to help, tried to discourage the family member from talking to me by telling her she needed to "watch her back" when she deals with me. Since that time, that person has been totally discredited because I was able to follow through where that other person just kept blowing smoke. But I've been labeled as a troublemaker, kind of like you were during your situation, and now they're calling you "Mr." (Laughter)
TODD: Yeah, it did change. It definitely changed.
DOC TEAL: But, you know, Tony Robbins is probably one of the greatest motivators of our time; he was bigger in the '80s and the '90s, but he's still around and he's influencing a lot of people. He said, "Any new idea goes through 3 stages. The first one is ridicule." You and I have been laughed at. "The next is viciously attacked." I've had my share, I'm sure you've had your share. "And then the third step is that the idea becomes as a known as a self-evident fact. And everybody will tell you, 'Well, we knew that from the start. What's your point? What's the big issue here? Why are you so upset?'" And really, I added to that, the fourth step is, the person who proposes the new idea, is never given credit for what they initially proposed and all the hard work. Other people then try to ride on their coat tails. So you and I have been laughed at, we've been viciously attacked, and now pretty much we're told, like they told you, "Mr Matthews you've done these wonderful things." Well now I have people that did totally nothing and could have done so much, I had one person tell me the other day that they will never give up on this case, well give up on what, you know? And really, when you think about it though, one of my statements that I've made to the family members, so long as I keep them going, is, "Even if you run into obstacles, if you can get one minute's help from 60 people, you've got a whole hour's worth of help." And if we can get someone to do just a little thing, like one law enforcement agent, I had to twist his arm for 2 months to get him to do something, but then he followed through. It just takes assistance and persistence to overcome resistance.
TODD: Now what happens when 'America's Most Wanted' they do come down and start working on something and law enforcement won't work with them? Because traditionally they stick with only us law enforcement. Because they're doing it right now. It's a matter of, who wants to do it and who don't want to do it? Law enforcement don't want to do it, or 'America's Most Wanted' don't want to do it, for whatever reason, you know, you're getting two different things here. What happens if law enforcement says, "We won't work with you," are they going to go away?
DOC TEAL: I don't think so. They have personally thanked me for my persistence, both the original, I'll go ahead and give his name…his name Sedg Tourison. He may say, "Yeah, thanks a lot, Doc," and now he'll get a million more requests. But Sedg Tourison has been lending me his ear and letting me just bend his ear for about 6 months, even though he's been swamped. And I get an email from him saying, "I made the phone call, I might send an email, but now I'm off to Louisiana for 3 weeks and I'll be back in the office whenever. Hopefully my assistant, so and so, can help out," but it didn't materialize. But yet, when I got the email from him, he thanked me for my persistence for keeping this in the forefront. And his producer, that he assigned the case, officially assigned it, when I talked with her, I said, "I guess he just gave up and gave the case to you, huh?" She said, "No, he never gives up. He's just swamped with it," and she also thanked me for being persistent in this. I was warned ahead of time of two things. Number one that that you won't get very much help from law enforcement in Alabama.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: And number two, there's certain people, if their name ever surfaces in an investigation, that investigation will immediately be shut down. Some people have a lot of clout. This town is now less than a city. A lot of people have been killed, they've died of disease, they've moved away to prevent starvation because the industries are leaving here. And I blame it on a handful of people, who are involved in cover-ups, and I won't say corruption, but some people do say the word corruption. But people are leaving here…we're down now to 4,200 people in a town that was over 5,000 at the last census. So people are going, but they're leaving, and some of them are being killed. You know, I told one of our senators from here, I said, "Someone and something is killing our people and town, and we need to find out who it is, and what is their motivation in this." So, I think, in answer to your question, that everybody knows that it's hard to get any assistance, but if you persevere, like Johnnie Cochran said, "Don't give up, and don't give in." If you just keep on keepin' on, eventually it just breaks down the resistance, and they see that you're not going to go away, and they might as well do something. Someone once told me that people are basically lazy, and that includes me, but people take the path of least resistance, and really in today's struggles, that only makes sense. You have to put out the big fires before you put out the small fires. But the way to get done what you need doing is to create a situation where the path of least resistance, is to give you what you want, and then you'll go away and they won't have to deal with you anymore. So the easiest thing is, "Let's investigate this case. Let's do what we can to help and get this thing solved." What I would like to know, and I've made some contact and I'm told that if they're not in here already, they will be coming, some private detectives. Investigative reporters can get a lot of publicity and they can scratch the surface…
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: …but private detectives can dig much deeper, even though they're not that acquainted with getting good publicity, they can dig much deeper and get closer to the heart of the matter, and find out really the 'who?' and the 'why?' and then working together. In fact, I told you, I speak to broadcasters, I'm scheduled early next year to speak to university that teaches criminal justice programs, and talk to groups that want to specialize in being private detectives, how to link up with people who are journalists and investigative reporters to get a much better story and a much better outcome. Not just, "This is happening. But, hey, we solved it!"
TODD: But you know, in talking to you, I’m realizing that this is beyond the Thrasher/Whitfield case.
DOC TEAL: Yes.
TODD: I think you’ve got something more, because if this case is solved tomorrow, you know, what’s going on in Haleyville? You’re still going to work on that?
DOC TEAL: They’re still going to work on it.
TODD: You’re still going to work on it, I think.
DOC TEAL: I’m going to still work on it and, well, I don’t give up and I don’t give in. I think I will, like I said, you can’t do anything by yourself…
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: …you need assistance. But with assistance and persistence, you overcome resistance. And yes, we have a lot of problems here, and these people are good people. A lot of them are being run out because they just can't stand it anymore; they go away. And others stick it out and they're very unhappy; they want to live here, this is their home, and they could leave but they want to stay. And I hear so often, and this is scary, they would say, "Would it be bad if your house were to burn with you and your family in it?" It goes that deep.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: It's been going on for several years and I didn't realize just how much until I started getting involved in this. We do, indeed, live in the shadow of apathy and fear here in Haleyville. Wonderful people, wonderful town, but when you try to talk to people, you'll have the passive folks, and I don't blame them, I'm not pointing fingers, I just accept things as they are and people as they are, and I understand where they're coming from. Passive people say, "Can't we get along? Let's avoid conflict. I'm afraid you're going to make our city look bad." I was told that by a passive individual. Well an unsolved triple murder that's been cold for 6 years, how is that making the city look? Well then, the aggressive people, they want things left alone and they will say, "You're nothing but a trouble maker," and I've been told that. "Nothing by a trouble maker," someone, an aggressive person told one of the family member, "I wish he would just go away." Well I'm not going away. I came back here after 25 years, I'm here only part time; I may go away, but I come back again when the time is right for me. I think that this is just the beginning. Bridget has helped get things going off the launching pad. The Times Daily Newspaper, that's owned by the New York Times, that got it out in orbit. And now, what you're doing is going to help it revolve around and around, and just keep going and going and going with this thing. And I thank you because, like I said, I can't do it by myself. Nobody can do it by themselves, but if you have assistance, and then you continue with your persistence, you can do so much. And I thank you for your assistance that you're offering here.
TODD: Well hopefully it's going to help. That's the main thing. But we'll definitely help relate your story and, hopefully, we'll give you a case file page, because this page is intended to stay here permanently where we can focus all of your media efforts because we're not the typical media. You know this is not a commercial show, it's more of a public service announcement, so we're non-biased in our network affiliations with anybody. Anybody can use this material and we'll put anybody's material here, so everything that you feel is a genuine reflection of this case, we'll put it here. We'll transcribe this actual interview and we'll put it here, so you'll have a good reference point so anybody that wants to see what all's been done in this case, they'll be able to go to this one place and get the data that they need to help take it further. And I think that it's just, you know, a lot of people suffered here but there's a bigger picture and, hopefully, people coming here will see that there's more. Because you can't get much more trouble than the Thrashers got into, I mean, you talk about having problems, how much worse can it get?
DOC TEAL: Yes.
TODD: Does everybody want to…?
DOC TEAL: Get brutally murdered…
DOC TEAL: …and then the family members, pretty much ignored. Some law enforcement officers and agencies have worked with me. Some have helped me a lot. Have I got a few more minutes?
TODD: Yeah, we do.
DOC TEAL: There was one federal agent, I won't say what agency or what his name is, he told me he understands my pain, but he said, "Unfortunately different law enforcement agencies," and this was his terminology, "they don't play very well together in the sandbox." That they're Type-A personalities; they don't want you telling them what to do, and I find that entirely frustrating because they're all being paid to represent us, and when they let personality and politics get in the way of the people's business, to me that's negligence. As a doctor, if I overlook something just because I didn't like another doctor and didn't want to work with him, and the patient suffered, that's considered negligence. And I would say that if someone, just for personality disagreements or for politics, let something like that interfere or get in the way of inter-agency co-operation. You know, that's how we got in trouble with 9-11.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: 9-11 would not have been anymore than just another day of the year, if the different agencies had played together well in the sandbox and passed on information, and I won't go any more there because I don't want to get political myself, but if they would just work to on this. Now, that was one law enforcement…one fed told me that, one federal agent from a federal agency told me that. I had another, an employee of a federal agency, who got so tired of the frustration and the hoops that I was having to jump through, he said, "If I were an agent myself," he's not an agent, he said, "If I were an agent, I would go in and work on that for free, on the situation that's going on there in Haleyville," and after a few months, he emailed me, he says, "I'm getting involved anyway. I'm going to go ahead and get involved in this." He said, "Send me everything you've got." And what he did, after I sent him the information, what he did was, he kept asking me questions and, "Can you give me more information about this or that?" And we were just unofficially doing something and it was headed in the right direction. Well then, unfortunately, his boss found out what was going on and he was severely reprimanded and ordered, "Never to speak to me again." And when I talked with him, he said he didn't know what got them all upset, "but I tried to do the right thing and got myself in trouble." And I was told that if I wanted to follow up on this, that I had to contact such and such a person at a higher level in that agency, and I called and talked to that person, and he literally yelled at me over the telephone. It's like I was interfering in some way and, believe me, before I got involved in this, I have people in highly placed areas that I can depend on when they tell me that there's no federal investigation going on, or that there's no hope of a federal investigation coming in here, and I believe them, and he made it sound like I was investigating in some huge federal investigation that doesn't even exist. And he told me, "Just get your story and move on." And, you know, being a community advocate, I had to pursue this, and I said, "Well, what happens when a citizen has information? Who do they turn it in to?" "Turn it in to you local law enforcement…"
DOC TEAL: "And if you try that, and it doesn't work?" And again, there are some great law enforcement officers here. Every year, my wife and I present the Teal Award for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, here in Haleyville, because we know there are some great cops that need recognition. But I asked him, "What do you do when you try to present this and nobody will do anything with it?" And then he told me how you have to make an appointment with someone who is on duty at a certain time that day, drive all the way to Birmingham, meet with that person, give them the information, and once you've given the information, you go home and you're out of this.
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: He was yelling at me. I said, "Well, what if you get updated information?" And then he really yelled at me, he said, "Are you a cop?!" (Laughs) I said, "No, I'm not a cop." And he just gave me the same type thing that I'm sure you've had to endure for 20 years. But, you know, I don't want a fed after me for no good reason, I remember what happened to…what was the guy in Atlanta, the security guard, he's dead now? They put him through, pardon my French, they put him through hell for saving people's lives at the Olympic Park bombing…
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: You know who I’m talking about?
TODD: Yeah. Actually we'll look it up and we'll put a link to that story so that will know that we forgot and we're trying to remember, but we'll put a link to it in this text at some point.
DOC TEAL: I was actually going to contact him and I found out he recently died, but they put his mother through hell. They made…they just ruined the lives of those people for a while. He, eventually, was able to get out of it, they cleared him of all charges, but rather than focusing on the person, they're going after the whistle-blower.
DOC TEAL: Or the hero, in this case. And there’s a group called POGO that you may want to check into, I don’t know what it stands for, but it’s a political oversight committee of some type. POGO, you can look them up on the web. (Project On Governmental Oversight) . They are involved in saving whistle-blowers when they’re trying to turn in information against government officials that are corrupt, or mismanagement or whatever, but they’re involved and I hear from them a lot, and they’ve been kind of encouraging me along, even though they’re not that much involved in this, they’re totally interested in it. In fact, it amazes me, and this is what the Thrasher and Whitfield family members tell me, it is amazing how people outside of town, take so much interest and will spend so much time and energy helping, at their own expense, so much more than people who are here in town, who actually get paid to do that.
TODD: Well, it’s the fear factor, Doc. You know it’s…maybe people there…because I’ve seen things going on in my town, and you think, “You know, maybe you’re just better off keeping your mouth shut.” It might not involve a homicide, but it’s some degree of injustice, and you think, “Well, I don’t want that to happen to me.” And sometimes the best thing is to…you know, you tell your child, “Mind your own business, and stay out of trouble.”
DOC TEAL: Yeah.
TODD: You tell your child, “Just mind your business. Stay out of trouble. Don’t get in somebody else’s business.” And, you know, that’s for their protection. You know there’s a point in your life where that’s not the case, you know, you do have to get involved, but you might pay for it. So, somebody there might be a little afraid that they might have to pay for that.
DOC TEAL: I totally agree. I agree with that. I told anyone that came forward anonymously, I wouldn’t know who they were, but if they would come forward, and I would tell them, “I understand exactly what you’re saying,” because some people fear for their lives. One person, who spoke out, was fired from his job, so I can understand they fear of loss of a job, loss of a life, loss of property, whatever. Some people are afraid of loss of respect.
DOC TEAL: Elected politicians and aggressive people are good at intimidating, where they make you feel like, “If you’re nice to me, I won’t yell at you,” so you’re nice to them so that they won’t yell at you, and I agree with that, but so many people outside of here have helped. And I was talking to several of our elected officials, and this is what’s pathetic, and I’d kind of like to send a message to folks that if you want to get involved, get involved. One person can make a lot of difference. You can’t do it alone, as I’ve said, you have to have assistance, but if you can find just a few people to give you a little bit of help, you’ve got a lot of help when it’s added up. But I would get all these lame excuses. These are elected officials, that are supposed to represent the people, and they would say things like, “Well, I can’t do anything, I’m just one person.” I said, “Well, I’m just one person, and I’ve managed to get ‘America’s Most Wanted’ interested in this case.” “Well, yeah…” and then they kind of blow it off, or they’ll say, listen to this, “I’m only an elected official, I don’t have any clout.”
DOC TEAL: Well you’ve got enough clout to spend our tax money. You know, people listen to you when you’re talking about, “Let’s spend the money this way. And let’s make these laws. And let’s do that.” I said, “Do you have enough clout that you can talk to another couple of people who don’t have any clout? They’re only one individual at the time. Now you’ve got 3 or 4 working together and if you would just come out…” “Well, it’s not my job to tell law enforcement what to do.” “Well, if they’re not doing everything they should do, yes it is your job!”
TODD: Well, they have influence. They have influence. That’s the thing.
DOC TEAL: They have influence.
TODD: And it’s good that we, the public, we can reach out from outside. You know, I’m out of harm’s way in this, so it’s easy for me make comments about something that’s going on in Haleyville, without having to worry about someone shooting me at my front door here in Livingston.
DOC TEAL: (chuckles)
TODD: You know I don’t have to worry about that.
DOC TEAL: You’ve got a valid point.
TODD: So I can be brave. I can say whatever I like.
DOC TEAL: I understand completely.
TODD: I’ve got one more question for you.
DOC TEAL: But you can’t run. It’s like Miss Horsley said.
DOC TEAL: She said, “You can’t crawl under the bed and die.”
TODD: Of course she can’t. She can’t. I mean this is her child.
DOC TEAL: Yeah.
TODD: She’s got to do what she can.
DOC TEAL: Can you imagine if it was your child that disappeared, or if it was your parents were brutally shot gunned to death. Would you like to hear those…and it didn’t happen to me, I don’t even have kids and my parents have passed away of natural causes but, you know, how would these people that are interfering deliberately, or just staying out of the way because it doesn’t affect them at all, how would they feel if it was their parents or their son who had been either killed or disappeared, or whatever. You know, I had someone who is a civic leader, who is a good friend of mine, he’s given me silent support the whole time, but he’s told me, “I’ve got to stay behind the scenes,” and I understand completely, but he said, “Doc, you’ve stepped on a lot of toes.” And I said, “Yes, and if they would keep their feet out of the way and stop trying to trip me up, I wouldn’t be stepping on their toes.” And you have to take that kind of an approach. Passive people have to be reassured, and aggressive people have to be tamed down; you have to put a choke collar on them. And it’s like one friend says, “Metaphorically speaking, you’ve got to put your foot on their neck and hold them down.”
TODD: Uh huh.
DOC TEAL: You’ve got to be heard. You’ve got to exert your power, and as American citizens, as taxpayers, victims have as much or maybe more rights as other people. They should stand up, speak out and fight back. And just never, never, never give up.
TODD: Well you’re definitely a champion for the cause there in Haleyville, Alabama. You’ve definitely tried.
DOC TEAL: Thank you.
TODD: You’ve made a big difference whether it’s real apparent to you yet, or not, it will be soon, I’m sure. I’m sure it will. And let’s go back. I’ve got one more question for you.
DOC TEAL: Okay.
TODD: Tell me about 9-1-1. How did little ole’ Haleyville, this little town with all the problems it has now, they helped give birth to the 9-1-1 system that we all use today?
DOC TEAL: It’s amazing. It’s a history unto itself, and I always heard that we were the birthplace, but I never knew the true story until I heard it on CBS, at the national level. (Laughs) What happened was, someone had…there was a small little phone company in Alabama that had the idea, “We need a phone number that people call and get immediate emergency response.” So they made…this was a small phone company in Alabama, they were all small back then, I guess, and they gave a news release out that this phone company is going to create, starting in Alabama, the 9-1-1 emergency phone system. You just call 9-1-1 and then you get immediate assistance. Well, someone at the phone company in Haleyville grabbed the idea and ran with it. So they kind of pirated the idea. I think that was the term that they used on the national news where it said that the phone company pirated the idea, and then they set it up here. And that’s okay I guess. At least we got it. Who knows, the other company might not have followed through with it and we wouldn’t have such a thing today. But this is the birthplace of the 9-1-1 emergency phone system, and it’s ironic that 9-1-1 was not able to help the Thrasher family. It’s estimated…it’s guessed at, that Mrs. Thrasher knew something was wrong, picked up the telephone, called 9-1-1, and I’m told by one source and some other sources, that there was just a dead line by the time it was answered. And the 9-1-1 operator kept trying to get someone, but couldn’t get it, hung up, called back and got a busy signal. And yet, someone else told me that there was broken glass from a window that had gotten on the telephone, in such a way that the phone could not be hung up, that it was an open line. An elected official told me, and I can’t understand the controversy here, and no one wants to talk about it, and I don’t want to get anybody fired, I mean people can make mistakes, but why the runaround that I keep getting here on this? I’m told, by an elected official, that the person, who answered the 9-1-1 emergency phone call, mishandled it because she was not properly trained, and she has since been let go. Others say, “Well, no, she’s still working there, and still working, if not in that department, in the department next door to that, but she’s still there.” So why would we get mixed messages, and I’m not pointing a finger at her, I don’t know how I would have handled the situation either if nobody answered, I don’t know what I would have done. But then they say that she wasn’t properly trained. Well, she should have been. I mean this has been going on for a long time. I think it was like the ‘50s or the ‘60s that 9-1-1 began, and this was only 6 years ago that this case happened, so they should have been trained better than that. I’m told that at the Thrasher murder scene, there were so many police officers just trampling over everything that any evidence that was there, would have been totally destroyed. They were just everywhere, just swarming all over the place. And one elected official said, “Well, you have to understand, they’re not trained to investigate, they’re only traffic cops; they’re trained to be traffic cops.” My response is, “Then keep them away from a crime scene until you can get someone who is a trained investigator.” You know, I’m a doctor, but if someone needs brain surgery, I’m not going to run into the emergency room and trample all over everything, and contaminate everything. I’m no brain surgeon. I’m a doctor; I’m good at what I do, but I’m not going to run into a heart transplant or something like that. Same thing with law enforcement, if they had an investigator there, and I was told that they had people from the FBI, the ABI, which is the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, they had the coroner there, but then they had police officers and state troopers from all over the area, all over the area, and they shouldn’t have been there. There was a question of timing, as far as roping off the crime scene. Some people say it was done immediately, some said it wasn’t done until the next day. Some said half of it was done that day, half of it, the next day. I had one law enforcement officer tell me, “I know it was roped off, I did it myself.” I said, “Well this other officer told me he did it.” And his response was, “Oh yeah, well maybe he did. I can’t remember.”
DOC TEAL: Why all the confusion? What’s the big secret about this case? Why would…I’m going far beyond the 9-1-1, I guess, but why would the right-hand person of a US congressman, yell at me and fuss at me, simply because I asked him to ask the congressman to write a letter to law enforcement encouraging them to work with the outside media?
TODD: I mean that’s not a big deal. I mean you were just asking a question, “Can you use your influence to help move this forward in a positive way?”
DOC TEAL: And the thing of it is, I know this congressman personally, and I’ll just bet you, if I were a betting man, and I might lose, but I just bet you, he didn’t even know about the conversation. And this same congressman has written letters for me, that were a little controversial, a little bit touchy, but he knows how to handle those things, that’s why he keeps being re-elected. I just bet he didn’t know anything about it, but I called one person and they said, “You’ve got to talk to his right-hand man,” and he just gave me 30 minutes of why he can’t do this and that, things I didn’t even ask him to do. And I said, “I’m not asking you to do it, I’m asking the congressman to do it.” He said, “Well, I’ll have to do it, and I’ll have to make a phone call.” And after all that, all I asked him to do was have the congressman write a letter encouraging the law enforcement agencies to work with the outside media, and when it was all said and done, after all of this fury, he said, “All I can do is, I can make a phone call and encourage law enforcement to work with outside media.” And I said, “That’s all I’m asking.”
TODD: He got the point.
DOC TEAL: But then I gave up on getting the congressman to write the letter, and whether he made the phone call or not, I don’t know. But, what’s the secret about this case? Why do they say, “I’m not going to tell law enforcement what to do,” when they don’t even know what I’m asking them to do? Why would someone tell me, “I can’t tell you anything about an on-going investigation,” when it turns out, they don’t even know where the files are?
TODD: Well, we’re going to ask our audience to stay tuned to this page for updates, and we’re going to continue to post the updates to find out where things are going from here with all of the other media efforts involved in it and see where it goes and, hopefully, we’ll have you back, if you don’t get so caught up with the bigger dogs in the media, and that you won’t talk to us anymore, but I think you will.
DOC TEAL: I will always remember your assistance. Thank you so much.
TODD: We will try. And we’ll tell everybody goodnight, and I’m going to talk to you about a little back problem that I’ve got. (Laughter) But, hopefully, we’ll just stay positive, you know, and stay…you’ve remained really positive, with all the adversity that you’ve encountered, and I try to, too, and tell everybody to check back and see what happens next.
DOC TEAL: Thank you again.
TODD: All right. Thanks, everybody, and good night.
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