Thursday, March 04, 2021

Rams to Face the Steadily Improving Flyers

Sophomore guard Bones Hyland
For VCU, facing Dayton for a third time this basketball season is hardly the easy first game of a conference tournament one might expect to see served up for a second place team, a team  that finished the regular season only a half-game behind the league's top team.  

VCU fans should note that Dayton is better than they were on Jan 23, when the Rams humbled the Flyers at the Siegel Center: 66-to-43. Yes, that one was rather easy. It surprised me then to see an Anthony Grant-coached team look so lackluster. 

On Feb. 9, Dayton was much tougher on their home court, UD Arena. VCU won: 76-to-67. Since then the Flyers have only continued to improve. Now they carry themselves like a confident team. Ask Rhody. 

Dayton isn't short on talent either. And, Grant can still coach. So I hope the running Rams shoot well and steal the ball 25 times.

The Atlantic 10 tournament's third quarterfinal game will be played at the Siegel Center on Friday, March 5. It is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. Dayton (14-8, 9-7 A-10. NET No. 86 at this writing) will face VCU (17-6, 10-4 A-10. NET No. 36 at this writing). 

Of course, these two teams know each other well enough that they both think they've seen something to do with particular match-ups they hope to exploit. Trends? Dayton has won three of its last four games. VCU has lost two of its last three (injuries played a role in those losses).  

However, in addition to playing on its home court, VCU has another advantage that could be the difference -- Bones Hyland is the best player on either team (he might be the best player in the A-10). But that's when he's 100 percent. 

Since Bones has been hobbled by an injury that kept him on the bench for the last two regular season games, how much he is ready to go isn't known at this desk. As a friend who played for VCU a long time ago said the other day: "Ankle injuries can be fickle."

According to the university's athletic dept.: Bones (ankle/foot) is still considered to be day-to-day, but he has been practicing. And the good news is, Vince Williams (ankle) is expected to play in tomorrow's tilt. So, we'll see.

TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: 910 AM. 

Photo: From VCU.

--30 --

 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

A Brief History of Byrd Park

Note: In 2010 I worked with an ad hoc group of residents who lived adjacent to Byrd Park to stiff-arm what I saw as a fishy attempt to privatize/monetize a section of that public park. A Maryland-based company wanted to install a zip line ropes course and accompanying folderol in the only remaining natural (undeveloped) section of the park. Among the pieces I wrote about the battle against that scheme that were published are these two commentaries: "Going Ape, or Not..." and "Anywhere But Byrd Park." 

By the way, when push came to shove our group was successful in fending off that bad, bad idea. (To know more about why it was wrong for Byrd Park read the two pieces linked to above.) 

In that same year, during research, I used the websites of the City of Richmond and the Friends of William Byrd Park, among other online sources, to compile background information about Byrd Park's history to publish on the Fan District Hub. That 2010 piece is presented below:

In the late-1800s Byrd Park was carved out of the hilly landscape just north of the James River and set aside as public land. Following a plan the City of Richmond gradually bought up the wooded land. In this time the City’s trolley system was expanding and the Fan District was considered to be Richmond’s West End. Most of the Fan’s distinctive houses were yet to be built.

Much of the credit for the ambitious vision that eventually became Byrd Park is given to Wilfred Cutshaw, Richmond’s City Engineer from 1873 until 1907. The City constructed a new reservoir in 1874 to provide water to serve the growing population’s needs. Nine years later a new pump house was built near the river to pump water up to the reservoir (located just south of the park's tennis courts). The rather unusual building was also used as a dance hall.

Originally known as New Reservoir Park, by 1904 the name William Byrd Park was in use and what became known as Boat Lake was open. Byrd Park now consists of 274 acres of publicly-owned land, according the Friends of William Byrd Park. The City says it’s 287 acres. My money is on the Friends being right, but I could be wrong.

The last parcels of the land for the park were acquired by 1910. By 1920 Swan Lake and Shields Lake had been created by damming up a stream. Swan Lake had an island in its center. Shields Lake was a public swimming hole with a bathhouse; there were even diving boards.

In 1932 the Carillon, with a 200 foot bell tower, was dedicated as Virginia’s first memorial to the veterans of World War I.

In 1955 Dogwood Dell was constructed. Since 1956 The City has presented its summertime “Festival of Arts” at that 2,400-seat amphitheater.

In the mid-‘70s the Downtown Expressway gobbled up approximately 12.6 of the park’s most northern acres. The baseball field took a hit. The lake with the fountain, Boat Lake, was reduced in size to allow for the new highway. The ghost of Wilfred Cutshaw may have done a rotation, but at least the expressway was designed to be a boon to the entire community.

The story of how Byrd Park came to be what it is today is interesting. The land was acquired in a time when visionary public officials could resist hopping aboard every blue-sky development scheme’s bandwagon. And, when significant changes have been made, sometimes there was much public discussion over it before ground was broken. That was true for the Carillon. Apparently, it took 10 years to get it done.

After watching Ken Burns’ documentary about the creation of America’s national parks, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” it became clear to me that if those natural wonders hadn’t been set aside as public property when it was done, most of those splendid acres would not be open-to-the-public parks today.

The same goes for Byrd Park. Now we are the stewards of that publicly-owned land the good Mr. Cutshaw saved for us ... and our children ... and our grandchildren.  

-- 30 --

-- Words and photo F.T. Rea

Monday, March 01, 2021

The Dogtown Hero

Ted Williams

Fiction by F.T. Rea

June 3, 1959: A lean boy with sandy hair and blue-gray eyes, 11-year-old Roscoe Swift lived in a nine-room stucco house with his mother's parents. The 40-year-old house was on a country road in Dogtown, south of Richmond proper.

Roscoe's grandfather was a retired architect. His grandmother still taught children to play the piano. Their yard had two apple trees, a cherry tree, a plum tree and three grape vines in it.   

His mother lived in her studio apartment over a garage that accommodated two cars and his grandfather's seldom used workshop. It was about 30 yards from the house. She was a sometime freelance commercial artist who preferred to work at night and sleep in the day. No one referred to her drinking ways as "alcoholism." When the weather didn't suit her she wouldn't venture outside what she called her "carriage house."

Everybody else called it a "garage." There were spells when Roscoe wouldn’t see his mother for the better part of a week. 

When Roscoe was two years old his mother and father had split up. With them it was kaput. His father went back in the Army and subsequently died in a helicopter crash somewhere in Korea. Since his mother refused to talk about his father -- she had destroyed all photographs of him right after their separation -- the boy's blurry picture of the dead man had been pulled out of the air.

When his mother wasn't within earshot his grandmother would sometimes say, "Your dad had a wonderful smile." His grandfather had told him his father had been a "pretty damn good outfielder" when he was Army, which had frequently gotten him preferential treatment from the brass.

Two or three times Roscoe had heard his grandfather say with a chuckle, "Don't know much about what else your father did during the war, but he played on the same baseball field with some pros."

When he imagined his father, rather than in a military uniform, Roscoe usually saw him in a Depression Era baseball uniform, like what he'd seen Lou Gehrig and Dizzy Dean wearing in newsreels.

For as long as he could remember Roscoe had been in training to be a hero. It wasn’t something he talked about much, but it was usually close to the heart of his striving. 

He was a strong reader and had already inhaled many a biography and adventure story about heroic figures. To steel his nerves he had tested himself with daredevil stunts. He wasn't one to back down from a fistfight. At camp the summer before he had won a National Rifle Association Sharpshooter patch, which he kept with other treasures in a cigar box, hidden where nobody would find it.

On this day the most significant test of Roscoe's mettle had arrived: he was playing the biggest baseball game of his career. Remembering the lucky Ted Williams baseball card he’d slipped into his back pocket before he’d left for school, Roscoe looked at the cloudless blue sky and smiled ever so slightly.

Mostly, school was easy for Roscoe. He took pride in being able to turn in a paper first and get every question right. His difficulties in school stemmed from his class clown inclinations and his quick temper. Good grades in conduct weren't a given.

He liked reading about history and he enjoyed drawing, especially cartoons. But Roscoe hated being indoors in good weather. Baseball was mattered most to him. During baseball season, using the box scores in the morning newspaper, he routinely calculated the up-to-date batting averages of his favorite Major League players before he went to school.

Two of the fifth-grade classes had finished the season tied, forcing a playoff game to decide the championship. Following lunch, all four fifth-grade classes at Gittes Creek Elementary had been given the afternoon to watch the two teams settle the issue. Which was a treat, because all the previous games had been played during recess.

Students with no taste for baseball had the option of watching a black and white 16 mm documentary film about Jamestown's 350th anniversary. Thus, there was a pretty good crowd for the title game.

With one out, Roscoe's side was two runs down. As he took his practice swings, he reminded again himself of the situation -- bottom of the last inning, men on first and third. "No grounder," he whispered to himself, as he knocked red dust off his canvas sneakers with the bat ... as if they were baseball spikes.

A group of some 20 men, fathers, uncles and a couple of former minor league ballplayers from the surrounding neighborhood added a measure of authenticity to the crowd. Girls from the two classes in the championship game were acting as cheerleaders. No one could remember that ever happening before, but it suited Roscoe just fine.

In 1959 baseball was still unquestionably America's National Pastime. In Dogtown even fifth-grade baseball in the last week of school was important.

Swift stood in the batter's box on the first base side of home-plate. Originally trained as a right-hander, he had decided that if Ted Williams -- the best hitter in the game -- batted left-handed that was good enough for him. Besides, to Roscoe, for some reason a good southpaw swing looked better. He’d been practicing batting left-handed for a couple of months in neighborhood pickup games. Finally, the switch had to be tested in a situation with something more on the line.

Standing crouched and barely touching first base, Roscoe’s best friend on the team, Bake, cheered him on. "Pick out a good one. Hit your pitch, Number 9."

Even though the boys weren't wearing uniforms with numbers on them, during games most of the starters on Roscoe's team called one another by the numbers they would be wearing. Since Bake's favorite player was Willie Mays, he was called Number 24.   

However, a couple of Roscoe's teammates were imploring him from the bench to bat right-handed, like usual, since everything was at stake. Butterflies the size of eagles disquieted Roscoe's stomach, but he had made up his mind to take the chance.

Stepping out of the box, the Roscoe took three slow and deliberate practice swings. He looked at the crowd standing along the third base line. The cheerleaders for his side were chanting, "Ros-coe, Ros-coe, he's our man. If he can't do it, nobody can!"

His grandfather, who had taken the afternoon off for the first time in Roscoe's memory, stood in the shade of an ancient oak tree with the other men. Peering under the flat brim of his straw hat Rocsoe's first baseball coach stoically watched the action, as only he could.

The other team's cheerleaders and classmates booed and hooted at Roscoe from the first base line. He dug in and did his best to put them out of his mind. However, there was a particular girl with a strawberry-blonde ponytail and lively blue-green eyes cheering for the other team. Her name was Susie and he never failed to notice her.

The best thing to say to Susie never came to mind when she was near. Sometimes she made him feel short of breath. So Roscoe watched her from a distance ... frequently with a sense of longing that baffled him. Although Susie was calling for his team to lose, that very second, he was sure glad she was there.

Back in the box, Roscoe shifted most of his weight to his back foot and turned his front foot thirty degrees toward first base. Relaxing his hands, he jutted his chin out and squinted like he was aiming a 22 rifle.

The pitcher threw the first pitch outside and in the dirt. It got by the catcher. But the ground rules didn't allow stealing bases, so the guys on base stayed where they were. Sure the next pitch would be across the plate, Roscoe leaned back and prepared to cut the ball in half.

With the infielders behind him chattering like magpies, the hurler went into his stretch and fired the ball. Roscoe liked the pitch and took a big roundhouse swing.

Whoosh!

He nearly lost his balance as the sudden explosion of laughter from his opponents and their classmates pierced Roscoe's armor of concentration. Nonetheless, he didn't look at anyone on either baseline. He knew he'd shut his eyes as he'd swung the bat.

Roscoe felt his cheeks flush as he pulled his baseball cap's brim down on his brow. Again, he relaxed his wrists and fingers.

"It only takes one to hit it!" Bellowed his grandfather through cupped hands.

Roscoe leaned away from the pitcher, to put more weight on his back foot. He remembered to take a deep breath, which he let out slowly as the pitcher confidently cut loose with another fastball. Swinging from his heels, Roscoe rolled his wrists just exactly as his weight shifted toward the pitch. The batter tagged the ball sweetly.

Cah-rack!

The ball left the infield with dispatch. After clearing the leaping second baseman's glove by two feet it took a sharp nosedive and evenly split the closing distance between the right and center fielders. The pair frantically chased the top-spinning hardball down the grassy slope.

The utter perfection of the bat’s perfectly timed kiss on the horsehide's sweetest spot resonated through his body. The sudden furor Roscoe heard seemed like it was far away. He ran like a monster was chasing him. As he made his turn toward third base the ball plopped into the trickle of a creek that bordered the schoolyard. Rounding third, he caught up with Bake.

"Slow down, man," Bake advised over his shoulder with a sarcastic chuckle. "Those goons haven't even found it yet."

Roscoe's euphoric classmates were jumping around wildly. His grandfather beamed as he waved his hat back and forth over his head. Teammates, suddenly champions, were pounding him on his back as he crossed home plate.

Meanwhile, Roscoe's capacity to comprehend the intensity of the moment was red-lining. He looked at Susie on the quiet side of the field. The way her head tilted to the side, the position of her limbs, something about her stance, or gesture, made him feel disoriented. It was as though he was viewing the event from a number of different angles, simultaneously. He felt both inside and outside the scenario.

Roscoe's mind raced as everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Straining to pull all the elements together, to grasp all he was sensing, he heard an explosion.

Boom!

Then he felt a strange calm. All he surveyed seemed vivid and in its place.

As Roscoe crossed home plate, it occurred to him that he hadn’t loped around the bases, a la Teddy Ballgame. Maybe he could have, but he'd been far too excited to feign nonchalance. More importantly, Roscoe had remembered to not tip his cap. If the batting king and ace fighter pilot of the Korean War, Ted Williams, never tipped his cap to the public on his home run trot -- which he never did -- that was good enough for Roscoe, too.

Roscoe felt like he was soaring, somewhere up above all of his dark doubts. He was in a place where heroes don't have have to tip their caps to anyone. Meanwhile, Susie had vanished.

Later on, Roscoe realized no one else had heard the explosion. Although that made no sense to him he promptly dropped the subject and stashed that mystery in the same hidden space with an accumulating stack of guilty haunts and some developing theories.

Still, the moment's hero believed the memory of just how it felt when he hit that baseball perfectly would never leave him.

*

Note: "The Dogtown Hero" is part of a series of stories called "Detached."

Sunday, February 28, 2021

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967
A few years ago, a chat with a master projection booth technician I met brought to mind a unique movie-watching experience. The conversation was with Chapin Cutler; we were talking about old movie houses when he told me that over four decades ago he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge. 

In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with the manager of that famous movie theater (I don‘t recall his name). Occasionally I talked with my counterparts at repertory cinemas/art houses in other cities, usually it was about shipping prints of films back and forth, etc. The Orson Welles (1969-86) was known then as quite a trend-setter.

Cutler also said he was working in the booth at Radio City Music Hall when I saw Abel Gance‘s “Napoleon” on October 24, 1981. He told me he had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece. It was no easy task to present it in a fashion that was faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some splashes of color. All pretty edgy stuff in 1927.

The restoration of the film is a great story, itself. In a nutshell, it had been a 20-year project supervised by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Then the film, which had been released over the years at various lengths, was edited into to a four-hour version by Francis Ford Coppola, whose company, American Zoetrope, released it.

Just as the French filmmaker had originally envisioned, a live orchestra accompanied the silent film. The new score was written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis the Zoetrope boss.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, a visionary, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. In 1927 it cost a theater a lot of money to install all the equipment it took to present it properly, with three projectors working in unison. Because few theaters opted to install such a system for one film the first run engagements were limited. Talkies soon came along, which meant silent movies, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although Gance kept working on film-making projects, he sometimes spiraled into dark periods of despair. There was a point when he was said to have burned some of the footage from his original cut of “Napoleon.” So, today, nobody knows what its true running time ought to be. 
 
Hey, I’ve read accounts that suggest Gance wanted it to run nine hours ... maybe he even wanted to make sequels. Eventually, Gance became obsessed with re-editing “Napoleon,” perpetually, trying to transform some version of it into an important film that would be seen and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers considered him to be a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.

To get to Manhattan I drove to D.C. and took the train to New York. During the Metroliner trip from Union Station to Penn Station I read several Charles Bukowski stories from a paperback edition of “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness.” It had been purchased at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco eight months earlier that year, but I hadn't read much of it since the flight home.

Reading several of Bukowski’s tight, briefly-told tales back-to-back on a fast-moving train really knocked me out. The feeling I had about the story called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town,” is still easy to conjure up.

To top it off, the whole trip was part of a business project. My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential for “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film. So I was traveling on other people’s money!

Then, during my walk from the hotel to the theater, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye. When the movie started I couldn’t watch it, because I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my eye. It felt like a sharp-edged boulder. Since my mission was to WATCH the movie I had to do something, so I went out to the lobby.

Corny as it sounds I asked the first Radio City Music Hall employee I encountered if there was a doctor in the house.

The answer was, “Yes.”

Hey this was Manhattan. Of course there was a doctor on duty to take care of medical emergencies and yes, to flush blinding cinders out of the patrons’ eyes; although the cinder had packed quite a punch, the thing actually weighed less than a pound. Back in the auditorium, the movie was spectacular. 
 
The power that music played live by an orchestra added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate. I left the theater overwhelmed and returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the same movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters with orchestra pits in the region. 

Unfortunately, the notion of playing Gance’s greatest film in cities all over the country, accompanied by live orchestras, withered and died. I suppose it was considered a bad risk outside of the largest markets. A year or so later, when it went into general release the sound was put on the film in a conventional way. CinemaScope was used to show the triptych effect. 

So the ambitious deal my bosses had in mind never materialized. Still, the new four-hour version of “Napoleon” did run at the Biograph in February of 1983, to mark the theater’s 11th anniversary. It was still impressive, but not at all what it had been like at my viewing in Manhattan. At least I got to see the part at the beginning I had missed before.

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He lived just long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon,” during the run promoted in the 1-sheet seen to the right.  
 
At the time of his death in the fall of 1981, once again, critics were calling Gance a genius. Which provides a rather happy ending to this meandering story.

-- 30 --

VCU Stumbles at Davidson

Final Score: Davidson 65, VCU 57

Location: Davidson, N.C. (Belk Arena)

Current Records: VCU 17-6 (10-4 A-10), Davidson 12-7 (7-4)

 

The short story: On the road Saturday the VCU Rams lost their battle with the Davidson Wildcats in what was the regular-season finale for both teams.

 

OPENING TIP

  • With his second double-double of the season sophomore forward Hason Ward continued his noteworthy progress: 10 points and 10 boards. He also contributed a pair of steals and a block.
  • Freshman guard Jamir Watkins, in his second game as a starter, finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two steals.
  • Freshman guard Josh Banks provided seven points coming off the bench for the Rams.
  • Before an injury sidelined him, Rams junior forward Vince Williams added 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. 
  • Luka Brajkovic led three Davidson players in double figures with 15 points.

THE DIFFERENCE

  • Davidson shot 50 percent (12-of-24) in the second half, compared to 36 percent (10-of-28) for VCU. 
  • Davidson cashed in on 15 VCU turnovers with 14 points.
  • Williams buried a 3-pointer with 11:31 left in the game, to push VCU in front 43-42. Then on the ensuing possession Davidson’s Kellan Grady answered with a 3-pointer of his own. VCU would not lead again.

NOTABLE

  • VCU played its second straight game without sophomore guard and leading scorer Bones Hyland (foot), as well as key reserve KeShawn Curry (who is with his family during a period of mourning). At the 9:59 mark of the second half in yesterday's tilt, Vince Williams left with an ankle injury and did not return. 
  • Box score.
  • VCU has secured the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.
  • Next for the Rams: VCU will open A-10 Tournament action on Fri., Mar. 5 at 3:30 p.m. Its opponent is yet to be determined. That contest will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
  • Although the shorthanded Rams (playing without their top two scorers and a key sub) lost two of their last three games, the next men up who got increased playing time showed well. Thus, going into March VCU has strengthened it bench.  
  • In the A-10 tournament, the games of Mar. 3-6 will be played either at the Siegel Center or the Robins Center. Then, on Mar. 14, the tournament's championship game will take place at the UD Arena in Dayton.
-- Game notes from Chris Kowalczyk, VCU Assistant A.D.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Eating Dandelions, Tasting Freedom

Note: Convicted of murder, in 1996 with her appeals exhausted, Beverly A. Monore began serving her 22-year prison term. In 2002 a federal judge ordered her immediate release. Then she had to wait for months to see if she would be retried. Over the year of 2002 I wrote articles about her plight for three different periodicals. To read the one I wrote for STYLE Weekly click here. The longest of those pieces was the feature published by FiftyPlus that looked into the case somewhat. It is below:

Eating Dandelions, Tasting Freedom
by F. T. Rea
On March 5, 1992 Beverly Anne Monroe began to lose her hold on the strands of the life she had known. That morning her boyfriend/companion of more than a decade, Roger Zygmunt de la Burde, 60, was found dead in the library of his house, situated in Powhatan County, on 220 acres along the James River. De la Burde had been shot once in the head; his own handgun was at his side on a couch. County officials acted on the assumption they were dealing with a suicide. Yet, later that same year, Beverly Monroe found herself listening to testimony in support of the charge that she had committed a cold-blooded murder.

The prosecutor, Jack Lewis, told the jury that Monroe had admitted to David Riley, a state police special investigator, she was in the room when the gun went off. Monroe vigorously challenged that assertion, proclaiming her innocence. The defendant left the courtroom facing twenty-two years of incarceration.

After losing appeals in state courts, on April 5, 2002, Monroe was released from prison by order of U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams. In vacating her conviction, Judge Williams wrote, "This case is a monument to prosecutorial indiscretions and mishandling."

Upon hearing the news she would leave Pocahontas Correctional Unit that day Monroe returned to the stark building in which she had lived, to fetch her belongings.

"In both dorms they [the prisoners] were all pressed against the bars, cheering, screaming to congratulate me," says Monroe. "It wasn’t about me, it was about hope."

*

The original trial wiped out Beverly Monroe’s savings; eventually all she had was liquidated.

"[Then] We sold the house in order to pay for the habeas process," says Katie Monroe, Beverly Monroe’s daughter who is an attorney.

Now 37, in 1996 Katie Monroe set her own career aside, at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to work exclusively toward her mother’s release. As she labored with appeals she also established a non-profit group to raise funds and network. And, she put up a web site (www.freebeverly.com) to help disseminate and collect information.

"All in all, this has cost over $500,000, says Katie Monroe."

Beverly Monroe, 64, now lives in Katie Monroe’s cheerful yellow house on a quiet street in Richmond’s Bellevue neighborhood. That setting provides an opportunity for Monroe to pursue her lifelong interest in outdoor activities as she tends the backyard garden there. In prison the presence of wildflowers had lifted her spirits. Weeds capable of growing anywhere, even along the perimeter of razor-wired topped fences, were an inspiration.

Beverly Monroe asserts, as well, that dandelions have nutritional value.

As she received short rations of fruit and vegetables, and she wasn’t keen on the balogna that was readily available, dandelions mattered. "But you don’t eat them for the taste," Monroe says, nodding her head slightly for emphasis.  

Beverly Monroe’s chief pleasure, these days, is sharing time with her daughter’s son, Asher, who is four. She’s been teaching him to hit a tennis ball, also how to spell and write.

"There are days I take care of Asher and we play cowboys with stick horses," says the proud grandmother, her blue eyes sparkling.

*

A book on the fascinating Monroe case, "The Count and the Confession," by John Taylor, hit bookstores earlier this year. Both NBC Dateline and a TNT cable television documentary have examined the mysteries of the case. Each of these studies has revealed that Special Agent Riley played an especially aggressive role in converting a situation originally viewed as a suicide into a murder investigation.

Judge Willliams called Riley’s tactics, "deceitful, manipulative, and inappropriate," while finding that the Commonwealth Attorney improperly withheld "exculpatory evidence" - information it had in hand that could favor the defense. His sense of outrage that the prosecutor consistently broke with proper form is plain in the 67 pages of his decision.

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore promptly appealed the Williams decision to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel of three judges. Briefs have been filed from both sides. On December 3 oral arguments from Monroe’s pro bono legal team - led by Steve Northrup - and the AG’s representatives will begin.

"It feels to me like sheer vindictiveness to keep her in prison," says Northrup. "I don’t understand it."

As for why the commonwealth has moved to set aside Judge Williams’ ruling, Randy Davis, Kilgore’s Deputy Director of Communications says, "It is our duty to protect the citizens of Virginia and continue to pursue violent crime cases. Ten years ago, a jury of her peers from Powhatan County unanimously agreed that Beverly Monroe was guilty of the first degree murder of her lover, Roger de la Burde, and the use of a firearm in the commission of that murder. That conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Since her conviction, 19 judges or justices have reviewed her case. 18 of them, all but one, have concluded she received a fair trial. We have an obligation to the citizens of this Commonwealth to seek judicial review of the ruling of that one judge who has concluded that her trial was not fair."

Katie Monroe says, "The only court to have considered the totality of the prosecutor’s misconduct was the U.S. District Court, which vacated Beverly’s conviction. The majority of the evidence of misconduct was discovered later, after the police and prosecutors were ordered by that court to turn over their files. Neither the Virginia Court of Appeals nor the Virginia Supreme Court considered the impact of what wasn’t seen by the jury. The Attorney General’s reliance on an alleged technicality, to try to reinstate a conviction that was won through prosecutor misconduct, is a disservice to Virginians."

Asked what the appeal is costing taxpayers, Davis responds, "It will cost the same as any other appeal in which we're involved."

*

The daughter of Dallas and Anne Duncan, Beverly Duncan was born in 1938 in Marion, North Carolina. She and her three brothers grew up on a farm in Leeds, South Carolina. In addition to farm chores her father worked for the U.S. Postal Service and her mother was a telegraph operator.

In her teens Beverly Duncan played on the high school basketball team and was named as the prettiest girl in her class. In 1959 she graduated from Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina. Then she earned a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Florida. During her two years in Gainesville she met and married Stuart Monroe, who was working toward his doctorate in chemistry.

After living in Wilmington, Delaware for 3 years the Monroes moved to Ashland, Virginia in 1965; Stuart taught chemistry at Randolph-Macon College, Beverly Monroe stayed at home with her three children while they were young.

In 1970 Dallas Duncan walked into the woods near his home. With a borrowed gun he ended his life. This haunting specter of her father’s suicide returned to play a role in Monroe’s dealing with de la Burde’s violent death.

In 1979 she returned to the workplace; Beverly Monroe accepted a job as a patent researcher at Philip Morris. In 1981 the Monroe’s marriage fell apart, ending in divorce. Beginning again, she built a house in Chesterfield County.

*

At Philip Morris Monroe got to know Roger de la Burde. Eventually they became romantically involved. At the time de la Burde was married. And, as Monroe would eventually learn, he tended to lead a hopelessly complicated life.

Roger de la Burde, a count by his telling, grew up in Poland and came to America in the mid-fifties. Although his scientific work at for Philip Morris was impressive - work from which nine patents flowed - he eventually had a bitter dispute with the company that kept lawyers on both sides of it busy.

"I do know there were times he felt afraid, or even paranoid," says Monroe. "He bought the gun around the time he filed the suit against Philip Morris in about 1987-88, out of some perceived fear. Roger was terribly depressed about the way that was going. He wished he'd never started it."

To gain leverage on the tobacco giant de la Burde is said to have seized some company documents he believed were related to hidden health issues about cigarettes. Shortly after his death that material was carted away by Philip Morris agents, never to surface again.

In published reports after his death de la Burde was remembered by some for his energy and charm. Others saw him as a swindler in business, a fraud in general, and a womanizer. Researchers from all angles seem to agree that his claim to noble ancestry was bogus, as were aspects of his vaunted African art collection.

Katie Monore and her sister, Shannon Monroe, still speak of their fondness for him. Yet, there was a dark and somewhat hidden side to Roger de la Burde. For one thing, he had been taking Librium to help him cope with his anxieties and mood swings and Monroe was completely unaware of that.

Significantly, this information, furnished to the police shortly after his death by his ex-wife, a doctor, was withheld from the defense. This, while the prosecutor built a case on the theory that de la Burde, in spite of his flaws, was an upbeat guy who wouldn’t do himself in.

Beverly Monroe declines opportunities to comment on Burde’s mounting troubles concerning business dealings in real estate or art. She also remains convinced, as do others who were close to him, that he took his life in a fit of depression.

*

As there was little in the way of physical evidence presented, the hinge on which Beverly Monroe’s fate swung in her trial was what she said to David Riley in their conversations - what she said, and why she said it.

To believe Riley’s account and interpretation one must see him as a canny bloodhound that smelled a crime where others had missed it. In a series of meetings set up by Riley, in the weeks after de la Burde’s death, he urged Monroe to accept that a trauma-induced amnesia could have been blocking her memory of that evening; suggesting to her that she was probably present when Burde pulled the trigger. Meanwhile, he didn’t reveal to her that she was being considered as the only real suspect in a murder investigation.

Monroe says she was convinced that Riley, as a professional who knew about such things, was trying to help her. Consequently, she didn’t think to consult an attorney as she discussed trying to recover her supposedly lost memory with Riley. By entertaining the stealth sleuth’s theory of why her grief was so paralyzing in the weeks after de al Burde’s death, Beverly Monroe, herself, unwittingly opened the prison door.

Later, when the commonwealth’s forensic experts testified that de la Burde hadn’t pulled the trigger, the door slammed shut.

Monroe’s motive, the prosecutor told the jury, was jealousy over de al Burde’s other girlfriend, Krystyna Drewnowska, a 40-year-old professor at the Medical College of Virginia, who was pregnant with his child.

Doubting Riley, one might see him as a man who became determined to produce a result that jibed with his first impression as he looked over Polaroids of de la Burde’s body and the position of the gun.

However, what Riley saw as a clue may well have been a bum steer. No one treated the library as a crime scene on March 5, 1992. As the county’s officials examined what they thought to be a suicide, physical evidence was lost. Two Marlboro cigarette butts in an ashtray were thrown away.

Yet, since de la Burde smoked Players and Monroe didn’t smoke, one is left to wonder who may have visited him after Monroe says she left to go home, following their last dinner together.

And, too, the county’s personnel wasn’t overly concerned when the estate’s caretaker, Joe Hairfield - the man who found Burde dead - told deputies that morning he had inadvertently moved the gun as he examined Burde’s body.

As well, Monroe’s forensic experts, who have studied the evidence collected in 1992 since the conviction, insist the commonwealth’s homicide theory is inconsistent with the residues found on Burde’s body, including  the presence of primer residue - an invisible chemical that flies out of the back of a gun - found on Burde’s right hand.

*

"I’m going to rebuild my life, we’ve been robbed of it," says Beverly Monroe. "I know it won’t be easy."

Once this ordeal has run its course she wants to continue working in conjunction with others on "wrongful convictions." Without knowing how she will earn a living, she hopes to connect with an established group, or perhaps start her own.

"This has been a ten-year education, I don’t want to waste it," say Monroe.

As she reaches to gather the strands of a new life, Monroe sees her future focus as a matter of righting wrongs. Her sense of solidarity with those who’ve been sprung from prison by post-trial revelations is strong.   

"If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody," says Asher’s stick-horse sidekick.

*   *   *

[Actual Testimony Sidebar]

September 17, 1999: Regarding his tactics during meetings with Monore, Riley’s testimony during a discovery session ordered by Judge Williams was:

"You repeat the theme or modify it slightly, you bob and you weave and commiserate ... And I was very close to her, and ... I wouldn't lose eye contact with her ... I said, we need to work this thing out. And then it didn’t seem like she was willing to accept remembering that she was present or openly remember that maybe she had -- would think of some variation of that such as blocking it from the memory or shock type situation and sometimes it does happen. People are involved in very traumatic situations, the shock is so bad that they really don’t remember the actual event. It’s more like a dream.... I gave her an example of my own father who actually did commit suicide. And I lied to her ... about the fact that I was so shocked that I had blocked it from my memory ... but I was acting with her and doing a darn good job, okay.

"Anyway, she accepted the shock theme. And the thing that really got her to accept it was it was so clear to her that I believed it. It was so clear to me that she believed that I believed people could be shocked to the point where they could block things from their memory. And when I gave her the example of my ... my father’s suicide, that was what seemed to put the cork in it. And so she sort of -- it was sort of like she was in a trance."

December 4, 2001: Beverly Monroe’s testimony about the same at an evidentiary hearing was:

"[Riley] said I know - I know what’s happened. I’ve seen it so many times. He said you have to let me help you with this thing .… But it was going so fast and he was sort of right over me like this and right in my face and it was so loud and nonstop .… He knew I had to have been there. He said this is what he knew had to have happened … and this is what was causing me to have such terrible grief and this was causing me not to be able to remember and that I would never get over it. And that’s truly how I felt; that I would never get over it.

"Riley sounded so knowledgeable and so concerned and so believable … and I had just disintegrated inside from letting this happen to both my father and to Roger. … [Riley] kept trying to put images in my mind by verbalizing what "must have happened" … like my "being asleep on the couch." … He just kept pressing, saying I had to remember .… He was the person in authority and must be right, and I was sure there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t remember."

Note: Due to space concerns, or perhaps other considerations, The Actual Testimony Sidebar I included above was not run as part of the magazine feature in 2002. So the readers of FiftyPlus didn’t get to see it back then.

Finally, Beverly Monroe was exonerated in 2003 and remains free. That’s something for which I’m sure she remains grateful. Since that turbulent time she and her daughter, Katie, have both become tireless advocates for the wrongfully convicted. To this day, I imagine Beverly can remember the taste of those dandelions.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Had Enough of Trumpism, Yet?

In the days immediately after Biden was declared the winner of the election by the networks, when Trump and his loyal supporters refused to accept that Biden had won, well, it was not all that surprising. 

After all, when you've been swallowing "alternative facts" daily for four long years, maybe it's not all that easy to stop, all at once. Then came the recounts, which changed nothing. Biden still won. Trump fumed. 

Then, in various courts, came some 60 rejections to overturn the legitimate votes of thousands of citizens. That made way for the certification of Biden's victory on Jan. 6, 2021. But, as it happened, Trump's scheming also delivered mayhem that day and he probably had more fun than any previous day of his presidency. For payback, on his way out he wrecked Congress. 

Two weeks later Trump left D.C. with new reasons to be paranoid. When will his mob reappear?

Speaking of the sixth of January, that day's events tell us where the line must be drawn. After the riotous storming of the Capitol, anyone still spouting Trump's lamest alternative fact -- that the election was stolen from him -- is playing a lowbrow game that has become too tedious to put up with any longer. 

After all, Trump was the only one who could actually see his landslide victory. Now we know those flunkies who've said they saw it, too, just took his word for it. 

How dangerous Trump's neo-fascist cult is likely to be to the country remains to be seen. Still, my decision has been made. From here on, I want nothing to do with them. They've made their choice to live in a broken world in which torturing the truth is routine and cruelty is admired. They mean to impose that scene on the landscape. I hope those of us still striving to make the U.S.A. a more perfect union, won't let them. 

Now that the election's aftermath dust has settled the TV networks, hopefully, will see fit to stop presenting blathering Trumpists so much -- just to set up more tiresome confrontations -- and leave all that contrived bullshit to the crackpot channels. Meanwhile, rather than debated, pushy Trumpists should be shunned as much as possible. Arguing with that ilk won't change a damn thing, except maybe to help legitimize them. 

What's most wrong about the Trump cult's members and their sick agenda needs to be exposed -- revealed with well-executed oblique moves. Not confronted, head on ... especially not by debating with provocative trolls and such on social media.

That the Republican Party still has room under its tent for the insurrectionists of 1/6/21 and their fanboys tells any clear-eyed observer what they need to know about today's Grand Old Party -- a political party with the welcome mat out for white nationalists.  

-- 30 --

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Short-handed VCU Tops St. Louis

Final Score: VCU 67, Saint Louis 65
Location: Richmond, Va. (Stuart C. Siegel Center)
Current Records: VCU 17-5 (10-3 A-10), Saint Louis 11-5 (4-4)
 
The short story: Freshman Ace Baldwin Jr. sank a pair of go-ahead free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining to lift VCU past Saint Louis, 67-65 Tuesday night at the Siegel Center in a critical Atlantic 10 Conference match-up.

OPENING TIP

  • Baldwin Jr. totaled a career-high 15 points and recorded seven assists in the game
  • Junior forward Vince Williams Jr. scored a team-high 16 points and tallied nine rebounds to help the VCU cause
  • VCU senior forward Levi Stockard III contributed nine points on 57 percent (4-of-7) shooting from the floor
  • Freshman forward Jamir Watkins chipped in nine points, grabbed four rebounds and recorded three assists for the Black and Gold

 

THE DIFFERENCE

  • The Billikens held a 65-63 advantage with just over one minute remaining in the contest. Baldwin Jr. drew a pair of fouls and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch to give the Rams the game-deciding advantage. Saint Louis missed a long 3-pointer as time expired
  • The first half was a back-and-forth affair that featured 12 lead changes. Saint Louis clung to a two-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the half, but freshman guard Josh Banks knocked down a 3-pointer that sparked a 9-3 VCU run and gave the Rams a four-point lead at the break
  • With Saint Louis leading 44-39 six minutes into the second half, VCU ripped off a 10-2 run that spanned three minutes of game time. The run was capped off by a 3-pointer from Williams Jr.
  • The Rams scored 13 points off 15 Billikens’ turnovers
  • VCU recorded 16 assists on 24 made field goals

 

NOTABLE

  • VCU improves to 11-4 all time against Saint Louis, including 3-1in the Mike Rhoades era
  • Williams Jr.’s nine rebounds match his career-high
  • Saint Louis’ 15 turnovers are tied for the second highest mark by the Billikens this season.
  • Box score

 

NEXT UP
 

VCU will hit the road to close out its 2020-21 regular season against Davidson at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on ESPN2.

 

-- Game note from Chris Kowalczyk, VCU Assistant A.D.

 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Update on Bones' Injury Status

Bones Hyland's injury update from the VCU Athletic Dept.: Bones has a sprained foot. MRI/X-rays were both negative. While his condition is considered to be "day-to-day," he will not play Tuesday against St. Louis (6 p.m. at the Siegel Center; TV: CBSSN). 

At today's Zoom presser Coach Mike Rhoades said that one of his freshmen recently told him that since June he hasn't met anybody new at VCU outside of his teammates. 

With that sad truth in mind, Rams fans should remember just how unusual and demanding this sheltered from the outside world policy been for these 18-to-22 year-old student/athletes. Furthermore, just how dedicated to sticking by the rules this batch of VCU players has been over the course of this crazy season. Many other teams have only played a few games, due to COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Then Rhoades was asked what he's telling his kids about all the closed off living conditions for his players, the sudden cancellations/postponements and the changes lineup changes, Rhoades said, "I tell them to be where your feet are."

Bottom line: VCU's basketball players are lucky to have such a steady, caring, forthright coach. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

VCU Falls to Mason in OT


Final Score:
George Mason 79, VCU 76 OT

Location: Richmond, Va. (Siegel Center)

Current Records: VCU 16-5 (9-3 A-10), George Mason 10-8 (6-6)

 

The short story: Junior forward Vince Williams scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished for five assists. But it wasn’t enough to prevent the Patriots from halting the Rams winning streak at six games.

 

OPENING TIP

  • Sophomore guard Bones Hyland provided 17 points for the Rams prior to being carried from the court with 2:06 remaining with a foot injury.
  • Williams finished 4-of-9 from the field, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range.
  • Freshmen guards Jamir Watkins and Ace Baldwin Jr. supplied 13 and 12 points, respectively. Baldwin added six steals.
  • Mason's Josh Oduro was unstoppable with a game-high 27 points. He added six rebounds.  

 THE DIFFERENCE

  • The Patriots owned a 42-26 advantage on the glass, which included 15 offensive boards. Mason outscored VCU 13-2 on second-chance points. 
  • Mason also owned a 46-32 scoring edge in the paint.
  • The Patriots’ Javon Green hit a pull-up jumper in the lane with 2:21 left in the extra period to snap a 69-69 tie. Moments later, Otis Frazier turned a VCU turnover into a jumper and provided the Patriots with a 73-69 cushion with 59 seconds left. Oduro made 3-of-4 free throw attempts in the final minute to keep VCU at arm’s length. 
  • Oduro scored six points to spark a 15-5 George Mason run that gave the Patriots a 65-62 lead with 2:42 left in regulation. VCU’s Levi Stockard III converted a traditional three-point play with 1:09 left to give VCU a short-lived 67-65 lead.
  • Last gasp: VCU missed a 3-point attempt at the end of regulation.

NOTABLE

  • VCU leads to the all-time series between these two schools 43-22.
  • The Rams saw their six-game win streak come to an end Saturday. 
  • Box score

NEXT UP

VCU will host Saint Louis at the Siegel Center on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.


-- Game notes from Chris Kowalczyk, VCU Assistant A.D.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Rams Outlast Spiders

Final Score: VCU 68, Richmond 56
Location: Richmond, Va. (Stuart C. Siegel Center)
Current Records: VCU 16-4 (9-2 A-10), Richmond 11-5 (4-3)

 
VCU held Richmond to a season-low 56 points. Sophomore guard Bones Hyland's double-double led the Rams past their crosstown rival at the Siegel Center.

 

OPENING TIP

  • Hyland finished with 20 points and corralled 12 rebounds, as well as six assists
  • Freshman forward Jamir Watkins tallied 10 points, dished out three assists and grabbed three rebounds
  • Freshman guard Ace Baldwin, Jr. scored 10 points, collected seven rebounds and recorded four assists
  • Sophomore forward Hason Ward scored 11 points, pulled down seven boards and blocked two shots
  • Nathan Cayo led Richmond with 18 points and seven assists

 

THE DIFFERENCE

  • The Rams’ defense held Richmond to just 13 percent shooting from beyond the arc 
  • Richmond shot just 33 percent (20-of-61) in the game overall 
  • VCU out rebounded Richmond 43-27 
  • Trailing by five with eight minutes remaining in the first half, sophomore forward Hason Ward threw down a dunk that sparked a 16-4 VCU run that spanned six minutes. The run help secure a 32-24 advantage at the break 
  • With just over eight minutes remaining in the contest, Richmond cut the VCU lead down to one. The Rams proceeded to outscore the Spiders 17-6 to end the game 
  •  The Rams outscored the Spiders 42-28 in the paint
NOTABLE
  • VCU improves to 55-31 all time against Richmond, including 4-3 record in the Mike Rhoades era
  • The Rams registered 21 assists on 26 made baskets
  • Hyland scored 20+ points for the 10th time this season. The Rams are 9-1 when the sophomore scores over 20
  • VCU has won six straight games and 14 of its past 16 games 
  • Box score

 

NEXT UP


VCU will be back in the Siegel Center at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for a matchup against George Mason. The game will air on NBCSN.

 

-- Game notes from Chris Kowalczyk, VCU Assistant A.D.