Arkansas Business' 25 Cases of Mystery & Mayhem (25th Anniversary)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 23, 2009 12:00 am  

8. Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb
South African heart surgeon Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb and his life-saving work at Arkansas Children's Hospital were the subject of a critically acclaimed four-part documentary series on ABC in 2002. But on the day after Christmas in 2004, Drummond-Webb killed himself in his Little Rock home with an overdose of a prescription painkiller.

A rambling, profanity-filled suicide note expressed frustration with the United States and with Arkansas Children's Hospital and indicted the competence of several other medical professionals on the hospital's staff. "It is useless to speculate on what prompted any of his specific statements," a written statement from a hospital spokeswoman said. "He was not himself when he wrote the note."

9. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture states unequivocally that the ivory-billed woodpecker, long listed as extinct, "was rediscovered in the Big Woods of east Arkansas in 2004." But the question really isn't settled.

To be sure, multiple sightings of the striking bird were reported during a year-long search of the Cache River and White River wildlife refuges. And a professor from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock came up with a brief video that helped convince experts from the renowned Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology that at least one male Campephilus principalis survived six decades after its last reliable sighting in the United States.

But the euphoria experienced by birders – and east Arkansas boosters with dreams of bundles of dollars from low-impact bird-watching tourists – gradually faded as reliable sightings ceased and other ornithologists expressed doubt that the big bird had been rediscovered at all.

10. Garrick Wales
The death in Little Rock of Garrick Wales, a 49-year-old computer programmer from Kilmacolm, Scotland, was much bigger news in Europe than in Arkansas.

The Little Rock Police Department quickly concluded that Wales died after being bitten by a poisonous snake. British readers, though, couldn't get enough of the story of the married son of a millionaire businessman who led a double life that included a reptile fetish and a secret relationship with a transsexual porn star named Joanna Jet.

Wales was supposedly in Little Rock for "a major business deal" when his vomit-covered body was found May 13, 2004, in a rented Chevrolet Blazer parked on Gregg Street east of downtown. A few days later, a wooden box containing four poisonous snakes was found about a half-mile away. Investigators determined that Wales had ordered the snakes online from a Florida dealer and had them delivered to Little Rock National Airport, where he picked them up shortly before his death.

But exactly why this deal went down in Little Rock may never be known.

11. David Howell
His career started as a banking wunderkind in northwest Arkansas and ended in a Beverly Hills hotel just as state regulators started to unravel his Ponzi scheme. But there's still much that isn't clear in the infamous case of Mace David Howell Jr., 54. For instance, the California coroner ruled his death a suicide, but a Little Rock jury settled a life insurance dispute by ruling it an accidental drug overdose by a known substance abuser. Which was it?

More than $80 million worth of claims were made against Howell's estate, but there's no way to know whether those represented all the outstanding promissory notes he issued to investors. What's more, some of the notes were so old that, if he had been paying the promised returns until shortly before his death, the investors may have actually made more in interest than they invested.

And, of course, the trial of his business associate Richard T. Smith of Hot Springs on four felony counts related to the Howell investment scheme is scheduled to start on May 4 – more than two and a half years after Smith was indicted by a federal grand jury. 



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