Goodyear Killer escapes justice multiple times
Before newspapers across the state labeled him the Goodyear Killer, 23-year-old Charles Ray Spears escaped from the Jackson Barracks work-release center ran by the Louisiana Department of Corrections, where he served time for petty theft.
That was July 29, 1975.
Eleven days later, he landed in Hammond, where he handcuffed two employees of the Goodyear Tire Center back-to-back and shot them in the head.
Three days after that, an armed robber shot a Slidell police officer in the head and critically injured a jewelry store clerk. Police in Hammond said the gunman’s description matched that of the Goodyear Killer.
New Orleans police apprehended Charles Ray Spears the following spring and charged him with the death of a 33-year-old named Ernest Smith. Co-workers found the body of the restaurant chef in his apartment on February 23, 1976, with a .22 caliber bullet in his head.
Police did not charge Spears with the death of the police officer, and a New Orleans District Attorney eventually dropped the charges against him related to the Smith murder—and after being convicted of the Goodyear slaying, an appeals court overturned the conviction.
This week and next, we will consider whether Charles Ray Spears was the luckiest murderer in the history of armed robbery or whether he just had a damned good lawyer.
The killing rampage began after 5:30: PM August 8, 1975, as the Hammond Goodyear Tire and Appliance Service Center closed for the day. With the doors still unlocked, the store’s manager and assistant manager balanced the day’s books, as a black man walked in asking about cassette players. Producing a snub-nosed .22 caliber handgun, the intruder handcuffed the men together, and—as his captives begged for their lives—he shot both in the back of the head.
Store manager John Reid, 47, later died in the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans. Assistant Manager Roy Walters, 26, lived in critical condition at Ochsner for several months. Although Walters could not see after the shooting, he managed to drag Reid’s body to the phone and dial the operator after his assailant left the store.
The South Central Bell operator then transferred the call to the Hammond Police Department. Lieutenant Ed White responded, finding the victims, Walters unconscious and Reid dead. The manacles attached to their wrists looked different. Manufactured in Spain, White said he felt lucky the keys still fit them.
Before losing consciousness, Walters described his assailant as a black man with a medium length afro, 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing about 180 pounds, wearing a brown shirt, green trousers, and black shoes.
A second man joined the gunman after Walters lost his sight. Both men fled with a small amount of cash and no merchandise.
The Hammond Police Department, assisted by the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, closed all streets and highways leading from the city, searching anyone attempting to leave, but to no avail; the assailants escaped.
Less than one week later, Sergeant Earl Alfred, a 31-year-old Slidell police officer stopped a gunman running out the back door of a jewelry store. That gunman shot him in the head with a .22 caliber handgun.
Minutes earlier, the officer’s assailant stabbed 20-year-old jewelry store clerk Betty Hodge Graves multiple times with a pair of scissors, leaving her in critical condition. Sergeant Alfred, a five-year veteran whom police described as the most loved cop on the force, died instantly.
Police said clerk Graves triggered the silent alarm at the Champagne Jewelry Store. When it sounded at the Slidell police station, Alfred responded. The holdup man shot Alfred at the back door, then stole the officer’s handgun and ran.
Wounded, Betty Hodge Graves crawled to the officer’s patrol car and attempted to radio the station for help, but lost consciousness trying.
Witnesses reported a black and white 1964 Chevrolet truck sped from the scene, and as they did in Hammond, police set up roadblocks throughout the city, but once again, the gunman escaped.
The following February, Hammond police arrested Larry Donahue, 24, charging him with purse snatching. Following the arrest, police questioned Donahue’s cousin, Clay Spears, who told him that Donahue discussed robbing and killing a man in New Orleans—along with two other cousins, Leroy Donahue, 24, and Charles Ray Spears.
During his four-hour interrogation, Donahue confessed to robbing Ernest Smith, a drug dealer, of his money and his supply, but he named Charles Ray Spears as Smith’s killer.
Hearing his cousin had confessed, Leroy Donahue did the same, also tagging Spears as the murderer.
The case seemed cut-and-dried until Larry Donahue’s attorney, William R. Ary, argued that his client had been “constantly interrogated” by Hammond authorities, as well as homicide and robbery detectives from the New Orleans Police Department. Ary contended his client’s statements had been “tainted” and cited the so-called doctrine of “the fruit of the poison tree,” demanding that the district attorney drop charges against his client.
New Orleans Judge Alvin Oser agreed, as did New Orleans Assistant District Attorney Joseph Meyer. Meyer said that since Leroy Donahue and Charles Ray Spears confessed as outgrowths of Larry Donahue’s coerced confession, the doctrine of the fruit of the poison tree prevailed.
He dropped charges against all three defendants.
Police then transported Charles Ray Spears back to Tangipahoa Parish, where he faced one last first-degree murder charge—and another get-out-of-jail-free card called “a writ of habeas corpus.”