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"An Extraordinarily Gruesome Case," or Why Everyone Needs a Gun

Robert Waters

When Hayward Bissell and his girlfriend Patricia Ann Booher left Ohio on a trip to Florida, no one could have guessed that they would soon make front-page news. Though the national media reported the sensational aspects of the case, only local newspapers wrote about the woman who saved herself and her husband from Bissell's insane rage.

On January 23, 2000, the six-foot tall, four-hundred pound man drove into a parking lot in Chattooga County, Georgia and stabbed Booher to death. Less than an hour later, his car rear-ended a second automobile near Fort Payne, Alabama. Donald Pirch, the driver of the second vehicle, pulled to the side of the road, got out his insurance papers, and walked toward Bissell. Suddenly, the madman punched down the accelerator and raced toward Pirch, striking him. Pirch was dragged 150 feet as Bissell sped away from the scene. Finally, the car lurched around a curve, throwing Pirch off and saving his life.

An hour later, Bissell had found his way to Mentone, Alabama.

James Pumphrey was sitting on the front porch of his rural home when Bissell pulled into the driveway. The killer walked up the steps, and, without a word, began stabbing the homeowner. As the madman continued to thrust the knife into Pumphrey, the homeowner's two Labrador retrievers rushed to their master's aid. Bissell then turned on the dogs, stabbing them and cutting their throats.

Carolyn Pumphrey had been working inside the house when the attack began. She retrieved a .22 rifle and raced outside. As soon as Carolyn aimed the gun at the assailant, he yelled, "Don't shoot me, I'm leaving."

Bissell fled, not knowing that the rifle had jammed.

The climax to Bissell's murderous spree ended one of the most bizarre cases in Alabama history. When DeKalb County sheriff's deputies stopped his car, they found the corpse of Patricia Ann Booher strapped to the front seat by the seat-belt. Her hand and leg had been amputated, her eyes had been gouged out, and her heart had been removed. Stunned investigators found her esophagus in Bissell's shirt pocket.

After being arrested, the prisoner tore up his cell, causing havoc in the small county jail. He was eventually transferred to a mental hospital to await trial for murder, attempted murder, and numerous other charges.

James Pumphrey survived the attack, but barely. He could not work for months, and his medical bills were astronomical.

The crimes of serial killers and spree killers, who also choose their victims at random, have been well-documented. But little has been written about mentally deranged killers such as Bissell. Investigators found that in an on-again off-again relationship, he had often stalked Booher and tried to control her every move. At the time of his arrest he was being treated by an Ohio mental health facility, but had stopped taking his medication.

After the attack, Carolyn Pumphrey credited her gun with saving two lives. "If it wasn't for the gun that day," she said, "we would have both been killed. People have the right to defend themselves, and if we didn't have that rifle, we wouldn't be here.

A second random attack by a mentally unbalanced man was also thwarted because a bystander had a gun.

On January 29, 1998, Donnie Neal Moore, a paranoid-schizophrenic, became involved in a dispute with a Tulsa, Oklahoma apartment manager. Police reported that an enraged Moore "ran outside and pulled a medical monitor from the waist of an 80-year-old woman who was walking in the parking lot." He slammed the monitor to the pavement, knocked the woman down, and broke her walker. Then he began to run across the parking lot.

At that moment, a woman was getting out of her car carrying her two-year-old daughter. Moore grabbed the baby from her mother's arms and ran.

Gene Case, doing landscape work at the complex, ran to his truck, reached into his glove box, and retrieved his licensed .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. He then raced across the parking lot and cut off the escape route of the assailant. Leveling his pistol at the man, Case yelled, "Stop! Put the child down, or I'm going to kill you!"

When police arrived, they found the attacker lying on the ground, subdued by the armed citizen. After it was over, Case said, "I only took the gun out when he ran off with that child. I have never pulled a gun on anyone before. The mother was screaming for her child. She was quite upset."

Moore was later found unfit to stand trial and placed in a mental institution.

A police officer referred to Bissell's rampage as "extraordinarily gruesome." Tulsa police praised the restraint of Gene Case in not shooting the mentally unbalanced kidnapper. In each case, an irrational attacker who came face to face with a gun suddenly developed a fine-tuned sense of reality, culminating in lives being saved.

Carolyn Pumphrey may have said it best. "I know there are people in the government who want more gun control," she said. "But I'll tell you, it's good to have a gun when you need it."

Mr. Waters is the author of The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a Firearm.