The following story was originally published on May 16, 1985. Robert Waterhouse is expected to be executed in Florida at 6 p.m. today. Check back tonight for more coverage.
On the morning of Feb. 10, 1966, Robert Waterhouse drove from his home on Wilmarth Avenue in Greenport to his job at the County Center in Riverhead. After work, he stopped off at the Westview Road, Mattituck, home of his girlfriend, Barbara Kelly. That’s when things started to turn sour. He says he doesn’t remember just who or what caused it, but he and Barbara had a fight. It ended with her throwing his ring in the water, his striking her in the face, and her mother threatening to call the police. “F— the cops,” Waterhouse recalls telling Mrs. Kelly. “Get the Marines. I’m ready.”
Later that night, Robert Waterhouse was ready to kill.
First he retreated to Helen’s Bar on Front Street in Greenport and began to drink. By his own account, he drank “all kinds of stuff – beer, scotch, you name it, I was drinking it.” He was 19 at the time, but already he was a veteran of Helen’s and other North Fork taverns. He says he began drinking in bars at age 15; he was big for his age, and most of his buddies were older.
Some of his drinking buddies probably were in Helen’s that night, but Waterhouse says he doesn’t remember much besides losing all his money on the pool table. At some point, much later in the evening, he lost track of time and place, he says. “I guess at some point I decided to leave there. The rest is history.”
The Suffolk County medical examiner said 77-year-old widow Ella Mae Carter of 39 Washington Ave., Greenport, died of strangulation. She had been brutally beaten; 14 of her ribs were fractured. Teeth marks were found under her right breast. Police said there was evidence of rape, although that charge was never brought against him.
The charge filed was first degree murder, but Robert Waterhouse caught a break some Greenporters haven’t forgotten – on March 13, 1966, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life in Auburn State Prison. With time off for good behavior, and following a revision of the penal code, he was paroled Oct. 29, 1975.
‘Bobby and his friends … were stuck back on the 50’s’
Today, Robert Waterhouse sits on death row in the Florida State Prison at Starke, about 40 miles southwest of Jacksonville. He’s been there since 1980, when he was convicted of another brutal sex slaying, this time of a 29-year-old St. Petersburg woman, Deborah Kammerer. Only an 11th hour court order blocked his execution this past March. His fate again will be on the line June 4, when lawyers from the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee enter the Pinellas County Courthouse in St. Petersburg to seek a retrial in the Florida case.
* * * *
Although Robert Waterhouse has spent 15 ½ of his 38 years behind bars, no one – not law enforcement officials, not his former friends, not his family, not Waterhouse himself – has adequately answered the question of what went wrong with his life. Nor has anyone explained why a two-time convicted killer has never had any meaningful psychiatric counseling.
Over the past six months, The Suffolk Times has attempted to answer those questions by conducting more than 50 interviews with Waterhouse, (including one at the Florida State Prison at Starke), members of his family, schoolmates and friends who knew him as a boy growing up in Greenport. What has emerged is a portrait of a rambunctious but otherwise seemingly normal youth who became increasingly antisocial and estranged from his family and friends as he approached manhood. Along with an extraordinary number of his teenage associates who died before their time at the hands of alcohol, drugs and fast cars, Robert Waterhouse never made the transition to adulthood. In the words of one person who knew him well, Greenport restaurateur Bob Heaney; “Bobby and his friends were still the rebels, with their slicked-back hair and their turned-up collars. The times were changing, but they were stuck back in the ’50s.”
* * * *
Robert Bryan Waterhouse was born on December 12, 1946, the fourth of five children of Mabel Quarty and Roger Waterhouse. Today if you ask Robert Waterhouse who his parents are, he’s liable to give you two answers. That’s because at the age of six months he went to live with his aunt and uncle, Lois and Chester Foster, on Wilmarth Avenue in Greenport. He never returned.
The “adoption” by his aunt and uncle – although Waterhouse is quick to point out that he was never legally adopted – is the subject of some controversy. According to Lois Foster and her sister, Mabel Waterhouse, both of whom have retired to St. Petersburg with their husbands, the circumstances were simple. Robert was six months old and the Waterhouse family was building a new home on Sixth Avenue in Greenport. Mrs. Waterhouse already had three young children at home; coping with a new infant was a problem. With the warning that “you’ll probably be walking the floor all night” with a crying baby, Mrs. Foster agreed to keep an eye on Robert for a few days. Mrs. Foster says she was only too happy to accept an infant into her home; she had lost a child at birth only shortly before. But “a few days” turned into a lifetime. As Mrs. Foster recalls it: “She never asked to have him back, so I kept him.”
The story of how Robert Waterhouse came to live with his aunt and uncle is told differently on the streets of Greenport. Numerous people interviewed by The Suffolk Times, including several of his boyhood friends, say he was traded by his mother to his aunt for a dining room set. As unlikely as that seems, the theory appears to have been widely accepted as true in Greenport, and it seems possible that it was used to taunt young Waterhouse as he was growing up here.
Waterhouse swears he heard the dining room set story for the first time last month, after one of his lawyers returned from a fact-finding trip to Greenport. His aunt says “there is no truth whatsoever” to the rumor, but she has an explanation for its origin. When he was about a year old – in other words, six months after he came into the Fosters’ home – his aunt said Robert was moved from her bedroom to a room formerly used as a dining room. In order to make room, Mrs. Foster said she offered to loan her dining room set to her sister, who had an empty room at her new home on Sixth Avenue. “But there certainly was no trade,” Mrs. Foster said.
Mrs. Foster does remember Robert being taunted about the circumstances of his “adoption,” however. “When he was a kid, he used to take the bus to school,” Mrs. Foster recalled during an interview on the enclosed poolside patio of her retirement home in south St. Petersburg. “He would always turn around and throw me a kiss at the corner. But then one day he asked me to start taking him to school. He was about 10 or 11 then, but I found out years later – after Mrs. Carter – that the kids used to taunt him on the bus and make him cry. After he was arrested, (a neighbor) told me the kids used to tell him, “You’re no good. You’re mother didn’t want you and she gave you away.’”
(Mr. and Mrs. Waterhouse declined to be interviewed by The Suffolk Times when contacted at their one-story bungalow, which is about a mile away from the Fosters’ home. Mrs. Waterhouse’s only comment was that she and her husband retired to Florida in September 1979 “in order to start over, only it happened again four months later. It was like a nightmare all over again.”)
A 1961 entry in his records at the Greenport School, which were reviewed with Waterhouse’s permission, stated: “Robert seems to be a cry baby if things don’t go his way.”
Several of his childhood friends say he was spoiled by his aunt and uncle. Mrs. Foster responds: “What I didn’t have as a kid, I wanted him to have. I never had a bike as a kid, so I wanted him to have one. Almost anything he wanted, he got. He was disciplined, but he never went without.”
‘He was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’
Waterhouse and his aunt also remember how the kids – and even one Little League coach, according to Mrs. Foster – used to make fun of his last name. “I caught a lot of hell because of my name,” he said during a recent conversation in the interview room at the Florida State Prison. “You know, shithouse, outhouse, water closet. I was in a lot of fights because of that. There was one black kid – I used to fight with him every day. It was like a standing thing. Every day when I’d go home from school for lunch, there he was waiting for me. We’d just go at it. One day he’d win, the next day I’d win. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what is was all about. I used to think why, why are we fighting? I was in a lot of fights as a kid – mostly because of my name. That may be where I got my reputation as a fighter, maybe even as a bully.”
At some point, probably in junior high, when he went from 95 pounds to 160 pounds in the span of two years, Waterhouse stopped taking abuse and started handing it out. In the words of one former classmate: “He was an intimidating guy. He used to pick on everybody who was smaller than him. He would do anything to make himself look like a wild guy, a wise guy. I would describe him as a hood.”
The incidents involving altercations with other students punctuate Waterhouse’s school records. In 1959, he was given detention for bruising a girl’s arm. One entry in his file said: “He seems to enjoy fighting with older boys. The boys in his group seem to fear him.” Another stated: “There is a certain nervous anxiety indicated by an almost violent chewing of his nails.”
Not all the teachers’ comments were negative. A junior high school profile found him to be an ”average student” who “works hard.” He was described as “very likable,” and it was predicted he would do well in high school.
For a time during his high school years, Waterhouse was involved in athletics, primarily baseball. One former teammate, Joe Gordon, who is now a Southold Town policeman, recalls: “He couldn’t field worth a damn, but he could hit a ball. He almost got kicked off the team one time, but I don’t remember what for.”
Waterhouse’s former coach, Richard “Dude” Manwaring, remembers. “It was in a game against Southampton,” Mr. Manwaring said. “He deliberately kicked the third basemen as he was rounding the base headed for home. He was thrown out of the game.
“He could be the nicest boy one minute, and then turn around the next and be vicious. He was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the classroom, he was average or better than average, but he had a history of losing himself completely. But he was never vicious to me.”
Something else Dude Manwaring remembers about Robert Waterhouse is that he used to wear combat boots instead of baseball spikes.
Mr. Manwaring was present during the incident that first brought Waterhouse to the attention of the Greenport Police. It was October 15, 1964, at a Halloween dance at the high school. As Mr. Manwaring remembers, Waterhouse “was half in the bag” when he showed up at the dance and was asked to leave by another chaperone, Charles Jantzen.
Waterhouse remembers it differently. “I had on a continental suit without a tie, and he (Mr. Jantzen) said I had to have on a tie on,” he said. “He wanted me to wear a piece of crepe paper for a tie. He wanted to make a clown out of me. I said, ‘If you want to f— with me, come outside and get the whole thing.’ But he wouldn’t come out, so I took a tire iron and air conditioned the windshield of his brand new Bonneville.”
An offer by his aunt to make restitution kept Waterhouse out of jail, but it didn’t keep him in school. He was expelled on October 30, 1964. Only through the intervention of a sympathetic school board member, which resulted in tutoring at the home of Marguerite Layden on Fifth Street, did Waterhouse graduate on time in June 1965.
Even before his expulsion from school, Waterhouse was spending more and more of his time hanging out with his buddies in front of Rouse’s store on Greenport’s Front Street. He was a regular perched on top of a garbage can almost every night.
‘We simply turned him loose back into society’
Another regular at Rouse’s, Tony Ficurilli, who now runs a barber shop on Main Street, remembers the night Waterhouse showed up wearing a derby, a pink shirt, imitation pearl buttons, a vest, black pants and black pointy shoes. “He was trying to impress some girl,” Mr. Ficurilli said. “It was summertime, and he just walked up to the girl and introduced himself. He said ‘I’m, the continental gent,’ clicked his heels, tipped his hat and snapped his fingers. She turned and walked away.”
Drinking was an important part of Waterhouse’s existence by this time. He bragged about putting away as many as three six-packs of beer a day. Later he earned the nickname “Stoney” because of his frequent use of marijuana.
“I was always out in the evening, downtown,” Waterhouse recalls. “And drinking was the thing. Every day – a six-pack, two six-packs, a pint of whiskey. Anything to get the place away from you.”
That feeling of alienation in his hometown is a recurrent theme with Waterhouse. He said: “When I call Greenport a hick town, that’s because it was small and still kind of red-necked in its ways. Call me different or whatever, but it just didn’t make any sense to me. If you want to be like that, fine, but don’t impose that on me.”
Later he said: “I got the feeling when I was 17 or 18 that they were trying to make me different – the way they treated me, the way they looked at me. For instance, people didn’t like my cousin, Ronnie Quarty, because he was a rebel. Because I hung around with him, I got the tag. I think it’s very unfair to tag somebody. I mean, the guy was my cousin.”
Ronnie Quarty was another of Robert Waterhouse’s friends who didn’t make it through the 1960s. He was killed in a construction accident shortly after Waterhouse went to jail the first time.
Asked if he thinks he was treated unfairly in Greenport, Waterhouse replies: “It wasn’t that they weren’t giving me a shot. It was just that I wasn’t saying nothing bad about them. I wasn’t doing anything to them. Why did they want to put me down?”
Other than an interview by a BOCES psychologist following the incident with Mr. Jantzen’s car, it does not appear that Robert Waterhouse asked for or was offered any professional counseling during his troubled teenage years.
Said Dude Manwaring: “With all the things he was doing, he should have been helped years ago. All those things showed up, and nobody ever helped the kid out.”
Waterhouse’s aunt, Lois Foster, says she “begged for him to get help,” although no formal request appears in his school records. “Even before Mrs. Carter, I asked for him to be evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychologist. You just don’t get any help until it’s too late.”
Lawrence J. Nokes, the BOCES psychologist who did examine Waterhouse on Nov. 12, 1964, reported that he “justifies (fights and other difficulties) in every case as acts of self-defense, or having been justifiably provoked — Robert describes the contact he had with his parents, brothers and sisters matter of factly, and attaches little significance to the fact that he was not reared by his parents.”
In an interview the same day with Mrs. Foster, the psychologist noted: “She describes no difficulties with Robert. However, it is evident from her conversation that little or no control is placed on Robert’s behavior in regard to either controlling the time or the activities in which he participates. She states that her husband has never taken an interest in Robert and has been a negligible factor in Robert’s development.
“Robert’s behavior seems to be characterized by inadequate control over aggressive impulses,” the report continued. “He is able to rationalize his way around social convention, and the disapproval which society places on fighting. He reacts with hostility when controls are placed on him.”
Mr. Nokes noted that Waterhouse had an IQ of 100, and concluded: “There are no factors indicated … that would interfere with his receiving home instruction.”
Unmentioned in Mr. Nokes psychological profile of Robert Waterhouse is an incident which, if true, would have profoundly influenced his youth. In a May 3, 1985, letter to The Suffolk Times, Waterhouse says he was the victim of a homosexual rape when he was about nine years old. He said his attacker was a neighborhood teenager who has since left the North Fork. “As with most children who are molested,” Waterhouse said in the letter, “I was so embarrassed that I never told anyone.” No record of the alleged rape exists in the files of the Greenport Police Department.
Following his graduation, Waterhouse got a job as an ID checker at the bowling alley that used to be located on Moore’s Lane, Greenport, where Jernick Moving and Storage now sits. He was there early one morning in August, 1965, when two of his friends, Myron “Mike” Prindle and Doug Dean, showed up and wanted to drive to Riverhead for breakfast. They never made it. As Waterhouse remembers, “They were both loaded before they got there.” The car swerved off the Main Road in Jamesport and struck a utility pole. Waterhouse and Dean were thrown through the windshield, but survived. Prindle, who was at the wheel, was killed instantly.
Waterhouse had a concussion, 13 stitches in his head and another 13 in his hand. He was transferred to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport after one night in the hospital in Riverhead, but he says, “I checked myself out after five days because I couldn’t take it anymore.”
The seriousness of the injuries he sustained in that 1965 accident was an issue last year, when Waterhouse’s court-appointed lawyer tried to convince a judge in a Florida clemency hearing that “some part of Robert Waterhouse was damaged” in the crash. According to a Jan. 27, 1984, account in the St. Petersburg Times: “That damage should have been detected and treated, (attorney Henry) Andringa said. Instead … ‘we simply turned him loose back out into society.’”
Asked if he experienced a personality change following the accident, Waterhouse simply shrugs his shoulders. His aunt says he “complained of headaches every day after that,” but she adds: “I don’t know if that had anything to do with (what followed).”
Following the accident in the summer of 1965, Waterhouse met Barbara Kelly, a girl from Mattituck who was about to enter her senior year at Mattituck High School. At first, the relationship flourished. In fact, Waterhouse says he and Barbara were talking about marriage by the end of 1965, and she even was thinking about dropping out of school.
The events of Feb. 10, and 11, 1966, changed all that, of course, and Barbara Kelly’s whereabouts have been something of a mystery since that time. What is known is that she dropped out of school in February 1966, leaving no forwarding address. There is no indication that she completed her high school studies because Mattituck was never asked to forward her records to a new school. There have been reports that she lived in Riverhead for a while, but repeated efforts to locate her have proved unsuccessful.
Waterhouse says the last time he heard from Barbara Kelly was when he was still in prison in New York. He said: “She brought me to court to prove I fathered her child,” who was born on Aug. 23, 1966. “I didn’t think I was going to get out for 20 years, so I signed the papers.” However, now he denies paternity, saying he’s not certain Ritchie Waterhouse is his son. Waterhouse last saw Ritchie when he got out on parole in 1975. The boy is 18 now, and Waterhouse says, “I’d sure like to see him now to see what he looks like.”
Waterhouse claims he doesn’t remember what he and Barbara Kelly fought about on Feb. 10, 1966, but his aunt thinks it may have been because his girlfriend “was in a family way. I didn’t mind his getting married,” Mrs. Foster continued, “but they wanted to move in with us on Wilmarth Avenue, and we didn’t have any room. It was only a two-bedroom house. I thought it was best if he got out by himself. I’ve hated myself every since. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had let them move in.”
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“When I woke up, my eyes and my head finally started to clear and focus.” Robert Waterhouse is speaking about the morning of Friday, Feb. 11, 1966. I said, ‘Where is this place? Where am I? Who is that?’ And then it settled in. I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Looking directly into the eyes of his interviewer, Waterhouse says he has no recollection of what happened inside Mrs. Carter’s house the night he murdered her.
The official police account said Mrs. Carter’s nude body was found lying on a bed in the bedroom of her five-room home at 6:38 p.m. Friday. The discovery was made by Greenport Village Police and the victim’s nephew, George W. Hubbard of Central Avenue. Mr. Hubbard, who is now mayor of Greenport, was called to the scene by a neighbor, Anthony Andrade of 35 Washington Ave., who became suspicious when milk delivered to Mrs. Carter’s home early Friday morning was still on the doorstep in the early evening.
Waterhouse immediately became a suspect. He had done yard work for Mrs. Carter, and police records indicated he had been charged in the past with being a “peeping Tom.” When Waterhouse came to the police station early Saturday morning with a family friend, Ken Norwood, he had scratches on his hands and face. A warrant was issued, and a pile of bloody clothing was found in Waterhouse’s bedroom. Waterhouse confessed to the crime at 6 a.m. Saturday.
‘I thought, “Oh, my God’”
An account in the Feb. 17, 1966, edition of The Riverhead News-Review reported the following chronology after, according to police, Waterhouse broke into the Carter house at about 1 a.m. Friday. “Police theorize Mrs. Carter fled to the kitchen, where she was caught and dragged back to the bedroom. Authorities said she fought desperately in the kitchen, through the living room, and in the bedroom, where she was brutally beaten, sexually attacked, and then strangled. An autopsy conducted by Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Hugh Ashmore, late Saturday, revealed she had been beaten, raped, and then strangled.
“Robbery was obviously not the motive,” the news article continued. “(Police said) Mrs. Carter’s wedding wring was still on her finger. They also found an overnight bag under her bed, containing her savings, $2,333 in all.”
What was Robert Waterhouse doing in Mrs. Carter’s home at 1 a.m. in the morning? When he is asked that question directly, his eyes glazed over before he responds. “I used to shovel her walk in the wintertime. That’s all.” In a recent letter to The Suffolk Times, he said: “I can honestly say that I never meant or intended to kill Mrs. Carter.”
The question of Robert Waterhouse’s intentions appears to be key, because somewhere along the line prosecutors decided to reduce the charge from first to second degree murder. But that didn’t happen until after a mistrial was declared in his first trial when his court-appointed lawyer, Edward LaFreniere of Riverhead, was disbarred due to financial irregularities in other cases. Attorney Harry Brown of Northport handled Waterhouse’s defense the second time around, and he advised his client to plead to second degree murder when it was offered on March 13, 1966.
Looking back today, both Waterhouse and Mrs. Carter’s nephew, George Hubbard, are upset about that plea, but for different reasons. Waterhouse thinks he was ill-advised by Brown. “The suppression hearing was scheduled for Monday,” he said in a recent interview. “They had just finished picking the jury on Friday, and (the prosecutors) grabbed Brown and offered second degree, with 20 years to life. If convicted of first degree murder, I would have done 26 years and 10 months before even seeing the parole board. It looked like a good deal at the time, but I think (the prosecution) knew evidence was going to be thrown out in the suppression hearing; that’s why they offered second degree. Brown should have explained what we had going.”
‘Greenport gave him a second chance’
George Hubbard: “I was really mad that day. I tried to find the prosecutor, I think his name was Mr. Jaffe, but he was out on the golf course. I would have killed him, I think. He didn’t advise the family that he was going to let him take the lesser plea. We were all upset at the time because we wanted to go for broke.”
* * * *
Nine years and 10 months later, George Hubbard had another reason to be upset with the legal/penal system – Robert Waterhouse was getting out of prison early. As Waterhouse remembers it: “A change in the penal code enabled me to go to the parole board earlier. My aunt and some other people had gotten a petition together, and I had a very good prison record, which didn’t hurt.” According to Waterhouse, his parole interview consisted of the following exchange with three doctors: “I walked in there, and they said, ‘How are you doing?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ They said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘Okay.’ They said, ‘What do you think about going back outside?’ I said, ‘That would be great if it happens.’ They said, ‘Okay, we’ll see you.’ That was their examination.”
George Hubbard: “The same people who spoke on his behalf about the goodness the kid had in him – which is what got him paroled – should really feel responsible for the second murder.”
Waterhouse was paroled on Oct. 29, 1975, nine years and 10 months after his arrest for the Carter murder. He immediately returned to Greenport.
Why did he return to the scene of the crime, a small town where everyone knew his face and what he had done? “I had nowhere else to go,” he said. “I had $250 to my name. Where was I going to go?”
After looking for a job, which was a condition of his parole, he found one in February 1976 at Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding, where the both his uncle and his father worked as painters. “Steve Clarke gave me that job more out of generosity and sympathy than anything else,” Waterhouse says.
Steve Clarke: “At first, I thought the guys in the yard might kill him. But I sat them down the first day and told them if they gave him a hard time, I’d come down twice as hard on them. We never had any trouble. As far as I’m concerned, Greenport was very decent to the guy. They gave him a second chance.”
Waterhouse remembers it differently. “When I came out of the joint, (the sense of alienation) was still there, only it was worse. You know: ‘We don’t want you here. Why are you here? Why don’t you just evaporate?’”
Wasn’t that understandable under the circumstances? “The prison experience had opened my eyes to many things in life,” he says. “But I didn’t see any open minds when I came back there. Nobody would say, here’s a second chance.”
What about Steve Clarke? Wasn’t he offering a second chance? “He was doing it more out of kindness to my family,” says Waterhouse.
The job at Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding lasted until about September 1976. After collecting unemployment benefits for a while, Waterhouse went to work as a bayman with Jim Rock of Greenport, scalloping mostly. But when the season ended in March, he said it was time to move on. “I just couldn’t see living on 60 bucks a week with no prospects for a job,” he says.
However, as with many chapters of Robert Waterhouse’s life story, there is another version of his final days in Greenport. A number of people say he started to “peep” again and was run out of town. What is known for certain is that he did have another run-in with local police. On Oct. 15, 1976, he was asked to appear in a line-up at the Southold Town Police station in Peconic after a prowler was spotted in Orient. He wasn’t identified by the witness, but his aunt said he was being harassed by the police. “He could not have stayed in Greenport,” she said. In April 1977, Waterhouse decided to move to Monroe, La., the home of his older brother, Roger.
Whatever the circumstances of his departure from the village where he was born, raised and returned after nearly 10 years in jail, Robert Waterhouse says he hasn’t looked back since the day he left for the last time.
* * * *
Condensed, the years between 1977 and 1980 were divided between Louisiana and Florida, mostly in a series of short-lived jobs. In Louisiana, Waterhouse worked as a shipping and receiving foreman, painted houses and sold life insurance. Although he got the jobs only after lying about his prison record in New York, there is no indication that he got into any serious trouble with the law while living with his brother and his family.
Florida was a different story. After moving in September 1978 to St. Petersburg, where his aunt and uncle had retired a year earlier, Waterhouse first worked in a boatyard. After he was fired from the job, he took a job in construction, which he held for three days before being arrested on a charge of attempted vehicular homicide.
The date was April 26, 1979, and police said Waterhouse deliberately struck Lorenzo Sims and Evelyn Prince with his 1964 yellow Chevrolet Camaro while they were walking on 11th Avenue S. in St. Petersburg. No reason was given for the alleged attack, and a jury ruled it was an accident. Waterhouse was released from jail 3 ½ months after his arrest.
It was back into construction until Jan. 9, 1980, when Waterhouse was arrested for the last time. Police said he met 29-year-old Deborah Kammerer in the ABC Lounge in St. Petersburg on the night of Jan. 2, 1980 – which in itself was a violation of his New York parole, since he wasn’t supposed to be frequenting bars. Ms. Kammerer, who was described in news reports as “blonde,” petite, a bar-hopper and a (former) date of Waterhouse,” was found nude, lying face down in the mud flats next to Tampa Bay the following morning. A description in the March 12, 1985, edition of the St. Petersburg Times stated: “(Ms. Kammerer) had drowned, but not before her 5-foot-2, 90-pound body was repeatedly violated…
“According to the medical examiner, Ms. Kammerer took 22 blows to the head, some from a tire iron. Her nose was broken in three places, teeth were cracked, eyes swollen, neck choked, back bruised. She was raped. There were extensive cuts in her rectum, where a bottle was forced. A blood-stained tampon was jammed in her throat.”
Although Waterhouse professes innocence in the killing of Ms. Kammerer, he has declined to discuss details of the Florida case with The Suffolk Times because of the possible impact on his June 4 hearing. However, he did tell reporter Jon East of the St. Petersburg Evening Independence newspaper: “I don’t deny that she may have been beaten very severely in my car. I never denied that. I just denied doing it.”
The police and a jury of his peers didn’t buy that explanation. Waterhouse was convicted of first degree murder on Sept. 2, 1980, and a day later he was sentenced to death. After a lengthy series of legal maneuvers, Florida Governor Bob Graham signed his death warrant Feb. 22, 1985. Only the intervention of attorney Stephen Bright of the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee spared Waterhouse four days before his execution, which was scheduled for March 19. Without debating the merits of the death sentence itself, Mr. Bright argued that Waterhouse should not be executed without having adequate legal representation. Until he met Mr. Bright for the first time on the morning of Friday, March 15, the day the stay of execution was granted, Waterhouse did not have a lawyer.
‘He deserves to die’
According to Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who works with Mr. Bright in his Atlanta office, the defense’s primary thrust at the June 4 hearing will be that Waterhouse received “ineffective assistance of counsel” in the 1980 Florida trial. They also will argue that Waterhouse suffers from “extreme mental disorder,” and that he was “incapable of appreciating the criminality of his actions.”
Waterhouse says he has only one goal in the Florida case – a retrial. “If they overturn the (death) sentence, I’m not really crazy about that,” he said. “I’d just as soon go out like I’m sitting here now; in other words, let them execute me. If they force 25 years to life on me, I’d be 58 years old before I saw the parole board, and still owe New York life parole. No way. I’d just as soon get it over with.
“If they did force (a life sentence) on me, and then threw me out in the general (prison) population, just give me a couple of days. I’ll be at the fence and they’ll have to kill me.”
Mr. Smith thinks Waterhouse may have second thoughts about that if Gov. Graham signs a second death warrant. He said: “They all say that. If he gets a little closer to execution, He’ll change his mind.”
‘He was standing there like a lost soul, just looking over the crowd’
George Hubbard believes Robert Waterhouse makes an excellent case for the death penalty. “I wouldn’t mind pulling the switch on the guy myself, after what I saw he did to my aunt,” Mayor Hubbard said. “He deserves to die.”
* * * *
Two final images of Robert Waterhouse: one from a boyhood friend, Ron Tyler, one from Waterhouse himself.
Mr. Tyler remembers seeing Waterhouse at the Apple Tree, a Mattituck nightspot, after his 1975 parole. “A lot of the guys he used to hang out with were there, but no one would talk to him,” Mr. Tyler recalls. “No one could relate to him. What do you say to someone who has been in prison for 10 years? It was a very awkward situation. As much as I wanted to go up to him and say, ‘Hi, Bob, how are you doing,’ there wasn’t anything to say. Everyone must have had the same attitude, because no one else talked to him. He was standing there all alone like a lost soul, just looking over the crowd.”
Robert Waterhouse, the boy from Greenport who grew up to become a two-time convicted murdered, doesn’t ask the sympathy of Ron Tyler or anyone else. Defiantly, his hands manacled before him, he says: “I’m okay. It’s the rest of the world that’s f—– up. I realize some people can have a problem and never realize it, but I don’t think I’m one of those people. If you ask me, I’m perfectly okay.
“Besides, for me, yesterday is a memory, and that’s all it is. Yesterday has no real relevance. What counts is today and tomorrow – if there is a tomorrow.”