Rae Carruth: Murder and Almost a Lifetime in Prison

In last week’s stirring tale of the Old West, we saw the Dalton Gang’s bid for fame go horribly wrong. This week, we meet Rae Carruth, formerly a promising football player who spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder.

Rae Carruth

Rae Theotis Carruth was born Rae Lamar Wiggins on January 20, 1974 in Sacramento, California. When he graduated from Valley High School, the University of Colorado offered him a football scholarship. He played four seasons as a wide receiver for the Buffaloes. He made first team All-American in 1996 while completing a degree in English.

Rae Carruth in his playing days
Rae Carruth in his playing days

Carruth’s college football career was impressive enough to earn a first-round pick in the 1997 NFL draft. The Carolina Panthers chose him as the 27th overall pick. The team offered him a $3.7 million deal with a $1.3 million signing bonus.

The Murder of Cherica Adams

Rae Carruth and Cherica Adams went to the movies Monday night, November 15, 1999. According to some, Adams was Carruth’s girlfriend, although he later claimed they had merely “hooked up” a few times. Regardless, Adams, a real estate agent, was eight months pregnant with Carruth’s child.

Leaving the theater, they each got into their own cars and drove to Adams’ home. Shortly after 12:30 a.m., a car pulled alongside Adams and shot her four times. She was able to call 911 and indicated that Rae Carruth was involved in the shooting. Her story was that Carruth had slowed or stopped his car in front of hers. This boxed her in as the car with the shooter positioned itself beside her. When the shooting was over, Carruth drove away. He was gone when paramedics arrived.

Cherica Adams
Cherica Adams

Shortly after arriving at a hospital, Cherica Adams slipped into a coma. Doctors used an emergency caesarian section to deliver her son. But the baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, had suffered permanent brain damage and had cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen. Adams herself never regained consciousness and died on December 14.

Rae Carruth Eventually Faces the Consequences

After the shooting, Rae Carruth posted a $3 million bond. There was a condition: he would turn himself in if either Adams or the child died. However, when Adams did die on December 14, Carruth did not turn himself in. Instead, he ran, but police captured him a day later in the West Tennessee town of Parkers Crossroads. He was hiding in the trunk of his car in the parking lot of a Best Western motel.

The following day, December 16, the Carolina Panthers waived Carruth citing a morals clause in his contract. The day after that, the NFL suspended him indefinitely. But Rae Carruth had bigger problems than his football career. He was going on trial for murder.

A jury found Carruth guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child. They did not find him guilty of first-degree murder, sparing him a shot at the death penalty. He was sentenced to 18-24 years in prison. The actual shooter, Van Brett Watkins, Sr., received a sentence of a minimum of 40 years and 8 months.

Rae Carruth leaving prison, October 2018
Rae Carruth leaving prison, October 2018


Rae Carruth served 18 years and was released in October 2018. Maybe it wasn’t a lifetime, but he missed his son’s growing up years. While in prison, he earned his certification as a barber. He later reached out to Adams’ mother, who raised his son, Chancellor.

Chancellor Lee Adams, son of Rae Carruth
Chancellor Lee Adams

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The Dalton Gang: A Daring Bid to Become Famous

Last week we saw how a dashcam video led police to capture the murderers of Constable Darrell Lunsford. This week, we again take a trip back in time to the Old West. We’ll see how the Dalton Gang tried to become famous by robbing two banks at once. Spoiler alert: the attempt led to disaster.

The Dalton Brothers

Brothers Robert (Bob), Gratton (Grat), Emmett, and William (Bill) Dalton formed the nucleus of the Dalton Gang. They were four of twelve children born to saloon keeper James Lewis Dalton and his wife, Adeline Younger. Adeline was an aunt of Cole and Jim Younger of James-Younger Gang fame.

Robert "Bob" Dalton ca. 1889 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Robert “Bob” Dalton ca. 1889 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The boys grew up near Kansas City in Western Missouri, close to the border with Kansas. Their father, Lewis, was often away for months at a time, running racehorses in California. Eventually, all his sons made the trips with him. But Lewis wasn’t all that successful racing horses. He ended up gambling away the family home in Belton, Missouri, after which Adeline bought a piece of land near Kingfisher in Oklahoma Territory.

William "Bill" Dalton (U.S. Marshal's Museum)
William “Bill” Dalton (U.S. Marshal’s Museum)

In 1880, brother Frank Dalton became a deputy U.S. Marshal for Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), based in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Toward the end of 1887, a bootlegger he tried to arrest shot and killed Frank. Afterwards, brothers Bob and Grat took over Frank’s position, hiring Emmett to look over prisoners.

Gratton "Grat" Dalton (Public Domain)
Gratton “Grat” Dalton (Public Domain)

The Brothers Become the Dalton Gang

At first, Bob and Grat earned good reputations as marshals. But after he killed a man in the line of duty, Bob began to drink heavily. Then the brothers started stealing horses, their first foray into illegal activity.

During the night of February 6, 1891, two masked men held up a Southern Pacific passenger train near Alila, California. The robbers didn’t get any money, but the expressman accidentally killed the fireman. Though unidentified at the time, Bob and Emmett later told brother Littleton that they had held up the train. Thus, was the Dalton Gang born.

Grat Dalton didn’t participate in the Alila robbery (his horse had gone lame). But through undue influence from the railroad and a corrupt defense attorney, he was convicted anyway. Just before sentencing, he and two other prisoners escaped from jail.

Meanwhile, back in Indian Territory, Bob and Emmett were recruiting members for a larger gang. They began planning their robberies, which meant their future crimes were more successful than the Alila holdup.

The Dalton Gang Raids Coffeyville, Kansas

Bill Dalton was ambitious. He claimed he would “beat anything Jesse James ever did—rob two banks at once, in broad daylight.” They planned to hold up the C.M. Condon & Company Bank and the First National Bank in Coffeyville, Kansas. Bob and Emmett were to take the First National Bank. Grat and gang members Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers would knock over the Condon Bank.

The Condon Bank, Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Historical Society)
The Condon Bank, Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Historical Society)

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville. Despite improvised disguises, townspeople quickly recognized them. A storekeeper saw them and yelled, “The Daltons are robbing the bank!” Forewarned, the two hardware stores in town began passing out rifles to the alerted citizenry.

Four members of the Dalton Gang lie dead after the ill-fated Coffeyville robbery. Left to Right: Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas)
Four members of the Dalton Gang lie dead after the ill-fated Coffeyville robbery. Left to Right: Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas)

Before they even left the bank, armed townspeople began shooting into the banks. When the gang tried to exit the banks and make their getaway, they walked into a hail of bullets. The gunfire killed Grat and Bob Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers. Emmett Dalton suffered 23 gunshot wounds. Four townspeople also died in the melee.

Law officers hold up the bodies of dead outlaws Bob (23) and Grat (31) after their attempted robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Memory)
Law officers hold up the bodies of Bob (23) and Grat (31) Dalton after their attempted robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Memory)


Emmett Dalton survived his wounds only to find himself sentenced to life in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. He served 14 years before receiving a pardon in 1907. Then he moved to Hollywood, California where he became a real estate agent. Also, he wrote two books and occasionally did some acting. In 1918, he played himself in an early film version of his first book, Beyond the Law. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

Emmett Dalton prison photo, 1892 or 1893. Note prison number 6472.
Emmett Dalton prison photo, 1892 or 1893. Note prison number 6472.

Bill Dalton waited in vain for the gang to return from Coffeyville to help them escape. He continued his outlaw career, forming the Doolin-Dalton gang with Bill Doolin. Deputy U.S. Marshals killed him when he tried to escape capture on September 1, 1893.

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Darrell Lunsford: Dashcam Video Records a Murder

Last week we looked at the murder of former child actor Carl Switzer, “Alfalfa” of The Little Rascals. Our subject this week is the murder of Darrell Lunsford, an East Texas police constable. His murder was the first case where dashcam video led to the quick arrest of the killers. The video also ensured their conviction.

Darrell Lunsford is Murdered on the Highway

At about 1:20 on the morning of January 23, 1991, Constable Lunsford noted a vehicle he considered suspicious. It was a ten-year-old Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with Maine license plates. As the car passed through the tiny town of Garrison, Texas on U.S. Highway 59, Lunsford pulled it over. Lunsford got out of his cruiser, but before he did, he activate his dashboard camera.

Photo of Darrell Lunsford in uniform
Constable Darrell E. Lunsford, Sr.

Three Hispanic men occupied the Cutlass: the driver, Reynaldo Villarreal, his half-brother, Baldemar, and Jesus Cortez Zambrano. Lunsford asked Reynaldo for identification. He claimed to have a driver’s license but said he didn’t have it on him. Reynaldo failed to mention that the three were heading to Chicago from Houston with 30 pounds of marijuana.

At 1:27, Lunsford asked to look in the Cutlass’s trunk and the men reluctantly agreed. When he and Reynaldo opened the trunk, the scent of marijuana was immediately evident. Although told to stay in the car, Baldemar got out and joined Reynaldo in talking with Lunsford. Suddenly, Baldemar grabbed Lunsford by the legs while Reynaldo grabbed him from behind. The two men, soon joined by Zambrano, then began to kick, beat, and stab the immobilized officer.

Sill frame from Darrell Lunsford's dashcam video seconds before the deadly attack
Still frame form Lunsford’s dashcam video, seconds before the deadly attack

Not content to disable Lunsford, Baldemar shot him in the neck with the officer’s own gun. The bullet severed his spinal cord, killing him instantly. The three dragged the body to a nearby ditch. Then they sped off in the Cutlass, leaving Lunsford’s body and his cruiser on the side of Highway 59.

Darrell Lunsford Murder Suspects Captured

Shortly before the murder, Sheriff’s Deputy Don Welch drove by the traffic stop. Moments later, when the Cutlass zoomed past him, Welch turned around and found Lunsford’s body. He radioed for help. Chief Deputy Thomas Stanaland noticed the video camera in Lunsford’s cruiser. He watched the video, then made a copy of the tape.

Analyzing the video, police were able to identify the three suspects. The trio had abandoned their Cutlass less than a mile from Garrison when they realized Welch had spotted them. On foot now, and toting 30 pounds of marijuana, they didn’t move fast. A highway patrolman spotted and arrested Reynaldo Villarreal later that same day. Two days after that, authorities found and arrested his brother, Baldemar. It took another week, but Zambrano was soon in custody as well.

Shooter Baldemar Villarreal in court
Shooter Baldemar Villarreal in court

All three men stood trial for murder and were convicted. Baldemar Villarreal, the actual shooter, received a life sentence. Reynaldo Villarreal received a 40-year sentence while Jesus Zambrano drew a 30-year term.


A few months later, on September 21, 1991, Texas State Trooper Andy Lopez, Jr. stopped a suspicious vehicle along U.S. Highway 77 in Refugio, Texas. In an eerie echo of Lunsford’s murder, three Hispanic men were in the car transporting a cargo of marijuana. At first, they men allowed Lopez to open the trunk. But then, one of the suspects drew a handgun.

Lopez quickly knocked the suspect off balance and drew his own gun. The two men exchanged shots. The armed suspect continued to fire at Lopez while the other two fled on foot. By the time help arrived, the armed suspect had suffered mortal wounds in the gun battle. Lopez credited the video of Lunsford’s murder with helping him learn what mistakes to avoid in a similar situation.

Sign identifying  a portion of U.S. Highway 59 as the Darrell Lunsford, Sr. Memorial Highway
Sign identifying a portion of U.S. Highway 59 as the Darrell Lunsford, Sr. Memorial Highway

According to Bureau of Prisons records, Baldemar Villarreal is in prison in Beaumont, Texas with no release day. He is likely to spend the rest of his days behind bars. Reynaldo Villareal languishes in the Federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His planned release date is January 2026. Jesus Zambrano served 27 years of his 30-year sentence and was released in 2018.

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Carl Switzer: The Truth About Alfalfa’s Death

Last week’s blog featured George Trepal, a man with a genius-level IQ who poisoned his neighbors. This week, I’m going to tell you about the death of Carl Switzer. You probably known him better as “Alfalfa” in the Our Gang comedies, later released on television as The Little Rascals.

Carl Switzer, Child Star

Carl Dean Switzer was born on August 7, 1927 in Paris, Illinois. On a vacation to California in 1934, his family toured the Hal Roach Studios. In the studio café, six-year-old Carl and his eight-year-old brother, Harold, performed an impromptu song-and-dance number. Producer Hal Roach saw the duo’s performance. It impressed him enough that he signed them both to appear in the Our Gang series of short films. Harold had two nicknames, “Slim” and “Deadpan,” while Carl became “Alfalfa.”

Carl Switzer as "Alfalfa"
Carl Switzer as “Alfalfa”

Both Switzer brothers appeared together for the first time in the 1935 short, Beginner’s Luck. With his freckled face and sporting a prominent cowlick, Carl was a natural attraction. By the end of the year, “Alfalfa” was one of the main characters while Harold’s “Slim” and “Deadpan” faded into the background. However, Carl developed a reputation for being abrasive and difficult on the set. He played cruel jokes on the other actors and often held up filming.

George "Spakny" McFarland, Darla Hood, and Carl Switzer as "Alfalfa" in Our Gang Follies of 1938
George “Spanky” McFarland, Darla Hood, and Carl Switzer as “Alfalfa” in Our Gang Follies of 1938

George “Spanky” McFarland was the nominal star of the Our Gang series. But by 1937, Carl’s “Alfalfa” had become the more popular of the two. Although Carl and George got along fine, their fathers argued constantly over salaries and screen time.

Life After Hollywood

Hollywood is notoriously unkind to former child actors after they have grown up. When Switzer’s stint with Our Gang ended in 1940, he continued to act but not frequently and often in uncredited bit parts. He married Dian Collingwood in 1954. They had a son together but divorced in 1957.

Carl Switzer with cowboy star Roy Rogers
Carl Switzer with cowboy star Roy Rogers

By the late fifties, Carl Switzer had few acting jobs. He supported himself by bartending, guiding hunters, and breeding and training hunting dogs. He also had a run-in with the law. In December 1958, he cut 15 pine trees in the Sequoia National Forest to sell as Christmas trees. He was sentenced to a year probation and paid a $225 fine (about $2,040 in 2021).

Carl Switzer guesting with George Burns on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Also in 1958, Carl agreed to train a Treeing Walker Coonhound for friend and sometimes business partner Moses “Bud” Stiltz. The dog ran away while chasing a bear and Stiltz insisted Switzer either return the dog or pay him its value. Switzer didn’t have the money to pay for the dog. So, he took out ads offering a reward for the dog’s safe return. Someone found the dog and brought it to the bar where Switzer was working as a bartender. He rewarded the rescuer with $35 in cash and $15 in drinks.

Carl Switzer Shot to Death

Carl Switzer was unhappy with being out $50 since the dog was not his but belonged to Stiltz. Switzer and a friend, photographer Jack Piott, went to the Stiltz home in Mission Hills to demand payment. It was January 21, 1959.

Stiltz described the ensuing events as follows. He said Switzer pounded on the door and demanded Stiltz let him in. Otherwise, he threatened to kick the door in. One of the men, either Switzer or Piott, hit Stiltz over the head with a glass-domed clock. Stiltz then retreated to his bedroom and returned with a .38 caliber revolver. Switzer and Stiltz struggled for the gun and it went off. Switzer then pulled a hunting knife and threatened to kill Stiltz. Stiltz then fired a shot that hit Switzer in the groin and damaged an artery. The former child actor bled out and was dead when he reached the hospital. Piott backed Stiltz’s story and the shooting was determined to be in self-defense.

Although the self-defense verdict tied up Switzer’s death with a nice, neat bow, there were problems with it. For one thing, the “hunting knife” turned out to be a penknife. Investigators found it under Switzer’s body at the crime scene. For another, Tom Corrigan, Stiltz’s stepson, told a different version of what happened on that Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Carl Switzer's grave on August 7, 2012, the 85th anniversary of his birth
Carl Switzer’s grave on August 7, 2012, the 85th anniversary of his birth

Another Version and Controversy

On January 24, 2001, Bud Stiltz’s stepson, Tom Corrigan, came forward with another version of Switzer’s death. Corrigan said that an intoxicated Switzer knocked at the door and said, “Western Union for Bud Stiltz.” When Stiltz’s wife opened the door, the two men entered, and Switzer threatened to beat up Stiltz. Stiltz confronted them with the revolver, which Switzer grabbed while Piott crowned Stiltz with the clock. During the struggle, the gun accidentally went off. The bullet went through the ceiling and a fragment hit Corrigan in the leg.

At this point, Switzer seemed to realize things were out of control. He and Piott started to leave. It was then that Stiltz fired a second shot. Switzer slid down a wall with a surprised look on his face. Stiltz then shoved Piott against the kitchen counter and threatened to kill him, too. Corrigan said his stepfather (and Piott) lied to the coroner’s jury.

Corrigan further said that an LAPD detective interviewed him and asked if he would testify at the inquest. He agreed but was never called. “It was more like murder,” Corrigan told reporters in 2001. “He didn’t have to kill him.”

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