Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thugs Partying: The Kidnapping, Rape, and Murder of Kelly Donovan

Senior Airman Kelly Donovan
August 8, 1988 Kelly Air Force Base: Senior Airman Kelly Donovan failed to report for duty. The lieutenant in charge of the flight in a misguided effort to allow SrA Donovan more time to report, did not inform me until eight hours later. Although an Army Captain, I was officer in charge of a mixed Army and Air Force organization conducting a sensitive mission and due to this sensitivity, military personnel were declared deserters after just 24 hours of unauthorized absence instead of the usual 30 days. The lieutenant had just burned eight of those hours.

I immediately dispatched her sergeant to her barracks room to see if she was there and directed several individuals to start calling the San Antonio Police, Sheriff's Department, etc. A few minutes passed and a sergeant told me that the San Antonio Police had found the body of a young woman not far from the base in a secluded area. A short time later it was my duty to identify the body of SrA Kelly Donovan at the Bexar County Morgue. She had been stabbed multiple times and the police later told us that she had been raped.

Kelly liked to walk alone and apparently decided to go for a walk the evening of 7 August 1988. From their confessions and contemporary accounts, David Cruz and his friend Jerry Kemplin, saw Kelly as they drove home from a party where they had been binge drinking and using illegal drugs. They turned around, stopped, grabbed Kelly, and forced her into their pickup. Cruz and Kemplin drove Kelly to a secluded area, told her to get out of the pick-up, and demanded that she take off her clothes. Cruz raped Kelly twice and then asked Kemplin if he wanted to rape Kelly, but he refused. As Kelly lay on the ground crying, Cruz remarked to Kemplin, "That's all I need to do is go to jail for rape." Cruz then retrieved a knife and stabbed Kelly over twenty times resulting in her death.

David Cruz
As the days passed after the murder, Kemplin told Cruz that he could not stand the knowledge of what they had done and planned to go to the police. Cruz then called police and turned himself in. Cruz also gave police a detailed statement about the murder, as did Kemplin, who corroborated Cruz's confession.

Cruz was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for Kelly’s rape and murder. The State of Texas executed David Cruz via lethal injection on 9 August 2000, twelve years and two days after he murdered SrA Kelly Donovan. His accomplice Jerry Kemplin was sentenced to 65 years imprisonment.

I had not thought about Kelly in a long time. Perhaps the recent murders of young women who were out alone prompted me to remember Kelly 30 years later. I wondered then and still do what might have happened if Kelly had fought her kidnappers. Never let someone take you to a secondary location—they are death traps. This is particularly true if you are a woman, but applies to men as well. If you are a woman and you allow someone to take you to another location, typically the absolute best that you can hope for is that you will only be raped. If being raped is the best that will happen, think about the other possible outcomes.

I absolutely agree that women (and everyone else for that matter) have a right to go about their business in the world without discrimination, harassment, or violence. Recently there has been a social media debate over supposed victim-blaming and women's right to safely travel alone. One woman’s comment after a recent murder: “Every time you say 'be safe. Be aware. Do this.' It's not just the victim blaming that makes us so mad. It's that we already do that and men still murder us. This is not our fault. We are not to blame for the violence of men.” 

No person is to blame for the violence of another. Kelly had a right to walk alone without being kidnapped, raped, and murdered. I get it—in a perfect world we would all be able to go about our business without fear of becoming the victim of a violent crime. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect. I tell women the same thing that I tell men. Pay attention to your surroundings, train to defend yourself—unarmed as well as armed. Be extra cautious and vigilant in transit or fringe areas, particularly if you are alone.

Criminals typically do not operate openly in a crowd and they don’t like witnesses or commotion. Too many witnesses or obvious commotion might prompt someone to interfere or notify the police. For a criminal to successfully kidnap someone they have to get close to that person and take control of them through physical force or the kidnapper must force cooperation through intimidation and fear. If this is happening to you, your “right” to go safely about your business is no longer relevant. You have a choice to fight where you are or try to fight later when your options are going to be significantly reduced.

Someone is kidnapping you and in eyes of the law, the only crime worse than kidnapping is premeditated murder. Given that he will spend a significant part of the rest of his life in prison if caught, from the kidnapper’s perspective there is little reason for him NOT to rape and kill you. As David Cruz said: "That's all I need to do is go to jail for rape." 

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  1. I was Kelly's roommate and the last to see her alive. It was I who called our First Sgt when she did not return in time for our shift, and said "are you going to call the police or am I". She had come home after our last shift, changed clothes, and walked across the street (in the view of armed guards at the entrance to the base) to get grapefruit juice. I do not think her intention was to just wander around in the night. But yes, one thing I learned from all this was that if ever Im in that situation, it ends right here, I will NOT get into somebody's car in hopes that it will all go my way.

    Here we are 33 years later and I'm still scarred from Kelly's murder. Testifying in court and looking at her murderer was very difficult. I think about Kelly in August, the month she was killed, and thats how I found your blog. Clearly it still weighs on me.

    I also have real resentment for how the Air Force handled my situation, and was one of the reasons I did not reenlist. The commander of ESC met me at the entrance gate to the base and told me they had found a body matching her description and could I identify her. I told him no, I couldnt handle that, and I assume, is why you went. By the time we got to the barracks, the police and FBI had already taped off our room and I had 2 minutes under their eyes to grab a uniform and toothbrush (I was so in shock I had no idea what to take) and was not allowed back in my room for weeks. I resent that I was treated this way and zero thought was put into how I was treated. I was expected to be at my shift later that day! I was then just given a spare room on the men's floor, alone. Before Cruz confessed, the police assumed that the murderer was probably somebody she knew so there I was on the men's floor, in an empty room, alone, not knowing if a murderer was next door! NO care was given to me, and I had just lost my friend, roommate and colleague.

    So perhaps a women's self defense against the military would be useful! What could I have done while in the AF to get help and somebody looking out for my well being?

  2. It still bothers me as well. One of my employees recently told me of an encounter she had with an individual who represented himself to be a police officer. As I asked her about the details of the incident, she told me that she often walked down a dirt road on the edge of the city limits into a relatively secluded area. It was clear from her description of the circumstances that the individual had probably noticed her pattern and was waiting on her down that road. She was walking with a year old German Shepard pup who acted very aggressively toward the man and that is possibly why it ended without serious consequences.

    Unfortunately your experience with the AF is something I have seen a couple of times. Later that year two soldiers in my command attempted a sexual assault against a female Airman. She reported it and I Court Marshaled them--they both went to prison. The Airman's chain of command acted like it was her fault. The Army ended up taking her to testify in the trials and supporting her through the process. Hopefully with the SHARP and similar programs things have improved.