The Trek

There was only about six weeks to go before summer break when Tabitha Tuders walked out her front door on a morning like so many other mornings–yet different. She was on her way to 15th and Boscobel where she would wait with other neighborhood kids for the school bus that arrived at eight a.m.

Out the door by 7:45, folks along a route that began two houses from the corner of Lillian and 14th could set their watches by Tabitha’s routine. At 14th, she would turn right and walk up the hill to the next street, Boscobel. There she would cross 14th and continue on Boscobel, walking one block to her bus stop.

On that morning Tabitha carried a report card signed by her parents, usually a custom of little consequence to her. Though whip smart, she was an average student. But recently she had buckled down; this report card had straight A’s. Now, not only was she thirteen–a fully fledged teenager–she was briming with accomplishment, all of which should have turned an already nice morning (the temperature was in the 70s with hardy a cloud in sight) into a really great one.

And so, on the morning of April 29, 2003, Tabitha Tuders began her trek like she always did, on the bustling streets of a tightly packed neighborhood. But she did so with a newly emerging sense of self.

Her bus stop was less than a quarter mile away.

Denizens of Shelby Park

With over three hundred acres of lush greenery that includes a golf course, nature center, dog run, baseball fields and miles of fitness trails, Shelby Park is the crown jewel of historic east Nashville. Opened in 1912, its original acreage was designed for the Nashville “elite” who resided on the east side.

But neighborhoods (even those with ornate Victorian homes) change when hordes of the “heroic underclass” encroach on them, taking advantage of low interest loans and mortgages (i.e., the G.I. Bill) like the veterans of WWII did–the white veterans, that is. And neighborhoods especially change when the strivers move on and are replaced with a more fixed underclass.

That’s what happened to great swaths of east Nashville before the hipsters and corporate newcomers converged. Just twenty years ago, glorious Shelby Park was in a state of disrepair–a dangerous hangout for addicts, thieves and perverts like Leslie Paul a.k.a, “Sonny” Duke.

In April of 2003, Sonny was a sixty year old fixture in Lockland Springs, known to ride his bicycle up and down 14th, on his way to and from Shelby Park. He lived on Granada with his mother, just a few houses down the street from Roni Villescaz, one of Tabitha Tuders closest friends.

Before Sonny moved in with his mom he had his own house and a family that included four daughters whom he viciously, repeatedly raped over an eighteen year period. Finally, in 1986, one of the daughters came forward and Duke was charged with and convicted of aggravated sexual assault, but not before he and his son, Leslie David Duke, warned one of the sisters not to testify against him.

As a result, both Duke’s were charged with threatening a witness, but those charges were dropped when the young woman did not show up for court. Regardless, Leslie Paul Duke served over twelve years in prison, escaping for two days in 1992, before he was released in 1998.

Sadly Leslie Paul Duke wasn’t the only debauched soul tooling about Lockland Springs, April 2003. Hardly. Take, for example, the violent saga of rapist and habitual parolee Millard Earl Smith.

In 1986 the then thirty five year old Smith met four teenagers while cruising a park in Murfreesboro, a city thirty miles from Nashville. He invited the teens into his car and gained their confidence by showing them an illegal machine gun he had stowed in a duffle bag under his seat. Then, after taking them for a ride, he sweet talked some alone time with one of the girls while her friends drove to the store in their own vehicle.

Once he had the girl to himself, he put a knife to her throat, raping the seventeen year old in the back seat, a crime for which he was sentenced to twenty years. At the time of this offense, Smith was an experienced sexual offender who had already spent many years in prison .

In 1976, while on bail for attempted rape, he drew twenty year sentence for the rape of a 28 year old woman whom he offered a ride after pointing out something amiss with her car. Instead of taking her to her home as he had promised, Smith took her to an isolated dead end road where he attacked her. Before that, he had been convicted of attempted rape in 1970, earning a one to three year sentence.

On April 29, 2003, Millard Earl Smith was out of prison living with his sister in Porter Heights about four miles from Tabitha Tuders Lockland Springs address. But he was hardly a stranger to her neighborhood. His former fiancé had lived on Boscobel and his father and brother lived on Ordway, both addresses less than a mile from the Tuders home.

When Smith wasn’t working in his brother in law’s garage, he liked to hang around Shelby park where he was known to give kids rides on his motorcycle.

To be cont’d…