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Someone Has To Die Tonight, Again

I don't pretend to really understand my friend Jim Greenhill's relationship with the teenage killer Kevin Foster. I do know that he visited Foster dozens of times on Death Row. And I know that Jim shared with Foster his own homicidal fantasies involving his parents and wife.

And I know that after Jim told Foster about those fantasies, Foster asked him to kill three witnesses. Foster's batty mother, Ruby Foster, was also involved. They wanted him to meet the victims one-by-one in a parking lot, stun gun them, drive them to graves in east Lee County, shoot them there, and bury them.

Jim went to state prosecutors in 2000 and wound up wearing a wire for investigators in a murder conspiracy. Ruby Foster, who was a dedicated and valued Wal-Mart employee, even gave Greenhill a shotgun and a pistol to carry out the murders. Ruby wound up in prison because of Jim's handiwork -- and she claimed that he'd orchestrated the mess to help sell the book he was working on. "Jim is a devil and God will win over the devil," she wrote her son in jail.

Greenhill, meanwhile, was saving his comments for prosecutors. "Kevin is a chameleon, and he has multiple sides and impresses people in different ways and knows and uses this, and that's something we have in common and I used it on him," he told investigators.

That quote came from a story written by Peter Franceschina in the News-Press (Franceschina is now with the Sentinel). Here's a key excerpt from Peter's story, which was published August 20, 2000.

To get closer to Foster, Greenhill went to gun shows and bought a few guns. He visited areas of the country where Kevin Foster grew up, before his family moved to Fort Myers.

He wore Western-style clothes and jewelry he knew Foster liked. He expressed philosophical and societal views that echoed Foster's.

While Greenhill said he initially kept an open mind about Foster's guilt or innocence, by this June that had changed. "My goal was to get a confession to the murder, which I was now basically certain he was correctly convicted of and to elicit from him directly why he had done it," Greenhill told investigators. "He said the snitches, to use his word, were the worst part of his case."

In their final weeks of contact, Greenhill told Foster he would be willing to kill for him. The murders were to have chilling, direct reflections on Schwebes' slaying.

"He suggested that I could kill three of the snitches, namely Chris Burnett, Tom Torrone and Brad Young. As part of my efforts to get alongside him in the role that I had played, I believe I had led him to believe that I might enjoy killing somebody, and this was aimed at encouraging him to open up with me."

You're right -- this is some seriously twisted shit. You might wonder if Jim had gone off the deep end. Well, one aspect of this story that I hadn't mentioned is that Jim is an alcoholic. But he went into rehab just before quitting the News-Press and immediately became a devout member of AA (I'm not betraying any confidences here -- he has been very open and public about it). I even went to a meeting with him, but manage to remain a proud and sometimes idiotic drinker to this day. Anyway, Jim was sober during his Death Row visits, which may be proof that sobriety isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

I still wonder what the truth was. I wonder if Jim became so infatuated with Foster that, sitting there on Death Row with him, he fell under the spell of the guy's homicidal mind, like the teenagers who carried crimes for him. Jim was certainly playing a game with Foster, trying to get him to open up about the murder. But was he really in control? Was it some backhanded publicity stunt? I could ask Jim, but I don't think he knows. I'm pretty sure it was a mindfuck all the way and he's still trying to figure out what happened.

But he did try to explain it during two hours of primetime network television -- in a Dateline NBC show that remains one of the most confounding, melodramatic, and all-out weird moments in recent popular culture.

(I swear the story ends tomorrow. Sorry for stringing this out so long, but I'm writing by the seat of my pants here.)

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman