Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Handcuffman

Closing In

Gary Clapp was unemployed in February 1991. Trained as a carpenter, engaged to be married, and the father of a three-year-old daughter, Clapp had left his home in Massachusetts for Florida on a quest for work.

Needing a free meal one night, Clapp waited outside a Salvation Army office in Tampa, not knowing that the area was frequented by male prostitutes and their predators. As he waited, a man drove up in a white Lincoln Town Car and beckoned to Clapp. The thin, dark-haired driver wore a Fu Manchu-style mustache and large, gold-rimmed glasses. He offered Clapp $50 to drink vodka as part of an experiment. He was well-spoken, Clapp recalled. He seemed like he was on the up and up. I asked him his name, but he wouldnt tell me. Clapp got into the car and settled against the brown leather of the passenger seat. The unemployed man accepted several shots of vodka from a plastic cup as the two men conversed and shared cigarettes. The man had a notebook and pen with him. He jotted down notes as Clapp guzzled drinks.

You need to drink faster, the researcher told Gary. Gary Clapp began losing consciousness. He has said that he may have visited a bar with the stranger but was not certain. He did not recall the horrendous events that transpired immediately afterward.

A police officer driving on Tampas Courtney Campbell Causeway spotted what looked like an out-of-control bonfire in a nearby field. He stopped to investigate. It was the burning body of Gary Clapp.

Nelson Garcia III was one of the firefighters on the scene. He later testified, I was surprised he lived. . . . we really didnt think he was going to make it.

Gary Clapp (The Tampa Tribune)
Gary Clapp
(The Tampa Tribune)

Clapp did pull through, although both his legs had to be amputated above the knee. His fiancée broke off their engagement. Sitting in a wheelchair in a state-run boarding home, a despairing Clapp said, Things fell apart when this happened. I dont know why the guy didnt just finish me off. This is not going to be easy.

When the cops eventually brought a series of photographs and spread them before Clapp, he instantly recognized his attacker. Clapp said, It took me a minute to say something. I couldnt believe they got him so quick, and seeing his face again, I went into shock.

But police did not catch Bennett then, and he often returned to Atlanta. In May 1991, a young man named Michael Jordan Jr. was found severely burned.

Michael Jordan Jr. (Fulton County D.A.'s Office)
Michael Jordan Jr.
(Fulton County D.A.'s Office)

Jordan was handsome and slightly built with wavy dark brown hair. He sported a small beard and mustache. He was walking down an Atlanta street when he saw a man in a white Lincoln motioning to him. Michael noticed that the tag on the mans car said Pinellas County, Florida. Being from Florida himself and wanting to make conversation, Jordan said to the stranger, How you doing, Clearwater?

No, Im from St. Pete, the smiling driver replied. Do you want to make $50?

Well, what do I got to do to make $50? Jordan asked.

All you got to do is drink, the man told him. I got three pints and if you drink it all, Ill give you $50.

Drink, thats it? Sure.

First, walk around the corner to Fifth Street and Juniper. Then take your shirt off, the driver instructed.

Jordan headed for Fifth and Juniper but didnt remove his shirt when he got there. The Lincoln tailed him, then went to a nearby parking lot. Again the stranger motioned for Jordan, who went to the parking lot and got in the car with the older man. Michael took his shirt off, and the driver gave him a drink.

You got a problem here, Jordan jovially informed him. I come from a long line of alcoholics and Im going to be able to drink this with no problem.

If you get a bit drunk, dont worry, the man assured him. Ill rent you a room and youll be alright. Then he asked Jordan to take his penis out and try to get it hard. Jordan complied with that request as well. The stranger told Jordan he was going to go to the store for a Coca Cola to mix in the drinks. He handed the youth a $20 bill and Jordan stuck it in his moccasins, then sat down in the parking lot and waited for the man to return.

He did and gave Jordan another drink.

Michael Jordan Jr. showing burn area (Fulton County D.A.'s Office)
Michael Jordan Jr. showing
burn area
(Fulton County D.A.'s Office)

That was all Jordan could remember before waking up in the hospital in agony because of terrible burns over his genitals, buttocks and legs.

He had been naked and unconscious when his assailant dropped him behind an Atlanta hotel. For awhile, the badly injured man could not be interviewed by authorities because he was either in excruciating agony or heavily medicated.

He also had special fears because of where he had been burned. If I get an erection, Jordan said, it bleeds and they dont know if Im going to be normal again there.

May 1991 was apparently a busy month for Bennett. A young man named Mathew Red Vernon told police that on the weekend of May 17 he was picked up by a white male driving a Lincoln Continental. The man gave him $20 for every pint of vodka he could drink. As they drove around, Vernon realized who had picked him up.

Bennett's car (Fulton County D.A.'s Office)
Bennett's car
(Fulton County D.A.'s Office)

Ill drink the next half pint if you give me the $20 now, he told the man.

Bennett gave him the money.

The $20 securely in his palm, Vernon opened the door and jumped out of the car, telling the driver, I know you. Youre Handcuff Man. Once on the sidewalk, Vernon stuck his finger down his throat and vomited up the vodka.

In the meantime, Jordan had recovered just enough for a productive interview with police investigators. He could not remember how he had been assaulted but he did recall Bennett being the last person he had been with before losing consciousness. He had no trouble picking his picture out of a group of photographs the police showed him.

Then Max Shrader picked out Bennetts picture as that of the man who had offered him money to drink five years before. The reason I didnt forget it, the wounded man said, is that I thought about it every day.

It was after this second identification that The Atlanta Journal Constitution made the difficult decision to name Bennett as the suspect in the vicious Handcuff Man assaults.



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