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Thomas Drake

Real Name: Thomas Eugene Drake
Case: Appeal
Location: Winter Haven, Florida
Date: July 8, 1983

Case[]

Details: Just before 1pm on July 8, 1983, a church member stopped into the First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida, to buy tickets for an upcoming event. In the equipment room of the church office, she found forty-seven-year-old Nancy Drake, the church secretary, laying on the floor in a pool of blood. She was close to death. She had been beaten so viciously that her skull split open. She survived, but within two weeks, police discovered that her forty-five-year-old husband, Thomas, had been cheating on her. While she recovered in the hospital, he moved his mistress and her son into their home. There were two other potential suspects, but Thomas was arrested for attempting to murder Nancy.
Thomas denies being responsible for the attack. He claims that he is “not that type of person.” He said he was never one to fight anybody, and, in fact, would try to get away from fights. He was convicted solely on circumstantial evidence. Nancy was the only witness, but the severe blows to her head erased all memory of the attack. The prosecution refused to participate in the broadcast, but maintains that Thomas is guilty.
When Nancy and Thomas moved to Florida, one of the first things they did was join the local church. She sang in the choir and worked as the church secretary. He was a truck driver who tape recorded the church services every Sunday. She loved doing whatever she could at the church. It was not unusual for her to work up to sixty hours, seven days a week. But she loved every moment of it.
Thomas says Nancy’s devotion to the church was taking a toll on their nine-year marriage. They even talked about a separation. According to him, she felt that nothing in the church could be done without her. This led to her being away from home for long periods of time. He was very unhappy with their relationship at home. He felt that he did not have a wife anymore, because she was not there for him.
On the day of the attack, Nancy was busier than usual selling tickets for a church concert. She did not have time to break for lunch, so she called Thomas and asked him to bring it to her. The associate pastor overheard their conversation. He left a few minutes later, at around 12:10pm. A few minutes after that, Thomas's boss's wife, Althea Toth, dropped off his paycheck at the church. She left just as he arrived. According to Thomas, he arrived there at 12:15pm (however, this is disputed, as Althea claimed that she left around 12:25pm). There was a green station wagon parked there with a white-haired man in it that he had never seen before. He did not think too much about it because there were a lot of people that attended the church that he did not know.
Thomas says that he went inside and gave Nancy her lunch. She said that she would be right back and went into the back of the church. While she was gone, a woman called and he answered the phone. At 12:30pm, Nancy returned to her desk and he left the church. At 1:15pm, the associate pastor called Thomas at home. He said that she had bumped her head and had gone to the hospital. But when Thomas got there, he learned that she was in intensive care. When he finally got in to see her, he noticed that her face was swollen, her eyes were shut, and her head was “bigger than a basketball.” He said that she did not look human. He could not understand why anyone would want to beat her so badly.
At the church, police found the safe in Nancy’s office open and empty. $3,800 in cash and checks were missing. They later found the weapon used to beat her: a claw tooth hammer. There were no fingerprints on it. Outside an office window, they found a muddy footprint. Inside, they found a fingerprint on the door. It belonged to a local man. He lived in the area, was a former mental patient, and had no explanation for why his fingerprint would have been on the door. However, it was noted that he was a church member who had been in the building several times.
Another possible suspect was a white-haired man who was seen by Althea sitting in a car next to the church; she saw him as she left the church shortly before Thomas arrived. This may have been the same man that Thomas saw when he brought Nancy her lunch. The police came up with a composite sketch and issued an all-points bulletin. The police hoped that Nancy would be able to tell them who assaulted her. But after the attack, her memory and ability to speak were severely impaired.
Three weeks later, the Drakes had a conversation that would come back to haunt Thomas. During it, Nancy said that she wanted to leave the hospital. Thomas told her that she could not leave without the doctors’ permission. She then said that he did not care about her. He said that was not true. She then said, “How would you like it if I hit you on your habit?” He did not respond and left the room soon after. The police officer on duty overheard the conversation. She thought it sounded like Nancy was accusing Thomas of attacking her. Thomas, however, claimed that at that point, Nancy could not speak without getting her words messed up.
Police put Thomas under 24-hour surveillance. They learned that he had been having an affair for almost a year. They were shocked to discover that only two weeks after Nancy was attacked, he invited his mistress/girlfriend “Judy” and her child to move into his home. He had met her in January 1982 while on one of his trucking runs to Fort Lauderdale. The two saw each other every Monday whenever he had to go there for work. After police learned about the affair, they stopped following other leads. He became their prime suspect.
Thomas, however, claims that he was trying to help Judy out. She was coming up to Winter Haven to live there. He needed somebody to stay at and take care of his house, so he asked her to do it. At the time, he did not think anything of it. He claims that he was only concerned with Nancy getting well and getting out of the hospital. Looking back, he realizes how bad it looked to move Judy in so soon after the attack.
On August 3, 1983, while still in the hospital, Nancy allegedly told her pastor that Thomas was the one that attacked her. That night, police showed up at Thomas’s home. They arrested him and charged him with the attempted murder of Nancy. They also took Judy and her son to the police station. Thomas agreed to be questioned without an attorney present. During it, he stated: “I’ve already hurt Nancy. I don’t want to hurt Judy.” The detective told him to cooperate and tell him how he beat Nancy. He said that he did not beat her. The detective then pointed out that he had just said that he “hurt” her. He said that he did “hurt” her, but it was by splitting up and asking for a divorce. He said he did not physically hurt her.
Thomas told the detective that he had dreamed of Nancy calling out to him, saying, “No, Tom, no.” Also, he admitted that he agreed, in theory, with the police hypothesis that it was possible for him to have attacked her and then blocked all memory of it. Police felt that both statements suggested he was guilty. According to his attorney, Lawrence Shearer, there was a portion of the tape-recorded statement that Thomas gave to the police when his denial sounded like a hypothetical one. It was only after detectives took him to hypothetical questions that they got him to say, “I don’t believe I could have committed this crime.”
Police also questioned Judy about Thomas. She said that she did not know that he was still married. When they started seeing each other, he said he was separated from his wife. He later told her that they got divorced in May 1983. After the attack, he still told her that he and Nancy were not married, despite newspaper articles saying otherwise. He claimed that Nancy's clothes were there because she did not have room to store them in her new apartment. Judy would eventually become a witness for the prosecution.
Thomas was charged with armed robbery, aggravated battery, and attempted first-degree murder. Then, Shearer brought an offer from the prosecutor: they agreed to drop the charges of robbery and attempted murder if he pleaded guilty to grand theft. Shearer believed that the only reason they offered the plea deal was because they knew they did not have any evidence against him. However, Thomas told Shearer that he would not plead guilty to something he did not do.
Despite the fact that Thomas was about to go on trial for attacking Nancy, and despite the fact that he was having an affair, she stood by him. She even visited him in jail. She said that she could not believe that he did it. She said that she still loved “that side” of him that was a loving and faithful husband. She said that she did not know the “other side” of him that was having the affair. She did admit that she hated “that side” of him.
At the trial, which took place in November 1983, Nancy did not testify because she had no memory of the attack. The prosecution’s case was based primarily on circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors claimed that there was only a ten-minute window in which Nancy was alone and could have been attacked. The window started at 12:30pm, when Nancy and Thomas ended a recorded nine-minute phone call with a radio station that was asking about the concert. Thomas claimed he left around that time. It ended around 12:40pm, when Nancy was discovered by the church member. They claimed that no one other than Thomas would have been able to attack her without being noticed. The associate pastor also testified that when Thomas answered the phone, it sounded as if he had "ran to it" and was out of breath. However, he also seemed concerned about her condition and was anxious to get to the hospital.
Althea testifed that, a week after the attack, she asked Thomas if he had heard anything about the unknown man at the church. According to her, he started "rambling on" about fingerprints, saying that they would be on the hammer because Nancy asked him to hang up pictures in the office that morning. However, the pastor said that Thomas never mentioned to him about hanging up pictures, and claimed that Nancy was not allowed to do this and had to ask for his permission.
Trial testimony revealed that Nancy had purchased a $10,000 life insurance policy on herself a few months before the attack; she named Thomas as the beneficiary. When asked about it, he initially lied and said that he did not know about the policy. However, she claimed that it was her idea. Several witnesses testified that he had financial problems at the time of the attack. Following it, he was in the possession of substantial sums of money. However, he claimed that the money was from funds donated to Nancy.
The jury heard the tape of Thomas’s interrogation. They also learned that the day before the attack, he had been in the church equipment room, working with the same hammer that was later used to bludgeon Nancy. After he was done using it, he placed it on top of the safe. But the most damaging testimony came from Judy. She talked about how their relationship started out as a friendly one, but gradually became more personal. He allegedly promised to marry her if the relationship worked out after living together for a year. She planned to quit her job in Fort Lauderdale and move in with Thomas around the time of the attack. According to her, he told her that he would take care of her and she would not have to work. That way, she would be able to take care of her son.
Judy also testified that Thomas had called her on the night of the attack and made arrangements for her to move in with him. According to her, four days later, she came to Winter Haven and he paid for her motel room. That day, after he visited Nancy in the hospital, he spent the night with Judy and had sex with her. He denied that this took place. A week later, he flew to Pittsburgh, where she was attending a class reunion, and drove her back to Florida. She and her son moved in soon after. Thomas also lied to her and said that he had left the church at 11:30am on the day of the attack, even though witnesses and his own testimony placed him there an hour later. However, she also testified that he had never spoken ill of Nancy or expressed any desire to hurt her.
According to Thomas, Judy’s testimony was not given freely. According to him, police told her on the night of his arrest that if she did not cooperate and testify against him, they would arrest her and take her son from her. Shearer notes that it was probably difficult for the jury to not take into account the “double life” that Thomas had, visiting Nancy in the hospital while also bringing his mistress and her son into his home.
On December 1, 1983, the jury found Thomas guilty. But a few days later, Shearer got a surprise phone call from Nancy. According to her, her memory of the attack had returned. She described her attacker as a white man with white hair and thick glasses. He was tall and slender. He came into the office wanting tickets for the church concert. She said that he wanted to pay for the tickets with a $100 bill. But, she did not have enough change. He convinced her to go to the equipment room and open the safe. After she opened it, he came from behind and hit her with the hammer.
In January 1984, Nancy told the judge her story. On January 23, he agreed to give Thomas a new trial. Once again, he was offered a plea bargain, and once again, he rejected it. He believed that her testimony would clear his name. However, just moments before she was due to take the stand, her memory suddenly failed. Her medication had been changed the day before and she could not tell the difference between what she had been told and what she actually remembered. According to Shearer, she felt so pressured about having Thomas’s fate on her shoulders, she was unable to testify.
Shearer was forced to rest his case without calling Nancy to the stand. Without her testimony, the jury had every reason to believe that he was guilty. Also, a neurosurgeon who treated Nancy stated that he did not believe she would have been able to regain her memory about the attack due to her severe brain injuries. A medical expert testified that the area of her brain that stores memories was destroyed during the attack, making it impossible for her to remember who hurt her.
On April 19, 1984, Thomas was convicted of armed robbery with a deadly weapon and attempted second-degree murder. The jury, who heard a summary of Nancy's statement, said that they believed she was trying to protect Thomas. Interestingly, two of her nurses testified that she said "Even if Tom did try to kill me, I still love him...But he didn't." Also, a nurse who accompanied Nancy when she visited Thomas in jail claimed to have heard her ask him, "Should I tell them he was thin?"
Thomas felt that the prosecution played on the jury’s emotions by focusing on his affair instead of actual evidence. The verdict came as a major shock to him. But an even bigger shock came the day he was sentenced, May 1, 1984. Sentencing guidelines called for a five-year sentence. Prosecutors argued for a thirty-year sentence. However, the judge decided that that was not enough; he gave Thomas a life sentence without the possibility of parole plus thirty years to run consecutively. This means that he will never get out of prison.
In December 1984, Nancy filed for divorce; it was granted in February 1985. She later returned to her hometown in Indiana and remarried. Although years have passed since the attack, she still cannot work and does not remember anything about that day. She does not know if Thomas is guilty or not. However, she says that he deserves to be in prison because of the affair.
Thomas remains in prison in Florida. While he serves his life sentence, he has filed a number of appeals. So far, all have been denied.
Suspects: A mysterious man was seen loitering around the church on the day of the attack. Thomas and another witness reported seeing him. They described him as an older man with sharp features, close-cropped white hair, and bushy white eyebrows. He was driving a cream-colored station wagon with smoked glass windows. Before the second trial, Nancy claimed that he was her attacker. She described him as a slender white-haired white man with thick glasses.
A fingerprint found on the office door matched a local mental patient. However, no other evidence has been found to link him to the crime. He was a member of the church and provided an alibi for the time of the attack.
Authorities discovered that another church office in Winter Haven had been burglarized around the time of Nancy's attack. It is not known if the two cases are connected.
Extra Notes:

  • The original airdate of this case is unknown; it was supposed to air on the October 23, 1992 episode of Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries. However, the show was postponed due to a political broadcast. A week later, it was cancelled due to low ratings.
  • The name of Thomas's mistress was not revealed on the broadcast; she was given the fictitious name "Judy".
  • The prosecutors involved in the case declined to participate in the broadcast.

Results: Unsolved. Thomas remains in prison and continues to maintain his innocence. On February 17, 2017, Nancy passed away at the age of eighty-two.
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