Monthly Archives: July 2011

5 Question Friday With HilltopTacoma.com’s Amy Potter

In 1992 I went to New Zealand. This attractive girl there heard I was from the States she asked which state. I said Washington.

She said, “Oh. The Capital.”

I said, “No. I’m from a city near Seattle.” She still had a blank look. “I’m actually from a city called Tacoma.” Her eyes brightened.

“Oh! That’s where Hilltop is. Right?”

Now it was my turn to have a blank look.

“I’m on the other side of the planet. How do you know about Hilltop?”

“It was on Cops last week. Hey, have you been mugged before?”

My point here is that when I say that Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood was known the world over as a crime-filled, scary place to live, I’m not kidding. Since then things have changed substantially.

Today’s 5 Question Friday is with someone who knows this first hand. Her name is Amy Potter. She lives in Hilltop and she writes the neighborhood blog HilltopTacoma.com. She’s also a high school English teacher at a Native American school in the area. It’s safe to say, she’s exactly the sort of person who is making Hilltop and Tacoma a better place. Here’s Amy’s answers:

1. What changes have you seen in Tacoma’s Hilltop in the time you’ve lived there?

In the seven years I have owned my home here on Hilltop, I have seen many changes. When I first bought the house, the neighborhood was a bit scary. Drugs were all around, a prostitute set up shop on my porch one winter when the home was vacant, homeless men pushed carts full of their belongings around, and some people’s behavior was just plain odd. I remember a man came by while I was gardening one day and tried to sell me old curtains that looked like they’d just been taken from a Motel 6. Now it is much different. We spend much of our time on the porch watching people, cars, and fire trucks go by. More and more people are buying homes knowing that they are helping to make it a better place. Our MLK corridor, however, has not weathered the years well. We have lost many local businesses and it is a bit of a ghost town. The business heart of our neighborhood needs help.

2. What is the biggest misconception people have about Hilltop?

Some people think this is a dangerous place plagued with gangs and guns. I’m not going to say we don’t have problems, but I don’t choose to see the negative. Our friend, Prince, who’s from Fresno, told us that down there people still refer to it as “Killtop.” It is simply not that at all. Hilltop is warm and friendly. Come as you are, stand on the sidewalk, look at the realness of our people, and enjoy.

3. It’s clear that you love your neighborhood. Why do you love living on Hilltop?

The people here are fun. They’re storytellers. They have something to say if you take the time to ask. Hilltop is vibrant and full of life. It has taught me that everyone can find their place in the city.

4. What’s something Hilltop needs that it does not have?

Hilltop needs a thriving business district. We need investors and business owners to trust in our neighborhood’s future. A street named after Martin Luther King Jr. should not be suffering.

5. What do you see for the future of Hilltop?

I see Hilltop continuing to grow with positive change. More and more people are realizing that this is a wonderful little piece of Tacoma, not just a place to drive through on the way to somewhere else. I think we’ve moved past the days where we wanted to take the streets back. Now we need to look into the past when people settled here with high hopes for the future and figure out how to move forward.


I want to thank Amy for participating in 5 Question Friday. And if you haven’t had a chance to check out HilltopTacoma.com, you really should.

As always, if you or anyone you know wants to be a part of 5 Question Friday or if you would like to suggest someone for it, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

-          Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With Tacomic’s R.R. Anderson

Photo Courtesy of KevenFreitas.net

R.R. Anderson is a true Tacoma original. He was one of the people I thought of when I came up with 5 Question Friday but there was a part of me just a bit afraid to have him participate. As anyone who follows R.R.’s online activity can attest to, he has no problem saying exactly what’s on his mind. Personally, I think that’s a fantastic personal trait but, it wasn’t how I wanted to start out the column. Now that we’ve got a few month’s under our belt, I think the site is ready for R.R. Anderson. Of course I could be wrong. I’m only responsible for the questions. I have no control over the answers. This week I’m glad. Enjoy.

1. What is Tacomic?

A hyper-local political cartoon drawn by a blurry-eyed cartoonist in the wee hours of the night and appearing as if by magic elves every Thursday morning in the comics section of the traditional-newspaper-killer site FeedTacoma.com.  The Tacomic is quiet, dignified and rational; balanced in a fundamental philosophy of examining not both sides, but all three sides of every issue of every topic for any discussion. The Tacomic takes the secular, non-partisan political world view, asphalting the footpath through the dank forest moon of enlightenment without bogging down in the mud or partisan name-calling.  Yes the Tacomic is verily all things to all people. And any resemblance to any hyper-local person, living or dead is purely coincidental. Hello seeker! The Tacomic will be there with hand extended. Whenever you’re ready to act like a big boy, unclenching fists or whatever.  New creative-commons, open-source political cartoon every Tuesday morning. No refunds.

2. You’ve been vocal of your boycot of the Weekly Volcano. What’s the story there?

I, humble cartoonist, R.R. Anderson, once named by Weakly Volcano readers as the most creative person in Tacoma 2010, had the honor and privilege to besmirch the pages of this divinely-inspired entertainment journal called the Weekly Volcano with my little political cartoon for about two years before the economy drove itself in a non-partisan way into an open sewer and the economic burden of a staff cartoonist became too great, and I was forced at gunpoint to leave the building.  Forsaken, dejected, I dove into the water. Only through blind rage was I able to muster enough synergy to loosen the bonds placed tightly around my thumbs, freeing them just enough to paddle down river, surfacing out-of-range of their radio-mind-weapons. I vowed that day to make a difference in the City of Destiny. To free her of foreign (Lakewood) influences that would just as easily fornicate with a billboard advertisement than shiv a young cartoonist in the back with a sharpened flat-head screwdriver.  Marsha Moody, The Weakly Volcano, Egg McFuckingMuffins… I don’t just boycott them for feeding the monoculture of Clear Channel Outdoor, I boycott the HELL out of them.  Which is sad because I like the Driscolls, Ron Swarner and Paul Shrag. If you guys are reading this, MUTINY! ARISE!

3. What’s your favorite thing about Tacoma?

The empty, post-apocalyptic feel. Especially downtown… the feeling that you’re one of the few survivors and it’s up to us to rebuild. You want to be the Omega Man/Last Man on Earth? You can.  Start sharpening stakes.

4. You get to ban someone from Tacoma for life. Who is it and why?

The Chinese must go.  ha!  Our evil racist city forefathers already did that one.  I say Tacoma can not afford to lose one more human soul. We need everyone!  I don’t care if you’re legal, illegal, good, bad, ugly, red, brown, black or blue… if you draw breath, you’re needed in this fight against the trans-national, mega corporation person-hood non-entity.  You know let’s use the “Tacoma Method” for GOOD for a change!  Start with Clear Channel Outdoor and these proposed digital billboards. Here is a corporation so evil, they’ve invented a way to install potholes in the sky. Here is a corporation so horrendously black-hearted, they use missing children–dead raped children as one of the main talking points to justify their commercial advertising format.  You want to fight crime? Fight gangs?  Child Obesity? Global climate change? Pollution?  Terrorism? Drugs? Homelessness? Mental illness?  Aids?  Cancer?  The Police State? Step one: take control, reclaim your public spaces. It is the only way to win the war on apathy.  The only way to preserve slack and crush the conspiracy.

5. Where’s your favorite place in Tacoma to get a drink?

Our backyard garden hose.

Thanks to R.R. Anderson for participating in 5 Question Friday and not holding anything back. You can read his Tacomics at http://comics.feedtacoma.com/tacomic/2011/07/#archives . You can also buy his book at http://www.holisticforgeworks.com/

As always if you or anyone you know would like to participate in 5 Question Friday or if you have any suggestions, feel free to email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com


5 Question Friday With Tacoma Cold Case Detective Gene Miller

Many years ago I worked in police records at the Law Enforcement Support Agency. I spent my day transcribing police records and deciphering handwriting on police reports usually written on clipboards in a squad car. At the office, there were aisles of folders from all sorts of cases. However, at the end of the aisles, on a bookshelf, there were a group of accordion files bigger than most of the other ones. Many of them were red. I asked what they were. Someone told me that those were the unsolved homicide cases. Thinking how each one of those represented a human life that had been taken by someone who was still out there haunted me. It’s one of the reasons that when I started my first website about Tacoma, I started writing about every homicide that happened in Tacoma.

Detective Gene Miller is in charge of the Tacoma Police Department’s Cold Case Unit. Many cities don’t even have a Cold Case Unit. Tacoma just started this unit last April. Detective Miller keeps these cases from just being folders on a shelf and he took time out of his day to join me for 5 Question Friday.

1. How did you get started in the Tacoma Police Department?

I was born and raised in Tacoma.  I became interested in law enforcement while at WSU and was hired by the Enumclaw Police Department after college.  When the opportunity presented itself in 1985, I transferred here to Tacoma which is where I ultimately wanted to be.

2. You now head up the Cold Case Unit of the Tacoma Police Department. What interests you in Cold Cases in particular?

I firmly believe that someone needs to continue to speak for the victims of these cases and for the families left behind to deal with the loss.  The citizens of Tacoma need to know these cases are not forgotten and the killers yet to be caught need to know that as well.

3. What tools are now available that give you advantages in solving Cold Cases?

The keys to solving cold case homicides are technology and time.  The scientists at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab are my best friends.  What they bring to the table is HUGE in the resolution of many of these cases.  Time is a big thing as well because I have the benefit of seeing who people are today.  Bad guys may have been able to hide under a rock back then but, more often than not, they will have raised their heads and gotten caught being who they are.  That historical perspective is effective in rooting out the suspect in many investigations.

4. What is one of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about homicide investigations?

The biggest misconception is that we live in a CSI (television) world.  The reality is just because someone touches something doesn’t mean they are going to leave a useable print.  Suspects do not always leave DNA and even if they do, it can take months before we get any lab results.  Also, some of the technology people see on TV only exists in some writers mind.  A good percentage of the other technology only exists at the state level where it is shared by several agencies, all of which are competing for its time.

5. What Cold Cases are you currently working on?

The unit has 192 cases that date back to 1961. All of these cases are open for investigation and varying levels of work occur on each case throughout the year to include the submittal of evidence etc. The unit also actively pursues certain investigations more vigorously based on a variety of factors. Due to the sensitive nature of law enforcement investigations I am not in a position to give you any particular details. Ultimately, you’ll know the answer to this question shortly after the person responsible for the murder finds out.

Thanks to the Tacoma Police Department and Detective Gene Miller for participating in 5 Question Friday.

As always if you or someone you know is interested in doing a 5 Question Friday interview, contact me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

Visions of Tony

Tony McDougald

Tony McDougald

I think it’s important to remember people. TacomaStories.com is about the people of Tacoma and how our stories create the city we live in. When it comes to my writing about the homicides in Tacoma, I’m writing about stories that were cut short. They can no longer tell their story so someone has to do it for them.

Earlier this year, Tony McDougald was shot in the back while breaking into the garage of a house near South 38th Street. I personally knew Tony, but had not seen him since Middle School in 1988. Recently, I was approached by someone who was close to him once. She asked that she remain anonymous and wrote about her story of Tony.

I’ve chosen to post this because regardless of anything else, Tony deserves to be remembered. I do not vouch for the authenticity of what she has written. These are her words and memories, not mine but I will say that everything she says sounds like the Tony I remember.

If you have memories of Tony that you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments. Or if you have something longer to share or if you have anything to write about anyone in or from Tacoma, you can email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com .

Thanks for reading.

-          Jack Cameron

When I first heard that Tony was dead, I was shocked and like many, I had and still have many questions. I first met Tony when we were just kids. Back then his brother was dating my friend and she introduced us. To be honest, I liked him for his attitude at first. I thought he was charming, sweet and funny. All that aside, I really hadn’t seen what his face looked like for the first 2 weeks I knew him. So I can say I honestly liked him for his personality. As timed progressed, I learned he was a renegade of his own kind. A true individual. A guy with a kind heart that would mumble “I love you” with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and then scream the F. word at someone driving past and flip them off. Oh, and did I mention what a sight he was? Yes, many people said “Bon Jovi”. Well if you call ratty, torn, bleached jeans, band t’s and well the “hair”. I suppose he was. Thinking back about how he was just really makes me laugh. He had wanted long hair and his mom wanted him to keep it short. They made a deal. He had to perm his hair or cut it off. Well, of course he opted for the perm. His mom’s plan backfired on her. His perm made him look more like a sheep dog, than a kid. Luckily for me, he wasn’t too bad under that mop of hair. Like many girls before and after me, he was my first love.

I had the chance to really get to know Tony before we started dating. And then during the 8 months or so of our relationship, Tony shared many things with me. He made me laugh, and he made me cry for him and his pain. One of the first secrets he shared with me was that when he was younger, he was a victim of abuse. That was very traumatic for him, as  am sure you can imagine. He also shared with me that his mom wanted a little girl so badly that she named him Anthony Lynn. Not “Len” like all the media has been calling him. God, that had to suck to know he could never be what she truly wanted. But that never stopped him from trying. The day after he had his tonsil’s removed, his mom’s dog, “Willie” got out and was headed for 56th Street. That dog was so stupid it would have ran right into the traffic. Despite the fact that Tony’s throat felt like it was on fire, he ran after that dog. Holy hell, that kid could run. He stopped that dog about three feet from the road. His mom was so happy she cried. It was heart wrenching to see that she was more concerned about her dog than her own son. My heart broke for him.

As you can tell his family was very dysfunctional, his dad was on the road driving most of the time trying to support a family of five. Which left his mom home alone to take care of three boys. She had her hands full with trying to work full time at Sears and taking care of the boys. Tony and I really ended up bonding over having a bad home life. He saved me on more than one occasion. My father would get drunk, and he would become verbally and physically abusive. I had no one to help me. My mom was working and I tried calling the cops. They just told me it was my problem and to call a crisis number to get counseling and “deal with it”. Tony was there to help time and again. Once, Tony banged on the front door to distract my dad so I could sneak out to the garage to hide. My dad always had a gun on him, and Tony knew this but he still chose to take the risk anyway. Yet another time my dad came home plastered and had been in a bar fight. He was angry and was going to take his rifle and go back to the bar with it. Tony stayed on the phone with me for three hours while I hid from him. I was terrified of what he was going to do, but Tony did his best to keep me calm. I could go on and on with examples but I won’t. This is about his tragic life not mine.

Towards the end of our relationship Tony lived with me for about a month. He had a friend over one night and the friend found my dad’s revolver. I freaked out on him and said it was loaded. He then aimed it at Tony and me and we both yelled at him. He pointed it up at the wall, about two feet away from Tony’s head. He pulled the first trigger and nothing happened. He said “Oh it’s fine. The safety is on!” Well if you know anything about a revolver, they have a double pull action trigger before it fires or you cock the hammer then pull the trigger once. There is no safety. As he was proclaiming the safety was on, he shot off a .44 hollow point bullet through the walls of my house and continued through my window. Only God knows where the rest of the bullet went. Because of this incidence, this was the final straw, Tony wanted nothing to do with guns. From what I have heard from others he still felt the same way all these years later. That window never has been fixed. Up until seven years ago I was blamed for it until I finally told my parents the truth about that night.
We had a less than stellar falling out. I found out through others that he had eyes for another girl. I confronted him and it started with him admitting to me he had kissed the girl. I was insulted and hurt.  I lost my temper and punched him in the face. I know it was childish. I am still ashamed of my behavior. So he hit me back and we scrapped for a few seconds in his kitchen. I actually remember thinking, ‘Crap we’re breaking the rules, fist fighting is supposed to be done in the back yard.’ Well then his dad jumped in. UH-OH! I thought I was in trouble! He actually popped Tony in the mouth and screamed at him, “You never hit a girl no matter the reason”. Hell, I felt I deserved it, I started it after all. So I walked out of his life. For forever, or so I thought.

After we parted our ways, I saw him here and there. As the years went by I had heard rumors that he was strung out on drugs. I wanted absolutely no part of that and still felt that way. So when a mutual friend would say that he had asked about me. My reply would always be no,no,no. Don’t you give my number to him. I want no part of that. I would make it very clear that they were not to give him any information out about me. A few years passed and one day he shows up at my work. Great, just fan-fricken-tastic! He ended up being the latest new hire. Well I guess sometimes you have to face your past whether you want to or not. I was married. He had his girl and they had just had a baby. So I made it very clear there would be no round two, now or ever. He was fine with that and we made a mutual agreement that we were there for work and nothing more.

It was during this time that we started talking again, just like the old times. I finally mustered up the balls to ask him why he was strung out and what the hell was he thinking. He basically told me about some hardship he had gone through, how he became so angry he didn’t even know who he was. And some other things. He confessed to me that he was responsible for killing a kid at Jack-In-The-Box. My reaction of course was something like “What in the hell are you talking about?!” He then further explained that he was working at Jack-In-The-Box as the guy who cooked the E-coli burgers. He said, “I was working that day, I killed that kid!” I said “Holy F. you have got to be kidding me.” He just looked up at me with tears in his eyes and shook his head. He sat and cried for a few minutes. He then went on to tell me that he had tried to go to the family to apologize. They told him that he was a murderer and it was his fault, that they hated him and he deserved the same thing. This totally devastated him. At first he tried to tell himself he was just doing his job. But that soon faded. It started with drinking and evolved from there to the hardcore drugs. He said he couldn’t handle having that on his conscience. He got to the point where he didn’t care if he lived or died. After his daughter was born that was the only thing that kept him alive. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. He never lied to me before. I can’t prove one way or another, but I choose to believe him. He truly had a sad life.

Later, I called Tony on the phone when I found out that he had been clean and sober for quite some time and that his band had a cult following. I called to tell him how I was so proud of him and I had missed him (not the drug addict Tony). He bragged about how he was getting married and we laughed. His mom had always wanted us to get married. We laughed about the old times. I’m so glad I got to talk to him that one last time. Apparently this was just a couple of weeks before he found his mom dead, his woman left him, and his band had a falling out. The band was the majority of his support of staying clean. (I am NOT blaming anyone)! The only thing he had left was his daughter and I’m not really sure he got to see her. So again, his whole world came down around him and he did what most people in his situation do. They go back to their old bad habits, because it helps to dull the pain. No one could have stopped him, his path had already been written. My only regret in all of this, is that I never got to see him play a show. He made it. He was a real rock star! He lived by his own rules. He was like so many before him. They made it, then fell.
In closing I just want to say, Tony was a wonderful person with some very bad habits.

R.I.P. Toeknee, I Will Always Love You.

5 Question Friday With Tacoma’s Vicci Martinez From The Voice!

Vicci Martinez

Photo Courtesy of Hurricane of Lions Photography

Tacoma has always had a good music scene, but more often than not, musicians from Tacoma will make it big and will inevitably be linked to Seattle. Not so, with Vicci Martinez. A proud Tacoma native, Vicci recently hit the national spotlight in a big way on NBC’s The Voice. She was one of the final four on the show. And when she didn’t win, many thought she was robbed. Then again, as people like Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry can tell you, you don’t have to win these shows to make it big.

This week, Vicci Martinez was nice enough to participate in 5 Question Friday.

1. What made you decide to try out on The Voice?

My gut told me this was going to be something different, and I needed to quit being scared and take the risk. I didn’t want people to be upset I was doing a reality show, singing covers blah blah, but I did it anyway, and what I have learned…your path is your path and don’t ever care what people think…because that’s when you stop living!

2. Where is your favorite place in Tacoma to sing and why?

I love a good old Jazzbones show! Good friends. Good times

3. How has Tacoma influenced your career?

Tacoma definitely grounds me.

4. There are a lot of indie local bands in the Tacoma area. Could you tell us some of your favorites?

I am a fan of Aaron Stevens and Goldfinch!

5. What’s next for you after The Voice?

working working working…. :)

I want to thank Vicci Martinez for taking the time with me to do 5 Question Friday.

As always, if you think you or someone you know would like to participate in 5 Question Friday, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com  

You can find all things Vicci Martinez at her site: viccimartinez.com 

Finally, below is one of my personal favorites of Vicci’s

-Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With Jack Cameron

Jack Cameron At Owen Beach

Hello. Typically, every Friday I ask someone in Tacoma five questions. It’s a holiday week. So just to be different, we’re turning the tables. Instead of me asking someone five questions, I had Pam Phree, co-author of Betrayal, Murder, and Greed, ask ME five questions for 5 Question Friday.

1. You report on homicides/crime in Tacoma, do you remember any crime or crime scenes you witnessed when you were growing up?

I grew up on South 40th and Fawcett in Tacoma. It wasn’t the worst neighborhood, but it was far from the best. I was used to the sounds of sirens and distant gunfire. (So much so that I had trouble sleeping when I wasn’t home.) I had a collection of shell casings I’d pick up walking around the neighborhood. There were a handful of street drug dealers in the area. And drive-by shootings were not uncommon. That said, I can’t say I remember any crime scenes that I came upon when I was a kid.

2. What or who inspired you to be a writer?

It’s my third grade teacher’s fault. Mrs. Hixon. Whitman Elementary School. I had written a story for class. She called me up to her desk and said, “You should write more.”  I thought she meant that it wasn’t long enough. She was the first person to give me the idea that I could write for something other than schoolwork.

3. What type/genre of books do you like to read?

I read a lot of nonfiction. The last three books I read were ‘Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead’ by Neil Strauss, ‘Stories I Only Tell My Friends’ by Rob Lowe, and ‘Typography For Lawyers’ by Matthew Butterick.  When I read fiction, it tends to be crime fiction just because that’s what I write and what I enjoy the most. I’m straying a bit from that right now and reading John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War simply because I love his website and haven’t read a sci-fi book in a while. Next up I’m back to the crime novels with ‘So Much Pretty’ by Cara Hoffman. (Also looking forward to George Pelecanos’ next novel, The Cut)

4. What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing up a crime novel. It’s called A Better Lie. It’s set in Tacoma. It has sex, violence, guns, and flowers. Lots of flowers. I’ve sent the manuscript to a few close friends who are good enough to tell me when something sucks. Once I hear back from all of them, I’ll work on a final draft and send it on to my editor. My hope is that it will be ready to sell before Christmas.

5. If you were going to give new writers advice, what would that be?

Outline. Write. Complete. Outlines will save you every time. You don’t have to religiously follow them, but trying to write a story with no outline is like going on a road trip without a map. It might be fun…until you get lost.

Even when you’re not working on any big writing project, write. No books, classes, seminars, or websites are going to help you more than just writing will. Write something every day. A journal entry. Something random. Whatever. Even the busiest person can take ten minutes and write.

Last, and just as important, complete what you work on. A lot of beginning writers get stuck trying to make whatever they’re working on absolutely perfect. The results tend to be that they never get it finished. No one is going to read 2/3rds of a novel. Get it finished. Then get it perfect.

Thanks to Pam Phree for helping me on this week’s 5 Question Friday.

As always, if you think you or anyone you know would be a good for 5 Question Friday, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com