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By Donita Naylor
SMITHFIELD — Robert Croft, 74, has 10 great-grandchildren, if you include his step-great-grandchildren. Six of them are girls.
Inside his house, at 86 Pleasant View Ave., he displays family photos.
Outside his house, next to the Smithfield High School track, he displays a working guillotine.
Croft, who ran the biker bar Bonnie & Clyde’s for 35 years and now cleans at his daughter’s sports bar, Taylor’s Dugout, has strong feelings about people who commit unspeakable crimes against children.
“I go back to Polly Klaas,” he says, which is 1993. She was abducted from her Petaluma, Calif., bedroom during a slumber party. When her body was found two months later, the Polly Klaas Foundation had already begun the work that has led to Amber Alerts, child-safety kits and three-strikes laws for repeat offenders.
Croft’s feelings are so strong that in 2005, after he heard about Jessica Lunsford, 9, a Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped, held prisoner and buried alive in garbage bags, he had a gallows built near his bar and hung an effigy of the suspect, identified by a sign as “child molester John Couey.”
Couey got the death sentence in 2007. A month ago, he died of anal cancer. Last year, when Croft heard about Caley Anthony’s body being found in a Florida swamp in a trash bag, “I blew my top.”
He thought: “Something’s got to be done.” So he hired a carpenter.
“I took $900 out of the bank. Me and a carpenter built this guillotine. We built it because I couldn’t take it no more.”
It’s a working, life-size guillotine, built from plans the carpenter found at the library. Standing in Croft’s driveway, the guillotine can’t be seen from the school grounds, and the sign on top is too small to be read from a passing car. But people on foot or in vehicles slowed by high school traffic can see that it says: Cure for child abuse.
The guillotine, developed during the French Revolution as a humane form of execution, was legal in France from 1792 until 1981, when the death penalty was abolished.
Croft put the guillotine in his driveway in August.
“I see it out there,” said John Cunningham, 75, a neighbor on Rosewood Drive. He said Croft kept it covered at first.
Cunningham wondered aloud Friday why the police haven’t paid a call, then said: “It’s Halloween, and people do crazy things.”
People honk their support, Croft said. After Somer Thompson was reported missing in Florida on Oct. 19 and her body was found two days later in a Georgia landfill, some people stopped and knocked on his door, he said. They were distraught. He said some advised him to call The Journal. “This should be in the paper nationwide,” he decided.
Somer Thompson was buried Oct. 27. He called the Journal Oct. 30.
“If I can save just one child’s life, it’s worth it, to me.”
Why didn’t he make the blade from cardboard and tinfoil?
- Good question. What is he going to do, when some kids come around, and wind up getting hurt from it?
“Because it wouldn’t get the message across,” he said. To buy the stainless steel and have it cut on an angle and sharpened, he said, cost $300.” That’s how serious I was about it.”
“These aren’t just little girls getting killed — these are barbaric crimes, what these girls have to go through.” He alternates between tears and anger.
He tells of a child (Jennifer Schuett, of Texas, 9 years old in 1990) sexually assaulted and left for dead in a field, her throat cut. She is 27 this year, and DNA evidence recently identified a suspect, who was arrested Aug. 14.
“They got the guy! They finally got this guy!” Croft said. Lethal injection is too easy a death. “You can’t put him to sleep on a table."
“These are barbaric crimes, and it takes a barbaric punishment… Do you think it would deter some of these idiots if they were dragged into Greenville for a public beheading? He said he would be happy to do the job."
He cares so much, he said, because of his great-granddaughters. “If anything ever happened to her,” he indicated a photo in the kitchen, “I would go insane.” He worries that the crimes continue and the victims are forgotten.
What if using violence to stop violence only leads to more violence? What if the only way to stop child abuse is to forgive?
“I couldn’t do it,” he said.
“This is my answer.”
"That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." - Martin Luther King (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)