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Nightmares can come true

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Halloween 1990 is history, and for most people the holiday was a harmless diversion, a chance to put on a costume and have fun. For others, the horror was real. A dozen youths, some wearing Halloween masks, walked into a settlement of homeless men on an island in East River near Manhattan, screamed "trick or treat," and attacked the group with bats, pipes and meat cleavers.

Carlos Melendez, 35, was found dead at the scene, his throat slashed. Nine people were injured.

"Why did they do it? . . . It was Halloween," a policeman said. "Last night, things just got out of hand."

The gang, which police said consisted of 10 to 12 people, crossed a footbridge at 102nd Street in Manhattan into Ward's Island on Halloween night.

"They went armed with meat cleavers, bats with nails in them, and pipes. They were going to do serious damage," the police source said.

Three homeless men had their faces cut by a meat cleaver, including one who received 55 stitches. One man was in stable condition at Harlem Hospital with facial injuries inflicted by a baseball bat.

"There was no rhyme or reason to it," the police source said, "other than out-and-out violence."

Dade County Judge Harvey Baxter and his wife, Elaine, were at home in their Miami-area home when the door bell rang about 9:15 Halloween night. Expecting trick-or-treaters, Mrs. Baxter opened the door to two people wearing gorilla masks.

The pair pulled guns, forced their way into the home and grabbed Mrs. Baxter. She screamed to her husband that they were armed.

Judge Baxter, 59, rushed from the kitchen into the front room with a .22-caliber pistol and opened fire. The intruders ran from the house and sped off in two pickup trucks.

"We believe (one of the intruders) fired at the judge first," Metro-Dade Police Detective Tom Grippaldi said. "We believe the judge fired in self-defense."

Jeffrey Parnell, 37, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and other counts Thursday after being identified at Jackson Memorial by the Baxters, police said. Parnell had undergone surgery for a gunshot wound. A search was begun for the other suspect.

A 12-year-old Los Angeles boy, Fernando Castillo Jr., was out for his first night ever of trick-or-treating since his family immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua four years ago.

Fernando was walking with his parents and five other youngsters Wednesday night when a group of teen-agers approached them in the poor and working-class neighborhood around the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The youths tried to steal Fernando's $8 mask and Halloween candy. One of the attackers fired one shot from a handgun, striking Fernando in the leg. The youths fled.

Authorities were investigating two reports of possible candy-tampering in the Tampa Bay area.

A small piece of metal was found in a candy bar brought home by a trick-or-treater Wednesday night in New Port Richey, according to a sheriff's report.

In Pinellas Park, police were investigating a report that a 13-year-old girl found a needle or pin in her candy.

Amanda Mackie, who was not injured, told police she found the object after biting into a Tootsie Roll she got while trick or treating on 62nd Street N between 100 and 101st avenues N.

Joseph Burrus, a recovering drug addict, felt he had perfected his Houdini-like escape trick, and he wanted the Halloween stunt to benefit the Third Floor, a drug treatment clinic in Fresno, Calif.

Burrus, who billed himself as "Amazing Joe," had performed a similar escape last year in Oregon.

With a crowd of 150 looking on, including his wife and children, Burrus was handcuffed and wrapped in chains, locked inside a plastic coffin, and lowered into a 7-foot-deep grave.

His helpers shoveled 3 feet of dirt into the hole. Then a cement truck poured in another 3 feet of wet concrete.

The cement was a new wrinkle to the trick Burrus thought he had perfected. But he failed to calculate the added weight.

"As soon as we finished and the truck pulled away, the whole thing dropped," Burrus assistant Sean Henderson said. "The cement busted the coffin. It buried him alive."

"Immediately everyone went into action to get him out," said Mark Crosse, a photographer with the Fresno Bee. Workers frantically shoveled dirt from the grave.

But Amazing Joe was dead.

_ Information from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Reuters was used in this report.