10. Bill Diehl
Would you give this man any candy if he showed up on your doorstep? Looking more like a roadie for Molly Hatchet than a trial lawyer, Bill Diehl is equally known for his stringy, long blond hair and his flamboyant, go-for-the-jugular courtroom style. The 57-year-old Norfolk native began practicing law in Charlotte in 1969 as a part-time district court prosecutor. Eventually he started taking on domestic-law cases, and soon earned a reputation as one of the most feared, disliked and controversial lawyers in Charlotte -- one who loves the spotlight, doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, and revels in his self-appointed "one mean son-of-a-bitch" image. It's his fierce, take-no-prisoners style that has also made him so successful.
Diehl has defended some of Charlotte's most high profile and notorious characters. Last year, Diehl helped defend convicted murderer and ex-Panther Rae Carruth in the custody and child support case filed against him by the parents of Cherica Adams. Adams was the young woman Carruth was found guilty of helping murder, and who was also carrying his child.
Diehl also defended Charlotte Hornets co-owner George Shinn in a nationally televised sexual assault case brought against him by Leslie Price. This was the trial in which Diehl uttered those immortal words, "If she wasn't bitin', she wasn't fightin'."
"There wasn't a skeleton left in my closet," Price told CL last year, referring to the way Diehl mercilessly went after her during the trial.
Indeed, many a horror story has been recounted of Diehl intimidating and breaking down witnesses on the stand, and over the years he has become the bane of countless divorcees -- including the ex-Ms. Bruton Smith of speedway mogul fame. Other clients of note include former PTL top deputy Richard Dortch, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the religious sect leader who was arrested in Charlotte, and the perpetually guffawing Johnny Frank Isley ("John Boy" of the John Boy and Billy Show), who Diehl defended on drug charges in 1990.
In one redeeming case, Diehl worked without pay in 1996 defending Charlotte Repertory Theater as it battled fundamentalists and conservatives in order to stage the play Angels in America.
9. The Black Prince
He's big, he's bad, and he'd just as soon shish-ke-bab you with his jousting lance as look at you. He's Sir Connor the Prince of Stockwell, better known as the Black Prince. And if you've ever been to the Renaissance Festival you've probably seen him engaged in bloody battle. A firm believer in the motto "Cheat to Win," the Black Prince says he's not above stabbing someone in the back or throwing sand in their face to emerge victorious.
"I really don't have a code of honor to break," he says. "When you're faced with mortal combat, there is no honor; I just want to make sure the other guy dies. I used to be a good guy with a bad attitude. Now I'm just a bad guy."
When he's not goring people from atop a horse or decapitating some unsuspecting soldier during battle, the Black Prince is actually a single father named Kevin Stillwell who lives in Mooresville. He's been playing the part of Sir Connor for 13 years as a member of the Hanlon-Lees Action Theater (named after a turn of the 20th century performance group). For about eight of those years, Stillwell has served as artistic director, writing scripts for the shows, training the combatants and choreographing the fight scenes. Stillwell was a theater actor in Boston when he first joined the Hanlon-Lees company in 1988. At the time he knew how to sword fight but had no real equestrian skills. He received a crash course in jousting, and within two weeks was doing battle.
Before settling in Mooresville, Stillwell toured the country with Hanlon-Lees for about seven years, pursuing other acting gigs during the off season. Stillwell worked recently on a Martin Lawrence movie called Black Knight, which was filmed in Wilmington. Stillwell plays the character Sir Edmund, and also worked behind the camera, training actors to sword fight and choreographing all the fight scenes. The film is due out in November.
8. Martin Davis
Martin Davis' fragile sensibilities were first upset in 1997 when he stumbled across a copy of The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction, in a Charlotte public library while looking for a biography of Thomas Jefferson. How he found a gay fiction book in the history section is another question, but not one we have time to deal with here. Aghast at the book's homosexual themes, Davis filed a string of complaints with the library. Martin then appointed himself Charlotte's official moral watchdog, and began reading excerpts from certain books during televised County Commission meetings, ostensibly to shed some light on what he claimed to be lewd and objectionable material. Thus was born Davis' nickname, The Dirty Book Guy.
In March, Commissioner Chairman Parks Helms had apparently had enough of Davis' sex-filled readings, and ordered police to eject him from a commissioners' meetings. This rallied a few supporters, who defended Davis' First Amendment rights and placed him ever so briefly in the spotlight. But even this small group of supporters faded quickly when The Charlotte Observer published a rambling and bizarre op-ed piece by Davis in which he ranted about government tyranny and the evils of the New Deal. Just as scary as Davis himself was the fact that his antics, coupled with some political posturing -- most notably by folks like Bill James (see # 5) -- resulted in the library staff being ordered to review the procedures used to select materials, and children's access to them. Three months later the review revealed that Charlotte Mecklenburg's policies are similar, and sometimes stricter, than other libraries its size.
Before he started his one-man crusade to rid our libraries of dirty books, the UNC-Chapel Hill graduate was a struggling actor in New York, where he apparently indulged in plenty of debauchery and promiscuity. Eventually he tired of New York's party scene and his failing acting career. He moved back to Charlotte in the mid-80s, found Jesus, cut out his wild ways, joined the NRA and started picketing abortion clinics. Now 44, when Davis isn't battling pornography, he sells life insurance.
7. Leslie Cobb Raborn
Who's the scariest maniac on the loose? That honor goes to Leslie Cobb Raborn, who this year won a spot on the police department's highly competitive 10 Most Wanted list.
Unlike most of the other good folks on the most wanted list, Raborn hasn't actually killed anyone yet (that we know of). But after careful consideration, Creative Loafing judges singled her out as the most twisted of the bunch for the sheer audacity of her crime.
Raborn, 33, is charged with first-degree rape and seven counts of second-degree sex offense, which she committed in partnership with her boyfriend, 42-year-old Kevin Bradley Sutton last November.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Detective Marsha Dearing said Raborn and Sutton picked the victim up from work under false pretenses and lured her to their residence on Farmhurst Drive and raped her.
"Both of them sexually assaulted the victim," said Dearing.
Sutton has been apprehended, but Raborn remains at large. Raborn has been spotted in the Rock Hill area, and has family in Gaston County. Raborn, who has been known to frequent the Charlotte area, has used the aliases Michelle Raborn and Michelle Jones in the past. She's 5'7, and weighs about 140 pounds. Anyone with information on Raborn's whereabouts should call Crime Stoppers at 334-1600. If she knocks on your door trick-or-treating, we wouldn't let her in if we were you.
6. Susan Burgess
In true horror movie tradition, no matter how many times you drive a stake through her heart, Susan Burgess just keeps coming back. Driven by a thinly veiled appetite for power and handicapped by an apparent inability to wield it, Burgess has managed to alienate the other members of not one but two political boards she has served on in the last five years.
"She's solar powered," one of her council colleagues said this year. "She's gotta have all the lights on her."
When her colleagues on the school board were getting ready to depose her from the chairman's post, she resigned from the board and ran for the Charlotte City Council at-large in the next available election cycle.
The child-like sweetheart intonation she adopted for the cameras in the council chambers didn't make up for what came across to those in the know as a lack of knowledge of the subject matter at hand.
For most of her two years on the council, she's spent her time prepping for a mayoral run with near-total disregard for other politicians' own ambitions or political territory. When Burgess ran for council, she was one of very few candidates who refused to commit to a referendum on a new arena for the Charlotte Hornets. But as the tide of the arena debate changed, she became one of the loudest referendum proponents on council.
Burgess, a Democrat, initially targeted Lynn Wheeler, a Republican with mayoral ambitions, for destruction and attempted to split the powerful economic development committee Wheeler chairs into two committees. Burgess then denied putting that item on the council's first retreat agenda, insisting that a facilitator put it there. The drubbing she received from her skeptical fellow council members over that should have served as a warning, but it didn't.
Another time, Burgess told a Charlotte Observer reporter she "had the votes" to pass an important motion during the arena debate, then said the reporter got the story wrong when other council members had no idea what Burgess was talking about.
In Charlotte politics, the person who makes the motion to do something usually gets the credit for it. Most politicians understand this, and back off other folks' motions. Not Burgess.
"I can't believe this shit," an Observer reporter swore from the council chamber press pit last year.
The reporter had just watched Burgess "steal" a politically popular motion from another politician who had come up with the idea for it and worked for a week to put the votes together to pass it.
Perhaps that's why many Democrats and Republicans alike sighed with relief when Burgess lost last month's Democratic primary to Ella Scarborough in a 30 percent to 64 percent rout.
For most people, that'd be politically devastating. But we believe Burgess will be back when her batteries run low, looking to feed off the glare of the lights.
5. Bill James
Homophobe, racist, sexist, prig, creep -- the accolades just never end for this scary, 44-year-old county commissioner and CPA. Bill James, who has been a Charlotte resident since '87 and county commissioner since '96, has over the years pulled off enough pious, narrow-minded stunts to piss off just about everybody, regardless of their political affiliation, race or gender. And Lord help you if you end up on his email list.
One of James' earlier and most infamous moves as a public official was when he joined with the hopelessly homophobic Hoyle Martin to form a coalition to cut arts funding because of their opposition to gay themes in Charlotte Rep's production of Angels in America. He followed that with such gems as a 1999 guest editorial in The Charlotte Observer where he wrote that blacks "live off the government," and "view it as an entitlement, a guaranteed source of funds." Never one to refrain from sticking his nose where it doesn't belong, he was one of the first and most outspoken critics of Bill Clinton following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He promptly drafted a resolution to condemn Clinton, ostensibly to set some kind of moral example. Other county commissioners saw it as James seizing a political opportunity and pushing them into a debate that had no bearing on their roles as commissioners.
Just last year, James once again went out of his way to find something to object to when he caught wind of a plaque being erected in Freedom Park honoring slain activist Kim Thomas. James objected that the plaque -- which simply read "An Activist for Good Causes" -- was going into a public park and was paid for by the National Organization of Women (NOW). NOW, in which Thomas was a member, pushes for such things as abortion rights, affirmative action and lesbian rights. "NOW should stick to its knitting and honor the woman without having to push their pro-abortion stance on the rest of the country," James said.
And who could forget the endless and infantile squabbling between James and his nemesis, former Democratic commissioner Lloyd Scher. During one tussle in '99, Scher became so exasperated he filed a motion to censure James because of what he called "racist and divisive comments." For all the reasons listed here, and many more, CL readers always shower Bill James with votes when it comes time to vote for the "Most Embarrassing Public Official" in our Best of Charlotte readers' poll.
4. Tony Elwood
You might have heard Tony Elwood's name before. That is, if you work in a video store, or attend the odd Sci-Fi/Horror convention. Perhaps you've seen one of Elwood's movies: both Killer! and Road Kill USA were lauded by B-movie connoisseur Joe Bob Briggs as being among the top films in their respective years, and Killer! was shown on Showtime. Elwood's also known for his work with movie props, and has done work on such films like director Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2. Now, he's decided to take on the tech world, creating 3-D computer animation that is known nationwide, much of it created by his multi-media company, Indievision, located in an old refurbished red-brick warehouse beside the railroad tracks near Central and Pecan. Part of his magic can currently be seen at www.thethickuns.com, a new online comedy series featuring life-size puppets portraying a white-trash family in West Virginia.
Elwood says he's been involved in similar projects since he's been a child, when he would make papier mache masks and do makeup for neighborhood friends. He and friend Mark Kimray would go see horror movies in their native Kannapolis, and with the use of a Super-8 camera, would begin working on a film the second they got home. After a period working with a production company in Shelby, Elwood landed a job on the short-lived series Probe on ABC, the first time he says he's worked with any real budget. Learning that director Sam Raimi was to film the sequel to the mega-popular low budget smash Evil Dead in North Carolina, Elwood drove down to Wadesboro, NC and showed him his portfolio.
"I learned so much from him," Elwood says. "We would work a 12-hour day, everyone would be hot and tired, and he'd say 'let's go shoot in the basement!' He was so driven." Soon, he and pal Tony Locklear decided to do a film, Killer!, for which they sought a $500,000 budget. A team of lawyers would have none of it. Remembering Raimi's edict of "don't let a budget stop you from making a movie," Elwood and Locklear decided $10,000 would work just fine. Again the lawyers balked. Undaunted, the pair went to the lawyers' office and placed a movie prop -- a lifelike (dead-like?) charred corpse -- under a sheet on the conference room table. Needless to say, they soon got their money.
3. Unknown Hinson
He may be our favorite country n' western troubadour, but Unknown Hinson is versatile enough to also be viewed as a demented freak. After spending 30 years in the state penitentiary, it's not hard to figure out where this hillbilly vampire hit-record machine gets his twisted, dark sense of humor. Unknown first came to light as part of the old Wild Wild South public access show, co-starring his former partner, the late Don Swan, as Rebel Helms. Hinson, actually singer Danny Baker, has earned a reputation as a rotten-toothed, blood suckin', hot guitar-slingin', fist-fightin', gun-totin', liquor-drinkin' babe magnet with a major violent streak. Gentlemen, hide your "wormens" when this fella's around because he's been known to duel to the end over a good-looking broad. Rumor has it that Unknown's been keeping company recently with weirdo celebrity couple Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie. Can't you just picture the three of them comparing their blood-filled vials or sharing some kind of crazy voodoo curse? Or maybe just knockin' back a quart of "party liquor" and beating the hell out of the first guy who objects.
2. Johnny Harris
In the past, Charlotte developer Johnny Harris had confined his political dealings to Charlotte's back rooms. This spring though, Harris launched a very public campaign to pass a $242 million sports and cultural referendum that would have built a new $190 million arena for the Charlotte Hornets. Harris set off to convince the serfs that they should think like him, clearly forgetting that his ancestors, who once owned much of the land in Mecklenburg County, had sold it to the very same serfs Harris so adeptly managed to insult during the arena campaign.
The scariest part of Harris' brief public venture was the peek into the mindset of Charlotte's bluebloods that it offered.
At one point, Harris went so far as to suggest that folks simply didn't belong in Charlotte if they didn't care to support the entertainment projects, some of which would have been financially inaccessible to many Charlotteans.
Harris grew up in a 24-room, 14,000 square-foot mansion on the 3,000 acres his family once owned between here and the South Carolina state line. Harris' grandfather, NC Governor Cameron Morrison, launched his political career by opposing suffrage for women and blacks, and belonged to the red shirts, a white supremacist organization that terrorized black voters.
With the family land and the multimillion-dollar fortune the Harris children inherited, Harris became the city's most influential developer, creating SouthPark Mall and the prestigious Ballantyne neighborhood in south Charlotte.
"This is their city, literally," a Charlotte Observer reporter wrote in a 1991 article about the Harris family.
After raising money for Gov. Jim Martin's 1984 campaign, Harris got himself appointed to the State Board of Transportation, where he managed to push through the completion of the southern leg of the outer belt, the expressway that circles the city and just happens to border Ballantyne, greatly increasing the land's value.
At the rezoning meeting in which Charlotte City Council members -- many of whose campaigns Harris has contributed to generously -- voted to approve the rezoning of the 1,756-acre tract that would become Ballantyne, Harris promised with a straight face that the neighborhood would include housing for low- and moderate-income people. Several years later, that particular phase of the project is, um, yet to be completed.
"I think we are both visionary," his wife Deborah once told the Charlotte Observer.
Charlotte City Council member Lynn Wheeler described it another way in an Observer article several years ago.
"Whatever Johnny wants, Johnny gets," said Wheeler. "He's sort of like the Santa Claus of Charlotte and we're all like his kids, taking care of us and helping improve our quality of life."
Not this time, Johnny. It's scary for someone to have that much pull. And we haven't believed in Santa Claus for a long time.
1. Charlotte Drivers
They're speedy, spaced-out and short-tempered. Except, of course, for the ultra-slow ones in big cars hogging the fast lane. Many of them would rather run you into a concrete lane divider than allow you to merge in front of them, as if letting you in would significantly lengthen the time of their trip. Watch out, they're Charlotte drivers, and they'll kill you!
Overall, they're an impatient, unpredictable crew. Over the past few years, even our police officers have had a poor record of tearing up the road, running stop signs, blowing through red lights and plowing into other drivers -- and that's when their blue lights are off and they aren't headed to an emergency.
Over the last few years, city transportation experts have tried to slow Charlotte drivers down and stop them at intersections with everything from speed humps to traffic cameras, with mixed results.
In Charlotte, as in other mid-sized cities across the nation, married women with school-aged children drive 21 percent more than their male counterparts, making an average of five trips a day to drop off and pick up their kids. They are Charlotte's most distracted drivers, and can often be seen inching along in traffic, with one hand on the wheel and the other swatting at a distant target in the backseat. Or if you don't see one of the minivan moms, you'll see the old guy wearing a hat going about one mile per hour in a 45 zone. Or it may be the uptown worker looking in the rearview mirror and putting on her mascara as she's driving up Providence Rd. Or maybe the two stoners passing a joint while they weave down Independence. Or one of the thousands who've never learned what a turn signal is for. Or the little old lady looking through the steering wheel of her Cadillac while slowing from 30 to 20mph as her medication kicks in. Or - our favorite - the driver in a left-turn lane who doesn't give a damn that the left-turn arrow went red about, oh, 10 seconds ago. Or the guy in the Ford Explosion who tailgates you because he's pissed that you're only going 10 miles over the speed limit.
Charlotte roads weren't built to handle the population or volume of traffic we have today, and during rush hour, the city's streets turn into a parking lot that extends for miles down I-77 and I-85.
The people who work in Charlotte have a tough choice to make. Live inside the city or county limits and pay higher taxes, or move outside and spend an extra hour-and-a-half a day in the car. Either way, you lose. And either way you'll have to deal with those drivers. *
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