Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 16 Mar 2007 04:34 pm
It was Halloween, October 31, 1992 and the largest single scam ever pulled by Irish Travellers was launched. It began with a CBS TV show — 48 hours — that highlighted how lax hotel security was in major hotels nationwide. Some Travellers saw that show, including one that was known for thinking big and ramrodding his ideas over the objections of anyone else. He was a particularly dangerous Traveller known as the Viking — and known for crossing the line into violence, using duct tape to bind his victims as he robbed their homes. Another was Jimmy Burke, one of the most successful con artists among the Travellers.
Twenty year old Wanda Mary Normile and her 38 year old sister, Jessee O’Roarke, along with Wanda’s ten month old baby were guests at the Caribbean Beach Resort. They were Northern Travellers, resident in Maine when they weren’t on the road. Wanda and Jessee had a discussion within earshot of several soon-to-be witnesses indicating that Wanda wasn’t feeling well and planned to go to her room to lie down. She would take her baby with her. Jessee stated she would be happy to go out and eat without the noise and bother of a baby, so they parted in the lobby.
At 9:50PM, a call came into 911 from Wanda Mary Normile. She said she’d been raped and beaten. The investigation would be launched immediately by both Disney World security and the local police. There were no signs of forced entry on the door. When the police and EMTs arrived they found Wanda still plainly terrified, remnants of duct tape still on her wrists and ankles, all of which were rubbed raw by the effort she made to escape. There were minor abrasions around her face, swelling around her mouth, and bruising on her forearms and cheeks. Lengths of duct tape sixteen to eighteen inches long were still hanging from the bedposts.
Rape? It certainly looked that way. But it wasn’t. The Travellers had decided to stage a rape scene and then sue Disney for millions of dollars. And they almost got away with it. Wanda Normile had just had sexual relations with a casual acquaintance, a boy who had no idea why this pretty, petite woman would suddenly show physical interest in him. It was important that the EMTs and detectives find sperm in her and evidence of sexual activity, and it was important that a DNA search wouldn’t find anyone with a criminal record so the young lad was found, primed, and used to set up the scam.
After the sex was over, Wanda returned to the lobby, had the discussion with Jessee that others overheard, and then went upstairs. Jimmy Burke — her brother — was the one who entered later and, as agreed, duct taped her to the bed. Not agreed before hand was the beating. He insisted on it to make the scene look more realistic. Wanda told investigators that the man was waiting for her when she returned to her room. She had asked him how he got in and he said "Hotel maids will do anything for fifty dollars." That was part of the scam, setting up Disney as culpable in the attack.
Weeks later, when the investigation into the rape hit a dead end, Wanda Normile filed a $3 million dollar lawsuit against Disney. Disney offered $200,000 to settle all claims, but that was turned down by Wanda and Jessee. They didn’t tell Jimmy Burke about the offer because they thought he might take it and run with the quick money. Later, Disney would offer $1.4 million dollars to Wanda Normile. That is when Patrick Burke — The Viking — became involved.
The fact was, Jimmy Burke didn’t want to settle. Wanda and Jessee were mistaken about that. It was Pat Burke, the Viking, who wanted to settle quickly. Newspaper reports were saying that, if the case went to a jury, the cash award could top $20 million. Jessee was getting worried about the consequences should the scam be uncovered. She wanted out. When the Viking heard that, he dragged her to a back room by her hair and put a pistol against her head, pulling the trigger three times. The gun misfired, but the message had been received loud and clear. There would be no backing out of this scam. The Viking hit Jessee in the head with the pistol and beat her before throwing her out of the house (later testimony makes it appear that the clip was accidentally ejected when he grabbed the gun, making it inoperable).
The in-fighting among the Burkes and other Travellers involved probably led to two anonymous tips phoned into the police. That was the first time law enforcement began to wonder if everything was as it seemed. By this time the young boy who’d had sex with Wanda had seen enough TV reports to realize he might have been involved involuntarily in something illegal. He went to the police and submitted to a DNA test. The game was over.
Jessee turned herself in shortly afterwards. Warrants were issued for Wanda Mary Normile and Jimmy Burke. No charges were filed against Jessee and, technically, The Viking wasn’t involved (this is disputed by some Travellers) until months after the scam so no warrants were issued for him. Jimmy didn’t serve prison time for the scam. He had contracted HIV-AIDS from being raped in prison the year before. Wanda Mary was caught at a campground near Buchanan, Tennessee. A year and a month after the fake-rape, twenty one year old Wanda Mary Normile plea bargained down to a sentence of three and a half years in a minimum security prison as well as a $24,000 payable to Disney Security. She was also required to acquire a valid Social Security number. She ended up serving only 18 months. The last news I had of her was that she no longer has contact with the Travellers and has married a former police officer (!) and settled down.
Jimmy Burke is dead of AIDS. He went very hard and died alone. Jessee is aggressively shunned by most Travellers and resides in Maine. Her children, now grown up, married into the clan and are on the road. The last I heard, Pat Burke, aka The Viking, was being sought by authorities in several States for a series of violent acts and scams. Word is that he is traveling with the Southern Travellers and is sometimes seen in their hometown, Murphy Village, SC.
Next — The Terrible Williamsons…