Satanic literature recovered from Cowart’s room
Daughter was driver for conspiring neo-Nazi pair
Memphis Commercial Appeal | Oct 28, 2008
By Bartholomew Sullivan
It all began with a mother’s call to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department in Brownsville, Tenn., last Wednesday night.
The unidentified woman told authorities her daughter had just acted as the driver for a planned burglary in Crockett County that was abandoned when two neo-Nazi skinheads chickened out at the sight of dogs, Haywood County Sheriff Melvin Bond said Tuesday morning.
The getaway-driver daughter is the girlfriend of Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn. Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Ark., are in custody, charged with possession of a sawed-off shotgun, conspiracy to rob a federal firearms licensee and making threats against a major candidate for president.
“This particular young lady is in fear of her life now, bless her heart,” said Bond.
Besides telling of her daughter’s unwilling role in the burglary attempt, the mother had a more intriguing story. The two men were planning to rob a gun shop, go on a killing spree and end up at the inauguration ceremonies in Washington where they would try to kill President-elect Barack Obama.
When the young woman came into the Sheriff’s Office last week, she was “so convincing” that deputies instantly took her story seriously, Bond said.
“She started telling us about acts she had heard about,” and she “didn’t want to be involved with those acts,” he said.
Haywood County contacted Jackson, Tenn., police, the Gibson County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Troy Klyce in Crockett County, where Cowart lived.
“Troy and his men saw the seriousness of this and took it under consideration and contacted the (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), then went to the location,” Bond said.
Neither Cowart nor Schlesselman was there, but authorities got permission from a resident to search Cowart’s room.
“They recovered some satanic literature, the floor plan of a gun shop in Jackson and all these different things,” Bond said. “Then they set and did a surveillance of the residence until the subjects drove up and they took them down without incident.”
One of them — Bond did not know which one — was armed with a handgun.
Haywood County deputies were present when the men admitted to a plot to kill students in a predominantly black school, go on a killing spree and end up in Washington ready to kill Obama, Bond said.
“My officers said that when the Secret Service asked them, ‘You know, you couldn’t make it that close (to Obama) by any means,’ they said, ‘Yeah, but we would die trying.’
“I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who would just admit to so many different factors and not try to cover them in any type of way,” Bond said.
Bond said he believes more people are involved in the conspiracy and authorities are trying to break the code on a Web site for more information.
On the night of Oct. 22, Bond said he had a sense that the department was involved in something big.
“I said, ‘Gentlemen, let me advise you of something. If any truth comes about this particular situation, we could have the No 1 story in the whole US of A, and I believe it materialized,” he said. “I’m just glad we went ahead and moved on it as quickly as we did.”
Bond, who calls Brownsville a “pretty smooth little town,” said “this is a one-in-a-million incident.”
According to federal authorities, last Tuesday night, Cowart and Schlesselman, armed with knives and handguns, targeted a home in Bells to rob. They aborted the plan when they encountered a dog in the backyard and two vehicles next to the house.
Later they went to a Wal- Mart in Brownsville where they bought food, nylon rope and two ski masks to use in their next home-invasion attempt or gun-store robbery, authorities said.
While in that area early Wednesday, Cowart used a .22-caliber pistol to shoot out a window at Beech Grove Church of Christ, a 60-member church. No one was hurt.
The young woman from Brownsville didn’t know about the church shooting, Bond said, so officials didn’t connect Cowart and Schlesselman to that incident until the pair confessed to it.
Cowart has hired attorney Joe Byrd Jr. of Jackson to represent him.
Schlesselman has been declared indigent and will be represented by M. Dianne Smothers of the federal public defender’s office in Jackson.
Both men were arrested Oct. 22 and held on state charges until a federal criminal complaint was filed under seal last Friday, according to Leanne Jordan, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. The complaint was unsealed Monday at their first court appearance.
Both remain in federal custody and will appear in federal court in Memphis on Thursday for a detention hearing to determine whether a bond should be set. The hearing will be before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gerald Cohn.