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1973 New Orleans Tower Sniper--Was it a Black Op?
There are many who remember the 1966 UofTexas/Austin tower sniper, but who today remembers the New Orleans hotel tower sniper of 1973? Like so many others, this one was eventually blamed on a deranged lone nut, though the evidence shows it was anything but.

12-31-72 and 1-7-73 New Orleans/HowardJohnsons Tower Sniper Mark James Essex, 23

On Sunday, January 7, 1973, at about 10:15 a.m. a black militant named Mark Essex shot and wounded a white grocer in the black ghetto of Gert Town. He then carjacked a vehicle, drove to the fourth floor of a seven floor parking garage at the downtown New Orleans location of a Howard Johnson motel, and then began a 28-hour murder and arson rampage in the nine residential floors above the parking floors. He killed seven people and wounded at least six more both on the ground and inside the building before he was shot to death on the roof by police snipers.

[Image: 1-1-Mark-Essex-Navy-ID.jpg]
[Image: 220px-HolidayInnNOLALoyolaAvJan2008.jpg]

The sniper had begun his rampage a week before, in the last hours of the old year, when he shot two police officers near the entry port of the city jail/police headquarters building in the downtown area. One was killed and the second lightly wounded, the shots fired from an open field across from the building with the suspect's Ruger .44-caliber Magnum carbine. A half hour later and a half mile from the first site, the gunman shot and killed another police officer who was responding to a silent alarm at a warehouse, who was not aware of the previous shooting. The killer would then pop up again seven days later at the HoJos to resume the rampage.


NOPD training officer Alfred Harrel, 19 (killed)
NOPD Lt. Horace Perez (wounded)

NOPD Ed Hosli, 27 (succumbed to his wounds two weeks later)

Joseph Perniciaro, Gert Town grocer (wounded)

Robert Stegall, 27 hotel guest (killed)
Betty Joe Stegall, hotel guest (killed)
Frank Schneider, hotel manager (killed)
Walter Collins, hotel general manager (killed)
NOFD (Fire Dept) Tim Ursin (wounded)
NOPD Charles Arnold (wounded)
Robert Beamish, 43, hotel guest (wounded)
NOPD Ken Solis, 26 (wounded)
NOPD Emanuel Palmisano (Wounded)
NOPD Philip Coleman (killed)
NOPD Paul Persigo (killed)
Ambulance attendant Chris Caton (wounded)
NOPD Assistant Chief Louis Sirgo (killed)
Unknown Civil Defense employee (wounded)
NOPD Larry Arthur (wounded)

NOPD Sgt Fred O'Sullivan (wounded by friendly fire)
NOPD Sgt Robert Buras (wounded by friendly fire)

NOPD L.J. Delsa (wounded by friendly fire)
NOPD Dan Dunn (wounded by friendly fire)
NOPD Guy LeBlanc (wounded by friendly fire)
+six other NOPD officers less seriously wounded

After the killing at the warehouse on New Year's Eve, police waited until daylight to attempt to track the movement of the gunman. It was not difficult:
The ammunition outside the window was the start of a trail of bullets. By the end of that Monday morning, January 1, the police picked up a total of 10 unfired cartridges. The path led straight into the heart of Gert Town.
As they followed the track of .44-caliber bullets, several police officers and detectives began to suspect that the shooter had not dropped the ammunition accidentally. Many believed that the bullets had not been dropped at all, but had been laid down so that the police could find them and follow them.
Writer Peter Hernon quotes NOPD detective Emmett Dupas, who said, "It was clear that it was a trap, that we were being set up. The bullets were always in pairs and always pointed in the same direction."
In describing the way the bullets were left, one detective says, "They were placed there. I think he was waiting for us in the church."

The trail ended at a small church in Gert Town(a nearby black ghetto), where police believed they had the multiple cop-killer surrounded (later evidence proved he was indeed inside the church).

And then something happened that is probably unique in the annals of American law enforcement:

Chief of Police Clarence Giarusso ordered his officers out of the area. Allegedly the chief was worried about the civil rights of the neighborhood's inhabitants:
Throughout the morning, the chief had received several complaints from Gert Town residents about the tactics the police were using to search for the killer. Doors had been kicked open and houses searched. The chief feared the officers would further alienate the already antagonistic neighborhood.

[Image: PG13-%28AP%29-Captain-Clarence-.jpg]
Chief Giarusso


After the crime scene at the motel was secured, it was discovered that victims were shot, fires started, or gunmen spotted on the 8th, 10nth, 11nth, 16nth, 17nth, and 18nth floors. Could one gunman have moved so freely and quickly inside the massive structure?

Essex' life was ended about 9:30pm Sunday night, when he emerged from a concrete cubicle on the roof and was shot to death via hundreds of rounds from police on the surrounding skyscrapers and from a sniper team circling the roof aboard a Marine Corps Reserve CH-46 helicopter. But the death of the lone gunman did not end the siege. It would continue another 15 hours, fed along by numerous reports of more shooters and resulting in thousands of more rounds fired and dozens more helicopter sorties. And the number of wounded would continue to rise.

[Image: -a3d783f3c49ded44.jpg]

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"The body of Mark Essex lies on the hotel roof. An autopsy revealed more than 200 gunshot wounds."

In many of the manipulated mass shooting incidents, reports of more gunmen are supplied by civilian witnesses. The New Orleans shooting is different, in that most of the references to more shooters instead came from the police themselves.

The following references to additional shooters comes from the book
A Terrible Thunder, The Story of the New Orleans Sniper, by Peter Hernon (c. 1978)

Unknown cop: "There must be two of the bastards. That guy was in green, I thought the first one was dressed in black."

"Giarusso.. was already getting conflicting reports on how many gunmen were loose in the building, with some of his men insisting that they had seen two blacks--one tall, the other short--shooting simultaneously from different balconies."

(NOPD) Captain Randall: "We're assuming there's two up there. At least we can hear different-caliber weapons."

"Giarusso also received a report from patrolman John Fields, a sharpshooter on the roof of City Hall ... Fields said he had seen two blacks at the entrance to the cubicle(on the roof)... Other reporters also reported there were two men on the rooftop..."

LtCol. Chuck Pitman, USMC, pilot of the helicopter circling the roof: "We always thought there were at least three snipers, and that they had automatic weapons."

"Detective Dan Dunn and Lieutenant Richard Hunter... were exchanging theories of their own. It seemed likely that the attack had been set up months in advance, probably by four or five persons, possibly by militants from out-of-state."

"When the helicopter pulled off, the Rault Center(a neighboring high rise) reported that "two, possibly three persons" were still shooting on the roof."

NOPD Lieutenant Schnapp: "From our position we can sure hear two voices..."

" "We can hear people talking up on the roof," Lieutenant Hunter said, calling from the Gravier(Street) stairwell."
"You think this person is talking to himself? That he may be irrational?"
"Negative. It appears to be two people. ...earlier we did hear two distinct voices shouting. One right by us and another farther away."
Lieutenant Schnapp radioed from the Perdido(Street) stairwell. "..when the firing started, it sounded like there were two calibers, one heavy, the other light."
"Same with us," Hunter said. "We heard two different calibers." "

References to more shooters after about 9:30pm, when lone gunman Mark Essex was killed by police snipers:

"As the helicopter departed, Captain Curtis Gaudet reported from the eighteenth floor that someone was "still shouting up there."
"We heard him too," another cops said. "There may be one more left in the cubicle." ...
"Chief, I definitely see his muzzle fire coming from that cubicle on the river side," reported Car 406." ...
"Tell those people in the BNO to take cover. He's shooting through the hole right at them." The report was from a Jefferson Parish deputy in the Demontluzin Building."

"It really sounds like there's two of them left up on that roof," said Captain Gaudet. "We can hear them talking to each other."

LtCol. Chuck Pitman, USMC, pilot of the helicopter circling the roof:
"..we thought we still had a whole herd of people up there. ... there was still gunfire going on and bullet whizzing overhead while they refeuled the helicopter(at the nearby Naval Air Station)... people were still shooting at one another."

"Shortly before two o'clock in the morning, Giarusso was deluged with reports that a sniper had crawled out on a 'ledge' on the roof of the hotel and was firing across Loyola Avenue. Five men on top of the Bank of New Orleans said they could see someone in a white t-shirt, "lying on the corner of the roof not far from the Perdido stairwell. There were multiple sightings, and police in both stairwells reported hearing the clatter of an automatic carbine."

"It was now almost two-thirty(Monday morning, the 8th of January). ...spotters continued to report that gunfire was coming from the Gravier Street cubicle(located on the roof)..."

2:45am: "..reports of gunfire broke out anew. Men in the stairwells heard shouted obscenities, and from the tops of buildings, spotters with binoculars saw shadowed movement."

5am: Reporter on the scene: "The helicopter is right over the building now. It's very low, right in front of those cubicles. You can see the light playing on the walls. Wait! They're firing! Apparently they saw him. They're really pouring it in."

2pm, Monday afternoon:
The last room that had not been searched was the boiler room on the roof. Police formed a semi-circle in front of the louvered doors and opened fire. Nine police are injured, blamed on bullets ricocheting off the metal door.

After the suspect had been publicly identified:
"Several guests insisted the sniper they had seen was taller than Essex and had a goatee. Essex, they pointed out, was clean-shaven. They also said the gunman used a bolt-action rifle, probably a thirty-ought six, and not a semi-automatic carbine."

"New Orleans fire chief Louis San Salvador was quoted as saying that it was virtually impossible for one man to have set the fires himself. "There is at least one more and he walked away from it," San Salvador told a reporter."

Chief Giarusso at a post-event news conference:
"One would have to assume that if there was no second sniper, the police fired those shots [at the helicopter], and that's possible but not likely." Giarusso also mentioned the thousands of bullet fired at the shadowy figure seen on the rooftop after Essex was dead. "Many, many shots were fired at this ghost while he moved and, furthermore, the men who were there near the roof heard conversation after the first sniper was shot. I can't believe all of those men were hallucinating." " ...
"..there is some evidence someone may have arranged for a room for the dead sniper..."

All the contemporaneous news accounts reported more than one shooter, it took about a week for them to settle on one lone gunman.

"Three black snipers set fire to this hotel...."

The New York Times
January 12, 1973
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 11 - The New Orleans Police Department has evidence that there were at least two snipers and possibly three in the downtown Howard Johnson Motor Lodge last Sunday and Monday, and that the six people killed and 15 wounded by gunfire at the motel were shot from two different weapons - a .44-caliber semiautomatic rifle and a bolt action rifle. One of the snipers was said by a police officer tonight to have been a woman.
Police Superintendent Clarence B. Giarrusso said the he is not as convinced now as he was Monday that there were two or more snipers, but that he still felt strongly that there were. One thing that the police have not been able to explain is how a second sniper could have escaped from the motel, which was surrounded by several hundred officers.

The New York Times
January 17, 1973
"I believe there was more than one, and that one of them got out in the chaos of removing the guests from the building," (NOPD)Krinke said. "He slipped in with that and made his way out." (NOPD)Trepagnier agrees: "My gut feeling is, I shot at two different people."

January 05, 2013
Though officials concluded that Essex was a lone killer, even today many of those who worked to stop him believe that he had at least one accomplice.
My father Fred Efraim O'Sullivan was then commander of the NOPD Intelligence and went up into the stairwell with Bob Buras to flush out the sniper. Buras got hit in the shoulder and my father got a bullet through the ear. My father always believed there were two snipers.
...Channel 4 news photographer Willie Wilson Jr. was a young employee of the station who volunteered to go out to the scene and shoot film of the incident.
"It was a sense of panic," he remembers. "Nobody really knew how many snipers there were. Even today, you talk to people that were involved, they really don't know. Some say it was one, some say it was more than one."

Chuck Hustmyre in an essay titled, "Under Attack: The New Orleans Police Department and the Howard Johnson's Hotel Sniper"
Very few of the police officers involved in the siege of the Downtown Howard Johnson's believed that there was just one sniper.


Then the question becomes: if police knew there was more than one sniper, why did they ever stop pursuing these other suspects, given that they were chasing cop killers? They never close the case on a cop killing.

Mark James Robert Essex was born in Emporia, Kansas, graduating from Emporia Senior High School in 1967. He enlisted in the United States Navy in January 1969 and was trained as a dental technician, stationed in San Diego, California.

He initially received high marks as a sailor, but suddenly his attitude seemed to change for the worse around his 21st birthday in August of 1970. According to his commanding officer, "the change was very sudden; it seemed to come in a matter of weeks.... ...he started listening to some of these hard core militant types, I think he really got involved in the movement." Among the angry militants Essex would meet in San Diego was a New Orleans native named Rodney Frank. Later Essex would move to New Orleans to join his old friend.

He went absent without leave (AWOL) for a month in late 1970. After being court-martialed, he was given a general discharge on 10 February 1971--two years early--for "character and behavior disorders." Exactly why Essex became so alienated is a mystery. Bucolic Emporia was hardly known as a racial hotbed, and the few racially charged incidents he was involved in while in the Navy seem rather minor. Yet both his parents and his minister said his disaffection was deep and genuine.

After his discharge, he traveled to New York City where for about three months he became involved with the Black Panthers before heading home to Kansas. In August 1972 Essex moved to New Orleans. What he did there in the last four months of his life is murky, though he didn't pop up on police radar in their monitoring of radical black elements in that city.

From the NOPD's Final Report into the incident:
" firm, physical evidence was found which would link to any of the known subversive or militant groups... ..Essex was well trained, both in firearms and in urban guerilla tactics... ... The scope of Essex's activities lends substantial credence to speculation that he was trained to accomplish what he did.. ...there is some evidence to indicate that he did undergo a period of training shortly after his release from the Navy.. ."

Are we to believe Essex got all this training by reading a couple of manuals and hanging around the BPs? The sniper was a skilled marksman--where did Essex learn how to shoot like that? He had had only one day's instruction in firearms while in boot camp.


starviego Wrote:MORE SHOOTERS
2pm, Monday afternoon, 8 January(just before the incident was considered to be over):
The last room that had not been searched was the boiler room on the roof. Police formed a semi-circle in front of the louvered doors and opened fire. Nine police are injured, blamed on bullets ricocheting off the metal door.

I can see one or two cops being injured by friendly fire, but nine, all at one time? Given all the reports of another gunman, this scenario strikes me as being very unrealistic. My hunch is this was a final shootout with the other sniper(s), in which the other sniper(s) were shot and killed. But why didn't they report that? I can only conclude that they knew this other participant had close associations with the police/intelligence/military, links that would have come out, and they figured it would be best if this were not known. Possibly they were embarrassed because this guy--an informant or even an undercover cop/agent--was one of their own who had gone over to the other side. Of course, for this theory to be viable they would have had to have known ahead of time that he was the other gunman. Maybe one of the cops saw him during the rampage and recognized him.

Or maybe this was some deep cover intell/military special ops guy, who was somehow extracted from the scene before or after it ended. Or maybe he thought he was supposed to be extracted, only to find out he had been betrayed and was supposed to be now shot to death.

The New York Times January 9, 1973 (the day after the siege ended)
"Earlier, the police had reported 10 persons dead(at the hotel), but this morning they discovered they had been counting several bodies twice."

Officially, eight(8) bodies were pulled from the hotel, including Essex. But a couple of more dead snipers would account for the initially reported toll.


Louisiana Attorney General William Guste, while the siege was still underway:
"I am now convinced that there is an underground, national, suicide group bent on creating terror in America. Their purpose is to cause the people to be dissatisfied, to bring race against race, young against old, to cause internal national chaos."

Did someone say chaos?
Operation CHAOS or Operation MHCHAOS was the code name for an American domestic espionage project conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency.


On 11-29-72, just a month before the sniper went to work across from the police HQ, New Orleans suffered another traumatic event when the Rault Center, a 17-story high rise right next to the Howard Johnsons Motor Hotel, caught fire in the two upper floors. Six died, including four women who jumped to their death. The state fire marshal declared the fire a result of arson. (The fire is thought by some to have been the basis for the 1970s disaster flick "The Towering Inferno")

11-29-72 Rault Center fire
[Image: 17153711-standard.jpg]

When the pictures of sniper Mark Essex were published in local papers five weeks later, he was quickly suspected of having also carried out the arson attack on the Rault Center with an accomplice.

"After the Howard Johnson Mark Essex sniper incident of January 7, 1973, Joseph Rault(the developer) reported that two well-dressed men, one fitting the description of Essex, entered the Rault Center on the morning of the fire. A security guard spotted them, acting suspiciously, entering the ground-floor lobby elevator after reading the building directory. They were later seen in the lobby by the guard." (Hernon, pg 269)

The arson attack may have been carried out due to it's proximity to the HoJos:

New Orleans Fire Marshall Raymond Oliver: "..said the Rault Center was virtually the only building from which police could deal effectively with gunmen hiding on the roof of the hotel. "It's just my personal opinion," he said, "but if you wanted to plan something for the future you would like to get the Rault Center out of the way..." " [Hernon, pg 269]
(The fire did not, however, prevent over 100 NOPD cops from using the burnt out floors as an observation and shooting platform on the day of the HoJos attack.)

Joseph Rault, Jr., was a local oil and real estate developer. He is perhaps best known for having founded the New Orleans group "Truth or Consequences" in 1967; composed of prominent local citizens, its purpose was to provide New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison with private funds in his investigation into the death of JFK.

[Image: 1967September8RaultCenterOpeningCeremony.gif]
Then in November 1966, squeezed into a tourist-class seat on an Eastern jet headed for New York, his(Garrison's) interest in the possiblity of a conspiracy was rekindled. Flanking him were Senator Russell B. Long of Louisiana and Joseph Rault Jr, a New Orleans oilman. The previous week, Long had remarked in the course of a press conference that he doubted the findings of the Warren Commission.

[Image: Jim%20Garrison.jpg]

Jim Garrison was still the New Orleans DA in 1973, though his name is not connected to either the fire or the sniper attacks in any way. If Garrison had an opinion on these events, he kept them to himself.


Postscript: The Rot Goes Deep
New Orleans States-Item 4 December 1972
The investigation into the killer-fire was expected to intensify today, after systematic ransacking of apartments was reported. More than $25,000 worth of merchandise.. reportedly was taken from three apartments. ... Sources said file cabinets in the building had been searched and desk drawers forced open. Hundreds of items are reported missing.

Ransacked file cabinets and desks during a fire? That reminds me of the plot in late 1971 by Nixon's dirty tricks department to firebomb the Brookings Institution building in Washington DC as cover for a search for sensitive documents concerning Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. It makes me wonder who the tenants of the Rault building were!

Hale Boggs

After the New Year's Eve attack on the NOPD, the police search for the sniper was complicated by a gathering of VIPs in New Orleans on January 4, 1973 for a memorial service for Congressman Hale Boggs(D-La.), 58, who was declared to be legally deceased the day before, after his plane went missing on a campaign flight in Alaska on October 16, 1972. Also on the small chartered plane was Alaskan Congressman Nick Begich(D-Al) 40, his aide Russell Brown, 37 and pilot Don Jonz, 38. Despite a huge search and rescue operation(the largest ever for its time) no trace of the plane or its passengers and crew was ever found.

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Boggs(on the left)
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Boggs and Begich
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House Resolution 1 of January 3, 1973 officially recognized Boggs' presumed death and opened the way for a special election.

Boggs was House Majority Leader, the second most powerful position in the House and appeared destined to be elected the next Speaker of the House. Present at the service were First Lady Patricia Nixon, and ex-President Lyndon Johnson and his family, among other notables. Boggs had been making waves by getting into a public feud with J. Edgar Hoover:
In April 1971 he made a speech on the floor of the House in which he strongly attacked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the whole of the FBI.
"Over the postwar years, we have granted to the elite and secret police within our system vast new powers over the lives and liberties of the people. At the request of the trusted and respected heads of those forces, and their appeal to the necessities of national security, we have exempted those grants of power from due accounting and strict surveillance." Hale Boggs -- Speech before Congress (April 22, 1971)
Author Anthony Summers described Boggs' speeches against Hoover in the 1993 book, "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover." According to Summers, Boggs "made speeches accusing the FBI of wiretapping members of Congress and infiltrating the universities." Boggs also compared Hoover's FBI to the Soviet Union and Hitler's Gestapo. Boggs said the Attorney General should "ask for the resignation of Mr. Hoover." (Summers, page 394)

[Image: j_edgar_hoover_0004.jpg]

Boggs had also been a member of the Warren Commission, but he was rumored to have doubts about the conclusions reached by that body.

Warren Commission
[Image: Warren-Commission.jpg];page=2
The Los Angeles Star, on November 22, 1973, reported that before his death Boggs claimed he had "startling revelations" on Watergate and the assassination of JFK.

Hoover had died five weeks before Boggs' plane went down, but it was clear that Hoover was not the only one who had growing doubts about Boggs:
... a conversation on April 6, 1971, between then-President Richard M. Nixon and the Republican minority leader, Gerald R. Ford, Jr., in which Nixon said that he could no longer take counsel from Boggs as a senior member of Congress. In the recording of this call, Nixon is heard to ask Ford to arrange for the House delegation to include an alternative to Boggs.
Some, including several of Begich's children, have suggested that Richard Nixon had a hand in Boggs' death in order to thwart the Watergate investigation.

Good interview with Dr. Nick Begich, the missing Alaskan congressman's son:

Lindy Boggs, the widow of Hale Boggs, would go on to win the special election for his seat. She was later awarded an ambassadorship under the Bill Clinton administration. It was a young Bill Clinton who would drive Hale Boggs to an airport in Texas for a flight back to DC, where he got on another plane for the flight to Alaska. Call it coincidence.

IF the HowardJohnsons tower sniper attack were some kind of Deep State covert op, what was its purpose?

I believe its main purpose was further payback to New Orleans for being the home of those--Sen. Long, Mr. Rault, DA Garrison, and Rep. Boggs--who would challenge the powers that be, or for publicly questioning the official version of events. And sending a message to anyone else who would emulate them.

Secondary goals may have been to further demonize the New Left, the civil rights movement generally, and Black radical groups in particular

Thirdly, there were reactions on a political level:

"The fear of violence and reaction also had national implications. ...the Secret Service was worried "the sniper attack ... could precipitate a similar incident in Washington during President Nixon's inaugural." As a precaution... the Secret Service had decided to augment its twelve-hundred man security force by an additional six hundred agents. Nixon's swearing in, January 20, would occur under the heaviest of secuity blankets."
(Herndon, pg268)

"The sniping and perceived threat of intercity terror also prompted increased congressional demands for a law that would make the murder of policemen or firemen a federal crime."
(Herndon, pg269)"

And in front of a congressional sub-committee, Chief Giarusso called for "a national data bank which would provide psychological profiles on extremists." (shades of '1984')
(Herndon, pg282)

Interesting, never heard of that sniper attack. They actually made a film about the Austin one (starring a young Kurt Russell).
It's hard to say what Nixon's second term would have been like it hadn't been derailed by Watergate.

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