But because they couldn't determine there was an actual sexual assault victim, the most they could charge the 58-year-old convicted sex offender with was two misdemeanor counts of making obscene telephone calls.
Now a federal grand jury has stepped in and charged the Jacksonville man with eight counts of telephoning threats in interstate commerce. All eight counts involve calls to hospitals in Nebraska and Missouri threatening rape or molestation of young girls, the grand jury said.
Each count carries a maximum five-year term. Spence, of the 900 block of Bridier Street, has been jailed since his arrest. He is awaiting an initial appearance hearing before U.S. Magistrate Monte Richardson.
Spence has arrests and convictions dating back four decades for making threats and obscene calls, extortion and lewd assault on a minor child. He pleaded guilty in 1971 to the lewd assault charge and was placed on seven years probation.
In 1977, he was caught making one of a series of phone calls to a Jacksonville woman whose teenage daughter disappeared. He told her he would return the girl if the mother had sex with him, but if she didn't she would never see her daughter again. There was no evidence linking him to the disappearance of the girl.
Initially, he was judged a mentally disordered sex offender and committed to the state mental hospital, according to news reports from the time. In 1979, he pleaded guilty to extortion and also was found to have violated his probation. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Last year, sex crimes detectives at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office were investigating the spate of phone calls originating from Duval County, but had no idea who the suspect was until they were contacted by a police officer in Falls City, Neb. He was investigating an incident at Falls City's Community Medical Center, in which a woman received a call from a man who said he was a pedophile and was planning to molest a girl. The caller said he had baby-sat the girl the previous day and sexually assaulted her.
Though the cellphone has a Western Alabama area code, the Nebraska officer determined the call originated in Jacksonville. He located a National Crime Information Center teletype Jacksonville detectives had posted regarding their investigation.
According to Jacksonville police, the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force helped locate Spence, who had the cellphone and photocopied pages of a national hospital directory with him when he was picked up.
Police tried to determine if there was an actual sex crime victim and the motive for the calls, but said he was evasive, then refused to talk.