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Actress Annette Funicello Dies; Iron Lady of British Politics Dies; Obama Sprints to Gun Control Finish; Contentious Town Hall Under Way; Ex-Boxer May Be Serial Killer

Aired April 8, 2013 - 14:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: It was just an incredible moment for that kid and for everybody. Way to go. Good for him.

Well, that is it for me, but CNN NEWSROOM continues.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: In America's debate over guns, this week could mean everything. And it starts tonight with President Obama not too far from Newtown.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.




BALDWIN: "Iron lady" dies. An inside look at Margaret Thatcher's relationship, both with Ronald Reagan and the queen.


THATCHER: The lady's not returning.


BALDWIN: The desperate search for needles in a haystack. How crews are looking for two brothers in the Gulf of Mexico.

Plus, one of music's sexiest couples taking heat for their vacation to Cuba.

And, Snoop says there will never be a gay rapper. He explains why.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for joining me here on this Monday.

We have to begin with some sad news here this afternoon. Known for her Mouseketeer ears, her beach parties, the entertainment world remembering Annette Funicello today. The former teen icon has died at the age of 70. We're told Funicello died from complications of multiple sclerosis, a disease she apparently battled for years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANNETTE FUNICELLO, ACTRESS: I was feeling strange little things. Numbness. I used to think I slept on my arm wrong. My equilibrium was strange, you know? I couldn't walk on the sand. My eyesight was deteriorating. It really was. So I found out the latter part of '87. And it threw me. You know, it really threw me, because I've always been so healthy.


BALDWIN: And that was Annette Funicello speaking with Larry King back in 1994. Just want to have a big discussion here at the top of the hour. Nischelle Turner, our entertainment correspondent, senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. And I also just want to be entirely transparent and tell you that somewhere in LAX Paul Anka is dialing in to CNN. So we'll talk to Paul Anka. He's actually just coming out with a book out tomorrow, "My Way," and he talks about writing some of the hit singles for Annette Funicello and also some flirting. So we'll ask about their relationship here momentarily.

But, Elizabeth Cohen, just first to you. What more do we know about her passing and about, you know, what was it, 1992 when she first sort of came out to the world saying, I have multiple sclerosis.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, that's going to be part of her great legacy --


COHEN: Is that she was really the first person to talk about it openly in that way. I mean back then, celebrities didn't come out and say, I have a terrible, debilitating disease. And she did. And I know that that made a huge difference for people with MS and still does make a difference for people with MS now.

Now, people with MS often live a normal life span. I mean she was 70. So she was not a young, young woman. And they die not of the disease but of complications of the disease. So different -- you know, the disease affects different people differently. We saw, for example, on Larry King, she was able to speak and able to, you know, compose herself.

BALDWIN: Yes. And let me come to you momentarily. I now know we have Paul Anka on the phone.


BALDWIN: Paul Anka on the phone from L.A. Airport, headed to New York.

Paul Anka, can you hear me?

PAUL ANKA, FRIEND OF ANNETTE FUNICELLO (via telephone): I can hear you very well.

BALDWIN: Wonderful.

ANKA: It's a sad day. Thank you for having me on. BALDWIN: It is a sad day. You knew Annette Funicello. Tell me, because I know you wrote "Puppy Love" and "Tall Paul" for her, hit songs. Take me back, Mr. Anka. Tell me how you met her and what was she like.

ANKA: Well, she and her family were a wonderful family. She was a very sweet, and she was a very intelligent girl. She was very conscientious. She had a great integrity for her career, a great love for her family. She was always fun to be around. Of course we were very young and we were both kind of clawing our way through life trying to find out who we were. I have nothing but fond memories. We obviously, at some point, she wanted to get married and I didn't. And that's what happened in our relationship. Though we remained friends for many years.

She went on to marry a wonderful man, Jack Gilardi, who was my agent at the time. But she continued to be very outspoken in terms of everything she believed, even right down to her MS, where she went to the forefront and shared it all with people in hopes of inspiring them in some way. And it's just a very, very sad day.

I know that the last -- quite a few years was not a way to live and it was just something that we all felt very deeply in terms of how she existed with that. But she will rest in peace. She will be loved. Not a malicious thing ever said about her, nor was she that as a person. And my heart goes out to her, her family, her extended family, to everyone.

TURNER: Well, can I --


TURNER: Can I jump in here and ask a question.

ANKA: Sure.

TURNER: Paul, real quick, you know, it kind of had been reported and rumored that you also wrote "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" for her. Was that kind of an ode to your love?


BALDWIN: It was "Puppy Love," right?

ANKA: Well, no, we -- we were in communication with each other a great deal and working together. And ultimately with the closeness that we had, the Disney people were not really happy with, you know, two young people getting too serious. And probably rightfully so.

BALDWIN: Really?

ANKA: So and indigenous to all of those events, I sat down and did write "Puppy Love," because it was kind of hammered to me that it's just puppy love. So that, indeed, was written for her. When I was traveling around -- or as I was writing, I would call and just sing songs to her on the phone. "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" was one of them. But "Puppy Love" was specifically for her. BALDWIN: I -- Paul, I also had read, you know, despite her successes -- and she really was like the original triple threat, which I want to ask you, Nischelle, about in a moment. But that I read she was shy in the studio when it came to her singing.

ANKA: Well, she was not very confident. I mean, I sat with her for many days, many weeks and tried to tell her that she did have some tone and she could sing. Yes, she was very reluctant about it, very shy about it but very confident about her acting. But the singing, she really needed some mentoring and she came out of it all right. She did a great job.

TURNER: What was it about her that you think people just took to, Paul? Because she was kind of that teen idol, that dream boat that boys love and girls wanted to be friends with.

ANKA: Well, it was all of that. You know, you have to really look at the times. Pop music was in its infancy stage. Television was, you know, just emerging really. And all of a sudden you had this cute looking, lovely person with a great soul that emerged and stepped out in front of everyone from that whole Disney group. And her loveable, her loveable little personality and her sincerity, people just gravitated to it. And, you know, she wasn't even supposed to come out on those tours with us, on those singing tours, but, you know, she wanted to try to sing, as shy as she was, but she was just courageous that way. But she just had that appeal. She had that all American appeal. They loved it.

BALDWIN: She had it, as they say. Paul Anka --

ANKA: She had the it. She had the it, yes.

BALDWIN: She had the it. Thank you for calling in. Safe travels. I believe I'm sitting down with you on Wednesday when I'm in New York to talk to you about your new book "My Way." So I will see you Wednesday.

ANKA: Sure.

BALDWIN: Paul Anka on the phone. Elizabeth Cohen and Nischelle Turner, thank you very, very much.

And now, she was a woman in a man's world. Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87 from a stroke while staying at the Ritz Hotel in London. Nicknamed "the iron lady," she was the first and the only woman to ever lead Britain as prime minister. She's been called tough, even broodish and she was a towering and unshakable force.


MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: What really gets me is this. It is very ironic that those who are most critical of the extra tax are those who were most vociferous in demanding the extra expenditure. And what gets me even more is that having demanded that extra expenditure, they're not prepared to face the consequences of their own action and stand by the necessity to get some of the tax to pay for it. And I wish some of them had a bit more guts and courage than they have.


BALDWIN: She stood up against communism. She led her country to victory in the Falklands War. She guided Britain through the final, painful years of the Cold War. But it was her tough, economic medicine for a sickened country by inflation and budget deficits and industrial strikes that saw wide springs in popularity and the eventual revolt by her own cabinet. Joining me now, two guests, Frank Sesno, director of the school of media and public affairs at George Washington University, and Richard Vinen, author of "Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the 1980s."

Gentlemen, welcome to you.

Frank Sesno, I want to begin with you because we have to talk about her friendship with President Ronald Reagan. You were there in Washington. You were the White House correspondent to witness it all, to speak with her. My first question is this. Beyond their obvious political affinity, the unapologetic conservatism, they seem to have pretty strong personal chemistry. What was the basis of that?

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, they did -- well they did -- well, because they both believed in the same things. And, in fact, in many ways, Margaret Thatcher went first. I was also assigned to London, and I went to London in 1979, I'm dating myself, but just months after she became prime minister, and she led the way. Her version of conservatism really led the way for Reagan. She went after welfare, she went after labor unions, she went after big government spending after the Soviet Union. She called for lower taxes. These were all things that Reagan embraced. They were what Reagan stood for.

She actually had a somewhat condescending view toward him to begin with. Viewed him something as a cowboy. Over time --

BALDWIN: They didn't always get along, did they?

SESNO: No, they didn't always get along. But they had an affinity, especially one that developed over time because she felt she found a political soul mate. And she had. And he had. And they counted on one another.

BALDWIN: You mentioned the Soviets. I want to come back to you and sort of what she said about Mikhail Gorbachev even before he took the reins there.

But, Richard, what about her relationship with the queen. The two of them, obviously, had an interesting relationship.

RICHARD VINEN, AUTHOR, "THATCHER'S BRITAIN": Well, it's very hard to know what kind of relationship she had with the queen because everything that passes between the monarchy and the prime minister is very private. I think it's sometimes assumed that the queen is close to the kind of British establishment, which wasn't always very easy with Margaret Thatcher. My own sense from kind of gossip is that the royal family was actually rather supportive of Margaret Thatcher.

BALDWIN: Frank, to you. Let me just play this part of your interview, speaking about the breakdown of the Soviet Union.


THATCHER: Not rely on people like the United Nations either to make peace or keep the peace. Always have to be on our own guard and always have to watch for new tyrannies to develop. When old empires break down, the world is a dangerous place because all the things which had been kept under by this total evil suppression, they come right out again and old conflicts flare up. And that is --


BALDWIN: Giggling because we go to the archive for you, Frank Sesno. So --

SESNO: Yes, thanks -- thanks so much.

BALDWIN: You're welcome. When Margaret Thatcher met with Mikhail Gorbachev, she had invited him actually to Britain before he took over, and she declared, "I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together." Talking about the influence on Reagan. Do you think her relationship then, with Mr. Gorbachev, influenced his?

SESNO: I would say that that comment that she made, "we can do business together," influenced a great amount of U.S. policy, because there was a sense that a key ally, a European ally, could do business, had met this man. Again she went first and established a relationship. She saw in Gorbachev something different. She heard a departure from what had been there before. And she wasn't at all reluctant to say, we can do business with this man. And, in fact, they did huge business. Of course, Reagan ended up saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." He didn't tear it down, but it came down.

BALDWIN: Frank Sesno and Richard Vinen on the passing of another prominent lady, "the iron lady," Margaret Thatcher. Thank you, both.

The president's push for new gun legislation is taking him back to Connecticut today, the scene of the Sandy Hook killings which prompted national calls for action. Two days after those 26 deaths, the president made a pledge. Do you remember this?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.


BALDWIN: Here we are, three and a half months later and a lot of folks are saying this is really make or break week here for gun control. Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent. And for just one moment, Jess, let's examine the big picture. Whether you are for or against new gun restrictions, has the president done all he can, all he's promised, to try to enact them?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a good question, Brooke, and it really depends when you start counting. After the sandy Hook shooting, he called for major gun -- safety legislation just five days later. He signed 23 executive orders a month and two days later. Today will be his 13th event press in Congress to pass a bill, which they'll vote on this month. That's four months after the Newtown shooting. All of that is very rapid, believe it or not, for movement in Washington, D.C., frustrating as it may be that nothing's gotten done here really to date.

But, and this is a big but, if you consider the possibility that the president could have pressed for all this action in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, which happened more than two years ago and he didn't, well, then it's a whole different discussion, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So -- OK. Basic state of play, though, right now. As we mentioned, we have the president going back to Connecticut.


BALDWIN: What are we looking at when we look ahead to tomorrow, to Wednesday, to Thursday, as the gun control debate really begins to come to a head?

YELLIN: So, the Senate comes back into session and Democrats are looking for a compromise to reach with Republicans. And they're trying to figure out who their dance partner will be on this one. The two options, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, or Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. And they're looking to cut a deal with one of those two senators to try to bring in more Republicans, to try to get past a key 60 vote threshold.

At the same time, today the president is giving this speech in Connecticut, he'll be joined by 11 family members of the Sandy Hook victims. And those family members are going to board Air Force One with the president, after the speech, fly back to Washington, D.C., I'm told by White House aides. And when they get here, they are going to go lobby senators to try to get more senators to get on board this legislation, try to pass the bill. So that will be a pretty forceful message coming from victims' families.


BALDWIN: We'll watch for it. Jessica Yellin, chief White House correspondent. Jess, thank you.

And coming up, the president of Rutgers is right now holding a town hall, days after the uproar over the video from the basketball coach abusing players. We now know that coach is out, the assistant's out. We know the athletic director's out. Let me tell you this. This president just got an earful. You will see what happened.

Plus, a former boxer has a rap sheet you wouldn't believe. Now there are concerns that this man could be linked to murders across America. Fears of a serial killer, next.


BALDWIN: The fallout from that disturbing video showing the Rutgers head basketball coach berating his players in practice was all part of a contentious town hall today. You've seen the video -- yelling, shoving, homophobic slurs. Coach Mike Rice has now been fired. That firing came months after the school's athletic director first saw the video. We now know the A.D. has resigned. Earlier today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did not mince words about the now former Rutgers head coach.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What parent would let this animal back into their living room to try to recruit their son after this video? I'll tell you this. If had a son who played basketball, was being recruited at the division one level and I saw this video and this guy called trying to recruit my son to tell me that I should entrust my son to him for the next four years, I'd hang up the phone.


BALDWIN: A little while ago, the president of Rutgers held a previously scheduled town hall meeting and he felt some heat from the passionate crowd of faculty and students.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Horrible words were used and I don't know why that has to be used in an athletic arena.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why we have to use the oppressed to make and motivate someone else.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That came to light. What is being done, or what has been done since then to change the climate and culture, because what I see from what happened in December, nothing was done. In fact, it was covered up.


BALDWIN: CNN's Pamela Brown was at that town hall meeting. I understand it is still going on. Tell me, what did the president say?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. In fact, this town hall was supposed to end more than an hour ago. As you see behind me here, President Barchi, the president of Rutgers University, still speaking to staff members, faculty members and students here at Rutgers University.

It was certainly a rough reception for him. This was the first time that the Rutgers community has had a chance to air their grievances and speak to President Barchi since the video was released to the public last Tuesday showing head basketball coach -- former Head Basketball Coach Mike Rice berating his players.

Put this in perspective, Brooke, this was a pre-planned town hall that was supposed to be focused on strategic planning, but this controversy eventually took center stage. Many members of the Rutgers community fired up here today. Some holding signs like "give Barchi the boot." Others yelling out during the town hall, calling for Barchi's resignation.

There were students that we spoke with earlier today who said, even though four people have lost their jobs as a result of this, they believe that Barchi should take more ownership and step up to the plate and, you know, say that the buck stops with him. There were several heated exchanges today with people here at the town hall and President Barchi. Here's one of those exchanges. Let's take a look.


ROBERT BARCHI, PRESIDENT, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: It was not recommended to me by anyone, and I didn't overrule anyone regarding dismissal. It may have been internal discussion with the legal people that were present or whatever, but it certainly wasn't recommended to me and I didn't reverse or push back on any decision like that. And I will say that absolutely categorically. And I have to tell you that I'm not covering up for anybody. You know, I have my own ethics to worry about and my own principles and I'm not going to stand up here and cover up anything for anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And could you answer my question, do you believe that you still have the ability to lead this university? And to that next five year plan.

BARCHI: Frankly I think -- do I have the capacity to do that? I own know what my own -- I know what my own view of that is, but, frankly, I serve at the pleasure of the board every day. And I serve basically at the pleasure of the university every day.


BROWN: Another big question here today, Brooke, is why President Barchi didn't look at that video several months ago when he was made aware of it. And he said, quote, "it seemed like the right people had their eyes on it and were giving me the right information."

Still, a lot of unanswered questions here today, Brooke. And also this comes on the heels of finding out that the former athletic director, Tim Pernetti and Mike Rice will be receiving payouts of more than $1 million as part of their settlement agreements.


BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE). As we can see, tough questions to the president there today. Pamela Brown for us at Rutgers. Pamela, thank you. Coming up, two boys somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Police are searching for them. They were kidnapped by their own father. And now authorities think they are somewhere on a boat in this body of water. We're going to take a look at how you search an area that huge.


BALDWIN: Samuel Little's arrest record spans the legal spectrum from shoplifting all the way to murder. The now 72-year-old former boxer racked up some 75 arrests ever since the age of 16. Folks, his rap sheet fills more than 100 pages. Yet here's the twist. This guy spent less than 10 years behind bars and was paroled back in 1987. And now police in at least nine states, these states highlighted here for you, are reopening cold cases, cold murder cases, to see if Sam Little is a career serial killer. Right now he is facing trial in Los Angeles for the murders of three women from the 1980s. Want to bring in Casey Wian live in L.A.

And, Casey, Sam Little, we know he was found, he was arrested in Kentucky last fall on some unrelated charge. So connect the dots for me, Los Angeles, nationwide investigation, what's going on?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, here's what happened. Two cold case investigators here in Los Angeles had DNA evidence that they say links Samuel Little to two murders here in Los Angeles in the 1980s. As you mentioned, he had been arrested several months ago on an unrelated drug charge. They ultimately found him living in a homeless shelter in Kentucky and successfully extradited him to Los Angeles, where he is now charged with three different counts of murder from the 1980s. I want to point out that he has pled not guilty to those charges. His public defender has not responded to our request to talk about this case.

But investigators for the LAPD tell me that they believe he could be a suspect in dozens of murders around the country. As you mentioned, he has a long arrest record dating back over 50 years. They say he's been arrested in 24 different states and they are now encouraging authorities in all of those states to check their cold case records, check their files, see if there is any DNA match or any other match to Samuel Little, who they suspect may be this prolific serial killer. One detective involved in this investigation say the scope of this is unlike anything she has ever seen in her career, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So then why did he keep getting break after break after break?

WIAN: Well, part of the reason is because DNA technology in the 1980s was not as sophisticated as it is now. Another reason you mentioned, the word breaks, investigators say he's received a lot of breaks over the years. And perhaps the most important reason, the victims that he is suspected of preying upon were on the fringes of society. Not the types of victims that you might characterize as providing good witnesses.

He was convicted of a sexual assault involving a woman back in 1976. Authorities believe that was pled down. He only did three months in jail. His total career in prison, less than 10 years. Here's what detectives say about why he has escaped the arm of the law for so long.