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Friday, January 22, 2021

The Selena Irene York Poisoned Smoothie Case

     Selena Irene York and her teenage daughter, after falling on hard times, were taken in by 79-year-old Ed Zurbuchen who let them live in his Vernal, Utah home. On September 29, 2008, Mr. Zurbuchen's 33-year-old house guest gave him a peach smoothie. Shortly after drinking it, he was taken to the hospital complaining of dizziness, numbness of the face, and speech difficulties. At first, doctors thought he had suffered a stroke. After four days in the hospital, Mr. Zurbuchen underwent a series of liver and kidney tests that revealed he had ingested ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze.

     Although Selena York had given Mr. Zuburchen the drink that had made him sick, had made herself the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and had taken control of his bank account, Mr. Zurbuchen didn't want to press charges against her. Without the victim's cooperation and testimony, the Uintah County prosecutor didn't have a case. In 2009, the suspect and her daughter moved to Eugene, Oregon. Although the authorities in Utah believed Selena York had tried to murder Ed Zurbuchen, the investigation went cold.

     On April 2011, the poisoning case came back to life when the Uintah County prosecutor received a letter from Joseph Dominic Ferraro, Selena York's former boyfriend, and the father of her child. Ferraro, who was in jail for sexual assault, had been living with York and his daughter in Eugene, Oregon. According to Ferraro, York had bragged to him about poisoning a man in Utah in an effort to kill him so she could take over his estate. Since Selena York had drained Joseph Ferraro's bank account, and sold both his cars while he sat in jail, he believed her story. And so did the authorities in Utah.

     In June, police arrested Selena York in Eugene on the charge of attempted murder. After being extradited back to Utah, York, in exchange for the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery, confessed to poisoning Mr. Zuburchen. She said she had purchased the smoothie at a nearby store, dumped out half of its contents, then poured in the antifreeze. After his death, she planned to gain power of attorney over his estate. Before she left Utah after the failed homicide, York forged a check on the victim's bank account for $10,000.

     In December 2011, Selena York was allowed to plead no contest to the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery. Two months later, the judge sentenced her to three consecutive five-year prison terms.  Had Mr. Zubuchen died of poisoning, York would have been eligible for the death sentence. Had she not ripped-off Joseph Ferraro (who was convicted of 21 felony sexual abuse counts), she would have gotten away with attempted murder. This woman was a cold-blooded killer, a sociopath who should never get out of prison.

     Mr. Ferraro, the father of York's child who informed on her, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the sexual abuse case. However, he won an appeal that led to the overturning of his conviction. The trial judge had improperly denied Ferraro's motion to postpone his trial in order to acquire more time for his attorney to prepare his defense. The Lane County prosecutor, rather than schedule a second trial, allowed Ferraro to plead guilty to a single count of second-degree sodomy. Sentenced to three years on that charge, the sex offender walked free because he had already served four years on the multiple felony conviction. Because of a legal technicality, this sexual criminal got off light. 

Lack of Coordination Between Law Enforcement Agencies

     Law enforcement investigators do not see, are prevented from seeing, or make little attempt to see beyond their own jurisdictional responsibilities. The law enforcement officer's responsibility stops at the boundary of his or her jurisdiction. The exception is generally only when hot pursuit is necessary. The vary nature of local law enforcement and a police department's accountability and responsiveness to its jurisdictional clients isolates the department from the outside world.

     The National Crime Information Center [NCIC] provides officers with access to other agencies indirectly, to obtain information on wanted persons and stolen property. However, the sharing of information on unsolved crimes and investigative leads is not a function of this extensive nationwide information system. Reciprocal relationships between homicide investigators are at best informal and usually within a relatively limited geographical area.

     Linkage blindness exemplifies the major weakness of our structural defenses against crime and our ability to control it. Simply stated, the exchange of investigative information among police departments in this country is, at best, very poor. Linkage blindness is the nearly total lack of sharing or coordinating of investigative information and the lack of adequate networking by law enforcement agencies. This lack of sharing or networking is prevalent today with law enforcement officers and their agencies. Thus linkages are rarely established among geographic area of the country between similar crime patterns or modus operandi. Such a condition directly inhibits an early warning or detection system regarding serial murderers preying on multiple victims. [Today there is a national databank designed to help in the identification and investigation of serial murder. But many police departments don't bother contributing information to the computerized repository. Moreover, within federal law enforcement, there is still little coordination and cooperation between agencies.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1996

Fingerprint Identification: A Fish Story

     On June 21, 2012, Haans Galassi, during a weekend camping trip in remote northern Idaho, decided to go wakeboarding on Priest Lake. While being pulled across the lake by a speedboat, the 31-year-old from Colbert, Washington got his hand caught in a towline loop. After being dragged a distance through the water, Galassi looked at his bloodied hand and realized he had been seriously injured. He left the lake that day minus four fingers.

     On September 11, more than two months after Galassi's mishap, Nolan Calvin, while cleaning a trout he had caught in Priest Lake eight miles from were Galassi's fingers went into the water, found, in the fish's belly, a human finger. The cold water had preserved the body part well enough for the fisherman to put it on ice for safe keeping.

     Not sure if he had found the remains of someone who had drowned, or had been dumped in the lake, Mr. Calivn turned his find over to officers with the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, in turn, sent the finger to the state crime lab for possible identification.

     At the crime laboratory, a fingerprint expert made an inked impression of the fingertip and submitted it to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) computer. The computer matched the submission to a print in the databank that belonged to Haans Galassi.

     Bonner County Detective Gary Johnson telephoned Galassi and informed him of the recovery. Since the finger, maintained in an evidence freezer, was in such good shape, the detective asked if Galassi wanted it for a possible reattachment. Although Galassi didn't seem interested in reuniting with his finger, Detective Johnson decided to keep it a few weeks in the event its owner changed his mind. A few days later, Galassi informed the sheriff's office that he had called his doctor to determine if the finger could be put back on his hand. When the doctor got back to him, he would advise the sheriff's office and they could go from there.

     As strange as this case is, it is not the first time body parts have been retrieved from fish. Usually the carriers of these human remains--arms, legs, and torsos-- are sharks pulled from the ocean. Perhaps this is the first time a trout gave up a missing finger. 

Quotes From Nonfiction Writers About their Genre

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book...A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as the professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable. For most people learning to write, that path is nonfiction. It enables them to write about what they know or can observe or can find out.

 William Zinsser

Being a writer of nonfiction books doesn't seem perishingly difficult; it just requires a certain amount of energy and an intelligent interest in the world. And a certain accumulated skill at organizing the materials that one's research gathers.

John Jerome

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses.

W. Somerset Maugham

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier

Fact-based writing can reach creative levels just as fiction writing does, and in the hands of an accomplished nonfiction writer, imaginative use of facts can be transformed and become art.

William Noble 

Truman Capote's Obsession With Style

Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsession of this sort, and the time it takes, irritates me beyond endurance.

Truman Capote in Truman Capote, edited by George Plimpton, 1997 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Murder She Wrote: The Nancy Crampton Brophy Murder Case

     Sixty-three-year-old Daniel Brophy, a master gardener and expert on marine biology who also knew a lot about the growing of mushrooms, was the chief instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute located in the Portland, Oregon neighborhood of Goose Hollow. Brophy and his 68-year-old wife of 27 years, Nancy Crampton Brophy, resided in nearby Beaverton, Oregon.

     Nancy Brophy was a self-published author of nine "romance suspense" novels featuring, according to the author's website, "pretty men and strong women." She promoted her fiction, available on Kindle, on her website. All of her male protagonists were Navy SEALS.

     At eight-thirty on Saturday, June 2, 2018, officers with the Portland Police Bureau responded to a 911 call regarding a man who had been found shot to death in the culinary school's kitchen area. The authorities identified the victim as Danial Brophy. He had been shot with a 9mm pistol.

     Other than perhaps a disgruntled culinary student, detectives didn't have a clue as to who had shot the instructor. Without an eyewitness, they didn't have much to go on.

     On Sunday, June 3, 2018, the day following Chef Brophy's homicide, Nancy Brophy wrote the following on her Facebook page: "For my Facebook friends and family, I have sad news to relate. My husband and best friend, Chef Dan Brophy was killed yesterday morning...I am struggling to make sense of this right now."

     The next day, Nancy Brophy attended a candlelight vigil for her dead husband that was held outside the Oregon Culinary Institute.

     By July 2018, detectives had started thinking about the possibility that Mr. Brophy had been killed by his wife. In November 2011, on her blog "See Jane Publish," Nancy Brophy had posted a 700-word essay entitled, "How to Murder Your Husband." Regarding her marriage to Daniel Brophy, she wrote: "My husband and I are both on our second (and final--trust me!) marriage. We vowed, prior to saying 'I do,' that we would not end in divorce. We did not, I should note, rule out a tragic drive-by shooting or a suspicious accident."

      In her murder essay, Brophy wrote that she and her husband had their "ups and downs but more good times than bad." The romance novelist also had plenty to say on the subject of murder: "I find it easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them...But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough."

     In her treatise on how to commit murder, Brophy gave this advice to anyone contemplating criminal homicide: To get away with the crime, she said, do the killing yourself. She warned against hiring an assassin to do the job because when most hit men get caught they roll over on the mastermind to save their own necks. (Actually, this was not bad advice.)

     In Brophy's 2015 novel, The Wrong Cop, the female protagonist fantasizes about murdering her husband. In The Wrong Husband, also published in 2015, Brophy's female hero tries to flee an abusive marriage by faking her own death.

     On September 5, 2018, detectives with the Portland Police Bureau took Nancy Crampton Brophy into custody for killing her husband, Daniel. At her arraignment hearing, the prosecutor charged her with murder and the unlawful use of a weapon. (Presumably the 9mm pistol.) The defendant pleaded not guilty and the judge denied her bail. Officers booked the homicide widow into the Multnomah County Jail where she would await her trial.

     At the prosecutor's request, the judge sealed the probable cause affidavit in support of Nancy Brophy's arrest. As a result, exactly what evidence the authorities had connecting her to her husband's murder remained a mystery.  
     In April 2020, Brophy's lawyer petitioned the court to have her released on bail due to the threat of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. The judge denied the request. As of this writing, she remains in custody awaiting her murder trial.

Arlando's Folly

     Over a period of several months in 2019, 29-year-old Arlando Henderson stole $88,000 in cash from the vault of the Charlotte, North Carolina bank that employed him. In July and August 2019, Henderson posted photographs of himself holding stacks of bills on Facebook and Instagram. He accompanied one of his Facebook cash-holding photographs with the caption: "I make it look easy but this shyt [sic] is really a PROCESS." In another Facebook posting, Henderson talked about building his "brand."

     Arlando Henderson used $20,000 of the bank's money to make a downpayment on a Mercedes-Benz. He also posted photographs of himself standing next to the white luxury car. Henderson deposited the rest of the money in an ATM near the bank he stole it from.

     To acquire funds to pay the balance of his car loan, Henderson falsified loan documents.

     On December 4, 2019, after being charged federally with two counts of financial fraud, 19 counts of bank embezzlement, and one count of money laundering, FBI agents in San Diego, California took Arlando Henderson into custody.

     If convicted as charged, Henderson faced up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As of this writing, he has not been sentenced. 

Frank Abagnale on Being Imprisoned in France

I went from 198 pounds to 109 while I was in prison in France, and I had to tie my clothes on me with a rope.

Frank Abagnale, the "Catch Me If You Can" check forger

The Presumption Of Innocence Versus Common Sense

The presumption of innocence is a legal doctrine that mandates, in a criminal trial, that the government carries the burden of proving the charges against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Because Lee Harvey Oswald was never tried and convicted, he is presumed innocent. O. J. Simpson, tried and acquitted of double murder, is also presumed innocent under the law. The presumption of innocence, however, is not a substitute for common sense. For example, you would never let an accused pedophile, a person legally presumed to be innocent, to babysit your child.

Charles Bukowski on Writers and Writing

     According to Christopher Hitchens, "The reflections of successful writers on other writers, can be astonishingly banal." While probably true, this does not apply to southern California's Charles Bukowski. Before he died in 1994 at 73, Bukowski, the author of thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, had plenty to say about the writer and his craft. His anti-social personality and noir attitude about life is reflected in some of the following quotes. Nice guy or not, Bukowski was interesting, and he could write. A few of his writing related quotes:

Writing is a sick habit to break.

I can write more truly of myself than of anybody that I know. It's a great source of material.

I liked [Ernest] Hemingway for clarity, I loved it, yet at the same time I didn't like the literary feel of it, there was an upper snobbishness attached. When you come in from the factory with your hands and your body and your mind ripped, hours and days stolen from you, you can become very aware of a fake line, a fake thought, of a literary game.

Why do poets consider themselves more elevated than the garbage man, the short story writer and the novelist?

The job of a writer is to write, all else is nonsense that weakens mind, gut, ability and the natural state of being.

Poetry? Well, it's not much, is it? A lot of posing and prancing and fakery, wordplay for its own sake.

I am not so worried about whether I am writing any good or not, I know I write a valley of bad stuff. But what gets me is that nobody is coming on that I can believe in or look up to. It's hell not to have a hero.

I have to write a lot of poems to keep from going crazy; I can't help it. I often write ten to twelve poems a day and then top the whole thing off with a short story.

You know, I've tried the starving writer bit. I write better with a few bucks in my pocket.

I have to drink and gamble [horses] to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick.

Starvation and obscurity are not necessarily signs of genius.

If there is anything good about my writing it is the roughness, the quality of not being literary.

There is hardly such a thing as a modest writer. Especially a modest bad writer.

It has always been the popular concept for the writer to starve, go mad, suffer, suicide. I think it's time for the editors and publishers to starve, suffer, go made and suicide. 

Yes, I drink when I write fiction. Why not? I like things to be entertaining. If I feel entertained at this machine maybe somebody else will feel that way too.