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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Memphis Head in the Bag Case

     On Saturday September 13, 2014, in Memphis, Tennessee, Lacedric Ruffin and his truck were in Michael Wilson's backyard to haul away some scrap metal Wilson had offered him. The men were neighbors and acquainted. As Ruffin loaded his truck he saw Wilson pull a trash bag out of a garbage can. Wilson was about to drop the black bag into a metal bucket when it ripped open. The severed head of a black man fell out. A stunned Ruffin said, "Man, what the hell is going on?"

     Wilson muttered something to the effect that he had not meant to kill the man whose head lay on the ground before them.

     "Kill who, brother?" Ruffin asked. Before his 36-year-old neighbor responded to that question, Ruffin added, "You don't got to tell me that."

     As Ruffin climbed into his truck Wilson begged him not to alert the authorities. Ruffin, who was on parole, couldn't afford not to notify the police about what he had just witnessed. When he got a few blocks from Wilson's Dunn Avenue house he called 911.

     In the bedroom of Michael Wilson's dwelling, officers with the Memphis Police Department discovered a headless corpse lying near a pair of severed hands and an unattached leg. Inside the house officers also found bloody knives and other instruments that had been used to dismember the body.

     Police identified the dead man as 48-year-old Andre Cole, a schizophrenic who had been off his medication for months. A few days earlier Cole had moved into Wilson's house.

     A local prosecutor charged Michael Wilson with second-degree murder and abuse of corpse. The judge set his bail at $2 million.

     Lacedric Ruffin, in speaking to a local television reporter, said he believed Wilson had intended to place the head into the bucket then put the bucket in Ruffin's truck with the scrap metal. Had the head not tumbled out of the bag it would have ended up in a junk yard. 

The Hugo Ramos Murder-Attempted Suicide Case

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Monday September 15, 2014, Hugo Ramos and his three children--ages one to seven--were traveling on U.S. Route 20 in Lorain County 35 miles west of Cleveland. Ramos pulled his 2002 Acura off to the side of the road. The 28-year-old climbed out of the car and walked into the traffic flow on the busy highway. After almost being run over by an 18-wheeler, Ramos returned to his car.

     With his children still in the car, Ramos poured a container of gasoline on himself and lit a match. A passing motorist saw a man on the side of the highway consumed by flames. The motorist grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

     Paramedics loaded the badly burned man onto a helicopter and flew him to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Although in critical condition, Ramos told emergency personnel that he had killed his ex-wife, the mother of his three children. He said they would find 25-year-old Glorimar Ramos-Perez in a small apartment at the rear of a house on Newark Avenue in Cleveland.

     At three that afternoon homicide detectives with the Cleveland Police Department arrived at 3638 Newark Avenue where they found Glorimar Ramos-Perez's body. She had been stabbed to death.

     The Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Ramos remains in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center. His children are in the care of the Lorain County Children's Services. 

Writing Quote: The Fictitious Memoir

Truly the modern memoir has become so debased--or liberated--as a genre that there is little difference between the memoir and what used to be called "the autobiographical novel."

Lewis Nordan in Novel Ideas, Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love Denman, editors, 2001 

Criminal Justice Quote: Lisa Coleman Executed in Texas

     Attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the scheduled Wednesday evening September 17, 2014 execution of a Texas woman convicted of the starvation and torture death of  her girlfriend's 9-year-old son a decade ago. Lisa Coleman, 38, would be the ninth convicted killer and second woman to receive lethal injection in Texas this year. Nationally, she would be only the 15th woman executed since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to resume. During that same time, nearly 1,400 men have been executed.

     Coleman was condemned for the death of Davontae Williams, whose emaciated body was found in July 2004 at the Fort Worth, Texas apartment Coleman shared with the boy's mother, Marcella Williams. Paramedics who found him dead said they were shocked to learn his age. He weighted 36 pounds, about half that of a normal 9-year-old. He had more than 250 injuries, including ligature marks to his arms, hands, feet and genitals, burns from cigarettes or cigars, and that his growth had stopped because of a lack of food.

     "There was not an inch of his body that had not been bruised or scarred or injured," said Dixie Bersano, one of Coleman's trial prosecutors. After a Tarrant County jury in 2006 convicted and sent Coleman to death row, Williams took a plea bargain and accepted a life prison sentence. Now 33, she's not eligible for parole until 2044.

     Coleman's lawyer, John Stickels, argued to the high court that while the child's hands were tied with clothesline at various times, it was "mostly a misguided means of discipline" used by both woman. According to the attorney, the aggravating factor of kidnapping, which made the charge against Coleman a capital murder case, was incorrect, making the jury's conviction on that charge also incorrect...

     [At six-thirty Wednesday evening September 17, 2014, Lisa Coleman received her lethal injection at  the state prison in Huntsville, Texas.]

Michael Graczyk, "Texas Woman Set to Die For Starvation of Child, 9," auburnpub.com, September 17, 2014 

Writing Quote: Satire in Fiction

     Satire is the opposite of truth telling. Satire is a big lie mobilized to get a comic effect. Sometimes the lie is mere exaggeration, sometimes it is a complete invention. Either way, satire is an attack weapon. It inflates the faults and foibles of powerful people or conventional ideas, with the intention of making them look ridiculous. "Humor belongs to the losers," said Garrison Keillor, and that's what satire is about. It's a kind of revenge, often very sweet and always triggered with anger.

     Jonathan Swift was the father of modern satire. In scathing books like A Tale of a Tub, The Battle of the Books, and Gulliver's Travels, Swift mocked the pretensions and prejudices of his own time. His technique was quite simple and works as well today as it did in the 1700s. He picked his target, imagined a fantastic metaphor and exaggerated everything. For example, in Gulliver, he created a deadly satire on prejudice with the story of the "Big Endians" and the "Little Endians," two groups locked in eternal battle over which end to open a boiled egg.

     Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller crafted marvelous satires on the Second World War, using Swift's tools of exaggeration, fantasy and aggressive ridicule. But contemporary satire is harder. Politics and popular culture have moved almost beyond the reach of ridicule. It's difficult to come up with something so bizarre that it won't actually happen before your piece appears in print. So satire can be risky for a fiction writer, who always risks being upstaged by reality.

David Bouchier in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Miranda and Elytte Barbour: The Craigslist Killers

     Of all the motives behind premeditated murder, killing for the fun of watching someone die reflects a degree of evil that's inhuman. People who kill for the thrill of it are as dangerous as they are diabolical. Because these murderers are incapable of comprehending why normal people consider them monsters, they are beyond the reach of psychology, psychiatry, and anger management. To not execute these murderers constitutes, in itself, a crime against civilization. For born killers, there should be no mercy.

     Elytte Barbour and his 18-year-old wife Miranda resided in Selingsgrove, an eastern Pennsylvania town 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. On October 22, 2013, after moving to Pennsylvania from North Carolina, the couple got married. Through various Internet sites, Miranda offered her services to lonely men looking for female companionship. For fees that ranged from $50 to $850, she would make herself available for conversation over dinner or during a walk around a shopping mall. Sex was not part of the deal. (Her claim.)

     On November 11, 2013, Miranda, through one of her escort postings on Craigslist, offered to meet Troy LaFerrara at the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selingsgrove. That night, the 42-year-old from Port Trevorton parked his Chevy S-10 pickup in the mall lot and got into a 2001 Honda driven by Miranda Barbour. Unbeknownst to Mr. LaFerrara, Miranda's 22-year-old husband Elytte was hidden in the SUV behind the front seat.

     Miranda drove from Selinsgrove toward the nearby town of Sunbury. At some point she pulled off the road and came to a stop. Elytte rose up from behind the seat and wrapped a cord around Mr. LaFerrara's neck. With her passenger choking and grasping for air, Miranda got back onto the road and continued driving toward Sunbury.

     In Sunbury, Miranda pulled to a stop and grabbed a knife from between the front seats. With Mr. LaFerrara still being strangled by Elytte, Miranda stabbed the dying man twenty times. After taking the dead man's wallet (but not his cellphone), the lethal couple dumped his corpse in a residential alley.

     From the dump site, the Barbours drove to a department store where they purchased cleaning supplies. Once they had removed the victim's blood from the Honda, Miranda and Elytte drove to a strip club in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where they celebrated his birthday.

     The day following the LaFerrara murder, November 12, 2013, the occupant of a house whose backyard reached out to the alley, discovered Troy LaFerrara's body. Investigators, from the victim's cellphone, acquired the lead that eventually led them to the married killers.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, police officers took the couple into custody for the LaFerrara murder. According to Miranda, she had stabbed her passenger after he groped her. She claimed that after she had stabbed LeFerrara four times she "blacked out." As a result, she had no memory of what took place in the immediate aftermath of the killing. (Psychopaths, because they lack insight and empathy, are lousy liars.)

     Elytte Barbour confessed fully to the cold-blooded murder of a complete stranger. He told his interrogators that he and Miranda had planned to "murder someone together."

     Dr. Rameen Starling-Romey performed the LaFerrara autopsy at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. According to the forensic pathologist, LaFerrara had died from multiple sharp force trauma.

     While the Barbours are in custody without bail, investigators are looking into the possibility that Mr. LaFerrara was not their first murder victim.

     In February 2014, Miranda Barbour, in an interview with a reporter with the Daily Item, a newspaper in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, claimed to have murdered at least 22 people in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina, and California over the past six years. That would mean she started killing when when she was thirteen. According to Barbour, the killing started when she joined a satanic cult in Alaska before moving to North Carolina.

     Sunbury police chief Steve Mazzeo told reporters that his detectives have been in contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the these states.

     A judge, in February, granted the defense attorney's request to have Barbour evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist. Her husband Elytte had already been examined by a court-appointed shrink. Investigators are skeptical regarding Miranda Barbour's claim to be a teenage serial killer. Why didn't she tell her police interrogators about these murders? If she's lying about this, she is either delusional or perhaps setting up her insanity defense. Where are the bodies?

     In a second, March 2014 interview with the reporter with The Daily Item, Miranda Barbour claimed that before the murder of Troy LaFerrara, two other targeted victims escaped death when they failed to respond to her offer of female companionship.

     In May 2014, Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor ruled that prosecutors can seek the death penalty in this case. Miranda Barbour's court appointed attorney, Ed Greco, had asked the judge to take the death penalty off the table.

     In August 2014, to avoid the death penalty, the Barbours pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the killing of Troy LaFerrara. In September Judge Saylor sentenced the couple to life in prison without parole.

     Holly LaFerrara, in her victim impact statement after the judge handed down the sentences, said, "If it was up to me you would each be strapped to a lethal injection gurney or seated in an electric chair. I say you both got off lucky today…You were bad enough to do the crime. Now let's see how you like doing the time. Lots and lots of time. There aren't many guarantees in life, but you can take this one to the bank. My family and I will make sure you stay in jail, right where you belong." 

Writing Quote: Learning The Lessons of LIfe Through Writing

I've heard it said that everything you need to know about life can be learned from watching baseball. I'm not what you'd call a sports fan, so I don't know if it is true. I do believe in a similar philosophy, which is everything you need to know abut life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Writing Quote: Lean Versus Flabby Writing

     I don't subscribe to the view that good editing requires the ruthless elimination of every single word that is not logically essential to a sentence. Sometimes idiom or the natural cadence of English favors phrases that aren't stripped to the bone. There's nothing wring with "hurry-up" even though "hurry" means the same thing.

     But in many cases, extraneous words really do gum up our prose; many padded expressions are weak, flabby and ineffective.

Phillip B. Corbitt, The New York Times, September 16, 2014 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cannibal Killer Joseph Oberhansley: How the Criminal Justice System Failed Tammy Jo Blanton

     On Wednesday night September 10, 2014, Tammy Jo Blanton, following an argument with her boyfriend Joseph Oberhansley, threw him and his belongings out of her house. A few hours later Blanton's father changed the locks on her Jeffersonville, Indiana dwelling.

     The next day at three in the morning, Blanton called 911. Her 33-year-old ex-boyfriend had returned and was trying to break into her house by kicking in the back door. Police in the southern Indiana town confronted Oberhansley at the Locus Street residence.

     Instead of taking Oberhansley into custody for attempted burglary and threats, officers ordered him off the property and told him to stay away from his former girlfriend. Oberhansley, just before he drove off in his 2002 Chevrolet Blazer, complained to the officers that the police aways favored the woman in domestic disputes.

     From his 46-year-old ex-girlfriend's home, Oberhansley drove to his mother's place. He got her out of bed and complained about his mistreatment at the hands of Blanton and the police officers his ex-girlfriend had summoned. He left his mother's home at three-thirty that morning.

     The Jeffersonville police must have known that Joseph A. Oberhansley was an unstable and dangerous man. (I don't know how much Tammy Jo Blanton knew about him.) In 1998, outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, shortly after his 17-year-old girlfriend gave birth to their child, he shot her to death. He shot Sabrina Elder's mother in the back and in the arm when she tried to protect her daughter. The mother survived her wounds.

     After shooting his girlfriend and her mother, Oberhansley put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered his frontal lobe and damaged his brain. A year later he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison. He got out of prison in 2012 after spending eleven years behind bars.

     In March 2013, after putting a man into a chokehold then fighting the Jeffersonville police when they broke up the fight, a Clark County prosecutor charged him with assault and resisting arrest. He posted his bail and was released from the county jail.

     In July 2014, Oberhansley led Jeffersonville police officers on a vehicle chase that ended up with his arrest in Louisville, Kentucky. Due to a bureaucratic screwup, the judge set Oberhansley's bail at $500. Once again he walked out of jail a free man.

     On Friday September 11, 2014, when Tammy Jo Blanton did not show up for work, the police, at ten o'clock that morning, returned to her house. They were met at the door by Oberhansley who had a fresh cut across the knuckles of his right hand. Officers searching him incident to his arrest found a bloody folding knife in his back pocket.

     Officers discovered Tammy Jo Blanton's body beneath a vinyl camping tent draped over the bathtub. She had been stabbed numerous times in the chest and head. Her killer had also slashed her throat. Her torso had been cut open and several of her internal organs were missing.

     Officers at the murder scene found a piece of skull sitting on a bloody dinner plate. A kitchen skillet contained traces of blood as did the handle to a pair of tongs. Searchers found hunks of human flesh in the victim's garbage can.

     Confronted with this physical evidence of horrific violence, Oberhansley confessed that he had stabbed and slashed his ex-girlfriend. He cut out her heart, her lungs, and other internal organs that he said he had eaten. Some of the body parts he cooked, others he consumed raw.

      Charged with murder, abuse of corpse, and breaking and entering, Oberhansley appeared before Clark County Judge Vickie Carmichael on September 15, 2014. At the arraignment hearing, the defendant took back his confession. "Obviously you've got the wrong guy," he told the judge. He also claimed that he was not Joseph Oberhansley but a man named Zeus Brown. The suspect also claimed that he didn't know how old he was or if he were a U.S. citizen. The judge denied him bail.

     To reporters after the arraignment, Clark County prosecutor Jeremy Mull said, "There's a motive and a reason behind Oberhansley's denial of guilt. There's no doubt in my mind he is responsible for Tammy Jo Blanton's murder."

     

Writing Quote: The Young Adult Novel (Ages 12 and Up)

     Most young adult novels are over 30,000 words long or 120-250 pages. Although younger adult novels can deal with intense and serious subjects, they are often mysteries and thrillers--stories engrossing enough to appeal to younger kids as well as older ones. The older young adult novels deal with more complex subjects.

     What distinguishes a young adult novel from an adult novel is often nothing more than subject matter. These books are complicated, sophisticated and challenging. They are not limited in what issues can be discussed, nor are they in any way "kids' books." By this age level, there is a high tolerance for ambivalence in both character and plot, as well as a general acceptance of complex and painful subjects. 

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001