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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Levi Norwood Murder Case

     In 2020, 37-year-old Joshua Norwood lived in a home on Elk Road in Midland, Virginia with his 34-year-old wife Jennifer and their two sons, Wyatt, 6 and and 17-year-old Levi. The family had moved to Virginia from Maine in 2010. Mr. Norwood, until recently, had been a sales representative. His wife Jennifer was a licensed nurses's assistant.

     At six o'clock in the evening of February 14, 2020, Joshua Norwood called 911 and reported that he had just arrived home and found that his wife and his 6-year-old son had been shot to death. Shortly after entering the house, someone in the house shot and wounded him in the head. Armed with his own gun, Mr. Norwood fired back. He didn't see the shooter, but believed the bullet that struck him had been fired from the doorway leading into his basement. Mr. Norwood ran out of the house.
     The 911 operator dispatched an ambulance and officers with the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office to the scene.
     As Joshua Norwood was transported to a nearby hospital in stable condition, deputies, thinking that the other son, 17-year-old Levi Norwood may have been the shooter and was barricaded in the dwelling, surrounded the house.
     At ten-fifteen that night, police officers forcibly entered the Norwood house. Inside they found the bodies of Jennifer and Wyatt Norwood but not Levi. They searched the house and did not find the murder weapon. 
     Officers placed the immediate neighborhood on lockdown, and instituted a search for the five-foot-nine, 125 pound suspect with hair recently dyed purple. Since the teen did not have access to a vehicle, officers assumed he was on foot. 
     The next day, Saturday, February 15, a teenager meeting Levi Norwood's description was seen driving a 2007 red Toyota Camry that had been stolen that morning from a home about ten miles from the murder scene.
     At four o'clock that day, a security guard at a Target store on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham, North Carolina caught a teenage boy with purple hair stealing hair dye, items of clothing, and a backpack. The shoplifter was identified as Levi Norwood. The stolen Toyota was parked outside the store.
     Officers with the Durham Police Department ran Levi's name through a national fugitive database and learned that the teen was wanted in connection with a double homicide in Midland, Virginia. Police officers booked Livi Norwood into a local jail where he was held for extradition back to Fauquier County, Virginia.
     On Sunday, February 16, 2020, a television reporter questioned a Norwood family member named Victoria Eaton who said the violence at the Norwood house was not something she thought Levi Norwood was capable of, describing the act as "totally out of his character." She also said, " It doesn't make any sense" and noted that Levi had a difficult home life.
     Levi Norwood was a junior at Liberty High School in Bealton, Virginia. Local reporters spoke to several of his classmates who identified Levi's parents as racists who didn't like black people. Moreover, his father had been extremely upset over the fact Levi had been dating a black girl.

Human Road Kill: The Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. Fatal Hit and Run Case

     In Austin, Texas at ten-thirty at night on February 15, 2020, a motorist driving erratically at high speed without headlights plowed into a man on the side of the road pushing a shopping cart. The pedestrian, 55-year-old Martin Cagle, crashed through the speeding car's windshield and landed in the vehicle's front passenger seat. He was killed instantly.

     Following the violent impact, 24-year-old Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. continued driving his damaged 2014 white Ford Focus with the mangled dead man in the seat next to him. Garcia drove a half-mile, leaving a trail of Mr. Gagle's body parts on the road, then parked his vehicle in front of the South Austin Beer Garden.

     Mr. Garcia, covered in his victim's blood, climbed out of his car, and in his bare feet, walked calmly into the beer garden for a drink.

     Shortly after he entered the bar, officers with the Austin Police Department took the highly intoxicated suspect into custody.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Paul Joseph Garcia with intoxication manslaughter and with another felony called accident involving injury while driving without regard for the safety of others. The magistrate set his bail at $110,000.

John Gardner on the Novelist and Higher Education

     It is true that some writers have kept themselves more or less innocent of education, that some, like Jack London, were more or less self-made men; that is, people who scratched out an education by reading books between work-shifts on boats, in logging camps or gold camps, on farms or in factories. It is true that university education is in many ways inimical to the work of the artist: Rarely do painters have much good to say of aetheticians or history-of-art professors, and it's equally uncommon for even the most serious, "academic" writers to look with fond admiration at "the profession of English." And it's true, moreover, that life in the university has almost never produced subject matter for really good fiction. The life has too much trivia, too much mediocrity, too much soap opera, but consider:

     No ignoramus--no writer who has kept himself innocent of education--has ever produced great art.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983. Gardner (1933-1982) was a literary novelist, critic, and English professor at the University of Southern Illinois. He died young riding his motorcycle. 

B. R. Myers on The "Literary" Novelist

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002
[This is an outstanding, groundbreaking book.]

Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) edited by James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Impressing Al Capone

You know, sometimes I lose my temper, and I say, "Gee I wish somebody would bump that guy off," and then one of these young punks who wants to make a name for himself goes ahead and does it. And then I have to pick up the pieces.

Al Capone in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguy's Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Ann Rule on True Crime Writing

True crime writing is a very delicate and difficult genre and not to be taken lightly. Done well, the books can be near classic. Done sloppily or carelessly, they serve only to hurt the innocent even more than they have already been hurt.

Ann Rule, writersreview.com, 2000

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Mark Latunski Mutilation Murder Case

     On Christmas Eve, 2019, Kevin Bacon, a 25-year-old hairstylist from Swartz Creek, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, left his house to meet a man he had met on the LGBTQ app Grindr. That man was 50-year-old Mark Latunski.

     The next morning, when Keven Bacon didn't show up for a family Christmas breakfast, his mother reported him missing to the local sheriff's office.
     Later that Christmas day, police officers located Bacon's car parked not far from his home. Inside, they found his wallet, cellphone, and other personal belongings. Mr. Bacon's roommate, Michelle Myers, told investigators that Bacon had left the house on Christmas Eve to visit a man he had recently met on Grindr named Mark Latunski.
     Mark Latunski, a resident of Morrice, Michigan, a rural town 23 miles from Bacon's home in Swartz Creek, was known to officers with the Shiawassee County Sheriff's Office. 
     On November 25, 2019, one month before Kenvin Bacon left his house to meet Latunski, deputies with the sheriff's office, when responding to a disturbance call at Latunski's home, encountered a man running out of the house screaming at the top of his lungs with Mr. Latunski in hot pursuit.The 29-year-old man had blood on his face and wore nothing but a leather kilt.
     When questioned by officers, Latunski explained that he was chasisng the man because the guy had run off with his expensive kilt. He wanted it back. The bloodied, kilt-wearing man who was running for his life from Latunski, refused to press charges. As a result, the case did not go beyond the filing of a police report.
     On December 28, 2019, police officers entered Latunski's house in search of Mr. Bacon. They found him--naked, mutilated and hanging dead from the ceiling. 
      Officers took Mr. Latunski into custody. The suspect quickly confessed to stabbing the victim in the back then slitting his throat with the knife he used to cut off the dead man's testicles and eat them. 
     A Shiawassee County prosecutor charged Mark Latunski with open murder and mutilation of a human body. At the suspect's arraignment hearing on January 6, 2020, the judge asked the defendant, "Are you Mr. Latunski?"
     "No," he replied. "My name is Edgar Thomas Hill. Mark Latunski is my nephew."
     Police officers and the prosecutor believed that response to the judge was a ploy in anticipation of an insanity plea. The judge ordered that Mark Latunski be held in the county jail without bail. 

The Stephen Cooke Jr Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, Heidi Louise Bernadzikowski, a 24-year-old employee of a health insurance company, lived in a Dundalk, Maryland townhouse with her boyfriend, 29-year-old Stephen Michael Cooke Jr. Baltimore County police officers, on April 20, 2000, responded to a 911 call made from the townhouse by Cooke. Upon arrival, officers found Cooke sitting on the living floor holding his girlfriend in his arms. They were both covered in blood.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski had been murdered. The killer had strangled the victim then slashed her throat. There were no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no evidence that anything had been stolen. The victim had not been sexually assaulted.

     Detectives in search of a motive for the brutal murder became suspicious of the victim's boyfriend when they learned that a month before her death he had purchased a $700,000 insurance policy on her life. Because Cooke had an alibi that eliminated him as the killer, detectives suspected that he had hired a hit man to do the job. But without proof, they could not arrest him.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski's parents, in 2004, sued Stephen Cooke Jr. under the so-called "slayer's rule" for the $700,000 life insurance payout. The slayer's rule prohibits anyone who intentionally caused the death of the insured to collect life insurance benefits. The civil action was settled out of court when Cooke agreed to pay the plaintiffs $575,000. Detectives working on the murder case considered the settlement a tacit admission of guilt.

     In January 2012, a Baltimore County prosecutor charged Alexander Charles Bennett, a 32-year-old resident of Greeley, Colorado, with the murder of Heidi Bernadzikowski. Three months earlier, Bennett had been connected to the Bernadzikowski murder scene through a DNA match. Moreover, detectives had placed Bennett, a man with a history of burglary and car theft, in Baltimore the month before the murder.

     While homicide detectives theorized that Bennett had been hired by Cooke to kill the victim, the investigators had no evidence linking the hit man to the suspected murder plot's mastermind. In January 2012, police officers booked Bennett into the Baltimore County Detention Center on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspected hit man bail.

     Early in March 2014, just hours before the commencement of his murder trial, Bennett, pursuant to a plea deal, confessed to murdering Heidi Bernadzikowski. According to the hit man, he and a friend from Denver, Colorado named Grant A. Lewis had been hired over the Internet by Stephen Cooke Jr. who wanted someone to murder his girlfriend. Bennett said he flew to Baltimore in March 2000 to meet the murder-for-hire mastermind during which time Cooke offered Bennett and his accomplice a piece of the life insurance payout.

     According to the murder-for-hire plan, Grant Lewis would play the role of intermediary between Cooke and the trigger man. That March 2000 meeting would be the last time Bennett and Cooke communicated with each other directly.

     Alexander Bennett's version of the murder went like this: On April 20, 2000, the day of the killing, Bennett let himself into the Dundalk townhouse with a key left for him by Cooke. On that day, Cooke dropped Heidi off at the townhouse knowing that the killer was inside waiting for her. The moment Bernadzikowski walked into the dwelling, Bennett ambushed and choked the victim until she either passed out or died. To make sure she was dead, Bennett slashed her throat with a knife.

     A Baltimore County prosecutor charged Stephen Cooke Jr. with conspiracy to commit murder. On March 20, 2014, fourteen years after Bernadzikowski's violent death, detectives booked the Pasadena, Maryland suspect into the Baltimore County Detention Center. At his arraignment hearing, Cooke's attorney urged the judge to grant his client bail. The judge denied the request.

     On March 20, Baltimore homicide detectives arrested Grant A. Lewis, the 35-year-old murder-for-hire middle-man. Officers booked Lewis into the county jail on the charge of first-degree murder. Although Lewis had not bloodied his hands in the case, the judge denied him bail.

     On October 30, 2014, a jury found Grant A. Lewis guilty as charged. Baltimore County Court Judge Kathleen Gallogly-Cox, on February 2, 2015, sentenced him to life in prison.

     On June 18, 2015, a Baltimore County jury, after hearing the testimony of hit man Alexander Charles Bennett, found Stephen Cooke Jr. guilty of first-degree murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     In August 2015, the judge sentenced Alexander Charles Bennett to 30 years. Had the hit man not testified for the prosecution against Cooke, he would have been sentenced to life.

The Big Con: No Matter Who You Are, a College Degree Will Improve Your Life

We convinced everyone college was 100 percent necessary, and then we made college unaffordable. It mostly started in 1978 when more loans and subsidies became available to greatly expand the number of students. The cost of college tuition has risen by six times the rate of inflation since the 1970s.

Jake Novak, CNBC Feb 23, 2020