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Monday, September 23, 2019

The Khaseen Morris Murder Case: Bleeding To Death On Social Media

     In 2019, Tyler Flach, a graduate of Long Beach High School on the south shore of Long Island, New York, attended Nassau County Community College where he majored in business and music sound engineering. He lived with his mother in Lido Beach, Long Island. She and Flach's father had divorced.

     An aspiring hip-hop artist, Tyler Flach had caught the attention of a notable music producer who considered taking the 18-year-old on as a client.

     In May 2019, Nassau County police officers arrested Flach for assault in connection with a road-rage incident, and on September 8, 2019, for  possession of a controlled substance. He had recently split up with his girlfriend, a 10th grader at Long Island's Oceanside High School.

     In the summer of 2019, Khaseen Morris and his family moved to Oceanside, Long Island from the neighboring town of Freeport. The 16-year-old skateboarder wore his hair in dreadlocks and had dyed half of it orange. He planned to study photography.

     On Sunday, September 15, 2019, the 10th grade girl who had dated Tyler Flach asked Khaseen Morris to walk her home from an event. He obliged, apparently unaware that she wanted to make her ex-boyfriend jealous.

     When Tyler Flach learned that Khaseen Morris had been with the 10th grader, he made threats against him on social media. At some point, the two young men agreed to fight in the parking lot of a Pizzeria on Brower Avenue in Oceanside. The spot they picked was a popular hangout for local high school students.

     Word quickly spread on social media that the fight would take place on Tuesday afternoon, September 17. Each combatant would show up with a half dozen friends who would participate in the brawl.

     At three in the afternoon that Tuesday, the rival groups faced off in the pizzeria parking lot. They were surrounded by 50 to 70 high school kids who had gathered to watch the fight.

     Shortly into the fray, Tyler Flach allegedly pulled a knife and stabbed Khaseen Morris in the chest. The young man collapsed to the pavement, and while he lay bleeding, everyone in the crowd continued filming the scene with their cellphones, uploading the videos onto social media sites. The spectators were so busy recording the assault and its aftermath, no one bothered to call for an ambulance.

     Finally, after the passage of ten to fifteen minutes, perhaps more, someone called 911 to report a young man bleeding to death in the parking lot of the Brower Avenue strip mall.

     Paramedics rushed Khaseen Morris to the South Nassau Communities Hospital where later that night, he died. Another participant in the fight was treated for a broken arm and swollen head.

     A Nassau County prosecutor charged Tyler Flach with second-degree murder. On Thursday, September 19, 2019, at the suspect's arraignment at the First District Court in Hempstead, he pleaded not guilty to the charge. Flach, accompanied by his attorney, had turned himself in earlier that day.

Without Shame: The Disgraced Celebrity Sociopath

A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are pathetic but interesting. These pathological narcissists almost always find some way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced celebrity often resurfaces as the promoter of a ghost-written memoir. Normal people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, these people are bullet-proof. For obvious reasons, the field of politics tends to attract the shameless, narcissistic sociopath. Politics and sociopathy: a marriage made in heaven.

The Appetite For Fictional Murder

It's strange when you think about it. There are hundreds and hundreds of murders in books and television. [For example, the cable TV network Oxygen produces nothing but true crime.] It would be hard for narrative fiction to survive without them. And yet there are almost none in real life, unless you live in the wrong area. Why is it we have such a need for murder mystery? And what is it that attracts us? Is it the crime or the solution? Do we have some primal need of bloodshed because our own lives are so safe, so comfortable?

Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders

The Writer's Brain

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write. Thinking in a counterintuitive, neurological way about what drives and frustrates literary creation can suggest new treatments for hypergraphia's more common and tormenting opposite, writer's block. Both conditions arise from complicated abnormalities of the basic biological drive to communicate.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

The Ethical Dilemma of Journalism

There's an ethical dilemma in almost all journalism. In taking someone else's story and making it your own, in describing them on your terms, in ways they may not agree with.

Ted Conover in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

How to Structure a Book

There's no formal school, so far as I know, where you can learn how to structure long forms of prose. Writing programs typically work with short forms, for the obvious reason that short forms can be examined productively within the brief compass of a course program. But the difference between long forms and short forms is precisely their structure, which means that you can't learn how to structure the one by studying the other. Fortunately, you can teach yourself long-form structure by reading books and analyzing how their authors assembled them.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Infamous Boston Strangler Case

     Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1931, Albert Henry DeSalvo grew up in a family defined by his alcoholic father's abuse. Mr. DeSalvo, who had knocked out all of his wife's teeth, forced young Albert and his siblings to watch him engage in sex with prostitutes in their home.

     As a child, Albert tortured animals and stole from local merchants. In 1943, the twelve-year-old was sent to the Lyman School for Boys after being arrested for battery and robbery. Shortly after his release from reform school, DeSalvo stole a car which put him back into the institution. When he turned eighteen, DeSalvo joined the Army. Two years later, he was honorably discharged from the service.

     In June 1962, when Albert DeSalvo was thirty-one, women in Boston began turning up dead in their apartments. Because there were no signs of forced entry at the murder scenes, investigators theorized that the victims either knew the rapist/killer or he had gained entry by posing as a salesman or perhaps as a detective. The serial killer's last known victim, nineteen-year-old Mary Sullivan, had been raped and strangled to death on January 4, 1964. Like all but two of the other twelve murder victims, Mary Sullivan had been strangled with a piece of her own clothing. The unidentified serial killer had stabbed two of his victims to death. All of the murder victims had been raped, and eight out of his thirteen victims were women over the age of fifty-five.

     In October 1964, ten months following Mary Sullivan's murder, a young woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts allowed a man into her apartment who identified himself as a police detective. That man tied the victim to her bed and began raping her. Suddenly, in the middle of the assault, the assailant stopped, said he was sorry, and walked out of the apartment. The victim gave a detailed description of her attacker to detectives who, independent of the ongoing serial murder investigation, were trying to identify the Boston serial rapist.

     The rape victim's description of her assailant led to Albert DeSalvo's arrest. In the course of his confession to a series of rapes, DeSalvo identified himself as the so-called Boston Strangler.

     In 1967, pursuant to a plea bargain negotiated by his attorney F. Lee Bailey, Albert DeSalvo pleaded guilty to the Boston murders. In return for his guilty plea, the 36-year-old avoided the death sentence.

     Not long after being sent to the state prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, DeSalvo took back his murder confessions. In 1973, six years after he had confessed to being the notorious Boston Strangler, one of DeSalvo's fellow inmates at Walpole stabbed him to death.

     Because of the guilty pleas, prosecutors in Boston had not been put to the test of proving the murder cases against Albert DeSalvo. This fact encouraged true crime revisionists to question whether DeSalvo was really the Boston Strangler. Perhaps he was simply a false confessor drawn to the limelight of a celebrated serial murder case. These doubts over DeSalvo's guilt made recent developments pertaining to the old case all the more newsworthy.

     In July 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that forensic scientists, using advanced, cutting edge technology, had linked Albert DeSalvo to the January 4, 1964 rape and murder of Mary Sullivan. The district attorney told reporters that he planned to ask a superior court judge for an order to exhume DeSalvo's remains for further forensic testing.

     Gerard Frank's The Boston Strangler (New American Library, 1966) is considered the definitive book on the Albert DeSalvo serial murder case. The author leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that Albert DeSalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler. 

The Psychological Effects of Having Been Stalked

Even after [stalking] victims feel assured that the stalking has ended, many find themselves having trouble learning to trust again--both others and themselves. A phase of overcompensating can take place, in which survivors of stalking tend to mistrust their own judgment in meeting people, or feel intensely suspicious of others, resulting in potential difficulties forming new relationships, whether personal or professional, intimate or casual. Existing relationships may also be affected; survivors may find themselves reacting with far greater caution and vigilance around others than is normal for them.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

The Restaurant Tip Forger

     A former waitress has been charged with forgery and other crimes for allegedly adding $10 or $20 to tips that customers of a western Pennsylvania restaurant left when they paid with credit cards. Police in Penn Township say 30-year-old Gina Haney of North Huntingdon put the number "1" or "2" in front of single digit tips customers had scrawled on receipts. As a result, she received $10 or $20 more than those customers intended.

     Haney allegedly fudged tips on 20 one-dollar tickets at Lucci's Pizza and Pasta between September and December 2014. The restaurant's manager alerted authorities after two customers called to complain about the overcharges on the same day. He pulled other receipts from her customers that revealed more overcharges.

     Haney denied knowing anything about the inflated tips.

"Ex-Waitress Charged With Padding Customers' Tips," Associated Press, February 15, 2015 

The Pretentious Writer: Style Over Substance

     As a reader, I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style, or is more concerned with style than communication. It's a lot like a politician who takes on a speaker's voice when talking publicly. I consider this, in writers and politicians, pretentious and phony. I prefer to read authors who don't recognize their own literary voices, or if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique.

     There is a dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in the promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, a university public relations person might write: "The goal of our institution involves providing our students with a quality education at a reasonable price." Because this is so obvious, to say it directly and plainly makes it sound kind of stupid. But when a mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst. Here is an example of highly pretentious writing taken from a pamphlet published by a relatively prestigious liberal arts college:

     "The mission of ________College is to help young men and women develop competencies, commitments and characteristics that have distinguished human beings at their best. All of us who are affiliated with the College are working toward that end each day in as many different ways as their are students on this campus. (Wow, 1,400 different ways.) Our students have unique talents and new insights that are being developed during each interaction with faculty, staff, alumni and other students. (I taught at the college level for 32 years. Where I worked, very few students had unique talent and new insights. In fact, some of them were uniquely untalented and completely without insight. So in my opinion, the talent/insight stuff is a load of stylistic crap.) For each student, those interactions become building blocks in their foundation for living." (Yeah, sure.)

     Ignore, if you can, the lack of substance, unadulterated puffing, and pandering in this mission statement and look at the style. Note the lofty and, to my mind, cheesy alliteration that starts off with the words--competencies, commitments and characteristics--and the use of the buzz words distinguished, affiliated, insights, interaction, and foundation, typical university-speak wordage comparable to university-speak favorites such as outcomes, challenges, and impact (instead of affect) not used in this passage.

     If I were a creative writing teacher, I would use passages like the above to show writing students how not to write. It's a bit ironic that so much heavy-handed, dead prose is produced by colleges and universities. Professors, notorious for being writers of unreadable fiction and highly pompous and dense nonfiction, also contribute to the style over substance problem. If you don't believe me, look through any university press book catalogue. The book titles themselves are beyond comprehension, and the catalogue descriptions of these works are so badly written it's no wonder no one buys this stuff.