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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Psychic Detectives: False Leads, Wasted Time, and Investigative Nonsense

     I don't believe in ghosts, witches, Big-Foot, UFOs, alien abductions, spontaneous human combustion, or the Loch Ness Monster. In my opinion, people can't read the minds of dogs and cats, or carry on conversations with the dead. I also don't believe in fortune tellers, soothsayers, and so-called psychic detectives who inject themselves into missing person and murder cases. The words "detective" and "psychic" do not belong together. Police detectives who consult these women, or even run down their leads, should be put back on patrol. It's all a load of crap.

     But in an era of marginal thinking and stupid beliefs, millions of people buy into this paranormal nonsense. The media, particularly television, with supposedly serious shows about ghosts, UFOs, and psychics, lends credibility to this stuff. Print and TV journalists, who know better, pretend to take this hogwash seriously because they are popular subjects that attract readers and viewers. These media hacks are part of the problem. Americans have lost the ability to think straight, reason clearly, and draw the right conclusions.

     If psychic detectives could do what they claim, there would be no such thing as a missing child, teenage girl, ex-girlfriend, or estranged wife. There wouldn't be unsolved murders, and we would have been spared 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. No one without inside knowledge of the case, can, by holding a missing murder victim's garment, lead the detectives to the body. Harry Houdini escaped locked boxes because he had the keys, and psychic detectives claim credit for locating missing persons by embellishing and changing, after the fact, their initial predictions. They get away with it because gullible people want to believe in them.

Psychics Teresa Nicholas and Tiffany Smith: The Costly Curse

     Psychics Teresa Nicholas and Tiffany Smith, "Psychic Readers & Advisors" doing business in Hingham, Massachusetts, had they looked into their own futures, wouldn't have bilked a 69-year-old woman who had stupidly availed herself of their fortune telling services.

     On April 6, 2012, when the victim came to Tiffany Smith for a "psychic reading," Smith informed her she was under a "curse and a black cloud." More specifically, the psychic reader told the victim that if she didn't fork over $7,000 to lift the curse, the victim's daughter, within a week, would commit suicide. The poor woman wrote a check payable to Teresa Nicholas for that amount. The next day, the victim either came to her senses, or spoke to someone with common sense. Either way, the police were notified. Nicholas, however, had already deposited the check.

     A week later, the two psychics were charged with a variety of theft offenses related to swindling and fraud. I'm not a psychic, but I predict a pair of convictions in this case.

Psychic Detectives in the Disappearance of Etan Patz

     On May 25, 1979, the parents of 6-year-old Etan Patz allowed the boy to make his first unaccompanied trip to the Manhattan bus stop two blocks from his apartment building. They never saw him again. The missing boy was one of the first to have his photograph printed on milk cartons. His case helped fuel the national missing persons campaign that took root in the 1980s. The boy as formally declared dead in 2001.

     From the beginning, investigators suspected a friend of Etan's babysitter, a man named Jose Antonia Ramos. Ramos was later convicted of child molestation and sent to prison in Pennsylvania. While never prosecuted in the Patz case, the missing boy's family won a $2 million wrongful death judgement against Ramos in 2004.

     In 2010, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reopened the Etan Patz investigation.

     In April, 2012, FBI agents and detectives with the New York City Police Department, interviewed a 75-year-old man named Othniel Miller, a former handyman who, in 1979, had worked in a 13 foot by 62 foot room in the basement of the Patz family apartment building on Prince Street in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Etan did chores for Miller, and on the day before he disappeared, Millier had given the boy a dollar. At the time of the boy's disappearance, Miller was not a suspect because he had a solid alibi. However, Jose Ramos, the imprisoned child molester, worked for Mr. Miller, and had access to his basement workshop.

     After questioning Othniel Miller, FBI agents placed "scent pads"--material that can absorb and retain odors--in Miller's old basement workshop. A cadaver dog, upon sniffing the pad, indicated the scent of human remains. (This technique should not be confused with  forensic science.)

     A few days ago, under the supervision of the FBI and New York City Police, workers began digging up the workshop's concrete floor, and screening the dirt beneath it for signs of Etan's remains. At one point, investigators thought they had discovered a suspicious stain on a chunk of cinder block, but further analysis determined it was not blood. After four days of excavating, the authorities shut down the operation, and began cleaning up the mess. The Etan Patz case remains a mystery.

     In 1979, five days after Ethan Patz left home for the bus stop and never came back, a psychic named Carrie Leight told Etan's father that the first-grader was being cared for in a "blue hospital" that employed a nurse named Mrs. Keanne. Another psychic, under hypnosis, said the boy was "living safely" with a dark-haired woman with a Spanish or Cuban accent who lived on the second floor of a tenement building bearing the number 29. New York City detectives ran down these leads that led them nowhere. They wasted their time. Since 1979, there is no telling how many psychic detectives have weighed in on this case, and how much time has been wasted paying attention to them.

     On May 6, 2012, Pedro Hernandez, a 51-year-old from Maple Shade, New Jersey, confessed to choking Etan Patz to death and leaving his body in a bag in a Manhattan trash can. Hernandez, an employee of a convenience store in the victim's neighborhood, moved to New Jersey shortly after Etan's disappearance and murder.

     In February 2017, a jury in Manhattan found Pedro Hernandez guilty of murder and kidnapping. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison.

Psychic Nancy L. Fox and the Christine Ann Jarrett Murder Case

     On the night of January 3, 1991, Christine Ann Jarrett, the mother of two young boys, disappeared from her home in Elkridge, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, a local psychic named Nancy Fox, who performed "readings, healings, and spiritual coaching," was taken to the Jarrett house where she "immediately had a feeling." (I'm wondering if she can tell that I'm having one right now about her.) Psychic Fox informed those present that the missing woman was dead. (Unlike psychics, medical examiners need bodies before they can make such determinations.)

     This psychic from Linthicum, Maryland said she had an image of Christine Jarrett getting into a blue (this must be their favorite color) car with some man, and that the dead woman would be found within 50 miles of her home. The police, according to Fox, would find clues to her disappearance in southern Pennsylvania.

     Even if this rubbish were true, the information is so general it's useless. A blue car? Some man? Southern Pennsylvania? The body somewhere within a 50 mile radius of the house? Wow.

     On April 21, 2012, 21 years later, Christine Jarrett's remains were found a few yards from her house, buried under the floorboards of a backyard shed. Her since remarried husband, 57-year-old Robert Jarrett, has been charged with her murder.

     When psychic Nancy Fox had her "feeling," she was sitting a few yards from Christine Jarrett's dead body. There was no man in a blue car, or clues in southern Pennsylvania. The victim was dead, and her body was found within 50 miles of her house. In the psychic detective business, this qualifies as a successful "reading." However, in the real world, it is something else.  


Thornton P. Knowles On Living Before Writing

It's against the law to drive a car before you're sixteen. There is a reason for that, so how about this: You should not publish a novel until you're thirty-five. Although this rule won't save lives, it would improve the quality of book-length fiction. One of my favorite crime novelists, Ross H. Spencer, a blue collar guy who, like me, was born in Nitro, West Virginia, didn't start writing until he was 58. That's why his books are so full of life and so funny. He lived before he wrote.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Grigoriy Bukhantsov and the Bukhantsov Family Murders

     Gregoriy Bukhantsov, a trouble teenager and high school dropout, lived with his parents in Rancho Cordova, California 15 miles east of Sacramento. The young man's parents were Ukrainian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They settled in this community of 100,000 immigrants from Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus.

     Gregoriy's parents, and the family of his older brother Denis Bukhantsov, belonged to the 6,000-member Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, an evangelical Pentecostal congregation founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

     In December 2011, Grigoriy Bukhantsov pleaded no contest to burglary. The judge sentenced him to one year in jail (he served seven months) and five years probation. Over the past year, Grigoriy, a drug and alcohol abuser with serious mental problems and a propensity for violence, had threatened virtually everyone he knew. People had good reason to be afraid of him.

     In the summer of 2012, Grigoriy assaulted his father and his sister, and threatened to stab his entire family to death. Florin Ciuriuc, the executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, helped Mr. Bukhantsov obtain a temporary restraining order against the 19-year-old. (Grigoriy's parents struggled with English.) The Sacramento county judge issued the order, but when the family didn't seek to make it permanent, the restraining order expired.

     Grigoriy became so disturbed and threatening, his parents, fearing for their lives, moved out of the state, taking their daughter with them.

     According to Florin Ciuriuc, Grigoriy Bukhantsov "...was going nuts. Saliva was coming out of his mouth when he was screaming, yelling, and cussing. He was talking nonsense. He was making threats to everybody."

     After Grigoriy's parents fled California, the young man became homeless, living temporarily in the houses of relatives until he wore out his welcome, and was asked to leave. On Monday, October 22, 2012, Grigoriy asked his 29-year-old brother Denis if he could spend a couple of nights at his house. Denis, his 23-year-old wife Alina and their three children, ages three, two, and six-months old, lived in Rancho Cordova. Because his nomadic brother seemed calm and in control of himself, Denis agreed to shelter his younger brother.

     The next day, when Denis returned home at 3:30 in the afternoon following a class he was taking, he found that Alina and two of the children had been bludgeoned, stabbed, and slashed to death. The 6-month-old boy had not been harmed. Denis ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The police immediately launched a search for Grigoriy Bukhantsov. After committing the murders, the suspect had stolen the family's 2005 Chrysler minivan. The next day, at two in the morning, a police officer spotted the stolen vehicle parked in front of a Denny's restaurant. Inside they found Grigoriy asleep in a booth. Taken into custody, he was booked into the Sacramento County Jail where he was held without bond.

     Shortly after his arrest, the local prosecutor announced that his office would seek the death penalty in the triple murder.

     In August 2015, following months of procedural delays, motions, and stays, a Sacramento jury found Bukhantsov mentally competent to stand trial. The defendant's attorneys, arguing that their client was criminally insane, appealed this verdict. A judge, in February 2016, ruled that Bukhantsov was competent to be tried.

     The Bukhantsov case, as of December 2017, remains in limbo. In California, where the criminal justice system is so overwhelmed it moves slowly, if at all, this is par for the course.

     

More Fun and Games in Whackademia

The Phantom Professor

     Venetia Orcutt, an assistant professor in George Washington University's department of Physician Assistant Studies, went AWOL from class in two of her courses. She just didn't show up. Students who signed up for these teacherless courses, however, all received As. This went on for two semesters. After someone finally came forward, the dean of the medical school fired Orcutt and announced that the students who had not attended her classes would still get credit for the teacherless courses.

     In college, grades are a form of currency. Being a professor is a lot like being able to print money. Like money, grades can be used by academic slackers to buy the silence of  students in a conspiracy of fruad against parents, taxpayers, and alumni contributors. Professor Orcutt, had she not reached for the moon, might have gotten away with her scam indefinately. I'm sure many professors have.

Students or Guinea Pigs?

     Oklahoma University placed assistant professor Chad Kerksick on leave of absence following accusations from his Health and Exercise Students that, as a part of his research, he injected them with substances that caused pain and bruising. The university removed Kerksick from his duties. After the professor challenged the school's right to remove his tenure-track position, the university agreed to pay Kerksick $75,000 and give him one year of unpaid leave during which time he could look for a teaching position elsewhere.

     The above story made me think of my own career as a criminal justice professor, I who worked at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for thirty years, and actually showed up for class and didn't taser my students for a paper on nonlethal force. I now realize I was working at the wrong university. I should have been in Oklahoma.

Publish or Perish

     Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein, in a recent paper, argues that professors who teach English Literature spend far too much time writing books, essays, reviews, and dissertations, stuff that nobody reads. According to the Modern Language Association, the number of these scholarly works published every year in the fields of English and foreign languages and literature has climbed from 13,757 in 1959 to 70,000 a  year. This glut of dense, arcane babble is not only killing innocent trees, it's keeping the writers of this unreadable stuff from teaching classes and interacting with students. Unless academic administrators eliminate publication as a prerequisite of academic advancement and tenure, trees will continue to fall and students will be taught by graduate assistants. (And English departments will continue to be called "Anguish" departments.)

No Snacks, No Class

     At California State University at Sacramento, students in professor George Parrott's Psychology 101 lab class, were required to bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory. If the professor didn't get his snacks, a policy he established in the early 1970s, he canceled the class. Over the years, the professor's students went along with the joke without complaint. But a few weeks ago, when students in the professor's morning section of Foundations of Behavorial Research failed to bring muffins, professor Parrott walked out of the lab.

     Members of the Psychology Department ruled that professor Parrott's decision to walk out of class because his students had violated his homemade snack rule, was unacceptable. So, the dean told professor Parrott, who is retiring at the end of the year, to teach without snacks. (It's hard to image all of this was news to Parrott's teaching colleagues.) Since I didn't major in psychology, I am not equipped to figure out what in the hell was going on with this teacher, or his department.      

Thornton P. Knowles On Meeting a Non-Writer

When someone I meet learns that I'm a published writer, I often get one of two responses: "I have a terrific idea for a novel, we can split the royalty 50-50." Or: "You ought to write a book about my uncle, he's a card!"

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, December 11, 2017

Dr. Lisa Tseng: When Does a Physician Become a Drug Dealing Murderer?

     In California, as in most states, a cocaine dealer can be convicted of second-degree murder if a person he sold the drug to dies of an overdose. Such a conviction is based on what is referred to as the felony-murder doctrine which holds that if in the commission of a felony (selling cocaine) someone dies, the felon can be held criminally culpable for that death. The element of criminal intent applies to the commission of the felony, not the resultant death. In other words, it doesn't matter that the cocaine dealer didn't intend to kill one of his customers. It's still murder.

     Dr. Hsiu-Ying (Lisa) Tseng and her husband ran a storefront medical clinic in Rowland Heights, California, an unincorporated community of 50,000 in Los Angeles County's Gabriel Valley. The clinic had a reputation among prescription drug addicts as a place one could go to acquire prescriptions for drugs such as Xanax, Oxycodone, Methadone, Soma, and Vicodin. Dr. Tseng allegedly issued prescriptions for these pain and anti-anxiety drugs without asking too many questions, or requiring an acceptable medical reason.

     In 2010, reporters with the Los Angeles Times linked Dr. Tseng's drugs to eight overdose deaths. (Not all of the people who overdosed had acquired the prescriptions from the doctor, many of her patients had sold the drugs to others who overdosed on them.) According to the Times, Dr. Tseng, from 2007 through 2010, had written more than 27,000 prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety medicine.

     In March 2012, state, county and federal narcotics officers arrested Dr. Tseng for murder in connection with the 2009 overdose deaths of three men in their twenties, all of whom had gotten prescription drugs at the Rowland Heights clinic. The authorities also charged Dr. Tseng with 20 felony counts of prescribing drugs to patients with no medical need for the medicine. (If this government-imposed standard were enforced strictly across the country, we'd need a dozen new prisons just for physicians and chiropractors. Street corner cocaine dealers would see their businesses shoot through the roof.) The 42-year-old doctor was placed in the Los Angeles County Jail under $3 million bond.

     There had only been a handful of prescription drug/felony-murder overdose prosecutions in the country. The Tseng case was the first of its kind in Los Angeles County. In June 2012, at a preliminary hearing before judge M. L. Villar de Longoria in a Los Angeles Superior Court to determine if the state had sufficient evidence to move the case to the trial phase, the assistant district attorney put on several witnesses. (In preliminary hearings to determine if the government has a prima facie case, there are no defense witnesses.)

     An undercover DEA agent took the stand and said he (or she) had been prescribed pain and anti-anxiety drugs without exhibiting any evidence of a physical injury. (What are the physical signs of chronic back pain?) Several family members of Tseng's patients testified that they had begged the doctor to quit issuing their addicted relatives prescription drugs. A representative of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office said he had warned Dr. Tseng that many of her patients were dying of prescription drug overdoses.

     On June 25, 2012, after three weeks of testimony, Judge Villar de Longoria ruled that Dr. Tseng could be held over for trial on the three murder charges. The judge, in justifying the ruling, told the defendant that she had "failed to heed repeated red flags" that her patients were drug addicts." (Since it's the role of a jury to make fact determinations like this, the judge's remarks were, in my opinion, inappropriate.)

     Assuming that Dr. Tseng had in fact intentionally or recklessly issued prescriptions to drug addicts, I'm not sure prosecuting her for second-degree murder was good jurisprudence in a country with millions of prescription drug junkies. Bartenders who serve alcoholics booze aren't prosecuted for murder when the drunks kill themselves in car wrecks. Gun dealers who sell firearms to people who use the weapons to blow their brains out aren't prosecuted for murder. (In the federal government's Fast and Furious operation, agents sold guns to drug dealers in Mexico who used them to kill dozens of people. One of the victims was an U.S. Border Patrol Agent. I don't think we'll see the U.S. Attorney General prosecute any federal employees for murder.)

     If convicted of three counts of murder because she prescribed pills to junkies who overdosed on the drugs, Dr. Tseng faced up to life in prison. This was at a time when residents of 18 states, including California, could legally buy "medical" marijuana.

     In October 2015, a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court found Dr. Tseng guilty of second-degree murder. The judge, on February 5, 2016, sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.
      

Researching a Crime For a Book

Writing a true crime book requires the writer to dig into angles not covered in the original rush of publicity and to deeply research the stories of victims, survivors, investigators, attorneys, and others; review all court, prison, psychiatric, medical, police and other documents about the perpetrator and interview people close to him.

Gretchen Brinck, authorsontheweb.com, 2002 

The Five-Finger Discount

     Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting. Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs….

     And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.

     The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."

     According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice…national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2015, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses….

     And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2009 to 2015, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.

Ben Popken, "Christmas on Five-Finger Discount for Shoplifters Seeking Holiday High," NBC News, December 24, 2013 

Thornton P. Knowles On Do-Gooders In Crime Novels

In the crime novel, the do-gooder rarely makes it past page 50. In my novels, there are no do-gooders. They don't even make it into the book.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Annybelkis Terrero Murder-For-Hire Case

     Neil Logan, a 57-year-old aircraft mechanic from Boynton Beach, Florida made the mistake of his life when in June 2013, following a brief courtship and a spur of the moment decision, he married Annybelkis Terrero in Las Vegas.

     Not long after Mr. Logan and the 38-year-old Terrero took up residence in his Boynton Beach home, she regularly got drunk, used illegal drugs, and entertained strange men in the house. She also disappeared for days at a time.

     On August 31, 2013, just three months after marrying this woman, Neil Logan filed for divorce. The next day Annybelkis called the Boynton Police Department with the accusation that her husband had committed domestic abuse. Police officers came to the house and hauled Mr. Logan off to jail. Pursuant to a protective order filed against him, the owner of the house could not return to his home.

     In the fall of 2013 Terrero's Boynton Beach neighbors began complaining about suspected drug activity and prostitution occurring in Mr. Logan's former residence. After narcotics officers investigated the complaints and threatened to arrest Terrero on drug and prostitution charges, she agreed to stay out of jail by working as a drug informant.

     On October 16, 2013, Terrero and two narcotics cops wearing bulletproof vests were en route in a police vehicle to a suspected drug dealer's house. Along the way the snitch mentioned that she hated her husband and wanted him dead. Could the officers put her in touch with a hit man?

     The narcotics officers said they knew a men who could do the job. At that point Terrero handed one of the officers two stolen credit cards with instructions to use them soon because they were "hot." She said the cards were meant as compensation for the officers' role in her murder-for-hire plan.

     The next day in the Sunshine Square Shopping Center parking lot, Terrero met with a Boynton Beach undercover officer posing as a professional hit man. As is standard operating procedure in such cases, the murder-for-hire conversation was recorded.

     Terrero informed the undercover officer that she would pay him $30,000 from her husband's life insurance payout after the assassin did his job. She said she also wanted the hit man to murder another 57-year-old person named William Straub. The Lake Worth, Florida resident was a friend who had tried to help Terrero beat her alcohol and drug addictions. (Why she wanted this man dead is a mystery. Perhaps she had confided in him regarding her plans to have her husband killed and the proposed hit simply involved the intent to take out an incriminating witness. But if she were worried about that kind of exposure, why did she reach out to a pair of narcotic cops?)

     Shortly after the murder-for-hire mastermind handed the undercover officer a loaded Remington shotgun as a downpayment for the double-hit, the officer arrested Terrero. A Palm Beach county prosecutor charged Terrero  with two counts of murder solicitation and two counts of bribery. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     This was not the first time Terrero had seen the inside of a jailhouse. Police arrested her in 1998 for burglary and aggravated battery and in 2011 for assaulting a police officer .

     In speaking to a reporter following Terrero's arrest, William Straub, one of the murder-for-hire targets, described her as "brilliant" when she was sober and not so bright when drunk. (Terrero must have been very intoxicated when she proposed murder-for-hire to a pair of men she knew to be cops. That has to be one of the stupidest moves in the history of crime.)

     According to Terrero's 61-year-old mother Seneida Holden, her daughter has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse since her teenage years. At one time she claimed to have kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. (Since Bruno Richard Hauptmann kidnapped and murdered the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh in March 1932, Terrero is off the hook for that crime.)

     On November 14, 2013, the Palm Beach County Prosecutor's Office announced that the charges against Annybelkis Terrero had been dropped. The spokesperson said the case was dismissed due to "significant legal issues." (It's possible these "significant legal issues" had to do with the fact Terrero had been working as a drug snitch.) She walked out of the county jail a free woman.