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Friday, August 14, 2020

The Susan F. McNair Poison Case

   In July 2020, 72-year-old Susan Fenyves McNair was no longer residing with her 85-year-old husband John Rupert McNair and his 43-year-old son, Michael McNair. The estranged couple, residents of Wilmington Delaware, had separated after Mr. McNair filed for divorce.

     Following the separation, the father and son noticed that their cold drinks tasted odd and made them sick. At one point, Michael McNair became seriously ill after consuming a drink that burned his mouth.

     Suspecting that Susan McNair had been entering the house and spiking their drinks, the senior Mr. McNair installed a hidden camera in the kitchen. On July 28, 2020, the camera recorded Susan McNair mixing Lysol, Resolve Carpet Cleaner, and paint thinner into a bottle of sweet tea.

     After Mr. McNair turned the incriminating video recording over to the Wilmington Police Department, medical personnel took samples of his and his son's blood for toxicological analysis.

     Officers with the Wilmington Police Department, on August 11, 2020, took Susan McNair into custody. The district attorney charged Mrs. McNair with two counts of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of contaminating a drink with a controlled substance. The judge set the suspect's bail at $300,000, and assigned her a public defender.

     As of this writing, the authorities have not divulged a possible motive for the poisoning. 

The Darius Sessoms Murder Case

     At five-thirty on Sunday evening, August 9, 2020, 5-year-old Cannon Hinnant was playing in front of his house in Wilson, North Carolina with his sisters aged 7 and 8. As the boy rode his bike with his mother looking on, the child was approached by a 25-year-old neighbor named Darius Sessoms who pointed a handgun at the boy's head and shot him. After the shooting, Sessoms ran back to his house that is located next door to the victim's on Archers Road.

     Doris Lybrand, a neighbor who witnessed the shooting, called 911.

     Cannon Hinnant was rushed to the Wilson Medical Center where he died shortly upon arrival.

     Police officers arrested Sessoms the following evening at a house in the nearby town of Goldsboro. The Wilson County District Attorney charged Darius Sessoms with first-degree murder. The magistrate denied the suspect bail.

     According to neighbors, the boy's family had known Darius Sessoms for several years.

     On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, Bonny Waddell, the young victim's mother, posted the following online: "That man [Sessoms] will answer to me. That man will see me and my son through my face! This sorry excuse as a human being will rot in hell. My heart has been taken from me."

     While as of this writing no motive for the killing has been revealed, a police spokesman told reporters that the murder was not "random."

     According to the boy's father, his son was killed because he had ridden his bicycle on Sessoms' lawn. The father, on Instagram, railed about how the media has ignored this case. (Sessoms is black and the victim is white.)

Graphology: Junk Science

     Graphologists claim to be able to identify criminal traits through handwriting analysis. For example, graphologists tell us that people who write cursive with a backward-looking stroke--called the "Felon's Claw"--harbor feelings of guilt for things they have done. These handwriting analysts claim that 75 percent of the felons incarcerated in our prisons write this way.

     Another handwriting tell--the so-called "Upside-Down Oval" (when letters such as "o" are drawn clockwise rather than counter-clockwise)--reveals that the writer is a thief. According to graphologists, studies show that a vast majority of convicted embezzlers write this way.
     Graphology is not a forensic science recognized by the courts. Graphologists, therefore, cannot testify as expert witnesses. That is a good thing.

Violence and Mental Illness

It is possible to argue that some people are violent and mentally ill, but it is no longer defensible to argue that people are violent because they are mentally ill.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill

Excuses Not to Write

Not writing at all constitutes the ultimate triumph of fear. We seldom admit this, however, even to ourselves. We just can't seem to "get around to it." That sounds like writer's block and sometimes is. Unlike blocked writers, however--who try to put words on paper but can't--non-writing writers have stopped trying. "Maybe after I retire I'll get back to it," they may say. Or: "when the kids are grown"; when I have a better office to write in"; "once I've bought a new computer"; "after I take another writing class."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Books As Friends

Books are delightful friends. If you go into a room and find it full of books--even without taking them from the shelves--they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome.

William E. Gladstone (1809-1898)

Discussing Journalistic Works-in-Progress

I find it helps a lot to talk to friends or editors immediately after I return from a reporting trip. It puts me in a storytelling mode. Even though I'm less preoccupied with producing a seamless narrative than I used to be, I do feel that narrative energy is crucial to distinguishing a story from a research report. When you are telling a story to a live human being [as opposed to a reader] you get a sense, immediately, of what people respond to. It gets you outside of your own head. And often people ask questions that I haven't thought of--questions that force me to look at the reporting in a new way.

Ron Rosenbaum, in Robert S. Boynton's The New Journalism, 2005 [Most writers of fiction do not discuss works-in-progress.] 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Aaron Schaffhausen: What Kind of Man Murders His Daughters?

     Jessica Schaffhausen and her three daughters, ages five to eleven, lived in River Falls, Wisconsin, a town of 15,000 30 miles east of the twin cities of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 34-year-old mother had been single six months after she and her husband of 12 years, Aaron Schaffhausen, divorced in January 2012. In March, Jessica had called the police after Aaron threatened to harm one of the children. No arrest followed the complaint which was classified by the police as a "harassment incident."

     On July 5, 2012, Aaron Schaffhausen, a construction worker employed by a St. Paul company to work on projects in western North Dakota, was fired after he didn't show up for work. He was living in Minot, North Dakota.

     Just before noon on July 10, 2012, Aaron called Jessica, who worked in St. Paul for a nonprofit agency on aging, and asked if he could pay the girls a surprise visit. Amara, age eleven, eight-year-old Sophie, and Cecilia who was five, were at home in River Falls. Jessica agreed to the visit, but wanted Aaron out of the house before she got home from work.

     That afternoon, when Aaron Schaffhausen arrived at his former place of residence in the subdivision on the east side of town, the babysitter said goodbye to the girls and went home. Around four that afternoon, Aaron called his ex-wife and said, "You can come home now because I killed the kids."

     Jessica Schaffhausen, after receiving this horrific message, called the police. River Falls officers arrived at the scene about the time Jessica pulled up to the house. Upstairs, officers found the three girls dead and tucked into their beds.

     As the officers were trying to understand what had happened to these children, Aaron showed up at the police department and turned himself in. When asked to describe what he had done, and why, the suspect refused to speak.

    The autopsies of the three victims revealed they had been murdered by what the forensic pathologist called "sharp force entry." They had been stabbed, and the five-year-old had been strangled as well.

     On July 12, 2012, the St. Croix County district attorney charged Aaron Schaffhausen with three counts of first-degree murder. Held on $2 million bond, the defendant faced a mandatory life sentence on each count. A few days after filing these charges, the district attorney appointed Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyburg to take over the case as a special prosecutor.

     St. Croix County Circuit Judge Scott Needham, on July 24, 2012 at Schaffhausen's preliminary hearing, heard testimony from River Falls detective John Wilson who said he found a large pool of blood in one of the bedrooms where he believed the three girls had been stabbed. Wilson also noted that the walls were splattered in blood. The girls, lying on their backs with their eyes wide open, had been tucked into their beds. The woman at the police department who had taken Jessica Schaffhausen's call that afternoon described the caller as "hysterical and hyperventilating." Following the 90-minute hearing, the judge bound the case over for trial.

     In early March 2013, Aaron Schaffhausen pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. Although he pleaded guilty he maintained that, due to insanity, he should not be held criminally responsible for his daughters' deaths. On March 5, 2013, at the prosecutor's request, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Erik Knudson interviewed Schaffhausen for seven hours. During that session, Schaffhausen revealed that before the murders he had experienced reoccurring images in his head that featured the violent deaths of his ex-wife and children. Schaffhausen told Dr. Knudson that on two occasions he had aborted plans to murder the girls.

     After the killings, Schaffhausen, when he realized he couldn't clean up the murder scene, decided to burn down the house. In furtherance of that plan, he went to the basement and poured gasoline on the floor. He didn't go through with the arson out of fear he would get trapped in the fire.

     On March 25, 2013, Aaron Schaffhausen went on trial before a jury that would decide whether or not he had been insane at the time of the murders. Dr. Erik Knudson, testifying for the prosecution, opined that the defendant's depression and alcohol dependency had no relevance to why he killed his children. According to the psychiatrist, the defendant, rather than insane, possessed an antisocial personality disorder.

     In his closing remarks to the jury following the testimony phase of the trial, Schaffhausen's attorney argued that his client suffered from a rare mental disorder rooted in his deep dependency on his ex-wife that caused him to believe the only solution to his problems involved murdering his children. The defense attorney blamed the mass murder on what a defense mental health expert had called "catathymic homicide."

     On April 13, 2013, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Notwithstanding Schaffhausen's mental defects, the jurors wanted this defendant held criminally accountable for his murderous behavior. The jurors obviously believed that Schaffhausn, at the time of the murders, knew what he was doing, and that what he was doing was wrong.

     Judge Scott Needham, on July 15, 2013, sentenced  Aaron Schaffhausen to three consecutive life sentences. Because of the nature of his murders, prison authorities were faced with the likelihood that this prisoner's life will be under constant threat from other inmates.


The Internet provides a speedy and efficient means to conduct research, shop, plan travel, and communicate with others. Technology has opened this same world to criminals so they can conduct their "research" and implement their schemes. Using the Internet, criminals gain immediate access to do what they have always done--deceive, defraud, steal, and intimidate. Cybercrime has become an increasing menace to individuals, businesses, and governments. Thousands of miles from their victims and out of reach of law enforcement authorities, criminals can hack into government computer systems, steal personal information, commit identity theft, and destroy a company's valuable software and business records.

Preface to the 2014 edition of Dr. Stanton E. Samenow's 2004 nonfiction book, Inside the Criminal Mind.

The Alford Plea: A Legal Fiction That Makes No Sense

An Alford Plea is a guilty plea of a defendant who proclaims he is innocent of the crime, but admits that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Typically, it results in a guilty plea of a lesser crime (i.e. second-degree murder rather than first).

Hykel Law