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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Adaisha Miller's Sudden, Mysterious Death

     On Detroit's west side, on July 8, 2012, 24-year-old Adaisha Miller attended a Saturday night fish fry hosted by Isaac Parrish and his wife. Miller, a certified massage therapist, came to the backyard party with a friend acquainted with the 38-year-old Detroit police officer who was throwing the event. Isaac Parish, a beat patrolman for 16 years, did not know Miller before the party.

     That night, Officer Parrish carried his department-issued Smith & Wesson M & P 40 semiautomatic pistol on his right side in a soft holster tucked inside his waistband covered by his shirt. In Detroit, officers have the option of carrying their firearms when off-duty. They were not, however, supposed to be armed if their blood-alcohol level was 0.02 percent or above. (In Michigan, the blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI conviction is 0.08 percent.) In essence, Detroit officers are prohibited from carrying their handguns if they consume alcohol, period.

     Thirty minutes after midnight on the night of the party, Adaisha Miller, while either hugging the officer, dancing with him side-by-side, or dancing on her knees behind him, touched or tugged at his waist in a way that caused his firearm to discharge. The gun not only went off, the bullet entered Miller's chest, pierced a lung, hit her heart, and exited her lower back. She died later that day at a local hospital.

     According to Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County Medical Examiner, the path of the bullet through Miller's body did not reveal the victim's position relative to the gun's muzzle (end of the barrel) which was pointed toward the ground. Because the Smith & Wesson M & P 40 is designed for police and military use, it does not have a safety switch. However, the trigger must be pulled back all the way before the gun will fire.

     Months after Adaisha Miller's sudden demise, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office declared her death "accidental."

     Officer Parrish, following an internal investigation, was cleared of wrongdoing. He did not undergo a blood-alcohol test.

     Because it was hard to construct a scenario that explained exactly how this accident occurred, Adaisha's death remained a mystery. Less than 24 hours after her death, a lawyer surfaced in the case talking about a potential lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department. Attorney Gerald Thurswell, in speaking to a local reporter, said, "We believe 100 percent that this death was caused as a result of a negligent act of somebody. If somebody was negligent then someone's responsible for the injuries and death caused as a result of their negligent act." The lawyer hired a private investigator to look into the shooting.

     In February 2017, Adaisha Miller's mother, Yolanda McNair, participated in a demonstration outside the Detroit courthouse. The protesters were mothers of children who had been killed by Detroit police officers. McNair told a reporter that in her opinion, justice had not been done in the case of her daughter's death. She had filed a wrongful death suit against the Detroit Police Department. As of this writing, the suit remained unresolved. 

Domestic Abuse Amid the Pandemic Lockdown

     For people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolated from people and the resources that could help them...

     The current crisis also makes it more difficult for victims to seek help. As medical facilities around the world scramble to respond to coronavirus, health systems are becoming overloaded, making it more difficult for victims to get access to medical care or therapies...

     For many women, the fear of contracting the coronavirus is stopping them from seeking out medical care after experiencing physical abuse...

     Many victims also feel that they can no longer seek refuge at their parents' home, for fear that they could expose their elderly parents to the virus. For some, travel restrictions may limit their ability to stay with loved ones. Women's shelters may also be overcrowded during this time or may close their doors if the risk of infection is deemed too high...

     Many social services for victims of domestic violence will also suffer budget cuts under a recession...

Melissa Godin,  "As Cities Around the World Go On Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look For a Way Out," Time, March 18, 2020

The Mystery of Why People Commit Crimes

     It's like the old staple of 1930s gangster movies: why does one person become a criminal and the other a priest? Or from my perspective, why does one become a serial killer, another a rapist, another an assassin, another a bomber, another a poisoner, and yet still another a child molester? And within these crime categories, why does each commit his atrocities in the precise way he does? The answer lies in one fundamental question that applies to every one of them:
     Why did he do it?
     The who? follows from there.
     That's the mystery we have to solve.

John Douglas [criminal profiler] and Mark Olshaker, The Anatomy of Motive, 1999

Stephen King on Reading Good and Bad Novels

     One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose. Reading Valley of the Dolls and Bridges of Madison County is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.

     Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy--"I'll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand"--but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Nature Writing

Nature writing often requires an ability to understand and interpret the findings of science. If you do not have the education or career credentials for writing about these subjects, you can rely on others who are experts, or you can write as a lay naturalist, an astute observer. However, the onus of accuracy is upon you. Although nature writing rests on science, the essay form leaves plenty of room for the writer's interaction with the environment, including one's inner emotional landscape as well as the outer landscape of the setting. One of the best ways to improve your skill in nature and outdoor writing is to read examples of it, as well as books on how to write this specialized kind of writing.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003 

Writing Clear, Clean Fiction

I have a rather plain and direct prose style. For me the words should be like a plane of glass that you look through, not at. Decorative flourishes are few. I learned that style on newspapers.

Ken Follett, The New York Times, September 4, 2014 

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Claire Hough Murder Case: A Twisted Saga of False Accusations and Suicide

     In early August 1984, 14-year-old Claire Hough and her best friend Kim Jamer, left their homes in Rhode Island for a two-week vacation in San Diego, California. The girls had arranged to stay at Hough's grandparents' house. The girls spent their days hanging out on Torrey Pines Beach not far from where they were staying.

     On August 24, a day after Kim Jamer returned to Rhode Island, Claire Hough slipped out of her grandparents' house to enjoy the beach at night where groups of teenagers sat around fires drinking beer.

     Claire Hough did not return to her room that night. The next morning a 61-year-old beachcomber named Wallace Wheeler came across her body. She lay dead next to her boombox. Covered in blood on a bloodstained bath towel, her left breast had been cut off and her genitalia mutilated. Her killer had filled her mouth with sand. The murder knife was not at the scene, and was never recovered.

     The San Diego County Coroner determined that Claire Hough had been strangled to death. The forensic pathologist reported that because he found no traces of semen on her body, she had probably not been raped.

     Wallace Wheeler, the man who discovered the body immediately came under suspicion. He was a strange man who, after Claire Hough's murder, kept up a correspondence with her parents. In his letters he wrote about his visions and dreams of the man who had killed their daughter. Without a confession, eyewitness, or evidence physically connecting Mr. Wheeler to the murder, he remained just a suspect. In 1988, Wallace Wheeler jumped to his death from the 13th floor of his apartment building. He was later eliminated as the killer through DNA analysis.

     In 1978, six years before Claire Hough's murder, another teenaged girl had been murdered on Torrey Pines Beach. That victim had also been strangled to death, had her left breast cut off, and had sand in her mouth. There was no evidence that she had been raped. That case was still unsolved. Because of the similarities in these two murders, detectives believed they were dealing with a serial killer.

     After the Claire Hough murder, months turned into years without an arrest. In 2012, a team of cold-case investigators were informed by a DNA analyst that bloodstains on Claire Hough's jeans matched the DNA of a man named Ronald Clyde Tatro. A year earlier, Tatro had been killed in a boating accident.

     In 1975, Ronald Tatro was convicted of kidnapping and raping a girl in Arkansas. Following his parole in 1982, he moved to San Diego. Shortly after arriving in California, Tatro lured a teenage girl into his van where he tried to subdue her with a stun gun. She escaped and notified the police. Tatro was arrested, confessed, and went to prison for attempted rape. By August 1984, when Claire Hough was murdered on the beach, Ronald Tatro was out of prison.

     Detectives trying to connect Ronald Tatro to the 1978 murder of the girl on Torrey Pines Beach discovered that when that girl was killed, he was serving time in Arkansas.

     Because Ronald Tatro was no longer living, the quest to bring Claire Hough's murderer to justice would have ended there. But another man was implicated by the 2012 DNA analysis, and this was a surprise. According to investigators, semen traces on a vaginal swab from the Hough murder matched the DNA of Kevin Brown. This was surprising for two reasons: according to the forensic pathologist in 1984, no semen traces had been found on the victim's body, and, Kevin Brown, at the time of Claire Hough's murder, worked as a technician in the San Diego Crime Lab. Because of the sensitivity of this revelation, the authorities, pending further investigation, decided not to reveal it to the public.

     So, who was Keven Brown? In 2002, Mr. Brown retired from the crime lab after 22 years on the job. The 65-year-old lived in San Diego with his wife Rebecca, a Catholic high school teacher who was several years younger than him. They were married in 1993. He had never been arrested.

     A background investigation of the murder suspect revealed that as a younger man he seemed, in the eyes of some, to be obsessed with sex. In fact, his fellow lab workers had nicknamed him "Kinky." A woman who worked with him in the lab told detectives that Brown had shown her a porn film that she described as "sickening." As an amateur photographer, Mr. Brown supposedly liked to photograph nude women. However, after his marriage, Mr. Brown settled into to a quiet, conventional domestic life. People who knew him as a married man considered Kevin Brown a very nice person who was a bit of a nerd. Nevertheless, detectives on the case had convinced themselves that Ronald Brown had been some kind of sexual pervert.

     On January 9, 2014, San Diego detective Michael Lambert (who happened to be a former colleague of Brown's at the crime lab) and officer Lori Adams, showed up, unannounced at Kevin Brown's door to question him about the Claire Hough murder case. Seated in the living room with the suspect's wife looking on, the detectives asked Mr. Brown if he remembered the case. He said yes, he did remember the brutal murder on Torrey Pines Beach.

     The detectives showed Kevin Brown a photograph of Ronald Tatro. Had he ever met this man? Mr. Brown answered no. The detectives informed Mr. Brown that Ronald Tatro was connected to the murder through his DNA. And not only that, semen found at the murder scene had been identified through DNA as his--Mr. Brown's.

     If the detectives had hoped Mr. Brown would confess after learning that his DNA had been recovered from the Claire Hough murder scene, they were disappointed. Instead, the suspect insisted that the DNA identification must have been a mistake. He had absolutely nothing to do with the girl's murder and wanted to take a polygraph test to prove it.

     Before the detectives left the suspect's house that morning, they executed a search warrant. When they departed, they were in possession of Mr. Brown's computer and other personal items.

     Later on the day of his confrontation with the San Diego detectives, Kevin Brown took a lie detector test administered by a police department examiner. The polygraph examiner reported that Mr. Brown's response, when asked if he ever knew Ronald Tatro, was "inconclusive." Regarding the subject's denial that he had anything to do with Claire Hough's murder, the polygraph examiner labeled that answer "deceptive." In other words, according to the polygraph examiner, Keven Brown failed the test. While this result encouraged the detectives on the case, it could not be used as evidence in a court. When informed that he had failed the polygraph test, Kevin Brown knew that at some point he would be arrested for the 30-year-old murder of Claire Hough.

     In early October 2014, law enforcement authorities publicly announced that detectives had, through DNA analysis,  finally cracked the Claire Hough murder case. The suspect in the brutal murder was 67-year-old Kevin Brown, a former employee of the San Diego Crime Lab.

     On October 21, 2014, before police officers had a chance to come to his house and arrest him, Kevin Brown hanged himself.

     Rebecca Brown, in December 2014, brought a civil suit against the San Diego Police Department and others for falsely accusing her husband of murder. The false accusation had pushed the depressed and anxious man to suicide. The plaintiff accused homicide detectives of mishandling the investigation, and lying to the magistrate who had issued the search warrant.

     In her lawsuit, Rebecca Brown pointed out that in 1984, the forensic pathologist had not found any semen on Claire Hough's body. Moreover, detectives were never able to establish a connection between her husband and Ronald Tatro.

     Following Rebecca Brown's lawsuit, forensic experts reported that when Kevin Brown worked in the San Diego Crime Lab, the place was horribly polluted and poorly run. Instead of purchasing bodily fluid specimens as control samples, male lab personnel, including Kevin Brown, submitted samples of their own blood and semen. This, along with other lax and sloppy lab procedures, created the possibility of evidence contamination and co-mingling that could explain a false Kevin Brown DNA identification. In any case, had the case gone to trial, due to the conditions of the San Diego Crime Laboratory, the DNA evidence would have been inadmissible. Without the DNA there was no case.

     On February 23, 2020, in a San Diego courtroom, the jury hearing the Rebecca Brown civil case against the police department and other defendants, awarded her $6 million. In addition, Detective Michael Lambert was ordered to pay the plaintiff $50,000 in punitive damages for his role in the investigation. Rebecca and her attorney indicated, however, that if Michael Lambert apologized, they would reduce the amount he owed them. The detective refused to apologize so the punitive damages remained at $50,000.   

The Sungee Kwon Suicide-Murder Case

     In 2015, 45-year-old Dr. Raja Fayad, a native of Syria who earned his medical degree in that country, decided to enter academia rather than to practice medicine. That decision brought him to the United States where he taught physiology and anatomy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2008, Dr. Fayad and his wife Sunghee Kwon moved into a house on Lake Murray in suburban Lexington County outside of Columbia, South Carolina.

     Dr. Fayad, an expert on colon cancer, had moved to South Carolina to assume his new position as the graduate director and head of the Applied Physiology Division of the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health.

     While Dr. Fayad enjoyed success in his professional life, his marriage to Sunghee Kwon had fallen apart. Although they were divorced in 2012, the couple continued to occupy the house on Lake Murray. In late 2014, however, Dr. Fayad moved out of the dwelling into a suite of rooms at a nearby residence motel.

     At one in the afternoon of Thursday February 5, 2015, Dr. Fayad's former wife showed up at his office on the fourth floor of the Arnold School of Public Health Building in downtown Columbia a few blocks from the Statehouse. She came armed with a 9 mm pistol.

     A few minutes after Sunghee Kwon's arrival at the university, police officers responded to reports from people who had heard the sound of gunshots coming from Dr. Fayad's office and adjacent laboratory.

     Officers that afternoon discovered the dead bodies of Dr. Fayad and his 46-year-old wife. He had been shot several times in the upper torso. After murdering her ex-spouse, Sunghee Kwon took her own life by shooting herself in the stomach.

     The 9 mm pistol, its magazine empty, lay near the bodies. There were no witnesses to the murder-suicide. 

The Vampire In Romance Fiction

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz in Dangerous Men And Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

Born To Write

When I began to write stories and novels I did so as though it were the most natural thing in the world. I took to it as a duck takes to water. I have never quite got over my astonishment at being a writer. My language was commonplace, my vocabulary limited, my grammar shaky and my phrases hackneyed. But to write was an instinct that seemed as natural to me as to breathe, and I did not stop to consider if I wrote well or badly.

W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938