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Friday, April 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The World's Most Rejected Manuscript

The Guinness Book of World Records has a category for the highest number of publisher rejections for a manuscript. The record is 106 for a book called World Government Crusade by a writer named Gilbert Young. Because one might not be proud of that distinction, however, the record is likely to be inaccurate. For example, Robert Pirsig claims to have received 121 rejections for his manuscript, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'm not that persistent. After six rejections I toss the manuscript. You gotta move on, write another one. That's my philosophy. A lot of editors are stupid, nothing I can do about that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Serial Killers: Real Life Versus Fiction

     To meet the criteria of being a serial killer, the murderer, over a period longer than a month, must kill at least three people with a cooling-off period separating each homicide. A mass murderer, on the other hand, murders more than two people in a single killing spree. Because most mass murderers are usually psychotic and completely out of control, people find them less interesting than serial killers who blend into society and are more difficult to catch.
 
     While the public has always been interested in murder, in the mid-1980s following the publication of several books about the Ted Bundy case, serial killing became the number one true crime subject in America. Since then, there have been thousands of true crime books featuring serial killers, their crimes, and the investigation of these cases. (Half of the criminal justice students in the country during this period wanted to become psychological profilers with the FBI.) Fictitious serial killing has been the subject of hundreds of TV shows and theatrical films. Serial killers in fiction, however, are more intelligent, intriguing, and more evil-looking than their typical real life counterparts.

     So, who are these people who go around killing people? About 80 percent of them are white males with blue collar working backgrounds. I'm not aware of any physicians (except for a couple of angel of death killers), lawyers, college professors, or electrical engineers who were serial killers. (When a medical doctor kills anyone intentionally, it is usually a patient, or his wife.) No one knows for sure how many serial killers are active in the U.S. at any given time. In the mid-1980's, at the height of serial killer hysteria, experts were telling us there were 50,000 of them. This of course was ridiculous. The overall crime statistics simply didn't support that estimate. Cooler heads have prevailed, and now the guess is maybe 10 to 20 killers.

     As children, a significant percentage of serial killers were bed-wetters. Many of them, abused and bullied, were also erotic fire-setters who were cruel to animals. Many serial killers didn't do well in school, and most of them were loners.

     Male serial killers generally fall into two major categories: organized and disorganized. The organized killers, with IQs in the average range, plan their murders, are more cold-blooded, and harder to identify because they take steps to avoid detection. Their disorganized counterparts select victims randomly, and kill on impulse. The disorganized killers, with lower IQs, are easier to identify and catch because they carelessly leave physical evidence of themselves at the murder sites, and take traces of the killing scenes with them. (Crime scene investigators call this "the exchange principle.") Disorganized serial killers are psychotic, and while they know what they are doing and are therefore not criminally insane, they are out of control.

     Most serial killers are sadistic sociopaths who kill for lust and power. Their victims are mostly vulnerable women who live on the fringes of society such as drug addicts, prostitutes, and runaways. Many of these women are killed and nobody takes notice, or reports them missing. As a result, these victims don't even become murder statistics.

     Female serial killers, while not as common as men, can be prolific killers. So-called "black widows" marry with the intent of murdering--often with poison--their husbands in order to inherit their estates. These women are cold-blooded and cunning, and because homicidal poisonings are not easy to detect, usually avoid being investigated until a pattern emerges. Even then it's often difficult to acquire a murder conviction due to the passage of time, and lack of physical evidence.

     Another category of female serial killer is the "angel of death" murderer. These nurses and hospital aides poison ailing patients under their care. Because many of these victims were expected to die, and show no signs of homicidal trauma, a good number of these deaths are not investigated. As a result, no one knows how many hospital and nursing home patients are murdered every year.

     There is also a group of female serial murderers known as "team killers" who help their boyfriends and husbands kill people. These crimes are usually motivated by lust. Only a small percentage of female serial killers themselves are sexual predators.

     It's a myth that most serial killers move about the country to avoid being caught. Most of them commit their crimes close to home where they feel comfortable. They are not evil geniuses, or even that interesting. These people do not stand out in a crowd.

     A few serial killers, after years of committing murder, stop killing on their own volition. Notwithstanding all the effort that has gone into studying this relatively rare type of murderer, no one really knows what makes them tick. Perhaps that's one of the reasons people find serial killers so fascinating.
  

Executing Kelly Gissendancer

     Since only a handful of states actually execute cold-blooded murderers, death by lethal injection has become a relatively unusual event. Rarer still are the executions of women. Even in the heyday of capital punishment few women died at the end of a robe or in the electric chair. While women are no less capable of unspeakable evil than men, killing a woman, at least since the dawn of the 20th century, hasn't seemed quite appropriate.

     In Georgia, where executions are still carried out, the authorities hadn't executed a woman in 70 years. That made the September 30, 2015 execution of Kelly Renee Gissendancer so newsworthy, and to many, barbaric.

     The 47-year-old death row inmate of 18 years received her lethal injection shortly after midnight soon after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to intercede on her behalf.

     In 1998, a jury found Gissendancer guilty of arranging to have her boyfriend kidnap and stab to death her husband Douglas. A jury found the hit man, Gregory Owen, guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mr. Owen to life in prison. Prosecutors, with the help of Owen as a key witness, secured Gissendancer's first-degree murder conviction.

     Over the years Gissendancer's death house attorneys based their appeals for clemency on the fact she was not present when her boyfriend committed the murder on her behalf. Moreover, the defense lawyers argued that their client had found religion and had been a model prisoner. They said she felt bad about ordering the hit. Apparently the governor of the state and a majority of the Supreme Court justices, officials who could have saved her life, were unmoved by those arguments.

     Gissendancer was the 16th women executed in the United States since the U. S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. She was survived by three adult children.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Courtroom Humor

In my novels and short stories the humor often takes place in the courtroom. For example: "Your honor, because I plan to represent myself I request a three year postponement to get a law degree."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Christopher Krumm Double-Murder-Suicide Case

     Christopher Krumm graduated from University of Colorado where he studied computer engineering.  In 2009, after earning a Master's degree in electrical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, Krumm worked at various odd jobs in Colorado. In 2012, he moved into a one-room apartment on the third floor of a rundown rooming house in Vernon, Connecticut. A quiet, socially awkward person who kept to himself, Christopher worked a blue collar job for a utility company. He came home from work everyday wearing one of those neon-colored safety vests.

     On November 17, 2012, Christopher Krumm embarked on a 30-hour, 2,000-mile road trip from Vernon, Connecticut to Casper, Wyoming, a town of 56,000 in the central part of the state. His father, James Krumm, had been teaching computer science at Casper College since 2002, and was head of the department. The two-year institution was one of seven colleges in the state's community college system.

     Professor Krumm possessed a B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University of Wyoming, and a Master's in computer science from Colorado State University. The 56-year-old professor lived two miles from the 200-acre, 5,000-student campus in a quiet, residential neighborhood with his live-in girlfriend, 42-year-old Heidi Arnold. Arnold, a graduate of the University of California at Davis, held a Master's degree in math from the University of Oregon. She taught mathematics at Casper College.

     Christopher Krumm pulled into Casper Thursday night, November 28, and checked into a hotel on the outskirts of town. The next morning, shortly before nine, he showed up unannounced at the house his father shared with Heidi Arnold. Because James Krumm was teaching a morning class at the college, Professor Arnold was the only person in the house when Christopher, armed with two large knives, knocked on the front door. A few minutes later, Heidi Arnold's bloodied body was lying along the curb in the street in front of her house. Christopher Krumm had stabbed her to death.

     From the scene of Heidi Arnold's murder, Christopher Krumm drove two miles to the Casper College campus. He walked into his father's building carrying two knives and a high-powered, compound bow that was wrapped in a blanket. (A compound bow is one of those complicated-looking hunting bows that has pulleys.) Once inside the classroom, in front of six computer science students, Christopher, from a distance of four feet, shot an arrow into his father's head. James Krumm, with the arrow lodged in his skull, managed to get back on his feet. He wrestled with his son long enough to allow his students to get safely out of the room.

     Christopher finished his father off by stabbing him several times in the chest. When police officers burst into the classroom, the professor was dead, and his son, on the floor next to his father, was dying from self-inflicted stab wounds.

     Matt DiPinto, one of Christopher Krumm's neighbors in Vernon, Connecticut, said this to a reporter with the Hartford Courant, "He [Christopher] told me his dad gave him Asperger's Syndrome and that his dad should be castrated. I didn't know him that well, he just kind of said it out of nowhere, so that kind of threw me off a little." According to Christopher Krumm's uncle, when he last saw his nephew three years before the murders, he did not seem depressed or angry.
     

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of His Cat

When I look at my cat I often wonder if he can think, and if so, about what? What goes on inside the head of an animal? Can thinking even take place without language? For example, what does a cat think when he sees a Golden Retriever chase a stick into a lake? Does the cat think, How stupid is that? I can't imagine a life without thinking. For that reason, I choose to believe that my cat does think. Unfortunately, I think my cat doesn't think much of me.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Moore Catholic High School Coach-Student Sex Scandal

     Founded in 1962 by nuns, Moore Catholic High School, a 450-student institution located in the Bull's Head section of Staten Island, New York, is prestigious, and with its $10,000 a year tuition, not cheap.

     In December 2013, a person close to the school learned from the friends of a 16-year-old male student that the boy was involved in a sexual relationship with Moore's women's basketball coach, Megan Mahoney. A former basketball star at Staten Island's Wagner College, the 25-year-old was also a gym teacher and the school's assistant athletic director. The person who learned of the affair from the student's friends reported the allegation to the principal, Bob Manisero. Manisero, in turn, reported it to the athletic director, Richard Postiglione.

     Not long after receiving this disturbing information regarding coach Mahoney and the student, the athletic director informed the principal there was no truth to the allegation. According to Postiglione, Mahoney, coming from an upstanding Catholic family, was above reproach. The athletic director reminded the principal that the school was a notorious hotbed for gossip and rumor.

     That December, the person who had gone to the school principal with the allegation sent an email to school board chairman Anthony Ferreri that read: "If you remember I had reported some activity about a basketball coach that I learned the athletic director thought was untrue. I know it is true. I was told they are in love. Hope you have followed legal protocol even through there are no witnesses."

     According to the 16-year-old student's friends, in September 2013, coach Mahoney approached the boy in the school gym and offered to coach him in basketball. Later, she drove him to secluded places where they had sex in her car. The friends of this student quoted him as saying the following regarding his relationship with the teacher: "We were never boyfriend-girlfriend. It was cool. I knew it wasn't going anywhere."

     According to the student's friends, Mahoney picked him up one night at his house for a date. His parents saw her and assumed she was a high school student.

     After athletic director Postiglione received information from a second person who also told him coach Mahoney and the boy were having an affair, he did not notify the police. According to this whistleblower, Postiglione went to the coach and made her promise to stop seeing the boy.

     In January 2014, the basketball coach and the 16-year-old were seen eating at a pizzeria by the boy's ex-girlfriend who had followed them there. The girl called 911 and the police showed up. To the officers the student identified coach Mahoney as his cousin.

     Later that month, after the Moore Catholic High School teacher-student situation blossomed into a massive scandal, Mahoney resigned. While she left the school under pressure, she continued to maintain her innocence.

     Following the coach's resignation, the student at the center of the scandal complained that the other Moore teachers were trying to flunk him out of school. The boy's mother, referring to these teachers, claimed that they wanted her son out of the institution because he had embarrassed the school.

     In an April 2014 email to the New York City Archdiocese, the mother complained that a school investigation of her son had been conducted without her knowledge and that teachers were trying to drum the boy out of the school. The Archdiocese did not respond to the mother's email.

     In June 2014, a social worker paid a visit to the mother's home. The child protection agent said she was there pursuant to a complaint that the mother was an unfit parent. The complaint was unfounded and quickly dismissed. The embattled mother felt she was being harassed.

     To the dismay of Moore Catholic School administrators, the scandal heated up with allegations from one of the whistleblowers that in 2012 coach Mahoney had been involved with another 16-year-old boy. According to this claim, athletic director Postiglione also failed to pass this allegation on to the police. It also surfaced that in 2006 or 2007, a female coach under Postiglione's direction was accused of sleeping with a female Moore student. That coach also resigned under pressure.

     The allegations of Mahoney's sexual relations with the student as well as claims of an institutional cover-up were under investigation by the Staten Island District Attorney's Office.

     On October 21, 2014, after a Staten Island prosecutor charged Megan Mahoney with thirty counts of statutory rape, police officers took her into custody.

     The Mahoney case prosecutor, on May 7, 2015, dropped all charges against the former coach. In discussing this decision at a news conference, the prosecutor cited a lack of DNA evidence, no confession and no eyewitness. Outside the courthouse following the dismissal, Mahoney refused to talk to reporters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pulp Fiction

You can place the fiction genre into three general categories: literature, mainstream, and pulp fiction. I'm proud to say I'm a pulp fiction writer and reader. According to Stephen King: "To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances." I actually prefer the so-called loose gals over their uptight counterparts. I'll take Mickey Spillane over James Joyce any day.

Thornton P. Knowles

Dr. Van H. Vu And The Problem Of Pain Killing Narcotic Overdoses

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In a subsequent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in Januay 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On History's Worst Novelist

In 1897, the Irish novelist and poet, Amanda McKittrick Ros, published her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh. The opening line of this novel represents a writing ability and style that rightfully earned her the unofficial title of history's worst novelist: "Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous (sic) examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern prejudiced, reaching the land of slight and to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?" A lot of deep purple writing can at least be unintentionally funny. No so with Ros. Compared to this novelist, my worst writing student wrote like Ernest Hemingway.

Thornton P. Knowles