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Monday, December 22, 2014

Bradley Stone's Deadly Mission

     Bradley William Stone, a 35-year-old former Marine reservist, resided with his wife Jen, a media analyst, in the town of Pennsburg thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He married Jen in September 2013 following his divorce from his first wife Nicole. Nicole had filed for divorce in March 2009 and since that time she and Bradley had been embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their two daughters. On December 9, 2014, a family court judge denied a petition from Bradley that ended the court fight in Nicole's favor. He did not take this defeat in stride.

     Bradley Stone served as a Marine reservist from 2002 to 2011 during which time he spent a couple of months in Ramadi, Iraq where he monitored a compute screen that tracked missiles. After convincing his superior officers that he suffered from asthma, they sent him back to the states.

     In October 2010, Stone was diagnosed with 100 percent service connected post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time of his honorable discharge in 2011, he had risen to the rank of sergeant. In October 2013 Stone filed 17 VA disability claims for problems that included traumatic brain injury,  muscle and joint pain, sleep apnea, and headaches.

     Following his military service and during the height of his domestic war with his estranged then ex-wife Nicole, Stone received psychiatric treatment at the Lanape Valley Foundation in the Doylestown Hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder. (Some former Marines with PTSD questioned Stones' diagnosis noting that he hadn't seen combat.)

     In 2013, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania judge sentenced Stone to one year probation following his second driving while intoxicated conviction.

     At four-thirty in the morning of Monday December 15, 2014, six days after Bradley Stone lost the child custody battle, police officers were dispatched to a house in Lansdale, Pennsylvania 28 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Nicole Stone's mother, 57-year-old Joanne Gilbert and her mother, 75-year-old Patricia Hill, resided in that house. Police officers found both women dead.

     Bradley Stone's ex-mother-in-law lay in her bed with a slashed throat. Her mother lay on the floor with a gunshot wound to her right eye. The scene of this double-murder was awash in the victims' blood.

     Shortly after the discovery of the two Bradley Stone ex-in-laws, a 911 call was made from an apartment complex in nearby Lower Salford where Stone's 33-year-old ex-wife Nicole resided. A neighbor in the Pheasant Run apartments reported hearing a disturbance followed by three or four gunshots that came from Nicole's unit. Following the disturbance, the neighbor saw Stone putting his daughters into a green Ford and driving off. (Stone dropped the girls off at an acquaintance's house in Pennsburg. They were unharmed.)

     In Nicole Stone's apartment police officers found her lying on her bed with two gunshot wounds to her face. On the bed lay the murder weapon, Bradley Stone's .40-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol.

     At eight o'clock that morning in southeastern Pennsylvania, police officers in the town of Souderson discovered three more victims of Bradley Stone's murderous rage. Patricia Flick, Nicole's sister, was found hacked to death in her home. Her husband Aaron and her 14-year-old daughter Nina had been bludgeoned and slashed. Anthony Flick, Nicole's 17-year-old nephew, in fighting off an ax-wielding Bradley Stone had lost fingertips, sustained lacerations to his hands and arms, and suffered a fractured skull. He survived the attack by barricading himself in a room on the third floor of the house. Paramedics rushed the seriously wounded teenager to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

     Later that Monday, Bradley Smith, the subject of an intense police manhunt, confronted a man walking his dog in Doylestown. Wearing camouflage clothing, Stone demanded the man's car keys. Instead of acquiring access to a vehicle, Stone found himself looking down the barrel of the man's handgun. The mass murderer was last seen running into a nearby wooded area.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, SWAT team officers looking for Stone in Pennsburg came across his body in the woods a half mile from his home. He had managed to hack himself to death.

     Neuropsychology professor Eric Zillmer of Drexel University, in speaking to reporters about the mass murder-suicide, said he didn't believe that Stone's murderous rampage had anything to do with PTSD. 

Criminal Justice Quote: "Master Bob" Convicted in Sex Club Bondage Death

     A Detroit area man was convicted on December 18, 2014 of murder in a plot to kill his wife so he could devote himself to a life of bondage and domination in an upper-class suburb with women who called him "Master Bob." The salacious trial of Bob Bashara revealed his secret life in Grosse Pointe Park: a former Rotary Club president who used cocaine and hosted men and women at a sex dungeon under a bar called the Hard Luck Lounge.

     Jane Bashara was strangled by a handyman in the couple's garage in 2012 before her body was discovered in her Mercedes-Benz in a Detroit alley…She was a marketing executive with a long record of service to her church and her community…

     Handyman Joe Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and said Bob Bashara had coerced him into committing the crime. In the weeks after his wife's death, Bashara professed his innocence and even attended a candlelight vigil…

     Jurors convicted the 57-year-old of first-degree murder and four lesser charges. He did not take the stand on his own behalf. Joe Gentz, the handyman killer, did not testify at Bashara's trial…

     In Michigan, first-degree murder carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole….

"Bondage 'Master' Convicted in Plot to Kill His Wife," Associated Press, December 19, 2014


     

Writing Quote: The Semicolon

A semicolon can be called in when a comma is not enough. There are times when a comma is already used too much in one sentence, when it can't do its job effectively anymore. There are also times when multiple thoughts in a sentence need more separation than merely a comma, need more time and space to be digested. But a period is sometimes too strong, provides too much separation. The semicolon can step in and save the day, allow a more substantial pause while not severing thoughts completely.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Writing Quote: Writers of Puffed-Up "Literary" Fiction Get Undeserved Respect

Now it is the unassuming storyteller who is reviled, while mediocrities who puff themselves up to produce gabby "literary" fiction are guaranteed a certain respect, presumably for aiming high.

B.R. Myers, Reader's Manifesto, 2002 

Writing Quote: Stephen King of Good Fiction

Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Writing Quote: Believable Fantasy

I learned years ago from Lester del Ray that the secret to writing good fantasy is to make certain it relates to what we know about our own world. Readers must be able to identify with the material in such a way that they recognize and believe the core truths of the storytelling. It doesn't matter if you are writing epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, dark urban fantasy, comic fantasy, or something else altogether, there has to be truth in the material. Otherwise readers are going to have a tough time suspending disbelief long enough to stay interested.

Terry Brooks, Sometimes The Magic Works, 2003

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Frederick Harris III Murder/Dismemberment Case: When the Mentally Ill Become Violent

     In 1987, when he was 20-years-old, Pittsburgh area (Penn Hills) resident Frederick Harris III joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. Four years later he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology. In 1996, Harris left the National Guard and the Army Reserve with the rank of first lieutenant.

      From December 1997 until May 2000, Harris worked as a correctional officer at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Pennsylvania. In May 2000, he trained as a case worker for Allegheny County Children and Youth Services, but didn't stay beyond his six-month probationary period.

     Despite his college degree and military background, Harris' life began to unravel due to mental illness that included bipolar disorder. In 2001, he was treated at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh where the psychiatrist prescribed a mood stabilizer. By 2004 he was living on a disability payment of $800 a month. In December 2004, at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Harris participated in group therapy sessions that lasted until November 2005.

     In 2009, Harris pleaded guilty to insurance fraud after he lied to his insurance company about how his motorcycle had been stolen. The judge sentenced him to six months probation.

     Harris pleaded guilty in April 2011 to criminal trespass in a bizarre case. After a real estate agent showed him a $500,000 home in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, Harris moved into the vacant house without permission. He stocked the refrigerator with food and slept in a sleeping bag. When police officers came to evict him, they found Harris hiding in a closet. The judge sentenced the house squatter to probation, the terms of which he quickly violated.

     In May 2012, an assistant Allegheny County prosecutor charged Harris with the assault and harassment of his sister Angela in her home. Harris put her into a headlock and dragged her into a bedroom where he punched her several times. That day, police officers arrested him at a Pittsburgh area homeless shelter. Declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, the judge sent Harris to Torrance State Hospital for treatment. Upon his release from the mental institution, Harris pleaded guilty to the assault and harassment charges. The judge sentenced him to seven months in the Allegheny County Jail plus seven years of probation. Upon his release from the Allegheny County Jail, the authorities incarcerated Harris at a state prison in Westmoreland County in connection with his probation violation in the criminal trespass case. He remained behind bars in Westmoreland County until March 2013.

     Harris' father, in 2014, kicked his son out of his Forest Hills home after the 47-year-old tried to choke him. The homeless man's mother, Olivia Gilbert and her husband Lamar, had allowed Harris to move in with them at their home in Penn Hills, a suburban community a few miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, at two in the afternoon, Harris' sister Angela called the police to report that she hadn't heard from her mother and stepfather since Saturday December 13. Officers, in response to the welfare check call, met Angela Harris at the Gilbert house.

     From the outside, the Penn Hills residence looked normal. Because the house was locked and the officers didn't have probable cause to force their way in, Angela Harris kicked open a back door.

     Olivia Gilbert, 73, and her 76-year-old husband Lamar didn't seem to be home. A police officer, finding the master bedroom door locked, jimmied his way into the room to find Frederick Harris III lying under covers on the bed. While Harris was breathing and didn't appear injured or sick, he didn't move or speak.

     Paramedics removed Frederick Harris from the Gilbert house on a stretcher and took him to the Forbes Regional Hospital where doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him physically.

     From the hospital, deputies with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office put Harris in a patrol car and drove him to downtown Pittsburgh to be questioned at the department's homicide unit. The officers transported Harris from the police vehicle to the interrogation room in a wheelchair. When deputies asked him questions, Harris closed his eyes and refused to speak.

     Back at the Gilbert residence, detectives made a series of gruesome discoveries. In the garage deputies found three trash cans containing knotted garbage bags. One trash can contained two heads. Another bag held human arms, legs, feet, hands, and Mr. Gilbert's torso. The third trash can contained a section of a blood-soaked blue carpet that had been cut from an area near the basement laundry room. This bag also held five bloody knives.

     In the laundry room, officers found dried blood spatter and three bottles of bleach. They also recovered a bottle of anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner. Although parts of the laundry room had been scrubbed, a crime scene luminol test revealed the presence of blood.

     Detectives at the murder site found a receipt that showed that the three garbage cans had been recently purchased at a Home Depot store in nearby East Liberty.

     Back at the Allegheny County Sheriff's office, deputies found, in one of the suspect's pockets, a handwritten note signed "Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert" that thanked Frederick for house sitting while they were on vacation. The note contained a PS that read: "Don't answer the door for anyone."

     While questioning Harris his interrogators noticed a relatively fresh laceration on the palm of his right hand.

     On December 17, 2014, an Allegheny County assistant district attorney charged Frederick Harris III with two counts of murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, Mr. Gilbert had died from a stab wound to his torso. The forensic pathologist found that Mrs. Gilbert, whose torso was missing, had died  "by sharp instrument." (Investigators suspect Mrs. Gilbert's torso and other body parts were picked up by refuse workers and taken to a landfill.)

     

Criminal Justice Quote: U.S. Secret Service Breaks Counterfeiting Case

     A man residing in Kampala, Uganda was charged in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of leading an international counterfeit currency operation. The U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Secret Service filed a criminal complaint in Pittsburgh on December 18, 2014 against 27-year-old Ryan Andrew Gustafson, aka Jack Farrel and Willy Clock…

     While living in the U.S., Gustafson resided primarily in Texas and Colorado, but allegedly rented a postal box at the UPS Store on Pittsburgh's South Side for some of his operations. The Secret Service began investigating the passing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes believed to have been manufactured in Uganda. The phony bills were passed in retail and businesses in Pittsburgh…

     Agents determined that Gustafson had passed the notes. The federal investigators also learned that on February 19, 2014 the suspect received three packages from Beyond Computers in Kampala, Uganda…Secret Service agents searched the packages and found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 notes in two hidden compartments inside one of the packaging envelopes. A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages belonged to Gustafson…

     A search of Gustafson's residence turned up two million Ugandan shillings, $180,420 in counterfeit bills, and counterfeit denominations of several other countries…

     The U.S. Secret Service estimates $1.8 million in counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes have been seized and passed in Uganda. The total amount of counterfeit money made in Uganda was about $270,000…

     United States law provides for a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for counterfeiting….

"Man Charged in Counterfeit Money Scheme," Associated Press, December 19, 2014  

Criminal Justice Quote: Dead Infants Found in Abandoned Storage Unit

     A mother is under investigation after sheriff's deputies found the remains of two infants in a storage locker in Placer County, California. In November 2014, Placer County resident Regina Zimmer purchased the abandoned storage unit in an auction. Inside the locker she detected a foul odor coming from a container. "We opened it up, and the smell that came out was horrible," she said. "It was a little skull. It looked like it was in three pieces with some hair. And you could see a jawbone."

     Investigators said the previous owner of the storage unit had defaulted on the rent, leaving the inventory untouched for several months--including the remains of two babies. "The remains were in very poor condition," said Lieutenant John Poretti with the Placer County Sheriff's Department. "I mean, there was no easy way to tell exactly what we had."

     The container was taken to the Placer County morgue for autopsies on both babies to determine the causes of their deaths….

"Remains of Infants Found in Colfax Storage," kcra.com, December 18, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Traditional Fantasy Milieu

At the heart of most traditional fantasy milieu is a culture derived from that of the European Middle Ages, in large part the medieval societies of what are now Great Britain, France and Germany. The culture is a synthesis of both the Roman culture that dominated western Europe for some five centuries and of the Germanic culture that eventually overran and absorbed it. Three major institutions formed the basis of medieval society and dictated how most people lived. These were feudalism, manorialism and Christianity.

Michael J. Varbola in The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference, edited by the editors of Writer's Digest Books, 1998