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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Saturday Massacres: Two Men Kill Ten People on the Same Day

Phoenix, Arizona

     At eight-thirty on the morning of Saturday, October 26, 2013, residents of a 250-unit townhouse complex in Phoenix heard several gunshots. Police officers narrowed the possible shooting sites to a pair of units separated by a small courtyard.

     At the first townhouse the police entered, officers discovered the bodies of four people. Shot to death were 66-year-old Brian Moore, his daughter Reese, and her husband Michael. The couple's 17-year-old son Shannon had been gunned down as well. The family dogs, a chihauhua and a pit bull, were also dead from shotgun blasts.

     According to witnesses, 56-year-old Dante Guzzo, a resident of the townhouse across the courtyard from the murdered family, shot the victims and their dogs. Neighbors saw Guzzo, armed with a pump-action shotgun, kicking and pounding on Mr. Moore's front door. When no one answered, he gained entry by blasting the door with his shotgun.

     After killing the four victims and the two dogs, Guzzo headed back to his unit. But along the way, he fired a couple of shots at another townhouse. Inside his dwelling Guzzo ended his life by shooting himself in the head. Police officers found the shotgun lying next to his body.

     Neighbors told a reporter with The Arizona Republic that Guzzo's complaints about the barking dogs had created bad feelings between him and the family he murdered. He had written several notes to the dog owners complaining about the barking.

Brooklyn, New York

     At ten-thirty on the night of Saturday, October 26, 2013, a resident of the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn called 911 to report a knife attack at an apartment on 57th Street near Ninth Avenue. The working class area is inhabited by many Chinese and Hispanic immigrants. In the apartment, police officers found the bodies of five people and the blood-covered man who had stabbed and slashed them.

     Discovered dead in a back bedroom were Zinda Zhuo who was nine and her seven-year-old sister Amy. Eighteen-month-old William Zhuo was also found dead in the room. Five-year-old Kevin Zhuo and his mother Qiao Zhen Li were alive but bleeding to death. All of the victims had been stabbed and slashed in the neck and torso with a butcher's knife. The mother and the five-year-old boy died a short time later in nearby hospitals.

     At eleven o'clock, the husband and father of the victims came home from his job at a Long Island restaurant. He found police cars and ambulances along with a cluster of neighbors in front of his apartment.

     In the apartment, police officers, after a brief scuffle, arrested the murder suspect. They took into custody 25-year-old Mingding Chen, a cousin who had been living for a week with the family. Questioned at the 66th Precinct station house, Chen, through a Chinese interpreter, confessed to the slaughter. "I know I am done," he said.

     Since coming to the United States in 2004 Chen had been fired from dozens of restaurant jobs in several cities. After almost a decade of living in this country he still spoke Mandarin Chinese. Over the past few days, Chen and his relatives had been heard by neighbors yelling at each other. According to people who knew Chen, he had grown jealous of other Chinese immigrants who were doing well in America. One person described him as "crazy."

     On Sunday, the day after the knife attacks, a New York City prosecutor charged Mingding Chen with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder. Also charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, the suspect is being held without bond at the city jail on Riker's Island. Chen first settled in Chicago after he left China. He does not have an arrest record in New York City. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Days, Four Senseless Murders

Mike Reda's Killing Spree

     Sixty-five-year-old Mike Reda resided in a 80-unit apartment complex in south Detroit called the Pablo Davis Elder Living Center. On Sunday, October 20, 2013, Reda's girlfriend, also a resident of the retirement complex, broke up with him. Reda, who didn't take well to rejection, started drinking and brooding over the break-up. At five that afternoon Reda decided to take out his rage and frustration on two friends of his ex-girlfriend, residents of the living center he blamed for his relationship problems.

     Armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, Reda began hunting down his two targets. He found his first victim sitting outside the apartment building with another resident. To the man with her, Reda said, "Get on the ground and start praying." He then shot the 54-year-old woman in the head. She died a short time later at a nearby hospital. Her companion was not shot.

     Reda cornered his second victim in her apartment where he shot the 65-year-old woman dead. Police arrested Reda that evening at the living center. In resisting arrest, he received a minor head injury that required medical treatment. He has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is being held without bail in the Wayne County Jail.

Benjamin Frazier's Deadly Response to a Minor Problem

     At 5:45 in the morning of October 21, 2013, Las Vegas resident Benjamin Frazier, a man with a history of violence, asked a security guard at an after hours club on the lower level of Bally's Hotel-Casino if he could avoid paying the cover-charge until after he scoped out the place. The Drai's After Hours guard refused to let the 41-year-old into the place without first paying the cover.

     Frazier, shortly after reluctantly paying the entrance fee, came out of the club. Because the casino-bar wasn't full that morning, Frazier demanded his entrance money back. Again, the guard refused him.

     Furious over not getting his cover-fee returned, Frazier started an argument with the security guard. When the officer wouldn't budge, Frazier pulled out a handgun and shot him. He also shot and wounded the club's security manager who had been summoned to the scene.

     Several patrons of the after hours club wrestled Frazier to the ground. But before they disarmed him, he shot and killed one of the good samaritans. The citizen responders held the gunman down until police officers took him into custody.

     The triple shooting did not disrupt patrons inside the club who continued gambling while crime scene investigators processed the murder scene. Frazier, charged with murder, is in the Clark County Jail without bond.

Student Shoots His Classmates and Murders a Teacher

     On Monday, October 21, 2013, fifteen minutes before classes began at the Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nevada, a seventh-grade student pulled out a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and shot two 12-year-old boys. Before wounding his classmates in the school playground, the gun-wielding boy said, "You ruined my life, and now I'm going to ruin yours." (According to reports, the young shooter had been bullied and made fun of in school.)

     Michael Landsberry, a 45-year-old math teacher who had served two tours as a Marine in Afghanistan, approached the armed seventh-grader and asked him to hand over the gun. The boy shot the teacher in the chest, killing him on the spot. The student then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Twenty-five middle-schoolers witnessed the murder-suicide.

     Under Nevada law, if the murder weapon had come from the shooter's home, his parents could be charged with a crime.

     In modern America, people have been murdered in churches, big box stores, amusement parks and at various sporting events. In a two day period in October, four innocent victims were gunned down in a retirement center, a gambling casino, and a middle school playground. The people who killed them, aged 12 to 65, were distraught over matters that normally do not call for such violence. It seems that more and more citizens are resolving minor problems and slights through deadly force.

   


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Writing Quote: Jon Krakauer on What Interests Him as a Journalist

I've been pegged as a writer whose beat is extreme ideas, extreme landscapes [mountain climbing], extreme individuals who take actions to their logical extreme. And there is some truth to that. I'm intrigued by fanatics--people who are seduced by the promise, or the illusion, of the absolute. People who believe that achieving some absolute goal, say, or embracing some absolute truth, will lead to happiness, or peace, or order, or whatever it is they most desire. Fanatics tend to be blind to moral ambiguity and complexity, and I've always had a fascination with individuals who deny the inherent contingency of existence--often at their peril, and at the peril of society.

Jon Krakauer, in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wanted: L A County Probation Department Job Applicants Who Are Not Criminals

     Since 2008, the federal government's monitoring of the Los Angeles County Probation Department's twenty juvenile offender camps hasn't done much good. The probation department came under federal scrutiny after years of serious problems with county personnel. During the past two years alone, 135 probation department employees have been fired after being charged with crimes. These offenses included assault, rape and child abuse. These terminations didn't include employees discharged for simple misconduct and poor work performance. For many of the probation employees charged with serious crimes, being arrested and hauled off to jail was not a new experience.

     Why were so many unfit probation workers on the job? The answer is simple: low hiring standards. The department would pretty much take anyone. If you were unfit for a job in the private sector, or had been rejected by the sheriff and police departments, the L A County Probation Department would take you. Welcome aboard.

     In an effort to staff the probation department with people who, at the very least are not criminals, the agency's chief, Jerry Powers, pursuant to an agreement with the U. S. Department of Justice, recently raised the department's hiring standards. But this has created a problem of its own: only ten to twenty percent of probation job applicants can live up to the new, albeit minimum, hiring standards. This has created a serious personnel shortage in the county's probation department.

     In the past, probation employment candidates convicted of violent crimes within the past seven years were considered unfit for the job. So, if an applicant had been convicted of beating his grandmother into unconsciousness eight years before applying for the job, he could get in. If this applicant, within the past seven years had been merely arrested six times for attacking his grandmother, no problem. Hey, we're all presumed innocent.

     Under the old hiring standards, applicants convicted of property crimes within the past five years were deemed unfit for probation work. But older convictions for crimes like burglary, arson, or grand theft were not a problem. Histories of illegal drug use, drunken driving, and prostitution were not considered, by themselves, reasons to disqualify a probation job candidate. (Employers are not even allowed to ask applicants if they are mentally ill or alcoholics.)

     Pursuant to the old system of filling probation department posts, job applicants did not undergo background checks, or submit to pre-employment polygraph examinations. That meant they were free to lie on their government job applications. And they did. Probation hiring personnel had no idea who they were putting on the job to deal with juvenile delinquents. It was, let's hire the guy and see what happens. Even for government work, this is substandard.

     Candidates for Los Angeles County Probation jobs are now screened if they have ever been convicted of violent or serious property crimes. However, convictions for minor employee theft, shoplifting, and recreational marijuana use, for L A County employment purposes, are still forgiven.

     Ralph Miller, the head of the public union that represents L A County Probation Department workers, has labeled the new hiring standards unreasonable and unfair to certain groups of people. (Yeah, criminals.) "If you're a poor person," he said, "or you're a person of color, you may have encountered some problem in your life...." Mr. Miller didn't specify what kind of "problem" should be forgiven for the purpose of hiring county probation employees. It seems that Mr. Miller's is more interested in finding unemployable people jobs than serving the public.

     

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Thomas J. Piccard: An Ex-Cop's Suicide by Cop?

     From 1990 to 2000, Thomas J. Piccard worked as a police officer in Wheeling, West Virginia, an Ohio River town of 30,000 in the state's narrow panhandle wedged between Ohio and Pennsylvania sixty miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Piccard quit the force before he had acquired enough service time to qualify for a pension.

     In 2013, the 55-year-old ex-Wheeling police officer suffered from stomach cancer. He resided five miles west of downtown Wheeling in the Presidential Estates Trailer Park across the river in Bridgeport, Ohio. He told his friends that he hoped to spend his final days in Florida. As far as Piccard's friends knew, the ex-cop was not an angry man who harbored a grudge against the government. Moreover, he did not have a history of mental illness.

     At 2:45 in the afternoon of Wednesday, October 9, 2013, Piccard, looking thin and frail, parked his car in the Chase Bank lot on Chapline Street across from Wheeling's gray, three-story federal building. Piccard climbed out of his vehicle armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. Just before randomly spraying the federal building with 25 or more bullets, he waved people on the street out of harm's way.

     Inside the understaffed federal building--forty percent of the workforce had been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown--employees were crawling on the floor and hiding under their desks. Three security officers were injured by flying window glass. There were no other injuries.

     Piccard, who didn't appear to be targeting any window or person, was shot several times by a federal security guard and a Wheeling police officer. As the bullet-ridden ex-cop was wheeled to the ambulance, a couple of paramedics worked furiously to save him. Piccard died en route to the hospital.

     FBI agents searched Piccard's car for clues that might shed light on his motive for shooting-up the federal building. After a bomb squad cleared Piccard's trailer in Bridgeport, agents searched his dwelling. A forensic pathologist in the state's medical examiner's office in Charleston will, among other things, determine if Piccard had cancer, and whether or not he had acted under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

     Mahlon Shields, a Piccard acquaintance who lived in the trailer park, told an Associated Press reporter that he didn't think Mr. Piccard had intended to hurt anyone. "I think he was afraid to commit suicide," Shields said. "I believe it was suicide by cop." 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mad Man With Scissors Attacks Five in NYC Park

     Riverside Park, situated along the Hudson River, stretches four miles from 72nd Street to 158th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Just before eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, October 1, 2013, New Yorkers enjoying this beautiful place were jogging, walking, biking, and sitting on benches.  This was a spot in the city, especially at this time of day, where people felt safe. But on this morning a mentally disturbed man who bounced between homeless shelters in Manhattan and the Bronx, showed up at the park with a vacant stare and a threatening posture.

     Julius Graham, who had spent most of his life in Texas, used a pair of scissors to stab a 32-year-old women in the neck as she jogged near 65th Street and Riverside Park South. Seconds later, the 43-year-old homeless man stabbed another female jogger with the bloody scissors. The silent attacker next stabbed 36-year-old Ben Loehnen in the stomach as the book editor walked his dog, Wilson. At first Mr. Loehnen thought he'd been punched in the stomach.

     As the scissor wielding man's fourth victim, Julius Graham randomly selected James L. Fayette, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. When Mr. Fayette came face to face with the man and his bloody scissors, he picked his 2-year-old son up out of his stroller and ran. Graham caught up with the father who tried to fight him off while holding onto his boy. When slashed in the chest with the scissors, Fayette put his son on the ground and covered him with his body.

     A bystander, Thomas Ciriacks came to Fayette's rescue by pushing Graham off the victim and wrestling him to the ground. Ciriacks held the attacker down until the arrival of police officers a few minutes later.The mayhem had come to an end. The man who bravely took the assailant down not only saved others from being slashed or stabbed, he saved the lives of Mr. Fayette and his son. It is possible that Mr. Ciriacks also saved the attacker's life. No police officer would wrestle with a man armed with a pair of bloody scissors. He'd shoot him first.

     Except for the boy who was treated and released for a miner cut on his arm, the other victims of this Tuesday morning attack received injuries serious enough to keep them at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Midtown Manhattan. Ben Loehnen, the man stabbed in the stomach, underwent emergency surgery.

     Police officers transported Julius Graham to the Bellevue Hospital Center where a team of mental health experts will conclude the obvious--that Mr. Graham is a dangerous nut case.

     Julius Graham has been charged with five counts of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and resisting arrest. He had been recently spending his nights at the Willow Avenue shelter in an industrial section of the Bronx. According to people who know him there, Graham did not like spending time in the shelter. Eventually he'll end up in jail, then prison. It won't matter if he likes those places or not.

     In speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, D. J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization, said that in the 1950s, people suffering from serious mental illness were cared for in institutions designed for long term treatment. Today, in New York City, crazy people either live on the street, or are temporarily housed at Rikers Island--the city's massive jail complex. As a result, there is no place in the city that is completely safe from the random attacks of violent people out of touch with reality. In most instances, these people, who have long histories of mental illness, have quit taking their anti-psychotic medication. To get a person like this off the street, it takes a court order. And even then, following a ten day drug regimen, they are usually released back into society.

     

John Gardner on Plotting the Novel

     The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life...by working his way back from his story's climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation....

     The writer who begins with a traditional story or some action drawn from life has part of his work done for him already. He knows what happened and, in general, why. The main work left to him is that of figuring out what part of the story (if not the whole) he wants to tell, what the most efficient way of telling it is, and why it interests him.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1983

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One-Hour CNN Documentary on the Erie Pizza Bomb Case

     At 8:00 PM Saturday, October 12, 2013, on a show called "Anderson Cooper Special Report--The Pizza Bomber," investigative correspondent Drew Griffin hosts an one-hour documentary about the August 2003 murder of Brian Wells. The 41-year-old pizza delivery man was blown up in Erie, Pennsylvania by a remote-controlled bomb that had been placed around his neck. Mr. Well's violent death took place while he was surrounded by police officers in the parking lot of a optical company parking lot. The gruesome event occurred on live TV.

     A 59-year-old handyman named William Rothstein, aided by a crew of motley losers and his insane girlfriend, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, masterminded this bizarre, one of a kind bank robbery. Rothstein, who never confessed to his role in the crime, died of cancer not long after the murder. Before Rothstein died, police found the body of a man in his home freezer. Rothstein, who lived near the spot where the collar bomb was attached to Brian Wells, said the shotgunned man in his freezer, a low-life named James Roden, had been murdered by Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. According to Rothstein, he was merely helping out his girlfriend. Had the stiff not been discovered, Rothstein would have ground up Roden's body in an ice machine he had rented for this purpose. Notwithstanding the discovery of the dead man in his freezer, and Rothstein's admission that he had destroyed the murder weapon, a 12-gauge shotgun, the FBI did not charge him with a crime. The bureau also refused to identify him as a suspect in the pizza bomb robbery/murder.

     The federal prosecutor in charge of the case, in a 2005 press conference announcing the indictment of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and two others, implicated Brian Wells in the bank robbery (With the bomb around his neck and armed with a handmade gun, Wells had entered a small branch bank and demand $250,000. The teller gave him $8,000 in a paper bag. Shortly after that, Wells blew up in the parking lot.) The federal prosecutor's implication of the murdered man infuriated Brian Wells' family and others (myself included) who believe he was an innocent victim.

     In the CNN documentary, that will also be aired on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 11:00 PM and the following morning at 2 and 4 AM, correspondent Drew Griffin interviews Gerald Clark, the retired FBI agent who worked on the case, and Brian Wells' sister who believes that Brian was an innocent victim. I was also interviewed for the show.      

     Wired Magazine published an article about the pizza bomber case that provides a good overview of the case and its strange twists and turns.


Criminal Justice Quote: Identify Theft

     In recent years identity theft has become the very monster I feared it would become. It's a crime so versatile that the list of potential targets is endless. Who's at risk? Anyone who has a credit card or a bank account, or who pays a bill. Anyone who has a mortgage, a car loan, or a debit card. Anyone who has a driver's license, a Social Security number, or a job. Anyone who has phone services or health insurance. Anyone who goes on the Internet. Even somebody who's always watching his back, like me. People of all ages, all incomes, and both sexes.

Frank W. Abagnale [of Catch Me If You Can fame], Stealing Your Life, 2009

Friday, October 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Stalking Victims

 Who are the victims of stalkers? A statistically small--but prominently visible--number are celebrities: Hollywood actors and actresses and highly visible athletes. Performing on television, in concerts, or in sports arenas, these figures are familiar to countless people worldwide....

     While the stalking of celebrities often draws the most media attention, however, the vast majority of stalking takes place between ordinary people--often ordinary people who have known each other intimately....

     A broad arena of remaining cases exists in which victims are either casual acquaintances or random targets. These cases include the stalking of co-workers and most often tragically, the stalking of children.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bikers' Rage: Cyclists Beat Up a NYC Motorist in Front of His Family

     On Monday, September 30, 2013, several hundred bikers on motorcycles, dirt bikes, and quads (four-wheel recreational vehicles) rolled into Manhattan to celebrate the end of summer. These members of an organization called Hollywood Stuntz swarmed into the city to show off their biking skills through stunts and acts of two-wheel daring-do. In Times Square that morning, the police ticketed several bikers for snarling traffic. The police also seized 55 bikes. The pack of showboating bikers, because they added to the nightmare of morning traffic in the Big Apple, was not a welcomed event.

     That afternoon around two o'clock, the Hollywood Stuntz bikers were zipping in and out of traffic as they rolled up the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan's west side. At one point the parade of bikers all but commandeered the three north-bound lanes. One of the annoyed motorists, 33-year-old Alexian Lien, in town with his wife celebrating their first anniversary, called 911 to report the biker's erratic driving. At 116th Street, as Mr. Lien, his wife Rosalyn Ng, and their 5-year-old daughter drove north in their Range Rover, Lien inadvertently bumped a bike from behind that had abruptly slowed down in front of him. After tapping the biker, Lien immediately pulled to the side of the road and brought his SUV to a stop

     As Mr. Lien and his family sat in their vehicle, several enraged bikers, looking like space aliens in their face-covering helmets, approached the Lien vehicle shouting obscenities and threats. When angry cyclists surrounded the Ranger Rover, Mr. Lien, fearing that these men were going to pull him out of his car and beat him, stepped on the gas.

     As the SUV lurched forward, it knocked down and ran over several bikes.  Mr. Lien and his family fled for their lives with thirty enraged bikers in hot pursuit.

     The 50-block chase came to an end at a traffic light at 178th Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. As Rosalyn Ng and her daughter looked on in terror, two of the pursuing bikers smashed out the driver's side window with their helmets. The Hollywood Stuntz attackers pulled the bleeding Alexian Lien out of his car and beat him up before climbing on their bikes and buzzing off.

     Mr. Lien was treated at the Presbyterian Hospital and released. He had been cut in the face and chest, and had both of his eyes had been blackened. His lacerations required stitches. The next day, detectives arrested a 28-year-old biker named Christopher Cruz. Officers also took into custody 42-year-old Allen Edwards from Queens. The Hollywood Stuntz members were charged with reckless endangerment and menacing.

     One might expect this kind of gratuitous violence from heavily tattooed, hog-riding Hell's Angeles, but not from colorfully dressed show-offs who do juvenile stunts on their specially adapted bikes. Who are these people? How come, on a Monday afternoon, they were not at work somewhere? What made these bikers act like a pack of wild dogs?

UPDATE

     The authorities dropped the charges against Cruz and Edwards.

     On Friday, October 4, police arrested two Brooklyn men, Robert Sims, 35 and Reginald Chance, 38 on charges related to Mr. Lien's assault. According to reports, Chance was the biker who used his helmet to smash the car window. Investigators believe five bikers were involved in the actual assault.

     An undercover New York City Police officer who was riding with the Hollywood Stuntz that day, witnessed the assault. This officer waited three days before coming forward with this information. He has been placed on restricted duty. There may have been other New York City officers who were in the biker's pack that day. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Identity Thieves and The Accessibility of Personal Information

I regularly teach [identity theft to] agents at the FBI Academy, and one little demonstration I do is ask one of my students for his address. Nothing more, not even his name. By the following morning I'm able to hand over to him twenty-two pieces of so-called "private" information about him, including his Social Security number, birth date, salary, current bank and account numbers, mother's maiden name, children's names, spouse's name and Social Security Number, and neighbors. I can even reveal who lives with him in his house but isn't related to him. And I don't even have to do something as dramatic as hack into his bank database. All this information is readily available from publicly accessible sources on the Internet, and you or Joe Criminal can get it as easily as I did. Imagine how much I could have found out about the guy if I had decided to break the law!

Frank W. Abagnale [of Catch Me If You Can fame], Stealing Your Life, 2009