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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing Quote: How Publishers Screen Manuscripts

Publishers will tell you...that every manuscript which reaches their office is faithfully read, but they are not to be believed. At least fifteen out of twenty manuscripts can be summarily rejected, usually with safety. There may be a masterpiece among them, but it is a thousand to one against.

Michael Joseph in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Writing Quote: William Zinsser on Writing

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976

Last Words of Executed Prisoners: Wesley Allan Dodd

I was once asked by somebody, I don't remember who, if there was any way sex offenders could be stopped. I said no. I was wrong.

Wesley Allan Dodd, executed in the state of Washington on January 5, 1993. Per his request, he was hanged. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Judicial Interpretation

There is no surer way to misread any document then to read it literally....As nearly as we can, we must put ourselves [as judges] in the place of those who uttered the words, and try to divine how they would have dealt with the unforeseen situation. Interpretation is necessarily an act of creative imagination. [In my view, this form of activism from the bench, if abused, can go from judicial interpretation to judicial interference.]

Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961)  

Criminal Justice Quote: Truth v. Deception in the Interrogation Room

Lying suspects tend to deny guilt with specific language such as, in a fatal shooting, "I didn't do it with that gun." Truthful suspects, however, tend to voice general denials like "I never shot her or anyone else in my life." Truthful suspects are not afraid to use harsh, realistic words, such as "steal," "rape," "kill," "rob," "stab," but the deceptive ones usually avoid such language in order to assuage their guilty feeling. Even when less harsh terms are used, the liar's tone of voice will sound weak, in contrast to the strong utterance of a truthful suspect.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Writing Quote: Detective Fiction Gets No Respect

The reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking.

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972)  The literary critic who wrote, in 1945, the famous New Yorker article, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Mr. Wilson was not an Agatha Cristie fan or a lover of genre crime fiction. He was, in that regard, a literary snob. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Serial Killer Motives

Although victims of serial killers are often robbed, the most common driving force of serial murder is sexual control and dominance. Many victims are raped before or after being killed, while bondage, torture, dismemberment, and cannibalism are not uncommon features of a serial homicide. Other motives for serial murder have been financial profit; ritual, political, social, or moral imperatives (missionary murders); attention (mothers killing their children); and compassion (frequent in medical-type murders.)

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Bombers On Welfare: A New Form of State-Sponsored Terrorism

     Americans who grew up in the 1950s were programed to respect and obey the law, work hard, and raise their own children without state interference. They also paid their taxes. Today, I image that most people of this generation remain true to these values. I've been fortunate to have lived in this country my entire life. I earned a wage for forty years, paid my taxes, have never been to jail, and helped raise a family. I don't like paying taxes which I believe are too high, but I pay them anyway because that's part of the social contract that binds us as a nation. It's also against the law to cheat the government.

     Citizens of my generation were taught to play by the rules. You don't drive unless you have a valid driver's license, an updated inspection sticker, and car insurance. I consider being pulled over for speeding and not being able to produce my driver's license because I left it at home a big problem. I would come away from that experience feeling like a criminal. I still view shoplifting, bad check passing, and illegal drug possession as crimes of moral turpitude. Growing up, I don't think I met anyone who had been in jail. In the past, cops were treated with respect even if they didn't deserve it.

     Today, when I go to the doctor's office, if I don't have my social security data and my insurance papers, the doctor won't see me. There are no excuses. When I go to vote, I expect to be asked to produce a driver's license or some other form of identification. That requirement doesn't offend me because it makes sense. You are only allowed to vote once, and you have to be a U. S. citizen.

     Years ago, the U. S. government lent me money to go to college. I paid it back. The idea of not paying it back never entered my mind. In my day, people who didn't pay their bills were considered deadbeats. The vast majority of citizens who were on welfare back then were on the dole temporarily because they were ashamed and embarrassed by having to rely on the government. Welfare was not a way of life. People didn't feel entitled to a free lunch.

     In the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the terrorists' mother was on television criticizing the United States government for framing and not protecting her two sons. She and her husband had lived in this country ten years. They left the county but their boys stayed here. While the family lived in Massachusetts they were on state welfare. The boys had free rides in college, and while they were plotting to kill Americans, were living off welfare checks.

     Since the bombings, a Massachusetts state legislator has been on TV revealing how easy it is in that state to get on welfare. All a resident has to do is ask for the money. Social security numbers are not required. In other words, bureaucrats in Massachusetts have no idea who they are giving taxpayer money to. As it turned out, they were giving it to a pair of terrorists who set off two bombs at the Boston Marathon.

    One would have to conclude that the people of Massachusetts are either very wealthy or not very bright. As a U. S. citizen who pays his taxes and obeys the law, I can't see my doctor without my social security data. In Massachusetts, suspected terrorists go to college free, and live on the dole. This gives new meaning to the phrase state-sponsored terrorism.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Perjury

Every objective study of police perjury has come to the conclusion that police perjury is widespread and condoned. And the problem is rampant in most parts of the country.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Reasonable Doubt: The Criminal Justice System and the O. J. Simpson Case, 1996. [ Dershowitz's accusation created an uproar in law enforcement circles. But anyone who knows anything about policing knew then, and knows now, that perjury by detectives and police officers is a criminal justice problem. Recents studies have confirmed this.]

Writing Quote: Literary Prizes

Goodreads.com lists over 6,000 [literary] prizes on its web site. The oldest, the Nobel Prize in Literature, was founded in 1901; the youngest was established yesterday. Ten more will certainly be announced tomorrow.

Amanda Foreman, author, 2013 interview

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Last Words of Executed Prisoners: Thomas J. Grasso

[Regarding his last meal]: I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti, I want the press to know this.

Thomas J. Grasso, executed in Oklahoma on March 20, 1995

Criminal Justice Quote: Criminals Are Victimizers Who Choose to Commit Crime

     I believed that criminal behavior was a symptom of buried conflicts that had resulted from early traumas and deprivation of one sort or another. I thought that people who turned to crime were victims of a psychological disorder, an oppressive social environment, or both....I saw crime as being almost a normal, if not excusable, reaction to the grinding poverty, instability, and despair that pervaded [criminals'] lives....I thought that kids who were from more advantaged backgrounds had been scarred by bad parenting and led astray by peer pressure....

     I gradually led those sacred cows to pasture and slaughtered them....Criminals choose to commit crimes. Crime resides within the person and is "caused" by the way he thinks, not by his environment. Criminals think differently from responsible people. What must change is how the offender views himself and the world. Focusing on forces outside the criminal is futile. We [the writer and Dr. Samuel Yochelson] found the conventional psychological and sociological formulations about crime and its causes to be erroneous and counterproductive because they provide excuses. In short, we did a 180-degree turn in our thinking about crime and its causes. From regarding criminals as victims we saw that instead they were victimizers who had freely chosen their way of life.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Friday, April 26, 2013

Writing Quote: The Desire to be Written About

In our society, the journalist ranks with the philanthropist as a person who has something extremely valuable to dispense (his currency is the strangely intoxicating substance called publicity), and who is consequently treated with a deference quite out of proportion to his merits as a person. There are very few people in this country who do not regard with rapture the prospect of being written about or being interviewed on a radio or television program.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Was Paul Kevin Curtis Framed in the Ricin Poison Case?

     Ricin is a naturally occurring protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal. Delivered through the air, injected, or swallowed, ricin is 6,000 times more toxic than cyanide. There is no antidote for this poison.

     In 1978, an assassin used ricin to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer, dissident and defector. The killer used the tip of an umbrella to deliver the ricin as Markov waited for a bus in London. The victim died four days after being pricked by the deadly umbrella.

     Ricin was used as a warfare agent in Iraq during the 1980s. In 2004, someone sent a ricin-laced letter to U. S. Senator Bill Frists. The letter was intercepted at a mail sorting facility outside of Washington, D. C. The sender has never been identified.

     On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings, postal workers at a mail-handling facility outside of Washington discovered a suspicious letter addressed to U. S. Senator Roger Wicker. The letter to the senator from Mississippi turned out to be laced with ricin. Dated April 8, 2013 and postmarked Memphis, Tennessee, the envelope did not include a return address.

     A second ricin letter, one addressed to President Obama, was also intercepted at an off-site D. C. area mail-handling center. Both letters were signed, "I am K. C. and I approve of this message."

     FBI agents, on April 17, 2013, arrested a 45-year-old man from Corinth, Mississippi on federal charges related to the two ricin mailings. The suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, had used the phrase "I am K. C. and I approve of this message" on his Facebook page. Curtis has a history of mental illness and a handful of misdemeanor arrests. When he wasn't posting online political rants, Curtis worked as an impersonator of celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bon Jovi, and Prince. (Prince?)

     On April 23, 2013, after searches of the suspect's home, vehicle, and computer failed to provide incriminating evidence, the charges against Curtis were dropped. A federal judge ordered his release from jail. Following his release from custody, the father of four told reporters that he had been framed by J. Everett Dutschke, a long-time personal enemy from Tupelo, Mississippi.

     According to media reports, Mr. Dutschke is awaiting trial on a child molestation charge. In 2007 he ran for a seat in the Mississippi state legislature. In that race he lost to the incumbent. Although FBI agents have searched Dutschke's house, no criminal charges have been filed against him.

     A third ricin letter, one that links Paul Kevin Curtis and Everett Dutschke to the case, actually reached its intended target. The receiver of this piece of mailed poison was an 80-year-old Mississippi judge. In 2004, Judge Sadie Holland presided over an assault case that sent Curtis to jail for six months. Judge Holland is linked to Mr. Dutschke through a long-running political feud between their families.

     After opening the threatening letter, Judge Holland called the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The judge was not poisoned by the letter. (I presume it was also signed, "I am K. C. and I approve of this message.")

     While frame-up scenarios are common in crime fiction, they are rare events in real life. If Mr. Curtis and the FBI were victims of a frame-up, this fact alone will make this an unusual case.

UPDATE

     FBI agents, on April 27, 2013, arrested Everett Dutschke on unspecified federal charges. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Death Penalty Debate in America

     To some extent, the debate about capital punishment has been going on almost since the founding of the Republic. At that time, each state, following the English tradition, imposed death for a long list of felonies. But the same humanism that posited the equal value of all men and animated democracy necessarily led to many questions about a punishment that vested such fierce power over citizens in the state and assumed individuals were irredeemable. Thomas Jefferson was among the earliest advocates of restricting executions, and in 1794, Pennsylvania limited capital punishment to first-degree murder. In 1846, Michigan became the first American state to outlaw capital punishment for killers.

     For most Americans, the death penalty debate goes no further than asking whether they "believe" in capital punishment. There is good reason for this, of course, because the threshold issues define us so profoundly as individuals and as a society that it is almost impossible to move past them. What are the goals of punishment? What do we think about the perfectibility of human beings and the perdurability of evil? What value do we place on life--of the murderer and the victim? What kind of power do we want in the hands of government, and what do we hope the state can accomplish when it wields it?

Scott Turow, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, 2003

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: A Realistic Take on Justice?

I find the public passion for justice quite boring and artificial, for neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not.

Patricia Highsmith, crime novelist 

Writing Quotes: The Romance Novel's Leading Man

The theme of the man who is "saved by the love of a good woman" is common in both life and romance. In reality, savior complexes are dangerous because they encourage women to stay with abusive mates, but that is another story, one that belongs in "women's fiction" rather than "romance." What matters in a romance context is that healing the wounded hero is a fantasy of incredible potency.

Mary Jo Putney,  romance novelist

Traditionally, the [romance novel] hero is the Byronic type--dark and brooding, writhing inside with all the residual anguish of his shadowed past, world-weary and cynical, quick-tempered and prone to fits of guilt and depression. He is strong, virile, powerful, and lost. Adept at many things that carry with them the respect and admiration of the world (particularly the world of other males), he is not fully competent in the arena where women excel--the arena of his emotions, which are violently out of control.

Linda Barlow, romance novelist

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 that 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, romance novelist

In the romance novel the domineering male becomes the catalyst that makes the empowerment fantasy work. The heroine isn't as big as he is; she isn't as strong, as old, as worldly; many times she isn't as well educated. Yet despite all these limitations she confronts him--not with physical strength but with intelligence and courage. And what happens? She always wins! Guts and brains every time. What a comforting fantasy this is for a frazzled, overburdened, anxiety-ridden reader.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, romance novelist

Criminal Justice Quote: Lust as a Motive for Murder

The Marquis de Sade knew whereof he spoke. As the first of the seven deadly sins, lust commands a special place in the lexicon of transgression. It's a trigger-happy emotion that can turn from inarticulate ardor to homicidal mania on a dime. Lust is the sin that drives ordinary people to extraordinary measures, one corpse--or more--at a time.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club, 2011

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing Quote: Editing Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls"

     [There was a time when editors like Maxwell Perkins of Scribner's and Sons played a hands-on role in getting a book ready for publication. Those days are long gone. In the 1960s, editor Don Preston had the almost impossible job of getting a glitzy, gossipy novel by an amateurish writer named Jacqueline Susann into publishable form. The manuscript, entitled Valley of the Dolls, became a national bestseller thanks in large part to Don Preston's editorial skills. This is Preston's evaluation of Susann's manuscript]:

     "...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the back pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliche...lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly....I really don't think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity." [Ouch.]

Don Preston as cited in Barbara Seaman's Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann, 1987

Gerald Davis Shoots Lap Dancer and Himself at Rialto, California Strip Club

     On April 17, 2013, police in the southern California city of Rialto were called to the Spearmint Rhino Gentleman's Club regarding shots fired. When the officers arrived at the strip club, they found a 23-year-old exotic dancer named Jacqueline Marquez-Figueroa bleeding from a gunshot wound to her neck.

     Paramedics rushed the strip club dancer to the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton where she underwent emergency surgery. The bullet had entered the back of her neck and was lodged in her jaw. (She is expected to survive the wound.)

     Police officers had found the wounded dancer, a resident of Moreno Valley, lying just outside a private lap dance room. On the other side of the door officers discovered Gerald Paxton Davis. The 46-year-old was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

     According to the police, the San Bernardino strip club regular had been paying Marquez-Figueroa, who worked under the name "Egypt," for lap dances since January 2013. Investigators believe he shot the dancer and them himself after she rejected his sexual advances.

     At the time of the shootings, there were ten employees and ten customers in the club.

     A week earlier, in the same establishment, a California correctional officer attempted suicide by cutting his wrists following a lap dance.

     These two cases suggest that among those drawn to gentlemen's clubs are lonely, depressed men who are losing touch with reality. 

Writing Quote: Your Book is Published: Now What?

Examining the first copy of your book is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my book shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes, The Writer's Book of Hope: Encouragement and Advice From an Expert, 2003

Criminal Justice Quote: The Zealous Attorney

The zealous attorney is the last bastion of liberty--the final barrier between an overreaching government and its citizens.

Alan M. Dershowitz, 1982

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing Quote: Margaret Atwood: The Writer as Optimist

All writers are optimists. We have to be. In order to be a writer, you need to believe in four things. First, I have a book to write. Second, I can write it. Third, I can get it published. And fourth, that someone will read it. That's about as optimistic as it gets. [At times I've felt more stupid than optimistic.]

Margaret Atwood, novelist, 2013 interview 

Monday, April 22, 2013

El Cajon, California Police Officer Shot Bicycle Rider Raymond Goodlow in the Face

     At ten in the morning, while on routine patrol in the San Diego County city of El Cajon, a police officer saw Raymond Goodlow riding his bicycle on the sidewalk in violation of the municipal code. It was Friday, April 19, 2013.

     From the police car, the officer told the homeless man to pull over and stop. Goodlow ignored the order and pedaled into a used car lot. The officer got out of the cruiser and chased Goodlow down on foot.

     What should have been a minor, routine police stop took an ominous turn when the officer instructed Goodlow to move his hand away from his waistband. When the cyclist failed to respond to the order, the officer shot him in the face.

     Paramedics rushed the bleeding man to a nearby trauma center where doctors diagnosed him with a non-life threatening gunshot wound.

    At the site of the shooting, among pieces of Goodlow's clothing that had been cut off by the emergency personnel, investigators found two knives. (I assume they belonged to Goodlow.) The officer who shot this man is on paid administrative leave pending an internal review of the shooting.

     Routine police-citizen encounters like this should not result in the use of deadly force. Because the officer feared that Goodlow was armed with a handgun, police investigators will probably classify the shooting as justified. But that doesn't mean deadly force was necessary in this case, or that the shooting reflects ideal police work. Because Raymond Goodlow was a transient without influence in the community, this police involved shooting will probably not raise much of a stir. 

Writing Quote: Writers on Writing

Most writers love to talk, and some of the things they love to talk about most is writing. In interviews and letters, in table talk and memoirs and manifestos, writers have always held forth in surprisingly full detail about how they do what they do. It adds to a vast, untapped literature on technique.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, 2003

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Property Rights and Feedom

Man's liberty is, of course, often related to his property rights. The home and its privacy are property rights. Ownership of a press is essential to the freedom granted newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Ownership of a church or cathedral is basic to the free enterprise of religion.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, 1963

Coopertown, Tennessee: Speed Traps, Racist Police, and the History and Misuse of the Polygraph

     August Vollmer, the progressive chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department from 1909 to 1932, was one of the first police reformers to write about how traffic enforcement puts a stain on police-community relations. Vollmer believed that municipal traffic ordinances are best enforced by non-sworn, civilian personnel. He would have found the idea of a speed trap appalling.

     Prior to 2006, if you drove over the speed limit in Coopertown, Tennessee, a town of 4,000 30 miles northwest of Nashville, you had a good chance of getting a ticket. If you were an Hispanic, a soldier from Fort Campbell across the line in Kentucky, or an out-of-towner, it was almost certain you'd get caught in this notorious speed trap. (One-third of the town's revenue came from speeding tickets.)

     In 2006, the National Motorists Association designated Coopertown, Tennessee as one of the most "blatant examples of speed traps in the country." That year, the county prosecutor, feeling pressure from outraged merchants and others in the community who felt the speed trap hurt the town and corrupted the police, accused Mayor Danny Crosby of not only running a ticket-issueing racket, but targeting Hispanics, blacks, and other groups of people.

     The local prosecutor failed to find a judge willing to remove the mayor from office, but not long after his attempt, citizens voted Crosby out of office. While the speed trap went out with the mayor, the town continued to be hit by one police scandal after another. From 2006 to 2012, there seemed to be a new police chief every year, and periods when the town didn't have a police force.

     In November 2012, when Police Chief Shane Sullivan took office, the 39-year-old announced his plan to use the polygraph as a pre-employment measure to weed-out job candidates who were racists. Chief Sullivan's well-intentioned hiring policy reflects his basic misunderstanding of the polygraph instrument's capabilities and proper use.

A Short History of the Polygraph

     The polygraph was invented in 1921 by Dr. John Larsen, a 27-year-old University of California Berkeley medical student with a Ph.D. in physiology. Dr. Larson worked as a part-time police officer at the Berkeley Police Department under Chief August Vollmer. Larson had read a 1908 book called On The Witness Stand by the Harvard psychiatrist, Hugo Munsterberg who had been searching for a method of scientific lie detection since the turn of the century.

     In his chapter "The Traces of the Emotion," Dr. Munsterberg wrote that three physiological events take place whenever a person lies. First, the liar's blood pressure and heart beat increase; second, there are respiratory alterations; and third, telling a lie chances the person's galvanic skin response, or GSR. To measure GSR, Dr. Munsterberg used a galvanometer that picked-up variations in the body's resistance to electricity. (Munsterberg found that when the brain is excited emotionally, the individual's sweat glands alter the body's resistance to electricity.)

     In 1921, Chief Vollmer asked his "college cop" to fashion a lie detection instrument detectives could use to detect deception in the people they interrogate. After working several weeks on the project, Dr. Larson informed Vollmer that he had rigged an apparatus that could detect truth and deception, an instrument he called the polygraph.

     The cumbersome tangle of rubber hoses, wires, and glass tubing was five feet long, two and a half feet high, and weighed thirty pounds. The device could be taken apart and moved from one place to another, but it took an hour to set up.

     Larson's instrument advanced Munsterberg's technique in four ways. The polygraph recorded the physiological responses on a continuous graph while the subject was being questioned. This was an improvement over the technique of asking a question then taking the examinee's blood pressure. The second advantage involved the ability to adjust the instrument in order to control such variables as high blood pressure or extreme nervousness. Larson's invention also produced a tangible and permanent record of test results that could be later analyzed by other experts. And finally the polygraph detected and recorded the subject's breathing patterns in addition to blood pressure and pulse rate.

     In the spring of 1921, John Larson tested the polygraph on Chief Vollmer and members of the Berkeley Police Department. The results of these experiments convinced Vollmer that Larson had invented a device that would revolutionize the art and science of criminal investigation. Larson, as the department's polygraph examiner, began using the instrument to solve a series of petty theft cases at the University of California.

     Today, for a polygraph result to be accurate, the instrument (vastly more sophisticated that Larson's invention), has to be in good working order. Moreover, the examiner must be properly trained and experienced in question formation and line chart interpretation. (Police polygraph examiners have to fight against their own bias.) Subjects have to be willing participants in the process, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, be obese, retarded, or mentally ill. People who are very old or under fourteen do not make reliable polygraph subjects.

     Polygraph tests that include questions that do not call for factual answers will not be reliable. In Coopertown, Tennessee, Chief Sullivan's idea of using the technique to screen job applicants who are racist won't work because the instrument cannot accurately determine if a subject is lying about a state of mind. It's too subjective. There are, for example, different definitions and degrees of racism, and an  examinee might not recognized the trait in himself.

     Bob Peters, a spokesperson for the American Polygraph Association, in addressing Chief Sullivan's polygraph program, recommended that the examiners only asked job candidates about factual matters. Have you ever smoke marijuana? Questions like that.

     Chief Sullivan, in an effort to staff his department with officers who are not racists, should consider conducting pre-employment background investigations. While this approach is more costly and time consuming, the results are more reliable. No pre-employment screening technique, however, is fool-proof, and law enforcement work has a way of changing the way a person thinks about a lot of things. The job also drives some people a little crazy. Chief Sullivan will have to re-think his pre-employment polygraph policy if he wants reliable results. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writing Bulletin: Talent and the Creative Process

     Many writers are reluctant to talk about the creative process--that is, how and where they get their talent, ideas, and inspiration to write. Many authors deny that talent is an inborn gift while others ridicule the notion that writers have to be inspired before they can create. I believe that while there are a few people simply incapable of writing anything decent, most individual can teach themselves the craft well enough to write for publication.

     Most of the highly literate novel writers born with special literary gifts are, is some shape or form, mentally ill. No joke. A good many of them are also suicidal alcoholics and drug addicts. Being hit with the born literary gift is like being struck by lightening. No thanks.

     Perhaps having some natural ability to write and create is more common that not having it at all. The need to create probably resides in most people. When a reader tells a writer that he can't imagine how one can write a book or an article, some writers may wonder how a person couldn't produce a literary work.

     I think a lot of authors like to give the false impression that writing is extremely difficult. Once you get the hang of it, it's fairly easy. That's the writer's dirty little secret. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Defense Attorney Fees

It doesn't matter if my client is guilty. By the time he's paid my fee I've punished him enough.

Percy Foreman (1902-1988)

Writing Quote: Book Signings

My favorite book signing story is about Stephen King, who one time signed books in Seattle until his fingers cracked and started to bleed. The publicist who watched this says how she had to hold an ice pack to King's shoulder the whole time, and the moment he asked for a bandage, a fan in line shouted for some of King's blood on his books. The bandage never arrived, and after hours of bleeding, King left the event pale and flanked by bodyguards.

Chuck Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction, 2004

Criminal Justice Quote: Planted DNA Evidence in the Anthony Turner Rape Case

     In 1999, when DNA from three rape victims matched Anthony Turner with a probability of three million to one, he was convicted of rape. Turner claimed the DNA must have come from someone else, but he had no twin brother. When he was awaiting sentencing, a woman said she had been raped. When tested, her attacker's DNA matched Turner's--even though he had been in jail at the time of the last rape.

     As it turns out, the woman who made the fourth (and final) accusation had been hired by members of Turner's family. They paid her $50 to make the rape claim, and even supplied her with the "evidence"--all to discredit the three previous, positive DNA tests. The semen that had been tested had actually been snuck out of prison by Turner in a ketchup packet.

The Monday Murder Club, A Miscellany of Murder, 2011 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Writing Bulletin: Being In Touch With The Literary World

     Like most writers, my principal connection with the literary world has been through books and magazines. I've read hundreds of books and articles about writing, publishing, and the writing life by well-known writers, how-to authors, editors, literary agents, critics, journalists, and writing teachers.

     Besides literary biographies and autobiographies, as well as the published letters and journals of literary figures, I enjoy reading memoir/how-to books by celebrated writers. Examples of this genre include The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer, On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing by George V. Higgins, The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, None But a Blockhead by Larry L. King, and Chandler Speaking by Raymond Chandler.

     My library is also stocked with collections of author interviews such as the Writers at Work series featuring the Paris Review interviews conducted by George Plimpton and his colleagues. Interviewees in this eight-book series, which ran from 1958 to 1981, include Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John O'Hara, John Cheever, and James Jones.

     I also like to read so-called "conversation with" books, collections of interviews featuring a single writer such as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Graham Green, Tom Wolfe, and Eudora Welty.

     While I've corresponded over the years with a handful of well-known authors, I've only had one literary friend. That person is the mystery writer Ross H. Spencer who died in 1998. 

Criminal Justice Quote: How Many Serial Killers Are There?

The total maximum number of all known serial killer victims in the United States over a span of 195 years between 1800 and 1995 is estimated at 3,860. Of this total, a maximum of 1,398 victims were murdered between 1975 and 1995, at an average of 70 victims a year. Even if we account for unknown victims, that figure is nowhere near the 3,500 annual number [of serial killer victims] so often bandied about.

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Historic Dates in American Crime and Terrorism

     The crimes, trials, arrests, and acts of terrorism listed below generated heavy media coverage as well as public fear. Some of these events caused major changes in law enforcement. They also influenced American culture and the way we live our daily lives.

February 14, 1929:  Chicago's St. Valentines Day Massacre

March 1, 1932:  Lindbergh Kidnapping/Murder

April 3, 1936:  Execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for Lindbergh Murder

January 17, 1950:  The Great Brinks Robbery in Boston

July 4, 1954:  Murder of Dr. Sam Shepard's Wife Marilyn

November 30, 1957 to January 21, 1958:  Charles Starkweather/ Caril Ann Fugate murders

November 14, 1959:  Clutter Family Murders (Kansas)  that inspired Truman Capote's  In Cold Blood

November 22, 1963:  John F. Kennedy Assassination

April 7, 1967:  Henry Hill's Air France Kennedy Airport Heist that inspired Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy and the Movie "Goodfellas"

April 4, 1968:  Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination

June 6, 1968:  Robert Kennedy Assassination

August 9, 1969:  Charles Manson's Followers Kill Sharon Tate and Others

November 24, 1971:  D. B. Cooper's  Skyjacking of 727

May 28, 1972:  First Watergate Burglary in D. C.

January 4, 1974 to February 9, 1978:  Ted Bundy Serial Murders

July 29, 1976 to March 8, 1977:  Sam Berkowitz (Son of Sam) Murders

December 12, 1980:  John Lennon Murder

March 30, 1981:  Assassination Attempt on President Ronald Reagan

October 5, 1982:  31 Million Tylenol Bottles Recalled After 7 Poisoning Deaths

May 30, 1970 to March 30, 1987: Donald Harvey's Angel of Death Hospital Poisoning Spree

March 13, 1991:  Rodney King Police Beating

February 26, 1993:  First World Trade Center Bombing

April 19, 1993:  Deadly FBI Raid of Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas

June 12, 1994:  Murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman

April 19, 1995:  Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing

October 3, 1995:  O. J. Simpson Acquittal

April 3, 1996:  Unabomber Ted Kaczynski Arrest

December 25, 1996:  Murder of JonBenet Ramsey

April 20, 1999:  Columbine School Shootings

September 11, 2001:  Terrorist Attack on New York's Twin Towers

December 22, 2001: Richard Reid Shoe Bomber Case

August 1 to October 24, 2002:  D. C. Beltway Sniper Shootings

December 24, 2002:  Scott Peterson's Wife Laci Goes Missing

August 28, 2003: Brian Wells Murdered by "Pizza Bomber"

May 30, 2005:  Natalee Holloway Disappearance in Aruba

October 2, 2006:  Pennsylvania Amish School Shootings

April 16, 2007:  Virginia Tech Shootings

November 5, 2009:  Fort Hood (Texas) Shootings

January 8, 2011:  Shooting Spree Involving Gabrille Giffords

July 5, 2011:  Casey Anthony Murder Trial Acquittal

June 22, 2012:  Jerry Sandusky's Guilty Verdict in Penn State Child Molestations

July 20, 2012: Aurora, Colorado Theater Shootings

December 14, 2012:  Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings in New Town, Connecticut

April 15, 2013:  Boston Marathon Bombings


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: History's Obscure Serial Killer

Henry Lee Moore, between 1911 and 1912, was a traveling serial killer who murdered more that twenty-three people--entire families. But little is known about him--he is a mere footnote. In September 1911, using an axe, Moore killed six victims in Colorado Springs--a man, two women, and four children. In October [of that year] he killed three people in Monmouth, Illinois, and then slaughtered a family of five in Ellsworth, Kansas, the same month. In June 2012, he killed a couple in Paola, Kansas, and several days later he killed seven people, including four children, in Villisca, Iowa. Moore then returned home to Columbia, Missouri, where he murdered his mother and grandmother. At this point he was arrested and prosecuted in December 1912. [I presume he was hanged.]

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Crime Bulletin: "Celebrity Swatting" in LA

     The term "swatting" pertains to a dangerous practical joke involving a false 911 report of a shooting that riggers a SWAT team response to the home of the prankster's victim. (Many of these 911 callers disguise the origins of their messages by using multiple computer servers and other high-tech tricks.) Swatting defendants are usually charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor offense that usually brings a fine and up to 90 days in jail.

     While the law doesn't treat swatting as a serious offense, the crime involves the potential that a police officer or an occupant of the target dwelling could get shot.  SWAT raids are tense, hair-trigger operations that frequently go wrong. If a SWAT officer is accidentally shot and killed during a raid caused by a swatter, the offender cannot be charged under the felony-murder doctrine because the underlying crime is a misdemeanor.

     Last year in Los Angeles, several celebrities were targeted by these 911 pranksters. Victims of the so-called celebrity swattings included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell, Ashton Kutcher, and the Kardashian family. In 2013, swatters victimized Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Selena Gomez, Clint Eastwood, Ryan Seacrest, and Justin Timberlake. Nationwide, the police have reported more than 400 of these 911 abuses. (On a less serious note, a 911 caller in Girard, Pennsylvania recently asked the emergency dispatcher to divorce her from her husband. The woman was charged with disorderly conduct.)

     In April 2013, the media relations spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department announced that the agency would no longer issue press releases regarding celebrity swatting cases. Police administrators believe that the publication of these incidents has produced copycat offenses. The media spokesperson, in further justifying the news blackout, expressed concern over how this reportage intruded on the celebrity victims' privacy. (Celebrities, by choice, are not private people. They are however, rich and wield a lot of influence in southern California.)

     On April 9, 2013, a California state Senate committee unanimously approved a bill to require people convicted of swatting pay for the cost of the police response. (Some of these SWAT deployments cost up to $10,000.) The Senate bill also imposes a stiffer sentence for convicted swatters. Under the proposed legislation, an offender will receive a minimum of 120 days in the county jail. (These local politicians are either unaware of California's shortage of jail space, or are simply grandstanding for attention and votes.)

   

     

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Effect of Prison Overcrowding

Cramped quarters and a lack of privacy can lead to a heightened level of tension in correction facilities. In turn, as tension grows the incidence of violence against staff and fellow inmates increase. With minimum staffing and growing supervision responsibilities, corrections officers and inmates are more vulnerable.

Matthew T. Mangino, attorney and columnist 

Writing Quote: Successful Novelists Who Practiced Law

I enjoy the dubious distinction of being known among lawyers as a writer, and among writers as a lawyer.

Arthur Train (1875-1945). My Day in Court, 1939.

[Other lawyers who became successful novelists include: Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, John Mortimer, Louis Auchincloss, John Grisham, and Richard North Patterson.] 

The Dorothy Canfield Case

     Dorothy Clark Canfield, born and raised in Montgomery County, Texas in the eastern part of the state, began a life of crime at the rather late age of 57. In 1986, in Huntsville, Texas, a Walker County judge sentenced Canfield to seven years probation following a felony theft conviction. A few months after she got off probation in 1993, she pleaded guilty to forgery in Montgomery County. The judge in that case sentenced the 64-year-old forger and thief to ten years probation. In 2009, after being convicted of passing forged checks at the age of 80, Canfield was sent to prison for two years.

     Shortly after being released from prison in early 2011, Canfield formed a company in  Willis, Texas called International Profession Placement Services. Between September 2011 and September 2012, at least seven undocumented residents each paid Canfield to "facilitate their immigration paperwork for residency or citizenship in the United States. According to a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Canfield's operation was a scam. In November 2012, the prosecutor charged Canfield with stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 from her clients. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     On April 4, 2013, while incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail 30 miles north of Houston, 84-year-old Dorothy Canfield decided to hire someone to murder the assistant district attorney in charge of her case. She also wanted her hit man to beat-up the district attorney so bad he'd be hospitalized for three weeks. The long-time thief took inspiration from the recent Texas murders of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife, and one of his assistant prosecutors. By killing the Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Robert Freyer, and incapacitating his boss, D. A. Brett Ligon, Canfield hoped to buy some time in her theft case. (At 84, I'm not sure buying time is a useful tactic.)

     In search of an assassin, Canfield reached out to a fellow inmate who promptly reported Canfield's inquiry to the Texas Rangers Office. On April 5, the inspired murder-for-hire mastermind met with an undercover investigator who showed up at the jail posing as a contract killer. In the recorded conversation that followed, Canfield offered the phony hit-man $5,000 for assistant prosecutor Robert Freyer's murder, and half of that for the beating of Freyer's boss, District Attorney Brett Ligon.

     Ten days after the Montgomery County Jail murder-for-hire meeting, Texas Rangers Wende Wakeman and Wesley Doolittle showed Canfield staged crime scene photographs depicting the murders of the Montgomery County prosecutors. The elderly inmate, showing no remorse at the sight of the men she had tried to have killed, confessed to the murder plot.

     Dorothy Canfield has been charged with solicitation of capital murder and solicitation to commit aggravated assault on a public figure. She remains incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail under $500,000 bond.

     I would imagine that Canfield is the oldest murder-for-hire mastermind in the history of the crime. If the judge sentences this woman to just five years, he has essentially imprisoned her for life. That's the thing abut committing a crime when you're 84. You don't have a lot to lose. 

Crime Bulletin: Fear of Terrorism Outweighs Fear of Crime

     A recent study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland reveals that Americans are more concerned about a terrorist attack than being victims of violent crime. The prevailing view expressed in this study is that terrorists will find a way to carry out major attacks no matter what the government does to prevent such assaults. This reality regarding the threat of terrorism is illustrated by the Boston Marathon Bombings.

     Notwithstanding the recent carnage in Boston, Americans are at a much higher risk of crime victimization than terrorism. That of course is subject to change. 

Recommendations for Less Militarized Policing

     Although militarized policing doesn't provide added protection from crime and domestic terrorism, it alienates innocent people, costs money the country can't afford, turns public servants into combat warriors, and, in a free nation, is inappropriately oppressive.

     The first step toward police demilitarization would include a de-escalalation of the war on drugs followed by the disbanding of SWAT teams that exist primarily to serve predawn, no-knock search warrants. Demilitarizing law enforcement would also include the termination of the special forces training of ordinary police officers.

     Step two would involve replacing zero-tolerance, no-discretion law enforcement with the less aggressive community model of policing where officers function more as public servants than as occupiers of enemy territory. Less fear mongering from politicians and police administrators would also improve police-community relations.

     And finally, reducing the role of the federal government in dealing with criminal offenses that can be adequately handled on the local level would further enhance police-community relations.

     In the larger jurisdictions where SWAT teams are occasionally needed, training should be standardized and intense. Officer assigned to routine patrol should not receive SWAT training, or be issued paramilitary weapons. SWAT operations should be subjected to enhanced civilian oversight and, if there are too many botched or low-risk raids, disbanded. Legislators, in cases where victims of wrong-house raids sue the government, might consider a kind of tort law reform that would make the recovery of civil damages less difficult.

     As crime rates have been decreasing nationally for decades, American policing has become more militarized. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Writing Bulletin: How Factual are Biographies?

     As a literary form, is there such a thing as pure nonfiction? How close to pure nonfiction can a biographer get in recreating the life of his subject? In a 1968 magazine interview, Irving Stone, the originator of the so-called biographical novel, suggests that, in biography, there is no such thing as pure nonfiction:

     "You can never get 100 percent documentation on what a man or woman thought and did throughout a lifetime. Even if you get everything available, and that is what I strive for, you are still a way short of a full understanding of that individual because thousands of hours of interior monologue are unrecorded--many of the days, weeks and months of worry and anxiety and frustration and taking time to think through a problem....It is very difficult for the author to know what went on in that mind, step by step."

Writing Quote: Science Fiction Versus Fantasy

     A science fiction story is one in which the story couldn't happen without its scientific content. The story can't contradict what we currently accept as scientific fact, such as the possibility of going faster than light, but it can speculate on what may turn out to be fact--such as a way to travel though some kind of space where the speed of light is not a factor.

     A fantasy story is one in which the conditions are flatly contrary to scientific fact. Magic works. Supernatural beings intervene in human affairs. People have destinies, often foretold long before their birth. [In science fiction there are rocket ships; in fantasy, magic carpets.]

Crawford Kilian, Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1998

Criminal Justice Quote: The Courtroom as a Forum

The courtroom is an ideal forum in which to radicalize people, to expose the government and so on. It's a battlefield. And it's a good battlefield. And it's one in which we have a forum. My people can't get on the floor of Congress. They can't get on the Supreme Court. They can't get in the oval office. But, by God, they have a spokesperson in that courtroom.

William M. Kunstler (1919-1995) self-described "radical lawyer" 

Criminal Justice Quote: Interpreting Interrogation Room Body Language

     One of the most important transmitters of nonverbal behavior symptoms is the degree of eye contact maintained by the subject with the interrogator. Deceptive suspects generally do not look directly at the interrogator; they look down at the floor, over to the side, or up at the ceiling as if to beseech some divine guidance. They feel less anxiety if their eyes are focused somewhere other than on the interrogator; it is easier to lie while looking at the ceiling or the floor. Consequently, they either try to avoid eye contact with the interrogator by making compensatory moves or else they overact by staring at the interrogator in a challenging manner.

     Truthful suspects, on the other hand, are not defensive in their looks or actions, and can easily maintain eye contact with the interrogator. Even though they may be apprehensive, they show no concern about the credibility of their answers. Although attentive, their casual manner is unrestrained. They need no preparation because their answers are truthful.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Crime Bulletin: Angel of Death Doctor and Her Team accused of Murdering Seven ICU Patients in Brazil

     During the past seven years, at Hospital Evangelico in the city of Curtiba in the south of Brazil, 1,700 intensive care patients have died. These patients were under the care of Dr. Virginia Helena Soares deSouza and her ICU team of three doctors, three nurses, and a physiotherapist. Dr. deSouza and members of her staff have been charged with murdering seven critically ill patients between 2006 and 2013.

     According to homicide investigators, Dr. deSouza ordered members of her medical team to kill these patients in a variety of ways. Some patients died of asphyxia when their oxygen levels were reduced. Others were either given muscle-relaxing drugs or simply had their plugs pulled. The authorities believe these patients were murdered to free up hospital beds.

     Dr. deSouza and her seven assistants have each been charged with aggravated first degree murder. According to the authorities in charge of the homicide investigation, detectives have identified an additional twenty suspicious ICU deaths, and will be reviewing another 300 cases.

     Dr. deSouza, a 56-year-old widow, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Following her arrest in February 2013, she posted bail and was released.

     When all is said and done, this case could end up being one of the worst angel of death serial murder sprees in Brazilian history. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Quote: The Age of the Memoir

This is the age of the memoir. Never have personal narratives gushed so profusely from the American soil as in the closing of the twentieth century. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it....Until this decade [1990s] memoir writers tended to stop short of harsh reality, cloaking with modesty their most private and shameful memories. Today no remembered episode is too sorid, no family too dysfunctional, to be trotted out for the wonderment of the masses in books and magazines and on talk shows.

William Zinsser, Inventing the Truth, The Art and Craft of Memoirs, 1998

Crime Bulletin: The Dubai Police and the World's Fastest Patrol Car

     Dubai, an oil-rich international playground for the wealthy on the Persian Gulf Coast of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. If you are arrested by the Dubai Police, you'll be driven to jail in one of their green-and-white patrol cars.

     In April 2013, the deputy police director of Dubai announced that the department had upgraded its patrol fleet with several Camaros and other American-made muscle cars. But the crown jewel of the Dubai fleet is a new Lamborghini Aventador, and Italian-made V-12 sports car that sells for $404,000 and can reach speeds up to 225 mph. In addition to the tallest building in the world, the largest shopping mall, and what will become the biggest ferris wheel on the globe, Dubai now has the fastest police car.

     I'm sure the officer driving the Lamborghini will not be using the sleek vehicle to haul drunks to jail. I don't even know if the car has a backseat.

     The Lamborghini is obviously for show, an advertisement promoting the city's wealth and prosperity. In America, money-strapped police departments show-off high-dollar SWAT tanks to project the image of power and authority. These are completely different messages that distinguish the two nations. 

Writing Quote: Mickey Spillane's Hardboiled Private Detective Mike Hammer

I lived to kill the scum and the lice that wanted to kill themselves. I lived to kill so that others could live. I lived to kill because my soul was a hardened thing that reveled in the thought of taking the blood of the bastards who made murder their business. I lived because I could laugh it off and others couldn't. I was the evil that opposed other evil, leaving the good and the meek in the middle to live and inherit the earth.

Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane's One Lonely Night, 1961

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Christopher Knight: Maine's North Pond Hermit Burglary Case

     In 1986, a year after Christopher T. Knight graduated from Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Maine, he took to the woods where he lived as a hermit for 27 years. From his Kennebec County campsite in the central part of the state, the so-called North Pond Hermit managed to survive in the wilderness without hunting, fishing, or foraging for food, clothing, or shelter. He stole what he needed from camps and cottages around the town of Rome. To avoid detection, Knight never started a fire. He stole propane to cook and keep warm on stolen propane stoves.

     Christopher Knight lived in a tent covered by tarps suspended between two trees. He slept in a LL Bean sleeping bag on a raised, homemade bed. In addition to his propane heating and cooking stoves, he had a battery-operated radio with an antenna that ran up a tree. Over the years the hermit burglar had stolen shovels, rakes, Nintendo Game Boys, a battery-operated TV set, coolers, coffee pots, and all of his clothing. He didn't even buy his own toilet paper.

     On April 4, 2013, Knight stole $283 worth of food from the Pine Tree Camp for Children with Disabilities located near the village of Rome. Knight had broken into this camp fifty times. On this occasion, however, he got caught when he activated a surveillance camera sensor that had been installed by a game warden. State troopers arrested Knight later that day at his campsite.

     Charged with one count of burglary and a single count of theft, Knight is in the Kennebec County Jail under $5,000 cash bond. Police officers have dismantled and hauled-off the hermit's campsite. The job required two pickup trucks, and will probably lead to more burglary charges.

     While Knight's long suffering burglary victims should be happy he's in custody, the North Pond Hermit will probably become, in the eyes of many, some kind of folk hero. You know, a real-life Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to himself.

     In this unusual case, I'm having trouble figuring out how a man in the woods got away with 1,000 burglaries over a period of 27 years. One would think that hunters and game wardens had stumbled upon his campsite many times. Others must have seen him walking on roads around Rome. In the world of crime, I can't image any burglar not getting caught well before his 1000th break-in. I'm guessing that Mr. Knight's activities and location were known by a number people who chose not to turn him in.  

UPDATE

     On April 13, 2013, a man who doesn't known the hermit burglar, showed up at the Kennebec County Jail and offered to pay his $5,000 bond. (Charged with additional burglaries, the authorities have raised Knight's bail to $250,000.) A woman has called the jail with a marriage proposal. It won't be long until literary agents, movie producers, and reality TV executives arrive at the jail with proposals of their own.  

Criminal Justice Quote: The Fascination of Murder

     To say that as a society we take an interest in murder is an understatement. From today's headlines to tomorrow's books, TV, and movies, murder reigns supreme. And as if the more that half a million real-life murders a year around the globe (some 17,000 in 2010 in the United States alone) somehow constituted a lack of violent death, we make up for that lack in fiction--adding a never-ending supply of made-up stories of murder and mayhem to the count.

     To paraphrase P. D. James [an English crime novelist], our fascination with this worst of crimes--a crime against the very humanity of our fellow humanity--perhaps lies more with our desire to restore order than it does with the despicable act itself. At any rate, fascinated we are--and remain.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Expert Witness

The expert's greatest weakness lies in the fact that he is called as an expert and is most reluctant to admit that he doesn't know all that is knowable about the subject to which he is called to testify.

Edward Huntington Williams, The Doctor in Court, 1929

Friday, April 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Physical Murder Clues

Clues are tangible signs which prove--or seem to prove--that no crime can be committed by thoughts only, and that we live in a world regulated by mechanical laws. The dead man was not killed by a ghostly hand but by a murderer of flesh and blood.

Theodore Reik, The Unknown Murderer, 1945

Eugene Maraventano: The Man Who Could Kill His Wife and Son But Not Himself

     Sixty-four-year-old Eugene Maraventano, his wife Janet, and their 27-year-old son Bryan lived in Goodyear, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. On April 6, 2013, Maraventano called 911 to report he had killed his wife and son. To the dispatcher her said, "I can't kill myself. I stabbed them to death. My wife had cancer."

     When police officers rolled up to the two-story stucco house, they encountered Mr. Maraventano walking out of the dwelling wearing clothing soaked in his own blood. (He had murdered his 63-year-old wife and their son four days earlier, but had just attempted suicide.)

     Inside the Maraventano house, police discovered Janet dead in the master bedroom. The carpet, bed, and bedroom door were stained with the victim's blood. A bloody 14-inch kitchen knife lay on the nightstand next to the bed.

     In another bedroom, officers discovered Bryan Maraventanto dead on the floor not far from the doorway. He had been stabbed as well.

    Later on the day of the 911 call, a police interrogator asked Mr. Maraventano the obvious question: Why did he kill his wife and son? The subject explained that he suspected he had infected his wife with a sexually transmitted disease he had picked up from patronizing prostitutes when he worked in New York City. After her cancer diagnosis, he was worried she would test positive for HIV. He had killed his wife to spare incurring her wrath and disapproval.

     As to why he had murdered his son, Mr. Maraventano said that the kid had no life. He didn't have a job or a girlfriend, and just sat around the house all day playing video games. He figured Bryan had some kind of mental disability, and wouldn't be able to make it on his own.

     After the cold-blooded murder, Maraventano tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists and putting a plastic bag over his head. When he couldn't commit suicide using those techniques, he placed a knife handle against a wall and pushed himself into it. That didn't work either, so he gave up trying.

     Following treatment for his self-inflicted wounds at a local hospital, Eugene Maraventano, charged with two counts of first degree murder, was placed in the county jail under $2 million bond. 

Writing Quote: The Writer's Day Job

There's a difference between a vocation and a profession. A vocation is a calling--something you are called to. A profession is something that you practice...In the states, I think about 10 percent of the novel writers actually make a living out of their novel writing. The others have the vocation, but they can only partly have the profession, because they have to spend the rest of their time making money in order to keep themselves in their habit. They are word junkies. They've got to pay for their fix. I chose university teaching because there is a long summer vacation, and also because you could fake it.

Margaret Atwood, novelist

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Root Cause of Pathological Violence In America

In the United States, 26.2 percent of Americans ages 28 years and older suffer from some form of diagnosable mental disorder....In 2012, nearly 312.8 million people were living in the Untied States with only an estimated 412 psychiatric hospitals....These numbers are very alarming [because] there are not enough mental facilities to cover half of the population diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Many with depression, anxiety, and other...disorders do not seek medical attention because of lack of knowledge, embarrassment, or [lack of money]. (No wonder there are so many murder-suicides, spree shootings, spree knifings, hostage situations and police involved shootings.)

Ashley Chapman, The Guardian Express 

Times Square Cookie Monster Pushes Kid and Insults Mom

     New York City's Times Square, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, was one of the seediest sections of the city. The midtown Manhattan tourist attraction was inhabited by panhandlers, pickpockets, drunks passed out in their own urine, prostitutes, pimps, 3-card monte hustlers, and guys hawking stolen and knock-off watches. Times Square was home to strip joints, hole-in-the-wall bars, peep-shows, adult movie theaters, dirty book stores, and cathouses. This was not a destination for kids or tourists in search of wholesome entertainment. This was a place to get mugged, hustled, and ripped-off.

     When mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner took control of the city in the 1990s, they cleaned house in Manhattan and transformed Times Square into a Disneyesque theme park for families with young children. Toy stores, souvenir shops, clothing outlets, and fast-food restaurants replaced the adult entertainment establishments. The prostitutes, pimps, panhandlers and street hustlers were replaced by an assortment of costumed Sesame Street and comic book characters who probably think of themselves as street performers.

     Instead of being accosted by whores, bums, and stolen goods merchants, Times Square tourists are hassled by a motley band of oddballs walking around the place inside Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Super Mario, and Cookie Monster outfits. (This kind of thing goes on in Los Angeles as well. Where I live, if some guy dressed up like Superman walked around town engaging kids, he'd find himself in a police vehicle on his way to jail faster than a speeding bullet.)

     In Times Square, the costumed impersonators compete against each other for the attention of tourists accompanied by kids. They pose and mug it up for the children whose parents are supposed to tip them for the photo-ops. When little Lester returns to West Virginia he can impress his friends with a photograph of himself being hugged by Wonder Woman. (The street performers are not supposed to directly solicit tips. In New York City this is called "aggressive begging.")

     In the scheme of things, slipping a guy in a Big Bird suit a couple of bucks for posing with your kid is harmless enough. It certainly beats having your pocket picked, or losing a couple of hundred bucks to some street corner 3-card monte hustler. But occasionally, in the heat of tip-hustling competition, things get out of hand. Some of the impersonators have slipped out of character. Super Mario got in trouble for groping a woman. Spider-Man pushed a tourist, and Elmo uttered an anti-Sematic slur. Occasionally fights break out between the characters. (It would be odd seeing Big Bird knock Superman to the ground.)

     On Sunday, April 7, 2013, Parmita Katkar, the former Miss India Asia Pacific beauty queen, a Bollywood actress and model, was in Times Square with her husband and two sons. From Stamford, Connecticut, the family had come to Times Square to buy a bicycle at the massive Toys-R-Us store. Around two-thirty that afternoon, she and her family were set upon by the Cookie Monster, AKA Osvaldo Oviroz-Lopez. The big blue furry creature grabbed up Katkar's two-year-old boy and said, "Come on, take a picture." When the mother hesitated, the Cookie Monster put the kid down, pushed him, and said, "Come on, come on! Give me the money!"

     As the terrified boy's father hustled off to find cash for a tip, Oviroz-Lopez launched a verbal attack on the kid's mother. "You are a bitch," he yelled. "Your son is a bastard and your stuff is trash." (I presume the Cookie Monster was commenting on Katkar's body of work in Bollywood.)

     As the shaken tourists escaped the wrath of the furious Cookie Monster, the toddler kept saying, "I don't like Cookie Monster!"

     The next day, the 33-year-old Cookie Monster impersonator was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on charges of assault, child endangerment, and aggressive begging. He posted his $1,000 bond and was released.

     In February 2014, the judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Quiroz-lopez after the Cookie Monster performed one day of community service.  

Writing Quote: What Should You Write About?

That old dictum, write what you know? I've always thought that was terrible advice. Most of us don't know much. And what we do know can feel shopworn in the retelling. Shopworn or just divested of emotional content. Sometimes, the things we're closest to--our lives, for instance--are the very things we least want to examine with rigor. So I prefer: Write what you can learn about.

Fiona Maazel, novelist

Criminal Justice Quote: Fudging Crime Statistics

As [New York City mayor] Michael Bloomberg made the rounds last spring touting the Big Apple as "the safest big city in America," an internal NYPD report confirmed that more than a dozen crime reports had been manipulated--including felonies downgraded and incident reports deep-sixed--to lower the [city's] crime rate. As punishment for exposing the tampering and corruption, the whistle-blowing officer, Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly taped the manipulation, was suspended and forced into a psych ward.

Michelle Malkin, Journalist

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Serbian War Veteran Murders Thirteen in Village Shooting Spree

     A 60-year-old veteran of the 1991-1995 Serb-Croat War named Ljubisa Bogdanovic went on a early morning house-by-house killing spree in the Serbian village of Ivanca 25 miles southeast of Belgrade. Between five and five-thirty on the Morning of April 9, 2013, Mr. Bogdanovic, using a 9 mm pistol, shot and killed thirteen people. He murdered them as they slept in their beds, in five separate dwellings. His victims included six women and a 2-year-old toddler.

     Bogdanovic began his deadly rampage by killing his son. Before being taken into custody, the spree-killer shot himself and his wife. Both survived their wounds but are in critical condition.

     According to the police, Bogdanovic was a "quiet" man with no history of mental illness. He had a government permit to own the murder weapon.

     In 2007, a Serbian villager with a hunting rifle shot nine people to death. The Bogdanovic murder spree is the deadliest shooting incident in Serbia since the end of the Balkan Wars.

UPDATE

     On April 11, 2013, Bogdanovic and his wife Javorka died from their gunshot wounds.
   

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Creative Writing Students Who Stalk Their Professors

For creative writing teachers, stalkers are such a basic condition of employment that, in the interest of full disclosure, they should probably be included in the job ad: Poor pay; negligible benefits (if any); and yes, you will be stalked.

Scott Bradfield, novelist

Problems in American Criminal Justice: An Analysis

     POLICING: Modern law enforcement has become too militarized. There are too many SWAT teams and pre-dawn, no-knock drug raids into private dwellings occupied by children and other innocent people. Offices see themselves as crime warriors instead of public servants. Another unrelated problem involves powerful police unions that keep bad cops on the job.

     FORENSIC SCIENCE: The nation's crime laboratories are in a state of crisis. Due to budget restraints and a shortage of qualified personnel, these facilities are overwhelmed with evidence submissions which has created serious backlogs, sloppy work, contaminated evidence, and identification mistakes. Crime labs and crime lab units all over the country are being shut down due to inferior work. With criminal investigation being a low law enforcement priority, the crime lab problem is not about to be fixed any time soon. (There is also a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in the country.)

     CORRECTIONS: Because judges won't allow prison overcrowding, and there is no money to expand our prison infrastructure, we have more criminals than places to put them. In California and other states, pedophiles, rapists, and other violent criminals who should be locked-up are walking free to make room for the drug offenders. In Massachusetts, instead of new prison space, taxpayers are funding an inmate's sex-change operation. Our prison system has become a national disgrace. (In New Orleans recently, a prisoner-produced video shows inmates doing drugs and walking around with handguns.)

     CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION: Because of the government's preoccupation with heavily armed street patrol, the never-ending drug war, and anti-terrorism, criminal investigation in this country is becoming a lost art. While national crime rates have steadily decreased, more and more homicide and sexual offense cases are being bungled or ignored. The combination of poor crime lab services and the fact detective bureaus across the country are being cut has led to a significant decline in crime solution rates.

     CRIMINAL LAW: Virtually every form of criminal behavior is now a federal offense. The central government has become too involved in criminal justice matters that should be left to the states. We are creating a national police force which is contrary to the principles of freedom and limited government. Moreover, state crime codes have become cluttered with unnecessary, politically-motivated window-dressing laws that pander to various minority groups. The entire hate-crime movement is an example of this form of over-legislation.

     CRIMINAL COURTS: The nation's prosecutors, state and federal, are overwhelmed with drug cases that clog the dockets and force the government into plea-bargain deals that do not always serve the public interest. More than 90 percent of convictions in this country are the result of bargained guilty pleas. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing Bulletin: Style Over Substance

     As a reader, I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style, or is more concerned with style than communication. It's a lot like a politician who takes on a speaker's voice when talking publicly. I consider this, in writers and politicians, pretentious and phony. I prefer to read authors who don't recognize their own literary voices, or if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique.

     There is a dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in the promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, a university public relations person might write: "The goal of our institution involves providing our students with a quality education at a reasonable price." Because this is so obvious, to say it directly and plainly makes it sound kind of stupid. But when a mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst. Here is an example of highly pretentious writing taken from a pamphlet published by a relatively prestigious liberal arts college:

     "The mission of ________College is to help young men and women develop competencies, commitments and characteristics that have distinguished human beings at their best. All of us who are affiliated with the College are working toward that end each day in as many different ways as their are students on this campus. (Wow, 1,400 different ways.) Our students have unique talents and new insights that are being developed during each interaction with faculty, staff, alumni and other students. (I taught at the college level for 32 years. Where I worked, very few students had unique talent and new insights. In fact, some of them were uniquely untalented and completely without insight. So in my opinion, the talent/insight stuff is a load of stylistic crap.) For each student, those interactions become building blocks in their foundation for living." (Yeah, sure.)

     Ignore, if you can, the lack of substance, unadulterated puffing, and pandering in this mission statement and look at the style. Note the lofty and, to my mind, cheesy alliteration that starts off with the words--competencies, commitments and characteristics--and the use of the buzz words distinguished, affiliated, insights, interaction, and foundation, typical university-speak wordage comparable to university-speak favorites such as outcomes, challenges, and impact (instead of affect) not used in this passage.

     If I were a creative writing teacher, I would use passages like the above to show writing students how not to write. It's a bit ironic that so much heavy-handed, dead prose is produced by colleges and universities. Professors, notorious for being writers of unreadable fiction and highly pompous and dense nonfiction, also contribute to the style over substance problem. If you don't believe me, look through any university press book catalogue. The book titles themselves are beyond comprehension, and the catalogue descriptions of these works are so badly written it's no wonder no one buys this stuff.

      

Crime Bulletin: The Great American Ammo Shortage

     There is currently a nationwide shortage of handgun ammunition. The handful of gun stores and online sites that have ammo in stock are charging gun enthusiasts an arm and a leg for .22, .38, and .45 caliber and 9 mm rounds. Many stores limit purchases to one box per person per day.

     Six months ago, standard .22 caliber rounds--the most common type of round produced--could be purchased in bulk for about five cents apiece. But that price has gone up to fifty cents each.

     When Obama first took office, gun and ammunition sales went through the roof because Obama is perceived by many to be a left-wing politician who doesn't like guns or gun owners. His re-election, along with several high-profile shooting incidents liberals have tried to exploit, reignited fears of severe gun control legislation. Once again the demand for guns and ammo has shot up significantly.

     There have been rumors that the Department of Homeland Security is buying up tens of millions of rounds to keep ammo in short supply for gun owners. There is also speculation that the federal government has limited the quantity of ammunition that manufacturers are allowed to produce. People who believe the federal government is manipulating the ammo market see it as a sneaky, backdoor form of gun control. You can have your handguns, but you have nothing to load them with.

     Government bureaucrats who have spoken about the bullet drought blame it on hoarding and speculation. They say it's a simple matter of supply and demand. Whatever the cause, the shortage is real, and it's making a lot of gun owners uneasy, and suspicious.

Criminal Justice Quote: The Confidence Game Victim

A confidence man prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victims. First, he inspires a firm belief in his own integrity. Second, he brings into play powerful and well-nigh irresistible forces to excite the cupidity of the mark. Then he allows the victim to make large sums of money by means of dealings which are explained to him as being dishonest--and hence a "sure thing." As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fattened for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none-the-less sage maxim: "You can't cheat an honest man." [Actually, you can't work a con game on an honest man. Honest people are cheated all the time.]

David W. Maurer, The Big Con, 1940


Crime Bulletin: British Sadist Gary George Commits Ritualistic Murder That Mirrors Horror Film

     On August 30, 2012, police in Chester, England found 53-year-old Andrew Nall lying dead in a pool of blood on his bedroom floor. He had been beaten and stabbed 49 times. The killer, in an act of torture, had carved a hole in Nall's chest then filled the gaping wound with salt. The sadistic killer had also poured cleaning fluid into the victim's eyes.

     The ritualistic torture and killing in Mr. Nall's flat was witnessed by Christine Holleran. According to the victim's 50-year-old friend, Nall, an alcoholic, had been intoxicated at the time of his murder. He was set upon, tortured, mutilated, and killed by a homeless alcoholic named Gary George. After being taken into custody by the police, Holleran informed detectives that the 41-year-old killer had growled like a dog when he stabbed the victim. "He was like the Devil," she said.

     Ten hours after Andrew Hall's murder, the Chester Police arrested Gary George in connection with the assault of another man. Initially, George said he had killed the victim because he was a pedophile. Later, the truth came out. George admitted that the killing was a real-life re-enactment of a scene in the 2009 Australian horror film, "The Loved Ones." George said he was a horror film fanatic, and this was his favorite movie in the genre.

     On March 25, 2013, Chester Crown Court Judge Elgan Edwards, following a three-week trial that resulted in a guilty verdict, sentenced Gary George to thirty years in prison. (The same jury had found Georges' co-defendant, Christine Hollerman, not guilty.)

     

Monday, April 8, 2013

Writing Quote: The Importance of Plot

If you read interviews with many prominent authors...you will notice how many of them seem to turn up their noses at the mention of plot. "I never begin with plot," they say. "Characters (or situations or setting or thought) is where I begin my novels." What's the implication? Only bad authors begin with plot. Some of these writers don't just imply it, they say it: A well-plotted book isn't really "artistic." Books like that are for the great mass of dunderheads who read trash, not for us sophisticates who appreciate literature.

J. Madison Davis, novelist

Criminal Justice Quote: The Psychopath

[In dealing with a psychopath] we are not dealing with a complete man at all but with something that suggests a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly. This smoothly operating psychic apparatus not only reproduces consistently specimens of good human reasoning but also appropriates simulations of normal human emotions in response to nearly all the varied stimuli of life. So perfect is this reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him can point out in scientific or objective terms why he is not real. And yet one knows or feels he knows that reality, in the sense of full, healthy experiencing of life, is not here.

Dr. Hervey Cleckley, The Mask of Sanity, 1941

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Reehallio Carroll Pleads Guilty to Murdering a Nun in Her Navajo Reservation Home

     Twenty-one-year-old Reehallio Carroll, a burglar and thief addicted to alcohol and drugs, lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico. Just after midnight on November 1, 2009, he broke into a house trailer at the reservation's St. Berard Mission, an outpost inhabited by nuns attached to the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The trailer Carroll forced his way into was the home of 64-year-old Sister Marguerite Bartz.

     Carroll knew he was breaking into an occupied dwelling. (Under common law, breaking into an occupied home at night, by itself, was a capital crime.) Carroll entered Sister Marguerite's home to steal cash and anything he could sell to support his addictions. If the nun who lived there got in his way, that would be her problem.

    Sister Marguerite confronted the burglar when he entered her bedroom. Instead of backing out of the trailer, Carroll hit her in the head six times with his flashlight. As the nun lay bleeding and semi-conscoious on the floor of the room, the home invader kicked and stomped her.

     With Sister Marguerite dying in a pool of her own blood, Carroll rummaged through her trailer home for cash and valuables. Before leaving the scene and driving off in the nun's car, Carroll returned to the bedroom. To make sure he would be leaving a dead woman behind, Carroll finished the victim off by tying a shirt around her neck and mouth.

     The following morning, when Sister Marguerite failed to show up for Mass, one of her mission colleagues discovered her corpse.

     A couple of days after the cold-blooded killing, police officers arrested Reehallio Carroll. He was driving his victim's car.

     Because crimes committed on Indian Reservations are federal offenses, the FBI took charge of the case. An assistant United States attorney out of Albuquerque charged Carroll with first degree murder, a crime that under federal law carries a mandatory life sentence.

     On April 5, 2013, U. S. District Court Judge William Johnson accepted Carroll's plea to second degree murder. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Carroll will be sentenced in June to no more that 40 years in prison.

     Members of Sister Marguerite's family, as well as her fellow nuns at St. Berard's, approved of the guilty plea and reduced sentence. They spoke of "forgiveness, redemption, and rehabilitation." Rehabilitation? Good heavens. Mr. Carroll got off light because he murdered a nun. Had he killed a police officer, no one would be talking about forgiveness.

     In this brutal theft-motivated homicide, forgiveness requires a degree of compassion and love of mankind that I do not possess. I can't even forgive the judge who authorized the plea. 

Father Kevin Wallin: The Meth Dealing Priest

     In 1996, Father Kevin Wallin became pastor of the St. Peter's Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut. Six years later, the 50-year-old priest was transferred to the St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport. Citing health and personal problems, Father Wallin asked for and was granted a sabbatical in July 2011. A year later, the Diocese of Bridgeport suspended Wallin from public ministry.

     While performing his duties as a Catholic priest, Father Wallin was buying and selling crystal methamphetamine out of his apartment in Waterbury.

     From September 20, 2012 to January 3, 2013, a state narcotics undercover agent purchased 23 grams of crystal meth from Wallin in six transactions. Because the priest was part of an interstate drug operation, the state turned the case over to the FBI.

     On January 3, 2013, FBI agents who had been working with the state drug task force, arrested Father Wallin at his Waterbury apartment where searchers recovered a quantity of meth, drug paraphernalia, and drug packaging materials.

     Based on the state undercover buys, federal wiretaps, and informant drug purchases, Father Wallin was charged with the federal offense of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams of crystal meth. Four co-conspirators in California, between June and December 2012, had mailed the priest $300,000 worth of meth.

     Dubbed by the local media as "Monsignor Meth," Father Wallin also owned an adult video and sex toy shop in North Haven, Connecticut. (I guess that made him the "Porno Priest" as well.)

     On April 2, 2013, the defrocked Wallin pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Hartford, Connecticut. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge, on June 25, 2013, will sentence the 61-year-old  drug dealer to 11 to 14 years in prison. The defendant faced a maximum sentence of life behind bars. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Mystery of Evil

The concept of the psychopath is, in fact, an admission of failure to solve the mystery of evil--it is merely a restatement of the mystery--and only offers an escape valve for the frustration felt by psychiatrists, social workers, and police officers, who daily encounter its force.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Jails in Colonial America

[In Colonial America], murder was practically never a bailable offense; the defendant therefore, languished in jail until trial, and if convicted, until execution. Jails were not very strong and escapes were not infrequent, although recapture usually followed quickly. The jail was usually left unattended at night so that a prisoner had the long evening to work to release himself. It also permitted his friends an opportunity to pass in tools for his assistance. To add to the security of the prisoner, he was frequently manacled and chained to a ring in the floor of his cell.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Writing Bulletin: Are Writers Prone to Suicide?

     A good many writers are high-strung, strung-out emotional wrecks. A lot of them are really odd. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze or drugs. More than a few have ended their lives with suicide.

     To writers who are more or less normal, there is nothing more morbidly fascinating than the tormented life and self-inflicted death of a fellow author. Ross Lockridge, Jr. is a case in point. In February 1949, about a year after the publication of his first book, Raintree County, a bestselling Book-of-the Month-Club selection, the 33-year-old writer gassed himself to death in his garage while seated in his newly purchased car.

     Journalist Nanette Kutner, who had interviewed Lockridge six months before his suicide, wrote this after his death: "He was no one-book author; he never would have been content to live as Margaret Mitchell [Gone With the Wind] lived. But he could not find a remedy for the letdown that invariably comes after completing a big job, the letdown [Anthony] Trollope understood so well he never submitted a novel until he was deep into the next."

     Do writers end their lives more often than people in other lines of work? There is no way to know if writers are particularly prone to suicide. Experts say that statistics on suicide by occupation are not clear on this issue because there is no national data base on line of work and suicide. Experts also believe that because occupation is not a major predictor of suicide, this aspect of life doesn't explain why people kill themselves. Since writing, for many authors, is more of a way of life than a profession, and is practiced by a lot of unstable people, it probably is a relevant variable.

     Well-known writers who have killed themselves include: John Berryman, Richard Brautigan, Hart Crane, John Gould Fletcher, Romain Gary, Ernest Hemingway, William Inge, Randall Jarrell, Jerry Kosinski, Primo Levi, Ross Lockridge, Jr., Vachel Lindsay, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Charlotte Mew, Cesare Pavese, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, and Virginia Woolf. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Confidence Man

Confidence men trade upon certain weaknesses in human nature. Until human nature changes perceptibly there is little possibility that there will be a shortage of marks for con games. So long as there are marks with money, the law will find great difficulty in suppressing confidence games, even assuming that local government officers are sincerely interested. Increased legal obstacles have, in the past, had little ultimate effect upon confidence men, except perhaps to make them more wary and to force them to develop their technique to a very high level of perfection. As long as the political boss, whether he be local, state, or national, fosters a machine wherein graft and bribery are looked upon as a normal phase of government, as long as juries, judges and law enforcement officers can be had for a price, the confidence man will live and thrive in our society.

David W. Maurer, The Big Con, 1940

Friday, April 5, 2013

Writing Quote: Author Self-Promotion

I have a great ambivalence about interviews [of authors]. I believe writers should be read and not heard from. There are certain writers whose personalities are more responsible for their reputations than their writing. [They] use their personalities to make their works popular. I resent that, because they get far more attention than their work merits. And other writers who are really much better, but who are quiet and invisible souls, are not noticed at all. Part of me wants to be totally anonymous. The writer who I really admire most for his image is B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; he was totally unidentified in his lifetime. I admire that.

Dennis Etchison, novelist