More than 3,300,000 pageviews from 150 countries

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Bank Robbery as a Hanging Offense

In Western communities lynchings were the preeminent social event, especially if the bank robber was well known. A local holdup man, or a stranger who had received enough publicity, could and did draw a crowd. Vendors sold popcorn, flags, peanuts, and cold drinks, giving the event a carnival atmosphere. Many small towns didn't have a court system, so there were a lot of impromptu executions. For towns that did have a sitting judge these hangings could be advertised a week or two in advance in order to give people a chance to attend. Hangings were a big boost to the local economy and a good chance for neighbors to get together. Of course, more than a few hasty hangings were not done in a professional manner, and many a bad guy slowly strangled to death with a sizable audience to witness his dilemma. [dilemma?]

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Writing Quote: The Lure of Detective Fiction

The resilience of detective fiction, and particularly the fact that so many distinguished and powerful people are apparently under its spell, has puzzled both its admirers and its detractors and spawned a number of notable critical studies which attempt to explain this puzzling phenomenon. In "The Guilty Vicarage," W. H. Auden wrote that his reading of detective stories was an addiction, the symptoms being the intensity of his craving, the specificity of the story, which, for him, had to be set in rural England, and last, its immediacy. He forgot the story as soon as he had finished the book and had no wish to read it again. Should he begin a detective story and then discover it was one he had already read, he was unable to continue. In all this the distinguished poet differed from me and, I suspect, from many other lovers of the genre. I enjoy rereading my favorite mysteries although I know full well how the book will end, and although I can understand the attraction of a rural setting, I am frequently happy to venture with my favorite detectives onto unfamiliar territory.

P. D. James, Talking About Detective Fiction, 2009

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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

Phoenix, Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: How Some Serial Killers Are Caught

     The identification of a serial murderer frequently occurs through happenstance or a fluke in which a seemingly unrelated criminal event. A serial murderer may be apprehended for driving a stolen vehicle, and very quickly the police learn they are dealing with a much more violent crime, as was the case when Ted Bundy was pursued in a stolen car in Pensacola, Florida. Following his arrest, the Pensacola police soon learned that they had more than a car thief in their jail.

     [Another example] of routine police work and an unrelated crime leading to the arrest of a serial murderer and a serial murder investigation occurred on June 28, 1993, in Long Island, New York. In the early morning hours two state troopers spotted a tan 1984 Mazda pickup with no license plates driving on the Southern State Parkway. The driver refused to pull over and the officers pursued the pickup. The chase ended 25 minutes later when the Mazda slammed into a utility pole. The driver was unhurt and was arrested. Following the arrest, the officers noticed a very strong smell coming from the bed of the truck where the officers found the badly decomposed body of Tiffany Bresciani, a 22-year-old woman from Manhattan. The driver, Joel Rifkin, would within hours confess to the killing of 16 other women.

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

Writing Quote: A Writer's Vocabulary

A huge vocabulary is not always an advantage. Simple language, for some kinds of fiction at least, can be more effective than complex language which can lead to stiltedness or suggest dishonesty or faulty education.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Monday, October 28, 2013

Writing Quote: Where to Begin Your Story

Reading about first draft writing tactics has made me realize how many I've unconsciously developed over the years. [Shouldn't that be subconsciously?] One key anxiety reducer I've learned is not to worry about beginnings. It's too easy to panic while waiting for the perfect opening. Fiction writers typically know the conclusion of a story they set out to write, but rarely know how it will begin. Good leads usually show up late. In my own writing and that of my students, I generally find the best opening deep within a narrative. This opening only makes itself known as I read drafts, see what catches my eye, something that sets a tone, that gets the piece up and running. Knowing this, I don't concern myself with beginnings until the end.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Criminal Justice Quote: A Mobster's Regrets

How I could have put Cosa Nostra ahead of loyalty to my wife and my kids is something I will always have to live with. All my life, growing up, I thought that people who went to school and put their noses to the grindstone were nerds, taking the easy way out. I know now that I was the one who took the easy way that I didn't have the guts to stay in school and try. That was the tough road, which I didn't take.

Sammy Bull Gravano in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Militaristic L A County Drug Cops Raid Wrong House and Kill 80-Year-Old Eugene Mallory

     Let's face it, no one is safe anymore from raiding drug cops who can be armed and mindless. A man's home is no longer his castle; it's simply a structure that can be forcefully entered by combat cops on the word of some lowlife snitch. Today, not all armed home invasions involve criminals.

     Eugene Mallory, a retired engineer who had worked for Lockheed Martin forty years, resided in an unincorporated community east of Palmdale, California called Littlerock. The 80-year-old shared a home with his 48-year-old wife, Tonya Pate, and her grown son.

     Drug enforcement deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office arrived at the Mallory house at 7:30 on the morning of June 25, 2013. The officers were in possession of a search warrant authorizing them to search the house for methamphetamine and the chemicals used to manufacturer it. The probable cause underlying the search was flimsy at best. Officers, from outside the house, claimed to have smelled the odor of the ingredients used to produce meth. The narcotic officers didn't have an undercover buy or even an informant. Moreover, the suspected meth factory hadn't been subjected to a prolonged drug surveillance. All the cops had to go on was the smell of meth chemicals. (The fact that some rubber-stamp magistrate authorized this raid is frightening.)

     After forcing their way into the dwelling without notice, deputies encountered Mr. Mallory in a bedroom at the rear of the house. It was there they shot him six times as he lay in his own bed. Officers justified the lethal force by claiming that the old man had pointed a semi-automatic handgun at them.

     As it turned out, the Mallory dwelling did not contain meth or any evidence that the drug was being manufactured in the home. Deputies did come across a quantity of marijuana in Mrs. Pate's son's bedroom.

     In speaking to the media about the fatal, wrong house raid, Los Angeles County spokesperson Steve Whitmore said this: "There was a drug operation that was certainly going on in this house." (Are you kidding me? The accidental finding of grass justifies the killing of a 80-year-old man in his own bed?)

     On October 10, 2013, James Bergener, the attorney representing Mrs. Tonya Pate, announced that he had filed, on her behalf, a $50 million wrongful death suit against Los Angeles County. The out of control drug war not only cost Mr. Mallory his life, it will cost the taxpayers of bankrupt Los Angeles County a multi-million dollar court settlement.

     In the minds of our nation's drug warriors, there will always be collateral damage. War is hell. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Th. Metzger On The Science of Electrocution

     Divorced from the emotional and ethical aspects of the matter, electrocution can be pictured as a purely physical process. The body--seen as a conductor of electricity--is a leathery bag containing a solution of electrolytes. Though electricity does not move in a perfectly straight line as is passes from entrance to exit, the greatest density of current is along the line connecting the two points of contact. But because the human body is a complex object for the current to pass though--unlike a uniform substance such as copper wire or salt water--the actual resistance of the body may vary greatly during the time the electricity is moving through it. The effects of the shock are often impossible to predict.

     To make electrocution as efficient and expedient a process as possible, certain techniques of preparation have been developed. Like a patient being readied for surgery, the prisoner to be executed goes though an exacting process before the actual procedure occurs. Very important is the maximizing of contact. The prisoner's scalp is shaved down to stubble; a safety razor is used then to clear a spot at the center of the head. This is the place where the soaked sponge of the death cap will make contact. Similarly, an area approximately six inches above the ankle is shaved, to make the optimum connection with the ground pad....

     Everything possible is done to ensure that the mechanism works as desired. The connection at head and leg soaked with conductive Electro-Creme or paste-like brine solution--is the most efficient way of transferring electrical current into the body. Voltages and amperages are finely calibrated. The system itself is checked and rechecked, tested and inspected. Hundreds of previous executions give the prison personnel a good idea of what to expect. A controlled environment, witnesses, accurate analytic tools, the frequent presence of doctors and nurses lend the execution the air of a scientific experiment. But the body is always a variable.

Th. Metzger, Blood & Volts, 1996

Writing Quote: Write About What Interests You

Nothing in the world is inherently interesting--that is, immediately interesting, and interesting in the same degree, to all human beings. [What about murder?] And nothing can be made to be of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer. Each writer's prejudices, tastes, background, and experience tend to limit the kinds of characters, actions, and settings he can honestly care about, since by the nature of our mortality we care about what we know and might possibly lose (or have already lost), dislike that which threatens what we care about, and feel indifferent toward that which has no visible bearing on our safety or the safety of the people and things we love. Thus no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Friday, October 25, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Jury System

There has been much talk of "reform" in the jury system. Cases are too complex, the argument goes; jurors are too easily swayed; it boils down to a popularity contest among lawyers. Needless to say, the successful trial lawyers aren't the ones leading the movement. For they know, as would anyone who has prowled the nation's courtrooms--or even watched "Perry Mason" win yet again--that there's a reason the system has remained intact in principle for centuries: It works. [Not always.]

T. Summer Robinson in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988 

Writing Quote: The Editor-Writer Relationship

Eliciting revisions requires more than delicacy, it requires a certain understanding about the writer's general temperament and well-being. Some writers are dead serious about their work and defend each word. Some are deeply analytical and need only be presented with reasons to make changes. Others work on instinct and feeling; they traffic in nuance and tone. Some authors are humorless. I usually like to have a trial run of editing around seventy-five pages to see how an author responds before continuing on the entire text. Almost in a reversal of the authorial anxiety that attends handing in pages, I'm always anxious about the author's response. Will he or she take to my editing? When I hear about author-editor relationships that have run aground, it is usually the author who is cited as the malcontent. But it is also true that some editors fail to realize that an author needs more that the benefit of line-by-line editing; he needs someone who has the sensitivity to build confidence in the writer as he revises his text.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Henry Hill On Becoming a Wiseguy

To me being a wiseguy was better than being president of the United States. It meant power among people who had no power. It meant perks in a working class neighborhood that had no privileges. To be a wiseguy was to own the world. I dreamed about being a wiseguy the way other kids dreamed about being doctors or movie stars or fireman or ballplayers.

Henry Hill [The real-life protagonist in the movie "Goodfellas."] In Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Writing Quote: Betsy Lerner on Rejection

Rejection is a fact of writing life. If you are still unpublished, you probably suffer from the misconception that publication in and of itself will cure everything that ails you. But the pain of rejection doesn't stop the day a contract arrives. In fact, when you sign your name on the bottom line of your publisher's contract, you may be signing up for more disappointment than you ever dreamed imaginable. Saint Teresa's dictum "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones" should be hung on the wall over every writer's desk. Sometimes being rejected may mean being spared. [That's like death sparing one from pain and suffering.] But try telling that to a hungry writer with some fresh pages in hand!

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For The Trees, 2000 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Days, Four Senseless Murders

Mike Reda's Killing Spree

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

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

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

Benjamin Frazier's Deadly Response to a Minor Problem

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

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

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

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

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

Student Shoots His Classmates and Murders a Teacher

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

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

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

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


Criminal Justice Quote: What Happened to JFK's Brain?

Not all the evidence from the John F. Kennedy assassination is at the National Archives. One unique, macabre item from the collection is missing--President Kennedy's brain....My conclusion is that Robert Kennedy took his brother's brain--not to conceal evidence of a conspiracy but perhaps to conceal evidence of the true extent of President Kennedy's illnesses, or perhaps to conceal evidence of the number of medications that President Kennedy was taking.

James Swanson, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, 2013

Writing Quote: Book Dedications

A friend of mine spoke of books that are dedicated like this: "To my wife, by whose helpful criticism..." and so on. He said the dedication should really read: "To my wife. If it had not been for her continual criticism and persistent nagging doubt as to my ability, this book would have appeared in Harper's instead of The Hardware Age."

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jeff Fleming and the Shot Heard Around the Golf Course

     Jeff Fleming lived in a house adjacent to the 16th hole fairway on the Lakeridge Golf Course in Reno, Nevada. In September 2012, when a golfer hit a ball through one of Fleming's windows, the 53-year-old imposed a unique penalty on the wayward ball striker. As the golfer addressed his dropped ball not far from the window he had broken, Mr. Fleming made a shot of his own. He fired a shotgun at the terrified golfer who dropped his club and ran for his life. Mr. Fleming, apparently, had not yelled "fore!"

     Fortunately for the golfer, Mr. Fleming was off-target with his shot as well. The golfer, hit by a few pellets from a single shotgun round, was treated at a nearby emergency room for minor arm and leg injuries.

     Immediately after the golf course shooting, Jeff Fleming drove to his attorney's office to turn himself in. Police officers arrested him at the law office. A Washoe County prosecutor charged Mr. Fleming with assault with a deadly weapon, a serious crime that could put Fleming behind bars for twenty years.

     In October 2013, the man who fired a shotgun at the golfer who broke his window pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of battery with a deadly weapon. Even so, he faced a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. However, when Fleming is sentenced in December, the judge is expected to put him on probation. The fact he didn't have a criminal record, and had expressed remorse shortly after the shooting, will probably keep him out of prison. (It may also be possible that Mr. Fleming merely wanted to scare the golfer, and had hit him by accident.)

     Perhaps Mr. Fleming should consider taking up residence someplace out of golf ball range. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Is Forensic Science Real Science?

     The problem with much of forensic science theory is that it is largely inductive, and has never been subject to rigorous tests that specifically attempt to falsify it. It has been said that forensic scientists in general have failed to consistently appreciate the implications of the scientific method. The progression through the stages of research, formulation of a hypothesis, testing, analyzing results, and then modifying the hypothesis where necessary has the advantage of built-in evaluators, such as the calculation of error rates, as part of the process, in addition to other benefits, including impartiality. Testing allows the generation of error rates and approximations, and good quality research is generally published, thereby being subject to peer review. Standardization of techniques and theories becomes necessary so as to ensure their validity and applicability in the hands of different researchers, scientists, and practitioners. Eventually, when a theory gains overwhelming support, it may even enter the realm of "general acceptance"; however, this by itself is no substitute for these first stages of scientific endeavor.

     While academics note a tension between "science" and "forensic science," there are some who disagree that the traditional "scientific method" is appropriate for forensic science to follow, due to its unique position of straddling the disciplines of both science and law...As one author has written, forensic science operates outside the carefully controlled environment that the traditional sciences endure...Claiming that forensic science does not enjoy the pristine conditions of experimental science, and thus is not directly comparable, avoids a reality that has plagued all scientific research--a reality that has already been managed by experimental scientists through careful and deliberate hypothesis testing, but dismissed by forensic scientists by simply claiming irrelevance to their own practice. [The forensic sciences that have not undergone this rigorous scientific methodology include forensic document examination, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint identification, and human bite mark identification.]

C. Michael Bowers, Forensic Testimony, 2013 

Writing Quote: The Ethical Dilemma of Journalism

There's an ethical dilemma in almost all journalism. In taking someone else's story and making it your own, in describing them on your terms, in ways they may not agree with.

Ted Conover in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing Quote: The Benefits of Writing

We [women] have come to think that duty should come first. I disagree. Duty should be a by-product. Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first,--at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous to everybody else. Even your health will improve. Colds will disappear and all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom.

Brenda Uleland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Florida Prison Escapes: Who Needs a Hacksaw When You Have a Computer?

     Inmates have been known to tunnel, climb, sneak, saw, assault, and bribe their way out of prisons and jails. Recently, in central Florida, a pair of convicted murderers managed to forge their way to freedom.

     On September 27, 2013, an official with the Florida Department of Corrections ordered convicted killer Joseph Jenkins released from the Franklin Correctional Institution where he had been serving a life sentence. In 1997, Jenkins murdered Roscoe Pugh in an Orlando robbery that went bad. The 34-year-old's ticket to freedom was a phony court document that reduced his life sentence to fifteen years. The release order bore the signature of Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry. The forged corrections paperwork included a motion filed by a local prosecutor in support of the new sentence. The phony documents had been processed by the Orange County Clerk of Courts Office.

     On October 8, 2013, another convicted murderer serving a life sentence at the Franklin County prison near Tallahassee walked out of the joint a free man. Charles Walker had killed Cedric Slater in 1998. At his trial, Walker claimed that because the victim bullied him, he fired three shots to scare him off. Instead of scaring Slater, Walker shot him dead. The Orlando jury found Walker guilty of second-degree murder.

     Corrections authorities released the 34-year-old Walker after receiving the same set of forged documents that had freed Joseph Jenkins. It is extremely rare for a trial judge, in cases involving convictions affirmed on appeal, to order reduced sentences. Moreover, prosecutors rarely support shortened sentences. To say that someone at the Florida Department of Corrections was asleep at the switch would be an understatement. After their releases, both men went to the Orange County Jail where they registered as felons as required by law.

     According to investigators with the Florida Department of Corrections, the forging lifers had been helped by a jailhouse lawyer with computer skills, or by an outside person with paralegal experience.

     Judge Belvin Perry told an Associated Press reporter that "Someone with the aid of a computer lifted my signature off previously signed documents, which are public record." [Judge Perry, in 2011, presided over the Casey Anthony trial. As a result, his signature is available on public documents, and accessible online.]

     According to judge Perry, "In my 35 years in the judicial system, I have never seen the state of Florida file a motion to correct an illegal sentence. One of the things we have never taken a close look at is the verification of a particular document to make sure it is the real McCoy." [One can't help wondering if there are Florida inmates currently enjoying freedom on the strength of bogus court documents.]

     In speaking to reporters, the niece of the man Joseph Jenkins murdered, said, "I just don't believe it. I know for a fact it [the forgery] was an inside job."

     At 6:40 PM on October 19, 2013, U. S. Marshals and officers with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, arrested Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City. A tip from a person who knew both men led to their arrests. When taken into custody, Walker and Jenkins were unarmed. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Psychological Effects of Having Been Stalked

Even after [stalking] victims feel assured that the stalking has ended, many find themselves having trouble learning to trust again--both others and themselves. A phase of overcompensating can take place, in which survivors of stalking tend to mistrust their own judgment in meeting people, or feel intensely suspicious of others, resulting in potential difficulties forming new relationships, whether personal or professional, intimate or casual. Existing relationships may also be affected; survivors may find themselves reacting with far greater caution and vigilance around others than is normal for them.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

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

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Writing Quote: Talking Versus Writing

Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper. Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even whey they bomb, spoken words float off toward Mars. They can always be denied. "That isn't what I said!" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper [or online] can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Criminal Justice Quote: Montaigne's Philosophy of Human Nature

     The evil in the world tends to strike us with more force, and more often, than the good. It is not easy to come up with the opposites of Stalin or Hitler. Evil has repute and power, good is passive, anonymous. But the question remains: Is the good and evil in people indeed distributed by chance and at random?...

     According to [the 16th century French philosopher Montaigne], both instincts and reason impel human nature, but reason is weak. The principal human failing, Montaigne believed, is arrogance, the presumption that through the intellect the truth can be revealed. We are barely superior to the animals, who are stronger, friendlier, and often wiser. Our senses deceive us, and we would do better humbly to acknowledge and accept our limitations. Life can be lived only by following our best instincts. We gain nothing by pondering life, since the future is outside our control. We are what we are; reason can neither change nor tame us; what animates us is unknown. This view of Montaigne is diametrically opposed to the Stoic tradition, which says that by knowing ourselves we can learn self-control and live exemplary lives, like that of the patron saint of all philosophers, Socrates.

A. J. Dunning, Extremes, 1990

Friday, October 18, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

     Andrew Cunanan stalked Gianni Versace [renowned fashion designer] before he killed him, often walking the same routes, sometimes following him.

     The morning of the shooting [July 15, 1997], Versace left his house to walk to the News Cafe on Ocean Drive [Miami Beach] where he had his favorite gourmet coffee and picked up several newspapers and magazines. When he arrived back at his home on 11th Street, Cunanan walked up behind him and fired two shots into the back of Versace's head, killing him instantly.

     The assassin then fled, and the case wasn't closed until Cunanan's dead body was found eight days later on a houseboat owned by a friend of Cunanan's who was in Germany at the time....

     One FBI theory is that Versace once turned town Cunanan for a modeling job. Cunanan was a bar-hopper, drug-user (possibly including steroids and rage-inducing testosterone), and he often sold himself to older, wealthy men. It is now known that Cunanan and Versace were never involved sexually, but it is known that the two men had met at least once.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In the Crosshairs, 2003

Writing Quote: Why Professors Avoid Writing Clearly

According to Professor J. Scott Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania, among academics, "obtuse writing...seems to yield higher prestige for the author." Armstrong has conducted a number of studies to test this hypothesis. In one, he asked twenty management professors to identify the more prestigious of two unidentified journals presented to them. The more readable journal (as determined by the Flesch Reading Ease Test) was judged the least prestigious. In another experiment, Armstrong rewrote the same journal article in two different forms. One he rated confusing and convoluted, the other concise and clear. A panel of thirty-two professors agreed that the confusing version reported a higher level of research. "Overall, the evidence is consistent with a common suspicion," concluded Armstrong. "Clear communication of one's research is not appreciated. Faculty are impressed by less readable articles." [Another reason for bad academic writing is that if the material is presented clearly, the true banality of its substance will be revealed.]

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Thursday, October 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Criminal Justice Quote: A Court Psychiatrist's View of the Insanity Defense

     The disorganized psychotic and the clear-thinking psychopath, though at opposite ends of the diagnostic spectrum, are both psychologically incomplete; and both kill for highly personal, insular reasons to which their victims make little contribution....

     Unlike true criminals, such killers make little effort to control their offenses--invariably committed at a time when their minds are beyond such precautions, and in a fashion ensuring their detection and capture. [Not always.] Subsequently they talk freely to arresting officers and almost always make full confessions. Their only remaining shield--and it is an appropriate one--is a plea of insanity. ["Appropriate" defense? Most juries disagree.]

     By contrast, the true criminal favors stealth, denial, alibis, and his right to remain silent. [Not always, particularly if caught red-handed.] He eschews the insanity defense as no defense at all because it requires as a first prerequisite an admission of guilt. [It also requires insanity.] In short, the insanity defense is neither intended for nor desired by the inveterate offender. It exists so that the law can distinguish those whose criminality warrants its most crushing vengeance from those whose relative psychological innocence mandates that society's interests be best served by their diversion into a mental health system. [What mental health system?]

Martin Blinder, M. D., Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985


Writing Quote: Norman Mailer on Becoming a Writer

     I'm now eighty, but some people still regard me as a wild man. Even at my peak, that was only five to ten percent of my nature. The rest was work. I remember Elia Kazan saying one day at Actors Studio, "Here, we're always talking about the work. We talk about it piously. We say the work. The work. Well, we do work here, and get it straight: Work is a blessing." He said this, glaring at every one of us. And I thought, He's right. That's what it is. A blessing.

     Of course, if you ask what work is dependent upon, the key word, an unhappy one, is stamina. It's as difficult to become a professional writer as a professional athlete. It often depends on the ability to keep faith in yourself. One must be willing to take risks and try again. And it does need an enormous amount of ongoing working practice to be good at it. Since you are affected by what you read as a child and adolescent, it also takes a while to unlearn all sorts of reading reflexes that have led you into bad prose.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Spontaneous Human Combustion: A Myth

     Soak a rag in linseed oil, ball it up and throw it into a bucket. This rag, as a result of a chemical reaction that creates heat, will eventually catch on fire and burn. Fire scientists call this reaction spontaneous combustion. Under the right conditions, all kinds of material will self-combust. So, can the human body, under the right conditions, catch on fire from within? People who believe that a body can self-generate ignition temperature heat, call this phenomenon human spontaneous combustion.

     For decades, fire investigators around the world have been baffled by fire death scenes involving a badly burned corpse lying in bed or sitting in a stuffed chair. In these cases the middle section of the body has been almost completely consumed by fire suggesting high, localized temperatures. In the immediate vicinity of the body, and in the room, there is very little burning. This fire pattern seems out of joint with normal fire spreading behavior. To add to this cause of origin mystery, investigators at these sites--encountered mostly in Great Britian--find no traces of fire excellerants such as gasoline. Are these fires accidental, arson/murder, or something else altogether?

     In December 2010, fire fighters in Ireland discovered a 76-year-old man dead in his sitting room. It looked as though someone had lit him up, but there seemed to be no source of heat other than the blaze in the fireplace. Except for some charring on the ceiling above his chair, the room did not burn. Although the man's body was almost completely consumed by the fire, investigators found no evidence that an excellerant had been used to jack-up the heat.

      The Irish coroner, having ruled out accident and arson as the manner of death, declared the cause as spontaneous human combustion.

     In the 1980s, the American fire scientist, Dr. John de Haan, conducted an experiment in which he set fire to a pig wrapped in cloth. The low-heat, long-burning fire almost completely consumed the hog without creating high ambient tempertures. Dr. de Haan called this the "wick effect." The cloth held the flame like a wick while vapors from the pig's heated fat slowly burned like candle wax.

     As it turns out, most so-called spontaneous human combustion fire scenes have involved people who had been drinking in bed or in their chairs while smoking. They fell asleep and their clothing catches on fire. In the Irish case, a spark from the fireplace had probably ignited the man's clothing.

The Baby Rahul Case

     In May 2012, Rajeshawri Kamen, a 23-year-old farm worker, gave birth to a son named Rahul. The mother and her 26-year-old husband, Karnan Perumal, already had a 2-year-old girl. The couple resided in a village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

     The baby was a month old when his parents rushed him to the hospital. According to their account of what happened, they were outside their hut when they heard Rahul scream. They ran to him and found the baby on fire. They saw flames on his belly and right knee. The father put out the fire with a towel.

     After being treated at the local hospital and released, Baby Rahul, during the next two months, caught on fire at least three more times. The child was badly burned but survived. The couple's neighbors, believing that the baby was haunted by an evil spirit that caused the combustion, and that the fire could spread to their huts, forced Rajeshwari and her husband to move to a nearby village where Rahul caught on fire again.

     Dr. Naarayan Babu, the head of pediatrics at the Kilpaul Medical Hospital in the city of Chennai, told a reporter with The New York Times that "We are in a dilemma and haven't come to any conclusion [regarding the cause of the fires]. The parents have said that the child burned instantaneously without any provocation. We are carrying out numerous tests. We are not saying it was spontaneous human combustion until all investigations are complete."

     On August 20, 2013, the Times of India reported that upon completion of the hospital tests, doctors found no evidence of spontaneous human combustion in Baby Rahul's case. Dr. Jagan Mohan, head of the burn unit at the Kilpauk Hospital, told reporters that "There is no such thing as spontaneous human combustion. The possibility of child abuse exists and needs to be explored."

     Baby Rahul's parents have denied setting fire to their baby. The boy's father, in speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, said, "Some people don't believe us, and I am scared to return to my village and am hoping for some government protection. There is also the fear that our child could burn once again."

     Since Baby Rahul was not the victim of spontaneous human combustion, he was either burned accidentally or on purpose. It's hard to image how a baby could be accidentally burned on four or more occasions. Moreover, it there was something in the home that caused the fires, why wasn't the baby's sister also burned?

     This child should be separated from his family and placed under close observation. As long as the child is beyond the reach of his parents, there is no chance he will catch on fire again. The parents, pursuant to an aggressive investigation, should be asked to take polygraph tests.

     Notwithstanding forensic evidence to the contrary, there are those who still believe spontaneous human combustion is real. This is not surprising since strong opinions are not always based on what people know, but what they want to believe.

Writing Quote: Why Do Writers Write?

Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was the poet John Ashbery who answered, "Because I want to." Flannery O'Connor answered, "Because I'm good at it," and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both. Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable. But really, secretly, when I'm not being smart-alecky, it's because I want to and I'm good at it.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Crime and Stupidity in Lower Education

Maria Caya: Here's a Check, There's The Door

     At nine in the morning on June 6, 2013, 120 fourth and fifth graders, on an end-of-the-year field trip, descended upon a bowling alley in Janesville, Wisconsin. The students and their teacher chaperons from Washington Elementary School took over River's Edge Bowl that morning.

     By 10:45 AM it became obvious that something was wrong with Maria Caya, one of the supervising adults. The 50-year-old teacher was acting so strange someone called her husband Steve to come and take her away. Steve picked up his wife at noon and drove her to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center. Medical personnel determined that Caya's blood-alcohol level was at 0.27 percent, far higher than the state's driving under the influence law. The teacher admitted having consumed a bloody Mary that morning at six o'clock along with Ativan, a pill she took for anxiety. (One bloody Mary will not raise one's alcohol-blood percentage to 0.27.)

     On July 9, 2013, the school board unanimously voted to give Caya, upon her resignation from the school, a lump sum settlement of $18,452. The teacher took the money and resigned. In defending the payout, the school superintendent said that if they had fired the drunken teacher, and she had fought the dismissal, the legal costs would have exceeded the kiss-off money. Moreover, there was a chance Caya would have won reinstatement. School officers wanted this woman out of teaching, and this was the cheapest and most surefire way to accomplish that goal. (Of course there is nothing to stop Caya from applying for a job at another school district.)

Cynthia Ambrose: How Not to Deal With a Kindergarten Bully

     On May 2, 2012, in Salinas, Texas, Salinas Elementary School teacher Barbara Ramirez took 6-year-old Aiden Neely to kindergarten teacher Cynthia Ambrose. The boy was in trouble because he had hit another student.

     With Barbara Ramirez looking on, Ambrose told her class of twenty students to form a line, and as each student passed by the pint-sized bully, to hit him. When the first kid gave Neely a light pat, the 44-year-old Ambrose said, "Come on, hit him  harder." The exercise came to a stop when the seventh kid in line hit Neely so hard in the back the boy started to cry. To the crying kid, Ambrose said, "See, that's how it feels to be bullied." (Ramirez, the teacher who witnessed this, could have punched Ambrose and said the same thing.)

     Barbara Ramirez, perhaps to keep a fellow teacher out of trouble, did not report the incident to school authorities until sometime later when she overheard Ambrose telling a kid who had been pinched to pinch the other kid back. Ramirez, for not immediately reporting the bullying exercise, was placed on three days leave. She also received a letter of reprimand.

     Bexar County prosecutor Patrick Ballantyne charged Cynthia Ambrose with the misdemeanor offense of official oppression. At her arraignment, Ambrose pleaded not guilty.

     At Ambrose's trial, held in June 2013, Aiden Neely and Barbara Ramirez testified for the prosecution. The defendant took the stand on her own behalf. In giving their closing arguments to the jury, the prosecutor referred to the teacher's behavior as child abuse. The defense attorney portrayed it as a well-intentioned classroom exercise that had gotten a little out of hand. The jury found Ambrose guilty as charged.

     In August 2013, district judge Sid Harle, before imposing his sentence, said, "[You are] absolutely a parent's worst nightmare. They send their children and entrust you with them." Judge Harle sentenced the former teacher to 30 days in jail, but said she could either serve her time on work release, or spend weekends behind bars. The judge also placed Ambrose on probation for two years.

     Ambrose's criminal conviction did not end her teaching career. The Texas Education Agency suspended her for one year. (Hey, she didn't kill or have sex with the kid.)

Malia Brooks: Female Teachers Who Love Their Male Students Too Much

     Malia Brooks, a married mother of two, taught sixth grade at the Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley, a suburban community north of Los Angeles. In November 2012, Brooks began a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old male student. The affair lasted four months.

     In February 2013, following an investigation by the Simi Valley Police Department, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Brooks with one count of lewd act with a child, one count of oral copulation with a person under 14, and one count of genital penetration by a foreign object with a person under 14. Following her arrest, the teacher was incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail on $2 million bond.

     In June 2013, Malia Brooks resigned from teaching and pleaded guilty to all three charges. At her sentencing hearing in August, Brook's attorney told the judge that his client had suffered a "manic episode" that had been brought on by her own teenage sexual abuse. The judge sentenced the former teacher to six years in prison.


Criminal Justice Quote: The Mystery of Human Behavior

Biology is not much help in our efforts to understand ourselves. When we came to think of the body as a factory, it was clear that it could be regulated by medical science. But there is no comparable model of human behavior, and therefore no way to regulate it other than by force or persuasion. The gap is filled by hypotheses about what drives us, ranging from those of Sigmund Freud to those of Konrad Lorenz, and offering explanations ranging from the subconscious to our genes. But the human being remains a stranger in a world he did not create. Some see him as the shadow of God; others see God as the shadow, a projection of man. In the words of Montaigne [a 16th Century French philosopher], we sleep on the soft pillow of ignorance. Indeed, human conduct is often irrational, for all its calculation aimed at physical survival. Even survival ceases to matter when a soldier, martyr, or heretic chooses to sacrifice himself for a higher goal. The drab, everyday routine of the average citizen, taxpayer-bread-winner, is adapted behavior and less instructive than a life lived to the limits. Limits that mark the zenith and nadir of what man is capable of. Extremes of conduct speak of aspirations that transcends the personal and challenge the sanity of standard human behavior.

A. J. Dunning, Extremes, 1990

Writing Quote: The Reality of the Writing Life

     I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived....

     My students do not want to hear this. Nor do they want to hear that it wasn't until my fourth book came out that I stopped being a starving artist. They do not want to hear that most of them probably won't get published and that even fewer will make enough to live on. But their fantasy of what it means to be published has very little to do with reality.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Monday, October 14, 2013

James Michener On His Work Habits and Being Prolific

     Between the years 1986 and 1990 I would write ten books, publish seven of them including two very long ones, and have the other three completed in their third revisions and awaiting publication. It was an almost indecent display of frenzied industry, but it was carried out slowly, carefully, each morning at the typewriter, each afternoon at exciting research or quiet reflection....

     Curiously, during this spurt of energy I never thought of myself as either compulsive or driven. Nor am I. Through decades of writing I have acquired certain patterns of behavior and workmanship which have enabled me to write long books. I merely adhere to those solid rules. I rise each day at seven-thirty, wash my face in cold water but do not shave, eat a frugal breakfast of bran sprinkled with banana, raisins, and skim milk--no sugar--and go directly to my desk, where the day's work has been laid out the night before.

     With delight and a feeling of well-being, I leap into whatever task awaits and remain at it until after noon, when I have a light lunch after which I take a nap. I never compose in the afternoon but do research and meet classes at the university. At dusk each day, regardless of the weather, I take a mile walk at a rather brisk clip. Supper, the evening news, a nine o'clock movie if a good one is on television, a half-hour of cleaning up my desk at eleven, and off to bed.

James A. Michener (1907-1997), The Eagle and the Raven, 1990 [Michener, who lived in Austin, Texas, published forty historical novels and a memoir. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948.]

Saturday, October 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Criminal Justice Quote: Stalkers Out on Bail

Most first-time stalking offenses are charged as misdemeanors, and it is not infrequent that perpetrators are released after the arraignment "on their own recognizance"--also known as "personal bond"--without financial bail, that is, the posting of cash or a secured (monetary) bond. In the cases where financial bond is set, often the amounts seem extraordinarily high, yet perpetrators seem able to come up with the money and obtain release. An option in many jurisdictions is that the arrestee is allowed to post just 10 percent of the bond set by the magistrate.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

Writing Quote: Norman Mailer on Novelists

     One of the cruelest remarks in the language is: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. The parallel must be: Those who meet experience, learn to live; those who don't, write.

     The second remark has as much truth as the first--which is to say, some truth. Of course, many a young man has put himself in danger to pick up material for his writing, but as a matter to make one wistful, not one major American athlete, CEO, politician, engineer, trade-union official, surgeon, airline pilot, chess master, call girl, sea captain, teacher, bureaucrat, Mafioso, pimp, recidivist, physicist, rabbi, movie star, clergyman, or priest or nun has also emerged as a major novelist since the Second World War.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Friday, October 11, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Creating Killers

Children raised with a modicum of respect and with some appreciation of who they are as individuals will grow into adults possessing some sense of personal power. Unfortunately, not a few children are brought up in homes where they are regarded as invisible or little more than biological extensions of their parents. Accordingly, they may reach maturity uncertain of their value as people, and suffer grave doubts about the degree to which they can influence the course of their own lives. Swept along helplessly by events, they lack the psychological means to move toward that which might make life worthwhile or away from people or circumstances regularly bringing them grief. Feeling utterly without power of their own, they can become totally submissive to the pernicious will of others. Yet, paradoxically, when nothing else works, they may finally be moved to the use of lethal force. Even an emotional cipher--a virtual nonperson--if sufficiently desperate, may find the strength to fire a gun.

Marin Binder, M. D., Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985

Writing Quote: Facing the Blank Page

Some people when they sit down to write and nothing special comes, no good ideas, are so frightened that they drink a lot of strong coffee to hurry them up, or smoke packages of cigarettes, or take drugs or get drunk. They do not know that good ideas come slowly, and that the more clear, tranquil and unstimulated you are, the slower the ideas come but the better they are.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mad Man With Scissors Attacks Five in NYC Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Writing Quote: John Gardner on Plotting the Novel

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

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

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1983

Criminal Justice Quote: The Omnipotent Serial Killer

Many a serial murderer develops a sense that he cannot be caught, especially if the authorities have missed all of the clues he has inadvertently or sometimes even intentionally left behind. This feeling intensifies when he appears to have momentarily triumphed over the authorities. He develops an attitude of personal omnipotence: he has committed the ultimate crime and gotten away with it, and the evidence seems to show him that he can continue to do so. This attitude is critical to his success and to his downfall. It keeps him going for a long time, but eventually it makes him become careless; that is the point at which he is usually caught.

Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shactman, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One-Hour CNN Documentary on the Erie Pizza Bomb Case

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Norman Mailer Compares His "Executioner's Song" to Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"

I think Capote's book and mine are formally similar, but vastly different. Obviously, I'd be the first to state that if he hadn't done In Cold Blood, it's conceivable that I wouldn't have thought of taking on The Executioner's Song. Nonetheless, it's also possible that something about The Executioner's Son [about the execution of a Utah killer named Gary Gillmore] called for doing it in the way I chose. In any event, its flavor is different from In Cold Blood [about the murder of a Kansas farm family in 1959]. Truman retained his style. Not the pure style--he simplified it--but it was still very much a book written by Truman Capote. You felt it every step of the way. The difference is that he tweaked it more, where I was determined to keep the factual narrative. [Capote created composite characters and invented events. In recreating the murder trial, he had the defense put on its case first.] I wanted my book to read like a novel, and it does, but I didn't want to sacrifice what literally happened in a scene for what I wanted to see happen. Of course, I could afford to feel that way. I had advantages Truman didn't. His killers were not the most interesting guys in the world, so it took Truman's exquisite skills to make his work a classic. I was in the more promising position of dealing with a man who was quintessentially American yet worthy of Dostoyevsky. If this were not enough, he [Gillmore] was also in love with a girl who--I'll go so far as to say--is a bona fide American heroine. I didn't want, therefore, to improve anything. Dedicated accuracy is not usually the first claim a novelist wishes to make, but here it became a matter of literary value. What I had was gold, if I had enough sense not to gild it.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Criminal Justice Quote: Identify Theft

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

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Defense

     The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a fairly recent entry in psychiatric terminology; in fact, it was only officially recognized with the publication of the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders in 1980, known as DSM-III. In World Wars I and II, there had been what was known to laymen as "shell shock" and to mental health professions as "combat neurosis," a battlefield condition in which men become too traumatized to function properly. A fairly large proportion of discharges from the army were due to this condition, and the problem remains a serious one for all those who participate in combat, with its attendant horrors and stresses.

     During the 1950s when DSM-I was published, there was a condition referred to as "transient situational disorder," which was sometimes used to encompass battlefield stress. It was the initials TSD that were lifted from this previous neurosis and made to fit a condition that seemed to have sprung up in American survivors of the war in Vietnam, and which became known as PTSD--or, in layman's terms, "the Vietnam syndrome."

     I had discovered, over the years, that while there were people who really did suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder--had difficulty in living normal lives after returning from the brink of death experienced either in war or as a result of some other traumatic event--many other claims of PTSD were just a lot of poppycock, a form of malingering. The diagnosis of PTSD had become fashionable in certain psychiatric circles, mainly those that dealt with people in and out of veterans' hospitals. Other psychiatrists, just as well qualified, who also dealt with veterans had not seen many genuine cases. Also, the United States had been involved in several traumatic wars earlier in this century, and while there had been a few diagnosed cases of what was then called battlefield shock, most of the people who did experience these sort of shocks recovered and went on to lead normal lives. Could the experience of fighting in Vietnam have been worse than the experience of fighting in Korea? Or in Europe or the Pacific Islands during World War II? Were American servicemen of the 1960s and 1970s so much more emotionally fragile that those who served in earlier conflicts?

Robert K. Ressler and Tom Schachtman, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997       

Monday, October 7, 2013

Leatrice Brewer: The Woman Who Killed But Didn't Murder Her Three Children

     In 2002, 21-year-old Leatrice Brewer, while living with her grandmother, had her first baby, a girl she named Jewell. Leatrice and the baby's father, Ricky Ward, broke up shortly after the birth. Leatrice and her grandmother, Maebell Mickens, lived in New Cassel, New York, a suburban community on Long Island 20 miles east of New York City.

     Leatrice's grandmother and Leatrice's mother, Pearly Mae Mickens, were both mentally ill drug addicts. Leatrice, already showing signs of insanity, worked as a filing clerk at a law firm. She also had a part time job as a sales assistant at a Kohl's department store.

     Not long after the birth of her daughter Jewell, Leatrice began dating a man from Queens named Innocent Demesyeux. Less than a year later, she gave birth to Michael Demesyeux. Leatrice continued to live with her grandmother, Maebell Mickens. Maebell, to help support her drug habit, was not above panhandling on the streets of New Cassel. At this time, Leatrice continued to struggle with severe bouts of depression and drug dependancy.

     In 2006, Leatrice had a second child with Innocent Demesyeux, a boy who inherited his father's unusual first name. Shortly after Innocent's birth, Maebell Mickens kicked Leatrice and her children out of her house.

     Leatrice Brewer and her three kids moved in to a small, second-story apartment on Prospect Street in New Cassel. Without financial help from the children's fathers, Leatrice continued to hold down two jobs. She also received rental assistance, food stamps, and a stipend from the federal Women, Infants and Children program.

     As early as 2003, caseworkers from the state's Child Protective Service agency received complaints filed by neighbors and family members who accused Leatrice of child neglect. Every so often one of the fathers would call the local police to report that Leatrice, a six-foot woman who weighted more than 200 pounds, had hit one of the kids. Notwithstanding these complaints, Leatrice never lost custody of Jewell, Michael, or Innocent.

     By 2007, Leatrice was too drug-addled and mentally ill to hold down a job. For days she would simply disappear from the apartment, leaving the child-raising to Jewell, her precocious 6-year-old daughter.

     In late February 2008, Leatrice called 911 and told the dispatcher she had stabbed Jewell and drowned her in the bathtub. The distraught mother said she had also drowned Michael and Innocent. After talking to the 911 dispatcher, Leatrice tried to kill herself by swallowing a concoction of household cleaning chemicals. When it appeared she couldn't commit suicide by poisoning herself, Leatrice jumped out of her second-story bedroom window.

     Leatrice's second attempt at suicide also failed. Instead of the morgue, she ended up at the Nassau University Medical Center with an injured back. The next day, a county prosecutor charged her with three counts of murder.

     While being treated at the hospital, Leatrice told a visiting relative that "the voices took control, and I had to do it."

     According to a battery of court-appointed psychiatrists, Leatrice suffered from a major depressive disorder that caused her to kill her children. She had been under the delusion that killing her kids would save them from something worse than death--the effects of voodoo.

     In 2009, Leatrice Brewer pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect. The judge sent her to a state psychiatric facility where the 28-year-old would reside and be treated until mental health experts and their drugs made her sane enough to rejoin society.

     The Brewer case came back into the news in 2013 when Leatrice petitioned a judge for her share of her children's $350,000 estate. (I do not know the source of this wealth. Perhaps a wrongful death lawsuit had been filed against the state on the children's behalf that resulted in a court settlement.) Normally, under New York's Son of Sam law, convicted criminals are prohibited from profiting from their crimes. But in this case, Leatrice, rather than being convicted of triple murder, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This raises the legal question of whether or not, under these circumstances, she is entitled to the money.

     The hearing to resolve this unusual legal issue has been scheduled for November 6, 2013. This may be one of those cases where a judge will have to make a unpopular ruling.



Criminal Justice Quote: Wild Bill Hickok's Corpse

I have seen many dead men on the field of battle and in civil life, but Wild Bill Hickok was the prettiest corpse I have ever seen. His long moustache was attractive, even in death, and his long tapering fingers looked like marble.

Ellis T. "Doc" Pierce [Hickok was shot to death by Jack McCall on August 21, 1876 in Deadwood, South Dakota Territory.] 

Criminal Justice Quote: Chris Hedges on American Society

We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy. [Other than that, we are fine.]

Chris Hedges [A journalist, book author, and Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute in New York City who specializes in American politics and society.] 2013  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Frederick Hengl Butchered and Cooked His Wife

     In 2002, Frederick Joseph Hengl and his wife Ann Faris moved into a two-bedroom bungalow on North Ditmar Street a block from City Hall in Oceanside, California. Ten years later, residents of the neighborhood considered the 68-year-old Hengl, and his 73-year-old spouse, more than a little odd. Bearded, bespectacled, and bone-thin, Hengl regularly appeared in public dressed in women's clothing and wearing make-up. Ann Faris often walked the streets armed with a butcher's knife. Neighbors wondered why she always wore the same outfit, a blue sweater and denim-like pants. The fact people could smell her suggested she didn't bother much with personal hygiene. Occasionally Faris would stand in her front yard and take off her clothes. (Not being residents of San Francisco, many neighbors found this display of public nudity off-putting.)

     On November 11, 2012, the odd couple's neighbors began detecting a foul odor coming from the Hengl house. They also heard, from inside the dwelling, sounds of a power saw. The stench grew unbearable after Hengl, to draw the odor out of the house, installed a window fan. A neighbor called the police.

     On November 16 at eleven o'clock in the morning, Oceanside police officers pulled up to the Hengl bungalow. An officer knocked on the front door but no one answered. Assuming that the place was at the moment unoccupied, an officers climbed into the dwelling through a window at the rear of the house. As the police officer entered the foul-smelling bungalow, Frederick Hengl slipped out the front door and walked away.

     Inside, amid the stench of rotting flesh, the police discovered three pans of meat cooking on the kitchen stove. In the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, they came upon a plastic bag containing a human head. (Later identified as Anna Faris.) A meat grinder that had been recently used sat nearby. In the bathroom, the police found a power saw, a boning knife, and other cutting instruments. It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what had taken place under this roof. Scattered throughout the first floor, officers found pieces of freshly cut bone.

     Shortly after the gruesome discovery in the bungalow on North Ditmar Street, police officers found and arrested Frederick Hengl. From his house he had walked to a local bar. Perhaps he was enjoying what he knew would be his last alcoholic beverage.

     According to a forensic pathologist with the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, Anna Faris had died on or about November 1. Crime scene investigators reported that they found "no evidence of cannibalism." (Then why was Hengl cooking the meat?)

     A San Diego County prosecutor charged Frederick Hengl with murder, willful cruelty to an elder, and committing an unlawful act with human remains. If convicted of murder, he could be sentenced to 25 years to life. On November 21, the day before Thanksgiving, Hengl pleaded not guilty to all charges before a superior court judge who set his bail at $5 million. Hengl's attorney advised the court that his client had a bad heart, and required medical treatment.

     On September 27, 2013, while in the San Diego County Jail's infirmary, Frederick Hengl died of prostate cancer. From the day of his arrest, Hengl denied killing his wife who reportedly suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

     To make a case of criminal homicide against Mr. Hengl, the state would have had to prove she did not die a natural death. Under the circumstances, this would have been difficult. With Hengl's passing, no one will ever know the exact circumstances of Anna Faris' death, or why her husband had butchered and cooked her body. While they were a strange couple, they were not necessarily a killer and a murder victim.            

Criminal Justice Quote: Stranger Murder

     Before I coined the term serial killer in the mid-1970s, such murders were referred to as stranger murders to differentiate them from murders in which the victim is killed by those he or she knew, usually family members.

     One reason that Jack the Ripper frightened those who heard or read about him when he was active [in 1888 London] was the notion that he killed strangers--leading to the idea that ordinary people out for a walk at night would now have to be afraid of any stranger who crossed their path. At that time, such murders were entirely uncommon in Great Britain and everywhere else. The great individual killers (as opposed to military ones) in history had been of the Bluebeard sort, those who killed their wives, one by one, or massacred their families. For most people the emotional components of intra-familial violence seemed understandable; most people, at some time or another, had considered raising an angry hand toward a spouse or a child, and could comprehend how, in a fit of rage, such an emotion could escalate into murder. But the emotional components of stranger murder seemed incomprehensible.

Robert K. Ressler, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997

Writing Quote: Teaching Dead White Guy Literature

I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. [Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth.]

 David Gilmour, novelist and professor at the University of Toronto., September 26, 2013 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Samuel Byck's Attempted Assassination of President Nixon

     Early on the morning of Friday, February 22, 1974, Samuel Byck drove to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport carrying a .22-caliber pistol and a gasoline bomb that was designed to explode on impact. His plan was to hijack a plane and force the pilot to fly it into the White House where the plane's fuel and the gasoline bomb would detonate and kill President Richard Nixon and destroy the building.

     Upon his arrival at the airport, Byck shot and killed an airport security guard. He then stormed his way onto Delta Flight 523 which was scheduled to take off for Atlanta, burst into the cockpit, and shot and killed the co-pilot. He then ordered the pilot to take off, but the pilot refused. Byck then grabbed a female passenger and forced her into the cockpit at gunpoint, telling her to help the pilot fly the plane.

     By this time, security personnel had been alerted to the hijacking, and armed agents surrounded the plane. They immediately began firing furiously into the cockpit.  Byck was hit in the chest and the stomach. Unable to stand, he fell to the cockpit floor and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

     Byck was deranged and, after his death, it was learned that he had sent a tape to the Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson before the hijacking on which he detailed his plans to use a plane as a guided missile to kill President Nixon.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In The Crosshairs, 2003

Friday, October 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Stalking Victims

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

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

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

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

Criminal Justice Quote: Governor George Wallace Saw It Coming

Somebody's going to get me one of these days. I can just see a little guy out there that nobody's paying any attention to. He reaches into his pocket and out comes the little gun, like that Shirhan guy that got [Robert] Kennedy.

George Wallace [The governor of Alabama who was shot by Arthur Herman Bremer on May 15, 1972.] Detroit News, 1972 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


     The authorities dropped the charges against Cruz and Edwards.

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

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