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Friday, July 28, 2017

James Wolcott aka James St. James: Mass Killer to Professor

     In 1967 when he was fifteen, James Gordon Wolcott lived in the central Texas town of Georgetown, the home of Southwestern University. His father, Dr. Gordon Wolcott, headed up the university's Biology Department. His mother Elizabeth, an outgoing woman, was active in the religious community. James and his 17-year-old sister Libby attended Georgetown High School.

     At ten on the night of August 4, 1967, James and Libby returned home after attending a rock concert with friends in nearby Austin. Just after midnight, James sniffed model airplane glue to give himself a "boost." Armed with a .22 rifle, he walked into the living room and shot his father to death by plugging him twice in the chest. In Libby's room, James killed his sister by shooting her in the chest and in the face. The teenager found his mother in her bedroom where he shot her twice in the head and once in the chest.

     With his father and sister dead, and his mother in her room dying, James hid the rifle in the attic crawlspace above his bedroom closet. After he disposed of the weapon, James ran out of the house and flagged down a car occupied by three college students. After telling these students that someone had killed his family, they returned with him to the house. Inside the dwelling, the students found Mrs. Wolcott hanging onto her life in her bedroom. One of the young men called for an ambulance and the police. (This was pre-911.)

     On the front porch of the Wolcott house, James kept yelling, "How could this happen!" He, of course, knew exactly how it happened. When it occurred to the college kids that the killer could still be in the dwelling, they fled the scene.

     Later that morning, Elizabeth Wolcott died at the hospital. A minister who happened to be a Wolcott neighbor took James to his parsonage. A few hours later, when a Texas Ranger asked James if he had killed his family, the youngster said, "Yes, sir." At that point James had the presence of mind to describe in detail what he had done. At the killing site, he showed police officers where he hid the rifle.

     When asked the obvious question of why, James said he hated his family. He later told psychiatrists that his mother chewed her food so loudly he had to leave the room. His sister had an annoying Texas accent, and his father made him cut his hippie hair and wouldn't allow him to wear anti Vietnam war buttons or attend peace rallies.

     Several psychiatrist interviewed James at the Williamson County Jail. From the young mass killer they learned that he had been sniffing glue for several months. James also told the shrinks that he had contemplated suicide. He said that his parents and sister had tried to drive him insane. He killed them before they had a chance to murder him.

     Although James and members of his family did not have histories of mental illness, the psychiatrists concluded that the boy suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. (There may have been doctors who disagreed with this conclusion.) One thing was certain, with an I Q of 134, the kid was no dummy. Notwithstanding the diagnosis of schizophrenia, the psychiatrists declared the defendant mentally competent to stand trial as an adult.

     As could be expected, the murder defendant's attorney, Will Kelly McClain, set up a defense based on legal insanity. In October 1967, following a short trial, the all-male jury found James Wolcott not guilty by reason of insanity. The jurors believed that James had been so mentally impaired he had no idea that killing his family was wrong. (Since the Wolcott verdict, only a handful of Texas murder defendants have been declared not guilty by reason of insanity. This rarely happens because there is no such thing as a mental illness so severe that it completely destroys a killer's appreciation of what he is doing. In the history of Texas jurisprudence, the James Wolcott case is an anomaly.)

     In February 1968, the trial judge sent James Wolcott to the Rusk State Hospital in Nacodoches, Texas. He was to be incarcerated there until he regained his sanity. That sentence placed his fate in the hands of psychiatrists.

     In 1974, seven years after the mass killing in the Texas college town, Rusk State Hospital psychiatrists declared the 21-year-old killer sane. The young man had made a remarkable recovery for someone who had been so mentally ill that he didn't realize that shooting his family to death was wrong.

     As the only surviving child of his deceased parents, James Wolcott inherited their estate, and started receiving a monthly stipend from his father's university pension fund.

     Upon his departure from Rusk State Hospital, James took up residence in Austin, Texas where he enrolled at Stephen F. Austin University. Just two years later, he had a Bachelor's Degree in psychology.

     At some point in the late 1970s, James Wolcott changed his name to James David St. James. In 1980, Mr. St. James, having acquired his Master's Degree, began his doctoral work in psychology at the University of Illinois. In 1988, Dr. St. James began teaching psychology at Millikin University, a Presbyterian liberal arts institution in Decatur, Illinois. No one at the school knew that the psychology professor had shot three members of his family to death twenty years earlier. Had he included this relevant background information on his job application, it is doubtful the university would have hired him. Having been declared criminally insane, even in the field of academic psychology, is not a job-hunting selling point.

     In July 2013, a Texas journalist named Ann Marie Gardner published an article that revealed Dr. St. James' homicidal past. When the story broke, the academic, who did not have a family of his own, headed the Behavioral Sciences Department at Millikin University. While the secretive professor's colleagues and students were probably shocked, no one at the school voiced disapproval. In fact, at least in academic circles, Dr. St. James emerged from his exposure as a hero, a poster-boy for the power and glory of the behavioral sciences. (Had he been working for a plumbing company, he would have been fired.) If the professor's colleagues and students were stunned by the creepy irony of Dr. St. James' story, no one has said so. (University campuses, ground zero of extreme political correctness, are not places where students and professors can speak freely.)

     There are probably members of the Wolcott family who are still psychologically scarred by James Wolcott's killing spree. There was no indication, however, that what took place that night in 1967 had any lingering affect on the killer himself. And there was no evidence that Dr. St. James is still schizophrenic. This was interesting because the disease is incurable. (All of the homicidal schizophrenics I have written about--including the subject of a book--struggled with the malady their entire lives. One of these men who couldn't take living with the illness eventually killed himself.)

     One possible explanation for James Wolcott's rapid and apparent total recovery from this devastating disease is that he wasn't insane in the first place. Following his arrest, James told his interrogators that he had been thinking about killing his family for a week. Moreover, if he wasn't aware that what he had done was wrong, why did he hide the gun? Is it possible we was a brilliant sociopath who pulled one over on the psychiatrists, the criminal justice system, and academia?
       

Tiresome Political Memoirs

The memoir genre isn't helped by all the mandatory books that politicians turn out. These first-person tales of coming to the capital, of being made a better man by victory then defeat and a forced return home, have a standard narrative arc. These books also contain an agreed upon measure of falsification and their steady consumption may wipe out the market for serious political nonfiction.

Thomas Mallon, In Fact, 2001 

Crime Novelist Elizabeth George on Writing Groups

People want to know what I think about writing critique groups. I belonged to one briefly, but I didn't use it much. I prefer now to use the services of a cold reader when the book is done. But if you're going to belong to a group, check it out carefully before you commit yourself to joining. It there's someone in there with an ax to grind, don't become a member. If the group isn't solution-oriented, just saying things like, "I have a problem with X" (your character, your plot, your scene, or whatever) without proposing a solution to the problem or a way to approach developing a solution, just pass them by. If you don't feel good about the group dynamic, trust yourself and don't join up. [My advice, for what it's worth: Forget writing groups. Most members are unpublished and can't help you. Moreover, why waste your time helping others improve their writing? Work on your own stuff. Writing groups are a waste of time.]

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004 

Prison Tattoos

Tattoos worn on the face or neck are the most visible, and thus suggest a higher level of [criminal] commitment than tattoos on other less visible parts of the body. Older convicts feel that younger prisoners should not get tattooed if they don't already have any tattoos, and many tattooists in prison will simply refuse to be the first to tattoo a new prisoner. An "honorable" prison tattooist doesn't want to be responsible for helping to ruin a young prisoner's life, particularly if an individual is going to be getting out of prison any time soon. By acquiring tattoos during his incarceration, he would be making concrete his identify as a convict, and may regret his decision to become tattooed.

Margo DeMello in Diego Gambetta's Codes of the Underworld, 2009

The Cost of Freedom and Who Has It

Freedom in America works best for those who can afford it. As the fellow said in The Grapes of Wrath, "You're just as free as you've got Jack to pay for it." It is not as much an idea as a commodity. It is not as much a liberated state of being as it is an item on the shelf that, along with the purchaser, may be purchased. It is not as much a right as a component of commerce.

Gerry Spence, From Freedom to Slavery, 1993

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bite Mark Identification: A Forensic Science That Lost Its Credibility

     The identification of a series of bruises or abrasions, usually in the shape of two semi-circles or brackets, as a human bite mark made by a particular set of teeth is a function of forensic dentistry referred to a bite mark identification. This form of impression identification, also called forensic odontology, is based on the assumption that no two people in the world have front teeth that are identical in thickness, shape, relationship to each other, and patterns of wear.

     The process of comparing a bite mark to a known set of teeth is not unlike the identification of latent fingerprints, footwear, and tire track impressions. Bite mark wounds are found on victims of murder, rape, and child molestation. This type of crime scene evidence is preserved by life-size photography, tooth mark tracings onto transparent sheets, and dental casts of the impressions themselves. A suspect might be asked to bite down on a pliable surface for an impression sample, have a cast made of his teeth, or both. Usually, connecting a suspect to a victim through expert bite mark testimony will be enough evidence, by itself, to sustain a criminal conviction.

     The field of bite mark identification exploded in the 1980s, and hundreds, if not thousands of defendants between 1983 and 2002 were sent to prison on the strength of bite mark testimony. Although bite mark identification had been a recognized branch of forensic science since 1970, it was the 1979 trial of serial killer Ted Bundy in south Florida that put this form of identification on the map the way the O. J. Simpson case, in the mid-1990s, popularized DNA profiling.

     At the peak of bite mark evidence credibility among forensic scientists, detectives, prosecutors, and judges, this form of impression identification was put on the level with the matching of fingerprints. However, by 2003, forensic scientists were seriously questioning the assumption that bite marks were as unique and identifiable as latent fingerprints.

     Over the years several leaders in the bite mark field oversold the reliability of this form of identification. For example, in 1977, Dr. Lowell J. Levine, a forensic dentistry consultant to the New York City Medical Examiner's Office, wrote: "Since every person's teeth are unique in respect to spacing, twisting, turning, shapes, tipping toward the tongue or lips, wear patterns, breakage, fillings, caps, loss and the like, all of which occur in limitless combinations, it is possible for them to leave a pattern which for identification purposes is as good as a fingerprint."

     In 1996, Dr. C. Michael Bowers, a prominent southern California odontologist, was one of the first forensic scientists to raise doubts about the credibility of bite make identification when he wrote: "Physical matching of bite marks is a non-science which was developed with little testing and no published error rate....An opinion is worth nothing unless the supportive data is clearly describable and can be demonstrated in court. How does one weight the importance of a single rotated tooth in a bite mark when the suspect has a similar tooth? The value judgments range widely on the value of this feature. This is not science. Instead, statistical levels of confidence must be included in the process."

     In a bite mark identification exercise Dr. Bowers conducted in a workshop at the 1999 American Academy of Forensic Science conference, 63 percent of the odontologists who participated made an incorrect identification, findings that displeased many in the field when Dr. Bowers published the results of his experiment. In an article published in 2003 in the British Dental Journal, Dr. D. K. Whittaker, a forensic dentistry professor at the University of Wales, explained why bite mark evidence is so difficult to identify, particularly bite marks on skin:

     "Human bites on skin are difficult to interpret because skin is not good 'impression' material. Moreover, victims may struggle and movement will distort the image of the bite. Skin surfaces are not flat and visual distortion may be present, often heightened by photographic distortion caused by inadequate imaging techniques. Human dentitions, whilst possibly being unique in the small nuances of tooth size, shape, angulation and texture may not inflict unique bite marks which can only record gross and not fine detail. If the victim survives, the injury may change due to infection or subsequent healing and if the victim is deceased, putrefaction may introduce distortion."

     Before odontologists in Great Britain can testify in court as bite mark experts, they must have made a minimum of twenty such identifications in other cases. In the United States, an odontologist can be certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology after two bite mark identifications. As a result, being certified in this forensic field in the United States shouldn't carry much weight. (In fact, two of America's most notorious charlatans in the field were both board certified bite mark experts.)

     In 2004, as part of a journalistic series on forensic science, the Chicago Tribune examined 154 state and federal trials involving bite mark identification testimony. In more than a quarter of these cases the prosecution and the defense produced forensic odontologists whose expert opinions were diametrically opposed. If bite mark identification is an exact science practiced by highly qualified experts, this many odontologists should not have been testifying against each other.


Using a Pen Name

Pseudonyms are especially attractive to fiction writers, whose work (inventing people and seeing the world through their eyes) requires an impersonation, of sorts. Writing under a pen name is like doing an impersonation of someone doing an impersonation. I've fantasized about using an alias, but my fantasy mostly entails making a lot of money writing a quick horror novel. [Unless you write in that genre, good luck with that.]

Francine Prose, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2013

Prosecuting Rapists

My first lesson about sex-crimes prosecution was that perpetrators were not the only enemy. There is a large, more or less hidden population of what I later came to call collaborators within the criminal justice system. Whether if comes from a police officer or a defense attorney, a judge or a court clerk or a prosecutor, there seems to be a residuum of empathy for rapists that crosses all gender, class, and professional barriers. It gets expressed in different ways, from victim-bashing to jokes in poor taste, and too often it results in giving the rapist a break.

Alice Vachss, Sex Crimes, 1993

Are All Men Potential Murderers?

When a murder occurs, the search is for motive as well as weapon. Hypotheses generally center around passion, greed, and uncontrollable anger. All of the above related factors have often been seen as at least comprehensible, if deplorable. After all, some say, how can a man stomach his wife's affair with another man or her consideration of another relationship? Although money as a reason for murder is perceived as unacceptable knavery, acquisition of financial resources is recognized as a goal toward which, of necessity, most strive throughout most of their lives. Regarding uncontrollable rage, anger is an emotion with which everyone must struggle, and all deal with it imperfectly. "A man can take just so much," has been one way the killer's apologist has attempted to explain an apparently senseless murder.

Constance A. Bean, Women Murdered By The Men They Loved, 1992 

Does Perfectionism Cause Writer's Block?

     Much of the self-help literature on writer's block falls into the category of creativity enhancement. One popular approach tries to decrease the writer's perfectionism, or to silence his or her inner critics. This theme implicitly draws on the psychoanalytic concept of the superego, that internalized, harshly judgmental representation of parental and societal values. Yet lofty values alone are not sufficient to cause writer's block. Writer's block requires not just the inability to write as well as you want, but the inability to write anything less than you want. What drives that inability is the belief--usually unconscious--that it is better to write nothing than to write poorly…

     Perfectionism certainly causes some block. But it is invoked as a cause a little too often; it is such a comfortable explanation of your block. It is easier to tell people that you haven't published much because you have such high standards, than that you are disorganized or inhibited or love to play tennis.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Vincent Viafore Murder Case

     In 2011, Vincent Viafore, a 1986 graduate of Roy C. Ketcham High School in Wappinger, New York, met 31-year-old Angelika Graswald at the Pickwick Pub in Poughkeepsie. At the time, Viafore was going through a divorce. Graswald, a native of Lativa (maiden name Lipska), had been previously married.

     In 2015, the engaged couple planned to get married in Europe on the Baltic Sea.

     At four in the afternoon of Sunday April 19, 2015, Vincent and Angelika entered the choppy waters of the Hudson River in Kayaks. They were en route from Plum Point in the Cornwall-on-Hudson area to Bannerman's Island.

     Three hours and forty minutes after they set out on the Hudson River in Kayaks, Angelika Graswald called 911 to report that, forty minutes earlier, her fiancee had fallen out of his kayak into the river. She capsized as well and had been rescued by a boater. Mr. Viafore was still missing.

     As Graswald received treatment for hypothermia at a local hospital, police and rescue crews launched a search for Vincent Viafore. According to Graswald, Mr. Viafore had not been wearing a life jacket.

     The next day, while searchers continued to look for Vincent Viafore's body, Graswald went on Facebook to thank everyone for reaching out to her with sympathy. "Please keep your prayers for Vince," she wrote. "Miracles ARE possible. The authorities are doing everything they can." Graswald also posted a number of photographs of herself and Viafore captioned: "I miss you my love."

     On April 21, 2015, with the search for Viafore still underway, Graswald spoke to a local television reporter about how she and her fiancee had fallen out  of their kayaks into the cold, choppy waters of the Hudson River. According to Graswald, he had said, "I don't think I'm gonna make it." She had responded, "What are you talking about? Of course you will."

     Detectives questioned Grawald on April 28, 2015, nine days after the still missing Viafore capsized on the Hudson. Investigators came away from the interview doubting Graswald's account of the incident.

     On Tuesday April 30, 2015, New York State Police Major Patrick Regan announced at a press conference that Angelika Graswald had been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of the still missing Vincent Viafore. "Initially," he said, "we believed Graswald to be a survivor of a tragic accident."

     Without elaborating, Major Regan said, "Graswald made statements to us that implicated herself in the crime. We believe we know what happened."

     Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, regarding the absence of a corpse, told reporters that "It's not unheard of presenting a murder case without a body." (True, but with an autopsy providing a cause of death, the case against the accused would have to be otherwise very strong. With no eyewitness, confession, a strong motive, or physical evidence linking Graswald to the murder, the prosecutor will have an uphill battle.)

     Angelika Graswald was held in the Orange County Jail without bond on the charge of second-degree murder.

     On May 3, 2015, Graswald gave another television interview, this time from the Orange County Jail. She said the police arrested her after reading entries in her diary in which she had written that at times she wished her fiancee dead. She explained that these passages had been written "during tough times under stress." The murder suspect insisted that she loved Viafore and would never have caused him any harm.

     Graswald, on July 24, 2017, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in connection with her fiancee's kayak death. Under the plea agreement, she will receive a sentence of 15 months to four years in prison. Since she has spent 27 months in jail awaiting her trial, she will be released from custody late in 2017. 

Writing In The FantasyGenre Is Not Easy

So many writers think fantasy is easy. All you have to do is rip off some elves, goblins, and a few other things from Tolkien and spend about 10 minutes making up imaginary words and another 10 minutes working up a rough idea of the country and a little local history and bingo, you're in business. You're a fantasist. It's not like that. What made Tolkien unique is that he spent 50 years building his world, and he built it from the inside out.

Peter S. Beagle in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Alfrieda Abbe, 2004 

Defendants' Courtroom Attire: How Stupid Can You Get?

Many defendants dress casually, even for felony trials. The collared shirt is a rarity. Most wear what they might don to watch Saturday morning cartoons, like a shirt that says Lucky Charms or flip-flops and shorts. Or an oversized football jersey and their good jeans, the ones with the embroidered dragon on the rear pockets. Defendants will show up for trial on a marijuana sales case wearing a shirt with a marijuana leaf design--not on a dare, or as some kind of political statement, but because they're so oblivious that they put the shirt on and don't think anything of it.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

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 

The Five Ws in Modern Journalism

[Print and TV] reporters in journalism textbooks try to provide readers and viewers with what they need to know and try to produce stories that answer Who?, What?, When?, Where?, and Why? Journalists in real world news markets are driven, either consciously or indirectly, to produce stories that are generated by a different set of Five Ws: Who cares about information? What are they willing to pay, or others willing to pay to reach them? Where can media outlets and advertisers reach them? When is this profitable? Why is it profitable? These economic concerns help predict media content and explain why information in news reports differs from an accounting of a day's most significant events.

James T. Hamilton, All the News That's Fit to Sell, 2004

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Linsey Attridge's Outrageous Crime and Ridiculous Sentence

     In 2008, Linsey and Gary Attridge were married in the central Scotland town of Grangemouth. The 26-year-old bride had grown up in Grangemouth where her mother worked as a seamstress and her father was a window cleaner. Linsey and her new husband, a financial advisor, honeymooned in Malta.

     Less than two years after the wedding, Linsey was unhappy with her marriage. In August 2010, after meeting kickboxing instructor Nick Smith online, Linsey and her daughter moved into the 32-year-old's house in the northern city of Aberdeen. By the summer of 2011, that relationship had fallen apart after Linsey confessed to having sex with one of Nick Smith's friends while Nick was in the house asleep. Although they were no longer a couple, Nick allowed Linsey and her daughter, to whom he had become a surrogate father, to continue living in his house.

     In August 2011, while browsing through Facebook pages, Linsey came across a photograph of 26-year-old Philip McDonald, a cook at a downtown Aberdeen cafe. He was pictured with his 14-year-old brother James. Philip lived outside of the city in a modest flat with his partner Kelly Fraser and their daughter. To Linsey, Philip and James McDonald were total strangers.

     A few days after stumbling across the Facebook photograph, Linsey Attridge, in a scheme to rekindle her relationship with Nick Smith, decided to falsely report that that Philip and James McDonald had broken into her house and brutally raped her. Before alerting the authorities, she staged the crime by overturning furniture, punching herself in the face, and ripping her clothing.

     Police officers who responded to the false rape report found a woman who looked and acted as though she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. She submitted herself to various physical examinations including tests for sexually transmitted diseases. In an act of extreme self-centered cruelty, LInsey Attridge identified Philip and James McDonald as her rapists. (Since they were total strangers, I don't know how Linsey explained knowing who her attackers were.)

     Two days after receiving the false crime report, police officers arrested the younger brother at his mother's house. James McDonald was a student at a residential school for teenagers with behavioral problems. (This made him an ideal rape suspect.) Less than a hour after taking James into custody, police officers walked into the cafe where Philip worked as a cook.

     On the worst day of Philip McDonald's life, the detectives who showed up at the cafe told Philip that he and his brother were the prime suspects in a brutal rape case. The officers asked the shocked and frightened young man to accompany them to the police station for questioning. In the police vehicle en route to police headquarters, the officers identified the victim and described the home invasion and crime. Philip broke down and cried. (The officers probably took this as a sign of guilt.)

     At the police station, detectives photographed, fingerprinted, and swabbed the rape suspect for DNA. During the five-hour interrogation, when a detective revealed exactly when the crime had taken place, Philip was relieved. While the two men were supposedly raping Linsey Attridge, Philip was at home putting his daughter to bed. Several members of his family were in the house with him that night. His relatives would vouch for his whereabouts at the time of the rape. He had an alibi.

     The detectives questioning Philip were not interested in his so-called alibi. Everyone had an alibi. Big deal. Philip didn't realize that police investigators, once they have a suspect in their cross-hairs, are extremely reluctant, even in the face of exonerating evidence, to change targets.

     Over the next two months Philip McDonald's life was a living hell. He couldn't be out in public without being harassed, and had to enroll his daughter in another school. By October 2011, Linsey Attridge's story began to unravel. When pressed by detectives who had finally become skeptical, she admitted that she had made the entire story up. She had done it in an effort to attract attention and sympathy from her estranged boyfriend, Nick Smith. In so doing, she had put Philip and his brother through hell, wasted police resources, and made the detectives look like monkeys. Cops hate people who lie to them about as much as they hate rapists.

     Shortly after Linsey Attridge's false report confession, a pair of detectives walked into the cafe to inform Philip that he was in the clear. That was it. Out of the blue he was accused of rape, and out of the blue he was told that his ordeal had ended. The cops left the restaurant without offering even an insincere apology. Like their counterparts in American, and probably throughout the world, police officers never say they are sorry. Why? Because they are not sorry.

     A local prosecutor charged Linsey Attridge with the crime of filing a false report. In June 2013, the defendant pleaded guilty to the charge in an Aberdeen courtroom. The judge shocked everyone by sentencing Attridge to 200 hours of community service and two years probation. Nick Smith, her former boyfriend, was in the courtroom that day. He told reporters outside the court house that he thought the judge's sentence was "ridiculous." He was right.

      

Bernard Shaw on Literary Critics

I have never been able to see how the duties of a critic, which consists largely in making painful remarks in public about the most sensitive of his fellow creatures, can be reconciled with the manners of a gentleman. But gentleman or no, a critic is most certainly not bound to perjure himself to shield the reputation of the profession he criticizes.

Bernard Shaw in Never in Doubt by Peter S. Prescott, 1986 

Handwriting Identification Versus Graphology

     Please don't confuse handwriting identification with handwriting analysis [graphology]. Handwriting identification is a science; handwriting analysis is considered by many people to be a pseudoscience. Handwriting identification attempts to decide who did, or sometimes who did not, write a particular document; handwriting analysis attempts to discern the personality traits of the person who did the writing.

     Handwriting identification looks at many factors, some of them conscious but many of them so habitual they are totally beyond conscious control. These include the slant of the letters, the way the letters are joined or separated, the use of capitals in place of small letters and vice versa, the shapes of individual letters, the shapes of buckles on letters such as K, the tails of letters such as Y and J. What the professional handwriting examiner looks at and what the amateur hoping to identify handwriting looks at are often totally different; therefore, what an amateur may think is an exact replica of someone's signature may, to a handwriting examiner, betray dozens of major points of difference….

     When a questioned signature is absolutely identical with a known signature, it is likely to be a tracing, which can almost always be identified microscopically by the types of hesitations that do not occur in fluent natural handwriting.

Anne Wingate, Ph.D., Science of the Crime, 1992 

The Value of Rewriting

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe that it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn't. Most writers don't initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It's not clear. It's not logical. It's verbose. It's klunky. It's pretentious. It's boring. It's full of clutter. It's full of cliches. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in seven different ways. It doesn't lead out of the previous sentence...The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

Sherlock Holmes on the Power of Knowledge

A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library where he can get it if he wants.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Five Orange Pips."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lizzie Borden to O. J. Simpson: The Disappointing History of Forensic Science

     The historical trajectory of forensic science can be illustrated by three celebrated murder trials: The Lizzie Borden case in 1892; the 1932 murder of the Lindbergh baby and trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann; and the O. J. Simpson double murder and marathon trial of the mid-1990s. Starting with the Borden case, the arc rises to the Lindbergh investigation and trial, then falls to the bungled Simpson crime scene investigation and subsequent trial featuring investigative and forensic incompetence, hired-gun testimony, and televised courtroom showboating and baffoonery.

Lizzie Borden

     While Lizzie Borden may have had the opportunity, motive, and means of hacking her stepmother and father to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts home on August 4, 1892, the police, without the benefit of forensic serology and latent fingerprint identification, had no way to physically link her to the bludgeoned victims, or to the never identified hatchet believed to be the instrument of death.

     In England, the year of the Borden murders, a biologist named Francis Galton published the world's first book on fingerprint classification. As early as 1880, another Englishman, Henry Faulds, had been writing about the use of finger marks (latent prints) as a method of placing suspects at the scenes of crimes. When Mr. and Mrs. Borden were brutally beaten to death in Fall River, the so-called "exchange principle"--conceived by the French chemist Edmond Locard--that a criminal leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime and takes part of it with him--had not evolved from theory into practice. In 1901, nine years after Lizzie Borden's arrest, scientists in Germany discovered a way to identify and group human blood, a forensic technique that, had it existed in 1892, may have changed the outcome of the Borden case.

     The all-male jury at Lizzie Borden's spectator-packed trial, without being presented with physical evidence linking the 32-year-old defendant to the bludgeoned and bloodied bodies, and believing that upper-middle-class women were too genteel for such brutality, found her not guilty. Had expert witnesses identified the stain on her dress as human blood, and matched a bloody crime scene latent to one of her fingers, the evidence, albeit circumstantial, may have convinced the jurors of her guilt. Assuming that she did in fact commit the double murder, Lizzie, confronted by investigators in possession of such damning, physical evidence, may have confessed, or in the very least, made an incriminating remark.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann

     In 1935, when Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany living in the Bronx went on trial in Flemington, New Jersey for the March 1, 1932 murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, America had confidence in forensic science, and considered it the wave of the future. Because no one had seen the 35-year-old defendant climb the homemade, wooden extension ladder to the second story nursery window at the Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, prosecutors didn't possess direct evidence of his guilt. Moreover, no one knew exactly how Hauptmann had killed the baby--had he been strangled, suffocated, or bludgeoned to death?--or even exactly where the murder took place. (A truck driver who had pulled over to relieve himself along the road, found the baby's remains in a shallow grave about two miles from the Lindbergh house.) If Hauptmann were to be convicted, it would have to be entirely on physical evidence. In other words, jurors, based on the physical evidence and its expert analysis, would have to infer his guilt.

     Having eluded detection for two and a half years following the hand-off of $50,000 in ransom money to a shadowy figure in a Bronx cemetery, the kidnapper had been passing the ransom bills, identified by their recorded serial numbers, around New York City. In September 1934, a squad made up of FBI agents, troopers from the New Jersey State Police, and officers with the New York City Police Department, pulled Hauptmann out of his car in Manhattan as he drove from his rented house in the Bronx to Wall Street where he had lost $25,000 in the stock market. From his wallet, the arresting officers recovered one of the ransom bills, and back at his house, found bundles of the ransom money--totaling $14,000--hidden in his garage. Confronted with this and other circumstantial evidence of his guilt, Hauptmann, a low-grade sociopath, refused to confess.

     At Hauptmann's January 1935 trial, the most publicized and celebrated event of its kind in America, and perhaps the world, eight of the country's most prominent questioned document examiners testified that Hauptmann had written the note left in the nursery as well as the fourteen ransom negotiation letters sent to the Lindberghs prior to the cemetery payoff. A federal wood expert from Wisconsin took the stand and identified a board from the kidnap ladder as having come from Hauptmann's attic floor. This witness also matched tool marks on the ladder with test marks from the blade of Hauptmann's wood plane. (Although a carpenter by trade, Hauptmann had not used his tools since the ransom payoff in April 1932.)

     On February 14, 1935, the jury, based upon Hauptmann's possession of the ransom money, and the physical evidence linking him to the extortion documents and the kidnap ladder, found him guilty. On April 3, 1936, following a series of appeals, prison personnel at the state penitentiary in Trenton, New Jersey strapped him into the electric chair and threw the switch. The handful of protestors gathered outside the death house, when informed of Hauptmann's execution, went home.

O. J. Simpson

     Sixty years after Hauptmann's execution, detectives in Los Angeles arrested O. J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The blooding knifings occurred at a time when most big city detectives had at least some college education, and months of police academy training. Human blood could not only be identified as such and grouped, it could be traced, through DNA science, to an individual donor. Unlike the Borden murders, the double homicide in California produced identifiable blood stains, drops and pools at the death site, in Simpson's vehicle, and inside his house. The prolonged, nationally televised trial featured the testimony of DNA analysts, crime scene technicians, blood spatter interpretation witnesses, footwear impression experts, and forensic pathologists. The Simpson trial introduced forensic DNA science to the American public, and could have been a showcase for forensic science in general. Instead, the case featured investigative bungling, batteries of opposing experts, prosecutorial incompetence, and a jury so confounded by the conflicting science, they found Simpson not guilty of a crime most people believe he committed.

     Like Lizzie Borden, O. J. Simpson, while acquitted, was not exonerated. He was destined to live out the rest of his life in that gray area between innocence and guilt. In the Borden case, prosecutors did the best they could with what they had. In the Simpson case, the state squandered cutting edge science and an embarrassment of riches in physical, crime scene evidence. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the Simpson case is this: in a time of cutting edge science and relatively high-paid, well-educated police officers, criminal investigation has become a lost art, and forensic science, a failed promise.

Writing The How-To Article

Some kinds of writing are more debilitating than others, and it took me years to learn which, for me, is which. Instructional writing--the pure how-to article--is the worst.

John Jerome, Writing Trade, 1992

Clarence Darrow On The Causes Of Crime

Many writers claim that nearly all crime is caused by economic conditions, or in other words, that poverty is practically the whole cause of crime. Endless statistics have been gathered on this subject which seems to show conclusively that property crimes are largely the result of the unequal distribution of wealth. But crime of any class cannot be ascribed to a single cause. Life is too complex, heredity is too variant and imperfect, too many separate things contribute to human behavior to make it possible to trace all actions to a single cause.

Clarence Darrow

Categories Within The Mystery Genre

The term mystery, as in mystery novel, is an umbrella that shelters a variety of subgenres: the traditional whodunit, the private eye, the classic puzzle, the police procedural, action/adventure, thriller, espionage, the novels of psychological and romantic suspense.

Sue Grafton, Writing Mysteries, 1992 

Criminal Interrogations

     There is a gross misconception, generated and perpetuated by fiction writers, movies, and TV, that if criminal investigators carefully examine a crime scene, they will almost always find a clue that will lead them to the offender, and that, furthermore, once the criminal is located, he will readily confess or otherwise reveal guilt, as by attempting to escape. This however, is pure fiction.

     As a matter of fact, the art and science of criminal investigation have not developed to a point where the search for an the examination of physical evidence will always, or even in most cases, reveal a clue to the identify of the perpetrator or provide the necessary legal proof of guilt. In criminal investigations there are many instances where physical clues are entirely absent, and the only approach to a possible solution of the crime is the interrogation of the criminal suspect. Moreover, in most instances, these interrogations must be conducted under conditions of privacy and for a reasonable period of time. They also frequently require the use of psychological tactics and techniques that could well be classified as "unethical," if we are to evaluate them in terms of ordinary, everyday social behavior. [Examples of "unethical" behavior would include referring to incriminating evidence that doesn't exist. Criminal interrogators don't call this lying, they call it acting.]

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogations and Confessions, 1986

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Amish Girls Kidnap Case: There's No Place Safe From Predator Perverts

     At seven in the evening of August 13, 2014, 6-year-old Delila Miller and her 12-year-old sister Fannie, members of an old-order Amish clan consisting of Mose and Barb Miller and their thirteen children, were working on the family farm when a car drove up to the Miller roadside vegetable stand. The Miller family resided in Oswegatchie, New York, a farming community of 4,000 near the Canadian border 150 miles north of Albany. Because the land was relatively inexpensive and the soil fertile, the Oswegatchie area had grown into the second largest Amish enclave in the state.

     When Delila and Fannie saw the 4-door white sedan pull up to the vegetable stand they walked the few hundred feet between the barn and the stand to greet the customers. The couple drove off, and when they did, the girls were gone. Someone ran to an English neighbor's house and called 911.

     The authorities issued an Amber Alert while scuba drivers prepared to search nearby rivers and helicopters flew over the area in search of the missing girls. Agents on the US/Canadian border reviewed surveillance camera footage in the event the abductors left the country.

     On Thursday evening at eight o'clock, 24 hours after the abduction, the kidnappers dropped the Amish girls off in Richville, New York, a town thirty miles from the Miller farm. The girls knocked on the first door they came to and asked for help. They were greeted by Jeff and Pam Stinson who recognized the older girl from  having purchased corn from her at the Miller produce stand.

     It had been raining and the girls were cold and wet. They were also hungry so the Stinson fed them grape juice and servings of watermelon. The girls quickly consumed the food and were driven straight home where they were met by the police.

     Police officers, working off clues provided by the kidnapped girls, identified a pair of suspects and took them into custody Friday night, August 15, 2014. Charged with counts of first-degree kidnapping, officers booked 39-year-old Stephen Howells II and Nicole Vaisey, 25, into the St. Lawrence County Jail.

     Stephen Howells lived in nearby Hermon, New York with Vaisey, his girlfriend. According to the St. Lawrence County sheriff, the couple and their victims did not know each other. The district attorney told reporters that Howells and Vaisey sexually abused the girls during their period of captivity. The judge denied the suspects bond.

     Sheriff Kevin Wells, at a press conference Saturday morning, August 16, in speaking about the suspects, said there was "definite potential" of other kidnap victims associated with the couple. As a result, addition charges could be filed against Howells and Vaisey. The sheriff said he believed the Amish kidnappings had been carefully planned.

     Howells, a father of three, worked as a registered nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdenburg, a town adjacent to Oswegatchie.

     Nicole Vaisey graduated with honors in 2011 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. During her senior year, as a psychology major, she received a $1,500 grant to do research about the effects of watching pornography on attitudes toward rape. She was president of the Mercyhurst chapter of Psi chi and a member of the Mercyhurst Psychology club and the school's Active Minds club.

     Upon graduation from Mercyhurst, Vaisey worked as a substitute teacher at a day care center then took a job with an agency in St. Lawrence County that serves developmentally disabled people. After moving in with Stephen Howell, she worked twice a week as a dog groomer at Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort. The couple met eighteen months ago online.

     Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford C. Riendeau, told a reporter with The New York Times that he planned to argue in court that his client was in an abusive and submissive relationship with Howells. She was not, he said, the lead person in the kidnapping. "She appears to have been the slave and he was the master."

     St. Lawrence County district attorney Mary Rain, said, "We are confident that Vaisey was equally involved in the allegations as he was."

    In May 2015, Howells pleaded guilty to the sexual exploitation of six children, including the two Amish victims. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of child pornography.

     Nicole Vaisey, that May, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sexually exploit minors as well as nine counts of sex exploitation of children.

     In January 2016, St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome Richards sentenced each defendant to 25 years in prison. These sentences ran concurrently with the couples' earlier sentencing in federal court. In the federal kidnapping case, Howell received a prison term of 580 years. Vaisey was sentenced to 300 years behind bars. 

Execution by Gas Chamber

     It would be hard to devise a more expensive, dangerous, or cruel method of execution than death by gas chamber, which was designed and invented by Army Medical Corps officer Major Delos Turner and stands as the only execution device that requires the condemned to participate in his or her own execution, by inhaling lethal gas.

     Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of inmates to the state of Nevada, whose legislature adopted it as the state's official method of execution in 1921, replacing the electric chair.

     Between 1930 and 1999, 955 men and 7 women died in gas chambers in eleven states: Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wyoming. Nevada came first with the gassing to death of Gee Jong on February 8, 1924, and Arizona last with a German national named Walter LeGrand on March 3, 1999. Four states, including Arizona, have retained the gas chamber as an alternative method of execution, even though it has proved to be anything but humane.

     Death in a gas chamber usually takes six to eighteen minutes. It took eleven minutes before Donald Harding was pronounced dead in the Arizona gas chamber on April 6, 1992. The warden presiding over the execution said he would quit his job before carrying out another gas chamber execution.

     The ritual of this form of execution begins when the condemned inmate is led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by the arms, waist, ankles, and chest. A mask covers the inmate's face. The chamber is sealed. An executioner pours sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor below a metal canister that contains cyanide pellets.

     An open curtain allows witnesses to see the inmate in the chamber. If the inmate has a final statement, it is read. Then the warden signals the executioner, who hits an electric switch that opens the bottom of the metal canister and releases the cyanide pellets into the acid, unleashing a cloud of lethal gas.

Billy Wayne Sinclair and Jodie Sinclair, Capital Punishment, 2009

What is Literary Success?

     It is important to establish your own definition of success. Is it one story? A completed manuscript? One appreciative reader? Publication? A bestseller? A number-one bestseller? Ten number-one bestsellers?…

     [According to writer Irvine Walsh]: "I'll just write until I can't write anymore. If my next book was my last book, I wouldn't care at all. If my next book was my two hundredth from last, it wouldn't bother me. You can only write so long as you've got something to say. I don't think there's any particular virtue in being a writer."

In Ian Jackman, editor, The Writer's Mentor, 2004 

The Pompous Writer

     Sometimes it takes courage to drop our pretensions, to choose use instead of utilize, rain instead of precipitation, arithmetic instead of computational skills. An idea expressed in simple English has to stand on its own, naked and unadorned, while ostentatious words sound impressive even when they mean nothing.

     Not all pompous writers are showing off or covering up their ignorance. Some are just timid, imagining that their ideas are flimsy or flawed or silly, even when they aren't. If you've done your homework, you shouldn't have to disguise your ideas with showy language. Be brave. Write plainly.

     The truth about big, ostentatious words is that they don't work as well as simple ones.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Too Fat To Execute? America's Biggest and Baddest Losers

     America's weight problem has changed the way we live (and die), and has affected how we punish, or can't punish, some of our worst criminals. The issue of a condemned man's weight arose in 1994 when a death row inmate argued that he was too fat to be humanely executed. In 1981, Mitchell Rupe shot two bank tellers to death in a Olympia, Washington robbery. In 1994, federal judge Thomas S. Zilly ruled that the 425-pound convicted double murderer was too heavy to be hanged.

     Judge Zilly was afraid that when Mr. Rupe ran out of rope, his body would keep going without his head. Although not as clean as having one's head severed by a guillotine, this form of decapitation is no less effective. Since the whole point of executing someone is to kill them quickly, it's not clear to me why Judge Zilly considered hanging Rupe as cruel and unusual punishment. Okay, it would comprise an unusual way of dispatching a condemned prisoner, but how can one method of state-run sudden death be crueler than another equally effective technique? From the perspective of the death row inmate, the cruelty lies in watching the clock tick down to the big moment. In Mitchell Rupe's case, Judge Zilly was apparently more concerned with execution aesthetics than effectiveness.

     As it turned out, Judge Zilly, by saving Mitchell Rupe from a quick and painless end, sentenced him to a slow, painful death caused by liver disease, advanced cirrhosis, and hepatitis C. Rupe died on February 8, 2006 at age 51. At the time of his death his weight had fallen to 260 pounds. As a result of the Rupe case, the Washington legislature, in 1996, changed the state's method of execution from hanging to lethal injection.

     In 1981, the year Mitchell Rupe gunned down the two bank tellers in Olympia, Allen "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later, a jury found him guilty of three counts of first degree murder. The judge sentenced Davis to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old death row inmate's attorney argued that his 355-pound client was too heavy for the state's 76-year-old electric chair. (In the old days, when the prison diet consisted of bread and water, weight wasn't a problem. Just kidding.)

     Since it was built in 1923, Florida's "Old Sparky," having dispatched 200 occupants, had done it's job quite effectively. However, in 1997, during the execution of a prisoner, the chair sort of malfunctioned. When the executioner applied the juice, flames shot a foot in the air from the top of the condemned man's head. The following year, following this gruesome tableau, the prison, with Allen "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair that could accommodate a 350-pount guest. On July 8, 1999, the Florida state execution ran 2,300 volts through the metal cap on Davis' head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, but Old Sparky II did its job.

     Executing overweight prisoners through lethal injection has also presented problems for condemned men and their executioners. On May 24, 2007, an executioner in Ohio ran into difficulty killing 38-year-old Christopher Newton. Six years earlier, while serving time for burglary, Newton had murdered his cellmate. Now it was his time to go. Because of his weight--Newton tipped the scales at 265--it took the executioner two hours and ten attempts to find a proper vein for the inmate's lethal dose of pentobarbital. During the prolonged execution, Newton was actually granted a bathroom break. Once again, the death room aesthetics were not good. While obese people are generally unhealthy, and die relatively young, they are apparently difficult to execute. I guess you'd call that a paradox.

     Nineteen-year-old Richard Cooey, in 1986, threw chunks of concrete off a bridge over Interstate 77 near Akron, Ohio, causing the deaths of two University of Akron students. As his execution date approached, the five-foot-seven, 267-pound inmate claimed that prison food and the lack of exercise had made him too fat to execute. According to Cooey, because of his excess weight, the executioner would have a difficult time locating a vein for the lethal dose. The 41-year-old killer did not prevail in his effort to escape his date with the deadly needle. On October 14, 2008, the Ohio executioner had no difficulty finding a way in for the pentobarbital.

     Ronald Ray Post was on death row at Ohio's Mansfield Correctional Institution for murdering a woman in 1983. According to his attorney, Post was so heavy at 480 pounds the execution gurney may not be strong enough to roll him to his death. Moreover, because of his morbid obesity (pun intended), Post's executioner may have a hard time locating a good vein for the killing agent. In support of his petition to escape his death sentence, Post submitted evidence that medical personnel at the institution had in the past struggled to insert an IV into the 53-year-old's left arm.

     In 2013, not long after Ohio Governor John Kasich commuted Post's death sentence to life, the murderer died of natural causes while being treated at the Franklin Medical Center in Columbus.

     If candidates for the death penalty are becoming too fat to electrocute, hang, or inject, maybe we should consider bringing back the firing-squad. Since there are rifles that can bring down elephants, I see no reason to spare the lives of fat murderers who's crimes were so atrocious they qualified for the death sentence. I don't think it's right to allow prisoners to eat themselves out of death row. Since people who have not murdered anyone pay the consequences for overeating, so should inmates scheduled for execution. 

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Russian Literature

The one genre I absolutely cannot stand is Russian literature. You need genealogy charts to just figure out the characters, every novel is a thousand pages and pretty much everyone dies.

Jodi Picoult, The New York Times Book Review, October 12, 2014 

Sociopaths and Conflict of Interest

It is impossible to explain the concept of conflict of interest to an unethical lawyer, stock broker, or real estate agent. That's because these sociopaths only recognize one interest--their own. So where's the conflict?

Jim Fisher

When to Blow a Bad Book Out of the Water

Is a reviewer ever justified in attempting to blow a bad book out of the water? I think the answer is yes, but the reviewer must choose his targets with the greatest of care. It's not enough for the book to be bad; other elements must be present: smugness; pretentiousness; and over inflated reputation; clear evidence that a book's badness is not the result of incompetence, but of deliberate design. Such books represent an assault on the republic of letters and should not be ignored.

Peter Prescott, Never in Doubt, 1986

James F. Neal on Trial Technique

You wait for the prosecutor to make a mistake and hope that your total, thorough preparation will allow you to take advantage of that mistake. And they will make mistakes....I never take the chance that will result in a bad error. I try not to stretch what I'm doing into making a mistake--not to try to put on too much cross-examination, not to put a witness on who might either be a great witness or a disaster. If someone is going to win a case against me, they're going to beat me. But I don't beat myself.

 James F. Neal in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988 [James Neal, the famed trial attorney, was one of my professors at Vanderbilt University Law School. Neal also became an actor who appeared in several theatrical movies. He died in 2010.]   

Friday, July 21, 2017

Doris Payne's Lifelong Shoplifting Career

     Slab Fork, West Virginia, a tiny unincorporated community in the southern part of the state, is the birthplace and childhood home of one infamous person. That person, born on October 10, 1930, is Doris Payne.

     In 1950 Doris and her family moved from West Virginia to Cleveland, Ohio where she began her notorious, lifelong career as a retail thief. Over the next 65 years Doris collected 20 aliases, 10 social security numbers, 9 dates of birth, and dozens of shoplifting arrests in places such as Monaco, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Toyko. Most of her arrests, however, occurred in the United States.

     Payne's criminal career mainly featured her stealing expensive jewelry from high-end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. Her modus operandi was simple: she would ask the store clerk to show her so many pieces of jewelry that the sales employee lost track of what was out of the showcase. Payne waited for the clerk to become distracted at which point she would scoop up an item, put it into her pocket, and walk out of the store.

     In 2003, at the age of 73, Payne got caught stealing a fancy ring in Los Angeles. On September 23, 2005, police arrested her for shoplifting at a high-end store in Las Vegas.

     In January 2011, the elderly woman with the sticky fingers was caught stealing a diamond ring from a store in San Diego. That theft brought her a prison sentence of two years.

     In Costa Mesa, California, on January 2013, a Saks Fifth Avenue store detective caught Doris Payne removing the price tag from a $1,300 Burberry trench coat. (She probably planned to walk out of the store wearing the garment.) She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years behind bars. However, because of prison overcrowding in the state, a judge released Payne from custody after she had served only three months of her sentence.

     In 2013, Doris Payne was featured in a television documentary called "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne." The film included interviews with Payne herself along with her daughter and son, her best friend, and police officers from around the country. The documentary was marketed as a rags to riches story of how a poor, single, African-American mother from the segregated 1950s wound up as one of the world's most notorious jewel thieves.

     In July 2015, the 85-year-old retail thief got caught stealing a $32,000 diamond-studded David Yurman engagement ring from a store in the South Park Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina. Following her arrest she made bail and fled the state.

     On Monday October 26, 2015, a loss prevention officer at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta saw Doris Payne pocket a set of Christian Dior earrings and walk out of the store. When police officers ran a crime history check on the suspect they realized they had nabbed the notorious thief and fugitive who was wanted on a warrant out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

     Shortly after the authorities booked Payne into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, she paid her $2,500 bond and was released. Her attorney, Scott McCullers told reporters that Payne planned to plead not guilty to her latest shoplifting arrest. The lawyer said that because of the 2013 TV documentary about his client's life of crime, she was being persecuted.

     In December 2016, the police arrested Payne at a department store outside of Atlanta for stealing diamond necklaces worth $2,000. She made bail and was released on the condition she wear an ankle bracelet.

     On March 6, 2017, when Payne didn't show for a court proceeding, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest.

     The 86-year-old career thief, on July 18, 2017, was caught stealing merchandise from a Walmart store in Chamblee, Georgia. She had $86.22 worth of un-purchased items in her handbag. At the time of her apprehension, Payne was wearing her ankle bracelet. Officers booked her into the Fulton County Jail.

    In this case, any kind of sentence, even a lenient one, could end up being a life sentence. Since this woman apparently couldn't live without stealing from stores, perhaps putting her behind bars for a couple of years was appropriate. One can only guess how many times a store detective, after catching her conceal un-purchased merchandise in her purse, let her go after retrieving the items. Who wanted to call the police on a pathetic, confused old woman?  One can also image how many times she walked out of the store with her loot. When shoplifters get away with their crime, honest customers pick up the bill in the form of higher retail prices. 

A Frivolous Lawsuit Over Hot Fajitas

     America has become a litigious society overrun by personal injury lawyers in search of deep-pocket defendants (once called ambulance chasers) and greedy, bogus plaintiffs looking for a big payday at the expense of the rest of us. You can't escape these hungry, aggressive lawyers who advertise on billboards and around the clock on television. This is why it is so gratifying to witness the demise of a frivolous personal injury suit.

     Hiram Jimenez and his brother, in March 2010, were sitting in a booth at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Westampton, New Jersey. When the waitress placed a sizzling hot skillet in front of Jimenez, he said to his brother, "Let's have a prayer."

     When Mr. Jimenez bowed his head in prayer over the hot fajitas dish, he heard what he described as a "loud sizzling noise and a pop sound" followed by a burning sensation on his face. He tried to push the food off the table but it landed on his lap.

     Claiming "serious and permanent" injuries because the waitress failed to warn him of the dangerous and hazardous fajitas grease she had exposed him to, Mr. Jimenez filed a personal injury suit against the California-based chain of 1,900 restaurants. The plaintiff sought an undisclosed amount of money--damages--as a result of the waitress' negligence.

     A New Jersey trial judge dismissed the burning fajitas case stating that a restaurant does not have a legal duty to warn patrons about food dangers that are open and obvious. Mr. Jimenez appealed this ruling.

     In February 2015, a two-judge appellate court panel affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Applebee's suit noting that the sizzling hot fajitas platter constituted a "self-evident" hazard.

     

Writing About Animals

I write about animals because I really like animals. I'm also interested in the animalistic side of human nature, and when and why humans cross over into doing very violent things. [When animals become gratuitously violent they are acting like humans. In other words, violent human behavior is more humanistic than animalistic.] Writing about animals is a way of getting at readers' emotions. People sometimes open up their emotions to animals more easily than they do other people. You see that with the way people get so obsessed with their pets. A big thing you see in New York is a person walking their dog with a diamond-stud collar, right past a homeless person. [Unlike people, dogs do not become paranoid schizophrenics.] That interests me as well. My stories are about people, but I use animals as vehicles to get at the people.

Carole Burns, Off the Page, 2008

The History Of Private Security

Although America inherited the historic English tradition of citizens individually and collectively protecting self and neighborhood, this concept slowly moved to the background in the nineteenth century with the formation of public police departments. But when crime rates were rising in America during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, citizens and commerce tried once again to develop their own ways to feel safer and protect their assets. Institutions created internal security measures or hired outside personnel and consultants. Individuals, organizations, and business proprietors spent money on a wide variety of security products and services. [In the retail sector, reducing employee theft and shoplifting is called loss prevention.]

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dr. Ralph Erdmann: The Forensic Pathologist From Hell

     Most forensic pathologists are hardworking, well intentioned, and competent. Even the best of them make honest mistakes. But over the years there have been several high-profile embarrassments to the profession. These forensic pathologists, because they were careless, incompetent, corrupt, or weak, did great harm to criminal defendants, victims of crime, and forensic science. Dr. Ralph Erdmann, a run-amok forensic pathologist who worked many years in west Texas represents the worst of the worst.

     In 1981, 25 years after acquiring a medical degree in Mexico, Dr. Erdmann moved to Childress in Lubbock County, Texas. He began, on a private contract basis, doing autopsies for five small hospitals in the county. He moved to Amarillo in 1983 and began performing autopsies for hire throughout the Texas panhandle region. Over the next decade, Dr. Erdmann conducted more than 3,000 autopsies in 41 jurisdictions. In 1990, at the height of his activity, he performed 480 autopsies. The following year he did 310, most of which were performed in Lubbock County. For his work in Lubbock County, Dr. Erdmann received an annual fee of $140,000. In the smaller counties Dr. Erdmann charged $650 per autopsy. The forensic pathologist had a large territory to cover and was constantly on the move, performing autopsies on the run.

     Because he covered a rural area Dr. Erdmann did not always work under ideal conditions. In cases of decomposing bodies, many of the smaller hospitals denied him access to autopsy space because of the stink. As a result he performed autopsies in funeral home garages, hospital loading docks, parking lots, and abandoned houses. Dr. Erdmann once performed an autopsy on a door laid across two 55-gallon drums.

     It wasn't just his take-charge work ethic that made Dr. Erdmann so popular with detectives and county prosecutors. What they especially liked about this pathologist was his unabashed eagerness to tailor his autopsy findings to their law enforcement needs. If the prosecution needed a victim or suspect to have alcohol in his or her blood, that was not a problem. It didn't matter that no blood-alcohol test had been administered in the case. If a certain time of death was necessary to incriminate a defendant, Dr. Erdmann would provide it, even if such a precise estimation was scientifically infeasible.

     Because Dr. Erdmann made their jobs so easy, many detectives and prosecutors turned a blind eye to his personal weirdness, sloppy work habits, questionable science, embarrassing omissions, and patent dishonesty. Even with the support of the law enforcement community, Dr. Erdmann was so obviously unfit for the job he was eventually drummed out of the profession.

     By 1992, after a number of defense attorneys began challenging and exposing Dr. Erdmann's methods and findings, the outlandish nature of his malpractice began to catch up to him. That year he was forced to surrender his Texas medical license to the State Board of Medical Examiners. He also pleaded guilty to charging several counties for autopsies he had not conducted. The judge sentenced Erdmann to 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service. He also had to pay $17,000 in restitution. The following year Dr. Erdmann left Texas for the state of Washington.

     A review of Dr. Erdmann's work explains how he had been able to perform so many autopsies. He cut corners. For example, he didn't bother to weigh the internal organs he removed. And in many cases, he didn't even bother to cut them out of the corpse. He simply estimated their weights. Dr. Erdmann got caught doing this when the family of a man he had autopsied noticed, in the autopsy report, the weight of the dead man's spleen. Years before his death this man's spleen had been surgically removed.

     Even in situations where the cause of death was obviously murder, Dr. Erdmann didn't always get it right. In the case of a body found in a dumpster, Dr. Erdmann reported the cause of death as pneumonia. The police later arrested the suspect who had stolen the dead man's car, shot him in the head, then disposed of his body in that dumpster. Perhaps this man had pneumonia when he was shot to death, but it was the bullet that killed him. In another body-in-the-dumpster case, Dr. Erdmann lost the dead man's head, the body part containing the fatal bullet that would have connected the shooter to the murder. Without the head or the bullet, the suspect could not be prosecuted.

     In a fatal hit-and-run case, Dr. Erdmann testified that the victim had died instantly of a broken neck. He based this finding on his examination of the 14-year-old victim's brain. But when the body was exhumed, another forensic pathologist found that Erdmann had not even bothered to open the boy's skull.

     In the case of an infant who died in a bathtub, Dr. Erdmann determined that the baby had been killed by a blow to the stomach. This led to the arrest of the man who was in the house when the infant died. After a second forensic pathologist examined the body, the prosecutor had to drop the murder charge. The baby had drowned accidentally. The cause of death: asphyxia.

     As reported in the ABA Journal, as a result of Ralph Erdmann's bungled and incomplete autopsies, the defendants in 20 murder cases had grounds to appeal their convictions. The panel of experts who looked at 300 of his autopsy reports--a relatively small sampling--found that 1/3 of the bodies had not even been cut open. When confronted with this evidence, Dr. Erdmann explained it away as clerical errors. He never admitted wrongdoing and would continue to insist that he was not dishonest or incompetent. Yes, he had made a few mistakes, but he had been forced to work under unfavorable conditions. The forensic pathologist accused his critics of being revenge-minded defense attorneys and characterized the investigation of his work and career as a witch hunt.

     On July 23, 2010, in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Erdmann died at the age of 83.

    

Who Killed Kennedy?

Even the basic facts of [John F.] Kennedy's death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds--involving [Lyndon B.] Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings. [According to Vincent Bugliosi, 82 people have, over the years, been accused of assassinating President Kennedy.]

Jill Abramson, "The Elusive President," The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 2013

Dead White Guy Classroom 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. Hazlitt.com, September 26, 2013 

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

Winston Churchill on Who's a Prostitute

Sir Winston Churchill supposedly asked Lady Astor whether she would sleep with him for five million pounds. She said she supposed she would. Then he asked whether she would sleep with him for only five pounds. She answered,"What do you think I am?" His response was, "We've already established that; we're merely haggling over price."

Marcus Felson, Crime and Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Watery Graves: The Mystery of Foss Lake

     There's no telling how many murder victims lay on the bottom of America's lakes, rivers, and ponds. Most people don't realize that these boating, swimming, and fishing sites are also the unmarked graves of people who have gone missing and might never be found. It's a sobering thought.

     Whenever a lake goes dry or is drained, law enforcement officers often gather to recover guns, knives, cars, safes, cellphones, computers, wallets, and other potential indicia of foul play. Occasionally, the remains of missing persons are exposed as well. When that happens, one mystery is solved and another is created.

     On September 10, 2013, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer George Hoyle, while testing a sonar detection device from a boat on Foss Lake 110 miles west of Oklahoma City, discovered a pair of vehicles sitting under twelve feet of murky water.

     A week after the vehicles were detected, Darrell Splawn, a member of the state's underwater search and rescue team, dove into the lake for a closer look. At this point, officers believed they had found a pair of stolen cars.

     When officer Splawn opened the door to one of the vehicles and probed its interior, his hand came in contact with a shoe. He also discovered, near the car, a human skull. The diver surfaced to report his finds. When the diver slipped back into the muddy water to check on the other vehicle, he saw skeletal remains inside the second car.

     Once the heavily corroded cars--a 1952 Chevrolet and a 1969 Chevy Camero--were pulled out of the reservoir, they revealed their gruesome secrets. Each vehicle contained the skeletal remains of three people. Officers also recovered, among other items, a muddy wallet and a purse.

     On April 8, 1969, 69-year-old John Alva Porter, the owner of a 1952 green Chevy, went missing. In the car with him that night were his brother Arlie and 58-year-old Nora Marie Duncan. These three residents of nearby Elk City, along with the Chevy, disappeared without a trace. No one had any idea what had happened to them.

     Jimmy Williams, a 16-year-old from Sayre, Oklahoma, a town of 4,000 a few miles from the lake, owned a 1969 Chevrolet Camero. On the night of November 20, 1970, he and two friends--Thomas Michael Rios and Leah Gail Johnson--both 18, were riding in Williams' car. Instead of going to the high school football game in Elk City, the trio had gone hunting on Turkey Creek Road. The teenagers and the Camero were never seen again.

     While the six skeletal remains are presumed to match the two sets of missing persons, it would take months to scientifically confirm their identities. Forensic scientists in the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office compared DNA from the bones with DNA samples from surviving family members. Dr. Angela Berg, the state forensic anthropologist, determined the gender, general stature, and approximate ages of the people pulled out of the lake. She did this by analyzing leg and pelvic bones along with the skulls. This data was compared with information contained in the missing person reports.

     What the 44-year-old remains did not reveal was the manner and cause of these deaths. While the six people presumably drowned, they could have been murdered by gun, knife, or blunt instrument then dumped into the lake. To rule out foul play, the forensic pathologist and the anthropologist looked for signs of trauma such as bullet holes, knife wounds; and smashed or broken bones. The forensic scientists also attempted to determine if the fates of the people inside the two cars were somehow connected.

     Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples told an Associated Press reporter that it was possible these underwater victims had been driven accidentally into the lake where they had drowned. "We know that to happen even if you know your way around," he said. "It can happen that quick." While that is certainly possible, until murder is ruled out, it should be presumed.

     In October 2014, the forensic pathologist officially confirmed the identities of the six sets of remains. Two months later, the medical examiner's office ruled out foul play. Some of the victims' family members, however, remained skeptical and suspected foul play in the deaths.

     

A Writer Buried in Books

     I've decided that books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over. They crowd my dining room, they double up in the bedroom, they make the attic floor sag. We even have a library in the bathroom: shelves and shelves of books where a normal person might have a vanity table or piles of towels….

     I once went through our library and calculated that my husband and I had read about a third of the books that we own, and I think, as we buy more books and read of third of what we buy, that the statistic is more or less holding up. Sometimes we even buy a book and go to put it on one of our few organized shelves only to find that it is already there….

     We have a psychological problem and we recognize it: We never get rid of books….It's a sick relationship we have with these piles of pages between covers. Most people wold be secretly bragging if they said this, but I'm not bragging. I think it's weird and demented. Maybe I'm so involved with my books' fate because I am a writer, and I can all too well imagine a reader taking one of my books and cosigning it to the trash heap.

Amy Wilentz, "…One Book Out," The New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2013

Science Writing

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it's one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It's about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it's about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying--chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes.

Michelle Nijhuis, "The Science and Art of Science Writing," The New York Times, December 9, 2013

Outlawing Guns

When guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns--the government and a few outlaws. If that happens, you can count me among the outlaws.

Edward Abbey, Postcards From Ed, 2006

Sherlock Holmes on Vigilantism

I think that there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Professor Rainer Reinscheid's Revenge

     Rainer Klaus Reinscheid was an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. The 48-year-old lived in the Orange County city of 223,000, thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles, with his second wife, two stepchildren, and his 14-year-old son from his first marriage.

     In March 2012, Reinscheid's son, Claus Stubbe, a student at Irvine's University High School, got in trouble for stealing something from the student store. As punishment, the assistant principal assigned the boy trash pick-up duties during the school's lunch hour. Shortly after this mild disciplinary action, a worker at the Mason Park Preserve adjoining the high school campus, found the boy hanging from a tree in a wooded area of the park.

     Professor Reinscheid blamed his son's suicide on the assistant principal who had disciplined the boy. On April 26, 2012, the distraught father, on his cellphone, emailed his wife details of his intention to take out revenge on his son's death. His plan, in general, included shooting 200 students at University  High School, murdering the assistant principal, and raping as many high school girls as he could. Once he had accomplished his mission, he'd kill himself.

     In one of two emails to his wife that day, the revenge-minded professor wrote: "I need a gun, many guns, and then I have the ride of my life. I will give myself a wonderful ending with Klaus very soon. I like this plan, finally a good idea." Two days later, in another email, Reinscheid said that while he was casing out the high school campus, he had fantasized about having sex with every girl he had seen.

     On July 4 and 19, 2012, a series of small fires broke out in Mason Park Preserve. Fire fighters also responded to a fire someone had set outside the home of University High School's assistant principal. Following the two fires in the park, the Irvine police beefed up patrols of the preserve. At 12:45 in the morning of July 24, police officers patrolling the park caught Professor Reinscheid igniting newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. He was starting the fire not far from where his son had committed suicide. The officers arrested him on the spot. The next day, charged with arson, Professor Reinscheid posted his $50,000 bond, and was released from custody.

     Police investigators, after linking Reinscheid to three incendiary fires at the high school, and the one at the assistant principal's house, charged the professor with four additional counts of arson, and a count of attempted murder. By now, detectives had discovered the emails Reinscheid had sent to his wife detailing his intent to seek revenge for his son's suicide. Although the content of these emails--private musings rather than threats sent to targeted individuals--were not considered chargeable criminal offenses, police re-arrested the professor on the additional arson and attempted murder charges. (Whether or not the professor's very specific revenge emails is a crime poses an interesting legal question. Had the emails suggested a conspiracy, and he had acted upon that plan by buying a gun, it would have been an offense. Had there been an agreement with a fellow conspirator to carry out the crimes, the fires would have been acts in furtherance of that conspiracy.)

     The Orange County prosecutor, using the revenge emails as evidence that Rainer Reinscheid was a danger to society, asked that he be held in custody without bail. The judge agreed, and denied the professor bond.

     On July 27, the Irvine police re-arrested Professor Reinscheid in his office at the University of California. When they took him into custody, he was drafting a document on his computer giving his wife power of attorney over his finances. When searching his car, officers found a red folder containing a newly drafted and signed last will and testament.

     Reinscheid pleaded guilty in July 2013 to six counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson, and resisting or obstructing an officer. Reinscheid faced a maximum sentence of 18 years behind bars.The Orange County prosecutor had dropped the attempted murder charge. A month later, on the first day of his sentencing hearing, Reinscheid said, "I lost my son, and then I lost myself. Now, I am asking you, your honor , and many other people, to forgive me and show mercy." Reinscheid said he wanted to return to his native Germany where he could find work to support his family. The ex-professor acknowledged that his career in academia was over.

     School superintendent Tracy L. Walker, in a statement read aloud at the hearing, wrote: "That tragedy [the boy's suicide] cannot serve as justification for terrorizing a school community and staff members who have dedicated their lives to helping others."

     On the second day of Reinscheid's sentence hearing, the judge heard from the University High School assistant principal whose house Reinscheid tried to burn down. The school administrator said that his life will never be the same.

     In an effort to mitigate his client's criminal rampage, defense attorney Joshua Glotzer noted that his client had been "self-medicating" with drugs he had ordered online. The professor had also been drinking cheap wine. The drugs and the wine, according to the attorney, had led to a "perfect storm" that provoked the arsons.

     On August 22, 2013, the judge sentenced the former professor to 14 years and 4 months in prison.
     

Raymond Chandler on Dashiell Hammett

In the late 1930s Raymond Chandler extrolled the virtues of Dashiell Hammet (who, he felt, took murder out of the library and put it back on the streets where it belonged) and defined the hard-boiled detective genre in an essay for the Atlantic Monthly entitled, "The Simple Art of Murder." He might have been writing a justification of his own work as well: uncluttered prose, lots of metaphors, a wisecracking detective (Philip Marlowe), and the mean streets of a tough and uncaring city.

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Seasoning Your Writing With Humor

Most writers aren't relentlessly funny from beginning to end, and they don't have to be. A pinch of humor that works is better than a potful that doesn't. For most of us humor is merely seasoning; it's not the whole dish.

Patricia O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Does The Death Penalty Deter Murder?

When we look closely into it, there are two categories of people who commit murder: (1) Those who are sane (know the nature and quality or consequences of their act) but hope to escape the penalty; (2) Those who are insane, and these either do not know or do not care what they do. Homicides are either the one or the other, so it is difficult to appreciate the deterring effect of the death penalty upon their minds. I am not a psychologist or metaphysician, or even a theologian, so I cannot resolve this difficult problem except by saying that, if a man knows what will happen as a result of an act of his, and hopes so strongly to escape the consequences that he actually commits the act, a contemplation of the possible penalty does not seem to hinder him.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 2001 reprint of 1961 edition 

Origins of Violent Behavior in Women

A more compelling culprit [for violent behavior in women] than hormones may be the wiring of the human brain, in a way that does not discriminate one sex from the other....Frontal lobe damage, for example, can cause perfectly calm people to lose their impulse control, which is usually governed by the cerebral cortex. They revert to the most primal emotions, zooming from annoyance to homicidal fury in a matter of seconds, with no mood in between. We know this in its less extreme form as "hair-trigger temper." Its more voluble expression is called "episodic aggression," or "rage attacks." But why would it affect only men?...How many women undergo this Jekyll and Hyde transformation? Thousands? The scientific literature is mum. Men are the standard bearers of violence, and masculine violence is the measure.

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The David Pichosky/Rochelle Wise Murder Case

     In 2008, a year after his wife died of breast cancer, David "Donny" Pichosky, on a blind date arranged by his children, met Rochelle Wise. Donny, an active member of Toronto, Canada's Shaarei Shomayin Synagogue, a modern Jewish Orthodox congregation, retired after selling his office-carpet business in the North York section of the city. Rochelle, a divorcee, had retired in 2005 as a teacher and vice principal of the Bialik Hebrew Day School just outside of Toronto. She was also the founding director of the Crestwood Valley Day Camp. Shortly after their blind date, the couple were married.

     In 2013, the 71-year-old Pichosky and his 66-year-old wife were wintering in Venetian Park, an affluent island neighborhood in Hallandale Beach, Florida, a town of 38,000 located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Surrounded by canals and waterways, the snowbirds resided in a stucco townhouse amid palm trees and the other pastel-colored dwellings. Donny and Rochelle must have felt safe living in this gated, security guard patrolled retirement enclave. (In 2012, there had been four criminal homicides in Hallandale Beach.)

     On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, Danny and Rochelle failed to show-up for a lunch date with a neighbor. The friend made several calls to the couple that were not returned. The next day, at six-thirty in the evening, a friend with a spare key entered the townhouse to check on the couple. The neighbor found Donny and Rochelle dead. Shortly after the discovery, a spokesperson with the Hallandale Beach Police Department announced that the Canadian retirees had been murdered.

     According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, the Canadian Couple had been murdered in their home. The cause of their deaths: asphyxiation either by hand or by ligature.

     In April 2013, Hallandale Chief of Police Dwayne Flourney told a reporter with the Miami Herald that detectives were looking for an intruder or intruders who had been motivated by robbery. Rochelle Wise's wedding band--valued at $16,000--was missing from the dwelling. Investigators asked local pawn shop operators to report anyone coming to their places of business with the platinum, five half-carat white diamond ring. (I presume the ring and it's description has been entered into the National Crime Information Center database.)

     A month before publicizing the missing ring, the police released a video taken from a neighbor's surveillance camera that showed a woman walking toward the rear of the murdered couple's home. That person remained unidentified. Detectives believed the murders were committed by two people.

     Cases involving home invasion criminal homicides in places once considered relatively safe from crime make residents of that community quite fearful. The double-murder in Venetian Park put a lot of pressure on the local police to identify and catch the perpetrators.

     On January 8, 2014, a spokesperson for the Hallandale Beach Department held a press conference on the Pichosky murder case. It had been almost a year since the double murder. According to the spokesperson, crime scene investigators recovered DNA profiles of two women from the murder site. This DNA evidence did not match anyone who had access to the Pichosky home.

     In addition to the DNA, a partial shoe print left at the murder scene was identified as an Adidas model shoe that had been out of production since 2000. Over the past year, detectives had questioned more than fifty people in the investigation of the case. A $57,000 reward had been posted for information leading to the identify of the killer or killers.

     This is one of those frustrating cases where the police  have physical evidence but no suspects to match it to. Eventually someone will identify a suspect. Once that happens, the resolution of the case will be in the hands of the forensic scientists. It's just a matter of time.

     In January 2015, Jamie Wise, Rochell's son, wrote a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott requesting the appointment of another law enforcement agency to take over the unsolved murder case. "What is desperately needed," he wrote, "is a fresh set of eyes, an independent investigation by an experienced entity capable of cultivating new leads through diligence, openness and the willingness to collaborate more purposely with agencies throughout the state."

     The Hallandale Beach Police Department remained in charge of the still unsolved double-murder.

     In April 2016, Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy told reporters that the best lead in the case involved crime scene DNA phenotyping that pointed to a pair of unidentified females. Flourney said that the constant running the DNA profile through CODUS, the U.S. DNA database, had to date failed to identify the killers. (As of July 2017, the Wise/Pichosky murder case remained unsolved.)