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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Richard De Wit Murder Case

     Sarah Groves, a 24-year-old hotel fitness instructor from the English Channel Island of Guernsey, was visiting her boyfriend in India's northwestern region of Kashmir. A former student at the Catholic St. Mary's boarding school in Ascot, she was a friend of Princess Beatrice. The boyfriend, Saeed Shoda, had arranged a room for Groves on his father's houseboat "New Beauty" on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir's capital.

     At two in the morning of April 6, 2013, 43-year-old Richard DeWit, an unemployed Dutch man with a room on the houseboat, broke into Grove's suite and allegedly stabbed her 45 times. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoda was spending the weekend with his friends. Miss Groves had remained with Shoda's parents who told reporters she had been like a daughter to them.

     Leaving everything behind on the "New Beauty" except for his passport and $2,500 inside his underwear, the barefoot, 7-foot-tall DeWit fled the houseboat in a stolen rowboat that capsized before he reached the shore. Once on land DeWit boarded a taxi.

     Shortly after members of the houseboat staff found Sarah Groves dead in a pool of blood, Kashmir police arrested DeWit on the National Highway 50 miles away in the town of Qazgund.

     Later that day, the murder suspect confessed to the police. He admitted having "violent tendencies" and said he had been under the influence of drugs during the 15-minute knife attack. DeWit explained that he had been overtaken by the devil. "The Devil took over my body," he allegedly said.

     DeWit's 31-year-old wife, Uma Rupanya, informed the authorities that DeWit had left her and their two daughters in November 2012. She said he had become "increasingly paranoid and irrational." According to the murder suspect's wife, "He believed the government was out to get him, that spies were following him, that his house was bugged."

      A prosecutor in Srinagar has charged DeWit with first-degree murder. (At seven foot tall, people in India must have seen DeWit as some kind of giant. I wouldn't want to be the police official responsible for organizing a line-up in this case.)

     At some point after his arrest, Richard De Wit took back his confession and pleaded not guilty.

     In February 2015, the De Wit murder trial got underway in Srinagar, India. In October 2015, following 29 trial delays, the defendant fired his attorney and the trial came to a halt.

     Sarah Grove's parents, in the spring of 2015, publicly expressed concerns that the authorities, in going after Mr. De Wit, had targeted the wrong man. They characterized the aborted De Wit trial as a farce, and indicated that they suspected the victim's boyfriend, Saeed Shoda. According to the victim's parents, the police had badly mishandled the murder investigation.

     As of August 2017, the De Wit case, after more than four years and 90 hearings, remained on hold. De Wit, from his jail cell, requested to speak to Grove's parents. According to the suspect, he had knowledge about the murder he wanted to pass on to them. The authorities denied that request.

     Apparently in India, the wheels of justice turn very slowly. 

Dealing With Child Abusers

If we really care about the sufferings of innocent children we would not for one moment consider turning loose the swarms of muggers and child molesters who the system has already caught…As the Marquis of Halifax said, "Whenever a knave is not punished, an honest man is laughed at." Our continued refusal to do the right thing can only be the result of cowardice and a callous indifference. By turning over the entire business to social workers and psychologists, we think we have discharged our responsibility, when all we have actually done is wash our hands.

Thomas Fleming, "Successful Crimes," Chronicle of Culture, March 1986

Books on John F. Kennedy

     Bad books by celebrity authors shouldn't surprise us, even when the subject is an American president. The true mystery in Kennedy's case is why, 50 years after his death, highly accomplished writers seen unable to fix him on the page.

     For some, the trouble has been idolatry. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote three magisterial volumes on Franklin Roosevelt and the new deal, attempted a similar history in A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in The White House. Published in 1965, it has the virtues of immediacy, since Schlesinger, Kennedy's Harvard contemporary, had been on the White House staff, brought in as court historian. He witnessed many of the events he describes. But in his admiration for Kennedy, he became the chief architect of the Camelot myth and so failed, in the end, to give a persuasive account of the actual presidency.

     In 1993, the political journalist Richard Reeves did better. President Kennedy: Profile of Power is a minutely detailed chronicle of the Kennedy White House. As a primer on Kennedy's decision-making, like his handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the book is fascinating. What's missing is a picture of Kennedy's personal life, though Reeves includes a passing mention of Marilyn Monroe being sewn into the $5,000 flesh-colored, skintight dress she wore to celebrate the president's birthday at Madison Square Garden in 1962….

     Balancing out, or warring with, the Kennedy claque are the Kennedy haters, like Seymour M. Hersh and Garry Wills. In The Dark Side of Camelot, Hersh wildly posits connections between the Kennedys and the mob, while Wills, through he offers any number of brilliant insights into Kennedy and his circle of courtiers, fixates on the Kennedy brothers' (and father's) sexual escapades in The Kennedy Imprisonment.

     The sum total of this oddly polarized literature is a kind of void. Other presidents, good and bad, have been served well by biographers and historians. We have first-rate books on Jefferson on Lincoln, on Wilson, on both Roosevelts. Even unloved presidents have received major books: Johnson (Caro) and Richard Nixon (Wills, among others). Kennedy, the odd man out, still seeks his true biographer.

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

Crime Lab Problems

In recent years, the integrity of crime laboratories has been called into question, with some heavily publicized cases highlighting (1) unqualified practitioners, (2) sometimes lax standards that have generated questionable or fraudulent evidence, and (3) the absence of quality control measures to detect questionable evidence. In one notorious case, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed serious inadequacies in the procedures used by the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory, including routine failure to run essential scientific controls, to take adequate measures to prevent contamination of samples, to adequately document work performed and results obtained, and to follow correct procedures for computing statistical frequencies. There have been a number of other dismaying reports about crime labs--most recently, the San Francisco drug lab--that suffer from problems like those uncovered in Houston.

Judge Harry T. Edwards in Forensic Testimony (2013) by C. Michael Bowers

Before You Write Have Something to Write About

When young people ask me how to get started writing, I tell them the best way would be go somewhere and do something, experience something, and then write about it. That's how Ernest Hemingway got The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sherlock Holmes in English Literature

Sherlock Holmes remains one of the few household names in English fiction, arguably the most famous character in literature after Hamlet, and one with whom the public has an extraordinarily intimate acquaintance. Everyone knows his catchphrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson!", although few are aware it is nowhere to be found in the stories. His eccentricities--pinning correspondence to the mantelshelf with a jackknife and keeping tobacco in the heel of a Turkish slipper, for example--are common knowledge. He is a valuable asset to the British tourist industry, known to 87 percent of visitors to Britain, and is one of London's major attractions--indeed, Japanese and Russians often cite him as their main reason for visiting the city. Misguided souls still write to him at his Baker Street "consulting rooms," in the hope that his genius may solve their problems, even though--had he ever existed--he would be long since dead.

Russell Miller, The Adventure of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008

Managing Fear of the Blank Page

All working writers devise their own program for keeping fear at bay. Although writing nerves never vanish, they do become more manageable over time. No magic strategy exists that will turn an anxious novice into a self-assured veteran. Since courage points very so much from writer to writer, there is no one-size fits-all program to recommend. Developing writing courage involves learning about one's working style and how it's best manipulated.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

The Power of the Eye-Catching True Crime Headline

     There is nothing like a good murder story to sell newspapers. And a good story needs an eye-catching headline. The Victorians mastered this art and nowhere was the genre better demonstrated than during the 1870s in the Illustrated Police News. This was a popular, high-circulation newspaper and a forerunner of the modern tabloids.

     The paper reported various types of criminal happenings and bizarre events with arresting headlines and, in an age before press photographs, used graphic artists' illustrations. Headlines contained two essential elements to connect with readers' interests. First was a reference to the nature of the crime and, all importantly, where it had taken place. This was usually preceded by an adjective to stimulate interest and convey a sense of outrage. Thus, in 1873, a "Dreadful Child Murder at Hull" was reported and, in 1876, a "Frightful Wife Murder in Bristol."

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why Do Writers Write?

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

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Most Writing is Rewriting

It took me six years to finish my novel Legs. I wrote it eight times and seven times it was no good. Six times it was especially no good. The seventh time out it was pretty good, though it was way too long. My son was six years old and so was my novel and they were both the same height. [There is rewriting and there is excessive rewriting. Writing a book eight times is ridiculous.]

William Kennedy in The Writer's Mentor, Ian Jackman, editor, 2004 

Public Executions

     For almost 5,000 years of human history, public executions have been an excuse to party, from the mass stonings of biblical times to the drunken festivities at Tyburn gallows in England all the way to the wine-and blood-soaked mobs at the guillotine, that "National Razor of France"….

     America was of course not exempt. Back in 1693 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a bargeman convicted of murder was scheduled to be hanged on July 3. The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania matter-of-factly stated, "There were too few people there to make the affair enjoyable."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

     

The Walmart Toe-Sucker: It's a Strange World

     Police in North Carolina have arrested a man accused of sucking on a woman's toes at a Walmart store after convincing her that he was a podiatry student. Authorities say Michael Anthony Brown was arrested Thursday night, March 20, 2014 at his home in Concord. He was turned over to Lincolnton police. A Lincoln County magistrate has set his bond at $50,000 on a charge of assault on a female….

     According to police, Brown is a registered sex offender….The victim agreed try on several pairs of shoes at the store in Lincolnton. At some point the man stuck her foot in his mouth. Police say the when the woman became upset, the man offered to pay for her groceries.

"Walmart Toe-Sucking Suspect Arrested," Associated Press, March 21, 2014 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Determining Gender From the Skeletons of the Young

     Determining sex in children can be elusive. Most of the skeletal differences, even in the pelvis, that distinguish the sexes don't fully define until early adulthood, and the differences that do exist in children are often not of the magnitude that permit a confident estimate.

     One of the best indicators of sex in a child is the teeth. In determining gender, the indicator is not in how dissimilar they are but in how alike. It is well known that in general males tend to be a year or two slower than females in their overall body development. But although girls' long bones grow earlier and faster than boys' do, for some reason that same advantage is not as extensive in the development of the teeth. Accordingly, it is possible to estimate the sex of a child's skeleton by comparing the extent of skeletal development with the level of dental maturation. The older the child, the more accurate the technique. However, we usually do not attempt to estimate the sex of immature skeletons because the accuracy reaches only about 80 percent even in older children. In a forensic case, 80 percent is not good enough; we can estimate with 50 percent reliability just by guessing.

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992

The Phantom Education of Illiterate Football Players

     If I had ever turned in a 146-word paper to one of my professors, I can assure you I would not have received an A- even if they were the most brilliant 146 words written in English. But apparently if you're an athlete at the University of North Carolina, those 146 words don't even have to be grammatically correct. Former professor Mary Willingham provided the essay as an example of the sort of "work" that UNC athletes are allowed to get by on at the school, and the image has certainly sparked conversation around the topic.

     It's one thing to know that athletes who attend schools where sports are a priority get special treatment and are often given grades they don't deserve just to keep them on the team. But it's a whole new thing to see a one paragraph essay that makes up a fictional conversation between Rosa Parks and a bus driver and know that the jock who wrote it got a better grade than a lot of students got for their well-reseached 10-page essays. But according to Willingham, who spent 10 years tutoring student athletes before turning whistleblower, this sort of thing happens all the time.

     "I became aware of this 'paper class' system, she told ESPN, "where students would take classes that didn't really exist." Formerly called "Independent studies," these "paper classes" involve no attendance, and in fact only require students to write a paper, at least according to Willingham. And the papers the students produce are far from college quality; in fact, Willingham says, some of the players only have a second grade reading level, which for an adult is functionally illiterate….

     In the ESPN segment, Willingham's allegations are backed up by former UNC athlete Duenta Williams, who added that advisors at the school were mostly interested in ensuring that he remained eligible to play, not in ensuring he got the best education possible. They both also claim that the NCAA turned a blind eye to these practices….[If American high schools didn't graduate illiterates, we'd still have college football, it just wouldn't be as professional. The problem is in our public education system where sports is also more important than academics.]

Emma Cueto, "This 146-Word Essay Earned UNC Athlete An A-, Says Former Professor," Clementinedaily.com, March 28, 2014 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Being a Screenwriter

     Screenwriting is a brutal, ridiculous calling. Sure, if you want to become a lawyer or a doctor, it's hard. It's a ton of work, but it can be done and once you've graduated from med school or law school and passed all of your exams, there are jobs out there….And there are people who need your services.

     But screenwriting is different. There are hardly any openings for gainful employment, and if there are a few jobs, you must compete for them with established Academy Award-nominated writers….

     "Being a writer is hard, being a professional writer is even harder, and being a working Hollywood screenwriter may be the hardest of all.

Richard Krevolin, Screenwriting in the Land of Oz, 2011

Birthday Cake or Your Teacher's Lap Dance?

     A 42-year-old teacher performed a "full contact" lap dance on a middle school student in front of his Texas classmates….Felicia Smith's performance on the boy celebrating his 15th birthday took place in February 2014.

     The teen told investigators that he sat in the chair next to Smith's desk as she moved back and forth on his crotch and touched him over his body. Near the end of the dance, the student said Smith sank to her knees and put her head between his legs. The incident reportedly happened in front of the other students during class.

     The student admitted that he spanked Smith's buttocks a couple of times….As music played, Smith said, "I love you, baby. Happy Birthday."…

     Police claim that Smith said the students persuaded her to grind on the teen….Smith was removed from teaching in the Aldine Independent School District...

Michael McLaughlin, "Teacher Accused of Giving Student a Birthday Lap Dance," The Huffington Post, April 26, 2014

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Aramazd Andressian Sr.: An Evil, Cold-Blooded Murderer

     In April 2017, Aramazd Andressian and his estranged wife Ana Estevez were in the midst of a extremely contentious divorce and custody battle over their five-year-old son, Aramazd Andressian Jr., affectionately known as Piqui. (Because the journalists covering this story obviously took pains not to divulge the national origin and background of the five-foot, three inch Andressian other than to occasionally make reference to his ties in Iran and Armenia, he, in this regard, remains a mystery.)

     Estevez and the boy resided in South Pasadena, California. (It is not clear in the reporting of this case if the estranged couple resided in the same house. Moreover, there is no information regarding how they had met, how long they had been married, or how Mr. Andressian made a living.)

     Ana Estevez worked at a south Los Angeles elementary school. She had sought full custody of her son and had requested a restraining order against her husband. A family count judge, notwithstanding the father's gambling problem, his prescription drug addiction, and his threats to take to boy to Iran or Armenia, denied the distraught mother's petitions.

     Andressian, pursuant to the intensely bitter domestic dispute, claimed falsely that he was the boy's stay-at-home dad, the child's primary caregiver. (While Estevez worked, her mother cared for the child.) The father also claimed that Estevez practiced the religion of Santeria, once sacrificing a rooster in the boy's presence. According to Andressian, she also spanked Piqui, used profanity in front of him, and threatened to take him to Cuba.

     On April 17, 2017, Andressian, as part of a scheduled visitation, took the boy to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Three days later, the father was found passed out in his 2004 gray BMW. The vehicle was parked in Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena. The boy was not in the car. When detectives questioned Andressian at the hospital regarding the whereabouts of the boy, the father said he didn't know where Piqui was. (The boy had not been returned to his mother.) Andressian said he had attempted suicide by drug overdose.

     On April 22, 2017, with the boy still missing, police officers arrested Andressian for the murder of his son. Three days later, the authorities released the suspect due to lack of evidence.

     Since Andressian had been recently seen in Santa Barbara County's Lake Cachuma Park, police, employing dogs and divers, searched the lake and park for the toddler. They came up empty handed.

     In May and June 2017, as the search continued for Piqui, Andressian spent 47 days entertaining himself in Las Vegas. During that period, he attended Britney Spear and Celine Dion concerts, took in a boxing match, went skydiving, gambled, drank, and abused prescription drugs. On June 23, 2017, when Andressian applied for a new passport, the police, fearing that he might flee to Armenia where he had ties, re-arrested him on the murder charge. Andressian had changed his appearance by dying his hair a lighter color.

     On June 26, 2017, the authorities in Las Vegas, at a news conference, announced that Andressian had confessed to murdering his son in cold blood to get back at his estranged wife. It had been his plan, after the trip to Disneyland, to murder his son, bury his body, then commit suicide. He said he wanted to make it appear as though the boy had been murdered by his mother. (Prior to the killing, Andressian told people that Estevez had been following him and that he feared for his life.)

     According to Andressian's confession, he had smothered his son with the boy's own clothing. After sitting in the car with the corpse for eight hours, he buried the remains in a wooded area about fifty feet from a parking lot at Vista Point near the Lake Cachuma recreation area.

     On June 30, 2017, the day Aramazd Andressian was extradited from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, searchers found Piqui's skeletal remains where his father said he had buried him.

     On July 3, 2017, following his not guilty plea in a Los Angeles Superior Courtroom, the judge set the murder suspect's bail at $10 million. The deputy district attorney handling the case told the media that the prosecution would seek the death penalty.

    To avoid the death sentence, Andressian, on August 1, 2017, pleaded guilty to the murder of his son. At the sentencing hearing, the convicted man's attorney told the judge that the killing had not been planned and that his client regretted the act. Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum argued that Andressian showed "absolutely no remorse" for the murder. (While in the Los Angeles County Jail, Andressian had shaved his head bald.)

    The victim's mother, speaking directly to Andressian at the sentencing hearing, said, "I hope you relive the image of murdering my baby every day of your insignificant life. May your dark soul burn in eternal hell." The distraught mother, carrying her son's ashes in an urn, also called her husband a failure as a father, a man, and a human being. Referring to how the murder had affected her, Estevez said, "There is no real pain, just an incomprehensible deadness. Like my son, I, too, have died."

     Judge Cathryn Brougham sentenced Aramazd Andressian to 25 years to life in prison. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Writers as Bit-Part Screen Actors

When directors adopt a recent literary work it has become a tradition to offer the writer of the work a bit part in the movie. This is partly because it's a little joke on the audience, but we suspect it's also because the cameo helps buy off the writer from complaining to the media later about how badly the story was adapted. If you want to see your favorite author on the screen, look quickly, because he or she is more likely to be playing "man in phone booth" than a major character.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type to be a Writer, 2003

Police Officers Rarely Prosecuted For Shooting People

     Police agencies have developed policies that generally permit officers to use force when they reasonably fear imminent physical harm. The U.S. Supreme Court shaped the federal legal standards that govern the use of force, holding in a 1989 case that the use of force must be evaluated through the "perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."

     Since then, the criminal justice system has more often than not sided with police in shooting investigations, with prosecutors and grand jurors reluctant to second-guess their decisions. Many of the cases that don't result in charges involved armed suspects shot during confrontations with police. But even an officer who repeatedly shoots an unarmed person may avoid prosecution in cases where he reasonably believed himself to be under risk of serious bodily injury or death….

"Police Shootings Don't End With Prosecutions," Associated Press, November 26, 2014  

Memoirist Hatched Jobs

Books like Christina Crawford's Mommy, Dearest and Gary Crosby's Going My Own Way, offered sensational, firsthand accounts into the family lives of Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby, proving that even in the film industry's Golden Age, Hollywood idols did not make top-notch parents. Nor most likely do their own children, comfortable performing literary blindsides on their star parents in the pursuit of their own 15 minutes of fame. It's a vicious cycle.

Andrew Breibart and Mark Ebner, Hollywood, Interrupted, 2004 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Edward and Marilyn Bagley Sex Slave Torture Case

     Let's face it, there are people on this earth who shouldn't have been born. They include serial killers, pedophiles, child pornographers, and a small group of perverts who physically torture unwilling victims for sexual pleasure. Whether or not these sexual deviants are born or made is irrelevant. They are among us, and by the time one of them is caught and brought to justice, the harm has been done. When you read about the crimes of moral degenerates like Edward Bagley and his despicable wife Marilyn, you become a bit of a sadist yourself. It's hard not to imagine these people smoldering on electric chairs, or clawing at their necks as they swing from ropes. (Lethal injection is far less satisfying.) In the end, we are frustrated because our criminal justice system is more civilized than the criminals it punishes. We have to live with the fact that these monsters of cruelty never get what's coming to them. In the world of sadistic sex crimes, there is no such thing as justice.

     Edward and Marilyn Bagley, a pair of practicing sexual sadists, lived in a trailer home surrounded by woods near Lebanon, Missouri in the western part of the state. In December 2002, when Ed was 35 and his wife 37, the Bagleys took in a mentally deficient 16-year-old foster home runaway. (The girl was identified by the FBI as FV or Female Victim.) Proudly calling himself "Master Ed," Bagley and his wife promised the girl a better life that featured a career in modeling and dancing. While FV was still a minor, Ed made her model "slave clothes," provided her with marijuana and ecstasy, and repeatedly raped her. Master Ed informed the girl that she was being trained and groomed to be a sex slave. In that regard, he forced her to sign a life-time sex slave contract that she believed was legally binding.

     Between February 2004 and February 2009, Master Ed and his accomplice spouse used a crank telephone to electrocute the girl's private parts, flogged her, sewed-up and pierced parts of her body, choked her to the point of unconsciousness, made her watch as they shot her beloved pets, and threatened to bury her alive in the woods behind the trailer. The pathologically cruel couple even waterboarded FV, and nailed parts of her body to slabs of wood. To mark her as their property, Ed tattooed a barcode on his captive's neck, and tattooed the Chinese symbol of a slave on one of her ankles.

     The Bagleys published FV's torture sessions on live Internet webcasts for the enjoyment of other sexual monsters willing to pay a fee for the thrill of watching a young woman suffer. A sadist in his later twenties from St. Louis named Bradley Cook watched these pornographic obscenities on his computer, downloaded photographs of FV, and forwarded to the Bagleys images of his own sex slave activity. Sixty-year-old Michael Stokes, a California connoisseur of the sadistic arts, traveled to the Bagley torture chamber where he paid for the opportunity to inflict his own brand of pain on the hapless victim. Stokes, at a cost of $1,000, transported the Bagley sex slave to his home on the west coast where he subjected her to a pornographic photo-shoot, and various deviate sexual assaults. The torture session cost Stokes an extra $300.

     Beginning in June 2007, the Bagleys forced their 21-year-old slave to work as a stripper and exotic dancer in several of the region's adult entertainment clubs. Whenever FV failed to be a club's top monthly earner, the Bagleys punished her with extra beatings and acts of sexual depravity.

     FV's seven-year ordeal came to an end in February 2009 when the young woman required emergency medical treatment and hospitalization after the Bagleys' excessive electrical shocking led to cardiac arrest. Shortly after FV's near-death experience, the FBI entered the case.

     In September 2010, a federal grand jury sitting in Kansas City, Missouri indicted the Bagleys for commercial sex trafficking and forced labor trafficking involving aggravated sexual abuse. The first charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison without parole. The second, life without the chance of parole. Several months later, the feds indicted Michael Stokes and Bradley Cook for their roles in the Bagley sex slave conspiracy. The grand jury also returned indictments against 52-year-old Dennis Henry, and James Noel, 47. Both of these degenerates had participated in FV torture sessions.

     Early in 2012, Stokes, Cook, Henry, and Noel pleaded guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. On December 6, 2012, Marilyn Bagley, now 47, pleaded guilty in a Kansas City federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit commercial sex trafficking. In return for her plea, the judge sentenced Marilyn Bagley to a probated sentence.

     On January 15, 2013, Edward Bagley, faced with the realization that Michael Stokely and the other perverts had agreed to testify against him, pleaded guilty to one count of using an interstate facility to entice a minor into illegal sexual conduct.

     A federal judge, on September 10, 2013, sentenced Edward Bagley to twenty years in prison with no chance of parole. The next day, Bradley Cook was sentenced to twenty years behind bars. The judge gave Dennis Henry and James Noel fifteen years each. Michael Stokes got five years in prison.

A Novelist's Identification With His Characters

If it is true that no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials, yet true that all writers, given adequate technique, can stir interest in their special subject matter--since all human beings have the same root experience (we're born, we suffer, we die, to put it grimly), so that all we need for our sympathy to be roused is that the writer communicate with power and conviction the similarities in his characters' experience and our own--then it must follow that the first business of the writer must be to make us see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel. However odd, however wildly unfamiliar the fictional world--odd as hog-farming to a fourth-generation Parisian designer, or Wall Street to an unemployed tuba player--we must be drawn into the characters' world as if we were born to it.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983 

Norman Mailer on Novelists

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

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

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Vague Mug Shot Identifications

When you have crime victims look through a computerized mug book of suspects, it's rare that someone makes an identification. You need a "That's-the-guy" moment from the victim to move forward on the case, but what you often get instead are the victims squinting at the screen and saying, of multiple photos, "I dunno. That kinda looks like him."

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014


Legalese

The minute you read something you can't understand, you can almost be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.

Will Rogers in The Law is An Ass, Ronald Irving, editor, 2011

Horror Fiction Characters Must Seem Real

     In a horror novel or short story, there is one primary rule: Make your characters as realistic as possible.

     Reality is your bridge into the fantastic. If readers empathize with your characters and truly believe in them as projections of real life, then they will follow them into whatever fantastic situations you provide. You will achieve what Coleridge termed "the willing suspension of disbelief." Your reader will want to believe your story, no matter how improbable it may be in objective reality.

William E. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

The Difference Between The Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

     What does it mean to say that science fiction tries to make its speculations plausible while fantasy does not? Basically, fantasy writers don't expect you to believe that the things they're describing could actually happen, but only to pretend that they could for the duration of a story. Fantasy readers understand that and willingly play along. Science fiction writers, on the other hand, try to create worlds and futures (and aliens) that really could exist and do the things they describe. Their readers expect that of them, and write critical letters to editors and authors when they find holes in the logic (or the assumptions) that would make a science fiction story impossible…

     Often the same basic story material can be treated as either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how the writer approaches it. For example, the old fable of "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs" is fantasy because real geese don't lay golden eggs and the story makes no attempt to convince you they could. It merely asks you to consider what might happen if one did. Isaac Asimov's short story "Pate de Foie Gras" takes this basic idea and turns it into science fiction by postulating a biochemical mechanism so that readers can judge for themselves whether it might actually work…

     Fantasy is fun; but for some readers there's something extra special about a story that not only stretches the imagination, but just might be a real possibility.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Establishing Time of Death

     Throughout the long annals of true crime lore, countless murder convictions and acquittals have come down to this: When did the killer strike? When did the victims breathe their last? In the absence of credible witnesses, the lack of an easy answer has bedeviled our criminal justice system since its inception....

     Murder investigators found themselves desperate for clues as to time of death, and not just for evidence of guilt at trial. Knowing when a victim died could speed the earliest stages of an inquest by ruling out suspects with confirmed alibis and focusing scrutiny on those who did not. The postmortem interval, or time since death, proved even more critical in cases where a corpse turned up decomposed beyond recognition. Even an approximate time of death gave investigators a framework in which to connect the remains to a suspicious disappearance.

     Yet for all its importance, determining the time of death has defied the detective's magnifying glass and the pathologist's scalpel for over 2,000 years. Even today, despite crime labs crammed with high-tech equipment for DNA analysis, toxicology, serology, and the detection of rarefied chemical vapors, we remain nearly as blind as the ancient Greeks with their belief in maggots sprouting fully formed and spontaneous from the flesh of the newly dead. [They did not realize that maggots were fly eggs.]

     Nonetheless, it still startles most people to learn that a prudent medical examiner can rarely, if ever, accurately measure the interval between death and a body's discovery....

     The myth of the medical expert's ability to nail down time of death has endured. No doubt this stems in part from the many pathologists who continue to offer more precision in court than their science can rightfully claim. That they do so is understandable enough, given the relentless pressure [put on them by detectives, prosecutors, and the public].

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001 

Before Writing a Memoir, Read a Good One

     It had occurred to a friend of mine to write a memoir, and so she called asking for help. It should be fun, she said. I set to work creating a list of the memoirs my friend might read, for she hadn't read even so much as a single memoir yet, and I thought reading might be helpful. I sent the list and that was that--the end of the memoir, and of the friendship.

     I don't mean to be insulting when I suggest that memoir writers should read memoirs…The good memoirs aren't just good stories…They are--they must be--works of art…You have to know what art is before you set out to write it. You have to have a dictionary of working terms, a means by which you can deliver up a verdict on your own sentences and their arrangements.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Choose Your Words Carefully

In writing, diction relates to the choice of words and phrasing. In nonfiction, precision and clarity are the goals to aim for. In fiction, the writer's capacity to choose words carefully for their effect as well as their accuracy is a measure of the writer's literary ability. The opposite of careful diction is "top-of-the-head" writing , words put down as fast as they come to mind, without revision for accuracy and effect. It is found most often in hurried popular writing in which communication of content or story dominates the precise and fresh use of words and expressions.

Sol Stein, Sol Stein's Reference Book For Writers, 2010

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Plan to Trap an Alleged Middle School Sex Predator

     On January 14, 2010, Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell, vice principals at Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, received a complaint that a male student had touched a girl inappropriately. The subject of the complaint was no stranger to this kind of allegation. He had been accused of predatory sexual advances fifteen times in the recent past. The latest complaint resulted in the boy being placed on "in-school suspension." (Whatever that is.)

     A couple of days later, teacher's aide June Simpson spoke to principal Ronnie Blair about the boy. According to Simpson, he had "repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boy's bathroom on the special needs students' corridor. The teacher's aide reported that the young predator had actually engaged in sex with one of the girls.

     Because the boy and the female special needs student denied having sex in the boy's restroom, the principal informed the teacher's aide that because the kids had not been caught in the act, his hands were tied. The concerned teacher's aide recommended that school officials keep a close eye on this boy.

     On January 22, 2010, a 14-year-old girl who wasn't physically or mentally handicapped but took special education classes, told teacher's aide Simpson that the alleged schoolboy sex fiend had been pestering her to have restroom sex with him. Simpson asked the girl if she'd be willing to act as bait in a plan to catch the sexual predator. The girl refused to participate in the sting, then changed her mind.

     The teacher's aide, accompanied by the girl, laid out her plan to vice principal Dunaway who didn't endorse or approve of it. The vice principal didn't forbid the execution of the scheme either. The plan was this: the girl would agree to have sex with the boy in the special needs bathroom where teachers would be hiding to confront the kid before things got out of hand.

     Shortly after leaving the vice principal's office, the girl encountered the young predator in the hallway. She agreed to have sex with him. But instead of getting together in the special needs restroom, he told her to meet him in the sixth-grade boy's bathroom in another part of the school. The girl did not  have time to alert the teacher's aide of the change in plans.

     In the sixth-grade boy's restroom, with no teachers hiding nearby to intervene, the girl rejected the boy's advances. Unable to fight him off, he raped her anally.

     After the victim reported the crime to a teacher, police officers were summoned to the school. They took the girl to the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville where medical personnel used a rape kit to gather physical evidence. Hospital personnel also photographed signs of trauma consistent with the girl's rape allegation.

     The young suspect, when confronted with the accusation, claimed he had only kissed the girl.

     After the alleged rape victim refused to cooperate with detectives, the police department turned the case over to the Madison County District Attorney's Office. Without the victim's testimony, an eyewitness, or the boy's confession, prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

     Pursuant to an internal, administrative inquiry into the incident, vice principal Terrell testified that after seeing photographs of the girl's injuries, she didn't know whether or not the sex had been consensual. Vice Principal Dunaway testified that when the girl willingly entered the sixth-grade restroom with the boy, she was on her own.

     In the school's final disciplinary report on the matter, the incident in the school restroom was described as the "inappropriate touching of a female." The principal suspended the boy for five days. Following the suspension, the kid spent fifteen days at an alternative institution before returning to Sparkman Middle School.

     The 14-year-old girl withdrew from the Sparkman school. After extensive counseling, she ended up in North Carolina with her mother. Upon her mother's death shortly thereafter, the girl and her brother were placed in Child Protection Services.

     June Simpson, the Sparkman teacher's aide, resigned not long after the incident. Her attorney described her as a scapegoat in the case.

      In October 2010, the girl's father filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court against the boy, school administrators, the teacher's aide, and the Madison County School Board. Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending gender discrimination in public education.

     A few months after the filing of the lawsuit, a U.S. District Court Judge tossed out the claim against the boy because he was a minor. The judge also threw out the Title IX portion of the action. He did allow, however, the claim of negligence against the teacher's aide and the school administrators. Attorney Eric Artrip appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.

     On September 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education filed amicus briefs (friend of the court arguments) in support of attorney Artrip's appeal of the Title IX rejection. The case is pending. 

Ironic Humor in Fiction

     Fiction without irony is like painting without perspective. Irony exposes the incongruities of everyday life--the half-truths, deceptions and self-deceptions that help us all get through the day. Things are never what they seem, and the essence of ironic humor is the lack of fit between life as it is and life as we imagine it should be. We think the world should make sense: It doesn't. We think life should be dignified: It never is. We think life should have a serious purpose…But of course the purpose always turns out to be very silly in the end. Irony is the writer's richest and most inexhaustible humor resource.

     The genre of the campus novel, from Kingsley Amis to Richard Russo, is a perfect example. Higher education is meant to be serious business; universities are meant to be serious places. So it's funny when, in Russo's Straight Man, the chair of the English department hides in the ceiling space over the faculty offices to eavesdrop on a meeting between colleagues…

     Another reason why irony is such a powerful source of humor is that, as Voltaire observed long ago, life is absurd, but we try to make sense of it. This doomed effort creates some of the best comedy….

David Bouchier in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Just Hooking Your Reader is Not Enough

     Some first lines are so powerful that you absolutely have to keep on reading. This is known as a "hook." Nearly all the great writers employ hooks in one form or another….

     Despite popular misconception, though, the hook is more than a marketing tool. At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come. It can establish a character, narrator, or setting, convey a shocking piece of information. The irony is there is only so much you can do with one line; thus it is a game: the less space you have to work with, the more creative you must become. It is not surprising then that hooks comprise some of the most memorable lines in literature.

     What is rarely discussed is the importance of the hook not only as an opening line but as an opening paragraph, not only an opening paragraph but as an opening page, not only as an opening page but as an opening chapter. In other words, the same intensity of thought applied to the opening line should not be confined to the opening line--a common malady--but rather applied to the text in its entirety. This takes endurance, focus and concentration; with this level of intensity, it might take several days to complete even one paragraph.

     Look at your first or last line and think of the agonizing effort you put into it. You knew you were in the spotlight, that it had to be good. How many times did you rewrite that one line? What would the rest of your manuscript be like if you agonized over each line the same way? It would take forever is probably your first thought….

     I am often amazed by how many manuscripts begin with good first lines--and good openings in general--and then fall apart; it is actually rare to see the intensity found in a first line (or last) maintained throughout a manuscript.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Writing While Intoxicated

Writers have always used drugs and drink to disinhibit themselves. In the beginning, the intoxicating effects of alcohol and drugs can prove prodigious. But once the tail is wagging the dog, the effects are generally deleterious.

Betsy Lerner in The Writer's Mentor by Ian Jackman, editor, 2004

Serial Killer Belle Gunness

     She was never arrested or charged with a single crime, but Belle Gunness is recognized as one of the deadliest serial killers in criminal history. Born in Norway in 1859 to a family always teetering on the brink of ruin, she immigrated to the United States at age twenty-one, married, and seemed to be content. In 1896, her husband's confectionary business was failing when two disasters struck the family: their oldest child died suddenly and mysteriously, and the sweet shop was destroyed in a fire. Both were insured.

    Two years later, the family's new home burned to the ground and another child died mysteriously. In 1890, Belle's husband died. She collected benefits on all three occasions. Belle moved her children to an Indiana farm, where she continued her murders for money. Her second husband met with a fatal accident, and many of the farm workers who answered Belle's advertisements were never seen again.

     In 1908 the Gunness farmhouse was destroyed by fire. The bodies of Belle's three children and the decapitated corpse of a woman were found in the basement. Within a month, investigators had started digging up the remains of at least sixteen people and possibly twelve more. Most of the females had been buried, but some of the males had been fed to the hogs.

The Monday Murder Club, A Miscellany of Murder, 2011

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Confessions of Reverend Juan D. McFarland

     The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.

     On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.

     The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)

     The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Well's Fargo bank.

     On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."

     The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.

     In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery, and refection of the Ten Commandments."

     According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."

     On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary ruling against the preacher that required him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes, and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.

     

Science Fiction as Realistic Fiction

Years ago Sir Arthur C. Clarke commented that he preferred reading science fiction because it's the only realistic fiction--by which he meant that it's the only one that incorporates the concept that the world is changing and being changed by human activities.

James Gunn, LJworld.com, 2006 

NSA Spying and the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment typically require's "a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and public," and it is offended by "general warrants" and laws that allow searches to be conducted "indiscriminately" and without regard to their connections with a crime under investigation. I cannot imagine a more "indiscriminate" and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy" that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.

U. S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, December 16, 2013 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Nobody Writes About Good People

Goodness, which we praise so highly in life, is infertile terrain for a writer, whether a novelist or a journalist. [This is particularly true in crime writing. Nobody cares about the victim, all of the interest is directed at the villain.]

Adam Kirsch, 2013 

Stephen King on the Horror Genre

Louis L'Amour, the western writer, and I might both stand at the edge of a small pond in Colorado, and we both might have an idea at exactly the same time. We might both feel the urge to sit down and try to work it out in words. His story might be about water rights in a dry season, my story would more likely be about some dreadful, hulking thing rising out of the still waters to carry off sheep...and horses...and finally people. Louis L'Amour's "obsession" centers on the history of the American west; I write fearsomes. We're both a little bit nuts.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

The Murder Trial Jury

Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind--unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.

Pollice Lieutenant Parnell Emmett McCarthy in Robert Traver's true crime classic, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958

Jury Duty in the George Zimmerman Murder Trial

I want people to know that we [the six-woman jury] put everything...into this verdict. We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards. I don't think any of us could ever do anything like that ever again. I have no doubt that George [Zimmerman] feared for his life in the situation he was in at the time. I think both [he and Trayvon Martin] were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think they both could have walked away. [When the jury in the Zimmerman trial began their deliberations, three were for acquittal, one for second degree murder, and two for the manslaughter charge.]

Juror B 37, George Zimmerman murder trial, Sanford, Florida 2013 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Boston Strangler Murder Case

     Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1931, Albert Henry DeSalvo grew up in a family defined by his alcoholic father's abuse. Mr. DeSalvo, who had knocked out all of his wife's teeth, forced young Albert and his siblings to watch him engage in sex with prostitutes in their home.

     As a child, Albert tortured animals and stole from local merchants. In 1943, the twelve-year-old was sent to the Lyman School for Boys after being arrested for battery and robbery. Shortly after his release from reform school, DeSalvo stole a car which put him back into the institution. When he turned eighteen, DeSalvo joined the Army. Two years later, he was honorably discharged from the service.

     In June 1962, when Albert DeSalvo was thirty-one, women in Boston began turning up dead in their apartments. Because there were no signs of forced entry at the murder scenes, investigators theorized that the victims either knew the rapist/killer or he had gained entry by posing as a salesman or perhaps as a detective. The serial killer's last known victim, nineteen-year-old Mary Sullivan, had been raped and strangled to death on January 4, 1964. Like all but two of the other twelve murder victims, Mary Sullivan had been strangled with a piece of her own clothing. The unidentified serial killer had stabbed two of his victims to death. All of the murder victims had been raped, and eight out of his thirteen victims were women over the age of fifty-five.

     In October 1964, ten months following Mary Sullivan's murder, a young woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts allowed a man into her apartment who identified himself as a police detective. That man tied the victim to her bed and began raping her. Suddenly, in the middle of the assault, the assailant stopped, said he was sorry, and walked out of the apartment. The victim gave a detailed description of her attacker to detectives who, independent of the ongoing serial murder investigation, were trying to identify the Boston serial rapist.

     The rape victim's description of her assailant led to Albert DeSalvo's arrest. In the course of his confession to a series of rapes, DeSalvo identified himself as the so-called Boston Strangler.

     In 1967, pursuant to a plea bargain negotiated by his attorney F. Lee Bailey, Albert DeSalvo pleaded guilty to the Boston murders. In return for his guilty plea, the 36-year-old avoided the death sentence.

     Not long after being sent to the state prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, DeSalvo took back his murder confessions. In 1973, six years after he had confessed to being the notorious Boston Strangler, one of DeSalvo's fellow inmates at Walpole stabbed him to death.

     Because of the guilty pleas, prosecutors in Boston had not been put to the test of proving the murder cases against Albert DeSalvo. This fact encouraged true crime revisionists to question whether DeSalvo was really the Boston Strangler. Perhaps he was simply a false confessor drawn to the limelight of a celebrated serial murder case. These doubts over DeSalvo's guilt made recent developments pertaining to the old case all the more newsworthy.

     In July 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that forensic scientists, using advanced, cutting edge technology, had linked Albert DeSalvo to the January 4, 1964 rape and murder of Mary Sullivan. The district attorney told reporters that he planned to ask a superior court judge for an order to exhume DeSalvo's remains for further forensic testing.

     Gerard Frank's The Boston Strangler (New American Library, 1966) is considered the definitive book on the Albert DeSalvo serial murder case. The author leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that Albert DeSalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler. 

P. D. James on the Mystery Genre

The mystery's very much the modern morality play. You have an almost ritual killing, you have a murderer who in some sense represents the forces of evil, you have your detective coming in--very likely to avenge the death--who represents justice, retribution. And in the end you restore order out of disorder.

P. D. James, English mystery novelist 

Jack Abbott's Prison Cell

     In the cell, there is a barred window with an ancient, heavy mesh-steel screen. It is level with the ground outside. The existing windowpanes are caked with decades of soil, and the screen prevents cleaning them.

     A sheet of thick plywood, on iron legs bolted to the floor, is my bed. An old-fashioned toilet bowl is in the corner, beside a sink with cold running water. A dim light burns in a dull yellow glow behind the thick iron screening attached to the wall.

     The walls are covered with names and dates--some of the dates go back twenty years. They were scratched into the wall. There are ragged hearts pieced with arrows and crosses everywhere. Everywhere are the words: "mom," "love," "god"--the walls sweat and are clammy and cold.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of the Beast, 1982

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Anne Rice on Elderly Novelists

Many novelists peter out. They die with a whimper. They begin to write thin versions of what they wrote when they were young. I don't want that to happen to me.

Anne Rice in Conversations with Anne Rice (1996) by Michael Riley

Stephen King on Being a Successful Writer

The idea that success in itself can hurt a writer is as ridiculous and as elitist as the commonly held belief that a popular book is a bad book--the former belief presumes that writers are even more corruptible than, say, politicians, and the later belief presumes that the level of taste in the world's most literate country is illogically low. I don't--and perhaps can't, as a direct result of what I'm doing--accept either idea.

Stephen King, Adelina Magazine, 1980 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Journalism and the Cult of Political Correctness

Amity Schlaes, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article in The Spectator in January 1994, describing the white middle class' fear of blacks after Colin Ferguson murdered six whites on a Long Island commuter train, and after a jury in Brooklyn acquitted a young black despite powerful evidence that he had murdered a white. She wrote that whites were frightened because Ferguson's "manic hostility to whites is shared by many of the city's non madmen." When copies of the article were circulated among Schlaes' colleagues at the Journal, she became an outcast. A number of her co-workers would get out of the elevator when she got on. People who had eaten with her in the staff cafeteria refused to sit at the same table. A delegation went to the office of the chairman of the company that owns the Journal. It did not matter that Schlaes had pointed out that minorities were the greatest victims of minority crimes, or that nobody could show that a single element of her article was untrue or inaccurate. "Her crime," wrote the then editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, "was greater than being merely wrong. She had written the truth, regardless of the offense it might cause. And in modern America, or at least in the mainstream media, that is simply not done."

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1997

[Today, if a mainstream journalist wrote that many America's have become afraid of Muslims, the results would likely be the same.]  

Criminologist Lonnie Athens on the Cause of Violent Crime

That violent criminals decide to act violently based on their interpretation of a situation would be a radical discovery when psychiatry, psychology and sociology assign violent acts to unconscious motivations, deep emotional needs, inner psychic conflicts or sudden unconscious emotional outbursts. But [Dr. Lonnie] Athens [an American criminologist] quickly discovered that violent criminals interpreted the world differently than did their law-abiding neighbors, and that it was from those differing interpretations that their violence emerged. Violent acts, he began to see, were not explosions: They were decisions.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999

The Historic Jukes Family

Sociologist Richard Dugdale made a study of a family called the Jukes and wrote a book about them, The Jukes (1877). In attempting to prove that criminal characteristics are inherited, Dugdale studied the entire Jukes clan descended from the original sire in New York in the early nineteenth century. Two of his sons married their illegitimate sisters, and Dugdale traced the entire seven hundred descendants. All were either prostitutes or criminals, save for a half a dozen.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) edited by James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Monday, August 14, 2017

E. B. White on Writing Clearly

The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. Because I have the greatest respect for the reader, and if he's going to the trouble of reading what I've written--I'm a slow reader myself and I guess that most people are--why, the least I can do is make it as easy as possible for him to find out what I'm trying to say, trying to get at. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.

E. B. White (1899-1985), the author of the classic book, The Elements of Style, in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham 

Terrorism As The Justification For Domestic Spying

When physical safety becomes a major problem even for the middle classes, we must of necessity become a heavily police, authoritarian society, a society in which the middle classes live in gated and walled communities and make their places of work hardened targets....Both the fear of crime and the escalating harshness of the response to it will sharply reduce Americans' freedom of movement and peace of mind. Ours will become a most unpleasant society in which to live.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996

[Politicians are exploiting our fear of domestic terrorism to authorize faceless government bureaucrats to spy on virtually every American citizen. While the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches still protects people charged with crimes, it no longer protects the rest of us from extremely intrusive governmental spying. The president (Obama) of the United States is impatient with us for not trusting the government. I'm impatient with him for thinking we are idiots. If voters don't rise up and throw the politicians who support the president on this issue out of office, we will be running towards Gomorrah.] 

Slow Writers

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham

[If it takes a month to write the first paragraph, maybe this writer should be doing something else. Short of that, maybe she should start out with the second paragraph, then call it the first.] 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gonzaga University Students: Don't Bring Your Guns to School

     In the fall of 2013 Gonzaga University students Erik Fagan and Daniel McIntosh resided in a university owned, off-campus apartment complex in Spokane, Washington. The seniors at this Jesuit institution were good students who had never been in trouble with the law or the school. But thanks to an uninvited and unwelcome visit to their apartment by a total stranger, that all changed.

     On the night of October 24, 2013, John M. Taylor, a 29-year-old man with six felony convictions that included drug possession, unlawful imprisonment, and riot with a deadly weapon, knocked on roommates' apartment door. When Erik Fagan answered the knock, he encountered a black man who boldly asked for $15. Not feeling comfortable giving a stranger money simply because he asked for it, Fagan offered Taylor canned food and a blanket.

     Rather than either accept the gifts or walk away, Taylor entered the apartment where he repeated his request--or perhaps a demand--for the money. At this point, with an intruder in the dwelling who wanted money, Erik called out for Daniel McIntosh.

     Fagan's roommate entered the room carrying a loaded 10 mm Glock pistol. The sight of the firearm was enough to prompt the strange man's prompt retreat from the apartment.

     While running a potential robber out of their apartment by exhibiting a gun was the right thing to do, reporting the incident to the campus police department turned out to be a mistake.

     The roommates were visited that night by officers with the Spokane Police Department accompanied by Gonzaga security personnel. Armed with a description of the intruder, police officers took Taylor in for questioning a short time later.

     If Fagan and McIntosh thought they had acted responsibly and could move on, they were wrong. Gonzaga administrators, now aware that two of their off-campus students were living under the same roof with a firearm, were horrified. Possessing that weapon violated the school's zero-tolerent policy of no guns on campus-owned property.

     Rather that at least wait for daybreak, several campus police officers, at two that morning, rousted Fagan and McIntosh out of bed.

     Gonzaga officers not only confiscated McIntosh's pistol, they seized Erik Fagan's shotgun.

     McIntosh's firearm had been given to him by his grandfather. The student, in complying with the law, had acquired a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. Fagan possessed the shotgun because he liked to hunt.

     On November 8, 2013, a panel of university personnel at a disciplinary hearing found Fagan and McIntosh guilty of possessing guns on school property and putting others in danger. (I guess, at Gonzaga University, the last thing school officials want their students to do is to "endanger" ex-felons they don't know who have, without invitation, entered into their dwellings asking for money.)

     The guilty students, due to public outrage over the university's handling of this case, placed them on probation. The boys could have been expelled or suspended. Fagan and McIntosh have asked the university to return their illegally seized guns.

     Note to Gonzaga students: When confronted by an intruder inside your dwelling, pick up a baseball bat or a butcher's knife. That is assuming the school doesn't have a blanket policy that prohibits any form of intruder endangerment. If the school has an intruder protection policy, then help the intruder loot your apartment, or run like hell.  And do not call campus security if you exhibited a bat or knife because the officers might confiscate these instruments of endangerment. You could also get kicked out of school. Oh, if the intruder displays a firearm be sure to tell him he is in big trouble with the school. Even though the university anti-gun policy doesn't apply to him.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Reshad Riddle Murder Case

     Reverend David Howard had just finished his Easter service on Sunday, March 31, 2013 at the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in the northeastern Ohio town of Ashtabula. As congregants began to file out of the church, Reshad Riddle entered the building carrying a handgun and yelling something about God and Allah. A couple of church members grabbed the minister and ushered him to safety inside an office in the back of the building. Other congregants hit the floor and dialed 911 on their cellphones.

     The 25-year-old gunman walked up to Richard Riddle, his 52-year-old father, and shot him in the head. The victim died on the spot. Waving the gun in the air, Reshad Riddle screamed that the murder had been "the will of Allah. This is the will of God," he yelled.

     Police officers stormed into the church and took the killer into custody before he shot anyone else.

     In 2006, Reshad, then 18, was charged with felonious assault and kidnapping in connection with his attempt to cut his girlfriend's throat. A year later he was arrested for another felonious assault. Riddle was charged again in 2009 for possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence.

     Ashtabula Chief of Police Robert Stell told an Associated Press reporter that "There was no indication that the father and son had a bad relationship. Everyone thinks this was very surprising," he said. Really? Why wasn't this man in prison? Are they putting anyone away these days?

     After a local prosecutor charged Riddle with aggravated murder, officers booked him into the Ashtabula County Jail. The judge set his bond at $1 million.

     On December 20, 2013, a judge declared Reshad Riddle incompetent to stand trial. In this ruling, the judge relied on the testimony of two psychiatrists who had examined the defendant.

     In December 2014, Ashtabula County Judge Ronald Vettel, based upon the findings of psychologist Thomas Gazely, officially declared Riddle legally insane. On January 15, 2015, the judge sentenced Reshad Riddle to life at the Northeast Behavioral Health Care System in Cleveland, Ohio.

     The lifelong incarceration reflected the belief that Riddle's mental illness was not manageable and that he would remain a danger to society as long as he lived.  

Selecting a Literary Genre

     You want to write, but to write about what, exactly? A memoir; history; poetry; a novel? Or a short story, perhaps. Or a long short story.

     While they are theoretically allowed to exercise their free will, many writers will contend that they've been invisibly but firmly propelled in one particular direction. Writers might write what they like to read, and we have heard how reading is the foundation of writing. Following your own reading tastes might help you narrow the field; fiction or nonfiction; poetry or prose. If you love movies, or the theater, or TV, you may be driven to write in those genres.

Ian Jackman, The Writer's Mentor, 2004

The Crack Addict

     Every street cop in America knows that crack cocaine is the most potent drug on earth. A high percentage of violent crimes in this country are perpetrated to get money to buy the drug.

     Crack cocaine, or freebase, is created by cooking powdered cocaine with baking soda. When cooled, the product is hammered into curly white flakes that resemble bits of shaved soap, or paint peelings. A flake is called a "rock."

     Addiction is swift, and the prospects for recovery are bleak. Smokable cocaine doesn't trickle into the brain--it overwhelms it. The high is an intense burst of pleasure. But the downside is a free fall into deep depression. Addicts say you rise through the ceiling, then crash back through the floor. The user, desperate to postpone the brutal collapse that follows when the dose wears off, quickly learns the strategy of obtaining, in one transaction, as many rocks as possible.

     But no matter how much you have, it's never enough. A terrifying cost comes with prolonged usage--a horrible craving that makes users go berserk. It creeps into the mind minutes after the last rock is smoked up. The addict must get more. So he picks up whatever weapon is available and goes shopping. And that's where law-abiding citizens all too often get sucked into a crackhead's world.

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998

Writing Workshops Are Not Suited For Novels in Progress

Writing workshops are best suited for the discussion and dissection of short stories, not novels. While some noble teachers attempt novel-writing workshops, the workshops could be harmful if not handled correctly. Novels are fragile things, and many fledgling novels have been nipped in the bud by a writing workshop. If you turn in the first thirty pages of your novel before you've written the next three hundred, your peers will inevitably treat it like a short story. What might seem like a fault in a short story (uncertainty about the direction of the story, lack of closure, unexplained happenings) can hardly be avoided in the beginning of a novel. Maybe your peers can praise the quality of your writing, but they can't give you direction. You're the one with the overall conception of the novel. Your classmates are clueless. A novel cannot be written by committee--so don't attempt it. The other pitfall of this approach is "first-chapter-itis," rewriting your first chapter over and over again to your classmates' delight but your own frustration. What you'll wind up with is a perfect first chapter with closure, direction, and explained happenings--in other words, a short story.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

A Hit and Run Suspect Almost Escaped to Jordan

     A man wanted in a hit and run crash that left a 73-year-old man with severe injuries was minutes away from fleeing the country when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intervened and took the suspect into custody….Arlington, Texas police had an arrest warrant for Omar Mohammad, 25, and had contacted U.S. Customs and the Department of State, thinking Mohammad might be a flight risk. And they were right….

     Police informed federal investigators at 5:30 PM Wednesday, February 19, 2014 about Mohammad….That information came just in time. That flight, on its way to Jordan, was already on the tarmac and ready to depart….

"Texas Hit-And-Run Suspect Captured on Tarmac," CBS News, February 24, 2014


The Media Coverage of White on Black Crime

A white man shooting a black man is presumed racist. A black man shooting a white man is described as an indictment of society as a whole. A white man shooting a black man is put down to individual racism, but a black man shooting a white man is written off as a response to white racism....These assumptions are part of the unwritten stylebook of modern media coverage....Racism, like any form of xenophobia, is unfortunately indigenous to the human character. To privilege one form of racism over another is to justify and dehumanize its victims as deserving of abuse.

Daniel Greenfield, "The Racist Liberal System," Frontpage Mag. com, August 30, 2013

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Camia Gamet Murder Case

     In 2013, 30-year-old Marcel Hill and Camia Gamet, 38, shared an apartment in Jackson, Michigan, a town of 34,000 in the south central part of the state. She had been raised in foster homes and claimed to have been raped by a foster dad. People who knew Gamet were aware of her violent streak and abuse of drugs, a combination that made her unpredictable and dangerous.

     Marcel Hill, a high school graduate and fast food worker, was by contrast friendly and child-like. According to members of his family, he suffered "cognitive limitations" that made it difficult for him to handle simple everyday tasks like paying his bills. Unlike Gamet, he didn't have a violent bone in his body. This odd couple relationship would cost Mr. Hill his life.

     A year or so earlier, Camia Gamet, in a fit of rage, stabbed Marcel Hill with a knife, then stitched up his wound herself. Neither one of them reported the assault to the authorities. On another occasion, she sent Marcel to the hospital with a punctured lung. That assault did not lead to her arrest. But in March 2013, a Jackson County prosecutor charged Gamet with domestic violence and felonious assault after she pounded Marcel on the head with a hammer. Because he was afraid to press the matter, and refused to cooperate with law enforcement personnel, the prosecutor had no choice but to close the case.

     In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 18, 2013, a neighbor called 911 to report domestic violence at the odd couple's dwelling. Responding police officers found a blood-covered Gamet staggering around and slurring her words outside the apartment. Inside, officers found smashed furniture, a broken floor lamp, a bloody filet knife, and a damaged frying pan covered in blood.

     Amid all of the destruction and gore, officers discovered Marcel Hill. He had been repeatedly bludgeoned with hard objects--presumably the broken lamp and the frying pan--stabbed eleven times, and cut wide open in the torso with the knife.

     Police officers arrested Gamet that night. On Wednesday, May 20, 2013, a Jackson County prosecutor charged Camia Camet with open criminal homicide. (This meant a jury or a judge could determine the appropriate degree of murder in the event of a conviction.)

     The Gamet murder trial got underway in late February 2014. In her opening statement to the jury, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Kati Rezmierski portrayed the defendant as a violent person and a proven liar. According to the prosecutor, Gamet had deliberately and knowingly beaten, stabbed and slashed the victim to death.

     Defense attorney Anthony Raduazo told the jury that his client woke up from a drug-induced stupor that night to the sound of shattering glass. Believing that she was being attacked by an intruder, Gamet grabbed the lamp and the knife and used these objects to defend herself. Attorney Raduazo said the defendant had acted out of a "fear-driven rage," noting that in the encounter she had herself received cuts and bruises.

     After six days of prosecution testimony, the defense attorney put Gamet on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In telling her story of self-defense, Gamet did not come off as a very credible or sympathetic witness.

     In his closing remarks to the jury, attorney Raduazo said, "She is a woman and she is asleep and she is full of drugs and she is full of liquor. Did she react in a thoughtful manner? Or did she jump up and try to defend herself?" Raduazo pointed out that Gamet had not tried to dispose of Hill's body or clean up the death scene. "If this was preplanned and premeditated," he said, "it was a heck of a bad plan."

     Prosecutor Rezmierski, when it came her turn to address the jurors for the last time, said, "The victim did not die quickly. He knew his death was coming. The victim tried to protect himself and flee, but he was no match for the defendant. He never was a match." As to Gamet's supposed injuries, the prosecutor said, "She has barely a scratch, and he's eviscerated."

     On March 5, 2014, following a short period of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder.

     At Camia Gamet's sentencing hearing on April 16, 2014, County Circuit Court Judge John McBain saw the convicted murderer roll her eyes and snicker during a court presentation by one of Marcel Hill's aunts. The sight infuriated the judge who, in speaking directly to Gamet said, "You gutted him like a fish in the apartment! You were relentless! You stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed until he was dead! I agree with the family, I hope you die in prison! You know, if this was a death penalty state, you'd be getting the chair!"

     Judge McBain sentenced Camia Gamet to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Afterward, defense attorney Raduazo told reporters he would appeal his client's verdict and the sentence.

     On February 4, 2016, justices on the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, upheld Gamet's conviction. 

Harvard Fascist Advocates Abolishing Academic Freedom

     A Harvard University feminist student writing in the campus newspaper The Crimson recently posited this: "If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism [what?], why should we put up with [italics mine] research that counters our goals simply in the name of "academic freedom"?…

     Senior Sandra Y.L. Korn, a studies of women, gender and sexuality major, called for the end of academic freedom and in its place "a more rigorous standard: one of 'academic justice.'"

     "When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue….The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to."…[Scary stuff. If people like this come into power, forget academic freedom, we will lose all of our freedoms.]

"Harvard Feminist Says Academic Freedom Should Be Abolished," The College Fix, February 21, 2014

Elizabeth George on Writing a Novel

     What follows is the process I use when I'm writing a novel. These are the essential steps that I've developed for myself over the creation of twelve books.

     I don't begin until I have an idea. But this idea is more than just a glimmer, more than a potentially evanescent wisp of inspiration. For me, what the idea is is a complete thought that contains one of three elements: the primary event that will get the ball rolling in the novel, the arc of the story containing the beginning, the middle, and they ending or an intriguing situation that immediately suggests a cast of characters in conflict. If I have one of those three elements, I have enough to begin.

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004 

Destroying Pornographic Evidence in a Closed Murder Case

Legal experts say the destruction of evidence in a fatal Ohio rape case was likely justified by harm that could occur if the material became public. At issue are photos and audio and video recordings collected in the investigation into the 2012 death of Deanna Ballman and her nearly full-term child at the hands of a doctor convicted of killing her with a heroin overdose. Delaware County Judge Duncan Whitney approved a prosecutor's request late last year to destroy the evidence once the case is wrapped up. Assistant Delaware County prosecutor Kyle Rohrer argued the evidence was obscene because its purpose was to arouse lust….

"Judge Backs Destruction of Evidence in Ohio Rape Case," Fox News, February 9, 2014 

Autobiographical Fiction

     Many writers distrust fiction that smacks of autobiography. They believe that autobiographical fiction represents in some way a failure of the writer's imagination, or that such writers have only one good book in them and, after they have finished their autobiographical effort, they will have spent their creativity and no more will be heard from them. There's an air of smugness in that kind of attitude. The writer who makes such a claim is, in effect, saying "Autobiographical writing is not real writing," and "I'm a real writer and people who want to be real writers should write like me--that is, from the unlimited stores of my superior imagination."…

     There might be some truth in the fact that writers whose first novels are autobiographical find it more difficult than other writers to write a second novel, but writers of any stripe have a difficult time following a first novel. I've heard that as many as half of all first novelists never write a second.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

     

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Media's Role in American Violence

     ….The validity of the copycat effect is undeniable. This human phenomenon, which is hundreds if not thousands of years old, is being accelerated by our brave new world of in-your-face, wall-to-wall news coverage. The media's graphic coverage of rampage shootings, celebrity suicides, bridge jumpers, school shootings, and the like is triggering vulnerable and angry people to take their own lives and that of others.

     This is not a statement the media wants to hear. Instead of facing up to their role in these events, the media, after a shooting rampage, a school shooting, or a famous suicide, engages in the "blame game." Are guns to blame? Is it Satan? Are parents, friends, schools, and drugs to blame? Or is the general public itself, conditioned now on a high protein diet of increasingly violent fare, to blame for wanting more and more? Of course, asking the question Who is responsible? deflects the attention away from the major socially reinforcing element in the mix: the media itself. Denying the clear evidence of the copycat effect is foolhardy.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

The Reality of the Writing Life

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

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

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994
   

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Montaigne's Philosophy of Human Nature

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

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

A. J. Dunning, Extremes, 1990

The Semicolon

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

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Arthur Conan Doyle's Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories…is the inviting voice of the entire series. He is intelligent, observant and faithful, the way we want doctors to be. He is also guileless and naive, where Holmes is neither, and that is the ultimate limitation in each mystery. But his lack of cunning is why we trust him--and why Holmes does, too.

Atul Gawande, The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 2014 

The Gas Chamber

     If the hangman's scaffold concentrates the mind, the gas chamber has a way of bewitching it. It's smaller than one would think, roughly four feet square and ten feet high. Almost beautiful, if one is mechanically inclined, it's also extremely alien looking, like an antique, six-sided diving bell someone painted gray....

     Waist-high windows, tinted green and reinforced internally with thin wire, are embedded with large rivets in five of the chamber's six sides. At first sight, these windows make it seem harmless. Windows are hard to associate with death. Then the mind makes the obvious leap: this place is not only for killing but for offering death as a spectacle. Three windows look out from the rear half of the chamber onto the witnesses' room, where media people, state officials, lawyers, and families of the victims sit on long wooden benches that resemble church pews. A fourth window, on the right side of the chamber's front half, is for two doctors who monitor the condemned's heartbeat on an EKG machine and a stethoscope. The fifth, to the left of the chamber's 300-pound door, is for the executioner.

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2001