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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Art of The Journalistic Interview

     Journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a book called The Journalist and the Murderer (1990) about how true crime writer Joe McGinnis, in writing his book Fatal Vision (1983) lived with the Jeffrey MacDonald defense team as they prepared for the Green Beret doctor's murder trial. MacDonald was being tried for the 1970 murder of his pregnant wife and two daughters. The defendant and his legal team had every reason to expect that McGinnis' book would be sympathetic to MacDonald's claim of innocence. The jury found the doctor guilty, and when Fatal Vision came out, the insiders who had invited the journalist into the inner circle of the defense were shocked. McGinnis portrayed MacDonald as a sociopathic, narcissistic, cold-blooded killer who had murdered his family to free himself of the constraints of family life. (Fatal Vision is ranked 97th in Modern Library's 100 Best Works of Nonfiction.)

     In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm's first sentence reveals an ugly truth about the relationship between the journalist and the people he interviews: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."

     The following quotes are from other journalists about the art of the interview and the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee:

...it's [journalism] a very strange way to make a living, to go into other people's lives and scrape those lives for what you can use for your stories and then go out and display those scrapings in front of others.
Bob Greene

Many reporters, especially in the era of celebrity journalism, far from betraying the subjects in their pieces, praise them and cater rather slavishly to them--so that the reporter's fortunes and his subject's rise together.
Renata Adler

The secret to the art of interviewing--and it is an art--is to let the other person think he's interviewing you. You tell him about yourself, and slowly you spin your web so that he tells you everything. (In his infamous article, "Answered Prayers," Capote betrayed members of high-society who had befriended him.)
Truman Capote

I don't even like interviewing people, because I feel once I've interviewed someone, it's much harder to write critically about them unless you bring up every critical feeling you have in the course of the interview.
Norman Mailer

Walking up to a rank stranger who probably doesn't want to talk to you, introducing yourself cold, then making certain that you're the one in charge and what you're conducting is not a friendly conversation but an interview--these are not natural, or even particularly friendly, ways to behave and not a piece of cake to perform.
Beverly Lowry

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Corriann Cervantes Murder Case

     Jose Reyes and Corriann Cervantes, 17 and 15 respectively, attended the Clear Path alternative school in Clear Lake, Texas, a Greater Houston community in southeast Harris County. (Kids enrolled in alternative schools struggled as students in mainstream education systems. Some of these youngsters had learning disabilities, low I.Q.s, or personality disorders.)

     A passerby at four in the morning on Saturday February 8, 2014, noticed an open door at the El Camino Real apartment complex in Clear Lake. When the man entered the abandoned apartment he saw a half-nude woman with her head bashed in. The victim turned out to be Corriann Cervantes.

     At the murder scene, detectives determined that Cervantes had been bludgeoned to death with a toilet tank lid and an ashtray. According to a Harris County forensic pathologist, the victim had been raped before her assailant or assailants murdered her. On her abdomen someone had carved an upside-down cross. The killer or killers had placed various religious trinkets around her bloody corpse.

     The day following the gruesome discovery, police received a call from one of Jose Reyes' relatives who reported that the teenager admitted that he and a 16-year-old classmate named Victor Alas had raped and murdered the girl in the abandoned apartment.

     At the police station, Reyes told detectives that he and Atlas had taken Corriann Cervantes to the vacant apartment where they raped her. When she tried to leave, they beat her to death with the toilet tank lid and ashtray, then carved the cross into her body. They placed the religious items around her body. Reyes told his interrogators he sold his soul to the devil. He and his friend had raped, murdered, and mutilated the girl so the other boy "could sell his soul to the devil, too."

     Police officers booked Reyes into the Harris County Jail on the charge of capital murder. Because of his age he was not eligible for the death penalty. However, if convicted as a adult, he could be sentenced up to life in prison without parole.

     On Monday, February 10, 2014, police officers took 16-year-old Victor Alas into custody. Charged with capital murder as well, the prosecutor referred Alas to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Authority. If convicted as a juvenile offender, the kid faced a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.

    At his first court appearance, Jose Reyes was all smiles. He obviously enjoyed the media attention--a nobody who was suddenly a somebody. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     The Jose Reyes murder trial began on Monday December 8, 2014 in the Harris County Courthouse under District Judge Brook Thomas. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor John Jordan said the defendant, his accomplice Victor Alas, and Corriann Cervantes went to the vacant apartment that night after consuming alcohol and smoking marijuana at a friend's house. While the sex was initially consensual, the encounter degenerated into a brutal beating, repeated stabbings, torture, disfigurement, and murder.

     Reyes and Alas, according to prosecutor Jordan, gouged out Cervantes' eyes as she begged for her life. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy found pieces of porcelain embedded in her face. "What happened in that apartment," Jordan said, "was sadistic."

     Defense attorney Jerald Graber, in his address to the jurors, argued that his client should have been charged with a lesser form of criminal homicide than capital murder. Mr. Graber said the state could not prove that the defendant had committed an intentional homicide in the commission of an underlying felony such as kidnapping or sexual assault, the legal requirements of a capital murder conviction. (This was an absurd argument. The second Reyes and his friend kept Cervantes from leaving the apartment they committed the crime of kidnapping. Moreover, the consensual sex had quickly turned to rape.)

     On December 9, 2014, the second day of the trial, prosecutor Jordan put 19-year-old Miranda Leal on the stand. Leal was one of two people the defendant had bragged to about the Cervantes murder. According to the witness, Reyes told her he stabbed the victim while having sex with her. He said the Devil ordered him to do what he had done to the girl. While providing Leal details of the horrific crime, Reyes laughed and smiled as he talked about it.

     According to Miranda Leal, Reyes, in bragging about the murder, performed a freestyle rap about a threesome with a girl that led to torture and murder. To prove that he wasn't making any of this stuff up, Reyes showed Leal a cellphone photograph of himself, his friend Victor, and a girl having sex.

     Miranda Leal testified that the defendant revealed to her how he had choked, bludgeoned, then stabbed the victim in the face and torso with a screwdriver. When Cervantes tried to escape the attack he "clotheslined" her then hit her in the head with the porcelain toilet tank lid, breaking it in half. The witness said the defendant's story was so bizarre and sick she didn't believe it until she learned that Cervantes' body had been found in the vacant apartment.

      Miranda Leal was followed to the stand by Agapita Gonzales, the second person Reyes had confessed to. According to this witness, "he said somebody wanted his soul." Gonzales revealed that the defendant's account of his activities that night caused her to fear for her own life. At times during her testimony she broke into tears.

     On the third day of the Reyes murder trial, prosecutor Jordan introduced letters the defendant had written from the Harris County Jail in which he claimed the Devil watched him that night and directed his activities. Reyes had written, "He [the Devil] was standing there, watching me and Victor. It's all good. It's what the Devil asked for."

     After the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Graber did not put his client on the stand. In his closing remarks to the jury, the defense lawyer assured the jurors that finding the defendant guilty of a lesser homicide offense than capital murder would not mean that Corriann Cervantes was denied justice.

     On December 11, 2014, the jury, after deliberating just one hour, found the defendant guilty of capital murder, a crime that carried a mandatory life sentence without parole.

     Victor Alas went on trial, as an adult, in May 2015. On June 18, 2015, the Harris County, Texas jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder. Like Jose Reyes, Victor Alas will spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Agents

Because there are almost as many writers in the U.S. as there are readers, publishing houses are overwhelmed with manuscripts. To help screen out the junk, the major publishers only accept manuscripts submitted through a literary agent. For the unpublished writer, it's as hard to secure a literary agent as it once was to find a publisher. The catch-22 is this: To get published one needs a legitimate literary agent. To get a good literary agent, one needs to be published.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Judge Cynthia Brim: The Difficulty of Removing an Unfit Judge From the Bench

      Cynthia Brim, a black woman from Chicago's south side, graduated from the city's Loyola University Law School in 1983. In 1994, the 38-year-old lawyer, after working seven years in the Chicago Law Department, was elected to the position of Cook County Circuit Judge. She presided in the Markham Courthouse in south suburban Chicago. Most of her workload involved simple traffic cases. Elected to a six year term, she would remain on the bench until Cook County citizens voted not to retain her. That hasn't happened to a Cook County judge in 24 years. In Chicagoland, once on the bench, always on the bench. In reality it's a lifetime position.

     By any standard, Brim was not a competent judge. In 2000, 2006, and 2012, years in which Brim was on the ballot for retention, the Chicago Bar Association did not recommend that voters retain her as a judge. According to the bar association, Brim was not qualified nor fit for the relatively simple job of presiding over minor traffic offenses. Notwithstanding the bar association's stamp of disapproval, Cook County voters kept her in on the bench.

     On March 9, 2012, Judge Brim turned up at the Daley Center Courthouse in downtown Chicago where she threw a set of keys at and shoved a Cook County Sheriff's Deputy. Officers handcuffed the out-of-control woman and took her to a holding cell in the basement of the courthouse. A Cook County prosecutor charged Judge Brim with misdemeanor battery.

     A court-appointed psychiatrist examined the judge and concluded that when she committed the crime, she was out of her mind. The day before her fight with the deputy, while sitting on the bench at the Markham Courthouse, Judge Brim had to be ejected from her own courtroom following a 45-minute rant on racism in the criminal justice system.

     Shortly after her arrest for battery, a panel of Cook County supervisory judges suspended Brim for an indefinite period of time. While the fracas with the police officer represented her first brush with the law, the mental breakdown the day before her arrest fit into a long history of such irrational behavior. The woman was clearly unfit for the bench, but because she held an elected office, stripping Brim of her judgeship was next to impossible. Indefinite suspension was the next best thing. During this period, however, until her term runs out, Brim will still be paid her annual salary of $182,000 a year. Welcome to Cook County Illinois.

     Joe Berrious, a Cook County Democratic machine boss, told reporters that Judge Brim would receive the full support of the party in her next retention election. (There is either a critical shortage of qualified judges in the Chicago area or the judicial system in the county is controlled by political hacks.)

     In November 2012, Cook County voters gave the suspended mentally ill judge another six years in office. I guess this is democracy at work.

     Judge Brim went on trial for battery in February 2013. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a trial by judge. Her attorney, in presenting a defense of legal insanity, revealed how unfit his client was for the bench. According to the defense attorney, Judge Brim, since becoming a judge in 2014, had been hospitalized for mental illness nine times. In describing Brim's skirmish with the deputy sheriff, the attorney said, "This was not the action of a rational human being. This is someone acting pursuant to the symptoms of a mental disorder."

     The trial judge in the battery case found that when the defendant unloaded on the deputy, she was legally insane. As a result, he placed Judge Brim on probation and ordered her to stay on her antipsychotic medication.

     In an effort to get Judge Brim permanently removed from the bench, John Gallo, the attorney for the Judicial Inquiry Board, filed a complaint in August 2013 charging Brim with conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute." Attorney Gallo noted that after the incident in the downtown courthouse, Judge Brim had been hospitalized three weeks for bipolar mood disorder.

     Attorney Gallo wrote that the day before the judge's arrest, while presiding over a traffic case, Brim suddenly launched into a 45-minute tirade in which she revealed that her grandmother had been raped by a white man. She also accused two Cook County police agencies of targeting Hispanics and blacks. "Justice is all about if you're black or white," she said before being forcibly removed from the courtroom.

     In March 2014, Brim's case came before a judicial disciplinary panel comprised of an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, two appellate court judges, a pair of circuit court judges, and two citizens. In a bid to save her $182,000 a year job, Judge Brim spoke to the panel. Regarding her rant the day before her run-in with the police officer, she said, "I just broke like a pencil. It was totally inappropriate for me to say what I did at the time--or any other time."

     In an effort to convince the panel members that she was ready to return to the bench, Judge Brim said, "I can serve as a judge with full capability as long as I continue to take the medication as prescribed. I've had two years to think about this, and I have a different perspective and understanding of my condition. I realize now I have to stay on my medications and see a psychiatrist on a regular basis."

     Attorney Gallo, in speaking to the inquiry panel, voiced his concern over whether it would be proper for Judge Brim to return to the bench. "Judge Brim," he said, "decided to go without any kind of psychiatric treatment of any sort after 15 years of these episodes while she was a sitting judge." Mr. Gallo informed the panel members that Brim had been hospitalized nine times for mental breakdowns since she took the bench in 1994. In one of her psychiatric meltdowns EMT personnel carried her out of the courtroom on a stretcher after she went catatonic. Gallo pointed out that the judge wasn't diagnosed with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder until 2009. By then she had been a judge fifteen years.

     On May 10, 2014, the Illinois Courts Commission removed Cynthia Brim from the bench. The commissioners had determined that she was unfit to preside over a courtroom. Following her removal, however, she began receiving her pension in excess of $150,000 a year. She also remained registered in the state to practice law.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Writers' Fear Of Death

Creative writers, more than normal people, are terrified of death. For example, Woody Allen had this to say about the grim reaper: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my writing. I want to achieve it by not dying."

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On The Abused Word "Amazing."

Since when did everything look, taste, and feel "amazing?" What does "amazing" look, taste, and feel like? It's amazing how this poor word has been abused. It's time for a word assassin to put it out of its misery.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Higher Education: Too Little Bang for the Tuition Buck

Institutions are rarely murdered. They meet their end by suicide....They die because they have outlived their usefulness, or fail to do the work that the world wants done.

Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856-1943), president of Harvard University 

Thornton P. Knowles On Journalism's Objectivity Myth

There is no such thing as purely objective journalism, and there never has been. All reporters have opinions and biases, and these feelings seep into their work. It's time to put this ridiculous lie to rest.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Alexander Hilton and the St. Andrews University Attempted Murder Poisoning Case

     In 2011, Alexander D. Hilton, a 20-year-old rich kid from Princeton, Massachusetts, attended St. Andrews University in Fife, Scotland. The sophomore prep school graduate (St. Johns) had moved to the the United Kingdom to study economics at this ancient and prestigious institution of higher learning.

     On March 5, 2011, on the eve of the annual St. Andrews ball, Hilton and a group of his fellow students were participating in a dormitory drinking game. One of the drinkers, Robert Forbes, an American from Virginia, after gulping down a bottle of red wine given to him by Hilton, became seriously ill. The 19-year-old suffered loss of balance, severe nausea, had trouble breathing, and temporarily lost his eyesight. He spent a week in the hospital. Doctors said that had Forbes not received medical treatment, he could have died.

     A few days after the dormitory drinking game, local investigators questioned Hilton about the incident. The authorities suspected that Hilton, known around the school as an anti-social oddball, had intentionally poisoned Robert Forbes. Hilton denied mixing anything into the wine. The Scottish authorities didn't have enough evidence to charge the American with a crime, but urged him to leave the country. He was also kicked out of St. Andrews. On March 18, 2011, Alexander Hilton returned to his parents' home in Princeton, Massachusetts.

     Back in Scotland, toxicological tests revealed that the red wine that had made Robert Forbes so sick had been spiked with methanol, an ingredient found in antifreeze. The sweet-smelling liquid, also known as wood alcohol, is colorless, highly flammable, and deadly. A search of Hilton's computer determined that he had investigated the toxicological effects of combining red wine and methanol. In Hilton's dormitory room, investigators found a funnel.

     After Hilton returned to the United States, he enrolled in a college in New Mexico. About a year after the St. Andrews drinking party, Hilton learned that the authorities in Scotland planned to charge him with the attempted murder of Robert Forbes. Upon learning this, Hilton dropped out of the college in New Mexico and returned to his parents' house in Princeton, Massachusetts. Seven months later, in the fall of 2012, the prosecutor in charge of the case in Scotland charged Hilton with attempted murder.

     On February 4, 2013, under an extradition treaty the United States had with the United Kingdom, United States Marshals took Alexander Hilton into custody. The federal authorities hauled the former St. Andrews student to the Central Falls, Rhode Island Detention Center where he was placed under suicide watch.

     Hilton, on February 21, 2013, appeared at his bail hearing in federal court in Boston before a U. S. magistrate judge. Assistant United States Attorney David J. D'Addio, in arguing against bail for this defendant, said, "This is an attempted murder case, a serious case, and we can't lose sight of that. The evidence before us is that Mr. Hilton deliberately poisoned a student at St. Andrews."

     Hilton's defense attorney, Norman S. Zalkind, argued that because his client was seriously mentally ill, bail should be granted in order that the defendant could continue taking his medication, and not be denied psychiatric therapy. According to the defense attorney, if Hilton remained in custody, he was "...going to get sicker and sicker and sicker." Zalkind described Hilton as an extremely intelligent person with the socialization skills of a 14-year-old. (This description probably fit half of the underclassmen at St. Andrews.) The defense lawyer wondered why someone at the university didn't notice Hilton's mental problem after he started flunking his classes. (The question in my mind is how Hilton got into St. Andrews in the first place?)

     The U.S. magistrate judge withheld his bail decision pending the outcome of Hilton's extradition hearing scheduled for March 7, 2013.

      On March 7, 2013, the federal judge certified Hilton's extradition to Scotland. Following that ruling the U.S. magistrate judge allowed the suspect to post bail. Hilton's attorneys immediately appealed the extradition certification to a federal court of appeals.

     Robert Forbes, in March 2013, filed a personal injury suit against Hilton in federal court. A federal judge later dismissed the civil lawsuit. (It may have been settled.)

     The federal court of appeals, in February 2014, granted Alexander Hilton a stay of extradition on grounds he was mentally incompetent to stand trial in Scotland.

     Hilton, in May 2015, was extradited to Scotland to stand trial in the attempted murder case. In July 2015, the defendant pleaded guilty as charged pursuant to the claim that, at the time of the poisoning, he had been mentally ill. Judge Lord Burns of the High Court in Edinburgh sentenced Hilton to three years in prison. Once he has completed his sentence, Hilton will be deported back to the United States.  

The Bad Review That Killed a Writer's Will to Write

I quit writing after Publishers Weekly told me my first novel was "just terrible." Something broke, you see. I was 29 and I'd worked for ten years at that novel, and I didn't see the point of spending another ten years only to be told the same thing again. So I tend bar here in North Plainfield, New Jersey, and try to encourage the other writers who come by now and then. We don't get many writers in North Plainfield.

Luke Walton in Rotten Reviews and Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernards, 1998

Problems in American Criminal Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Shannon Kepler Murder Case

     Shannon Kepler and his wife Gina joined the Tulsa Police Department as patrol officers on August 13, 1990. He was  30-years-old and she was 24. In 2002, the childless couple adopted 6-year-old Lisa.

    Lisa Kepler, diagnosed with a personality disorder called reactive detachment, became a difficult child. Due to her behavioral problems the Keplers, over the years, spent thousands of dollars on various programs, camps, and therapy. None of this treatment altered the girl's anti-social behavior. By 2014, the parents were at their wit's end. They simply had no control over their 18-year-old daughter.

     On July 30, 2014, the fed-up parents, in hopes that a dose of reality might prompt Lisa to change her ways, kicked her out of the house. They dropped her off at a homeless shelter in downtown Tulsa.

     While living at the homeless shelter, Lisa met 19-year-old Jeremey Lake. Shortly thereafter, Lisa moved into Lake's parents' house in north Tulsa. On August 5, 2014, Lisa and Jeremy announced their romantic relationship on Facebook.

     That Tuesday night, August 5, 2014, at nine-fifteen, Shannon Kepler pulled up in front of Jeremy Lake's house where he encountered Lisa and her boyfriend walking along the street. Following an exchange of angry words the police officer shot at Lake three times then allegedly turned his gun on his daughter and fired three more times. Lisa escaped injury, but the boy died on the spot. After the shooting, Officer Kepler drove off in his SUV.

     Not long after the shooting a Tulsa police officer spoke on the phone to Gina Kepler who said that she and her husband planned to turn themselves in. She said she'd leave the gun in the trunk of her car.

     Accompanied by an attorney, Shannon Kepler and his 48-year-old wife surrendered at police headquarters. (Mrs. Kepler had been charged with accessory to murder after the fact.) On the advice of their lawyer, the couple did not agree to interrogations.

     Officers booked the Keplers into the Tulsa County Jail. The 54-year-old police officer and instructor at the Tulsa Police Academy faced charges of first-degree murder and shooting with intent to kill.

     The judge denied the suspects bond, and the chief of police suspended the Keplers with pay. Mr. Kepler entered a plea of not guilty based on a claim of self defense.

     A few days after the arrests of her parents, Lisa Kepler spoke to a local television reporter. Regarding her dead boyfriend she said, "He was just really sweet and caring and he didn't pretend. I've known him a week. He was everything. He gave me a place to stay, food to eat, and a bed to sleep in. He meant a lot to me and dad came and took him away."

     The defendants, after the judge set their bond, made bail and were released from custody on August 22, 2014.

     The Kepler murder trial has been delayed several times due to a series of procedural motions filed by the defense involving claims that the judge and the case prosecutor were biased against the defendant. The motions were denied.

     In 2015, 2016, and 2017, Shannon Kepler went on trial for murder three times, and three times the juries were deadlocked on a verdict.

     A fourth jury, on October 19, 2017, found Shannon Kepler guilty of first-degree manslaughter. On November 20, 2017, Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes sentenced Kepler to 15 years in prison.  

Suicide and the Werther Effect

     Sociologists studying the media and the cultural contagion of suicidal behaviors were the first to recognize the copycat effect. In 1974, University of California at San Diego sociologist David P. Phillips coined the phrase Werther Effect to describe the copycat phenomenon. The name Werther  comes from the 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the author of Faust. In the story, the youthful character Werther falls in love with a woman who is promised to another. Always melodramatic, Werther decides that his life cannot go on and that his love is lost. He then dresses in boots, a blue coat, and a yellow vest, sits at his desk with an open book, and, literally at the eleventh hour, shoots himself. In the years that followed, throughout Europe, so many young men shot themselves while dressed as Werther and seated at their writing desks with an open copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther in front of them that the book was banned in Italy, Germany, and Denmark.

     Though an awareness of this phenomenon has been around for centuries, Phillips was the first to conduct formal studies suggesting that the Werther Effect was, indeed, a reality--that massive media attention and the retelling of the specific details of a suicide (or, in some cases, untimely deaths) could increase the number of suicides.

     The August 1962 suicide of Marilyn Monroe presents a classic modern-day example of the Werner Effect. In the month that followed it, 197 individual suicides--mostly of young blond women--appear to have used the Hollywood star's suicide as a model for their own. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. increased by 12 percent for the month after the news of Monroe's suicide. But, as Phillips and others discovered, there was no corresponding decrease in suicides after the increase from the Marilyn Monroe-effect suicides. In other words, the star's suicide actually appeared to have caused a whole population of vulnerable individuals to complete their own deaths, over and above what would be normally expected. This is the copycat effect working with a vengeance.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004

Thornton P. Knowles On Writer's Angst

Writer's angst? Forget it. You want angst? Lose your wallet, or get a bad haircut.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On How Many Words a Picture is Worth

So, a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words? Give me a break. In reality, a word is worth a thousand pictures. Only a so-called "literary" novelist could do a thousand words on a picture, say, of a cow. Most pictures don't rate more than a title like, "Brown and White Cow."

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Keith Little Murder Case


     At ten-thirty in the morning of New Year's Day 2011, police were called to the Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where they discovered maintenance supervisor Roosevelt Brockington's body in his basement boilerroom office. Someone had stabbed Brockington 70 times in the face, neck, chest, and back. The 40-year-old victim had a 12-inch knife stuck in his neck. This was clearly a crime of passion committed by someone who hated the victim.

     Five days after the murder, a Suburban Hospital worker reported seeing Keith D. Little, a maintenance employee, washing a pair of black gloves and a ski-mask in chemically treated water. The police recovered these items from the trash outside the boilerroom and took Little, already a suspect, into custody.

     On February 3, 2003, in an earlier case, Keith Little had allegedly killed his maintenance boss in Washington, D.C. This victim, Gordon Rollins, had been shot six times. The jury in the 2006 murder trial found Little not guilty. He walked out of jail a free man.

     Investigators in the Bethesda murder case had reason to believe that Little hated Mr. Brockington. In 2009, Little had threatened to "get him" after the maintenance supervisor changed his working schedule. As a result of that adjustment, Little had to give up a second job at the federal court house in Greenbelt, Maryland. More recently, Brockington had given the 50-year-old suspect a negative performance evaluation that kept him from receiving an annual pay raise.

     DNA analysts at the Montgomery County Crime Laboratory determined there was not enough trace evidence on one of the gloves to declare the presence of blood. A second analysis by a private firm, Bode Technology, found no evidence of blood either, but did find evidence after applying a serology test that can detect more diluted traces. According to these results, the glove contained DNA from the victim, the suspect, and an unidentified person.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Little went on trial on December 2, 2011 at the Montgomery Court House in Rockville, Maryland. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ronald Gottlieb, in his opening statement to the jury, pointed out that the police found no traces of blood in the defendant's home, car, or work locker. As for the motive behind the murder, Gottlieb asserted that several former maintenance employees could have been angry with the victim. At this point, it seemed the prosecution had a much stronger case than the defense.

     On December 6, 2011, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Marielsa Bernard ruled that the prosecution could not introduce the results of the DNA test linking defendant Little to the glove that supposedly contained traces of the victim's blood. The judge felt the disparity of lab results rendered this evidence unreliable.

      Judge  Marielsa also prohibited the prosecution from making any mention of Little's previous trial in which he was found not guilty of killing his maintenance boss in Washington, D.C. This information, according to the judge, was too prejudicial to the defendant's current case.

     The Montgomery County prosecutor, notwithstanding the procedural setbacks, went ahead with the case. On February 13, 2012, the jury found Keith Little guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Conspiracy Theories: Their Appeal and Resiliency

     The contrary, unorthodox, and often complicated interpretation of a newsworthy event ofter occurs after high-profile crimes and the unexpected deaths of celebrities.  Conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of famous people flourish when it's possible the well-known person could have been the victim of first-degree murder. For the conspiracy buff, it's even better if the suspected murderer is also a celebrity.

     Notwithstanding the fact that most conspiracy theories are in time debunked by more level-headed investigators, journalists, and true crime writers, they often spring back to life decades after the event. Even the most outlandish conspiracy theories have long lives.

     Examples of celebrity murder conspiracies that have lived on through tabloid journalism and hack true crime writing include the sudden deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, George Reeves, and Curt Cobain. In all of these theories, the murder suspects were also famous.

     Conspiracy theories are fun and exciting real life parlor games. They are also comporting in the belief that if something big and earth-shattering occurs such as the assassination of a president, powerful, evil forces must be behind the murder. Otherwise, we have to accept the fact that American history can be changed in a second by the actions of an insignificant person for reasons that defy understanding. This reality made the murder of John Lennon so unsettling to his fans.

     When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016 in a remote region of west Texas, theories that he had been murdered popped up immediately in the news, notwithstanding the fact he was 79-years-old and in poor health. Because Scalia's death involved enormous political and ideological significance, it's not surprising that theories of his murder surfaced so soon. Theories of his murder persisted despite the fact officials determined he had died of a heart attack. The principal suspect in the Scalia murder scenario is President Obama. In the world of conspiracy theories it doesn't get better than this.

     Before Scalia's momentous passing, Rob Brotherton of the Los Angeles Times had this to say about conspiracy theories:

     "Conspiracy theories are not inherently "delusional." Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them. If you had claimed in 1972 that the burglary at the Watergate Hotel was, in fact, a plot by White House officials to illegally spy on political rivals and insure President Nixon's reelection, you'd have sounded like a nut. If you'd claimed that the CIA had given American citizens LSD, mescaline, and other drugs in secret mind-control experiments, you'd have been laughed off as a member of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Both conspiracies, however, were quite real. Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation."

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Ernest Hemingway

Psychology students, in Assholeology 101, study Ernest Hemingway.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Bank Account is Alive, But The Account-Holder Isn't

     Seven hours before Caryl Vanzo was reported dead at the age of 91, she went to the bank with her son and withdrew $850. Now authorities believe Vanzo, wheeled into the Wells Fargo bank in Plymouth, Minnesota, was dead…

     David Vanzo, her son, called 911 on January 5, 2015 to report his mother's death. But an investigation is underway to determine when Caryl Vanzo died and if her son had anything to do with it…

     Officers who responded to the Vanzo home reported that the stench of urine and feces was overwhelming. They found the dead woman wrapped in a robe and a fur coat…

     Neighbors said they saw the mother and her son get into a taxi to go to the bank. She looked either dead or unconscious. Witnesses at the bank said her feet kept dragging under her wheelchair. ..The cab driver said he believed she was alive when they got into the taxi, but may have died on the way to the bank.

     Police took David Vanzo into custody on the charge of neglect. He has been investigated several times in the past for exploiting his mother financially…Bank records show that David Vanzo took out a $118,000 reverse mortgage and cash withdrawals of $47,000 and $25,000…He denied any wrongdoing. "My mom and I had an agreement. I took care of my mom for years, I'm the good guy here, not the bad guy. My mother wouldn't eat in the end."

"David Vanzo Possibly Made Bank Withdrawals With Dead Mom," huffingtonpost.com, January 22, 2015 

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Lisa Irwin Missing Person Case

     In Kansas City, Missouri, during the early morning hours of October 4, 2011, Jeremy Irwin told the police he had gone into his 10-month-old daughter's room and found her missing from the crib. He said he had last seen the baby, Lisa Irwin, around 10:30 the previous night. When he arrived home from work the next morning (he worked the 11 PM to 3 AM shift), he found his front door unlocked and most of the inside lights on. He had also discovered, he said, an open front window, presumably the kidnapper's point of entry.

     The missing baby's mother, Deborah Bradley, at home that night, had put the baby to bed. She and her husband had not called the police immediately upon discovering the crime because, according to their stories, someone, presumably the intruder, had stolen their three cellphones. On Friday, October 7, 2011, Bradley, appearing on "The Today Show," said that on Thursday the police had informed her she had failed a polygraph test. At that point the parents stopped cooperating with the authorities investigating the abduction of their daughter.  In the meantime, local police and FBI agents were searching for the missing child.

     According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, during the past thirty years, 278 infants have gone missing. Only thirteen of these babies were abducted by intruders. Every year about 1,500 children are killed by their parents.

     It has not always been the case that babies stolen by strangers was a rarity. During the 1920s, kids from wealthy families were regularly kidnapped by organized racketeers who returned the children after receiving the ransom money. The families, relieved to have their infants back, rarely reported the crimes. The so-called "snatch racket" ended after the Lindbergh case in 1932. Following the intruder abduction of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr., kidnapping became a federal offense investigated by the FBI. Today, kidnapping for ransom, committed by stupid people who almost always get caught when they show up for the ransom money, is a relatively uncommon crime.

     On October 18, 2011, while appearing on three national television shows, Deborah Bradley informed her interviewers that she was drunk and on anxiety medicine the night her baby was abducted. Perhaps she had blacked out. Bradley also changed her story as to when she last saw Lisa. She now said she last saw the infant at 6:40 PM. This meant the baby could have been snatched anytime between 6:40 PM and 4:00 AM the next morning.  She had also retained a celebrity defense attorney and had a private investigator working on the case.

     In January 2012, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show. The mother pleaded with the abductor to return her child. "Nobody takes a baby to hurt her," Bradley said. "She's coming home." The couple also reiterated their previous denials that they had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance.

     A month after appearing on "Dr. Phil," Bradley told an Associated Press reporter that, "She's out there somewhere, and I am desperate to find her…I just want my daughter home. People don't understand just how difficult it is to wake up and find out that someone has come into your house and taken your baby, and then you are accused of doing something to her or covering something up."

     In early February 2012, detectives had their first interview with the couple since they questioned them on October 8, 2011. According to a spokesperson with the Kansas City Police Department, the interview didn't produce anything new.

     Notwithstanding a $100,000 reward offered by an anonymous benefactor and the running down of 1,500 leads generated by the TIPS Hotline, Lisa Irwin's whereabouts was still a mystery. As the volume of investigative tips faded, detectives returned to working on other cases.

     In December 2014, a former CIA interrogator questioned Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin and concluded they did not exhibit any behavioral signs of deception when they denied involvement in the disappearance of their daughter. However, many people familiar with the case, inside law enforcement and out, still considered Deborah Bradley a viable suspect who had not revealed everything she knew about what happened to Lisa Irwin.

     As of November 2017, no arrests have been made in the case. Lisa Irwin remained missing. 

Write Your Novel Instead of Talking About It

Writing a novel is like poking out your eyes with a flaming stick. A real writer will develop the discipline to do it anyway, instead of just talking about the story to anyone within listening range. Unfortunately, writing the book requires spending time alone with yourself. Locking yourself in a room without distractions is usually the best course. Woody Allen said that he can't write in a room with a window.

Bruce Balfour in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McLeer, 2008 

An Armored Car Heist

     Armored car driver Trent Michael Smith, 24, charged with stealing more than $200,000 from the vehicle, was arrested on Monday December 22, 2014 in Colorado Springs, Colorado….He has been charged with first-degree felony theft…

     Shortly before eight in the morning on Monday December 22, 2014, police in Amarillo, Texas responded to a report that a Rochester Armored Car Company vehicle had been found unoccupied and still running on Northeast 22nd Avenue. Both the driver and the contents of the armored vehicle were missing…

     On Monday night, officers arrested Cook's father, Brian Keith Hodge, 43, on a charge of tampering with evidence connected to the theft. The next day, investigators recovered a white 1995 Ford van they believed had been used in the heist…

     Cook was supposed to meet another Rochester Armored Car Company employee at eight on the morning of December 22 to replenish ATMs with cash. An hour later the empty armored vehicle was discovered several miles from Cook's assigned location…

     Cook, with the help of his father, rented a storage unit where they concealed the Ford van. Investigators believed the van was used to haul the stolen cash. The money was recovered at the time of Cook's arrest….

     [In August 2015, a federal judge sentenced Trent Michael Smith to 78 months in prison. Smith's father received a sentence of 63 months behind bars.]

"Armored Car Driver Arrested in Colorado," amarillo.com, December 24, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On His Last Words

Unless I'm run over from behind by a semi, my last words, appropriate for a writer, will be: "The End."

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Charles Manson And His Murderous Cult

     In Los Angeles, the murders committed by members of Charles Manson's "family" on August 9 and 10, 1969, marked the beginning of a homicidal crime wave that lasted until the early 1990's. Charles Manson, who is still alive and in prison, became the personification of cold-blooded, ritualistic serial killing. The image of this little man's face has come to symbolize demonic evil. While he was not the first insignificant loser to achieve infamy through sociopathic deviancy, his name and his persona have been etched into the annals of murder. Manson's pot-smoking, LSD-taking, hippie followers are the prototypes of today's bath salt, PCP zombies.

     Manson and his murderous crew, inspired by the Beatle's song "Helter Skelter," slaughtered eight people in a plot to start a race war. The man who successfully prosecuted these degenerate misfits, Vincent Bugliosi, wrote a book (with Curt Gentry) about the case called Helter Skelter. The nonfiction book, published in 1974, became a bestseller, and won several literary awards. Mr. Bugliosi died in June of 2015 at the age of 80.

     In 2011, cold-case investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department were looking into 12 unsolved murders committed in the LA area during the Manson family killing spree. Pursuant to that investigation, the LAPD petitioned a federal judge in Texas for the right to review eight cassette audio-tapes containing hours of conversations between Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson and his attorney. Investigators believed these tapes contained evidence linking Manson and his people to some or all of the unsolved murders.

     In the spring of 2012, the judge granted the LAPD's request for the audio tapes. Watson's attorney appealed the ruling which delayed the LAPD's access to this information.

     In an effort to get around the legal roadblock, Los Angeles detectives acquired a warrant to search the attorney's office for the cassettes. On October 16, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Schell issued an order prohibiting the LA detectives from serving their search warrant. In justifying his ruling, Judge Schell wrote: "This court understands and respects the desire of the LAPD to seek access to the 42-year-old tapes. However, the LAPD has provided no explanation as to why this court should shortcut the usual [appeals] procedure...." In other words, what was the emergency?

     Cold-case detectives, relatives of the victims of the unsolved murders, and people interested in Charles Manson and the history of murder, were frustrated by the delay caused by this judge's ruling. But in May 2013, Judge Richard A. Schell released the Watson tapes to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. After the recordings were converted into electronic files, the historic legal conversations were given to the cold case investigators looking into the unsolved Los Angeles murders.

     As it turned out, the Watson tapes did not produce evidence that led to the resolution of the unsolved Los Angeles murders. But in September 2014, an attorney for imprisoned Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, announced that the Watson tapes might benefit his client's bid for parole. In May 2015, the state parole board denied her request.

     Charles "Tex" Watson, serving his time at the Donovan State Prison in San Diego, was denied parole in November 2016.

     In 2016, Leslie Van Houten, in her 21st petition for parole, was recommended for parole by the California Parole Commission. Governor Jerry Brown, however, denied the 68-year-old's release.

     On November 17, 2017, 83-year-old Charles Manson was rushed from his prison cell to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California. While corrections authorities refused to reveal the serial killer's medical condition, he was, according to reports, on death's door. In my opinion, Mr. Mason arrived at that door 45 years late.  

The Hunter and the Hunted in Thrillers and Suspense Novels

Many suspense novels and thrillers are based on the drama of the hunter and the hunted. Often a chase requires a one step forward, two steps backward approach. For example, after chasing down many false leads, a police detective finally discovers the suspect's hideout and hurries to secure a search warrant. The scene could end on his assistant rushing into the room with the warrant, and the detective grabbing his keys and heading for the car. Naturally the reader will be curious about where the villain lives and will keep reading. Or the scene might end with the detective arriving at the hideout to discover that the villain has vanished along with all traces of its illegal operation. The question is not only where he has gone, but who tipped him off.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Criminalizing Certain Drugs, Regulating Alcohol and Tobacco

     In trying to confront crime and health problems caused by alcohol, tobacco and drugs, American legislatures over time have enacted various laws ranging from criminalization to regulation to revenue-raising. The governmental efforts to eliminate or at least control these quests for pleasure engender intense reactions of approval and disapproval, ideology and rhetoric, culture and religion, and in some cases, racial and ethnic effects.

     But for the past seventy years, the basic response structure has endured intact. Using alcohol and tobacco for pleasure is legal; using drugs for pleasure is illegal. To justify this radical contrast, government asserts a need to control crime and public health problems by criminalizing drug sale and use, with no need to control such problems through a criminal ban on the adult sale and use of tobacco. But when the government punishes Americans for engaging in conduct they want or feel a need to pursue, it needs to have a compelling reason or such action will eventually falter. The political failure of alcohol prohibition, for example, led to its repeal in 1933. [Since the above was written, several states have adopted medical marijuana. Two states have legalized it altogether.]

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Killing John Adams: Another Wrong House Drug Raid

     Sixty-four-year-old John Adams and his wife Loraine lived in Lebanon, Tennessee, a town of 20,000, 14 miles east of Nashville. John, suffering from arthritis, had retired after working 37 years for the Precision Rubber Company. With his lump-sum disability payment, John had purchased a new Cadillac and a double-wide trailer on Joseph Street, a short, dead-end road on the eastern side of town. His place and the house next door were the only dwellings on the block.

     At 10 o'clock Wednesday night, October 4, 2000, John and Loraine were watching television in their living room when someone pounded loudly on their front door. Loranine got out of her chair, "Who is it?" she asked. Whoever it was didn't respond. The pounding grew more intense. Realizing that someone was breaking down the door, Loraine, thinking that criminals were invading their house, yelled to John, "Baby, get your gun!"

     John Adams grabbed the cane next to his easy chair and hobbled out of the room. Seconds later, five men, wearing helmets and ski masks and dressed in black combat fatigues, burst into the house. They shoved Loraine against a wall and forced her to her knees. Handcuffed and terrified, she said, "Y'all have got the wrong place! What are you looking for?"

     Officers Greg Day and Kyle Shedron, rookies in their mid-twenties, encountered John standing in the hallway holding a sawed-off shotgun. Mr. Adams fired one shot, and the officers returned fire, hitting him in three places. Mr. Adams crumbled to the floor, and died four hours later on the operating table at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

     At a news conference the following day, Lebanon chief of police Billy Weeks admitted that his officers had raided the wrong house. He acknowledged that because there were only two residences on that block, and one was a house trailer, people had a right to know how this could have happened. Chief Weeks said that the narcotics officer in charge of the case, a person he would not identify, had written the correct address on the search warrant. This address belonged to the drug suspect's house located next door to the Adams dwelling. The narcotics officer, in directing the SWAT team to the place to be entered, relied on the description of the raid target rather than the address written on the warrant. Nobody could figure out what the hell that meant.

     According to Chief Weeks, the narcotics officer who had acquired the search warrant had been watching the drug suspect's house for more than a month. The judge had issued the warrant after this officer had sworn to him that an informant had purchased drugs at this house. The drug suspect's car had been parked in the Adams's driveway, which may have caused the mix-up. Although this explained how the narcotics cop might have incorrectly assigned the drug suspect's address to the Adams trailer, it also suggested that the officer had not actually witnessed the snitch enter the suspect's place to make the buy. If he had, the wrong description would not have ended up on the search warrant. Nevertheless, Chief Weeks said, "We did the best surveillance we could do, and a mistake was made. It's a very sincere mistake (what does that mean?), a costly mistake. They [Mr. and Mrs. Adams] were not the target of our investigation. [Mr. Adams was, unfortunately, the target of the shooters.] It makes us look at our own policies and procedures to make sure this never occurs again." Mr. Adams had been shot, the chief went on to say, because he fired a shotgun at officers Shedron and Day. The incident (the homicide) was being looked into by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).

     Chief of Police Weeks called a second news conference on October 19 to update the media on the status of the case. Having earlier assured the public that "We did the best surveillance we could do," he now revealed that "We lost sight of our informant, and that never should occur." It seemed the head of the narcotics unit who had watched the suspect's house, and acquired the search warrant, had not actually witnessed him enter the dwelling for drugs. "What we think happened is that we have a particular [narcotics] supervisor who made a very unwise decision." The "unwise decision" presumably, was to lie to the magistrate who had issued the search warrant.

     Chief Weeks placed this officer on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the TBI investigation. "We are not trying to make excuses for what happened. But I can tell you that we did identifiy ourselves [before breaking into the wrong house], and maybe they [the occupants] got confused. [Mr. and Mrs. Adams were not confused. They were in the right house.] And I know we were reacting to him [Mr. Adams] shooting at us. But obviously, this wouldn't have happened if we had not been in the man's house.

     John Fox, the mayor of Lebanon, also appearing before reporters that day, made the point that, wrong house or not, Mr. Adams would be alive had the SWAT team not been deployed in the first place. "We're going to back off this knocking down doors," he said. "There's going to have to be some really strong evidence that something life-threatening is actually there. I told him [Chief Weeks] to get rid of those damn black uniforms, get rid of them!" [The Lebanon SWAT team had been trained by DEA agents who recommend that officers dress in the "narco ninja" style which consists of all-black outfits and ski masks.] When we go up to knock on a door, we're going to have our suit and tie, or our [regular] police uniform, and that's it. And when they open the door, a citizen is going to be a citizen until there is actually proof of guilt."

    Mayor Fox also provided information that possibly explained how the narcotics supervisor had confused the suspect's residence with the Adams trailer. According to the mayor, the confidential informant was merely an anonymous tipster. Moreover, the so-called surveillance was nothing more than a "drive-by" scan of the neighborhood. If this were true, it's hard to imagine how the narcotics officer could have acquired the search warrant without fudging the facts.

     The TBI completed its investigation, and on November 3, 2000, a Wison County grand jury indicted Lieutenant Steve Nokes, the head of the Lebanon narcotics unit. Lieutenant Nokes stood accused of criminal responsibility for reckless homicide, tampering or fabricating evidence, and aggravated perjury, all felony offenses. At his trial, Nokes pleaded not guilty, and in June 2001, the jury acquitted him of all charges.

     The city of Lebanon, in May 2002, agreed to pay Loraine Adams the lump sum of $200,000. Pursuant to the court settlement, she would also receive $1,675 a month for the rest of her life. The city also paid Mr. Adams' $45,000 hospital bill, and his $5,804 funeral expenses.

      

The Science in Science Fiction

There's a great deal of evidence that the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe. This fact enables us to make reasonable guesses about what sorts of things might exist in other parts of it. We would not expect, for example, to find civilizations growing in atmospheres consisting principally of hydrogen and oxygen. The laws of chemistry make such an atmosphere too unstable to exist, on Earth or anywhere else. Nor would we expect to find real counterparts of that hoary old cliche of monster movies, giant spiders exactly like Earthly tarantulas but a hundred times larger. A really determined science fiction writer could concoct plausible aliens that superficially looked somewhat like big spiders, but inside, they would have to be very different.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Father Gerald Robinson: Devil Priest or Innocent Man?

     In 1980, 72-year-old Sister Margaret Ann Pahl worked at Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio as the caretaker of the chapel. A strict taskmaster who didn't suffer fools, Sister Margaret worked closely with 42-year-old Father Gerald Robinson, one of the hospital's chaplains. Father Robinson was a popular priest in the heavily Catholic city of 300,000.

     On April 5, 1980, on Holy Saturday, someone found Sister Margaret's bloody body on the chapel floor. She had been choked to near death, then stabbed 31 times in the chest, neck, and face. Some of the stab wounds in her chest formed the pattern of an upside down cross. The killer had also anointed her forehead with a smudge of her own blood. With her habit pulled up to her chest, and her undergarments pulled down around her ankles, the victim had been posed in a position of humiliation. While not raped, the killer had penetrated her with a cross.

     Although detectives on the case immediately suspected Father Robinson of this ritualistic murder, he presided over Sister Margaret's funeral Mass four days after her homicide. The principal piece of crime scene evidence involved a blood stain on the altar cloth consistent with the form of a sword-shaped letter opener in Father Robinson's apartment. The stain bore the vague print of the letter opener's dime-sized medallion bearing the image of the U.S. capitol. However, because the chief detective on the case was a Catholic, and didn't want to scandalize the church, Father Robinson was not arrested. The investigation floundered, and without a suspect, died on the vine.

     In December 2003, a Lucas County cold-case investigative team re-opened the 1980 murder. Father Robinson, over the past 23 years, had served in three Toledo Diocese parishes. The 65-year-old priest, in 2003, was administering to the sick and dying in several area Catholic homes and hospitals. The case came back to life after a woman wrote a letter to the police claiming that Father Robinson had sexually abused her as a child, molestation that involved Satanic ritualistic behavior that involved human sacrifice. (I don't know if this complainant passed a polygraph test, or made the accusation after some psychologist coaxed the memory out of her. After the Satanic hysteria in the McMartin preschool debacle, and the horrible injustice in the Memphis three case, I'm suspicious of this kind of allegation. Human sacrifice? What did that refer to?)

     Following the exhumation of Sister Margaret's body, a forensic pathologist noted that a stab wound in the victim's jaw could have been made by the letter opener found in Father Robinson's apartment. A DNA analysis of the victim's fingernail scrapings, and underwear, excluded the priest. Nevertheless, in April 2006, the police went to Father Robinson's home and arrested him. From the Lucas County Jail where he was held without bail, the priest denied killing Sister Margaret.

     While there was barely enough evidence to legally justify Father Robinson's arrest--no motive, no confession, no eyewitness, and no physical evidence directly linking him to the corpse--the priest went on trial for murder on April 24, 2006. The prosecutor showed the jury a videotape of the defendant's 2004 police interrogation. Father Robinson told his questioners that he had been stunned when one of the other hospital chaplains accused him of murdering Sister Margaret. When left alone for a few minutes in the interrogation room, the priest folded his hands and began to whisper the word "sister," then bowed his head in prayer. At one point he said, "Oh my Jesus." (I don't know exactly how the prosecution interpreted this as incriminating evidence.)

     A prosecution forensic scientist testified that the letter opener "could not be ruled out" as the murder weapon. (The prosecutor, in his closing remarks, told the jury that the letter opener fit one of the victim's stab wounds "like a key in a lock." Instruments used in stabbings cannot be scientifically linked to their wounds this way. In my view, that statement alone should have been adequate grounds for a reversal on appeal.) The forensic scientist also testified that the altar cloth bloodstains were "consistent with" the general shape of the letter opener. On cross-examination, this witness conceded that a pair of missing scissors could have left the blood stain on the altar cloth.

     On May 11, 2006, the jury, after 9 days of testimony, and 6 hours of deliberation, found Father Robinson guilty. The 70-year-old priest became the second priest in U.S. history to be convicted of criminal homicide. (The first was a priest named Hans Schmidt.) The judge sentenced Robinson to 15 years to life. Incarcerated at the Hocking Correctional Facility in southern Ohio, the priest was first eligible for parole in 2016.

     Two months after the murder trial, Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. In December 2008, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case. About a year later, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to entertain the appeal as well.

     While it seemed that Gerald Robinson had run out of legal remedies, his legal team, in 2010, petitioned the state appeals court for post-conviction relief on the grounds that Sister Margaret may have been murdered by a 27-year-old confessed serial killer named Coral Eugene Watts. Watts, a black man, had stabbed 12 women to death in Texas, and at least one woman in Michigan. Police suspected him of killing another 80 victims. Watts had left many of the women with their blouses pulled up to their necks. He had not sexually molested any of his victims. They had all been posed in humiliating positions.

     On April 11, 2011, the Ohio appeals court denied the Robinson petition. According to the appellate judges, Father Robinson's attorneys, at the time of his 2006 trial, knew of Watts as a possible suspect in Sister Margaret's murder, but chose not to pursue this as a defense strategy. Moreover, there were dissimilarities between the serial killer's modus operandi and Sister Margaret's homicide. For one thing, Coral Eugene Watts had typically stalked young women before he killed them outdoors.

     A year later, the Robinson defense team again petitioned the state court of appeals to toss out the 2006 murder conviction. This time the priest's lawyers accused the prosecution of withholding key documents in the case. Regarding the issue of serial killer Watts, Robinson's trial attorneys didn't pursue that line of defense in 2006 because they mistakingly thought he was serving time when Sister Margaret was murdered. As it turned out, on April 5, 1980, Watts was living in southern Michigan, just 40 miles from Toledo. As for modus operandi, the priest's attorneys found Watts' killings and the death of the nun "eerily similar." (Coral Eugene Watts died in 2007 of prostate cancer. He was 53 and serving time in a Michigan prison.)

     Father Gerald Robinson's latest appeal was pending before the Ohio court. While the priest had many supporters who believed in his innocence following his 2006 conviction, it's not clear how many people were still with him and closely following his bid to clear his name and get out of prison. (I don't know who murdered Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in the hospital chapel back in 1980, but from what I know of the case against Gerald Robinson, I don't think the prosecution's evidence supported his conviction.)

     In June 2014, United States District Court Judge James Guin denied a request for the release of Father Robinson. The priest had been ill and, according to reports, didn't have long to live. The judge said he didn't have the jurisdictional authority to grant the motion.

     Father Robinson had a heart attack on Memorial Day 2014 and died on July 4. He passed away in the prison hospital after being told he had 30 to 60 days to live. He was 76,

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Authorship

There should be no such thing as a ghost writer or an as-told-to author. If you didn't write the book, you should not be allowed to claim its authorship. Literature's great benefit from this rule would be the elimination of the so-called "celebrity memoir" genre.

Thornton P. Knowles

Intramural Sex at a Texas High School

     Saralyn Gayle Portwood was arrested on April 17, 2014 for suspicion of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. She's been suspended from Princeton High School [Texas] pending the outcome of the investigation.

     In an interview with authorities, the teacher's 17-year-old alleged victim, who is not enrolled in Portwood's special education classes, said that the 30-year-old teacher began harassing him at school earlier this year. She would compliment his appearance and inappropriately brush against him and touch him, he said. The student claimed that he told Portwood several times that he wasn't interested in a relationship with her, but she persisted, and he did not know how or who to tell….

     One day, the student said, he was called into Portwood's office. Once he was there, she pushed him against a desk, pulled down his shorts and performed oral sex….

     Portwood is married to another teacher in the Princeton School District, and they have a son. School district officials said the allegations surfaced after teachers overheard some disturbing rumors…."It was just rumors by some kids talking, and some teachers overheard. So, when we found out that there truly was an allegation, we immediately called our local law enforcement," Superintendent Philip Anthony said.

     If convicted, Portwood could face up to 20 years in prison.

Andres Jaurequi, "Special Ed Teacher Accused of Forcibly Performing Oral Sex on Student," The Huffington Post, April 22, 2014 

Writing Quote: The First Novel Letdown

I believed, before I sold my first novel, that the publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. This did not happen for me. As a result, I try to warn writers who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird, 1995

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Alexander Edwards: The Babysitter From Hell

     In 2013, Melissa Delp lived in south central Virginia with her two daughters and her boyfriend, Daniel Janney. On December 22, 2013, the couple's friend, 20-year-old Alexander Edwards, came to the Concord, Virginia house to babysit the girls, both of whom were under 13-years-old.

     While the 35-year-old mother and her 32-year-old boyfriend were away from the house, their babysitter used a home tattooing kit to ink the girls under his care.

     When Delp and Janney returned home, the girls had their names tattooed on their shoulders. Janney, with the help of the girl's mother, tried to remedy the situation by removing the tattoos with a hot razor blade. This extremely painful procedure made matters worse by exposing the youngsters to infection and permanent scarring.

     Beyond being alarmingly stupid, why would these adults maim the girls in a futile attempt to erase the babysitter's unwanted ink? Perhaps Delp and Janney were worried that if the authorities got wind of the forced tattooing, they would get in trouble with the law for being negligent parents. (I don't know the backgrounds of the couple, including whether or not they had been in trouble with the police or with child protection services. Janney's mugshot reveals that he is heavily inked.

     On January 16, 2014, a teacher noticed, on one of the girls, the inflamed and scabbed aftermath of Janney's botched attempt to remove the unauthorized tattoo. The scarred girl, when pressed by the teacher, spilled the beans regarding the source of her condition. The concerned teacher reported the possible child abuse case to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office. She also called child protection services.

     Two days later, deputies booked the tattooing babysitter, Alexander Edwards, into the Campbell County Adult Detention Center in Rustburg, Virginia. The 20-year-old faced felony charges of malicious wounding, child abuse, and abduction. (Abduction includes unlawful confining or restraint.)

     On January 18, 2014, deputies also arrested Melissa Delp and Daniel Janney. Placed into the county jail in Rustburg, the couple faced felony charges of malicious wounding and child abuse.

     Michael Mucklow, owner of the Go! Tattoo removal service in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, heard of the involuntary tattooing in Virginia and offered to help. Mucklow believed he could mitigate the damage by removing what was left of Edward's tattoos by using laser technology. There was nothing he could do, however, about the physical and emotional trauma caused by Janney's alleged razor blade removal attempt.

     On August 2014, Melissa Delp pleaded guilty to felony child abuse. The judge sentenced her to eight years in prison.

     On March 2, 2016, following the additional charges of rape and sodomy (of the 12-year-old girl); solicitation to commit a felony (Edwards asked a potential hitman to kill several witnesses against him); conspiracy to commit murder; and attempted murder, the Campbell County judge sentenced Alexander Edwards to two life terms in prison.

     The judge sentenced Daniel Janney to a year and two months in prison after he was convicted of felony wounding. 

Get A Babysitter!

     Two children in Washington, D.C. under the age of two were left in an unattended car while their parents went to a wine tasting event in a restaurant on New Year's Eve 2014. Police identified the parents as Christopher Lucas, 41 and 45-year-old Jennie Chang…

    The children, a 22-month-old boy and a two-year-old girl were restrained in child seats inside the car which was locked. The children were left alone for about an hour. When the parents returned to the car police arrested them on the charge of second-degree cruelty to children…The youngsters were examined by paramedics then taken into custody by Child Protective Services personnel.

"Parents Left Kids In Car To Attend Wine Tasting," WUSA-TV, February 3, 2015 

Woody Allen On Writer Immortality

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Woody Allen

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Mediocrity

To be honest, 95 percent of published writing is, at best, mediocre. But don't knock mediocrity; without it, there would be very little to read.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who Murdered Vindalee Smith?

     Vindalee Smith, a 38-year-old unemployed health care worker lived by herself in a basement apartment in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. The Jamaican-born Seventh Day Adventist was eight and a half months pregnant. Her other children, two girls and two boys, lived with friends or relatives. The man who fathered these offspring, now teens and young adults, lived in England.

     On Sunday, October 21, 2012, at the New Dimension Church, Vindalee Smith and a 33-year-old man named Anthony Jackman, were scheduled to participate in a faux marriage ceremony. They weren't really getting married because her "fiancee" already had a wife in New Jersey with whom he was estranged. (I don't know if Vindalee knew about Jackman's wife. I presume he is the one who had impregnated her.) Jackman was living with his parents who had an apartment down the block from Smith's place.
     On Saturday, the day before the "wedding," Vindalee didn't show up for morning services at the New Dimension Church. A fellow member of the congregation called Vindalee's landlord to check on the pregnant church member. When the landlord used a duplicate key to enter the apartment, he found Smith lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She and the baby were dead.
     At the site of this woman's violent death, New York City detectives determined that the victim's apartment had not been entered by force, and that the murder weapon, a knife or other sharp object, was not at the scene. There were blood spatter patterns throughout the apartment. The victim had bled to death from a gaping incised or stab wound in the neck. 
     Beneath the victim's body, detectives found an envelope containing a one-page note that had been typed in large block letters and printed out of a computer. (The envelope bore a bloody latent fingerprint.) According to the note, the killer promised to murder one pregnant woman a week until the authorities released Lee Boyd Malvo from prison. (Malvo and Allen Mohammed were the so-called Beltway Snipers who murdered several people in the DC area in 2002. Mohammed was executed in 2009, and Malvo is serving a sentence of life without parole.) The note was signed, "The Apprentice."
     Detective were skeptical of the notion that Vindalee Smith had been murdered by some crazed serial killer. They found it more plausible that the note had been planted by a killer who knew the victim, and had a more traditional motive for her death. The person who killed this woman had been careless enough to leave behind a bloody fingerprint. Unless, of course, the print belonged to the victim. 
     On Sunday night, October 21, detectives from the 67th Precinct arrested Anthony Jackman on charges related to a fake New Jersey automobile registration. They questioned him about the Smith murder, and the next day, he was released from custody. (I don't know if Jackman agreed to be questioned about the murder or exercised his Miranda rights.) Detectives, when asked by reporters if Jackman were a suspect, denied that he was. 
     According to press reports, Anthony Jackman has a history of fourteen arrests involving petit larceny (petty theft), burglary, weapons possession, and the possession of a forged instrument. (I would presume, unless he had an airtight alibi, that Jackman was considered a suspect. In terms of motive, I think it was important to know if Vindalee knew that Jackman, her fiancee, was married. 
     As for other possible suspects, detectives learned that months earlier Vindalee had feuded with a neighbor who accused her of letting his dog out of the building. This man had reportedly threatened to kill her. I don't know if the police have identified and questioned this man. As for the possibility of a serial killer, I don't think so. This doesn't look like a murder committed for sex, or money. The key to solving this case is motive, and of course that bloody, crime scene fingerprint.

   As of November 2017, the Vindalee Smith murder case remained unsolved. The person who left the crime scene latent fingerprint had not been identified. 

Subduing The Violent Woman

Having to fight with women is the worst. You sometimes tend to go a little easier on a woman than you would on a man…And they make you pay for it. Their fingernails rip your flesh. They go for your eyes and groin. They spit on you and pull your hair. When you're a cop all that chivalry gets you is hurt. And in the public's eye, you always look like you're in the wrong when you go hands-on with a woman. Actually, some people's idea of police brutality is, to paraphrase a character from the television show The Wire, anytime the police win a fight.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On Drugs For Writer's Block

They now have a drug (Prozac) for writer's block. Hell, they should invent a drug that kills the creative writing desire. You know, get to the root cause of all this misery. Short of that, there's always the Ernest Hemingway solution.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Bad Boy Romance Novel Hero

I think there are several dynamics that attract us to bad boy heroes who are mad, bad, and dangerous to know--at least in novels and movies. They're hot, hunky, and irreverent. I think a lot of us have the fantasy of meeting a bad boy with snake-charmer eyes, a wicked smile, and a smooth tongue. We are caught up in the overwhelming desire for such a man and we just can't fight it.

Rachael Gibson, likebooks.com, 2005 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Student Drug Informants: Collateral Damage in the War on Drugs

      The University of Massachusetts at Amherst had a 61-officer police department that includes a unit that handled drug cases. In the fall of 2012, campus drug cops learned from one of their student snitches that a sophomore named Logan was selling the ecstasy drug Molly as well as LSD to other students. Not long after that, an undercover UMass officer bought drugs from the former high school hockey star and scholarship student.

     In most colleges and universities a student caught selling drugs on or near campus is suspended from school and charged with a crime. These schools also inform the student's parents why their son or daughter was kicked out of the institution. Once alerted, parents of children with drug problems have the option of trying to get them help.

     In Logan's case, the campus police gave him a choice: he could be thrown out of school, pay back the $40,000 in scholarship money, face the wrath of his parents, and risk going to prison for up to five years, or he could avoid all of that by becoming a drug informant for the campus police. Logan decided to snitch on his fellow students.

     In December 2012, the UMass drug officer in charge of Logan's case, gave him back the $700 officers had seized from him at the time of his arrest. His parents, proud of the fact their son was earning good grades in college, had no idea he had a drug problem, had been caught dealing, and was now an informant for the UMass police. In the department he was identified as "CI-8."

     Over the next several months, Logan made drug buys for the campus police, became seriously hooked on heroin, and snitched on his fellow students. He continued, through all of this, to maintain grades good enough to hold on to his scholarship. (Because he was an out-of-state student, Logan's tuition was almost double that of his in-state counterparts.)

     On a Sunday afternoon in October 2013, Logan's parents showed up on campus to pay him a surprise visit. They went to his living quarters and knocked on his door. When he didn't respond they assumed he was working at his campus job. But he wasn't at his job site either. The parents became worried when he didn't answer their text messages. It was then they asked a maintenance employee to let them into his dwelling.

     In the bathroom, the parents found their son lying dead on the floor next to a needle and a spoon. He had been dead for some time because his body had cooled. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be "acute heroin poisoning."

     Although Logan had beeen arrested in 2011 for possession of cocaine, his parents thought he had beaten his drug problem. They were shocked that as a UMass student he had been hooked on heroin.

     Since the vast majority of UMass police cases involved underage and excessive drinking, Logan's heroin overdose came as a shock to everyone in the college community. There hadn't been a heroin related death at the school since 2008.

     Until the Boston Globe published an investigative article about Logan's case, no one but the campus police knew about Logan's role as a campus drug snitch. His parents and others were outraged by the revelation.

     In September 2014, in response to the Boston Globe story, the UMass Police Department discontinued flipping drug arrestees into snitches.
   

      

Turning the Interrogation Room Into a Gas Chamber

     A police interrogation of a Kansas City man charged with drug and gun offenses ended prematurely when the interrogator was driven from the room by the suspect's excessive flatulence.

     A detective reported that when asked for his address, 24-year-old Sean Sykes Jr leaned to the side of his chair and released a loud fart before answering...Sykes continued to be flatulent and the detective was forced to quickly end the interview.

Associated Press, November 13, 2017 

Humor and Pathos in Nonfiction

     Any well-written nonfiction story can and should engage the emotions. In even the most serious of topics, there is usually room for a touch of humor, and the contrast helps heighten the story's impact. Pathos, too, can emerge in the unlikeliest settings, and can be all the more effective for being unexpected. This doesn't mean that material has to be thigh-slapping hilarious, or tear-jerking sorrowful. Most often, humor and pathos are subtle, growing naturally out of the events being described.

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998 

Another Example of Idiocy in Lower Education

     A 9-year-old boy in Kermit, Texas was suspended from school after he told a classmate he could make him disappear with a ring from Mount Doom, a fictional location in J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. The fourth-grader had recently watched the film, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies and it sparked his imagination. According to his father, "My son lacks the magical powers to threaten his friend's existence. If he did, I'm sure he'd bring him right back."

     School officials at Kermit Elementary School took swift action and suspended the boy for making a terroristic threat.

"Texas Student Suspended Over Hobbit Ring," Fox News, February 3, 2015 

The Instinct to Write Novels

     When I began to write stories and novels I did so as though it were the most natural thing in the world. I took to it as a duck takes to water. I have never quite got over my astonishment at being a writer. My language was commonplace, my vocabulary limited, my grammar shaky and my phrases hackneyed. But to write was an instinct that seemed as natural to me as to breathe, and I did not stop to consider if I wrote well or badly.

W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938 

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Sungee Kwon Suicide-Murder Case

     In 2015, 45-year-old Dr. Raja Fayad, a native of Syria who earned his medical degree in that country, decided to enter academia rather than to practice medicine. That decision brought him to the United States where he taught physiology and anatomy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2008, Dr. Fayad and his wife Sunghee Kwon moved into a house on Lake Murray in suburban Lexington County outside of Columbia, South Carolina.

     Dr. Fayad, an expert on colon cancer, had moved to South Carolina to assume his new position as the graduate director and head of the Applied Physiology Division of the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health.

     While Dr. Fayad enjoyed success in his professional life, his marriage to Sunghee Kwon had fallen apart. Although they were divorced in 2012, the couple continued to occupy the house on Lake Murray. In late 2014, however, Dr. Fayad moved out of the dwelling into a suite of rooms at a nearby residence motel.

     At one in the afternoon of Thursday February 5, 2015, Dr. Fayad's former wife showed up at his office on the fourth floor of the Arnold School of Public Health Building in downtown Columbia a few blocks from the Statehouse. She came armed with a 9 mm pistol.

     A few minutes after Sunghee Kwon's arrival at the university, police officers responded to reports from people who had heard the sound of gunshots coming from Dr. Fayad's office and adjacent laboratory.

     Officers that afternoon discovered the dead bodies of Dr. Fayad and his 46-year-old wife. He had been shot several times in the upper torso. After murdering her ex-spouse, Sunghee Kwon took her own life by shooting herself in the stomach. (Suicidal women are more likely to shoot themselves in the stomach than men who prefer the head. In any case, it is a rare mode of suicide.)

     The 9 mm pistol, its magazine empty, lay near the bodies. There were no witnesses to the murder-suicide. 

Baby Drug Snitch

     Deputy Sheriffs in Daytona Beach, Florida stopped a car on Sunday February 1, 2015 for traffic violations…A K-9 unit arrived to check the car for drugs and deputies asked the occupants to step outside. One of the occupants had an 11-month-old baby in her arms.

     When a deputy handed the driver's license back to Candyce Harden, the baby in her arms reached inside her shirt and pulled out a baggie full of cocaine…The officers found three more bags of cocaine and a quantity of pills without a prescription.

     Harden faces several charges including child abuse and possession of drugs.

"Baby Pulls Cocaine From Woman's Shirt During Traffic Stop," Associated Press, February 3, 2015 

One Stupid Mother

     Police in Lincoln County, Missouri say a 6-year-old boy was subjected to a violent kidnapping arranged by family members who worried he was "too nice" and wanted to scare him to teach him to be warier of strangers.

     According to the account from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, the boy's aunt arranged for a male co-worker to do the kidnapping with the consent of the boy's mother and grandmother. He then lured the boy into his truck, told him he would never "see his mommy again," and showed him a handgun. The man bound the boy's hands and feet, blindfolded him, and took him to the family's basement. After more trauma, the boy was taken upstairs for a lecture on stranger danger.

     All four adults involved in the scheme were charged with a range of offenses including felony kidnapping and child abuse.

"Staged Kidnapping of Boy: Why Parents Should Avoid Using Fear," csmonitor.com, February 2, 2015 

Write a Nonfiction Book People Will Want To Read

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier, How to Write and Sell Your First Novel, 1990 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Isaac Tiharihondi Mass Murder Case

     Uganda native Israel Ahimbisibwe, after being ordained in the Episcopal Church of Uganda, came to the United States where he earned three masters' degrees and a Ph.D. His masters' degrees came from the Theological Seminary at Princeton University, Harvard Divinity School, and Rice University in Houston where he earned his doctorate after completing graduate research at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

     The 51-year-old Reverend Doctor held the position of Vicar of the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Houston. He resided in a west Houston apartment complex with his 47-year-old wife Dorcus and their son Israel Ahimbisibwe Jr. who was five. Pastor Ahimbisibwe's 17-year-old son Emmanuel attended a private school in California. Isaac Tiharihondi, his 19-year-old son, graduated in 2014 from Houston's Memorial High School.

     Isaac told his father that he had joined the Marines and would report for duty on February 6, 2015. The pastor didn't believe his son and this led to an argument and bad feelings between the two of them.

     On Sunday evening February 1, 2015, Redeemer church members Keever Wallace and his wife Brooke knocked on the pastor's apartment door after the vicar, his wife, and their son failed to show up that morning for church. No one came to the door that morning and the pastor did not return calls to his cellphone.

     The next day, at nine in the morning, Brooke Keever returned to the Ahimbisibwe apartment. When no one responded when she knocked on the door, she contacted the manager of the complex who had a key.

     The building manager called the Houston Fire Department and waited for the arrival of the emergency personnel before entering the Ahimbisibwe apartment. When members of the fire department discovered three dead bodies inside the dwelling, they notified the police.

     In one of the bathrooms, Houston police officers found the bodies of the vicar, his wife, and their 5-year-old son. The parents had been severely beaten to death with a lamp, baseball bat, and hammer. The boy had been bludgeoned and stabbed in the neck and back.

     Investigators found no evidence of forced entry and no indication that the killer had taken anything from the apartment.

     On Wednesday February 4, 2015, in Jackson, Mississippi 350 miles from Houston, police arrested Isaac Tiharihondi, the vicar's 19-year-old son on a Texas warrant charging him with triple murder. Officers booked the suspect into the Hines County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi where he would await extradition back to Houston.

     Isaac Tirarihondi had been staying at a Jackson Mississippi motel. His mother had told friends that she was worried about him. He had lied about the Marines and was depressed.

     On February 1, 2016, Isaac Tiharihondi pleaded guilty to two counts of capital murder. The judge, pursuant to the plea agreement, sentenced Tiharihondi to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Following the mass murder to the day of his sentencing, the unemotional killer remained silent as to why he had committed such a horrific crime.