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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

The Alexander Hilton St. Andrews Poison 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. 

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.  

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. 

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. He died later that day. 

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

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

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

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 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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 Vampire In Romance Fiction

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz in Dangerous Men And Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Lindsay Lohan Crime-Wave: The Petty Offenses of a Hollywood Has-Been

     The only person more pathetic than an old Hollywood has-been is a young Hollywood has-been. Over the past five years, Lindsay Lohan has slipped from successful television actress, theatrical film star, and recording artist to a D-list celebrity whose principal claim to fame is her rap sheet. And even her arrest record is D-list. Most of her crimes involve cocaine, alcohol, driving under the influence, a bellicose personality, and a sociopath's disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system.

     Other than being rich and infamous, there is nothing about the 26-year-old that distinguishes her from your everyday, common garden variety substance abusing loser. Because she has money, Lohan is well-dressed in court, and has better legal representation than your ordinary petty offender. That is one of the reasons why, notwithstanding numerous probation violations, she has spent so little time in jail. Because the actress is such a clear reflection of America's culture of drugs, booze, narcissism, and entitlement, I would nominate Lindsay Lohan as Time magazine's upcoming Person of the Year. (Just kidding, I think.)

     In May 2007 the police arrested Lohan for driving under the influence and possession of cocaine after she lost control of her Mercedes in Beverly Hills. Two months later, in Santa Monica, Lohan got into an argument with a female motorist whom she chased in her SUV. The actress was again under the influence, and in possession of cocaine. She had also been driving with a suspended license. Later that summer, in return for pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine use and driving under the influence, the judge sentenced Lohan to one day in jail, ten days of community service, and three years probation during which time she had to enter an alcohol education program.

     On November 15, when it came time to serve her 24 hours behind bars at the jail in Lynwood, California, the sheriff, due to overcrowding, released her after she had endured 84 minutes in stir. (I'm surprised this experience hasn't led to a ghost-written prison memoir.)

     In October 2009, the judge who had sentenced Lohan following her cocaine and driving under the influence plea, extended her probationary period one year because she'd been too busy (attending Justin Bieber concerts and the like) to complete drunk-driving school. Six months later, after Lohan skipped a court date to attend the Cannes Film Festival, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest. After the police took her into custody on the bench warrant, Lohan posted the $100,000 bail and was released. She left the booking center with an alcohol-monitoring device around her ankle. According to the judge, if Lohan didn't stop boozing and snorting cocaine, he'd revoke her bail and she would be incarcerated. Lohan was also ordered to undergo, on a weekly basis, random drug and alcohol testing.

     About two weeks after being fitted with the ankle monitor, Lohan activated the device while attending a MTV Movie Awards party In response, the judge ruled that she had violated her probation. As a result, the judge raised her bail $100,000. Her bail bondsman covered the increase which allowed Lohan to remain free.

     On July 6, 2010, the judge sentenced Lohan to 90 days in jail for failing to attend her court-ordered weekly alcohol education classes. Two weeks later, Lohan showed up at the jail to begin her sentence. After 13 days behind bars, the sheriff released his famous prisoner due to facility overcrowding. In September 2010, Lohan's probation was again revoked after a random drug test revealed cocaine in her system. Instead of being sent back to jail like a common drug addict, the authorities shipped Lohan off to the Betty Ford rehabilitation facility.

     A staff worker at the Betty Ford Center, in December 2010, accused Lohan of attacking her after the staff employee asked Lohan to take a drug/alcohol test. The staffer later dropped the charges. (I wonder how much that cost.)

     In February 2011, police arrested Lohan in connection with the felony theft of a $2,500 necklace from a Venice, California jewelry store. She pleaded not guilty and made bail. A month later, the judge in Lohan's 2007 cocaine/DUI case, revoked her probation and sentenced her to 120 days in the Lynwood jail. She was also ordered to complete the 480 hours of community service. In the meantime, she pleaded guilt to the misdemeanor theft of the $2,500 necklace.

     After a few days behind bars, the sheriff, citing overcrowding, kicked Lohan out of jail again. (I don't buy the overcrowding rationale. I think jail personnel simply found housing this pain-in-the-neck celebrity too disruptive, and not worth the effort.) While Lohan served the remainder of her jail sentence under house arrest, she failed to complete the required 480 hours of community service. As a result, the judge revoked her probation again, and kicked up her bail another $100,000. (They put her bail bondsman on suicide-watch. Just kidding.)

     On March 14, 2012, the LAPD investigated Lohan for allegedly bumping a person with her car outside a Hollywood nightclub, then fleeing the scene. The LA prosecutor in charge of the matter, citing lack of evidence, dropped the case. In September, Lohan took her one-woman crime-wave to the east coast. While outside a fancy Manhattan hotel, she clipped another person with her car, then sped off. Again, no charges were filed. A month later, Lindsay and her mother Dina allegedly got into a fight at the family home on Long Island. No charges were filed in that case either.

     Police officers in New York City, on November 29, 2012, arrested Lohan on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in connection with the alleged assault of a woman at a Manhattan nightclub. The supposed victim, a psychic named Tiffany Mitchell, claimed that Lohan, after called her a "f-ing Gypsy," punched her in the face. (You would think a psychic would see the punch coming.)

     Lohan's ongoing trouble with the law might have finally caught up with her. While she was still on probation from the necklace theft, the police in Santa Monica, on the day of the alleged assault of the psychic, filed new charges against Lohan that are related to her June 2007 cocaine/DUI case. Lohan was accused of giving false information to a police officer, obstructing justice, and reckless driving. All of these offenses carried jail sentences.

     On December 3, 2012, the IRS seized Lohan's bank accounts. According to the government, she owes $233.904 in unpaid taxes for the years 2009 and 2010.

     In 2013, Lohan did a series of interviews with Oprah that earned her $2 million. Most of that money, however, was earmarked for taxes, rehab fees, and further IRS debts. She was left with $500,000.

     In October 2017, in a red-carpet interview, Lohan incurred the wrath of almost everyone when she defended the disgraced Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein. "I feel bad for Harvey Weinstein right now," she said. "I don't think it's right what's going on." Lohan had supporting roles in two of Weinstein Company productions.

TV Star Confessed to Sex Crimes

     "7th Heaven" TV star Stephen Collins has admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with three female minors…The actor released a statement amid child molestation accusations that arose in his divorce proceedings.

     Collins was the subject of reports in October 2014 after his wife, Faye Grant, said he admitted to her he molested three underage girls. TMZ posted an audio recording that was alleged to have been made during a November 2012 therapy session involving Collins and his wife during which he made incriminating statements…

     The incidents reportedly happened between 1973 and 1994.

     "Forty years ago, I did something terribly wrong that I deeply regret…I have been working to atone for it ever since. I've decided to address these issues publicly because two months ago, various news organizations published a recording made by my then wife, Faye Grant, during a confidential marriage therapy session in January 2012. This session was recorded without the therapist's or my knowledge or consent," Collins wrote.

     Collins, 67, was known for his clean-cut image in Hollywood and played a pastor and beloved father on the hit show "7th Heaven," He's avoided the limelight since the accusations were made public….

" '7th Heaven' Actor Stephen Collins: 'I Did Something Terribly Wrong,' " CNN, December 17, 2014 

The Writer in Hollywood

I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight.

Ben Hecht, mid-twentieth century writer

Friday, November 10, 2017

Missing In America: A Nation of Missing and Lost Persons

     On May 29, 1971, Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, high school juniors from Vermillion, South Dakota, were in a 1960 Studebaker Lark en route to a party held at a gravel pit near Elk Point, a town near the Iowa border thirty miles east of their hometown. Along the way, the girls asked a car full of boys for directions to the party site. According to the boys, while leading the girls to the gravel pit, they looked in their rearview mirror and didn't see the Studebaker.

     The Vermillion High School Students did not arrive at the party, and did not return home. The Studebaker went missing as well. (The youths who gave Miller and Jackson directions were never suspects in their disappearance.) The missing persons investigation led nowhere, and died on the vine. Decades after they went missing, no one had a clue regarding what had happened to the Vermillion students. It seemed they had just vanished off the face of the earth.

     Early in 2007, Aloysius Black Crow, a South Dakota prison inmate, told the authorities that he had secretly audio-taped a fellow prisoner who had confessed to him that he had raped and murdered the Vermillion girls. David Lykken, the 54-year-old man Aloysius Black Crow said he'd taped, was a convicted rapist and kidnapper who was serving a 227-year prison sentence. In 2004, the police had found human bones, articles of female clothing, and a purse on Lykken's farm. (In 1971, Lykken would have been 18-years-old.)

     A Union County Grand Jury, based upon the jailhouse snitch's audio-tape, indicted Lykken on two counts of murder, kidnapping, and rape. As it turned out, the confession Aloysius Black Crow had taped was a fake. The charges against Lykken were dropped, and in 2008, the jailhouse informant pleaded guilty to perjury.

     On Tuesday, September 24, 2013, a fisherman on Brule Creek near Elk Point, spotted the wheels of a car sitting on its roof in the drought-shallowed creek. Several hours later, the authorities pulled a 1960 Studebaker Lark out of the water and mud. Inside the rusted vehicle, police officers discovered what appeared to be the skeletons of two people, remains presumed to be those of Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson.

     On April 15, 2014, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told reporters that forensic scientists have confirmed the identities of the remains as being Miller and Jackson. Investigators and forensic experts determined that the vehicle's ignition and headlights had been on when the car went into the water. The car was also in the third gear. Given the absence of gunshot or knife wounds, and no signs of alcohol consumption, the deaths went into the books as accidental.

     As a missing persons case, the 42-year-old mystery was solved. While the case was officially closed, family members would never know the exact circumstances of the crash, or how quickly the girls had died.

     If the lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds in the United States suddenly went dry, there wouldn't be enough forensic scientists to analyze all of the remains. America's waterways are grave sites for thousands of missing persons, people whose stories will never be told.

       

Is Publishing A Novel Like Winning a Trophy?

What do we imagine our published novel will bring us? In part it is a trophy we want. Not entirely, of course, for we want all the pleasures of writing and we want the pleasure of knowing that someone else may read our words and savor a story that once existed only in our heads--and yet in part there is a yearning for a trophy. But a trophy of what?

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Using Exaggeration in Writing Humor

Be careful with exaggeration, one of the main tools of humor writing. Exaggeration, generally speaking, should be outside the realm of possibility, but somehow within the realm of visual imagination.

Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle, 2000

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Clayton Lockett: When the Death Penalty is Not Enough

     On June 3, 1999, in Perry, Oklahoma, 23-year-old Clayton Lockett, a violent criminal, accompanied by a pair of crime associates, invaded a home and severely beat the occupant. While Lockett was assaulting 23-year-old Bobby Lee Bornt over a debt, a girl just out of high school knocked on Bornt's front door. Lockett appeared in the doorway and pulled  the girl into the house.

     After hitting the stunned visitor in the face with a shotgun, Lockett put the gun to her head and ordered her to invite her 18-year-old friend, Stephanie Neiman, into the duplex. Neiman had graduated from Perry High School less than a month earlier. She had been a good student, and played in the band.

     The nightmare for these girls began with Lockett and his accomplices raping Nieman's friend and beating her with the shotgun. After the rape and beatings, Lockett bound the girls with duct tape and drove them and Bornt, in Neiman's pickup truck, to a remote area a few miles away. En route, he informed his captives that he planned to kill all three of them and bury their bodies in the woods. The terrified girls begged for their lives.

     At the designated spot, Lockett made the rape victim dig a grave. When the hole was big enough, Lockett told Neiman to get into the grave. He pointed his shotgun at her and pulled the trigger. The weapon jammed. Lockett walked away, cleared the gun, and returned to the site where he shot and wounded Neiman. He forced the other girl to bury Stephanie Neiman alive. The 18-year-old was murdered because she had refused to promise Lockett that she wouldn't report the rape and kidnapping to the police.

     Lockett and his degenerate friends drove the rape victim and Bornt back to the duplex. Lockett threatened to kill his traumatized victims if they went to the police.

     As it turned out, one of the accomplices notified the authorities in the hopes of saving his own neck. A local prosecutor charged Clayton Lockett with first-degree murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, assault and battery, and burglary. Upon his arrest, the cold-blooded rapist and sadistic killer confessed to shooting the girl and having her buried alive.

     In 2000, a jury found Lockett guilty as charged, and sentenced him to death. He ended up on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

     After fourteen years of legal appeals, and a last minute stay, Governor Mary Fallin ordered Lockett's execution to take place on April 29, 2014. That evening, an hour before his scheduled death, Lockett fought with prison officers and had to be tasered before being strapped onto the gurney. The executioner, after struggling to find a vein, administered the three-drug cocktail--midazalam to render Lockett unconscious, vecuronium to stop his breathing, and potassium chloride--to stop his heart.

     Seven minutes after the drugs were put into Lockett's body, he was still conscious. Ten minutes later, after being declared dead, the condemned man moved his head and tried to climb off the gurney. He was also heard muttering the word, "man." At this point, a corrections official lowered the blind to spare witnesses the sight of a slower than planned execution.

     Forty-three minutes after the executioner injected Lockett with the three drugs, he died of a heart attack. The potassium chloride had done its job, albeit a bit slowly.

     As could be expected, death house lawyers, anti-capital punishment activists, and hand-wringing media types agonized over Lockett's imperfect execution. These death row sob-sisters characterized his death as torture, an ordeal, and a nightmare, and called for the abolishment of the death penalty.

     Where were these outrage mongers when Lockett shot Stephanie Neiman and buried her alive? In this case, who in their right mind would shed a tear for such a cruel, cold-blooded killer? So what if Mr. Lockett didn't pass gently and quickly into the night? A lot of people die slow, agonizing deaths, citizens who never committed rape or murder. Clayton Lockett is gone, and the world is a better place without him. His memory will be kept alive, however, by those who will use his "botched" execution to advance their cause. For the rest of us, that's cruel and unusual punishment.

     Over the years, state corrections officials have done their best to find more humane ways to put condemned criminals to death. In the 19th and 20th centuries, death row inmates were hanged, electrocuted, suffocated in gas chambers, and shot. Hanging is still an option in New Hampshire and Washington. In Arizona, Missouri, and Wyoming, the gas chamber remains a death penalty choice.

     Many correction experts believe the firing squad is the quickest and least painful way to execute a convict. In 1977, the firing squad was used to execute Gary Gilmore who asked to be so dispatched.

Canada: Where Rational Tort Law Goes to Die

     Before the August 2008 car accident, Alissa Afonia's teacher described her as a very bright student, in the top two percent of her media-arts high school class who dreamt of being a filmmaker or actress. After the accident she became a different girl and ended up working as a dominatrix. She showed no impulse control, could not carry through on tasks, became isolated and began to have outbursts and make inappropriate sexual comments...

     Justice Joel Grove of the British Columbia Supreme Court, after presiding over Afonia's 2014 personal injury lawsuit, awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million in damages. In so doing, the judge noted that the pre-accident Afonia was "in some ways a typical girl, in some ways an atypical girl, someone who described herself as a 'goth girl' with "artiste presentation. But all that changed in the wake of the motor vehicle accident."

     Afonia, who was about to enter 12th grade, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her mother's boyfriend. Her mother and brother were also in the car. The driver's Toyota ended up in a ditch. The judge concluded the civil suit defendant was driving too fast under the conditions and was therefore negligent.

     Lawyers for the plaintiff argued that her decision to begin working as a dominatrix showed a lack of "correct thinking" and was proof she'd taken an unnecessary risk due to a loss of cognitive function from a moderate traumatic brain injury…According to her lawyer, without the injury, she'd have been capable of earning a two-year college or university degree.

     The judge's damages included $825,000 for "future capacity loss," $376.000 for cost of future care, $300,000 for pain and suffering and $23,000 for special damages…Afonia's mother suffered a mild traumatic brain injury as well and was awarded more than $943,000 in damages….

"Student-Turned-Dominatrix Awarded $1.5 Million After Car Accident," nationalpost.com, January 29, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles on Truman Capote

Truman Capote is a strange little man who writes well for a boozed-up, drug-addled manic-depressive. There is no doubt that some of our most creative writers are oddballs gifted with an abundance of talent. Some writers pay a high price for that gift.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on the Dried-Up Novelist

Eventually, all novelists run out of ink. The well and spirit go dry. For the dedicated writer, it's a form of non-fatal death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, November 6, 2017

Pedophiles In Public Education: Passing The Trash

     In 2000, 37-year-old Wilbert Cortez, an elementary school teacher at PS 184 in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of inappropriately touching two of his male students. One of the boys reported the abuse to another teacher--three times. The teacher wrote a letter detailing the accusations, and put it in Cortez's personnel file. He did not, however, report the incident to the principal. Shortly after the students made their complaints, school administrators decided to transfer Cortez to PS 174 in Queens. Instead of dealing with the problem, and if appropriate, firing this teacher, they "passed the trash."

     On February 16, 2012, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown charged Wilbert Cortez, now 49, with the sexual abuse of two male elementary students in his computer lab class. The next day, after posting his $50,000 bail, Cortez walked out of the Queen's County Criminal Court building.

     The accused child molester, on May 29, 2012, was arraigned on additional charges that he had repeatedly molested three male students at PS 174 between 2007 and 2011. Cortez faced up to seven years in prison on each count.

     When word got out that Wilbert Cortez had been accused of sexual molestation back in 2000 at PS 184 in Brooklyn, parents of children who had attended both schools were outraged that education administrators had swept the problem under the rug by sending him to Queens.

     Feeling the heat, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, on May 30, 2012, called an emergency meeting with these angry parents. More than 100 people attended the meeting held at PS 174, and they all wanted to know why this teacher hadn't been investigated in 2000. Attendees also expressed concern that the school system's hiring procedures did not screen out pedophiles. Chancellor Walcott told those assembled that his staff would be digging through personnel files looking for old sexual complaints that had been ignored, and "take appropriate action where necessary."

     Chancellor Walcott's response, the promise to fix a problem that shouldn't have existed in the first place, didn't satisfy too many people at the meeting. Elementary schools in New York City and around the country are crawling with sex offenders, and because of government laws and regulations that limit what employers can ask job candidates about their past, pedophiles, like foxes in the henhouses, get into our schools. And once they get in, because of teacher's unions, they are hard to get out. Administrators know this. That's why it's just easier to pass the trash. Public education, as we all know, is more about teachers than students.

     On February 25, 2015, Wilbert Cortez pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching one student and endangering three others. Following his guilty plea, Chancellor Walcott stripped him of his New York State teaching certificate.

     Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge sentenced Cortez to ten years' probation. The molester was also required to register as a sex offender and undergo counseling. Like so many ex-public school teachers like him, he got off light. 

Thornton P. Knowles on Supermarket Literature

For the well-constructed, to-the-point sentence, go to the supermarket and read boxes, cans, and packages. Every word counts.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Cost of Catching a Cop Killer

     The manhunt for alleged cop killer Eric Frein cost more than $11 million according to the Pennsylvania State Police. Overtime costs for the state police accounted for the majority of this total, with $6.9 million being paid out to officers who worked extra hours throughout the 48-day manhunt.

     The $11,046,653 total only accounted for the costs for the Pennsylvania State Police and not the supporting agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Marshals who were the officers who ended up finding Frein October 30, 2014 in an abandoned airport hanger in the Poconos.

     In addition to overtime wages, nearly $3 million was spent on benefits and more than $657,000 in standard salaries. Travel costs amounted to more than $66,000 and nearly $200,000 for inventory and operational expenses.

     The manhunt for Frein began after he allegedly ambushed two state troopers on September 12, 2014, killing one and wounding the other. Frein, a war re-enactor, excellent shot and self-taught survivalist, eluded the massive police dragnet for nearly 7 weeks. He has been charged with murder and possession of weapons of mass destruction (two bombs). He has also been charged with terrorism. He has not entered a plea and is being held without bail. [Taxpayers will still have to pay for this killer's prosecution, defense and lifetime incarceration.]

"Eric Frein Manhunt Cost More Than $11 Million," ABC News, November 14, 2014 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Should Bank Guards Be Armed?

Bank crimes data from the FBI show that when bank guards are armed with guns, bank robberies are three times as likely to become violent. [It would be better not to have bank guards at all then have guards that are unarmed. Unarmed guards would be pointless and unnecessarily dangerous for the officer.]

" Armed Guards and Bank Robbery," Center For Investigative Reporting, December 2014 

Catherine Drinker Bowen on Writing a Biography

In the writing of a biography, it is expedient to approach one's subject from the periphery, from the outside in--to study first the times, then move to the localities and persons of the immediate story.

Catherine Drinker Bowen, Adventures of a Biographer, 1959 

Barbara Pym: The Depressed Novelist

I get moments of gloom and pessimism when it seems as nobody could ever like my kind of writing again [social-comedy novels]. I get depressed about my writing, and feel that however good it was it still wouldn't be acceptable to any publisher.

Barbara Pym in Lot to Ask by Hazel Holt, 1991 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Dragnet": Just the Facts

     Although not one of those kids who wanted to grow up to be a police detective, or one who devoured mystery novels, crime-fighting comics, or Sherlock Holmes fiction, I was a big fan of the TV series "Dragnet" starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department. The show first aired from 1951 to 1959, then came back in 1967 and ran to 1970. I can't remember why "Dragnet" appealed to me as a middle and high school student, but after watching a few episodes recently on a TV retro network, I know why I like it now. I admire the show today because the stories, based on actual police files, portray the bureaucracy, boredom, frustrations and drudgery--punctuated by bursts of danger--of real life detective work.

     The crimes featured on "Dragnet," ranging from murder, armed robbery, missing persons, arson, check fraud, embezzlement, and even shoplifting, unfolded in a straightforward fashion, helped along by Jack Webb's voice-over narration in which you are informed of the time, date, and place of every scene. The acting is direct and unpretentious (stilted if you're a fan of the modern, angst-ridden I'm-going-for-an-acting-award style) and doesn't overshadow the terse, crisp, clear-eyed exposition and dialog. I like the script writing, an enjoyable blend of Ernest Hemingway and first-rate news reporting. Journalism school students should be required to watch episodes of "Dragnet" and encouraged to emulate its style.

     Each "Dragnet" episode had a beginning, middle, and end. I especially enjoyed the story wrap-ups because you learned the fate of the criminal suspects who were tried and convicted in "Department 187 of the Superior Court of California, in and for the city and county of Los Angeles." First-degree murderers were "executed in the manner prescribed by law at the state penitentiary, San Quentin, California." Bam. Case closed.

     Jack Webb also produced the show which was written principally by James E. Moser who peppered the scripts with police terminology such as M. O. and APB (all points bulletin). Moser realistically portrayed how criminal cases are solved by detectives who logically follow one investigative lead to the next. Detective Joe Friday didn't have feelings in his "gut," or lay awake at night in angst over the mental and emotional strains of being a cop. He did his job in workman like fashion without all the belly-aching.

     "Dragnet" was good stuff then, and, in my opinion, refreshing now.  

John Jakes On Being A Novelist

There are much easier, more pleasant ways to pass the time than writing, though few so rewarding intellectually and spiritually. But it's no sin to be honest and admit it if you'd rather garden, fish, or socialize with friends than go it alone as a novelist, with no guarantee of success. If you aren't sure you're up to all that writing demands of a person, go no further.

John Jakes in Writer's Handbook, edited by Sylvia K. Burack, 1988 

Mobster Turned Government Witness Got Off Light

     The ex-husband of TV series' "Mob Wives" star Renee Graziano was sentenced to just 11 years in prison on September 24, 2014 for his role in the murder of a Brooklyn man…Mobster Hank Pagan, who could have been sentenced to life behind bars, caught a break on the murder case because he had been a "significant government cooperator."…

     Along with Bonanno crime family associates Luigi Grasso and Richard Riccardi, Pagan ambushed and shot to death James Donovan at his Brooklyn check cashing business in July 2010.

     At Pagan's sentencing hearing, the slain man's daughter pleaded with Judge John Gleeson to give Pagan a lengthy sentence…After the judge handed down the lenient punishment, the victim's daughter blasted the criminal justice system for giving mobsters light sentences in return for their prosecution testimony. Judge Gleeson responded by saying that such deals, while not pretty, were a necessary part of the system….

"'Mob Wives' Star's Ex Gets 11 years for Murder. The New York Post, September 24, 2014 

Reporting the News is Exciting, Writing a Novel is Not

The one drawback to writing a novel is the being alone. In people's imagination, that's the difference between a novelist and a journalist. The journalist, the newspaper reporter, is always rushing, hunting, meeting people, digging up facts. Cooking a story. The journalist writes surrounded by people, and always on deadline, crowded and hurried. It's exciting and fun. The journalist researches a story. The novelist imagines it.

Chuck Palahnuik, Stranger Than Fiction, 2004 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Richard Kirk Murder Case

     In 2014, Richard Kirk, 47, resided in Denver's Observatory Park neighborhood not far from the University of Denver. Richard and his wife Kristine purchased the upscale, Tudor style home in 2005. The couple had three soccer-playing grade school boys. Richard's friends described him as a religious, happy-go-lucky man devoted to his family.

     On December 23, 1993, while living in Dallas, Texas, Richard, then single, was charged with felony assault. The prosecutor dropped the charge to a misdemeanor offense then eventually dismissed the case altogether. At the time, Kristine resided five miles away in a Dallas apartment. (The alleged victim associated with this case has not been identified.)

     In 2000, a police officer in Douglas County, Colorado arrested Richard for driving under the influence. (The disposition of this case is unknown.) These two incidents comprise the extent of Kirk's arrest record.

     At 9:32 on the night of Monday, April 14, 2014, 44-year-old Kristine A. Kirk called a 911 dispatcher in Denver to report a domestic disturbance at her residence. She said her husband had been smoking marijuana and was scaring their three young sons. According to Kristine, he had also been hallucinating and talking about the end of the world. Most disturbingly, he said he wanted her to shoot him to death.

     The dispatcher asked Kristine if there was a gun in the dwelling. The caller said yes, but it was locked inside a safe. The 911 call suddenly turned ominous when Kristine informed the dispatcher that her husband had gotten the handgun out of the safe and was holding it in his hand.

     About thirteen minutes into the 911 call, the dispatcher heard a scream and then a gunshot. At that point the line went dead. The dispatcher immediately upgraded the 911 call from a domestic disturbance case to a "code 10"--a possible shooting.

     Two Denver police officers rolled up to the Kirk house on South St. Paul Street at 9:47 PM. Three minutes later, one of the officers called for an ambulance, and advised the 911 dispatcher that they "were going to need homicide."

     An officer put Richard Kirk into handcuffs and escorted him to the patrol car. From the backseat of the police vehicle, without prompting, the suspect admitted shooting his wife to death.

     The next day a local prosecutor charged Richard Kirk with first-degree murder. At his arraignment on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, the judge advised the suspect of the charge against him, assigned him a public defender, and ordered him held without bail. Kirk showed no emotion as he stood before the magistrate.

     The media, as it often does in high-profile crimes, began assessing blame. In this case reporters were quick to note that since 2008, 911 response time at the Denver Police Department had grown longer. According to a police spokesperson, budget cuts and fewer officers on patrol has adversely affected police response time to domestic calls.

     Notwithstanding the 15 minute lapse between the victim's 911 call and the arrival of the officers, there was no way to know for sure if a faster police response would have saved Kristine Kirk's life.

     Because marijuana was legal in Colorado, the media made a big deal over the fact that before allegedly murdering his wife, Richard Kirk had smoked pot.

     In February 2017, Richard Kirk, still blaming marijuana for the killing, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. On April 8, 2017, the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Kirk had relinquished custody of his three sons to his dead wife's parents.