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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Psychic Detectives: False Leads, Wasted Time, and Investigative Nonsense

     I don't believe in ghosts, witches, Big-Foot, UFOs, alien abductions, spontaneous human combustion, or the Loch Ness Monster. In my opinion, people can't read the minds of dogs and cats, or carry on conversations with the dead. I also don't believe in fortune tellers, soothsayers, and so-called psychic detectives who inject themselves into missing person and murder cases. The words "detective" and "psychic" do not belong together. Police detectives who consult these women, or even run down their leads, should be put back on patrol. It's all a load of crap.

     But in an era of marginal thinking and stupid beliefs, millions of people buy into this paranormal nonsense. The media, particularly television, with supposedly serious shows about ghosts, UFOs, and psychics, lends credibility to this stuff. Print and TV journalists, who know better, pretend to take this hogwash seriously because they are popular subjects that attract readers and viewers. These media hacks are part of the problem. Americans have lost the ability to think straight, reason clearly, and draw the right conclusions.

     If psychic detectives could do what they claim, there would be no such thing as a missing child, teenage girl, ex-girlfriend, or estranged wife. There wouldn't be unsolved murders, and we would have been spared 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. No one without inside knowledge of the case, can, by holding a missing murder victim's garment, lead the detectives to the body. Harry Houdini escaped locked boxes because he had the keys, and psychic detectives claim credit for locating missing persons by embellishing and changing, after the fact, their initial predictions. They get away with it because gullible people want to believe in them.

Psychics Teresa Nicholas and Tiffany Smith: The Costly Curse

     Psychics Teresa Nicholas and Tiffany Smith, "Psychic Readers & Advisors" doing business in Hingham, Massachusetts, had they looked into their own futures, wouldn't have bilked a 69-year-old woman who had stupidly availed herself of their fortune telling services.

     On April 6, 2012, when the victim came to Tiffany Smith for a "psychic reading," Smith informed her she was under a "curse and a black cloud." More specifically, the psychic reader told the victim that if she didn't fork over $7,000 to lift the curse, the victim's daughter, within a week, would commit suicide. The poor woman wrote a check payable to Teresa Nicholas for that amount. The next day, the victim either came to her senses, or spoke to someone with common sense. Either way, the police were notified. Nicholas, however, had already deposited the check.

     A week later, the two psychics were charged with a variety of theft offenses related to swindling and fraud. I'm not a psychic, but I predict a pair of convictions in this case.

Psychic Detectives in the Disappearance of Etan Patz

     On May 25, 1979, the parents of 6-year-old Etan Patz allowed the boy to make his first unaccompanied trip to the Manhattan bus stop two blocks from his apartment building. They never saw him again. The missing boy was one of the first to have his photograph printed on milk cartons. His case helped fuel the national missing persons campaign that took root in the 1980s. The boy as formally declared dead in 2001.

     From the beginning, investigators suspected a friend of Etan's babysitter, a man named Jose Antonia Ramos. Ramos was later convicted of child molestation and sent to prison in Pennsylvania. While never prosecuted in the Patz case, the missing boy's family won a $2 million wrongful death judgement against Ramos in 2004.

     In 2010, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reopened the Etan Patz investigation.

     In April, 2012, FBI agents and detectives with the New York City Police Department, interviewed a 75-year-old man named Othniel Miller, a former handyman who, in 1979, had worked in a 13 foot by 62 foot room in the basement of the Patz family apartment building on Prince Street in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Etan did chores for Miller, and on the day before he disappeared, Millier had given the boy a dollar. At the time of the boy's disappearance, Miller was not a suspect because he had a solid alibi. However, Jose Ramos, the imprisoned child molester, worked for Mr. Miller, and had access to his basement workshop.

     After questioning Othniel Miller, FBI agents placed "scent pads"--material that can absorb and retain odors--in Miller's old basement workshop. A cadaver dog, upon sniffing the pad, indicated the scent of human remains. (This technique should not be confused with  forensic science.)

     A few days ago, under the supervision of the FBI and New York City Police, workers began digging up the workshop's concrete floor, and screening the dirt beneath it for signs of Etan's remains. At one point, investigators thought they had discovered a suspicious stain on a chunk of cinder block, but further analysis determined it was not blood. After four days of excavating, the authorities shut down the operation, and began cleaning up the mess. The Etan Patz case remains a mystery.

     In 1979, five days after Ethan Patz left home for the bus stop and never came back, a psychic named Carrie Leight told Etan's father that the first-grader was being cared for in a "blue hospital" that employed a nurse named Mrs. Keanne. Another psychic, under hypnosis, said the boy was "living safely" with a dark-haired woman with a Spanish or Cuban accent who lived on the second floor of a tenement building bearing the number 29. New York City detectives ran down these leads that led them nowhere. They wasted their time. Since 1979, there is no telling how many psychic detectives have weighed in on this case, and how much time has been wasted paying attention to them.

     On May 6, 2012, Pedro Hernandez, a 51-year-old from Maple Shade, New Jersey, confessed to choking Etan Patz to death and leaving his body in a bag in a Manhattan trash can. Hernandez, an employee of a convenience store in the victim's neighborhood, moved to New Jersey shortly after Etan's disappearance and murder.

     In February 2017, a jury in Manhattan found Pedro Hernandez guilty of murder and kidnapping. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison.

Psychic Nancy L. Fox and the Christine Ann Jarrett Murder Case

     On the night of January 3, 1991, Christine Ann Jarrett, the mother of two young boys, disappeared from her home in Elkridge, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, a local psychic named Nancy Fox, who performed "readings, healings, and spiritual coaching," was taken to the Jarrett house where she "immediately had a feeling." (I'm wondering if she can tell that I'm having one right now about her.) Psychic Fox informed those present that the missing woman was dead. (Unlike psychics, medical examiners need bodies before they can make such determinations.)

     This psychic from Linthicum, Maryland said she had an image of Christine Jarrett getting into a blue (this must be their favorite color) car with some man, and that the dead woman would be found within 50 miles of her home. The police, according to Fox, would find clues to her disappearance in southern Pennsylvania.

     Even if this rubbish were true, the information is so general it's useless. A blue car? Some man? Southern Pennsylvania? The body somewhere within a 50 mile radius of the house? Wow.

     On April 21, 2012, 21 years later, Christine Jarrett's remains were found a few yards from her house, buried under the floorboards of a backyard shed. Her since remarried husband, 57-year-old Robert Jarrett, has been charged with her murder.

     When psychic Nancy Fox had her "feeling," she was sitting a few yards from Christine Jarrett's dead body. There was no man in a blue car, or clues in southern Pennsylvania. The victim was dead, and her body was found within 50 miles of her house. In the psychic detective business, this qualifies as a successful "reading." However, in the real world, it is something else.  


Thornton P. Knowles On Living Before Writing

It's against the law to drive a car before you're sixteen. There is a reason for that, so how about this: You should not publish a novel until you're thirty-five. Although this rule won't save lives, it would improve the quality of book-length fiction. One of my favorite crime novelists, Ross H. Spencer, a blue collar guy who, like me, was born in Nitro, West Virginia, didn't start writing until he was 58. That's why his books are so full of life and so funny. He lived before he wrote.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Grigoriy Bukhantsov and the Bukhantsov Family Murders

     Gregoriy Bukhantsov, a trouble teenager and high school dropout, lived with his parents in Rancho Cordova, California 15 miles east of Sacramento. The young man's parents were Ukrainian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They settled in this community of 100,000 immigrants from Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus.

     Gregoriy's parents, and the family of his older brother Denis Bukhantsov, belonged to the 6,000-member Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, an evangelical Pentecostal congregation founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

     In December 2011, Grigoriy Bukhantsov pleaded no contest to burglary. The judge sentenced him to one year in jail (he served seven months) and five years probation. Over the past year, Grigoriy, a drug and alcohol abuser with serious mental problems and a propensity for violence, had threatened virtually everyone he knew. People had good reason to be afraid of him.

     In the summer of 2012, Grigoriy assaulted his father and his sister, and threatened to stab his entire family to death. Florin Ciuriuc, the executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, helped Mr. Bukhantsov obtain a temporary restraining order against the 19-year-old. (Grigoriy's parents struggled with English.) The Sacramento county judge issued the order, but when the family didn't seek to make it permanent, the restraining order expired.

     Grigoriy became so disturbed and threatening, his parents, fearing for their lives, moved out of the state, taking their daughter with them.

     According to Florin Ciuriuc, Grigoriy Bukhantsov "...was going nuts. Saliva was coming out of his mouth when he was screaming, yelling, and cussing. He was talking nonsense. He was making threats to everybody."

     After Grigoriy's parents fled California, the young man became homeless, living temporarily in the houses of relatives until he wore out his welcome, and was asked to leave. On Monday, October 22, 2012, Grigoriy asked his 29-year-old brother Denis if he could spend a couple of nights at his house. Denis, his 23-year-old wife Alina and their three children, ages three, two, and six-months old, lived in Rancho Cordova. Because his nomadic brother seemed calm and in control of himself, Denis agreed to shelter his younger brother.

     The next day, when Denis returned home at 3:30 in the afternoon following a class he was taking, he found that Alina and two of the children had been bludgeoned, stabbed, and slashed to death. The 6-month-old boy had not been harmed. Denis ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The police immediately launched a search for Grigoriy Bukhantsov. After committing the murders, the suspect had stolen the family's 2005 Chrysler minivan. The next day, at two in the morning, a police officer spotted the stolen vehicle parked in front of a Denny's restaurant. Inside they found Grigoriy asleep in a booth. Taken into custody, he was booked into the Sacramento County Jail where he was held without bond.

     Shortly after his arrest, the local prosecutor announced that his office would seek the death penalty in the triple murder.

     In August 2015, following months of procedural delays, motions, and stays, a Sacramento jury found Bukhantsov mentally competent to stand trial. The defendant's attorneys, arguing that their client was criminally insane, appealed this verdict. A judge, in February 2016, ruled that Bukhantsov was competent to be tried.

     The Bukhantsov case, as of December 2017, remains in limbo. In California, where the criminal justice system is so overwhelmed it moves slowly, if at all, this is par for the course.

     

More Fun and Games in Whackademia

The Phantom Professor

     Venetia Orcutt, an assistant professor in George Washington University's department of Physician Assistant Studies, went AWOL from class in two of her courses. She just didn't show up. Students who signed up for these teacherless courses, however, all received As. This went on for two semesters. After someone finally came forward, the dean of the medical school fired Orcutt and announced that the students who had not attended her classes would still get credit for the teacherless courses.

     In college, grades are a form of currency. Being a professor is a lot like being able to print money. Like money, grades can be used by academic slackers to buy the silence of  students in a conspiracy of fruad against parents, taxpayers, and alumni contributors. Professor Orcutt, had she not reached for the moon, might have gotten away with her scam indefinately. I'm sure many professors have.

Students or Guinea Pigs?

     Oklahoma University placed assistant professor Chad Kerksick on leave of absence following accusations from his Health and Exercise Students that, as a part of his research, he injected them with substances that caused pain and bruising. The university removed Kerksick from his duties. After the professor challenged the school's right to remove his tenure-track position, the university agreed to pay Kerksick $75,000 and give him one year of unpaid leave during which time he could look for a teaching position elsewhere.

     The above story made me think of my own career as a criminal justice professor, I who worked at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for thirty years, and actually showed up for class and didn't taser my students for a paper on nonlethal force. I now realize I was working at the wrong university. I should have been in Oklahoma.

Publish or Perish

     Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein, in a recent paper, argues that professors who teach English Literature spend far too much time writing books, essays, reviews, and dissertations, stuff that nobody reads. According to the Modern Language Association, the number of these scholarly works published every year in the fields of English and foreign languages and literature has climbed from 13,757 in 1959 to 70,000 a  year. This glut of dense, arcane babble is not only killing innocent trees, it's keeping the writers of this unreadable stuff from teaching classes and interacting with students. Unless academic administrators eliminate publication as a prerequisite of academic advancement and tenure, trees will continue to fall and students will be taught by graduate assistants. (And English departments will continue to be called "Anguish" departments.)

No Snacks, No Class

     At California State University at Sacramento, students in professor George Parrott's Psychology 101 lab class, were required to bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory. If the professor didn't get his snacks, a policy he established in the early 1970s, he canceled the class. Over the years, the professor's students went along with the joke without complaint. But a few weeks ago, when students in the professor's morning section of Foundations of Behavorial Research failed to bring muffins, professor Parrott walked out of the lab.

     Members of the Psychology Department ruled that professor Parrott's decision to walk out of class because his students had violated his homemade snack rule, was unacceptable. So, the dean told professor Parrott, who is retiring at the end of the year, to teach without snacks. (It's hard to image all of this was news to Parrott's teaching colleagues.) Since I didn't major in psychology, I am not equipped to figure out what in the hell was going on with this teacher, or his department.      

Thornton P. Knowles On Meeting a Non-Writer

When someone I meet learns that I'm a published writer, I often get one of two responses: "I have a terrific idea for a novel, we can split the royalty 50-50." Or: "You ought to write a book about my uncle, he's a card!"

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, December 11, 2017

Dr. Lisa Tseng: When Does a Physician Become a Drug Dealing Murderer?

     In California, as in most states, a cocaine dealer can be convicted of second-degree murder if a person he sold the drug to dies of an overdose. Such a conviction is based on what is referred to as the felony-murder doctrine which holds that if in the commission of a felony (selling cocaine) someone dies, the felon can be held criminally culpable for that death. The element of criminal intent applies to the commission of the felony, not the resultant death. In other words, it doesn't matter that the cocaine dealer didn't intend to kill one of his customers. It's still murder.

     Dr. Hsiu-Ying (Lisa) Tseng and her husband ran a storefront medical clinic in Rowland Heights, California, an unincorporated community of 50,000 in Los Angeles County's Gabriel Valley. The clinic had a reputation among prescription drug addicts as a place one could go to acquire prescriptions for drugs such as Xanax, Oxycodone, Methadone, Soma, and Vicodin. Dr. Tseng allegedly issued prescriptions for these pain and anti-anxiety drugs without asking too many questions, or requiring an acceptable medical reason.

     In 2010, reporters with the Los Angeles Times linked Dr. Tseng's drugs to eight overdose deaths. (Not all of the people who overdosed had acquired the prescriptions from the doctor, many of her patients had sold the drugs to others who overdosed on them.) According to the Times, Dr. Tseng, from 2007 through 2010, had written more than 27,000 prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety medicine.

     In March 2012, state, county and federal narcotics officers arrested Dr. Tseng for murder in connection with the 2009 overdose deaths of three men in their twenties, all of whom had gotten prescription drugs at the Rowland Heights clinic. The authorities also charged Dr. Tseng with 20 felony counts of prescribing drugs to patients with no medical need for the medicine. (If this government-imposed standard were enforced strictly across the country, we'd need a dozen new prisons just for physicians and chiropractors. Street corner cocaine dealers would see their businesses shoot through the roof.) The 42-year-old doctor was placed in the Los Angeles County Jail under $3 million bond.

     There had only been a handful of prescription drug/felony-murder overdose prosecutions in the country. The Tseng case was the first of its kind in Los Angeles County. In June 2012, at a preliminary hearing before judge M. L. Villar de Longoria in a Los Angeles Superior Court to determine if the state had sufficient evidence to move the case to the trial phase, the assistant district attorney put on several witnesses. (In preliminary hearings to determine if the government has a prima facie case, there are no defense witnesses.)

     An undercover DEA agent took the stand and said he (or she) had been prescribed pain and anti-anxiety drugs without exhibiting any evidence of a physical injury. (What are the physical signs of chronic back pain?) Several family members of Tseng's patients testified that they had begged the doctor to quit issuing their addicted relatives prescription drugs. A representative of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office said he had warned Dr. Tseng that many of her patients were dying of prescription drug overdoses.

     On June 25, 2012, after three weeks of testimony, Judge Villar de Longoria ruled that Dr. Tseng could be held over for trial on the three murder charges. The judge, in justifying the ruling, told the defendant that she had "failed to heed repeated red flags" that her patients were drug addicts." (Since it's the role of a jury to make fact determinations like this, the judge's remarks were, in my opinion, inappropriate.)

     Assuming that Dr. Tseng had in fact intentionally or recklessly issued prescriptions to drug addicts, I'm not sure prosecuting her for second-degree murder was good jurisprudence in a country with millions of prescription drug junkies. Bartenders who serve alcoholics booze aren't prosecuted for murder when the drunks kill themselves in car wrecks. Gun dealers who sell firearms to people who use the weapons to blow their brains out aren't prosecuted for murder. (In the federal government's Fast and Furious operation, agents sold guns to drug dealers in Mexico who used them to kill dozens of people. One of the victims was an U.S. Border Patrol Agent. I don't think we'll see the U.S. Attorney General prosecute any federal employees for murder.)

     If convicted of three counts of murder because she prescribed pills to junkies who overdosed on the drugs, Dr. Tseng faced up to life in prison. This was at a time when residents of 18 states, including California, could legally buy "medical" marijuana.

     In October 2015, a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court found Dr. Tseng guilty of second-degree murder. The judge, on February 5, 2016, sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.
      

Researching a Crime For a Book

Writing a true crime book requires the writer to dig into angles not covered in the original rush of publicity and to deeply research the stories of victims, survivors, investigators, attorneys, and others; review all court, prison, psychiatric, medical, police and other documents about the perpetrator and interview people close to him.

Gretchen Brinck, authorsontheweb.com, 2002 

The Five-Finger Discount

     Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting. Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs….

     And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.

     The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."

     According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice…national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2015, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses….

     And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2009 to 2015, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.

Ben Popken, "Christmas on Five-Finger Discount for Shoplifters Seeking Holiday High," NBC News, December 24, 2013 

Thornton P. Knowles On Do-Gooders In Crime Novels

In the crime novel, the do-gooder rarely makes it past page 50. In my novels, there are no do-gooders. They don't even make it into the book.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Annybelkis Terrero Murder-For-Hire Case

     Neil Logan, a 57-year-old aircraft mechanic from Boynton Beach, Florida made the mistake of his life when in June 2013, following a brief courtship and a spur of the moment decision, he married Annybelkis Terrero in Las Vegas.

     Not long after Mr. Logan and the 38-year-old Terrero took up residence in his Boynton Beach home, she regularly got drunk, used illegal drugs, and entertained strange men in the house. She also disappeared for days at a time.

     On August 31, 2013, just three months after marrying this woman, Neil Logan filed for divorce. The next day Annybelkis called the Boynton Police Department with the accusation that her husband had committed domestic abuse. Police officers came to the house and hauled Mr. Logan off to jail. Pursuant to a protective order filed against him, the owner of the house could not return to his home.

     In the fall of 2013 Terrero's Boynton Beach neighbors began complaining about suspected drug activity and prostitution occurring in Mr. Logan's former residence. After narcotics officers investigated the complaints and threatened to arrest Terrero on drug and prostitution charges, she agreed to stay out of jail by working as a drug informant.

     On October 16, 2013, Terrero and two narcotics cops wearing bulletproof vests were en route in a police vehicle to a suspected drug dealer's house. Along the way the snitch mentioned that she hated her husband and wanted him dead. Could the officers put her in touch with a hit man?

     The narcotics officers said they knew a men who could do the job. At that point Terrero handed one of the officers two stolen credit cards with instructions to use them soon because they were "hot." She said the cards were meant as compensation for the officers' role in her murder-for-hire plan.

     The next day in the Sunshine Square Shopping Center parking lot, Terrero met with a Boynton Beach undercover officer posing as a professional hit man. As is standard operating procedure in such cases, the murder-for-hire conversation was recorded.

     Terrero informed the undercover officer that she would pay him $30,000 from her husband's life insurance payout after the assassin did his job. She said she also wanted the hit man to murder another 57-year-old person named William Straub. The Lake Worth, Florida resident was a friend who had tried to help Terrero beat her alcohol and drug addictions. (Why she wanted this man dead is a mystery. Perhaps she had confided in him regarding her plans to have her husband killed and the proposed hit simply involved the intent to take out an incriminating witness. But if she were worried about that kind of exposure, why did she reach out to a pair of narcotic cops?)

     Shortly after the murder-for-hire mastermind handed the undercover officer a loaded Remington shotgun as a downpayment for the double-hit, the officer arrested Terrero. A Palm Beach county prosecutor charged Terrero  with two counts of murder solicitation and two counts of bribery. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     This was not the first time Terrero had seen the inside of a jailhouse. Police arrested her in 1998 for burglary and aggravated battery and in 2011 for assaulting a police officer .

     In speaking to a reporter following Terrero's arrest, William Straub, one of the murder-for-hire targets, described her as "brilliant" when she was sober and not so bright when drunk. (Terrero must have been very intoxicated when she proposed murder-for-hire to a pair of men she knew to be cops. That has to be one of the stupidest moves in the history of crime.)

     According to Terrero's 61-year-old mother Seneida Holden, her daughter has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse since her teenage years. At one time she claimed to have kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. (Since Bruno Richard Hauptmann kidnapped and murdered the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh in March 1932, Terrero is off the hook for that crime.)

     On November 14, 2013, the Palm Beach County Prosecutor's Office announced that the charges against Annybelkis Terrero had been dropped. The spokesperson said the case was dismissed due to "significant legal issues." (It's possible these "significant legal issues" had to do with the fact Terrero had been working as a drug snitch.) She walked out of the county jail a free woman.
    

Stephen Glass: Notorious Fake Journalist

Whether fabricating sources or inventing scene settings, four journalists made headlines by choosing fiction over fact. It was discovered in 1998 that Stephen Glass had made up nearly half of his New Republic magazine stories. The New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was fired in 2003 for fabricating quotes from people he never met…Janet Cooke, a reporter with the Washington Post had to return her Pulitzer in 1981 after admitting she had created, out of whole cloth, an eight-year-old heroin addict to write about. In 2014, USA Today reporter Jack Kelley resigned after falsely creating stories, including a piece about a drowned woman who later turned up alive.

K. C. Baker, "Under Fire," People, February 23, 2015 

The Wrong-Way Driver

     Two separate wrong-way wrecks killed 11 people on Sunday morning, February 9, 2014 in Florida and California….Five people died in a crash on Interstate 275 in Tampa when a Ford Expedition, traveling south in the northbound lanes, collided head-on with a Hyundai….The Expedition caught fire, and the driver was killed. The other four people killed, all men between the ages 20 and 21, were occupants in the Hyundai….

     In Pomona, California, a wrong-way driver crashed into two other vehicles on State Route 60, known locally as 60 Freeway, leaving six dead…The first driver was arrested on suspicion of DUI and manslaughter….The driver was hospitalized in critical condition….Four other people at the scene and two others died at the hospital.

Ralph Ellis, "11 Killed in Wrong-Way Wrecks in Florida, California," CNN, February 9, 2014

Thornton P. Knowles On "The Catcher In The Rye"

Over the years I've read J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in The Rye several times. I must say that the greatness of this 1951 classic escapes me. In my opinion, the book is nothing more than a coming of age novel narrated by a dimwit.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The David Tarloff Murder Case

     Psychiatrists diagnosed David Tarloff with schizophrenia in 1991 when the 23-year-old was in college. Over the next seventeen years, the Queens, New York resident, on twelve occasions, ended up in a hospital mental ward. There was no question that the man was mentally ill.

     Tarloff lived with his mother in a Queens apartment until 2004 when she moved into a nursing home. By 2008, the 40-year-old schizophrenic had convinced himself that his mother was being abused by nursing home personnel. That's when he concocted a plan to rob Dr. Kent Shinbach, the psychiatrist who had initially treated him in 1991. With the money he hoped to acquire by using the doctor's ATM code, Tarloff planned to pull his mother out of the nursing home and take her away to Hawaii.

     In February 2008, after making several phone inquiries, Tarloff learned that Dr. Shinback had offices on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In preparation for the robbery, Tarloff purchased a rubber meat mallet and a cleaver that he packed into a suitcase filled with adult diapers and clothing for his mother.

     On February 8, 2008, Tarloff showed up at  Dr. Shinbach's office armed with the meat cleaver and the mallet. But instead of encountering his robbery target, he was confronted by Dr. Kathryn Faughey, the 56-year-old psychotherapist who shared office space with Dr. Shinbach.

    In the Manhattan doctor's office, Tarloff smashed Faughey's skull with the mallet, then hacked her to death with the meat cleaver. He also attacked Dr. Shinbach when the psychiatrist tried to rescue his colleague. Tarloff fled the bloody scene on foot and was taken into custody shortly thereafter. Dr. Shinback survived his wounds.

     The Manhattan District Attorneys Office charged Tarloff with first-degree murder. The defendant's attorney acknowledged what his client had done, but pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. If a jury found that at the moment Tarloff killed Dr. Faughey, he was so mentally ill he couldn't appreciate the nature and quality of his act, they could return a verdict of not guilty. Instead of serving a fixed prison term, Tarloff would be placed into an institution for the criminally insane. The length of his incarceration would be determined by the doctors who treated him. If at some point the psychiatrists considered him sane enough for society, he could be discharged from the mental institution. (It is for this reason that most jurors are uncomfortable with the insanity defense, particularly in cases of extreme violence.)

     Under American law, criminal defendants are presumed innocent and sane. That means the prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense, in insanity cases, has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence (a less rigorous standard of proof) that the defendant was out of touch with reality when he committed the homicide. Since even seriously psychotic murder defendants are aware they are killing their victims, not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts are rare. This is particularly true in rural communities where jurors prefer to send mentally ill murderers to prison.

     After years of procedural delays, David Tarloff's murder trial got underway in March 2013. A month later, following the testimony of a set of dueling psychiatrists, the case went to the jury. After ten days of deliberation, the jury foreman informed the judge that the panel had not been able to reach an unanimous verdict of guilt. The trial judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The Manhattan prosecutor in charge of the case announced his intention to try David Tarloff again.

     In May 2014, at his second trial, the jury rejected the insanity defense in this case and found David Tarloff guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

The Insanity Defense

Insanity defense cases should be tried not by juries but by specially trained and credentialed judges. I have seen firsthand the debacle of naive and inexperienced judges struggling with complicated psychological testimony, ineptly charging juries, and generally remaining clueless throughout the proceedings. These judges should be given on-the-job training and assistance to become proficient in the application of psychological principles.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Thornton P. Knowles On the Banality of Evil

In real life, evil is usually quite banal. Serial killers, for example, are more often than not ordinary looking and acting people. These killers often have regular jobs, families, and hobbies. On the surface they do not stand out. You could talk to a serial killer in line at Walmart and not have the faintest idea that you are conversing with a man who tortures and murders women. Evil is not only banal, it is all around us like the air we breathe. In crime fiction, however, the super villain cannot be banal. Hannibal Lecter is a good example of a fictitious serial killer. The bad guys in novels must be insidiously interesting or in some way weird. But in reality, Hannibal Lecter murder types are exceedingly rare. The banality of evil reality makes solving these murders all the more difficult.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Emily Dearden Love Triangle Attempted Murder Case

     In 2013, 46-year-old Kenneth Dearden, a prominent real estate developer, resided with his wife Emily in a house they had purchased in 2000 for $562,000 in Yonkers, New York. The couple's two daughters lived with them in the house at 82 Ponfield Road West.

     Mr. Dearden, originally from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, had served in the Air Force. He had a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and a masters from Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands. He and his wife were married in July 1996. He had founded his company, DW Capital Associates and was president of the Yonkers Downtown/Waterfront Business Improvement District.

     Emily Dearden, originally from Englewood, New Jersey, had a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northwestern University and master's degrees from Columbia University and Widener University. The 45-year-old held the position of senior psychologist for the New York City Police Department.

     At three-thirty in the morning of November 14, 2013, Kenneth Dearden awoke with a searing pain in his jaw. His pillow was soaked in blood and his wife Emily was not in bed with him in the master bedroom. Mr. Dearden made his way to the first floor where he found Emily lying on the family room floor with her eyes closed. After being quickly revived, she said an intruder had hit her in the head.

     At a nearby hospital, doctors determined that Mr. Dearden had been shot. The bullet had entered his head near the base of the skull and lodged in his left cheek after passing through one of his carotid arteries. (He spent eight days in the hospital and underwent three operations.) Mrs. Dearden did not seek medical attention.

     Later that morning, when detectives showed up at the Dearden house to investigate the shooting, they were surprised to find Mrs. Dearden washing her nightclothes instead of being at the hospital with her husband. Apparently unemotional over the fact an intruder had struck her in the head and shot her husband, she asked the officers if they had a warrant to search the dwelling. (Because it was a crime scene, they didn't need a warrant.)

     In the basement of the house, officers found four pistols, including two derringers, that were consistent with the caliber of the attempted murder weapon. The handguns belonged to Mrs. Dearden. She said they had been given to her by her father. (Forensic ballistics tests to match one of these firearms to the slug removed from the victim's head were inconclusive.)

     Detectives, from the onset of the case, questioned the home invasion theory. There were no signs of forced entry, the family Rottweiler who slept in a doggie bed outside the master bedroom had not awakened Mr. Dearden, the home intrusion alarm had not been activated, and nothing had been taken. In other words, Emily Dearden's story didn't make sense to the investigators.

     Detectives were also suspicious of the fact the victim's wife had waited until the next day to visit her husband at the hospital. Moreover, on the day of the shooting, she had met David Warren Roudenbush, a Texan with whom she had been having an on-and-off again affair with since early 2011, at a restaurant in Yonkers. Investigators wondered why she had chosen to meet with Roudenbush instead of visiting her husband in the hospital.

     The investigation into the attempted murder stalled. Detectives did not identify an intruder, and no charges were brought against the victim's wife. She remained a suspect, however.

     In August 2014, Emily Dearden filed for divorce. About this time NYPD officials relieved her as the department's senior psychologist. They reassigned her to "administrative duties."

     Kenneth Dearden, on November 14, 2014, in a Westchester County Court, filed a civil suit against his estranged wife. According to the lawsuit, the shooting had been a "sadistic attack by an adulterous wife on her husband." As for the motive behind the assault, the plaintiff accused the defendant of shooting him so she could keep the marital home, avoid a contentious divorce, and never have to admit her infidelities to her family and friends.

     According to Mr. Dearden's version of the case, David Warren Roudenbush, after divorcing his wife, had pressured Mrs. Dearden to leave him. As a result of the shooting, the victim claimed he suffered mental anguish and the fear of being attacked again.

     On November 21, 2014, the district attorney of Westchester County announced that Emily Dearden had been charged with attempted second-degree murder. Later that day the accused turned herself in to the authorities. At her arraignment hearing, the judge set her bail at $150,000 which she immediately posted to avoid going to jail. The judge ordered Emily Dearden to stay away from her husband and their children.

     Following the criminal charge, the suspended Dearden handed her NYPD identification card over to an Internal Affairs Bureau official. Her attorney told reporters that his client had not shot Mr. Dearden and that the lawsuit had been filed as retaliation for her having filed for divorce.

     Following her May 2015 indictment for attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon, Emily Dearden pleaded not guilty at her arraignment hearing in Yorkers. Her attorney, Paul Bergman, told reporters that "Dr. Dearden is confident she will prevail in this case." If convicted as charged, the defendant will face up to 25 years in prison.

     In February 2017, Emily Dearden pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder. Judge Barry Warhit sentenced her to a three and a half year prison term.

     

Memorable Movie Dialogue

Some movie quotes become popular because they evoke a great film, or a great scene, or a great actor. Sometimes the words of the quote become proverbial--something like, "The natives are restless," or "If you build it they will come," or "Win one for the Gipper!" They enter into the language.

William Goldman in Leopold Todd, "What Makes a Movie Quote So Quotable?" CNN, August 22, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On Creative Writing As a Career

 English teachers should not encourage their students to pursue careers as novelists. The crazy ones with big talent will get there on their own. The rest should be spared the misery.

 Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Earl K. Shumway: The John Dillinger of Archaeological Looting

The Archaeological Resource Protection Act  

      The lobbying efforts of the Society for American Archaeology, an international organization dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas, led to the passage of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), federal legislation signed into law in October 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Under Title 16 of the United States Code, Sections 470 aa to 470 mm, ARPA preserves archaeological resources on federal and Indian lands with the aim to prevent the loss of irreplaceable artifacts that are part of the nation's cultural heritage.

     At its core, ARPA makes it a federal crime to excavate, remove, damage, alter, and/or deface (without a government permit) archaeological resources from protected areas. It is also a federal offense, under this law, to traffic interstate in artifacts acquired in violation of the act or in breach of local or state law. Under ARPA, an "archaeological resource" is an item of past human existence or archaeological interest more than a hundred years old.

     First-time ARPA offenders, in cases where the value of the artifacts and the cost of restoration and repair of the damaged archaeological site is less than $500, can be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisoned for more than a year. However, if the value or restoration costs exceed $500, the offender can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for two years on each count. Repeat ARPA offenders can be fined $100,000 and sent to prison for five years on each count. Under ARPA, federal authorities can pursue violators civilly or in criminal court, imposing fines and confiscating vehicles and equipment used in the commission of the prohibited activity.

Looting Anasazi Artifacts

     Earl K. Shumway, the central figure in the country's first major ARPA case, came from a family of archaeological looters. Earl grew up in Moab, Utah, a Mormon town seventy miles north of the four corners village of Blanding, where, in June 2009, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents raided the homes of eleven ARPA defendants. DeLoy Shumway, Earl's father, spent years plundering Anasazi ruins for pottery and other artifacts in the Puebloan region of the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah. In the early 1980s, Earl's distant cousin, Casey Shumway, had the distinction of being the nation's first ARPA defendant convicted of the offense.

     From 700 to 1300, the Peublo (also referred to as the Anasazi) people grew beans and corn and built masonry structures--so-called cliff dwellings--into canyon alcoves that still show rock petroglyphs depicting animals, human figures, and prehistoric tools. Just before the turn of the fourteenth century, social upheaval and prolonged drought caused these people to migrate south. They never returned, but left in Utah's San Juan County alone, a place the size of Connecticut, 28,000 known archaeological sites.

     In 1850, Mormon settlers to southwestern Utah found, scattered virtually everywhere, prehistoric tools, flint projectile points, and shards of Anasazi pottery. The collecting of prehistoric pottery began in the late 1800s after Richard Wetherill and his brother, Colorado ranchers, discovered Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verdi. In the canyon cliff dwellings they found decorated pottery, jewelry, tools, sandals, and woven blankets. The brothers also discovered thousands of grave sites containing human skeletons wrapped in blankets.

     The Wetherill discoveries launched a lucrative trade in Native American artifacts fueled by competition between the Smithsonian and other U. S. museums, and a growing interest among the general pubic in Indian relic collecting.

     Up until 1930, archaeologists and curators at the University of Utah paid artifact hunters two dollars for every piece of pottery (called "pots" by collectors) they brought to the school. Earl Shumway's grandfather, in the 1920s, sold 370 pieces of Anasazi pottery to the university. In those days he could acquire up to seventeen pots in a single day, and in a productive month, dig up two hundred, many of which ended up in a local museum.

     Craig Childs, in his book Finders Keepers, chronicles the early relationship between the region's pot hunters and the university: "In the 1920s an archaeologist named Andrew Kerr from the University of Utah in Salt Lake appeared after he heard that an entire quarter of the state was filthy with archaeology right near the surface, graves practically springing from the ground. Kerr hired local residents to dig; his head diggers were members of the Shumway family who had already done a good deal of private excavation. The Shumways did most of the work while Kerr sat back. They showed him how to locate the best caches of artifacts, how to dig without breaking pots. Meanwhile, Kerr encouraged them and paid them to become even better at it. Showing little regard for scientific method, he wanted only the most visually stunning artifacts which he shipped back to the university museum."

     According to William Hurst, an archaeologist and lifelong resident of Blanding, Utah, Anasazi projectile points, tools, and pottery, during the 1950s and 1960s, were everywhere and easy to find. Most of the local collectors were surface hunters who picked up pieces from cultivated fields. In those days, collecting arrowheads in and around Blanding was like picking up seashells from a beach.

     A Blanding resident and artifact collector, speaking about what it was like in the 1950s and 1960s, said this to a journalist writing about the plundering of Anasazi sites: "This was our way of life. You could find artifacts just everywhere. You can go in any direction from Blanding and they'll be mounds and dwellings and arrowheads and artifacts." In the same article, Toni Turk, the then major of Blanding, also described how it was for collectors in those days: "The pottery was so commonplace that kids would use them for target practice, they would throw rocks at them. There was nothing particularly special about them. Some people started seeing in them some art value for themselves and they'd start collecting."

     Blanding mayor Turk also spoke of archaeological looters like Earl Shumway and his father. "Some people went in with heavy machinery. It took a lot of labor off the effort to dig up graves. They dug down to get the treasures. These are people who stepped across the lines of propriety. They got into looting graves and grave goods."

     According to Wayne Dance, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for the Utah District from 1990 to 2007, the prosecutor who targeted Earl Shumway and ended up prosecuting more ARPA subjects than any AUSA in the country, the bulk of Anasazi looting took place within a hundred mile, north-south corridor stretching from Moab to the town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Reservation near the Arizona state line.

The Earl K. Shumway Case

     In 1985, a federal grand jury sitting in Salt Lake City, indicted Earl K. Shumway, then twenty-five, on four felony counts in violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The fierce and flamboyant looter with the wild shock of red hair and matching mustache, had openly bragged about how much money he made selling Anasazi pottery, baskets, human remains, and other artifacts from hundreds of archaeological sites which he left littered with empty Mountain Dew cans.

     Because Shumway also boasted of carrying a .44 magnum revolver he'd use on anyone who'd confront him while digging for artifacts, federal agents despised and feared him. The AUSA charged Shumway with the removal and sale of thirty-four prehistoric baskets excavated from Horse Rock Ruin on federal land near Allen Canyon, Manti-La Sal National Forest in southeastern Utah. Shumway and his crew had been digging on this site since 1981. Tried and convicted in 1986, Shumway, to avoid serving time in prison, identified, for the FBI, a long list of artifact collectors living in Blanding. In turning snitch, he avoided prison and settled scores with collectors he didn't like. His information also led to a series of ARPA SWAT raids that year. All of those cases were eventually dropped.

     After informing on collectors, Earl Shumway returned to looting archaeological sites on federal land. In November 1994, a former Shumway business partner told the FBI that Shumway had been plundering artifacts at Horse Rock Ruin. The snitch said that Shumway had cheated him out of his share of the loot. Shortly after his arrest, Shumway pleaded guilty to three ARPA counts and a federal firearms charge. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced the serial looter to probation.

     In June 1995, just seven months after Shumway's guilty plea, AUSA Wayne Dance, having successfully prosecuted forty ARPA defendants, convinced members of a federal grand jury in Utah to indict Shumway on a pair of four-year-old ARPA cases.

     In 1991, Shumway met helicopter pilot Michael Miller at a pool hall in Moab. After regaling Miller with stories of his archaeological adventures and the big money he made selling Anasazi pottery, baskets, and human remains, Miller contacted a helicopter pilot named John Ruhl and asked him to fly the pair around in search of potential sites. Shumway's father had taught Earl how to use aircraft in search for ruins. With diggers on the ground and a lookout in the sky, looters could easily avoid detection. Shumway, with Ruhl's knowledge, rented a  helicopter by telling Ruhl's employer he was a film scout.

     Ruhl flew Miller and Shumway to Dop-Ki Cave in Utah's Canyonlands National Park, a 350,000-acre tract where they dug up the skeleton of an infant wrapped in a blanket inside a burial basket. Shumway took the blanket and all of the bones except the skull. A few days later, Ruhl flew Shumway and Miller to Horse Rock Ruin where they spent the night. The next morning, Shumway dug up a pair of ancient sandals and a sleeping mat.

     At Shumway's November 1995 trial, AUSA Dance, through DNA analysis, connected the defendant to a cigarette butt found at the Dop-Ki Cave site. The jurors, based upon the first use of DNA evidence in an ARPA case, found Shumway guilty.

     Convicted of seven felony counts, Judge David K. Winder, appalled at Shumway's callous handling of the infant's remains, exceeded ARPA's punishment guidelines by sentencing the looter to six and a half years in prison. The judge also fined him $3,500. Shumway appealed his sentence to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which reduced it to five years, three months.

     While being transported to prison, a group of Native American prisoners gave Shumway a severe beating. In 2003, three years after getting out of prison, Earl K. Shumway died of cancer. He was forty-six-years-old.
   

Ann Rule on True Crime Writing

True crime writing is a very delicate and difficult genre and not to be taken lightly. Done well, the books can be near classic. Done sloppily or carelessly, they serve only to hurt the innocent even more than they have already been hurt.

Ann Rule, writersreview.com, 2000

Rounding up Pedophiles in the United Kingdom

     Police in the United Kingdom arrested 660 alleged pedophiles following a six-month investigation. The suspects included doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers, and former police officers. On July 16, 2014, the United Kingdom's Crime Agency reported that the operation occurred across the UK and included 45 police forces…

     The operation, kept secret until the arrests, involved targeting those accessing online images of pedophilia. Thirty-nine of those arrested were registered sex offenders. The rest of the suspects had been unknown to the police. The charges ranged from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual abuse…

     These arrests followed a series of pedophilia scandals that have dogged the UK. In July 2014, the authorities revealed that in the 1980s, politicians in the UK routinely abused vulnerable children….

Mirren Gidda, "UK Police Arrest 660 Suspected Pedophiles," time.com, July 17, 2014

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Ignorance As Bliss

My mother, bless her soul, had a high regard for authority. She believed, for example, that all physicians were highly competent and well meaning. Men of the cloth were as pure as the driven snow. Local politicians had her best interests in mind, and the president of the United States would never lie to the American people. And, if she read something in the newspaper, it had to be true. It must have been nice.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Short History of the FBI Crime Laboratory

     Shortly after becoming the FBI's fourth director in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover envisioned a national crime laboratory under the auspicies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had been influenced by August Vollmer, the innovative chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department and John H. Wigmore, author and professor at Northwestern University Law School.

     August Vollmer and Wigmore had pioneered the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Lab formed in Chicago in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. These practitioner scholars believed that the developing fields within forensic science, coupled with highly trained criminal investigators, would someday bring victory over crime. Hoover had already made the image of the latent fingerprint the unofficial logo of the FBI. A FBI crime laboratory would advance Hoover's goal to create the ideal crime fighter--an highly educated, well-trained scientific crime detection professional.

     In April 1931, Hoover sent Special Agent Charles A. Appel, Jr. to Chicago to enroll in a short course sponsored by the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory that at the time was a private, fee-charging lab partially funded by the university. Most of the lab's cases consisted of forensic document examination, firearm identification (then called forensic ballistics), and research and development in the polygraph, a newly developing field of scientific lie detection. (In 1938 the Scientific Crime Detection Lab would be taken over by the Chicago Police Department.) Hoover also sent agent Appel to police departments in St. Louis (in 1906 the first police department to establish a fingerprint identification bureau), New Orleans, and Detroit, the only law enforcement agencies besides Berkeley and Los Angeles that operated crime labs.

     The FBI Technical Laboratory, with Charles Appel as its head, opened its doors on November 24, 1932 (in 1942 it was renamed the FBI Laboratory) in a nine-by-nine foot room in the Southern Railway Building at Thirteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Special Agent Appel, its director and only employee, performed firearm identification work. Appel used the newly invented comparison microscope and a device designed for the examination of gun barrel interiors. To produce forensic exhibits of bullets, Appel utilized basic photographic equipment. The FBI Lab, as advertised by Hoover, provided evidence analysis and testimony for the bureau as well as for any local law enforcement agency that requested forensic analysis. Hoover also promised research and development in the various forensic science fields. Hoover's ambitious undertaking eventually made the FBI an indispensable and highly visible cog in the nation's crime fighting machine.

     By 1940, the laboratory, now located at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, employed firearm identificaton experts, questioned document examiners, forensic chemists, physicists, metallurgists specializing in tool mark identification, forensic geologists (soil examinations), hair and fiber analysts, forensic serologists (blood and bodily fluids examinations), and latent fingerprint identification experts. The laboratory, employing over a hundred people, had gotten so large Hoover divided the lab into three sections: questioned documents; physics and chemistry; and latent fingerprint identification. At this time, only fifteen police departments and sixteen states operated crime labs. The FBI Lab continued to grow. By 1958, it employed two hundred scientific, clerical and administrative personnel.

     The FBI Laboratory, by the end of the 1980's, had grown into the busiest and most famous crime lab in the world. It had also become one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, DC. But even in its heyday, because of the quantity of forensic examinations and laboratory hiring criteria, there were problems with the quality of some of the work. The FBI Lab was the biggest and the most famous, but not the best. Overwhelmed by a staggering caseload, Hoover did not hire top-rate scientists. Moreover, there was not time for research and development. This led to some bad science and a problem with scientific objectivity.

     The FBI lab had to compete for personnel with a growing number of city, county, and state crime labs.  Because the FBI only hired lab employees who also met the criteria for the position of special agent, not all of the lab personnel had sufficient scientific backgrounds.  All FBI Lab personnel (except clerical employees) were first sent into the field to work as agents for three years. Many of these agents  had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to DC to work inside the lab. some of these agents had used their degrees in science to get into the FBI to become investigators, not bureau crime lab criminalists. Moreover, the close identification with law enforcement created by three years in the field worked against scientific objectivity. (The FBI has since changed its crime lab hiring criteria.)

     J. Edgar Hoover died in office in May 1972. By 1990, there was nothing left of his reputation and status as an American law enforcement pioneer. The mere mention of his name on a TV sitcom or a late night talk show brought instant laughter. Once a powerful and innovative man, Hoover, like so many other American historical figures--Charles Lindbergh for one--had been reduced by a tabloid culture and hack journalism into a character you might find in an underground comic book. The post-Hoover image of the FBI agent, while having lost some of its luster, did not go down with the Hoover ship. Notwithstanding his fall from grace, Hoover's most profound contribution to the art and science of criminal investigation, the FBI Crime Laboratory, is still considered the gold standard of forensic science in America.

    

What It Takes to Write Narrative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction requires the skills of the storyteller and the research ability of the conscientious reporter. Writers of creative nonfiction must become instant authorities on the subjects of their articles or books. They must not only understand the facts and report them using quotes from authorities, they must also see beyond them to discover their underlying meaning, and they must dramatize that meaning in an interesting, evocative, informative way--just as a good teacher does.

Theodore A. Rees Cheney, Writing Creative Nonfiction, 2001 

Thornton P. Knowles On What Sociologists Have Done To The English Languish

The language of sociology is made up of vague, often meaningless jargon designed to dull the senses and distort reality. This is particularly true when criminologists talk about crime and criminal justice. The destroyers of precise, vivid English have given us mindless phrases such as "anti-social behavior," "juvenile delinquent," "root causes," and "reform school."  In the vocabulary of sociology, depraved behavior became "deviant behavior." The concept of "root causes" makes society, not the individual, responsible for horrific criminal acts. Sociologists are responsible for the concept of "social justice," code word for collective guilt. In the world of sociology, personal responsibility for one's behavior simply does not exist. The English language is being sacrificed for the insidious, fantasy world of modern sociology.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Historic Disaster at Waco

     The April 19, 1993 raid of the Mount Carmel Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of 80 cult members, is a worst-case example of how the militaristic approach to law enforcement can lead to disaster.

     Fifty-one days before the FBI assault, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax, and Firearms (ATF), at the conclusion of a 7 month investigation, had raided the compound to arrest cult leader David Koresh and search for a cache of guns that ATF agents suspected had been illegally converted to fully automatic weapons. That raid ended after a brief shootout in which 4 ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded. The officers retreated, leaving an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead and wounded.

     The AFT agents, prior to the raid, had several opportunities to arrest David Koresh outside the Mount Carmel compound. These chances were missed because Koresh had not been uder 24-hour surveillance. Had the ATF taken Koresh into custody when the opportunity presented itself, the raid might not have been necessary. The ATF had also lost the element of surprise, and they knew it when two National Guard helicopters, circling above the compound with agency supervisors aboard, took gunfire from below. The supervisors launced the invasion anyway. Although several AFT agents had been trained at Fort Hood by Green Beret personnel (the unsupported suspicion that the compound housed a methamphetamine lab served to justify the military's role in the operation), most of the agents participating in the 9:30 A.M. attack had not been appropriately trained or armed. Many of the 76 agents who charged the compound carried semi-automatic handguns.

     Following the AFT fiasco, the FBI took charge of the stand-off. Following the 51-day siege and a series of failed negotiations, several FBI SWAT teams, in full battle gear, armed with shortened variants of the standard M-16 assault rifle, and supported by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-60 tanks, stormed the compound. Forty minutes after 400 canisters of CS gas had been shot inside the building through holes punched in the walls by the armored vehicles, the structure burst into flames and burned to the ground. David Koresh and 17 children were among the 80 dead. Attorney General Janet Reno, operating on unreliable evidence that the Davidian children were being sexually mistreated, had authorized the assault. The Waco fiasco turned out to be the deadliest police action in American history.

     Attorney General Reno, in the wake of the Waco disaster, asked former Missouri senator John C. Danforth to investigate the government's role in the raids. In 2000, following a 14-month inquiry, Danforth found that although an FBI agent had fired tear gas rounds at a concrete pit 75 feet from the Davidian living quarters, a fact the FBI had tried to suppress, agents had not started the fire. The former senator also concluded that FBI agents had not fired bullets into the compound, and that the military's role in the raids had been lawful. (Today, that issue wouldn't even come up.)

     Several months after the Danforth inquiry, Thomas Lynch, the director of the CATO Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, published a report characterizing the Branch Davidian raids as "criminally reckless," and Danforth's investigation as "soft and incomplete." According to the CATO investigation, FBI agents in National Guard helicopters had fired rifle shots into the compound, a finding that contradicted the FBI's claim that the helicopters had been deployed merely to distract the Davidians.

     At a news conference, Senator Danforth defended the integrity of his inquiry and attacked the CATO report. The debate over who started the fire at the Davidian compound continues. Regardless of what FBI agents did or didn't do on April 19, 1993, many believe the military-supported ATF and FBI raids should not have been launched in the first place. That is my opinion as well.

Novels Are More Challenging to Write Than Short Stories

Short stories are wonderful and extremely challenging, and the joy of them--because it only takes me three or four months to write--is that I can take more risks with them. It's just less of your life invested. That's great. But the challenge of a novel is so rewarding--there's so much more you can cram into them. Maybe the metaphor is: With a short story, you're building a table, you have four legs, you're trying to make it as beautiful and as functional as you can. With a novel, you're building not just a table but a whole house--you're building all the furniture inside it. It's more challenging, and then when you finish, it's more rewarding. I do think it's a richer experience.

Carole Burns, Off The Page, 2008 

Thornton P. Knowles on His Fiction Writing Technique

Once, at a mystery writer's conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, someone asked me how I produced my fiction. My answer was direct, and true: I replied that I have no idea how I do it, and when I do, I'll quit writing.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sarai Sierra Murder Case

     Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old Staten Island, New York wife and mother of two, on January 7, 2013, flew to Istanbul, Turkey. Sierra, an amateur photographer and student at the College of Staten Island, had planned to travel to Turkey with Magdalena Rodriguez who canceled at the last minute. As a result, the part time chiropractor's office employee landed alone in Istanbul, a sprawling city of 14 million.

     During her two-week adventure in Turkey in which she resided in a basement apartment in one of Istanbul's seediest neighborhoods, Sierra remained in touch with her husband Steven, her children, and friends through her iPhone and iPad. On January 15, Sierra flew to Amsterdam where she remained three days. On January 18, on her way back to Turkey, she spend a few hours in Munich, Germany.

      When Sierra's homeward bouind plane landed in New York City on January 21, she was not onboard. That is when Steven Sierra reported her missing to the Istanbul police, and made plans to travel to Turkey to search for his wife.

     Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, compared to other major metropolitan concentrations in the region, is relatively safe from violent crime. Because tourism is a big business in the city, local authorities were eager to find the missing American tourist. Members of the special investigative unit formed to find Sarai Sierra reviewed thousands of hours of downtown surveillance camera footage for a glimpse of the missing woman and clues to her whereabouts. They came up empty-handed.

     On February 2, 2013, residents who lived near the remnants of Istanbul's ancient city walls not far from the Galata Bridge that spanned the Golden Horn waterway, discovered the body of a woman. Police made a tentative identification of the corpse through a driver's license found on the body of the fully-dressed woman. The fact that Sarai Sierra was still wearing her earrings, a bracelet, a gold ring, and a necklace, ruled out robbery as a motive for her murder. Her iPhone and iPad were missing.

     Sarai Sierra had been killed by several blows to the head. The presence of a blanket near the body suggested she had been murdered elsewhere and dumped at the site not far from the busy highway.

     Not long after the discovery of the American tourist's murdered remains, a local woman came forward with information that on January 29, 2013 she had seen a man removing "something" at the presumed dump site from a white car. The witness said she saw a woman's hand protruding from the blanketed bundle taken out of vehicle by the man.

     In the course of their murder investigation, the Istanbul police detained fifteen people for questioning. Because the case had attracted so much media attention in Turkey, the local authorities were eager to bring Sierra's killer or killers to justice.

     On February 4, 2013, prosecutors in Istanbul were granted a court order allowing the acquisition of DNA samples from suspects who have been questioned in the case. DNA samples from Sierra's body and the dump site blanket--hair follicles and scrapings from beneath the victim's fingernails--were sent to a crime lab for analysis. Also, the FBI entered the case.

     Istanbul police, in the spring of 2013, arrested a 47-year-old collector of scrap paper named Ziya Tasali. Tasali confessed to killing Sarai Sierra after she resisted his kiss in the Fatih district of the city. Tasali denied raping the victim. He said she "hit me with her phone between my two eyebrows, and I pushed her to the floor." She then picked up a rock and threw it at him. "I got very angry," he said. "I hit her with a stone I grabbed off the floor."

     The murder suspect said he was sniffing paint thinner at the time of the killing.

     On June 24, 2014, Tasali was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. 

The Historic FBI Office Burglary at Media, Pennsylvania

     On a March evening in 1971, eight antiwar protesters burglarized an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, with astonishing ease. A few weeks of elementary surveillance had shown the vulnerability of the target: There were no cameras to elude, no alarms to disconnect. Because the building contained residential apartments, the group choose the night of the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali heavyweight championship fight, an ideal distraction. [Frazier came from Philadelphia and was the hometown favorite.]

     It turned out that the Pennsylvania office [a branch resident agency within the Philadelphia field division], like so many others across the country, had almost no physical protection. Security was largely symbolic, resting on the bureau's carefully buffed reputation for efficiency in tracking down America's "most wanted" criminals, from bank robbers to atomic spies. Put simply, no one messed with J. Edgar Hoover's FBI…

     The stolen material included the secret case histories of thousands of Americans. Much of it was malicious gossip about things like sexual deviance and race-mixing, two of Hoover's favorite subjects. Had this been all, the FBI very likely would have weathered the storm. Its pubic relations machine was enormous, and the officials charged with overseeing its operations were themselves wary of what lay in the files. Hoover had served for almost 50 years, under eight presidents, because nobody dared fire a man who, in Richard Nixon's words, could "pull down the temple with him, including me." [Hoover died less than a year after the burglary.]

     But there was more…the most important stolen document was a routine routing slip containing the word "Cointelpro." The term meant nothing to the burglars, for good reason. Cointelpro was among the FBI's most carefully guarded secrets, a huge program of dirty tricks and illegal activities designed to "expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize" groups deemed subversive by the director…

David Oshinsky, "Breaking In," The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

Thornton P. Knowles On His Brush With The Romance Genre

I came across a romance novel in my dentist's waiting room. Leafing through it, I came upon this line: "He barely heard her, his Latin blood boiling and his loins already igniting." This sentence was so wonderfully bad, I committed it to memory.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Robert Durst: Money, Madness and Murder

     Robert Durst, born in 1942 into a wealthy family, grew up in Scarsdale, New York. His father, Seymour Durst, got rich investing in real estate. In 1949, when Robert was seven, he saw his mother fall to her death from the roof of the family mansion. The authorities ruled her death a suicide. Although young Robert received extensive psychological counseling, his doctors worried that this childhood trauma would lead to future mental illness. (Robert's brother Douglas claimed in 2014 that Robert did not witness their mother's death, that the lie was nothing more than a ploy to gain sympathy.)

     After graduating from Scarsdale High School and Lehigh University, Robert Durst started graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles. After acquiring a first-class education, Robert entered the family real estate business but hit a roadblock in 1995 when his brother Douglas assumed control of the enterprise. This led to Robert's permanent estrangement from his family.

     In January 1982, Robert Durst's wife Kathleen, a woman he'd married ten years earlier, suddenly disappeared. Robert waited several days before reporting her missing and didn't bother notifying her family. The police suspected foul play but without the body, the homicide investigation hit a dead end.

     In 2000, with Kathleen Durst still missing, the New York State Police re-epened the 18-year-old case as a cold-case murder investigation. Detectives suspected that Robert had murdered his wife and disposed of her body.

     Not long after the renewed police interest in Kathleen Durst's disappearance, someone murdered, execution-style, Susan Berman in her home in Benedict Canyon, California. Because Berman had been Robert's longtime friend and confidant, detectives believed she had knowledge of Kathleen Durst's disappearance. Investigators speculated that she had been eliminated because she was a potential witness against Robert Durst. The Beverly Hills police had been alerted to Berman's murder by the writer of an anonymous, hand-printed note telling them of a "cadaver" in Berman's house. The writer, in addressing the envelope, had misspelled Beverly as "Beverley." Handwriting experts did not have enough document evidence to identify Robert Durst as the writer of the so-called "cadaver note."

     Although interrogated by detectives as a suspect in the Berman murder case, Robert Durst was not charged. The two cases remained unsolved.

     In 2000, Robert moved to Galveston, Texas to get away from the criminal investigations of his missing wife and his murdered friend, Susan Berman. About this time he took up cross-dressing.

     In 2001, the body parts of 71-year-old Morris Black, Robert Durst's apartment complex neighbor, were found floating in Galveston Bay. When questioned by the police, Durst claimed that Mr. Black had entered his apartment, grabbed a gun hidden in the room, and pointed it at him. According to the 60-year-old Durst, the gun went off accidentally when he tried to disarm his neighbor.

     While he denied murdering Mr. Black in cold blood, Durst admitted that after the killing he used a paring knife, two saws and an axe to dismember the victim's corpse before dumping the body parts into Galveston Bay. The authorities booked Durst into the county jail on the charge of murder.

     Free on bail until his murder trial, Durst missed a preliminary court hearing on the case. The judge issued an arrest warrant for the bail-jumper whose whereabouts were unknown. A month or so later, police officers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania took Durst into custody outside a Wegmans supermarket after he had shoplifted a chicken sandwich, Band-Aids, and a newspaper. Durst had $500 in his pocket and $37,000 in cash stashed in his car along with two guns, marijuana, and Morris Black's driver's license.

     At Durst's 2003 murder trial, his three attorneys--the best legal defense team money could buy--argued self defense. Following seven weeks of testimony, the jury shocked everyone by finding Robert Durst not guilty. After this stunning verdict, lead investigator Cody Gozalas told reporters that he'd rarely had a more clear-cut case of murder against a defendant. "I believe," the investigator said, "that Mr. Durst walked up behind Mr. Black and shot him in the back of the head. There was nothing to suggest self defense. Mr. Durst never mentioned self defense until after the defense attorneys took over the case."

     The Durst case jurors, widely criticized for the acquittal, said it had been a difficult verdict for them to arrive at. While they knew the defendant had cut up Mr. Black's body, they weren't convinced he had committed a premeditated murder. The jurors bought the defense theory that Durst suffered from a psychological disorder that caused him to cut up and dispose of Mr. Black's body amid a state of panic.

     At the time of Durst's murder acquittal, the Durst family fortune was valued at more than $2 billion.

     Prosecutors, having lost the murder case, charged Durst with two offenses related to Mr. Black's murder--bail jumping and evidence tampering. To avoid going through another trial, Durst pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. The judge sentenced him to five years. He served one year of that sentence. Pursuant to the terms of Durst's 2005 parole, he had to obtain official permission to travel any significant distance from his home.

     In December 2005, Durst made an unauthorized trip to a shopping mall near the apartment complex where he had killed Morris Black. In the mall, he had the bad luck to run into the judge who had presided over his murder trial. The judge, suspecting a parole violation, notified the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. Corrections authorities sent Durst back to prison on the parole violation. He remained behind bars until March 2006.

     In 2011, Robert Durst purchased a townhouse in Harlem, New York. Three years later, in Houston, Texas, Durst exposed himself at a CVS drugstore then urinated on a rack of candy. A Harris County prosecutor charged him with criminal mischief and indecent exposure.

     In February 2015, the HBO television network aired the first episode of a six-part series about Robert Durst and his connection to his wife's disappearance and the two murders called "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." In making the documentary, New York City producers Marc Smerling and Andrew Jarecki spent 25 hours interviewing Durst on camera.

     In the course of their research, the producers acquired from Susan Berman's stepson a hand-printed letter Durst had sent to her a year before her murder. On the envelope Durst had misspelled Beverly as "Beverley."

     Believing that the identical misspellings in the Berman letter and the cadaver note indicated that Durst had hand-printed the note sent to the Beverly HIlls Police Department, the TV producers asked New York City forensic document examiner John Osborn to analyze the handwriting evidence. After comparing the cadaver note to the Berman letter and 40 specimens of Durst's known hand-printing, Mr. Osborn concluded that Durst was the writer of the cadaver document. The producers notified the authorities in Los Angeles.

     In Louisiana at eleven at night on Saturday March 14, 2015, the day before the airing of the final episode of "The Jinx," deputies with the Orleans Parish arrested Robert Durst in his room at the J. W. Marriott Hotel. A prosecutor in Los Angeles had charged Mr. Durst with the first-degree murder of Susan Berman.  Durst had been preparing to fly to Cuba.

     The next evening, when the final episode of "The Jinx" aired, Robert Durst was seen being confronted by producer Jarecki with the two pieces of hand-printing featuring the identical misspellings of Beverly. Durst admitted writing the Berman letter, but in obvious distress, denied writing the cadaver letter to the Beverly Hills Police Department.

     At the conclusion of the filmed interview of Durst in the New York City offices of producers Smerling and Jarecki, Durst asked to use their restroom. With his microphone still hot, he began talking to himself. "There it is," he said. "You're caught. What a disaster. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

     On March 17, 2015, the authorities in Orleans Parish announced that Robert Durst had been charged in Louisiana with possession of a firearm by a felon, a felony that carried a maximum ten year sentence. It was not clear how this charge would affect the progress of the murder case in Los Angeles.

     While Durst sat in a Louisiana jail cell, police officers and FBI agents, on March 17, searched his apartment in a 17-story condominium in a posh Houston, Texas neighborhood. His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, called the search a publicity stunt orchestrated by the Berman case prosecutor in Los Angeles.

     In January 2016, Durst pleaded guilty to the federal gun charge. The judge in Louisiana sentenced him to 85 months to be served at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

     On November 7, 2016, the 73-year-old was arraigned in the Los Angeles Superior Court for the 2000 murder of Susan Berman. At that hearing, Deputy District Attorney John Levin announced that the state would not seek the death penalty in the case. Durst, who pleaded not guilty, sat in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace. The Durst crime saga continued.

     As of December 2017, Durst has not gone to trial for Susan Berman's murder.

    

The Electric Chair: Now Mostly a Museum Exhibit

     Quite often, the centerpiece of a police or crime museum is an electric chair. To some, "Old Sparky" is a symbol of a bygone era when convicted murderers got what was coming to them swiftly and electronically. Others believe the electric chair represents government brutality and cruel and unusual punishment. Still others are drawn to these old "hot seats" by morbid curiosity. Currently, only four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia--have operational electric chairs. In these states a death row inmate can choose between lethal injection and electrocution. Over the past years, prisoners faced with this dark dilemma, have chosen the needle over the voltage. Since 1890, about 4,000 inmates have been electrocuted in the United States. It would be wishful thinking to believe that all of them were guilty of the crimes charged.

The Agent of Death

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician (of course) from Long Island, the official executioner for six states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For this he charged the state $150 a pop. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more at one setting (so to speak), he discounted his fee. Some of Elliot's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936), the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey (1928), the murderers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), the Italian anacrchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity, and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Angel of Death that came out in 1940 less than a year after his own demise. His book, long out of print and written by a co-author, has become a collector's item.

Never Too Big to Fry

     In 1981, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old death row inmate's attorney argued that his 355 pound client was too heavy for the state's broken-down 76-year-old electric chair. Since it was built in 1923, the Florida State Prison's electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners, and was worn out. Witnesses to the chair's performance in 1997 saw, when the juice was applied, a flame from the condemned man's head shoot a foot into the air. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with Allen "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair, one that could accommodate a 355 pound guest. On July 8, 1999, the executioner ran 2,300 volts through the metal cap on Davis's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a lot of groaning, but the new chair did its job.

Museum Pieces

     If you're interested in the electric chair that sent Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey to hell in 1927, you can see a replica of it at the Sing Sing Prison Museum in Ossining, New York. Snyder was the first women executed in the United States since 1899. After her, more would follow. The real chair is in prison storage. The hot seat Robert Elliott activated to electrocute Bruno Richard Hauptmann sits in the New Jersey Police Museum and Learning Center in West Trenton. In that state they call it "Old Smokey."

     At the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum in Titusville, Florida, visitors can be photographed sitting in a replica electric chair. One tourist, dressed like Santa Claus, sat in the chair with a kid on his knee. (Just kidding.) An Old Sparky is on display in Moundsville, West Virgina as part of a tourist attraction that used to be part of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. The chair had been constructed in 1950 by an inmate who had to be moved to another prison when the other inmates got wind of his project. Before 1950, death sentence inmates in West Virginia were hanged--85 of them since 1866. The state has abolished the death penalty.

     In Springer, New Mexico, at the Sante Fe Trail Museum, a female mannequin sits in the state's first and only electric chair. (I'm not a museum curator, but this seems like an odd choice.) The electric chair at the Texas Prison System in Huntsville, built by an inmate, fried 361 prisoners from 1924 to 1964.

     The centerpiece of an exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, featured an electric chair that put 312 men and one woman to death between 1887 and 1963. The exhibit, in a state that has kept the death penalty, created some controversy.

Thornton P. Knowles On a Compliment From Another Writer

The West Virginia poet, Fannie Pingpong, once called me a "mildly talented nutcase." That was the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. I liked the "mildly talented" part.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fighting Terrorism: The Hello Kitty Soap Bubble Conspiracy

    Picture ten thousand elementary school teachers and administrators being shaken through a massive intelligence strainer with openings just large enough for people with IQs over 80 to fall through. When imagining the three or four public educators who remain in the big sieve, think of the drooling idiots who run the kindergarten program at the Mount Carmel Area School District 88 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The trouble is, you can't picture these people because on the surface they look and act like folks who have average intelligence and common sense. One would assume, that because these educators are in positions of authority over children, they can be trusted not to make mind-bogglingly stupid decisions. In public education, this is an invalid assumption.

     On January 10, 2013, as a five-year-old Mount Carmel kindergarten student and her classmates waited for their school bus, she and another girl her age were having a pre-schooler type conversation. One of the kids said that when she and her friend got home from kindergarten that day, she intended to shoot her playmate with her pink-colored Hello Kitty gun, a toy in the general shape of a firearm that blows soapy bubbles. According to media reports, a "school official" overheard the insidious reference to gun violence and immediately searched the kid's backpack for the bubble-firing weapon. (I'd like to know who this "school official" was. Are we talking about a bus driver, bus monitor, school guard, or some undercover adult operative?) As it turned out, the little girl was unarmed. But she wasn't out of the woods.

     The next day, the owner of the Hello Kitty toy and the would-be target of the bubble assault, were interrogated by "school officials." (I presume the Hello Kitty grilling was conducted by the elementary school principal and other education administrators experienced in interrogating terrorist suspects. I doubt these schoolhouse inquisitors warned the little girl her Miranda rights.)  The interrogators left the confused and frightened kid in tears. One of the poor girl's teachers told the pint-sized suspect that the police might get involved in her case. (It's a good thing the teacher didn't tell the girl the ATF or the FBI could enter the investigation.)

     The five-year-old must have spilled her guts because someone in position of elementary school authority suspended the kindergarten kid ten days for making a "terroristic threat." (I am not kidding.) The Hello Kitty suspect was also ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. (Had the undercover school bus operative caught this girl in actual possession of the Hello Kitty contraband, who knows what they would have done with her? I can hear her parents breaking the news that because she's on the no-fly list, Disneyland was out of the question.)

     This kindergarten student's stunned family acquired the services of an attorney who managed to get the school suspension reduced from ten days to two days. The psychologist brought in to profile the girl declared the kid perfectly normal. (Of course after this ordeal, who knew how she would turn out.) The lawyer met with these elementary school fascists in hopes of getting the little  girl's record expunged. (Record? What record? Was she going to be on some kind of terrorist registry?)

     The Mount Carmel school officials responsible for this little girl's abuse should have been fired, and banned from public and private education for life. They were the ones who need psychological evaluations. I would also suggest brain scans for  possible physiological explanations for their pathological overreactions. If these school safety zealots were allowed to keep their jobs, (they were) kids who possessed squirt guns, pistols that shoot ping-pong balls, nurf bullets, and rubber-bands, could be targeted next. If any of the people behind this alarming fiasco were teachers, I would recommend removing staple and glue guns from their classrooms. (Can you imagine what a junior-terrorist could do with staples and glue? Moreover, I'd also keep the duct-tape under lock and key.)

     I'm afraid that idiots are now in charge of American higher and lower education. This is not good.

Thornton P. Knowles On The Politician

The mere act of talking voters into putting you into a position of privilege and power that enables you to take money from them is inherently an act of deceit and corruption. No wonder we hate the politician.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Cases For Home Schooling

     I hated gradeschool because my parents moved a lot, I was ugly (buck-toothed), and stupid. My career as a public school student hit bottom when I flunked seventh grade in Wellsburg, West Virginia. (My mother saved all of my report cards, even the two I produced in seventh grade.) As bad as my elementary school memories are, I have to admit that my teachers--all women--were okay. Moreover, I was never bullied, sexually molested, taught by a drug-addled instructor, taken into police custody for classroom misbehavior, or told by my second grade teacher that the Santa Claus bit is a load of crap. Compared to the elementary school experience today, I had it pretty good. (Apparently, the hell of elementary education is universal. According to the late Christopher Hitchens: "...no self-respecting Brit can write about his early education without at least some reference to sadism and misery...")

The In-House Pedophile

     No one knows how many child molesters are in elementary education, or what percentage of elementary school teachers are pedophiles. Based on the anecdotal evidence consisting of news reports featuring teachers charged with sexual molestation, and/or possession of child pornography, there is reason for concern.

     In Tucson, Arizona, a judge sentenced elementary teacher Joseph Chanecka, 44, to seven years in prison and lifetime probation after the defendant pleaded guilty to possessing 300,000 child pornographic images on his computer. The judge could have sentenced Chanecka to 25 years behind bars but gave him a break because he had already lost his home, fiancee, and their newborn son. Chanecka said he was "extremely sorry" for his "foolish behavior." (I wouldn't call possessing 300,000 pornographic images "foolish" behavior. I would call it "pathologically criminal" behavior.) A shrink who examined Chenecka  assured the judge there was little chance the defendant would re-offend.

     In Toms River, New Jersey, detectives arrested a 38-year-old elementary computer science teacher charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of second degree sexual assault. On the same day, in Orlando, Florida, a 50-year-old elementary teacher was arrested for child molestation. This teacher was already in custody for downloading images of child pornography. He had been behaving "foolishly" this way for more than a decade. (My recommendation for this guy--call in the shrink from Tucson.)

     In Shawnee, Oklahoma, police arrested a former "Teacher of the Year" for taking photographs of some of her third grade students dancing around in bras and panties. (Bras?) The kids were attending a pizza party at the teacher's home.

Cracking Down on Fourth Grade Sex Offenders

     In Philadelphia, members of a police special victims unit arrested three boys--ages ten and eleven--on charges of attempted rape, deviant sexual intercourse, and unlawful restraint in connection with an incident that allegedly took place in an elementary school restroom. The complainant was an 8-year-old boy the defendants had allegedly bullied. After this incident, students in the West Philadelphia school had to go the the restroom in pairs. According to common law, children under the age of seven are incapable of forming criminal intent, and therefore cannot be held culpable of crimes requiring this element. Between the ages seven and fourteen, children, under common law, were presumed incapable of criminal intent.

High on Teaching or Teaching High

     A tenured fourth grade teacher at the Wilson Elementary School in Granite City, Illinois was charged with possessing heroin and drug paraphernalia. She posted her $15,000 bond and was released.

     In Boone County West Virginia, a kindergarten teacher, after being pulled over for running a stop sign, consented to a search of her car which led to a charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The teacher admitted to consuming hydrocodone while on her lunch break.

The Criminalization of Brown Nosing

     In Alabama, it's a violation of the state's ethics law for a legislator to accept a gift from a citizen. The law has recently been expanded to include public school teachers and their students. According to the director of  the Alabama Ethics Commission, "Something of relatively insignificant value--a candle, a coffee mug--is fine. It just can't be a $50 gift to Cosco or Target." Education spokesperson Kathy Kilgor told reporters that elementary school teachers do not like this new rule. "That was a little bit, I think, hurtful, condescending, to think we couldn't accept something from a caring student. That's kind of important to them. Not only is it hurtful to us, it's hurtful to the child."

     You bet. This stupid rule will deny Alabama students the opportunity to practice a skill absolutely necessary to get ahead in their future careers--sucking up and bribery. This is so hurtful.

There's No Santa?! Big Deal

     A second grade teacher in Nanuet, New York broke the news to her students that the Santa thing was a crock. I assume this educator believed it's never to early to lay life's truths on her naive students. You know, prepare them for the "real world." But why did she stop with the Santa myth? Why didn't she tell them that in a few years at least half of them will be obese, on drugs, under-employed and divorced? And that all of them were going to die? Hell, after that, none of them would give a crap about Santa and his reindeer that can't fly.