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Monday, February 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His High School "Don Juan"

We had a kid in high school that all the girls liked. He was small, didn't play sports, and didn't own a car. But that didn't matter to his female admirers. They even invited him to their sleepovers. We'd ask this guy, what in hell is your secret? He would just smile and walk away. Maybe that was it--he didn't kiss and tell. We were so jealous of the guy we called "Don Juan". At our 50th high school reunion, I asked one of Don Juan's old girlfriends what she and the others had seen in him. She said this: "He was nice, smart, and funny. We enjoyed his company. He did our hair and painted our nails. He was always well-dressed, and even smelled good. If he hadn't been gay, I would have married him." While I was glad to have solved this 50-year-old mystery, I felt like an idiot. Then I felt bad when I learned  he had died in 1993 of AIDS. What is it about high school that makes those four years of your life so memorable?

Thornton P. Knowles

The William Simmons Murder Case: An Unlikely Conviction

     Kaelin Rose Glazier, a 15-year-old sophomore at South Medford High School in Rush, Oregon, disappeared on November 6, 1996 after watching a video in a house trailer with 16-year-old William Frank Simmons. The missing girl had skipped church that evening to meet her boyfriend, Clifford Ruhland, at Simmons' trailer. According to Simmons, the boyfriend didn't show up, and after he and Glazier watched the movie, she departed.

     The local police, believing that the missing girl had run away from home, waited 21 days before investigating the case as an abduction and possible murder. Simmons, a big kid who had been in trouble with the law, and was the last known person to have seen the girl alive, became the first and only suspect in the investigation. Years passed, and without the girl's body, the case ground to a halt. Every once in awhile detectives would question William Simmons at the police station, and every time he would deny having anything to do with the girl's disappearance.

     People don't vanish into thin air. In 2008, 12 years after Glazier went to Simmons' trailer, a man mowing a field 80 feet from the place she was last seen uncovered skeletal remains. According to a forensic anthropologist, the bones were consistent with the remains of a 15-year-old girl.

     At the recovery site, investigators discovered a skull wrapped in duct tape, a tennis shoe, part of a bra, and some jewelry that had belonged to the missing girl. While the medical examiner officially identified the remains as Glazier's and ruled her death a homicide, the forensic pathologist could not determine the precise cause of death. The police theorized she had been suffocated or strangled. DNA evidence from the duct tape did not match the victim's boyfriend or William Simmons.

     On April 10, 2010, the local prosecutor charged William Simmons with murder, and as a backup charge, first-degree manslaughter. The motive: he had killed the girl after she had rebuffed his sexual advances. After killing her, the suspect had supposedly dragged her body to the nearby field. (It's hard to believe it took 12 years for someone to find, 80 feet from where she was last seen, Glazier's remains. Was anybody really looking for her?)

     The Simmons murder trial got underway on February 14, 2012 in the Jackson County Circuit Court. The prosecutor, without an eyewitness, confession or physical evidence linking the 31-year-old defendant to the murder, had an extremely weak case. The state didn't even have a jailhouse informant, or a murder weapon. All the prosecutor had was the defendant's so-called "motive, means, and opportunity," to commit the crime.

     William Simmons' attorney pointed out that motive, means, and opportunity did not comprise evidence. The defense lawyer reminded jurors that the murdered girl's boyfriend may also have had motive, means, and opportunity in the 16 year old case.

     The jury, after deliberating ten hours, voted 10 to 2 to find the defendant guilty of first-degree manslaughter. (The reckless killing of a person as opposed to an intentional murder.) In Oregon, a defendant can be convicted of manslaughter on just 10 guilty votes. To find a person guilty of murder, 12 votes are needed. The judge sentenced William Simmons to the mandatory 10 years in prison.

     At a hearing in May 2012, the convicted man's attorneys, Andrew Vandergaw and Michael Bertoff, in an effort to secure a new trial for their client, put a witness on the stand named Serena Beach. During the Simmons trial Beach had contacted the defense attorneys and said she had "vital information about the case." The lawyers, busy defending the accused man, didn't have time to investigate her allegations.

     According to Serena Beach, in 2003 or 2004, the murder victim's stepfather, Robert Glazier, told her that he "was there when Kaelin Glazier came into the world and was there when she went out." He allegedly said that he knew she was dead and that her body was "down the road."

     The 65-year-old stepfather, who had been questioned three times by detectives during the early stages of the missing persons investigation, took the stand at the hearing to determine if there was sufficient cause to convene a new trial. Mr. Glazier said he knew that some people considered him a suspect in the murder. He testified that there was a person he suspected in the case.

     Judge Benjamin Bloom denied the defense motion for a new trial. The attorneys for William Simmons said they would appeal the judge's ruling.

     It's surprising that Judge Benjamin Bloom even allowed this case to go to a jury in the first place. Motive, means, and opportunity, while a guideline for identifying criminal suspects, does not rise to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. (As evidenced in this case by the two not guilty votes.) The evidence in this case was not even enough to sustain liability in a civil wrongful death suit where the standard of proof is merely a preponderance of the evidence. In any other state, the Simmons trial would have resulted in a hung jury.

     By any legal standard, the William Simmons case represents an odd and unlikely homicide conviction. While he may have been a good suspect, and may have committed the crime, that was not enough evidence to put him behind bars for 10 years. If this were the standard of proof in all murder trials, a lot of innocent people would end up in prison.

    

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Trying To Teach Writing

One of my college writing students, pursuant to a composition assignment, wrote the following sentence: "In the desert that day there wasn't a drop of wind." When I asked the student if, on second thought, he found something wrong with that sentence, he asked, "Did I misspell desert?" I figured what the hell, the kid can spell. For that reason, it didn't make a drop of sense to flunk him. Perhaps there is nothing more ridiculous than trying to teach someone to write. If they can, they can. If they can't, they can't. Eventually, I learned to settle for good spelling.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Nuzzio Begaren Murder-For-Hire Case

     In the southern California city of Santa Ana, Nuzzio Begaren married a 36-year-old state corrections officer named Elizabeth. The 40-year-old groom had a daughter from a previous marriage who was ten. Three days after the wedding, Nuzzio bought a $1 million insurance policy on his new wife's life. This meant that Elizabeth Begaren stood between her husband and a million dollars. Buying the life insurance had been the first step on Nuzzio's path to wealth. Getting someone to murder his wife comprised step two.

     Finding someone to kill his wife was the easy part of Nuzzio's murder-for-hire scheme. He simply offered $4,800 in cash to friends who belonged to a Los Angeles criminal gang. On the night of January 17, 1998, the murder-for-hire mastermind took Elizabeth and his daughter shopping at a mall in Burbank. While shopping in Macy's, he gave Elizabeth the cash to hold for him. She placed the money into her purse, unaware she was carrying the pay-off for her own demise.

     As Nuzzio, Elizabeth, and his daughter drove home in the blue Kia Sportage, they were followed by a Buick Regal driven by 24-year-old Guillermo Espinoza. Three other gang members were in the vehicle. At eleven o'clock, as Nuzzio pulled onto the off-ramp of the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, the Buick pulled up alongside Nuzzio and ran him off the road. Three of the LA gangsters got out of the Buick, and as Nuzzio climbed into the back seat of the Kia to be with his daughter, Elizabeth made a run for it as the hit men approached.

     The hit men quickly caught up with Nuzzio's terrified wife. In begging for her life, she pulled out her correction officer's badge. That's when Guillermo Espinoza shot her in the head and chest. The shooter grabbed the dead woman's handbag, returned to the Buick with the other two men, and drove off.

     Nuzzio Begaren told officers with the Anaheim Police Department that the men behind his wife's cold-blooded murder had targeted his family at the shopping mall and followed them home. "There was no reason for someone to follow us," he said. "We have no enemies." Nuzzio described the gangsters' car as a dark blue, late 1970s Oldsmobile. He gave detectives a license number that didn't check out. Nuzzio described the four men in the Oldsmobile as a pair of blacks, and two men who were either white or Latino. "When they saw the badge," he said, "they shot her. She was dying, lying face down in the blood, with her badge in her hand." Nuzzio described his dearly departed wife as someone who had been "full of joy."

     Detectives believed that Nuzzio was full of something else. But the investigation went nowhere, and the case eventually died on the vine. It looked as though Nuzzio Begaren had gotten away with murder.

     In February 2012, police officers arrested the 55-year-old Begaren in Rancho Cucamonga, California. An Orange County grand jury had indicted him for soliciting the murder of his wife. Guillermo Espinoza had been indicted as well, but his whereabouts were unknown. (In 2011, when he learned that cold case detectives had reopened the case, Espinoza went underground.)

     Begaren went on trial on August 21, 2013 in a Santa Ana court for conspiracy to murder his wife for financial gain. (Guillermo Espinoza was still at large.) Orange County prosecutor Larry Yellin, in his opening statement to the jury, told of a piece of torn-up paper found near the murder scene that bore the victim's handwriting. Elizabeth had scribbled "light blue" and had written down the license number of the car that had been following them. The plate number belonged to a light blue Buick Regal, the vehicle driven that night by Guillermo Espinosa.

     Prosecutor Yellin informed the jurors that gang members Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval, both of whom had been in the Buick that night, were going to testify for the prosecution. According to these men, the defendant had arranged his wife's murder for the insurance money. The murder-for-hire mastermind had wanted the killing to look like a highway robbery turned fatal.

     Defense attorney Sal Ciula told the jury that Rudy Duran had been pressured into cooperating with the authorities. According to the defense attorney, if Duran worked with the prosecution, "he would become a witness instead of a defendant. He [Duran] made the obvious choice."

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the $1 million life insurance police and the testimony of the alleged hit men, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval. The essence of the Bergaren's defense involved attacking the credibility of the two key prosecution witnesses.

     On September 6, 2013, the jury, after deliberating three days, found the defendant guilty of hiring Espinoza and Sandoval to murder his wife. On October 4, 2013, the judge could put him away for 25 years to life.

     In October 2013, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Both men were sentenced to time served and were released from jail. On March 4, 2016, after being apprehended in Mexico, the authorities extradited Guillermo Espinoza back to California where he waits for his trial in the Anaheim Jail.

        

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Great Grandfather

I was sixteen when my father solemnly informed me that my great grandfather, Fenton Knowles, had died in 1890 from a town marshal's bullet not far from the Huntington, West Virginia bank he had just robbed. It took great effort on my part to disguise my delight in this revelation. Finally, a relative I could look up to.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Jullian McCabe Murder Case

     Jullian McCabe, 34, lived with her husband and 6-year-old son in Seal Rock, Oregon, a coastal town 130 miles southwest of Portland. The boy, named London, suffered from severe autism. The child's father, Matt, also had problems with his health. In 2012, doctors found that Matt McCabe had multiple sclerosis and a mass on his brain. Since then he had been unable to work.

     In late 2013, Jullian McCabe appealed for help on a fundraising website called YouCaring.com where she posted the following message: "If you are a praying person, pray for us. I love my husband and he has taken care of myself and my son for years and years and now it's time for me to take the helm. I am scared and I am reaching out." Through the site, she raised $6,831, considerably less than the stated goal of $50,000.

     In September 2014, Jullian McCabe posted a YouTube video showing her husband in a hospital bed with their son pushing the button that raised and lowered it. Speaking to the camera she said, "I'm sorry but to wake up one day and your whole world is topsy turvey in a world that was already topsy turvey with our son." In that video she also said, "I have thought of pulling a Thelma and Louise." [Movie characters who ended their lives by driving off a cliff.]

     At six-thirty in the evening of Monday November 3, 2014, Jullian McCabe called 911 and reported that she had just thrown her son off the Yaquina Bay Bridge in nearby Newport, Oregon. Officers met her at the bride and took her to the Newport Police Department for questioning.

     At the police station, McCabe calmly informed detectives that voices in her head had instructed her to toss the boy into the water 133 feet below the bridge.

     At ten-thirty that night, while Coast Guard and other searchers looked for the child, a person sitting in a restaurant overlooking the bay at the Embarcadero Resort, noticed a small body floating in the water near a marina. The authorities quickly identified the corpse as London McCabe.

     Shortly after the recovery, officers booked the mother into the Lincoln County Jail on charges of aggravated murder, murder, and first-degree manslaughter. The judge set McCabe's bond at $750,000.

     In speaking to reporters, members of McCabe's family described her as mentally unstable. They said her problems started after her father died and her husband fell ill and couldn't work. She had been simply overwhelmed, they said.

     Investigators learned that McCabe had planned her son's death for three years. On her computer she had searched the phrases "hearing voices," "child off bridge," and "insanity defense." In February 2016, McCabe pleaded guilty to murder. She said she had killed the child because she couldn't handle the responsibility caring for him after her husband had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The Lincoln County judge sentenced McCabe to life in prison without eligibility for parole until after she served 25 years of her sentence. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Pubic School Education

During my thirteen years in public education (I spent two years in seventh grade), I was at best an average student. I didn't apply myself because I resented being told what I had to learn. I preferred to pursue my own interests such as writing and reading fiction. I didn't care what the inside of a frog looked like, how to say "girl" in Latin, or knowing the 1948 gross national product of Spain. When I got to college, I learned a lot of useless stuff under the false belief that an impressive college transcript would somehow accrue to my benefit. As they say, live and learn.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Execution of Manuel Pardo

     In 1979, after having served four years in the Navy, 22-year-old Manuel Pardo graduated from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) academy at the top of his class. Following his involvement in a Miami-Dade County ticket-fixing scandal in 1980, Pardo was kicked out of the FHP. Shortly after his discharge, Pardo secured a job with the police department in the small Miami-Dade County town of Sweetwater. In 1981, Pardo and four other officers faced numerous complains of police brutality, charges that were quickly dismissed by a local prosecutor.

     The following year, Officer Pardo, after saving a two-month-old boy's life by reviving him with CPR, was awarded a public service medal. Manuel Pardo, in the fall of 1983, graduated from a local community college with a two-year associates degree in criminal justice. Just when officer Pardo's future looked the most promising, his career in law enforcement came to an abrupt end when he committed perjury at the 1985 trial of a drug dealer.

     From January to April 1986, the ex-cop embarked on a deadly crime spree in the Miami area. Within a period of three months, in the course of robbing dozens of drug dealers, Pardo murdered six men and three women. He documented his execution-style killings by taking crime scene photographs of his victims, and writing up detailed accounts of the murders in his diary. Pardo also put together a scrapbook comprised of newspaper clippings of his crimes. It was during this period that Pardo collected Nazi memorabilia, and professed a deep respect for Adolph Hitler.

     Because Pardo used his murder victims' credit cards, homicide detectives in Miami-Dade County quickly identified him as the man behind the drug dealer robbery/murders. Pardo's killing spree came to an end with his arrest in 1987. Eager to take credit for, and even brag about his murders, Pardo confessed to nine homicides.

     At Pardo's 1988 trial, his defense attorneys raised the insanity defense which fell apart when the defendant took the strand on his own behalf. Jurors couldn't believe it when he told them that, "I'm ridding the community of this vermin and technically it is not murder because they are not human beings. I am a soldier, I accomplished my mission and I humbly ask you to give me the glory of ending my life and not let me spend the rest of my days in the state prison."

     The jury found Manuel Pardo guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder. The judge then granted the defendant's wish by sentencing him to death. Pardo became a death row inmate at the Florida state prison in the town of Starke.

     Instead of his life ending gloriously with a quick execution, Pardo, thanks to his anti-death penalty attorneys, languished on death row for 24 years. In filing their appeals in state and federal courts, Pardo's lawyers argued that because this killer had not been mentally competent, he should never have been tried in the first place. Over the years, the various appellate court judges rejected this argument and upheld Pardo's conviction and death sentence.

     In 2012, as Pardo's execution date approached, his attorneys, in a last ditch effort to save him, tried a new appellate approach. The state of Florida had recently altered the combination of drugs used by the executioner to dispatch condemned prisoners. The lawyers argued that if prison officials improperly mixed the lethal concoction, the anesthetic effect of the lethal dose might be compromised. If this happened, the execution might be painful, and therefore inhumane and in violation of Mr. Pardon's civil rights. A federal judge rejected the appeal. That meant that Pardo's execution would go forward as scheduled.

     At 7:45 in the evening of Tuesday, December 11, 2012, the executioner at the state prison in Starke, injected the 56-year-old Pardo with the lethal cocktail of drugs. Since the new combination did its job, we will never know if Mr. Pardo felt any pain. But one thing is sure, this sociopathic murderer did not die in glory.

     

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Knowing Thy Self

I don't think too deeply about myself, you know, who I really am and so forth. I'm with Robert Penn Warren who once said, "Deep down, I'm shallow." I believe that if you think too deeply about yourself, explore those depths, you might not like what you find. In that regard, I'm a committed surface thinker. I'm what you could call an introspection coward. What little I do know about myself, I don't like, and  have no intention to inquire further. I'll let others speculate on who I am. While I don't know why anyone would care, if some psychological busybody does figure me out, I don't want to be privy to that analysis. I prefer to live as an unsolvable mystery. In terms of psychological self-analysis, I'm content residing in a locked room with the blinds down and the lights off. I keep my mind occupied on important things such as staying on good terms with my cat and writing one-thousand words a day. Because I'm a stranger to myself, I've never suffered from writer's block.

Thornton P. Knowles

Kurt Cobain's Sudden Death: Suicide or Murder-For-Hire?

     Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of the band Nirvana. Married to Courtney Love, he had a history of heroin addiction, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder. In April 1994, following a stint at a drug rehabilitation facilty, Courtney Love reported him missing and suicidal. She hired celebrity private investigator Tom Grant to find him.

     On April 8, 1994, a worker hired to install security lighting at Kurt Cobain's Seattle estate found the 27-year-old dead in the space above his garage referred to as "the greenhouse." The lighting installer found Cobain lying on the floor with a severe head wound and a shotgun (purchased for him by a friend) resting on his chest. Cobain's left hand was wrapped around the barrel. Nearby lay a one-page handwritten note.

     The King County Medical Examiner, Dr. Nicholas Hartshorne, determined the cause of death to be a point blank shotgun blast to the head. The forensic pathologist estimated that Cobain had died on April 5, three days before the discovery of his body. (When someone is reported missing it's not a bad idea to search his house and garage.) According to a toxicologist, "The level of heroin in Cobain's bloodstream was 1.52 milligrams per litre." Dr. Hartshorne ruled the manner of Cobain's death a suicide.

      Sometime after the manner of death ruling, Courtney Love told an editor from Rolling Stone that Cobain had tried to kill himself in Rome by taking 50 Rohypnol pills.

     Tom Grant, the private investigator hired to find Cobain, along with a pair of true crime book writers, and others, believed that Kurt Cobain was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by Courtney Love for his inheritance. Grant and his supporters believed the killer drugged Cobain with heroin, shot him, then staged the sucide. They thought the physical evidence in the greenhouse and the findings in the toxicology report made murder a more plausible manner of death than suicide.

     The Cobain murder theory proponents argued that the death scene did not contain the amount of blood one would expect from a point blank shotgun blast to the head. (Several forensic pathologists have noted that a shotgun shot inside the mouth often results in less blood.) In support of this theory, Tom Grant has pointed out that Cobain's latent fingerprints were not found on the death scene shotgun. (People do not leave identifiable fingerprints on everything they touch. Therefore, the fact that Cobain's latents were not lifted from the gun doesn't prove anything. For all we know, crime scene investigators bungled the job.)

     Regarding the death scene suicide note, Grant and his supporters also subscribed to the theory the document was really a letter written by Cobain announcing his plan to leave his wife and the music industry. The private investigator tthought the last few lines at the bottom of the page had been written by Courtney Love. Five forensic document examiners hired by the TV shows "Dateline NBC" and "Unsolved Mysteries" examined a photocopy of the note. One of the handwriting experts concluded that the entire document was in Cobain's hand. The other four weren't sure if the last lines were added by someone else.

     Those who believed that someone had murdered Cobain argued that he had been so heavily drugged he couldn't have pulled the trigger. Of the five forensic pathologists who considered this issue, two believed that Cobain had built up enough tolerance to have the strength to kill himself. The other three forensic pathologists were not sure.

     In anticipation of the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, a cold-case investigator with the Seattle Police Department spent weeks in February and March 2014 reviewing the case file. On March 21, 2014 a Seattle police spokesperson announced that while the cold-case detective discovered four rolls of undeveloped death scene photographs, the investigator found nothing that sustained the conclusion that Cobain was murdered.

     The newly discovered death scene photographs did not depict Cobain's corpse but rather syringes, a tainted spoon, a lighter, and other personal items strewn across the floor near his body.

     Based upon what I know about this case, I think the weight of evidence supports suicide. The fact that Cobain was holding the barrel of the gun (referred to as the death grip) suggests he was the shooter. If someone had shot Cobain, that person would not have been able to place the dead man's hand around the barrel in such a tightly held fashion. Moreover, the vast majority of murder-for-hire cases unravel quickly after the hitman, or someone the mastermind had reached out to, spills the beans. To my knowledge that did not happened in this 23 year old case.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Television, Fast-Food And The Coming Dystopia.

Crime novelist Raymond Chandler put his finger on why television in the 1950s put so many movie theaters out of business and changed the way we live: "Television is really what we've been looking for all our lives. It took a certain amount of effort to go to the movies. Somebody had to stay with the kids. You had to get the car out of the garage. That was hard work. And you had to drive and park. Sometimes you had to walk as far as a half a block to get to the theater. Then people with fat heads would sit in front of you." The birth of television, followed by the ability to control the thing without leaving your chair has produced a nation of couch potatoes with dull minds, poor taste, and fat butts. What's next, the ability to buy unhealthy food, make phone calls, and use the Internet without getting out of your car?

Thornton P. Knowles

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre in The History of Forensic Ballistics

     The February 14, 1929 mass murder of seven men in a Chicago bootlegger's garage, one of America's most atrocious crimes, became the centerpiece homicide case of the so-called lawless decade. The bloodbath capped ten years of wholesale murder in America's prohibition era. The mastermind behind the murders, Chicago gangster Al Capone, had gone too far. The St. Valentine's day massacre marked the beginning of the end of "Dr. Death's" murderous career. The mass murder also highlighted the emerging science of forensic firearms identification.

     For several years there had been bad blood between rival bootleggers George "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone. The feud reached its peak when Moran and his North Chicago Gang began hijacking shipments of whisky en route to Capone from Detroit. With his supply of illegal booze endangered, Capone decided to eliminate his competition.

     A Capone undercover operative working in the Moran camp arranged for a shipment of stolen Capone whisky to be delivered to Moran's north side warehouse. The load would arrive at the garage on February 14 at ten-thirty in the morning. Capone wanted to get Moran and his men together in one spot so they could be eliminated en masse. 

     On the morning of the big day, as Capone's men watched from a boarding room across the street, Johnny May, a $50-a-week mechanic, showed up for work. A few minutes later, Moran's accountant, Adam Heyer arrived at the garage. James Clark, Moran's brother-in-law, followed the ex-con accountant to the scene. Clark had served time for burglary and robbery, and had recently beaten a rap for murder. The next to arrive were the Gusenberg brothers, Pete and Frank. Both men possessed rap sheets featuring aggravated assault, theft, and burglary. The sixth man to walk into the death trap didn't belong to the Moran outfit. He was Dr. Reihardt H. Schwimmer, a local optometrist. Dr. Schwimmer, a gangster groupie, had stopped by the warehouse on his way to his office to say hello to his heroes. Albert R. Weinshank, a speakeasy owner, was the seventh man to arrive at the garage that fateful morning. Because Weinshank looked and dressed like Bugs Moran, Capone's lookouts across the street believed that the boss had taken the bait and had arrived at the warehouse. Shortly after Weinshank entered the garage, one of Capone's men ran to a phone to set the murder plan into action.

     Bugs Moran, Ted Newberry, and the third Gusenberg brother, Henry, were still on their way to the warehouse. As they approached their destination, they saw a black Packard pull up in front of the building. It looked like the kind of car used by Chicago police detectives. Five men climbed out of the Packard. Two of them were dressed in police uniforms while the other three wore civilian overcoats. Thinking that the warehouse was being raided by the Chicago police, Moran and his companions fled the scene.

     Capone's uniformed men walked through the front office into the warehouse area. With revolvers drawn, they ordered the seven men up against a yellow brick wall. After the phony cops disarmed the rival crew, two of the men in overcoats pulled Thompson sub-machine guns out from under their coats. The two gunmen opened fire, sweeping their tommy-guns back and forth three times across the backs of their collapsing victims. After the guns fell silent, one of the shooters noticed that one of the victims was still twitching. The gunman walked over to the dying man and blasted him in the face with a double-barreled shotgun.

     Following the massacre, the gunmen walked out of the warehouse with their hands in the air. Behind them walked the uniformed men with their guns drawn. The mass murder had taken less than eight minutes.

     The police officers and detectives who responded to the scene were greeted by a gruesome sight. Four of the victims had fallen backward from the wall and were staring up at the ceiling. Another was face down, stretched along the base of the wall. A sixth man was on his knees slumped forward against a wooden chair. From the bullet-pocked, blood-splattered wall, streams of blood snaked cross the cement floor from the row of bodies. One of the men, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive. Having been shot fourteen times, with seven bullets lodged in his body, he had managed to crawl about twenty feet from the wall. When asked by a police officer to identify the people who shot him, Gusenberg replied, "Nobody shot me." He died ninety minutes later without identifying or describing the gunmen.

     Before the bodies were moved to the morgue, Cook County Coroner Dr. Herman N. Bundeesen showed up at the warehouse to take charge of the crime scene investigation. He had dozens of photographs taken and ordered a careful collection of the empty shell casings, bullets, and bullet fragments. He ordered the firearms evidence placed into sealed envelopes. Bullets later dug out of the seven bodies were placed into envelopes that were each labeled with the name of the person who had been shot by the enclosed slugs.

     Dr. Bundesen established a coroner's jury made up of seven prominent citizens of Chicago who went to the warehouse shortly after the killings to view the scene firsthand. A few days later, the foreman of the jury, Bert A. Massee, called Dr. Calvin Goddard, the world's best known ballistics expert. Dr. Goddard, the former U. S. Army surgeon and ordinance authority who three years earlier,with two other firearms identification pioneers, had formed a private laboratory in New York City called the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, traveled to Chicago to analyze the crime scene bullets and shell casings.

     When Dr. Goddard arrived in Chicago the following day, he encountered the largest collection of bullets and shell casings he had ever received in a single murder case. Crime scene investigators had recovered, from the warehouse floor, seventy .45-caliber cartridge shells. By examining these casings, Goddard determined that they had all been fired by an automatic weapon. Goddard knew there were only two automatic guns made in the United States that fired .45-caliber ammunition. One was the Colt 45 automatic pistol and the other the Thompson sub-machine gun, also manufactured by the Colt Company.

     By examining the marks made on the casings by the breech bolt, Goddard knew that all of the shells had been fired through a Thompson sub-machine gun. By differentiating two distinct sets of ejector marks on the cartridge cases, Goddard determined that two Thompsons had fired the seventy shells. Fifty cartridges had been fired through one Thompson, and twenty from the other. From this, Dr. Goddard concluded that one sub-machine gun had been loaded with a twenty-shot clip and the other with a fifty-shot drum.

     Crime scene investigators had picked up fourteen bullets from the garage floor. These projectiles had either missed or passed through their targets. All but two were deformed from impact. The rifling marks on the slugs (scratches made by the interior of the barrel) indicated they had been fired though a barrel with six grooves twisting to the right. This was characteristic of a Thompson sub-machine gun. The bullets all contained manufacturer's marks made by the U.S. Cartridge Company. Goddard learned that ammunition so marked had been produced during the period July 1927 to July 1928.

     Dr. Goddard also examined forty-seven bullet fragments that had been collected from the murder scene. Many of these pieces of lead were large enough to contain the imprints of the U.S. Cartridge Company. Most of the fragments showed rifling marks that bore groove characteristics of the Thompson type of rifling. Two empty twelve-gauge shotgun shells had also been recovered from the scene. The shotgun shells contained traces of smokeless powder and had been loaded with buck-shot. The firing pin impressions on the shotgun casings indicated that they had been fired from the same weapon.

     Thirty-nine bullets and bullet fragments had been removed from the bodies of the seven dead men. The body of Adam Heyer, the accountant, yielded fourteen. The bodies of James Clark and Frank Gusenberg produced seven each, and six had been extracted from Albert Weinshank. The remaining five slugs were shared by the other three victims. In addition to the bullets, seven buck-shot pellets had been removed from Dr. Schwimmer's head.

     The magnitude of the St. Valentine's Day mass murder put the Chicago Police Department under tremendous pressure. The fact that many citizens believed that police officers had been involved in the shootings created an additional incentive for detectives to identify the killers. Coroner Bundesen asked Dr. Goddard to test several shotguns and Thompson sub-machine guns owned by the Chicago Police Department to exclude them as potential murder weapons. Dr. Goddard concluded that none of these weapons had been used in the crime.

     After Dr. Goddard completed his initial firearms work, he returned to the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. Over the next several months Corner Bundesen mailed Goddard dozens of Thompson sub-machine guns. None of them turned out to be weapons used in the massacre.

     The day after the killings, Bug Moran read in the newspaper that the police wanted to question him about the massacre. The gangster voluntarily showed up at Chicago Police headquarters. When investigators asked him about his theory of the murders, he stated, "Only Capone kills like that."

     While the mass murder was being investigated in Chicago, Al Capone was relaxing at his villa in Miami. The authorities in Florida had given him the perfect alibi. On the morning of February 14, 1929, Capone was in the office of the Dade County Solicitor being questioned about his criminal activies in the Miami area.

     The first arrest in the case came on February 27, 1929. The arrestee, Jack McGurn, a hoodlum with twenty-two murders under his belt, was Al Capone's favorite executioner. A witness who had passed by the warehouse on the fatal morning had heard one of the killers say, "Come on, Mac." The witness identified a photograph of McGurn as one of the St. Valentine's Day shooters. Following his arrest, McGurn immediately posted his $50,000 bail and was back on the street.

     On March 14, 1929, detectives announced that they had developed several other suspects in the mass murder case. They were Joseph Lolordo and James Ray. Lolordo had dropped out of sight and would remain at large. James Ray, a hood out of East St. Louis, Illinois, had vanished.

     The Chicago pollice also made some arrests in the case. Three of Capone's hired killers, John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Joseph Guinta were taken into custody. The authorities, due to lack of evidence, had to release Guinta shortly after his arrest. Scalise and Anselmi made bail and were also released. Scalise and Jack McGurn were later indicted on seven counts of murder. McGurn eventually beat the case on a technicality and all charges against him were permanently dropped.

     Al Capone returned to Chicago on May 7, 1929. On the evening of his arrival, Scalise, Guinta, and Anselmi were the guests of honor at a Capone-hosted dinner attended by a dozen or so of his gangster associates. After an elaborate meal, Capone walked up behind the three men and beat them to death with a baseball bat. Their bodies were found early the next morning in the back seat of a car that had been rolled into a ditch alongside a rural Indiana road. The triple murder, related to other Capone business, had nothing to do with the St. Valentine's Day killings.

     Ten months following the massacre in Bugs Moran's garage, when it seemed as though the investigation had died on the vine, the case came back to life. On December 14, 1929, when a police officer in St. Joseph Michigan was escorting two motorists involved in a traffic accident to the police station for questioning, one of the men, a bank robber and Capone associate named Fred Burke, pulled out a pistol and killed the officer. Burke escaped in a hijacked car. Not long after the shooting, in the abandoned get-a-way car, police officers found documents that led them to Fred Burke's wife who lived with him in St. Joseph, Michigan. Burke, an early suspect in the St. Valentine's Day case, wasn't at home. But a search of the dwelling revealed an arsenal that included two Thompson sub-machine guns. The police seized the weapons along with ammunition clips and drums.

     Five days after the seizure at the Burke house, the district attorney in St. Joseph, Michigan delivered the weapons and ammunition to Dr. Calvin Goddard in New York. Goddard test-fired twenty-five bullets through one gun and fifteen through the other. When he compared these bullets and their shell casings with those found at the St. Valentine's Day murder scene, he was certain that the tommy guns found in Fred Burke's home had been the weapons used in the Chicago slaughter.

     On December 23, 1929, Dr. Goddard presented  his firearms identification evidence to the Cook County Coroner's Jury. As a result of his testimony and exhibits, the jurors recommended that Fred Burke be apprehended and held for the Cook County Grand Jury on seven counts of murder.

     Police officers in Michigan captured Burke the following April. Because he was being held for the murder of the police officer, the authorities in Michigan refused to surrender him to Illinois. Instead, Fred Burke was tried in Michigan for the murder of the police officer. Following the guilty verdict, the judge sentenced him to life. He later died in the Michigan State Penitentiary.

     As for Al Capone, his criminal career was coming to an end. In October 1931, he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years at the federal prison in Atlanta. Suffering from syphilis, Capone was released in 1939. He died eight year later. Jack McGurn, the suspected brains behind the massacre, was machined-gunned to death by other gangsters in 1936. He died on a Chicago street with fourteen bullets in his body. Bugs Moran, a few years after the mass murder in his warehouse, was convicted of bank robbery. He died in 1957 while serving his time at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

     The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the firearms identification work performed by Dr. Calvin Goddard led to the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory funded by Northwestern University. Dr. Goddard became the head of the laboratory which specialized in firearms identification, polygraph research, and forensic document examination. In 1938, the Chicago Police Department purchased the lab for $25,000.

     

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Using Flashbacks In A Novel

I'm not a fan of the flashback. As a reader, I find a story riddled with flashbacks confusing and annoying. If you get the urge to insert a flashback into your fiction, stop writing and take a nap. If you still insist on putting a flashback into your story after you get up, go ahead and do it. But if it doesn't work, and on publication you are criticized for this decision, flashback to when you made this mistake, then never to it again.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Historic Rick Jackson Fingerprint Misidentification Case

     In 1997, detectives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a community outside of Philadelphia, arrested Rick Jackson shortly after Jackson's friend, Alvin Davis, was stabbed to death in Davis' apartment. In the interrogation room, detectives showed Jackson a crime scene photograph of a bloody latent print found near the body. According to a pair of fingerprint examiners with the Upper Darby Police Department, one of whom was also a police superintendent, that latent  had been left at the scene by Jackson.

     Rick Jackson didn't deny that he had been in Davis' apartment, but he denied killing him, and said he was certain the bloody print wasn't his. Jackson was actually relieved when he realized that the police were basing their case on a misidentified print. He figured that once the police realized their mistake, they would look elsewhere for a suspect.

     With Jackson so insistent that the bloody print wasn't his, Michael Malloy, his attorney, took the unique step of having it examined by outside experts Vernon McCloud and George Wynn. The retired FBI fingerprint examiners had 75 years of experience between them. Both men had been certified by the International Association of Identification (IAI). (Only a handful of the nation's fingerprint examiners have gone through the rigorous IAI certification process.) Wynn and McCloud, to their amazement, found that the bloody crime scene latent was not Rick Jackson's.

     The district attorney, confronted with a defense bolstered by a pair of prominent fingerprint experts who disagreed with the local examiners (who were not IAI certified), pushed forward with the trial anyway. In anticipation of the then unheard-of-situation of fingerprint examiners squaring off against each other in court, the district attorney brought in a fingerprint expert from another state to add quantity if not quality to the prosecution's case.

     In 1998, the Jackson case went to trial, and the jury, despite the conflicting fingerprint testimony, found Jackson guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

     Vernon McCloud and George Wynn were so concerned abut the fingerprint misidentification in the Jackson case, they asked the IAI to gather a group of experts to review the evidence. When the IAI panel agreed that the crime scene latent was not the convicted man's, the district attorney began to doubt his own experts, and sent a photograph of the bloody print to the FBI Lab for analysis. The examiners in Quantico, Virginia, agreed with McCloud and Wynn and the IAI panel. Rick Jackson had been sent to prison on the strength of a misidentified crime scene latent.

     In December 1999, after Rick Jackson had spent two years behind bars, his conviction was set aside, and he was set free. The out-of-state fingerprint examiner who testified at the trial was fired, but the Upper Darby examiners were not disciplined or prohibited from future fingerprint work. Moreover, they would continue to insist that they had been right, and all the experts were wrong. In 200l, Rick Jackson filed a civil suit against the examiners and the Upper Darby Police Department. He lost the case.

     The Jackson case is historic because it is one of the first cases in which the identification of a crime scene latent was successfully challenged by the defense. This and later misidentification cases raised serious questions about the scientific backgrounds and qualifications of police department fingerprint examiners. Today, because of law enforcement budget cuts, there are fewer fingerprint examiners working in the nation's police departments than there were ten years ago. As a result, latent fingerprint identification plays less a role than it once did in our criminal justice system.

     The Jackson fingerprint case is just another example of how forensic science, as once envisioned by its pioneers, has turned out to be a failed promise. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Using His Computer

I use my computer on the most basic level. I have no idea how it works or what I'm doing to operate it. I'm like the trained chicken in the psychology lab pushing the right buttons for a little corn. When the corn runs out the chicken keeps pecking. When my computer goes down I keep typing. The computer age has made me feel stupid, and helpless. As a result, I've developed some empathy for that poor chicken.

Thornton P. Knowles

Professor James Aune Chose Death Over Disgrace

     Dr. James Aune, the holder of a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Northwestern University, joined the faculty at Texas A & M in 1996. He published a book about Rhetoric theory and the First Amendment in 2003, and eight years later, was named head of the university's Department of Communication. He lived with his wife in College Station, Texas. The short, pudgy academic with the full beard, long, unruly hair and glasses, cut the figure of the stereotypical college professor.

     In December 2012, a 37-year-old man from Metairie, Louisiana named Daniel T. Duplaisir, under the email address pretty-gurl985@yahoo.com, sent sexually explicit photographs of one of his underage female relatives to Dr. Aune and several other men. The 59-year-old professor took the bait, and with the girl, who called herself Karen McCall, set up a website on MocoSpace.com. Over the next five or six weeks, the professor and the girl communicated online. These exchanges included the transmission of sexually explicit photos of each other.

     On January 7, 2013, Duplaisir, holding himself out as Karen McCall's outraged father, sent Professor Aune a message demanding $5,000 in hush money. The extortionist wrote: "If I do not hear from you I swear to God Almighty that the police, your place of employment, students, ALL OVER THE INTERNET--ALL OF THEM will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent. And if by some miracle you get away with this, I will use every chance I get to make sure every place or person associated with you knows and sees what you have done. Last chance, you better make the right move." Duplaisir demanded the money by January 8, 2013.

     Shortly after he received the extortion demand, the professor transferred $1,000 to Duplaisir. In an email to the girl, he wrote: "I answered and said I would do whatever he wanted....I sent him $1,000 and then promised more in January. I am scared shitless about this, and can't figure out how to come up with more money."

     At ten-thirty in the morning of January 8, 2013, 90 minutes before Dulpaisir's extortion payoff deadline, Professor Aune sent him the following email: "Killing myself now, and you will be prosecuted for blackmail." One minute after sending the message, the 59-year-old professor jumped to his death from the sixth floor of a campus parking garage.

     On March 26, 2013, FBI agents arrested Daniel Duplaisir in Metairie, Louisiana, an unincorporated community within metropolitan New Orleans. The suspect was charged with the federal crimes of using a phone and the Internet to extort money. At his arraignment in a federal courtroom in Houston, Duplaisir pleaded not guilty to all charges. The judge denied him bail.

     In 2011, the authorities in Louisiana had charged Duplaisir with aggravated incest and oral sexual battery for allegedly abusing the girl Professor Aune thought was Karen McCall.

     In the immediate aftermath of the professor's death, his family, friends and colleagues were baffled by the suicide. (Had the extortion plot not been uncovered, I'm sure there would have been suspicions that Dr. Aune had been murdered.) What's truly hard to understand in this case is why a man of Professor Aune's intelligence and stature would establish a sexual, online relationship with a young girl. As a professor of communications, didn't he realize that his exchanges with this Internet personality were quasi-public?

     In November 2013, Timothy Duplaisir pleaded guilty to extortion in a downtown Houston federal courtroom. At his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, professor Aune's wife Miriam testified that her husband had confessed to her a week before he killed himself. She said she found it absurd that a man who was so brilliant could have fallen for a blackmail scheme by a so-called father who was supposedly outraged but would take $5,000 to keep silent. She conceded there was a side to her husband she did not know. He had struggled with alcoholism and had been changed by a bout with prostate cancer. Miriam Aune said she regretted not trying to help her husband raise the rest of the blackmail money. Because of the expense of caring for their two sons with autism, that would have been difficult. There was just no money, she said. (Had they paid off this degenerate, he would have asked for more.)

     Regarding her feelings toward the man who caused her husband's suicide, Miriam Aune said, "I truly wanted to hate him, I tried very hard to hate him. How much sadness there must be in this man's life. How much anger there must be in his heart."

     Prior to the sentencing hearing, Duplaisir, who had been behind bars eight months, wrote Judge Hughes two letters asking for mercy. "Please do the right thing for everybody," he wrote. (It was too late to do "the right thing" for the dead professor.) "Put me in a mental hospital so I can begin longterm care. I need to stop being so twisted up and lost in my own mind."

     Judge Hughes, noting that Duplaisir had not been charged with causing professor Aune's suicide, sentenced him to one year in prison.

     Professor Aune must have gone through hell between the period of Duplaisir's extortion demand and his suicide. It's tragic that a low-life like Daniel Duplaisir could exploit and destroy a man who was, by all accounts, an outstanding professor. Some people pay dearly for their weaknesses and flaws.
     

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Health Care Worker Pinky Placebo

Pinky Placebo, a self-described "Sex Therapist," helped her "patients" out of her room at the DeLux Hotel in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. Placebo once told me that her best "patients" were local politicians, cops, men of the cloth, and traveling salesmen. Her worst, she said, were lawyers who wanted to negotiate deals and get off light.

Thornton P. Knowles

Charity Johnson: The 34-Year-Old Tenth Grader

     In March 2013, 30-year-old Tamica Lincoln, the shift manager at a McDonalds in the east Texas town of Longview, took pity on a fellow-employee who identified herself as 15-year-old Charity Stevens. Stevens said she was an orphan who had been abused by her now dead parents. The five-foot, three-hundred pound girl said she needed a place to live.

     Feeling sorry for this child, Tamica Lincoln took her in and became Charity's unofficial guardian. Lincoln fed the girl, and bought her clothing. In the fall of 2014, Lincoln enrolled Charity as a tenth grade student at the New Life Christian School in Longview. To explain why there were no academic transcripts from previous schools, Charity said she had been home schooled. At the New Life Christian School, Charity made friends and earned good grades.

     Charity's life as a teenager came to an abrupt end on May 13, 2014 when Tameca Lincoln learned that the girl she had been taking care of, at 34, was four years older than her. Charity Stevens, in reality, was Charity Anne Johnson. Instead of being born in November 1997, she had entered the world in 1980.

     Upon the shocking discovery, Lincoln called the school, then notified the police. She wanted Charity Johnson out of her house.

     Following a brief police investigation, a Gregg County prosecutor charged Johnson with the misdemeanor offense of failing to identify herself to a police officer. Police officers booked the impostor into the county jail in lieu of $500 bond. (I don't know why Johnson wasn't charged with theft by deception.) According to the police, Johnson did not have a criminal record.

     Tamica Lincoln, in speaking to a local television reporter, said, "I sympathized with her, and invited her into my home. I took her in as a child, did her hair, got her clothes and shoes."

     All along, this good samaritan had been caring for an impostor. This case fell squarely into the "no good dead goes unpunished" category.

     (Years ago, as an FBI agent, I interrogated a bank robber in Dallas who, as a 28-year-old former high school football star, re-enrolled as a tenth grader and once again starred on the football field. He was caught two years later in a playoff game by a coach on the opposing team who remembered him from his original playing days. The impostor-turned bank robber said the second time around in high school comprised the best days of his life. After that, it was all downhill.) 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Last Writer's Conference

At a writer's conference in Pittsburgh, the master of ceremony introduced our featured speaker as a "beloved TV personality." The "TV personality" was greeted by wildly enthusiastic applause. I'm thinking, who in the hell is this guy, and why would he allow himself to be identified as a "TV personality? And why was this creature of the boob-tube speaking to a room full of novelists? After the celebrity's vacuous speech, a canned promo for some upcoming TV show, half the writers in the room lined up for his autograph. That was my last writer's conference. What was the point?

Thornton P. Knowles

The Casmine Aska Attempted Murder Case

     At 8:30 Friday night, February 1, 2013, residents of the Morris Heights section of The Bronx discovered a 9-year-old boy named Freddy Martin lying on the sidewalk in front of a 5-story apartment building. En route to the New York Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, Freddy told paramedics that "Cas dragged me to the roof and threw me off. I don't know why."

     Suffering broken bones, head trauma, and internal bleeding, doctors put the boy into an induced coma, and placed him on life support.

     New York City detectives, later that Friday night, questioned 17-year-old Casmine Aska at the local precinct station. Casmine, a resident of the apartment building, initially denied being on the roof with Freddy. After further interrogation, the suspect admitted being on the roof when the boy fell off the building. "I grabbed Freddy around the legs," Aska said. "His feet were off the ground. I turned around. I slipped and Freddy fell."

     On Sunday, February 3, Casmine Aska was arraigned in a Bronx court on charges of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and endangering the welfare of a child. Assistant District Attorney Dahlia Olsher Tannen informed Judge Gerald Lebovits that Aska, as a juvenile, had been in trouble with the law. The prosecutor, who didn't elaborate, asked the judge not to grant the suspect bail.

     Kathryn Dyer, Aska's attorney, in making an argument for bail in this case, said, "This is not about attempted murder." Acknowledging that her client possessed a juvenile record, Dyer assured Judge Lebovits that Aska had "taken responsibility for his life." Defense attorney Dyer pointed out that Aska's favorite subject at Harry S. Truman High School was chemistry, that he attended weekly religious classes, and served food to the homeless.

     Judge Lebovits, apparently unimpressed by Aska's academic interests, religious activity, and community service, denied him bail. The judge's rationale: "Extraordinary risk of flight."

     A few weeks later, when questioned by detectives at the Riker's Island Jail, Aska, in explaining why after the boy's fall he went home and took a nap instead of calling 911, said, "I didn't call the NYPD because my brain froze. I was shivering, I was crying, I went to my aunt's..my whole world stopped."

     On February 15, 2013, when doctors took Freddy Martin off life support, the boy began breathing on his own. Questioned by detectives, he accused Aska, a kid who had been bullying him, of intentionally throwing him off the building.

     A month before Aska's September 2014 trial, the defendant agreed to plead guilty in return for a 40 year prison sentence. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Schools Of Journalism

For an old school journalist, teaching journalism to college students must be one of the worst jobs in academia. What could the professor say to students about to enter a profession that no longer embraces journalistic objectivity, professional integrity, or freedom of the press? How could such a teacher encourage a student to work in a profession that is no longer trusted by a large percentage of the American public? Perhaps the true question should be: Why do universities still support schools of journalism, and where do they find the teachers to staff these programs? Is that the problem? Should we blame the university for the dismal state of journalism in this country? The decline of honest, objective reporting is more than just disgraceful, it poses a threat to our freedom.

Thornton P. Knowles

The James D. Willie Murder Case

     At 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday May 8, 2012, police in Panola County, Mississippi found 74-year-old Thomas Schlender dead in his 1999 Ford 150 pickup. Shot several times, he had crashed into a median divider on Interstate 55 in the northwestern part of the state. Mr. Schlender, from Nebraska, had been on his way to Florida to pick up his grandson. The victim's wallet was missing and near the truck crime scene investigators recovered five shell casings.

     On Friday May 11, at 2:15 in the morning, police in neighboring Tunica County found the body of 48-year-old Lori Anne Carswell lying near her 1997 Pontiac Grand AM at the intersection of state highway 713 and Interstate 69. She had been on her way home from her place of employment, Fitzgerald's Casino in Hermando, Mississippi. Investigators recovered several shell casings from the scene of Carswell's shooting death.

     The place, time, and physical evidence suggested that these murders had been committed by the same person. Police, suspecting that Carswell and Schlender had been murdered by someone impersonating a highway cop, advised motorists to call 911 if an unmarked car flashing its lights came up behind them.

     On May 12, 2012, a spokesperson with the state crime laboratory announced that the firing pin impressions and the ejector marks on the shell casings from the two murder scenes had been fired from the same semi-automatic handgun. In the event the murders were the work of a serial killer, the local police brought in FBI profilers to study the case.

     Early Tuesday morning May 14, 2012, a woman in Tunica County, following a domestic disturbance, asked 30-year-old James D. Willie of Sardis, Mississippi to drive her to the sheriff's office. Willie, instead of taking the woman to the police, drove her to a Delta area field where he raped her. After the assault, when the victim tried to run away, Willie fired a shot at her that missed. He forced the victim back into his vehicle then took her to his girlfriend's apartment. A few hours later, the victim climbed out a window and escaped.

     Later that morning, Tunica County sheriff's deputies arrested James Willie at his girlfriend's place. In his car, deputies found a 9mm Ruger pistol. From the Delta rape site they recovered a shell casing.

     On Wednesday, May 15, 2012, a spokesperson for the Mississippi State Crime Lab reported that the firing pin and ejector marks on the rape scene shell casing had been made by the pistol that had fired and ejected the casings at the two highway murder scenes. Moreover, they all had been fired from the handgun recovered from Willie's car.

     The Tunica County prosecutor charged James Willie with kidnapping, aggravated assault, rape, and two counts of capital murder. He was held, without bond, in the Tunica County Jail.

     The unemployed murder suspect had an extensive arrest record. He had served prison time for burglary and was a known drug abuser. Detectives believed that when Willie shot Thomas Schlender and Lori Anne Carswell he was not impersonating a highway patrol officer. Willie had apparently killed these motorists in cold blood for drug money.

     On April 2, 2014, two days following the selection of the jury in James Willie's trial for the murder of Lori Anne Carswell, Tunica County Sheriff K.C. Hamp took the stand for the prosecution. In the middle of the sheriff's testimony, the defendant jumped to his feet and yelled, "Y'all lying. Why they lying? Let me talk!"

     The defendant's courtroom rant ended when deputies activated the electronic device attached to his leg. The officers gave the defendant three warning beeps before they stunned him with an electrical charge. Willie collapsed heavily to the floor, knocking over a chair.

     After deputies dragged the murder defendant out of the courtroom, District Attorney Brenda Mitchell moved for a mistrial. The judge granted the motion.

     On June 1, 2014, James Willie was back at another defense table being tried for the murder of Thomas Schlender. Panola County District Attorney John Champion said this to the jury: "At the conclusion of the trial, if you look at the shell casings found, the bullets that the ballistic expert will testify to, you will see that they had been fired from the same gun. Then you will see a picture of James Willie's guilt. I urge you to find him guilty."

     Panola County Public Defender David Walker, in his opening argument to the jury, said, "The state does not have any DNA from the crime scene or any fingerprints…I argue that the state does not have any proof of my client's guilt."

     On June 3, 2014, the jury in the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville, Mississippi found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced James Willie to life in prison without parole.
    

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Dexterity

To succeed in politics, the practitioner must be ambidextrous. While patting a constituent on the back with one hand, the politician needs the other hand to pick the voter's pocket. And while applying this two-handed simultaneous maneuver, the politician has to sweet talk his victim with a litany of lies such as "I'll fight for you, I'm my own man, and I'll put the country above politics." It takes a lot of practice to pull this off, but for the career sociopath, the economic rewards are great.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Father Eric Freed Murder Case

     Eric Freed, while living in Japan in 1979, was ordained a Catholic priest. Twenty years later Reverend Freed joined the greater Santa Rosa Diocese in northern California's Humboldt County. In 2003, Father Freed began teaching in the Religious Studies Department of Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. At the school, which is part of the 23-campus California State University system, Father Freed also directed the Newman Center, a Catholic student organization. In August 2011 Reverend Freed became pastor of St. Bernard Church in the coastal city of Eureka located 275 miles north of San Francisco.

     At nine in the morning, on New Year's Day 2014, Deacon Frank Weber went to the St. Bernard rectory after Father Freed failed to show up for morning mass. The deacon called 911 after discovering the priest dead from what appeared to be a head wound caused by a blunt object.

     At the murder scene police officers found signs of forced entry as well as evidence of a struggle. Father Freed was last seen at 6:30 New Year's Eve following the evening service. The victim's gray 2010 Nissan Altima was nowhere to be found. Investigators had no immediate suspect.

     Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies, early in the afternoon of Thursday, January 2, 2014, arrested a 43-year-old man from Redway, California named Garry Lee Bullock. The officers took him into custody for the murder of Father Freed near the southern Humboldt County town of Gaberville.

     According to investigators there was no indication that the suspect and the victim knew each other, or had met before the church break-in. Detectives believed that Bullock had broken into the rectory looking for money. When he encountered the priest, the two men fought until the intruder struck Reverend Freed with a blunt instrument, a blow that killed him.

     In tracing the suspect's activities in the days leading up to the murder, detectives working the Freed case learned that early Tuesday afternoon, December 31, 2013, Humboldt County deputies had arrested Bullock near Gaberville for public intoxication. After becoming agitated at the hospital where he was being evaluated, deputies handcuffed Bullock and booked him into the Humboldt County Jail.

     Just after midnight, January 1, the authorities released Bullock. A few hours later a security guard found Bullock loitering near the St. Bernard Church rectory. The guard chased Bullock off church grounds. This could have been just before or after the suspect murdered the priest.

     After he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession early in 2013, a judge placed Bullock on three years probation. The murder suspect has three daughters and once filed for bankruptcy. He has no history of violent crime.

     On January 6, 2014, the Humboldt County Coroner announced that Reverend Freed had been beaten to death with a wooden stake and a metal gutter pipe. Bullock, held under $1.2 million bond, pleaded not guilty.

     On January 21, 2014, Eureka Police detectives testified at the preliminary hearing to determine if the state had enough evidence to go forward with the case. When arrested for murder, officers found what looked like pieces of mushrooms in the pockets of Bullock's trousers. His hands were so swollen officers took him to the hospital for x-rays. The suspect's hands were also covered with abrasions from his knuckles to his wrists. Bullock also had scratches on his face, arms, and back.

     According to the autopsy report, the victim had died either of blunt force trauma to the head and trachea or by suffocation caused by compression or having a broken vase shoved down his throat. The prosecuting attorney told the court that Bullock had tortured Father Reed "for his own sadistic purpose."

     The judge ruled that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence against Bullock for the case to go forward toward trial.

     On November 4, 2016, a Humboldt County jury made up of two men and ten women, after four days of deliberation, found Gary Lee Bullock guilty of first-degree murder. Judge John Feeney sentenced Bullock to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Defendants Convicted Of Animal Cruelty

I am soft on animals, particularly pets. Defendants convicted of animal cruelty should be punished as though they have committed their crimes against children. There is no moral or legal justification for animal cruelty. A person who intentionally hurts an innocent and helpless animal is capable of physically abusing a child. While these sadists belong in Hell, very few of them even go to prison. As one of the few people from West Virginia who could never shoot a deer, the sentencing of animal abusers is a criminal justice reality that brings out the vigilante in me.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Kim Pham Murder Case

     Just after midnight, Saturday January 18, 2014, 23-year-old Annie Hung "Kim" Pham was waiting to get into the Crosby Bar and Nightclub in downtown Santa Ana, California. The 2013 graduate of Chapman University stood amid others roughly her age eager to enter the club. The festive atmosphere suddenly turned ugly when Pham inadvertently stepped in front of a cluster of club-goers posing for a photograph outside of the bar.

     Members of the group being photographed voiced their displeasure over the so-called "photobomb".  This led to an exchange of angry words between Pham and the others. Shortly thereafter, fists started flying and Pham ended up on the ground being kicked and stomped. Several young bystanders recorded the melee on their cellphones.

     The group Pham had angered included 25-year-old Vanesa Tapia Zavala, her boyfriend, and another couple. When Kim Pham, sprawled at the feet of her attackers, stopped moving, Zavala and her friends walked away leaving the unconscious woman where she lay.

     Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced Kim Pham brain-dead and placed her on life-support until her organs could be harvested.

     On Monday, January 20, 2014, detectives with the Santa Ana Police Department, after reviewing several cellphone videos of the deadly brawl, arrested Vanesa Zavala on the charge of murder. Officers booked the suspect into the Orange County Jail where she was held on $1 million bond. If convicted as charged, Zavala faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years to life.

     On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, doctors removed Kim Pham from life support. A few hours later hospital authorities pronounced her dead.

     While investigators were trying to identify the other people in Zavala's group, a coalition of Santa Ana businesses offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to their arrests.

     Following Zavala's arraignment hearing, her attorney, Kenneth Reed told reporters that Zavala herself had been knocked to the ground in the fight. Referring to his client, the lawyer said, "Your life is fine, you have a 5-year-old son, you go out one night on a Friday with your boyfriend and then your life is turned upside down and you find out someone is killed. No matter what the situation is, you're going to be devastated." [For yourself or the victim? Devastation is an emotion, one of many emotions experienced by the living. Kim Pham felt nothing.]

     Attorney Michael Molfetta, the attorney representing a member of Zalava's group who has not been charged in the case, told reporters that Kim Pham threw the first punch. Okay. So the others stomped her to death in self defense?

     On January 28, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged 27-year-old Candice Marie Brito with murder in the Pham case. To reporters, Brito's attorney Michael Molfetta lashed out against the victim: "Ms Pham has been anointed a saint," he said. In contrast, his client has been "vilified internationally."

     Brito, from Santa Ana, was held in the Orange County Jail on $1 million bond.

     In July 2016, a jury sitting in a Santa Ana court room found Zavala and Brito guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Orange County Judge Thomas Goethals sentenced both defendants to six years in prison. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Propagandists Masquerading As Journalists

The true journalist has the guts and integrity to speak the truth to the powerful. And even in America, nothing is more powerful and hard to control than the government. The powerful and the wealthy in our country have never been big fans of democracy. When so-called journalists find it in their interest to help politicians and giant corporations maintain their power and wealth, the Fourth Estate no longer exists to protect ordinary citizens from governmental abuse. A corp of suck-up hacks posing as serious journalists is an offense against democracy. You can tell things are drifting in that direction when journalists actually help politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations keep secrets from the public. Another clue suggesting the failure of the Fourth Estate to curb oppression involves the way our government is allowed to treat its whistle blowers. It's a dangerous sign when journalists remain silent as these heroes are treated like traitors. Keep an eye on the status of American journalism, it is the bird in the coal mine. To my eye, that little bird is not healthy.

Thornton P. Knowles

Professor Norma Esparza and the Cold-Case Murder of Gonzalo Ramirez

     Norma Patricia Esparza grew up in southern California's Orange County. On March 25, 1995, the 20-year-old Pomona College student, while in Santa Ana visiting her sister, went to a bar where she met Gonzalo Ramirez. The next morning, accompanied by her sister and a friend, Esparza met Ramirez at a restaurant. Following breakfast, Ramirez drove her back to her dormitory in Claremont.

     On April 15, 1995, during a meeting in Costa Mesa with her boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van at a transmission shop owned by his friend Kody Tran, Norma Esparza revealed that Ramirez had raped her in her Pomona College dorm room after she met him that morning for breakfast.

     The day following the meeting in the transmission shop, a police officer in Irvine, California found Ramirez's body along side of a back road. It looked as though someone had hacked him to death and chopped off several of his fingers. Detectives questioned Norma Esparza who repeated her rape allegation. She said she had no idea who had killed Ramirez.

     In 1996, Esparza and Gianni Van were married. That year, without promising leads in the Ramirez murder case, Irvine detectives shelved the homicide investigation.

     Norma Esparza graduated from Pomona College with a degree in psychology. In 2004, she divorced Gianni Van and moved to France. Five years after moving to Europe, Esparza moved to Geneva, Switzerland where she taught psychology and counseling at Webster University, an American accredited school with campuses in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

     As Esparza pushed ahead with her academic career, the authorities in California, after re-activating the Ramirez case in 2010, were making progress. Using advanced DNA science, a crime lab analyst was able to identify traces of blood recovered from Kody Tran's transmission shop in Costa Mesa as the murder victim's. Because Esparza had admitted being at the transmission shop on the night before the discovery of Ramirez's body, homicide investigators considered her a suspect in the 15-year-old murder.

     Ramirez case detectives believed that on April 15, 1995, after Esparza informed her boyfriend and Kody Tran that she had been raped three weeks earlier by Ramirez, she and the two men drove to a bar where Esparza pointed out Ramirez. As Ramirez drove home from the bar, Gianni Van intentionally rear-ended Ramirez's pickup truck at a red light. When the murder target climbed out of his truck to inspect the damage, Kody Tran and Gianni Van started punching him. Ramirez fled on foot but his attackers caught up to him and forced him into their van.

     After arriving at Tran's Costa Mesa transmission shop, Tran and Van hacked Ramirez to death with a meat cleaver. While detectives didn't think that Esparza had participated in the actual killing, they believed that she had been the chief motivating force behind the murder.

     An Orange County prosecutor, in February 2012, eighteen years after the Ramirez murder, charged Esparza, her ex-husband Gianni Van, and Kody Tran with murder. A short time later, during a stand-off with SWAT team officers, Kody Tan committed suicide.

     In October 2012, police in Boston, Massachusetts arrested Professor Esparza at Logan Airport where she had a layover on her way from Geneva, Switzerland to a Webster University related meeting in St. Louis. After her extradition to California, Esparza gained release from the Orange County Jail by posting her $300,000 bond.

    Two months after her arrest, Esparza signed a plea agreement with Special Prosecutor Scott Simmons in which she would remain free on bail as long as she, as a future trial witness, cooperated with the state. As part of the deal, Esparza agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Otherwise, she would be prosecuted for murder, a crime that could bring a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

    In November 2013 the Ramirez case took a sudden turn when the 39-year-old college professor told reporters that she had decided not to plead guilty. At that point, Orange County Judge Gerald Johnson revoked her bail and sent her back to the Orange County Jail.

     Esparza's current husband, Jorge Mancillas, called the bond revocation "an injustice." To reporters he said, "I guess in Orange County it doesn't count to be innocent."

     On September 15, 2014, Norma Esparza, having changed her mind, entered a guilty plea in Orange County Superior Court in exchange for a six-year prison sentence and the promise to testify against Gianni Van. Her attorney, Jack Earley, told reporters that "there is inherent risk in going to trial. The question is, do you take that risk.  Esparza and her husband Jorge Mancillos have a 4-year-old daughter." According to attorney Earley, his client's decision to plead had a lot to do with the child.

     On July 10, 2015, following a short trial, the jury found 43-year-old Gianni Anthony Van guilty of special circumstances murder. Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett sentenced Van to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

Monday, February 5, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of Human Behavior

As a kid growing up in West Virginia, I had a better understanding of human behavior than after I graduated from college with a degree in psychology. My so-called higher education taught me that I have no idea what makes people tick. None. Moreover, before you can know the "meaning of life," you have to know why people do the things they do. I don't even know what motivates the characters in my novels. Why some people--writers, eggheads, and so-called intellectuals--believe they understand the motives and causes of human action is the biggest mystery of all.  Some things are just unknowable.

Thornton P. Knowles

Natalie Wood's Death: Accident or Murder?

     If you're familiar with the name Natalie Wood, you're probably either a film or true crime buff. However, in the 1960s and 70s, the film star was a household name married to the actor Robert Wagner. She died suddenly and violently on November 29, 1981, and according to the orthodox version of her death, she died by accidental drowning. At that time, Wood's death was news because she was a movie star. Today, it's news because the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office has re-opened the case as a possible homicide.

      There were only a few doubters at the time of Wood's death. Most people accepted the following story of how the 43-year-old actress died: On the evening of her demise, Wood had dinner with her husband and actor Christopher Walken at Doug's Harbour Reef on Catalina Island off the Los Angeles coast. After their dinner, accompanied by alcholol, the three actors returned to Wagner's yacht "Splendour" where they continued drinking. An argument broke out between the two men. As the story goes, Walken had angered Wagner by suggesting that Wood put her acting career ahead of her husband and their children. After Wood took leave of the men, the actors calmed down and bid each other goodnight. Wood was not in the stateroom upon Wagner's return. He heard a noise on deck and assumed his wife was unsecuring a dinghy roped to the yacht. Wagner figured his angry wife was going ashore on her own in the little boat. Several hours later, Wood's body was discovered floating in the ocean. She was wearing a long nightgown, socks, and a down jacket. The dinghy was located a mile from the yacht, and a mile from where they found Wood's body. When officials boarded the yacht to inform Wagner of the discovery of his wife's corpse, Wagner asked the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, to identifiy the body for him. And the captain did.

     Los Angeles County Coroner and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Noguchi performed the autopsy. Known as "the coroner to the stars," Dr. Noguchi had autopsied, among other celebrities, Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy, Janis Joplin, William Holden, John Belushi, and Sharon Tate. Regarding Natalie Wood, Noguchi ruled she had died from accidental drowning. The forensic pathologist considered the bruise on Wood's left cheek and the several other abrasions on her body consistent with accidentally falling off the boat. Noguchi wrote about the autopsy in his 1983 bestseller, Coroner.

     The vast majority of drowning deaths are accidental. A few are suicidal, and the rest are homicides. While an autopsy can establish the cause of death in such cases (asphxia), the manner of death is usually determined by an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the drowning. Did the deceased fall into the water, jump in, or did someone throw the victim into the drink against his will? Forensic pathology alone will seldom answer those questions.

     In 2000, Vanity Fair published an article about the Natalie Wood case that featured an interview of the Wagner yacht captain, Dennis Davern. Davern had been the fourth person on the yacht that night. Although he had not said this to investigators in 1981, Davern claimed that Natalie Wood had been killed by her husband, Robert Wagner. He said he had heard the couple arguing loudly just before she went missing. According to the captain's more recent story, Wagner had coached him on what to say to the police after Wagner had waited four hours before calling the coastguard. Davern's critics have accused him of fishing for a lucrative book deal.

     In 2009, Davern's version of the case appeared in "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour" a book he co-authored with his friend Marti Rulli. The captain's shocking accusation gained little attention in the media. True crime books featuring revisionist accounts of old celebrated cases are common. This week, however, the media has been all over the story because the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office has reopened the case.

     Lieutenant John Corina, at an afternoon press conference on Friday, November 18,  2009, said that Robert Wagner was not a suspect in Natalie Wood's death. Obviously, if the manner of death is changed to homicide, who else would emerge as the suspect--Christopher Walken? Dennis Davern?  "We're going to re-interview some people, talk to some new people, and reevaluate some evidence," Corina said. According to the lieutenant, the intense media coverage has led to several tips his officers would be following up. Tips generated by media exposure almost always consist of useless stuff from a crew of mentally unbalanced, lonely people who often claim psychic powers. Following up on these dead-end leads can consume a lot of time.

     A witness in November 2009 came forward with new information regarding the circumstances surrounding Natalie Wood's death. Marilyn Wayne says that at eleven o'clock on the night the actress went into the ocean, Wayne and her boyfriend, on a nearby craft, heard a woman scream, "Help me, I'm drowning!" The couple heard these cries for up to fifteen minutes. Wayne has told investigators with the Los Angeles County Sherif's Office that she and her boyfriend could see nothing in the dark. They called the harbor patrol but no one answered. They called for a helicopter but it didn't arrive. According to this witness, the police never questioned her or her boyfriend. Moreover, she received a threatening note cautioning her to remain silent.

     In February 2018, the CBS television show, "48-Hours," reported that according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, Robert Wagner was now a "person of interest" in the investigation of Natalie Wood's death.
    

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Pursuit Of Happiness

The blind West Virginia poet and short story writer, Snazzy Toy-Toy, once wrote that pursing happiness, an emotion that in reality doesn't exist, was as futile as a blind man trying to image a rainbow. As someone who has never experienced what people call happiness, I agree with Mr. Toy-Toy. I think that a lot of despair, an emotion I do believe in, comes from the hopeless pursuit of a nonexistent emotion. If you want to be happy about something, be happy you're not sad. That's about as good as it gets.

Thornton P. Knowles

Who Murdered Russell and Shirley Dermond?

     In 2014, 88-year-old Russell Dermond and his 87-year-old wife Shirley resided in a $1 million, 3,300-square-foot home on the shores of Lake Oconee in Reynolds Plantation, Georgia, a retirement/resort community 75 miles east of Atlanta. Before retiring, Mr. Dermond owned franchises in Wendy's and Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurants. Mr. Dermond, a U.S. Navy veteran, grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey. He played golf, liked to read, and enjoyed spending time with family and friends. The couple regularly attended the Lake Oconee Community Church.

     Married 68 years, the couple, in 1994, purchased the house on the cul-de-sac in the neighborhood of Lakeside Great Waters. The gated community, that features a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, was considered safe from crime.

     In 2000, one of the couple's three adult children, Mark Dermond, was shot to death after a drug deal went bad in Atlanta. The Dermond's oldest son had been struggling with drug addiction for years.

     On Monday, May 6, 2014, after not hearing from Russell or Shirley Dermond for several days, neighbors went to their house to check on them. They found Mr. Dermond's body in the garage. He had been decapitated. Mrs. Dermond was missing along with her husband's head. Both of their vehicles were parked in the driveway and the interior of the dwelling seemed undisturbed. There were no signs of forced entry, and nothing had been stolen, including Mrs. Dermond's purse that was still in the house.

     Investigators with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), based upon the blood spatter pattern in the garage, theorized that Mr. Dermond's head had been cut off after his death. Moreover, he had not been stabbed or shot. Detectives believed he had been bludgeoned to death sometime between Friday, May 2 and Sunday, May 5, 2014.

     Following Mr. Dermond's murder, there was no activity on the couple's bank accounts. Since no ransom demands had been made, detectives didn't think Mrs. Dermond had been kidnapped for money.

     To help the local authorities locate Shirley Dermond, the FBI put up 100 billboard posters and offered a $20,000 reward. Scuba divers searched the lake in the vicinity of the house and officers used cadaver dogs to look for the missing woman in the surrounding woods. Police officers and FBI agents also questioned dozens of residents of the gated community.

     On May 7, 2014, Bradley Dermond, the couple's son, told a local television reporter that the murder of his father and the disappearance of his mother,"makes no sense at all. We're still hoping that our mother is OK." Two days later, Putnam County Coroner Gary McEhenney announced the presumed cause of Mr. Dermond's death to be "cerebral trauma."

     On Friday afternoon May 16, 2014, after two fishermen spotted a body, an emergency crew pulled Shirley Dermond's corpse out of Lake Oconee five miles from her house. According to the Putnam County coroner, she had been murdered by blunt force trauma to the head then dumped into the water.

     Investigators believed the intruder or intruders who murdered the couple may have used a boat in the commission of the crime. No suspects, however, were developed in the case. Moreover, the motive behind the double murder remained a mystery. The authorities had not located Mr. Dermond's head and the reason behind his decapitation was unknown. Some believed the murders could have been a mob hit, but who would want these elderly people rubbed out?

     Residents of this community, following the gruesome double-murder, had their illusion of security shattered.

     In November 2014, six months after the still unsolved murders, Putnam County sheriff Howard Sills, in an interview with a local television news reporter, said, "I go to sleep every night thinking about this case and wake up every morning thinking about it. And I'm not exaggerating." According to the sheriff, every potential suspect questioned in the investigation had been cleared. The sheriff said he believed the murders had been pre-meditated and planned. "You can't make me believe there was any kind of randomness to this crime. It bothers me a great deal that someone has committed such a heinous crime and they're still out there."

     On December 9, 2014, Sheriff Sills told another television reporter that his office had received thousands of pages of phone records going back six months prior to the Dermond murders. The Gwinnet County district attorney's office was using special software to help investigators analyze the phone data in search for suspects.

     The reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers, raised to $55,000, did not produce any leads in the case.

     In February 2015, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills revealed to a local TV reporter that Shirley Dermond's body had been held to the bottom of Lake Oconee by two cement blocks. The killer or killers had not accounted for decomposing gases that causes a weighted down body in water to become buoyant. While there was no effort to hide Mr. Dermond's body, the killer or killers did not want his wife's corpse to be found.

     In April 2016, in speaking to a local newspaper reporter, the murder victims' 57-year-old son Keith said, "It's bad enough to lose both of your parents at the same time, but in the way it happened. We would have been devastated if they'd just had a car accident. But to have it all happen this way, and then just compounding with the details and then the fact they haven't caught anybody. They don't even have a clue. We don't even know why."

     On May 6, 2017, Sheriff Sills, on the third anniversary of the Russell and Shirley Dermond's murders, discussed the still unsolved case with a local reporter. The sheriff said that he believed the Dermonds had been targeted victims and that, "Somebody knows who did this." The sheriff admitted that not solving such an important murder case was "somewhat embarrassing" and that his investigators did not have any promising leads.

      

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Daydreaming

I'm a daydreamer, have been for as long as I can remember. When people ask me where I get my ideas for my novels, I tell them I don't know, they just come to me. Truth is, I get my ideas from daydreaming. My most intense daydreaming comes when I'm bored. During my four years in college, the most boring years of my life, I daydreamed a lot of good things. My best thoughts came in class while I pretended to listen to my professors. So what did I get out of college besides my diploma? I ended up with book titles, snatches of dialogue, character names, descriptions, settings, plots, scenes, themes and publishing fantasies. I don't know if being a committed daydreamer makes me mildly insane, or just odd. I don't care because I prefer living in my own mind over living in the real world. You could say I lead a double life, even a triple life since I'm a heavy night dreamer as well. I guess I am insane, and not mildly.

Thornton P. Knowles