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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick Serial Arson Case

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia's Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months, volunteer firefighters in the county responded to 77 intentionally set fires involving abandoned houses, barns, camper trailers, and various out-buildings that included a chicken coop.

     Arson investigators with the Virginia State Police and the Accomack County Sheriff's Office suspected that the serial fire-setter was either a disgruntled firefighter, a teenage boy sexually aroused by flames, or a young man committing arson simply for the thrill and excitement of causing havoc. Given the nature of the places burned, financial gain was not a motive. These were pathologically motivated arsons.

     Since the vast majority of arsonists are men, the fire investigators were not looking for a woman. Female arsonists usually have histories of mental illness, and set fire to their own property. A vast majority of the fires set by women are motivated by the need for sympathy and attention.

     On April 2, 2013, forty-five minutes after midnight, a Virginia State Trooper near the Eastern Shore community of Melfa, pulled over a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker. (This was probably not the real reason for the stop.) The traffic stop occurred shortly after a nearby abandoned house had been torched. Later that morning, a local prosecutor charged the occupants of the car, 38-year-old Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick, his 40-year-old girlfriend, with setting the Melfa house fire.

     Smith (also known as Charlie Applegate) and Bundick were held without bail at the Accomack County Jail. They were both from Accomac, Virginia. Smith, the owner of a body shop, was once captain of the Tasley Volunteer Fire Company. Smith and Bundick had planned to get married within a month.

     A Virginia State Police spokesperson, at a press conference on April 2, 2013 said, "We are confident that Bundick and Smith are guilty of the majority of fires."According to reports, arson investigators watched Smith set the Melfa house fire. He started the blaze with a towel soaked in gasoline.

     Tonya Bundick resided in a dwelling that sat next door to a shed that had been set on fire in December 2012.

     The authorities did not identify the motive behind the arson spree. Since the couple received no monetary gain from the fires, their motives were probably pathological. Perhaps they were bored, or simply angry at the world.

     In October 2013, Smith pleaded guilty to 67 counts of arson. He faced life in prison, and $5.6 million in fines. As part of the plea deal, Smith agreed to testify against Tonya Bundick.

     Bundick's arson trial got underway in Virginia Beach in January 2014. Smith took the stand against the defendant as the prosecution's star witness. Following his testimony, Bundick entered an Alford plea to one count of arson. (She faced dozens of other arson charges.) By this plea, Bundick did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.

     On September 15, 2014, the judge sentenced Tonya Bundick to ten years in prison. The judge, on April 23, 2015, sentenced Charles Smith III to fifteen years behind bars. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Sherri Lynn Wilkins Vehicular Murder Case: Fatal Hypocrisy

     Nobody likes a hypocrite. We are particularly offended (and intrigued) when people we generally admire such as physicians, professors, clergymen, law enforcement officers, generals, teachers, certain celebrities, and counselors commit crimes or behave badly. However, because of low expectations, we are less shocked when politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, and Wall Street types break the law or act like jerks. In terms of what we expect from people, there are different standards of behavior. For example, in murder-for-hire cases, the upper-middle class mastermind is almost always considered more immoral, and criminally culpable, than the lower-class hitman. This is true even when the contract killer has murdered a complete stranger simply for the money.

     Years ago, when the head mistress of an elite New England girl's school shot and killed her lover in a fit of jealousy, this otherwise ordinary criminal homicide became a celebrated case. Ministers have gone to prison to having their wives killed, and FBI agents have been convicted of first-degree murder. On a smaller criminological scale, the public is shocked when female public school teachers are caught having affairs with their male students. I remember a case involving a high-profile gun control advocate who shot an intruder with an unregistered firearm. These cases attract media attention because they feature hypocrisy.

     In October 2012, Colin McGrattan, an anger management counselor in Stockton, California, murdered his ex-wife, her sister, and the victim's aunt before killing himself. McGrattan had recently lost a legal dispute with his former spouse. Unable to control his anger, he killed three people and himself. On matters of anger management, this man obviously wasn't able to take his own advice.

     Even though we have low expectations for politicians and bureaucrats, cases occasionally pop up that are egregious enough to, if not shock us, grab our attention. In 2007, Sheila Burgess, a Massachusetts political fund-raiser for democrat candidates, collected her reward when Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the position of State Highway Safety Director. Since this was a political appointment, it's not surprising that Burgess didn't have experience in the fields of public safety, transportation, or public administration.

     On August 24, 2012, Burgess, while driving her state-issued vehicle on a sunny, Sunday afternoon near Milton, Massachusetts, drove off the road, wrecked the car, and injured herself in the head. Although she told the police she had swerved off the highway to avoid an oncoming vehicle, she may have been texting.

     The Highway Safety Director's traffic accident prompted a newspaper inquiry into Burgess' driving history. On November 18, 2012, the day after the paper revealed that Sheila Burgess had a record of 34  traffic violations, the governor removed her from office. (Because she's a government employee, full dismissal was out of the question.) Instead of firing this woman, the governor assigned Burgess to a "different role" within the same department. As director of the agency, Burgess' annual salary had been $87,000.

Sherri Lynn Wilkins

     In the fall of 2010, 50-year-old Sherri Lynn Wilkins began counseling substance abusers at the Twin Town Treatment Center in Torrance, California. In charge of the evening group sessions, she counseled up to 50 drug and alcohol abusers at a time. It was her job to help these people either get sober or stay off drugs. While Wilkins had earned a degree in drug counseling from Loyola Marymount University, it was her background as an alcoholic and heroin addict that in the bizarre world of substance abuse counseling that qualified her for the position. While giving her street credibility, the fact she "had been there" also meant she might relapse, an event that, in my opinion, would not be in the best interests of the people she was being paid to help. (I've often wondered if it might be a better idea to employ counselors who have managed to get through life without getting hooked on drugs or booze. Maybe this would give them a different kind of credibility. But I don't know the first thing about counseling, and the only things I'm hooked on is coffee and sugar.)

     Sherri Lynn Watkin's background, before she began her counseling career, is as follows: In 1992, a Los Angeles County judge sentenced her to 16 months in jail for petty theft. Two years later, another judge sent her away for nine years for burglary. All of her crimes were related to her substance addiction. In May 2010, the Los Angeles police arrested Wilkins for hit and run in Torrance. Because she had not been driving under the influence, the case against her was dropped. But in July 2010, the authorities in Los Angeles charged Wilkins with leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. For some reason this case was also dismissed.

     At eleven-thirty on the night of November 24, 2012, Sherri Wilkins, while speeding west on Torrance Boulevard, slammed into 31-year-old Phillip Moreno who was crossing the street near his home. The impact knocked Moreno out of his shoes and threw him up on the hood of Wilkins' car. Wilkins continued driving with the dying man lying on her hood, his body lodged into her windshield.

     At a traffic light two miles from where Moreno had been struck and thrown up onto the car, several motorists swarmed Wilkins' vehicle and grabbed her ignition key. An ambulance rushed Mr. Moreno to a local hospital where, a few hours later, he died. Los Angeles police officers took the substance abuse counselor into custody. Watkins' blood-alcohol content registered twice the legal limit for driving.

     On November 27, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Sherri Wilkins with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. She was booked into the Los Angeles County Jail under $2.25 million bond.

     In April 2014, a jury in Terrance found Sherri Wilkins guilty of second-degree murder as well as several lesser offenses including hit-and-run. Two months later, Superior Court Judge Henry Hall sentenced the 54-year-old to 55 years to life in prison. The judge said, "Ms. Wilkins demonstrated an extraordinary callousness in fleeing the scene and trying to shake Mr. Moreno's body off her car. Ms. Wilkins is not what we normally see. She's not a classic violent criminal. But you have to evaluate her history. (According to her own testimony, Wilkins' drug addiction started after she was involved in a traffic accident at the age of fifteen. Her back had been broken, and she suffered shattered bones in her ankles and legs. She began medicating herself with heroin because it was "cheaper than going to the doctor.") In justifying the stiff sentence, Judge Hall added, "She had an insatiable desire to become intoxicated."

     Wilkins' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Nan Whitfield, said she would appeal the sentence. To reporters outside the courthouse, Whitfield said, "Nobody likes a drunk driver. Because she was a drug and alcohol counselor, she's held to a higher standard."


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Stupidity And Willful Ignorance

Nature has a way of dealing with stupidity. Only the smart and strong survive. In civilized society, however, stupid people suffer, but due to societal kindness, they can survive. It's when a society rewards stupidity and willful ignorance that the trouble begins. And nowhere is stupidity and willful ignorance more rewarded than in the United States Congress. It also resides comfortably within our judicial system. Ignorance is very difficult to cure, and if allowed to spread and flourish, especially among our leaders, it can bring a nation down.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of The Creative Process

Many novelists are reluctant to discuss the creative process--that is, how and where they get their ideas, talent, and inspiration to write. Many deny that talent is an inborn phenomenons, while others ridicule the notion that writers have to be inspired to create. Perhaps having the creative impulse is less a mystery than the lack of creativity in a person. When a reader tells me that he can't imagine how I and others produce novels, I wonder why some people cannot. The truth is, I have no idea how, or even why, I'm compelled to write creatively. Rather than contemplate how or why, I just do it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, January 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Length Of A Novel

At a writer's conference, an aspiring writer working on a piece of fiction asked me how many words she had to write before her book qualified as a novel. I said the minimum word count, in that regard, ranged around 60,000 words. She said, "Oh great, then I'm finished!" Upon that, all the other hopeful authors in the room congratulated her with a round of applause. Who are these people?

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Susan and Sarah Wolfe Murder Case

     Dr. Sarah Wolfe and her sister Susan grew up in Clinton, Iowa. Their father, Jack Wolfe, headed a law firm in Clinton where his wife Pierrette practiced. Mary Wolfe, the eldest child in the family of ten, also a lawyer, had been elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 2011.

     Since 2007, Dr. Sarah Wolfe, a 38-year-old child and adolescent psychiatrist, had been treating victims of domestic abuse at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The graduate of Iowa University School of Medicine, she also held the position of Associate Professor in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Psychiatry.

     In November 2012, 44-year-old Susan Wolfe left her job as a special education teacher in the Chicago public school system. She returned to Clinton where she worked at the YWCA. After Susan moved to Pittsburgh in November 2013, she and her younger sister purchased a 93-year-old, two-story brick house in the East Liberty section of the city. Susan had accepted a job as a teacher's aide at Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. At the school she worked with students with behavioral problems.

     On Friday, February 7, 2014, the sisters' co-workers at the psychiatric clinic and the academy became concerned when Sarah and Susan failed to show up for work. This prompted a visit to the Chislett Street house by a Pittsburgh police officer.

     The police officer, at forty-five minutes past noon, knocked on the Wolfe's front door. When no one responded, the officer walked around the dwelling and peeked into windows. Seeing nothing unusual inside the house, the officer headed toward his patrol car. Before he drove off, Matthew Buchholz, a man who identified himself as Sarah Wolfe's boyfriend, approached the officer. The resident of Friendship, Pennsylvania possessed a house key the officer used to enter the dwelling.

     In the basement of the home, the officer discovered the bodies of Sarah and Susan Wolfe. Susan was nude, her sister clothed. They had been each killed by a single bullet to the head. The killer had poured some kind of liquid over one of the bodies in an effort to destroy physical evidence. Susan Wolfe had been badly beaten as well as shot.

     Detectives at the murder scene found no evidence of a forced entry. Dr. Sarah Wolfe's car, a lime green 2011 Ford Fiesta, was not at the house. The vehicle was last seen by a neighbor at 9:25 PM on Thursday, February 6, 2014.

     A police officer, at l:15 in the morning of February 8, spotted the Wolfe vehicle parked about a mile from the scene of the double murder. Crime scene investigators processed the Ford for traces of physical evidence that could shed some light on the murders.

     Homicide detectives theorized that when Dr. Sarah Wolfe arrived home that Thursday night, she walked into a crime in progress. Police found her sister naked and doused with chemicals. Sarah lay nearby at the foot of the basement stairs with her coat half off.

     On Wednesday, February 19, 2014, police officers searched a house next door to the Wolfe sisters' residence and hauled the occupant, a man with a history of burglary and robbery, to police headquarters for interrogation.

     On March 5, 2014, the authorities charged next door neighbor, Allen D. Wade, 43, with two counts of criminal homicide, robbery and theft. A forensic scientist with a private Pittsburgh laboratory found, under Susan Wolfe's fingernails, a mixture of male and female DNA. Traces of Wade's blood were found on a pair of gray sweatpants connected to the murder scene. Detectives took DNA samples from the suspect who denied any involvement in the killings.

     In April 2014, at a preliminary hearing before District Judge John Scott Schricker, a prosecutor with the Allegheny County District Attorneys office presented enough incriminating evidence against Allen Wade to justify moving the case to trial.

     Dectetive Harry Lutton, the lead investigator in the Wolfe double murder, testified that the victims' bank cards had been used by Wade at the Citizens Bank ATM across from the East Liberty Target store.

     Deputy District Attorney Simquita Bridges showed clips from nine surveillance videos showing a man believed to be the suspect using the victims' bank cards. The prosecutor also read the results of a crime laboratory report that identified the defendant's DNA as being under Susan Wolfe's fingernails.

     In May 2014, the district attorneys office announced it would seek the death penalty against Mr. Wade. According to prosecutors, the Wolfe case featured two aggravating circumstances that justified the application of the death sentence. The defendant stood accused of killing Dr. Sarah Wolfe because she witnessed the murder of her sister. Secondly, Mr. Wade was suspected of committing the murder during the commission of a felony.

     Given the fact the current governor of Pennsylvania recently placed moratorium on capital punishment, the death sentence in this case is unlikely.

     On November 16, 2014, the process of selecting a jury got underway in the Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. The next day, however, Judge Edward J. Borkowski postponed the murder trial to give defense attorney Lisa Middleman more time to prepare her case. No trial date has been scheduled.

     In February 2016, defense attorney Middleman filed a motion to require the prosecution's DNA expert to reveal the source code used to make the computerized DNA match against her client. Allegheny County Judge Borkowski denied the motion. In response, the defense attorney filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court. As a result, Allen Wade's trial, scheduled to start in March 2016, was delayed thirty days.

     The Wade murder trial got underway on May 3, 2016 in Pittsburgh. In her opening remarks to the jury, public defender Middleman said she will challenge the states's DNA evidence. According to the defense attorney, prosecutors sought out the private DNA analyst after experts at the Allegheny County Crime Lab failed to make an identification. Middleman said her client was the victim of a "sloppy investigation," and a rush to judgment.

     On May 23, 2016, the jury, after deliberating five hours, found Allen D. Wolfe guilty as charged. Three days later, as mandated by law, Judge Edward Borkowski sentenced Wade to life in prison without the chance of parole.

   
     

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The 1950s

Say what you want about America in the 1950s, at least the middle class of that era had contempt for those who boasted excessively about themselves or their children, sucked-up or snitched to get ahead, cursed in public, flaunted their possessions, or in any way acted superior to others. Moreover, the daily consumption of pornography was for perverts; tattoos were on sailors, pimps, and serial killers; marijuana and heroin use was limited to writers, musicians, actors, and members of the criminal underclass; the severely mentally ill were off the streets and living in institutions; gun violence and murder was at a minimum; and welfare was considered a temporary form of charity. I miss those aspects of that decade.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Sharon Voit Murder-For-Hire Case: Until Death Do Us Part

     Years ago, the person who said that marriages start in bed and end up in court wasn't thinking of murder. Those were the good old days. Today, a few marriages end up with one of the parties in court, and the other in the morgue. Wives engineer the deaths of their estranged husbands out of fear they will be left penniless following the divorce. For women trapped in bad marriages, murder, compared to divorce, is quicker and a lot more satisfying. Homicidal husbands want their wives dead to avoid legal fees, the divvying up of the marital estate, alimony, and the expense of child support. Familiarity can breed contempt. Marriage, familiarity, and divorce can breed criminal homicide. In the world of murder-for-hire, the contentious divorce is perhaps the number one motive.

The Sharon Voit Case

     On July 13, 1995, Dr. Kerry Voit, his wife Sharon and their three daughters were watching television in the den of their home in the tranquil village of Golf on the northern outskirts of Chicago. At a quarter to ten, Dr. Voit, stating that he was tired and wanted to retire for the night in that room, switched off the TV. This enraged his wife, and in the scuffle that ensured, Sharon took a punch in the eye. Dr. Voit suffered scratches on his arm, and came away from the fight with a bruised leg. Sharon ordered her husband out of the house. When he refused to leave, she phoned the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

     The deputies who responded to the domestic disturbance received conflicting stories from the Voit daughters. Two of the girls sided with their father, the third with Mrs. Voit. The officers decided not to arrest anyone, but ordered Dr. Voit, a successful downtown Chicago dentist, to leave the house for 72 hours. He spent the next few nights in Harwood Heights at his mother's house.

     Not long after the police call, a family court judge ordered the Voits into marriage counseling, but it was too late for that. The couple continued to fight, and for the next year or so, Dr. Voit moved back and forth between his mother's place and the family home. In the summer of 1997 he moved out permanently.

     The Voit marriage had been an unhappy one from the start. As a 22-year-old dental hygienist, Sharon had helped put Kerry through dental school, then worked in his office until their first child. They had talked about divorce many times, but he didn't want to split up because he thought the divorce would ruin him financially. As a result, the couple found themselves trapped in a marriage that brought them both misery. Finally, Sharon decided that she couldn't take it anymore. That's when she began thinking of murder.

     In the spring of 1999, while talking with Carl Poe, the husband of the ice skating coach working with their youngest daughter, Sharon said she wished she could find someone to have Dr. Voit "taken care of." Mr. Poe passed the comment on to his wife Robyn who dismissed it as a joke. Although Sharon didn't sound like she was joking, Carl agreed with his wife's assessment of black humor bubbling up out of frustration and stress.

     Two months after the "taken care of" comment, Sharon shocked Dr. Voit's friend, Matt Georgopolous, when she said, quite specifically, that the only way she could achieve happiness was to find someone who would kill her husband. Mr. Georgopolous didn't think she was joking, and warned his friend that his life might be in danger. Dr. Voit laughed it off, explaining that Sharon was a mentally unstable person who was just letting off steam.

     On March 8, 2000, while conferring with Robyn Poe at an ice skating competition in Buffalo, New York, Sharon asked the coach if she knew anyone who could "take Kerry out." Although alarmed by the question, Robyn decided to ignore Sharon's query. Carl had been right; she seemed deadly serious. In a restaurant two days later with Matt Georgopolous and Robyn Poe, Sharon brought up the murder-for-hire subject again. Shortly after that, she asked the family accountant if Dr. Voit had changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The accountant said he had no knowledge of such matters.

     When Dr. Voit learned of his wife's recent life insurance and hit man inquiries, he decided to take the situation a little more seriously. He called a friend in the Cook County State Attorney's office and reported that Sharon might be trying to have him murdered. The prosecutor referred the complaint to the Chicago Police Department where Detective John Duffy took charge of the case. After talking to Dr. Voit and Matt Georgopolous, the detective asked Tim Kaufmann, a deputy with the sheriff's office special operations branch, to enter the case as an undercover hit man.

     A few days after talking with Detective Duffy, Deputy Kaufmann called Sharon Voit and said, "I understand you have a problem you want taken care of." She responded by requesting a meeting the following afternoon in the parking lot of a local grocery store. The next day at one-thirty, Sharon, behind the wheel of her SUV, pulled into the lot. After climbing into the officer's vehicle, Sharon asked Deputy Kaufmann which one of her friends had spoken to him regarding her problem. The undercover cop replied that in his business that kind of information was confidential. Seemingly convinced that this man was in the business of killing people for money, Sharon set up a second meeting.

     On March 17, 2000, a covert police video surveillance team stood by as Sharon Voit pulled her SUV into another local parking lot. Deputy Kaufmann, wearing a body microphone, climbed into her vehicle, and without specific reference to Dr. Voit, asked if she were serious about solving her problem. "Yep," she replied, "it's gotta be done." She then asked how much it would cost. The undercover officer said it depended on how much money she could raise. About seven thousand dollars she replied.

     To establish his bona fides as a paid assassin, Deputy Kaufmann said that after killing people for the United States government as a combat soldier in Viet Nam, he had gone into business for himself. Being in the profession of taking people out didn't bother him at all. Regarding the Voit hit, he said he would do it in a way that would make the murder look like it had been committed by a robber. In discussing possible times and places, Sharon revealed that Dr. Voit had planned a scuba diving trip to the Bahamas the following week. Deputy Kaufmann said he would kill her husband in the Bahamas. To that Sharon replied that she didn't care where or how the job was done. She said she had no interest in details. She just wanted to have her "misery finished."

     Deputy Kaufmann told Sharon that he needed $600 in upfront money to cover the cost of his trip to the Bahamas. She could mail him the balance due after he completed the job. The undercover cop handed her a slip of paper bearing the post office address where she could sent the rest of the money. Sharon next described her husband's daily routine and provided the officer with the address of his mother's house in Harwood Heights. The deputy said he had everything he needed except a photograph of the target and the expense money. They could meet again, or she could get the photograph and the $600 while he waited in the parking lot. She replied that she would have what he wanted in less than an hour. Before he returned to his car to wait for the photograph and the money, Deputy Kaufmann asked Sharon if this was really what she wanted to do. (A real hit man would never ask this question.) She said yes; the man she wanted killed had made her life miserable. This was the only way she knew to relieve that misery. She had made her decision.

     An hour later, Sharon Voit returned to the parking lot. As Deputy Kaufmann walked away from her vehicle with the photograph and the upfront money, police officers swooped in and took her into custody. One moment she thought her problems were over, the next she was sitting in the back of a police car wearing handcuffs. When informed she had been talking to an undercover cop who had recorded the conversation, she admitting trying to hire the officer to kill her husband. Charged with solicitation of murder Sharon Voit landed in the Cook County Jail with her bond set at $10 million.

     After conferring with her attorney, Sharon Voit decided to take back her confession and plead not guilty. The defense lawyer would argue entrapment, that the undercover officer had essentially talked his 51-year-old client into soliciting the murder of her husband. In support of this hard-to-establish defense, the attorney would parse the recorded conversation, noting at one point that Voit had said, "Part of me wants him to get help so it would be better." The defense attorney also planned to highlight the absence of key words such as "hit man," "kill," "murder," and "dead." The attorney must have known that his defense, given the context of the case, would be a hard sell.

     Sharon Voit's trial, held in Skokie, Illinois, got underway in January 2003. As evidence of her guilt, the prosecutor presented the testimony of the Poes, Matt Georgopolous, and Detective John Duffy. Jurors also heard the taped conversation featuring undercover officer,Tim Kaufmann and the defendant. The jury also learned that the defendant had given the officer $600 and the photograph of her husband.

     In anticipation of the insanity defense, the prosecutor arranged, shortly after Sharon's arrest, to have her examined by a pair of state psychiatrists. The doctors took the stand and testified that in their expert opinions, the defendant, at the time of her conversation with the undercover officer, was not legally insane, suffering from the battered woman syndrome, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

     Sharon Voit's attorney had asked Dr. Susan M. Nowak, a Chicago psychiatrist, to examine his client to determine if the effects of her marriage had made her especially vulnerable to being entrapped by an undercover cop. The trial judge accepted Dr. Nowak as an expert witness, but decided to hear her testimony outside the presence of the jury. If Dr. Nowak convinced the judge that the undercover officer had entrapped the defendant, he would direct a verdict of not guilty. Otherwise, the case would go to the jury without Dr. Nowak's testimony.

     Dr. Nowak had investigated Sharon Voit's medical history that included reviewing court documents and psychiatric reports. The psychiatrist had also interviewed Sharon as well as two of her friends. The story of the defendant's life, as related to the court by the psychiatrist, portrayed Dr. Voit as a cruel and abusive husband. According to the doctor, Sharon met Kerry when they were high school sophomores. Five years later they married, and shortly after that, he started hitting her. While working in the office as his dental hygienist, Sharon caught him in the closet using cocaine with a female employee. Over the years the successful dentist had taken other women on lavish trips, showering them with expensive gifts.

     The defense psychiatrist testified that Dr. Voit had forced Sharon to have video-taped, three-way, cocaine-laced sex with him and his friend, Matt Georgopolous. The defendant also told Dr. Nowak that her husband, during "violent" sexual intercourse, would hold a pillow over her face against her will. She had threatened to divorce him several times, but he and his attorney always talked her out of going through with the legal proceeding.

     Dr. Nowak, to a degree of reasonable medical certainty, said that it was her expert opinion that the defendant, while not legally insane, possessed a "dependent personality disorder" that had rendered her vulnerable to police entrapment. The judge ruled that the doctor's testimony did not establish a legal case for entrapment. It wasn't that the judge didn't believe the defendant's characterization of her husband, he just didn't see how it related to the legal defense of entrapment. If anything, the defendant's marital history provided a strong motive for the murder solicitation.

    The Voit trial went forward without Dr Nowak's open court testimony. On January 10, 2003, following a five-hour deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. A few weeks later the judge sentenced Sharon Voit to 23 years in prison. Voit's next door neighbor told a reporter she was shocked by the verdict. "They were such a loving couple," she said. "They were just so proud of each other. He talked about what a good cook and golfer she was. She was proud of what a good dentist he was. As time goes by I guess you can't maintain that forever." 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Curse Of Fame

I have never been famous, and never will be. Very few writers achieve fame through their books. The best an author can hope for is being respected and known by a fair number of readers and members of the literary community associated with his genre. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, after her baby had been murdered in 1932 in what became the so-called "Crime of the Century," wrote in her journal that fame was a form of death. Amanda Foreman wrote that "Fame is like a parasite. It feeds off its host--infecting, extracting, consuming its victim until there is nothing left but an empty husk. With this emptiness comes the possibility of a long afterlife as one of the blowup dolls of history." A character in B. Traven's story, The Night Visitor, says: "What is fame after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame." Like I said, I am not famous, and that's fine with me. People who seek fame are fools, and when they achieve it, often act like idiots before being disgraced then quickly forgotten. If you don't believe me, watch TV, or read the news.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pretentious Humor

The bartender at a writer's conference I spoke at in Morgantown, West Virginia wore a name tag that read, TRUMAN CAPOTE. In the spirit of the joke, I ordered an "In Cold Bloody Mary". The barkeep didn't even crack a smile. I guessed it wasn't a West Virginia kind of joke, then realized it was simply pretentious, professorial humor. It wasn't funny. I got fall-down drunk that night worrying that I had morphed from a writer into a cold-blooded academic.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Hemy Neuman Murder Case

     In the late 1980s, Hemy Neuman, a young American engineer living and working in Israel, met his future wife Ariela, an Israeli-born school teacher. In 2010, the 47-year-old engineer and his stay-at-home wife were separated. Hemy had moved out of their lavish home in Cobb County, Georgia in August of that year. While Neuman had a high-paying job as a project manager with GE Energy, he was in financial trouble. His expensive lifestyle--the big house, luxury cars, expensive restaurants, and elaborate vacations--had caught up with him. His three children were also attending college. Now his wife was filing for divorce.

     Ariela Neuman had kicked Hemy out of the house because she believed he was having an affair with a 36-year-old woman he had hired at GE. Neuman and Andrea Schneiderman, his suspected lover, denied the accusation. Andrea's husband, Russell "Rusty" Schneiderman, although he had a MBA from Harvard, was out of work. The couple had two young children.

     On the morning of November 18, 2010, Rusty Schneiderman dropped off his 2-year-old son at the Dunwoody Prep nursery school 15 miles north of Atlanta. As the father returned to his car, Hemy Neuman walked up behind him, and with a .40-caliber Bersa handgun, shot him several times. Schneiderman fell dead at the scene. Neuman climbed into a rented Kia minivan and drove off.

     A week before the murder, Neuman, wearing a fake beard, had crept up to Schneiderman's house with the intent of shooting him there. Hemy's plan fell apart when his intended target came out of the house to check on a gas leak and saw this bearded man lying in his yard. Neuman jumped to his feet and ran off.

     When Neuman's wife Ariela learned of Rusty Schneiderman's murder in front of the Dunwoody nursery school, she knew that Hemy had killed him over Andrea. She called the police and filled them in on her estranged husband's affair with the dead man's wife. Ariela described Hemy Neuman as a risk taking control freak obsessed with money and his career.

     Several weeks after the police arrested Neuman on January 4, 2011, he admitted that he had murdered Rusty Schneiderman. He claimed, however, that at the time of the shooting, he was so insane he didn't comprehend the nature and quality of his act. In other words, he was so crazy he didn't know right from wrong. After the killing, Hemy regained his sanity, but when he pulled the trigger in front of the nursery school, he was nuts. That was his defense, temporary legal insanity. Investigators didn't buy it, and neither did the prosecutor. If Neuman was crazy, he was crazy like a fox.

     In February 2012, charged with malice murder (other states call it first-degree murder or capital murder) and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, Hemy Neuman went on trial in a De Kalb County court in Decatur, Georgia.

     The prosecutor played, for the jury of 9 man and 3 women, a video-taped jailhouse interview of the defendant by psychiatrist Dr. Pamela Crawford. During the interview, Neuman told Dr. Crawford that he had initially considered stabbing Rusty Schneiderman to death. But he changed his mind because it would be too messy. The defendant thought about poisoning his victim, but rejected that idea as too complicated and unreliable. Staging a fatal accident had also crossed Neuman's mind, but in the end he settled on shooting the man to death at close range. He preferred this method because it was simple and sure-fire.

     Following the video, Dr. Crawford testified that a truly delusional, psychotic person would not have gone through the above thought process. A really crazy person would have acted impulsively, without all of that thinking and planning. The defendant, in her expert opinion, wasn't crazy. The entire insanity defense was a sham.

     For the defense, Dr. Andriana Flores, a forensic psychologist, testified that Neuman suffered from an undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder accompanied by psychosis. (In other words, he had no history of mental illness.) According to the psychologist, Neuman suffered from delusions and a condition called erotomania. As an erotomania sufferer, the defendant only thought he was having an affair with the wife of the man he shot to death. (Too bad he had only thought he had murdered Scneiderman.) And it got better: Before the killing, Hemy Neuman, according to Dr. Flores, had been visited by an angel with Oliva Newton-John's voice who informed him that Schneiderman's children were actually his. This revelation was reinforced by a message from a second angel who sounded like Barry White!

     On March 14, after two days of deliberation, the jury, presented with three possible verdicts--guilty; not guilty by virtue of insanity; or guilty but mentally ill--found Hemy Neuman guilty but mentally ill. That meant that while he would receive mental health treatment, he'd get it while serving his time in prison. The next day, the judge, in Clint Eastwood's voice (just kidding) sentenced Neuman to life behind bars with no chance of parole.

     On Thursday, August 2, 2012, Andrea Sneiderman, the wife of the man Hemy Neuman murdered, was charged with malice murder, criminal attempt to commit murder, racketeering, two counts of perjury, and two counts of insurance fraud. According the Andrea Schneiderman's indictment, she and the convicted killer were having an affair. The couple conspired to kill Rusty Schneiderman with the intent of "acquiring property, money, and life insurance proceeds." The murdered man's wife had received a $2 million life insurance payment as well as $960,000 in various bank accounts.

     In July 2013, following a two-hour hearing, Judge Gregory Adams dropped the murder, racketeering and insurance fraud charges against Schneiderman. The prosecutor had lost confidence in the reliability of a key prosecution witness. Sneiderman still faced thirteen other criminal charges related to the murder of her husband.

     Andrea Schneiderman, a month later, was convicted of nine felonies in connection with the Neuman case. She did not testify on her own behalf. The jury found her guilty of four counts of perjury, three counts of giving false statements, one count of hindering the apprehension of a criminal, and a count of concealing material facts.

     On August 20, 2013 at the sentencing hearing, Schneiderman's friends and family testified on her behalf. When it came her turn to speak to the court, Schneiderman said, "Please let me go home to my kids. Please don't let them live without their mother." The De Kalb County District Attorney asked the judge to send Sneiderman away for twenty years. Judge Adams didn't send this woman home, and he didn't put her behind bars for twenty years. He sentenced her to five years in prison.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing In The Correct Person And Point-Of-View

One of my students opened a story with: "Three months before my sudden death in my girlfriend's car, I went fishing on the Ohio River." Intrigued by this opening line, I asked the student if he intended using the wrong person and point-of-view in an experimental piece of fiction. Or perhaps he was taking a stab at humor. When the kid told me he wasn't experimenting, or trying to be funny, the sentence lost its charm. The kid simply didn't know how to write. Even worse, he didn't know how to BS himself into a better grade.

Thornton P. Knowles  

The Johnson Family Mortuary: The Funeral Home From Hell

      On July 15, 2014, James Labenz, the owner of the building in east Fort Worth, Texas that housed the Johnson Family Mortuary, went to the funeral home to evict the tenants. Dondre Johnson, 39, and his 35-year-old wife Rachel Hardy-Johnson, owed the landlord $15,000 in back rent. The place looked vacant so Mr. Labenz entered the building. What he saw and smelled caused him to quickly exit the premises and call 911.

     In his report, the police officer who responded to the 911 call noted that he detected the odor of decaying flesh from the funeral home's parking lot. Inside, he found the unrefrigerated remains of several corpses in various states of decomposition. The officer called the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office.

     Police detectives accompanied by a medical examiner's office crime scene technician encountered a scene right out of a horror movie. But unlike its fictional counterpart, the funeral home tableau featured insects, maggots, leaking body fluids, and the overpowering stench of death.

     That day, the medical examiner's office took possession of the remains of two stillborn children and five adults. The partially mummified corpse of an adult lay in a casket inhabited by swarms of flies and other bugs. In a small container, the crime scene technician discovered a tiny skeleton. The funeral home's flooring was wet with draining bodily fluids.

     A Tarrant County prosecutor charged the mortuary owners with seven counts of abuse of a corpse. If convicted and sentenced on each count, the couple faced up to seven years behind bars. On July 18, 2014, police officers arrested Rachel Hardy-Johnson at the couple's home in Arlington, Texas. The next day, Dondre turned himself in at police headquarters in Fort Worth. After putting up their $10,500 bonds, the suspects were released from custody.

     The day after he walked out of the Tarrant County Jail, Dondre Johnson said this to a reporter: "This is a funeral home, you can expect to find bodies." True, but one would expect not to find corpses that were decomposing and being consumed by insects.

     Rachel Hardy-Johnson told reporters that she had been absent from the funeral home due to the birth of her child. Dondre, who wasn't very good at keeping up with the paperwork associated with either burying or cremating bodies, had been in charge. (Forget the paperwork, how about actually burying and burning the corpses?) She said that Dondre was all about the pomp and circumstance and show associated with the funeral service.

     Dondre Johnson's lack of administrative skills landed the couple in jail and cost his landlord $8,000 in cleanup fees. Moreover, the macabre publicity associated with the building had significantly lowered its real estate value.

     Following the gruesome discovery of the results of Dondre Johnson's gross mismanagement and callous disregard for the postmortem dignity of the deceased in his care, the Texas Funeral Service Commission revoked the Johnson family funeral license. Angered by the revocation, the couple petitioned the state to get their license returned.

     Dondre and Rachel Hardy-Johnson, already in trouble with the law, were indicted on four counts of fraud by a federal grand jury in September 2014. The couple stood accused of obtaining food stamps, a housing subsidy, federal education funding, and Medicare benefits without revealing their income and other personal assets. The alleged government fraud took place between April 2010 and July 2012. If convicted on each count, the former funeral home owners faced up to 20 years in prison.

     Federal fraud investigators determined that Hardy-Johnson had in 2011 received government benefits while claiming to be an unemployed single mother living alone with her children. During that period she purchased a 2006 Hummer H2 for $26,000 and a 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL S500 for $41,700. The next year, while still representing herself as an unemployed single mother, she bought an expensive Land Rover.

     On January 20, 2015, a Tarrant County grand jury indicted Dondre Johnson and his wife for stealing up to $20,000 from families who had paid for and did not receive funeral services in 2014. If convicted, they faced maximum sentences of 20 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

     Rachel Hardy-Johnson, on January 27, 2015, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of food stamp benefit fraud involving $6,000 in payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Stamp program and its successor, SNAP. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

     In February 2015, reporters with the CBS television affiliate in Fort Worth discovered that Dondre Johnson and his twin brother Derrick were conducting funerals in Sherman, Texas. Travis Mitchell, the owner of Serenity Chapel Funeral Services, told the reporters that he handled the business aspects of the operation while Donde and Derrick performed the funerals. According to Mitchell, Dondre Johnson's attorney had advised his client to avoid the media until the theft and abuse of corpse cases in Fort Worth were resolved.

     On September 24, 2015, a jury in Fort Worth found Dondre Johnson guilty of two counts of felony theft. The judge sentenced Johnson to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Johnson still faced possible prosecution on seven misdemeanor counts of abuse of corpse. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Receiving a Bad Review

A writer for Kirkus, in reviewing one of my crime novels, said the book featured a cast of vile hillbillies in a trashy setting who said and did things to each other that would turn the stomach of a murder scene investigator. She wrote that good taste demanded that she put the book down after page 20, but was ashamed to admit that out of the kind of morbid curiosity that makes passing motorists gawk at a bloody traffic accident, she finished my "trashy and brutal" novel. It was a terrible review, really bad. I framed that one.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Jerame Reid Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Two-thirds of the residents of Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Cumberland County town of 25,000 south of Philadelphia, are either Hispanic or black. On the night of December 30, 2014, Bridgeton police officers Roger Worley and Braheme Days pulled over a Jaguar for running a stop sign. Officer Worley, the white officer, was behind the wheel of the patrol car.

     Officer Days, the black officer, approached the passenger side of the Jaguar and asked the two men in the car how they were doing. The passenger, 30-year-old Jerame Reid, said, "Good, how you doing, officer?"

     A few months earlier, officer Days had arrested Jerame Reid for possession of drugs. As a teenager, Reid had been convicted of shooting at police officers. The judge sent him to prison for twelve years.

     A few seconds after approaching the Jaguar, officer Days spotted a handgun in the glove compartment. He said, "Don't move! Show me your hands!"

     On the other side of the vehicle, officer Worley pointed his gun at the driver, Leroy Tutt. Mr. Tutt sat in the driver's seat with his hands sticking out of the car door window where they could be seen. Officer Worley called for backup.

     Officer Days reached into the Jaguar and removed a silver handgun from the glove box. To the vehicle's occupants he said, "You reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     One of the men in the stopped car said, "I got no reason to reach for nothing." Again officer Days warned, "Hey Jerame, you reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     As Jerame Reid opened the front passenger door, he said, "I'm getting out of the car." By now officer Worley had joined officer Days on that side of the vehicle. Both officers had their guns drawn. Reid climbed out of the vehicle, and when he stood up, his hands were raised to the level of his chest in the officers' plain view.

     A few seconds after Jerame Reid exited the Jaguar, officer Days shot him. Officer Worley also fired his gun but missed his target.  The shot man collapsed to the ground and died on the spot. He did not possess a firearm.

     The entire police-involved shooting incident was caught on the officers' dashboard camera. The chief of police placed both officers on administrative leave and turned the case over to the Cumberland County prosecutor's office.

     Shortly after receiving the case, Cumberland County prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae recused herself from the inquiry because she had personal ties to officer Days. First Assistant prosecutor Harold Shapiro took over the investigation.

     Critics of the way the authorities handled the case called for either a special prosecutor or an intervention by the state attorney general's office. Protestors, notwithstanding the fact that Jerame Reid and the officer who shot him were black, claimed racism.

    In February 2015, three months after Reid's death, a local newspaper reported that in 2011, Jerame Reid had filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the Cumberland County Department of Corrections, Warden Robert Balicki, and three corrections officers. Reid claimed the jail guards assaulted him in October 2009. According to Reid, the officers, without provocation or justification, repeatedly punched, kicked and pepper sprayed his face then threw a bucket of water on him as he lay on the cell floor.

     As a result of the beating, Reid said he suffered broken ribs and a fractured left orbital bone that left him without sensation and nerve damage to his lips and cheek area. According to court documents, the encounter began after Reid confronted another inmate over stolen belongings. The accused inmate told correction officers that Reid possessed a sharp object.

     Responding jail guards handcuffed Reid and placed him into another cell. According to the plaintiff, after he made a comment to one of the officers, they gave him the beating. (The officers alleged that Reid threw the first punch.)

     Reid's lawyer, in court documents, said the corrections officers, after an internal investigation, were disciplined for not filing a use of force report. The matter was not referred to the local prosecutor's office for investigation.

     As a result of the plaintiff's death, the lawsuit against the county and the others was dismissed.

     After a federal prosecutor decided not to pursue the shooting incident against the officers, the case, in April 2016, went before a local grand jury. The grand jurors declined to indict either officer. In July 2016, members of Reid's family settled a federal lawsuit against the police department for an undisclosed amount. Case closed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of Advanced Math And Intellectual Superiority

For me, math is adding, subtracting, multiplying, fractions, and percentages. Beyond that, math is a mystery I was never able to solve. Maybe that's because I'm not smart enough to figure out the clues. I'll  have to live with knowing there's a universe of knowledge out there beyond me. Does that make me feel inferior? Hell yes. On a good day, if I stretch intellectually, I can touch the bottom of mediocrity. The thing is though, having great self-worth is the worst thing for a novelist. I guess that's why I'm a fairly good crime writer. Anyway, I don't think I have the personality for brain excellence. Being intellectually excellent is a burden I don't have to carry.

Thornton P. Knowles

John Hinckley Jr.: How To Shoot a U. S. President And Three Others And End Up Living The Good Life

     Most Americans are uncomfortable with the criminal law doctrine that if you kill or try to kill someone in the throes of mental illness you should not be punished, but instead be treated and cured of the ailment that caused your deviant behavior. Criminal defense attorneys realize that the not guilty by reason of insanity plea is a tough sell. Juries just don't buy it. But occasionally there are exceptions to this criminal justice aversion. Take the case of John Hinckley, Jr. Although it is hard to believe, Mr. Hinckley tried to kill the president of the United States and did not go to prison. Most people think that even considering the release of this would-be-assassin back into society is a notion more insane than John Hinckley himself.

     John Hinckley Jr., at 2:27 in the afternoon of March 30, 1981, shot President Ronald Reagan in the chest and lower right arm with a six-shot, .22-caliber revolver. The president was leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The 25-year-old shooter also wounded White House press secretary James Brady and two others in the presidential party. All of the victims survived, but Mr. Brady was paralyzed for life.

     At his trial in federal court, Hinckley's attorneys pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. According to the defense, Hinckley had been obsessed with the film actress Jodi Foster who had played the role of a 12-year-old prostitute in the movie "Taxi Driver." Hinckley had seen the film fifteen times and had written Foster several fan letters. In the movie, New York City cab driver Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro, attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senator who was running for president. Hinckley claimed to have shot the president and the others in an attempt to gain favor with the young actress.

    At the trial, a battery of defense psychiatrists testified that John Hinckley, a man who suffered from psychosis and severe depression, also possessed a narcissistic personality disorder. Notwithstanding the fact the defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he shot the president and the others, and knew that what he was doing was wrong, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. If that wasn't bad enough, the verdict left open the possibility that Hinckley could one day live outside a mental institution.

     Over the next 34 years, Mr. Hinckley spent most of his time at St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 2006, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Hinckley could spend three days a month at his mother Jo Ann's house in Williamsburg, Virginia. Over time, this judge allowed Hinckley more time outside the hospital in the company of his mother at her luxury home overlooking the 13th hole of an exclusive golf course. Federal prosecutors, at each of these sentencing hearings, fought against granting Hinckley more freedom.

     In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman, against the strenuous objects of prosecutors, granted Mr. Hinckley the right to live with his mother, now 88-years-old, 17 days out of every month. The judge allowed this freedom after psychiatrists testified that Hinckley's psychosis and depression had been in remission for decades. The doctors did concede that Hinckley still possessed a narcissistic personality disorder. (In the D.C. area, throw a stick and it will hit nine people with the same disorder.) As a condition of his expanded freedom, Mr. Hinckley was required to check in regularly with his doctors and to keep taking his medication.

     Judge Friedman, pursuant to the Hinckley ruling, urged President Reagan's shooter to take music therapy classes and to do volunteer work at a local hospital.

     From all appearances, John Hinckley had it pretty good. When in Williamsburg he drove around in a Toyota Avalon, went to the movies, ate out, took long walks, shopped, played his guitar, and painted. Because he did not receive Social Security or Medicare benefits, Hinckley's out of hospital expenses were picked up by his family and amounted to between $5,000 and $10,000 a month. This did not seem to be a horrible existence for a man who had knowingly tried to kill the president of the United States.

     On April 22, 2015, Hinckley's tireless attorneys and their psychiatrists were back in federal court to gain even more freedom for their client. At the hearing, doctors from St. Elizabeths urged the judge to allow Hinckley to move out of the psychiatric facility permanently. Barry Levine, Hinckley's principal lawyer, told the court that his client had not shown "a hint of dangerous behavior."

     On the third day of the Hinckley hearing, Dr. Giogi-Guarnieri, one of Hinckley's psychiatrists, testified that the presidential shooter wanted to start a band and desired to publish his music anonymously. Mr. Hinckley, however, did not want to perform publicly. According to Dr. Giorgi-Guarnieri, Mr. Hinckley also wanted to start dating a girl he met at a National Association for the Mentally Ill meeting.

     Federal Judge Paul Friedman, on July 27, 2016, ruled that Hinckley will begin his permanent "convalescent leave" on August 5, 2016.  Hinckley now lives full-time with his mother in Virginia. 

Thornton P. Knowles On America As a Nation of "Heroes."

America is a nation of "heroes." There are tens of thousands of them. Television news readers and commentators often refer to all military personnel, law enforcement officers, and firefighters as heroes. There are, of course, true war heroes, brave cops, and heroic firefighters. But all of them? If everybody is a hero, then no one is. In the fields of education, literature, science, business, law, and medicine, there are real heroes, but we seldom hear of them. I guess there are even political heroes, but at the moment, I can't think of any.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Sudden and Strange Death of FBI Agent Stephen Ivens

     At eight o'clock Monday evening, July 30, 2012, a pair of hikers walking in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, California came upon a foul odor. In the brush behind St. Francis of Xavier Catholic Church, they discovered the skeletal remains of a man. The initial investigation by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office indicates that the hikers had stumbled upon Stephen Ivens. Near his body death scene investigators recovered a handgun.

     Stephen Ivens, a 35-year-old FBI agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Division, had been missing since he walked away from his Burbank home on the morning of May 11, 2012. Blood hounds had traced his scent to the Verdugo Mountains where a search party of FBI agents, local police, and volunteers had looked for him.

     A married father of a 2-year-old son, Ivens had been an FBI agent a little more than three years. Before going into the bureau he had been a Los Angeles police officer. The white, 6 foot, 160 pound bespectacled agent had worked on counterterrorism cases. Because his FBI-issued revolver had been taken from the house, Ivens was presumed armed when he walked off that morning.

     According to the agent's wife Thea, Special Agent Ivens had been depressed and distraught which led many to suspect he left the house that morning with the intent of killing himself. But the fact he was an FBI agent who worked on counterterrorism matters also led to speculation of international intrigue and foul play.

     A few weeks after his disappearance, the authorities stopped looking for Ivens, and the media ignored the case. This added fuel to the possibility of foul play, and a government cover-up. After Ivens' body was found behind the church one and a half miles from his home, questions regarding the reasons behind his disappearance went unanswered. The big mystery involved whether or not Ivens' death--suicide or otherwise--was related to his counterterrorism work. According to Ivens' wife, he had been depressed to the point of a breakdown. The source of his distress, while related to his FBI job, was not caused by his counterterrorism assignment. He couldn't sleep, and before leaving for work each morning, suffered anxiety attacks. The exact source of his stress was not made public.

     Ivens' wife Thea, who never gave up hope that he was alive, continued searching for him after the authorities had given up. During his 80-day disappearance, she maintained a blog and a website devoted to his return.

     Because Ivens' remains were found just three-quarters of a mile from where the cadaver dogs had picked-up his scent, conspiracy theorists interpreted this fact as evidence that he had been murdered somewhere else, then placed behind the church where he could be easily found. People invested in this scenario disregarded a Burbank police officer's comment that "Every indication is that he [Ivens] has been there from the first day."

     On August 6, 2012, Craig Harvey, the Chief Coroner Investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office announced that Stephen Ivens had shot himself in the head with a handgun. The death had been ruled a suicide. The authorities revealed that the FBI agent had been despondent, but didn't say why.

     While FBI agents don't disappear everyday and stay missing for 80 days, the national media didn't show much interest in the Stephen Ivens case. Even the media in southern California didn't give the story a lot of attention. If Ivens had been even a minor celebrity, particularly someone in the entertainment industry, the media would have been all over his disappearance. There would have been daily press conferences, a three-page feature in People Magazine, headlines in the supermarket tabloids, and candlelight vigils attended by an army of fans. (Ivens' wife did stage one candlelight vigil in McCambridge Park to raise awareness of the case.)  So-called celebrity investigative journalists would have dug into every corner of Ivens' life. At this point, there wouldn't be much not known about the man, his marriage, his work, and why he left home.

     The mystery and controversy surrounding this case will only grow with time. The fact the media was so disinterested will add fuel to speculation of foul play.


     

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Unfinished Short Story

I started a short story called Who's Afraid of Emily Post? The piece featured a protagonist who was obsessed with always saying the right thing. The poor fellow hanged himself after innocently asking an un-pregnant heavy woman when she was due. I couldn't finish it. Where do you go from there?

Thornton P. Knowles 

Accomplice to Murder: The Peggy Sue Thomas Case

     In 2000, Peggy Sue Thomas, as Ms. Washington, participated in the U.S. Continental Beauty Pageant in Las Vegas. The 34-year-old beautician didn't win or make the top ten. Three years later, Thomas was working in a Freeland, Washington beauty salon owned by Brenna Douglas who confided in her that her 32-year-old husband Russell Douglas was abusive. When Thomas relayed this information to her boyfriend James Huden, he decided to kill Russell Douglas out of revenge. (Huden had been abused as a child, and he was supposedly taking out his anger on Douglas. He and the intended victim had never met.)

     On December 26, 2003, Peggy Sue Thomas asked Russell Douglas to meet her in a remote area on Whidbey Island 30 miles north of Seattle. Thomas lured Douglas to this spot on the pretext she had a gift for his wife Brenna. As Russell Douglas waited in his Chevrolet Geo Tracker for Peggy Sue, he came face-to-face with James Huden who shot the sunglasses-wearing victim between the eyes with a .380-caliber pistol.

     Homicide detectives initially suspected that Russell Douglas had been shot to death in a murder-for hire-plot cooked-up by his wife, the beneficiary of his $500,000 life insurance policy. Investigators caught a break in the case in August 2004 when a friend of James Huden's who had known him in Port Charlotte, Florida, called the Island County Sheriff's Office with a hot tip. The tipster, Bill Hill, said he had played in Huden's band called Buck Naked and the Xhibitionists. According to Hill, Huden had murdered Russell Douglas because Douglas was a wife abuser. Huden's  girlfriend, Peggy Sue Thomas, had set the victim up by luring him to the remote spot on Whidbey Island.

     Douglas case investigators got a second break in the case that summer. A man named Keith Ogden came forward with information regarding the murder weapon used in the execution-style killing. Ogden said he had showed Huden how to disassemble, clean, and fire the .380-caliber Bersa. He had also advised Huden on how to use a pillow or a plastic soda bottle to muffle the muzzle sound.

     James Huden, aware that the authorities were closing in on him, fled to Veracruz, Mexico in the fall of 2004. In Mexico, under the name Maestro Jim, Huden made a living as a guitar player in his band, Buck Naked and the Xhibitionists.

     In 2006, Peggy Sue Thomas, while working in Las Vegas as a limo driver, met Mark Allen, the millionaire owner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mind That Bird. After marrying Allen, Thomas took up residence at his horse ranch in New Mexico. After the divorce a few years later, Thomas, the beneficiary of a large settlement, moved back to Whidbey Island, Washington.

     The Mexican police, in June 2011, arrested James Huden on a federal unlawful flight warrant issued in the United States. U.S. Marshals returned the fugitive to Washington where he was scheduled to stand trial for the eight-year-old murder of Russell Douglas.

     Huden, after turning down a plea bargain deal where he'd identify Peggy Sue Thomas as his murder accomplice, went on trial in July 2012. The defendant's wife Jean took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Huden and Thomas had confessed to her regarding their roles in the Douglas murder. Two other men testified that Huden had confessed to them as well. Because James Huden did not take the stand on his own behalf, he did not implicate Peggy Sue in the murder.

     Following eight days of testimony, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances (using a firearm). A month later, the judge sentenced 59-year-old James Edward Huden to 80 years in prison. (According to the Douglas case prosecutor, one of Thomas' latent fingerprints had been lifted from the murder weapon.)

     The Huden-Thomas-Douglas murder saga came to an end on January 27, 2013 when Peggy Sue pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of rendering criminal assistance. The most prison time Thomas could do for this felony was four years. The guilty plea came one week before she was scheduled to go on trial for murder.

     At Thomas' sentencing hearing a month after the guilty plea, Jim Douglas, the victim's father, said this to the judge: "It seems a travesty of justice that she [Thomas] would be sentenced to less than four years in prison for the cold and premeditated act that could not have happened without her involvement." The judge sentenced the 47-year-old Thomas to four years behind bars.

     Peggy Sue Thomas was as much responsible for Russell Douglas' murder as the man who pulled the trigger. James Huden got 80 years, she got off light. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Bringing Back The Insult, "Flannel Mouth"

When I was growing up, I heard my father use the term "Flannel Mouth" to describe someone he considered a bragging, loud-mouthed, BS artist. I liked the sound of this insult, and in my earliest writings, used the term a lot. "Flannel mouth" gradually fell out of use, and eventually became obsolete. Worried that my father had made it up, I checked my dictionary and found "Flannel-Mouthed: 1. Speaking thickly, as if one's mouth were full of flannel. 2. Smooth-talking in an insecure way." Since the term perfectly describes the self-promoting, pompous, from-the-pulpit-toned speeches delivered by so many politicians, I'd like to bring "flannel mouth" back into common usage. I think it's needed now more than ever.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Beth Carpenter Murder-For-Hire Case

     When Kim Carpenter met Anson "Buzz" Clinton III in the summer of 1992, she was a 22-year-old divorcee living with her two-year-old daughter Rebecca in her parents' house in Ledyard, Connecticut. Buzz, a 26-year-old exotic dancer with a son who was three, had been divorced as well. Buzz and Kim got married that winter in Lyme, Connecticut at the Clinton family home. Buzz, having given up exotic dancing, had a job as a nurse's assistant in the a southeastern Connecticut convalescent home. Kim was three months pregnant with his baby.

     Before Kim and Buzz were married, Kim's parents, Richard and Cynthia Carpenter, had taken care of Kim's daughter Rebecca. They had become quite attached to their granddaughter and were concerned that Kim and her new husband, a man they did not consider worthy of their daughter, would not be suitable parents. Richard and Cynthia wanted Rebecca back under their roof.

     In November 1993, the Carpenters, alleging that Buzz was abusing their granddaughter, went to court to to gain legal custody of the little girl. Kim and Buzz denied the allegation and fought  to retain custody of Rebecca. The family court judge ruled against the Carpenters, denying them custody of their granddaughter. Kim had since given birth to Buzz's child, and was pregnant again. There was so much bad blood between Buzz and Kim's parents, he began making plans to move his family to Arizona. The Carpenters were sickened by the possibility that their beloved granddaughter might be taken out of their reach by a mother who couldn't  care for her and a man they believed was abusive. The grandparents felt helpless, and were on the verge of panic.

     On the morning of March 10, 1994, a motorist exiting the East Lyme off-ramp on I-95 saw the body of a man lying along the highway not far from an idling 1986 Pontiac Firebird. It was Buzz Clinton. He had been shot five times, then driven over by a vehicle as he lay dead on the road.

     Detectives with the Connecticut State Police learned that earlier that morning, someone had called Buzz about a tow truck he was selling.  Because investigators were unable to identify this caller, the case stalled. Whoever had murdered Buzz Clinton had not done it for his wallet, or anything else of value. Without a motive or a suspect, detectives quickly ran out of leads. In the meantime, Kim and Rebecca, and the two children fathered by Buzz Clinton, moved in with the Carpenters in Ledyard.

     On May 25, 1995, ten months after the murder, the Connecticut State Police received a call that shot life back into the investigation. The caller, who didn't identify herself, said that her ex-boyfriend and one of his associates had been involved in Buzz Clinton's murder. The anonymous caller named the principals, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, 40-year-old Joseph Fremut and and a biker dude from Deep River Connecticut named Mark Dupres. The caller didn't say why Buzz Clinton had been killed. Both suspects had criminal histories involving petty crimes and drug dealing. But neither man, as far as detectives could determine, had any direct link to Buzz Clinton.

     Detectives looking into Mark Dupres' background eventually found an indirect and rather thin connection between the biker and the murder victim. Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, worked in the New London law firm that employed Kim's sister, Beth Carpenter. When questioned by detectives, Joseph Fremut, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, said that Mark Dupres had been the one who had murdered Buzz Clinton. Fremut said he had been involved in the planning phase of the homicide, but had not been with Dupres when the shooting took place. According to Fremut, Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, had paid Dupres to do the job for another attorney who worked at the New London law firm.

     A few days after his initial interview, Mark Dupres confessed to detectives with the Connecticut State Police. He admitted being the person who had called Buzz Clinton to inquire about the tow truck he was selling. Accompanied by his 15-year-old son Chris, Dupres, on the morning of the murder, had driven to Buzz Clinton's house. From there, Dupres and his son, in their Oldsmobile Cutlass, followed Clinton to the place where he kept the vehicle for sale. As they were coming off exit 72 in East Lyme, Dupres blinked his lights signaling Clinton to pull over. As Clinton approached the driver's side of the Oldsmobile, Dupres got out of the vehicle to meet him. When he was between the two cars, Dupres pulled his revolver and shot Clinton five times.

     As Dupres pulled away from the murder scene, with his son Chris still in the vehicle, he drove over Clinton's body. Detectives asked the suspect why he would kill a man in front of his son. Dupres, who apparently didn't get the point of the question, shrugged his shoulders and said that the boy hadn't done anything wrong.

    Mark Dupres told the detectives he had killed Buzz Clinton on behalf of his attorney, Haiman Clein. In payment for the murder, the lawyer had given him $1,000 in upfront money. According to their agreement, Dupres would receive $4,000 after the hit. As it turned out, Clein only paid the hit man an additional $500.

     Detectives learned that Haiman Clein, who didn't know Buzz Clinton, was just the middleman. The 53-year-old attorney had allegedly arranged the murder for Beth Carpenter, a beautiful young attorney in the New London law firm. Carpenter was the murder victim's sister-in-law. Clein and the 30-year-old blonde were having an affair.

     Mark Dupres told detectives that he had met with Beth Carpenter in Clein's law office. On that occasion, the three of them discussed the murder plan in some detail. From Carpenter, Dupres acquired a photograph of the murder target, his work address, and the license number of his Pontiac Firebird. Beth Carpenter said that she wanted Buzz Clinton dead because he had been abusing her niece Rebecca. The young lawyer said her parents had tried but failed to gain legal custody of the little girl. That's when Beth, without her parents' knowledge, began planning Clinton's murder. It was all about Rebecca. Shortly before Dupres murdered Buzz Clinton, Beth Carpenter moved to London, England.

     Charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Joseph Fremut and Mark Dupres, pursuant to plea agreements, promised to testify against Attorney Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter. In Dupres' case, the prosecutor, under the agreement, would recommend a prison sentence that didn't exceed 45 years. The triggerman's son Chris, having been granted immunity from prosecution, also agreed to testify against the two lawyers.

     Haiman Clein avoided arrest by fleeing the state. Beth Carpenter told FBI agents stationed in London that Mr. Clein had been the mastermind behind the contract murder. Claiming total innocence, Beth denied prior knowledge of the murder. She agreed to help the FBI find the missing Clein who every so often called her from a public telephone. In February 1996, FBI agents arrested Clein as he stood by a telephone booth in Long Beach, California. He had been awaiting a call from Beth Carpenter.

     Following his arrest, Clein insisted that he was innocent. But sixteen months later, he accepted a plea bargain arrangement similar to the one given his former client and friend, triggerman Mark Dupres. Betrayed by Beth Carpenter, he identified her as the mastermind and himself nothing more than a middle-man in the deadly scheme. This gave the prosecutor enough evidence to charge Beth Carpenter, on August 26, 1997, with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder. No longer living in England, she had moved to Dublin where she was living under her own name. In November 1997, the Irish police took her into custody.

     Claiming that she had been framed by Haiman Clein who sought revenge because she had ratted him out to the FBI, Carpenter fought extradition to the United States. Because the prosecutor in Connecticut sought the death penalty, the authorities in Ireland, pursuant to a policy that forbade extraditing foreign fugitives who could be executed in their home countries, refused to send her back. The following year, as Carpenter sat in an Irish jail, Dupres and Clein pleaded guilty. They were each sentenced to 45 years in prison.

     In June 1999, after the Connecticut prosecutor promised not to seek the death penalty in the case, the Irish authorities sent Beth Carpenter back to the U. S. to face charges that she had orchestrated the murder of Buzz Clinton. Because she had already spent 19 months behind bars, the judge in Connecticut released her on $150,000 bail. The defendant was allowed her to await her trial under house arrest in her parents' home.

     The televised murder trial (Court TV) began in February 2001, eight years after Mark Dupres pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton as he walked toward the killer's car parked alongside the I-95 off-ramp. Appearing for the prosecution, the victim's mother, Dee Clinton, described how the defendant's parents had fought to wrest custody of Rebecca from her son and his wife Kim. The custody battle had created bad blood between her son and the Carpenter family. This provided the motive for the murder-for-hire killing.

     The hit man's son, Chris Dupres, testified that until the shooting took place, he had no idea what his father had planned to do. As they left the murder scene that morning, the car rolled over the victim's body. Ten minutes after the killing, his father smashed the murder weapon with a hammer and tossed the pieces into the woods.

     Haiman Clein, now 61-years-old and disbarred, took the stand on March 8, 2002. In December 1993, shortly after the Carpenters lost their custody battle for Rebecca, the defendant told Clein that as long as Buzz Clinton was alive, Rebecca was in danger and beyond the reach of her protection. Eventually Beth came right out and asked if Clein would arrange to have someone kill the source of the problem. At first Clein wasn't sure she was serious, but when Beth kept bringing up the subject, he realized that she really wanted Buzz Clinton dead.

     According to Clein's testimony, in late January 1994, he brought Beth, his colleague and lover, and Mark Dupres, his client and friend, together in his office to discuss the murder. A month before Dupres was to perform the hit, he got cold feet and called off the murder. A couple of weeks after that, the contract killing was back on his schedule after Beth came to him in tears claiming that Buzz Clinton had just locked Rebecca in the basement and burned her with a cigarette.

     At four in the morning on March 11, 1993, less than twenty-four hours after the murder, Beth Carpenter called Haiman Clein and said she was worried sick and had to see him. In bed with his wife, Clein got dressed and drove to Norwich to calm his anxious mistress. When he got to her apartment, she refused to discuss the murder because she was afraid the FBI had bugged the place.

     Haiman Clein testified that when Mark Dupres told him he had taken his son along on the hit, the attorney was furious. How stupid could you get? If the kid talked, they'd all end up in prison. Now Clein had something to worry about.

     Mark Dupres, the prosecution's most important witness, took the stand and implicated himself, Clein, and the defendant. Following the hit man's testimony, the state rested its case. As murder-for-trials go, the prosecution had presented a solid case, one that would require a strong defense. To provide that defense, Beth Carpenter's attorneys put their best witness on the stand, the defendant herself.

     Beth Carpenter testified that when Haiman Clein found out about Buzz Clinton and what he was doing to Rebecca, he arranged the hit on his own volition to solve the problem for Beth and her niece. After she found out what he had done on her behalf, she didn't turn him in because, "I needed to be with him. I wasn't a whole person." Shocked by what he had done, she said to him, "Only someone who is crazy would do something like this." To that Clein had allegedly replied, "Don't you see? You don't have anything to worry about anymore."

     On April 12, 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty as charged. The defendant and her attorneys, thinking that Clein and Dupres had not been believable witnesses, were stunned by the verdict. Four months later, the judge complied with the terms of the Irish extradition agreement by sentencing Beth Carpenter to life in prison without parole.

     

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Flunking Seventh Grade

I have the distinction of having flunked seventh grade in West Virginia. I hated school, and my cruel, dimwitted teacher, hated me. My distraught and embarrassed parents considered moving to another town, and, when referring to the family tragedy, never used the word "flunked." They preferred "retained." Yeah, I was "retained" because my teacher couldn't bear to let me go. But for me, it wasn't all bad. Two months after she "retained" me, the seventh grade teacher died of a hardened heart. She was replaced by a younger, friendlier, but equally dull teacher who just happened to be really nice to look at. Most important, while I didn't learn anything in my seventh grades, this humiliating chapter in my life taught me the power of words.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Adam Lee Brown: The Pedophile Who Tried to Infect His Victims With HIV

     When 27-year-old Adam Lee Brown was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1990, he was HIV positive. The married military computer technician, while serving in southern California, had picked-up the virus after having affairs with homosexual men. Furious that he had contracted the disease, Brown told his estranged wife that he would somehow get revenge. He didn't say how, or who would be the target of his fury.

     In 1992, Brown was living in the logging town of Roseburg, Oregon. The son of a pastor, Brown became the lay preacher at the Fair Oaks Community Church in nearby Sutherlin. That year, over a six-month period, Adam Brown sexually molested, and tried to infect, dozens of 5 to 10-year-old boys he met through friends and a women he knew who babysat in his neighborhood. Once he had lured a boy to his home, Brown would either drug the child or force him to drink alcohol. He also showed his victims pornographic videos, and after raping them, promised to stab them with knives and scissors if they told anyone. He also assured the boys that if they informed their parents what he had done to them, they would burn in hell. A 5-year-old boy, told his parents, and then the police, that Brown had smeared semen into a scratch on the victim's arm. (The boy obviously didn't use the term semen.)

     In the fall of 1993, Douglas County District Attorney William Marshall charged Adam Brown with 49 counts of rape and attempted murder. This was the first case in the country involving a pedophile who had tried to kill his victims by infecting them with HIV.

     For some reason, District Attorney Marshall allowed Brown to plead no contest to only 4 of the 49 counts. After Brown pleaded no contest to 3 counts of sodomy, and one count of child endangerment, the judge, in December 1993, sentenced him to 16 years in prison.

     On October 5, 2004, after serving 11 years of his prison sentence, Oregon's corrections authorities released Adam Brown on parole. The freed pedophile was ordered to register as a sex offender, and was barred from frequenting places where children regularly congregate. His parole expired in 2020. (Parole, in my opinion, is a stupid idea designed to provide a lot of useless government jobs. The federal government got rid of it years ago.)

     At two in the afternoon of Sunday, July 1, 2012, Adam Brown, now 49 and still a pedophile, was loitering around the entrance to the men's room at a Wendy's in Portland, Oregon. When an unaccompanied 10-year-old boy approached the restroom, Brown grabbed the child, pulled him inside, and locked the door. As the abductor stabbed the struggling boy, the victim's father heard his screams and ran to help. But the frantic parent couldn't save his boy because Brown had locked the door. When a Wendy's  supervisor unlocked the men's room, Brown pushed the wounded boy out of the restroom and locked himself inside. A group of employees held the door closed so Brown couldn't escape until the police arrived.

     As paramedics rushed the badly injured boy to a nearby hospital, patrol officers with the Portland Police Department spoke to Brown through the men's room door. Brown refused to come out, and claimed to possess a gun. A hostage negotiator, following a two-hour standoff, coaxed Brown out of the restaurant. When taken into custody, the pedophile had a knife, but no firearm.

     The district attorney in Multnomah County charged Adam Lee Brown with attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and assault. The subject was held in the Multnomah County Jail on $2 million bond. The injured child underwent emergency surgery and recovered.

     Adam Lee Brown pleaded guilty in October 2012 to sexual abuse and kidnapping. Judge Julie Frantz, before sentencing the 49-year-old to 33 years in prison, said, "The crimes you committed are horrific and absolutely unspeakable."

     It's hard to understand why a pedophile who had raped and tried to infect his victims with the HIV virus was allowed, in 1992, to plead no contest to such a small number of reduced charges. Prosecutors are put in office to protect the public, not to go soft on sexual predators. Offenders like Adam Brown should be imprisoned for life. The notion that pedophiles will not re-offend, or be prevented from victimizing vulnerable children through legal restrictions on where they can live or go, is stupid and irresponsible. Under the terms of Brown's parole, was he allowed to patronize fast-food restaurants popular with children?

     The Adam Brown case reveals why the only place for a pedophile is in prison.       

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On People Who Love Themselves

While "Know Thy Self" makes sense, I don't get "Love Thy Self." What kind of person can be deeply and hopelessly afflicted with self-love? As a self-loathing person, I can't comprehend how someone who knows himself can even like himself. What is there to like? Who doesn't lie, harbor evil thoughts, and in various degrees, hurt others? I think the self-love syndrome is a form of delusion and borderline psychosis. I also believe that people who truly love themselves can be dangerous. Short of that, they are profoundly unlikable. As a group, politicians tend to be self-loving, deceitful, narcissists capable of horrendous acts of cruelty. This should be of no surprise to anyone who has even a basic knowledge of history. Let's face it, the world has been shaped by self-loving sociopaths.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Shot Heard Around the Golf Course

     Jeff Fleming lived in a house adjacent to the 16th hole fairway on the Lakeridge Golf Course in Reno, Nevada. In September 2012, when a golfer hit a ball through one of Fleming's windows, the 53-year-old imposed a unique penalty on the wayward ball striker. As the golfer addressed his dropped ball not far from the window he had broken, Mr. Fleming made a shot of his own. He fired a shotgun at the terrified golfer who dropped his club and ran for his life. Mr. Fleming, apparently, had not yelled "fore!"

     Fortunately for the golfer, Mr. Fleming was off-target with his shot as well. The golfer, hit by a few pellets from a single shotgun round, was treated at a nearby emergency room for minor arm and leg injuries.

     Immediately after the golf course shooting, Jeff Fleming drove to his attorney's office to turn himself in. Police officers arrested him at the law office. A Washoe County prosecutor charged Mr. Fleming with assault with a deadly weapon, a serious crime that could put Fleming behind bars for twenty years.

     In October 2013, the man who fired a shotgun at the golfer who broke his window pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of battery with a deadly weapon. Even so, he faced a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. However, when Fleming was sentenced in December, the judge put him on probation. The fact he didn't have a criminal record, and had expressed remorse shortly after the shooting, probably keep him out of prison. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The American Worship Of Sports

In a town where I lived, a high school football coach who was in his 90s, died. His life story and historic achievements on the field dominated the local news for three days. He was a legend. One of his former players was quoted as saying that old Coach was now on the big gridiron in the sky. Hell, you'd think the guy had cured cancer, or had saved the world from Hitler. Good heavens, he was just a high school football coach. The next day, the former town doctor died. There was nothing in the paper about him other than a short obituary. In America, we worship our sports heroes.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Jaren Lockhart Murder Case

     Jaren Lockhart lived with her fiancee at the Capri Motel in New Orleans, and worked as an exotic dancer at the Temptations Strip Club in the French Quarter. She had a 3-year-old daughter but did not have custody of the child. On Tuesday night, June 5, 2012, the 23-year-old showed up for her shift at the Bourbon Street club and worked until the early morning hours of the next day. When she didn't return to the Capri on Wednesday, her fiancee reported her missing to the New Orleans police.

     Late in the afternoon of Thursday, June 7, workers pumping sand onto the beach at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, discovered a female torso that had washed up from the Gulf of Mexico. Early Saturday, June 9, 2012, a fisherman on the beach at Pass Christian came across the lower portion of a human leg. Later that day, searchers in Long Beach, Mississippi found a female head that had washed ashore.

     The body parts had come from Jaren Lockhart who had been stabbed in the chest, her presumed cause of death. Investigators with the Hancock County, Mississippi Sheriff's Office didn't know where the victim had been murdered, or exactly when. Moreover, detectives didn't have a murder weapon, a motive, or any suspects. The Capri Motel, Lockhart's $50-a-day residence, mainly housed gulf oil workers and French Quarter bar employees. Detectives wondered if she had been murdered by someone living at the motel.

     A review of the Temptations Strip Club's surveillance tapes showed Lockhart, on the night of June 5, 2012, walking along Bourbon Street and into the club accompanied by two people identified as 28-year-old Margaret Sanchez, and Sanchez's boyfriend, Terry Speaks, 39. The couple, who appeared to be acquainted with Lockhart, resided in Kenner, Louisiana.

     Investigators, in checking out Speaks, learned that he was a federal fugitive for failing to register as a sex offender in connection with a 2003 case involving a 14-year-old girl in North Carolina. Speaks also had convictions for assault and domestic violence. Because Speaks and Sanchez were now prime suspects in Lockhart's murder, the FBI stepped up its investigation to find and arrest Speaks on the federal, North Carolina sex offender registration warrant.

     On June 12, 2012, police in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, pulled Speaks and Sanchez over in a routine traffic stop. He had dyed his hair orange and she had colored her hair blue. Speaks jumped out of the car, scaled a fence, and ran into the woods. Police caught the fugitive and turned him over to the FBI. The police took Sanchez into custody for harboring a sex offender. Speaks was extradited to North Carolina where he was held on $1 million bond. Sanchez was held on $35,000 bail.

     A few months after his arrest, the authorities extradited Speaks back to Louisiana to stand trial for Jaren Lockhart's murder. Sanchez was also charged with murder in the Lockhart case. Investigators believed the suspects had killed Lockhart in Louisiana, then dumped her remains in Mississippi.

     In June 2015, a jury in a Jefferson Parish court found Terry Speaks guilty of second-degree murder. The defendant had fired his attorneys before the trial, and had represented himself. For the killing and dismemberment of Jaren Lockhart, Judge Stephen Grefer sentenced Speaks to life in prison.

     On June 20, 2016, Margaret Sanchez pleaded guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice in the Lockhart killing. Judge Grefer sentenced her to forty years in prison.

     Because Terry Speaks didn't confess, and Sanchez didn't go to trial, the motive behind the killing and dismemberment of Jaren Lockhart remained unknown.