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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On What Little We Know

Let's says some rich man with a sharp mind spent fifty years acquiring college degrees in dozens of academic disciplines. In terms of accumulated knowledge, what would that add up to? Not much. There is too much to know. Regardless of the extend of our formal education and life experience, while some end up less ignorant that others, we all die relatively ignorant. Nevertheless, the world is full of people who think they know everything. I like to believe that these fools, when they kick the bucket, end up in a hell where for eternity they keep flunking the same test.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On A Poet He Likes

Cleetious "Hillbilly"  Barns, when asked about his poetry said, "If it don't rhyme, it ain't worth a dime, and sure ain't mine." That's about as low-brow as you can get. He's one of my favorites.

Thornton P. Knowles

Diane Staudte and the Power of Poison

     In 2012, 62-year-old Mark Staudte resided with his wife Diane and their four children in a modest neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri. The couple had met years ago at a small Lutheran College in Kansas. While active in the church, Diane and Mark kept to themselves. A man with strong political opinions who regularly wrote letters to the editor, Mr. Staudte had never been very good at holding down a steady job. He eventually stopped trying and devoted most of his time to family matters and playing in a band he had formed called "Messing With Destiny."

     Mark Staudte's 51-year-old wife Diane played the organ at church and unlike her husband, never had much to say. The couple's oldest child, 26-year-old Shaun, suffered from a mild form of autism. Sarah Staudte, 24, was having a hard time finding a good job. Rachel Staudte, two years younger than Sarah, was a dean's list student at Missouri State University. (At least according to her Facebook page.) She played the flute at church. The youngest member of the family was an eleven-year-old girl.

     On April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday, Mark Stuadte died suddenly at home. To the emergency personnel who rushed to the house, Diane explained that her husband hadn't been feeling well. He had recently experienced three seizures. When asked if her husband had a history of this kind of thing, she said he had not suffered seizures in the past.

     The Greene County Medical Examiner, Dr. Douglas Anderson, without conducting an autopsy or ordering toxicological tests, ruled Mark Staudte's manner of death as natural. The forensic pathologist did not identify specifically what had caused this man to die. Pursuant to Diane Staudte's instructions, her husband's body was cremated. At his memorial service, friends and family couldn't help noticing that Diane's demeanor bordered on jubilant.

     On September 2, 2012, almost five months after Mark Staudte's sudden and mysterious passing, tragedy once again raised its ugly head at the Staudte house. This time it was Diane's oldest child Shaun who became ill and suddenly died at the age of 26. Once again, Dr. Douglas Anderson, without the aid of an autopsy or toxicological tests, ruled the death as natural. The medical examiner did not, however, identify the disease that had taken the young man's life. Diane made sure that Shaun's body, like his father's, was consumed by fire. For a woman who, within a period of five months had lost her husband and her oldest child, Diane seemed unfazed by the unexpected deaths. Indeed, her spirits seemed to have been lifted.

     On the day after Shaun's passing, the Springfield police received an anonymous tip from a man who said he was a friend of the Staudte family. According to the caller, Mark and Shaun Staudte had been poisoned to death by Diane. The police, however, did not act on this tip. According to the medical examiner, both men had died natural deaths. Without a finding of homicide, there was nothing to investigate.

     Sarah Staudte fell ill on June 10, 2013. Paramedics came to the house and rushed her to a nearby hospital. The next day, as the 24-year-old fought for her life, the Springfield police received a second anonymous tip in which the caller accused Diane Staudte of poisoning the third member of her family. This time the Springfield police sent a detective to the hospital to question doctors and nurses.

     According to hospital personnel who were caring for the young woman, her mother had visited the patient briefly during which time she joked around with the medical staff. One of the nurses informed the detective that Diane Staudte told hospital personnel that she wasn't going to let her daughter's illness ruin a Florida vacation she planned to take in the near future. A physician described Sarah's condition as "very suspicious." The doctor told the investigator that in his opinion, this patient had been poisoned.

     On June 20, 2013, after being asked to appear at the Springfield Police Department for questioning, Diane Staudte, following a short interrogation, confessed to poisoning all three members of her family. Over a period of days before the deaths of her husband and son, she had spiked their drinks with the sweet taste of antifreeze. Diane had poisoned her husband's Gatorade simply because she "hated" him. She had laced Shaun's Coke with the poison because she considered him "worse than a pest." Diane told her interrogators that she had poisoned her oldest daughter Sarah because the girl "would not get a job and had student loans that had to be paid." Diane insisted that in murdering Mark and Shaun, and attempting to kill Sarah, she had acted alone.

     When detectives questioned Rachel Staudte, the 22-year-old college student, she admitted that she had helped her mother commit the crimes. The two of them had used the Internet to research how to administer antifreeze as a poisoning agent.

     On June 21, 2013, a Greene County assistant prosecutor charged Diane and Rachel Staudte each with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. The judge denied both women bail.

     According to doctors, while Sarah Staudte survived her poisoning, she would suffer the neurological effects of the antifreeze for the rest of her life. The eleven-year-old Staudte girl was living with relatives. With her father and brother dead, her mother and one of her sisters charged with murder and assault, and the other sister permanently disabled, this girl's family no longer existed. Such is the power of poison.

     In May 2015, Rachel Staudte pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. She agreed to testify against her mother in the event her case went to trial. The judge sentenced the 25-year-old to two life prison terms plus twenty years. Under the terms of this sentence, she wouldn't be eligible for parole until she served 42 years.

     On January 20, 2016, Diane Staudte pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder in the death of her husband and one count of first-degree assault in the poisoning of her daughter, Sarah. Pursuant to the plea deal she avoided the death penalty, but was sentenced to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

     In May 2016, ABC News acquired video tapes of the police interrogation of Diane Staudte and her daughter, Rachel. As part of her confession, the mother said, "I'm not a perpetual killer. I'm just stupid. I regret doing it. I really do. I've screwed up everybody. I've screwed up my whole family."
   
     

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Being An Invisible Person

While I can appreciate the beauty of a well-designed, well kept automobile, I am not a real car person. The last thing I want is a chariot that turns heads. The car I drive, although not exactly a rattletrap, is sixteen years old, dirty, and as ordinary as a telephone pole. On the road, my sedan is virtually invisible, and as its driver, so am I. That's me, the invisible man driving his invisible car around West Virginia, the invisible state. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Faking Creativity

I like to think of myself as a creative person. But a lot of people who think of themselves as creative are not. There are days when I worry that I'm one of those people. You know, a fake pretending to be something I am not. Thinking you are creative is self-anointing. There is no such thing as a certificate of creativity. Deep down I suspect that I am an imposter, but probably a good one. Maybe I'm just a creative fake.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Barbara Olson Murder Case

     In the summer of 2012, Antonio D. Barbeau, a 13-year-old escapee from a juvenile detention center, was living in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin with the family of his 13-year-old friend, Nathan P. Paape. On September 17, 2012, Paape's mother drove the eighth graders to the Sheboygan Falls home of Barbeau's great-grandmother. Paape's mother didn't realize that Barbeau carried a concealed hatchet, and that her son possessed a hammer. She didn't know that the boys intended to murder and rob the 78-year-old woman, Barbara Olson.

     The boys entered Olson's house through an unlocked door to her attached garage. The target of the murder/robbery, when she realized why the boys had come to her home, threatened to call Barbeau's mother. At that point Barbeau knocked his great-grandmother off her feet by hitting her in the back of the head with the blunt end of his hatchet. As she lay on the floor trying to protect her head with her hands, Barbeau hit her again, and again. Nathan Paape joined in with his hammer. To finish off the dying woman, Barbeau struck her twice in the back of the head with the blade part of the bloodied hatchet.

     The young murderers rummaged through the dead woman's house looking for cash and valuables. They gathered up the victim's purse, some loose change, and a few pieces of her jewelry. Barbeau slipped the blood-soaked watch off his great-grandmother's wrist.

     The boys had planned to load the victim's body into her car and drive it to a spot where they'd abandoned the vehicle and the corpse. When they couldn't stuff the body into the car, they left it in the garage beneath a blanket.

     The cold-blooded killers tossed the bloody murder instruments into the trunk, and drove off in the murdered woman's car. They parked the Olson vehicle in a lot to a Sheboygan Falls bowling alley. Leaving the keys in the ignition with the stolen jewelry placed on the front seat in plain view, they walked away, hoping that someone would steal the car and eventually take the fall for murdering the woman lying dead in her garage.

     A few blocks from the abandoned vehicle, Barbeau and Paape sat down for a meal at a pizza parlor. After eating their pizzas, the boys walked to Paape's house. Along the way, they tossed Barbara Olson's handbag into a storm drain. At Paape's home, they changed into fresh clothes and hid their bloody garments and the gold watch Barbeau had taken off the corpse.

     Later on the day of this senseless murder, Mrs. Olson's daughter discovered her body. Police officers quickly figured out who had murdered the victim. Investigators recovered her purse from the street drain, the murder weapons from the stolen car, and the killers' bloody clothing and the victim's gold watch from Nathan Paape's house.

     In a matter of days, Antonio Barbeau confessed, and in so doing, implicated his friend. On September 21, 2012, four days after the murder, a Sheboygan County prosecutor changed each suspect with first-degree intentional homicide. The magistrate set each of the defendants' bail at $1 million.

     Nathan Paape went on trial for first-degree intentional homicide in June 2013. Under Wisconsin law, Paape, because of his age, couldn't be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. But if convicted as charged, the judge could sentence him to a maximum of forty years in prison before he was eligible for release.

     One of the first prosecution witnesses, Dr. Doug Kelley with the Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner's Office, testified that Barbara Olson had been struck in the head with the blunt intruments at least twenty-five times. The star prosecution witness, Antonio Barbeau, testified that he and the defendant had hatched the murder/robbery scheme together. Barbeau told the jurors that he and Paape took turns whacking his great-grandmother as she lay helpless in her own home.

     Defense attorneys put their client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. According to the defendant, the crime had been Barbeau's idea. After they entered the victim's house, Paape said he hit the old woman twice with his hammer. He only did it because he was afraid that if he didn't, Barbeau would attack him. The defendant claimed that when his mother drove them to Olson's dwelling, he didn't think that Barbeau would actually carry out the plan to kill the woman.

     Following the one-week trial, the jury, after a quick deliberation, found Nathan Paape guilty as charged. A few days after the verdict, Antonio Barbeau withdrew his not guilty by mental disease plea. He agreed to plead no contest to first-degree intentional homicide.

     On August 12, 2013, Barbeau appeared before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Van Akkeren who presided at his sentence hearing. His attorney presented a psychiatrist who testified that Barbeau had "cognitive issues" stemming from being hit by a car when he was 10-years-old. Judge Van Akkeren, obviously unimpressed with the psychiatrist's testimony, sentenced Barbeau to life. The 14-year-old would not be eligible for parole until November 24, 2048 when he turned fifty.

     The next day Judge Van Akkeren, before sentencing Nathan Paape, said, "Mr. Paape is a follower in this case. I do find there is less culpability." The judge sentenced Paape to life in prison with eligibility for parole on December 2, 2043, Paape's 45th birthday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Novelist's Curse

At my advanced age, I still seek approval of my writing. Among my many weaknesses of character, this one bothers me a lot. I fear I will never outlive this vanity. I struggle hopelessly to make my writing good enough to compensate for my failings as a person. No novel can be good enough to alter the character of its creator. I believe that many novelists are flawed, vain people, and while this is our curse, it keeps us writing.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On A Gal Named Nola

In my mid-twenties, I had a five-year relationship with a woman from Weirton, West Virginia named Nola Contendre. Nola possessed a volatile, hair-trigger temper and an inclination toward physical violence. I think she inherited her bellicosity from her father, a moonshiner and cockfighting promoter who was considered the godfather of the local hillbilly Mafia. Three days after I ended the on-and-off-again affair, Nola walked into a ginmill in town called Custer's Last Shot. I was drinking with a large woman I barely knew but was nonetheless deeply in love with. Nola strode into the joint accompanied by a six-inch barrel, blue steel, Model 10 Smith & Wesson six-shot revolver with one of those beautifully carved walnut handles. Although this was an impressive weapon, it was a bit too heavy for Nola to properly control. As she struggled to remove the S & W from her handbag, she squeezed one off into her big toe. To Nola's credit, the wounded woman was still able to free the handgun and fire a second shot in my direction. The bulled whizzed passed my ear into a Johnny Cash poster (it got him in the guitar) hanging on the wall outside the men's room. The bullet sailed into the pissery where it killed a 60-year-old urinal. By then, a half dozen drunks had managed to get poor Nola to the floor where they separated her from the would-be murder weapon. A year later, and here the story gets sad, a guard at the state pen found Nola hanging dead in her cell. All said, she was one hell of a gal. I like women, but as a matter of survival, I never married.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, February 19, 2018

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

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Trying To Teach Writing

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Great Grandfather

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Pubic School Education

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Knowing Thy Self

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

Thornton P. Knowles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Using Flashbacks In A Novel

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

Thornton P. Knowles 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Using His Computer

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Professor James Aune Chose Death Over Disgrace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Health Care Worker Pinky Placebo

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Last Writer's Conference

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, February 9, 2018

The James D. Willie Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Kim Pham Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

Monday, February 5, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of Human Behavior

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Who Murdered Russell and Shirley Dermond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Daydreaming

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, February 2, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On How Television Works

A student once asked me if I knew how television worked. I said, "Sure, you simply put a bunch of idiots incapable of embarrassment in front of a camera."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Orville Fleming Murder Case

     In 2012, 53-year-old Orville "Moe" Fleming and his wife Meagan separated after she accused him of cheating on her. That year, the 20-year veteran and battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (known as Cal Fire) began dating 24-year-old Sarah Jane Douglas. Douglas had come to Fleming's attention through an Internet site that advertised her services as a paid escort. Shortly after they met, she moved into his house in south Sacramento County. At this time Fleming worked as an instructor at the fire academy in Ione, California.

     By April 2014, Fleming's divorce from Meagan was about to be finalized but his relationship with Douglas had deteriorated into turmoil. Having grown weary of his obsessive, controlling behavior, Douglas wanted out of his life.

     On April 28, 2014, shortly before the finalization of their divorce, Fleming reached out to Meagan with the following text message: "Can we put us and our family back together!?" She replied, "No!!! It's over, sorry. I gave you many chances. Please leave me in peace now. You already hurt me so bad. I'm over it. Never going back to a cheater. Never. But God bless you. Now leave me alone!!!" Fleming responded by texting: "Come and pick me up….We're supposed to grow old together." She did not respond to his plea.

     On Wednesday night, April 30, 2014, Sarah Douglas, her younger sister Stephanie, and their mother, spent time together at a local gambling casino. During the evening, Sarah revealed that she planned to leave Mr. Fleming.

     Just before midnight, after their night out, Stephanie Douglas and her mother dropped Sarah off at the house she had been sharing with Fleming. Not long after that, Stephanie received a phone call from her sister. In the background she could hear an angry man's voice. Sarah screamed and the phone went dead.

     After the disturbing phone call, Stephanie tried but failed to get back in touch with her sister. Sometime after midnight, Stephanie went to the house to check on Sarah. She found her sister lying face down and dead with a blood-soaked bed sheet wrapped around her neck. Orville Fleming and his vehicle were not at the scene. Stephanie called 911.

     At two-thirty that morning, May 1, 2014, Fleming sent the following text message to his soon-to-be ex-wife: "You should have come and picked me up."

     At the murder scene, detectives encountered the stabbed-to-death victim as well as pools of blood and bloodstains scattered throughout the house. A few hours later, a judge issued a warrant for Orville Fleming's arrest on suspicion of murder.

     At seven that evening, police officers in nearby Elk Grove, California, found the fugitive's abandoned white, 2007 Chevrolet pickup truck with Cal Fire written on the doors. The vehicle had been sitting there all day.

     Because the firefighter had outdoor skills and a familiarity with the Yosemite Valley and other regions of the Sierra Nevada and Santa Cruz Mountains, officers figured he might be hard to find. Fleming also possessed keys to dozens of state buildings, lookout towers, and storage sheds stocked with food and water. He was also presumed to be armed with two handguns that were registered in his name.

     Fleming's superiors at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a few days after Sarah Douglas' murder, terminated him from his $100,000-a-year job. (In 2013, in addition to his base salary, Fleming earned $30,000 in overtime pay.)

     On Friday, May 16, 2014, police officers arrested Orville Fleming as he boarded a bus in Elk Grove, California where he had been hiding all along. The following Monday, at his arraignment hearing, Fleming pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. Relatives of the victim were infuriated when the defendant winked at an acquaintance in the courtroom.

     A few weeks after the murder, Meagan Fleming, the murder suspect's ex-wife, told reporters that Orville Fleming and other firefighters had sex with prostitutes on firetrucks at the academy. Moreover, someone had made a sex tape of this activity. She claimed to have seen a tape of her ex-husband and other firefighters having sex with Sarah Douglas. Because of the seriousness of this allegation, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office asked the California Highway Patrol to investigate the claim.

     On Monday December 29, 2014, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson announced that sixteen firefighters, most of whom were instructors at the fire academy, had been placed on paid administrative leave. The spokesperson did not say why these firefighters had been given "administrative time off."

      Amid the fire department scandal, Orville Fleming remained incarcerated in the Sacramento County Jail awaiting his trial for the murder of Sarah Douglas.

     On July 15, 2015, after a jury in Sacramento found Orville Fleming guilty of second-degree murder, the Superior Court judge sentenced him to 16 years to life in prison. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Three Executions

Edward Harold Schad

     In 1968, 42-year-old Edward Harold Schad strangled a male sex partner to death in Utah. Ten years later, on August 9, 1978, the paroled killer carjacked Lorimer Grove's Cadillac in Bisbee, Arizona. Police discovered Grove's body along a highway near Prescott, Arizona with a sash-like cord knotted around his neck. 
     After he murdered Mr. Grove, Schad drove around the country in the stolen Cadillac cashing forged checks drawn on the dead man's bank account. Schad also made purchases with the victim's credit cards. A year later a jury found Schad guilty of first-degee murder. A judge sentenced him to death.
    At ten in the morning of Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at the Arizona State Prison at Florence, the oldest man on the state's death row received his lethal dose of pentobarbital. When the warden asked the 71-year-old if he had any last words, Schad said, "Well, after 34 years [on death row], I'm free to fly away home. Thank you, Warden. Those are my last words." 
     In Arizona, 121 death row inmates await their executions. Two of the condemned prisoners are women. Since supplies of pentobarbital are limited, I wonder if the state has enough of this lethal drug to carry out its execution mandate. 
Ronald Clinton Lott
     On September 2, 1986, 26-year-old Ronald Clinton Lott broke into 83-year-old Anna Laura Fowler's home in Oklahoma City. The intruder beat, raped, and strangled the old woman to death. On January 11, 1987, Lott broke into the home across the street from his first victim's dwelling. In that house he tortured, raped, and murdered 93-year-old Zelma Cutler. 
     A jury in Oklahoma City found Ronald Lott guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. 
     At 6:06 in the evening of Tuesday, December 10, 2013, the executioner at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, administered Lott's lethal injection. The 53-year-old had no last words. Lott was the fifth Oklahoma prisoner to be put to death in 2013. 
Allen Nicklasson
     In August 1994, 22-year-old Allen Nicklasson met a convicted killer named Dennis Skillicorn at a drug rehabilitation center in Kansas City, Missouri. On August 22, 1994, Nicklasson, Skillicorn, and a third man, Tim De Graffenreid, decided to drive across the state to St. Louis where they planned to buy drugs. En route, Nicklasson's 1883 Chevrolet Caprice broke down on Interstate 70 near Kingdom City, Missouri. The next day, after a local mechanic worked on the car, the trio of violent losers got back on the road despite the mechanic's warning that the repairs had been temporary. Not long after resuming the trip, the Chevy broke down again.
     On August 23, Richard Drummond spotted the three stranded motorists standing alone I-70 next to the disabled Chevy. The 47-year-old AT & T supervisor pulled off the highway to help. When Mr. Drummond got out of his Dodge Intrepid, Nicklasson put a gun to his head and took him hostage. 
      Nicklasson ordered Drummond to drive the Dodge to a secluded place where Nicklasson shot the good samaritan execution style in the back of the head. (The victim's body was found eight days later.) Years later, in recalling the moment he killed Drummond, Nicklasson said, "I felt euphoria. I finally got back for all the beatings I took as a child." 
     Two days after he murdered Richard Drummond, Nicklasson, with his two degenerate friends in the dead man's car, drove to Arizona where, in the desert, the Dodge broke down. The three men walked in the desert until they came upon a house occupied by Joseph and Charlene Babcock. Once inside the dwelling, Nicklasson shot Charlene to death and forced her husband to drive the killers back to the broken down Dodge. It was there Nicklasson murdered Mr. Babcock and stole his car. 
     The three fugitives were caught shortly after the murders by police officers in Arizona. After being found guilty in that state of murdering Mr. and Mrs. Babcock, a judge sentenced Nicklasson to life in prison. Tim De Graffenreid, in return for his guilty plea and cooperation with the authorities, received life sentences in Arizona and later in Missouri. 
     In Missouri, following his conviction for the cold-blooded murder of Richard Drummond, a judge sent Nicklasson to death row. Another Missouri judge sentenced Dennis Skillicorn to death. In 2009 they executed Skillicorn for his role in the Drummond murder. 
     Allen Nicklasson's time finally came at 10:52 in the morning of December 11, 2013. The executioner at the Missouri State Prison in Bonne Terre injected the 41-year-old killer with enough pentobarbital to stop his heart. This murderer of three innocent, helpless people had no last words. What could he say?