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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Notable People From West Virginia

West Virginia hasn't produced many famous or historic figures. We can't claim a movie star, a U.S. president, a great inventor, a famous writer, or even a celebrated criminal. We do have from our great state two historic figures in sports: basketball's Jerry West and golf's Sam Snead. While I've often made fun of my home state, there is no other place I'd rather be from. I think the fact that West Virginia hasn't produced a movie star or a U.S. president says something good about the place. Yes, we should be proud of that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, March 30, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Drying Up As A Creative Writer

Shortly after turning 68, I got an idea for a piece of short fiction. The story involved  a heated argument between two historical contemporaries, Dr. Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes. The master shrink and the master detective have a disagreement over what is less real, the photograph of a dead person or a mirror image of someone who is alive. I thought I could transform this stupid concept into an original piece of literature. But I couldn't get beyond the idea, couldn't pull it off. It was then I realized that my creative juices had evaporated. I had become a dried up writer. I was, creatively, the walking dead. My lifelong self-loathing was suddenly replaced by intense self-pity.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pocket Knives, Baseball Cards, And Marbles

When I grew up, almost every boy owned a few marbles, a pocket knife, and a small collection of baseball cards that smelled of bubble gum. With our knives we played a game called Mumbley-Peg. We carried our knives to school and carved our initials into our desk tops. No one plays with marbles anymore, baseball cards are for adults, and don't even try taking your pocket knife to school. I'm not sure life for children has changed for the better.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Pennsylvania Soup Nazi

     A Pennsylvania man was sent to jail Wednesday, February 19, 2014 after allegedly burning his wife's face with a hot pan of tomato soup following a drunken argument. Stuart Waterhouse, 55, heated a pan of tomato soup and placed it next to his 61-year-old wife's face as she was sleeping, then used a spoon to pour some directly onto her face--above her nose and between her eyes.

     Barbara Waterhouse had fallen asleep on the couch after a night of arguing and drinking with Stuart. Her face was significantly burned. Stuart was charged by state police in Greensburg with aggravated assault, simple assault and harassment, and was held in the Greene County Jail on $50,000 bond.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Politicians Who Talk To God

I don't mind a politician who communicates with God. People have a right to their religion and their beliefs. I do mind when a politician says God told him to make a certain political decision or policy that affects us all. So many of these government policies turn out bad for everyone. So, who are we supposed to blame, the politician or God? Even if I agree with the policy, I don't vote for people who claim they are acting on behalf of a higher power. Who do these mortals think they are? Well, I know who these people think they are, and that's what scares me.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Mother

When I was a kid my mother was always dusting, frantically. We lived on a busy dirt road and the dust that got into the house drove her crazy. One of my uncles died of black lung. My mother was killed by dust. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, she was a saint. Dust to dust, as they say.

Thornton P. Knowles

Brittany Norwood: Cold-Blooded Killer

     In some cases, when it comes to predicting who is capable of committing bloody, premeditated murder, you can't tell the book by its cover. This is particularly true in a murder committed in 2011 by a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Norwood.

     Norwood played high school soccer in Kent, her hometown outside of Seattle, Washington. She continued her career as an athelete at Stony Brook University on Long Island. At Stony Brook, her soccer teammates accused the 5 foot, 120 pound player of stealing cash from them. A member of the team reported the thefts to the coach who chose to ignore the allegations.

     In 2011, Norwood was working as a sales clerk at a downtown Bethesda, Maryland store called Lululemon Athletica where upper-middle class customers bought $98 yoga pants and $58 running shirts. Jayna Murray, a 30-year-old graduate student at John Hopkins University, worked in the store with Norwood. Although the two young women were not close friends, they worked well as a sales clerk team.

     At 9 P.M., March 11, 2011, the two Lululemon clerks closed the doors to the public, and began shutting down the shop for the night. Forty-five minutes later, pursuant to one of the chain's anti-employee theft measures, Jayna and Brittany checked each other's handbags for unpurchased store merchandise. This led to Jayna's discovery of a pair of yoga pants in Brittany's purse. As they walked out the door, Jayna told her fellow employee that she would have to report the attempted theft to the store manager.

     On her walk to the Metro station, Brittany, as a ruse to get Jayna back into the store where she could talk her out of reporting the incident, phoned Jayna to tell her that she had left her wallet in the shop. Since Jayna possessed the key to the store, the two clerks headed back to Lululemon.

     As soon as Brittany and Jayna re-entered the store at 10:05, Norwood made her pitch. But it was to no avail, Jayna had already called the store manager. There was nothing she could do. This infuriated Norwood, and led to a shouting match overheard by employees of a nearby Apple store. The screaming and shouting turned violent when Norwood picked up a heavy metal rod used to support a mannequin and bludgeoned Jayna in the back of the head, crushing her skull. As Jayna staggered toward the store's rear exit, Norwood beat her with a hammer, then picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed her.

     Norwood's assault lasted six minutes, and produced, on the dying victim, 332 wounds which included a severed spinal cord and 83 defensive injuries.

     In an effort to make the murder look like a violent store invasion, Brittany Norwood tossed mops, brooms, and chairs around the shop, used a pair size 12 Reebok sneakers to track bloody shoe prints about the crime scene, and inflicted minor injuries on herself. She then bound her own hands and feet with pieces of rope, and waited overnight on the restroom floor. The next morning, the store manager found Jayna Murray dead in the back hallway, and Brittany Norwood in the bathroom tied up and moaning.

     On the morning after the murder, from her hospital bed, Norwood told detectives that two intruders in ski-masks had attacked her, and killed Jayna. According to Norwood, one of the attackers, a white man making racial slurs (Norwood is black), threatened to cut her throat if she resisted. "It was my fault because I left my wallet," she said.

     From the beginning, detectives had problems fitting the crime scene evidence to Norwood's story. Six days after the crime, the prosecutor charged Norwood with first-degree murder. Under Maryland law, first-degree, premeditated murder carried a sentence of life without parole. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, involved a sentence of 30 years maximum with a chance of parole after 15 years. Although the defendent didn't make a full confession, she did not maintain her innocence. Her attorney's defense consisted of the argument that the killing was a spontaneous homicide, or second-degree murder.

     Norwood's trial, held in the Montgomery County court, got underway in November 2011, and lasted 6 days. The defense attorney didn't put on a single witness, relying instead on his closing statement to the jury. His client was not, he told jurors, "in a right state of mind" when she attacted the victim. The murder, he said, "was the product of an explosion."

     The jury didn't buy the defense theory of the case, and after deliberating less than an hour, returned with their verdict: they found Norwood guilty of  first-degree murder. This meant the sobbing defendant would spend the rest of her life behind bars, with no hope of parole.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Only Childhood Friends

When I was a kid I had a 26-inch Monarch bicycle and my dog Dusty. As long as I had the two of them I didn't need any friends. The bike outlived my dog, and then my dog died. From there I began my long journey into loneliness. I just couldn't replace them.

Thornton P. Knowles

Murder in Amish Country: The Edward Gingerich Case

     Twenty-four years ago, Edward Gingerich became the first old-order Amish man in history to be convicted of criminal homicide. A year earlier he had crushed his wife's skull by repeatedly stomping her. He next scooped out Katie Gingerich's brain with his hands, then opened her up with a kitchen knife and ripped out all of her internal organs. This atrocious assault took place in the kitchen of the couple's farmhouse located in a remote section of Crawford County in Rockdale Township near Mill Village, Pennsylvania. Two of Edward's children, ages three and four, witnessed the brutal March 19, 1993 killing.

     Edward Gingerich was a gifted young man. Unfortunately, the subjects that excited him were science and technology, disciplines that threatened the Amish way of life. An excellent mechanic, he built engines from scratch and could fix anything that contained a motor. A fish out of water, Edward Gingerich felt trapped in a society at odds with his talents and goals. He eventually built a modern sawmill with a machine shop near his house on property owned by his father. The business put him in touch with a lot of local English people and put him at odds with the local Amish bishop. His estrangement from his family and the Amish community led to depression, anger, and eventually madness in the form of paranoid schizophrenia.

     Prior to killing his wife, Edward spent two, ten-day stints in mental wards in Erie, Pennsylvania and Jamestown, New York. On Katie Gingerich's last day of life, she took Ed to see a chiropractor in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania who specialized in treating the Amish for physical aliments. The chiropractor, pursuant to his regular program of treatment, pulled Edward's toes and sent him home with a jar of blackstrap molasses.

     At the Edward Gingerich murder trial in March 1994, the Crawford County jury, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, refused to find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Instead, they found hims "guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill." This meant Ed would receive psychiatric care while serving a fixed term in prison. Had he been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have been treated in a mental institution until the staff psychiatrists declared him well enough to return to society.

     Prior to Edward Gingerich's sentencing, every member of the small Amish enclave put their names on a petition asking the judge to impose the maximum sentence. Since Ed had been convicted of the lesser homicide offense of involuntary manslaughter, the maximum sentence sentence was only five years. The trial judge, noting that Gingerich had already spent a year in the Crawford County Jail, sentenced him to four years.

     Edward Gingerich served his time in a minimum security prison near Mercer, Pennsylvania. He was released from custody, without any strings attached, in March 1998.

     In January 2011, following a troubled post-prison life, Edward Gingerich hanged himself in a barn near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, he was living outside the local Amish community on a small farm owned by his defense attorney. His suicide message, etched in dust in the barn, read: "Please forgive me."

     Today, the Mill Village Amish enclave is less than half the size it was at the time of the murder. The killing, besides costing the life of a young Amish woman, tore the Gingerich family apart and destroyed a once thriving community.

     A detailed narration of this tragic case can be found in my book, Crimson Stain.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Poetry Readings

No one reads poetry anymore but a handful of poets and a few English teachers and their poor students. While I'd rather sit through a political speech than attend a poetry reading, it's a decision I hope I'll never have to make. Having said that, I'm not against poetry. I'm guilty of writing a few poems myself, and have purchased books of poetry. I just don't like the pretentious mumbo-jumbo stuff. I enjoying reading Charles Bukowski. He's a bad drunk and unlikable person, but a real poet with a lot of gritty, interesting things to say. I do not, however, recommend his raucous, booze laden poetry readings. In his case, it's best to separate the poet from his work.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On West Virginia

If you took away signs of human life, West Virginia would be the most beautiful place on earth.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Twentieth Century

I was born and will probably die in the Twentieth Century. That span of just one-hundred years will be known as the century of accelerated, world-changing technological progress. It will also be remembered as the century of violent death through wars, oppressive governments, and genocide. I shudder to think what the next century will bring, but fortunately will not be around to experience it. [Dr. Knowles died in 1998.]

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Climbing Trees

As a kid I climbed a lot of trees. I climbed in the winter, you know, for the view. I hoped that if I got high enough, my world would look different. It didn't. I kept climbing though, and never blamed the trees.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, March 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Secrets Of The Catholic Confession Chamber

In one of my novels I have several scenes featuring the back-and-forth between a priest and a sinner inside the confessional. I'm not Catholic, but have long been fascinated in what is said inside that dark little chamber. My interest traces back to a Catholic kid I knew in high school who said he dated girls who spent the most time in that secret-inducing box. He'd actually sit outside the confessional with a stopwatch. That kid, interestingly enough, grew up to become a priest. I sent him a signed copy of my novel, thanking him for sparking my interest in church-secured confessions. He didn't get back to me. If I were ever priest-grilled inside that box, I'd confess this was not my best novel.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Steve Nunn Murder Case

     If you think all, or even most, politicians are above average spouses and parents, think again. Although they pretend to be better than the rest of us, some of these hypocrites and thieves turn out to be dangerous criminals. Take Steve Nunn, a state legislator from Kentucky who was a lousy husband, a raging hypocrite, and dangerous.

     Steven Nunn was 15 when his father, Louie B. Nunn, became Kentucky's 52nd governor in 1967. A Republican, Nunn was re-elected to a second term, but in 1973, lost his bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate. Six years later, he ran for governor again, but lost. His career in elected politics was over.

     In 1974, Steve, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, enrolled in law school, but dropped out. He got married, and over the next five years, had three children. In 1990, at age 38, Nunn ran for the Kentucky state house of representatives, and won.

     Steve's father, a hard-driven narcissist and BS artist who enjoyed subjecting his kid to ridicule, refused to be impressed with his son's election to state office. Like his father, Steve was a lousy husband who regularly cheated on his wife. In 1994, she divorced him. (In state politics, being a rotten husband is not usually a liability because most people have no idea who represents them locally.) Two years later, Steve's mother Beula, after 42 years of marriage to Louie B., sought a restraining order against the abusive ex-governor. Steve confronted his father over this, and the two men came to blows. After that, they stopped speaking to each other. Shortly after the father and son stopped talking to each other, Beula divorced Louie B. Nunn.

     Steve Nunn, in his third term as a state legislator, married Tracey Damron, a former flight attendant and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate. A social butterfly who sparkled at fundraisers and social events, Tracey became the perfect politician's wife. Two years later, in 1998, Steve co-sponsored a bill that imposed the death sentence on convicted killers who murdered women who had taken out restraining orders against them. The bill became Kentucky law.  

       In 2002, after Tracey Nunn engineered a father-son reconciliation, she and Steve moved into the ex-governor's Pin Oak Farms mansion near Versailles, Kentucky. But a year later, the 51-year-old's political career took a bad turn. In a bid for the governorship, Steve lost badly in the Republican primary. And on January 29, 2004, his father, at age 81, died of a heart attack. Although Steve didn't have a healthy relationship with his father, the old man's death devastated him. The wheels of Steve's political career came off in 2006 when he lost his legislative seat to an unknown challenger.

     Following the death of his father, Steve started drinking heavily, patronizing prostitutes, and behaving irrationally. He also became, like his father, an abusive husband. Tracey divorced him in 2006. The following year, the 55-year-old political has-been met 20-year-old Amanda Ross, the daughter of a recently deceased public financier. After two months of dating, Steve moved into her Lexington, Kentucky apartment. In 2008, they were engaged to be married.

     Through his engagement to Amanda Ross, Steve landed the cabinet-level job of heading up a state agency that oversaw a variety of welfare programs, include those dealing with spousal abuse.

     Although Steve was back on his feet career-wise, he was still emotionally unstable, and drinking too much. His paranoia led him to suspect that Amanda was cheating on him. On February 17, 2009, in the midst of an argument in Ross' apartment, Nunn hit her. The next day, she petitioned the court for an emergency protection order, which a judge quickly granted. Under the restraining order, Nunn could have no contact with Ross for a period of a year. Within 48 hours of the judge's ruling, Nunn had no choice but to resign his cushy, high-paid government job.

     Convinced that Amanda Ross had intentionally sabotaged his career, Nunn became obsessed with revenge. To embarrass and humiliate his former fiancee, he showed his friends nude photographs he had taken of her. He began to stalk her.

     On September 11, 2009, as Amanda Ross left her apartment on her way to work, Nunn shot her to death. While no one witnessed the murder, homicide investigators immediately suspected Steve Nunn. Later that day, police found him hiding in a cemetery. He had scratched his wrists in a phony suicide attempt.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Nunn, to avoid the death penalty mandated by his own legislation, pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

     Members of Amanda Ross' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steven Nunn in 2012. Two years later, the civil case jury found him responsible for Ross' death and awarded the plaintiffs $24 million.

     In February 2014, Steve Nunn petitioned Fayette County Judge Pamula Goodwine to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Nunn said his defense attorney, Warren Scoville, had given him bad advice. Following the October 2014 hearing on the motion, Judge Goodwine denied Nunn's plea withdrawal request.

     

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Funny Names

My uncle lived outside of Elkins, West Virginia on Misdemeanor Lane. He named his son Philonious, and his dog Mugshot. You can't make this stuff up. Well actually, you can. And I just did. Sorry.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Different

To be truly different is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be a gift, and certainly does not reflect on one's character or worth. But being different can be difficult because a lot of people either don't like or are afraid of people who are different. Large groups of people who are "different" in exactly the same way are not truly unusual. They are pretenders looking for attention. It takes guts to be really different. That's one thing I know about.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Harry Truman

President Harry Truman made an enormously big and difficult decision when he dripped the A-bombs on Japan. Because of that move, presidential historians will debate and discuss Harry Truman for decades to come. In comparison, most former presidents end up as historical footnotes, and are quickly forgotten. Old "Give-em-Hell" Harry really gave them Hell, and, for better or worse, will be remembered for it.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     A man kills a woman, does not get caught, and moves on with his life. Then one day, 32 years later, cops knock on his door, put him in handcuffs, and haul the stunned suspect off to jail on the charge of murder. Before 1995, a story like this was the stuff of fiction. The advent of DNA technology, however, has made scenarios like this one not only possible, but fairly common.

     In the old days (in the context of DNA science), when a murder investigation petered out, and the trail grew cold, detectives shelved the case, and, except for the victim's family, it was forgotten. Maybe the detective who had tried but failed to solve the murder thought about it every so often. But with dead witnesses, failed memories, lost documents, and no leads, the old murder remained as dead as the victim. With the passage of enough time, even the killer might forget the killing, or pretend it never happened. It used to be said that murder will out, but that was a lie.

     Thanks to the developing science of DNA fingerprinting, old murder cases involving biological evidence such as hair follicles, saliva traces, bloodstains, and semen residue, can now come back to life and haunt killers who thought they had escaped detection. Yes, it's justice delayed, but it's a lot better than no justice at all.

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     At noon, on September 1, 1979, Peter J. Caltury, Sr. entered the duplex in Monaca, Pennsylvania where his 23-year-old daughter, Catherine Janet Walsh, lived by herself. He found her dead, lying face-down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back with a bathrobe cord. Dressed in a nightgown, and partially covered by the bed sheet, the victim had a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. When Mr. Caltury called the Monaca Police Department, Officer Andrew Gall responded to the scene.
 
      It became apparent that robbery hadn't been the motive for the Walsh murder. The doors to the house had been locked when the victim's father checked in on his daughter, and there were no signs of a struggle. Based on these conditions investigators assumed the victim had known her killer.

     Murder was (and is) rare in Monaca, a Beaver County town on the eastern bank of the Ohio River 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fact Catherine Walsh had been sexually assaulted and murdered in her own bedroom shocked the residents of this small, tight knit community.

     Catherine, a year out of Monaca High School, married Scott E. Walsh in August 1976. In December 1978 he filed for divorce on the grounds she had "violated her marriage vows." Catherine had moved into the duplex after the separation. At the time of her death, however, she was still married to Scott Walsh.

     The Beaver County coroner determined that Catherine Walsh had been strangled to death, and ruled the case a homicide. Detectives questioned, as the obvious suspect, Scott Walsh, the estranged husband. Investigators also interviewed a man named Gregory Scott Hopkins from the nearby borough of Bridgewater. Hopkins admitted he had had a sexual relationship with the married victim, but said it had ended a month before her death.

     Although detectives worked hard on the Walsh murder case, they were unable to acquire the evidence they needed to arrest a suspect. Years passed and the case went dormant. Detectives worked on other crimes and the Walsh case suspects went on with their lives. Gregory Hopkins became a successful building contractor, and in November 2010, was elected to the Bridgewater Borough Council. He married his first wife in 1967 and divorced her in 1980. He married again in 1983, divorcing this wife in 1999. In 2001, he married Karen L. Fisher.

     In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Police, working off a federal grant, re-opened several old homicide cases that featured biological evidence that could be linked to murder suspects through DNA analysis. One of these cold-case investigations included the September 1979 murder of Catherine Walsh. In December 2011, a state forensic scientist took DNA samples from several people, including Gregory Hopkins. After comparing biological trace evidence from the victim's nightgown, the bathrobe cord, and the crime scene bed sheet to Gregory Hopkins' DNA sample, the scientist declared a match.

     On January 29, 2012, detectives arrested Gregory Hopkins at his home for the murder of Catherine Walsh. They booked the Bridgewater Councilman into the Beaver County Jail. Six days later, James Ross, Hopkins' attorney, asked the judge to grant his client bail. The judge, ruling that Catherine Walsh's murder was a non-bailable crime, denied the defendant's request.

     Hopkins' attorney, promising a "vigorous" defense, told reporters that "Mr. Hopkins is a very reputable man in the community, has been in business for 40 years, served on the borough council and I think the arrest comes as a shock to many people." (I'm sure the arrest came as a shock to Mr. Hopkins. He may have been a reputable man before his arrest, but a DNA match in a murder case can suddenly erode a man's respectability.)

     On November 5, 2012, Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc ruled that the state could not use a report by the well-known Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. According to Dr. Wecht, the murder scene DNA evidence revealed that Mr. Hopkins had been in the victim's bed lying on top of her when the murder took place. Judge Knafelc, in ruling Dr. Wecht's analysis inadmissible as evidence, cited insufficient scientific data to back up his expert opinion.

     The Hopkins murder trial got underway on November 10, 2013 in the Beaver County Courthouse. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smith, in her opening statement to the jury, placed the defendant at the murder scene through his DNA found on the bed sheet, nightgown, and the bathrobe cord tied around the victim's wrists.

     Defense attorney James Ross told the jurors that his client's DNA was at the murder scene because he and the victim had engaged in sex the summer before her death.

     Defense attorney Ross, in his cross-examination of retired state trooper Richard Matas, got the prosecution witness to concede that when he processed the Walsh murder scene, he had not seen semen stains on the body, the bed, or the nightgown. Attorney Ross showed the witness a photograph depicting a bedroom trash can with a piece of tissue beside it. Ross asked the witness why the tissue hadn't been collected as potential evidence. "In hindsight, perhaps I made a mistake," replied the former officer.

     Andrew Gall, the former Monaca patrol officer, testified on cross-examination that he had not worn gloves at the site of the Walsh murder.

     At the close of the prosecution's case which featured the expert testimony of several forensic scientists, the 67-year-old defendant took the stand and testified that he had not been in the victim's apartment when she was murdered. According to Hopkins, the last time he visited her apartment was several weeks before her death.

     On November 22, 2013 the jury of five men and seven women found Hopkins guilty of third-degree murder. Judge Henry Knafelc, on February 26, 2014, sentenced Hopkins to 8 to 16 years in prison.

     In the Walsh case, crime scene mistakes made by the police did not diminish the prosecutorial power of DNA evidence.

     The Walsh case, in a television episode called "Never a Cold Case: Beaver County's 32 Year Long Investigation," was featured on the Discovery network's series "On the Case With Paula Zahn."
     

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Alan Goodman Murder Case

     Alan and Lois Goodman, in 2012, had been married 50 years. In the early 1960s, Alan started an auto parts business in Los Angeles. Lois, who in 1979 became a tennis referee (or line umpire--I don't know the first thing about this sport), had risen to the top of her profession, and at age 70, was still officiating matches. She and her 80-year-old husband lived in a condominium in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles out in the San Fernando Valley.

     On April 17, 2012, Lois called 911 to report the discovery of Alan Goodman lying on his bed either unconscious or dead. LAPD officers from the Topanga station responded to the scene. According Lois, she had been away from the condo six hours during which time she had been refereeing tennis matches at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills.

     Upon entering the dwelling, Lois said she noticed a broken coffee mug on the floor with blood on it. From the mug, she followed a trail of blood into Alan's bedroom where she found him unresponsive with a bloody wound to the right side of his head.

     Lois Goodman informed the police officers that her husband, a diabetic with high blood pressure, must have had an heart attack, fallen down a flight of stairs, then somehow made it to his room and climbed onto his bed. Because of Mr. Goodman's age, the LAPD officers had no reason to suspect criminal homicide.

     Two fire department paramedics pronounced Mr. Goodman dead at the scene. While neither of the medics were trained homicide investigators, they possessed enough common sense and death site experience to interpret an oddly shaped wound to the right side of the dead man's head as possible evidence of foul play. As evidence of their suspicion, the medics took care not to disturb the body on grounds it might be part of a murder scene. Although the police officers should have been cautioning the paramedics not to handle the corpse, the cops, relying on Lois Goodman's death narration, allowed the body to be transported to its place of future cremation. In a situation that cried out for, at the very least, an autopsy, Mr. Goodman's corpse, and perhaps evidence of murder, were headed for the furnace.

     Whether or not a homicide had occurred in the Woodland Hills condominium, the initial phase of the Goodman case was not how situations like this should be handled in the second largest police department in the country, or for that matter, anywhere else.

     On April 20, 2012, three days after Alan Goodman's death, an investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who had been dispatched to sign Mr. Goodman's death certificate, noticed several deep cuts on the dead man's head and ear that seemed too severe to have been caused by an accidental spill down a flight of steps. This death investigator's rather basic observation led to an autopsy of Mr. Goodman's body. The coroner's office had literally pulled this case out of the fire.

     The next day, a forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Mr. Goodman's cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head from a sharp object. The pathologist found shards of the broken coffee mug imbedded in the victim's wounds. Moreover, Mr. Goodman had not suffered a heart attack. Instead of a flight of stairs, Mr. Goodman had been killed by being struck in the head with a coffee mug. As a result of the autopsy findings, the coroner's office ruled the manner of this death a homicide.

     Had Mr. Goodman's body been cremated, the cause and manner of this man's death would have remained a mystery. On the other hand, because the autopsy had been delayed three days, the forensic pathologist could not pinpoint the time of death.

     Los Angeles detectives, on April 21, 2012, searched the Goodman condominium in Woodland Hills. The searchers discovered heavy blood staining on the carpets, on the refrigerator door, inside the linen closet, and on a wall near the inside door to the garage.

     In general, an analysis of the blood spatter patterns in the condo did not support the theory that Mr. Goodman had fallen down a flight of stairs. (I don't know if the police had collected the broken coffee mug and its pieces from the crime scene. If they didn't preserve what turned out to be the murder weapon, that would be a problem. And even if they did retrieve it later, there would be a chain of custody problem.)

     Shortly after the search of the Goodman condo, detectives questioned Lois Goodman, this time as a suspect in her husband's murder. According to published police documents, she gave conflicting accounts of what she had observed upon entering the dwelling that day. At one point, she described the scene as "violent," and suggested that someone may have "positioned" Mr. Goodman's body in his bed.

     Over the next four months, Los Angeles detectives, with Lois Goodman as their prime suspect, thoroughly investigated the murder. This led to the discovery of emails she had exchanged with a man who may have been a lover. In one email, Lois Goodman referred to "terminating" a relationship. Investigators suspected that Goodman had murdered her husband for another man. The fact there were no signs of forced entry into the condo, and that nothing had been stolen from the dwelling, comprised more circumstantial evidence that Lois Goodman had been responsible for her husband's violent death. Moreover, when speaking to the responding officers that day, the dead man's wife had gone out of her way to establish her whereabouts at the time of his death, behavior inconsistent with that of a grieving widow.

     In mid-August 2012, after a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Lois Goodman with the murder of her husband, detectives followed her to New York City where she was scheduled to officiate at the U.S. Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows. On August 21, on the eve of the Open, New York City officers went to her Manhattan hotel room and arrested her on the California murder warrant. That evening, Los Goodman found herself in the Rikers Island lock-up under $1 million bond and awaiting her extradition hearing.

     Back in Los Angeles on August 29, 2012, at her arraignment hearing, the judge, assured by Goodman's attorney Alison Triessl that the tennis line umpire was not dangerous, or a candidate for flight, reduced her bail to $500,000. In speaking to reporters, attorney Triessl, in making the case that her 70-year-old client was physically incapable of killing her husband, pointed out that she had received two full knee replacements, and a shoulder replacement. According to the attorney, Lois Goodman was "wearing two hearing aids, and had rheumatoid arthritis."

     On September 3, 2012, Lois Goodman, after spending two weeks in jail, was released on bail.

     The FBI announced, on October 10, 2012, that Lois Goodman, when asked by a bureau polygraph examiner if she killed her husband, answered no--and passed the test. The polygraph expert, Jack Trimarco, said there was "no significant reaction" when Goodman answered "no" to the payload question. He asked that question several times. If you believe in the polygraph technique, and trust the FBI, this was an important development in the case.

     On November 30, 2012, the Los Angeles prosecutor, due to insufficient evidence, dropped the murder charges against Lois Goodman.

     In April 2015, a federal judge dismissed Lois Goodman's false arrest lawsuit against the LAPD. The plaintiff had claimed the murder accusation caused her "public humiliation." In setting out his rationale for the dismissal, Judge John A. Kronstadt wrote that the LAPD homicide investigation had produced "substantial details sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to arrest Lois Goodman."

     As of May 2016, there have been no other arrests in the case.
       

Friday, March 9, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Lonely Profession

Loneliness cannot be shared, that's what makes it so lonely. Many writers suffer from this form of societal isolation. They live among us, but feel they are not a part of us. These lost souls share their empty lives with imaginary friends, associates, lovers, and enemies of their own creation. It's quite sad, and all the writing, creativity and success in the world won't cure it. You are either alone or you're not, and there's nothing you can do about it. Writing is the work of the lonely.

Thornton P. Knowles

Father Jerold Lindner: Is Assaulting the Priest Who Molested You a Crime?

     More than 16,000 Americans have been known to have been sexually molested by Catholic clerics. These victims represent the tip of the iceberg of pedophilia in the Catholic Church. According to a study conducted by researchers at John Jay College in New York City, between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse. What follows is the story of just one of the sexual predators protected by the church, and just one of his victims who took extreme measures to get revenge.

     Jerold Lindner, accepted into Jesuit training in June 1964, was, at 24, sent to the Sacred Heart novitiate in Los Gatos, California for two years of study. Six years later he was in San Francisco teaching English at St. Ignatius High School. In 1973, after sexually assaulting a number of boys at St. Ignatius, Lindner enrolled at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

     In the summer of 1975, while still at the Berkeley theology school, Lindner, as a "spiritual advisor" for the lay organization Christian Family Movement, accompanied a group of young boys on a church-sponsored camping trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains. During that weekend Lindner shared a tent with 7-year-old William Lynch and his 4-year-old brother Buddy. The spiritual advisor sodomized both boys, forced them to give him oral sex, then threatened to kill their sister if they told anyone what he had done to them. Lindner also promised the boys an eternity in hell if they squealed.

     By 1976, the year the 36-year-old was ordained as a Jesuit priest, Father Jerry, as he was called, had molested dozens of boys. That year Father Jerry returned to St. Ignatius High School where he continued his career as an English teacher and a practicing pedophile. In 1982, the Catholic Church transferred Father Lindner to Loyola High School, a private prep school near downtown Los Angeles. Ten years later, while teaching at Loyola and molesting more of his students, Lindner's mother, aware that her son was a pedophile, spoke to Father Jerry's supervisor at his order--the Society of Jesus--and told him that Lindner had been a child molester long before he entered Jesuit training in 1964. Mrs. Lindner informed the supervising priest that her son had molested several members of his family, including a younger sibling.

     In response to accusations of child molestation by the priest's own mother, the Jesuits took Father Lindner out of the classroom and sent him to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. Whatever the results of that psychiatric analysis, the Jesuit brass declared that Mrs. Lindner's allegations were not credible, and sent their pedophile teacher back into the classroom where he could continue preying on vulnerable victims. (This would not be the first time the Jesuits would have Father Jerry psychiatrically tested, then declared suitable for classroom work.)

     In 1995, twenty years after the weekend of sexual abuse in the spiritual advisor's tent on the Santa Cruz Mountain camping trip, William Lynch's younger brother, for the first time since their ordeal, revealed their secret. (He had been sworn to secret by William.) He told his parents what happened to them in Father Lindner's tent. Two years later, the Lynch brothers sued Lindner and the Society of Jesus. (Criminal prosecution, because of the statute of limitations, was no longer an option. The 6-year-stautue of limitations in California had protected Lindner from being criminally charged by dozens of his victims.) To avoid an embarrassing and revealing civil trial, the Jesuits settled the lawsuit for $625,000. (After legal costs, William and his brother ended up with $187,000 a piece.) Following the settlement, the Society of Jesus removed the 58-year-old priest from active ministry. But Lindner still had access to children, and the complaints kept rolling in.

     In September 2002, the Jesuits at the Society of Jesus sent Father Lindner to a Catholic retirement home and medical center for priests in Los Gatos called the Scared Heart Jesuit Center. Several of the priests in this place had been sent there because they were known pedophiles. Father Lindner was one of the residents placed on the institution's child molester register. However, he still had access to young people, and continued to offend.

     It was not surprising, that in a facility where pedophiles are housed, there was a sex scandal. In 2002, it came to light that two developmentally disabled men who lived at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center for 30 years had been regularly molested by priests they considered their friends. Two years after the scandal broke, a priest at the Los Gatos facility committed suicide after being raped by a gang of Jesuits. The order avoided an even bigger scandal by paying off several civil suit plaintiffs with million dollar settlement.

     William Lynch, the man Father Lindner had molested and traumatized as a 7-year-old in 1975, had not gotten over his ordeal. As a fourth grader in Los Altos, California, Lynch started smoking marijuana. By the seventh grade he was dealing in pot, and drinking heavily. At age 15, Lynch tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists, and as a adult, the victim of Father Lindner's sexual assault suffered severe depression. In his thirties, Lynch once again attempted suicide. Aware that the man who had ruined his life back in 1975 continued to abuse children under the protection of the church, Lynch could barely control his frustration and rage. By 2010, at age 42, Lynch decided to turn the tables on Father Jerry by becoming the predator.

     On May 10, 2010, William Lynch used a false name and the pretense of notifying Father Lindner of a death in the priest's family, to meet with him in the guest parlor at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos. When the two men came face-to-face after all of these years, Lynch told the 65-year-old to take off his glasses. As he punched the priest in the head and body, Lynch asked him, "Do you recognize me?" After the beating which included several attempts to kick Lindner in the groin, Lynch said, "Turn yourself in or I'll come back and kill you."

     After the attack, William Lynch made no attempt to conceal what he had done. The Santa Clara County prosecutor had no choice but to charge him with one count of assault, and one count of elder abuse. If convicted of both felonies, Lynch faced up to four years in prison.

     After turning down a plea bargain in which he would serve no more than a year in jail, Lynch told reporters that "I want to take responsibility for what I've done. I don't think I'm above the law like the church and Father Jerry." Lynch said he looked forward to a trial in which the pedophile priest would be publicly exposed for what he was.

     William Lynch's assault trial got under way on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose. Prosecutor Vicki Genetti, in her opening statement to the jury of 9 men and 3 women, said she was prosecuting this defendant under the assumption that Father Jerold Lindner, the victim in the assault case, had in fact sexually molested Lindner and his brother back in 1975. And in an even more unusual remark for a prosecutor to make about one of her own witnesses, Genetti warned jurors that Father Lindner, in denying the allegations, would be not be telling the truth. The prosecutor labeled the assault in this case a "revenge attack." Defendant Lynch, Genetti said, had acted like a "vigilante."

     On the first day of the trial, following the opening statements, Genetti put the prosecution's chief witness, Father Jerold Lindner, on the stand. As expected, the 67-year-old priest, overweight and wearing old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses, denied sexually molesting the defendant and his brother. The witness said he had done nothing in 1975 to justify his beating at the hands of Mr. Lynch.

     After the jurors were dismissed for the day, William Lynch's attorney, Pat Harris, said this to Judge David A. Cena: "He [Father Lindner] has chosen to perjure himself. He should be advised of his right to counsel." The judge said he would take the request under advisement.

     The next day, before the defense attorney's cross-examination of Lindner, the priest took the Fifth, and refused to testify further. At this point attorney Harris moved for a mistrial on the grounds he had been denied his right to question his client's accuser. Judge Cena denied the motion, and the trial continued. Judge Cena also ruled that the jury would not hear from three witnesses prepared to testify that as children, they too had been molested by Jerold Lindner. The judge ordered the jury to disregard Lindner's testimony altogether.

     The next day, prosecutor Genetti put a Sacred Heart Jesuit Center health care worker on the stand who had witnessed the assault. Mary Eden testified that she heard William Lynch scream that Lindner had raped him and his brother, and had ruined their lives. When it came time for the defense to present its case, William Lynch took the stand, and in great detail, told the jurors what the priest had done to him and his brother, and how the sexual assaults had affected their lives. According to the defendant, when he went to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center that day, his intention was to get Lindner to take responsibility for what he had done by signing a written confession. When Lindner refused, and looked as though he might become aggressive, Lynch resorted to violence. (With this testimony, the defense was giving the jurors an opportunity, an excuse if you will, to nullify the evidence, and find Lynch not guilty.)

     Following William Lynch's compelling testimony, the defense rested its case. Prosecutor Genetti, in her closing remarks to the jury, said that what Lindner had done to the defendant and his brother 37 years ago did not legally justify the assault. The prosecutor also accused the defense of encouraging the jurors to return a "nullified" verdict, one that ignored the evidence against the defendant.

     On Thursday, July 5, the jury, in this difficult and unusal case, found William Lynch not guilty of felony assault and elder abuse. By this verdict, the jury sent a clear message to priests who get away with molesting boys. If as adults their victims hunt them down and beat them up, tough luck.   

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Colin Abbott Murder Case

     Upon his retirement in 2010 as a New Jersey pharmaceutical company executive, 65-year-old Kenneth Abbott and his second wife Celeste bought a 25-acre estate in Brady Township not far from the town of Slippery Rock, the home of Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the western part of the state. Kenneth and his 55-year-old second wife were married in 2007.

     On July 13, 2011, Melissa Elich, Celeste Abbott's daughter, contacted the New Jersey State Police and asked for information about the car accident death of her mother and stepfather. Kenneth Abbott's son Colin had told Elich that Kenneth and Celeste had died in a traffic accident on June 8, 2011. According to Colin, the traffic fatality had taken place in Plant City, New Jersey. When Elich couldn't find Plant City on a map, she called Colin to confirm the location. This time he told her it had happened in Atlantic City. According to the 42-year-old New Jersey resident, his father and Elich's mother had been burned beyond recognition in the crash.

     After the New Jersey State Police officer informed Melissa Elich that the state had no record of such an incident, the officer called the Pennsylvania State Police in Butler County and requested a welfare check of the Abbotts.

     On the day of Melissa Elich's New Jersey State Police inquiry regarding the traffic accident, Corporal Daniel Herr and another Pennsylvania State Trooper drove out to the West Liberty Road estate. The officers searched the unoccupied house and several out-buildings. Near one of the two ponds on the property, the troopers discovered a pair of metal barrels that had been used to burn something. In the vicinity of the barrels, about 200 yards from the house, the officers came across charred human body parts.

     Later on the day of the gruesome discovery on the Abbott estate, Dr. Dennis Dirkmart, a forensic anthropologist with Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, arrived at the scene with his team of graduate students. Dr. Dirkmart and his forensic crew identified a skull containing the upper teeth along with a lower jaw containing additional dentition. The death scene investigators also recovered a female pelvic bone and several larger bones that were male. (The remains were later identified as those of Kenneth and Celeste Abbott.) Further analysis of the dismembered and burned bodies by a forensic pathologist revealed that the couple had been shot. (The police found a spent bullet near one of the ponds.)

     On July 13, 2011, officers with the New Jersey State Police searched Colin Abbott's home in Randolph, New Jersey, a town of 25,000 in the northern section of the state. The search produced incriminating evidence that linked Abbott to the double murder in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

     From Colin Abbott's house, the New Jersey investigators recovered Celeste Abbott's red-leather wallet that contained her driver's license and several credit cards. The officers also found a .380-caliber pistol later identified as the murder weapon. In the murder suspect's bank safety deposit box, detectives found Kenneth Abbott's will that designated his son the sole beneficiary of the $5 million estate. The will had been changed to that effect in 2010. Investigators believed the suspect had murdered his father and stepmother in order to inherit their wealth.

     In Pennsylvania, State Trooper Chris Birckichler questioned Adam Tower, Celeste Abbott's son. Mr. Tower revealed that in speaking to the suspect on July 12, 2011, Colin ordered him not to contact his father's life insurance company. The suspect made it clear that he would be handling the disposition of the estate.

     On July 14, 2011, the day detectives interrogated Colin Abbott in Randolph, New Jersey, murder charges were being filed against him in Pennsylvania. Officers in New Jersey arrested Colin Abbott that day on the Pennsylvania homicide charges, and a couple of weeks later, the suspect was incarcerated in the Butler County Jail awaiting his trial.

     On the day before the trial was to begin, February 26, 2013, the defendant pleaded no contest to two counts of third-degree murder. As part of the plea deal, Abbott avoided the penalties of death and life in prison without the possibility of parole. Butler County Judge William Shaffer sentenced Kenneth Abbott to 35 to 80 years in prison. If he served the minimum sentence, Abbott would regain his freedom when he was 77-years-old. The cold-blooded killer stood before Judge Shaffer and wept.

     Less than a month after his sentencing, on March 6, 2013, Colin Abbott filed a 5-page handwritten request asking Judge Shaffer to allow him to withdraw his plea in the case. At the plea withdrawal hearing on March 28, 2013, the Butler County prosecutor played recordings of jailhouse phone conversations between the prisoner and Deborah Buchanan, his 64-year-old mother.

     Abbott, pursuant to a discussion of his attempt to take back his plea, said this to his mother: "It's a publicity start in the right direction for you; possibly for a book, possibly for other things, you know?" Abbott's mother, a resident of Rockway, New Jersey, owned Deadly Ink Press, a small publisher of murder mystery books. Buchanan had made it known that she was writing a book about her son's case.

     To an Associated Press reporter following this story, Deborah Buchanan said, "I am talking to people about a book deal. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I am a writer. That's not why he [her son] wants to change his plea. He was under a lot of pressure." (Committing murder can do that to a person.)

     On April 12, 2013, Judge Shaffer denied Abbott's motion to withdraw his no contest plea.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Melissa Ann Friedrich: Canada's "Internet Black Widow"

     In 1988, in Ontario, Canada, 52-year-old Melissa Ann, married to a man named Russell Shepard, met Gordon Stewart, a factory worker with two children whose wife had passed away. They had an affair after which Melissa divorced Mr. Shepard, and became Mrs. Stewart.

     On April 22, 1991, after drugging Gordon Stewart with benzodiazepine (valium and restoril), Melissa drove him to a remote stretch of highway near the Halifax airport, pulled his body out of the car, and ran over him twice. (Mr. Stewart was probably dead from the lethal dose of drugs before she dumped him onto the road.) Three hours later, Melissa reported the incident to the police, claiming she had killed her husband while he was attempting to rape her.

     Melissa's account of her second husband's death, in the context of an attempted rape, made no sense. Moreover, Mr. Stewart, before his death, had written a letter in which he chronicled how Melissa had cheated on him, repeatedly lied, and drained his bank account. The authorities also found traces of the deadly drug in the victim's system.

     In the spring of 1992, a jury in Kingston, Ontario found Melissa guilty of manslaughter. The judge sentenced her to six years in prison. While incarcerated, Melissa formed a support group for wives who had been abused by their husbands. (She should have formed a class on how to find husbands to murder for their bank accounts and inheritance.) After serving just two years of the manslaughter sentence, the homicidal sociopath became a nationally known spokesperson for the battered wife syndrome.

     In April 2001, while looking for a husband to kill at a Christian retreat in Ontario, Melissa Stewart met 83-year-old Robert Edmund Friedrich. The next day, the 66-year-old "black widow" sent him a letter in which she wrote: "God wants us to be married." Within days of that letter, the couple tied the knot.

     When Mr. Friedrich died of cardiac arrest one year after marrying Melissa, she emptied his bank account of $400,000, and continued to receive his social security checks. The happy widow arranged to have Mr. Friedrich hastily cremated before his body could be autopsied. Because of his age, and the quick cremation, notwithstanding some suspicion of foul play, Melissa was not charged in connection with this the old man's death.

     In March 2004, about two years after Mr. Friedrich's passing, Melissa hooked up with a Florida man through an Internet dating site. A few days after the online meeting, she flew to 73-year-old Alexander Strategos' home in Pinellas Park. The next day, the Canadian moved into the recently divorced man's house. Not long after that, they were married.

     During the next eight months, Mr. Strategos, feeling weak, kept falling and hitting his head, injuries that required eight hospitalizations. His doctors couldn't figure out what was ailing him. During his residence at a rest home, just before he died in January 2005, Mr. Strategos signed over power of attorney to his wife.

     Mr. Strategos' son became suspicious when he discovered, in his father's medical papers, that he had died with the unprescribed drug benzodiazepine in his system. Melissa had also withdrawn $20,000 from her deceased husband's bank account. On January 6, 2005, police arrested her on charges of grand theft and forgery. She pleaded guilty to these offenses, and was sentenced to five years. On April 4, 2009, upon her release from the Florida prison, the authorities deported her back to Canada. Melissa never faced charges in connection with the mysterious death of Alexander Strategos.

     On September 28, 2012, Melissa, now 77, married Fred Weeks, a 75-year-old from New Glasgow, New Brunswick. While honeymooning a few days later on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Mr. Weeks fell ill at their bed and breakfast, and had to be hospitalized. After nurses noticed signs that the patient had been injected with something, hospital personnel alerted the police. On October 1, 2012, Fred Weeks left the hospital a weaker but wiser man.

     The day after her husband walked out of the hospital, the police arrested Melissa on the charge of administering a noxious substance. No doubt her criminal record, and the fates of her former husbands influenced the decision to take her into custody. The judge, at her October 5, 2012 bail hearing, denied her bond.

     On June 11, 2013, Melissa pleaded guilty to administering a noxious drug and failing the necessaries of life. The judge sentenced the 78-year-old woman to three and a half years in prison. The Crown, without success, had argued that the defendant's age should not be a factor in her sentencing.

     On December 16, 2014, a judge in Nova Scotia denied the black widow's request for parole. The judge ruled that Melissa Friedrich had to serve her entire sentence which meant she would remain behind bars until January 2017.

     Notwithstanding the judges' insistence that Friedrich serve her full sentence, correction authorities in Nova Scotia released her back into society on March 18, 2016. She had been behind bars less than three years.

     In speaking to reporters, the Black Widow's attorney said this about his client: "I never really thought she was trying to kill anyone. If you look at her past, she really wanted to influence them [her poisoned husbands] and have them change their insurance and wills." 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

J. Edgar Hoover's Legacy: A Street Agent's Perspective

     When Clint Eastwood's film, "J. Edgar," came out in 2011 my wife and I went to see it. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film interested me because of its emphasis on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and the fact I was a street agent during Hoover's last six years in office (1966-1972). The film's version of the Lindbergh case overplayed the FBI's role in the crime scene investigation near Hopewell, New Jersey and the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann two and a half years later in Flemington, New Jersey. Although dotted with other factual errors that are minor, the treatment of the 1932 abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby, was, on the whole, complete. As for J. Edgar Hoover himself, except for scenes with his dominating mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man who loved him (Arnie Hammer), the film also caught the flavor and essence of Hoover's 48-year career as director of the FBI and America's most famous and powerful lawman.  

     Looking back on my six years as an FBI agent, I will say this without equivocation: Hoover's agents did not imagine him as presented in the film by Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. We did not see the director as a repressed homosexual who was scared to death of his mother. Agents saw him as a powerful figure who terrorized presidents and was so devoted to the bureau and his own image as an incorruptible crime fighter and warrior against the internal communist threat, he would destroy anyone who tarnished him or the FBI. As a result, in the minds of Hoover's street agents, crime fighting became secondary to avoiding the director's wrath.

     Pursuant to Hoover's impossible standards of performance and agent comportment, every field agent, every day, couldn't help violate one or two of the director's thousands of rules and regulations. Agents who got caught breaking these rules, rules continuously promulgated by Hoover and his palace guards. paid the price in the form of disciplinary transfers to undesirable field offices. For example, no one wanted to work at the field division headquarters in Billings, Montana. More than a few bureau rules violators were fired "with prejudice." Nobody knew exactly what "with prejudice" meant except that it was not good. When agents of the Hoover era tell war stories, their tales are usually not about their cases. Most likely they feature administrative horror stories.

     J. Edgar Hoover's career can be viewed from the perspective of twentieth century history or from the field agent's point of view. What follows is my take on J. Edgar Hoover as an employer and law enforcement administrator during his last six years in office.

     I had been a new agent just a few days when I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. In those days, before the magnificant FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, new agents attended seven weeks of classwork in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. and seven weeks of firearms training on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.  Every day in D.C., our FBI instructors came into the classroom armed with horror stories designed to instill fear of the director. To a man, these instructors had that "I'm-dead-but-still-walking persona". One of them, a SOG (Seat of Government) agent from the D.C. administrative headquarters, a man who conjured up the image of a demented butcher, kept reminding the class that to survive in Mr. Hoover's FBI one had to have balls made of brass. I took this to mean we were in for a lot of low blows.

     New agents were reminded over and over again that the worse thing they could do was embarrass the bureau. Blowing an investigation was one thing, but embarrassing the bureau was serious. By bureau, the instructors meant J. Edgar Hoover. The director did not forget, did not forgive, and took everything personally. Every infraction--a missed bureaucratic deadline, putting a scratch on a bureau car, not calling the office every two hours when not at work or at home--constituted a personal assault on Hoover's good name. It was simply un-American to embarrass the director of the FBI.

     Hoover's ideal FBI agent consisted of a thin white male with high morals, a clean-cut appearance, and a law degree. Over the years the director had managed, through careful media manipulation, to make the G-man the cultural hero, and the outlaw, the villian. Physically, if a job candidate didn't fit Hoover's model of the all-American agent, it didn't matter how smart, brave, or moral he was. Hoover didn't tolerate mustaches, beards, pot bellies, long hair, or missing teeth. If you had a tattoo, forget it. The director didn't accept anyone who was color-blind or had less that 20-20 vision. Short, slightly overweight, and bulldog-faced, Hoover, based on looks alone, would not have hired himself. There were a handful of black men in the bureau, but no Hispanics, Asians, or women.

     Once in the FBI, agents had to maintain a height/weight ratio that conformed to ideal life insurance policy standards. Most agents, as they approached middle age, had trouble keeping their weight under control, and dreaded the monthly weigh-ins held either in the chief clerk's desk or in the SAC's (special agent in charge) office under the supervision of the boss's secretary. Notwithstanding the weight restrictions, there were a lot of older agents obviously over the pound limit.

     Within the weight control program, as in all of Hoover's bureaucratic obsessions, cheating and false reporting with the knowledge and approval of the office brass were rampant. But according to the regulations, an agent who was more than ten pounds over the weight limit two months in a row could be transferred to another field office. The bureau's weight program gave the SAC a lot of power. If he wanted to unload an agent he didn't like, the boss could enforce the rule. So could a SOG inspector on a field office witch hunt. The office transfer, as a means of punishment, gave Hoover a powerful and arbitrary tool that disrupted families and broke up marriages. This from a never married man who disapproved of divorce.

     Director Hoover also enforced a severe and detailed dress code. Agents had to wear blue, brown, gray or black suits. He forbade pin stripe suits and colorful buttoned-down or patterned dress shirts. Approved bureau footwear did not include suede shoes, loafers, or cowboy boots. (When I worked in west Texas, most agents wore fancy cowboy boots to fit in with the Texas Rangers.) Agents playing it safe shoe-wise went the wing-tip route. As for head wear, all agents were supposed to wear those felt, narrow-brimmed business hats even though a bareheaded President Kennedy had rendered the fedora out of style.

     In a dress code more detailed and complicated than the U.S. Constitution, an agent caught wearing a sports coat or a loud tie could get written-up. Unlike modern agents who wear jackets and ballcaps emblazoned with the letters FBI, or walk around in combat gear, Hoover's men looked like 1950s IBM executives and insurance men.

     To distinguish his agents from uniformed cops and city detectives who supposedly killed a lot of time by hanging around donut shops and diners drinking coffee, Hoover forbade his agents to drink coffee on the job. Taking clandestine coffee breaks with other agents therefore required a lot of trust (agents had to be aware of office snitches) and made a common workplace ritual an act of subversion. Agents were constantly on the lookout for safe coffee drinking hideaways. Bureau coffee drinkers couldn't get attached to a single restaurant or diner because to avoid detection, they had to keep moving.

     One of Hoover's most unreasonable and counterproductive rules, a decree that reflected his lack of experience as a criminal investigator, concerned when agents could tackle the heavy paperwork burden the director had himself mandated. Between 9 AM and 5 PM, agents were only allowed to be in the field office ninety minutes. They were supposed to use this limited time to review their case files, make phone calls, and dictate reports and FD 302s (witness statements) to office stenographers. Agents were to spend the rest of the day out on the street investigating crime, tracking down fugitives, and uncovering subversion. As opposed to the image of the lazy detective hanging around the office all day drinking coffee and shooting the bull, Hoover wanted his investigators to be men of action.

     The director's office-time restriction ignored the fact that in detective work, every hour of investigation can create two hours of paperwork. To meet Hoover's strict reporting deadlines, agents had to do much of their pencil-pushing in parked cars, public libraries, restaurants, and for those brave enough to risk it, at home. Otherwise, if an agent saved all of his paperwork for the office after 5 PM, he'd end up preparing 302s and written reports well into the evening.

     In the morning, agents were expected to sign-in for work before seven. For those who worked in big city offices, that meant getting up at five. Agents were also required to log in plenty of overtime which meant the sign-in and sign-out registers never came close to reflecting reality. For example, when an agent arrived at the office at seven, the guy just ahead of him would be logging in at five-thirty. If the agent who signed in just after this person wrote down his actual time of arrival, he had committed an act  called "jumping the register," a serious violation of the agent's unwritten code of conduct. In Hoover's FBI, honesty was not  always the best policy.

     When I left the bureau it felt like I had escaped from prison. The only aspect of the job I really missed involved working with first-rate people. One of Hoover's greatest sins was the way he abused his personnel. He recruited the best then treated them like dirt. From a street agent's perspective, that is Mr. Hoover's legacy.        

Monday, March 5, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Fear Of Nothing

Before the Big Bang there was supposedly nothing. Doesn't there have to be something? What does nothing look like? What the hell is nothing? Whatever it is, I thing nothing is what we are all afraid of.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Teasers And Practical Jokesters

I'm not a fan of being teased, and therefore have never been a teaser. I suspect that people who engage in prolific teasing are, on the inside, miserable. I believe this is also true of practical jokers. I do not like being the butt of a practical joke, and make a point of avoiding such tricksters. I don't like being made the center of attention, particularly for the amusement of others. Never pull a practical joke on an introvert, that might not turn out well.

Thornton P. Knowles

Football Coach Philip Foglietta and the Poly Prep Cover-Up

     The Poly Prep Country Day School is an elite, nursery to 12th grade private boy's academy located on two campuses in Brooklyn, New York. Poly Prep's middle and high school buildings are located in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn while the lower grades are on the Park Slope campus. As is often the case in schools where the sports program plays an important if not vital role in the institution, faculty member and renowned football coach Philip Foglietta enjoyed icon status during the years 1966 to 1991.

     In 1966, Coach Foglietta's first year at Poly Prep, a male student accused him of sexual molestation. A school administrator informed the boy's parents that an internal investigation revealed the accusation to be false. Moreover, if this student continued to make slanderous claims of this nature, the boy would face "severe consequences." The administration's handling of this case not only silenced the accuser, it became the school's future modus operandi in such matters.

     After 25 years as Poly Prep's most successful football coach, Foglietta unexpectedly retired in 1991. In honor of his legendary coaching career and important contributions to the institution, the school hosted a gala celebration held at the Manhattan Athletic Club. Members of the Poly Prep community, and the public at large, were not told of the real reason behind the coach's "retirement." He had been forced to quit as a result of accusations of "sexual misconduct."

     Following Coach Foglietta's death in 1998, Poly Prep established a memorial fund and solicited donations in his name. Four years later, in a letter to all alumni, the Poly Prep administration revealed that for years Coach Foglietta had been suspected of sexually abusing his students. According to this 2002 letter, administrators had "recently received credible allegations that sexual abuse had occurred at Poly Prep more than 20 years ago by a faculty member/coach who is now deceased." Everyone familiar with the school knew that coach was Philip Foglietta. The author of this revealing letter promised a thorough internal investigation of the accusations. (If the school actually conducted such an inquiry, no report of it surfaced. Moreover there was no indication that these "credible" accusations were ever passed on to the police.)

     In 2004, a Poly Prep alumnus named John Paggioli, alleging that as a student he had been sexually molested by Coach Foglietta, filed a lawsuit against the school. A year later, a judge, citing New York State's statute of limitations on such claims, dismissed the action. (In New York, a sexual abuse claimant must file suit within five years of his or her eighteenth birthday.)

     On October 26, 2009, twelve Poly Prep alumni, claiming sexual abuse by Coach Philip Foglietta, filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) suit against the school in the Brooklyn District Federal Court. The plaintiffs alleged a 40-year criminal conspiracy to quash and cover-up student complains of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Poly Prep's greatest football coach.

     According to court documents, current and former Poly Prep headmasters knew that Coach Foglietta had sexually abused "dozens if not hundreds of boys." The plaintiffs alleged "Poly Prep administrators had...knowledge of Foglietta's sexual abuse of numerous boys at or near the school, but condoned and facilitated Foglietta's criminal behavior because he was a highly successful football coach and instrumental in raising substantial revenue for the school."

     In filing a RICO action, a technique the FBI used to cripple the Mafia, the Poly Prep plaintiffs were using this federal law as a way around the statute of limitations. These lawyers were asking the court to consider a sexual abuse defendant's repeated misrepresentations and deceitful conduct as a legal justification to override the application of the statute of limitations. These attorneys were attempting to create a legal exception to the doctrine that bars legal relief in older cases.  

     On August 28, 2012, in a 40-page decision, Judge Frederic Block of the Brooklyn District Federal Court, allowed two of the twelve plaintiffs to go forward with their RICO claims against current and former Poly Prep administrators. If these plaintiffs prevailed under the RICO statute, other institutions like universities and churches could be faced with a flood of sexual abuse lawsuits previously blocked by statutes of limitations. For this reason future sexual abuse plaintiffs and their potential defendants were closely following the the Poly Prep RICO suit.

     On December 26, 2012, the school settled the landmark lawsuit out of court. As a result, there would be no legal precedent for other victims in old cases. In February 2014, the school issued a formal apology to all of the students sexually abused by the iconic coach and serial child molester. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Overpowering Desire To Write

Once you realize you have an overpowering desire to write fiction, seek immediate psychiatric help. Since this affliction usually raises its ugly head when the victim is in middle school, parents should take action at its earliest signs. Teachers should also be alert to it as well. Crime novelist James M. Cain said it best: "I think the talent to write is a disease, and the fact it produces books that people buy hasn't made it any more healthy."

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Reality TV Cliches

Pretty much everything that comes out of a politician's mouth is a cliche. Athletes and sportscasters also rely heavily on the trite, overused expression. But nowhere is the cliche more at home than on reality TV shows like "Survivor" and "Top Chef." What follows are just five of the most common cliches uttered by reality television contestants:
1. I'm in it to win it.
2. Go big or go home.
3. I've got a target on my back.
4. I'm not here to make friends.
5. I've got to step up my game.
If a viewer of one of these shows consumed a shot of booze every time a reality TV contestant used one of these cliches, before the first commercial that person would be in an alcoholic stupor. (Mr. Knowles died before the advent of reality TV, but because he wasn't a big fan of television, and hated cliches, I hope he would approve of this attribution.)

Thornton P. Knowles

The Bethany Deaton Sex Cult Suicide Case

     Bethany Ann Leidlein, a bright, ambitious, and spiritual person, grew up in Arlington, Texas. In 2005, the 20-year-old graduated magna cum laude in English and Spanish from Southwestern University. While enrolled at the university in Georgetown, Texas, she met Tyler Deaton and his friend Micah Moore. Deaton, a domineering and charismatic young man from Corpus Christi, had been a member of the National Honor Society at Calallen High School. At Southwestern, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Methodist Church, he played jazz piano and led prayer groups in the college chapel. A campus spiritual leader, he became known for his belief that "God glorifies in your having fun."

     After Bethany and Tyler graduated from Southwestern University, the two of them, joined by Micah Moore and a handful of other young men, moved to the Kansas City, Missouri suburb of Grandview where they became members of a fundamentalist Christian church called the International House of Prayer (IHOP). In May 2009, Bethany and Tyler completed a six-month religious program at IHOP University.

     In the summer of 2012,  after Tyler and Bethany were married, they moved, along with his his male religious friends and followers, into a large, old house in Grandview. Having gone back to school and earned a degree in nursing, Bethany worked as a registered nurse at a local hospital. She and her male roommates had evolved into a cult-like religious group led by her husband. The Grandview house they all lived in became sort of a church.

     At ten o'clock on the night on October 30, 2012, Jackson County (Missouri) sheriff's deputies were called to investigate the body of a woman found in the back of a van parked near Longview Lake. The dead woman turned out to be Bethany Ann Deaton.

     Bethany's head had been covered by a white, plastic bag. In the Ford Windstar van, deputies recovered a notepad upon which someone had written what appeared to be a suicide note. It read: "My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn't be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that. I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will save me."

     In the van's cup-holder sat an empty 100-count bottle that had once held Acetaminophen pills. While most experienced homicide investigators would have considered Bethany Deaton's death scene suspicious, the Jackson County Coroner's Office classified it as a suicide. The plastic bag over her head, the empty pill bottle, and the suicide note had the look of a staged suicide.

     Bethany Deaton's parents claimed her body and had her buried in Arlington, Texas without an autopsy. According to Bethany's online obituary, she had been "a lover of books, writing, nature, deep conversations, dance, worship, and, most of all, Jesus."

     On November 9, 2012, one of Bethany Deaton's male roommates, 23-year-old Micah Moore, showed up at the Grandview Police Department with something to confess. He informed the detective who spoke to him that Bethany Deaton had not committed suicide because he had murdered her. He had pulled the plastic bag over her head and had held it there "until her body shook."

     According to Micah Moore, he, Tyler Deaton, and the other male members of the spiritual clan had been sexually assaulting Bethany for months. They all had sex with her after drugging her with an antipsychotic drug called Seroquel. (This medication had been prescribed to a member of the sect.) Micah Moore said he had video-taped the group rapes on his tablet computer. He told the detective that he had also confessed his role in the rapes and murder to his pastor. Moore said he had written poems about Bethany Deaton's sexual assaults.

     Micah Moore informed the Grandview detective that the victim's husband, Tyler Deaton, had talked him into killing Bethany and making it look like a suicide. In the weeks prior to her death, Bethany had been seeing a counselor. Tyler Deaton, according to Moore, had been worried that she might report the group rapes to the therapist. Moore also confessed that after the men raped the drugged-up woman, they had consensual sex with each other.

     Following Micah Moore's stunning murder confession, the authorities in Jackson County, Missouri re-classified Bethany Deaton's manner of death as a criminal homicide. Her cause of death:  asphyxiation by suffocation. On November 10, prosecutor Jean Peters charged Micah Moore with first degree-murder. Tyler Deaton was not charged with a crime.

     Allen Hood, the president of IHOP University, distanced the school and the church from Tyler Deaton and his followers. He described Deaton as the leader of an independent, close-knit religious group that had operated separately "under a veil of secrecy."

     On November 28, 2012, Micah Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, announced that her client had recanted his confession. The lawyer described the confession as "bizarre, nonsensical and most importantly, untrue." Attorney Morgan went on to say that Moore was a "distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressure as a result of his friend Bethany's untimely suicide and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton from their extremely close-knit religious community."

     On October 31, 2014, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker dropped the charges against Micah Moore. Moore's DNA was not on the bag over Deaton's head and forensic document examination revealed that the suicide note had been written by her. Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, said her client's confession had been a "reactive psychotic episode triggered by the suicide of his friend."  

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing Simply To Become a Published Author

Because writing creatively for publication is tough, you should only do it if you have the talent for it and you love to write. If you don't enjoy writing, stop doing it because being published is not what it's cracked up to be. Spare yourself the writing misery and the disappointment of publication. And one other thing, no one cares if you write a book or not. Truth is, there are too many books out there already.

Thornton P. Knowles