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Monday, April 30, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Shortest Science Fiction Story

Written anonymously, the shortest science fiction story in history is simply this: "The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock on the door."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Nicholas Bennallack Police Shooting Cases

     Just before eleven o'clock on the night of January 2, 2012 in Anaheim, California, police officers responded to several 911 calls regarding a man with a shotgun at an apartment complex. SWAT officers at the scene ran down a 200-foot alleyway, and as they rounded a corner, saw Bernie Villegas holding a rifle. Anaheim police officer Nicholas Bennallack shot Villegas who was pronounced dead at the scene. The 36-year-old immigrant from the Philippines had been holding his son's BB gun. Villegas, an alleged drug dealer, had a 14-year-old daughter, and a son who was twelve.

     The Orange County District Attorney's office, following an investigation of the shooting, cleared Officer Bennallack of criminal wrongdoing. Villegas' family has filed a wrongful death suit against the city.

     On July 21, 2012, about six months after the Villegas shooting, Officer Bennallack and his partner Brett Heitmann were patrolling an Anaheim neighborhood considered a hotbed of gang activity. The officers spotted a car parked in an alley surrounded by several men. Officer Heitmann recognized the man standing on the vehicle's passenger side as 25-year-old Manuel Diaz. Diaz, a known gang member, had prior gun possession convictions.

     When officers Heitmann and Bennallack got out of the unmarked police car, Diaz ran down an alley leading to an apartment complex. As he fled, Diaz used both hands to hold up his trousers. The fleeing suspect ignored the officers' orders to stop. The officers caught up to Diaz at a wrought-iron fence. As they approached the suspect Diaz had his back to them. When he started to turn toward the officers, Bennallack, thinking that Diaz might have a gun, fired twice. One bullet hit Diaz in the buttocks, the other in the head. He died shortly after the shooting. Diaz had not been armed.

     A toxicology report revealed that Diaz, at the time of the shooting, had in his system methamphetamine, amphetamine, and a prescription medicine to prevent seizures.

     Following the Diaz shooting, Dana Douglas, the attorney who represented Bernie Villegas' relatives, filed a $50 million suit against the city on behalf of the Diaz family. Following Diaz's death, the Orange County District Attorney's Office opened an investigation of Officer Nicholas Bennallock. The officer had been an Anaheim police officer for five years.

     On March 20, 2013, Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner announced that Officer Bennallack had been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the Diaz shooting. According to the Orange County prosecutor, at the time of the fatal incident, the officer "believed he was in imminent danger. In such a scenario, one can have only a split-second to decide how to proceed."

     The Diaz family attorney, Dana Douglas, has a different take on the shooting. "This is like a rape case," she said. "Let's blame the victim." (In my view, that is not an appropriate analogy.)

     In May 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of lower federal court that dismissed the Villegas lawsuit. The suit against the city of Anaheim would go forward.

    When a police officer, within a period of five years, shoots and kills two people, both of them unarmed, some might call him trigger-happy. Given the circumstances of these two police involved shootings, I don't think the term applies to Officer Bennallack.

The Execution of Lester Bower Jr.

     In 1983, 35-year-old Lester Leroy Bower Jr., a graduate of Texas A & M with a good job as a chemical salesman, lived in Arlington, Texas with his wife and two daughters. On October 8, 1983, Bower responded to a newspaper ad regarding a ultralight airplane on sale for $4,000.

     That Saturday afternoon, at a hanger on the B & B Ranch in Sherman, Texas, Bower met with the seller of the plane, 51-year-old Bob G. Tate. Bower had driven to the ranch, 60 miles north of Dallas, with the intent of killing Mr. Tate and stealing the building contractor's plane.

     As Bower loaded the small aircraft into his truck after murdering Mr. Tate with a .22-caliver handgun, three of the dead man's friends showed up at the ranch to watch the Texas-Oklahoma football game. Caught in the act, Bower shot to death 39-year-old Ronald Mayes, a former Sherman police officer; Philip Good, a 29-year-old sheriff's deputy; and Jerry Mac Brown, a 52-year-old interior designer.

     At Bower's May 1984 trial, the prosecutor put on a circumstantial case that led to a guilty verdict. The judge, in accordance with the recommendation of the jurors, sentenced Lester Bower to death.

     On May 20, 2015, 31 years following the guilty verdict and death sentence, the 67-year-old Bower, with his execution date approaching, gave an interview to a local reporter. In referring to his impending death, Bower said, "If this is going to bring some closure to the victims' families, then good. But if they think by this they're executing the person who killed their loved ones then that's going to come up a little short."

     On Wednesday June 3, 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Bower's last ditch appeal, the condemned man, from his death-house gurney, thanked his lawyers, his wife and his daughters for their "unwavering support."

     By way of a final statement, Bower said, "Much has been written about this case, not all of it has been the truth." Shortly after these last words, the executioner administered the lethal dose of pentobarbital.

     Lester Bower was one of the longest serving and oldest inmates on Texas' death row. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Jacqueline Susann And Literary Immortality

Jacqueline Susann, a long forgotten hack romance novelist responsible for such novelistic drivel as Vally of the Dolls, once said, "Yeah, I think I'll be remembered. I think I will be remembered as the voice of the 1960s--Andy Warhol, the Beatles and me." Oh how we kid ourselves.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tucson Police Officer Diana Lopez: Behavior Unbecoming and the Loss of Police Accountability

     In August 2012, internal affairs investigators with the Tucson Arizona Police Department learned that between May and August 2011, Lieutenant Diana Lopez, via her personal cellphone, had sent sexually explicit videos of herself to a subordinate officer on the force. The subordinate showed the videos to several other Tucson Police Officers who kept the whole thing quiet for about a year.

     The Tucson Chief of Police, in February 2013, on grounds that Lieutenant Lopez had violated departmental regulations and standards of conduct, demoted her to patrol sergeant. Assistant Chief Kathleen Robinson, in her departmental report, wrote: "Lopez used extremely poor judgment in sending these images undermining her credibility as a commander. Her actions have negatively affected not only her reputation, but the reputation and mission of the Tucson Police Department."

     Officer Lopez's attorney, Michael Piccarreta, announced that his client was considering filing a civil lawsuit against the city and the department for wrongful demotion. Lopez would also, according to the attorney, appeal her demotion to the state Civil Service Commission.

     Attorney Piccarreta, in speaking to a local reporter about the case said, "The case raises constitutional issues when there is lawful off-duty behavior, and a wrongdoer [the subordinate officer] violates your trust and privacy rights without your permission or consent by making it public."

     In the summer of 2013, the state Civil Service Commission upheld Lopez's demotion.

     In May 2014, Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington reversed the department's demotion of Lopez. The judge rationalized his decision on the fact the police department did not have an explicit policy warning officers against making and showing sexually explicit materials. (In order to foresee all the stupid things a police officer might do, the department's manual of professional conduct would have to be massive.)

     In addressing attorney Piccarreta's points, I'm not sure how the police department violated officer Lopez's constitutional rights by demoting her for sending sex tapes to a lower ranking member of the force. On the violation of privacy issue, cellphone images carry no expectancy of privacy. In fact, one can expect that sexually oriented videos sent by cellphone will eventually go public.

     While attorney Picarreta's strongest argument might have been the off-duty activity aspect, police officers, in reality, are never off-duty. If you punch an off-duty cop you will be arrested on the spot. Obviously, what police officers do on their own time can affect the department and the profession. The fact that Lopez's embarrassing off-duty actions were not criminal offenses misses the point.

   Judge Harrington, in interfering with the internal administrative workings of a police department, lowered the bar regarding what is considered professional police conduct. The fact this officer wasn't fired for embarrassing the profession reveals a serious lack of police accountability. Public employees have become immune from being fired. Citizens have lost control of a government that serves itself rather than the public.

     Diana Lopez, as Lieutenant Diana Duffy, filed a claim against the city in April 2015. According to Michael Storie, her attorney, as a result of the wrongful demotion, Lieutenant Duffy suffered from financial and emotional stress. The attorney was asking the city of Tucson to pay his client $120,000 in damages. The current chief of police supported this claim.

     

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writer Suicides.

Some of the world's most famous writers ended their lives with suicide. A few examples would include Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Jerry Kosinski, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, and Virginia Woolf. In 1949, Ross Lockridge Jr., a year after the publication of his bestselling novel, Raintree County, gassed himself to death in his newly purchased car. Who knows why so many successful writers kill themselves. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that many writers are odd, high-strung wrecks. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze and drugs. In a few cases, the writer's suicide propells him or her into fame. In 1963, the poet Sylvia Plath, while living in London, gassed herself to death by placing her head into her oven. The 31-year-old writer was virtually unknown before she killed herself. Following her death, Plath became one of the most famous woman writers in the world. Vidal Gore, when speaking of another writer's suicide, wrying noted that for this particular novelist the suicide turned out to be a good career move. While an excellent writer, Mr. Gore was a horse's ass. But he did not die by his own hand. It's quite amazing, however, that he wasn't murdered by Norman Mailer, Truman Capote William Buckley, or any number of writers who hated his guts. Writers, what a messed up bunch.

Thornton P. Knowles


Samuel Cohen: The Unrepentant Con Man

     In 2002, Samuel Cohen, a 44-year-old San Francisco con man, talked the founders of a nonprofit foundation called Vanguard into investing millions into his company, Ecast. Vanguard, created in 1972 by actors Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, issued grants that helped support environmental, anti-war, and other liberal causes.

     Cohen told his investors that Ecast, the manufacturer of electronic jukeboxes for bars, was about to be acquired by Micosoft, and that the acquisition would make Vanguard and its donors a lot of money. Relying on Cohen's word, the foundation's founders, and a hundred other investors, gave Cohen, over a six year period, more than $30 million. Cohen kept the scam going by telling his marks that regulators in the U.S. and Europe were holding up the acquisition. He needed the money to pay the fees and bonds needed to get the deal approved. His victims bought his spiel, and the money kept rolling in. In typical con man fashion, the product Cohen was selling was himself. And the marks went along because they thought they were going to make a killing.

    Confidence games cannot go on forever, and in 2008, Cohen's swindle fell apart. A federal prosecutor in San Francisco charged him with wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. His victims were devastated, and the Vanguard Foundation collapsed.

     Samuel Cohen had pulled off what criminologists call the "long con" by using his ill-gotten money to create a facade of enormous wealth that impressed and influenced his marks. He rented a $50,000 a month mansion in Belvedere, the exclusive enclave just north of San Francisco. The fake financier hung fake art on the walls of his rented palace, and bought his wife a $1.4 million diamond ring with money he had lifted from his investors. In his rented garage sat a $372,000 Rolls Royce, and a $260,000 Aston Martin. Cohen spent $6 million flying around in a rented jet he boasted that he owned. (Two of his celebrity passengers were Elton John and Jennifer Lopez. While they were not marks, they were props.)

     Con man Cohen lured his victims to the mansion where he held lavish parties in their honor while separating them from their money. It was easy. The scam artist even bilked his father-in-law out of his retirement savings. For the con man, it's not the money so much as the thrill of making suckers out of trusting people. It's economic lust killing.  

     The federal prosecutor, after a San Francisco jury found Samuel Cohen guilty in November 2011 of 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, and 3 counts of tax evasion, asked Judge Charles Breyer to send this con artist to prison for 30 years, order him to pay $60 million in restitution, and fine him $250,000. In justifying what would be the stiffest penalty in the history of white collar crime (Jeff Skilling at Enron got 24 years, 4 months), the prosecutor pointed out that Cohen, instead of experiencing remorse for his on-going, cold-blooded swindle, has blamed everyone but himself for the harm he has caused so many victims. (When con men are caught, in their minds, they are the victims.)

     Cohen's attorney, in arguing for a more lenient penalty, requested a prison sentence of under 7 years. The defense lawyer told the judge that 30 years behind bars is excessive punishment for a 53-year-old first time offender. Moreover, Mr. Cohen had given $2 million to charity. (Yes, but with stolen money. Samuel Cohen as Robin Hood.)

     Judge Breyer, in May 2012, sentenced Cohen to 22 years in prison, and ordered him to pay $31.4 in restitution. Calling the con man "nearly sociopathic," (nearly?) the judge said the sentence would have been more severe had there not been sentencing guidelines holding him back. If Cohen serves his full sentence, he'll be 75 when he gets out. Many of his victims will be dead, and the ones who are not, might still be broke.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing For The Screen

My idea of writing for the screen is shared by the novelist Norman Mailer who articulated his views on the subject better than I could: "I'm not interested in getting a job in Hollywood. I have no desire in the world to write a movie script. Why the hell should I write a movie script? Scriptwriting has nothing to do with writing. The best scriptwriter in the world, ideally, would be a film editor with a novelistic gift. And those are qualities that don't usually go together."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Mark Stobbe Murder Case

     In the spring of 2000, 42-year-old Mark Stobbe, the former senior advisor to Roy Romanon, the premier of Saskatchewan, Canada, moved his family from Regina, Saskatchewan to St. Andrews, Manitoba, a rural community north of Winnipeg. The new senior communications advisor for Manitoba premier Gary Doer, moved his wife Beverly Rowbotham and their two sons into a sprawling old house in the country.

     In his new position as the premier's communications strategist, the tall, 350-pound political operative left his house most days at six in the morning and didn't return until eleven at night. This left his wife Beverly alone all day with their sons in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Her husband's new job, and the move, had placed Beverly and the marriage under stress.

     At 2:30 in the morning of October 25, 2000, Mark Stobbe telephoned Betty Rowbotham, his wife's sister, to inform her that Beverly had gone missing. Earlier in the day, Beverly had been to the Safeway grocery store in Selkirk, 12 kilometers from the house. Because the boys had acted up in the store, she had returned home without completing her shopping. That evening, Beverly had driven back to Safeway to finish the job. Mark said he had fallen asleep in bed with one of his sons and woke up to find that Beverly had not returned from the store. Worried that something had happened to her, he called the police, and several hospitals.

     Ten minutes after the call, Betty arrived at her sister's house. The police were still on their way. Shortly after her arrival, Mark went into the backyard where he used a hose to water down something. Ten minutes later, he was back inside where he greeted the first officer to arrive at the scene. While the RCMP officer was questioning Mark, the detective received a call from his office. They had found Beverly, dead in her car, with massive blunt-force wounds to her head. Her Ford Crown Victoria was parked at a gas station in Selkirk. The police recovered Beverly's purse in the vehicle, but her wallet was missing. The killer had also removed the $7,000 ring she had been wearing.

     Based on the RCMP's initial investigation, it appeared that Beverly Rowbotham had been murdered in her backyard where investigators had found fragments of her skull and clumps of her hair. In the garage, where her Ford had been parked, crime scene officers found two large blood stains on the floor, and one on the wall. Also in the garage, police recovered two blood-soaked tissues and a bloody towel, evidence that the killer had tried to clean up. In the car abandoned in Selkirk, the police discovered traces of blood on the victim's purse. They eventually located Beverly's missing wallet on the bank of the Red River, not far from the gas station.

     In the beginning, investigators figured that Beverly had been murdered sometime that night while her husband and children were asleep in the house. But why would the killer put her body in the Ford, and drive it to Selkirk? And how did the killer get to the murder scene in the first place?

     As the investigation moved forward, detectives became more skeptical of Mark Stobbe's account of his whereabouts and activities on the night of the murder. They began to suspect that he had killed his wife. As Stobbe's questionings became more accusatorial, he continued to deny having anything to do with his wife's death. He also insisted that he and Beverly were not having marital problems. Over the next several months, the police chased down 240 tips, and interviewed 400 people. But it wasn't until the DNA reports started coming in did the investigation start getting some traction.

     According to DNA analysis of the crime scene evidence, the bloodstains in the garage and in the backyard had come from the victim. The blood stains on the towel and tissues belonged to Mark Stobbe. And there were stains that comprised a mixture of his and his wife's blood. There were, however, DNA traces at the scene that belonged to an unidentified male. The spots of blood on Beverly's handbag found in her car had also come from an unidentified man.

     By 2001, RCMP investigators had focused their attention on Mark Stobbe as the primary suspect in the murder. According to his story, Beverly had not completed her shopping that day because one of the boys had misbehaved at the grocery store in Selkirk. But a store surveillance tape showed that she had been in the place almost an hour, and her cash register receipt indicated she had spent $108.32, an amount equal to her average purchase. The investigators also considered Stobbe's differing accounts of his activity on the night of the murder incriminating. He told some people that he had fallen asleep in front of the television, and he told others that he had been in bed with one of his sons.

     In January 2001, the RCMP acquired a warrant allowing them to tap Stobbe's home telephone. After listening in to 1,000 hours of his phone conversations, they heard nothing directly incriminating. In a February 28, 2001 conversation between the suspect and Betty Rowbotham, his former sister-in-law, she informed him that the police were gathering physical evidence from his backyard. To that he replied, "Damn it all." Toward the end of the phone call, Stobbe said, "I feel horrible."

     The Rowbotham/Stobbe case eventually hit a wall, and for several years, lay dormant. In 2008, almost eight years after Beverly Rowbotham's murder, the Crown charged Mark Stobbe with second-degree murder. He was arrested, made bail, and pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 16, 2012, Stobbe's trial got underway in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg. Representing the Crown, Wendy Dawson, in her opening statement to the jury, laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: On the night of October 24, 2000, the defendant, during a heated argument with his wife in the backyard of their house, hit her in the head 16 times with a hatchet. He dragged her body into the garage, hit her again, stuffed the body into her Ford, then drove to the gas station in Selkirk. Using a bicycle he had put into the trunk, he rode back to St. Andrews. Along the way, Stobbe tossed his dead wife's wallet into the Red River to lead investigators into thinking Beverly's killer had robbed her. Stobbe also removed her ring. Back at his house, he waited a few hours before calling the police and his sister-in-law. Before the RCMP arrived, Stobbe used a garden hose in an attempt to wash away physical evidence in his backyard.

     Stobbe's attorney, Tim Killeen, assured the jury that Beverly Rowbotham had been bludgeoned to death by an unidentified intruder who had been lying in wait outside her house. The defense attorney pointed to the unidentified male DNA found on her purse, and in the garage.  

     During the next several weeks, the Crown put 70 people on the stand, including several witnesses who testified that on the night in question, they had seen an overweight man riding a bicycle between Selkirk and St. Andrews. None of these witnesses, however, specifically identified the defendant as the man on the bike.

     On March 7, 2012, the defense put on its case which depended almost entirely on the defendant's taking the stand on his own behalf. If just one juror believed Mark Stobbe's account, there would be no conviction. If all of the jurors believed that he might be telling the truth, there would be an acquittal. It was all up to the defendant.

     Under direct examination by attorney Tim Killeen, Stobbe denied killing his wife. "I've spent a lot of nights looking out that window, wondering," he said. When Stobbe learned of his wife's death, "It was confirmation of my worst fears. What it meant was that I was 50 to 60 feet away when she was killed....I should have been able to stop it. I was completely useless in helping her." The defendant, at this point, broke down on the stand.

     The following day, Crown prosecutor Wendy Dawson began her cross-examination of the defendant. She asked Stobbe why he hadn't filed an insurance claim for his wife's $7,000 ring. "You didn't make a claim," she said, "because the ring wasn't stolen. You took it off her hand before you brutally killed her." Stobbe said he hadn't bothered filing a claim because he just didn't care about the ring's value.

     The prosecutor tried to get the defendant to admit that his marriage was under considerable stress. Didn't his long hours at work with his wife alone in the house with the children have an adverse effect on their relationship? "I think it would be fair to say," he replied, "that she wanted me around more, but...she understood that the long hours were part and parcel of my job. She never made a suggestion to me that I change my career."

     Wendy Dawson cross-examined the defendant for five days. In keeping him on the hot seat for so long, the prosecutor risked making him an object of sympathy in the eyes of some of the jurors. On March 22, 2012, the attorneys made their closing arguments. The prosecutor said she didn't want Stobbe to get away with the "near perfect murder of his wife." She said the circumstantial evidence against him was "overwhelming," and that the defendant had "demonstrated all the hallmarks of a dishonest, lying witness. He couldn't keep his story straight," she said. "Certainly he should have been able to hear a cry for help from his wife, or a commotion in the garage. This was a crime of rage."

     In his closing argument, defense attorney Tom Killeen admitted there were reasons for the police to suspect his client, but suspicion alone was not enough to convict a man of murder. The Crown, he said, has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. "Mr. Stobbe has to prove nothing," he said.

     On March 27, 2012, after 82 witnesses and 100 hours of testimony, Judge Chris Martin gave his instructions to the jury. Mark Stobbe's fate was now in the hands of twelve jurors.

     After deliberating two days, the jury found Mark Stobbe not guilty. The prosecutor, with no solid evidence of a motive, no murder weapon, weak eyewitness testimony, and the unknown male DNA on the victim's purse, simply didn't carry, in the minds of this jury, its burden of proof. Some of the jurors may have believed that Stobbe had murdered his wife, but belief and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are not always the same.  

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Novels Without Plots

A novel without a plot is like a car without an engine. It isn't going anywhere.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Emily Lambert Murder Case

     In September 2013, Emily Lambert, a third grade teacher at the O Henry Elementary School near Plano, Texas, a suburban community just north of Dallas, divorced her husband Donavan. The couple had daughters aged four and five. Emily and Donavan, following the break up, remained on good terms.

     Shortly after the divorce, the 33-year-old resident of Lewisville began dating a man from Euless, Texas named Robert Early.

     On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Lambert and Early were booked into the Stevens Best Western Inn in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He was on a work assignment and she had accompanied him for the weekend. The next morning, Early called the Carlsbad Police Department and reported Emily missing.

     When questioned by police officers, the 33-year-old Early said he and his missing girlfriend had left the motel bar--the Blue Cactus Lounge--at eleven-thirty the previous night. When they got back to their room they argued. Emily became so angry she stormed out of the motel. When she didn't return in the morning, he called the police.

     Mr. Early described Emily Lambert as five-foot-six, 175 pounds, with long blond hair and a large tattoo of an owl on her back. He said she had left the room without her wallet and her cell phone.

     At four-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 4, 2014, police officers discovered the body of a female that matched the description of the woman missing from the Best Western Inn. The corpse was found in a field off State Road 31 near Loving, New Mexico, eight miles southeast of Carlsbad. Officers identified the body as Emily Lambert.

     That night detectives questioned Robert Early at the Carlsbad Police Department. In the course of the interrogation session, he confessed to killing his girlfriend.

     After returning to their room after an evening of drinking at the motel bar, the couple got into a physical fight that led to her being knocked unconscious. From the room, Early carried Emily to his silver 2007 Hyundai Elantra.

     With Emily in the Hyundai, Robert drove to a remote area. When he took Emily out of the car, she regained consciousness. They fought again, and this time he knocked her out with an air pump. He tied one end of a rope around her neck and closed the other end in the passenger's side car door. With her tethered to the vehicle, he climbed behind the wheel and dragged her body to where it was found.

     At one o'clock that morning, Carlsbad officers booked Robert Early into the Eddy County Detention Center on the charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     In May 2015, a jury sitting in Carlsbad, New Mexico found Robert Early guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Early to the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

   
    

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writers As Wimps

Writers love to complain and wail about how difficult it is to write. Oh the suffering, the pure agony of putting words on paper. What a load of crap. You know what's hard work? Try bailing hay, moving furniture, digging coal, or serving food in a restaurant full of human eating machines and their misbehaving kids. No one is forced to write, and no one wants to hear writers crying in their beer. If writing doesn't come easy to you, either quit doing it or shut up about how hard it is. Please.

Thornton P. Knowles

Gabe Watson and The Honeymoon Murder Case

     On October 11, 2003, 26-year-0ld David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson married Tina Thomas, the human resources manager for a small, southern department store chain. The couple met while students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Shortly before getting married, Tina, in anticipation of her honeymoon, took beginning scuba diving lessons that included eleven dives in a flooded Alabama quarry. Gabe, a more experienced diver, had taken advanced courses. He had also made a total of 55 dives, 40 of which had been in the quarry. In 1999 he became certified as a rescue diver.

     Ten days after the wedding, Gabe and his 26-year-old wife began their Australian honeymoon. In Sydney, they visited the Taronga Zoo and attended a Shakespeare play at the Sydney Opera House. On October 22, 2003, the honeymooners began a 7-day dive expedition on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Day one of the adventure involved being taken, on the Townsville Dive Company's vessel "Spoilsport," to the historic Yolonga shipwreck, 48 nautical miles southeast of Townsville in Queensland, Australia. Gabe and Tina were accompanied by rescue divers Dr. Doug Milsap and Dr. Stanley Stutz, an emergency room physician from Chicago.

     Shortly into the dive, Dr. Stutz saw Watson swim to his wife and embrace her. When they separated, Gabe began swimming to the surface as she sank to the sea bed where she drowned. Rescuers recovered Tina Watson's body not far from the shipwreck.

     When asked to explain what happened to his wife, Gabe said he and Tina, shortly after going into the sea, had encountered strong currents. She panicked, and as he approached to help, she knocked off his mask and air regulator. He couldn't hold her. She floated away and began to sink. Because of an ear problem, Gabe said he was unable to go after her. As she drifted to the bottom of the ocean, he swam to the surface to summon help.

     On October 27, 2003, five days after the drowning, detectives with the Townsville Police Department questioned Gabe Watson. He said that during the struggle he had tried but failed to activate his wife's buoyancy control vest. "I remember," he said, "shouting through my regulator, 'Tina, Tina, Tina.' In the back of my mind I was thinking these people [the other divers] could see us, or at least think something odd was going on. I pretty much lost it."

     Members of the Australian State Dive Squad assisted in the investigation of the drowning by conducting reenactments of Tina's dive. Several members of the investigation team had problems with Gabe Watson's explanation of the drowning, and suspected foul play. In the meantime, the tabloid press in Australia, England, and the United States called Tina's death "The Honeymoon Murder," and by implication, portrayed Gabe Watson as a cold-blooded killer motivated by his wife's life insurance.

     Four years passed with nothing happening in the case. Then, on November 13, 2007, the story jumped back in the news when the authorities in Australia held an inquest into Tina Watson's death. (I'm not sure why, after four years, the authorities decided to re-open the case. Perhaps it was pressure from Tina Watson's family.) Back in the U.S., on August 15, 2008, Gabe Watson married a woman named Kim Lewis. Three months after his second marriage, an Australian grand jury indicted him for murdering his first wife in October 2003.

     Watson, in May 2009, returned to Australia on his own accord to face the murder charge. A month later, in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, he pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter. While he had not intentionally killed his wife, Watson was admitting that he had been criminally negligent in not saving her. The Australian judge, believing that the defendant had not murdered his wife, that he had loved her, and felt guilty that he hadn't saved her, sentenced Watson to one year in prison. The judge criticized the media he believed had journalistically convicted Watson of murdering his wife.

     The one-year prison stretch infuriated Tina Watson's family, and prompted the Australian prosecutor to appeal the sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeals. In September 2009, the three-judge appeals panel hardened Watson's punishment to 18 months behind bars.

     If Gabe Watson thought the matter of his first wife's 2003 death was behind him, he was wrong. In October 2010, a grand jury sitting in Birmingham, Alabama indicted him on charges of murder for pecuniary (monetary) gain, and kidnapping by deception--allegedly luring her to Australia so he could drown her. A month after the Alabama indictment, Watson, having served his 18 months in the Australian prison, was free. Sort of.

     On November 25, 2010, the Australian authorities deported Watson back to America. Before they did, however, the U.S. Attorney General gave them assurances that if convicted, Watson would not be sentenced to the death penalty. As soon as he got off he plane in the U.S., Watson was taken into custody. The prosecutor in Alabama asked the judge to deny Watson bail, but in December a judge set his bond at $100,000. Watson made bail and was able to help his attorneys prepare for his trial.

     Watson's defense team lost two key legal arguments. First, that the United States did not have jurisdiction in a death that occurred in Australia; and second, that trying him twice for the same drowning amounted to double jeopardy. The prosecutor in Alabama argued successfully that he had jurisdiction because, according to his theory of the case, Watson had planned to kill his wife in Alabama for the travel and life insurance benefits. (As it turned out, Watson was not the beneficiary of his wife's life insurance policy, her father was.) Double jeopardy didn't apply in this case because Watson's first conviction was in another country.

     Gabe Watson's attorneys were prepared to argue that Tina Watson's death had been a tragic accident caused by her inexperience as a diver and a previously diagnosed heart problem. On the other side, the prosecutor hoped to convince the Alabama jury that Watson had switched off his wife's air supply, held her in a bear hug until she died, turned her air back on, then let her sink to the ocean floor.

     Colin McKenzie, a diving expert involved in the original Australian investigation had concluded that "a diver with Watson's training should have been able to bring Tina up." But after reviewing Tina's and Gabe's diver logs certificates and her medical history, McKenzie changed his mind. Based on this new information, the expert concluded that Gabe Watson should not have been allowed in the sea with a woman with no open water scuba diving experience.

     The Watson murder trial got underway on February 13, 2012 in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. Once the jury of eight women and four men were empaneled, the prosecutor, Don Valeska, and defense attorney Joe Basgier, made their opening statements.

     On February 21, after Valeska had presented the bulk of his case, the trial took a bad turn for the prosecution. Valeska had put funeral director Sam Shelton on the stand and was directing his testimony toward how, at Tina Watson's funeral, the defendant had asked about retrieving his wife's engagement ring from the casket. The prosecutor intended this line of questioning to establish the monetary motive behind the killing. Judge Tommy Nail, from neighboring Montgomery County, did not like what he heard. Interrupting the prosecutor's direct examination, the judge said, "I took my grandmother's engagement ring when she was buried. I think it's quite common." Turning to the witness, Judge Nail asked, "Is it common?" In response to the judge's question, the funeral director answered, "It's quite common."

     Still fuming, Judge Nail excused the jury, then spoke to prosecutor Valeska: "You mean to tell me that [Gabe Watson] bought the engagement ring, married her, he and his family paid for a wedding, he planned and paid for a honeymoon half way around the world, all so he could kill her to get an engagement ring he had bought for her in the first place?"

     Although the jurors didn't hear Judge Nail rip the heart out of the prosecutor's case, it became clear where the judge stood on the issue of the defendant's guilt. Suddenly a conviction, a risky proposition from the beginning, looked like a long shot.

     Judge Tommy Nail, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, directed a verdict of not guilty after the prosecutor rested his case. In the judge's opinion, viewed in a light most favorable to the state, there was not enough evidence to make a prima facie case of guilt against Gabe Watson. As a result, there was no need for a defense. The trial was over.

     Only Gabe Watson knows if he killed his wife. In my view, the Alabama prosecutor should have left well enough alone after Watson's 2009 guilty plea and his 18 months in the Australian prison. There was simply no hard evidence in this case of a premeditated murder. Moreover, this weak case cost the state of Alabama a lot of money. Several of the prosecution's witnesses had been flown over from Australia. Sometimes prosecutors, attracted by the limelight and the chance of convicting a big-fish defendant, go too far. Both of the judges in this case--the one in Australia, and Judge Nail--did not believe Gabe Watson had murdered his wife. The prosecutor knew this, but went ahead with the case anyway.

     A book about the case called A Second Chance for Justice by a pair of Australian criminology teachers came out in February 2013. Dr. Asher Flynn lectured at Monash University. Dr. Kate Fitz-Gibbon taught criminology at Deakin University. According to the authors, the Australian authorities accepted Watson's guilty plea to save money. The authors believe Gabe Watson murdered his wife.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Animal Suffering

I've adapted to the reality of human tragedy. Sickness, violent death, war, poverty and crime is in the news every day. What I can't endure is the mere thought of an animal being abused. There must be something profoundly wrong with me for not being as generally sensitive to human suffering. Could it mean that I like animals more than people. I hope not.

Thornton P. Knowles

Alan Randall: The Insane Cop Killer Who Wasn't That Crazy

     During the winter of 1974, 16-year-old Alan A. Randall committed more than a dozen burglaries in and around Summit, Wisconsin, a town of 4,000 in Waukesha County. In January 1975, Randall broke into the Summit Police Department. When officers Wayne Olson and Robert Atkins pulled up to police headquarters in their patrol car, Randall, instead of either giving himself up or making a run for it, opened fire on the officers, killing them both. The burglar-turned cop killer drove from the scene in the dead officers' bullet-ridden police vehicle. That night, he committed another burglary, then went home to bed.

     Tried as an adult two years later, the jury found Alan Randall guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. (He had also been charged with murdering his neighbor, a man named Ronald Hoeft. Due to procedural problems with the prosecution in that case, that charge was dropped.) Because Randall's attorney had raised the defense of legal insanity, the trial went into a second phase centered around the issue of his mental state at the time of the murders. The jury, having heard testimony from psychiatrists who had diagnosed Randall of having a personality disorder, found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Today, a defendant with a so-called personality disorder would not be adjudged legally insane because people with this disorder are not psychotic, or in any way delusional. They are fully aware of what they have done, and know that the act of murder is wrong. In other words, these defendants are not insane, they are bad. Ted Bundy had a personality disorder, John Hinckley was nuts.

     Having been declared legally insane, Alan Randall, rather than being sent to prison for a specific period of time, was packed off to a mental institution for an indefinite period. He would be eligible for release when psychiatrists said he was cured of his mental illness. Since Randall was not insane, he was, at least in theory, eligible for release the day they admitted him into the Central State Hospital in northeast Wisconsin.

     In 1980, doctors took Randall off his anti-psychotic medication. A model patient--the best mental patients are the ones who aren't insane--Randall was transferred to the Mendota Mental Institution in Madison where he was allowed to work full time at an art gallery.

     In 1989, Randall's attorney began petitioning the court for his release on grounds he had been cured of the mental illness that had caused him to commit the murders fourteen years earlier. By now, Randall's psychiatrists had dropped the personality disorder diagnosis. In 1990 and 1991, judges denied Randall's quest for freedom. In 1992, the shrinks quit spending time with this mental patient altogether. Randall didn't need psychiatrists who had plenty of real mental patients to deal with.

     Randall lost another bid for freedom in 1995. Finally, in April 2013, after 36 years in a mental institution, a six-member jury recommended that the 54-year-old cop killer be released back into society. Since Randall had not been sent to the mental institution to be punished, the issue wasn't whether he had been punished enough. Because he wasn't crazy, he didn't belong in a mental institution. The patient was not let out of the facility immediately because it would take several months to find him a suitable home in some county other than Waukesha.

    While Randall's release order did not create public outrage, some of the murder victims' relatives were disappointed. A widow of one of the murdered officers told reporters that in her opinion, Mr. Randall, who had never publicly apologized for the murders, was not contrite. Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel said there was no basis upon which the state could appeal the jury's recommendation to free this killer of two cops.

     Alan Randall's attorney, Craig Powell, assured reporters that his client posed no threat to the community. "He's a much different person now than when he was a kid." Had Alan Randall been sentenced to prison in 1977 instead of being committed to a mental institution, he would have been eligible for parole as early as 1992. That, of course, doesn't mean that he would have been released so soon after the murders.

     In September 2013, Alan Randall, the cop killer who lived 36 years in an insane asylum, became a free man. I'm not sure what's worse: losing your mind in prison, or remaining sane in a mental institution.

  

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The So-Called "Golden Years"

Losing touch with you youth is a hard pill to swallow. Thinking of yourself as middle-aged is a difficult adjustment. What's really tough is going from "I'm getting old" to "I am old." Old age often brings illness, uselessness, and the feeling that one should apologize for still being alive. The golden years? Give me a break.

Thornton P. Knowles

Yoselyn Ortega: The Nanny From Hell

      Kevin Krim grew up in Thousand Oaks, California where he was a high school football star. The Harvard graduate met his future wife Marina at an Italian restaurant in Venice Beach. They were married in 2003. Marina had grown up in Manhattan Beach, California. Kevin worked in Los Angeles, then took a job with Yahoo in San Francisco. The couple, in 2009, moved to New York City.

     In October 2012, the Krims, now with three children--Lucia, age 6, Nessie, 3, and 2-year-old Leo, lived on Manhattan's upper west side in a second-floor, 3-bedroom apartment in the LaRochelle Building on West 75th Street. The $10,000 a month apartment is a block from Central Park, and not far from the Museum of Natural History, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Marina, a stay-at-home mother, kept a daily online journal of her children's daily lives.

     Two years ago, the Krims hired 48-year-old Yoselyn Ortega, a nanny who had been referred to them by Ortega's older sister Celia who, as a nanny herself, med Marina and Lucia at a ballet lesson. A naturalized U.S. citizen from the Dominican Republic, Yoselyn lived in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights neighborhood then moved to an apartment on Riverside Drive in Harlem a few miles from the Krims. She lived with her son, sister, and niece.

     The Krims became very close to Ortega (they called her "Yosi"), and in February 2012, accompanied her to the Dominican Republic where they visited her family. Whenever the Krims left town for an extended period with the children, they bought Ortega a flight back to her native country. Recently, according to the nanny's relatives, she had been seeing a psychologist. Members of her family have said the nanny was having financial problems. For extra money, she had been selling cheap cosmetics and jewelry to residents of her tenement building.

     On Thursday afternoon on October 25, 2012, Marina took 3-year-old Nessie to a swimming lesson. She left Leo and Lucia in the apartment with the nanny. At 5:25 that evening, when Marina and Nessie returned to the apartment, they found the place dark. Marina assumed that Yoselyn Ortega had taken the two children out for a walk.

     Marina and Nessie returned to the lobby, and from the doorman, learned that Ortega and the children had not left the building. Marina re-entered the apartment, and when she walked into the bathroom, saw Leo and Lucia lying in the bathtub covered in blood. The children had been slashed and stabbed with the bloody kitchen knife lying on the floor next to Ortega who was bleeding from a wound in her neck. (The nanny had also slashed her wrists.)

     Several neighbors heard Marina scream, "You slit her throat!" Later the distraught mother was heard saying, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I have no children."

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious nanny to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical Center where she underwent emergency surgery. Marina was taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital for sedation. Kevin Krim, returning from a business trip to San Francisco, was met at the airport with the news of his children's deaths. He was also taken to the hospital where they sedated him.

     On Friday, October 26, 2012, detectives were unable to question Ortega who was hooked up to a respirator. The nanny was expected to survive her wounds. Investigators believed Ortega murdered the children, then stabbed herself in the neck about the time the victims' mother entered the apartment.

     Yoselyn Ortega is the youngest of six siblings who grew up in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. Her sister Celia emigrated to the United States in the early 1980s after graduating from accounting studies at Santa Ana College in Santiago. Yoselyn later joined her older sister in America. She worked as the manager of a print shop in Manhattan, then after separating from the father of her son, returned to the Dominican Republic. After awhile, she returned to New York City. According to family members, she loved the Krim children. Before the murders, she had been acting strangely from some kind of emotional stress.

     Prior to her hospital-bed arraignment on November 28, 2012, Yoselyn Ortega's attorney asked the judge to bar the press from the hearing on the grounds his client was too "pathetic" to be seen. Judge Lewis Stone denied the request. "There are things that become uncomfortable with respect to the press. That is the cost that we must bear in connection with the civil liberties." he said.

     In a June 2013 Rikers Island jail interview of Ortega by a reporter with the New York Daily News, the inmate denied killing the children. "I didn't do that," she said. "Those are all lies." The brief interview ended abruptly when Ortega said, "My lawyer told me not to talk. I'm not supposed to say anything."  Later that month, a Manhattan judge at Ortega's competency hearing, ruled that she was mentally fit for trial. Ortega's attorney, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, appealed that decision.

     In August 2013, before the same Manhattan judge, Dr. Ankur Saraiya took the stand and said that while Ortega "had suffered some brain damage when she slit her throat, it was not enough to interfere with her fitness." The judge reaffirmed his initial finding that this defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

     In April 2018, after dozens of delays, a jury sitting in New York City rejected Ortega's insanity defense and found her guilty of double murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Novel "Ulysses"

James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses is generally considered by English professors and high-brow literary critics to be one of the most important works of modern literature. In reality, virtually no one but English professors who have assigned the novel to their hapless students have plowed through this stream-of-consciousness tome. Students burdened with the task of reading Ulysses can't wade through it either. Most of them struggle to even make sense of the Cliff Notes version of the book. Forcing novels like this on students may be one of the reasons most students, when they get out of college, never read another book. Novels that require the intervention of an English professor to interpret them aren't worth reading and shouldn't be used as murder weapons in the killing of fiction.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Gavin Smith Murder Case

     A native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, Gavin Smith, in 1973, graduated from Van Nuys High where the six-foot-six basketball player caught the attention of UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Two years later, Smith played on the UCLA team that won the NCAA college basketball championship.

     In 1994, following a lackluster career as a television and theatrical film actor, Smith became a film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox working out of an office in Calabasas, California. He resided with his wife Lisa and their three sons in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

     By 2010, Gavin Smith was plagued by financial and marital problems. His marriage had gone sour after Lisa became devoutly religious. Following her conversion, Gavin began having affairs. He and Lisa had purchased their West Hills home when the Los Angeles area real estate market was booming. After the 2008 recession, the market value of the dwelling declined significantly. The Smiths ended up owing more on the house than it was worth. The couple wanted to sell the house but couldn't afford the loss.

     Because of the marital disharmony, Gavin, in the spring of 2012, lived with a friend in Oak Park, a community not far from his house in West Hills. At ten at night on May 1, 2012, he drove off in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 500E. He did not return.

     At the Oak Park residence, Smith left behind his cellphone, credit cards, a shaving kit, and other personal belongings. To investigators, this indicated his intention to return to his friend's house. The next day, when he didn't show up for work, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office opened a missing person investigation. As the days passed without a sign of Smith or his vehicle, volunteers began handing out flyers. Friends and family also posted a $20,000 reward. The Sheriff's office created a special hotline number for tipsters. None of these efforts bore fruit.

     Investigators learned that Smith had been having an affair with Chandrika Creech, the wife of convicted drug dealer John Creech. On June 8, 2012, deputies searched the Creech home and were seen leaving the dwelling carrying several boxes and a computer. A few days later, a judge sentenced John Creech to eight years in prison for selling drugs.

     On March 14, 2013, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Office Homicide Bureau, held a press conference to announce that the authorities had located Smith's missing Mercedes. The vehicle had been found on February 21, 2013 at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch area of San Fernando Valley. The car contained traces of Mr. Smith's blood and other evidence of foul play. Detectives have linked the storage place to a person with close ties to John Creech.

     Lieutenant Dolson said, "We believe Gavin Smith was murdered." The detective also named John Creech as a person of interest in the case. Investigators were still looking for Gavin Smith's body.

     In May 2014, a Los Angeles County judge ruled Mr. Smith legally deceased.

     On Thursday November 6, 2014, Lieutenant Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office confirmed that remains found by hikers on October 26 belonged to Gavin Smith. The hikers stumbled across the decomposed body and pieces of clothing in a shallow grave in the desert 70 miles from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley not far from Palmdale, California.

     In January 2015, the police arrested John Creech for Gavin Smith's murder. Creech's attorney said that the two men had gotten into a fight that led to the victim's accidental death.

     According  to testimony from the May 2015 grand jury hearing on the case, Creech had ambushed the victim at a lover's lane rendezvous involving Smith and Creech's estranged wife Chandrika Cade. As Creech punched the pinned down Smith, he yelled at Chandrika that she would be next. She fled the scene and took refuge in a nearby house.

     After allegedly killing Gavin Smith, Creech stored the victim's body in the garage of a bodybuilder he knew named Stan McQuary. A few day's later, Creech returned to his friend's garage in a rented van  that he used to transport Smith's body to the shallow grave in the desert.

     In September 2017, a jury in Los Angeles found John Creech guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to eleven years in prison.

Why Serial Killers Murder

     How and why do serial murderers kill again and again? Serial killing is an addiction, some experts say. Simply explained, once they begin killing (and sometimes they kill the first time by accident), serial killers find themselves addicted to murder in an intense cycle that begins with homicidal sexual fantasies that in turn spark a desperate search for victims....Once a killing cycle is triggered, it is rarely broken.

     The worst aspect [of serial killing] is that murder fantasies are often the only thing the budding serial killer has that gives him comfort and solace. Once he crosses the line and actually realizes his fantasy, and discovers that the actual murder is not as satisfying as his fantasy, he is driven into the depths of depression and despair, from which rise even more intense homicidal fantasies driving him forward to kill again....With time, trapped in this addictive cycle, serial killers become more frenzied....The frequency and violence of their murders escalate...until they are either caught or "burn out''--reach a point where killing no longer satisfies them and they stop on their own accord....Others commit suicide, move on to commit other crimes, or turn themselves into the police.

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Internet Worship

I can see a day when the Internet replaces God. The new Holy Trinity: Facebook, Google, and Virtual Reality. Passwords will replace prayer, computer technicians will comprise the priesthood, hackers will become the Devil, and computers will serve as our sacred places of worship.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Elzbieta Plackowska Double Murder Case

 
     Elzbieta Plackowska lived with her husband Artur and their son in Naperville, Illinois, a DuPage County town 25 miles west of Chicago. Born and raised in Poland, Elzbieta came to the United States twelve years ago on a vacation visa.

     Elzbieta's father, in October 2012, passed away and she wanted to return to Poland for the funeral. Artur was against her leaving the country, and the two of them had argued over this. Their marriage was already strained over the fact that as a long-haul truck driver, he was seldom home. Elzbieta resented having to raise their 7-year-old son without out his help. (Their oldest boy was in his late teens and lived with a family friend.) The 40-year-old discontented wife was also angry that she had to work as a housemaid, a job she felt was beneath her. Elzbieta Plackowska was an angry, frustrated, and profoundly unhappy woman.

     In September 2012, about a month before her father died, Elzbieta met Marta Dworakowski on an online Polish networking site. Marta, the mother of a 5-year-old girl named Olivia, worked nights as a nurse at a dialysis center, and was looking for a babysitter. Marta lived just five miles from Elzbieta in a townhouse in Naperville's upscale Brookdale Manor subdivision. The two mothers came to an agreement, and on certain nights, Elzbieta brought her 7-year-old son Justin to the babysitting job at Dworakowski's home.

     On October 30, 2012, while spending an evening with Justin and Olivia at Dworakowski's townhouse, Elzbieta decided to murder her son. She grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and entered Olivia's room where the children were playing. She told Justin that this was the night he was going to heaven. After making him kneel in prayer, Elzbieta repeatedly stabbed him as he pleaded for his life. She plunged the knife into the boy 100 times, then slashed his throat.

     After killing her son, and cutting her own hand in the process (common in stabbing cases), the babysitter used the knife on Olivia, stabbing her 50 times before slashing her throat. She had killed the 5-year-old because the girl had witnessed Justin's murder.

     After she had slaughtered her son and the girl she was babysitting, Plackowska drove to her Catholic church. It was ten o'clock at night and the place was closed, so she called the church and left a message to the effect she had done something bad and needed help. About this time, Marta Dworakowski arrived at her townhouse to find the dwelling locked and the babysitter's car missing. She called the Naperville Police Department.

     The police broke into the house and found Olivia on her bed, and Justin on the floor next to it. The officers were stunned by the brutality of the double murder. Plackowska had also stabbed to death both of Dworakowski's dogs. The dwelling was awash in blood. Officers found a bloodstained knife in the kitchen sink.

     After murdering the children and driving to the church, Plackowska showed up at the house where her oldest boy was living. She told her son that a robber had attacked her and killed the children. The son called the police. Officers came to the house and took her into custody. (They found a second bloody knife in her car.) Before transporting the suspect to the police station, the police had her treated for her knife wielding cuts at Edward Hospital.  

     At police headquarters, Plackowska offered up the robbery story, then blamed the murders on a man she claimed had been stalking her. Eventually she admitted killing the children after hearing "demonic voices" in her head. Finally the truth came out: she had murdered her son to get back at her husband. She said she wanted Artur to hurt as much as he had made her suffer. She murdered Olivia because the little girl had witnessed the anger-killing of her son.

     On November 1, 2012, at her arraignment hearing in a DuPage County Court, the judge denied Plackowska bail. At the defendant's next court appearance she was formally charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

     In September 2017, following a short bench trial, a DuPage County Judge found Plackowska guilty as charged. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

       

Discouraging Citizens From Filing Police Complaints

      In March 2014, Kansas lawmakers considered a bill that would make it much harder for citizens to report instances of police abuse, while simultaneously putting internal affairs investigations at even greater risk of succumbing to police corruption. House Bill No. 2698 would require citizens to swear an affidavit before submitting a complaint against an officer. If any part of the complaint is later shown to be erroneous, the citizen could be prosecuted for a felony. Complaints would not be investigated until the accusers swear affidavits, according the bill's text.

     It got worse. The bill also established that police officers accused of abuse would never be questioned until after they have read and reviewed all aspects of the complaint. Ironically, this was exactly the opposite of how police interrogate citizens. Criminal suspects are never given the opportunity to review the entire case against them before being questioned.

     The bill would also mandate that all investigations are final. If one police agency found a cop to be innocent, no other agency would be allowed to review the case--even if the latter agency is a higher authority, such as the state police.

     Under the U.S. Constitution, the citizen is supposed to be protected from the government. This law and others like it protects the state against the citizen. It's not supposed to work that way.

     The bill, thankfully, did not become law.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The World's Most Rejected Manuscript

The Guinness Book of World Records has a category for the highest number of publisher rejections for a manuscript. The record is 106 for a book called World Government Crusade by a writer named Gilbert Young. Because one might not be proud of that distinction, however, the record is likely to be inaccurate. For example, Robert Pirsig claims to have received 121 rejections for his manuscript, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'm not that persistent. After six rejections I toss the manuscript. You gotta move on, write another one. That's my philosophy. A lot of editors are stupid, nothing I can do about that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Serial Killers: Real Life Versus Fiction

     To meet the criteria of being a serial killer, the murderer, over a period longer than a month, must kill at least three people with a cooling-off period separating each homicide. A mass murderer, on the other hand, murders more than two people in a single killing spree. Because most mass murderers are usually psychotic and completely out of control, people find them less interesting than serial killers who blend into society and are more difficult to catch.
 
     While the public has always been interested in murder, in the mid-1980s following the publication of several books about the Ted Bundy case, serial killing became the number one true crime subject in America. Since then, there have been thousands of true crime books featuring serial killers, their crimes, and the investigation of these cases. (Half of the criminal justice students in the country during this period wanted to become psychological profilers with the FBI.) Fictitious serial killing has been the subject of hundreds of TV shows and theatrical films. Serial killers in fiction, however, are more intelligent, intriguing, and more evil-looking than their typical real life counterparts.

     So, who are these people who go around killing people? About 80 percent of them are white males with blue collar working backgrounds. I'm not aware of any physicians (except for a couple of angel of death killers), lawyers, college professors, or electrical engineers who were serial killers. (When a medical doctor kills anyone intentionally, it is usually a patient, or his wife.) No one knows for sure how many serial killers are active in the U.S. at any given time. In the mid-1980's, at the height of serial killer hysteria, experts were telling us there were 50,000 of them. This of course was ridiculous. The overall crime statistics simply didn't support that estimate. Cooler heads have prevailed, and now the guess is maybe 10 to 20 killers.

     As children, a significant percentage of serial killers were bed-wetters. Many of them, abused and bullied, were also erotic fire-setters who were cruel to animals. Many serial killers didn't do well in school, and most of them were loners.

     Male serial killers generally fall into two major categories: organized and disorganized. The organized killers, with IQs in the average range, plan their murders, are more cold-blooded, and harder to identify because they take steps to avoid detection. Their disorganized counterparts select victims randomly, and kill on impulse. The disorganized killers, with lower IQs, are easier to identify and catch because they carelessly leave physical evidence of themselves at the murder sites, and take traces of the killing scenes with them. (Crime scene investigators call this "the exchange principle.") Disorganized serial killers are psychotic, and while they know what they are doing and are therefore not criminally insane, they are out of control.

     Most serial killers are sadistic sociopaths who kill for lust and power. Their victims are mostly vulnerable women who live on the fringes of society such as drug addicts, prostitutes, and runaways. Many of these women are killed and nobody takes notice, or reports them missing. As a result, these victims don't even become murder statistics.

     Female serial killers, while not as common as men, can be prolific killers. So-called "black widows" marry with the intent of murdering--often with poison--their husbands in order to inherit their estates. These women are cold-blooded and cunning, and because homicidal poisonings are not easy to detect, usually avoid being investigated until a pattern emerges. Even then it's often difficult to acquire a murder conviction due to the passage of time, and lack of physical evidence.

     Another category of female serial killer is the "angel of death" murderer. These nurses and hospital aides poison ailing patients under their care. Because many of these victims were expected to die, and show no signs of homicidal trauma, a good number of these deaths are not investigated. As a result, no one knows how many hospital and nursing home patients are murdered every year.

     There is also a group of female serial murderers known as "team killers" who help their boyfriends and husbands kill people. These crimes are usually motivated by lust. Only a small percentage of female serial killers themselves are sexual predators.

     It's a myth that most serial killers move about the country to avoid being caught. Most of them commit their crimes close to home where they feel comfortable. They are not evil geniuses, or even that interesting. These people do not stand out in a crowd.

     A few serial killers, after years of committing murder, stop killing on their own volition. Notwithstanding all the effort that has gone into studying this relatively rare type of murderer, no one really knows what makes them tick. Perhaps that's one of the reasons people find serial killers so fascinating.
  

Executing Kelly Gissendancer

     Since only a handful of states actually execute cold-blooded murderers, death by lethal injection has become a relatively unusual event. Rarer still are the executions of women. Even in the heyday of capital punishment few women died at the end of a robe or in the electric chair. While women are no less capable of unspeakable evil than men, killing a woman, at least since the dawn of the 20th century, hasn't seemed quite appropriate.

     In Georgia, where executions are still carried out, the authorities hadn't executed a woman in 70 years. That made the September 30, 2015 execution of Kelly Renee Gissendancer so newsworthy, and to many, barbaric.

     The 47-year-old death row inmate of 18 years received her lethal injection shortly after midnight soon after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to intercede on her behalf.

     In 1998, a jury found Gissendancer guilty of arranging to have her boyfriend kidnap and stab to death her husband Douglas. A jury found the hit man, Gregory Owen, guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mr. Owen to life in prison. Prosecutors, with the help of Owen as a key witness, secured Gissendancer's first-degree murder conviction.

     Over the years Gissendancer's death house attorneys based their appeals for clemency on the fact she was not present when her boyfriend committed the murder on her behalf. Moreover, the defense lawyers argued that their client had found religion and had been a model prisoner. They said she felt bad about ordering the hit. Apparently the governor of the state and a majority of the Supreme Court justices, officials who could have saved her life, were unmoved by those arguments.

     Gissendancer was the 16th women executed in the United States since the U. S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. She was survived by three adult children.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Courtroom Humor

In my novels and short stories the humor often takes place in the courtroom. For example: "Your honor, because I plan to represent myself I request a three year postponement to get a law degree."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Christopher Krumm Double-Murder-Suicide Case

     Christopher Krumm graduated from University of Colorado where he studied computer engineering.  In 2009, after earning a Master's degree in electrical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, Krumm worked at various odd jobs in Colorado. In 2012, he moved into a one-room apartment on the third floor of a rundown rooming house in Vernon, Connecticut. A quiet, socially awkward person who kept to himself, Christopher worked a blue collar job for a utility company. He came home from work everyday wearing one of those neon-colored safety vests.

     On November 17, 2012, Christopher Krumm embarked on a 30-hour, 2,000-mile road trip from Vernon, Connecticut to Casper, Wyoming, a town of 56,000 in the central part of the state. His father, James Krumm, had been teaching computer science at Casper College since 2002, and was head of the department. The two-year institution was one of seven colleges in the state's community college system.

     Professor Krumm possessed a B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University of Wyoming, and a Master's in computer science from Colorado State University. The 56-year-old professor lived two miles from the 200-acre, 5,000-student campus in a quiet, residential neighborhood with his live-in girlfriend, 42-year-old Heidi Arnold. Arnold, a graduate of the University of California at Davis, held a Master's degree in math from the University of Oregon. She taught mathematics at Casper College.

     Christopher Krumm pulled into Casper Thursday night, November 28, and checked into a hotel on the outskirts of town. The next morning, shortly before nine, he showed up unannounced at the house his father shared with Heidi Arnold. Because James Krumm was teaching a morning class at the college, Professor Arnold was the only person in the house when Christopher, armed with two large knives, knocked on the front door. A few minutes later, Heidi Arnold's bloodied body was lying along the curb in the street in front of her house. Christopher Krumm had stabbed her to death.

     From the scene of Heidi Arnold's murder, Christopher Krumm drove two miles to the Casper College campus. He walked into his father's building carrying two knives and a high-powered, compound bow that was wrapped in a blanket. (A compound bow is one of those complicated-looking hunting bows that has pulleys.) Once inside the classroom, in front of six computer science students, Christopher, from a distance of four feet, shot an arrow into his father's head. James Krumm, with the arrow lodged in his skull, managed to get back on his feet. He wrestled with his son long enough to allow his students to get safely out of the room.

     Christopher finished his father off by stabbing him several times in the chest. When police officers burst into the classroom, the professor was dead, and his son, on the floor next to his father, was dying from self-inflicted stab wounds.

     Matt DiPinto, one of Christopher Krumm's neighbors in Vernon, Connecticut, said this to a reporter with the Hartford Courant, "He [Christopher] told me his dad gave him Asperger's Syndrome and that his dad should be castrated. I didn't know him that well, he just kind of said it out of nowhere, so that kind of threw me off a little." According to Christopher Krumm's uncle, when he last saw his nephew three years before the murders, he did not seem depressed or angry.
     

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of His Cat

When I look at my cat I often wonder if he can think, and if so, about what? What goes on inside the head of an animal? Can thinking even take place without language? For example, what does a cat think when he sees a Golden Retriever chase a stick into a lake? Does the cat think, How stupid is that? I can't imagine a life without thinking. For that reason, I choose to believe that my cat does think. Unfortunately, I think my cat doesn't think much of me.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Moore Catholic High School Coach-Student Sex Scandal

     Founded in 1962 by nuns, Moore Catholic High School, a 450-student institution located in the Bull's Head section of Staten Island, New York, is prestigious, and with its $10,000 a year tuition, not cheap.

     In December 2013, a person close to the school learned from the friends of a 16-year-old male student that the boy was involved in a sexual relationship with Moore's women's basketball coach, Megan Mahoney. A former basketball star at Staten Island's Wagner College, the 25-year-old was also a gym teacher and the school's assistant athletic director. The person who learned of the affair from the student's friends reported the allegation to the principal, Bob Manisero. Manisero, in turn, reported it to the athletic director, Richard Postiglione.

     Not long after receiving this disturbing information regarding coach Mahoney and the student, the athletic director informed the principal there was no truth to the allegation. According to Postiglione, Mahoney, coming from an upstanding Catholic family, was above reproach. The athletic director reminded the principal that the school was a notorious hotbed for gossip and rumor.

     That December, the person who had gone to the school principal with the allegation sent an email to school board chairman Anthony Ferreri that read: "If you remember I had reported some activity about a basketball coach that I learned the athletic director thought was untrue. I know it is true. I was told they are in love. Hope you have followed legal protocol even through there are no witnesses."

     According to the 16-year-old student's friends, in September 2013, coach Mahoney approached the boy in the school gym and offered to coach him in basketball. Later, she drove him to secluded places where they had sex in her car. The friends of this student quoted him as saying the following regarding his relationship with the teacher: "We were never boyfriend-girlfriend. It was cool. I knew it wasn't going anywhere."

     According to the student's friends, Mahoney picked him up one night at his house for a date. His parents saw her and assumed she was a high school student.

     After athletic director Postiglione received information from a second person who also told him coach Mahoney and the boy were having an affair, he did not notify the police. According to this whistleblower, Postiglione went to the coach and made her promise to stop seeing the boy.

     In January 2014, the basketball coach and the 16-year-old were seen eating at a pizzeria by the boy's ex-girlfriend who had followed them there. The girl called 911 and the police showed up. To the officers the student identified coach Mahoney as his cousin.

     Later that month, after the Moore Catholic High School teacher-student situation blossomed into a massive scandal, Mahoney resigned. While she left the school under pressure, she continued to maintain her innocence.

     Following the coach's resignation, the student at the center of the scandal complained that the other Moore teachers were trying to flunk him out of school. The boy's mother, referring to these teachers, claimed that they wanted her son out of the institution because he had embarrassed the school.

     In an April 2014 email to the New York City Archdiocese, the mother complained that a school investigation of her son had been conducted without her knowledge and that teachers were trying to drum the boy out of the school. The Archdiocese did not respond to the mother's email.

     In June 2014, a social worker paid a visit to the mother's home. The child protection agent said she was there pursuant to a complaint that the mother was an unfit parent. The complaint was unfounded and quickly dismissed. The embattled mother felt she was being harassed.

     To the dismay of Moore Catholic School administrators, the scandal heated up with allegations from one of the whistleblowers that in 2012 coach Mahoney had been involved with another 16-year-old boy. According to this claim, athletic director Postiglione also failed to pass this allegation on to the police. It also surfaced that in 2006 or 2007, a female coach under Postiglione's direction was accused of sleeping with a female Moore student. That coach also resigned under pressure.

     The allegations of Mahoney's sexual relations with the student as well as claims of an institutional cover-up were under investigation by the Staten Island District Attorney's Office.

     On October 21, 2014, after a Staten Island prosecutor charged Megan Mahoney with thirty counts of statutory rape, police officers took her into custody.

     The Mahoney case prosecutor, on May 7, 2015, dropped all charges against the former coach. In discussing this decision at a news conference, the prosecutor cited a lack of DNA evidence, no confession and no eyewitness. Outside the courthouse following the dismissal, Mahoney refused to talk to reporters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pulp Fiction

You can place the fiction genre into three general categories: literature, mainstream, and pulp fiction. I'm proud to say I'm a pulp fiction writer and reader. According to Stephen King: "To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances." I actually prefer the so-called loose gals over their uptight counterparts. I'll take Mickey Spillane over James Joyce any day.

Thornton P. Knowles

Dr. Van H. Vu And The Problem Of Pain Killing Narcotic Overdoses

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In a subsequent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in Januay 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On History's Worst Novelist

In 1897, the Irish novelist and poet, Amanda McKittrick Ros, published her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh. The opening line of this novel represents a writing ability and style that rightfully earned her the unofficial title of history's worst novelist: "Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous (sic) examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern prejudiced, reaching the land of slight and to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?" A lot of deep purple writing can at least be unintentionally funny. No so with Ros. Compared to this novelist, my worst writing student wrote like Ernest Hemingway.

Thornton P. Knowles



What Happened To District Attorney Ray Gricar?

The Gricar Missing Person Investigation

     In Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, at 11:30 in the morning of Friday, April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the 59-year-old district attorney of Centre County, the home of Penn State University, called his live-in girlfriend to inform her he was on a pleasure drive through an area in the region called Penns Valley. Twelve hours later, his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, called 911 and reported him missing.

     The next day, Gricar's red mini cooper was found parked near an antique mall in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 55 miles east of Bellefonte. The interior of the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Gricar, who didn't smoke, didn't like that smell. The car had been locked, and Gricar's cellphone was inside. According to a Lewisburg shop owner whose antique store Gricar had patronized in the past, the district attorney, on the day he left Bellefonte, was walking around the mall with a tall, dark-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s. Investigators made no effort to identify and question this woman. Because this information wasn't published until 13 months after Gricar's disappearance, the police received no help from the public in identifying this possible witness. By the time the story came out, the case had grown cold.

     In July 2005, three months after Ray Gricar drove off in his Cooper and didn't return, his county-issued laptop was found in the Susquehanna River not far from the abandoned car. Three months after that, the hard drive turned up in the same area of the river. Water had damaged it to the point that no data could be retrieved.

     Following the recoveries from the river, the investigation of Gricar's disappearance, conducted by the Bellefonte Police Department (the Pennsylvania State Police didn't want the case, and the FBI wasn't involved), ground to a halt. In the summer of 2008, with Ray Gricar still missing, and no clues as to what happened to him or where he was, two of his colleagues, Bob Buehne Jr., the district attorney of Montour County, and prosecutor Ted McKnight of Clinton County, held a press conference in Lewisburg where Gricar's vehicle had been found. Both men were highly critical of the Gricar missing person's investigation. The neighboring prosecutors said they couldn't understand why the information about Gricar and the mystery woman at the mall hadn't been made public until May 2006.

     On April 14, 2009, four years after Ray Gricar's disappearance, investigators discovered that someone using the missing man's home computer had, shortly before he went missing, searched the Internet on "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer." Assuming Gricar had made these inquiries, one of the more innocent explanations behind the Internet search was that Gricar, in contemplation of his retirement in nine months, wanted to clear his computer before handing it back to the county. This didn't explain, however, why the computer and hard drive ended up in the river. A more ominous motive was that before killing himself, Gricar wanted to destroy data he didn't want anyone to see.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of Ray Gricar's daughter, a Centre County judge declared him legally deceased.

Theories of Ray Gricar's Disappearance

     There are three schools of thought regarding what happened to Ray Gricar. He could have been murdered, committed suicide, or walked off to start a new life under a different identity. The two most popular murder theories featured a mistress who lured him to the Susquehanna River where he was murdered by the woman's husband. The second murder scenario involved a criminal killing the district attorney out of revenge. Since prosecutors are rarely murdered by people they have prosecuted or planned to put behind bars, the latter theory was the most improbable. However, the first possibility was far fetched as well.

     Suicide seemed more likely than murder in this case. Ray Gricar's brother, Roy J. Gricar, committed suicide in May 1996 by jumping off a bridge over the Great Miami River near West Chester, Ohio. If Ray had jumped from a bridge across the Susquehanna River, what were the chances his body would have been found? Some believe the odds were great that his body would have been recovered. Others disagreed. To have an opinion on this question, one would have to know the ins and outs of the Susquehanna River.

     The so-called "walkaway" theory, that Gricar walked-off to start a new life under a new identity, while quite intriguing, didn't make much sense. For one thing, he hadn't cleaned out his bank account, and drove off without tying up a lot of loose-ends. Following his disappearance, there were more than 300 false sightings of him. Those who subscribed to the walkaway theory pointed out that Ray had been fascinated by the 1985 disappearance of an Ohio police chief. Inside the chief's car, parked near Lake Erie, searchers found his wallet and his badge. They never found the chief's body. Some of those who believed Gricar was still alive thought he could be hiding out in the federal government's witness protection program. (This possibility is out of the question because prosectors are not eligible for the program.)          

Ray Gricar, The Man

     Ray Frank Gricar was born on October 9, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Gilmour, a prestigious Catholic high school in Gates Mills, Ohio. In 1966, while attending the University of Dayton, he met his future wife, Barbara Gray. They were married in 1969. After graduating from Case Western Law School in Cleveland, Gricar started his career as a prosecutor in northwest Ohio's Cuyahoga, County.

     In 1980, the couple and their daughter Lara moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania when Barbara landed a job at Penn State University in nearby State College. Shortly after that, David Grine, the district attorney of Centre County, hired Ray as an assistant prosecutor. Five years later, Gricar ran for the office of district attorney and won.

     Barbara and Ray divorced in 1991, and five years later, Ray married his second wife, Emma. Following a tumultuous marriage, he and Emma divorced in 2001. Two years later, Ray moved in with Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's Office who lived in a section of Bellefonte called Halfmoon Hill. By April 2005, having served several terms as district attorney, Ray Gricar was planning to retire in nine months.

     Although a private, somewhat distant person, Ray's colleagues considered him an outstanding career prosecutor with high ethical standards. Because he never had political ambitions beyond the district attorney's office, Gricar was not, according to his legal colleagues, subject to political pressure or influence. On a personal level, he was known as a bit of a ladies' man.

Ray Gricar and the Jerry Sandusky Pedophilia Case

     In May 1998, when Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State Univeristy, and active in his organization for troubled youth called The Second Mile, two 11-year-old boys told their parents that Sandusky had fondled them in the Penn State locker room showers. The mother of one of the accusers contacted Detective Ronald Schreffler with the University Police Department. Shortly after receiving the complaint, Schreffler, on a pretext, got Sandusky to meet the mother at her house where she confronted him about the coach being nude in the shower with her son. With the detective in the next room recording the conversation, the boy's mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. Sandusky did not deny showering with her son. Regarding the arousal question, he said, "I don't think so--maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

     A child psychologist who interviewed this boy concluded that his account, and Sandusky's response to the mother's interrogation, indicated to him that the coach was "likely a pedophile." A second psychologist, Dr. John Seasock, after analyzing the same information, came to a different conclusion.

     On June 2, 1998, District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute the Penn State football coach. Four years later, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, took the stand at Sandusky's sexual abuse trial and described how the coach had lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." Ronald Schreffler, later with the Department of Homeland Security, testified in June 2012 that he had wanted Ray Gricar to prosecute Sandusky in 1998, but was overruled.

     Had Ray Gricar prosecuted Jerry Sandusky for indecent assault, corruption of a minor, and child endangerment, more victims, ones Sandusky had raped, might have come forward. Even if they hadn't, Gricar would have exposed a pedophile within the Penn State system, and have possibly acquired a conviction on these lesser charges.

     In 1999, Jerry Sandusky retired from Penn State. He was awarded the title professor emeritus, and given an office in the football building. He had full access to all of the sports facilities, and used this access and his youth organization to attract and molest young boys.

     I don't believe that Ray Gricar was murdered, or that he's still alive. That leaves suicide. The question is, did Gricar's decision not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky weigh on his conscience, and play a role in his suicide? Between the time the prosecutor closed the case on Sandusky and his disappearance, Gricar must have been aware that accusations against the coach were still being made. Did he have regrets? Was Gricar second-guessing himself?

     On June 23, 2012, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky guilty of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of fifteen years. The judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.

     People who have had access to Ray Gricar's papers say there was virtually no reference in them to Jerry Sandusky. If this were true, we will never know if Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia and Ray Gricar's disappearance were in any way connected.

     On April 13, 2018, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania State Police Troop G, announced that a new investigator, Trooper Dana Martini, has been assigned to track down leads in the 13-year-old Gricar disappearance case.