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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Brenda Leyland and the Madeleine McCann Case: Death of a "Troll" or a Concerned Citizen?

     On May 3, 2007, doctors Gerry and Kate McCann, from the affluent village of Rothley in the central English borough of Charnwood, were on holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal with their three children and another couple. That evening the McCanns reported their 3-year-old daughter Madeleine missing. According to the parents, someone had abducted the girl from the hotel room while they were dining 160 feet away from the resort.

     As in the JonBenet Ramsey case in the United States twelve years earlier, the public, influenced by tabloid-like media coverage, suspected the parents of foul play. When a British DNA analyst reported that the child had died in the hotel room, the authorities were under public pressure to arrest the McCanns.

     In September 2007, the police in Portugal made it official by declaring Doctors Gerry and Kate McCann suspects in the disappearance of their daughter. No arrest warrants were issued and in July 2008 the attorney general of Portugal closed the case against the parents citing lack of evidence.

     While officially cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Gerry and Kate McCann remained, in the tabloid press and the minds of millions in Great Britain and around the world, guilty of murder.

     The missing girl's parents, convinced that the police in Portugal had given up the search, hired private investigators to breathe new life into the case. Based on information uncovered by the PIs and Scotland Yard's release of the image of a man seen carrying a child toward the beach not far from the hotel on the night in question, the Portugese police, in October 2013, re-opened the case. Notwithstanding this development, the McCann child has not been found and no arrests have been made.

     In the years following the Madeleine McCann disappearance, a community of conspiracy buffs have targeted the missing girl's parents. Some would say these people have abused and harassed the McCanns through negative tweets, Facebook postings, text messaging, and other forms of online communication. People who engage in this form of social media activity have been labeled "Trolls," a catch-all term that covers everything from mild criticism to online death threats.

     According to social scientists who have studied this media phenomenon, trolls are often bored, lonely people who become obsessed with a particular crime. Some of them are manifestly insane. While  they annoy and may even frighten the targets of their wrath, they are, for the most part, harmless talkers.  These compulsive chatterboxes orbit every celebrated crime, usually offering up outlandish conspiracy theories. The Lindbergh kidnapping case and the JFK assassination, for example, attracted thousands of revisionist true crime buffs. In the wake of baby Lindbergh's abduction and murder in 1932, the 20-month-old's parents were almost driven crazy by obsessed and mentally ill people who showed up at their mansion and harassed them in public. Today, fixated crime buff simply take to their computers.

     In late September 2014, a British television news team published the identify of one of the more prolific McCann case trolls. Brenda Leyland, a 63-year-old resident of Burton Overy, a picturesque village in the Harborough district of Liecestershire, had published more than 5,000 tweets on the case. The soft-spoken divorcee used her Twitter account to draw attention to what she considered an appalling failure of justice. She called the McCanns neglectful parents and accused them, through their frequent media appearances, of profiting from their daughter's disappearance. Leyland once tweeted that the McCanns should "suffer for the rest of their miserable lives" for what they've done.

     Brenda Leyland regularly accused the metropolitan police (Scotland Yard) of dropping the ball in the missing persons case. She also took on the tabloid media for false and over-the-top reporting. At no time did she threaten the McCanns, and unlike some of her fellow Trolls, never called them baby killers.

     After being outed by the television reporters, Leyland became an online target herself. To avoid being harassed by reporters, she checked into a nearby Marriott Hotel in Grove Park, Leicester. On Saturday, October 4, 2014 at one-forty in the afternoon, police were called to Leyland's hotel room after a Marriott employee discovered her corpse.

     Investigators have found no evidence of criminal homicide in Leyland's sudden death. The autopsy, however, failed to reveal a cause of death. This has led to speculation that Brenda Leyland took her own life.

     Leyland's death will no doubt create a community of Trolls who will somehow link the government or the McCanns to her death. By attaching herself to celebrated case, Leyland briefly became famous herself. Perhaps this was one Troll who came to realize what it is like to be the target of other people's obsession, loneliness and boredom. 

The Connecticut Hotel Mop Attack

     A Connecticut man is facing charges after police said he grabbed a mop out of a hotel employee's hands and was "mopping aggressively" over the worker's shoes. Police say 30-year-old John Thornton, of Southington, was arrested Monday night October 13, 2014 and charged with breach of peace and threatening.

     Officers responding to the Bristol Hotel were told a man had become "unruly," grabbed the mop and swept it back and forth over the woman's shoes. When the employee asked the man to stop, police say he pushed her into a corner. Police say the woman was shaken and crying.

     Authorities say Thornton insulted and swore at officers during the arrest, threatening them with bodily harm. He was released on $20,000 bond.

"Man Accused of 'Mopping Aggressively'," Associated Press, October 16, 2014 

Arthur Conan Doyle's Literary Homicide

A. Conan Doyle grew to detest his detective Sherlock Holmes and killed him off with satisfaction. The rest of the world didn't agree: London stockbrokers wore armbands, the public deluged newspapers with letters of mourning and outrage, and a woman even picketed Doyle's house with a sign that called him a murderer.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type to be a Writer, 2003 

Counterfeiting: The Crime We Don't Hear Much About

     A man residing in Kampala, Uganda was charged in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of leading an international counterfeit currency operation. The U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Secret Service filed a criminal complaint in Pittsburgh on December 18, 2014 against 27-year-old Ryan Andrew Gustafson, aka Jack Farrel and Willy Clock…

     While living in the U.S., Gustafson resided primarily in Texas and Colorado, but allegedly rented a postal box at the UPS Store on Pittsburgh's South Side for some of his operations. The Secret Service began investigating the passing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes believed to have been manufactured in Uganda. The phony bills were passed in retail and businesses in Pittsburgh…

     Agents determined that Gustafson had passed the notes. The federal investigators also learned that on February 19, 2014 the suspect received three packages from Beyond Computers in Kampala, Uganda…Secret Service agents searched the packages and found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 notes in two hidden compartments inside one of the packaging envelopes. A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages belonged to Gustafson…

     A search of Gustafson's residence turned up two million Ugandan shillings, $180,420 in counterfeit bills, and counterfeit denominations of several other countries…

     The U.S. Secret Service estimates $1.8 million in counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes have been seized and passed in Uganda. The total amount of counterfeit money made in Uganda was about $270,000…

     United States law provides for a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for counterfeiting….

"Man Charged in Counterfeit Money Scheme," Associated Press, December 19, 2014  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Rafael Robb Murder Case

     In 1972, Rafael Robb graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel with a bachelor's degree in economics. A few years later he immigrated to the United States where, in 1981, he earned a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA. In 1984, now a U.S. citizen, Dr. Robb joined the teaching staff at the University of Pennsylvania. He married Ellen Gregory, a woman seven years younger than him, in 1990. Four years later, the couple had a daughter, Olivia.

     As Rafael Robb's marriage fell apart, Professor Robb's career at the University of Pennsylvania flourished. In 2004, after having published dozens of important papers on game theory, a mathematical discipline used to analyze political, economic, and military strategies, the professor was granted tenure. He also became a Fellow of the Economics Society, one of the highest honors in the discipline.

     In the afternoon of December 22, 2006, Professor Robb, using the non-emergency phone number rather than 911, reported that he had just discovered, upon returning home from work, that an intruder had beaten his wife to death in the kitchen of their Upper Merion, Pennsylvania home. Because Ellen Robb had been beaten beyond recognition the responding police officers thought she had been murdered by a close-range shotgun blast to the face.

     From Ellen Robb's relatives and friends homicide detectives learned that the victim, after years of marital abuse, had recently hired a divorce attorney who planned to demand $4,000 a month in spousal support. Ellen, after living with the professor for the sake of their 12-year-old daughter, had finally decided to move out of the house.

     Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor, Jr., on January 9, 2007, charged Rafael Robb with first-degree murder. Homicide detectives considered Robb's attempt to cover his tracks by staging a home invasion quite amateurish. They believed Robb had murdered his wife to avoid the financial consequences of the upcoming divorce. Robb's attorney announced that he would produce, at the upcoming trial, security-camera footage what would prove that his client hadn't been home when his wife was murdered. Homicide investigators found numerous holes in Robb's so-called alibi.

     On November 27, 2007, on the day Rafael Robb's trial was scheduled to begin, the defendant, pursuant to a plea bargain arrangement, took the opportunity to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, a lesser homicide offense. Standing before Common Pleas Court Judge Paul W. Tressler, the defendant said that he and Ellen, on the morning of her death, had been arguing over a trip she planned to take with their daughter, Olivia. "The discussion," Robb said, "was very tense. We were both anxious." (Anxious?) According to the defendant's version of the killing, when Ellen pushed him, he "just lost it." By losing it, Robb meant that he walked into the living room, grabbed an exercise bar used to do chin-ups, and used the blunt object to beat his wife's head into pulp. "I just kept flailing it," he said.

     Judge Tressler, after calling the Robb homicide "the worst physical bludgeoning" he had ever seen, sentenced Rafael Robb to a five-to-ten-year prison term. The light sentence for such a brutal killing committed by an abusive husband who had tried to stage a fake burglary shocked the victim's family and supporters. (It stunned everyone except the defendant, and perhaps his attorney.)

     In March 2012, after serving less than five years of his lenient sentence at a minimum security prison near Mercer, Pennsylvania 70 miles north of Pittsburgh, Rafael Robb filed a request to serve the remainder of his sentence in a Philadelphia halfway house. The goal behind this corrections rehabilitation program involved allowing model prisoners to work at jobs during the day. (I don't imagine the program was designed for sociopathic murderers.) The Montgomery County prosecutor strenuously opposed Robb's attempt to get into a halfway house.

     Notwithstanding objections from the prosecutor and members of Ellen Robb's family still upset about the light sentence, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, in October 2012, shocked everyone by granting Rafael Robb early parole. (If the Robb case were a game theory exercise, the ex-professor won.) The 62-year-old convicted wife killer was scheduled for release on January 28, 2013.

     On January 29, 2013, the Pennsylvania Parole Board, after meeting with Ellen Robb's family, reversed its decision to grant the ex-professor's release.

     In 2013, Rafael Robb's daughter Olivia Robb brought a personal injury suit against her father in state court. At the time of the civil action the defendant still had millions in assets. Following a three-day trial in a Montgomery County court, the jury, on November 6, 2014, awarded the 20-year-old plaintiff $124 million in compensatory and punitive damages. This was the largest contested personal injury verdict in Pennsylvania history. During the course of the trial, Rafael Robb took the stand and admitted killing his wife then lying to the police by claiming she had been murdered by an intruder.

     In May 2016, the Pennsylvania Parole Board denied Rafael Robb's second petition for early release. That meant he would serve his full sentence and remain behind bars until December 2016.

     Rafael Robb should have been found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Just because this brutal killer was a prominent scholar did not justify the authorities letting him get away with murdering his estranged wife in order to save the cost of a divorce. The prosecutor, in negotiating Robb's guilty plea, gave away the store. This case, on so many levels, was an outrage.

     On January 10, 2017, a paroled Rafael Robb walked out of prison. Members of Ellen Robb's family stood outside the Upper Merion home where the former professor had murdered his wife. To reporters the victim's brother said, "He can't simply go back into society unfettered while the memory of my sister fades into the distance."     

What Happened To Wall Street Reporter David Bird?

     David Bird, a 55-year-old journalist with the Wall Street Journal who covered the world's energy markets--OPEC and such--lived with his wife Nancy and their two children in central New Jersey's Long Hill Township. Although he underwent a liver transplant operation in 2005, Mr. Bird was an avid hiker, biker, and camper. The Boy Scout troop leader, in 2013, ran in the New York City Marathon. His children were ages 12 and 15.

     On Saturday, January 11, 2014, after he and his wife had put away their Christmas decorations, David said he wanted to take a walk and get some fresh air before it started to rain. At 4:30 PM, dressed in a red rain jacket, sneakers, and a pair of jeans, the six-foot-one, 200 pound, gray-haired reporter walked out of his house. Shortly thereafter it began to rain, and rain hard.

     Two hours after David Bird started his walk in the neighborhood, his wife became worried. He hadn't returned home and it was still raining. To make matters worse, Dave had been suffering from a gastrointestinal virus. Nancy Bird called the Long Hill Township Police Department to report her husband missing.

     Over the next three days police officers and hundreds of volunteers searched the neighborhood and nearby wooded areas for the missing journalist. The searchers were assisted by dogs, a helicopter, and people riding all-terrain vehicles and horses. Volunteers also distributed hundreds of missing persons flyers.

     Notwithstanding the effort to locate Mr. Bird, he was nowhere to be found. It seemed he had disappeared without a trace.

     The fact the missing man left his house without the anti-rejection medication he took twice a day in connection with his liver transplant made finding him all the more urgent. Without that medicine he would surely become ill.

     On January 16, 2014, police officers learned that someone in Mexico, the night before, had used one of David Bird's credit cards. The card was supposedly used four days after Bird's disappearance. Investigators, without a clue as to where David Bird was, or why he went missing, considered the possibility that his disappearance had something to do with his reporting on recent middle east crude oil price changes.

     On March 18, 2015, at five o'clock in the evening, two men canoeing on the Passaic River in New Jersey about a mile from David Bird's home, spotted a red jacket amid a tangle of branches. From that spot emergency responders retrieved a male corpse.

     Dr. Carlos A. Fonesca with the Morris County Medical Examiner's office and forensic dentist Dr. Mitchell M. Kirshbaum identified the remains as David Bird. The day after the discovery, Morris County prosecutor Frederic M. Knapp said an autopsy would be conducted to determine Mr. Bird's cause and manner of death.

     A few days later, a Morris County spokesperson revealed that Mr. Bird had drowned. Investigators found no reason to suspect foul play. Since Mr. Bird's death wasn't homicide or natural, it was either the result of suicide or an accident.

     In June 2015, a spokesperson for the Morris County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the manner of death accidental. 

Dr. Jay Smith: The Prince of Darkness

     Dr. Jay Smith, principal of the Upper Merion High School in Merion, Pennsylvania, had acquired the nickname "Prince of Darkness" on account of his eccentric behavior. In June 1979, the body of Susan Reiner, a teacher at Upper Merion, was found naked in her car, and she was later discovered to have taken out huge life insurance policies benefiting one of Smith's accomplices, Bill Bradfield, who was also on the staff of the school.

     In 1981, Bradfield was arrested and convicted of theft by deception. Two years later a prosecutor charged him with the Reiner murder that led to his conviction. Meanwhile Jay Smith had been in prison on other indictments and when he was released in 1986, faced charges arising out of the death of Susan Reiner. A jury found him guilty and he was sent back to prison for murder. Thus a man who was already known to be involved in drugs, swindling and Satanism also achieved star billing as a killer.

Brian Lane, Chronicle of 20th Century Murder, 1995

What is Caliber?

Caliber which is used to describe weapons other than shotguns, has to do with the nominal diameter of the barrel (hence of the ammunition) expressed in hundredths of an inch….Thus, a .38 revolver has a barrel .38-inch in diameter. A .30-caliber rifle fires bullets .30-inch in diameter. Magnum used in a description of a firearm refers not to caliber but to the firepower of the propellant used; however, normally a magnum firearm is a slightly different caliber from the closest caliber of a regular firearm--thus, you have .357 magnums which can fire .38 ammunition, but don't try to fire .357 magnum ammunition in a .38 revolver; it will fit the chamber and cylinder, but the firing mechanism and the barrel aren't meant to withstand a magnum load.

Anne Wingate, Ph.D., Science of the Crime, 1992 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bones in the Furnace: The Historic Webster-Parkman Murder Case

     Over the past 100 years, science has played a vital role in tens of thousands of criminal cases. The publicity associated with some of these investigations and trials has advanced the cause of forensic science. In many of these cases a clever criminal is outfoxed by a well-trained, dedicated investigator relying on physical clues and expert analysis. This is the image that has helped advance forensic science and criminalistics by sparking public interest and court acceptance of physical evidence and expert testimony. (Ironically, it was the O. J. Simpson double murder, a case that involved poor police work, and a criminal who was not clever, that popularized DNA.)

      Celebrated cases remind us that good police work can triumph over bad criminals and that justice can be achieved. Cases that have captured and held the attention of the media and the imagination of the public have tended to involved heinous crimes, cases involving diabolical or unlikely suspects, circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues, defendants who vigorously maintain their innocence, inspired detective work, and satisfying and/or dramatic verdicts.

     In America, science first played a vital and dramatic role in a celebrated criminal investigation and trial that took place more than 160 years ago.

The Historic Webster-Parkman Case

     On Friday afternoon November 23, 1849, Dr. George Parkman, a 60-year-old physician and former anatomy professor at Harvard's Massachusetts Medical College in Boston, paid a visit to Dr. John Webster, a highly respected professor of chemistry and mineralogy at the institution. Dr. Parkman, having given up the practice of medicine to engage in real estate and other business ventures, came from a prominent New England family and was quite wealthy. The purpose of Dr. Parkman's visit that day to Dr. Webster's college laboratory was to collect on a series of loans he had made to the chemistry professor. It seemed that Dr. Webster enjoyed a rather extravagant life-style that kept him in debt to Dr. Parkman and other creditors.

     Dr. Parkman was seen entering the little building that housed Dr. Webster's laboratory at 1:45 that afternoon, the last time anyone saw Dr. Parkman alive. Dr. Parkman's mysterious disappearance created a lot of attention and concern among his family, friends, and colleagues. The college posted a $3,000 reward for information leading to the identify and apprehension of the doctor's abductor or abductors.

     The following Saturday, Dr. Webster appeared at the home of Dr. Parkman's brother, Reverend Francis Parkman, and informed him that he had last seen his missing brother in his (Webster's) chemistry lab the previous Friday. Dr. Webster even acknowledged that Dr. Parkman had come to see him about a debt.

     On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Webster, who had been acting rather strangely since Dr. Parkman's disappearance, gave the college janitor, a man named Ephraim Littlefield, a turkey. Littlefield had been helping Professor Webster in his laboratory the day Dr. Parkman went missing. Although the janitor was not in the room during Dr. Parkman's visit, he had overheard bits of their heated conversation. When Littlefield learned of Parkman's disappearance he became suspicious.

    After receiving the turkey from Dr. Webster, the janitor felt certain the chemistry professor had something to do with his creditor's disappearance. The next day, Littlefield snuck into Webster's chemistry lab to search for Parkman's body. When he touched the brick wall of the assay oven it was still warm. (The oven was built inside a vault that was locked.) To see what was inside, Littlefield, with his wife standing guard as a lookout, broke through the wall with a chisel and crowbar. Inside, he saw what looked like a human pelvis and two parts of a leg. He notified the authorities.

     When told he was under arrest for the murder of Dr. Parkman, Dr. Webster denied any knowledge of the crime. When one of the arresting constables informed him of the discovery in his assay furnace, Dr. Webster, referring to the janitor, said, "That villain! I am a ruined man!"

     Shortly after being placed into his jail cell Dr. Webster tried to kill himself by taking a strychnine pill.

     On December 13, 1849, the coroner's jury announced its verdict: "All the remains have been demonstrated to be parts of one and the same person; and those parts of the human frame have been identified and proven to be the remains and parts of the body and limbs of Dr. George Parkman...that he was killed...by blows and wounds inflicted upon him by the hands of Dr. John W. Webster."

     A grand jury indicted Dr. Webster for first-degree murder on January 26, 1850. He trial was scheduled for March 19 at the Supreme Judicial Court House in Boston.  Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw would preside. The case would be prosecuted by George Bemis, the assistant attorney general of Massachusetts.

     Dr. Webster tried to retain the legal services of two prominent defense attorneys of the day, Daniel Webster (no relation) and Rufus Choate. Both lawyers declined to take the assignment. As a result, Webster retained the services of a less well-known but competent attorney named Pliny Merrich.

     The Parkman murder case had made headline news in American for nine months. On the opening day of the trial, thousands of people gathered outside the Boston court house. Many had been standing outside the building all night in hopes of getting a courtroom seat. During the twelve-day trial 60,000 courtroom spectators witnessed the proceeding.

     The heart of the prosecution's case consisted of the medical and dental testimony pertaining to the identity of the remains in Dr. Webster's assay furnace. In order to convict the defendant of murder, the state would have to establish the corpus delecti, which in this case consisted of the victim's skeletal and dental remains.

     The prosecution's first medical witness to take the stand, Dr. Woodbridge Strong, an expert in anatomy and the burning of human flesh, informed the court how he disposed of cadavers by burning them in fires fueled by wood. "There is always a difficulty in getting rid of human remains by fire," he said, "on account of attracting suspicion by the smell. I have been called upon by neighbors or the police several times on this account." Dr. Strong testified that he had looked at the human parts found in Dr. Webster's furnace and "there was nothing dissimilar from what I should have expected to find in Dr. Parkman's body."

     Dr. Frederick S. Ainsworth, a professor of anatomy at Harvard College, testified that the remains in question had not been dissected in his department. (Dr. Webster claimed the remains in his furnace belonged to a cadaver.) Dr. Ainsworth said, "All subjects in my department are injected with fluid to preserve them from decomposition. In these remains which were produced by Littlefield [the janitor] I saw no appearance of the use of such fluid. My impression was that the person who cut them up had no anatomical knowledge."

     The next medical witness, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, testified that he "knew the late George Parkman very well. He was a tall, slender man of somewhat peculiar figure. I saw nothing in the remains dissimilar from what I should suppose was Dr. Parkman's formation."

     The physicians and police officers who had examined Dr. Webster's laboratory had noticed what looked like bloodstains on the wall near a sink and stains on the laboratory floor. In 1850, the ability to scientifically distinguish human from animal blood didn't exist. As one witness put it: "I can distinguish human blood from that of lower animals but not from that of higher animals such as an ox, for instance."

     On the fourth day of the trial, the prosecution put on its most important witness, Dr. Nathan Keep, a surgeon-dentist who had practiced in Boston for 30 years. Dr. Keep testified that he had made teeth for Dr. Parkman and that "Dr. Parkman's mouth was a very peculiar one, so marked in respect to its shape and the relation of the upper and lower jaws that the impression of it on my mind was very distinct." Dr. Keep said that when he saw the teeth that had been found in Dr. Webster's furnace along with the other remains, he "...recognized them as being the same teeth that I had made for Dr. Parkman three years before....On comparing the largest fragment with the model [a plaster cast of Dr. Parkman's dentition] the resemblance was so striking that I could no longer have any doubt they were his." Every so often, in the midst of his testimony, Dr. Keep would break down and cry.

     Oliver Wendell Homes, the famous writer and physician and professor of anatomy and dean of the medical college had examined the fleshy parts found in the assay furnace--the thorax, pelvis, two thighs, and the disarticulated leg--and found them consistent with Dr. Parkman's anatomy.

     Most of the fifth day of the trial was taken up by the testimony of the janitor and his wife. Three days later, the prosecution rested.

     The Webster defense opened with witnesses who said they had seen the defendant in places other than the college on the day of the murder. Next came the character witnesses, then the testimony most vital to the defense. Dr. William T. G. Morton, a dentist who made false teeth took the stand and said: "I see no particular marks about these teeth [the furnace remains] to identify them. I should think nothing should be judged from this material....My impression is that if [the furnace teeth] were placed among a dozen others which I can produce, I should not be led to pick it out from any peculiarity." (The dueling expert problem is as old as forensic science itself.)

     The defense rested without putting Professor Webster on the stand. In Massachusetts at that time, defendants in capital trials were not permitted to take the stand on their own behalf. Murder defendants, because of their self-interest, were considered too biased to make competent witnesses. They were, however, allowed to address the jury directly prior to its deliberation. These speeches were not given under oath or subjected to cross-examination. Professor Webster, in his fifteen minute address, denied his guilt and criticized his own counsel.

     Three hours following Dr. Webster's speech, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder. The judge sentenced him to death. Six months later, with his execution just a few days off, the condemned man wrote out a full confession. After killing Dr. Parkman with a stick of wood, Webster dragged the body into an adjoining room and stripped off his clothing which he burned. Then came the dissecting part. "My next move was to get the body into the sink which stands in the small private room. By setting the body partially erect against the corner and getting up into the sink myself, I succeeded in drawing it up. There it was entirely dismembered. It was quickly done as a work of terrible and desperate necessity. The only instrument used was the knife found by the officers in the tea chest and which I kept for cutting corks. While dismembering the body a steady stream of water was running through the sink carrying off the blood in a pipe that passed through the lower laboratory. There must have been a leak in the pipe for the ceiling below was stained immediately around it."

     On August 20, 1850, Dr. Webster was hanged.   

     

The Mystery of Criminal Motive: The Streeter Brothers Murder Case

     Douglas Ivor Streeter and his brother John owned and operated the Merino sheep farm near Maryborough, Australia, a town northwest of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. The brothers, in their mid-60s, had worked on the 7,000-acre farm since they were teenagers. They lived in the hamlet of Natte Yallock, and attended the local Anglican Church.

     While John Streeter was reclusive, Douglas and his wife Helen had been quite active in the local community. The couple had two adult sons, Ross and Anthony. In December 2012, Douglas was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease. His son, 30-year-old Ross Streeter, lived in the town of Bendigo, and worked on the sprawling farm with his father and his uncle.

     At six in the evening of Thursday, March 16, 2013, Douglas Streeter's wife Helen discovered the bodies of her husband and her brother-in-law. Someone had shot both men in the head with a shotgun. The double murder shocked this rural community. Who would have reason to kill these too well-respected farmers?

     At eleven-thirty the next morning, police officers followed an ambulance en route to Ross Streeter's house in Bendigo where paramedics treated the son for unspecified self-inflicted injuries. They transported Streeter to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where the patient was treated under police guard.

     Investigators believed that sometime after eight in the morning the previous day, Ross had used a shotgun to kill his Uncle John. After the murder the suspect left the farm, then sometime before noon, returned and killed his father.

     On Saturday, March 18, 2013, upon Ross Streeter's discharge from the hospital, police officers placed him under arrest for the two murders. Later that day investigators recovered the murder weapon. Charged with two counts of murder, he was held without bail. The motive for the double murder was a mystery.

     On March 14, 2014, Ross Streeter pleaded guilty to both killings. Supreme Court Justice Lex Laspry, at the November 2014 sentencing hearing, said he was dubious of Streeter's claim that he had no memory of the shootings. A psychiatrist had testified that the defendant did not suffer from any kind of mental illness and that his memory loss assertion was probably false.

     The judge imposed a sentence of 34 years. Mr. Streeter, under the terms of his sentence, would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. That meant he had no chance of freedom until he turned 55.

     Human behavior can be unpredictable, and in some cases, inexplicable. 

Woman Eats Police Car

     A northern Idaho woman has been charged with a felony after police say she chewed up the upholstery of a patrol seat…Staci Anne Spence, 42, was changed with felony malicious injury to property and misdemeanors including resisting arrest and battery on an officer…

     Prosecutors say Spence was arrested on Thursday September 18, 2014 after deputies came to her home to investigate a battery report…When they arrived at the Bonner County Jail, they found that Spence had chewed through the patrol vehicle's upholstery and into the foam cushioning. [That's the good part.]

"Woman Charged Over Chewed Seat," Associated Press, September 24, 2014 

Insurance Fraud Investigation

The sad truth is that insurance fraud investigation is not a priority in this country. The police and prosecuting authorities are quick to pursue a bank robber or a burglar, but getting them to commit the resources to investigate an insurance fraud case is an uphill battle. Arson, for instance, is the least often and least effectively prosecuted crime in America. Most insurance fraud cases are circumstantial in nature and lack direct proof in the form of eyewitnesses. Those are not the kinds of cases the police and prosecutors want to readily pursue, because they know it will be a lengthy investigation, perhaps a costly investigation, and the prospects of conviction are far less than any other type of crime. [And even if there is a conviction, it's unlikely that the fraudster will go to prison.]

Jack Morgan, SIU, 2012 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Serial Killers Who Murder Prostitutes

     The term "serial killing," coined by FBI profilers in the 1980s, pertains to two or more unrelated murders in distinctly separate incidents. In other words, killings with "cooling off" periods in between. At any given time, according to FBI experts on the subject, there are between twenty and fifty serial killers going about their deadly business. I believe, based on national homicide statistics, that the number is closer to twenty. America produces 85 percent of the world's serial killers. While these murderers fall into several groups according to their motives, MO, and psychological profiles, they are all sociopaths who feel no guilt or remorse.

     Serial killers who rape, torment and kill women--often runaways, prostitutes and others who live transient lives--are called lust killers. (In England they call them "recreational killers.") These men are primarily motivated by sex and sadism and have nothing but disdain for their victims. Before they actually kill anyone, most of these sociopaths fantasize about violent sex. At some point, their fantasies turn into reality. These predators prey on prostitutes because they are easy targets. A street walker will go missing, and no one will report it for days or weeks, if at all. Moreover, the police are not likely to give such cases much attention. As criminal homicides, these cases are difficult to solve because many of the bodies cannot be identified, and there is no substantial relationship between the victims and their killers.  

     What follows are the broad profiles of nine lust killers. Two of these men are black, and all of them murdered prostitutes. In no particular order, they are:

Garry Ridgway
Seattle, Washington
white male; born 1949; 90 victims (1982-2000)

     Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, is America's most prolific lust killer. This childhood bed-wetter with a low IQ grew into a religious fanatic fixated on prostitutes. A loner and an outdoorsman, Ridgway, divorced three times, had a son by his second wife. He targeted street walkers who worked in Seattle and dumped their bodies on the banks of the Green River. He painted trucks for a living. Ridgway is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, Washington.

Arthur Shawcross
Rochester, New York
white male; born 1945; 12 victims (1988-1989)

     In 1972, before Shawcross started killing prostitutes, he raped and murdered two children in Watertown, New York. After serving fourteen years in prison, he began targeting street walkers in Rochester, dumping their bodies in the Genesse River. Although he had a low IQ, he had served in the U.S. Army. He confessed to his murders before dying in 2008.

Bobby Joe Long
Tampa Bay, Florida
white male; born 1953; 10 victims (1984)

     As a child growing up in Kenova, West Virginia, kids teased Long because he had an extra X chromosome that caused him to grow breasts. As a child he suffered several head injuries, and slept in his mother's bed until he was a teenager. Prior to killing women in the Tampa Bay area, Long raped at least fifty women in Fort Lauderdale, Ocala and Miami where he was known in the press as the "Classified Ad Rapist." In 1974, he married his high school girlfriend with whom he fathered two children. They divorced in 1980. Three years later, Long moved to Tampa Bay and in 1984 began abducting, raping and murdering women, most of whom were prostitutes. He took his victims to his apartment where he either stangled or bludgeoned them, or cut their throats. One of his victims escaped which led to his arrest and conviction. Long confessed to deriving sadistic pleasure from his crimes. He is on death row.

Maury Travis
St. Louis, Missouri
black male; born 1965; 12-20 victims (2000-2002)

     This hotel worker from Ferguson, Missouri outside of St. Louis, took prostitutes to his home where, in a basement torture chamber, he raped, tortured, and stangled his victims. He video-taped many of his atrocities. When investigators searched Travis' house, they found bondage equipment, a stun gun, and newspaper clippings featuring news of his murders. In 2002, he committed suicide in his St. Louis jail cell. In a letter to the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," Travis boasted that he had killed seventeen prostitutes.

Kendall Francois
Poughkeepsie, New York
black male; born 1971; 8 victims (1996-1998)

     This necrophiliac high school hall monitor took prostitutes to his home where he killed them by strangulation. His hatred of street walkers stemmed from the fact one of them had infected him with HIV. When the police searched his home, they found the decomposing bodies of several victims. He is serving a life sentence at the Attica Correctional Facility.

Robert Lee Yates
Spokane, Washington
white male; born 1952; 16 victims (1986-1988)

     After working as a prison guard, Yates embarked on a medal-winning, nineteen year career in the U.S. Army where he flew cargo planes and helicopters. All of his victims worked the streets in the skid row section of Spokane. He's on death row at the Washington State Prison.

Robert Hansen
Anchorage, Alaska
white male; born 1939; 21 victims (1980-1983)

     This bipolar baker and police academy drill instructor came from a dysfunctional family and was bullied at school. Before he began killing prostitutes, he burned down a school bus garage in Pocahontas, Iowa. Known as a quiet loner, Hansen fathered two children. He kidnapped his victims in Anchorage then released them into the Alaskan wilderness where he hunted them down like animals. Hansen died in 2014 while serving a life sentence in the state prison at Seward, Alaska.

Doug Clark
Los Angeles, California
white male; born 1948; 8 victims (1980)

     Along with his accomplice Carol M. Bundy, Clark became known as one of the "Sunset Strip Killers." The boiler operator at a Jergens Soap Factory fantasized about killing women during sex then, with the help of Bundy, graduated to the real thing. He shot his victims in the back of the head. At his trial he represented himself. He's now on death row. Carol Bundy, pursuant to a plea bargain, is doing life.

Dayton Leroy Rogers
Portland Oregon
white male; born 1953; 6 victims (1983-1987)

     A mechanic who fixed small engines and was deeply in debt, Rogers took his victims into the woods where he raped and stabbed them to death. All of his victims were runaways hooked on dope. He's currently awaiting his fate on Oregon's death row.

     The disturbing thing about all of these men is that they did not stand out in any way. They did not look like monsters, and in their daily lives did nothing that revealed who they really were. Notwithstanding their homicidal activities, they seemed ordinary. That's what made them so dangerous. And it also made them hard to catch.

What is Trace Evidence?

     Trace evidence analysis is the section of the crime lab where, if they don't know where to send it, they send it to us. We get all kinds of oddball things in here. Feathers. We've had feathers come into the crime lab. Bird feathers.

     One case: A person was shot and killed outdoors, near a garage. The bullet went through the victim's down jacket. And then it hit a garage door and deflected off. In that garage door, in the bullet hole, there was a little feather. I think the defense's story was that the shooting was accidental, that the defendant had aimed at the garage, and the bullet deflected off it, and then it went into the victim.  We couldn't say for sure that the bullet hole feather was from the victim's jacket, but finding it on the garage door corresponds more to the person being shot and then the slug entering the door. The victim was hit first.

Trace evidence analyst in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

The Dino Gugglielmelli Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2001, Dino Gugglielmelli, the owner of Creations Garden, a $48 million natural cream and nutritional supplement business, met Monica Olsen, a Romanian-born model twenty years younger than him. The 39-year-old tycoon had been married twice before. Both of those marriages had been brief.

     Not long after the two met, Monica moved into Gugglielmelli's six-bedroom, 7,000-square foot mansion on three acres north of Los Angeles. The couple married in April 2003, and by 2008, had two daughters. They also possessed a Maserati, a Porsche, and a BMW.

     The Food and Drug Administration, in 2009, tightened the federal regulations regarding the manufacture and marketing of nutritional supplements. This, along with the economic recession, took its toll on Gugglielmelli's business. By 2011, the company, along with his marriage, had collapsed.

     Dino Gugglielmelli, in October 2012, in filing for divorce, described Monica as a bad mother who "never made dinner for the children." According to court documents, Guggliemelli complained that nannies had raised the children, and domestic employees cleaned the house.

     In January 2013, after Mr. Gugglielmelli accused Monica of attacking him with a kitchen knife, she lost custody of the children and moved out of the mansion. Shortly after her departure, Gugglielmelli acquired a young girlfriend. Although he was facing bankruptcy, he lavished this woman with $200.000 in gifts. He used other people's money to impress his young squeeze.

     In the spring of 2013, the justice system exonerated Monica in the domestic knife assault case. A family court judge, in August of that year, was about to award her $300,000 in back alimony payments. The federal government, the economy, and his pending divorce was putting an end to Gugglielmelli's lavish style of living. He did not like what the future held for him.

     On October 1, 2013, Gugglielmelli met 47-year-old Richard Euhrmann in a Los Angeles restaurant. Euhrmann, a short time before this meeting, had gone to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office with information that Gugglielmelli had asked him to murder his estranged wife, Monica. For that reason, Euhrmann showed up at the restaurant wired for sound.

     During the meeting, Gugglielmelli allegedly offered his friend $80,000 to pull off the hit. "I'll be happy when it's over," he reportedly said. As the two men walked out of the restaurant, deputies took Gugglielmelli into custody.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged the former millionaire with attempted murder and solicitation of murder. After being booked into the county's Men's Central Jail, the judge set Gugglielmelli's bond at $10 million.

     At a pre-trial hearing in late 2013, Gugglielmelli's attorney, Anthony Brooklier, described Richard Euhrmann, the man Guggliemelli had allegedly asked to kill Monica, as an opportunist and liar who had set up his client. (If this is true, I don't know what Euhrmann had gained from setting up his friend.)

     With her estranged husband behind bars for plotting to kill her, Monica moved back into the Gugglielmelli mansion.

     In May 2014, county jail officials moved the high-profile inmate into solitary confinement at the notorious Twin Towers correctional facility. The 9,500-prisiner complex, in 2011, was named one of the ten worst jails in the world. (I'm sure it's not a nice place, but this is hard to believe. I base this opinion on the fact I've watched a lot of "Locked Up Abroad" TV episodes.)

     After receiving word that several of Gugglielmell's fellow inmates had approached him with offers to kill Richard Euhrmann, the principal witness against Gugglielmelli, corrections officials had decided to isolate him from the jail population. Gugglielmelli was also denied the privilege of seeing visitors. Richard Euhrmann, fearing for his life, went into hiding.

     Monica, the alleged target of the murder-for-hire plot, said she also worried about being killed by a hit man. Traumatized by the case, she has put the mansion up for sale. She asked $3.5 million for the house. Monica was also trying to breathe new life back into her beauty cream and baby skin care business.

    On June 13, 2014 in San Fernando Superior Court, Gugglielmelli pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to nine years in prison.

The Effects of Drug Enforcement

     Given large numbers of addicts, we start with a high level of demand. The effectiveness of law enforcement measures lowers the supply. The selling price, and hence the potential level of profit that accompanies the successful evasion or corruption of law enforcement efforts, rises. To the unprincipled traffickers in narcotics, this counterbalances the increased risk and justifies an increased counter-mobilization effort to evade and corrupt the law enforcement efforts and to increase the market by expanding the number of addicts. The investment in law enforcement then rises, the counter-investment goes up, and the vicious cycle rolls merrily along….

     The suppression approach is, of course, not simply one of increasing the number of police officers devoted to catching offenders. It also includes a demand for increasing police powers (which always carries with it increased infringement of the guaranteed constitutional liberties) and increasingly severe penalties….

     There is another aspect of the law enforcement approach to narcotics which tends to be self-defeating. The structure of the illegal narcotics business is that of a pyramid, or a series of interlocking pyramids resting on the same base. At the bottom of this structure and constituting the vast majority of individuals involved in the business are the addict-pushers. These are usually people impelled to narcotics by their own uncontrollable cravings who would otherwise be unable to support their habit. Consider an enforcement unit which has to justify its existence in the results it can show. Going after higher levels of the narcotics business pyramid, to say nothing of the apex or apexes, is a long, hazardous, and at best uncertain affair….

     By contrast, the addict-pusher is a sure bet. All that is needed is to keep an eye on him once he has been released from serving his sentence and, sooner or later, usually sooner, he will be caught selling or at least in possession. This poor wretch does not command the services of high-priced legal talent, and the case is quickly processed through the courts with a minimum of waste of police time. The result is an impressively large record of arrests and convictions for the individual officer and for the enforcement unit as a whole.

Isidor Cheim, Donald C. Gerard, and Robert S. Lee, "Drugs and Social Policy," in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin Wolfgang, Editors, 1994  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Going Catatonic

I can't stop buying stuff for my cat. I've purchased beds and blankets; a heated cat bed; toys (a lot of little plastic balls with bells in them and fake mice); climbing trees of all shapes and sizes; hair brushes and shampoos; ear drops and ear wipes; litter boxes, flea and tick applications; litter, litter rakes, litter bags, and scoops; fancy canned food and ordinary bagged pellets; catnip; and even a night light. I think I enjoy cat stuff as much as I love my cat. I need help, stop me before I buy more. I've gone catatonic.

Thornton P. Knowles

Why Did Emily Creno Fake Her Son's Cancer?

     On the surface there was nothing exceptional about Emily J. Creno. In 2012, the mother of an 8-year-old girl and a boy who was four lived in Utica, a central Ohio town not far from Columbus. After the 31-year-old's marriage had gone sour, her husband John moved out of the house.

     In December 2012, Emily took her son J. J. to a hospital emergency room in Columbus. She told medical personnel that he had suffered a series of seizures. Following blood tests, X-rays, and EEG monitoring, the physical told Emily that her son was in good health.

     Notwithstanding her son's clean bill of health, confirmed by subsequent hospital visits and various screening tests, Emily Creno told friends and family that J. J. had been diagnosed with cancer. She said J. J.  didn't have long to live. The child, thinking that he was terminally ill, basically shut down. When John Creno visited his son, the boy couldn't speak or get off the couch. (Emily regularly shaved J. J.'s head to give him the appearance of someone being treated with chemotherapy.) Her estranged husband had no idea his son's illness was a hoax orchestrated by his wife. (The couple has since divorced.)

     One of Emily's sympathetic friends created a Facebook page for the purpose of soliciting donations for the distraught mother and her dying son. About twenty people sent the family clothes, toys, and money. One Facebook reader drove 500 miles to console Emily and the stricken boy.

     In May 2013, a Columbus woman with a daughter suffering from leukemia visited the Creno Facebook page where she read postings about J. J.'s illness and symptoms that didn't make sense. Thinking that Emily Creno was possibly soliciting money and goods on a false pretense, this woman reported her suspicion to an officer with the Utica Police Department.

     Utica detective Damian Smith, in response to the tipster's call, got in touch with the Columbus oncologist who was supposedly treating the Creno boy. The physician said he did not know Emily or her son. Further investigation, which presumably included Creno's interrogation and perhaps a polygraph test, established the fact that her son's terminal illness was nothing more that a product of her imagination and deception.

     Licking County prosecutor Tracy Van Winkle, in September 2013, charged Emily Creno with one count of third-degree child endangerment. Shortly thereafter, police officers took the suspect into custody on the felony charge. A local magistrate set her bail at $50,000. According to the prosecutor, she would present the case to a grand jury which could result in additional charges related to fraud and theft by deception.

     As the criminal case moved forward, J. J. Creno and his sister were residing with a distant relative. It was not clear if the boy's physical incapacity was entirely psychological, or the result of being poisoned by his mother. In either case, the effects of his ordeal would probably be long-lasting.

     On May 7, 2014, Emily Creno, after pleading no contest to charges of theft and endangering a child, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Judge Thomas Marcelain. The judge also ordered Creno to pay back nearly $3,000 to the people who donated to her phony cause. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Marcelain said that Creno's ploy had been intended to get her husband back, a scheme that got out of hand.

     In terms of motive, this could have been a Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) case. Mothers with this disorder make their children ill to gain sympathy and attention from friends, family, and hospital personnel. Quite often the MSBP subject is trying to attract the attention of an indifferent or estranged spouse. Even if Emily Creno didn't poison her son to make him ill, her cancer hoax could be explained in the context of this disorder. In other words, the motive behind this dreadful case may have been pathological rather than theft by deception. It should be noted, however, that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy does not constitute a recognized legal defense. It is not the same as legal insanity because MSBP mothers are fully aware of what they are doing, and that it's wrong. 

The Deadly Bay Area Limousine Fire

     On Saturday, May 4, 2013, Nerizo Fojas, a recently married 31-year-old registered nurse from Fresno, California entertained eight of her friends and fellow nurses at a bachelorette party in Oakland. At nine that night, the newlywed and her guests climbed into a white, 1999 Lincoln stretch limousine en route to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City, the site of her bridal shower. Orville Brown, the 46-year-old who had been driving as a chauffeur for two months, had picked up the nine women for the 40-mile trip from Oakland to Foster City.

     At ten o'clock, as the limousine crossed the San Mateo Bridge on Highway 92 about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco, one of the passengers tapped on the partition that separates the driver from the passengers. At first Brown couldn't hear what this passenger was saying over the car music. When he heard others in the back yelling, "smoke, smoke!" he pulled out of the westbound lane and brought the Town Car to a stop at the side of the bridge.

     In a matter of seconds after Brown exited the limo, the rear passenger and trunk areas of the vehicle burst into flames, engulfing the passengers. Four of the women managed to escape the sudden inferno by crawling through the 3 foot by18 inch driver's partition opening. Five of the nurses, including Nerizo Fojas, were burned to death as they waited to squeeze through the partition opening.

     The dead women were so badly burned they had to be officially identified through dental records. Two of the women who survived the fire were in critical condition.

     Nerizo Fojas had been working at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno for two years. Prior to living in Fresno she had resided in Oakland. She and her husband had planned to travel to her native Philippines in June for a second wedding ceremony.

     San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told reporters that "it was almost impossible for [the victims] to get out as the fire was moving so fast." As cause and origin experts investigate the fire scene, forensic pathologists performed autopsies and ordered toxicology tests.

     It is rare for a motor vehicle not involved in an accident to burst into flames. The fact the fire had spread so fast suggests that something highly flammable had been near the origin of the fire. (A good many car fires that are not incendiary are electrical in nature.) According to the chauffeur, he had informed his passengers that smoking in the vehicle was prohibited. Orville Brown and other witnesses reported that the fire was not accompanied by an explosion.

     On May 7, 2013, Nelia Arelllano, one of the passengers, told a television reporter from San Francisco that the driver of the limo ignored her when she first yelled at him to stop the car. By the time he pulled over the fire had engulfed the rear area of the vehicle. (Stretch limousines have doors at the front and back but not along the elongated section of the car.) The San Jose company that operated the limo, Limo Stop, was licensed and insured.

    In 2014,  fire scene investigation specialists from San Mateo and Alameda Counties determined that the limo fire had been started by a "catastrophic failure" of the suspension system of the 1999 converted Lincoln Town Car that caused its drive shaft to rub on the vehicle's undercarriage, producing friction and sparks that started the fire in the rear passenger section.

     The California Public Utilities Commission fined Limo Stop $20,000 for having nine passengers in the vehicle, one over the limit. On appeal the amount was reduced to $5,000.

     In 2014 and 2015, families of four of the five women who died in the limo settled lawsuits with numerous companies associated with the vehicle fire. In May 2016, the husband of the fifth victim, Aldrin Geronga, filed a wrongful death suit against the Ford Motor company. According to this plaintiff's attorney, "Ford knew there were problems fifteen years ago."

     The jury considering the Geronga $37 million wrongful death suit against the Ford Motor Company deliberated four days before finding for the defendant. Jurors determined that the Ford Motor Company had not been responsible for the vehicle defect that had caused the deadly fire.

Blue Collar Versus White Collar Crime

Essentially, the term "white collar" crime is regrettable. In my view, it is the product of class snobbery, and is the Edsel of criminological terminology. Let's say the socially connected president of a prestigious savings and loan institution is indicted and convicted on a charge of stock fraud, manipulation and theft. So we call the act a white collar crime. But if the same sort of crime is committed by an Italian-American Mafioso who used to make his living by hijacking trucks, then we call it something else. But the act is the same, whether the perpetrators wear blue collars or white! On top of this, the term obscures the additional fact that the so-called white collar criminals are increasingly allied with the blue collars on many of these criminal ventures. Why is the fence a blue collar criminal and receivers of stolen property lily-white? Why is the man who hijacks a truckload of shrimp with a pistol inferior, in some sense of terminology, to the manufacturer who robs the public with his defective products?

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Mayhem On Kindergarten Graduation Day

     Just before eleven o'clock on Friday morning, May 31, 2013, as the attendees of a kindergarten graduation ceremony walked out of the Michael R. White Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio, two teenage girls got into a fistfight  over a spilled cup of punch. Instead of pulling the girls apart, family members from both sides jumped into the fray as the recent kindergarten graduates looked on in horror.

     One of the combatants in the Friday morning gang brawl pulled out a hammer. (A hammer? Who brings a hammer to a graduation ceremony? Well, maybe in Cleveland.) Another kindergarten parent weighed-in with some kind of club. Someone called 911. The caller, perhaps hoping for a fast response from the Cleveland Police Department, falsely reported that shots had been fired. (That usually brings the police flying, but not always. In Detroit it takes a lot more than that.)

     Not long after the 911 call, police officers rolled up to the Michael R. White school. While more than a dozen people were punching, kicking, and rolling around on the ground, officers only arrested seven adults and one juvenile. There were scrapes and bruises, and some pulled-out hair, but none of the graduation day brawlers were seriously injured. The unnamed arrestees, most of whom were women, were charged with aggravated rioting.

     I can't help wondering what Mr. Rogers would have said to these kindergarten graduates about their brawling parents. Perhaps it would be something like: "You are special, but your folks are jerks." 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Fraudulent Celebrity Memoirs

The Japanese have a word, "Tsundoku," for all the books people buy but don't read. I think we should create a word for all the celebrity memoirs that people buy that weren't written by the celebrity. Let's call this genre "fraudlit."

Thornton P. Knowles

Travis M. Scott: The Swindler Who Faked His Suicide

     In 2006, Travis Magdalena Scott owned a computer company in Crystal, Minnesota that provided software to the U.S. Military and the private sector. That year, the 29-year-old scam artist filed a false insurance claim with Lloyd's of London based on a phony lightening strike he said had wiped out his computers and ruined his business. The insurance company paid him $3 million.

     Two years later, Scott was living in a 15-room, 5,300-square foot $1 million mansion in the Twin Cities area town of Eden Prairie. He owned a new computer company and had filed another false insurance claim. This time, to indemnify him for another computer destroying lightening strike, the insurer paid him $9.5 million.

     The FBI opened an investigation of Scott in 2010, and in early 2011, a federal grand jury sitting in Minneapolis indicted him for wire fraud, money laundering, and insurance fraud. If convicted of all charged, the crooked businessman faced up to thirty years in prison. FBI agents seized three of Scott's airplanes, a boat, three vehicles, and $5 million from various bank accounts in his name. Scott's mansion, taken over by the bank and put on the market, was now worth $600,000.

     In May 2011, pursuant to a plea deal involving a sentence of between five to ten years in prison, Travis Scott pleaded guilty to all charges. His sentencing hearing before a U.S. District Court judge was scheduled for mid-September 2011.

     A week before his sentencing, Scott staged a suicide by leaving his Kayak on the west shore of Lake Mille Lacs. Inside the overturned Kayak, Scott left a suicide note in which he wrote that he had drowned himself by jumping into the middle of the lake wearing heavy weights. (Had this been true, it would have been one odd suicide.)

     Following the staged suicide, Scott flew his Piper airplane from the Flying Cloud Airport near Eden Prairie Scott to the St. Andrew's Airport in Winnipeg, Canada. The aircraft bore fake Canadian registration decals. Three days later, Mille Lacs County Sheriff's deputies found the Kayak and the phony suicide note. The local authorities listed Scott as a missing person, and various law enforcement agencies in the region searched for his body.

     In Winnipeg, under the name Paul Decker, Scott set up residence in a downtown apartment. He purchased a Jeep, and lived with a cat. Things were going smoothly for the missing businessman until December 22, 2011. The Canadian authorities caught up to him 82 days after his staged suicide when, at a Winnipeg pharmacy, he used a forged prescription slip to acquire pills for his anxiety disorder.

     Police officers searching Scott's apartment seized $35,000 in U.S. and Canadian currency. The Winnipeg officers also recovered $85,000 in gold and silver coins. In Scott's Jeep, searchers found a loaded .45-caliber handgun. The officers also took Scott's Jeep and Piper aircraft.

     On February 11, 2013, Scott, now 37, pleaded guilty in a Winnipeg court to possession of a firearm and a customs act charge for failing to report to border officials. Lest Scott stage a second suicide along the shore of a Canadian lake, the judge sentenced him on the spot to three years and three months in a Canadian prison.

     In Minnesota, on November 19, 2013, a federal judge presided over Scott's sentencing hearing pertaining to his May 2011 guilty plea. At that proceeding, Scott argued that if the judge gave him probation he'd be able to work and pay back the money he had stolen. The federal prosecutor countered that argument by labeling Scott a "manipulative person" who showed no remorse for his crime.

     The U.S. District judge sentenced Travis Scott to 12 years 8 months in prison and held him responsible for more than $11 million in restitution. 

Kyle Dube's Plot to Kidnap Then Rescue Nichole Cable Turned to Murder

     On the night of May 12, 2013, in Glenburn, Maine, 15-year-old Nichole Cable left her parents' home to meet a friend down the road from her house. She was under the false belief that the message she had received on her Facebook page was from Bryan Butterfield. The high school sophomore did not return home. The morning following her disappearance, Nichole's mother reported her missing to the police.

     At the request of investigators, officials at Facebook traced the message ostensibly from Bryan Butterfield to a 20-year-old man named Kyle Dube who lived in his parents house in Orono, Maine. Detectives questioned Dube's girlfriend Sarah Mersinger who revealed that Dube had used the fake Facebook account to lure Nichole out of the house that night so that he could kidnap her.

     According to Kyle Dube's brother, the idea behind the abduction involved Kyle later finding and rescuing the girl so that he could look like a hero. But something went wrong and the victim ended up dead. Dube's brother told detectives that Kyle had dumped the body in the woods near the community of Old Town, Maine. The brother said that Kyle's sexual advances toward the 15-year-old had been rejected. Dube's harebrained kidnapping plot and phony rescue scheme had been motivated by his desire to have sex with the girl.

     Police officers from a dozen police agencies, with the aid of cadaver dogs and hundreds of civilian volunteers, searched the woods near Old Town for Nichole's body. In the evening of May 20, 2013, one of the searchers came across the corpse.

     The next day, police officers arrested Kyle Dube on the charge of murder. In confessing to his interrogators, Dube said he had used the phony Facebook account to lure Nichole out of her parents' house. As she walked down the road to meet her friend Byran Butterfield, Dube hid in the woods wearing a ski mask. After ambushing the victim, Dube covered her mouth with tape and put her in the back of his father's pickup truck. When he checked on Nichole after driving to a remote spot near Old Town, Kyle discovered that she had died from suffocation. He left her body in the forest covered in branches.

     On May 22, 2013, a Penobscot County grand jury indicted Kyle Dube on the charge of murder. He was held in the county lock-up without bail.

     A trial jury, in March 2015, found Kyle Dube guilty of murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced him to sixty years in prison.

Jonathan Raban: The Detached Journalist

A few days spent in someone else's world (however dismal, violent, pretty or even boring that world may be) is simply not enough to experience it as real. It is too tightly framed by one's own domestic normality. Wherever you are today, you know that next Monday you will be home, and from the perspective of home today will seem too exaggerated, too highly colored, too remote to take quite seriously. So the writer slips into a style of mechanical facetious irony as he deals with this wrong-end-of-the-telescope view of the world. The perfervid [phony passionate] similes that are the trademark of the hardened magazine writer betray him as he tries to make language itself mask and make up for the fundamental shallowness of his experience with its synthetic energy....Emotional disengagement, self-conscious observation, the capacity to quickly turn a muddle of not very deeply felt sensations into a neat and vidid piece, are part of the necessary equipment of the writer as journalist.

Janathan Raban, For Love & Money, 1988

The Senseless Crime

The common motive behind many crimes that appear senseless is kicks--the thrill of doing the forbidden. There is excitement in thinking about crime, bragging about crime, executing the crime, making the getaway, and celebrating the triumph. Even if the offender is caught, there is excitement in dealing with the police, in trying to beat the rap, in receiving notoriety, and, if it gets that far, the trial proceedings.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Thursday, October 25, 2018

University Dean Cecilia Chang: The Corrupt Murder-For-Hire Suspect

     In 1975, a 22-year-old student from Taiwan (an island 200 miles off the coast of mainland China) named Cecilia Chang, enrolled in the Asian Studies Master's Degree program at St. John's University in Queens, New York. After Chang acquired the degree in 1977, the university hired her as an Asian Studies professor. Three years later, university administrators promoted Chang to the position of Dean of the Institute For Asian Studies. Having exhibited the ability to raise money for the program from the Taiwanese and other Asian governments, Chang's job as dean involved fund-raising. She spent the next decade traveling the world, living high on donor contributions to the school and her university expense account.

     In October 1986, Cecilia Chang's husband, Ruey Fung, filed for divorce and sought custody of the couples's toddler son. Four years later, in the midst of a contentious domestic struggle over money and child custody, Ruey Fung was shot outside a warehouse in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

     Ruey Fung died from his wounds eleven days after the shooting. But before he passed away, homicide detectives were able to question him at the hospital. Unable to speak, Mr. Fung wrote: "I know the man who shot me, but I do not know his name. Cecilia Chang was the person who paid the guy to shoot me." Ruey Fung claimed that his wife wanted him dead so she wouldn't have to split their estate which included a hosiery business. With his death, she would also gain custody of the boy.

     Because NYC homicide detectives were unable to identity the man who shot and killed Mr. Fung, the investigation died on the vine. Notwithstanding her husband's deathbed murder accusation and police suspicion that Chang had engaged the services of a hit man, her fund-raising career at St. John's University continued to flourish.

     In 2001, Cecilia Chang began spending an inordinate amount of time in Connecticut at the Foxwoods Casino where she lost tens of thousands of dollars playing high-stakes baccarat. Her wagering strategy of doubling her bet each time she lost compounded her casino losses.

     A grand jury sitting in Queens, New York, in 2010, indicted Chang on 205 counts of fraud and embezzlement. She stood accused of stealing huge amounts of money from St. John's University. In addition to embezzling $1 million from the institution, Chang was accused of using her $350,000 a year expense account, and donor money, to finance skiing and surfing trips for her son, fund his law school  tuition, and even pay for his dog's veterinary bills.

     Dean Chang also faced charges of theft, fraud, and corruption in federal court. In 2011, after being charged federally, the judge placed her under house arrest. In the fall of 2012, the federal case against Chang went to trial in Brooklyn, New York. When the Assistant United States Attorney rested the government's case, it was clear to people following the trial that the defendant was guilty.

     On November 5, 2012, convinced she could convince the jury that she was innocent of all charges, Chang took the stand on her own behalf. It quickly became obvious that the jurors not only didn't like her, they didn't believe her testimony. At one point jurors actually laughed loudly at something she said. At this point in the trial, Cecilia Chang realized that in all probability she would be spending the next twenty years in federal prison.

     On Tuesday, the day after her devastatingly bad afternon on the stand, Chang, in her $1.7 million tudor-style home in the Jamaica section of Queens, committed suicide. The 59-year-old was found hanging from a ladder that folded down from her attic. Chang had also slit her wrists. She left behind several suicide notes, written in Mandarin, in which, in true sociopathic fashion, she blamed St. John's University for her problems and her suicide.

     Cecilia Chang had gotten accustomed to having all the money she needed to lavishly entertain herself, her son, and all of her friends in high places. She felt entitled to use university and donor money to live extravagantly, and to cover her gambling loses. In my view, the university had some responsibility for Chang's financial excesses. No university employee should be allowed a $350,000 a year expense account. It seemed that at St. John's University, no one was watching the store while an employee lived high on other people's money.     

Goodbye Psychotherapy, Hello Drugs

Over the last thirty years, [psychiatrists] have constructed a reliable system for diagnosing mental disorders, and we have created medications that work well to treat a range of psychological symptoms. But these very successes have had unpredictable consequences. As psychiatrists have become enthralled with diagnosis and medication, we have given up the essence of our profession--understanding the mind. We have become obsessed with psychopharmacology and its endless process of tinkering with medications, adjusting dosages, and piling on more medications to treat the side effects of the drugs we started with. We have convinced ourselves that we have developed cures for mental illness...when in fact we know so little about the underlying neurobiology of their causes that our treatments are often a series of trials and errors.

Dr. David J. Carlat, Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry, 2010

Book Signings and Other Writer Humiliations

Writers can only moan to each other about all this, really: the humiliating reading to an audience of two, the book signing where nobody turns up, the talk where the only question is "Where did you buy your nail varnish?" Nobody is really going to care, are they, if we sit alone unloved besides our pile of books, approached only once in the two hours and that by a woman who is trying to flog us her self-published book on recovering from breast cancer? Or that we wait, alone in the darkness, on the deserted platform at Newark station, the only reading matter a VIOLENT ASSAULT: WITNESSES WANTED sign swinging in the wind, until we realize we've missed the last train home.

Deborah Moggach, in Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, 2004

[I once gave a talk at a public library attended by the security guard and a homeless man. When I invited questions at the end of the speech, the homeless guy raised his hand and asked, "Who's going to eat those donuts?"]

The Real Cause of Crime

Criminals cause crime--not bad neighborhoods, inadequate parents, television, schools, drugs, or unemployment. Crime resides within the minds of human beings and is not caused by social conditions. Once we as a society recognize this simple fact, we shall take measures radically different from current ones. To be sure, we shall continue to remedy intolerable social conditions for this is worthwhile in and of itself. But we shall not expect criminals to change because of such efforts.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Assigning Culpability

In his brilliant book What is History?, Professor E. H. Carr asked about ultimate causation. Take the case of a man who drinks a bit too much, gets behind the wheel of a car with defective brakes, drives it around a blind corner, and hits another man who is crossing the street to buy cigarettes. Who is the one responsible? The man who had one drink too many, the lax inspector of brakes, the local authorities who didn't straighten out a dangerous bend, or the smoker who chose to dash across the road to satisfy his bad habit?

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir, 2010

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Jason Young Murder Trials

     In November 2006, 29-year-old Jason Young and his 26-year-old wife Michelle lived in a suburban home outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. They had a two-year-old daughter named Cassidy. Michelle was five months pregnant with their second child. It was not a happy marriage. He had several girlfriends, and as a salesman for a medical software company spent a lot of time on the road. Michelle told friends and relatives that she hated her life.

     On the morning of November 3, 2006, Jason was out of town. The previous night he had checked into a Hampton Inn in Huntsville, Virginia 169 miles from Raleigh. At nine that morning, he left a voicemail for Michelle's younger sister, Meredith Fisher. Jason asked Meredith to stop by his house and retrieve some papers for him. (I presume he told Meredith he had called home and didn't get an answer.)

     Later that morning, Meredith Fisher entered the Young house on Jason's behalf. When she climbed the stairs to the second floor she was shocked by the sight of bloody footprints. In the master bedroom she discovered her sister lying facedown in a pool of blood. The victim, wearing a white sweatshirt and black sweatpants, had been bludgeoned to death beyond recognition. Meredith found Cassidy hiding under the covers of her parents' bed. She had not been harmed, but her socks were saturated in her mother's blood. Meredith Fisher called 911.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, the assailant had struck Michelle Young at least thirty times in the head and had tried to kill the victim by manual strangulation before beating her to death. The extent of the head wounds suggested an attack by an enraged, out-of-control killer who hated the victim.

     The authorities, from the beginning, suspected that Jason Young had snuck back to North Carolina from Virginia, murdered his wife, then returned to the Hampton Inn. The killer had not forced his way into the house, nothing had been taken, and the little girl's life had been spared. At the time of the murder, Jason was having an affair with one of his wife's friends. The couple had been fighting and Jason had made no secret of the fact he wanted out of the marriage.

     From a prosecutor's point of view there were serious holes in the Jason Young case. The suspect had an alibi 169 miles from the murder scene and there was no physical evidence linking him to the carnage. Moreover, no one had seen him at the house on the night of the murder. Even worse, investigators had not identified the murder weapon. As a result of these prosecutorial weaknesses, the Wake County District Attorney's Office did not charge Jason with the murder of his wife.

     Michelle Young's parents were convinced that Jason had murdered their daughter. When it became apparent that the authorities were not taking action, they filed a wrongful death suit against him. In March 2009, two years and four months after the homicide, the civil court jury, applying a standard of proof that is less demanding than a criminal trial's proof beyond a reasonable doubt, found the defendant responsible for Michelle's brutal killing. The jurors awarded the plaintiffs $15.5 million in damages.

     Eight months after the civil court verdict, a Wake County prosecutor, based on a three-year homicide investigation conducted by the City-County Bureau of Investigation, charged Jason Young with first-degree murder. Police officers, on the afternoon of December 15, 2009, arrested Young after pulling over his car in Brevard, a town in southwest North Carolina. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     The Jason Young murder case went to trial in Raleigh in June 2011. The prosecutor, following his opening statement in which he alleged that the defendant had drugged his daughter that night with adult-strength Tylenol and a prescription sedative, put on an entirely circumstantial case that relied heavily on motive.

     The defense attorney hammered home the fact the prosecution could not place the defendant at the scene of the murder. The state did not have a confession, an eyewitness, or even the murder weapon. Jason took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when his wife was murdered he was sleeping in a hotel 169 miles away. He said he had loved his wife and their unborn child.

     On Monday morning, June 27, 2011, the foreman of the jury of seven men and five women told the judge that the jurors were "immovably hung" on the verdict. "We currently sit," he said, "at a six to six ration and do not appear to be able to make any further movement. Where do we go from here?"

     The trial judge instructed the jurors to return to the jury room and try to reach a verdict. But later in the day, after deliberating a total of twelve hours, the foreman announced that they were deadlocked in an eight to four vote in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial.

     The Wake County District Attorney, determined to bring Jason Young to justice, announced that he would try him again. Jason, who had been incarcerated in the Wake County Jail since his arrest in December 2009, went on trial for the second time on February 10, 2012.

     The prosecutor, in his opening statement, alleged that the defendant had checked into the Hillsville Hampton Inn just before eleven on the night of November 2, 2006. An hour later he left the building through an emergency exit he had propped open with a rock to avoid using his computer card key to re-enter the hotel. According to the prosecutor, the defendant arrived at his Birchleaf Drive home at around three in the morning. Shortly after his arrival, he drugged his daughter and murdered his wife. After cleaning up and disposing of his bloody shirt, shoes, and trousers, and ditching or cleaning off the murder weapon, he returned to the hotel, arriving there around seven in the morning.

     Following the testimony of the victim's sister, Meredith Fisher, and the testimony of several other prosecution witnesses, a Hampton Inn hotel clerk took the stand. According to this witness, he had found the emergency door on the first-floor stairwell propped open with a rock. He also noticed that in the same stairwell someone had unplugged the security camera and turned its lens toward the ceiling.

     One of the City-County Bureau of Investigation crime scene officers testified that it appeared that someone had moved the victim's body to get into the defendant's closet. The detective said that despite all of the blood on the upstairs floor, certain items such as the sink drain had been sanitized by the killer. The investigator said he did find traces of blood on the knob to the door leading from the house to the garage. The detective said he had been present when, on the day after the murder, the suspect's body was checked for signs of trauma related to the killing. No injuries were found.

      A second detective testified that the dark shirt the defendant was seen wearing on hotel surveillance video footage was not in the suitcase he had used on that trip. The implication was that the defendant had disposed of the bloody garment.

     Included among the prosecution witnesses who took the stand over the next two weeks were two daycare employees who said they had seen Cassidy Young acting out her mother's beating. The girl was using a doll to demonstrate the attack. A therapist took the stand and testified that a week before her death, the victim had come to her seeking counseling to cope with her unhappy marriage. In the therapist's opinion Michelle Young had been verbally abused by her husband.

     Jason Young's mother and father took the stand for the defense. On November 3, 2006 Jason had driven from the Hampton Inn in Virginia to his parents's home in Brevard, North Carolina. His mother testified that when they broke the news to him that Michelle had been murdered, "you saw the color just drain from his face."

     On February 29, 2012 the defense rested its case without calling Jason Young to the stand. (The defense attorney was probably worried that the prosecutor, having studied Jason's direct testimony from the first trial, would rip him apart on cross-examination.)

     The prosecutor, in his closing argument to the jury, said, "This woman wasn't just murdered, she suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see. This woman was punished. The assailant struck her over thirty times with a weapon of some sort, and she was undoubtedly unconscious after the second or third blow." In speaking to jurors, the prosecutor mentioned the 2009 wrongful death verdict against the defendant.

     The defense attorney during his final jury presentation pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case, talked about reasonable doubt, and reminded the jury that being a bad husband did not make his client a murderer.

     On March 5, 2012, after the jury of eight women and four men deliberated eight hours, the judge, before a packed courtroom, read the verdict: guilty of first-degree murder. The 38-year-old defendant, after the judge announced the verdict, showed no emotion. Facing a mandatory life sentence without the chance of parole, Jason Young was escorted out of the room in handcuffs.

     Following the trial, several of the jurors spoke to reporters. Two members of the jury said that the lack of physical evidence in the case pointed more to the defendant's guilt than his innocence. For example, what happened to the shirt and shoes he was seen wearing on the hotel surveillance footage? A third juror found it incriminating that Cassidy had not been murdered and possibly cleaned-up after the attack.

     The prosecutor in the Jason Young murder trial, the second time around, turned a weakness--a lack of physical evidence--into a strength. In the era of the "CSI" television shows, advanced DNA technology, and high forensic expectations on the part of juries, this was an unusual case.

     Shortly after the murder conviction, Jason Young's attorney filed an appeal raising, among other procedural issues, the fact the jury had been improperly prejudiced by the prosecutor's mention of the 2009 verdict in the wrongful death case.

     On April 1, 2014, a North Carolina panel of three appellate judges unanimously set aside the Jason Young murder conviction and ordered a new trial. In the 58-page opinion, the justices ruled that the prosecutor's reference to the wrongful death verdict had seriously diminished the defendant's presumption of innocence. He had thus been denied a fair trial.

     On August 21, 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the state appeals court's new trial ruling. The Jason Young murder conviction would stand. 

Tristen Kurilla: A 10-Year-old Killer

     Tristen Kurilla, a fifth-grade student at Damascus Elementary School, lived with his mother, Martha Virbitsky, and his grandfather in Damascus Township, Pennsylvania, a rural community in the northeast corner of the state near the New York line. Helen Novak, a 90-year-old woman being cared for by the boy's grandfather, Anthony Virbitsky, lived under the same roof.

     On Saturday October 11, 2014, Anthony Virbitsky checked on Helen Novak to find that she was having trouble breathing. He offered to take her to the emergency room but she refused. Less than an hour later, when Mr. Virbitsky entered Novak's room to make sure she was okay, he found her dead. The caregiver called 911 to report the passing of the elderly woman.

     Not long after the Wayne County Coroner transported Helen Novak's body to the morgue, Martha Virbitsky showed up at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in nearby Honesdale with her son. According to the mother, the boy had confessed to killing Helen Novak.

     In speaking to Trooper John Decker, Tristen Kurilla said, " I killed the lady." According to the boy, he pressed the victim's cane against her neck because he was angry that she yelled at him when he came into her room to ask her a question. He also punched her in the throat and stomach.

     "Were you trying to kill her?" asked the trooper.

     "No, I was only trying to hurt her," came the reply.

     Martha Virbitsky told the state police officer that her son had been a problem to raise. He had a violent streak and suffered from what she called "mental difficulties."

     The Wayne County district attorney charged Tristen Kurilla, as an adult, with murder. Officers booked the boy into the Wayne County Correctional Facility.

     Shortly after the 10-year-old's arrest, Kurilla's attorney, Bernie Brown, petitioned the judge to release his client from custody and move the case into juvenile court.

     In addressing the adult versus juvenile court issue, Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards pointed out that under Pennsylvania law, homicide charges, regardless of the defendant's age, must be initially filed in adult court. Moreover, juvenile detention centers do not accept children charged with criminal homicide.

     The Wayne County Coroner's Office, on Monday October 13, 2014, declared Helen Novak's cause of death as "blunt force trauma to the neck." Her manner of death: homicide.

     In January 2015, a Wayne County judge, with the approval of the prosecutor, moved the Kurilla case to juvenile court. The ruling came after a psychologist testified at a competency hearing that the boy was mentally ill.

     As of October 2018, there has been a virtual news blackout on this case.
     

The History of the Romance Novel

     Though love and romance have long been a part of the literary world, the romance novel as we know it today originated in the early twentieth century in England. The publishing firm of Mills & Boon, established in 1908, brought out the work of such authors as Agatha Christie and Jack London--and also published romantic fiction. The firm soon realized that its hardcover romances, sold mostly to libraries, were more in demand than many of its regular titles. As the years passed, romantic fiction outstripped other book sales by even greater margins, and eventually the firm dropped other types of books in order to concentrate on publishing romantic novels.

     In the late 1950s, the success of Mills & Boon romances was noted by a Canadian publishing company, Harlequin Books, which began publishing Mills & Boon books North America as Harlequin Romances. The two firms merged in the early 1970s, with Mills & Boon becoming a branch office of Harlequin. Harlequin began setting up independent publishing offices around the world and started to publish romances in translation. In 1981, the firms became a division of the Torstar Corporation, a Canadian communications company.

     For a number of years, Mills & Boon continued to be the sole acquiring editorial office, buying books from British authors. Though it began publishing American author Janet Dailey in the 1970s, Mills & Boon didn't truly open up to other American authors until the early 1980s.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007

The Legacy of the Gas Chamber

     Even after the end of the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States still would not bring itself to address the question whether execution in the gas chamber amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. No amount of evidence could convince it otherwise.

     But in the court of world opinion, the gas chamber represented one of modernity's worst crimes; it was an instrument of torture that first had been disguised as a humane alternative to pain and suffering. What originally had seemed to be such a noble and practical idea turned out to be something else entirely.

     Dreamers, scientists, soldiers, merchants, lawmakers, lawyers, physicians, governors, journalists, wardens, keepers--and, of course the condemned prisoners--all made their unique contribution to the rise and fall of the gas chamber. But the creation of a "painless and humane" method of killing proved elusive. Despite all of their utopian schemes, laboratory experiments and mathematical formulas, blind obedience, commercial arrangement, legislative clauses, legal briefs, stopwatches, stethoscopes, death warrants, witnesses peering into peepholes, execution protocols, and public relations pronouncements, America's use of lethal gas as a method of capital punishment ended with the close of the twentieth century. But its awful legacy will continue for a long time to come.

Scott Christianson, The Last Gasp, 2010