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Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Lyvette Crespo Manslaughter Case

      Daniel Crespo was born in a Brooklyn, New York public housing project in 1969. Lyvette, Crespo's high school girlfriend, married him in 1986 shortly after graduation. That year they moved to the Los Angeles area and in 1987 had their first child, a baby girl.

     Daniel Crespo earned an associates degree in psychology/family counseling at East Los Angeles College. Two years later he was awarded a bachelor's degree in criminal justice/public administration from Cal State University. The couple's second child, Daniel Jr, was born in 1994.

     After working eight years as a criminal justice youth counselor, Crespo joined the Los Angeles County Probation Department. In 2001, he and his family resided in the Vinos la Campana condominium complex in Bell Gardens, a suburban community of 43,000 18 miles southeast of Los Angeles. That year he was elected to the city council.

     In Bell Gardens, the city counsel is part time and members take turns serving as mayor. In 2014 Daniel Crespo held the office of Bell Gardens mayor. Over the past five years Crespo worked in the probation department's adult supervision gang/narcotics unit. As a criminal justice practitioner and city office holder, Crespo was considered friendly and well-liked. He also had the reputation of being a devoted family man.

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday September 30, 2014, paramedics were called to the Crespo dwelling. The emergency crew found Daniel Sr. in the second floor master bedroom with three bullets in his upper torso. He died en route to a nearby hospital. His 19-year-old son, Daniel Jr, was taken to a hospital where a doctor treated him as an outpatient for facial injuries sustained in a fight.

     Later that day, Los Angeles County deputies questioned Lyvette and her son at a sheriff's station. According to Lyvette, she and her husband had been arguing in the master bedroom. When their son tried to intervene on her behalf, he and his father got into a fight. She left the room and returned with the handgun she used to shoot her husband three times.

     Following police interrogations of the mother and son, the two went home. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office announced that investigators would present the results of their investigation of the Crespo shooting case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. Personnel within that office would determine if there was sufficient evidence to charge Lyvette Crespo and/or her son with criminal homicide.
   
     Two days after the shooting, Eber Bayona, Lyvette Crespo's attorney, described her to the media as a devoted wife and mother who had been the victim of "a difficult and intolerable home life." Attorney Bayona said, "I think the evidence will corroborate that she has been a victim of domestic violence for many years."

     William Crespo, the shooting victim's brother, told reporters that the attorney was simply trying to make his brother look bad. "My brother is not a bad man," he said. William went on to say that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office should prosecute Lyvette Crespo for second-degree murder. When asked by a reporter if it were true that Daniel Crespo was having an affair with a woman who was pregnant, William Crespo did not answer the question. He did say that his brother was considering leaving his wife.

     In December 2016, following an extensive criminal investigation that revealed that Daniel Crespo had for years physically abused his wife and his son, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman allowed Lyvette Crespo to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

     On January 20, 2017, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy sentenced Lyvette Crespo to 90 days in jail and five years probation. While the so-called battered wife syndrome is not recognized as an admissible homicide defense, it is relevant in terms of prosecutorial discretion and sentencing.
   

Please, No More Harry Potter Imitations

For writers, the Harry Potter effect has been twofold. On the one hand, it has been encouraging. The increased sales of children's books have been good for them, and there's more of a sense of value for children's books. But the downside to this has been that a lot of people have thought, I could write Harry Potter. They must be looking for another Harry Potter. It is so untrue. I will go on record as saying we won't see another Harry Potter for fifty years.

David Levithan in Agents, Editors, and You edited by Michelle Howry, 2002 

The Forensic Psychologist

My forensic workup is a good deal more intensive than that of most other forensic psychologists, but anything less would not satisfy my standard for formulating an opinion "with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty," which is what New York's insanity defense statute calls for. What goes on in the mind of a murderer at the moment of his crime will always remain unknowable. But I believe it is my professional mandate to make the most thorough, informed, and educated judgment I can. [Critics of this branch of psychology would call it an educated guess.]

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Thornton P. Knowles On Common Sense

In the United States, we are living in an era where common sense, pushed aside by irrational, magical thinking, is no longer common. There will always be people who are simply stupid, but a population of intelligent people who are unwilling or unable to think straight promises a dark future for them and their country. Anyone with common sense would know that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Alton Alexander Nolen Beheading Murder Case

     The 911 call came in at four-thirty in the afternoon on Thursday September 25, 2014 from an employee of the Vaughn Foods distribution warehouse in Moore, Oklahoma ten miles south of Oklahoma City. The emergency caller, not speaking to the dispatcher, said, "Shut the doors!" Then to the dispatcher said, "We have someone attacking someone in the building. Can you hear this in the background? That's a gunshot."

     When they entered the Vaughn Foods building, officers with the Moore Police Department encountered a bloody scene of horrific violence. Coleen Hufford, a 54-year-old employee, had been repeatedly stabbed then beheaded. Traci Johnson, a fellow employee, had been stabbed as well but was still alive. Alton Alexander Nolen, the 30-year-old man wielding the knife, had been shot once. He was alive but unconscious.

     Earlier that afternoon, after being fired from the food processing and distribution plant, Alton Nolen left the building in a huff, climbed into his car, and drove erratically around the company parking lot. With a knife in hand, he re-entered the facility through the main entrance. Nolen walked through the front office into the shipping area then into the customer service office. There he encountered Colleen Hufford and Traci Johnson, employees who he had no reason to hate or punish.

     Mark Vaughn, the corporation's chief operating officer, rushed to the scene armed with a rifle. He arrived too late to save Colleen Hufford and almost didn't get there in time for Traci Johnson. Before Nolen had the chance to behead his second victim, Mr. Vaughn shot and wounded him.

     Alton Nolen was not a stranger to the local law enforcement community. In the evening of October 1, 2010, while accompanied by his 29-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old son, he was driving his white Chevrolet Impala on Oklahoma Highway 33. State Trooper Betsy Randolph pulled him over after she noticed that Nolen's paper license plate looked like a fake. The officer received confirmation of this after she radioed-in the plate number.

     Nolen, when asked by Trooper Randolph to produce his driver's license, said he didn't have it with him. "Do you have a valid driver's license," she asked.

     "No," he replied.

     Seated next to the trooper in the patrol car parked along the curb on a residential street, Nolen said that he didn't want to go back to jail, and denied having outstanding warrants for his arrest. When the officer entered his name and date of birth into her computer, she knew he had lied. There were several outstanding warrants for Nolen's arrest including one for failing to appear in court on a cocaine charge. The trooper had no choice but to take Nolen into custody.

     Trooper Randolph, after cuffing Nolen's right hand, ran into resistance as he tried to call his girlfriend on his cellphone. As the officer reached for her expandable baton, Nolen pushed her away and jumped out of the police vehicle. The trooper chased Nolen on foot but lost him amid a group of houses in the neighborhood.

     Following a 12-hour manhunt that included a helicopter, police dogs, and officers from four law enforcement agencies, the police took Alton Nolen into custody. A local prosecutor charged him with assault and battery on a police officer and escape from detention.

     Early in 2011, following a plea deal, the judge sentenced Nolen to six years on the cocaine offense, two years for escaping police custody, and two years for assaulting Trooper Randolph. Although he faced up to ten years behind bars, he only served 18 months in prison and six months in a halfway  house.

     While in prison Nolen converted to Islam. In April 2013, a month after leaving the halfway house, he began posting messages on Facebook under the name Jah Keem Yisrael. His postings were clearly anti-American. He ran  photographs of Osama bin Laden and the burning trade towers. He also had several Muslim Facebook friends from the U.S., England, and the Middle East.

     Prior to losing his job at the Moore, Oklahoma food processing plant Nolen tried to covert fellow employees to Islam.

     On Saturday September 27, 2014, detectives questioned Nolen after he had regained consciousness. He was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault. Until investigators determined the principal motive for the beheading--anger at being fired or striking a terroristic blow against America--the attacks on these innocent women would be handled as a criminal matter. For many, the fact that Nolen was a militant Muslim who beheaded a woman was enough to justify treating the murder as an act of terrorism.

     In May 2016, Nolen offered to plead guilty to first-degree murder. He said he wanted to be executed by lethal injection. Judge Lori Walkey rejected the defendant's guilty plea and ordered a hearing to determine Nolen's mental competency.

     In August 2016, a prosecution psychologist testified that Alton Nolen had a personality disorder and was therefore not psychotic. A neuropsychologist for the defense testified that Nolen was a schizophrenic with a "thought disorder."

     At the conclusion of the mental competency hearing, Judge Walkey rejected Nolen's guilty plea. This meant that instead of death row, Nolen would be incarcerated in a mental institution.

     On September 11, 2017, Nolen, having been ruled mentally competent, went on trial for murder. The jury, on September 30, after two hours of deliberation, found him guilty of first-degree murder. Judge Lori Walkley, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced him to death by lethal injection.

Violent Male Stalkers in Japan

     In the United States, the act of stalking constitutes a crime in every state, and if committed interstate, can also be prosecuted as a federal offense. Criminal stalking is generally defined as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact or any course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause fear in a reasonable person. America, with about three million reported cases a year, is the stalking capital of the world. Two-thirds of these cases involve female victims stalked by ex-boyfriends, former spouses, co-workers, or social acquaintances. While men are stalked, this is primarily a crime against women.

     A high percentage of stalkers are compulsive, paranoid types motivated by anger and revenge. While the FBI doesn't keep track of how many women are murdered by these sociopaths, it's safe to estimate that every year stalkers kill more than 100 women. Because all stalkers are potentially dangerous, this is an extremely serious crime, a fact now recognized by the American law enforcement community.

     As a pattern of deviant behavior, stalking in Japan first attracted national attention in 1998 when a famous kabuki actor named Ennosuke Ichikawa won a restraining order against an overzealous fan. The stalker, however, was not charged with a crime. (In America, stalking is a fact of celebrity life.)

     In the spring of 1999, Shiori Ino, after breaking up with her boyfriend, filed a harassment case against him with the Saitama police in Ageo. Kazuhito Komatsu, the subject of the complaint, his brother, and two of their friends had been following and heckling Ino. They had also been distributing lewd and defamatory flyers about her. After the police refused to investigate Ino's allegations, she filed a formal internal affairs complain charging these officers with police negligence. (Later, through the use of falsified documents, the Saitama police tried to deny that Ino had filed a complaint against her ex-boyfriend.)

     On October 6, 1999, Kazuhito Komatsu, in broad daylight, stabbed Shiori Ino to death outside a train station in Saitama Prefecture. The police, under intense public criticism for ignoring Ino's case, argued that since stalking was not a crime in Japan, there was nothing they could have done to prevent the murder. (Stalking, at the time, was a crime in just one of Japan's 47 prefectural governments.) Komatsu took his own life several months after the murder. Shiori Ino's parents filed a civil lawsuit charging the Saitama officers with police negligence and intentional wrongdoing. (In 2003, the court awarded the family 5.5 million yen.)

     In 2000, 17-year-old Maki Otake broke up with her boyfriend who refused to leave her alone. In April of that year, after a week of stalking Otake, the ex-boyfriend stabbed her 34 times as she parked her bicycle outside her school. The case drew the attention of the national media and put pressure on Japan's politicians and law enforcement agencies to recognize stalking as a serious crime against women. Otake's stalker was later convicted of murder. By 2000, five of Japan's prefectural governments had enacted anti-stalking laws.

     In November 2000, in reaction to the Shiori Ino and Maki Otake murder cases, legislators in Japan's central government passed a law making stalking a national crime. Notwithstanding this new law, the police in the country were reluctant to treat stalking as a serious criminal offense. In many jurisdictions, officers, unwilling to get involved in what they considered trivial personal disputes, refused to investigate stalking complaints.

     In 2010, 38-year-old Eto Ozutsumi began sending 30-year-old Rie Miyoski threatening emails. He repeatedly sent her messages that read: "I am definitely going to kill you." Over a period of months, Ozutsumi sent Miyoski more than a thousand unwanted emails. The Tokyo couple hadn't dated since 2006. Miyoshi filed a complaint with the police, and in early 2011, married another man and moved with him to Zushi in the Kanagawa Prefecture. Her stalker did not know her married name, or where she lived. She changed her email address, and the stalking finally stopped.

     In June 2011, when the police arrested Ozutsumi on charges of stalking, an officer, in reading out loud from the arrest warrant, revealed the victim's married name and her new address. After Ozutsumi pleaded guilty to the stalking charge, the judge sentenced him to probation. About a year later, this man showed up at his former stalking victim's apartment in Zushi and stabbed her to death.

     In the wake of the Rie Miyoski murder, women's rights advocates and others in Japan were outraged over this official indifference to the crime of stalking and its victims. In Japan, police attitudes concerning crimes agains women have been slow to change,

     Between the years 2004 and 2014, reports of stalking in Japan increased ten-fold. Notwithstanding Japan's tough anti-stalking legislation passed in 2011, the problem of the violent male stalker continued to affect thousands of female victims, many of whom were eventually murdered. According to reports, violent stalking in Japan had become a crime problem of epidemic proportions. 

Thornton P. Knowles on the College English Department

The ability to craft beautiful sentences is useless without something interesting to write about. This is why most university English departments are essentially mental wards staffed by angry, depressed, and sometimes delusional professors who have contempt for their students, their fellow teachers, and themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

The Demand for Nonfiction

 For every short story that's published, perhaps a hundred nonfiction pieces are published as well--in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, books, online publications, and a variety of other media. For every new novel that released, book publishers release fifteen to twenty nonfiction titles--from memoirs to textbooks to auto repair manuals. And for every successful poet or scriptwriter in the country, there are probably forty or fifty successful writers of nonfiction. [I didn't know there were that many successful poets.]

Scott Edelstein, 100 Things Every Writer Should Know, 1999

     

Friday, March 29, 2019

Miranda and Elytte Barbour: The Craigslist Killers

     Of all the motives behind premeditated murder, killing for the fun of watching someone die reflects a degree of evil that's inhuman. People who kill for the thrill of it are as dangerous as they are diabolical. Because these murderers are incapable of comprehending why normal people consider them monsters, they are beyond the reach of psychology, psychiatry, and anger management. To not execute these murderers constitutes, in itself, a crime against civilization. For born killers, there should be no mercy.

     Elytte Barbour and his 18-year-old wife Miranda resided in Selingsgrove, an eastern Pennsylvania town 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. On October 22, 2013, after moving to Pennsylvania from North Carolina, the couple got married. Through various Internet sites, Miranda offered her services to lonely men looking for female companionship. For fees that ranged from $50 to $850, she would make herself available for conversation over dinner or during a walk around a shopping mall. Sex was not part of the deal. (Her claim.)

     On November 11, 2013, Miranda, through one of her escort postings on Craigslist, offered to meet Troy LaFerrara at the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selingsgrove. That night, the 42-year-old from Port Trevorton parked his Chevy S-10 pickup in the mall lot and got into a 2001 Honda driven by Miranda Barbour. Unbeknownst to Mr. LaFerrara, Miranda's 22-year-old husband Elytte was hidden in the SUV behind the front seat.

     Miranda drove from Selinsgrove toward the nearby town of Sunbury. At some point she pulled off the road and came to a stop. Elytte rose up from behind the seat and wrapped a cord around Mr. LaFerrara's neck. With her passenger choking and grasping for air, Miranda got back onto the road and continued driving toward Sunbury.

     In Sunbury, Miranda pulled to a stop and grabbed a knife from between the front seats. With Mr. LaFerrara still being strangled by Elytte, Miranda stabbed the dying man twenty times. After taking the dead man's wallet (but not his cellphone), the lethal couple dumped his corpse in a residential alley.

     From the dump site, the Barbours drove to a department store where they purchased cleaning supplies. Once they had removed the victim's blood from the Honda, Miranda and Elytte drove to a strip club in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where they celebrated his birthday.

     The day following the LaFerrara murder, November 12, 2013, the occupant of a house whose backyard reached out to the alley, discovered Troy LaFerrara's body. Investigators, from the victim's cellphone, acquired the lead that eventually led them to the married killers.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, police officers took the couple into custody for the LaFerrara murder. According to Miranda, she had stabbed her passenger after he groped her. She claimed that after she had stabbed LeFerrara four times she "blacked out." As a result, she had no memory of what took place in the immediate aftermath of the killing. (Psychopaths, because they lack insight and empathy, are lousy liars.)

     Elytte Barbour confessed fully to the cold-blooded murder of a complete stranger. He told his interrogators that he and Miranda had planned to "murder someone together."

     Dr. Rameen Starling-Romey performed the LaFerrara autopsy at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. According to the forensic pathologist, LaFerrara had died from multiple sharp force trauma.

     While the Barbours were in custody without bail, investigators were looking into the possibility that Mr. LaFerrara was not their first murder victim.

     In February 2014, Miranda Barbour, in an interview with a reporter with the Daily Item, a newspaper in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, claimed to have murdered at least 22 people in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina, and California over the past six years. That meant she started killing when when she was thirteen. According to Barbour, the killing started when she joined a satanic cult in Alaska before moving to North Carolina.

     Sunbury police chief Steve Mazzeo told reporters that his detectives had been in contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in those states.

     A judge, in February 2014, granted the defense attorney's request to have Miranda Barbour evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist. Her husband Elytte had already been examined by a court-appointed mental health expert. Investigators were skeptical regarding Miranda Barbour's claim to be a teenage serial killer. Why didn't she tell her police interrogators about these murders? If she was lying about this, she was either delusional or perhaps setting up an insanity defense. Where were the bodies?

     In a second, March 2014 interview with the reporter with The Daily Item, Miranda Barbour claimed that before the murder of Troy LaFerrara, two other targeted victims escaped death when they failed to respond to her offer of female companionship.

     In May 2014, Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor ruled that prosecutors could seek the death penalty in this case. Miranda Barbour's court appointed attorney, Ed Greco, had asked the judge to take the death penalty off the table.

     In August 2014, to avoid the death penalty, the Barbours pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the killing of Troy LaFerrara. In September, Judge Saylor sentenced the couple to life in prison without parole.

     Holly LaFerrara, in her victim impact statement after the judge handed down the sentences, said, "If it was up to me you would each be strapped to a lethal injection gurney or seated in an electric chair. I say you both got off lucky today…You were bad enough to do the crime. Now let's see how you like doing the time. Lots and lots of time. There aren't many guarantees in life, but you can take this one to the bank. My family and I will make sure you stay in jail, right where you belong."

     The authorities came to the conclusion that Miranda Barbour had lied about the other killings. 

A Court Psychiatrist's View of the Insanity Defense

     The disorganized psychotic and the clear-thinking psychopath, though at opposite ends of the diagnostic spectrum, are both psychologically incomplete; and both kill for highly personal, insular reasons to which their victims make little contribution....

     Unlike true criminals, such killers make little effort to control their offenses--invariably committed at a time when their minds are beyond such precautions, and in a fashion ensuring their detection and capture. [Not always.] Subsequently they talk freely to arresting officers and almost always make full confessions. Their only remaining shield--and it is an appropriate one--is a plea of insanity. ["Appropriate" defense? Most juries disagree.]

     By contrast, the true criminal favors stealth, denial, alibis, and his right to remain silent. [Not always, particularly if caught red-handed.] He eschews the insanity defense as no defense at all because it requires as a first prerequisite an admission of guilt. [It also requires insanity.] In short, the insanity defense is neither intended for nor desired by the inveterate offender. It exists so that the law can distinguish those whose criminality warrants its most crushing vengeance from those whose relative psychological innocence mandates that society's interests be best served by their diversion into a mental health system. [What mental health system?]

Martin Blinder, M. D., Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985

     

Jail Versus Prison

Jail is the place where people awaiting trial are detained or where those convicted of minor offenses (usually those calling for detention of thirty days or under) are kept. Prison is a facility for housing those found guilty of major crimes…Prison is another term for penitentiary. 

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

Thornton P. Knowles On Growing Old

Some day a scientist will discover how to make people invisible. Until then, the closest thing we have to human invisibility is old age.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Nicolas Holzer Mass Murder Case

     Some of the most disturbing and puzzling murder cases are ones that, even from the killer's point of view, make no sense. The good-boy Eagle scout who murders his parents in their sleep or guns down teachers and students at his school falls into this category. A young mother who drowns her baby in the bathtub or a longtime employee who shows up at work one day with mass murder on his mind, are cases that defy understanding.

     Out-of-the-blue murders committed by noncriminal types who didn't exhibit symptoms of mental illness are frightening because they can't be predicted and therefore prevented. The murderers in these cases simply blindside their victims. Such cases are insidious in their straightforward banality. The feeling they create is this: no place is safe and no one can be trusted. We are all in danger.

     In 2004, after he and his wife Juana were divorced, Nicolas Holzer gained custody of his two sons who were one and three-years-old. Three years later, Holzer and the boys moved into his parents' house in Goleta, California, a town of 30,000 ten miles northwest of Santa Barbara.

     Just after elven o'clock on the night of Monday, August 11, 2014, 45-year-old Nicolas Holzer called 911 and without emotion informed the dispatcher that he had just killed his family.

     When deputies with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office rolled up to the Holzer house on Walnut Park Lane not far from the University of California at Santa Barbara, they were met at the front door by the composed but bloodstained 911 caller.

     Inside the dwelling deputies discovered the blood-covered bodies of William Holzer, 73, Sheila Holzer, 74, and their two grandsons, Vincent, 10 and Sebastian who was thirteen. They had been stabbed to death by a pair of large kitchen knives.

     A calm and collected Nicolas Holzer informed the officers that he first murdered his father in the den. He then stabbed the boys to death as they slept in their beds. He said he killed his mother last. Officers found her body lying in the hallway outside the boys' bedroom.

     When asked why he had wiped-out his family, Holzer simply said, "I had to." He added that in killing them he had fulfilled what he believed was his destiny. This, of course, makes no sense whatsoever.

     Also dead in the house was the family pet, an Australian Shepherd.

     The Holzer residence had not been visited in the past by police officers responding to domestic violence calls. And detectives, at least in the initial stage of the investigation, found no evidence of prior mental illness.

     Charged with four counts of first-degree murder, Nicolas Holzer was held in the Santa Barbara County Jail without bond. Because California had recently abolished the death sentence, Mr. Holzer, if convicted as charged, faced life behind bars. His attorney, a month after the killings, said he planned to plead his client not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Holzer's ex-wife Juana, in August 2016, filed a wrongful death suit against the mass murder suspect.

     In August 2018, a jury in Santa Barbara County found Nicolas Holzer guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing, Holzer's attorney said, "Nicolas Holzer is not evil or heatless and he loved his family very much, but when his delusional beliefs escalated they overtook his ability to be rational.

     The judge sentenced Holzer to four life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Troy James Knapp: Utah's "Mountain Man Burglar"

     In 1986, when he was 28, Troy James Knapp went to prison in Kalamazoo, Michigan for burglary and related offenses. Knapp pleaded guilty to destroying property in 1994 while living in Salt Lake City. Two years later, police in Seattle arrested him on the charge of stalking and harassment. In 2002, after serving two years in a California prison for burglary, Knapp left the state in violation of his parole.

     In 2007, the wilderness survivalist (he survived on other people's stuff) lived in the mountains of southern Utah. In the summers he stole food and gear from cabins in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties, and moved from one campsite to the next. During the winter months Knapp lived in the cabins he burglarized in the summer. The owners would return to their seasonal dwellings to find bullet holes in the walls and doors. Knapp also left notes with messages like: "Pack up and leave. Get off my mountain." (If everyone had packed up and left, Knapp would have starved.)

     Between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties charged Knapp with 13 felony burglary crimes and 5 misdemeanor offenses. Because of the remoteness of Knapp's break-ins and the fact he kept on the move, he had eluded capture for more than five years.

     In late February 2013, a man hunting with his son in Sanpete County crossed paths with Knapp about 125 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Aware they had conversed with the mountain man burglar, the father notified the authorities.

     A few days after speaking with the hunters 9,000 feet up on a mountain near Ferron Reservoir in the central part of the state, forty police officers and a law enforcement helicopter closed in on the fugitive as he trudged through three feet of snow. After firing fifteen rifle shots at the helicopter, Knapp surrendered to the small army of approaching lawmen.

     When taken into custody, Knapp possessed an assault rifle and a handgun. He was booked into the Sanpete County Jail without bond. An Assistant United States Attorney in Utah charged Knapp with several federal firearms offenses.

     In April 2014, pursuant to an arranged plea bargain, Knapp pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the use of a firearm during a crime of violence. At his sentence hearing on June 9, 2014, federal court judge Ted Stewart handed down the mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison.

     Knapp's attorney, in addressing the court, said, "There's an admiration for somebody who chooses to live off the land, because he does it while the rest of us wouldn't. Even if he needs a little help from some cabin owners."

     Sanpete County prosecutor Brody Keisel had a different take on the case. He told reporters after the federal sentencing that Knapp was nothing more than a "common crook." Knapp had agreed to plead guilty to the burglary charges filed against him in the seven Utah counties. According to those plea deals, he faced fifteen years in each county, the sentences to run together.

Your Memoir Should Not Be All About You

The subject of your memoir cannot be you. Not you all alone, anyway. A memoir must be about you and something--and that something should usually be your relationship to something interesting and bigger than yourself. With a memoir, until you have found a genuine subject, you will have nothing at all--because "you" are not a subject. Neither are "you" a story.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Thornton P. Knowles On False Hope

Never tell a young, would-be writer that he or she has great potential. That is the kiss of death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Congressman Alan Grayson: The He Said/She Said Domestic Violence Case

     Alan Mark Grayson grew up in the Bronx, New York. In 1975 he graduated from the city's prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Four years later Harvard University awarded Grayson a Bachelor's degree in economics. He also acquired a law degree from Harvard, and a Master's degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. By any standard Grayson is a well-educated and erudite man. He is also a reminder that you can't tell a book by its cover.

     In 1991, Mr. Grayson founded the Grayson and Kubli law firm in Washington, D.C. His practice of law in Washington made him a multi-millionare. After serving in the Florida State legislature, Grayson, in 2008, was elected to his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the 9th congressional district of Florida, a solidly Democrat district covering Osceola County and parts of Orange and Polk Counties in the central part of the state.

     In 2010, Grayson lost his re-election bid to Daniel Webster. But two years later he regained his seat in congress by defeating a Republican named Todd Long. True to his reputation as a gutter campaigner, Grayson unnecessarily highlighted information in his opponent's divorce file in which Long's wife described her husband as "abusive and manipulative."

     Grayson, a large, intimidating, heavy-featured man with a resemblance to Huey P. Long, Jr., the corrupt U.S. Senator from Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935, quickly attracted attention in the national media with his over-the-top attacks on Republicans. (This made him the darling of the so-called mainstream media.) Speaking in the well of the House of Representatives, he accused opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) as wanting old people to die, and die quickly.

     In January 2014, Lolita Carlson-Grayson, after being married to the bellicose politician for 24 years, filed for divorce. After the divorce filing, the congressman moved out of their home near Windermere, Florida. Grayson and his wife have five children.

     On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Lolita Grayson called 911 to report an incident of domestic violence involving her estranged husband. She had been about to take their twin 8-year-old boys on a play date when he showed up at the house unannounced. She told the dispatcher that she wanted deputies to arrest Alan because he had been unfaithful to her. The dispatcher asked Mrs. Grayson if her husband hurt her physically. "Um, no," she said. "I pushed him because he's coming into the house and he's disturbing my peace."

     To deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Lolita accused her husband of assault. According to Lolita's version of the events, he had come by the house to pick up his mail and some vitamins. This led to an argument outside of the dwelling. (A congressional aide, a witness, was sitting in Grayson's car at the time.)

     Lolita Grayson told the police officers that Alan pushed her against the front door of the house. As a result of the push, she fell to the ground. During the scuffle, as an act of self defense, Lolita kneed her husband in the stomach. When he drove off with his aide, she called 911.

     On Monday, March 3, 2014, Mrs. Grayson's attorney filed a petition with an Orange County Circuit Judge for a temporary protection injunction against her husband. In the affidavit in support of the request, Lolita alleged that Alan Grayson had assaulted her in the past, crimes she had not reported. Her attorney submitted photographs depicting recent bruises on the petitioner's leg and shoulder. The judge granted Mrs. Grayson a temporary protection order.

     On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, the Orlando Sentinal broke the Grayson domestic violence story. Congressman Grayson's spokesperson, Lauren Doney, released a damage control statement making it clear that the congressman denied his wife's "frivolous" allegations referred to as "outright lies."

     Doney insisted that after Lolita Grayson attacked her husband, he retreated from the scene. According to the spokesperson, "Since filing for divorce, Mrs. Grayson's behavior has become increasingly erratic, and she had demonstrated her alarming disconnect from reality. Mr. Grayson is deeply concerned by her recent behavior and is profoundly pained by her accusations." In other words, the woman is crazy.

     The next day, one of the congressman's attorneys, Mark NeJame, released to the media a videotape (without the sound) of the incident recorded by Grayson's Director of Constituent Services, Juan Lopez. The footage, shot from the congressman's car, shows Grayson and his wife arguing outside the house. While the video doesn't show him doing anything violent, the couple are off-camera for four seconds or so. When they are back in the frame, Lolita is seen pushing or striking her husband.

     To reporters, attorney NeJame said, "Alan was hoping that this matter would stay in the courts and outside the press, but since horrendous accusations have been made against him…he believes that the truth must come out. The attorney attributed Mrs. Grayson's bruises to her Taekwondo classes and blood thinners.

     Mr. NeJame distributed a statement written by the couple's 18-year-old daughter Skye Grayson that read: "At no time did my father hit or push my mother. In fact, my father backed away from my mother when she became physically aggressive." (On November 26, 2013, sheriff deputies arrested Skye Grayson on accusations she had thrown household objects at her mother. According to the criminal complaint, Skye had also pushed her mother, and when Lolita tried to call 911, her daughter ripped the phone cord out of the wall.)

     On March 5, 2014, a spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff's Office announced that no charges would be filed against the congressman. A week later, Mrs. Grayson withdrew her petition for a permanent domestic violence injunction. The case was over, but not before some unwanted publicity for the congressman. Once you enter national politics there is no such thing as a private life.

     In May 2016, Grayson married Dr. Dena Minning, his third wife. That year she ran tor the U.S. House seat he vacated to run for the U.S. Senate. They both lost.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On The Career Politician

The founding fathers envisioned the volunteer, temporary public servant who traveled to Washington, D.C. to serve the country. They probably didn't fully foresee career politicians scheming their way to our national capital to serve themselves at the expense of the country. If the American people do not rise up and put a stop to this governmental corruption the American dream will turn into the American nightmare. We should demand term limits and laws that force ex-politicians into parts of the private sector that do not conduct business with government. Unfortunately, I think it's already too late for that. We have lost control.

Thornton P. Knowles


The Celebrity Author

For some reason, celebrity authors always assume that the hard part of writing is the thinking, whereas the truth, as every professional writer knows, is that the actual writing is what hurts--thinking comes easy, by comparison, and nothing exists until it has been put down on paper.

Michael Korda, Another Life, 1999

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Christie Lynn Mullins Murder Case

     Christie Lynn Mullins resided with her parents on a residential street on the north side of Columbus, the central Ohio capital of the state. At one-thirty in the afternoon of Saturday, August 23, 1975, the 14-year-old and her girlfriend of the same age were walking to the Woolco Department Store located in the Graceland Shopping Center a few blocks from their homes.

     Mullins' girlfriend had received a telephone call from a man who claimed to be a disc jockey at a local radio station. According to this man, the radio station was sponsoring a cheerleading contest to be held at the department store at one-forty-five that afternoon. The winner of the event would be awarded a free pass to the Ohio State Fair. The girls were to wait for the man outside the store.

     When the girls arrived at the Woolco Department Store, Mullins' companion went inside the place to get the time. When she walked back outside, Christie Mullins was gone. The friend waited twenty minutes before going to another friend's house.

     At two o'clock that afternoon, a man and his wife were walking in a wooded area behind the Woolco store between the shopping center and the Olentangy River. The couple spotted a man hitting something on the ground with a two-by-four board. Realizing he had been seen, the man ran off. When the man and his wife walked to the spot in question to investigate, they found the partially clad body of a girl who had been bludgeoned to death.

     The local medical examiner identified the murdered girl as Christie Mullins. Her hands had been tied with telephone wire and she had been raped.

     The couple who discovered the body provided the police with a detailed description of the man they had seen at the crime scene. A few days later, police officers arrested a man walking on the sidewalk in downtown Columbus. The suspect, a man named John Carman, did not fit the couple's description of the man at the crime scene. Moreover, Mr. Carman suffered from severe mental retardation.

     Following an intense grilling at the police station, John Carman confessed to killing Christie Mullins. Soon after that he agreed to plead guilty to kidnapping, rape, and murder. A judge sentenced him to life in prison. But shortly after his imprisonment, the case became controversial when the public learned that the suspect possessed the mental age of a ten-year-old. The judge, a week after the story broke, appointed Mr. Carman a new defense attorney who immediately petitioned the court to allow his client to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge granted the motion.

     Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the guilty plea, the state went forward with its case against Mr. Carman. In December 1977, John Carman went on trial for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Christie Mullins. During the week-long trial, the prosecutor put a surprise witness on the stand. The so-called eyewitness to the crime, Henry Newell Jr., was at the time serving a stretch in prison for burning down his own home. The arson occurred about a year after Christie Mullins' murder.

     According to the prosecution's star witness, the 27-year-old had seen the defendant kill the victim behind the department store. Newell testified that after John Carman fled the crime scene, he, Newell, covered the dead girl's face with his shirt. He also said he had touched the board used to bludgeon the victim to death.

     After the defense attorney thoroughly discredited Henry Newell on cross-examination, he put several witnesses on the stand who testified that at the time of the murder the defendant was on the other side of the city.

     The jury, after a short deliberation, found John Carman not guilty on all charges. The jurors found the alibi witnesses credible and suspected that the real killer was Henry Newell Jr. The jurors also believed that the defendant did not have the mental capacity to commit such a brutal murder.

     Notwithstanding the outcome of the murder trial and the belief by most people familiar with the case that Henry Newell Jr. had kidnapped, raped and murdered Christie Mullins, the police insisted that the jury had let a man guilty of an heinous crime go free.

     Henry Newell Jr. died in 2013 of cancer at the age of 63. By then, cold case homicide investigators with the Columbus Police Department had come to the conclusion that Newell had indeed committed the crime and that the police at the time had horribly bungled the investigation. Before he died, Newell confessed to several people that he had murdered the girl.

     On November 6, 2015, Columbus police sergeant Eric Pilya, the head of the cold case unit, announced at a press conference that the detectives who worked on the case originally, now both deceased, had used "improper investigative techniques." Sergeant Pilya said he wanted to "formally and publicly apologize" to Christie Mullins' family who for years insisted that Henry Newell was the guilty party. 

Forensic Entomology

     Not until the 1980s would an American entomologist add the line "Forensic Consultant" to his curriculum vitae. Yet, whenever modern-day forensic entomologists step before an audience--be it a jury, college class, or a room full of homicide detectives--they invariably introduce their science as "ancient," nearly 800 years old. They trace its first known use to a tale of murder by slashing recorded in Sung Tz'u's thirteenth-century Chinese detective manual, Hsi Yuan Chi Lu (The Washing Away of Wrongs).

     On a sweltering afternoon, a group of farmers returning from their fields outside a small Chinese village found the slashed and bloodied body of a neighbor by the roadside. Fearing bandits, they sent for the provincial death investigator, who arrived to convene an official inquest. "Robbers merely want men to die so that they can take their valuables," he informed the gathered crowd. "Now the personal effects are there, while the body bears many wounds. If this is not a case of being killed by a hateful enemy, then what is it?" Nonetheless, questioning the victim's wife revealed no known enemies, at worst some hard feelings with a neighbor to whom her husband owed money. On hearing this, the official ordered everyone in the neighborhood to bring their farm sickles for examination, warning that any hidden sickle would be considered a confession to murder. Within an hour, the detective had seventy to eighty blades laid before him on the town square. "The weather was hot," Sung Tz'u notes. "And the flies flew about and gathered on one sickle," presumably attracted by invisible traces of flesh and blood.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001

Who Assassinated Huey P. Long?

     The assassination of a political figure is most often executed by persons who seemingly have nothing to lose by their actions. Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, and James Earl Ray, the assassins of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., respectively, fit neatly into this category of down-and-outers. But Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, reputedly the assassin of Louisiana senator Huey P. Long, was not of that mold.

     Instead he is a rarity among proved or purported assassins--a medical doctor. He is the only physician in history to be an accused assassin. To add further mystery to this case, at the age of twenty-nine he had a flourishing medical practice in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as a wife and three-month-old son to grace a promising life. He was not overly involved in politics.

     In addition, he gave no indication on the day of the assassination [September 10, 1935] to anyone who knew him that he was about to do something so dramatic--and certainly suicidal, as well as humiliating for his family. He'd been on a family outing and had just ordered new furniture for his home. Yet despite these nagging questions, this case has been closed with the popular conviction, spurred by police efforts to close the file and by a popular enthusiasm to follow the police lead, that Weiss was indeed an assassin. Yet was he? [Dr. Starrs, based on the forensic firearms identification evidence, believes that Senator Long was accidentally shot to death by his body guards, the men who also shot Dr. Weiss to death that night in the Louisiana State House.]

James E. Starrs (with Katherine Ramsland) A Voice for the Dead, 2005

Criminal Investigation as a Thinking Person's Game

My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere..I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession--or rather created it--for I am the only one in the world."

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Sign of Four."  

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Nicholas Helman Ricin Case: Beware of the Jilted Nerd

     In 2013, 19-year-old Nicholas Helman lived with his mother in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a town of 8,000 in Montgomery County within the Philadelphia metropolitan area. One of the young man's neighbors in the Eleanor Courts apartment complex described Nicholas as the kid you went to school with for twelve years but don't remember.

     Helman, a quiet, unassuming Eagle Scout, worked at the Target store in Warrington, Pennsylvania. He also spent a lot of time searching for geocaches--objects that are hidden and can be found through GPS coordinates posted on the Internet. Casual acquaintances thought that Helman was much younger than nineteen.

     In the summer of 2013, Helman met a young woman his age at an Eagle Scout picnic. They began dating and he fell in love. When she left him for another man in November 2013, the devastated Helman began sending threatening emails to the new boyfriend. When the object of his wrath brushed off his threats, Helman decided to poison his competitor to death. This was not behavior befitting an Eagle Scout.

     On March 7, 2014, Helman confided in a fellow Target employee that he had just placed an envelope in his rival's mailbox that contained a scratch-and-sniff birthday card laced with ricin, a deadly poison. (Ricin is a protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal.) Helman bragged to his confidant that anyone who came into contact with his ricin would be dead in a few days.

     Helman identified his poison target as his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, a guy who lived in Warminster, a Bucks County town 40 miles north of Philadelphia. The shocked employee wasted no time in calling the police.

     Police officers, on the day Helman confided in his fellow worker, went to the Eleanor Courts apartment complex to question the suspect. Upon their arrival they arrested Helman as he tried to sneak off carrying a backpack and a piece of luggage.

     Under police questioning, Helman admitted that he had placed an envelope containing a birthday card in his rival's mailbox. He said his intent was to scare his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, not to hurt him. He was motivated by the desire to get the girl back. Helman claimed that the birthday card was harmless.

     Police officers found, in Helman's backpack, a white bottle labeled "sodium hydroxide" that contained a crystal-like powder. The suspect also possessed a recipe in a notebook that listed ingredients such as caster beans, sodium hydroxide, mixing materials, and other substances.

     Investigators telephoned the poison target's residence and spoke to his mother who said her daughter had just left the house to fetch the mail. The police caller instructed the mother to put the mail back into the box and wait for the police.

     Nicholas Helman was taken into custody and booked into the Montgomery County Jail on the charge of harassment. Shortly after the hazardous materials team retrieved the plain white envelope without a stamp, address, or return address, Helman posted his $50,000 bond and was released from custody.

     After toxicological testing confirmed that the birthday card contained ricin, a Bucks County prosecutor charged Nicholas Helman with attempted first-degree murder. On March 19, 2014, FBI agents and local police officers, backed up by a SWAT team, surrounded the Helman apartment. Following a two-hour standoff, the suspect surrendered to the authorities. A judge denied Helman bail pending a psychiatric evaluation.

     The next day, police officers found a stash of ricin tucked under a gas manhole cover in Hatboro not far from Helman's apartment.

     In November 2014, Nicholas Helman pleaded guilty to the attempted murder charge as well as the offenses of attempted aggravated assault and risking a catastrophe. In July 2015, Judge Alan Rubenstein sentenced the 21-year-old to twenty to forty years in prison. The judge called Helman's crime "extraordinary" and compared his behavior to that of a terrorist. "You are bright. You are articulate. You are responsive," said the judge. "But I don't think you appreciate the damage you have caused people very close to you."

     As deputies led Helman out of the courtroom in handcuffs, the prisoner wept as he said goodbye to family members.
     

A Good Life Is Not Necessarily A Good Story

How to begin? I had always shuddered at biographies that began, "It was a clear, cold morning in mid-December 1830, when the cry of a newborn baby broke the winter stillness." And once you begin, how to tell the story of a life that had no story?

Richard B. Sewall in Extra Ordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986

The Snow Blower As A Dangerous Weapon

     An on-going feud between two Arlington, Massachusetts neighbors in their early 60s got out of hand during Tuesday's [January 27, 2015] blizzard when one of the women attacked the other with a snow blower…Police responded to an assault call where they found a 60-year-old woman with cuts to her foot. The injured woman had taken out a harassment protection order against her neighbor, Barbara Davis, 61.

     Police officers arrested Davis for violation of the protection order and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon…Davis was held on $35,000 bond. The victim was treated for minor injuries.

"Arlington Woman Attacks Feuding Neighbor With Snow Blower," boston.com, January 27, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Who Can And Who Can't Write

I feel sorry for people who desperately want to be novelists but do not have the talent to pull it off. I can't imagine the agony, the frustration, the anger and eventually the depression. I've often wondered what is worse: a gifted novelist with writer's block or an untalented writer who can't stop writing. Like they say, it's a cruel world.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Ethan Estevez Sexuial Abuse/Murder Solicitation Case

     In August 2012, the Harford County Maryland School District hired 29-year-old Ethan Estevez to teach biology in the town of Aberdeen. The resident of Churchville, Maryland would teach alternative education students at the Center for Educational Opportunity. According to the center's website, "Alternative Education provides a continuation of educational services to students who may have experienced crises. This program also exists to meet the individual needs of those students who have dropped out of school or not have been successful in a traditional school environment."
   
      In February 2014, members of the center's teaching staff came to suspect that Estevez was engaged in a sexual relationship with a female student, a relationship that had been going on since September 2012 when the girl was fifteen. The girl had told some of her friends and her mother that she and the teacher had been involved romantically. The mother, along with teachers from the school, reported Estevez to the Harford County Sheriff's Office. 
     A few days after filing the criminal complaint against the teacher, the alleged victim's mother, with a detective listening in on the call, phoned Estevez and asked him if her daughter's allegations were true. Estevez explained that he and the girl were in love and planned to get married. (Estevez, however, already had a wife.) The teacher denied that he and the girl had engaged in anything beyond kissing.
    On March 7, 2014, a school administrator placed Estevez on administrative leave. A month after that, detectives searching the girl's iPhone came across a February 2014 text message to one of her friends that revealed a murder-for-hire plot involving Estevez as the mastermind and his wife as the target. The girl had written: "Like it has to look like an accident because of life insurance and stuff." In another text message, the girl said she "just needed it to really happen before Sunday." 
     Questioned about the text messages by detectives, the student claimed that the teacher never really intended to have his wife murdered. Yes, they had talked about it but he was just joking around. 
     On June 4, 2014, a Harford County grand jury indicted Ethan Estevez on charges of sexual abuse. On that day the head of the school district fired him. After a few hours in jail Estevez posted his bond and was released to await his trial.
 
     A month after Estevez's sexual abuse arrest, Harford County detectives questioned a girl who had exchanged text messages with the suspect's alleged student victim. According to the ex-teacher's student/girlfriend, he had initially spoke of making his wife's murder look like a hit-and-run accident. Later he changed the murder plan to have the hit man orchestrate a fake drive-by shooting outside of a restaurant. To make the hit look like a random crime and throw suspicion off himself, Estevez wanted the assassin to shoot him in the arm. (That was stupid because hit men are amateurs who don't shoot straight.) This girl also told detectives that her friend said the hit man would kill the teacher's wife for $600. 
     In August 2014, an assistant Harford County state's attorney charged Ethan Estevez with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. At the defendant's bail hearing, the prosecutor argued that the suspect posed a danger to the community and to his wife. District Court Judge David Carey said he could not ignore the seriousness of the charge. He said, however, that Mr. Estevez was entitled to bail which he set at $75,000. The next day the murder-for-hire and sexual abuse suspect posted his bond and walked out of the Harford County Jail.

     On June 4, 2014, Estevez was fired from his teaching position.

     In February 2015, the prosecutor in charge of the Estevez case dropped the murder solicitation charge in exchange for the former teacher's guilty plea to a fourth-degree sexual offense related to the student. Hartford County Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron sentenced Estevez to one year in the county jail. Pursuant to this lenient sentence, Estevez was deemed eligible for work release. (He had found a job at an insurance company.) The judge also sentenced Estevez to five years probation.   

Anthony Novellino: The Pig Mask Murder Case

     In 2010, after years of marriage, Anthony Novellino and his wife Judith, a teacher at Morris Catholic High School in Denville Township, New Jersey, couldn't stand each other. She accused him of being verbally abusive and controlling. He claimed that because she was such a lousy housekeeper, the place was always a mess. To back up his accusation, he emailed photographs of the unkempt home to family and friends.

     The couple also fought over their oldest son, Anthony A. Novellino Jr., a resident of nearby Parsippany. Over the past few years, police officers had arrested Novellino Jr. for possession of drugs. He had also been charges with auto theft. Judith Novellino treated her drug-addicted son with compassion and accommodated his needs such as giving him money. The father, fed up with his son, believed that tough-love, such as jail, was the best way to deal with the problem.

     Judith Novellino filed for divorce, and on June 8, 2010, it became final. According to the divorce settlement, she would receive $110,000, her share of the house, plus $150,000, her half of their IRAs and bank savings. Mr. Novellino made no secret of the fact he felt cheated in the distribution of the family assets.

     On June 19, 2010, eleven days after the finalization of the breakup, Anthony Novellino came home and found Judith in the house retrieving her personal belongings. They argued and he became enraged. The confrontation came to a bloody end when he stabbed her 84 times with an 8-inch kitchen knife. Before he packed some of his belongings and walked to his car, Mr. Novellino slipped a pig mask over his former wife's head.

     Christina German discovered her mother's body in the bathroom when she came to the house to help the 62-year-old move her belongings to an apartment in Parsippany.

     Five days after the brutal murder, police in Puyallup, Washington took Anthony Novellino into custody. The 66-year-old fugitive had driven across the country to be with a woman he had met on the Internet. Assistant Morris County prosecutor Maggie Calderwood charged Novellino with murder and several lesser offenses.

     When interrogated by detectives in New Jersey, the suspect claimed that he had "hit" his former wife twice with the knife in self defense. The judge denied Novellino bond. Officers booked the suspect into the Morris County Jail where he would await his day in court.

     The Novellino trial got underway in a Morristown Superior Court on July 7, 2014. In his opening remarks to the jury, the defendant's attorney, Michael Priarone, said his client, in a fit of temporary insanity, had attacked his wife. This act of violence, according to the defense attorney, was entirely out of his client's character. As a result, Priarone wanted the jury to find Mr. Novellino guilty of what he called "passion provocation manslaughter," an offense that carried a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

     Anthony Novellino's attorney moved to have the death scene pig mask excluded from evidence on the grounds it was "highly prejudicial" to his client. The judge denied that request.

     On July 22, 2014, after just three hours of deliberation, the jury found Anthony Novellino guilty of murder, hindering apprehension, tampering with evidence, and two counts of illegal weapons possession.

     At the September 12, 2014 sentence hearing, the judge sentenced 70-year-old Anthony Novellino to 50 years in prison. The overkill and the pig mask had sealed his fate.

Spilled Blood in Crime and Literature

     Blood is the great bedrock of forensic science, the foundation of murder detection itself. When a body is found, very often death from natural causes can be assumed. But if blood is discovered on the corpse, the the ugly question of murder arises.

     Most murders involve the spilling of blood, and from earliest times the written records abound with references to that red substance which pumps through all our veins and arteries. The Bible is full of allusions to blood: the spilling of blood, blood sacrifice and so on. Shakespeare too had his way with blood--blood feuds, ties of blood, blood-lust, blood money--and who can forget Lady Macbeth's obsession with the blood of her victim?

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Justin Harris Murder Case

     Justin Ross Harris, a 2012 graduate of the University of Alabama, lived in suburban Cobb County outside of Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Leanna and their 22-month-old son Cooper. On the morning of Wednesday, June 18, 2014, with the toddler strapped into his carseat in the back of his 2011 Hyundai Tucson, Justin Harris drove straight to the administrative offices of Home Depot where he worked. Instead of first dropping Cooper off at the boy's day school, he left his son in the car.

     At noon that day, with the temperature in suburban Atlanta at 92 degrees, Mr. Harris ate lunch at a restaurant not far from Home Depot then returned to work. When he climbed into the sweltering vehicle at four o'clock, the boy was still in the carseat.

     The boy's father drove to a nearby shopping center where, within hearing range of several people, he yelled, "Oh my God, what have I done? My God my son is dead!" Someone at the scene called 911.

     About an hour after responding to the shopping center parking lot, paramedics, unable to revive the boy, pronounced him dead. Officers with the Cobb County Police Department took Justin Harris into custody on suspicion of murder, felony murder and cruelty to a child in the first degree.

     Following an interrogation at police headquarters, a Cobb County prosecutor formally charged Mr. Harris with the above three offenses. At his arraignment, the murder suspect pleaded not guilty. The judge denied him bond.

     According to investigators, the suspect's wife Leanna said this to him at the police station following his interrogation: "Did you say too much?" Employees at Cooper's day school told police officers that when they called the boy's mother to inform her that he had not been delivered to class that morning, she had said, "Ross (Justin) must have left him in the car."

     Following a search of the suspect's dwelling and office, detectives discovered that Justine and Leanna had conducted Internet searches on the subject of hot car death. One of their inquires read: "how long does it take for an animal to die in a hot car?" When confronted with this incriminating evidence, Mr. Harris explained he had been fearful about his son dying inside a hot car. Detectives didn't buy the suspect's explanation.

     Leanna, in filling out a routine victim's statement form, in the place for the victim's name, wrote "self" rather than Cooper Harris.

     Upon completion of the victim's autopsy, the medical examiner ruled that the boy's cause of death was consistent with dying from heat inside of a vehicle. The forensic pathologist wrote that "investigative information suggests the manner of death as homicide."

     Shortly after police officers took Justin Harris into custody, his family and friends established an online petition calling for the prosecutor to drop the felony murder charge. According to the petition, Cooper Harris' death was "a horrible accident. The father loved his son immensely. They were loving parents who are devastated. Justin already has to live with a punishment worse than death." The Harris support group also created an online fundraising account for the suspect and his wife.

     On August 9, 2014, Leanna Harris' attorney, Lawrence Zimmerman, told reporters that he is concerned that the Cobb County District Attorney's Office will bring homicide and/or child cruelty charges against his client.

     As the January 2015 trial approached, Justin Harris' attorney, Maddox Kilgore, insisted that the child's death was a tragic accident and not an act of criminal homicide. The prosecutor, on the other hand, believed the death had been an intentional killing motivated by the suspect's desire to live a child-free life.

     From Harris' home, detectives acquired 120 computer discs containing videos, photographs, cellphone records, emails, and the contents of other material on the suspect's computer hard drives. From this data investigators learned that on the day of Cooper Harris' death the suspect was sexting with a minor girl and another woman. This evidence led to the additional charge of dissemination of pornography to a minor.

     On November 16, 2016, following a five-week trial featuring Leanna Harris as the defense's chief witness, a jury in Brunswick, Georgia found Justine Harris guilty of first-degree murder. Following the verdict, Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring told reporters that Harris, in killing his child, "had malice in his heart."

     On December 16, 2016, the judge sentenced the 36-year-old Harris to life in prison without the chance of parole. 

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     It's not true that the only reason criminals return to the scene of the crime is to make sure they didn't leave any evidence. Mostly, they return to the scene of the crime because they're stupid.

     Thomas Lancaster, twenty-one, came back to the doughnut shop he had just robbed a few minutes earlier at knifepoint in Oxnard, California. He wandered in, sat down, and tried to order a cup of coffee. The clerk merely beckoned to the police officer who was taking down all the information for the robbery report, and he made the arrest.

Chuck Shepherd, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993

Prosecutor Alex Hunter And The JonBenet Ramsey Case: A Profile In Courage

     An early morning emergency call that a child had been kidnapped brought a pair of Boulder, Colorado police officers to John and Patsy Ramsey's three-story house on December 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey informed the officers that she had found a handwritten ransom note inside the house on the stairway. Fearing that her 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, had been kidnapped for ransom, she had called 911. After a cursory sweep of the 15-room dwelling, the patrol officers called for assistance.

     During the next two hours, amid friends and relatives who had come to console the family, police set up wiretap and recording equipment to monitor negotiations with the kidnappers. At one point in the afternoon, Boulder detective Linda Arndt asked John Ramsey to look around the house for "anything unusual." Thirty minutes later, he and one of his friends discovered JonBenet's body in a small basement room. Her mouth had been sealed with duct tape, and she had lengths of white rope around her neck and right wrist. The rope around her neck was tied to what looked like the handle of a paintbrush.

     In the months following the murder, the police, prosecutors, media, and most Americans believed that someone in the family had killed the tiny beauty queen. But if this were the case, then who had written the two and a half page ransom note? Forensic document examiners eliminated John Ramsey as the ransom note writer, and all but one handwriting expert concluded that Patsy Ramsey had probably not authored the ransom document. Evidence also surfaced that an intruder could have entered the house through a broken basement window.

     On June 14, 2006, after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer, Patsy Ramsey died at the age of 49. John Ramsey later remarried.

     When Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter's announcement in 1999 that his office would not prosecute the Ramseys due to lack of evidence, the media reported that the grand jury looking into the murder agreed with the prosecutor's assessment. But on January 28, 2013, according to ABC News reportage, while the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys with murder, grand jurors did find enough evidence to indict the parents for child abuse that resulted in the victim's death. Notwithstanding this grand jury finding, Alex Hunter stood firm in his decision not to prosecute these parents.

     According to the Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood, Alex Hunter was "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice." Most true crime pundits familiar with the Ramsey case, myself included, agree with attorney Wood. The Ramseys had not only been victimized by their daughter's killer, they were victims of a tabloid-like media that falsely portrayed them as child murders.

     The Ramsey case is still officially open, but investigators do not appear close to solving the murder. JonBenet would have turned 25 this year. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Steven Powell And His Son Josh: Cases Of Voyeurism, Arson, and Murder-Suicide

     On December 6, 2009, Josh Powell reported his 28-year-old wife, Susan Cox Powell, missing. He said she had disappeared while he and his two sons were on a camping trip. The family lived in West Valley, a suburb of Salt Lake City. The story didn't make any sense, and the police didn't believe him. As time passed, and Susan Cox remained missing, the authorities suspected that Josh Powell had murdered his wife for her life insurance. But without the body, the case stalled.

     In January 2010, after losing his job, Josh Powell and his boys moved into his father Steven Powell's house in South Hill, an unincorporated community in the Puyallup, Washington area. Investigators, in August 2011, pursuant to the ongoing investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance and presumed murder, searched Steven Powell's house, and were shocked by what they found.

     On videotapes, computer discs, and in Steven Powell's diaries, detectives found evidence that Josh's father had been sexually obsessed with Susan, and had secretly videotaped and photographed, in 2006 and 2007, two girls who lived in the house next door. The girls were age 8 and 10.

     In seven entries in his dairies, Steven Powell had documented his bizarre fixation on his daughter-in-law. He wrote: "Susan likes to be admired, and I'm a voyeur...I'm a voyeur and Susan is an exhibitionist." In a series of videos of himself ruminating about his daughter-in-law, the senior Powell said he "...would give anything to be with her." In various self-videoed scenes, Steven Powell is kissing a pair of her underwear, standing nude with a photograph of her, and recalling how giving her a foot rub was "...the most erotic experience of my life." Detectives also found clandestinely taken photographs of Susan in various stages of undress.

     Even more disturbing, were the thousands of photographs Powell had secretly taken of the girls next door. The pictures, taken 40 feet away through a window and an open bathroom door, depicted the youngsters getting dressed and undressed, taking baths, washing and drying their hair, and other thing people do in the privacy of their homes. On his computer, Steven Powell had hundreds of photographs he had covertly taken of other girls who had passed in front of his house. Searchers also found hundreds of photographs, taken by other people, of naked women and girls.

     In his diary entries, Powell discussed his voyeurism generally, noting that he enjoyed taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts. In 2010, he recorded himself saying,  "I've been going nuts and nearly out of control sexually my entire life."

     Charged by the Pierce County prosecutor with 24 counts of voyeurism, and one count of possession of materials of minors engaged in explicit conduct, police arrested Steven Powell on September 12, 2011. Each count carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     About a month after his father's arrest, Josh Powell lost custody of his two boys and moved into a rented house in Graham, Washington. On February 6, 2012, his sons' made a visit to his home accompanied by a supervising social worker. Powell, with the boys in the house, locked the social worker out of the dwelling. With the social worker locked outside of the house, Josh Powell murdered the boys with a hatchet. He poured several gallons of gasoline around the dwelling then set it on fire. He died in the blaze.

     Steven Powell, with his daughter-in-law missing and presumed dead, two of his grandsons murdered, and his son, the killer of all three, dead by his own hand, went on trial May 7, 2012 in Tacoma, Washington. In a series of pre-trial hearings, Pierce County Judge Ronald Culpepper had ruled that the prosecution could not introduce any of the evidence pertaining to Powell's obsession with Susan Powell. Moreover, the government could only present 20 of the photographs the defendant had allegedly taken of the girls next door.

     On May 9, the girls Powell had allegedly photographed and videotaped in 2006 and 2007, now 13 and 15, took the stand for the prosecution. When asked why they had not kept the bathroom door closed, one of the witnesses said she felt safer with the door open, and had no idea anyone outside the house could see her. In the summer, because the home didn't have air conditioning, it got hot on the second floor. That explained why all of the upstairs windows had been open during the night. The family had moved to Puyalllup in 2006 from Arizona, and in 2008, left the neighborhood. The girls and their mother had no memory of Steven Powell, and were unable to identify him in the court room.

     Defense attorney Mark Quigley did not put any witnesses on the stand. His defense, which revealed itself through his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, consisted of suggesting that someone else in the Powell house had spied on the girls. At the time, Steven Powell's two sons, and one of his daughters, lived with him.

     Attorney Quigley, in his closing argument to the jury, pointed out that the state, with no direct proof the defendant had photographed and videotaped the neighbor girls, had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     Prosecutor Grand Blinn, characterized the state's case as one involving "overwhelming circumstantial evidence." Blinn told the jury of six men and six women that the defendant had essentially confessed to being a voyeur. "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "anything more disturbing to teenage girls to know that a middle age man next door was taking pictures of them."

     On May 16, 2012, the jury, following just three hours of deliberation, found Steven Powell guilty of all 14 counts of voyeurism. They acquitted him of the possession of child pornography charges.

     The judge, on July 15, 2012, sentenced Steven Powell to 30 months in prison for the voyeurism offenses.

     On October 27, 2014, the prosecutor re-charged Powell on the pornography allegations. A judge later dismissed that case.

     The Washington State Court of Appeals, on March 13, 2016, set aside Powell's voyeurism conviction on procedural grounds related to the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

     As of March 2019, Susan Cox Powell's body had not been found.

Thornton P. Knowles On Free Speech

Most people who profess to support and respect the constitutional right to free speech, do so only when the speech in question doesn't, in some way, offend them. In reality, very few people, including journalists, truly believe in or understand the rationale for this basic constitutional safeguard against oppressive government. Perhaps the people who hate free speech the most are politicians. That's because they have so much to hide from American voters. It's been this way for a long time, and doesn't bode well for American democracy.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Unsuccessful Counterfeiter

The most difficult, intricate crime involves counterfeiting money. Wait, let me rephrase that. The most difficult, intricate crime is successful counterfeiting. Unsuccessful counterfeiters are everywhere, particularly in prison, having failed to live up to their expectations.

Chuck Sheppard, America's Lest Successful Criminals, 1993

"Privileged" Or Not, No One "Deserves" to be Robbed

     In November 2014, Georgetown University senior Oliver Friedfeld and his roommate were mugged at gun point. Friedfeld says he deserved it because of his "privilege." In an opinion piece in the university newspaper, The Hoya, Friedfeld wrote that he "can hardly blame" the assailants for robbing him. He argued that income inequality is to blame for the crime.

     "Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as 'thugs?' It's precisely this kind of 'otherization' that fuels the problem," Friedfeld wrote…

     Friedfeld asserted that in order to end opportunistic crime, "We should look at ourselves first. Simply amplifying police presence will not solved the issue. It is up to millenials to right some of the wrongs of the past. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them." [What a load of university-speak crap from a rich, guilt-ridden ivory tower idiot.]

"Student Robbed at Gunpoint Says He Deserved It Due to His 'Privilege,' " breitbart.com, November 29, 2014 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Gary Castonguay Case: Paroling a Cop Killer?

     In 1976, 32-year-old Gary Castonguay was convicted of shooting into the homes of two police officers in Bristol, Connecticut. The attacks took place at night when the officers were home with their families. Castonguay had told people that he wanted to kill cops.

     Instead of being locked up in prison for attempted murder, a judge found Castonguay legally insane and sent him to a psychiatric hospital for six months. Once released from the hospital he was free.

     In 1977, caught breaking into a home in Plainville, Connecticut, Castonguay fled from police officer Robert Holcomb. As Holcomb was about to catch and arrest him, the burglar turned and shot the 26-year-old officer. Castonguay, with the officer down, was free to escape. But instead of running off, he stood over the fallen officer and shot him three times in the chest, killing him on the spot.

     Following his conviction and life sentence for the cold-blooded killing of a police officer, Castonguay's attorney filed several appeals on his client's behalf. The appellate courts rejected all of the appeals. As a result, the conviction and the life sentence remained in effect.

     On January 9, 2015, members of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a two to one vote, agreed to grant the 70-year-old cop killer a parole. The board members made this atrocious decision after Castonguay's self-serving testimony that he hadn't intended to kill officer Holcomb. In an effort to escape, he panicked, blacked out, and had no memory of the shooting.

     These ridiculous arguments hadn't worked at Castonguay's trial and had been rejected by all of the appellate courts. But decades later the cop killer was able to use these absurd justifications to convince two idiot parole board members to send him back into society.

     None of officer Holcomb's relatives had been notified of the Castonguay parole hearing. When the relatives learned of the granted parole they were understandably shocked and outraged. So were members of the general public who flooded the parole board with angry emails and letters.

     As a result of the public outcry over the parole board's ruling, the board agreed to hold another hearing to give the slain officer's relatives a chance to express their anger and disbelief that this cold-blooded cop killer had been granted parole.

     At the March 25, 2015 hearing, the same board members voted three to zero to rescind the cop killer's parole.

     This case begs the question: where do they find such sob-sister parole board members? I know it's the state of Connecticut, but still. If Castonguay had killed a police officer in Texas, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, or Oklahoma, he'd be dead by now and the dead officer's relatives would not have to worry about a couple of corrections idiots setting him free. 

Why Sherlock Holmes Didn't Stay Dead

     Sherlock Holmes died in 1893 but then came back to life ten years later. After writing twenty-four Holmes stories in six years, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of the popular hero and wanted to focus on writing historical novels. So he figured he could put an end to the whole thing by having Holmes plunge to his death from Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, holding his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarity, in a mutual death grip.

     Although public outcry was enormous, Doyle remained adamant about not bringing Holmes back. Ten years later, though, McClure's magazine in the United States offered Doyle $5,000 per story if he'd bring his detective back to life. That was the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in today's money, and Doyle couldn't resist. His first story had Holmes coming out of hiding after ten years, and Doyle wrote Holmes stories for a quarter of a century before retiring himself and his detective for good in 1927.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be a Writer, 2003 

The Drunk And Disorderly Football Fan

     On Sunday night, November 3, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens were in Pittsburgh to play the Steelers at Heinz Field. Stephen Sapp, a 29-year-old fan from Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood on the northern bank of the Monongahela River, was in attendance. He would have been better off if he'd stayed home and watched the game on TV.

     At some point during the event, stadium security officers were called to Gate C where an apparently intoxicated Sapp had become disorderly and loud. The security officers warned Mr. Sapp that if he didn't stop yelling and screaming they would have to ask him to leave the stadium. The out of control football fan said he had no intention of being ejected from the premises. That's when security called in the Pittsburgh police.

     Upon the arrival of the Pittsburgh police, Stephen Sapp started kicking the steel dividing barriers. The officers warned him that if he didn't stop doing that, they would have to take him into custody. Mr. Sapp showed his contempt for authority by kicking another barrier that broke loose and hit Melissa Yancee in the forehead. The blow cut her face and knocked her unconscious.

     The officers informed the drunken fan that they were taking him to jail. When they tried to handcuff the disorderly and now dangerous fan, he physically resisted. Sapp ended up on the ground with his hands tucked under his body in an effort to avoid the handcuffs. Following a brief struggle, the officers were able to free the arrestee's hands and apply the restraining device.

     Because Sapp had sustained cuts during his scuffle with the police, the officers took him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital. While waiting to be treated for his minor injuries, Sapp said this to a police officer: "I know how this works. How much money will it take to make this go away and to let me go home today?" (Sapp was employed at the IRS office in Pittsburgh.)

     The officer informed Mr. Sapp that he had just committed the crime of bribery. Seemingly devoid of good sense, the man in custody continued, "Look, I am an IRS agent and I can help you in other ways if you let me go home and make this go away."

     Later that night, the officers showed Mr. Sapp how things work in Pittsburgh criminal justice. They booked him into the Allegheny County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, defiant trespass, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and bribery. The judge set his bond at $10,000.

     Melissa Yancee, the woman injured as a result of Mr. Sapp's drunken Heinz Field antics was transported to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment of her head wounds.

     The Steelers, without Mr. Sapps's help, went on to win the game.  

Estimating Time of Death

     Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, pathologists and toxicologists have continued to fill forensic science journals with reports of potential new indicators of time of death. Some of the most promising have included a gradual rise in potassium levels in the eye's jellylike vitreous humor and the waning ability of the cadaver's muscles to respond to mild electric shock. Yet every such stopwatch has eventually proved inadequate when applied to actual murder, in all its controlled-experiment-defying depravity.

     Still, the myth of the medical expert's ability to nail down time of death has endured. No doubt this stems in part from the many pathologists who continue to offer more precision in court than their science can rightfully claim. That they do this is understandable enough, given the relentless pressure. "It's a question almost invariably asked by police officers, sometimes with touching faith in the accuracy of the estimate," wrote famed English pathologist Bernard Knight in the 1960s. "It's one of the most common questions I get," echoed Missouri medical examiner Jay Dix forty years later. "I have to tell them--it's impossible." Yet Dix--one of the nation's top pathologists and the author of the 1999 forensic atlas Time of Death, Decomposition, and Identification--sees it done all the time. "I'm continually reviewing cases in which pathologists pinpoint death to within a few hours," he said. "Not that I've ever seen a case where it was appropriate."

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse, 2001

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Austin Reed Sigg Murder Case

     In 2012, ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway resided in Westminster, Colorado outside of Denver. The Witt Elementary School fifth grader lived with her mother, grandmother, and aunt. Jessica's mother, Sarah Ridgeway, and the girl's father, Jeremiah Bryant, were divorced and fighting over the $267 per month Mr. Bryant had been ordered to pay in child support. Sarah Ridgeway worked the 10 PM to 7 AM shift at a software company in Boulder.

     On Friday, October 5, 2012, Jessica left her house at eight-thirty in the morning en route to a classmate's home to be driven to school by her friend's father. The 1,000 foot walk, past a handful of single track homes and the playground equipment in Chelsa Park, only took a few minutes. When Jessica didn't show up at her friend's house at eight-forty, the boy's father drove his son to school without her.

     At ten that morning, a school secretary at Witt Elementary called Sarah Ridgeway's cellphone to report Jessica's absence. Sarah, already asleep after working the previous night in Boulder, did not pick up the phone. When she awoke at four that afternoon, she checked her messages and learned that Jessica had missed school that day.

     The concerned mother drove to the school where no one she spoke to said they had seen Jessica that day. After checking with some of her daughter's friends, and driving by Chelsa Park, Sarah Ridgeway, at 4:23 PM, drove to the Westminster Police Department to report her daughter missing.

     That evening, an officer with a bloodhound canvased the 1,000-foot route Jessica would have taken that morning. The dog did not pick up her scent. At nine that night, the authorities had enough evidence of an abduction to issue an Amber Alert.

     The following morning, 1,000 volunteers showed up at the police department to walk the fields in Jessica's neighborhood. The search did not produce any information relative to the girl's disappearance.

     On October 7, two days after Jessica went missing, a man six miles from the Ridgeway home found a backpack lying next to a sidewalk. The bag contained a keychain bearing the name "Jessica."

     Maintenance workers picking up litter in a park in Arvada, Colorado nine miles from Jessica's house, came across a plastic trash bag they thought contained the remains of someone's pet. The workers flagged down two animal management officers who happened to be driving by. One of the officers opened the bag and found the dismembered remains of a child. Two days later, DNA tests confirmed that the trash bag held Jessica Ridgeway's remains.

     The Jessica Ridgeway case, now about child murder and dismemberment, suddenly broke into the national news as a big story. Was there a child killer on the loose in Westminster, Colorado?

     Ten days after the gruesome discovery in Arvada, a tipster called the Westminster Police Department with information about Austin Reed Sigg. The 17-year-old, who lived in Westminster with his mother, had dropped out of high school in his junior year. He had since earned a graduate equivalency diploma and was enrolled in a local community college. According to the caller, Sigg had an obsession with death and mortuary science. He had also expressed an attraction to Jessica Ridgeway.

     The day following the tip concerning Austin Sigg, FBI agents went to his house and acquired a sample of his DNA.

     On October 23, 2012, Austin Sigg called 911 and expressed his desire to turn himself in and confess to the murder and dismemberment of the missing Westminster girl. In response to the dispatcher's inquiry regarding his criminal history, Sigg said, "The only other thing that I have done was the Kerner Lake incident where the woman got attacked. That was me." (In May 2012, a young man tried to subdue a female jogger by placing a rag soaked in homemade chloroform over her face. She resisted and managed to escape.)

     The day following Sigg's 911 confession, the police took him into custody. Sigg told his interrogators that he had abducted Jessica shortly after she left her house that morning. After strangling her to death, he cut up her body in a bathtub and deposited most of her remains in the Arvada, Colorado park. He had, however, hidden some of the girl's body parts in a crawl space in the house he shared with his mother.

     A Jefferson County prosecutor charged Austin Sigg as an adult with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and the sexual assault of a child. (Sigg denied having sex with the victim.) He was jailed without bond.

     On October 1, 2013, almost a year after Jessica Ridgeway's abduction and murder, and just two days before Sigg's murder trial was to commence, the defendant, against the advice of his public defender, pleaded guilty to all charges.

     On November 18, 2013, before sentencing Sigg to life plus 86 years, Judge Stephen Munsinger, in referring to what Sigg had done to Jessica Ridgeway, said, "Evil is apparently real."