More than 4,515,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Friday, May 31, 2019

Frank Caira: The Ecstasy Cook Who Plotted to kill the Wrong People

     Murder for hire masterminds are almost as stupid as for ransom kidnappers. They almost always get caught, and end up getting sentenced to life. As a murder-for-hire mastermind, Frank Caira was interesting because he worked at Northwestern University as a medical researcher, and used workplace chemicals to manufacture Ecstasy pills in his suburban Chicago home.

     In 2009, a federal grand jury, relying on evidence uncovered by DEA agent Patrick Bagley, indicted the married, 41-year-old Downers Grove, Illinois drug manufacturer. In December 2009, when Caira realized the best plea deal he could get involved 14 year behind bars, he decided to hire someone to kill DEA agent Bagley and Shoshanan Gillers, the assistant United States Attorney in charge of his prosecution.

     Because Caira didn't know any hit men, he reached out to his friend, Jack Mann. They met on a bench at the Oak Branch Shopping Center. Mann said he knew a gang member who might commit the double murder.

     After being approached by Mann, the gang member tipped off the authorities. After that, all of Caira's murder for hire meetings were secretly recorded. In the summer of 2011, with the would-be hit man and Jack Mann as key prosecution witnesses, the federal grand jury found Caira guilty of soliciting two murders. (Murder-for-hire is a federal crime as well as a state offense.)

     On July 6, 2012, the federal judge sentenced Frank Caira to 82 years in prison. To reporters, his attorney said this: "People like Mr. Caira don't deserve to die in jail." Really? If a man who tried to have two federal law enforcement officers murdered doesn't belong in prison for life, no one does. While defense attorneys are known to say ridiculous things on behalf of their clients, this comment is beyond the pale. 

Owning More Books Than You Can Read

According to the prolific writer Umberto Eco whose personal library held 30,000 books, if one reads one book a day between the ages ten to eighty, that's only 25,000 volumes. There are so many books in print even the most dedicated reader can only scratch the literary surface. As a result, book lovers tend to own far more books than they could ever read. According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives because they remind us of how much we don't know. According to Taleb, read books are less valuable to us than unread ones.

Public Defenders Need a Sense of Humor

Some defense lawyers are pretty funny, especially public defenders. You need a sense of humor to make it in that business, for a good number of your clients commit poorly planned crimes that are often caught on crystal clear video, frequently fail to return your phone calls, and still expect exoneration via some sort of legal hocus-pocus. I once asked a public defender how his client's trial went. "We came in second!" he said with mock enthusiasm.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014

Prison Tattoos

Tattoos worn on the face or neck are the most visible, and thus suggest a higher level of [criminal] commitment than tattoos on other less visible parts of the body. Older convicts feel that younger prisoners should not get tattooed if they don't already have any tattoos, and many tattooists in prison will simply refuse to be the first to tattoo a new prisoner. An "honorable" prison tattooist doesn't want to be responsible for helping to ruin a young prisoner's life, particularly if an individual is going to be getting out of prison any time soon. By acquiring tattoos during his incarceration, he would be making concrete his identify as a convict, and may regret his decision to become tattooed.

Margo DeMello in Diego Gambetta's Codes of the Underworld, 2009

Thornton P. Knowles' Last Sentence

I am a tiny boat on a vast sea about to disappear below the horizon. (Three days after he wrote this in his journal, Thornton P. Knowles, 67, died.)

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The John Sexton Murder Case

     Ann Parlato was 94 and lived by herself in a white stucco house in the Regency Park section of New Port Richey, Florida. Just after midnight on September 17, 2010, one of Ann Parlato's neighbors heard a "thump" coming from her house. The next-door neighbor, alerted by the sound, saw, through Parlato's kitchen window, her "lawn man" standing at Parlato's sink. Thinking that the man in the window was doing chores around Parlato's house, the neighbor didn't call the police. He did, however, jot down the license number to the lawn man's pickup truck.

     About eight hours after the next-door neighbor saw the man through Ann Parlato's kitchen window, another neighbor, Dori Cifelli, found Parlato's front door ajar. She entered the dwelling and saw, on the living room floor, a pair of legs sticking out from under a white sheet. This neighbor called 911.

     Police officers found a bludgeoned and stabbed elderly woman beneath the sheet. Ann Parlato's upper torso had been burned, she had defense wounds on her arms and hands, and her fingernails were broken. Crime scene investigators encountered blood throughout the house. There were spatter patterns and stains on carpeting, walls, the ceiling fan, and in the bathroom sink and shower stall. Officers recovered the cap from a bottle of bleach, and in a sink, found cigarette butts and a pair of women's underwear. The victim's master bedroom had been ransacked, and the killer had used Parlato's washing machine. Scattered throughout the dwelling were clippings from the dead woman's freshly mowed lawn.

     The next day, homicide detectives, after speaking to the next-door neighbor who had seen the lawn man through the kitchen window and jotted down the license number to his truck, questioned John Sexton at his Pasco, Florida home about a mile from the murder scene. When told that Ann Parlato had been murdered, the 49-year-old suspect said, "Oh, wow, that's horrible. I kind of liked her." Sexton said he had befriended the elderly woman by mowing her yard.

     When asked where he was at midnight, September 27, Sexton yelled to his third wife Catherine, "What time did I get home, about 10:30?"

     Catherine yelled back, "He's lying. He got home about 2 AM."

     During the interview, Sexton's hands and legs were shaking. He had a fresh cut on his middle finger, and the officers noticed what looked like a blood stain on his pants. The detectives asked the suspect to accompany them to the police station where he would be asked to provide a formal statement. Sexton said he had no problem doing that.

     At police headquarters, after being warned of his Miranda rights, an interrogator pressed Sexton regarding his whereabouts at midnight on the night of the murder. "I couldn't have been there at midnight," he answered.

     "A neighbor saw you in the kitchen."

     "I wasn't in the kitchen," Sexton insisted.

     "So the neighbor next door is absolutely lying? Seeing mirages or something? When he writes down your tag number?"

     "I guess so," came the reply.

     Following the interrogation, the officers informed John Sexton that he was under arrest for the murder of Ann Parlato. Charged with first degree-murder, he faced a mandatory life sentence. He was also eligible for the death penalty. Mr. Sexton would not be returning home that day to his third wife Catherine.

     According to Catherine Sexton, she had met John at a swingers club. As a husband he had cheated on her regularly. (Big surprise from a guy you meet at a swingers club.) In May 2010, the couple moved to Pasco where they took up residence in a house with Catherine's mother and her mom's boyfriend. Catherine described her husband as an atheist who drank heavily, photographed naked women, and occasionally took antidepressant medication that had been prescribed to her. Catherine informed detectives that John, a habitual liar, sociopath, and sex addict, was also an erotic fire-setter. His second wife left him after he threw their 6-week-old daughter across the room. Catherine, in a bit of an understatement, used the term  "deviant" in describing her husband.

     John Sexton's murder trial got underway on April 16, 2013. The next day, following the opening statements, the prosecution put two DNA experts on the stand who linked the defendant to the murder scene in a variety of ways. Blood on Sexton's clothing and under his fingernails had come from the victim. According to one of the DNA analysts, Sexton's saliva connected him to a crime scene cigarette butt.

     A prosecution criminalist testified that bloody shoe impression on the victim's linoleum floor "showed the same class characteristics" as the defendant's boots.

     On April 18, Dr. Jonathan Thogmartin, the Pasco County Medical Examiner who had visited the murder scene and performed the autopsy, testified that Ann Parlato had died from blunt force trauma to the head. The killer had crushed Palato's face, dislocated her upper spine, and fractured her ribs. He also stabbed the victim, had postmortem sex with the corpse, then tried to destroy the body by setting it on fire.

     After the prosecution rested its case on April 18, the defense called the next-door neighbor to the stand who had seen the lawn man through the victim's kitchen window. The witness testified that he had failed to pick the defendant out of a police photograph line-up.

     Sexton's third wife Catherine took the stand as a character witness. "I believe in his innocence," she said.

     At the close of the testimony phase of the trial, the opposing attorneys presented their closing arguments. The defense attorney talked about a crime scene knife that contained someone else's DNA. The judge issued her instructions to the jurors, and on April 19, the case went to the jury. Following a short deliberation, the jury found John Sexton guilty of first degree-murder.

     On Friday, December 13, 2013, Judge Mary Handsel sentenced John Sexton to death. The condemned man, aware that it took decades to execute people like him, told reporters that he had hoped for the death penalty. He said it meant that his appeals would proceed more quickly than if he had been sentenced to life. 

The Serial Killer Hysteria of the 1980s

     Psychiatry is not to blame for the emergence of the late-twentieth-century fictional monster known as the serial killer, but the psychiatric concept of criminal violence as an unconsciously motivated explosion of rage bolsters the credibility of what is in fact a bureaucratic invention....

     Ultraviolent criminals sometimes commit a series of murders....Such serial homicides are enacted most commonly by violent drug dealers, professional murderers and armed robbers in the course of doing business....The notion of an irrational, predatory "serial killer" emerged in the early 1980s amid widespread hysteria about dangers to children from pornographers, satanic cults, lethal day-care centers and kidnappers....The 1983 [Senate] hearings on child kidnapping and serial homicide by the Juvenile Justice Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Arlen Spector, [was] the public forum from which emerged the popular notion of a multitude of predatory serial killers scourging the land....

     Specter's subcommittee estimated that there had been as many as 3,600 "random and senseless [serial] murders" in 1981; by the time that number had whispered its way around the circle of public discussion, it was inflated to estimates of 4,000 or 5,000 serial-killer victims per year ( out of about 23,000 total U. S. homicides)....The actual number of [serial killer] victims is closer to two hundred a year. [That may have been true in the 80s and 90s, but the number of yearly victims is now much lower than 200.]

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999 

Ivory Tower Criminologists

The fact is that the social scientists who have done most of the research on violent criminals are academics. There is certainly nothing in the backgrounds of most of them, either prior to or after coming to the university, that prepares them to achieve rapport with violent criminals. On the contrary, most academics find the average violent criminal so alien and repugnant that they do not want to have any face-to-face contact whatsoever, much less to establish rapport with them. Moreover, academics often cast aspersions upon those researchers who can establish rapport with such persons. Although anyone can understand the desire of academics, like other people, not to have close contact with violent criminals, it is not understandable for those who hold themselves out as experts on the problem.

Lonnie H. Athens, The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals, 1992 

Thornton P. Knowles On Self Esteem

I grew up in the era before the self esteem movement. When I was 11, as my father and another adult were discussing something, I injected my opinion into the conversation. Later, my dad took me aside and said this to me: "Son, by definition, you are retarded. You have the mind of an 11-year-old." Like I say, I grew up before the self esteem movement.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Memphis Police Officer Ronald Harris: The Make-A-Wish Robbery Case

     In January 2002, 22-year-old Ronald Harris joined the police department in Memphis, Tennessee. Twelve years later, he was assigned to the substation at the Memphis International Airport. Officer Harris' supervisors, over the years, documented his failure to live up to the department's standards of professional behavior. He abused the agency's sick leave benefits, did not answer radio calls, and in 2013 was suspended for insubordination.

     In May 2014, Officer Harris' wife reported that he had become delusional and had threatened to kill her. The department granted him leave to seek psychiatric help.

     In June 2014, Harris learned that an employee of St. Jude Children's Hospital, on the seventh of that month, would deliver a credit card worth $1,500 to a Make-A-Wish Foundation family before they boarded a plane with their terminally ill child. On that day Harris followed the Make-A-Wish organization's volunteer into the airport terminal.

     When the paper bag containing the credit card and five St. Jude T-shirts exchanged hands, the off-duty, out-of-uniform cop grabbed the container and tried to flee the scene. Nathan Moore, a member of the sick child's family, confronted officer Harris. In the scuffle that ensued, Harris caused a deep laceration in Mr. Moore's forehead by head-butting him.

     Airport police officers, a couple of bystanders, and the injured Nathan Moore eventually subdued the out-of-control cop. Once inside the police car, Harris kicked open the door and tried to escape.

     Paramedics stitched up Mr. Moore's forehead at the airport. Not long after that the shaken child and his family boarded the plane and flew off to DisneyWorld or wherever they were going to make his dream come true.

     When investigators searched Ronald Harris' car, they found pieces of mail that had been stolen from his neighbor's mailbox.

     Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong suspended Ronald Harris from the force as officers booked him into the county jail on charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and escape from felony incarceration. At his arraignment, the judge set the suspect's bond at $25,000.

     Few situations are more dangerous than a violent, mentally ill cop. At least in this case the officer, when he went off the deep end, was not armed. (The disposition of his case is not available online.)

Professional Basketball Player Punches Ex-Girlfriend, Gets Off Light

     Police arrested NBA player Greg Oden on August 7, 2014 in Lawrence, Indiana for punching his former girlfriend. The incident happened around three-thirty in the morning. Officers arrived at the house to find the victim crying and lying across a bed holding her face. At first the victim was reluctant to inform on her ex-boyfriend.

     Police officers observed physical evidence of violence on the victim's face and in the room where the attack took place. The assaulted woman had a badly swollen nose and lacerations on her forehead. A flower pot had been knocked over and the carpet contained fresh blood stains. One of the victim's friends had witnessed the assault committed in the living room of the house owned by Oden's mother.

     When police officers asked Oden what happened, he said, "I was wrong. I know what has to happen." The NBA player said he and the victim had broken up a couple months ago after having dated for two years.

     Police officers took Oden into custody and transported him to the Marion County Jail where the suspect faced a charge of battery.

     As a freshman in 2007, Oden led Ohio State University to the national title game. After one year in college he entered the NBA. He missed three seasons (2011-2013) due to an injury before making his comeback in 2014 with the Miami Heat.

     In February 2015, following his guilty plea, the judge fined Oden $200 and sentenced him to 26 weeks of domestic violence training.

Violent Behavior is Not a Psychological Trait

[Criminologist Dr. Lonnie] Athens emphasizes and reemphasizes that violentization is a social process, requiring interaction with others, and that as such it changes over time. Psychological processes are obviously involved in the conversion of a brutalized novice into a dangerous violent criminal, but these do not harden into enduring psychological traits: "Psychologists have been caught up for over a half a century in a rather vain quest to discover the psychological traits which distinguish violent and nascent violent criminals from ordinary people. This quest has been stymied in no small part because the psychological traits, or more precisely, psychological processes, which violent criminals manifest do not remain constant, but change as they undergo new social experiences over the course of their violence development."

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999

Thornton P. Knowles On Describing What Being a Writer Is All About

Asking what it's like to be a writer is a lot like asking what it's like to be a dentist or an attorney. The answer depends on where you live, what you write, how successful you are, how old you are, if you're married, and how you think of yourself as a writer. But there is one thing that most writers do say about the writing life: it's lonely and frustrating. Writers seem to feel misunderstood by people who don't write and under-appreciated or ignored by the reading public. Feeling isolated and forced to compete with other writers, many authors complain that their books are not adequately promoted by their publishers. Otherwise, they're a contented group of workers.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

If You Want to Read a Novel About Society, Pick Up a Crime Novel

The crime novel is where the social novel went. If you want to write about the underbelly of America, if you want to write about the America nobody wants to look at, you turn to the crime novel. I don't bristle at the "you're a mystery writer" or "you're a crime writer" thing. I don't have an issue with that. But I do think that personally, when I sit down to write I'm writing an urban novel, writing about urban realities.

Dennis Lehane, powells.com, 2003 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bite Mark Identification: A Forensic Science That Lost Its Credibility

     The identification of a series of bruises or abrasions, usually in the shape of two semi-circles or brackets, as a human bite mark made by a particular set of teeth is a function of forensic dentistry referred to a bite mark identification. This form of impression identification, also called forensic odontology, is based on the assumption that no two people in the world have front teeth that are identical in thickness, shape, relationship to each other, and patterns of wear.

     The process of comparing a bite mark to a known set of teeth is not unlike the identification of latent fingerprints, footwear, and tire track impressions. Bite mark wounds are found on victims of murder, rape, and child molestation. This type of crime scene evidence is preserved by life-size photography, tooth mark tracings onto transparent sheets, and dental casts of the impressions themselves. A suspect might be asked to bite down on a pliable surface for an impression sample, have a cast made of his teeth, or both. Usually, connecting a suspect to a victim through expert bite mark testimony will be enough evidence, by itself, to sustain a criminal conviction.

     The field of bite mark identification exploded in the 1980s, and hundreds, if not thousands of defendants between 1983 and 2002 were sent to prison on the strength of bite mark testimony. Although bite mark identification had been a recognized branch of forensic science since 1970, it was the 1979 trial of serial killer Ted Bundy in south Florida that put this form of identification on the map the way the O. J. Simpson case, in the mid-1990s, popularized DNA profiling.

     At the peak of bite mark evidence credibility among forensic scientists, detectives, prosecutors, and judges, this form of impression identification was put on the level with the matching of fingerprints. However, by 2003, forensic scientists were seriously questioning the assumption that bite marks were as unique and identifiable as latent fingerprints.

     Over the years several leaders in the bite mark field oversold the reliability of this form of identification. For example, in 1977, Dr. Lowell J. Levine, a forensic dentistry consultant to the New York City Medical Examiner's Office, wrote: "Since every person's teeth are unique in respect to spacing, twisting, turning, shapes, tipping toward the tongue or lips, wear patterns, breakage, fillings, caps, loss and the like, all of which occur in limitless combinations, it is possible for them to leave a pattern which for identification purposes is as good as a fingerprint."

     In 1996, Dr. C. Michael Bowers, a prominent southern California odontologist, was one of the first forensic scientists to raise doubts about the credibility of bite make identification when he wrote: "Physical matching of bite marks is a non-science which was developed with little testing and no published error rate....An opinion is worth nothing unless the supportive data is clearly describable and can be demonstrated in court. How does one weight the importance of a single rotated tooth in a bite mark when the suspect has a similar tooth? The value judgments range widely on the value of this feature. This is not science. Instead, statistical levels of confidence must be included in the process."

     In a bite mark identification exercise Dr. Bowers conducted in a workshop at the 1999 American Academy of Forensic Science conference, 63 percent of the odontologists who participated made an incorrect identification, findings that displeased many in the field when Dr. Bowers published the results of his experiment. In an article published in 2003 in the British Dental Journal, Dr. D. K. Whittaker, a forensic dentistry professor at the University of Wales, explained why bite mark evidence is so difficult to identify, particularly bite marks on skin:

     "Human bites on skin are difficult to interpret because skin is not good 'impression' material. Moreover, victims may struggle and movement will distort the image of the bite. Skin surfaces are not flat and visual distortion may be present, often heightened by photographic distortion caused by inadequate imaging techniques. Human dentitions, whilst possibly being unique in the small nuances of tooth size, shape, angulation and texture may not inflict unique bite marks which can only record gross and not fine detail. If the victim survives, the injury may change due to infection or subsequent healing and if the victim is deceased, putrefaction may introduce distortion."

     Before odontologists in Great Britain can testify in court as bite mark experts, they must have made a minimum of twenty such identifications in other cases. In the United States, an odontologist can be certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology after two bite mark identifications. As a result, being certified in this forensic field in the United States shouldn't carry much weight. (In fact, two of America's most notorious charlatans in the field were both board certified bite mark experts.)

     In 2004, as part of a journalistic series on forensic science, the Chicago Tribune examined 154 state and federal trials involving bite mark identification testimony. In more than a quarter of these cases the prosecution and the defense produced forensic odontologists whose expert opinions were diametrically opposed. If bite mark identification is an exact science practiced by highly qualified experts, this many odontologists should not have been testifying against each other.

Kidnapper Caught Red Handed

     A Utah stepfather foiled an attempt to kidnap his young daughter from her bed early Friday November 7, 2014 after confronting a man carrying her across the lawn. The 5-year-old girl wasn't hurt…

     The suspect entered the home through an unlocked door or window about 4:30 AM in Sandy, a middle-class suburb of Salt Lake City…The intruder was in the family's basement searching through things when he came upon the girl sleeping in her bedroom. The suspect took her out of bed and carried her upstairs, making noises that woke the parents.

     The girl's stepfather went to the door and saw the man carrying his stepdaughter on the front lawn. He ran outside and confronted the man, wrestling her free of the abductor. The suspect fled, and the stepfather called 911.

     Officers set up a perimeter, and with the help of police dogs, launched a search. The suspect went into a second home, where the residents heard him and called the police.

     Police captured the 46-year-old man outside the second home thanks to a police dog that bit the suspect in the upper shoulder…The family told the police that they had never seen and don't know the suspect, who police have identified as Troy Morley of Roy, Utah…

     Morley was taken to a nearby hospital to receive treatment for the dog bite. He was arrested later in the day and booked into jail on charges of child kidnapping and burglary….[Claiming he was high on meth when he attempted the kidnapping, Tim Morley, in October 2015, pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to six years to life in prison.]

"Dad Confronts Kidnapper, Saves 5-Year-Old Daughter," Associated Press, November 7, 2014 

History of the Gas Chamber

     The earliest gas chamber for execution purposes was constructed in the Nevada State Penitentiary at Carson City and first employed on February 8, 1924, with the legislatively sanctioned and court-ordered punishment of Gee Jon, a Chinese immigrant, amid a wave of anti-immigrant and racist hysteria that gripped the country at that time.

     America's and the world's first execution by gas arose as a byproduct to chemical warfare research conducted by the U.S. Army's Chemical Warfare Service and a chemical industry during the First World War. Embraced by both Democrats and Republicans, including many progressives, and touted by both the scientific and legal establishments as a "humane" improvement over hanging and electrocution, the gas chamber was also considered a matter of practical social reform Its adherents claimed that the gas chamber would kill quickly and painlessly, without the horrors of the noose or the electric chair, and in a much more orderly and peaceful fashion. But they were quickly proven wrong. Technocrats nevertheless kept tinkering with its workings for seventy-five years in a vain attempt to overcome the imperfections of lethal gas.

     Eventually adopted by eleven states as the official method of execution, lethal gas claimed 594 lives in the United States from 1924 to 1999 until it was gradually replaced by another supposedly more humane method of capital punishment, lethal injection.

Scott Christianson, The Last Gasp, 2010

Kids, Don't Take Grandma's Smack to School

     ….A Pennsylvania first-grader brought bags of heroin into school--giving some to at least one classmate before teachers caught him with a pocket full of drugs….Two days later, the boy's 56-year-old grandmother was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of children and drug offenses for allegedly losing track of the heroin while babysitting….

     Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan expressed outrage over any child bringing a drug as potent as heroin into an elementary school. He also lashed out at the boy's school district for not doing more to inform parents as well as the authorities, including his office….
     According to a criminal complaint detailed by Hogan's office, Pauline Bilinski-Munion was babysitting her grandson and a 1-year-old baby on Thursday, May 1, 2014 at a residence in Modena, Pennsylvania. Bilinski-Munion had "brought heroin into the house and lost track of it," according to the district attorney's office, which referred to her as "a known heroin user."
     The next day, the 7-year-old brought several bags with him into Caln Elementary School. Teachers overheard the child talking about the bags, and later found nine bags of what proved to be heroin--with each bag stamped, "Victoria's Secret"--in the boy's pants pocket….The child initially claimed he found the heroin in the school yard, only to later admit he'd gotten them from home. The drugs were handed over to the Coatesville Area School District Police. 
     Another child's mother later claimed that she'd found an additional bag of heroin, with the same "Victoria's Secret" wording, on her 7-year-old as they were walking in a nearby mall….District Attorney Hogan faulted the school system for what he characterized as its "late and vague notification to parents about a dangerous and illegal substance," and failing to alert his office, which didn't start investigating until hearing about the story in the media on Saturday, May 7, 2014. 
     "The school district didn't call 911, didn't call the DA's office, did not freeze all the kids in one place, they did not call in emergency personnel to check all the kids to make sure they were OK," he told a local CNN affiliate.
     Following her arrest on Saturday, May 7, 2014, Bilinski-Munion was charged and held with bail set at $25,000….[In May 2015, following guilty pleas to lesser charges, the judge sentenced Bilinski-Munion to four days--time served in the Chester County Jail.]

Kevin Conlon and Greg Botelho, "DA: First-Grader Brings His Grandmother's Heroin to School," CNN, May 7, 2014 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Who Killed British Spy Gareth Williams?

     Gareth Williams grew up in North Wales, graduated from Cambridge University, and earned a Ph.D. from Manchester University. A true math genius, he was hired as a codebreaker at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Chetenham, England. A fit, slender man of five-foot seven inches who participated in competitive cycling, Williams kept to himself, and lived a somewhat secret life. The quiet 31-year-old bachelor had become a rising star in the super secret world of counterterrorism.

     In 2010, after ten years at the GCHQ electronic surveillance facility at Chetenham, Williams was transferred to the secret British intelligence gathering agency M16 in London. He lived on the top floor of a 5-story townhouse in the upscale Pimlico neighborhood of west London. The government-issued flat was less than a mile from M16 headquarters.

     In August 2010, Williams, who didn't make a habit of missing work, hadn't been seen at M16 headquarters for more than a week. He was not on vacation or special assignment, and didn't answer his phone. His M16 supervisor did not report him missing, but residents of his townhouse, after not seeing him around, called the police.

     On Monday afternoon, on August 23, 2010, police officers broke into Williams' apartment. In the bathroom, they saw, sitting in the empty tub, a large cylindrical North Face sports satchel (called a duffel bag or holdall). The bag had been secured by a small padlock. After breaking the lock and unzipping the satchel, the police found the decomposing body of a nude man in a fetal position with his arms crossed over his chest. The man in the bag was Gareth Williams.

     Officers with Scotland Yard's Homicide and Serious Crime Command conducted a crime scene investigation. There was no evidence of forcible intrusion into the apartment. (The front door had been locked from the outside which suggests that someone had been in the flat with Williams when he went into the satchel.) The apartment showed no signs of a struggle or theft. Moreover, the crime scene investigators found no latent fingerprints or trace evidence that may have contained DNA. It seemed the death site had been forensically sanitized.

     The day after the gruesome and perplexing discovery, Home Office forensic pathologist Dr. Ben Swift performed the autopsy. Because of the decomposition, Dr. Swift could not pinpoint the time of death. The condition of the corpse also precluded any kind of toxicological analysis to determine if Williams had been poisoned. The forensic pathologist found no evidence of physical trauma on the body, including Williams' fingers and nails. From this Dr. Swift concluded that Mr. Williams had not tried to escape the confines of the sports bag.

     While the manner of Gareth Williams' death--homicide, suicide, natural or accidental--could not be forensically determined, Dr. Swift reported that the likely cause of death was oxygen depletion, or hypercapnia--a build up of carbon dioxide inside the bag. The forensic pathologist speculated that Williams would have suffocated within 30 minutes.

     A series of experiments conducted by two men of Williams' size and fitness, revealed that it was virtually impossible to put oneself in that bag. It would also have been extremely difficult for one person to put a dead body in the satchel. This led some investigators to conclude that Williams, with the help of someone else, had willingly climbed into the bag.

     In Williams' apartment, detectives found $35,000 worth of designer women's dresses, plus 26 pairs of expensive women's shoes. In addition to a bright orange female wig, investigators found cocaine, and a cache of gay pornography. Williams' had also visited several web sites for practitioners of bondage, S & M, and a phenomena called "claustophilia," the experiencing of sexual pleasure by being confined in small enclosures.

     When officials at M16 were informed of Mr. Williams' apparent sexual preferences--his cross-dressing, bondage, and gayness--his supervisors said they had been aware of all of that. In the world of modern espionage, the private sexual lives of their counterterrorism officers was no long of interested to agency administrators. Shortly after the discovery of Williams' body, M16 had released a statement that his death had nothing to do with his work.

    There were those who believed he was poisoned to death--perhaps by potassium cyanide, or the sedative GHB--by either Russian secret service hit men, Al Qaeda operatives, or assassins from other unfriendly countries.

     Another school of thought involved the theory that Williams was murdered by a gay lover. Perhaps the most popular belief was that Williams had died as a result of some kind of sadistic or masochistic sexual act gone wrong, something in the line of auto-erotic asphyxiation. If the later was the case, the manner of his death would be accidental. But questions remained. Who helped Williams into the satchel, then locked it from the outside? Who had a key to his flat? And why hadn't this person come forward?

     In November 2013, following a Metropolitan Police twelve month investigation, Deputy Commissioner Martin Hewitt announced that the "most probable scenario" regarding Williams' death was that he had died in his flat alone after accidentally locking himself into the bag. However, in October 2015, Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB agent who had defected from Russia, stated that "sources in Russia claimed that Williams had been murdered by members of the Russian Foreign Service.

     The Gareth Williams case received almost no media coverage in the United States.

Criminalizing Parenthood

     In March of 2011, Kim Brooks intentionally left her 4-year-old son, Felix, in a car...On the day that Brooks left her son, it was cool enough for jackets, the windows were open and the car was locked and alarmed. Brooks was rushing to catch a flight with her two young kids; she let Felix stay in the car with his iPad while she ran into Target on an errand. She was gone for a few minutes, and in that time Felix was noticed by a bystander, who recorded a video of him alone in the back seat and gave it to the authorities...

     In exchange for agreeing to perform community service and take parenting classes, the prosecution dropped the charge--"contributing to the delinquency of a minor"--against her. [Had the mother pled not guilty and lost at trial, she could have lost custody of her children.]...

    What exactly was the crime?..

     Why are American parents so fearful? Is leaving a child in a car considered riskier than driving him because the boogeyman you can't see is scarier than the dangers you face every day?..

Libby Copeland

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Crime Fiction Writer David Goodis

David Goodis, the pulp fiction writer of noir crime novels and short stories is one of my all time favorites. This excerpt from his novel Dark Passage reveals why: "You know me. Guys like me come a dime a dozen. No fire. No Backbone. Dead weight waiting to be pulled around and taken to places where we want to go but can't go alone. Because we're afraid to be alone. Because we can't face people and we can't talk to people. Because we don't know how. Because we can't handle life and don't know the first thing about taking a bite out of life. Because we're afraid and we don't know what we're afraid of and still we're afraid. Guys like me." Unlike so-called "literary" novelists, this pulp fiction artist can write.

Thornton P. Knowles

"Hatchet Jobs" by Dale Peck

     In his provocative 2004 book, author and critic Dale Peck challenges certain "literary" novelists and the literary critics who praise their work. Peck believes these fawning critics encourage and reward bad writing, and the publication of unreadable fiction. Moreover, he doesn't think the critics who love this stuff are qualified for the job. On this score, Peck writes: "Literature does have its enemies, and chief among them are pseudo-intellectuals artists and critics who think their love of books translates into some kind of knowledge."

     Hatchet Jobs was not well received in the upper echelons of the literary community. Dale Peck took a lot of flack for, in my view, pointing out the obvious. The following passages from the book, in my opinion, reflect the theme of Peck's literary manifesto:

     As one reads contemporary novelists, one can't shake the feeling that they write for one another rather than some more or less common reader. Their prose shares a showiness that speaks of solidarity and competition--the exaggerated panache with which teenage boys shoot hoops in their driveway while pretending they don't know their neighbor is watching across the street.

    I'm not sure it it's because the standards of literary fiction have become so lax or simply because the conventions are so inbred, but it seems that anyone can write a novel these days. Not a mystery or a thriller or a romance or any other type of acknowledged formula fiction, but a novel (file under: literature, see also: classics).

     Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming this particular novelist [Peck doesn't identify the writer he's criticizing here] for the phenomenon....Rather, blame Thomas More for writing Utopia. Blame Sarte for writing The Wall, Doris Lessing for writing The Golden Notebook, Gore Vidal for writing all those historical diatribes, blame Don De Lillo for writing (and Jonathan Frazen, God help us, for reading him). Blame the people who publish these books; blame the people who buy them. Blame the writing programs and the prize committees, blame the deconstructionist literary critics or the back-patting Siamese-twinned professors of writing and reviewing fiction, blame any or all of the identity communities who read and write those ethnic-or gender-marketed booster books or blame the dead white European males who forced us to resort to literature as our daily affirmation in the first place....These novels aren't bad, they just aren't novels. They aren't art. Real fiction doesn't "discover" truth, let alone present it to readers...real fiction invents and dispenses with truth as it sees fit. That's why it's called fiction.

     

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Amish Kidnap/Rape Case

     At seven in the evening of August 13, 2014, 6-year-old Delila Miller and her 12-year-old sister Fannie, members of an old-order Amish clan consisting of Mose and Barb Miller and their thirteen children, were working on the family farm when a car drove up to the Miller roadside vegetable stand. The Miller family resided in Oswegatchie, New York, a farming community of 4,000 near the Canadian border 150 miles north of Albany. Because the land was relatively inexpensive and the soil fertile, the Oswegatchie area had grown into the second largest Amish enclave in the state.

     When Delila and Fannie saw the 4-door white sedan pull up to the vegetable stand they walked the few hundred feet between the barn and the stand to greet the customers. The couple drove off, and when they did, the girls were gone. Someone ran to an English neighbor's house and called 911.

     The authorities issued an Amber Alert while scuba drivers prepared to search nearby rivers and helicopters flew over the area in search of the missing girls. Agents on the US/Canadian border reviewed surveillance camera footage in the event the abductors left the country.

     On Thursday evening at eight o'clock, 24 hours after the abduction, the kidnappers dropped the Amish girls off in Richville, New York, a town thirty miles from the Miller farm. The girls knocked on the first door they came to and asked for help. They were greeted by Jeff and Pam Stinson who recognized the older girl from  having purchased corn from her at the Miller produce stand.

     It had been raining and the girls were cold and wet. They were also hungry so the Stinson fed them grape juice and servings of watermelon. The girls quickly consumed the food and were driven straight home where they were met by the police.

     Police officers, working off clues provided by the kidnapped girls, identified a pair of suspects and took them into custody Friday night, August 15, 2014. Charged with counts of first-degree kidnapping, officers booked 39-year-old Stephen Howells II and Nicole Vaisey, 25, into the St. Lawrence County Jail.

     Stephen Howells lived in nearby Hermon, New York with Vaisey, his girlfriend. According to the St. Lawrence County sheriff, the couple and their victims did not know each other. The district attorney told reporters that Howells and Vaisey sexually abused the girls during their period of captivity. The judge denied the suspects bond.

     Sheriff Kevin Wells, at a press conference Saturday morning, August 16, in speaking about the suspects, said there was "definite potential" of other kidnap victims associated with the couple. As a result, addition charges could be filed against Howells and Vaisey. The sheriff said he believed the Amish kidnappings had been carefully planned.

     Howells, a father of three, worked as a registered nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdenburg, a town adjacent to Oswegatchie.

     Nicole Vaisey graduated with honors in 2011 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. During her senior year, as a psychology major, she received a $1,500 grant to do research about the effects of watching pornography on attitudes toward rape. She was president of the Mercyhurst chapter of Psi chi and a member of the Mercyhurst Psychology club and the school's Active Minds club.

     Upon graduation from Mercyhurst, Vaisey worked as a substitute teacher at a day care center then took a job with an agency in St. Lawrence County that serves developmentally disabled people. After moving in with Stephen Howell, she worked twice a week as a dog groomer at Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort. The couple met eighteen months ago online.

     Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford C. Riendeau, told a reporter with The New York Times that he planned to argue in court that his client was in an abusive and submissive relationship with Howells. She was not, he said, the lead person in the kidnapping. "She appears to have been the slave and he was the master."

     St. Lawrence County district attorney Mary Rain, said, "We are confident that Vaisey was equally involved in the allegations as he was."

    In May 2015, Howells pleaded guilty to the sexual exploitation of six children, including the two Amish victims. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of child pornography.

     Nicole Vaisey, that May, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sexually exploit minors as well as nine counts of sex exploitation of children.

     In January 2016, St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome Richards sentenced each defendant to 25 years in prison. These sentences ran concurrently with the couples' earlier sentencing in federal court. In the federal kidnapping case, Howell received a prison term of 580 years. Vaisey was sentenced to 300 years behind bars. 

Execution by Gas Chamber

     It would be hard to devise a more expensive, dangerous, or cruel method of execution than death by gas chamber, which was designed and invented by Army Medical Corps officer Major Delos Turner and stands as the only execution device that requires the condemned to participate in his or her own execution, by inhaling lethal gas.

     Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of inmates to the state of Nevada, whose legislature adopted it as the state's official method of execution in 1921, replacing the electric chair.

     Between 1930 and 1999, 955 men and 7 women died in gas chambers in eleven states: Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wyoming. Nevada came first with the gassing to death of Gee Jong on February 8, 1924, and Arizona last with a German national named Walter LeGrand on March 3, 1999. Four states, including Arizona, have retained the gas chamber as an alternative method of execution, even though it has proved to be anything but humane.

     Death in a gas chamber usually takes six to eighteen minutes. It took eleven minutes before Donald Harding was pronounced dead in the Arizona gas chamber on April 6, 1992. The warden presiding over the execution said he would quit his job before carrying out another gas chamber execution.

     The ritual of this form of execution begins when the condemned inmate is led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by the arms, waist, ankles, and chest. A mask covers the inmate's face. The chamber is sealed. An executioner pours sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor below a metal canister that contains cyanide pellets.

     An open curtain allows witnesses to see the inmate in the chamber. If the inmate has a final statement, it is read. Then the warden signals the executioner, who hits an electric switch that opens the bottom of the metal canister and releases the cyanide pellets into the acid, unleashing a cloud of lethal gas.

Billy Wayne Sinclair and Jodie Sinclair, Capital Punishment, 2009

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of His Cat

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Edgar Allan Poe's Short Story Dictum

The novel differs from the short story in more than just length, but they both share the dynamic quality of character-moved-by-plot. But the difference is, that on the long trip the novel provides, there is space and time for a quantity of incidents and effects. Edgar Allan Poe spoke of the short story as providing "a single and unique effect" toward which every word contributes: "If the author's initial sentence tend not to the bring out this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-establishsed design." Poe's famous "unique effect" dictum can of course be taken too strictly, but it does seem to be the case that there is a degree of unity in a well-wrought short story--what we call an "harmonious relationship of all its aspects"--that isn't necessarily found in a good novel, that isn't perhaps even desirable in a novel.

Rust Hills, Writing in General and The Short Story in Particular, 1987      

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Kennewick Man

     In the 1980s, Native American activists began calling for a federal law that mandated the return of prehistoric remains and certain artifacts, held by government and federally funded museums and universities, to the descendants of these indigenous people. Following a series of Congressional hearings, Senators Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and John McCain of Arizona proposed the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). President George H. Bush signed the law in 1990.

     NAGPRA, administered by the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act Office within the Department of Interior, is comprised of three principal sections. NAGPRA outlaws the unauthorized excavation of Native American Grave sites on federal land; requires museums and universities covered under the law to catalogue "cultural items" in their collections and share lists of these objects with the appropriate tribes so they can petition their return; and prohibits individuals from buying or selling Native American "cultural items," "sacred objects," "ceremonial objects," and artifacts with "ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance" to a Native American group. NAGPRA does not apply to human remains and relics removed from state or privately owned land, or to artifacts acquired or found before 1990. 
The Kennewick Man Case
     Two college students walking along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington on July 28, 1996, stumbled upon a human skull lying in two feet of water. After examining the site as a potential crime scene, Benton County Coroner Floyd Johnson called in Dr. James Chatters, a local forensic anthropologist. Chatters discovered, buried nearby, the rest of the bones that he took to the coroner's office for further examination.
     Following a newspaper report regarding the discovery of human remains that appeared to be prehistoric, representatives of the Umatilla people, a federally recognized tribe that lived in the area, came forward to claim the skeleton under NAGPRA.
     On August 27, 1996, Dr. Chatters held a press conference and announced that based on the radiocarbon process, he believed the Kennewick Man, also known as The Ancient One, had lived during the Paleo period 8,340 to 9,900 years ago. This alone made fascinating and important news, but Dr. Chatters' revelation that Kennewick Man's skull had Caucasoid features (a long narrow face with a prominent chin) heightened media interest because it fueled the debate over the hypothesis that prehistory Europeans as well as Proto-Mongaloids had crossed the Bering Straight into North America.
   Dr. Chatters discovered a Paleo projectile point lodged in the Ancient One's hip, a wound that had not been the cause of the five-foot-nine forty-five to fifty-year-old man's ancient death.
     In September 1996, as Dr. Chatters made preparations to ship the remains to Dr. Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., the United States Corps of Engineers (COE) stepped into the case on behalf of the Umatilla Tribe and three out-of-state Native American groups. The COE, having jurisdiction over the site of the Kennewick Man discovery, took custody of the remains before they were sent off for further scientific study.
     Although the Native American groups had not established cultural affiliation beyond oral histories, the COE, with speed uncharacteristic of a governmental agency, recognized their NAGPRA claim.
     Appalled by the arbitrariness of the COE's decision to repatriate the remains before they could be subjected to thorough scientific study, a group of anthropologists and archaeologists filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the COE's action. Federal Magistrate John Jelderks, in June 1997, ruled that the COE, by acting so hastily, had failed to consider and resolve key legal issues raised by the dispute. Judge Jelders vacated the repatriation, and ordered the COE to reconsider the scientists' request to study the bones. In September 1997, a federal judge ordered the COE to send the Ancient One to the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle. 
     Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, on January 13, 2000, issued a determination that the Kennewick Man was Native American and therefore covered by NAGPRA. Eight months later, Babbit ruled that the preponderance of evidence proved the Ancient One was culturally affiliated with the four claimant Indian tribes.
     Because Babbitt's ruling had no basis in science, his decision created a firestorm of anger and frustration among anthropologists and archaeologists who believed the decision reflected "a lack of adherence to the statutory definition of cultural affiliation…and an apparent lack of appreciation for the decidedly balanced compromise that is at the heart of NAGPRA.

   In 2002, a group of scientists filed a federal lawsuit to block the repatriation of the Ancient One's remains. In August of that year, the federal magistrate presiding over the case found in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge condemned Secretary Babbitt's ruling that the Native American claimants shared a cultural affiliation with the Kennewick Man. The judge opined that Babbitt, in making his decision, had not considered all of the relevant factors related to the issue. The four tribes, joined by the Department of Justice, appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

     The federal appeals court, in April 2004, affirmed the lower court's ruling. Appellate Judge Gould, in upholding the scientists' right to maintain control of the remains, wrote: "….Scant or no evidence of cultural similarities between Kennewick Man and modern Indians exists. One of the secretary's [Babbitt's] experts, Dr. Kenneth Ames, an anthropologist with Portland State University, reported that 'the empirical gaps in the record preclude establishing cultural continuities or discontinuities, particularly before about 5,000 B.C.' Dr. Ames noted that, although there was overwhelming evidence that many aspects of the "Plateau Pattern" [The region drained by the Columbia and Fraser Rivers.] were present between 1,000 B. C. and A. D. 1, 'the empirical record precludes establishing cultural continuities or discontinuities across increasingly remote periods.' He noted that the available evidence is insufficient either to prove or disprove cultural or group continuity dating back earlier than 5,000 B. C., which is the case with regard to the Kennewick Man's remains, and that there is evidence that substantial changes occurred in settlement, housing, diet, trade, subsistence patterns, technology, projectile point styles, raw materials, and mortuary rituals at various times between the estimate date when Kennewick Man lived and the beginning of the Plateau Culture some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago."

     In July 2004, the four claimant tribes announced they were not going to appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. This closed the case, and opened the door for further study of the Kennewick Man's bones. To this day, Native American activists regard the Kennewick Man case a bitter defeat and significant setback in the repatriation movement.

     At the annual American Association of Forensic Sciences convention held in February 2006 in Seattle, Dr. Douglas Owsley presented his analysis of the Kennewick Man's remains. According to the anthropologist, the Ancient One, because he was more than 9,000 years old, is more closely related to old world populations than to American Indian groups that came to North America across the Bering Straight 2,000 years later. 

Tattoos: Human License Plates Identifying Criminals and Victims

     A mother in Georgia got into trouble for taking her 10-year-old son to a tattoo shop where he got tattooed in honor of his dead brother. The local prosecutor's office charged the woman with child cruelty. Under Georgia law, only physicians and osteopaths can tattoo people under 18. (Why would a doctor ink a kid in the first place?) This story got me thinking about tattoos, and the role they play, and have played, in the identification of criminals and their victims.

     Not too long ago, people most likely to get a tattoo were enlisted military personnel, prison inmates, and members of street gangs. Truman Capote, the author of "In Cold Blood," once told a journalist that of the dozens of mass murderers and serial killers he had interviewed, all of them had tattoos. Today, that would surprise no one. In 2006, according to a Pew Research Center survey, more than 36 percent of people between the ages 18 and 40 have at least one tattoo. This percentage is probably much higher now. (It seems that 90 percent of college and professional football and basketball players are tattooed. And as a boxing fan, I have noticed that more and more prize fighters are heavily tattooed.)

     Tattoos, along with clothing, personal belongings, fingerprints, scars, moles, and teeth, are helpful in the identification of corpses that have been dumped in the water, in fields and in the woods. In 1935, two fishermen caught a shark off the coast of Sydney, Australia. They took the live fish to a local aquarium where it disgorged a human arm that had been severed by a knife. The arm also bore a distinctive tattoo that led to the identification of a murder victim named James Smith. Smith had been an ex-boxer with a history of crime. The case became known as the Shark Arm Murder.

     The police routinely ask crime victims and eyewitnesses if the suspect had any tattoos. Former prison inmates and members of street gangs assist law enforcement by identifying themselves as such through their inked, individualized body markings. In England in the late 1800s, before criminal identification bureaus adopted fingerprints, ID clerks took note of arrestees' tattoos and their locations, data classified and filed for future retrieval. Today, in California, the CALGANG database consists of a collection of gang tattoos. In Florida, a database has been recently created that features about 372,000 tattoos of people who have been arrested in that state.

     In 2010, Michigan State University licensed tattoo matching technology to Morpho Trak, the world's leading provider of biometric (eye, hand, signature, and voice ID) identification systems. Corrections and law enforcement officers use the tattoo database to identify criminal suspects and homicide victims.

     Dr. Nina Jablonski, head of the anthropology department at Penn State, says that "Tattoos are part of an ancient and universal tradition of human self-declaration and expression." In some cases, these tattoos express anti-social attitudes, and declare that their owners have histories of crime.

Mystery Fiction

I think mystery fiction offers the complete package: a strong sense of place, complex main characters, moral and societal issues, roller coaster plotting. If you give me all of these, I'm happy as a reader.

Ian Rankin

Creating a Good Documentary Film

     Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts…But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it's what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts…

    Story is the device that enables this arrangement. A story may begin as an idea, hypothesis, or series of questions. It becomes more focused throughout the filmmaking process, until the finished film has a compelling beginning, an unexpected middle, and a satisfying end. Along the way, the better you understand your story, even as it's evolving, the more prepared you'll be to tell it creatively and well. The visuals you shoot will be stronger. You're likely to cast and scout locations more carefully and waste less time filming scenes that aren't necessary. And perhaps surprisingly, you'll be better prepared to follow the unexpected--to take advantage of the twists and turns that are an inevitable part of documentary production, and recognize those elements that will make your film even stronger.

Shelia Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 2004 

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Frivolous Lawsuit Over Hot Fajitas

     America has become a litigious society overrun by personal injury lawyers in search of deep-pocket defendants (once called ambulance chasers) and greedy, bogus plaintiffs looking for a big payday at the expense of the rest of us. You can't escape these hungry, aggressive lawyers who advertise on billboards and around the clock on television. This is why it is so gratifying to witness the demise of a frivolous personal injury suit.

     Hiram Jimenez and his brother, in March 2010, were sitting in a booth at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Westampton, New Jersey. When the waitress placed a sizzling hot skillet in front of Jimenez, he said to his brother, "Let's have a prayer."

     When Mr. Jimenez bowed his head in prayer over the hot fajitas dish, he heard what he described as a "loud sizzling noise and a pop sound" followed by a burning sensation on his face. He tried to push the food off the table but it landed on his lap.

     Claiming "serious and permanent" injuries because the waitress failed to warn him of the dangerous and hazardous fajitas grease she had exposed him to, Mr. Jimenez filed a personal injury suit against the California-based chain of 1,900 restaurants. The plaintiff sought an undisclosed amount of money--damages--as a result of the waitress' negligence.

     A New Jersey trial judge dismissed the burning fajitas case stating that a restaurant does not have a legal duty to warn patrons about food dangers that are open and obvious. Mr. Jimenez appealed this ruling.

     In February 2015, a two-judge appellate court panel affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Applebee's suit noting that the sizzling hot fajitas platter constituted a "self-evident" hazard.

Who Killed President John F. Kennedy?

Even the basic facts of [John F.] Kennedy's death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds--involving [Lyndon B.] Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings. [According to Vincent Bugliosi, 82 people have, over the years, been accused of assassinating President Kennedy.]

Jill Abramson, "The Elusive President," The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 2013

Serial Killer Bobby Joe Long

     As a child growing up in Kenova, West Virginia, kids teased Bobby Joe Long because he had an extra X chromosome that caused him to grow breasts. As a child he suffered several head injuries, and slept in his mother's bed until he was a teenager. Prior to killing women in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, Long raped at least fifty victims in Fort Lauderdale, Ocala, and Miami where he was known by the media as the "Classified Ad Rapist." Many of his victims were prostitutes.

     In 1974, Long married his high school girlfriend with whom he fathered two children. They divorced in 1980. Three years later Long moved to Tampa Bay, and in March 1984, abducted, raped and strangled to death his first murder victim. Over the next eight months Long would murder another nine women whose bodies he posed in gruesome positions. Either strangled or bludgeoned to death, all of these woman had their throats slit. Most of them died in his apartment.

     In November 1984, a women he had abducted managed to talk Long out of killing her. This led to his arrest, conviction and death sentence. Long confessed to deriving sadistic pleasure out of his victims' suffering.

     On May 23, 2019, the 65-year-old serial killer was executed. He had no last words for those who witnessed his death by lethal injection.

The Romance Novel

The romance is loved and derided for its formulaic nature. It is comfort, escapism and reassurance in a troubling world. It is generic in the truest sense, a genre defined and constrained by a handful of conventions. The heart of every romance is a love story, and by the last page of the book the lovers wind up together, happily ever after or at least "happily for now."

Jaime Green

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dr. Ralph Erdmann: The Forensic Pathologist From Hell

     Most forensic pathologists are hardworking, well intentioned, and competent. Even the best of them make honest mistakes. But over the years there have been several high-profile embarrassments to the profession. These forensic pathologists, because they were careless, incompetent, corrupt, or weak, did great harm to criminal defendants, victims of crime, and forensic science. Dr. Ralph Erdmann, a run-amok forensic pathologist who worked many years in west Texas represents the worst of the worst.

     In 1981, 25 years after acquiring a medical degree in Mexico, Dr. Erdmann moved to Childress in Lubbock County, Texas. He began, on a private contract basis, doing autopsies for five small hospitals in the county. He moved to Amarillo in 1983 and began performing autopsies for hire throughout the Texas panhandle region. Over the next decade, Dr. Erdmann conducted more than 3,000 autopsies in 41 jurisdictions. In 1990, at the height of his activity, he performed 480 autopsies. The following year he did 310, most of which were performed in Lubbock County. For his work in Lubbock County, Dr. Erdmann received an annual fee of $140,000. In the smaller counties Dr. Erdmann charged $650 per autopsy. The forensic pathologist had a large territory to cover and was constantly on the move, performing autopsies on the run.

     Because he covered a rural area Dr. Erdmann did not always work under ideal conditions. In cases of decomposing bodies, many of the smaller hospitals denied him access to autopsy space because of the stink. As a result he performed autopsies in funeral home garages, hospital loading docks, parking lots, and abandoned houses. Dr. Erdmann once performed an autopsy on a door laid across two 55-gallon drums.

     It wasn't just his take-charge work ethic that made Dr. Erdmann so popular with detectives and county prosecutors. What they especially liked about this pathologist was his unabashed eagerness to tailor his autopsy findings to their law enforcement needs. If the prosecution needed a victim or suspect to have alcohol in his or her blood, that was not a problem. It didn't matter that no blood-alcohol test had been administered in the case. If a certain time of death was necessary to incriminate a defendant, Dr. Erdmann would provide it, even if such a precise estimation was scientifically infeasible.

     Because Dr. Erdmann made their jobs so easy, many detectives and prosecutors turned a blind eye to his personal weirdness, sloppy work habits, questionable science, embarrassing omissions, and patent dishonesty. Even with the support of the law enforcement community, Dr. Erdmann was so obviously unfit for the job he was eventually drummed out of the profession.

     By 1992, after a number of defense attorneys began challenging and exposing Dr. Erdmann's methods and findings, the outlandish nature of his malpractice began to catch up to him. That year he was forced to surrender his Texas medical license to the State Board of Medical Examiners. He also pleaded guilty to charging several counties for autopsies he had not conducted. The judge sentenced Erdmann to 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service. He also had to pay $17,000 in restitution. The following year Dr. Erdmann left Texas for the state of Washington.

     A review of Dr. Erdmann's work explains how he had been able to perform so many autopsies. He cut corners. For example, he didn't bother to weigh the internal organs he removed. And in many cases, he didn't even bother to cut them out of the corpse. He simply estimated their weights. Dr. Erdmann got caught doing this when the family of a man he had autopsied noticed, in the autopsy report, the weight of the dead man's spleen. Years before his death this man's spleen had been surgically removed.

     Even in situations where the cause of death was obviously murder, Dr. Erdmann didn't always get it right. In the case of a body found in a dumpster, Dr. Erdmann reported the cause of death as pneumonia. The police later arrested the suspect who had stolen the dead man's car, shot him in the head, then disposed of his body in that dumpster. Perhaps this man had pneumonia when he was shot to death, but it was the bullet that killed him. In another body-in-the-dumpster case, Dr. Erdmann lost the dead man's head, the body part containing the fatal bullet that would have connected the shooter to the murder. Without the head or the bullet, the suspect could not be prosecuted.

     In a fatal hit-and-run case, Dr. Erdmann testified that the victim had died instantly of a broken neck. He based this finding on his examination of the 14-year-old victim's brain. But when the body was exhumed, another forensic pathologist found that Erdmann had not even bothered to open the boy's skull.

     In the case of an infant who died in a bathtub, Dr. Erdmann determined that the baby had been killed by a blow to the stomach. This led to the arrest of the man who was in the house when the infant died. After a second forensic pathologist examined the body, the prosecutor had to drop the murder charge. The baby had drowned accidentally. The cause of death: asphyxia.

     As reported in the ABA Journal, as a result of Ralph Erdmann's bungled and incomplete autopsies, the defendants in 20 murder cases had grounds to appeal their convictions. The panel of experts who looked at 300 of his autopsy reports--a relatively small sampling--found that 1/3 of the bodies had not even been cut open. When confronted with this evidence, Dr. Erdmann explained it away as clerical errors. He never admitted wrongdoing and would continue to insist that he was not dishonest or incompetent. Yes, he had made a few mistakes, but he had been forced to work under unfavorable conditions. The forensic pathologist accused his critics of being revenge-minded defense attorneys and characterized the investigation of his work and career as a witch hunt.

     On July 23, 2010, in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Erdmann died at the age of 83.
    

Kenneth Douglas: The Morgue Employee From Hell

     First you're murdered, then you are raped. This represents the ultimate victimization. Having sex with a dead person, while a relatively minor crime, reflects behavior that is beyond deviant, and worse than bad. It's disturbing to know the world is populated with sexual deviants like Kenneth Douglas who can commit their disgusting acts for years without detection. However, while dead victims cannot speak, advances in forensic science have given them a voice. It's that voice that brought Mr. Douglas to justice.

     From 1976 to 1992, Kenneth Douglas worked the night shift at the Hamilton County Morgue in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to his wife, who reported him several times to his morgue supervisors, when he'd undress at home after work he "reeked of alcohol and sex." Eventually morgue officials told Mrs. Douglas to stop calling. Apparently they were not interested in knowing if one of their morgue employees was abusing corpses and contaminating evidence. When the 38-year-old left the morgue in 1992 it was not because officials fired him. He simply stopped showing up for work. The situation at the Hamilton County Morgue reflects a fairly typical example of governmental inertia.

     In 1982, ten years before Kenneth Douglas left the morgue, door-to-door salesman David Steffan confessed to beating and slashing the throat of 19-year-old Karen Range after she invited him into her home. The forensic pathologist found traces of semen in the murder victim's body. Steffen, however, said he had not raped the victim. The judge sentenced him to death. (Steffan remains on Ohio's death awaiting execution.)

     In March 2008, police officers arrested Kenneth Douglas, the former morgue employee, on a drug charge. A detective ran his DNA sample through a database and came up with a match. The semen found in Karen Range's body was his.

     Following his indictment for gross abuse of a corpse in August 2008, Douglas pleaded no contest to the charge. The judge sentenced him to three years in prison.

     Four years later, investigators in Cincinnati discovered that Douglas' DNA matched semen that had been found in two other female corpses in the Hamilton County Morgue. One of these cases involved 24-year-old April Hicks who died in October 1991 after falling out of a three-story window. Kenneth Douglas, when confronted with the DNA evidence, admitted having sex with her body on the day she died.

     The other case involved the 1992 murder of 23-year-old Charlene Appling. Douglas confessed to have sex with her corpse as well. Mark Chambers pleaded guilty to strangling Appling and was sentenced to 10 to 25 years. (He was paroled in 2000.)

     Douglas shocked his interrogators by confessing to having sex with more than 100 Hamilton County corpses during his tenure at the morgue. He blamed his deviant behavior on crack cocaine and booze. (Blaming cocaine and alcohol was, of course, a load of crap.)

     In 2012, relatives of Karen Range, Charlene Appling, and April Hicks sued Hamilton County in federal court. The plaintiffs accused the defendant of "recklessly and wantonly" neglecting to supervise Mr. Douglas. In 2013 a U.S. district judge dismissed the suit on grounds the plaintiffs, while perhaps victims of negligence on the part of morgue administrators, had failed to establish that their constitutional rights had been violated. The plaintiffs appealed that ruling.

     In August 2014, a three-judge panel on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision. This meant that the civil case could go forward against Hamilton County.

     In February 2015, Hamilton County settled the abuse of corpse lawsuit by paying the plaintiffs $800,000.
     

Unnecessary Drama and False Emotion in the Documentary Film

     In the documentary film, you want to avoid creating unnecessary drama--turning a perfectly good story into a soap opera. There's no reason to pull in additional details, however sad or frightening, when they aren't relevant…

     False emotions--hyped-up music and sound effects and narration that warns of danger around every corner--is a common problem, especially on television. As in the story of the boy who cries wolf, at some point it all washes over the viewer like so much noise. If the danger is real, it will have the greatest storytelling impact if it emerges organically from the material.

Sheila Curran, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

Was Raymond Chandler A Literary Novelist?

The fact that some genre writers write better than some of their literary counterparts doesn't automatically consecrate their books. Although a simile by Raymond Chandler and by the legion of his imitators is the difference between a live wire and a wet noodle, Chandler's novels are not quite literature. The assessment is Chandler's own, tendered precisely because he was literary. "To accept a mediocre form and make something like literature out of it is in itself rather an accomplishment." So it is. And there are a number of such accomplishments by the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Charles McCarry, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, and dozens of others.

Arthur Krystal, The New Yorker, October 24, 2012 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Professor Rainer Reinscheid's Revenge

     Rainer Klaus Reinscheid was an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. The 48-year-old lived in the Orange County city of 223,000, thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles, with his second wife, two stepchildren, and his 14-year-old son from his first marriage.

     In March 2012, Reinscheid's son, Claus Stubbe, a student at Irvine's University High School, got in trouble for stealing something from the student store. As punishment, the assistant principal assigned the boy trash pick-up duties during the school's lunch hour. Shortly after this mild disciplinary action, a worker at the Mason Park Preserve adjoining the high school campus, found the boy hanging from a tree in a wooded area of the park.

     Professor Reinscheid blamed his son's suicide on the assistant principal who had disciplined the boy. On April 26, 2012, the distraught father, on his cellphone, emailed his wife details of his intention to take out revenge on his son's death. His plan, in general, included shooting 200 students at University  High School, murdering the assistant principal, and raping as many high school girls as he could. Once he had accomplished his mission, he'd kill himself.

     In one of two emails to his wife that day, the revenge-minded professor wrote: "I need a gun, many guns, and then I have the ride of my life. I will give myself a wonderful ending with Klaus very soon. I like this plan, finally a good idea." Two days later, in another email, Reinscheid said that while he was casing out the high school campus, he had fantasized about having sex with every girl he had seen.

     On July 4 and 19, 2012, a series of small fires broke out in Mason Park Preserve. Fire fighters also responded to a fire someone had set outside the home of University High School's assistant principal. Following the two fires in the park, the Irvine police beefed up patrols of the preserve. At 12:45 in the morning of July 24, police officers patrolling the park caught Professor Reinscheid igniting newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. He was starting the fire not far from where his son had committed suicide. The officers arrested him on the spot. The next day, charged with arson, Professor Reinscheid posted his $50,000 bond, and was released from custody.

     Police investigators, after linking Reinscheid to three incendiary fires at the high school, and the one at the assistant principal's house, charged the professor with four additional counts of arson, and a count of attempted murder. By now, detectives had discovered the emails Reinscheid had sent to his wife detailing his intent to seek revenge for his son's suicide. Although the content of these emails--private musings rather than threats sent to targeted individuals--were not considered chargeable criminal offenses, police re-arrested the professor on the additional arson and attempted murder charges. (Whether or not the professor's very specific revenge emails is a crime poses an interesting legal question. Had the emails suggested a conspiracy, and he had acted upon that plan by buying a gun, it would have been an offense. Had there been an agreement with a fellow conspirator to carry out the crimes, the fires would have been acts in furtherance of that conspiracy.)

     The Orange County prosecutor, using the revenge emails as evidence that Rainer Reinscheid was a danger to society, asked that he be held in custody without bail. The judge agreed, and denied the professor bond.

     On July 27, the Irvine police re-arrested Professor Reinscheid in his office at the University of California. When they took him into custody, he was drafting a document on his computer giving his wife power of attorney over his finances. When searching his car, officers found a red folder containing a newly drafted and signed last will and testament.

     Reinscheid pleaded guilty in July 2013 to six counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson, and resisting or obstructing an officer. Reinscheid faced a maximum sentence of 18 years behind bars.The Orange County prosecutor had dropped the attempted murder charge. A month later, on the first day of his sentencing hearing, Reinscheid said, "I lost my son, and then I lost myself. Now, I am asking you, your honor , and many other people, to forgive me and show mercy." Reinscheid said he wanted to return to his native Germany where he could find work to support his family. The ex-professor acknowledged that his career in academia was over.

     School superintendent Tracy L. Walker, in a statement read aloud at the hearing, wrote: "That tragedy [the boy's suicide] cannot serve as justification for terrorizing a school community and staff members who have dedicated their lives to helping others."

     On the second day of Reinscheid's sentence hearing, the judge heard from the University High School assistant principal whose house Reinscheid tried to burn down. The school administrator said that his life will never be the same.

     In an effort to mitigate his client's criminal rampage, defense attorney Joshua Glotzer noted that his client had been "self-medicating" with drugs he had ordered online. The professor had also been drinking cheap wine. The drugs and the wine, according to the attorney, had led to a "perfect storm" that provoked the arsons.

     On August 22, 2013, the judge sentenced the former professor to 14 years and 4 months in prison.
     

Comedy Derived from Character

     One of the most famous lines in the history of comedy is from "The Jack Benny Show." Throughout his career, Benny developed the persona of the ultimate skinflint. On one show, a robber pulled a gun on Benny and threatened, "Your money or your life." Finally Benny spoke: "I'm thinking it over."

     For the cheapskate Benny persona, this was a rough decision that required some real thought. And it is a perfect example of comedy derived from character. This was not a joke superimposed onto a situation; it grew organically out of the Benny character.

David Evans in How To Write Funny, John B. Bachuba, editor, 2001 

Are All Men Potential Murderers?

When a murder occurs, the search is for motive as well as weapon. Hypotheses generally center around passion, greed, and uncontrollable anger. All of the above related factors have often been seen as at least comprehensible, if deplorable. After all, some say, how can a man stomach his wife's affair with another man or her consideration of another relationship? Although money as a reason for murder is perceived as unacceptable knavery, acquisition of financial resources is recognized as a goal toward which, of necessity, most strive throughout most of their lives. Regarding uncontrollable rage, anger is an emotion with which everyone must struggle, and all deal with it imperfectly. "A man can take just so much," has been one way the killer's apologist has attempted to explain an apparently senseless murder.

Constance A. Bean, Women Murdered By The Men They Loved, 1992 

Thornton P. Knowles On His 7th Grade Gym Teacher

Growing up in West Virginia, I didn't exactly sail through 7th grade. In fact, my little academic boat hit the rocks and sank. The one thing I learned on my first voyage through 7th grade came from our gym teacher, Mr. Blankenship. After gym class, many of us skipped taking a shower. To discourage that, Mr. B. shocked us with the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, showered every day! He said that while none of us future losers would ever become America's president, we could at least be as clean as one. That worked for me. Since then I have showered every day with the president of the United States. Thank you Mr. Blankenship.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte: The Twice Deported Cop Killer

     In 1996, police in Arizona arrested an illegal alien from Mexico named Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte on charges of narcotics possession with the intent to sell. Following the 18-year-old's conviction in the drug case, immigration authorities sent him back to Mexico. Federal narcotics agents arrested Monroy-Brackamonte in 2001. Again, the authorities deported him to Mexico. This drug criminal, however, had no intention of living in his home country. The people who had money to buy drugs lived in the U.S. Shortly after being thrown out of America in 2001, Monroy-Bracamonte was back, this time living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

     On Friday October 24, 2014, Monroy-Brackamonte, 34, and his 38-year-old wife Janelle Marquez Monroy, were sitting in a car in a Motel 6 parking lot in the Arden Way section of Sacramento, California. At ten-thirty that morning the couple encountered Sacramento County sheriff's deputy Danny Oliver, a 47-year-old veteran of the department who approached the suspicious couple.

     Monroy-Bracamonte responded to the deputy sheriff's investigative inquiry by shooting him in the forehead at close range with an AR-15 assault rifle. Deputy Oliver died on the spot. He left behind a wife and two daughters.

     Eager to flee the murder scene in another vehicle, the cop killer and his wife tried to commandeer a car driven by 38-year-old Anthony Holmes. When Mr. Holmes tried to fight off the car thief, the Mexican shot him in the head. (This victim survived the attempted murder.)

     Monroy-Bracamonte next carjacked a red 2002 Ford F-150 cab pickup truck with an ice chest in the back. He and his wife drove the stolen vehicle 30 miles northwest into northern California's Placer County. At this point, law enforcement officers in Sacramento and Placer counties were on the lookout for a cop killing Hispanic man in his thirties with buzz-cut hair who was in a red, stolen pickup truck with a Hispanic woman about his age.

     Later in the day of the Sacramento County shootings, two Placer County deputies spotted the red Ford and its occupants sitting on the side of a rural road. They decided to approach the suspicious vehicle.

     Once again Monroy-Bracamonte greeted the approaching police officers with deadly force. Using his AR-15 assault rifle, he shot 42-year-old homicide detective Michael D. Davis in the head. (The deputy died a short time later in a nearby hospital.) The armed and dangerous Mexican then shot the other Placer County officer, Jeff Davis, in the arm.

     A couple of hours after the shooting of the Placer County deputies, in the Carmichael, California area in Sacramento County a few miles northeast of where Monroy-Bracamonte shot Deputy Danny Oliver and Anthony Holmes, a park ranger saw the Hispanic couple and the stolen red Ford Pickup. Monroy-Bracamonte and his wife were changing clothes next to the parked vehicle.

     Not long after being spotted in Sacramento County by the park ranger, deputies arrested Janelle Marquez Monroy. When taken into custody she possessed, in her purse, a handgun. Police officers, shortly thereafter, took Monroy-Bracamonte into custody at a house in Auburn, California.

     Questioned by detectives, the cop killer identified himself as Marcelo Marquez. However, when his fingerprints were run through the national fingerprint databank, the authorities learned of his true identify. A check of Monroy-Bracamonte's arrest record in Utah revealed that, between 2003 and 2009,  he had been issued ten traffic tickets for speeding and other violations. (Did he have a valid driver's license? Why didn't these arrests trigger deportation?)

     Prosecutors in Sacramento and Placer Counties charged Monroy-Brackamonte with two counts of murder, attempted murder, and two counts of carjacking. The judge denied him bail.

     The suspected cop killer's wife, Janelle Marquez Monroy, was charged with attempted murder and carjacking. (I don't know her citizenship status.)

     In January 2017, Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte, after a judge ruled that the defendant could not fire his attorneys and represent himself, threatened to kill the lawyers. Monroy-Bracamonte also told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White that he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced to death. The judge informed the cop killer that he could not do that.

     During his February 2018 murder trial, after the judge denied Monroy-Bracamonte's not guilty by reason of insanity plea, the defendant laughed, shouted profanities, and threatened to kill police officers and members of the jury. His attorney explained that his client's behavior stemmed from his insane belief that he could not be physically killed. After the jury found Monroy-Bracamonte guilty as charged, the judge sentenced him to death.

Thornton P. Knowles On Duck Hunters

I once knew a couple of avid duck hunters. They'd get up in the morning; dress up as though they were going into combat; plant fake ducks on the pond; hide in the reeds with their shotguns; blow their whistles; then blast unsuspecting ducks out of the sky. They called this sport. I call it recreational killing. When ducks learn to drop egg-sized bombs out of their butts, then it will be a sport. I like ducks a lot better than people who kill them for the fun of it.

Thornton P. Knowles

A Mobster's Regrets

How I could have put Cosa Nostra ahead of loyalty to my wife and my kids is something I will always have to live with. All my life, growing up, I thought that people who went to school and put their noses to the grindstone were nerds, taking the easy way out. I know now that I was the one who took the easy way that I didn't have the guts to stay in school and try. That was the tough road, which I didn't take.

Sammy Bull Gravano in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004

The Long, Slow Death of the Literary Novel

     The novel has always had enemies, but they have not always been the same enemies. Its earliest enemies condemned the novel as a frivolous waste of time….Scorn for the triviality of the novel persisted among many American people throughout the nineteenth century. And it still persists in some quarters: not long ago [1955] an advertisement for the Reporter boasted that the readers of that magazine, among many other virtues, "prefer non-fiction over fiction by a 10 to 1 vote."

     Of course, most novels published in the nineteenth century were, and most novels published today [1957] are, a waste of time, but now no moderately well informed person damns the novel on that account. Those who insist that the novel is dead are most emphatic in proclaiming the greatness of novels written in the good days before the fatal seizure. The talk about the death of the novel is, if one chooses to look at it that way, proof that at least the novel is taken seriously. [Today, except in academic literary circles, the "serious" novel is not taken very seriously. Genre fiction and nonfiction have taken over. And that is good news.]

Granville Hicks, "The Enemies of the Novel," in The Living Novel, Granville Hicks, Editor, 1957