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Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Wrongful Convictions and 35 Years Of Incarceration Of Cathy Woods

     On February 24, 1976, a 19-year-old nursing student at the University of Nevada-Reno named Michelle Mitchell went missing after her car broke down near the campus. Shortly thereafter, Michell's body was found in a nearby garage. Her hands were tied behind her back and her throat had been slashed.

     Reno detectives, without any solid leads in the case, were unable to identify a suspect until March 1979. The suspect was a 29-year-old psychotic named Cathy Woods, an impatient at a Louisiana mental hospital. The patient's counsellor called the local police and reported that Cathy Woods had said something to the effect that she had been involved in the murder of a girl named Michelle in Reno. The Louisiana authorities passed this information on to detectives working the case in Nevada.

     At the time of Michelle Mitchell's disappearance and murder, Cathy woods was 26 and working in Reno as a bartender. Following her mental breakdown, her mother had committed her to the mental institution in Louisiana.

     Reno detectives traveled to Louisiana to question Cathy Woods. When they returned to Nevada they claimed to have acquired a confession from the schizophrenic woman. Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, on the strength of the confession, charged Cathy Woods with first-degree murder. The authorities extradited her back to Nevada to stand trial.

     At the 1980 murder trial, Woods' public defender attorney argued that the state did not have enough evidence to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney pointed out that the prosecutor had no physical evidence connecting his client to the murder and not one eyewitness who had seen the defendant and the victim together. Moreover, the detectives who had questioned the mentally ill Woods had contrived the so-called confession.

     According to Cathy Woods, she had made up the statement about murdering the girl named Michelle in Reno because the only way to get a private room in the mental institution was to be classified as dangerous.

     The Washoe County jury, after a short deliberation, found Cathy Woods guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     After the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Cathy Woods' murder conviction, District Attorney Cal Dunlap brought her to trial again. In 1984, the second jury also found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge again sentenced her to life in prison.

     Cathy Woods' attorney appealed the second murder conviction but this time the appellate court upheld the verdict.

     In 2014, more than three decades after Cathy Woods' arrest, a DNA analysis of a Marlboro cigarette found near Michelle Mitchell's body matched the DNA of an inmate in an Oregon prison named Rodney Halbower. Halbower, known as the "Gypsy Hills Killer," had been convicted of murdering and raping six women and girls in San Francisco. The serial killer had also murdered a woman in Oregon, and in all probability Michelle Mitchell.

     Based upon the DNA evidence linking Halbower to the Michelle Mitchell murder and the overall weakness of the evidence that twice convicted Cathy Woods, a Nevada judge, in 2014, vacated her conviction. Less than a year later she walked free after serving more than 35 years behind bars.

     In 2016, Cathy Woods' lawyer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap and the state of Nevada. In August 2019, the Washoe County Commissioners voted 4 to 0 to settle Woods' suit for $3 million. Additional lawsuits associated with the wrongful convictions are pending.

     Cathy Woods, now 69, resides with relatives near Anacortes, Washington. She has the dubious distinction of being the longest serving wrongfully convicted woman in U.S. history.

Politics As A Confidence Game

All politicians, to one degree or another, are BS artists. But when it comes to painting a dishonest tableau, Joe Biden is a modern day Rembrandt. As a career politician this talent has served him well. But being served a steady diet of bull all these years from Biden and his fellow con men has not served the American public. Enough with the BS already.

The Publisher Responsible For Charles Bukowski's Career

It is one of the ironies of Charles Bukowski's career that his eventual success was largely due to the hard work of a Christian Scientist who drinks nothing stronger than iced tea. John Martin was the manager of an office supply company when he first read Bukowski's poetry, and it literally changed his life. He decided Bukowski was a great genius, "the Walt Whitman of our day," and set out to become his publisher. [Black Sparrow Press].

Howard Sounes, Charles Bukowski: Locked In The Arms Of A Crazy Life

Coaxing Clues From a Corpse

The typical American goes into the ground injected with three to four gallons of preservatives. But a sizable segment of our over-sanitized culture will always escape quick processing. Prominent among this population: the abandoned and the murdered. In theory, their moldering bodies--slumped under bridges, forgotten in bed, or dumped along roadsides--retain the natural if repulsive clues that might disclose time of death. For reasons as sensible as sensory, police are quick to pass these unvarnished dead to the next line of custody--the coroners and medical examiners whose job it is to coax secrets from a corpse.

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

Flawed Eyewitness Memories

I describe a study I'd conducted in which subjects watched a film of a robbery involving a shooting and were then exposed to a television account of the event which contained erroneous details. When asked to recall what happened during the robbery, many subject incorporated the erroneous details from the television report into their account. Once these details were inserted into a person's mind through the technique of exposure to post-event information, they were adopted as the truth and protected as fiercely as the "real," original details. Subjects typically resisted any suggestion that their richly detailed memories might have been flawed or contaminated and asserted with great confidence that they saw what their revised and adapted memories told them they saw.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994

Begging For Cover Blurbs

     Writers published by the biggest New York houses get [blurb] requests all the time. Typically they come from the editors at these publishing houses. It will be an email, or an actual book in the mail with a note attached that says something like this: "Jane Doe's first novel is an exciting new take on an old story and we'd be so pleased if you'd give it a look. And if you deem it worthy, a few words of support on Jane's behalf, sent to us by such and such a date, would give her novel a tremendous lift!"

     The more famous and respected the writer, the more of these blurb requests he or she will get. They might come from friends of the famous writer, too, or from his or her editor or agent and their friends. One imagines that Jonathan Franzen, for example, could spend hours and hours responding to the blurb requests he gets. Some writers are famous in the book trade for blurbing a lot (too much), and others for never blurbing at all.

Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2013

How to Deal With a Bad Review

My favorite Kirkus review labeled my writing as "awkward and repetitious." I framed that one.

Charles Knief, mysterylinkonline.com, August 29, 2001 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Death By Knife In D.C.: One Week, Two Random Street Murders

Lance Ammons

     On the afternoon of August 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C., 62-year-old Robert Bolich, a contractor from Alexandria, Virginia, was working on the pedestrian walking lane to the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in the northwestern section of the city. Lance Ammons, a 42-year-old homeless man who lived in a wooded area near the bridge, approached Mr. Bolich, and with a knife stabbed him to death for no reason.

     When D.C. police officers arrested Ammons at the scene, he said he had killed the man on the bridge on orders from the Devil. Ammons told officers he had moved to the spot where he was currently camped to prepare for the end of the world.

     A local prosecutor charged Lance Ammons with first-degree murder. Through his public defenders office attorney, Ammons pleaded not guilty.

Eliyas Wendale Aregahegne

     Twenty-seven-year-old Margery Magill, a 2015 graduate of the University of California at Davis with a bachelor degree in International Agricultural Development, worked in Washington, D.C. as a program coordinator for the nonprofit organization Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.   

     At nine in the evening of August 27, 2019, while walking a dog in the 400 block of Irving Street NW, she was set upon by a knife wielding man who stabbed her several times and left her bleeding to death on the sidewalk. Witnesses heard her scream, "Oh, no? Help me!"

     Medical first responders rushed Margery Magill to a nearby hospital where she died from her wounds.

     The day following the random knife murder in the quiet D.C. residential neighborhood, detectives arrested an unemployed 24-year-old man named Eliyas Wendale Aregahegne. Accused of killing a complete stranger for no reason whatsoever, the prosecutor charged Aregahegne with first-degree murder. Aregahegne pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     According to his Facebook page, Aregahegne had attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for one semester in 2013. The self-described Ethiopian, in July 2017, had been reported missing from his last known address on the 3000 block of 14th Street NW. Based on his numerous Facebook postings, Mr. Aregahegne had a high opinion of himself.

     As potential victims of violent crime, Americans most fear being attacked in public by someone they do not know. Because Robert Bolich and Margery Magill were killed in separate incidents by mentally ill men with knives instead of guns, these two atrocious and frightening murders were essentially ignored by politicians and the national media.

Violent Schizophrenics

     Nearly 1 percent of people will be diagnosed with schizophrenia in their lives....The disorder has a strong genetic component, scientists estimate almost half of the risk comes from genetic factors. Men are diagnosed more than women, and in the United States, black people more often than those of other races, though researchers are not sure why.

     Some drugs help control its symptoms, but schizophrenia has no cure. Most of its sufferers do not work, marry, or have families. [Many are homeless.] They die on average about fifteen years younger than other Americans.

     People with schizophrenia are also more likely to commit violent crime. Mental illness groups play down that grim reality....

Alex Berenson, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, And Violence, 2019

Conspiracy Theories: Their Appeal and Resiliency

     The contrary, unorthodox, and often complicated interpretation of a newsworthy event ofter occurs after high-profile crimes and the unexpected deaths of celebrities.  Conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of famous people flourish when it's possible the well-known person could have been the victim of first-degree murder. For the conspiracy buff, it's even better if the suspected murderer is also a celebrity.

     Notwithstanding the fact that most conspiracy theories are in time debunked by more level-headed investigators, journalists, and true crime writers, they often spring back to life decades after the event. Even the most outlandish conspiracy theories have long lives.

     Examples of celebrity murder conspiracies that have lived on through tabloid journalism and hack true crime writing include the sudden deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, George Reeves, and Curt Cobain. In all of these theories, the murder suspects were also famous.

     Conspiracy theories are fun and exciting real life parlor games. They are also comporting in the belief that if something big and earth-shattering occurs such as the assassination of a president, powerful, evil forces must be behind the murder. Otherwise, we have to accept the fact that American history can be changed in a second by the actions of an insignificant person for reasons that defy understanding. This reality made the murder of John Lennon so unsettling to his fans.

     When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016 in a remote region of west Texas, theories that he had been murdered popped up immediately in the news, notwithstanding the fact he was 79-years-old and in poor health. Because Scalia's death involved enormous political and ideological significance, it's not surprising that theories of his murder surfaced so soon. Theories of his murder persisted despite the fact officials determined he had died of a heart attack. The principal suspect in the Scalia murder scenario is President Obama. In the world of conspiracy theories it doesn't get better than this.

     Before Scalia's momentous passing, Rob Brotherton of the Los Angeles Times had this to say about conspiracy theories:

     "Conspiracy theories are not inherently "delusional." Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them. If you had claimed in 1972 that the burglary at the Watergate Hotel was, in fact, a plot by White House officials to illegally spy on political rivals and insure President Nixon's reelection, you'd have sounded like a nut. If you'd claimed that the CIA had given American citizens LSD, mescaline, and other drugs in secret mind-control experiments, you'd have been laughed off as a member of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Both conspiracies, however, were quite real. Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation."

     

Philip Roth On Novel Writing

My interest is in solving problems presented by writing a novel. That's what stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow, obsessing about nothing. Some people do crossword puzzles to satisfy their need to keep their mind engaged. For me, the absolutely demanding mental test is the desire to get the work right. The crude cliche is that the novelist is solving the problem of his life in his books. Not at all. What he's doing is taking something that interests him in life and then solving the problem of the book--which is, how do you write about this?

Philip Roth, The Guardian, September 11, 2004 

An Editor Can't Save A Bad Novel

Maxwell Perkins, dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken,

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Richard De Wit Murder Case

     Sarah Groves, a 24-year-old hotel fitness instructor from the English Channel Island of Guernsey, was visiting her boyfriend in India's northwestern region of Kashmir. A former student at the Catholic St. Mary's boarding school in Ascot, she was a friend of Princess Beatrice. The boyfriend, Saeed Shoda, had arranged a room for Groves on his father's houseboat "New Beauty" on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir's capital.

     At two in the morning of April 6, 2013, 43-year-old Richard DeWit, an unemployed Dutch man with a room on the houseboat, broke into Grove's suite and allegedly stabbed her 45 times. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoda was spending the weekend with his friends. Miss Groves had remained with Shoda's parents who told reporters she had been like a daughter to them.

     Leaving everything behind on the "New Beauty" except for his passport and $2,500 inside his underwear, the barefoot, 7-foot-tall DeWit fled the houseboat in a stolen rowboat that capsized before he reached the shore. Once on land DeWit boarded a taxi.

     Shortly after members of the houseboat staff found Sarah Groves dead in a pool of blood, Kashmir police arrested DeWit on the National Highway 50 miles away in the town of Qazgund.

     Later that day, the murder suspect confessed to the police. He admitted having "violent tendencies" and said he had been under the influence of drugs during the 15-minute knife attack. DeWit explained that he had been overtaken by the devil. "The Devil took over my body," he allegedly said.

     DeWit's 31-year-old wife, Uma Rupanya, informed the authorities that DeWit had left her and their two daughters in November 2012. She said he had become "increasingly paranoid and irrational." According to the murder suspect's wife, "He believed the government was out to get him, that spies were following him, that his house was bugged."

      A prosecutor in Srinagar has charged DeWit with first-degree murder. (At seven foot tall, people in India must have seen DeWit as some kind of giant. I wouldn't want to be the police official responsible for organizing a line-up in this case.)

     At some point after his arrest, Richard De Wit took back his confession and pleaded not guilty.

     In February 2015, the De Wit murder trial got underway in Srinagar, India. In October 2015, following 29 trial delays, the defendant fired his attorney and the trial came to a halt.

     Sarah Grove's parents, in the spring of 2015, publicly expressed concerns that the authorities, in going after Mr. De Wit, had targeted the wrong man. They characterized the aborted De Wit trial as a farce, and indicated that they suspected the victim's boyfriend, Saeed Shoda. According to the victim's parents, the police had badly mishandled the murder investigation.

     As of August 2017, the De Wit case, after more than four years and 90 hearings, remained on hold. De Wit, from his jail cell, requested to speak to Grove's parents. According to the suspect, he had knowledge about the murder he wanted to pass on to them. The authorities denied that request.

     By August 2019, after countless delays, it appeared that the Richard De Wit would finally get his day in court. Then suddenly that changed when the prime minister of India stripped Kashmir of its statehood and semi-autonomous status. Due to the complete lockdown in Kashmir where phone, cable TV, and Internet services were suspended, Sarah Groves' parents were unable to maintain contact with their legal counsel. As a result the murder victim's parents had no idea what was happening in the case. They feared the political unrest in India would destroy the chance their daughter's murder would be resolved. 

Are Women as Violent as Men?

     When women commit violence the only explanation offered has been that it is involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal imbalance inherent with female physiology: postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause have been included among the named culprits. Women have been generally perceived to be capable of committing only "expressive" violence--an uncontrollable release of bottled-up rage or fear, often as a result of long-term abuse at the hands of males: Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome. It has been generally believed that women usually murder unwillingly without premeditation.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Torture As a Substitute for Criminal Investigation

For more than 500 years in Europe, from the 1200s to the 1700s, including the heyday of the Renaissance, torturing accused criminals was standard operating procedure most everywhere except England. This was the primary means of determining guilt in a criminal in a criminal investigation, not eyewitnesses, not physical evidence, but confession. One of the prime reasons that the practice of torture survived and thrived was the stamp of approval given it early on by the enormously influential Catholic Church.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Why Is Charles Manson Fascinating?

Why does Charles Manson continue to compel us? Not because he reflects the dark heart of the 1960s but because he exemplifies a more far-reaching darkness, the one inside ourselves. As he said at his trial, "I am what you made me"--like any persuasive liar, nurturing his deceptions from a kernel of truth.

David Ulin in reviewing Jeff Guinn's new book, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, 2013

The Limits of Autobiography

I  have tried autobiography and found that I am not to be trusted with it. I hate the restrictiveness of facts; I just can't control my impulse to rearrange, suppress, add, heighten, invent, and improve. Accuracy means less to me that suggestiveness; my memory is as much an inventor as a recorder, and when it has operated it has operated almost as freely as if no personal history were involved.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

What Should You Write About?

That old dictum, write what you know? I've always thought that was terrible advice. Most of us don't know much. And what we do know can feel shopworn in the retelling. Shopworn or just divested of emotional content. Sometimes, the things we're closest to--our lives, for instance--are the very things we least want to examine with rigor. So I prefer: Write what you can learn about.

Fiona Maazel, novelist

Mystery Writer P.D. James (1920-2014)

     Mystery writer P.D. James, who brought realistic modern characters to the classical British detective story, has died. She was 94. James' books, many featuring sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, sold millions in many countries and most were just as popular when adapted for television. James died Thursday November 27, 2014 at her home in Oxford in southern England.

     Because of the quality and careful structure of her writing--and her rather elegant, intellectual detective Dalgliesh--she was at first seen as a natural successor to writers like Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey in the between-the-wars "Golden Age" of the mystery novel. But James' books were strong on character, avoided stereotype and touched on distinctly modern problems including drugs, child abuse and nuclear contamination…

     Although there was nothing remotely "genteel" about P.D. James' writing, she was criticized by some younger writers of gritty urban crime novels. They accused her of snobbery because she liked to write abut middle-class murderers, preferably intelligent and well-educated, who agonized over right and wrong and spent time planning and justifying their crimes. Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, hero of more than a dozen of James' novels, is a decidedly gentlemanly detective, who writes poetry, loves jazz and drives a Jaguar.

     Phyllis Dorothy James was born in Oxford on August 3, 1920. Her father was a tax collector and there was not enough money for her to go to college, a fact she always regretted…She did not start producing her mysteries until she was nearly 40, and then wrote only early in the morning before going to the civil service job with which she supported her family. Her husband, Connor Banty White, had returned from the war mentally broken and remained so until his death in 1964…

     James' first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962 under her maiden name and was an immediate critical success, but she continued to work in the Home Office until 1979…

     James was often spoken of as an heir to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, icons of the classic British mystery, but her admirers thought she transcended both.

Jill Lawless, "Mystery Novelist P.D. James Dead at 94," thestar.com, November 27, 2014 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Melissa Trotter Murder Case

     Melissa Trotter, a 19-year-old college student from Willis, Texas, a suburban community just north of Houston, went missing after being last seen in a pickup truck driven by a 27-year-old electrician named Larry Swearingen. Witnesses saw them together on December 8, 1998 pulling away from Lone Star Community College in Conroe, Texas.

     Detectives trying to find the missing student quickly developed Larry Swearingen as a suspect in her disappearance. Swearingen had a history of crimes against women and was at the time under indictment for having allegedly kidnapped his former fiancee. Investigators considered him a violent sociopath.

     About a week after Melissa Trotter went missing, when detectives questioned Swearingen, he denied knowing her. However, when asked why his pager number was in the missing student's possessions, Swearingen admitted that he knew her and that she had been in his truck many times. At this point the authorities did not have enough evidence to charge Swearingen with any crime related to the missing person case. They did, however, take him into custody in connection with numerous outstanding traffic violations. As it turned out, he would remain behind bars the rest of his life.

     On January 2, 1999, 25 days after she went missing, a person stumbled upon Melissa Trotter's partially clad body in Sam Houston National Forest 70 miles northeast of Houston. The forensic pathologist found enough decomposition to conclude she had been killed within a day or two of her disappearance. Her killer had either strangled her to death with a piece of her pantyhose in the national forest or somewhere else before dumping her body in the woods shortly after her death.

     Detectives searched Larry Swearingen's trailer and found a pair of ripped pantyhose that matched the crime scene ligature. Investigators also found a lighter in the suspect's dwelling that was similar to one the victim had owned.

     A crime lab hair and fiber examiner matched fibers on the victim's body with fibers from the inside of Swearingen's truck. In addition, a cell tower had pinged the suspect not far from where the body had been found in the forest. Detectives believed Swearingen had murdered Melissa Trotter after she resisted his sexual advances. They also believed he had raped her before strangling her.

     In mid-January 1999, the Montgomery County District Attorney charged Larry Swearingen with kidnapping, rape, and capital murder. The prosecutor also notified the defense that the state would seek the death penalty in the case. The defendant pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     At his murder trial, Swearingen's attorneys challenged the validity of the fiber matches related to the pantyhose and the trace evidence taken from the defendant's truck. Five forensic pathologists took the stand for the defense and testified that in their expert opinions Melissa Trotter's body showed too little decomposition to have been dead 25 days at the time of her discovery. The experts believed that when the corpse was found on January 2, 1998, she had been dead no longer than 14 days. This meant that at the time of her murder, about December 22, 1998, Larry Swearingen had been in jail on the outstanding traffic charges.

     Defense attorneys argued that the circumstantial case against their client was weak and based on junk science. The defense also pointed out that dried blood and tissue samples taken from beneath the victim's fingernails did not come from Larry Swearingen.

     Notwithstanding the aggressive defense, the Montgomery County jury found Larry Swearingen guilty of capital murder. The trial judge sentenced him to death.

     Attorneys with the Innocence Project took up Swearingen's appeal of the murder verdict. On August 21, 2019, following several stay of executions and lost appeals before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, Swearingen was delivered to the death chamber at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas.

     The condemned man's final statement before being injected with pentobarbital was: "Lord, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." The executioner administered the lethal dose at 7:47 in the evening. "It's actually burning in my right arm," said Swearingen. "I don't feel anything in the left arm." Those were his last words. Twelve minutes later the attending physician pronounced the 48-year-old dead.


A Leading Criminologist On Mass Murder

There is no evidence that we are in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings.

James Allen Fox, Northeastern University, August 2019

Jail Suicide

Even though prisons hold many more men and women than local jails, more people take their lives in jail. In prison, illness is the leading cause of death, while suicide is the leading cause of death in jails and has been for more than a decade, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Al Tompkins, August 12, 2019

Susan Sontag on the Literary Journal

A writer's journal must not be judged by the standards of a diary. The notebooks of a writer have a very special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself. Typically, writers' notebooks are crammed with statements about the will: the will to write, the will to love, the will to renounce love, the will to go on living. The journal is where a writer is heroic to himself. In it he exists solely as a perceiving, suffering, struggling being.

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, 1969 

Children Take What They Read Literally

While some young readers can think abstractly, most children understand fiction quite literally. This means you have to be careful about what you suggest to them. Perhaps you have a story idea about a little girl who is lonely. Suddenly, a magical man arrives and takes her away on a fantastic adventure. That may be a solid story idea, but your young reader might also take that story line literally, and the repercussions of that in today's world could be very dangerous.

Tracy E. Dils, You Can Write Children's Books, 1998

Memoirs by Journalists

Memoirs are for remembrance. And the remembrances of journalists, when they take book form, are what I think of as "and then I met" books. In my time as a journalist I have met many what we call great men--at least celebrated men. But in Growing Up I was not interested in doing an "and I met" book. My prime interest was to celebrate people that nobody heard of, people I was terribly fond of. I thought these people deserved to be known.

Russell Baker in Inventing the Truth, edited by William Zinsser, 1998 

J.D. Salinger's Relationship With His Fans

The most intense relationship anybody can have with a writer is by reading their work, alone, in silence. Yet readers seek writers in search of something additional. It was J.D. Salinger's hero, Holden Caufield, who said that what really knocked him out was a book that when you're done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the telephone whenever you felt like it. It was also J.D. Salinger who, when Catcher in the Rye achieved its enormous success, made himself as inaccessible to his readers as any living author has ever been.

Sean French in The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, edited by Sean French 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lonely Women, Empty Wallets: The Nigerian Diamond Scam

     In March 2016, two Nigerian men living in Los Angeles using the name Terry Garcia, reached out to a Japanese woman (referred to in court documents as FK) on an international digital pen pal site. The scam artists' fictitious character--Terry Garcia--claimed to be a U.S. Army captain stationed in Syria. The e-mails became personal and FK believed she had found a soul mate.

     In the course of their online correspondence, Captain Garcia confided in FK that he had found a bag of diamonds in Syria and needed her help in smuggling the diamonds out of the war-torn nation. He claimed he had been injured and couldn't do it himself.

     Having secured FK's willingness to help smuggle the diamonds, the con man introduced her to a pair of associates who said they would help her with the clandestine project. The first so-called associate held himself out as a Red Cross diplomat who could arranged the shipment. The second swindler brought into the scam posed as an employee of the shipping company. But here was the catch--the shipping clerk needed bribe money to make sure the package containing the diamonds wouldn't be searched by customs officials.

     After FK fell for the scam and sent the money, she was hooked. Over the next two months she made fifty more payments, a total of $200,000. She borrowed the money from friends, her ex-husband, and relatives who were happy for her and wanted to help her maintain her romantic relationship with Terry Garcia.

     As it turned out, FK was a small piece of a sprawling international confidence game. In August 2019, United States Attorneys across the country charged 80 Nigerians with conspiracy to defraud hundreds of women out of $6 million. Seventeen of the subjects were living in the United States and were taken into custody by FBI agents. The arrests included the two Los Angeles Nigerians who had scammed FK out of $200,000.

     According to the Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles division, the Nigerian Diamond scam artists, in 2018 alone, had swindled 21,000 victims out of $142 million. More arrests were forthcoming. 

Impeaching Federal Judges

The impeachment of federal judges is rare, and removal is rarer still. With respect to federal judges, since 1803, the House of Representatives has impeached only 15 judges--an average of one every 14 years--and only 8 of those impeachments were followed by convictions in the Senate.

Douglas Keith, Brennan Center For Justice, March 8, 2018

Job Priorities For Officials In Charge Of Jails And Prisons

It's really quite simple. If you are in charge of a jail or prison, it's your job to make sure no one escapes, is killed or injured in custody, starts a riot, or sets a fire. Everything else is secondary.

Latent Fingerprint Identification: Too Many False Identifications

When examining [the reliability of latent fingerprint identification] in 2016, the President's Council of Advisors On Science and Technology in the U.S. found that only two properly designed studies of latent fingerprint analysis had been conducted. These studies both found the rate of false matches (known as "false positives") to be very high: 1 in 18 and 1 in 30. One of the main reasons for these high error rates is that fingerprint analysis involves human judgment and relies on a methodology (known as "ACE-V") that is not sufficient to ensure the accuracy and reliability of an examiner's conclusions.

The Conversation, October 23, 2017

Writing Quote: Fiction Writing Over Journalism

Fiction writing is a calling…Who wouldn't choose the role of literature's divinely chosen hand-servant over that of some schmo hustling to meet a deadline? There are many days when I am that schmo, beset by overlapping commitments, late on bills, typing the same sentence over and over with minuscule variations that somehow make it worse each time, wishing I had learned a proper trade.

Dana Stevens, The New York Times, January 27, 2015 

Some Biographers Write About People They Don't Like

Biography is not the place for "debunking," although in recent years there has been a trend in that direction. Why would a biographer wish to spend his days of work giving vent to anger or carrying on a literary association with a person he despises? Yet some enjoy this and write bestsellers.

Doris Ricker Marston, A Guide to Writing History, 1996 

The Supposed Death of Fiction

The 1960s were when the demise of fiction became something to crow about. Philip Roth told us that life in America had become so barbaric and bizarre that no fiction could hold a candle to the grotesque truth. Truman Capote allowed as how he had invented a new kind of narrative treat, the nonfiction novel, that made the un-non kind as obsolete as hand-churned ice cream. Tom Wolfe let us know that his new journalism was zippier, grabbier, funnier, wilder, and truer-to-life than any old wistful bit of fiction published, say, by those tiny giants over at The New Yorker. 

John Updike in Handbook of Short Story Writing, Jean M. Fredette, editor, 1988 

The Allure of Evil Characters

     It's a daring thing [for a "literary" novelist] to write about an evil person, especially in this day of autobiographical fiction, when readers assume most characters are thinly veiled self-portraits. And yet evil characters are usually dynamic and fascinating, upstaging all the goodie-goodies. [Crime novels are popular because the good guy is after the bad guy. Moreover, evil characters is one of the reasons behind the popularity of the true crime genre. For me, real villains are even more fascinating than fictitious ones.]

     Despite the allure of such characters, writers today usually avoid them, maybe because the whole category of Evil seems too theological or because modern psychology assumes that every bad act can be traced to childhood neglect or abuse and thus be explained away. [Novelists should familiarize themselves with the concept of sociopathy. Besides, who cares if a serial killer had a bad childhood?]

Edmund White, "Divine Decadence," The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2014 (Review of Lovers at the Chameleon by Francine Prose)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Rewards: Good Investigative Technique or Buying Good Citizenship?

     In response to crimes that create public outrage and/or fear--abducted children, missing women found dead, venerated objects vandalized or stolen, acts of terrorism, serial killings, and highly publicized murders--law enforcement agencies almost always post monetary rewards for information leading to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The highest rewards come from the federal government. The U.S. State Department put up $25 million for the head of Osama Bin Laden, and $2 million for the capture of James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston mobster suspected of 18 murders. For years, both of these fugitives lived normal lives in public view. Bin Laden was killed last May, and Bulger, on the lam since 1995, was caught last year in California.

     Although the federal government pays out more than $100 million a year in rewards, and claims this money is well-spent, there is no solid evidence that monetary incentives play a significant role in bringing criminals and terrorists to justice. Reward offerings may not only be ineffective, they may actually have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.

     In cases where rewards have been posted, there is no data that indicates the percentage of instances in which the monetary incentive produced a positive result. Moreover, in those cases where reward seekers did come forward with important information, we don't know if those cases would have been eventually solved anyway. There is a real possibility that the police are substituting rewards for old-fashioned shoe leather. The question is: do rewards serve the public, or are they merely public relations gimmicks for lazy investigators?

    The overuse of rewards encourages citizens not to cooperate with the police unless they are paid. In many high profile murder cases, the first thing the police do is offer a big reward. I think this sends the following message to the perpetrators:: "We don't have a clue, and we are desperate for a lead."

     The principal problem law with enforcement rewards, particularly in nationally publicized cases, involves the extra investigative hours it takes to run down all of the false leads created by tipsters hoping for a piece of the reward money. The publicity alone draws out of the woodwork all manner of false confessors, phony eyewitnesses, visionaries, psychics, psychotics, and people bored and lonely. Adding a reward incentive to this mix exacerbates the problem.

     Whether they help or hinder, rewards are here to stay. Law enforcement administrators love them, and the public has come to expect them. They are, at best, a criminal investigative placebo.    

The Prestigious College: A Nightmare For Working And Middle Class Students

     Authors Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, along with a team of researchers helping them produce a book that came out in 2014 called Paying For The Party: How College Maintains Inequality, embedded themselves in a freshman dormitory at an unnamed high-profile midwestern state school. The authors and their researchers kept up with a group of female students through college.

     While according to the conventional wisdom that higher education is a form of upward mobility that is an economic and social equalizer, the authors of this book found otherwise. They believe that a college education from a prestigious, expensive school rewards upper-middle class and rich students while treating their working-class counterparts more cruelly, often leaving these students isolated and adrift.

     The inequality manifests itself in the campus party/sorority scene referred to by the authors as the "Party Pathway" through the university experience. Many kids from well-to-do families select a college or university because of its rich party/social environment. (So, when a university is labeled "a party school," that's good for recruiters.)

     Rich kids, while not necessarily academically prepared for college, get accepted into these expensive schools because the institutions need their parents' money. Many of these less than academically gifted students navigate the university experience by taking bonehead majors like speech communication, criminal justice, elementary education, broadcasting, and women's studies. They don't learn anything useful, but they get their degrees, have a good time, and establish important social relationships. Because their families have connections, they also acquire good jobs.

     The poorer, more academically prepared students struggle to afford sorority fees, clothing costs, spring break trips, and bar tabs. These students are referred to by the rich kids as "wannabes." Students who can't keep up socially end up humiliated and unhappy. According to the authors of Paying For The Party, the most successful working-class students end up transferring to less prestigious, expensive institutions where they are happier and get a better education.

Adapting to Prison

Prison socializes an inmate to act hyper-rationally. It teaches him patience in planning and pursuing his goals, punishes him severely for his mistakes, and rewards him generously for smart action. No wonder that inmates are such ardent optimizers. A clever move can shorten one's sentence, save one from rape or a beating, keep one's spirits high, or increase one's access to resources. There is little space for innocent and spontaneous expressions of emotion when they collide with fundamental interests. Brutal fights, self-injury, and rapes can all be explained as outcomes of carefully calculated actions. Paradoxically, much of the confusion in interpreting prison behavior arises from both a failure to understand the motives of inmates and an unwillingness to admit that outcomes judged as inhuman or bizarre may be consequences of individually rational action.

Marek M. Kaminski, Games Prisoners Play, 2004

What's Keeping You From Writing?

     If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You're a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle....

     Writing is work, hard work, and its rewards are personal more than financial, which means most people have to do it after hours. But if writing is work, learning to write isn't necessarily painful. To the contrary, silence is pain that writing relieves.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995
     

The Fear of Being Buried Alive

Since ancient times, people have worried about being mistaken for dead and then buried alive. Collapse and apparent death became especially common during the plagues that wracked medieval Europe. But at the dawn of the nineteenth century, sensation-mongering tabloids whipped such fears into an unprecedented fervor. The reports of the "many ugly secrets locked up underground" included descriptions of claw marks seen on the inside of disinterred coffins. As a result, several renowned medical societies offered substantial rewards for scientific methods of ascertaining whether someone was truly dead.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse, 2001

The Role Of Alcohol In Writing Fiction

Raymond Chandler is reported to have said he couldn't find an ending to one of his excellent stories unless he took time to get drunk. Up to a point I accept his report. For alcohol can stimulate imagination. It can find inventions. But I'll lay my bottom dollar, as one not unacquainted with booze, that Chandler had to sober up to write that ending.

A. B. Guthrie Jr., Field Guide to Writing Fiction, 1991 

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Dexterity

To succeed in politics, the practitioner must be ambidextrous. While patting a constituent on the back with one hand, the politician needs the other hand to pick the voter's pocket. And while applying this two-handed simultaneous maneuver, the politician has to sweet talk his victim with a litany of lies such as "I'll fight for you, I'm my own man, and I'll put the country above politics." It takes a lot of practice to pull this off, but for the career sociopath, the economic rewards are great.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Keeping Pedophiles Released From Prison Off The Street: Kansas v. Hendricks

     While no one knows exactly how many pedophiles roam our streets and inhabit our institutions, anyone who is paying attention knows there are many of them, too many. Not only that, each pedophile is a serial offender with dozens of victims. And these sexual deviants cannot be rehabilitated. For them there is no cure, no treatment.

     So, what can be done to protect potential victims against these sexual predators? Just catching them and sending them to prison isn't enough because they eventually get out and go right back to seducing and sexually violating children. Laws requiring convicted pedophiles to register as sex offenders, and restricting where they can live, doesn't deal with the problem either. These measures are legislative window dressing to make us think our political leaders are dealing with the problem.

     In 1994, lawmakers in Kansas concerned about children passed a controversial law called the Sexually Violent Predator Act that allowed the state, following a pedophile's release from prison, to involuntarily commit violent sex offenders to mental institutions through a process known as civil commitment.

     The procedure for committing pedophiles and other violent sex offenders under the Kansas law required notifying the local prosecutor handling the case 60 days before the prisoner's release. The prosecutor, upon such notice, had 45 days to file a petition with a state court requesting the involuntary commitment of the offender. Under this law, the prosecutor had the burden of proving that the person in question suffered from a "mental abnormality" that made him or her a "sexually violent predator." If a psychological professional found sufficient evidence to support civil commitment on these grounds, a trial would follow.

     If the defendant was found, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be a sexually violent predator, the trial judge would order his or her commitment to a mental institution. Following the commitment, the law required the court to conduct annual reviews to determine if the committed person should remain in custody for another year.

Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 347, (1997)

     In 1995, convicted pedophiles Leroy Hendricks and Tim Quinn were scheduled for prison release. Both men had extensive histories of sexually molesting children. As a result, a Kansas prosecutor filed a petition under the Sexually Violent Predator Act to involuntarily commit Hendricks and Quinn to a state mental institution.

     At the Hendricks/Quinn commitment trial, the defendants took the stand and agreed with the state psychiatrist's diagnosis that they were pedophiles who continued to experience uncontrollable sexual desires for children. Based on this testimony, the jury found that Hendricks and Quinn qualified as sexually violent predators. The civil trial judge ordered both men committed to the state mental facility.

     Leroy Hendrick's attorneys asserted that the involuntary commitment of a man who had served his time in prison violated the ex post facto and double jeopardy clauses of the United States constitution. The circuit court judges ruling on the appeal did not address those specific issues, but found the Kansas law unconstitutional on grounds the "mental abnormality" requirement was too vague to satisfy the constitution's due process clause.

     Attorneys representing the state of Kansas appealed the circuit court's ruling to the United States Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the high court justices reversed the appellate court ruling, finding that the Kansas Violent Sexual Predator Act did not violate the U.S. constitution's ex post facto, double jeopardy or due process clauses.

     Because only a few states have violent sexual predator laws, and prosecutors in states that do don't have the time or will to go through the civil commitment process, only a few prison released pedophiles remain isolated from society. Moreover, even if there were more laws like this, and prosecutors who cared enough to go through the process, there are fewer and fewer institutions where these predators can be confined. As a result, Kansas v. Hendricks was a hollow victory that has not solved the problem of what to do about our pedophiles. Children are still at risk.

     If our political leaders where serious about protecting children, convicted pedophiles would be subjected to mandatory life sentences.
     

The Ten Safest Cities In The U.S. (2018)

In 2018, the ten safest cities in the country were: Virginia Beach, VA; Honolulu, HI; Lexington, KY; Anaheim, CA; San Diego, CA; El Paso, TX; San Jose, CA; Austin, TX; Mesa, AZ; Tampa, FL.

Jailhouse Informant Testimony

Jailhouse informant testimony is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 364 DNA-based exoneration cases.

Innocence Project, March 6, 2019

The Work Of The Forensic Pathologist

The reality is that only 10 percent of our cases are suspicious deaths or homicides. The remaining 90 percent encompasses natural deaths, accidents and suicides as well as a few undetermined.

Dr. Judy Melinek, 2018

Books About Writers

Disagreement over the merits of literary biography will likely subside by default, as the form begins to extinguish itself. Even among those who like it, demand is bound to slacken: Novelists' lives are considerably less interesting than they used to be. Longer, yes, but much drier in every sense; less full of rivalrous brawling, less harrowed by the unemployment that was so ofter their lot before creative writing programs started offering them day jobs. For another thing, literary biography will be crippled by the absence of many of its old tools. Writers' drafts, those manuscripts that show, line by line, how writers came to do what they did, now disappear with the deleting drag of the mouse; and for all the supposed permanence of tweets and Facebook posts, the deliberate letters that writers used to save and bundle have largely been replaced by emails and texts they don't bother to archive.

Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014

How to Begin the Story?

Unlike bombastic journalism that relies on opening with a bang, a novel can open less loudly. Here's an example of a bang opening by Truman Capote in "Children on Their Birthdays": "Yesterday afternoon the six o'clock bus ran over Miss Bobbitt." Yes, this catches our interest, but what next? It'll be hard to match the intensity of the beginning with what follows. The story starts with a climax rather than working toward one; instead of looking forward, we look backward, and the whole story might be an anticlimax.

Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer's Workshop, 1995 

Story Driven Nonfiction

Story driven nonfiction is extraordinarily successful, and there's a huge market for it. I think it's partly because when you publish a nonfiction book, especially one that's story driven as opposed to didactic or scholarly, you can target the market in an easier way.

Charlie Conrad, Poets and Writers, May/June 2004 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Triggerometry of Urban Gunplay

     Jeffrey Johnson, a quiet, 58-year-old loner without a wife or children, lived near Central Park where he bird-watched and photographed hawks. He left his Manhattan apartment at eight in the morning of August 24, 2012 dressed in a suit and tie, and carrying a briefcase. Johnson, a T-shirt designer, had been unemployed for a year after being laid off from his job in the garment district. Behind in his rent, he faced eviction, and on this Friday morning, left his apartment keys behind in an envelope for his landlord. In his briefcase he carried a .45-caliber pistol, and extra ammunition. Mr. Johnson had no intention of returning home that day, or ever.

     Just before nine o'clock, Johnson took up a position between two parked cars near the offices of his former employer, the Hazan Import Company located just down the street from the Empire State Building. Johnson was lying in wait for Steve Eroclino, the company's vice president in charge of sales. It was no secret that Johnson believed that because Ercoline had not aggressively marketed his latest T-shirt line, he had lost his job at Hazan. In the wake of the job termination, the 41-year-old sales executive had accused Johnson of  harassment. There was clearly bad blood between these two men. Hard feelings are common in any business, and people are laid off all the time, but Mr. Johnson wasn't your ordinary disgruntled ex-employee. That Friday morning in the heart of New York City, Jeffrey Johnson was on a mission to kill Mr. Eroclino, and then force the police kill him. He probably didn't realize that several innocent bystanders would go down in the crossfire. Or maybe he did know and just didn't care.

     As Steve Eroclino approached the building housing the Hazan Import Company, Johnson came out from behind the parked cars, walked up to his target, and shot him in the head. Mr. Ercolino dropped to the pavement. At this point, people on the street were oblivious to the fact a man had just been shot to death in mid-Manhattan. Standing over the man he had just shot, Johnson pumped four more bullets into his body. After making certain that Mr. Eroclino was dead, Johnson calmly walked down the sidewalk toward the Empire State Building at 34th and Fifth Avenue.

     Two New York City patrol officers who had been standing a few yards from the shooting site, approached Johnson with their guns drawn as he moved along the sidewalk among panicked pedestrians. Johnson, aware he was being stalked by the officers, abruptly turned to them and raised his pistol. The police officers, just feet from the gunman, opened fire, sixteen shots in all. Three of their bullets found Johnson, nine of the slugs ricocheted into, or directly hit, nine pedestrians desperately trying to get out of the way.  Bleeding bystanders were scattered about the sidewalk and lying in the street. According to initial news reports, the gunman had killed one man, then had opened fire on innocent tourists. But Johnson and the nine pedestrians had been shot by the two officers. Of the ten people shot by the police that morning in the shadow of the Empire State Building, Jeffrey Johnson was the only one killed.

     One of the police officers had fired nine times, his partner had fired the other seven bullets. All of the bullets that came out of their pistols were hollow-points. Compared to full-jacketed projectiles, hollow-points, upon impact, expand. This makes this type of bullet especially damaging to human tissue and bone. The police prefer hollow-points because they are more lethal than regular slugs, and they do not pierce vehicles, walls, and other barriers. For that reason, hollow-points are considered appropriate for use in urban settings. But they do ricochet, and when they miss their targets and hit bystanders, they produce angry wounds.

     In the Empire State Building case, the fact these officers, while firing sixteen shots at an armed gunman at close range, fired thirteen stray bullets, reveals an important reality about police-involved shootings. Formal firearms training, and hours and hours of police range target practice, does not prepare officers for real-life gunplay. The conditions in combat situations do not led themselves to firearms accuracy. Moreover, the use of semi-automatic pistols in an urban landscape where bullets ricochet amid a dense population, puts innocent bystanders at risk. Notwithstanding the best firearms training in the world, collateral damage is always a risk in police involved-shootings. Fortunately, cases like the Empire State Building shootings are rare. If anyone was to blame for the shooting of the nine innocent bystanders, it was Jeffery Johnson.     
       

Jailed Because A Bureaucrat Misidentified Your Prints

     Before an Englishman named Sir Edward Henry, in 1901, created a method of filing arrest histories and criminal records according to arrestees' fingerprint set classifications, arrested offenders, to avoid detection as fugitives and repeat offenders, simply used different names. The Henry method of fingerprint classification--based upon organizing prints according to their basic patterns such as whorls, loops, and arches--brought law enforcement into the modern era. Notwithstanding the arrival of DNA technology in the mid 1990s, fingerprint classification remains the principal method of criminal identification and crime file organization in American and the rest of the world. (This type of fingerprint identification should be distinguished from the identification of crime scene fingermarks, called latent prints.)

     Thanks to fingerprints and Sir Edward Henry (and Francis Galton before him), no one who enters the criminal justice pipeline should ever be the victim of a misidentification, especially in the modern era of computer science. While this should never happen, it does occur because criminal justice is government, and most governmental operations are sloppy affairs at best.

     In 2011, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that in the past five years, 1,480 people, wrongfully identified as wanted offenders, were arrested and incarcerated in Los Angeles County Jails. Police officers are arresting people they have misidentified as fugitives; magistrates issue warrants without precisely identifying the subjects to be arrested; and jail keepers do not make fingerprint checks to insure they are holding the people they think they are incarcerating. Misidentified arrestees have been locked-up for weeks, even months before fingerprint checks revealed their true identities.

     Victims of wrongful incarceration based on misidentification, because of sovereign immunity from lawsuits, have no legal recourse or remedy as long as government employees were merely lazy or stupid rather than malicious. One attorney who represented wrongfully held citizens blamed the problem on bureaucratic "sloth and indifference." He was right, there is no other explanation for this. Even for government work, this is below par. Sir Edward Henry, the father of fingerprint based criminal identification and record keeping, would never have imagined this degree of inefficiency in modern law enforcement.

      Technology and innovation is only as good as the people who administer it.

More People Go Off To Jail Than College

     There were 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. as of the 2010 Census. It's often been remarked that our national incarceration rate of 707 adults per every 100,000 citizens is the highest in the world, by a huge margin.

     Much of the discussion of prison population centers around inmates in our 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities. But at any given time, hundreds of thousands more individuals are locked up in the nation's 3,200 local and county jails…We have slightly more jails and prisons in the U.S.--5,000 plus--than we do colleges and universities. In many parts of America, particularly the south, there are more people living in prisons than on college campuses…[Here's a bumper sticker: MORE JAILS, FEWER COLLEGES]

     Florida, Arizona and California stand out as states with sizable corrections populations in just about every county. States in the midwest, on the other hand, tend to have concentrated populations in just a handful of counties…

     In many instances, large correctional facilities are located in sparsely populated regions like northern New York. In some of these counties, prisons account for 10, 20 or 30 percent of the total population….

"The U.S. Has More Jails Than Colleges," washingtonpost.com, January 6, 2015

The Psychological Crime Novel Victim

Although it's widely acknowledged that the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, it can often be difficult to get through psychological crime novels of the "How well do you know your husband/wife/best friend?" variety without becoming so irritated by the protagonist's willful obtuseness that you end up wanted to give him, or more usually her, a good shake.

Laura Wilson, The Guardian, September 19, 2004 

The First Novel Rejection Blues

     I completed my first novel on July 29, 2012 and spent the next two months sending it out to hundreds of agents and any publisher I could find that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Dropping over a grand on ink, paper, and postage, my days consisted of checking my email, walking to the post office, and scanning the Internet for details of any literary agency that had an address, never mind a respectable client list.

     I received dozens of rejection slips but mainly non-replies. Those that did get back to me all said the same thing: love it, but can't see it selling. After a few months I was forced to admit that my novel wasn't going to be bought for $500,000 nor for the price of a battered second-hand paperback. I was devastated. What would become of me now?

James Nolan, vice.com, April 29, 2014 

Dystopian Science Fiction Writers, Lighten Up

     "It's so easy to make money with science fiction stories that say civilization is garbage, our institutions will never be helpful, and your neighbors are all useless sheep who could never be counted on in a crisis," says David Brin, a science fiction writer who thinks we've gotten too fond of speculative technological bummers. Movies like "Blade Runner," "The Matrix," "Children of Men," "The Hunger Games," and "Divergent," all express some version of this dark world view.

     Neal Stephenson, the author of Cryponomicon, usually writes exactly those kinds of dystopian stories. In his fiction, he tends to explore the dark side of technology. But a couple of years ago he got a public wake up call.

     On stage at a writer's conference, Stephenson was complaining that there were no big scientific projects to inspire people these days. But Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, shot back, "You're the one slacking off." By "you", Crow meant science fiction writers.

Adam Wernick, pri.org, July 29, 2014 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Joe Biden In 2011 Revealing His Misunderstanding Of Policing And Crime Prevention

     On October 19, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden told a reporter from Human Events that if Congress failed to pass President Obama's Jobs Act, "...murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise." When confronted by the reporter's skepticism regarding rising crime rates, Biden told him to check the crime statistics for Flint, Michigan, pointing out that when police officers were laid off in that city, rape rates went up.

     According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the number of rapes in Flint, Michigan declined from 2009 to 2010. In 2008, the city employed 265 sworn police officers. In 2010, there were 144. So, in Flint, as more and more officers were laid off,  the incident of rape, according to the FBI's statistics, dropped. Flint's chief of police, Alvin Lock, said this in September 2010: "A smaller police force doesn't automatically mean more crime. There's been years when we had 300 officers and we still had more homicides."

     Because police officers generally react to crime rather than prevent it, there is little relationship between policing and crime rates. This is particularly true with regard to crimes like rape and homicide. If an escalation of police manpower and weaponry affected crime rates, we would have won the drug war twenty years ago.

     Let's assume that the Obama administration had given the city of Flint enough federal money to double their police force. How would the police department have used those funds? They probably would have hired more patrol officers and bought more expensive weapons and SWAT gear. The money would not have been used to solve rape or other cases. The crime lab would still have had a two to three year DNA analysis backlog, and there still would have been a shortage of forensic nurses, rape kits, and trained sexual offense investigators.

     Rape is primarily a crime committed behind closed doors involving people who know each other. Having ten heavily armed patrol officers on the street in front of a house where a rape is being committed would not prevent the assault.

The Hope Of Fingerprint Pioneers

     In 1901, Scotland Yard became the world's first law enforcement agency to routinely fingerprint its arrestees. Fingerprint identification came to America in 1904 when the St. Louis Police Department established its bureau. Before fingerprinting, arrestees in Europe and America, beginning in the late 1870s, were identified by sets of eleven body measurements, a system created by the Frenchman, Alphonse Bertillon. By 1914, the year of Bertillon's death, fingerprinting had replaced anthropometry in every county but the United States where, in several jurisdictions, the outdated, cumbersome identification system stuck around until the early 1920s. Until Alphonse Bertillon and the fingerprint pioneers came up with methods of scientifically identifying criminals, law enforcement remained in the dark ages. For this reason, Alphonse Bertillon is considered one of the founding fathers of modern policing.

     Beyond the use of fingerprint science to maintain and classify arrest records, and to identify arrestees who are wanted in other jurisdictions, crime scene fingermarks, so-called latent fingerprints--constitute one of the most common forensic techniques of linking suspects to the sites of their offenses. While latent prints can be made visible by various chemicals, iodine fuming, superglue, and laser technology, the most common method of bringing out and preserving this type of crime scene evidence, particularly on hard surfaces, involves the application of a fine powder and lifting tape. (This explains the phrase, the latent was lifted from the scene.)

     In 1911, a  Chicago judge, in a first of its kind case, allowed a latent fingerprint into evidence as proof of the defendant's guilt. Since then, forensic crime scene latent fingerprint identifications have sent tens of thousands of criminals to prison. The beauty of crime scene fingerprint examination involves the fact it doesn't take high technology, or great skill and education to recover this form of trace evidence. Moreover, the comparison of crime scene latents and known fingerprints does not require an advanced degree in science. Jurors can look at a courtroom exhibit in the form of side-by-side, enlarged photographs of the two prints depicting their points of joint identify. Unlike DNA identification which requires a leap of faith in science, the matching of a known and unknown fingerprint simply requires good eyesight, and faith in the integrity of the evidence. (Granted, there have been lapses in the fingerprint integrity aspect of latent fingerprint identification.)

     Today, crime scene latents can be fed into a supercomputer--the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)--and matched with single, rolled-on fingerprints stored in the computer's massive data base. Identifying unknown crime scene latents this way is one of the few instances where forensic scientists can solve and prove cases. When AFIS became operational in the late 1980s, crusaders for the professionalization of criminal investigation, and the increased use of forensic science in crime solving, envisioned the dawn of a new era in law enforcement much like the introduction of fingerprint science at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

     America's forensic science pioneers of the Twentieth Century hoped for a future in which the police would defeat crime through latent fingerprint identification and other forms of forensic science. These early crusaders for scientific crime investigation could not have foreseen how the massive war on drugs would drain law enforcement resources away from forensic science and criminal investigation. These men would have been shocked and dismayed by the low status of criminal investigation in modern law enforcement. Well-trained investigators and crime scene criminalists are being replaced by drug war SWAT tanks and M-16 carrying shock troops schooled in busting down doors.

Lizzie Borden's Acquittal

 In 1893, In Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden got off murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet because the all-male jury didn't think young women from good families were capable of committing gruesome homicides. After the Borden trial, no one was ever arrested for the double killing. Lizzie Borden lived the rest of her life in Fall River under a cloud of suspicion. Only the bravest kids would knock on her door for Halloween candy.

Serial Killer Ted Bundy On Murder

Murder is not about lust and it's not about violence. It's about possession. When you feel the last breath of life coming out of the woman, you look into her eyes. At that point, it's being God.

Ted Bundy

Graphic Gore in Horror Fiction

Bloody acts of violence need not be graphically described…My position is simple. I detest the Vomit Bag School of Horror--books and stories featuring gore for gore's sake, designed strictly for the purpose of grossing out the reader.

William E. Nolan, How To Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

The Biographer's Impossible Mission

Biography is a vain and foolhardy undertaking. Its essential conceit, that the unimaginable distance between two human beings can be crossed, is unsupportable; each of us is inherently unknowable. The biographer may be able to locate his subject in place and time--to describe the clothes he wore, the food he ate, the jobs he had, the opinions he expressed--but that subject's inner essence is, by its very nature, forever inaccessible.

Jonathan Yardley, Misfit, 1997

The Longevity Of Children's Literature

It's striking how long children's book can last. One explanation may be the way in which they're read. They become part of our emotional autobiographies, acquiring associations and memories, more like music than prose. Another explanation may lie in the fact that children's books are designed with re-reading in mind. For all children's writers are conscious that his or her books may be re-read by children themselves.

S. F. Said, The Guardian, February 16, 2015 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Bobby Woods Jr. Murder Case: The Banality Of Evil

     In August 2015, 17-year-old Bobby Woods Jr. was living in his family's house in Lufkin, Texas with his girlfriend Billie Jean Cutter and her son, Mason Cutter, a 3-year-old boy fathered by another man. When Billie Jean informed Bobby that she was pregnant with his child, the couple decided to murder Mason. With three families living under the same roof, there was simply not enough room for Mason.

     On August 15, 2015, Bobby Woods took the 3-year-old boy to a pond on the family's property and pushed him into the water. As the boy struggled to survive, Bobby Woods turned and walked away. The terrified child drowned. The next day, Mason Cutter's body was removed from the pond.

   When questioned by detectives, Bobby Woods confessed to killing Mason Cutter and doing it with Billie Jean Cutter's consent. The boy had become excess baggage and had to go. As it turned out, the murder wasn't necessary because Billie Jean was in fact not pregnant. Poor Mason, however, was still dead.

     A month before the August 2019 murder trial, Bobby Woods' attorney filed a motion to have his client's confession excluded as evidence on grounds it had been acquired by police coercion. The defense attorney explained that Bobby had signed the Miranda warnings waiver under the belief that only guilty people needed lawyers.

     The judge denied the defense motion, ruling that Woods' confession had been given voluntarily. As a result, it could be entered into evidence at his trial. This decision sealed the defendant's fate.

     On August 16, 2019, following seven days of testimony, the Angelina County jury found Bobby Woods Jr. guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced the 21-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     Billie Jean Cutter, in exchange for her guilty plea to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, received a sentence of 20 years behind bars.

      The fact that people like this walk among us is more than a little disturbing. Moreover, the fact this case received so little attention in the national media reveals that we are now beyond being shocked and horribly disgusted by evil of this magnitude. Mason Cutter was just another kid who died because he was born to a degenerate mother who had a moronic, murderous boyfriend.

     And so it goes.

     

How People Kill Each Other

The most common way American's commit murder is with a gun. The second most popular murder weapons are knives or other devices designed to cut or pierce. Strangulation comes in third. Murder by poison is far down on the list. Murder victims are also thrown off boats, cliffs, and buildings; run over by vehicles, beaten to death, and suffocated. Let's face it, Americans are not very nice to each other.

Lack Of Impatient Treatment For The Mentally Ill

     A severe shortage of impatient care for people with mental illness is amounting to a public health crisis, as the number of individuals struggling with a range of psychiatric problems continue to rise....A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services estimates 3 to 4 percent of Americans--more than 8 million--suffer from serious psychological problems.

     The disappearance of long-term care facilities and psychiatric beds has escalated in the past decade, sparked by a trend toward deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients in the 1950s and 60s....

     A 2012  report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that works to remove treatment barriers for people with mental illness, found the number of psychiatric beds decreased by 14 percent from 2005 to 2010. That year there were 50,509 state psychiatric beds, meaning there were only 14 beds available per 100,000 people....As a result, many people who experience a serious mental health crisis end up in the emergency room....Between 2001 and 2006, 6 percent of all emergency department patients had a psychiatric condition.

Samantha Raphelson, "Here and Now" NPR, November 30, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Spoken Word Pollution

Thanks to cable news and talk radio, the world is polluted with the spoken word. There was a time when words silently lifted off the page and drifted into our minds. Today, the air is filled with talk-- conversations, discussions, debates, and commentary. The subjects include sports, crime, politics, the weather, celebrities--you name it. The talking never stops. For many it creates frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, envy, and fear. It rips at the fabric of our society, splits us into groups, makes some people a little crazy. My father used to say, "silence is golden." He had no idea how right he was.

Thornton P. Knowles

Journalism Beats working

Being a journalist, I never felt bad talking to journalism students about the profession because it's a grand, grand job. You get to leave the office, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories. That's not going to retire your student loans as quickly as it should, and it's not going to turn you into a person who's worried about what kind of new car they should buy, but that's as it should be. I mean, it beats working.

David Carr, The Independent, February 13, 2015 

Not All Bestselling Novels Are Well Written

" 'Are you ready?' he mewled, smirking at me like a mother hamster about to eat her three-legged young."

E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, 2012 

No Secret Formula For Writing a Bestseller

The fact that nobody has even been able to reduce the elements that go into the fashioning of a predictable best-seller has long been illustrated by the classic story of an expensive book-business survey that produced the three kinds of books that had always proved most popular: books about Abraham Lincoln, books about doctors, and books about dogs. The only thing predictable about the survey was that some publisher was bound to act on it, and not long after the survey some publisher did. He brought out a book called Lincoln's Doctor's Dog. It was--predictably--a disaster.

Jerome Weidman, Praying For Rain, 1986 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

America: The Land Of Litterbugs

     Modern cars and truck are smart. They give you directions to unfamiliar places, remind you to fasten your seatbelts, alert you to a cracked door, a low tire, or a problem with your engine. Some day the things will drive themselves. It's too bad some genius hasn't invented an automotive feature that prevents occupants from littering our roads, streets and highways with their trash.

     Notwithstanding ad campaigns against littering, laws against it, and millions of trash containers, our country is buried in garbage chucked from cars and trucks; 51 billions pieces of it every year. The debris generated by our modern lifestyle is not only ugly, it can be carried by storm drains into local waterways. At $11.5 billion a year, it is also costly to cleanup. Littering is a huge problem and a national disgrace.

Littering in the First-Degree

     In August 2019, Sergeant Stephen Wheeles of the Indiana State Police, while cruising I-65 in Johnson County, was startled when a dirty diaper tossed out of the vehicle in front of him slapped loudly against his patrol car.

     Officer Wheeles activated his emergency lights and pulled over the car carrying a passenger seated next to a child in the back seat. The litter suspect, while acknowledging that the soiled diaper had originated from that vehicle, blamed wind blowing though the vehicle.  It was a nice try, but the trooper wasn't stupid. He issued the subject a ticket for littering. If Indiana had a law on the books called first-degree littering, this incident would have qualified.

     Since all of the Keep American Beautiful measures have failed to stop motorists from despoiling our streets, roads and highways with trash, we will just have to wait for the Automatic Automotive Anti-littering (AAA) feature we so badly need.   

America's Fifteen Most Corrupt Cities

In 2018, the top fifteen most politically corrupt cities were: Washington, D.C. (no surprise here); Chicago, Il; Philadelphia, PA; Baltimore, MD; Miami, FL; Houston, TX; New York, NY; Detroit, MI; New Orleans, LA; Newark, NJ; Richmond, VA; Los Angeles, CA; Wichita, KS; Cleveland, OH; and Las Vegas, Nv.

California's New Deadly Use Of Force Law

In 2017, police officers in California killed 162 people. (In 2016, the number was 157 and in a study I conducted in 2011, California police killed 102.) In August 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom sighed a bill into law that only justifies deadly force in cases where it is necessary to prevent the suspect from killing or seriously hurting the officer or another person. The old law also allowed the use of lethal force to prevent an armed suspect from resisting arrest or fleeing apprehension. The new legislation is one of the most restrictive laws of its kind in the country. Given the number of legally justified but unnecessary police-involved shooting cases in the United States over the past several years, other states will probably follow suit.

Thornton P. Knowles On Not Knowing Thyself

To write compelling fiction you have to become other people; people worse than you, people better than you, people you like and people you don't like. I think I know some of my characters better than I know myself.

Thornton P. Knowles

Biographies Should Be More Than A Collection of Facts

Research is only research. After all the facts have been marshaled, all the documents studied, all the locales visited, all the survivors interviewed, what then? What do the facts add up to? What did the life mean?

William Zinsser in Extraordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986 

What is a Fable?

A fable is a brief tale, in prose or verse, to illustrate a moral. Often involving unusual or supernatural incidents, fables sometimes contain animals, as in Aesop's Fables, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and George Orwell's Animal Farm. 

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

The Classic Short Story

There is something about the pace of the short story that catches the tempo of this country. If it is written with sincerity and skill it portrays a mood, a character, a background, or a situation. Sometimes it is not only typically American, it is universal in its feeling; sometimes its inherent truth is not a thing of the month, but of the years. When this is true, that short story is genuinely a classic as any novel or play.

Edna Ferber, One Basket, 1964 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Ahmed Elgaafary: The Uber Driver From Hell

     In February 2018, Uber driver Ahmed Elgaafary, an Egyptian citizen, picked up a heavily intoxicated young woman at the Valley Forge Casino Resort in eastern Pennsylvania's Chester County. At two-thirty that morning, the 27-year-old driver from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, instead of directly delivering his alcohol impaired passenger to her home fifteen minutes away, detoured to a dimly lit road in Charlestown Township. At that remote spot, Elgaafary climbed into the back seat of his GMC Yukon and raped the unconscious woman.

     While sexually assaulting his victim, the Uber driver kept the meter running.

     Fifty-three minutes after the rape, Elgaafary dropped the woman off at her residence. In addition to the taxi fare, the driver charged her $150 for vomiting in his SUV.

     When she awoke later that day, the Uber rape victim discovered bruises on her thighs. She didn't remember what happened in the SUV, but suspected the driver had violated her sexually.  For that reason, she went to a hospital where a nurse used a rape kit to gather and preserve the physical evidence of sexual intercourse. The kit was submitted to the authorities for forensic analysis.

     When questioned by detectives, Ahmed Elgaafary denied any sexual contact with his accuser. However, when confronted with physical evidence that contradicted his denial, he changed his story. Elgaafary said that while he had sex with the passenger, it had been consensual.

     Charged with sexual assault, indecent assault, and the rape on an unconscious woman, Elgaafary went on trial in August 2019. The prosecution's case rested primarily on the testimony of the victim and the rape kit evidence connecting him to the act.

     Ahmed Elgaafary took the stand on his own behalf and claimed that he had been seduced by the accuser. He said the sex had been consensual. He did acknowledge, however, that his passenger had been intoxicated at the time.

     The jury of eight men and four women didn't accept the Elgaafary defense, and after only three hours of deliberation, found the defendant guilty as charged.

     Following his sentencing, Ahmed Elgaafary will be deported to Egypt where he will serve his time.
   

What The Jeffrey Epstein Case Has Taught Us About Criminal Justice In America

Perhaps the most important lesson of the Jeffery Epstein sex trafficking case is that the American criminal justice system does not come close to our founding fathers' concept that we are all equal under the law, and that no one is above the law. Moreover, it reminds us of the decadence of the rich and powerful in this country. Unfortunately, it has always been this way and will probably remain so. This criminal justice double standard will continue because the rich and powerful control our politicians. In other words, certain privileged criminals and degenerates will always avoid justice.

The Black Market For Pot In California

In California, the black market for marijuana in 2019, notwithstanding the legalization of pot, continues to flourish. That's because, due to hefty sales taxes and marijuana distribution fees, illegal pot can sell for 40 percent less than the legal stuff. Politicians, in pushing for legalization, lied when they promised that legalization would put an end to the illegal drug trade. But that shouldn't surprise anyone. When did a politician ever tell the truth about anything.

Charles Bukowski's Autobiographical Fiction

Bukowski claimed the majority of what he wrote was literally what happened in his life. Essentially that is what his books are all about--an honest representation of himself and his experiences at the bottom of American society. He even went so far as to put a figure on it: ninety-three percent of his work was autobiography, he said, and the remaining seven percent was "improved upon." Yet while he could be extraordinarily honest as a writer, a close examination of the facts of Bukowski's life leads one to question whether, to make himself more picaresque for the reader, he didn't "improve upon" a great deal more of his life story than he said.

Howard Sounes, Charles Bukowski: Locked In The Arms Of A Crazy Life, 1998

Science Fiction Began in Magazines

From its earliest days, when Hugo Gernsback first inserted stories in the monthly Electrical Experimenter, the primary outlet and market for science fiction was magazines. The Experimenter was the size of Life. So was Amazing Stories, the all-fiction magazine Gersback launched in 1926. In the thirties, the pulp magazines shrank to standard quarto, but doubled in thickness as publishers used the cheapest paper around.

John Baxter, A Pound of Paper, 2003

The Rhyming Children's Picture Book

Rhyming! So many writers think children's picture books need to rhyme. There are some editors who won't even look at books in rhyme, and a lot more who are extremely wary of them, so it limits a literary agent on where the manuscript can go and the likelihood of it selling. These books are also particularly hard to execute perfectly.

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Boring Dialogue

     Letting a scene drag is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make. [Unless he is an established "literary" novelist.] Bringing two or more characters together and letting them chat on and on about nothing is inexcusable. The problem is many writers aren't even aware that their characters are doing this, even when it's in front of their noses. They're sitting right there writing the story and fail to see they're boring their reader to death with going-nowhere-fast dialogue.

     There are many reasons dialogue scenes bog down. The main one is that we clutter them with so much added narrative and action that the reader has to muddle his way through and the going becomes a little clunky. Sometimes, the scene is weak when it comes to tension and suspense, and the reader is yawning….

Gloria Kempton, Dialogue, 2004 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Murdered in Honduras

     Beauty queen Maria Jose Alvarado, as Miss Honduras, represented a country that has the world's highest murder rate for a place not at war. From 2005 to 2013, the murder of Honduran woman and girls increased by 263 percent. The 19-year-old university student resided in Teguigalpa, the Honduran capital. She had been participating in beauty pageants since she was a young girl.

     In Latin America, where beauty pageants are popular, winners often become celebrities and TV personalities. While Alvarado hoped to become a diplomat after graduating from the university, she worked as a model on the popular Honduran television game show "X-O Da Dinero." In her spare time she played volleyball and football (soccer).

     On the night of November 13, 2014, Maria Alvarado was at a resort/spa outside of Santa Barbara, a city 240 miles west of her home. She was there to attend a birthday party for her sister's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz.

     That night, after the party, Alvarado, her 23-year-old sister Sofia Trinidad Alvarado, and Plutarco were seen getting into a champagne colored car.

     The next day, when Maria failed to board a plane for London to participate in the early rounds of the  120-contestant Miss World pageant, she and her sister were reported missing.

     On Tuesday November 18, 2014, officers with the Honduran National Bureau of Investigation arrested Sofia Alvarado's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz. Pursuant to the arrest, the officers seized a champagne colored car and a pickup truck. They also recovered a .45-caliber pistol.

     Under police interrogation, Ruiz confessed to murdering his girlfriend and her sister, the beauty queen. After he and the women left the party, Ruiz and Sofia got into a heated argument regarding the fact she had been dancing with another man. At some point, out of a jealous rage, Plutarco pulled the .45-caliber handgun and shot her in the head. He shot Maria twice in the back as she tried to flee the scene.

     Ruiz and an accomplice loaded the two corpses onto the back of a pickup truck and hauled them to a remote spot along the banks of the Aguagual River near the town of Arada 25 miles from Santa Barbara.

     On Wednesday November 19, 2014, police officers recovered the bodies lying on top of each other in a shallow grave near the river. Maria Alvarado was wrapped in a brown plastic sheet.

     Officers with the Honduras National Bureau of Investigation, on the day they arrested Ruiz, took five suspected accomplices into custody. The officers arrested Aris Maldonado Mejia, Antonio Ruiz Rodriguez, Ventura Diaz, Elizabeth Diaz, and Irma Nicolle.

     In June 2017, after a jury found Plutarco Ruiz guilty of double murder, the Honduras judge sentenced him to 45 years in prison.

Murder Fascination

     To say that as a society we take an interest in murder is an understatement. From today's headlines to tomorrow's books, TV, and movies, murder reigns supreme. And as if the more that half a million real-life murders a year around the globe (some 12,000 in the United States alone) somehow constituted a lack of violent death, we make up for that lack in fiction--adding a never-ending supply of made-up stories of murder and mayhem to the count.

     To paraphrase P. D. James [an English crime novelist], our fascination with this worst of crimes--a crime against the very humanity of our fellow humanity--perhaps lies more with our desire to restore order than it does with the despicable act itself. At any rate, fascinated we are--and remain.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club