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Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Breaking Bad" at Henderson State University

     Henderson State University is a public liberal arts school with about 3,500 students in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a town located 70 miles southwest of Little Rock. On October 8, 2019, a powerful odor that came from the university's Reynolds Science Center forced the closing of the chemistry laboratory. The inquiry that followed revealed the elevated presence of benzyl chloride, a chemical commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The identity of this chemical prompted an investigation by the university police department.

     Two days after the closure of the university chem lab, the president of the school placed 45-year-old Terry David Bateman, an associate professor and director of the undergraduate research department, on administrative leave. Bateman had been with Henderson State University since 2009.

  The university president also placed 40-year-old Bradley Allen Rowland on administrative leave. Rowland was an associate professor in the chemistry department.

     On October 29, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency okayed the re-opening of the chemistry lab. The investigation into the potentially criminal activities of the two professors by the campus police department produced enough evidence to bring in narcotics specialists with the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

     On November 15, 2019, a Clark County prosecutor charged professors Terry Bateman and Bradley Rowland with the manufacture of methamphetamine. The suspects were booked into the Clark County Jail.

     For many, the arrests of the college professors suspected of cooking meth brought to mind the popular television series "Breaking Bad" that was broadcast on the AMC channel from 2008 to 2015. The drama followed the life of Walter White, a high school chemistry professor from Albuquerque, New Mexico who became a major underworld figure as world-class meth cook. 

The New York Times Book Review Author Interviews

     Every edition of Sunday's The New York Times Book Review features an author interview column called "By the Book" where the writers of literary novels are asked questions like: What books do you have on your nightstand? What writers do you admire? What literary figures of the past would you invite to a dinner party? (These people have dinner parties.) What are you reading now? (Most of the interviewees answer this question with a long list of books and authors most readers have never heard of.) And what is the last great book you read? (The answer to this one usually results in another list of obscure literary works over the heads of people who read middle-brow genre fiction.)

     Most of the responses to the above literary questions are not only unbearably pretentious, the interviewees, I guess to portray themselves as shockingly original and fascinating (the kind of person the other interviewees would invite to a dinner party) try to sound as eccentric as your typical literary genius.

     Novelist John Green, when asked in the October 13, 2019 edition of the Book Review what book might people be surprised to find on his shelves, answered: "I have a large collection of books about conjoined twins. I used to be the conjoined twins reviewer for Booklist Magazine, which is a busier reviewing beat than one would expect. My favorite novel about conjoined twins (or formerly conjoined twins) are Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson, and God's Fool," by Mark Slouka."

     Really? a large collection of novels in the conjoined twins genre? The next time I'm in a Barnes & Noble I'm going to check out the conjoined twins section to see what I've been missing.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Congress

I've heard people say that Congress is useless. My response: Wouldn't that be nice. I say that because useless is a lot better than harmful. For example, whenever Congress tackles a problem, they make it worse, and create a new problem. They then tackle the new problem they created, and make it worse--and create another problem. And so it goes. We'd be better off if these hacks just stuck to passing resolutions and holding meaningless hearings to promote themselves on television. Yet the more we see these parasites on TV, the more we are reminded of why we hate politicians. Term limits and making it a felony for a politician to lie on television would be nice, but even these measures wouldn't drain the swamp. Let's face it, politics is just a lousy occupation that draws self-serving, grandstanding narcissists.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Polygraph Effect

Lie detectors sometimes work because people believe they work, deterring the wrong people from applying for jobs in the first place, or producing admissions of guilt during interrogations.

Bill Deadman, investigative journalist

Our Memoir-Obsessed Literary Culture

Ours is a memoir-obsessed literary culture. With the waning of confessional poetry, what we might call the "memoir of crisis" has blossomed.

The New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2019

Quash or Squash?

To quash is to suppress or extinguish summarily and completely as in to quash a rebellion or a criminal indictment.

To squash is to squeeze something with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape as in to squash a grape.

One does not, therefore, squash a criminal indictment.

Donald Westlake On The Book Publishing Industry

Publishing is the only industry I can think of where most of the employees spend most of their time stating with great self-assurance that they don't know how to do their jobs. "I don't know how to sell this," they explain, frowning as though it's your fault. "I don't know how to package this. I don't know what the market is for this book. I don't know how we're going to draw attention to this." In most occupations, people try to hide their incompetence, only in publishing is it flaunted as though it were the chief qualification for the job.

Donald Westlake, author of 100 crime novels

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Shankar Nagappa Hangud Mass Murder Case

     In 2019, Shankar Nagappa Hungud lived with his wife, daughter and one of his two sons at Carmel at Wood Creek West, an apartment complex in Roseville, California, a Placer County community of 132,000 not far from San Francisco. The 53-year-old of East Indian descent had worked as a data specialist for a consulting firm in Sacramento before becoming unemployed in 2018. His two children living at home attended the Dry Creek Middle School in Roseville,

     Mr. Hangud's financial problems had placed him under considerable stress. As of May 2019, he owed $178,000 to the IRS in taxes.

     On Monday, October 7, 2019, Shankar Hangud murdered his wife and his middle school daughter in their apartment. The day after he killed his wife and daughter, Hangud returned to the apartment and murdered his son.

     On Sunday, October 13, 2019, with the bodies of his wife, son, and daughter still undiscovered in the Roseville apartment, Hangud, with his 20-year-old son as a passenger in his red Mazda, drove 200 miles north to a remote area in Siskiyou County near the Oregon state line where Hangud strangled his son to death.

     The next day, with his oldest son's body in the trunk of his car, Hangud drove to Mount Shasta, California, a town of 3,000 in Siskiyou County. There, he turned himself over to officers with the Mount Shasta Police Department. To these officers, Shankar Hangud confessed to murdering his wife and their two younger children in the Roseville apartment. He said the body of his 20-year-old son was in trunk of his Mazda.

     Upon hearing from the police in Mount Shasta, officers with the Roseville department traveled to the Carmel at Wood Creek West apartment complex where they discovered the week-old corpses of a woman and two children.

     Later on the day of the discovery of Shankar Hangud's murder victims, Roseville police detectives drove to Mount Shasta to question him and return him to Placer County. That evening, the suspect was booked into the South Placer County Jail.

     On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, Shankar Hangud appeared before Judge Jeffrey S. Penny who informed him he had been charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The defendant said he didn't want an attorney, but the judge appointed him a public defender anyway. Judge Penny denied Hangud bail.

     As of this writing, about six weeks after the discovery of Hangud's wife and two children in the Roseville apartment, the authorities have not released information regarding how the victims were murdered, exactly when, or why. They haven't even released the names of the victims. For some reason, there has been a news blackout on this case. Nothing has been published about it since October 25, 2019.

Anti-Drug Public Service Ads: Telling People Things They Already Know

     In November 2019, the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, launched a $1.4 million anti-methamphetamine ad campaign. The idea was to bring awareness to the growing problem of meth addiction in the state. The ads can be seen on television, billboards, posters, and on the Internet. They feature images of people of different ages and races who say, "I'm on meth." The governor then intones: "This is our problem and we need to get on it." She goes on to explain how the meth problem has crowded the jails, overwhelmed the courts, and has destroyed lives.

     The public service motto is, "Meth. We're on it."

     The ad campaign will continue until May 2020. The advertising agency that came up with the catch phrase, "Meth. We're on it," was paid $445,000 for that.

     Everyone knows that people don't eat too much, abuse alcohol, smoke, and take drugs because they were not aware that these behaviors are bad for them. No one is that stupid. But politicians, when confronted with a problem, feel that they have to do something. And what they do, what they do best, is spend taxpayer money.

     The anti-meth motto, "Meth. We're on it." is not only useless and a waste of taxpayer money, it's a mockery of the problem and the government. It has become a cultural joke. When it comes to wasting taxpayer money on useless, window dressing measures, politicians should take Nancy Reagan's famously puerile anti-drug advice: "Just say no."

The Crime Scene Technician

     Because of television, books, and movies, crime scene investigation has become one of the most familiar, but misunderstood, components of the criminal justice system. Crime scene investigations are not the same as criminal investigations. Crime scene investigation involves systematically documenting and searching a crime scene for items of evidence. Once evidence is located it is preserved, documented and collected in ways that minimize contamination or spoilage. It is packed in secure containers, uniquely labeled, and either stored by the police or sent to the forensic science lab for analysis.

     Crime scene investigators are almost always police officers. Assignment as a crime scene investigator may take several years and a lot of training...

     Having forensic scientists help with crime scene investigation increases the opportunities for confirmation bias, (the tendency to interpret evidence in a way that supports one's preconceptions) to creep in.

Jay Siegel, Forensic Science, 2016

George Ryley Scott On How Corporal Punishment Reflects The Inherent Cruelty Of Mankind

Man is cruel. He has always been cruel. He is cruel to everything which he considers inferior to himself. He is cruel to both his fellow man and to animals. The advance of civilization has not resulted in man losing his capacity and appetite for cruelty; it has merely directed it both into fresh channels, or camouflaged them, or temporarily subjugated them. The delight which man experiences in persecuting others shows itself today in various forms; and where physical persecution is impossible, psychological persecution takes its place. The fact that a barbaric act is practiced under the aegis of justice, and the additional fact that it is conceived to be a fit punishment for the crime, do not alter or in any way mitigate its basic cruelty.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Corporal Punishment, 1968

Words Matter

There is no swifter route to the corruption of thought than through the corruption of language.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Getting Out Of Jury Duty

Some people try to get out of jury duty by lying. You don't have to lie. Tell the judge the truth. Tell him you'd make a terrific juror because you can spot guilty people.

George Carlin (1937-2008) comedian 

Thornton P. Knowles On Straightforward, Unpretentious Writing

I like authors who write plainly and directly: "Tom walked out of his house, climbed into his car, and drove to West Virginia." I don't like: Tom emerged from his abode, eased into his vehicle, and embarked upon a journey to West Virginia."

Thomas P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Phil Spector Murder Case

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the death scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, at the autopsy, found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from sheriff's office criminalists concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose."  Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In Di Maio's 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

Phil Spector Post Conviction

     In 2006, while awaiting his first murder trial, Spector married Rachelle Short. In 2016, he filed for divorce, claiming she was blowing through his $35 million estate. While he sat in prison, she had purchased a $350,000 airplane, an Aston Martin and a Ferrari, expensive plastic surgery, expensive jewelry, and two houses for her mother. Spector also claimed that Short had failed to pay $700,000 in taxes, and was sending him only $300 a month in prison spending money. When the divorce came through, the judge awarded Short $37,000 a month in spousal support plus $14,000 a month for housing costs.

Hybritophilia: Moths to the Flame

Hybritophiles are women sexually attracted to men who have committed murder. These women are especially attracted to high profile murderers and famous serial killers. They send these depraved men love letters, learn everything they can about their private lives, try to call or visit them in prison, and in rare cases, even marry them. The syndrome is an extreme form of the teenage girl's attraction to the forbidden bad boy. According to psychologists, hybritophiles are usually submissive, narcissist enablers who are attracted to power. Serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, and Ted Bundy were pursued by such women.

Samuel Byck's Attempted Assassination of President Richard Nixon

     Early on the morning of Friday, February 22, 1974, Samuel Byck drove to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport carrying a .22-caliber pistol and a gasoline bomb that was designed to explode on impact. His plan was to hijack a plane and force the pilot to fly it into the White House where the plane's fuel and the gasoline bomb would detonate and kill President Richard Nixon and destroy the building.

     Upon his arrival at the airport, Byck shot and killed an airport security guard. He then stormed his way onto Delta Flight 523 which was scheduled to take off for Atlanta, burst into the cockpit, and shot and killed the co-pilot. He then ordered the pilot to take off, but the pilot refused. Byck then grabbed a female passenger and forced her into the cockpit at gunpoint, telling her to help the pilot fly the plane.

     By this time, security personnel had been alerted to the hijacking, and armed agents surrounded the plane. They immediately began firing furiously into the cockpit.  Byck was hit in the chest and the stomach. Unable to stand, he fell to the cockpit floor and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

     Byck was deranged and, after his death, it was learned that he had sent a tape to the Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson before the hijacking on which he detailed his plans to use a plane as a guided missile to kill President Nixon.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In The Crosshairs, 2003

The History of Murder by Poison

     Poisoning is a method of murdering a person without leaving any inconvenient and incriminating clues like bloodstains, knife-wounds, marks of strangulation or crude bludgeoning. With luck, the murder might even be put down to death from natural causes. That, quite simply, is the reason why poisoning was the favorite method of murder for thousands of years: because it was virtually undetectable, its effects indistinguishable from hear attack or a stroke....

     Ancient Rome is the first society on record where poison was used on a large scale, almost indiscriminately, as a matter of policy by the rulers. But we know that the Greeks used poison much earlier, referring to aconite [a toxin derived from the Aconitum plant] as the "queen of poisons", for example. And certainly poison was known and widely used in the East, the Arabs and the Indians in particular being great practitioners in the deadly uses of venom.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Playing Fair With the Detective Story Reader

The most frequently repeated rule of detective fiction is the most nonsensical. It says, "you must play fair with the reader," meaning that in the course of the narrative the reader must see and hear everything that the detective sees and hears. I don't know why mystery writers have insisted on it, since every good writer of detective stories has violated this rule over and over again.

Rex Stout in The Writer's Book, edited by Helen Hull, 1959 

Oral Biographies

Oral biography's biggest problem, of course, is the lack of any controlling intelligence. Recorded interviewees exaggerate and ramble on, often ludicrously.

Thomas Mallon, In Fact, 2001 

Wallace Stegner on "Serious Fiction"

     "Serious fiction" is not necessarily great and not even necessarily literature, because the talents of its practitioners may not be as dependable as their intentions. But serious literature will be written in this spirit.

     The difference between the writer of serious fiction and the writer of escape entertainment is the clear difference between the artist and the craftsman. The one has the privilege and the faculty of original design; the other does not. The man who works from blueprints is a thoroughly respectable character, but he is of another order from the man who makes the blueprints in the first place.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002

Monday, November 18, 2019

The John Adams Wrong House SWAT Raid

     Sixty-four-year-old John Adams and his wife Loraine lived in Lebanon, Tennessee, a town of 20,000, 14 miles east of Nashville. John, suffering from arthritis, had retired after working 37 years for the Precision Rubber Company. With his lump-sum disability payment, John had purchased a new Cadillac and a double-wide trailer on Joseph Street, a short, dead-end road on the eastern side of town. His place and the house next door were the only dwellings on the block.

     At 10 o'clock Wednesday night, October 4, 2000, John and Loraine were watching television in their living room when someone pounded loudly on their front door. Loranine got out of her chair, "Who is it?" she asked. Whoever it was didn't respond. The pounding grew more intense. Realizing that someone was breaking down the door, Loraine, thinking that criminals were invading their house, yelled to John, "Baby, get your gun!"

     John Adams grabbed the cane next to his easy chair and hobbled out of the room. Seconds later, five men, wearing helmets and ski masks and dressed in black combat fatigues, burst into the house. They shoved Loraine against a wall and forced her to her knees. Handcuffed and terrified, she said, "Y'all have got the wrong place! What are you looking for?"

     Officers Greg Day and Kyle Shedron, rookies in their mid-twenties, encountered John standing in the hallway holding a sawed-off shotgun. Mr. Adams fired one shot, and the officers returned fire, hitting him in three places. Mr. Adams crumbled to the floor, and died four hours later on the operating table at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

     At a news conference the following day, Lebanon chief of police Billy Weeks admitted that his officers had raided the wrong house. He acknowledged that because there were only two residences on that block, and one was a house trailer, people had a right to know how this could have happened. Chief Weeks said that the narcotics officer in charge of the case, a person he would not identify, had written the correct address on the search warrant. This address belonged to the drug suspect's house located next door to the Adams dwelling. The narcotics officer, in directing the SWAT team to the place to be entered, relied on the description of the raid target rather than the address written on the warrant. Nobody could figure out what the hell that meant.

     According to Chief Weeks, the narcotics officer who had acquired the search warrant had been watching the drug suspect's house for more than a month. The judge had issued the warrant after this officer had sworn to him that an informant had purchased drugs at this house. The drug suspect's car had been parked in the Adams's driveway, which may have caused the mix-up. Although this explained how the narcotics cop might have incorrectly assigned the drug suspect's address to the Adams trailer, it also suggested that the officer had not actually witnessed the snitch enter the suspect's place to make the buy. If he had, the wrong description would not have ended up on the search warrant. Nevertheless, Chief Weeks said, "We did the best surveillance we could do, and a mistake was made. It's a very sincere mistake (what does that mean?), a costly mistake. They [Mr. and Mrs. Adams] were not the target of our investigation. [Mr. Adams was, unfortunately, the target of the shooters.] It makes us look at our own policies and procedures to make sure this never occurs again." Mr. Adams had been shot, the chief went on to say, because he fired a shotgun at officers Shedron and Day. The incident (the homicide) was being looked into by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).

     Chief of Police Weeks called a second news conference on October 19, 2000 to update the media on the status of the case. Having earlier assured the public that "We did the best surveillance we could do," he now revealed that "We lost sight of our informant, and that never should occur." It seemed the head of the narcotics unit who had watched the suspect's house, and acquired the search warrant, had not actually witnessed him enter the dwelling for drugs. "What we think happened is that we have a particular [narcotics] supervisor who made a very unwise decision." The "unwise decision" presumably, was to lie to the magistrate who had issued the search warrant.

     Chief Weeks placed the narcotics supervisor on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the TBI investigation. "We are not trying to make excuses for what happened. But I can tell you that we did identify ourselves [before breaking into the wrong house], and maybe they [the occupants] got confused. [Mr. and Mrs. Adams were not confused. They were in the right house.] And I know we were reacting to him [Mr. Adams] shooting at us. But obviously, this wouldn't have happened if we had not been in the man's house.

     John Fox, the mayor of Lebanon, also appearing before reporters that day, made the point that, wrong house or not, Mr. Adams would be alive had the SWAT team not been deployed in the first place. "We're going to back off this knocking down doors," he said. "There's going to have to be some really strong evidence that something life-threatening is actually there. I told him [Chief Weeks] to get rid of those damn black uniforms, get rid of them!" [The Lebanon SWAT team had been trained by DEA agents who recommend that officers dress in the "narco ninja" style which consists of all-black outfits and ski masks.] When we go up to knock on a door, we're going to have our suit and tie, or our [regular] police uniform, and that's it. And when they open the door, a citizen is going to be a citizen until there is actually proof of guilt."

    Mayor Fox also provided information that possibly explained how the narcotics supervisor had confused the suspect's residence with the Adams trailer. According to the mayor, the confidential informant was merely an anonymous tipster. Moreover, the so-called surveillance was nothing more than a "drive-by" scan of the neighborhood. If this were true, it's hard to imagine how the narcotics officer could have acquired the search warrant without fudging the facts.

     The TBI completed its investigation, and on November 3, 2000, a Wison County grand jury indicted Lieutenant Steve Nokes, the head of the Lebanon narcotics unit. Lieutenant Nokes stood accused of criminal responsibility for reckless homicide, tampering or fabricating evidence, and aggravated perjury, all felony offenses. At his trial, Nokes pleaded not guilty, and in June 2001, the jury acquitted him of all charges.

     The city of Lebanon, in May 2002, agreed to pay Loraine Adams the lump sum of $200,000. Pursuant to the court settlement, she would also receive $1,675 a month for the rest of her life. The city also paid Mr. Adams' $45,000 hospital bill, and his $5,804 funeral expenses.
      

Lie Detection Humor

A father buys a lie detector robot that slaps people when they lie. He decides to test it out at dinner one night. The father asks his son what he did that afternoon. The son says, "I did some schoolwork." The robot slaps the son. The son says, "Okay, okay, I was at a friend's house watching movies." Dad asks, "What movie did you watch?" Son says, "Toy Story." The robot slaps the son. Son says, "Okay, okay, we were watching porn." Dad says, "What? At your age I didn't even know what porn was." The robot slaps the father. Mom laughs and says, "Well, he certainly is your son." The robot slaps the mother.

Unknown 

George Orwell On Journalsim

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Ayn Rand On The Power Of Crime Legislation

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is in the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime [Like making it a crime to use the word "bitch."] that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

Ayn Rand, political philosopher and novelist (1905-1982)


Lawyer Bashing

Since time immemorial Americans have reveled in the sport of lawyer bashing. While people generally appreciate lawyers who help them personally and professionally, they routinely rail against the profession. Many share tales of terrible greedy lawyers to whom they refer as "shysters" or describe as "crooked."

Blake Morant, huffingtonpost.com

Eccentric Characters

If you were to examine the surviving novels of this century, you would find that a majority of the most memorable characters in fiction are to some degree eccentric. Eccentricity has frequently been at the heart of strong characterization for good reason. Ordinariness is what readers have enough of in real life.

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, 1995 

A Good Writing Day

I know perfectly well how to have a good writing day: get up around six, get a quick breakfast, at my desk before seven for an uninterrupted three hours of solid work (invariably the most productive segment of the day); a break at ten to fetch the mail, then back to work--resisting, by sheer strength of character, the seductions of the mail--until noon. Break again to [take a walk], get lunch, read the paper. Back to the desk for another productive couple of hours, until concentration fades; sag away from the desk about four, get a nap, feed and exercise the dogs, and begin, cocktail in hand, to read whatever it is I'm reading at the time. Piece of cake. I get a writing day like that, oh, at least once a month.

John Jerome, The Writing Trade, 1992 

Getting Into a Writing Program

     When I went to writing school, I craved rules. I craved a mentor, and the revelation of secrets, and the permission to write scads, and most of all I craved the confirmation that I could write. In other words, I was like practically everyone else.

    What a mystique writing programs have! A sense of promise emanates from their doors, wafts up from the embossed paper bearing their letterheads. I felt that being accepted to one, and especially to that bizarrely exotic one nestled in the middle of America, Iowa, was like being chosen for an initiation into mysteries. After all, what could be more mysterious than learning how to write?

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Scottye Leon Miller: The Inability of the Police to Prevent the Foreseeable Murder of a Stalking Victim

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years in prison.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, Washington, victims of stalking and assault did not get relief even when their offenders were in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must have been frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, 2012, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict, the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case, it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, hire a contract killer, or buy a gun and do the job themselves. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

The Con Game Victim

I think good cons are all based on the victim's need, and the successful con artist is the one who can exploit that. I remember reading something about this, that one of the greatest traits of confidence tricksters is the level they flatter their victims.

Alfred Molina, actor

The Ambulance Chasers

     Years ago, when the legal cannon of ethics prohibited lawyers from advertising their services, a number of unethical attorneys would literally follow ambulances to emergency rooms where they solicited business from accident victims, encouraging them to sue. Today, civil litigators don't have to chase ambulances, they simply solicit personal injury and wrongful death clients through television ads.

     In a New York Times blog posted on May 14, 2010, a Montclair, New Jersey resident wrote about what happened after her husband was involved in a fender-bender car accident. There were no injuries, the car was quickly repaired, and in a week the incident was history. At that point the car owner began getting next-day delivery letters from attorneys with a common pitch: "I just had to get to you before it's too late--call me immediately for a free consultation to possibly receive cash payments for injuries." This potential client, following this minor traffic accident, received seven letters from lawyers and one from a rehabilitation center, plus a phone call from a chiropractor.

     John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers (The Firm), spoke to a CNN correspondent about his book, The Litigators. The novel features two attorneys in a "boutique law" firm which is nothing more than a third-rate operation run by a couple of ambulance chasers. Asked by the correspondent what inspired the novel, Grisham said, "I think it goes back to what seems to be a deluge of lawyers advertising on television. The airwaves are just flooded these days with what I find to be unseemly appeals for cases by lawyers, all types of cases, tractor-trailer accidents, medical malpractice, mass tort drugs, asbestos and things like that. You've got these lawyers who come on with these high powered, very expensive ads, who just sign up as many cases as possible and if you have time to read the fine print on the TV screen, most of these cases they bundle them up and sell them to other law firms, so these guys are just peddling their names. They're in the big cities by the thousands, hustling around trying to get cases. They're in small towns where there's not quite as much business and they're still hustling around trying to get injury cases or more lucrative cases, but they're everywhere."

     The fact that Grisham practiced law for several years lends credibility and a sense of reality to his novels. While he is not a particularly fine writer, his books are tightly plotted and populated by interesting and realistic characters. The Litigators, an unflattering look at one segment of the legal profession, was a best-seller.   

Playing A Cop On TV

I did more research than I ever wanted to and saw some things I wish I didn't. I went on [police] ride-alongs, spent time with homicide, cold case, and SVU [surveillance unit] detectives, hung out in subways learning how to spot pervs and pick-pockets, viewed an autopsy, went to a police firing range, and witnessed court cases and I read, read, read.

Mariska Hargitay, actress on the drama series "Law & Order."

People Have Secrets From Each Other, But Not From The Government

You know something is wrong when the government declares opening someone else's mail a felony but your Internet activity is fair game for data collecting.

E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, 2011

Fictional Dialogue

     Among the things I remember hearing when I was beginning to write was: You shouldn't make fictional dialogue--conversation on the page--sound like actual speech. The repetitions, meaningless expressions, stammers, and nonsensical monosyllables with which we express hesitation, along with the cliches and banalities that constitute so much of everyday conversation, cannot and should not be used when our characters are talking. Rather, they should speak more fluently than we do, with greater economy and certitude. Unlike us, they should say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression. The idea, presumably, is that fictional dialogue should be an improved, cleaned-up, smoothed-out version of the the way people talk.

     Then why is so much written dialogue less colorful and interesting than what we can overhear daily. Many writers have a gift for language that flows when they are talking and dries up when they are confronted with the blank page, or when they are trying to make characters speak?

     When we speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what  we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of badly written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing at once.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006

A Writer's "Voice"

     Style is the relationship between writer and reader, and it is the vehicle through which you say whatever you have to say. It is the way you get your story told, and therefore consists of all your language and the whole manner you bring to its use. Style is always much more than decor or ornament, and it is always more than the way you dress up your story. It is the complete sound of what you write.

     Writers often talk about "finding their voice," and that is indeed just what it feels like. In fact, most writers have to "find their voice" many times over, since each new project, with its changed subject and set of demands, will call for some change in manner and inflection.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ingrid Lederhaas-Okum: The Thieving Employee From Hell

     On July 1, 2013, at 8:45 PM, three men walked into the jewelry store inside the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, smashed a glass jewelry display case, scooped up $200,000 in Rolex watches, then ran out of the hotel.

     While the Atlantic City smash-and-grab theft was considered a fairly big haul, it was nothing compared to what a jewelry thief working from the inside can steal.

     On Tuesday, July 2, 2013, the day after the Borgata Hotel smash-and-grab, FBI agents arrested Ingrid Lederhaas-Okum at her fancy home in Darien, Connecticut. A federal prosecutor charged the 46-year-old vice president in charge of product development at the Tiffany flagship location on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue with stealing $12 million worth of jewelry from the famed store.

     FBI agents working the case believe that between November 2012 and February 2013, the executive had checked out more than 165 pieces of jewelry that were not returned to the store. The missing merchandise included diamond bracelets, platinum and gold diamond drop and loop earrings, platinum and diamond rings, and platinum and diamond pendants. Lederhaas-Okum stood accused of selling the checked-out pieces of jewelry to another company. Federal investigators believed the suspect used her husband and a friend as sales intermediaries.

     After Tiffany & Company auditors couldn't find the 165-plus pieces of merchandise in the store's inventory, the firm fired Lederhaas-Okum. She had held the position of vice president since January of 2011. Lederhaas-Okum began working for the company in 1991 following her graduation from Georgetown University.

     Igrid Lederhaas-Okum pleaded not guilty to the jewelry theft charge.

     In terms of stolen merchandise and cash, retailers are hit the hardest by employee thieves who steal three times more than shoplifters and robbers combined. Quite often the most trusted and longtime employees are the thieves who do the most damage. Most of them are eventually caught. A few of these so-called internal thieves avoid prosecution by agreeing to pay restitution. Occasionally, a retailer will decline to prosecute a dishonest employee because such an action would create unwanted publicity. Most of the time, however, inside retail thieves who have stolen large amounts of cash or merchandise end up in prison.

     It's hard to understand why a trusted, high-paid executive would risk everything by stealing from his or her employer. Some prominent, high-end thieves steal because they are living beyond their means, have large medical expenses, are compulsive gamblers, or addicted to drugs. Some employees simply enjoy the thrill of enriching themselves at the expense of their employers. Forget the Robin Hood Syndrome, rich people often steal from other rich people so they can remain rich.

     On December 23, 2013, following her guilty plea to one count of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property, U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe sentenced Lederhaas-Okum to one year and one day in federal prison. By any standard, this big time employee thief got off extremely light.

America's Last Public Hanging

     The United States has a long history of so-called "legal" public executions. The last one was carried out in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1936 when Rainey Bethea was hanged after his conviction for the rape and murder of a 70-year-old woman.

     Hundreds of reporters and photographers--some from as far away as New York and Chicago--were sent to Owensboro to cover what was then the country's first hanging conducted by a woman. At least 20,000 people descended on the town to witness the execution. Bethea walked toward the gallows shortly after sunrise and was pronounced dead at around 5:45 a.m. that day.

     In 1936, reporters blasted what they called the "carnival in Owensboro." Many scholars say Bethea's execution--and the coverage it received--led to a banning of public executions in America.

National Public Radio, May 1, 2001

Norman Mailer On Journalism

If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.

Norman Mailer (1923-2007), novelist/journalist 

Body Snatching

     The dark practice of body snatching is directly tied to the advancements in the study of anatomy and medicine. The term was coined to describe the act of secretly removing corpses from graves for sale, primarily to medical schools where they were used for dissection and anatomy lessons.

     The first known case of body snatching was committed by four medical students in Bologna in 1319. In the 17th and 18th centuries body snatching reached epic proportions around the world. There was a reduction in executions, the traditional source of cadavers. There was also, simultaneously, a proliferation of medical schools and the study of anatomy. Poor refrigeration methods meant a deficit of fresh bodies for medical study. Furthermore, the punishment was minimal--the convicted were either fined or given light prison sentences.

     Body snatching was condoned by many medical practitioners and institutions who believed it was a necessary evil, one that was offset by the benefits anatomical study of the bodies would produce.

     The increasing demand for fresh cadavers gave rise to "ressurectionists," men paid to dig up and deliver bodies. Ressurectionists would work in teams, mainly targeting new graves because it was easier to dig the unsettled earth. They would send spies to funerals--mostly women--to scout the grave and plan for the removal of the body.

     A particular target for ressurectionists were the mass graves that the poor were often buried in. These graves were left uncovered until they were full of coffins. Single graves were far more troublesome to break into--a tunnel would have to be dug, sometimes four feet down, the coffin broken into and the body carried to the surface.

Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2003

Media and the Presumption of Guilt: The JonBenet Ramsey Case

     Our lives and our hopes for the future both suffered a near-fatal arrow when our daughter, JonBenet, was murdered in our home during the night of December 25, 1996. The overwhelming grief stressed our basic will to live. The suspicions cast on us by an inexperienced police force and the United States media almost crushed our ability to live.

     What happened to us after JonBenet's death should not happen to anyone, but based on what we have seen and experienced through our ordeal, we are certain that the same thing has happened to other people in our society. Innocent people are unjustly suspected, publicly accused, arrested, prosecuted, jailed, and in some cases, executed. Our criminal justice system now operates on the presumption of guilt, and then challenges the defendant to prove his or her innocence. Some police officers are all too eager to have their work on the evening news. We lost our daughter to the worst imaginable monster in our society and then were persecuted by the police and the media because they knew "the parents are always guilty."

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

Contemporary American Fiction

If I am to be honest, I must admit that most books disappoint me. Contemporary American fiction in particular. What so many writers seem to have forgotten, or never to have learned in the first place, is that reading should not be a torture. I will also admit that I find whimsy fatiguing.

David Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014 

Dominick Dunne on Book Tours

These days, publicity tours are very important. If you are asked to go one one, go. Not everyone is asked. I always feel honored when my publisher asks me to go on the road or appear on television chat shows. I've become very good at it. I know how to sell my book. If the conversation veers away to another topic, I have learned how to bring it back to the book. Nothing annoys me more than to hear writers in the various television green rooms around the country bitch and moan about how boring the book tours are, or how exhausting. Get into it. Have fun. Most of the people you meet are great. You're selling your books, and you're building your reputation. what's so bad about that?

Dominick Dunne (1925-2009), true crime writer and TV personality in Jon Winokur's book, Advice to Writers, 1999

Designing Dust Jackets

     The great book designer George Salter once said that a good dust jacket "must be in perfect accord with the literary quality of the book. It must be even more if it is to function as an important sales factor, if it is to 'stop' the eye of the person passing by."

     According to many book designers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to put together a good dust jacket. Each one needs to be approved by sales representatives, editors, art buyers and authors before it wins approval. "It is getting tougher and tougher to do good work these days," said Oliver Munday, a designer for Knopf. And Matt Dorfman, freelance book designer, admitted, "It was a pretty abysmal year for me approval-wise."

Nicholas Blechman, "The Best Book Covers of 2013," The New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1013

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Adam R. Crespo Murder Case

     In October 2017, 30-year-old Silvia Galva was living with 41-year-old Adam Reechard Crespo in his condominium in Hallandale Beach, a coastal town twenty miles north of Miami, Florida. On October 17, 2017, at four-thirty in the morning after a night of drinking with her boyfriend at a Hallandale Beach nightclub, Silvia Galva called 911 and reported that she had been physically assaulted by Crespo.

     When officers from the Hallandale Police Department arrived at Crespo's condominium, they found Galva with blood on her face and in her hair and bruises and scratches on her arms and legs. Adam Crespo literally had blood on his hands.

     Police officers arrested Adam Crespo and booked him into the Broward County Jail on the charge of misdemeanor battery.

     Silvia Galva, after filing the domestic abuse complaint, continued to live with the man who had assaulted her. In November 2017, Galva signed a petition requesting that the county prosecutor drop the misdemeanor battery charge against the man she had accused of abuse just a month earlier. The Broward County State's Attorneys Office denied Galva's dismissal request and set Crespo's trail date for January 23, 2018.

     As Crespo's day in court appoached, Silvia Galva ignored preliminary hearing subpoenas, and on the day of the trial, failed to show up for court. The prosecutor, without the cooperation of the prosecution witness, had no choice but to drop the case against Adam Crespo.

     At midnight on Friday, July 12, 2019, Hallandale police officers responded to a 911 call from Adam Crespo's condominium. The officers who answered the call found Silvia Galva lying on the bedroom floor with a puncture wound in her chest. A woman who identified herself as Galva's friend, the one who had called 911, was trying to revive the unconscious Galva with CPR.

     Medics rushed Silvia Galva to nearby Aventura Hospital where medical personnel pronounced her dead on arrival.

     Back at the death scene, Adam Crespo described to officers what he and his girlfriend had been doing that night, and exactly how she had died, a death he admitted was quite bizarre.

    Crespo, Salva and her female friend had been out drinking at the Diplomat Beach Resort bar in nearby Hollywood, Florida. Shortly after returning to the condo, Crespo and Salva were in the bedroom arguing. Her friend was in the living room. Crespo asked Salva to leave the bedroom, but she refused. He grabbed her by the ankles as she lay facedown on the bed. Across the foot of the bed lay a five-foot wooden shaft tipped with a 12-inch, metal spear point. With his back to Salva as he tried to pull her off the bed by her feet, Crespo heard the spear shaft, apparently caught on something, break with a snap. He turned and saw Salva with the spear point penetrating her chest. He took hold of the broken shaft and pulled the point out of her body, hoping that her wound "wasn't too bad." While Crespo applied pressure to Salva's bleeding wound, her female friend called 911.

     Hallandale police officers, skeptical of Crespo's account of Salva's death, took him into custody at the scene and booked him into the Broward County Jail. A local prosecutor charged Adam Crespo with second-degree murder (murder without premeditation).

     On July 15, 2019, at his arraignment before Broward County Judge Jackie Powell, Crespo pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. At the hearing, Silvia Galva's sister Veronica testified that the victim had "always been a caring and loving person, but when she began sharing her life with Crespo, everything changed." According to the sister, Crespo had isolated Galva from her closest friends and family. Silvia wanted to get away from this man but he always found a way to get back into her life. "He was always dominant with her, didn't let her have friends, go out, have a job, or even hang a painting she had made." According to the victim's sister, "Silvia was being manipulated by him and ended up being the victim in this scenario."

     Judge Powell set Adam Crespo's bail at $65,000 and ordered him not to contact any members of the Galva family. Once he posted his bond, the defendant would have to wear a GPS monitor, submit to random alcohol and drug testing, and surrender his passport.

     On November 1, 2019, news outlets reported that Hallandale detectives had seized, from Crespo's condominium, a pair of Alexa personal assistant systems. Investigators hoped these voice-activated devices had recorded conversations that would shed some light on how Silvia Galva had died that night.

     Defense attorney Christopher O'Toole, in speaking to reporters, characterized Silvia Galva's death as an accident. O'Toole said, "He [Crespo] tried to save Silvia's life, this was the woman he loved." Regarding the police seizure of the Alexa devices, the attorney said, "Ordinarily, I'd be jumping up and down objecting, but we believe the recordings could help us."
     

The Sociopathic Criminal

     The criminal values people only insofar as they bend to his will or can be coerced or manipulated into doing what he wants. He has been this way since childhood, and by the time he is an adult he has a self-centered view of the world in which he believes that he is entitled to whatever he wants. Constantly he is sizing up his prospects for exploiting people and situations. To him the world is a chessboard, with other people serving as pawns to gratify his desires. This view of life is not only expressed in his actions but also pervades his fantasies.

     The criminal conjures up visions of himself as a super-criminal, dramatically pulling off big scores that outdo the exploits of the most legendary figures. Typical of his fantasies are masterminding a worldwide diamond smuggling operation, working for a syndicate as a hit man, and living lavishly from the proceeds of multimillion-dollar holdups. By no means limiting his fantasies to crime, the criminal fancies himself at the top of the heap in any undertaking. He is the medal of honor combat hero, the secret agent, or the sleuth who cracks a murder case that has stymied an entire police department. He also envisions himself as the self-made millionaire luxuriating in a palatial seaside home, with his Rolls Royce, harem of women, retinue of servants, private jet, and yacht.

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

The Barry Loukaitis Case: The Media And Mass Murder

     Suicide clusters of the 1980s would be replaced by the school shootings of the 1990s, almost all conducted by suicidal male youth. The Copycat Effect had merely shifted its target as the media had shifted its focus. School violence has been around for a long time, but the media-driven contagion of modern school shootings dates back to February 2, 1996, when Barry Loukaitis, a 14-year-old boy in Moses Lake, Washington, killed two students and a math teacher. He ended his rampage by saying, "This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?"

     Loukaitis had taken that expression directly from the Stephen King novel, Rage, which he had really liked and which was about a school killing. Loukaitis said his murderous loss of control was inspired by Rage, Pearl Jam's music video Jeremy, and the movies Natural Born Killers and The Basketball Diaries. Unfortunately, the explosive media attention to Loukaitis's school shooting triggered a series of similar events. Today, Stephen King says he wishes he had never written Rage. [The Columbine shooting in 1999 created an Internet subculture of disaffected youths who fantasize about becoming mass murder anti-heroes like Harris and Kleber.]

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

The History of School Mass Shootings

     Large scale attacks at schools and college campuses may seem to be a recent phenomenon, but this is not the case. In fact, the deadliest school attack in the United States occurred in 1927, when a 55-year-old man named Andrew Kehoe murdered his wife and then used dynamite to blow up a school in Bath, Michigan. In all, Kehoe killed 45 people and wounded 58; most of these were children.

     Nearly 40 years later, in 1966, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old student at the University of Texas, went on a rampage. First he killed his wife and mother, then he set up a sniper position in a tower on campus and gunned down 45 people, killing 14.

     The 1970s and 1980s were not devoid of school attacks. In 1979, a teenage girl named Brenda Spencer opened fire on an elementary school across the street from her home in San Diego, California. She killed 2 adults and wounded 8 children and a police officer. Ten years later, in 1989, a 26-year-old named Patrick Purdy opened fire on an elementary school playground in Stockton, California. He killed 5 children and wounded 29 children and a teacher.

Dr. Peter Langman, Why Kids Kill, 2009 

How to Tell If You're a Novelist

     Do you have a new idea almost every day for a writing project? Do you either start them all and don't see them to fruition or think about starting but never actually get going? Do your begin sentences in your head while walking to work or picking up the dry cleaning? Do you blab about your project to loved ones, coworkers or strangers before the idea is fully formed, let alone partially executed? Have you ever been diagnosed with any combination of bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis? Do you snap at people who ask how your writing is going? What is it to them? Do you fear that you will someday wonder where the years went? How is it that some no-talent you went to high school with is being published everywhere you look?

     If you can relate to the above, you certainly have the obsessive qualities--along with the self-aggrandizement and concurrent feelings of worthlessness--that are part of the novelist's makeup.

Betsy Lerner, Forest For The Trees, 2001 

Writing the First Draft

     All writing begins life as a first draft, and first drafts are never (well, almost never) any good. They're not supposed to be. Expecting to write perfect prose on the first try is like expecting a frog to skip the tadpole stage.

     Write a first draft as though you were thinking aloud, not carving a monument. If what you're writing is relatively short--a financial report, a book proposal, a term paper--you might try doing your first draft in the form of a friendly letter. The person at the other end could be someone real or imagined, even a composite reader.

     Relax and take your time, but don't bog down, chewing your nails over individual words or sentences or paragraphs. When you get stalled, put down a string of X's and keep going. What you're writing now will be rewritten. If it is messy and full of holes, so what? It's only the first draft, and no one but you has to see it.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

The Novelization of Movies

     You've seen the movie, now read the book. The movie came from an original screenplay, but several weeks before the film comes out, there's a book on the stands. Novelizations, they're called…

     The authors of these books are usually paid a bit more up front than the average first novel advance--but their percentage of royalties is far lower, so that a box office hit won't mean that much more money to the novelizer than a complete failure. Also, writing a novelization can be a frustrating experience, since you almost always have to work from the screenplay, turning in your manuscript before the filming has been competed. Often the whole plot of the movie will be changed in filming or editing, and there sits the book, with the old "wrong" version firmly enshrined.

     Novelizations can be fine pieces of work, but in most cases very few readers and no critics will notice or care. There's little joy in the work, it does nothing for your career, and whether the money is worth it to you is for you to answer.

Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1990 

Norman Mailer on Being a Writer

     I'm now eighty, but some people still regard me as a wild man. Even at my peak, that was only five to ten percent of my nature. The rest was work. I remember Elia Kazan saying one day at Actors Studio, "Here, we're always talking about the work. We talk about it piously. We say the work. The work. Well, we do work here, and get it straight: Work is a blessing." He said this, glaring at every one of us. And I thought, He's right. That's what it is. A blessing.

     Of course, if you ask what work is dependent upon, the key word, an unhappy one, is stamina. It's as difficult to become a professional writer as a professional athlete. It often depends on the ability to keep faith in yourself. One must be willing to take risks and try again. And it does need an enormous amount of ongoing working practice to be good at it. Since you are affected by what you read as a child and adolescent, it also takes a while to unlearn all sorts of reading reflexes that have led you into bad prose.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Extreme Cruelty: The Samilya Brown Murder Case

     On October 30, 2019, police officers and medics responded to a 911 call from a house on the 1700 block of Folsom Street on the north side of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A 4-year-old girl had fallen from a second-story window of the house and landed on some chairs, seriously injuring her face. The child was rushed by ambulance to Jefferson University Hospital then transferred to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where she was listed in critical condition.

     The injured girl was being cared for by 38-year-old Samilya Brown who had gained custody of her from Zya Singleton, the girl's mother. Singleton gave up custody of her daughter two years earlier because she didn't have the means to support her. She granted custody to Brown, who was married to her stepbrother, because she didn't want the child placed into foster care.

     When questioned by police officers at the scene regarding how the child had gone out the window, Brown said the girl fell while playing with a cat.

     On November 3, 2019, Zya Singleton's daughter died from her injuries and a serious blood infection. Because she had not died from natural causes, the city medical examiner performed an autopsy. What the forensic pathologist discovered was shocking.

     The medical examiner discovered evidence that the girl had been the victim of years of physical abuse. Her body was covered with burns from some kind of acid, human bite marks, and healed-over puncture wounds. The tiny victim had an incised wound that had been stitched up by an amateur, a cut that had become seriously infected. The child was also malnourished. The medical examiner also concluded that the girl's recent head trauma was not consistent with a fall.

     The forensic pathologist, presented with evidence pointing to a history of abuse at the hands of an extremely cruel adult, ruled the child's death a criminal homicide.

     When interrogated by homicide detectives, Samilya Brown admitted that she had been the one who had stitched up the girl's cut. She denied, however, causing any of the other signs of physical trauma found on the victim's body.

     On November 12, 2019, Philadelphia County District Attorney Larry Krasner charged Samilya Brown with murder and several lesser offenses. Child protection agents removed Brown's four biological children from her house. According to reports, these children showed no signs of physical abuse.

Crime Witnesses Should Not Confer With Each Other

One of the worst things is when witnesses start talking to each other. As soon as you start talking to someone else, the story you have in your head changes. Human memory is rewritten like computer memory. You just get the most updated file.

Maureen Johnson, Truly Devious, 2018

The Sciences in Forensic Science

There is no such thing as "forensic science"; instead it is a collection of scientific techniques and principles that are begged and borrowed from "real" sciences such as chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, and mathematics.

Encyclopedia of Forensic Science, Jay A. Siegal, editor, 2000

Sleepwalking As A Criminal Defense

     The murder trial of Albert Tirrell marked the first successful use of sleepwalking as a criminal defense. In 1846, a jury acquitted Tirrell of murder after his lawyer proved that he was a chronic sleepwalker.

     Tirrell's troubles first began after police found the body of Maria Bickford, a prostitute with whom Tirrell had developed a significant relationship, with her throat slit almost to the point of decapitation. Tirrell, who had a wife and a child, was with Bickford in the [Boston, Massachusetts] brothel at the time of the murder.

     The case quickly became sensationalized in the papers: The story went that Tirrell, who treated Bickford as a romantic partner, was jealous that she'd taken another customer. After that customer left Bickford's room, Tirrell took a razor to Bickford's neck and slit her throat and then set multiple fires to destroy the evidence. Perhaps most incriminating of all, Tirrell fled to New Orleans before he was finally arrested.

     The jury bought the sleepwalking defense. and after just two hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty.

All That's Interesting,  PBH Network, June 21, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Of Success

Luck is everything. My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I'm fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn't make a good suspense film.

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)

The Distinguished Law Professor

When I arrived at Harvard Law School in 1964, there were several extremely distinguished professors who rarely wrote anything. Their reputations for brilliance were so high and so universal that they had nowhere to go but down. They feared--correctly, I suspect--that if they published widely, criticism would begin to emerge. So they limited their published output to the occasional "perfect gem," which they had polished for years. Other works were circulated as "preliminary drafts" or "works in progress," so as to preclude reviews or other criticism. The great fear was that their "perfect" reputations might be tarnished by a less-than-perfect piece of writing.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

Hunter S. Thompson On Journalsim

So much for Objective Journalism. Don't bother to look for it here--not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.

Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in The Campaign Trial '72"

True Crime TV

The only television shows that Americans watch in big numbers are shows about lawyers, doctors, or cops. People don't tune in to watch scientists unless they are forensic scientists.

Robert J. Sawyer, science fiction writer

Thornton P. Knowles On Television And The American Way

Television reduced our attention span, lowered our taste, created envy of the rich, made clowns of politicians, writers, and preachers, destroyed community life, promoted illiteracy, made us fat, and replaced real journalists with propagandists and news readers. The old "boob-tube" has made boobs of us all, and eased us into what will lead to the ultimate cultural dystopia: the Internet.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

David Sturdivant: Ripped Off, Shot, Charged With A Crime He Didn't Commit, Looted, And Victimized By Arsonists

     David Sturdivant, a 64-year-old ex-Marine (Purple Heart/Vietnam) was doing okay in Atlanta, Georgia. He lived alone in a two-story house, and worked in his own engine repair shop attached to his dwelling. Mr. Sturdivant had recently been the victim of neighborhood burglars who had broken into his shop and swiped his HAM radio, various electronic items, a couple of riding mowers, and his tools. Things had gotten worse when thieves stole his two antique Thunderbirds.

     After awakening from a nap at one oclock in the afternoon on April 8, 2011, Mr. Sturdivant looked out his second-story window and saw a pickup owned by Dennis Alexander, its tailgate open, parked near a riding mower in the shop for repair. To Mr. Sturdivant, it looked like Mr. Alexander, a man with a criminal history of burglary and theft, was about to steal the mower. David Sturdivant stepped out onto his balcony and yelled, "Get off my property and stop stealing my stuff!" When Alexander mocked the property owner, Sturdivant entered his house and returned with a commercial grade M-14 rifle. From the balcony he fired one bullet into the ground to frighten Alexander off the property.

     Close by, Atlanta police officers working with a television crew filming a segment for the reality TV show "Bait Car," heard the shot. In less than two minutes they were on the scene shouting at Sturdivant to drop his rifle. Without taking the time to fully comprehend the situation, three officers fired fourteen shots at Mr. Sturdivant. One of the bullets tore into his stomach. Mr. Sturdivant had not shot at the officers, and had not pointed his rifle at them.

     A week after the shooting, hospital personnel discharged Mr. Sturdivant. He rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair less one a kidney and missing several inches of his colon. Police officers immediately took him into custody and hauled him off to the Fulton County Jail in his wheelchair. The district attorney charged Sturdivant with four counts of aggravated assault for pointing his gun at the police officers. He also stood accused of aggravated assault for shooting at the suspected thief, and for possession of a weapon in the commission of a crime. If convicted of all charges, and given the maximum sentence, Mr. Sturdivant faced 105 years in prison.

     While Mr. Sturdivant recovered from his bullet wound in the jail's hospital ward, looters cleaned out his house and business then burned the dwelling and shop to the ground.

     At a preliminary hearing on October 27, 2011, the suspect turned down the district attorney's offer of a probated sentence in return for a misdemeanor plea. Claiming total innocence, Mr. Sturdivant rejected the plea bargain.

     On November 11, 2011, a judge tossed out the prosecutor's case against Mr. Sturdivant. After serving seven months in the county slammer, Mr. Sturdivant was free. But he had nowhere to go except to the local VA hospital. Mr. Sturdivant lost his house, his business, his household belongings, his antique cars, his tools, his kidney, and a piece of his colon.

     Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed. 

Cops And Snitches

You stop the cops from using informants and the only crimes they'd ever solve would be those by deranged postal workers who come to work once too often.

Andrew Vachss, crime fiction writer

Online Criminal Justice Advocacy

 [By 1996] the world of online criminal justice advocacy would take a number of different forms, with some factions focusing on solving old cases, others on finding new angles on old conspiracies or putting names to unidentified bodies or working to get elusive serial killers arrested. Ultimately, thousands of these crime-centric groups would congregate on Facebook and message boards and Reddit forums. Many posters took on the persona of the righteous defender, the person who did the hard work that institutions couldn't--or wouldn't--do.

Rachael Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

Jeffrey Dahmer On The Mind Of A Serial Killer

It's a process, it doesn't happen overnight, when you depersonalize another person and view him as just an object, an object for pleasure and not a living breathing human being. It seems to make it easier to do the things you shouldn't do.

Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994) "The Milwaukee Cannibal"

Bonnie and Clyde: Armed And Short

Bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde were both short. Bonnie Parker was only 4' 11" and Clyde Barrow 5' 4" at a time [1934] when average heights for women and men were 5' 3" and 5' 8". Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty who played Bonnie and Clyde in the famous 1967 film stood 5' 7" and 6' 2" respectively.

ancestry.com, June 20, 2013 

Science Fiction Versus Fantasy

     A science fiction story is one in which the story couldn't happen without its scientific content. The story can't contradict what we currently accept as scientific fact, such as the possibility of going faster than light, but it can speculate on what may turn out to be fact--such as a way to travel though some kind of space where the speed of light is not a factor.

     A fantasy story is one in which the conditions are flatly contrary to scientific fact. Magic works. Supernatural beings intervene in human affairs. People have destinies, often foretold long before their birth. [In science fiction there are rocket ships; in fantasy, magic carpets.]

Crawford Kilian, Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1998

Novelistic Tones

The tone of a novel may be described in words like comic, wry, reflective, tongue-in-cheek, bittersweet, or in compounds such as incipient fear, sense of lurking evil and sense of unease.

Lesley Grant-Adamson, Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction, 1996 

Does An Author's Looks Affect Sales?

     I remember when looks started to matter in publishing. I began writing in the late 1960s--just as publishing was turning into an industry. The cult of personality had arrived, and writers could no longer be private people as my grandfather, my mother and my uncle, all professional novelists, had been. The notion of having author photographs on book jackets appalled them: They believed they could write freely only if they felt anonymous.

     My generation had no such qualms. We poured out our indignations, our quirky personalities, made ourselves vulnerable. I was young when my first book was published and had quick success; I roared round the world on the Concorde, from one international convention to the next. I like to think it was because I wrote good novels, not because I fluttered my eyelashes, but really, who can say? With age things calm down. Publicity photographs give up trying to make you look sexy and try to make you look intelligent.

Fay Weldon, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2014 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sirgiorgio Clardy: The Sociopath From Hell

     Sirgiorgio Clardy bounced from one foster home to another in Portland, Oregon because even as a kid no adult could handle him. In 2000, when he was thirteen, he attacked his foster dad with a baseball bat. Clardy also threatened and attacked teachers, school administrators, and classmates. He took brass knuckles to school and once tried to sexually assault a female student.

     By 2013, the 26-year-old Clardy had been convicted of twenty felonies that included crimes such as forcing young women to work as prostitutes, assault, and robbery. When police officers arrested him, he'd threaten to rape their wives and children. When he wasn't incarcerated, Clardy made everyone who come into contact with him miserable, including the teenaged girls he forced into prostitution. This brutal pimp had no business living outside of prison walls.

     In the summer of 2012, several 18-year-old prostitutes, against their will, were doing business for Clardy out of the Inn at the Convention Center, a motel on the edge of downtown Portland. During the course of that operation a john tried to leave the motel without paying one of Clardy's prostitutes. Clardy caught the john before he left the motel. The pimp knocked the free-loader down and used his feet to stomp the man's face. As the seriously injured john lay bleeding on the ground, Clardy took all the cash he possessed. It took plastic surgery to repair the damage to the prostitution patron's face.

     Police officers arrested Clardy shortly after the assault. A Multnomah County prosecutor charged the violent pimp with compelling prostitution, first-degree robbery, and second-degree assault. The suspect pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     In the months leading up to Clardy's trial he threatened and spit on several lawyers appointed to represent him. Eventually Judge Kelly Skye, realizing that no lawyer wanted to be near this man, declared that he would have to defend himself with the help of a legal advisor who would not be required to sit next to him in court. After awhile even the legal advisor asked the judge to be relieved from the unsavory assignment.

     In July 2013, not long after Clardy's trial got underway in Portland's Multnomah County Circuit Court, the defendant spit on sheriff's deputies and threatened the judge. The next day, deputies rolled the defendant into court handcuffed to a wheelchair. To keep him from spitting on people, the deputies had covered Clardy's head in a mesh bag. Because Clardy refused to get dressed for trial, officers had wrapped him in a suicide smock.

     A few days into the trial, notwithstanding the presence of nine deputy sheriffs, Judge Skye ordered the defendant into another courtroom where he'd watch the proceedings on a video monitor. The judge considered Clardy too disruptive to be physically present at his own trial.

     The jurors concluded Clardy's two-week trial by finding him guilty of all charges. At the sentencing hearing a few days later, the prosecutor put Dr. Frank Colistro on the stand. The psychologist, in practice for thirty years, said, "I've evaluated serial murderers, serial rapists, and I'm going to tell you very few of those people reached the evaluation scores we're going to talk about here."

     According to the forensic psychologist, Clardy was in the 100th percentile of the narcissistic psychopath scale. "People like Mr. Clardy," the doctor said, "are born bad. It's not something we can fix. That's why we have prisons."

     The prosecutor had put Dr. Colistro on the stand to counter the defendant's claim that he heard voices and wanted to kill himself. Dr. Colistro testified that Clardy exemplified the textbook case of an anti-social psychopath, a man who thought he was smarter, more attractive, and better than anyone else.  According to Dr. Colistro, Sirgiorgio Clardy was not mentally ill. This man was evil.

     Judge Judy Skye, based upon Sirgiorio Claudy's violent past, criminal record, courtroom behavior, and psychological evaluation, declared him a "dangerous offender". People so designated, if given the chance, would offend again. As someone beyond the reach of rehabilitation, Judge Skye sentenced Clardy to 100 years in prison with no chance of parole until he served 36 years. Clardy, upon hearing his sentence, swore at the judge and threatened the deputy sheriffs.

     In January 2014, from his cell at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Clardy, through a handwritten, three-page complaint, filed a $100 million civil suit against, among others, Phil Knight, the chairman of the Nike Company. Clardy based his tort claim on the theory that Nike, on each shoe, does not provide a label that warns users that stomping a person's face while wearing this Nike product could cause serious injury to the stomped person. As a result of the defendant's omission, the plaintiff experienced "great mental suffering".

     Clardy's lawsuit, the product of sociopathy in the extreme, was dismissed by a judge on October 2, 2014. 

The Senseless Murder of a Toddler

     In 2016, 31-year-old Veronica Rene Castro lived in a travel trailer in Bellevue, Texas, a remote Clay County community near the Oklahoma border 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Castro resided with her three-year-old son, Dominic Tra'Juan Castro and the boy's 18-year-old stepfather, George Coty Wayman. Wayman, a violent dimwit with a facial tattoo, had a criminal record that included a recent stretch in prison.

     Shortly after three in the afternoon on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, someone from the Castro dwelling on Buffalo Springs Road called 911 to report a shooting. When deputies with the Clay County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene, they found the Castro toddler shot once in the back of the head.

     Emergency personnel airlifted the seriously wounded boy to the United Regional Health Care System in Wichita Falls, Texas. At ten-forty-five the next morning, Dominic Castro died.

     Wayman, when questioned at the scene of the shooting by the police, said the boy had been accidentally shot when he jumped on the bed where a 9mm handgun had been placed. The physical evidence at the scene failed to support this scenario. Moreover, several people in the bedroom who had witnessed the shooting had a different story.

     According to the eyewitnesses, Wayman, angry at the toddler who had refused to stop jumping on the bed, aimed the gun and shot him in the head.

     A Clay County prosecutor, on May 18, 2016, charged George Wayman with capital murder. (In Texas, the intentional killing of a child under six constitutes a death penalty offense.) The accused murderer was booked into the Clay County Jail under $550,000 bond.

      In December 2016, following his guilty plea, a Clay County judge sentenced George Wayman to life in prison.

Is Executing Murderers More Trouble Than It's Worth?

     Legal challenges and a struggle to find lethal drugs have triggered a raging debate in Ohio and other states over the proper way to execute killers. The unavailability of certain drugs has led to changes in many death-penalty states and prompted the talk of executing methods that haven't been used for decades.

     Bringing back firing squads, the electric chair and even gas chambers is being discussed in some parts of the country, while other states--most recently Maryland and Connecticut--are moving away from the death penalty.

     Support for the death penalty has dropped nationally from a high of 80 percent in 1994. [Now it's around 50 percent.]

"Debate Rages Over Proper Way to Execute Criminals," Dayton Daily News, February 2, 2014

Gun Shot Surgeons

Gunshot wounds are now becoming almost a distinct branch of surgery.

J.A. Hunter in Treatise on Gunshot Wounds, 1794 (reprinted in 1989)

No Hunches Or "Gut Feelings" In Forensic Science

Forensic scientists are not policemen. We are scientists. We deal with matters objectively. We do not act on our suspicions.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, forensic pathologist 

How Do You Synopsize A Novel?

     I hate synopses, and I've never managed to write one. How the hell can you boil down a novel from 400 pages to three?

     And what does the reader of a synopsis expect to learn from it, anyway? I'm not nearly good enough a writer to convey tone, voice, and character and summarize a 90,000-word plot in five paragraphs. Someone who writes in romance told me that the synopsis is used to prove you understand the expectations of the genre. Well, okay, I guess. But I've never heard another good reason, and even that sounds weak to me.

     If the publisher's demand for a synopsis in nonnegotiable, do the best you can. Otherwise, just skip it--attach Chapter One, or a list of writing credits, instead. For me, the whole point of the game is to get them to read the first few pages. After that, it's all about the writing, as it should be.

Michael Wiecek, in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McLeer, editor, 2008 

B. Traven: All Books Should Be Published Anonymously

     A character in B. Traven's story "The Night Visitor" who has written several books he has chosen not to publish, contemplates fame: "What is fame, after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps fifty people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame."

     B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book.

     Modern publishing is all about fame. Gore Vidal once said that an author should never turn down a chance to be on television. ( Vidal, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer were notorious media whores.) Today, book publishers pay publicists to get their authors in the news and on radio and TV talk shows.  (Publicity, by definition, is free advertising.) Publishers also like celebrity authors who are already famous. Fans come to celebrity book signings not to acquire the book for reading but for the writer's autograph and a photo op. As a result, it really doesn't bother anyone that celebrity authors do not write (or, I imagine, even read) their own books.