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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Justyn Pennell: The Recreational Killer

     For several months, Justyn Pennell fantasized about how much he wanted to murder, for no reason other than for the pleasure of it, a perfect stranger. At two-thirty in the afternoon of January 9, 2020, the 21-year-old, while driving his Red Chrysler PT Cruiser in Hudson, Florida, a town 40 miles west of Tampa, came upon an opportunity to fulfill his desire to take an innocent person's life.

     The object of Pennell's homicidal obsession, a 75-year-old man carrying a walking stick, was strolling by himself on a road that didn't have a sidewalk. The Vietnam veteran and Pennell were moving in the same direction, with the man on the other side of the road heading toward the oncoming traffic. Pennell made a u-turn, increased his speed, and sped directly at the pedestrian who tried in vain to avoid being run over.

     After plowing into the victim, Pennell lost control of the PT Cruiser and slammed into a utility pole. He climbed out of the damaged car unhurt. Several motorists had witnessed Justyn Pennell run down the elderly man who lay dead on the road.

     At the scene, Justyn Pennell called 911, and to the dispatcher, admitted that he had just intentionally crashed his car into a pedestrian for the purpose of killing him. To the police officers who responded to the call, Pennell once again confessed. In relating what happened, Pennell told the officers that when he saw the terrified look on the man's face just before he killed him, he laughed.

     On January 10, 2020, a Pasco County prosecutor charged Justyn Pennell with first-degree murder. At his arraignment, Pennell, who didn't have a criminal record, requested the services of a public defender. The magistrate denied him bail.

Can O. J. Simpson be Defamed?

     In October 2017, after serving nine years in a Nevada prison for robbery, O. J. Simpson, the famed football player acquitted of double murder in 1995, took up residence in a Las Vegas golfing community. Shortly after his prison release, O. J. Simpson and two of his friends were having drinks at the Cosmopolitan Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas. The men were asked to leave the premises for allegedly being drunk and disruptive. Following the incident, the Cosmopolitan issued the 72-year-old Simpson a trespass notice that prohibited him from returning to the establishment.

     A member of the Cosmopolitan staff publicized the O. J. Simpson banning by alerting the celebrity website TMZ.

     Simpson, who insisted that he had not been drunk and disruptive, and therefore did not deserve to be banned from the Cosmopolitan, filed a civil defamation suit against the hotel-casino in which he claimed that the publication of the incident had caused "tangible damage to his reputation."

     Attorneys for the hotel-casino argued that O. J. Simpson was a public person who had a reputation of being a robber and a man who had murdered two people. In other words, O. J. Simpson didn't have a reputation to defame.

     The case is pending.

The Archivist and the Bookseller: Pittsburgh's Rare Book Heist

     On January 3, 2020, 63-year-old Gregory Priore pleaded guilty to stealing, over a 20-year period, $500,000 worth of rare books, prints, and maps from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. From 1992 to April 2017, the resident of the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh, held the position of archivist and manager of the William R. Oliver Special Collections room of the library.

     John Schulman, the man Gregory Priore sold the stolen library holdings to, pleaded guilty on January 3, 2020 to receiving stolen property. The 56-year-old antiquarian book dealer from Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, owned the Caliban Bookshop in the Oakland section of the city. Mr. Schulman's attorney claimed that his client didn't know the items he purchased from Mr. Priore were stolen, but concedes that he should have known.

     The archivist and the antiquarian bookseller will be sentenced on April 17, 2020. At the maximum, both defendants could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Neither man, however, will receive a sentence anywhere near that severe. Mr. Schulman may not be given any prison time at all.

     This case exemplifies the reality that when it comes to theft, no one is above suspicion. 

Cellphones Have Made People Less Observant

People are so absorbed in their cellphones, they are less likely to spot crimes in progress. Moreover, people are less apt to notice a person from a wanted poster or a missing persons flyer. Eyewitness testimony, already a weak form of evidence, my someday be nonexistent. 

Third-Person Narration

     Third-person narrators are identified by the degree and manner of access the reader is afforded to the hearts and minds of the characters. You should decide, for example, that your narrator will not get into the consciousness of any of the characters. [In other words, does not know what they are thinking.] That's called third-person objective or dramatic point of view or fly-on-the-wall point of view.

     Or you might decide that your narrator will get into the mind of the central character only. This is called third-person limited. We get the thoughts and feelings of the central character, but no one else's. Or you might shift points of view from character to character in what's called multiple selective omniscience. Or go all the way and use an omniscient narrator who knows all, but can't tell all.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like This? 2010 

Good Talkers Are Not Necessarily Good Writers

     Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper.

     Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even when they bomb, spoken words float off into space. They can always be denied. "That's what I said?" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Setting Up the Novel's Big Scene

I can always tell when a writer has rushed through a scene or written around it in order to get to the good stuff. The dialogue is hurried, like the wedding vows in a tired old comedy where the bride's in labor. Descriptions are sketchy or nonexistent. Too often, the scene isn't even there; the novelist has lifted it out and thrown it away, or not written it at all. At best, this leaves an annoying gap. At worst, the "good" scene has not been set up and so it falls in like a cake because someone skimped on the eggs. In between is a lost opportunity, because sometimes the scene you dreaded most turns out to be the best in the book.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

The Writer's Journal

I've kept a journal on a capricious basis since I was sixteen. For me, my journal is a supplement to my imagination. I recently heard of a novelist who cuts out magazine photos of people, pastes them on his study wall, and uses them as the basis for his character descriptions. I completely approve. Writing is hard enough, and I welcome anything that helps me along. Besides, I can't help but filter what I see through my imagination, so even my most autobiographical fiction is, in a sense, wholly imagined.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Carla Hague Poisoning Case

     In 2013, Judge Charles Hague lived with his wife of 45 years outside of Jefferson, Ohio in the northeastern part of the state. Since 1993, he had been an Ashtabula County common pleas juvenile/probate judge. Carla, his 70-year-old wife, had retired years earlier as a nurse. The judge and Carla, parents of grown children, enjoyed a reputation in the community as outstanding citizens.

     As is so often the case, outward signs of domestic tranquility are misleading. This unfortunate reality applied to Mr. and Mrs. Hague. The problem within that marriage exploded to the surface on September 15, 2013 when Carla telephoned one of her sons. She said the judge had become ill after consuming a glass of wine. Upon arrival at the house, the son took one look at his father and dialed 911.

     Paramedics rushed the stricken judge to a local hospital from where medical personnel flew him to the Cleveland Clinic for emergency care. Following several days of treatment in Cleveland, the judge returned home to recuperate.

     Judge Hague's relatives, on September 19, 3013, notified the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office of foul play suspected in the judge's sudden illness four days earlier. More specifically, the relatives accused Mrs. Hague of spiking her husband's wine with antifreeze. (A toxicological analysis of the judge's blood confirmed the presence of ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze.)

     Sheriff's deputies arrested Carla Hague on December 2, 2013 on suspicion of attempted murder. Officers booked her into the Ashtabula County Jail. Eighteen days later, an Ashtabula County grand jury indicted the suspect of contaminating a substance for human consumption. She also stood accused of attempted murder.

     Carla Hague did not deny putting the antifreeze into her husband's wine. Her intent, she said, was not to kill the judge but to make him slightly ill. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a serious respiratory condition. In Carla's opinion, her husband had been adding to his health problem by drinking too much. She hoped that if the wine made him ill he would cut back on his use of alcohol.

     At her arraignment, Carla pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder. She posted her $100,000 surety bond on December 24, 2013.

     On June 16, 2014, the local prosecutor, with Judge Hague's consent, allowed the defendant to plead guilty to felonious assault. In speaking to a reporter, judge Hague said, "I have no anger or animosity. I am beyond that. I'm gad to have this huge black spot behind us. I have moved on with my life. Carla can get on with hers." (Presumably they will be getting on with their lives without each other.)

     Following the guilty plea, the judge sentenced Carla Hague to two years in prison with eligibility for release in six months.

The Electric Chair: Now Mostly a Museum Exhibit

     Quite often, the centerpiece of a police or crime museum is an electric chair. To some, "Old Sparky" is a symbol of a bygone era when convicted murderers got what was coming to them swiftly and electronically. Others believe the electric chair represents government brutality and cruel and unusual punishment. Still others are drawn to these old "hot seats" by morbid curiosity. Currently, only four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia--have operational electric chairs. In these states a death row inmate can choose between lethal injection and electrocution. Over the past years, prisoners faced with this dark dilemma, have chosen the needle over the voltage. Since 1890, about 4,000 inmates have been electrocuted in the United States. It would be wishful thinking to believe that all of them were guilty of the crimes charged.

The Agent of Death

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician (of course) from Long Island, the official executioner for six states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For this he charged the state $150 a pop. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more at one setting (so to speak), he discounted his fee. Some of Elliot's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936), the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey (1928), the murderers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), the Italian anacrchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity, and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Angel of Death that came out in 1940 less than a year after his own demise. His book, long out of print and written by a co-author, has become a collector's item.

Never Too Big to Fry

     In 1981, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old death row inmate's attorney argued that his 355 pound client was too heavy for the state's broken-down 76-year-old electric chair. Since it was built in 1923, the Florida State Prison's electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners, and was worn out. Witnesses to the chair's performance in 1997 saw, when the juice was applied, a flame from the condemned man's head shoot a foot into the air. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with Allen "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair, one that could accommodate a 355 pound guest. On July 8, 1999, the executioner ran 2,300 volts through the metal cap on Davis's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a lot of groaning, but the new chair did its job.

Museum Pieces

     If you're interested in the electric chair that sent Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey to hell in 1927, you can see a replica of it at the Sing Sing Prison Museum in Ossining, New York. Snyder was the first women executed in the United States since 1899. After her, more would follow. The real chair is in prison storage. The hot seat Robert Elliott activated to electrocute Bruno Richard Hauptmann sits in the New Jersey Police Museum and Learning Center in West Trenton. In that state they call it "Old Smokey."

     At the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum in Titusville, Florida, visitors can be photographed sitting in a replica electric chair. One tourist, dressed like Santa Claus, sat in the chair with a kid on his knee. (Just kidding.) An Old Sparky is on display in Moundsville, West Virgina as part of a tourist attraction that used to be part of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. The chair had been constructed in 1950 by an inmate who had to be moved to another prison when the other inmates got wind of his project. Before 1950, death sentence inmates in West Virginia were hanged--85 of them since 1866. The state has abolished the death penalty.

     In Springer, New Mexico, at the Sante Fe Trail Museum, a female mannequin sits in the state's first and only electric chair. (I'm not a museum curator, but this seems like an odd choice.) The electric chair at the Texas Prison System in Huntsville, built by an inmate, fried 361 prisoners from 1924 to 1964.

     The centerpiece of an exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, featured an electric chair that put 312 men and one woman to death between 1887 and 1963. The exhibit, in a state that has kept the death penalty, created some controversy.

Memorist Elizabeth Wurtzel on Depression

That's the thing about depression: a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to even see the end.

Elizabeth Wurtzel (1968-2020), Prozac Nation, 1994. 

Women Murdered by Husbands and Lovers

In 2019, fifty women in the United States were shot to death by their husbands and boyfriends every month.

Rachel Louise Snyder, No Visible Bruises, 2019

A Common Cause of Writer's Block

The most common reason for writer's block is problems with the storyline. There are no hard and fast rules as to overcome this, but without swift attention, an acute attack can turn into a chronic condition. Start by revisiting the storyline. Have you introduced new elements, and are the characters true to your original outline? If you have veered from your original plan then you have to decide whether to rewrite the outline, and potentially the plot line of the story, or rewrite chapters. Both are painful decisions to make, but remember that writing is a work in progress, so revisiting your ideas is an essential element of writing successfully. By focusing on the bigger picture (the framework, context, plot and characters) the details often become clearer.

Maeve Binchy, The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club, 2008 

The Unauthorized Biography

Unauthorized biographies undress their subjects. When John Updike realized that a biographer was on his case, he hurriedly wrote a memoir, Self-Consciousness, so that he could forestall the biography. Autobiography and the authorized biography are time-honored methods of attempting to derail independent biographies and make them seem illicit.

Carl Rollyson, Biography, 2008 

The Curiosity Driven Writer

We seem to be living in an age of know-it-alls: talk show hosts and guests, expert witnesses, pundits, gurus on every conceivable subject. The information age is exhausting. It is also dull, like a dinner party guest who never stops talking. In my view, this climate is anathema to good writing, which is rooted not in knowledge but in curiosity.

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998

Keep Jokes Short

The best humor is concise. Ask yourself: Is this line needed? Can I make this line shorter? Is this aside that funny? Can I format this joke differently to make it move quicker? Here's an example of a lean joke: George W. Bush's plan to gain environmentalists' support for his energy policy: solar-powered oil pumps.

J. Kevin Wolfe in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba editor, 2001

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Timothy Chavira: When Thirty Years in Prison Isn't Enough

     On August 22, 1986 in Burbank, California, 50-year-old Daniel Chavira returned home at six-thirty in the morning after completing his shift as a security guard. His wife, 48-year-old Laurie Ann Chavira's car was gone, and she was not in the house. As a night communications supervisor at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, Mrs. Chavira was usually at home by that time in the morning. Mr. Chavira reported his wife missing after he found blood stains in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

     Mr. Chavira's 23-year-old son, Timothy, lived int he house with his father and Laura Ann Chavira, his stepmother. He worked at odd jobs and had told his friends that he hated his stepmother. A year earlier, Timothy Chavira had been paroled from a prison in Oregon after serving time for an armed robbery.

     Homicide detectives, from the physical evidence in the house, believed that Laurie Ann Chavira had been beaten with a chair and possibly strangled. Nothing had been stolen from the dwelling and there were no signs of forced entry. Suspicion immediately fell on the missing woman's stepson.

     Eleven days after she was reported missing, Laurie Chavira's decomposing corpse was found in the trunk of her car abandoned in Pasadena, California.

     Police officers took Timothy Chavira into custody on September 4, 1986. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Chavira with the first-degree murder of his stepmother.

     Timothy Chavira went on trial in October 1987 before a jury of seven men and five women. The prosecutor, without an eyewitness or a confession, relied on physical evidence linking the defendant to the murder. Among this circumstantial proof included the discovery of the victim's car and house keys in the trunk of the defendant's car.

     Following a week-long trial, the jury, after deliberating more than three days, found Timothy Chavira guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

     In July 2017, after serving his full murder sentence, Timothy Chavira was released from prison. After thirty years behind bars, Chavira was still dangerous and unfit for society.

     On December 7, 2019, relatives of Editha Cruz deLeon found the 76-year-old retired gynecologist dead in her Burbank home. She had been stabbed and strangled. The victim had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1970.

     On December 18, 2019, after being charged by a Los Angeles County prosecutor with murder, police officers took Timothy Chavira into custody for the killing of Editha Cruz deLeon.

     As of January 2020, the authorities in charge of the deLeon murder case have not released details regarding why they believe Timothy Chavira committed this homicide. 

The FBI's Most Wanted Murderers

Out of the 66 people on the FBI's top murderers list, 45 are Hispanic. Four on the top 66 murder list are women, and four are African-Americans. The list reflects the prevalence of violent Hispanic gang activity in the U. S.

The Birth of Modern Policing

     The major revolution in American police history occurred when the historic fears of a militaristic police force were replaced by concern over daytime disorder. It was not until the mid-1840s that Americans abandoned the constable-night-watch for a police department which emphasized preventative patrolling during the day as well as at night. American cities were then experiencing a tremendous population increase....Large numbers of people who did not know how to live in congested places were flooding to the city. If they were from European cities, they interjected a foreignness into the American city which was not appreciated. Homogeneity was lost and new forms of control--proper public constraints on demeanor and behavior--needed to be enforced in the daytime.

     Police arrest reports in the late 1854 and early 1855 indicate that such offenses as drunkenness, disorderly conduct, fighting, and resisting police made up the major police problem. The old constable-detectives were too few in number for such a task, and the quest for an urban discipline inspired the creation of the modern police in the 1840s and 1850s.

Frank Thomas Morn, Pioneers in Policing, 1977

The Nature of Drugs and Addiction

     Addiction is not a function of drug use--rather, it is a standard feedback phenomenon that occurs with or without drugs, whereby people immerse themselves in immediately rewarding experiences that detract from their larger lives. This definition of addiction makes clear that addiction is not a drug-centered trait. Addiction doesn't occur only with drugs and doesn't invariably occur when certain drugs are used. There is nothing inherent in narcotics, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana that makes them irresistibly addictive. Moreover, people who do become addicted, contrary to both popular mythology and government pronouncements, usually attenuate or end their addictions. (Keep in mind, cigarettes and cocaine were only declared addictive in the 1980s, and marijuana in the 1990s.).

     The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that only a small percentage (less than five percent) of people who have ever used cocaine, heroin, crack, and meth are currently addicted to these drugs. Carl Hart, an experimental neuroscientist and author of High Price, calculates that 10 to 20 percent of those using drugs (he studies crack and methamphetamine) encounter problems.

     Some researchers questioned users in detail about their current and past drug experiences. The largest and most thorough such investigation of cocaine was conducted at Canada's addiction research agency. The study, published as "The Steel Drug," found that the large majority of people who experienced a range of problems from cocaine (sinusitis, nasal irritation, headaches, insomnia) quit the drug or cut back their use of it.

Stanton Peele, "How Television Distorts Drug Addiction," reason.com, January 18, 2015  

The Inner Life of the Novelist

It may be that writers are actually happier living in their books than they are in the real world. There is evidence of this in the way writers immerse themselves in their fiction. How many times have you heard it said about someone that they are happiest at their work? Writers are like that, whether they admit it or not. But while most jobs fall into the nine-to-five category, fiction writing is a twenty-four-hours-a-day occupation. You never leave your work behind. It is always with you, and to some extent, you are always thinking about it. You don't take your work home; your work never leaves home. It lives inside you. It resides and grows and comes alive in your mind.

Terry Brooks, Sometimes the Magic Works, 2005

The Trial and Tribulation Children's Book

As America's postwar baby boomers grew up, dipped a toe in child psychology studies at college and started families of their own, children's book publishers took note of a new, pop cultural sensitivity to a wide array of developmentally-based childhood trials and tribulations. Picture books about potty training, tantrum throwing, the death of a pet and other emotionally charged topics proliferated, and were often shelved together at the library under the catchall heading of "bibliotherapy."

Leonard S. Marcus, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014 

Chick-Lit

Feminism is not keen on romance fiction, but sometimes its modern offspring, chick-lit, passes muster. This is a rapidly aging but still contemporary kind of romance that is more complex than the conventional romance. [Chick-lit] entails family and other woman friends with whom the protagonist shares experiences. The term was first used in publishing in 1995 and it has stuck, though claims that chick-lit is postfeminist are exaggerated. The sex in chick-lit books is more frank, sometimes comical, and generally more nuanced that in the traditional romance, where it can be peremptory and usually out of sight.

Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Anthony Todt Mass Murder Case

     In 2018, Anthony Todt, a physical therapist and owner of the Family Physical Therapy Clinic in Colchester, Connecticut, was in deep financial trouble. In addition to that, he was being investigated by the FBI for violating the federal False Claims Act. Todt was suspected of submitting fraudulent claims for physical therapy to Medicaid and private insurers for services not given to patients.

     Anthony Todt was also behind in his rental payments to the owner of the building that housed his clinic, and had outstanding civil court judgements against him in the amount of $63,000 in one case and $36,000 in another. He was also struggling to keep up his mortgage payments on a Condo he owned in Celebration, Florida, an upscale community four miles west of Walt Disney World.

     In May 2019, Anthony Todt, his wife Megan, and their three children, Alex, 13, Tyler, 11, and Zoe, 4, moved to Celebration, Florida and took up residence in an expensive house he had rented for $5,000 a month. From Florida he commuted to Connecticut to operate his physical therapy clinic.

     By November 2019, Anthony Todt owed his Celebration, Florida landlord several months rent and had closed his clinic in Connecticut.

     On December 29, 2019, one of the Todt family neighbors called the Osceola County Sheriff's Office for a welfare check of the Todt residence. None of the neighbors had seen the Todt children since Thanksgiving. Sheriff's deputies went to the house, and when no one answered the door, left.

     On January 13, 2020, FBI agents armed with a federal warrant for Anthony Todt's arrest for violating the False Claims Act, entered the dwelling and made a gruesome discovery. Mr. Todt was living in the house with the decomposing bodies of his wife and three children. FBI agents took Anthony Todt into custody and notified the local authorities about the scene they had walked into. [Other than the fact the victims had been murdered, the authorities, as of January 22, 2020, had not released information regarding how they were killed.]

     While being detained on the federal false claims charges, Mr. Todt ingested a handful of pills and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Upon his discharge from the medical facility on January 15, 2020, deputies with the Osceola Sheriff's Office arrested him for killing his wife and three children. While in local custody, Anthony Todt confessed to the murders.

     On January 16, 2020, an Osceola County prosecutor charged Anthony Todt with four counts of first-degree murder. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     Anthony Todt had a family history of violence and murder, a fact that would no doubt be raised in his defense as a mitigating factor. In 1981, when he was a young child, Anthony Todt's father Robert Todt, a special education teacher and wrestling coach at a Bensalem, Pennsylvania high school outside of Philadelphia, was convicted of hiring one of his students, a burglar and drug addict named John Charmonte, to murder his wife, Loretta Todt. In 1980, Charmonte broke into the Todt house and shot Loretta Todt in the face while she slept. Although blinded by the wound, Mrs. Todt survived the shooting. John Charmonte pleaded guilty to burglary and attempted murder, and in return for his plea, received a ten-year sentence. Robert Todt, the murder-for-hire mastermind, only served ten years in prison. When he hired the student to murder his wife, Robert Todt was having an affair with a 17-year-old girl. 

Genene Jones: "Killer Nurse"

     In 1984, pediatric nurse Genene Jones was convicted of murdering a 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan, a patient at the Bexar County Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. The 33-year-old nurse had injected the child with a fatal dose of muscle relaxant medication. The judge sentenced Jones to 99 years in prison.

     In 2017, a new Texas law designed to reduce prison overcrowding made Genene Jones, known as the "killer nurse," eligible for parole in 2018. Jones, a so-called "angel of death," was suspected of murdering up to 60 pediatric patients under her care.

     In 2018, a grand jury sitting in San Antonia, indicted Jones of murdering four children aged 3-months to two years when she was a nurse at the Bexar County Hospital. The victims died in 1981 and 1982 from muscle relaxant overdoses.

     On January 16, 2020, Genene Jones pleaded guilty to murdering one of the four children, Joshua Sawyer. He was killed in 1981. The judge sentenced Jones to life in prison. The other three murder charges were dismissed.  

The Homeless Problem

Most people are homeless because they are mentally ill, have a personality disorder, or are addicted to drugs. Everyone knows that. These seriously impaired people can't afford places to live because they are unemployed, and they are unemployed because of the way they are. Homelessness didn't cause their afflictions, it's the other way around. Therefore, giving them places to live will not solve their problems. In their houses, apartments, and homeless shelters they will still have personality disorders, be mentally ill, and/or abuse drugs. Homelessness can't be eradicated without fixing the people who are homeless. If for any reason that can't be accomplished, then there is no solution to the problem. While this is so obviously true, no politician will come on television and acknowledge that the lack of housing isn't the problem. These people are the problem. Politicians won't say this because it is true, and in politics, nothing kills a career more than telling the truth. As long as the country is run by hacks, incompetents, and crooks, vast numbers of people living on sidewalks and beneath Interstate overpasses will remain a part of our national landscape. 

Arthur Conan Doyle and the History of Forensic Science

     The birth of the modern crime lab can be traced directly to fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician and keen observer of his patients' abnormalities. He was a splendid writer, as well, and when he created Sherlock Holmes, he also imprinted on popular culture the idea that when the elements of science are coupled with applied logic, crimes can be solved. Doyle also knew that the way to brand the concept in the public's hearts and minds was to package the science in the form of a uniquely fascinating man. After all, it had worked before, in Charles Dicken's Bleak House, published in 1853. In that novel, Inspector Bucket personified all that amazed the public about Scotland Yard.

     By the time Doyle was writing, in the 1880s, London had had a police force for fifty years and the detectives of Scotland Yard since 1842. Starting in the 1860s, those detectives had added crime scene analysis to their toolbox of skills, and the forensic sciences took a great leap forward. But when Doyle captured it all in the form of Holmes, he did more than just sell books. One avid fan was Edmund Locard, who was influenced by the writing and went on to build the world's first forensic laboratory in Lyons, France in 1910. [Edmund Locard gave us the so-called Locard Principle: The criminal leaves part of himself at the crime scene and takes part of it with him.]

     The idea of crime labs spread throughout the world. In 1932, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened its lab under Director J. Edgar Hoover. [Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Detroit had formed crime labs in the 1920s.]

Michael Baden, M.D. and Marion Roach, Dead Reckoning, 2001 

The Book Tour

You're lucky to go on tour. You're lucky to meet readers who prize your work and who seem as though they might be honored to meet you. You're lucky to eat the pretzels in the minibar. You're lucky to see cities you have never seen. These things are indisputable. Anyone will tell you.

Rick Moody in Mortification, Robin Robertson, editor, 2004 

The "Cozy" Mystery Novel Genre

A "cozy" is a mystery novel with a light tone and an element of fun; the setting is usually a small community and the protagonist is an amateur sleuth who's a member of the community. Sex and violence occur, for the most part, offstage. Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple remains the quintessential cozy protagonist.

Hallie Ephron

The Newspaper Copy Editor

     When a copy editor gets to work on an article for The New York Times, it doesn't matter what section its for, the guiding principal is the same one that doctors embrace when they take the Hipocratic Oath: First do no harm.

     If I were an editor looking at the opening sentence of this piece,…I'd start with the glaring factual mistake: "First do no harm" is nowhere to be found in the oath. The ancient Greek physician may have written those words, or something like them, but he did not put them in the oath, despite what is commonly believed.

     And while we're at it, that "its" should be "it's." That "principal" should be "principle." And it should be "Hippocratic," with two "Ps." And isn't the whole thing a little long? And maybe a cliche? And--sorry to be a stickler--but isn't the reference to "ancient Greek physician" in the second paragraph an example of what The New York Times stylebook frowns on as indirection ("sidling into facts as if the reader already knew them")?

     Fortunately, most of the stories that have come across my desk in my 15 years at The Times are in a lot better shape than that.

     Copy editors are basically one of the last lines of defense before articles are posted on the web or put in the paper. We try to make sure that a story is factually accurate, balanced, and grammatical. We're also responsible for making sure it complies with The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. And we write headlines and captions.

Eric Nagourney, "The Copy Desk: The End of the Gauntlet (or Is It 'Gantlet'?)," The New York Times, May 12, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Nuzzio Begaren Murder-For-Hire Case

      In 1997, in the southern California city of Santa Ana, Nuzzio Begaren married a 36-year-old state corrections officer named Elizabeth. The 40-year-old groom had a daughter from a previous marriage who was ten. Three days after the wedding, Nuzzio bought a $1 million insurance policy on his new wife's life. This meant that Elizabeth Begaren stood between her husband and a million dollars. Purchasing life insurance on his wife was the first step on Nuzzio Begaren's path to wealth. Getting someone to murder his wife comprised step two.

     Finding someone to kill his wife was the easy part of Nuzzio's murder-for-hire scheme. He simply offered $4,800 in cash to friends who belonged to a Los Angeles criminal gang. On the night of January 17, 1998, the murder-for-hire mastermind took Elizabeth and his daughter shopping at a mall in Burbank. While shopping in Macy's, he gave Elizabeth the cash to hold for him. She placed the money into her purse, unaware she was carrying the pay-off for her own demise.

     As Nuzzio, Elizabeth, and his daughter drove home in his blue Kia Sportage, they were followed by a Buick Regal driven by 24-year-old Guillermo Espinoza. Three other gang members were in the vehicle. At eleven o'clock, as Nuzzio pulled onto the off-ramp of the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, the Buick pulled up alongside Nuzzio and ran him off the road. Three of the LA gangsters got out of the Buick, and as Nuzzio climbed into the back seat of the Kia to be with his daughter, Elizabeth made a run for it as the hit men approached.

     The hit men quickly caught up with Nuzzio's terrified wife. In begging for her life, she pulled out her correction officer's badge. That's when Guillermo Espinoza shot her in the head and chest. The shooter grabbed the dead woman's handbag, returned to the Buick with the other two men, and drove off.

     Nuzzio Begaren told officers with the Anaheim Police Department that the men behind his wife's cold-blooded murder had targeted his family at the shopping mall and followed them home. "There was no reason for someone to follow us," he said. "We have no enemies." Nuzzio described the gangsters' car as a dark blue, late 1970s Oldsmobile. He gave detectives a license number that didn't check out. Nuzzio described the four men in the Oldsmobile as a pair of blacks, and two men who were either white or Latino. "When they saw the badge," he said, "they shot her. She was dying, lying face down in the blood, with her badge in her hand." Nuzzio described his dearly departed wife as someone who had been "full of joy."

     Detectives believed that Nuzzio was full of something else. But the investigation went nowhere, and the case eventually died on the vine. It looked as though Nuzzio Begaren had gotten away with murder.

     In February 2012, police officers arrested the 55-year-old Begaren in Rancho Cucamonga, California. An Orange County grand jury had indicted him for soliciting the murder of his wife. Guillermo Espinoza had been indicted as well, but his whereabouts were unknown. (In 2011, when he learned that cold case detectives had reopened the case, Espinoza went underground.)

     Begaren went on trial on August 21, 2013 in a Santa Ana court for conspiracy to murder his wife for financial gain. (Guillermo Espinoza was still at large.) Orange County prosecutor Larry Yellin, in his opening statement to the jury, told of a piece of torn-up paper found near the murder scene that bore the victim's handwriting. Elizabeth had scribbled "light blue" and had written down the license number of the car that had been following them. The plate number belonged to a light blue Buick Regal, the vehicle driven that night by Guillermo Espinosa.

     Prosecutor Yellin informed the jurors that gang members Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval, both of whom had been in the Buick that night, were going to testify for the prosecution. According to these men, the defendant had arranged his wife's murder for the insurance money. The murder-for-hire mastermind had wanted the killing to look like a highway robbery turned fatal.

     Defense attorney Sal Ciula told the jury that Rudy Duran had been pressured into cooperating with the authorities. According to the defense attorney, if Duran worked with the prosecution, "he would become a witness instead of a defendant. He [Duran] made the obvious choice."

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the $1 million life insurance police and the testimony of the alleged hit men, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval. The essence of the Begaren's defense involved attacking the credibility of the two key prosecution witnesses.

     On September 6, 2013, the jury, after deliberating three days, found the defendant guilty of hiring Espinoza and Sandoval to murder his wife. On October 4, 2013, the judge sentenced him to 25 years to life.

     In October 2013, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Both men were sentenced to time served and were released from jail. On March 4, 2016, after being apprehended in Mexico, the authorities extradited Guillermo Espinoza back to California.

     On August 2, 2017, Jose Luis Sandoval was shot to death in the Los Angeles County town of Downey. He was 41.

     Guillermo Espinoza, in September 2018, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for a sentence of 21 years in prison.

Charles Bukowski on The People Who Read His Books

I get many letters about my writing, and they say: "Bukowski, you are so [screwed] up and you still survive. I decided not to kill myself." So in a way I save people. Not that I want to save them. I have no desire to save anybody. So these are my readers, you see? They buy my books--the defeated, the demented and the damned--and I'm proud of it.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) in a 1981 interview

Category Romance Novels

Category romances are marketed monthly under imprints readers have learned to associate with romance. Each book bearing the same imprint carries a distinctive cover design its readers recognize. To reduce costs, all books in the line have a fixed page length. Once printed, they are marketed in a block. Single-title romance novels are not part of a category line, their page length is not fixed, and each is sold on an individual basis.

Vanessa Grant, Writing Romance, 2001 

Erica Jong's First Novel Success

When you have a first novel [Fear of Flying] that sells 6 million copies, anything you do after it has to be a disappointment. You set a standard that you cannot compete with, and the pressure it puts on you is almost unreal.

Erica Jong in On Being a Writer, Bill Strickland, editor, 1989 

Journalists Shouldn't Interview Subjects in Restaurants

When I do interviews, I never take my subjects to a restaurant for lunch. It's one of the worst things a journalist can do. Stay on their turf. Interview them in their world. If they say, "Now I've got to go and pick up my kids from day care and go to the grocery store," you say, "Great. I can write while we're on the bus." I'm not just hearing their stories. I'm watching them live. I find my truth in what they say and how they live.

Katherine Boo in Telling True Stories, edited by Wendy Call, 2007 

Novelist John Grisham's Child Pornography Gaff

     In an October 2014 interview with the United Kingdom's The Telegraph, John Grisham, the lawyer and prolific author, sparked outrage when he expressed his belief that some people who view child pornography online are receiving punishments that don't match the scale of the crime.

     "We have prisons now filled with guys my age, 60-year-old white men, in prison, who've never harmed anybody [how does he know that?] and would never touch a child…But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons and went too far and got into child porn. [Sure.] They deserve some type of punishment, but 10 years in prison? There's so many of them now, sex offenders…that they put them in the same prison, like they're a bunch of perverts or something."

    These comments and the nature in which Grisham discussed the very serious issue of child pornography incited a flood of hurt, disappointment and angry reaction from fans of his books…Shortly after the uproar began, Grisham issued an apology.

     "Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography--online or otherwise--should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview…were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made those comments, and apologize to all."

Breeanna Hare, "John Grisham Apologizes For Remarks on Child Porn," CNN, October 16, 2014 

Upper-Class Drug Addiction: Hunter Biden's 2014 Navy Discharge

     The Navy Reserve discharged Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter after he tested positive for cocaine…The discharge of Biden, a 44-year-old lawyer and managing partner at an investment firm, was first reported on October 16, 2014. "It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy's decision. With the love and support of my family, I'm moving forward," he said.

     Biden was commissioned as an ensign in May 2013 and assigned as a public affairs officer in a Norfolk, Virginia-based reserve unit. A month later he tested positive for cocaine and was discharged in February 2014.

     Hunter Biden is the younger of Biden's two sons. His older brother, Beau Biden, is Delaware's attorney general and a major in the Delaware Army National Guard. He was deployed for a year in Iraq.

Eric Bradner, "Biden's Son Discharged From Navy After Testing Positive For Cocaine," CNN, October 16, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2020

Professor Chika Nwankpa's Spending Spree

     By 2017, 55-year-old Chika Nwankpa, the head of the Electrical Engineering Department at Drexel University in Philadelphia, had acquired, during his 27-year career, $10 million in federal research grants.

     In October 2017, auditors at Drexel University discovered that since 2007, Professor Nwankpa had misappropriated $185,000 in grant money provided by the U. S. Navy, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. During this ten-year period, the professor had allegedly spent $96,000 of grant money at strip clubs and sports bars. He also stood accused of spending federal grand funds on iTune purchases and meals at expensive restaurants. 
     In January 2020, a prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, charged Chika Nwankpa with several counts of unlawful taking and theft by deception. Following the charges, Nwankpa resigned from the university and agreed to return $53,328 of the grant money. 
     Following his arrest, Chika Nwankpa posted his $25,000 bond and was released from jail. He could be sentenced up to a maximum of 14 years in prison. Since Larry Krasner, the district attorney of Philadelphia, is a prosecutor well known for going easy on criminals, one can reasonably predict a plea bargain with no prison time for Mr. Nwankpa. (If I were Mr. Nwankpa's attorney, I'd argue that what my client did is no different than what politicians do every day.)

Islamic Teacher Charged With Child Sexual Assault

     Mohamed Omar Ali came to the United States from his native country of Somali in 2013. By 2019, the 59-year-old was a well-known in the greater Houston, Texas Islamic community as a teacher who gave Quran lessons to children at area mosques and in their homes. Partially bald with the lower half of his beard dyed orange, Mr. Ali stood out physically. Some in the Islamic community identified him as an Imam while others insisted he was just a layman who gave Quran lessons to children.

     In September 2019, detectives with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office began an investigation into allegations that Mr. Ali, over a period of years, had sexually molested some of his religion students.

     At the conclusion of the sex abuse investigation, a Fort Bend County prosecutor charged Mohamed Ali with three counts of indecency with a child and one count of sexual abuse of a child.

     On January 2, 2020, deputies with the Fort Bend Sheriff's Office took Ali into custody. Sheriff Troy Nehls, at a press conference, invited other possible victims of the religious teacher to come forward.

     Mohamed Ali pleaded not guilty to the charges. The magistrate set his bail at $125,000. Because the suspect was in the United States illegally, U. S. Immigration authorities placed a federal hold on him.

The Informed Judge

Every judge should have real-time access to the criminal background and history of defendants who appear in his or her courtroom--so that appropriate sentencing and bail decisions can be made with this information.

Susana Martinez, former district attorney and governor of New Mexico, 2011-2019

Resist Resisting Arrest

Now, can some cops be overbearing, rude? Yeah. But we have a process for that. Do what the officer tells you to do, and file a complaint. You don't attack a police officer on the street or resist arrest because you think you're being hassled.

David A Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin 2002-2917

A Bad Ending Kills a Novel

As novelists we all know that the ending is the hardest part. Getting it right. If editors interfere, it is likely to be there, at the ending. If we are unsatisfied with a narrative it is likely to be there, at the ending. We wish for happy endings but sometimes we reject them as unrealistic, therefore trashy, and we feel cheated and pandered to. Stern, sadistic endings may not please us either.

Diane Johnson in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997 

Biographies Must Have Drama

Considerable commentary focuses on the nexus between biography and fiction. As a narrative genre, biography would seem to have the greatest affinity with the novel, since both excel in the creation of characters and scenes through the sensibility of narrators. And yet the biographer has much in common with the dramatist, since biography is a kind of impersonation and the biographer functions as a kind of actor attempting to represent his subject's sensibility. The greatest biography in the English language, Boswell's Life of Johnson, consists mainly of dialogue, with Boswell's own comments serving almost like those of a director's notes.

Carl Rollyson, Biography, 2008

The Secret of Being Funny in Print

What is the secret of writing funny? If I knew, I would write my own ticket. But I venture this thought: The art begins with a sense of sadness. This is the clown's gift.

James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art, 1994 

Lean Versus Flabby Writing

     I don't subscribe to the view that good editing requires the ruthless elimination of every single word that is not logically essential to a sentence. Sometimes idiom or the natural cadence of English favors phrases that aren't stripped to the bone. There's nothing wrong with "hurry-up" even though "hurry" means the same thing.

     But in many cases, extraneous words really do gum up our prose; many padded expressions are weak, flabby and ineffective.

Phillip B. Corbitt, The New York Times, September 16, 2014 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Fatal Lie: When an Investigative Ruse Goes Wrong

Note: The reportage upon which this account is based did not include the names of the parties involved. Names have been assigned for clarity.

     On May 25, 2018, in Seattle, Washington, Tom Nelson, a former drug addict trying to turn his life around, was involved in a fender-bender traffic accident where no one was injured. Before police arrived, Mr. Nelson left the scene of the mishap.

     The accident investigator acquired an address for Mr. Nelson through his vehicle registration information. Since the address was on the other side of the city, the traffic investigator called the precinct covering that area and asked that someone from that station go to the listed address and obtain a statement from Mr. Nelson.

     Later that day, Seattle police officers Robert Niles and John Rhodes showed up at the address in question and spoke to Mary Harris, the woman who lived there. She informed the officers that she had allowed Tom Nelson to register his car at her address because he did not have a permanent place of residence. She said that Mr. Nelson was at the moment staying at a friend's house, however, she did not know that address.

     Earlier, on their way to Mary Harris's house, Officer Niles had told his partner that in order to get Tom Nelson's cooperation, he planned to employ what he referred to as a ruse--he would tell him that a woman had been seriously injured in the accident and wasn't supposed to live. "It's a lie," Officer Niles said, "but it's fun."

     Just before Officer Niles asked Mary Harris for Tom Nelson's phone number, he told her that Mr. Nelson was a suspect in a hit-and-run case involving a woman who had been seriously injured and was not expected to live. As it turned out, the ruse was not necessary because before the officer told his lie, Mary Harris was already scrolling her phone for Tom Nelson's phone number.

     After the police officers left her house, Mary Harris tracked down Tom Nelson and informed him of what she had just learned from the Seattle police officer. He became extremely distraught over the news. Perhaps he had struck a pedestrian without knowing it. Mary Harris suggested he hire an attorney.

     Tom Nelson, in an effort to find out more about the seriously injured woman, searched the Internet but came up with nothing. Maybe for some reason the police were intentionally withholding this information. This just added to his worry about the woman, his angst over having caused her suffering, and what might happen to him as a result.

   A few days after the accident, Tom Nelson went to a friend's house and in his garage left a bag containing his possessions and some cash. He also left a note that read: "If you don't see me, keep this stuff."

     On June 3, 2018, a week after the minor traffic accident, the man whose house Tom Nelson was living in, went to his room and found him dead. He had committed suicide. (The reportage of his death did not include how he had killed himself.)

     After the suicide, Mary Harris and Tom's friend decided to conduct their own inquiry into the traffic accident. While the police were not particularly cooperative, Mary Harris and her investigative partner were able to determine that no one had been injured in the fender-bender. Seattle police officer Robert Niles had lied to her about that, and she had passed it on to Mr. Nelson. And now he was dead.

     On March 12, 2019, Mary Harris filed a formal complaint against Officer Robert Niles with the watchdog group, Office of Police Accountability (OPA). Investigators with the OPA questioned officer Niles and Officer Rhodes who gave different accounts of their encounter with Mary Harris. Officer Niles said that had he not employed the ruse, Mary Harris would not have cooperated with their inquiry into Tom Nelson's whereabouts. Officer Rhodes gave a different story. According to his account, Mary Harris would have cooperated fully without the lie.

     Following the OPA inquiry, the watchdog group recommended that Officer Robert Niles be disciplined for the inappropriate use of a ruse in the course of an investigation. (Officers are only authorized to lie in the course of criminal interrogations of people suspected of serious crimes.)

     In November 2019, Seattle Police Officer Robert Niles was placed on unpaid administrative leave for six days.

     

Reducing Gun Violence

The proven method for saving the lives of innocent Americans is not disarming them. The proven method for saving the lives of innocent Americans is to arrest, prosecute, convict, and jail criminal offenders, especially armed career criminals illegally using guns. This is the way to reduce gun violence.

Jeff Sessions, former U. S. Senator and U. S. Attorney General

Vocabulary Of The Dead

Cadaver: A dead body intended for dissection…Carcass: A term for a slaughtered animal from which the inedible sections have been removed…Corpse: A dead human body, especially one that has not been embalmed…Remains: Applies to an embalmed body, a body whose major sections have been removed in dissection, or a body much of whose soft tissue has fallen away over time.

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 2009 

Reading Your Sentences Out Loud

Read your work aloud, if you can, if you aren't too embarrassed by the sound of your own voice ringing out when you are alone in a room. Chances are that the sentence you can hardly pronounce without stumbling is a sentence that needs to be reworked to make it smoother and more fluent. A poet once told me that he was reading a draft of a new poem aloud to himself when a thief broke into his Manhattan loft. Instantly surmising that he had entered the dwelling of a madman, the thief turned and ran without taking anything, and without harming the poet. [Perhaps it was the poetry that ran the intruder out of the loft.] So it may be that reading your work aloud will not only improve its quality but save your life in the process.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Mae West's Short Runs as a Playwright

Mae West wasn't just a campy actress, but a playwright as well. Her first play, Sex, written in 1926, was about a Canadian prostitute. A production in New York City led to her imprisonment for more than a week on obscenity charges. [Prostitutes themselves do less time.] Her second play, Drag, was about transvestites. It got shut down on Broadway before it could even open.

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

Writing Your Novel's Prologue

     A prologue to a novel is introductory material apart in time, space, or viewpoint (or all three) from the main story that creates intrigue for upcoming events. To qualify as a prologue, the information or events must exist outside of the framework of the main story. This stand-alone device must be absorbing, distinct, and beguiling in its own right. Often, an effective prologue will contain drama and dialogue so that it is immediate rather than reportorial. Prologues are aways loaded with specific and sensory details.

     A prologue's job is to provide a potent insight into the world of the story that cannot be provided through the unfolding of events. It can also be information that cannot be discovered by the protagonist, but is still necessary to the story.

     Prologues can take place five years or five centuries before the drama begins, but somehow the gap of time between the prologue time and story time must be bridged. But not all prologues are written strictly from the past. Sometimes they stem from the future or are told from a viewpoint that will not be heard from again.

     Although the prologue exists outside the flow of the narrative, it is always linked to the story events, characters, and themes. There are no hard and fast rules for length, but most prologues are at least several paragraphs and can run to twenty or more pages. However, try to keep prologues brief and vital, and no longer than a chapter.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between The Lines, 2006 

Plots Need Emotion and Action

There's a difference between an emotional plot and an action plot. If you write stories with emotional plots, it's really hard to get the other. But you've got to have both. The reader gets attached to all the characters, so there's emotional growth and inner turmoil. But it's triggered by something with such great dramatic possibilities. You have to have that outer tension of some kind. It doesn't have to be something cliche, like a car chase. But you need something on the outside. You can't just have inner tension.

Patricia Henley in Novel Ideas, Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love Denman, editors, 2001 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Heath Kellogg Counterfeiting Ring

     In the old days, counterfeiters made funny money the hard way: they laboriously, and with great skill and craftsmanship, engraved metal, facsimile plates. The quality of their fake twenties and hundred-dollar bills depended upon the engraving detail, the color of the ink, and the softness, strength, and feel of the paper used to approximate the government's secret blend. In those days only a handful of forgers possessed the skill and equipment needed to counterfeit money. This made them easy to identify, and to catch. But with ink in their blood, these men, the minute they got out of prison, returned to their illicit trades. The most skillful counterfeiters were driven by the challenge to produce fake money indistinguishable from the real thing.

     In the late Twentieth Century, with advances in computer, photocopy, and graphic arts technology, counterfeiters could produce half-decent fake bills by simply copying real money. At that time, American paper currency was the easiest money in the world to counterfeit. In an effort to render bills more difficult to replicate, the U. S. Treasury Department redesigned the larger denominations. (At one time the government printed $500 and $1,000-dollar bills. The largest denomination today is $100.)

     The U.S. government's anti-counterfeiting measures included adding holograms, embedded inks whose colors change depending on the angle of light, more color, and larger presidential portraits. The first bills to be redesigned were the tens, twenties, and fifties. The government didn't issue the new 100s until February 2011.

     The redesigned currency drove the amateurs out of the counterfeiting business, but it didn't discourage counterfeiters like Heath J. Kellogg. In 2011, the 36-year-old counterfeiter owned and operated a graphic and web design shop in Marietta, Georgia. In February of that year, Kellogg, who has a history of forged check convictions, began producing fake $50-dollar bills. (Fifties are rarely counterfeited.)

     Kellogg approximated the security threads in government bills by using pens with colored ink that showed up under ultraviolet lamps. He printed out the facsimile fronts and backs separately, then glued the sheets together.

     In May 2011, a bank in Atlanta sent the Secret Service seven fake 50-dollar bills. Three months later, agents arrested a man in Conyers, Georgia who passed $50-dollar bills that matched the seven fakes that passed through the bank in Atlanta.

     The counterfeit bill passer had purchased his fake bills with a face value of $2,000 for $900 in genuine money. The arrestee identified Mr. Kellogg as the manufacturer of the fake fifties, and agreed to cooperate with the Secret Service.

     Agents arrested a second member of the counterfeit distribution ring who also became an undercover Secret Service operative. On November 15, 2012, following the execution of two search warrants and two controlled undercover buys of counterfeit currency from the suspect, agents arrested Heath Kellogg.

     The Assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of Georgia charged Kellogg with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute counterfeit U.S. currency. Five other men were charged in connection with the passing of Mr. Kellogg's contraband product. The federal prosecutor believed that Kellogg and his accomplices injected $1.1 million worth of fake $50-dollar bills into the local economy.

     In November 2013, a jury found Mr. Kellogg guilty as charged. On March 24, 2014, the federal judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

     Two days after the counterfeiter's sentencing, the judge sent accomplice Stacy P. Smith to prison for three years. Following his prison stretch, Smith faced three years of supervised release. The judge sentenced four other members of the Kellogg counterfeiting ring in March 2014. Those sentences ranged from 18-months behind bars to five years probation.
      

Ricky Gervais to Hollywood Elites

Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right.

Ricky Gervais, January 8, 2019, English actor/comedian

Charles Bukowski on Jail

I don't like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) poet, novelist

Rodney Dangerfield's Crime Humor

I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.

Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004) stand-up comedian, actor, screenwriter

Children Like the Sound of Words

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia [words that sound like what they mean], they fall in love with impressive words and use them in all the wrong places.

Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, 1998 

Mary Higgins Clark: Born to Write

     Multiple bestseller [crime novelist] Mary Higgins Clark worked as a flight attendant for Pan Am, got married, had five children, and was widowed in her thirties. She had always wanted to write and had taken writing courses at New York University. Before she hit pay dirt, Clark worked in radio, getting up at five A.M. to write before getting her kids ready for school.

     "I knew I had the talent. When I was fifteen I was picking out clothes that I would wear when I became a successful writer. I was sure I'd make it, but you have to learn the craft, how to tell the story."

Ian Jackman, The Writer's Mentor, 2004

The First Fifty Pages

     When I asked an agent recently how she decided whether or not to take on a manuscript, she told me she asked for the first fifty pages and read the first sentence. If she liked the first sentence, she read the second. If she liked that one, she read the third, and so on. If she reached the end of the first fifty pages without putting the manuscript down, she signed it up.

     Granted, most readers are willing to read your second sentence even if the first one isn't brilliant, but the agent's answer shows the importance of "hook." If you don't grab your readers with, say, your first fifty pages, you won't have them at all. So If you've been gleaning compliments from your writers group and good responses to your query letters, but your first fifty pages keep coming back with polite rejections, then you may have a good story that doesn't get started soon enough. If so, it's time to go back to the beginning and start looking for trouble.

David King, "The Fifty-Page Dash," in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, Meg Leder and Jack Hefferon, editors, 2002 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The John Mayes Murder Case

     Police officers in the northwest New Mexico town of Farmington, on the morning of June 10, 2011, discovered the body of Dr. Jim Nordstrom. The victim was buried in a woodpile behind his upscale house. The previous night, someone had bludgeoned the 55-year-old physician to death. One of the victim's fingers had been nearly severed in what the forensic pathologist identified as a defensive wound. The killer had stolen the doctor's pickup truck as well as his credit cards.

     Not long after finding the doctor's body behind his Foothills neighborhood home, police officers arrested 17-year-old John Mayes. Rob Mayes, Farmington's city manager, had adopted John, a boy who had grown up in Ukraine where he had been abused.

     Detectives, over a two day period, conducted five interrogation sessions during which time John Mayes confessed to killing the doctor. The interrogations were recorded and preceded by Miranda warnings. Mayes also signed forms in which he waived his constitutional right to remain silent. The young murder suspect did not, however, have an attorney present during the police interrogations.

     John Mayes told his questioners that on June 9, 2011 he had run away from home. When he came upon the house in the Foothills neighborhood, he snuck inside and hid in a bedroom. (I believe he entered the dwelling through an unlocked window.) At the time of the intrusion, Dr. Nordstrom was in his living room watching television. About an hour after Mayes entered the house, the doctor walked into the bedroom. That's when Mayes struck him in the head eight times with the handle of a pool cue.

     With the doctor dead in his home, Mayes stole his credit cards and his pickup truck. After taking a four hour nap in the stolen vehicle, Mayes ate a meal at a Burger King. When he finished his hamburger he used the victim's credit cards to go on a $3,000 shopping spree.

     Later that night, Mayes returned to the murder scene to clean up the blood and to bury the body in the victim's backyard. After tiring of digging a grave, Mayes dragged the corpse to the woodpile.

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw charged John Mayes with first-degree murder and the lesser offenses of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, vehicle theft, and fraudulent use of credit cards. After being booked into the San Juan County Jail, the magistrate denied the suspect bond.

     John Mayes, represented by attorney Stephen Taylor, pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing held in August 2011. Attorney Taylor advised the court he was challenging the constitutionality of his client's initial five statements to the police on the grounds he had not knowingly waived his Miranda rights. (The judge later ruled that the confessions had been constitutionally acquired and could therefore be introduced into evidence at Mayes' trial.)

     Speaking from the stand at his preliminary hearing, John Mayes offered a version of the events of June 9, 2011 that were far less incriminating than the substance of his statements to the police. Rather than sneaking into the doctor's home that night, he came upon Dr. Nordstrom outside of his Foothills neighborhood house just when the doctor was washing his pickup truck. Mayes told the doctor he had run away from home and asked if he could spend the night at his place. Dr. Nordstrom said that he could.

     That night, Mayes and the doctor watched a James Bond film on television. After the movie, the doctor gave Mayes a tour of the house after which they played a couple games of pool. Dr. Nordstrom asked Mayes if he would like to "try something new." When the physician made a sexual advance, Mayes beat him to death with a pool cue.

     Mayes admitted that after killing Dr. Nordstrom he stole his truck and used his credit cards before returning to the house to hide the body.

     Pursuant to a change of venue, the John Mayes murder trial got underway on November 13, 2013 in a McKinley County court in Gallup, New Mexico. Neither side disputed the fact Mayes had killed the doctor in his home. What the jury had to determine was whether or not the defendant had committed the act in self defense.

     After the prosecution rested its case, a presentation based heavily on the five statements Mayes had made to the police following his arrest, the defense brought psychologist Gary White and forensic psychologist Maxann Schwartz to the stand. Both witnesses testified that Mayes' behavior that night had been influenced by a personality disorder that affects people who as children had been neglected or abused. The psychologists said the defendant suffered from "reactive attachment disorder," or RAD. People with his disorder often seek attention from strangers but become aggressive when these individuals try to be nice to them.

     On November 20, 2013, a psychologist from Boise State University named Dr. Charles Honts took the stand for the defense to testify that he had given Mayes a polygraph test early in 2013. Prosecutor Brent Capshaw objected to this witness on grounds he was not a qualified polygraph examiner. (In 2005, a U. S. magistrate judge in Atlanta had prohibited Dr. Honts from giving polygraph testimony in a murder trial. The judge had said, "The court attributes little weight to Dr. Honts' opinions.)

     After Judge William Birdsall overruled the prosecutor's objections to this witness, Dr. Honts took the stand and said he had asked Mayes four polygraph questions: Did Nordstrom invite you into his home? Did you play pool with Nordstrom? Did he slap you on the butt? Did you hide in the bedroom waiting to hit Nordstrom? The witness testified that the defendant answered yes to the first three questions and no to the fourth. According to Dr. Honts, his polygraph examination revealed that Mayes was truthful in his responses.

     On rebuttal, Peter Pierangeli, a polygraph examiner from Albuquerque took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Dr. Honts did not ask the defendant appropriate questions. His polygraph results were therefore unreliable. According to Pierangeli, if Dr. Honts wanted to get to the truth, he would have asked Mayes if Dr. Nordstrom had sexually assaulted him.

     John Mayes did not take the witness stand on his own behalf.

     The defense attorney, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the police, by not seizing Dr. Nordstrom's computer and a prescription bottle found in his bedroom, had botched the investigation. The defense attorney told the jurors that Dr. Honts' polygraph test, by itself, created reasonable doubt that his client was guilty of murder.

     On Monday, November 25, 2013, after deliberating ten hours over a period of two days, the jury found John Mayes guilty of second-degree murder. The jurors found the defendant guilty of the lesser charges as well. The conviction carried a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison. The jurors had accepted enough of the defendant's story to believe Dr. Nordstrom had not been the victim of a cold-blooded murder. The jury had also rejected the notion of self-defense in the case.

     Had John Mayes been convicted of first-degree murder, his sentence would have been life without parole.

     In November 2014, at Mayes' sentence hearing, delayed months to allow for the appeal on the procedural issues, the two defense psychologists testified that the now 21-year-old could be rehabilitated through "intensive therapy." Dr. Gary White, the psychologist who had treated Mayes for three years, testified that he had seen an improvement in the young man's behavior. Dr. White said he would be willing to continue counseling Mayes if the authorities placed him in a correctional facility in the Albuquerque area.

     Defense attorney Stephen Taylor asked Judge William Birdsall to sentence his client to 15 years in prison.

     John Mayes, in speaking to the court, apologized for killing Dr. Nordstrom. He said, "My actions do not reflect what I would like to become. I now know how to better handle myself so that what happened will not occur."

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw told Judge Birdsall that in his fourteen years as a prosecutor, the Nordstrom murder was the worst case he had ever worked on. Capshaw said, "Mayes continually bludgeoned Dr. Nordstrom in the back of the head as the victim tried to crawl away. I can't imagine a more violent death." After the murder, according to the prosecutor, Mayes "set up shop" at Nordstrom's home where he downloaded pornography and masturbated. "I can't find a case that calls more for the maximum sentence."

     Judge Birdsall, for the crimes of second-degree murder, aggravated burglary, car theft and several of the lesser offenses, sentenced John Mayes to 33 years in prison.

Google Almighty

Google, the most feared and powerful entity on the planet, is omnipotent. It is where we go for answers. We can't live without it. It knows everything about us, and if we make it angry, it can punish us. We ask for its forgiveness. And when we die, Google provides an afterlife either in Internet Heaven or Internet Hell. 

"Dragnet": Just the Facts

     Although not one of those kids who wanted to grow up to be a police detective, or one who devoured mystery novels, crime-fighting comics, or Sherlock Holmes fiction, I was a big fan of the TV series "Dragnet" starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department. The show first aired from 1951 to 1959, then came back in 1967 and ran to 1970. I can't remember why "Dragnet" appealed to me as a middle and high school student, but after watching a few episodes recently on a TV retro network, I know why I like it now. I admire the show because the stories, based on actual police files, portray the bureaucracy, boredom, frustrations and drudgery--punctuated by bursts of danger--of real life detective work.

     The crimes featured on "Dragnet," ranging from murder, armed robbery, missing persons, arson, check fraud, embezzlement, and even shoplifting, unfolded in a straightforward fashion, helped along by Jack Webb's voice-over narration in which you are informed of the time, date, and place of every scene. The acting is direct and unpretentious (stilted if you're a fan of the modern, angst-ridden I'm-going-for-an-acting-award style) and doesn't overshadow the terse, crisp, clear-eyed exposition and dialog. I like the script writing, an enjoyable blend of Ernest Hemingway and first-rate news reporting. Journalism school students should be required to watch episodes of "Dragnet" and encouraged to emulate its style.

     Each "Dragnet" episode had a beginning, middle, and end. I especially enjoyed the story wrap-ups because you learned the fate of the criminal suspects who were tried and convicted in "Department 187 of the Superior Court of California, in and for the city and county of Los Angeles." First-degree murderers were "executed in the manner prescribed by law at the state penitentiary, San Quentin, California." Bam. Case closed.

     Jack Webb also produced the show which was written principally by James E. Moser who peppered the scripts with police terminology such as M. O. and APB (all points bulletin). Moser realistically portrayed how criminal cases are solved by detectives who logically follow one investigative lead to the next. Detective Joe Friday didn't have feelings in his "gut," or lay awake at night in angst over the mental and emotional strains of being a cop. He did his job in workman like fashion without all the belly-aching.  

Plot Ups and Downs

A plot needs arcs. Arcs are the ups and downs, the changes in direction the story takes as events unfold. The most important thing is to keep the reader engaged in the story and the characters. If things don't change, if unexpected events don't occur, the book becomes boring fast.

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006

Truman Capote's Hangup on Style

Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsession of this sort, and the time it takes, irritates me beyond endurance.

Truman Capote in Truman Capote, edited by George Plimpton, 1997 

Slow Writers

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham

[If it takes a month to write the first paragraph, maybe this writer should be doing something else. Short of that, maybe she should start out with the second paragraph, then call it the first.] 

Elizabeth George on Sherlock Holmes and Imperfect Characters

     No one wants to read about perfect characters. Since no reader is perfect, there is nothing more disagreeable than spending free time immersed in a story about an individual who leaps tall buildings of emotion, psyche, body, and spirit in a single bound. Would anyone want a person as a friend, tediously perfect in every way? Probably not. Thus, a character possessing perfection in one area should possess imperfection in another area.

     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood this, which is one of the reasons that his Sherlock Holmes has stood the test of time for more than one hundred years and counting. Holmes has the perfect intellect. The man is a virtual machine of cogitation. But he's an emotional black hole incapable of a sustained relationship with anyone except Dr. Watson, and on top of that, he abuses drugs. He has a series of rather quirky habits, and he's unbearably supercilious. As a character "package," he emerges unforgetably from the pages of Conan Doyle's stories. Consequently, it's difficult to believe that any reader of works written in English might not know who Sherlock Holmes is.

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Gregory Graf Murder Case

     Jessica Padgett, a 33-year-old mother of three, was last seen at 12:45 in the afternoon of Friday November 21, 2014 by fellow employees at the Duck Duck Goose Daycare Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Surveillance camera footage revealed that 15 minutes after she left the the center, her car was returned to the daycare parking lot by a man whose face was not caught on camera.

     Police and volunteers in the eastern Pennsylvania community searched several days without finding a trace of the missing woman. Investigators feared foul play.

     On Wednesday November 26, five days after Padgett went missing, police officers executing a search warrant in and around the house in Allen Township where her mother and stepfather resided, found her remains buried behind a shed on the 7-acre plot of land.

     On the day of the body recovery, police officers took the victim's stepfather, 53-year-old Gregory R. Graf, into custody on suspicion of murder. At the time Jessica Padgett went missing her mother was in Florida.

     Graf, a dedicated hunter who grew marijuana on his property, owned a local fencing company. Under police questioning, he initially denied any knowledge of his stepdaughter's disappearance and murder. He said he had no idea how her body ended up in the ground on his property. But when detectives pressed Graf with inconsistencies in his story and confronted him with physical evidence that linked him to the disappearance and murder, he broke down and confessed.

     Graf admitted shooting Padgett in the back of the head shortly after she left the daycare center that day. He was vague, however, regarding his motive. Investigators believed Graf had raped the victim before he killed her. As it turned out, detectives had the order of these acts reversed.

     Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli charged Gregory Graf with first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     On December 5, 2014, a search of Graf's computer revealed a video of the suspect having sex with his stepdaughter's corpse. This act of necrophilia on the remains of a woman he had murdered for that purpose made Graf, under Pennsylvania law, eligible for the death penalty.

     Following the discovery of the postmortem sex video the prosecutor added the charge of abuse of corpse.

     At his arraignment, Graf asked the judge to appoint him a free defense attorney. The defendant said he didn't want to take resources from his family to pay for a lawyer. The judge denied this request on the grounds the suspect had enough money to pay for his own attorney.

     On November 13, 2015, following Graf's four-day trial, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. In arriving at this verdict, jurors deliberated less than ten minutes. The conviction brought a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

     Graf's attorney, in his closing argument, had told jurors that while his client was guilty of third-degree murder and deserved to be punished, the killing hadn't been premeditated. According to the defense attorney, "Something snapped." The jury obviously didn't buy this line of defense. They wanted this sexually perverted killer to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The True Crime Reader as Detective

     If the murderer in your crime fiction isn't caught, readers will be left unsatisfied. They can't play detective because they only have the information you gave them. They can't dig any deeper to solve the mystery.

     With true crime, this isn't the case--there's always somewhere else the reader can look to find more information on a case, whether that's a book, a documentary, a key witness, or of course the Internet.

Kristina Adam, "Stories to Die For: True Crime vs Crime Fiction," The Writers Cookbook, June 19, 2018

Society's Direct Interest in Murder

Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness. It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) English-American poet

Hostage Negotiation

In my years as the FBI's lead international kidnapping negotiator, I learned an important fundamental lesson: Hostage negotiation is often nothing more than a business transaction.

Christopher Voss

A Contemporary Review of a Novel that Became a Classic

Whitney Balliett reviewed a novel for The New Yorker in 1961, saying, "[The author] wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior that children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." The book was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark, The Writer's Home Companion, 1987

No Respect For Acquisition Book Editors

One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors. They are all, without exception--at least some of the time--incompetent or crazy. By the nature of their profession they read too much, with the result they grow jaded and cannot recognize talent though it dances in front of their eyes.

John Gardner

The Pleasure of Good Dialogue

Good dialogue is such a pleasure to come across while reading, a complete change of pace from description and exposition and all that writing. Suddenly people are talking, and we find ourselves clipping along. And we have all the pleasures of voyeurism because the characters don't know we are listening. We get to feel privy to their inner workings without having to spend too much time listening to them think. I don't want them to think all the time on paper.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thomas K. Hubbard: Professor of Man/Boy Love

     When it comes to academic freedom in higher education, where do you draw the line between challenging students with unpopular, outlandish ideas and harming students with subversive, anti-social propaganda? At what point does a professor cross that line?

     Administrators at the University of Texas at Austin, in 2019, were confronted with what to do about Professor of Classics, Thomas K. Hubbard. A group of students had been protesting and demonstrating against what they considered Professor Hubbard's advocacy for the legalization of sexual relations between adult men and boys under the age of 14. According to reports, the professor allegedly said that boys over the age of six should be old enough to legally consent to sex with an adult male. Regarding boys six and under, the criminal penalties for men having "consenting" sex with them should be reduced. Professor Hubbard allegedly said that boys who had sex with an adult when they were under 6 believed they were hurt by the experience because they were later told it was harmful to them.

     The offended students based their demands for Professor Hubbard's dismissal on his class lectures and writings on the subject.  The professor taught courses called, "Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome," and "The Mythology of Rape." The last course, due to student complaints and lack of enrollment, was canceled by the University.

     A 2010 article published in the journal, Thymos: Boyhood Studies, Professor Hubbard wrote: "Contemporary American legislation premised on children's incapacity to 'consent' to sexual relations stems from outmoded gender constructions and ideological preoccupations of the late Victorian and Progressive era. We should consider a different 'age of consent' for boys and girls."

     Professor Hubbard believed that making "consensual" sex between adults and minors a crime was a "sad by-product of a naive and self-righteous era." He compared these laws to prohibition's ban on liquor.

     In defense of his lectures and published writings, Professor Hubbard insisted that he was not endorsing pedophilia but rather discussing a phenomenon he calls "pederasty" described by him as the romantic courtship of boys under the age of 14 with older men. He describes sexual relations of this nature in ancient Greece as "proper learning experiences " for the boys.

    In recognition of his published views on man/boy sexual relations, one of the largest supporters of this form of sexual deviancy, the North American Man/Boy Love Association, promoted Professor Hubbard on the group's website.

     In December 2019, student demonstrators outside of Hubbard's house carried large banners that read: "Professor Thomas Hubbard Pedophile." The angry students blocked his driveway and chanted, "Thomas Hubbard is a Creep! Keep an eye out when you sleep!"

    Police officers escorted the professor to his car and unblocked his driveway so he could leave his house. The demonstrators, shortly after his departure, dispersed.

    As of this writing, Professor Thomas Hubbard remains employed by the University of Texas. 

The Shane Miller Family Murder Case

     In 2013, Shane Franklin Miller, a twice convicted marijuana grower and distributor, lived with his 34-year-old wife Sandy and their two daughters in a two-story house surrounded by pine trees in northern California's Shasta County. The 45-year-old and his family resided in the rural community of Shingletown located 230 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Miller property was also home to a small flock of alpacas, two horses and a pony that grazed not far from the house. The Miller family kept to itself.

     At 7:45 on the evening of Tuesday, May 7, 2013, someone from the Miller household called 911 to report a shooting. Upon arrival at the Miller dwelling, deputies with the Shasta County Sheriff's Office discovered the dead bodies of an adult woman and two elementary school-aged girls. The victims, Sandy Miller and her daughters Shelly and Shasta, had each been shot several times. (Detectives believe the 911 call had been made by one of the victims.)

     Officers who searched the house, a shed, and the detached garage found several guns. They did not, however, find Shane Miller or his pickup truck. Shortly after the discovery of the mass murder scene, law enforcement officers in the region began looking for Shane Miller.

     Late on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, police officers in Humboldt County 200 miles west of the murder scene found Shane Miller's abandoned 2010 Dodge Mea Cab pickup. The gold-colored truck equipped with a camper shell was found near the town of Petrolia, California. Miller, who had grown up in the forests and canyons of Humboldt County, owned a cabin in the area.

     Law enforcement officers involved in the manhunt for the man suspected of murdering his wife and two daughters considered him armed and dangerous. In 2002, Miller was convicted of possessing a machine gun as an ex-felon.

     On May 14, 2013, a week after the killings, the authorities, following a massive search, began scaling back the operation.

     In June 2014, police officers found a homemade underground fortress on property that Miller owned. Inside, detectives found an arsenal of rifles, shotguns, and handguns. A month later, in Shasta County, searchers found Miller's body in a remote area along the bank of the Mattole River near Petrolia. This was an area Miller had fled to in the past when pursued by the authorities. A loaded handgun lay next to his remains. The manner of death was later identified as suicide.