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Friday, August 14, 2020

The Susan F. McNair Poison Case

   In July 2020, 72-year-old Susan Fenyves McNair was no longer residing with her 85-year-old husband John Rupert McNair and his 43-year-old son, Michael McNair. The estranged couple, residents of Wilmington Delaware, had separated after Mr. McNair filed for divorce.

     Following the separation, the father and son noticed that their cold drinks tasted odd and made them sick. At one point, Michael McNair became seriously ill after consuming a drink that burned his mouth.

     Suspecting that Susan McNair had been entering the house and spiking their drinks, the senior Mr. McNair installed a hidden camera in the kitchen. On July 28, 2020, the camera recorded Susan McNair mixing Lysol, Resolve Carpet Cleaner, and paint thinner into a bottle of sweet tea.

     After Mr. McNair turned the incriminating video recording over to the Wilmington Police Department, medical personnel took samples of his and his son's blood for toxicological analysis.

     Officers with the Wilmington Police Department, on August 11, 2020, took Susan McNair into custody. The district attorney charged Mrs. McNair with two counts of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of contaminating a drink with a controlled substance. The judge set the suspect's bail at $300,000, and assigned her a public defender.

     As of this writing, the authorities have not divulged a possible motive for the poisoning. 

The Darius Sessoms Murder Case

     At five-thirty on Sunday evening, August 9, 2020, 5-year-old Cannon Hinnant was playing in front of his house in Wilson, North Carolina with his sisters aged 7 and 8. As the boy rode his bike with his mother looking on, the child was approached by a 25-year-old neighbor named Darius Sessoms who pointed a handgun at the boy's head and shot him. After the shooting, Sessoms ran back to his house that is located next door to the victim's on Archers Road.

     Doris Lybrand, a neighbor who witnessed the shooting, called 911.

     Cannon Hinnant was rushed to the Wilson Medical Center where he died shortly upon arrival.

     Police officers arrested Sessoms the following evening at a house in the nearby town of Goldsboro. The Wilson County District Attorney charged Darius Sessoms with first-degree murder. The magistrate denied the suspect bail.

     According to neighbors, the boy's family had known Darius Sessoms for several years.

     On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, Bonny Waddell, the young victim's mother, posted the following online: "That man [Sessoms] will answer to me. That man will see me and my son through my face! This sorry excuse as a human being will rot in hell. My heart has been taken from me."

     While as of this writing no motive for the killing has been revealed, a police spokesman told reporters that the murder was not "random."

     According to the boy's father, his son was killed because he had ridden his bicycle on Sessoms' lawn. The father, on Instagram, railed about how the media has ignored this case. (Sessoms is black and the victim is white.)

Graphology: Junk Science

     Graphologists claim to be able to identify criminal traits through handwriting analysis. For example, graphologists tell us that people who write cursive with a backward-looking stroke--called the "Felon's Claw"--harbor feelings of guilt for things they have done. These handwriting analysts claim that 75 percent of the felons incarcerated in our prisons write this way.

     Another handwriting tell--the so-called "Upside-Down Oval" (when letters such as "o" are drawn clockwise rather than counter-clockwise)--reveals that the writer is a thief. According to graphologists, studies show that a vast majority of convicted embezzlers write this way.
     Graphology is not a forensic science recognized by the courts. Graphologists, therefore, cannot testify as expert witnesses. That is a good thing.

Violence and Mental Illness

It is possible to argue that some people are violent and mentally ill, but it is no longer defensible to argue that people are violent because they are mentally ill.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill

Excuses Not to Write

Not writing at all constitutes the ultimate triumph of fear. We seldom admit this, however, even to ourselves. We just can't seem to "get around to it." That sounds like writer's block and sometimes is. Unlike blocked writers, however--who try to put words on paper but can't--non-writing writers have stopped trying. "Maybe after I retire I'll get back to it," they may say. Or: "when the kids are grown"; when I have a better office to write in"; "once I've bought a new computer"; "after I take another writing class."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Books As Friends

Books are delightful friends. If you go into a room and find it full of books--even without taking them from the shelves--they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome.

William E. Gladstone (1809-1898)

Discussing Journalistic Works-in-Progress

I find it helps a lot to talk to friends or editors immediately after I return from a reporting trip. It puts me in a storytelling mode. Even though I'm less preoccupied with producing a seamless narrative than I used to be, I do feel that narrative energy is crucial to distinguishing a story from a research report. When you are telling a story to a live human being [as opposed to a reader] you get a sense, immediately, of what people respond to. It gets you outside of your own head. And often people ask questions that I haven't thought of--questions that force me to look at the reporting in a new way.

Ron Rosenbaum, in Robert S. Boynton's The New Journalism, 2005 [Most writers of fiction do not discuss works-in-progress.] 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Aaron Schaffhausen: What Kind of Man Murders His Daughters?

     Jessica Schaffhausen and her three daughters, ages five to eleven, lived in River Falls, Wisconsin, a town of 15,000 30 miles east of the twin cities of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 34-year-old mother had been single six months after she and her husband of 12 years, Aaron Schaffhausen, divorced in January 2012. In March, Jessica had called the police after Aaron threatened to harm one of the children. No arrest followed the complaint which was classified by the police as a "harassment incident."

     On July 5, 2012, Aaron Schaffhausen, a construction worker employed by a St. Paul company to work on projects in western North Dakota, was fired after he didn't show up for work. He was living in Minot, North Dakota.

     Just before noon on July 10, 2012, Aaron called Jessica, who worked in St. Paul for a nonprofit agency on aging, and asked if he could pay the girls a surprise visit. Amara, age eleven, eight-year-old Sophie, and Cecilia who was five, were at home in River Falls. Jessica agreed to the visit, but wanted Aaron out of the house before she got home from work.

     That afternoon, when Aaron Schaffhausen arrived at his former place of residence in the subdivision on the east side of town, the babysitter said goodbye to the girls and went home. Around four that afternoon, Aaron called his ex-wife and said, "You can come home now because I killed the kids."

     Jessica Schaffhausen, after receiving this horrific message, called the police. River Falls officers arrived at the scene about the time Jessica pulled up to the house. Upstairs, officers found the three girls dead and tucked into their beds.

     As the officers were trying to understand what had happened to these children, Aaron showed up at the police department and turned himself in. When asked to describe what he had done, and why, the suspect refused to speak.

    The autopsies of the three victims revealed they had been murdered by what the forensic pathologist called "sharp force entry." They had been stabbed, and the five-year-old had been strangled as well.

     On July 12, 2012, the St. Croix County district attorney charged Aaron Schaffhausen with three counts of first-degree murder. Held on $2 million bond, the defendant faced a mandatory life sentence on each count. A few days after filing these charges, the district attorney appointed Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyburg to take over the case as a special prosecutor.

     St. Croix County Circuit Judge Scott Needham, on July 24, 2012 at Schaffhausen's preliminary hearing, heard testimony from River Falls detective John Wilson who said he found a large pool of blood in one of the bedrooms where he believed the three girls had been stabbed. Wilson also noted that the walls were splattered in blood. The girls, lying on their backs with their eyes wide open, had been tucked into their beds. The woman at the police department who had taken Jessica Schaffhausen's call that afternoon described the caller as "hysterical and hyperventilating." Following the 90-minute hearing, the judge bound the case over for trial.

     In early March 2013, Aaron Schaffhausen pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. Although he pleaded guilty he maintained that, due to insanity, he should not be held criminally responsible for his daughters' deaths. On March 5, 2013, at the prosecutor's request, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Erik Knudson interviewed Schaffhausen for seven hours. During that session, Schaffhausen revealed that before the murders he had experienced reoccurring images in his head that featured the violent deaths of his ex-wife and children. Schaffhausen told Dr. Knudson that on two occasions he had aborted plans to murder the girls.

     After the killings, Schaffhausen, when he realized he couldn't clean up the murder scene, decided to burn down the house. In furtherance of that plan, he went to the basement and poured gasoline on the floor. He didn't go through with the arson out of fear he would get trapped in the fire.

     On March 25, 2013, Aaron Schaffhausen went on trial before a jury that would decide whether or not he had been insane at the time of the murders. Dr. Erik Knudson, testifying for the prosecution, opined that the defendant's depression and alcohol dependency had no relevance to why he killed his children. According to the psychiatrist, the defendant, rather than insane, possessed an antisocial personality disorder.

     In his closing remarks to the jury following the testimony phase of the trial, Schaffhausen's attorney argued that his client suffered from a rare mental disorder rooted in his deep dependency on his ex-wife that caused him to believe the only solution to his problems involved murdering his children. The defense attorney blamed the mass murder on what a defense mental health expert had called "catathymic homicide."

     On April 13, 2013, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Notwithstanding Schaffhausen's mental defects, the jurors wanted this defendant held criminally accountable for his murderous behavior. The jurors obviously believed that Schaffhausn, at the time of the murders, knew what he was doing, and that what he was doing was wrong.

     Judge Scott Needham, on July 15, 2013, sentenced  Aaron Schaffhausen to three consecutive life sentences. Because of the nature of his murders, prison authorities were faced with the likelihood that this prisoner's life will be under constant threat from other inmates.


The Internet provides a speedy and efficient means to conduct research, shop, plan travel, and communicate with others. Technology has opened this same world to criminals so they can conduct their "research" and implement their schemes. Using the Internet, criminals gain immediate access to do what they have always done--deceive, defraud, steal, and intimidate. Cybercrime has become an increasing menace to individuals, businesses, and governments. Thousands of miles from their victims and out of reach of law enforcement authorities, criminals can hack into government computer systems, steal personal information, commit identity theft, and destroy a company's valuable software and business records.

Preface to the 2014 edition of Dr. Stanton E. Samenow's 2004 nonfiction book, Inside the Criminal Mind.

The Alford Plea: A Legal Fiction That Makes No Sense

An Alford Plea is a guilty plea of a defendant who proclaims he is innocent of the crime, but admits that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Typically, it results in a guilty plea of a lesser crime (i.e. second-degree murder rather than first).

Hykel Law

Criminologist Marvin E. Wolfgang (1924-1998) On Murder

In Marvin E. Wolfgang's 1958 classic text, Patterns in Homicide, the criminologist, after studying 600 murder cases in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, concluded that the vast majority of criminal homicides in the city involved people of low socio-economic status. He found that residents of these neighborhoods were murdered over trivial conflicts and insults, and that in 25 percent of the cases, the person who initiated the conflict ended up dead.

The Essence of a Good Science Fiction Story

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) American science fiction novelist.

Crime Novels Are More About Story than the Pretty Sentence

Crime novels have a clear beginning, middle, and end; a mystery, its investigation, and its resolution. The reader expects events to play out logically and efficiently, and these expectations force the writer to spend a good deal of time working on macrostructure rather than prettifying individual sentences.

Jesse Kellerman

Isaac Asimov on Writing Science Fiction

I can write nonfiction science without thinking because it requires no thought. I already know it. Science fiction, however, is far more delicate a job and requires the deeper and most prolonged thought.

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov, 1996 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Jinhau K.: Holland's Boy Hit Man

     Joyce Winsie Hau, a 14-year-old member of the Chinese-Dutch community in Arnhem, Holland, fell out with her best friend, a 15-year-old girl referred to by the Dutch authorities as Polly W. Joyce angered Polly and Polly's boyfriend, 15-year-old Wesley C., when she gossiped about their sexual escapades on Facebook and other social media. This anger set in motion a plot, hatched by Polly and Wesley, to have Joyce Hau murdered.

     Polly and Wesley offered Jinhau K., an acquaintance of Joyce's, 16 pounds (roughly $50), to commit the homicide. The pair of teen masterminds, over a period of several weeks in late 2011, met frequently with the boy hit man to plan the murder. During these meetings, Polly and her boyfriend provided Jinhau with the homicide target's address, and other information including when Joyce would most likely be home. After the murder, the masterminds promised to take their hitman out for drinks.

     On January 14, 2012, Jinhau K. showed up at the Hau  residence, and when invited into the house by Mr Chun Nam Hau, the knife wielding boy stabbed the father and his daughter. The attack took place in the hallway just inside the dwelling's front entrance. Mr. Hau survived the attack, but Joyce Hau did not. The murder and attempted homicide was witnessed by Joyce's younger brother who was not harmed.

     Shortly after the home assault and murder, the police arrested Jinhau K. In his confession, the boy named the two teen murder-for-hire masterminds. Soon after that, the police arrested Polly W. and Wesley C.

     In August 2012, Jinhau K., went on trial as a juvenile before a district court judge in Arnhem. Following testimony from Chun Nam Hau and Joyce Hau's younger brother, the judge heard from the defendant who testified that he had committed the assault and murder out of fear that if he had refused to carry out the plot, Polly W. and Wesley C. would have killed him.

     The judge, in ruling that the defendant had plenty of opportunity to pull out of the murder conspiracy, said, "In their reports the psychologist and psychiatrist state that the pressure the defendant says he felt, was never so high that he was unable to resist it. There were several moments where the defendant could have called in the help of others, or could have come to his senses."

     On September 3, 2012, the Arnhem judge sentenced Jinhau K. to one year in a juvenile detention center, the maximum penalty under Dutch law for a murderer between the ages 12 to 16. (I don't know why the judge didn't add another year for the attempted murder of Mr. Hau.) Upon completing his one year sentence, Jinhau K. would undergo three years of psychiatric treatment at another facility. When the teen hit man turned 18, he'd be completely free from court supervision.

     Members of Holland's Chinese-Dutch community were shocked and outraged by such a light sentence for the cold-blooded murder of a girl, and the attempted murder of her father. As for the two teenage murder for hire masterminds, the charges against them were dropped. If the hit man only qualified for one year of juvenile detention, what was the point of bothering with the degenerate kids who set these bloody crimes into motion?

    In Holland, the media called Joyce Hau's killing the "Facebook Murder Case." I would call it the case of the Dutch teens who got away with murder. It's not a snappy case title, but it's closer to the truth.

The Case For Circumstantial Evidence

     When inferences of guilt or innocence are drawn from the analysis of tangible things or circumstances, this physical evidence is by definition circumstantial. For example, a burglar suspect's latent fingerprint on a safe at the scene of a safe cracking is direct proof that the burglar was at the scene of the crime. To conclude that the suspect was also the safe cracker requires an inference. This makes the crime scene fingerprint evidence circumstantial. This doesn't necessarily mean that circumstantial evidence is weak. On the contrary, unless the suspect in this case can otherwise explain his presence at the burglary site, he will be convicted.

     Circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues and scientific analysis, at least in theory, is more reliable than direct evidence such as eyewitness identifications, confessions, and the testimony of jailhouse informants. In other words, just because a prosecutor's case is based entirely on circumstantial evidence doesn't mean it's weak. For example, the O. J Simpson double murder case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Simpson beat the rap, but the evidence against him was strong. 

Coddling Criminals

One of the problems we, as police, face is when sympathy for the unfortunate merges into favoritism for the criminal. In this country, tolerance for wrongdoers has turned into a fad. What we need is some intolerance toward criminal behavior.

O. W. Wilson (1900-1972), Chicago Chief of Police, 1960-1967. Mr. Wilson would be shocked to see how criminals are coddled in today's Chicago and other big cities.

Lowering the Bar For Admission to the Bar

     Over the years, in most if not all states, bar exams have been dumbed down to make them easier to pass. If that's not bad enough, many states have recently lowered the passing score. For example, in 2016, the Montana Supreme Court lowered the passing score for its state's bar exam. Not only that, Montana's lowering of the passing grade was made retroactive to 2013. About this time, the states of North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington lowered their bar admission scores as well. In July 2020, California lowered the passing bar score by 50 points.

     In a country with too many lawyers, many of whom are substandard or at best mediocre, making it easier to enter the legal profession is not a good thing. 

Civilized But Not Civil

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American crime novelist.

Learning FromThe Greats

No formal course in fiction writing can equal a close and observant perusal of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) American writer of weird fiction.

Lean Times in Los Angeles

The lean days, blue skies with never a cloud, a sea of blue day after day, the sun floating though it. The days of plenty--plenty of worries, plenty of oranges. Eat them in bed, eat them for lunch, push them down for dinner. Oranges, five cents a dozen. Sunshine in the sky, sun juice in my stomach.

Excerpt from John Fante's classic 1939 novel, Ask the Dust

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Dillon Taylor Police Shooting Case: Suicide by Cop

     At seven in the evening of August 11, 2014, in South Salt Lake City, Utah, a 911 caller reported that "some gangbangers" who "were up to no good" near a 7-Eleven convenience store had "flashed" a gun. The three suspicious persons, described as young white males, turned out to be 21-year-old Dillon Taylor, his 22-year-old brother, and their 21-year-old cousin.

      When Salt Lake City police officer Bron Cruz responded to the call he immediately called for backup. As two other officers arrived at the scene, the three young men walked into the 7-Eleven. The officers, not wanting to confront the suspects inside the store, waited outside. When Taylor and the other two came out of the store, officer Cruz yelled, "Let me see your hands!"

     Dillon Taylor's brother and his cousin immediately complied with the officer's command by raising their hands. Taylor ignored the order, turned from the officers, and walked off. After a few steps he placed his hands into his waistband as he walked away. "Get your hands out now!" shouted officer Cruz.

     Upon being told for the second time to show his hands, Taylor turned and faced the officers. "Show your hands!" officer Cruz demanded. Instead of complying with the officers command, Taylor said, "Nah, fool." At that critical moment, Taylor made a move police officers interpret as a gun-drawing motion. The suspect suddenly hoisted his shirt with his left hand and then quickly removed his right hand from his waistband.

     Officer Cruz responded to Taylor's hand action by opening fire. Hit in the chest and stomach, Taylor collapsed to the ground.

     Immediately following the shooting, officer Cruz rolled Taylor onto his stomach and handcuffed him behind the back as witnesses screamed, "They shot him!"

     "Stay with me buddy," officer Cruz said to the downed man as he rolled the body to its side and applied gauze to one of the bullet wounds. "Talk to me, buddy. Talk to me. Medicals are on the way, man, okay?"

     The shot, handcuffed man on the ground remained unresponsive as officer Cruz put on a pair of latex gloves and began searching Taylor's pockets and rummaging through his clothing. "What the hell were you reaching for, man?" Officer Cruz asked. The officer shook Taylor's arm and said, "Stay with me, man. Come on." To no one in particular the officer said, "I can't find a weapon on him!"

     Paramedics pronounced Dillon Taylor dead at the scene. The police chief placed officer Cruz on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office. According to the medical examiner's office, Dillon Taylor, at the time he was shot, had a blood-alcohol level of .18 percent, well above the .08 percent required for driving while intoxicated.

     When questioned by district attorney's office investigators, officer Bron Cruz said, "I was scared to death. The last thought that went through my mind when I pulled the trigger was that I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed."

     Following the police killing of Dillon Taylor, friends and supporters put up a Facebook page called "Justice for Dillon Taylor." The site attracted 3,300 followers. Kelly Fowler, the attorney for the Taylor family, blamed the fatal shooting on a police culture that has become paranoid and hostile to the public.

     In mid-August 2014, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh discussed the Taylor case in connection with the Michael Brown shooting that occurred a couple of weeks earlier in Ferguson, Missouri. In comparing the two cases, Mr. Limbaugh was offended that the media covering the Taylor shooting didn't mention that officer Cruz was black and the man he shot was white. "They are referring to the officer as 'other-than-white,' " he said. In analyzing the two cases, Limbaugh pointed out that unlike Michael Brown, a black who was shot by a white officer, Dillon Taylor, a white kid, "didn't resist arrest. He didn't hit the cop. He didn't flee and yet he was shot dead."

     On September 30, 2014, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, based upon an investigation that relied heavily on officer Cruz's body-cam footage, announced that his office has ruled the shooting of Dillon Taylor legally justified. In a letter to Police Chief Chris Burbank, the prosecutor wrote: "By the time Dillon Taylor drew his hands from his waistband, officer Cruz's belief that Taylor was presenting a weapon was reasonable." This officer, in the district attorney's opinion, reasonably perceived a threat to his life.

     Officer Cruz had shot Dillon Taylor because a 911 caller had reported seeing a gun on a person who matched Taylor's description. When this possibly armed suspect refused to show his hands after being given simple and understandable law enforcement commands, then made a gun-drawing move, the officer shot him in self defense. This raises the obvious question: why did this young man behave in such a reckless manner, virtually inviting the officer to shoot him? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in Facebook postings made by Taylor just days before his death.

     On August 7, 2014, just four days before the incident, Taylor had written: "I feel my time is coming soon, my nightmares are telling me. I'm gonna have warrants out for my arrest soon…All my family has turned and snitched on me. I'll die before I go do a lot of time in a cell. I'm trying to strive and live but I litterly (sic) can't stand breathing and dealing with shit. I feel like god (sic) cant (sic) save me on this one…"

     Two days later, on August 9, 2014, Taylor posted the following on Facebook: "I finally realize I hit rock bottom. I'm homeless and I haven't slept in two days. Yesterday all I ate was a bag of chips and today a penute (sic) butter and jelly sandwich. I can't go to my brother's…I'm not welcome at any family members' [house] or they call the cops. I'll kick it with a friend until they go to bed and I have to leave…Its (sic) about my time soon."

     When young men and women enter the law enforcement field, they probably don't envision being used by people like Dillon Taylor who end their misery though suicide by cop. Police officers who are involuntary accomplices to suicide should not be charged with criminal homicide. Moreover, before a radio show host comments on such cases, they should know what they are talking about.

Physical Evidence is Circumstantial Evidence

Because inferences of guilt or innocence are drawn from the analysis of tangible things or circumstances, physical evidence is, by definition, circumstantial. For example, a suspect's latent fingerprint in safe insulation powder at the scene of a burglary is direct proof that the suspect was at the site after the safe had been broken into. That the suspect is the safe burglar requires an inference; this requirement makes the crime scene fingerprint circumstantial evidence of the suspect's guilt. This doesn't necessarily make this evidence weak; on the contrary, unless the safecracking suspect can convincingly explain his presence at the burglary scene, he will be convicted. Circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues and scientific analysis is, at least in theory, more reliable than such direct evidence as eyewitness identification, confessions, and the testimony of jailhouse informants.

The Fear of Crime and Disorder

Whether we live in a more violent age than did, for example, the Victorians is a question for statisticians and sociologists, but we certainly feel more threatened by crime and disorder than at any other time I remember in my long life. This constant awareness of the dark undercurrents of society and human personality is probably partly due to the modern media, when details of the most atrocious murders, of civil strife and violent protests, come daily into our living rooms from television screens and other forms of modern technology. Increasingly writers of crime novels and detective stories will reflect this tumultuous world in their work and deal with far greater realism than would have been possible in the Golden Age [of mystery fiction 1920-1940]. The solving of the mystery is still at the heart of a detective story but today it is no longer isolated from contemporary society. We know that the police are not invariably more virtuous and honest than the society from which they are recruited, and that corruption can stalk the corridors of power and lie at the very heart of government and the criminal justice system.

P. D. James, Talking About Detective Fiction, 2009 

You Can Change Your Identify, But Not Your Fingerprints

Jekyll's finger patterns remain the same when he transforms himself into Hyde.

Henry Faulds (l843-1930) English fingerprint pioneer 

Selecting Your Main Character

     Novice writers continue to make the mistake of choosing as the main character people who don't--or shouldn't--have enough freedom to be interesting. If the story is about a great war, they assume their hero must be the commanding general or the king, when in fact the story might be more powerfully told if the main character is a sergeant or a common soldier--someone who is making choices and then carrying out those choices himself. Or the main character might even be a civilian, whose life is transformed as the great events flow over and around him.

     As a main character, only use people in positions of highest authority when you are forced to because the story can't be told any other way. And then be very sure that you understand how people in such positions make their decisions, how power actually works.

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

What Editors Don't Like in Children's Books

I hate to see [in a children's book] a whiny character who's in the middle of a fight with one of his parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes and displaying all sorts of stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character "stats" ("Hi, I'm Brian. I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes.") I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader ("Let me tell you about the summer when I...")

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Bishop Heather Cook Fatal Hit-And-Run Case

     Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Baltimore, 30-year-old Heather Cook became an ordained minister in the Maryland Diocese of the Episcopal Church in 1987. Over the next several years she worked in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

     On September 10, 2010, while serving as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Easton, Maryland in Caroline County, a police officer pulled Cook over when he saw her driving on a shredded tire. Reeking of alcohol with vomit on her shirt, Cook appeared highly intoxicated. In her vehicle the officer found an empty whiskey bottle, a quantity of marijuana, and a marijuana pipe. Cook, whose blood-alcohol level registered at three times the legal limit, admitted that besides consuming too much alcohol, she had been smoking pot.

     A Carolina County prosecutor charged the Episcopal minister with driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cook pleaded guilty to DUI and in return, the prosecutor dropped the drug related charges. The judge sentenced Heather Cook to supervised probation.

      The Episcopal minister, notwithstanding her problem with booze, drugs, and the law, did not lose her job. Officials of the Maryland Diocese decided to give their wayward cleric a second chance. It was, after all, the Christian thing to do. (Had she been a cop, a lawyer, or a UPS driver, she would have been out the door.)

     In September 2014, officials in the church elected the 58-year-old cleric to the  position of Bishop, making her the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church of Maryland. She became, in the diocese's hierarchy, the number two authority. This may not have been the church's wisest decision.

     On Saturday at two-thirty in the afternoon of December 27, 2014, while driving her green Subaru Forester station wagon on North Roland Park Road in northern Baltimore, Bishop Cook ran into a man riding a bicycle. Instead of pulling over and rendering aid, the Bishop violated the laws of man and God by driving off.

     Paramedics rushed 41-year-old Tom Palermo, a man with a wife and two children, to a nearby hospital. Shortly upon arrival at the medical center, Mr. Palermo died.

     According to local media reports of the hit-and-run incident, Bishop Cook, twenty minutes after the accident, returned to the site of the fatal collision "to take responsibility for her actions." The authorities, however, did not take her into custody or charge her with a crime.
     Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Maryland Diocese, on December 30, 2014, announced that the church had placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave due to the possibility that criminal charges could be filed in the case.

     In speaking to reporters, an eyewitness to the accident said Bishop Cook waited 45 minutes before returning to the scene. According to the witness, "She pulled up with a busted windshield and got out of the car. The police talked to her and put her in the back of the patrol car."

     On January 9, 2015, Bishop Cook turned herself into the authorities after being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligent manslaughter, failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury and death, using a text messaging device that resulted in an accident, and driving while intoxicated.The judge set her bail at $2.5 million.

     Mr. Palermo's sister-in-law thanked Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for filing the charges. "We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom's life, and support the prosecutor's efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

     In October 2015, Cook pleaded guilty to vehicular Manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence, and texting while driving. The judge sentenced her to seven years in prison.

     In May 2017, the Maryland Parole Commission denied Cook's request for early parole. Members of the board denied the request because Cook never apologized for her crimes and showed no remorse for the damage she had done.

     Cook petitioned, in May 2018, for home detention. That request was denied. Two months later, Cook asked for work release. After members of victim Thomas Palermo's family objected to Cook's petition, that request was also denied.

     The authorities, in May 2019, released Heather Cook from prison after she had served a little more that three years of her seven-year sentence. She will be on probation until 2024.

Origins of the War On Drugs

The war-on-crime atmosphere of the 1930s influenced national drug policy, solidifying the belief that drugs were a criminal rather than a medical or social problem. A national panic over marijuana broke out in the 1930s. The movie Reefer Madness, for example, offered a sensationalized picture of marijuana's allegedly evil effects. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act established harsh penalties for the possession and sale of marijuana. Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics [now the DEA], imitated [J. Edgar] Hoover, whipping up public fears in order to build a bureaucratic empire. In a popular magazine article, "Marijuana: Assassin of Youth," he painted a terrifying picture of the "sweeping march" of marijuana addiction, causing murder, rape, robbery, and other "deeds of maniacal insanity."

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition, 1998

The Legacy of the Gas Chamber

     Even after the end of the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States still would not bring itself to address the question whether execution in the gas chamber amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. No amount of evidence could convince it otherwise.

     But in the court of world opinion, the gas chamber represented one of modernity's worst crimes; it was an instrument of torture that first had been disguised as a humane alternative to pain and suffering. What originally had seemed to be such a noble and practical idea turned out to be something else entirely.

     Dreamers, scientists, soldiers, merchants, lawmakers, lawyers, physicians, governors, journalists, wardens, keepers--and, of course the condemned prisoners--all made their unique contribution to the rise and fall of the gas chamber. But the creation of a "painless and humane" method of killing proved elusive. Despite all of their utopian schemes, laboratory experiments and mathematical formulas, blind obedience, commercial arrangement, legislative clauses, legal briefs, stopwatches, stethoscopes, death warrants, witnesses peering into peepholes, execution protocols, and public relations pronouncements, America's use of lethal gas as a method of capital punishment ended with the close of the twentieth century. But its awful legacy will continue for a long time to come.

Scott Christianson, The Last Gasp, 2010

Before You Write, Master Your Subject

     Before you write about a subject, make sure you know it inside and out. If there are questions in your mind, don't skip them or cover them up. Do your best to find the answers. Then, if questions remain, you can always be honest and say so; the reader will forgive you.

     Whenever there's something wrong with your writing, suspect that there's something wrong with your thinking. Perhaps your writing is unclear because your ideas are unclear. Think, read, learn some more.
     The old admonition to "write about what you know" is a cliche, but it's still good advice. No matter how vivid and fertile your imagination, you'll write best what you know best.
Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Journal Entries Should Be Detailed

In writing your journal give primary attention to detail; for it is detail which organizes and preserves experiences for your future self or some other reader. General statements like "We had a wonderful time," or "It was a dismal morning" make a mockery of the whole procedure, for they evaluate experience without recreating it. I kept long journals from ages two to twenty-two, chronicling events and describing emotional states, but again and again missing the physical immediacy of the experience, the tiny hooks by which experience could have been caught and held. I failed to record how we looked, what we saw, the minor eccentricities of circumstances which gave special character to a day. I ignored these elements not only through lack of training but through misplaced priorities: I mistakenly assumed that one could discuss the heart of things without discussing the immediate details of life.

Robert Grudin in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

John Updike On His Literary Productivity

I don't feel very rapid or prolific to myself. Looking back on the alleged 50 books that I've written, many of them are quite short, some are children's books, some are collections of material that appear in other books, so in a way it's a fraudulent appearance of muchness. Some of the books are sequels, which again is a kind of cheating.

John Updike in Writer's Handbook, edited by Elfrieda Abbe, 2002 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Megan Huntsman Serial Infanticide Case

     In 1996, 21-year-old Megan Huntsman resided with her husband Darren West and their two daughters (they would later have a third girl) in a middle-class neighborhood in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a town 35 miles south of Salt Lake City. In 2005, Darren, an avid outdoorsman and employee of an excavating company, pleaded guilty in federal court to the possession of chemicals intended to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. In August 2006, the judge sentenced West to nine years in federal prison. (Although he pleaded guilty, West maintained his innocence.)

     In 2011, with her now ex-husband behind bars, Megan Huntsman moved from Pleasant Grove to West Valley, Utah. Her three daughters remained in the ranch style house owned by Darren West's parents. The daughters occupied one of the two apartments in the dwelling.

     On April 12, 2014, not long after his release from prison, Darren West and members of his family, in anticipation of renting out one of the apartments in the Pleasant Grove house, were cleaning out the garage. Inside a tape-sealed cardboard box that gave off an "pungent order," Mr. West discovered the remains of an infant. He called his ex-wife, then notified the Pleasant Grove Police Department.

     After law enforcement authorities sent the infant's remains to the medical examiner's office, a judge authorized a search of the Pleasant Grove dwelling. Officers executing the warrant discovered, in more boxes in the garage, the skeletal remains of six more babies.

     On April 13, 2014, police officers arrested Megan Huntsman as a suspect in the deaths of the infants. At the police station, she admitted suffocating or strangling six of her babies immediately after giving birth. The seventh child, she said, had come out stillborn. Huntsman told detectives the babies were born between 1996 and 2006. The suspect said she had been too addicted to methamphetamine to raise any more children.

     That evening, police officers booked the 39-year-old serial murder suspect into the Utah County Jail on six counts of criminal homicide. The Provo, Utah judge set Huntsman's bail at $6 million, $1 million for each infant.

     Although Darren West resided with Huntsman from 1996 to August 2006, he said he had no idea she had been pregnant with these children.

     On February 12, 2015, Megan Huntsman pleaded guilty to six counts of murder. Each count carried a sentence of five years to life in prison. The judge sentenced her to six life sentences to be served consecutively.

The Elementary School Murder Conspiracy

     Our criminal justice system isn't equipped or designed to deal with kids who haven't reached the ninth grade. This is particularly true when pint-sized offenders commit felonies. In the good old days, students got in trouble for chewing gum in class. Today, they're hauled out of school in handcuffs for assault, resisting arrest, drug possession, sexual crimes, and the possession of firearms. But up until a case in Colville, Washington, no elementary school child had been arrested for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

     On February 7, 2013, kids on a school bus saw a 10-year-old boy playing with a knife. The bus was en route to the Fort Colville Elementary School in Colville, Washington 75 miles north of Spokane. A search of this boy's backpack at the school produced the knife and a weapon even more shocking--a .45-caliber, fully loaded pistol.

     When asked by a police officer what he was doing with the gun, the kid said that he and his 11-year-old buddy were going to "get" one of the girls in their class. Pressed for details, the boy revealed what they had intended to accomplish. According to the plan, the 11-year-old friend would stab the girl to death while the 10-year-old would use the gun to hold-off other kids and any interfering teachers.

     The Stevens County prosecutor, presented with the unusual and difficult facts of this case, decided to charge the fourth graders with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, tampering with a witness (holding off the crowd), and conspiracy to possess a firearm.

     In the state of Washington, individuals under the age of twelve are presumed incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Under the law, they are essentially insane. This meant that the state not only had to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor had to establish the capacity to form specific criminal intent. If convicted, the young defendants faced incarceration at a juvenile facility until they reached the age of eighteen.

     In speaking to the press, prosecutor Tim Rasmussen, in referring to what these boys had been thinking, said, "It's the kind of thing everyone would know is wrong. It gives me no pleasure to prosecute a kid."

     In May 2013, the younger defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to three to five years in juvenile detention.

     On October 16, 2013, following a bench trial (no jury), Judge Allen Nielson found the 11-year-old defendant guilty of the same offense. On November 20, 2013, Judge Nielson sentenced him to three to four years detention in a juvenile facility.

     Judge Neilson called the older boy's actions a "brazen crime." According to the judge, the kid had made a "shrewd effort" to pin the entire plot on his co-defendant, the 10-year-old who had earlier pleaded guilty.

The Wiseguy Persona

The wiseguy does not see himself as a criminal or even a bad person; he sees himself as a businessman, a shrewd hustler, one step ahead of ordinary suckers. The wiseguy lives by a vastly different set of rules than those observed by regular people, rules that were fashioned by their criminal forefathers and proven to work by generations of mobsters before them. Wiseguys exist in a bizarre parallel universe, a world where avarice and violence and corruption are the norm, and where the routines of most ordinary people hold dear--working good jobs, being with family, living an honest life--are seen as the curse of the weak and stupid. Wiseguys resemble us in many ways, but make no mistake: they might as well be from another planet, so alien and abnormal are their thoughts and habits.

Joseph D. Pistone, The Way of the Wiseguy, 2004

Putting Your Protagonist Under Stress

If you're writing a novel where you are not springing an actual physical trap on your protagonist, think about other less dangerous entrapments. They can be benign, like staging a surprise party for a notoriously shy protagonist; sending a character who is inappropriately dressed to a fancy party or dangerously cold environment; or sending him into a room where another character is fuming with anger. Or it can be a situation in which an antagonist wrests information, a promise, or a concession from your protagonist, who gives in against his better judgement.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Can Narrative Nonfiction Compete With Fiction?

Narrative nonfiction is hard pressed to compete with concocted tales. Fiction has such built in advantages in its power to imagine inner life and present narratives free of the factual gaps inevitable in true stories. Narrative nonfiction must strive for the literary if it's to have a chance at the audience garnered by important fiction.

Amand Giridharadas, The New York Times Book Review, September 21, 2014 

Put A Little Murder Into Your Romance Novel

When I was writing romance, I realized that I needed more than just relationships to pull the characters through three hundred pages. I didn't like writing the detailed sex scenes, but I loved the action parts. So I decided to move into crime fiction. Truth is, I made a sort of hybrid--I took the things I loved about the romance and squashed those things into a mystery/adventure format. It's always risky to try something new like that, but it will work if you give the reader something compelling and appropriate for the emerging market.

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006

The Private Library

I couldn't live a week without a private library--indeed, I'd part with all my furniture and squat and sleep on the floor before I'd let go of the 1,500 or so books I possess.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) American writer of weird fiction

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Danford Grant Massage Parlor Rape Case

     In 2011, 47-year-old Danford Grant and his wife Jennifer lived in the Seattle suburb of Auburn, Washington with their 5-year-old son, 8-year-old daughter, and a 16-year-old boy from Mr. Grant's former marriage. A graduate of the University of Washington School of Law, Danford was a litigation partner at Bailey Grant and Onsanger, a prestigious Seattle law firm. Grant had handled appeals before the Washington State Supreme Court and before the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Years earlier he had been a King County prosecutor.

     Grant's 38-year-old wife Jennifer, an attorney herself, worked in the Seattle City Attorney's Office as a supervisor. She had worked in that office since the mid-1990s. To the casual observer these successful attorneys living in the big, fancy house with their beautiful children represented the American dream come true.

     As is often the case, superficial appearances can be misleading. It seemed that Danford Grant had a problem controlling his sexual urges around women. Because of his unwanted sexual advances, female paralegal employees at the law firm had nicknamed him "Dirty Dan." And this wasn't the worst of it.

     Early in 2011, using the last name Hunter, Grant received a massage from a 45-year-old Asian masseuse in Bellevue, Washington. After the massage he grabbed the woman and told her to remove her pants. When she refused and broke down in tears, Grant left the parlor.

     Grant purchased a massage in June 2011 at the Carnation Chinese Massage Clinic in Greenwood, Washington. He grabbed the masseuse and had a condom in his hand when a noise from the hallway outside the room ended the assault. The victim of the attempted rape quit her job at the Greenwood parlor and opened a massage operation out of her home in Shoreline, Washington.

     On August 19, 2012, Grant had an appointment under the name Pete with the Asian masseuse he had tried to rape in Greenwood. When she cracked her front door in response to his knock she immediately recognized him as the man who had tried to rape her at her previous place of employment. Before the masseuse could close the door he pushed his way into her house and raped her.

     On August 28, 2012, the attorney returned to the massage clinic in Bellevue where he raped the 45-year-old masseuse at knife point. After the assault the victim realized this was the Mr. Hunter who had tried to rape her in early 2011.

     Not long after the Bellevue attack, Grant raped a massage clinic cashier in Seattle. He attacked the woman in his Honda Pilot after identifying himself as a police officer.

     Danford Grant, at 9:30 on the night of Monday, September 24, 2012, returned to the massage clinic in Greenwood where, after the message, he pulled out a pocket knife and demanded sex with the Asian masseuse. She said she'd go along if he put away the knife then informed him that she had HIV. To that he replied, "Me too." He then slipped on a condom and raped the victim.

     After the September 24 sexual assault, employees of the massage parlor called the police. Later that night, Grant returned to the clinic. When employees tried to detain him, he fled on foot. Just after midnight on September 25, 2012, police officers arrested Grant and booked him into the King County Jail.

     King County prosecutor Valiant L. Richey, on September 28, 2012, formally charged the prominent Seattle attorney with four counts of first-degree rape and several lesser offenses. The judge set Grant's bail at $3 million.

     In October 2012, Grant posted his reduced bail and was confined to house arrest. Four weeks after the Greenwood massage clinic rape, detectives located the suspect's missing Honda Pilot. They found it parked in the garage of Jennifer Grant's aunt. (He had raped the massage clinic cashier in Seattle in this SUV.)

     The day after her husband's arrest, Jennifer Grant and her aunt moved Danford's SUV from where it had been parked near the massage parlor in Greenwood to the aunt's house in Auburn. Jennifer insisted that she had moved the vehicle at the direction of her husband's attorney, David Allen. She denied intentionally hiding potential evidence against her husband from the police.

     Inside the rape suspect's SUV, searchers found a realistic looking pellet gun, a cell phone, an iPad, a laptop computer, a black stocking cap, and a bottle of Cialis.

     In November 2012, Jennifer Grant filed a petition for legal separation from her husband. The couple remained married but would divide their assets and debts. Danford Grant, under the terms of the separation separation would be liable for child support. After six months, the couple could ask the family court judge to convert the separation into a divorce.

     On March 6, 2013, The Seattle Times reported that investigators recovered the September 24, 2012 rape victim's DNA from Danford Grant's underwear. One of the suspect's attorneys, Richard Hasen, told the reporter that, "Much of the DNA evidence actually favors the defense." The defense attorney acknowledged that his client had been a regular customer at several Asian massage parlors where he had been a problem client. "But that doesn't mean he was raping everyone there," said Hasen.

     On June 2013, Jennifer Grant resigned from her position in the Seattle City Attorney's Office. The Danford Grant rape trial was scheduled for the spring of 2014. If convicted as charged, the once prominent attorney could be sent to prison for up to 45 years.

     On May 7, 2014, Danford Grant pleaded guilty to five counts of third-degree rape and one count of first-degree burglary. On May 19, 2914, the King County Superior Court Judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The day after the sentencing, officers transported Grant to the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton where they placed him in the "intensive management unit," an area segregated from the general prison population. Danford Grant, for his own protection, would spend 23 hours a day in a one-man cell.

The Brutal Act of Dismemberment

     To profane a dead body by cutting it to pieces has always seemed, at least to our Western eyes, an act of bestial brutality. It is one thing to do murder. It is quite another to destroy the murder victim's identity, and this is the effect of dismemberment.

     Taking apart a fresh human body is no mean task. You will work up a sweat doing it. I have seen every tool imaginable used for this grisly purpose, from the ancient stone choppers used by early man millions of years ago to the Rambo knives, hacksaws and chain saws. It is a bloody, messy, dangerous business. Saws and knives can slip and wound you while you are using them. Bone itself can be quite sharp; I have been cut by broken bones while working with remains.

    Many dismemberments are done in bathtubs--more things come out of bathtubs than bathtub gin. Most of my [dismemberment] cases seem to involve motorcycle gang members or people involved in the drug trade.

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Does the Criminal Justice System Police Itself?

Collegiality and collaboration are considered the keys to success in most communal ventures, but in the practice of criminal justice they are in fact the cause of system failure. When professional alliances trump adversarialism, ordinary injustice predominates. Judges, defense lawyers, and prosecutors, but also local government, police, and even trial clerks who process the paperwork, decide the way a case moves through the system, thereby determining what gets treated like a criminal matter and what does not. Through their subtle personal associations, legal players often recast the law to serve what they perceive to be the interest of their wider community or to perpetrate a "we've-always-done-it-this-way" mind-set. Whether through friendship, mutual interest, indifference, incompetence, or willful neglect the players end up on not checking each other and thus not doing the job the system needs them to do if justice is to be achieved.

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009

Novelist Haruki Murakami's Work Habits

When I'm in a writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 AM and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 PM. I keep to this routine every day without variation.

Haruki Murakami, Paris Review, Summer 2004 

Graduating From Life

That's what life is, just one learning experience after another, and when you're through with all the learning experiences you graduate and what you get for a diploma is, you die.

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) American science fiction writer

Writing a Series

In writing a series of stories about the same character, plan the whole series in advance in some detail, to avoid contradictions and inconsistencies.

L. Sprague de Camp (1907-2008) American science fiction writer

Friday, August 7, 2020

Ray Gricar: The Missing District Attorney

The Ray Gricar Missing Person Investigation

     In Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, at 11:30 in the morning of Friday, April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the 59-year-old district attorney of Centre County, the home of Penn State University, called his live-in girlfriend to inform her he was on a pleasure drive through an area in the region called Penns Valley. Twelve hours later, his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, called 911 and reported him missing.

     The next day, Gricar's red Mini Cooper was found parked near an antique mall in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 55 miles east of Bellefonte. The interior of the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Gricar, who didn't smoke, didn't like that smell. The car had been locked, and Gricar's cellphone was inside. According to a Lewisburg shop owner whose antique store Gricar had patronized in the past, the district attorney, on the day he left Bellefonte, was walking around the mall with a tall, dark-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s. Investigators made no effort to identify and question this woman. Because this information wasn't published until 13 months after Gricar's disappearance, the police received no help from the public in identifying this possible witness. By the time the story came out, the case had grown cold.

     In July 2005, three months after Ray Gricar drove off in his Mini Cooper and didn't return, his county-issued laptop was found in the Susquehanna River not far from the abandoned car. Three months after that, the hard drive turned up in the same area of the river. Water had damaged it to the point that no data could be retrieved.

     Following the recoveries from the river, the investigation of Gricar's disappearance, conducted by the Bellefonte Police Department (the Pennsylvania State Police didn't want the case, and the FBI wasn't involved), ground to a halt. In the summer of 2008, with Ray Gricar still missing, and no clues as to what happened to him or where he was, two of his colleagues, Bob Buehne Jr., the district attorney of Montour County, and prosecutor Ted McKnight of Clinton County, held a press conference in Lewisburg where Gricar's vehicle had been found. Both men were highly critical of the Gricar missing person's investigation. The neighboring prosecutors said they couldn't understand why the information about Gricar and the mystery woman at the mall hadn't been made public until May 2006.

     On April 14, 2009, four years after Ray Gricar's disappearance, investigators discovered that someone using the missing man's home computer had, shortly before he went missing, searched the Internet on "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer." Assuming Gricar had made these inquiries, one of the more innocent explanations behind the Internet search was that Gricar, in contemplation of his retirement in nine months, wanted to clear his computer before handing it back to the county. This didn't explain, however, why the computer and hard drive ended up in the river. A more ominous motive was that before killing himself, Gricar wanted to destroy data he didn't want anyone to see.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of Ray Gricar's daughter, a Centre County judge declared him legally deceased.

Theories of Ray Gricar's Disappearance

     There are three schools of thought regarding what happened to Ray Gricar. He could have been murdered, committed suicide, or walked off to start a new life under a different identity. The two most popular murder theories features a mistress who lured him to the Susquehanna River where he was murdered by the woman's husband. The second murder scenario involves a criminal murdering the district attorney out of revenge. Since prosecutors are rarely murdered by people they have prosecuted or planned to put behind bars, the latter theory is the most improbable.

     Suicide seemed more likely than murder in this case. Ray Gricar's brother, Roy J. Gricar, committed suicide in May 1996 by jumping off a bridge over the Great Miami River near West Chester, Ohio. If Ray had jumped from a bridge across the Susquehanna River, what were the chances his body would have been found? Some believe the odds were great that his body would have been recovered. Others disagree. To have an opinion on this question, one would have to know the ins and outs of the Susquehanna River.

     The so-called "walkaway" theory, that Gricar walked-off to start a new life under a new identity, while quite intriguing, doesn't make much sense. For one thing, he didn't clean out his bank account, and drove off without tying up a lot of loose-ends. Following his disappearance, there were more than 300 false sightings of him. Those who subscribe to the walkaway theory point out that Ray had been fascinated by the 1985 disappearance of an Ohio police chief. Inside the chief's car, parked near Lake Erie, searchers found his wallet and his badge. They never found the chief's body. Some of those who believe Gricar is still alive believe he could be hiding out in the federal government's witness protection program. (This possibility is out of the question because prosectors are not eligible for the program.)          

Ray Gricar, The Man

     Ray Frank Gricar was born on October 9, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Gilmour, a prestigious Catholic high school in Gates Mills, Ohio. In 1966, while attending the University of Dayton, he met his future wife, Barbara Gray. They were married in 1969. After graduating from Case Western Law School in Cleveland, Gricar started his career as a prosecutor in northwest Ohio's Cuyahoga, County.

     In 1980, the couple and their daughter Lara moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania when Barbara landed a job at Penn State University in nearby State College. Shortly after that, David Grine, the district attorney of Centre County, hired Ray as an assistant prosecutor. Five years later, Gricar ran for the office of district attorney and won.

     Barbara and Ray divorced in 1991, and five years later, Ray married his second wife, Emma. Following a tumultuous marriage, he and Emma divorced in 2001. Two years later, Ray moved in with Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's Office who lived in a section of Bellefonte called Halfmoon Hill. By April 2005, having served several terms as district attorney, Ray Gricar was planning to retire in nine months.

     Although a private, somewhat distant person, Ray's colleagues considered him an outstanding career prosecutor with high ethical standards. Because he never had political ambitions beyond the district attorney's office, Gricar was not, according to his legal colleagues, subject to political pressure or influence. On a personal level, he was known as a bit of a ladies' man.

Ray Gricar and the Jerry Sandusky Pedophilia Case

     In May 1998, when Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State Univeristy, and active in his organization for troubled youth called The Second Mile, two 11-year-old boys told their parents that Sandusky had fondled them in the Penn State locker room showers. The mother of one of the accusers contacted Detective Ronald Schreffler with the University Police Department. Shortly after receiving the complaint, Schreffler, on a pretext, got Sandusky to meet the mother at her house where she confronted him about the coach being nude in the shower with her son. With the detective in the next room recording the conversation, the boy's mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. Sandusky did not deny showering with her son. Regarding the arousal question, he said, "I don't think so--maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

     A child psychologist who interviewed the boy concluded that his account, and Sandusky's response to the mother's interrogation, indicated to him that the coach was "likely a pedophile." A second psychologist, Dr. John Seasock, after analyzing the same information, came to a different conclusion.

     On June 2, 1998, District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute the Penn State football coach. Four years later, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, took the stand at Sandusky's sexual abuse trial and described how the coach had lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." Ronald Schreffler, later with the Department of Homeland Security, testified in June 2012 that he had wanted Ray Gricar to prosecute Sandusky in 1998, but was overruled.

     Had Ray Gricar prosecuted Jerry Sandusky for indecent assault, corruption of a minor, and child endangerment, more victims, ones Sandusky had raped, might have come forward. Even if they hadn't, Gricar would have exposed a pedophile within the Penn State system.

     In 1999, Jerry Sandusky retired from Penn State. He was awarded the title professor emeritus, and given an office in the football building. He had full access to all of the sports facilities, and used this access and his youth organization to attract and molest young boys.

     I don't believe that Ray Gricar was murdered, or that he's still alive. That leaves suicide. The question is, did Gricar's decision not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky weigh on his conscience, and play a role in his suicide? Between the time the prosecutor closed the case on Sandusky and his disappearance, Gricar must have been aware that accusations against the coach were still being made. Did he have regrets? Was Gricar second-guessing himself?

     On June 23, 2012, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky guilty of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of fifteen years. The judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.

     People who have had access to Ray Gricar's papers say there was virtually no reference in them to Jerry Sandusky. If this is true, we will never know if Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia and Ray Gricar's disappearance were in any way connected.

     On April 13, 2018, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania State Police Troop G, announced that a new investigator, Trooper Dana Martini, had been assigned to track down leads in the 13-year-old Gricar disappearance. As of this writing, there have been no developments in the case.

Forensic Anthropology

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world. We are part of the larger field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is known today, which is concerned overall with the human body and all its variations. My specialty, physical anthropology, is distinct from other fields such as cultural anthropology and archaeology.

     My field of expertise is the human skeleton. Though some pathologists insist on doing their own skeletal examinations along with autopsies, I can confidently say that there are very few cases in which a forensic anthropologist--someone like me--could not add a great deal of useful information to what a pathologist can discover. I have had pathologists exclaim frankly in my hearing, when confronted with a skeleton: "Gee, I'm not used to looking at these without the meat on them!"

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Lock Picking

Lock picking involves opening a lock without a key, and without physically destroying or abusing the lock mechanism. There is probably no such thing as a totally pick-proof lock, but very few criminal intruders possess the skill, tools, time, and good fortune to manipulate the internal parts of a high-security lock in such a way to produce a key-like effect on the mechanism. Lock picking depicted on film and TV looks easy. Even with low security locks, it is not.

Great Book Titles

A great book title will stick around a lot longer than the author and even the work itself. A few of my favorites: The Man With The Golden Arm, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, God's Little Acre, The Night of the Hunter, Another Roadside Attraction, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,  Silence of the Lambs, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Naked And The Dead, To Kill a Mockingbird, Midnight in the Garden of Evil, The Postman Rings Twice, Bonfire of the Vanities, and All Quiet On The Western Front.

The One-Sentence Paragraph

The one-sentence paragraph is a great device. You can italicize with it, vary your pace with it, lighten your voice with it, signpost your argument with it. But it's potentially dangerous. Don't overdo your dramatics. And be sure your sentence is strong enough to withstand the extra attention it's bound to receive when set off by itself. Houseplants wilt in direct sun. Many sentences do as well.

John R. Trimble, Writing With Style, 2000

Thursday, August 6, 2020

J. Edgar Hoover's Legacy: A Street Agent's Perspective

      Clint Eastwood's film, "J. Edgar," came out in 2011. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film interested me because of its emphasis on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and the fact I was a street agent during Hoover's last six years in office (1966-1972). The film's version of the Lindbergh case overplayed the FBI's role in the crime scene investigation near Hopewell, New Jersey as well as in the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann two and a half years later in Flemington, New Jersey. As for J. Edgar Hoover himself, except for scenes with his dominating mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man who loved him (Arnie Hammer), the film did catch the flavor and essence of Hoover's 48-year career as director of the FBI as America's most famous and powerful lawman.  

     Looking back on my six years as an FBI agent, I will say this without equivocation: Hoover's agents did not imagine him as presented in the film by Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. We did not see the director as a repressed homosexual who was scared to death of his mother. Agents saw him as a powerful figure who terrorized presidents and was so devoted to the bureau and his own image as an incorruptible crime fighter and warrior against the internal communist threat, he would destroy anyone who tarnished him or the FBI. As a result, in the minds of Hoover's street agents, crime fighting almost became secondary to avoiding the director's wrath.

     Pursuant to Hoover's impossible standards of performance and agent comportment, every field agent, every day, couldn't help violate one or two of the director's thousands of rules and regulations. Agents who got caught breaking these rules, rules continuously promulgated by Hoover and his palace guards. paid the price in the form of disciplinary transfers to undesirable field offices. For example, no one wanted to work at the field division headquarters in Billings, Montana. More than a few bureau rules violators were fired "with prejudice." Nobody knew exactly what "with prejudice" meant except that it was not good. When agents of the Hoover era tell war stories, their tales are usually not about their cases. Most likely they feature administrative horror stories.

     J. Edgar Hoover's career can be viewed from the perspective of twentieth century history or from the field agent's point of view. What follows is my take on J. Edgar Hoover as an employer and law enforcement administrator during his last six years in office.

    Before the magnificent FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, new agents attended seven weeks of classwork in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., and seven weeks of firearms training on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.  Every day in D.C., our FBI instructors came into the classroom armed with horror stories designed to instill fear of the director. To a man, these instructors had that "I'm-dead-but-still-walking persona". One of them, a SOG (Seat of Government) agent from the D.C. administrative headquarters, a man who conjured up the image of a demented butcher, kept reminding the class that to survive in Mr. Hoover's FBI one had to have balls made of brass. I took this to mean we were in for a lot of low blows.

     New agents were reminded over and over again that the worse thing they could do was embarrass the bureau. Blowing an investigation was one thing, but embarrassing the bureau was serious. By bureau, the instructors meant J. Edgar Hoover. The director did not forget, did not forgive, and took everything personally. Every infraction--a missed bureaucratic deadline, putting a scratch on a bureau car, not calling the office every two hours when not at work or at home--constituted a personal assault on Hoover's good name. It was simply un-American to embarrass the director of the FBI.

     Hoover's ideal FBI agent consisted of a thin white male with high morals, a clean-cut appearance, and a law degree. Over the years the director had managed, through careful media manipulation, to make the G-man a cultural hero. He turned gangsters like John Dillinger, once glorified, into villains. Physically, if a job candidate didn't fit Hoover's model of the all-American agent, it didn't matter how smart, brave, or moral he was. Hoover didn't tolerate mustaches, beards, pot bellies, long hair, or missing teeth. If you had a tattoo, forget it. The director didn't accept anyone who was color-blind or had less that 20-20 vision. Short, slightly overweight, and bulldog-faced, Hoover, based on looks alone, would not have hired himself. There were a handful of black men in the bureau, but no Hispanics, Asians, or women.

     Once in the FBI, agents had to maintain a height/weight ratio that conformed to ideal life insurance policy standards. Most agents, as they approached middle age, had trouble keeping their weight under control, and dreaded the monthly weigh-ins held either in the chief clerk's office or in the SAC's (special agent in charge) office under the supervision of the boss's secretary. Notwithstanding the weight restrictions, there were a lot of older agents obviously over the pound limit.

     Within the weight control program, as in all of Hoover's bureaucratic obsessions, cheating and false reporting with the knowledge and approval of the office brass were rampant. But according to the regulations, an agent who was more than ten pounds over the weight limit two months in a row could be transferred to another field office. The bureau's weight program gave the SAC a lot of power. If he wanted to unload an agent he didn't like, the boss could enforce the weight rule. So could a SOG inspector on a field office witch hunt. The office transfer, as a means of punishment, gave Hoover a powerful and arbitrary tool that disrupted families and broke up marriages. This from a never married man who disapproved of divorce.

     Director Hoover also enforced a severe and detailed dress code. Agents had to wear blue, brown, gray or black suits. He forbade pin stripe suits and colorful buttoned-down or patterned dress shirts. Approved bureau footwear did not include suede shoes, loafers, or cowboy boots.   Agents playing it safe shoe-wise went the wing-tip route. As for head wear, all agents were supposed to wear those felt, narrow-brimmed business hats even though a bareheaded President Kennedy had rendered the fedora out of style.

     In a dress code more detailed and complicated than the U.S. Constitution, an agent caught wearing a sports coat or a loud tie could get written-up. Unlike modern agents who wear jackets and ball caps emblazoned with the letters FBI, or walk around in combat gear, Hoover's men looked like 1950s insurance salesmen.

     To distinguish his agents from uniformed cops and city detectives who supposedly killed a lot of time by hanging around donut shops and diners drinking coffee, Hoover forbade his agents to drink coffee on the job. Taking clandestine coffee breaks with other agents therefore required a lot of trust (agents had to be aware of office snitches) and made a common workplace ritual an act of subversion. Agents were constantly on the lookout for safe coffee drinking hideaways. Bureau coffee drinkers couldn't get attached to a single restaurant or diner because to avoid detection, they had to keep moving.

     One of Hoover's most unreasonable and counterproductive rules, a decree that reflected his lack of experience as a criminal investigator, concerned when agents could tackle the heavy paperwork burden the director had himself mandated. Between 9 AM and 5 PM, agents were only allowed to be in the field office ninety minutes. They were supposed to use this limited time to review their case files, make phone calls, and dictate reports and FD 302s (witness statements) to office stenographers. Agents were to spend the rest of the day out on the street investigating crime, tracking down fugitives, and uncovering subversion. As opposed to the image of the lazy detective hanging around the office all day drinking coffee and shooting the bull, Hoover wanted his investigators to be men of action.

     The director's office-time restriction ignored the fact that in detective work, every hour of investigation can create two hours of paperwork. To meet Hoover's strict reporting deadlines, agents had to do much of their pencil-pushing in parked cars, public libraries, restaurants, and for those brave enough to risk it, at home. Otherwise, if an agent saved all of his paperwork for the office after 5 PM, he'd end up preparing 302s and written reports well into the evening.

     In the morning, agents were expected to sign-in for work before seven. For those who worked in big city offices, that meant getting up at five. Agents were also required to log in plenty of overtime which meant the sign-in and sign-out registers never came close to reflecting reality. For example, when an agent arrived at the office at seven, the guy just ahead of him would be logging in at five-thirty. If the agent who signed in just after this person wrote down his actual time of arrival, he had committed an act  called "jumping the register," a serious violation of the agent's unwritten code of conduct. In Hoover's FBI, honesty was not  always the best policy.

    One of J. Edgar Hoover's greatest sins was the way he abused his personnel. From a street agent's perspective, that is Mr. Hoover's legacy.        

Guillotine Chic

Almost from its first victim on April 25, 1792, the guillotine became a fetishistic object for the French during their revolution. Men had it tattooed on their bodies; women wore dangling guillotine earrings and brooches; the design was incorporated into plates, cups, snuffboxes; children played with toy versions, decapitating mice; elegant ladies lopped off the heads of dolls and out squirted a red perfume, in which they soaked their handkerchiefs.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Eduction, 1997

The Bungled JonBenet Ramsey Investigation

      The Boulder police union's contract requires that police officers regularly and frequently rotate through the various units--traffic, patrol, and investigations--rather than developing extensive experience in a particular area. Thus, Boulder police rotate in and out of detective duty, which is highly desirable for the officers because they don't have to work weekends or wear uniforms, but also means that relatively untrained detectives have to handle criminal cases. This is a major difference from employment contracts in other Colorado cities.

     Imagine how we [John and Patsy Ramsey] felt when we learned that an officer who had only been a detective for several months was one of the major police investigators on the case.

     Our friends began telling us that the Boulder police detectives were contacting them and saying things like, "The Ramseys think you may have something to do with the death of their daughter. Would you like to tell us anything about the Ramseys?" A standard interrogation technique. Bias the witness against a suspect and let them spill their guts out. We also heard the police made comments like, "The Ramseys refuse to talk with us. Will you help us?"

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

The Tenured Professor

Creative writing professor Martin Russ, in his 1980 classic, Showdown Semester, wrote: "The tenured professor is never forced to justify his classroom work to his students, and can go on for year after year in a take-it-or-leave-it way in which, arrogance overrides the kind of teaching that has to do with helping, sharing, giving." 

The Flash-In-the-Pan Novelist

     There will always be that flash in the pan, that one-off novel that strikes the fancy of publishers, sells a few million copies, and gets made into a successful--or unsuccessful--film before the person who wrote it fades into permanent obscurity, laughing, as they say, all the way to the bank. These types of writers have always existed.

     The creators of those largely forgettable and sometimes laughable pieces of prose bang them out, often with nothing more to recommend their work than a fairly decent idea badly realized, a fairly bad idea decently realized, or a schtick of some sort--author as former policewoman, forensic pathologist, weight lifter, beauty queen, seriously abused child, seriously abusive adult come to the Lord or an excellent publicity campaign that worked like a charm.

     What these creators of fiction have in common tends to be that they got lucky. They wrote their novels without an idea in the world what they were doing and the managed to pull it off. Problem was, though, they could not do it again.

Elizabeth George in Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks, 2005 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Ronald Samuels Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1993, Heather Samuels, after five years of marriage to Ronald Samuels, a Pensacola, Florida car dealer who sold drugs and ran with other women, left him and returned to her parent's home in Minnesota. The six-foot-four inch, burly, Brooklyn born husband who was eighteen years older than his 26-year-old wife, immediately moved his girlfriend into the Samuels' house.

     A year later, the divorce became final. A Santa Rosa County judge awarded custody of the ex-couple's three children to Heather and ordered Ronald to pay Heather $3,000 a month in child support. Ronald, already angry over the fact he had wasted thousands of dollars in attorney's fees fighting the divorce, vowed to fight the child support order. He was not going to allow his ex-wife to raise the children, at his expense, in Minnesota.

     In 1995, Ronald married Deborah Love, the woman who had moved into the house in Pensacola following his separation from Heather. Ronald's resentment over the child custody situation turned to wrath in June 1997 when Heather married John Grossman, the son of Bud Grossman, the former part owner of the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings. Heather, the children, and her new husband, the heir to a multi-million dollar estate, moved from Minnesota to Boca Raton, Florida.

     With his ex-wife and her new husband living in south Florida, Ronald Samuels decided it was now possible to have them both murdered.

     After the divorce, Ronald Samuels sold his Toyota car dealership. He was now making his living selling cocaine, the proceeds of which he deposited in a bank in the Cayman Islands. In September 1997, Samuels paid Hugh Estes, a 50-year-old cocaine addict, $5,000 to arrange the double murder. Samuels told the former insurance company employee that his ex-wife was a gold-digger who had cheated on him before their divorce. Her husband, John Grossman, had to be killed because he was abusing the children.

     Hugh Estes, instead of using the hit money to buy a weapon and recruit an assassin, went on a cocaine binge. This forced Samuels to ask Geoffrey Pollock, another drug addict, for help. A week later, at a Denny's Restaurant, Pollock introduced Samuels to Eddie "Slim" Stafford, a third cocaine junkie who said he had found a trigger man, a former Army marksman named Roger Runyon. Stafford assured Samuels that Runyon, a competent, cold-blooded killer, would murder the ex-wife and her husband.

     At the Denny's meeting, Ronald Samuels provided Roger Runyon with murder-for-hire intelligence which included photographs of the targets, their address, a description of their cars, and an outline of their daily routines. Samuels' murder-for-hire team consisted of three drug-addled accomplices and a man he had just met who claimed to have been in the Army. The mastermind agreed to pay the accomplices in cocaine. Runyon was paid $5,000 down, and promised $20,000 when he completed the job.

     Late in the afternoon of October 14, 1997, as John and Heather Grossman sat at a traffic light in Boca Raton, Florida, Eddie "Slim" Stafford pulled up alongside the couple in Hugh Estes' 1996 green Ford Thunderbird. From the back seat of the Ford, Roger Runyon fired two rifle bullets into the Grossman vehicle. The first slug grazed John Grossman's chin, the second severed Heather Grossman's spine, paralyzing her for life.

     Ronald Samuel's hit team had bungled the job. The targets were still alive and the murder-for-hire mastermind instantly became the prime suspect in the attempted murders.

     The victims told investigators that they were certain that Ronald Samuels was behind the ambush. Shortly after the shooting, detectives traced the Ford Thunderbird to Hugh Estes who immediately gave up Stafford and Runyon. The accomplice and the hit man, in return for immunity, identified Ronald Samuels as the brains behind the botched murder plot.

     In May 1998, the drug addicts and the failed hit man appeared before a grand jury which promptly indicted Ronald Samuels on charges of attempted murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.

     Samuels, who had divorced his second wife Deborah, fled to Mexico to avoid arrest. In 1999, the police in the state of Neueno Leon, caught Samuels in possession of thirteen pounds of cocaine. Tried and found guilty, he was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2004, when Samuels walked out of the Mexican lockup, a pair of United States Marshals took him into custody on charges related to passport fraud. The officers hauled Samuels to New Orleans where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison on the fraud case.

     Heather and John Grossman were divorced in 2003. She moved back in with her parents who had moved from Minnesota to Phoenix, Arizona. In February 2005, after serving his federal prison sentence in Louisiana, the authorities extradited Ronald Samuels to Palm Beach, Florida where he was scheduled to be tried on the Grossman attempted murder charges. Before the trial got underway in October 2006, John Grossman died of a heart attack. He was 55.

     The prosecutor in West Palm Beach offered Samuels a deal in return for his guilty plea. Samuels rejected the offer and the case went to trial. The government's key witnesses included accomplices Pollock, Estes, and Stafford, and the hit man, Roger Runyon. Heather, seated in a wheelchair and breathing with the help of a ventilator, took the stand as well. Samuel's second wife, Deborah, testified that the defendant really didn't care about his children. He simply didn't like paying child support to a woman he considered a gold-digger. The defendant's second wife described him as a man with a bad temper who threw a fit whenever he didn't get what he wanted.

     The Samuels defense centered around the idea that Roger Runyon and his three helpers were dregs of society without any credibility. The defense attorney portrayed his client as a victim of a wealthy and influential family's revenge for a crime that he did not commit. Against the advice of his attorney, Samuels took the stand and testified on his own behalf. Coming off as arrogant and hostile, he did not make a sympathetic witness. On October 31, 2006, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. The next day the judge sentenced Samuels to life in prison plus 120 years.

     Ronald Samuels and his drug-addled murder-for-hire team were stupid and sociopathic. The prosecutor, to convict Ronald Samuels, gave Roger Runyon, Hugh Estes, Eddie Stafford, and Geoffrey Pollock a free pass. In the world of murder-for-hire prosecutions, this is what passes for prosecutorial success and justice.

Jack Abbott On Prison Violence

I know how to live through anything they could possibly dish up for me. I've been subjected to strip-cells, blackout cells, been chained to the floor and wall; I've lived through the beatings, of course; every drug science has invented to "modify" my behavior--I have endured. Starvation was once natural to me; I have no qualms about eating insects in my cell or living in my body wastes if it means survival. They've even armed psychopaths and put them in punishment cells with me to kill me, but I can control that. When they say "what doesn't destroy me makes me stronger," that is what they mean. But it's a mistake to equate the results with being strong. I'm extremely flexible, but I'm not strong. I'm weakened, in fact. I'm tenuous, shy, introspective, and suspicious of everyone. A loud noise or a false movement registers like a four-alarm fire in me. But I am not afraid--and that is strange, because I care very much about someday being set free. I want to cry when I think that I'll never be free. I want to cry for my brothers I've spent a lifetime with. Someday I will leave them and never return. [After the publication of his prison memoir, Abbott was paroled. Not long after he got out, this psychopathic time-bomb murdered a waiter in New York City. So Abbott did leave his prison brothers for awhile, but he came back to them after a short period of freedom. Assuming that his prison memoir is true, Abbott, though his violent behavior, invited the institutional violence directed against him. He couldn't live without violence in prison or out.]

Jack Henry Abbott, In The Belly of the Beast, 1981  

The Executioner

Accounts of criminal trials published in old books and documents generally go into much detail of the court proceedings. The judge's name, the lawyers' speeches, evidence given by the witnesses, even the prisoners' protestations, are covered in full. And when executions were held in public, news sheets described each one minutely, dwelling avidly on the victims's behavior, the crowd's reactions. Yet little if anything was said about the official presiding over the dreaded finale. He was referred to only as the "executioner," thereby implying that he was unworthy of further identification, except as an object of scorn.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 1991