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Friday, January 22, 2021

The Selena Irene York Poisoned Smoothie Case

     Selena Irene York and her teenage daughter, after falling on hard times, were taken in by 79-year-old Ed Zurbuchen who let them live in his Vernal, Utah home. On September 29, 2008, Mr. Zurbuchen's 33-year-old house guest gave him a peach smoothie. Shortly after drinking it, he was taken to the hospital complaining of dizziness, numbness of the face, and speech difficulties. At first, doctors thought he had suffered a stroke. After four days in the hospital, Mr. Zurbuchen underwent a series of liver and kidney tests that revealed he had ingested ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze.

     Although Selena York had given Mr. Zuburchen the drink that had made him sick, had made herself the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and had taken control of his bank account, Mr. Zurbuchen didn't want to press charges against her. Without the victim's cooperation and testimony, the Uintah County prosecutor didn't have a case. In 2009, the suspect and her daughter moved to Eugene, Oregon. Although the authorities in Utah believed Selena York had tried to murder Ed Zurbuchen, the investigation went cold.

     On April 2011, the poisoning case came back to life when the Uintah County prosecutor received a letter from Joseph Dominic Ferraro, Selena York's former boyfriend, and the father of her child. Ferraro, who was in jail for sexual assault, had been living with York and his daughter in Eugene, Oregon. According to Ferraro, York had bragged to him about poisoning a man in Utah in an effort to kill him so she could take over his estate. Since Selena York had drained Joseph Ferraro's bank account, and sold both his cars while he sat in jail, he believed her story. And so did the authorities in Utah.

     In June, police arrested Selena York in Eugene on the charge of attempted murder. After being extradited back to Utah, York, in exchange for the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery, confessed to poisoning Mr. Zuburchen. She said she had purchased the smoothie at a nearby store, dumped out half of its contents, then poured in the antifreeze. After his death, she planned to gain power of attorney over his estate. Before she left Utah after the failed homicide, York forged a check on the victim's bank account for $10,000.

     In December 2011, Selena York was allowed to plead no contest to the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery. Two months later, the judge sentenced her to three consecutive five-year prison terms.  Had Mr. Zubuchen died of poisoning, York would have been eligible for the death sentence. Had she not ripped-off Joseph Ferraro (who was convicted of 21 felony sexual abuse counts), she would have gotten away with attempted murder. This woman was a cold-blooded killer, a sociopath who should never get out of prison.

     Mr. Ferraro, the father of York's child who informed on her, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the sexual abuse case. However, he won an appeal that led to the overturning of his conviction. The trial judge had improperly denied Ferraro's motion to postpone his trial in order to acquire more time for his attorney to prepare his defense. The Lane County prosecutor, rather than schedule a second trial, allowed Ferraro to plead guilty to a single count of second-degree sodomy. Sentenced to three years on that charge, the sex offender walked free because he had already served four years on the multiple felony conviction. Because of a legal technicality, this sexual criminal got off light. 

Lack of Coordination Between Law Enforcement Agencies

     Law enforcement investigators do not see, are prevented from seeing, or make little attempt to see beyond their own jurisdictional responsibilities. The law enforcement officer's responsibility stops at the boundary of his or her jurisdiction. The exception is generally only when hot pursuit is necessary. The vary nature of local law enforcement and a police department's accountability and responsiveness to its jurisdictional clients isolates the department from the outside world.

     The National Crime Information Center [NCIC] provides officers with access to other agencies indirectly, to obtain information on wanted persons and stolen property. However, the sharing of information on unsolved crimes and investigative leads is not a function of this extensive nationwide information system. Reciprocal relationships between homicide investigators are at best informal and usually within a relatively limited geographical area.

     Linkage blindness exemplifies the major weakness of our structural defenses against crime and our ability to control it. Simply stated, the exchange of investigative information among police departments in this country is, at best, very poor. Linkage blindness is the nearly total lack of sharing or coordinating of investigative information and the lack of adequate networking by law enforcement agencies. This lack of sharing or networking is prevalent today with law enforcement officers and their agencies. Thus linkages are rarely established among geographic area of the country between similar crime patterns or modus operandi. Such a condition directly inhibits an early warning or detection system regarding serial murderers preying on multiple victims. [Today there is a national databank designed to help in the identification and investigation of serial murder. But many police departments don't bother contributing information to the computerized repository. Moreover, within federal law enforcement, there is still little coordination and cooperation between agencies.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1996

Fingerprint Identification: A Fish Story

     On June 21, 2012, Haans Galassi, during a weekend camping trip in remote northern Idaho, decided to go wakeboarding on Priest Lake. While being pulled across the lake by a speedboat, the 31-year-old from Colbert, Washington got his hand caught in a towline loop. After being dragged a distance through the water, Galassi looked at his bloodied hand and realized he had been seriously injured. He left the lake that day minus four fingers.

     On September 11, more than two months after Galassi's mishap, Nolan Calvin, while cleaning a trout he had caught in Priest Lake eight miles from were Galassi's fingers went into the water, found, in the fish's belly, a human finger. The cold water had preserved the body part well enough for the fisherman to put it on ice for safe keeping.

     Not sure if he had found the remains of someone who had drowned, or had been dumped in the lake, Mr. Calivn turned his find over to officers with the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, in turn, sent the finger to the state crime lab for possible identification.

     At the crime laboratory, a fingerprint expert made an inked impression of the fingertip and submitted it to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) computer. The computer matched the submission to a print in the databank that belonged to Haans Galassi.

     Bonner County Detective Gary Johnson telephoned Galassi and informed him of the recovery. Since the finger, maintained in an evidence freezer, was in such good shape, the detective asked if Galassi wanted it for a possible reattachment. Although Galassi didn't seem interested in reuniting with his finger, Detective Johnson decided to keep it a few weeks in the event its owner changed his mind. A few days later, Galassi informed the sheriff's office that he had called his doctor to determine if the finger could be put back on his hand. When the doctor got back to him, he would advise the sheriff's office and they could go from there.

     As strange as this case is, it is not the first time body parts have been retrieved from fish. Usually the carriers of these human remains--arms, legs, and torsos-- are sharks pulled from the ocean. Perhaps this is the first time a trout gave up a missing finger. 

Quotes From Nonfiction Writers About their Genre

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book...A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as the professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable. For most people learning to write, that path is nonfiction. It enables them to write about what they know or can observe or can find out.

 William Zinsser

Being a writer of nonfiction books doesn't seem perishingly difficult; it just requires a certain amount of energy and an intelligent interest in the world. And a certain accumulated skill at organizing the materials that one's research gathers.

John Jerome

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses.

W. Somerset Maugham

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier

Fact-based writing can reach creative levels just as fiction writing does, and in the hands of an accomplished nonfiction writer, imaginative use of facts can be transformed and become art.

William Noble 

Truman Capote's Obsession With Style

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

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Murder She Wrote: The Nancy Crampton Brophy Murder Case

     Sixty-three-year-old Daniel Brophy, a master gardener and expert on marine biology who also knew a lot about the growing of mushrooms, was the chief instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute located in the Portland, Oregon neighborhood of Goose Hollow. Brophy and his 68-year-old wife of 27 years, Nancy Crampton Brophy, resided in nearby Beaverton, Oregon.

     Nancy Brophy was a self-published author of nine "romance suspense" novels featuring, according to the author's website, "pretty men and strong women." She promoted her fiction, available on Kindle, on her website. All of her male protagonists were Navy SEALS.

     At eight-thirty on Saturday, June 2, 2018, officers with the Portland Police Bureau responded to a 911 call regarding a man who had been found shot to death in the culinary school's kitchen area. The authorities identified the victim as Danial Brophy. He had been shot with a 9mm pistol.

     Other than perhaps a disgruntled culinary student, detectives didn't have a clue as to who had shot the instructor. Without an eyewitness, they didn't have much to go on.

     On Sunday, June 3, 2018, the day following Chef Brophy's homicide, Nancy Brophy wrote the following on her Facebook page: "For my Facebook friends and family, I have sad news to relate. My husband and best friend, Chef Dan Brophy was killed yesterday morning...I am struggling to make sense of this right now."

     The next day, Nancy Brophy attended a candlelight vigil for her dead husband that was held outside the Oregon Culinary Institute.

     By July 2018, detectives had started thinking about the possibility that Mr. Brophy had been killed by his wife. In November 2011, on her blog "See Jane Publish," Nancy Brophy had posted a 700-word essay entitled, "How to Murder Your Husband." Regarding her marriage to Daniel Brophy, she wrote: "My husband and I are both on our second (and final--trust me!) marriage. We vowed, prior to saying 'I do,' that we would not end in divorce. We did not, I should note, rule out a tragic drive-by shooting or a suspicious accident."

      In her murder essay, Brophy wrote that she and her husband had their "ups and downs but more good times than bad." The romance novelist also had plenty to say on the subject of murder: "I find it easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them...But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough."

     In her treatise on how to commit murder, Brophy gave this advice to anyone contemplating criminal homicide: To get away with the crime, she said, do the killing yourself. She warned against hiring an assassin to do the job because when most hit men get caught they roll over on the mastermind to save their own necks. (Actually, this was not bad advice.)

     In Brophy's 2015 novel, The Wrong Cop, the female protagonist fantasizes about murdering her husband. In The Wrong Husband, also published in 2015, Brophy's female hero tries to flee an abusive marriage by faking her own death.

     On September 5, 2018, detectives with the Portland Police Bureau took Nancy Crampton Brophy into custody for killing her husband, Daniel. At her arraignment hearing, the prosecutor charged her with murder and the unlawful use of a weapon. (Presumably the 9mm pistol.) The defendant pleaded not guilty and the judge denied her bail. Officers booked the homicide widow into the Multnomah County Jail where she would await her trial.

     At the prosecutor's request, the judge sealed the probable cause affidavit in support of Nancy Brophy's arrest. As a result, exactly what evidence the authorities had connecting her to her husband's murder remained a mystery.  
     In April 2020, Brophy's lawyer petitioned the court to have her released on bail due to the threat of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. The judge denied the request. As of this writing, she remains in custody awaiting her murder trial.

Arlando's Folly

     Over a period of several months in 2019, 29-year-old Arlando Henderson stole $88,000 in cash from the vault of the Charlotte, North Carolina bank that employed him. In July and August 2019, Henderson posted photographs of himself holding stacks of bills on Facebook and Instagram. He accompanied one of his Facebook cash-holding photographs with the caption: "I make it look easy but this shyt [sic] is really a PROCESS." In another Facebook posting, Henderson talked about building his "brand."

     Arlando Henderson used $20,000 of the bank's money to make a downpayment on a Mercedes-Benz. He also posted photographs of himself standing next to the white luxury car. Henderson deposited the rest of the money in an ATM near the bank he stole it from.

     To acquire funds to pay the balance of his car loan, Henderson falsified loan documents.

     On December 4, 2019, after being charged federally with two counts of financial fraud, 19 counts of bank embezzlement, and one count of money laundering, FBI agents in San Diego, California took Arlando Henderson into custody.

     If convicted as charged, Henderson faced up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As of this writing, he has not been sentenced. 

Frank Abagnale on Being Imprisoned in France

I went from 198 pounds to 109 while I was in prison in France, and I had to tie my clothes on me with a rope.

Frank Abagnale, the "Catch Me If You Can" check forger

The Presumption Of Innocence Versus Common Sense

The presumption of innocence is a legal doctrine that mandates, in a criminal trial, that the government carries the burden of proving the charges against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Because Lee Harvey Oswald was never tried and convicted, he is presumed innocent. O. J. Simpson, tried and acquitted of double murder, is also presumed innocent under the law. The presumption of innocence, however, is not a substitute for common sense. For example, you would never let an accused pedophile, a person legally presumed to be innocent, to babysit your child.

Charles Bukowski on Writers and Writing

     According to Christopher Hitchens, "The reflections of successful writers on other writers, can be astonishingly banal." While probably true, this does not apply to southern California's Charles Bukowski. Before he died in 1994 at 73, Bukowski, the author of thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, had plenty to say about the writer and his craft. His anti-social personality and noir attitude about life is reflected in some of the following quotes. Nice guy or not, Bukowski was interesting, and he could write. A few of his writing related quotes:

Writing is a sick habit to break.

I can write more truly of myself than of anybody that I know. It's a great source of material.

I liked [Ernest] Hemingway for clarity, I loved it, yet at the same time I didn't like the literary feel of it, there was an upper snobbishness attached. When you come in from the factory with your hands and your body and your mind ripped, hours and days stolen from you, you can become very aware of a fake line, a fake thought, of a literary game.

Why do poets consider themselves more elevated than the garbage man, the short story writer and the novelist?

The job of a writer is to write, all else is nonsense that weakens mind, gut, ability and the natural state of being.

Poetry? Well, it's not much, is it? A lot of posing and prancing and fakery, wordplay for its own sake.

I am not so worried about whether I am writing any good or not, I know I write a valley of bad stuff. But what gets me is that nobody is coming on that I can believe in or look up to. It's hell not to have a hero.

I have to write a lot of poems to keep from going crazy; I can't help it. I often write ten to twelve poems a day and then top the whole thing off with a short story.

You know, I've tried the starving writer bit. I write better with a few bucks in my pocket.

I have to drink and gamble [horses] to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick.

Starvation and obscurity are not necessarily signs of genius.

If there is anything good about my writing it is the roughness, the quality of not being literary.

There is hardly such a thing as a modest writer. Especially a modest bad writer.

It has always been the popular concept for the writer to starve, go mad, suffer, suicide. I think it's time for the editors and publishers to starve, suffer, go made and suicide. 

Yes, I drink when I write fiction. Why not? I like things to be entertaining. If I feel entertained at this machine maybe somebody else will feel that way too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Lizzie Borden to O. J. Simpson: The Disappointing History of Forensic Science

     The historical trajectory of forensic science can be illustrated by three celebrated murder trials: The Lizzie Borden case in 1892; the 1932 murder of the Lindbergh baby and trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann; and the O. J. Simpson double murder and marathon trial of the mid-1990s. Starting with the Borden case, the arc rises to the Lindbergh investigation and trial, then falls to the bungled Simpson crime scene investigation and subsequent trial featuring investigative and forensic incompetence, hired-gun testimony, and televised courtroom showboating and baffoonery.

Lizzie Borden

     While Lizzie Borden may have had the opportunity, motive, and means of hacking her stepmother and father to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts home on August 4, 1892, the police, without the benefit of forensic serology and latent fingerprint identification, had no way to physically link her to the bludgeoned victims, or to the never identified hatchet believed to be the instrument of death.

     In England, the year of the Borden murders, a biologist named Francis Galton published the world's first book on fingerprint classification. As early as 1880, another Englishman, Henry Faulds, had been writing about the use of finger marks (latent prints) as a method of placing suspects at the scenes of crimes. When Mr. and Mrs. Borden were brutally beaten to death in Fall River, the so-called "exchange principle"--conceived by the French chemist Edmond Locard--that a criminal leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime and takes part of it with him--had not evolved from theory into practice. In 1901, nine years after Lizzie Borden's arrest, scientists in Germany discovered a way to identify and group human blood, a forensic technique that, had it existed in 1892, may have changed the outcome of the Borden case.

     The all-male jury at Lizzie Borden's spectator-packed trial, without being presented with physical evidence linking the 32-year-old defendant to the bludgeoned and bloodied bodies, and believing that upper-middle-class women were too genteel for such brutality, found her not guilty. Had expert witnesses identified the stain on her dress as human blood, and matched a bloody crime scene latent to one of her fingers, the evidence, albeit circumstantial, may have convinced the jurors of her guilt. Assuming that she did in fact commit the double murder, Lizzie, confronted by investigators in possession of such damning, physical evidence, may have confessed, or in the very least, made an incriminating remark.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann

     In 1935, when Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany living in the Bronx went on trial in Flemington, New Jersey for the March 1, 1932 murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, America had confidence in forensic science, and considered it the wave of the future. Because no one had seen the 35-year-old defendant climb the homemade, wooden extension ladder to the second story nursery window at the Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, prosecutors didn't possess direct evidence of his guilt. Moreover, no one knew exactly how Hauptmann had killed the baby--had he been strangled, suffocated, or bludgeoned to death?--or even exactly where the murder took place. (A truck driver who had pulled over to relieve himself along the road, found the baby's remains in a shallow grave about two miles from the Lindbergh house.) If Hauptmann were to be convicted, it would have to be entirely on physical evidence. In other words, jurors, based on the physical evidence and its expert analysis, would have to infer his guilt.

     Having eluded detection for two and a half years following the hand-off of $50,000 in ransom money to a shadowy figure in a Bronx cemetery, the kidnapper had been passing the ransom bills, identified by their recorded serial numbers, around New York City. In September 1934, a squad made up of FBI agents, troopers from the New Jersey State Police, and officers with the New York City Police Department, pulled Hauptmann out of his car in Manhattan as he drove from his rented house in the Bronx to Wall Street where he had lost $25,000 in the stock market. From his wallet, the arresting officers recovered one of the ransom bills, and back at his house, found bundles of the ransom money--totaling $14,000--hidden in his garage. Confronted with this and other circumstantial evidence of his guilt, Hauptmann, a low-grade sociopath, refused to confess.

     At Hauptmann's January 1935 trial, the most publicized and celebrated event of its kind in America, and perhaps the world, eight of the country's most prominent questioned document examiners testified that Hauptmann had written the note left in the nursery as well as the fourteen ransom negotiation letters sent to the Lindberghs prior to the cemetery payoff. A federal wood expert from Wisconsin took the stand and identified a board from the kidnap ladder as having come from Hauptmann's attic floor. This witness also matched tool marks on the ladder with test marks from the blade of Hauptmann's wood plane. (Although a carpenter by trade, Hauptmann had not used his tools since the ransom payoff in April 1932.)

     On February 14, 1935, the jury, based upon Hauptmann's possession of the ransom money, and the physical evidence linking him to the extortion documents and the kidnap ladder, found him guilty. On April 3, 1936, following a series of appeals, prison personnel at the state penitentiary in Trenton, New Jersey strapped him into the electric chair and threw the switch. The handful of protestors gathered outside the death house, when informed of Hauptmann's execution, went home.

O. J. Simpson

     Sixty years after Hauptmann's execution, detectives in Los Angeles arrested O. J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The blooding knifings occurred at a time when most big city detectives had at least some college education, and months of police academy training. Human blood could not only be identified as such and grouped, it could be traced, through DNA science, to an individual donor. Unlike the Borden murders, the double homicide in California produced identifiable blood stains, drops and pools at the death site, in Simpson's vehicle, and inside his house. The prolonged, nationally televised trial featured the testimony of DNA analysts, crime scene technicians, blood spatter interpretation witnesses, footwear impression experts, and forensic pathologists. The Simpson trial introduced forensic DNA science to the American public, and could have been a showcase for forensic science in general. Instead, the case featured investigative bungling, batteries of opposing experts, prosecutorial incompetence, and a jury either confounded by the conflicting science or simply biased in favor of the defendant, found Simpson not guilty of a crime most people believe he committed.

     Like Lizzie Borden, O. J. Simpson, while acquitted, was not exonerated. He was destined to live out the rest of his life in that gray area between innocence and guilt. In the Borden case, prosecutors did the best they could with what they had. In the Simpson case, the state squandered cutting edge science and an embarrassment of riches in physical, crime scene evidence. Moreover, the prosecution let the defense pick the jury. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the Simpson case is this: in a time of cutting edge science and relatively high-paid, well-educated police officers, criminal investigation has become a lost art, and forensic science, a failed promise.

Hanging Out With Heroin Addicts

One of the entrancing aspects of the heroin world is the sudden access you have to people different from yourself--people of other races, cultures, income levels. In line at a dope spot you may find yourself talking to someone you'd cross a deserted street to avoid, and you can find yourself sharing drugs with someone much older/younger, much richer/poorer and much more famous/obscure. I've been asked by movie stars if I know where to, uh, you know, like. I've also chatted with people who live in housing projects as we waited in line for our little bags.

Ann Marlowe, How To Stop Time, 1999

The Fake Memoir

     How many people take themselves seriously enough, or think they are important or interesting enough, to write a memoir? (An autobiography is a full account of the author's life while a memoir presents just a slice of it. EG: "How I Climbed Mr. Everest" or "My Role in the Brinks Robbery," or "How I lost 600 Pounds Eating Donuts and Snicker Bars.") Judging from bookstore inventories, a lot of people. One would be hard pressed to name a well-known politician, entertainment figure, television host, professional athelete or writer who has not written (or had ghost-written) a memoir.

     Because so many memoirs are ghost-written, especially books "authored" by celebrities, the term "author," in the context of this genre, is rather ambiguous. Moreover, when reading a memoir, one can never be sure if the book in hand is fiction, nonfiction, or a blend of fact and fantasy. In recent years several best-selling memoirs have turned out to be, at their core, fiction, and therefore fakes. Examples include memoirs written about the holocaust, crime, addiction, sports, and coming of age. Since 1996, three major holocaust memoirs have been shown to be heavily fictitious.

     Greg Mortenson's 1996 memoir (co-authored with David Oliver Relinhis), called "Three Cups of Tea," a supposedly true story of how Mortenson's non-profit institute established more than 170 schools for girls in Pakistan, sold more than three million copies worldwide. In April 2011, CBS's "60-Minutes" reported that the memoir was a fabrication and that Mortenson had used his charitable organization as a "private ATM machine."

    Many fake memoirists want the freedom to create and take advantage of the power of nonfiction. Readers like true stories, but not all true stories are interesting. This is where fiction--and literary fraud--enters the picture, and why so many book buyers now question the integrity of the genre.

Science Fiction: An Acquired Taste

Science fiction is often accused (by those who don't like it) of being unnecessarily esoteric. You can't understand the stuff, we are told, unless you've already read a fat pile of it. Science Fiction writers use devices not readily comprehensible to an outside reader. Take faster-than-light travel, hyperspace, fourth and fifth dimensions. The truth is that anything worth knowing demands effort, and the science fiction understandable only to science fiction readers is almost invariably the very best kind written.

Gordon Eklund in Epoch, edited by Roger Elwood and Robert Silverberg, 1975 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Suge Knight Hit-And-Run Murder Case

     Marion "Suge" Knight was born and raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton. In 1984, he enrolled at the University of Nevada on a football scholarship. Following college, he played briefly for the Los Angeles Rams as a defensive lineman. His stint as a bodyguard for singer Bobby Brown provided him an inside look at the music industry that led to his co-founding, in 1991, Death Row Records. His roster of performers included Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur.

     In 1995, one of Knight's employees, Jake Robles, was shot to death at a party in Atlanta, Georgia. Knight, who attended the event, blamed the murder on rapper P. Diddy's bodyguard. The shooting marked the beginning of the so-called east coast/west coast rap war.

     In 1996, Knight was behind the wheel of a vehicle in Las Vegas with rapper Tupac Shakur riding in the passenger's seat. An assailant fired a bullet into the car killing Shakur. On the night of Shakur's murder, police arrested Knight for assaulting a man in a Las Vegas hotel room. That lead to a five-year stretch in prison.

     Knight returned to prison in 2002 after violating the terms of his parole by associating with a known gang member. The following year, police arrested him for punching a parking lot attendant outside a Hollywood, California nightclub.

     In 2005, Knight became the victim of a crime himself when, while attending a party in Miami in honor of Kanye West's appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, a gunman shot him in the right leg. The following year, his legal problems and the departure of his top rapper forced him to file for bankruptcy.

     At one-thirty on the morning of August 25, 2014, while attending a MTV Video Music Awards party in West Hollywood hosted by singer Chris Brown, a gunman shot Knight six times. Two other partygoers were wounded in the shooting spree. No arrests were made in that case.

     In October 2014, Beverly Hills police arrested Knight and comedian Micah "Katt" Williams for allegedly stealing a camera that belonged to a female celebrity photographer. They pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 29, 2015, Suge Knight's association with crime and violence came to a head in his hometown of Compton, California when he showed up on a movie set where rappers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were working. The intruder ignored security personnel who asked him to leave. After fighting with two members of the film crew, Knight drove off in his red F-150 Ford Raptor, a very large pickup truck.

     Not long after leaving the movie set, at three that afternoon, Knight got into another fight with two men in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant called Tam's Burgers. The fight ended with Knight running over the men with his truck. He killed 55-year-old Terry Carter, a man he knew, and injured "Training Day" actor Cle "Bone" Sloane, 51.

     Police later found Knight's truck in a West Los Angeles parking lot.

     According to Lieutenant John Corina with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, "It looked like Mr. Knight drove backwards into the victims then lurched forward and hit them again. The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act."

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Knight with criminal homicide and hit and run. On Friday night January 30, 2015, Knight, accompanied by his lawyer, turned himself to the sheriff's office. He smoked a cigar and smiled at photographers as though this was not a big deal. Later that night, after questioning him, Officers booked Knight into the Los Angeles County jail. The judge set his bond at $2 million.

     James Blatt, Knight's attorney, told reporters that his client had accidentally killed a friend and injured another man as he fled from being attacked. The lawyer did not explain the hit-and-run aspect of his client's behavior. "We are confident," he said, "that once the police investigation is completed, Mr. Knight will be totally exonerated."

     On March 20, 2015, after the prosecutor upped the charge against Knight to first-degree murder, the judge raised the defendant's bond to $25 million. Upon hearing this, Knight fainted, hit his head on the defense table, and knocked himself out. Paramedics rushed him to a nearby hospital where he recovered quickly and was sent back to jail. (The bail was later reduced to $10 million.)

     Because Knight fired his first four lawyers, his murder trail remained on hold and he remained in jail. At one point, Knight claimed that he was being tortured in jail by inmates. In January 2016, Knight's fifth lawyer, former prosecutor Stephen L. Schwartz, announced that the boxing champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather had agreed to post his client's $10 million bond. If this were true, Mayweather did not come through on the promise, and Knight remained behind bars.

    Suge Knight's murder trial, set for January 8, 2018, was again postponed after members of his legal team--Thaddeus Culpepper and Mathew Fletcher--were indicted for attempting to bribe witnesses. The next trial date, April 2018, was delayed when the defendant was hospitalized for eye surgery. On April 25, 2018, a Los Angeles County judge set the new murder trial date for September 24, 2018.

    On September 20, 2018, just days before his murder trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, Suge Knight pleaded no contest to the reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter. In return for his plea, the judge sentenced Knight to 28 years in prison. 

Waking Up With Someone's Hand in Your Pants

     On June 10, 2012, Janarol Ali Dickens boarded a Delta flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. The 32-year-old asked the girl next to him if she wanted to watch a movie with him. She declined and went to sleep. When the 19-year-old woke up mid-flight, Dickens' hand was in her pants underneath her underwear. In addition, the victim discovered that Dickens had pulled her arm onto his lap. The alarmed passenger alerted a flight crew member who placed her into another seat.

     Upon arrival in Amsterdam, officers with the Dutch Royal Military questioned Dickens who denied any sexual contact between him and the complainant. The authorities in Amsterdam released the accused molester without charging him with a crime. The woman Dickens had sexually assaulted filed a criminal complaint against him when she returned to the U.S. Because the offense took place on an international flight that originated in the U.S., the federal government had jurisdiction in the case.

     On April 22, 2014, two years after the assault, Dickens returned to the United States. His flight landed in Miami where FBI agents took him into custody at the airport.

     To the FBI agents, Dickens denied fondling the woman on the plane two years earlier. But after further questioning he admitted that he had put his hand inside the victim's pants for about ten seconds. (As though brevity in this case was relevant.) Dickens claimed he had placed the offending hand outside the girl's underwear. (Again, not  relevant.) He admitted that his neighbor on the plane had not given him permission to touch her.

     A federal prosecutor charged Dickens with Abusive Sexual Conduct. Dickens posted his bond and walked out of jail shortly after his arrest.

     In March 2015, following his guilty plea, the federal district judge sentenced Dickens to two years in prison.

Why Trust the FBI?

If FBI agents can't be trusted to wiretap under the law, why trust them to carry weapons and make arrests?

Robert Kessler, former FBI agent and author of books about the FBI

The "You-Should-Write-a-Book-About" Syndrome

My last biography is no sooner in the stores when the letters start coming suggesting a subject for my next one. The grandmothers of these letter writers are crying from the grave, it seems, for literary recognition. It is bewildering, the number of salty grandfathers, aunts, and uncles that languish unappreciated.

Catherine Drinker Bowen, Adventures of a Biographer, 1959 


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

Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 2014

The Trial and Tribulation Children's Book

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

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Dr. Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo: The Case of the Poisoned Coffee

     Dr. Ana Maria Gonzales-Angulo and her colleague (and lover) Dr. George Blumenschein were on the staff at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Gonzales-Angulo, a breast cancer oncologist had attended medical school at the University of Cauca in Colombia, completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the Mount Sinai Medical center in Miami, then finished her training at the University of Texas Medical School. She had been with the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center since 2003. Dr. Blumenschein graduated from Vanderbilt University and the University of Texas Medical School. As a specialist in lung, heart and neck cancers, he had been on the cancer center staff since 2000.

     On May 29, 2013, a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney's Office, based upon information received from investigators with the University of Texas Police Department, charged Dr. Gonzales-Angulo with aggravated assault. The doctor stood accused of poisoning Dr. Blumenschein's coffee with ethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze and medical research.

     According to the criminal complaint, the poisoning took place in Dr. Gonzales-Angulo's Houston apartment. Dr. Blumenschein, after sipping a cup of coffee made by Dr. Gonzales-Angulo, complained of its sweet taste. Dr. Gonzales-Angulo allegedly informed him that she had added Splenda to his drink and urged him to finish it. After drinking a second cup of Dr. Gonzales-Angulo's coffee that evening, Dr. Blumenschein began slurring his speech.

     Sixteen hours after drinking the two cups of coffee, paramedics rushed Dr. Blumenschein to a nearby emergency room where doctors diagnosed him with central nervous system damage, cardiopulmonary problems, and renal (kidney) failure. (The doctor would subsequently undergo dialysis treatment.)

     Three toxicological tests of Dr. Blumenschein's urine revealed the presence of crystals consistent with ethylene glycol poisoning. (By the time the toxicological analysis took place, the ethylene glycol had been metabolized.)

     Police officers booked Dr. Gonzales-Angulo into the Harris County Jail on May 30, 2013. Shortly thereafter she posted her $50,000 bond and was released. Officials at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center placed the doctor on administrative leave. Her attorney, Derek Hollingsworth, told reporters that his client "is completely innocent. She is a distinguished citizen and scientist," he said, "and these allegations are totally inconsistent with her personal and professional life."

     In September 2013, a Harris County Grand Jury indicted Dr. Gonzales-Angulo on one count of aggravated assault.

     At the September 2014 Gonzales-Angulo trial, the assistant district attorney put on 22 witnesses. One of these witnesses included a man who said the defendant, just weeks before Dr. Blumenschein's poisoning, had boasted of having killed others in her native Colombia. The prosecutor, in referring to Dr. Gonzales-Angulo in his closing argument, said, "You can't fix evil.

     The Gonzales-Angulo defense consisted mainly of the argument that the prosecution, in this circumstantial case, had not carried its burden of proof.

     On September 26, 2014, a jury in a Houston, Texas courtroom took less than six hours to find Dr. Gonzalez-Angulo guilty as charged. The judge sentenced her to ten years in prison.

     Gonzales-Angulo could have been sentenced up to 99 years in prison, but instead was eligible for parole in 2019. As of this writing, she is still behind bars.

A Burglar Brings Down a Pedophile

     Police in Jaen, Spain [in December 2013] arrested a pedophile after a burglar who broke into the suspect's home handed over his collection of child pornography. The burglar anonymously called the police and said he left the pornography in a car, along with a note giving the alleged pedophile's address."I have had the misfortune to come into possession of these tapes and feel obliged to hand them over and let you do your job, so that you can lock this creep up for life," wrote the burglar.

     Police said they identified the suspected pedophile as a trainer for a soccer team and he allegedly recorded himself sexually abusing children around the age of ten. At least one of his victims--a girl now sixteen--said she had been abused since the time she was ten.

"Pedophile Arrested After Burglar Finds Child Pornography," UPI, December 19, 2013 

Objectivity in Forensic Science

     In order to maintain scientific objectivity, forensic science practitioners have to rise above the adversarial nature of the trial process. They have to be true to their science. This can be especially difficult when their conclusions conflict with the law enforcement view of the case. Staying at arm's length from law enforcement is much easier for experts in the private sector. Crime lab employees who get too involved in the overall criminal investigation and outcome of a case are more vulnerable to prosecutorial pressure and influence.

     Keeping a firewall between forensic science and criminal prosecution is extremely difficult. It's easy to understand, for example, how a forensic pathologist in a medical examiner's office might lose scientific objectivity when he is involved in a case of child abuse or suspected infanticide. Forensic scientists should not think of themselves as part of a law enforcement team. They should think of themselves as independent scientists divorced from the outcome of a case. 

The Art of Written Humor

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

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

The Dramatic Biography

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

Carl Rollyson, Biography, 2008

The Importance of a Novel's Ending

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

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

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Kenneth Markman: The Fall Of A Drug Dealing Defense Attorney

     Kenneth Markman, after graduating from UCLA and Loyola Law School, began practicing criminal defense law in 1991. Between 2000 and 2010, the State Bar Association of California suspended him twice for not paying his membership dues. It was during this period that the attorney went from representing drug addicts and dealers to becoming one.

     On October 21, 2011, Markman was in the attorney's room on the 11th floor of the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. He had scheduled a meeting with his client, Jorge Zaragoza. Zaragoza, a drug-dealing gang member with a history of violent crime, had been convicted of attempted carjacking. In a few days a judge would be handing down Zaragoza's sentence.

     Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office suspected that Markman was smuggling narcotics to his clients who were incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail. As the attorney waited for his opportunity to speak with Zaragoza, a sheriff's deputy accompanied by a drug-sniffing dog, entered the room. The dog immediately "alerted" to the presence of drugs on Markman's  person and in his briefcase.

     From the inside pocket of the attorney's suit jacket, the deputy removed a package wrapped tightly with electrical tape. The bundle contained twenty-six balloons of heroin and methamphetamine. Markman's briefcase contained a quantity of marijuana and three mini-hypodermic syringes. 

     Charged with seven drug-related felony counts, the attorney was booked into the county Inmate Reception Center. The judge set his bail at $145,000. If convicted of trying to smuggle $30,000 worth of narcotics into the Los Angeles County Jail, Markman faced up to four years in prison.

     The accused attorney posted his bond and was released from custody. On November 8, 2011, a security officer screening visitors to the Antelope Valley Court House noticed something suspicious as Markman's briefcase passed through the X-ray machine. After the attorney grabbed his wallet out of the tray and tried to flee, a Los Angeles Sheriff's deputy caught up to him before he got out of the building. In his wallet the officer found two bundles of rock cocaine. The attorney's briefcase contained several pieces of drug paraphernalia.

     After being booked again for trying to smuggle drugs to an incarcerated client, Markman made his $25,000 bail.

     In February 2013, Kenneth Markman pleaded no contest to the October 2011 drug smuggling charges. Pursuant to a plea deal, the judge, a month later, sentenced the suspended attorney to a year in the Los Angeles County Jail. That sentence included three years of probation which involved one year of drug treatment.

     The State Bar Association of California, following a hearing in August 2013, disbarred Mr. Markman. 

Can O. J. Simpson be Defamed?

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

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

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

     Attorneys for the hotel-casino argued that O. J. Simpson was a public person who had a reputation of being a robber and a man who had murdered two people. In other words, O. J. Simpson didn't have a reputation to defame. The defendant also requested that the case be handled by private arbitration.

      On January 20, 2020, a pretrial commissioner (lower court magistrate) ruled that the Simpson lawsuit could go forward in a Clark County District Court. 

Deadly Women

One in nearly every six serial killers in the U. S. is a woman, acting as a solo perpetrator or an accomplice. Of a total of about 400 serial killers identified between 1800 and 1995, nearly 16 percent were females--a total of 62 killers. While that might not be an overwhelming majority, it is not an insignificant number either--these 62 women collectively killed between 400 and 600 victims--men, women, and children. Three female serial killers alone--Genene Jones, Belle Gunness, and Jane Toppan--might account collectively for as many as 200 suspected murders.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

The Romance Novel's Big Scene

     One of the most critically important moments in the first section of your Romance novel is the first meeting of the hero and heroine. This moment may be the first time the two of them lay eyes on each other. Or it may be their first meeting after a long separation, if they've had a previous relationship. Or they may see each other regularly, but this is the first meeting that is significant to the plot and conflict--the first encounter connected with the event that is going to change their lives.

     This first meeting sets the stage for the interaction of the rest of the book. If the readers don't see it happening, they will feel cheated and left out, and won't likely be involved enough with the characters to want to continue reading.

     Yet many beginning writers tell about the first meeting, rather than show it as it happens. Or they include just a couple of lines of dialogue between hero and heroine, then jump to a scene hours later where the heroine is telling her best friend in five pages of dialogue how gorgeous the hero is. Or they have the hero think about how he reacted to the heroine.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

The Writer's Journal

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

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

In "Journalism," Curiosity Has Been Replaced by Hot Air

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

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Angels of Death Cases: Serial Murder by Poisoning

Murder by Poison

     Most people who die from poisoning do so accidentally. As a mode of criminal homicide, poisoning, compared to guns, knives, blunt objects, and ligatures, is rare. According to FBI statistics, out of the 187,000 criminal homicides committed from 1990 to 2000, only 346 involved poison. During the period 2001 to 2006 the figure rose to 523. But forensic toxicologists, the experts educated and trained to detect and identify substances harmful to the human body, believe that homicidal poisoning is more common than crime statistics suggest. For example, in 2002, 26,435 people died of poisoning. While only 63 of these deaths were ruled as murder, 3,336 were listed under manner of death as "undetermined." In other words, forensic pathologists considered these poisoning deaths as suspicious.

     Nobody knows how many people are being murdered by poison because most of these deaths are classified as naturally caused fatalities. In most of these cases, there are no outward signs of homicide. There are no bullet holes, stab wounds, cuts, bruises, or marks around the neck that signify that these deaths were not natural. In most instances, because these deaths are not outwardly suspicious, no autopsies are conducted. These victims are embalmed, buried, or cremated. End of story. Occasionally, suspicions may arise when, say, an estranged spouse receives a large life insurance payment, and a week later, remarries. Money and sex are common motives for murder, but motive is not evidence. The evidence of a homicidal poisoning is the poison. If the toxic substance is not detected and identified in the course of an autopsy, the killer will get away with murder. Exhumations are rare.

     Poisons are seldom detected where clinical (rather than criminal) autopsies are performed by regular hospital pathologists. This is because the pathologist is not thinking homicide, or looking for poison. Unless a specific poison is suspected, the chance of random discovery is unlikely. Arsenic, because it is readily available, tasteless, and can be administered in a series of small doses that causes a period of illness before death, is the weapon of choice among those who murder by poison. Within 24 hours of ingestion, arsenic moves from the blood into the victim's liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs and GI tract. In two to four weeks traces can be found in the victim's hair, nails, and skin. From there, traces of the poison settle in the bone. Thirty minutes after ingesting a small dose of arsenic, the victim will experience a metallic taste, garlic smelling breath, headaches, muscle cramping, vertigo, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If the victim doesn't die within a few hours from shock the poisoned person may die a few days later from kidney problems. If the victim survives two to four weeks, in addition to horrible suffering, he will start losing his hair. When death finally comes, the likely cause will be identified as renal failure. Other common poisons used in the commission of homicide include strychnine (rat poison), morphine, and Demerol. Antifreeze (ethyzene glycol) has become a relatively popular weapon in murder-by-poison cases.

Angel of Death Cases

     Deaths by homicidal poisonings that commonly do not raise suspicion, and are therefore misdiagnosed as natural fatalities, involve hospital patients who are elderly, or already ill. The death of an old or gravely ill patient, almost by definition, is a natural death. This is why physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers who kill--so-called "angels of death"--have gotten away will murdering so many people.

     Normally, homicide by poison is not an impulsive crime. But in the hospital, or home for the elderly, it is a crime of opportunity. The angel of death has easy access to the poison and to the victim. There is no need for extensive preparation and planning. Moreover, there is no apparent or obvious motive for the homicide because these killers do not receive any direct personal gain out of the crime. The homicidal motives associated with angels of death are therefore pathological, and hidden. This type of serial killer is difficult to spot because angels of death are not manifestly insane. They possess personality disorders that compel them to murder out of generalized rage, boredom, or the impulse to play God.

     As murderers, angels of death are cold-blooded, careful, and vain. This makes them hard to catch. Quite often in their employment histories they have been terminated from previous healthcare jobs. When too many patients die on a nurse's or orderly's watch, and the employee comes under suspicion, he or she is fired. Healthcare workers suspected of murdering patients often quit, and get a similar job somewhere else. The tendency, among healthcare administrators, is to deny the obvious, and pass the problem on to the next employer. Over the years, dozens of angels of death have been caught but only after large numbers of patients have been murdered. Given the nature of the crime and the limited role forensic science plays in these cases, it is reasonable to assume that the small number of angel of death convictions represents the mere tip of a rather large homicidal iceberg.

Angel of Death Donald Harvey

     In 1975, after working briefly as a hospital orderly in London, Kentucky, 23-year-old Donald Harvey took a job with the Veteran's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. As the years passed, a pattern emerged. When Harvey was on duty, patients died. Finally, after ten years, and the deaths of more than 100 patients on his watch, the orderly was fired. He was terminated because several hospital workers suspected he was poisoning his patients. After Harvey left the facility, the death rate plummeted. Terminating Donald Harvey turned out to be good medicine, at least at the VA hospital.

     Shortly after his firing, Harvey was hired across town at Drake Memorial Hospital where the death rate began to soar. As he had done at the VA facility, Harvey was murdering patients by either lacing their food with arsenic, or injecting cyanide into their gastric tubes. The deaths at Drake, like those at the VA hospital, were ruled as naturally caused fatalities. While suspicions were aroused it was hard to imagine that this friendly, helpful little man who was so charming and popular with members of his victims' families, could be a stone-cold serial killer.

     As clever and careful as Harvey was, he made a mistake when he poisoned John Powell, a patient recovering from a motorcycle accident. Under Ohio law, victims of fatal traffic accidents must be autopsied. At Powell's autopsy, an assistant detected the odor of almonds, the telltale sign of cyanide. This was fortunate because most people are unable to detect this scent. The forensic pathologist ordered toxicological tests that revealed that John Powell had died from a lethal dose of cyanide. Harvey had been the last person to see Mr. Powell alive, and John Powell would be the last person he would kill.

     The Cincinnati police arrested Harvey and searched his apartment where they found jars filled with arsenic and cyanide and books on poisoning. However, the Hamilton County prosecutor believed that without a confession, there might not be enough evidence to convince a jury of Harvey's guilt. The suspect, on the other hand, was worried that if convicted, he would be sentenced to death. So Harvey and the prosecutor struck a deal. In return for a life sentence, Donald Harvey would confess to all of the murders he could remember. Over a period of several days, he confessed to killing, in Kentucky and Ohio, 130 patients. When asked why he had killed all of those helpless victims, the best answer Harvey could muster was that he must have a "screw loose." Forensic pathologists familiar with the case speculated that the murders had given Harvey, an otherwise ordinary and insignificant person, a sense of power over the lives of others. Harvey pleaded guilty to several murders and was sentenced to life in prison.

     The old saying that "murder will out" does not always apply when the weapon of choice is poison.       

Blue Collar Versus White Collar Crime

Essentially, the term "white collar" crime is regrettable. In my view, it is the product of class snobbery, and is the Edsel of criminological terminology. Let's say the socially connected president of a prestigious savings and loan institution is indicted and convicted on a charge of stock fraud, manipulation and theft. So we call the act a white collar crime. But if the same sort of crime is committed by an Italian-American Mafioso who used to make his living by hijacking trucks, then we call it something else. But the act is the same, whether the perpetrators wear blue collars or white! On top of this, the term obscures the additional fact that the so-called white collar criminals are increasingly allied with the blue collars on many of these criminal ventures. Why is the fence a blue collar criminal and receivers of stolen property lily-white? Why is the man who hijacks a truckload of shrimp with a pistol inferior, in some sense of terminology, to the manufacturer who robs the public with his defective products?

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Crimes the Media Loves

Media focus on the most extreme variants of criminal behavior often causes people to forget that most crime does not involve stranger abductions, sadistic torture, chopping off of body parts, or using commercial airliners as bombs. Although the real-life catalog of bizarre and extreme crimes is filled with horror, tragedy, and untold human harm and loss, it includes an even longer list of more benign offenses that most TV producers would have no interest in devoting a one-hour prime time show to.

Jacqueline B. Helfgott, Criminal Behavior, 2008

Mae West's Short Runs as a Playwright

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

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

Reading Your Sentences Out Loud

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

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Lean Versus Flabby Writing

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

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

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

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Middle School Pedophile and The Teachers Who Supported Him

     In the spring of 2013, Neal Erickson, an eighth grade science and computer education teacher at the Rose City Middle School in northern Michigan, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conduct with a male student. Back in 2006, Erickson had ten sexual encounters with the eighth grader at the teacher's house. (The authorities learned of these sex offenses several years later when an anonymous tipster sent the police an old photograph of the student that in some fashion incriminated the teacher. The victim, at the time of the guilty plea, was attending college. Mr. Erickson had left teaching.)

     In anticipation of the former teacher's sentencing, six Rose City educators and two of their retired colleagues wrote letters to the judge on Neal Erickson's behalf asking for leniency. Amy Huber Eagan wrote: "I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all of the circumstances surrounding the case." (What circumstances could possibly mitigate this crime?)

     Rose City teacher Sally Campbell, in her letter to the judge, wrote: "Neal made a mistake. (Losing your wallet is a mistake. Stealing someone's wallet is not.) He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake [again the mistake] and ended it years before someone sent something to the authorities which began the legal process."

     Middle school teacher Harriett Coe wrote this on Erickson's behalf: Neal has plead (sic) guilty to his one criminal offense but he's not a predator. (One could argue that any time a teacher has sex with a student, the teacher, by definition, is a predator.) He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends."

     On July 15, 2013, Neal Erickson's sentencing day, Judge Michael Baumgartner looked out over his courtroom and noticed that the defendant's teaching supporters were sitting with members of his family. Speaking directly to Erickson, Judge Baumgartner said, "I'm appalled and ashamed that the community would rally around you. What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher."

     Judge Baumgartner sentenced Neal Erickson to fifteen years to thirty years in prison. The former teacher's courtroom cheerleaders reacted with shock and disgust.

     Following the sentencing hearing, one of Erickson's supporters told a reporter with The Detroit News that Judge Baumgartner had socked it to the teacher because he was a man who molested a boy. Had the defendant in this case been a woman, she may have gotten off light. (This may be true, but it didn't mitigate Erickson's crime.)

     Not long after Judge Baumgartner handed down the sentence, someone burned down the garage owned by the victim's parents, John and Lori Janczewski. An unknown person also spray-painted a threatening message on their house.

     Overall, citizens of this rural community agreed with Judge Baumgartner's hardline approach to pedophilia in the local school. Many asked the school superintendent to fire Erickson's teacher friends. Several parents said that if these sex offense cheerleaders were not sacked, they would take their children out of the school system.

     As could be expected, the embattled Erickson supporters responded to the public's outrage by making threats of their own. If the school superintendent tried to fire them, they would fight back by suing the cash-strapped school district. These pedophile supporting educators would not go down without a fight. Moreover, taxpayers and parents had a lot of nerve trying to interfere with public education.

     None of the teachers who supported and defended Neal Erickson lost their jobs over this case. Following the scandal, parents pulled 87 students out of the school.

Forensic Hypnosis: Investigative Tool or Junk Science?

     Advocates of forensic hypnosis claim that crime victims and witnesses, under a hypnotic state, can remember events they have forgotten, and sharpen memories that are still with them. Forensic hypnotists are often brought into cases to help, for example, a witness or victim recall a license plate number, or an odometer reading. Investigators also use the technique to retrieve more detailed descriptions of suspects.

     Supporters of forensic hypnosis point to cases where its use has solved crimes. Detractors (myself included) can point to instances where hypnotically induced information turned out to be inaccurate, and even harmful.

     In the 1970s I was tangentially involved in an arson-murder case where a forensically hypnotized witness/victim identified an innocent man as the fire setter. In one of my own cold case murder investigations a witness I had someone forensically hypnotize, produced information that led to a wild goose chase. In Pennsylvania and several other states, hypnotically induced testimony, because it is unreliable, is not admissible in court.

     A lot can go wrong when a victim or a witness is questioned while in a hypnotic state. The hypnotist can unwittingly suggest information to the subject that taints the results. Under hypnosis, the personal beliefs and prejudices of the interviewee can seep into remembered accounts and descriptions.

     Researchers have found that people under hypnosis are fully capable of lying, and the process can bring to the surface a subject's false beliefs. Because of these and other problems with this investigative technique, I am not a fan of forensic hypnosis, particularly when practiced by psychologists who make their livings putting clients under to help them stop smoking, lose weight, stop taking drugs, or get off alcohol. Composite sketches based on the memories of hypnotized eyewitnesses are, at best, useless. In the practice of criminal investigation, forensic hypnotists should be placed in the same category as astrologists and psychic detectives.  

The Incurable Pedophile

Everything I read said that pedophiles weren't treatable--they never stopped being pedophiles no matter what was done for them, or to them. There'd been fads where they'd tried everything from brain surgery to chemical castration to "aversion" therapy in which after he's been "cured," the pedophile is supposed to snap a rubber band against his wrist every time he wants to rape a child. [Perhaps the rubber band was on the wrong organ.] Occasionally there have even been cases in which physical castration has been considered--as if removing a body part could change what someone is, as if they wouldn't just use Coke bottles or broomsticks instead. None of it has worked. The worst part is the way the experimenters have found out they failed: at the expense of children. [Notwithstanding the universal realization that pedophiles are incurable serial offenders, they are never sentenced to life in prison.]

Alice Vachass, Sex Crimes, 1994 

The Semicolon

A semicolon can be called in when a comma is not enough. There are times when a comma is already used too much in one sentence, when it can't do its job effectively anymore. There are also times when multiple thoughts in a sentence need more separation than merely a comma, need more time and space to be digested. But a period is sometimes too strong, provides too much separation. The semicolon can step in and save the day, allow a more substantial pause while not severing thoughts completely.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Groucho Marx on the Art of Politics

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

Groucho Marx, 1947

Should Journalists Edit Quotes?

One time a newspaper sent us to a morgue to get a story on a woman whose body was being held for identification. A man believed to be her husband was brought in. Somebody pulled the sheet back; the man took one agonizing look, and cried, "My God, it's her!" When we reported this grim incident, the editor diligently changed it to "My God, it's she!"

E. B. White, The Second Tree From the Corner, 1954

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Can A Liar Beat the Polygraph?

     In order for a polygraph (lie detection) test result to be accurate, the instrument must be in good working order; the polygraph examiner must be properly trained and experienced in question formation and line-chart interpretation; and the subject of the test--the examinee--must be a willing participant in the process. Not  everyone is suited for polygraph testing, including people who are ill, on drugs, under the influence of alcohol, extremely obese, retarded, or mentally unbalanced. (In America that's a lot of people.)  Criminal suspects who are emotionally exhausted from a police interrogation do not make good polygraph subjects. Children and very old people should not be placed on the lie detector either.

     The polygraph instrument measures and records the examinee's involuntary, physiological (bodily) responses to a set of ten yes or no questions. The examinee should know in advance what he will be asked. Based upon changes in the examinee's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing patterns, and galvanic skin response, the examiner will draw conclusions on whether the subject told the truth or lied. Polygraph examiners are not recognized in the criminal court system as expert witnesses, therefore polygraph results are not admissible as evidence of guilt in criminal cases.

     Congress passed a federal law in 1988 that prohibited the use of the polygraph as a private sector pre-employment screening measure. It is widely used, however, in law enforcement as an investigative tool, and as a way to screen job applicants.

     Over the years, more and more local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have required job applicants to submit to polygraph tests. These law enforcement job candidates are typically asked if they've ever sold drugs, stolen significant amounts of money or merchandise from their employers, or are in serious debt. Employment candidates may also be asked if they have omitted anything important from their resumes or job applications.

     In 2013, more than 73,000 Americans were either given polygraph tests as part of the federal job application process, or were tested to determine if they should be allowed to keep their jobs. Federal agencies involved in national security such as the National Security Administration, the FBI, and the CIA, periodically put employees on the polygraph to make sure they haven't gone rogue. Other federal agencies that require periodic screening tests include the DEA, ICE, the Secret Service, ATF, and the Postal Inspection Service.

     Not everyone is a fan of the polygraph technique. Generally, there are two kinds of polygraph critic. There are the anti-polygraph people who object to this form of lie detection because they believe the instrument and the technique is junk science and therefore no more reliable than a flip of a coin. The other group objects to polygraph use because they believe the instrument is utilized to violate the privacy of those tested. Critics in this camp accuse polygraph examiners, and the people who hire them, of abusing the process by digging for dirt that is unrelated to the job application process.

     Over the years there have been numerous high-profile examples of FBI and CIA spies who avoided detection for years even though they were subjected to regular polygraph testing. Aldrich Ames, the counterintelligence CIA officer convicted of spying in 1994, must have found a way to beat the polygraph screening test. (I do not believe that suspects in specific criminal cases can lie to competent examiners and get away with it.) This was also true of FBI agent Robert Hanssen who was convicted of thirteen counts of espionage in 2001.

     Russell Tice, the National Security Administration whistleblower who was one of the first to leak evidence of the NSA's spying on U.S. citizens, revealed that during his 20-year career in counterintelligence, he beat the polygraph a dozen times. Mr. Tice believed that due to political correctness and lawsuits, polygraph tests have become easier to manipulate. He has said that beating the employment screening examination had actually become easy. Over the years, Mr. Tice and others have published, in print and online, instructions on how to mislead polygraph examiners.

     Polygraph examiners ask what they call relevant, irrelevant, and control questions. Irrelevant questions such as "Have you ever eaten pasta?" are intended to set the baseline of a truthful response. Control questions are designed to create a baseline or point of reference for deceptive responses. To do that, polygraph examiners ask subjects questions likely to produce deceptive answers. In other words they want the subject to lie. For example: "Have you ever lied to your parents?" or "Have you ever cheated on a test?" Most subjects, when they answer "no" to these questions, are lying. Relevant questions are ones that directly address the point of the polygraph examination. In a national security employee screening test an employee with access to classified information might be asked if he or she has leaked classified documents to a journalist. To determine if the subject is telling the truth about not leaking information, the polygraph examiner compares the physiological responses to the relevant query with the subject's responses to the control and irrelevant questions.

     According to those who have made it their mission to teach people how to beat the polygraph, manipulation techniques, or so-called "countermeasures," center around how the examinee should respond to the control and relevant questions. In answering a control question designed to produce a deceitful physiological baseline, the subject, while telling the expected lie, should bite his tongue. The idea here is to cause the polygraph instrument to record a strong physiological reaction to the subject's lying. When asked a relevant question the answer to which will be a lie, the subject is instructed to find a way to distance himself from the question by daydreaming, counting backward, or slowing down his breathing.

     If this countermeasure works, the relatively mild responses to the relevant questions, when compared to the wild reactions to the control questions, might lead the polygraph examiner to conclude that the examinee told the truth.

     Law enforcement job applicants are better off simply telling the truth and hoping for the best. Very few people have the presence of mind and discipline to successfully employ these polygraph manipulation tricks. As for national security employees who are either spies or future whistleblowers, they have nothing to lose by trying these techniques. Notwithstanding Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and Russell Tice, fooling a competent polygraph examiner is a lot easier said than done. And that is the truth.

Blowing Smoke

     On Monday, January 27, 2020, in Lebanon, Tennessee, a town of 32,000 in the middle of the state 25 miles east of Nashville, Spencer Alan Boston, looking like a 1960's hippie, stood in front of Wilson County Judge Haywood Barry. The 20-year-old defendant had been charged with possession of marijuana and was in court to be sentenced.

     Before Judge Barry sentenced Mr. Boston, the defendant, while arguing for the legalization of marijuana, rolled a joint and lit it, filling the courtroom with marijuana smoke. Several people in the courtroom broke into laughter. The judge was not amused.

     On the spot, Judge Barry charged the pot advocate with possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct. The judge also held Spencer Boston in contempt of court, and sentenced him to 10 days in jail. As deputies led the pot smoker out of the courtroom in handcuffs, the man on his way to the slammer looked quite pleased with himself. Perhaps when Mr. Boston came off his marijuana high, he would see things differently. Perhaps not.

     Defense attorney are known to blow a lot of smoke in America's courtrooms. This time, however, it was the defendant who blew some smoke, the kind that sent him to jail.

U.S. Counterfeit Bills From China

U. S. Customs and Border Protection officers, on December 19, 2019, were asked by the Secret Service to inspect a rail container at the international port of entry that connects the cities of International Falls, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. The CBP officers seized 45 cartons containing 900,000 counterfeit $1 bills. The shipment had originated from China. The seizure was turned over to the Secret Service that determined the bills were counterfeit. 

Combining The Power of Facts and the Techniques of Fiction

I think narrative nonfiction is essentially a hybrid form, a marriage of the art of storytelling and the art of journalism--an attempt to make drama out of the observable world of real people, real places, and real events. It's a sophisticated form of nonfiction writing, possibly the highest form, that harnesses the power of facts to the techniques of fiction. It constructs a central narrative, setting scenes, depicting multidimensional characters and, most important, telling the story in a compelling voice that the reader will want to hear.

Robert Vare in Telling The Story by Peter Rubie, 2003 

Charles Bukowski On the Cruelty of False Praise

If you lied to a man about his talent just because he was sitting across from you, that was the most unforgivable lie of them all, because that was telling him to go on, to continue which was the worst way for a man without real talent to waste his life, finally. But many people did just that, friends and relatives mostly.

Charles Bukowski, Women, 1978

How To Teach Fiction Writing

What you create when you're teaching fiction writing is a kind of literary salon, not a social club or a mutual admiration society, not a repair shop, not a fight club or a soap box. It's a place to have a conversation about a story.

John Dufresne, novelist, writing teacher, 2011

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The College Student From Hell

     In 2009, Megan Thode, a graduate student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, looked forward to earning her master's degree in counseling and human services. To acquire the degree which she would need to qualify for a state counseling license, Thode had to earn at least a B grade in her fieldwork class taught by Professor Amanda Eckhardt. Professor Eckhardt, however, upset the applecart when she issued Thode a C-plus. That's when all hell broke out at Lehigh University. 

     While colleges and universities have established procedures for student grade appeals, unless a disgruntled student can prove that the professor made an error in calculating the grade, the student doesn't have a chance. (Some students, notwithstanding these policies, get their grades changed by becoming such pains-in-the-neck they wear their professors down. In our sob-story culture everyone has a gut-wrenching tale of woe. Kids who brown-nosed their way through high school are the best at this. Megan Thode and her father, a Lehigh professor, met with Professor Eckhardt who explained that the C-plus was based on the fact Thode's score for the class participation phase of the course was a zero out of a possible twenty-five. Ouch. The goose-egg bumped her down a full letter grade. (In the old days, parents of college kids didn't get involved in their academic affairs. Back then, college-aged people were supposed to be entering adulthood.)

     When Professor Eckhardt said she would not change Thode's fieldwork grade, the frustrated student filed an internal grievance against her. Thode not only demanded that her grade be changed to a B, she expected the professor to apologize to her in writing for the C-plus, and to compensate her for the adverse financial consequences of being an unlicensed counselor. Thode did not get her grade bumped up, there was no apology, and no compensation. Having exhausted her in-house administrative remedies, Thode got herself a lawyer. 

     Through her attorney, Richard J. Orloski, Megan Thode filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against Lehigh University and Professor Eckhardt in which the plaintiff alleged breach of contract and sexual discrimination. (Exactly what contract the school and professor violated was unclear.) As to the sexual discrimination charge, Thode claimed that she had been punished by her professor because she, Thode, was a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights. (It would be almost impossible to find a college professor anywhere who didn't strongly support gay and lesbian rights. If Thode had supported free speech and gun rights, the lawyer may have had a discrimination case.)

     Thode's suit came to trial in February 2013 before Northhampton County Judge Emil Giordano. The plaintiff's attorney, in addressing the bench, said that as a result of the defendant professor's low grade, his client had "literally lost a career." (Counseling is now a "career"? Good heavens.)

     Neil Hamburg, the attorney representing Professor Eckhardt and Lehigh University, in making the case that this lawsuit was absurd, said, "I think if your honor changed the grade, you'd be the first court in the history of jurisprudence to change an academic grade"

     Judge Giordano indicated his agreement with the defendant's attorney when he said, "I've practiced law for longer than I'd like to admit and I've never seen anything like this."

     Attorney Hamburg, in defending Professor Eckhardt's evaluation of the plaintiff's academic performance, acknowledged that on paper Thode had been an excellent student. But regarding her classroom participation, Hamburg said that the student "showed unprofessional behavior that included swearing in class, and, on one occasion, having an outburst in which she began crying. She has to get through the program," the defense attorney said. "She has to meet the academic standards."

     Since there is nothing in the professor-student relationship that guarantees the student a good grade, or even a passing grade, there was no breach of contract in this case. And without solid proof of the defendant's sexual discrimination based on a dislike of people who supported gay and lesbian rights, the suit fails on that rationale as well.

     If the plaintiff prevailed in her case, it would create an employment boom in the legal profession, at least until college grades became a thing of the past. In time, students would be able to acquire their degrees without any proof they had learned anything. Eventually, there would be no need for classrooms or campuses. (We are approaching that now.) This would lower the cost of a college education and career fast-food servers would all have Ph.Ds. Students could simply buy diplomas online, and colleges professors across the nation would lose their ivory tower jobs and end up flipping burgers with everyone else.

     On February 14, 2013, Judge Giordano ruled in favor of Professor Eckhardt and Lehigh University. He wrote: "Plaintiff has failed to establish that the university based the awarded grade of a C-plus on anything other than purely academic reasons. With this decision, Judge Giordano dealt a blow to the legal profession, but saved higher education. 

Vice President Joe Biden's Take on Domestic Violence

Napoleon Bonaparte said it best: "In politics, stupidity is not a handicap."

    In a speech delivered in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Vice President Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed criminal justice expert on subjects ranging from how to stop intruders by shot-gunning them through closed doors, to the problem of domestic violence, once again revealed the scope and depth of his wisdom. In profiling men who physically abuse women, Biden said this: "We've learned that certain behaviors on the part of an abuser portend much more danger than other behaviors. For example, if an abuser has attempted to strangle his victim, if he's threatened to shoot her, if he's sexually assaulted her, these are tell tale signs to say this isn't your garden variety slap across the face."

     Joe Biden has the unusual ability to make statements that are both puerile and offensive. While it's obvious that a man who attempts to strangle a woman is dangerous, a man who slaps a woman in the face could be just as dangerous. "Garden variety" or not, a man who has slapped a woman in the face has committed criminal assault. Moreover, slaps have a way of escalating to more severe beatings, and even murder.

     Among the less bright politicians in Washington, D.C., Joe Biden has been the most eager to put his intellectual limitations on display. He's done it time and time again. In fact, he's done it so many times and in so many ways, people no longer take much notice. As they say, every village has one. 

When Your Book is Published and No One Cares

     Authors have to promote their books, and they have to be flashy about it. Especially these days. You can't imagine anything less frivolous, and more painted in grim necessity, than an average mid-list bookstore signing. The audience is hushed and minuscule, the shattered-looking author can't believe he's there--the whole thing has the last-ditch solemnity of a persecuted religious rite. Oh sure, there have been good reviews; there have been polite acclaim. Fellow authors have kicked in with the blurbs and the boosts. A prize might have been won. But as regards this book, and this writer, the great sleep of the culture is unbroken

     So: You find new formats, new ways to perforate the oblivious disregard in which America holds you, the dark night of your un-famousness. The problem of course is that it's all so, you know, unliterary. Anti-literary, really. In the promotional moment, what has hitherto been an inward enterprise (the writing of the book) is turned outward overnight; the author is all of a sudden on display.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 2014

The Flawed Character

I'm fascinated by characters who are completely flawed personalities, driven by anguish and doubt, and are psychologically suspect. Wait a minute--basically that's everybody, isn't it, in life and on the page? As a writer, I'm drawn to characters who, for one reason or another, seem to find themselves desperately out of joint, alienated but not wanting to be, and ever yearning to understand the rules of the game.

Chang-rae Lee, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2014 

The Short Story Golden Era

     If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

     If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel. Interestingly, most embryonic fiction writers accept the notion they ought to write a novel sooner or later. It's not terribly difficult to see that the world of short fiction is a world of limited opportunity. Both commercially and artistically, the short-story writer is quite strictly circumscribed.

     This has not always been the case. Half a century ago, the magazine story was important in a way it has never been since. During the twenties, a prominent writer typically earned several thousand dollars for the sale of a short story to a top slick [non-pulp] magazine. These stories were apt to be talked about at parties and social gatherings, and the reputation a writer might establish in this fashion helped gain attention for any novel he might ultimately publish.

     The change since those days has been remarkable. In virtually all areas, the short fiction market has shrunk in size and significance. Fewer magazines publish fiction, and every year they publish less of it. The handful of top markets pay less in today's dollars than they did in the much harder currency of fifty or sixty years ago. Pulp magazines have virtually disappeared as a market.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979

Crime Novelist Rex Stout on Literary Legacy

The only thing I want is something I can't have; and that is to know if, 100 years from now, people will still buy my books.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) known for his Nero Wolfe novels