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Friday, January 18, 2019

A Nation of Sociopaths

     It was Joe McGinniss, in his 1984 book Fatal Vision, who introduced the general public to sociopathy, a personality disorder found in normal looking and acting people who commit cold-blooded murder. "Fatal Vision" explores the sociopathic personality of Dr. Jefferey MacDonald, an Army physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children.

     In the true crime genre, the 1980s became the golden era of books about serial killers, all of whom were sociopaths. Readers and TV viewers became familiar with FBI profilers John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, the founders of the FBI's Psychological Behavioral Unit housed at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Through hundreds of books and true crime television shows, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) became household names. Dr. Park Dietz, a high-profile forensic psychiatrist, author and expert witness, educated the public on the most common traits found in the sociopathic personality which include: narcissism, lack of empathy, pathological lying, the inability to admit guilt, the belief one is smarter than everybody, and the belief one is above society's rules of behavior and laws. (In other words, the American politician.)

     Now, when people discuss sociopathy, it is not always in the context of criminal behavior. That's because not all people with sociopathic qualities are serial killers and/or rapists. Recently there have been numerous articles about how to identify a sociopathic person, what professions tend to attract them (politics, business and law) and how to deal with these difficult people.

     Nobody knows for sure if sociopaths are born or made, but they seem to be multiplying. Maybe it started with Mr. Rogers and his you-are-special message. Perhaps it's our celebrity culture where rich and famous people are worshiped regardless of how they achieved their wealth and fame. The lesson here seems to be: If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you will succeed because you are special and deserve to get what you want. (Have you noticed that on reality TV, people can't talk about themselves for more than a couple of minutes without breaking down in tears? What is that?)

     Tens of thousands of people will show up in a city to audition for TV shows like "American Idol." They all have this pathological need to share their unique talents with the world, and are inspired by former winners who all say the same ridiculous thing: "Don't give up your passion, your dream. If I can make it, so can you." This of course is a load of crap. The odds of getting rich and famous are one in a million. And if you do get rich and famous, it probably won't last. You'll end up like one of those has-beens who say things like, "You might remember me as the janitor in the 1975 sitcom, "Barney Meets Betty." Winners of "American Idol," instead of encouraging fools like themselves, should say: "I'm stupid like you but I got real lucky. Instead of chasing an impossible dream, prepare yourself for real life."

     It seems we're raising generations of young people who, if they don't realize their dreams of wealth and fame, become despondent and morose. They live the rest of their miserable lives blaming "society" for their lost opportunities. Some of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

     Several years ago I investigated a swindler who operated as a literary agent and publisher. A typical sociopath, she believed she was smarter than the people she bilked. This wasn't the case and the woman ended up in federal prison. I wrote a book about her called, Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent From Hell. As an epigram to the book, I wrote: "As a nonfiction crime writer, I have come across more than my share of sociopathic personalities. As one who feels guilty about everything, I find these people fascinating. When sociopaths end up in jail, neurotics like me end up writing about them."

     If I were writing this book today, I would leave out the part about finding sociopaths fascinating. I now find them annoying, depressing, and harmful to the future of this country.

Forensic Psychology

The profession of forensic psychology, a recent fusion of psychology and the law, is practiced by a minority of licensed psychologists in the United States and taught in a handful of graduate programs....I use the traditional tools of my trade--trained observation, clinical interviews, detailed history-taking, and psychological tests--combined with the street smarts I've gained as a narcotics parole officer and by interviewing hundreds of murderers. But sometimes I must rely on psychological guerrilla tactics, like agreeing with a psychotic's delusions, entering his hallucinations, or stoking a defendant's enthusiasm about drugs, sex, or guns. In these ways, I cull the killers who have no inkling of the wrongfulness of their crime from those who know exactly what they have done. In other words, I try to separate the mad from the bad.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

The Execution of Paul Goodwin

     A Missouri inmate was put to death early Wednesday December 10, 2014 for fatally beating a 63-year-old woman with a hammer in 1998…Paul Goodwin, 48, sexually assaulted Joan Crotts in St. Louis County, pushed her down a flight of stairs and beat her in the head with a hammer. Goodwin was a former neighbor who felt Crotts played a role in getting him kicked out of a boarding house.

     Goodwin's execution began at 1:17 AM, more than an hour after it was scheduled because Supreme Court Appeals lingered into the early morning. He was pronounced dead at 1:25 AM. He declined to make a final statement.

     Efforts to spare Goodwin's life centered on his low I.Q. and claims that executing him would violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the death penalty for the mentally disabled. Attorney Jennifer Herndon said Goodwin had an I.Q. of 73, and some tests suggested even lower…But Goodwin's fate was sealed when Governor Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down legal appeals--one on the mental competency question and one concerning Missouri's use of an execution drug purchased from an unidentified compounding pharmacy.

"Missouri Executes Inmate For 1998 Hammer Death," Associated Press, December 10, 2014

Searching for Missing Children

When you're searching for missing or abducted children, you have to look in any place where a child might fit. Not any likely place, but any possible place, which means kitchen cabinets, trash cans, the refrigerator, the freezer, and the oven, all locations where children have been subsequently located, alive or dead.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

How Arsonists Set Fires

Arsonists hardly ever simply strike a match to light a fire, using any combustible material at hand such as a piece of paper or a curtain. Such a course of action is too uncertain, since a fire lit in this way may burn itself out very quickly. Usually, an accelerant is used. A flammable liquid such as kerosene [or gasoline] is poured over a wide area of carpets and furnishings, before the match is applied. This ensures that a hot fire will follow and that the building be ablaze long before any firefighters arrive. However, what most arsonists do no know is that traces of such accelerants can be detected, even after the fire has destroyed the building. Small amounts of accelerant will seep into carpets, floorboards, plaster, brickwork and other materials and will not be consumed by the fire. The cooling effect of the water used to quench [extinguish] the fire will slow down the rate of evaporation of the accelerant and enough will usually remain to be detected.

Dr. Zakaria Erzinclioglu, Forensics, 2012 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Politician's DNA Study

A new DNA study has revealed that genetically, people drawn into politics tend to possess large heads, undersized brains, tiny hearts, big mouths, and forked tongues. They also lack genes associated with shame, remorse, and embarrassment.

Thornton P. Knowles

Modern Women Crime Novelists

     In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas…

     It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.

Laura Miller, salon.com, September 7, 2014 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Memo To Armed Robbers

     At five-thirty Tuesday evening November 12, 2014, 18-year-old Adric White and Tavoris Moss, 19, walked into a Family Dollar store in Baldwin County, Alabama outside of Mobile. White entered the premises carrying a handgun he intended to use to rob the place.

     This was not the first business establishment White  had held-up. A month earlier, after he robbed the nearby Original Oyster House, a judge allowed him to post bail despite the fact the Original Oyster House was not White's first robbery.

     In the back of the store White put his gun to a Family Dollar employee's head and ordered the hostage to the cash-out area where a customer saw what was happening. This customer, who was also armed, pulled his firearm as White forced the terrified clerk to get on his or her knees.

     The armed shopper yelled at White not to move. White, rather than lower his gun, turned the weapon on the customer. Fearing that he would be shot, the armed citizen fired at White who collapsed to the floor.

     Police officers took the suspect's companion into custody as paramedics rushed White to the USA Medical Center. Although hit five times, White survived the shooting and received treatment at the hospital while under police guard. The judge revoked his bail on the Original Oyster House hold-up.

     The day following the Family Dollar robbery and shooting, a local television reporter spoke to a relative of White's who said the family was furious with the vigilante who had shot and almost killed their loved one. "If the customer's [shooter's] life was not in danger," said the robber's relative, "if no one had a gun up to him, what gives him the right to think that it's okay to shoot someone? The [armed customer] should have left the store and went wherever he had to go."

     The same TV correspondent spoke to the man who had used his gun to stop the robbery and perhaps save the store clerk's life. The shooter, referred to in the local media as the Good Samaritan, said he had no choice but to take the action in the case. When the robber raised his gun the customer fired in self defense. "I didn't want to shoot him," the shooter said.

     According to the Good Samaritan, "Criminals tend to think they are the only ones with guns. I've been legally carrying my firearm for a little over four years now, and thank God I've never had to use it until last night. It just shows it's good to have a concealed carry permit. You never know when you're going to need it."

      Gun rights advocates and their opponents will argue over the merits of this case. But one thing that is not up for debate is this: If you rob someone at gunpoint there is a good chance you will be shot by a police officer or a fellow citizen. And if you are, the cop who shot you will be hailed as a hero. Moreover, most Americans will call the civilian shooter who brought you down a Good Samaritan.

     As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword. 

One Less Baby Killer

     On the night of September 29, 1988, in the northern Ohio town of Mansfield, 31-year-old Steve Smith walked into his live-in girlfriend's bedroom carrying her six-month-old daughter. Smith was nude and had been drinking. The lifeless infant in his arms bore bruises and cuts.

     Kesha Frye took her daughter to a neighbor's house where she called 911. At the hospital doctors tried for an hour to revive Autumn Frye before pronouncing the baby dead. An autopsy revealed that the infant had been raped.

     A year after his arrest, Steve Smith went on trial for aggravated murder. On the advice of his attorneys, the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. The jury found him guilty as charged, and the judge sentenced him to death.

     On April 2, 2013, after living twelve years on death row, Smith appeared before the Ohio Parole Board that was considering his petition to reduce  his sentence to life. Smith admitted raping the infant, but said he hadn't intended to kill her. The parole board and Governor John Kasich denied Smith's motion for a life sentence.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2013, the Ohio executioner at the state prison in Lucasville injected a lethal dose of pentobarbital into the body of the 46-year-old prisoner. Steve Smith's 20-year-old daughter and a handful of others watched him go. If the baby-killer made a statement before the pentobarbital got into his system, his last words have not escaped the prison. 

Forensic Botany

One thing I tell police frequently is this: If you get a call of somebody breaking into a house, and you see somebody walking down the street as you pull up, as you question him, ask to see the cuffs of his pants. If he's climbed through a hedge or walked through a yard--most people have weeds around. Weeds get around in lots of clever ways; they often have little sticky parts that adhere to you shoes, or your shoelaces, or your pants cuffs, or they land in a pants cuff. If the suspect says, "Oh, I got those in my grandmother's yard," those particular weeds may not be there. So we've hooked people to certain crime sites though what kind of weeds have gotten stuck to them. Almost no one can lie about plant evidence.

Forensic botanist, in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006