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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Grandparents

As a kid I often visited my maternal grandparents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You could tell my grandfather, as a young man, had been a handsome devil. Because my grandmother was quite overweight and wore false teeth she must have purchased secondhand, you couldn't envision a younger version of the woman. Even though I didn't know anything about marriage, I didn't think they had a good one. He constantly referred to her as The Old Bat, and said he must have been born married because he had no recollection of being single. She frequently reminded everyone that he was a dimwit who had no memory at all. She often hid his pipe for fear he'd burn down the house. On many occasions he would pull me aside and warn me of the perils of marriage. "Don't do it," he would say, "a wife will wear you down then throw you away." My grandmother died first. She tumbled head-first down a flight of cellar stairs. I often wondered if someone had helped the old woman get down those steps so fast. I never married.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Female Arsonist

     Arson is mainly a man's crime, but women have gotten into the act. Men usually use arson to defraud insurance companies while women tend to set fires for pathological reasons.

Sadie Renee Johnson

     In July 2013, a wildfire broke out on the Warm Springs, Oregon Indian Reservation. Before being brought under control it scorched 51,000 acres and cost the federal government $8 million to extinguish. At least no one was injured.

     Two day after the start of the blaze, 23-year-old Sadie Renee Johnson wrote this on her Facebook page: "Like my fire?"

     Interrogated by detectives, Johnson confessed to intentionally setting the fire by throwing a firecracker from her car into roadside brush. She said she had no idea the fire would spread so fast, burn so much land, and threaten so many people. Asked why she committed arson, Johnson said she thought her firefighter friends were bored and needed work.

     On May 19, 2014, Johnson pleaded guilty to arson in federal court. Pursuant to the plea agreement the judge will sentence her in September to 18 months in prison. Under federal law the maximum penalty for this crime is five years behind bars and three years probation.

     To quote John Wayne, "Life is tough. It's even tougher when you're stupid."

Martha Dreher

     In early August 2014, Adam Williams came home to his empty house in Austin, Texas to find the dwelling filled with smoke. His father, Glenn Williams and Adam's two pre-teen sisters were out of town.

     Fire investigators determined that fires had been set in each of the girls' bedrooms. Due to lack of oxygen and highly combustable fuel, the fires had burned themselves out. Nevertheless, the 90-year-old  historic house, due to smoke damage, had to be gutted. So, who had committed this arson?

     Glenn Williams told detectives that a couple of months ago he had hired 57-year-old Martha Dreher to babysit his daughters. According to him, she had recently complained that the girls treated her with disrespect. As a result, she had threatened to quit.

     In reviewing surveillance camera footage, investigators saw Martha Dreher drive up to the Williams house. Twenty minutes later, when she drove off, flames could be seen in the bedroom windows.

     Based on this circumstantial evidence, a Travis County prosecutor charged Dreher with felony arson. At her arraignment, the suspect pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Amber Bode, in speaking to reporters, said, "The thing that we are going to be pushing for--in addition to lie detection tests and everything else that we can do to prove her innocence--is evidence." (I cannot find a disposition of this case.)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On A New Religion

If I were to start a new religion I would call it Reversalality. Reversalists believe that bad people go to Heaven where they are rehabilitated for eternity. Good people, on the other hand, go to Hell where they are rewarded with an eternity of debauchery to make up for lives of self-denial. In the Reveralists' version of Hell you might see an Amish man, a martini in one hand and dice in the other, laughing it up with a prostitute at a Las Vegas crap table. Just a thought.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nyia Parker: The Mother From Hell

     Nyia Parker resided on the west side of Philadelphia with her 21-year-old son Daequan Norman. Daequan, a quadriplegic, suffered from cerebral palsy. The unemployed 41-year-old mother received Social Security benefits for Daequan and relied upon a network of relatives and friends to help care for her completely dependent son.

     At ten o'clock on Monday morning April 6, 2015, Parker pushed her son in his wheelchair into a wooded area off a walking trail along Cobbs Creek about a quarter mile from their home. She lifted him out of the chair, laid him on his back, placed a Bible on his chest, and covered him with a blanket.

     After depositing her helpless son amid the leaves, empty beer cans and other litter, Nyia Parker boarded a bus to Silver Spring, Maryland to spend a week with her boyfriend, a former Philadelphia resident. She didn't tell anyone that she had left her son lying alone and helpless in the woods.

     Twenty-four hours after leaving her son in the woods exposed to the weather, wild animals, and people who might harm him, Nyia Parker, under a Facebook photograph depicting her and the boyfriend having a good time, wrote: "I am so happy."

     At nine o'clock Friday night April 10, a man walking through the Cobbs Creek woods came upon Daequan Norman lying in the leaves near his wheelchair. He had been there for five days and four nights.

     An ambulance crew rushed the abandoned son to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. As a result of his ordeal, Daequan suffered from dehydration, was malnourished, and had an eye infection. There was no telling what kind of permanent mental and emotional damage he had suffered.

     A few hours following the abandoned man's removal from the west Philadelphia woods, police in Silver Spring, Maryland took Nyia Parker into custody at her boyfriend's house. Due to some undisclosed ailment, the arresting officers took her to a nearby hospital for some kind of treatment.

     Back in Philadelphia, a local prosecutor charged Parker with half of the offenses in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. Upon her extradition back to Philadelphia, she faced charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment of a person, neglect of care of a dependent person, unlawful restraint, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. (Why wasn't she charged with attempted murder?)

     People under the influence of mental illness, alcohol, and drugs commit all kinds of strange, and inexplicable crimes. But how can one even begin to understand why this mother left her quadriplegic son in the woods for five days while she visited her boyfriend. And why the Facebook posting?

     Did she expect her disabled son to die alone in the woods? If Daequan had died, what would have been her story? Would she have blamed his death on kidnappers? If so, how would she have explained the fact she had left him alone in the first place? And why would anyone abduct her son?

     Was it possible that Nyia Parker actually expected to get away with this atrocious act of cruelty? If this case ever goes to trial, this woman is looking at 20 years in prison. (I have searched the Internet and have been unable to find a disposition for this case.)


The JonBenet Ramsey Case And The History Of The Internet Subculture

     …It's been said that JonBenet Ramsey's murder, like that of Nicole Brown Simpson's, was made for the supermarket tabloids. Both cases had the right mix of glitz and sordidness, shocking details and rabid public curiosity to bring out the worst strains of Enquirer-style journalism. But the Ramsey case, with its endless clues and possible suspects, its queasy connections to the worlds of child beauty pageants and the sexual objectification of little girls, was also made for the Internet--and became the impetus for an entire subculture of online sleuths, speculators and voyeurs.

     O. J. Simpson's 1995 murder trial came a little too early in the cyber-revolution to get much online traction; most people followed the case on television. But by the time the JonBenet case began making headlines outside of Colorado in early 1997, a nation primed with AOL accounts and dial-up service was ready and eager to weigh in--anonymously, of course…

     The JonBenet virtual community got its start in the Boulder Daily Camera's online News Forum, which featured back-and-forth posts from readers curious about the case and a live chat room. The rising traffic from the Ramsey-obsessed fans soon led to the launch of websites providing opportunities for more detailed discussions about the case.

     One of the most popular news sites, Mrs. Brady's URLs, became a much imitated template, offering links to breaking news and emerging discussion forums. A spectrum of sites catered to various shades of opinion, from those convinced that an Intruder Did It (IDIs) to those who thought the parents were good for it--referred to disparagingly by IDIs as BORGS, a Star Trek reference that also served as an acronym for "Bent On Ramsey Guilt." There were also sites for fans of lead detective Steve Thomas, detractors of District Attorney Alex Hunter, and more.

     The surging online phenomenon produced some impressive archives of Ramsey-related documents, recordings and photos; the still active JonBenet archive at A Candy Rose remains one of the most useful and extensive….

Alan Prendergast, "JonBenet Ramsey and the Rise of an Internet Subculture," blogs.westword.com, December 2014 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Militarized Policing: The Gibson Guitar Company SWAT Raid

   The Gibson Company, located in Nashville, Tennessee, has been manufacturing quality guitars since 1830. On August 24, 2011, heavily armed U.S. Marshals and a Fish and Wildlife Service SWAT team (Yes, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a SWAT team--hell, they all do.) burst into the Gibson plant in full combat gear. Terrified employees looked on as the federal agents ransacked the place, carrying off computers, documents and other material. These SWAT unites weren't raiding a huge meth lab, a Mafia headquarters, a nest of Hell's Angeles, or a terrorist bomb making hideout. The SWAT officers had no reason to believe that anyone of the Gibson premises was armed, a fugitive from the law, or in anyway dangerous. In fact, no one associated with the company had been charged with a crime. The place could have been searched by a couple of laid-off postal workers, well, maybe more than a couple. This is government work.

     Pat Nolan, writing for National Review Online ("The Gibson Raid: Much to Fret About," September 27, 2011) describes the occasion for the SWAT raid this way: "The law that Gibson allegedly violated is the Lacey Act, which bars importation of wildlife or plants if it breaks the laws of the country of origin. It was intended to stop poachers. The ebony and rosewood that Gibson imported was harvested legally, and the Indian government approved the shipment of the wood. But Fish and Wildlife bureaucrats claim that, because the wood was not finished by Indian workers, it broke Indian law. In other words, a U.S. agency is enforcing foreign labor laws that the foreign government doesn't even think were violated."

     So what's really going on here? According to Henry Juszkiewcz, Gibson's Chairman and CEO, it's federal harassment and intimidation. Juszkiewcz has stated that the seizures (this was the third raid) and resulting manufacturing disruptions, have cost the company more than $1 million.

     In my book, "SWAT Madness," regarding modern shock-and-awe policing, I wrote: "Stunning the enemy with overpowering, high-tech ordinance as a prelude to a full-scale military invasion, while effective as a combat stategy, is not a suitable approach for ordinary, everyday law enforcement."  Regarding the trend town federalizing criminal law and law enforcement: "Police authority has become increasingly centralized through the federalization of criminal law. In the 1960's, there were fewer than 1,000 federal crimes. Today, there are 4,450 federal offenses and dozens of federal law enforcement agencies staffed by thousands of armed officers. The FBI alone fields 56 SWAT teams. Several other federal agencies have SWAT-type units such as the Special Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol Tax and Firearms (ATF), the Special Operations Group of the U.S. Marshals Office, and the Special Response Team of the U.S. Immigration and Custums Enforcement (ICE) Office....Even the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has its own SWAT Team."

     At the time I wrote that last sentence, I wondered how the Fish & Wildlife people would inappropriately utilize their SWAT teams. (Once you get a SWAT team, whether you need it or not, you have to use it.) I figured it would take imagination on their part to abuse their power this way, and I was right.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Having Fun And Being Happy

A critic once wrote that none of the characters in my novels were happy, or having any kind of fun. I thought about that, and it's true. I don't have happiness in my stories because I've never experienced happiness myself. How can I write about an emotion I have never felt? Moreover, my capacity for fun is quite limited and quickly exhausted. Not only that, I avoid happy, fun type people because being around them exhausts me. On a good day I do not feel terribly unhappy and am not in a situation where I have to pretend to be having a great time. I think that in the long run people like me are less prone to clinical depression and suicide than our happy fun seeking counterparts. I think it's a matter of low expectations and the ability to simply carry on.

Thornton P. Knowles

What is Forensic Science?

     The principal role of the forensic scientist is to identify physical crime scene evidence by comparing it to known samples acquired either from a suspect's person or from an object such as a gun, shoe, or burglar tool that this person has possessed, worn, or otherwise has been associates with.

     Forensic science relies on the principle that the criminal leaves part of himself or something that he's associated with at the scene of the crime. Evidence left at the site of a crime might include blood, semen, latent fingerprints, shoe impressions, bite marks, hair follicles, textile fibers, bullets, and tire tracks. Moreover, the suspect will often inadvertently take something away from the scene. A criminal might, for example, leave the crime site carrying traces of the victim's blood and tissue under his fingernails, or follicles of the victim's hair, or fibers from her carpet on his clothing.

     Practitioners of forensic science fall generally into three groups: police officers who arrive at the scene of a crime and whose job it is to secure the physical evidence; crime scene technicians responsible for finding, photographing, and packaging physical evidence for crime lab submission; and forensic scientists working in public and private crime laboratories who analyze the evidence, and when the occasion arises, testify in court as expert witnesses.

     While uniformed police officers and detectives may be trained in the recognition and handling of physical evidence, they are not scientists and do not work under laboratory conditions.

     Forensic science fields include document examination, firearms identification, toxicology, forensic pathology, forensic chemistry, latent fingerprint identification, and DNA analysis. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Alice Boland Attempted Murder Case

     On May 15, 2005, 21-year-old Alice Boland from Beaufort, South Carolina was waiting in line at U.S. Customs at the Pierre Trudeau/Dorval International Airport in Montreal, Canada. After waiting longer than she considered appropriate, Boland lost her temper and became loud and unruly. When customs officials and others tried to calm the irrational young woman, she began screaming threats. "Give me a gun!" Boland screamed, "I am going to kill you. I am going to kill President Bush with a gun. Just give me a gun. I am going going to find a gun and kill you all." Boland's public outburst revealed an unbalanced mental state and an obsession with guns and murder, a dangerous combination.

     Officers with the Montreal Police Department took the American into custody. The next day, after a psychiatric evaluation and Boland's written promise to return to Canada to appear at a later court date, the authorities released her to the custody of her father who had flown to Montreal to accompany her back to South Carolina. (I'm sure the Canadian authorities were glad to get this crazy American out of their country.)

     Ten days after Boland's mental melt-down in Montreal, a deputy with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office accompanied by a Secret Service Agent, paid her a visit at home. (I'm guessing that between the time of the incident and the officers' visit, Boland had been receiving psychiatric treatment at some mental facility.) The deputy and the Secret Service agent, shortly into the interview, realized that Boland was still fuming over having to wait in line at the Montreal airport. The secret service agent asked Boland if she still harbored anger toward President George W. Bush. "Yes, hell yes," she replied. "I would shoot him. I would shoot him and the entire U.S. Congress. If I had a gun, I would shoot you, too." This was not what the deputy and the secret service agent had expected to hear.

     The Beaufort County deputy placed Boland into handcuffs. The officers also searched the Boland house for guns, seizing an air rifle. The officers hauled Boland to the Beufort County jail on charges of making terroristic threats. To that offense, Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. After paying her bail, Boland's parents committed their daughter to a psychiatric facility. Psychiatrists at the institution found that Alice Boland was mentally ill. In 2009, the criminal charges her were dropped.

     On February 1, 2013, Alice Boland was in Walterboro, South Carolina, a town of 6,000, 50 miles northwest of the coastal city of Charleston. Although federal law prohibits the sale of guns to mentally ill people, the 28-year-old former mental patient was in Colleton County to buy a firearm. She must have lied on the federal background check form because Bolton walked out of the store that day carrying a new Taurus PT-22 pistol.

     On Monday, February 4, Alice Boland showed-up in downtown Charleston outside Ashley Hall, the state's only all-girl preparatory school. It was just before noon, a time when parents were waiting in the carpool line to pick-up their children. After pacing back and forth just outside the school's iron-rod fence, Boland pointed her .22-caliber handgun at a school administrator and pulled the trigger. The gun didn't discharge. Boland next aimed the pistol at an English teacher, but the gun still didn't work. (She didn't realize the pistol was in the locked position.)

     Arrested by Charleston police officers, Boland, charged with two counts of attempted murder and other offenses, was incarcerated at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston. The judge set her bail at $900,000.

     In August 2013, the state legislature in South Carolina passed a law requiring the names of those deemed mentally ill to be sent to a federal database designed to halt their purchases of guns. (During the next three years the state sent 79,622 names to this database.)

     In January 2014, Alice Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge committed her to a state mental asylum where she would stay until determined sane enough to safely return to society. Boland, in January 2017, still confined at the state mental institution, filed a motion requesting the opportunity to plead guilty to the attempted murder charges in order that she may receive a fixed sentence rather than languish the rest of her life in the mental hospital. As of July 2018 her motion has not been denied or granted. In all probability it will be denied.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Dew Drop Inn

There was a honky tonk down the road from us in Wellsburg, West Virginia. According to my father, whose lips never touched a drop of booze, the place was a haven for loose women, moral degenerates, and worthless drunks. On Friday nights a local rock group called Screaming Roy Copus and the Night Crawlers tore the joint up. The first Friday night after turning 18, I found myself in this ginmill sucking on a quart of 3.2 beer. My father would have disowned me for imbibing the Devil's brew and associating with the town's lowlifes. But what the hell, he had hanged himself there years earlier. I guess what he didn't know didn't hurt him.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, July 6, 2018

Rape and Attempted Murder on a Cruise Ship: Crimes in Paradise

     Ketut Pujayasa, a 28-year-old citizen of Indonesia, worked as a room service attendant on Holland America's ms Nieuw Amsterdam. Following a background investigation that included a criminal history check, the cruise line hired Pujayasa in 2012. According to the cruise line, up until he went berserk and attempted to rape and murder a 31-year-old female passenger, he possessed an excellent work record.

     On February 14, 2014, the Nieuw Amsterdam sat in international waters off Honduras. That morning Pujayasa delivered breakfast to the American passenger's room. When he knocked on the door, she allegedly yelled, "Wait a minute, son of a bitch!"

     Taking the woman's outburst as an insult to himself and his family, Pujayasa brooded over the incident for hours. That evening, when off duty, he used his master key to enter the woman's vacant stateroom. From there he entered the room's outdoor balcony where he fell asleep.

     Later that night, when Pujayasa awoke on the balcony, he realized the woman was asleep in her bed. He crept into the room, removed his trousers and underwear, and climbed on top of her. The victim resisted, and in the course of a struggle, he slammed her in the face with a laptop computer. In an attempt to choke her silent, Pujayasa wrapped a cord attached to a curling iron around her neck. She retaliated by kicking him in the genitals and trying to stab him with a corkscrew.

     Fearing that someone on board would hear the commotion created by the fight and come to the passenger's aid, the smallish Indonesian tried to pull the victim out onto the balcony where he could toss her overboard. At this moment, another passenger, reacting to the screaming and sounds of a scuffle, pounded on the woman's door.

     Pujayasa, still naked from the waist down, let go of the victim and stepped out onto the balcony. From there he jumped to an adjacent balcony, entered that room, and fled from the crime scene.

     The victim ran out of her room with her face bruised and swollen and the curling iron dangling from her neck.

     Back in his quarters, Pujayasa told his roommate that he had just killed a passenger.

     The Nieuw Amsterdam, on February 15, 2014, docked at Roatan, Honduras. From there the victim was flown to a  hospital in southern Florida. She is expected to survive the beating.

     When the cruise ship docked at Fort Lauderdale on February 16, FBI agents took Ketut Pujayasa into custody. Before being booked into the Broward County Jail on federal charges of attempted murder and aggravated sexual abuse, the suspect confessed fully to his FBI interrogators. A federal magistrate denied Pujayasa bond.

     In late 2014, following a guilty plea, a federal district judge sentenced Pujayasa to 14 years in prison. Outraged by this sentence, the federal prosecutor appealed the sentence as too lenient for the offense. In October 2016, judges on the federal appeals court agreed. As a result, the cruise ship rapist and attempted murderer was re-sentenced to thirty years behind bars.

Jose Armando Moreno and Mexico's Teen-Age Assassins

     In the United States, boys as young as eleven have been charged and incarcerated for committing murder. Recently, boys ten and eleven were charged with conspiracy to murder one of their classmates. There have been a few American homicide cases involving children under eleven. In common law America, prior to state crime codes, children under the age of seven were presumed incapable of forming criminal intent. This culpability guideline is reflected in the statutory law of several states.

     In Mexico, kids under the age of fourteen who commit crimes, including murder, are considered too young to prosecute and incarcerate. The Mexican constitution prohibits the government from incarcerating citizens who are under fourteen. Mexican youngsters who are 14, 15, and 16 can be jailed, but not for longer than three years.

     In 2011, a 14-year-old boy only identified as "El Ponchis" (The Cloak), confessed to murdering several people for a local drug lord. The kid admitted beheading four of his victims. The judge sentenced "El Ponchis" to three years in a juvenile detention center.

     Mexican Federal Police, on February 7, 2013, detained 13-year-old Jose Armando Moreno in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas. The boy confessed to participating in the murder of ten people. The killings had been ordered by the head of a drug cartel. Moreno said he had shot six of his victims execution-style with an assault rifle.

     According to Moreno's mother, he had dropped out of school and ran away from home when he was eleven. He survived by selling drugs on the street, and committing contract murders.

     Because of the constitutional ban on youthful incarceration, the authorities had no choice but to release this young assassin back into Mexican society.

     On February 28, 2013, three weeks after being questioned by the federal officers, the boy's bullet-ridden body was found alongside a road in the town of Morelos. His killer or killers had dumped him along with the corpses of four women and a man. The victims had all been murdered execution-style. It's possible that the boy and the others were executed by another 13-year-old kid working for a rival drug cartel.  

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Reach of the Mafia

Chances are that in your lifetime you will have at least one brush with the Mafia.... Maybe you'll unknowingly eat in a mob-connected restaurant. Maybe prices in your local store will go up because of the mob stealing merchandise. Maybe you'll buy scalped tickets from some half-ass wiseguy. Maybe you'll make a bet with some guy named Knuckles. Unless you spend your whole life holed up somewhere in Iowa, chances are you will at least rub up against one of the Mafia's many expansive tentacles. Wiseguys are everywhere, walking among us; a little more inclined to brazenly double-park, perhaps, but part of the fabric of society, nonetheless.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

When The Mafia Was Kicked Out of Cuba

[Fidel] Castro is a complete nut! He's not going to be in office or power for long. Either Batista will return or someone else will replace this guy because there's no way the Cuban economy can continue without tourists, and this guy is closing all the hotels and casinos. This is a temporary storm. It will blow over.

Miami Mafia boss Santo Trafficante circa 1962 in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say The Darndest Things, 2004

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Physical Evidence in a Murder Investigation

Clues are tangible signs which prove--or seem to prove--that no crime can be committed by thought only and that we live in a world regulated by mechanical laws. The dead man was not killed by a ghostly hand but by a murderer of flesh and blood.

Theodore Reik, The Unknown Murderer, 1945