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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Volga Adams: New York City's Biggest Psychic Swindler

     Mrs. Frances Friedman of Manhattan's Upper West Side had been a widow for eight years. In September 1956 she visited a psychic parlor on Madison Avenue run by Volga Adams, a self-appointed gypsy princess. Adams advertised her services in the form of a large drawing painted on her storefront window of a hand, palm facing out. Mrs. Friedman hoped the psychic--"Madam Lillian"--would read her horoscope and identify the source of her depression.

     Volga Adams, a gypsy psychic well known to detectives on the NYPD Pickpocket and Confidence Squad, quickly diagnosed Mrs. Friedman's problem. "There is evil in you," she proclaimed with great authority. Adams instructed her client to go home and wrap an egg in a handkerchief that had belonged to her husband then put these two items into a shoe made for a left foot. The psychic instructed Mrs. Friedman to return to the parlor the next day with the handkerchief and the egg. At this point, Mrs. Friedman should have had the good sense to walk out of the shop and not return.

     As instructed, the prospective mark returned to the gypsy psychic's place of fraud. Adams opened up an egg she had switched with the real one. The phony egg contained a small plastic head. The greenish-yellow head featured a pair of horns, pointed eyebrows, and a black goatee. According to Adams, the presence of the devil's head in the egg was a bad sign. It meant that Mrs. Friedman was cursed. But why?

     Phase two of Volga Adam's psychic confidence game involved handing the victim a dollar bill that had a rip in it. Friedman was told to take the currency home, put it in a handkerchief, and wear it near her breast for two days.

     Upon her return to Volga Adam's scam parlor, Madam Lillian, following a prayer in a foreign tongue, opened the handkerchief to find a mended dollar bill. This "miracle" supposedly revealed the source of Mrs. Friedman's curse. The money her husband had left her upon his death was the problem. Money, the root of all evil, had cursed the widow. If Mrs. Friedman wanted to rid herself of the monetary curse, she would have to give Madam Lillian all of that money, cash she would ritualistically burn. Once that was done, the widow's happiness would return. Divesting herself of the filthy lucre would also clear up her troublesome skin rash. Who would have guessed that this gypsy princess was also a dermatologist.

     A few days after the miracle of the mended dollar bill, Mrs. Friedman withdrew money from six bank accounts and cashed in all of her government bonds. She delivered the $108,273 in cash, stuffed in a paper bag, to another Madison Avenue psychic parlor. (In 1956, that was a lot of dough.)

     Volga Adams suggested that Mrs. Friedman, having rid herself of the evil money, leave the city for a few days to enjoy some "clean air." This is called "cooling the mark." The next day, as Madam Lillian left town herself, her mark headed for the Catskill Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania. A perfect score.

     For a period of a year after Volga Adams bilked Mrs. Friedman out of her life's savings, she cooled the mark with regular phone calls, made collect, from various places around the country. Back in Manhattan in the fall of 1957, Adams informed Mrs. Friedman that she needed another $10,000 to remove traces of the lingering evil underlying the victim's curse. Mrs. Friedman, obviously unaware that she had been swindled, gave Adams the cash. She turned over the money on the condition that the psychic not destroy it, and later return it to her. After she had given the cold-blooded swindler $108, 273, Mrs. Friedman barely had enough money to support herself. A couple months after walking off with the $10,000, Volga Adams called the victim and announced that she could only return $2,000 of the $10,000. The psychic said she was in Florida and would be returning to New York City soon.

     The con game had run its course. Volga Adams did not return to Manhattan, and she quit calling the victim. Thanks to Madam Lillian, Mrs. Friedman not only remained cursed with depression, she was now broke. Finally, she picked up the telephone and called the police. When detectives with the Pickpocket and Confidence Squad heard Mrs. Friedman's story, they recognized the M.O., and knew that Madam Lillian was Volga Adams, one of the city's most notorious con artists.

     Following her indictment in New York City for grand larceny, the 42-year-old defendant went on trial in February 1962. Five weeks later, the jury of five women and seven men informed the judge that they were deadlocked and could not reach an unanimous verdict. The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The Manhattan prosecutor scheduled a second trial for May 1963. Volga Adams avoided that proceeding by pleading guilty to a lesser theft charge. After the judge handed the defendant a suspended sentence, she left the city. But before she departed for Florida, Adams placed a curse on the prosecutor. "No woman will ever love him," she predicted.

     Volga Adams continued preying on vulnerable (and in my view stupid) women. A few years after Madam Lillian left Manhattan, Frances Friedman died. At the time of her death, she was lonely, humiliated, and depressed. Thanks to the gypsy princess, Mrs. Friedman died broke.

Thornton P. Knowles On Lawyers, Plumbers, and Politicians

There are twice as many politicians in the country as lawyers and twice as many lawyers as plumbers. That can't be good.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Michael Nolan Murder-Suicide Case

     Michael Nolan lived in his 86-year-old father's house in Brentwood, New Hampshire, a town of 4,200 in the southern part of the state. The 47-year-old son and his father, Walter Nolan, shared a two-story house in a tree-shaded neighborhood restricted to people 55 and older.

     At four in the afternoon of Monday, May 12, 2014, a neighbor on Mill Pond Road called 911 to report shouting and screams coming from the Nolan residence. Ten minutes later, officer Stephen Arkell, a part time, 15-year veteran of the Brentwood Police Department, pulled up to the scene and was let into the house by Walter Nolan, the owner of the dwelling.

     Four minutes after officer Arkell entered the Nolan house, Derek Franek, an officer with the Fremont Police Department, arrived at the scene. Inside the house, officer Arkell, as he spoke to the old man, was shot and killed by the old man's son, Michael Nolan. When officer Franek entered the dwelling through the front entrance, Michael Nolan opened fire on him. Both the Fremont officer and the senior Mr. Nolan managed to escape the house without being shot. Once outside, officer Franek radioed that an officer was down, and that he had been fired upon by someone inside the Nolan dwelling.

     Officer Franek's urgent call brought a New Hampshire state SWAT unit and the Seacoast Regional Emergency Response Team. Walter Nolan, the 86-year-old owner of the house, in a state of shock and unable to communicate coherently with police officers, was taken by ambulance to Exeter Hospital.

     Inside the police-surrounded house, Michael Nolan poured gasoline throughout the dwelling, lit a match, then began shooting out a window at the SWAT officers. When the SWAT police fired back, a bullet hit a propane gas line that touched off a massive explosion.

     At six o'clock that evening, thirty minutes after the propane blast blew off a third of the Nolan house roof, firefighters began dousing the charred structure with water. Firefighters remained on the scene until nine-thirty that night.

    Cause and origin arson investigators combing through the debris found Michael Nolan's remains. Lying next to his body the officers found three handguns, three rifles, and a cache of ammunition.

     Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell, killed in the line of duty, left behind a wife and two teenage daughters. He was 48-years-old.

     Although a forensic pathologist performed an autopsy on Michael Nolan, the medical examiner's office did not immediately reveal if he had been shot to death by the SWAT police, died in the fire, or had killed himself.

     According to neighbors, Michael Nolan rarely spoke to anyone, and spent most of his time in his room watching television. Police officers had not been called to the Nolan residence in the past, and Michael did not have a criminal record.

     In May 2015, the authorities, under pressure from the local media, released the results of the joint investigation of the case by the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, the State Police Major Crime Unit, and the ATF. According to the report, Mr. Nolan had shot himself to death before the house exploded. In the report he was described as a "stressed out" alcoholic gun enthusiast.

Thornton P. Knowles On Remembering A Freak Show Poster

As a kid, while I wasn't that excited with a carnival came to town, I went anyway. I remember being struck by a huge freak show poster that screamed: COME IN AND VISIT FRANKIE--HALF MAN-HALF WOMAN! I was less curious about Frankie than his redundant poster. Just Half Man or Half Woman would have been enough. I wasn't bothered that I didn't have the 15 cents to go in and see Frankie. His/Her stupid poster was good enough for me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Ordering A Restaurant Meal

Before I order anything at a restaurant, I go over what I'm gong to say in my head to make sure it is clear and concise and does not invite further inquiry from the waitress. The other day I ordered three things: a medium burger with nothing on it but one slice of tomato; a plain baked potato; and a regular black coffee. The waitress, a nice lady, asked me if I also wanted bacon and pickles on my burger, butter on my potato, and cream for my coffee. I realize the fact I was annoyed reveals one of my many personality disorders. I admire waitresses who work hard and put up with a lot of crap for little pay. For that reason, I never reveal my stupid annoyance over such a trivial matter. It's not easy being me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Lisa McPherson Scientology Case: A Medical Examiner's Meltdown

NOTE: On March 29, 2015, HBO aired a documentary about the Church of Scientology called "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief." The expose was based on Lawrence Wright's book of the same title. At that time, The Church of Scientology consisted of 11,000 churches, missions and affiliated groups around the world. The HBO documentary did not provide an understanding of the religious doctrine of the church (I'm not sure it's meant to be understood). In 2019, A&E's powerful documentary series, "Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath," was in its third season.

      For a criminal justice system to work, the major law enforcement players--the police, prosecutors, and forensic scientists--have to be hardworking, competent, and honest. In Florida's Pinellas and Pasco Counties between 1997 and 2000, the medical examiner's office was not up to par, and the effect on local criminal justice was disastrous. Dr. Joan E. Wood, the head of the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office, was the principal source of the problem.

     A graduate of the University of South Florida Medical School, Dr. Wood began her career as a forensic pathologist in 1975 as an associate in the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office. She became the chief medical examiner in 1982, and for six years was the chairperson of Florida's Medical Examiners Commission, the body that regulates the state's forensic pathologists. Her career seemed to be on track until the mid-1990s when she became involved in a high-profile and controversial homicide case. This case, the 1995 death of a 36-year-old Scientologist named Lisa McPherson, marked the beginning of the end of Dr. Wood's career.

     As revealed in court documents and reported in the St. Petersburg Times, the sequence of events began at 5:50 in the evening of November 18, 1995 when paramedics responded to a minor traffic accident in downtown Clearwater involving McPherson's sports utility van. She was not injured but took off her clothes and walked down the middle of the street telling paramedics, "I need help. I need to talk to someone." The distraught woman said she had been doing things that were wrong but didn't know what they were.

     The paramedics transported McPherson to the Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Following her examination, a group of Scientologists from her church came to the emergency room and escorted her away, promising that she would be cared for by the church, a decision grounded in their distrust of psychiatric medicine. The disturbed woman was taken to the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater where troubled Scientologists were taken for rest and relaxation.

     On December 5, 1995, Lisa's caretakers at the hotel rushed her to a hospital in New Port Richey, a 45-minute drive, to see an emergency room physician who was a Scientologist. McPherson had been at the Fort Harrison Hotel 17 days and when she arrived in New Port Richey the five-foot-nine-inch patient weighed 108 pounds and was covered in bruises. McPherson was also unkempt in appearance and pale. She was either dead on arrival at the hospital or pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

     At eleven o'clock the next morning, Dr. Robert Davis, a forensic pathologist in the Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner's Office, performed the autopsy with Dr. Joan Wood looking on. According to Dr. Davis, Lisa McPherson's death had been caused by an embolism of the left pulmonary artery which had partially obstructed the blood flow that carried oxygen from her heart to her left lung. She had therefore died of asphyxia. A thrombus (blood clot) located behind her left knee had traveled from her leg to her heart and into the lung. At the time of her death, Lisa was severely dehydrated, a factor that contributed to her demise. In Dr. Davis's opinion, her dehydration was so pronounced she would have been unresponsive for more than 24 hours before her death. The forensic pathologist believed that the blood clot behind her left leg was caused by a combination of dehydration and bed-ridden immobility. Dr. Wood, instead of ruling McPherson's manner of death natural or accidental, labeled it undetermined, a manner of death that did not preclude a later finding of criminal homicide.

     Because of the condition of Lisa McPherson's body following her 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel, the Clearwater police quietly began looking into the case. Detectives determined that Lisa had been a Scientologist for 18 years, and during the past two years, had spent about $70,000 on church-related counseling. Before the traffic accident she had spent relaxation time at the Fort Harrison Hotel. McPherson had worked for a Dallas publishing company that mostly employed Scientologists. She had moved to Clearwater when the company relocated there about a year earlier. McPherson had weighted between 140 and 150 pounds when taken to the Fort Harrison Hotel following the traffic accident.

     Curious about just what kind of medical care one received at the Scientologist owned hotel, investigators learned that a few of Lisa's caretakers had medical training, including one person who had been an anesthesiologist. That caregiver, however, had lost her license because of a drug problem. As far as detectives could determine, no one at the hotel had been a licensed physician. The police also discovered that during her stay, Lisa had been physically restrained. She had been tied to her bed and given injections of muscle relaxants and other chemicals.

     When word got out that the authorities were looking into Lisa McPherson's death, church officials accused the Clearwater police of religious harassment. In January 1997, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office joined the investigation. The following month, Lisa McPherson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the church.

     Looking for a second opinion regarding the cause and manner of Lisa McPherson's death, Wayne Andrews of the Clearwater Police Department and Agent A. L. Sroope of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in November 1997, traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to consult with Dr. George Podgorny, the Forsythe County medical examiner. Dr. Podgorny had reviewed medical records from from the Morton Plant and New Port Richey hospitals; pharmacy records of drugs that had been administered to McPherson; and the Pinellas-Pasco autopsy report that chief medical examiner Joan Wood had approved.

     According to police and court documents, after reviewing this material, Dr. Podgorny opined that the blood clot that had killed Lisa McPherson had been caused by her extreme dehydration and immobility. The forensic pathologist told the investigators that if McPherson had received proper medical treatment and had been taken to a hospital when she first became ill, she might not have died. What this patient needed and did not get was water, salt, vitamins, and extra oxygen. Moreover, her blood-cell count and kidney function should have been closely monitored. When asked if the blood clot in her leg could have been caused by the traffic accident, Dr. Podgorny responded emphatically that such an occurrence would be extremely rare, especially in a 36-year-old woman. He pointed out that people bruise their legs all the time without getting blood clots. In the pathologist's opinion, the manner of Lisa McPherson's death boiled down to improper medical care following the traffic accident.

     A Pinellas County grand jury, on November 13, 1998, returned a two-count indictment charging the Church of Scientology with practicing medicine without a license and abusing or neglecting an adult. In response to these charges, the church asserted that the Lisa McPherson case was being exploited by forces out to destroy the institution. Accustomed to fighting for its survival, the church hit back hard. One of those on the receiving end of the attack was Dr. Joan Wood, the forensic pathologist who had opened the door to the grand jury indictment with her ruling of an undetermined manner of death.

     In the months that followed the indictment, defense attorneys representing the church deluged Dr. Wood with subpoenas that demanded all sorts of information. These lawyers wanted her to change the manner of death ruling to "accidental" on the theory the blood clot that had killed Lisa McPherson was the result of her traffic mishap. The church also denied practicing medicine at the Fort Harrison Hotel and insisted that Lisa had been properly cared for at the Scientology retreat.

     In February 2000, more than four years after the autopsy in the McPherson case, Dr. Wood, while insisting that she had not broken under pressure from the Church of Scientology, changed the McPherson manner of death to accidental. Her decision outraged the county prosecutor and the police agencies involved in the case. As far as the prosecutor was concerned Dr. Wood had folded under pressure. Some of the journalists following the case speculated that pressure and stress had caused the forensic pathologist to come emotionally unglued. Whether she had been bullied into her reversal or not, her new manner of death ruling destroyed her relationship with the local law enforcement community. The prosecutor had no choice but to drop the case against the Church of Scientology. Dr. Wood resigned her position in September 2000.

     After leaving the medical examiner's office, Dr. Wood disappeared for two years, eventually showing up at a conference of state medical examiners in Gainesville, Florida. A reporter with the St. Petersburg Times asked her if her disappearance had anything to do with the McPherson case and if she planned to get back into forensic science. Dr. Wood denied that her reversal in the McPherson case had anything to do with pressure from the Church of Scientology, but she did admit that after 25 years as a forensic pathologist, the stress of the job had finally caught up with her. She said she still had panic attacks when she walked into a courtroom.

     Lisa McPherson's estate, in May 2004, settled the wrongful death suit for an undisclosed amount. In July 2005, Dr. Wood voluntarily relinquished her medical license following a state health department declaration that in the McPherson case she had become "an advocate for the Church of Scientology." After that, she lived in obscurity, hardly ever leaving her townhouse in Tampa. On July 8, 2011, she had a stroke, and eight days later, died in the hospital. At the time of her death the former medical examiner was 67.

Thornton P. Knowles On Wedding Receptions

I've only been to a few weddings. A few too many, actually. I found the reception parties I attended puerile and extremely self-indulgent. At the core, these narcissistic jamborees were nothing more than photo opportunities where the wedding photographer was the most important person in the room. And given the fact that none of these marriages survived beyond a few years, these booze laden celebrations ended up hollow and meaningless. I've never been married, perhaps to avoid being involved in one of these depressing celebrations of future misery.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thornton P. Knowles On Achieving Literary Fame

Becoming a famous author today is about as likely as becoming a famous plumber. And that's the way it should be. In fact, it's more important to know who can fix your plumbing than who wrote a particular book.

Thornton P. Knowles

Women Steal Man's Prosthetic Leg

     Police say a prosthetic leg reported stolen from a veteran in a wheelchair outside the Eagles-Giants football game in south Philadelphia was later recovered on a subway train. Sonny Forriest Jr., who is known for singing for fans outside Phillies and Eagles games, told police that he had taken off his prosthetic leg during his performance. He said he was packing up to leave when a woman in her 20s wearing Eagles gear who appeared intoxicated, approached and took the leg.

     A Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority conductor found the leg at one in the morning on October 13, 2014 at the Olney station in north Philadelphia. Investigators said they planned to examine transit station surveillance video to try to identify a suspect. They said it appeared that three women took part in the theft.

"Stolen Prosthetic Leg Found Aboard Philadelphia Subway Train," Associated Press, October 13, 2014 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Excited Delirium Syndrome: Cause of Death or Police Cover-Up?

     When people die suddenly and unexpectedly without a clear reason, forensic pathologists, rather than classify them as deaths of undetermined causes, often explain these fatalites as being caused by a syndrome. Attributing a mysterious or suspicious death to a syndrome, while it sounds scientific, isn't always forensically enlightening. Some of the more common causes of death syndromes include the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), and the more recent, Excited Delirium Syndrome (EDS). As causes of death, syndromes are based less on forensic science than on human behavior and the circumstances surrounding these deaths. These postmortem determinations often leave a lot to interpretation and are therefore controversial and subject to intense debate.

Excited Delirium Syndrome (EDS)

     Forensic pathologists in the United States, Canada, England, and Wales, in situations involving agitated, violent, incoherent, and erratic male subjects who die suddenly while fighting with police officers or prison personnel trying to subdue them through physical force or taser jolts, often attribute these deaths to EDS. Most of these men are overweight, a high percentage are black, and they are all high on drugs and/or alcohol. Many are also seriously mentally ill. Under intense stress, the hearts of these men race wildly, their body temperatures soar to 103-5 degrees, and they either die of cardiac or respiratory arrest. Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas, a well known forensic pathologist and textbook author, believes EDS subjects die from overdoses of adrenaline.

Dr. Deborah Mash

     The term "excited delirium" was coined by Dr. Deborah Mash, the neurologist who founded the Excited Delirium Education, Research and Information Center at the University of Miami where she has studied the brain tissue of 120 men she believed died of EDS. Called a junk scientist and charlatan by her critics, Dr. Mash has appeared as an expert witness on behalf of Taser International, the stun gun company that was been sued by families of men who have died after being tasered. When asked about her relationship with the firm, Dr. Mash has reportedly said, "I don't care about the taser, and I'll tell you why. Excited delirium was happening before the taser....If it happened with pepper spray, you'd say, 'oh, it's the pepper spray that's killing them.'...We have some cases where there were no police involved, and they still died....Medical examiners have described cases where paramedics got to the scene and the room is trashed, there are ice cubes everywhere, and the subject is dead. That tells me that person was trying to cool down." (Miami-Dade County fire rescue paramedics carry excited delirium survival kits designed to cool overheated brains.)

     Critics of EDS as a cause of death determination include the ACLU and other civil libertarian organizations. Noting that EDS is not recognized by the American Medical Association, these critics believe the authorities use EDS to cover-up and white-wash the real causes of death--police brutality and excessive force. They see EDS as a forensic device used to excuse and exonerate heavy-handed law enforcement.

Cases

September 5, 2006
Louisville, Kentucky

     The police encountered 52-year-old Larry Noles, an ex-Marine, standing nude in the middle of the street. After failing to subdue Noles by force, officers shot him with a taser three times. The highly agitated subject suddenly stopped breathing and died. The Jefferson County Medical Examiner attributed the death to EDS.

October 29, 2006
Jerseyville, Illinois

     Roger Holyfield, 17, was walking in the middle of the street carrying a phone in one hand and a Bible in the other. He was screaming incoherently when approached by the police. After struggling with the out-of-control man, officers tasered him. Holyfield went into a coma and died the following day. The local medical examiner attributed the death to EDS.

December 17, 2006
Lafayette, Louisiana

     High on cocaine and delirious, 29-year-old Terill Enard, with a broken bone sticking out of his leg, was creating a disturbance at a Waffle House restaurant. The police came, tried to restrain him, then shocked him with a taser. Enard collapsed and died at the scene. The coroner's office listed the death as "cocaine-induced Excited Delirium."

January 2008
Coral Gables, Florida

     At two in the morning, Coral Gables police found ex-con Xavia Jones lying in the middle of a highway screaming "God is coming to take me!" When officers approached him, Jones yelled, "Kill me, shoot me." Instead of shooting him, an officer tasered him four times. When that had no effect, another officer gave Jones five more jolts. The subject sort of locked-up, then died with a white liquid trickling from his mouth. The Miami-Dade County Associate Medical Examiner cited "excited delirium syndrome, associated with cocaine use" as the cause of death.

July 2008
Hanover Township, New Jersey

     A New Jersey State Trooper pulled up to 25-year-old Kenwin Garcia as he walked along Interstate 287. After frisking the unarmed man, the officer put him in the back of his patrol car where the mentally ill subject became agitated and kicked out a window. Zip-tied around his wrists and ankles, the trooper and another officer placed Garcia into a second patrol car where the subject kicked out another window. A third trooper arrived at the scene to help restrain the agitated man. One of the troopers turned off the dashboard camera before they pulled Garcia out of the car and piled on top of him. Garcia kicked and struggled, said he couldn't breathe, then went limp. He died a week later at a nearby hospital after they took him off life support.

     Although the medical examiner found that Garcia had a broken breastbone, fractured ribs, a torn kidney and internal bleeding, and had not been under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he ruled the cause of death excited delirium syndrome. As a result, none of the troopers in the case were charged with a crime or even disciplined.

      Pursuant to an independent investigation of Garcia's death, four forensic pathologists reviewed the autopsy and found that Garcia had died from suffocation while being restrained. Three law enforcement experts opined that the troopers in this case had used excessive force. The dead man's family, based on these findings, filed a wrongful death suit against the township.

     In 2013, attorneys for Hanover Township agreed to pay the Garcia estate $700,000 in an out of court settlement. No criminal charges were filed in this case.

July 22, 2011
Bangor, Maine

     The Bangor police were called at 6:45 P.M. to deal with 32-year-old Ralph E. Willis, a man addicted to a hallucinogenic stimulant called MDPV, the key ingrediant in bath salts. Officers found him running wildly around yelling at people on the street. When Willis resisted being taken into custody, several officers had to subdue him. In so doing, they used their nightsticks.

    At the Penobscot County Jail, Willis continued to be agitated and uncooperative. He fought with jail personnel who put him into a holding cell. Thirty minutes later, when they checked on him, Willis appeared unresponsive. When deputy sheriffs entered the cell, Willis began to yell. He then grabbed his testicles, banged his head against the wall, and rolled onto his stomach flailed his arms and legs At that point the inmate stopped breathing. A short time later doctors pronounced Willis dead at a local emergency room. He had died of cardiac arrest and at the time of his death had a body temperature of 103 degrees.

     The state's medical examiner ruled the manner of Willis' death accidental. The cause: MDPV toxicity. In her report, the forensic pathologist described Willis as having been in a state of excited delirium. As a result of the Willis case, the Penobscot County Jail no longer accepted prisoners who were under the influence of bath salts.

EDS in England and Wales

     Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not for profit organization based at City University in London, disclosed that excited delirium was first used in a British case in 1996. Since then, the condition has been used by coroners in England and Wales to explain 10 police restraint related deaths. In researching EDS, bureau journalists interviewed several forensic pathologists including Dr. Deborah Mash who told an interviewer that,"Just because you die in police custody doesn't mean that what the police were doing at the time you died led to your death. The symptoms of EDS are why the police are called to the scene to begin with."

     In Great Britian, Dr. Mash has drawn the wrath of several prominent critics in the field of forensic pathology. Dr. Derrick Pounder, a forensic pathology expert at the University of Dundee said, "Excited delirium is a theory....It has come from the United States, where the science is very politicized, without a robust enough analysis. If you write off a death as excited delirium, then you close the door to guilt being attributed, and more importantly, lessons being learned from the types of [police] restraint used."

     Dr. Richard Shepherd, another English forensic pathologist who spoke to journalists with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, said this: "We know there are a group of people who exhibit this very bizarre behavoir. Whether they strictly fall into this group called 'excited delirium' or not, I think will become clearer as more research is done....I think it is a term that should be used with great care...."

     Like its cause of death counterparts, SIDS and SBS, EDS will attract supporters and critics and remain controversial until it is either totally rejected in the medical community or accepted as valid forensic science.
    

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles on the Pretentious Writer

     I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style or is more concerned with style than content and communication. It's a lot like a speaker who takes on a pompous speaker's voice when he's talking publicly. I consider this pretentious and phony. I prefer authors who don't recognize their own voices or, if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique…

     There is a particularly dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in a lot of promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, one might write: "The goal of college is the education of its students." Because this is so obvious, to write it simply and directly makes it sound vacuous. But when the mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style of writing is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Trigger-Happy Constable

     On November 2, 2011, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock, while shopping in a Louisville, Kentucky Walmart where he worked off-duty as a retail security officer, received a call on his cellphone regarding a possible shoplifter. Constable Whitlock approached the suspect, Tammy Lee Jamian, aka Tammy Ortiz, as she sat in her car in the parking lot. When Whitlock reached the vehicle, the suspect started to drive away. Her car ran over Whitlock's foot so he shot her in the arm and hand.

     In Kentucky, constables were elected under the state constitution that gave them powers of arrest in the enforcement of traffic laws. They also served certain types of warrants. Whitlock, in 2000 and 2002, had been charged in a couple of theft cases. Other law enforcement officers had criticized him for carrying a gun without the proper firearms training. In Kentucky, constables were not required to undergo special law enforcement instruction. Whitlock claimed, however, to have taken 122 hours of deadly force classes. According to a Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy, Whitlock failed the shooting portion of the course and was sent home.

     In a newspaper interview following the Walmart shooting, Whitlock told the reporter he spent 20 to 25 hours a week writing citations for illegal parking in fire lanes and handicapped spots. He also patrolled Louisville making sure addresses were visible on buildings as required by law.

     Tammy Lee Jamian, who has an arrest record for burglary, theft, and prostitution, claimed she was not shoplifting in the store and that Constable Whitlock, when he confronted her in the parking lot, did not identify himself as a police officer. She drove off because she thought she was being mugged. Referring to Whitlock, Jamian's attorney told a reporter "This cowboy shot an unarmed woman for shoplifting. He didn't know if she was Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde or Sister Teresa. He just shot her."

     On November 11, 2011, Louisville Councilman Rick Blackwell called for the state legislature to remove Whitlock as a Jefferson County Constable. According to the councilman, Whitlock violated three state laws: deputizing staff members, failing to file monthly reports to the county clerk, and using oscillating blue lights on his car.

     In October 2012, pursuant to his guilty plea to charges of wanton endangerment and second-degree assault, Whitlock agreed never to work in law enforcement again. After he completed a diversion program, the prosecutor dropped the charges against the former constable.

     In Louisville, on January 27, 2014, David Whitlock announced his plan to run for a seat on the Metro Council. He lost.

Thornton P. Knowles On America's Missing Person Population

If America's rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds all suddenly went dry, there wouldn't be enough forensic scientists to identify the remains of all the missing persons no longer submerged in these watery resting places. American waterways are grave sites for thousands and thousands of people who went missing and remain unaccounted for. The stories of their accidents, suicides and murders will never be revealed. These are America's untold stories.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Harold Montague Ax Murder Case

     In 2010, 33-year-old Harold E. Montague lived in a single-story house with his wife Erricca, their two grade school children, and Erricca's disabled mother, Monica O'Dazier. The family resided on San Pedro Avenue in the central valley area of Las Vegas. Erricca worked outside the home while her husband cared for her mother who had cerebral palsy and suffered seizures. Harold had been his mother-in-law's principal caregiver for the past five years.

     At eleven-forty on the morning of Thursday, February 11, 2010, Harold Montague removed a medieval-style battle ax that hung on his wall and used it to hack his mother-in-law twenty times. Leaving the gravely wounded O'Dazier bleeding in the rear bedroom of the dwelling, Montague, with the bloody battle ax in hand, walked out onto Pedro Avenue where he encountered a young mother pushing her 4-month-old son in a stroller.

     Montague walked up to Sonia Castro and her son Damian, and started swing the weapon. He quickly hacked the baby to death, then struck Sonia several times in the head and hands as she tried to protect herself. During the murderous rampage, Castro begged her attacker to stop. Instead of letting up, Montague laughed in her face. With the dead baby under the overturned stroller, and the infant's mother on the ground with her jaw hanging loosely from her face, Montague walked back into his house.

     A neighbor, 52-year-old Teresa Garner, witnessed the attack and called 911. After making the emergency call, Garner ran to the victims. She found the baby dead, and Sonia alive but horribly disfigured, and bleeding profusely.

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious Monica O'Dazier to the University Medical Center. Sonia Castrol was taken to the same facility where she was listed in "extremely critical" condition. Both women would survive Montague's vicious attacks.

     Following a brief scuffle, Las Vegas officers arrested Harold Montague at his house. He told the officers that he had no memory of the assaults. They booked him into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

     The next day, at Montague's arraignment, the judge denied him bail. At that hearing, defense attorney Norm Reed characterized his client as delusional and paranoid. The lawyer said he would have his client examined by a psychiatrist, and depending upon the results of that examination, make a decision as to whether he would plead his client legally insane.

     In October 2010, attorney Reed informed the court that he planned to put on an insanity defense. The judge set the trial for June 2011.

     By 2013, due to several postponements, the Montague case had not come to trial. At a preliminary hearing on December 6, 2013, attorney Reed put a Reno, Nevada psychiatrist named Dr. Tom Bittker on the stand. Dr. Bittker said that several interviews of Montague had given him a profile of this disturbed man's life. For example, as a child, Montague had been beaten, raped and emotionally tormented by his drug-abusing parents. At age six someone murdered the boy's father.

     According to Dr. Bittker, Harold didn't go beyond the fifth grade, and grew up in and out of a Las Vegas juvenile detention center. As an adult, he married Erricca, and fathered two children with her. She worked out of the house while he stayed at home, unable to hold down a job. In 2004, he began taking care of Erricca's mother.

     Dr. Bittker testified that in his expert medical opinion, when Mr. Montague attacked Monica O'Dazier, Sonia Castro, and little Damian, he was in the midst of a psychotic episode that included the delusion that God was speaking to him directly.

     Erricca Montague took the stand at the hearing and testified that for several days before the attacks, her husband's behavior had been bizarre. He hadn't slept for days, stopped eating, and refused to drink water. He spent his nights pacing the house and talking to himself.

     Following the preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that the defense had produced enough evidence to go forward with an insanity defense. (In Nevada as in most states, legal insanity is a so-called affirmative defense, which means the defendant has the burden of proving, with a preponderance of evidence, that he was insane at the time of the alleged criminal act.)

     On May 22, 2014, the Montague case came to an abrupt conclusion when attorney Reed announced that his client had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and battery of a police officer. Under the plea agreement, the defendant was sentenced on July 30, 2014 to life in prison without the chance of parole. In prison, he received treatment for his mental illness.

     The plea agreement meant that Sonia Castro would not have to testify at Montague's trial. Earlier, at a April 2010 preliminary hearing, she had testified that when she begged him to stop his murderous assault, he laughed at her. After the rampage, her jaw had to be surgically reattached. The attack had also left her with an irreparably damaged eye.

     Montague's guilty plea also spared eyewitness Teresa Garner from the ordeal of re-living the crime in court. After Montague's ax-wielding madness, Garner suffered a nervous breakdown.

     Harold Montague, on anti-psychotic medication, expressed a desire to apologize to his victims, and to explain that he had acted out of a psychotic delusion. I doubt that his apology and explanation helped his victims, people who had been permanently scarred physically and emotionally as a result of his bloody rampage.
     

The Sexy Senior Shoplifter

     Police arrested an 82-year-old woman on January 27, 2015 after she stole a $7.39 bottle of Sexiest Fantasies body spray from a CVS store in Augusta, Georgia. A store employee saw Annelise Young slip the merchandise into her purse and walk out of the store without paying for it. The clerk called the police…

     A deputy with the Richmond County Sheriff's office took Young into custody. She apologized for the theft and handed the body spray back to the store employee. She was later booked into the Richmond County Jail on the charge of shoplifting….

"Woman, 82, Arrested For Theft Of Bottle of Sexiest Fantasies Body Spray," dailymail.com, February 9, 2015

Phony Sleep Study As Rape Trap

    One-hundred women in Japan who thought they were participating in a sleep study were drugged and raped, their attacks recorded and sold to pornography sites. Police arrested 54-year-old Hideyuki Noguchi after one of the victims saw herself in a video. Noguchi was charged on February 4, 2015 with three dozen counts of incapacitated rape. Noguchi numbered his victims at 100.

     The sexual assaults began in 2012 when Noguchi took out an ad seeking participants for a sleep study. The ad sought women from their teens through their 40s. Noguchi has no medical training and the study was merely a ruse to isolate women, drug them and film the assaults. The suspect sold the videos to porn sites for about $100,000.

"Man Accused of Raping Women During Fake Sleep Study," CNN, February 5, 2015
     

Altitude Sickness: Flying With Germs


     Studies show that air travelers suffer hight rates of disease infections than people who move about on the ground. (Although I don't imagine that buses are that germ free either.) One study showed a 20 percent increase among flyers to catch colds. Cabin air-filters catch 99 percent of bacterial and virus carrying particles, but when the plane is on the ground before take-off and after landing, the air circulation system is turned off. That's when sickness spreads like wildfire.

     Scott McCarney, in a "Wall Street Journal," wrote: "A number of factors increase the odds of bringing home a souvenir cough and runny nose. For one, the environment at 30,000 feet enables easier spread of disease. [Much of the danger comes from sick passengers sitting nearby. Air in planes is extremely dry, and viruses tend to thrive in low-humidity conditions. When mucous membranes dry out, they are far less effective at blocking infection. High altitudes can tire the body, and fatigue plays a role in making people more susceptible to catching colds, too. Also, viruses and bacteria can live for hours on some surfaces--some viral particles have been found to be active up to a day in certain places. Tray tables can be contaminated, and seat back pockets, which get stuffed with used tissues, soiled napkins and trash, can be particularly skuzzy. It's also not difficult to know why germs are lurking in an airline's pillows and blankets." (I guess it's kind of ironic that the great germaphobe, Howard Hughes, was a commercial aviation pioneer.)

     As germ factories, airplanes sound almost as bad as hospitals. Almost as bad because when most people go to the hospital they are already sick and vulnerable to infection. But this could also apply, I guess, to people who fly every day.


Thornton P. Knowles On An Agent's Angst

A neighbor's son who was in J. Edgar Hoover's FBI killed a bank robber, a 17-year-old kid with a low I.Q. and a toy gun. Even though the boy was hardly John Dillinger, Director Hoover tried to make a hero out of the distraught agent. The young agent left the bureau and ten years later took his own life. The ugly truth is this: Law enforcement is an impossible job, and very few people are suited for it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Randy Alana Murder Case

     In 2013, 50-year-old Sandra Coke, a capital case investigator for the federal public defender's office headquartered in Sacramento, California, resided in Oakland with her 15-year-old daughter. As a federal investigator in cases involving death row inmates who had appealed their sentences, Coke interviewed them, their family members, and acquaintances for the public defenders office in the Eastern District of California. The job often involved travel around California and into other states.

     In May 2013, someone broke into Sandra Coke's home and stole her beloved cocker spaniel, Ginny.  Since then, in her spare time, Sandra ran down leads regarding her pet's whereabouts generated by missing-dog posters she had posted around her neighborhood. The poster offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to Ginny's return.

     On Saturday, August 3, 2013, someone called Sandra with information about the dog. At eight-thirty the following evening, Sandra left her house to meet with the person who had called about Ginny. Before leaving the dwelling Sandra told her daughter that she'd be gone no more than thirty minutes. When she did not return to the house as promised, her daughter reported her missing to the Oakland Police Department.

     Doing some detective work of her own, the missing woman's daughter tracked her iPhones using a GPS application. One of the phones had been dumped along a highway near Richmond, California. The other device had been ditched in Oakland.

     At seven-forty-five the evening after Sandra Coke's disappearance, Oakland police found her 2007 Mini Cooper convertible parked two miles from her home. In a quest for leads regarding her whereabouts, officers removed bags of evidence from the Coke residence. Included among the items seized were two laptop computers.

     A few days into the missing person's case, investigators developed a suspect from Oakland named Randy Alana. The 56-year-old career criminal had been seen with Sandra Coke on the night she went missing. The two had dated twenty years earlier.

     In June 2012, Alana was paroled from a fifteen-year prison sentence for armed robbery. He also had convictions for kidnapping and rape and was registered in California as a high-risk sex offender. The fact he and Sandra had been together on the night she went missing raised the possibility of murder.

     For Randy Alana, this was not the first time he was a suspect in a murder case. In September 1983, Alameda County, California  prosecutor Russ Giutini charged the then 26-year-old criminal with using a hammer to beat to death Marilyn Pigott, a woman he had known since elementary school. Pigott had been murdered on August 13, 1983 in her North Oakland apartment.

     In June 1984, while awaiting his murder trial in the Alameda County Jail, Alana and a fellow inmate named James Hodari Benson were accused of killing 40-year-old Al Ingram. The victim had been stabbed 93 times. Alana and Benson were members of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang. They killed Ingram under the false belief he was a police informant.

      In the fall of 1984, the jury in the Marilyn Pigott murder trial deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting Alana. In his second trial, the jury acquitted him because the witnesses who testified against him were "street types." In the Pigott case, Prosecutor Giutini managed to convict Alana of receiving stolen property in connection with his possession of the murder victim's ring.

     In 1986, as a defendant in the Al Ingram murder trial, the jury couldn't reach an unanimous verdict on the issue of Alana's guilt. The judge declared a mistrial. James Hodari Benson was convicted of the murder in 1987. A year later, Alana pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the Benson case in return for a prison sentence of six years.

     Police officers, on August 6, 2013, arrested Randy Alana on a parole violation and booked him into the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin, California. The magistrate denied Alana bail.

     Three days after Alana's arrest, a Contra County search and rescue team near Lagoons Valley Park, an unincorporated area in Solano County outside of Vacaville, California, found Sandra Coke's body in a creek bed. She had been strangled to death.

     Former Alameda prosecutor Russ Giutini, in speaking to a CBS reporter, described Alana as a good-looking career criminal who is cunning and manipulative.

     On August 18, 2013, in a jailhouse interview, Randy Alana told a reporter with The Oakland Tribune that he and Sandra Coke had been in love and had planned to get married. During the past several months, according to Alana, they had shared a house and regularly attended the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm being treated like a suspect," he said.

     In November 2013, an Alameda County prosecutor charged Alana with murder in connection with Sandra Coke's death. Al Wax, Alana's longtime criminal defense attorney, called the case against his client "very weak and circumstantial," asked a judge in June 2014 to dismiss the case. The judge denied the defense motion to drop the charges. The case would progress to the trial stage.

     The Randy Alana murder trial got underway on March 16, 2015 in the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Prosecutor Colleen McMahon, in her opening remarks to the jury, said that after the defendant stoled Sandra Coke's dog Ginny on May 9, 2013, he tried to extort $1,000 from her for the pet's return. She didn't file charges against him and didn't pay him the ransom. She did, however, speak to his parole officer, accusing Alana of stealing her car, abducting her dog, and stealing her daughter's expensive headphones. This discussion led to Alana's incarceration that spring and summer for violating his parole.

     Infuriated that Coke had spoken to his parole agent, the defendant strangled Coke to death in the rear seat of her Mini Cooper parked behind the Nights Inn in North Oakland.

     Defense attorney Al Wax, in his opening statement, said that without an eyewitness or a confession, the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial and insufficient.

     Over the next four weeks, prosecutor McMahon presented her evidence that included incriminating surveillance camera footage, cellphone data, and records from the defendant's electronic ankle monitor. When police officers arrested him on August 6, 2013 in Dublin, California, Alana was in possess of the murder victim's car keys and credit cards.

     Two of the defendant's former cellmates at the Santa Rita County Jail took the stand for the prosecution and testified that following his arrest, he remarked that while he had assaulted many women in the past, things didn't look good for him this time.

     Prosecutor McMahon, to establish motive, played a recording of a phone call from Alana to Sandra Coke made on May 9, 2013 from the Santa Rita County Jail. In that call, Alana expressed his rage at her for getting him into trouble with his parole officer.

     A 40-year-old homeless woman took the stand and said that just hours after Sandra Coke's murder, the defendant took her, in his "wife's" Mini Cooper, to a motel in Oakland where they smoked crack and she gave him oral sex.

     Randy Alana took the stand on his own behalf on April 20, 2015. Under direct examination by defense attorney Wax, the defendant gave an account of his activities on the day of Coke's murder, a story he was telling for the first time. According to Alana, on August 3, 2013, he and Sandra Coke, in her Mini Cooper, followed two people she believed would lead them to her dog Ginny. At the point of destination, a crack house in Richmond, California, he went inside to smoke dope while she remained out side talking to the unidentified people.

     When Alana came out of the crack house Sandra asked him to take her car and and bank card and withdraw cash from her bank account. When he returned to the crack house with the money she was gone, presumably murdered by these mysterious people.

     On May 4, 2015, the last day of Alana's self-serving testimony, prosecutor McMahon, during a blistering cross-examination, poked several holes in the defendant's story. The next day, following the testimony of the defendant's 33-year-old daughter from a short-lived marriage in the 1980s, the defense rested. The judge excused the jury until May 18.

     On May 20, 2015, after the closing arguments, the jury, following a two-hour deliberation, found Randy Alana guilty as charged. He faced up to 96 years in prison.

     The Alameda County judge, on June 18, 2015, before sentencing the murderer to 131 years in prison, called Alana a "black hole that sucks the life out of anything positive." 

The Nanny From Hell

     Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte felt sure they had found the ideal nanny. The live-in nanny, whom they hired through Craigslist, immediately seemed to fit in, spending time around them and handling the couple's three kids well. But then the nanny, Diane Stretton, 64, became almost a different person.

     The nanny stopped working and holed up in her room, emerging only to eat. She didn't quit on the Bracamontes--in fact, she refused to leave their home. What's more, Stretton threatened to sue them for wrongful termination and abuse of the elderly.

     Police said they could not remove Stretton from the Braceamonte's home. The couple would have to go through an eviction process…[That was nonsense. The woman wasn't a tenant. She was an employee who was fired. She should have been throw out. Lock the doors, and if she tried to get back in, file a burglary complaint. Only in California.]

     On July 31, 2014, Stretton voluntarily moved out of the Bracamonte residence.

"California Couple's Live-In Nanny Stops Working, Refuses to Leave," Fox News, June 27, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Happy Man

I once knew a poet and part time college professor who claimed that nothing, absolutely nothing, ever made him angry. He said he believed only in happiness and love. A couple of years later, after spending ten days in a mental ward, the guy threw himself off a ferris wheel. I was one of three people who witnessed his burial in a shabby cemetery outside of Clarksburg, West Virginia. If there is some kind of meaning in all of this, it escapes me. Anyway, I kind of liked the guy.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Inside Jobs: Four Embezzlement Cases

     While it's impossible for a normal person to understand why, for example, a 14-year-old boy sets a building on fire for a sexual thrill, we all know why people steal. We understand because either as children, adolescents, or adults, we have taken something that didn't belong to us. The motive for theft is simple and direct, to get something for nothing. Theft is immoral, and of course, illegal. As a matter of morality, and certainly in law, the more you steal, the more serious your crime.

     In criminal law, there are several forms of theft, or illegal taking. Customers who steal merchandise from stores are retail thieves. People who slip out of restaurants without paying their bills commit theft of service. Employees who steal from their employers are larcenists security professionals call internal thieves. Criminals who threaten to expose victims' secrets if not paid money to remain silent, are blackmailers. A thug threatening future physical harm if the victim doesn't pay up is called an extortionist. (If you don't pay me $1,000 a month I'll burn down your business, is not how fire insurance is supposed to work.) Robbers are thieves who take money and valuables through the use of force or threat of immediate physical force; and burglars steal (and commit other crimes) by unlawful intrusion into homes and buildings. Swindlers and con artists acquire their loot through deception and fraud. And don't forget the passers of bad checks, forged money orders, and stolen and fake credit cards. It seems there are as many ways to steal as there are ways to acquire things legally.

     Except for major armored truck ambush jobs, big time jewelry heists, and massive credit card cases, the thieves who hit their victims the hardest financially, are the embezzlers. (The average bank robbery haul, for example, is just a few thousand dollars.) An embezzler is a person who's in what is called a fiduciary relationship with the victim, a position of trust. The embezzler--accountants, company and organization treasurers, financial managers, and various financial institution employees--steal from private and government employers and clients who have entrusted them with their money. While an embezzler can make a big, one-time haul, most steal smaller amounts over extended periods of time. To accomplish these illegal diversions of funds, embezzlers often alter financial documents, and commit the separate crimes of forgery and false swearing. Quite often, embezzlers, to get away with their thefts, have accomplices within the victim companies and organizations. Detectives and federal agents who investigate these cases (particularly when they involve sophisticated computer crimes), should be specialists in the investigation of financial offenses and criminal conspiracies.

Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania

     A recent audit of the personal finances of 95-year-old Dr. Robert Monsour led to criminal charges against 58-year-old Maureen A. Becker who was hired in 2000 to take around-the-clock care of the doctor, and to look after his money. She has been charged with diverting to her own use, between January 2008 and March 2010, $340,000 of the old man's money. Becker stood accused of depositing, into her own bank account, $167,000 from the sale of 67 acres of the doctor's estate. When asked why she had diverted these funds to her own bank account, Becker claimed the money had been a gift from her employer. (This, apparently, was news to Dr. Monsour.) Becker also told investigators that the doctor had raised her salary from $300 a week to $800. Detectives also found that the suspect deposited a number of her employer's CDs into her account, money she claimed the doctor wanted her to have.

     The judge, following Becker's guilty plea, sentenced her in June 2012 to three years in prison.

New York City

     Anita Collins, in 1986 and 1999, pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the theft of funds from a pair of her New York City employers. In return for her pleas, she avoided prison. In 2010, Collins, at age 65, worked in the finance office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. She had been hired without a background investigation. In an article published in the archdiocese newspaper, Catholic New York, she received praise for volunteering at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a mass welcoming 600 people to Catholicism. Described as an "unassuming" person, Collins told the author of the piece that "My faith has always been a steadfast part of my life."

     An outside auditor, in November 2011, discovered $350,000 of the church's money missing. Following a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Collins was charged with siphoning $1 million in church donations. Over a period of seven years Collins sent fake invoices to the archdiocese then issued some 450 checks to accounts she controlled. All of the transactions were in sums just under the $2,500 threshold that required a supervisor's approval.

     The church fired Anita Collins in December 2011. According to the chief investigator on the case, the suspect spent the $1 million on mortgage payments and on "a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far from her lawful means."

     Collins pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the first degree in September 2012. In October 2012, the Manhattan judge sentenced her to 4 to 9 years in prison. The judge also ordered her to pay back the church.

Belgrade, Montana

      In November 2010, police were called in when members of the Belgrade Little League Baseball Association couldn't figure out why outstanding bills for uniforms and supplies had not been paid. During a period of four years, league board members had signed blank checks, and gave them to the treasurer, Amy Jo Erickson, to pay the bills.

     In January 2011, after the police discovered that $92,000 from the organization had vanished, they confronted Erickson. The little league treasurer admitted that she had made the blank checks out to herself in "cash," and to her husband's plumbing company. She started embezzling in 2007 because, according to court records, she "needed help financially."

     Anita Collins took money from the church and Amy Jo Erickson stole from the parents and sponsors of little league baseball players. These thieves weren't starving, they didn't use the money for life saving surgery, and they didn't play Robin Hood by giving it to the poor. They simply redistributed a little wealth to themselves.

     In October 2012, after Erickson pleaded guilty, the judge sentenced her to 180 days in the Gallatin County Jail. The judge ordered her to pay full restitution.

Lakewood, Washington

     On November 29, 2009, a police assassin named Maurice Clemmons walked into a coffee shop in Parkland, Washington and shot four Lakewood police officers to death. Two days later, a police officer in Seattle killed Clemmons in a gun battle. Following the mass murder, the police department formed a charity to help the families of the slain officers called the Lakewood Police Independent Guild (LPIG). Officer Timothy Manos became the treasurer of the fund.

     Although the 34-year-old treasurer received a police salary of $93,347 a year, Manos had serious financial problems. In June 2006, Ford Motor Credit Company sued him for $12,000 he owned in car payments. He had been sued for unpaid medical expenses, and owed a lot of money to credit card companies. He and his wife also enjoyed what some would consider an extravagant lifestyle.

     In 2010 and 2011, citizens in the Lakewood community donated $3.2 million to the fund from which Manos allegedly skimmed $150,000. During the period the FBI believed he was embezzling the money, this debt-ridden cop took his wife to Las Vegas to enjoy the Cirque du Soleil, and several nights of gambling. Also during this period, Manos spent $1,700 on snowboarding and other outdoor gear. He bought a high-definition video camera; a computer; a stainless-steel refrigerator; and a high-definition television set. Between February 12, 2010 and February 20, 2011 Manos withdrew $50,000 from ATMs.

     In March 2011, FBI agents arrested Manos on 10 counts of wire fraud. LPIG official placed Officer Manos on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the federal investigation.

     A federal judge in Tacoma, following Manos' guilty plea, sentenced him to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $159,000 in restitution.

     Stealing from the Catholic church and the little league is bad enough, but the ripping-off of a charity for the families of slain police officers by a fellow officer is as bad as it gets.            

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Facebook Home Jewelry Heist

     Boastful posts on Facebook and Instagram about a jewelry inheritance apparently prompted three men to target a Philadelphia home for robbery. Three men wearing ski masks and wielding pistols kicked in the door of a residence in the Somerton neighborhood of the city at around 2:30 Sunday morning February 8, 2015. The home invaders demanded jewelry and other valuables from a 19-year-old resident.

     The robbery suspects escaped through a rear window with a Rolex watch, two gold chains and cellphones. Police say the 19-year-old victim and four others in the home ranging in age from 17 to 19 were not hurt. The suspects mentioned during the robbery that they targeted the residence after seeing the Facebook and Instagram posts about the expensive jewelry.

"Robbery Suspects Say Facebook Posts About Inheriting Jewelry Made Them Target Home," Associated Press, February 9, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Capital Punishment

Does the death penalty amount to cruel and unusual punishment? In some cases, I certainly hope so.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Men Who Impersonate Police Officers

     Years ago when starting out in St. Louis as an FBI agent I worked on a squad that, among other things, handled impersonation cases. Because I felt that I was impersonating a FBI agent, and getting paid for it, I didn't like these assignments. While it is a federal crime to impersonate a federal law enforcement officer, federal prosecutors will not press a case unless the perpetrator misrepresented himself to acquire something of value. In the cases I worked the impersonators were trying to impress someone, often a woman, or simply trying to make their lives seem more exciting. (The beauty of impersonating a FBI agent over actually being one is that the impersonator doesn't have the paperwork associated with the job.) I questioned several of these people and found them harmless and in some cases pathetic.

     Naftali Berrill, the director of a private consulting firm called New York Forensics believes that police impersonators come in two flavors, and that both types pose a danger to themselves and to others. One group consists of criminal predators who employ the ruse to gain entry into a house or a car with the intent of robbery, rape or murder. (Serial killer Ted Bundy lured some of his victims into his Volkswagon by impersonating a police detective.) Many of these predator impersonators are violent sociopaths.

     According to Berrill, the second group of impersonators are men who are mentally or emotionally disturbed. Many of these people deal with feelings of inadequacy by using the indicia of law enforcement to expert power over others. Many of them are also depressed and lonely. Some are suicidal while a few might be capable of much worse. Police impersonators, as the cases below reveal, come from all walks of life. And not all of them are losers in their real lives.

Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski

     Raised in Argentina, Alfredo Borodowski earned his degree in law in 1996 at the University of Buenos Aires. After immigrating to the U.S. he became an ordained rabbi. In 2013, Borodowski lived in the Westchester County community of Larchmont, New York where he presided as rabbi of the Sulam Yaakov Congregation.

     In 2013, in the Westchester towns of White Plains, Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Mamaroneck, Rabbi Borodowski began impersonating a police officer by flashing a fake badge at motorists who annoyed him by either driving too slowly or erratically. In one case a 26-year-old driver told police officers that a man (Borodowski) chased him down, and as a police officer, scolded him for swerving in front of him.  

     Borodowski yelled at a 24-year-old woman for driving too slowly in a school zone. In White Plains, the rabbi tailgated a man then ordered him off the road by flashing a badge. The motorist's offense: Driving too slowly. The rabbi cop impersonator, on the Sprain Brook Parkway, chased a 30-year-old woman three miles then banged on her widow as she waited at a traffic light. According to this motorist, "He pulled out a badge and told me that he's going to have me arrested. First he said it was for slow driving. Then he said, 'no, I'm going to lock you up for erratic driving.' When the light turned green he jumped into his car and peeled off."

     When real police officers took Rabbi Borodowski into custody, he denied impersonating a police officer. "What happened," he said, "was that the girl was driving too slow, and I hate it when people do this because it causes traffic backups. She must have been going 15 miles per hour so I told her, 'police! I am calling the police.'"

     In February 2014, Rabbi Borodowski, the self-appointed crusader against slow driving, pleaded guilty in exchange for a fine instead of time in jail. The police impersonator also promised to seek psychiatric counseling. Hopefully he hasn't been impersonating a rabbi.

Bruce W. Browne

     On August 9, 2013, a police officer in Old Lyme, Connecticut, in response to a call from a citizen who spotted a man walking along a beach road with a handgun holstered at his side, came upon a blue 2004 Ford Crown Victoria that looked like a police car. The officer took note of the two-way radio and police-style emergency lights. The Ford's license plate revealed that the vehicle was registered to Bruce W. Browne, a resident of Wolcott, Connecticut. The officer learned that the owner of the police-style car was the estranged, half-brother of Scott Brown, the former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. (Senator Brown does not spell his last name with the silent e.)

     Earlier that day, Mr. Browne had approached three boaters as a law enforcement officer. (Browne had served a stint with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.)

     Inside Bruce Browne's Ford Crown Victoria police officers discovered a cache of police related equipment that included three loaded 9 mm pistols, a black nylon duty belt with two sets of handcuffs, an expandable baton, and twelve loaded pistol magazines. Mr. Browne also possessed a bulletproof vest with "POLICE" embroidered on the front and back. A silver TSA (Transportation Security Administration) badge was attached to the police vest.

     A local Connecticut prosecutor charged Bruce Browne with impersonating a police officer, breach of peace, interfering with a police officer, and possession of a dangerous weapon in a vehicle. The suspect posted his $50,000 bail.

     In February 2014, the 49-year-old Browne pleaded guilty to impersonating a police officer and falsifying a military discharge certificate. Two months later, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the judge sentenced Browne to a prison term of one year and a day. (Without the extra day, the crime would have been a misdemeanor offense served in a local jail. By adding the day, the case became a felony that involved a stretch in prison.)

Ninh Nguyen

     In September 2013, an officer with the Indianapolis, Indiana Police Department spotted, along a funeral procession route for a police officer killed in the line of duty, 38-year-old Ninh Nguyen. Nguyen, wore a police uniform that included a duty belt with a holstered gun, two sets of handcuffs, and a Taser. The Indianapolis officer, from past experience with Nguyen, knew he was a police impersonator. The officers saw the fake cop taking photographs of the funeral procession from his black 2012 Dodge Charger. Nguyen had equipped the vehicle with a siren, flashing lights, and a two-way radio.

     Following Nguyen's arrest, a Marion County prosecutor charged him with impersonating a public servant, a felony that carries a sentence in Indiana of six months to three years in prison. The prosecutor also charged Nguyen with theft of city property. The suspect pleaded not guilty to all charges, posted his bond and was released from jail.

     In the truck on Nguyen's phony police car, officers found an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and police equipment that had been stolen from the Indianapolis Police Department. A search of his house produced a 37-millimeter grenade launcher, more assault rifles, shotguns, more handguns, and several thousand rounds of ammunition.

     This was not the first time Mr. Nguyen had been in trouble with the law for this type of behavior. In 2004, while driving a white Ford Crown Victoria with strobe lights, Nguyen pulled over a motorist for speeding. The cop impersonator wore in a security officer's uniform. Two years later the authorities charged Nguyen with the unlawful use of a police radio, a misdemeanor offense. A local prosecutor dismissed that offense. In 2012 police were investigating Nguyen in connection with a peeping Tom accusation. That case did not lead to an arrest.
   
Matthew Michael Lee McMahon

     On Monday evening, June 2, 2014, in St. Augustine, Florida, a St. Johns County detective behind the wheel of an unmarked police car on the International Golf Parkway, passed a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria. Matthew Michael Lee McMahon, the driver of the car, turned on his red and blue emergency lights, pulled up alongside the police officer, and with a stern look on his face, gave him the slow-down hand gesture. The real officer pulled out of traffic and came to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. When McMahon didn't take the bait the St. Johns County officer pursued McMahon and pulled him over.

     That night McMahon found himself sitting in the county jail. The next morning a local prosecutor charged him with the improper display of blue lights. The accused impersonator paid his $5,500 bond and walked out of the St. Johns County Detention Facility.

     Note to police impersonators: It's never a good idea to enforce the law on a cop. If you do, the cop will return the favor.

Assaults Are Rarely Unprovoked

Victims of physical violence sometimes say they got beat up for no reason. This happens once in a while, but unprovoked street assaults by strangers are rare. There's usually a reason. A racial insult, an uncollected drug debt, revenge for the victim having sex with someone's underage daughter--it's always something, just not something the victim necessarily wants to tell the cops.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Woman Kills Her Police Officer Boyfriend Before Killing Herself

     Dallas police on February 9, 2015 released details about the shootings that left a police officer and a woman dead. Assistant Chief Randy Blankenbaker said officers were alerted to the fatal shooing by an emergency call from Otto Machelle Thomas Thomas before she took her own life. "Miss Thomas stated to the 911 operator that she had just committed a murder," the assistant chief said. "The 911 dispatcher asked the caller what had happened, and she replied, 'He was getting ready to hit me again and I just went off. I killed him because he was going to hit me again.' "

     Thomas, 41, told the 911 operator that the person she had just murdered--Dallas police officer Larry Tuttle--was her boyfriend, and that the incident occurred at his apartment. Police officers arrived at the scene within minutes. That's when Thomas called 911 a second time.

     During the second 911 call, the dispatcher could hear the patrol officers ordering Thomas to drop the gun and unlock the door. She said she had put down the gun and would unlock the door, but would have to walk away from the window where she was standing. A short time later, officers heard a muffled gunshot.

     SWAT officers discovered Officer Tuttle shot to death. Thomas was dead as well from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officers found, in an apartment bedroom, a six-year-old child who was taken into child protection custody.

"Woman Admits Killing Police Officer in 911 Call," wfaa.com, February 9, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles On Lifelong Bachelorhood

Because I've never married, people have asked me if I'm gay. Among the many things I am not, I am not gay, not a fan of marriage, and not fond of children. I like my cat, and once had a dog I liked fairly well. While I am not against friendship, I don't have many friends. That is by choice. Although I'm a loner, I'm not lonely. While it may sound pathetic, I have my writing, and that's enough for me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Albert Hamilton: Courtroom Charlatan

     In 1908, Albert Hamilton self-published a brochure about himself called, That Man From Auburn.  In this piece of self-advertisement, the druggist from Auburn, New York presented himself as an expert in chemistry, microscopy, handwriting identification, ink analysis, photography, fingerprints, and forensic toxicology. He also claimed expertise in the fields of gunshot wounds, bullet identification, blood stain analysis, cause of death determination, anatomy, embalming, and toxicology. To match his impressive qualifications, he awarded himself a medical degree, and from then on was known as Dr. Hamilton.

     Hamilton came into prominence in 1915 when he testified for the prosecution as a firearms identification expert in a rural New York murder case. The defendant, Charlie Stielow, an illiterate farmhand who stood accused of shooting to death the elderly couple who owned the farm where he worked, was facing the death sentence. The jury found Stielow guilty of first-degree murder on the strength of a coerced confession, and the testimony of Albert Hamilton who identified a defect inside the barrel of the defendant's .22-caliber revolver as having left its individualistic mark on one of the fatal bullets. Having earned $50 a day for his work on the case, Hamilton impressed the jury with his enlarged photographs of the murder bullet. It all looked quite scientific.

     In reality, Hamilton's testimony was pure hokum. The science of firearms identification, as it came to be practiced in the mid-1930s, did not exist in 1915. The comparison microscope, an instrument essential to the comparison and analysis of firearms evidence, was invented in 1926. Nevertheless, Hamilton assured the jurors that the fatal bullet had been fired from the defendant's handgun. His findings went unchallenged by the defense, and no one seemed to notice that he hadn't even test-fired the so-called murder weapon. The judge sentenced Stielow to death.

    Two years later, a pair of felons confessed to the murder, and the governor of New York formed a commission to review the case. The governor appointed Charles Waite, an investigator in the New York State Attorney General's office, to lead the inquiry. Waite took Stielow's revolver to a New York City police detective who knew about guns. An examination of the weapon convinced the officer that the revolver had not been fired in at least four years. Moreover, a naked eye examination of the bullets the New York police officer test-fired from the .22-caliber revolver showed vastly different barrel marks than those on the murder slugs.

     As a result of these and other post-conviction findings, the governor granted Charlie Stielow, and another defendant in the case, full pardons. Charles Waite, having been introduced to the possibilities of forensic firearms identification, went on to become a prominent practitioner in the field. In 1922, he formed the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. The bureau, the first of its kind, was taken over in 1926 by Dr. Calvin Goddard, an Army surgeon and ordinance officer from Baltimore who became the most important and qualified firearms identification expert in the world.

     In 1923, two Italian-American anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolemo Vanzetti, were convicted of shooting a factory paymaster and his bodyguard to death in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The defendants' attorneys were seeking grounds for a new trial, and called upon the services of Albert Hamilton. Since the Sacco-Vanzetti case had been grabbing headlines for months, Hamilton eagerly got involved in the case.

     Nicola Sacco's conviction was based chiefly on the testimony of three firearms identification witnesses who said the bullet that killed the guard had been fired from his Colt .32-caliber handgun. The experts also believed that the gun the police found on Vanzetti had belonged to the slain guard.

     After examining the firearms evidence, Hamilton reported that the fatal bullet had not been fired from Sacco's gun, and the weapon that had been in Vanzetti's possession was not the weapon that had once belonged to the bodyguard. Relying on Albert Hamilton's report, the Sacco-Vanzetti defense team filed a motion for a new trial. To counter the motion, the prosecution acquired the services of two experts who had not testified at the trial.

     In November 1933, during the hearing on the motion for the new trial, Hamilton conducted an in-court demonstration involving two new Colt revolvers, and Sacco's handgun. The two Colt .32-caliber demonstration revolvers belonged to Hamilton. In front of the judge, and lawyers for both sides, Hamilton disassembled all three revolvers and placed their parts in three piles on the defense table. He then explained the functions of each part, and demonstrated how they were interchangeable. After reassembling the handguns, Hamilton placed the two new weapons back into his pocket, and handed Sacco's Colt to the court clerk. Before he left the courtroom, the judge asked Hamilton to leave his two guns behind.

     Several months later, when the judge asked one of the prosecution firearms experts to reinspect Sacco's revolver, the expert discovered that the barrel to Sacco's gun was brand new. Following an inquiry, Albert Hamilton admitted that the new barrel on Sacco's Colt had come from one of his revolvers. Although it was obvious to everyone that Hamilton had made the switch, presumably with a mistrial in mind, he denied any wrongdoing. Hamilton continued his association with the Sacco-Vanzetti defense, but he no longer played an important role in the case. He had destroyed his credibility as a firearms expert and witness.

     The Sacco-Vanzetti motion for a new trial was denied, and in 1927, the two men died in the electric chair. Prior to their deaths, Dr. Calvin Goddard, the most qualified firearms identification expert in the world, stated that Sacco's gun had in fact been the murder weapon. (Several modern firearms identification experts have examined the ballistics evidence in the case, and agree with Dr. Goddard's findings.)

     The barrel-switching incident in the Sacco-Vanzetti case apparently had little effect on Hamilton's phony career as a forensic scientist. Eight years after the Sacco-Vanzetti debacle, he testified for the defense in a New York murder case. In 1932, Stephen Witherell murdered his father, Charles. The defendant admitted shooting his father at point blank range with a Remington rifle he had stolen from his cousin. An expert with the New York City Police Department identified this rifle as the murder weapon.

     By the time the trial rolled around, Stephen Witherell had recanted his confession. He took the stand on his behalf and denied shooting anyone. In fact, he denied the body in question was even his father's. (Decomposition and the massive gunshot wound to the victim's head had made the corpse unrecognizable.) Albert Hamilton took the stand, and testified that there were two gunshot wounds on the body: the head wound caused by a rifle, and a wound on the victim's hand, made by a handgun. Actually, there was no hand wound at all. The victim had lost two fingers in an industrial accident. Once again, Hamilton had proven that he was incompetent, and a charlatan.

     In 1934, Hamilton tried to insert himself in the Lindbergh kidnapping case by identifying a man named Manny Strewl as the writer of the ransom letters. Hamilton was not a qualified questioned document expert, and the writer of the extortion notes turned out to be Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The carpenter from the Bronx, an illegal alien from Germany with a criminal history in his home country, was executed in 1936 for the murder of the Lindbergh baby.

     Albert Hamilton continued to disgrace himself as an expert witness in several forensic fields for another ten years, making him one of the most notorious forensic charlatans in American history. If there is anything to learn from this man's career, it is that the woods are full of phony experts, and if judges let down their guards, we will have charlatans in our court rooms, and baloney in our verdicts.   

Hellementary Education

     A Florida kindergarten teacher who video-taped a boy as he beat other students on three occasions was suspended without pay. Duval County Public School officials accused Rita Baci of failing to protect her students as she recorded the beatings with her cellphone in November 2014. School administrators hit Baci with a 15-day unpaid suspension at a school board meeting on February 12, 2015.

     The 65-year-old classroom veteran was also reprimanded for using her foot to push a student out of her class and leaving him unattended in the hallway…The video Baci took showed one boy being hit about his face and body several times. Another kid was shown being kicked as he tried to hide under a table. A third student was punched and slapped on video.

     Baci said she had taken the videos for evidence of the boy's aggressive behavior in her classroom at the John E. Ford Montessori School in Jacksonville. She showed what she had recorded to an assistant principal before meeting with the disruptive child's parents. She also let other students watch the videos….

"Florida Teacher Suspended After Filming Kindergartner Beating Other Students," Fox News, February 15, 2015 

The Scofflaw And His Phantom Twin

     A New Jersey man repeatedly told local court officials they had the wrong guy, that it was his twin brother who had racked up all those traffic tickets. Court officials finally realized that Olawale Agoro used a fake name to have his court dates postponed. Olawale posed as his twin brother Tony to get new court dates for his traffic violations. As a result of his impersonation, he faced charges of hindering apprehension, false swearing and resisting arrest…

     The rouse began in July 2014 when a Maywood, New Jersey officer pulled Agoro over and issued him five traffic tickets. When he appeared in municipal court, he identified himself as Tony and said he was legally blind. However, officer Matthew Parodi, who pulled Agoro over, knew he was the same person he had stopped.

     Agoro left the courthouse and asked a man to drive his [Argoro's] car around the corner and stop. At that point the police officer saw the impostor climb in behind the wheel. Officer Parodi issued him three more tickets and his car was impounded.

     Agoro would go to the Rochelle Park, New Jersey Municipal Court where he posed as Tony and begged the clerk to grant adjournments for his brother because he was in Nigeria mourning the death of their father. After the adjournments were granted, Agoro missed a court date. That's when a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The additional charges were filed when the authorities realized that Tony did not exist.

"New Jersey Man Posed as Twin to Avoid Court Dates," Fox News, February 15, 2015


Thornton P. Knowles On Telling Rather Than Doing

I knew a writer who spent twenty years trying to get a first novel published. He kept his rejection slips in a thick scrapbook. He eventually gave up and wrote a bestseller on how to write a novel. I guess it's easier to tell others how to do something than do it yourself.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Justin Bieber And The Great Calabasas Egging Caper

     What do you get when you mix youth, wealth, fame, and a dose of sociopathy? You get a kid like Justin Bieber, the baby-faced singer with the big hair, tattooed arms, and oversized Jacqueline Onasis sunglasses. You get a bored, narcissistic jerk who doesn't have a clue how to deal with his vacuous life.

     If you're a rich person who is not young, stupid or famous, having a celebrity like Bieber move into the mansion next to you is not a good thing. It's not a good thing for the entire neighborhood. But what can you do? There is no such thing as zoning ordinances that keep entertainment celebrities out of communities.

     When the 19-year-old singer moved into the sprawling house on Prado del Grandioso Drive in Calabasas, California, neighbor Jeffrey Schwartz's nightmare began. With Bieber came the loud music and the all-night parties. Moreover, the celebrity himself became a huge pain-in-the-butt. In one confrontation with Schwartz, Bieber allegedly spit on him.

     On a more serious level, Mr. Schwartz and the other non-celebrities in the community accused the teen singer of endangering children by driving recklessly around the neighborhood in his luxury vehicles.

     Late Thursday night, January 9, 2014, Mr. Schwartz called the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office to report acts of vandalism against his home. According to the complainant, while standing on his second-floor balcony, he saw Justin Bieber throw at least twenty raw eggs at his house. The eggs permanently stained custom wood and venetian plaster that will cost Mr. Schwartz an estimated $20,000 to restore. The extent of the damage qualified the crime as felony vandalism. Detectives launched an investigation into the allegation, but did not take suspect Bieber into custody.

     At eight in the morning of Tuesday, January 14, 2014, pursuant to the egg assault case, twelve deputies out of the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station showed up at Bieber's mansion armed with a battering ram and a search warrant. As it turned out, the officers gained entry without using the battering ram. Eight people, including Bieber, were in the house when the police showed up at the door.

     Soon after entering the dwelling, deputies saw, in plain view, what they thought was a quantity of cocaine or the drug Ecstasy. In connection with the drugs, deputies arrested a 20-year-old rapper who calls himself Lil Za. Za was not only Bieber's friend, he had been living in the singer's house for several months.

     Deputies hauled Lil Za, real name Xavier Smith, to the Lost Hills Station lockup in Agoura. Later that day, after posting his $20,000 bond, Smith was about to be released when officers discovered he had destroyed the wall phone in the holding cell. Charged with felony vandalism, the judge raised the rapper's bail to $70,000. After posting the upped bond, Smith tweeted to his fans that he was doing just fine. What a relief.

     Crime lab personnel identified the substance seized in the Bieber house search as MDMA--a form of Ecstasy commonly known as "molly." In California, Ecstasy possession brings a maximum sentence of one year in jail. (Cocaine possession carries a maximum sentence of three years.)

     Bieber's egg throwing caper opened a can of worms for his drug possessing friend. However, while these alleged offenses provide rich material for the entertainment media, they are small potatoes crime-wise. When all is said and done, few celebrities ever go to jail. Look what it took to put O. J. Simpson and Phil Spector behind bars--and they committed murder.  Lindsay Lohan, another celebrity jerk, spent a few hours in jail and you'd think the world had come to an end.

     On Thursday, January 23, 2014 at four in the morning, police in Miami Beach, Florida arrested the bad-boy cutie for drag racing and driving under the influence of alcohol. He was racing his Lamborghini. He posted his bond, was released from custody, and later paid a fine.

     Regarding the great egging case, Bieber pleaded no contest to vandalism in return for two years on probation. Under the terms of his probation he was prohibited from possessing a concealed egg. Just kidding.

     At some point after the house-egging caper, the pop singer paid his neighbor $80,000 to cover the cost of the damage to the house. (They must have been really big eggs.) Mr. Schwartz, however, was not satisfied. The egging victim gave Bieber an ultimatum--fork over $1million or face a lawsuit.

     In response to the lawsuit threat, Bieber's people told Mr. Schwartz to suck an egg. As a result, in March 2015, Schwartz filed suit claiming the egg incident destroyed his reputation as an online auto leader. According to the plaintiff, he was known around the world as the guy Justin Bieber had egged and spit on. Exactly how that destroyed his business reputation was unclear. One would think that if anyone's reputation took a hit in the egging case, it was Bieber's.