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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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

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 

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 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 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

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.

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Obscurity

A century from now only a handful of today's writers will be remembered or read. The novelist who writes "for the ages" is a fool and will, fortunately, be the first to be forgotten.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Too Drunk To Drive But Not Too Drunk To Fabricate Evidence

     A man poured water onto a freezing road to try to fool police officers into thinking the cause of his drunken car crash was black ice. Twenty-year-old Bryan Byers of Sparta, New Jersey was arrested Saturday February 14, 2015 and charged with drunken driving and other offenses.

     Authorities said he hit a guardrail after running a stop sign in a BMW early that morning. Shortly after the crash, 20-year-old Alexander Zambenedetti, a friend of Byers, showed up in his own car. The two men dumped 5-gallon buckets of water onto the read to create black ice…

     An officer on patrol saw Byers walking in the road and Zambenedetti sitting in his vehicle with two buckets in the back seat around 2:45 AM. Zambendetti wasn't wearing a shirt despite a wind chill of 15 below zero.

     Mr. Byers confessed to the evidence-fabricating scheme.

"Man Created Black Ice To Mask Drunken Driving Crash," Associated Press, February 18, 2015 

Poverty and Crime: What Comes First?

     Many academic criminologists, most of whom are sociologists, believe that capitalism produces pockets of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, which then foster crime. The solution, they believe, is government intervention to provide jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce poverty and other social ills. There certainly is a correlation between the geography of crime and the geography of certain socio-economic factors, but to interpret the correlation as evidence that poverty causes crime is to get it just about backwards.

     As James K. Stewart, the Director of the National Institute of Justice, has pointed out, inner city areas where crime is rampant have tremendous potential for economic growth, given their infrastructure of railways, highways, electric power, water systems, and large supply of available labor. There is every reason for these areas to be wealthy and, indeed, many of them have been rich in the past. But crime takes a terrible toll on the physical, fiscal, and human capital, making it difficult to accumulate wealth and break out of the cycle of poverty. Criminals steal and destroy property, drive away customers and investors, reduce property values, and depreciate the quality of life in a neighborhood. Businesses close and working families move away, leaving behind a vacuum of opportunity. As Steward says, crime "is the ultimate tax on enterprise….The natural dynamic of the marketplace cannot assert itself when a local economy is regulated by crime [and corrupt politicians]. What these areas need most from government is not economic intervention but physical protection and security. The struggling inner-city dwellers whom sociologist William Julius Wilson has dubbed "the truly disadvantaged" deserve greater protection from their truly deviant neighbors. [The city of Detroit is a good example of the application of the poverty causes crime theory.]

Charles H. Logan and John J. DiLulio, Jr., "Ten Deadly Myths About Crime and Punishment," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Robin Hood Fantasy

People secretly applaud those who do not play by the rules. It's a vital fantasy among the law-abiding bourgeois. Whenever there is an economic dislocation, theft arises. We often fall in love with the little thief if there is a big one at work. The analogs of the robber barons and their rapacious greed are the small-time thieves in the underworld. [Don't forget about the biggest thief of all--the U.S. government.]

Stephen Mihm, A Nation of Counterfeiters, 2008

Thornton P. Knowles On Becoming a Literary Critic

If you can't write or edit, but want to become a part of the literary scene, become a critic. This will give you the opportunity to impose your rage and frustration on those who have the talent you crave.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Andrew Clarence Bullock Rape Case

     On Friday, December 13, 2013 at eleven-thirty in the morning, a nun in the Order of St. Joseph named Sister Mary Pellegrino encountered a young man in the parking lot behind St. Titus Church in Aliquippa, a western Pennsylvania town 25 miles north of Pittsburgh. The six-foot teenager, wearing a black-hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, and work boots, came up behind the retired 85-year-old nun, tapped her on the shoulder and asked if he could be of help. When Sister Pellegrino declined the smiling youth's offer, he exposed himself, choked her, punched her in the jaw, and raped her as she lay injured in the snow.

     Rushed to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Sister Pellegrino underwent surgery to repair her dislocated lower jaw. Although the nun was unable speak to detectives, she described the attack and her attacker in writing.

     At the scene of the crime, investigators photographed a series of boot impressions in the snow. Detectives also questioned people who had seen a 18-year-old named Andrew Clarence Bullock near the church just before the assault. Bullock had been wearing clothing that matched the victim's description of  her attacker's sweatshirt, pants, and shoes.

     A few hours after the assault behind St. Titus Church, Aliquippa police officers questioned Andrew Bullock. The suspect, after initially denying the assault, confessed. Officers noticed that Bullock wore work boots that matched, in size and tread pattern, the shoe impressions in the snow behind the church.

     Police officers booked Bullock into the Beaver County Jail on charges of rape, aggravated assault, and several lesser offenses. The District Judge set his bail at $50,000.

     On Sunday, December 15, 2013, doctors released Sister Mary from the hospital in Pittsburgh. It was hard to believe she survived such a vicious attack. Had she not, Mr. Bullock would have faced charges of first-degree murder.

     In November 2014, following his guilty plea, Beaver County Judge Harry Knafelc sentenced Andrew Bullock to 19 to 37 years in prison. The judge also designated Bullock a sexually violent predator. That meant that once out of prison he will have to register his address with the Megan's Law website.

Thornton P. Knowles on His Fiction Writing Technique

Once, at a mystery writer's conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, someone asked me how I produced my fiction. My answer was direct, and true: I replied that I have no idea how I do it, and when I do, I'll quit writing.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Homeless Crime Victims

     During the early morning hours of July 3, 17, and 19, 2012, someone in downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Hollywood, stabbed two homeless men and a women while they slept outdoors. The attacker fled the scenes leaving the wounded victims, all in their 50s, with large hunting knives stuck in their backs. None of the street people were robbed, and they all survived their wounds. Beyond the similar MOs, the assaults were linked by so-called "death warrant" notices left at each stabbing site. The typewritten documents were signed by a person using the name David Ben Keyes.

     Los Angeles detectives found a Facebook entry under the above name which included a photograph of a black man in his mid-30s. Police officers distributed copies of this photograph around skid row neighborhoods where the homeless lived. Street people were advised to spend their nights in shelters until the stabber himself was identified and taken off the street.

     At 8:40 in the evening of Friday, July 20, 2012, a man who identified himself as Courtney Anthony Robinson, called 911 and claimed responsibility for the three stabbings. The 37-year-old said he would surrender to the police at a Hong Kong Express Eatery located in downtown Hollywood. When officers took Robinson into custody, they noticed that he matched the Facebook photograph of David Ben Keyes. When asked why he had stabbed the sleeping street people, the arrestee assured his captors that this information would "come out in the court proceedings." There was no indication that Robinson knew his victims.

     According to data presented on David Ben Keyes' Facebook page, he was a musician and writer from Santa Barbara, California. In his Facebook profile, laden with schizophrenic sounding nonsense about his intent to restructure the "Holy Roman Catholic Church and Empire," Keyes-Robinson claimed to be the CEO of a $250 billion Beverly Hills entertainment corporation. In reality, Robinson was homeless like the people he had stabbed.

     On the day of his Hollywood arrest, Robinson was charged with three counts of attempted murder. He was held under $500,000 bond at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.

     In February 2015, a jury found Robinson guilty as charged. In the second phase of the trial to determine if the stabber had been sane at the time of the attacks, the same jury found the defendant legally insane and therefore not criminally culpable for the crimes. The judge ordered that he be sent to the Patton State Hospital where he would stay until the psychiatrists deemed him sane enough to be released back to the streets.

     Most crimes against the homeless are committed by mentally ill street people off their anti-psychotic medication. Long ago, people like this were cared for in institutions. Thanks to do-gooders who fought to set them free, they now live on the streets. Some spend their nights in shelters, but many prefer to remain outdoors around the clock. These are the people most vulnerable to assault and murder committed by offenders like Robinson.   

Suspicious Celebrity Death Cases: The Entertainment Value of Murder

     In California, by law, any time a "celebrity" dies suddenly and unexpectedly, the body must undergo an autopsy. This is because of the media, and the disturbing fact that in America, celebrities are more important than the rest of us. (There are thousands of legitimately suspicious deaths in this country every year that do not receive autopsies because of the shortage of forensic pathologists.) In Hollywood, to die suddenly without an autopsy has become a posthumous insult.

     It's easy to understand, for example, why Natalie Wood's sudden and unexpected death in 1981 made headlines. She was a beautiful and famous Hollywood actress, and her husband, a potential suspect in the case, was also a star. This celebrity death had all the makings of an O.J.-like media spectacle. But, when "Coroner to the Stars" Dr. Thomas Noguchi ruled the death an accidental drowning, he killed the story. Now, decades later, the Natalie Wood case regularly raises its head in the tabloids as a potential murder.

     If, in 1981, a housewife from Buffalo, New York had fallen off a boat into Lake Erie after arguing with her accountant husband, only a handful of people would have heard about the death in the local media. At best this death would have engendered a cursory investigation, then slipped into permanent oblivion.

     The regular re-opening of the Natalie Wood case has been more of a tabloid media event than a serious cold case homicide investigation. It's more for our entertainment than it is for the administration of justice. It's time we let this poor woman rest in peace.

Celebrity Heroin Deaths

Philip Seymour Hoffman. Cory Monteith. Janis Joplin. River Phoenix. John Belushi. Those are some of the Hollywood names that will forever be attached to heroin, after all five of the performers overdosed and died after taking heroin or a combination of heroin and cocaine….Drug experts say that heroin use among entertainers may be surprising because it is not talked about the same way that cocaine or party drugs are discussed….The addiction experts noted that while cocaine has a reputation for being appealing to business people for its ability to give them energy and focus, heroin's appeal is that it allows users to escape reality, a temptation for some in high-stress or highly visible professions….

Coleen Curry, "Why Hollywood Stars Turn to Heroin," ABC News, February 4, 2014  

Thornton P. Knowles On Time

Time drives the living insane. We think it will eventually kill us. In death, time does not exist. I can't wait.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, April 12, 2019

Psychic Detective Sylvia Browne's Last Case

     I don't believe in fortune tellers, soothsayers, spoon benders, people who communicate with the dead, and so-called psychic detectives. I find the mere pairing of the words "psychic" and "detective" offensive. If I were a chief of police, I would fire any detective caught conferring with one of these fakes. It should therefore not be a surprise that I was not a fan of psychic detective Sylvia Browne. (The 77-year-old author and media manipulator died in November 2013.)

     Browne grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1964 she moved to southern California where she set up shop as a psychic. Ten years later, perhaps in an effort to create the indicia of legitimacy, she founded the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research.

     During her career, Browne wrote 50 "nonfiction" books of which 22 appeared on The New York Times bestsellers list. While I have not read any of her books, I lament the trees that died for their existence. In my view, books by psychic detectives should placed in a genre called "untrue crime."

     Sylvia Browne achieved fame and fortune through her regular appearances on the TV shows "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Montel." Her television exposure also helped her promote her books.

     While the psychic detective offered her services in dozens of celebrated crimes, her predictions, in my opinion, never resulted directly in the solution of a murder or the location of a missing body. (In a missing persons/murder case a colleague of mine worked on, Browne told Montel Williams that the body was on the bottom of a small lake in Connecticut. The woman's remains were eventually found several hundred miles away.)

     One of Sylvia Browne's high-profile goofs involved the Cleveland kidnapping case featuring Amanda Berry. Browne told the victim's mother that her daughter was dead when in fact she was being held prisoner in Cleveland, Ohio by Ariel Castro.

     Psychic detectives would not exist if producers quit putting them on television. While it is doubtful any person smart enough to be a producer actually believes in psychics, a large segment of the TV-watching public consists of true believers. That's why psychic detectives are on TV. Moreover, if you're on the tube you are perceived as legit. Media exposure can be a phony stamp of approval.

     For millions of Americans living in a land of magical thinking, ghosts, Bigfoot, and UFOs, psychic detectives are perceived as real visionaries who can see and know things that ordinary people cannot. While psychic detectives give false hope, create investigative wild-goose-chases, and make TV hosts look foolish in the eyes of nonbelievers, I guess they are, in the scheme of things, relatively harmless. Nevertheless, I find them more than annoying because I can't stand fakes who sell more books than me.

Fatal Falls: Accident or Murder?

High on the list of scenarios for the perfect murder is death by falling from a high place. "Did he fall or was he pushed?" is no joke. Some of the most difficult crime investigations have centered on incidents on mountaintops. When two people are in a high, dangerous place, there are no witnesses on a bleak windswept mountain and not a CCTV camera for miles around. If someone falls to his or  her death, who is to know if it was a slip made by perhaps an inexperienced mountaineer or the fatal plunge after a gentile nudge by an enemy?

Les Brown and Robert Jeffery, Real Hard Cases, 2006

Thornton P. Knowles On The Political Zealot

Beware of the charismatic, politically ideological zealot for this person is a mentally unbalanced sociopath who will say and do whatever it takes to control every aspect of your life. Just a handful of these crazed, self righteous crusaders have, in the Twentieth Century, caused the deaths of millions of people.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Chisako Kakehi: Japan's Black Widow Serial Killer Case

     Japan is home to one of the fastest aging populations in the world. Japanese people are living longer and fewer of them live with their adult children. (This is also the trend in America.)

     Japanese men and women in their 70s whose spouses have died are lonely and vulnerable to a variety of crimes that includes murder. Many of them, desperate for companionship in their so-called golden years, access online dating services that cater to lonely senior citizens,

The Black Widow

     In 1964, 18-year-old Chisako, (Chisako, because of her multiple marriages, has many names. We'll use this one for now.) a bright, ambitious high school graduate from Muko, a small industrial suburb of the city of Kyoto, married a truck driver who later started a small printing company. Although Chisako had the intelligence and desire to attend college, her conservative parents, not wanting to waste a higher education on a woman, denied her that opportunity. She ended up working as a bank clerk, a job she felt was beneath her.

     In 1994, Chisako's husband suddenly fell ill and died at the age of 54. The authorities determined his death to be natural, and pursuant to custom in Japan, his body was cremated.,

     In 2004, Chisako, now 48, married the 67-year-old president of a small drug company. Two years later he got sick and died. With no reason to suspect foul play, the authorities listed his death as natural. His remains were also cremated.

     In May 2008, after being married to Chisako for less than two months, a 75-year-old landowner became ill and suddenly died. Two months after that, the 73-year-old clothing boutique owner Chisako was dating suddenly dropped dead. Although this was the fourth man connected to Chisako by marriage or romance to die suddenly, this man's passing did not catch the attention of law enforcement. As a result it was labeled a natural death. It seemed that when it came to partners, this woman had a lot of bad luck. She was, however, becoming rich.

     In 2012, after Chisako's 71-year-old fiance fell off his motorcycle and died, the police, now suspicious, ordered a blood test that revealed the presence of the poison cyanide. This man had been murdered and Chisako became the prime suspect in the case.

     While under investigation for the poisoning murder of her fiancee, Chisako married again, this time to a 75-year-old man named Isao Kakehi. Mr. Kakehi, a longtime widower, had a substantial savings account and owned his own home. One month after marrying Chisako, he ended up dead on the floor of his dwelling. Following the initial cause of death ruling of heart failure, a test of Isao Kakehi's blood revealed a lethal dose of cyanide.

     In November 2014, detectives with the Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested Chisako Kahehi on suspicion of murder in the death of Mr. Kakehi and the death of the poisoned fiance who fell off his motorcycle in 2012. When the fiance died from cyanide poisoning, Chisako was dating at least two other elderly men. Chisako's arrest probably saved their lives.

     Detectives, in December 2014, recovered a small bag of cyanide that had been hidden in a plant pot Chisako Kakehi had thrown away.

     According to investigators, the suspected serial killer's M.O. had been simple and direct. She used the online dating services to find lonely, moderately wealthy men whom she showered with romantic emails professing her undying love. Shortly after she married the man she had targeted, she pressured him to change his will to make her the sole beneficiary of his estate.

     Chisako Kakahi, dubbed by Japan's tabloid media as the "Black Widow," had amassed $8 million of her victims' money. Since she was richer than her last two or three victims, money may not have been her primary motive. She may have killed these men out of anger and resentment against a male-dominated society that did not recognize her worth.

     While the Chisako Kakahi serial murder case is based on circumstantial evidence--no one saw her poison these men and she has not confessed--it's hard to explain these deaths in any other way.

     During her November 2017 murder trial, Kakehi confessed to murdering three of her husbands and attempting to kill a fourth. The judge sentenced Chisako Kakehi to death.

    This serial murder case highlighted a problem in Japan's criminal justice system. Because of a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in Japan, autopsies were not conducted on six of Kakehi's suspected eight victims. In 2014, only 11.7 percent of "unusual deaths" resulted in autopsies. In England, that percentage is 40 percent. In Sweden, it's 95 percent.

The Sandra Aven Murder Case

     Tara Aven, 46, lived in the Prescott, Arizona home of her mother, 76-year-old Sandra Aven. In April 2019, a neighbor who hadn't seen Sandra for two years asked the local police to check on her. Officers questioned Sandra Aven's granddaughter, 24-year-old Briar Aven who lived nearby. According to Briar, her grandmother was out of town and could not be reached. Investigators, after receiving conflicting stories from Tara and Briar Aven, entered Sandra Aven's house where they found her body. The elderly woman had been dead for about two years.

     Interrogated by homicide detectives, the mother and granddaughter of the deceased woman allegedly confessed to killing Sandra and forging and cashing monthly checks made payable to her.

     Tara and Briar Aven were booked into the Yavapai County Jail on fraud and evidence tampering charges while the investigation into Sandra Aven's death continued.

Poison Murder

     There exists a kind of murder mystery pleasure to the subject of poisons; crime novelists, especially in the early twentieth century, have written them into countless tales of deathly intrigue. I've always admired the stylish writing of these vintage novels, which is a nice way of saying that I've read and enjoyed numerous stories involving murder by arsenic and cyanide. That hasn't affected the fact that, in reality, I find poison killings among the most disturbing of all homicides.

     I see poisoners--so calculating, so cold-blooded--as most like the villains of our horror stories. They're closer to that lurking monster in the closet than some drug-impaired crazy with a gun. I don't mean to dismiss the latter--both can achieve the same awful results. But the scarier killer is the one who thoughtfully plans his murder ahead, tricks a friend, wife, lover into swallowing something that will dissolve tissue, blister skin, twist the muscles with convulsions, knows all that will happen and does it anyway.

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook, 2010

Married to a Mobster

I look back and I realize that in the end I got everything I dreamed about having when I was still living with my parents in Bensonhurst [New York City] and longing for escape. I married a handsome man, we became wealthy [on other people's blood and money], we had children, they went to private schools, we lived in a nice big house. So I got everything I always wanted. Some people might say I got everything I deserved. What do they know?

Lynda Milito, widow of slain Gambino soldier Liborio "Louie" Milito in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2000

Trial Rhetoric

Criminal prosecutors will call a firearm a "weapon," while defense attorneys will call it a "gun." When prosecutors talk about the defendant "aiming" and "firing" the weapon, defense attorneys respond with phrases like "where the barrel was pointing when the gun went off."...All of these advocates have a vested interest in their choice of words (hence the term "mouthpiece").

D. H. Garrison, Jr. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Was Anyone Responsible For Avonte Oquendo's Death?

     Avonte Oquendo, an autistic 14-year-old who didn't speak, attended school in Long Island City, Queens, New York. The black, five-foot-three, 120 pound student was enrolled in the school's special needs program. He lived with his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, a social services case manager, and his four older brothers aged 19 to 29. Avonte's school sits on a busy street across from a playground, a dog run, and a jogging path that overlooks the East River.

     At 12:40 PM on October 4, 2013, a school surveillance camera caught Avonte coming out of the building with other school kids. That was the last time anyone saw him. Reacting to the missing persons report filed by his mother, dozens of New York City police officers from the 102 Precinct, aided by two helicopters, conducted a thorough search of the neighborhood.

     Following the initial surge of police activity on the case, Avonte's mother Vanessa, working out of a donated recreational vehicle parked in front of the school, oversaw the deployment of volunteer searchers and the distribution of missing person fliers.

     Vanessa Fontaine also organized candlelight vigils and rallies, raised $95,000 in reward money from anonymous donors, and appeared on several nationally broadcast television programs. While the police received hundreds of tips, nothing panned out.

     Two months after her son's disappearance, Vanessa moved her operation out of the RV and set up shop in a rented office. Thirty days after that, with still no leads on Avonte's whereabouts, activity on the case waned. There were fewer tips coming in, and only a handful of volunteers showed up each day at Vanessa's missing persons headquarters.

     The missing boy's mother filed a $25 million lawsuit against New York City's Board of Education. The plaintiff accused the staff at Avonte's school of failing to protect him.

     On Thursday night, January 16, 2014, body parts and items of clothing found near the Queens shoreline. The remains were later identified as the missing boy's. The search was over and a new phase of the case, determining Oquendo's cause and manner of death, was underway.

     In March 2014, Richard Condon, the school system's "Special Commissioner of Investigation," sent a 12-page report regarding the Oquendo case to the Queen's District Attorney's Office. The report did not allege that any crime had occurred and did not recommend that any school employee should be disciplined.

     As a criminal matter the Oquendo case was closed. The official manner of the boy's drowning went into the books as "undermined". To this date no one from the school has been held accountable for the autistic teenager's fate.

Campus Political Correctness and Phony Outrage

Students are ill-served by the culture of the modern college campus which stifles free-thinking in order to protect students from damaging each other's feelings in even the most trivial ways. It's not just that students are offended much too easily, it's almost as if they want a chance to grandstand or win an argument even if the justification for their offendedness makes absolutely no sense.

Greg Lukianoff, Unlearning Liberty, 2013 

Fairy Tales As True Crime for Kids

     The children are safely tucked in bed; a light breeze blows in through the window; Mom hushes them and begins to tell a sweet tale of children being abandoned in the woods, lured to a witch's cottage, there to be fattened and roasted in an oven. Medium-rare.

     Critics have long complained about the violent content of some of the classic fairy tales we read to our children. However, what few of these critics realize is that we are reading watered down versions of the fairy tales, and that the originals were far more graphic and brutal.

     Sleeping beauty was not first awakened by a kiss; in the 1636 Italian version of the tale--the first known written version--she was raped by a man who rode off the next morning without leaving even a Dear Sleeping Beauty note. Her "morning after" came nine months later when she awoke to find herself the proud mother of twins.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Who Buys True Crime Books?

The main audience for true crime works is generally the middle class with more women than men buying the books. There is also a fairly strong teen market, and books of regional interest have specialized markets. For example, both Texas and the Pacific Northwest are strong locales for the true crime market.

Vicky Munro

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Jovan Belcher Murder-Suicide Case

     Jovan Belcher grew up on Long Island, New York where at West Babylon High School he starred in wrestling and football. In 2009, after graduating from the University of Maine, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. By 2012, the 6-foot-2, 228 pound former special teams player had made the starting line-up as a linebacker.

     In late October 2012, about six weeks after Belcher's live-in girlfriend Kasandra Perkins gave birth to their daughter, the 22-year-old mother moved out of the split-level house she had shared with the 25-year-old Belcher in southeast Kansas City. The former student at Kansas City's Blue River Campus of the Metropolitan Community College, took up residence in Austin, Texas with her cousin who was married to a Kansas City Chief's player named Jamaal Charles. Perkins and Belcher had been arguing, and there were indications that he had been depressed and under stress.

     Just before Thanksgiving, Perkins and the three-month-old baby returned to Kansas City where they resumed living in the quiet, middle-class residential neighborhood with the football player and his mother, Cheryl Shepherd. At 7:50 Saturday morning, December 1, 2012, Jovan Belcher's mother called 911 to report a shooting. The police arrived to find that Jovan had shot Kasandra Perkins several times with a handgun. (She died a short time later in the hospital. The baby had been in another room.) After the murder, Jovan left the house in his black Bentley en route to the Arrowhead Stadium complex five miles away.

     The football team's general manager Scott Pioli, his head coach Romeo Crennel, and an assistant had just walked out of the practice facility when Belcher drove onto the parking lot and climbed out of his car. The distraught football player walked up to the three men, and while holding a handgun to his temple, thanked them for all they had done for him. Jovan then turned his back on the general manager and the two coaches and shot himself once in the head. He killed himself as police cars rolled up to the scene.

     The Jovan Belcher case made a big splash in the media because it featured two subjects of great interest to the public--violent crime and sports. And there were other elements in the tragedy that made it particularly newsworthy. For example, gun control advocates and sports pundit Bob Costas cited the case as an example of American's gun culture. (The handgun Belcher used on Perkins and himself had been purchased legally.)

     If it turned out that this NFL player had been taking performance-enhancing drugs, or had been hooked on meth, bath salts, or cocaine, the media focus on the murder-suicide would also include America's drug culture. There was also the issue of how brutal the game of football had become, and the physiological effects of this violence on its participants. Over the past few years, scientists and medical researchers have found a link between routine hits to the head and brain disease, memory loss, dementia, and depression. The suicide of Junior Seau, the former San Diego star, brought attention to the debate over the long-term effects of football on its players.

     According to reports, Belcher, at the time of the murder-suicide, had been combining alcohol with pain-killing drugs. Moreover, he had a history of violence against women.


Josh Brent and Jovan Belcher: NFL Players, Their Crimes, The Media and The Law

    The number of people killed by intoxicated drivers has been on the decline for a decade. Since the FBI doesn't keep track of this kind of killing specifically, we don't know how many drunk drivers are convicted of homicide. Every year, 16,000 people are killed in alcohol and drug related traffic accidents, but a certain percentage of those killed are the drivers themselves.

     Under state law, an intoxicated driver who causes a fatal traffic accident is guilty of an unintentional criminal homicide called, depending on the jurisdiction, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or vehicular manslaughter. Defendants convicted of this lesser degree of homicide usually receive sentences that range from five to fifteen years in prison. The severity of punishment in these cases depends upon the driver's DUI history, the degree of intoxication, and the recklessness of the driving. Over the years, however, judges have become increasingly less lenient in vehicular homicide convictions.

     Every year, the police in the United States make about 1.5 million DUI arrests, and unless they pull over someone famous, these events are not newsworthy. The same is true for the vast majority of vehicular homicide cases which receive minor coverage in the local press and on television news. However, when a drunk driving fatality involves several children, an entire family, or a car full of teenagers, the media pays more attention, but they are still local news events.

     In the early morning hours of December 8, 2012, near the southern California town of Victorville, a man named Ilich Ernesto Vargas, while driving the wrong way on I-15, crashed head-on into another vehicle. The 28-year-old driver of the other car, David Ahmed of Fort Irwin, received minor injuries. But the accident took the life of Vargas' passenger, 50-year-old Kellie Sue Hughes. The California Highway Patrol officer who took the drug-crazed Vargas into custody at the scene, had to employ his taser. Vargas had broken a leg in the crash.

     The fatal traffic accident on I-15 that had all the signs of a vehicular homicide case, generated two paragraphs in the Los Angeles Times, and mention the next day on local television news. There was no follow-up on this story by the Los Angeles media.

     On the morning Ilich Vargas crashed his car and killed his passenger in southern California, Josh Brent flipped his Mercedes and killed his passenger in Dallas, Texas. While the police in both fatal traffic accidents suspected that the drivers were intoxicated, and therefore potential vehicular homicide defendants, the crash in Dallas attracted the attention of the national media. The Dallas case was big news because the driver, Josh Brent, played football for the Dallas Cowboys. The fact that his 25-year-old passenger, Jerry Brown, was a teammate, made the story even more media significant, particularly in the wake of the recent murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher, an NFL player for the Kansas City Chiefs.

     As a potential vehicular homicide case, there was nothing in the Brent accident that set it apart from all the other fatalities beyond the identities of the driver and his dead passenger. From the standpoint of the victims' families in these cases, all of these accidents were tragic. And to varying degrees, these fatalities ruined the lives of the intoxicated drivers. But this wasn't enough by itself to make these events newsworthy. In the Josh Brent case, the added ingredient was sports. It was really a sports story.

     It should come as no surprise that in a country where a single NFL football game generates three times more media attention than the typical crime, weather, political, war, or business related story, that Josh Brent's status as a professional football player made his situation so important. Print journalists and cable TV correspondents, as well as sports broadcasters and pundits, babbled on and on about the effect of the tragedy on the other players, and of course, the team. There was no media discussions about how to combat substance abuse among our professional athletes.

     Correspondents and reporters in the news and sports media used the Josh Brent case and the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide as a jumping off point for long, detailed essays on the possible effects of head trauma in the NFL. Had the sport of football become too violent? (Most fans would say yes, but that was exactly how they liked it.) Was football responsible for player depression, off-the-field domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and murder? If it was, what could we do about it?

     In American culture, professional athletes are special people, and as such, are treated differently than ordinary citizens. Their problems are our problems, indeed, our responsibility. Prior to the intense media coverage of their tragedies, most people never heard of Josh Brent, Jerry Brown, or Jovan Belcher. Had these men not been professional football players, most still wouldn't know their names.

     While we are, in theory at least, all equal under the law, we are not equal under the glare of the media. This may not be a good thing for Josh Brent. The magistrate in his case set his bail at $500,000.

     In January 2014, a jury found Josh Brent guilty of manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to 180 days in jail and ten years of probation.

Can A Severed Head Think?

If there was sensation after decapitation, then the guillotine wasn't the quick merciful death promised by the Revolutionary leaders. It was cruel, maybe crueler than hanging or disemboweling, to transform the victim into a disembodied head fully experiencing the agony of a horrific knife wound. Remember that the Enlightenment was an age of reason--with a turn away from religion and emotion--so the logical question was: Why couldn't the head beam on for a few more minutes of consciousness? As one French writer put it, if the severed head is conscious, then it reconfigures Descartes famed dictum to "I think but I am not."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

The Power of Cross-Examination

     The ability to conduct an effective cross-examination is one of the most important skills in the arsenal of the trial attorney, as well as one of the most difficult to master. If the witness, as is usually the case, is telling the truth as he knows it, but that truth is overly slanted in the favor of say, the prosecution, then the defense attorney must bring that truth back toward or past the middle by careful questioning. However, if he is too assertive with a likable witness who appears to be honestly trying to tell the truth, then he runs the risk of alienating the jury and undoing any good he accomplishes in the examination.

     One question on cross-examination that tends to be productive is, "Have you discussed your testimony with the state's attorney or anyone from his office?" The answer almost has to be "yes," because the prosecutor would be foolish to put anyone on the stand without knowing what he or she is going to say. But many witnesses think that it's wrong to admit to having talked about their testimony. Consequently, they will often hem and haw and deny it, and end up looking furtive when they are forced to admit that, yes, they spoke to the prosecutor twice in his office.

Louis Nizer, My Life in Court, 1961

Monday, April 8, 2019

Rebecca Hardy's Strange and Savage Death

     In 2015, 22-year-old Rebecca Hardy resided in a modest home in Port Huron, Michigan with her boyfriend Matthew Grattan and their 18-month-old daughter Molly. Port Huron is a small, Canadian border town located 60 miles northeast of Detroit.

     On Thursday afternoon, December 3, 2015, Rebecca Hardy stormed out of her house following an argument with her boyfriend. In the backyard of another house in the neighborhood, she took off her shoes and climbed over a fence that kept the owner's two dogs confined to his property. The dogs, a pit bull and a pit bull-husky mix, immediately set upon the intruder.

     The dogs knocked Rebecca Hardy to the ground and attacked her neck and face. A local resident witnessed the mauling and tried, but failed, to call the dogs off. Eventually the dogs' owner responded to the attack and subdued his pets. By then the dogs had severely injured the woman who had climbed into their yard.

     Paramedics rushed the severely bitten Hardy to the Lake Huron Medical Center from where she was airlifted to the Beaumont Hospital for emergency surgery. That evening, Rebecca Hardy died from her injuries.

     The dogs who had attacked Hardy were gathered up by animal control personnel and euthanized the next day. The local prosecutor, following a police investigation, declined to file criminal charges against the dogs' owner.

     On Wednesday, December 9, 2015, Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, the Chief Medical Examiner of Oakland County, ruled the manner of Rebecca Hardy's death as suicide. In his report, Dr. Dragovic wrote: "These were attack dogs. They were vicious dogs in an enclosed space. She [Hardy] obviously was aware of that, because she climbed over the fence to subject herself to this threat." According to the medical examiner, Rebecca Hardy recently attempted suicide after being thrown out of her house.

     Following Rebecca Hardy's gruesome and fatal mauling, Matthew Grattan, her boyfriend and the father of her child, told a local reporter that he disputed the medical examiner's suicide ruling. "I, in no way, shape or form believe that she was looking to hurt herself on that day. She had a little girl. She wanted us to be a family."

     Rebecca Hardy's mother, Terressa Engel, was reported as saying this about her daughter's bizarre death: "I just don't understand how being mauled to death is suicide. They must have a new term for suicide."

     Absent suicide, Rebecca Hardy's fate would have been classified as either an accident or a homicide. Matthew Grattan did not offer an alternative theory as to the manner of Rebecca Hardy's death.

     In January 2016, Dr. Dragovic released the toxicology report that revealed that Rebecca Hardy had alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine in her system at the time of her death. 

The "Refreshed" Memory of a Trial Witness

The common doctrine of what is known as "refreshing the memory" in actual practice is notoriously absurd. Witnesses who have made memoranda as to certain facts, or even, in certain cases, of conversations, and who have no independent recollection thereof, are permitted to read them for the purpose of "refreshing" their memories. Having done so, they are then asked if they now have, independently of the paper, any recollection of them. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it would be absolutely impossible for them really to remember anything of the sort. They read the entry, know it is probably accurate, and are morally convinced that the fact is as thereon stated. They answer yes, that their recollection has been refreshed and that they now do remember, and are allowed to testify to the fact as of their own knowledge.

Arthur Train (author and practicing attorney), The Prisoner at the Bar, 1926

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Death of Logical Thinking and Common Sense

     In an era in which we are overwhelmed with information, Americans are losing the ability to draw logical conclusions, apply common sense, and distinguish what is real from what isn't. We live in a culture of magical thinking devoid of objective truth. One plus one used to be two. Now it's two if you want it to be. It could be three, or 714. Insisting that one plus one is two is considered mean-spirited, and discriminates against people who aren't good at math.

     When I taught criminal justice, I had college students who insisted that O. J. Simpson was innocent. But when I asked these students to identify the exonerating evidence in the case, I realized they didn't know anything about the double murder. That lack of knowledge, however, did not discourage them from having strong opinions. They didn't know that O. J. was innocent, they believed it. What you believe has become more important than what you know.

     Recently several people in Florida were bilked out of a lot of money by a couple of psychics. The fact that fortune-tellers can make a living in modern America is disturbing. No one should believe in psychics. Again, we are losing our ability to separate reality from fantasy.

     The loss of common sense and logic to irrational, magical thinking is perhaps one of the greatest dangers facing our country. A nation that can't think straight, make rational decisions, and apply common sense solutions to problems, is doomed. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Creative Writing As a Career

English teachers should not encourage their students to pursue careers as novelists. The crazy ones with big talent will get there on their own. The rest should be spared the misery.

 Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Harry Potter Effect

The first novel I published was the fifth I'd written and when it sold I was working on novel thirteen. What finally made the difference? Harry Potter. I slid into publication on Harry Potter's big, beautiful coattails. When I first started writing you couldn't sell a fantasy novel for teens to save your life. An editor once told me, "First you have to sell three or four realistic novels, about real kids, preferably humorous. If they do well then maybe, maybe someone will look at your fantasy." Then Harry Potter hit, and every editor in the country started pulling fantasy out of their slush piles.

Hilari Bell in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Free Speech and The Snitch Next Door

     The end of free speech will not necessarily come when there are soldiers in the streets, secret police in the alleyways and a mustachioed man screaming at you on a television set that can't be turned off no matter how you turn the knob or click the buttons. [George Orwell, 1984]

     Some of these things existed in totalitarian countries, but they were there to sweep up the hardened dissenters who refused to be silenced. The vast majority of citizens did not have bugged phones or men in trench coats following them around.

     That was what their friends and neighbors were for.

     The first line of offense by a totalitarian society against freedom of speech is sourced to the people in the streets. No secret police force is large enough to spy on everyone all the time. [The NSA seems capable of doing that.] Nor does it need to. That is what informers are for.

Daniel Greenfield, "Lynching Free Speech," Frontpage Mag, December 27, 2013