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Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Victor Vickery Peeping Tom Murder Case

     In 2018, 30-year-old Victor "Tori" Vickery lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his girlfriend, Samantha Hobi. Vickery, a violent man with a short temper and criminal record involving domestic abuse, auto theft, and possession of illegal prescription drugs, had physically abused Hobi. As a result, they had an on-and-off again, turbulent relationship.

     On the night of July 2, 2018, Vickery and Hobi were in bed having sex when they heard a noise outside of their bedroom window. Vickery, without putting on any clothes, went outside to investigate and encountered, at the window, a man with his genitals exposed.

     Vickery yelled to his girlfriend that he was holding the window-peeking man for the police, and that she should call 911.

     Instead of simply restraining the man in his yard, Vickery punched him repeatedly in the head, and when the man was on the ground, kicked him several times in the torso.

     The 911 dispatcher who took Samatha Hobi's call, overheard her shouting, "Tori, stop! Tori, that's enough!"

     When police officers arrived at the house, they found Vickery, with his knuckles bloody, holding an ice pack on his swollen foot. Out in the fenced backyard, officers found the bloodied and unconscious Peeping Tom. Medics rushed the unconscious man to the Broward Health North Hospital in Deerfield Beach where, 90 minutes later, he died.

     Criminal investigators quickly identified the man beaten to death by Vickery as 57-year-old Asaad Akar, a resident of the neighborhood known to peep into his neighbors' bedroom windows.

     Samatha Hobi, when questioned by detectives that night, said that after calling 911, she went out to the backyard and struck the window peeking man with a shovel. Victor Vickery told the officers that he only punched and kicked the trespasser "a handful of times."

     On July 23, 2018, when questioned by detectives again, Samantha Hobi admitted she had lied to them about hitting Mr. Akar with a shovel. She said she did not leave the house that night, and did not witness the confrontation between Vickery and the man who was now dead from blunt force trauma to the head and torso.

     On August 15, 2018, three months after he killed Mr. Akar, Fort Lauderdale police arrested Victor Vickery regarding another matter. He was taken into custody on two counts of felony sexual battery, charges based on a criminal complain filed by Samantha Hobi. Vickery pleaded not guilty, put up his $75,000 bail, and was released from jail.

     On October 3, 2018, a Broward County judge granted Samantha Hobi a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend.

      Fourteen months after Asaad Akar's violent death, detectives, on October 17, 2019, arrested Victor Vickery for manslaughter in connection with the July 2018 beating. The suspect was held in the Broward County Mail Jail on $100,000 bond.

Walking On The Wild Side: The Increase of Pedestrian Deaths

In the United States, pedestrian deaths have increased more than 50 percent over the past ten years. In 2018, motorists killed 6,000 pedestrians. Experts blame the increase in pedestrian deaths on new road and street crossing designs, the proliferation of large vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, and pedestrians distracted by their cellphones.

The Role of the Forensic Psychiatrist

     When John Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" after having shot President Ronald Reagan and two of his aides [in 1981] in full view of the national press corps, public furor brought the controversy concerning the use of psychiatric testimony in criminal trials to a boil.

     Critics [of psychiatrists in the courtroom], most of whom demand that psychiatrists be banished from all criminal trials, possess either a minimal or distorted understanding of just what a forensic psychiatrist does....[The critics] have forgotten that well before a psychiatrist ever entered an American courtroom, our legal system was already greatly concerned not only with what a man did wrong, but why he did it--what was going on in his head at the moment of his offense.

     It is a cornerstone of our system of justice that if a man perceives himself as innocent at the time of his offense, if he had not intended a wrongful outcome, then he is less culpable than someone whose crime was deliberate and committed with malice aforethought. Because of the preeminence of the principle that there are degrees of criminal liability, criminal trials necessarily go beyond the black-and-white issue of whether or not the accused pulled the trigger, and into the murky labyrinth of his intentions and motivations--his state of mind.

Dr. Martin Blinder, Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985


The Empowerment Fantasy in Romance Fiction

In the romance novel the domineering male becomes the catalyst that makes the empowerment fantasy work. The heroine isn't as big as he is; she isn't as strong, as old, as worldly; many times she isn't well-eductated. Yet despite all these limitations she confronts him--not with physical strength but with intelligence and courage. And what happens? She always wins! Guts and brains every time. What a comforting fantasy this is for an overburdened, anxiety-ridden reader.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tangible Murder Scene Clues

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

Theodore Reik, The Unknown Murderer, 1945

Exploding Corpse Insurance

     Her neighbor's corpse exploded. Now Judy Rodrigo has to pay for the damages to her apartment. After six years of legal battle, a Florida court ruled Rodrigo's insurance policy did not cover damage caused by bursting corpses.

     In 2008, an elderly woman who lived alone with her two dogs died in her apartment and her body remained undiscovered for two weeks….The corpse decayed and festered until it burst, leaking corrosive fluids into Rodrigo's downstairs apartment. The body was finally discovered when the stench reached neighboring units.

     Rodrigo paid out of pocket to repair her apartment, which she said had to be gutted. The smell apparently lingered. She blamed the condo association for not discovering the corpse, and filed suit against her insurance company, State Farm, which refused to cover the full cost of the repair. "Another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo," the lawsuit said. [Perhaps human decomposition detectors should be installed in all of these units.]

     The court ruled in April 2014 in favor of State Farm, saying Rodrigo failed to establish the incident was indeed "tantamount to an explosion." [Decomposing bodies do not, in fact, explode. They do seep, however.]

Rachel Stolzfoos, "Corpse Explodes, Neighbor Forced to Pay Damages," The Daily Caller, April 28, 2014

Don't Write Extremely Complicated Stories

A story that's too complicated uses up its energy just to explain what's happening. Complication is not complexity. A story that renders a single moment convincingly is a complex accomplishment. The complexity lies in the richness, the rendering, the texture, the subtlety of observation, the experience for readers. A beautifully complex story is often complex not because of a complicated surface but because of an impressive depth.

Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1991

America's First Horror Novel

A man bursts spontaneously into flames. Disembodied voices speak. Something lurks behind the closet door. A victim of religious mania kills his wife and children. These episodes can be found in Wieland, or The Transformation, published in 1798. It is the first American horror novel, written by Charles B. Brockden Brown, a Philadelphian of Quaker stock who is recognized as the father of American literature. He was, in other words, the first American crazy enough to try to support himself solely by writing fiction.

Douglas E. Winter, Faces of Fear, 1985 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Few People In America Steal For Survival

Some people steal to stay alive, and some steal to feel alive.

V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic, 2015

A Controversial Children's Book

Perhaps the most polarizing book written for children is The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister. To its fans, it's a sparkling illustrated story about a beautiful but arrogant fish who learns humility by giving away its shiny scales to less fortunate fish. To detractors, it's a socialist screed that encourages "an attitude of greed and entitlement," as one customer wrote in a review on Amazon.com.

John Williams "Books to Love and Hate," The New York Times Book Review, October 5, 2014 

All Novelists Get Discouraged

Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you're thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom.

Maxwell Perkins in Max Perkins, A. Scott Berg, 1978 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Killing Bambi

     Lest anyone think that American law enforcement isn't insanely militarized, the story of a SWAT-like raid of an animal shelter in search of a state-condemned baby fawn should settle the question once and for all.

     In early July 2013, a family living in Illinois across the state line from Kenosha, Wisconsin, rescued a baby fawn that had been abandoned by her mother. The animal lovers who discovered the deer in their backyard, called the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in Kenosha. Personnel at the no-kill shelter agreed to take custody of the abandoned deer.

     An unidentified busybody, shocked that the shelter housed a wild animal without the required state-issued permit, alerted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After the agency received the anonymous tip, DNR agents dedicated to maintaining the peace and dignity of the great state of Wisconsin, sprang into action. Rather than one agent simply driving out to the shelter to inform the St. Francis personnel that they needed to acquire a permit for the baby deer (the day will come when we will have to get government permits for everything), DNR agents assigned to the case arranged for aerial photographs of the animal shelter and the contraband deer.

     Employees of the rogue animal shelter had named the 35-pound fawn "Giggles" because of the sounds she made.

     On July 15, 2013, a heavily armed squad of nine DNR agents accompanied by four deputy sheriffs rolled up to the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in several police vehicles. (The local SWAT tank was currently being used to transport a captured check-passer who had been caught in possession of two unregistered ballpoint pens. Just kidding.) It's hard to image what the idiot in charge of this SWAT-like operation was thinking. Did these officers expect armed resistance from the shelter workers? We all know how dangerous these kind of people can be. Perhaps the agents were afraid of Giggles. Unarmed deer in the wild have been known to charge hunters.

     As the DNR agents began executing their search warrant--that's right, they actually went to the trouble of bothering a judge for a search warrant--confused and concerned shelter employee were corralled near a picnic area. A false move at this point could have gotten one of them killed. This was serious business.

     The woman in charge of the shelter under siege informed one of the agents that Giggles was being taken the next day to a wildlife reserve. This relevant information fell on deaf ears. Armed law enforcement warriors on important crime-fighting missions do not allow themselves to be distracted by interfering bystanders.

     Not long after the armed invasion of the animal shelter, a DNR agent walked proudly out of the barn with a body-bag thrown over his shoulder. Giggles, still alive, was in the sack. One of the outraged shelter workers who assumed the agent had killed Giggles, asked why he had killed the fawn. (Giggles was tranquilized and dispatched by government officials later that day.)

     The  DNR agent, in response to the obvious question of why, said, "That's our policy." Of course, policy! That explains everything. The government has its policies and we have to shut up and live with those policies. What would a citizen know about policy?

     The animal shelter employee, obviously not impressed with the DNR policy of armed animal shelter raids in search of unlicensed baby deer scheduled for execution, said, "That's one hell of a policy!"

     Following the idiotic raid and execution of Giggles, shelter worker Ray Schultz said this to a local reporter: "I spent 22 years in the Air Force and two years in Vietnam and I've never seen such totally unnecessary, senseless cruelty."

     Cindy Schultz, the president of the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter, described the DNR raid to a reporter: "This was like the Gestapo coming in. Giggles didn't pose any threat. She was petrified. She wasn't even sick. There was no reason to kill her."

     It's bad enough that we have to live under the control of a growing army of mindless bureaucrats blindly enforcing stupid and unnecessary laws and regulations. It's even worse that these idiots have guns, and operate under the false belief they are keeping America safe.

The Stupid Pickpocket

Once I pulled a job. I was so stupid. I picked a guy's pocket on an airplane and made a run for it.

Rodney Dangerfield 

Literary Award Complaints

Literary prizes sometimes seem to function like parents whose approval we crave as well as spurn. The complaints are as common as they are contradictory: Prizes are awarded to tepid, undemanding best sellers everyone reads; prizes are awarded to obscure, abstruse books no one reads. They are awarded to the right authors, but for the wrong work (Hemingway for "The Old Man and the Sea," Faulkner for "A Fable"). They are awarded to the wrong authors for the wrong work (Margaret Mitchell for "Gone With the Wind"). They are withheld from the right authors for the right work (Gravity's Rainbow," by Thomas Pynchon, won jury approval for the Pulitzer Price in 1974 but was overruled by a board that deemed the novel "turgid," and "obscene"). Sometimes the grousing has the whiff of sour grapes. "Prize X has never been awarded to Philip Roth." Prize Y has never been awarded to me."

Jennifer Szalai, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, November 24, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Travane Jackson Quadruple Murder Case

     In 2019, 29-year-old Jerrica Spellman and her boyfriend of several years, 27-year-old Travane Jackson, lived at the Elizabeth Canty Apartments in Columbus, Georgia. The couple resided with their three young children. Jerrica Spellman worked as an exotic dancer at the Carousel Lounge in the city while Travane Jackson was employed at a car wash called Blue Devil Detail. Jessica, raised in Jesup, Georgia, had moved to Columbus in 2005.

     Travane Jackson, over the past several years, had been in trouble with the law. He had been arrested for drug offenses and for violating the terms of his probation. In 2018, after Jerrica Spellman filed a domestic violence complaint against him, the police arrested him for simple battery. This was not the first time Jackson had abused the mother of his three children.

     In July 2019, Jerrica Spellman, fed up with the domestic abuse, was preparing to leave Jackson and move, along with the children, to Atlanta where they planned to take up residence with her parents.

     At nine o'clock Wednesday night, July 17, 2019, officers with the Columbus Police Department were called to the Elizabeth Canty complex where they discovered, in the Spellman/Jackson apartment, a bloody scene of violent death.

     Police officers, upon entering the apartment, found the bodies of four people, all of whom had been stabbed many times. The murder victims were identified as Jerrica Spellman and her three children: one-month-old Khristian Jackson, one-year-old Kensley Jackson, and three-year-old King Jackson.

     Early on the morning following the quadruple murder, Columbus police officers arrested Travane Jackson and booked him into the Muscogee County Jail on four counts of murder.

     When questioned by detectives, Travane Jackson confessed to fatally stabbing Jerrica Spellman and their three children. Jackson told his interrogators that he wanted to write letters to Spellman's family expressing his remorse.

     At Travane Jackson's arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

"Upskirting" in Massachusetts: No Crime in That

     In 2010, transit authority police in Boston arrested Michael Robertson for using his cell phone to secretly snap photographs from beneath the dresses of unsuspecting female trolly passengers. This perverted behavior was so common in Massachusetts and other places it had a name--"upskirting."

     A prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office charged the 32-year-old upskirt photographer with two counts of secretly photographing a person in a state of nudity or partial nudity. The statute underlying the charges was intended to criminalize the act of placing hidden cameras in restrooms, shower stalls, and other places where people undress. This form of voyeurism in the state is punishable by up to two and a half years in prison. Almost all the perpetrators who had been convicted of this offense were men clandestinely photographing women and children. By any standard this was deviant and unacceptable behavior.

     Following Robertson's arrest, his attorney, Michelle Menken, moved to have the charges dropped on the grounds her client's actions did not fall within the letter of the law. Specifically, the women he photographed were not nude or partially nude as required by the statute.

     The prosecutor in charge of the case, in contesting the motion to dismiss, argued that Robertson's behavior clearly came under the spirit of the law. Certainly the legislators who passed this law would agree.

     A Suffolk County District Judge let the upskirting charges stand. Defense attorney Menken appealed that decision.

     On March 4, 2014, the State Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts' highest judicial body, ruled in favor of the upskirt photographer. The justices found that the statute in question did not prohibit the photographing of women who were fully dressed.

     Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, shortly after the ruling, told reporters that, "Every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her clothing. If the statute as written doesn't protect that privacy, then I'm urging the legislature to act rapidly and adjust the law so it does."

     In the United States, before an act can be treated as criminal behavior, the act and a corresponding state of mind must be specifically defined in the form of a statute. As a result, state crimes codes have to be continually updated to keep up with the ever changing nature of human depravity. For example, the reading of the animal cruelty sections of state crimes codes reveals how many ways people have found to torture animals. The theft section of a crimes code depicts all the methods thieves have devised to steal.

     State crimes codes are essentially catalogues of modern deviant behavior. Not long ago, no one had a phone you could use as a camera, and no one heard of upskirting. There was a time when there was no such thing as sexting, cyber bullying or getting high on bath salts. To be effective, criminal codes have to keep up with the times. Given the ability of people to blaze new trails into the dark worlds of deviancy and criminality, this is no easy task. 

Junk Science: Altering Behavior Through Blood Transfusion

     British and French doctors tried transfusing sheep's blood into humans, hoping that the life force of a docile creature might tame mad passions. In France, Dr. Jean Denis tried it on a wife-beater, with at first good results.

     Over in England, on November 23, 1667, a daft impoverished clergyman's helper, named Arthur Coga, was paid twenty shillings to undergo the experiment, receiving up to twelve ounces of blood from the wooly four-footed beast. "Some think it may have a good effect upon him as a frantic man by cooling his blood," wrote famed diarist, Samuel Pepys. A large crowd of experts gathered at the Royal Society to observe.

     Pepys was pleased to note that the following week, the man addressed the Royal Society in Latin. "He is a little cracked in his head, though he speaks very reasonably," added Pepys a bit cryptically.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Big City Gun Violence

     When politicians talk about the epidemic of gun violence in the country, they seldom address the problem honestly. Driven by political correctness, politicians focus on shootings involving spree killers, and armed men in suburbia who mistake family members and neighbors as intruders. Anytime a gun enthusiast at a gun show accidentally shoots someone, the media is all over the accident.

     While politicians are not the brightest people around, they know that gun violence is principally about young black men shooting other young black men in cities big and small across the country. The fear of being labeled racists keeps politicians from stating the obvious. That fear, by the way, is well-grounded.

     Black males are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than their white counterparts. That's because so many of them live in high-crime neighborhoods, and participate in dangerous activities. Every year, 3,000 to 4,000 black men are murdered by handguns. Roughly 30,000 are wounded. In March 2013, during a three-day period in Chicago, 38 black men were shot to death. That is more homicides than most cities have in one year. For example, in 2017, Madison, Wisconsin, a city of 255,000, had 11 criminal homicides.

     On any given night in many big cities, ambulances deliver up to 35 black males to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds.

     On average, treating a patient who has been shot costs $322,000. This form of inner-city violence costs U. S. taxpayer about $12 billion a year. The bill is significantly higher if you include loss of work, rehabilitation, court, and incarceration costs.

     Since the vast majority of these shootings involve illegally possessed handguns, the current gun control debate is nothing more than political grandstanding, and a waste of time. Politicians should be talking about how to reduce violent, inner city crime instead of imposing more regulations on law abiding gun owners. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Disarming The Police: The Politics Of Insanity

     Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal from the Bronx, New York, is a Democrat primary challenger to the incumbent Congressman for the 16th District Congressional District, Eliot Engel. Congressman Engel has held the seat since 1988.

     In October 2019, Jamaal Bowman tweeted this: "It's time to disarm the police." This candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives is calling for an unarmed police force. (I'm sure his proposal would not include taking guns away from the capital police.)

     No one in their right mind would stay on the job as an unarmed police officer in a criminally violent country like ours. And only suicidal people would fill all of the resultant law enforcement vacancies.

      If anti-gun advocates like Jamaal Bowman ever come to power, the only people who will possess firearms will be the criminals. Talk about dystopia.

     Disarming American law enforcement is an even more insane idea than disarming law abiding citizens. Anyone who would propose such irresponsible nonsense is unfit for public office. 

Should Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut Be Sued For Making Us Fat And Sick?

In recent years personal injury attorneys and trial lawyers have attacked the food industry with numerous lawsuits alleging that these businesses should pay monetary damages to those who, of their own accord, consume too much of a legal, safe product.

Bob Ney

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Football Coach Cheats And The Team Pays

     Sophomore running back Bill Jackson played for Cardinal Ritter College Prep in St. Louis, Missouri. In the 2018 title game, a referee ejected Jackson from the field following some infraction. As a result, Jackson was suspended from playing in one game in the following 2019 season.

     In the 2019 opening game, Cardinal Ritter head coach Brandon Gregory, rather than honor the suspension and keep his star player off the field, inserted him into the game under an alias. Junior running back Bill Jackson, jersey number 24, ran onto the field as freshman Marvin Burks, jersey number 4.

     Bill Jackson, aka Marvin Burks, ran for 109 yards that night and scored a touchdown in his team's 32-21 win over its opponent. To local sportswriters excited about the new running back, Coach Gregory praised Marvin Burks as a kid who had earned his right to start the game. "It was his time to play ball," Gregory said, knowing full well he was really talking about Bill Jackson.

     Well into Cardinal Ritter's 2019 undefeated season, the truth emerged about Marvin Burks' real identify. Someone noticed that the freshman running back had Bill Jackson's tattoos. Moreover, the player known as Marvin Burks and Bill Jackson were the same size, and had the same running style. As it turned out, Marvin Burks was Bill Jackson.

     Game over.

     Tamiko Armstead, the Cardinal Ritter College Prep president, voided the football team's 2019 season, and fired head coach Brandon Gregory and his entire coaching staff.

     Ex-coach Brandon Gregory, rather than take full responsibility for ruining the season for his football team and its fans, said in the passive voice of someone unwilling to admit guilt, that "a mistake had been made."

     If that response wasn't bad enough, the coach said he didn't know Bill Jackson had been suspended for one game. If that were true, why did Coach Gregory give his star running back a different number and a phony identity--for one game? Yeah, mistakes had been made, the big one being hiring this guy as coach.     

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Alexis de Tocqueville On The Future Of The American Republic

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French political scientist

Speeding Through Yellow Lights

According to federal guidelines, yellow traffic lights should have a duration of 3 to 6 seconds depending upon such factors as traffic volume, speed, and intersection design. While the yellow light denotes caution, if it precedes a red light, motorists in a hurry tend to speed through it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Forgotten Inmate

       The Dona Ana County Jail is in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the south central part of the state not far from the Mexican border. In August 2005, a driving while intoxicated and receiving stolen property arrestee named Stephen Slevin was placed into the 846-cot lockup. The 51-year-old, because of his history of mental illness, was segregated from the jail population. For reasons that defy understanding, Slevin remained in solitary confinement until his release in June 2007. After having Slevin in custody for 22 months, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against the so-called "forgotten inmate." (Had he been truly forgotten, the inmate would have starved to death. Since someone fed this isolated prisoner for 22 months, jail personnel knew of his situation. So how did this happen?)

     The "forgotten" prisoner had entered the Dona Ana County Jail in relatively good health, mentally and physically. He left the place weighting 133 pounds with bed sores and rotten teeth. (During his incarceration, he had pulled out his own abscessed tooth.) Slevin also walked out of the facility suffering from post-traumatic stress.

     Attorney Matthew Coyte, in December 2008, filed a civil rights suit on Slevin's behalf against Dana Ana County, New Mexico. County authorities fought the suit, but at Slevin's civil rights trial in March 2012, the jury awarded the plaintiff $22 million. Fighting the case had been an obvious mistake. The county appealed the award on grounds the damages were excessive.

     In March 2013, the Dona Ana County Board of Commissioners dropped the appeal and settled the case. The county agreed to pay the "forgotten inmate" $15.5 million.

     The settlement resolved the civil side of the case. But what about the criminal aspect of Slevin's 22-month wrongful imprisonment? The bureaucrats responsible for this man's ordeal were clearly guilty of a degree of reckless indifference that was criminal. But holding government employees responsible for malfeasance is extremely difficult. The nature of bureaucracy protects incompetent practitioners by making it almost impossible to pinpoint wrongdoing to any one person.

     Had Stephen Slevin been falsely imprisoned in a private sector facility, corrections personnel would be serving prison sentences.

     If Mr. Slevin, months into his hellish confinement, had committed suicide, this would have been a homicide case. The taxpayers of Dona Ana County had to foot the bill for this stunning example of governmental negligence, but no public employee was held criminally culpable for this inexplicable corrections fiasco. 

The Case Of The Dead Mental Patient Brains

     While most collectors acquire everyday objects such as coins, stamps, and books, a few collectors specialize in things that are odd and to most people disgusting. There was even a reality television series devoted to the acquisition of bizarre objects. The show was called "Oddities" and was presented on the Discovery Channel. Viewers followed the operation of a retail shop in Manhattan, New York called Obscura Antiques and Oddities. Items bought and sold on the show included a mummified cat, various animal teeth, a dead four-legged chicken, and a shrunken head.

     The "Oddities" television series helped establish a market for unusual items and "conversation pieces" most of us would consider too disgusting to possess. It also created an opportunity for thieves who specialized in these collectibles.

     In early October 2013, a thief in Indianapolis, Indiana walked off with sixty jars of brain and other tissue from dead mental patients. The specimens were kept, among thousands of other such containers, in warehouse space on the campus of the Indiana Medical History Museum. The brains and other specimens had come from clinical autopsies performed at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, an institution that opened its doors in 1848 and closed in 1994. According to the director of the museum, the stolen jars were valued at $4,800. (Is there a bluebook for the pickled brains of dead mental patients?)

     In early December 2013, the director of the Indiana Medical History Museum received a call from a collector in California who said he had purchased, through an eBay auction site, six jars of brain matter. He had paid $600 for the specimens. According to the oddities buyer, he became suspicious when the jars he acquired appeared similar to the ones pictured on the museum's website.

     The tip from the California collector led to the identification of David Charles as the seller of the stolen brains.

     On December 16, 2013, an undercover Indianapolis police officer posing as an oddities collector interested in jarred brains met Mr. Charles in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. When the 21-year-old suspected thief offered to sell the officer the stolen property, the cop took him into custody.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Charles with felony theft.

     In November 2015, after pleaded guilty to stealing the museum brains, the judge sentenced David Charles to four years in prison. 

When A Successful Novelist Calls It Quits

For public figures who walk away from the source of their fame, the question of what comes next may be treated lightly. A retired athlete can become a sportscaster or investor; the TV actor whose hit show comes to an end can mull over movie scripts. But when a successful novelist retires, it feels somehow different: writing novels is less a job one can leave than proof that one sees the world in a certain way. There's something that seems illogical about a writer declaring that he or she is done. Where, then, do all of the observations channeled into metaphor go?

Daniel D'Addario, Time, November 24, 2014 

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Gina Virgilio Arson-Murder Case

     In 2007, the parents of 20-year-old Gina Virgilio noticed that she had become mentally unstable. Their daughter was also addicted to Oxytocin and cocaine. In early 2012, Virgilio was still on drugs and mentally ill. She had taken to injecting methamphetamine, and disappearing for weeks at a time on drug binges. She and her infant son resided in an Anchorage, Alaska apartment with her boyfriend, Michael Gonzales. Because she was too psychotic and drug addled to care for her son, a child service agency placed the infant with another family.

     On June 8, 2012, Virgilio's boyfriend, Michael Gonzales, fell asleep on his sofa after celebrating his 24th birthday. That night, Gina left their apartment carrying an empty gas can. She walked a quarter of a mile to a service station where an attendant filled the container with five dollars worth of gasoline.

     Upon returning to the Anchorage apartment, Virgilio splashed gasoline on the sofa around her sleeping boyfriend and on the carpet beneath his feet. She poured a gasoline trail to the apartment's only door, and standing in the hallway, put a match to the accelerant and watched the flames shoot across the carpet and engulf the sofa and Michael Gonzales.

     Surrounded in flames, Michael Gonzales leaped to his feet and shouted "Hot Hot!" As her boyfriend collapsed to the floor and died in flames, Gina Virgilio shut the door and walked away.

     That evening, when questioned by a detective at a local hospital where Virgilio was being treated for minor burns, she told the officer that Michael Gonzales had set the apartment fire. Shortly thereafter, she admitted to her mother that she had set the fire that killed her boyfriend. When questioned again by the police, she confessed.

     Not mentally competent to stand trial, Gina Virgilio spent the next six years in custody receiving psychiatric care. In April 2019, her attorney arranged to have her plead guilty to first-degree murder.

     On October 14, 2019, in addressing the court at her sentencing hearing, the 32-year-old Virgilio said that mental illness had driven her to kill Michael Gonzales. She said she had no idea why she had set him on fire. "I hate me for what I did," she said. "I can never bring him back. You can't make sense out of a mind that makes no sense."

     Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton sentenced Gina Virgilio to 60 years in prison.


The Small Town Murder

While most tend to think of violence as being associated with big cities, small towns are not immune to devious people looking for a kill. In fact, crimes in small towns can be even more gruesome and upsetting than those in big cities. Not only is it unnerving when places with low crime rates suddenly suffer serious horror, the suspect is usually someone everyone in town knows. With small town killings, you're forced to face the prospect that the killer is someone you know--someone you think of as a friend.

Lea Rose Emery

American Intervention

So far this year in Chicago, 2,199 people have been shot and 413 murdered. And this in just one city. If politicians are itching to intervene somewhere to stop a humanitarian crisis, how about Chicago rather than some country in the Middle East? If the U.S. must intervene in a foreign country, Mexico, a border nation being taken over by drug cartels, might be a good choice.

Where Have All The English Majors Gone?

     A great migration is happening on U.S. college campuses. Ever since the fall of 2008, a lot of students have walked out of English and humanities lectures and into STEM classes, especially computer science and engineering.

     English majors are down more than 25 percent since the Great Recession, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. It's the biggest drop for any major tracked by the center in its annual data and is quite startling, given that college enrollment has jumped in the past decade.

Heather Long, The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Jerks

An ordinary, nonliterary jerk is a person with an off-putting personality who nobody likes. While the term "jerk" is not included in the jargon of psychology, we all know what it means. Miserable jerks are even worse, and populate every profession. In the literary world, miserable jerks are often well-educated novelists whose literary ambitions far exceed their talents. Miserable jerks often end up as unpublished college professors teaching aspiring novelists how to write. Again, if I may use the vernacular, a flaming jerk is an egotistical, mildly talented novelist who writes a bestseller that miserable jerks hate. While writing bad reviews of this flaming jerk's novel, they take to their writing desks to imitate his literary style. It's all pretty sad.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

An Elementary School Teacher's Bad Joke

    Radlett, Hertfordshire, a community of 8,000 in southeast England, is home to the Newberries Primary School, a private institution attended by 203 children ages 4 to 11.

     On Thursday, October 10, 2019, while teaching French to a class of 28 eleven-year-olds, the Newberries teacher reportedly told her students that "You better finish off your work quickly, or I'll ship you all off to the gas chambers." Eleven of the kids in the classroom were Jewish, and when one of them challenged the tongue-in-cheek threat as offensive, the teacher apologized and said that she had just been kidding. The teacher also asked her students not to tell their parents about her highly inappropriate joke.

     Several of the kids, as one would expect, did tell their parents about this teacher's poor taste in humor. Word of the incident circulated quickly throughout the school and the community. Several parents threatened to take their children out of the Newberries School if this teacher wasn't immediately fired.

     The next day, the head of the Newberries Primary School announced that this teacher had been sacked.

     Even if viewed in the most favorable light--an example of lower education stupidity--this person was unfit to teach. Of all the subjects not to joke about, particularly to children, this teacher picked one of the worst. Off to the gas chambers? What in the world was this woman thinking?

George Washington On Bribery

Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

George Washington

Saturday, October 19, 2019

We Get The Government We Deserve

The lies the government and media tell are amplifications of the lies we tell ourselves. To stop being conned, stop conning yourself.

James Wolcott, Journalist 

Your Book is Published: Now What?

Examining the first copy of your book is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my book shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes, The Writer's Book of Hope: Encouragement and Advice From an Expert, 2003

Friday, October 18, 2019

Tommy Lee Jenkins' Rendezvous With 14-year-old "Kylee" A Bust

     In 2012, 25-year-old Tommy Lee Jenkins from Whitestown, Indiana 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of four minors. The judge sentenced him to four years probation.

     On October 1, 2019, Jenkins accepted a Facebook friend request from who he thought was a 14-year-old girl from Neenah, Wisconsin named Kylee. In reality, the Facebook friend request came from a Facebook account set up by the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office located 100 miles north of Milwaukee. Instead of a 14-year-girl, Mr. Jenkins was in touch with a police officer out to round up pedophiles like him.

     Tommy Lee Jenkins sent Kaylee a sexually explicit photograph of himself, and after lewd exchanges between them, asked Kaylee to visit him in Whitestown which is 351 miles from Neenah, Wisconsin. (I don't know how he thought a 14-year-old girl could manage that.)

     When it became obvious that the object of his lust couldn't come to him, Jenkins said he was coming to visit her.

     On October 10, 2019, after traveling 351 miles on foot, bicycle, and bus, a trip Jenkins chronicled via text messages to Kaylee, he was greeted by Winnebago County sheriff's deputies who took him into custody.

     A prosecutor in the Winnebago County District Attorney's Office charged Tommy Lee Jenkins with using a computer to persuade, induce, or entice a minor to engage in unlawful activity.

     If convicted as charged, the 32-year-old Jenkins faced a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. At the most, a judge could send him away for life. One can only hope that this judge, unlike the one in 2012, will not give this pedophile a probated sentence.  

Legislators Like To Ban Things They Don't Like

If politicians don't like something, they ban it for everyone. What is ominous is the ease which some people go from saying they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long.

Thomas Sowell, Economist 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Danby House: The Assisted Living House of Horrors

     In June 2019, residents of the Danby House assisted living facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were not being properly cared for by a staff of health care employees who had not been trained and were not supervised. Patients who needed medication for such ailments as fluid build up, thyroid hormone deficiency, neuropathic pain, high blood pressure, depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disorder, were not administered their medication as prescribed. A resident suffering from schizoaffective bipolar disorder was withheld her medication for 17 days.

     Three members of the Danby House assisting living staff, Marilyn Latish McKey, 32; Tonacia Yvonne Tyson, 20; and Taneshia Deshawn Jordan, 26; were encouraging elderly residents diagnosed with dementia to engage in fistfights. These cruel employees also physically pushed the disabled patients around and abused them verbally with taunts. During one of the fights, a so-called caregiver told one of the elderly combatants to stop screaming.

     In a videoed dementia patient fight, an elderly woman is seen falling on a bed as another patient punches her in the face. The woman recording the fight can be heard saying, "punch her in the face!" As the dementia patient on the bed is being choked, one of the staffers says, "You're making her turn red." The brawl continues until a supervisor enters the room and puts a stop to it.

     The three abusive Danby House staffers, for their own amusement, recorded the dementia patient fights and shared their videos on social media. It's hard to imagine what goes on in the minds of people like this, employees paid to care for the vulnerable patients they abuse. One can imagine, however, how the families of these victims feel when they learn what was going on inside this assisted living house of horrors.

     When the "dementia fight club" abuse came to light, Danby House employees Tyson, McKey, and Jordon were fired. The state also prohibited the assisted living facility from accepting new residents.

     On October 1, 2019, officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department took the three ex-heath care workers into custody. Each suspect was charged with misdemeanor assault of a disabled person. The suspects posted their bail and were released.

     The corporation that owns Danby House can expect a number of lawsuits from family members of the abused patients.

What The Public Demands Of Police Officers

The citizen expects police officers to have the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the strength of Samson, the patience of Job, the leadership of Moses, the kindness of the Good Samaritan, the strategical training of Alexander, the faith of Daniel, the diplomacy of Lincoln, and finally, the intimate knowledge of every branch of the natural, biological, and social sciences. If he had all of these, he might be a good policeman.

August Vollmer (1876-1955) Pioneering Police Administrator 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Are Some Novelists Nuts?

Early in his career, John Cheever put on his business suit, then went from his apartment to a room in the basement where he hung his suit on a hanger and wrote in his underwear. Victor Hugo's servant took away his clothes for the duration of the author's writing day. James Whitcomb Riley had a friend lock him in a hotel room without clothes so that he couldn't go out for a drink until he had finished writing. [How do you lock someone in a hotel room?] Jessamyn West wrote in bed without getting dressed for what she thought were two compelling reasons: "One, you have on your nightgown or pajamas and can't go running to the door at the knock of strangers. Also, once you're up and dressed, you see ten thousand things that need doing."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Forensic Ballistics In The John F. Kennedy Assassination

I'm not an expert or trained [in forensic ballistics]. But it is a subject I've studied intently for 50 years, so I may know a thing or two. In my opinion, the JFK investigation was poorly handled.

Stephen Hunter, Novelist

Monday, October 14, 2019

An Eye For An Eye: The New England Pentecostal Ministries Murder And Shooting Cases

     On Tuesday, October 1, 2019, Luis Garcia, the 60-year-old minister at the New England Pentecostal Ministries Church in Pelham, New Hampshire, a town of 13,000 near the Massachusetts state line, was helping a member of his congregation paint his house in nearby Londonderry, New Hampshire. The owner of the house, 60-year-old Mark Castiglione, was getting married to Claire McMullen on Saturday, October 12, 2019. The ceremony was scheduled to take place at the Pelham Pentecostal Church with Minister Garcia presiding.

     Minister Garcia had been trying to help Mark Castiglione's troubled 24-year-old son, Brandon. A resident of Manchester, New Hampshire, Brandon Castiglione had grown up in Londonderry. Since he turned 18 in 2012, Brandon Castiglione had been arrested on dozens of occasions, and had been convicted seven times for drug related offenses.

     At two in the afternoon of Tuesday, October 1, 2019, Mark Castiglione's son Brandon Castiglione came to the house in Londonderry and shot Minister Garcia in the neck with a handgun. (The authorities have not released details of the shooting.) When Londonderry police officers entered the Castiglione house, they found Minister Garcia dead.  Officers at the scene took Brandon Castiglione into custody.

     The following day, at his arraignment, Brandon Castiglione was charged with second-degree murder. The magistrate denied him bail.

     Minister Garcia's funeral service was scheduled for noon on Saturday, October 12, 2019. That morning, Mark Castiglione, the man whose son was in jail for shooting Minister Garcia to death, was getting married in Pelham's New England Pentecostal Church. The ministries' 75-year-old bishop, Stanley Choate, would preside over the wedding ceremony in place of his dead colleague.

     At this point it would be hard to imagine this story becoming more bizarre. But it did.

     In the midst of the Castiglione/ McMullen wedding ceremony that preceded Lous Garcia's funeral service, Garcia's 37-year-old stepson entered the Pelham Pentecostal Church with a handgun and started shooting. Mark Castiglione was struck in the head with an unidentified object, his bride was shot in the arm, and Bishop Stanley Choate took a bullet in the chest.

     Several of the forty wedding guests charged the shooter, tackled him, and pinned him to the floor. Pelham police officers arrived at the church and took Dale Holloway into custody. Bishop Choate was rushed to the Tufts Medical Center in Boston where he was listed in serious condition but expected to survive his gunshot wound.

     The Hillsborough County District Attorney charged Dale Holloway with two counts of first-degree assault.

Horror Fiction Since the 1980s

New technology brought new possibilities for horror film makers of the 1980s. Soon the emphasis shifted to gore for gore's sake, and the film genre fell out of favor with mainstream audiences. But the horror novel was enjoying an excellent reputation for quality writing, despite the growth in formulaic shocker stories. In 1981, Thomas Harris published the first novel in his Hannibal Lecter series. This novel remains one of the most commercially successful portraits of a serial killer, and it heralded the start of the serial-killer craze of the ensuing decades…In recent years, the archetypes of vampires, werewolves, and zombies have come to dominate the horror genre.

Kristin Masters, blog.bookstellingyouwhy.com, October 24, 2013 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Is A Fatal Fire Intentionally Set By A 9-Year-Old A Criminal Act?

     At fifteen minutes after eleven on the night of April 6, 2019, firefighters responded to a mobile home fully engulfed in flames at the Timberline Mobile Home Park near Goodfield, a small town in central Illinois. Five occupants of the dwelling, three children and two adults, were killed by smoke inhalation.

     Katrina Atwood resided in the mobile home with her three children, ages 1, 2, and 9, her fiancee, her 2-year-old niece, and her 69-year-old grandmother. The 28-year-old managed to escape the burning dwelling with her 9-year-old son.

     Fire scene investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set. As a result of that determination, the Woodford County Coroner's Office ruled the five deaths homicide.

     On October 8, 2019, Greg Minger, the Woodford County State's Attorney, charged Katrina Atwood's 9-year-old son with five counts of first-degree murder for intentionally starting the fatal mobile home fire. The prosecutor did not reveal why the boy had set the fire.

     Not everyone thought bringing criminal charges against the youngster was appropriate. Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Evanston, Illinois, told reporters that she thought the charges against the boy were "completely out of line given everything we have learned about the brain development of children."

     In most states, children under the age of 14 are presumed incapable of forming criminal intent. In the Goodfield arson-murder case, before the fire setter can be found guilty of first-degree murder, the prosecutor will have to prove the boy intended to kill the occupants of the house. Without a murder confession, this will be difficult.

     If found culpable as a juvenile murderer, the most the 9-year-old can receive by way of punishment is five years of probation. Under Illinois law, children under 10 cannot be incarcerated.

     On October 11, 2019, the boy's mother, Katrina Atwood, told reporters that her son had been diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. "He made a mistake," she said. "He's a child. Everyone is looking at him like he's some kind of monster. Yes, it's a horrible tragedy, but it's still not something to throw his life away."

Two Words TV's Talking Heads Never Say

The two words you never hear on cable news are "many" and "affect." TV people say "multiple," and "impacted." I guess they think these words make them sound smart. Good luck with that.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Congress' New "Prison Reform Law" Put Violent Criminals Back On The Street

     Congress is an institution made up of pathological liars. If there are still a few members of the public who think otherwise, perhaps the political lies that went into selling Congress' new "prison reform law" will change the minds of those who believed in Congressional integrity.

     In December 2018, Congress passed, and the President signed, the First Step Act into law. First Step stands for: The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act. (Who comes up with this stuff?)  According to the bill's sponsors, the goal of the First Step Act is to give deserving (italics mine) prisoners the opportunity to get a shortened sentence in return for "positive" behavior and job training. The federal statute also provides judges ways to override mandatory sentences.

     The political hacks who appeared on national television to sell the proposed law assured viewers that the only candidates eligible for early release were inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses, prisoners incarcerated for crimes like theft, check forgery, bank embezzlement, stock fraud, minor drug offenses, and insider trading.

     In less than a year following the passage of the First Step Act, 6,000 federal prisoners were released early. Contrary to what the politicians had promised, a large number of inmates who had been convicted of criminal homicide, major drug trafficking, aggravated assault, and sexual offenses were let out of prison with the others. Once again, members of Congress were caught lying through their teeth.

     In 2005, a big time cocaine dealer from Providence, Rhode Island named Joel Francisco was convicted and sentenced to federal prison for life. The onetime leader of the violent street gang Latin Kings, had two previous convictions in state courts which qualified him for the mandatory life sentence.

     In February 2019, a few weeks after his attorney petitioned a federal judge for early release under the First Step Act, Joel Francisco was back on the street.

     In July 2019, while on federal probation, Francisco did what most violent ex-convicts do, he went back to a life of crime. In Providence, Francisco tried to break into his ex-girlfriend's house. Not long after that, he was charged with breaking and entering into a dwelling in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Although he had violated the terms of his federal probation, and should have been returned to prison, the federal authorities looked the other way.

     On October 2, 2019, Joel Francisco stabbed 46-year-old Troy Pine at the Narra hookah lounge in Providence. (A hookah lounge is a commercial establishment where people gather to smoke flavored tobacco from large, glass bowl communal pipes with many stems.) Following a brief altercation with Mr. Pine, a man Francisco didn't know, he pulled a knife and stabbed him. The victim died later that night at a nearby hospital.

     As of October 12, 2019, Francisco, charged with criminal homicide, was still at large. Had it not been for the First Step Act and all the political lying behind it, Troy Pine would be alive today.

James Franco's Crime Spree

I got arrested for graffiti. I got arrested for--a lot of, like, underage drinking, drunk in public, shoplifting, you know, your various, like, suburban arrests, I guess.

James Franco, actor 

The I-Was-A-Victim-Too Defense

You cannot continue to victimize someone else because you yourself were a victim once--there has to be a limit.

Edward Said (1935-2003), Professor, Columbia University

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Brian Steven Smith Memory Card Murder Case

     On Monday, September 30, 2019, a woman in Anchorage, Alaska called the police about a digital camera memory card she had found on a busy street in the Fairbanks neighborhood. The caller said the memory card was labeled "Homicide at Midtown Marriott."

     Following a cursory police review of the memory card's 39 photographs and 12 videos of a man beating, raping, and murdering a women in a hotel room, a police administrator turned the case over to Anchorage Police homicide investigators. The images had been shot over a three-day period from September 4 though September 6, 2019.

     The video and photographic diary of the torture, rape, and murder of what appeared to be an Alaskan Native woman with long, dark hair, took place in one of the Marriott Hotel's TownePlace Suites.

     A man with an accent that sounded British, over the three-day span, punched, stomped and strangled the naked woman. He can be heard laughing and telling her to die. In one of the final photographs taken in the early morning hours of September 6, the rape and murder victim's body can be seen beneath a blanket on a hotel luggage cart near the bed of a pickup truck.

     The last photograph, taken on September 6, showed the dead woman lying face down in the bed of a 1999 Ford Ranger pickup. The photograph also captured a partial view of the vehicle's rear license plate.

     Homicide detectives determined that the pickup in the photographs was registered to 48-year-old Brian Steven Smith, an immigrant from South Africa. Smith resided with his wife on a quiet cul-de-sac in Anchorage.

     On Wednesday, October 2, 2019, police officers were called to a spot off the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage. A passerby had discovered, just off the road, the remains of a woman with long, dark hair. Homicide detectives believed this woman was the murder victim seen on Brian Smith's photographs and videos.

     Detectives, on Monday, October 7, 2019, acquired a warrant to arrest Brian Steven Smith along with a warrant to search his cellphone records, his house, and his pickup truck. That morning, officers with the Anchorage Police Department showed up at Smith's house armed with the warrants. When no one answered the door, officers gained entry by using a battering ram to knock the door off its hinges.

     When the searchers left Brian Smith's house, they left with computers and other evidence from the dwelling as well as his 1999 Ford Ranger pickup, the vehicle believed to have been used to transport the murder victim to the Seward Highway dump site.

     A search of Brian Smith's cellphone activity placed him, on September 6, 2019, in the area where the murder victim's body had been found.

     On October 8, 2019, at three-thirty in the afternoon, Anchorage police officers took Brian Smith into custody soon after he stepped off a plane at the Ted Stevens International Airport. Officers booked the suspect into the Anchorage Jail on the charge of first-degree murder.

     At Brian Steven Smith's arraignment, the district court judge set his bail at $750,000 and appointed him an attorney from the public defender's office. Smith, at this time, did not enter a plea.

     On the possibility that Smith was a serial killer, homicide investigators searched their files for unsolved murder cases involving women whose bodies had been dumped in remote places. Detectives were also trying to identify the body found along the Seward Highway, and tie it to the woman who had been murdered at the Marriott Hotel.

     Detectives on the case would have to wait awhile for the medical examiner's report regarding the victim's cause of death. The fact she had been dead for about 25 days complicated the forensic pathologist's inquiry.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Daniel Carney And The Wedding Party Sexual Assault Case

     On August 30, 2019, 28-year-old Daniel Carney of Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania and his bride-to-be (unnamed in court documents), were hosting a party in celebration of their upcoming wedding scheduled for the following day.The event took place at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort in Smithfield Township, Pennsylvania.

     After a day of heavy drinking during rafting and paddle boarding on the Delaware River, one of the bridesmaids, a 29-year-old woman from Oregon, became disoriented and unsteady on her feet from all the vodka. Back at the resort, Daniel Carney's future wife asked him to help the extremely intoxicated bridesmaid to her room.

     Instead of helping the incapacitated woman to her room, Carney pulled her into the men's locker room in the basement of the resort. When the bridesmaid awoke from her drunken stupor, she was in the men's shower without her bikini bottom and Daniel Carney on top of her.

     The sexual assault came to an abrupt end when the bride-to-be entered the locker room and saw her fiancee in the shower stall on top of the half-naked bridesmaid. The screaming fiancee chased Carney to the hotel parking lot where the drunken couple got into a physical altercation.

     The next day, the wedding ceremony went ahead as planned. That's right, they tied the knot. On his big day, Daniel Carney had the nerve to send his alleged sexual assault victim a text which read: "Can we be as happy as possible for the bride?" With that thought in mind, Carney asked the bridesmaid to take a morning-after pill to prevent any chance of pregnancy. "We never did it," he wrote, "but would you consider plan B to make damn certain just in case? There is almost no chance but still. Please tell me yes, I'm begging you."

     The bridesmaid had already reported the crime to the Pennsylvania State Police. That day, when questioned by a trooper, Carney, regarding his sexual encounter with the bridesmaid, said he had been extremely drunk and felt his accuser had "taken advantage of him."

     A Shawnee Inn surveillance camera video showed Danial Carney pulling the unsteady bridesmaid into the basement locker room. In the course of the sexual assault investigation, investigators listened in on a phone call between the suspect and his accuser made the day after the wedding. During that exchange, Carney admitted leading her into the locker room and getting on top of her in the shower. He apologized for that several times, but claimed they did not have penetrative sex.

     On October 3, 2019, the Monroe County District Attorney charged Daniel Carney with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with an unconscious person. Following his arraignment, Carney posted his $100,000 unsecured bail and was released. He was seen leaving the courthouse hand-in-hand with his new wife. As they say, real life is a lot stranger than fiction.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Bad Deal: Trading Your Baby In For A Car

     In July 2019, 47-year-old Tina Marie Chavis brought a 2-year-old child (court documents do not reveal the child's gender) to the Wake Forest Baptist Health-High Point Medical Center in High Point, North Carolina, a city located in the Piedmont Triad metropolitan region of the state. Chavis, from nearby Thomasville, North Carolina, said she brought the child to the hospital because she thought the toddler was having an allergic reaction.

     A member of the hospital staff called the Thomasville police when she noticed bruises on the young patient. Questioned by detectives, Tina Chavis identified herself as the child's biological mother, then changed her story by claiming to be the adoptive mother. She could not, however, produce any adoption documents to back up this claim.

     On suspicion that the child had been abused, and perhaps abducted, a child services agency placed the toddler with another family until the matter could be sorted out.

     When detectives learned that Tina Chavis had not adopted the child, they asked her to identify the mother, and to explain exactly how she had come into possession of the toddler. Tina Chavis confessed that she had acquired the baby in 2018. The real mother, 45-year-old Alice Leann Todd, and her husband, 53-year-old Vicenio Mendoza Romero, had given her the child in return for a car. The child's parents also resided in Thomasville, North Carolina.

     On October 4, 2019, a Davidson County Grand Jury indicted Alice Leann Todd, Vicenio Mendoza Romero, and Tina Marie Chavis for the unlawful sale, surrender, or purchase of a minor. The suspects were booked into the Davidson county jail. A magistrate set their bail at $50,000 each.

Thoughts Of A Murder Cop

There are things in life that are best unseen. But if you are a murder cop, you have to look. You have to look closely, and again and again. Homicide investigation plays tricks with the mind, toys with the emotions, and drains the spirit. It helps to identify with the killer rather than the victim. You can't get to know or understand a dead person. Try to make acquaintances with the killer. Understand that sorry son-of-a-bitch. The system doesn't care about the victim, it's all about the killer. And that's what you should be about, knowing the killer.

From Rigor Mortis by Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Modern Romance Novel Sex Scenes

Years ago we followed the loving couple to the bedroom door, only to have it closed in our face. Now, not only do we go all the way with them in the bedroom, we often find that they don't wait to get there. Sex can take place almost anywhere--in a parked car, in the middle of a field, on the side of a mountain [not a good idea]--just like in real life. Nor does the heroine always have a wedding ring on her finger.

Donna Baker, Writing a Romantic Novel, 1997 

Two of B. R. Myers' Rules for "Serious" Novelists

1. Be Writerly

Read aloud what you have written. If it sounds clear and natural, strike it out.

2. Play the Part

Take yourself seriously. Practice before the mirror until you can say things like this with a straight face:

"It's because I want every little surface to shimmer and gyrate that I haven't patience for those lax transitional devices of plot, setting, character, and so on, that characterize a lot of traditional fiction."
(Mark Leyner)

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002

Monday, October 7, 2019

Who Do You Trust?

     An AP-GfK poll conducted [a few years ago] found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling.

     What's known as "social trust" brings good things. A society where it's easier to compromise or make a deal. Where people are willing to work with those who are different from them for the common good. Where trust appears to promote economic growth.

     Distrust, on the other hand, seems to encourage corruption. At the least, it diverts energy to counting change, drawing up 100-page legal contracts and building gated communities….

     People do get a little more trusting as they age. [Perhaps that's why so many old people are victimized by swindlers.] But beginning with the baby boomers, each generation has started off adulthood less trusting that those who came before them.

     There's no single explanation for Americans' loss of trust. The best-known analysis comes from Bowling Alone, author Robert Putnam's nearly two decades of studying the United States' declining "social capital," including trust. Putnam says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch TV. Less socializing and fewer community meetings makes people less trustful than the "civic generation" that came of age during the Depression and World War II.

      Crime rates fell in the 1990s and 2000s, and still Americans grow less trusting. Many social scientists blame 24-hour news coverage of distant violence for skewing people's perceptions of crime.

Connie Cass, "Poll: Americans Don't Trust Each Other," Associated Press, November 30, 2013 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Reason To Write

I write because, if I don't, my characters will murder me in my sleep.

Astrid Gruz

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Casey Anthony: The Mother From Hell Wants A Baby?

     On July 15, 2008, Cindy Anthony, the grandmother of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, reported her missing. Cindy had not seen the little girl for 31 days. Caylee lived in her grandparents' Orlando, Florida home with her mother, 22-year-old Casey Anthony. In reporting the child missing, the grandmother said the trunk of her daughter's car smelled like it had contained a dead body. Casey Anthony, during the 31 days her daughter was missing, had been partying with friends. When confronted by the police regarding the missing child, she said her daughter had been abducted by a nanny who, as it turned out, didn't exist.

     In October 2008, the authorities charged Casey Anthony with murdering her daughter in the first degree, and promised to seek the death penalty. Two months later, the child's skeletal remains were found in the woods near the Anthony home. The little girl's nose and mouth had been covered by duct tape. The medical examiner ruled her death homicide.

     Casey Anthony went on trial for murder in May 2011. By now the case had become a media sensation with virtually all of the TV talking heads and their on-screen experts predicting a murder conviction. There hadn't been so much true crime unanimity since the O.J. Simpson trial. The expert commentators ridiculed the defense attorney's theory that the girl had drowned in the family swimming pool on June 16, 2008. Surely the jury would accept the prosecution's version of the death: the defendant had killed the child by administering chloroform, then duct-taping her nose and mouth.

     On July 5, 2011, with millions of TV views sitting on the edges of their seats, the judge announced the jury's verdict: not guilty. For the next two weeks, the talking heads discussed nothing else. How could this murderous mother walk free? What went wrong? Who blew the case. What will become of Casey Anthony?

     In January 2012, a video diary recorded the previous October by Casey Anthony, surfaced on YouTube. In speaking to her computer three months after her acquittal, she said..."things are starting to look up and things are starting to change in a good way..." Casey never mentioned Caylee in the four minute video, but talked about a dog she had adopted and loved.

     Since 2012, the story of Casey Anthony and the murder of her daughter, particularly in the world of true crime television, remained in the public eye. In 2013, a made-for-television movie about the case aired on Fox. Four years later, true crime buffs were treated to a mini-series based on Caylee Anthony's disappearance and the investigation of her murder. The series featured Casey Anthony's trial and controversial acquittal along with her parents' belief in her guilt.

     In 2017, Casey Anthony told an Associated Press reporter that she didn't plan to have any more children. "I would not be dumb enough to bring another kid into this world," she said, "knowing that some little snot-nosed kid would say something mean to my kid. I don't think I could live with that."

     Casey Anthony also said, regarding her unpopularity and the fact so many people believe she had murdered Caylee, "I don't give a shit about what anyone thinks about me, I never will. I'm OK with myself, I sleep pretty good at night."

     In May 2018, Casey Anthony's father, George, said he did not want a relationship with his daughter. As far as he was concerned, he and his wife Cindy "must have raised a bad seed."

     Casey Anthony was back in the news in June 2019 when she announced that she and Fox were working on a "risque" tell-all movie about her life after Caylee. She acknowledged her reputation as one of America's most hated mothers, and that during the 31 days her daughter was missing, she "drank and carried on like nothing happened."

     In September 2019, "sources close to Casey Anthony" told reporters that because her biological clock was ticking, the 33-year-old was thinking about having more children. According to these sources, Casey Anthony was hoping to find some meaning in her life.

     Perhaps the best one can hope for is that Casey Anthony, through these unnamed sources, put out a phony story to generate publicity for her upcoming movie.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Pablo Martinez Child Exorcism Murder Case

     Pablo Martinez, his wife Romelia and Pablo's 6-year-old son resided in a small, one-story stucco house on the Pascua Yaqui Native American Reservation near Tucson, Arizona. The federally recognized Indian tribe operates its own criminal justice system that includes a police department, a prosecutor's office, a public defender's service, and a courthouse. Native American reservations are subject to federal law, therefore the FBI has joint law enforcement responsibility in these jurisdictions. Pablo Martinez was not a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, but his wife Romelia was.

     On Thursday afternoon, September 26, 2019, 31-year-old Pablo Martinez was supposedly giving his son a bath. The boy was a special needs student at the Lynn/Urquides Elementary School in Tucson. Mrs. Martinez, the 6-year-old's stepmother, heard loud gurgling sounds coming from the bathroom. When she tried to enter the bathroom to investigate, the door was locked. Pablo Martinez refused to let her in so she found the key and unlocked the door.

     What the boy's stepmother witnessed in that bathroom shocked her. Her husband was holding the child's head under the bathtub faucet as steaming hot water poured into his mouth. She yelled for him to stop, but the father said he couldn't, that he had to do what he was doing. At that point, Romelia Martinez called 911. (There are reports that Mrs. Martinez, before calling 911, called, but couldn't get in touch with, a local priest. Her first instinct to call the priest stemmed from the fact she believed, as did her husband, that the child was possessed by demons, and needed to be saved.)

     When members of the Pascua Yaqui Reservation fire and police departments arrived at the Martinez house, they encountered the couple waiting for them in the front yard. A first responder's question to Mrs. Martinez brought this response, "Talk to him," meaning her husband.

     Inside the dwelling, the officers found the boy tucked into his bed. One of the fire department responders propped the naked child on a pillow and tried, without result, to revive him.

     The unresponsive boy was rushed to the Banner University Medical Center in Tucson where doctors pronounced him dead. The drowned boy had burns on his forearms, elbows, and head from scalding water.

     In speaking to officers with the tribal police, Pablo Martinez admitted pouring hot water down his son's throat in an effort to cast out the child's demons. He said his son had been possessed by something evil that had caused what the father described as the boy's demonic behavior.

     In a followup interrogation by FBI agents, Pablo Martinez confessed to running hot water into his son's mouth for up to ten minutes. He thought the hot water would force the demons out of his son's body.

     On October 1, 2019, a federal prosecutor charged Pablo Martinez with first-degree murder. He was held without bail.

John Steinbeck On Starting A Journal

Here is the diary of a book [The Grapes of Wrath] and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I have tried to keep diaries before but they don't work out because of the necessity to be honest. In matters where there is no definite truth, I gravitate toward the opposite. Sometimes where there is definite truth, I am revolted by its smugness and do the same. In this however, I shall try simply to keep a record of working days and the amount done in each and the success (as far as I can know it) of the day. Just now the work goes well. It is nearly the first of June [1938].

John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel, 1969 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Russell Bucklew: A Painless Death For A Man Who Didn't Deserve To Live

     In 1995, 27-year-old Russell Bucklew, a criminal with a violent past, resided with his girlfriend Stephanie Ray in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. On Valentine's Day 1996, following months of physical abuse, Ray left Russell Bucklew. During the next several weeks, he harassed her, punched her in the face, and cut her with a knife. Fearing for her life, she moved into a nearby mobile home with Michael Sanders and his 6-year-old son.

     The day after Stephanie Ray moved in with her friend Michael Sanders, Bucklew, thinking that Mr. Sanders was her new boyfriend, stole his nephew's car, and in possession of two pistols, a set of handcuffs, and duct tape, drove to Sander's home with the intent to kill him. It was there he shot Michael Sanders to death, and shot at, but missed, the victim's son.

     Following the cold-blooded murder, Bucklew handcuffed Stephanie Ray, dragged her into the stolen car, and drove from the murder scene. Shortly thereafter, he beat and raped his ex-girlfriend.

     Later on the day of Bucklew's crime spree, a Missouri State Trooper spotted him in the stolen car outside of St. Louis. In an exchange of gunfire, both men were wounded. Other police officers took Bucklew into custody, and after being treated and released from the hospital, he was booked into jail on charges of kidnapping, rape, assaulting a police officer, attempted murder, and murder.

     Shortly after his arrest, Bucklew escaped from the Cape Girardeau Jail, and before being re-arrested, attacked Stephanie Ray's mother and the mother's boyfriend with a hammer.

     Convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder and numerous other offenses, the judge sentenced Bucklew to death. The death row inmate would spend the next fifteen years or so in a 6 by 14 foot cell at the maximum security prison in Potosi, Missouri.

     While serving his time in prison, Bucklew developed a medical condition called cavernous hemangioma. He had blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat, and had to breathe with the help of a tracheostomy tube.

     In May 2014, just before Bucklew was scheduled for execution, his death house attorneys won a last-minute reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court. A majority of the justices were concerned that Bucklew might, due to his illness, suffer some pain when given the lethal dose of pentobarbital.

     In 2019, as Bucklew's new execution date approached, his case was once again before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bucklew's anti-capital punishment lawyers once again argued that their client's throat tumor might burst after receiving the lethal injection, causing the poor man to choke and die painfully in violation of the Eighth Amendment's guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

     On September 30, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment "does not guarantee a painless death."

     The day following the Supreme Court decision, at the Missouri State Prison in Bonne Terre, Russell Bucklew, elevated on the death table to minimize complications from the pentobarbital injection, was executed. There were no outward signs suggesting the 51-year-old suffered an undue amount of discomfort, considerations he had not afforded the victims of his murder, assaults, and rape.

     Morley Swinge, the Cape Girardeau County prosecutor in charge of Bucklew's prosecution, told reporters that Bucklew was "the most pure sociopath I ever prosecuted. He was ruthless in the way he came after his victims."

     Except for a handful of anti-capital punishment sob-sisters protesting outside the Missouri death house, it was good riddance to a horrible person.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Black Girl At Christian School Perpetrates Hate Crime Hoax On The Media And The Public

     In 2019, 12-year-old Amari Allen attended the Immanuel Christian School outside the District of Columbia in Springfield, Virginia. She had been a student at the $12,000-a-year private evangelical institution since kindergarten. Vice President Mike Pence's wife Karen worked two days a week at the school as an art teacher. She had been with the school for twelve years.

     On Thursday, September 26, 2019, while the 12-year-old's grandmother, Cynthia Allen, was doing the girl's hair, she noticed that a portion of her granddaughter's dreadlocks had been cut. When asked about that, Amari Allen broke down in tears, and with some prompting, told her grandmother a horrific story.

     Three days earlier, during recess at the Immanuel Christian School, three white boys who had ben bullying her since the beginning of the school year, approached her after she slid down sliding board. They laughed at her, said her hair was nappy, and called her ugly. The bullies, according to the story, told Amari that she shouldn't have been born, and that she was an "attention-seeker."

    The schoolyard harassment didn't stop with insults. One of the bullies covered Amari's mouth with his hand as another boy held her hands behind her back. The third white kid took out a pair of scissors and cut out a patch of her dreadlocks. The school bell rang and the mean boys ran off laughing.

     Amari Allen said she didn't report the incident to the school out of fear of bully retaliation.

     Cynthia Allen, understandably crushed and heartbroken over what had happened to her granddaughter, called the school and demanded that the three bullies be immediately dismissed from Immanuel Christian. Head of School Stephen Danish called the Fairfax County Police who promised a full investigation into the alleged hate crime.

     A local CBS television affiliate came out first with Amari Allen's hate crime story. A statement released by the school read: "We take seriously the emotional and physical well-being of all our students, and have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of bullying or abuse. We are deeply disturbed by the allegations being made, and are in communication with the family of the alleged victim to gather information and provide whatever support we can."

     After the local television station aired Amari Allen's hate crime account, the story was picked up by the national media.

     Although reporters had been hoodwinked over the past few years by numerous hate crime hoaxers, the story was published as gospel without a hint of skepticism. Amari Allen's ordeal was presented as further evidence of America's rampant and growing racism.

    On Monday, September 30, 2019, following the Fairfax County Police investigation, CBS News reported that Amari Allen had made up the hate crime story.

     Stephen Danish, the head of Immanuel Christian, announced that Amari Allen admitted her accusations against the three white boys were not true. "While we are relieved to hear the truth and bring the events of the past few days to a close, we also feel tremendous pain for the victims and the hurt on both sides of this conflict. We recognize that we now enter what will be a long season of healing."

     A spokesperson for the Allen family issued the following statement: "To the administrators and families of Immanuel Christian School, we are sorry for the damage this incident has done to trust within the school family and the undue scorn it has brought to the school. We understand there will be consequences, and we're prepared to take responsibility for them."

Irina Gaidamachuk: Russia's "Satan in a Skirt"

     Irina Gaidamachuk, a 41-year-old mother of two in the remote Urals region town of Krasnovfimsk, had a big thirst for vodka. But her husband Yury wouldn't give her money to buy the drink. So, Irina decided to earn it herself.

     From 2003 until June 2010, Gaidamachuk, by posing as a social worker, gained entry into the flats of women living on government pensions. Using this ruse, she used a hammer to smash the skulls of 17 women between the ages 61 and 89. Each murder brought a small amount of cash from the victims's purses.

     Following Gaidamachuk's arrest in June 2010, the accused serial killer confessed that she had murdered these women for vodka money. At her trial in western Russia's Yekaterinburg, the country's fourth largest city, three psychiatrists testified that the defendant was sane when she hammered her victims to death.

     On June 6, 2012, after the trial judge found this cold-blooded serial killer guilty of 17 murders, he sentenced the so-called "Satan in a skirt" to 20 years in prison. While members of the victims' families were shocked and outraged by such lenient punishment, Gaidamachuk's attorney immediately filed an appeal demanding an even lighter sentence.

     One would expect that in Russia of all places, the cold-blooded murder of 17 women would bring, at the very least, life in prison without parole. (In the United States, while the death sentence would be out because she's a woman, Gaidamachuk could expect life without parole.) Assuming she served her full sentence, Gaidamachuk would be back on the streets of Krasnovfimsk at age 61. We can only hope that her husband Yury learned his lesson. When Irina asks him for Vodka money, he better give it to her.

     While Irina Gaidamachuk was being tried in Yekaterinburg, a 22-year-old woman in Russia's Udmurtia region beat a man to death with a blunt object on the eve of her wedding. The killer's fiancee looked on as his bride-to-be murdered the man who supposedly owed her money. If the Gaidamachuk serial murder case represents Russia's sentencing standards, the wedding-eve killer will probably spend six months behind bars.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Free Speech In America Is On The Line

One presidential candidate wants Twitter to suspend the U.S. President's account because she doesn't like what he says on it. Another presidential contender is telling cable news networks not to book a certain guest because he will say bad things about him. If one of these politicians get into the White House, say goodbye to your right to speak feely in this country. Kiss the First Amendment goodbye as it walks out the door and never looks back.

Houses That Have Been Scenes Of Famous Murder Cases

It's hard to know what to do with houses that have born witness to sensational crimes. Knocking them down seems like a futile attempt at repression, as if bulldozing a building could erase what happened there. Leave them up, though, and they risk becoming tourist attractions, drawing the kind of gawkers who cruise by slowly, looking at something banal--a high school gym, a brick apartment building, a two-story house in the suburbs--and picturing something horrible.

Rachael Moore, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019