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Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Michelle Boyer Double Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2014, 40-year-old Jonathan Masin, an employee of Texas Instruments, broke up with Michaelle Boyer, a fellow employee at the corporation. Three years earlier, Boyer and her husband, Charles Hobbs, were divorced. The 45-year-old Boyer lived in a house in Dallas not far from her ex-husband's place.

     Jonathan Masin, a resident of Murphy, a quiet suburban community northeast of Dallas, had left Boyer for a 38-year-old woman named Amy Picchiotti. Amy, a physical trainer, had left Larry Picchiotti, her husband of seven years, in March 2014. Amy, the mother of two young girls, moved in with Masin.

     Michelle Boyer reacted with anger when Masin left her for another woman, a person she had considered a friend. She made her feelings known by sending her former boyfriend threatening emails and text messages.

     At eight in the morning of Saturday, May 10, 2014, Jonathan Masin's father, concerned about his son, called the local police department and requested a welfare check at his house in Murphy.

     Inside the dwelling, in separate rooms, officers found the bodies of Amy Picchiotti and Jonathan Masin. The partially clothed, barefooted couple had been shot to death with a handgun. Neighbors later told the police they had heard what might have been gunshots at 6:30 that morning.

     In Dallas, thirteen miles from the murder scene, police officers came upon Michelle Boyer's SUV parked on the street in front of her ex-husband's house. They found her slumped behind the wheel with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The suicide gun matched the caliber of the firearm used to murder Picchiotti and Masin.

     Inside the vehicle, officers recovered a suicide note that described the double murder in Murphy. According to one of Boyer's friends, she felt that Picchiotti had stolen Masin from her. The jilted woman felt betrayed and extremely angry. While the authorities did not release the text of the suicide note, the motive behind the double murder presumably involved revenge.

     The longtime Murphy city manager, James Fisher, told reporters there hadn't been a criminal homicide in this community as long as he could remember.  

Serial Killer Samuel Little

     In 2012, FBI agents arrested 72-year-old Samuel Little at a Kentucky homeless shelter on narcotic charges that had been filed in Los Angeles. DNA samples taken from Little in Los Angeles linked him to three unsolved murders committed in the city from 1987 to 1989. The three female victims had been beaten and strangled, their bodies dumped in an alley, a dumpster, and a garage. Convicted of these murders in 2014, Little, with a history of crime going back to 1956, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole.

     Following Samuel Little's DNA matches in Los Angeles, authorities in LA asked the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) to work up a full criminal profile of him. This background inquiry linked Little to several more murders of women.

     In early 2018, Samuel Little revealed to his FBI interrogators that between 1970 and 2005, he had murdered 93 women. He confessed to killing these victims in California, Kentucky, Florida, and Ohio. These women were marginalized, vulnerable prostitutes addicted to drugs. He said his M.O. involved knocking out the victim then strangling them to death. The woman's body would then be dumped in alleys and other hidden places.

     Because this serial killer's victims were not shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death, many of their deaths went into the books as drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes. Some of the bodies remained unidentified, and most of these sudden violent deaths did not generate a criminal investigation.

     The Samuel Little case illustrates that serial killers, due to who they kill, how they kill, and where they kill, often escape detection. While DNA science has helped connect multiple homicides to a single killer, without confessions, these cases often remain unsolved. 
     On December 30, 2020, the 80-year-old serial killer died in a California hospital of heart failure.

Treating Drug Addiction With Medication

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, since 1999, 700,000 Americans have overdosed on drugs. Of the nation's 15,000 drug treatment facilities, only 42 percent provide patients with any type of medication for opioid addiction, medication known to help get addicts off the drug. Less than 3 percent of these treatment centers offer addicts the choice of one of  three of these federally approved medications: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Most addicts who seek treatment are provided various types of psychological therapy, treatments that have not been particularly successful. 

Advice From a Writing Professor

     Martin Russ' classic 1980 memoir, Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor, is an entertaining and practical instruction manual for anyone interested in the art and craft of creative writing, or in the difficult job of teaching students how to write for publication. Almost everything in this book is quotable, but here are a few passages that stand out:

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

As I believe in passive sadism in childrearing, so I advocate the same stance in dealing with the obstreperous student. Kill him with kindness or at least benevolent inattention. Not only must you never let yourself be drawn into any sort of emotional escalation, you must avoid acknowledging his attitude.

Make sure you have something to say before you write it down. One of the most difficult things undergrads have to learn is they have as yet little to say.

Many nonfiction teachers make the dumb mistake of providing subjects or topics. Let the student choose them himself, and make damn sure he says something about the subject--rather than merely turning in a description or summary or noncommittal analysis of it.

For some cockeyed reason it is assumed that if you have the required degree you can therefore do an adequate job of teaching.

Often a classroom of students will unconsciously follow a peer leader--a sarcastic put-down artist, for instance, who by dint of personality and precocious verbal skills will turn your course into a living nightmare unless you step in and blandly damp him off.

It's quite true that fiction can't be taught; but you can pass along a few shortcuts and get them interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones.

Undergrads tend to use more words than they need to, and much of your work involves showing them that a certain word or phrase or sentence or paragraph can be deleted without loss.

The most prevalent problem in student fiction writing is lack of plot or suspense, or drama.

Undergrad fiction writers are intensely interested in the possibilities of metaphor, simile, alliteration, allusion, parallelism, symbolism, and all the other literary devices. Which is fine. The problem is that they're more interested in the devices themselves than in using them effectively.

For student writers one of the most difficult problems is "creating character"--and it's a damned hard thing to teach.

Fiction-writing students would much rather describe than narrate. Would rather tell than show. Would rather summarize than dramatize. Would rather explain than demonstrate. Would rather obscure than clarify. I don't know why...but students seem to want to do everything wrong.

The amateur's attitude: It is I who am doing this thing, and I'm more important than the thing I am doing. The professional's attitude: This thing I'm doing is more important than me. (In other words, just because you wrote it doesn't make it good, or even interesting.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Professor Oleg Sokolov Murder Case

     On the night of November 7, 2019, Oleg Valeryevich Sokolov, the decorated Napoleonic era historian, author, and professor at Saint Petersburg State University in Saint Petersburg, Russian, physically assaulted his girlfriend, 24-year-old Anastasia Veshchenko. She had been a student of his, and upon graduation, had moved into his apartment. That night, after being beaten, Veshchenko called her brother and informed him of the assault. She said Sokolov had attacked her because she had attended a birthday party with a friend.

     That night, not long after notifying her brother of the assault, Anastasia Veshchenko called her brother back and told him that the dispute had been resolved and that all was well.

     During the early morning hours of November 8, 2019, the 63-year-old professor, in his flat, killed Anastasia Veshchenko by shooting her with a sawed-off shotgun. Following the murder, Sokolov dismembered his victim in the bathtub, placed her body parts in garbage bags, and stored them in his spare bedroom. 

     On November 9, 2019, with his dead girlfriend's mutilated body still in his apartment, Professor Sokolov hosted a party.

     On the morning after the party, the intoxicated killer walked along the Moika River not far from his flat. Sokolov was recorded on a CCTV camera throwing bags into the water. At one point he stumbled and fell into the river. People who witnessed this saved the professor by pulling him out of the drink. Someone called the police.

     When officers searched Professor Sokolov's backpack, they discovered a bag containing a pair of female arms. At that point, Sokolov informed the police he had murdered his girlfriend. He led the officers back to his apartment where the officers found what remained of Anastasia Veshchenko's body. They also seized the shotgun, several firearms, and the saw the professor used to dismember his girl friend.

     While at the murder scene with the police officers, the professor, in an attempted suicide, stabbed himself with a dagger. Following treatment at a nearby hospital, Sokolov was arrested on charges of murder and illegal possession of firearms. 

     Oleg Sokolov, not long after his arrest, pleaded guilty to the murder and gun charges. 

     On June 9, 2020, following delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sokolov's sentencing hearing got underway in Saint Petersburg. At the proceeding, a government witness informed the court that in 2008, in Moscow, Oleg Sokolov had tied Ekaterina Ivanova to a chair and beat her. The assault took place because Ivanova threatened to leave him after learning that he was married. Nothing came of that assault.

     A psychiatrist for the state testified that at the time he murdered Anastasia Veshchenko, Mr. Sokolov was sane and knew exactly what he was doing.

     The defendant, testifying from within a glass enclosure, explained that he had killed his girlfriend in a fit of anger. He said he had thought she was the perfect woman, but instead she had "turned into a monster."

     Judge Yulia Maximenko sentenced Oleg Sokolov to 12 years and six months, a term to be served at a "strict regime penal colony." No one, including the prosecutor and Anastasia Veshchenko's parents, objected to the lenient sentence.

The Politics and Complexities of Rape

Rape is unique. No other violent crime is so fraught with controversy so enmeshed in dispute and in the politics of gender and sexuality. And within the domain of rape, the most highly charged area of debate concerns the issue of false allegations. For centuries, it has been asserted and assumed that women "cry rape," that a large proportion of rape allegations are maliciously concocted for purposes of revenge and other motives.

David Lisak, et. al., Violence Against Women, December 2010

Grand Theft Auto

Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing his car, that's larceny.

James M. Cain (1892-1977) hardboiled crime fiction writer

A Good Lawyer

A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.

Unknown

Is Television Drama Replacing the Novel?

     Television was so bad for so long, it's no surprise that the arrival of good television has caused the culture to lose its head a bit. Since the debut of "The Sopranos" in 1999, we have been living, so we are regularly informed, in a "golden age" of television. And over the last few years, it's become common to hear variations on the idea that quality cable TV shows are the new novels.

     To liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence toward both genres. Clearly, the comparison is intended to honor TV, by associating it with the prestige and complexity that traditionally belong to literature. But at the same time, it is covertly a form of aggression against literature, suggesting that novels have ceded their role to a younger, more popular, more dynamic art form. Mixed feelings about literature--the desire to annex its virtues while simultaneously belittling them--are typical of our culture today, which doesn't know quite how to deal with an art form, like the novel, that is both democratic and demanding. [I don't know about democratic, but demanding, yes. Instead of demanding, I would use the term pretentious to people other than English lit professors who force these "literary" novels on students, some of whom who will someday push this unreadable literature on their students. Genre fiction, however, will always remain popular, television or not.]

     Spectacle and melodrama remain at the heart of TV, as they do with all arts that must reach a large audience in order to be economically viable. But it is voice, tone, the sense of the author's mind at work, that are the essence of literature, and they exist in language, not in images. This doesn't mean we shouldn't be grateful for our good TV shows; but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that they give us what only literature can.

Adam Kirsch, "Are the New 'Golden Age' TV Shows the New Novels?" The New York Times, February 25, 2014

Reading Reviews of Your Book

While it would be better not to read reviews, you're always looking for some reviewer who will tell you something about your book that you didn't know yourself and at the same time that you think is true. And that very, very rarely happens.

Mary McCarthy in Conversations With Mary McCarthy, edited by Carol Gelderman, 1991 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Club Kid Michael Alig: A Life of Drugs and Murder

     In 1988, 22-year-old Michael Alig appeared on the cover of New York magazine under the headline, "Club Kids." Alig, a high-profile figure in the city's party scene, had formed a group of fellow partygoers called Club Kids. Members of the group wore outlandish outfits, used heroin, and danced and drank all night in Manhattan's nightclubs. In 1993, Alig appeared as a guest on Phil Donahue's daytime TV talk show. 

     On March 17, 1996, in Alig's upper Manhattan apartment, the party ended. The Club Kid and his friend Robert "Freeze" Riggs were negotiating the purchase of heroin from a dealer named Andre "Angel" Melendez. At some point during the transaction, a dispute erupted over money. Robert Riggs resolved the argument by picking up a hammer and striking Melendez on the head. Michael Alig finished the stunned drug dealer off by smothering him to death with a sweatshirt. 

     After killing their heroin supplier, Alig and Riggs had a problem. What were they going to do with Melendez's body? Until they could come up with a disposal plan, they stored the corpse in Alig's bathtub. In an effort to slow down decomposition, they poured bags of ice over the body. For the smell, the club kids doused the corpse with liquid Drano. 

     Before Alig and Riggs could inconspicuously transport the body out of the apartment, they would have to make it smaller, more compact. To accomplish that, they sawed off Melendez's legs. After keeping the body in the bathtub for six days, the club kids, in preparation for its removal, wrapped Melendez in a bedsheet, placed that into a large garbage bag, then stuffed the dismembered body into a cardboard box. 

     During the early morning hours, Alig and Riggs carried the box to the street, hailed a cab, and instructed the driver to take them south on the Westside Highway that runs parallel to the Hudson River. At about 25th street, the taxi pulled over. As the cab drove off, Alig and Riggs carried the cardboard box to the bridge rail and dropped the dead drug dealer into the river. 

     A few days after Alig and Riggs dropped corpse into the Hudson River, children playing in the water along Statin Island came across the cardboard box containing the dismembered remains.

     The Club Boys were arrested in the spring of 1996 on the charge of murder. In October 1997, both men pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced each defendant to ten to twenty years in prison. 

     In 2003, a memoir by James St. James, another celebrity Club Kid, was made into the feature film called "Party Monster" starring Macaulay Culkin. Michael Alig was portrayed in the film. 

     Robert Riggs was released from prison in 2010 after serving 13 years. In 2014, after 17 years behind bars, Michael Alig walked free. During his time in prison, Alig continued using drugs.

     In 2017, police arrested Alig in a Bronx park in possession of crystal methamphetamine. A judge placed him on probation. 

     At three o'clock on Christmas Morning, 2020, Michael Alig's boyfriend called 911 from Alig's 159th Street apartment and reported that his partner had overdosed on heroin. New York City police officers found Michael Alig unresponsive. EMS responders arrived at the scene a few minutes later and pronounced the former Club Kid dead. Alig was 54.

The Baker Street Irregulars

The Baker Street Irregulars were Sherlock Holmes' "unofficial force": a dozen London urchins, apparently headed by a boy named Wiggins. Holmes paid each boy a shilling a day, with a guinea prize to anyone who found the vital clue. Used by Holmes to search out information where he or the police would be conspicuous, the Irregulars appeared in only three of the stories: "A Study in Scarlet," The Sign of Four," and "The Crooked Man."

Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany, 2002 

Truth Can Be Stranger Than Fiction

       In New York state, a male home intruder in his 20s was beaten up and restrained by the female homeowner, an 82-year-old bodybuilder.

     In Florida, a robber entered a bank and ordered the teller to hand over a specific sum of cash. When she gave him too much, he returned the excess.

     In California, someone swiped the prosthetic legs that belonged to a high school wrestler.

     In Dresden, Germany, two thieves broke into a museum and stole $1.1 million in 18th Century jewelry on temporary display. The smash-and-grab burglars activated the intrusion alarm but left the scene before the police arrived.

     In Maine on Thanksgiving Day, a man who had rigged his house with a booby trap to kill an intruder with a shotgun blast, killed himself when he somehow tripped the device himself.

Prologues to Novels

     A prologue to a novel is introductory material apart in time, space, or viewpoint (or all three) from the main story that creates intrigue for upcoming events. To qualify as a prologue, the information or events must exist outside of the framework of the main story. This stand-alone device must be absorbing, distinct, and beguiling in its own right. Often, an effective prologue will contain drama and dialogue so that it is immediate rather than reportorial. Prologues are aways loaded with specific and sensory details.

     A prologue's job is to provide a potent insight into the world of the story that cannot be provided through the unfolding of events. It can also be information that cannot be discovered by the protagonist, but is still necessary to the story.

     Prologues can take place five years or five centuries before the drama begins, but somehow the gap of time between the prologue time and story time must be bridged. But not all prologues are written strictly from the past. Sometimes they stem from the future or are told from a viewpoint that will not be heard from again.

     Although the prologue exists outside the flow of the narrative, it is always linked to the story events, characters, and themes. There are no hard and fast rules for length, but most prologues are at least several paragraphs and can run to twenty or more pages. However, try to keep prologues brief and vital, and no longer than a chapter.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between The Lines, 2006 

Children's "Chapter Books"

Around the end of the second grade, many children spurn heavily illustrated picture books and look for what they call "chapter books." Finally, children can read on their own, and publishers provide easy-to-read books that invite them to read with a simple vocabulary, short sentences, and a lot of white space. If the book is broken into chapters, children feel that they're reading a "grown-up" book.

Olga Litowinsky, Writing and Publishing Books For Children, 1992 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Munchausen Syndrome by Media

     In 2014, Mindy Taylor, a 35-year-old wife and mother of two, resided in Chillicothe, Ohio, a town of 21,000 in the south central part of the state. She had grown up in Smithton, Pennsylvania, a coal mining village in Westmoreland County 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

     Taylor, in January 2014, created a website called "Mindy's Army: No One Fights Alone," in which she announced to the world that years of heart disease, multiple strokes, and lupus had weakened her for her most recent health crisis--intestinal cancer that had spread to her liver. As a result of these conditions, she couldn't sit very long, couldn't sleep, and was too nauseated to eat. Moreover, she suffered double vision.

     According to Taylor, doctors in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio as well as in Texas were working to treat her ailments. A clinical trial was about to begin on her behalf that gave her hope she might not die from her illnesses.

     Mindy Taylor kept her social media supporters updated through a medical/fundraising blog at CaringBridge.org. On February 16, 2014, she posted the following message: "This isn't just about me. It's about anyone that is fighting with an illness or cancer…Stay positive and always try to do the next right thing."

     That February, Taylor's parents hosted a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the Smithton Fire Social Hall. The event raised $7,000 for Taylor's cause.

     On February 24, 2014, Taylor's local newspaper, the Chillicothe Gazette, published a front-page article featuring her daily struggle with terminal illness. In the long piece, Taylor was quoted as saying: "I am preparing for the worst."

     Shortly after the publication of the feature article, a reader called a local law enforcement agency and in reference to Taylor's story, said, "It's a lie. You should check it out." An investigator did just that which led to a subpoena for Taylor's medical records. As it turned out, Taylor had been lying about the status of her health. She did not suffer from cancer or the other life-threatening illnesses.

     A Ross County grand jury, on April 11, 2014, indicted Mindy Taylor on the felony charge of fourth-degree grand theft. Through her blog, she had raised $21,000. This sum did not include the $7,000 raised at the spaghetti dinner in Pennsylvania. The theft indictment shocked everyone, including members of Taylor's family. (Talk about mixed feelings.)

     Following the indictment, Taylor's attorney, Jeff Benson, told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that his client was returning all of the donated money. He said Taylor had left her job with the Chillicothe school system in 2012, and currently received Social Security disability benefits. The attorney did not reveal the nature of her disability.

     In July 2014, the Ross County prosecutor agreed to drop the charges against Taylor after she completed a 12-step "Diversion" program run by the prosecutor's office. The program, a form of probation, is intended give nonviolent, first-time offenders a chance to prove themselves to be worthy citizens and erase their criminal records. The program, among other things, required Taylor to attend counseling sessions twice a month, perform 250 hours of community service, and give $3,000 to the Southern Ohio Cancer Survivors Organization.

     While Mindy Taylor was not terminally ill with cancer, she may have suffered from a personality disorder involving the use of fabricated or self-inflicted illness to attract attention and sympathy. Women who make themselves sick for this purpose possess a syndrome called Munchausen. Women who make their children ill for sympathy and attention suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. More recently, psychologists have revealed what they call Munchausen Syndrome by Media, a personality disorder in which women gain attention and sympathy through false illnesses publicized on the internet. None of these syndromes, however, are recognized in law as valid criminal defenses.

Media Mass Murder Saturation

We've had 20 years of mass murders throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don't want to propagate more mass murders, don't start the story with sirens blaring. Don't have photographs of the killer. Don't make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two within a week. [This is a hopeless request. Media executives care about one thing: ratings. From that point-of-view, the more mass murders the better.]

Dr. Park Dietz, Forensic Psychiatrist, 1996

Writer Suicides

Some of the world's most famous writers ended their lives with suicide. A few examples would include Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Jerry Kosinski, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, and Virginia Woolf. In 1949, Ross Lockridge Jr., a year after the publication of his bestselling novel, Raintree County, gassed himself to death in his newly purchased car. Who knows why so many successful writers kill themselves. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that many writers are odd, high-strung wrecks. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze and drugs. In a few cases, the writer's suicide propels him or her into fame. In 1963, the poet Sylvia Plath, while living in London, gassed herself to death by placing her head into her oven. The 31-year-old poet was virtually unknown before she killed herself. Following her death, Plath became one of the most famous woman writers in the world. Vidal Gore, when speaking of another writer's suicide, wryly noted that for this particular novelist the suicide turned out to be a good career move. While an excellent writer, Mr. Gore was a horse's ass. It's amazing that Mr. Gore wasn't murdered by Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, William Buckley, or any number of writers who hated his guts. 

Contradictanyms

Contradictanyms are words which have opposing meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the word DUST can mean to add fine particles (as in dust the cake with icing sugar) as well as to remove fine particles (as in dust the furniture).

Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany, 2002 

If You Hate Writing, Don't Do It

Because writing for publication is tough, you should only do it if you have the talent for it, and you love to write. If you don't enjoy writing, stop doing it because being published is not what it's cracked up to be. Spare yourself the misery and the disappointment of publication. No one cares if you write a book or not. There are too many books published already, and fewer and fewer readers. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Peter Nygard Sex Trafficking Case

     Peter Nygard was born in Finland and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In 1967, the 26-year-old fashion designer founded Nygard International, a women's clothing, manufacturing and supply company headquartered in Winnipeg. By 1990, Nygard had offices and warehouses in New York City and Los Angeles. He also owned estates in Marina del Rey, California and in the Bahamas. 

     In December 2019, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York secured a nine-count indictment charging Peter Nygard with sex trafficking, racketeering, and related federal offenses. According to the indictment, Nygard took teenaged girls he called his "girlfriends" to company funded "Pamper Parties" where the girls were given free drinks and access to the spa. The events were held in Marina del Rey and in the Bahamas. At these events, the girls were given alcohol and drugs then raped by Nygard and his friends. Most of the victims were from poor families and had been the victims of previous sexual abuse.

     Nygard also took his "girlfriends" to swinger clubs were they were intimidated into having sex with other men. The victims of Nygard's sex trafficking operation were paid by being placed on the company payroll as either "models" or "assistants." To keep his young victim's silent, the girls were threatened with arrest. They were also promised real modeling jobs.

     In January 2020, ten of Peter Nygard's alleged victims filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of enticing young and impoverished women to his estates in the Bahamas and Marina del Rey with cash and promises of modeling opportunities. According to the lawsuit, Nygard kept a database containing the names of his "girlfriends." Some of the victims were as young as fourteen. Eventually, 57 women, plaintiffs from the U.S., the Bahamas, and Canada, joined in the class action suit. 

     In February 2020, FBI agents and New York City Police Officers raided Peter Nygard's Times Square offices. 

     Police in Winnipeg, on December 14, 2020, pursuant to the Extradition Act, arrested Peter Nygard on the sex trafficking and racketeering charges. The 79-year-old was booked into a Winnipeg jail where he was held without bail until extradited to the U.S. for trial.     

Linsey Attridge's False Rape Report

     In 2008, Linsey and Gary Attridge were married in the central Scotland town of Grangemouth. The 26-year-old bride had grown up in Grangemouth where her mother worked as a seamstress and her father was a window cleaner. Linsey and her new husband, a financial advisor, honeymooned in Malta.

     Less than two years after the wedding, Linsey was unhappy with her marriage. In August 2010, after meeting kickboxing instructor Nick Smith online, Linsey and her daughter moved into the 32-year-old's house in the northern city of Aberdeen. By the summer of 2011, that relationship had fallen apart after Linsey confessed to having sex with one of Nick Smith's friends while Nick was in the house asleep. Although they were no longer a couple, Nick allowed Linsey and her daughter, to whom he had become a surrogate father, to continue living in his house.

     In August 2011, while browsing through Facebook pages, Linsey came across a photograph of 26-year-old Philip McDonald, a cook at a downtown Aberdeen cafe. He was pictured with his 14-year-old brother James. Philip lived outside of the city in a modest flat with his partner Kelly Fraser and their daughter. To Linsey Attridge, Philip and James McDonald were total strangers.

     A few days after stumbling across the Facebook photograph,  Attridge, in a scheme to rekindle her relationship with Nick Smith, decided to falsely report that that Philip and James McDonald had broken into her house and brutally raped her. Before alerting the authorities, she staged the crime by overturning furniture, punching herself in the face, and ripping her clothing.

     Police officers who responded to the false report found a woman who looked and acted as though she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. She submitted herself to various physical examinations including tests for sexually transmitted diseases. In an act of extreme self-centered cruelty, Linsey Attridge identified Philip and James McDonald as her rapists. (Since they were total strangers, I don't know how Linsey explained knowing the identity of her attackers.)

     Two days after receiving the false crime report, police officers arrested James, the 14-year-old brother, at his mother's house. James McDonald was a student at a residential school for teenagers with behavioral problems. Less than an hour after taking James into custody, police officers walked into the cafe where Philip worked as a cook.

     On the worst day of Philip McDonald's life, the detectives who showed up at the cafe told Philip that he and his brother were the prime suspects in a brutal rape case. The officers asked the shocked and frightened young man to accompany them to the police station for questioning. In the police vehicle en route to police headquarters, the officers identified the victim and described the home invasion and crime. Philip broke down and cried. (The officers probably took this as a sign of guilt.)

     At the police station, detectives photographed, fingerprinted, and swabbed the rape suspect for DNA. During the five-hour interrogation, when a detective revealed exactly when the crime had taken place, Philip was relieved. While the two men were supposedly raping Linsey Attridge, Philip was at home putting his daughter to bed. Several members of his family were in the house with him that night. His relatives would vouch for his whereabouts at the time of the rape. He had a solid alibi.

     The detectives questioning Philip were not interested in his so-called alibi. Everyone had an alibi. Big deal. Philip didn't realize that police investigators, once they have a suspect in their cross-hairs, were extremely reluctant, even in the face of exonerating evidence, to change targets, switch gears.

     Over the next two months, Philip McDonald's life was a living hell. He couldn't be out in public without being harassed, and had to enroll his daughter in another school. By October 2011, Linsey Attridge's story began to unravel. When pressed by detectives who had finally become skeptical, she admitted that she had made the entire story up. She had done it in an effort to attract attention and sympathy from her estranged boyfriend, Nick Smith. In so doing, she had put Philip and his brother through hell, wasted police resources, and made the detectives look like incompetent fools. 

     Shortly after Linsey Attridge's false report confession, a pair of detectives walked into the cafe to inform Philip that he was in the clear. That was it. Out of the blue he was accused of rape, and out of the blue he was told that he had been cleared. The officers left the restaurant without even offering an insincere apology. Like their counterparts in America, and probably throughout the world, police officers rarely say they are sorry. Why? Because many of them are not sorry. The rest are afraid of being sued.

     A local prosecutor charged Linsey Attridge with the crime of filing a false report. In June 2013, the defendant pleaded guilty to the charge in an Aberdeen courtroom. The judge shocked everyone by sentencing Attridge to 200 hours of community service and two years probation. Nick Smith, her former boyfriend, was in the courtroom that day. He told reporters outside the court house that he thought the judge's sentence was "ridiculous." By that he meant lenient. He was right. This woman should have been locked up for at least five years.

Identifying as a Writer

There is something dreary about wanting fiction writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalism, distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn't turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka, or Fernando Pessoa, or Wallace Stevens, or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer--independent of publication or readership or "career"--is always a writer. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.

Benjamin Moser, The New York Times, January 27, 2015

Janet Malcolm on Writing Nonfiction

I speak about the limitation on a nonfiction writer's scope for invention as if it were a burden, when, in fact, it is what makes his work so much less arduous. Where the novelist has to start from scratch and endure the terrible labor of constructing a world, the nonfiction writer gets his world ready-made. Although it is a world by no means as coherent as the world of fiction, and is peopled by characters by no means as lifelike as the characters in fiction, the reader accepts it without complaint; he feels compensated for the inferiority of his reading experience by what he regards as the edifying character of the genre: a work about something that is true, about events that really occurred and people who actually lived or live, is valued simply for being that, and is read in a more lenient spirit than a work of imaginative literature, from which we expect a more intense experience.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

The Essence of a Romance Novel

What a romance novel does is describe the progress of the love story, from meeting to that moment when the heroine and the hero decide to commit to each other. At that point they expect to live happily thereafter. Whether they do or not is another story--the straight novel, if you like, after the romance.

Donna Baker, Writing a Romance Novel, 1997 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Chelsea Becker Fetus Murder Case

      On September 10, 2019, 25-year-old Chelsea Cheyenne Becker gave birth to a stillborn baby at the Adventist Health Medical Center in Hanford, California. Child Protective Services had taken Becker's previous three children from her. Her children had been taken and placed into other families because of Becker's addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs. In 2016, her son had been born with a meth addiction. 

     Because of Chelsea Becker's history of drug addiction, the still birth of her fourth child led to a police inquiry. When questioned by detectives shortly after the birth, Becker admitted using meth just four days before the stillbirth. She was in her eighth month of pregnancy. 

     A forensic pathologist with the Kings County Coroner's Office conducted an autopsy and ruled the baby's death a homicide due to "toxic levels of methamphetamine" in the new born's system. 

     Kings County District Attorney Keith L. Faqundes, under Section 187 of the California Penal Code that defines the crime of murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice," charged Chelsea Becker with murder. According to the charge, the baby's death resulted from "the reckless or indifferent unlawful conduct of a mother."

     On November 6, 2019, police officers took Chelsea Becker into custody at a house in Visalia, California. She was booked into the Kings County Jail on the charge of murder. The magistrate set her bail at $5 million and appointed her a public defender.

     When the Chelsea Becker murder case became a news item locally and nationally, a team of lawyers backed by Advocates For Pregnant Women took the case over from the public defender. Lawyers with the pro-abortion group filed a petition with a California Superior Court asking for a dismissal of the murder charge on grounds Section 187 of the penal code did not apply to Chelsea Becker's case.

     On June 4, 2020, the superior court judge denied the defendant's motion to dismiss. By doing so, the court ruled that Section 187, a law passed in 1970, did apply to stillborn deaths caused by drug addiction. 

     California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, on August 7, 2020, filed an Amicus Curie (friend of the court) brief on Chelsea Becker's behalf before the California Supreme Court. In the brief, Becerra wrote: "Section 187 of the California Penal Code was intended to protect pregnant women from harm, not charge them with murder. Our laws in California do not convict women who suffer the loss of their pregnancy. The law has been misused to the detriment of women, children, and families."

     In a press release associated with the California Supreme Court filing, the state attorney general said: "We will work to end the prosecution and imprisonment of Ms. Becker so we can focus on applying the law to those who put the lives of pregnant women in danger."

     In a statement to reporters, District Attorney Faqundes responded to Attorney General Xavier Becerra's brief this way: "This case is not about a stillbirth, it is a case about a mother's overdose of a late-term viable fetus."

     On December 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court declined to intervene in the Chelsea Becker Murder case. That meant the case would move forward toward trial.

"Case Closed": Debunking the JFK Assassination Conspiracies

     Gerald Posner had been working for years with his editor, Bob Loomis [Random House], on a book called Case Closed about the assassination of President John Kennedy. There had been some credible attempts to penetrate the mysteries [of the case], but they'd been overlain in the public imagination by thirty years of conspiracy stories. Posner's manuscript proved that these were paranoid garbage. I was impressed by his assembly of incontrovertible medical, ballistics, and scientific evidence proving that there had been no gunman on the grassy knoll; Lee Harvey Oswald had been the lone rifleman firing three shots over eight seconds. Everywhere around town [New York] when I mentioned that we [Random House] had a sensation, I got the same response: "Not another Kennedy book! Give us a break!" Bookstore buyers reacted the same way. How could we make people pay attention when the sensation was that there was no sensation? Clearly we had a big marketing problem.

     This was a profoundly important book. The ever prudent Bob Loomis had let a few academics and journalists of invincible integrity have sight of the manuscript. Tom Wicker, the veteran political reporter and columnist of The New York Times, was seized by the significance. Posner's work, he said, could do much to restore faith in government and democracy because it demolished the insidious insinuations that the highest officials of the U. S. government had been involved in their president's murder.

     Case Closed was not only a huge best seller but a blast of cold air on the fetid distortions; it was a contribution to a nation's sanity and faith in its institutions. The conspiracy industry, of course, saw our book and ad campaign as another conspiracy. I was warned we'd be sued, and we were. But we won every court case.

Harold Evans, (former president of Random House), My Paper Chase, 2009

In Writing, Practice Makes Better

You don't start writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) science fiction writer

Writers Taking Themselves Too Seriously

I'm so revolted by writers taking themselves seriously that, as a kind of protest, I've de-prioritized the role of writing in my life. I do it when I've not got anything better to do--and even then I often do nothing instead. [I watched a documentary on J. D. Salinger's life. Now there's a guy who took himself and his writing too seriously. This also true for many well-known novelists such as Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. It's just writing.]

Geoff Dyer, British novelist in a Paris Review interview, 1992

Characters Do the Talking

A cardinal rule in practically all fiction writing is that the author should keep out of it entirely and allow his characters to tell the story. Nothing weakens or spoils even good dialogue so much as to have the author act as an interpreter between the quoted lines.

Joseph T. Shaw (1874-1952) legendary editor of Black Mask Magazine 1926-1936

Friday, December 25, 2020

The Ronald J. Harris Murder Case

     Over the past several years, places of worship have become places of sudden, violent death. A few preachers, a church organist, and a handful of congregants have been murdered inside their churches. Most of these homicides occurred during religious services. Some of the killers belonged to the church while others were outsiders. All of these murderers were caught, and most of them were pathologically motivated.

     None of the church murders involved acts of terrorism. Notwithstanding these bizarre incidents, inside a church on Sunday or any other day is still one of the safest places to be. This is not true in many middle eastern countries as well as other places around the world where there is religious persecution and related terrorism.

The Killing of Pastor Ronald J. Harris

     Lake Charles, Louisiana is located in the southwest part of the state. At 8:30 Friday evening, September 27, 2013, 53-year-old Woodrow Karey, armed with a shotgun, walked into the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center in Lake Charles. Pastor Ronald J. Harris was standing in front of the church preaching to sixty revival service congregants when Karey blew him off his feet with a blast from his shotgun. As the preacher lay bleeding on the church floor, Karey stood over him and fired a second shot into his head, killing Reverend Harris instantly.

     As congregants, including the pastor's wife, mother and daughter scrambled for cover, Woodrow Karey walked out of the church. Shortly thereafter, the shooter called 911. Karey identified himself, and informed the dispatcher of what he had just done. Kerey said he wanted to turn himself in, and informed the 911 dispatcher where the police could find him.

      Shortly after Woodrow Karey's 911 call, deputies with the Calcasieu Parrish Sheriff's Office took him into custody without incident. Before being hauled off to jail, the shooter took the officers to a wooded area where he had hidden a .22-caliber pistol and the murder weapon.

     Detectives believed that Karey had shot Ronald Harris because the pastor and Karey's wife Janet had been having an affair.

     A parish prosecutor initially changed Woodrow Karey with second-degree murder. He was held on $1 million bond at the Calacasieu Corrections Center. According to reports, Mr. Karey did not have a criminal record. The authorities did not reveal if he had a history of mental illness or a grievance against the pastor or the church.

     In December 2013, pursuant to a plea agreement, a grand jury indicted Karey for the lesser offense of manslaughter. The judge reduced his bail to $500,000. In Louisiana, manslaughter carried a sentence of 10 to 40 years. The defendant's trial was scheduled for late 2014.

     In June 2014, a second grand jury indicted Karey for the more serious homicide of second-degree murder. However, in January 2015, Calcasieu Parish Judge Clayton Davis, on the grounds the prosecution reneged on their promise only to pursue manslaughter in the case, threw out the second indictment.

     In June 2015, an appellate court reinstated the second-degree murder charge. The Karey defense appealed that decision and on September 7, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted Karey a stay, further delaying the resolution of this so called "open and shut" case.

     Woodrow Karey finally went on trial in April 2018. The defendant's wife Janet Karey took the stand for the defense and testified that Pastor Harris, over a period of 14 years, had repeatedly raped her. The defendant took the stand on his own behalf and said he had killed the minister after learning of what the victim had done to his wife.

     Following the closing arguments, the case went to the jury. After deliberating three hours, the jury stunned virtually everyone in the courtroom with the verdict of not guilty. After five years behind bars, Mr. Karey was a free man.

A Radical Take on Santa Clause

Isn't Santa just a stand in for a society...that watches and judges, telling kids they got what they deserved based on their behavior? Surely children have to notice that Saint Nick, like the judicial system itself, tends to look more favorably upon the rich. He is fat, white, past middle age, and holds all the cards.

Thomas Quackenbush, A Creature was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology, 2015

Gone and Forgotten

     How many writers, 150 years after their deaths, will be remembered by even a handful of literary types? Not many. But from a writer's perspective, this is no reason for despair. Even U.S. presidents, a century or so after their deaths, are forgotten. Take Chester A. Arthur, our 21st president who served from 1851 to 1855. Who remembers him? No one. On the other hand, several American writers of President Arthur's era are known to students of American literature. These writers include Melvin Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

     So, most presidents are forgotten just like writers. Still, the writer's chance of being known in literary circles a hundred years after his or her death is better than a U.S. president's. And that's how it should be.  

The Power of Dialogue

Dialogue has practically all the properties which a story demands. It can be both a story builder and a character builder.

Joseph T. Shaw (1874-1952) editor of Black Mask Magazine 1926 to 1936

Children's Book Endings

     When writing for nine-to twelve-year-olds, the endings don't have to be happy. But they do have to be satisfying in some fundamental way. In younger books, stories deal primarily with situations and feelings the child might encounter. In middle-grade stories the endings grow out of the characters, their internal changes, and their ability to understand and cope with the world around them. As a consequence, the endings of these books are more complex.

     For instance, sometimes life doesn't turn out the way the hero wants it to. Yet she does get some of what she needs--an understanding of how the world works, perhaps, or a new-found ability to cope with a confusing and challenging event. She might have to accept adverse circumstances or even mourn a deep loss. But in all of these situations, the hero learns something. She changes, grows and begins to get a firmer grasp on the complexity of the world around her.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Michael Barbar Murder Case

      In 2009, 51-year-old Michael Barbar, a native of Lebanon, lived with his wife Maysam and their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, in a two-story house in Perris, a Riverside County town of 70,000 in southern California. Michael had a 19-year-old daughter from a former marriage who didn't live with him and Maysam.

     In mid-August 2009, Michael learned that his 43-year-old wife, at the time attending cosmetology school, had not been faithful to him. According to information that had come to his attention, Maysam, over the past six months, had been with three other men. He also learned that the 6-year-old Tamara, the child he had helped raise from birth, had been conceived as a result of Maysam's affair with a man in 2000.

     Some time after receiving this disturbing information, Michael Barbar checked Tamara out of school early one day and took her to a McDonald's where he swabbed the inside of her mouth for a DNA sample. On November 6, 2009, the paternity test revealed that she was not his child.

     On the night of November 13, 2009, after handcuffing Maysom behind her back during sex, he wrapped an electrical cord around her neck and strangled her to death. He then placed her nude body face-down on the master bedroom floor and covered it with a blanket.

     In Tamara's bedroom, Barbar coiled a television cable around the girl's neck as she slept. When the 6-year-old awoke and struggled, he bashed her head against a bedpost twenty times, crushing her skull. In a third bedroom, Tamara's 10-year-old sister heard Tamar's cries and the sounds of violent death. After Tamara's murder,  the terrified girl heard her father carrying what sounded like trash bags out of the house. The next morning, Barbar's surviving daughter discovered her sister's body. The door to the master bedroom was locked. She called 911.

     Following the double murder, Michael Barbar drove to nearby Cabazon, California where, at the Morongo Casino, he played the slots. The next morning, he drove east to Deming, New Mexico, a border town 60 miles west of Las Cruces. His plan was to enter Mexico then fly to his homeland of Lebanon. On November 15, 2009, the police in Deming interrupted his escape by taking him into custody.

     In early June 2012, Barbar went on trial in a Riverside County Superior Court for the murders of Maysam and Tamara Barbar. Because he was being tried for a double, premeditated murder, the defendant, under California law, was eligible for the death penalty. Barbar's defense attorney, while he didn't deny that his client had committed the homicides, argued that the killings had not been premeditated. According to the defense version of the case, when Michael confronted Maysam with the paternity test results, she had mocked him with a smirk. So enraged by the victim's smirk, Barbar snapped and killed his wife and the 6-year-old who was not his daughter. As a result, this was a crime of involuntary manslaughter. (Sometimes defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves. This was one of those cases.)

     Prosecutor John Aki offered the jury of seven women and five men a wealth of evidence that showed the defendant's preparation and planning for the murders. Mr. Barbar, in anticipation of his murders, had acquired a set of fake identification, rented a car, researched flight schedules between Mexico and Lebanon, and had withdrawn $30,000 from his bank account. On July 13, 2012, after only three hours of deliberation, the jury found the 54-year-old defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

     On July 30, 2012, the penalty phase of the trial before the same jury got underway. For Michael Barbar, the two possible outcomes involved life without parole, and state imposed death. On August 10, 2012, the jury recommended that Judge Edward Weber sentence Michael Barbar to death.

     Crime scene investigators, on the morning after the murders, had found, among Michael Barbar's possessions, a copy of Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood. In that book, the two men who murdered a Kansas farm family in 1959 were hanged. Mr. Barbar, however, would not end up dangling at the end of a rope because in California, regardless of the wishes of a jury and the law, they do not execute anyone. 

The "Witch Hunt"

     The term "witch hunt," used figuratively, applies to a government investigation and/or prosecution of innocent or harmless people. The term has been applied to describe the McCarthy era's hunt for communists working inside our government, and criminal cases involving railroaded defendants later proven to be innocent. An example of a criminal justice witch hunts includes the McMartin pre-school case where Los Angeles prosecutors created public hysteria by falsely and recklessly accusing dozens of California pre-school owners and teachers of child molestation. The wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three young men ("The Memphis Three") accused of satanic murder qualifies as a witch hunt. The members of the Duke Lacrosse team falsely accused of rape is another. People who believe that John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent of JonBenet's murder consider them victims of a police and media driven witch hunt.

     A legitimate victim of a political witch hunt was former California Congressman Gary Condit who was falsely implicated by the media in the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, a political aide in his office. The scandal, fueled by hack, tabloid reporting by the mainstream media, ruined Condit's political career. Another man was later convicted for Chandra Levy's murder.

     The term "witch hunt" has been so overused by partisan politicians it has lost its true meaning. However, politics is a dirty business, and there is always the chance that the witch hunters will raise their ugly heads and destroy an opposing and innocent politician's life and career. 

Junk Science And the Courts

The decision whether to allow a new field of forensics into court is made by a judge, not a scientist, or even a fellow practitioner. Judges typically look for guidance on these questions not from scientists, but from other judges. The briefs in such challenges are by lawyers. Judges tend to err on the side of letting evidence in, on the assumption that our adversarial system will sort it out. Even once we discover that a field is scientifically suspect, it's difficult to get the courts to even acknowledge it, much less stop it from being used again, much less correct the cases that may have already been tainted.

Radley Balko, Reason Magazine, June 2018

Self-Doubt, The Creativity Killer

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) The novelist, poet and short story writer who killed herself. The worst enemy to creativity is premature death.

Tom Clancy On Novel Writing

Writing a novel is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.

Tom Clancy in Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, 2002 

Narrative Nonfiction Versus the Novel

What I remember about my first years as a published novelist is how eager publishers were, in those days, for new fiction. This may have been because there was no New Journalism. Once it appeared it dealt fiction a kind of double whammy, since the New Journalism used many of the techniques of fiction while keeping the appeal of fact.

Larry McMurtry, bestselling novelist, 1998

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Justin Schneider Assault Case

     In 2017, 34-year-old Justin Schneider, a husband and father, worked as an Air Traffic Controller at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska. In August 2017, at an Anchorage service station, he asked a 25-year-old woman he didn't know if he could give her a lift. She said yes and climbed into his vehicle.

     Instead of driving the woman to her destination, Schneider took her to a remote area where he grabbed her, put his hands around her throat, and threatened to kill her if she screamed. The victim passed out and when she awoke, Schneider was zipping up his trousers after masturbating on her. He gave her tissue to clean off the semen. He told her that he hadn't really intended to kill her, that it was just a threat to keep her quiet. She grabbed her belongings and alighted from the vehicle. As he drove off she had the presence of mind to note his license plate number.

     From the side of the road the victim used her cell phone to call 911 in which she provided the attacker's license plate number. After being examined at a local hospital, the victim picked Justin Schneider out of a police lineup.

     Following his arrest, a grand jury sitting in Anchorage indicted Schneider on counts of kidnapping and felony assault, crimes that together carried a prison sentence of up to 99 years. Shortly thereafter, the prosecutor in charge of the case dropped the kidnapping charges because the woman had gotten into Schneider's vehicle willingly. (In Pennsylvania and most other states, simply restraining a person in a vehicle against their will constitutes kidnapping.)

     Following the indictment, Schneider lost his air traffic control job.

     On September 22, 2018, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannik allowed Schneider to plead guilty to one count of second-degree felony assault. Judge Michael Corey sentenced Schneider to two years in prison then suspended the prison time by giving him credit for a year in jail. The judge sentenced the violent sex offender to a year of house arrest. Moreover, Mr. Schneider was not required to register as a sex offender.

    Schneider did not have to register as a sex offender because under Alaska law, "physical contact with bodily fluid such as semen" did not qualify as a sex crime.

     It's not surprising that the disposition of this case caused a public uproar. In defending the state's handling of this case, a spokesperson with the Alaska Department of Law announced that the plea deal had been based on an expert's opinion that Mr. Schneider would not re-offend. This absurd rationale did not attenuate the criticism of the prosecutor or the judge.

     In responding to the public outrage over the Justin Schneider case, Alaska's governor Bill Walker said he planned to propose legislation that would make "coming in contact with semen" a sex offense that carried a sentence of two to twelve years in prison plus registry as a sex offender. Even those who chose to believe the words of a politician were still angry about how the authorities had handled this case.

     Justin Schneider said the experience had made him a better person. But what about his victim? How did his "experience" affect her? No one asked because no one in Alaska's criminal justice system cared.

"Gun Control" in Chicago

In Chicago, so far in 2020, 4,000 people have been shot, 740 of them fatally. Most of the shootings took place on weekend nights during the summer months on the west and south sides of the city. 1,400 more people were shot in 2020 than the previous year. Such gun violence took place in a city where its leaders are strong advocates of "gun control," a concept that apparently just applies to the law abiding citizens of the city.

The Impulse Murder

     Murders cannot always be explained or understood. While the majority of criminal homicides are motivated by greed, lust, power, fear, or rage, every once in awhile someone takes a life for no apparent reason. These cases are disturbing because there is a need to make sense out of such deviant, violent behavior.

     In 1958, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang (1924-1998) a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term "victim precipitation" in his classic text, Profiles in Criminal Homicide. 
     According to Professor Wolfgang, in a high percentage of criminal homicides, the victim contributed to his or her fate by being the first to begin "the interplay of criminal violence" such as drawing a weapon, or striking the first blow. In terms of motive, these homicides are easy to understand.

     In his 1967 book, The Subculture of Violence, Wolfgang found that a high percent of criminal homicides are crimes of passion that are "unplanned, explosive, and determined by sudden motivational bursts." These killers act so quickly on their impulses there is simply no time for reasoning or restraint. Homicide investigators are familiar with subjects who have killed people for the smallest of reasons such as a casual argument over an insignificant point, a minor insult, or a mild frustration over something trivial. Investigators call these killings "simplicity of motive" cases.

The Villain in Crime Fiction

Often I start working out a story in terms of its villain. Sometimes he's more interesting than anyone else. I'm curious about what makes a murderer who he is. Was he born missing some human quality? Did his early environment shape him? Or was it a combination of both?

Sandra Scoppettone, 2000, crime novelist 

The Computer Is Not Always Your Friend

To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.

Paul R. Ehrlich, 2002. The biologist is best known for his book, The Population Bomb, 1968.

Why People Join Writing Groups

Blooming writers really do not know what to expect when they sign up for a workshop or a creative-writing class. Some want to learn to write, or to write better. Others have been writing a great deal for a long time and want some feedback. These are realistic goals. A certain kind of person finds writing classes and workshops to be like camp, and just wants to hang out with all these other people, maybe with a writer he or she respects, to get and give response and encouragement, and to hear how other people tell their stories. Some people want other people with whom to share the disappointments and rejection letters and doldrums. A lot of people like to work on other people's writing because it helps them figure out what they themselves love in the written word, as well as what doesn't work for them. And others want feedback from people who aren't quite friends or editors but who will be realistic and honest and helpful.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A College Kid's Crime Spree

     On Sunday morning, November 2, 2014, paramedics in a Poudre Valley Hospital ambulance responded to an emergency involving an intoxicated student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. When the paramedics rolled the student out of the building, they found that someone had stolen their ambulance. (The patient had to be transported to another hospital in a backup ambulance.)

     Through GPS technology, the police located the missing ambulance 12 miles away in Loveland, Colorado. Officers found the vehicle, its doors wide open and its front-end badly damages and leaking fluid, sitting in the middle of Highway 34. The officers also encountered the ambulance thief, 18-year-old Stefan Sortland standing thirty yards from the wrecked vehicle. The Colorado State University sophomore, decked out in an EMT safety vest, was holding a blanket, a cellphone, and a box of Wheat Thins.

     According to witnesses, the ambulance hit the raised median, jumped the curb, struck a highway sign, careened the wrong way and crossed back over the median before coming to a stop.

     When the college boy refused to obey the police-issued commands, they stunned him with a Taser. Referring to the police vehicles surrounding him, Sortland asked, "Why are those lights flashing on those cars?" On his way to the Loveland Police Department, Sortland informed the officers that he and the stolen ambulance had been en route to Vail, Colorado. For the most part, however, the college student rambled on incoherently.

     At the police station, Sortland said he had taken the drug molly along with some cocaine at a Halloween concert where security officers had kicked him out of the event. He also said that his friends and roommates, having all committed suicide, were dead and in heaven.

     While awaiting his transportation to the local jail, Sortland kicked a police department bench and a wall then started masturbating. (Apparently he wasn't handcuffed behind his back.)

     At the Larimer County Jail, while in the booking area, Sortland attacked two jail employees who had brought him lunch. He punched one of the deputies in the face. A short time later, officers booked Sortland on charges of aggravated vehicle theft, obstructing emergency medical personnel, reckless driving, hit-and-run, criminal mischief, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and assault.

     Stefan Sortland's father told detectives that his son had no history of mental illness and was not on medication. His father did say that on Halloween his son had sent him some odd text messages.

     On May 17, 2016, Stefan Sortland pleaded guilty to the felony counts of motor vehicle theft and second-degree assault of a police officer. Chief Judge Stephen Schapanski gave Sortland a four-year deferred sentence. That meant that if Sortland remained law abiding during that period, he would not be sent to prison. According to his defense attorney, the 20-year-old was now taking anti-psychotic medication. 

Thieves and Their Fences

Basically, the professional thief needs the fence to survive. The thief's fund-raising abilities would be greatly diminished were the multi-connected fence not around to handle the fruits of his crime. Indeed, the very existence of the fence is considerable encouragement to the thief, who then knows where his next meal is coming from.

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Female Serial Killers

    Female serial killers are rare, so much that [profiler] Roy Hazelwood of the FBI is quoted as saying, "There is no such thing as a female serial killer." While they are rare, experts now agree that Hazelwood had it wrong, the crimes do take place. Female serial killers, unlike their male counterparts, generally pick people who are close to them, either physically or emotionally. Also the depictions of sex with the victim either before or after their death are quite rare with female killers.

     According to Psychology Today,  female serial killers' careers can last a lot longer than their male counterparts. They have an average of nine victims…The Psychology Today article suggests that female serial killers are actually a lot more common than people think.

     Extensive research is being done to understand the female serial killer. As time goes on some experts believe that the idea of a female serial killer will not be as rare as it once was. Right now the most prolific female killers are the ones who kill family members or their own young, although there was a very prolific serial killer in Japan [a nurse] who killed babies and told the parents the babies were still-born. [The most prolific female serial killers are healthcare workers who poison patients under their care. These killers are commonly referred to as "angels of death." There are also "black widows" who marry wealthy older men and poison them to death for their money.]

Rachel Woodruff, "Craigslist Accused Killer Murdered at Least 22," Liberty Voice, February 16, 2014 

Fictitious Characters Must Be Consistent

The very first rule of writing fiction rejects the basic truth of life: Characters must be consistent. If the matriarch of a powerful family of soda pop manufacturers has been established through three hundred pages as obsessively well organized, she cannot meet her end by getting her feet tangled on one of her own discarded sweaters and falling out her bedroom window. This kind of thing happens to people every day in the world we inhabit, despite evidence of past behavior, but we have left that world for a better one. If it happens here, we will throw the novel or short story out the window after the old lady, and good riddance to them both. In a pilotless universe, we accept confusion because there is no place to file a complaint. In a story, plotted and executed by an individual or individuals in collaboration, we know whom to blame.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

Journal Writing

Writers keep journals because they like to write between projects, or they have other subjects to get off their minds besides the one they are writing about. They sometimes keep a journal because they want to write about their subjects in an unstructured way. They write journals because they like to keep writing.

Shelia Bender in The Writer's Journal, edited by Shelia Bender, 1997 

Jonathan Franzen On Being a "Good" Novelist

When I was younger, the main struggle was to be a "good writer." Now, I more or less take my writing for granted, although that doesn't mean I always write well.

Jonathan Franzen, Paris Review, Winter 2010 

Monday, December 21, 2020

What Happened To Teleka Patrick?

     Raised in New York City, Teleka Patrick graduated from the Bronx High School of Science before earning her Bachelor of Science Degree at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Three months after graduating from medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, Teleka, in June 2013, began her four-year residency at Western Michigan University. She moved into the Gull Run apartment complex in Kalamazoo.

     At seven o'clock in the evening of December 5, 2013, Teleka was caught on a parking lot surveillance camera at the Borgess Medical Center where she worked. She had just finished her shift. From the hospital, a male co-worker gave Teleka a lift to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. A hotel surveillance camera recorded Teleka entering the lobby dressed in a black hoodie and dark slacks.

     According to a Radisson employee, the woman in the hoodie tried to rent a room using cash. Because she did not show any identification, the person on the front desk refused to register her.

     At eight o'clock, Teleka got a ride back to her car at the Borgess Medical Center in a hotel shuttle van. The shuttle driver later described her behavior as nervous. He said she ducked between cars to avoid being spotted. From the medical center parking lot that night, Taleka Patrick went missing.

     Two hours after Taleka returned to the medical center, an Indiana State Trooper 100 miles from Kalamazoo came across, off Interstate 94 in Portage, an abandoned light-gold 1997 Lexus ES 300. The vehicle, registered to the missing woman, had a flat tire.

     Inside the Lexus, officers found a wallet containing Teleka's driver's license and credit cards. The car also contained pieces of the missing woman's clothing and a small amount of cash. The car keys were gone along with Teleka's cellphone.

     A bloodhound later traced Taleka's steps from the abandoned vehicle to the freeway where her trail went cold. A search of the area surrounding the car failed to produce any clues to her whereabouts.

     According to Carl Clatterbuck, a Kalamazoo private investigator hired to find Patrick, the missing woman's ex-husband and a former on-again off-again boyfriend, were not suspects in the disappearance.

     In late December 2013, several YouTube videos made by Teleka surfaced. Unfortunately, they raised more questions than answers. One of the videos, produced in early November 2013, featured a table in Teleka's apartment containing an elaborate breakfast spread. The narrator, identified as Teleka, says, "I just wanted to show you what I made. If you were here this would be on your plate." In another video, she addressed an unknown person as "baby," and "love."

     On January 1, 2014, Ismael Calderon, married to the missing woman from 2000 to 2011, told a Grand Rapids, Michigan television reporter that his ex-wife suffered from a serious mental problem. The illness led her to believe she was being followed. "This is a tragedy," he said. "I don't think she's hiding somewhere. I think she's being held against her will or the worst. I think that Teleka had this fear of first, being branded with a mental illness. Second, the practical fear of losing her career."

     The next day, a 46-year-old Grammy-nominated gospel singer and Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor named Marvin Sapp said he had filed a protection order against Teleka three months before she disappeared. According to Reverend Sapp, she had sent him 400 love letters, joined his congregation, and contacted his children.

     On April 6, 2014, a man fishing on Lake Charles in the northern part of Indiana saw something floating in the water. It turned out to be a body, and the corpse was Teleka Patrick. The lake had been frozen over during the winter. According to a family member, Patrick had been on her way to Chicago to visit a relative.

     Three days after the discovery of Patrick's body, the Porter County, Indiana Coroner's Office announced that Teleka Patrick had died from asphyxiation from drowning. In Michigan, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller, Patrick's drowning had been accidental. As a result, the criminal investigation of this unexplained death was closed.

The FBI Criminal Profiler

     Contrary to the impression given in such stories as The Silence of the Lambs, we don't pluck profiling candidates for the Investigative Support Unit right out of the Academy. It doesn't work that way. First you get accepted by the Bureau, then you prove yourself in the field as a first-rate, creative investigator, then we recruit you for Quantico. And then you're ready for two years of intensive, specialized training before you become a full-fledged member of the unit.

     A good criminal profiler must first and foremost show imagination and creativity in investigation. He or she must be willing to take risks while still maintaining the respect and confidence of fellow agents and law enforcement officers. Our preferred candidates will show leadership, won't wait for a consensus before offering an opinion, will be persuasive in a group setting but tactful in helping to put a flawed investigation back on track. For these reasons, they must be able to work both alone and in groups.

     Once we choose a person, he or she will work with experienced members of the unit almost in a way a young associate in a law firm works with a senior partner. If they're at all lacking in street experience, we send them to the New York Police Department to ride along with their best homicide detectives. If they need more death investigation, we have nationally recognized consultants in the field offices where they develop a strong rapport with state and local departments and sheriff's offices.

     The key attribute necessary to be a good profiler is judgement--a judgment based not primarily on the analysis of facts and figures but on instinct. It's difficult to define, but we know it when we see it.

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Journey Into Darkness, 1977 

Producing Lean Prose

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of fat. This is going to hurt: revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.

Stephen King, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

Don't tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekov

From Celebrity to Writer

      In 2013, John Cochran, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, won the TV reality show Survivor: Caramoan (Philippines). The previous year, the  self-described nerd came up short as a contestant on Survivor: South Pacific. As a result of his extended media exposure, he qualified as a C-list television celebrity. This meant he would probably spend the rest of his life trying to maintain that status. For most people, the taste of even minor fame ends up being a life-long curse.

     Survivor host Jeff Probst, after announcing the winner of the million dollars that came with the title  "sole survivor", asked Mr. Cochran if he intended to practice law now that season 26 had come to an end. In other words, was he returning to a real-life existence. Cochran, a fan of the show since he was thirteen, predictably answered that he was not entering the field of law. In response to Probst's inquiry regarding his plans, Cochran said he'd like to write. The man who  had "outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted" his reality TV competitors, in explaining why he thought he had the talent to write, said, "I have the gift of gab." Well there you go. If you can talk you can write. But what would a person who had spent his entire life in a classroom write about?

     The vast majority of real writers--people who can write and have acquired expertise in a subject or field they can write about--are not famous. Because publishers don't have the money to turn them into celebrities through advertising, book-tours, and publicists, few people know about their books. Most writers need day jobs to survive and support their writing.

     Publishers love celebrities because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshipers will come to their book-signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity journalists will invite them to appear on TV shows to talk about and promote their vacuous books. And of course, they don't even have to write their own books. Ghosts writers do that for them.
     For a celebrity to become a writer is easy. For a writer to become a celebrity is not. The hard part for the celebrity is remaining a celebrity, and remaining an author.

The Art of Nonfiction

Any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill. What you need for nonfiction writing is what you need for life in general: an orderly method of thinking. Writing is literally only the skill of putting down on paper a clear thought, in clear terms. Everything else, such as drama and "jazziness," is merely the trimmings. I once said that the three most important elements of fiction are plot, plot, and plot. The equivalent in nonfiction is: clarity, clarity, and clarity.

Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction, 2001 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Deputy Shaquille O'Neal And The Botched SWAT Raid

     In 2006, Michael Harmony, a lieutenant with the Bedford County Sheriff's office, commanded the battle against child pornography in south central Virginia. Lieutenant Harmony headed a high-profile regional task force called Blue Ridge Thunder. Shaquille O'Neal, the 7 foot 1, 325-pound center for the Miami Heat professional basketball team, an off-season reserve deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, was a member of the regional task force. The sheriff had enlisted the famous basketball player, also a gun-carrying reserve officer in Miami Beach, as the public face of the area's anti-child pornography campaign. O'Neal had accompanied the Blue Ridge Thunder team on several military-style child pornography raids.

     In September 2006, a cyberspace undercover investigator assigned to the task force, downloaded child pornography via an Internet Provider (IP) address. Based on this information, a local magistrate subpoenaed Fairpoint Communications, the source IP, requiring the company to identify the person or persons at this IP site. The IP complied, providing the authorities with the name of A. J. Nuckols, a resident of Gretna, Virginia. The police didn't know it, but someone at Fairpoint Communications had misread the subpoena. Therefore the identification of the Nuckols family in connection with the IP address was a mistake. Without further investigation into the identify of Mr. Nuckols and his family, the police used this faulty information to acquire a warrant to search his house.

     Mr. Nuckols, a 45-year-old tobacco and cattle farmer, lived with his wife, Lisa, an elementary school teacher, on a farm near Gretna. Two of their children, ages 12 and 16, lived at home. Their 21-year-old daughter attended a nearby college. The family kept their one computer, mostly used by the children for homework, in their living room. The parents didn't know their own email address, and rarely shopped online or downloaded information from the Internet. There was nothing in their histories, lifestyle, or associations that suggested any connection to child pornography.

     Saturday morning at 10:30 A.M., September 23, 2006, two officers from the Blue Thunder Task Force knocked on the Nuckol's front door. Invited into the house by Lisa, they informed her of the warrant allowing them to search the dwelling for child pornography. "I was in shock," Lisa later told a newspaper reporter. "At first it was not just disbelief. I told them, 'We don't live that way.' "

     As the police officers spoke to Lisa Nuckols, a fleet of police cars from Bedford and Pittsylvania Counties rolled up to the house. Suddenly ten officers, dressed in black and camouflage, and wearing flak jackets, were moving about the yard carrying semiautomatic weapons. Mr. Nuckols, working near the barn, looked across the field and saw all the police vehicles. Fearing that something awful had happened to his wife, or one of his children, he jumped into his truck and sped to the house.

     "What's going on?" Mr. Nuckols asked as he climbed out of the pickup. Instead of getting an answer, one of the officers dropped into a shooting position, aimed his pistol at the farmer, and said, "Turn around and put your hands on the truck." Another member of the team handcuffed Mr. Nuckols behind his back. As they led him toward the house, Lieutenant Michael Harmony reportedly said, "Had a rough day? It's about to get a whole lot worse."

     Lieutenant Harmony informed Mr. Nuckols that he or someone in his family was suspected of having downloaded child pornography from 150 web sites. The police were there to search the house for evidence of this crime. Later, in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, Mr. Nuckols expressed how he felt at that moment: "When it finally became clear what they were there for, I was just flat-out mad. They came and assaulted my family for something we had nothing to do with."

     The Nuckols children came home at 2 P.M. from a high school cross-country meet. The police, still in the house, asked them if they had downloaded child pornography. The children were as stunned by the accusation as their parents. Ninety minutes later, the officers departed, taking with them the family computer, DVDs, videotapes, and other personal belongings. Before he left, Lieutenant Harmony told Mr. Nuckols that the child pornography investigation would take between six and nine months to wrap up, noting that the state crime lab was backed up.

     At one point durng the siege, Mr. Nuckols recognized the famous basketball player. "You're Shaquille O'Neal," he said. The big man, dresssed like the others, and armed, replied that his name was Tony. Nine days later, when the Nuckols family learned that the search and seizure had been based on an erroneous IP address identification, O'Neal denied involvement in the raid. However, after the Bedford County Sheriff's Office confirmed his participation, he admitted his role.

     After the raid, before they were aware of the mistake, Lisa Nuckols told neighbors and friends what happened. Worried that she might lose her job, she advised the principal and the school superintendent as well. In his letter to the newspaper editor, Mr. Nuckols wrote: "When you come into someone's home, that's an intrusion. I feel the same about the raid as I would about any assault on our home and family. A robber would be wrong, and these officers were wrong. No matter what the spin the police put on it, the public will always believe it's wrong. People can't believe this happens in this country."

     In response to the criticism following the revelation that the Blue Ridge Thunder team had raided the wrong house, Lieutenant Harmony blamed the Fairpoint Company. According to him, the IP had made the mistake, not the police. Lieutenant Mike Taylor with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office, though not a participant in the raid, apologized to the Nuckols family.

     Shaquille O'Neal, however, took another approach by accusing Mr. Nuckols of exaggerating his account of the raid to make the police look bad. When members of the media questioned him about his role in the operation, the basketball player reportedly said, "We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they [the Nuckols] made it seem like we beat them up, and that never happened. [Well good for you Shaquille.] We went in, talked to them, took some stuff, returned it--bada bam, bada bing."

     If there is one thing in law enforcement rarer than a slam dunk case, it's an apology for shoddy police work.

J. Edgar Hoover on the Role of the FBI

The FBI is a fact-gathering organization only. We don't clear anybody. We don't condemn anybody. [That wasn't true in Hoover's time, and it surely isn't true now.] 

J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI 1924-1972

The Growth of the U.S. Border Patrol

There are small towns on the U.S./Mexican border populated with more Border Patrol agents than local residents. In 1975, there were 1,700 Border Patrol Agents. Today, there are more than 20,000. 

Knowing Writers By Their Styles

A novelist is revealed in his style, the language which he has created for himself.

Henry Miller in Henry Miller on Writing, edited by Thomas H. Moore, 1964 

Jokes Versus Humorous Writing

Humor can either be a genre in its own right, or an important ingredient in many other genres. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragedies, and romances. Even in the most tragic of his tales, he knew the importance of inserting a humorous scene every so often to bring the audience some comic relief from all the death, deceit, and unrequited love in the rest of the play. While joke writing is a subsection of the genre, and a potentially lucrative one, it would be a mistake to confuse the ability to tell a joke with the ability to write humor.

Gordon Kirkland in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, edited by Anne Bowling

Writing The Second Novel

Writing the second novel does feel different. I'm more confident and enjoying it more because I feel less anxious about the time I am spending on it. A first novel is such an exercise in hope and obsession, early mornings and late nights, trying to justify your time to your family and yourself. Now there's none of that. I also know so much more about the craft of writing and how to accomplish my goals.

Tara Conklin, npr.org, May 16, 2014 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

America's Oldest Murder-For-Hire Mastermind

     Dorothy Clark Canfield, born and raised in Montgomery County, Texas in the eastern part of the state, began a life of crime at the rather late age of 57. In 1986, in Huntsville, Texas, a Walker County judge sentenced Canfield to seven years probation following a felony theft conviction. A few months after she got off probation in 1993, she pleaded guilty to forgery in Montgomery County. The judge in that case sentenced the 64-year-old forger and thief to ten years probation. In 2009, after being convicted of passing forged checks at the age of 80, Canfield was sent to prison for two years.

     Shortly after being released from prison in early 2011, Canfield formed a company in  Willis, Texas called International Profession Placement Services. Between September 2011 and September 2012, at least seven undocumented residents each paid Canfield to "facilitate" their immigration paperwork for residency or citizenship in the United States. According to a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Canfield's operation was a scam. In November 2012, the prosecutor charged Canfield with stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 from her clients. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     On April 4, 2013, while incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail 30 miles north of Houston, 84-year-old Dorothy Canfield decided to hire someone to murder the assistant district attorney in charge of her case. She also wanted her hit man to beat-up the district attorney so bad he'd be hospitalized for three weeks. The long-time thief took inspiration from the recent Texas murders of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife, and one of his assistant prosecutors. By killing the Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Robert Freyer, and incapacitating his boss, D. A. Brett Ligon, Canfield hoped to buy some time in her theft case. (At 84, I'm not sure buying time is a useful tactic.)

     In search of an assassin, Canfield reached out to a fellow inmate who promptly reported Canfield's inquiry to the Texas Rangers Office. On April 5, the inspired murder-for-hire mastermind met with an undercover investigator who showed up at the jail posing as a contract killer. In the recorded conversation that followed, Canfield offered the phony hit-man $5,000 for assistant prosecutor Robert Freyer's murder, and half of that for the beating of Freyer's boss, District Attorney Brett Ligon.

     Ten days after the Montgomery County Jail murder-for-hire meeting, Texas Rangers Wende Wakeman and Wesley Doolittle showed Canfield staged crime scene photographs depicting the murders of the Montgomery County prosecutors. The elderly inmate, showing no remorse at the sight of the men she had tried to have killed, confessed to the murder plot.

     Dorothy Canfield was charged with solicitation of capital murder and solicitation to commit aggravated assault on a public figure. She remained incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail under $500,000 bond.

     In August 2014, Canfield pleaded guilty to the theft and murder solicitation charges. At her sentencing hearing, her attorney asked Judge David Walker to grant the 85-year-old probation. The defense attorney argued that because of his client's poor health and age, she was not a danger to society. Unmoved, the judge sentenced the career thief and murder-for-hire mastermind to 53 years in prison.