6,020,000 pageviews


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Serial Killers Who Murder Prostitutes

     The term "serial killing," coined by FBI profilers in the 1980s, pertains to two or more unrelated murders in distinctly separate incidents. In other words, killings with "cooling off" periods in between. At any given time, according to FBI experts, there are between twenty and fifty serial killers going about their deadly business. [Based on current homicide statistics, it's probably more like twenty.] Statistics also show that America produces 85 percent of the world's serial killers. While these murderers fall into several groups according to their motives, MO, and psychological profiles, they are all sociopaths who feel no guilt or remorse.

     Serial killers who rape, torment and kill women--often runaways, prostitutes and others who live transient lives--are called lust killers. (In England they call them "recreational killers.") These men are primarily motivated by sex and sadism, and have nothing but disdain for their victims. Before they actually kill anyone, most of these sociopaths fantasize about violent sex. At some point, these fantasies turn into reality. Serial killers prey on prostitutes because they are easy targets. A street walker will go missing, and no one will report it for days or weeks, if at all. Moreover, the police are not likely to give such cases much attention. As criminal homicides, these cases are difficult to solve because many of the bodies cannot be identified, and there is no substantial relationship between the victims and their killers.  

     What follows are the broad profiles of nine lust killers. Two are black, and all of them murdered prostitutes. In no particular order, they are:

Garry Ridgway
Seattle, Washington
white male; born 1949; 90 victims (1982-2000)

     Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, is America's most prolific lust killer. This childhood bed-wetter with a low IQ grew into a religious fanatic fixated on prostitutes. A loner and an outdoorsman, Ridgway, divorced three times, had a son by his second wife. He targeted street walkers who worked in Seattle and dumped their bodies on the banks of the Green River. He painted trucks for a living. Ridgway is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, Washington.

Arthur Shawcross
Rochester, New York
white male; born 1945; 12 victims (1988-1989)

     In 1972, before Shawcross started killing prostitutes, he raped and murdered two children in Watertown, New York. After serving fourteen years in prison, he began targeting street walkers in Rochester, dumping their bodies in the Genesse River. Although he had a low IQ, he had served in the U.S. Army. He confessed to his murders before dying in 2008.

Bobby Joe Long
Tampa Bay, Florid
white male; born 1953; 10 victims (1984)

     As a child growing up in Kenova, West Virginia, kids teased Long because he had an extra X chromosome that caused him to grow breasts. As a child he suffered several head injuries, and slept in his mother's bed until he was a teenager. Prior to killing women in the Tampa Bay area, Long raped at least fifty women in Fort Lauderdale, Ocala and Miami where he was known in the press as the "Classified Ad Rapist." In 1974, he married his high school girlfriend with whom he fathered two children. They divorced in 1980. Three years later, Long moved to Tampa Bay and in 1984 began abducting, raping and murdering women, most of whom were prostitutes. He took his victims to his apartment where he either strangled or bludgeoned them, or cut their throats. One of his victims escaped which led to his arrest and conviction. Long confessed to deriving sadistic pleasure from his crimes. He is on death row.

Maury Travis
St. Louis, Missouri
black male; born 1965; 12-20 victims (2000-2002)

     This hotel worker from Ferguson, Missouri outside of St. Louis, took prostitutes to his home where, in a basement torture chamber, he raped, tortured, and strangled his victims. He video-taped many of his atrocities. When investigators searched Travis' house, they found bondage equipment, a stun gun, and newspaper clippings featuring news of his murders. In 2002, he committed suicide in his St. Louis jail cell. In a letter to the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," Travis boasted that he had killed seventeen prostitutes.

Kendall Francois
Poughkeepsie, New York
black male; born 1971; 8 victims (1996-1998)

     This necrophiliac high school hall monitor took prostitutes to his home where he killed them by strangulation. His hatred of street walkers stemmed from the fact one of them had infected him with HIV. When the police searched his home, they found the decomposing bodies of several victims. He is serving a life sentence at the Attica Correctional Facility.

Robert Lee Yates
Spokane, Washington
white male; born 1952; 16 victims (1986-1988)

     After working as a prison guard, Yates embarked on a medal-winning, nineteen year career in the U.S. Army where he flew cargo planes and helicopters. All of his victims worked the streets in the skid row section of Spokane. He's on death row at the Washington State Prison.

Robert Hansen
Anchorage, Alaska
white male; born 1939; 21 victims (1980-1983)

     This bipolar baker and police academy drill instructor came from a dysfunctional family and was bullied at school. Before he began killing prostitutes, he burned down a school bus garage in Pocahontas, Iowa. Known as a quiet loner, Hansen fathered two children. He kidnapped his victims in Anchorage then released them into the Alaskan wilderness where he hunted them down like animals. Hansen died in 2014 while serving a life sentence in the state prison at Seward, Alaska.

Doug Clark
Los Angeles, California
white male; born 1948; 8 victims (1980)

     Along with his accomplice Carol M. Bundy, Clark became known as one of the "Sunset Strip Killers." The boiler operator at a Jergens Soap Factory fantasized about killing women during sex then, with the help of Bundy, graduated to the real thing. He shot his victims in the back of the head. At his trial he represented himself. He's now on death row. Carol Bundy, pursuant to a plea bargain, is doing life.

Dayton Leroy Rogers
Portland Oregon
white male; born 1953; 6 victims (1983-1987)

     A mechanic who fixed small engines and was deeply in debt, Rogers took his victims into the woods where he raped and stabbed them to death. All of his victims were runaways hooked on dope. He's a death row inmate in Oregon.

     The disturbing thing about all of these men is that they did not stand out in any way. They did not look like monsters, and in their daily lives did nothing that revealed who they really were. Notwithstanding their homicidal activities, they seemed ordinary. That's what made them so dangerous. And it also made them hard to catch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ronald W. Brown: The Child Porn Puppeteer

     In 1992, puppeteer Ronald Wilson Brown started his entertainment enterprise, Puppets Plus. (It's the "plus" part of his act that turned out to be disturbing.) Brown performed with his hand-puppets for thousands of kids at shopping malls, schools, churches, and birthday parties throughout the Tampa Bay area. (Serial killer John Wayne Gacy entertained children with his clown act.) Beginning in 1997, Brown, through his so-called Kid Zone Ministry, hosted weekly gatherings at the Gulf Coast Church in his hometown of Largo, Florida. Ronald Brown also worked for the Christian Television Network, using his puppets to warn kids against viewing pornography. (Here's a simple rule: When some clown or guy with puppets wants to talk to your kid about pornography, even if it's in a church, get the hell out of there. If it's on TV, turn it off.)

     The outgoing puppeteer, a resident of the Whispering Pines mobile home park in Largo, regularly invited neighborhood boys and girls between the ages 5 and 12 to his trailer for pizza and candy. (Brown lived in an area populated by young families as evidenced by all the playgrounds near his home.)  He was also Facebook friends with several of the local kids who knew him as the "Cotton Candy Man." This neighborhood comprised an excellent hunting ground for a pedophile.

     In 1998, when a police officer pulled Brown over for a traffic violation, the cop noticed several pairs of boys' underwear in the car. When asked why he had children's undergarments in his vehicle, Brown explained that the clothing belonged to his puppets. (Puppets need underwear?) Whether or not the officer bought Brown's story, nothing came of the traffic cop's observation.

     In 2012, agents with the Department of Homeland Security were conducting an international child pornography investigation that led to 40 arrests in six countries. The child pornography ring, headquartered in Massachusetts, centered around an online chat room where sexual degenerates from around the world could communicate with each other. Ronald Brown, the 57-year-old puppeteer from Largo, Florida, was a regular presence on the pedophile site.

     In one conversation with a man from Kansas named Michael Arnett, Brown wrote that he wanted to kidnap a child, tie him up, lock him in a closet, then eat him for Easter dinner. "I imagine him wiggling and then going still," he wrote. Brown also mentioned a female toddler he knew who made his mouth water, describing how human flesh tastes when prepared in various ways. Michael Arnett sent Brown a photograph of a strangled 3-year-old girl. Turned on by the sight of a dead toddler, Brown replied that this was how he'd "do" the young boy he wanted to kill and consume.

     On July 19, 2012, Homeland Security agents, pursuant to a search of the puppeteer's Largo mobile home, seized CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, micro disks, and VHS tapes containing images of nude children in bondage positions. Some of the youngsters had been posed as though they were dead.

     The day following the search, the federal officers took Ronald Brown into custody. When interrogated, he identified the boy he said he wanted to kidnap and eat as a 10-year-old he knew from church. Brown referred to his Internet musings as being "in the realm of fantasy."

     On July 24, 2012, at Ronald Brown's arraignment, the Assistant United States Attorney informed the defendant he had been charged with conspiracy to kidnap a child and possession of child pornography. The judge set a date in August 2012 for Brown's bond hearing. Two days later, federal agents and deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office returned to Brown's mobile home where they removed more evidence from the dwelling. Agents and deputies were seen walking out of the place carrying boxes and bags containing who knows what.

     In July 2013, following his guilty plea in federal court, the judge sentenced the 58-year-old Brown to twenty years behind bars. The sentence also included probation for life if he ever got out of prison alive.

"Jargonauts"

Lazy academics and bureaucrats, excessive users of jargon, are the enemies of good writing. Lawrence Langer explained what jargon does to language: "The language of simplicity and spontaneity is forced to retreat behind the barricades of an official prose developed by a few experts who believe that jargon is the most precise means of communication." Jargon is a form of pretentious writing intended to make the writer, at the expense of clarity, seem intelligent, erudite, and profound. In reality, it masks banality and shallow thinking. These "jargonauts" are a blight on the written word.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Modern History of The Death Penalty

     While the death penalty is still lawful in 32 states, only Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas actually execute their death row inmates. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the death penalty itself amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

     Since the mid-1980s, the states that carry out the death penalty have used lethal injection as the principal method of execution. Considered a more humane way to kill condemned prisoners than its predecessors the electric chair and the gas chamber, the use of drugs instead of electricity and lethal gas is more a matter of appearance--aesthetics if you will--than concern for the condemned.

     From 1976 through 2019, 1,300 state and federal inmates were executed by lethal injection. Four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia--still allow death row prisoners to choose between deadly drugs and the electric chair.

The Electric Chair

     On August 6, 1890, William Kemmler, a convicted murderer serving time at New York's Auburn Prison, earned the distinction of becoming the first person in America to die in the electric chair. The state of Ohio followed New York by replacing hanging with electrocution in 1897. Massachusetts adopted the chair in 1900, New Jersey in 1906, and Virginia in 1908. By the 1930s most of the death penalty states used the electric chair as the primary method of execution. The other states killed their death row inmates by gas, by firing squad, or by rope. The state of Kansas continued to hang its prisoners into the early 1960s.

     The state of Nebraska was one of the last jurisdictions to employ the electric chair as its sole method of killing murderers. In February 2008, the practice ended when the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that electrocution was in itself cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the state's constitution.

The Electric Chair's Golden Era

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician from Long Island, the official executioner for six eastern states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For his work he charged $150 an execution. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more inmates at one prison visit, he discounted his fee. Some of Elliott's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936), the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray (1928), the killers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), the Italian anarchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity, and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Agent of Death. The book came out in 1940. Long out of print, it is today in the libraries of true crime book collectors.

Electrocuting Fat People

     In 1981, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old's death house attorney argued that the 355-pound inmate was too heavy for the state's 76-year-old electric chair. Since its construction in 1923, the Florida state electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners. In recent years the chair had been involved in some unsightly executions. For example, death house witnesses in 1997 saw flames shoot from a condemned man's head. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair. The new device could easily handle a 355-pound guest. On July 8, 1999, the executioner sent 2,300 volts through the metal cap on the fat man's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a little groaning, but the new chair did its job.

The Gas Chamber

     Death in a gas chamber usually took six to eighteen minutes. The execution ritual began with the condemned inmate being led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by his arms, waist, ankles, and chest. A mask was placed over the prisoner's face, and the chamber sealed. The executioner poured sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor, a canister that contained cyanide pellets. The mixture of the chemicals produced a cloud of lethal gas.

     An open curtain allowed witnesses to observe the inmate inside the chamber. At the designated moment, the executioner hit an electric switch that combined the chemicals that produced the killing agent.

     The gas chamber was an expensive form of execution. Moreover, one could argue that because the condemned man contributed to his own death by breathing in the gas, it was the most cruel. Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of death row inmates to the state of Nevada in 1921. That year, state legislators abolished the electric chair in favor of the gas chamber. On February 8, 1924, a Chinese immigrant named Gee Jon became the first person in America to be executed by gas. He died in the chamber inside the Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City.

     Eventually adopted by eleven states as the official method of execution, lethal gas killed 594 prisoners in the U.S. from 1924 to 1999.

The Caryl Chessman Case

     Caryl Chessman was an armed robber and serial rapist who spent most of his adult life behind bars. In 1948, a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping, and rape. Among his crimes, he had kidnapped a 17-year-old girl named Mary Alice Meza out of her car and forced her to give him oral sex. He committed a similar offense against another victim, Regina Johnson. Under California law at the time, a kidnapping that involved bodily injury was a capital offense. Under this law, the judge sentenced Chessman to die in the gas chamber.

     Following his highly publicized trial, Chessman continued to argue his innocence through essays and books. His two memoirs, written behind bars, became bestsellers. During his twelve years on San Quentin's death row, Chessman filed dozens of appeals, and managed to avoid eight execution dates. Following his failed last-minute attempt to avoid death with a writ of habeas corpus filed with the California Supreme Court, Chessman died of asphyxiation on May 2, 1960 in San Quentin's gas chamber. He is the only person to die in the gas chamber for a crime other than murder.

Lethal Injection

     By the 21st century, state executioners were injecting death row inmates with a three-drug cocktail that included pentobarbital. When the European manufacturers of this deadly drug stopped exporting it and other killing agents to the United States, executioners found themselves in a fix. Some began using a single drug--usually pentobarbital if they had it--while others concocted new, experimental cocktails made of drugs available in the United States.

     Anti-capital punishment activists have used the lethal drug supply problem to further their push to have the death penalty abolished altogether. But for these crusaders, if it's not the inhumanity of using untested drugs, it's something else. These death house lawyers and political activists object to executing prisoners who, when they murdered, were under eighteen; inmates who are fat with hard-to-find veins; killers with low I.Q.s; and in the case of a Missouri murderer named Russell Bucklew, a death row inmate who wasn't healthy enough to be humanely executed.

The Clayton Lockett Case

     In 1999, an Oklahoma criminal named Clayton Lockett tortured then buried alive an 18-year-old girl who had been unfortunate enough to cross this predator's path. On April 29, 2014, the executioner at the state penitentiary in McAlester administered a three-drug cocktail of Midazalam (to render him unconscious), Vecuronium (to stop his breathing), and potassium chloride (to stop his heart).

     Seven minutes after the drugs went into Lockett's body, he was still conscious. He moved his head and tried to get off the gurney seventeen minutes into the execution. Finally, 43 minutes after being injected, the 38-year-old died of a heart attack. It wasn't a perfect, well-oiled killing, but in the end the drugs worked.

     By describing Lockett's death as torture, a horrible ordeal, and a nightmare, death house lawyers, anti-capital punishment crusaders, and people in the media who support their cause, exploited Lockett's "botched" execution for all its worth. Suddenly, executing a sadistic rapist and cold-blooded murderer by lethal injection became cruel and unusual punishment. For those who were not losing sleep over Clayton Lockett's bumpy ride into eternity, listening to this hand-wringing was cruel and unusual punishment.

Back to Bullets

     In 2014, politicians in Utah, Wyoming, and Missouri proposed bringing back the firing squad. In Utah, legislators abolished death by firing squad in 2004, citing the excessive media attention surrounding this form of execution. Still, murderers sentenced before 2004 had the option to die by shooting. In 2010, Ronnie Lee Gardner, a man who fatally shot a Salt Lake City attorney in 1985 in Gardner's attempt to flee the court house, selected the firing squad over lethal injection. Five police officers used .30-caliber Winchester rifles to carry out Gardner's execution. Unlike Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Mr. Gardner died instantly. Nevertheless, those who opposed capital punishment, fretted that the executioners might miss their target, causing a slow and painful death. There was, however, a simple solution to this problem: give each executioner two bullets.

The Return of the Electric Chair

     On May 22, 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam signed a bill allowing the state to electrocute death row inmates in the event the state was unable to acquire the proper drugs for the execution. Lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed the bill the previous month. And most people in the state supported the new law. According to a 2014 Vanderbilt University poll, 56 percent of registered voters in the state welcomed the return of the chair.

     Corrections officials in Tennessee were also dealing with the lethal drug shortage. Electricity, on the other hand, didn't come from Europe and was in good supply.

     In Tennessee, Daryl Holton, in 2009, was the last man in the state to die in the electric chair. In 1997, the Gulf War veteran murdered his three sons and a stepdaughter with a high-powered rifle in their Shelbyville, Tennessee  garage. Death by electrocution was his choice of execution.  

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The John Crawford Police-Involved Shooting Case

     After graduating from high school in 2008, 18-year-old John Crawford III joined the U.S. Marines. He was discharged shortly after he signed up when military doctors discovered that he suffered from a heart condition.

     In 2014, Crawford resided in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburban community outside of Dayton in the western part of the state. On Tuesday evening August 5, 2014, the 23-year-old, his girlfriend Tasha Thomas, and his two children from a previous relationship, were shopping at the local Wal-Mart to purchase, among other things, the ingredients to make S'mores for an upcoming family cookout.

     The trouble began as Crawford stood in the sporting section of the store examining a Crossman MK-77 BB/pellet air rifle. A couple of Wal-Mart shoppers saw Crawford holding the air gun in his left hand and called 911. One of the callers, Ronald Ritchie, reported that a man in the store had pointed the gun at two children and was trying to load the weapon.

     When approached by two Beavercreek police officers at 8:26 PM Crawford stood in an aisle away from the sporting section. He was accompanied by his children and on his cellphone talking to their mother, LeeCee Johnson. LeeCee heard Crawford inform the officers that the gun was not real.

     The police officers ordered Crawford to release the weapon and drop to the floor. As he turned toward them they shot him twice. His children looked on in horror as their father sank to the floor with two bullets in his body.

     A few hours later, John Crawford died at a nearby hospital.

     In the panic and confusion immediately following the in-store shooting, Angela Williams, a 37-year-old nursery home worker with a heart condition, collapsed as she scrambled from the violence. Later that night she went into cardiac arrest and died.

     A few days after the fatal police-involved shooting, Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers told reporters that the officers fired their guns when Crawford failed to obey their command to drop the air rifle.

      Mr. Crawford had been shot by officer Sean Williams and Sergeant David Darkow. Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave.

     While the authorities refused to release surveillance camera footage of the shooting to the media, members of the Crawford family and their attorney Michael Wright viewed the video. According to the attorney, the Wal-Mart video revealed that the police officers did not give John Crawford the chance to comply with their orders before shooting him.

     In 2010, one of the Crawford shooters, office Sean Williams, had shot and killed Scott Brogli, a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force. According to officer Williams and his partner, Brogli had charged them with with a knife while the officers were investigating the 45-year-old's drunken beating of his wife. A local grand jury reviewed the case and decided not to bring charges against Williams.

     Two weeks after the Crawford shooting, Sergeant David Darkow went back on duty. Office Williams remained on leave.

     On September 7, 2014, The Guardian newspaper published a long article about the John Crawford shooting case. In that piece, the reporter included quotes from 911 caller Ronald Ritchie who had changed a crucial component of his initial account of of the incident. "At no point," Ritchie said, "did he [Crawford] shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody." Instead, Ritchie said Crawford had merely waved the gun around.

     In his 911 call, Ritchie told the dispatcher that the man with the gun was trying to load it. The emergency dispatcher, in relaying this information to the responding officers, reported that the Wal-Mart man "just put bullets inside the gun." According to The Guardian, the air rifle was not loaded.

     The dead man's father, John Crawford II, having viewed the Wal-Mart surveillance footage, said this to The Guardian reporter: "You can clearly see people in the store walk past him, and they didn't think anything about it. Everybody was just kind of minding their own business. He wasn't acting in any type of way that would have been considered menacing. It was an execution, no doubt about it. It was flat-out murder. And when you see the surveillance camera footage, it will illustrate that."

     Attorney Wright, in discussing the autopsy report with The Guardian reporter, revealed that Dr. Robert Shott, the Montgomery County Deputy Coroner, told him that John Crawford had been hit in the back of his left arm just above the elbow. The second bullet entered the side of his torso left of his belly button. According to the attorney, the ballistics evidence supported the theory that when first shot, Mr. Crawford was not facing the officers.

     Montgomery County grand jurors, in 2015, decided not to indict either officer of negligent homicide or lesser offenses. Following this decision, the U.S. Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the shooting. In 2017, the DOJ announced that it was not seeking federal charges against the officers.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Brandon L. Woodard Murder-For-Hire Case

     Raised in the Ladera Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Brandon Lincoln Woodard, the son of wealthy parents, lived a privileged life. His uncle, Leonard Woods, was a celebrated drag car racer, and his mother, Sandra Wellington, ran a successful mortgage business. Woodard, in 1999, graduated from a private Episcopal high school in LA called Campbell Hall. He and his parents belonged to an exclusive society of prominent black families called Jack and Jill of America.

     In 2003, Woodard graduated from southern California's Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor's degree in business administration. While working in his mother's mortgage company (shut down in the summer of 2012 for state lending code violations), Brandon cultivated fast-living friends in the music business and in professional sports. He developed a reputation as a man about town.

     Between 2004 and 2012, Woodard acquired an arrest history consisting of at least twenty arrests. A supermarket security guard in Hermosa Beach, California caught him stealing several bottles of wine in 2009. After struggling with the security officer, Woodard sped off in his car, but in so doing, he slammed into two other vehicles. To flee the scene, he abandoned his disabled car and hailed a cab. The police took him into custody shortly after the incident. (I don't know the disposition of this case, but would guess that Woodard pleaded no contest and paid a fine.)

     A year after the retail theft incident, Woodard was accepted into Whittier Law School. During his first year at Whittier, he was arrested on the charge of battery. (In most states this offense is called assault.) In April 2012, while the 31-year-old was enrolled in law school, police arrested him in West Hollywood for cocaine possession. By now, Brandon Woodard was holding himself out as a hip hop promoter in LA's music industry.

     On Sunday, December 9, 2012, Woodard flew from Los Angeles to New York City. At five in the afternoon, he checked into a high-end hotel on Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan called 6 Columbus. He planned to return to LA the next day to take a law exam. (I wonder how many law students, on the day before an exam, spend nine hours on an airplane.) That evening, Woodard watched a football game at the hotel with a female friend, then went to dinner at a restaurant nearby.

     Just before two in the afternoon on Monday, December 10, 2012, Woodard checked out of his hotel. He left his luggage with a valet, expecting to return for it in a couple of hours. Brandon Woodard never got back to the hotel.

     As Brandon Woodard walked along 58th Street that afternoon not far from the southern border of Central Park, a man wearing a hooded jacket walked up behind him and shot him once in the back of the head with a nickel-plated pistol. As Woodward collapsed to the pavement and died, the shooter climbed into a Lincoln sedan and was driven away. The murder was captured by a surveillance camera that did not reveal a clear picture of the gunman's face.

     Crime scene investigators recovered a spent shell-casing that had been fired out of a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. A search of a ballistics database revealed that the handgun that had ejected this casing had been used in a November 22, 2009 shooting in Queens, New York. In that incident no one had been hit, and no arrests had been made.

     At the time of his death, Woodard was in possession of three cellphones. This, along with the fact that Woodard associated with music industry types, led investigators to speculate that he had been somehow involved in the drug trade. The shooting M.O. also bore the earmarks of a murder-for-hire conspiracy.

     On December 11, 2012, the day after Woodard's murder, NYPD officers with the 113th Precinct in Queens came across the abandoned getaway car. They traced the Lincoln MKZ to an Avis car rental service in Huntington Station, New York.

     New York City detectives, on December 13, 2012 searched Woodard's condo in Los Angeles. According to newspaper reports, the officers did not find drugs or useful clues into the identities of the people behind Woodard's murder.

     In July 2017, a Manhattan jury, after a three month trial, found 39-year-old Lloyd T. McKenzie guilty of hiring a hit man to murder Brandon Woodard. McKenzie, a party organizer from Queens, New York, arranged the murder to avoid paying Woodard the $161,000 he owned for five kilograms of cocaine. (Woodard had been working as a drug courier for a bicoastal cocaine ring.) The judge sentenced McKenzie to 85 years to life.

     As of this writing, the hit man in Woodard's murder remains unidentified.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Charlotte and Owen Schilling Murder-Suicide Case

     On May 10, 2012, Charlotte Schilling, a mother of three, picked-up her youngest child, 10-year-old Owen, from his elementary school in Bellevue, Nebraska. She told the boy they were going on an overnight vacation to Lake Manawa State Park south of Council Bluffs, Iowa, 20 miles north of their home in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. When the 41-year-old mother and her son didn't return home the following day, members of the family became concerned, and called the police.

     Charlotte Schilling's relatives had reason to worry. The previous November, she had tried to kill herself by cinching a self-locking plastic strip--a so-called zip-tie fastener commonly used to bind electrical wires and cables together--around her neck. A relative in the house heard Charlotte collapse to the floor, got to her while she was still breathing, and cut the ligature off her neck. The day before Charlotte checked Owen out of his school, she gave some of her belongings to friends and family. This was not a good sign, an indication she was seriously contemplating suicide.

     A day after Charlotte and her son left Bellevue, police found her car parked in the Iowa state park. She had left her cellphone and wallet in the vehicle. Investigators found no signs of her or Owen. A surveillance video from a nearby convenience store showed Charlotte and the boy, on the day they left Nebraska, buying groceries. The video revealed nothing out of the ordinary in their behavior. He is seen hugging his mother, and she kissing the top of his head.

     Ten days after mother and son drove from the school, police found their decomposing bodies in the woods near the lake, a half mile from her car. They had zip-ties wrapped tightly around their necks, and had died from strangulation by ligature. Police found no physical evidence of a struggle. Near their bodies the officers found some of the food Charlotte had purchased from the convenience store. While their times of death couldn't be pinpointed, the authorities believe they had died shortly after arriving at the park on May 10.

     Why suicidal people murder their children is a mystery. Perhaps they think the youngsters will be better off dead than alive. Maybe it's done to get back at someone. Whatever the motivation, the act is pathological and beyond rational explanation.     

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Ronita McColley "Wrong House" SWAT Raid

     A confidential informant told an investigator with the Rensselaer County District Attorney's Office that a number of unidentified people were selling cocaine out of three houses in Troy, New York. On June 23, 2008, a member of the county drug task force sent an undercover operative into one of the houses where he purchased cocaine from a known dealer. A few days later, a judge in Troy issued four no-knock nighttime search warrants based on nothing more than the snitch's tip, and one controlled buy.

     At four in the morning on June 28, 2008, an explosion inside the house at 396 First Street awoke Ronita McColley and her 5-year-old daughter. Seconds later, officers with the Troy Emergency Response Team (ERT) and county drug police, poured into McColley's home past her splintered door. McColley would describe that moment to a local reporter this way: "The flash and then the police coming into my house, and me not having any clothes on...It was just a lot of men looking at me, and there was no female in sight." (SWAT teams are almost entirely made up of male officers.)

     After breaking down Ronita McColley's front door, smashing a window with the flash-bang grenade--which burned a hole in her carpet and scorched a wall--and rummaging through her personal belongings, the police found no evidence of illegal drug activity. Some of the officers thought they had accidentally raided the wrong house. But no, this was one of the addresses the snitch had identified as a cocaine site. No one got hurt that night, including McColley's 5-year-old daughter. The SWAT raiders did not apologize for the destruction and terror they had visited upon this innocent mother and her child. Moreover, no one in authority offered to replace McColley's door, the broken window, or the carpet damaged by the percussion grenade. This wrong house SWAT raid was just another case of collateral damage in the drug war.

     In the other raids that night in Troy, the police also failed to find cocaine. Officers recovered small quantities of marijuana, but didn't take anyone into custody. The entire operation, from a drug war perspective, was a failure. Criticism of these fruitless and potentially dangerous no-knock intrusions prompted an internal police inquiry into the operation. On September 17, 2008, the Troy Record published excerpts from Assistant Chief of Police John Tedesco's report. According to Tedesco, "The bulk of this drug investigation was predicated upon the word of the confidential informant absent further investigation. Arguably, the reputation of proven reliable information of the CI was established. However, this fact alone does not negate the need to substantiate the CI's claims. Surveillance or controlled buys at the locations is the seemingly appropriate investigative pursuit to accomplish this function." (This is how police administrators write. The assistant chief could have said, "We shouldn't SWAT raid a dwelling on nothing more than the word of a snitch.")

     Ronita McColley's attorney, Terry Kindlon, gave notice of his intent to file a federal lawsuit against the city of Troy. Interviewed by a Troy Record reporter, the lawyer said, "I sometimes think...that rather than doing thoughtful, thorough police work, they phoned it in, and ended up throwing bombs at one of the nicest, sweetest woman I have ever met." (The raid would have been just as wrong had Ronita McColley not been a nice person.)

     Attorney Kindlon filed the civil rights suit in October 2008, and on March 4, 2012, the judge in a New York state U.S. District Court, ruled in favor of the city and the police.

     Because this mindless police intrusion into a dwelling at night did not result in anyone being shot or seriously injured, this case did not attract much attention in the media. The fact that cases like this were not rare was the real story, a reality then ignored by local media outlets uninterested in incidents that did not feature blood and guts. Had Ronita McColley, thinking that her home was being broken into by criminals, picked up a gun and shot a cop, she would have either been killed, or shipped off to prison for life. For reporters, that would have been a much better story. 

The Literary Crime Buff

I'm a crime dog. I read crime novels and true-crime books, almost exclusively. I don't dig comedy, sci-fi, current-event exposes or tales of domestic woe.

James Ellroy, 1985

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Murdered in Abu Dhabi

     In October 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Gulf Arab nation of United Arab Emerates (UAE), alerted Americans in the country to a posting on a jihadist web forum that called for "lone wolf" attacks on American teachers working in international schools. Abu Dhabi, an international business and banking hub that featured huge skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls, had a low violent crime rate and was considered one of the safest big cities in the world.

     Ibolya Ryan, Hungarian-born and raised and educated in Romania as a kindergarten teacher, came to the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, while living with her husband in Denver, Colorado, she took a job as a special needs teacher and enrolled in a course on how to teach English as a foreign language. In 2001, she returned to Hungary then later accepted a teaching position in Austria.

     In 2014, Ryan was living in Abu Dhabi and teaching at a large international school 35 miles from the downtown section of the city. The 47-year-old mother of three had divorced her husband and was residing in the UAE with her twin 11-year-old sons.

     On Monday December 1, 2014, while shopping at a high-end mall on Reem Island, a newly developed area of the city that was home to thousands of Western expatriates, Ryan entered the ladies restroom. Mall surveillance camera footage showed a person fully covered in a black, full-length gown called an abaya and a headscarf or hijab, following Ryan into the public restroom. This person was later seen leaving the mall in a hurry.

     Officers with the Criminal Investigation Department of the Abu Dhabi Police, when they responded to the shopping mall restroom, found a large, bloody kitchen knife with a blue handle and a trail of blood leading to one of the stalls. That's where they found Ibolya Ryan, the victim of a vicious knifing.

     Shortly after being rushed to a nearby hospital, Ryan died from her knife wounds. Her sons were placed in the care of Abu Dhabi officials until their father came from abroad to pick them up.

     On Thursday December 4, 2014, UAE police officers raided an apartment in Abu Dhabi and took an Emirati woman named Ala'a Badr Abdullah Al-Hashemi  into custody. The authorities believed this murder suspect had earlier planted a homemade bomb at the doorstep of an Egyptian-American physician. The doctor's son found the bomb and called the police. Bomb experts came to the scene and defused the device.

     The day following the suspect's arrest, a spokesperson for the Abu Dhabi police said investigators believed Ryan's cold-blooded killing was an act of terrorism committed by a self-radicalized terrorist who acted alone.

     Ibolya Ryan's murder destroyed the sense of security expatriates in Abu Dhabi once enjoyed.

     The U.A.E. authorities moved quickly to try Ms. Hashemi. The prosecutor described the killing as an "Islamic extremism terror attack." In June 2015, the defendant was convicted as charged and sentenced to death. On July 13, 2015, Hashemi was executed by firing squad in Dubai, U.A. E.

     Attorneys for the executed woman said she had suffered from chronic mental illness. Court-appointed doctors, however, had determined that the defendant had been fit to stand trial. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Luka Magnotta Murder Case

     Tenants in a working-class Montreal, Canada neighborhood complained of a bad smell coming from a pile of garbage behind their apartment building. At ten in the morning on May 29, 2012, when the janitor opened a suitcase at the site of the odor, he discovered a man's bloody torso.

     At 11:15 that morning, in Ottawa, at the Conservative Party headquarters, Jenni Bryne, a top political advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, opened a box that had been mailed to that address. As she opened the package, Bryne was hit by a terrible odor and recoiled at the sight of dried blood. She immediately called 911 which brought the Ottawa police, a hazmat unit, and officers with the Emergency Special Operations Section. The box contained a human foot and a note indicating that six other human body parts were in the mail.

     At 9:30 that night, the Ottawa police announced they had found a second severed body part mailed from Montreal. It was a hand found inside a piece of mail intercepted at the Ottawa Postal Terminal.

     On Wednesday morning, May 30, 2012, crime scene investigators and hazardous materials officers entered an apartment in the building where the janitor had found the suitcase containing the blood splattered torso. The masked searchers were interested in a second-story studio apartment rented by a 29-year-old tenant named Luka Rocco Magnotta.

     Luka Magnotta, a stripper, model, and bisexual actor in low-budget adult films who used the names Eric Clinton Newman (his born name) and Vladimir Romanov, had lived in the apartment about four months. Originally from Toronto, Magnotta had an Internet presence that included uploaded videos of animal cruelty. Two years earlier, a video appeared on the Web featuring Magnotta placing a pair of kittens inside an airtight bag then using a vacuum cleaner to suck out the air. He also had a blog under his name called "Necrophilia Serial Killer Luka Magnotta" that featured the following quote: "It's not cool to the world being a necrophiliac. It's bloody lonely. But I don't care." Magnotta was also the author of an Internet article titled, "How to Completely Disappear and Never be Found" in which he laid out a six-step program for changing one's identify.

     On May 25, four days before the gruesome discovery at the Montreal apartment, an uploaded 11-minute Internet video on an Alberta-based website called "Best Gore," showed a man being stabbed, his throat slashed, and his head cut off by an unidentified killer in a dark hoodie. The man in the video also severed the victim's limbs, then committed sexual and cannibalistic acts on the corpse. A dog in the dimly lit room ate part of the body. The snuff video was called, "1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick." The Canadian authorities believed the torso found behind Magnotta's apartment building, as well as the mailed body parts, belong to the man seen murdered online. Investigators also theorized that Luka Magnotta was the killer in the video.

     In Apartment 208, crime scene investigators believed they had found the site of the videoed murder/dismemberment. Detectives also thought the torso discovered behind the building originated from this apartment. The walls and floor were splattered in dried blood and in the bedroom they found a blood-soaked mattress.

     A forensic pathologist examined the torso and the two mailed body parts and found that the remains belonged to the same person.

     Luka Magnotta, the subject of a massive international manhunt, was described as a slightly built man who was five-foot-eight with short black hair and blue eyes. The authorities searching for the fugitive believed he was hiding out in Europe under a false identity.

     The man believed to have been killed in the snuff film was identified as a student from China named Jun Lin. The 33-year-old had been attending Concordia University in Montreal. He had been going out with Magnotta and was last seen on May 24, 2012. Lin was an undergraduate in the engineering and computer science department.

     Montreal Police Commander Ian Lafreniere believed that Magnotta was hiding in France. The fugitive was immediately placed on Interpol's equivalent of the FBI's most wanted list. A Toronto transsexual who had a sexual relationship with Magnotta, informed the police that the porn actor used drugs and possessed a bad temper.

     In 2010, after Luka Magnotta had posted the disgusting video involving the kittens, a London reporter with The Sun newspaper questioned him for an article. In an email to The Sun, Magnotta warned that his next uploaded snuff video would not involve cats. "Once you kill, and taste blood, it's impossible to stop," he wrote. After the animal cruelty video was published, animal rights activists in Canada tried to get the authorities to intervene.

     On Monday, June 4, 2012, seven  police officers in Berlin, Germany, acting on a tip from a person who recognized Magnotta, arrested him in an internet cafe. At first Magnotta gave the officers a false name, then said, "You got me." Magnotta was in the cafe reading about himself on the Internet.

     On the day following his arrest, as Magnotta appeared before a German judge on the matter of his extradition back to Canada, staff members at two private boy's school in Vancouver, British Columbia, each received a package that had been mailed from Montreal. The package to the False Creek Elementary school contained a human foot. The parcel opened at St. George's contained a hand. The body parts belonged to Jun Lin. The authorities were still searching for the victim's head.

     Several months following his extradition back to Canada, Magnotta acquired an attorney named Luc   Leclain who argued that his client should be tried for the lesser homicide offense of second-degree murder because the Crown could not prove premeditation in Jun Lin's killing. In May 2013, following a week-long preliminary hearing involving thirty witnesses for the Crown, the Court of Quebec judge ruled that the prosecution had enough evidence to justify trying Magnotta for first degree-murder.

     In addition to first-degree murder, Luka Magnotta stood charged with the lesser offenses of causing indignity to Jun Lin's body (in the U. S. it's called abuse of corpse), broadcasting obscene material, using the postal service to send obscene material, and the harassment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament. The Quebec judge scheduled Magnotta's first-degree murder trial for September 14, 2014.

     Luka Magnotta's murder trial got underway on Monday December 15, 2014 before Justice Guy Cournoyer of the Quebec Superior Court. His attorney, Luc Leclair, tried to convince the jury that the defendant, a schizophrenic, committed the murder in a psychotic state that had rendered him legally insane and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity.

     The Magnotta jury rejected the insanity defense and found the defendant, on December 23, 2014, guilty of first-degree murder. The jurors also found him guilty of the lesser offenses. Judge Cournoyer sentenced Magnotta to life in prison for first-degree murder and gave him 19 years behind bars for the other offenses.

Charles Bukowski The Romantic

I never really found a friend. With women, there was hope with each new one but that was in the beginning. Even early on, I got it, I stopped looking for the Dream Girl; I just wanted one that wasn't a nightmare.

Charles Bukowski

Monday, September 21, 2020

Workplace Murder-Suicide: The Dangerous Employee

     During the past forty years, hundreds of government and private sector employees have gone ballistic and murdered two or more of their fellow workers, then killed themselves. While workplace shooting sprees have become relatively common, they still produce local headlines, and for a few days, national television coverage.

     News accounts of these violent outbursts almost always feature the question of why. What motivated the employee to commit mass murder, then take his own life? (About 85 percent of these killers are male.) Was the killer mainly motivated by the intent to murder, or to commit suicide? If suicide, why the murders? If murder, why the suicide?

     Many workplace killers are disgruntled, revenge-seeking employees with emotional problems and histories of mental illness and violence. The increasing frequency of these blood baths might reflect the deteriorating mental and emotional health of a nation devolving into a culture of violence, materialism, and entitlement.

     Employers of these homicidal workers are often accused, after the fact, of lax job applicant screening procedures. This is unfair because under federal law, employers are not allowed to ask job seekers all kinds of pertinent questions, including if they have histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness. Whether or not a job applicant has ever been arrested is, by law, none of the employer's business. All of this information, of course, is relevant to the question of the applicant's fitness and qualifications for employment.

     Employers in workplace shooting cases are usually sued for having failed to recognize and react to signs of future workplace violence. But to be fair, there is no sure-fire way to identify employees who will "go postal." Quite often, employees who have been fired for violent and threatening workplace behavior return to the job sites weeks, months, and even years later with murderous and suicidal intentions. There is no way to predict or prevent this type of behavior. Police officers patrol the streets, and are present in many public schools, but they are not in homes and places of employment where the real danger lies.

     Lawrence Jones of Fresno, California is a good example of someone an employer shouldn't hire. The 42-year-old, since his early 20s, had been in and out of prison for armed robbery, assault, auto theft, and gun-related crimes. He had spent most of  his adult life behind bars. In September 2011, three months after his last parole, Jones began working at Apple Valley Farms, a chicken processing plant in Fresno. He was hired because there aren't many people willing to work in such places. For fourteen months Jones did his job, then something happened that set him off.

     At eight-thirty on the morning of November 6, 2012, four hours into his shift, Jones walked up to 32-year-old Salvador Diaz who was working in the grinding room. Because of the sound of the machinery, and the fact employees wore noise-protection gear, no one heard Jones shoot Mr. Diaz in the back of the head with his 4-shot .357 Derringer pistol.

     After murdering Mr. Diaz execution-style, Jones entered the deboning room of the plant and executed Manual Verdin, 34. Jones then wounded 28-year-old Arnuflo Conrriguez, and shot Fatima Lopez in the back as she fled the scene. Jones pressed the muzzle of his Derringer to the back of Estevan Catono's head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately for the 21-year-old intended victim, the gun was out of rounds.

     After killing two of his fellow employees, and wounding two others, Jones walked out of the plant, re-loaded the handgun, and fatally shot himself in the head.

     Investigators did not have a motive for the killings, nor did they know if these victims had been targeted. In all probability, these workers were simply unlucky by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     Fatima Lopez was treated at a local hospital and released. Arnuflo Conrriguez, for awhile in serious condition at Fresno's Community Regional Medical Center, recovered and was released.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

No Place Is Off-Limits for Sexual Assault

     One would think that a woman sedated in a hospital room or asleep onboard a commercial airliner would not be in danger of being sexually assaulted. Well, one would be wrong. Sexual offenders are everywhere, can be anyone, and commit crimes in places that reasonable people assume are safe.

The Case of Shafeeq Sheikh

     In 2013, Dr. Shafeeq Sheikh, an Indian-American physician, was working the night shift at the Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, Texas. That evening a 29-year-old woman was admitted for shortness of breath and wheezing. During the night, Dr. Sheikh used his access card key twelve times to gain entrance onto this patient's  floor. While she lay in bed sedated, he sexually assaulted her several times. The victim kept pressing the nurse call button but it didn't work.

     A full two years after the victim's rape kit DNA matched up to Dr. Sheikh, Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reeder charged him with second-degree sexual assault, a crime that carried a sentence of up to twenty years in prison.

     Following Dr. Sheikh's arrest, the Texas Medical Board Revoked his license to practice in the state.

     The case went to trial in August 2018, five years after the crime. The defendant admitted sexual contact with this patient but claimed that the act was consensual.

     At the conclusion of the four-day trial, the jury found Dr. Sheikh guilty as charged. In Texas, juries had the power to determine the defendant's sentence. Before his sentencing, the former physician pleaded with the jurors to show compassion and go easy on him because his criminal behavior had made life difficult for his wife and children. The jury must have been moved by this plea because it recommended a sentence of ten years probation. Although the leniency of this sentence shocked everyone in the courtroom, including the defense attorneys, the judge had no recourse but to follow the jury's recommendation. So, no prison time for a doctor who took sexual advantage of a sedated hospital patient. The former physician, pursuant to his sentence, had to register as a sex offender.

     The victim in this case, in speaking to a local television reporter, said she believed this man had sexually assaulted other women.

The Case of Prabhu Ramamoorthy

     On January 3, 2018, Prabhu Ramamoorthy and his wife were passengers on an overnight Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Ramamoorthy, from India, was in the United States on a work visa.

     The sleeping 22-year-old woman in the window seat next to Ramamoorthy was jolted awake. She found her pants unzipped and Ramamoorthy's hand in her underwear. Her blouse had also been unbuttoned.

     When the plane landed in Detroit, FBI agents took the sexual fondler into custody. United States Attorney Matthew Schneider charged Ramamoorthy with the federal crime of sexual assault, a crime that carried a sentence of up to life in prison.

     Ramamoorthy's trial got underway in August 2018. When he took the stand on his own behalf, the defendant claimed that when he used his finger to penetrate the woman in the seat next to him, he was in a "deep sleep" that came over him after taking a Tylenol pill. The jurors, not being idiots, rejected this defense, and after just four hours of deliberation, found Ramamoorthy guilty as charged.

     The judge, on December 12, 2018, sentenced Prabhu Ramamoorthy to nine years in prison.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Russell and Shirley Dermond Murder Case

     In 2014, 88-year-old Russell Dermond and his 87-year-old wife Shirley resided in a $1 million, 3,300-square-foot home on the shores of Lake Oconee in Reynolds Plantation, Georgia, a retirement/resort community 75 miles east of Atlanta. Before retiring, Mr. Dermond owned franchises in Wendy's and Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurants. Mr. Dermond, a U.S. Navy veteran, grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey. He played golf, liked to read, and enjoyed spending time with family and friends. The couple regularly attended the Lake Oconee Community Church.

     Married 68 years, the couple, in 1994, purchased the house on the cul-de-sac in the neighborhood of Lakeside Great Waters. The gated community, that featured a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, was considered safe from crime.

     In 2000, one of the couple's three adult children, Mark Dermond, was shot to death after a drug deal went bad in Atlanta. The Dermond's oldest son had been struggling with drug addiction for years.

     On Monday, May 6, 2014, after not hearing from Russell or Shirley Dermond for several days, neighbors went to their house to check on them. They found Mr. Dermond's body in the garage. He had been decapitated. Mrs. Dermond was missing along with her husband's head. Both of their vehicles were parked in the driveway, and the interior of the dwelling seemed undisturbed. There were no signs of forced entry, and nothing had been stolen, including Mrs. Dermond's purse that was still in the house.

     Investigators with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), based upon the blood spatter pattern in the garage, theorized that Mr. Dermond's head had been cut off after his death. Moreover, he had not been stabbed or shot. Detectives believed he had been bludgeoned to death sometime between Friday, May 2 and Sunday, May 5, 2014.

     Following Mr. Dermond's murder, there was no activity on the couple's bank accounts. Since no ransom demands had been made, detectives didn't think Mrs. Dermond had been kidnapped for money.

     To help the local authorities locate Shirley Dermond, the FBI put up 100 billboard posters and offered a $20,000 reward. Scuba divers searched the lake in the vicinity of the house and officers used cadaver dogs to look for the missing woman in the surrounding woods. Police officers and FBI agents also questioned dozens of residents of the gated community.

     On May 7, 2014, Bradley Dermond, the couple's son, told a local television reporter that the murder of his father and the disappearance of his mother,"makes no sense at all. We're still hoping that our mother is OK." Two days later, Putnam County Coroner Gary McEhenney announced the presumed cause of Mr. Dermond's death to be "cerebral trauma."

     On Friday afternoon May 16, 2014, after two fishermen spotted a body, an emergency crew pulled Shirley Dermond's corpse out of Lake Oconee five miles from her house. According to the Putnam County coroner, she had been murdered by blunt force trauma to the head then dumped into the water.

     Investigators believed the intruder or intruders who murdered the couple may have used a boat in the commission of the crime. No suspects, however, were developed in the case. Moreover, the motive behind the double murder remained a mystery. The authorities had not located Mr. Dermond's head and the reason behind his decapitation was unknown. Some believed the murders could have been a mob hit, but who would want these elderly people rubbed out?

     Residents of this community, following the gruesome double-murder, had their illusion of security shattered.

     In November 2014, six months after the still unsolved murders, Putnam County sheriff Howard Sills, in an interview with a local television news reporter, said, "I go to sleep every night thinking about this case and wake up every morning thinking about it. And I'm not exaggerating." According to the sheriff, every potential suspect questioned in the investigation had been cleared. The sheriff said he believed the murders had been pre-meditated and planned. "You can't make me believe there was any kind of randomness to this crime. It bothers me a great deal that someone has committed such a heinous crime and they're still out there."

     On December 9, 2014, Sheriff Sills told another television reporter that his office had received thousands of pages of phone records going back six months prior to the Dermond murders. The Gwinnett County district attorney's office used special software to help investigators analyze the phone data in search for suspects.

     The reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers, raised to $55,000, did not produce any leads in the case.

     In February 2015, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills revealed to a local TV reporter that Shirley Dermond's body had been held to the bottom of Lake Oconee by two cement blocks. The killer or killers had not accounted for decomposing gases that causes a weighted down body in water to become buoyant. While there was no effort to hide Mr. Dermond's body, the killer or killers did not want his wife's corpse to be found.

     In April 2016, in speaking to a local newspaper reporter, the murder victims' 57-year-old son Keith said, "It's bad enough to lose both of your parents at the same time, but in the way it happened. We would have been devastated if they'd just had a car accident. But to have it all happen this way, and then just compounding with the details and then the fact they haven't caught anybody. They don't even have a clue. We don't even know why."

     On May 6, 2017, Sheriff Sills, on the third anniversary of the Russell and Shirley Dermond's murders, discussed the still unsolved case with a local reporter. The sheriff said that he believed the Dermonds had been targeted victims and that, "Somebody knows who did this." The sheriff admitted that not solving such an important murder case was "somewhat embarrassing" and that his investigators did not have any promising leads.
     As of September 2020, the 6-year-old Russel and Dermond Murder case remained unsolved.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Jordan Lin Graham: Killer Bride

     Cody Lee Johnson and Jordan Lin Graham, residents of Kalispell, Montana, began dating in late 2011. The couple became engaged in December 2012, and on June 29, 2013, were married. While couples who indulge themselves with lavish weddings are just as likely to be divorced as people who get hitched in city hall, family members and guests who attended the Johnson extravaganza didn't expect this marriage to end so quickly--and so violently.

     As it turned out, Cody Johnson was just as clueless as his wedding guests. The 25-year-old groom had no idea that his 22-year-old bride wanted the wedding more than the marriage. Almost immediately after the big ceremony she confided to friends that she already regretted marrying Johnson. When she uttered the pledge "until death do us part" this bride, instead of thinking of spending the rest of her life with this man, may have been contemplating widowhood within a matter of days.

     On the morning of July 8, 2013, when Cody Johnson didn't show up for work, his parents reported him missing to the Kalispell Police Department. A local police officer questioned the missing man's wife of nine days. For a woman with a missing husband, she seemed awfully calm and collected.

     According to Jordan, Cody had stormed out of the house the previous night following their exchange of angry words. He had gone off in a dark-colored car bearing Washington state license plates with unidentified friends. She had no idea where he went or what could have happened to him.

     On the night Cody supposedly left the house with the mysterious men, Jordan, in a text message to a friend, said that prior to Cody's disappearance she had planned to break the news to him regarding her second thoughts about their marriage. Three days later, in an email, Jordan informed another acquaintance that Cody had gone hiking in nearby Glacier National Park with friends where he had probably fallen and died.

     On July 11, 2013, the newlywed reported to Glacier National Park officials that she had spotted Cody's body at the foot of a cliff in the Loop Trail area of the park. She had gone to that place in search of her husband because "it was a place he wanted to see before he died." Park officials considered this story absurd, and more than a little suspicious.

     The next day, operating on Jordan's information, searchers located Cody's body in an area so steep and rugged a helicopter had to be employed to recover his corpse.

     Members of Cody Johnson's family who suspected Jordan of murdering her new husband called for an investigation of his death. Since he had died in a national park, the FBI took over the case.

     On July 16, 2013, while being questioned by Special Agent Steven Liss, Jordan admitted that she had lied to the local police about the circumstances of her husband's disappearance. He had not gotten into a car with friends that night. That evening, following a heated argument, Jordan and Cody had driven to the park to cool-off. They continued fighting, however. While standing at the viewpoint above the cliff, he grabbed her by the arm. Jordan said she removed his hand and gave him a shove which propelled him over the cliff. She admitted that she had pushed him in anger, but denied an intention to kill him. In other words, Cody Johnson's death was a tragic accident.

     Two months went by following Jordan's FBI interrogation without an arrest in the case. Members of Cody Johnson's family were wondering if this woman would get away with murder. But on September 9, 2013, FBI agents took Jordan Graham Johnson into custody on the federal charge of second-degree murder. A few days later, represented by a pair of federal public defenders, Jordan appeared before a U. S. Magistrate in Missoula. The judge denied her bail.

     If convicted as charged, Jordan faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. While the federal prosecutor had the motive, opportunity, and means for murder, the case against this defendant was entirely circumstantial. It would be difficult, in the absence of an eyewitness or confession, for the prosecution to prove that the defendant intended to commit murder.

     In March 2014, Jordan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder following the closing arguments at her trial. The judge sentenced her to 30 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, in handing down his sentence, pointed out that the defendant had initially lied and changed her story about what happened to her husband. Moreover, she never apologized or showed remorse. After admitting her guilt, she claimed she had felt "physically ill" at the prospect of having sex with her husband. She told a friend that she was afraid of what he might expect her to do.

     Jordan Johnson, shortly after being sentenced, requested a new trial on the grounds that her plea agreement had been "illusory" and a "hollow formality." Judge Molloy denied her motion. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Slenderman Stabbing Case

     On Saturday morning, May 31, 2014, a bicyclist in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, came upon a 12-year-old girl lying on the sidewalk. Payton Leutner was bleeding from wounds on her arms, legs, and torso. "Please help me," she begged. "I've been stabbed."

     The bicyclist called 911, and Leutner was rushed to Waukesha Memorial Hospital where she was listed in stable condition. A team of surgeons performed laparoscopic surgery on injuries to the victim's liver, pancreas, and stomach. According to doctors, the victim had been stabbed nineteen times with a large knife.

     To detectives who questioned the victim at the hospital, she identified her attackers as two middle school classmates, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier.

     Two hours after the bicyclist came upon Payton Leutner on the sidewalk, police officers found Geyser and Weier walking near Interstate 94. The twelve-year-olds were still wearing their blood-stained clothing. In a purse in one of the girl's possession, officers recovered a large, bloody kitchen knife.

     Interviewed at the Waukesha Police Department, Weier and Geyser confessed to stabbing their classmate in the wooded section of a park following a sleep-over at one of the suspect's house. Weier held the victim down while Leutner wielded the knife. They traded jobs by handing the knife back and forth between them. In response to the obvious question of why they had stabbed and almost killed one of their classmates, the girls mentioned a website they visited regularly called Creepypasta Wiki.

     The Internet site in question posted horror stories, gory videos, and violent images that featured a fictitious character named Slenderman. A faceless man who wore s a dark suit and a full-brim business hat, Slenderman haunted children and those who sought to unmask him. For a website devotee to "climb up to Slenderman's realm," the viewer had to kill someone. It was clear that this website had been the inspiration for the knife attack on Payton Leutner.

     According to Geyser and Weier, the stabbing was not a spontaneous assault. The girls had been planning to murder Leutner since February 2014. Initially, they intended to kill their classmate by placing duct tape over her mouth, then stabbing her in the neck while she slept.

     Murder plan B consisted of stabbing the intended victim in a shower stall or bathtub where the victim's blood would flow down a drain. The plan the girls actually executed involved stabbing the victim in the park during a game of hide-and-seek--child's play with a macabre twist.

     On Monday, June 2, 2014, the arraignment judge informed the twelve-year-old suspects they had been charged, as adults with attempted first-degree murder. The judge set each suspect's bond at $500,000. Police officers booked Geyser and Weier into the Waukesha County Jail. Both girls said they regretted the premeditated, ritualistic stabbing of their classmate. They said they were sorry for almost killing her.

     In 2017, Morgan Geyser pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to 40 years in a mental institution. The same year, Anissa Weier pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder. The judge sentenced this defendant to 25 years in a mental health facility.

Jeremy Meeks: The Mugshot Model

     In our celebrity driven culture that puts a high premium on good looks, it's not surprising that a young, good-looking convicted felon with street gang credentials, attracted thousands of adoring fans. Beauty, as they say, is only skin deep. Nevertheless, a lot of beautiful, narcissistic celebrities end up on the pages of People Magazine, one of America's most popular and puerile publications. The overnight fame of a young criminal named Jeremy Ray Meeks is testimony to the power of good looks, the influence of social media, and the shallowness of American popular culture.

     Jeremy Meeks could thank police officers in Stockton, California for his sudden fame. On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, pursuant to a joint law enforcement crackdown on street gang activity, officers pulled over Meek's car. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of 9 mm ammunition, an unregistered .45-caliber pistol, a small quantity of marijuana, and two handgun magazines. When taken into custody, Meeks was accompanied by a 23-year-old man who, like himself, was on probation.

     A San Joaquin County prosecutor charged Meeks with eleven felony counts related to firearms possession, gang membership, and probation violations. When someone in the Stockton Police Department posted Meeks' mugshot, the accused gang member with the high cheek bones, chiseled face, and striking blue eyes, became an instant media sensation. 

     At his arraignment, the judge posted Meeks' bail at $1 million. While the suspected street gangster cooled his heels in the San Joaquin slammer, someone on Facebook posted his mugshot and created a fan page in his honor. In a matter of days, the Facebook page attracted 80,000 "likes," 21,000 comments, and 9,500 "shares." Not only that, news outlets like USA Today, TMZ, "Inside Edition," and New York Magazine published his mugshot and featured his story. 

     Jeremy Meeks mother, Katherine Angier, taking advantage of the media frenzy surrounding her outlaw son, set up a fundraising website that featured photographs of him with his 3-year-old son. On the GoFundMe site, she addressed the issue of his gang-related tattoos that included an inked teardrop beneath his left eye (a mark that honors a gang killing), the word "Crip" (Crips gang) on his arm, and other prominent tattoos on his neck: "He has old tattoos which causes him to be stereotyped. He's my son and he is so sweet. Please help him get a fair trial or else he'll be railroaded."

     By June 21, 2014, Angier had raised $2,000 for Jeremy Meeks' defense.

     So, who was this sweet boy with the gang tattoos and fashion model's face? In 2004, Meeks left prison after serving two years for grand theft. A year later, in Spokane County, Washington, a prosecutor charged him with identify theft in the second-degree for impersonating his brother, Emery Meeks. That prosecutor also charged him with resisting arrest, a count that was later dismissed. When the dust settled in the Washington case, Meeks ended up on probation.

     Stockton police and the prosecutor in San Joaquin County, California expressed puzzlement over the Meeks media sensation. I guess these law enforcement practitioners didn't realize that a segment of the American public has always considered the good looking outlaw a romantic figure. 
     In February 2015, after San Joaquin County turned the Meeks case over to the federal authorities, Meeks pleaded guilty to several weapons charges. The federal judge sentenced him to 27 months in prison.
     In March 2016, Meeks was released from Mendota (California) Federal Prison after serving 13 months of his sentence. Over the next few years he became a successful model, working for several large fashion houses. In 2017, Meeks began dating Topshop heiress Chloe Green. The couple had a child in May 2018 then separated in August 2019. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

James Pepe: The High School Teacher From Hell

     James J. Pepe taught high school history in the Hillsborough County, Florida school system. For years he had been an erratic, difficult employee who frightened a lot of his follow teachers. In 2001, a faculty member characterized Pepe as "hostile," "aggressive," and "extremely volatile." During this period, James Pepe called his principal a "pathological liar," and bragged to people that school administrators were powerless to take action against him. Had this disgruntled, disruptive employee worked in the private sector, he would have been fired.

     In dealing with this potentially dangerous and out of control educator, the Hillsborough County school superintendent decided against termination. Instead, the boss suspended Mr. Pepe with pay, recommended anger management counseling, then reassigned him to another school. (In teacher pedophile cases, they call this passing the trash.) Over the next few years, as Pepe's behavior became more bizarre, paranoid, and bellicose, he was transferred three more times. At one of the schools this history teacher disrupted, Pepe accused the principal of assigning him the worst students. He also accused the maintenance staff of turning off the air-conditioning to his classroom. (Given the passive-aggressive nature of public school employee discipline, this might be true. As they say, even a paranoid can be persecuted. Maybe school administrators were trying to encourage this pain-in-the-neck teacher to quit.)

     In 2012, James Pepe was teaching and causing havoc at Bloomingdale High School near Tampa, his fifth assignment in the Hillsborough County school system. (Mr. Pepe, a seriously troubled, unfit teacher, was earning $58,000 a year plus benefits.) In recent months, he had focused his paranoia on a 59-year-old economics teacher who also taught at Strawberry Crest High School. Pepe had convinced himself that Robert Meredith was the source of all his problems. More specifically, the unstable teacher harbored the false notion that Mr. Meredith, his former colleague and friend, was spreading rumors that Pepe was a child molester.

     In August 2012, the 55-year-old history teacher reached out to a childhood friend for help. Pepe came right to the point--would this person murder Robert Meredith for $5,000? The stunned friend, who said he would think about the homicidal proposal, immediately reported the murder solicitation to the Plant City Police Department. There was no doubt in the friend's mind that Mr. Pepe was dead serious in his desire to have Mr. Meredith killed.

     The police asked the teacher's friend to call Pepe back and say that while he wasn't interested in committing murder, he had found a man who would do the job. The "hitman," of course, would be an undercover cop.

     The undercover officer, in mid-September 2012, spoke with James Pepe by phone. During that conversation, the teacher said he "had an issue he might need taken care of for $2,000." (While this seems a little cheap for a contract murder, had Pepe been talking to a real hitman, the price would have been about right. In the U.S. assassins are inexpensive and life is cheap.)

     In the second phone conversation between Pepe and the "hitman," the undercover officer tried to arrange a meeting. Pepe declined, but said, in no uncertain terms, that he wanted to have Robert Meredith murdered. This conversation, of course, was recorded.

     While the police in murder solicitation cases prefer to have audio and videotaped meetings (often in Walmart parking lots) in which the mastermind hands over the blood money, and provides the cop with helpful information regarding the target, the Plant City police, on September 27, 2012, took James Pepe into custody outside Bloomingdale High School.

     Charged with solicitation of first degree-murder, James Pepe was held without bond in the Hillsborough County Jail.

     On March 31, 2014, James Pepe pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder. The judge sentenced this murder-for-hire mastermind to house arrest for one year and 14 years of probation. This was, under the circumstances, an extremely lenient sentence. One would hope, at least, that the conviction ended Mr. Pepe's teaching career. 

Charles Bukowski On Being A Professional Writer

I have to drink and gamble to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick. I really don't want to be a professional writer, I wanna write what I wanna write. Else, it's all been wasted...So did Hemingway, until he started talking about "discipline"; Pound also talked about doing one's "work".  But I've been luckier than both of them because I've worked the factories and slaughterhouses and I know that work and discipline are dirty words. I know what they meant, but for me, it has to be a different game.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Whitney Heichel Kidnap Murder Case

     Whitney Heichel, at 6:45 in the morning of Tuesday, October 16, 2012, walked out of her Gresham, Oregon apartment with the intent of driving her 1999 Ford Explorer to her nearby job at Starbucks. That day she had to attend an early morning employee meeting. Instead of reporting to work, she was seen two and a half hours later sitting in the passenger's side of her SUV at a service station in Troutdale, Oregon. (The man behind the wheel had used Heichel's ATM card to purchase gas.)

     A Starbucks employee called Heichel's apartment when she didn't show up for work. Whitney's husband Clinton, at 9:56 AM, called 911 and reported his 5-foot-2, 120 pound wife missing. Ninety minutes later, police officers found Heichel's vehicle in the parking lot of the Walmart store in Wood Village. The front passenger's side window had been broken out. The next day, children found the missing woman's cellphone in the brush between the service station and the abandoned SUV.

     Detectives began questioning residents of Heichel's apartment complex. They spoke to a 25-year-old acquaintance and neighbor named Jonathan Holt. The investigators grew suspicious when Holt's account of himself on the morning in question contained glaring inconsistencies. Detectives grilled Holt on Wednesday the 17th, and when they interrogated him again the next day, he confessed. The police  also recovered the 9 mm pistol Holt used to murder the victim.

     On the morning of October 16, 2012, Holt waited outside the apartment complex for Heichel. When she came out of her apartment he asked her for a lift. Holt had been in Heichel's SUV about five minutes when he pulled a gun and told her to drive to an area near Roslyn Lake. At the lake, Holt forced Heichel at gunpoint to give him oral sex. He then shot her to death.

     After murdering Whitney Heichel, Holt drove the body to Larch Mountain, a 40 minute drive up winding roads from the apartment complex. After hiding her corpse in the underbrush, he drove to the Walmart parking lot where he abandoned the vehicle. (Holt had either broken the passenger's side window to throw off the police, or it had been blown out by a bullet when he shot her.)

     Twelve hours after Whitney Heichel didn't show up for work at Starbuck's, a pair of Holt's friends spotted Holt walking along 257th Avenue in Gresham. When they offered him a ride, he refused, saying, "I just need to finish clearing my head." A short time later, Holt's friends tracked him down and asked him again to get into the car. After accepting the lift, Holt told his friends a strange story. He said that on his way to work that morning at a Swan Island vending company, two black men robbed him at gunpoint. Holt later admitted to detectives that this story was untrue. After confessing to Whitney Heichel's murder, Holt admitting to downloading child pornography onto his laptop computer.

     According to Holt's wife Amanda, her husband felt like a failure, and this had let "so many things build up. I think he just loses it." 

     On Friday, October 19, 2012, police officers found Whitney Heichel's body in a remote spot in the woods on Larch Mountain. Besides the confession, detectives  linked Holt to Heichel's murder through his fingerprints and other physical evidence crime scene investigators recovered from her SUV.

     According to medical examiner Dr. Christopher Young, Whitney Heichel had been shot four times. On Monday, October 22, 2012, Jonathan Holt, at his arraignment hearing in a Clackamas County court, was charged with aggravated murder. The judge denied him bail. His trial was set for April 2013.

     Jonathan Holt, in July 2013, pleaded guilty to the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of his neighbor. The judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Students of Distant Learning: Big Brother Is Watching

      Twelve-year-old Isaiah Elliott lived with his mother Dani and his father Curtis in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The seventh grade student at Grand Mountain School, on August 27, 2020, was in his house in front of his computer taking an on-line art class pursuant to his school's COVID-19 distant learning program. Isaiah and his parents didn't know that teachers and administrators at the Grand Mountain School were video recording home learning students as they sat in front of their computers. School officials were conducting home video surveillances without the knowledge or consent of students or their parents. 

     At one point during Isaiah Elliott's art class, he picked up a neon-green colored gun--an obvious toy-- from the couch and laid it next to his computer. This act of moving a toy in his own own home, observed by a teacher essentially spying on him, led to a series of events no reasonable person could have predicted.

     Shortly after the conclusion of the virtual art class, Isaiah Elliott's mother Dani received an e-mail from the Grand Mountain School art teacher who had seen Isaiah handle the toy gun. The teacher, obviously thinking that peeping into a student's home was part of her job, informed Isaiah's mother that her son had been "extremely distracted" during the lesson, and there was a "serious issue with the waving of a toy gun." This serious matter, according to the art teacher, had been reported to the vice principal. This teacher, besides being a spy and a snitch, must have also seen herself as some kind of family services social worker. 

     In Dani Elliott's e-mail response, she informed the concerned art teacher that her son had trouble concentrating due to his Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Moreover, her son had not waved a gun. He had fussed with what was obviously a toy. (The mother might have added that in Colorado, unregistered toy guns were legal, and posed no threat to the teacher nor Isaiah's fellow distant learning students who were safe in their homes)

     The art teacher's e-mail to Dani Elliott was followed that day by a phone call from Grand Mountain School Vice Principal, Keri Lindaman. Because the boy had been seen in his home "waving" a gun, the vice principal had taken the liberty of requesting an Elliott family home health and wellness check by El Paso County school resource officers. (Perhaps the vice principal thought she was exercising restraint by not sending a SWAT team. Who knows, gun in question may have been capable of firing pingpong balls.)

     The understandably stunned and confused mother tried to explain to the vice principal, like she had the distraught art teacher, that the gun everyone was so concerned about was a harmless toy. The vice principal's response to that was mind boggling: She said she was aware it was a toy, but had called in the troops anyway.

     When the El Paso County school resource officers arrived at the Elliott home, the officers showed the boy's father, Curtis, the incriminating footage of his son handling the toy weapon.

     The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Elliott received official notice that their son, for "waving" a toy gun in his home during a virtual art class, an act that had disturbed no one but the art teacher and the vice principal, had been suspended from the school for five days.

     The Elliotts did what any family would do to remove their son from the control of idiots, they pulled Isaiah out of the Grand Mountain School. Perhaps they would find an institution that respected the privacy of students studying in their homes. Perhaps not. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Bath Salts and the Hannibal Lecter Syndrome

     At five in the evening on Saturday, June 2, 2012, 21-year-old Brandon De Leon, accompanied by three other homeless men, walked into a Boston Market fast-food restaurant in North Miami Beach, Florida. High on marijuana, Xanax, and a bath salt called Cloud 9, De Leon had also consumed a bottle of rum and an alcohol and caffeine-laced drink called Four Loko.

     The moment De Leon entered the restaurant, he became belligerent. Cursing loudly, he challenged one of his homeless companions to a fight. As it happened, two uniformed police officers were eating there. As the officers approached the manifestly intoxicated and unruly man, he swore at them. De Leon was asking for trouble, and he got it.

     Although De Leon resisted, the officers hustled him out of the eating place and onto the ground outside. Once handcuffed behind his back, and seated in the patrol car, De Leon began bashing his head against the glass divider between the back seat and the front interior of the police vehicle. As he slammed the glass with his head, De Leon yelled, "I'm going to eat you!"

     At the police station, De Leon continued to behave like an animal intent on eating its prey by baring and gnashing his teeth. Several officers wrestled him to the floor, then carried the squirming, spitting, growling, and snapping maniac to a holding cell where De Leon tried to bite one of his captors in the hand as they put him in leg restraints. Once they had the prisoner physically under control, officers slipped a Hannibal Lecter-type "bite-mask" over his head.

     Following drug testing procedures at Aventura Hospital, police officers transported the chained and masked De Leon to the Miami-Dade County Jail where he was held on $7,500 bond.

     Because of the recent rash of cases involving cannibalistic behavior, Brandon De Leon's Hannibal Lecter act became more than a local crime story. The intense interest in these type cases brought a gruesome homicide, committed in 2009 by a San Antonio woman named Otty Sanchez, back into the news. Sanchez was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing and eating parts of her 3-week-old baby. The schizophrenic said the devil made her do it.

     In December 2010, Stephen Griffith, a Ph.D. student in England, murdered three women and ate the body parts of two of them. (He killed one of his victims with a crossbow.) In Russia, a chef, in August 2011, lured his victims to his apartment through a gay-dating website, then killed them with a butcher-knife. He made meatballs and sausages from their corpses.

     More recent murders of this nature included Miami's Rudy Eugene who chewed off the face of a homeless man, and Alexander Kinyua, the Morgan State University student who allegedly ate a portion of his victim's heart and brain. In Sweden, a professor, in a fit of jealous rage, cut off and ate his wife's lips. He was charged with attempted murder, and was undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

     Perhaps the most disturbing cases involving cannibalistic behavior unfolded in Japan and Canada, countries not normally associated with violent crime. In May 2012, a man named Mao Sugiyama advertised a meal where five diners each paid 100,000 yen to eat Sugiyama's surgically removed genitals. Sugiyama and the five diners who ate his flesh were not charged with a crime. In Japan, consensual cannibalism is not illegal. (I'm not sure if it's a crime here.) The Canadian case involved Luka Magnotta, the porn star snuff-video maker who ate parts of his dismembered victim, then mailed four of Jun Lin's body parts to two addresses in Ottawa and two in Vancouver.

         Designer drugs were linked to the cases of 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, the Miami causeway flesh-eater, and Brandon De Leon, the homeless man transported to the Miami-Dade County Jail in the Hannibal Lecter mask. In De Leon's case, he was under the influence, among other substances, of the bath salt Cloud 9 (also called Ivory Wave), a synthetic form of cocaine. Once legal in the United States, Cloud 9 could be purchased online, in smoke shops, convenience stores, and at gas stations. Cloud 9 came in 500mg packets containing instructions on how to add it to bath water for a soothing and relaxing soak. There was also a warning not to sniff or inject the product. 

     Cloud 9 users snort, smoke, and eat the bath salt. The drug produces an euphoric ecstasy-like sensation combined with an amphetamine-like high. Cloud 9 has been known to produce violent and bizarre hallucinations, extreme paranoid delusions, acute agitation, and thoughts of suicide. When the drug wears off, users suffer painful hangovers.

     Do Cloud 9 and other designer drugs turn people into Hannibal Lecter types? According to Deborah Schurman-Kauflin in a 2011 Psychology Today article, "Most cannibals are extreme loners. They do not have friends, and they are bitter about it. Killing and eating a victim ensures that the offender is never alone." Jack Levin, author and co-director of the Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, in discussing America's most infamous cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, points out that Dahmer was a loner. Levin theorizes that Dahmer, who killed and ate parts of 17 young men, consumed his victims out of "affection." According to Levin, this was Dahmer's way of physically possessing the objects of his love.

     Cannibalism, although freakish and newsworthy, is an extremely rare form of deviant behavior.