More than 5,470,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Friday, May 7, 2021

Serial Killers: Real Life Versus Fiction

     To meet the criteria of being a serial killer, the murderer, over a period longer than a month, must kill at least three people with a cooling-off period separating each homicide. A mass murderer, on the other hand, murders more than two people in a single killing spree. Because most mass murderers are usually psychotic and completely out of control, people find them less interesting than serial killers who blend into society and are more difficult to catch.
 
     While the public has always been interested in murder, in the mid-1980s following the publication of several books about the Ted Bundy case, serial killing became the number one true crime subject in America. Since then, there have been thousands of true crime books featuring serial killers, their crimes, and the investigation of these cases. (Half of the criminal justice students in the country during this period wanted to become FBI criminal profilers.) Fictitious serial killing has been the subject of hundreds of TV shows and theatrical films. Serial killers in fiction, however, are more intelligent, intriguing and evil-looking than their typical real life counterparts.

     So, who are these people who go around killing people? About 80 percent of them are white males with blue collar working backgrounds. Very few physicians (except for a couple of angel of death killers), lawyers, college professors, or electrical engineers have been serial killers. (When a medical doctor kills someone intentionally the victim is usually his wife.) No one knows for sure how many serial killers are active in the U.S. at any given time. In the mid-1980's, at the height of serial killer hysteria, experts were telling us there were 50,000 of them. That of course was ridiculous. The overall crime statistics simply didn't support that estimate. Cooler heads prevailed, and now the guess is maybe 10 to 20 killers at any given time.

     As children, a significant percentage of serial killers were bed-wetters. Many of them, abused and bullied, were also erotic fire-setters who were cruel to animals. Most serial killers didn't do well in school, and most of them were loners.

     Male serial killers generally fall into two major categories: organized and disorganized. The organized killers, with IQs in the average range, plan their murders, are more cold-blooded, and harder to identify because they take steps to avoid detection. Disorganized serial killers select victims randomly and kill on impulse. The disorganized killers, with lower IQs, are easier to identify and catch because they carelessly leave physical evidence of themselves at the murder sites and take traces of the killing scenes with them. (Crime scene investigators call this "the exchange principle.") Disorganized serial killers are psychotic, and while they know what they are doing and are therefore not criminally insane, they are not fully in control of themselves.

     Most serial killers are sadistic sociopaths who kill for lust and power. Their victims are mostly vulnerable women who live on the fringes of society such as drug addicts, prostitutes, and runaways. Many of these women are killed and nobody takes notice or reports them missing. As a result, some of these victims don't even become murder statistics.

     Female serial killers, while not as common as men, can be prolific murderers. So-called "black widows" marry with the intent of murdering--often with poison--their husbands in order to inherit their estates. These women are cold-blooded and cunning, and because homicidal poisonings are not easy to detect, usually avoid being investigated until an obvious pattern emerges. Even then it's often difficult to acquire a murder conviction due to the passage of time and lack of physical evidence.

     Another category of female serial killer is the "angel of death" murderer. These nurses and hospital aides poison ailing patients under their care. Because many of these victims were expected to die and show no signs of homicidal trauma, a good number of these deaths are not investigated. As a result, no one knows how many hospital and nursing home patients are murdered every year.

     There is also a group of female serial murderers known as "team killers" who help their boyfriends and husbands kill people. These crimes are usually motivated by lust. Only a small percentage of female serial killers themselves are sexual predators.

     It's a myth that most serial killers move about the country to avoid being caught. Most of them commit their crimes close to home where they feel comfortable. They are not evil geniuses or even that interesting. Most of them do not stand out in a crowd.

     A few serial killers, after years of committing murder, stop killing on their own volition. Notwithstanding all the effort that has gone into studying this relatively rare type of murderer, no one really knows what makes them tick. Perhaps that's one of the reasons people find serial killers so fascinating.

Grand Theft Hearse

     At eight o'clock in the evening of February 26, 2020, 25-year-old James Juarez of Montclair, California in San Bernardino County, stole a black Lincoln Navigator hearse parked outside a church in Pasadena. The auto thief presumably had no idea the vehicle he was stealing contained a casket housing the body of a recently deceased person.

     Around eight in the morning of the following day, a motorist on Interstate 110 in Los Angeles spotted the stolen hearse and called 911. While being pursued by several police vehicles, James Juarez lost control of the big Lincoln in the heavy morning traffic and crashed into several vehicles causing a huge traffic jam on one of the city's busiest freeways.

     Los Angeles County deputies took Juarez into custody. Inside the badly damaged hearse, officers found the casket still containing the body. As the auto thief was being transported to the Los Angeles County Jail, the casket and its occupant were transferred, at the accident scene, into another hearse.

     At his arraignment on the charge of felony grand theft auto, the judge set Juarez's bail at $35,000. If convicted as charged, Juarez faced up to three years in prison.
     On March 13, 2020, James Juarez pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 16 months behind bars.

Mass Murder And The Media

We've had 20 years of mass murders throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don't want to propagate more mass murders, don't start the story with sirens blaring. Don't have photographs of the killer. Don't make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two within a week. [This is a hopeless request. Media executives care about one thing: ratings. From that point-of-view, the more mass murders the better and 2021 has been a banner year.]

Dr. Park Dietz, Forensic Psychiatrist, 1996

Dorothy Parker's Mercy Killing

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) poet, critic, satirist 

Novelistic Small Talk

Exciting dialogue is spoken by smart characters saying important things. Beware of small talk, especially greetings, partings, and politesse. Avoid banter unless it has a clear and significant purpose in the story and suits the mood of what is happening between the speaking characters.

Alice Orr, No More Rejections, 2004 

Isaac Asimov's Quiet Life

I'm egocentric in the sense that I live inside my own head most of the time, and I'm fascinated by my own thoughts. Nothing has ever happened to me in any real sense. I haven't met famous people. I haven't been involved in world-shaking events. I haven't done unusual things like climb Mount Everest. I've led a very quiet life.

Isaac Asimov in The Writer as Celebrity, edited by Maralyn Lois Polak, 1986 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Bite Mark Evidence on Trial: The William Richards Murder Case

     In 1993, 44-year-old William Richards and his wife Pamela, while building a house near Hesperia, California in the high desert in San Bernardino County, lived in a motor home. Because there were no power lines near the property, a generator in a nearby shed provided the electricity. William worked as a swing shift electrical engineer at a manufacturing plant in the town of Corona. His 40-year-old wife had a job as a waitress. The following account of what happened on August 10, 1993 is based on William Richards' statement to the police.

     That night, William Richards clocked out of the plant in Corona at 11:03. When he arrived home shortly after midnight he noticed there were no lights on in the trailer. He re-started the generator in the shed, and as he walked toward his front door, stumbled over his wife's half nude body. Someone had smashed the 5-foot-2, 126 pound woman's head with a heavy object. Richards called 911.

     Deputies from the San Bernardino Sheriff's office arrived at the scene at twelve-thirty that morning. The officers did nothing to protect the crime scene while they waited for the arrival of the homicide detectives. The investigators didn't show up until 3:15, and when they did, decided to wait until daylight before processing the crime scene. In the meantime, officers walked around the site and did nothing to keep several dogs off the property. (When they did begin the crime scene investigation the officers realized dogs had kicked dirt on Pamela Richards' body.)

     From the beginning, homicide detectives considered William Richards the prime suspect in the murder. Blood spatter patterns suggested the victim had been partially undressed after the bloody attack in an effort to stage a sexual assault.  Investigators found no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no physical evidence of an intruder such as foreign shoe impressions and tire tracks. (If there had been such evidence, it could have been trampled by the police.) Moreover, nothing had been stolen from the trailer. Investigators believed that Pamela Richards had been bludgeoned by a blood-stained steppingstone. The forensic pathologist would find that she had also been strangled.

     As for motive, detectives believed that the suspect, after he learned that his wife planned to leave him for another man, had killed her in a fit of rage. The fact that Richards and his wife, over their twenty-year marriage, openly had affairs and had already agreed to separate, cast doubt on this motive to kill her. Without a confession or an eyewitness, the San Bernardino County prosecutor had a weak, circumstantial case against William Richards. The fact the crime scene investigation had been bungled also hurt the prosecution's case. Nevertheless, the prosecutor charged Richards with first-degree murder. Police arrested him on September 3, 1993.

     In July 1994, after the jury voted six to six on the question of William Richards' guilt, the judge declared a mistrial. Just three days into his second trial in October 1994, the judge, due to improper communications with a juror, declared a second mistrial. In January 1995, the jury deadlocked eleven to one for his guilt. This led to a third mistrial.

     The San Bernardino County prosecutor, on his fourth try in July 1997, bolstered the state's case with the testimony of Dr. Norman Sperber, the renowned forensic odontologist (dentist) from San Diego who had testified at Ted Bundy's serial murder trial in Florida. Dr. Sperber testified that in his expert opinion, the crescent-shaped impression on Pamela Richards' hand was consistent with having been made with the defendant's front teeth. The odontologist said that only two percent of the U.S. population could have made this crime scene bite mark.

     To counter Dr. Sperber's testimony, the defense presented another respected forensic dentist, Dr. Gregory Golden, the Chief Forensic Odontologist of San Bernardino County. Dr. Golden testified that the photograph of the victim's bite mark was such poor quality he couldn't make a conclusive determination in the case. When pressed by the prosecutor on cross-examination, Dr. Golden said that he could not eliminate the defendant as the maker of the crime scene bite mark.

     Based on the new bite mark evidence, the jury in Richards' fourth trial found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life. The convicted man continued to maintain his innocence.

     In 2000, lawyers with the California Innocence Project entered the case on William Richards' behalf. A re-evaluation of the forensic evidence in the murder case led to a petition before a San Bernardino County judge to overturn Richards' murder conviction. The hearing on this motion took place in 2009 before Judge Brian McCarville.

     Since Richards' fourth trial, new technology had made it possible to sharpen the photographic image of the crime scene bite mark. Dr. Norman Sperber took the stand and declared that after analyzing the enhanced photograph, it was his expert opinion that the questioned bite mark had not been made by Mr. Richards. Two other forensic dentists agreed with this analysis, and a third testified that he could not render a conclusive opinion either way.

     A DNA expert testified that the bloody steppingstone contained DNA evidence that had not come from the defendant. A forensic hair and fiber identification expert testified that a 2-centimeter follicle taken from under one of the victim's fingernails did not match samples taken from her husband.

     Judge McCarville, based on the bite mark, DNA, and hair follicle testimony, overturned William Richards' murder conviction.

     The San Bernardino County prosecutor appealed Judge McCarville's ruling to the California Supreme Court. On December 3, 2012, in a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court reinstated Richards' murder conviction. According to the majority justices, the forensic evidence presented at the 2009 hearing did not prove the convicted man's innocence. (Once convicted, the burden of proving innocence shifts to the defendant.) These justices did not believe the forensic dentists had completely ruled out Richards as the source of the crime scene bite mark.

     The dissenting judges did not agree with this interpretation of the new bite mark testimony. As these three justices saw it, three of the four odontologists, including Dr. Norman Sperber, stated that the convicted man was not the source of this crime scene evidence. Since it had been this evidence that had finally led to Richards' murder conviction, its absence supported the position that the state had not carried its burden of proving this man's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

     In September 2014, a new law went into effect in California that would make it easier for William Richards' attorneys to have his conviction overturned. Under this legislation, whenever an expert witness changed his or her opinion, as Dr. Sperber did in the Richards case, the initial testimony would be classified, by law, as false evidence. If that evidence played a vital role in the guilty verdict, the expert's repudiation was grounds for overturning the conviction.

     Citing the new law, Richards' attorneys asked the California State Supreme Court to reconsider the case and throw out the murder conviction.

     On May 27, 2016, the California Supreme Court overturned Richard's 1997 first-degree murder conviction. Following this decision, the San Bernardino District Attorney decided not to retry the case.

When You Can't Find Your Child Check Under His Bed

     Police say a 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy wasn't missing as his mother feared, but was simply hiding under his bed, apparently while playing hide-and-seek. The boy's mother called for help on Friday January 30, 2015 when she couldn't find the boy for an expanded period of time. Police in Blair Township 90 miles east of Pittsburgh began assembling a search-and-rescue team early Saturday January 31 when they learned that the boy had been found.

     No charges have been filed in the case.

"Boy Missing Was Playing Hide-And-Seek," Associated Press, February 3, 2015 

The Gender Politics of Rape

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

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

"Realistic" Versus "Naturalistic" Dialogue

Naturalistic or "kitchen sink" dialogue involves people expressing themselves informally. The hell with grammar, if the characters knew it to begin with. Realistic dialogue, while appearing deceptively natural, is more organized. Pitfalls in realistic lines are the lack of accurate ear and the old bugaboo of educational freeze-up. One can be so organized, correct and formal that the lines go flat and lose the sound of people talking to each other.

Parke Goodwin in The Portable Writers' Conference, edited by Stephen Blake Mettee, 1997 

Marketing a First Novel

Ignoring the hot MFA [Masters of Fine Arts] grad you read about in Publishers Weekly whose novel starts a big publishing house bidding war, literary first novels are almost impossible to introduce into the marketplace. Bookstores will only order them in small quantities, if at all, and it is difficult to get reviews, especially in places that really matter. Additionally, getting a bookstore reading for a first fiction author is an effort that would make Sisyphus proud. A well-established independent bookseller once told me flat out that he would never book a first fiction author into his store.

Robert Lasner, mobylives.com, 2005 

The Typical Children's "Chapter Book"

Most chapter books (ages 7-10) are 1,500 to 10,000 words long or forty to eighty pages. These books, divided into eight to ten short chapters, are written for kids who can read and who can handle reasonably complicated plots and simple subplots. Written with a lot of dialogue, the vocabulary in chapter books is challenging, and words can often be understood in the context of the sentence. Most chapters are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. But some chapters move the plot forward by means of cliffhanger endings.

Nancy Lamb, Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Meth-Crazed Murders of Britny Haarup and Ashley Key

     Sisters Britny Haarup, 19, and Ashley Key 22, lived together in a house in Edgerton, Missouri, 35 miles north of Kansas City. Ashley Key, the mother of a 4-year-old girl, had been running with a bad crowd and had sought her sister's help in turning her life around. On Friday afternoon, July 13, 2012, Britny Haarup's fiancee, Matt Meyers, stopped by the house and found the sisters missing. Haarup's six month and 18-month-old daughters were alone in the same crib. Because Haarup would never leave the infants alone in the house Meyers suspected foul play. Haarup had left her cellphone and purse behind, and in the living room Meyers found Ashley's handbag and a pair of her shoes. And most troubling of all, a comforter on the couch contained blood stains. (Police later learned that several guns had been taken from the house.)

     On the afternoon of the disappearances, deputies with the Platte County Sheriff's Office spoke to witnesses who had seen a white, 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck parked near the sister's house at 9:30 that morning. The next day, a deputy found a truck meeting that description several miles from the sister's house parked near the Platte-Clay County line. The vehicle, registered to a Clifford D. Miller, bore no evidence of a crime, inside or out.

     On Sunday morning, July 15, 2012, Platte County detectives questioned Clifford D. Miller as "a person of interest" at his girlfriend's house in Parksville, a suburb of Kansas City. Miller, from Trimble, Missouri in southwest Clinton County, confessed to murdering Haarup and Key and agreed to lead the police to the field where he had disposed of their bodies. Following his confession the officers took Miller into custody.

     The sisters' bodies were recovered that Sunday and transported to the Medical Examiner's Office in Jackson County for identification and autopsy.

     When interrogated, Miller said he had been smoking methamphetamine when he drove his 2002 Dodge pickup to the sisters' house in Edgerton. He was acquainted with Britny Haarup, and while the two had not been romantically involved, he was determined to have sex with her that day. When he walked into the dwelling through the unlocked front door, Ashley Key, asleep on the sofa, woke up and confronted him. Miller punched her several times, struck her in the head with a hard object from the coffee table, then smothered her with the comforter on the couch.

     Still thinking about having sex with Haarup, Miller walked into her bedroom. When Britny screamed he hit her with a blunt object, then smothered her with a pillow.

     After murdering the sisters in their own home, Clifford Miller remained on the scene and smoked more meth. High on the drug, he wrapped his victims' bodies in bedsheets and carried them to his pickup truck. After depositing the murdered women in a field several miles from their house he abandoned his vehicle and called his girlfriend in Parksville.

     The Platte County prosecutor charged Clifford Miller with two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he faced a sentence of life without parole or death by injection. He was incarcerated in the Platte County Jail under $500,000 cash-only bond.

     In April 2013, Clifford Miller pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

Blaming Society for Crime

     What causes crime? Why do some individuals possess tendencies which lead them to commit acts of violence and predation: robberies, assaults, rapes, and other felonies? What sets the habitual or occasional criminal apart from the mainstream of society? More important, what can be done to "change" criminals into productive, law-abiding citizens?

     The theory that has partly governed public policy for many years is that crime is caused by an unjust society. A most eloquent spokesperson for this point of view was Ramsey Clark, who served as assistant attorney general in the Kennedy Administration and attorney general in the Johnson Administration. Here's how Clark described the crime problem in his well-known 1970 book, Crime in America:

     "If we are to deal meaningfully with crime, what must be seen is the dehumanizing effect on the individual of slums, racism, ignorance, and violence, of corruption and impotence to fulfill rights, of poverty, unemployment, and idleness, of generations of malnutrition, of congenital brain damage and prenatal neglect, of sickness and disease, of pollution, of decrepit, dirty, ugly, unsafe, overcrowded housing, of alcoholism and narcotics addiction, of avarice, anxiety, fear, hatred, hopelessness, and injustice. These are the fountainheads of crime. They can be controlled. As imprecise, distorted and prejudiced as our learning is, these sources of crime and their controllability clearly emerge to any who would see."

     And how would such conditions be changed? In that same book, Clark exclaims that it's a "matter of will." If society becomes willing, the conditions that cause crime can be changed, and then crime will be greatly reduced.

     Clark's theory has a plausible sound and anybody who visits a large state prison will find scores of inmates from deprived backgrounds. Some of them are not really criminals in the true sense of the word; they are simply badly adjusted and disturbed people who need to be institutionalized. There are others with personal problems that got them into trouble. [If one commits a serious crime, one is a criminal. From the victim's point of view, who cares what caused this person to offend.] 

    But if a visitor searches out the professional criminals--both in prison and out--he may find that the theory doesn't hold up at all. These are men, and some women, who have numerous advantages in their lives and yet they seem to become criminals by deliberate choice.

Melvin D. Barger, "Crime: The Unsolved Problem," in Criminal Justice? Robert James Bidinotto, editor, 1994 

Norman Mailer on Writing Stamina

     I'm now eighty, but some people still regard me as a wild man. Even at my peak, that was only five to ten percent of my nature. The rest was work. I remember Elia Kazan saying one day at Actors Studio, "Here, we're always talking about the work. We talk about it piously. We say the work. The work. Well, we do work here, and get it straight: Work is a blessing." He said this, glaring at every one of us. And I thought, He's right. That's what it is. A blessing.

     Of course, if you ask what work is dependent upon, the key word, an unhappy one, is stamina. It's as difficult to become a professional writer as a professional athlete. It often depends on the ability to keep faith in yourself. One must be willing to take risks and try again. And it does need an enormous amount of ongoing working practice to be good at it. Since you are affected by what you read as a child and adolescent, it also takes a while to unlearn all sorts of reading reflexes that have led you into bad prose.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

The Problem With The Fantasy Genre

     Fantasy, I'm convinced, is the genre that's constantly waiting for you to let down your guard, and pull the rug from under your feet without any warning.

     On the face of it, I should have no problem with fantasy. I am, after all, a fan of science fiction, someone who grew up reading comic books filled with fantastic, amazing tales of people who can do things far outside the reach of mortal men, whether it's flying faster than speeding bullets or shambling through the world as an undead monster seemingly unable to remain six feet under. Surely superheroes and science fiction are fantasies? If I can accept them easily enough, why do I have such a problem with the fantasy genre?

     The trouble, I suspect, is in the world-building aspect of each genre. Superheroes, for the most part, exist in worlds that are intentionally meant to mirror our own, with the differences becoming part of the story and out in the open. The same applies to much of science fiction; although the far future may be filled with inventions and ideas that don't exist in our world. They too have to be specifically mentioned in order for them to exist and matter. There's a sense that forewarned is forearmed.

     In fantasy, I can assume that all bets are off. Fantasy stories tend to take place in worlds that are like ours, but not ours, where countries have different names, and magic--something that purposefully defies categorization, and thus threatens deus ex machina [contrived, last minute] twists and resolutions--is witnessed and wielded without a shrug. As much as I appreciate imagination, there's something about fantasy that feels too far removed from the world in which I live.

Graeme McMillan, "Fantasy Genre," entertainment.time.com, April 5, 2013 

Economic Advice For Aspiring Writers

One of the first things I tell my classes is, if you want to write, keep a low overhead.

Grace Paley, The Paris Review, 1992

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Nachman and Raizy Glauber Hit-And-Run Case

     Nachman and Raizy Glauber were members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in the Williamsville section of Brooklyn, New York. He was studying to become a rabbi and she worked at a hardware distribution store. The 21-year-olds had been married a year, paired by a matchmaker. Raizy was seven months pregnant with their first child.

     On Saturday, March 2, 2013, Raizy became worried because she could no longer feel the baby. The couple didn't own a car, so Nachman called a car service to drive them to Long Island College Hospital. Around midnight, Pedro Nunez Delacruz arrived at the Glauber apartment in his livery vehicle. The couple climbed into the back seat of his black 2008 Toyota Camry. Raizy was seated behind the driver.

     A few minutes after being picked up by Delacruz, the livery car, while moving through a Brooklyn intersection was struck by a 2010 gray BMW traveling 60 miles per hour. Ejected from the livery cab, Raizy's body came to rest beneath a parked tractor-trailer. Nachman was left pinned inside the crushed Toyota. (The Toyota's engine ended up in the back seat where Raizy Glauber had been sitting.)

     Following the collision, the driver of the BMW, 44-year-old Julio Acevedo, climbed out of the sedan and sat on the curb to collect himself. A few minutes later he returned to the mangled BMW and helped a female passenger out of the car. Acevedo and his companion walked away from the crash, disappearing into the gathering crowd.

     Raizy Glauber, who spoke to paramedics, died in the ambulance as it sped to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Pronounced dead on arrival, doctors delivered her baby by cesarean. The premature baby was born alive.

     Doctors pronounced Nachman Glauber dead on arrival at Manhattan's Beth Israel Hospital.

     The next day, a spokesperson for the New York Medical Examiner's Office announced that the Glaubers had been killed by blunt-force trauma. At 5:30 on the morning of the crash the baby died from the same cause.

     The livery car driver, 32-year-old Pedro Delacruz, was released from Bellevue Hospital on Monday, March 4 2013 after being treated for minor injuries. In the meantime, New York City detectives had learned that the BMW was registered to a resident of the Bronx named Takia Walker. The 29-year-old told detectives that Julio Acevedo had borrowed the vehicle from a mutual friend who had possession of her car. She said she had never met Acevedo.

    Julio Acevedo had a long history of crime and incarceration. He had spent eight years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in connection with the death of a Brooklyn hood named Kelvin Martin. Martin was the original "50 Cent," the inspiration for the rapper of the same name.

      Once out of prison, Acevedo continued to run afoul of the law. Police, on various occasions, arrested him for such crimes as robbery, reckless endangerment, and possession of a weapon. On February 17, 2013, officers pulled Acevedo over in Brooklyn for driving erratically in a 1997 BMW bearing Pennsylvania plates. With an alcohol blood content level of .13, the officers charged the ex-con with driving under the influence. Acevedo told the arresting officers that he had consumed a couple of beers at a baby shower. The next day, following his arraignment, the judge released Acevedo with a court appearance scheduled for April 10, 2013.

     Acevedo's last known address was in a Brooklyn public housing project where his mother resided. One of his friends told reporters that the hit-and-run suspect wanted to turn himself in because "he has remorse." A reward of $15,000 was offered for information leading to his arrest.

     Isaac Abraham, a spokesman for the Orthodox Jewish community, called for the maximum punishment for Acevedo. "We in the community are demanding that the prosecutor charge the driver of the BMW that caused the death of this couple and infant with triple homicide. This coward left the scene of the accident, not even bothering to check on the people in the car."

     On Tuesday, March 5, 2013, Acevedo, while hiding from the police, spoke to a reporter with the Daily News of New York. According to the fugitive, just before the accident, he had been speeding away from a gunman who was trying to kill him. Acevedo said he had met with a lawyer who was arranging his surrender to the authorities.

     Acevedo, on Wednesday evening, March 6, 2013, turned himself in to police officers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He approached the officers as they sat in their cars in front of a convenience store. The next day, Acevedo, charged with negligent homicide, three counts of assault, leaving the scene of an accident, and reckless driving, was arraigned in a Brooklyn court. Judge Stephen Antignani suspended his drivers license and denied him bail. The suspect's wife and young daughter were in the court room with him.

     In July 2013, the New York City Department of Transportation installed a traffic light at the Brooklyn intersection where the Glaubers had been killed.

     A jury sitting in Brooklyn, in April 2015, found Julio Acevedo guilty as charged. Judge Neil Firetog sentenced him to 25 years to life. According to the judge, Acevedo had "forfeited his right to be a part of our community."

Fake Psychology: Unqualified Criminal Profilers

     Only proper data collection and thorough research can bring credibility to [forensic behavioral] profiling....Currently, there are no professional standards or licensing requirements for this line of work. When self-proclaimed profilers repeat the same terminology as qualified profilers, detectives, the media, and the public believe them.

     For example, my research on five hundred-plus serial murder cases shows that most serial killers are not clever at alluding police; they get caught through their own mistakes or a tip from the public. My work has also found that serial killers are consistent in their behaviors over time. These conclusions challenge cherished myths, myths that many have exploited for ill-gotten gain by charlatans masquerading as scientific profilers. What is really sad is how many in the media and law enforcement believe them, and how many lives are lost as a result.

Dr. Maurice Godwin, Trackers: Hunting Down Serial Killers, 2005

The Objective Forensic Scientist

In order to maintain scientific objectivity, forensic science practitioners have to rise above the adversarial nature of the trial process. They have to be true to their science. This is especially difficult when their conclusions conflict with the law enforcement view of the case. Staying at arm's length from law enforcement is much easier for experts in the private sector. Crime lab employees who get too involved in the overall crime investigation are more vulnerable to prosecutorial pressure and influence. Keeping a firewall between forensic science and criminal investigation is vital but difficult. It's easy to understand, for example, how a forensic pathologist in a medical examiner's office might feel as if he or she is part of a law enforcement team, particularly in emotional cases such as suspected infanticide and child abuse.

Science Fiction: Creating New Worlds

A writer of conventional fiction, unless he is extremely inventive, starts with innumerable givens. His plot must wind its way through them like a road through the contours of a mountain pass. But a science fiction writer, if he really uses his medium, need take very little for granted. He is not creating a road but an entire world--mountains, pass and all.

Tom O'Reilly in Critical Encounters, edited by Dick Riley, 1986 

Selling Out

The Devil comes to the writer and says, "I will make you the best writer of your generation. Never mind the generation--of the century. No--this millennium! Not only the best, but the most famous, and also the richest; in addition to that, you will be very influential and your glory will endure for ever. All you have to do is sell me your grandmother, your mother, your wife, your kids, your dog, and your soul." "Sure," says the writer, "absolutely--give me the pen, where do I sign?" Then he hesitates. "Just a minute," he says. "What's the catch?"

Margaret Atwood, 2004

Literary Fiction: The Art Of Boredom

So-called "Literary" novelists avoid great plots and exciting, dramatic storytelling because these pretentious, showoff writers associate such qualities with genre fiction. Moreover, writing a novel a reader can't put down takes a degree of  talent "literary" writers do not possess. "Literary" novelists practice the art of boredom. Their books are written for each other, a handful of critics, and for readers trying to appear literarily sophisticated. The literary fiction game is fraudulent and most readers know it. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Tiffany Stevens Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2009, Eric Stevens and his 34-year-old wife Tiffany, a wealthy couple living in Simsbury, Connecticut with their 4-year-old daughter, agreed to get divorced. Following the granting of the divorce in 2011, Tiffany gained primary custody of their daughter. This did not sit well with Eric Stevens who contested the family court ruling on the grounds his ex-wife was a drug addict and an unfit parent. Moreover, Tiffany had refused to let him visit the girl.

     In July 2012, John McDaid, a handyman who had worked for the couple when they were married, went to Eric Stevens with some disturbing news. In April of that year, Tiffany had given him $5,000 to have him--Mr. Stevens--killed. The would-be hit man said he had spent the money and never intended to carry out the murder assignment.

     Eric Stevens reported the murder-for-hire plot to the Simsbury police who in turn questioned John McDaid. McDaid said that he and Tiffany Stevens, over a period of several months, engaged in many conversations in which she pleaded with him to do the job she had paid him to do. He had secretly audio-taped one of those conversations. According to McDaid, Tiffany wanted to make sure she maintained control of a $50 million trust fund set aside for the care of her daughter. If she lost custody of the child, she'd forfeit control of that money.

     On July 13, 2012, detectives took Tiffany Stevens into custody on the charge of inciting injury to a person. The judge set her bail at $1 million which she quickly posted. The accused murder-for-hire mastermind, now living in Bloomfield, Connecticut, pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     Following his ex-wife's arrest, Eric Stevens petition the court for custody of his daughter. Hartford Family Court Judge Leslie Olear denied that request.

     At a pretrial hearing on November 18, 2013, Tiffany Stevens' attorney, Herbert Santos, was prepared to plead his client guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutor Anthony Bochicchio, a deal that guaranteed no prison time. At the last minute, however, the prosecutor backed out of the deal. The case would go to trial on the charge of attempted murder.

     On December 2, 2014, the attempted murder trial got underway before Hartford Superior Court Judge Edward J. Mullarkey. Defense attorney Santos, in his opening statement to the jury, said that the defendant, at the time of her conversations with John McDaid, had been so drug-addled that she had been incapable of forming the requisite specific intent to solicit her ex-husband's murder.

     The prosecution's star witness, John McDaid, the handyman from Granville, Massachusetts, took the stand and testified that in April 2012 the defendant slapped an envelope containing $5,000 across his chest and said, "Get it done." According to the witness, she wanted Mr. Stevens "taken out." McDaid said he used the hit money to buy clothing for his children, a washer and dryer, and other things. The witness said that the defendant tried to motivate him by claiming that her ex-husband had abused her.

     Against the objections of the defense, prosecutor Bochicchio played the audio recording of a conversation between McDaid and the defendant in which she implored him to get the job done. "Find somebody. I want him killed," she said.

     On cross-examination, attorney Santos brought out that Mr. McDaid had a long criminal history that included 22 felony convictions. The witness also admitted saying, with regard to his murder plot conversations with the defendant, that he "almost didn't think it was real."

     On December 7, 2014, after the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Santos put Dr. Seth Feurstein on the stand. The professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine had analyzed the audio-taped conversation and said, "She seemed like she might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

     The last witness for the defense, Edward Khalily, the defendant's father, a prominent Long Island businessman, provided the jury with an extended history of his daughter's drug addiction. According to the witness, Eric Stevens had his problems as well that included a gambling habit that involved losses between $8 and $11 million. According to Mr. Khalily, Mr. Stevens' gambling addiction resulted in outbursts of temper that caused Tiffany to lock their daughter in a bedroom.

       Mr. Khalily, still under attorney Santos' direct-examination, said that immediately after Tiffany's arrest, Eric Stevens sought out tabloid media attention regarding the $50 million trust fund, stating that whoever got custody of the child would have access to that money. (When attorney Santos had Eric Stevens on the stand, he had asked him if the trust fund actually existed. "Not to my knowledge," came the response.)

     Defense attorney Santos did not put the defendant on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In summing up his case for the jury, he attacked John McDaid's credibility and suggested that the audio recording, because of several gaps, had been tampered with. Moreover, he said there was no record proving that the defendant had withdrawn $5,000 from a bank.

     After portraying his client as a vulnerable, impaired drug-addled woman, Attorney Santos argued that the prosecution had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     On December 8, 2014, Judge Mullarkey handed the case to the jury. Four days later, the jury foreman announced that the panel was hopelessly deadlocked on the question of the defendant's guilt. Judge Mullarkey had no choice but to declare a mistrial. This left the prosecutor with the decision of whether to recharge Tiffany Stevens with attempted murder, offer her a plea deal on a lesser charge, or drop the case.

     In August 2015, Tiffany Stevens pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of inciting injury to persons. Judge Mullarkey sentenced her to five years probation.    

Forensic Anthropology Certification

Most professional disciplines, including those that deal with evidence, crime scene investigation, and the human body, have certification boards to ensure that each practitioner meets and maintains certain standards in his respective field. For example, when we go to the doctor, we feel reassured when we look at the professional certificates and degrees hanging on the office wall. There's the American Board of Surgeons for many physicians and the American Board of Forensic Odontology for dentists. For those of us who deal with human remains for the police, medical examiners, and the FBI, there's the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Anyone who wants to sit for the board of examination in forensic anthropology must have a Ph.D. in physical anthropology (the study of bones), and three years' experience with skeletal cases performed for law enforcement agencies. Best of all, there is a four-hour written test and a four-hour practical (hands-on) qualifying examination.

Robert Mann, Ph.D., Forensic Detective, 2006   

Littering: A Problem Government Can't Clean Up

     By the 1960s, America's cities, towns, and suburban areas were being buried in trash. Bottles, cans, wrappers--you name it--covered streets, sidewalks, roads, parks, and other public areas. This unsightly, unhealthy filth led to the installations of millions of public trash containers and an aggressive anti-littering campaign designed to make dumping one's trash in public a behavior considered taboo. Legislatures also made littering a fairly serious crime through the imposition of large fines. Notwithstanding these efforts, littering grew into an even bigger environmental problem. It also represented an alarming display of civic disorder.

     In some cities, sidewalks and streets are now littered with human feces and hypodermic needles which not only lowers the quality of urban life but presents a public health problem.

     Police officers who arrest litterbugs will tell you that offenders either deny littering, or simply shrug it off. There are no apologies. Many litterers are simply indifferent or lazy, and in some cases expect others to pick up after them. Some litterbugs, feeling disenfranchised and powerless, dump their trash as acts of anger or defiance.

     A country cannot solve a littering problem through its criminal justice system. The problem can only be fixed through voluntary compliance and a sense of civic duty. A country that cannot keep itself clean is a nation in decline.

The Sports Writer

Newspaper people speak of journalists who cover the news as police reporters, City Hall men, and Washington correspondents. Print journalists on the sports beat are usually referred to as sports writers. The sports writer is not expected merely to tell us what happened. Upon small, coiled springs of fact, he builds up a great padded mattress of words. His readers escape into a dream where most of the characters are titanic heroes, devouring monsters, or gargantuan buffoons. [If I were a sports writer most of my stories would be about the gargantuan buffoons.]

A. J. Liebling quoted in Wayward Reporter by Raymond A. Sokolov, 1980

Learning to Write on Your Own

Not too long ago, the concept of studying in a "creative writing program" was unheard of. If you wanted to be a writer, then you became an avid reader and a citizen of the world, learning about life through travel and personal experience until you knew enough to write an essay, short story, or poem that said something. In college, you majored in English literature, philosophy, or history--areas of concentration that would introduce the best books and the most influential thinkers.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Woody Allen On Writer Immortality

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Woody Allen, The Paris Review, 1995

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Infamous Bell, California Public Corruption Case

     The Los Angeles Times, in July 2010, exposed public corruption in Bell, one of the poorer suburban communities in Los Angeles County. Investigative journalists revealed that the city manager, his assistant, members of the city council, and the chief of police of this town of 40,000, were being paid salaries that were, even by California standards, outrageously high.

     Robert Rizzo, the city manager, made $800,000 a year as part of a combined annual salary and compensation package. Rizzo lived in a mansion, and was wealthy enough to raise thoroughbred racing  horses. His assistant, Angela Spaccia, pulled in $375,000 a year. Six of the part-time city council members each made $100,000 a year for essentially doing nothing. The clueless taxpayers of Bell, California were being taken on a ride.

     In March 2011, following criminal investigations by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and investigators with the state, Rizzo and seven other Bell city officers were indicted on various charges of public corruption. Rizzo faced 50 counts of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, falsifying documents, and giving himself and Spaccia raises without council approval. The eight defendants were accused of stealing just under $6 million from the taxpayers of this small, debt-ridden town.

     Randy Adams, the 59-year-old hired by Rizzo as Bell's chief of police in August 2009, was not among those indicted for public corruption. Adams, who had been the chief of police of the Glendale, California Police Department, had been given a sweet deal by city manager Rizzo. Besides his whopping salary of $457,000 a year, Adams was immediately declared physically disabled, notwithstanding his impressive time at a 5 K race he had run a month before starting the job. In the Golden State, being declared officially disabled (in Adam's case a bad back and knees) meant that Adams could retire whenever he wanted and receive a pension equal to one-half of his salary--for life. (City manager Rizzo and his assistant were charged with falsifying public records to show that the chief was only being paid $200,000 a year.)

     Although patrol officers in California routinely made over $100,00 a year, being paid $457,000 a year to run a police department with 40 employees was excessive, even in California. For example, Charles Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, an agency that employed 13,000, made $307,000 a year.

     After the Los Angeles Times broke the story of the corruption in Bell, the taxpayers revolted and threw the bums out of office.  Randy Adams left the police department in August 2010. After working a year as its chief, he was entitled, pursuant to his employment contract, a pension of $22,000 a month.

     In August 2012, Randy Adams, instead of quietly enjoying the good life at the expense of Bell's struggling taxpayers, sued the city for the one-year severance pay he said he was owed by the municipality. (A year earlier, the angry ex-chief had sued the city for not reimbursing him for the legal costs he had incurred defending himself against the public corruption scandal.)

     In Bell, California, and who knows how many other places in the Golden State, crime didn't pay nearly as well as crime fighting, assuming you could tell the difference between the two.

     On October 23, 2012, a judge ruled against Randy Adams in his suit to recover severance pay and legal expenses.

     In January 2013, former city manager Robert Rizzo, his assistant Angela Spaccia, and four members of the city council were convicted of public corruption. The former city council members were each given the light sentences of five years probation. The judge sentenced Robert Rizzo and Angela Spaccia to 12-year prison terms.

Phone Sex at the University of Colorado

     Resa Cooper-Morning, a cultural diversity coordinator in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Denver, had been living a double life. Employed by the university since 1992, Resa, in 2003, began supplementing her $68,000-a-year salary by charging phone sex callers $1.49 a minute for her pornographic talk.

     Cooper-Morning advertised her services through her website, msresa.com. The site also offered soft core videos of the university administrator with titles such as "Stripping Before the Camera," and "Erotica in Pink." The site included a link to her phone sex service that promised to "rock every part of your body." Internet viewers could also purchase memberships to Cooper-Morning's virtual world.

     Internet visitors desiring sexy phone talk were encouraged to call Resa between seven in the morning and "late at night", Monday through Friday. This made her available to sex callers during her university working hours. This meant the 54-year-old was talking dirty for money on university's time. (I guess you could argue that a lot of employees talk dirty on company time. The only difference here is that Cooper-Morning did it for money.)

     Big wigs at the University of Colorado were informed of Cooper-Morning's clandestine business by a producer with the local CBS-TV affiliate working on a segment about Cooper-Morning's erotic website. The show was scheduled to air on December 12, 3003. Shortly after the notification, the diversity coordinator found herself on paid administrative leave.

     Blair Cooper, Resa's daughter-in-law, appeared in the CBS-produced segment that aired as scheduled. According to Cooper, "she [Resa] was taking calls at work. I've been in her office and she's said, 'oh, let me be right back, I have a phone call.' She takes them very discreetly, shuts her door and takes phone calls on Colorado University of Denver's pay."

     In January 2014, the local CBS TV affiliate covering the Cooper-Morning case reported that the university administrator, in addition to her phone sex operation, ran an escort service. The university however, announced that she would not lose her position at the school. A spokesperson for the University of Colorado at Denver said, "We've been unable to establish that Ms. Cooper-Morning engaged in criminal activity nor have we been able to determine she operated her outside businesses while on the job." 

Serial Killer Wesley Allan Dodd's Last Words

I was once asked by somebody, I don't remember who, if there was any way sex offenders could be stopped. I said no. I was wrong.

Wesley Allan Dodd, executed in the state of Washington on January 5, 1993. Per his request, he was hanged. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald On Drinking

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Difficulties of Being an Author

To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.

Charles Caleb Colton, 2000

Converting One's Pen Into a Sword

Getting even is one great reason for writing.

William Gass, The Paris Review, 1977

Garrison Keillor on Humor

Humor needs to come in under cover of darkness, in disguise, and surprise people.

Garrison Keillor, The Paris Review, 1995

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Kenneth John Konias Jr. Armored Truck Robbery/Murder Case

     One would think that stealing a large sum of money from an armored truck--a bullet-proof vault on wheels protected by at least two armed security officers--would be extremely difficult, and rare. It is not. While some armored car heists feature a lot of planning and several accomplices, most are committed by one or two people. A high percentage of armored car robberies are inside jobs committed by security personnel. In the infamous 1950 Brinks job in Boston, the police didn't recover one cent of the stolen $2.7 million in bills, checks, and money orders. By the time the suspects were identified and rounded up, the checks and money orders had been destroyed and the cash spent.

     An armored van or truck makes between ten and twenty pickups and deliveries a day. The most secure vehicles are equipped with tracking devices, and are staffed by a crew of three armed officers. The driver never leaves the truck. At the delivery and pickup stops, the guard is positioned near the vehicle while the messenger handles the cargo. Occasionally the guard will accompany the messenger to and from the truck. To cut costs, armored car companies often use 2-person crews in which the driver is also the messenger.

The Pittsburgh Armored Truck Robbery/Murder Case

     Kenneth John Konias Jr., a 2008 graduate of Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, lived in nearby Dravosburg, a town of 2,000 along the Monongahela River. The 22-year-old, an only child, lived in his parents' house. Upon graduation Konias began work as a security guard in a shopping mall. After a year with the Dravosburg Voluntary Fire Department, Konias joined the volunteer fire department in Duquesne. Six months later, the Duquesne fire chief dismissed him because he "didn't fit in." He had failed the test to become an Allegheny County police officer.

     Early in 2011, following a background check, some psychological testing, and a little firearms training, Kenneth Konias became a driver-messenger with the Garda Cash Logistics Armored Transport Company. Several months later, Konias' fellow employees found lottery tickets from a grocery store on his route in the back of the truck. Konias, who hadn't purchased the tickets, said he must have carried the tickets out of the store on the bottom of his cash satchel. His supervisor accepted the explanation and the matter was closed.

     On February 28, 2012, Konias was paired with 31-year-old Michael Haines, a guard who had been on the job a few months. After graduating from Pittsburgh's Robert Morris University with a degree in communications, Haines, from East McKeesport, had previously sold Verizon cell phones. Until getting the job with Garda, Haines had struggled finding full time work. On that Tuesday, with Konias behind the wheel and Haines in the cargo area of the truck, the men pulled away from the Garda office in downtown Pittsburgh. It was a few minutes before eight o'clock in the morning.

     Just before one in the afternoon, after making a pickup at the Home Depot store in suburban in Ross Township, Home Depot employees thought they heard a gun go off inside the Garda truck. Thirty minutes later, Konias parked the armored vehicle under a bridge two blocks from the Garda office. He climbed out of the truck, walked to the employee parking lot, and drove off in his tan Ford Explorer.

     After stopping at places to pick up money bags he had stashed, Konias drove to his parents' house in Dravosburg where he greeted his father. After putting his bloody Garda jacket on a hanger and hiding $200,000 in cash in the house, Konias left the dwelling in his Ford Explorer.

     At 3:45 that afternoon, a Garda employee came upon the idling truck under the bridge. Blood seeped out the back of the vehicle, and inside Michael Haines lay dead from a bullet fired into the back of his head. The guard's 9 mm Glock semiautomatic pistol was missing along with $2.3 million in cash, enough money to fill two trash bags.

     Konias, after leaving Dravosburg that afternoon, called several people on his cell phone. He spoke to his mother Renee, telling her that he had stashed $25,000 at his grandmother's grave site at St. Mary Magdalene Cemetery in Munhall. (Mr. Konias retrieved the money, and a relative notified the police.) Konias called a friend and asked him to run off with him. He said he would never have to work again. To another friend he said he had messed up and that his life was over. The friend asked him if he had killed someone. Konias paused, then said yes. In one of the conversations Konias asked about extradition laws in Canada and Mexico. After making these calls, Konias tossed his cell phone out his car window. It was found along Route 51 south of downtown Pittsburgh.

     On Tuesday night, when police officers searched the Konias house in Dravosburg, they recovered the bloody Garda jacket and $200,000. Hoping to catch Konias before he got too far, the police alerted U.S. border authorities, airports, bus depots, and train stations.

     On March 1, 2012, the Allegheny County district attorney charged Kenneth Konia with criminal homicide, robbery, and theft. The FBI issued a wanted poster and added Konias to the FBI's Most Wanted List. The bureau also posted information regarding the fugitive on its Facebook page.

     On Friday, March 16, the police-hunt for the 6 foot one, 165 pound fugitive was featured on Lifetime TV's "America's Most Wanted" show.

     On April 25, 2012, FBI agents arrested Konias without incident at a house in Pompano Beach, Florida. Based on information from the suspect himself, agents recovered most of the stolen money from the Pompano Beach house and a storage locker nearby. At the time of his arrest, Konias still had possession of the handgun he had carried when he worked for Garda Cash Logistics.

     On November 13, 2013, at the conclusion of the 7-day bench trial, Allegheny County Judge David Cashman found Konias guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and theft. At the sentencing hearing on February 18, 2014, Judge Cashman, in advance of announcing Konias' fate, said that Konias had put greed before human life. Konias interrupted the judge by saying, "I was going to suggest you not lecture me and give me my sentence so we can proceed." Unfazed, the judge continued, pointing out that Konia had plotted the assassination for months. The judge also noted that the Haines family had shown mercy by not requesting the death penalty.

     Judge Cashman sentenced the 24-year-old murderer to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
     

From Charles Duff's Classic "A Handbook on Hanging"

It has been, and still is, a matter of opinion whether, if you wish to kill your undesirable, it is better to let him die quietly in a concentration camp, flay him until he dies, hurl him over a precipice, burn, drown, or suffocate him; or entomb him alive and leave him to perish slowly in the silence of his grave; or asphyxiate him agonizingly in a lethal chamber, press him to death or cut off his head; or produce a sort of coma by means of an electric current that grills him in parts. It is all a matter of taste, temperament, and fashion.

Charles Duff (1894-1966) A Handbook On Hanging, 1961

A Writer Buried in Books

     I've decided that books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over. They crowd my dining room, they double up in the bedroom, they make the attic floor sag. We even have a library in the bathroom: shelves and shelves of books where a normal person might have a vanity table or piles of towels…

     I once went through our library and calculated that my husband and I had read about a third of the books that we own, and I think, as we buy more books and read a third of what we buy, that the statistic is more or less holding up. Sometimes we even buy a book and go to put it on one of our few organized shelves only to find that it is already there...

     We have a psychological problem and we recognize it: We never get rid of books…It's a sick relationship we have with these piles of pages between covers. Most people would be secretly bragging if they said this, but I'm not bragging. I think it's weird and demented. Maybe I'm so involved with my books' fate because I am a writer, and I can all too well imagine a reader taking one of my books and cosigning it to the trash heap.

Amy Wilentz, "One Book Out," The New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2013

Clues in Crime Fiction

     Investigation is the meat and potatoes of mystery fiction. The sleuth talks to people, does research, snoops around, and makes observations. Facts emerge. Maybe an eyewitness gives an account of what he saw. A wife has unexplained bruises on her face. The brother of a victim avoids eye contact with his questioner. A will leaves a millionaire's estate to an obscure charity. A bloody knife is found in a laundry bin. A love letter is discovered tucked into last week's newspaper.

     Some facts will turn out to be clues that lead to the killer's true identity. Some will turn out to be red herrings--evidence that leads in a false direction. On top of that, a lot of the information your sleuth notes will turn out to be nothing more than the irrelevant minutiae of everyday life inserted into scenes to give a sense of realism and camouflage the clues.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005 

Read Before You Write

You really can't write unless you read. You have to know what the game is all about.

Harold Brodkey, The Paris Review, 1991

Quality Over Quantity

Writing is not a numbers game. You should focus more on reaching the hearts of readers and building fans more than publishing a plethora of books that no one may care about.

Selena Haskins, 1998

Friday, April 30, 2021

Jerome Murdough's Jail Cell Death

     After graduating from a Queens, New York high school in 1976, Jerome Murdough joined the Marine Corps. He served a tour in Okinawa, Japan before his honorable discharge. Shortly after he returned to New York City, Murdough started drinking heavily and taking drugs. In his thirties, after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, he found himself living on the street and in homeless shelters. He had joined the growing number of mentally ill Americans living on the fringes of urban society. To maintain a semblance of sanity, Murdough had to keep taking his anti-psychotic medication. He also took anti-seizure pills and continued to medicate himself with alcohol.

     Over the years, New York City police officers, on a dozen occasions, arrested Murdough for the misdemeanor offenses of drunk in public, trespassing, and drug possession. On February 7, 2014, a police officer in Harlem, New York arrested the 56-year-old homeless man for trespassing. Murdough had been sleeping in an enclosed stairwell in a public housing project.

     The arresting officer booked Mr. Murdough into Rikers Island, the nation's second largest jail system. At any given time, Rikers Island is the temporary home of 1,200 prisoners, almost half of whom are mentally ill. At his arraignment, the judge assigned Murdough an attorney from the public defender office, and set his bail at a prohibitive $2,500.

     On February 14, 2014, a week into his incarceration, jail officials transferred Murdough to the Anna M. Kross Center, the jail system's massive mental health unit. They placed him into a 6-by-10 foot cinderblock cell at 10:30 that night. Pursuant to jail policy pertaining to prisoners in the mental observation unit, corrections officers were supposed to check on Murdough every fifteen minutes.

     At 2:30 the next morning, four hours after Murdough's transfer to the mental health unit, a corrections officer discovered Murdough dead on his cot. The first thing the guard noticed was the intense heat coming out of the cell. The temperature in the enclosure had risen to well about 100 degrees due to an heating system malfunction.

     While the forensic pathologist with the New York City's Medical Examiner's Office was unable to articulate the exact cause of death without more testing, initial indicators point to extreme dehydration otherwise know as heat stroke. Since psychotropic medications can impair the body's ability to cool itself by sweating, Murdough's prescription regime may have been a contributing factor to his death.

     Jerome Murdough's 75-year-old mother learned of her son's fate a month after he baked to death. She learned of  his passing from a reporter with the Associated Press. Mrs. Murdough hadn't been in contact with her son for three years.

     On April 3, 2014, a spokesperson for New York City's jail system announced that the warden of the mental health unit had been demoted over the incident. Two corrections officer were placed on thirty-day suspensions for not "following basic procedures."
     In October 2014, pursuant to a civil suit filed by Jerome Murdough's family, the city of New York authorized a $2.25 million settlement.

The Eye-Drop Poison Case

     Dr. Harry Johnston, since June 2009, had been treating Thurman Nesbitt for a mysterious illness. The 45-year-old patient, a resident of McConnellsburg in central Pennsylvania, suffered from nausea, low blood pressure, and breathing difficulties. Dr. Johnston, suspecting that his patient was being poisoned, had his blood analyzed. On July 27, 2012, the serology tests revealed the presence of tetrahydrozolin, a chemical found in over-the-counter eye-drops.

     On August 10, 2012, troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police arrested Nesbitt's girlfriend, Vickie Jo Mills. The 33-year-old McConnellsburg woman, on probation for forgery, admitted putting Visine drops into her boyfriend's drinking water. Mills told her interrogators that she had been making Nesbitt sick since June 2009. She said it had never been her intention to poison her boyfriend to death. To the obvious question of why she had done this, Mills explained that she had made Nesbitt sick in an effort to get him to pay more attention to her.

     Most women who use illness to attract attention make themselves sick pursuant to a syndrome called Munchausen. In Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, these women make their children sick. It's not clear why Mills thought poisoning her boyfriend would improve their relationship.

     The Fulton County prosecutor charged Vickie Jo Mills with ten counts of aggravated assault which carried a combined maximum sentence of 240 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. Shortly after her arrest, the authorities released Mills on a $75,000 surety bond.

     On October 16, 2002, the district attorney dropped nine of the ten counts in return for the defendant's guilty plea. A Fulton County judge, on February 14, 2013, sentenced Mills to two to four years in prison.

     It's odd that something you can put into your eyes will make you sick if you put it into your stomach.

The Death Penalty Debate in America

     To some extent, the debate about capital punishment has been going on almost since the founding of the Republic. At that time, each state, following the English tradition, imposed death for a long list of felonies. But the same humanism that posited the equal value of all men and animated democracy necessarily led to many questions about a punishment that vested such fierce power over citizens in the state and assumed individuals were irredeemable. Thomas Jefferson was among the earliest advocates of restricting executions, and in 1794, Pennsylvania limited capital punishment to first-degree murder. In 1846, Michigan became the first American state to outlaw capital punishment for killers.

     For most Americans, the death penalty debate goes no further than asking whether they "believe" in capital punishment. There is good reason for this, of course, because the threshold issues define us so profoundly as individuals and as a society that it is almost impossible to move past them. What are the goals of punishment? What do we think about the perfectibility of human beings and the perdurability of evil? What value do we place on life--of the murderer and the victim? What kind of power do we want in the hands of government, and what do we hope the state can accomplish when it wields it?

Scott Turow, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, 2003

The Celebrity Journalist

Journalists are now celebrities. Part of this has been caused by the ability and willingness of journalists to promote themselves. Part of this has been caused by television, the television reporter is often more famous than anyone he interviews.

Nora Ephron, 2003

An Editor Can't Save a Bad Novel

Maxwell Perkins [Scribner's and Sons], dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken.

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990

The Complete Sentence

That's the hardest thing to do--to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.

Vivian Gornick, American critic, essayist, and memoirist, The Paris Review, 2014

They Lived Happily Thereafter

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

Donna Baker, Writing a Romance Novel, 1997

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Nathan Dunlap: Saving the Life of a Cold-Blooded Mass Murderer

     In December 1993, a supervisor employed by the Chuck E Cheese family eating place and entertainment center in the suburban city of Aurora, Colorado outside of Denver, fired 19-year-old Nathan Dunlap for refusing to work extra hours. The pizza cook told his fellow workers that the boss had made a fool of him, and that he planned to get even.

     On December 14, 1993, Dunlap, while playing basketball with friends, said, in reference to his former place of employment, that he was going to "kill them all and take the money." Later that day, Dunlap walked into the Chuck E Cheese establishment and, in cold blood, shot five employees, killing four of them.

     A jury, in 1996, found Nathan Dunlap guilty of four counts of murder. The judge sentenced the convicted killer to death. Three years later, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Dunlap's conviction.

     In early May 2013, after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to hear Dunlap's clemency appeal, an Arapahoe County judge scheduled Dunlap's execution for the week of August 18, 2013. Dunlap would be the first prisoner executed in the state in fifteen years. Friends and relatives of the murdered Chuck E Cheese employees were elated.

     Those who had been waiting twenty years for Dunlap's execution were crestfallen when Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, at a May 22, 2013 press conference, announced that he had granted "Offender No. 89148" a temporary reprieve. (During the news conference, Governor Hickenlooper never mentioned Dunlap by name. When asked why, he said, "I don't think he needs any more notoriety.")

     The governor's reprieve guaranteed that Dunlap would live until January 15, 2015, the last day of Hickenlooper's first term. If he lost his bid for re-election, the new governor could let the reprieve stand, or go forward with the execution. Dunlap's fate became a gubernatorial campaign issue.

     In justifying his decision to spare Dunlap's life, Hickenlooper rhetorically asked, "Is it just and moral to take this person's life? Is it a benefit to the world?" (A lot of people would answer, "Yes!")

     In reacting publicly to the governor's reprieve, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Braucher said, "There's going to be one person, one person in this system who goes to bed with a smile on his face tonight. And that's Nathan Dunlap. And he's got one person to thank for that smile. That's Governor Hickenlooper."

     The father of one of Dunlap's victims, in speaking to a reporter with the Denver Post, said, "The knife that's been in my back for twenty years was just turned by the governor."

      Governor Hickenlooper was elected to a second term in office. It was not clear what role the Dunlap reprieve played in that victory,

     In April 2017, a U.S. District Court judge denied the Dunlap legal team the right to lobby Governor Hickenlooper for permanent clemency. The death house defense team wanted to spend $750,000 in taxpayer money to present psychiatric evidence that Dunlap's murders were the result of a traumatic childhood.

    On November 20, 2017, Governor Hickenlooper denied clemency for Nathan Dunlap.
     Colorado governor Jared Polis, in March 2020, signed a bill abolishing the state's death penalty, thus saving Nathan Dunlap's life.

Sherlock Holmes: The Protagonist as Beloved Public Figure

A. Conan Doyle grew to detest his detective Sherlock Holmes and killed him off with satisfaction. The rest of the world didn't agree: London stockbrokers wore armbands, the public deluged newspapers with letters of mourning and outrage, and a woman even picketed Doyle's house with a sign that called him a murderer.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type to be a Writer, 2003 

John Scalzi On Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers

     Many of the writers who have inspired me most are outside the science fiction genre. Humorists like Robert Benchley and James Thurber, screenwriters like Ben Hecht and William Goldman, and journalist/columnists like H. L. Mencken, Mike Royko and Molly Ivins. They inspire me because they were good with words and they were also in command of their genres…

     I believe the best way to grow a genre--in this case science fiction--is to bring new elements into it. This is why I always recommend to aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers that they read outside the genre as much as they read inside it…

     My favorite thing about science fiction and fantasy right now is that it has so many genuinely good writers in it. I am biased, but I can say that the best writers in our genre can hold their own against any writers in any genre…

John Scalzi, "Science Fiction Author John Scalzi Explains How Not To Be Boring," by Brian A. Klems, writersdigest.com, July 20, 2011 

Stephen King on Bad Writing

No matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously, I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on-staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them. Others hold forth at open-mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about "my angry lesbian breasts" and "the tilted alley where I cried my mother's name." While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great one out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Believing the Unbelievable

Writers of nonfiction, particularly in the true crime genre, have a huge advantage over crime novelists, their fiction writing counterparts. Made up crime stories, to be believable, have to make sense. Otherwise, the fiction reader will lose interest because the story is unrealistic and unbelievable. A true crime story, on the other hand, regardless of how bizarre, pathological and mind-blowing, simply has to be true. The most celebrated crimes in American history--The Webster-Parkman Murder Case, The Lizzie Borden Ax Murder Case, The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, and the O.J. Simpson Double Murder Case--exemplify the adage that fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

"Literary Fiction": The Unread Genre

     All of the most prestigious awards for fiction each year are given to the works of literary fiction, which makes it sometimes easy to say that writers who write literary novels are better writers.

     In reality, neither of the two categories of writers necessarily deserve the distinction of being better writers. Different writers is a better word choice…

     Is essence, the best genre fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer's being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves. ["Emotional journey? Symphony of words? Literary fiction is different because no one reads it.]


Steven Petite, huffingtonpost.com, April 28, 2014 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Alisha Noel-Murray Murder-For-Hire Case

     Omar Murray, a Jamaican-born ironworker resided with his wife Alisha Noel-Murray in a Brooklyn row-house owned by Alisha's mother. The couple, married three years, had moved into the Brownsville neighborhood in early 2012. Omar was thirty-seven. His wife, a home health aide with Visiting Nurse Service of New York, was just twenty-five. A religious man, Omar regularly attended the Full Gospel Assembly of God Church in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

     On Sunday, February 24, 2013, as Omar Murray entered his Lott Avenue house at one in the afternoon, he was approached by a man who shot him once in the chest. The victim stumbled into the house and collapsed in the entrance hallway. At the time of the shooting, Alisha was in the house recovering from surgery. She locked herself in her bedroom and called 911. Mr. Murray died a few hours after being rushed by ambulance to the Brookdale University Hospital.

     The next day, New York City Detectives arrested three local men in connection with the murder. Dameon Lovell told interrogators that the dead man's wife had been his lover. Together they had come up with the idea of having Omar murdered in a staged robbery. The 29-year-old murder-for-hire co-mastermind said that Alisha Noel-Murray wanted to cash in on her husband's two life insurance policies.

     In 2009, shortly after they were married, the couple took out a policy with National Benefit for $530,000. Sometime Mr. Murray's life was insured for an additional $150,000.

     Kirk Portious, a 25-year-old with a history of violent crime, confessed to being the hit-man. The prosecutor charged Portious and Lovell with first-degree murder. The third man taken into custody, 22-year-old Dion Jack, drove the getaway vehicle. He was charged with hindering prosecution. The judge set his bail at $5,000. Portious and Lovell were held without bond in the jail on Riker's Island.

     Funeral services for the murder victim were held at the Full Gospel Assemble of God Church on Friday night, March 8, 2013. Omar Murray's widow, who had not been charged with a crime, sat in the front pew chewing gum. Omar's uncle, in speaking to a New York Daily News reporter outside the Crown Heights church, said, "To see her [Alisha] sitting there with her crocodile tears makes me sick. We know she killed our Omar. Where is the justice?"

     Alisha Noel-Murray, to the same reporter, said, "I'm not hiding from no one....This is ridiculous."

     In June 2016, Alisha Noel-Murray was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Mr. Murray's death. Both life insurance companies refused to pay benefits on the ground local prosecutors had charged her as a murder-for-hire mastermind. She sued the National Benefit Life Insurance company and lost.

     Portious and Lovell awaited their murder trials while incarcerated on Riker's Island.

     In March 2017, Dameon Lovell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 25 year to life prison sentence.

     On June 8, 2017, a jury in Brooklyn, New York found Alisha Noel-Murray guilty of first-degree murder. Dameon Lovell's testimony helped convict her. A week later, a separate jury found Kirk Portious, the hit man, guilty of the same offense.

     The judge, in July 2017, sentenced Noel-Murray and her hit man to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

     What does it mean to say that science fiction tries to make its speculations plausible while fantasy does not? Basically, fantasy writers don't expect you to believe that the things they're describing could actually happen, but only to pretend that they could for the duration of a story. Fantasy readers understand that and willingly play along. Science fiction writers, on the other hand, try to create worlds and futures that really could exist and do the things they describe. Their readers expect that of them, and write critical letters to editors and authors when they find holes in the logic (or the assumptions) that would make a science fiction story impossible.

     Often the same basic story material can be treated as either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how the writer approaches it. For example, the old fable of "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs" is fantasy because real geese don't lay golden eggs and the story makes no attempt to convince you they could. It merely asks you to consider what might happen if one did. Isaac Asimov's story "Pate de Foie Gras" takes this basic idea and turns it into science fiction by postulating a biochemical mechanism so that readers can judge for themselves whether it might actually work.

     Fantasy is fun; but for some readers there is something extra special about a story that not only stretches the imagination, but just might be a real possibility.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995

Dealing With The Urge to Write a Novel

If you want to write a novel, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1985 

Internet Book Reviewing

     With so many books being published, and so little space devoted to reviewing them, even a bad review can be considered a badge of honor. As painful as bad reviews are, it is arguably worse to have written a book that is totally ignored. Is literary criticism becoming a lost art?

     In an interview published in Novel Short Story Writer's Market 2002, editor Ann Close appraised the review picture as follows: "The review situation has gotten a lot worse. When newspapers and magazines hit bad times, a lot of them dropped their book reviews. Time and Newsweek used to review three to five books every week. They don't do that anymore. But in a way, the Internet has taken up the slack. You can get an enormous amount of information about a book on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon sites. Many other websites have started doing book reviews. It's hard to tell how much impact they've had. Nobody has been able to measure it exactly." Internet literary criticism has had an enormous impact on the reading public. Prior to the Internet, a handful of critics ruled the literary world. Those days are gone forever. 

The Flawed Romance Heroine

I feel that a character's flaws are what allows the reader to relate to her. I'm well-known for not being a fan of the "perfect" heroine. Our admiration may be aroused by perfection, but that is a distant emotion. Empathy comes from a shared sense of humanity, and that's what interests me. The flaws that I choose are flaws that interest me; flaws that seem to challenge the character is some way.

Laura Kinsale, likesbooks.com, 2003

Pulp Fiction Writer Peter Rabe

A guy named Peter Rabe wrote a batch of books for Gold Medal [mass market paperback publisher] in the 50s, and he was absolutely the single largest influence in my writing style. I was completely in love with the way the man wrote. [Clear and lucid. Peter Rabe (1921-1990) wrote under the names Marco Malaponte and J. T. MacCargo. According to Kein Graff at Booklist, "Rabe can pack more into 10 words than most writers can do with a page."]

Donald E. Westlake, American crime novelist, 2001

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Elisa Lam's Mysterious and Suspicious Death

     The Cecil Hotel, a downtown, 600-room, fourteen-story building at 7th and Main near Los Angeles' Skid Row district, could be a setting in a southern California noir film. (I'm thinking of the hotel in the movie "Barton Fink.") In the 1920s and 30s several guests and visitors were murdered in the place. A woman jumped to her death from a hotel window in the 1960s. In 1985, Richard Ramirez, "The Night Stalker," occasionally roomed on the fourteenth floor. The hotel put the serial killer in proximity to prostitutes, fourteen of whom ended up dead by his hand. In 1991, during Jack Unterweger's stay at the hotel, the Austrian murdered several of the neighborhood's working girls. The Cecil's new owners made improvements to the 2-star budget hotel in 2007. Half of the hotel's inhabitants are permanent residents.

     On January 26, 2013, Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old University of British Columbia student from Vancouver, Canada, checked into the Cecil Hotel. During the first five days of her vacation to Los Angeles Elisa called her parents regularly. She stopped phoning on January 31, and the next day her worried parents, the owners of a Vancouver restaurant, reported their daughter missing to the Los Angeles Police Department. 
     Police officers searched the hotel without result. In reviewing surveillance camera footage detectives came across a two-minute clip of the missing woman standing by herself in a hotel elevator. Lam was seen pushing all of the floor-buttons, obviously frustrated that the elevator door didn't close. For a minute or so she seemed to be hiding in the corner of the elevator before stepping out into the lobby or a hallway. She was seen just outside the elevator gesturing as though she was talking to someone off-camera. 
     On Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, a maintenance worker on the hotel roof investigating complaints of low water pressure, made a terrible discovery. To his horror he found a young woman's body in one of the four cylindrical tanks that provide the hotel's water. The corpse had been floating in the cistern for two and a half weeks. As suspected, the maintenance man had found Elisa Lam.  
     Guests at the Cecil Hotel had been drinking, brushing their teeth, and showering in water contaminated by a decomposing corpse. During the week before the maintenance man's roof-top discovery, there had been customer complaints of funny tasting drinking water, and showers that started off with a black spray. 
     The Cecil Hotel has remained open, but has been placed on "flush only" status by the Los Angeles County Health Department. (Following the discovery of the body, the city added more chorine to the hotel's drinking water.) After the recovery of Lam's remains, guests checking into the $64 a night hotel were required to sign waivers warning them they were staying at the Cecil "at their own risk and peril." (People were still checking-in?) 
     Los Angeles detectives treated the case as a suspicious death but did not determined what happened to Lisa Lam or how her body ended up in the hotel water supply. (I presume there was no evidence of foul play in her room.) To get to the hotel roof one had to have access to a locked and alarmed door. The only other way to the top of the building involved climbing the fire escape. 
     According to her parents, Elisa's travel plans had included a trip to Santa Cruz in the central part of the state. No one knew why Santa Cruz was on her vacation itinerary. A few news sources indicated that the young woman might have been "mildly depressed".

     On February 29, 2013, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office announced that the autopsy did not reveal Elisa Lam's specific cause of death. That meant she hadn't been shot, bludgeoned, stabbed or knifed to death. That left strangulation, smothering, or drowning. Apparently the forensic pathologist was unable to determine if she had been dead or alive when she went into the water.

     Toxicological tests determined that Lam had not recently consumed alcohol or recreational drugs. In her system she did have antidepressant medication prescribed for depression and bipolar disorder.

     The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office announced, on June 20, 2013, that Elisa Lam's death had been an accident. Really? How does one accidentally drown in a roof-top water tank? Did a witness see Lam on the hotel roof? Was she swimming in the tank? This ruling didn't make any sense. 

The Big Con

We convinced everyone college was 100 percent necessary, and then we made college unaffordable. It mostly started in 1978 when more loans and subsidies became available to greatly expand the number of students. The cost of college tuition has risen by six times the rate of inflation since the 1970s.

Jake Novak, CNBC Feb 23, 2020

True Crime Publishing

Why are some true crimes turned into books, while others barely make the national papers? It will hardly come as a staggering surprise to find that publishers choose only those cases that are out of the ordinary: so, while murder is a favorite topic for books, "domestic" murders are not, unless several people in the family are killed. [Or the killer or victim is famous.] The sort of case that attracts a book publisher is likely to involve large-scale crime, a mass or serial murder or a murderer who has been freed and has killed again or perhaps a murderer who almost got away with it.

Philip Rawlings, britsoccrim.org, April 1995