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Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM on September 12 and 8 PM on September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had received about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know about the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

Woman's Prisons Are For Females

England's Lisa Mandy, a Labour Party member of parliament running for leadership of the party, is a high-profile advocate for people's right to "self-identify" as a man or woman regardless of biological gender. Mandy recently (2020) proposed that a convicted male criminal who says he's a female should be allowed admission into a woman's prison. Mandy said her proposal would apply to child rapist Christopher Worton who. following his conviction, identified himself as Zoe Lynes. The child rapist was serving time in a men's prison. He petitioned for a transfer into a female correctional facility. His petition was denied.

The Effect of Literary Criticism on Writers

I hate orthodox literary criticism, the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and sapping all vision and bravery.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1997 

The Mystery of Literary Humor

One of the great literary mysteries involves how some writers can make us laugh, and other writers, regardless of how hard they try, can't. It gets down to the inability to identify the core elements of humor itself. There is no formula for funny.

Writing Your Life Away

V. S. Pritchett once wrote, "The professional writer who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and has become almost nothing." This may be true, but in the end, we all become nothing. So, if you've got nothing better to do, go ahead and write your life away.

Los Angeles: The City of Screenwriters

If you throw a stick into a crowd in Los Angeles, chances are you will hit an aspiring screenwriter. According to LA writer Chuck Palachniuk, no one in Tinsel Town is ever more than fifty feet from a screenplay. They're packed into car trunks, stuffed into desk drawers, tucked away in briefcases, and stored in computers. And every one of them, if you believe the author, is a surefire box office hit. In the vast aspiring writer community, the unpublished screenplay has surpassed the novelist's manuscript. Because people prefer TV over books, that makes sense. Still, the odds of selling a screenplay are worse than becoming a lottery millionaire. In the screenplay business, it's hard to know when hope and ambition fade out and foolhardiness fades in. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Criminal Investigation As A Thinking Person's Game

     Successful investigators are intelligent, analytical people who like to solve problems and figure things out. They are also curious, competitive, and well-organized in their work habits. They are unafraid of complexity, pay attention to detail, are articulate, and can express themselves on paper. Dedicated investigators are lifelong students, people who embrace new challenges and tough assignments. They are not only intelligent, they train themselves to think clearly, draw relevant conclusions, and keep bias out of their calculations.

     Individuals who make first-class detectives are often not suited for general police work, and a good cop will not necessarily turn into a competent investigator. The fields of law enforcement (peace keeping and order maintenance) and criminal investigation are vastly different functions that appeal to different kinds of people. The uniformed officer, often having to act quickly and decisively, instead of thoughtful discretion, is more likely to behave pursuant to a detailed code of rules and regulations committed to memory. Training a police officer is therefore nothing like preparing someone for criminal investigation. For that reason, criminal investigators should be recruited from an entirely different pool of candidates. For example, there is no reason to require trainee investigators to be as physically fit as uniformed police officers. Moreover, there is no reason to train future investigators on how to issue traffic tickets, handle drunks, bust drug suspects, or deal with domestic disturbance situations.

     The gap between policing and criminal investigation widened as law enforcement agencies, focused on drug enforcement, and concerns with terrorism, became more paramilitary in nature. Even small police departments field SWAT teams that keep sharp by arresting deadbeat dads, bad check passers, and shoplifting suspects. As the police have become less interested in criminal investigation, the public, having been educated by the O. J. Simpson case, and hooked on TV shows like "CSI," "The New Detectives," and "Forensic Files," have become increasingly more interested in, and knowledgeable about, the art and science of criminal investigation. This has widened another gap, one between public expectation, and police performance.

     Until general policing and criminal investigation are recognized and treated as separate vocations, criminal investigations of major, difficult crimes will continue to be regularly bungled. It is becoming increasingly difficult to think of a celebrated case that hasn't suffered from what could be at best termed mediocre detective work. In America, people who commit criminal homicide, not a particularly clever group of criminals, have a one-third chance of either avoiding detection, or arrest. One in a hundred arsonists end up in prison, and child molesters are having a field day. For the law breaker, America is the land of opportunity. And it is not because the U. S. Supreme Court has handcuffed detectives. Blaming democracy and due process for investigative failures has become second nature to investigators unwilling to face up to their inadequacies.

     Crime solution rates reveal just how bad our criminal investigators are doing. Only 20 percent of all criminal cases lead to an arrest. The crime solution rate hasn't changed since the FBI started keeping crime records back in 1933. The reason for this has to do with the fact that criminal investigation, as a function of the American criminal justice system, has never been a priority. This reality has created decades of public frustration and disillusionment. Instead of fixing the problem, the law enforcement community has tried to indoctrinate the public into believing that solving one out of five crimes is the best that can be expected. It's the old war-is-hell excuse. Even in baseball, batting 200 is considered mediocre.

     Investigative trainees are not only drawn from the wrong well, they are improperly trained by instructors who emphasize methods and techniques designed to resolve cases quickly rather than correctly. The emphasis is on the acquisition of direct evidence in the form of eyewitness identification, and the confession, rather than the more time consuming, and complex gathering and interpretation of physical evidence; an endeavor that requires special training, and more complicated thinking. Perhaps this is why so many crime scenes are either ignored, or improperly processed. This also explains why there are so many false confessions, and people sent to prison on the strength of questionable line-up and mug shot identifications. Another method of quickly getting a case off the books involves the use of unreliable jailhouse informants who testify against defendants to get off the hook themselves. The plea bargaining process that accounts for 90 percent of the convictions in this country masks how police detectives go about their business. Because there are so few criminal trials, there is no way to know how many confessions are illegally acquired, or how many searches are not based upon adequate probable cause.

     Because most detectives are not accustomed to digging deeply into a crime, that is peeling away layers and layers of leads, they are often stumped when merely scratching the surface of a case fails to reveal the perpetrator. There is also the problem of what I call the veteran rookie, the uniformed cop who after fifteen years on patrol, is rewarded with detective duty. These veteran rookies are not only ill-equipped to be investigators, they are often burned-out bureaucrats eyeing retirement.

     The use of task forces, and team investigations, attenuate investigative responsibility, and produces poor results. A single, competent investigator will out perform a team of fifty amateurs, without direction of vision, spinning their wheels around a case.

     Only a handful of college level criminal justice programs include credible courses on criminal investigation. Most criminal justice courses are in the areas of policing, corrections, and the sociology of crime. Too many criminal investigation courses are taught by academics teaching out of textbooks, or worse, by retired cops earning a little part time money by regaling students with war stories. This begs the question: can a qualified practitioner/lecturer teach college students how to become competent, well-rounded criminal investigators? Even if the classroom is filled with serious students who want to become investigators, the answer is, unfortunately, no. The most a criminal investigation professor can do is educate students about the art and science of criminal investigation. While this will not turn criminal justice majors into detectives, it might enhance a student's police training, and the all-important apprenticeship that should follow the police academy.

     At the very least, besides the basic crime solving techniques--crime scene work, interviewing, interrogation, and the like--students should be exposed to a philosophy or theory of crime solution that includes the proper attitude, mind set, and core investigative values that competent detectives possess. They can be taught how to recognize the elements of a solid investigation, and identify cases that are incomplete or flawed. If nothing else, students should come away from the course knowing the basic dos and don't of criminal investigation. Outstanding criminal investigators are the products of a solid education, good training, a long internship, close on-the-job mentoring, and relevant experience.         

Public Hangings in Colonial America

When executions were still public events, they provided an enormous interest. Perhaps no single event brought more spectators in those years than a public hanging. People drove for miles to be present; some camped in the vicinity for several days. The large concourse of people naturally brought camp followers to every large gathering. Entertainers, vendors, pickpockets, promoters, evangelists, sight-seers, peddlers, and medicine men would descend on the town before the fatal day.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Ann Rule on True Crime Writing

True crime writing is a very delicate and difficult genre and not to be taken lightly. Done well, the books can be near classic. Done sloppily or carelessly, they serve only to hurt the innocent even more than they have already been hurt.

Ann Rule, writersreview.com, 2000

The Con Artist

     Ever since the Snake first talked Eve into tasting the apple, the con artist has been practicing his art; the art of confidence. Confidence is the key, because once you gain people's confidence you can manipulated them. In con artists' parlance, that person becomes a mark--also known as a sucker, dupe, john, green, and rube…ready to be played in a confidence game, big or small. In Genesis, the Snake was practicing what is known as a short con--a confidence game where the con artist only comes into contact with the mark once. A con game that requires the con artist and mark to come into contact more than once is known as the long con.

     In the modern era, traditional distinctions like these are increasingly out of date, because most scams and cons take place without any contact with the mark whatsoever. Email, telemarketing, and even text-messaging are the media though which con artists mainly practice today, but many of the con games they employ are simply variations of themes established long ago.

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004 

Novelists Who Practiced Law

I enjoy the dubious distinction of being known among lawyers as a writer, and among writers as a lawyer.

Arthur Train (1875-1945). My Day in Court, 1939.

[Other lawyers who became successful novelists include: Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, John Mortimer, Louis Auchincloss, John Grisham, and Richard North Patterson.] 

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore Murder Case

     In 2006, an illiterate, 37-year-old part time sanitation worker from Lakeland, Florida named Abraham Shakespeare (an ironic name), won the state's $30 million jackpot lottery. Mr. Shakespeare elected to accept the $17 million lump-sum payout. Soon after winning the money, he purchased fancy cars, jewelry, furniture, and a $1.7 million mansion in his hometown. Over the next two years, the soft-touch millionaire who couldn't tell $6,000 from $60,000, spent, lent, and gave away 90 percent of his fortune. Like so many big lottery winners before him, Abraham Shakespeare was beleaguered and overwhelmed by needy relatives, greedy acquaintances, and complete strangers begging him for hand-outs. The money had taken over his life, and brought him problems he hadn't had before hitting it big.

     In late 2008, the confused, depressed, and vulnerable lottery winner met a 36-year-old predatory fortune-hunter named Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore who befriended him with the claim she was writing a book about how people take advantage of lottery winners. (Such as by claiming to be writing a book on how people take advantage of lottery winners.) Shakespeare fell for the ploy, and by early 2009, Moore, as his financial advisor, was looting what was left in his bank accounts.

     On April 6, 2009, the former millionaire, now with just $14,000 in the bank, disappeared. His family, however, didn't report him missing for seven months. During this period, Dorice Moore paid people to tell Shakespeare's mother that they had spotted her son around town in the company of a woman. Moore even paid one of the missing man's friends to send the mother a forged letter from Abraham. (Since he couldn't write, this should have raised eyebrows.) Moore also hired an impersonator to fake a phone call to Shakespeare's mom.

     By November of 2009, police started investigating Moore as a suspect in Shakespeare's disappearance. Officers, while searching her home in Plant City, Florida, found the missing man's mummified remains in her backyard beneath a thirty-by-thirty foot slab of concrete. The forensic  pathologist who performed the autopsy dug two .38-caliber slugs out of the corpse. Shakespeare had died after being shot twice in the chest.

     Following her arrest on February 3, 2010, Moore told her police interrogators that Shakespeare had been murdered by five shadowy drug dealers. She knew two of them by the names Ronald and Fearless. The others she didn't know. The detectives questioning her, because they had been investigating the murder, didn't buy the drug dealer story.

     The Moore murder trial got underway on November 29, 2012 in Tampa, Florida before Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Emmett Battles. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Jay Pruner said that Moore, after stealing $1.3 million from Shakespeare, shot him to death on April 6, 2009. She and an accomplice buried his body behind her house then poured concrete over his grave.

     In addressing the jurors, defense attorney Bryon Hileman said his client had been trying to protect Shakespeare's dwindling fortune from people trying to take advantage of him, and that the lottery winner had fallen in with dealers who had killed him over a drug deal. Regarding the prosecution's case, Hileman pointed out that the state could not link the defendant to the .38-caliber revolver used in the crime. Moreover, Dorice Moore had not confessed, and no eyewitnesses would be testifying against her. According to the defense attorney, the prosecution's case was weak and circumstantial.

     Following several days featuring prosecution witnesses who testified that the defendant had paid them to cover-up Shakespeare's disappearance, the state rested its case.

     Defense attorney Hileman did not put Dorice Moore on the stand to testify on her own behalf. During Hileman's closing argument to the jury, Moore sat at the defense table and sobbed loudly. On December 11, 2012, following a three-hour deliberation, the jury found Moore guilty of first-degree murder.

     Before sentencing the 40-year-old Moore to the mandatory life sentence without parole, Judge Battles called her "cold, calculating, and cruel." According to the judge, she was "probably the most manipulative person this court has ever seen."

     In less than three years, Abraham Shakespeare's good luck turned into a nightmare that led to his murder. This case is a good example how, when it comes to money, big winners can quickly turn into big losers. Mr. Shakespeare should have secured good financial advice, found a way to avoid all of the freeloading beggars, then paid someone to teach him how to read and write. 

The Violent Teenager

      "Children are so exposed to violence, and violence is so glorified and accepted in the media that they are desensitized to it. It's impossible to watch television for very long now without seeing murders, gunshots, assaults, and rape. Nothing is shocking to the youth of our culture anymore. Children are also desensitized and inspired by the violence that is around them in real life, especially the violence that is committed against them. When children are bullied and abused by their peers or parents, any violence that they express is going to be equal or greater than what they are going through.

      "Our nation does not have the same level of morality that it had in times past. We don't believe in a general sense of right and wrong anymore, and we don't hold ourselves accountable for our actions like we use to. The mind-set in our society now is to care only for yourself and your own gratification. When you don't value the life and rights of others, you don't view them as human, making it a lot easier to commit a violent act against them."

     This quote is from Luke Woodham, a depressed, angst-ridden teenager who, in October 1997 in the small town of Pearl, Mississippi, beat his mother to death with a baseball bat, shot two classmates to death, and injured seven others. Woodham's story can be found in  Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer (2009) by Phil Chalmers.

The Harvey Weinstein Story

The Harvey Weinstein story was crucial not just because of the specifics of this case but because there are Harvey Weinsteins everywhere, because these kinds of abuses of power are endemic, including in a lot of settings where you don't have marquee names to carry it into the headlines.

Ronan Farrow, NPR interview by Mary Louise Kelly, February 28, 2020

The Term "Cop"

There are two principle theories regarding the derivation of the term "cop" for police officer. Some word scholars believe it's an Anglo-Saxon verb dating back to the 1100s for catch, grab, or capture. Other linguists believe it developed as an acronym for Constable on Patrol. At one time it was considered a derogatory, disrespectful way to identify a police officer. Today that is not the case.

Uberto Eco's On The Student Thesis

A student [writing a thesis] makes hundreds of pages of photocopies and takes them home, and the manual labor he exercises in doing so gives him the impression that he possesses the work. Owning the photocopies exempts the student from actively reading them.

Uberto Eco, How to Write a Thesis, 1977. This writing and research guide is published in 17 languages and is currently in its 23rd edition.

Creative Nonfiction: Research Plus Storytelling

Creative nonfiction requires the skills of the storyteller and the research ability of the conscientious reporter. Writers of creative nonfiction must become instant authorities on the subjects of their articles or books. They must not only understand the facts and report them using quotes from authorities, they must also see beyond them to discover their underlying meaning, and they must dramatize that meaning in an interesting, evocative, informative way--just as a good teacher does.

Theodore A. Rees Cheney, Writing Creative Nonfiction, 2001 

The Tall Manuscript

It took me six years to finish my novel Legs. I wrote it eight times and seven times it was no good. Six times it was especially no good. The seventh time out it was pretty good, though it was way too long. My son was six years old and so was my novel and they were both the same height.

William Kennedy in The Writer's Mentor, Ian Jackman, editor, 2004 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Anthony Giancola: From Teacher to Cocaine-Crazed Spree Killer

     Anthony (Tony) Giancola, as a student at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Florida just south of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, showed a lot of promise. He played football, was class president, and had the lead role in the school play, South Pacific. Although accepted for admission at West Point, he attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

     Giancola began his teaching career in 1991 at the Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center, a K-12 school for at-risk children with special needs. By 2005, he was head of the school. In the summer of 2006, Pinellas School District administrators made Giancola principal at the Van Buren Middle School in Tampa. Although he made $90,000 a year, Giancola had a $100-a-day cocaine habit. In February 2007, the principal purchased cocaine, in his school office, from an undercover narcotics officer. After the drug transaction, the officer arrested Giancola and searched his car where he found marijuana and two glass pipes containing traces of cocaine. The narcotics arrest ended Giancola's career, and led to a year in jail followed by three years of probation.

     In 2009, Giancola's wife divorced him, and a year later, in St. Petersburg, police arrested him as he sat in his car at three in the morning. He was charged with violating his probation, prowling, and loitering. At this point in his life, Tony Giancola was a mere shadow of his former self, and living on the fringes of society.

     On Friday, June 22, 2012, at 10:45 AM in Lealman, Florida, a Pinellas County town 20 miles west of Tampa, Giancola walked into a group home and stabbed 27-year-old Justin Vandenburgh who died at the scene. Next, he stabbed Mary Allis, 59, who would die later that day at a local hospital. Giancola, using the same knife, attacked 25-year-old Whitney Gilbert, and Janice Rhoden, 44. These women survived their stab wounds.

     After stabbing four people at the group home, Giancola drove to nearby Pinellas Park, and at the Kenvin's Motel, attacked the man and woman who ran the place with a hammer. The married 57-year-olds were taken to the hospital and treated for serious injuries. Both of these victims, however, survived.

     At 11:30 on the morning of the Kenvin's Motel rampage, Giancola pulled his Ford sedan up to a house in Penellas Park and asked a group of people sitting on the front porch where he could meet a prostitute. When they told him to get lost, he plowed his car into the porch, injuring three women and a man. A witness at the scene took down the license number to his car.

     As Giancola drove from the hit and run scene, he struck a 13-year-old boy riding a bicycle. Kole Price, who received minor injuries from the collision, was struck again by Giancola who was intentionally trying to run him down. The boy found protection behind a telephone pole.

     Giancola drove to a nearby Egg Plotter restaurant where he called his mother. Shortly after the call, she and his sister put the blood-covered Giancola into their car and drove him to the mother's house. When Giancola climbed into the car he said, "You'll be proud of me, I just killed 10 drug dealers."

     When Giancola and the two women arrived at his mother's house, she called the sheriff's office. But before deputies arrived at the dwelling, he was gone. A short time later police officers found Giancola hiding in a clump of brush next to a canal in St. Petersburg.

     In the course of Giancola's crime spree, the former school principal had stabbed four people, killing two of them. He attacked the two motel operators with a hammer, injured four people on the porch, and ran over a boy on a bicycle. The Pinellas County prosecutor charged Tony Giancola with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and several counts of aggravated assault. If convicted as charged, Giancola faced the death penalty.

     Other than being high on cocaine, investigators don't know why Giancola attacked these eleven people. There was nothing connecting the groups of victims to each other, or to Giancola. Police believed the murders and assaults were spontaneous and random.

     In September 2013, to avoid death by lethal injection, Anthony Giancola was allowed to plead guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to several life sentences, terms to run consecutively.

Rationalizing Police Perjury

Police throughout the United States have been caught fabricating, planting, and manipulating evidence to obtain convictions where cases would otherwise be very weak. Some authorities regard police perjury as so rampant that it can be considered a "subcultural norm rather than an individual aberration" of police officers. Large-scale investigations of police units in almost every major American city have documented massive evidence of tampering, abuse of the arresting power, and discriminatory enforcement of laws. There also appears to be widespread police perjury in the preparation of reports because police know these reports will be used in plea bargaining. Officers often justify false and embellished reports on the grounds that it metes out a rough justice to defendants who are guilty of wrongdoing but may be exonerated on technicalities.

Dale Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, 2012

Writing a Short Story Versus a Novel

A novel is so much more difficult than a short story. If you run, it's almost like you can think through your whole short story before you finish running. With a novel, it's almost impossible to do that.

Joyce Carol Oates, Where I've Been, And Where I'm going, 1999

Kurt Vonnegut on Male Novelists Of the Past

Male novelists don't slug and insult each other the way they used to, since they aren't a bunch of drunks any more. They would be drinking less even if it weren't for the sudden humorlessness of the judiciary with respect to driving while under the influence. Not just male writers, but male artists of every sort, are no longer pressured to prove that they are real men, even though they have artistic sensibilities. As I've said elsewhere, my father was a gun nut like Ernest Hemingway, mainly to prove that he wasn't effeminate, even though he was an architect and a painter. He didn't get drunk and slug people. Shooting animals was enough. But male American artists don't even bother to shoot off guns anymore. This is good.

Kurt Vonnegut in Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, 2012

What Hasn't Been Done in Horror Fiction?

Writing horror isn't so easy. With any type of fiction, it's difficult to think of something that hasn't already been done. With horror fiction, it's especially true. Creepy basements, loud noises from the attic, hidden rooms, Indian burial grounds, old hotels, multiple personality disorder, etc.--it's all been done before, and it's all out there. These cliches shouldn't restrain you, however. They've simply defined the space you're working in. You know what's out there, now create your own story.

Cris Freese, writersdigest.com, October 25, 2013 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Jeffrey Ferguson's One-Drug Execution

     A few years ago, anti-capital punishment activists and death house lawyers began making a fuss over the fact that several states had recently executed their condemned prisoners with a single toxic drug, pentobarbital. In the past, executioners used a three-drug cocktail. Because the other two drugs were manufactured in countries that oppose the death penalty, these chemicals were no long available for this purpose in the U.S. Since the rope, the electric chair, the firing squad and the gas chamber were no longer execution options, states that still executed perpetrators of the most heinous murders had no choice but to make do with pentobarbital. This fact enraged anti-capital punishment advocates who considered the one-drug send-off as cruel and unusual punishment. But this was nothing new. Capital punishment opponents object to the death penalty, period. They would complain if rapists and killers were tickled to death.

     In Missouri, when judges and the governor were confronted with the choice of executing a prisoner with pentobarbital or commuting his sentence to life, they chose the deadly dose. This was not good news for Jeffrey Ferguson, a 59-year-old kidnapper, rapist, and murderer who had been living on Missouri's death row for nineteen years.

     At eleven o'clock on the night of February 10, 1989, in St. Charles, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, 34-year-old Jeffrey Ferguson and his friend Kenneth Ousley pulled into a Shell gas station not far from Interstate 70. Across the street at the Mobile station, a 17-year-old employee named Kelli Hall was out front checking the fuel level in one of the station's underground gas tanks. The teenager caught Ferguson's eye.

     Ferguson, with Ousley in his Chevrolet Blazer, pulled into the Mobile station. Ferguson got out of his SUV, approached the girl, and ordered her at gunpoint into the vehicle. The two men, with the girl in the backseat, drove off with the intention of raping and killing her.

     In a remote area a few miles from St. Charles, Ferguson and Ousley tortured, raped, then murdered Kelli Hall by shooting her in the head with a .32-caliber handgun. They dumped her body in a farmer's field in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

     Two weeks after the senseless, random lust killing, the owner of the St. Louis County farm stumbled across the victim's corpse near a shed. The teenager was naked except for a pair of socks.

     In1993, Kenneth Ousley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole. Two years later, Ferguson went on trial for kidnapping, rape, and first-degree murder. Taking the stand on his own behalf, the sociopath claimed that he could not have participated in the rape and murder because at the time he was passed out drunk in his truck. This story contradicted the defendant's confession to detectives shortly after his arrest.

     The jury found Ferguson guilty as charged and recommended the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to death in December 1995. (At the time most Americans were wrapped up in the O. J. Simpson double murder case.)

     After he had been in prison for awhile, Ferguson expressed deep remorse for raping and murdering the 17-year-old girl. He also became religious, counseled inmates, and helped start a prison hospice program. All the while his team of attorneys appealed his case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost all of their appeals.

     Shortly after midnight on March 26, 2014, following a burst of last-minute pleas for a stay of execution, the executioner at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri injected Ferguson with the lethal dose of pentobarbital. While several death penalty sob sisters pointed out in horror that Ferguson did not die quickly, the drug eventually did its job.

     St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, in speaking to reporters following the execution, said that Ferguson's good deeds in prison did not make up for what he had done to that innocent teenager. The prosecutor called Ferguson's crime "unspeakable," a word Ferguson's supporters would use to describe his death.

Bargained Pleas

People think that plea bargaining is a dirty word: an automatic insult to victims and defendants. I guess that's because of the way it's usually done. Prosecutors can plea-bargain for all sorts of wrong reasons that all add up to the same thing: conviction rates. Some of the most obscene pleas I've ever seen a prosecutor take have been done in the name of sparing the victim the hardship of testifying; some of them with the victim in the courtroom trying to protest with no one listening. [At least ninety percent of all convictions are acquired through the plea bargaining process.]

Alice Vachss, Sex Crimes, 1993

Book Clubs

I love book clubs. I love reading for them, I love talking to them, and if I had my choice I'd probably do nothing but visit them to promote my books. Where else do you find people who have already made a commitment to read your book, and to read it closely enough to discuss it in a knowledgeable fashion with their friends? The best insights I've ever been offered about my work have come from book club members. In a world full of readings attended by the inevitable, random 5 to10 bookstore browsers and 20-year-old assistant night managers who consistently mangle the title of your book, book clubs are an oasis of intelligent thought and discussion.

Kevin Baker, The New York Times Book Review, January 12, 2014

Too Many Flashbacks

I'm not a fan of flashbacks. As a reader I find a story riddled with flashbacks confusing and annoying. If you get the urge to insert a lot of flashbacks into your fiction, stop writing and take a nap. If you still insist on putting them into your story, go ahead. But if they don't work, and on publication you are criticized for this decision, flashback to when you made this mistake, then never to it again.

Jacqueline Susann's Literary Fantasy

Jacqueline Susann, a long forgotten romance novelist responsible for such badly written  drivel as Vally of the Dolls, once said, "Yeah, I think I'll be remembered. I think I will be remembered as the voice of the 1960s--Andy Warhol, the Beatles and me." Oh how we kid ourselves.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Suspicious Deaths of Max Shacknai and Rebecca Zahau

     Rebecca Zahau was born on March 15, 1979 in the town of Falam in northwestern Burma. Her family moved to Nepal and then to Germany before coming to the United States in 2000. The family settled in Saint Joseph, Missouri.

     In 2008, Zahau was living in Scottsdale, Arizona and married to a man named Neil Nalepa. At this time, she started dating 50-year-old Jonah Shacknai, the CEO and founder of Medicis Pharmaceutical Company. The unmarried mogul with a pair of former wives, lived in Scottsdale. In 2011, Shacknai moved into a historic mansion in Coronado, California that had been built in 1908 by John D. Spreckel. Mr. Spreckel had owned the nearby Hotel del Coronado as well as other southern California real estate.  The 13,000 square-foot dwelling featured 27 rooms and a guest house.

     In February 2011, Rebecca divorced Neil Nalepa and moved into the San Diego County mansion with Jonah Shacknai and Max, his 6-year-old son from his second wife. The 32-year-old live-in girlfriend worked as a technician in an ophthalmologist's office.

     On July 11, 2011, Rebecca Zahau and her visiting 13-year-old sister Xena were in the Coronado mansion looking after 6-year-old Max Aaron Shacknai. That morning, Rebecca called 911 to report an accident. Max, while running down an elevated hallway or balcony above the lobby-like entrance to the house, had gone over the banister.  Next to his body lay the large chandelier that had hung from the ceiling not far from where the boy had fallen. Investigators with the Coronado Police Department assumed the boy had grabbed the chandelier to break his fall. He suffered spinal cord injuries and serious head trauma and had slipped into a coma.

     The next day, Rebecca Zahau drove Xena to the airport for her flight back to Saint Joseph, Missouri. She also picked-up Jonah Shacknai's brother Adam who had arrived on a flight from Memphis. That evening, Zahau, Adam, Jonah, and a friend of Jonah's ate dinner at a McDonald's. Adam and Rebecca returned to the mansion while Jonah and Max's mother, Dina Shacknai (nee Romano), sat at their son's bedside. Later that night, Jonah called Rebecca to report that Max wasn't going to make it. They were taking the boy off life-support.

     The next day, July 13, 2011 at 6:45 in the morning, Adam Shacknai called 911 and reported that he had discovered Rebecca Zahau hanging by the neck from the balcony. She was nude. Acting on instructions from the 911 dispatcher, Adam cut down the body.

     Deputies from the San Diego Sheriff's Office found the dead woman lying on the back lawn of the mansion. She had been gagged with a blue, long-sleeve cotton T-shirt that was also wrapped around her neck with the sleeves tied into a double knot. Her hands were bound behind her back with a length of red rope. Her ankles were also tied together with a piece of the red cordage. On a bedroom door not far from where Adam Shacknai found Rebecca hanging, someone in cursive writing using black paint had written: "She saved him you can save her."

     Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the San Diego County Medical Examiner, performed Rebecca Zahau's autopsy. He found four hemorrhages under her scalp (but no lacerations), and evidence of tape residue on her legs. The forensic pathologist found traces of blood on her legs as well.

     On July 16, 2011, Max Shacknai died. Ten days later, Dr. Lucas announced that the boy had died from brain swelling and cardiac arrest. The medical examiner determined the manner of death to be accidental. Dr. Lucas's ruling in the death was immediately questioned by a trauma physician who had treated the boy. In this doctor's opinion, someone had tried to suffocate the child before throwing him off the balcony. In other words, he had been murdered.

      With news of Rebecca Zahau's bizarre death, people began speculating about whether or not a murderer had staged a suicide. Some of these commentators said that no woman had ever taken off her clothes, gagged herself, bound her hands and ankles, then hanged herself. Late in July, 2011, San Diego Sheriff's Office Sergeant Roy Frank said this to a reporter: "There are documentations of incidents throughout the country where people have secured their feet and hands to commit suicide. They do it to make certain they can't escape if they change their minds."

     On September 2, 2011, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore, amid rampant speculation of foul play, announced that Rebecca Zahau's death was a suicide. Distraught over Max Shacknai's accident on her watch, she had hanged herself. The sheriff's office had therefore closed the case.

     Four days after Sheriff Gore's press conference, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, in response to a massive wave of skepticism regarding his manner of death ruling, issued the following statement regarding the hemorrhages under Zahau's scalp: "Because there was evidence that she went over the balcony in a non-vertical way she may have struck her head on the balcony on the way down." In addressing the blood on Zahau's legs, the forensic pathologist identified the cause as either her menstrual period, or an intrauterine device. The medical examiner offered no explanation for the presence of the tape residue on her legs.

     The next day, September 7, 2011, Dr. Maurice Godwin, a private forensic consultant from Fayetteville, North Carolina with a Ph.D in criminal psychology, told a reporter that Zahau's death had all the earmarks of a "ritualistic killing," and that the suicide had been staged. In Dr. Godwin's opinion, someone had dazed Zahau with a blow to the head, then tossed her off the balcony.

     In the same newspaper article, Dr. Lawrence Kobilnsky, a DNA expert who taught at City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, opined that the medical examiner's suicide manner of death determination was "premature." Dr. Kobilnsky said he believed that someone had delivered a substantial blow to Zahau's head. The forensic scientist said, "The chances of bumping into the railing, going over the balcony and hitting your head four times is highly unlikely."

     Dr. Werner Spitz, a highly respected forensic pathologist, in the same piece, said he thought the San Diego medical examiner's manner of death ruling in the case made sense.

     In the summer of 2011, Rebecca Zahau's family hired a lawyer from Seattle named Anne Bremner to represent their interests in the case and to pressure the San Diego Sheriff's Office to re-open the investigation of Zahau's death. According to one of Zahau's sisters, a nurse practitioner who had spoken to her almost every day, Rebecca had no psychiatric history, and had never attempted suicide. Attorney Bremner, pursuant to the family's quest to have the case re-investigated, asked the San Diego County District Attorney and the state Attorney General to get involved. The district attorney's office and the attorney general, declined.

     On November 15, 2011, Dr. Cyril Wecht, the celebrity forensic pathologist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show to voice his professional opinion regarding the cause and manner of Rebecca Zahau's strange and sudden death. Dr. Wecht, at the behest of attorney Anne Bremner, had performed a second autopsy of the victim's exhumed body. While he found Dr. Lucas' initial autopsy thorough, Dr. Wecht questioned the medical examiner's suicide manner of death determination. Wecht said the four hemorrhages beneath the scalp could not have been caused by hanging. "You have to have blunt force trauma for that," he said. "You have something of a rounded, smooth surface that impacts against the scalp, this not producing a laceration." According to Dr. Wecht, Zahau could have been knocked unconscious, which would explain why her body did not have any defense wounds from a struggle. The former coroner of Allegheny County agreed that the woman had died from hanging, but believed her manner of death should be changed from "suicidal" to "undetermined."

     Dina Shacknai, Max Shacknai's mother, in order to acquire the boy's autopsy photographs, filed a suit against the San Diego Medical Examiner's Office on April 12, 2012. Dina and her supporters were looking for proof that someone had murdered the 6-year-old boy. They did not believe the wounds on his head had been caused by the fall. (It's not clear if they suspected Rebecca or her sister Xena, or what motive they assigned to the homicide.)

     On July 16, 2012, the one-year anniversary of Max Shacknai's death, Dina Shacknai and her attorney, Angela Hallier, held a press conference in Phoenix. According to the lawyer, the family possessed information from "privately retained experts" that proved the 6-year-old had been murdered at the Coronado mansion.

     On August 6, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coronado Police Department confirmed they had met with Dina Shacknai and her attorney regarding Max Shacknai's death. Police investigators agreed to read the report containing the opinions of forensic scientists who believed the boy could have been murdered. One of those experts, Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist with the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office, reportedly believed that Max was too small to have gone over the balcony railing. Moreover, she believed his head injuries were not consistent with a fall.

     So, what happened to Max Shacknai and Rebecca Zahau? Within a period of two days, they both went over different balconies in the same house. What were the odds of that? If Rebecca had killed herself over the boy's fall, why did she do it in such a bizarre and suspicious way? And what was the meaning of the message painted on the bedroom door? And who wrote it?

     Assuming that Max had been thrown off the balcony to his eventual death, who did it, and why? If Rebecca had been murdered, was it in revenge for the boy's homicide? And finally, will these questions ever be answered?

     On September 10, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coronado police announced there would be no reinvestigation of 6-year-old Max Shacknai's death. 
     In July 2013, Rebecca Zahau's family, believing that her death was the result of criminal wrongdoing, filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against Adam Schackai. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant battered Rebecca then hanged her from the mansion's balcony.

     On March 11, 2016, following a flurry of defense motions in response to the plaintiffs' suit, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial. 
     In January 2019, the jury in the wrongful death case found Adam Schackai responsible for Rebecca Zahau's death. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $5 million in damages.

The Boy in the Claw Machine

     A 3-year-old boy who went missing from his home was found inside a toy claw machine in a bowling alley across the street. The boy's mother called the Lincoln, Nebraska Police Department on April 15, 2014 to report her son had gotten out of their apartment while she was in the bathroom. Police canvassed the area and were notified by a man that a boy was inside the claw machine.

     The boy could only have gotten into the machine through the prize hole."You have to weave your way in and out, so he had to work pretty hard to get in there," said Jim Lakey, the owner of the machine. The boy was not paying any attention to anyone outside of the machine "because he was just picking up stuffed animals and putting them down," Rachell Hildreth, a bartender at Madsen's Bowling Alley and Billiards, said.

     So did they have to use quarters to get him out? No, Lakey came to the rescue with a key to the machine. The boy was uninjured and allowed to keep one of the stuffed toys from the machine.

Jolie Lee, "Missing Nebraska Boy, 3, Found in Toy Claw Machine," USA Today, April 16, 2014 

Gustave Flaubert's Tortured Work Habits

I have just spend a good week, alone like a hermit. I abandoned myself to a frenzy of literature; I got up at midday, I went to bed at four in the morning. I smoked fifteen pipes in a day; I have written eight pages.

Gustave Flaubert in Writer's On Writing, edited by Walter Allen, 1948. The French novelist (1821-1880) is known for his masterpiece, Madame Bovary 1857.

Stephen King on Active Writing

     Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive tense.

     The timid fellow writes, "The meeting will be held at seven o'clock" because that somehow says to him, "Put it this way and people will believe you really know." Purge this thought! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put the meeting in charge! Write, "The meeting's at seven." There, by God! Don't you feel better?

     I won't say there's no place for the passive tense. Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa is a fair way to put this, although "was carried" and "was placed" still irk me. I accept them but I don't embrace them. What I would embrace is, "Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa." Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It's dead.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Celina Cass Murder Case

     In July 2011, eleven-year-old Celina Cass lived in West Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a village of 800 in the northern part of the state not far from the Vermont/Canadian border. She resided in an apartment with her mother Louisa, her stepfather Wendell Noyes, her 13-year-old sister Kayla, and 22-year-old Kevin Mullaney, the son of her mother's former boyfriend.

    Luisa Cass, on July 26, 2011, reported Celina missing. The mother last saw her daughter at nine the previous night before Celina and Kayla slept over at a friend's house. (Details of what happened that night and exactly when Celina went missing are sketchy.)

     Celina's disappearance triggered a massive search that involved 100 police officers, hundreds of searchers, police dogs, and thousands of missing person posters. The FBI posted a $25,000 reward.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of August 1, 2011, a person spotted a body at the edge of the Connecticut River about a half mile from Celina Cass' apartment. The corpse, found at a popular fishing spot near a dam and a railroad trestle, turned out to be the missing girl. (For some reason, emergency personnel did not pull the body out of the river until ten-thirty that night.)

     The medical examiner, without revealing the cause of death, ruled the case a criminal homicide. Following the autopsy, a mortician cremated the corpse.

     Within a few months following the murder, Louisa Cass and Wendell Noyes, her 47-year-old husband, separated. In 2003, psychiatrists diagnosed Noyes with paranoid schizophrenia and committed him to a state mental facility. The diagnosis and commitment took place after Noyes broke into the home of an ex-girlfriend and threatened to hurt her. After that commitment and release, Noyes was in and out of several psychiatric wards.

     On January 10, 2012, police arrested Kevin Mullaney, the son of Louisa Cass' former boyfriend. The 22-year-old stood accused of a variety of crimes that included forging Lousia Cass' signature on a $250 check. Officers booked him into the Coos County Jail on charges of receiving stolen property, reckless conduct, and possession of a weapon by a felon.

     A jury, on June 12, 2012, found Mullaney guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to two to six years in prison.

     In December 2013, with the Cass murder still unsolved, the apartment she and her family resided in went up in flames. No one was hurt. (The cause and origin of that fire was not publicly revealed.) Louisa and her daughter Kayla moved in with Kevin Mullaney's father.

     Residents of the New Hampshire community were frustrated that the Cass murder case remained unsolved. New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young told an Associated Press reporter in July 2015 that the case was still being actively investigated. However, Marcia Laro, the victim's paternal grandmother, told that reporter that she hadn't spoken to an investigator for well over a year.

     The New Hampshire Attorney General's office, on June 20, 2016, announced that detectives working on the Cass case had arrested Wendell Noyes, the victim's stepfather. Louisa Cass, the girl's mother, in speaking to a local television reporter, said, "I hope he rots."

    In February 2017, the state attorney general's office dropped the murder charge against the 54-year-old Wendell Noyes on the ground he was mentally unfit to stand trial. Instead, Noyes was committed to the state psychiatric hospital for a minimum of five years. If at any point the patient's doctors consider him mentally fit, the murder charge can be refiled. With a long history of mental illness, it is unlikely Noyes will ever be tried for this horrific murder.

The Banality of Evil Doers

In real life, evil is usually quite banal. Serial killers, for example, are more often than not ordinary looking and acting people. These killers often have regular jobs, families, and hobbies. On the surface they do not stand out. You could talk to a serial killer in line at Walmart and not have the faintest idea that you are conversing with a man who tortures and murders women. Evil is not only banal, it is all around us like the air we breathe. In crime fiction, however, the super villain cannot be banal. Hannibal Lecter is a good example of a fictitious serial killer. The bad guys in novels must be insidiously interesting or in some way weird. But in reality, Hannibal Lecter murder types are exceedingly rare. The banality of evil reality makes solving these murders all the more difficult.

Government as Organized Crime

When you break it all down, government is nothing more than a giant bribery, propaganda, and lying machine; beautifully orchestrated corruption run by opposing crime families headquartered in Washington, D.C. and state capitals across the country. Any person running for office who promises to "drain the swamp" is either a liar or a fool. The only thing that gets "drained" is the taxpayer.

Fictitious Versus Real Crime

No one is interested in real victims, or real criminals. An imaginary crime is much more convincing; reality is too real. Readers can only identify with an invented crime, only on paper can evil excite them. [In reality, true crime is a popular genre, one appreciated mostly by women.]

Dubravka Urgrsic, Thank You For Not Reading, 2006

Involuntary Writer's Block

I was most happy when pen and paper were taken from me and I was forbidden from doing anything. I had no anxiety about doing nothing by my own fault, my conscience was clear, and I was happy. This was when I was in prison.

Daniil Kharms (1905-1942), Today I Write Nothing: The Selected Writings, (2009), Kharms was a Soviet-era poet.

Young Adult Crime Novels

One of the problems with thrillers or crime stories where children or young people are the lead characters is that ingenious methods need to be thought up to explain why adults do not take over the whole investigation. A major part of your skill as a children's author of such plot-driven books will be to come up with plausible reasons why your protagonists do not tell any adults what is going on, and concocting events that are viable and reasonable in a world fraught with "stranger dangers." [Nancy Drew type books weren't believable then, and are almost impossible to pull off today. In other words, there is no longer a place for this genre.]

Allan Frewin Jones and Lesley Pollinger, Writing for Children, 1996 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Erika Murray's Squalid House of Horrors

     In 2001, 17-year-old Erika Murray met a 25-year-old McDonald's employee from Framingham, Massachusetts named Ramon Rivera. They moved into his parents' home where less than a year later she gave birth to their first child. Three years later, when they were expecting their second child, they moved into a home a few blocks from the police department in Blackstone, Massachusetts, a town of 10,000 on the Rhode Island state line 50 miles southwest of Boston. The dwelling was owned by Rivera's sister who resided there as well. At that time Rivera had a job at a Staples office supply store as a sales clerk.

     In 2006, Rivera's sister moved out of the house. A year after that, a social worker with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) visited the house on St. Paul Street following a complaint of filthy living conditions. The DCF employee recommended some household upgrades. Because the children didn't seem in danger, the social worker closed the case.

     After Ramon Rivera made it clear to Erika Murray that he didn't want any more children, Erika, in 2011, gave birth to a girl. Somehow she had managed to keep the birth a secret. To conceal the true identify of the infant, she told Rivera she was babysitting the child for another woman. In April 2014, Murray, in secret, gave birth to the couple's fourth child. She explained away that baby with the same babysitting story. As a result of the secrecy surrounding the births of her last two children, there are no official records of their existence.

     On August 28, 2014, the second oldest child in the house went to a neighbor and asked, "How do you get a baby to stop crying?"

     The neighbor entered the house on St. Paul Street with the 10-year-old boy and was shocked by what she encountered. The crying 5-month-old was covered in feces. Inside the dwelling there were piles of trash one to two feet deep that included used diapers. The neighbor called the police.

      Police officers and DCF personnel found the interior of the Murray/Rivera house infested with flies, various other bugs, and mice. The four children were immediately removed from the dwelling and placed into temporary foster care.

     Officers also found, in the basement of the house, a marijuana plant beneath a grow-light. Officers also came across jars of marijuana buds and bags of cannabis. Officers booked Rivera into the Worcester County Jail on charges of possession and cultivation of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

     On Wednesday night, September 10, 2014, police officers in Hazmat suits armed with a search warrant returned to the 1,500 square foot house. Amid the squalor they found a dead dog and two dead cats. In a closet they discovered the remains of a baby. The following day, searchers recovered the bodies of two more infants.

     On September 10, at his marijuana charges arraignment, the judge released the 37-year-old Rivera from custody on his own recognizance.
 
     The younger children, the two born in secret, had spent their lives inside that house. The 3-year-old had poor muscle tone and couldn't walk. The baby showed signs of having lived entirely in the dark and had maggots in its ears.

     Murray's court-appointed attorney, Keith Halpern, said this to reporters about his client: "She was frozen in this nightmare. She couldn't get out of it." The attorney telegraphed his defense by suggesting that Murray was mentally ill.

     On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Worcester County prosecutor John Bradley announced that at least two of the infants whose remains were found in Murray's house had been alive for some period of time. The children were dressed in onesies and diapers. A third infant was found in a backpack.

     The judge, at Murray's October 14 bail hearing set the 31-year-old mother's bond at $1 million. Earlier, at her arraignment, she had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     Murray's boyfriend and the father of her children, Ramon Rivera III, claimed that he did not know about the dead infants. The authorities did not charge him in connection with the gruesome discoveries inside his house. According to the prosecutor, Murray had instructed her two oldest children to lie to their father about the babies.

     On December 29, 2014, a grand jury sitting in Worcester, Massachusetts indicted Erika Murray on two counts of murder, one count of fetal death concealment related to the remains of the three babies, and two counts of assault and battery in connection with the neglected and abused children. According to prosecutor John Bradley, two of the dead babies had lived from one week to a month.

     In speaking to reporters, the prosecutor said that the defendant had admitted to investigators that knowing that her boyfriend didn't want any more children after the first two, they continued to have unprotected sex. She gave birth to all of the babies in the home's only bathroom, and birthed the children herself. She hid their tiny corpses among the trash in the squalid dwelling.

     At her arraignment hearing, Murray pleaded not guilty to all five of the grand jury charges. Her attorney, Keith Halpern, argued that the prosecution had no physical evidence regarding how long the babies had been alive or how they had died. He said, "The forensic pathologist testified before the grand jury that it was impossible to determine the cause of death of all three dead infants. The evidence of severe harm to the younger children is clear. The issue in this case is Ms. Murray's state of mind. The children were not the only ones that never left that house. She lived in those conditions for years and hardly ever left that house."

     Outside the courthouse, in speaking to reporters, the defense attorney said that his client had laid one of the babies down for a nap, came back an hour or two later and found the infant dead.

     On December 22, 2016, defense attorney Helpern argued at a preliminary hearing that the police search of the defendant's house on September 10, 2014 exceeded the scope of the warrant and was therefore unconstitutional. As a result, according to the attorney, the evidence recovered pursuant to that search was inadmissible

     On March 13, 2017, Judge Janet Kenton-Walker denied the defense motion to suppress the evidence produced by the search in question. That meant that the murder case would proceed to trial. In the meantime, Murray was held, without bond, at the Western Massachusetts Regional Correctional Center in Worcester. 
     In May 2019, Erika Murray was allowed to plead guilty to child assault and animal abuse. Judge Kenton-Walker sentenced her to six to eight years in prison with credit for the four plus years served while awaiting trial. Following her release from prison, Murray would be on probation for five years during which time she could not be alone with children under the age of ten.

Inadequate Prison Terms

Inadequate prison terms have become a major problem. A Brookings Institute study finds that, on average, the serious criminal commits twelve serious crimes a year. That means that a criminal sentenced to ten years and let out in four will, on average, commit seventy-two violent crimes during the time he should have been put in prison. Other studies put the number of violent crimes per year per criminal even higher. Newspapers routinely tell of murders committed by men out on probation, parole, or released early for good behavior.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996

Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"

     In the movie "Infamous," there is a scene in which Harper Lee [a novelist] and Truman Capote are discussing the book he is writing about the Clutter murders, the brutal slaying of a Kansas family in 1959.

     When Capote refers to his book as a novel, Lee is perplexed, telling him a book is either fiction or non-fiction. Capote disagrees--he wants to reveal the intentions, emotions and thoughts of the real-life characters he portrays, giving it the depth of a novel.

     His book, In Cold Blood, was subsequently recognized as an exemplar of a new genre--creative non-fiction.

Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn, August 17, 2017

The Role of True Journalism

News carries with it a promise of transparency, a light that can be shined into previously dark corners. It is far from a coincidence that the rise of the popular press spelled eventual doom for monarchs of all types. Once the news becomes democratized, governance is sure to follow. [It's no secret that in America, modern bureaucrats and politicians loath the idea of a free press and free speech. Those in power do not like transparency. Government is all about dark corners, and secrets. Many Americans believe that members of the so-called mainstream media are nothing more than propagandists for people in power. Instead of journalistic watchdogs they have become establishment guard dogs that attack perceived enemies of the state.]

David Carr, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014 

The Complete Novelist

Some writers have the ability to come up with interesting story ideas, original characters and exciting bits of dialogue. But they are unable to convert these concepts into the written word. Other novelists write beautifully, but lack the imagination or experience to come up with anything interesting or new. The complete novelist can do both.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Parents Versus State: Control Over a Child's Healthcare

     In Ohio, doctors at Akron Children's Hospital, in April 2013, diagnosed 10-year-old Sarah Hershberger with lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Amish girl's parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, when told that 85 percent of the patients treated for this illness survive, agreed to a two-year chemotherapy program. After the first round of the chemotherapy, the tumors on Sarah's neck, chest and kidneys were diminished.

     In June 2013, after a second round of chemotherapy treatment made their daughter extremely ill, the Hershbergers decided to stop the treatment. They took this action against the advice of cancer doctors who warned them that without the chemotherapy, Sarah would die.

     The hospital authorities, believing they were morally and legally bound to continue treating the girl, went to court to take away the parents' right to make medical decisions on their daughter's behalf.

     Andy and Anna Hershberger, in September 2013, took Sarah to an alternative cancer treatment center in Central America where doctors put the girl on a regimen of herbs and vitamins. When the family returned to the United States, hospital scans showed no signs of the lymphoma.

     On October 13, 2013, an Ohio appellate court judge granted Maria Schimer, an attorney and licensed nurse, limited guardianship over Sarah Hershberger. The guardianship included the power to make medical decisions on her behalf over the objections of her parents.

     Shortly after the court ruling, the guardian sent a taxi out to the family farm near the village of Spencer, Ohio to fetch Sarah and take her to the hospital in Akron for additional chemotherapy. When the cab arrived at the Medina County home located 35 miles southwest of the Cleveland metropolitan area, the family was gone.

     A few weeks later, pursuant to a welfare check on Sarah, deputy sheriffs went to the farm and found the place still unoccupied. And no one in the Amish community seemed to know where the Hershbergers had gone. If members of this Amish enclave knew the family's whereabouts, they weren't cooperating with the authorities. Attorneys for the Hershberger family appealed the guardianship ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court on issues related to religious freedom.

     If Sarah Hershberger's fate remained in her parents' hands, and she died from the cancer, Mr. and Mrs. Hershberger could face negligent homicide charges. Moreover, people who helped them avoid the authorities could be charged as accomplices to the crime. The right of religious freedom does not match  the right of a child to receive life-saving healthcare. Being given vitamins and herbs as a cancer cure, while less painful than the immediate aftermath of chemotherapy, did not qualify, in the eyes of the medical profession and the law, as adequate healthcare.

     On December 6, 2013, according to media reports, the court appointed guardian decided not to force Sarah Hershberger to undergo further chemotherapy treatments. The family's whereabouts were still unknown.

     In October 2015, MRIs and blood work performed at the Cleveland Clinic revealed that Sarah Hershberrger showed no signs of cancer, and appeared to be in perfect health. As a result of these medical tests, the family judge ended the court-ordered guardianship of the Amish girl. 

An Attempt to Discourage Police Abuse Complaints

      In 2014, Kansas lawmakers considered a bill that would make it much harder for citizens to report instances of police abuse, while simultaneously putting internal affairs investigations at even greater risk of succumbing to police corruption. House Bill No. 2698 required citizens to swear an affidavit before submitting a complaint against an officer. If any part of the complaint was later shown to be erroneous, the complainant could be prosecuted for false reporting, a felony. 

      The bill also established that police officers accused of abuse would not be questioned until after they had reviewed the complaint. Ironically, that was the opposite of how police officers interrogate criminal suspects. Criminal suspects are never given the opportunity to review the entire case against them before being questioned.

     The bill also mandated that all police abuse investigations were final. If one police agency found a police officer innocent, no other agency could  review the case--even if the latter agency was a higher authority, such as the state police.

     Under the U.S. Constitution, the citizen is supposed to be protected from the government. This proposed law and others like it, protected the state against the citizen.

     The bill did not become law.

Developing a Sense of Novelistic Place

Many novelists avoid laying out the setting because they fear boring their readers, but the lack of vivid setting may in turn cause boredom. Without a strong sense of place, it's hard to achieve suspense and excitement--which depend on the reader's sensation of being right there, where the action takes place. When descriptions of places drag, the problem usually lies not in the setting, but in presenting the setting too slowly. Make your descriptions dynamic and quick; give bits of setting concurrently with character and action.

Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer's Workshop, 1995

Novelists' Work Methods

     The study I've made of the writing methods of others has led me to the belief that everybody in this business spends a lifetime finding the method that suits him best, changing it over the years as he himself evolves, adapting it again and again to suit the special requirements of each particular book. What works with one person won't necessarily work for another; what works for one book won't necessarily work with another.

     Some novelists outline briefly, some in great detail, and a few produce full-fledged treatments that run half the length of the final book itself. Others don't outline at all. Some of us revise as we go along. Others do separate drafts. Some of us write sprawling first drafts and wind up cutting them to the bone. Others rarely cut three paragraphs overall.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979

Novel Versus Short Story Endings

The ending of the modern short story doesn't require a long summary of what happened "afterwards." The novel, though, presents a slightly different case. After having spent so long with the characters, the reader of a novel has become so interested in them, almost fond of them as acquaintances, that he is not adverse to a long "afterward" or "conclusion" that tells how they married, settled down and raised children and grew old together.

Rust Hills, Writing in General And The Short Story In Particular, 1987 

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Selena Irene York Poisoned Smoothie Case

     Selena Irene York and her teenage daughter, after falling on hard times, were taken in by 79-year-old Ed Zurbuchen who let them live in his Vernal, Utah home. On September 29, 2008, Mr. Zurbuchen's 33-year-old house guest gave him a peach smoothie. Shortly after drinking it, he was taken to the hospital complaining of dizziness, numbness of the face, and speech difficulties. At first, doctors thought he had suffered a stroke. After four days in the hospital, Mr. Zurbuchen underwent a series of liver and kidney tests that revealed he had ingested ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze.

     Although Selena York had given Mr. Zuburchen the drink that had made him sick, had made herself the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and had taken control of his bank account, Mr. Zurbuchen didn't want to press charges against her. Without the victim's cooperation and testimony, the Uintah County prosecutor didn't have a case. In 2009, the suspect and her daughter moved to Eugene, Oregon. Although the authorities in Utah believed Selena York had tried to murder Ed Zurbuchen, the investigation went cold.

     On April 2011, the poisoning case came back to life when the Uintah County prosecutor received a letter from Joseph Dominic Ferraro, Selena York's former boyfriend, and the father of her child. Ferraro, who was in jail for sexual assault, had been living with York and his daughter in Eugene, Oregon. According to Ferraro, York had bragged to him about poisoning a man in Utah in an effort to kill him so she could take over his estate. Since Selena York had drained Joseph Ferraro's bank account, and sold both his cars while he sat in jail, he believed her story. And so did the authorities in Utah.

     In June, police arrested Selena York in Eugene on the charge of attempted murder. After being extradited back to Utah, York, in exchange for the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery, confessed to poisoning Mr. Zuburchen. She said she had purchased the smoothie at a nearby store, dumped out half of its contents, then poured in the antifreeze. After his death, she planned to gain power of attorney over his estate. Before she left Utah after the failed homicide, York forged a check on the victim's bank account for $10,000.

     In December 2011, Selena York was allowed to plead no contest to the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery. Two months later, the judge sentenced her to three consecutive five-year prison terms.  Had Mr. Zubuchen died of poisoning, York would have been eligible for the death sentence. Had she not ripped-off Joseph Ferraro (who was convicted of 21 felony sexual abuse counts), she would have gotten away with attempted murder. This woman was a cold-blooded killer, a sociopath who should never get out of prison.

     Mr. Ferraro, the father of York's child who informed on her, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the sexual abuse case. However, he won an appeal that led to the overturning of his conviction. The trial judge had improperly denied Ferraro's motion to postpone his trial in order to acquire more time for his attorney to prepare his defense. The Lane County prosecutor, rather than schedule a second trial, allowed Ferraro to plead guilty to a single count of second-degree sodomy. Sentenced to three years on that charge, the sex offender walked free because he had already served four years on the multiple felony conviction. Because of a legal technicality, this sexual criminal got off light. 

Lack of Coordination Between Law Enforcement Agencies

     Law enforcement investigators do not see, are prevented from seeing, or make little attempt to see beyond their own jurisdictional responsibilities. The law enforcement officer's responsibility stops at the boundary of his or her jurisdiction. The exception is generally only when hot pursuit is necessary. The vary nature of local law enforcement and a police department's accountability and responsiveness to its jurisdictional clients isolates the department from the outside world.

     The National Crime Information Center [NCIC] provides officers with access to other agencies indirectly, to obtain information on wanted persons and stolen property. However, the sharing of information on unsolved crimes and investigative leads is not a function of this extensive nationwide information system. Reciprocal relationships between homicide investigators are at best informal and usually within a relatively limited geographical area.

     Linkage blindness exemplifies the major weakness of our structural defenses against crime and our ability to control it. Simply stated, the exchange of investigative information among police departments in this country is, at best, very poor. Linkage blindness is the nearly total lack of sharing or coordinating of investigative information and the lack of adequate networking by law enforcement agencies. This lack of sharing or networking is prevalent today with law enforcement officers and their agencies. Thus linkages are rarely established among geographic area of the country between similar crime patterns or modus operandi. Such a condition directly inhibits an early warning or detection system regarding serial murderers preying on multiple victims. [Today there is a national databank designed to help in the identification and investigation of serial murder. But many police departments don't bother contributing information to the computerized repository. Moreover, within federal law enforcement, there is still little coordination and cooperation between agencies.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1996

Fingerprint Identification: A Fish Story

     On June 21, 2012, Haans Galassi, during a weekend camping trip in remote northern Idaho, decided to go wakeboarding on Priest Lake. While being pulled across the lake by a speedboat, the 31-year-old from Colbert, Washington got his hand caught in a towline loop. After being dragged a distance through the water, Galassi looked at his bloodied hand and realized he had been seriously injured. He left the lake that day minus four fingers.

     On September 11, more than two months after Galassi's mishap, Nolan Calvin, while cleaning a trout he had caught in Priest Lake eight miles from were Galassi's fingers went into the water, found, in the fish's belly, a human finger. The cold water had preserved the body part well enough for the fisherman to put it on ice for safe keeping.

     Not sure if he had found the remains of someone who had drowned, or had been dumped in the lake, Mr. Calivn turned his find over to officers with the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, in turn, sent the finger to the state crime lab for possible identification.

     At the crime laboratory, a fingerprint expert made an inked impression of the fingertip and submitted it to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) computer. The computer matched the submission to a print in the databank that belonged to Haans Galassi.

     Bonner County Detective Gary Johnson telephoned Galassi and informed him of the recovery. Since the finger, maintained in an evidence freezer, was in such good shape, the detective asked if Galassi wanted it for a possible reattachment. Although Galassi didn't seem interested in reuniting with his finger, Detective Johnson decided to keep it a few weeks in the event its owner changed his mind. A few days later, Galassi informed the sheriff's office that he had called his doctor to determine if the finger could be put back on his hand. When the doctor got back to him, he would advise the sheriff's office and they could go from there.

     As strange as this case is, it is not the first time body parts have been retrieved from fish. Usually the carriers of these human remains--arms, legs, and torsos-- are sharks pulled from the ocean. Perhaps this is the first time a trout gave up a missing finger. 

Quotes From Nonfiction Writers About their Genre

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book...A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as the professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable. For most people learning to write, that path is nonfiction. It enables them to write about what they know or can observe or can find out.

 William Zinsser

Being a writer of nonfiction books doesn't seem perishingly difficult; it just requires a certain amount of energy and an intelligent interest in the world. And a certain accumulated skill at organizing the materials that one's research gathers.

John Jerome

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses.

W. Somerset Maugham

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier

Fact-based writing can reach creative levels just as fiction writing does, and in the hands of an accomplished nonfiction writer, imaginative use of facts can be transformed and become art.

William Noble 

Truman Capote's Obsession With Style

Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsession of this sort, and the time it takes, irritates me beyond endurance.

Truman Capote in Truman Capote, edited by George Plimpton, 1997 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Murder She Wrote: The Nancy Crampton Brophy Murder Case

     Sixty-three-year-old Daniel Brophy, a master gardener and expert on marine biology who also knew a lot about the growing of mushrooms, was the chief instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute located in the Portland, Oregon neighborhood of Goose Hollow. Brophy and his 68-year-old wife of 27 years, Nancy Crampton Brophy, resided in nearby Beaverton, Oregon.

     Nancy Brophy was a self-published author of nine "romance suspense" novels featuring, according to the author's website, "pretty men and strong women." She promoted her fiction, available on Kindle, on her website. All of her male protagonists were Navy SEALS.

     At eight-thirty on Saturday, June 2, 2018, officers with the Portland Police Bureau responded to a 911 call regarding a man who had been found shot to death in the culinary school's kitchen area. The authorities identified the victim as Danial Brophy. He had been shot with a 9mm pistol.

     Other than perhaps a disgruntled culinary student, detectives didn't have a clue as to who had shot the instructor. Without an eyewitness, they didn't have much to go on.

     On Sunday, June 3, 2018, the day following Chef Brophy's homicide, Nancy Brophy wrote the following on her Facebook page: "For my Facebook friends and family, I have sad news to relate. My husband and best friend, Chef Dan Brophy was killed yesterday morning...I am struggling to make sense of this right now."

     The next day, Nancy Brophy attended a candlelight vigil for her dead husband that was held outside the Oregon Culinary Institute.

     By July 2018, detectives had started thinking about the possibility that Mr. Brophy had been killed by his wife. In November 2011, on her blog "See Jane Publish," Nancy Brophy had posted a 700-word essay entitled, "How to Murder Your Husband." Regarding her marriage to Daniel Brophy, she wrote: "My husband and I are both on our second (and final--trust me!) marriage. We vowed, prior to saying 'I do,' that we would not end in divorce. We did not, I should note, rule out a tragic drive-by shooting or a suspicious accident."

      In her murder essay, Brophy wrote that she and her husband had their "ups and downs but more good times than bad." The romance novelist also had plenty to say on the subject of murder: "I find it easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them...But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough."

     In her treatise on how to commit murder, Brophy gave this advice to anyone contemplating criminal homicide: To get away with the crime, she said, do the killing yourself. She warned against hiring an assassin to do the job because when most hit men get caught they roll over on the mastermind to save their own necks. (Actually, this was not bad advice.)

     In Brophy's 2015 novel, The Wrong Cop, the female protagonist fantasizes about murdering her husband. In The Wrong Husband, also published in 2015, Brophy's female hero tries to flee an abusive marriage by faking her own death.

     On September 5, 2018, detectives with the Portland Police Bureau took Nancy Crampton Brophy into custody for killing her husband, Daniel. At her arraignment hearing, the prosecutor charged her with murder and the unlawful use of a weapon. (Presumably the 9mm pistol.) The defendant pleaded not guilty and the judge denied her bail. Officers booked the homicide widow into the Multnomah County Jail where she would await her trial.

     At the prosecutor's request, the judge sealed the probable cause affidavit in support of Nancy Brophy's arrest. As a result, exactly what evidence the authorities had connecting her to her husband's murder remained a mystery.  
     In April 2020, Brophy's lawyer petitioned the court to have her released on bail due to the threat of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. The judge denied the request. As of this writing, she remains in custody awaiting her murder trial.

Arlando's Folly

     Over a period of several months in 2019, 29-year-old Arlando Henderson stole $88,000 in cash from the vault of the Charlotte, North Carolina bank that employed him. In July and August 2019, Henderson posted photographs of himself holding stacks of bills on Facebook and Instagram. He accompanied one of his Facebook cash-holding photographs with the caption: "I make it look easy but this shyt [sic] is really a PROCESS." In another Facebook posting, Henderson talked about building his "brand."

     Arlando Henderson used $20,000 of the bank's money to make a downpayment on a Mercedes-Benz. He also posted photographs of himself standing next to the white luxury car. Henderson deposited the rest of the money in an ATM near the bank he stole it from.

     To acquire funds to pay the balance of his car loan, Henderson falsified loan documents.

     On December 4, 2019, after being charged federally with two counts of financial fraud, 19 counts of bank embezzlement, and one count of money laundering, FBI agents in San Diego, California took Arlando Henderson into custody.

     If convicted as charged, Henderson faced up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As of this writing, he has not been sentenced. 

Frank Abagnale on Being Imprisoned in France

I went from 198 pounds to 109 while I was in prison in France, and I had to tie my clothes on me with a rope.

Frank Abagnale, the "Catch Me If You Can" check forger

The Presumption Of Innocence Versus Common Sense

The presumption of innocence is a legal doctrine that mandates, in a criminal trial, that the government carries the burden of proving the charges against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Because Lee Harvey Oswald was never tried and convicted, he is presumed innocent. O. J. Simpson, tried and acquitted of double murder, is also presumed innocent under the law. The presumption of innocence, however, is not a substitute for common sense. For example, you would never let an accused pedophile, a person legally presumed to be innocent, to babysit your child.

Charles Bukowski on Writers and Writing

     According to Christopher Hitchens, "The reflections of successful writers on other writers, can be astonishingly banal." While probably true, this does not apply to southern California's Charles Bukowski. Before he died in 1994 at 73, Bukowski, the author of thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, had plenty to say about the writer and his craft. His anti-social personality and noir attitude about life is reflected in some of the following quotes. Nice guy or not, Bukowski was interesting, and he could write. A few of his writing related quotes:

Writing is a sick habit to break.

I can write more truly of myself than of anybody that I know. It's a great source of material.

I liked [Ernest] Hemingway for clarity, I loved it, yet at the same time I didn't like the literary feel of it, there was an upper snobbishness attached. When you come in from the factory with your hands and your body and your mind ripped, hours and days stolen from you, you can become very aware of a fake line, a fake thought, of a literary game.

Why do poets consider themselves more elevated than the garbage man, the short story writer and the novelist?

The job of a writer is to write, all else is nonsense that weakens mind, gut, ability and the natural state of being.

Poetry? Well, it's not much, is it? A lot of posing and prancing and fakery, wordplay for its own sake.

I am not so worried about whether I am writing any good or not, I know I write a valley of bad stuff. But what gets me is that nobody is coming on that I can believe in or look up to. It's hell not to have a hero.

I have to write a lot of poems to keep from going crazy; I can't help it. I often write ten to twelve poems a day and then top the whole thing off with a short story.

You know, I've tried the starving writer bit. I write better with a few bucks in my pocket.

I have to drink and gamble [horses] to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick.

Starvation and obscurity are not necessarily signs of genius.

If there is anything good about my writing it is the roughness, the quality of not being literary.

There is hardly such a thing as a modest writer. Especially a modest bad writer.

It has always been the popular concept for the writer to starve, go mad, suffer, suicide. I think it's time for the editors and publishers to starve, suffer, go made and suicide. 

Yes, I drink when I write fiction. Why not? I like things to be entertaining. If I feel entertained at this machine maybe somebody else will feel that way too.