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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Romano Dias Poisoning Case: A Strange and Mysterious Death

     According to Katee Dias, in early 2010 while residing in London, England, she received a package in the mail. The parcel bore the correct address but was intended for someone else, a former resident perhaps. Thinking that this person might claim the item, Katee held the package for six months before opening it. When she did, she found a bottle that, according to its label, contained a fruit drink. Katee kept the bottle and threw away the packaging.

     At some point (here the story gets vague) Katee gave her father, a resident of Impington, a Cambridgeshire village in southeast England, the presumed fruit drink. In October 2013, 55-year-old Romano Dias opened the three and a half-year-old bottle and consumed half of its contents. (Based upon news reportage, Katee was present when her father gulped down some of the drink.)

     After a couple of mouthfuls, Mr. Dias reportedly said that the liquid tasted "awful." Shortly thereafter he complained of a burning throat then said, "I am in trouble here. I am dying. I am dead." Mr. Dias collapsed and died, presumably from the contents of the outdated fruit juice bottle.

     A laboratory analysis of the mystery bottle's contents revealed that it contained liquid methamphetamine. (Dealers in meth frequently transport the drug in liquid form.) In speaking to a reporter with the Cambridge News, pathologist Dr. John Grant said that Mr. Dias had consumed well above the lethal dose. He said that while meth use in the United Kingdom was traditionally light, the American television show "Breaking Bad" had popularized the drug. ("Breaking Bad" was a series about a former high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who becomes an accomplished meth cook.)

     Following a coroner's hearing, Cambridgeshire coroner William Morris ruled the manner of Mr. Dias' death "accidental." The coroner based his ruling on the fact there was no evidence that the sender of the lethal package had intended to harm the victim or anyone else.

     In the United States, the sender of the liquid meth could have been charged with felony-murder. Under the felony-murder doctrine, the perpetrator of a felony that directly results in an unintended death is criminally culpable for the killing of that person. Mailing $34,000 worth of methamphetamine must be a felony in England. Mr. Dias died as a direct result of that crime. The sender, pursuant to the U.S. felony-murder doctrine, was guilty of criminal homicide.

     By classifying Mr. Dias' death as accidental, the Cambridgeshire coroner shut the door to a criminal investigation. As a result, the public will never know who sent the bottle of meth to Katee Dias' house in London. (Did the police process the bottle for latent fingerprints?) Other questions that will remain unanswered include: Why did Katee keep the bottle so long? Exactly when did she give it to her father? Why did she give it to him? And did he know he was consuming a three and a half-year-old drink?  

Prostitution Is Here to Stay

Although there are social harms beyond private immorality in commercialized sex--spread of venereal disease, exploitation of the young, and the affront of public solicitation, for example--the blunt use of the criminal prohibition has proven ineffective and costly. Prostitution has flourished in all civilizations; indeed, few institutions have proven as hardy. The inevitable conditions of social life unfailingly produce the supply to meet the ever-present demand…There are limits to the degree of discouragement which the criminal law can properly exercise towards a woman who has deliberately decided to live her life in this way, or a man who has deliberately chosen to use her services.

Sanford H. Kadish, "Overcriminalization" in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin
Wolfgang, Editors, 1971

Football Season!

     It's football season again, and I know I speak for everybody in North America when I make the following statement: rah. Because to me football is more than just a game. It is a potential opportunity to see a live person lying on the ground with a bone sticking out of his leg, while the fans, to show their appreciation, perform "the wave."

     And football breeds character. They are constantly scrubbing the locker rooms because of all the character that breeds in there. This results in men the caliber of famed Notre Dame player George Gipp, played by Ronald Reagan, who, in a famous anecdote, looked up from his deathbed and told coach Knute Rockne, played by Pat O'Brien, that if things ever really got bad for the Fighting Irish, he (Rockne) should tell "the boys" to win one for the Gipper. Which Rockne did, and the boys said: "What for? He's dead." 

Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988

New York City: Will History Repeat Itself?

[New York City in 1930] was a mess. The city had more than eighty breadlines, and landlords were evicting New Yorkers from their homes by the tens of thousands. Some of these people took to living full time in Central Park, where chimmeyed shacks complete with beds and chairs were regular sights. Far from being a city in which to find a job, New York had become a gathering place for the unemployed.

Travis McDade, Thieves of Book Row, 2013

Comic Books as American War Propaganda

In World War II and the Cold War, government agencies recognized how powerful comic books were and exploited the medium to sell the idea of America across the world. Although by 1954, legislators had become alarmed by the violent and sexual content of comics, and stepped in to force the industry to self-regulate. Other parts of the federal government saw potential in the medium's reach and appeal, and exploited it. The Writer's War Board and, later, agencies within the State Department found ways to use comic books to sway hearts and minds across the globe toward the objectives of the American government. 

Rebecca Onion, Slate, August 27, 2021

A Question of Journalistic Ethics

     An Ohio media outlet sparked outrage after it published a report on the criminal past of the father of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by police in November 2014 at a Cleveland recreation center. Rice died holding an Airsoft pellet gun. Police were responding to a 911 call about someone pointing a handgun. The caller said the gun was "probably fake" and "I don't know if it's real or not."

     The article, "Tamir Rice's Father Has History of Domestic Violence," was written by Northeast Ohio Media Groups's Brandon Blackwell and published on the website for the Cleveland Plain Dealer on November 26, 2014. The relevance of the criminal past of Rice's father is not explained in the reporting nor does it appear to have anything to do with the shooting…

"Why Was Tamir Rice's Dad's Criminal History Reported?" mediaethics.com, December 4, 2014 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Miranda and Elytte Barbour: The Craigslist Killers

     Of all the motives behind premeditated murder, killing for the fun of watching someone die reflects a degree of evil that's inhuman. People who kill for the thrill of it are as dangerous as they are diabolical. Because these murderers are incapable of comprehending why normal people consider them monsters, they are beyond the reach of psychology, psychiatry, and anger management. To not execute these murderers constitutes, in itself, a crime against civilization. For born killers, there should be no mercy.

     Elytte Barbour and his 18-year-old wife Miranda resided in Selingsgrove, an eastern Pennsylvania town 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. On October 22, 2013, after moving to Pennsylvania from North Carolina, the couple got married. Through various Internet sites, Miranda offered her services to lonely men looking for female companionship. For fees that ranged from $50 to $850, she would make herself available for conversation over dinner or during a walk around a shopping mall. Sex was not part of the deal. (Her claim.)

     On November 11, 2013, Miranda, through one of her escort postings on Craigslist, offered to meet Troy LaFerrara at the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selingsgrove. That night, the 42-year-old from Port Trevorton parked his Chevy S-10 pickup in the mall parking lot and got into a 2001 Honda driven by Miranda Barbour. Unbeknownst to Mr. LaFerrara, Miranda's 22-year-old husband Elytte was hidden in the SUV behind the front seat.

     Miranda drove from Selinsgrove toward the nearby town of Sunbury. At some point she pulled off the road and came to a stop. Elytte rose up from behind the seat and wrapped a cord around Mr. LaFerrara's neck. With her passenger choking and grasping for air, Miranda got back onto the road and continued driving toward Sunbury.

     In Sunbury, Miranda pulled to a stop and grabbed a knife from between the front seats. With Mr. LaFerrara still being strangled by Elytte, Miranda stabbed the dying man twenty times. After taking the dead man's wallet (but not his cellphone), the couple dumped his corpse in a residential alley.

     From the alley, the Barbours drove to a department store where they purchased cleaning supplies. Once they had removed the victim's blood from the Honda, Miranda and Elytte drove to a strip club in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where they celebrated his birthday.

     The day following the LaFerrara murder, November 12, 2013, the occupant of a house whose backyard reached out to the alley, discovered Troy LaFerrara's body. Investigators, from the victim's cellphone, acquired the lead that eventually led them to the married killers.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, police officers took the couple into custody. According to Miranda, she had stabbed her passenger after he groped her. She claimed that after she had stabbed LeFerrara four times she "blacked out." As a result, she had no memory of what took place in the immediate aftermath of the killing. (Psychopaths, because they lack insight and empathy, are lousy liars.)

     Elytte Barbour confessed fully to the cold-blooded murder of the complete stranger. He told his interrogators that he and Miranda had planned to "murder someone together."

     Dr. Rameen Starling-Romey performed the LaFerrara autopsy at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. According to the forensic pathologist, LaFerrara had died from multiple sharp force trauma.

     While the Barbours were in custody without bail, investigators were looking into the possibility that Mr. LaFerrara was not their first murder victim.

     In February 2014, Miranda Barbour, in an interview with a reporter with the Daily Item, a newspaper in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, claimed to have murdered, over the past six years, at least 22 people in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina, and California. That meant she started killing when when she was thirteen. According to Barbour, the killing started when she joined a satanic cult in Alaska before moving to North Carolina.

     Sunbury police chief Steve Mazzeo told reporters that his detectives had been in contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in those states.

     A judge, in February 2014, granted Miranda Barbour's defense attorney's request to have his client evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist. Her husband Elytte had already been examined by a court-appointed mental health expert. Investigators were skeptical regarding Miranda Barbour's claim to be a teenage serial killer. Why didn't she tell her police interrogators about these murders? If she was lying about this, she was either delusional or perhaps setting up an insanity defense. Where were the bodies?

     In a second, March 2014 interview with the reporter with The Daily Item, Miranda Barbour claimed that before the murder of Troy LaFerrara, two other targeted victims escaped death when they failed to respond to her offer of female companionship.

     In May 2014, Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor ruled that prosecutors could seek the death penalty. Miranda Barbour's attorney had asked the judge to take the death penalty off the table.

     In August 2014, to avoid the death penalty, the Barbours pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the killing of Troy LaFerrara. The following month, Judge Saylor sentenced the couple to life in prison without parole.

     Holly LaFerrara, in her victim impact statement after the judge handed down the sentences, said, "If it was up to me you would each be strapped to a lethal injection gurney or seated in an electric chair. I say you both got off lucky today…You were bad enough to do the crime. Now let's see how you like doing the time. Lots and lots of time. There aren't many guarantees in life, but you can take this one to the bank. My family and I will make sure you stay in jail, right where you belong."

     The authorities had come to the conclusion that Miranda Barbour had lied about the other killings. 

Jail Versus Prison

Jail is the place where people awaiting trial are detained or where those convicted of minor offenses (usually those calling for detention of thirty days or under) are kept. Prison is a facility for housing those found guilty of major crimes…Prison is another term for penitentiary. 

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

Sherlock Holmes' Mind

My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere..I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession--or rather created it--for I am the only one in the world."

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Sign of Four," 1890. 

Spilled Blood in Crime and Literature

     Blood is the great bedrock of forensic science, the foundation of murder detection itself. When a body is found, very often death from natural causes can be assumed. But if blood is discovered on the corpse, the the ugly question of murder arises.

     Most murders involve the spilling of blood, and from earliest times the written records abound with references to that red substance which pumps through all our veins and arteries. The Bible is full of allusions to blood: the spilling of blood, blood sacrifice and so on. Shakespeare too had his way with blood--blood feuds, ties of blood, blood-lust, blood money--and who can forget Lady Macbeth's obsession with the blood of her victim? [More recently, the popular TV series "Dexter" (2006-2013) featured a protagonist, Dexter Morgan, who was by day a police blood spatter analyst and by night a serial killer who targeted evil people who had evaded criminal justice.]

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

The Celebrity "Author"

For some reason, celebrity authors [whose books are ghost written] always assume that the hard part of writing is the thinking, whereas the truth, as every professional writer knows, is that the actual writing is what's difficult--thinking comes easy, by comparison, and nothing exists until it has been put down on paper.

Michael Korda, Another Life, 1999

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Alton Alexander Nolen Beheading Murder Case

     The 911 call came in at four-thirty in the afternoon on Thursday September 25, 2014 from an employee of the Vaughn Foods distribution warehouse in Moore, Oklahoma ten miles south of Oklahoma City. The emergency caller, speaking to someone at the scene and overheard by the dispatcher said, "Shut the doors!" Then to the dispatcher said, "We have someone attacking someone in the building. Can you hear this in the background? That's a gunshot."

     When officers with the Moore Police Department entered the Vaughn Foods building they encountered a bloody scene of horrific violence. Coleen Hufford, a 54-year-old employee, had been repeatedly stabbed and beheaded. Traci Johnson, a fellow employee, had been stabbed as well but was still alive. Alton Alexander Nolen, the 30-year-old man wielding the knife, had been shot once. He was alive but unconscious.

     Earlier that afternoon, after being fired from the food processing and distribution plant, Alton Nolen left the building in a huff, climbed into his car, and drove erratically around the company parking lot. With a knife in hand, he re-entered the facility through the main entrance. Nolen walked through the front office into the shipping area then into the customer service office. There he encountered Colleen Hufford and Traci Johnson, employees who he had no reason to hate or punish.

     Mark Vaughn, the corporation's chief operating officer, rushed to the scene armed with a rifle. He arrived too late to save Colleen Hufford and almost didn't get there in time for Traci Johnson. Before Nolen had the chance to behead his second victim, Mr. Vaughn shot and wounded him.

     Alton Nolen was not a stranger to the local law enforcement community. In the evening of October 1, 2010, while accompanied by his 29-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old son, he was driving his white Chevrolet Impala on Oklahoma Highway 33. State Trooper Betsy Randolph pulled him over after she noticed that Nolen's paper license plate looked like a fake. The officer received confirmation of this after she radioed-in the plate number.

     Nolen, when asked by Trooper Randolph to produce his driver's license, said he didn't have it with him. "Do you have a valid driver's license," she asked.

     "No," he replied.

     Seated next to the trooper in the patrol car parked along the curb on a residential street, Nolen said that he didn't want to go back to jail, and denied having outstanding warrants for his arrest. When the officer entered his name and date of birth into her computer, she knew he had lied. There were several outstanding warrants for Nolen's arrest including one for failing to appear in court on a cocaine charge. The trooper had no choice but to take Nolen into custody.

     Trooper Randolph, after cuffing Nolen's right hand, ran into resistance as he tried to call his girlfriend on his cellphone. As the officer reached for her expandable baton, Nolen pushed her away and jumped out of the police vehicle. The trooper chased Nolen on foot but lost him amid a group of houses in the neighborhood.

     Following a 12-hour manhunt that included a helicopter, police dogs, and officers from four law enforcement agencies, Alton Nolen was taken into custody. A local prosecutor charged him with assault and battery on a police officer and escape from detention.

     Early in 2011, following a plea deal, the judge sentenced Nolen to six years on the cocaine offense, two years for escaping police custody, and two years for assaulting Trooper Randolph. Although he faced up to ten years behind bars, he served 18 months in prison followed by six months in a halfway  house.

     While in prison Nolen converted to Islam. In April 2013, a month after leaving the halfway house, he began posting messages on Facebook under the name Jah Keem Yisrael. His postings were clearly anti-American. He ran  photographs of Osama bin Laden and the burning trade towers. He also had several Muslim Facebook friends from the U.S., England, and the Middle East.

     Prior to losing his job at the Moore, Oklahoma food processing plant Nolen tried to covert fellow employees to Islam.

      On Saturday September 27, 2014, two days after the workplace murders, detectives questioned Nolen after he had regained consciousness. He was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault. Until investigators determined the principal motive for the beheading--anger at being fired or striking a terroristic blow against America--the attacks on these innocent women was handled as a criminal matter. For many, the fact that Nolen was a militant Muslim who beheaded a woman was enough to justify treating the murder as an act of terrorism.

     In May 2016, Nolen offered to plead guilty to first-degree murder. He said he wanted to be executed by lethal injection. Judge Lori Walkey rejected the defendant's guilty plea and ordered a hearing to determine Nolen's mental competency.

     In August 2016, a prosecution psychologist testified that Alton Nolen had a personality disorder and was therefore not psychotic. A neuropsychologist for the defense testified that Nolen was a schizophrenic with a "thought disorder."

     At the conclusion of the mental competency hearing, Judge Walkey rejected Nolen's guilty plea. This meant that instead of waiting for his trial on death row, Nolen would be incarcerated in a mental institution.

     On September 11, 2017, Nolen, having been ruled mentally competent, went on trial for murder. The jury, on September 30, after two hours of deliberation, found him guilty of first-degree murder. Judge Lori Walkley, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced him to death by lethal injection.

Bertrand Russell's Famous Quote

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) British academic, philosopher 

Isaac Bashevis Singer On The Loss of Nonconformity

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature said this about the United States during the 1980s: "The media are so omnipresent in this country. We are fooled by myriads of generalizations and by floods of propaganda." Mr. Singer, in lamenting the decline of diversity of thought and nonconformity among writers and academics famously said, "Only small fish swim in schools."

Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador, Book Row, 2003 

Grade Inflation

The university where I teach has a policy that grades ending in 8 or 9 receive a "+" designation (78 is a C+, 89 is a B+. etc.). A student received his final grade and was adamant that I let off the plus sign. I looked up the grade. The kid got a 58. I told him he had failed the course. "I know," he said. "But I earned an F+, not an F." "You want me to change this to an F+?" I asked. He said yes and left happy when I agreed.

David Barman, Reader's Digest, September 2021

Dublin: The City of Crime Writers

     You'd be hard pushed to find a city more invested in books and literature than Dublin. Of course none other than James Joyce himself took a keen interest in crime and punishment--the 1803 execution of Robert Emmet for revolutionary activities, was just one famous trial whose details percolate through the narrative of Ulysses, while the Maamtrasna murders of 1882 which led to the execution of a peasant called Miles Joyce (wrongly convicted) is a significant theme in Finnegan's Wake. Joyce liked to attend trials. In 1889 he spent three days watching the trial in Dublin of Samuel Childs for the brutal murder of his brother, a crime (for which Childs was acquitted after a spectacular defense by Seymour Bushe). It is alluded to in Ulysses when a man tells Simon Dedalus, "That is where Childs was murdered..."
     Today, crime writing is a strong strand of Dublin's continuing literary tradition. Every discussion currently concerning the genre starts with Tana French who, though American-born, has lived in Ireland since her university days at Trinity College. The Irish Independent has dubbed her "The First Lady of Irish Crime" and her Dublin Murder Squad series, which began in 2007 with In the Woods (the novel that also forms the basis for the recent TV show, Dublin Murders), now has six installments. They are all bestsellers--In the Woods, which combines a psychological thriller with a police procedural, with now well over a million copies. The novel follows Dublin detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox investigating the murder of a 12-year-old girl. The series revolves around the various members of the Dublin Murder Squad, with each team member taking centre stage in each book. The Likeness (2008) sees Maddox working with undercover ops cooper Frankie MacKay. Book 3 Faithful Place (2010) then focuses on a murder investigation led by Mackay. Broken Harbor (2012) follows Dublin's ace detective, "Scorcher"  Kennedy on a case while his life is in meltdown. The Secret Place (2014) and the most recent addition to the series, The Trespasser, (2016) continue the theme and follow other team members.
Paul French, "Dublin: A City of Books, and a City With a Serious Crime Fiction Tradition," CrimeReads, August 3, 2020.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Heath Bumpous: The Bungling Love Bandit

      Heath Bumpous had a problem. The 30-year-old resident of Crockett, Texas, a town 120 miles north of Houston, was getting married, but he didn't have enough money to pay for the wedding venue or a ring for his fiancee.

     On Friday, October 4, 2019, the day before the wedding, Heath Bumpous decided to raise money by robbing a bank. Why not? John Dillinger had done it, Willie Sutton had done it, and now Heath Bumpous would do it. How hard was it to rob a bank? (Someone should have told Mr. Bumpous that robbing the bank was the easy part, not getting caught was another matter.)

     Heath Bumpous decided to rob the Citizens State Bank in nearby Groveton, Texas. When John Dillinger and Willie Sutton robbed a bank, they approached the place in a stolen car with a get-away driver behind the wheel. Mr. Bumpous didn't have an accomplice, and he drove to the bank in his own car. Moreover, he didn't bother to conceal his identify with a ski-mask or even a fake mustache. Heath Bumpous was keeping it simple.

     At the service counter, Mr. Bumpous didn't make a dramatic statement like "This is a stickup!" He simply told the teller he had a gun and wanted the money in cash. (Did he think they'd give him a check?)

     Before casually walking out of the bank with the undisclosed amount of money, the bank surveillance camera captured a good likeness of the robber.

     Because the sheriff's office was just 500 feet from the Citizens State Bank, it didn't take police officers very long to respond to the scene where they looked at the bank's surveillance camera footage.

     Shortly after the holdup, a picture of the robber showed up on Facebook. The future Mrs. Bumpous just happened to be checking her Facebook page when she saw the bank surveillance photograph of her fiancee. It's hard to imagine what went through her mind when she saw the man she was about to marry robbing a bank.

     Heath Bumpous' fiancee contacted him by cellphone, and what followed must have been one of the strangest pre-wedding bride/groom conversations in history. Two hours after Bumpous' fiancee solved the bank robbery case, Heath Bumpous surrendered to the authorities. (She was not, obviously, Bonnie to his Clyde.)

     Instead of a festive wedding and a nice ring, the would-be bride ended up with a fiancee behind bars and a guy who will go down in crime history as the Bungling Love Bandit. In place of an album full of wedding pictures she ended up with a bank surveillance photograph and a mugshot.

     Sometimes things don't go as planned. (I could not find the disposition of this case on the Internet.)

Jack The Ripper as a Tourist Attraction

Jack the Ripper is considered by many to have ushered in the concept of serial murder even though such a form of killing has been on the Earth for hundreds of years. The Ripper's twisted sense of humor and his brutal method of killing and dismemberment brought to bear the attention of the world. To this day, tourists go to Whitechapel [East London] to retrace the footsteps of Jack the Ripper. [In America, crime tourists travel to Fall River, Massachusetts to stay in Lizzie Borden's old house which is now a B & B.]

Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Fourth Edition, 2006

The Suicide of Ross Lockridge Jr.

     A good many creative writers are high-strung, strung-out emotional wrecks. A lot of them are really odd. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze or drugs. More than a few have ended their lives with suicide.

     To writers who are more or less normal, there is nothing more morbidly fascinating than the tormented life and self-inflicted death of a fellow author. Ross Lockridge Jr. is a case in point. In February 1949, about a year after the publication of his first book, Raintree County, a bestselling Book-of-the Month-Club selection, the 33-year-old writer gassed himself to death in his garage while seated in his newly purchased car.

     Journalist Nanette Kutner, who had interviewed Lockridge six months before his suicide, wrote this after his death: "He was no one-book author; he never would have been content to live as Margaret Mitchell [Gone With the Wind] lived. But he could not find a remedy for the letdown that invariably comes after completing a big job, the letdown [Anthony] Trollope understood so well he never submitted a novel until he was deep into the next."

     Do writers end their lives more often than people in other lines of work? There is no way to know if writers are particularly prone to suicide. Experts say that statistics on suicide by occupation are not clear on this issue because there is no national data base on line of work and suicide. Experts also believe that because occupation is not a major predictor of suicide, this aspect of life doesn't fully explain why people kill themselves. Since writing, for many authors, is more of a way of life than a profession, and is practiced by a lot of unstable people, it probably is a relevant variable.

     Well-known writers who have killed themselves include: John Berryman, Richard Brautigan, Hart Crane, John Gould Fletcher, Romain Gary, Ernest Hemingway, William Inge, Randall Jarrell, Jerry Kosinski, Primo Levi, Vachel Lindsay, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Charlotte Mew, Cesare Pavese, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, David Foster Wallace, and Virginia Wolff. And this list does not include writers who have killed themselves with alcohol and drugs.

The Educated Novelist

     It is true that some writers have kept themselves more or less innocent of education, that some, like Jack London, were more or less self-made men; that is, people who scratched out an education by reading books between work-shifts on boats, in logging camps or gold camps, on farms or in factories. It is true that university education is in many ways inimical to the work of the artist: Rarely do painters have much good to say of aetheticians or history-of-art professors, and it's equally uncommon for even the most serious, "academic" writers to look with fond admiration at "the profession of English." And it's true, moreover, that life in the university has almost never produced subject matter for really good fiction. The life has too much trivia, too much mediocrity, too much soap opera, but consider:

     No ignoramus--no writer who has kept himself innocent of education--has ever produced great art.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983. Gardner (1933-1982) was a literary novelist, critic, and English professor at the University of Southern Illinois. He died young in a motorcycle accident. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Dr. Anthony Garcia Murder Case

     In 1999, Dr. Anthony Garcia, after attending the University of California at Davis, graduated from the University of Utah Medical School. Dr. Garcia, shortly after he entered the residency program at St. Elizabeth Family Practice in Albany, New York, yelled at a radiology technician. This, along with other incidents of unprofessionalism, caused Dr. Garcia's supervisors to terminate his residency. According to doctors at St. Elizabeth, Garcia's conduct "left serious doubt as to his future ability to successfully practice medicine."

     Dr. Garcia was given a second chance in June 2000 when he began a residency in the Pathology Department at Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Nebraska. A year later, he was fired for "unprofessional conduct toward a fellow resident and his (the resident's) wife." Two high-ranking members of the twelve member department, Doctors Roger Brumback and William Hunter, approved Garcia's discharge from the university.

     In 2003, Dr. Garcia managed to acquire a residency in Chicago at the University of Illinois. From Chicago, he bounced around the country working on the fringes of the medical profession. In 2007, he was given a medical school residency in psychiatry at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. In February 2008, the head of the LSU Psychiatric Department fired Dr. Garcia after the state rejected his request to practice medicine. Based on letters received from Doctors Roger Brumback and William Hunter, Garcia was denied a medical license for not mentioning his termination from the Pathology Department at Creighton University. LSU removed Dr. Garcia from its residency program for "falsifying his application to LSU regarding his attendance at Creighton." At this point, Dr. Garcia believed that Doctors Brumback and Hunter were killing any chance he had of pursuing a career in medicine.

     On March 13, 2008, two weeks after LSU dismissed Dr. Garcia, Dr. William Hunter returned home from his day at Creighton University to find the dead bodies of his 11-year-old son Thomas, and Shirlee Sherman, the doctor's 57-year-old housekeeper. Both victims had been stabbed in the neck near the carotid artery.

     Residents of the exclusive Omaha neighborhood reported seeing, around the time of the murders, an "olive-skinned" man in a gray or silver SUV drive slowly past the Hunter house. This man, wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, climbed out of his vehicle after parking it a block from the Hunter house. Carrying a briefcase or satchel, the man knocked on Dr. Hunter's front door and was let inside. Shortly after entering the dwelling, this man returned to his SUV and drove off.

     Homicide detectives were baffled by what appeared to be a double-murder without a motive. In the months following the killings, detectives questioned former Creighton medical students who had played video games with Dr. Hunter's son. They also questioned disgruntled former employees of the university. A FBI criminal profiler classified the slayings as a random attack by a transient serial killer. No one had reason to suspect that the boy and the housekeeper had been murdered by Dr. Anthony Garcia.

     In May 2010, Garcia resided in a middle-class community called Village Quarter on the east side of Terre Haute, Indiana. Having been granted a temporary Indiana medical permit, he worked at a high-security federal penitentiary. In the fall of 2012, the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency denied Dr. Garcia's request for a permanent license to practice medicine in the state. The denial was based upon a letter from Dr. Roger Brumback of Creighton University who informed the Indiana medical authorities that Dr. Garcia had been fired in 2001 for "unprofessional behavior."

     In his November 2012 re-application for an Indiana medical license, Dr. Garcia wrote: "I feel my actions do not rise to the level of denial of my medical licensure application. I have been aggrieved and adversely affected by not being able to work as a physician in the state of Indiana."

     A few months before Dr. Garcia's letter to the Indiana Licensing Agency, the still unsolved 2008 double-murder in Omaha was featured on the television series, "America's Most Wanted." Investigators in Omaha were desperate for a solid suspect in the case.

     On May 14, 2013, a piano mover, upon his arrival at Dr. Roger Brumback's house in Omaha, found the front door ajar. The 65-year-old physician had just retired from Creighton University. He and his wife Mary were in the process of moving to West Virginia to begin their retirement lives. The mover stepped into the house to find Dr. Brumback and his wife dead from stab wounds to their necks. The doctor had also been shot.

     Just inside the front door, a crime scene investigator discovered the clip to a 9 mm pistol. A firearms identification expert reported that the clip had been used in a Smith & Wesson model SD 9 handgun.

     Members of a task force comprised of local, state and federal investigators noticed the similarity between the Brumback murders and the stabbing deaths of Dr. Hunter's 11-year-old boy and the physician's housekeeper. Dr. Anthony Garcia, because he had a history with both physicians, emerged as a suspect in the murder cases.

     Dr. Garcia became the prime suspect when homicide investigators learned that on March 8, 2013 he had purchased a Smith & Wesson SD 9 at a Gander Mountain store in Terre Haute. Moreover, detectives were able to place Garcia in Omaha around the time of both killings.

     Police officers in Terre Haute, in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, July 15, 2013, raided Dr. Garcia's house. At the time of the raid, because Garcia had been under 24-hour surveillance, officers knew that he was not in the dwelling. Later that morning, officers with the Illinois State Police took Anthony Garcia into custody after pulling over his car in the southern part of the state. The arrest took place near the town of Jonesboro.

     On July 18, 2013, Garcia, charged with four counts of first-degree murder, was transported from the Jackson County Jail in Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska.

    Anthony Garcia, in December 2013, filed a wrongful arrest lawsuit from his cell in Douglas County, Nebraska. He asked for $20 million in damages. On February 25, 2014, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf dismissed the federal case on procedural grounds.

     On February 27, 2014, Douglas County District Judge Duane Daugherty, based upon a request by Garcia's attorneys, ordered a psychiatric evaluation of their client. At that hearing, Garcia complained to the judge that he did not trust his lawyers.

     At another pre-trial hearing on May 9, 2014, a state psychiatrist testified that the defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

     On February 14, 2015, Garcia's attorneys were back in court trying to have evidence against their client excluded. The defense lawyers argued that in July 2013, the police officers in Illinois did not have probable cause to arrest their client. The attorneys also asked that the jury in Garcia's upcoming murder trial be sequestered. If Judge Dougherty granted that request, the jury would be prevented from any contact with all forms of news media. According to the defense motion: "This case has been extensively covered and attended by local media outlets to an extraordinary degree. Even if an untainted jury is able to be selected from Douglas or Lincoln County, it would be highly unlikely and almost impossible that the jury selected could avoid prejudicial contact with news and media outlet coverage if not sequestered. (Garcia's lawyers had earlier filed a motion for a change of venue.)

     Judge Daugherty, in April 2015, denied the change of venue and sequester requests as well as the motion to exclude evidence acquired pursuant to Garcia's July 2013 arrest in Terre Haute, Indiana.

     At yet another Garcia case pre-trial hearing on May 7, 2015, defense attorneys put an expert witness on the stand who testified that the person who murdered Dr. William Hunter's son and housekeeper was not the perpetrator who killed Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife. Douglas County prosecutor Brenda Beadle, during her cross-examination of crime scene investigation expert Brent Turvey, showed him photographs of the knife wounds on the necks of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and Mary Brumback. (There had been knife wounds to the neck on all four victims.) According to the witness, "a knife wound to the neck is so common it's not even funny. It's definitely not distinct or unique." The witness accused investigators of coming up with a suspect then "cherry-picking" evidence to fit the defendant in the 2008 and 2013 murders.

     At the conclusion of the hearing, prosecutor Don Kleine asked Judge Dougherty to try the 2008 and the 2013 murder cases together. The defense urged the judge to separate the cases. Judge Gary Randall denied the defense motion for separate trials.

     Since his arrest in July 2013, the quadruple murder suspect had five trial dates. The trial was postponed in April 2016 after Judge Randall removed Garcia's lead attorney, Alison Motta because Motta had implicated another person in the 2008 Omaha, Nebraska murder case. Motta claimed that DNA evidence pointed to this suspect's guilt. This defense claim was debunked after the testimony of a DNA expert.

     On June 14, 2016, Judge Randall set the Garcia murder trial for September 26, 2016.

     In October 2016, the jury found Dr. Garcia guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. Following several delays, Dr. Garcia's death penalty hearing was rescheduled for June 2018.

     On September 14, 2018, Anthony Garcia entered the courtroom in a wheelchair and appeared to sleep as a panel of three judges sentenced him to death.

The Professional Plaintiff

     A Brooklyn jury awarded more than $500,000 to a man who sued the city for a broken ankle he suffered during an arrest for shoplifting. The jury awarded Kevin Jarman the damages on July 16, 2014. The 50-year-old Jarman filed the suit after pleading guilty to shoplifting at a Queens, New York Pathmark in 2011.

     The New York Post reported that Jarman had received other payouts from the city. In 2005, he sued the New York Police Department for false arrest after a drug sale charge was dropped. The city settled for $15,000. In June 2014, the city settled for $20,000 after Jarman sued the police for false arrest in another drug case.

"NYC Shoplifter Awarded $510,000 From Jury For Broken Ankle," Associated Press, July 17, 2014 

Useless Writing Advice

Over and over since I've been working on this book, I've been making notes to myself: Don't forget to tell about eating raw broccoli or drinking black coffee or dancing around the room to raise your energy level. Or, should I mention that a very famous novelist masturbated thirteen times a day when she was writing--should I pass that information on? [No, you should not pass that information on because it's pretentious and not helpful.]

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life, 2002

Mickey Spillane on the Mystery Novel

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells the book. The last page sells your next book.

American mystery writer Mickey Spillane (1918-2006)

Let Your Writing Flow

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988), best known for his western novels 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Allen and Patricia Prue Murder Case

     St. Johnsbury, Vermont is a town of 6,200 in the northeast part of the state 40 miles south of the Canadian border. It is home to St. Johnsbury Academy, the prestigious prep and boarding school established in the 1840s. This was not a place where people got murdered.

     Melissa Jenkins had been a science teacher and the girl's basketball coach at St. Johnsbury Academy since 2004. The 33-year-old single mother was completing her Masters Degree in Education and was employed part time as a waitress at Creamery Restaurant in nearby Danville where she had worked 12 years.

     On Sunday evening, March 25, 2012, 30-year-old Allen Prue and his wife Patricia, a couple from Waterford, Vermont, were riding about in their car. Allen made his living driving around the area delivering the local newspaper. In the winter, he plowed driveways. Two years before, he had plowed Melissa Jenkins' driveway, but after he had asked her out a couple of times, she discontinued his service. In the fall of 2011, Prue had showed up at her house drunk and asked if he could resume plowing her driveway. She declined his offer.

     As Prue and his 33-year-old wife drove around that evening, he said he wanted "to get a girl." The girl he had in mind was Melissa Jenkins. Patricia Prue approved of the idea. To lure the intended victim out of her home, she called Jenkins and said that she and her husband had broken down near her house. Could Melissa give them a lift?

     Before Jenkins left her house to help people she barely knew, she called her former boyfriend to report she had just received a "weird call from a girl and guy who used to plow her driveway." In case something happened to her, Jenkins wanted someone to know where she had gone. After speaking to her ex-boyfriend, Jenkins put her 2-year-old son Ty in the car and drove off to help the Prues.

     The moment Jenkins climbed out of her car, Allen Prue, with the school teacher's son looking on, grabbed and started strangling her. He pushed the stunned woman into his vehicle where, as he drove to his house in Waterford, Patricia Prue continued choking the victim "to make sure she wasn't breathing." The Prues left the Jenkins boy behind, unharmed in his abducted mother's car.

     The Prues carried Jenkins (she may have been alive but unconscious) into their house where they removed her clothing, repeatedly stomped on her, then laid her badly bruised corpse onto a tarp. After pouring bleach on her body, the Prues carried the tarp-wrapped victim back to their vehicle. They drove to a spot along the Connecticut River near Barnet, Vermont. At the river's edge, in a wooded area, they tied a cinderblock to Jenkins' body and rolled it into the water.

     Back in Waterford, the murderers burned the tarp, Jenkins' clothing, and the garments they had been wearing.

     Melissa Jenkins' former boyfriend, two hours after she had notified him about the "weird call" she had just received, tried but failed to get back in touch with her by phone. He drove to her house, and nearby, found Jenkins' idling SUV with her 2-year-old boy asleep inside. Next to her car, he found one of Jenkins's shoes. Fearing foul play, he called the police.

     An investigator with the Vermont State Police traced the "weird call" Jenkins had received back to the Prues. Confronted by the authorities, Allen Prue confessed.

     On Monday afternoon, March 26, 2012, the day after the murder, the police found Jenkins' body along the river about ten miles from her house. At the scene, officers recovered condoms and condom wrappers. The victim's feet had been tied with a length of white rope. Bruising of her face, neck, torso, arms, and legs suggested that the Prues had given Jenkins a severe beating. 

     Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder, the Prues were held without bond at the Northeast Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. They pleaded not guilty. The medical examiner ruled Melissa Jenkins' death as "homicide by strangulation."

     The Allen Prue murder trial, following a change of venue, got underway in Burlington, Vermont on October 7, 2014. In her opening statement, Caledonia County state's attorney Lisa Warren told the jurors that the Prues, who had been engaging in a sexual relationship with a neighbor, wanted somebody they could "play with" on the night of Melissa Jenkins' murder.

     Defense attorney Robert Katims, in his opening remarks, blamed the murder on the defendant's wife. "Patricia Prue strangled the victim," attorney Katims said, "because in her crazy, twisted mind Patricia had become obsessively jealous of Ms. Jenkins. The evidence will show that Patricia Prue strangled Melissa Jenkins without telling Allen she was going to do it, without planning it with him, and without Allen Prue agreeing in any way, shape or form with the idea of harming Ms. Jenkins in any way."

     The defense attorney informed the jurors that Patricia Prue suffered from multiple personality disorder and had complete control over her weak-minded husband who quit school at age 16. It was the defendant's low I.Q. that allowed detectives to break him down in a seven hour interrogation. The defendant's murder confession, according to attorney Katims, had been coerced and was therefore false.

     Following the testimony of the medical examiner, prosecutor Warren played the audio recording of the defendant's confession to the jury. She next called Patricia Prue to the stand who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A few days later, a Vermont state detective testified that Patricia Prue had used her laptop computer in 2011 to research tips on how to kidnap and rape a girl without getting caught. A search of the defendant's computer revealed that it had been used to shop for a stun gun. (The Vermont State Chief Medical Examiner had testified that a stun gun had been used on the victim the night she died.)

     On October 22, 2014, following nine days of testimony and the attorneys' closing arguments, the case went to the jury of six men and six women. After deliberating six hours, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder as well as the lesser crimes. The judge sentenced Allen Prue to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

     On February 12, 2015, Patricia Prue pleaded guilty to the charge of first-degree murder. The next day, at a sentencing proceeding that had been initially scheduled as a mental competency hearing on her former not guilty by reason of insanity plea, Prue apologized to Jenkins' family. She said she wished she had received the mental health help she so desperately needed. "I'm not sorry we were caught," she said to thirty family members present in the courtroom. "I am sorry that it ever happened."

     Patricia Prue's attorney, Brian Marsicovetere, used the sentencing hearing to call for more support for mental health services in the state. He said his client suffered from post-traumatic stress and various personality disorders. She also had panic attacks as a result of intense anxiety.

     Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren told the judge that Patricia Prue had spent months plotting Melissa Jenkins' murder. "The couple stalked Jenkins, acquired a stun gun and bought a prepaid cellphone to call the victim and ask for help," she said.

     The judge sentenced Patricia Prue to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

American's Losing Their Taste For The Death Penalty

     Annual U.S. executions peaked at 98 in 1999 before steadily declining, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. With public support waning, executions fell to 17 in 2020, including 10 federal executions, the first in 17 years.
     Likewise, capital cases and convictions have decreased. In the mid 1990s, U.S. courts imposed more than 300 death row sentences a year; last year the number dropped to 18.
Greg Row and Robert Dunham, August 2021

A Nation of Sociopaths

     It was Joe McGinniss, in his 1984 book Fatal Vision, who introduced the general public to sociopathy, a personality disorder found in normal looking and acting people who commit cold-blooded murder. "Fatal Vision" explores the sociopathic personality of Dr. Jefferey MacDonald, an Army physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children.

     In the true crime genre, the 1980s became the golden era of books about serial killers, all of whom were sociopaths. Readers and TV viewers became familiar with FBI profilers John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, the founders of the FBI's Psychological Behavioral Unit housed at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Through hundreds of books and true crime television shows, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) became household names. Dr. Park Dietz, a high-profile forensic psychiatrist, author and expert witness, educated the public on the most common traits found in the sociopathic personality which include: narcissism, lack of empathy, pathological lying, the inability to admit guilt, the belief they are smarter than everybody, and the belief they are above society's rules of behavior and laws. 

     Now, when people discuss sociopathy, it is not always in the context of criminal behavior. That's because not all people with sociopathic qualities are serial killers and/or rapists. Recently there have been numerous articles about how to identify a sociopathic person, what professions tend to attract them (politics, journalism, business, and law) and how to deal with these difficult people.

     Nobody knows for sure if sociopaths are born or made, but they seem to be multiplying. Perhaps it's our celebrity culture where rich and famous people are worshiped regardless of how they achieved their wealth and fame. The lesson here seems to be: If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you will succeed because you are special and deserve to get what you want.

    Many young people, if they don't realize their dreams of wealth and fame become despondent and morose. They live the rest of their miserable lives blaming "society" for their lost opportunities. Some of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

Jack Olsen on Writing About Rapists and Serial Killers

I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this seven or eight pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. I think that a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography.

Jack Olsen, Seattle Post-Intelligence, July 19, 2002 

Mystery Novelists Must be Prolific

A mystery writer who waits patiently for a mood to encompass him, for an idea to strike, may find starvation, or other employment, striking first. The professional in this field cannot write one book every three or four years. Three or four a year would be more like it.

Richard Lockridge in Writer's Book, edited by Helen Hull, 1950. Lockridge (1898-1982) and his wife Francis created one of the most famous American mystery series, Mr. and Mrs. North.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Lyvette Crespo Manslaughter Case

      Daniel Crespo was born in a Brooklyn, New York public housing project in 1969. Lyvette, Crespo's high school girlfriend, married him in 1986 shortly after graduation. That year they moved to the Los Angeles area and in 1987 had their first child, a baby girl.

     Daniel Crespo earned an associates degree in psychology/family counseling at East Los Angeles College. Two years later, he was awarded a bachelor's degree in criminal justice/public administration from Cal State University. The couple's second child, Daniel Jr, was born in 1994.

     After working eight years as a criminal justice youth counselor, Crespo joined the Los Angeles County Probation Department. In 2001, he and his family resided in the Vinos la Campana condominium complex in Bell Gardens, a suburban community of 43,000 18 miles southeast of Los Angeles. That year he was elected to the Bell Gardens city council.

     In Bell Gardens, the city counsel is part time and members take turns serving as mayor. In 2014, Daniel Crespo held the office of Bell Gardens mayor. Before that, Crespo had worked five years in the Los Angeles County probation department's adult supervision gang/narcotics unit. As a criminal justice practitioner and a Bell Gardens office holder, Crespo was considered friendly and well-liked. He also had the reputation of being a devoted family man.

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday September 30, 2014, paramedics were called to the Crespo residence. The emergency crew found Daniel Crespo in the second floor master bedroom with three bullets in his upper torso. He died en route to a nearby hospital. His 19-year-old son, Daniel Jr, was taken to a hospital where a doctor treated him as an outpatient for facial injuries sustained in a fight.

     Later that day, Los Angeles County deputies questioned Lyvette Crespo and her son at a county sheriff's station. According to Lyvette, she and her husband had been arguing in the master bedroom. When their son tried to intervene on her behalf, he and his father got into a fight. She left the room and returned with the handgun she used to shoot her husband three times.

     Following police interrogations of the mother and son, the two were allowed to go home. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office announced that investigators would present the results of their investigation of the Daniel Crespo shooting case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. Personnel within that office would determine if there was sufficient evidence to charge Lyvette Crespo and/or her son with criminal homicide.
     Two days after the shooting, Eber Bayona, Lyvette Crespo's attorney, described his client to the media as a devoted wife and mother who had been the victim of "a difficult and intolerable home life." Attorney Bayona said, "I think the evidence will corroborate that she has been a victim of domestic violence for many years."

     William Crespo, the shooting victim's brother, told reporters that the attorney was simply trying to make his brother look bad. "My brother is not a bad man," he said. William went on to say that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office should prosecute Lyvette Crespo for second-degree murder. When asked by a reporter if it were true that Daniel Crespo was having an affair with a woman who was pregnant, William Crespo did not answer the question. He did say that his brother was considering leaving his wife.

     In December 2016, following a criminal investigation that revealed that Daniel Crespo had for years physically abused his wife and his son, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman allowed Lyvette Crespo to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

     On January 20, 2017, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy sentenced Lyvette Crespo to 90 days in jail and five years probation. While the so-called battered wife syndrome is not recognized as an admissible homicide defense, it is relevant in terms of prosecutorial discretion and sentencing.

The Coerced Guilty Plea

According to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, of the 80,000 federal prosecutions initiated in 2018, just two percent of the cases went to trial. In the state system, 94 percent of criminal prosecutions were resolved through the plea bargaining process. People who have studied this aspect of the criminal justice system believe that too many suspects charged with a crime are coerced into pleading guilty. They are told that if convicted, with their criminal records, they could serve long prison sentences, but if they plead guilty, they might get probation or just a few months behind bars. So why take the chance? No one knows how many of these people were actually innocent.

Historical True Crime

The highlight of any true crime book is the sleuthing and the detective. Historical investigations might be easier to understand than modern investigative techniques. Who can understand two expert witnesses arguing about the validity of the new generation of DNA tests, for instance? Historical, easy-to-follow criminal investigations might shift the book's appeal to the intellectual puzzle of solving the crime with traditional techniques.

Ann Marie Ackermann, Historical True Crime Blog

The Murder Genre

I define a true crime book as one involving murder. It's not about art theft, it's not about government cover-up. It's really a case involving murder in which there's an investigation and usually a trial. The best true crime books give you some insight into the characters, usually the character of the killer, and the situation that produced the crime.

Charles Spicer in Mystery Writer's Market Place and Sourcebook, edited by Donna Collingwood, 1993

Point Of View in Children's Books

This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally younger children's books are written with a single point of view. This means the story is told through the eyes and thoughts of the main character. Don't tell the reader the thoughts or feelings of any character except through their speech and actions. [No internal monologues.]

Bethany Robers, bethanyroberts.com, 2001

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Bishop Heather Cook Fatal Hit-And-Run Case

     Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Baltimore, 30-year-old Heather Cook became an ordained minister in the Maryland Diocese of the Episcopal Church in 1987. Over the next several years she worked in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

     On September 10, 2010, while serving as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Easton, Maryland in Caroline County, a police officer pulled Cook over when he saw her driving on a shredded tire. Reeking of alcohol with vomit on her shirt, Cook appeared highly intoxicated. In her vehicle the officer found an empty whiskey bottle, a quantity of marijuana, and a marijuana pipe. Cook, whose blood-alcohol level registered at three times the legal limit, admitted that besides consuming too much alcohol, she had been smoking pot.

     A Carolina County prosecutor charged the Episcopal minister with driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cook pleaded guilty to DUI and in return, the prosecutor dropped the drug related charges. The judge sentenced Heather Cook to supervised probation.

      The Episcopal minister, notwithstanding her problem with booze, drugs, and the law, did not lose her job. Officials of the Maryland Diocese decided to give their wayward cleric a second chance. It was, after all, the Christian thing to do. (Had she been a cop, a lawyer, or a UPS driver, she would have been out the door.)

     In September 2014, officials in the church elected the 58-year-old cleric to the  position of Bishop, making her the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church of Maryland. She became, in the diocese's hierarchy, the number two authority. This may not have been the church's wisest decision.

     On Saturday at two-thirty in the afternoon of December 27, 2014, while driving her green Subaru Forester station wagon on North Roland Park Road in northern Baltimore, Bishop Cook ran into a man riding a bicycle. Instead of pulling over and rendering aid, the Bishop violated the laws of man and God by driving off.
     Paramedics rushed 41-year-old Tom Palermo, a man with a wife and two children, to a nearby hospital. Shortly upon arrival at the medical center, Mr. Palermo died.

     According to local media reports of the hit-and-run incident, Bishop Cook, twenty minutes after the accident, returned to the site of the fatal collision "to take responsibility for her actions." The authorities, however, did not take her into custody or charge her with a crime.
     Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Maryland Diocese, on December 30, 2014, announced that the church had placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave due to the possibility that criminal charges could be filed in the case.

     In speaking to reporters, an eyewitness to the accident said Bishop Cook waited 45 minutes before returning to the scene. According to the witness, "She pulled up with a busted windshield and got out of the car. The police talked to her and put her in the back of the patrol car."

     On January 9, 2015, Bishop Cook turned herself into the authorities after being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligent manslaughter, failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury and death, using a text messaging device that resulted in an accident, and driving while intoxicated.The judge set her bail at $2.5 million.

     Mr. Palermo's sister-in-law thanked Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for filing the charges. "We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom's life, and support the prosecutor's efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

     In October 2015, Cook pleaded guilty to vehicular Manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence, and texting while driving. The judge sentenced her to seven years in prison.

     In May 2017, the Maryland Parole Commission denied Cook's request for early parole. Members of the board denied the request because Cook never apologized for her crimes and showed no remorse for the damage she had done.

     Heather Cook petitioned, in May 2018, for home detention. That request was denied. Two months later, Cook asked for work release. After members of victim Thomas Palermo's family objected to Cook's petition, that request was also denied.

     The authorities, in May 2019, released Heather Cook from prison after she had served a little more that three years of her seven-year sentence. Under the terms of her sentence she would be on probation until 2024.

What Is Justifiable Homicide?

     There is no crime called "homicide." It is simply an umbrella term that includes various types of lawful homicide [executions, valid police involved shootings, and self defense as well as unlawful homicide that includes involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, felony-murder, second-degree murder, and first-degree murder]. The categories of lawful homicide are awfully narrow. One of them is justifiable homicide, which applies mainly to self-defense but can also apply to the defense of one's home from intruders. The latter is known as the castle defense…In such cases, the killing is intentional but "justified" by the circumstances.

     When the act of killing is truly unintentional [as opposed to reckless] the law calls this excusable homicide. Despite the name, it is not enough to say "excuse me" to the victim in order to fit into this category. Rather, the defendant must show that the killing was accidental; for example, when a driver hits a pedestrian who ran into the street without warning. [However, if a drunken driver accidentally runs over this person, it might constitute involuntary manslaughter.]

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007

The Misery Profession

You can't envy writers who were persecuted, imprisoned or put to death for their writing. You can't envy writers whose greatness went unacknowledged in their lifetimes. The careers of alcoholic writers and writers who ended up committing suicide are also hard to covet in any wholehearted way. Even the steadiest-seeming, most successful writers tend, on close examination, to have suffered significant and distinctly unenviable episodes of professional misery at some point in their careers. Self-doubt and self-loathing are occupational hazards of a writing life, and no writer--with the exception of the awesomely sanguine John Updike--ever escapes them altogether.

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014

The Role Played by Literary Agents

     If your aim is to land a contract with one of the major book publishing houses, you probably will need an agent to represent your work. About 80 percent of the books these conglomerates publish are purchased through agents. Some of the largest houses won't even consider submissions from unrepresented writers; when they get manuscripts directly from the author, the author usually gets a short form note advising him to get an agent.

     The advantage to the big publishers in dealing only with agents is that agents know what editors are looking for and won't submit work that isn't salable. The agent's reputation, and therefore his ability to succeed as an agent, rides on submitting only the best--not just in terms of ideas, but also in terms of presentation and research--to only those editors who are appropriate for the project. The publisher saves enormous time and expense by allowing agents to do the work of shifting through submissions to find the real gems.

Meg Schneider and Barbara Doyen, Get Published, 2008

Nitpicking Literary Critics

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 

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Crime Victim's Plight

     In our criminal justice system, when one commits a crime, it's not against the victim of that offense, but against the state. This legal fiction is derived from English common law where all crime was against the king. The crime-against-the-state concept means that real victims of crime have no say in how or if their cases are prosecuted, or even if they are investigated. The system is completely under the control of police and prosecutors. As a result, many victims of crime are victimized twice, first by the criminal, and then by the legal system.

     The small percentage of crimes that lead to someone's arrest are usually offenses that require little or no investigation. Criminal investigators hate mysteries, and prosecutors avoid complicated, difficult cases that may not result in convictions. At least 90 percent of this country's criminal convictions are the result of plea bargains. Over the years, fewer and fewer criminal cases go to trial. As a result, very few convicted criminals end up in prison for the crimes they have actually committed. For example, criminals who commit aggravated assault plead guilty to simple assault, rapists plead to lesser sexual offenses, and murderers go to prison for voluntary manslaughter.

     Usually the victims of crime, when it comes to their criminal cases, are ignored and kept in the dark. The only time they play a role in determining the fate of the people who victimized them is when they are called to testify on behalf of the prosecution. This, of course, exposes them to grueling cross-examinations by aggressive defense attorneys. In many rape cases, it's the victim who ends up on trial.

     Among the most abused victims of crime are children who satisfy the perverted sexual urges of America's huge pedophile population. The victims of these sexual predators are thrown to the wolves by organizations like the Catholic Church and The Boy Scouts of America who are more interested in self-preservation than child protection and criminal justice. Because their victims are powerless, intimidated children, only a small percentage of pedophiles end up in prison. And when some of these degenerates are eventually identified, the passage of time makes it impossible to prosecute them.

     For people who live in cities where district attorneys no longer prosecute what they consider low-level crime, the likelihood of being harassed in the street by a homeless person begging for drug money, having one's car broken into, or losing a wallet or purse to a mugger, increases dramatically. The crime rates in these decriminalized cities has skyrocketed. In places like Los Angeles, News York, Seattle, Chicago, and Philadelphia, these "progressive" prosecutors blame society for driving poor, oppressed criminals into lives of crime. In other words, the victims of crimes are not only ignored, they are blamed for their own victimhood.

     Crime victims, particularly in cases of celebrated offenses, are brutalized by the media. This is because in America, true crime sells newspapers and books and attracts television viewers. The more horrific the crime, the more value it has as entertainment.

     In the late Twentieth Century, attempts to provide victims a larger say in the criminal justice process led to the formation of a variety of victim's rights organizations that lobbied for such reforms as victim impact statements at sentencing hearings, victim compensations funds, and notification rules that require the authorities to notify crime victims of the early release of prisoners.

     The crime victim's plight is not limited to the way our criminal justice system works. Society itself, particularly with regard to murder cases, does not fully know how to deal with, or fully understand, the profound and prolonged suffering of murder victims' families. This reality has led to the formation of victim support groups like Parents of Murdered Children, an organization with chapters across the country.

     While crime victims today have it slightly better than before, most of the attention and concern among politicians, defense attorneys, and academics, is directed at the criminal. For example, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders believes that even convicted terrorists should be allowed to vote. Nancy Pelosi took offense when Donald Trump referred to MS 13 gang members as "animals." 
     Criminal justice reform legislation usually ends up letting more criminals out of prison. When too many Americans break our drug laws, state legislators across the country make more drugs legal. And while it's hard to believe, there are attorneys in the country who devote their entire careers to saving the lives of death row inmates who have committed unspeakable crimes. Meanwhile, the families of victims who were tortured, raped and murdered by these criminal sociopaths are ignored.

Arson Motives

   The identification of the fire setter's motive can help establish if the fire was a single event of fire setting or a series of fire setting behavior. Repetitive fire setting is broken down into three classifications: serial arson, spree arson and mass arson. Serial arson is as many as three fires set at different locations with a cooling off period in between. Spree arson is as many as three fires at different location with no cooling off period between fire sets. Mass arson is many fires set at the same time at the same location.

     There are six motive classifications for arson:

l. Vandalism [includes many school fires]
2. Excitement [which includes sexual gratification]
3. Revenge [also referred to as anger fires]
4. Crime concealment [murder, embezzlement]
5. Profit [usually insurance fraud]
6. Extremism [environmental extremists who set fire to saw mills]

Robert Disbrow Jr., Firehouse Magazine, December 13, 2010 

Movies, TV Series, and the Novel

     Movies have always seemed to me a much tighter form of storytelling than novels, requiring greater compression, and in that sense falling somewhere between the short story and the novel in scale. To watch a feature film is to be immersed in its world for an hour and a half, or maybe two, or exceptionally three. A novel that takes only three hours to read would be a short novel indeed, and novels that last five times as long are commonplace.

     Television is more capacious. Episode after episode, and season after season, a serial drama can uncoil for dozens of hours before reaching its end. Along the way, its characters and plot have room to develop, to change course, to congeal. In its near limitlessness, TV rivals the novel.

Mohsin Hamid, The New York Times Book Review, March 2, 2014

George Orwell on the Writer's Curse

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English novelist known for the classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1950

Elements of a Writer's Style

Style is an author's choice of words (diction), arrangement of words in each sentence (syntax), and handling of sentences and paragraphs to achieve a specific effect.

David Madden, Revising Fiction: A Handbook For Writers, 1988

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Alan Dershowitz on the Crime Scene Work in the Simpson Case

     The [Los Angeles] police contaminated the crime scene by covering the bodies with a blanket from Nicole Brown's home, casting doubt on all the hair and fiber evidence they claimed to have recovered later.

     The bodies of the victims [Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman] were dragged around the crime scene before hair and fiber samples were taken from their clothing.

     The police failed to notify the coroner's office in a timely fashion, as required by Los Angeles Police Department procedure.

     The LAPD sent to the crime scene trainee, Andrea Mazzola, who collected blood samples along with [criminalist] Dennis Fung. Mazzola had never before had primary responsibility for collecting blood evidence from a crime scene. [At the Simpson trial, Dennis Fung turned out to be a huge embarrassment for the prosecution.]

     Detective Vannatter carried around O. J. Simpson's blood in a vial in an unsealed envelope for three hours and went for a cup of coffee before booking it [into evidence]. This would allow the defense to argue that 1.5 cc's of blood could not be accounted for by the prosecution. [A serious chain-of-custody mistake.]

     The criminologists [actually they're called criminalists] failed to find blood on the back gate and socks (if blood was, in fact, there) during the original investigation and only found it several weeks after Simpson's blood sample had been taken and carried around by Vannatter.

     The criminalists did not count the blood samples when they collected them, did not count them when they were put in tubes for drying, and did not count them when they were taken out of the tubes. No documented booking of samples occurred until June 16. [The murders were committed shortly after midnight on June 13, 1994.]

     [While these are serious and stupid crime scene blunders, the totality of the physical evidence in the Simpson case was sufficient to support a conviction. Even if these mistakes had not been made, the jury may have acquitted Simpson anyway.]

Alan M. Dershowitz, The Criminal Justice System and the O. J. Simpson Case, 1996

Frank Caira: The Ecstasy Cook Who Plotted to kill the Wrong People

     Murder for hire masterminds are almost as stupid as for ransom kidnappers. They almost always get caught and end up getting sentenced to life. As a murder-for-hire mastermind, Frank Caira was interesting because he worked at Northwestern University as a medical researcher and used workplace chemicals to manufacture Ecstasy pills in his suburban Chicago home.

     In 2009, a federal grand jury, relying on evidence uncovered by DEA agent Patrick Bagley, indicted the married, 41-year-old Downers Grove, Illinois drug manufacturer. In December 2009, when Caira realized the best plea deal he could get involved 14 year behind bars, he decided to hire someone to kill DEA agent Bagley and Shoshanan Gillers, the assistant United States Attorney in charge of his prosecution.

     Because Caira didn't know any hit men, he reached out to his friend, Jack Mann. When they met on a bench at the Oak Branch Shopping Center. Mann said he knew a gang member who might commit the double murder.

     After being approached by Mann, the gang member tipped off the authorities. After that, all of Caira's murder for hire meetings were secretly recorded. In the summer of 2011, with the would-be hit man and Jack Mann as key prosecution witnesses, the federal grand jury found Caira guilty of soliciting two murders. (Murder-for-hire is a federal crime as well as a state offense.)

     On July 6, 2012, the federal judge sentenced Frank Caira to 82 years in prison. To reporters, his attorney said this: "People like Mr. Caira don't deserve to die in jail." Really? If a man who tried to have two federal law enforcement officers murdered doesn't belong in prison for life, no one does. While defense attorneys are known to say ridiculous things on behalf of their clients, this comment was beyond the pale. 

George "Diamond" King

George "Diamond" King was electrocuted on August 14, 1935 for murdering FBI Agent Nelson Klein. This was the first federal execution under the 1934 law that made it a capital offense to murder a federal law enforcement officer.

The Armchair Traveler

My first writing mentor, Annie Dillard, once told our college class that if you ever have the choice between visiting a far-flung place or reading about it, choose the book. 
Virginia Pye, "Opinionator" The New York Times, December 29, 2013

Stay Calm, Ideas Will Come

Some people when they sit down to write and nothing special comes, no good ideas, are so frightened that they drink a lot of strong coffee to hurry them up, or smoke packages of cigarettes, or take drugs or get drunk. They do not know that good ideas come slowly, and that the more clear, tranquil and unstimulated you are, the slower the ideas come but the better they are.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938 

Why Newspaper Columnists Don't Get Rich

I figured out why I'm not getting seriously rich. I write newspaper columns. Nobody makes newspaper columns into major motion pictures starring Tom Cruise. The best you can hope for, with a newspaper column, is that people will like it enough to attach it to their refrigerators with magnets shaped like fruit.

Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988

You Can't Edit a Blank Page

You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult, novelist, 2003

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Times Square Cookie Monster Case

     New York City's Times Square, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, was one of the seediest sections of the city. The midtown Manhattan tourist attraction was inhabited by panhandlers, pickpockets, drunks passed out in their own urine, prostitutes, pimps, three-card monte hustlers, and guys hawking stolen and knock-off watches. Times Square was home to strip joints, hole-in-the-wall bars, peep-shows, adult movie theaters, dirty book stores, and cathouses. This was not a destination for kids or tourists in search of wholesome entertainment. This was a place to get mugged, hustled, and ripped-off.

     When mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner took control of the city in the 1990s, they cleaned house in Manhattan and transformed Times Square into a Disneyesque theme park for families with young children. Toy stores, souvenir shops, clothing outlets, and fast-food restaurants replaced the adult entertainment establishments. The prostitutes, pimps, panhandlers and street hustlers were replaced by an assortment of costumed Sesame Street and comic book characters who probably thought of themselves as street performers.

     Instead of being accosted by whores, bums, and stolen goods merchants, Times Square tourists were hassled by a motley band of oddballs walking around the place inside Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Super Mario, and Cookie Monster outfits. (This kind of thing went on in Los Angeles as well. In small town America, if some guy dressed up like Superman and walked around town engaging kids he'd find himself in a police vehicle on his way to jail faster than a speeding bullet.)

     In Times Square, the costumed impersonators competed against each other for the attention of tourists accompanied by children. They'd pose and mug it up for the children whose parents were supposed to tip them for the photo-ops. When the kid returned home he could impress his friends with a photograph of himself being hugged by Wonder Woman.

     The street performers were not supposed to directly solicit tips. In New York City this was called "aggressive begging."

     In the scheme of things, slipping a guy in a Big Bird suit a couple of bucks for posing with your kid was harmless enough. It certainly beat having your pocket picked, or losing a couple of hundred bucks to some street corner three-card monte hustler. But occasionally, in the heat of tip-hustling competition things got out of hand. Some of the impersonators slipped out of character. Super Mario got in trouble for groping a woman. Spider-Man pushed a tourist, and Elmo uttered an anti-Sematic slur. Occasionally fights broke out between the characters. (It would be odd seeing Big Bird knock Superman to the ground.)

     On Sunday, April 7, 2013, Parmita Katkar, the former Miss India Asia Pacific beauty queen turned Bollywood actress and model, was in Times Square with her husband and two sons. From Stamford, Connecticut, the family had come to Times Square to buy a bicycle at the massive Toys-R-Us store. Around two-thirty that afternoon, she and her family were set upon by the Cookie Monster, aka Osvaldo Qviroz-Lopez. The big blue furry creature grabbed up Katkar's two-year-old boy and said, "Come on, take a picture." When the mother hesitated, the Cookie Monster put the kid down, pushed him, and said, "Come on, come on! Give me the money!"

     As the boy's father hustled off to find cash for a tip, Oviroz-Lopez launched a verbal attack on the kid's mother. "You are a bitch," he yelled. "Your son is a bastard and your stuff is trash." (I presume the Cookie Monster was commenting on Katkar's body of work in Bollywood.)

     As the shaken tourists escaped the wrath of the furious Cookie Monster, the toddler kept saying, "I don't like Cookie Monster!"

     The next day, the 33-year-old Cookie Monster impersonator was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on charges of assault, child endangerment, and aggressive begging. He posted his $1,000 bond and was released.

     In February 2014, the judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Quiroz-Lopez after the Cookie Monster performed one day of community service.  

When Book Thieves Were Reviled

In 1907, a Dallas Morning News editorial ranked the Library Book Thief as "probably the meanest thief God ever let live on Earth. The person who takes advantage of a collection of books maintained by the decent people of a city, under universal tax for the benefit of all, and steals a volume that better people need makes fallen angels weep." The editorial went on to note that "God is supposed to know everything, maybe he knows why such people exist--but no one else does. Perhaps these people--like the dog poisoners, whom they resemble--inhabit the earth merely to teach humility to those of us who are apt sometimes to think too complacently of human nature..."

Travis McDade, Thieves of Book Row, 2013

Graham Greene on "Popular" Novels

The really popular novels are full of cliches, people "flushing with anger" or "going pale with fear." Popular novelists bring nothing new to their readers, and I have no wish to belong to that type of popular writer.

Graham Greene in Conversations with Graham Greene, edited by Marie-Francoise Allain, 1991

The Value of Documentation in Journalism

Secondary sources are most useful when they lead to primary documents. The legislative hearing transcript would be a primary document as would be a real estate deed, political candidate's campaign finance report, lawsuit, insurance policy, and discharge certificate from the military. Documents can be just like human sources because they are prepared by humans. However, unlike humans, documents do not talk back and do not claim to have been misquoted.

Steve Weinberg in Leaving Readers Behind, 2001 

Animal Memoirs

Memoirs about cats and dogs are nearly as common as cats and dogs. [My wife read a memoir about a woman who devoted her life to her pet owl and a man who had a pet squirrel.]

John Williams, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014 

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Bo Xilai Case: China and the Politics of Murder

     In the Republic of China, a socialist nation of 1.4 billion run by the Communist Party, crime is often inseparable from politics. With about 30,000 criminal homicides a year (if you can trust their statistics), China has a much lower murder rate than the United States with about 330 million citizens, and roughly 1,400 unlawful killings every year. The homicide solution rate in China last year was almost 90 percent compared to 60 percent in the U.S. Of course crime is a lot easier to solve in a country with a criminal justice system without the criminal justice.

     Although the Chinese legislature recently reformed China's criminal procedure code to provide legal representation, and protection against forced confessions, the police routinely ignore these civil rights protections. Political dissidents can be detained indefinitely on vague charges of endangering national security (Critics of the recent passage of America's National Defense Authorization Act think we are, in this regard, impersonating China.), and in criminal cases, the militaristic police still use torture as a means of acquiring confessions. (Citizens of China, due to traditional Chinese values, tend to tolerate the torture of criminal suspects. Chinese crime fiction is mostly about catching the bad guy, then torturing the hell out of him.) Unlike in the United States and other western democracies, criminal suspects in China are not presumed innocent, and have no protection against self-incrimination or unreasonable searches and seizures. There is no due process, freedom of the press, or human rights in the Republic of China.

     The top law enforcement agency in China is the National Police Agency (NPA) which is under the Ministry of the Interior. Departments within the NPA include the National Highway Police, the Harbor Police, and the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Subunits within the Criminal Investigation Bureau include the investigation section, the anti-hoodlum unit, the criminal records office, and the forensic science center. On the city and county level, day-to-day law enforcement is carried out by local authorities who answer to the NPA whose leaders appoint the local police chiefs.

The Bo Xilai Case (The Chinese place the surname first.)

     On November 15, 2011, 41-year-old Neil Heywood, a British businessman who worked and lived in Beijing with his Chinese wife Lulu and their two children, was found dead in a hotel room in the southwestern city of Chonquing. According to Heywood's death certificate, he had died of cardiac arrest from the overconsumption of alcohol. This cause of death stunned his family and friends because he was known as a teetotler. Shortly after his death, Chinese officials cremated his body without his family's consent. (Heywood's wife had initially been told that her husband had simply died of a heart attack.)

     In early April 2012, Chinese police arrested Gu Kailai, a prominent Chinese attorney and businesswoman married to Bo Xilai, a high-ranking Chinese leader with a seat on the 25-member Politburo. Mr. Bo's wife was in police custody under suspicion that she and an accomplice had poisoned Mr. Heywood to death (potassium cyanide) over a business dispute. Following Ms. Gu's arrest, ranking members of the Communist Party removed Mr. Bo from the Politburo on grounds he had interfered with the criminal investigation of his wife.

     The Bo family/Heywood case created the biggest political scandal and shakeup in China since the 1989 protests and massacre in Beijing. Since the ruling elite in China control the news, it was hard to know how much the Chinese people know about the scandal. Back in Great Britain, the story was headline news. In the United States, most of the in-depth reporting was by journalists with The New York Times.

     Neil Heywood, the British businessman found dead in the Chongquing hotel room, had attended Harrow, the exclusive boarding school in London before enrolling at Oxford University. Fancying himself as a dashing young adventurer, Heywood, in the late 1980s, crossed the Atlantic in a yacht and spent a year working for wages along the Florida coast. In the early 1990s, he moved to Dalian, China where he established himself as a business consultant, advising U.S. and British clients on how to do business in China.

     After meeting Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kalai, Heywood moved to Beijing where he took up residence at Le Leman Lake, one of the capital's suburban gated communities. His children, George and Oliva, attended school on the Chinese campus of Britain's Dulwich College.

     Heywood, who drove a S-type Jaguar with a Union Jack bumper sticker, was proud of his native country's empirical history, monarchy, and culture. And he didn't hide his contempt for socialism. To his friends and business associates, he liked to hint that he was a spy in the British Secret Intelligence Service (M-16). (The Foreign Office in London denied any connection to Heywood.) The consensus among those who knew Heywood, on the issue of him being a spy, believed he was a dilettante living a fantasy life.

     Heywood had ingratiated himself with Bo Xilai and his wife by getting their son, Bo Guagua, into Harrow, the $55,000 a year boarding school in London. The 24-year-old, who has lived more than half his life outside of China, was now a graduate student at Harvard University in the United States.

     Bo Xilai, the charismatic 62-year-old son of the legendary revolutionary leader Bo Yibo, had been the party chief of Chongquing, the sprawling metropolitan region in southwest China. Mr. Bo rose to national prominence by successfully cracking down on organized crime. A member of the Central Committee Politburo, Mr. Bo, at the time of his fall from grace, was angling for a promotion to the 9-member Standing Committee, the Communist Party's highest ranking body.

     While Mr. Bo was an extremely popular politician, he had powerful enemies among China's ruling elite who objected to his favoring a larger governmental role in guiding China's growing economy. Certain party leaders were also questioning the source of Bo Xilai's wealth, and suspected he was, through false identities, friends, and relatives (he had an older, very wealthy brother) transferring money to banks and investment houses in Britain and the U.S. When asked how he could afford to sent his son to an expensive school like Harrow, Mr. Bo claimed that his son had been granted a full scholarship. (Bo Guagua's playboy antics at Harrow and Oxford had caused a certain amount of resentment, and embarrassment for his parents.)

     In the Communist Party's upcoming 18th Congress, Bo Xilia had expected to be in the middle of a power struggle over the leadership and control of the Communist Party. Mr. Bo's supporters suspect that the arrest of his wife, and Bo's alleged role in the attempted cover-up, was nothing more than hardball politics, China style.

     Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kalai, through a firm called Horas Consultancy & Investment, advised foreign clients how to do business in China. She had also been director of eight privately held companies in Hong Kong, and worked closely with Neil Heywood. According to some of her colleagues, Ms. Gu had recently become depressed, neurotic, and paranoid, accusing close business associates of betrayal. She had come under investigation for corruption in 2007, and had allegedly asked Neil Heywood to divorce his wife to show his loyalty to the Bo family. In 2010, she and her husband had a falling-out with Heywood over some business deal. (According to sources close to the Chinese investigation, Heywood had threatened to expose Gu's plan to move large sums of money oversees after a dispute over his cut from a transaction.) Heywood told a few friends that he was concerned for his life, and considered leaving China. The day before he died, Heywood told a friend that he was "in trouble," and had been summoned by the Bo family to Chongquing.

     Wang Lijun, handpicked by Bo Xilia, was Chongquing's chief of police. Following Neil Heywood's death, under pressure from the British government, Wang launched an investigation that revealed how the British businessman had really died. According to Chief Wang, Gu Kailai and a household employee named Zhang Xiaojun, had poisoned Mr. Heywood to death. In February 2012, party leaders in Beijing summoned Chief Wang to give evidence against Gu Kalai. Later, when the chief of police informed Bo Xilai that his wife was under suspicion of murder, Mr. Bo became angry and demoted Mr. Wang.

     In mid-March 2012, high-ranking communist leaders, accused Bo Xilia of "serious disciplinary violations," removed him from the Politburo, and confined him to house arrest. Fearing for his life, former chief Wang Lijun sought asylum at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, a city 200 miles from Chongquing. During his 36-hour stay inside the consulate, Mr. Wang told American officials that Ms. Gu had plotted to poison Mr. Heywood. He turned the entire police file over to the Americans and gave them a treasure trove of information regarding the internal Chinese power struggle. Denied asylum, Mr. Wang, after leaving the consulate, was taken into custody. He was under investigation for treason. (According to Chongquing officials, Mr. Wang was suffering from stress, and was receiving "holiday-style medical treatment.")

     In early April 2012, the Chinese police arrested Gu Kailai on the charge of "intentional homicide." According to Chinese homicide investigators, Ms. Gu had poisoned the victim over "a conflict over economic interest."

     On April 12, 2012, the 24-year-old Bo Guagua was seen being escorted out of his luxury apartment near the Harvard University campus by FBI agents.

     The former police chief, Wang Jijun, was convicted in September 2012 on charges of abuse of power, bribery, and defection. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison on the promise he would testify against Bo Xilai.
     In November 2012, Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering Neil Heywood. The judge sentenced her to death.
   In July 2013, the Chinese authorities charged Bo Xilai with corruption, bribery, and abuse of power. In September of that year a jury found Bo guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life behind bars.

     A judge, in December 2015, commuted Gu Kailai's death sentence to life in prison.