More than 5,740,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Darell Avant Sr. Murder Case

     At eleven in the morning of December 18, 2013, an official at the Pershing Elementary School in Pine Hills, Florida, a community of 60,000 near Orlando, asked Darell Avant Sr. to come to the school and take his son home. The principal had suspended the 5-year-old for kicking a teacher.

     Perhaps the unruly boy had learned his bad behavior from his father. Since 2003, the 26-year-old Avant had been arrested in Orange County 25 times for domestic violence and other crimes including assaulting a pregnant woman, drug possession, aggravated assault, and grand theft.

     At seven in the evening on the day Avant removed his son from the school, he called 911 to report that the boy was unconscious and wouldn't wake up. Twenty-five minutes after the emergency call, a member of the Orange County Fire and Rescue crew pronounced the boy dead at his father's apartment.

     In speaking to Orange County Sheriff's deputies, Avant said that after picking up his son from school, he spanked him and sent him to his room. Later that day, Avant punished the boy by making him do push-ups and squats. According to the father, after twenty minutes of this, the child became dizzy, collapsed and lost consciousness.

     Avant told investigators he tried to awaken his son by shaking and slapping him. When that didn't revive the boy, Mr. Avant called a friend who came to the apartment to resuscitate him. That didn't work either. Finally, Avant called 911. Avant didn't explain why he didn't call for professional help immediately after his son lost consciousness.

     Deputies at the death scene and officers at the morgue noticed fresh contusions and bruises on the boy's back, stomach, chest, and arms. His mother told detectives that when the child left for school that morning he did not have those injuries. Investigators believed that the boy had been severely beaten.

     Police officers booked Mr. Avant into the Orange County Jail on charges of domestic violence and several lesser offenses. A social worker with the Department of Children and Families took the dead child's younger sibling into protective custody.

     On December 20, 2013, the medical examiner, following the autopsy, announced that the 5-year-old had died from multiple blunt-force trauma. The medical examiner ruled the death a criminal homicide. Shortly after the medical examiner's ruling, an Orange County prosecutor upgraded the charges against Darell Avant to first-degree murder. If convicted as charged, Avant could be sentenced to death. The judge denied him bail.

     In June 2018, a jury in Pine Hills, Florida found Darell Avant Sr. guilty of first-degree murder. A few days later the judge sentenced him to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Vigilante Judges

At times, judges abandon their neutrality and step into the adversarial void, acting like prosecutors, forcing defendants either to take a deal or wait in jail for a trial date. That, or they deny a defendant his rights altogether. Many defendants plead guilty without a lawyer present. In some cases, they had been in jail for months without counsel. In others, they had no idea what they were pleading guilty to or they accepted sentences higher than the legal maximum.

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

Stoning Someone to Death Versus Lethal Injection

There have been times in certain parts of the world when citizens convicted of what we now consider minor crimes or non-crimes have been buried to their shoulders in sand then pelted with small rocks until they die slowly by blunt force trauma. In America, sob sisters fret over the fact that a serial killer, after living twenty years on death row for an unspeakably horrible murder, or murders, might feel a little discomfort from the death delivering needle. Talk about extremes in a crazy world.

Making Readers Laugh

Writing is such lonely work that I try to keep myself cheered up. If something strikes me as funny in the act of writing, I throw it in just to amuse myself. If I think it's funny I assume that a few other people will find it funny, and that seems to me to be a good day's work. It doesn't bother me that a certain number of readers will not be amused; I know that a fair chunk of the population has no sense of humor--no idea that there are people in the world trying to entertain them.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976 

I Want to Be a Novelist When I Grow Up

If you're a kid who hopes to become a professional novelist, keep that dream to yourself. No one wants to hear it, especially your parents who want you to grow up and get yourself a regular, good-paying job. No parent in his or her right mind goes around bragging that Johnny is going to be a novelist when he grows up.

Mystery Writers Leslie Charteris, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle

Reading ten Leslie Charteris novels in succession cruelly highlights his weaknesses. Likewise Agatha Christie and even Arthur Conan Doyle. "Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue," wrote Raymond Chandler. And once you'd grasped the attitude and heard the lines, why read on?

John Baxter, A Pound of Paper, 2003 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Mary O'Callaghan Police Brutality Case

     The vast majority of police brutality complaints are filed against male officers. This is not surprising since most officers are men. Moreover, male officers tend to be more physically aggressive than their female counterparts. Out of the thousands of excessive force complaints filed against male officers, only a handful result in civil court settlements. Even fewer of these cases lead to criminal prosecutions.

     Female police officers are rarely sued for excessive force, and almost never prosecuted for police brutality. But in Los Angeles, a female cop was charged with felony assault in connection with the beating of an arrestee named Alesia Thomas.

     On July 22, 2012, 35-year-old Alesia Thomas left her two children outside the Southeast Police Station in South Los Angeles. Suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and drug addiction, Thomas knew she couldn't take care of her kids who were age three and twelve. She felt she had no choice but to leave her children at the police department.

     Police officers arrested Thomas that day at her home on charges of child abandonment. As officer Mary O'Callaghan struggled to put the arrestee--wearing handcuffs and leg restraints--into the patrol car, she was caught on another cruiser's dashboard camera kicking Thomas in the stomach and groin area. The police officer, a former Marine and 19 year veteran of the force, was also recorded punching Thomas in the neck.

     The officers at Thomas' house called for medical assistance after the arrestee lost consciousness in the back of the patrol car. Notwithstanding the efforts of the responding paramedics, Thomas died a short time later at the hospital.

     A police administrator, pending an internal departmental investigation, placed O'Callaghan on unpaid leave.

     The forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who performed Thomas' autopsy listed cocaine intoxication as a "major factor" in her death. Because the pathologist was unable to assess what role, if any, being kicked and punched by officer O'Callaghan played in the arrestee's death, Thomas' official cause of death went into the books as "undetermined."

     In the course of the internal affairs investigation, detectives learned that two of the arresting officers that day had disregarded Thomas' request for medical help. Moreover, a third officer at the scene may have lied to investigators looking into the incident. According to the internal affairs inquiry, a police sergeant involved with the case had failed to provide supervisory leadership. In other words, there may have been a cover-up.

     On October 9, 2013, a Los Angeles County assistant district attorney charged officer Mary O'Callaghan with felony assault. The ambivalence regarding Thomas' cause of death ruled out the charge of voluntary manslaughter. If convicted, O'Callaghan faced a maximum prison sentence of three years. Following her arrest she was released on $35,000 bail.

     In speaking to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, the dead woman's mother, Sandra Thomas, lamented the time it took to charge O'Callaghan with a crime. "I am sure," Thomas said, "that Charlie Beck [the chief of police] saw this [dashboard] video long ago. I would like to see that video. They're charging that officer, but what about all of the other officers involved? They did nothing to stop this."

    On June 5, 2015, a jury of eleven women and one man found Mary O'Callahan guilty of felony assault by a police officer. Following her conviction, O'Callaghan asked the judge to send her directly to jail where she would start serving her sentence.

     The trial judge, on July 25, 2015, sentenced O'Callaghan to three years behind bars. The judge then suspended twenty months of the sentence. That meant the former police officer would spend about 16 months in the Los Angeles County lockup.

     Had the forensic pathologist in the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined the manner of death in this case to be homicide, O'Callahan might have been convicted of criminal homicide and sentenced to a lot more time.

Victimology

     For centuries the focus of law enforcement has been exclusively on the perpetrator. The victim was left to fend for him--or herself. Today, one of the most dynamic areas in criminology and criminal investigation is Victimology. The hope of this field is that studying the victim will produce better results in crime prevention and prosecution.

     Crime is never the victim's fault, but it is often the case that certain actions and behaviors on the part of the victim might have made the victim vulnerable. Learning from victims' actions may aid in preventing crime.

     Victimology also strives to help the victim heal after the offense. More and more jurisdictions are offering victims financial assistance, psychological counseling, and other help.

     Victimology is an increasingly active area in criminology as well as in all phases of the criminal justice system.

Alan Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation, 2003

The Humiliation of Book Signings

Any creative endeavor can bring humiliation to the creator. It takes courage and thick skin to expose one's creative product to an indifferent, critical, and often uniformed public. For the vast majority of writers, there is nothing more disappointing and humiliating than the in-store book signing event. Unless you are some kind of celebrity whose autograph has value to adoring fans, you'll probably spend the afternoon alone behind your impressive pile of books while the store's publicity person looks on in boredom and disgust. As you sit there, you promise yourself that you will never expose yourself to this form of humiliation again. But, if you are like most authors, you will break that promise time and time again. The only way to spare yourself of this indignity is to become famous, or quit writing.

The "Cozy" Mystery Genre

A "cozy" is a mystery novel with a light tone and an element of fun; the setting is usually a small community and the protagonist is an amateur sleuth who's a member of the community. Sex and violence occur, for the most part, offstage. Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple remains the quintessential cozy protagonist.

Hallie Ephron, 1998

Wanting to Write Is Not Enough

I want to write and I never never will…Whatever I'm doing, it's always there saying, "Write this--write that--write--" and I can't. Lack ability, time, strength, and duration of vision. I wish someone would tell me brutally, "You can never write anything. Take up home gardening!"

Anne Morrow Lindbergh in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Jeff Hall Murder Case

     Jeff Hall, the 32-year-old head of a ragtag southern California chapter of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a Neo-Nazi organization comprised of malcontents and fools, lived in Riverside, a suburban community east of Los Angeles. Hall resided with his second wife and five children from his first and second marriages. The unemployed plumber's helper associated with a band of losers like himself who regularly gathered at his two-story house to get drunk and stagger around in Nazi uniforms amid swastika banners and other indicia of skin-headed idiocy. To make sure that even the most casual observer could immediately recognize him as a disgruntled failure, Jeff Hall exhibited, on the back of his shaved had, a large tattoo featuring a cross and a skull.

     Instead of taking 10-year-old Joseph, Hall's oldest child and only boy, to baseball games and amusement parks, the father dragged his son to Neo-Nazi rallies and and other fascist gatherings. Hall once took Joseph to the Mexican border where he taught the kid how so spot illegal aliens. Hall occasionally patrolled the border wearing night-vision goggles and carrying an assault rifle.

     To compound his role as a lousy father, Jeff Hall physically and verbally abused his son. The child's teachers couldn't control him. As a result, the boy had been expelled from nine schools in four years.  His first expulsion came when he was only five. He had a habit of stabbing teachers and students with a pencil. Since no school wanted the boy, he had to be home-schooled by his parents. Child welfare workers had visited the Hall residence 23 times between 2003 and 2010, but didn't see fit to remove the boy and his younger sisters from this environment. (Assuming these social workers knew who the man was, you would think the massive portrait of Adolph Hitler over the mantle would at least suggest a problem.)

     Jeff Hall, following the contentious divorce from Joseph's mother, married Krista McCary. The second marriage was on the rocks because Jeff had a girlfriend and had informed Krista that he wanted a divorce. 

     Just past midnight on Sunday, May 1, 2011, Jeff Hall, after a night of drinking with his girlfriend, returned home to find that Krista had locked him out of the house. Hall found an open window, climbed into the dwelling, and  fell asleep on the sofa.

     At four in the morning, when young Joseph realized that his father was conked-out on the couch, he sprang into action. The boy retrieved a .357-caliber revolver of his father's closet, crept down the stairs, and from a distance of a foot, shot his father behind his left ear. Krista McCary called 911.

     Nine days following the fatal shooting, Riverside County prosecutor Michael Soccio charged Joseph Hall with criminal homicide. The boy would be tried as a juvenile, and if convicted, could be held in state custody until he turned 23.

     The youngster's murder trial got underway on October 30, 2012. In his opening statement, prosecutor Soccio said that the boy had killed his father to stop the abuse. Matthew Hardy, Joseph's defense attorney who had pleaded his client not guilty by reason of insanity, in speaking to the jurors, said, "If you were going to create a monster, if you were going to create a killer, what would you do? You'd put him in a house where there's domestic violence, child abuse, and racism." The defense attorney also floated the theory that his client's stepmother, Krista McCary, had manipulated the boy into killing his father because Mr. Hall was going to throw her out of the house.

     Riverside police officer Michael Foster, one of the first responders to the scene that night, testified that the boy told them what he had done to his father. Foster said, "He [the defendant] was sad about it, he wished he hadn't done it. He asked me about things like, 'do people get more than one life?' things like that. He wanted to know if [his father] was dead or if he just had injuries."

     Officer Robert Nonreal testified that one of the defendant's younger sisters had asked the boy why he hadn't shot his father in the stomach as planned.

     Krista McCary, the defendant's stepmother since the boy was two, took the stand and testified that on the day before the murder, her husband had been at the house drinking with his Neo-Nazi buddies. After driving his guests home, Hall sent her several profanity-laced text messages telling her that he wanted a divorce. Mr. Hall also ordered his wife out of the house. (The prosecutor presented this line of testimony to establish one of the defendant's motives for the murder--to keep the family together.) McCary, who had initially informed the police that she had murdered Hall, explained on the stand that she had done this to protect her stepson.

     On the second day of testimony, the prosecution played the video of Joseph Hall's rambling confession as he sat fidgeting in a chair wearing ankle chains. He explained to his interrogators that after watching a TV episode of "Criminal Minds" featuring a boy who had killed his abusive father and had not been arrested, he didn't think he would be punished for shooting his father. One of Joseph's younger sisters followed him to the stand with testimony that the defendant had planned four days to murder his dad.

     On Monday, November 5, 2012, the prosecution planed to put a San Bernardino psychologist on the stand to testify that the defendant, at the time he shot his father to death, was legally sane. The judge, because this witness had testified at a preliminary hearing that the boy was competent to stand trial, barred his appearance.

     After the prosecution rested its case, the defense put a psychologist on the stand who testified that the boy had been bashed in the head as an infant. He had also been beaten with a belt, sexually abused, and forced to eat off the floor. At this point in the trial, the prosecution asked for and was granted a postponement until January 7, 2013. The state needed time to find another psychologist to evaluate the boy, and testify that he was sane when he killed his father.

    On January 14, 2013, Riverside County Superior Judge Jean Leonard found the defendant legally responsible for his father's death. The judge, however, opted for the lesser charge of second-degree murder because she did not believe the killing had been premeditated. A few months later, the judge sentenced the boy to ten years in a California juvenile facility. 

"Privileged" Or Not, No One "Deserves" to be Robbed

     In November 2014, Georgetown University senior Oliver Friedfeld and his roommate were mugged at gun point. Friedfeld says he deserved it because of his "privilege." In an opinion piece in the university newspaper, The Hoya, Friedfeld wrote that he "can hardly blame" the assailants for robbing him. He argued that income inequality is to blame for the crime.

     "Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as 'thugs?' It's precisely this kind of 'otherization' that fuels the problem," Friedfeld wrote…

     Friedfeld asserted that in order to end opportunistic crime, "We should look at ourselves first. Simply amplifying police presence will not solved the issue. It is up to millenials to right some of the wrongs of the past. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them." [What a load of university-speak crap from a rich, guilt-ridden ivory tower idiot.]

"Student Robbed at Gunpoint Says He Deserved It Due to His 'Privilege,' " breitbart.com, November 29, 2014 

Categories Within The Mystery Genre

The term mystery, as in mystery novel, is an umbrella that shelters a variety of subgenres: the traditional whodunit, the private eye, the classic puzzle, the police procedural, action/adventure, thriller, espionage, the novels of psychological and romantic suspense.

Sue Grafton, Writing Mysteries, 1992 

Beware Of The Prize-Winning Novel

In later 1999 I wrote a short book called Gorgons in the Pool. Quoting lengthy passages from prize-winning novels, I argued that some of the most acclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks. The greater point was that we readers should trust our own taste and perception instead of deferring to received opinion...A thriller must thrill or it is worthless; this is as true now as it ever was. Today's "literary" novel, on the other hand, need only evince a few quotable passages to be guaranteed at least a lukewarm review. It is no surprise, therefore, that the "literary" camp now attracts a type of writer who, under different circumstances would never have strayed from the safest crime-novel formulae, and that so many critically acclaimed novels today are really mediocre "genre" stories told in an amalgam of trendy stylistic tics.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002

[This is a groundbreaking book that exposes the bad, unreadable writing of, among others, "literary" novelists Don DeLillo, Annie Proulix, Paul Auster, David Guterson, and Cormac McCarthy.] 

Graphic Gore in Horror Fiction

Bloody acts of violence need not be graphically described…My position is simple. I detest the Vomit Bag School of Horror--books and stories featuring gore for gore's sake, designed strictly for the purpose of grossing out the reader.

William E. Nolan, How To Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

Monday, September 27, 2021

The O. J. Simpson Murders: A "Crime of the Century"

     In America, the combination of celebrity worship and the fascination with violent crime has produced a dozen or so "crimes of the century." Obscure people, by virtue of their willingness to commit outrageous mayhem, can become instant celebrities. In the 20th century, unknown people like Bruno Richard Hauptmann, Mark Chapman, David Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Kaczinski, because of who or how many people they murdered, propelled themselves into the history books. Assassins Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan committed acts of violence that changed the direction of history.

     In Kansas, the 1959 Clutter family killers, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith, destined to remain relatively obscure despite their mass murder, were immortalized by celebrity author Truman Capote whose book In Cold Blood became a bestseller, a movie, and as a "nonfiction novel," a literary classic. Charles Manson, Erik and Lyle Menendez, Ted Bundy, and other convicted killers of the 20th Century, were regularly seen on TV as celebrity criminals being interviewed by celebrity reporters.

     The 20th century saw three "crimes of the century": The Lindbergh Kidnapping; The John F. Kennedy Assassination; and the O. J. Simpson case. Charles A. Lindbergh was brought down by an unemployed illegal alien who abducted and murdered his 20-month-old son; President Kennedy by a deranged lone wolf; and O. J. Simpson by himself. These three cases rose above the rest because they involved two famous victims, and a famous defendant, all of whom were heroes to millions of people.

     There have been dozens of books written about the Lindbergh and Simpson crimes, and more than 500 books on the Kennedy assassination. In the Lindbergh and Kennedy cases, many of these works feature revisionist history by crime writing hacks. Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, there have been authors who have made literary cases for O. J. Simpson's innocence.

The O. J. Simpson Case and its Aftermath

     From the June 1994 day in Los Angeles when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were viciously stabbed and slashed to death outside of O. J. Simpson's ex-wife's condo, to Simpson's October 1995 murder acquittal, the O. J. Simpson case dominated the news in the United States and abroad. His acquittal at the hands of a stupid or biased jury shocked the nation. In February 1997, a civil jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, awarding the plaintiffs $8.5 million in compensatory damages. The civil court judge also ordered Simpson to turn over his 1968 Heisman Trophy, an Andy Warhol painting, his golf clubs, and other personal assets.

     In September 2007, O. J. and a group of his associates entered a room at the Palace Station hotel-casino in Las Vegas where they stole, at gunpoint, sports memorabilia from a dealer. O. J.'s accomplices, upon arrest, quickly agreed to plead guilty and testify against Simpson. A year later, after being found guilty of robbery, assault, and kidnapping, Simpson was on his way to prison where he would have to serve at least nine years before being eligible for parole. He was now 67, and serving his time at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada.

     The O. J. Simpson murder case, involving DNA analysis, blood spatter interpretation, shoe print identification, and forensic pathology, popularized forensic science. The not guilty verdict also introduced the public to the concept of jury nullification.

     The infamous double murder turned police detectives, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and the trial judge into instant celebrities. Several of the major players in the case cashed-in with lucrative book deals. A few became television personalities. The case put CNN on the map, and elevated the careers of more than a few talking-heads. In that respect, the effects of the Simpson case are still visible.

The Post-Conviction Lives of Key Simpson Figures

     The chief prosecutor, Marcia Clark, left the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 1997 just before the publication of her book (with Teresa Carpenter) Without a Doubt. Clark received a publisher's advance of $4.2 million. (An insane amount for a true crime book, and a much better deal for Clark than the publisher.) Clark, although criticized by many legal scholars and commentators for her handling of the case, parlayed it into a media career. A special correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight," Clark commented on the Casey Anthony trial for Headline News. She is now 65.

     Johnny Cochran, the chief defense attorney, was already known as a celebrity trial attorney before taking on O. J. Simpson as a client. In 1993, he had defended Michael Jackson against accusations of child molestation. At the Simpson trial, regarding the bloody crime scene glove, Cochran issued the now famous quote: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." He retired from his legal practice in 2002, and on March 29, 2005, died of a brain tumor. He was 67.

     Judge Lance Ito, the man who presided over the 9-month trial, was severely criticized by legal scholars for letting the proceeding degenerate into a media circus and television soap opera. In his book, Outrage, Vincent Bugliosi, the man who prosecuted Charles Manson and his crew (Helter Skelter), accused Ito of judicial incompetence in the case. Ito, now 67, retired in 2018 as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

     After the Simpson trial, Marcia Clark's assistant, Christopher Darden, worked as a legal commentator for CNN, Court TV, and NBC. His book on the case is called In Contempt. Darden has since written several other books, including a crime thriller with writer Dick Lochte. He is 62 and practices law in southern California.

     If the Simpson case produced a law enforcement villain, it was Mark Fuhrman. The Los Angeles police detective was accused of planting the bloody crime scene glove. Convicted of perjury, Fuhrman was sentenced to three years probation. (There was never solid proof that Detective Fuhrman planted any evidence in the case.) The former Marine, in the years since the Simpson trial, rehabilitated his image by becoming a successful author of nonfiction crime books. In addition to his book on the Simpson case, Murder in Brentwood, Fuhrman has written Murder in Greenwich, a bestseller about the Martha Moxley case. He was also a crime commentator on Fox News. He is 66.

     In May 2016, O. J. Simpson came up for parole in the Las Vegas robbery/kidnapping case. The parole board denied his request for early release. On July 21, 2017, the parole board paroled Simpson and allowed him to live in Miami, Florida. Since then, he has virtually disappeared from public view.

Serial Killer Ted Bundy On Murder

Murder is not about lust and it's not about violence. It's about possession. When you feel the last breath of life coming out of the woman, you look into her eyes. At that point, it's being God.

Ted Bundy

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

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

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

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

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1996

Books About Writers

Disagreement over the merits of literary biography will likely subside by default, as the form begins to extinguish itself. Even among those who like it, demand is bound to slacken: Novelists' lives are considerably less interesting than they used to be. Longer, yes, but much drier in every sense; less full of rivalrous brawling, less harrowed by the unemployment that was so ofter their lot before creative writing programs started offering them day jobs. For another thing, literary biography will be crippled by the absence of many of its old tools. Writers' drafts, those manuscripts that show, line by line, how writers came to do what they did, now disappear with the deleting drag of the mouse; and for all the supposed permanence of tweets and Facebook posts, the deliberate letters that writers used to save and bundle have largely been replaced by emails and texts they don't bother to archive.

Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014

The Role Of Alcohol In Writing Fiction

Raymond Chandler is reported to have said he couldn't find an ending to one of his excellent stories unless he took time to get drunk. Up to a point I accept his report. For alcohol can stimulate imagination. It can find inventions. But I'll lay my bottom dollar, as one not unacquainted with booze, that Chandler had to sober up to write that ending.

A. B. Guthrie Jr., Field Guide to Writing Fiction, 1991 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Steven Powell And His Son Josh: Cases Of Voyeurism, Arson, and Murder-Suicide

     On December 6, 2009, Josh Powell reported his 28-year-old wife, Susan Cox Powell, missing. He said she had disappeared while he and his two sons were on a camping trip. The family lived in West Valley, a suburb of Salt Lake City. The story didn't make any sense, and the police didn't believe him. As time passed, and Susan Cox remained missing, the authorities suspected that Josh Powell had murdered his wife for her life insurance. But without the body, the case stalled.

     In January 2010, after losing his job, Josh Powell and his boys moved into his father Steven Powell's house in South Hill, an unincorporated community in the Puyallup, Washington area. Investigators, in August 2011, pursuant to the ongoing investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance and presumed murder, searched Steven Powell's house, and were shocked by what they found.

     On videotapes, computer discs, and in Steven Powell's diaries, detectives found evidence that Steven Powell had been sexually obsessed with his son's wife Susan, the missing woman. He had also secretly videotaped and photographed, in 2006 and 2007, two girls who lived in the house next door. The girls were age 8 and 10.

     In seven entries in his dairies, Steven Powell had documented his bizarre fixation on his daughter-in-law. He wrote: "Susan likes to be admired, and I'm a voyeur...I'm a voyeur and Susan is an exhibitionist." In a series of videos of himself ruminating about his daughter-in-law, the senior Powell said he "...would give anything to be with her." In various self-videoed scenes, Steven Powell is kissing a pair of her underwear, standing nude with a photograph of her, and recalling how giving her a foot rub was "...the most erotic experience of my life." Detectives also found clandestinely taken photographs of Susan in various stages of undress.

     Even more disturbing were the thousands of photographs Powell had secretly taken of the girls next door. The pictures, taken 40 feet away through a window and an open bathroom door, depicted the youngsters getting dressed and undressed, taking baths, washing and drying their hair, and other thing people do in the privacy of their homes. On his computer, Steven Powell had hundreds of photographs he had covertly taken of other girls who had passed in front of his house. Searchers also found hundreds of photographs, taken by other people, of naked women and girls.

     In his diary entries, Powell discussed his voyeurism generally, noting that he enjoyed taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts. In 2010, he recorded himself saying,  "I've been going nuts and nearly out of control sexually my entire life."

     Charged by the Pierce County prosecutor with 24 counts of voyeurism, and one count of possession of materials of minors engaged in explicit conduct, police arrested Steven Powell on September 12, 2011. Each count carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     About a month after his father's arrest, Josh Powell lost custody of his two boys and moved into a rented house in Graham, Washington. On February 6, 2012, his sons' made a visit to his home accompanied by a supervising social worker. Powell, with the boys in the house, locked the social worker out of the dwelling. With the social worker locked outside, Josh Powell murdered the boys with a hatchet. He poured several gallons of gasoline around the dwelling then set it on fire. He died in the blaze.

     Steven Powell, with his daughter-in-law missing and presumed dead, two of his grandsons murdered, and his son, the killer of all three, dead by his own hand, went on trial May 7, 2012 in Tacoma, Washington. In a series of pre-trial hearings, Pierce County Judge Ronald Culpepper ruled that the prosecution could not introduce any of the evidence pertaining to Powell's obsession with Susan Powell. Moreover, the government could only present 20 of the photographs the defendant had allegedly taken of the girls next door.

     On May 9, 2012, the girls Powell had allegedly photographed and videotaped in 2006 and 2007, now 13 and 15, took the stand for the prosecution. When asked why they had not kept the bathroom door closed, one of the witnesses said she felt safer with the door open, and had no idea anyone outside the house could see her. In the summer, because the home didn't have air conditioning, it got hot on the second floor. That explained why all of the upstairs windows had been open during the night. The family had moved to Puyalllup in 2006 from Arizona, and in 2008, left the neighborhood. The girls and their mother had no memory of Steven Powell, and were unable to identify him in the court room.

     Defense attorney Mark Quigley did not put any witnesses on the stand. His defense, which revealed itself through his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, consisted of suggesting that someone else in the Powell house had spied on the girls. At the time, Steven Powell's two sons, and one of his daughters, lived with him.

     Attorney Quigley, in his closing argument to the jury, pointed out that the state, with no direct proof the defendant had photographed and videotaped the neighbor girls, had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     Prosecutor Grand Blinn, characterized the state's case as one involving "overwhelming circumstantial evidence." Blinn told the jury of six men and six women that the defendant had essentially confessed to being a voyeur. "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "anything more disturbing to teenage girls to know that a middle age man next door was taking pictures of them."

     On May 16, 2012, the jury, following just three hours of deliberation, found Steven Powell guilty of all 14 counts of voyeurism. They acquitted him of the possession of child pornography charges.

     The judge, on July 15, 2012, sentenced Steven Powell to 30 months in prison for the voyeurism offenses.

     On October 27, 2014, the prosecutor re-charged Powell on the pornography allegations. A judge later dismissed that case.

     The Washington State Court of Appeals, on March 13, 2016, set aside Powell's voyeurism conviction on procedural grounds related to the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

     As of September 2021, Susan Cox Powell's body had not been found.

Impeaching Federal Judges

The impeachment of federal judges is rare, and removal is rarer still. With respect to federal judges, since 1803, the House of Representatives has impeached only 15 judges--an average of one every 14 years--and only 8 of those impeachments were followed by convictions in the Senate.

Douglas Keith, Brennan Center For Justice, March 8, 2018

What is a Fable?

A fable is a brief tale, in prose or verse, to illustrate a moral. Often involving unusual or supernatural incidents, fables sometimes contain animals, as in Aesop's Fables, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and George Orwell's Animal Farm. 

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

Biographies Are Than A Collection of Facts

Research is only research. After all the facts have been marshaled, all the documents studied, all the locales visited, all the survivors interviewed, what then? What do the facts add up to? What did the life mean?

William Zinsser in Extraordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986 

Not All Bestselling Novels Are Well Written

" 'Are you ready?' he mewled, smirking at me like a mother hamster about to eat her three-legged young."

E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, 2012 

Story Driven Nonfiction

Story driven nonfiction is extraordinarily successful, and there's a huge market for it. I think it's partly because when you publish a nonfiction book, especially one that's story driven as opposed to didactic or scholarly, you can target the market in an easier way.

Charlie Conrad, Poets and Writers, May/June 2004 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Judge Michael Thornsbury

     There are many jurisdictions in the United States that have earned reputations of being awash in governmental corruption. For example, nothing is politically on the level in the states of Louisiana and Nevada, and the cities of Detroit and Chicago. But to varying degrees, governmental fraud, dishonesty, crime, and abuse of power, on the federal, state, and local levels, flourishes everywhere in America. Whenever you have government, big or small, you have corruption. Government is nothing more than organized lying. Government and corruption go together like pancakes and syrup. You can't have one without the other. And corruption is not Just limited to big cities and states. It exists in places like Mingo County West Virginia. 

     Mingo County, home to 27,000, is located on the state's southern border with Kentucky. This place, going all the way back to its Hatfield and McCoy days, has a history of violence and political corruption. In 1997, the people of Mingo County elected Michael Thorsbury to the office of circuit judge. As the only common pleas judge in the county, Thornsbury held a position of power and influence. He was the proverbial big fish in the small pond. Unfortunately he was a piranha.

     In 2008, Judge Thornsbury became romantically involved with his married secretary. A couple of months after he begged her to leave her husband, Robert Woodruff, she ended her relationship with the judge. This is when things started to get bad for Mr. Woodruff.

     Judge Thornsbury, in a effort to railroad Mr. Woodruff into prison, asked a friend to plant drugs in a magnetic box under his car. The judge, thinking that his friend had carried out the assignment, tipped-off the local police.

     Having failed to set Mr. Woodruff up for a phony drug bust, Judge Thornsbury tried something else. After carefully cultivating a friendship with a West Virginia State Trooper, the judge asked the officer to file a false complaint accusing Woodruff of grand larceny. The cop followed through by accusing Woodruff of stealing drill bits from his coal company employer. Mr. Woodruff had salvaged old drill bits, but with the company's permission. Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks intervened on Woodruff's behalf, and a local magistrate dismissed the case. The state trooper, the next year, was named West Virginia State Trooper of the Year. 

     Determined to get Robert Woodruff out of the way in order to get to his wife, Judge Thornsbury, in an effort to dig up dirt on his target, appointed a friend to the position of foreman of a Mingo County Grand Jury. This gave the Judge's friend the power to issue subpoenas as part of a fishing expedition in search of information the judge could use against Mr. Woodruff. When the recipient of one of these bogus subpoenas refused to cooperate, the Judge's scheme fizzled out.

     In 2012, Mr. Woodruff was assaulted outside a convenience store by two men, one of whom brandished a handgun. Judge Thornsbury tried to turn Mr. Woodruff from being the victim of the assault to its perpetrator. Once again, the county prosecutor refused to go along with the phony case.

     On August 15, 2013, FBI agents arrested Judge Thornsbury in Williamson, the Mingo County seat. The jurist was under indictment by a federal grand jury for "conspiring to violate Robert Woodruff's right not to be deprived of his liberty without due process of law." If convicted as charged, the 57-year-old judge faced up to 20 years in prison.

     On the day of Judge Thornsbury's arrest, the West Virginia Supreme Court suspended him without pay and lifted his license to practice law.

     Judge Thornsbury, after posting his $10,00 bond, insisted that he was innocent and predicted that he would be vindicated when his case went to trial.

     On October 2, 2013, Thornsbury entered pleas of guilty of conspiring to deprive Robert Woodruff of his constitutional rights. He also resigned from office. The federal judge sentenced Mr. Thornsbury to 50 months in federal prison.

Genius As A Form Of Insanity

Good sense travels on the well-worn paths; genius, never. And that is why the crowd, not altogether without reason, is so ready to treat great men as lunatics.

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), Italian Criminologist

Jailhouse Informant Testimony

Jailhouse informant testimony is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 364 DNA-based exoneration cases.

Innocence Project, March 6, 2019

Dystopian Science Fiction

     "It's so easy to make money with science fiction stories that say civilization is garbage, our institutions will never be helpful, and your neighbors are all useless sheep who could never be counted on in a crisis," says David Brin, a science fiction writer who thinks we've gotten too fond of speculative technological bummers. Movies like "Blade Runner," "The Matrix," "Children of Men," "The Hunger Games," and "Divergent," all express some version of this dark world view.

     Neal Stephenson, the author of Cryponomicon, usually writes exactly those kinds of dystopian stories. In his fiction, he tends to explore the dark side of technology. But a couple of years ago he got a public wake up call.

     On stage at a writer's conference, Stephenson was complaining that there were no big scientific projects to inspire people these days. But Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, shot back, "You're the one slacking off." By "you", Crow meant science fiction writers.

Adam Wernick, pri.org, July 29, 2014 

The First Novel Rejection Blues

     I completed my first novel on July 29, 2012 and spent the next two months sending it out to hundreds of agents and any publisher I could find that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Dropping over a grand on ink, paper, and postage, my days consisted of checking my email, walking to the post office, and scanning the Internet for details of any literary agency that had an address, never mind a respectable client list.

     I received dozens of rejection slips but mainly non-replies. Those that did get back to me all said the same thing: love it, but can't see it selling. After a few months I was forced to admit that my novel wasn't going to be bought for $500,000 nor for the price of a battered second-hand paperback. I was devastated. What would become of me now?

James Nolan, vice.com, April 29, 2014 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Michael Williams: The Amtrak Stabber

     On Friday December 5, 2014, Michael Williams boarded Amtrak Blue Water Service Train 364 in Chicago en route to its final destination, Port Huron, Michigan. The 44-year-old, a ten-year U.S. Army veteran, had spent time at the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan where he had been treated for mental illness. Upon his release from the hospital doctors prescribed anti-psychotic medication.

     Shortly after Williams boarded the train he became agitated and made passengers around him feel uncomfortable and nervous. Just before the train rolled into the Amtrak station in Niles, Michigan in the southwestern part of the state ten miles north of South Bend, Indiana, several passengers called 911 to report a potential disturbance involving a man who was behaving irrationally.

     By the time officers with the Niles, Michigan police department boarded the train against the flow of passengers hurrying to get off, Williams had stabbed a conductor and three passengers, one of whom was a seriously wounded woman.

     The responding police officers handcuffed Williams behind his back after subduing him with a stun gun. By using non-lethal force against a crazed, knife-wielding man who had already stabbed four people, these officers, in the wake of the Michael Brown case, avoided killing a black man. 

     The wounded Amtrak conductor and passengers were taken to a nearby hospital where they were listed in stable condition.

     After a Berrien County, Michigan prosecutor charged Michael Williams with four counts of assault with intent to murder, the judge set his bail at $1 million. The judge also ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine the suspect's mental competence to understand the charges against him as well as his ability to help his attorney defend him against the charges.

     On October 25, 2015, Michael Williams was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. According to members of his family, he had recently struggled with delusions and paranoia. Instead of prison, the judge sent Williams to a mental institution where he would remain until sane enough to safely rejoin society.

Animal Cruelty and Public Outrage

     In April 2019, a man rummaging through a dumpster in Coachella, California made a startling discovery. Inside a white plastic bag he found seven live, three-day old Terrier mix puppies. The dogs, having been exposed to 90 degree heat, were rushed to an animal hospital where they were found to be in remarkably good health. From there the puppies were taken to an Animal shelter.

     Surveillance video footage showed that prior to the discovery of the hapless puppies that day, a car pulled up to the dumpster and a woman got out carrying the bag of dogs. She dropped the package into the dumpster and drove off.

     Investigation revealed that the woman in the video was 54-year-old Deborah Sue Culwell.

     A Riverside County prosecutor charged Deborah Sue Culwell with 14 counts of animal cruelty. She pleaded not guilty to the charges.

     In August 2019, following Culwell's guilty plea, the judge sentenced her to one year in which she would have to spend 275 days behind bars. Culwell would serve her remaining time pursuant to a work release arrangement followed by seven years of probation during which time she could not own an animal.

     Although a misdemeanor offense, the cruelty of Culwell's crime and the vulnerability of its victims sparked outrage in the southern California community. The judge obviously shared this view of Culwell's behavior.

     Perhaps there should be a registry for animal abusers.

Lizzie Borden's Acquittal

 In 1893, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden got off murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet because the all-male jury didn't think young women from good families were capable of committing gruesome homicides. After the Borden trial, no one was ever arrested for the double killing. Lizzie Borden lived the rest of her life in Fall River under a cloud of suspicion. Only the bravest kids would knock on her door for Halloween candy.

James Michener On His Work Habits

     Between the years 1986 and 1990 I would write ten books, publish seven of them including two very long ones, and have the other three completed in their third revisions and awaiting publication. It was an almost indecent display of frenzied industry, but it was carried out slowly, carefully, each morning at the typewriter, each afternoon at exciting research or quiet reflection...

     Curiously, during this spurt of energy I never thought of myself as either compulsive or driven. Nor am I. Through decades of writing I have acquired certain patterns of behavior and workmanship which have enabled me to write long books. I merely adhere to those solid rules. I rise each day at seven-thirty, wash my face in cold water but do not shave, eat a frugal breakfast of bran sprinkled with banana, raisins, and skim milk--no sugar--and go directly to my desk, where the day's work has been laid out the night before.

     With delight and a feeling of well-being, I leap into whatever task awaits and remain at it until after noon, when I have a light lunch after which I take a nap. I never compose in the afternoon but do research and meet classes at the university. At dusk each day, regardless of the weather, I take a mile walk at a rather brisk clip. Supper, the evening news, a nine o'clock movie if a good one is on television, a half-hour of cleaning up my desk at eleven, and off to bed.

James A. Michener (1907-1997), The Eagle and the Raven, 1990 [Michener, who lived in Austin, Texas, published forty historical novels and a memoir. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948.]

Historical Accuracy in Horror Fiction

Let us start with an observable fact: Many commercially successful novels and motion pictures pay only slight attention to historical accuracy. This is just as true in horror fiction as it is in other types of historical storytelling. Let us also observe that these inaccuracies are found in many outstanding works of literature and drama, and that faithfulness to history does not, by itself, create compelling stories. [One could argue that history itself is a horror story.]

Richard Gillian in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Jody Lee Hunt's Murderous Rampage

     Jody Lee Hunt was not a stranger to crime and violence. In 1999, a judge in Virginia sentenced the 24-year-old to ten years in prison following a kidnapping conviction, an offense that included the use of a firearm.

     In 2014, the 39-year-old Hunt owned the J & J Towing and Repair company in Morgantown, West Virginia, the home of West Virginia University in the north central part of the state. Hunt lived nearby in the small town of Westover.

     Sharon Kay Berkshire, Hunt's 39-year-old former girlfriend, filed a domestic violence case against him in October 2014. In mid-November, one of Berkshire's new boyfriends, 28-year-old Michael David Frum, a car detailer who also lived in Westover, sent Hunt a text message that taunted him for losing his girlfriend to another man.

     Besides the humiliation of losing his girlfriend to Frum and another Morgantown area man named Jody Taylor, Hunt was battling a business competitor named Doug Brady, the 45-year-old owner of Doug's Towing. Brady's company, located just a quarter of a mile from Hunt's towing business, had been publicly accused by Hunt of acquiring towing jobs illegally.

     At eight in the morning of Monday December 1, 2014, Morgantown police officers responded to a call regarding a body found at Doug's Towing company. The dead man, Doug Brady, had been shot in the head. Detectives didn't believe that robbery had been a motive for the murder.

     Police officers, less than an hour later, found two more bodies in a house in Cheat Lake, West Virginia just outside of Morgantown. Sharon Kay Berkshire and her lover Michael David Frum had been shot to death execution style.

     A short time after officers responded to the double murder in Cheat Lake, they were called to another murder scene, this one on Sweet Pea Road outside of Morgantown. Jody Taylor, Berkshire's other boyfriend, had been shot in the head.

     Because Jody Lee Hunt had a motive to murder all four victims, he became the immediate suspect in the quadruple murder case. Police were looking for Hunt's black 2011 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

     On Hunt's Facebook page, detectives found the following message posted on the day of the murders: "I'm deeply hurt by the events that led up to this day! I poured out my heart to her [presumably Sharon Kay Berkshire] only to be manipulated as to what I could give her. Life is short. It's not all games. Don't play a game with a person's heart."

     Also on his Facebook page that day, Hunt had written: "My actions were not right nor were the actions of those who tried to break me down and take from me. This was not the plan but a struggle to see that those who hurt me received their fair pay of hurt like I received."

     At seven in the evening on the day of the four murders, police received a tip that Jody Hunt was seen in Everettsville, a town seven miles from Morgantown in the southern part of Monongalia County. Police officers, in a power line right-of-way cut through the forrest not far from U.S. Route 119, found Hunt's truck. Inside the vehicle they discovered Hunt dead from a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head. 

The Meth Professor

     In 2012, Professor McCarthy, described by his students as an eccentric who smoked meth, taught in Michigan State University's Engineering Building. In October, just before one o'clock on the day his students will never forget, he started shouting in class. The professor pressed his hands and his face against a window, and stated to scream at the top of his lungs. The out of control professor walked out of the classroom and continued to make a lot of noise as he paced up and down the hallway. At this point someone called 911.

     Professor McCarthy returned to the classroom, and with his terrified students looking on, took off his clothes except for his socks. He then ran naked about the room screaming, "There is no f-ing God," and ranting about computers, Steve Jobs, and that everything in life was just an act. Traumatized students fled the classroom.

     Fifteen minutes after the 911 call police officers entered the classroom, placed the screaming, naked man into handcuffs, and hauled him off to a local hospital for observation. His students, for the remainder of the semester, were reassigned to other math classes.

     In an email to his former students, Professor McCarthy, after being discharged from the hospital, wrote: "The incident that occurred Monday was unfortunate. Although I do not remember what happened, I have been told that I may have caused distress among my students in Monday's class. For that I am sorry." 

     Professor John McCarthy was not charged with a crime. While he was probably tenured, the professor must have had a hard time justifying his meth induced antics as an exercise in academic freedom. Still, in academia, bizarre behavior is tolerated that anywhere else would be frowned upon and cause for dismissal. If the professor lost his job over this incident, there is no mention of it on the Internet. Assuming he kept his position at MSU, how did he muster the nerve to show his face on campus after that? 

Books For Children 9 to 13

Middle-grade fiction is perhaps the most satisfying category for a writer. Children are still children, but their curiosity is unbounded and the writer who can enthrall them will be cherished. Statistics have shown that this age is also known for having the most readers as a group. To satisfy these voracious and varied readers, think about writing thrillers, literary novels, fantasy and science fiction, gripping historical fiction, humor, and books about contemporary problems.

Olga Litowinsky, Writing and Publishing Books For Children, 1992 

Musician Memoirs

The music star memoir is a special corner of literature where people who probably hated school get to have their revenge. They get to look back at the English teacher who gave them bad grades--and say--"Look at me now, lots of people want to read what I'm writing!" I can personally attest to the fact that these books are "written" by the stars because I've spent years working on memoirs by the hip-hop legends KRS-One, Nas and Rakim. In most cases, the star isn't actually typing anything--but they are dictating their story while the writer tries to be faithful to their voice so it absolutely is their book [if not their work]. In my experience, these memoirs are hard to write partly because musicians have conquered a field where success is rare, giving them a sense that it was all predestined.

The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

The Alcoholic Novelist

William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are probably three of the most notorious fall-down drunks in the literary history of Twentieth Century America. They are followed by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and John Cheever. Many literary critics believe that all this drinking among male novelists stemmed from the fact that, in American culture, creative writing was not considered masculine. In other words, real men don't write. Perhaps these literary booze-hounds were simply alcoholics who happened to take pen to paper. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Alan Hruby Murder Case

     John Hruby, a resident of Duncan, Oklahoma, a town of 24,000 about 60 miles north of Dallas, owned and worked at a newspaper located in nearby Marlow. Hruby, 50, his wife Katherine, and their 17-year-old daughter lived in the Timber Creek subdivision on the north side of town. The 48-year-old Katherine, known to friends and family as "Tinker," also worked at the Marlow Review, a weekly publication with a circulation of 3,500.

     The Hrubys' son Alan, a 19-year-old political science major at Oklahoma University, was charged in July 2013 with theft and fraud. He had used his grandmother's name to acquire a credit card. While in Europe that summer, he put $5,000 worth of charges on the fraudulently obtained card. Police arrested him in August 2013 when he returned to the United States from his vacation.

     In February 2014, the judge sentenced Alan Hruby to probation. Pursuant to the terms of his sentence, he was not allowed to consume alcohol. The judge also ordered Hruby to attend alcohol and drug counseling sessions.

     Over the October 10 to12 weekend in 2014, young Hruby violated the terms of his probation by traveling to Dallas to attend the Oklahoma University-Texas football game. He stayed at the Ritz Carlton hotel and partied all weekend.

     On Friday October 10, 2014, Todd Brooks, an employee at the Marlow Review, became concerned when his boss and Katherine Hruby didn't show up for work. On Monday October 13, when the Hrubys didn't come to the newspaper office and didn't answer their phones, Todd Brooks' worries about their wellbeing intensified.

     That Monday, as the Marlow Review employee wondered if something had happened to his boss and his boss' wife, the Hruby housecleaner made a gruesome discovery when she showed up for work in Duncan. She found John Hruby, his wife, and their daughter lying dead on the kitchen floor. They had each been shot in the head.

     Detectives with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) ruled out double-murder/ suicide in favor of triple homicide. Alan Hruby's black Jeep sat in the Hruby home driveway. OSBI investigators impounded the vehicle.

     On October 15, 2014, OSBI officers arrested Alan Hruby for violating the terms of his credit card fraud probation. Under questioning at police headquarters regarding the murders of his parents and sister, he confessed.

     In early October 2014, Alan Hruby had stolen a 9 mm pistol from his father's pickup truck. On Friday October 10, 2014 he used that gun to shoot his mother twice in the head. He shot his sister to death when she entered the kitchen to investigate the source of the gunshots.

     After murdering his mother and sister, Alan waited an hour until his father came home. When John Hruby walked into the room Alan killed his father by shooting him twice in the head. When hit by his son's first bullet, the father said "ouch" then dropped to the kitchen floor. That's when the young man finished the job by putting the second bullet into his victim's skull.

     Alan Hruby told his interrogators that he had left his cell phone at Oklahoma University so that when detectives checked, it would ping there. He removed the DVR from the home surveillance system and tossed it into a nearby lake along with the murder weapon. After disposing of this evidence, he drove to Dallas to enjoy the festive football weekend.

     When asked why he had murdered his family in cold blood, the college student said he needed to inherit his parents' estate. He owed a loan shark from Norman, Oklahoma $3,000.

     Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks charged Alan Hruby with three counts of first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in the case. The judge denied the triple murder suspect bail.

     In July 2015, Alan Hruby, serving time on the credit card conviction at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, wrote a letter to The Oklahoman newspaper in which he said that he welcomed the death penalty. As to why he murdered his family, Hruby said that although it wasn't about money, he still hadn't figured out why he did it. "I didn't feel like myself that day," he wrote. "What occurred was so horrible the death penalty is deserved."

     On March 10, 2016, Alan Hruby pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

The Fear of Being Buried Alive

Since ancient times, people have worried about being mistaken for dead and then buried alive. Collapse and apparent death became especially common during the plagues that wracked medieval Europe. But at the dawn of the nineteenth century, sensation-mongering tabloids whipped such fears into an unprecedented fervor. The reports of the "many ugly secrets locked up underground" included descriptions of claw marks seen on the inside of disinterred coffins. As a result, several renowned medical societies offered substantial rewards for scientific methods of ascertaining whether someone was truly dead.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse, 2001

The Psychological Crime Novel Victim

Although it's widely acknowledged that the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, it can often be difficult to get through psychological crime novels of the "How well do you know your husband/wife/best friend?" variety without becoming so irritated by the protagonist's willful obtuseness that you end up wanting to give him, or more usually her, a good shake.

Laura Wilson, The Guardian, September 19, 2004 

The Short Story Is Not A Slice of Life

A basic distinction between an episode in real life and a short story is that the story does have an author, who creates his characters, selects his actions, and directs them in the exploration of some meaningful idea. Any episode in life is filled with irrelevancies of many kinds which confuse our understanding; in the story only those elements are included which serve to focus the overall effect, which is the story. The helpful author is present, then, in the creating, selecting, and focusing of the materials of his story.

Jarvis A. Thurston in Reading Modern Short Stories, edited by Jarvis A. Thurston, 1955

Journalism Beats working

Being a journalist, I never felt bad talking to journalism students about the profession because it's a grand, grand job. You get to leave the office, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories. That's not going to retire your student loans as quickly as it should, and it's not going to turn you into a person who's worried about what kind of new car they should buy, but that's as it should be. I mean, it beats working.

David Carr, The Independent, February 13, 2015 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Ethan Estevez Sexuial Abuse/Murder Solicitation Case

     In August 2012, the Harford County Maryland School District hired 29-year-old Ethan Estevez to teach biology in the town of Aberdeen. The resident of Churchville, Maryland would teach alternative education students at the Center for Educational Opportunity. According to the center's website, "Alternative Education provides a continuation of educational services to students who may have experienced crises. This program also exists to meet the individual needs of those students who have dropped out of school or not have been successful in a traditional school environment."
   
      In February 2014, members of the center's teaching staff came to suspect that Estevez was engaged in a sexual relationship with a female student, a relationship that had been going on since September 2012 when the girl was fifteen. The girl told some of her friends and her mother that she and the teacher had been involved romantically. The mother, along with teachers from the school, reported Estevez to the Harford County Sheriff's Office. 
     A few days after filing the criminal complaint against the teacher, the alleged victim's mother, with a detective listening in on the call, phoned Estevez and asked him if her daughter's allegations were true. Estevez explained that he and the girl were in love and planned to get married. (Estevez, however, already had a wife.) The teacher denied that he and the girl had engaged in anything beyond kissing.
    On March 7, 2014, a school administrator placed Estevez on administrative leave. A month after that, detectives searching the girl's iPhone came across a February 2014 text message to one of her friends that revealed a murder-for-hire plot involving Estevez as the mastermind and his wife as the target. The girl had written: "Like it has to look like an accident because of life insurance and stuff." In another text message, the girl said she "just needed it to really happen before Sunday." 
     Questioned about the text messages by detectives, the student claimed that the teacher never really intended to have his wife murdered. Yes, they had talked about it but he was just joking around. 
     On June 4, 2014, a Harford County grand jury indicted Ethan Estevez on charges of sexual abuse. On that day the head of the school district fired him. After a few hours in jail Estevez posted his bond and was released to await his trial.
     A month after Estevez's sexual abuse arrest, Harford County detectives questioned a girl who had exchanged text messages with the suspect's alleged student victim. According to the ex-teacher's student/girlfriend, he had initially spoke of making his wife's murder look like a hit-and-run accident. Later he changed the murder plan to have the hit man orchestrate a fake drive-by shooting outside of a restaurant. To make the hit look like a random crime and throw suspicion off himself, Estevez wanted the assassin to shoot him in the arm. (That was stupid because hit men are amateurs who usually don't shoot straight.) This girl also told detectives that her friend said the hit man would kill the teacher's wife for $600. 
     In August 2014, an assistant Harford County state's attorney charged Ethan Estevez with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. At the defendant's bail hearing, the prosecutor argued that the suspect posed a danger to the community and to his wife. District Court Judge David Carey said he could not ignore the seriousness of the charge. He said, however, that Mr. Estevez was entitled to bail which he set at $75,000. The next day the murder-for-hire and sexual abuse suspect posted his bond and walked out of the Harford County Jail.

     In February 2015, the prosecutor in charge of the Estevez case dropped the murder solicitation charge in exchange for the former teacher's guilty plea to a fourth-degree sexual offense related to the student. Hartford County Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron sentenced Estevez to one year in the county jail. Pursuant to this lenient sentence, Estevez was deemed eligible for work release. (He had found a job at an insurance company.) The judge also sentenced Estevez to five years probation.   

The Violent Woman

When women commit violence the only explanation offered has been that it is involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal imbalance inherent with female physiology: postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause have been included among the named culprits. Women have been generally perceived to be capable of committing only "expressive" violence--an uncontrollable release of bottled-up rage or fear, often as a result of long-term abuse at the hands of males: Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome. It has been generally believed that women usually murder unwillingly without premeditation. [Murderous women, often cold-blooded poisoners, include so-called "Angels of Death" who kill hospital patients and "Black Widows" who kill their husbands for the inheritance.]

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Corpse Whisperers

The typical American goes into the ground injected with three to four gallons of preservatives. But a sizable segment of our over-sanitized culture will always escape quick processing. Prominent among this population: the abandoned and the murdered. In theory, their moldering bodies--slumped under bridges, forgotten in bed, or dumped along roadsides--retain the natural if repulsive clues that might disclose time of death. For reasons as sensible as sensory, police are quick to pass these unvarnished dead to the next line of custody--the coroners and medical examiners whose job it is to coax secrets from a corpse.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001

Flawed Eyewitness Memories

I describe a study I'd conducted in which subjects watched a film of a robbery involving a shooting and were then exposed to a television account of the event which contained erroneous details. When asked to recall what happened during the robbery, many subject incorporated the erroneous details from the television report into their account. Once these details were inserted into a person's mind through the technique of exposure to post-event information, they were adopted as the truth and protected as fiercely as the "real," original details. Subjects typically resisted any suggestion that their richly detailed memories might have been flawed or contaminated and asserted with great confidence that they saw what their revised and adapted memories told them they saw.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994

Books by Literature Professors

     I don't yet understand the source of my antipathy toward literature professors. The pervasive air of smugness has something to do with it.

     I've paid some attention to the publications of my English Department colleagues and have the impression that they are responsible for a staggering amount of inconsequentia. English professors are always turning out extraneous "textbooks" or else are collecting other people's writing and publishing them as anthologies. My favorite example--if you'll allow me a moment of rottenness--is something "edited by" two of our tenured battleships, and proudly displayed behind glass in the departmental office. It's called Affirmations of the Human Spirit: Readings in Excellence, and is little more than excerpts from the Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost with a one-paragraph introduction to each.

     Many of the local professor-products are patched together with the primary purpose of preserving their authors from perishing in the publish-or-perish sense, or else for some low-wattage pedantic reason; in any case, they tend to shorten the lives of those forced to do "readings" in them. Boredom, like speed, kills.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Establishing a Novel's Setting

Settings are as varied in fiction as they are in the world: A humid southern bayou; icy Norwegian fords; a crumbling Victorian mansion; a stable, pungent with the stench of animals. These are just a few of the infinite number of places in which you might set your characters. Though they may seem like merely the backdrop to the action and drama of your narrative, they are more like the rich soil in which you plant your seeds. Do not forget to set the scene. Unless you have a good  reason to set your novel or story in a vacuum, establishing a physical setting is one of the most important and literal ways to ground the reader and keep characters from being floating heads.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Wrongful Convictions Of Cathy Woods

     On February 24, 1976, a 19-year-old nursing student at the University of Nevada-Reno named Michelle Mitchell went missing after her car broke down near the campus. Shortly thereafter, Mitchell's body was found in a nearby garage. Her hands were tied behind her back and her throat had been slashed.

     Reno detectives, without any solid leads in the case, were unable to identify a suspect until March 1979. The suspect was a 29-year-old diagnosed psychotic named Cathy Woods, an impatient at a Louisiana mental hospital. The patient's counsellor called the local police and reported that Cathy Woods had said something to the effect that she had been involved in the murder of a girl named Michelle in Reno. The Louisiana authorities passed this information on to detectives working the case in Nevada.

     At the time of Michelle Mitchell's disappearance and murder, Cathy Woods was 26 and working in Reno as a bartender. Following her mental breakdown, her mother had committed her to the mental institution in Louisiana.

     Reno detectives traveled to Louisiana to question Cathy Woods. When they returned to Nevada they claimed to have acquired a confession from the schizophrenic woman. Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, on the strength of the confession, charged Cathy Woods with first-degree murder. The authorities extradited her back to Nevada to stand trial.

     At the 1980 murder trial, Woods' public defender attorney argued that the state did not have enough evidence to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney pointed out that the prosecutor had no physical evidence connecting his client to the murder, and not one eyewitness who had seen the defendant and the victim together. Moreover, the detectives who had questioned the mentally ill Woods had contrived the so-called confession.

     According to Cathy Woods, she had made up the statement about murdering a girl named Michelle in Reno because the only way to get a private room in the mental institution was to be classified as dangerous.

     The Washoe County jury, after a short deliberation, found Cathy Woods guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     After the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Cathy Woods' murder conviction, District Attorney Cal Dunlap brought her to trial again. In 1984, the second jury also found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge again sentenced her to life in prison.

     Cathy Woods' attorney appealed the second murder conviction but this time the appellate court upheld the verdict.

     In 2014, more than three decades after Cathy Woods' arrest, a DNA analysis of a Marlboro cigarette found near Michelle Mitchell's body matched the DNA of an inmate in an Oregon prison named Rodney Halbower. Halbower, known as the "Gypsy Hills Killer," had been convicted of murdering and raping six women and girls in San Francisco. The serial killer had also murdered a woman in Oregon, and in all probability Michelle Mitchell.

     Based upon the DNA evidence linking Halbower to the Michelle Mitchell murder, and the overall weakness of the evidence that led to Cathy Woods' convictions, a Nevada judge, in 2014, vacated her conviction. Less than a year later she walked free after serving more than 35 years behind bars.

     In 2016, Cathy Woods' lawyer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap and the state of Nevada. In August 2019, the Washoe County Commissioners voted 4 to 0 to settle Woods' suit for $3 million. 
     Cathy Woods, now 71, has the dubious distinction of being the longest serving wrongfully convicted woman in U.S. history.

Jail Suicide

Even though prisons hold many more men and women than local jails, more people take their lives in jail. In prison, illness is the leading cause of death, while suicide is the leading cause of death in jails and has been for more than a decade, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Al Tompkins, August 12, 2019

J.D. Salinger's Relationship With His Fans

The most intense relationship anybody can have with a writer is by reading their work, alone, in silence. Yet readers seek writers in search of something additional. It was J.D. Salinger's hero, Holden Caufield, who said that what really knocked him out was a book that when you're done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the telephone whenever you felt like it. It was also J.D. Salinger who, when Catcher in the Rye achieved its enormous success, made himself as inaccessible to his readers as any living author has ever been.

Sean French in The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, edited by Sean French 

Reaching the Low Point in Higher Education

In more and more colleges and universities, higher education is becoming a swindle perpetrated on the American taxpayer. Too many institutions of higher learning have become places where free speech and diversity of ideas go to die. Moreover, serious courses taught by worldly professors are being replaced by a curricula of feel-good nonsense taught by political and cultural propagandists. Administrators, staff and teachers at these institutions have become terrified of their students. And it seems the more prestigious the school, the worse it gets. Eventually, tax payers will have to rise up and end this abuse, this devastating waste of time and money. There has to be a better way.

Biographical Debunking

Biography is not the place for "debunking," although in recent years there has been a trend in that direction. Why would a biographer wish to spend his days of work giving vent to anger or carrying on a literary association with a person he despises? Yet some enjoy this and write bestsellers.

Doris Ricker Marston, A Guide to Writing History, 1996 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Gary Castonguay Case: Paroling a Cop Killer?

     In 1976, 32-year-old Gary Castonguay was convicted of shooting into the homes of two police officers in Bristol, Connecticut. The attacks took place at night when the officers were home with their families. Castonguay told people that he wanted to kill cops.

     Instead of being locked up in prison for attempted murder, a judge found Castonguay legally insane and sent him to a psychiatric hospital for six months. Once released from the hospital he was free.

     In 1977, caught breaking into a home in Plainville, Connecticut, Castonguay fled from police officer Robert Holcomb. As Holcomb was about to catch and arrest him, the burglar turned and shot the 26-year-old officer. Castonguay, with the officer down, was free to escape. But instead of running off, he stood over the fallen officer and shot him three times in the chest, killing him on the spot.

     Following his conviction and life sentence for the cold-blooded killing of a police officer, Castonguay's attorney filed several appeals on his client's behalf. The appellate courts rejected all of the appeals. As a result, the conviction and the life sentence remained in effect.

     On January 9, 2015, members of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a two to one vote, agreed to grant the 70-year-old cop killer a parole. The board members made this atrocious decision after Castonguay's self-serving testimony that he hadn't intended to kill officer Holcomb. In an effort to escape, he panicked, blacked out, and had no memory of the shooting.

     These ridiculous arguments hadn't worked at Castonguay's trial and had been rejected by all of the appellate courts. But decades later, the cop killer was able to use these absurd justifications to convince two parole board idiots to send him back into society.

     None of officer Holcomb's relatives were notified of the Castonguay parole hearing. When the relatives learned of the granted parole they were understandably shocked and outraged. Also outraged were members of the general public who flooded the parole board with angry emails and letters.

     As a result of the public outcry over the parole board's ruling, the board agreed to hold another hearing to give the slain officer's relatives a chance to express their anger and disbelief that this cold-blooded cop killer had been granted parole.

     At the March 25, 2015 hearing, the same board members voted three to zero to rescind the cop killer's parole.

     This case begs the question: where do they find these sob-sister parole board members? If Castonguay had killed a police officer in Texas, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, or Oklahoma, he'd be dead by now, and the dead officer's relatives would not have to worry about a couple of corrections fools setting him free. 

Are Police Rewards Helpful?

     In response to crimes that create public outrage and/or fear--abducted children, missing women found dead, venerated objects vandalized or stolen, acts of terrorism, serial killings, and highly publicized murders--law enforcement agencies almost always post monetary rewards for information leading to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The highest rewards come from the federal government. The U.S. State Department put up $25 million for the head of Osama Bin Laden, and $2 million for the capture of James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston mobster suspected of 18 murders. For years, both of these fugitives lived normal lives in public view. Bin Laden was killed in May 2018, and Bulger, on the lam since 1995, was caught about a year later in California.

     Although the federal government pays out more than $100 million a year in rewards, and claims this money is well-spent, there is no solid evidence that monetary incentives play a significant role in bringing criminals and terrorists to justice. Reward offerings may not only be ineffective, they may actually have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.

     In cases where rewards have been posted, there is no data that indicates the percentage of instances in which the monetary incentive produced a positive result. Moreover, in those cases where reward seekers did come forward with important information, we don't know if those cases would have been eventually solved anyway. There is a real possibility that the police are substituting rewards for old-fashioned shoe leather. The question is: do rewards serve the public, or are they merely public relations gimmicks for lazy investigators?

    The overuse of rewards encourages citizens not to cooperate with the police unless they are paid. In many high profile murder cases, the first thing the police do is offer a big reward. This sends the following message to the perpetrators:: "We don't have a clue, and we are desperate for a lead."

     The principal problem law with enforcement rewards, particularly in nationally publicized cases, involves the extra investigative hours it takes to run down all of the false leads created by tipsters hoping for a piece of the reward money. The publicity alone draws out of the woodwork all manner of false confessors, phony eyewitnesses, visionaries, psychics, psychotics, and people bored and lonely. Adding a reward incentive to this mix exacerbates the problem.

     Whether they help or hinder, rewards are here to stay. Law enforcement administrators love them, and the public has come to expect them. They are, at best, a criminal investigative placebo.    

Surviving Prison

Prison socializes an inmate to act hyper-rationally. It teaches him patience in planning and pursuing his goals, punishes him severely for his mistakes, and rewards him generously for smart action. No wonder that inmates are such ardent optimizers. A clever move can shorten one's sentence, save one from rape or a beating, keep one's spirits high, or increase one's access to resources. There is little space for innocent and spontaneous expressions of emotion when they collide with fundamental interests. Brutal fights, self-injury, and rapes can all be explained as outcomes of carefully calculated actions. Paradoxically, much of the confusion in interpreting prison behavior arises from both a failure to understand the motives of inmates and an unwillingness to admit that outcomes judged as inhuman or bizarre may be consequences of individually rational action.

Marek M. Kaminski, Games Prisoners Play, 2004

Are Manic-Depressives Better Novelists?

     A surprising proportion of novelists are manic-depressive. The psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, one of the foremost experts on manic-depression, has explored this phenomenon in depth…The work of Jamison and others shows that novelists are ten times more likely to be manic-depressive than the rest of the population, and poets are a remarkably forty times more likely to suffer from this condition...

     Although most writers who have been successfully treated for depression find that their work begins to flow again as their mood improves, paradoxically, a few writers have linked their desire to write to their depression…

     One justification for such a position is that an artist must suffer to create, and what more effective way to suffer than through mental illness? [Most of the suffering associated with angst-driven writing is experienced by the reader.] 

     Other writers argue that depression is not necessary for creativity directly, but is an inevitable side effect of the mechanism that produces elated creative states…Several more writers have described how their desire to write disappeared as their depressions lifted, but blame the antidepressant--not the loss of their depression--for their decreased creativity.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

Meaningless Dialogue: Cut the Chat

     Letting a scene drag is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make. [Unless he is an established "literary" novelist.] Bringing two or more characters together and letting them chat on and on about nothing is inexcusable. The problem is many writers aren't even aware that their characters are doing this, even when it's in front of their noses. They're sitting right there writing the story and fail to see they're boring their reader to death with going-nowhere-fast dialogue.

     There are many reasons dialogue scenes bog down. The main one is that we clutter them with so much added narrative and action that the reader has to muddle his way through and the going becomes a little clunky. Sometimes, the scene is weak when it comes to tension and suspense, and the reader is yawning…

Gloria Kempton, Dialogue, 2004 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Robert Durst: Money, Madness and Murder

     Robert Durst, born in April, 1942 into a wealthy family, grew up in Scarsdale, New York. His father, Seymour Durst, got rich investing in real estate. In 1949, when Robert was seven, he saw his mother fall to her death from the roof of the family mansion. The authorities ruled her death a suicide. Although young Robert received extensive psychological counseling, his doctors worried that this childhood trauma would lead to future mental illness. (Robert's brother Douglas claimed in 2014 that Robert did not witness their mother's death, that the lie was nothing more than a ploy to gain sympathy.)

     After graduating from Scarsdale High School and Lehigh University, Robert Durst started graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles. After acquiring a first-class education, Robert entered the family real estate business but hit a roadblock in 1995 when his brother Douglas assumed control of the enterprise. This led to Robert's permanent estrangement from his family.

     In January 1982, Robert Durst's wife Kathleen, a woman he'd married ten years earlier, suddenly disappeared. Robert waited several days before reporting her missing and didn't bother notifying her family. The police suspected foul play but without the body, the homicide investigation hit a dead end.

     In 2000, with Kathleen Durst still missing, the New York State Police re-opened the 18-year-old case as a cold-case murder investigation. Detectives suspected that Robert had murdered his wife and disposed of her body.

     Not long after the renewed police interest in Kathleen Durst's disappearance, someone murdered, execution-style, Susan Berman in her home in Benedict Canyon, California. Because Berman had been Robert's longtime friend and confidant, detectives believed she had knowledge of Kathleen Durst's disappearance. Investigators speculated that she had been killed because she was a potential witness against Robert Durst. The Beverly Hills police had been alerted to Berman's murder by the writer of an anonymous, hand-printed note telling them of a "cadaver" in Berman's house. The writer, in addressing the envelope, had misspelled Beverly as "Beverley." Handwriting experts did not have enough document evidence to identify Robert Durst as the writer of the so-called "cadaver note."

     Although interrogated by detectives as a suspect in the Berman murder case, Robert Durst was not charged. The two cases remained unsolved.

     In 2000, Robert moved to Galveston, Texas to get away from the criminal investigations of his missing wife and his murdered friend, Susan Berman. About this time he took up cross-dressing.

     In 2001, the body parts of 71-year-old Morris Black, Robert Durst's apartment complex neighbor, were found floating in Galveston Bay. When questioned by the police, Durst claimed that Mr. Black had entered his apartment, grabbed a gun hidden in the room, and pointed it at him. According to the 60-year-old Durst, the gun went off accidentally when he tried to disarm his neighbor.

     While he denied murdering Mr. Black in cold blood, Durst admitted that after the killing he used a paring knife, two saws and an axe to dismember the victim's corpse before dumping the body parts into Galveston Bay. The authorities booked Durst into the county jail on the charge of murder.

     Free on bail until his murder trial, Durst missed a preliminary court hearing on the case. The judge issued an arrest warrant for the bail-jumper whose whereabouts were unknown. A month or so later, police officers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania took Durst into custody outside a supermarket after he had shoplifted a chicken sandwich, Band-Aids, and a newspaper. Durst had $500 in his pocket and $37,000 in cash stashed in his car along with two guns, marijuana, and Morris Black's driver's license.

     At Durst's 2003 murder trial for killing Morris Black, his three attorneys--the best legal defense team money could buy--argued self defense. Following seven weeks of testimony, the jury shocked everyone by finding Robert Durst not guilty. After this stunning verdict, lead investigator Cody Gozalas told reporters that he'd rarely had a more clear-cut case of murder against a defendant. "I believe," the investigator said, "that Mr. Durst walked up behind Mr. Black and shot him in the back of the head. There was nothing to suggest self defense. Mr. Durst never mentioned self defense until after the defense attorneys took over the case."

     The Durst case jurors, widely criticized for the acquittal, said it had been a difficult verdict for them to arrive at. While they knew the defendant had cut up Mr. Black's body, they weren't convinced he had committed a premeditated murder. The jurors bought the defense theory that Durst suffered from a psychological disorder that caused him to cut up and dispose of Mr. Black's body amid a state of panic.

     At the time of Durst's murder acquittal, the Durst family fortune was valued at more than $2 billion.

     Prosecutors, having lost the murder case, charged Durst with two offenses related to Mr. Black's murder--bail jumping and evidence tampering. To avoid going through another trial, Durst pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. The judge sentenced him to five years in prison. Durst served one year of that sentence. Pursuant to the terms of Durst's 2005 parole, he had to obtain official permission to travel any significant distance from his home.

     In December 2005, Durst made an unauthorized trip to a shopping mall near the apartment complex where he had killed Morris Black. In the mall, he had the bad luck to run into the judge who had presided over his murder trial. The judge, suspecting a parole violation, notified the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. Corrections authorities sent Durst back to prison on the parole violation. He remained behind bars until March 2006.

     In 2011, Robert Durst purchased a townhouse in Harlem, New York. Three years later, in Houston, Texas, Durst exposed himself at a CVS drugstore then urinated on a rack of candy. A Harris County prosecutor charged him with criminal mischief and indecent exposure.

     In February 2015, the HBO television network aired the first episode of a six-part series about Robert Durst and his connection to his wife's disappearance and the Susan Berman murder. The show was called "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." In making the documentary, New York City producers Marc Smerling and Andrew Jarecki spent 25 hours interviewing Durst on camera.

     In the course of their research, the producers acquired from Susan Berman's stepson a hand-printed letter Durst had sent to her a year before her murder. On the envelope Durst had misspelled Beverly as "Beverley."

     Believing that the identical misspellings in the Berman letter and the "cadaver note" indicated that Durst had hand-printed the note sent to the Beverly Hills Police Department, the TV producers asked New York City forensic document examiner John Osborn to analyze the handwriting evidence. After comparing the note to the Berman letter and 40 specimens of Durst's known hand-printing, Mr. Osborn concluded that Durst was the writer of the cadaver document. The producers notified the authorities in Los Angeles.

     In Louisiana at eleven at night on Saturday March 14, 2015, the day before the airing of the final episode of "The Jinx," deputies with the Orleans Parish arrested Robert Durst in his room at the J. W. Marriott Hotel. A prosecutor in Los Angeles had charged Mr. Durst with the first-degree murder of Susan Berman.  Durst had been preparing to fly to Cuba.

     The next evening, when the final episode of "The Jinx" aired, Robert Durst was seen being confronted by producer Jarecki with the two pieces of hand-printing featuring the identical misspellings of Beverly. Durst admitted writing the Berman letter, but in obvious distress, denied writing the cadaver letter to the Beverly Hills Police Department.

     At the conclusion of the filmed interview of Durst in the New York City offices of producers Smerling and Jarecki, Durst asked to use their restroom. With his microphone still hot, he began talking to himself. "There it is," he said. "You're caught. What a disaster. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

     On March 17, 2015, the authorities in Orleans Parish announced that Robert Durst had been charged in Louisiana with possession of a firearm by a felon, a felony that carried a maximum ten year sentence. It was not clear how this charge would affect the progress of the Berman murder case in Los Angeles.

     While Durst sat in a Louisiana jail cell, police officers and FBI agents, on March 17, 2015, searched his apartment in a 17-story condominium in a posh Houston, Texas neighborhood. His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, called the search a publicity stunt orchestrated by the Berman case prosecutor in Los Angeles.

     In January 2016, Durst pleaded guilty to the federal gun charge. The judge in Louisiana sentenced him to 85 months to be served at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

     On November 7, 2016, the 73-year-old was arraigned in the Los Angeles Superior Court for the 2000 murder of Susan Berman. At that hearing, Deputy District Attorney John Levin announced that the state would not seek the death penalty in the case. Durst, who pleaded not guilty, sat in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace.

     On February 26, 2020, in a Los Angeles, California court room, a jury of eight women and four men were selected in the Susan Berman murder case. 
     On May 22, 2021, following a 14 month COVID-19 delay, Robert Durst went on trial for the murder of Susan Berman. A week into the trial, the judge put the proceeding on pause when the 78-year-old defendant was hospitalized. On June 13, 2021, after doctors declared Durst fit for court, the murder trial continued over the objection of the defendant's attorneys. 
     In July 2021, the Durst trial was put on hold for two weeks due to the defendant's re-hospitalization. 
     Robert Durst, on August 11, 2021, took the stand on his own behalf, and regarding his wife Kathleen, said that he has changed his mind several times on whether or not he had seen her enter the commuter train for Manhattan on the night she disappeared in January 1982. He also testified that he lied when he told investigators he had later spoken to her on the phone. Days after Kathleen's disappearance, the defendant told a detective that he had called and spoken to her at her apartment in Manhattan. "That was also a lie," he said. "I was imagining that she was out someplace having fun. It hadn't occurred to me that anything had happened to her."
     While on the stand, Durst also said that Kathleen fabricated and exaggerated stories about his abusing her. 
     On August 17, 2021, on the fifth day of Durst's testimony, pursuant to being cross examined by prosecutor John Lewin, the witness admitted that he would lie to save his own skin. "If you had in fact killed Susan Berman," the assistant district attorney asked, "would you tell us?"
     "No," the witness replied.
     "If you said you've taken the oath to tell the truth but you've just told us that you would lie if needed, can you tell me how that would not destroy your credibility?"
     "Because what I'm saying is mostly the truth. There are certain things I would lie about, certain very important things." While on the stand, Durst admitted writing the "cadaver note" with the misspelling of Beverly and sending it to the Beverly Hills Police Department.
     On September 8, 2021, the Robert Durst trial entered the closing arguments stage during which time the prosecutor compared the defendant's testimony "cockroach soup" and called him a "narcissistic psychopath." 
     The jury retired to deliberate the defendant's fate on September 14, 2021.
     On Friday, September 17, the jury returned with a first-degree murder verdict. The jurors also found Durst guilty of the special circumstances of lying in wait and killing a witness. This finding carried a mandatory life sentence. The convicted murderer's sentence hearing was scheduled for October 2021.