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Monday, February 28, 2022

"The Falcon Thief"

     It's not easy to get into the mind of a notorious wild-bird trafficker--the kind of person who smuggles fertile peregrine falcon eggs by strapping them to his body, or dangles from a helicopter 700 feet over the sea so that he can skim an Arctic cliff face to raid white gyrfalcon nests.

     But Joshua Hammer's gripping The Falcon Thief  plunges us into the psyche of the wildlife thief and smuggler Jeffrey Lendrum. Lendrum is a villain who risks death, is repeatedly fined, serves prison time and uses all of his mental, physical and financial resources in pursuit of what the British ornithologist Tim Berkhead calls "the most perfect thing"--the egg--to sell to wealthy clients in the Middle East.

Suzanne Joinson, The New York Times Book Review, March 1, 2020

Police Involved Shootings: Context and perspective

Those who claim there's an epidemic of police involved shootings would be wise to look at the actual statistics. For instance, a five year study of San Francisco officer involved shootings culminating in 2010 found that about one in ten thousand arrests resulted in a police-related shooting. One in ten thousand. It's important to emphasize that we're talking actual arrests here, not mere citizen contacts or even detentions that don't lead to arrest. When you arrest someone, when you're trying to take their liberty away, it always brings with it the prospect of violence. And ask any street cop with some time in and he'll tell you about a host of times he could have justifiably used deadly force but elected not to. That's why cops bristle when they see some protestor screaming that cops are indiscriminately murdering people as he holds up a sign that says It Could be My Son Next. Sir, if your son comes at the police officer with a knife or a gun, then yes, God help him, he could be next. Otherwise, your boy has about as much chance of being murdered by the police as he has of dying while canoeing. The police are to uphold the sanctity of life whenever possible and must justify every bullet we fire. But when the public grossly overstates the problem, we all lose.

Adam Plantinga, Police Craft: What Cops Know About Crime, Community and Violence, 2018. 

Overdose Drugs

     On December 12, 2018, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in its "National Vital Statistics Report," revealed that over the past several years, an average of 50,000 Americans die from drug overdoses each year. In 2017, 70,000 Americans died of drug overdose.

     According to the CDC report, the drugs most often listed on death certificates of people who overdosed are fentanyl, heroin, hydrocodine (Vicodin), methadone, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin), alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Today's Mafia

There are about 3,000 Mafia members and affiliates in the U.S., the FBI estimates. In [Gambino family head Paul] Castellano's day there were double that number in the New York City area alone, yet the same five families--Gambino, Bonanno, Columbo, Genovese, and Luchese--have survived since Charles "Lucky" Luciano founded the Commission, the Mafia's governing body, in the early 1930s. Luciano helped establish the family structure, with dons and their captains managing associates who had yet to become "made men." There were 26 families during the mob's heyday in the 1950s, stretching from Boston, Providence, Buffalo, and Philadelphia through Al Capone's Chicago outfit to Hollywood and "Bugsy" Siegel's new frontier in Las Vegas. Today, the mob is concentrated around New York.

Staff, This Week, April 21, 2019

The Guillotine

If the laws are such that a person must die for the crimes he or she has committed, surely the most instantaneous and therefore the most merciful method is death by means of the guillotine. Execution by hanging is always open to doubt, the timespan between initial strangulation and final oblivion is not known. The sword and the axe allow too much leeway for the victim to flinch or the executioner to mis-aim. And even the multi-executioners of a firing squad cannot guarantee that at least one bullet will penetrate the heart. Most other methods are similarly flawed, whether they be by gas poisoning, electric chair or whatever. [Lethal drugs don't always get the job done properly either.] In other words, there is nothing so instantly final as a head severed by a machine.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 2001 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The James Camb "No Body" Murder Case

In October 1947, ship's steward James Camb raped and murdered actress Gay Gibson aboard the Durban Castle out of South Africa. Although Camb disposed of his luckless victim out of one of the liner's portholes and the body was never found, fresh scratches on the suspect's arms and back indicated his involvement in a fierce struggle. Blood-flecked saliva on the pillow cover of Miss Gibson's bed was consistent with manual strangulation, and in situations of abject fear such as that Gay Gibson must have felt at the hands of her attacker, it is common for the bladder to empty--which accounted for the extensive urine staining on the bed. In March 1948, after the ship docked in Southampton, England, Camb was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

Brian Lane, Chronicle of 20th Century Murder, 1993

The Atrocities of Hanging

Having resolved to be done with the vulgar populist spectacle of the public execution, the British Establishment decided to become demure to the point of obsession. Hangmen became more like anonymous civil servants; secrecy and discretion veiled the proceedings; pious little notes posted on the front gates of prisons where the only public notification that a "working-off" had taken place at all. Yet an assiduous reporter or attorney could compile a whole anthology of atrocity and indecency, lurking shadily behind this pretense. The hangman who took a little too much drink to steady his hand; the plastic underwear proffered to female victims; the rope that slipped and causes slow strangulation; the rope that was poorly judged and caused decapitation; the rope that broke; the second and third attempts to "work off" miscreants who didn't expire the first time.

Christopher Hitchens, Introduction to The Handbook of Hanging (2001 reprint of 1961 edition) by Charles Duff

Celebrity Suicides

At any given moment, thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands, are contemplating suicide. While the vast majority of these people will not take their own lives, it doesn't help when the media reports a celebrity suicide in gruesome detail. Such reportage undoubtedly encourages some to convert suicidal thoughts into actual self destruction. While news organizations are not known for self-restraint, it would be nice if reporters were a little more sensitive to the negative effects of their coverage of such events.

Rejection

Authors always take rejection badly. They equate it with infanticide.

P. D. James, 2000

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The William Spengler Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     In past years, murder-suicide in the United States has accounted for about five percent of all criminal homicides. In 2011, 1,300 murderers, almost all of them men, took their own lives after killing their victims. A vast majority of murder-suicide victims are ex-girlfriends and estranged wives. These deadly  attacks regularly feature alcohol and drug intoxication, mental illness, depression, and a variety of personality disorders. In terms of motive, none of these killings make any sense to a rational person.

     Nationwide, murder-suicide has been on the rise. In a country steeped in a culture of violence that seems to be populated by a growing number of people who are unable to cope with modern life, this is hardly a surprise. Criminologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, and police administrators are clueless about how to reverse this trend. That's because nobody knows what's causing the drug addiction and mental instability, or what it is that's making disturbed people so murderous and self-destructive. 

     In the annals of crime, 2012 might be remembered as the beginning of an era of the killing spree culminated with the self-inflicted death of the murderer. That year, eighteen men, after murdering three or more people, killed themselves. The following homicidal rampage took place on December 24, 2012 in upstate New York.

William Spengler: The Suicidal Sniper

     In 1980, 33-year-old William Spengler lived in the suburban Rochester area town of Webster, New York with his mother Arline and his 92-year-old grandmother. They resided in a middle-class home in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round houses on a narrow Lake Ontario peninsula. Shortly after William's grandmother was found dead at the foot of their basement stairs, the Monroe County district attorney charged Spengler with first-degree murder. William confessed to beating his grandmother to death with a hammer. (Since rational people don't bludgeon their grandmothers to death, the motive behind this murder was pathological, and therefore beyond rational comprehension.)

     Because Spengler agreed to plead guilty, the prosecutor lowered the murder charge to manslaughter. The judge sentenced the defendant to eight to 25 years in prison. (The prosecutor may have been worried about a successful not guilty by reason of insanity defense.)

     In 1997, after serving 16 years behind bars, Spengler attended his first parole hearing. The inmate, when he learned at the proceeding that his presence at the hearing was not mandatory, said this to the parole panel: "Then it's not worth the time and effort." The parole officials denied Spengler his release. Since he hadn't expected to get out of prison, this was no surprise. The surprise came six months later when these same officials granted Spengler his supervised release. The man who had murdered a 92-year-old woman walked out of prison in 1998 after serving two-thirds of his maximum sentence. (In the American system of criminal justice, there are very few crimes that the government doesn't forgive. Judges and penologists seem hostile to the punishment rationale justifying sentencing and incarceration. In cases like this, whether or not the murderer has been rehabilitated should be irrelevant.)

     In 2006, while residing with his mother Arline and his older sister Cheryl in the dwelling next door to the house where he had murdered his grandmother, Spengler's term of supervised parole expired. Because he was a convicted felon, Spengler, under New York law, was not allowed to possess any kind of gun.

     In October 2012, Spengler's mother Arline passed away. Although he hated his 67-year-old sister Cheryl, Spengler had loved and doted on his mother. Since his parole in 1998, the gaunt, bearded loner had lived a quiet, uneventful life in the house across the road from Lake Ontario. Because of his low profile, very few people in the town of 43,000 knew he existed. After Arline's death, William, in possession of a small arsenal that included handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a lot of ammunition, began planning arson, mass murder, and suicide. Spengler's years of living in obscurity would soon come to an end.

     Two hours before dawn on December 24, 2012, the 62-year-old ex-felon torched his house and set fire to his car. In possession of a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, Spengler took up a position behind a small hill not far from his burning house. It was from here he planned to ambush the first responders to the fires he had started.

     At 5:35 that morning, two members of the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department rolled up to the blaze in a firetruck. Spengler used his .223-caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster to kill 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka and his firefighting partner Michael Chiapperini, 43. When John Ritter, an off-duty officer with the Greece, New York Police Department pulled his car alongside the firetruck in an effort to shield the two firefighters, Spengler shot and wounded him. Two firefighters who arrived at the scene in their own vehicles, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardina, were also wounded by the sniper on the hill.

     An hour or so later, the four firefighters and the wounded police officer where taken out of the line of fire by a SWAT operated armored vehicle. As the Spengler house fire began to spread to other homes, SWAT officers used the armored truck to evacuate 33 residents of the neighborhood. Amid all of the confusion, William Spengler slipped away. Before it was all over, seven homes burned to the ground.

     At eleven o'clock that morning, police officers found William Spengler dead on a nearby beach. He had used one of his guns to shoot himself in the head. From a few feet from his body officers recovered a typed, three-page, rambling suicide note that contained the line: "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people."

     On Christmas day, arson and homicide investigators found Cheryl Spengler's charred remains in the fire debris. A forensic pathologist determined that Spengler's sister had been killed before the fire.

Hard Cases

When a detective looks back on a life of crime fighting, it is natural that the hard cases, the big mysteries, the complex investigations, are those that are remembered best…Crime is seldom simple and the harder the case, the more impact it makes on your life.

Les Brown and Robert Jeffrey, Real Hard Cases, 2006

The Omnipotent Serial Killer

Many a serial murderer develops a sense that he cannot be caught, especially if the authorities have missed all of the clues he has inadvertently or sometimes even intentionally left behind. This feeling intensifies when he appears to have momentarily triumphed over the authorities. He develops an attitude of personal omnipotence: he has committed the ultimate crime and gotten away with it, and the evidence seems to show him that he can continue to do so. This attitude is critical to his success and to his downfall. It keeps him going for a long time, but eventually it makes him become careless; that is the point at which he is usually caught.

Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shactman, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997

What's Happening to America's Children?

Children are struggling. Over the past decade, cases of anxiety increased by 20 percent or more. Rates of suicide and suicidal thinking have risen sharply among young people of all ages--including, horrifyingly, children under 11. Scholars debate why this is happening--plausible culprits include social media, video gaming, helicopter parenting, school shootings and lockdown drills, overwhelming college pressure, and both the over-and under-prescribing of medication. [COVID fears, mask wearing, and gender and racial politics have added to the problem.]

Scott Stossell, The New York Times Book Review, October, 6, 2019

Literary Biography

It is no accident that the popularity of literary biography has increased most notably in the past century and a half, a period which has also been marked by a growing sense that the artist as a person is detached from society, indeed a special kind of person quite apart from the common run of men.

Richard D. Altick, Lives and Letters, 1965 

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Burned Out Social Worker

The greatest occupational hazard to people working with criminals [counselors, social workers, and parole agents] is not physical attack. More serious is a rapid burnout of enthusiasm, commitment, and interest. Mention the word "burnout" to people in corrections, and they will solemnly nod. Increasing numbers of idealistic, genuinely concerned young Americans are entering corrections, eager to do a good job. Almost immediately, they confront a huge array of obstacles for which they are poorly prepared. Despite the fact that their clients are difficult people, they [the social workers] think they are expected to accomplish what parents, teachers, employers, clergymen, and others failed at for years.

Dr. Stanton E. Sanenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Manner of Death Mistakes

    Death cases aren't always what they appear to be. A recent American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology article analyzed a decade's worth of death investigations in Fulton County [Atlanta], Georgia. The researchers found that death investigators and forensic pathologists disagreed on the manner of death in 12 percent of those cases. Twenty times, death investigators overlooked evidence such as strangulation marks, bullet wounds, and knife wounds and recorded those cases as natural or accidental deaths, only to have the pathologists conduct autopsies and discover that they were homicides. In one case, a driver inadvertently struck a pedestrian. The collision was tying up traffic and it was raining, so the investigator did a perfunctory examination before removing the body and classifying it as an accident. Pathologists later identified multiple gunshot wounds to the victim's head. By then, valuable time and evidence were lost.

     Alternately, in twenty-one cases, death investigators reported homicides that proved to be accidents, suicides, or natural deaths.

John Temple, Deathhouse, 2005

The Smell of Death

If you've ever caught the scent of decaying flesh, you haven't forgotten it. The thickly sweet odor of decay is almost overwhelming, especially on a hot day, even to someone accustomed to it. It makes you salivate, and your mouth takes on the sour, metallic taste you'd get from sucking on a copper penny. People sometimes try to use another scent to mask the stench. I tried to mask the odor with skin lotion that I applied to the inside of my mask, but it didn't work. The result was worse than its failure to work; I came to associate the pleasant scent of the lotion with the awful odor of death. Olfactory memory is said to be the strongest of all sensual memories.

Robert Mann, Ph.D. and Miryam Ehrlich Williamson, Forensic Detective, 2006      

Mental Illness Memoirs

The memoirs of the mentally ill are full of confused action, failed promise, and grinding pain; they do not tend to make good narratives.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Film "Natural Born Killers"

     In the movie, "Natural Born Killers," Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis)--fall in love, engage in a bloody killing spree in public places like convenience stores and restaurants, and gain fame as a result. The film garnered international attention because of its excessively graphic and violent content. Director Oliver Stone stated in a New York Times article on April 14, 1996, "The most pacifistic people in the world said they came out of this movie and wanted to kill somebody."

     To date, the most deadly school shooting in America by a teen was influenced by "Natural Born Killers." Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people and wounded twenty-four others on April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado. The two disturbed teens were fascinated with Nazi beliefs, weapons, and pipe bombs, and were heavily involved in violent video games such as "Doom" and music like KMFDM. They watched "Natural Born Killers" more than fifty times and even named their killing spree in the film's honor--"the holy April morning of NBK" [Natural Born Killers].

Phil Chalmers, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, 2009 

The Lizzie Borden House

      The house at 230 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts, the place where, in 1892, Lizzie Borden was accused of using a hatchet to murder her father Andrew and her stepmother Abby, is one of America's most infamous and historic crime scenes. In 1893, against strong evidence to the contrary, a jury of twelve men found Lizzie Borden not guilty of the double murder. Since then, true crime buffs have argued over this result as well as the identity of the killer. The case has been the subject of dozens of books and countless articles and scholarly papers. 

     Lizzie Borden died in 1927. From 1948 to 2018, the famous house on Second Street, owned by Martha McGinn who inherited it from her grandparents, operated as a museum and bed and breakfast. In 2018, the house was purchased by Donald Woods and Lee Ann Wilber.

     In September 2020, the Borden house was put up for sale. The asking price: $890,000.

Jack Abbott On Prison Violence

I know how to live through anything they could possibly dish up for me. I've been subjected to strip-cells, blackout cells, been chained to the floor and wall; I've lived through the beatings, of course; every drug science has invented to "modify" my behavior--I have endured. Starvation was once natural to me; I have no qualms about eating insects in my cell or living in my body wastes if it means survival. They've even armed psychopaths and put them in punishment cells with me to kill me, but I can control that. When they say "what doesn't destroy me makes me stronger," that is what they mean. But it's a mistake to equate the results with being strong. I'm extremely flexible, but I'm not strong. I'm weakened, in fact. I'm tenuous, shy, introspective, and suspicious of everyone. A loud noise or a false movement registers like a four-alarm fire in me. But I am not afraid--and that is strange, because I care very much about someday being set free. I want to cry when I think that I'll never be free. I want to cry for my brothers I've spent a lifetime with. Someday I will leave them and never return. [After the publication of his prison memoir, Abbott was paroled. Not long after he got out, this psychopathic time-bomb murdered a waiter in New York City. So Abbott did leave his prison brothers for awhile, but he came back to them after a short period of freedom. Assuming that his prison memoir is true, Abbott, though his violent behavior, invited the institutional violence directed against him. He couldn't live without violence in prison or out.]

Jack Henry Abbott, In The Belly of the Beast, 1981  

Charles Bukowski On His Legacy

I was thinking about the world without me. There is the world going on doing what it does. And I'm not there. Very odd. Think of the garbage truck coming by and picking up the garbage and I'm not there. Or the newspaper sits in the drive and I'm not there to pick it up. Impossible. And worse, some time after I'm dead, I'm going to be truly discovered. All those who were afraid of me or hated me when I was alive will suddenly embrace me. My words will be everywhere. Clubs and societies will be formed. It will be sickening. A movie will be made of my life. I will be made a much more courageous and talented man than I am. Much more. It will be enough to make the gods puke. The human race exaggerates everything: its heroes, its enemies, its importance.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The O.J. Simpson Jury

The makeup of the Simpson jury kept changing. Three jurors were gone, replaced by alternates. A sixty-three-year old white woman was replaced by a fifty-four-year-old black man after she allegedly became involved in a shoving match with another juror, and accused several black jurors of being pro-O.J. Despite subsequent denials by the court and the white juror concerning the event, the daily admonishment of Judge Ito to the jury not to discuss the case among themselves seemed not to be very effective. The resulting jury consisted of nine blacks, one white, one Hispanic, and one person of mixed race. [As they say, the rest is history.]

Dominick Dunne, Justice, 2001

Dealing In Stolen Goods

     The fence conveys the thief's stolen goods beyond the reach of the long arms of the law and into the hands of the more or less--and usually less--legitimate businessmen. He sells the merchandise to the businessman at a price less than the businessman can obtain elsewhere, and returns to the thief a percentage of the take in a shorter period of time than the thief could unload the goods. The fence's role is to serve two different masters; the key to his success is that he comes out on top of them both.

     The fence is the underworld's indispensable man. The businessman can purchase the hot goods without ever having to confront on a face-to-face basis the thief or hijacker; and the thief never has to expose himself to the businessman, who in the event of a police investigation might be the first to break down.

     The good fence is a man of a thousand connections.

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Forensic Botany

One thing I tell police frequently is this: If you get a call of somebody breaking into a house, and you see somebody walking down the street as you pull up, as you question him, ask to see the cuffs of his pants. If he's climbed through a hedge or walked through a yard--most people have weeds around. Weeds get around in lots of clever ways; they often have little sticky parts that adhere to you shoes, or your shoelaces, or your pants cuffs, or they land in a pants cuff. If the suspect says, "Oh, I got those in my grandmother's yard," those particular weeds may not be there. So we've hooked people to certain crime sites though what kind of weeds have gotten stuck to them. Almost no one can lie about plant evidence.

Forensic botanist, in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

Selecting a Genre

 I think a lot of aspiring writers get misdirected; they think "I ought to write this even though I enjoy reading that." What you have to do is write what you enjoy reading. 

Jeffrey Deaver, American crime novelist, 1998

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Darrin Campbell Triple-Murder-Suicide

     In the mid-1980s, Darrin Campbell, a business major at the University of Michigan, met his future wife Kimberly, a student at Central Michigan University. They both worked in Lansing as aides in the Michigan state legislature. She graduated from college, and he went on to earn a master's degree in business administration.

     In 2004, the couple and their son Colin and daughter Megan moved from San Antonio, Texas to Tampa, Florida where Darrin had an executive position in finance with a large corporation. In 2012, Darrin and Kimberly sold their house for $750,000. They moved into a $1 million rental mansion owned by a former professional tennis player named James Blake.

     The Blake-owned estate featured a 6,000-square foot, five-bedroom house, a swimming pool and spa, and several tall palm trees. Located in Avila, a gated community known for its resident sports figures and CEO's, the mansion rented for $5,000 a month. At this point in his career, Darrin Campbell worked as a business executive for VASTEC, a Tampa based digital records company.

     Darrin and his family settled into the lavish lifestyle expected of residents of this exclusive community. They drove fancy cars, the children attended an expensive private school, they bought all-year passes to Disney World, and spent a lot of money decorating their home for Christmas.

     While on the surface, the Campbell family represented prosperity and the American dream come true, Darrin had plunged them deep into debt. He owed back taxes on a vacant lot in Odessa, Texas that he had purchased for $294,000 in 2006. The tuition cost of sending Colin and Megan to the Carrollwood Day School amounted to $37,000 a year. Darrin had maximized his credit card limits, and couldn't see a way out of the financial hole. The stress of living a lie broke him down. His American dream had become a nightmare.

     In July 2013, Darrin purchased a .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun from Shooters World, a gun store and shooting range in Tampa. Less than a year later, on May 4, 2014, he purchased $650 worth of fireworks at a Tampa area Phantom Fireworks outlet. He told the fireworks clerk he was filling out his Fourth of July shopping list. Shortly after picking up the fireworks, Darrin bought several gasoline containers.

     At five-forty-five on the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 2014, a resident of the Avila community called 911 to report a fire and explosion at the Campbell home. The fire and subsequent explosion almost completely demolished the structure. In the course of determining the cause and origin of the blaze, investigators discovered the charred remains of two adults and two children. The bodies were presumed to be Darrin and Kimberly Campbell and their 18-year-old son Colin, and their 15-year-old daughter, Megan.

     The Hillsborough County medical examiner, a few days after the fire, confirmed the identifies of the victims. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, all of the victims had been shot to death.

     On Friday, May 9, 2014, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Colonel Donna Lusczynski held a press conference in which she characterized the four Campbell deaths as a case of murder-suicide. According to officer Lusczynski, Darrin Campbell, after murdering his wife and two children with the Sig Sauer handgun, had placed fireworks around the house, poured gasoline on the bodies, then lit a match. At that point he shot himself to death. 

The Lufthansa Heist

     On December 11, 1978, armed mobsters stole $5 million in cash and nearly $1 million in jewels from a Lufthansa airlines vault at JFK Airport [Queens, New York] in what would be for decades the biggest-ever heist on U.S. soil. And until the arrest of Vincent Asaro on January 23, 2014, the crime went without a single wiseguy criminally charged.

     The theft became legendary after mastermind James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke killed off one crew member after another to avoid being ratted out to the cops. Martin Scorsese immortalized the theft in his 1990 film "Goodfellas," based on Nicholas Pileggi's book, Wiseguy. Burke, who died of cancer in prison in 1996, was the inspiration for Robert DeNiro's character, Jimmy Conway.

Larry Celono and Bob Fredericks, New York Post, January 24, 2014

The Presumption of Innocence

     Probably the least questioned and most believed government lie is also the most famous maxim of the American judicial system: that all persons are presumed "innocent until proven guilty" beyond a reasonable doubt. This presumption of innocence is a standard taught to the youngest of school children and which the government hails as a founding principle of justice because it presumes that, like the oft-repeated Lord Justice William Blackstone ratio, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer."

     Of course, "innocent until proven guilty" has been at the core of Western judicial systems since biblical times. We are indoctrinated so thoroughly that the average person rarely considers whether the phrase is true or not. Yet when we carefully examine the system, we find that it does not function as the government would like us to believe. Beneath the surface of various platitudes, the falsity of the presumption of innocence becomes readily apparent.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Lies The Government Tells You, 2010

Forensic Anthropology

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world. We are part of the larger field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is known today, which is concerned overall with the human body and all its variations. My specialty, physical anthropology, is distinct from other fields such as cultural anthropology and archaeology.

     My field of expertise is the human skeleton. Though some pathologists insist on doing their own skeletal examinations along with autopsies, I can confidently say that there are very few cases in which a forensic anthropologist--someone like me--could not add a great deal of useful information to what a pathologist can discover. I have had pathologists exclaim frankly in my hearing, when confronted with a skeleton: "Gee, I'm not used to looking at these without the meat on them!"

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Harry Potter

Harry Potter, like many heroes of fantasy, is endearing because he is rather ordinary. Surrounded by magic, he is the quintessential young, insecure schoolboy, seeking friendship from peers and respect from adults, learning to trust others, trying to stand up for what he thinks is right. While engaging in ongoing struggles with evil creatures of darkness, he is also fond of sports, wizard trading cards, and jelly beans. In the best of fantasy, the world is infused with magic--but victory comes in the end, after all is said and done, from very human values of faith, courage and perseverance.

Philip Martin in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Al Capone's Mansion

     The home of the most notorious gangster in American history could be yours--provided you can meet the asking price of more than $8 million. The Miami Beach waterfront home of Al Capone is back on the market, approximately six months after it was purchased for $7.4 million.

     Capone bought the home for $40,000 in 1928 after being forced to leave his former stomping grounds of Chicago and Los Angeles. He is said to have plotted the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which seven members of a rival Chicago gang were murdered after being lured into an ambush disguised as a liquor [delivery at a Chicago gangster's garage].

     Capone spent his final years at the Palm Island mansion after serving eight years in federal prison for tax evasion. He died in 1947. After extensive restoration work, the house was put back on the market in 2011. [In October 2021, Capone's 6,077 square foot home sold for $15.5 million.]

"Make an Offer: Al Capone's Miami Mansion Goes on the Market," Fox News, February 9, 2014 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

     The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a fairly recent entry in psychiatric terminology; in fact, it was only officially recognized with the publication of the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders in 1980, known as DSM-III. In World Wars I and II, there had been what was known to laymen as "shell shock" and to mental health professions as "combat neurosis," a battlefield condition in which men become too traumatized to function properly. A fairly large proportion of discharges from the army were due to this condition, and the problem remains a serious one for all those who participate in combat, with its attendant horrors and stresses.

     During the 1950s when DSM-I was published, there was a condition referred to as "transient situational disorder," which was sometimes used to encompass battlefield stress. It was the initials TSD that were lifted from this previous neurosis and made to fit a condition that seemed to have sprung up in American survivors of the war in Vietnam, and which became known as PTSD--or, in layman's terms, "the Vietnam syndrome."

     I had discovered, over the years, that while there were people who really did suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder--had difficulty in living normal lives after returning from the brink of death experienced either in war or as a result of some other traumatic event--many other claims of PTSD were just a lot of poppycock, a form of malingering. The diagnosis of PTSD had become fashionable in certain psychiatric circles, mainly those that dealt with people in and out of veterans' hospitals. Other psychiatrists, just as well qualified, who also dealt with veterans had not seen many genuine cases. Also, the United States had been involved in several traumatic wars earlier in this century, and while there had been a few diagnosed cases of what was then called battlefield shock, most of the people who did experience these sort of shocks recovered and went on to lead normal lives. Could the experience of fighting in Vietnam have been worse than the experience of fighting in Korea? Or in Europe or the Pacific Islands during World War II? Were American servicemen of the 1960s and 1970s so much more emotionally fragile that those who served in earlier conflicts?

Robert K. Ressler and Tom Schachtman, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997    

History of the Gas Chamber

     The earliest gas chamber for execution purposes was constructed in the Nevada State Penitentiary at Carson City and first employed on February 8, 1924, with the legislatively sanctioned and court-ordered punishment of Gee Jon, a Chinese immigrant, amid a wave of anti-immigrant and racist hysteria that gripped the country at that time.

     America's and the world's first execution by gas arose as a byproduct to chemical warfare research conducted by the U.S. Army's Chemical Warfare Service and a chemical industry during the First World War. Embraced by both Democrats and Republicans, including many progressives, and touted by both the scientific and legal establishments as a "humane" improvement over hanging and electrocution, the gas chamber was also considered a matter of practical social reform Its adherents claimed that the gas chamber would kill quickly and painlessly, without the horrors of the noose or the electric chair, and in a much more orderly and peaceful fashion. But they were quickly proven wrong. Technocrats nevertheless kept tinkering with its workings for seventy-five years in a vain attempt to overcome the imperfections of lethal gas.

     Eventually adopted by eleven states as the official method of execution, lethal gas claimed 594 lives in the United States from 1924 to 1999 until it was gradually replaced by another supposedly more humane method of capital punishment, lethal injection.

Scott Christianson, The Last Gasp, 2010

Charles Bukowski's Autobiographical Fiction

Bukowski claimed the majority of what he wrote was literally what happened in his life. Essentially that is what his books are all about--an honest representation of himself and his experiences at the bottom of American society. He even went so far as to put a figure on it: ninety-three percent of his work was autobiography, he said, and the remaining seven percent was "improved upon." Yet while he could be extraordinarily honest as a writer, a close examination of the facts of Bukowski's life leads one to question whether, to make himself more picaresque for the reader, he didn't "improve upon" a great deal more of his life story than he said.

Howard Sounes, Charles Bukowski: Locked In The Arms Of A Crazy Life, 1998

Sunday, February 20, 2022

"Running With The Wrong Crowd" Myth

     If parents of criminals were asked what went wrong in their children's lives, many would reply, "My child ran with the wrong crowd." They would maintain that their son was a good boy at heart but that he was corrupted by others. The belief is widespread that youngsters turn to crime, alcohol, and drugs because they succumb to the pressures of their peer group.

     Peer pressure is a force that we all have to contend with from the time we are in nursery school until the time we die. But we choose which peer group or groups to belong to. As is the case with nearly all children, the criminal as a child chooses his friends. No criminal I have evaluated or counseled was forced into crime. He chose to associate with risk-taking youngsters who were doing what was forbidden.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Mind of the Criminal, 1984

The History of infanticide

     Infanticide has been committed throughout human history for a multiplicity of reasons--personal, political, superstitious, and strategic. Whether or not a culture supports the perpetrators of infanticide, it is, like other forms of violence, highly mutable [subject to change]. In many cultures, offspring weren't considered to be fully human until they reached a certain age, one or two, sometimes three years old. Perhaps the most common cause of violence against infants arose from the need to space children in the absence of birth control. The Japanese word for infanticide means, "weeding," as in the thinning of rice saplings. Today, in some of the poorest communities in the world, infanticide as birth control takes a passive-aggressive form: babies are given birth to, then simply not fed.

     Cultures have also engaged in crude forms of eugenics, turning against twins, against girls, against deformities--as some societies continue to do, now, through selective abortion. Infants have been killed, as well, during famine, or in the midst of war, or as an offering in ritual sacrifice.

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1998

Paper Crime

In Mario Puzo's book The Godfather, Don Corleone observed that a dozen men with machine guns are no match for a single lawyer with a briefcase, and he had a point. Far more crimes in America are committed with paper than with guns, and many more times the amount of money and power change hands illegally through a stroke of the pen than through physical violence. Frequently a degree in accounting can be important in becoming an agent of the FBI, and being able to hit a moving target with a pistol or machine gun is far less of a factor in the solution of most crimes than the ability to follow a complex paper trail through to the crooked bottom line. [Today its computer crime.]

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992 

Hypergraphia

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write. Thinking in a counterintuitive, neurological way about what drives and frustrates literary creation can suggest new treatments for hypergraphia's more common and tormenting opposite, writer's block. Both conditions arise from complicated abnormalities of the basic biological drive to communicate.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Debacle at Sparkman Middle School

     On January 14, 2010, Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell, vice principals at Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, received a complaint that a male student had touched a girl inappropriately. The subject of the complaint was no stranger to this kind of allegation. He had been accused of predatory sexual advances fifteen times in the recent past. The latest complaint resulted in the boy being placed on "in-school suspension."

     A couple of days later, teacher's aide June Simpson spoke to principal Ronnie Blair about the boy. According to Simpson, he had "repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boy's bathroom on the special needs students' corridor. The teacher's aide reported that the young predator had actually engaged in sex with one of the girls.

     Because the boy and the female special needs student denied having sex in the boy's restroom, the principal informed the teacher's aide that because the kids had not been caught in the act, his hands were tied. The concerned teacher's aide recommended that school officials keep a close eye on this boy.

     On January 22, 2010, a 14-year-old girl who wasn't physically or mentally handicapped but took special education classes, told teacher's aide Simpson that the alleged schoolboy sex fiend had been pestering her to have restroom sex with him. Simpson asked the girl if she'd be willing to act as bait in a plan to catch the sexual predator. The girl refused to participate in the sting, then changed her mind.

     The teacher's aide, accompanied by the girl, laid out her plan to vice principal Dunaway who didn't endorse or approve of it. The vice principal didn't forbid the execution of the scheme either. The plan was this: the girl would agree to have sex with the boy in the special needs bathroom where teachers would be hiding to confront the kid before things got out of hand.

     Shortly after leaving the vice principal's office, the girl encountered the young predator in the hallway. She agreed to have sex with him. But instead of getting together in the special needs restroom, he told her to meet him in the sixth-grade boy's bathroom in another part of the school. The girl did not have time to alert the teacher's aide of the change in plans.

     In the sixth-grade boy's restroom, with no teachers hiding nearby to intervene, the girl rejected the boy's advances. Unable to fight him off, he raped her.

     After the victim reported the crime to a teacher, police officers were summoned to the school. They took the girl to the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville where medical personnel used a rape kit to gather physical evidence. Hospital personnel also photographed signs of trauma consistent with the girl's rape allegation.

     The young suspect, when confronted with the accusation, claimed he had only kissed the girl.

     After the alleged rape victim refused to cooperate with detectives, the police department turned the case over to the Madison County District Attorney's Office. Without the victim's testimony, an eyewitness, or the boy's confession, prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

     Pursuant to an internal, administrative inquiry into the incident, vice principal Terrell testified that after seeing photographs of the girl's injuries, she didn't know whether or not the sex had been consensual. Vice Principal Dunaway testified that when the girl willingly entered the sixth-grade restroom with the boy, she was on her own.

     In the school's final disciplinary report on the matter, the incident in the school restroom was described as the "inappropriate touching of a female." The principal suspended the boy for five days. Following the suspension, the kid spent fifteen days at an alternative institution before returning to the Sparkman Middle School.

     The 14-year-old girl withdrew from the Sparkman Middle School. After extensive counseling, she ended up in North Carolina with her mother. Upon her mother's death shortly thereafter, the girl and her brother were placed in Child Protection Services.

     June Simpson, the Sparkman teacher's aide, resigned not long after the incident. Her attorney described her as a scapegoat in the case.

      In October 2010, the girl's father filed a Title IX "Jane Doe" lawsuit in federal court against the boy, school administrators, the teacher's aide, and the Madison County School Board. Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending gender discrimination in public education.

     A few months after the filing of the lawsuit, a U.S. District Court Judge tossed out the claim against the boy because he was a minor. The judge also threw out the Title IX portion of the action. He did allow, however, the claim of negligence against the teacher's aide and the school administrators. Attorney Eric Artrip appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.

     On September 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education filed amicus briefs (friend of the court arguments) in support of attorney Artrip's appeal of the Title IX rejection.

     The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in August 2015, overturned the district court ruling against the student used as sexual assault bait. That meant that "Jane Doe" could proceed with a lawsuit against the school system

     In March 2016, the Madison County School System settled the "Jane Doe" suit for an undisclosed amount.

Cops And Snitches

You stop the cops from using informants and the only crimes they'd ever solve would be those by deranged postal workers who come to work once too often.

Andrew Vachss, 2000

Lock Picking

Lock picking involves opening a lock without a key, and without physically destroying or abusing the lock mechanism. There is probably no such thing as a totally pick-proof lock, but very few criminal intruders possess the skill, tools, time, and good fortune to manipulate the internal parts of a high-security lock in such a way to produce a key-like effect on the mechanism. Lock picking depicted on film and TV looks easy. Even with low security locks, it is not.

The Tenured Professor

Creative writing professor Martin Russ, in his 1980 classic, Showdown Semester, wrote: "The tenured professor is never forced to justify his classroom work to his students, and can go on for year after year in a take-it-or-leave-it way in which, arrogance overrides the kind of teaching that has to do with helping, sharing, giving." 

The Culture of Public Confession

Memoirs are no longer reserved for those who have climbed the Himalayas or swum the Atlantic. On the contrary, what is valued are the ordinary accounts of ordinary people about ordinary things. The market is swamped with products which claim reality--from [TV] soap operas, which people believe more than life itself, to real-life stories, which people believe as much as soap operas. In the culture of public confession, everyone has acquired the right to his personal fifteen minutes, just as Andy Warhol predicted.

Dubravka Ugresic, Thank You For Not Reading This, 2003

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Shrien Dewani Murder-For-Hire Case

     On November 13, 2010, 30-year-old Shrien Dewani and Anni, his 28-year-old wife of two weeks, were on their honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa. The couple, of Indian decent (she was born in Sweden), resided in the southwestern English town of Bristol where he was a businessman.

     Shortly after midnight on November 13, 2010, Shrien Dewani reported to police authorities that a gunman had commandeered the taxi he and his wife were riding in the nearby Cape Town suburb of Guguiethu. The kidnapper ordered the cab driver and Shrien out of the taxi in the town of Harare then drove off in the cab with Anni.

     Later that night, police officers found Anni's dead body in the abandoned taxi in the town of Lingelethu West. She had injuries to her head and chest and had been shot in the back of the neck at short range. Officers with the Western Cape Town Police Department launched a manhunt for the killer.

     Shrien Dewani returned to England where he was treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

     On November 14, 2010, Western Cape Town officers arrested 26-year-old Xolile Mngeni, the suspected gunman, on the charge of murder. Two days later, police officers arrested a suspected accomplice in the murder named Mziwamadoda Qwabe.

     Detectives arrested the cab driver, Zola Tongo, on November 20, 2010. According to the suspect, Shrien Dewani had offered him 1,400 pounds to find a hit man willing to kill his wife Anni. Tongo reached out to his friend Qwabe who brought Mngeni, the trigger man, into the murder-for-hire scheme.

     On December 8, 2010, at the request of the South African government, police in England arrested Dewani for conspiring to have his wife murdered. Two days after being taken into custody, Dewani posted his bail and was confined to house arrest. He denied any involvement in his wife's murder.

     Zola Tongo, the cab driver, pleaded guilty to his role in the murder-for-hire plot in January 2011. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison. A month later, Mziwamadoda Qwabe decided to cooperate with the police. He said that after the kidnapper let Dewani and Tongo out of the taxi that night, Mngeni drove off with the victim. Qwabe admitted that for his role in the murder, he received the victim's jewelry.

     In February 2011, back in England, Shrien Dewani swallowed a cocktail of 26 pills that included the drug diazepam that had been prescribed to him for anxiety. Following a period of hospitalization, he returned home to house arrest.

     In November 2011, a TV station in England aired a documentary about the case called, "Murder On Honeymoon." The producers of the segment presented evidence pertaining to Dewani's alleged motive for having his new wife murdered. According to the documentary, investigators were working on the theory that Dewani had been living a secret double life as a gay man. Witnesses stated that he had been a regular visitor to a south London gay fetish sex club. When Anni found out he was gay, she threatened to end the marriage and expose him.

     On March 30, 2012, judges sitting on London's High Court ruled that it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite Dewani to South Africa until he overcame his problem with mental illness. The authorities in South Africa were convinced he was faking mental illness to avoid extradition.

     Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty in August 2012 and was sentenced in South Africa to 25 years in prison. Three months later a jury found Xolile Mngeni, the hit man, guilty of premeditated murder. The judge sentenced Mngeni to life behind bars.

     The fourth South African involved in the case, a hotel clerk named Monde Mbolombo, had avoided prosecution by testifying against Qwabe and Mngeni.

     The BBC, in September 2012, aired another documentary about the Dewani case called "The Honeymoon Murder: Who Killed Anni?" Featuring forensic experts and others who had reviewed the evidence, the show cast doubt on Shrien Dewani's guilt.

     The widely viewed BBC documentary portrayed Monde Mbolombo, the hotel clerk who was granted immunity for his prosecution testimony, as the true mastermind behind the murder. According to the documentary, Mbolombo put the cab driver in touch with Mngeni, the trigger man. The motive was theft.

     About the time the BBC broadcast the documentary, the English tabloid Daily Mail published text messages the victim had sent to family members shortly before her big wedding. "I'm going to be unhappy for the rest of my life," she had written. "I hate him. I want to cry myself to death."

     On January 2014, a panel of three judges sitting on England's Supreme Court ruled that Shrien Dewani could be extradited to South Africa to be tried for his wife's murder. The extradition, however, was conditioned on the promise that if the defendant were adjudicated mentally unfit for trial, South African authorities would send him back to England. Dewani was expected to arrive in Cape Town in April 2014.

     South African Judge Jeanette Traverso, on December 8, 2014, dismissed the case against Dewani on the ground that no court would convict him unless he took the stand and incriminated himself. The judge noted that the prosecution witnesses against the accused murder-for-hire mastermind were not credible because they had been involved in the killing themselves. The judge's decision ended the case against Dewani because prosecutors in South Africa could only appeal a case when the judge had made a mistake in applying the law. This case, however, was dismissed based upon what this judge considered the crown's lack of evidence to support a conviction. The decision meant that Shrien Dewani was a free man and could not be charged again.

     A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, in response to the dismissal, told reporters that the judge misunderstood the case.

     In the United States, many murder-for-hire cases are predicated upon the prosecution testimony of the hit man and various accomplices. Getting a conviction pursuant to this South African judge's standards would be, in the United States, almost impossible.

Violence and Mental Illness

It is possible to argue that some people are violent and mentally ill, but it is no longer defensible to argue that people are violent because they are mentally ill.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill, 1998

Guillotine Chic

Almost from its first victim on April 25, 1792, the guillotine became a fetishistic object for the French during their revolution. Men had it tattooed on their bodies; women wore dangling guillotine earrings and brooches; the design was incorporated into plates, cups, snuffboxes; children played with toy versions, decapitating mice; elegant ladies lopped off the heads of dolls and out squirted a red perfume, in which they soaked their handkerchiefs.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Eduction, 1997

Humorless Fiction

Many works of "literary" fiction are often touted on the dust jacket as "laugh-out-loud funny." What a lie. Nothing is more humorless than a "literary" novel. My advise to anyone who enjoys humor in fiction is to avoid any novel that has won some kind of literary reward and is advertised as funny. This is no joke. These works are places where humor and interesting prose go to die. The chance of finding anything funny in one of these books is less than finding a detailed discussion of syphilis in a romance novel.

Reviewing a Children's Book

In essence, a children's book reviewer reads and writes with two audiences in mind: (1) adults who read reviews to help them select books for children and (2) the children themselves. It is important to remember that most books for children are created with the best intentions in mind. No one sets out to produce a crummy book that kids will hate. If this is your initial assessment of a book you're reviewing, it would be unfair and unwise to let it stand as your final assessment without a great deal of further consideration.

Kathleen T. Horning, From Cover to Cover, 1997 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Don't Rock the Boat Syndrome

Collegiality and collaboration are considered the keys to success in most communal ventures, but in the practice of criminal justice they are in fact the cause of system failure. When professional alliances trump adversarialism, ordinary injustice predominates. Judges, defense lawyers, and prosecutors, but also local government, police, and even trial clerks who process the paperwork, decide the way a case moves through the system, thereby determining what gets treated like a criminal matter and what does not. Through their subtle personal associations, legal players often recast the law to serve what they perceive to be the interest of their wider community or to perpetrate a "we've-always-done-it-this-way" mind-set. Whether through friendship, mutual interest, indifference, incompetence, or willful neglect the players end up on not checking each other and thus not doing the job the system needs them to do if justice is to be achieved.

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009

The JonBenet Ramsey Case Detectives

      The Boulder police union's contract requires that police officers regularly and frequently rotate through the various units--traffic, patrol, and investigations--rather than developing extensive experience in a particular area. Thus, Boulder police rotate in and out of detective duty, which is highly desirable for the officers because they don't have to work weekends or wear uniforms, but also means that relatively untrained detectives have to handle criminal cases. This is a major difference from employment contracts in other Colorado cities.

     Imagine how we [John and Patsy Ramsey] felt when we learned that an officer who had only been a detective for several months was one of the major police investigators on the case.

     Our friends began telling us that the Boulder police detectives were contacting them and saying things like, "The Ramseys think you may have something to do with the death of their daughter. Would you like to tell us anything about the Ramseys?" A standard interrogation technique. Bias the witness against a suspect and let them spill their guts out. We also heard the police made comments like, "The Ramseys refuse to talk with us. Will you help us?"

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

Thin Skinned Novelists

Novelists can take offense when someone asks what's real or autobiographical in our work, because to us, that's not what counts. The bits taken from real life are tiny scales on the dragon's tail--what about the whole beautiful writhing fire-breathing dragon?

Michelle Huneuen, The Paris Review, July 28, 2014 

Born to Write

I cannot remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer, and specifically a novelist; I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else. I never wanted to be a sportsman, I never wanted to be a musician. I never had the slightest bit of interest in music. When other boys had pictures of footballers [soccer players] on their walls or they had pictures of musicians on their walls, I had pictures of Jane Austen and Ben Johnson. I only wanted to be a writer and I only ever valued writers. And it hasn't changed; I only value writers.

Howard Jacobson, "On Writing: Authors Reveal the Secrets of Their Craft," theguardian.com, March 25, 2011 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

America's Executioners

      From 1926 to 1939, Robert Green Elliott, an electrician from Long Island, New York, the official executioner for six states, electrocuted 387 death row inmates. On January 6, 1927, Elliott executed six men in two states on the same day. In the morning he dispatched three men at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charleston, and in the afternoon, he put to death three men at Sing Sing Prison in New York. Mr. Elliott was paid $150 per execution, but when he killed two or more inmates at the same prison on the same visit, he discounted his fee. 

     Some of Robert Elliott's most infamous executions included Lindbergh kidnapper Bruno Richard Hauptmann who died in the electric chair in April 1936; Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey, executed in 1928 for the murder of Ruth's husband Albert; and Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927 for the murder of a Boston bank guard. 

     Proud of his work, Robert Elliott craved publicity and became a minor celebrity. His memoir, Angel of Death, written with a co-author, came out in 1940, a year before his death. The book is now a collector's item.

     Robert Elliott, in 1926, was named the official executioner in six states when John Hubburt, a man who had executed 140 inmates, retired. Both men were trained by America's first official state executioner, Edwin Jones. 

     Following Robert Elliott's retirement, most executioners kept a low profile. One exception was Sam Jones, an electrician from Louisiana who executed hundreds of inmates. Like Robert Elliott, Jones was proud of his work. He was interviewed by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Lewis in a 1980s television documentary. According to Dr. Lewis, Mr. Jones' attitude regarding killing people was not unlike that of a serial killer. Dr. Lewis expressed concern that in America there was no shortage of people who would enjoy the act of legally executing someone. (Dr. Lewis, the creator of the multiple personality disorder, believed that all murderers were insane and as such should not be executed.)

Hard Times

After losing several typewriters to pawnbrokers I simply gave up the idea of owning one. I printed out my stores by hand and sent them out that way. I hand-printed them with a pen. I got to be a very fast hand-printer. It got so that I could hand-print faster than I could write. I wrote three or four short stories a week. I kept things in the mail. I imagined the editors of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper's saying: "Hey, here's another one of those things by that nut..."

Charles Bukowski, Factotum, 1974

The Coming-Of-Age Memoir

Coming-of-age is a literary term to describe the passage from childhood to adulthood, from a state of innocence to a state of experience. Most writing about the teenage years is about coming-of-age, for that is the point of those years. We slip free of the protection and constraints of childhood and step into the vulnerability and freedom of adulthood, and we know it.

Susan Carol Hauser, You Can Write a Memoir, 2001 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Secret Births, Secret Deaths

     In 2004, 24-year-old Katie Stockton and her 4-year-old son lived with her parents in a rural home near Rockton, Illinois in the northern part of the state. After becoming pregnant in March of that year, Stockton continued using cocaine and kept her pregnancy secret. On December 17, 2004, under clandestine circumstances, Stockton gave birth to a living baby.

     Because she didn't want anyone to know about the baby's existence, Stockton stuffed the breathing infant, the placenta, and her bloody garments into an orange shopping sack that she placed into a white, plastic trash bag. Knowing the consequences of her act, the new mother dumped the trash bag and the baby alongside a road 100 feet from her parent's house.

     Days later, the baby was found dead from either exposure or suffocation. A forensic toxicologist determined that the infant--referred to as Baby Crystal--had been infected with hepatitis. The baby also had traces of cocaine in her system.

     Detectives questioned Katie Stockton about the murdered infant. She denied having given birth to the baby. She also refused to provide the authorities with a sample of her DNA. Without enough evidence to support a court order requiring Stockton to supply the DNA evidence, the case fizzled-out.

     Four years later, Baby Crystal's murder was under investigation by a team of cold-case homicide detectives who considered Stockton the prime suspect. An officer who had the suspect under surveillance recovered a cigarette butt she had discarded. The DNA on the cigarette butt matched the bloody clothing found inside the trash bag with the dead baby.

     Detectives, in August 2009, arrested Stockton on the charge of first-degree murder. Notwithstanding the DNA results, she denied being Baby Crystal's mother. Shortly after the arrest, investigators located Stockton's blue Saturn that had been parked for years in an impound lot. Police officers searched the car, and in the trunk, found the skeletal remains of two other infants. The babies had been stuffed into a pair of bags hidden beneath the spare tire.

     Stockton was not charged with the murders of the two infants in the car because forensic pathologists couldn't establish if the babies had been born alive. Later DNA analysis revealed that the infants in Stockton's vehicle were Baby Crystal's sisters. The three dead babies had been fathered by three different men.

     In February 2013, Stockton, facing life in prison (Illinois abolished its death penalty), pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in hopes the judge would show her mercy. At her April 5, 2013 sentencing hearing before Winnebago County Judge John Truitt, public defender David Doll asked that Stockton be given a prison term of 25 years. The defense attorney described his client as a good person who struggled with drug addiction.

     The defendant, in speaking directly to Judge Truitt, said, "I was in a very dark place for many years. I apologize to those I hurt and ask forgiveness. I'm truly sorry for the pain and hurt they have endured."

     Judge Truitt, apparently unmoved by the murder defendant's apology, sentenced the 32-year-old woman to 50 years behind bars. Without the possibility of parole, Stockton will probably spend the rest of her life in prison. 

The Gas Chamber

     Even after the end of the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States still would not bring itself to address the question whether execution in the gas chamber amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. No amount of evidence could convince it otherwise.

     But in the court of world opinion, the gas chamber represented one of modernity's worst crimes; it was an instrument of torture that first had been disguised as a humane alternative to pain and suffering. What originally had seemed to be such a noble and practical idea turned out to be something else entirely.

     Dreamers, scientists, soldiers, merchants, lawmakers, lawyers, physicians, governors, journalists, wardens, keepers--and, of course the condemned prisoners--all made their unique contribution to the rise and fall of the gas chamber. But the creation of a "painless and humane" method of killing proved elusive. Despite all of their utopian schemes, laboratory experiments and mathematical formulas, blind obedience, commercial arrangement, legislative clauses, legal briefs, stopwatches, stethoscopes, death warrants, witnesses peering into peepholes, execution protocols, and public relations pronouncements, America's use of lethal gas as a method of capital punishment ended with the close of the twentieth century. But its awful legacy will continue for a long time to come.

Scott Christianson, The Last Gasp, 2010

Dismemberment

     To profane a dead body by cutting it to pieces has always seemed, at least to our Western eyes, an act of bestial brutality. It is one thing to do murder. It is quite another to destroy the murder victim's identity, and this is the effect of dismemberment.

     Taking apart a fresh human body is no mean task. You will work up a sweat doing it. I have seen every tool imaginable used for this grisly purpose, from the ancient stone choppers used by early man millions of years ago to the Rambo knives, hacksaws and chain saws. It is a bloody, messy, dangerous business. Saws and knives can slip and wound you while you are using them. Bone itself can be quite sharp; I have been cut by broken bones while working with remains.

    Many dismemberments are done in bathtubs--more things come out of bathtubs than bathtub gin. Most of my [dismemberment] cases seem to involve motorcycle gang members or people involved in the drug trade.

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

The 1955 novel Lolita stirred a lot of controversy when it was published and Vladimir Nabokov spent quite a bit of time insisting that his own knowledge of nymphets was purely scholarly, unlike the fictional Humbert Humbert, who molested young girls. In Lolita, Nabokov committed one of the toughest acts of the fiction writer: staying true to the humanness of a reprehensible character. Humbert Humbert is as disgusting and deplorable as a character as any ever written and it would be easy to cast him in a light that shows him as only horrid. Yet Nabokov allows him some appealing traits: decided charm, dazzling intelligence, a sense of shame for his weakness, and, ultimately, a genuine love for Lolita.

Brandi Reissenweber, Writing Fiction, Alexander Steele, editor, 2003 

Ending a Nonfiction Story

The simplest ending to a nonfiction story is the climax. This is the scene that concludes a crisis, resolves a conflict, or marks a turning point in which the outcome becomes clear. An ending of this type should be considered in every narrative story. Obviously, it can be used only in a story that embraces some degree of narration, even if only a sequence of anecdotes. One approach to stories that consist of such a sequence is to break apart the principal anecdote, beginning with it, interrupting it at the point of greatest narrative suspense, then returning to it only at the end. More frequently, however, the climax is used as an ending in purely narrative stories, in which the overriding question from the outset is simply "What happened?"

James B. Steward, Follow the Story, 1998 

Monday, February 14, 2022

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

     The February 14, 1929 mass murder of seven men in a Chicago bootlegger's garage, one of America's most atrocious crimes, became the centerpiece homicide case of the so-called lawless decade. The bloodbath capped ten years of wholesale murder in America's prohibition era. The mastermind behind the murders, Chicago gangster Al Capone, had gone too far. The St. Valentine's day massacre marked the beginning of the end of "Dr. Death's" murderous career. The mass murder also highlighted the emerging science of forensic firearms identification.

     For several years there had been bad blood between rival bootleggers George "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone. The feud reached its peak when Moran and his North Chicago Gang began hijacking shipments of whisky en route to Capone from Detroit. With his supply of illegal booze endangered, Capone decided to eliminate his competition.

     A Capone undercover operative working in the Moran camp arranged for a shipment of stolen Capone whisky to be delivered to Moran's north side warehouse. The load would arrive at the garage on February 14 at ten-thirty in the morning. Capone wanted to get Moran and his men together in one spot so they could be eliminated en masse. 

     On the morning of the big day, as Capone's men watched from a boarding room across the street, Johnny May, a $50-a-week mechanic, showed up for work. A few minutes later, Moran's accountant, Adam Heyer arrived at the garage. James Clark, Moran's brother-in-law, followed the ex-con accountant to the scene. Clark had served time for burglary and robbery, and had recently beaten a rap for murder. The next to arrive were the Gusenberg brothers, Pete and Frank. Both men possessed rap sheets featuring aggravated assault, theft, and burglary. The sixth man to walk into the death trap didn't belong to the Moran outfit. He was Dr. Reihardt H. Schwimmer, a local optometrist. Dr. Schwimmer, a gangster groupie, had stopped by the warehouse on his way to his office to say hello to his heroes. Albert R. Weinshank, a speakeasy owner, was the seventh man to arrive at the garage that fateful morning. Because Weinshank looked and dressed like Bugs Moran, Capone's lookouts across the street believed that the boss had taken the bait and had arrived at the warehouse. Shortly after Weinshank entered the garage, one of Capone's men ran to a phone to set the murder plan into action.

     Bugs Moran, Ted Newberry, and the third Gusenberg brother, Henry, were still on their way to the warehouse. As they approached their destination, they saw a black Packard pull up in front of the building. It looked like the kind of car used by Chicago police detectives. Five men climbed out of the car. Two of them were dressed in police uniforms while the other three wore civilian overcoats. Thinking that the warehouse was being raided by the Chicago police, Moran and his companions fled the scene.

     Capone's uniformed men walked through the front office into the warehouse area. With revolvers drawn, they ordered the seven men up against a yellow brick wall. After the phony cops disarmed the rival crew, two of the men in overcoats pulled Thompson sub-machine guns out from under their coats. The two gunmen opened fire, sweeping their tommy-guns back and forth three times across the backs of their collapsing victims. After the guns fell silent, one of the shooters noticed that one of the victims was still twitching. The gunman walked over to the dying man and blasted him in the face with a double-barreled shotgun.

     Following the massacre, the gunmen walked out of the warehouse with their hands in the air. Behind them walked the uniformed men with their guns drawn. The mass murder had taken less than eight minutes.

     The police officers and detectives who responded to the scene were greeted by a gruesome sight. Four of the victims had fallen backward from the wall and were staring up at the ceiling. Another was face down, stretched along the base of the wall. A sixth man was on his knees slumped forward against a wooden chair. From the bullet-pocked, blood-splattered wall, streams of blood snaked cross the cement floor from the row of bodies. One of the men, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive. Having been shot fourteen times, with seven bullets lodged in his body, he had managed to crawl about twenty feet from the wall. When asked by a police officer to identify the people who shot him, Gusenberg replied, "Nobody shot me." He died ninety minutes later without identifying or describing the gunmen.

     Before the bodies were moved to the morgue, Cook County Coroner Dr. Herman N. Bundesen showed up at the warehouse to take charge of the crime scene investigation. He had dozens of photographs taken and ordered a careful collection of the empty shell casings, bullets, and bullet fragments. He ordered the firearms evidence placed into sealed envelopes. Bullets later dug out of the seven bodies were placed into envelopes that were each labeled with the name of the person who had been shot by the enclosed slugs.

     Dr. Bundesen established a coroner's jury made up of seven prominent citizens of Chicago who went to the warehouse shortly after the killings to view the scene firsthand. A few days later, the foreman of the jury, Bert A. Massee, called Dr. Calvin Goddard, the world's best known ballistics expert. Dr. Goddard, the former U. S. Army surgeon and ordinance authority who three years earlier, with two other firearms identification pioneers, had formed a private laboratory in New York City called the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, traveled to Chicago to analyze the crime scene bullets and shell casings.

     When Dr. Goddard arrived in Chicago the following day he encountered the largest collection of bullets and shell casings he had ever received in a single murder case. Crime scene investigators had recovered, from the warehouse floor, seventy .45-caliber cartridge shells. By examining these casings, Goddard determined that they had all been fired by an automatic weapon. Goddard knew there were only two automatic guns made in the United States that fired .45-caliber ammunition. One was the Colt 45 automatic pistol and the other the Thompson sub-machine gun, also manufactured by the Colt Company.

     By examining the marks made on the casings by the breech bolt, Goddard knew that all of the shells had been fired through a Thompson sub-machine gun. By differentiating two distinct sets of ejector marks on the cartridge cases, Goddard determined that two Thompsons had fired the seventy shells. Fifty cartridges had been fired through one Thompson and twenty from the other. From this, Dr. Goddard concluded that one sub-machine gun had been loaded with a twenty-shot clip and the other with a fifty-shot drum.

     Crime scene investigators picked up fourteen bullets from the garage floor. These projectiles had either missed or passed through their targets. All but two were deformed from impact. The rifling marks on the slugs (scratches made by the interior of the barrel) indicated they had been fired though a barrel with six grooves twisting to the right. This was characteristic of a Thompson sub-machine gun. The bullets all contained manufacturer's marks made by the U.S. Cartridge Company. Goddard learned that ammunition so marked had been produced during the period July 1927 to July 1928.

     Dr. Goddard also examined forty-seven bullet fragments that had been collected from the murder scene. Many of these pieces of lead were large enough to contain the imprints of the U.S. Cartridge Company. Most of the fragments showed rifling marks that bore groove characteristics of the Thompson type of rifling. Two empty twelve-gauge shotgun shells had also been recovered from the scene. The shotgun shells contained traces of smokeless powder and had been loaded with buck-shot. The firing pin impressions on the shotgun casings indicated that they had been fired from the same weapon.

     Thirty-nine bullets and bullet fragments had been removed from the bodies of the seven dead men. The body of Adam Heyer, the accountant, yielded fourteen. The bodies of James Clark and Frank Gusenberg produced seven each, and six had been extracted from Albert Weinshank. The remaining five slugs were shared by the other three victims. In addition to the bullets, seven buck-shot pellets had been removed from Dr. Schwimmer's head.

     The magnitude of the St. Valentine's Day mass murder put the Chicago Police Department under tremendous pressure. The fact that many citizens believed that police officers had been involved in the shootings created an additional incentive for detectives to identify the killers. Coroner Bundesen asked Dr. Goddard to test several shotguns and Thompson sub-machine guns owned by the Chicago Police Department to exclude them as potential murder weapons. Dr. Goddard concluded that none of these weapons had been used in the crime.

     After Dr. Goddard completed his initial firearms work, he returned to the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. Over the next several months Corner Bundesen mailed Goddard dozens of Thompson sub-machine guns. None of them turned out to be weapons used in the massacre.

     The day after the killings, Bug Moran read in the newspaper that the police wanted to question him about the massacre. The gangster voluntarily showed up at Chicago Police headquarters. When investigators asked him about his theory of the murders, he stated, "Only Capone kills like that."

     While the mass murder was being investigated in Chicago, Al Capone was relaxing at his villa in Miami. The authorities in Florida had given him the perfect alibi. On the morning of February 14, 1929, Capone was in the office of the Dade County Solicitor being questioned about his criminal activities in the Miami area.

     The first arrest in the case came on February 27, 1929. The arrestee, Jack McGurn, a hoodlum with twenty-two murders under his belt, was Al Capone's favorite executioner. A witness who had passed by the warehouse on the fatal morning had heard one of the killers say, "Come on, Mac." The witness identified a photograph of McGurn as one of the St. Valentine's Day shooters. Following his arrest, McGurn immediately posted his $50,000 bail and was back on the street.

     On March 14, 1929, detectives announced that they had developed several other suspects in the mass murder case. They were Joseph Lolordo and James Ray. Lolordo had dropped out of sight and would remain at large. James Ray, a hood out of East St. Louis, Illinois, had vanished.

     The Chicago police also made some arrests in the case. Three of Capone's hired killers, John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Joseph Guinta were taken into custody. The authorities, due to lack of evidence, had to release Guinta shortly after his arrest. Scalise and Anselmi made bail and were also released. Scalise and Jack McGurn were later indicted on seven counts of murder. McGurn eventually beat the case on a technicality and all charges against him were permanently dropped.

     Al Capone returned to Chicago on May 7, 1929. On the evening of his arrival, Scalise, Guinta, and Anselmi were the guests of honor at a Capone-hosted dinner attended by a dozen or so of his gangster associates. After an elaborate meal, Capone walked up behind the three men and beat them to death with a baseball bat. Their bodies were found early the next morning in the back seat of a car that had been rolled into a ditch alongside a rural Indiana road. The triple murder, related to other Capone business, had nothing to do with the St. Valentine's Day killings.

     Ten months following the massacre in Bugs Moran's garage, when it seemed as though the investigation had died on the vine, the case came back to life. On December 14, 1929, when a police officer in St. Joseph Michigan was escorting two motorists involved in a traffic accident to the police station for questioning, one of the men, a bank robber and Capone associate named Fred Burke, pulled out a pistol and killed the officer. Burke escaped in a hijacked car. Not long after the shooting, in the abandoned get-a-way car, police officers found documents that led them to Fred Burke's wife who lived with him in St. Joseph, Michigan. Burke, an early suspect in the St. Valentine's Day case, wasn't at home. But a search of the dwelling revealed an arsenal that included two Thompson sub-machine guns. The police seized the weapons along with ammunition clips and drums.

     Five days after the seizure at the Burke house, the district attorney in St. Joseph, Michigan delivered the weapons and ammunition to Dr. Calvin Goddard in New York. Goddard test-fired twenty-five bullets through one gun and fifteen through the other. When he compared these bullets and their shell casings with those found at the St. Valentine's Day murder scene, he was certain that the tommy guns found in Fred Burke's home had been the weapons used in the Chicago slaughter.

     On December 23, 1929, Dr. Goddard presented  his firearms identification evidence to the Cook County Coroner's Jury. As a result of his testimony and exhibits, the jurors recommended that Fred Burke be apprehended and held for the Cook County Grand Jury on seven counts of murder.

     Police officers in Michigan captured Burke the following April. Because he was being held for the murder of the police officer, the authorities in Michigan refused to surrender him to Illinois. Instead, Fred Burke was tried in Michigan for the murder of the police officer. Following the guilty verdict, the judge sentenced him to life. He later died in the Michigan State Penitentiary.

     As for Al Capone, his criminal career was coming to an end. In October 1931, he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years at the federal prison in Atlanta. Suffering from syphilis, Capone was released in 1939. He died eight years later. Jack McGurn, the suspected brains behind the massacre, was machined-gunned to death by other gangsters in 1936. He died on a Chicago street with fourteen bullets in his body. Bugs Moran, a few years after the mass murder in his warehouse, was convicted of bank robbery. He died in 1957 while serving his time at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

     The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the firearms identification work performed by Dr. Calvin Goddard led to the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory funded by Northwestern University. Dr. Goddard became the head of the laboratory which specialized in firearms identification, polygraph research, and forensic document examination. In 1938, the Chicago Police Department purchased the lab for $25,000.

Rigor Mortis

     Rigor mortis, the stiffening of muscles after death, is due to a chemical reaction directly dependent on the temperature surrounding a body (the colder the temperature, the more slowly rigor develops.) Beginning several hours after all vital signs cease, it is noted first in the facial area, then proceeds to the upper and lower extremities. After twelve hours it is usually complete. Finally, after twenty-four to thirty-six hours, the body passes out of rigor, this time in the reverse sequence, from the bottom of the body to the top.

     Generally speaking, the more physical exertion or struggle that takes place before death, the sooner rigor begins. Moreover, the sooner rigor begins, the sooner it passes. [The state of rigor mortis can be a general time of death indicator.]

Frederick Zugibe, M.D., Ph.D. and David L. Carroll, Dissecting Death, 2005

Henry Hill On Wiseguys

To me being a wiseguy was better than being president of the United States. It meant power among people who had no power. It meant perks in a working class neighborhood that had no privileges. To be a wiseguy was to own the world. I dreamed about being a wiseguy the way other kids dreamed about being doctors or movie stars or fireman or ballplayers. [Today, instead of wiseguys, we have politicians.]

Henry Hill [The real-life protagonist in the movie "Goodfellas."] In Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Why Teens Kill

There are many reasons why teens kill…If I were to narrow it down to the top three reasons, the order would be as follows:

1. Abusive families and bullying
2. Violent entertainment and pornography
3. Anger, depression, and suicide

Phil Chalmers, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, 2009 

Are Novelists Unhinged?

In wanting to be a novelist, there must be something beyond rationality at work. Call it love or obsession, a need to express or a need for attention, an ability to communicate or an inability to shut up, but writers are clearly a little bit insane.

Erin Barratte and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Norway's Angel of Death

     Arnfinn Nesset managed the Oakdale Valley Nursing Home in Norway, and between 1977 and 1980 he murdered 22 of his elderly patients by the administration of the drug curacit (a derivative of curare, which is used by the natives of South America to tip their arrows). During a preliminary interrogation Nesset confessed to the killings, adding, "I've killed so many I can't remember them all." At various times he gave different reasons for the murders, including euthanasia, pleasure killing, schizophrenia and a morbid need to take life.

     By the time Nesset came to trial, he had retracted his confessions and pleaded not guilty. He was eventually convicted of 22 out of a final 25 counts of murder, plus charges of forgery related to the embezzlement of the deceased patients' money--not for his own use, he was quick to emphasize, but to swell the funds of missionary charities. Nesset was sentenced to 21 years' imprisonment, the maximum permitted under Norwegian law. [The 53-year-old serial killer was convicted in 1983. In 1995, he was released after serving only 12 years of his sentence. If he is still alive, he is 84 and living under an assumed name.]

Brian Lane, Chronicle of 20th Century Murder, 1995 

The Crime Displacement Theory

Those who have examined whether crime prevention at one place results in total displacement of crime to other places find little evidence for such a hypothesis. Any occurrence of displacement can be highly contingent on the nature of the neighborhoods, the particular crimes, and the particular offenders. One can posit as well that even if a portion of some crimes being prevented in one crime-ridden neighborhood is displaced into ten nearby but different neighborhoods, that same amount of crime prevention will cause less overall fear and disintegration of community. One can also posit a diffusion-of-benefits effect from protection of certain places or items. For example, some evidence exists that if a potential offender knows that security devices cover one portion of a place or a portion of items in a place, he may attribute that coverage to other portions as well.

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003 

The One-Book Novelist

Some of the American writers are said--particularly by European and British critics--to be one-book writers. They produce one good novel and never again produce anything to equal it, apparently because their first book was so heavily autobiographical.

Mary McCarthy in Conversations with Mary McCarthy, Carol Gilderman, editor, 1991 

Simple Language

A huge vocabulary is not always an advantage. Simple language, for some kinds of fiction at least, can be more effective than complex language which can lead to stiltedness or suggest dishonesty or faulty education.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Saturday, February 12, 2022

William F. Buckley Jr. On the CIA

It had all the earmarks of a CIA operation, the bomb killed everybody in the room except the intended target.

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008) American conservative, intellectual author and television commentator. 

Criminologist Marvin E. Wolfgang On Murder

In Marvin E. Wolfgang's 1958 classic text, Patterns in Homicide, the criminologist, after studying 600 murder cases in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, concluded that the vast majority of criminal homicides in the city involved people of low socio-economic status. He found that residents of these neighborhoods were murdered over trivial conflicts and insults, and that in 25 percent of the cases, the person who initiated the conflict ended up dead.

Life Is Not a Novel

Everyone who has a life thinks he has a novel to write. And he or she may. But very few people understand that the life is not the novel, that chronology is not plot.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like That? 2010

Charles Bukowski on the Hollywood Elite

Many of the rich and the famous [in Hollywood] were actually dumb sluts and bastards. They had simply fallen into a big pay-off somewhere. Or they were enriched by the stupidity of the general public. They usually were talentless, eyeless, soulless, they were walking pieces of dung, but to the public they were god-like, beautiful, and revered. Bad taste creates many more millionaires than good taste.

Charles Bukowski, Hollywood, 1989

Friday, February 11, 2022

Earl K. Shumway: Archaeological Looter

The Archaeological Resource Protection Act  

      The lobbying efforts of the Society for American Archaeology, an international organization dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas, led to the passage of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), federal legislation signed into law in October 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Under Title 16 of the United States Code, Sections 470 aa to 470 mm, ARPA preserves archaeological resources on federal and Indian lands with the aim to prevent the loss of irreplaceable artifacts that are part of the nation's cultural heritage.

     At its core, ARPA makes it a federal crime to excavate, remove, damage, alter, and/or deface (without a government permit) archaeological resources from protected areas. It is also a federal offense, under this law, to traffic interstate in artifacts acquired in violation of the act or in breach of local or state law. Under ARPA, an "archaeological resource" is an item of past human existence or archaeological interest more than a hundred years old.

     First-time ARPA offenders, in cases where the value of the artifacts and the cost of restoration and repair of the damaged archaeological site is less than $500, can be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisoned for more than a year. However, if the value or restoration costs exceed $500, the offender can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for two years on each count. Repeat ARPA offenders can be fined $100,000 and sent to prison for five years on each count. Under ARPA, federal authorities can pursue violators civilly or in criminal court, imposing fines and confiscating vehicles and equipment used in the commission of the prohibited activity.

Looting Anasazi Artifacts

     Earl K. Shumway, the central figure in the country's first major ARPA case, came from a family of archaeological looters. Earl grew up in Moab, Utah, a Mormon town seventy miles north of the four corners village of Blanding, where, in June 2009, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents raided the homes of eleven ARPA defendants. DeLoy Shumway, Earl's father, spent years plundering Anasazi ruins for pottery and other artifacts in the Puebloan region of the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah. In the early 1980s, Earl's distant cousin, Casey Shumway, had the distinction of being the nation's first ARPA defendant convicted of the offense.

     From 700 to 1300, the Peublo (also referred to as the Anasazi) people grew beans and corn and built masonry structures--so-called cliff dwellings--into canyon alcoves that still show rock petroglyphs depicting animals, human figures, and prehistoric tools. Just before the turn of the fourteenth century, social upheaval and prolonged drought caused these people to migrate south. They never returned, but left in Utah's San Juan County alone, a place the size of Connecticut, 28,000 known archaeological sites.

     In 1850, Mormon settlers to southwestern Utah found, scattered virtually everywhere, prehistoric tools, flint projectile points, and shards of Anasazi pottery. The collecting of prehistoric pottery began in the late 1800s after Colorado rancher Richard Wetherill discovered Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verdi. In the canyon cliff dwellings he and his brother found decorated pottery, jewelry, tools, sandals, and woven blankets. The brothers also discovered thousands of grave sites containing human skeletons wrapped in blankets.

     The Wetherill discoveries launched a lucrative trade in Native American artifacts fueled by competition between the Smithsonian and other U. S. museums and a growing interest among the general pubic in Indian relic collecting.

     Up until 1930, archaeologists and curators at the University of Utah paid artifact hunters two dollars for every piece of pottery (called "pots" by collectors) they brought to the school. Earl Shumway's grandfather, in the 1920s, sold 370 pieces of Anasazi pottery to the university. In those days he could acquire up to seventeen pots in a single day, and in a productive month, dig up two hundred, many of which ended up in a local museum.

     Craig Childs, in his book Finders Keepers, chronicles the early relationship between the region's pot hunters and the university: "In the 1920s an archaeologist named Andrew Kerr from the University of Utah in Salt Lake appeared [showed up in the area] after he heard that an entire quarter of the state was filthy with archaeology right near the surface, graves practically springing from the ground. Kerr hired local residents to dig; his head diggers were members of the Shumway family who had already done a good deal of private excavation. The Shumways did most of the work while Kerr sat back. They showed him how to locate the best caches of artifacts, how to dig without breaking pots. Meanwhile, Kerr encouraged them and paid them to become even better at it. Showing little regard for scientific method, he wanted only the most visually stunning artifacts which he shipped back to the university museum."

     According to William Hurst, an archaeologist and lifelong resident of Blanding, Utah, Anasazi projectile points, tools, and pottery, during the 1950s and 1960s, were everywhere and easy to find. Most of the local collectors were surface hunters who picked up pieces from cultivated fields. In those days, collecting arrowheads in and around Blanding was like picking up seashells from a beach.

     A Blanding resident and artifact collector, speaking about what it was like in the 1950s and 1960s, said this to a journalist writing about the plundering of Anasazi sites: "This was our way of life. You could find artifacts just everywhere. You can go in any direction from Blanding and they'll be mounds and dwellings and arrowheads and artifacts." In the same article, Toni Turk, the then mayor of Blanding, also described how it was for collectors in those days: "The pottery was so commonplace that kids would use them for target practice, they would throw rocks at them. There was nothing particularly special about them. Some people started seeing in them some art value for themselves and they'd start collecting."

     Blanding mayor Turk also spoke of archaeological looters like Earl Shumway and his father. "Some people went in with heavy machinery. It took a lot of labor off the effort to dig up graves. They dug down to get the treasures. These are people who stepped across the lines of propriety. They got into looting graves and grave goods."

     According to Wayne Dance, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for the Utah District from 1990 to 2007, the prosecutor who targeted Earl Shumway and ended up prosecuting more ARPA subjects than any AUSA in the country, the bulk of Anasazi looting took place within a hundred mile, north-south corridor stretching from Moab to the town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Reservation near the Arizona state line.

The Earl K. Shumway Case

     In 1985, a federal grand jury sitting in Salt Lake City, indicted Earl K. Shumway, then twenty-five, on four felony counts in violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The fierce and flamboyant looter with the wild shock of red hair and matching mustache, had openly bragged about how much money he made selling Anasazi pottery, baskets, human remains, and other artifacts from hundreds of archaeological sites which he left littered with empty Mountain Dew cans.

     Because Shumway also boasted of carrying a .44 magnum revolver he'd use on anyone who'd confront him while digging for artifacts, federal agents despised and feared him. The AUSA charged Shumway with the removal and sale of thirty-four prehistoric baskets excavated from Horse Rock Ruin on federal land near Allen Canyon, Manti-La Sal National Forest in southeastern Utah. Shumway and his crew had been digging on this site since 1981. Tried and convicted in 1986, Shumway, to avoid serving time in prison, identified, for the FBI, a long list of artifact collectors living in Blanding. In turning snitch, he avoided prison and settled scores with collectors he didn't like. His information also led to a series of ARPA SWAT raids that year. All of those cases were eventually dropped.

     After informing on collectors, Earl Shumway returned to looting archaeological sites on federal land. In November 1994, a former Shumway business partner told the FBI that Shumway had been plundering artifacts at Horse Rock Ruin. The snitch said that Shumway had cheated him out of his share of the loot. Shortly after his arrest, Shumway pleaded guilty to three ARPA counts and a federal firearms charge. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced the serial looter to probation.

     In June 1995, just seven months after Shumway's guilty plea, AUSA Wayne Dance, having successfully prosecuted forty ARPA defendants, convinced members of a federal grand jury in Utah to indict Shumway on a pair of four-year-old ARPA cases.

     In 1991, Shumway met helicopter pilot Michael Miller at a pool hall in Moab. After regaling Miller with stories of his archaeological adventures and the big money he made selling Anasazi pottery, baskets, and human remains, Miller contacted a helicopter pilot named John Ruhl and asked him to fly the pair around in search of potential sites. Shumway's father had taught Earl how to use aircraft in search for ruins. With diggers on the ground and a lookout in the sky, looters could easily avoid detection. Shumway, with Ruhl's knowledge, rented a  helicopter by telling Ruhl's employer he was a film scout.

     Ruhl flew Miller and Shumway to Dop-Ki Cave in Utah's Canyonlands National Park, a 350,000-acre tract where they dug up the skeleton of an infant wrapped in a blanket inside a burial basket. Shumway took the blanket and all of the bones except the skull. A few days later, Ruhl flew Shumway and Miller to Horse Rock Ruin where they spent the night. The next morning, Shumway dug up a pair of ancient sandals and a sleeping mat.

     At Shumway's November 1995 trial, AUSA Dance, through DNA analysis, connected the defendant to a cigarette butt found at the Dop-Ki Cave site. The jurors, based upon the first use of DNA evidence in an ARPA case, found Shumway guilty.

     Convicted of seven felony counts, Judge David K. Winder, appalled at Shumway's callous handling of the infant's remains, exceeded ARPA's punishment guidelines by sentencing the looter to six and a half years in prison. The judge also fined him $3,500. Shumway appealed his sentence to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which reduced it to five years, three months.

     While being transported to prison, a group of Native American prisoners gave Shumway a severe beating. In 2003, three years after getting out of prison, Earl K. Shumway died of cancer. He was forty-six-years-old.