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Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Beth Carpenter Murder-For-Hire Case

     When Kim Carpenter met Anson "Buzz" Clinton III in the summer of 1992, she was a 22-year-old divorcee living with her two-year-old daughter Rebecca in her parents' house in Ledyard, Connecticut. Buzz, a 26-year-old exotic dancer with a son who was three, had been divorced as well. Buzz and Kim got married that winter in Lyme, Connecticut at the Clinton family home. Buzz, having given up exotic dancing, had a job as a nurse's assistant in the a southeastern Connecticut convalescent home. Kim was three months pregnant with his baby.

     Before Kim and Buzz were married, Kim's parents, Richard and Cynthia Carpenter, had taken care of Kim's daughter Rebecca. They had become quite attached to their granddaughter and were concerned that Kim and her new husband, a man they did not consider worthy of her, would not be suitable parents. The grandparents wanted Rebecca back under their roof.

     In November 1993, the Carpenters, alleging that Buzz Clinton was abusing their granddaughter, went to court to to gain legal custody of the little girl. Kim and Buzz denied the allegation and fought  to retain custody of her. The family court judge ruled against the Carpenters, denying them custody of their granddaughter. Kim had since given birth to Buzz's child and was pregnant again. There was so much bad blood between Buzz and Kim's parents, he began making plans to move his family to Arizona. The Carpenters were sickened by the possibility that their beloved granddaughter might be taken out of their reach by a mother who couldn't  care for her and a man they believed was abusive. The grandparents felt helpless, and were on the verge of panic.

     On the morning of March 10, 1994, a motorist exiting the East Lyme off-ramp on I-95 saw the body of a man lying along the highway not far from an idling 1986 Pontiac Firebird. It was Buzz Clinton. He had been shot five times then driven over by a vehicle as he lay dead on the road.

     Detectives with the Connecticut State Police learned that earlier that morning someone had called Buzz about a tow truck he was selling. Because investigators were unable to identify this caller, the case stalled. Whoever had murdered Buzz Clinton had not done it for his wallet, or anything else of value. Without a motive or a suspect, detectives quickly ran out of leads. In the meantime, Kim and Rebecca, and the two children fathered by Buzz Clinton, moved in with the Carpenters in Ledyard.

     On May 25, 1995, ten months after the murder, the Connecticut State Police received a call that brought life back to the investigation. The caller, who didn't identify herself, said that her ex-boyfriend and one of his associates had been involved in Buzz Clinton's murder. The anonymous caller named the principals, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, 40-year-old Joseph Fremut and and a biker dude from Deep River Connecticut named Mark Dupres. The caller didn't say why Buzz Clinton had been killed. Both suspects had criminal histories involving petty crimes and drug dealing. But neither man, as far as detectives could determine, had any direct link to Buzz Clinton.

     Detectives looking into Mark Dupres' background eventually found an indirect and rather thin connection between the biker and the murder victim. Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, worked in the New London law firm that employed Kim's sister, Beth Carpenter. When questioned by detectives, Joseph Fremut, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, said that Mark Dupres had been the one who had murdered Buzz Clinton. Fremut said he had been involved in the planning phase of the homicide but had not been with Dupres when the shooting took place. According to Fremut, Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, had paid Dupres to do the job for another attorney who worked at the New London law firm.

     A few days after his initial interview, Mark Dupres confessed to detectives with the Connecticut State Police. He admitted being the person who had called Buzz Clinton to inquire about the tow truck he was selling. Accompanied by his 15-year-old son Chris, Dupres, on the morning of the murder, had driven to Buzz Clinton's house. From there, Dupres and his son, in their Oldsmobile Cutlass, followed Clinton to the place where he kept the vehicle for sale. As they were coming off exit 72 in East Lyme, Dupres blinked his lights signaling Clinton to pull over. As Clinton approached the driver's side of the Oldsmobile Dupres got out of the vehicle to meet him. Between the two cars, Dupres, using a revolver, shot Clinton five times.

     As Dupres pulled away from the murder scene with his son Chris still in the vehicle he drove over Clinton's body. Detectives asked the suspect why he would kill a man in front of his son. Dupres, who apparently didn't get the point of the question, shrugged his shoulders and said that the boy hadn't done anything wrong.

    Mark Dupres told the detectives he had killed Buzz Clinton on behalf of his attorney, Haiman Clein. In payment for the murder, the lawyer had given him $1,000 in upfront money. According to their agreement, Dupres would receive $4,000 after the hit. As it turned out, Clein only paid the hit man an additional $500.

     Detectives learned that Haiman Clein, who didn't know Buzz Clinton, was just the middleman. The 53-year-old attorney had allegedly arranged the murder for Beth Carpenter, a beautiful young attorney in the New London law firm who was the murder victim's sister-in-law. Clein and the 30-year-old blonde were having an affair.

     Mark Dupres told detectives that he had met with Beth Carpenter in Haiman Clein's law office. On that occasion, the three of them discussed the murder plan in some detail. From Carpenter, Dupres acquired a photograph of the murder target, his work address, and the license number of his Pontiac Firebird. Beth Carpenter said that she wanted Buzz Clinton dead because he had been abusing her niece Rebecca. The young lawyer said her parents had tried but failed to gain legal custody of the little girl. That's when Beth, without her parents' knowledge, began planning Clinton's murder. It was all about Rebecca. Shortly before Dupres murdered Buzz Clinton, Beth Carpenter moved to London, England.

     Charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Joseph Fremut and Mark Dupres, pursuant to plea agreements, promised to testify against Attorney Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter. In Dupres' case, the prosecutor, under the agreement, would recommend a prison sentence that didn't exceed 45 years. The triggerman's son Chris, having been granted immunity from prosecution, also agreed to testify against the two lawyers.

     Haiman Clein avoided arrest by fleeing the state. Beth Carpenter told FBI agents stationed in London, England that Mr. Clein had been the mastermind behind the contract murder. Claiming total innocence, Beth denied prior knowledge of the murder. She agreed to help the FBI find the missing Clein who every so often called her from a public telephone. In February 1996, FBI agents arrested Clein as he stood by a telephone booth in Long Beach, California. He had been awaiting a call from Beth Carpenter.

     Following his arrest Clein insisted that he was innocent. But sixteen months later he accepted a plea bargain arrangement similar to the one given his former client and friend, triggerman Mark Dupres. Betrayed by Beth Carpenter, he identified her as the mastermind and himself nothing more than a middle-man in the deadly scheme. This gave the prosecutor enough evidence to charge Beth Carpenter, on August 26, 1997, with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder. No longer living in England, she had moved to Dublin where she was living under her own name. In November 1997, the Irish police took her into custody.

     Claiming that she had been framed by Haiman Clein who sought revenge because she had ratted him out to the FBI, Carpenter fought extradition to the United States. Because the prosecutor in Connecticut sought the death penalty, the authorities in Ireland, pursuant to a policy that forbade extraditing foreign fugitives who could be executed in their home countries, refused to send her back. The following year, as Carpenter sat in an Irish jail, Dupres and Clein pleaded guilty. They were each sentenced to 45 years in prison.

     In June 1999, after the Connecticut prosecutor promised not to seek the death penalty in the case, the Irish authorities sent Beth Carpenter back to the U. S. to face charges that she had orchestrated the murder of Buzz Clinton. Because she had already spent 19 months behind bars, the judge in Connecticut released her on $150,000 bail. The defendant was allowed her to await her trial under house arrest in her parents' home.

     The televised murder trial (Court TV) began in February 2001, eight years after Mark Dupres pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton as he walked toward the killer's car parked alongside the I-95 off-ramp. Appearing for the prosecution, the victim's mother, Dee Clinton, described how the defendant's parents had fought to wrest custody of Rebecca from her son and his wife Kim. The custody battle had created bad blood between her son and the Carpenter family. This provided the motive for the murder-for-hire killing.

     The hit man's son, Chris Dupres, testified that until the shooting took place he had no idea what his father had planned to do. As they left the murder scene that morning the car rolled over the victim's body. Ten minutes after the killing his father smashed the murder weapon with a hammer and tossed the pieces into the woods.

     Haiman Clein, now 61-years-old and disbarred, took the stand on March 8, 2002. In December 1993, shortly after the Carpenters lost their custody battle for Rebecca, the defendant told Clein that as long as Buzz Clinton was alive Rebecca was in danger and beyond the reach of her protection. Eventually Beth came right out and asked if Clein would arrange to have someone kill the source of the problem. At first Clein wasn't sure she was serious but when Beth kept bringing up the subject he realized that she really wanted Buzz Clinton dead.

     According to Clein's testimony, in late January 1994 he brought Beth Carpenter and Mark Dupres, his client and friend, together in his office to discuss the murder. A month before Dupres was to perform the hit he got cold feet and called off the murder. A couple of weeks after that, the contract killing was back on his schedule after Beth came to him in tears claiming that Buzz Clinton had just locked Rebecca in the basement and burned her with a cigarette.

     At four in the morning on March 11, 1993, less than twenty-four hours after the murder, Beth Carpenter called Haiman Clein and said she was worried sick and had to see him. In bed with his wife, Clein got dressed and drove to Norwich to calm his anxious mistress. When he got to her apartment she refused to discuss the murder because she was afraid the FBI had bugged the place.

     Haiman Clein testified that when Mark Dupres told him he had taken his son along on the hit the attorney was furious. How stupid could you get? If the kid talked they'd all end up in prison. Now Clein himself had something to worry about.

     Mark Dupres, the prosecution's most important witness, took the stand and implicated himself, Clein, and the defendant. Following the hit man's testimony the state rested its case. As murder-for-trials go the prosecution had presented a solid case, one that would require a strong defense. To provide that defense, Beth Carpenter's attorneys put their best witness on the stand, the defendant herself.

     Beth Carpenter testified that when Haiman Clein found out about Buzz Clinton and what he was doing to Rebecca he arranged the hit on his own volition to solve the problem for Beth and her niece. After she found out what he had done on her behalf she didn't turn him in because, "I needed to be with him. I wasn't a whole person." Shocked by what he had done, she said to him, "Only someone who is crazy would do something like this." To that Clein had allegedly replied, "Don't you see? You don't have anything to worry about anymore."

     On April 12, 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty as charged. The defendant and her attorneys, thinking that Clein and Dupres had not been believable witnesses, were stunned by the verdict. Four months later, the judge complied with the terms of the Irish extradition agreement by sentencing Beth Carpenter to life in prison without parole.

Literary Talent

What is literary talent? A nimble fluency. A way with words. An imagination that's easily aroused, quick to see, to hear, and to feel. An ear for the music of the language and a tendency to become absorbed in the mysterious movements of its significance and sound. A sense of audience. Skill at organizing verbal concepts solidly, effectively, and fairly swiftly. An aptitude for catching the elusive forms and figures of a vivid imagination and a knack for pinning them down on a page.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

If You Write, Don't Drink

A short story can be written on the bottle, but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern inside your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows. I would give anything if I hadn't written Part III of Tender is the Night entirely on the bottle.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1938

The Shortest Science Fiction Story

Written anonymously, the shortest science fiction story in history is simply this: "The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock on the door."

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Jullian McCabe Murder Case

     Jullian McCabe, 34, lived with her husband and 6-year-old son in Seal Rock, Oregon, a coastal town 130 miles southwest of Portland. The boy, named London, suffered from severe autism. The child's father, Matt, also had health problems. In 2012, doctors found that Matt McCabe had multiple sclerosis and a mass on his brain. He had been unable to work.

     In late 2013, Jullian McCabe appealed for help on a fundraising website called YouCaring.com where she posted the following message: "If you are a praying person, pray for us. I love my husband and he has taken care of myself and my son for years and years and now it's time for me to take the helm. I am scared and I am reaching out." Through the site, she raised $6,831, considerably less than the stated goal of $50,000.

     In September 2014, Jullian McCabe posted a YouTube video showing her husband in a hospital bed with their son pushing the button that raised and lowered it. Speaking to the camera she said, "I'm sorry but to wake up one day and your whole world is topsy turvy in a world that was already topsy turvy with our son." In that video she also said, "I have thought of pulling a Thelma and Louise." [Movie characters who ended their lives by driving off a cliff.]

     At six-thirty in the evening of Monday November 3, 2014, Jullian McCabe called 911 and reported that she had just thrown her son off the Yaquina Bay Bridge in nearby Newport, Oregon. Officers met her at the scene and took her to the Newport Police Department for questioning.

     At the police station, McCabe calmly informed detectives that voices in her head had instructed her to toss the boy into the water 133 feet below the bridge.

     At ten-thirty that night, while Coast Guard and other searchers looked for the child, a person sitting in a restaurant overlooking the bay at the Embarcadero Resort, noticed a small body floating in the water near a marina. The authorities quickly identified the corpse as London McCabe.

     Shortly after the recovery, officers booked the mother into the Lincoln County Jail on charges of aggravated murder, murder, and first-degree manslaughter. The judge set McCabe's bond at $750,000.

     In speaking to reporters, members of McCabe's family described her as mentally unstable. They said her problems started after her father died and her husband fell ill and couldn't work. She had been simply overwhelmed, they said.

     Investigators learned that McCabe had planned her son's death for three years. On her computer she had searched the phrases "hearing voices," "child off bridge," and "insanity defense." In February 2016, McCabe pleaded guilty to murder. She said she had killed the child because she couldn't handle the responsibility caring for him after her husband had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The Lincoln County judge sentenced McCabe to life in prison without eligibility for parole until after she served 25 years of her sentence. 

The History of Kleptomania

     The birth of criminal anthropology codified scientists' ideas that kleptomaniacs, mostly women, were born to steal. In The Female Offender (1893) Cesare Lombroso wrote: "Shoplifting, which has become so fashionable since the establishment of huge department stores, is a form of occasional crime in which women specialize. The temptation stems from the immense number of articles on display. We saw that fine things are not articles of luxury for women but articles of necessity since they equip them for conquest." This, according to Lombroso, resulted in "women's organic inability to resist stealing."

     The idea that kleptomania arises out of female sexual repression was made popular around 1906 by Freud's disciples, who attached the Oedipal myth to the disease, attributing it to infantile revenge fantasies and the castration complex, and sometimes equated shoplifting with sex. Best known as a charismatic anarchist, free-love advocate, and cocaine addict who influenced expressionism and Franz Kafka [a novelist], Otto Gross was the first psychoanalyst to champion kleptomania as sexual release.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"

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

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

     His book, In Cold Blood, was subsequently recognized as an exemplar of a new genre--creative non-fiction. [While universally known as a true crime classic, because of created characters, scenes and dialogue, In Cold Blood is more of a novel than nonfiction.]

Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn, August 17, 2017

Reconsidering Charles Dickens

     After Charles Dickens died in 1870, his reputation--though not his popularity--dipped. Yes, he was a supreme entertainer, but the author of "A Christmas Carol" and "A Tale of Two Cities" couldn't really be considered a serious writer in a world of Hardy and Meredith and Conrad and James. And other popular writers had come along and won large readerships--Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and, of course, Kipling, the most talented of them all, whose reputation has fluctuated even more that Dickens's, given his fatal identification with imperialism. 

     But, as these things happen, before the end of the century the tide had begun to turn. A reconsideration of Dickens by the impressive novelist and critic George Glassing, published in 1898, made large claims for his art, and then, in 1906, the prodigious young G.K. Chesterson (long before his "Father Brown" mysteries made him, too, a popular writer) published a reconsideration of [Dickens] with such wit, sympathy and sheer brilliance that Dickens was back in play as a major literary force. Meanwhile, of course, the world had gone on reading him, happily ignorant that he was a has-been.

Robert Gottlieb, "Dickensworld," The New York Times Book Review, November 8, 2021

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Woman In The Locked Room

     The English writer John Fowles published a horror novel in 1963 called The Collector. Fowles' protagonist, a neurotic butterfly collector, wins the British Football Pool which allows him to buy an country estate. The former city hall ribbon clerk, after converting his cellar into comfortable living quarters, kidnaps a beautiful young art student he has secretly admired. His purpose is not to rape or ransom, but to "collect" this desirable specimen. The girl he has added to his collection of beautiful objects takes ill and dies. Following her death, the collector reads her diary and is shocked to discover that she had not fallen in love with him. The novel closes with the protagonist planning to abduct and imprison another young woman who has caught his attention. (The film version of the book came out in 1965.)

 The Michael Mendez Case                                                              

     One could describe law enforcement as looking under rocks in search of criminals and evidence of their crimes. Every so often the police turn over a rock and are surprised by what they find. On August 9, 2012, members of the New Jersey State Police Street Gang Unit, while searching an apartment in Paterson for drugs, discovered something they hadn't anticipated. They found a woman who may have lived ten years locked inside a bedroom. The apartment belonged to a 42-year-old suspected drug dealer and member of the Latin Kings street gang named Michael Mendez.

     Most of Mendez's public housing neighbors had not been aware that the woman, 44-year-old Nancy Rodriguez Duran, had been living in the former roofer's apartment. (Mendez, because of lung problems and bipolar disorder, has been on disability for several years.) Over the past decade, only a few of his fellow apartment dwellers had seen Duran outside of the three-story brick complex. Even those sightings were rare. Mendez had resided in the third floor apartment for more than twelve years.

     Inside Duran's small bedroom, padlocked from the outside, officers found a pail used as a chamber pot, a bed, a television, and a telephone. Searchers also discovered, in Mendez's possession, 4,200 prescription pills, 190 grams of marijuana, and $23,000 in cash. The pills alone had a street value of $100,000.

     New Jersey State Police Officers took Michael Mendez into custody at the Paterson apartment and hauled him to the Passaic County Jail. Charged with possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and criminal restraint, Mendez was held on $l million bail. The authorities transported Nancy Rodriguez Duran to a nearby hospital for medical evaluation. While Mendez had two previous convictions for aggravated assault, he had only served three months behind bars.

     On August 14, 2012,  before Mendez's preliminary hearing in Paterson, Nancy Rodriguez Duran, in speaking to reporters, denied having been held in Mendez's apartment bedroom against her will. "He padlocked the door with my consent," she said. "I like being inside, I don't like to go out. It's not that he was keeping me there. Why would he keep me in a room for ten years? How could I be so healthy? I should be dead by now."

     The New Jersey State Attorney General's office took charge of the case. The central legal question involved whether or not an adult can consent to being locked in a room for the better part of ten years. And in a case like this, what constitutes "consent?" Perhaps Duran had been abducted against her will, then over the years, developed the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological state in which the prisoner develops empathy for her captor. This woman may have been the victim of what psychologists call "traumatic bonding."

     In March 2013, Mendez pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Greta Brown in Paterson, New Jersey to third-degree criminal restraint and possession of marijuana and prescription pills with intent to distribute. The judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

     Five years behind bars for keeping his victim locked up for ten.

Where to Begin

Reading about first draft writing tactics has made me realize how many I've unconsciously developed over the years. [Shouldn't that be subconsciously?] One key anxiety reducer I've learned is not to worry about beginnings. It's too easy to panic while waiting for the perfect opening. Fiction writers typically know the conclusion of a story they set out to write, but rarely know how it will begin. Good leads usually show up late. In my own writing and that of my students, I generally find the best opening deep within a narrative. This opening only makes itself known as I read drafts, see what catches my eye, something that sets a tone, that gets the piece up and running. Knowing this, I don't concern myself with beginnings until the end.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Successful Literary Journalism

To produce successful literary journalism or creative nonfiction, the writer must achieve two goals: journalistic credibility and artistic merit.

Mark Masse, Writer's Digest, March 2002 

Literary Theft

In any art you are allowed to steal anything if you can make it better.

Ernest Hemingway, 1936

Structuring a Documentary Film Story

As a documentary film storyteller, you decide where to begin and end the story. You can begin in the middle, go back to the beginning, catch up with your story, and then move ahead to the end. You can start at the end before moving to the beginning to ask, "How did we get here?" You can flash forward or back. The only thing you can't do, in a documentary that's driven by a narrative sequence of events, is change the important facts of the main underlying chronology. [A lot of documentaries are, in my opinion, chronologically artsy-fartsy and confusing. I prefer stories that start at the beginning, move to the middle, and conclude at the end.]

Shelia Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 2007 

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Online Hook-Up From Hell

     In September 2010, Mary Kay Beckman, a 46-year-old mother of two from Las Vegas, met 50-year-old Wade Mitchell Ridley via the online dating service, Match.com. The couple had eight dates before Beckman realized there was something wrong with him and ended the relationship.

     On January 21, 2011, four months after his last date with Beckman, Ridley, armed with a butcher's knife, broke into her garage and waited for her to return home. When Beckman pulled into the garage and got out of her car, Ridley stabbed her ten times. In his attempt to murder his victim, Ridley also stomped her head and neck. Ridley left the garage that night thinking that he had killed Mary Kay Beckman.

     Mary Kay survived the brutal attack, but had to undergo surgeries to repair her jaw, preserve her eyesight, and to have a section of her skull replaced by a synthetic material.

     Shortly after the burglary and attempted murder, Las Vegas police arrested Wade Ridley. While in police custody, he confessed to the Beckman assault. Ridley also informed his interrogators that a few weeks before stabbing and stomping Mary Kay Beckman, he murdered a woman in Phoenix. The suspect said he had used a butcher's knife to stab 62-year-old Anne Simenson to death in her home. Just before murdering Simenson, a woman he had met on Match.Com, Ridley had stolen painkilling drugs from a pharmacist he had robbed at knife-point.

     On February 15, 2011, a prosecutor in Clark County, Nevada charged Wade Mitchell Ridley with the attempted murder of Mary Kay Beckman. In Arizona, a prosecutor charged Ridley with the murder of Anne Simenson.

     In September 2011, Ridley entered an Alford pleas to attempted murder with the use of a deadly weapon and armed robbery. (In so pleading, Ridley didn't admit guilt but acknowledged the state had enough evidence to convict him.) The judge sentenced Ridley to 28 to 70 years in prison.

     On May 17, 2012, a prison guard found Ridley hanging in his cell. The medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.

     Mary Kay Beckman, on January 25, 2013, filed suit against Match.Com in a Las Vegas federal court. Her attorney, Marc Saggese, told reporters that the basis of the $10 million civil action "is the advertising that is utilized by Match.Com, lulling women and men into a false sense of security." It is the plaintiff's contention that the dating service has a legal duty to warn its online customers that there might be people in the dating pool who are dangerous.

     The lawyer representing Match.Com responded to this assertion by saying the notion his client was liable for the behavior of a Match.Com member was absurd. The attorney for the defendant said the plaintiff was the victim of a "sick, twisted" man.

     If Match.Com lost this lawsuit, owners of bars where men and women meet could be held liable for hook-ups that led to one of the parties being criminally victimized. It would make fixing-up friends a risky proposition for match-makers. Who doesn't know that going out with a stranger met online, in a bar, or at a college fraternity party, isn't risky business? While Mary Kay Beckman was the victim of a terrible crime she was not a victim of Match.Com.

     On May 29, 2013, a federal judge in Nevada threw out Beckman's case against the online dating service. 

Two Stalkers, Different Outcomes

The Tire Slasher

     In January 2010, Jessica (not the victim's real name) broke up with Dieter Heinz Werner, her 68-year-old boyfriend. Shortly after that, someone slashed her tires in the parking lot of a Houston, Texas movie complex. A month later, Jessica found a GPS tracking device attached to the undercarriage of her car. Because Mr. Werner had been bothering her with text messages and phone calls, Jessica suspected him of slashing her tires and using the GPS device to keep track of her whereabouts.

     That spring, the ex-boyfriend continued his harassment by sending Jessica hundreds of text messages. On April 3, 2010, he sent her a text which read: "Should have answered the phone and not ignored me again. Pissed me off. Now I'll show you." That day, after following her to a grocery store, Werner texted: "Pissed me off when I saw you at Krogers and you turned your head. I would never treat you like that."

     On April 15, 2010, a witness at the movie complex parking lot where Jessica's tires had been slashed, saw an elderly white man slashing a car's tires with a pocketknife. The witness jotted down the license number to the vandal's Mercedes convertible. The vehicle was registered to Dieter Heinz Werner. A couple of weeks later, a Harris County prosecutor charged Werner with stalking, a third degree felony. Werner was held without bond for a few days until a judge issued a protection order against the accused stalker. After being served with the restraining order, Werner paid his $75,000 bond and was released.

     In late 2011, Dieter Werner was found guilty of the stalking offense. A few months later, the judge sentenced him to ten years in prison, the maximum penalty for a third degree felony. But in 2012, before Werner was transferred out of the Harris County Jail into the state prison system, he was paroled. After serving about a year behind bars, the convicted stalker walked free.

     According to Texas corrections authorities, Werner had benefited from a so-called "parole in absentia." (Texas parole boards in the 1980s had issued these get-out-of prison passes when the state prison system couldn't handle all of the convicted felons.)

     Victims' rights activists, as well as Werner's stalking victim, were outraged. The parole authorities had not even bothered to notify Jessica of her stalker's parole hearing. In Texas and other places it was a fact that parole boards often did not inform victims when criminals were released on parole.

The Taco Bell Handcuff Case

     In 2011, in the northern Georgia town of Ringgold, 25-year-old Jason Earl Dean and the 18-year-old girl he had become obsessed with, worked at the local Taco Bell. After Joan (not her real name) told Dean she did not want to go out with him, he continued asking her out for a date. This had gone on for a month. The harassment became so intense she changed shifts at work to get away from him. Undeterred, Dean continued to harass her.

     On the night of August 8, 2011, Dean waited outside Taco Bell until Joan's shift ended. As she walked to her car he came up to her with a pair of handcuffs which he slapped around her wrist, binding the two of them arm-to-arm. She screamed for help which brought other employees out of the Taco Bell. Her fellow employees talked Dean into turning his captive free. The police rolled up to the scene shortly thereafter, but Dean had left. A few days later, police officers arrested him on a college campus in nearby Dalton, Georgia. A local prosecutor charged him with stalking and felonious restraint.

     In January 2013, Jason Earl Dean entered a so-called "blind guilty plea" before Judge Ralph Van Pelt. (A blind plea meant that no sentencing agreement had been reached between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. The defendant was essentially throwing himself on the mercy of the court.) Judge Van Pelt, showing no mercy for this stalker, sentenced him to four years in prison followed by six years of probation.     

Crafting Escape Entertainment

The difference between the writer of serious fiction and the writer of escape entertainment is the clear difference between the artist and the craftsman. The one has the privilege and the faculty or original design; the other does not. The man who works from blueprints is a thoroughly respectable character, but he is of another order from the man who makes the blueprints in the first place.

Wallace Stegner, Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Hunter Thompson On Writing

I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.

Hunter Thompson (1937-2005), The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, 2012

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Samuel Cohen: The Unrepentant Con Man

     In 2002, Samuel Cohen, a 44-year-old San Francisco con man, talked the founders of a nonprofit foundation called Vanguard into investing millions into his company, Ecast. Vanguard, created in 1972 by actors Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, issued grants that helped support environmental, anti-war, and other liberal causes.

     Cohen told his investors that Ecast, the manufacturer of electronic jukeboxes for bars, was about to be acquired by Micosoft, and that the acquisition would make Vanguard and its donors a lot of money. Relying on Cohen's word, the foundation's founders, and a hundred other investors, gave Cohen, over a six year period, more than $30 million. Cohen kept the scam going by telling his marks that regulators in the U.S. and Europe were holding up the acquisition. He needed the money to pay the fees and bonds needed to get the deal approved. His victims bought his spiel, and the money kept rolling in. In typical con man fashion, the product Cohen was selling was himself. And the marks went along because they thought they were going to make a killing.

    Confidence games cannot go on forever, and in 2008, Cohen's swindle fell apart. A federal prosecutor in San Francisco charged him with wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. His victims were devastated, and the Vanguard Foundation collapsed.

     Samuel Cohen had pulled off what criminologists call the "long con" by using his ill-gotten money to create a facade of enormous wealth that impressed and influenced his marks. He rented a $50,000 a month mansion in Belvedere, the exclusive enclave just north of San Francisco. The fake financier hung fake art on the walls of his rented palace, and bought his wife a $1.4 million diamond ring with money he had lifted from his investors. In his rented garage sat a $372,000 Rolls Royce, and a $260,000 Aston Martin. Cohen spent $6 million flying around in a rented jet he boasted that he owned. (Two of his celebrity passengers were Elton John and Jennifer Lopez. While they were not marks, they were props.)

     Con man Cohen lured his victims to the mansion where he held lavish parties in their honor while separating them from their money. It was easy. The scam artist even bilked his father-in-law out of his retirement savings. For the con man, it's not the money so much as the thrill of making suckers out of trusting people. 

     The federal prosecutor, after a San Francisco jury found Samuel Cohen guilty in November 2011 of 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, and 3 counts of tax evasion, asked Judge Charles Breyer to send this con artist to prison for 30 years, order him to pay $60 million in restitution, and fine him $250,000. In justifying what would be the stiffest penalty in the history of white collar crime (Jeff Skilling at Enron got 24 years, 4 months), the prosecutor pointed out that Cohen, instead of experiencing remorse for his on-going, cold-blooded swindle, blamed everyone but himself for the harm he has caused so many victims. (When con men are caught, in their minds, they are the victims.)

     Cohen's attorney, in arguing for a more lenient penalty, requested a prison sentence of under 7 years. The defense lawyer told the judge that 30 years behind bars is excessive punishment for a 53-year-old first time offender. Moreover, Mr. Cohen had given $2 million to charity. (Yes, but with stolen money.)

     Judge Breyer, in May 2012, sentenced Cohen to 22 years in prison, and ordered him to pay $31.4 million in restitution. Calling the con man "nearly sociopathic," (nearly?) the judge said the sentence would have been more severe but for the sentencing guidelines holding him back. If Cohen serves his full sentence, he'll be 75 when he gets out. Many of his victims will be dead, and the ones who are not, might still be broke.

Dialogue in a Memoir

     A fellow memoirist and reviewer writes: "I'm reading a memoir now where the author has written four chapters full of dialogue for events that occurred when she was four years old. Over half the book occurs before she is ten and it's all about what people said and felt. I don't see how much of this could be possibly true."

     My friend's got this right: Nothing makes a reader question memoir more indignantly than the things set aside by quotation marks.

     Unless you walked around your entire life with a tape recorder in your pocket, dialogue will become one of the greatest moral and storytelling conundrums you will face when writing a memoir. You may feel that you need some of it, a smattering at least, to round-out characters, change the pace, dissect the rub between what was thought and what was actually said. You may need dialogue because in life people talk to one another and readers want to know what they said. They want to know the sound of the relationships.

     Dialogue isn't, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary in a memoir. But when it's done right, it feels essential. It seems to bring one closer to the story's heart.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013

Watch Me Write

     Sitting down to write isn't easy. A few years ago, a local high school asked me if a student who is interested in becoming a writer might come and observe me. Observe me! I had to decline. I couldn't imagine what that poor student would think, watching me sit, then stand, sit again, decide that I needed more coffee, go downstairs and make some coffee, come back up, sit again, get up, comb my hair, sit again, stare at the screen, check e-mail, stand up, pet the dog, sit again.
    You get the picture.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

No Cure For Writer's Block

The best way of all for dealing with writer's block is never to get it. Some novelists never do. Theoretically there's no reason one should get it, if one understands that writing, after all, is only writing, neither something one ought to feel deeply guilty about nor something one ought to be inordinately proud of. The very qualities that make one a novelist in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on. Given the general oddity of novelists, no wonder there are no sure cures.

John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist, 1983 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Gregory Eldred Church Murder Case

     In 1982, after graduating from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, Darlene Sitler began teaching music to students in kindergarten to sixth grade. For thirty years she taught at the Northern Potter School District based in the tiny borough of Ulysses. Her husband, Gregory Eldred, taught music at the elementary school in Coudersport, the capital of Potter County, 20 miles south of Ulysses in the central part of the state. He was also a clarinet player with the Southern Tier Symphony. The couple attended the First United Presbyterian Church in Coudersport where Darlene played the organ and directed the choir. In April 2010 Darlene filed for divorce. The marital split became official four months later.

     On Sunday, December 2, 2012, about twenty minutes into Pastor Evon Lloyd's service at the First United Presbyterian Church, Darlene's 52-year-old ex-husband, wearing a hooded beige jacket, entered the building through a side door. Eldred walked up the center aisle, and with a .40-caliber handgun, shot Darlene as she sat at the organ. The single shot caused her to fall into the organ pit. As the stunned congregation looked on, Eldred walked calmly out of the church. One of the churchgoers called 911 as several witnesses to the shooting ran to the front of the church to attend to the wounded organist.

     About three minutes after the shooting Gregory Eldred walked back into the church. When Pastor Lloyd and others pleaded with him to put down his pistol, the music teacher threatened to shoot anyone who got in his way. "I want to finish this," he said. "I've got to see if she's dead." Eldred walked up to the organ pit and fired two bullets into his ex-wife. If she wasn't already dead these two shots killed her.

     Several members of the congregation swarmed the shooter and in the course of subduing him he fired off another shot that didn't hit anyone. A Pennsylvania State Trooper assigned to the Coudersport barracks arrived at the scene shortly thereafter.

     After state police troopers escorted Gregory Eldred out of the church the entire congregation climbed aboard a school bus and were driven to a place they were questioned by a team of police officers. (Very few murders are witnessed by this many people.) Eldred, charged with first-degree murder, was held without bond in the Potter County Jail.

     On July 10, 2013, Gregory Eldred pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.

     In April 2015, from his cell at the Forest State Correctional Facility in Marienville, Pennsylvania, Gregory Eldred petitioned the state court to withdraw his 2013 guilty plea on grounds that his  attorney, Bill Hebe, had been ineffective counsel.

     The Potter County judge denied Eldred's plea withdrawal petition.

     In 2015, a woman who had witnessed Gregory Eldred murder his wife, under a victim restitution law, sued the convicted killer for $1,427, the money she had spent for counseling services. A judge awarded her the sum in late 2016. In January 2017, Eldred appealed the award on grounds this woman was merely a witness to a crime and not a victim as proscribed by law. He lost his appeal.

Philip Righter: Art Forger, Tax Cheat

     Philip Righter was a fraud, a forger, a pretender, and a thief. Nothing about this West Hollywood man was on the level. He held himself out as a successful film producer and a serious collector of art. On his Instagram account he posted a photograph of himself wearing a tuxedo and holding an Oscar statue. He also claimed to be an Emmy and Grammy winner. Mr. Righter hadn't won any of these awards and had only produced a short film in 2016 called "One Good Waiter." As for his collection of paintings, they were forgeries he had purchased cheaply on sites like eBay.

     Philip Righter was also a tax cheat. In 2015 he falsely reported on his federal tax form that he had donated valuable paintings to charity. He also claimed that thieves had broken into his home and stole $2.5 million worth of his art. Due to his phony charity deduction and the false theft claim, the government issued Righter a check for more than $100,000.

     While he was cheating on his taxes, Righter was purchasing paintings online that were painted to look like the work of painters Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michal Basquiat. He sold $758,000 worth of Haring and Basquiat fakes to an art gallery in Miami, Florida.

     To fool the buyer of these works into thinking they were real, Righter forged accompanying documents in the form of letters of authenticity from the painters' estates.

     In 2016, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating Philip Righter for fraud and art forgery. Special Agents with the FBI's Art Crime Team from the Miami Field Division joined in the Righter investigation.

     In July 2018, FBI agents in Los Angeles took Philip Righter into custody of federal charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.

     The 43-year-old forger and thief, on March 13, 2020, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of identity theft. At his sentencing before a federal judge scheduled for May 18, 2020, Righter faced up to 25 years in prison. 
     On July 16, 2020, the federal judge sentenced Righter to five years in prison followed by three years probation. 

Reality Crime Writing

Crime fiction can offer an author escape from reality and have great therapeutic value. Conversely, true crime writing is a cold, hard plunge into someone else's reality where you have little or no control over the story. There is no escapism for the true crime writer sifting through the memories of a bereaved mother or listening to a murderer in gory detail, yet that's what you're expected to deliver. 

Jax Miller, American crime novelist, August 17, 2020 

Flash In The Pan Novelists

     There will always be that flash in the pan, that one-off novel that strikes the fancy of publishers, sells a few million copies, and gets made into a successful--or unsuccessful-film before the person who wrote it fades into permanent obscurity, laughing, as they say, all the way to the bank. These types of writers have always existed.

     The creators of those largely forgettable and sometimes laughable pieces of prose bang them out, often with nothing more to recommend their work than a fairly decent idea badly realized, a fairly bad idea decently realized, or a schtick of some sort--author as former policewoman, forensic pathologist, weight lifter, beauty queen, seriously abused child, seriously abusive adult come to the Lord or an excellent publicity campaign that worked like a charm.

     What these creators of fiction have in common tends to be that they got lucky. They wrote their novels without an idea in the world what they were doing and then managed to pull it off. Problem was, though, they could not do it again.

Elizabeth George in Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks, 2005

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Casmine Aska Attempted Murder Case

     At 8:30 Friday night, February 1, 2013, residents of the Morris Heights section of The Bronx discovered a 9-year-old boy named Freddy Martin lying on the sidewalk in front of a five-story apartment building. En route to the New York Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, Freddy told paramedics that "Cas dragged me to the roof and threw me off. I don't know why."

     Suffering broken bones, head trauma, and internal bleeding, doctors put the boy into an induced coma, and placed him on life support.

     New York City detectives, later that Friday night, questioned 17-year-old Casmine Aska at the local precinct station. Casmine, a resident of the apartment building, initially denied being on the roof with Freddy. After further interrogation he admitted being on the roof when the boy fell off the building. "I grabbed Freddy around the legs," Aska said. "His feet were off the ground. I turned around. I slipped and Freddy fell."

     On Sunday, February 3, 2013, Casmine Aska was arraigned in a Bronx courtroom on charges of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and endangering the welfare of a child. Assistant District Attorney Dahlia Olsher Tannen informed Judge Gerald Lebovits that Aska, as a juvenile, had been in trouble with the law. The prosecutor, who didn't elaborate, asked the judge not to grant the suspect bail.

     Kathryn Dyer, Aska's attorney, in making an argument for bail in this case, said, "This is not about attempted murder." Acknowledging that her client possessed a juvenile record, Dyer assured Judge Lebovits that Aska had "taken responsibility for his life." Defense attorney Dyer pointed out that Aska's favorite subject at Harry S. Truman High School was chemistry, that he attended weekly religious classes, and served food to the homeless.

     Judge Lebovits, apparently unimpressed by Aska's academic interests, religious activity, and community service, denied him bail. The judge's rationale: "Extraordinary risk of flight."

     A few weeks later, when questioned by detectives at the Riker's Island Jail, Aska, in explaining why after the boy's fall he went home and took a nap instead of calling 911, said, "I didn't call the NYPD because my brain froze. I was shivering, I was crying, I went to my aunt's..my whole world stopped."

     On February 15, 2013, when doctors took Freddy Martin off life support, the boy began breathing on his own. Questioned by detectives, he accused Aska, a kid who had been bullying him, of intentionally throwing him off the building.

     A month before Aska Casmine's September 2014 trial he agreed to plead guilty in return for a 40 year prison sentence. 

The Young Female Arsonist

     Arson-for-profit is generally an adult male crime while serial, pathological fire setting is often committed by teenage boys. The rare female arsonist is likely to be a 30 to 50-year-old woman who set the fire in her dwelling to attract attention and sympathy. It's even rarer when a young girl intentionally sets a fire that causes extensive property damage. Because fires set by females are generally not motivated by financial gain, they are by definition pathological offenses. This doesn't necessarily mean that these fire setters are legally insane. In cases of  young female arsonists, the perpetrators set the fires because they are angry with their parents, their teachers, or the world in general. 

     On May 14, 2014, someone set a fire north of San Diego that raged for eight days and burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 buildings, including homes in the towns of San Marcos and Escondido, California. The so-called Cocos Wildfire threatened several schools including California State University in San Marcos.

     The Cocos Wildfire cost $28 million to extinguish and destroyed $30 million worth of property. According to cause and origin investigators the fire had been intentionally set.

     In July 2014,  arson investigators identified an unnamed 13-year-old girl as the suspected Cocos fire starter. She resided near the point of origin with her parents who schooled her at home. She was also a top competitor in the San Diego area junior cycling program. 

     Rather than being placed into a juvenile detention facility the authorities released the suspected arsonist to the custody of her parents. Under the terms of this arrangement she was not allowed out of the house from six in the evening to six in the morning. The rest of the day she was accompanied by a parent when she left the house.

     Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered that the young defendant undergo psychological evaluation to determine if she was mentally competent to stand trial on the charges of felony arson. On August 20, 2014, following a three-week evaluation process, Juvenile Court Judge Rod Shelton found the suspect mentally competent to stand trial. She had, according to the psychologists, the capacity to understand the nature of the charges against her as well as the ability to help her attorney plan a defense.

     At the suspect's arraignment on the felony arson charges she pleaded not guilty.

     In March 2015, the young fire setter was found guilty of several counts of arson. The judge sentenced the juvenile to 400 hours of community service.

Bad Sentence Contest

"On their first date he'd asked her how much she thought Edgar Allan Poe's toe nails would sell on eBay, and on their second he paid for subway fare with nickels he fished out of a fountain, but he was otherwise charming and she thought that they could have a perfectly tolerable life together."

Jessica Sasishara's entry in the annual Bulwer-Lytton opening bad sentence contest, 2012

Clever Book Inscribing

When I'm sitting in a bookstore, autographing a book for a customer, I dread hearing the words: "You're the author. Why don't you sign it and write something clever?

Tess Gerritsen, Murderati (blog) "A Writer's Life" December 30, 2018

The Curse of Fame

Very few writers achieve fame through their books. The best an author can hope for is being respected and known by a fair number of readers and members of the literary community associated with his or her genre. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, after her baby had been murdered in 1932 in what became the so-called "Crime of the Century," wrote in her journal that fame was a form of death. Amanda Foreman wrote that "Fame is like a parasite. It feeds off its host--infecting, extracting, consuming its victim until there is nothing left but an empty husk. With this emptiness comes the possibility of a long afterlife as one of the blowup dolls of history." A character in B. Traven's story, The Night Visitor, says: "What is fame after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame." 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Eric Toth: Pedophile On The Run

     Born in 1982, Eric Toth grew up near Indianapolis, Indiana. He earned good grades in high school where he was considered self-centered and eccentric, and when he wanted to be, charming and manipulating. Abused as a child, he suffered bouts of depression and engaged in compulsive lying.

     The lanky young man enrolled at Cornell University in New York State. A year later he transferred to Purdue University at Calumet (Indiana) where he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in elementary education. During his college years he told several people he was an agent with the CIA.

     Upon his graduation in 2002, Toth volunteered at an elementary school in Indianapolis. There he worked as a teacher's aide. His intense interest in boys between the ages 8 and 11 led to parental complaints and concerns. The principal, suspecting that Toth was a pedophile, terminated his association with the school. A lot of parents were glad to see him go.

     In 2003, Toth drifted around the midwest, always inserting himself into environments that put him in proximity to young boys. In 2004 and part of 2005 Toth worked as a counselor at a boy's camp in Madison, Wisconsin. It was at this camp he made videotapes of himself engaging in various sexual activities with several boys. When his behavior began to raise suspicion, he moved on. Moving on is what pedophiles do when too many people get suspicious.

     In the fall of 2005, administrators at the Beauvior Elementary School attached to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. hired Toth to teach third grade. Many of the students in this small prestigious Catholic School came from families of wealth and political power.

     Toth's enthusiasm for his job included tutoring children for free and babysitting them at their homes. His gung-ho work attitude made him a popular teacher at the school. But his excessive familiarity with his male students, including having boys sit on his lap, raised eyebrows and suspicions.

     In 2008, a fellow Beauvior employee found disturbing photographs on a school camera assigned to Toth. The pornographic pictures featured the teacher and several boys. The school's principal confronted Toth, then fired him on the spot. After a security officer escorted Toth out of the building and off the campus, the principal called the police. The delay gave Toth the head start he needed to get out of town and disappear.

     Based upon the photographs recovered from Toth's camera, a federal prosecutor charged him with producing and possessing child pornography. This made Toth a fugitive from the law.

     A month after the Beauvior principal kicked Toth out of Beauvior Elementary, a car that had been rented under the name Jay Kellor turned up at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.  Inside the Honda, FBI agents found child pornography linked to Toth's tenure as a boy's camp counselor in Wisconsin.

     In the rented vehicle agents also discovered a suicide note signed by Toth. According to the handwritten document, the authorities would find his body on the bottom of a nearby lake. A search of that lake failed to turn up Toth's remains. The FBI considered the suicide note a fake, a ploy to throw agents off his trail.

     Toth, going by the name David Bussone, showed up in January 2009 at the Lodestar Day Rescue Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Toth volunteered to help homeless men complete their 12-step alcohol and drug addiction treatments. He told his colleagues at the rescue center that he had been an educator at an elite east coast school and that the experience had turned him against wealth and the materialistic lifestyle. He said he had taken a five-year oath of poverty and had re-dedicated his life to helping the downtrodden.

     In the meantime, FBI agents across the country were still searching for Toth. The federal manhunt received a boost when the Toth case appeared on the television show, "America's Most Wanted." One of the homeless men at Lodestar saw the segment and recognized David Bussone as Eric Toth. The next day, realizing that he had been identified, the fugitive pedophile disappeared again.

     In July 2009, under a pseudonym supported by stolen identification documents, Toth turned up at a hippie commune in Austin, Texas. One of the members of the community found Toth a job at an Austin computer repair shop called P.C. Guru. Toth worked at the store two and a half years during which time he tutored grade school boys for free. He also gave the mother of two of his students financial aid.

     The FBI, on April 10, 2012, replaced Osama bin Laden on the Bureau's Top Ten Most Wanted List with Eric Toth. In October of that year Toth used a fake passport under the name Robert Shaw Walker to flee to Nicaragua. He took up residence in a house in Esteli, a town 90 miles north of the capital, Managua. Toth told people he met there that he had come to Nicaragua to write a book.

     On April 18, 2013, while attending a social function, Toth ran into an American tourist who recognized him. Two days later, Nicaraguan police officers surrounded his house in Esteli. Following the arrest, officers found 1,100 images of child pornography Toth had downloaded from the Internet onto his personal computer.

     Four days after his capture in Nicaragua, Toth was back in Washington, D.C. sitting in jail awaiting his trial.

     On December 13, 2013 Toth pleaded guilty before a federal judge to three counts of child pornography and two counts of identify theft. He faced up to 30 years in prison.

     On March 11, 2014 the judge sentenced the 32-year-old pedophile to 25 years in federal prison. At his sentencing Toth said, "I don't pretend that anything I could say here today would ever make up for what I did. Everything the prosecutor said about me is true."

The Celebrity Killer

The killer, or at least the version of the killer who hogs most of the airtime, is set apart from the rest of humanity because of his bad deeds, but that apartness also marks him as special. Something of the animal is in him, and also something of the artist. He's a mastermind, someone who doesn't play by the same rules as the rest of us. (This celebrity killer is almost always a "he," both because the vast majority of all murderers are male, and because the stereotypical roles allotted to female killers--the bad mom, the jealous ex, the gender-nonconforming monster--are less easy to glamorize.)

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

The Last Guillotine Execution

On September 10, 1977 at Les Baumettes Prison in France, Hamida Djandoubi was the last man in the world executed by guillotine. The Tunisian agricultural worker, while employed in Marseille, France, tortured and murdered his former girlfriend, 22-year-old Elisabeth Bousquet. 

Violent Imagery

One of the problems with studies that examine the effects of violent imagery is that they typically use mentally healthy psychology students. If you want to do a meaningful study show movies like "Body Double" and "Copycat" to a group of sexual psychopaths the day before you release them. [That might be great for science, but not great for the future victims of these psychopaths. Here's a better idea: don't release them.]

Dr. Park Dietz, Forensic Pathologist, 2000

No Young Biographers

Aspiring writers find biography a less attractive form of creative nonfiction because they like to write about themselves, and unlike memoir, poetry, fiction, and drama, biography offers little chance for self-expression.

Philip Furia in Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, 2001 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Ethan Couch and the "Affluenza" Defense

     On the night of June 15, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas, 16-year-old Ethan Couch and seven of  his friends stole two cases of beer from a local Walmart store. A few hours later, Couch, behind the wheel of his wealthy family's F-350 pickup, sped down a poorly lit rural road. With his blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, and seven passengers in the truck--two of whom were riding in the bed of the vehicle--he lost control of the truck.

     Couch plowed into several vehicles parked along the side of the road. The two boys in the bed of the truck were flung out of the pickup and severely injured. Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down was off the road, was killed. Brian Jennings, Shelby Boyles, and Hollie Boyles, people who had pulled off the road to help Breanna, also died in the crash.

     Ethan Couch, on the advise of his attorneys, pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter. This meant the only issue left to be resolved in the case involved his punishment. Was he a troubled kid who needed psychological treatment, or a spoiled brat who required incarceration? If punishment was appropriate in this case, how severe? Did it matter that he was only sixteen? These were questions that would have to be resolved by juvenile court judge Jean Boyd.

     At Ethan Couch's sentence hearing held in Fort Worth on December 10, 2013, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert proposed that the defendant be incarcerated for twenty years. In addressing Judge Boyd, Alpert said, "If the boy, who is from an affluent family, is cushioned by the family's wealth, there can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the leniency he received here." The prosecutor pointed out that inmates in Texas who needed it received drug and alcohol treatment.

     One of the defendant's attorneys, Scott Brown, argued that his client required rehabilitation more than he needed treatment.

     Couch's attorney recommended a two-year treatment program at a $1,200-a-day rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, California followed by a period of probation. The $450,000-a-year program in southern California featured equine sports, yoga, and messages. (It also probably featured rubbing shoulders with a lot of drug-addled Hollywood celebrities.) According to attorney Brown, the boy's parents were willing to pick up the California rehabilitation tab.

     Dr. Dick Miller, a clinical psychologist from Bedford, Texas testified at the sentencing hearing on the defendant's behalf. According to Dr. Miller, Ethan Couch suffered from what he called "affluenza," a syndrome caused by rich parents who didn't set limits and discipline their children. As a result of being spoiled rotten, Ethan didn't know how to behave appropriately.

     Judge Boyd stunned the prosecutor and friends and families of the four victims when she sentenced the teenager to ten years of probation. The judge said she would find a treatment program for the boy in the state of Texas. If he violated the terms of his probation, he could be sent to a juvenile detention facility.

     Eric Boyles had lost his wife Hollie and his daughter Shelby in Couch's drunken crash. In speaking to a CNN correspondent, he said, "There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day…Money always seems to keep you out of trouble. Ultimately today, I feel that money did prevail."

     In responding to Judge Boyd's decision, prosecutor Alpert told a reporter that "We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but we have no power under the law to change or overturn it."

     In horrific homicides like this, when there is no retribution, the public loses confidence in the criminal justice system. While rich people do not always get their way in criminal court, the public perception is that they do.

     The so-called "affluenza" case jumped back in the news in December 2015 after a video appeared online featuring Ethan Couch and several other youngsters playing beer pong. This was a clear violation of the terms of Couch's probation. When the kid's probation officer lost touch with him, the authorities in Tarrant County issued a warrant for his arrest. Also missing was Tonya Couch, the boy's mother with whom he had been living.

     Because the local authorities believed the boy and his mother had fled the country to avoid the possibility of Ethan's incarceration, FBI agents and U. S. Marshal's office investigators were hunting for the pair.

     On December 29, 2015, Ethan Couch and his mother were arrested in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

     Upon the teen's return to the U.S., a judge transferred Couch's case from the juvenile system to adult court. In 2016, pursuant to his probation violation, the judge sentenced Couch to two years behind bars.

     Couch's attorneys appealed the adult prison sentence to the Texas Supreme Court on the grounds the judge did not have the legal authority to make the transfer to adult court. The attorneys asked the high court to order Couch's release from prison. The Texas Supreme Court denied that request. Young Mr. Couch would do his time behind bars.

     On April 2, 2018, Ethan Couch was released from prison after serving two years. A year later, the judge allowed Couch to continue his probation without wearing an ankle monitor.

Female Serial Killers Get No Respect

Female serial killers haven't received anywhere the same amount of attention from the media or from criminologists as males have. Even researchers on psychology have tended to focus on male populations. There's a common erroneous assumption that because females are "nurturing," they won't be violent. But we have had female serial killers who have shot, stabbed, smothered (with enormous weight), and even used chainsaws and ice picks.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland, nonfiction author of forensic psychology books, 2009

Sensing Danger

Just as we look to government and experts, we also look to technology for solutions to our problems, but you will see that your personal solution to violence will not come from technology, it will come from an even greater resource that was there all the while, within you. That resource is intuition. 

Gavin de Baker, The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, 1997 

Boy Scouts of America: Diminished by Pedophiles

        In February 2020, Boy Scouts of America, with hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits pending against the organization, filed for bankruptcy. Future plaintiffs with claims of forced sex, fondling, and/or exposure to pornography, were told to bring their cases against the organization before November 16, 2020. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, 90,000 sexual abuse suits were filed. 

     Although Boy Scouts of America is uniquely chartered by the U.S. Congress, not one member of Congress publicly mentioned the bankruptcy or the decades of sexual abuse that scandalized and diminished the organization. 

     Documents show that Boy Scout of America's leaders identified many known abusers within the organization but failed to notify the authorities or the parents of the victims. 

     At its height, the Boy Scouts had more than 4 million members. Now, even though membership has been opened to girls, there are less than 2 million scouts.

Misanthropes

Misanthropes have some admirable if paradoxical virtues. It is no exaggeration to say that we are among the nicest people you are likely to meet. Because good manners build sturdy walls, our distaste for intimacy makes us exceedingly cordial "ships that pass in the night." As long as you remain a stranger, we will be your friend forever.

Florence King (1936-2016) Novelist, Essayist

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Diane Staudte and the Power of Poison

     In 2012, 62-year-old Mark Staudte resided with his wife Diane and their four children in a modest neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri. The couple had met years earlier at a small Lutheran College in Kansas. While active in the church, Diane and Mark kept to themselves. A man with strong political opinions who regularly wrote letters to the editor, Mr. Staudte had not been good at holding down a steady job. He eventually stopped trying and devoted most of his time to family matters and playing in a band he had formed called "Messing With Destiny."

     Mark Staudte's 51-year-old wife Diane played the organ at church, and unlike her husband, never had much to say. The couple's oldest child, 26-year-old Shaun, suffered from a mild form of autism. Sarah Staudte, 24, was having a hard time finding a good job. Rachel Staudte, two years younger than Sarah, was a dean's list student at Missouri State University. (At least according to her Facebook page.) She played the flute at church. The youngest member of the family was an eleven-year-old girl.

     On April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday, Mark Stuadte died suddenly at home. To the emergency personnel who rushed to the house, Diane explained that her husband hadn't been feeling well. He had recently experienced three seizures. When asked if her husband had a history of this kind of thing, she said he had not suffered seizures in the past.

     The Greene County Medical Examiner, Dr. Douglas Anderson, without conducting an autopsy or ordering toxicological tests, ruled Mark Staudte's manner of death as natural. The forensic pathologist did not identify specifically what had caused this man to die. Pursuant to Diane Staudte's instructions, her husband's body was cremated. At his memorial service, friends and family couldn't help noticing that Diane's demeanor bordered on jubilant.

     On September 2, 2012, almost five months after Mark Staudte's sudden and mysterious passing, tragedy once again raised its ugly head at the Staudte house. This time it was Diane's oldest child Shaun who became ill and suddenly died at the age of 26. Once again, Dr. Douglas Anderson, without the aid of an autopsy or toxicological tests, ruled the death as natural. The medical examiner did not, however, identify the disease that had taken the young man's life. Diane made sure that Shaun's body, like his father's, was consumed by fire. For a woman who, within a period of five months had lost her husband and her oldest child, Diane seemed unfazed by the unexpected deaths. Indeed, her spirits seemed to have been lifted.

     On the day after Shaun's passing, the Springfield police received an anonymous tip from a man who said he was a friend of the Staudte family. According to the caller, Mark and Shaun Staudte had been poisoned to death by Diane. The police did not act on this tip because, according to the medical examiner, both men had died natural deaths. Without a finding of homicide, there was nothing to investigate.

     Sarah Staudte fell ill on June 10, 2013. Paramedics came to the house and rushed her to a nearby hospital. The next day, as the 24-year-old fought for her life, the Springfield police received a second anonymous tip in which the caller accused Diane Staudte of poisoning the third member of her family. This time the Springfield police sent a detective to the hospital to question doctors and nurses.

     According to hospital personnel who were caring for the young woman, her mother had visited the patient briefly during which time she joked around with the medical staff. One of the nurses informed the detective that Diane Staudte told hospital personnel that she wasn't going to let her daughter's illness ruin a Florida vacation she planned to take in the near future. A physician described Sarah's condition as "very suspicious." The doctor told the investigator that in his opinion she had been poisoned. Sarah Staudte returned home after a week in the hospital.

     On June 20, 2013, after being asked to appear at the Springfield Police Department for questioning, Diane Staudte, following a short interrogation, confessed to poisoning all three members of her family. Over a period of days before the deaths of her husband and son, she had spiked their drinks with the sweet taste of antifreeze. Diane had poisoned her husband's Gatorade simply because she "hated" him. She had laced Shaun's Coke with the poison because she considered him "worse than a pest." Diane told her interrogators that she had poisoned her oldest daughter Sarah because the girl "would not get a job and had student loans that had to be paid." Diane insisted that in murdering Mark and Shaun and attempting to kill Sarah, she had acted alone.

     When detectives questioned Rachel Staudte, the 22-year-old college student, she admitted that she had helped her mother commit the crimes. The two of them had used the Internet to research how to administer antifreeze as a poisoning agent.

     On June 21, 2013, a Greene County assistant prosecutor charged Diane and Rachel Staudte with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. The judge denied both women bail.

     According to doctors, while Sarah Staudte survived her poisoning, she would suffer the neurological effects of the antifreeze for the rest of her life. The eleven-year-old Staudte girl was living with relatives. With her father and brother dead, her mother and one of her sisters charged with murder and assault, and the other sister permanently disabled, this girl's family no longer existed. Such is the power of poison.

     In May 2015, Rachel Staudte pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. She agreed to testify against her mother in the event her case went to trial. The judge sentenced the 25-year-old to two life prison terms plus twenty years. Under the terms of this sentence she wouldn't be eligible for parole until she served 42 years.

     On January 20, 2016, Diane Staudte pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder in the death of her husband and one count of first-degree assault in the poisoning of her daughter, Sarah. Pursuant to the plea deal she avoided the death penalty but would spend the rest of her life behind bars.

     In May 2016, ABC News acquired video tapes of the police interrogation of Diane Staudte and her daughter, Rachel. As part of her confession, the mother said, "I'm not a perpetual killer. I'm just stupid. I regret doing it. I really do. I've screwed up everybody. I've screwed up my whole family."

The Legal Windfall

Americans feel that if something untoward happens to them, someone else ought to pay. In Richmond, California in the mid-1990s, lawyers had a field day. An explosion in the local chemical works spread fumes over the city. Within hours a swarm of lawyers descended on the town and persuaded 70,000 of them to issue claims. The insurers of the plant were obliged to pay out a total of $180 million, of which the lawyers creamed off $40 million.

Ronald Irving, The Law Is An Ass, 2011 

Insecure Narcissistic Losers

Within just about every serial predator, there are two warring elements: a feeling of grandiosity, specialness, and entitlement, together with deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness and a sense that they have not gotten the breaks that they should.

John E. Douglas, The Killer Across The Table, 2019

Women Who Love Serial Killers

Hybristophiliacs are women who are sexually attracted to serial killers. For every serial killer in the news, an average of 100 women write them fan letters. Ted Bundy, during his murder trial, received 200 fan letters a day and married Carole Anne Boone. The wedding ceremony was held in the courtroom. Doreen Lioy, a magazine editor with a college degree in English literature, fell madly in love with Richard Ramirez the moment she saw his picture. Ramirez was the serial killer known as "Night Stalker." Lioy wrote Ramirez dozens of love letters and attended his trial. She also purchased pieces of his clothing. According to psychologists, hybristophiliacs are usually submissive, narcissistic enablers who are attracted to power.

Learning Through Writing

I've heard it said that everything you need to know about life can be learned from watching baseball. I'm not what you'd call a sports fan, so I don't know if that is true. I do believe in a similar philosophy, which is everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write. [Baseball? Really?]

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Adaisha Miller's Sudden, Mysterious Death

     On Detroit's west side, on July 8, 2012, 24-year-old Adaisha Miller attended a Saturday night fish fry hosted by Isaac Parrish and his wife. Miller, a certified massage therapist, came to the backyard party with a friend acquainted with the 38-year-old Detroit police officer who was throwing the event. Isaac Parish, a beat patrolman for 16 years, did not know Miller before the party.

     That night, Officer Parrish carried his department issued Smith & Wesson M & P 40 semiautomatic pistol on his right side in a soft holster tucked inside his waistband covered by his shirt. In Detroit, officers have the option of carrying their firearms when off-duty. They were not, however, supposed to be armed if their blood-alcohol level was 0.02 percent or above. (In Michigan, the blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI conviction is 0.08 percent.) In essence, Detroit officers are prohibited from carrying their handguns if they consume alcohol, period.

     Thirty minutes after midnight on the night of the party, Adaisha Miller, while either hugging the officer, dancing with him side-by-side, or dancing on her knees behind him, touched or tugged at his waist in a way that caused his firearm to discharge. The gun not only went off, the bullet entered Miller's chest, pierced a lung, hit her heart, and exited her lower back. She died later that day at a local hospital.

     According to Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County Medical Examiner, the path of the bullet through Miller's body did not reveal the victim's position relative to the gun's muzzle (end of the barrel) which was pointed toward the ground. Because the Smith & Wesson M & P 40 is designed for police and military use, it does not have a safety switch. However, the trigger must be pulled back all the way before the gun will fire.

     Months after Adaisha Miller's sudden demise, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office declared her death "accidental."

     Officer Parrish, following an internal investigation, was cleared of wrongdoing. He did not undergo a blood-alcohol test.

     Because it was hard to construct a scenario that explained exactly how this accident occurred, Adaisha's death remained a mystery. Less than 24 hours after her death, a lawyer surfaced in the case talking about a potential lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department. Attorney Gerald Thurswell, in speaking to a local reporter, said, "We believe 100 percent that this death was caused as a result of a negligent act of somebody. If somebody was negligent then someone's responsible for the injuries and death caused as a result of their negligent act." The lawyer hired a private investigator to look into the shooting.

     In February 2017, Adaisha Miller's mother, Yolanda McNair, participated in a demonstration outside the Detroit courthouse. The protesters were mothers of children who had been killed by Detroit police officers. McNair told a reporter that in her opinion, justice had not been done in the case of her daughter's death. She had filed a wrongful death suit against the Detroit Police Department. As of this writing, the suit remaines unresolved. 

Gary Irving: The Bail Jumping Rapist

     In 1978, a jury in Norfolk County, Massachusetts found 18-year-old Gary Irving guilty of three counts of rape with force, unnatural acts, and kidnapping. Irving had knocked one of his victims off her bike, dragged her to a secluded area and viciously raped her. He had threatened a second rape victim with a knife. The convicted rapist faced up to life in prison.

     Immediately following Irving's guilty verdict and sentencing, the rapist's attorney asked Judge Robert Prince to extend his client's bail a couple of days so Irving could make final arrangements before being packed off to prison.

     The prosecutor in the case, Louis Sabadini, pointed out that if Irving was not sent straight to prison, he would flee. Extending bail to a convicted rapist who was facing at least 35 years in prison was simply out of the question. This young man was a violent, sexual predator.

     Judge Prince shocked the prosecutor and the rape victims' families by granting Irving the weekend to settle his affairs before his incarceration. Irving took this opportunity to flee the state. Except perhaps for Judge Prince, Irving's bail jumping surprised no one.

     The convicted rapist would remain at large for 35 years.

     In trying to find this fugitive the police received plenty of help from reality television. The Irving bail jumping case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," "Unsolved Mysteries," and "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol." It seemed that Gary Irving had somehow left the planet.

     On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, local police and FBI agents arrested Irving at his home in Gorham, Maine where the 52-year-old had been living under the name Gregg Irving. He hadn't even bothered to change his last name.

     On July 14, 2014, Judge George Singal sentenced Gary Irving to 47 years in prison. The 57-year-old wouldn't be eligible for parole until he was 84.

     What can you say about a judge who made such a reckless decision? What was he thinking? Could he have been that stupid, or were his motives more complicated and perhaps pathological? One can only hope that Mr. Irving, during his 35 years of freedom, didn't rape more victims. If he did, Judge Prince was his accomplice. (The judge has since died.)

Rousseau and Franklin: Shaping the History of Autobiography

When Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) completed his Confessions in 1770 he introduced the secular hero into European literature and recounted his own life in a form and style which influenced male life histories well into the twentieth century. Rousseau set the pattern which required the autobiographer to record the shaping influences of his childhood and the emotions of his maturity. But even as Rousseau set down his denunciation of aristocratic privilege and contrasted his real emotional life with received values, an American contemporary, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), was forging another male life plot, which preempted much of the foreground of nineteenth-century male autobiography. Franklin's self-presentation defined for the first time the archetypal figure of the capitalist hero, rebellious against inherited privilege, scornful of inefficiency and of waste, driven by economic motives which never figured in Rousseau's wildest dreams. While Rousseau wanted to compel an inattentive society to recognize his literary and dramatic genius, Franklin describes himself as content to accumulate wealth, and to instruct the rest of the world about the moral and economic qualities which earned him his wealth, and through it status and public recognition.

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998 

The Novelist's Crutch

Many novelists use alcohol to help themselves write--to calm their anxiety, lift their inhibitions. This may work for awhile, but eventually the writing suffers. The unhappy writer then drinks more; the writing then suffers more, and so on.

Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, June 21, 2004 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

J. Edgar Hoover's Legacy: A Street Agent's Perspective

      Clint Eastwood's film, "J. Edgar," came out in 2011. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film interested me because of its emphasis on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and the fact I was a street agent during Hoover's last six years in office (1966-1972). The film's version of the Lindbergh case overplayed the FBI's role in the crime scene investigation near Hopewell, New Jersey as well as in the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann two and a half years later in Flemington, New Jersey. As for J. Edgar Hoover himself, except for scenes with his dominating mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man who loved him (Arnie Hammer), the film did catch the flavor and essence of Hoover's 48-year career as director of the FBI as America's most famous and powerful lawman.  

     Looking back on my six years as an FBI agent, I will say this without equivocation: Hoover's agents did not imagine him as presented in the film by Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. We did not see the director as a repressed homosexual who was scared to death of his mother. Agents saw him as a powerful figure who terrorized presidents and was so devoted to the bureau and his own image as an incorruptible crime fighter and warrior against the internal communist threat he would destroy anyone who tarnished him or the FBI. As a result, in the minds of Hoover's street agents, crime fighting almost became secondary to avoiding the director's wrath.

     Pursuant to Hoover's impossible standards of performance and agent comportment, every field agent, every day, couldn't help violate one or two of the director's thousands of rules and regulations. Agents who got caught breaking these rules, rules continuously promulgated by Hoover and his palace guards, paid the price in the form of disciplinary transfers to undesirable field offices. More than a few rules violators were fired "with prejudice." Nobody knew exactly what "with prejudice" meant except that it was not good. When agents of the Hoover era tell each other war stories, their tales are usually not about their cases. Most likely they feature in-house horror stories.

     J. Edgar Hoover's career can be viewed from the perspective of twentieth century history or from the field agent's point of view. What follows is the latter take on J. Edgar Hoover as an employer and law enforcement administrator during his last six years in office.

    Before the magnificent FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, new agents attended seven weeks of classwork in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., and seven weeks of firearms training on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.  Every day in D.C., FBI instructors came into the classroom armed with horror stories designed to instill fear of the director. To a man, these instructors had that "I'm-dead-but-still-walking persona". One of them, a SOG (Seat of Government) agent from the D.C. administrative headquarters, a man who conjured up the image of a demented butcher, kept reminding the class that to survive in Mr. Hoover's FBI one had to have balls made of brass. (Back then there were no females in the FBI.) I took this to mean we were in for a lot of low blows.

     New agents were reminded over and over again that the worse thing they could do was embarrass the bureau. Blowing an investigation was one thing, but embarrassing the bureau was serious. By bureau, the instructors meant J. Edgar Hoover. The director did not forget, did not forgive, and took everything personally. Every infraction--a missed bureaucratic deadline, putting a scratch on a bureau car, not reporting in to the office every two hours when not at work or at home (there were no cellphones)--constituted a personal assault on Hoover's good name. It was simply un-American to embarrass the director of the FBI.

     Hoover's ideal FBI agent consisted of a thin white male with high morals, a clean-cut appearance, and a law degree. Over the years the director had managed, through careful media manipulation, to make the G-man a cultural hero. He turned gangsters like John Dillinger, once glorified, into villains. Physically, if a job candidate didn't fit Hoover's model of the all-American agent, it didn't matter how smart, brave, or moral he was. Hoover didn't tolerate mustaches, beards, pot bellies, long hair, or missing teeth. If you had a tattoo, forget it. The director didn't accept anyone who was color-blind or had less that 20-20 vision. Short, slightly overweight, and bulldog-faced, Hoover, based on looks alone, would not have hired himself. There were a handful of black men in the bureau but no Hispanics or Asians.

     Once in the FBI, agents had to maintain a height/weight ratio that conformed to ideal life insurance policy standards. Most agents, as they approached middle age, had trouble keeping their weight under control and dreaded the monthly weigh-ins held either in the chief clerk's office or in the SAC's (special agent in charge) office under the supervision of the boss's secretary. Notwithstanding the weight restrictions, there were a lot of older agents obviously over the pound limit.

     Within the weight control program, as in all of Hoover's bureaucratic obsessions, cheating and false reporting with the knowledge and approval of the field office brass were rampant. But according to the regulations, an agent who was more than ten pounds over the weight limit two months in a row could be transferred to another office. The bureau's weight program gave the SAC a lot of power. If he wanted to unload an agent he didn't like, the boss could enforce the weight rule. So could a SOG inspector on a field office witch hunt. The office transfer, as a means of punishment, gave Hoover a powerful and arbitrary tool that disrupted families and broke up marriages. This from a never married man who disapproved of divorce.

     Director Hoover also enforced a severe and detailed dress code. Agents had to wear blue, brown, gray or black suits. He forbade pin stripe suits and colorful buttoned-down or patterned dress shirts. Approved bureau footwear did not include suede shoes, loafers, or cowboy boots.  Agents playing it safe shoe-wise went the wing-tip route. As for head wear, all agents were supposed to wear those felt, narrow-brimmed business hats even though a bareheaded President Kennedy had rendered the fedora out of style.

     In a dress code more detailed and complicated than the U.S. Constitution, an agent caught wearing a sports coat or a loud tie could get written-up. Unlike modern agents who wear jackets and ball caps emblazoned with the letters FBI, or walk around in combat gear, Hoover's men looked like 1950s insurance salesmen.

     To distinguish his agents from uniformed cops and city detectives who supposedly killed a lot of time hanging around donut shops and diners drinking coffee, Hoover forbade his agents to drink coffee on the job. Taking clandestine coffee breaks with other agents therefore required a lot of trust (agents had to be aware of office snitches) and made a common workplace ritual an act of subversion. Agents were constantly on the lookout for safe coffee drinking hideaways. Bureau coffee drinkers couldn't get attached to a single restaurant or diner because to avoid detection, they had to keep moving.

     One of Hoover's most unreasonable and counterproductive rules, a decree that reflected his lack of experience as a criminal investigator, concerned when agents could tackle the heavy paperwork burden the director had himself mandated. Between 9 AM and 5 PM, agents were only allowed to be in the field office ninety minutes. They were supposed to use this limited time to review their case files, make phone calls, and dictate reports and FD 302s (witness statements) to office stenographers. Agents were to spend the rest of the day out on the street investigating crime, tracking down fugitives, and uncovering subversion. As opposed to the image of the lazy detective hanging around the office all day drinking coffee and shooting the bull, Hoover wanted his investigators to be men of action.

     The director's office-time restriction ignored the fact that in detective work, every hour of investigation can create two hours of paperwork. To meet Hoover's strict reporting deadlines, agents had to do much of their pencil-pushing in parked cars, public libraries, restaurants, and for those brave enough to risk it, at home. Otherwise, if an agent saved all of his paperwork for the office after 5 PM, he'd end up preparing 302s and written reports well into the evening.

     In the morning, agents were expected to sign-in for work before seven. For those who worked in big city offices, that meant getting up at five. Agents were also required to log in plenty of overtime which meant the sign-in and sign-out registers never came close to reflecting reality. For example, when an agent arrived at the office at seven, the guy just ahead of him would be logging in at five-thirty. If the agent who signed in just after this person wrote down his actual time of arrival, he had committed an act called "jumping the register," a serious violation of the agent's unwritten code of conduct. In Hoover's FBI, honesty was not always the best policy.

    One of J. Edgar Hoover's greatest sins was the way he abused his personnel. From a street agent's perspective, that is Mr. Hoover's legacy.