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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Book Banning

     On March 30, 2020, on a five to two vote, the Matanuska-Susitana School Board banned five books from high school English classes in the towns of Wasilla and Palmer, Alaska. The reason: these works "depict rape, incest and contain sexual references." The banning meant that English teachers in these two schools could no longer teach or discuss these books with their students. Students could, however, go to a library and read these books. 

     Two of the school board members who voted to extract the four works of fiction and one autobiography from the schools' curricula admitted to a reporter they had not read any of them.

     To believe that high school students can be principally influenced by literature is ridiculous. To protect young people from pornography, obscenity, crime, and sexual violence, one would have to smash their televisions sets, seize their computers and ban them from movie theaters.

     So, a brief look at the five books so harmful to a youthful mind they can no longer be taught in Wasilla and Palmer, Alaska:

     Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison. This critically acclaimed novel by a black writer about racism in the south won the National Book Award in 1953.

     Catch 22 (1961) by Joseph Heller. This dark comedy set in World War Two is often cited as one of the most significant novels of the 20th Century.

     The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O'Brien. A collection of stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam.

     I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) by Maya Angelou. An autobiography by the black novelist and poet. The book was nominated for the National Book Award in 1970.

     The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). A classic novel that's been part of American high school and university curricula since 1945. Many literary critics consider The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel.

     Denying the teaching of the above five books to a handful of high school students in Alaska is of little consequence in the greater scheme of things. But the idea that school board members, under the guise of child protection, can tell English teachers what literature they can teach and what they cannot is an offensive abuse of authority. 

Nonfiction Writers On The Genre

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

Doris Ricker Marston

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

 William Zinsser

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

John Jerome

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

W. Somerset Maugham

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

Oscar Collier

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

William Noble 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Without Shame

A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are pathetic but interesting. These pathological narcissists almost always find some way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced celebrity often resurfaces as the promoter of a ghost-written memoir. Normal people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, these people are bullet-proof. The field of politics tends to attract shameless people. Politics and sociopathy is a marriage made in heaven.

The Mind of the Novelist

It may be that writers are actually happier living in their books than they are in the real world. There is evidence of this in the way writers immerse themselves in their fiction. How many times have you heard it said about someone that they are happiest at their work? Writers are like that, whether they admit it or not. But while most jobs fall into the nine-to-five category, fiction writing is a twenty-four-hours-a-day occupation. You never leave your work behind. It is always with you, and to some extent, you are always thinking about it. You don't take your work home; your work never leaves home. It lives inside you. It resides and grows and comes alive in your mind.

Terry Brooks, Sometimes the Magic Works, 2005

Selecting a Story's Point of View

Sol Stein, in Stein on Writing, notes that without a solid understanding of point of view--meaning the character whose eyes are observing the action, the perspective from which a story is told--the writer cannot fully exploit his talent. Stein had this advice for the beginning novelist: "Do not mix points of view within the same scene, chapter, or even the same novel. It is unsettling to the reader. If you mix points of view, the author's authority seems to dissolve. The writing seems arbitrary rather than controlled. Sticking to a point of view intensifies the experience of a story. A wavering or uncertain point of view will diminish the experience of the reader." 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Thomas J. Byrnes: The Father of the Third Degree

     The history of American criminal investigation does not begin with thinking detectives inspired by the fictitious Sherlock Holmes, but with a police detective who achieved fame and success by acquiring confessions through rubber hose brutality referred to as the "third degree." Although Thomas J. Byrnes is not as familiar today as the nineteenth century private investigator, Allan Pinkerton, it was Byrnes who set the stage for decades of institutionalized police brutality in the United States. It was Byrnes who practiced interrogation techniques that decades later produced the U. S. Supreme Court's Miranda decision. (Miranda v. Arizona, 1966)

     A Civil War veteran living in New York City, Byrnes joined the police department in 1863. Following a brief stint as a patrolman, the smart and ambitious young man got promoted into the newly formed detective bureau where he quickly made a name for himself. In 1880, two years after grabbing headlines for solving a $3 million Manhattan bank burglary, Byrnes, now a captain, took charge of the detective bureau made up of two sergeants and fourteen investigators. With thirty thousand professional thieves and 2,000 gambling dens, New York, one-third the size of London, had three times the crime. Businessmen in the Wall Street district, overrun by sneak-thieves, forgers, pickpockets, and burglars, turned to Byrnes for help. The police captain responded by putting out the word, through a network of paid informants and other law enforcement contacts, that any thief caught south of his infamous Dead Line would be sent to Blackwell's Island for a severe beating; a threat Byrnes carried out with precision and joy until the thieves, having received the message, stayed out of the financial district. The tycoons of Wall Street showed their gratitude by making Captain Byrnes one of the wealthiest police detectives in history. 

     Byrnes, as much a businessman as police detective, found other sources of income. During his tenure as Captain of Detectives, he followed the standard policing practice of ignoring, for a price, the city's gambling establishments, brothels, and opium dens. One the New York's most notorious madams paid $30,000 a year in police bribes.

     As an investigator, Byrnes, in addition to employing a stable of paid, confidential informants, would let lesser criminals off the hook in return for evidence against the bigger fish. He taught his detectives how to identify criminals, particularly safe-crackers and other signature offenders, through their individualistic crime scene techniques--their so-called methods-of-operation, or M.O. The use of informants, criminal intelligence, and M.O. were tactics pioneered by Allan Pinkerton, the only investigator in the country more famous than Byrnes.

     It is not surprising that Byrnes, as an ambitious, publicity-seeking detective working in an era before judicial restraints on police behavior, adapted, as his principal investigative technique, the coerced confession. From a brutally pragmatic point of view, the beauty of the third degree was that it was not necessary, in the acquisition of a confession, to be interrogating the guilty party. By being the first to publicize the fact he would do whatever it took to get a confession, Byrnes established police brutality as a standard operating procedure, making himself the unofficial father of the third degree. For the next fifty some years, until the U. S. Supreme Court in1936 specifically excluded confessions extracted from physically abused prisoners, the third degree became the staple of criminal investigation in America. While Brown v. Mississippi didn't end police brutality, it marked the start of a new era in criminal investigation. However, Byrnes' ghost would inhabit, in varying degrees, interrogation rooms across the country throughout the Twentieth Century.

     Although he worked in the era before the advent of crime statistics--annual crime rates, case clearance percentages and such--Byrnes used statistics, figures no less reliable that their modern counterparts, as indices of success. At one point in his career Byrnes claimed credit for 3,300 arrests leading to an accumulated ten thousand year prison sentence. There was no telling what percentage of the men he put behind bars were innocent of the crimes charged. Aware that the investigative reputation of Scotland Yard exceeded that of his own department, Byrnes, in the wake of the 1888 serial killings of five prostitutes in East London, challenged Jack-the-Ripper to ply his trade in New York. When a gutted female corpse washed up on the New York side of the Hudson River shortly after Byrnes' bravado, there was serious concern that the ripper had taken up his challenge. As it turned out, that murderer was not Jack-the-Ripper.

     Thomas Byrnes reached the peak of his fame in 1886 with the publication of a book, under his name, called Professional Criminals of America. The massive work contained the mug shots and detailed criminal histories of four-hundred of the city's most active house burglars, safe-crackers, pickpockets, check forgers, and con artists. Reprinted for the first time in 1969, it is considered a classic work in the history of property crime in America.

     In 1892, a crusading Presbyterian minister in New York City named Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst launched a religious crusade to clean up vice in the city and to expose the police corruption that allowed it to exist. The crusade led to political hearings headed by a New York state senator named Lexow. In 1894, Byrnes, now a police superintendent, was called before the Lexow Committee to explain how he, a public servant, had become so wealthy. As a result of the highly publicized hearings, the mayor resigned and a handful of patrolmen were indicted on charges of bribery. Byrnes, and several other police bigwigs were simply forced to resign.

     After leaving the force in 1895 the 54-year-old father of the third degree took a high paying job as general manager of an insurance company. The Lexow politicians, having enjoyed the limelight, left town, and the moment they did, the corruption and vice returned.

     In America the ward and watch system of policing evolved into a better organized more efficient system of bribe giving and receiving. For the next sixty to seventy years American law enforcement would be plagued by corruption and brutality. In the late 1800s, D. J. Cook, the superintendent of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association who had been a sheriff and a deputy U.S. marshal, issued words of wisdom applicable to his time and a generation of future cops: "Never hit a prisoner over the head with your pistol because you may afterwards want to use your weapon and find it disabled."

     In 1910, the week before he died at age 69, Thomas Byrnes transferred to his wife a Fifth Avenue building worth a half-million dollars. Two years later, the lawyer-writer Arthur Train, in his best-selling book, Courts and Criminals, described the status of criminal investigation some seventy years following the formation of the New York City Police Department: "The detective business swarms with men of doubtful honesty and morals who are accustomed to exaggeration if not to perjury, and who have neither the inclination nor the ability to do competent work."

A Prenuptial Murder

     Billy Brewster and Na Cola Franklin lived in an apartment complex in Whitehall Township outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania with their three children. The couple was scheduled to be married at ten in the morning of Saturday, August 11, 2012. Brewster's cousin, Nakia Kali and his wife Monique had traveled to eastern Pennsylvania from Illinois to attend the wedding. They were staying in the apartment with the 36-year-old and his wife-to-be.

     Just after midnight on the morning of the wedding day, Brewster and his visitors returned to the apartment after being out for the evening. Two hours later, when Billy, Na Cola, and Nakia were in the living room, Na Cola and Billy started arguing. Monique Kali, from one of the bedrooms, heard the shouting. When she cracked the door open and looked into the living room she saw a large blood stain on the front of Billy Brewster's shirt and Na Cola Franklin swinging a kitchen knife. Afraid that Na Cola Franklin would attack Nakia Kali with the weapon, Monique Kali charged into the room and tackled her. Nakia Kali knocked the knife out of Na Cola's hand, and one of Franklin's children carried the bloody weapon into the kitchen.

     Billy Brewster staggered out of the apartment onto the second-story landing and collapsed. Nakia Kali called 911.

     Police officers arrived at the scene at 2:19 in the morning. Less than an hour later Billy Brewster was pronounced dead at the Lehigh Valley Hospital. Na Cola Franklin, in custody at the Lehigh County Jail, had stabbed him twice in the heart.

     At her arraignment on the morning she was supposed to be standing at the alter, Na Cola Franklin wept and said, "I did not kill him on purpose. I want my family back." The judge denied her bond.

     In May 2013, a jury in Allentown, Pennsylvania found Na Cola Franklin guilty of first-degree murder. Six weeks later the judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Because Na Cola Franklin had killed the man she was within hours of marrying, this homicide attracted more attention than it would have otherwise. Aside from the wedding element, this was not an unusual case. Every year there are hundreds of homicides involving people who kill spontaneously for trivial reasons. In other words, not all murders come with a motive equal to the crime. Cases like this usually involve alcohol, drugs or mental illness. 

Sportswriter Red Smith

The best sportswriters know this. They avoid the exhausted synonyms and strive for freshness elsewhere in their sentences. You can search the columns of Red Smith and never find a batsman bouncing into a twin killing. Smith wasn't afraid to let a batsman hit into a double play. But you will find hundreds of unusual words--good English words--chosen with precision and fitted into situations where no other sportswriter would put them. They please us because the writer cared about using fresh imagery in a journalistic form where his competitors settled for the same old stuff. That's why Red Smith was still king of his field after half a century of writing, and why his competitors had long since been sent--as they would be the first to say--to the showers.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, first published in 1975

Science Fiction Writer Philip K. Dick

As a result of our media's obsession with the alleged connection between artistic genius and madness, Phil Dick was introduced to mainstream America as a caricature: a disheveled prophet, a hack churning out boilerplate genre fiction, a speed-freak. None of these impressions of Phil, taken without awareness of the sensationalism that generated them, advances our understanding of his life and work. Today the myth of Philip K. Dick threatens to drown out what evidence remains of his turbulent life.

David Gill in Anne R. Dick's The Search for Philip K. Dick, 1995

Talking to Yourself

Many novice writers, students in particular, think that writing is little more than copying down their self-talk, the palaver of the voices they hear in their heads. Of course, self-talking is thinking, and writing begins with thinking.

Richard Rhodes, Author, 2004

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Execution of Lisa Montgomery

      On December 16, 2004, 36-year-old Lisa M. Montgomery strangled 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett to death in her Skidmore, Missouri home. Following the murder Montgomery cut open the eight month pregnant victim and removed her unborn child, a baby she intended to pass off as her own.. The two women had met on an Internet chatroom called "Ratter Chatter."

     On December 17, the day after the murder, FBI agents arrested Montgomery at her farmhouse in Melvern, Kansas. The baby, rushed to a hospital, survived the traumatic event. A federal prosecutor charged Montgomery with the crime of kidnapping resulting in death, a capital offense.  

     Tried in October 2007, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged, and recommended the death penalty. On April 4, 2008, the federal judge sentenced Montgomery to death. Incarcerated at the federal prison complex at Terre Haute, Indiana, Montgomery was the only women in the federal system on death row. If executed she would be the fourth woman his U.S. history to be executed by the federal government. 

     Montgomery's execution by lethal injection was scheduled for December 8, 2020. Her appeals attorneys alleged that their client's trial attorneys were incompetent in that they had failed to reveal to jurors the extent of the defendant's mental illness. On this and other procedural issues, appeals courts have often ruled in favor of the government.

     Lisa Montgomery was executed on January 13, 2021.

The "Repressed Memory" Debate

Something has gone wrong with therapy, and because that something has do do with memory, I find myself at the center of an increasingly bitter and fractious controversy. On the one side are the "True Believers" who insist that the mind is capable of repressing memories and who accept without reservation or question the authenticity of recovered memories. On the other side are the "Skeptics" who argue that the notion of repression is purely hypothetical and essentially untestable, based as it is on unsubstantiated speculation and anecdotes that are impossible to confirm or deny. Some skeptics are less circumspect, referring to repression as "psychomagic," "smoke and mirrors," or just plain "balderdash."

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994 [I think most social scientists in the field today side with the skeptics. In the criminal justice system innocent people have been sent to prison on the strength of what turned out to be bogus repressed memory testimony.

Court Suppressed Evidence

     In United States criminal procedure, if law enforcement personnel violate a suspect's constitutional rights in acquiring evidence, that evidence--the results, say, of an illegal arrest or search--cannot be introduced in court. This is called the "exclusionary rule."

     Evidence can also be kept from the jury if a judge deems it hearsay, irrelevant, speculative or prejudicial to the defendant.

     U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samual Alito once wrote that "Exclusion of evidence exacts a heavy toll on both the judicial system and society at large. It almost always requires courts to ignore reliable, trustworthy evidence bearing on guilt or innocence. And the bottom-line effect, in many cases, is to suppress the truth and set the criminal loose in the community without punishment."

American Literary Criticism

To sit up and criticize me for saying "vest" instead of "waistcoat"; to talk about my splitting the infinitive and using vulgar commonplaces here and there, when the tragedy of a man's life is being displayed, is silly. More, it is ridiculous. It makes me feel that American criticism is the joke that English authorities maintain it to be.

Theodore Dreiser in Theodore Dreiser, by Phillip L. Gerber, 1964 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Flawed Eyewitness Memories

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

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

Government As Organized Crime

In many ways, government functions like an organized crime organization. Bureaucrats and elected officials, along with lobbyist and campaign workers, protect themselves through a code of silence, whistleblower intimidation, perjury, bribe taking, evidence tampering, document destruction, and the shielding of top government leaders from criminal culpability. And like members of the Mafia, bureaucrats and politicians are in for life. To expose governmental wrongdoing, investigators have to rely on tactics the FBI used against street gangs and Mafia families. But the FBI, as a government agency, is part of the problem. It's like asking the Mafia to investigate itself. In government, the idea that all men are equal under the law is a joke. And the joke is on taxpayers and voters, victims who give these crooks their power and misbegotten wealth.

The Self-Important Writer

     A memoir takes a certain amount of arrogance to write…One must think one's life is important or interesting enough to palm off on an unsuspecting public. At least fiction writers have the pretense that their work has more to do with their characters than with themselves. Still, I doubt you'd find much of a difference between a memoir writer and a fiction writer in the humility department.
     Or maybe memoir writers tend more toward exhibitionism, are more willing--eager, in fact--to slap their cards on the table and squawk, "Read 'em and weep." The fiction writer, cagier, plays his hand close to his vest, pretends he knows how to bluff.
     If you write your life down on the page, beginning with "I was born in…" and ending with, "As I pen these immortal words, I gasp my last breath," what you've probably got is a self-indulgent autobiography, not a memoir. A memoir usually deals with a portion of one's life--say, childhood--not the life in its entirety.
Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 1994

From Journal To Novel

No matter how messy or incomplete, journals are the missing links in creative life. For centuries, they've helped beginning and seasoned writers alike trigger new work and sustain inspiration. Anne Frank used hers for the basis of a book she wanted to write after the war. She mined it for details and later rewrote entries and composed scenes. Novelist Virginia Wolf invented herself as a writer in her journal. From age 17 until four days before her death [suicide] at 60, she used journals to move from family sketches to memoir to novels.

Alexandra Johnson, The Hidden Writer, 1998 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Government's Solution For Everything

Of all the vulgar arts of government, that of solving every difficulty that might arise by thrusting the hand into the public purse is the most illusory and contemptible.

Robert Peel (1788-1856) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Last Words

[Regarding his last meal]: I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti, I want the press to know this.

Thomas J. Grasso, executed in Oklahoma on March 20, 1995

Novels Are Not All Fiction

Novelists are and always have been split between, on the one hand, a desire to claim an imaginative and representative truth for their stories, and on the other hand, a conviction that the best way to secure and guarantee that truthfulness is by a scrupulous respect for empirical fact…Novels burn facts as engines burn fuel, and the facts can come only from the novelist's own experience or acquired knowledge.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case: The Polygraph as an Interrogation Tool

     Several years ago, a story went around about an ingenious small town cop who hooked a young thief up to a copy machine the kid thought was a lie detector. When the suspect gave an answer the interrogator didn't like, he hit the print button causing a sheet of paper to come out of the copier that read, "Not True." The suspect, convinced he had been caught by a sophisticated lie detection instrument, confessed.

     The copy machine-as-polygraph story illustrates an important point about scientific lie detection and how the polygraph technique can be used by examiners to coax confessions out of guilty suspects. The debate over polygraph accuracy, in this context, is not relevant. What does matter is this: most criminal suspects who happen to be guilty believe that the polygraph works. In the right hands it can be an effective interrogation tool. Years ago, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made public a video-tape of a murder suspect's polygraph examination and follow-up interrogation. The transcript of this session reveals how a professional polygraph examiner/interrogator can use the instrument to acquire a confession.


The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case

     On Friday, December 2, 2010, 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, a resident of the River Ridge Apartment complex in Canton, Georgia outside of Atlanta, went missing. Three days later, police officers found her body in a dumpster not far from where she had been abducted. Ryan Brunn, a 20-year-old newly hired maintenance man had lured the girl into a vacant apartment where he had raped and murdered her.

     On the day following the discovery of the murdered girl's body, Keith Sitton, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, gave the suspect a polygraph test. What follows is the word-for-word account of that session:

SITTON: Regarding that girl, do you intend to answer the [polygraph] questions truthfully?

BRUNN: Yes.

SITTON: Did you participate in any way in causing the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

SITTON: Do you know for sure who caused the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

     In discussing the results of the polygraph test with Brunn after the examination,  Sitton said this to the suspect: "I can see you're not doing good on this test. Those [last two] questions are really bothering me."

     "I promise you. I'll take the test again," Brunn replied. His voice was weak and he was obviously nervous.

     "There's something on this that you're not telling us. Something that you're keeping to yourself. What is it you're holding back? Because we're going to solve this thing. It's just written all over you. Something's bothering you."

     "I'm not bothered at all."

     "You haven't told the complete truth about everything."

     "I have," Brunn replied.

     The GBI agent asked Brunn about having been accused of sexually fondling a young girl in Virginia: "You know what I'm talking about," he said.

     "I don't."

     "Remember, I said you had to be 100 percent truthful. I asked you [on the polygraph] if anyone made accusations. So what you have done is told me a lie."

     "They put things in that child's head. I'm a good person. I didn't do nothing to that little Spanish girl, and I didn't do nothing to the other girl [the one in Virginia].

     The next day, Sutton questioned Brunn again. He informed the suspect that according to the polygraph he had lied. To this, Brunn said, "I should have told the truth straight up. But I didn't. I was scared." At this point Brunn made a full confession. He said he had raped the girl, cut her throat, wrapped her in a garbage bag, and dumped her body in the trash compactor.

     On January 17, 2011, Ryan Brunn pleaded guilty to murdering Jorelys Rivera. The judge sentenced him to life without parole. A year later, while serving his time at the Georgia State Prison, Brunn used his sweatshirt to hang himself.

Driving Without a License

Plenty of drivers are out there with no license or one that is suspended or revoked. When you [a police officer] stop such drivers and ask for their license, the first thing they say often begins with "I was just…" as in "I was just gong to the movies" or "I was just dropping off a friend." They seem to think their claim of driving a short distance is a mitigating factor, as if the only people who really deserve tickets for unlicensed driving are those in the midst of cross-country odysseys.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Kleptomania: Euphemism or Illness?

In its condemnation of kleptomania as an euphemism for the shoplifting of the well-to-do, America followed England. More attention was paid to the crime and how to stop it than to the disease and how to cure it. Founded in 1850 as a private security company [and investigative agency], the Pinkerton National Detective Agency established a division to catch shoplifters after the Civil War and most of the major department stores took advantage of it. Pinkerton detectives pursued shoplifters, while socialists, transcendentalists, and humorists lampooned kleptomaniacs as proof of democracy's failure. In his 1888 essay, "A New Crime," Mark Twain writes, "In these days, too, if a person of good family and high social standing steals anything, they call it KLEPTOMANIA, and send him to the lunatic asylum." A lifelong advocate for free speech, suffragism, and a classless society, the anarchist Emma Goldman derided kleptomania. In a speech she gave in 1896 Pittsburgh, she denounced it as yet another strategy the wealthy enacted to steal from the poor.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Truman Capote's Betrayal

One of the most public and wholesale rejections of a writer occurred in 1975, when Esquire published "La Cote Basque," an early chapter from Truman Capote's novel-in-progress Answered Prayers. Capote's women friends from New York's cafe society were horrified by the exposure of their secrets and promptly banished him from their inner circle. According to his editor, Joe Fox at Random House, "Virtually every friend he had in this world ostracized him for telling thinly disguised tales out of school, and many of them never spoke to him again." Their little writer friend, the elfin troublemaker, had taken things just a little too far. Capote crossed a line he claimed he hadn't known existed, though he confessed to a certain amount of delicious anticipation before the piece ran, and he agreed to be photographed for the magazine's cover with a fedora wickedly tilted atop his head while he pared his fingernails with a very long blade.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For the Trees, 2000

The "Master Bob" Sex Club Murder Case

     A Detroit area man was convicted on December 18, 2014 of murder in a plot to kill his wife so he could devote himself to a life of bondage and domination in an upper-class suburb with women who called him "Master Bob." The salacious trial of Bob Bashara revealed his secret life in Grosse Pointe Park: a former Rotary Club president who used cocaine and hosted men and women at a sex dungeon under a bar called the Hard Luck Lounge.

     Jane Bashara was strangled by a handyman in the couple's garage in 2012 before her body was discovered in her Mercedes-Benz in a Detroit alley…She was a marketing executive with a long record of service to her church and her community…

     Handyman Joe Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and said Bob Bashara had coerced him into committing the crime. In the weeks after his wife's death, Bashara professed his innocence and even attended a candlelight vigil…

     Jurors convicted the 57-year-old Bashara of first-degree murder and four lesser charges. He did not take the stand on his own behalf. Joe Gentz, the handyman killer, did not testify at Bashara's trial…

     In Michigan, first-degree murder carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole…

"Bondage 'Master' Convicted in Plot to Kill His Wife," Associated Press, December 19, 2014

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Documentary Storytelling

     Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts…But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it's what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts…

    Story is the device that enables this arrangement. A story may begin as an idea, hypothesis, or series of questions. It becomes more focused throughout the filmmaking process, until the finished film has a compelling beginning, an unexpected middle, and a satisfying end. Along the way, the better you understand your story, even as it's evolving, the more prepared you'll be to tell it creatively and well. The visuals you shoot will be stronger. You're likely to cast and scout locations more carefully and waste less time filming scenes that aren't necessary. And perhaps surprisingly, you'll be better prepared to follow the unexpected--to take advantage of the twists and turns that are an inevitable part of documentary production, and recognize those elements that will make your film even stronger.

Shelia Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 2004 

First Novelists

     First novels are unpredictable. For one author it's the best thing he will do in his career, something into which he empties so much of his heart and talent and experience that he's left with too little fuel to light much of a fire under future work.

     For another the first novel sets the course for an entire career: He's found the key in which his voice is most comfortable and he sticks to it.

     For some writers that first novel gives no hint as to what is to come. Every new work is a departure from the last.

F. Paul Wilson in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Killing the Desire to Write

We start out in our lives as little children, full of light and the clearest vision…Then we go to school and then comes on the great army of school teachers with their critical pencils, and parents and older brothers (the greatest sneerers of all) and cantankerous friends, and finally that great murderer of the imagination--a world of unceasing, unkind, dinky, prissy criticalness.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1938 in the Preface to the Second Edition, 1983 

A Biographer's Quest For Truth

While I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts--through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing--can't be rushed; it takes time. Truth takes time.

Robert A. Caro, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, 2019. Cara is best known for his multi-volume biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Friday, April 22, 2022

A Raped Woman's Revenge

     Nevin Yildirim lived with her husband and two children, ages two and six, in a village in southwestern Turkey. In January 2012, her husband left home to work at a seasonal job in another town. Shortly after Mr. Yildirim began working at the other place, a 35-year-old member of the village named Nurettin came to Nevin's house and raped her. This married father of two threatened to shoot Nevin's children if she reported the crime to anyone.

     By August 2012, after months of being raped on a regular basis by Nurettin, Nevin was five months pregnant with his child. When she visited a clinic regarding an abortion, a health care worker informed her that her pregnancy was too far along for that option. In Turkey, abortions were illegal after the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

     On August 28, 2012, when Nurettin came to Nevin's house to rape her again, she pulled her father-in-law's rifle off a wall rack and shot him. As the wounded Nurettin reached for his handgun to return fire, Nevin shot him again. Hit with the second slug, he tired to run, but stumbled and fell. As he lay on the ground cursing her, Nevin fired a third bullet, this one into his genitals. The rapist went silent and a few seconds later died where he lay in a pool of his own blood.

     The woman who had just killed the man who for months had been raping her laid down her rifle and picked up a kitchen knife that she then used to decapitate him. She picked up the detached head by the hair and carried it to the village square. To a group of men sitting around a coffee house, Nevin, still gripping her rapist's head as it continued to drip blood from the base of the severed neck, said, "Here is the head of the man who played with my honor."

     As the coffee house drinkers looked on in horror, Nevin Yildirim tossed her blood trophy. The severed head rolled along the ground and came to rest in the public square. A short time later a local police officer took the blood-splattered woman into custody.

     A few days after the killing, in speaking to her court-appointed lawyer who came to the local jail, Nevin reportedly said, "I thought of reporting [Nurettin] to the military police and to the district attorney, but this was going to make me a scorned woman. Since I was going to get a bad reputation, I decided to clean my honor, and acted on killing him. I thought of suicide a lot, but couldn't do it. Now no one can call my children bastards....Everyone will call them the children of the woman who cleaned her honor."

     On August 30, 2012, at the preliminary hearing on the charge of murder, Yildirim told the magistrate she didn't want to keep her rapist's baby and that she wished to die. The public prosecutor advised the court that he had ordered psychiatric evaluations of the defendant.

    Nevin Yildirim gave birth to her rapist's child on November 17, 2012.

     On March 25, 2013, the district judge found Yildirim guilty of murder. Before he handed down the sentence, the judge ordered police officers to remove feminist protesters from the courtroom.

     After clearing the courtroom of protesters, the Turkish judge imposed the maximum punishment of life in prison. Among women in Turkey and others around the world, the verdict and sentence created an uproar. Had Nevin Yildirim committed the exact crime in the United States she would have been charged with second or third-degree murder. Her attorney would have had the option of putting on either an insanity or battered woman defense. If found guilty, her punishment would not have been anything close to life behind bars. In the U.S. a case like this would likely be resolved through the plea bargaining process that would lead to much lighter sentence.

Read Before You Write

Reading is the one necessary prerequisite for writing. Every published writer of books I know grew up reading…If you're a serious and dedicated reader, then, you already know part of how to write. You know the forms and conventions of writing and how others have used these forms and conventions to shape their work. (If you haven't been a reader, I'd suggest you become one fast if you want to write.) What you may not know is how to begin and continue and finish, and how to publish what you've done.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

The First Gothic Horror Novel

A source of modern fantasy was the Gothic novel, invented in Germany and introduced to England by Horace Walpol's The Castle of Otranto (1764). This novel of medieval murder and spookery has all the elements that became standard props of the Gothic horror story: a wicked tyrant, an imperiled virgin, an impoverished young hero of noble blood, a monk, a castle with trapdoors and secret passages, a ruined monastery, and two ghosts. Who could ask for more?

L. Sprague de Camp, 3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1972 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Rachel Fryer Child Abuse Murder Case

     In November 2013, Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) reunited Rachel Fryer with her five children. They had been taken away on May 13, 2011 when her infant son Tavont'ae Gordon died. A forensic pathologist determined that the baby's death was accidental. Fryer claimed to have rolled over on the child. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death mechanical asphyxiation, a so-called "co-sleeping" fatality. The DCF took the five remaining children from the house due to evidence of substance abuse. Besides drugs, the 32-year-old mother had other problems. She was depressed, abusive, and for years had been in trouble with the law. But after completing a parenting program, her five children were returned to her.

     Fryer, a resident of Sanford, Florida, a town of 53,000 in the Orlando metropolitan area, served six months in jail in 2012 for violating the terms of her drug probation. Police in Seminole County arrested her in December 2013 for failure to appear in court. Over the past several years she had been charged with resisting arrest, battery of a law enforcement officer, petty theft, and possession of marijuana.

     On Monday morning, February 10, 2014, one of Fryer's neighbors, worried about the wellbeing of the Fryer children, called the DCF and requested a welfare check of the Fryer home. A caseworker arrived at the house to find Rachel gone. The social worker removed four of Fryer's children from the dwelling. The fifth child, 2-year-old Tariji, Tavont'ae's twin sister, was missing. Concerned about the welfare of the toddler, the caseworker called the Sanford Police Department. Detectives launched a missing persons investigation.

     That Monday night, Rachel Fryer showed up at the Sanford police station with a disturbing story. She claimed that on Thursday, February 6, when she tried to wake up her 2-year-old daughter the toddler was unresponsive. She spent the next thirty minutes trying to revive the little girl with CPR. When that failed, and it became obvious that the child had stopped breathing, Fryer wrapped the body in a blanket. She did not call 911, the police department, or anyone else.

     After placing the dead girl into a leopard-print suitcase, a friend drove Fryer and Tariji to Crescent City, Florida, a town of two thousand in Putnam County northeast of Sanford. In the front yard of a house on Madison Avenue, Fryer buried her daughter in a shallow grave.

     In searching Fryer's cellphone, detectives discovered text messages that revealed the mother's state of mind in the days leading up to Tariji's death. In one message she had texted: "I'm bout to have a nervous breakdown. I can't take it no more…My child is retarded, I don't know what else to do…I need my depression medicine ASAP. This is too much, I'm about to lose it."

     From Fryer's 7-year-old daughter detectives learned that Fryer regularly hit her children with a broom handle, a mop, and shoes. The 7-year-old said her mother had beaten her the day before her younger sister disappeared.

     On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, police officers in Crescent City, in the front yard of the house on Madison Avenue, saw a child's shoe sticking out of a freshly dug grave. Beneath the dirt officers found the corpse of a young girl wearing clothing that preliminarily identified the remains of Tariji Fryer. The leopard-print suitcase lay nearby.

     After a prosecutor in Sanford charged Rachel Fryer with aggravated child neglect, she was booked into the John E. Polk Correctional Facility. The judge denied her bond. In the meantime, investigators waited for the results of the girl's autopsy.

     On Tuesday, February 11, detectives questioned Tariji's father, 28-year-old Timothy Gordon. The DCF had not reunited Gordon with his children because he had not taken the required parenting counseling in May 2011 following the death of Tavont'ae.

     The Seminole County Medical Examiner's Office, on February 27, 2014, reported that Tariji Gordon had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Some of the victim's injuries included, according to a south Florida forensic dentist, bite marks linked to the suspect. The medical examiner ruled the girl's death a criminal homicide. Following that ruling a local prosecutor charged Rachel Fryer with murder and aggravated child abuse.

     At the suspect's murder arraignment she pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors told reporters that in this case they were seeking the death penalty.

     On March 12, 2014, a Seminole County grand jury indicted Fryer for first-degree murder and several lesser offenses. According to detectives who interrogated the suspect she confessed to murdering her daughter.

     Rachel Fryer, in June 2016 pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. The judge sentenced her to 30 years in prison.

The Politics of Fear

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. 

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) Journalist, Satirist

The Nature of Memory

     Think of your mind as a bowl filled with clear water. Now imagine each memory as a teaspoon of milk stirred into the water. Every adult mind holds thousands of these murky memories. Who among us would dare to disentangle the water from the milk? Memories don't sit in one place, waiting patiently to be retrieved; they drift through the brain, more like clouds or vapor than something we can put our hands around.

     This view of memory has been a hard sell. Human beings feel attached to their remembered past, for the people, places and events we enshrine in memory give structure and definition to the person we think of as our "self." If we accept the fact that our memories are milky molecules, spilling into dream and imagination, then how can we pretend to know what is real and what is not? Who among us wants to believe that our grasp on reality is so provisional, that reality in fact is impenetrable and unfathomable because it is only what we remember, and what we remember is rarely the literal truth?

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994

Discouraging Words

If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it; instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke. [Ouch.]

Paul Fussell in Jon Winokur's Advice to Writers, 1999

Dialogue in Journalism

With the old journalism, quoted dialogue was short, relevant but not necessarily dramatic. Eye-witness accounts gave credibility to recitation of facts, and if there was dramatic fall out, so much the better. But now we narrative nonfiction writers search for dialogue that will add drama, that will build excitement while staying glued to facts. Often, it's extended dialogue, long passages or a series of shorter, uninterrupted passages that tell a story in the character's own words. We use this dialogue, not to modify the facts but to present the facts. The character tells us the story (or a significant portion of it) in their words, and the result is building drama.

William Noble in The Portable Writers' Conference, edited by Stephen Blake Mettee, 1997 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Matthew Hoffman Suicide-By-Cop Case

     If you threaten a police officer with a fake gun, you will get shot by a real one.

     Around noon on Sunday January 4, 2015, Matthew Hoffman approached several police officers at San Francisco's Mission District police station with questions about the kinds of firearms and ammunition they carried. The 32-year-old was friendly and unthreatening.

     At five-fifteen that evening, three police sergeants came upon Mr. Hoffman standing in an employee-only area of the police station parking lot. The officers informed the intruder he didn't belong there and asked him to leave.

     Upon being told he was trespassing, Mr. Hoffman, without turning from the officers, backed away with his hands in his sweater pockets. The officers told Hoffman to show his hands. Instead of complying with the police command, Hoffman lifted his sweater revealing, above his waistband, the handle of a firearm.

    When Hoffman reached for his weapon, the officers opened fire, hitting him three times. Shortly after the shooting, the sergeants discovered that the man had been in possession of an Airsoft pellet gun that was not equipped with an orange-tipped muzzle.

     The seriously wounded man underwent emergency surgery at San Francisco General Hospital but died later that night. The officers who shot him were placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation.

     On Hoffman's cellphone, investigators discovered a message to the police that read: "Dear Officers: I provoked you. I threatened your life as well as the lives of others around me. You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself. You were completely within your legal rights to do what you did. God made a mistake with me. Please take solace in knowing that the situation was out of your control. You had no other choice."

     In the typical suicide-by-cop case, investigators, after the fact, have to infer the shooting victim's motive through his mental history and provocative behavior toward the officer. In this case, Matthew Hoffman left nothing to the imagination. Mr. Hoffman, on his cellphone, had described himself as "lonely" and "hopeless." Beyond that, why he no longer wanted to live remained a mystery.  

The Desire For Fame

In our society, the journalist ranks with the philanthropist as a person who has something extremely valuable to dispense (his currency is the strangely intoxicating substance called publicity), and who is consequently treated with a deference quite out of proportion to his merits as a person. There are very few people in this country who do not regard with rapture the prospect of being written about or being interviewed on a radio or television program.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

The Vampire Fantasy

It's that fantasy about taming the bad boy, and you can't get any worse than a vampire. They have been alive for 600 years. They've experienced everything. Then all of a sudden they meet this great heroine, who basically is a breath of fresh air. Falling in love, trying to find that spark again in their lives--that is a great romantic fantasy.

Erika Tsang, Time, February 27, 2006 

Hunter S.Thompson On Deadlines

When you write for a living and you can't do anything else, you know that sooner or later that the deadline is going to come screaming down on you like a banshee. There's no avoiding it. So one day you just don't appear at the El Adobe bar anymore; you shut the door, paint the windows black, rent an electric typewriter and become the monster you always were--the writer.

Hunter S. Thompson, 1996  

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Voltaire's Science Fiction Novel

When it became known that the earth was only one of a family of planets circling the sun, the question arose: was there life on other planets? Many later speculated about this. In his Micromegas (1752), the French writer Voltaire brought to earth an eight-mile-high visitor from Sirus and a slightly smaller native of Saturn. Because of their size, these beings found it hard to decide whether there was intelligent life on earth.

L. Sprague de Camp, 3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1972 

Gabby Literary Fiction

Now it is the unassuming storyteller who is reviled, while mediocrities who puff themselves up to produce gabby "literary" fiction are guaranteed a certain respect, presumably for aiming high.

B.R. Myers, Reader's Manifesto, 2002, a highly readable classic exposing horrible, unreadable fiction written by untalented writers passed off by publishers and critics as serious literary work.

Writing About Writers

Literary biographers are parasites. They are Fifth Column agents within the ranks of literature, intent on reducing all that is imaginative, all that is creative in literature to pedestrian biography. They are the slaves of their absurd and meager theories. They feed off literature: they attempt to replace it.

Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper, 2002 

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Bradley Stone Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     Bradley William Stone, a 35-year-old former Marine reservist, resided with his wife Jen, a media analyst, in the town of Pennsburg thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They married in September 2013 following his divorce from his first wife Nicole. Nicole had filed for divorce in March 2009, and since that time she and Bradley had been embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their two daughters. On December 9, 2014, a family court judge denied a petition from Bradley that ended the court fight in his ex-wife's favor. He did not take this defeat in stride.

     Bradley Stone served as a Marine reservist from 2002 to 2011 during which time he spent two months in Ramadi, Iraq where he monitored a computer screen that tracked missiles. After convincing his superior officers that he suffered from asthma he was sent back to the states.

     In October 2010 Stone was diagnosed with 100 percent service connected post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time of his honorable discharge in 2011 he had risen to the rank of sergeant. In October 2013 Stone filed 17 VA disability claims for problems that included traumatic brain injury, muscle and joint pain, sleep apnea, and headaches.

     Following his military service, and during the height of his domestic war with his estranged ex-wife Nicole, Stone received psychiatric treatment at the Lanape Valley Foundation in the Doylestown Hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder. (Some former Marines with PTSD questioned Stones' diagnosis noting that he hadn't seen combat.)

     In 2013, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania judge sentenced Stone to one year probation following his second driving while intoxicated conviction.

     At four-thirty in the morning of Monday December 15, 2014, six days after Bradley Stone lost the child custody battle, police officers were dispatched to a house in Lansdale, Pennsylvania 28 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Nicole Stone's mother, 57-year-old Joanne Gilbert and her mother, 75-year-old Patricia Hill, resided in that house. Police officers found both women dead.

     Bradley Stone's ex-mother-in-law lay in her bed with a slashed throat. Her mother lay on the floor with a gunshot wound to her right eye. The scene of this double-murder was awash in the victims' blood.

     Shortly after the discovery of the two Bradley Stone ex-in-laws, a 911 call was made from an apartment complex in nearby Lower Salford where Stone's 33-year-old ex-wife Nicole resided. A neighbor in the Pheasant Run apartments reported hearing a disturbance followed by three or four gunshots that came from Nicole's unit. Following the disturbance, the neighbor saw Stone putting his daughters into a green Ford and driving off. (Stone dropped the girls off at an acquaintance's house in Pennsburg. They were unharmed.)

     In Nicole Stone's apartment police officers found the victim lying on her bed with two gunshot wounds to her face. On the bed lay the murder weapon, Bradley Stone's .40-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol.

     At eight o'clock that morning in southeastern Pennsylvania, police officers in the town of Souderson discovered three more victims of Bradley Stone's murderous rage. Patricia Flick, Nicole's sister, was found hacked to death in her home. Her husband Aaron and her 14-year-old daughter Nina, also dead, had been bludgeoned and slashed. Anthony Flick, Nicole's 17-year-old nephew, in fighting off an ax-wielding Bradley Stone, had lost fingertips, sustained lacerations to his hands and arms, and suffered a fractured skull. He survived the attack by barricading himself in a room on the third floor of the house. Paramedics rushed the seriously wounded teenager to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. He survived the attack.

     Later that Monday, Bradley Smith, the subject of an intense police manhunt, confronted a man walking his dog in Doylestown. Wearing camouflage clothing, Stone demanded the man's car keys. Instead of acquiring access to a vehicle, Stone found himself looking down the barrel of the man's handgun. The mass murderer was last seen running into a nearby wooded area.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, SWAT team officers looking for Stone in Pennsburg came across his body in the woods a half mile from his home. He had managed to hack himself to death.

     Neuropsychology professor Eric Zillmer of Drexel University, in speaking to reporters about the mass murder-suicide, said he didn't believe that Stone's murderous rampage had anything to do with PTSD. 

The Savior Complex

Any politician who truly believes that he or she is needed by his or her country is by definition mentally and emotionally unbalanced, and unfit for public office. Unfortunately, they all believe this. Maybe that explains everything. 

Arthur Conan Doyle On His "Sherlock Holmes Work"

[In 1891] I made my first effort to live entirely by my pen. It soon became evident that I had been playing the game well within my powers and that I should have no difficulty in providing a sufficient income…The difficulty of the Sherlock Holmes work was that every story really needed as clear-cut and original a plot as a longish book would do. One cannot without effort spin plots at such a rate. They are apt to become too thin or break. I was determined, now that I had no longer the excuse of absolute pecuniary [financial] pressure, never again to write anything which was not as good as I could possibly make it, and therefore I would not write a Holmes story without a worthy plot and without a problem which interested my own mind, for that is the first requisite before you can interest anyone else.

Arthur Conan Doyle in Russell Miller, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008

Flat Versus Round Characters

     [The novelist] E. M. Forster introduced the term flat character to refer to characters who have no hidden complexity. In this sense, they have no depth (hence the word "flat"). Frequently found in comedy, satire, and melodrama, flat characters are limited to a narrow range of predictable behaviors…

     Forster's counter term to flat characters was round characters. Round characters have varying degrees of depth and complexity and therefore, in Forster's words, they "cannot be summed up in a single phrase."

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Guide to Narrative, 2002

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Man Who Kidnapped Himself

     On Thursday October 23, 2014, Paul Kitterman, a 53-year-old construction worker from Kremmling, Colorado, a town 100 miles north of Denver, was in the mile high city with his stepson and two of his stepson's friends to watch a Broncos-San Diego Charges football game. Mr. Kitterman and his 22-year-old stepson, Jarod Tonneson, were seated in the stadium's south bleachers section. They were among 70,000 fans attending the game. Tonneson's friends watched the game from another part of Sports Authority Field.

     At the beginning of the third quarter, Tonneson and his stepfather visited the public restroom. When Tonneson came out of the men's room, Mr. Kitterman was not there waiting for him as agreed upon. The stepfather was not in the restroom and had not returned to his seat in Section 230.

     Jarod Tonneson and his friends searched the stadium inside and out until one-thirty the next morning. They found no trace of the man who had accompanied them to the game. Mr. Kitterman, without possession of a cellphone or credit cards, had simply vanished. He had been carrying about $50 in cash.

     Mr. Kitterman had not been intoxicated and was not suffering from a mental problem. This raised the possibility that someone had kidnapped him. Or perhaps he had just gotten sick or lost in the stadium. There seemed to be no other logical explanations for his disappearance. The concerned stepson filed a missing person report with the Denver Police Department.

     On Monday October 27, 2014, a police spokesperson announced that a football fan had seen Mr. Kitterman in the stadium during the third quarter, but the witness couldn't remember where in the stadium he had seen him. Investigators viewed hours of stadium surveillance video footage for clues regarding the missing man's whereabouts. In the meantime, the stepson and his friends posted fliers around the city of Denver.

     On Tuesday night October 28, 2014, someone called the police in Pueblo, Colorado regarding a man believed to be Mr. Kitterman. Shortly after the call, five days after he had gone missing from the football stadium located 112 miles north of Pueblo, police officers found Mr. Kitterman in a K-Mart parking lot.

     Paul Kitterman had not been the victim of foul play, and other than being tired, he was in good physical condition. The object of the five-day missing persons search told officers that he had walked and hitchhiked to the city of Pueblo. He said he slept in parks and wooded areas. Along the way he had disposed of his Broncos hat to avoid being recognized. He apparently had not wanted to be found.

     Detectives asked Mr. Kitterman the question that was on everybody's mind: Why did he slip away from his stepson and travel to Pueblo, Colorado? Surely he knew that walking off like that would trigger a police manhunt and cause his friends and family a lot of stress.

     Mr. Kitterman told the officers that because he hadn't watched television for five days, he had no idea people were looking for him. When asked to explain why he had made himself a missing person, Mr. Kitterman said he had gotten his "fill of football" and simply wanted to walk to someplace warmer.

     Because the missing man's actions reflected some form or degree of dementia the authorities in Denver had no plans to file charges against him. And even if he was of sound mind what crime did he commit? You don't go to prison for kidnapping yourself. 

Imaginative Art: Memoir and Autobiography

     How many people take themselves seriously enough, or think they are important or interesting enough, to write a memoir or an autobiography? Judging from bookstore inventories, a lot of people. One would be hard pressed to name a well known politician, entertainment figure, television talking-head, professional athlete, or writer who has not written (or had ghost-written) a memoir. But celebrity types are not the only ones who feel compelled to write their life stories, or about specific events in their lives. Ordinary people who have accomplished unusual or exceptional feats; been involved in catastrophic events; had interesting jobs or professions; dealt with serious physical or emotional illness; or have overcome personal problems such as drug addiction, alcoholism, bad marriages, and criminal injustice, write memoirs.

     Sociologist Diane Bjorkland, in her book, Interpreting the Self (1998), makes the point that the memoir/autobiography has, over the years, gained stature as a literary form. She writes: "...autobiographies, as a record of how people have interpreted and explained their lives, are full of rich material for [literary and history] theorists. They are much more than straightforward attempts at personal histories; they are an amalgam of cultural ideas, scruples, rhetoric, and self-presentation. As literary scholars in the last half of the twentieth century have increasingly recognized this complexity, they have shifted from their former neglect of autobiography as an 'artless literature of face' to an appreciation of autobiography as 'imaginative art.' " (An autobiography is a full account of the writer's life while a memoir features one aspect of the writer's existence.)

Stephen King Ranks Himself

Somebody asked Somerset Maugham about his place in the pantheon of writers, and he said, "I'm in the very front row of the second rate." I'm sort of haunted by that. You do the best you can. The idea of posterity for a writer is poison. [The so-called first rate writers--today's "literary" giants--will be forgotten long before Stephen King.]

Stephen King, 2013

Saturday, April 16, 2022

America's First Airline Bombing

In 1955, Jack Gilbert Graham insured his mother's life for $37,000 and then planted a bomb [in her luggage] on United Airlines Flight 629 which she boarded at Denver, Colorado. The device exploded just ten minutes after take-off, killing all 44 passengers and crew. Graham, who had nurtured a hatred of his mother ever since she placed him in an orphanage for the first eight years of his life, readily confessed and was sent to the Colorado Penitentiary gas chamber in January 1957.

Brian Lane, Chronicle of 20th Century Murder, 1993 

Down and Dirty Journalism

An inescapable truism about journalism is that form dictates content. The form of journalism--gimme a headline, gimme a story in the next hour or two, and gimme it in 500 or 250 words--subverts the content. It's easy for someone who is allowed 20,000 words and months to report a New Yorker story to say this, but it's nevertheless true that most editors don't allow reporters enough time or space to get a story's facts and context right.

Ken Auletta, Backstory: Inside the Business of News, 2003

The Big Scene

I can always tell when a writer has rushed through a scene or written around it in order to get to the good stuff. The dialogue is hurried, like the wedding vows in a tired old comedy where the bride's in labor. Descriptions are sketchy or nonexistent. Too often, the scene isn't even there; the novelist has lifted it out and thrown it away, or not written it at all. At best, this leaves an annoying gap. At worst, the "good" scene has not been set up and so it falls in like a cake because someone skimped on the eggs. In between is a lost opportunity, because sometimes the scene you dreaded most turns out to be the best in the book.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

Kurt Vonnegut on Literary Critics

As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday, 1981 

Friday, April 15, 2022

The John Paul Quintero Police-Involved Shooting Case

     On Saturday January 3, 2015, 23-year-old John Paul Quintero and his father were visiting the home of a 21-year-old women in Wichita, Kansas. An argument broke out between Paul Quintero and the homeowner that turned violent when Paul Quintero grabbed the victim and placed a knife at her throat. The knife-wielding man's father, who had also been threatened by him, left the house, climbed into his SUV and called 911.

     Two police officers rolled up to the scene a few minutes before seven that evening. The officers parked the patrol car down the block and walked toward the dwelling. When they arrived at the house they found the father and his son Paul sitting in the SUV parked in the residence's driveway.

     The officers ordered the two men out of the vehicle and told them to keep their hands where they could see them. The father complied immediately, but his son, when he exited the passenger's side, became belligerent and threatening. As the uncooperative suspect moved toward one of the officers, he was again ordered to show his hands. Instead, the younger Quintero threatened the police officer who attempted to subdue him with a Taser. The device had no effect on the advancing suspect.

     When Paul Quintero reached for his waistband the threatened female officer shot him twice.

     EMS personnel rendered first aid at the scene then placed Quintero into an ambulance. After undergoing emergency surgery at Wichita's Wesley Medical Center, Quintero died from his bullet wounds.

     At the time he was shot Quintero was not in possession of the knife. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation along with the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office took charge of the investigation. The officer who shot the unarmed man was placed on administrative leave pending the results of the police  inquiry into the shooting.

     In April 2016, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the Wichita police officer. According to the prosecutor, the officer reasonably believed she was in danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Author Interviews

     Every edition of Sunday's The New York Times Book Review features an author interview column called "By the Book" where the writers of literary novels are asked questions like: What books do you have on your nightstand? What writers do you admire? What literary figures of the past would you invite to a dinner party? (These people have dinner parties.) What are you reading now? (Most of the interviewees answer this question with a long list of books and authors most readers have never heard of.) And what is the last great book you read? (The answer to this one usually results in another list of obscure literary works over the heads of people who read middle-brow genre fiction.)

     Most of the responses to the above literary questions are not only unbearably pretentious, the interviewees, I guess to portray themselves as shockingly original and fascinating (the kind of person the other interviewees would invite to a dinner party) try to sound as eccentric as your typical literary genius.

     Novelist John Green, when asked in the October 13, 2019 edition of the Book Review what book might people be surprised to find on his shelves, answered: "I have a large collection of books about conjoined twins. I used to be the conjoined twins reviewer for Booklist Magazine, which is a busier reviewing beat than one would expect. My favorite novel about conjoined twins (or formerly conjoined twins) are Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson, and God's Fool," by Mark Slouka."

     Really? a large collection of novels in the conjoined twins genre? The next time I'm in a Barnes & Noble I'm going to check out the conjoined twins section to see what I've been missing.

Puffed Up "Literary" Novels

The "literary" novel runs the risk of what the French call remplissage, or "literary padding," to fill up pages. There's almost nothing more boring that I can think of than seeing a novelist pad out an under-imagined work that has a slim premise, no more complexity than a child's primer, Styrofoam people who are sociological problems masquerading as characters, not much of a story, is thin in imagery and thought, and contains no artistic or intellectual surprises. Oh, wait, there is something more boring: spending three hundred or four hundred pages with characters you don't enjoy hanging out with and for whom you couldn't care less about "what happens next" to them.

Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling, 2016

The Secret Novelist

     You know the last thing in the world people want to hear from you, the very last thing they're interested in? The fact that you always wanted to write, that you cherish dreams of being a writer, that you wrote something and got rejected once, that you believe you have it in you--if only people around you would give you a chance--to write a very credible, if not great, American novel. They also don't want to hear that if you did start to write, there would be some things you just couldn't write about.

     Your parents don't want to hear it: They want you to grow up to be a descent person, find a way to make a good living, and not disgrace the family. Your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse will put up with this writer-talk for weeks, months, or even years, but none of them will love you for it.Your kids, believe me, are not going to like the idea of your writing.

     So don't tell them. Don't tell them anything about it. Especially when you're thinking about beginning. Keep it to yourself. Be discreet. Be secretive. There's time enough--all the time in the world--to let them in on the secret, to let them know who and what you really are.

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life, 2002

Novelists Versus Journalists

The dominant and most deep-dyed trait of the journalist is his timorousness [timidity]. Where the novelist fearlessly plunges into the water of self-exposure, the journalist stands trembling on the shore in his beach robe. Not for him the strenuous athleticism--which is the novelist's daily task--of laying out his deepest griefs and shames before the world. The journalist confines himself to the clean, gentlemanly work of exposing the griefs and shames of others.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Thursday, April 14, 2022

LAPD Chief William H. Parker (1905-1966)

Appointed Chief of the Los Angeles Police in 1950, William Parker quickly imposed an authoritarian management style that resembled J. Edgar Hoover's leadership of the FBI. He cleaned up the notoriously corrupt department and developed a highly militaristic style of policing that emphasized aggressive crime-fighting. He portrayed the police as the thin blue line between civilization and chaos. Also like Hoover, he was a master of public relations and helped create the popular television show Dragnet, which projected a national image of the Los Angeles police as relentlessly efficient. Sergeant Joe Friday's favorite line, "Just the facts, ma'am," became a popular cliche. [Parker was chief of police for 16 years.]

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, 1998

The Early History of Fingerprints

     The ancient Chinese had recognized the potential of fingerprints, sealing their documents with thumbprints by way of a "signature." An English naturalist, Thomas Bewick, used wood-block engravings of his own fingerprints as an imprint on the books he published. In the early nineteenth century, a Czech physiologist called Purkinje set out a description of the nature of fingerprints and classified various kinds. But it wasn't until 1880 that an expatriate Scottish physician, Dr. Henry Faulds, living in Japan, first recognized their forensic potential, suggesting that fingerprints found at the scene of a crime could lead to the conclusive identification of the culprit.

     Fauld's idea led to the publication in 1892 of the scientific exploration of fingerprints by Dr. Francis Galton. This in turn prompted Englishman Edward Henry and an Argentinian researcher Juan Vucetich to develop more sophisticated classification systems for fingerprints. [They were grouped into arches, loops and whorls. In 1901, Scotland Yard began collecting fingerprints from arrestees. In 1906, the St. Louis Police Department became the first U.S. law enforcement agency to start a fingerprint bureau. Many American police agencies didn't adopt fingerprinting until the 1920s.] 
Roger Wilkes, ed, The Mammoth Book of Murder & Science, 2000

America's First Bomb Murder Case

The earliest case which I have found of the use of a bomb to commit murder was in 1854, when William Arrison sent one to the head of an asylum where he had been confined.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Nonfiction Can be Unbelievable

As a tiny example of the strangeness of real life, the first name of the chief of police of Orlando, Florida is Orlando. If you put that in a novel you would be laughed at. But in nonfiction it's okay because it is true.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Fatal Lie: A Police Ruse Gone Wrong

Note: The reportage upon which this account is based did not include the names of the parties involved. Names have been assigned for clarity.

     On May 25, 2018, in Seattle, Washington, Tom Nelson, a former drug addict trying to turn his life around was involved in a fender-bender traffic accident where no one was injured. Before police arrived Mr. Nelson left the scene of the mishap.

     The accident investigator acquired an address for Mr. Nelson through his vehicle registration information. Since the address was on the other side of the city, the traffic investigator called the precinct covering that area and asked that someone from that station go to the listed address and obtain a statement from Mr. Nelson.

     Later that day, Seattle police officers Robert Niles and John Rhodes showed up at the address in question and spoke to Mary Harris, the woman who lived there. She informed the officers that she had allowed Tom Nelson to register his car at her address because he did not have a permanent place of residence. She said that Mr. Nelson was at the moment staying at a friend's house, however, she did not know that address.

     Earlier, on their way to Mary Harris's house, Officer Niles had told his partner that in order to get Tom Nelson's cooperation he planned to employ what he referred to as a ruse--he would tell him that a woman had been seriously injured in the accident and wasn't supposed to live. "It's a lie," Officer Niles said, "but it's fun."

     Just before Officer Niles asked Mary Harris for Tom Nelson's phone number he told her that Mr. Nelson was a suspect in a hit-and-run case involving a woman who had been seriously injured and was not expected to live. 

     After the police officers left her house, Mary Harris tracked down Tom Nelson and informed him of what she had just learned from the Seattle police officer. He became extremely distraught over the news. Perhaps he had struck a pedestrian without him knowing it. Mary Harris suggested he hire an attorney.

     Tom Nelson, in an effort to find out more about the seriously injured woman, searched the Internet but came up with nothing. Maybe for some reason the police were intentionally withholding this information. This just added to his worry about the woman, his angst over having caused her suffering, and what might happen to him as a result.

   A few days after the accident, Tom Nelson went to a friend's house and in his garage left a bag containing his possessions and some cash. He also left a note that read: "If you don't see me, keep this stuff."

     On June 3, 2018, a week after the minor traffic accident, the man whose house Tom Nelson was living in, went to his room and found him dead. He had committed suicide. (The reportage of his death did not include how he had killed himself.)

     After the suicide, Mary Harris and Tom's friend decided to conduct their own inquiry into the traffic accident. While the police were not particularly cooperative, Mary Harris and her investigative partner were able to determine that no one had been injured in the fender-bender. Seattle police officer Robert Niles had lied to her about that, and she had passed it on to Mr. Nelson. And now he was dead.

     On March 12, 2019, Mary Harris filed a formal complaint against Officer Robert Niles with the watchdog group, Office of Police Accountability (OPA). Investigators with the OPA questioned officer Niles and Officer Rhodes who gave different accounts of their encounter with Mary Harris. Officer Niles said that had he not employed the ruse Mary Harris would not have cooperated with their inquiry into Tom Nelson's whereabouts. Officer Rhodes gave a different story. According to his account, Mary Harris would have cooperated fully without the lie.

     Following the OPA inquiry, the watchdog group recommended that Officer Robert Niles be disciplined for the inappropriate use of a ruse in the course of an investigation. (Officers are only authorized to lie in the course of criminal interrogations of people suspected of serious crimes.)

     In November 2019, Seattle Police Officer Robert Niles was placed on unpaid administrative leave for six days.

The Master Detective

A master detective is the product of a solid formal education; deep and extended training; prolonged on-the-job monitoring by highly competent investigators; and several years of relevant investigative experience. 

The "Lock-'em-Up" Era

     "Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people." James Q. Wilson's blunt declaration in 1975 captured perfectly the hard-line anticrime mood that was to dominate the country for the next twenty years. Persistent high rates of violent crime, public hysteria over drugs, and worsening race relations fostered a "lock-'em-up" attitude toward criminals. The result was a spectacular increase in the number of prisoners, from 240,593 in 1975 to 1 million by January 1996. The incarceration rate of 330 per 100,000 population was eight times higher than that of many western European countries and was rivaled only by the rates in South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

     Nothing better illustrated the "lock-'em-up" attitude than the fate of Gary Fannon, sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole at age 18 for possessing 650 grams of cocaine. The draconic Michigan drug law under which he was sentenced was typical of those in many states. There was also the case of Jerry Williams the so-called "pizza thief." One of the first persons convicted under a 1994 California "three strikes and you're out" law, he was sentenced to twenty-five years to life for stealing three slices of pizza. [We are now living in the "let-'m out" era.]

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition, 1998

Dressing For Court

Many defendants dress casually, even for felony trials. The collared shirt is a rarity. Most wear what they might don to watch Saturday morning cartoons, like a shirt that says Lucky Charms or flip-flops and shorts. Or an oversized football jersey and their good jeans, the ones with the embroidered dragon on the rear pockets. Defendants will show up for trial on a marijuana sales case wearing a shirt with a marijuana leaf design--not on a dare, or as some kind of political statement, but because they're so oblivious that they put the shirt on and don't think anything of it.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Murder Fiction

It's strange when you think about it. There are hundreds and hundreds of murders in books and television. [For example, the cable TV network Oxygen produces nothing but true crime.] It would be hard for narrative fiction to survive without them. And yet there are almost none in real life, unless you live in the wrong area. Why is it we have such a need for murder mystery? And what is it that attracts us? Is it the crime or the solution? Do we have some primal need of bloodshed because our own lives are so safe, so comfortable?

Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders, 2004

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Charles Manson: Homicidal Sociopath

I don't wanna take my time going to work, I got a motorcycle and a sleeping bag and ten or fifteen girls. What the hell I wanna go off to work for? Work for what? Money? I got all the money in the world. I'm the king, man. I run the underworld. I decide who does what and where they do it at. What am I gonna run around like some teeny bobber somewhere for someone else's money. I roll the nickels. The game is mine. I deal the cards.

Charles Manson, 1970

Fake Humans

[In dealing with a psychopath] we are not dealing with a complete man at all but with something that suggests a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly. This smoothly operating psychic apparatus not only reproduces consistent specimens of good human reasoning but also appropriates simulations of normal human emotions in response to nearly all the varied stimuli of life. So perfect is this reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him can point out in scientific or objective terms why he is not real. And yet one knows or feels he knows that reality, in the sense of full, healthy experiencing of life, is not here.

Dr. Hervey Cleckley, The Mask of Sanity, 1941

Transfer Evidence

We had a guy in the lab at the FBI who'd always send his teenage daughter out on dates wearing a big fuzzy acrylic sweater. He knew the sweater would transfer like crazy, and if her date brought her home later with a bunch of sweater fibers on him, he and the date were going to have a serious talk.

Max Houck, former FBI trace analyst in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

The Insecure Novelist

Insecure novelists want to show off their vocabulary out of fear of sounding ignorant. If I don't use obscure words, they seem to think, how will readers know that I have a college degree? If I use simple words, won't people think I'm a simpleton? Such attitudes make for deadly writing.

Ralph Keyes, Courage to Write, 1995 

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Karl Karlsen Murder Case

     On January 1, 1999, when firefighters in the north central California town of Murphys arrived at Karl Karlsen's one-story house, the dwelling was already engulfed in flames. The fire had gotten so intense it had blown out the windows. While Karlsen's three young children were safe, his 31-year-old wife Christina did not make it out of the inferno.

     Questioned about the fast-developing house fire, Karl Karlsen told fire officials and the police that when it started he had been in the garage. He managed, he said, to pull his children out of the burning structure though their bedroom windows but had not been able to save his wife.

     An arson investigator looking into the cause and origin of the blaze, after finding what he interpreted as separate areas of deep charring on the floor ( burn patterns suggesting multiple points of origin), suspected that the Karlsen fire had been set. (I don't know if the cause and origin investigator found traces of accelerants to back up his incendiary fire suspicions or if Christina Karlsen had been autopsied to determine if she had been alive at the time of the fire.) The fire investigator, based on the fact there was no physical evidence consistent with the children having been exposed to smoke and soot didn't believe the youngsters had been in the house when the fire started. (I don't know if the fire investigator interviewed the children.)

     The speed and intensity of the fire, the multiple points of origin, the condition of the children, and the fact a vehicle Karl Karlsen owned had gone up in flames a year earlier, pointed to a possible arson-murder case. (Almost all serious car fires are incendiary, burned for the insurance money.) Notwithstanding suspicions of arson, the cause of the fatal house fire went into the books as undetermined. While Christina Karlsen's father, Art Alexander, suspected foul play, no charges were filed in connection with his daughter's death.

     Shortly after the blaze that took his wife's life, Karl and his children moved to Seneca County, New York where he used his $200,000 fire insurance payout to buy a farm near Varick, a small town 55 miles southwest of Syracuse in the Finger Lakes region of the state.

     After moving to New York State Karl married his second wife Cindy who helped him run the farm. On November 20, 2008, Karl Karlsen's 23-year-old son Levi was in his father's garage working on a pickup truck. A graduate of the Romulus Area High School, Levi, the father of two girls, was employed as a machine operator at a glass manufacturing company in nearby Geneva. At eight o'clock that evening, Cindy Karlsen called 911 to report an accident involving Karl's son Levi. In the Karlsen garage on the floor near the truck emergency technicians found Levi. He was dead.

     Karl Karlsen told deputies from the Seneca County Sheriff's Office that when he and Cindy left the farm to attend a family event that afternoon at four, Levi had been working beneath the jacked-up truck. When Karl returned to the garage about four hours later he found that the vehicle had toppled off the jack. The father lifted the pickup off his son with the jack and pulled his body out from under the truck. Levi Karlsen was pronounced dead on arrival at the Geneva General Hospital.

     The Seneca County Coroner's Office classified the manner of Levi Karlsen's death as accidental. As a result there was no criminal investigation into his sudden death. (I presume Levi's body was not autopsied, and do not know if officers took photographs of the death scene. Since the body had been moved before the arrival of the deputies such photographs may not have been of much use.)

     In March 2012, more than three years after Levi Karlsen's sudden and violent death, homicide investigators with the Seneca County Sheriff's Office and the New York State Police Violent Crime Investigation Unit became interested in the case. The piece of information that opened the criminal inquiry involved Karl Karlsen's purchase of a $700,000 life insurance policy on his son just days before the young man's demise. According to that policy Karl Karlsen was the sole beneficiary.

     Three and a half years after Karl Karlsen received the life insurance money from his son's death he was in financial trouble. Police arrested him in June 2012 on the charge of passing a pair of bad checks in Seneca Falls, New York. The bogus checks totaled $685.30.  

     On November 24, 2012, four years after Levi Karlsen died in his father's garage, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porch charged Karl Karlsen with second-degree murder. Based on an eight-month homicide investigation conducted by state and county officers, the prosecutor believed the father had intentionally caused the truck to fall on his son. With Livi pinned beneath the vehicle, Karl took Cindy to the family event. Upon his return to the farm four hours later, the suspect "discovered" his son lying under the fallen vehicle. Karl asked his second wife to call 911. Investigators and the district attorney believed that the suspect, when he took out the life insurance on his son, planned to murder him.

     In September 2013, at a pretrial hearing on the second-degree murder charge related to Levi Karlsen's death, the defendant's second wife Cindy (she was in the process of divorcing him) shed new light on the homicide investigation. In early November 2012, after learning that Karl had invested part of his son's $700,000 insurance payout to purchase a $1.2 million policy on her life, she began cooperating with Seneca County investigators.

     Cindy Karlsen agreed to wear a wire and meet her estranged husband in a crowded restaurant in hopes of getting him to admit that he had killed his son. She took the stand at the hearing and testified that "I led him to believe our marriage had a chance if he came clean. I told him he could trust me."

     At the restaurant, Karl told Cindy that he had removed the truck's front tires and raised the vehicle on a single jack before asking his son to repair the brake and transmission lines. "It was so wobbly," he said.

     "Tell the truth," Cindy replied.

     "It was never meant to be. It was never planned from day one to ever go that way," Karl said.

     A week following the audio-recorded conversation, investigators with the Seneca County Sheriff's Office interrogated the suspect for almost ten hours during which time Karlsen denied killing Levi 75 times. Eventually, however, Karlsen signed a statement in which he acknowledged that he had knocked the truck off its jack and walked away. But in the videotaped interrogation, Karlsen insisted that he had not intentionally caused the truck to fall on his son. He told detectives that because he had been taking pain pills for various ailments, his memory of the incident was fuzzy. "In some ways," he said, "it's a blank."

     Immediately following the marathon interrogation, detectives took Karlsen into custody.

     On November 7, 2013, the day before his trial, Karlsen confessed to crushing his son to death for the insurance money. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Six weeks later, Seneca Court Judge Dennis Bender, before sentencing Karlsen to 15 years to life, told him he wasn't "fully human."