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Friday, April 29, 2016

Judges Who Kept Rapists Out of Prison

Judge G. Todd Baugh and Rapist Stacey Rambold

     In August 2013, after a jury in Billings, Montana found a 49-year-old high school teacher named Stacey Rambold guilty of having consensual sex with a 14-year-old student, Yellowstone County Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced the defendant to thirty days in jail plus three years probation. The court ordered Rambold to register as a sex offender.

     Rambold's distraught victim, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide during his rape trial.

     According to Judge Baugh, even though the victim was 35 years younger than her rapist, Moralez was "older than her chronological age." The judge considered this a major mitigating factor in the case.

     On the day after his extremely unpopular sentencing of the former teacher, Judge Baugh, in speaking to reporters baffled by his sentence, stood by his ruling. "Obviously," he said, "a 14-year-old can't consent [to sex with an adult]. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape."

     Stacey Rambold served his thirty days behind bars and walked free. Having avoided years in prison for ruining a young girl's life, he was one lucky rapist. The judge later apologized for his "chronological age" comments, and due to the public uproar over his sentencing of the teacher, declined to run for his fifth term in office.

Judge Marie Silveira and Rapist Timothy L. Lyman

     On December 27, 2012, 44-year-old soccer coach Timothy Lyman hosted a party for his players at his Oakdale, California house. The coach provided his young party-goers with vodka and rum. One of his guests, a 16-year-old girl, after having consensual sex with a boy her age in one of Lyman's bedrooms, passed out from the effects of alcohol. She awoke to find her coach performing oral sex on her.

     On November 12, 2013, after Timothy Lyman pleaded no contest to rape, Stanislaus County Judge Marie Silveira sentenced the coach to three years probation. Lyman was also ordered to sign up as a sex offender. The prosecutor and members of the victim's family were shocked and outraged by the judge's light sentence.

     In speaking to reporters after Lyman's sentencing, the victim's father said, "Whoever would do this to a 16-year-old girl is just sick. This has devastated my family. There have been lots of sleepless nights for my daughter and sleepless nights for myself. I'm just sick."

Judge James Woodroof and Rapist Austin Smith Clem

     In 2007, 19-year-old Austin Smith Clem had, on two occasions, forcible sex with 14-year-old Courtney Andrews. The rapes took place in Athens, Alabama. Clem swore the girl to secrecy. Moreover, if she told anyone, he threatened to harm her and her parents.

     Four years later, at age 23, Clem forcibly raped Andrews who was then eighteen. This time she asked a friend to report the assault to her parents.

     In September 2013, the Limestone County jury, after deliberating just two hours, found Austin Smith Clem guilty of two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape. On November 13, 2013, Judge James Woodroof sentenced the convicted rapist to a non-custody correctional program designed to make offenders "likely to maintain a productive and law abiding life as a result of accountability, guidance, and direction to services needed."

     Clem, after completing the two year program for "nonviolent, low-level offenders," was placed on probation for three years. He also paid a $2,381 fine, and register as a sex offender.

     In response to Judge Woodroof's sentence, Courtney Andrews told reporters that she was "livid" and afraid for her family. The rape victim's father said this: "We thought justice was finally being served, and although the system was very slow, it was not totally broken. We were forced to hear a judge hand down a light sentence." 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Forensic Document Examination

     Forensic document examination, also referred to as questioned document analysis, is a branch of forensic science that concerns itself with the identification of handwriting, ink, typewriting, computer printing, and various writing instruments. Ninety percent of a document examiner's work has to do with the comparison of known handwriting samples with questioned writing such as bank robbery notes, ransom documents, mail bomb package addresses, threatening letters, handwritten suicide notes, and disputed signatures in wills, insurance policies and contracts.

     It's the forensic document examiner's job to determine if the questioned handwriting is genuine or forged. This aspect of the science is based on the principle that a person's handwriting is unique and consistent.

     Forensic document examiners do not draw conclusions about a writer's personality from his handwriting. That is the function of graphology, a branch of psychology that is not hard science. Graphologists who also function as forensic document examiners are not members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and should not be qualified to testify in court as expert witnesses.

     Graphologists who do testify as expert witnesses belong to their own professional organization called the World Association of Document Examiners. Most judges have not learned the difference between these two sets of handwriting identification practitioners. Because of the graphologists, the dueling expert problem flourishes in this field of forensic science. Many critics of this branch of forensic science consider handwriting identification to be too subjective to be true science. The entire profession has been under attack for decades.

     Legitimate document examiners utilize chemistry, specialized photography, computer science, and microscopy in their work. A few specialize in the restoration of charred and burned documents. There are no schools for this kind of work. A document examiner's education and training is in the form of on-the-job experience in federal, state, county, and city crime laboratories. A few learn the trade in private crime labs and from examiners in private practice.

     Because documents and handwriting are common pieces of physical evidence in virtually every type of crime, criminal investigators rely heavily on this branch of forensic science. It is therefore important that the field maintains its scientific integrity.

   

     

     

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Brittany Norwood: Cold-Blooded Killer

     In some cases, when it comes to predicting who is capable of committing bloody, premeditated murder, you can't tell the book by its cover. This is particularly true in a murder committed in 2011 by a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Norwood.

     Norwood played high school soccer in Kent, her hometown outside of Seattle, Washington. She continued her career as an athelete at Stony Brook University on Long Island. At Stony Brook, her soccer teammates accused the 5 foot, 120 pound player of stealing cash from them. A member of the team reported the thefts to the coach who chose to ignore the allegations.

     In 2011, Norwood was working as a sales clerk at a downtown Bethesda, Maryland store called Lululemon Athletica where upper-middle class customers bought $98 yoga pants and $58 running shirts. Jayna Murray, a 30-year-old graduate student at John Hopkins University, worked in the store with Norwood. Although the two young women were not close friends, they worked well as a sales clerk team.

     At 9 P.M., March 11, 2011, the two Lululemon clerks closed the doors to the public, and began shutting down the shop for the night. Forty-five minutes later, pursuant to one of the chain's anti-employee theft measures, Jayna and Brittany checked each other's handbags for unpurchased store merchandise. This led to Jayna's discovery of a pair of yoga pants in Brittany's purse. As they walked out the door, Jayna told her fellow employee that she would have to report the attempted theft to the store manager.

     On her walk to the Metro station, Brittany, as a ruse to get Jayna back into the store where she could talk her out of reporting the incident, phoned Jayna to tell her that she had left her wallet in the shop. Since Jayna possessed the key to the store, the two clerks headed back to Lululemon.

     As soon as Brittany and Jayna re-entered the store at 10:05, Norwood made her pitch. But it was to no avail, Jayna had already called the store manager. There was nothing she could do. This infuriated Norwood, and led to a shouting match overheard by employees of a nearby Apple store. The screaming and shouting turned violent when Norwood picked up a heavy metal rod used to support a mannequin and bludgeoned Jayna in the back of the head, crushing her skull. As Jayna staggered toward the store's rear exit, Norwood beat her with a hammer, then picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed her.

     Norwood's assault lasted six minutes, and produced, on the dying victim, 332 wounds which included a severed spinal cord and 83 defensive injuries.

     In an effort to make the murder look like a violent store invasion, Brittany Norwood tossed mops, brooms, and chairs around the shop, used a pair size 12 Reebok sneakers to track bloody shoe prints about the crime scene, and inflicted minor injuries on herself. She then bound her own hands and feet with pieces of rope, and waited overnight on the restroom floor. The next morning, the store manager found Jayna Murray dead in the back hallway, and Brittany Norwood in the bathroom tied up and moaning.

     On the morning after the murder, from her hospital bed, Norwood told detectives that two intruders in ski-masks had attacked her, and killed Jayna. According to Norwood, one of the attackers, a white man making racial slurs (Norwood is black), threatened to cut her throat if she resisted. "It was my fault because I left my wallet," she said.

     From the beginning, detectives had problems fitting the crime scene evidence to Norwood's story. Six days after the crime, the prosecutor charged Norwood with first-degree murder. Under Maryland law, first-degree, premeditated murder carried a sentence of life without parole. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, involved a sentence of 30 years maximum with a chance of parole after 15 years. Although the defendent didn't make a full confession, she did not maintain her innocence. Her attorney's defense consisted of the argument that the killing was a spontaneous homicide, or second-degree murder.

     Norwood's trial, held in the Montgomery County court, got underway in November 2011, and lasted 6 days. The defense attorney didn't put on a single witness, relying instead on his closing statement to the jury. His client was not, he told jurors, "in a right state of mind" when she attacted the victim. The murder, he said, "was the product of an explosion."

     The jury didn't buy the defense theory of the case, and after deliberating less than an hour, returned with their verdict: they found Norwood guilty of  first-degree murder. This meant the sobbing defendant would spend the rest of her life behind bars, with no hope of parole.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Michael Philpott Arson-Murder Case

     Michael Philpott of Derby, England, a city of 250,000 in the central part of the country, was an eccentric, violent man who domineered and abused his women. He was also lazy, and had a taste for group sex. In December 1978, the 21-year-old, angry that his 17-year-old girlfriend planned to leave him, stabbed her 27 times. When Kim Hill's mother tried to intervene, Philpott thrust the knife into her 11 times. Prior to these attacks, Philpott had punched and slapped Kim Hill, and on one occasion had broken several of her fingers.

     After the jury found Philpott guilty of two counts of attempted murder, the judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. The man who had tried to kill two women, served only three years and two months of his sentence. In 1991, another judge sentenced Philpott to probation after he pleaded guilty to head-butting another man. Several years after that, Philpott pleaded guilty to a road-rage related assault.

     The aging control-freak/hippie became a minor TV celebrity in England after appearing on the "Jeremy Kyle Show." A year later the volatile eccentric was featured in a documentary on English television.

     In 2011, the 55-year-old Philpott was living with his wife, his girlfriend, and eleven children in a 3-bedroom,  two-story house in Derby. The unemployed oddball who rarely bathed had fathered 17 children with five women. Four of the children living in the house had been produced by Philpott with his live-in mistress, Lisa Willis. (Another man was responsible for Willis' fifth child.) The remaining six children belonged to Philpott and his 45-year-old wife, Mairead.

     On February 11, 2012, Lisa Willis, who had been under Philpott's thumb since she was 17, made her escape. She told Philpott that she and her kids were going swimming. The six of them left the house and didn't return. Three days later, when the 29-year-old ex-mistress came back to the house to collect clothing and other items, Philpott got physical. The police came and kept the peace while she gathered her belongings and left.

     Philpott's relationship with Willis deteriorated further after she sued for custody of their four children. On May 1, 2012, he filed a false police report claiming that she had threatened his life. The revenge-seeking former lover began telling his friends that he, his wife, and one of Mairead's regular sexual partners, Paul Mosley, had concocted a plan that would get his children back. The scheme was this: they would start a small fire in the house, save the six children, then blame the arson and attempted mass murder on Lisa Willis. The plan was not only harebrained, it was dangerous.

     At 12:45 in the morning of May 11, 2012, as the children--five boys and a girl between the ages 5 and 13--slept in a bedroom on the second floor, Philpott ignited a puddle of gasoline in the hallway outside the bedroom. Outside, he climbed a ladder to the bedroom window, but couldn't smash a hole large enough to enter the house and save the children. In a state of panic, he dialed 999 (England's 911) and screamed, "I can't get in!"

     By the time the children were removed from the burning house, five of them were dead. The sixth child died a few days later in the hospital.

     The police, after Philpott accused Lisa Willis of setting the fire, took her into custody. They released her shortly thereafter when it became obvious she had nothing to do with the arson. Investigators quickly figured out who had started the fire and why.

      Philpott and his wife moved out of their fire-damaged house and into a motel. Police bugged their motel room, and in one of the electronically intercepted conversations, Philpott told his wife to "Make sure you stick to the story."

     The Michael Philpott, Mairead Philpott, and Paul Mosley manslaughter trial got underway in February 2013. Following the eight-week trial, the jury, on April 2, found all three defendants guilty as charged. The next day, at the sentence mitigation hearing, Michael Philpott's attorney, Anthony Orchard, asked the judge for the minimum sentence. The barrister said, "Despite Mr. Philpott's faults he was a very good father and loved those children. All the witnesses, even Lisa Willis, agree on this. There is no evidence at any stage that he deliberately harmed any of them." (He did, however, in an extremely reckless manner, use his children as pawns in a plot to frame his ex-mistress of a serious crime. I don't believe that qualifies him as a "very good father." That makes him, in my view, a mass murderer. In the United States these defendants would have been tried under the felony-murder doctrine, a more serious offense than manslaughter.)

     On April 4, 2013, Mrs. Justice Thirlwall of the Nottingham Crown Court, sentenced Michael Philpott to life with a minimum term of 15 years in prison. The judge said, "I have not the slightest doubt that you, Michael Philpott, were the driving force behind this shockingly dangerous enterprise."  Judge Thirlwall went on to describe this defendant as a "deliberately dangerous man," with "no moral compass."

     The judge sentenced Mairead Philpott and her lover Paul Mosley to 17 years in prison. I think these people, under the circumstances, got off light.

   

   

      

Monday, April 25, 2016

Melissa Townsend's 911 Call

      In March 2013, 27-year-old Melissa Townsend, a resident of Indian Harour Beach, a small community on southern Florida's Atlantic coast, called 911 with a less than urgent problem. Her young children were misbehaving. To the dispatcher, Townsend said, "I need a police officer to scare the shit out of my kids. They need to learn respect, and they need to learn that people in law enforcement have authority. They need to learn that lesson."

     The 911 dispatcher replied, "Okay. But we're not coming out to raise your kids for you."

     Ignoring the dispatcher's response, Townsend said, "They need to learn that. You know what I mean?"

     The dispatcher, who probably wasn't sure what was going on in this caller's mind, sent police officers to her house on the chance there was some kind of emergency. The officers rolled up to the dwelling to find the young mother intoxicated. Because Townsend was on probation, and not allowed to consume alcohol, the officers took her into custody for the probation violation. That's when all hell broke out.

     Ignoring her own advice to her kids about respecting law enforcement authority, Townsend resisted arrest, and in the process, kicked one of the officers in the groin.

     At the police lockup, Townsend, still out of control, repeatedly banged her head against the jail wall, and had to be taken to the hospital. She was charged with child neglect (being drunk) and battery of a police officer.

     What started out as a silly 911 call turned into something more serious. Townsend, for reasons that went beyond her intoxicated emergency call, eventually lost custody of her children. (I have not been able to determine the disposition of Townsend's probation violation and police assault cases. It would not be unreasonable to assume, however, that she ended up in prison.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had recieved about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know abut the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Helen Pearson's Stalker From Hell

     On October 21, 2013, 33-year-old Helen Pearson, a resident of Exeter, England, while walking in the rain from her flat to a physical fitness class at a nearby gym, was stabbed in the back by an attacker armed with a large pair of scissors. The man dragged Pearson through the entrance gate of St. Bartholomew Cemetery where he pinned her to the ground, punched her, and stabbed her in the face and lower jaw.

     When Sandra Robertson, a passing motorist, heard Pearson's screams, she jumped out of her vehicle and ran into the cemetery, a place known by the locals as the Catacombs, and pushed the assailant off the victim. That gave Pearson the chance to run out of the cemetery, and take refuge at the Fitness First Gym. The attacker fled the scene as well.

     Questioned at the gym by a police officer, the hysterical Pearson cried, "It was my stalker!" An ambulance crew rushed the victim to a nearby hospital. Her wounds, while serious, were not life-threatening.

     Helen Pearson's nightmare began in 2008 when her neighbor, an unemployed mechanic named Joseph Willis, asked if she would accompany him to a local pub to hear a band. She declined his invitation. Her rejection incurred Willis' wrath and turned him into an unrelenting stalker. During the next five years, Willis devoted himself to making Pearson's life a living hell.

     Early on, Willis made his intentions clear. He wrote Pearson a letter that read: "I want to see how you would cope if you were attacked….Would you fight back? Scream? Let the game begin." Willis' "game" included regularly pawing through her trash, visiting her Facebook page, disrupting her eating disorder support group (she suffered from obsessive compulsion disorder), harassing hang-up phone calls, depositing a dead cat on her doorstep, slashing her tires, and vandalizing her flat and her parents' home in Crediton. Willis also continued to send her poison letters in which he called her a "lying evil girl," and warned her to "watch her back."

     On April 7, 2014, Willis' attempted murder trial got underway at the Crown Court in Exeter. Crown prosecutor Richard Crabb, in his opening statement to the jury, said, " The defendant was obsessed with Helen Pearson and consumed with hostility for reasons that may never become apparent. [Motive in cases like this is irrelevant.] Willis was consumed by hatred. He had done his best to make her life a misery and made clear threats against her in two letters."

     Helen Pearson took the stand and described to the jury how the 49-year-old defendant had forced her and her family to live in fear. Her father installed security grilles on her windows and set up a security camera at his house in Crediton. She changed cellphones every month and lived in constant fear of being physically attacked. Pearson also kept a diary in which she documented more than 100 incidents of harassment and vandalism.

     In describing the October 21, 2013 attempted murder, Pearson said, "He came from behind. I did not hear him because it was raining heavily and I had my umbrella up. The first thing I knew was when I was stabbed in the back. I turned and saw it was Joe. I saw his eyes and he looked absolutely furious. The first blow pushed me to the ground, and he kicked me and was dragging me along. It was obvious he was planning to get me into the Catacombs. That was where I was going to end. I tried to get free. I felt another kick and stab from behind. I thought this is going on until I am completely dead."

     Continuing with her account of the vicious attack, Pearson said, "I got my phone and was able to dial two nines but not the third. He got the phone away from me. He was deranged and so evil. He knew full well what he was doing and he was determined I was going to be dead. He was trying to drag me farther and farther from the cemetery entrance gates. I thought this is where he is going to get rid of the body. I thought I would be found and my mum and dad would not know what happened. [I would imagine that Mr. Pearson would have known exactly what had happened to his daughter, and who was responsible.]

     "I had six stab wounds in total in my back. I remember seeing the scissors and turning my head and seeing them come down….I was struggling and screaming and pleading. I remember saying, 'Please, Joe. No!' He never spoke to me throughout the whole thing."

     The victim-witness told the jury about her father's home security camera and her window bars. Because the police were useless and apparently uninterested in protecting this woman, the family hired a private detective in an effort to catch the stalker in the act. (They should have hired a hit man--just kidding--I think.) During Pearson's prolonged ordeal, she filed 125 complaints with the Devon and Cornwall Police Departments.

     On April 15, 2014, the jury found Joseph Willis guilty of attempted murder. Outside the Exeter court house following the verdict, Helen Pearson, in speaking to a reporter with the BBC, said, "Every night you go to bed and you don't know what is going to happen and you constantly live in fear. You see that there's no way the stalking is ever gong to end." Pearson, feeling hopeless and vulnerable, said she had thought many times about ending her misery by killing herself.

     Helen Pearson's father, Bernard Pearson, said this to the BBC: "Nobody with the police could see that the level of violence was rising, rising and rising." Mr. Pearson spoke of the family's intention of filing a formal complaint against the law enforcement agencies that failed to protect his daughter against the obsessed degenerate who had obviously intended at some point to murder her.

     The Exeter Crown Court judge, in appreciation of Sandra Robertson's heroic life saving intervention on Helen Pearson's behalf, granted her a 500 pound reward. Regarding the future of the convicted stalker and attempted murderer, the judge said Mr. Willis could anticipate a "lengthy term of imprisonment."

     In May 2014, Bernard Pearson filed a 48-page complaint against the Devon and Cornwall Police Departments. To a BBC reporter he said, "They failed us terribly. The attacks were getting worse and worse and the police failed to realize this and act."

     On July 17, 2014, the judge sentenced Willis to life in prison, stipulating that the deadly stalker had to serve at least 13 years of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

     Helen Pearson, in speaking to reporters after the sentencing hearing, once again accused the local police of failing to protect her in the face of obvious threats against her life.

     On September 2, 2014, the convicted stalker's attorney filed an appeal to have his client's life sentence reduced. In response to this, Willis' victim said: "I'm not going to let [the appeal] worry me. Willis spent five years making my life a misery. Now he's trying to do it again from behind bars, but he won't succeed."

     An agency in England called The Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation to determine why this woman's plight had been ignored by the Devon and Cornwall Police Departments.

     On March 3, 2015, appellate judges at the Royal Courts of Justice rejected Joseph Willis' sentencing appeal.

Friday, April 22, 2016

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

     When Clint Eastwood's film, "J. Edgar," came out in 2011 my wife and I went to see it. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film interested me because of its emphasis on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and the fact I was a street agent during Hoover's last six years in office (1966-1972). The film's version of the Lindbergh case overplayed the FBI's role in the crime scene investigation near Hopewell, New Jersey and the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann two and a half years later in Flemington, New Jersey. Although dotted with other factual errors that are minor, the treatment of the 1932 abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby, was, on the whole, complete. As for J. Edgar Hoover himself, except for scenes with his dominating mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man who loved him (Arnie Hammer), the film also caught the flavor and essence of Hoover's 48-year career as director of the FBI and America's most famous and powerful lawman.  

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

     Pursuant to Hoover's impossible standards of performance and agent comportment, every field agent, every day, couldn't help violate one or two of the director's thousands of rules and regulations. Agents who got caught breaking these rules, rules continuously promulgated by Hoover and his palace guards. paid the price in the form of disciplinary transfers to undesirable field offices. For example, no one wanted to work at the field division headquarters in Billings, Montana. More than a few bureau rules violators were fired "with prejudice." Nobody knew exactly what "with prejudice" meant except that it was not good. When agents of the Hoover era tell war stories, their tales are usually not about their cases. Most likely they feature administrative horror stories.

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

     I had been a new agent just a few days when I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. In those days, before the magnificant FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, new agents attended seven weeks of classwork in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. and seven weeks of firearms training on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.  Every day in D.C., our FBI instructors came into the classroom armed with horror stories designed to instill fear of the director. To a man, these instructors had that "I'm-dead-but-still-walking persona". One of them, a SOG (Seat of Government) agent from the D.C. administrative headquarters, a man who conjured up the image of a demented butcher, kept reminding the class that to survive in Mr. Hoover's FBI one had to have balls made of brass. I took this to mean we were in for a lot of low blows.

     New agents were reminded over and over again that the worse thing they could do was embarrass the bureau. Blowing an investigation was one thing, but embarrassing the bureau was serious. By bureau, the instructors meant J. Edgar Hoover. The director did not forget, did not forgive, and took everything personally. Every infraction--a missed bureaucratic deadline, putting a scratch on a bureau car, not calling the office every two hours when not at work or at home--constituted a personal assault on Hoover's good name. It was simply un-American to embarrass the director of the FBI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     When I left the bureau it felt like I had escaped from prison. The only aspect of the job I really missed involved working with first-rate people. One of Hoover's greatest sins was the way he abused his personnel. He recruited the best then treated them like dirt. From a street agent's perspective, that is Mr. Hoover's legacy.        

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dareka Brooks: The House-Call Hooker Robbery Case

     On May 1, 2013, a home-alone 14-year-old in Prospect Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, decided to avail himself of the services of a prostitute. (The kid must have been watching that old Tom Cruise movie.) Since he wasn't old enough to drive, the hooker would have to come to him. Through a website designed for sexual liasons, the adventurous youngster arranged to have  23-year-old Dareka Brooks, a prostitute from Milwaukee, come to his house.

     The moment the hooker strolled into the suburban home, she took charge. She ordered the excited kid to go into his bedroom and take off his pants. As the hapless kid sat on his bed anticipating the real-life version of his wildest fantasies, the whore walked into the room and introduced him to the reality of her world. She sprayed his face with pepper juice, grabbed his iPad and piggy bank, and got the hell out of there. This was not what the boy had expected.

     The stunned, ripped-off underage John could have avoided the wrath of his parents by lying about his lost iPad and piggy bank. Instead, he called the police with a description of the prostitute and her car.

     A detective "pinged" the victim's iPad after Brooks turned it on. This allowed the investigator to track the hooker to a motel in Elk Grove Village ten miles from Prospect Heights. Officers arrested Brooks at the motel where they recovered the kid's iPad and his piggy bank.

     After being charged with armed robbery, a judge ordered Dareka Brooks held on $10,000 bond.

      On June 17, 2014, in exchange for her guilty plea, the judge sentenced Dareka Brooks to five years in prison. Robbery in Illinois carries a maximum sentence of thirty years. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Rob Morrison Domestic Abuse Case

     Spousal abuse is a serial crime committed by angry husbands across America's socio-economic landscape. Wives are beaten in trailer parks, upscale apartment buildings, suburban tract homes, and in million-dollar houses in gated neighborhoods. Husbands seldom abuse their wives in public or in front of friends and relatives. Because it's largely a hidden crime, no one knows how many wives are exposed to domestic violence.

     Every so often we are reminded of the domestic abuse problem when a well-known, successful man is arrested for hurting his wife. If she is a celebrity as well, it's a big news event. If the alleged perpetrator and his victim are both members of the news media, it's an even bigger story.

     The domestic violence arrest of a New York City anchorman married to a TV reporter was a reminder that even successful, high-profile women are vulnerable to spousal abuse.

     Former Marine and combat correspondent who covered the war in Afghanistan, Rob Morrison, in 1989, began anchoring NBC television's weekday morning show, "Today in New York." He and his wife Ashley, a reporter for CBS-TV, lived in an apartment on Manhattan's upper West Side. Between 2003 and 2009, Ashley, alleging spousal abuse, called the New York City Police Department seven times. While only one of these calls resulted in her husband's arrest (the files of this case were sealed), NYPD police reports paint Rob Morrison as a hard-drinking, verbally abusive bully with a taste for internet pornography.

     In 2009, the couple purchased a million-dollar house in the upscale, suburban town of Darien, Connecticut. Ashley worked as a correspondent on the CBS news show, "MoneyWatch." Rob left NBC that year to anchor, in New York City, a CBS program called "News at Noon." During his first year at CBS, Rob wrote a column for the Huffington Post about raising his son titled, "Daddy Diaries: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Anchorman."

     Around two in the morning on Sunday, February 17, 2013, officers with the Darien Police Department rolled up at the Morrison residence. Ashley Morrison's mother, Martha Risk, had called 911 from her home in Columbia, Indiana. The mother reported that her son-in-law, during an argument with her 110 pound daughter, had grabbed her by the throat. Rob Morrison, the subject of the long-distance complaint, told the responding officers to "get the hell out of my house."

     Rob Morrison's scratched and bleeding nose and swollen lip, and the red hand-marks on Ashley's neck, provided the Darien officers with enough physical evidence of domestic violence to support an arrest. According to the police report, as officers escorted Rob Morrison from the house in handcuffs, he said that if released from custody, he'd return to the dwelling and kill his wife. (Morrison denied making that threat.) Throughout his encounter with the police, Morrison remained belligerent.

     Later that Sunday, notwithstanding the alleged death threat against his wife, Morrison walked out of jail after posting a $100,000 bond. The next day he showed up for work at the TV station, and when asked about his nose and fat lip, Morrison didn't mention his arrest, or the domestic violence charges that had been filed against him. (When his arrest became news, the anchorman's superiors at CBS were not happy.)

     On Tuesday, February 29, 2013, in a Stamford, Connecticut court, Rob Morrison was formally charged with felony strangulation, second-degree threatening, and disorderly conduct. Judge Kenneth Povodator ordered the defendant out of the house in Darien, and pursuant to an order of protection, instructed him to stay 100 yards from his wife, except when they were at work. Judge Povodator, in referring to the Darien police report, said, "It not only reflects a serious incident, it reflects the likelihood of a serious history [of domestic violence]."

     In speaking to reporters after the hearing, Morrison blamed his problems on his wife's mother, the source of the 911 domestic disturbance call. He said, "Don't piss-off your mother-in-law is the moral of this story."
   
     On Wednesday, February 20, Rob Morrison announced that he had resigned from his $300,000-year-job at WCBS-TV. To reporters he said, "My family is my first and only priority right now, and I have informed CBS management that I need to put all of my time and energy into making sure that I do what's right for my wife and son....I did not choke my wife. I've never laid hands on my wife. I was just as surprised by that particular charge as probably everyone else."

     Had Morrison not resigned, he may have been suspended, or fired. Moreover, there were people who were not surprised by the domestic violence charges against the anchorman. One of those persons was Morrison's mother-in-law, Martha Risk who, on February 20, told a reporter with the New York Daily News that Rob Morrison had been abusing Ashley for ten years. She said, "You wonder when you are going to get another call, if it's going to be [from] the hospital. How bad is she hurt this time? You have such a horrible feeling in yourself....This has gone on for too long." Risk told the reporter that when her son-in-law called her early Sunday morning, he was "drunk as a skunk." The moment he hung up she called 911.

     In April 2014, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against Morrison following his completion of a domestic violence program. But in mid-June, less than two months after going through the program, Darien police arrested Morrison for domestic harassment. Within a period of three days he had allegedly called his estranged wife 121 times.

     Ashley Morrison told police officers she was afraid that if she caused her estranged husband to be arrested he would kill her. Fearing for her life, she and her son fled to Florida about the time officers took Mr. Morrison into custody.

     At Morrison's arraignment, the judge issued a more restrictive protection order, then set the suspect's bail at $50,000. Shortly thereafter, the ex-TV man posted bail and went home.

     In October 2014, Morrison pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of breach of peace. Judge Erika Tindill sentenced him to six months probation.

     To reporters after the plea hearing, the former television anchorman said he avoided going through a trial in order to move on with his life. "In my mind," he said, "this is a way to move forward."
     

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Corriann Cervantes Murder Case

     Jose Reyes and Corriann Cervantes, 17 and 15 respectively, attended the Clear Path alternative school in Clear Lake, Texas, a Greater Houston community in southeast Harris County. (Kids enrolled in alternative schools struggled as students in mainstream education systems. Some of these youngsters had learning disabilities, low I.Q.s, or personality disorders.)

     A passerby at four in the morning on Saturday February 8, 2014, noticed an open door at the El Camino Real apartment complex in Clear Lake. When the man entered the abandoned apartment he saw a half-nude woman with her head bashed in. The victim turned out to be Corriann Cervantes.

     At the murder scene, detectives determined that Cervantes had been bludgeoned to death with a toilet tank lid and an ashtray. According to a Harris County forensic pathologist, the victim had been raped before her assailant or assailants murdered her. On her abdomen someone had carved an upside-down cross. The killer or killers had placed various religious trinkets around her bloody corpse.

     The day following the gruesome discovery, police received a call from one of Jose Reyes' relatives who reported that the teenager admitted that he and a 16-year-old classmate named Victor Alas had raped and murdered the girl in the abandoned apartment.

     At the police station, Reyes told detectives that he and Atlas had taken Corriann Cervantes to the vacant apartment where they raped her. When she tried to leave, they beat her to death with the toilet tank lid and ashtray, then carved the cross into her body. They placed the religious items around her body. Reyes told his interrogators he sold his soul to the devil. He and his friend had raped, murdered, and mutilated the girl so the other boy "could sell his soul to the devil, too."

     Police officers booked Reyes into the Harris County Jail on the charge of capital murder. Because of his age he was not eligible for the death penalty. However, if convicted as a adult, he could be sentenced up to life in prison without parole.

     On Monday, February 10, 2014, police officers took 16-year-old Victor Alas into custody. Charged with capital murder as well, the prosecutor referred Alas to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Authority. If convicted as a juvenile offender, the kid faced a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.

    At his first court appearance, Jose Reyes was all smiles. He obviously enjoyed the media attention--a nobody who was suddenly a somebody. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     The Jose Reyes murder trial began on Monday December 8, 2014 in the Harris County Courthouse under District Judge Brook Thomas. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor John Jordan said the defendant, his accomplice Victor Alas, and Corriann Cervantes went to the vacant apartment that night after consuming alcohol and smoking marijuana at a friend's house. While the sex was initially consensual, the encounter degenerated into a brutal beating, repeated stabbings, torture, disfigurement, and murder.

     Reyes and Alas, according to prosecutor Jordan, gouged out Cervantes' eyes as she begged for her life. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy found pieces of porcelain embedded in her face. "What happened in that apartment," Jordan said, "was sadistic."

     Defense attorney Jerald Graber, in his address to the jurors, argued that his client should have been charged with a lesser form of criminal homicide than capital murder. Mr. Graber said the state could not prove that the defendant had committed an intentional homicide in the commission of an underlying felony such as kidnapping or sexual assault, the legal requirements of a capital murder conviction. (This was an absurd argument. The second Reyes and his friend kept Cervantes from leaving the apartment they committed the crime of kidnapping. Moreover, the consensual sex had quickly turned to rape.)

     On December 9, 2014, the second day of the trial, prosecutor Jordan put 19-year-old Miranda Leal on the stand. Leal was one of two people the defendant had bragged to about the Cervantes murder. According to the witness, Reyes told her he stabbed the victim while having sex with her. He said the Devil ordered him to do what he had done to the girl. While providing Leal details of the horrific crime, Reyes laughed and smiled as he talked about it.

     According to Miranda Leal, Reyes, in bragging about the murder, performed a freestyle rap about a threesome with a girl that led to torture and murder. To prove that he wasn't making any of this stuff up, Reyes showed Leal a cellphone photograph of himself, his friend Victor, and a girl having sex.

     Miranda Leal testified that the defendant revealed to her how he had choked, bludgeoned, then stabbed the victim in the face and torso with a screwdriver. When Cervantes tried to escape the attack he "clotheslined" her then hit her in the head with the porcelain toilet tank lid, breaking it in half. The witness said the defendant's story was so bizarre and sick she didn't believe it until she learned that Cervantes' body had been found in the vacant apartment.

      Miranda Leal was followed to the stand by Agapita Gonzales, the second person Reyes had confessed to. According to this witness, "he said somebody wanted his soul." Gonzales revealed that the defendant's account of his activities that night caused her to fear for her own life. At times during her testimony she broke into tears.

     On the third day of the Reyes murder trial, prosecutor Jordan introduced letters the defendant had written from the Harris County Jail in which he claimed the Devil watched him that night and directed his activities. Reyes had written, "He [the Devil] was standing there, watching me and Victor. It's all good. It's what the Devil asked for."

     After the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Graber did not put his client on the stand. In his closing remarks to the jury, the defense lawyer assured the jurors that finding the defendant guilty of a lesser homicide offense than capital murder would not mean that Corriann Cervantes was denied justice.

     On December 11, 2014, the jury, after deliberating just one hour, found the defendant guilty of capital murder, a crime that carried a mandatory life sentence without parole.

     Victor Alas went on trial, as an adult, in May 2015. On June 18, 2015, the Harris County, Texas jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder. Like Jose Reyes, Victor Alas will spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Forensic Pathology: Terry Garner's Strange and Mysterious Death

     Caution: If you're having bacon and eggs this morning, skip this blog.

     By all accounts, Terry Vance Garner, a farmer from Riverton, Oregon, a small town 140 miles southwest of Eugene, loved his hogs. While most adult pigs weigh between 250 and 300 pounds when taken to market (a nice way of saying when turned into bacon and ham), the 69-year-old farmer owned several sows as heavy as 700 pounds. Once, one of these huge female pigs bit him when he accidentally stepped on a piglet.

     At 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Mr. Garner walked out to the hog pen to feed the animals. At 2:30 that afternoon, a relative who went looking for him, came across his dentures, hat, pocket knife, cigarettes, and chunks of his body. The body parts and personal items were found inside the hog enclosure. It appeared that Mr. Garner had been consumed by the pigs he had gone out to feed.

     Although sudden, unexplained deaths call for autopsies, the forensic pathologist for Coos County didn't have enough of a corpse to open up and examine in an effort to determine the dead man's cause and manner of death. The best the authorities could do was to take what was left of the farmer--mainly bones--to a forensic anthropologist at the University of Oregon.

     The forensic scientist didn't shed much light on how Mr. Garner had lost his life. A dentist identified the farmer through his false teeth.

     Because forensic pathology didn't determine what had caused this man's death, several scenarios were possible, none of which were proven forensically. If Mr Garner had stumbled, or had been knocked over by a hog, then eaten alive, the manner of his death was accidental. If Mr. Garner had suffered a heart attack and died while attending to his pigs, his death would have been classified as natural. If one assumed that the farmer had intentionally offered himself up as hog feed, then his death would have gone into the books as a suicide. If it had been a suicide, it was probably a first-of-its-kind case.

     There was also the possibility that Mr. Garner had been murdered. If this was how he died, it would not have been the first time a killer relied on pigs to dispose of a corpse. If the farmer had been shot, and the bullet did not exit his body, the slug would be inside one of the hogs. While foul play was a possibility, it seemed an unlikely scenario in this case.

     Without an eyewitness, a suicide note, a bullet, or an autopsy report, the cause and manner of this man's death is a mystery.

         

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Historic Rick Jackson Fingerprint Misidentification Case

     In 1997, detectives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a community outside of Philadelphia, arrested Rick Jackson shortly after Jackson's friend, Alvin Davis, was stabbed to death in Davis' apartment. In the interrogation room, detectives showed Jackson a crime scene photograph of a bloody latent print found near the body. According to a pair of fingerprint examiners with the Upper Darby Police Department, one of whom was also a police superintendent, that latent  had been left at the scene by Jackson.

     Rick Jackson didn't deny that he had been in Davis' apartment, but he denied killing him, and said he was certain the bloody print wasn't his. Jackson was actually relieved when he realized that the police were basing their case on a misidentified print. He figured that once the police realized their mistake, they would look elsewhere for a suspect.

     With Jackson so insistent that the bloody print wasn't his, Michael Malloy, his attorney, took the unique step of having it examined by outside experts Vernon McCloud and George Wynn. The retired FBI fingerprint examiners had 75 years of experience between them. Both men had been certified by the International Association of Identification (IAI). (Only a handful of the nation's fingerprint examiners have gone through the rigorous IAI certification process.) Wynn and McCloud, to their amazement, found that the bloody crime scene latent was not Rick Jackson's.

     The district attorney, confronted with a defense bolstered by a pair of prominent fingerprint experts who disagreed with the local examiners (who were not IAI certified), pushed forward with the trial anyway. In anticipation of the then unheard-of-situation of fingerprint examiners squaring off against each other in court, the district attorney brought in a fingerprint expert from another state to add quantity if not quality to the prosecution's case.

     In 1998, the Jackson case went to trial, and the jury, despite the conflicting fingerprint testimony, found Jackson guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

     Vernon McCloud and George Wynn were so concerned abut the fingerprint misidentification in the Jackson case, they asked the IAI to gather a group of experts to review the evidence. When the IAI panel agreed that the crime scene latent was not the convicted man's, the district attorney began to doubt his own experts, and sent a photograph of the bloody print to the FBI Lab for analysis. The examiners in Quantico, Virginia, agreed with McCloud and Wynn and the IAI panel. Rick Jackson had been sent to prison on the strength of a misidentified crime scene latent.

     In December 1999, after Rick Jackson had spent two years behind bars, his conviction was set aside, and he was set free. The out-of-state fingerprint examiner who testified at the trial was fired, but the Upper Darby examiners were not disciplined or prohibited from future fingerprint work. Moreover, they would continue to insist that they had been right, and all the experts were wrong. In 200l, Rick Jackson filed a civil suit against the examiners and the Upper Darby Police Department. He lost the case.

     The Jackson case is historic because it is one of the first cases in which the identification of a crime scene latent was successfully challenged by the defense. This and later misidentification cases raised serious questions about the scientific backgrounds and qualifications of police department fingerprint examiners. Today, because of law enforcement budget cuts, there are fewer fingerprint examiners working in the nation's police departments than there were ten years ago. As a result, latent fingerprint identification plays less a role than it once did in our criminal justice system.

     The Jackson fingerprint case is just another example of how forensic science, as once envisioned by its pioneers, has turned out to be a failed promise. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Darrin Campbell Murder-Suicide Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Birth of SWAT Policing

     In 1967, amid a period of civil unrest in the form of anti-Vietman War protests and race riots, the Los Angeles Police Department formed 15 four-man paramilitary units to protect the department's facilities. Members of these Station Defense Teams possessed street-patrol backgrounds and prior military service. These were not, however, full-time assignments. The concept of combat-trained paramilitary police units came from an officer named John Nelson who passed the idea on to Inspector Darryl Gates who in turn presented the idea to the top brass. Gates wanted to call these units Special Weapons and Attack Teams, but this was considered a bit too militaristic for a civilian agency. In 1969, these units became known as Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) teams.

     On December 9, 1969, when police officers tried to serve search warrants for illegal weapons at the Black Panther headquarters at 41st Street and Central in Los Angeles, the occupants fired on the officers with shotguns and automatic rifles. SWAT teams from around the city were called to the scene. Following a four-hour gun battle between six Black Panthers and 200 officers, the shooters in the house surrendered. Three SWAT team members and three Black Panthers had been wounded.

     Following the Black Panther shoot-out, police administrators concluded that SWAT team response times would be improved by reassigning the 15 teams dispersed throughout the county to police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. In 1971, SWAT team assignments became full-time positions. The Los Angeles Police Department, for several years, was the only law enforcement agency in the country with a paramilitary capability.

     Four years after the Black Panther violence, the Los Angeles SWAT force consisted of six, ten-man teams. Each team had two five-man units called "elements," with a leader, two "assaulters," a scout, and a rearguard officer. SWAT weapons included a .245-caliber, bolt-action sniper rifle, two .223-caliber semiautomatic rifles, and a pair of shotguns. Officers were also equipped with service revolvers and gas masks. Dressed in their helmets, gloves, and body armor, they could not be distinguished from combat troops.

     On May 17, 1974, six members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) barricaded themselves inside a house on East 54th Street at Compton Avenue, and ignored orders from the police to surrender peacefully. The domestic terrorists responded to tear gas canisters lobbed into the premises by opening fire on three SWAT teams and hundreds of regular police officers who had gathered at the scene. The police returned fire, eventually wounding all six occupants.

     When the smoke cleared, 3,772 shots had been fired by SLA members. Thousands of bullets had been fired by the police. The shoot-out ended when a fire broke out inside the house, burning the dwelling to the ground. The occupants either died from bullet wounds or from the blaze. Investigators speculated that the fire started when a bullet hit a Molotov cocktail or a tear gas grenade. Millions of people across the country watched as the gun battle unfolded on live television.

     Although there was little sympathy for the terrorists who had fired on the police, the Los Angeles Police Department was criticized for allowing the situation to evolve into a scene of urban warfare. The department responded by tightening SWAT unit admission standards and upgrading the paramilitary training to reduce the occurrence of such spectacular violence.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Carla Hague Poisoning Case

     In 2013, Judge Charles Hague lived with his wife of 45 years outside of Jefferson, Ohio in the northeastern part of the state. Since 1993, he had been an Ashtabula County common pleas juvenile/probate judge. Carla, his 70-year-old wife, had retired years earlier as a nurse. The judge and Carla, parents of grown children, enjoyed a reputation in the community as outstanding citizens.

     As is so often the case, outward signs of domestic tranquility are misleading. This unfortunate reality applied to Mr. and Mrs. Hague. The problem within that marriage exploded to the surface on September 15, 2013 when Carla telephoned one of her sons. She said the judge had become ill after consuming a glass of wine. Upon arrival at the house, the son took one look at his father and dialed 911.

     Paramedics rushed the stricken judge to a local hospital from where medical personnel flew him to the Cleveland Clinic for emergency care. Following several days of treatment in Cleveland, the judge returned home to recuperate.

     Judge Hague's relatives, on September 19, 3013, notified the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office of foul play suspected in the judge's sudden illness four days earlier. More specifically, the relatives accused Mrs. Hague of spiking her husband's wine with antifreeze. (A toxicological analysis of the judge's blood confirmed the presence of ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze.)

     Sheriff's deputies arrested Carla Hague on December 2, 2013 on suspicion of attempted murder. Officers booked her into the Ashtabula County Jail. Eighteen days later, an Ashtabula County grand jury indicted the suspect of contaminating a substance for human consumption. She also stood accused of attempted murder.

     Carla Hague did not deny putting the antifreeze into her husband's wine. Her intent, she said, was not to kill the judge but to make him slightly ill. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a serious respiratory condition. In Carla's opinion, her husband had been adding to his health problem by drinking too much. She hoped that if the wine made him ill he would cut back on his use of alcohol.

     At her arraignment, Carla pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder. She posted her $100,000 surety bond on December 24, 2013.

     On June 16, 2014, the local prosecutor, with Judge Hague's consent, allowed the defendant to plead guilty to felonious assault. In speaking to a reporter, judge Hague said, "I have no anger or animosity. I am beyond that. I'm gad to have this huge black spot behind us. I have moved on with my life. Carla can get on with hers." (Presumably they will be getting on with their lives without each other.)

     Following the guilty plea, the judge sentenced Carla Hague to two years in prison with eligibility for release in six months.

   

     

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chad Wolfe's Mysterious Death

     On Thursday night, March 14, 2013, Chad Wolfe and Jessica Price, his girlfriend of ten years, boarded Delta Flight 2233 out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania en route to Atlanta and their final destination, Tampa, Florida. Wolfe resided in West Newton, a Westmoreland County town of 3,000 twenty-five miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The 31-year-old worked in a Sewickley Township body shop with his father. Chad and Jessica planned to meet up with friends in Tampa, rent a car, then drive to Daytona Beach to participate in Bike Week festivities. They also planned to visit a few automobile auctions.

     The couple flew into the Tampa International Airport from their layover in Atlanta just before midnight. The couple had been arguing. Chad took an elevator from the third floor of the main terminal to the 7th floor parking garage while she picked up their luggage from baggage claim. When Jessica returned to the main concourse with the luggage, Chad wasn't there. When she couldn't find Chad, she alerted an airport security officer who organized a search party.

     At ten o'clock the next morning, airport maintenance workers found Chad Wolfe's body lying on top of an elevator car stopped at the third floor of the main terminal. In his pocket, investigators found an empty Xanax bottle. (He had a prescription for Xanax and Paxil.)

     Investigators found, on the seventh floor not far from the bank of elevators, Chad's cellphone and carry-on case. This discovery raised questions of what Chad was doing in the parking garage, and how did his body end up on top of the third floor elevator car.

     The authorities who looked into this mysterious death, certainly a suspicious one, came to the conclusion that Chad Wolfe had somehow accidentally fallen down the elevator shaft. But the young man's father, Garland Wolfe, didn't believe his 150 pound son had the strength to pry open the elevator doors. Don Cassell, an elevator expert, agreed. According to Mr. Cassell, opening the doors of a working elevator with one's bare hands is next to impossible.

     Jessica Price revealed that Chad had taken a Xanax pill to ease his anxiety about flying, He had also consumed a drink on the plane. Did her confused boyfriend go to the parking garage to smoke a cigarette? Still, how did he get into the elevator shaft?

     In May 2013, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner issued the report on Chad Wolfe's death. The cause of this young man's demise went into the books as "blunt force impact to the head and neck." The manner of death: an accident.

     According to the medical examiner's report, the deceased had Alprozolam and Paxil in his system. In the report, a forensic investigator wrote: "It appears the deceased forced open an elevator door to gain entry into the elevator shaft."

     According to a report submitted months later by the airport, witnesses on Wolfe's flight from Atlanta to Tampa said that Wolfe had been drinking alcohol, popping pills, and acting rudely on the plane. At the airport, a witness saw a belligerent man banging on the seventh floor elevator door. Tampa airport detective Kevin Durkin, the lead investigator in the case, concluded that Wolfe forced open the landing doors on the elevator. He then wrapped his arms and legs aground "the elevator cable inside the shaft with the intention to slide down the cable to the elevator car roof. As he descended down the elevator cable, friction wounds caused him to let go."

     Detective Durkin concluded that Wolfe fell to his death by hitting the top of the elevator car.

     In October 2014, Chad Wolfe's parents filed a lawsuit against Tampa International Airport claiming that a malfunctioning elevator had caused their son's death. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Missing In America: A Nation of Missing and Lost Persons

     On May 29, 1971, Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, high school juniors from Vermillion, South Dakota, were in a 1960 Studebaker Lark en route to a party held at a gravel pit near Elk Point, a town near the Iowa border thirty miles east of their hometown. Along the way, the girls asked a car full of boys for directions to the party site. According to the boys, while leading the girls to the gravel pit, they looked in their rearview mirror and didn't see the Studebaker.

     The Vermillion High School Students did not arrive at the party, and did not return home. The Studebaker went missing as well. (The youths who gave Miller and Jackson directions were never suspects in their disappearance.) The missing persons investigation led nowhere, and died on the vine. Decades after they went missing, no one had a clue regarding what had happened to the Vermillion students. It seemed they had just vanished off the face of the earth.

     Early in 2007, Aloysius Black Crow, a South Dakota prison inmate, told the authorities that he had secretly audio-taped a fellow prisoner who had confessed to him that he had raped and murdered the Vermillion girls. David Lykken, the 54-year-old man Aloysius Black Crow said he'd taped, was a convicted rapist and kidnapper who was serving a 227-year prison sentence. In 2004, the police had found human bones, articles of female clothing, and a purse on Lykken's farm. (In 1971, Lykken would have been 18-years-old.)

     A Union County Grand Jury, based upon the jailhouse snitch's audio-tape, indicted Lykken on two counts of murder, kidnapping, and rape. As it turned out, the confession Aloysius Black Crow had taped was a fake. The charges against Lykken were dropped, and in 2008, the jailhouse informant pleaded guilty to perjury.

     On Tuesday, September 24, 2013, a fisherman on Brule Creek near Elk Point, spotted the wheels of a car sitting on its roof in the drought-shallowed creek. Several hours later, the authorities pulled a 1960 Studebaker Lark out of the water and mud. Inside the rusted vehicle, police officers discovered what appeared to be the skeletons of two people, remains presumed to be those of Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson.

     On April 15, 2014, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told reporters that forensic scientists have confirmed the identities of the remains as being Miller and Jackson. Investigators and forensic experts determined that the vehicle's ignition and headlights had been on when the car went into the water. The car was also in the third gear. Given the absence of gunshot or knife wounds, and no signs of alcohol consumption, the deaths went into the books as accidental.

     As a missing persons case, the 42-year-old mystery has been solved. While the case was officially closed, family members would never know the exact circumstances of the crash, or how quickly the girls had died.

     If the lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds in the United States suddenly went dry, there wouldn't be enough forensic scientists to analyze all of the remains. America's waterways are grave sites for thousands of missing persons, people whose stories will never be told.

       

Monday, April 11, 2016

Eric Toth: Pedophile On The Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Hugo Ramos Murder Case

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Monday September 15, 2014, Hugo Ramos and his three children--ages one to seven--were traveling on U.S. Route 20 in Lorain County 35 miles west of Cleveland. Ramos pulled his 2002 Acura off to the side of the road. The 28-year-old climbed out of the car and walked into the traffic flow on the busy highway. After almost being run over by an 18-wheeler, Ramos returned to his car.

     With his children still in the car, Ramos poured a container of gasoline on himself and lit a match. A passing motorist saw a man on the side of the highway consumed by flames. The motorist grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

     Paramedics loaded the badly burned man onto a helicopter and flew him to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Although in critical condition, Ramos told emergency personnel that he had killed his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his three children. He said they would find 25-year-old Glorimar Ramos-Perez in a small apartment at the rear of a house on Newark Avenue in Cleveland.

     At three that afternoon homicide detectives with the Cleveland Police Department arrived at 3638 Newark Avenue where they found Glorimar Ramos-Perez's body. She had been stabbed to death.

     The Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Ramos remained for a period in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center. His children were in the care of the Lorain County Children's Services.

     On August 19, 2015, a jury sitting in Cleveland rejected Hugo Ramos' insanity defense. The jurors found Ramos guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, domestic violence and endangering children.

     At the trial, the prosecution and defense put on dueling psychiatrists who gave testimony regarding the defendant's mental state at the time of the crimes. The jurors chose to believe the state's expert who declared Ramos legally sane.

     The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Brenda Delgado Murder-For-Hire Case

     At quarter to eight on the night of Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 35-year-old dentist, Dr. Kendra Hatcher, parked her car in the garage of her upscale Dallas, Texas apartment complex. As Dr. Hatcher did so, a man hiding in the back seat of a Jeep Cherokee driven by a woman, jumped out of the vehicle and approached her. It was at that moment the assailant shot the dentist one time with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol, killing the victim on the spot. After stealing two of Dr. Hatcher's purses, the shooter climbed back into the Jeep and was driven off by his driver.

     On Friday, September 4, 2015, detectives with the Dallas Police Department arrested 23-year-old Crystal Cortes on suspicion that she had been the person behind the wheel of the Jeep Cherokee. Cortes, during her interrogation, confessed to her role in the robbery-murder. She also identified the shooter as 31-year-old Kristopher Love.

      After a week or so into the Hatcher murder investigation, detectives came to believe that robbery had not been the motive behind the killing. The officers suspected the slaying had been the culmination of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by a 33-year-old dental hygiene student at Stanford-Brown College named Brenda Delgado.

     Two months before the murder, Delgado, a Mexican citizen, and her boyfriend, 38-year-old dermatologist Dr. Ricardo Panigua, had broken up following a two-year relationship. After the split, Dr. Panigua began dating Dr. Kendra Hatcher. Detectives suspected that Delgado had the dentist murdered out of jealousy and rage.

     When questioned by investigators, the murder-for-hire suspect admitted lending Crystal Cortes the Jeep Cherokee, and meeting with Cortes and the suspected hit man, Kristopher Love. She met with the murder suspects at a Dallas apartment complex a few days before the killing. Delgado, however, denied being the mastermind behind a plot to have her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend murdered. That, she claimed, had been Love's idea.

     On September 11, 2015, a Dallas County prosecutor charged Crystal Cortes with capital murder. Police officers booked her into the Dallas County Jail under $500,000 bond. Cortes' attorney, George Ashford III, told reporters that his client, before what she believed was just going to be a robbery, had tried to call and warn Dr. Hatcher of the hold-up plot. The lawyer said that after the killing, Mr. Love had threatened to kill Cortes' 6-year-old son if she went to the authorities.

     According to Cortes, Brenda Delgado had promised her and the hit man free prescription drugs if they robbed Dr. Hatcher. Also, Delgado had allegedly paid Cortes $500 to drive Kristopher Love to the robbery scene. Just before Love climbed out of the Jeep in the victim's parking garage, Cortes asked him how much money Delgado had paid him to commit the robbery. Love replied, "That's none of your business."

     On October 3, 2015, Dallas detectives arrested Kristopher Love on suspicion of capital murder. At the time he was taken into custody, Love was still in possession of the murder weapon. A magistrate set his bail at $2.5 million. In Texas, a capital murder conviction can lead to the death penalty.

     About the time Kristopher Love was arrested, a Dallas County prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Brenda Delgado. At that time, the murder-for-hire suspect's whereabouts were unknown.

     In speaking to reporters regarding Delgado, Major Max Geron of the Dallas Police Department, said: "Ms. Delgado was involved in the planning and the commission of Kendra Hatcher's murder."

     On April 7, 2016, a spokesperson with the FBI announced that murder-for-hire fugitive Brenda Delgado had been placed on the bureau's "Ten Most Wanted" list. A day later, the authorities in Torreon, Mexico took the fugitive into custody.

    Before Delgado can be extradited back to Texas, the U.S. prosecutor would have to agree not to pursue the death penalty against the suspect. According to the Mexican authorities in charge of the case, it could take up to a year to complete the extradition process. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Vehicles In The History of American Crime

     The invention and popularity of the automobile changed and defined the nature of criminal behavior in America and around the world. The motorized vehicle became the instrument, and the fruit of crime. Cars, in the old days referred to as "machines," provided a degree of mobility that changed the nature of law enforcement as well. By 1920, police departments across the country were entirely motorized, and soon after that, they were equipped with two-way radios. In 1926, the U.S. Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Carroll, held that an automobile could be searched without a warrant if there was probable cause to believe the vehicle was being used in the commission of a crime. In those days, the offense often involved the transportation of contraband liquor. A motorized America, and the resultant mobility of the criminal, contributed to the federalization of American law enforcement. By the 1930s, bank robbery, kidnapping, interstate car theft, and transporting prostitutes across state lines (White Slave Traffic Act) became federal offenses investigated by the FBI. By 1947, the FBI Crime Lab featured a reference collection of tire treads against which crime scene impression could be compared.

     Many crime and police history buffs are fascinated with vehicles owned or used by serial killers, mafia bosses, depression era bank robbers, and famous murder victims. People who collect and restore old cars are interested in this aspect of crime history as well. Police and crime museums around the country exhibit old police cars, paddy wagons, and vehicles that had been used in historic regional crimes.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car

     On May 23, 1934, a small army of cops in southern Louisiana ambushed the depression era outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde. In a barrage of bullets, the police riddled the couple's 1934 gray Ford sedan, killing them both. These folk-hero degenerates had stolen the deluxe sedan in Topeka, Kansas from a woman named Ruth Warren. (For awhile the car was known as the "Warren Death Car.") When the federal government refused to release the blood-soaked, bullet-ridden Ford, Ruth Warren, realizing its value as crime memorabilia, sued the government and won.

     From 1940 to 1952, the shot-up Ford was on exhibit at an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1952, a man with the name Ted Toddy, bought the car for $14,500. During the 1980s, the Bonnie and Clyde vehicle sat on display at several casino-resorts in Nevada. I'm not sure where the car is today, but not too long ago it could be seen at Whiskey Pete's Resort and Casino in Prim, Nevada. (In January 2012, at an auction in Kansas City, Missouri, a collector bought two Bonnie and Clyde bank robbery guns. The Thompson submachine gun, and the 1897 Winchester 12-gauge shotgun, had been recovered in 1933 from the couple's hideout in Joplin, Missouri. The collector paid $210,000 for the weapons.)

Al Capone

     The vicious prohibition era gangster from Chicago, during his murderous career as a bootlegger, owned several cars. The vehicle most closely associated with Capone is a 1928 green Cadillac limousine. The armor-plated V-8, equipped with bullet-proof windows, sold for $621,500 at a 2010 auction in California. The fact President Franklin D. Roosevelt had used the car after Capone went to prison, added to its value.

The Lindbergh Kidnap Car

     Bruno Richard Hauptmann, on the night of March 1, 1932, drove his 1930 blue Dodge sedan from the Bronx, New York to the Charles Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey. The 36-year-old unemployed carpenter used the homemade wooden extension ladder, compressed across the back seat of his car, to climb to the Lindbergh baby's second-story nursery window. Today, in West Trenton, the New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center, features the ladder in its Lindbergh case display. But the Museum does not possess the car Hauptmann used to commit the "crime of the century."

     In 1958, after the state of New Jersey sold Hauptmann's Dodge at auction for $800, it disappeared. If you own a 1930 4-door Dodge that was once blue, check the vehicle identification number against the VIN on record at the New Jersey museum. You might own an important piece of American crime history.

Ted Bundy's "Teaching Tool"

     Crime memorabilia collector Arthur Nash, in 2010, sold the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owned by the executed serial killer, Ted Bundy, to the privately owned National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C. (The museum opened in 2008.) In the 1970s, Bundy lured many of him female victims into the car where many of them were raped and murdered. Museum speakers at the vehicle's unveiling, aware that critics would accuse them of using Bundy's death car to extract admission fees from true crime sickos, insisted they were using the Volkswagen as a "teaching tool." At the highly publicized unveiling, one of the museum owners said, "Specifically, we don't recommend hitchhiking to anyone. This car represents a warning sign that you have to be careful."

JFK Assassination Vehicles

     Early in 2011, at an auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, a bidder paid $120,000 for the ambulance that had carried the slain president, on November 23, 1963, from Andrews Air Force Base to the Bethesda National Hospital in Maryland. There has since been a debate over the authenticity of this purchase. Some believe the ambulance is a fake.

     In 2012, the same auction house offered for sale the 1963 Cadillac hearse used to carry President Kennedy's body from the Dallas hospital to Air Force One at Dallas Love Field.

Other Infamous Vehicles

     A few other collectible crime cars include: John Dillinger's 1933 Essex-Terraplane; the 1931 black Lincoln owned by Dutch Schultz; O. J. Simpson's 1995 white Ford Bronco; and the D.C. Snipers's Chevrolet Caprice.