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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Robert Van Handel: The Profile Of A Pedophile

     In 1994, Robert Van Handel, a 48-year-old Franciscan priest and former rector at St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara, California, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting an 8-year-old student. He had been accused of molesting fifteen other boys between the ages 8 to 11, but those cases were too old to prosecute. In preparation for his sentencing hearing, the psychiatrist who evaluated Van Handel at the Pacific Treatment Associates in Santa Cruz, asked him to write a history of his sexual life. Van Handel complied, producing a detailed, 27-page memoir of a life devoted to sexually abusing boys.

     Van Handel's revealing description of his perverted thoughts and behavior provided a rare look into the twisted mind and life of a sexual predator. The document didn't come to light until 2006, the year the Franciscans, in a civil court settlement, paid twenty-five clergy abuse victims $28 million in damages. The church, in an attempt to keep Van Handel's revelations from the public, fought several newspaper organizations all the way to the California Supreme Court. The church lost. What follows is Van Handel's account of his life as a priest, teacher, and pedophile.

     In 1956, at age 10, Van Hendel and his family of seven settled in Orange County, California. Three years later, the 13-year-old, to escape his strict, demanding father who forced him to read a sex education manual that scared the hell out of  him, enrolled in the Franciscan run St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara. Two years later, while in the infirmary with a fever, a priest sexually molested him. According to the seminarian pedophile who attacked him, this activity would, by making the sick boy sweat, draw the fever out of him.

     Over the next nine years, while at St Anthony's, Van Handel collected magazines featuring child pornography, and used a telephoto lens to take clandestine photographs of children. While he fantasized about having sex with young boys, Van Handel did not actually molest anyone during this period.

     In 1970, at age 24, Van Handel moved to Berkeley, California to pursue his master's degree at the University of California. While there, he formed a neighborhood boy's choir and molested a 7-year-old choir member. He also, during this period, raped his 5-year-old nephew.

     Robert Van Handel, as an ordained Franciscan priest, returned to St. Anthony's in 1975 where he taught English. He also became the director of the school choir. In his sexual memoir, the priest acknowledged that the school choir provided him with a steady supply of victims. An 11-year-old boy, a student he had been abusing since the child was 7, resisted for the first time after four years of molestation. In his memoir, Van Handel said that he was shocked by the rejection. He wrote, "He started to cry and that snapped something in my head. For the first time, I was seeing signs that he really did not like this." In another passage, the priest wrote: "There is something about me that is happier when accompanied by a small boy. Perhaps besides the sexual element, the child in me wants a playmate."

     Van Handel's relationships with his students and choir boys exemplified typical pedophile behavior. The priest rubbed their backs, photographed them tied-up in ropes, wrestled with them, and invented tickling games. (The Penn State pedophile, coach Jerry Sandusky, called himself the "tickle monster.") In his memoir of perversion, Van Handel, noted that the fact the boys couldn't stop him from doing what he wanted, turned him on. He wrote, "It was though I could do anything with them that I wanted."

     In 1983, Robert Van Handel became rector of St. Anthony's. As head of this enclave of pedophilia, he was asked to investigate another priest who had been accused of molesting two boys who were brothers. As it turned out, Van Handel had also sexually assaulted these students.

     Van Handel's tenure at St. Anthony's came to an end in 1992 when the parents of one of his victims wrote a letter to the head of the Franciscan order. Within months of this letter, Van Handel was removed from the ministry.

     After the defrocked pedophile's guilty plea in 1994, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.  (Eight years? This serial sex offender should have been sentenced to life without parole.)

Framing Your Estranged Husband

     On August 11, 2014, a jury in Indiana, Pennsylvania found 43-year-old Meri Jane Woods guilty of trying to frame her estranged husband of a crime. According to the district attorney, in August 2013, the  Clymer, Pennsylvania defendant downloaded 40 images of child pornography onto the family computer and took the photographs to the police. She accused her estranged husband, Matthew Woods, of downloading the pornographic contraband.

     When investigators examined the time stamps on the images, they determined they had been downloaded more than two weeks after Meri Woods had kicked her husband out of the house pursuant to a protection from abuse order. Since he didn't have access to the dwelling or the computer, he couldn't have downloaded the incriminating material.

     In December 2014, the Indiana County judge sentenced Woods to six months to two years in prison. 

Successful Literary Journalism

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

Mark Masse, Writer's Digest, March 2002 

How Societies Deal with Crime

     For thousands of years, human societies have sought to reduce the frequency and severity of such harms as murder, robbery, and rape. Various techniques for dealing with such crimes have evolved over time. Broadly defined, these techniques have had much in common across societies and over time. They may be outlined in the following familiar terms.

     The first technique is to ensure that the potential criminal understands that he has far more to lose than to gain from committing the crime. This serves to disincentivize the act or deter the actor, by sending a clear and unequivocal message: not only will you not benefit from the act, but if you are caught doing it you will be severely disadvantaged. A useful example of this mechanism is the treble or punitive damage remedy, which disgorges all gains from the person who secured them improperly and imposes a punitive fine.

     The second technique is to incapacitate those who would carry out the actions by imprisoning them, killing them, keeping them away from places they wish to target, or otherwise making it impossible for them to be in a position to undertake the undesirable actions. A useful metaphor for incapacitation is the zoo, where wild animals are kept behind bars. We are not seeking the change the animal's propensities but are simply erecting an impermeable barrier between it and us.

     A third technique is to persuade the actor not to undertake the action, by rehabilitating, reeducating, or shaming him, convincing him that the action is wrong. A good example of this mechanism is requiring drunken drivers to attend classes or enter programs designed to influence behavior.

Alan Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Writers Dealing With Rejection

Lee Pennington has been published in more than 300 magazines--and rejected so many thousand times that in one six-month period he papered al four walls of a room with rejection slips. ("I loved getting the 8 by 11 rejections more than the 3 by 5 ones because they covered more space.) He has also filled scrapbooks with rejection slips, used them for coasters, and given rejection parties--invitations written on the back of rejection slips.

[I have received form rejections letters a year after the books in question were published by other publishers.]

Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Friday, September 22, 2017

Paul Tarver and The Unknown Hitman

     In September 2001, when Keisha Lewis of Canton, Ohio informed her former boyfriend, Paul Tarver, that she was three months pregnant with his baby, he was not happy. He made it clear that he did not want to be a father. Tarver told Keisha to get an abortion, and if she didn't, he would not support the kid. Keisha said she had no intention of aborting the pregnancy, and would have the child with or without his support.

     Two months later, Keisha and Paul were still fighting over whether she should get an abortion. When Tarver realized she was not going to changer her mind, he threatened to kill her if she didn't end the pregnancy. Keisha said she was reporting him to the police, but didn't follow through on her threat. Perhaps he was just bluffing. After the arguing and threats, Paul Tarver suddenly stopped coming around. Keisha figured he had moved out of her life for good.

     On March 7, 2002, a week before the baby was due, Paul Tarver popped back into Keisha's life, and seemed to be a different man. He apologized for the fighting and the threats, and offered to make amends. He said he wanted to remain friends--for the baby's sake--and in the spirit of good will, he offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby's father was no longer an enemy, she accepted his invitation.

     A few days later, Paul and Keisha, in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton's Country Kitchen restaurant. Although Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Paul parked the truck in a remote section of the lot far from the restaurant. Keisha had just opened the passenger's door and was about to alight from the vehicle when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze into the truck.

     The armed kidnapper ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant where the gunman ordered him to hand over his ring, watch, and wallet. The kidnapper shot Keisha in the abdomen, Tarver in the foot, then jumped out of the truck and ran into the nearby woods. Using his cellphone, Tarver called 911.

     Surgeons, although able to save Keisha's life, could not save the fetus. Doctors treated Tarver's wound which was minor. Keisha suffered major nerve damage that would leave her with a permanent limp.

     Detectives with the Canton Police Department trying to identify the kidnapper didn't have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant, and Tarver wasn't much help either. Investigators did recover the three shell cases from the shooting scene. A forensic firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a .380 Carpati pistol recovered from the site of another Canton shooting. In tracing the history of the gun, police learned that one of the owners was a man who had once worked with Paul Tarver. Detectives also questioned a man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. During the interrogation, the Pittsburgh man broke down and cried, then terminated the questioning.

     In October 2002, a Stark County prosecutor at Paul Tarver's murder-for-hire trial presented a weak, circumstantial case against him. The police had still not identified the triggerman. The defendant's attorney did not put his client on the stand in own defense. If he had done so, the jury would have learned about Tarver's long history of drug trafficking and robbery. Perhaps because the defendant did not take the stand to deny that he had paid someone to end his girlfriend's pregnancy, the jury found him guilty.

     The judge sentenced Paul Tarver to 31 years to life. Paul Tarver continued to maintain his innocence, and the triggerman was never identified. This was one of a handful of murder-for-hire cases in which the mastermind was convicted without the testimony or even the identify of the hitman.
      

Are Some Novelists Nuts?

Early in his career, John Cheever put on his business suit, then went from his apartment to a room in the basement where he hung his suit on a hanger and wrote in his underwear. Victor Hugo's servant took away his clothes for the duration of the author's writing day. James Whitcomb Riley had a friend lock him in a hotel room without clothes so that he couldn't go out for a drink until he had finished writing. [How do you lock someone in a hotel room?] Jessamyn West wrote in bed without getting dressed for what she thought were two compelling reasons: "One, you have on your nightgown or pajamas and can't go running to the door at the knock of strangers. Also, once you're up and dressed, you see ten thousand things that need doing."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

The Cash Goes Into the Armored Truck, Not On It

Nearly $21,000 is missing after a bag of cash fell off the roof of an armored truck that had picked it up from a soon-to-be-closed Atlantic City casino. GardaWorld Armored Car Services picked up the cash at Revel Casino on August 6, 2014…Surveillance video showed the bag holding the cash on the rear driver's side roof as the vehicle left the casino. The bag was still on the roof when the truck pulled away from nearby Resorts Casino Hotel. It is not clear where the bag fell off. [Someone in Atlantic City hit the jackpot.]

"$21 G Falls Off Truck After Pickup From Revel Casino," Associated Press, August 20, 2014 

Plot Ups and Downs

A plot needs arcs. Arcs are the ups and downs, the changes in direction the story takes as events unfold. The most important thing is to keep the reader engaged in the story and the characters. If things don't change, if unexpected events don't occur, the book becomes boring fast.

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006

The Nanny From Hell

     Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte felt sure they had found the idea nanny. The live-in nanny, whom they hired through Craigslist, immediately seemed to fit in, spending time around them and handling the couple's three kids well. But then the nanny, Diane Stretton, 64, became almost a different person, the couple said…

     She stopped working and holed up in her room, emerging only to eat. She didn't quit on the Bracamontes--in fact, she refused to leave their home. What's more, Stretton has threatened to sue them for wrongful termination and abuse of the elderly….

     Police say they cannot remove Stretton from the Braceamonte's home. The couple will have to go through an eviction process…[That is nonsense. The woman isn't a tenant. She was an employee who was fired. Throw her out, lock the doors, and if she tries to get back in, file a burglary complaint. Only in California.]

     [On July 31, 2014, Stretton voluntarily moved out of the Bracamonte residence.]

"California Couple's Live-In Nanny Stops Working, Refuses to Leave," Fox News, June 27, 2014 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Scottye Miller Stalker Murder Case

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, victims of stalking and assault do not get relief even when their offenders are in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must be frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. One of the knives was 8 inches long. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, buy themselves a gun and do the job themselves, or hire a contract killer. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

Driving While Stupid

     On October 13, 2015, 23-year-old Whitney Beall, while driving from one bar to another in her 2015 Toyota Corolla in Lakeland, Florida, recorded her alcohol intoxication by video on the social media app Periscope. "Let's have fun! Let's have fun!" she repeatedly exclaimed into the little camera. Also: "Hi everybody in different countries. I really hope you don't mind that I drive, because in the USA it is really important."

     Beall declared herself unfit to drive when she said, " I'm driving drunk and this is not cool. I haven't been arrested yet, and I really don't hope so." A few minutes later she announced this into the video camera: "I'm driving home drunk, let's see if I get a DUI."

     Several people watching the live-steamed video called 911 to report the drunken driver who was exhibiting her condition to the world.

     Lakeland patrol officer Mike Kellner spotted a 2015 Toyota Corolla being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulled the car over and encountered the social media sensation, Whitney Beall.

     Beall and her car reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. In addressing the officer, Beall made a series of slurred, rambling statements that included the claim she was lost and driving on a flat tire.

     After failing the field sobriety test, Officer Kellner took the suspect into custody. After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, officers booked Beall into the Polk County Jail on the charge of driving under the influence. It was her first DUI arrest.

     The day following her DUI charge, Beall made bond and was released from custody. To a reporter she said, "It was a big mistake and I'm learning my lesson." Fortunately, this idiot's "big mistake" and learning experience didn't cost someone his or her life.

     In February 2016, Beall pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. The judge sentenced her to a six month license suspension, ten days of vehicle impoundment, and a year of probation.

     

Handling Criticism of Your Writing

A negative response from your readers--especially when they've taken the time to be conscientious about it--is always a shock. It's like getting kicked in the behind while bending over to pick up a penny. It's not the kick that hurts, it's the humiliation of having bent over for the penny. True, your voice may not quiver when you're thanking them for their honesty. Your hands may be steady when you're opening that letter of advice from the editor you've always admired. [Who admires an editor?] You may even be able to agree with your favorite author when he tells you that he thinks your new book isn't half as interesting as the last one you wrote. But your whole face is on fire, there's a roaring in your ears, and behind your pleasant "uh-huh" stands an infuriated, tic-faced person demanding to know...(1) how you could allow these half-wits near your best work; (2) why you ever thought you could get away with calling yourself a writer; or (3) how you're ever going to write again. In fact, the difference between the writer who's going to add up to something in a few years and the writer who's not may have less to do with the quality of the work than with the way each one handles criticism. [Still, it's the quality of the work that counts. If you're no good, quit.]

Laura Hendrie, "What to Do About Criticism," in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, editors, 2002 

The Con Artist

     Ever since the Snake first talked Eve into tasting the apple, the con artist has been practicing his art; the art of confidence. Confidence is the key, because once you gain people's confidence you can manipulated them. In con artists' parlance, that person becomes a mark--also known as a sucker, dupe, john, green, and rube…ready to be played in a confidence game, big or small. In Genesis, the Snake was practicing what is known as a short con--a confidence game where the con artist only comes into contact with the mark once. A con game that requires the con artist and mark to come into contact more than once is known as the long con.

     In the modern era, traditional distinctions like these are increasingly out of date, because most scams and cons take place without any contact with the mark whatsoever. Email, telemarketing, and even text-messaging are the media though which con artists mainly practice today, but many of the con games they employ are simply variations of themes established long ago.

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Has Climate Change Caused A Rise in Crime?

     On August 1, 2013, in the academic journal Science, three University of California at Berkeley researchers published an article entitled "Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict." The authors, based on their analysis of sixty other studies, conclude that even small increases in temperature causes rises in assaults, rapes, and murders as well as increases in group conflicts and war. The researchers believe this to be true in the United States and around the world.

     The authors' prediction of rising temperatures and rising crime rates assumes a global temperature increase of at least four degrees Fahrenheit over the next fifty years. The authors predict that between now and 2050, the world will experience a 65 percent increase in war and civil unrest. Citing spikes in assaults, domestic violence, rape, and murder in the United States during heat waves, the researchers predict that worldwide the rate of these crimes will jump 16 percent.

     Criminologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have been arguing for decades over the causes of crime. Overpopulation, broken homes, failing schools, poverty, drugs, hormones, personality disorders, mental illness, depression, childhood abuse, pornography, guns, spiritual decay, and violent video games have been blamed for violent crime in the United States. Social Scientists have not been able to agree on why, since 1995, crime rates in America have generally declined.

     The truth is, no one has figured out why some people commit serious crime and others do not. Social scientists who study criminal behavior agree on just two things: young people commit more crimes than older citizens; and men tend to be more violent than women. When considering why people act the way they do, too many variables makes a unifying theory impossible.

     Now we have three academics--as far as I can tell none of whom is either a criminologist, psychologist, or psychiatrist--who claim that global warming is a key factor in the cause of violent behavior. These researchers are not only linking violent behavior to climate, they are telling us exactly how much crime will go up if the planet gets hotter.

     Over the years social scientists have published a lot of nonsense. This is particularly true when the subject involves the causes of crime. Based upon the reaction of other academic researchers to this new study, I am not alone in my skepticism of this global warming/crime hypothesis. I don't believe the key to understanding human behavior can be found in crime and weather statistics. 

Citizen Solves His Own Hit and Run Case

     When a hit and run driver in Smyrna, Georgia struck Jacob Rogers, a 39-year-old riding his bicycle to work, police told the victim it would be difficult to find the suspect. That's when he decided to conduct his own investigation. He had stopped that morning on July 17, 2014 at an entrance to an apartment complex. What happened next caught him by surprise. "I didn't see anything so I proceeded, and that's when I got hit," he said.

     A female driver of a silver Volkswagen pulled out of the apartment complex and ran into Rogers. "So I'm still on my bike," he said, "and she forced her way through me." The Volkswagen pushed him aside and took off.

     Rogers said that although he wasn't hurt seriously, he suffered pain in the foot that was on the bike pedal struck by vehicle. Part of the pedal broke off, and Rogers couldn't find the piece at the hit and run site.

     The next day, Rogers went back to the apartment complex to look for a silver Volkswagen."The first car that I saw was a silver Volkswagen," he said. I took a picture of the rear license plate and checked the front for damage." In front grill he found the missing piece from his left bike pedal lodged in the vehicle.

     A police officer resident of the apartment complex ran the license plate. Shortly thereafter Smyrna police officers arrested the car's owner. They took 20-year-old Pablynne Silva into custody. A local prosecutor charged her with misdemeanor hit and run, an offense punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

     Pablynne told officers she had driven off after hitting the man on the bike out of fear of getting into trouble with the law.

  

Politician Know Thy Self: Sociopathy and the Quest for the Presidency

     Only a sociopath believes that he or she can lead the free world. A normal person knows better. While some presidents and candidates for the office do a pretty good job of disguising their sociopathy, they all give themselves away. It became obvious that Jimmy Carter thought he was Jesus. Richard Nixon turned out to be paranoid and a crook. George W. Bush had conversations with God. Bill Clinton's bold-face lying and reckless behavior exposed his sociopathy. President Obama's favorite word was"I," and Herman Cain repeatedly referred to himself in third person. John Edwards swooned over his refection in the mirror, and let a aide take the fall in his love-child scandal. Newt Gingrich's ruthless treatment of his first wife and his belief that he knew everything qualified him for the presidency. And Hillary Clinton? Where to begin? As for Donald Trump, what normal person believes that he alone can "drain the swamp" and make America great again?

     It would be refreshing for a presidential candidate to step up to the mike and say, "I am a sociopath. I'm smarter than the people whose money and votes I solicit, and I will lie to get your support. And when I get into office, I'll continue to lie and keep on asking for money and votes in order to keep the job all politically oriented sociopaths covet." This, of course, will never happen because it requires telling the truth to people who don't want to hear it anyway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jeffrey Jarrett's Last Night Out: Too Bad He Was Dead

     In the 1989 comedy, "Weekend at Bernie's," a couple of low-level insurance agency employees are invited to spend the weekend at a beach house owned by their boss--Bernie. They show up at the summer house and find Bernie dead, and for the next two days, carry on as though he were alive. In one scene, these guys drive around in Bernie's convertible with the dead man propped up in the back seat. When people wave at Bernie, the guy sitting next to him grabs the dead man's arm and waves back. It's that kind of movie, kind of funny in spots, but really stupid because in real life no one would do something like this. That is until a couple of clowns in Glendale, Colorado bar-hopped one night accompanied by a dead man who picked up the tab.

     Jeffrey Jarrett, a 43-year-old real estate agent, had a problem with drugs and alcohol. In the summer of 2011, he called a friend from his days at Colorado State University. Jarrett asked his old buddy to room with him until he got his life straightened out. Shortly after his cry for help, 43-year-old Robert J. Young moved into his friend's house.

     On August 27, 2011, when Young came home from work, he found Jarrett sprawled on the floor, obviously dead. The look of the death scene suggested a drug overdose. (A toxicology report confirmed this. According to the medical examiner, Jarrett had overdosed on Xanax and Subutex--a drug addicted people take to get off opiates). Robert Young, instead of calling 911 phoned a 25-year-old drinking buddy named Mark Rubinson.

     That evening, a Saturday, Young and Rubinson stuffed Jeffrey Jarrett's lifeless body into the backseat of Rubinson's Lincoln Navigator and took off for a night on the town. They started off with drinks at a joint called Teddy T's Bar and Grill. The corpse remained in the SUV as Young and his friend used Jarrett's credit card to pay for their booze. From Teddy T's, the pair visited Sam's No. 3 where they continued to imbibe on the dead man's dime.

     Perhaps realizing that for Jarrett's credit card to work, his body didn't have to be sitting outside in Rubinson's SUV, they decided to take him home. After lugging the corpse back into the house, Young and Rubinson enjoyed a meal, at Jarrett's expense, at an eatery called Viva Burrito. (An appropriate pre-meal toast would have been, "Viva Jarrett's credit card.")

     The party animals finished off the night at a strip club called Shotgun Willie's where Robert Young used the dead man's credit card to withdraw $400 from the ATM. After the joint closed at four in the morning, Young contacted the Glendale Police Department to report his housemate's death.

     The local prosecutor charged Young and Rubinson with abuse of corpse, identify theft, and criminal impersonation. After first denying any wrongdoing, both suspects agreed to plead guilty to all charges.

     On March 6, 2012, a judge sentenced Robert J. Young to two years probation and ordered that he undergo "mental health evaluation and treatment; substance abuse assessment and treatment; and cognitive behavioral therapy." ( "Cognitive behavioral therapy"? I guess that meant that some therapist or shrink would explain to Mr. Young that hauling a corpse from bar to bar while using the dead man's credit card constitutes inappropriate behavior.)  Pursuant to his sentence, if Mr. Young behaved himself for two years, his record of shameless behavior would be expunged. (Wow, they are really tough on crime in Colorado.)

     Mr. Rubinson got off with a couple of years of probation as well. For some reason the judge didn't think he needed any cognitive behavioral therapy. He had just helped Young carry the corpse to and from the car, then drove his two companions, one dead and one alive, around town. The man drove a Lincoln Navigator, yet had to mooch drinks off a dead man.

     Only in America.

      

The Need for Exploding Corpse Insurance

     Her neighbor's corpse exploded. Now Judy Rodrigo has to pay for the damages to her apartment. After six years of legal battle, a Florida court ruled Rodrigo's insurance policy did not cover damage caused by bursting corpses.

     In 2008, an elderly woman who lived alone with her two dogs died in her apartment and her body remained undiscovered for two weeks….The corpse decayed and festered until it burst, leaking corrosive fluids into Rodrigo's downstairs apartment. The body was finally discovered when the stench reached neighboring units.

     Rodrigo paid out of pocket to repair her apartment, which she said had to be gutted. The smell apparently lingered. She blamed the condo association for not discovering the corpse, and filed suit against her insurance company, State Farm, which refused to cover the full cost of the repair. "Another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo," the lawsuit said. [Perhaps human decomposition detectors should be installed in all of these units.]

     The court ruled in April 2014 in favor of State Farm, saying Rodrigo failed to establish the incident was indeed "tantamount to an explosion." [Decomposing bodies do not, in fact, explode. They do seep, however.]

Rachel Stolzfoos, "Corpse Explodes, Neighbor Forced to Pay Damages," The Daily Caller, April 28, 2014



Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

     ….How did psychiatry come to play a crucial role in criminal trials? Why do defense and prosecution psychiatrists often disagree drastically in their expert opinions? What good, if any, does psychiatry do in our courts? To begin to answer these questions, we must first look at how the insanity defense operates.

     Once the defense lawyer decides with the client to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the attorney calls in one or more psychiatrists to examine the defendant. Even though the psychiatrists may question the accused weeks or months after the act was committed, they are expected to determine exactly what the defendant was thinking during the moments surrounding the crime. Most particularly, did the accused know what he or she was doing was against the law or wrong? If so, was a choice made to commit the crime anyway, or was the behavior beyond the defendant's control? Was he or she driven to it by mental disorder? 

     Psychiatrists have no tests to reconstruct a past state of mind, but they nonetheless offer an opinion, because they are convinced that their "clinical skills" allow them to expertly determine questions of legal sanity. If they decide the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime, the defense lawyer has reason to go forward with an insanity plea. If they decide differently, the defense attorney may decide to start over by hiring another psychiatrist to examine the defendant. A psychiatrist who will reach the desired conclusions can usually be found. Neither judge nor jury learns of the prior psychiatrists, only of those the defense lawyer calls to testify that the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime.

Lee Coleman, "The Insanity Defense," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, editor, 1994 

Kurt Vonnegut's Response to a Critic of Science Fiction

     Peter S. Prescott says in his Newsweek piece on science fiction (December 22, 1975): "Few science fiction writers aim higher than what a teen-age intelligence can grasp, and the smart ones--like Kurt Vonnegut, carefully satirize targets--racism, pollution, teachers--that teen-agers are conditioned to dislike."

     That unsupported allegation about me will now become a part of my dossier at Newsweek. I ask you to put this letter in the same folder, so that more honest reporters than Mr. Prescott may learn the following about me:

     I have never written with teen-agers in mind, nor are teen-agers the chief readers of my books. I am the first science fiction writer to win a Guggenheim, the first to become a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the first to have a novel become a finalist for a National Book Award. I have been on the faculties of the University of Iowa and Harvard, and was most recently a Distinguished Professor of Literature at CCNY.

     Mr. Prescott is entitled to loathe everything I have ever done, which he clearly does. But he should not be a liar. Newsweek should not be a liar.

Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, 2012 

Charles Bukowski's Fan Mail

I get many of my letters from people in madhouses and jails and some from strange people out of them. What they say, mainly, is that I have given them a reason for going on: "Since you are so screwed-up, Bukowski, and still around, there is a chance for me." But I don't write to save people; I dislike most of them. I feel best when I am totally alone. I've tried to answer most of my letters, especially from people in the madhouses but I found that an answer just brings another letter, a longer one and a stranger one.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Steven Zelich Rough Sex Murder Case

     On June 5, 2014, a highway cutting high grass along a road in Geneva, Wisconsin, a town in Walworth County 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee, exposed a pair of large suitcases. The overpowering odor of rotting flesh caused the highway employee to notify the police.

     Each of the suitcases contained a badly decomposed body of a woman. Through dental records the authorities identified the women as 37-year-old Laura Simonson and 21-year-old Jenny Gamez. The forensic pathologist, due to the condition of the bodies, could not establish their causes of death. Neither woman, however, had been shot.

     One of Laura Simonson's relatives reported the mother of seven from Farmington, Wisconsin missing on November 22, 2013. While her cause of death was unknown, before she died someone had tied a rope around her neck. That person also stuffed a ball attached to a collar into her mouth. The gag collar looked like a device commonly used by sadomasochists in bondage/slave sexual activity. According to family members, Simonson had struggled with mental illness.

     No one had been looking for the younger woman, Jenny Gamez. According to her foster parents, Gamez had left their home in Cottage Grove, Oregon to start a new life. In 2008, as a fifteen-year-old, she had given birth to a son. The baby's father, in 2010, gained full custody of the child. In keeping with the sadomasochistic theme of the case, someone had tied Gamez's hands behind her back.

     On June 27, 2014, police officers arrested 52-year-old Steven M. Zelich at his home in West Allis, Wisconsin. Zelich had been seen with each woman on separate occasions in Wisconsin and Minnesota. A Wisconsin prosecutor charged Zelich with two counts of hiding a corpse.

     In 1989, the then 27-year-old Zelich started working in West Allis as a police officer. Three years later, following an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, the chief of police forced him to resign. Since 2007 Zelich had been an employee of a contract security guard company.

     Zelich's sexual tastes, in light of evidence of bondage associated with the bodies in the suitcases, led detectives to suspect he was the last person to see these women alive. On a bondage and sadomasochism website, Zelich solicited sexual partners with the following message: "Seeking no limit enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization [no clue] ideally in a farm/caged situation."

     Following his arrest, Zelich told detectives he met the 21-year-old Gamez through the sex website. In November of 2013, he spent several nights with her in a Kenosha County Hotel where they had sadomasochistic sex that included bondage. Upon her accidental death in the course of this activity, he stuffed her body into a suitcase and took the corpse home.

     After connecting with the 37-year-old Simonson through the sadomasochistic Internet site, they engaged in bondage sex at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Rochester, Minnesota. This took place on November 21, 2013. Simonson had checked into the motel under her own name but never checked out. After she died while having sex with him, Zelich placed her body into a suitcase that ended up in his house with the other corpse.

     In late May or early June 2014, Zelich dumped the suitcases along the road in Geneva, Wisconsin. According to Zelich's attorney the women, as willing participants in rough sex, died accidentally. By dumping the suitcases along the road, Zelich wanted the bodies to be discovered. The attorney did not believe that homicide charges in this case would be appropriate.

     In January 2016, Steven Zelich pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree homicide as well as one count of hiding a corpse. He had been scheduled for trial on the charge of first-degree intentional homicide. The judge, in March 2016, sentenced Steven Zelich to 35 years in prison.

   

     

When You Sit Down to Write--Write

Here's a short list of what not to do when you sit down to write. Don't answer the phone. Don't look at e-mail. Don't go on the Internet for any reason, including checking the spelling of some obscure word, or for what you might think of as research but is really a fancy form of procrastination…Sit down and stay there…Get used to the discomfort. Make some kind of peace with it.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Sherlock Holmes Would Have Ridiculed His Creator

Sir A. Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes was the epitome of rationalism and logic. However, Doyle himself was not. He believed deeply in ghosts, fairies, and other spiritualistic claptrap, and was duped over and over again by charlatans and hoaxers.

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

Agatha Christie's Hoax

Agatha Christie nearly pulled off a real-life hoax worthy of her mystery novels. Upset that her husband was leaving her for another woman, she set up an incriminating scene that almost got him arrested for her "murder." Luckily for him, an employee at a distant seaside hotel saw news photos of Christie and recognized her as the woman who had slipped into the hotel under an assumed name. Although Christie claimed amnesia, the police were not amused after having wasted a week of searching rivers and bogs.

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Brittany Killgore Sex Dungeon Murder Case

     After two years of marriage to Lance Corporal Cory Killgore, 22-year-old Brittany Killgore, on April 11, 2012, filed for divorce. The Marine was serving in Afghanistan. Brittany lived in Fallbrook, California, a San Diego County town of 38,000 not far from Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Marine base.

     At two in the afternoon on Saturday, April 14, 2012, one of Brittany Killgore's friends called the San Diego County Sheriff's Office to report her missing. The caller had last seen Killgore at 7 PM the day before when she stopped by her friend's apartment to borrow a dress. Killgore said she was going on a date with a 45-year-old Marine staff sergeant named Louis Ray Perez who was picking her up in less than an hour. They were going into downtown San Diego.

     At 7:45 that Friday evening, the friend received a text message from Killgore's cellphone that read, "Help." The friend texted back, "What? R U okay?" When Brittany didn't respond, the friend texted, "Brittany are U okay? I am freaking out here." At 8:05 PM the friend received another message from Killgore's cellphone that read, "Yes I love this party." The worried friend considered this text suspicious because Killgore always used the word "yeah" instead of "yes" in her text messaging. That was the last the friend heard from Killgore's phone. (A transient in downtown San Diego later found Killgore's cellphone in the doorway of a Comfort Inn.)

     A detective with the San Diego Sheriff's Office called Sergeant Louis Perez (who didn't have a criminal record) and asked if he'd come in for questioning regarding the Killgore missing persons case. Perez said he would and showed up at the sheriff's office shortly after the call.

     According to the 16-year veteran of the Marine Corps, he had gone to Killgore's apartment at four o'clock Friday afternoon to help her pack for her upcoming move to another place. He asked her if she'd like to go out on a dinner-dance boat that evening in downtown San Diego. Killgore declined, saying that she was tired. Soon after Perez left Killgore's apartment at 5:10 PM, she sent him a text saying she had changed her mind. Perez returned to her place at 7:30 for the date.

     According to the Marine's statement, he dropped Brittany off in downtown San Diego in front of a club called the Whisky Girl Night while he looked for a place to park. Fifteen minutes later, when he arrived at the club on foot, he couldn't find her. Perez looked around for 30 minutes, then headed home to the house he shared in Fallbrook with his girlfriend, 36-year-old Dorothy Grace Marie Maraglino and her friend, Jessica Lynn Lopez, 25.

     The deputy who interviewed Perez that afternoon asked if he could take a look inside the white Ford Explorer the Marine had driven to the sheriff's office. Perez said he had no problem with that.

     The first thing the detective noticed about Perez's car was the fresh mud caked on the underside of the vehicle and in its wheel wells. The Marine's shoes were also muddy. Perez told the officer that the car had gotten that way when he recently collected firewood near Camp Pendleton. The deputy took a plastic bag from inside the car that contained a pair of blue latex gloves which appeared to be blood-stained. (A presumptive luminal test confirmed it was blood and later DNA analysis identified the blood as Brittany Killgore's.) Perez also possessed a stun gun that had a human hair follicle attached to it. At this point in the investigation, Sergeant Perez became a suspect in Brittany Killgore's disappearance and possible murder. The deputy, after recovering a stolen AR 15 assault rifle from Perez's Ford Explorer, arrested him on a charge of theft. The "person of interest" in the Killgore case was taken to jail where he was incarcerated under $500,000 bond.

     From Perez's cellphone, investigators collected messages sent from his phone to Killgore's. The first message, sent at 9:20 PM on Friday, April 13, almost two hours after Killgore's "help" text, said, "Your friends are calling me worried." Later that evening, at a time investigators believe Killgore was dead, Perez had texted, "Now I am worried too."

     When the San Diego detectives questioned the suspect's housemate, Dorothy Maraglino, the 37-year-old said Perez had returned home Friday night sometime between 10 PM and midnight. He remained in the Fallbrook house until he left for San Diego the next day in response to the call from the sheriff's office.

     On April 15, 2012, San Diego deputies searched the Perez/Maraglino/Lopez house in Fallbrook where they suspected Brittany Killgore had been murdered. The searchers discovered that one of the rooms in the dwelling had been set up as a "sex dungeon" equipped with a variety of "sex apparatuses, toys, and tools" such as handcuffs, whips, leather restraints, and chain shackles. When asked about this sadomasochistic playroom, Dorothy Maraglino and Jessica Lopez explained that they participated in erotic master-servant and master-slave role-playing. Dorothy identified herself as the dominatrix and said that Louis Perez enjoyed spanking women.

     The Killgore missing persons/murder investigation took an even more bizarre turn on April 16, 2012 when investigators learned that master Dorothy and her slave Jessica had checked into the Ramada Inn located in the Point Loma section of San Diego. Deputies showed up at room 105 at 9:30 that morning. Lopez, in a drowsy voice, told the officers she was too exhausted to come to the door to let them in. When a deputy cracked the door open as far as the interior door chain would allow, the officer saw blood on the floor. Another officer kicked the door open and the police stormed into the motel room.

     The sheriff's deputies found Jessica Lopez, naked from the waist up and covered in blood from self-inflicted superficial knife wounds on her neck and wrists. (Maraglino had left the motel.) A message in lipstick scrawled on the mirror above the dressing table read: "PIGS READ THIS." Below this message lay a 7-page, handwritten murder confession signed by Jessica Lopez.

     In the confession, Lopez admitted using a ligature, in the sex dungeon in the Fallbrook house, to strangle Brittany Killgore to death. She killed the victim out of fear Louis Perez would be seduced by her. After half-hearted attempts to dismember Killgore's body, Lopez doused the naked body with bleach to destroy physical evidence. She wrote that she "hid the body of that whore in almost plain sight" near Lake Skinner, noting that the police would find handcuff marks on the victim's wrists. Lopez said she had deposited the knife she had used in her attempts to "chop her up" in a beach restroom in Oceanside. The police would also find a pair of handcuffs with the knife. In her statement/suicide note, Lopez said she was taking full responsibility for Killgore's murder.

     At 2:30 that afternoon, searchers located Killgore's naked remains lying in the brush along the side of a road near Riverside County's Lake Skinner, 23 miles north of Fallbrook. The police arrested Jessica Lopez on April 17, 2012 on the charge of first-degree murder. Louis Perez, already in custody on the gun theft case, was charged with first-degree murder as well. Dorothy Maraglino, also charged with first-degree murder, was taken into custody on May 10, 2012. The three suspects were held on $3 million bond and all pleaded not guilty.

     At a Killgore murder case preliminary hearing that got underway on March 11, 2013 in Vista County Superior Court, the victim's best friend Elizabeth Hernandez testified that she and Killgore became acquainted with Marine Sergeant Louis Perez, Jessica Lopez, and Dorothy Maraglino in 2011 after Hernandez responded to an ad selling a fertility monitor on a website used by military families. Hernandez said she befriended Maraglino because the two of them were trying to get pregnant. After that, Brittany Killgore regularly visited the house where Maragalino resided with Lopez.

     Hernandez testified that Perez, Lopez, and Maragalino openly discussed their sexual lifestyle that involved Perez as the master, Maragalino as the mistress, and Lopez as the slave. In their sex dungeon they had painted a giant spider web on the wall and bars on the ceiling. According to the preliminary hearing witness, Hernandez and Killgore made it clear they were not going to participate in the sex games.

     In 2012, Elizabeth Hernandez and Killgore had a falling out. At that time, Killgore was preparing to divorce her husband, Lance Corporal Cory Killgore. Hernandez testified that she discussed the souring of their friendship with Louis Perez, Lopez and Maragalino. After that, Lopez and Maragalino began referring to Killgore as "the disease" and "herpes." According to Hernandez, Perez and Maragalino said they could get rid of Killgore but they wouldn't because they knew Hernandez would miss her. Hernandez said she thought they were joking.

     On March 14, 2013, Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Nelson testified that the victim had been strangled with some kind of ligature and that her body had been moved to where it was found near Lake Skinner. The forensic pathologist said their were two marks on Killgore's neck and tiny hemorrhages in her eyes that indicated strangulation as the cause of death. Dr. Nelson had also discovered cuts on the victim's left wrist and left knee that suggested that someone had attempted to dismember the body. The cut to the left leg was so deep it reached the bone. The bone contained tool marks that indicated a saw had been used in the dismemberment attempt. This had occurred postmortem.

     A woman followed Dr. Nelson to the stand who said she had lived in the Maraglino house for three months in late 2010. According to this witness, she had been Maraglino's sex slave for a time and knew that Maraglino and Louis Perez enjoyed choking their sex partners.

     On March 16, 2013, Vista Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman ruled that the prosecution in the Killgore case had presented enough evidence against the defendants to justify a murder trial.

     On April 8, 2014, murder defendant Dorothy Maragalino, represented by the fourth attorney assigned to her since 2012, was back in court filing motions that would delay the progress of the case. Initially, Maragalino had insisted on representing herself then changed her mind. After dismissing her next two lawyers, the judge assigned her a public defender who asked to be removed from the case, Attorney Jane Kinsey, the fourth defense attorney, needed more time to prepare. Judge Kirkman granted the motion.

     That April, Jessica Lopez's attorney, Sloan Ostby, asked the judge for more time to study the 7,345 pages of documents he had demanded from the prosecution on discovery. Ostby said he also had to review 165 DVDs that had been supplied by the state. The judge granted this motion.

     Attorney Brad Patton, representing Louis Perez, the accused sex dungeon master, filed a series of pretrial motions in 2014 that slowed progress in the case. On December 12, 2014, perhaps in an attempt to move things along, the district attorney's office announced it would not seek the death penalty against the defendants.

     On June 6, 2015, at a pre-trial hearing, Judge Kirkman denied a motion by defense attorney Sloan Ostby to exclude writings by Jessica Lopez that described, in detail, the victim's torture, murder, and dismemberment. Attorney Ostby, characterizing the writings as the product of his client's fantasies, argued that the material was so gruesome it would unduly prejudice a jury. Judge Kirkman said he would allow the writings into evidence with some restrictions of the most disturbing parts.

     The handwritten "Pigs Read This" document had been found in the hotel room along with Jessica Lopez's suicide note. In denying the motion to completely suppress this evidence, Judge Kirkman said, "It is a document that very much has relevance."

     In earlier court related statements, prosecutor Patrick Espinoza compared the defendants to the Manson family. Defense attorneys objected to this and asked the judge to forbid such comparisons in the future. Judge Kirkman granted that request.

     On August 14, 2015, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office released its Brittany Killgore autopsy report. The document confirmed that Killgore had been strangled. Moreover, attempts had been made to dismember her body. The victim was initially identified by a small tattoo on her left wrist. According to notes made by Deputy San Diego Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Nelson, "On the left side of the [victim's] neck and face were two small, paired brown marks that were suggestive of use of an electrical weapon…The victim's left knee had a large, but bloodless, incised would suggestive of attempted dismemberment."

     On September 8, 2015, in Vista, California, jury selection began in the Dorothy Maraglino, Louis Perez, and Jessica Perez murder trial. Two months later, the defendants were convicted of murder and kidnapping. The judge sentenced all three to life without the chance of parole.

     

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Dr. Robert Ferrante Poison Murder Case

     In 2013, Dr. Robert Ferrante and his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, lived with their 6-year-old daughter in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ferrante held the positions of co-director of the Center of ALS Research, and visiting professor of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Dr. Klein, with offices in Magee-Woman's Hospital in the Kaufman Medical Building, was chief of women's neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and an assistant professor of neurology, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh.

     Dr. Ferrante, twenty-three years older than his wife, met her in 2000 when they lived in Boston where she was a medical student and he worked at a hospital for veterans. They were married a year later. In 2010, Dr. Ferrante left his job at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital to join the University of Pittsburgh's neurological surgery team. Dr. Klein moved to Pittsburgh with him.

     Dr. Klein, who was forty-one, was having difficulty getting pregnant with her second child. Her 64-year-old husband had been encouraging her to take a nutritional supplement to help her conceive. On April 17, 2013, Dr. Ferrante sent Autumn a text message in which he inquired if she had taken the supplement. She wrote back: "Will it stimulate egg production, too?" Nine hours after Dr. Klein sent that message, she collapsed in the kitchen of the couple's Schenley Farms home.

     Emergency personnel rushed Dr. Klein to the University of Pittsburgh Medial Center (UPMC) in Oakland. On the kitchen floor next to her body, paramedics noticed a bag of white powder later identified as creatine, a nutritional supplement. Shortly after the patient was admitted into the hospital, a UPMC doctor ordered tests of her blood. When a preliminary serological analysis revealed a high level of acid, the doctor ordered toxicolgical tests for cyanide poisoning.

     Dr. Klein died on April 20, 2013. Three days later, at Dr. Ferrante's insistence, her body was cremated. As a result, there was no autopsy.

     Dr. Karl Williams, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, based on the toxicology reports, determined that Dr. Klein had died of cyanide poisoning. The forensic pathologist ruled her death a homicide.

     Cyanide kills by starving the cells of oxygen. A lethal dose for a human can be as small as 200 milligrams--1/25th the size of a nickel. The poison acts fast and metabolizes quickly. The toxic substance can be undetectable from one minute to three hours after ingestion. Had samples of Dr. Klein's blood not been taken upon her admission to UPMC, there would have been no physical evidence of poisoning beyond the contents of the bag of white powder found lying on the victim's kitchen floor.

     Two weeks after Dr. Klein's death, detectives with the Pittsburgh Police Department launched a homicide investigation with Dr. Ferrante as the prime suspect. Officials at UPMC placed the neurologist on leave and denied him access to his laboratory. A police search of the lab resulted in the discovery that 8.3 grams from a bottle of cyanide was missing. Detectives learned that Dr. Ferrante had purchased a half-pound of the poison on April 15, 2013, two days before his wife collapsed in their home. Dr. Ferrante had used a UPMC credit card to buy the cyanide and had asked the vendor to ship it to his lab overnight. Detectives believed the suspect, in his laboratory, mixed the cyanide--a substance not related to his work--into the dietary supplement.

     According to friends of the victim, Dr. Ferrante had been a controlling husband who was jealous of his wife's fast-rising career. Moreover, he suspected that she was having an affair with a man from Boston. Dr. Klein had told friends she was planning to leave the doctor. Another possible motive involved the fact Dr. Ferrante did not want his wife to have another child.

     On April 13, four days before she fell ill, Dr. Klein sent one of her friends a text message regarding a trip she planned to take to Boston by herself. In that message she wrote: "Change of plans. Husband is coming to Boston. Told me 'to keep me out of trouble.'"

     "Oh, dear," replied the friend. "Did you know you were in trouble?"

     "I feel like I have been in trouble for a long time now," Dr. Klein answered.

     On July 24, 2013, an Allegheny County prosecutor charged Dr. Robert Ferrante with first-degree murder. The next day, as Dr. Ferrante drove back to Pittsburgh from St. Augustine, Florida, a West Virginia state patrol officer arrested him on I-77 near Beckley. According to the doctor's attorney, William Difenderfer, his client was on his way to surrender to the Pittsburgh police.

     Dr. Ferrante's arrest for the murder of his wife caused him serious financial problems. Except for $280,000 the suspect was allowed to use for legal expenses and a possible fine, a judge seized his assets. In August 2013, his 6-year-old daughter's maternal grandmother who was caring for the girl in Maryland, petitioned a family court judge for child support.

     The Ferrante murder trial got underway on October 20, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following jury selection, the attorneys for each side presented their opening statements. Assistant Allegheny County District Attorney Lisa Pelligrini asserted that the defendant had murdered his wife because she wanted to have a second child. The prosecutor also said that Dr. Ferrante thought his wife was having an affair.

     Defense attorney William Difenderfer pointed out the circumstantial nature of the prosecution's case, inconsistent crime toxicology reports regarding cyanide in Dr. Klein's blood, and an absence of an autopsy.

     Dr. Christopher Holstege, a University of Virginia professor and the author of the text, Criminal Poisoning, Clinical and Forensic Perspectives, took the stand as the prosecutor's key expert witness. Dr. Holstege testified that the victim's symptoms ruled out everything but cyanide poisoning.

     Defense attorney William Difenderfer put three forensic experts on the stand. Dr. Robert Middleberg, vice president of a private crime lab in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, said tests at his facility of Dr. Klein's blood were inconclusive.

     Dr. Middleberg's testimony was backed up by Dr. Shaun Carstairs of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht. Dr. Wecht, a forensic pathologist, had testified in dozens of celebrated murder cases around the world.

     As his last witness, Diffenderfer, in a surprise and risky move, put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf. As could have been anticipated, the prosecutor's blistering cross examination revealed numerous inconsistencies in Dr. Ferrante's statements to the authorities.

     On Friday November 7, 2014, the jury found Dr. Ferrante guilty of first-degree murder, an offense in Pennsylvania that came with a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

     Through his appellate attorney Chris Eyster, Robert Ferrante appealed his conviction on the ground that the prosecution had not had sufficient probable cause for the search warrant that produced evidence that incriminated his client. The lawyer also raised questions regarding the laboratory that concluded that the victim had been killed by poison.

     In September 2016, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning upheld the Ferrante conviction.
     

Woman Sets Man's Face on Fire

     A Tampa Bay, Florida woman was arrested in October 2014 after setting her roommate on fire--after he threw out her spaghetti. Melissa Dawn Sellers, 33, became enraged after roommate Carlos Ortiz threw out her spaghetti and meatballs. She allegedly doused Ortiz in nail polish remover before setting him on fire.

     According to Ines Causevic, the victim's friend, "She was setting little objects on fire, then that turned into pouring nail polish remover on him, and then all of a sudden, the lighter sparked and he lit on fire."

     Ortiz took Sellers in after she lost her job at Wal-Mart and could no longer afford her rent. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was listed in critical condition, with burns to his face and body. "When he got up, his face was like melting off," Causevic said. "His lips were burning."

     Sellers has been charged with aggravated battery. She was convicted of battery in 2008.

     [On June 15, 2015, Sellers pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 66 months in prison.]

"Woman Set Roommate on Fire After He Threw Out Her Spaghetti, independent news. com, October 23, 2014 

Stephen King's Daily Word Production

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That's 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book--something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I'm up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning…More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day's work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I'm still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Cracking Down on Unarmed 75-Year-Old Debtors

     When officials in the small town of Stettin in Marathon County, Wisconsin, went to collect a civil judgement from 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner this month, they sent 24 armed officers and an armored military vehicle…

     The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri has focused attention on the growing militarization of local law enforcement, particularly the use by small police departments of surplus armored military vehicles. Marathon County sheriff's deputies are not apologizing for their militaristic tactics. Sheriff's Captain Greg Bean said officials expected to seize and remove tractors and wood pallets to pay the civil judgment--hence the cadre of deputies. He also said that while Hoeppner was never considered dangerous, he was know to be argumentative.

     Mr. Hoeppner said when he noticed deputies outside his house, he called his attorney, Ryan Lister of Wausaw. Lister said he quickly left for Hoeppner's house but was stopped by a roadblock that was kept up until after his client had been taken away in handcuffs. "Rather than provide Mr Hoeppner or his counsel notice…and attempt to collect without spending thousands of dollars on the military-style maneuvers, the town unilaterally decided to enforce its civil judgment with a show of force," the attorney said.

John Galt, "Marathon County Uses Newly Acquired Armored Vehicle to Collect Debts," johngaltfla.com, October 28, 2014

     

What Pre-Teens Read

Children of both sexes in the 10 to 12 year age group predominantly read fiction, with the most popular genre amongst both boys and girls being adventure stories. Girls choose more romances, horror/ghost stories and poetry books. Boys choose more science fiction, comedy, sports and war/spy books.

Lyn Pritchard, penguin.com, 1999

Friday, September 15, 2017

Coopertown, Tennessee: Speed Traps, Racist Police, and the History and Misuse of the Polygraph

     August Vollmer, the progressive chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department from 1909 to 1932, was one of the first police reformers to write about how traffic enforcement puts a stain on police-community relations. Vollmer believed that municipal traffic ordinances are best enforced by non-sworn, civilian personnel. He would have found the idea of a speed trap appalling.

     Prior to 2006, if you drove over the speed limit in Coopertown, Tennessee, a town of 4,000 30 miles northwest of Nashville, you had a good chance of getting a ticket. If you were an Hispanic, a soldier from Fort Campbell across the line in Kentucky, or an out-of-towner, it was almost certain you'd get caught in this notorious speed trap. (One-third of the town's revenue came from speeding tickets.)

     In 2006, the National Motorists Association designated Coopertown, Tennessee as one of the most "blatant examples of speed traps in the country." That year, the county prosecutor, feeling pressure from outraged merchants and others in the community who felt the speed trap hurt the town and corrupted the police, accused Mayor Danny Crosby of not only running a ticket-issueing racket, but targeting Hispanics, blacks, and other groups of people.

     The local prosecutor failed to find a judge willing to remove the mayor from office, but not long after his attempt, citizens voted Crosby out of office. While the speed trap went out with the mayor, the town continued to be hit by one police scandal after another. From 2006 to 2012, there seemed to be a new police chief every year, and periods when the town didn't have a police force.

     In November 2012, when Police Chief Shane Sullivan took office, the 39-year-old announced his plan to use the polygraph as a pre-employment measure to weed-out job candidates who were racists. Chief Sullivan's well-intentioned hiring policy reflects his basic misunderstanding of the polygraph instrument's capabilities and proper use.

A Short History of the Polygraph

     The polygraph was invented in 1921 by Dr. John Larsen, a 27-year-old University of California Berkeley medical student with a Ph.D. in physiology. Dr. Larson worked as a part-time police officer at the Berkeley Police Department under Chief August Vollmer. Larson had read a 1908 book called On The Witness Stand by the Harvard psychiatrist, Hugo Munsterberg who had been searching for a method of scientific lie detection since the turn of the century.

     In his chapter "The Traces of the Emotion," Dr. Munsterberg wrote that three physiological events take place whenever a person lies. First, the liar's blood pressure and heart beat increase; second, there are respiratory alterations; and third, telling a lie chances the person's galvanic skin response, or GSR. To measure GSR, Dr. Munsterberg used a galvanometer that picked-up variations in the body's resistance to electricity. (Munsterberg found that when the brain is excited emotionally, the individual's sweat glands alter the body's resistance to electricity.)

     In 1921, Chief Vollmer asked his "college cop" to fashion a lie detection instrument detectives could use to detect deception in the people they interrogate. After working several weeks on the project, Dr. Larson informed Vollmer that he had rigged an apparatus that could detect truth and deception, an instrument he called the polygraph.

     The cumbersome tangle of rubber hoses, wires, and glass tubing was five feet long, two and a half feet high, and weighed thirty pounds. The device could be taken apart and moved from one place to another, but it took an hour to set up.

     Larson's instrument advanced Munsterberg's technique in four ways. The polygraph recorded the physiological responses on a continuous graph while the subject was being questioned. This was an improvement over the technique of asking a question then taking the examinee's blood pressure. The second advantage involved the ability to adjust the instrument in order to control such variables as high blood pressure or extreme nervousness. Larson's invention also produced a tangible and permanent record of test results that could be later analyzed by other experts. And finally the polygraph detected and recorded the subject's breathing patterns in addition to blood pressure and pulse rate.

     In the spring of 1921, John Larson tested the polygraph on Chief Vollmer and members of the Berkeley Police Department. The results of these experiments convinced Vollmer that Larson had invented a device that would revolutionize the art and science of criminal investigation. Larson, as the department's polygraph examiner, began using the instrument to solve a series of petty theft cases at the University of California.

     Today, for a polygraph result to be accurate, the instrument (vastly more sophisticated that Larson's invention), has to be in good working order. Moreover, the examiner must be properly trained and experienced in question formation and line chart interpretation. (Police polygraph examiners have to fight against their own bias.) Subjects have to be willing participants in the process, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, be obese, retarded, or mentally ill. People who are very old or under fourteen do not make reliable polygraph subjects.

     Polygraph tests that include questions that do not call for factual answers will not be reliable. In Coopertown, Tennessee, Chief Sullivan's idea of using the technique to screen job applicants who are racist won't work because the instrument cannot accurately determine if a subject is lying about a state of mind. It's too subjective. There are, for example, different definitions and degrees of racism, and an  examinee might not recognized the trait in himself.

     Bob Peters, a spokesperson for the American Polygraph Association, in addressing Chief Sullivan's polygraph program, recommended that the examiners only asked job candidates about factual matters. Have you ever smoke marijuana? Questions like that.

     Chief Sullivan, in an effort to staff his department with officers who are not racists, should have considered conducting pre-employment background investigations. While this approach is more costly and time consuming, the results are more reliable. No pre-employment screening technique, however, is fool-proof, and law enforcement work has a way of changing the way a person thinks about a lot of things. The job also drives some people a little crazy. 

A Motorist in a Hurry

     New Hampshire State Police say an airborne patrol unit clocked a man driving 127 mph on Interstate 93 in the town of Northfield. The State Police Special Enforcement Unit was using an airplane to monitor traffic Saturday morning November 29, 2014 when the trooper in the aircraft saw a northbound vehicle traveling fast.

     Police said the tactical flight officer twice clocked the vehicle traveling in excess of 100 mph with the top speed at 127. The driver, stopped by troopers on the ground, was 19-year-old Ryan Quinn of Newport, Rhode Island. A prosecutor charged Quinn with reckless driving and two counts of possession of a controlled drug.

"Man clocked at 127 MPH on Highway," Associated Press, November 30, 2014 

No One "Deserves" to be Robbed

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

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

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

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

The Memoir-Worthy Life

     The truth is out there. You can't miss it, in fact--it's everywhere. But even as we embrace the twenty-four hour confession cycle of social media, the popularity, and subsequent disparagement, of the memoir reveals our mixed feelings about true stories. We might be lured into tales of harrowing childhoods or devastating divorces, but our internal machinery will monitor the narratives based on the same arbitrary rubrics that guard our own personal revelations (or lack thereof): Is the author honest about his motives? Are her experiences exotic enough to teach us something new? Does he learn a big lesson at the end, or does he tumble off a cliff into a nihilistic abyss?

     Blogs and Instagram and YouTube have rendered brutal honesty and statements of "my truth" about as mundane as instructions on how to dye your hair. Nevertheless, committing your life experiences to the published page is still viewed as an audacious act, one reserved for celebrated authors, public figures, or those who've lived outside the norm and endured horrors untold. For every phalanx of writing instructors exhorting their pupils to write what they know, there's an equal and opposite gaggle of critics urging them to keep their junior-varsity trials and tribulations to themselves. If your pain doesn't equal the pain of the reader, you are merely indulging yourself.

Heather Havrilesky, Bookforum, February/March 2015 

Harry Potter's Effect On The Teen Fantasy Genre

The first novel I published was the fifth I'd written and when it sold I was working on novel thirteen. What finally made the difference? Harry Potter. I slid into publication on Harry Potter's big, beautiful coattails. When I first started writing you couldn't sell a fantasy novel for teens to save your life. An editor once told me, "First you have to sell three or four realistic novels, about real kids, preferably humorous. If they do well then maybe, maybe someone will look at your fantasy." Then Harry Potter hit, and every editor in the country started pulling fantasy out of their slush piles.

Hilari Bell in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Prosecutor Alex Hunter's Courageous Decision in the JonBenet Ramsey Murder Case

     An early morning emergency call that a child had been kidnapped brought a pair of Boulder, Colorado police officers to John and Patsy Ramsey's three-story house on December 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey informed the officers that she had found a handwritten ransom note inside the house on the stairway. Fearing that her 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, had been kidnapped for ransom, she had called 911. After a cursory sweep of the 15-room dwelling, the patrol officers called for assistance.

     During the next two hours, amid friends and relatives who had come to console the family, police set up wiretap and recording equipment to monitor negotiations with the kidnappers. At one point in the afternoon, Boulder detective Linda Arndt asked John Ramsey to look around the house for "anything unusual." Thirty minutes later, he and one of his friends discovered JonBenet's body in a small basement room. Her mouth had been sealed with duct tape, and she had lengths of white rope around her neck and right wrist. The rope around her neck was tied to what looked like the handle of a paintbrush.

     In the months following the murder, the police, prosecutors, media, and most Americans believed that someone in the family had killed the tiny beauty queen. But if this were the case, then who had written the two and a half page ransom note? Forensic document examiners eliminated John Ramsey as the ransom note writer, and all but one handwriting expert concluded that Patsy Ramsey had probably not authored the ransom document. Evidence also surfaced that an intruder could have entered the house through a broken basement window.

     On June 14, 2006, after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer, Patsy Ramsey died at the age of 49. John Ramsey later remarried.

     When Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter's announcement in 1999 that his office would not prosecute the Ramseys due to lack of evidence, the media reported that the grand jury looking into the murder agreed with the prosecutor's assessment. But on January 28, 2013, according to ABC News reportage, while the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys with murder, grand jurors did find enough evidence to indict the parents for child abuse that resulted in the victim's death. Notwithstanding this grand jury finding, Alex Hunter stood firm in his decision not to prosecute these parents.

     According to the Ramsey family attorney Lyn Wood, Alex Hunter was "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice." Most true crime pundits familiar with the Ramsey case, myself included, agree with attorney Wood. The Ramseys had not only been victimized by their daughter's killer, they were victims of a tabloid-like media that falsely portrayed them as child murders.

     The Ramsey case is still officially open, but investigators do not appear close to solving the murder. JonBenet would have turned 23 this year.  

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     It's not true that the only reason criminals return to the scene of the crime is to make sure they didn't leave any evidence. Mostly, they return to the scene of the crime because they're stupid.

     Thomas Lancaster, twenty-one, came back to the doughnut shop he had just robbed a few minutes earlier at knifepoint in Oxnard, California. He wandered in, sat down, and tried to order a cup of coffee. The clerk merely beckoned to the police officer who was taking down all the information for the robbery report, and he made the arrest.

Chuck Shepherd, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993

The Counterfeiter

The most difficult, intricate crime involves counterfeiting money. Wait, let me rephrase that. The most difficult, intricate crime is successful counterfeiting. Unsuccessful counterfeiters are everywhere, particularly in prison, having failed to live up to their expectations.

Chuck Sheppard, America's Lest Successful Criminals, 1993

Sword-and-Socery Fantasy

Sword-and-socery fiction is to fantasy what the western is to the historical novel, or perhaps more precisely, what the hardboiled private-eye story is to mystery fiction. It is a subgenre based on a prefabricated image, without which it cannot be identified at all: the cowboy in the middle of the dusty street, ready to draw; the private-eye in the trench coat; the brawny scantily-clad swordsman, glaring defiantly at menaces supernatural and otherwise, with an even less-clad shapely wench cowering somewhere in the background.

Darrell Schweitzer in How To Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by J.N. Williamson, 1991 

What Editors Don't Like in Children's Books

I hate to see [in a children's book] a whiny character who's in the middle of a fight with one of his parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes and displaying all sorts of stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character "stats" ("Hi, I'm Brian. I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes.") I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader ("Let me tell you about the summer when I…")

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cop Killer Ronell Wilson's Ploy to Avoid the Death Sentence

     New York City detectives James V. Nemorin and Rodney J. Andrews had arranged an undercover gun buy to take place on Staten Island on March 10, 2003. The officers had purchased a .357-Magnum revolver from Ronell Wilson the day before. The detectives showed up at the meeting place with $1,200 in cash to buy a Tech-9 handgun from Wilson. Instead of making the deal, Wilson, who intended all along to rob the undercover officers, shot each of them in the head with a .44-caliber handgun.

     Ronell Wilson was convicted of the murders in 2005 and sentenced to death. But his death sentence was set aside a few years later when New York State's death penalty statute was declared unconstitutional.

     In December 2006, Wilson was found guilty in a federal district court in Brooklyn of murdering the police officers. The judge sentenced him to death under the federal law. Wilson's attorneys challenged the death sentence on the grounds that Wilson was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the lethal injection. Wilson's lawyers presented his case before a Brooklyn federal judge in November 2012.

     In August of 2012, prison informants at the Metropolitan Detection Center, a federal lock-up in Brooklyn, told correction authorities that Ronell Wilson had been having sex with a female guard named Nancy Gonzales. (Gonzales and Wilson had been having sex since March 2012.) In an effort to avoid the death sentence, Wilson intended to impregnate the corrections officer. (Not bad thinking for a mentally retarded guy.) In a letter to another inmate, Wilson wrote, "I just need a baby before the pigs try to take my life."

     The 29-year-old prison guard, in a recorded telephone call to her boyfriend, an inmate in a New York state prison, admitted having sex with Wilson in his cell. "I took a chance because I was so vulnerable and wanted to be loved," Gonzales said. "And now I am carrying his child."

     On February 5, 2013, FBI agents arrested the eight-month pregnant prison guard at her home in Huntington, Long Island. At her Brooklyn arraignment, the judge charged Gonzales with having sexual intercourse with an inmate. If convicted of this federal offense, she faced up to 16 months in prison.

     On Wednesday, February 6, the 72-year-old father of NYPD detective Rodney Andrews, in speaking to a reporter with the New York Daily News, said he doesn't believe the man who murdered his son should receive mercy just because he impregnated a female corrections officer. "Put him to death for what he did. If he had 20 children I wouldn't change my mind. That baby will be better off with that father not being around."

     In February 2014, at Gonzales' sentencing hearing following her guilty plea, the defendant told the judge that she had been sexually abused as a child by family members. Moreover, she claimed to have been sexually assaulted while serving in the National Guard. The judge sentenced Gonzales to a year and a day in prison.

      As of this writing, Ronell Wilson remains on death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

Writing Class

When Katherine Anne Porter taught creative writing at the University of Virginia, her method was to sit the student writer down and read his story to him aloud. That's all there was to it, or so I've heard tell. I've also heard tell that one student, before his story was half read, broke down and ran out of class. [I would have been right behind him, all the way to the registrar's office to get my tuition back.]

John Casey in The Writing Life, 1995 

Lawyers as Sharks

A lawyer is basically a mouth, like a shark is a mouth attached to a long gut. The business of lawyers is to talk, to interrupt each other, and to devour each other if possible.

Joyce Carol Oates, novelist

Public Hangings in Colonial America

When executions were still public events, they provided an enormous interest. Perhaps no single event brought more spectators in those years than a public hanging. People drove for miles to be present; some camped in the vicinity for several days. The large concourse of people naturally brought camp followers to every large gathering. Entertainers, vendors, pickpockets, promoters, evangelists, sight-seers, peddlers, and medicine men would descend on the town before the fatal day.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Your Favorite Author

There are writers you admire, for the skill or the art, for the inventiveness or for the professionalism of a career well spent. And there are writers--sometimes the same ones, sometimes not--to whom you are powerfully attracted, for reasons that may or may not have to do with literary values. They speak to you, or speak for you, sometimes with a voice that could almost be your own. Often there is one writer in particular who awakens you, who is the teacher they say you will meet when you are ready for the lesson.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Good Fish Story and the Power of Fingerprint Identification

     On June 21, 2012, Haans Galassi, during a weekend camping trip in remote northern Idaho, decided to go wakeboarding on Priest Lake. While being pulled across the lake by a speedboat, the 31-year-old from Colbert, Washington got his hand caught in a towline loop. After being dragged a distance through the water, Galassi looked at his bloodied hand and realized he had been seriously injured. He left the lake that day minus four fingers.

     On September 11, more than two months after Galassi's mishap, Nolan Calvin, while cleaning a trout he had caught in Priest Lake eight miles from were Galassi's fingers went into the water, found, in the fish's belly, a human finger. The cold water had preserved the body part well enough for the fisherman to put it on ice for safe keeping.

     Not sure if he had found the remains of someone who had drowned, or had been dumped in the lake, Mr. Calivn turned his find over to officers with the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, in turn, sent the finger to the state crime lab for possible identification.

     At the crime laboratory, a fingerprint expert made an inked impression of the fingertip and submitted it to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) computer. The computer matched the submission to a print in the databank that belonged to Haans Galassi.

     Bonner County Detective Gary Johnson telephoned Galassi and informed him of the recovery. Since the finger, maintained in an evidence freezer, was in such good shape, the detective asked if Galassi wanted it for a possible reattachment. Although Galassi didn't seem interested in reuniting with his finger, Detective Johnson decided to keep it a few weeks in the event its owner changed his mind. A few days later, Galassi informed the sheriff's office that he had called his doctor to determine if the finger could be put back on his hand. When the doctor got back to him, he would advise the sheriff's office and they could go from there.

     As strange as this case is, it is not the first time body parts have been retrieved from fish. Usually the carriers of these human remains--arms, legs, and torsos-- are sharks pulled from the ocean. Perhaps this is the first time a trout gave up a missing finger. I'm wondering what happened to this historic fish. Was it eaten, stuffed, or ingloriously tossed away?