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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Linsey Attridge's Outrageous Crime and Ridiculous Sentence

     In 2008, Linsey and Gary Attridge were married in the central Scotland town of Grangemouth. The 26-year-old bride had grown up in Grangemouth where her mother worked as a seamstress and her father was a window cleaner. Linsey and her new husband, a financial advisor, honeymooned in Malta.

     Less than two years after the wedding, Linsey was unhappy with her marriage. In August 2010, after meeting kickboxing instructor Nick Smith online, Linsey and her daughter moved into the 32-year-old's house in the northern city of Aberdeen. By the summer of 2011, that relationship had fallen apart after Linsey confessed to having sex with one of Nick Smith's friends while Nick was in the house asleep. Although they were no longer a couple, Nick allowed Linsey and her daughter, to whom he had become a surrogate father, to continue living in his house.

     In August 2011, while browsing through Facebook pages, Linsey came across a photograph of 26-year-old Philip McDonald, a cook at a downtown Aberdeen cafe. He was pictured with his 14-year-old brother James. Philip lived outside of the city in a modest flat with his partner Kelly Fraser and their daughter. To Linsey, Philip and James McDonald were total strangers.

     A few days after stumbling across the Facebook photograph, Linsey Attridge, in a scheme to rekindle her relationship with Nick Smith, decided to falsely report that that Philip and James McDonald had broken into her house and brutally raped her. Before alerting the authorities, she staged the crime by overturning furniture, punching herself in the face, and ripping her clothing.

     Police officers who responded to the false rape report found a woman who looked and acted as though she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. She submitted herself to various physical examinations including tests for sexually transmitted diseases. In an act of extreme self-centered cruelty, LInsey Attridge identified Philip and James McDonald as her rapists. (Since they were total strangers, I don't know how Linsey explained knowing who her attackers were.)

     Two days after receiving the false crime report, police officers arrested the younger brother at his mother's house. James McDonald was a student at a residential school for teenagers with behavioral problems. (This made him an ideal rape suspect.) Less than a hour after taking James into custody, police officers walked into the cafe where Philip worked as a cook.

     On the worst day of Philip McDonald's life, the detectives who showed up at the cafe told Philip that he and his brother were the prime suspects in a brutal rape case. The officers asked the shocked and frightened young man to accompany them to the police station for questioning. In the police vehicle en route to police headquarters, the officers identified the victim and described the home invasion and crime. Philip broke down and cried. (The officers probably took this as a sign of guilt.)

     At the police station, detectives photographed, fingerprinted, and swabbed the rape suspect for DNA. During the five-hour interrogation, when a detective revealed exactly when the crime had taken place, Philip was relieved. While the two men were supposedly raping Linsey Attridge, Philip was at home putting his daughter to bed. Several members of his family were in the house with him that night. His relatives would vouch for his whereabouts at the time of the rape. He had an alibi.

     The detectives questioning Philip were not interested in his so-called alibi. Everyone had an alibi. Big deal. Philip didn't realize that police investigators, once they have a suspect in their cross-hairs, are extremely reluctant, even in the face of exonerating evidence, to change targets.

     Over the next two months Philip McDonald's life was a living hell. He couldn't be out in public without being harassed, and had to enroll his daughter in another school. By October 2011, Linsey Attridge's story began to unravel. When pressed by detectives who had finally become skeptical, she admitted that she had made the entire story up. She had done it in an effort to attract attention and sympathy from her estranged boyfriend, Nick Smith. In so doing, she had put Philip and his brother through hell, wasted police resources, and made the detectives look like monkeys. Cops hate people who lie to them about as much as they hate rapists.

     Shortly after Linsey Attridge's false report confession, a pair of detectives walked into the cafe to inform Philip that he was in the clear. That was it. Out of the blue he was accused of rape, and out of the blue he was told that his ordeal had ended. The cops left the restaurant without offering even an insincere apology. Like their counterparts in American, and probably throughout the world, police officers never say they are sorry. Why? Because they are not sorry.

     A local prosecutor charged Linsey Attridge with the crime of filing a false report. In June 2013, the defendant pleaded guilty to the charge in an Aberdeen courtroom. The judge shocked everyone by sentencing Attridge to 200 hours of community service and two years probation. Nick Smith, her former boyfriend, was in the courtroom that day. He told reporters outside the court house that he thought the judge's sentence was "ridiculous." He was right.

      

Bernard Shaw on Literary Critics

I have never been able to see how the duties of a critic, which consists largely in making painful remarks in public about the most sensitive of his fellow creatures, can be reconciled with the manners of a gentleman. But gentleman or no, a critic is most certainly not bound to perjure himself to shield the reputation of the profession he criticizes.

Bernard Shaw in Never in Doubt by Peter S. Prescott, 1986 

Handwriting Identification Versus Graphology

     Please don't confuse handwriting identification with handwriting analysis [graphology]. Handwriting identification is a science; handwriting analysis is considered by many people to be a pseudoscience. Handwriting identification attempts to decide who did, or sometimes who did not, write a particular document; handwriting analysis attempts to discern the personality traits of the person who did the writing.

     Handwriting identification looks at many factors, some of them conscious but many of them so habitual they are totally beyond conscious control. These include the slant of the letters, the way the letters are joined or separated, the use of capitals in place of small letters and vice versa, the shapes of individual letters, the shapes of buckles on letters such as K, the tails of letters such as Y and J. What the professional handwriting examiner looks at and what the amateur hoping to identify handwriting looks at are often totally different; therefore, what an amateur may think is an exact replica of someone's signature may, to a handwriting examiner, betray dozens of major points of difference….

     When a questioned signature is absolutely identical with a known signature, it is likely to be a tracing, which can almost always be identified microscopically by the types of hesitations that do not occur in fluent natural handwriting.

Anne Wingate, Ph.D., Science of the Crime, 1992 

The Value of Rewriting

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe that it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn't. Most writers don't initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It's not clear. It's not logical. It's verbose. It's klunky. It's pretentious. It's boring. It's full of clutter. It's full of cliches. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in seven different ways. It doesn't lead out of the previous sentence...The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

Sherlock Holmes on the Power of Knowledge

A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library where he can get it if he wants.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Five Orange Pips."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lizzie Borden to O. J. Simpson: The Disappointing History of Forensic Science

     The historical trajectory of forensic science can be illustrated by three celebrated murder trials: The Lizzie Borden case in 1892; the 1932 murder of the Lindbergh baby and trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann; and the O. J. Simpson double murder and marathon trial of the mid-1990s. Starting with the Borden case, the arc rises to the Lindbergh investigation and trial, then falls to the bungled Simpson crime scene investigation and subsequent trial featuring investigative and forensic incompetence, hired-gun testimony, and televised courtroom showboating and baffoonery.

Lizzie Borden

     While Lizzie Borden may have had the opportunity, motive, and means of hacking her stepmother and father to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts home on August 4, 1892, the police, without the benefit of forensic serology and latent fingerprint identification, had no way to physically link her to the bludgeoned victims, or to the never identified hatchet believed to be the instrument of death.

     In England, the year of the Borden murders, a biologist named Francis Galton published the world's first book on fingerprint classification. As early as 1880, another Englishman, Henry Faulds, had been writing about the use of finger marks (latent prints) as a method of placing suspects at the scenes of crimes. When Mr. and Mrs. Borden were brutally beaten to death in Fall River, the so-called "exchange principle"--conceived by the French chemist Edmond Locard--that a criminal leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime and takes part of it with him--had not evolved from theory into practice. In 1901, nine years after Lizzie Borden's arrest, scientists in Germany discovered a way to identify and group human blood, a forensic technique that, had it existed in 1892, may have changed the outcome of the Borden case.

     The all-male jury at Lizzie Borden's spectator-packed trial, without being presented with physical evidence linking the 32-year-old defendant to the bludgeoned and bloodied bodies, and believing that upper-middle-class women were too genteel for such brutality, found her not guilty. Had expert witnesses identified the stain on her dress as human blood, and matched a bloody crime scene latent to one of her fingers, the evidence, albeit circumstantial, may have convinced the jurors of her guilt. Assuming that she did in fact commit the double murder, Lizzie, confronted by investigators in possession of such damning, physical evidence, may have confessed, or in the very least, made an incriminating remark.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann

     In 1935, when Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany living in the Bronx went on trial in Flemington, New Jersey for the March 1, 1932 murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, America had confidence in forensic science, and considered it the wave of the future. Because no one had seen the 35-year-old defendant climb the homemade, wooden extension ladder to the second story nursery window at the Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, prosecutors didn't possess direct evidence of his guilt. Moreover, no one knew exactly how Hauptmann had killed the baby--had he been strangled, suffocated, or bludgeoned to death?--or even exactly where the murder took place. (A truck driver who had pulled over to relieve himself along the road, found the baby's remains in a shallow grave about two miles from the Lindbergh house.) If Hauptmann were to be convicted, it would have to be entirely on physical evidence. In other words, jurors, based on the physical evidence and its expert analysis, would have to infer his guilt.

     Having eluded detection for two and a half years following the hand-off of $50,000 in ransom money to a shadowy figure in a Bronx cemetery, the kidnapper had been passing the ransom bills, identified by their recorded serial numbers, around New York City. In September 1934, a squad made up of FBI agents, troopers from the New Jersey State Police, and officers with the New York City Police Department, pulled Hauptmann out of his car in Manhattan as he drove from his rented house in the Bronx to Wall Street where he had lost $25,000 in the stock market. From his wallet, the arresting officers recovered one of the ransom bills, and back at his house, found bundles of the ransom money--totaling $14,000--hidden in his garage. Confronted with this and other circumstantial evidence of his guilt, Hauptmann, a low-grade sociopath, refused to confess.

     At Hauptmann's January 1935 trial, the most publicized and celebrated event of its kind in America, and perhaps the world, eight of the country's most prominent questioned document examiners testified that Hauptmann had written the note left in the nursery as well as the fourteen ransom negotiation letters sent to the Lindberghs prior to the cemetery payoff. A federal wood expert from Wisconsin took the stand and identified a board from the kidnap ladder as having come from Hauptmann's attic floor. This witness also matched tool marks on the ladder with test marks from the blade of Hauptmann's wood plane. (Although a carpenter by trade, Hauptmann had not used his tools since the ransom payoff in April 1932.)

     On February 14, 1935, the jury, based upon Hauptmann's possession of the ransom money, and the physical evidence linking him to the extortion documents and the kidnap ladder, found him guilty. On April 3, 1936, following a series of appeals, prison personnel at the state penitentiary in Trenton, New Jersey strapped him into the electric chair and threw the switch. The handful of protestors gathered outside the death house, when informed of Hauptmann's execution, went home.

O. J. Simpson

     Sixty years after Hauptmann's execution, detectives in Los Angeles arrested O. J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The blooding knifings occurred at a time when most big city detectives had at least some college education, and months of police academy training. Human blood could not only be identified as such and grouped, it could be traced, through DNA science, to an individual donor. Unlike the Borden murders, the double homicide in California produced identifiable blood stains, drops and pools at the death site, in Simpson's vehicle, and inside his house. The prolonged, nationally televised trial featured the testimony of DNA analysts, crime scene technicians, blood spatter interpretation witnesses, footwear impression experts, and forensic pathologists. The Simpson trial introduced forensic DNA science to the American public, and could have been a showcase for forensic science in general. Instead, the case featured investigative bungling, batteries of opposing experts, prosecutorial incompetence, and a jury so confounded by the conflicting science, they found Simpson not guilty of a crime most people believe he committed.

     Like Lizzie Borden, O. J. Simpson, while acquitted, was not exonerated. He was destined to live out the rest of his life in that gray area between innocence and guilt. In the Borden case, prosecutors did the best they could with what they had. In the Simpson case, the state squandered cutting edge science and an embarrassment of riches in physical, crime scene evidence. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the Simpson case is this: in a time of cutting edge science and relatively high-paid, well-educated police officers, criminal investigation has become a lost art, and forensic science, a failed promise.

Writing The How-To Article

Some kinds of writing are more debilitating than others, and it took me years to learn which, for me, is which. Instructional writing--the pure how-to article--is the worst.

John Jerome, Writing Trade, 1992

Clarence Darrow On The Causes Of Crime

Many writers claim that nearly all crime is caused by economic conditions, or in other words, that poverty is practically the whole cause of crime. Endless statistics have been gathered on this subject which seems to show conclusively that property crimes are largely the result of the unequal distribution of wealth. But crime of any class cannot be ascribed to a single cause. Life is too complex, heredity is too variant and imperfect, too many separate things contribute to human behavior to make it possible to trace all actions to a single cause.

Clarence Darrow

Categories Within The Mystery Genre

The term mystery, as in mystery novel, is an umbrella that shelters a variety of subgenres: the traditional whodunit, the private eye, the classic puzzle, the police procedural, action/adventure, thriller, espionage, the novels of psychological and romantic suspense.

Sue Grafton, Writing Mysteries, 1992 

Criminal Interrogations

     There is a gross misconception, generated and perpetuated by fiction writers, movies, and TV, that if criminal investigators carefully examine a crime scene, they will almost always find a clue that will lead them to the offender, and that, furthermore, once the criminal is located, he will readily confess or otherwise reveal guilt, as by attempting to escape. This however, is pure fiction.

     As a matter of fact, the art and science of criminal investigation have not developed to a point where the search for an the examination of physical evidence will always, or even in most cases, reveal a clue to the identify of the perpetrator or provide the necessary legal proof of guilt. In criminal investigations there are many instances where physical clues are entirely absent, and the only approach to a possible solution of the crime is the interrogation of the criminal suspect. Moreover, in most instances, these interrogations must be conducted under conditions of privacy and for a reasonable period of time. They also frequently require the use of psychological tactics and techniques that could well be classified as "unethical," if we are to evaluate them in terms of ordinary, everyday social behavior. [Examples of "unethical" behavior would include referring to incriminating evidence that doesn't exist. Criminal interrogators don't call this lying, they call it acting.]

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogations and Confessions, 1986