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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Franciscan Friar Daniel Montgomery Murder Case

     Daniel Montgomery grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a town outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from Catholic high school, he studied religion in the midwest, and became a peace activist. In 1994, the 28-year-old joined the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order. An odd, socially awkward man with a volatile temper and a foul mouth, Montgomery didn't get along with his church colleagues and superiors.

     In July 2002, after being bounced from one church to another, the misfit friar ended up in Cleveland at St. Stanislaus located in the city's Slavic Village neighborhood. Montgomery didn't fit in well at St. Stanislaus either. He offended fellow friars, parishioners, and the 68-year-old pastor of the church, William Gulas, affectionately known as "Father Willie." After three students accused Daniel Montgomery of touching them inappropriately, Father Gulas, in late November 2002, informed the troubled friar that he was being transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Friary in Cedar Lake, Indiana. (Sounds like a case of passing the trash.)

    At nine in the morning of December 2, 2002, when extinguishing a fire in Father Gulas' rectory office, firefighters stumbled upon his corpse. When questioned that morning by the police, Montgomery said that when the fire broke out, he had been asleep in his second-floor bedroom. A ringing telephone awoke him at which time he smelled smoke, then called 911. After trying to put out the fire, Montgomery fled the church without realizing that Father Gulas was in the burning first-floor office.

     On the day after the St. Stanislaus fire, the Cuyahoga County Coroner announced that the blaze had not killed Pastor Gulas. Someone had shot the priest in the chest, then torched his office.

     On December 8, 2002, detectives brought Friar Montgomery in for further questioning. Following what evolved into a seven-hour interrogation, Montgomery confessed to murdering the St. Stanislaus pastor. The friar had been angry about being transferred to the church in Indiana. He had gone into the pastor's office that morning to ask Father Gulas to vacate the order. According to Montgomery, upon entering the pastor's office, he had said, "I can't [expletive] take it anymore." The angry friar then shot Father Gulas in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver he had purchased the day before from an employee of a neighborhood convenience store. (This person has never been identified.)

     After killing the pastor, Montgomery dropped the revolver (which was never found) and walked down the hall where he acquired the red butane lighter he used to ignite papers on Father Gulas' desk. After setting the fire, Montgomery returned to his room and fell asleep. A call from a parishioner woke him up.

     A Cuyahoga County grand jury, in January 2003, indicted Daniel Montgomery on the charge of aggravated murder. Nine months later the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser homicide charge in order to avoid the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to 24 years to life. He began serving his time at the state prison in Marion, Ohio.

     In the spring of 2011, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named John P. Martin decided to look into Montgomery's case. (Montgomery was now maintaining his innocence.) The journalist's investigation led to a four-part Inquirer series published in July 2011. Pursuant to his claims of innocence, Montgomery, through his new attorney, Barry Wilford, had filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in order that the case could go to trial. Attorney Wilford based his argument for reopening the murder case on three principal points: The prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence; interrogators ignored signs that Montgomery was confessing falsely; and his defense attorney, Henry Hilow, did not provide him with the best defense.

     Problems in the prosecution's case against Montgomery included the fact the police never recovered the murder weapon. On the charred floor of Pastor Gulas' office, fire investigators found an open toolbox that once contained $1,600 in bingo proceeds. Father Gulas kept the padlocked box in his office safe. On the morning of the murder, a parishioner who supposedly had financial problems, was seen coming out of the pastor's office. Assuming this is true, could this man have committed the murder? Another mystery in the case involved the fact that Pastor Gulas' cellphone ended up in the hands of a convicted drug dealer.

     On the issue pertaining to the adequacy of Montgomery's defense, attorney Wilford argued that his client had not wanted to plead guilty. To back up this claim, Wilford cited parts of two letters Montgomery had sent to attorney Hilow months before his guilty plea. In a letter dated February 23, 2003 in which Montgomery asked to meet again with the psychiatrist who had examined him shortly after the murder, wrote: "I was in a state of schizophrenia that produced severe delusions in my thinking, causing me to make false statements on December 8, 2002 at the police interrogation. At that time I was suffering from delusions of grandeur that perhaps if I was no longer to be a Franciscan, then I was to be a martyr for a sinner, the killer and arsonist who committed the crime." On July 7, 2003, Montgomery had written: "I am firmly convinced that I must plead my innocence and follow God's law, which is above human law." (I have no idea what that means in the context of this case.)

     At the July 2011 hearing to determine if the Gulas murder case should be reopened, and a trial convened, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Salem Awadallah argued that there was nothing in Montgomery's motion to justify setting aside his guilty plea and going to trial. She pointed out that Montgomery had failed a polygraph test that had been arranged by attorney Wilford. The prosecutor noted that while the Cleveland police interrogation lasted seven hours, no evidence has been presented showing that Montgomery's confession had been coerced. (I presume he was given his Miranda rights. In 2002, detectives in Cleveland did not routinely record their interrogation sessions.)

     Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg, on December 31, 2012, denied Daniel Montgomery's motion for a murder trial. She did not accompany her ruling with a written decision. Whenever an educated, adult defendant confesses and pleads guilty, without strong evidence of a false confession, or equally powerful evidence that someone else has committed the crime, the conviction will stand. In this case, Daniel Montgomery had failed to overcome the presumption of his guilt.

     In April 2013, the judge sentenced Daniel Montgomery to 24 years to life.

Anne Rice on Elderly Novelists

Many novelists peter out. They die with a whimper. They begin to write thin versions of what they wrote when they were young. I don't want that to happen to me.

Anne Rice in Conversations with Anne Rice (1996) by Michael Riley

Stephen King on Being a Successful Writer

The idea that success in itself can hurt a writer is as ridiculous and as elitist as the commonly held belief that a popular book is a bad book--the former belief presumes that writers are even more corruptible than, say, politicians, and the later belief presumes that the level of taste in the world's most literate country is illogically low. I don't--and perhaps can't, as a direct result of what I'm doing--accept either idea.

Stephen King, Adelina Magazine, 1980 

Ivory Tower Criminologists

     The fact is that the social scientists who have done most of the research on violent criminals are academics. There is certainly nothing in the backgrounds of most of them, either prior to or after coming to the university, that prepares them to achieve rapport with violent criminals. On the contrary, most academics find the average violent criminal so alien and repugnant that they do not want to have any face-to-face contact whatsoever, much less to establish rapport with them. Moreover, academics often cast aspersions upon those researchers who can establish rapport with such persons. Although anyone can understand the desire of academics, like other people, not to have close contact with violent criminals, it is not understandable for those who hold themselves out as experts on the problem.

Lonnie H. Athens, The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals, 1992 

The Insanity Defense

Insanity defense cases should be tried not by juries but by specially trained and credentialed judges. I have seen firsthand the debacle of naive and inexperienced judges struggling with complicated psychological testimony, ineptly charging juries, and generally remaining clueless throughout the proceedings. These judges should be given on-the-job training and assistance to become proficient in the application of psychological principles.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Stiletto Heel Murder Case

     Dr. Alf Stefan Anderson, a native of Sweden, joined the staff of the University of Houston in December 2009 as a full-time research professor specializing in women's reproductive health. In 2013, he resided on the 18th floor of a luxury high-rise condo in the city's museum district. The 59-year-old professor had an on-again, off-again relationship with Ana Trujillo (pronounced troo-HEE-yoh), a 44-year-old Mexican native.

     Dr. Anderson and Trujillo got into an argument on the night of June 8, 2013 while having drinks at a nightclub in Houston. In the taxi on the way back to his condo she was still angry and yelling at him. The fight had started when another man at the bar offered to buy her a drink.

     At four o'clock that morning Trujillo called 911 from Dr. Anderson's high-rise dwelling. Responding police officers and paramedic personnel were met at the door by Trujillo whose clothing and hands were covered in blood. The professor was lying on his back in the hallway with twenty to twenty-five puncture wounds in his face, arms and neck. He was unresponsive.

     Next to Dr. Anderson's punctured head lay a bloody blue suede woman's shoe with six-inch stiletto heels. This was the weapon that had caused the wounds and presumably killed the professor.

     Trujillo told the officers she had stabbed her boyfriend with the size-nine pump after he'd grabbed her and wrestled her to the ground. Unable to breathe, she had attacked him with the shoe in self defense.

     Police officers took Trujillo into custody at the scene. Later that day, a Harris County prosecutor charged her with capital murder. Following a short period behind bars, the murder suspect posted her $100,000 bail and was released.

     The Trujillo trial opened in late March 2014. In his opening remarks the prosecutor told the jury that the defendant, in a fit of rage, had attacked the victim causing him to fall backward and injure himself. As he lay helpless on the condo floor, she sat on him and from that position gave it to him with the stiletto shoe. At one point she tried to stop him from breathing by applying pressure to his neck.

     The prosecutor portrayed the professor as a mild-mannered nice guy and the defendant as a hothead.

     The defense attorney argued that his client had acted in self defense against an alcohol-fueled assault. Dr. Lee Ann Grossberg, a private forensic pathologist, took the stand for the defense. The witness had reviewed death scene photographs, the autopsy report, police documents, and medical records pertaining to the case. According to the expert witness, "I did not see any one injury that would have been fatal to Dr. Anderson. Natural causes may have contributed to his death."

     The defense pathologist testified that if the responding officers and medical crew had performed CPR on Dr. Anderson, or at least used an electronic monitor to measure his heart activity, they may have saved his life.

     Without a confession, surveillance footage of the altercation, or an eyewitness account, the stiletto murder represented the classic circumstantial case. The jurors, based on the interpretation of the death scene--particularly the number and nature of the puncture wounds, the unusual murder weapon as well as other circumstances of the case--would have to infer the defendant's guilt. In other words, if murder in this case seemed more reasonable that self-defense, Trujillo would go to prison.

     On April 8, 2014, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Ana Trujillo showed little emotion as the verdict was read. She faced up to life behind bars.

     The punishment phase of the Trujillo trial began the day following the guilty verdict. A police officer testified that Trujillo had been arrested twice for drunken driving. A former security guard took the stand and described how Trujillo had once attacked him. Another witness told jurors that Trujillo had broken into his apartment.

     Ana Trujillo took the stand at her sentencing hearing and said, "I never meant to hurt him. It was never my intent. I loved him. I wanted to get away." Following her testimony, the defense attorney asked the judge to send her to prison for two years.

     On April 11, 2014, the trial judge sentenced the 45-year-old Trujillo to life in prison. 

Journalism and the Cult of Political Correctness

Amity Schlaes, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article in The Spectator in January 1994, describing the white middle class' fear of blacks after Colin Ferguson murdered six whites on a Long Island commuter train, and after a jury in Brooklyn acquitted a young black despite powerful evidence that he had murdered a white. She wrote that whites were frightened because Ferguson's "manic hostility to whites is shared by many of the city's non madmen." When copies of the article were circulated among Schlaes' colleagues at the Journal, she became an outcast. A number of her co-workers would get out of the elevator when she got on. People who had eaten with her in the staff cafeteria refused to sit at the same table. A delegation went to the office of the chairman of the company that owns the Journal. It did not matter that Schlaes had pointed out that minorities were the greatest victims of minority crimes, or that nobody could show that a single element of her article was untrue or inaccurate. "Her crime," wrote the then editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, "was greater than being merely wrong. She had written the truth, regardless of the offense it might cause. And in modern America, or at least in the mainstream media, that is simply not done."

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1997

[Today, if a mainstream journalist wrote that many America's have become afraid of Muslims, the results would likely be the same.]  

Criminologist Lonnie Athens on the Cause of Violent Crime

That violent criminals decide to act violently based on their interpretation of a situation would be a radical discovery when psychiatry, psychology and sociology assign violent acts to unconscious motivations, deep emotional needs, inner psychic conflicts or sudden unconscious emotional outbursts. But [Dr. Lonnie] Athens [an American criminologist] quickly discovered that violent criminals interpreted the world differently than did their law-abiding neighbors, and that it was from those differing interpretations that their violence emerged. Violent acts, he began to see, were not explosions: They were decisions.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999

The Historic Jukes Family

Sociologist Richard Dugdale made a study of a family called the Jukes and wrote a book about them, The Jukes (1877). In attempting to prove that criminal characteristics are inherited, Dugdale studied the entire Jukes clan descended from the original sire in New York in the early nineteenth century. Two of his sons married their illegitimate sisters, and Dugdale traced the entire seven hundred descendants. All were either prostitutes or criminals, save for a half a dozen.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) edited by James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Allen and Patricia Prue Murder Case

     St. Johnsbury, Vermont is a town of 6,200 in the northeast part of the state 40 miles south of the Canadian border. It is home to St. Johnsbury Academy, the prestigious prep and boarding school established in the 1840s. Until recently, this was not a place where people got murdered.

     Melissa Jenkins had been a science teacher and the girl's basketball coach at St. Johnsbury Academy since 2004. The 33-year-old single mother was completing her Masters Degree in Education and was employed part time as a waitress at Creamery Restaurant in nearby Danville where she had worked 12 years.

     On Sunday evening, March 25, 2012, 30-year-old Allen Prue and his wife Patricia, a couple from Waterford, Vermont, were riding about in their car. Allen made his living driving around the area delivering the local newspaper. In the winter, he plowed driveways. Two years before, he had plowed Melissa Jenkins' driveway, but after he had asked her out a couple of times, she discontinued his service. In the fall of 2011, Prue had showed up at her house drunk and asked if he could resume plowing her driveway. She declined his offer.

     As Prue and his 33-year-old wife drove around that evening, he got the idea "to get a girl." The girl he had in mind was Melissa Jenkins. To lure the intended victim out of her home, Patricia Prue called Jenkins and said that she and her husband had broken down near her house. Could she give them a lift?

     Before Jenkins left her house to help people she barely knew, she called her former boyfriend to report she had just received a "weird call from a girl and guy who used to plow her driveway." In case something happened to her, Jenkins wanted someone to know where she had gone. After speaking to her ex-boyfriend, Jenkins put her 2-year-old son Ty in the car and drove off to help the Prues.

     The moment Jenkins climbed out of her car, Allen Prue, with the school teacher's son looking on, grabbed and started strangling her. He pushed the stunned woman into his vehicle where, as he drove to his house in Waterford, Patricia Prue continued choking the victim "to make sure she wasn't breathing." The Prues left the Jenkins boy, unharmed, behind in his abducted mother's car.

     The Prues carried Jenkins (she may have been alive but unconscious) into their house where they removed her clothing, repeatedly stomped on her, then laid her badly bruised corpse onto a tarp. After pouring bleach on her body, the Prues carried the tarp-wrapped victim back to their vehicle, then drove to a spot along the Connecticut River near Barnet, Vermont. At the river's edge, in a wooded area, they tossed Jenkins' body, tied to cinder blocks to hold it down, into shallow water.

     Back in Waterford, the murderers burned the tarp, Jenkins' clothing, and the garments they had been wearing.

     Melissa Jenkins' former boyfriend, two hours after she had notified him about the "weird call" she had just received, tried but failed to get back in touch with her by phone. He drove to her house, and nearby, found Jenkins' idling SUV with her 2-year-old boy asleep inside. Next to her car, he found one of Jenkins's shoes. Fearing foul play, he called the police.

     An investigator with the Vermont State Police traced the "weird call" Jenkins had received back to the Prues. Confronted by the authorities, Allen Prue confessed.

     On Monday afternoon, March 26, 2012, the day after the murder, the police found Jenkins' body along the river about ten miles from her house. At the scene, officers recovered condoms and condom wrappers. The victim's feet had been tied with a length of white rope. Bruising of her face, neck, torso, arms, and legs suggested that the Prues had given Jenkins a severe beating. (Some or all of these wounds may have been postmortem.)

     Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder, the Prues were held without bond at the Northeast Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. They pleaded not guilty. The medical examiner ruled Melissa Jenkins' death as "homicide by strangulation."

     The Allen Prue murder trial, following a change of venue, got underway in Burlington, Vermont on October 7, 2014. In her opening statement, Caledonia County state's attorney Lisa Warren told the jurors that the Prues had been engaging in a sexual relationship with a neighbor and wanted somebody they could "play with" on the night of Melissa Jenkins' murder.

     Defense attorney Robert Katims, in his opening remarks, blamed the murder on the defendant's wife. "Patricia Prue strangled the victim," attorney Katims said, "because in her crazy, twisted mind she had become obsessively jealous of Ms. Jenkins. The evidence will show that Patricia Prue strangled Melissa Jenkins without telling Allen she was going to do it, without planning it with him, and without Allen Prue agreeing in any way, shape or form with the idea of harming Ms. Jenkins in any way."

     The defense attorney informed the jurors that Patricia Prue suffered from multiple personality disorder and had complete control over her weak-minded husband who quit school at age 16. It was the defendant's low I.Q. that allowed detectives to break him down in a seven hour interrogation. The defendant's murder confession, according to attorney Katims, had been coerced and was therefore false.

     Following the testimony of the medical examiner, prosecutor Warren played the audio recording of the defendant's confession to the jury. She next called Patricia Prue to the stand who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A few days later, a Vermont state detective testified that Patricia Prue had used her laptop computer in 2011 to research tips on how to kidnap and rape a girl without getting caught. A search of the defendant's computer revealed that it had been used to shop for a stun gun. (The Vermont State Chief Medical Examiner had testified that a stun gun had been used on the victim the night she died.)

     On October 22, 2014, following nine days of testimony and the attorneys' closing arguments, the case went to the jury of six men and six women. After deliberating six hours the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and the other charges. While the murder verdict called for a minimum mandatory 35-year sentence, the judge sentenced Allen Prue to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

     On February 12, 2015, Patricia Prue pleaded guilty to the charge of first-degree murder. The next day, at a sentencing proceeding that had been initially scheduled as a mental competency hearing on her former not guilty by reason of insanity plea, Prue apologized to Jenkins' family. She said she wished she had received the mental health help she so desperately needed. "I'm not sorry we were caught," she said to thirty family members present in the courtroom. "I am sorry that it ever happened."

     Patricia Prue's attorney, Brian Marsicovetere, used the sentencing hearing to call for more support for mental health services in the state. He said his client suffered from post-traumatic stress and various personality disorders. She also had panic attacks as a result of intense anxiety.

     Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren told the judge that Patricia Prue had spent months plotting Melissa Jenkins' murder. "The couple stalked Jenkins, acquired a stun gun and bought a prepaid cellphone to call the victim and ask for help," she said.

     The judge sentenced Patricia Prue to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
     

Norwegian Kindergarten Students Taste Their Teacher's Blood

     In March 2013, in Sola, Norway on the country's western coast, kindergarten teacher Inger Lise Soemme Anderson pulled off a show-and-tell stunt that in its degree of stupidity matches what we have come to expect in U. S. education. Anderson came to class one day with a vial of her own blood which she poured onto a plate. The teacher invited her students, kids between the age three and six, to dip their fingers into the red liquid. At least twelve kids touched their teacher's bodily fluid. When the students asked how to clean their bloody fingers, Anderson illustrated the solution by inserting one of her fingers into her mouth. Her students, as one might expect, followed suit.

     While putting someone else's blood into your mouth is on its face disgusting, it's also a good way to contract a dangerous blood transmitted disease. If an American teacher did what the Norwegian teacher is accused of, she would probably be charged with child endangerment.

     The head of the Norwegian school fired the teacher who was a temporary employee. A judge ordered Anderson to undergo tests for Hepatitis B and AIDS. If the results of these tests have come back, this information has not been published.

      Mind boggling cases like this are particularly disturbing because they reveal how difficult it is to shield vulnerable children from teachers who are either incredibly stupid or perverted.

     

E. B. White on Writing Clearly

The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. Because I have the greatest respect for the reader, and if he's going to the trouble of reading what I've written--I'm a slow reader myself and I guess that most people are--why, the least I can do is make it as easy as possible for him to find out what I'm trying to say, trying to get at. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.

E. B. White (1899-1985), the author of the classic book, The Elements of Style, in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham 

Terrorism As The Justification For Domestic Spying

When physical safety becomes a major problem even for the middle classes, we must of necessity become a heavily police, authoritarian society, a society in which the middle classes live in gated and walled communities and make their places of work hardened targets....Both the fear of crime and the escalating harshness of the response to it will sharply reduce Americans' freedom of movement and peace of mind. Ours will become a most unpleasant society in which to live.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996

[Politicians are exploiting our fear of domestic terrorism to authorize faceless government bureaucrats to spy on virtually every American citizen. While the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches still protects people charged with crimes, it no longer protects the rest of us from extremely intrusive governmental spying. The president (Obama) of the United States is impatient with us for not trusting the government. I'm impatient with him for thinking we are idiots. If voters don't rise up and throw the politicians who support the president on this issue out of office, we will be running towards Gomorrah.] 

Slow Writers

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham

[If it takes a month to write the first paragraph, maybe this writer should be doing something else. Short of that, maybe she should start out with the second paragraph, then call it the first.] 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gonzaga University Students: Don't Bring Your Guns to School

     In the fall of 2013 Gonzaga University students Erik Fagan and Daniel McIntosh resided in a university owned, off-campus apartment complex in Spokane, Washington. The seniors at this Jesuit institution were good students who had never been in trouble with the law or the school. But thanks to an uninvited and unwelcome visit to their apartment by a total stranger, that all changed.

     On the night of October 24, 2013, John M. Taylor, a 29-year-old man with six felony convictions that included drug possession, unlawful imprisonment, and riot with a deadly weapon, knocked on roommates' apartment door. When Erik Fagan answered the knock, he encountered a black man who boldly asked for $15. Not feeling comfortable giving a stranger money simply because he asked for it, Fagan offered Taylor canned food and a blanket.

     Rather than either accept the gifts or walk away, Taylor entered the apartment where he repeated his request--or perhaps a demand--for the money. At this point, with an intruder in the dwelling who wanted money, Erik called out for Daniel McIntosh.

     Fagan's roommate entered the room carrying a loaded 10 mm Glock pistol. The sight of the firearm was enough to prompt the strange man's prompt retreat from the apartment.

     While running a potential robber out of their apartment by exhibiting a gun was the right thing to do, reporting the incident to the campus police department turned out to be a mistake.

     The roommates were visited that night by officers with the Spokane Police Department accompanied by Gonzaga security personnel. Armed with a description of the intruder, police officers took Taylor in for questioning a short time later.

     If Fagan and McIntosh thought they had acted responsibly and could move on, they were wrong. Gonzaga administrators, now aware that two of their off-campus students were living under the same roof with a firearm, were horrified. Possessing that weapon violated the school's zero-tolerent policy of no guns on campus-owned property.

     Rather that at least wait for daybreak, several campus police officers, at two that morning, rousted Fagan and McIntosh out of bed.

     Gonzaga officers not only confiscated McIntosh's pistol, they seized Erik Fagan's shotgun.

     McIntosh's firearm had been given to him by his grandfather. The student, in complying with the law, had acquired a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. Fagan possessed the shotgun because he liked to hunt.

     On November 8, 2013, a panel of university personnel at a disciplinary hearing found Fagan and McIntosh guilty of possessing guns on school property and putting others in danger. (I guess, at Gonzaga University, the last thing school officials want their students to do is to "endanger" ex-felons they don't know who have, without invitation, entered into their dwellings asking for money.)

     The guilty students, due to public outrage over the university's handling of this case, placed them on probation. The boys could have been expelled or suspended. Fagan and McIntosh have asked the university to return their illegally seized guns.

     Note to Gonzaga students: When confronted by an intruder inside your dwelling, pick up a baseball bat or a butcher's knife. That is assuming the school doesn't have a blanket policy that prohibits any form of intruder endangerment. If the school has an intruder protection policy, then help the intruder loot your apartment, or run like hell.  And do not call campus security if you exhibited a bat or knife because the officers might confiscate these instruments of endangerment. You could also get kicked out of school. Oh, if the intruder displays a firearm be sure to tell him he is in big trouble with the school. Even though the university anti-gun policy doesn't apply to him.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Reshad Riddle Murder Case

     Reverend David Howard had just finished his Easter service on Sunday, March 31, 2013 at the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in the northeastern Ohio town of Ashtabula. As congregants began to file out of the church, Reshad Riddle entered the building carrying a handgun and yelling something about God and Allah. A couple of church members grabbed the minister and ushered him to safety inside an office in the back of the building. Other congregants hit the floor and dialed 911 on their cellphones.

     The 25-year-old gunman walked up to Richard Riddle, his 52-year-old father, and shot him in the head. The victim died on the spot. Waving the gun in the air, Reshad Riddle screamed that the murder had been "the will of Allah. This is the will of God," he yelled.

     Police officers stormed into the church and took the killer into custody before he shot anyone else.

     In 2006, Reshad, then 18, was charged with felonious assault and kidnapping in connection with his attempt to cut his girlfriend's throat. A year later he was arrested for another felonious assault. Riddle was charged again in 2009 for possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence.

     Ashtabula Chief of Police Robert Stell told an Associated Press reporter that "There was no indication that the father and son had a bad relationship. Everyone thinks this was very surprising," he said. Really? Why wasn't this man in prison? Are they putting anyone away these days?

     After a local prosecutor charged Riddle with aggravated murder, officers booked him into the Ashtabula County Jail. The judge set his bond at $1 million.

     On December 20, 2013, a judge declared Reshad Riddle incompetent to stand trial. In this ruling, the judge relied on the testimony of two psychiatrists who had examined the defendant.

     In December 2014, Ashtabula County Judge Ronald Vettel, based upon the findings of psychologist Thomas Gazely, officially declared Riddle legally insane. On January 15, 2015, the judge sentenced Reshad Riddle to life at the Northeast Behavioral Health Care System in Cleveland, Ohio.

     The lifelong incarceration reflected the belief that Riddle's mental illness was not manageable and that he would remain a danger to society as long as he lived.  

Selecting a Literary Genre

     You want to write, but to write about what, exactly? A memoir; history; poetry; a novel? Or a short story, perhaps. Or a long short story.

     While they are theoretically allowed to exercise their free will, many writers will contend that they've been invisibly but firmly propelled in one particular direction. Writers might write what they like to read, and we have heard how reading is the foundation of writing. Following your own reading tastes might help you narrow the field; fiction or nonfiction; poetry or prose. If you love movies, or the theater, or TV, you may be driven to write in those genres.

Ian Jackman, The Writer's Mentor, 2004

The Crack Addict

     Every street cop in America knows that crack cocaine is the most potent drug on earth. A high percentage of violent crimes in this country are perpetrated to get money to buy the drug.

     Crack cocaine, or freebase, is created by cooking powdered cocaine with baking soda. When cooled, the product is hammered into curly white flakes that resemble bits of shaved soap, or paint peelings. A flake is called a "rock."

     Addiction is swift, and the prospects for recovery are bleak. Smokable cocaine doesn't trickle into the brain--it overwhelms it. The high is an intense burst of pleasure. But the downside is a free fall into deep depression. Addicts say you rise through the ceiling, then crash back through the floor. The user, desperate to postpone the brutal collapse that follows when the dose wears off, quickly learns the strategy of obtaining, in one transaction, as many rocks as possible.

     But no matter how much you have, it's never enough. A terrifying cost comes with prolonged usage--a horrible craving that makes users go berserk. It creeps into the mind minutes after the last rock is smoked up. The addict must get more. So he picks up whatever weapon is available and goes shopping. And that's where law-abiding citizens all too often get sucked into a crackhead's world.

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998

Writing Workshops Are Not Suited For Novels in Progress

Writing workshops are best suited for the discussion and dissection of short stories, not novels. While some noble teachers attempt novel-writing workshops, the workshops could be harmful if not handled correctly. Novels are fragile things, and many fledgling novels have been nipped in the bud by a writing workshop. If you turn in the first thirty pages of your novel before you've written the next three hundred, your peers will inevitably treat it like a short story. What might seem like a fault in a short story (uncertainty about the direction of the story, lack of closure, unexplained happenings) can hardly be avoided in the beginning of a novel. Maybe your peers can praise the quality of your writing, but they can't give you direction. You're the one with the overall conception of the novel. Your classmates are clueless. A novel cannot be written by committee--so don't attempt it. The other pitfall of this approach is "first-chapter-itis," rewriting your first chapter over and over again to your classmates' delight but your own frustration. What you'll wind up with is a perfect first chapter with closure, direction, and explained happenings--in other words, a short story.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

A Hit and Run Suspect Almost Escaped to Jordan

     A man wanted in a hit and run crash that left a 73-year-old man with severe injuries was minutes away from fleeing the country when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intervened and took the suspect into custody….Arlington, Texas police had an arrest warrant for Omar Mohammad, 25, and had contacted U.S. Customs and the Department of State, thinking Mohammad might be a flight risk. And they were right….

     Police informed federal investigators at 5:30 PM Wednesday, February 19, 2014 about Mohammad….That information came just in time. That flight, on its way to Jordan, was already on the tarmac and ready to depart….

"Texas Hit-And-Run Suspect Captured on Tarmac," CBS News, February 24, 2014


The Media Coverage of White on Black Crime

A white man shooting a black man is presumed racist. A black man shooting a white man is described as an indictment of society as a whole. A white man shooting a black man is put down to individual racism, but a black man shooting a white man is written off as a response to white racism....These assumptions are part of the unwritten stylebook of modern media coverage....Racism, like any form of xenophobia, is unfortunately indigenous to the human character. To privilege one form of racism over another is to justify and dehumanize its victims as deserving of abuse.

Daniel Greenfield, "The Racist Liberal System," Frontpage Mag. com, August 30, 2013

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Camia Gamet Murder Case

     In 2013, 30-year-old Marcel Hill and Camia Gamet, 38, shared an apartment in Jackson, Michigan, a town of 34,000 in the south central part of the state. She had been raised in foster homes and claimed to have been raped by a foster dad. People who knew Gamet were aware of her violent streak and abuse of drugs, a combination that made her unpredictable and dangerous.

     Marcel Hill, a high school graduate and fast food worker, was by contrast friendly and child-like. According to members of his family, he suffered "cognitive limitations" that made it difficult for him to handle simple everyday tasks like paying his bills. Unlike Gamet, he didn't have a violent bone in his body. This odd couple relationship would cost Mr. Hill his life.

     A year or so earlier, Camia Gamet, in a fit of rage, stabbed Marcel Hill with a knife, then stitched up his wound herself. Neither one of them reported the assault to the authorities. On another occasion, she sent Marcel to the hospital with a punctured lung. That assault did not lead to her arrest. But in March 2013, a Jackson County prosecutor charged Gamet with domestic violence and felonious assault after she pounded Marcel on the head with a hammer. Because he was afraid to press the matter, and refused to cooperate with law enforcement personnel, the prosecutor had no choice but to close the case.

     In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 18, 2013, a neighbor called 911 to report domestic violence at the odd couple's dwelling. Responding police officers found a blood-covered Gamet staggering around and slurring her words outside the apartment. Inside, officers found smashed furniture, a broken floor lamp, a bloody filet knife, and a damaged frying pan covered in blood.

     Amid all of the destruction and gore, officers discovered Marcel Hill. He had been repeatedly bludgeoned with hard objects--presumably the broken lamp and the frying pan--stabbed eleven times, and cut wide open in the torso with the knife.

     Police officers arrested Gamet that night. On Wednesday, May 20, 2013, a Jackson County prosecutor charged Camia Camet with open criminal homicide. (This meant a jury or a judge could determine the appropriate degree of murder in the event of a conviction.)

     The Gamet murder trial got underway in late February 2014. In her opening statement to the jury, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Kati Rezmierski portrayed the defendant as a violent person and a proven liar. According to the prosecutor, Gamet had deliberately and knowingly beaten, stabbed and slashed the victim to death.

     Defense attorney Anthony Raduazo told the jury that his client woke up from a drug-induced stupor that night to the sound of shattering glass. Believing that she was being attacked by an intruder, Gamet grabbed the lamp and the knife and used these objects to defend herself. Attorney Raduazo said the defendant had acted out of a "fear-driven rage," noting that in the encounter she had herself received cuts and bruises.

     After six days of prosecution testimony, the defense attorney put Gamet on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In telling her story of self-defense, Gamet did not come off as a very credible or sympathetic witness.

     In his closing remarks to the jury, attorney Raduazo said, "She is a woman and she is asleep and she is full of drugs and she is full of liquor. Did she react in a thoughtful manner? Or did she jump up and try to defend herself?" Raduazo pointed out that Gamet had not tried to dispose of Hill's body or clean up the death scene. "If this was preplanned and premeditated," he said, "it was a heck of a bad plan."

     Prosecutor Rezmierski, when it came her turn to address the jurors for the last time, said, "The victim did not die quickly. He knew his death was coming. The victim tried to protect himself and flee, but he was no match for the defendant. He never was a match." As to Gamet's supposed injuries, the prosecutor said, "She has barely a scratch, and he's eviscerated."

     On March 5, 2014, following a short period of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder.

     At Camia Gamet's sentencing hearing on April 16, 2014, County Circuit Court Judge John McBain saw the convicted murderer roll her eyes and snicker during a court presentation by one of Marcel Hill's aunts. The sight infuriated the judge who, in speaking directly to Gamet said, "You gutted him like a fish in the apartment! You were relentless! You stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed until he was dead! I agree with the family, I hope you die in prison! You know, if this was a death penalty state, you'd be getting the chair!"

     Judge McBain sentenced Camia Gamet to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Afterward, defense attorney Raduazo told reporters he would appeal his client's verdict and the sentence.

     On February 4, 2016, justices on the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, upheld Gamet's conviction. 

Harvard Fascist Advocates Abolishing Academic Freedom

     A Harvard University feminist student writing in the campus newspaper The Crimson recently posited this: "If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism [what?], why should we put up with [italics mine] research that counters our goals simply in the name of "academic freedom"?…

     Senior Sandra Y.L. Korn, a studies of women, gender and sexuality major, called for the end of academic freedom and in its place "a more rigorous standard: one of 'academic justice.'"

     "When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue….The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to."…[Scary stuff. If people like this come into power, forget academic freedom, we will lose all of our freedoms.]

"Harvard Feminist Says Academic Freedom Should Be Abolished," The College Fix, February 21, 2014

The Effect of Violent Movies on Human Behavior

     One of the great debates of modern times has been about the possible effect of movie films and, later, of television, on impressionable minds and leading to criminality. In 1952, when a young man shot and killed a policeman on a warehouse roof in south London, England, the question asked was whether his actions were influenced by having watched a gangster film depicting gun violence.

     While sociologists debated what they saw as the issues, they were overtaken by rapid developments in the media industries. The cinema had the power to show violent images to paying audiences but television and, in due course, video, brought the culture of violence into every home. The proliferation of brutal and sadistic scenes combined with a lessening of moral inhibitions, rendered the debate virtually meaningless.

     A watershed occurred in 1971 with the cinema screening of Stanley Kubrick's film, "A Clockwork Orange," based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. The film, which showed disaffected young men committing gang rape, was highly controversial and accusations followed that it glamorized violence. As a result, the film was withdrawn from distribution the following year.

     While Kubrick's film was graphic, it was simply ahead of its time and complaints about film violence have become muted as images have become more explicit. In modern cinema and television, gritty realism is everything. [Check out the new HBO series "True Detective."] Films such as "The Silence of The Lambs," "Natural Born Killers," and "Nightmare on Elm Street," entertained and horrified their audiences. They also entered the psyche of some individuals who went beyond the threshold of entertainment into the realm of personality deviation….

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010 

Elizabeth George on Writing a Novel

     What follows is the process I use when I'm writing a novel. These are the essential steps that I've developed for myself over the creation of twelve books.

     I don't begin until I have an idea. But this idea is more than just a glimmer, more than a potentially evanescent wisp of inspiration. For me, what the idea is is a complete thought that contains one of three elements: the primary event that will get the ball rolling in the novel, the arc of the story containing the beginning, the middle, and they ending or an intriguing situation that immediately suggests a cast of characters in conflict. If I have one of those three elements, I have enough to begin.

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004 

Destroying Pornographic Evidence in a Closed Murder Case

Legal experts say the destruction of evidence in a fatal Ohio rape case was likely justified by harm that could occur if the material became public. At issue are photos and audio and video recordings collected in the investigation into the 2012 death of Deanna Ballman and her nearly full-term child at the hands of a doctor convicted of killing her with a heroin overdose. Delaware County Judge Duncan Whitney approved a prosecutor's request late last year to destroy the evidence once the case is wrapped up. Assistant Delaware County prosecutor Kyle Rohrer argued the evidence was obscene because its purpose was to arouse lust….

"Judge Backs Destruction of Evidence in Ohio Rape Case," Fox News, February 9, 2014 

Autobiographical Fiction

     Many writers distrust fiction that smacks of autobiography. They believe that autobiographical fiction represents in some way a failure of the writer's imagination, or that such writers have only one good book in them and, after they have finished their autobiographical effort, they will have spent their creativity and no more will be heard from them. There's an air of smugness in that kind of attitude. The writer who makes such a claim is, in effect, saying "Autobiographical writing is not real writing," and "I'm a real writer and people who want to be real writers should write like me--that is, from the unlimited stores of my superior imagination."…

     There might be some truth in the fact that writers whose first novels are autobiographical find it more difficult than other writers to write a second novel, but writers of any stripe have a difficult time following a first novel. I've heard that as many as half of all first novelists never write a second.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

     

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Crime and Stupidity in Lower Education

Maria Caya

     At nine in the morning on June 6, 2013, 120 fourth and fifth graders, on an end-of-the-year field trip, descended upon a bowling alley in Janesville, Wisconsin. The students and their teacher chaperons from Washington Elementary School took over River's Edge Bowl that morning.

     By 10:45 AM it became obvious that something was wrong with Maria Caya, one of the supervising adults. The 50-year-old teacher was acting so strange someone called her husband Steve to come and take her away. Steve picked up his wife at noon and drove her to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center. Medical personnel determined that Caya's blood-alcohol level was at 0.27 percent, far higher than the state's driving under the influence law. The teacher admitted having consumed a bloody Mary that morning at six o'clock along with Ativan, a pill she took for anxiety. (One bloody Mary will not raise one's alcohol-blood percentage to 0.27.)

     On July 9, 2013, the school board unanimously voted to give Caya, upon her resignation from the school, a lump sum settlement of $18,452. The teacher took the money and resigned. In defending the payout, the school superintendent said that if they had fired the drunken teacher, and she had fought the dismissal, the legal costs would have exceeded the kiss-off money. Moreover, there was a chance Caya would have won reinstatement. School officers wanted this woman out of teaching, and this was the cheapest and most surefire way to accomplish that goal. (Of course there was nothing to stop Caya from applying for a job at another school district.)


Cynthia Ambrose

     On May 2, 2012, in Salinas, Texas, Salinas Elementary School teacher Barbara Ramirez took 6-year-old Aiden Neely to kindergarten teacher Cynthia Ambrose. The boy was in trouble because he had hit another student.

     With Barbara Ramirez looking on, Ambrose told her class of twenty students to form a line, and as each student passed by the pint-sized bully, to hit him. When the first kid gave Neely a light pat, the 44-year-old Ambrose said, "Come on, hit him  harder." The exercise came to a stop when the seventh kid in line hit Neely so hard in the back the boy started to cry. To the crying kid, Ambrose said, "See, that's how it feels to be bullied." (Ramirez, the teacher who witnessed this, could have punched Ambrose and said the same thing.)

     Barbara Ramirez, perhaps to keep a fellow teacher out of trouble, did not report the incident to school authorities until sometime later when she overheard Ambrose telling a kid who had been pinched to pinch the other kid back. Ramirez, for not immediately reporting the bullying exercise, was placed on three days leave. She also received a letter of reprimand.

     Bexar County prosecutor Patrick Ballantyne charged Cynthia Ambrose with the misdemeanor offense of official oppression. At her arraignment, Ambrose pleaded not guilty.

     At Ambrose's trial, held in June 2013, Aiden Neely and Barbara Ramirez testified for the prosecution. The defendant took the stand on her own behalf. In giving their closing arguments to the jury, the prosecutor referred to the teacher's behavior as child abuse. The defense attorney portrayed it as a well-intentioned classroom exercise that had gotten a little out of hand. The jury found Ambrose guilty as charged.

     In August 2013, district judge Sid Harle, before imposing his sentence, said, "[You are] absolutely a parent's worst nightmare. They send their children and entrust you with them." Judge Harle sentenced the former teacher to 30 days in jail, but said she could either serve her time on work release, or spend weekends behind bars. The judge also placed Ambrose on probation for two years.

     Ambrose's criminal conviction did not end her teaching career. The Texas Education Agency suspended her for one year.


Malia Brook

     Malia Brooks, a married mother of two, taught sixth grade at the Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley, a suburban community north of Los Angeles. In November 2012, Brooks began a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old male student. The affair lasted four months.

     In February 2013, following an investigation by the Simi Valley Police Department, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Brooks with one count of lewd act with a child, one count of oral copulation with a person under 14, and one count of genital penetration by a foreign object with a person under 14. Following her arrest, the teacher was incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail on $2 million bond.

     In June 2013, Malia Brooks resigned from teaching and pleaded guilty to all three charges. At her sentencing hearing in August, Brook's attorney told the judge that his client had suffered a "manic episode" that had been brought on by her own teenage sexual abuse. The judge sentenced the former teacher to six years in prison.

  

The Media's Role in American Violence

     ….The validity of the copycat effect is undeniable. This human phenomenon, which is hundreds if not thousands of years old, is being accelerated by our brave new world of in-your-face, wall-to-wall news coverage. The media's graphic coverage of rampage shootings, celebrity suicides, bridge jumpers, school shootings, and the like is triggering vulnerable and angry people to take their own lives and that of others.

     This is not a statement the media wants to hear. Instead of facing up to their role in these events, the media, after a shooting rampage, a school shooting, or a famous suicide, engages in the "blame game." Are guns to blame? Is it Satan? Are parents, friends, schools, and drugs to blame? Or is the general public itself, conditioned now on a high protein diet of increasingly violent fare, to blame for wanting more and more? Of course, asking the question Who is responsible? deflects the attention away from the major socially reinforcing element in the mix: the media itself. Denying the clear evidence of the copycat effect is foolhardy.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

The Reality of the Writing Life

     I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived....

     My students do not want to hear this. Nor do they want to hear that it wasn't until my fourth book came out that I stopped being a starving artist. They do not want to hear that most of them probably won't get published and that even fewer will make enough to live on. But their fantasy of what it means to be published has very little to do with reality.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994
   

Why Professors Avoid Writing Clearly

According to Professor J. Scott Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania, among academics, "obtuse writing...seems to yield higher prestige for the author." Armstrong has conducted a number of studies to test this hypothesis. In one, he asked twenty management professors to identify the more prestigious of two unidentified journals presented to them. The more readable journal (as determined by the Flesch Reading Ease Test) was judged the least prestigious. In another experiment, Armstrong rewrote the same journal article in two different forms. One he rated confusing and convoluted, the other concise and clear. A panel of thirty-two professors agreed that the confusing version reported a higher level of research. "Overall, the evidence is consistent with a common suspicion," concluded Armstrong. "Clear communication of one's research is not appreciated. Faculty are impressed by less readable articles." [Another reason for bad academic writing is that if the material is presented clearly, the true banality of its substance will be revealed.]

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Michael Vanderlinden: Murder-Suicide Case

     In mid-August 2012, 38-year-old Michael Vanderlinden, a native of Belgium who worked in the information technology field, was about to move out of the new, spacious two-story house he lived in with his wife Linda and their two sons, Julien, age 7, and Matthew, 4. Vanderlinden, with a history of mental illness and depression, was seeing a therapist. In November 2010, he had attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. His emotional and mental health problems had strained his marriage which was the reason he was in the process of moving out of the family home in Van Buren Township. A neighbor saw Vanderlinden walk out of his house in the Homestead subdivision outside of Detroit, and drive off at 9:30 in the evening of August 15, 2012. No one in the subdivision saw him after that.

     On Thursday, August 16 at 1:35 in the morning, on Interstate 94 in La Porte County, Indiana just south of the Michigan state line, Vanderlinden drove out of a rest area via the entrance ramp which put him in the westbound lane traveling east. Moving at a high rate of speed, Vanderlinden's vehicle, with its headlights off, plowed head-on into a car traveling eastbound on the interstate. Both vehicles burst into flames on impact, burning Vanderlinden and the driver of the other vehicle, 45-year-old Julian Nelson, beyond recognition. Mr. Nelson, the victim of Vanderlinden's suicide, was from Portage, Indiana.

     Later in the morning of the automobile fatalities on I-94, the Indiana State Police asked officers in Van Buren Township to notify Vanderlinden's wife of his death. At 8:30 AM, a township patrolman rang the doorbell to the Vanderlinden home. Seeing a car in the garage, the officer assumed that the house was occupied. When the doorbell failed to bring a response, the officer tried the front door, found it unlocked, and entered the dwelling.

     In the master bedroom, the officer found 34-year-old Linda Vanderlinden, a charter school teacher, dead with a stab wound to her chest. She had also been strangled, which turned out to be the cause of her death. In separate bedrooms, the officer found the children, each with multiple stab wounds from an 8-inch kitchen knife.

     The forensic pathologist with the Wayne County Coroner's Office was unable to determine the exact time the Vanderdindens' had been murdered. Because there were no signs of forced entry into the house, no one had been sexually assaulted, and nothing had been taken from the death scene, investigators identified Michael Vanderlinden as the murderer. (I image his latent fingerprints were on the bloody knife.)

   The Indiana State Police concluded that Michael Vanderlinden had purposely caused the fatal, head-on crash.

     In murder-suicides, the question is always the same: if a person is going to kill himself, why would he take other people with him? In this case, Vanderlinden, for no reason a sane person could understand, slaughtered his family, and in the act of killing himself, murdered a total stranger. While there is nothing new about mental illness, there seems to so much more of it, and it seems that mentally ill people are becoming much more homicidal. What is making insane people so violent? 

Montaigne's Philosophy of Human Nature

     The evil in the world tends to strike us with more force, and more often, than the good. It is not easy to come up with the opposites of Stalin or Hitler. Evil has repute and power, good is passive, anonymous. But the question remains: Is the good and evil in people indeed distributed by chance and at random?...

     According to [the 16th century French philosopher Montaigne], both instincts and reason impel human nature, but reason is weak. The principal human failing, Montaigne believed, is arrogance, the presumption that through the intellect the truth can be revealed. We are barely superior to the animals, who are stronger, friendlier, and often wiser. Our senses deceive us, and we would do better humbly to acknowledge and accept our limitations. Life can be lived only by following our best instincts. We gain nothing by pondering life, since the future is outside our control. We are what we are; reason can neither change nor tame us; what animates us is unknown. This view of Montaigne is diametrically opposed to the Stoic tradition, which says that by knowing ourselves we can learn self-control and live exemplary lives, like that of the patron saint of all philosophers, Socrates.

A. J. Dunning, Extremes, 1990

The Semicolon

A semicolon can be called in when a comma is not enough. There are times when a comma is already used too much in one sentence, when it can't do its job effectively anymore. There are also times when multiple thoughts in a sentence need more separation than merely a comma, need more time and space to be digested. But a period is sometimes too strong, provides too much separation. The semicolon can step in and save the day, allow a more substantial pause while not severing thoughts completely.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Arthur Conan Doyle's Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories…is the inviting voice of the entire series. He is intelligent, observant and faithful, the way we want doctors to be. He is also guileless and naive, where Holmes is neither, and that is the ultimate limitation in each mystery. But his lack of cunning is why we trust him--and why Holmes does, too.

Atul Gawande, The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 2014 

The Gas Chamber

     If the hangman's scaffold concentrates the mind, the gas chamber has a way of bewitching it. It's smaller than one would think, roughly four feet square and ten feet high. Almost beautiful, if one is mechanically inclined, it's also extremely alien looking, like an antique, six-sided diving bell someone painted gray....

     Waist-high windows, tinted green and reinforced internally with thin wire, are embedded with large rivets in five of the chamber's six sides. At first sight, these windows make it seem harmless. Windows are hard to associate with death. Then the mind makes the obvious leap: this place is not only for killing but for offering death as a spectacle. Three windows look out from the rear half of the chamber onto the witnesses' room, where media people, state officials, lawyers, and families of the victims sit on long wooden benches that resemble church pews. A fourth window, on the right side of the chamber's front half, is for two doctors who monitor the condemned's heartbeat on an EKG machine and a stethoscope. The fifth, to the left of the chamber's 300-pound door, is for the executioner.

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2001

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Randolph Maidens Murder Case

     In April 2013, Dr. Rachael F. Maidens, a successful orthodontist, resided with her husband Randolph and their two-year-old daughter Natalie in a $900,000 home inside a gated, 600-acre subdivision in Brentwood, an affluent suburb outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The Brentwood native had attended Father Ryan High School, Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama, and the University of Florida College of Dental Medicine. She began practicing orthodontics in her hometown in 2006.

     Randolph Maidens, the 34-year-old orthodontist's husband, worked for a biotech firm called Dendreon as a regional pharmaceutical sales manager. Rachel, her family, and Randolph Maidens' fellow employees were concerned that the 42-year-old salesman had, over the past several weeks, lost control of himself. Maidens had been drinking heavily and fighting with Rachael. In February 2013, police in Brentwood arrested him for driving under the influence.

     Randolph and Rachael, while attending a Dendreon Company conference at the Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World, argued in front of other pharmaceutical company employees and their spouses. Randolph, in a drunken rage, smashed glasses and screamed that he was going to kill Rachel. The out-of-control sales manager, when fellow employees tried to settle him down, started throwing punches. The police came and took Maidens into custody. Charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct, he spent the night in jail. Three days later Maidens returned to work.

     At 5:50 PM on Sunday, April 21, 2013, Rachael Maidens' mother, Elizabeth Frisbi, concerned that Randolph had become suicidal, asked officers with the Brentwood Police Department to make a welfare check at the couple's home in the Governors Club subdivision.

     When the officers entered the house they encountered two-year-old Natalie who said, "Daddy gone. Daddy gone." In a second floor bedroom they found Rachael who had been shot to death. Randolph was not in the dwelling.

     In the kitchen, police officers discovered a note in which Randolph apologized for what he had done to his wife. (I do not know the exact wordage of the note or if Maidens explained exactly what he was sorry for.) In the murder scene note, Randolph Maidens had allegedly written that he wanted his daughter Natalie placed into the custody of Rachael's parents.

     Fearing that an armed madman was on the loose, police officers evacuated the homes in the vicinity of the murder and locked down the subdivision. At 6:30 the next morning, officers arrested Randolph Maidens when he returned to his house on Governors Way. He did not resist arrest and was not armed.

     In the trunk of Maidens' car officers discovered $87,200 in cash. In the house they had found $8,500 in 100-dollar bills.

     Charged with first-degree murder, two counts of evidence tampering, and child neglect, officers booked Maidens into the Williamson County Jail. Two days later, a judge set his bail at $2.5 million.

     Shortly after his arrest, Maidens' attorneys petitioned the court for a bail reduction. In June 2013, the judge reduced Maidens' bail to $750,000. With the help of a bonding agency, Maidens gained his release by posting his bail. Corrections officers fitted the suspect with a GPS tracking device and the judge prohibited Maidens from contacting his daughter or members of his dead wife's family.

     At a preliminary hearing on June 25, 2013, Maidens pleaded not guilty to all charges. In November a Williamson County judge announced that in December 2013, a date would be set for Maidens' murder trial.

     On January 7, 2014, Williamson County Judge Timothy Easter revoked Maidens' bond and sent him back to jail. The judge took this action because on December 10, 2013, Davidson County Sheriff Office deputies arrested Maidens at his apartment complex for public intoxication. (The charge was later dropped.) District Attorney Kim Helper had filed the revocation motion on grounds that Maidens was a threat to public safety.

     On September 15, 2014, Randolph Maidens pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the killing of his wife Rachael. In his plea statement he said, "And to Rachael, I promised to love and cherish you and I betrayed all of that. I will live with the anguish forever…No prison is worse than what I inflicted on myself. To all of Rachael's family and friends, I am truly sorry for all the pain and for all the moments that could have been."

     Judge Timothy Easter sentenced Maidens to 25 years in prison. 

The Tell-All Novel

Many people have written thinly veiled tell-all books disguised as fiction. They're called romans a`clef. In the late 1970s, Truman Capote was working on one about Hollywood called Answered Prayers, and an excerpt was published in Esquire. Half of his friends disowned him because he'd told a lot of secrets about their lives. He uncovered a lot of dirt. His defense was pretty valid: His former friends told him these stories freely at parties, in the presence of others, knowing all along he was a writer. "What did they think I was?" he asked with a mixture of hurt and acidity, "the court jester?"

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006 

Inserting Clues in Crime Fiction

     Investigation is the meat and potatoes of mystery fiction. The sleuth talks to people, does research, snoops around, and makes observations. Facts emerge. Maybe an eyewitness gives an account of what he saw. A wife has unexplained bruises on her face. The brother of a victim avoids eye contact with his questioner. A will leaves a millionaire's estate to an obscure charity. A bloody knife is found in a laundry bin. A love letter is discovered tucked into last week's newspaper.

     Some facts will turn out to be clues that lead to the killer's true identity. Some will turn out to be red herrings--evidence that leads in a false direction. On top of that, a lot of the information your sleuth notes will turn out to be nothing more than the irrelevant minutiae of everyday life inserted into scenes to give a sense of realism and camouflage the clues.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005 

The Psychological Effects of Having Been Stalked

Even after [stalking] victims feel assured that the stalking has ended, many find themselves having trouble learning to trust again--both others and themselves. A phase of overcompensating can take place, in which survivors of stalking tend to mistrust their own judgment in meeting people, or feel intensely suspicious of others, resulting in potential difficulties forming new relationships, whether personal or professional, intimate or casual. Existing relationships may also be affected; survivors may find themselves reacting with far greater caution and vigilance around others than is normal for them.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

Criminal Investigation as a Thinking Person's Game

My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere..I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession--or rather created it--for I am the only one in the world."

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Sign of Four."  

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Mother Who Pimped Out Her Daughters

     In April 2012, a tipster called the Nebraska State Patrol to report a woman he had met on Craigslist. According to the informant, she had sent him sexually graphic photographs of her 14-year-old daughter. For a price, this woman offered to make the girl available for sex.

     On April 26, an undercover state officer, posing as a potential John, arranged to meet the 35-year-old mother of three at a motel in Kearney, Nebraska. Michelle Randall, accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter, offered to sell herself for $150, and/or the girl for $200. The officer flashed his badge and arrested the mother. A child protection agent took custody of the teen.

     The arresting officer took Randall to the Buffalo County Jail where she was held on $250,000 bail under charges of soliciting the sexual assault of a child and possession of child pornography.

     Police and child protection personnel went Randall's home near Minden, Nebraska where they found the suspect's other two daughters, ages 7 and 9, alone in the filthy house. The girls were placed into foster care.

     When questioned by the police Michelle Randall admitted allowing her 41-year-old boyfriend, over a period of 14 months, to have sex with her teenage daughter and her 7 year old. She also named some of the men who had paid to have sex with the girls.

     Over the next few weeks, Nebraska police officers arrested 7 men, including the boyfriend, who had paid to have sex with the 14-year-old one or more times. Three of these men had sexually molested the 7-year-old sister. They were all charged with sexual assault.

     A Columbus, Nebraska man, 37-year-old Donald Grafe, had sex with the 14-year-old at a Lincoln truck stop. The other arrestees included Logan Roepke, a 22-year-old man from McCook, Nebraska; 38-year-old Alexander Rahe from Omaha; 41-year-old Shad Chandler from Lincoln; and Brian McCarthy, 25, also from Lincoln. McCarthy, incarcerated in the Lancaster County Jail, had pornographic images of the 14-year-old on his cellphone.

     In November 2012, Michelle Randall pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit first-degree sexual assault of a child and two counts of possession of child pornography. The judge sentenced the mother pimp to 92 to 120 years in prison.

     In January 2013, Shad Chandler from Lincoln, Nebraska, pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child. Three months later the judge sentenced him to 15 to 45 years behind bars. The other patrons of child prostitution pleaded guilty and received similar sentences. In 2013, police officers arrested three more men accused of having sex with the 14-year-old girl. These men were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison terms.  

Creating a Good Villain

     Providing a strong, fully dimensional villain who can give your hero a real run for his money will make the hero's triumph all the more satisfying to readers.

     Max Brand (pen name for the late Frederick Faust) nearly always created truly impressive villains for his western novels. In the series of Silvertip novels, the outlaw Barry Christian was equally as potent and powerful as Brand's hero, and in Brand's Montana Kid series, the Mexican bandit, Meteo Rubriz, was a full match for the quick-shooting protagonist. And when they meet in climactic battle, the reader witnesses a clash of titans.

     The greater the villain, the greater the hero.

William E. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

The Era Before American Drug Abuse Hit the Middle Class

In the late 1950's and early 1960s, drug use in the United States was thought to be largely confined to the urban poor, criminal elements, and such small nonconformist groups such as jazz musicians and "beatnik" artists and intellectuals. The National Survey on Drug Abuse for 1977 summarizes the retrospective data: "Prior to 1962 lifetime experience with any illicit drug was limited to 2 percent of less of the population in most areas of the country and among most large population subgroups. At that time, the prevalence of marijuana use was slightly above average (about 5 percent) among males and racial minorities and people living in the Western region of the country." Even as late as 1968, heroin use was confined to the major port cities of the Northeast corridor, as well as Miami, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

David M. Musto, MD and Pamela Korsmeyer, The Quest for Drug Control, 2002  

Stephen King On What Is Good Fiction

Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Historic Fingerprint: The Jennings Murder Case

     In Chicago, Illinois, on September 19, 1910, a noise at two in the morning coming from her 15-year-old's bedroom, awoke Mary Hiller. She slipped into her robe and ventured into the hall where she noticed that the gaslight outside her daughter's room had been turned off. Fearing that an intruder had entered the house, Mrs. Hiller returned to the master bedroom and shook her husband awake.

    Clarence Hiller, on the landing en route to his daughter's room, bumped into Thomas Jennings, a 32-year-old paroled burglar in possession of a .38-caliber revolver. The men struggled, then tumbled down the stairway. At the foot of the stairs, Jennings, the bigger man, got to his feet, pulled his gun, and fired two shots. The first bullet entered Hiller's right arm, traveled up through his shoulder, and exited the left side of his neck. The second slug slammed into his chest, piercing his heart and lung before coming out his back. The gunman left the scene through the front door, leaving behind a screaming Mary Hiller, her dead husband, and a terrified 15-year-old girl who had been sexually molested.

     About a mile from the murder house, Jennings, walking with a limp, and bleeding from cuts on his arm, passed four off-duty police officers waiting for a streetcar. When questioned about his injuries, Jennings said he had fallen off a trolley. One of the officers patted him down, and discovered the recently fired handgun. The officers placed Jennings under arrest, and escorted the suspect to the police station.

     A few hours later, detectives at the murder scene found the two .38-caliber bullets that had passed through Clarence Hiller's body. Today, a forensic firearms identification expert would be able to match the crime scene slugs with bullets test-fired through the suspect's gun. But in 1910, this type of forensic identification was 15 year in the future. Investigators also determined that the intruder had entered the Hiller house through a kitchen window. A detective who was ahead of his time, found four fingerprint impressions on a freshly painted porch rail outside the point of entry. (Paint, in those days, dried slowly.) A technician with the police department's two-year-old fingerprint bureau, photographed the the finger marks that had been left in the dark gray paint. (The science of fingerprint identification first came to American from England in 1906 when the St. Louis Police Department started the country's first fingerprint bureau.) Mary Hiller, traumatized by the murder of her husband, failed to pick Thomas Jennings out of a police lineup. While roughed up, and the recipient of a third-degree interrogation, Jennings did not confess.

     At Jennings' May 1911 trial, two Chicago Police Department fingerprint examiners, a fingerprint technician from the police department in Ottawa, Canada, and a private expert who had studied fingerprint science at Scotland Yard, testified that the impressions on the porch rail matched the ridges on four of the defendant's fingers, placing him at the scene of the murder. While the idea that fingerprints were unique had been around for 20 years, this was the first U.S. jury to be presented with this form of impression evidence. The chance of convicting Jennings was not good, because the prosecution's case--the defendant's arrest one mile from the house, his injuries, his possession of a recently fired gun, and his murder scene fingerprints--was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. In those days, and to some extent today, jurors prefer direct evidence in the form of confessions and eyewitness identifications.

     Prior to the testimony of the four fingerprint witnesses, Jennings' attorney had objected to the introduction of this evidence on the grounds that this form of forensic identification had not been scientifically tested, and was therefore unreliable, and inadmissible. The trial judge, in allowing the fingerprint testimony, relied on a 1908 arson case, Carleton v. People, in which the defendant had been linked to the fire scene by impressions left by his shoes.

     The jury, following a short deliberation, found Thomas Jennings guilty of first-degree murder. To arrive at this verdict, the jurors had placed more weight on the physical evidence than on the defendant's claim of innocence. The judge sentenced Jennings to death.

     On appeal, Jennings' lawyer argued that there was no scientific proof that fingerprints were unique. By admitting the testimony of so-called fingerprint experts, the trial court had sentenced a man to the gallows on pseudoscience, and bogus expertise. The Illinois Supreme Court, on December 21, 1911, ruled that the Jennings trial judge had not made a judicial error by admitting the fingerprint testimony. This was good news for forensic science, and bad news for Thomas Jennings who died in 1912 at the end of a rope.

     People v. Jennings laid the groundwork for forensic fingerprint identification in America. By 1925, virtually every court in the United States accepted this form of impression evidence as proof of guilt. In medicine, illness leads to cures, and in law enforcement, murders produce advances in forensic science.  

The Lure of Nonfiction

Most of the fiction writers I know get absorbed by the idea of what might have happened; I feel more absorbed and gripped by the idea of what did happen.

Alec Wilkinson in Writer's Market, 1994, edited by Mark Garvey 

Eyewitness Misidentifications

Advances in the social sciences and technology have cast a new light on eyewitness identification. Hundreds of studies on eyewitness identification have been published in professional and academic journals. One study by the University of Virginia Law School Professor Brandon L. Garett found that eyewitness misidentifications contributed to 76 percent of the cases overturned by DNA evidence.

Matthew Mangino, criminal defense attorney and criminal justice blogger at wwwmattmangino.com, August 3, 2013

The Spy Novel

     At their core, spy novels are about secrets. Secrets create power. Power determines how we live. That's a formula for fiction that matters--matters to us in this world where making sense of what's really going on turns out to be a lifelong endeavor, one that fiction lets us do from the safety of own sheltered lives...

     Spy novels remind us of our past and reflect our future. Alan Furst's WW II era novels bring to life heroic struggles of the "greatest generation," while novels written long before 9/11 by Tom Harris and Tom Clancy foreshadowed dramatic hijacked aircraft terrorist attacks targeting American civilians…

     In spy novels we're guaranteed a fictional journey in which something happens. A secret will be stolen or protected, a spy will be caught or escape, the conspiracy will triumph or be crushed. A spy novel can be set anywhere with as much action as you want--sabers in the courtyard or switchblades in the alley, snipers, runaway carriages, strangers on a train, parachuting commandos, car chases, kung fu, high-tech weaponry and low-minded thugs…

     Right versus wrong, good versus evil, the essential nature of power and politics, all that and more unfold is a safe, fictional package for us to enjoy.

James Grady, Parade, March 1, 2015 

The Argument For Citizens Carrying Guns

     People who engage in mass public shootings are deterred by the possibility that law-abiding citizens may be carrying guns. Such people may be deranged, but they still appear to care whether they will themselves be shot as they attempt to kill others….

     One prominent concern about leniency in permitting people to carry concealed handguns is that the number of accidental deaths might arise, but I can find no statistically significant evidence that this occurs. Even the largest estimate of nine more accidental deaths per year is extremely small in comparison to the number of lives saved from fewer murders.

John R. Lott, Jr., More Guns, Less Crime, Second Edition, 2000

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jason Beckman: The Murderous Son

     In 2009, 17-year-old Jason Beckman lived with his 52-year-old father, Jay Beckman, in South Miami, Florida. The South Miami High School student's mother had died of cancer in 1998 when he was six. Mr. Beckman, since 2006, had been a South Miami City Commissioner.

     In the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Jason Beckman called 911 to report an accidental shooting that had killed his father.  Police officers found Jay Beckman in his bathroom shower stall with his face blow away from a close-range shotgun blast.

     When questioned at the police station, Jason Beckman said he had taken his father's Browning Citori 12-gauge, double barrel shotgun out of the closet and assembled it. He carried the gun into his father's bathroom to show him that he knew how to assemble and load the weapon. In the bathroom he slipped and fell causing the shotgun to discharge. The boy claimed that his father's death had been a tragic accident. At this point, although Jason's story didn't make a whole lot of sense, detectives had no reason to suspect an intentional killing.

     A local prosecutor, on the theory the fatal shooting had been an accident, charged Jason Beckman with manslaughter by firearm, a lesser homicide offense involving negligent behavior rather than specific criminal intent.

     As the investigation into the violent death progressed, detectives began to question whether the shooting had been an accident. Among Jason's belongings investigators found a list of people he said he wanted to kill. Jay Beckman's name was at the top of the hit list. A Beckman neighbor told officers that Jason, for years, had made no secret of the fact he planned to kill his father some day. Jason's friends came forward and confirmed the boy's hatred of his father and his stated plans to murder him.

     Jason, when questioned by detectives a second time, stuck to his original account of the shooting. He did, however, say that his father had threatened to kill him.

     In light of the new, incriminating evidence, the prosecutor upgraded the charge against Jason Beckman to first-degree murder. Investigators now believed the killing had been intentional and pre-meditated.

     The Beckman trial got underway on November 4, 3013. Prosecutor Jessica Dobbins, in her opening statement to the jury, said, "We are here today because the defendant regularly talked about his hatred for his father and his desire to kill him." Defense attorney Tara Kawass told the jurors that Jason was not an aggressive person. "No one was scared of him," she said.

     On November 8, two of the defendant's classmates took the stand for the prosecution. According to both witnesses Jason kept a list of people who had crossed him. Moreover, the defendant had told several people, "countless times," that he hated his father and intended to kill him.

     Jailhouse snitch Michael Nistal took the stand for the prosecution. In 2008 the burglar had been involved in a high-speed police chase that ended with his brother being shot to death by the police. In 2009, while incarcerated at the Turner Guilford Knight Correction Center in West Miami, one of Nistal's fellow prisoners--Jason Beckman--told him why he had murdered his father.

     According to the jailhouse informant, just before the shooting, Jason had asked his father what he thought of an actress named Megan Fox. Nistal testified that, "Jason's father told him he [Jason] wouldn't know what to do with that. So he [the defendant] went and got a shotgun and blew his father's head off." After the shooting, according to Nistal, Jason poked his father's body to see if he was still alive.

     Nistal testified that Beckman had told him that he planned to beat the murder rap by claiming the shooting was an accident or by asserting self-defense or insanity. According to the witness, Jason knew right from wrong and was not mentally ill when he committed the murder.

     Tara Kawass, Beckman's attorney, did her best to convince the jury that testimony from jailhouse snitches was notoriously unreliable. She said that Nistal, who was serving a seven-year stretch in prison, had exchanged his bogus testimony for a lighter sentence. Attorney Kawass did not put her client on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On November 8, 2013 the jury, at eight o'clock that night, announced its verdict. The jurors found Jason Beckman guilty as charged. In Florida, first-degree murder brings a sentence that ranges between 25 years and life.

     The defendant, when he heard the verdict, shook his head. "I don't understand," he said. "I really don't."

     In December 2014, when Judge Rodney Smith sentenced Beckman to life in prison, he said, "You had no remorse. You even told your fellow inmate you were glad your father was dead." 

Prolonging the Suspense in Fiction

     Good writers know how to create suspense; better writers know how to prolong it. Creating effective suspense is not that easy, and the best writers know they shouldn't let it go once it exists…

     Nearly all suspenseful elements can be prolonged. You can prolong danger in endless ways, even when you think you can't: a character can survive a dangerous operation only to develop a dangerous infection, or a character can get through one dangerous obstacle only to be faced with another.

Noah Lukeman, The Plot Thickens, 2002  

Are Women as Violent as Men?

     When women commit violence the only explanation offered has been that it is involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal imbalance inherent with female physiology: postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause have been included among the named culprits. Women have been generally perceived to be capable of committing only "expressive" violence--an uncontrollable release of bottled-up rage or fear, often as a result of long-term abuse at the hands of males: Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome. It has been generally believed that women usually murder unwillingly without premeditation.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Creating Ghosts, Vampires and Werewolves

     Suppose you have a strong desire to use a ghost, vampire or werewolf as your central horror novel menace. Is it still possible to utilize such conventional monsters? Will editors buy yet another vampire novel when so many have already been written?

     The answer is yes: Editors are always receptive to novels and stories containing supernatural monsters, but they must be freshly presented; your stories must offer new insights and a fresh approach.

William F. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990

The Role of the Forensic Pathologist in Serial Murder Cases

In serial murders, the random factor inspires the most fear--the idea of a wandering murderer, moving from community to community, unknown to all. Anonymous killers are the most difficult to find. There are all kinds, from Jack the Ripper to Son of Sam, and we really don't know how many of their murders are solved. They have us at another disadvantage--many of them operate across state lines, while we are confined to our own territory. The FBI has begun to profile the deaths by computerizing the murder method and the victim's characteristics, but catching multiple murderers still depends mainly on good police work. Most of those who are caught know their victims, and their methods fall into patterns. The role of the medical examiner is to confirm the victims--that is, to certify that they are victims of a particular killer--and to find the pattern.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (with Judeth Adler Hennessee), 1989