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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Courtroom Humor

In my novels and short stories my absurdist humor often takes place in the courtroom. For example: "Your honor, because I'd like to represent myself in this case, I request a three year postponement so I can get my law degree." The judge: "If you represent yourself, you'll have plenty of time to learn the law--in prison."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Christopher Krumm Double-Murder-Suicide Case

     Christopher Krumm graduated from University of Colorado where he studied computer engineering.  In 2009, after earning a Master's degree in electrical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, Krumm worked at various odd jobs in Colorado. In 2012, he moved into a one-room apartment on the third floor of a rundown rooming house in Vernon, Connecticut. A quiet, socially awkward person who kept to himself, Christopher worked a blue collar job for a utility company. He came home from work everyday wearing one of those neon-colored safety vests.

     On November 17, 2012, Christopher Krumm embarked on a 30-hour, 2,000-mile road trip from Vernon, Connecticut to Casper, Wyoming, a town of 56,000 in the central part of the state. His father, James Krumm, had been teaching computer science at Casper College since 2002, and was head of the department. The two-year institution was one of seven colleges in the state's community college system.

     Professor Krumm possessed a B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University of Wyoming, and a Master's in computer science from Colorado State University. The 56-year-old professor lived two miles from the 200-acre, 5,000-student campus in a quiet, residential neighborhood with his live-in girlfriend, 42-year-old Heidi Arnold. Arnold, a graduate of the University of California at Davis, held a Master's degree in math from the University of Oregon. She taught mathematics at Casper College.

     Christopher Krumm pulled into Casper Thursday night, November 28, and checked into a hotel on the outskirts of town. The next morning, shortly before nine, he showed up unannounced at the house his father shared with Heidi Arnold. Because James Krumm was teaching a morning class at the college, Professor Arnold was the only person in the house when Christopher, armed with two large knives, knocked on the front door. A few minutes later, Heidi Arnold's bloodied body was lying along the curb in the street in front of her house. Christopher Krumm had stabbed her to death.

     From the scene of Heidi Arnold's murder, Christopher Krumm drove two miles to the Casper College campus. He walked into his father's building carrying two knives and a high-powered, compound bow that was wrapped in a blanket. (A compound bow is one of those complicated-looking hunting bows that has pulleys.) Once inside the classroom, in front of six computer science students, Christopher, from a distance of four feet, shot an arrow into his father's head. James Krumm, with the arrow lodged in his skull, managed to get back on his feet. He wrestled with his son long enough to allow his students to get safely out of the room.

     Christopher finished his father off by stabbing him several times in the chest. When police officers burst into the classroom, the professor was dead, and his son, on the floor next to his father, was dying from self-inflicted stab wounds.

     Matt DiPinto, one of Christopher Krumm's neighbors in Vernon, Connecticut, said this to a reporter with the Hartford Courant, "He [Christopher] told me his dad gave him Asperger's Syndrome and that his dad should be castrated. I didn't know him that well, he just kind of said it out of nowhere, so that kind of threw me off a little." According to Christopher Krumm's uncle, when he last saw his nephew three years before the murders, he did not seem depressed or angry.
     

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of His Cat

When I look at my cat I often wonder if he can think, and if so, about what? What goes on inside the head of an animal? Can thinking even take place without language? For example, what does a cat think when he sees a Golden Retriever chase a stick into a lake? Does the cat think, How stupid is that? I can't imagine a life without thinking. For that reason, I choose to believe that my cat does think. Unfortunately, I think my cat doesn't think much of me.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Moore Catholic High School Coach-Student Sex Scandal

     Founded in 1962 by nuns, Moore Catholic High School, a 450-student institution located in the Bull's Head section of Staten Island, New York, is prestigious, and with its $10,000 a year tuition, not cheap.

     In December 2013, a person close to the school learned from the friends of a 16-year-old male student that the boy was involved in a sexual relationship with Moore's women's basketball coach, Megan Mahoney. A former basketball star at Staten Island's Wagner College, the 25-year-old was also a gym teacher and the school's assistant athletic director. The person who learned of the affair from the student's friends reported the allegation to the principal, Bob Manisero. Manisero, in turn, reported it to the athletic director, Richard Postiglione.

     Not long after receiving this disturbing information regarding coach Mahoney and the student, the athletic director informed the principal there was no truth to the allegation. According to Postiglione, Mahoney, coming from an upstanding Catholic family, was above reproach. The athletic director reminded the principal that the school was a notorious hotbed for gossip and rumor.

     That December, the person who had gone to the school principal with the allegation sent an email to school board chairman Anthony Ferreri that read: "If you remember I had reported some activity about a basketball coach that I learned the athletic director thought was untrue. I know it is true. I was told they are in love. Hope you have followed legal protocol even through there are no witnesses."

     According to the 16-year-old student's friends, in September 2013, coach Mahoney approached the boy in the school gym and offered to coach him in basketball. Later, she drove him to secluded places where they had sex in her car. The friends of this student quoted him as saying the following regarding his relationship with the teacher: "We were never boyfriend-girlfriend. It was cool. I knew it wasn't going anywhere."

     According to the student's friends, Mahoney picked him up one night at his house for a date. His parents saw her and assumed she was a high school student.

     After athletic director Postiglione received information from a second person who also told him coach Mahoney and the boy were having an affair, he did not notify the police. According to this whistleblower, Postiglione went to the coach and made her promise to stop seeing the boy.

     In January 2014, the basketball coach and the 16-year-old were seen eating at a pizzeria by the boy's ex-girlfriend who had followed them there. The girl called 911 and the police showed up. To the officers the student identified coach Mahoney as his cousin.

     Later that month, after the Moore Catholic High School teacher-student situation blossomed into a massive scandal, Mahoney resigned. While she left the school under pressure, she continued to maintain her innocence.

     Following the coach's resignation, the student at the center of the scandal complained that the other Moore teachers were trying to flunk him out of school. The boy's mother, referring to these teachers, claimed that they wanted her son out of the institution because he had embarrassed the school.

     In an April 2014 email to the New York City Archdiocese, the mother complained that a school investigation of her son had been conducted without her knowledge and that teachers were trying to drum the boy out of the school. The Archdiocese did not respond to the mother's email.

     In June 2014, a social worker paid a visit to the mother's home. The child protection agent said she was there pursuant to a complaint that the mother was an unfit parent. The complaint was unfounded and quickly dismissed. The embattled mother felt she was being harassed.

     To the dismay of Moore Catholic School administrators, the scandal heated up with allegations from one of the whistleblowers that in 2012 coach Mahoney had been involved with another 16-year-old boy. According to this claim, athletic director Postiglione also failed to pass this allegation on to the police. It also surfaced that in 2006 or 2007, a female coach under Postiglione's direction was accused of sleeping with a female Moore student. That coach also resigned under pressure.

     The allegations of Mahoney's sexual relations with the student as well as claims of an institutional cover-up were under investigation by the Staten Island District Attorney's Office.

     On October 21, 2014, after a Staten Island prosecutor charged Megan Mahoney with thirty counts of statutory rape, police officers took her into custody.

     The Mahoney case prosecutor, on May 7, 2015, dropped all charges against the former coach. In discussing this decision at a news conference, the prosecutor cited a lack of DNA evidence, no confession and no eyewitness. Outside the courthouse following the dismissal, Mahoney refused to talk to reporters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pulp Fiction

You can place the fiction genre into three general categories: literature, mainstream, and pulp fiction. I'm proud to say I'm a pulp fiction writer and reader. According to Stephen King: "To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances." I actually prefer the so-called loose gals over their uptight counterparts. I'll take Mickey Spillane over James Joyce any day.

Thornton P. Knowles

Dr. Van H. Vu And The Problem Of Pain Killing Narcotic Overdoses

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In a subsequent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in Januay 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On History's Worst Novelist

In 1897, the Irish novelist and poet, Amanda McKittrick Ros, published her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh. The opening line of this novel represents a writing ability and style that rightfully earned her the unofficial title of history's worst novelist: "Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous (sic) examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern prejudiced, reaching the land of slight and to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?" A lot of deep purple writing can at least be unintentionally funny. No so with Ros. Compared to this novelist, my worst writing student wrote like Ernest Hemingway.

Thornton P. Knowles



What Happened To District Attorney Ray Gricar?

The Gricar Missing Person Investigation

     In Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, at 11:30 in the morning of Friday, April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the 59-year-old district attorney of Centre County, the home of Penn State University, called his live-in girlfriend to inform her he was on a pleasure drive through an area in the region called Penns Valley. Twelve hours later, his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, called 911 and reported him missing.

     The next day, Gricar's red mini cooper was found parked near an antique mall in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 55 miles east of Bellefonte. The interior of the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Gricar, who didn't smoke, didn't like that smell. The car had been locked, and Gricar's cellphone was inside. According to a Lewisburg shop owner whose antique store Gricar had patronized in the past, the district attorney, on the day he left Bellefonte, was walking around the mall with a tall, dark-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s. Investigators made no effort to identify and question this woman. Because this information wasn't published until 13 months after Gricar's disappearance, the police received no help from the public in identifying this possible witness. By the time the story came out, the case had grown cold.

     In July 2005, three months after Ray Gricar drove off in his Cooper and didn't return, his county-issued laptop was found in the Susquehanna River not far from the abandoned car. Three months after that, the hard drive turned up in the same area of the river. Water had damaged it to the point that no data could be retrieved.

     Following the recoveries from the river, the investigation of Gricar's disappearance, conducted by the Bellefonte Police Department (the Pennsylvania State Police didn't want the case, and the FBI wasn't involved), ground to a halt. In the summer of 2008, with Ray Gricar still missing, and no clues as to what happened to him or where he was, two of his colleagues, Bob Buehne Jr., the district attorney of Montour County, and prosecutor Ted McKnight of Clinton County, held a press conference in Lewisburg where Gricar's vehicle had been found. Both men were highly critical of the Gricar missing person's investigation. The neighboring prosecutors said they couldn't understand why the information about Gricar and the mystery woman at the mall hadn't been made public until May 2006.

     On April 14, 2009, four years after Ray Gricar's disappearance, investigators discovered that someone using the missing man's home computer had, shortly before he went missing, searched the Internet on "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer." Assuming Gricar had made these inquiries, one of the more innocent explanations behind the Internet search was that Gricar, in contemplation of his retirement in nine months, wanted to clear his computer before handing it back to the county. This didn't explain, however, why the computer and hard drive ended up in the river. A more ominous motive was that before killing himself, Gricar wanted to destroy data he didn't want anyone to see.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of Ray Gricar's daughter, a Centre County judge declared him legally deceased.

Theories of Ray Gricar's Disappearance

     There are three schools of thought regarding what happened to Ray Gricar. He could have been murdered, committed suicide, or walked off to start a new life under a different identity. The two most popular murder theories featured a mistress who lured him to the Susquehanna River where he was murdered by the woman's husband. The second murder scenario involved a criminal killing the district attorney out of revenge. Since prosecutors are rarely murdered by people they have prosecuted or planned to put behind bars, the latter theory was the most improbable. However, the first possibility was far fetched as well.

     Suicide seemed more likely than murder in this case. Ray Gricar's brother, Roy J. Gricar, committed suicide in May 1996 by jumping off a bridge over the Great Miami River near West Chester, Ohio. If Ray had jumped from a bridge across the Susquehanna River, what were the chances his body would have been found? Some believe the odds were great that his body would have been recovered. Others disagreed. To have an opinion on this question, one would have to know the ins and outs of the Susquehanna River.

     The so-called "walkaway" theory, that Gricar walked-off to start a new life under a new identity, while quite intriguing, didn't make much sense. For one thing, he hadn't cleaned out his bank account, and drove off without tying up a lot of loose-ends. Following his disappearance, there were more than 300 false sightings of him. Those who subscribed to the walkaway theory pointed out that Ray had been fascinated by the 1985 disappearance of an Ohio police chief. Inside the chief's car, parked near Lake Erie, searchers found his wallet and his badge. They never found the chief's body. Some of those who believed Gricar was still alive thought he could be hiding out in the federal government's witness protection program. (This possibility is out of the question because prosectors are not eligible for the program.)          

Ray Gricar, The Man

     Ray Frank Gricar was born on October 9, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Gilmour, a prestigious Catholic high school in Gates Mills, Ohio. In 1966, while attending the University of Dayton, he met his future wife, Barbara Gray. They were married in 1969. After graduating from Case Western Law School in Cleveland, Gricar started his career as a prosecutor in northwest Ohio's Cuyahoga, County.

     In 1980, the couple and their daughter Lara moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania when Barbara landed a job at Penn State University in nearby State College. Shortly after that, David Grine, the district attorney of Centre County, hired Ray as an assistant prosecutor. Five years later, Gricar ran for the office of district attorney and won.

     Barbara and Ray divorced in 1991, and five years later, Ray married his second wife, Emma. Following a tumultuous marriage, he and Emma divorced in 2001. Two years later, Ray moved in with Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's Office who lived in a section of Bellefonte called Halfmoon Hill. By April 2005, having served several terms as district attorney, Ray Gricar was planning to retire in nine months.

     Although a private, somewhat distant person, Ray's colleagues considered him an outstanding career prosecutor with high ethical standards. Because he never had political ambitions beyond the district attorney's office, Gricar was not, according to his legal colleagues, subject to political pressure or influence. On a personal level, he was known as a bit of a ladies' man.

Ray Gricar and the Jerry Sandusky Pedophilia Case

     In May 1998, when Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State Univeristy, and active in his organization for troubled youth called The Second Mile, two 11-year-old boys told their parents that Sandusky had fondled them in the Penn State locker room showers. The mother of one of the accusers contacted Detective Ronald Schreffler with the University Police Department. Shortly after receiving the complaint, Schreffler, on a pretext, got Sandusky to meet the mother at her house where she confronted him about the coach being nude in the shower with her son. With the detective in the next room recording the conversation, the boy's mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. Sandusky did not deny showering with her son. Regarding the arousal question, he said, "I don't think so--maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

     A child psychologist who interviewed this boy concluded that his account, and Sandusky's response to the mother's interrogation, indicated to him that the coach was "likely a pedophile." A second psychologist, Dr. John Seasock, after analyzing the same information, came to a different conclusion.

     On June 2, 1998, District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute the Penn State football coach. Four years later, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, took the stand at Sandusky's sexual abuse trial and described how the coach had lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." Ronald Schreffler, later with the Department of Homeland Security, testified in June 2012 that he had wanted Ray Gricar to prosecute Sandusky in 1998, but was overruled.

     Had Ray Gricar prosecuted Jerry Sandusky for indecent assault, corruption of a minor, and child endangerment, more victims, ones Sandusky had raped, might have come forward. Even if they hadn't, Gricar would have exposed a pedophile within the Penn State system, and have possibly acquired a conviction on these lesser charges.

     In 1999, Jerry Sandusky retired from Penn State. He was awarded the title professor emeritus, and given an office in the football building. He had full access to all of the sports facilities, and used this access and his youth organization to attract and molest young boys.

     I don't believe that Ray Gricar was murdered, or that he's still alive. That leaves suicide. The question is, did Gricar's decision not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky weigh on his conscience, and play a role in his suicide? Between the time the prosecutor closed the case on Sandusky and his disappearance, Gricar must have been aware that accusations against the coach were still being made. Did he have regrets? Was Gricar second-guessing himself?

     On June 23, 2012, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky guilty of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of fifteen years. The judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.

     People who have had access to Ray Gricar's papers say there was virtually no reference in them to Jerry Sandusky. If this were true, we will never know if Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia and Ray Gricar's disappearance were in any way connected.

     On April 13, 2018, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania State Police Troop G, announced that a new investigator, Trooper Dana Martini, has been assigned to track down leads in the 13-year-old Gricar disappearance case.

Keith Richards and Drugs

I've never had a problem with drugs. I did have a problem with cops.

Keith Richards, "The Rolling Stones"

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Rape Victim's Revenge

     After years of being sexually abused by her father, a young Indian woman has gotten her revenge. On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, the Times of India reported that Kulvinder Kaur admitted murdering her father as he slept. She stated that she cut open his chest and removed his pacemaker.

     The 23-year-old woman said that her father, Daljeet Singh, started abusing her after her mother died three years ago. She had endured his assaults for years because she had been too frightened to go to the police….

     On the evening of April 30, Kaur left her house door open so that two of her male friends could slip into the house undetected. The two males bludgeoned the sleeping 56-year-old man with a wooden cricket stump. Kaur then tore open his chest with a shard of glass and ripped out his pacemaker. The trio then put the body in a bed sheet, drove to a forested area several kilometers away, and dumped the corpse.

     Police have arrested Kaur and the two men, who have been identified as 22-year-old tattoo artist Prince Sandhu, and 23-year-old Ashok Sharma, an apparel brand's showroom worker. Police have recovered the blood-stained cricket stump, the glass shard, and other physical evidence.

Lina Batarags, "New Delhi Woman Gets Grisly Revenge on Sexually Abusive Father," Opposingviews.com, May 6, 2014