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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Albert Hamilton: Courtroom Charlatan

     In 1908, Albert Hamilton self-published a brochure about himself called, That Man From Auburn.  In this piece of self-advertisement, the druggist from Auburn, New York presented himself as an expert in chemistry, microscopy, handwriting identification, ink analysis, photography, fingerprints, and forensic toxicology. He also claimed expertise in the fields of gunshot wounds, bullet identification, blood stain analysis, cause of death determination, anatomy, embalming, and toxicology. To match his impressive qualifications, he awarded himself a medical degree, and from then on was known as Dr. Hamilton.

     Hamilton came into prominence in 1915 when he testified for the prosecution as a firearms identification expert in a rural New York murder case. The defendant, Charlie Stielow, an illiterate farmhand who stood accused of shooting to death the elderly couple who owned the farm where he worked, was facing the death sentence. The jury found Stielow guilty of first-degree murder on the strength of a coerced confession, and the testimony of Albert Hamilton who identified a defect inside the barrel of the defendant's .22-caliber revolver as having left its individualistic mark on one of the fatal bullets. Having earned $50 a day for his work on the case, Hamilton impressed the jury with his enlarged photographs of the murder bullet. It all looked quite scientific.

     In reality, Hamilton's testimony was pure hokum. The science of firearms identification, as it came to be practiced in the mid-1930s, did not exist in 1915. The comparison microscope, an instrument essential to the comparison and analysis of firearms evidence, was invented in 1926. Nevertheless, Hamilton assured the jurors that the fatal bullet had been fired from the defendant's handgun. His findings went unchallenged by the defense, and no one seemed to notice that he hadn't even test-fired the so-called murder weapon. The judge sentenced Stielow to death.

    Two years later, a pair of felons confessed to the murder, and the governor of New York formed a commission to review the case. The governor appointed Charles Waite, an investigator in the New York State Attorney General's office, to lead the inquiry. Waite took Stielow's revolver to a New York City police detective who knew about guns. An examination of the weapon convinced the officer that the revolver had not been fired in at least four years. Moreover, a naked eye examination of the bullets the New York police officer test-fired from the .22-caliber revolver showed vastly different barrel marks than those on the murder slugs.

     As a result of these and other post-conviction findings, the governor granted Charlie Stielow, and another defendant in the case, full pardons. Charles Waite, having been introduced to the possibilities of forensic firearms identification, went on to become a prominent practitioner in the field. In 1922, he formed the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. The bureau, the first of its kind, was taken over in 1926 by Dr. Calvin Goddard, an Army surgeon and ordinance officer from Baltimore who became the most important and qualified firearms identification expert in the world.

     In 1923, two Italian-American anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolemo Vanzetti, were convicted of shooting a factory paymaster and his bodyguard to death in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The defendants' attorneys were seeking grounds for a new trial, and called upon the services of Albert Hamilton. Since the Sacco-Vanzetti case had been grabbing headlines for months, Hamilton eagerly got involved in the case.

     Nicola Sacco's conviction was based chiefly on the testimony of three firearms identification witnesses who said the bullet that killed the guard had been fired from his Colt .32-caliber handgun. The experts also believed that the gun the police found on Vanzetti had belonged to the slain guard.

     After examining the firearms evidence, Hamilton reported that the fatal bullet had not been fired from Sacco's gun, and the weapon that had been in Vanzetti's possession was not the weapon that had once belonged to the bodyguard. Relying on Albert Hamilton's report, the Sacco-Vanzetti defense team filed a motion for a new trial. To counter the motion, the prosecution acquired the services of two experts who had not testified at the trial.

     In November 1933, during the hearing on the motion for the new trial, Hamilton conducted an in-court demonstration involving two new Colt revolvers, and Sacco's handgun. The two Colt .32-caliber demonstration revolvers belonged to Hamilton. In front of the judge, and lawyers for both sides, Hamilton disassembled all three revolvers and placed their parts in three piles on the defense table. He then explained the functions of each part, and demonstrated how they were interchangeable. After reassembling the handguns, Hamilton placed the two new weapons back into his pocket, and handed Sacco's Colt to the court clerk. Before he left the courtroom, the judge asked Hamilton to leave his two guns behind.

     Several months later, when the judge asked one of the prosecution firearms experts to reinspect Sacco's revolver, the expert discovered that the barrel to Sacco's gun was brand new. Following an inquiry, Albert Hamilton admitted that the new barrel on Sacco's Colt had come from one of his revolvers. Although it was obvious to everyone that Hamilton had made the switch, presumably with a mistrial in mind, he denied any wrongdoing. Hamilton continued his association with the Sacco-Vanzetti defense, but he no longer played an important role in the case. He had destroyed his credibility as a firearms expert and witness.

     The Sacco-Vanzetti motion for a new trial was denied, and in 1927, the two men died in the electric chair. Prior to their deaths, Dr. Calvin Goddard, the most qualified firearms identification expert in the world, stated that Sacco's gun had in fact been the murder weapon. (Several modern firearms identification experts have examined the ballistics evidence in the case, and agree with Dr. Goddard's findings.)

     The barrel-switching incident in the Sacco-Vanzetti case apparently had little effect on Hamilton's phony career as a forensic scientist. Eight years after the Sacco-Vanzetti debacle, he testified for the defense in a New York murder case. In 1932, Stephen Witherell murdered his father, Charles. The defendant admitted shooting his father at point blank range with a Remington rifle he had stolen from his cousin. An expert with the New York City Police Department identified this rifle as the murder weapon.

     By the time the trial rolled around, Stephen Witherell had recanted his confession. He took the stand on his behalf and denied shooting anyone. In fact, he denied the body in question was even his father's. (Decomposition and the massive gunshot wound to the victim's head had made the corpse unrecognizable.) Albert Hamilton took the stand, and testified that there were two gunshot wounds on the body: the head wound caused by a rifle, and a wound on the victim's hand, made by a handgun. Actually, there was no hand wound at all. The victim had lost two fingers in an industrial accident. Once again, Hamilton had proven that he was incompetent, and a charlatan.

     In 1934, Hamilton tried to insert himself in the Lindbergh kidnapping case by identifying a man named Manny Strewl as the writer of the ransom letters. Hamilton was not a qualified questioned document expert, and the writer of the extortion notes turned out to be Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The carpenter from the Bronx, an illegal alien from Germany with a criminal history in his home country, was executed in 1936 for the murder of the Lindbergh baby.

     Albert Hamilton continued to disgrace himself as an expert witness in several forensic fields for another ten years, making him one of the most notorious forensic charlatans in American history. If there is anything to learn from this man's career, it is that the woods are full of phony experts, and if judges let down their guards, we will have charlatans in our court rooms, and baloney in our verdicts.   

The Dueling Expert Problem

     The increasing presence of dueling expert witnesses, encouraged by the procedural and adversarial nature of the criminal trial process, is a problem without a satisfying remedy. As a trial technique, defense attorneys often put expert witnesses on the stand whose main job is to muddy the waters and confuse the jury. Trial lawyers call this ploy "blowing smoke."

     If there is an answer to this muddying the waters technique, it will have to come from within the legal and forensic science professions in the form of a tighter code of ethics. Regarding battling experts, judges could help by imposing stricter standards in the area of who qualifies as an expert. (Lawyers like expert witnesses because they can render opinions. Regular witnesses cannot.) This would help keep out the phonies and reduce the opportunity for opposing testimony, particularly in the field of forensic questioned document examination where half the "experts" are under-qualified. The problem also exists in the field of forensic pathology in disputes regarding cause and manner of death. It is also not unusual to see blood spatter analysts on both sides of a case.

     Many jurors, when confronted with conflicting forensic science analysis, disregard the evidence completely. Forensic science was supposed to bring certainty and truth to the criminal justice system, not confusion. 

Revisionist True Crime Books

     There are  a number of reasons why historic, celebrated crimes are vulnerable to revision by true crime writers. For one thing, a new angle on an old case, particularly a famous one, comprises an attractive publishing opportunity. Since Americans tend to be more interested in injustice than justice, it's hard for hack writers to resist turning cold-blooded killers into victims of heavy-handed prosecutors and cops. Since complicated, intrigue-filled mysteries are more fascinating than cases involving more straight-forward, obvious explanations, revisionist true crime writers prefer conspiracies over cases that feature lone-wolf criminals.

     Putting together a phony conspiracy theory requires a certain kind of journalistic tunnel vision. The author must carefully avoid the evidence that does not fit into his narrative, and the more outrageous the theory, the more facts the writer has to sweep under the rug or explain away.

     Sometimes in their eagerness to plug a new conspiracy into a historic case, revisionist writers, by ignoring the truth, deprive themselves of a more fascinating, truthful account. The Lindbergh kidnapping case is a good example of replacing a dramatic story with a lot of conspiracy nonsense.  

True Crime, The Lurid Genre

     Give me a book that begins with a time and a date and an address, something along the lines of: "At 9:36 on March 24, 1982, Deputy Frank McGruff of the Huntington County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to 234 Maple Street in Pleasantville, North Carolina, a quiet suburb 10 miles west of Raleigh, to follow up on reports of gunshots and screams."

     There is nothing more generic that this sort of sentence, and yet  there's nothing more seductive, either. The sentence carries promises: the regular-guy lawman, the horrific crime scene, the enigmatic object found lying  in the foyer, the minute-by-minute timeline of that fatal half-hour, the witness reports that don't add up, and the multiplication of scenarios and theories and complications.

     I've always felt somewhat sheepish about my appetite for true crime narratives, associated as they are with fat, flimsy paperbacks scavenged from the 25-cent box at garage sales, their battered covers branded with screaming two-word titles stamped in silver foil, blood dripping luridly from the last letter.  The most famous practitioners of this genre--Joe McGinniss, Ann Rule, Vincent Bugliosi--come coated with a thin, greasy film of dubious repute and poor taste.

     True crime is also the mother's milk of tabloid journalism, of endless trashy news cycles in which the same photo of a wide-eyed innocent bride (where is she?); a gap-toothed kindergarten student (who killed him?); a bleary-eyed, stubbled suspect (why did he do it?) appear over and over and over again.

Laura Miller, "Sleazy Bloody and Surprisingly Smart: In Defense of True Crime," salon.com, May 29, 2014 

Is Forensic Science Real Science?

     The problem with much of forensic science theory is that it is largely inductive, and has never been subject to rigorous tests that specifically attempt to falsify it. It has been said that forensic scientists in general have failed to consistently appreciate the implications of the scientific method. The progression through the stages of research, formulation of a hypothesis, testing, analyzing results, and then modifying the hypothesis where necessary has the advantage of built-in evaluators, such as the calculation of error rates, as part of the process, in addition to other benefits, including impartiality. Testing allows the generation of error rates and approximations, and good quality research is generally published, thereby being subject to peer review. Standardization of techniques and theories becomes necessary so as to ensure their validity and applicability in the hands of different researchers, scientists, and practitioners. Eventually, when a theory gains overwhelming support, it may even enter the realm of "general acceptance"; however, this by itself is no substitute for these first stages of scientific endeavor.

     While academics note a tension between "science" and "forensic science," there are some who disagree that the traditional "scientific method" is appropriate for forensic science to follow, due to its unique position of straddling the disciplines of both science and law...As one author has written, forensic science operates outside the carefully controlled environment that the traditional sciences endure...Claiming that forensic science does not enjoy the pristine conditions of experimental science, and thus is not directly comparable, avoids a reality that has plagued all scientific research--a reality that has already been managed by experimental scientists through careful and deliberate hypothesis testing, but dismissed by forensic scientists by simply claiming irrelevance to their own practice. [The forensic sciences that have not undergone this rigorous scientific methodology include forensic document examination, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint identification, and human bite mark identification.]

C. Michael Bowers, Forensic Testimony, 2013 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jack Abbott On His Prison Life

I know how to live through anything they could possibly dish up for me. I've been subjected to strip-cells, blackout cells, been chained to the floor and wall; I've lived through the beatings, of course; every drug science has invented to "modify" my behavior--I have endured. Starvation was once natural to me; I have no qualms about eating insects in my cell or living in my body wastes if it means survival. They've even armed psychopaths and put them in punishment cells with me to kill me, but I can control that. When they say "what doesn't destroy me makes me stronger," that is what they mean. But it's a mistake to equate the results with being strong. I'm extremely flexible, but I'm not strong. I'm weakened, in fact. I'm tenuous, shy, introspective, and suspicious of everyone. A loud noise or a false movement registers like a four-alarm fire in me. But I am not afraid--and that is strange, because I care very much about someday being set free. I want to cry when I think that I'll never be free. I want to cry for my brothers I've spent a lifetime with. Someday I will leave them and never return. [After the publication of his prison memoir, Abbott was paroled. Not long after he got out, this psychopathic time-bomb murdered a waiter in New York City. So Abbott did leave his prison brothers for awhile, but he came back to them after a short period of freedom. Assuming that his prison memoir is true to the facts, Abbott, though his violent behavior, invited the institutional violence directed against him. He couldn't live without violence in prison or out.]

Jack Henry Abbott, In The Belly of the Beast, 1981  

Phone Sex at the University of Colorado

     Resa Cooper-Morning, a cultural diversity coordinator in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Denver, had been living a double life. Employed by the university since 1992, Resa, in 2003, began supplementing her $68,000-a-year salary by charging phone sex callers $1.49 a minute for her pornographic talk.

     Cooper-Morning advertised her services through her website, msresa.com. The site also offered soft core videos of the university administrator with titles such as "Stripping Before the Camera," and "Erotica in Pink." The site included a link to her phone sex service that promised to "rock every part of your body." Internet viewers could also purchase memberships to Cooper-Morning's virtual world.

     Internet visitors desiring sexy phone talk were encouraged to call Resa between seven in the morning and "late at night", Monday through Friday. This made her available to sex callers Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 3PM, her university working hours. This meant the 54-year-old was talking dirty for money on university's time. (I guess you could argue that a lot of employees talk dirty on company time. The only difference here is that Cooper-Morning did it for money.)

     Big wigs at the University of Colorado were informed of Cooper-Morning's clandestine business by a producer with the local CBS-TV affiliate working on a segment about Cooper-Morning's erotic website. The show was scheduled to air on December 12, 3003. Shortly after the notification, the diversity coordinator found herself on paid administrative leave.

     Blair Cooper, Resa's daughter-in-law, appeared in the CBS-produced segment that aired as scheduled. According to Cooper, "she [Resa] was taking calls at work. I've been in her office and she's said, 'oh, let me be right back, I have a phone call.' She takes them very discreetly, shuts her door and takes phone calls on Colorado University of Denver's pay."

     In January 2014, the local CBS TV affiliate covering the Cooper-Morning case reported that the university administrator, in addition to her phone sex operation, ran an escort service. The university however, announced that she would not lose her position at the school. A spokesperson for the University of Colorado at Denver said, "We've been unable to establish that Ms. Cooper-Morning engaged in criminal activity nor have we been able to determine she operated her outside businesses while on the job." 

The Toy Gun, Gun Image, Gun Facsimile and Gun Gesture Hysteria in Our Schools

     Zero tolerance generally equals zero discretion and good sense. However, if there is one zero-tolerance police we should have in our schools it should be a ban on idiot teachers and administrators. That, of course won't happen. If it weren't for public education and the government, where would these fools work?

     It won't be long before some neurotic kid approaches his teacher with a disturbing confession. "Ms. Fox," he says in a trembling voice, "I had a bad thought. Last week, while in your classroom, the image of a gun crept into my head. I am so sorry. It will never happen again. How many days will I be suspended?"

     "It depends," Ms. Fox replies. "Was it an assault weapon?"

December 2012: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania

     A seventh grade student at the Tamaqua Middle School in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania formed his hand in the symbol of a gun and pointed its finger-barrel. He aimed his .25-caliber appendage at a fellow student. The Pennsylvania State Police were called into the case to, among other things, determine if the "shooter" had said "POW!" If he didn't make the muzzle sound it was probably because he was pretending to be firing a handgun with a silencer. (Just kidding.) Police said the boy will be charged with disorderly conduct, and suspended from school. (Not kidding.)

December 2012: Chickasha, Oklahoma

     A five-year-old elementary school student was suspended for a day after he made a gun gesture with his hand. The offender pointed the nonexistent weapon at another student. Had the other kid gestured first, the student in trouble might have acquired a pretend student attorney and claimed self-defense.

January 2013: Trappe, Maryland

     School officials at the Marsh Elementary School in Trappe, Maryland punished two 6-year-old boys with suspension for "shooting" each other with imaginary guns and bullets. In a game of cops and robbers, they were using their fingers to replicate firearms. (If I were running this school I'd only punish the kid pretending to be the robber. What do they have against cops in that school?)

January 2013: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

     A South Philadelphia elementary school student was chastised in front of her class for coming to school armed with a piece of paper crudely shaped in the pattern of a handgun. Students made fun of the girl with the gun-shaped piece of paper, calling her a "murderer." I would advise these kids to be careful; this paper-toting kid might come to class one day with a big sheet of paper in the general shape of an assault rifle, or an Army tank.

January 2013: Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania

     A 5-year-old kindergarten girl in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania was suspended for threatening to shoot one of her playmates with her Hello Kitty gun, a toy in the general shape of a firearm that blows soapy bubbles. School officials characterized this as a "terroristic threat." While unregistered, the semi-automatic bubble-gun had been purchased legally by a kid with no criminal record or a history of schizophrenia. Moreover, the girl had not brought the weapon to school. She was simply talking about something she planned to do at home after school. A real lawyer jumped into the case and got the girl's ten day suspension reduced to two. The lawyer is now fighting to have the girl's "record" expunged. If anything needs expunged, it's the idiots and fools at the Mount Carmel Elementary School.

January 2013: Modesto, California

     A 17-year-old Modesto high school student was suspended three days after making gun gestures with his hand. Witnesses reported that this student was not only pointing his finger, he was moving another finger in a trigger-pulling action. Oh my. To compound this kid's offense, he also raised an umbrella in a aggressive rifle-like gesture. If I had a school-aged kid, I'd tell him to leave his umbrella at home, and keep his hands in his pockets, or holsters.

January 2013: Hyannis West, Massachusetts

     A 5-year-old boy at Hyannis West Elementary School on Cape Cod got into big trouble when he used lego bricks to build a crude toy handgun. Because he was a repeat offender--the kid had been punished for making a gun gesture with his hand--a written warning was placed into his file. School officials told the boy that if he commits the "crime" a third time, he will be suspended for two weeks. Let's hope this little menace doesn't hook-up with the Hello Kitty girl. We don't need another Bonnie and Clyde on our hands.

 January 2013: Sumter, South Carolina

     A kindergartner was expelled from Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter, South Carolina after she brought her brother's toy Airsoft gun for show and tell. The girl is not allowed to be on school property, even when accompanying her parents picking up her siblings. She has been assigned a home-based instructor from the school district.  While Alice Drive Elementary School is a safer place, school administrators are worried about the safety of the home instructor.

February 2013: Florence, Arizona

     A freshman at Poston Butte High School in Florence, Arizona was suspended because he had a background picture of an AK-47 on his school desktop computer. It's a good thing the kid didn't have a photograph of an atomic mushroom on his school computer. The entire state would have been on lock-down.

February 2013: Loveland, Colorado

     A second grade boy at Loveland, Colorado's Mary Blair Elementary School was suspended for the terroristic act of pretending to throw a nonexistent hand-granade at a nonexistent target. He was pretending to be a super-hero saving the world. Next time, to save himself, the kid should learn to lie. Grenade? What grenade? I was pretending to toss roses at my wonderful teacher.

   

Australian Serial Killing Course for 9th Graders: Exposing Young Minds to Sadistic Murder

     Students in an Australian high school didn't have to wait until college to enroll in stupid, useless courses. A 9th grade teacher in Corio, a suburb of Greelong, Victoria on Australia's southeastern coast, offered a forensic psychology course devoted to the study of serial killers. This begs the question: what educational goal is being met here? Is studying a tiny subculture of deviants with homicidal personality disorders a good way to give 14-years-olds a realistic perception of human behavior? Are these murderous degenerates worthy of this kind of academic attention? Man, where was this teacher when I was in school flunking English, math, and science?

     This 9th grade professor of prolific, pathological homicide gave his (or her) students two weeks to complete a "Serial Killer Investigation Assignment." (I am not kidding, this is not a put on.) The twenty students taking the class were asked to complete ten out of a possible twenty "activities" related to the study of serial killers, their lives, and their victims. This reminds me of Boy Scouts having to do certain things to earn merit badges. Instead of studying the boring stuff, these kids learned all about American serial killers like David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Ted Bundy, and the man who killed and ate young men, Jeffery Dahmer. (After completing this course, most of these kids would be afraid to visit the U.S.) The Australian students also studied Hannibal Lector, the fictitious, erudite consumer of human flesh. Finally, a course they could sink their teeth into.

     What follows are some of the"Serial Killer Investigation Assignment" activities students could choose from:

     Draw a cartoon panel about how your serial killer murdered someone. This is a good one for a kid with artistic ability who has selected a serial killer like John Wayne Gacy. Gacy, an amateur clown, tricked his young male victims into handcuffing themselves before he slowly strangled them to death. Mr. Gacy buried the dead boys' bodies under his house in Chicago. The visuals here could be great. These students of sadistic, multiple murder could identify with Mr. Gacy who was himself an artist! Maybe they could copy his style and technique. In art, that is. Or maybe they could do a cartoon of him dying in the execution chamber. That would be my choice.

     Choose two serial killers, compare them and decide which of them is worse and why. This is a good exercise for  students who want to be  criminal defense attorneys when they grows up. A student might select Donald Harvey, the Ohio angel of death who murdered hundreds of terminally ill hospital patients by poisoning them to death. Mr. Harvey could be compared to Ted Bundy who raped and murdered dozens of young women. In choosing Harvey over Bundy, the student could argue that all of Bundy's victims were young pretty women, while Donald Harvey just killed old people who were going to die soon anyway. Yes, Donald Harvey was much worse than Ted Bundy. Encouraging a 14-year-old see the good side of a serial killer is, educationally speaking, a splendid idea. Bravo.

     Write a poem about a serial killer. My first question for the teacher would be, does it have to rhyme? Mixing poetry and sudden, violent death will surely get kids interested in writing on a higher level. Let's see, what rhymes with autopsy. That's a tough one.

     Create a serial killer board game with full instructions. Oh my, this one is ambitious. But it's a good exercise because it forces the student to spend hours and hours thinking about sadistic, pathological murder. I would suggest adapting "Chutes and Ladders" to "Tunnels and Dungeons," or "Whips and Chains." Maybe the student could convert a Monopoly board. Instead of real estate, the player lands on potential murder victims. In this game, however, there is no get-out-of jail card.

     Make a children's book which teaches them about serial killers. The goal here, I guess, is to get toddlers interested in multiple homicide. Full color illustrations depicting the various ways serial killers go about their business would be quite instructive. Teaching kids at a young age how to commit serial murder would be, I imagine, an excellent anti-bullying measure.

     Draw a floor plan of a serial killer's "dream house." This is a good assignment for students who want to grow up to be sadistic architects. It goes without saying that the dwelling would feature a torture chamber, a dissecting room, a library of snuff videos, and a large but private back yard. I would also suggest a good ventilation system and a large incinerator.

     Ken Massari, the principal of the Australian high school that employed the 9th grade teacher, didn't know about the serial killer course until he read about it in the local press. Apparently a parent had complained to the media. The principal pulled the plug on the course which including killing the teacher's homework assignments. To a reporter, Massari said that "Upon review, I made the decision to withdraw the assignment immediately and permanently, and our trained staff contacted each family to determine if any support was required." It should be noted that the one family the school didn't contact had disappeared. (Just kidding.) 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Committing The Perfect Crime

     Investment crook Bernie Madoff probably thought he'd committed the perfect crime. He was rich, well-known, loved by his family, and respected by his colleagues. But Ponzi scemes are not perfect crimes, and Bernie got caught. The financial sociopath lost his fortune, his reputation, his freedom and a son to suicide. His wife, the author of a boo-hoo memoir and his surviving son have disowned him. And like a true sociopath Bernie has insulted his victims by calling them greedy.

     Unlike Bernie Madoff, a lot of people get away with crimes big and small. Shoplifters, employee thieves, and even murderers have avoided conviction. But getting away with a criminal act doesn't necessarily make it a perfect crime. Offenders escape criminal detection and punishiment because their crimes weren't professionally investigated. So-called perfect crimes are made possible by imperfect police work, and good luck.

     To avoid a murder conviction the killer should make sure he doesn't leave part of himself at the scene of the homicide or take part of the death site with him. Ideally, the murder victim should not be a spouse, an ex-lover, a business competitor or someone to whom the killer owes money. Moreover, the homicide should be committed as far from the killer's home as possible. And there should be no eyewitnesses or accomplices. The successful murderer should create a believable alibi, and not tell a soul what he has done, not even a priest or a shrink. And if there is financial gain involved, the killer should avoid spending large sums of money for at least a year.

     If arrested and brought into the interrogation room the suspect should say nothing except that he wants a lawyer. Also, no self-respecting criminal agrees to a polygraph test. If incarcerated the suspect should be aware of the jailhouse informant. Successful criminals trust no one and keep their mouths shut.

     Killers get away with murder all the time because police officers contaminate physical evidence at the crime scene. Too many detectives are overworked, lazy, or incompetent. O. J. Simpson committed an imperfect, messy, clue-laden double murder and walked free. Police mistakes, a whacko jury, and an all-star defense team led to the acquittal of an obviously guilty man.

     The commission of a perfect perfect murder should entail the following:

   1. The coroner or medical examiner rules the death either natural, accidental, or suicidal.

   2. The killer does not come under serious police or media suspicion.

   3. The killer gains something significant from the victim's death.

   4. There is no physical evidence such as DNA that will later come back to haunt the killer.

     Before the emergence of modern toxicology and pharmacology, at a time when unhappy wives slowly poisoned their husbands to death (usually with arsenic found in rat poison), the perfect murder was possible--perhaps even easy. Today committing the perfect murder, at least in theory, is much more difficult and extremely rare.