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Friday, October 31, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Meth Cook's Dog Helps Cops

     Edwin Henderson ran from officers with the Prattville, Alabama police who were serving a drug search warrant on October 29, 2014. The suspected meth manufacturer jumped into a ravine behind his house and was followed by his dog, Bo and two Prattville Drug Enforcement Unit investigators.

     Bo found Henderson lying in tall grass. He was arrested when the officers saw the dog had stopped to wag his tail. Henderson has been charged with failure to obey police, manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

"Dog Helps Alabama Police Arrest Owner During Chase," Associated Press, October 30, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Meaning of Literary Awards

In the literary world there are far more awards for "serious" fiction than championship title belts in the field of professional boxing. While boxing fans and pundits lament the glut of prize fighting titles, the boxers who hold these belts have at least proven themselves to be superior athletes. Literary awards, on the other hand, warn us that these award-winning novels are virtually unreadable works of pretentious, show-off fiction.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Writing Quote: How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

Someone will always ask, "How long does it take you to write a novel?" I hardly ever give them the real answer. "It depends," I will say. "A year. Sometimes three or four." The real answer, of course, is that it takes your entire life. I am forty-four, and it took me forty-four years to get this novel finished. You don't mention this to too many people, because it can fill their hearts with sadness, looking at you and thinking, Jesus, forty-four years to come up with this? But it's always the truest answer. You could not have written it any sooner. You write the book when its time has come, and you bring your lifetime to the task, however few or many years you have behind you.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Who Killed Five Members of the Strack Family?

     Benjamin Strack, his wife Kristi, and their children resided in a duplex in Springville, Utah, a town of 30,000 45 miles south of Salt Lake City not far from Provo. Just before eight o'clock on the night of Saturday September 27, 2014, the oldest Strack child, accompanied by his grandparents, approached the Strack half of the duplex to check on the family. Mr. and Mrs. Strack and three of their children had not responded to emails, text messages or phone calls.

     The grandparents and the oldest child entered the house through the front door that stood wide open. (The back door was cracked open.) In the master bedroom they discovered Mr. and Mrs. Strack and the three children. The 36-year-old parents and the children--Benson, 14; Emery, 12; and Zion, 11--were dead. 

     Police officers at the scene noted that none of the bodies showed signs of physical trauma. Moreover, there was no evidence of a struggle and nothing had been taken from the house. 

     Firefighters tested the air inside the dwelling and did not detect traces of carbon monoxide. The fact that pets in the house were alive and the other residents of duplex were unharmed, pointed away from death by carbon monoxide poisoning. 

     Following the five autopsies, the medical examiner announced that none of the Stracks had been subjected to violent assault. The cause and manner of these deaths remained undetermined pending the results of toxicological tests. A police spokes person told reporters that foul play had not been ruled out in this case. The medical examiner did not reveal when the Stracks had died. 

    On October 28, 2014, reporters learned that investigators believe that the children and their parents had been poisoned to death on September 27, 2014. According to detectives, the children's bodies had been positioned in their parents' bedroom after their deaths. The bodies of Benjamin and Kristi and their children were each lying next to a cup of red liquid. Kristi Stack had red liquid coming out of her mouth.

     From the house, investigators had removed 14 drinking cups and bottles, a pitcher of red juice, and a purple bucket containing yellow liquid. Searchers also seized a pair of slippers that contained a drop of blood and a towel stained by a red substance. Detectives, in the family's garbage, found empty methadone bottles, 10 empty boxes of nighttime cold medicine, various pill bottles, several empty boxes of sleeping aids, a bag of marijuana, and Pepsi cups containing traces of a red liquid.

     At this point the authorities aren't revealing who they think poisoned the family. The obvious conclusion, based on the physical evidence, is mass murder-suicide orchestrated by the parents. The big mystery is why. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Lured Boys By Posing as Woman on Craigslist

     A Tustin, California man arrested for allegedly posting an ad on Craigslist in which he attempted to lure teenage boys by pretending to be a woman was released from jail on October 18, 2014…Sherwin Ngo, 34, posted bond a day after he was arrested by Irvine police…

     The mother of one of the alleged victims, a 15-year-old boy, found explicit emails on her son's computer…A 16-year-old from Mission Viejo has been identified as a second victim…

     Irvine police arrested Ngo on suspicion of committing a lewd act on one of the teens and an attempted lewd act on the other. Detectives suspect there may be additional victims based on emails seized during a search of Ngo's online accounts.

Scott Glover, "Irvine Police Say Man Posed as Woman on Craigslist to Lure Teen Boys," L.A. Now, October 18, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Cracking Down on Argumentative Unarmed 75-Year-Old Debtors

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

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

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

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


Criminal Justice Quote: Rape Fugitive Caught

     Accused child rapist Gregory Lewis, the subject of a multi-state manhunt, was arrested on October 28, 2014 in upstate New York after fleeing from the police then crashing his vehicle into a river…Police said a New York Police trooper attempted to pull over Lewis' vehicle because it was missing a license plate. Lewis fled from the trooper and drove into Fort Edward Village…The trooper and Fort Edward Village police began searching for Lewis. A short time later a 911 call came in indicating that a vehicle had crashed into a river.

     Lewis was taken into custody at the scene of the crash. At that time the arresting officers recovered a handgun from the fugitive.

     Lewis had cut off a court-ordered ankle bracelet and fled Massachusetts after his September 2014 arraignment on two counts of statutory rape of a child and indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. He is accused of going on a multi-state crime spree in the weeks since that included alleged sexual assaults, kidnappings, and robberies.

"Fugitive Captured: Southbridge Man Accused of Child Rape Caught in New York," October 29, 2014 

Writing Quote: Setting Up Traps For Your Protagonist

If you're writing a novel where you are not springing an actual physical trap on your protagonist, think about other less dangerous entrapments. They can be benign, like staging a surprise party for a notoriously shy protagonist; sending a character who is inappropriately dressed to a fancy party or dangerously cold environment; or sending him into a room where another character is fuming with anger. Or it can be a situation in which an antagonist wrests information, a promise, or a concession from your protagonist, who gives in against his better judgement.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Symone Greene: A Substitute Teacher's Memorable First Day

     To fill the one-day absence of a high school English teacher, the principal of Options Public Charter School in the Capitol Hill section of Washington, D.C. arranged for a substitute through the Delaware-based company, SOS Personnel. On Friday October 17, 2014, a 22-year-old substitute from Fort Washington, Maryland named Symone Grene reported for duty at the D.C. charter school.

     During her first English class, Green flirted with a 17-year-old 11th-grade football player who helped out in the classroom passing out papers and retrieving supplies. Near the end of the class period the student gave the teacher his cellphone number. Over the next few hours the substitute teacher and the football player exchanged flirty, sexually-oriented messages. At one point the teen asked Greene if she considered herself "kinky." Her reply: "I don't tell, I show."

     When the 11th-grader returned to Green's classroom at three-thirty that afternoon, they were alone. The other students and teachers were attending a pep rally in anticipation of a football game that night.

     The student, encouraged by the earlier flirting, asked the substitute teacher if she would be willing to perform a number of sexual acts. The boy's request led to various sexual acts performed by the teacher behind the classroom desk. Greene didn't know it, but her young sexual partner secretly videoed the encounter on his cellphone.

     It's not surprising that the student almost immediately showed what he had recorded between him and the teacher behind the desk to his teammates. The next day, several more people viewed the videoed classroom encounter online.

     During the weekend following the publicized incident, Green and the boy continued to exchange text messages. He asked, "When u trying to see me again?" She replied, "Oo. u gona get me in trouble. Chill. We gotta be slick with it."

     On Monday October 20, 2014, a faculty member who viewed the sex video online, reported it to a school administrator. The staff member called the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Child and Family Services agency.

     After a detective called Symone Greene to arrange an interview, she, apparently unaware of the video, texted the student and instructed him to tell the police that she "only helped him with his resume." She wanted him to say that "nothing else happened while we were in the classroom together."

   At the detective's urging, the student sent Green a text to which she angrily responded: "Omg…Don't talk to me ever again. I'm bout to be put in jail…This can ruin my whole life…Why couldn't u just keep it to urself?"

     On October 21, the Tuesday following the sexual encounter in Options Public Charter School room 266, officers with the Metropolitan Police Department arrested Symone Greene on the felony charge of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor. While the age of sexual consent in the District of Columbia is 16, that defense doesn't apply in student-teacher cases.

     After the defendant pleaded not guilty to the sex charge, the judge released her from custody. Until the case is resolved, Green will be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

     Perhaps female secondary educations majors should be required to take a sex education course featuring how teenage boys behave after having sex with a teacher. For one thing, they all kiss and tell. In other words, they literally talk out of school. Moreover, some of them record their teacher sexual adventures. These college education courses could be enlivened with dozens of recent case histories. And finally, a secondary education major assigned a research project might investigate why so many of the women who engage in sex with their students are English teachers.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Lewd in LA

     "Django Unchanged" actress Daniele Watts and her boyfriend have been charged with one count each of lewd conduct…If found guilty, both Watts and her boyfriend, Brian James Lucas, could face a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

     The charges stem from an incident that took place in September 2014 outside CBS Studio Center in Studio City, California. Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department received calls that the couple was having sex in a parked car. The African-American actress and her white boyfriend accused police of racism for questioning them in what they said was only a public display of affection.

     Watts, a native of Atlanta, made her feature film debut in 2012 as Coco in the Oscar-nominated "Django Unchained."

"Actress, Boyfriend Charged With Lewd Conduct," CNN, October 22, 2014 

Writing Quote: Memo to Aspiring Novelists: It Helps to be A Little Nuts

In wanting to be a novelist, there must be something beyond rationality at work. Call it love or obsession, a need to express or a need for attention, an ability to communicate or an inability to shut up, but writers are clearly a little bit insane.

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

Writing Quote: Literary Jerks

An ordinary, nonliterary jerk is a person with an off-putting personality who nobody likes. While the term "jerk" is not included in the jargon of psychology, we all know what it means. Miserable jerks are even worse, and populate every profession. In the literary world, miserable jerks are often well-educated novelists whose literary ambitions far exceed their talents. Miserable jerks often end up as unpublished college professors teaching aspiring novelists how to write. Again, if I may use the vernacular, a flaming jerk is an egotistical, mildly talented novelist who writes a bestseller that miserable jerks hate. While writing bad reviews of this flaming jerk's novel, they take to their writing desks to imitate his literary style. It's all pretty sad.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte: The Twice Deported Cop Killer

     In 1996, police in Arizona arrested an illegal alien from Mexico named Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte on charges of narcotics possession with the intent to sell. Following the 18-year-old's conviction in the drug case, immigration authorities sent him back to Mexico. Federal narcotics agents arrested Monroy-Brackamonte in 2001. Again, the authorities deported him to Mexico. This drug criminal, however, had no intention of living in his home country. The people who had money to buy drugs lived in the U.S. Shortly after being thrown out of America in 2001, Monroy-Bracamonte was back, this time living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

     On Friday October 24, 2014, Monroy-Brackamonte, 34, and his 38-year-old wife Janelle Marquez Monroy, were sitting in a car in a Motel 6 parking lot in the Arden Way section of Sacramento, California. At ten-thirty that morning the couple encountered Sacramento County sheriff's deputy Danny Oliver, a 47-year-old veteran of the department who approached the suspicious couple.

     Monroy-Bracamonte responded to the deputy sheriff's investigative inquiry by shooting him in the forehead at close range with an AR-15 assault rifle. Deputy Oliver died on the spot. He left behind a wife and two daughters.

     Eager to flee the murder scene in another vehicle, the cop killer and his wife tried to commandeer a car driven by 38-year-old Anthony Holmes. When Mr. Holmes tried to fight off the car thief, the Mexican shot him in the head. (This victim survived the attempted murder.)

     Monroy-Bracamonte next carjacked a red 2002 Ford F-150 cab pickup truck with an ice chest in the back. He and his wife drove the stolen vehicle 30 miles northwest into northern California's Placer County. At this point, law enforcement officers in Sacramento and Placer counties were on the lookout for a cop killing Hispanic man in his thirties with buzz-cut hair who was in a red, stolen pickup truck with a Hispanic woman about his age.

     Later in the day of the Sacramento County shootings, two Placer County deputies spotted the red Ford and its occupants sitting on the side of a rural road. They decided to approach the suspicious vehicle.

     Once again Monroy-Bracamonte greeted the approaching police officers with deadly force. Using his AR-15 assault rifle, he shot 42-year-old homicide detective Michael D. Davis in the head. (The deputy died a short time later in a nearby hospital.) The armed and dangerous Mexican then shot the other Placer County officer, Jeff Davis, in the arm.

     A couple of hours after the shooting of the Placer County deputies, in the Carmichael, California area in Sacramento County a few miles northeast of where Monroy-Bracamonte shot Deputy Danny Oliver and Anthony Holmes, a park ranger saw the Hispanic couple and the stolen red Ford Pickup. Monroy-Bracamonte and his wife were changing clothes next to the parked vehicle.

     Not long after being spotted in Sacramento County by the park ranger, deputies arrested Janelle Marquez Monroy. When taken into custody she possessed, in her purse, a handgun. Police officers, shortly thereafter, took Monroy-Bracamonte into custody at a house in Auburn, California.

     Questioned by detectives, the cop killer identified himself as Marcelo Marquez. However, when his fingerprints were run through the national fingerprint databank, the authorities learned of his true identify. A check of Monroy-Bracamonte's arrest record in Utah revealed that, between 2003 and 2009,  he had been issued ten traffic tickets for speeding and other violations. (Did he have a valid driver's license? Why didn't these arrests trigger deportation?)

     Prosecutors in Sacramento and Placer Counties have charged Monroy-Brackamonte with two counts of murder, attempted murder, and two counts of carjacking. The judge denied him bail.

     The suspected cop killer's wife, Janelle Marquez Monroy, has been charged with attempted murder and carjacking. (I don't know her citizenship status.) 

Writing Quote: The Work Habits of One Of America's Worst Writers

Before the days of word processing, how did authors keep track of their various drafts and revisions? Purple prose writer Jacqueline Susann [Valley of the Dolls, 1966; The Love Machine, 1969; and Once Is Not Enough, 1773] typed each draft on different colors of paper: yellow for the first draft, then blue, pink, and finally white. [It's hard to believe she wrote four drafts of these dreadful novels.]

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Big Drug Bust at John Wayne Airport

     Federal agents conducted a major drug arrest at a southern California airport that netted thousands of ecstasy pills…On October 9, 2014, Krista Marieann Boseley, 30, and Gilles Lapointe, 61, were arrested upon landing at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. A consensual search of their aircraft led to drug dogs discovering 50,000 ecstasy pills and 90 pounds of raw MDMA, also known as "molly."

     Boseley and Lapointe also had $20,000 in cash, which they claim had been won from a Las Vegas casino. According to Orange County officials, the private plane transporting Boseley and Lapointe had previously been linked to drug trafficking allegations, and authorities had automatically marked it for search upon entering U.S. airspace from Canada.

     Boseley, an aspiring model, previously worked as a real estate agent. However, her model listing has been taken down….

Christian Datoc, "Private Plane Caught Carrying 50,000 Ecstasy Pills, 90 Pounds of MDA," The Daily Caller, October 18, 2014 

Writing Quote: Writing Your Novel's Prologue

     A prologue to a novel is introductory material apart in time, space, or viewpoint (or all three) from the main story that creates intrigue for upcoming events. To qualify as a prologue, the information or events must exist outside of the framework of the main story. This stand-alone device must be absorbing, distinct, and beguiling in its own right. Often, an effective prologue will contain drama and dialogue so that it is immediate rather than reportorial. Prologues are aways loaded with specific and sensory details.

     A prologue's job is to provide a potent insight into the world of the story that cannot be provided through the unfolding of events. It can also be information that cannot be discovered by the protagonist, but is still necessary to the story.

     Prologues can take place five years or five centuries before the drama begins, but somehow the gap of time between the prologue time and story time must be bridged. But not all prologues are written strictly from the past. Sometimes they stem from the future or are told from a viewpoint that will not be heard from again.

     Although the prologue exists outside the flow of the narrative, it is always linked to the story events, characters, and themes. There are no hard and fast rules for length, but most prologues are at least several paragraphs and can run to twenty or more pages. However, try to keep prologues brief and vital, and no longer than a chapter.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between The Lines, 2006 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The G E Mound Case by Jim Fisher

     The G E Mound Case ia a narrative, nonfiction account of the controversial federal prosecution of five indian relic collectors involved in the archaeological destruction of a 2000-year-old Indian mound on land owned by a General Electric plastics plant near Mount Vernon, Indiana.

     Art Gerber, a prominent artifact collector, amateur archaeologist, and professional photographer from Tell City, Indiana, an Ohio River town located not far from the mound in the southern tip of the state, became the target of the federal investigation of the mound's destruction. Gerber, one of dozens of collectors who hunted relics on the site, had been on the mound in the summer of 1988 on only three occasions. The site had been destroyed six weeks earlier by a G E earthmoving contractor pursuant to a landscaping project around the plant's newly built reception center.

     Although G E officials knew they were using soil from an Indian mound for landscaping fill, Art Gerber and the other collectors were prosecuted to placate Native American activists, professional archaeologists, and others who consider artifact collecting and amateur archaeology a form of archaeological looting.

     The post-destruction analysis of the so-called G E Mound revealed that it was one of the most important Hopewell era (Middle Woodland) sites ever discovered. The criminal convictions of Art Gerber and the other collectors made legal history because the defendants were held culpable federally even though the artifacts had been removed from private land. To achieve this, the federal district judge broadly interpreted an arcane, never before used provision of the 1979 Archaeological Resource Protection Act. The unusual conviction was upheld by the federal appeals court in Chicago. Gerber's appellate attorneys appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court that declined to review the case.

     The G E Mound Case features Art Gerber's fight to defend amateur archaeology and Indian relic collecting. On a personnel level, the story involves his struggle against powerful political forces to avoid going to prison. Up against Native American activists who hated him, professional archaeologists who disapproved of his collecting, a well-organized corporate public relations machine, a biased media, and an aggressive federal prosecutor, Art Gerber lost his financial security, his health, and his freedom. Eventually the case would cost him his marriage.

     Once Art Gerber was on his way to federal prison, Native American activists and professional archaeologists, allies in the anti-collecting movement, turned on each other in a war over who controlled the 5,000 G E Mound artifacts that had been turned over to the FBI. The archaeologists wanted to study the relics. Native American wanted them returned to the earth. With the hasty reburial of these unique clues to the ancient past, the Native Americans won that fight. The G E Mound Case is set against the ongoing war over who owns the ancient relics of America's prehistoric past.

     The G E Mound Case: The Archaeological Disaster and Criminal Prosecution of Artifact Collector Art Gerber is available on


Writing Quote: Stephen King's Daily Word Production

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

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Criminal Justice Quote: Can Police Officers Be Trusted with Seized Cellphones?

     A California Highway Patrol Officer suspected of stealing nude photos from the cellphones of women arrested on drunken driving charges sent the pictures to at least two fellow officers…Officer Sean Harrington, 35, confessed to investigators that he sent such photos at least six times over several years to colleagues…

     Harrington has worked for the CHP for five years…He is assigned to administrative duties pending the investigation. Contra County prosecutors say they expect to announce if they will file criminal charges in the coming days. Officers Robert Hazelwood and Dion Simmons are named in the October 24, 2014 search warrant affidavit, suspected of receiving the photographs and exchanging banter with Harrington…

     CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said in a statement that his agency has launched an investigation, citing a similar case several years ago involving two officers in Los Angeles…The investigation was sparked by a 23-year-old San Ramon woman arrested August 29, 2014 on suspicion of drunken driving…She later discovered nude photographs of herself had been sent from her cellphone to an unfamiliar number. Drunken driving charges against the woman have been dismissed in light of the investigation of officer Harrington…

     Harrington also sent officer Hazelwood photos of a 19-year-old woman arrested following a suspected drunken driving crash in Livermore, California on August 7, 2014. The photos show her wearing a bikini. Hazelwood responded in a text asking if there were any nude photos…

     Darryl Holcombe, a senior investigator with the Contra County District Attorney's Office said Harrington's behavior amounts to felony computer theft. Attorney Rick Madsen, who represents the 23-year-old woman, said the officers' communications were "dehumanizing" and "horribly offensive" to his client, saying, "It's going to lead to another level of mistrust and skepticism of law enforcement in general."

"California Traffic Cop Accused of Sending Nude Photos From Female Drunk Drivers' Cellphones," The Daily Mail, October 25, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Honey Boo Boo Gets TV Bye-Bye

     The Learning Channel (TLC) has given "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" the boot after a story surfaced Thursday October 23, 2014 claiming that June Shannon--aka Mama June--was dating a convicted child molester. Shannon reacted to the news in a video posted on her daughter Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson's Facebook page…Shannon denied she was dating Mark McDaniel, a sex offender who was recently released from jail. "The statement of me dating a sex offender is totally untrue," she said.

     McDaniel, who is in his early 50s, was convicted on May 20, 2004 of aggravated child molestation. He registered as a sex offender in March 2014. Shannon wrote a Facebook post on Thursday October 23 that she dated and dumped McDaniel 10 years ago. "I would never put my my kids in danger," she said in the video post.

    TMZ reported that McDaniel went to prison for molesting a relative of Shannon's. The site posted a photo of Shannon and McDaniel together, but Shannon insisted that the photograph was a fake. The cancellation of the TV series, however, is real…

     "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" debuted in August 2012. The show focused on the life of Alana Thompson, who rose to fame as a child pageant winner on the TLC show "Toddlers & Tiaras." In recent seasons, ratings for "Boo Boo" had decreased significantly. An episode in June 2014 brought in just 1.7 million viewers, a big drop for a show that had seen 3.2 million viewers at its peak.

" 'Honey Boo Boo' Canceled Amid Sex Offender Scandal," Fox News, October 24, 2014


Writing Quote: 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 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Confessions of Reverend Juan D. McFarland

     The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.

     On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.

     The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)

     The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Well's Fargo bank.

     On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."

     The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.

     In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery, and refection of the Ten Commandments."

     According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."

     On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary ruling against the preacher that required him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes, and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.


Writing Quote: 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

Criminal Justice Quote: Family Wins Wrongful Death Suit Against Denver Sheriff's Deputies

     A federal court jury on October 14, 2014 found that five Denver sheriff's deputies had used excessive force against a homeless street preacher who died in 2010. The jury awarded the family of Marvin Booker $4.6 million in damages. Booker died after deputies shocked him with a Taser while he was handcuffed, put him in a sleeper hold and lay on top of him…The Booker family attorney said this was a zealous overreaction to the frail 56-year-old…

     A lawyer representing the city of Denver…told jurors that the deputies' actions were in line with the sheriff department's policies for handling a combative inmate. The three-week trial came amid calls for a federal investigation of the sheriff's office over other high-profile cases that prompted the sheriff's department to make sweeping reforms. Former sheriff Gary Wilson resigned in July 2014 after the county agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle another federal jail-abuse lawsuit by a former inmate over a beating…

     Booker's family filed the federal lawsuit against the county of Denver as well as deputies Faun Gomez, James Grimes, Kyle Sharp, Kenneth Robinette, and Sgt. Carrie Rodriguez. Inmates told investigators that the struggle began when Booker was ordered to sit down in the jail's booking area but instead moved to collect his shoes, which he had taken off for comfort…

      Attorneys representing Booker's family said deputies stunned him for too long and should have backed down when Booker said he was struggling to breathe. In his closing argument, the plaintiff's attorney said the "dog pile" of deputies was a zealous overreaction…Denver's medical examiner said Booker died of cardiorespiratory arrest during restraint, and ruled his death a homicide. The autopsy report listed other factors in his death, including emphysema, an enlarged heart and recent cocaine use….

"Jurors Find Deputies Used Excessive Force in Death," Associated Press, October 14, 2014   

Criminal Justice Quote: Good Humor Man Attacked After Accident With a Boy on a Bike

     Authorities say a 7-year-old boy riding a motorized bike was hit and killed by an ice cream truck in south Los Angeles and residents then attacked the driver…The truck hit the child shortly after 7 PM Wednesday October 22, 2014. The boy later died at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

     Police say the child had been riding alongside the truck, and the collision was an accident…A crowd then attacked the ice cream truck driver, but he only received bruises. The driver told police bricks were thrown at his truck and someone threatened him with a knife….

"Ice Cream Truck Hits, Kills Boy, Driver Attacked,", October 23, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Self-Delusion Advocation

Writers must delude themselves into believing that what they have to say is either important or entertaining, that people will actually want to read what they write. Man, how we kid ourselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Collateral Damage in the Hunt for a Cop Killer

     James Tully, who doesn't own a car and who walks 5 miles to work every day, has been mistaken for Eric Frein, the Pennsylvania cop killer, more than 20 times by heavily-armed law enforcement officers scouring the Pocono Mountain region. On at least one occasion, Tully, 39, claims he was forced to the ground and had a rifle pointed at his head by an officer as he walked to his job along a heavily wooded road near where Frein is believed to be hiding…

     Hundreds of law enforcement officers descended on the area to search for Frein, who they say shot and killed corporal Bryon Dickson and wounded Trooper Alex Douglas in a ambush September 12, 2014 outside the Blooming Grove state police barracks in Pike County. Frein, a 31-year-old survivalist and expert marksman, has managed to evade capture in the dense woods of the Poconos--despite multiple reported sightings of him by police and local residents…

     Tully, a father of two who lives in Frein's hometown of Canadensis, was stopped by police so many times he started carrying his driver's license and work identification around his neck…After Tully left work Friday night October 17, 2014, he was stopped by an officer dressed in camouflage and a tactical vest and holding a rifle..."He yelled at me to get down on the ground with my arms out wide and demanded my name," Tully said. Tully said the man ripped the lanyard from around his neck as he drove his knee into his back…

     Tully said he was not released until a state trooper told the other officer that Tully was telling the truth. Tully limped the rest of the way home…

     Shortly after the encounter, Tully had trouble and was taken to the hospital where doctors told him his ribs were bruised as a result of the incident…He hopes the police will pay for X-rays and the time he was absent from work. [Good luck with that, Mr. Tully.]

     The Pennsylvania state police, meanwhile, claim they have no knowledge of the incident…

"Police Repeatedly Mistake Pennsylvania Man For Suspected Cop Killer Eric Frein," Fox News, October 24, 2014


Writing Quote: Avoiding Horror Fiction Cliche`s

     All good fiction consists of looking at things afresh, but horror fiction seems to have a built-in tendency to do the opposite. Ten years or so ago [1997], many books had nothing more to say than "the devil made me do it." Now, thanks to the influence of films like Friday the 13th, it seems enough for some writers to say that a character is psychotic; no further explanation is necessary. But it's the job of writers to imagine how it would feel to be all their characters, however painful that may sometimes be. It may be a lack of that compassion that has led some writers to create children who are evil simply because they are children, surely the most deplorable cliche` of the field.

     Some cliche`s are simply products of lazy writing. Tradition shouldn't be used as an excuse to repeat what earlier writers have done; if you feel the need to write about the stock figures of the horror story, that's all the more reason to imagine them anew.

Ramsey Campbell in On Writing Horror Fiction, Mort Castle, editor, 2007 

Criminal Justice Quote: Woman Sets Man's Face on Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Mae West's Short Runs as a Playwright

Mae West wasn't just a campy actress, but a playwright as well. Her first play, Sex, written in 1926, was about a Canadian prostitute. A production in New York City led to her imprisonment for more than a week on obscenity charges. [Prostitutes themselves do less time.] Her second play, Drag, was about transvestites. It got shut down on Broadway before it could even open.

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Whackademia Quote: Phantom Courses for College Athletes

     On October 22, 2014, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said it will discipline nine more employees for an academic fraud that spanned 18 years and made it easier for student athletes to maintain eligibility to play. The school, which has won five national basketball championships, released the results of an independent investigation into the fraud in which 3,100 students took so-called "paper classes"--with no faculty involvement or class attendance. Almost half of the students were athletes…

     A series of probes that began in 2010 revealed the university had improperly cut corners for years to help student-athletes get better grades. The scandal has roiled the campus and drawn harsh national spotlight, shaking up the football program and leading to the resignation of former Chancellor Holden Thorp, who departed last year…

     The latest investigation is the result of information that emerged from a criminal probe by the Orange County District Attorney in North Carolina, where UNC at Chapel Hill is located. The DA last year dropped charges against Julius Nyang' oro, former chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department that is at the center of the scandal, after he began cooperating with authorities.

    Nyang' oro had been charged with obtaining property under false pretenses after the university released a report in December 2012 that found the black studies department had offered courses where classes didn't meet and made unauthorized grade changes. The criminal charge was linked to payments the professor received for courses he never taught….

Michael McDonald, "UNC Academic Fraud Spanned 18 Years, Involved 3,100 Students," October 22, 2014


Criminal Justice Quote: Another White House Fence Jumper

     A man who jumped the White House fence Wednesday night October 22, 2014 suffers from mental problems. According to his father, he has been arrested there before. Dominic Adesanya of Bel Air, Maryland, barely made it onto the lawn before he was subdued as he fought two police dogs…"Dogs got him," a Secret Service spokesman said. His father said his son is paranoid and hears voices.

     Adesanya was arrested near the White House about two months ago and charged with a misdemeanor…

     In the latest incident, before officers moved in, Adesanya kicked a K-9 unit dog and punched another one. The two dogs were treated by a vet for injuries suffered in the incident. Charges against the White House intruder are pending….

"Latest White House Fence Jumper Has Mental Problems, Father Says," CNN, October 23, 2014 

Writing Quote: Teen Horror Fiction

     Horror is an extremely popular genre in teen fiction. It's easy to see why. A good horror story will take a relatively normal individual, Our Hero, and pit them against a malevolent, often mysterious enemy, The Monster. Our Hero must struggle to understand this monster, its strengths and weaknesses. Then he must face it. Often, Our Hero conquers the unknown beast, sometimes not, and until some understanding of The Monster is found, Our Hero, faced with the unknown is often powerless against it. Teens deal with parents, teachers, peers, and a world full of rules they have yet to fully understand.

     Teen fiction, at its best, examines these confusing emotional issues; therefore, the coming-of-age theme is essential. Characters face the unknown and take steps to gain power over it. They are forced to make life-defining decisions by examining who they are and taking actions that set the stage for the adults they will become.

     This is what makes horror so compelling for a teen audience (besides the cool monsters, of course). Horror looks at issues of death, alienation, insecurity, physical changes, loss of faith, and the inherent fear of the unknown. On some level, horror fiction shows teens that even the greatest obstacles can be faced and survived. The most well-known example of this comes from the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which the idea presented is that high school is, quite literally, hell.

Thomas Pendleton in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Michelle Randall: The Nebraska 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. Their cases are pending. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Child Porn Producer Gets 20 Years

     A man will spend 20 years in federal prison for taking pictures of himself molesting a sleeping 11-year-old boy…Todd Lapping, 40, of Millcreek Township, was sentenced on October 20, 2014 by a federal judge in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had pleaded guilty in June to producing and possession child pornography and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison…

     Lapping had befriended the boy's family before molesting the youth, saying, "There isn't anything much worse than taking advantage of an 11-year-old boy who loves you."

     Authorities were alerted when the victim's sister found the pornographic photos on Lapping's computer last year. The boy's mother contacted police in the Erie suburb before federal authorities took over the case.

"Man Gets 20 Years for Porn With Sleeping Boy," Associated Press, October 22, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Bestselling Novelist John Grisham Puts Foot in Mouth

     In an October 2014 interview with the United Kingdom's The Telegraph, John Grisham, the lawyer and prolific author, sparked outrage when he expressed his belief that some people who view child pornography online are receiving punishments that don't match the scale of the crime.

     "We have prisons now filled with guys my age, 60-year-old white men, in prison, who've never harmed anybody [how does he know that?] and would never touch a child…But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons and went too far and got into child porn. [Sure.] They deserve some type of punishment, but 10 years in prison? There's so many of them now, sex offenders…that they put them in the same prison, like they're a bunch of perverts or something."…

    These comments and the nature in which Grisham discussed the very serious issue of child pornography incited a flood of hurt, disappointment and angry reaction from fans of his books…Shortly after the uproar began, Grisham issued an apology.

     "Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography--online or otherwise--should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview…were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made those comments, and apologize to all."…

Breeanna Hare, "John Grisham Apologizes For Remarks on Child Porn," CNN, October 16, 2014 

Writing Quote: When Does a Novel Become a Memoir?

Perhaps everyone has a story to tell, but many never get around to telling them, and many others tell them poorly. Many people have led fascinating lives, but falter when they attempt to tell their stories. Often, this is because they focus on content rather than form. There's a difference between a memoir and a novel. A memoir is supposed to be true. A novel isn't. The difference between fact and fiction. It's a complex distinction, and some writers blur the distinction to good effect. Others, claiming they want to write fiction, really want to write memoirs. If you base a story on an actual event, but refuse to alter it because "that's the way it really happened," you probably want to write a memoir instead of a story.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life into Fiction, 2006

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Darren Deon Vann: The Indiana Serial Prostitute Killer

     In 2005, Darren Deon Vann, a registered sex offender in Indiana, moved to Austin, Texas. Two years later a prosecutor in Texas charged Vann with aggravated rape. After pleading guilty to that charge in 2009, the judge sent the rapist to prison where he served five years. Upon his release from the Texas penitentiary in June 2013, the 42-year-old sex offender returned to northern Indiana. At some point the ex-Marine acquired a wife.

     On Friday October 17, 2014, through a website that serves the Chicago area called, Vann arranged to meet a prostitute at a Motel 6 in Hammond, Indiana, a town ten miles west of Gary. The website "facilitator" sent 19-year-old Afrika Hardy to the motel to meet the John. Hardy had recently moved to Indiana from Aurora, Colorado where she had recently graduated from high school.

     When the prostitution facilitator texted Hardy to check on the progress of the trick, the message that came back caused the facilitator to believe that it hadn't been sent by Hardy. The facilitator and another woman went to the motel to check on the prostitute. In the motel room they found signs of a struggle, and in the bathtub, Hardy's dead body.

     Officers with the Hammond Police Department responded to the murder scene. (The Lake County coroner would later report that Hardy had been strangled to death.) Using a phone number provided by the website facilitator, detectives tracked down the John, Darren Deon Vann.

     On Friday October 17, 2014, in Gary, Indiana, police officers arrested Vann who said he wanted to cooperate with the authorities in hopes of making a deal. In the early morning hours of the next day, Vann led detectives to three abandoned houses in Gary where they found the bodies of three women. Vann said he had strangled these prostitutes to death.

     Anith Jones, 35, from Merrillville, Indiana, was the only Gary murder victim who had been reported missing. She had disappeared on October 8, 2014. Jones had moved to Indiana from Chicago ten years ago and had operated a stand at a Gary flea market. It would later be determined that Jones had been murdered by ligature strangulation.

     The other two murder victims discovered on Saturday October 18, 2014--Teaira Batey, 28 and 36-year-old Christine Williams--had also been strangled to death and found in abandoned houses in the blighted Gary neighborhood. Vann had killed his victims elsewhere and deposed of their bodies in the vacant, sometimes fire-damaged homes.

     Later Saturday night, Darren Vann led Gary police detectives to three more female bodies left to decompose in vacant houses. The remains of these women have not been identified.

     A local Indiana prosecutor, on October 20, 2014, charged Darren Vann with the murder of Afrika Hardy at the Motel 6 in Hammond. In his on-going discussions with homicide investigators, Vann has confessed to the murders of woman that go back twenty years. At this point in the case, it's anybody's guess how many women this man has murdered. Vann's wife told detectives that she had no idea she was married to a serial killer.  

CJ Quote: Cocaine Boots Vice President's Son Out Of Navy

     The Navy Reserve discharged Vice President's son Hunter after he tested positive for cocaine…The discharge of Biden, a 44-year-old lawyer and managing partner at an investment firm, was first reported on October 16, 2014. "It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy's decision. With the love and support of my family, I'm moving forward," he said. [Notice that people never "move forward" from a good things.]

     Biden was commissioned as an ensign in May 2013 and assigned as a public affairs officer in a Norfolk, Virginia-based reserve unit. A month later he tested positive for cocaine and was discharged in February 2014…

     Hunter Biden is the younger of Biden's two sons. His older brother, Beau Biden, is Delaware's attorney general and a major in the Delaware Army National Guard. He was deployed for a year in Iraq.

Eric Bradner, "Bidon's Son Discharged From Navy After Testing Positive For Cocaine," CNN, October 16, 2014

Writing Quote: Read Your Sentences to Yourself Out Loud

Read your work aloud, if you can, if you aren't too embarrassed by the sound of your own voice ringing out when you are alone in a room. Chances are that the sentence you can hardly pronounce without stumbling is a sentence that needs to be reworked to make it smoother and more fluent. A poet once told me that he was reading a draft of a new poem aloud to himself when a thief broke into his Manhattan loft. [Poets live is lofts.] Instantly surmising that he had entered the dwelling of a madman, the thief turned and ran without taking anything, and without harming the poet. [Perhaps it was the poetry that ran the intruder out of the loft.] So it may be that reading your work aloud will not only improve its quality but save your life in the process.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Premature Aging of Prostitutes

Their faces go before their time, their skin coarsens, their speech turns foul until at last it is true to say they are almost completely de-womanized in every gentle aspect of that word. This, like the mark of Cain on the brow of the murderer, is the stigmata of prostitution which none can escape.

John Gosling, head of Scotland Yard's vice squad in the 1950s, in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J.P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Writing Quote: How to End a Child's Picture Book

     With little children, the way stories are resolved is critical. The endings of the more serious stories offer comfort and closure to fragile psyches. Little children need to feel safe, to feel protected from the vagaries of a capricious world. Time enough for them to learn about unpredictability and its messy aftermath.

     It's no accident that fairy tales end with "And they all lived happily ever after." Endings such as this give children a sense of security, a feeling they can cope with the circumstances they confront in their daily lives.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Brenda Leyland and the Madeleine McCann Case: Death of a "Troll" or a Concerned Citizen?

     On May 3, 2007, doctors Gerry and Kate McCann, from the affluent village of Rothley in the central English borough of Charnwood, were on holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal with their three children and another couple. That evening the McCanns reported their 3-year-old daughter Madeleine missing. According to the parents, someone had abducted the girl from the hotel room while they were dining 160 feet away from the resort.

     As in the JonBenet Ramsey case in the United States twelve years earlier, the public, influenced by tabloid-like media coverage, suspected the parents of foul play. When a British DNA analyst reported that the child had died in the hotel room, the authorities were under public pressure to arrest the McCanns.

     In September 2007, the police in Portugal made it official by declaring Doctors Gerry and Kate McCann suspects in the disappearance of their daughter. No arrest warrants were issued and in July 2008 the attorney general of Portugal closed the case against the parents citing lack of evidence.

     While officially cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Gerry and Kate McCann remained, in the tabloid press and the minds of millions in Great Britain and around the world, guilty of murder.

     The missing girl's parents, convinced that the police in Portugal had given up the search, hired private investigators to breathe new life into the case. Based on information uncovered by the PIs and Scotland Yard's release of the image of a man seen carrying a child toward the beach not far from the hotel on the night in question, the Portugese police, in October 2013, re-opened the case. Notwithstanding this development, the McCann child has not been found and no arrests have been made.

     In the years following the Madeleine McCann disappearance, a community of conspiracy buffs have targeted the missing girl's parents. Some would say these people have abused and harassed the McCanns through negative tweets, Facebook postings, text messaging, and other forms of online communication. People who engage in this form of social media activity have been labeled "Trolls," a catch-all term that covers everything from mild criticism to online death threats.

     According to social scientists who have studied this media phenomenon, trolls are often bored, lonely people who become obsessed with a particular crime. Some of them are manifestly insane. While  they annoy and may even frighten the targets of their wrath, they are, for the most part, harmless talkers.  These compulsive chatterboxes orbit every celebrated crime, usually offering up outlandish conspiracy theories. The Lindbergh kidnapping case and the JFK assassination, for example, attracted thousands of revisionist true crime buffs. In the wake of baby Lindbergh's abduction and murder in 1932, the 20-month-old's parents were almost driven crazy by obsessed and mentally ill people who showed up at their mansion and harassed them in public. Today, fixated crime buff simply take to their computers.

     In late September 2014, a British television news team published the identify of one of the more prolific McCann case trolls. Brenda Leyland, a 63-year-old resident of Burton Overy, a picturesque village in the Harborough district of Liecestershire, had published more than 5,000 tweets on the case. The soft-spoken divorcee used her Twitter account to draw attention to what she considered an appalling failure of justice. She called the McCanns neglectful parents and accused them, through their frequent media appearances, of profiting from their daughter's disappearance. Leyland once tweeted that the McCanns should "suffer for the rest of their miserable lives" for what they've done.

     Brenda Leyland regularly accused the metropolitan police (Scotland Yard) of dropping the ball in the missing persons case. She also took on the tabloid media for false and over-the-top reporting. At no time did she threaten the McCanns, and unlike some of her fellow Trolls, never called them baby killers.

     After being outed by the television reporters, Leyland became an online target herself. To avoid being harassed by reporters, she checked into a nearby Marriott Hotel in Grove Park, Leicester. On Saturday, October 4, 2014 at one-forty in the afternoon, police were called to Leyland's hotel room after a Marriott employee discovered her corpse.

     Investigators have found no evidence of criminal homicide in Leyland's sudden death. The autopsy, however, failed to reveal a cause of death. This has led to speculation that Brenda Leyland took her own life.

     Leyland's death will no doubt create a community of Trolls who will somehow link the government or the McCanns to her death. By attaching herself to celebrated case, Leyland briefly became famous herself. Perhaps this was one Troll who came to realize what it is like to be the target of other people's obsession, loneliness and boredom. 

Criminal Justice Quote: When Athletes Steal It's a Mistake--For the Rest of Us It's Criminal

     Saying it was "the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life," Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle apologized to teammates after getting arrested on shoplifting charges. [How about an apology to the store he ripped-off?]

     Randle, 22, a backup tailback in his second season with the Cowboys, was accused of attempting to steal $80 worth of cologne and underwear from a Dillards' Inc. store in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters on October 15, 2014 that Randle will be fined, but not suspended for this weekend's game against the New York Giants.

     "The actions that we're going to take is to fine him significantly and move forward," Garrett said in a news conference…[I don't think it's a good sign that people are always "moving forward."] Randle will be fined at $29,117, the amount he earns each week on his scheduled $495,000 base salary this season. [He can't afford cologne and underwear on that salary? This kid needs a raise.]…

     "I just made a huge mistake," Randle told reporters. "It was hard coming back in the locker room and looking at people who care about me in the eye, knowing that I did something stupid."…

"Cowboy's Randle Charged with Trying to Steal Underwear,", October 16, 2014 

Writing Quote: Stephen King on Reading Good and Bad Novels

     One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose. Reading Valley of the Dolls and Bridges of Madison County is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.

     Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy--"I'll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand"--but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Criminal Justice Quote: A Mafia Hit Man's Self-Analysis

I didn't want to go straight. No boring sessions with do-gooder social workers for this cookie. No BS therapy from a shrink who would say I hated my uncle. Forget denial and struggling to make ends meet on some begged-for, dead-end job. "You're a criminal pure and simple," I told myself, "so go for it whole hog."

Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Connecticut Hotel Mop Attack

     A Connecticut man is facing charges after police said he grabbed a mop out of a hotel employee's hands and was "mopping aggressively" over the worker's shoes. Police say 30-year-old John Thornton, of Southington, was arrested Monday night October 13, 2014 and charged with breach of peace and threatening.

     Officers responding to the Bristol Hotel were told a man had become "unruly," grabbed the mop and swept it back and forth over the woman's shoes. When the employee asked the man to stop, police say he pushed her into a corner. Police say the woman was shaken and crying.

     Authorities say Thornton insulted and swore at officers during the arrest, threatening them with bodily harm. He was released on $20,000 bond.

"Man Accused of 'Mopping Aggressively'," Associated Press, October 16, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Random Attacks on College Students by Roving Gangs

     Over the first two weekends in October 2014, groups of young men have been roving the streets and beating people completely at random near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Police say the beat downs are consistent with initiations by big city street gangs--a phenomenon not typically seen on most Big 10 campuses…

     The attackers--described as black, perhaps 25 years old, wearing dark clothes--prowled aound an area in Champaign, tackling various innocent and unsuspecting victims to the ground and kicking them in the head. Police say five students suffered injuries in four different attacks. Three of the students received treatment for bruises, cuts and facial wounds…One student also had a cell phone stolen. 

     Some victims say their attackers asked them a question or threatened them before the pummeling began. Other victims say they just got attacked. Each incident occurred on a residential street in front of witnesses. There were six to eight attackers in total. They cruised around in a blue vehicle looking for victims. There have been 45 assaults reported in the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area since October 1, 2014….

Eric Owens, "Black Males Are Viciously Beating People at Random at the University of Illinois," The Daily Caller, October 17, 2014 

Writing Quote: Arthur Conan Doyle's Literary Homicide

A. Conan Doyle grew to detest his detective Sherlock Holmes and killed him off with satisfaction. The rest of the world didn't agree: London stockbrokers wore armbands, the public deluged newspapers with letters of mourning and outrage, and a woman even picketed Doyle's house with a sign that called him a murderer.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type to be a Writer, 2003 

Writing Quote: The Relevance of Grammar

Among the questions that writers need to ask themselves in the process of revision--Is this the best word I can find? Is my meaning clear? Can a word or phrase be cut from this without sacrificing anything essential? Perhaps the most important question is: Is this grammatical? What's strange is how many beginning writers seem to think that grammar is irrelevant, or that they are somehow above or beyond this subject more fit for a schoolchild than the future author of great literature. Or possibly they worry that they will be distracted from their focus on art if they permit themselves to be sidetracked by the dull requirements of English usage. But the truth is that grammar is always interesting, always useful. Mastering the logic of grammar contributes, in a mysterious way that evokes some process of osmosis, to the logic of thought.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Writing Quote: Writing the Whodunit Crime Novel

     Most of my fiction writing has been in the murder mystery novel genre, specifically whodunits, in which there usually are four to six suspects. One of the most difficult aspects of writing whodunits is to give all of these suspects roughly equal motives for having committed the murder. The idea is to keep the reader guessing as long as possible.

     I try to adhere to the doctrine of fair play in the plot. That is, I put in clues so that the reader could conceivably identify the murderer. Having said that, I bury the clues by making them hard to spot. Many of these clues are embedded in seemingly innocuous details. [In real life, people often commit  murder with virtually no motive that makes any sense. Moreover, people with the most obvious motives  often turn out to be innocent. In the murder mystery genre the plots have to make sense. In true crime they just have to be true.]

Robert Goldsborough in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer, editor, 2008

Criminal Justice Quote: J. Edgar Hoover on the Criminal Mind

A criminal does not look upon himself as such. You must accept this as an axiom if you ever are to learn the slightest rules about protecting yourself, your home and your family. His viewpoint is this: he wants something. That is the end of the matter. Wanting it, he feels he should have it. No ideas of justice ever enter his mind; if they do, they are quickly swamped by selfishness. The old excuse of "I did not stop to think" was never true, although this alibi for crime has worked to the amelioration of sentences until it is threadbare. The true statement, which is rarely voiced, is: "I did not stop to think of anyone but myself."

J. P. Bean, editor, The Book of Criminal Quotations, 2003 

Writing Quote: Finding Time to Write

Few beginning writers have the luxury of large blocks of time to write. Jobs, family, and social responsibilities take up most of the day…Writer Thomas Sullivan found that his family obligations and high school teaching position left him only two minutes to write each day, in the school library, before the bell rang announcing his first class. Two minutes is barely time to brush one's teeth, yet Sullivan managed to squeeze at least a paragraph out of those precious moments, day after day. Driving to school, he would be writing in his head, and by the time he sat down with pencil and pad, the words were in order and ready to record. This situation continued for years, during which time he wrote three novels.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Writing Quote: Too Much Dialogue Can Weaken a Novel

     Film and television have convinced too many writers that heaps of dialogue make novels more like movies and therefore good. This is an amateur's fantasy, and it has induced some writers to surrender the few advantages they have over cinematic storytelling.

     The movie maker is stuck with what the camera can see and the microphone can hear. You have more freedom. You can summarize situations. You can forthrightly give us people's histories. You can concentrate ten years into ten words. You can move anywhere you like outside real time. You can tell us--just tell us--what people are thinking and feeling.

     Yes, abundant dialogue can lighten a story, make it more readable and sparkle with wonders. But it is pitiably inadequate before what it is not suited to do. Exposition, for example: the "five w's"--the who, what, when, where, and why of a given situation. Jimmying this information into a visual background through performance and dialogue is cumbersome stuff.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003 

Criminal Justice Quote: Four-Year-Old Unknowingly Distributes Heroin at Day Care Center

     A 30-year-old mother was arrested by authorities after her 4-year-old daughter shared packets of heroin to other students at a local day care center. Police officers and medical personnel responded to the Hickory Tree Child Care Center in Selbyville, Delaware at 11:45 in the morning of October 6, 2014. The police were called after staff members saw some of the children with the small bags of white powder…

     The bags of white powdery substance were confiscated by the teachers and were immediately taken to the Selbyville Police Department where it was tested and determined to be heroin…Officers said the girl accidentally brought the packets of heroin into the day care in a backpack given to her by her mother after the child's own backpack was destroyed by a family pet…The girl is said to have thought the packets were candy and began handing them out to other students.

     A total of 249 packets of heroin weighing 3.735 grams were found in the backpack. None of the packets were opened by any of the children…Some of the kids were taken to nearby hospitals as precautionary measures. They were later released after thorough examinations.

     Ashley Tull of Selbyville, the woman identified as the mother of the girl…was arrested and charged with maintaining a drug property and endangering the welfare of a child…Tull was eventually released on $6,000 bail and was ordered to have no contact with her three children who were placed under a relative's care.

"Delaware Mom Arrested After 4-Year-Old Shared Heroin at Day Care,", October 7, 2014


Writing Quote: Creating a Good Documentary Film

     Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts…But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it's what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts…

    Story is the device that enables this arrangement. A story may begin as an idea, hypothesis, or series of questions. It becomes more focused throughout the filmmaking process, until the finished film has a compelling beginning, an unexpected middle, and a satisfying end. Along the way, the better you understand your story, even as it's evolving, the more prepared you'll be to tell it creatively and well. The visuals you shoot will be stronger. You're likely to cast and scout locations more carefully and waste less time filming scenes that aren't necessary. And perhaps surprisingly, you'll be better prepared to follow the unexpected--to take advantage of the twists and turns that are an inevitable part of documentary production, and recognize those elements that will make your film even stronger.

Shelia Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 2004 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Writing Quote: Are You Sure You Want to Write a Memoir?

To write a memoir is to enter…a war zone--with yourself, with the ones you love, with the critics you may never meet. It is to lay your life on the line, or several lines. You may be ridiculed, harassed, taken down in the court of public opinion. Worse, you aunt may never speak to you again. You may be called upon to defend the form…Your sole protection will be the work itself--its integrity, its artfulness, its originality, and its capacity to entertain or seduce….

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Writing Quote: Coming Up With a Good Ending

As novelists we all know that the ending is the hardest part. Getting it right. If editors interfere, it is likely to be there, at the ending. If we are unsatisfied with a narrative it is likely to be there, at the ending. We wish for happy endings but sometimes we reject them as unrealistic, therefore trashy, and we feel cheated and pandered to. Stern, sadistic endings may not please us either.

Diane Johnson in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997 

Criminal Justice Quote: Shooter Attacks Police in Three Towns

     Police in Washington state say a man opened fire on police stations and police cars in three towns Wednesday evening October 25, 2014 before being shot and arrested. The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said the first series of attacks took place at 9:30 PM, when an unmanned patrol car was shot at from a white pickup truck in the town of Great Falls. A few minutes later, police in Lake Stevens reported that their headquarters were being fired upon…Police cars were targeted in Lake Stevens as well.

     A short time after that, police officers located the truck and chased the suspect into the town of Marysville, where he shot at another patrol car before he was wounded and taken into custody early Thursday October 16…

     Lake Stevens Police Commander Dennis Taylor said the man was apparently armed with a "high-capacity" rifle. Taylor added that "many shots were fired and said that the police vehicles were hit several times.

"Man Opens Fire on Police Stations, Patrol Cars in Washington," Fox News, October 16, 2014

Whackademia Quote: Louisiana Biology Teacher Accused of Sex With Student

     Authorities say a private school biology teacher accused of having a sexual encounter with a 16-year-old student has been arrested…A Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff's Office spokesperson said 27-year-old Nick Dominque, of Ventress, Louisiana was booked into jail on October 10, 2014 on counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile and oral sexual battery.

     Nick Dominque had been teaching 75 students in his second year at False River Academy when the allegations surfaced in late September 2014. The teacher has since been fired.

"Biology Teacher Allegedly Had Sexual Encounter With Student," The Associated Press, October 14, 2014 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Native American Casino War

     A federal judge closed a central California casino after an armed showdown between tribal factions caused many gamblers to flee with chips left on the tables. U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill, acting on an emergency request by the state attorney general, set no date for the possible reopening of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold 40 miles north of Fresno…The National Indian Gaming Commission also ordered the casino closed, declaring a threat to public safety that could result in serious injury or death.

     A faction that was forced out of the casino to a nearby tribal business center in August 2014 returned Thursday night October 9, 2014. According to the gaming commission, each faction controlled different parts of the casino…Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said about 500 people fled the casino. He said he worried for weeks about escalating tensions and had asked state and federal officials for help.

     The sheriff's department negotiated with about 20 armed tribal members after the casino cleared…There were no arrests, and no one was injured seriously enough to be hospitalized. "When they move the war into the casino, it meant we had to stop this. We have not been getting closer to a solution. If anything, we have gotten father away."

     The casino and hotel were guarded by sheriff's deputies…Vernon king, treasurer for the tribal council led by the faction that was ousted from the casino, said his group wanted to recover audit information and avoid a shutdown later this month. The casino, he said, employs 1,000 to 1,500 people and provides an average of around $450 a month to each of the 900 tribal members.

     Rob Rosette, a lawyer for the group that has controlled the casino since August 2014, said the other faction refused offers to negotiate for several months. Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the economic impact of the hotel and casino closure will be devastating. Still, he said he was more concerned about the potential for violence and that he had urged authorities to close the casino immediately.

"California Casino Is Closed After Armed Standoff," ABC News, October 10, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Three Women Steal Man's Prosthetic Leg

     Police say a prosthetic leg reported stolen from a veteran in a wheelchair outside the Eagles-Giants football game in south Philadelphia was later recovered on a subway train. Sonny Forriest Jr., who is known for singing for fans outside Phillies and Eagles games, told police that he had taken off his prosthetic leg during his performance. He said he was packing up to leave when a woman in her 20s wearing Eagles gear who appeared intoxicated, approached and took the leg.

     A Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority conductor found the leg at one in the morning on October 13, 2014 at the Olney station in north Philadelphia. Investigators said they planned to examine transit station surveillance video to try to identify a suspect. They said it appeared that three women took part in the theft.

"Stolen Prosthetic Leg Found Aboard Philadelphia Subway Train," Associated Press, October 13, 2014 

No One Likes a Stupid Protagonist

The protagonist, who is home alone with a bad cold, hears a rustling sound from the lower floor and, instead of calling 911 or acting logically to the danger, sets off to investigate the darkened basement with a butcher knife. At this point, your reader starts groaning out loud. Don't send your character into danger without a thought to the consequences; instead, make certain that she takes appropriate action. Perhaps she attempts to dial for help, but discovers that the criminal has cut the phone wires. Or, she can attempt to escape, but then suddenly he's looming at the door, blocking her way. The lesson here is that when the going gets tough, a protagonist fights back to the best of her ability.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Knife-Wielding Degenrates Randomly Invade Home.

     Two young men broke into a randomly chosen suburban Seattle home and attacked an 18-year-old victim with knives. The assailants have been sentenced to more than 25 years each…Vincent Sisounong, 22, and 20-year-old Blessing Gainey earlier pleaded guilty to attempted first-dgree murder and first-degree burglary. They were sentenced Friday October 10, 2014.

     Prosecutors say the two were motivated by "pleasure and greed" when they attacked the teen who was staying at his family's Kirkland, Washington home on October 12, 2013. The victim, Deep Rewat, suffered severe cuts to his leg, shoulder and head and underwent surgery at Harborview Medical Center.

     Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel called the crime "absolutely horrifying." A prosecutor told the judge the victim would have died had he not escaped and sought help from a neighbor. Outside the courtroom, Rewat said the sentencing was "definitely a big step in moving forward."

"2 Men Who Attacked Teen With Knives Gets 25 Years,", October 11, 2014 

Writing Quote: Books by Literature Professors

     I don't yet understand the source of my antipathy toward literature professors. The pervasive air of smugness has something to do with it…

     I've paid some attention to the publications of my English Department colleagues and have the impression that they are responsible for a staggering amount of inconsequentia.  English professors are always turning out extraneous "textbooks" or else are collecting other people's writing and publishing them as anthologies. My favorite example--if you'll allow me a moment of rottenness--is something "edited by" two of our tenured battleships, and proudly displayed behind glass in the departmental office. It's called Affirmations of the Human Spirit: Readings in Excellence, and is little more than excerpts from the Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost with a one-paragraph introduction to each.

     Many of the local professor-products are patched together with the primary purpose of preserving their authors from perishing in the publish-or-perish sense, or else for some low-wattage pedantic reason; in any case, they tend to shorten the lives of those forced to do "readings" in them. Boredom, like speed, kills.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Writing Quote: The Secular Hero in the History of Autobiography

When Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) completed his Confessions in 1770 he introduced the secular hero into European literature and recounted his own life in a form and style which influenced male life histories well into the twentieth century. Rousseau set the pattern which required the autobiographer to record the shaping influences of his childhood and the emotions of his maturity. But even as Rousseau set down his denunciation of aristocratic privilege and contrasted his real emotional life with received values, an American contemporary, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), was forging another male life plot, which preempted much of the foreground of nineteenth-century male autobiography. Franklin's self-presentation defined for the first time the archetypal figure of the capitalist hero, rebellious against inherited privilege, scornful of inefficiency and of waste, driven by economic motives which never figured in Rousseau's wildest dreams. While Rousseau wanted to compel an inattentive society to recognize his literary and dramatic genius, Franklin describes himself as content to accumulate wealth, and to instruct the rest of the world about the moral and economic qualities which earned him his wealth, and through it status and public recognition.

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Hidden Locker Room Videos Case

     A man and a woman face more than 250 felonies for allegedly putting cameras in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin locker rooms. Melissa Wenckebach, 28, and Karl Landt, 36, were charged in the spring of 2014 with 37 counts of conspiring to capture an image of nudity without consent, and 214 counts were added against each of them Thursday October 9, 2014.

     The investigation began in April 2014 after Wenckebach was allegedly discovered with a camera in a Pleasant Prairie recreational facility locker room. She confessed to police that she had been recording people changing at Landt's request…She told police they had been in a relationship. They both worked at Uline corporate headquarters in Pleasant Prairie. Later, Wenckebach told investigators she had also placed cameras in locker rooms at work. Wenckebach placed cameras at the recreational facility 40 to 50 times over a four month period and at Uline for more than two years.

     Police seized computers and digital storage devices found at Landt's Waukegan, Illinois home, recovering dozens of videos. The 214 new charges stem from those videos. Both suspects remain out of custody on bond…

"Pair Face 250 Felonies Over Locker Room Cameras," Associated Press, October 11, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Teen Commits Execution Style Murder

     Witnesses told police that a Cheyenne, Wyoming man with a gunshot wound to his stomach was begging for his life when a 16-year-old who had opened fire into a group of teens shot him in the head at point-blank range.

     Philip Sam was in court Wednesday October 8, 2014 on a first-degree murder charge in the death of 19-year-old Tyler Burns. He is being tried as an adult. Sam was at a park the previous Sunday night for a fight. He fired his gun at a group of teens that had gathered there. One of the bullets hit Burns in the stomach. The suspect told a detective that he shot Burns in the head because he didn't want him to suffer.

"Wyoming Teen Shot Man Who Was Begging For His Life," Associated Press, October 9, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Best Horror Stories Have Literary Merit

In the literature of horror, a handicap has frequently been that of verisimilitude, the creative weakness or flatness of character. H.P. Lovecraft spoke of the "weird" rather than the Gothic, which seems to me, for all my admiration of Lovecraft's masterly work, unnecessarily  restricting. To Lovecraft, too, "phenomena" rather than "persons" are the logical heroes of stories, one consequence of which is two-dimensional, stereotypical characters about whom it is difficult to care. Situations and plots may be formulaic, language merely serviceable, and not a vehicle for the impassioned inwardness of which "weirdness" is one attempt at definition, but only one. The standards for horror fiction should be no less than those for "serious, literary" fiction in which originality of concept, depth of characters, and attentiveness to language are vitally important.

Joyce Carol Oates in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007 

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Moore Catholic High School Teacher-Student Sex Case

     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 $8,000 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 are under investigation by the Staten Island District Attorney's Office. No arrests have been made in the case.