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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Laquanta Chapman Chainsaw Murder Case

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juvenile delinquents. He wore an electronic ankle monitor. Before he reached his parents' house, Turner encountered 28-year-old Laquanta Chapman and two other men. Chapman, who lived across the street from Turner, lured the boy into his house. (It is not clear from the reporting on this case why Chapman did this.)

     Chapman, his friend Michael Purnell, his cousin Bryan Boyd who was visiting from Newark, New Jersey, and Aaron Turner were together in Chapman's basement. Chapman told his 19-year-old cousin to go upstairs and turn the music on as loud as possible. After he did this, Boyd returned to the basement where Chapman and Purnell were screaming at the terrified teen. (Turner either owed Chapman drug money, or had stolen marijuana from him.) The two men pointed handguns at Turner and ordered him to strip off his clothing. Once he was nude, Purnell, then Chapman, shot him. Turner died on the spot.

     When Aaron Turner didn't come home that day, a member of his family called the Coatesville Police Department and reported him missing.

     Five days after the cold-blooded murder, with Aaron Turner still missing, and his decomposing body still lying in Chapman's basement, Chapman decided it was time to dispose of the corpse that was starting to give off a telltale odor. With his cousin's help, Chapman laid Turner's body on a makeshift table. Bryan Boyd and Laquanta Chapman used a pair of chainsaws to cut the body into pieces small enough to fit into trash bags. Chapman, in an effort to destroy DNA evidence left in the chainsaws, used the tools to chop up his pet pit bull. (Chapman, a man with a history of animal abuse, killed his dog for nothing because the ploy didn't work.) Chapman placed several trash bags containing Turner's body parts on the street for refuge pickup.

     More than a year passed, and the police still hadn't recovered Aaron Turner's body. (The teen's dismembered remains had been hauled by trash pickup workers to a local landfill. It was never recovered.) In the meantime, Laquanta Chapman had become a suspect in Turner's disappearance and presumed murder.

     On November 15, 2009,  Coatesville police raided Chapman's house and conducted a search. Officers recovered the two chainsaws which contained DNA evidence that linked Chapman to Turner's murder and dismemberment, and gave the prosecutor circumstantial evidence of Turner's death. (It's hard to believe these killers didn't dispose of the chainsaws.)

     Laquanta Chapman and Bryan Boyd were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. The Chester County prosecutor also charged Chapman with a cruelty to animals offense. Under Pennsylvania law, both defendants had qualified themselves for the death penalty.

     On November 20, 2011, Bryan Boyd, the cousin from Newark, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. While he would avoid the death sentence, Boyd could be sentenced up to 97 years in prison. Boyd, as part of his plea deal, agreed to testify against his older cousin.

     Laquanta Chapman went on trial on October 24, 2012 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. On November 9, following the testimony of his cousin, the jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of first degree-murder. He was also convicted of the lesser offenses. The jurors deliberated less than three hours before delivering their verdict.

     A week after the guilty verdict, the judge, following a sentencing hearing, sentenced Laquanta Chapman to death.
       

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rape, Poor Policing, and Vigilantism in Detroit


     In the summer of 2013, Mary (not her real name), a 15-year-old with Down Syndrome, worked a few hours a week at a coffee shop in southwest Detroit called Cafe Con Leche. On July 17, Mary did not show up for her two-hour shift that began at 3:30 PM. The shop's owner, Jordi Carbonell, at 3:35, called Mary's legal guardian who lived a few blocks away. (Mary's mother had died of cancer in 2006.)  The legal guardian informed Carbonell that Mary had left the house on time for her four-block walk through the Hubbard Farms neighborhood to her place of employment. Not long after Mr. Carbonell made the call, Mary walked into the shop. When asked why she was late, Mary said she had been with a friend.

     That evening, Mary shocked her legal guardian by telling her that she had been raped that afternoon by a neighborhood man named Bill (not his real name) who invited her to his apartment. According to Mary, Bill had kissed her, told her to undress, and raped her. She said he used his cellphone to take photographs of her in the nude.
     Bill, who referred to himself as Super Fly and an Aztec Warrior, was known in the neighborhood for his strange and often confrontational behavior. The 43-year-old was generally disliked by residents of the area who considered him an oddball. He had big, puffy hair and walked around in shorts and high socks. In January 2012, a judge had committed Bill to a mental health facility. According to a psychiatrist who treated him there, Bill was severely depressed. The doctor had written: "He feels hopeless and helpless. He plans to kill himself by hanging."
     Mary's guardian reported Mary's claim of rape to the Detroit Police Department on the day the girl reported the crime to her, July 17, 2013. A member of the sex crimes unit asked a medical technician to gather physical evidence from Mary for possible DNA analysis. (I'm not sure when this evidence was gathered.) Because of the complainant's limited communication skills, a detective,  five days after the complaint, brought in a specialist to question her. 
     Mary's guardian became concerned when twelve days passed without anything happening in the case. Finally, on July 29, police officers took Bill into custody for investigation. When they questioned him at the police department he refused to cooperate. Before booking him into the Wayne County Jail, an officer swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. 
     The lead investigator on Mary's case asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to charge Bill with rape. An assistant prosecutor in the office, in denying the request, asked for more evidence. The prosecutor recommended that detectives search Bill's apartment. (Apparently the police didn't search the apartment when they took Bill into custody.) 
     On July 31, 48 hours after taking the rape suspect into custody, the police, without a criminal charge, had no choice but to release Bill back into the community. Two days later, 16 days after the rape report, police officers searched Bill's apartment. They seized a bed sheet, a blanket, and a cellphone. 
     On August 5, 2013, Mary's guardian and members of the community who were following the case with great interest, were surprised to learn that the officer in charge of the investigation, 19 days after the rape report, had just sent Mary's rape kit to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. At this point in the investigation, detectives couldn't even prove that the complainant had engaged in sex. 
     In response to criticism and neighborhood outrage over the way the case was being handled, a Detroit police administrator blamed the rape kit submission delay on the fact that during this crucial period in the case, the sex crime unit moved its offices to a new headquarters. When it became obvious that this excuse only created more anger and frustration in the community, the police administrator promised an internal investigation. This did not silence critics of the police department. As far as neighborhood residents were concerned, a rapist lived among them under the nose of the police. Instead of handling a rape case properly, investigators were focused on moving their offices. Rape, in the Detroit Police Department, was obviously low priority. 
     On August 11, 2013, 24 days after Mary's rape report, a man on a bicycle carrying a baseball bat rode up to Bill as he walked along the street not far from his apartment building. "You like raping little girls?" the man asked as he began whacking Bill in the legs with the bat. A witness to the assault called 911. After the beating, Bill, as he limped along the sidewalk back to his apartment, was attacked by five men who, as a group, punched and kicked him. By the time the Detroit Police rolled up to the scene, Bill was on the ground and his assailants were gone. An officer called for an ambulance that took Bill to a nearby hospital.
     Bill did not return to his dwelling. On the night of his beatings, someone broke into his apartment. It was this person who spray-painted "rapist" on the outside wall near the windows to his residence. The next day the building owner hired an armed security guard to make his nervous tenants feel safer. 
    No arrests were made in connection with the assaults on the neighborhood rape suspect.

     This Detroit rape case split the neighborhood into two camps. One group was in support of the vigilantism while others deplored the idea of citizens taking the law into their own hands. One thing they all agreed on was this: the Detroit Police Department, by bungling the investigation, had created the environment for vigilantism. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Angela Nolen Murder Solicitation Case

     In 1995, 30-year-old Angela Nolen married 46-year-old Paul "Jay" Strickler. She taught kindergarten at the Sontag Elementary School in the western Virginia town of Rocky Mount. He worked as an administrator in the Franklin County School System's central office. In 2002, the couple adopted a baby girl.

     After 17 years of marriage, Angela Nolen, in October 2012, asked a Franklin County Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge for an order of protection against her estranged husband. Nolen, in asking for the protection order, accused Strickler of physically abusing her and their 9-year-old daughter. The judge, believing that Nolen had "...proven the allegation of family abuse by a preponderance of the evidence" (a civil standard of proof less rigorous than proof beyond a reasonable doubt), granted Nolen's request. Pursuant to the protection order, Strickler could not have any interaction with his estranged wife, and could only contact their daughter by phone for five minutes, three times a week.

     Two months after the issuance of the domestic protection order, Nolen and Strickler were divorced. The judge granted her full custody of the child, and he agreed to sell her his share of the house. Not long after that, Angela Nolen decided to have her ex-husband killed.

     Early in February 2013, the kindergarten teacher and her friend, Cathy Warren Bennett, the nurse at the Sontag Elementary School, began plotting Jay Strickler's murder. Like most aspiring murder-for-hire masterminds, these middle-class women didn't have a clue where to acquire the services of a hit-man. Cathy Bennett, on Nolen's behalf, reached out to a man she hoped would do the deed. In furtherance of the deadly plot, the 37-year-old school nurse handed the candidate for the contract killing  a sheet of paper containing information about the target of the homicide.

     As is often the case, the man Cathy Bennett approached to commit the murder for money went directly from the mastermind's intermediary to the police. As a result, on the night of February 19, 2013, the man who accepted Angel Nolen's advance payment of $4,000 for the hit was an undercover police officer. According to the audio-taped murder-for-hire conversation between the undercover cop and the mastermind, the hit-man would receive another four grand when he completed his mission.

     Police officers arrested Nolen on the morning after she met with the man she thought was going to kill Jay Strickler. Charged with solicitation to commit murder, the authorities incarcerated Nolen at the Western Virginia Regional Jail. She was held without bail. If convicted as charged, Nolen faced a maximum sentence of forty years behind bars.

     The Franklin County prosecutor charged Cathy Bennett, Nolen's intermediary, with conspiracy to solicit murder. A judge set her bail at $60,000.

     Both employees of the Sontag Elementary School were suspended without pay. Strickler, the 63-year-old target of Angela Nolen's alleged murder plot, had recently retired from the school system. In speaking to a reporter with the Roanoke Times, Strickler said that his ex-wife had wanted him dead so she wouldn't have to pay for her share of the house. "That scares the hell out of me," he said. "I am just so glad the state police found out about this [plot]. I'm afraid for my life. I still feel that way. If someone knocks on my door, I won't answer it. I'll call 911. I'm extremely sad and I'm extremely worried."

     On June 26, 2013, Angela Nolen pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder.

     On December 23, 2013, the Franklin County judge sentenced Angela Nolen to five years. However, pursuant to the plea bargain, the murder-for-hire mastermind would only have to spent 18 months of that sentence in prison.

     Murder-for-hire cases are not shocking because people hire hit-men. The surprising part often involves who these masterminds are. When we think of kindergarten teachers and school nurses, murder-for-hire doesn't spring to mind., Perhaps it's reasonable to assume that a desperate Angela Nolen felt she had run out of options. But the school nurse, what was she thinking?

     It's a shame that someone didn't convince this amateur premeditated homicide plotter that murder-for-hire was not an appropriate remedy for any problem. Aside from the morality issue, amateur masterminds are always caught and convicted. Moreover, in cases where the target is actually murdered, they get the longest prison sentences. Judges and juries usually hate the murder-for-hire mastermind more than they do the hit-man. As it turned out, the mastermind in this murder solicitation case got off light.

   

      

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Earl K. Shumway: The John Dillinger of Archaeological Looting

The Archaeological Resource Protection Act  

      The lobbying efforts of the Society for American Archaeology, an international organization dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas, led to the passage of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), federal legislation signed into law in October 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Under Title 16 of the United States Code, Sections 470 aa to 470 mm, ARPA preserves archaeological resources on federal and Indian lands with the aim to prevent the loss of irreplaceable artifacts that are part of the nation's cultural heritage.

     At its core, ARPA makes it a federal crime to excavate, remove, damage, alter, and/or deface (without a government permit) archaeological resources from protected areas. It is also a federal offense, under this law, to traffic interstate in artifacts acquired in violation of the act or in breach of local or state law. Under ARPA, an "archaeological resource" is an item of past human existence or archaeological interest more than a hundred years old.

     First-time ARPA offenders, in cases where the value of the artifacts and the cost of restoration and repair of the damaged archaeological site is less than $500, can be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisoned for more than a year. However, if the value or restoration costs exceed $500, the offender can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for two years on each count. Repeat ARPA offenders can be fined $100,000 and sent to prison for five years on each count. Under ARPA, federal authorities can pursue violators civilly or in criminal court, imposing fines and confiscating vehicles and equipment used in the commission of the prohibited activity.

Looting Anasazi Artifacts

     Earl K. Shumway, the central figure in the country's first major ARPA case, came from a family of archaeological looters. Earl grew up in Moab, Utah, a Mormon town seventy miles north of the four corners village of Blanding, where, in June 2009, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents raided the homes of eleven ARPA defendants. DeLoy Shumway, Earl's father, spent years plundering Anasazi ruins for pottery and other artifacts in the Puebloan region of the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah. In the early 1980s, Earl's distant cousin, Casey Shumway, had the distinction of being the nation's first ARPA defendant convicted of the offense.

     From 700 to 1300, the Peublo (also referred to as the Anasazi) people grew beans and corn and built masonry structures--so-called cliff dwellings--into canyon alcoves that still show rock petroglyphs depicting animals, human figures, and prehistoric tools. Just before the turn of the fourteenth century, social upheaval and prolonged drought caused these people to migrate south. They never returned, but left in Utah's San Juan County alone, a place the size of Connecticut, 28,000 known archaeological sites.

     In 1850, Mormon settlers to southwestern Utah found, scattered virtually everywhere, prehistoric tools, flint projectile points, and shards of Anasazi pottery. The collecting of prehistoric pottery began in the late 1800s after Richard Wetherill and his brother, Colorado ranchers, discovered Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verdi. In the canyon cliff dwellings they found decorated pottery, jewelry, tools, sandals, and woven blankets. The brothers also discovered thousands of grave sites containing human skeletons wrapped in blankets.

     The Wetherill discoveries launched a lucrative trade in Native American artifacts fueled by competition between the Smithsonian and other U. S. museums, and a growing interest among the general pubic in Indian relic collecting.

     Up until 1930, archaeologists and curators at the University of Utah paid artifact hunters two dollars for every piece of pottery (called "pots" by collectors) they brought to the school. Earl Shumway's grandfather, in the 1920s, sold 370 pieces of Anasazi pottery to the university. In those days he could acquire up to seventeen pots in a single day, and in a productive month, dig up two hundred, many of which ended up in a local museum.

     Craig Childs, in his book Finders Keepers, chronicles the early relationship between the region's pot hunters and the university: "In the 1920s an archaeologist named Andrew Kerr from the University of Utah in Salt Lake appeared after he heard that an entire quarter of the state was filthy with archaeology right near the surface, graves practically springing from the ground. Kerr hired local residents to dig; his head diggers were members of the Shumway family who had already done a good deal of private excavation. The Shumways did most of the work while Kerr sat back. They showed him how to locate the best caches of artifacts, how to dig without breaking pots. Meanwhile, Kerr encouraged them and paid them to become even better at it. Showing little regard for scientific method, he wanted only the most visually stunning artifacts which he shipped back to the university museum."

     According to William Hurst, an archaeologist and lifelong resident of Blanding, Utah, Anasazi projectile points, tools, and pottery, during the 1950s and 1960s, were everywhere and easy to find. Most of the local collectors were surface hunters who picked up pieces from cultivated fields. In those days, collecting arrowheads in and around Blanding was like picking up seashells from a beach.

     A Blanding resident and artifact collector, speaking about what it was like in the 1950s and 1960s, said this to a journalist writing about the plundering of Anasazi sites: "This was our way of life. You could find artifacts just everywhere. You can go in any direction from Blanding and they'll be mounds and dwellings and arrowheads and artifacts." In the same article, Toni Turk, the then major of Blanding, also described how it was for collectors in those days: "The pottery was so commonplace that kids would use them for target practice, they would throw rocks at them. There was nothing particularly special about them. Some people started seeing in them some art value for themselves and they'd start collecting."

     Blanding mayor Turk also spoke of archaeological looters like Earl Shumway and his father. "Some people went in with heavy machinery. It took a lot of labor off the effort to dig up graves. They dug down to get the treasures. These are people who stepped across the lines of propriety. They got into looting graves and grave goods."

     According to Wayne Dance, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for the Utah District from 1990 to 2007, the prosecutor who targeted Earl Shumway and ended up prosecuting more ARPA subjects than any AUSA in the country, the bulk of Anasazi looting took place within a hundred mile, north-south corridor stretching from Moab to the town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Reservation near the Arizona state line.

The Earl K. Shumway Case

     In 1985, a federal grand jury sitting in Salt Lake City, indicted Earl K. Shumway, then twenty-five, on four felony counts in violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The fierce and flamboyant looter with the wild shock of red hair and matching mustache, had openly bragged about how much money he made selling Anasazi pottery, baskets, human remains, and other artifacts from hundreds of archaeological sites which he left littered with empty Mountain Dew cans.

     Because Shumway also boasted of carrying a .44 magnum revolver he'd use on anyone who'd confront him while digging for artifacts, federal agents despised and feared him. The AUSA charged Shumway with the removal and sale of thirty-four prehistoric baskets excavated from Horse Rock Ruin on federal land near Allen Canyon, Manti-La Sal National Forest in southeastern Utah. Shumway and his crew had been digging on this site since 1981. Tried and convicted in 1986, Shumway, to avoid serving time in prison, identified, for the FBI, a long list of artifact collectors living in Blanding. In turning snitch, he avoided prison and settled scores with collectors he didn't like. His information also led to a series of ARPA SWAT raids that year. All of those cases were eventually dropped.

     After informing on collectors, Earl Shumway returned to looting archaeological sites on federal land. In November 1994, a former Shumway business partner told the FBI that Shumway had been plundering artifacts at Horse Rock Ruin. The snitch said that Shumway had cheated him out of his share of the loot. Shortly after his arrest, Shumway pleaded guilty to three ARPA counts and a federal firearms charge. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced the serial looter to probation.

     In June 1995, just seven months after Shumway's guilty plea, AUSA Wayne Dance, having successfully prosecuted forty ARPA defendants, convinced members of a federal grand jury in Utah to indict Shumway on a pair of four-year-old ARPA cases.

     In 1991, Shumway met helicopter pilot Michael Miller at a pool hall in Moab. After regaling Miller with stories of his archaeological adventures and the big money he made selling Anasazi pottery, baskets, and human remains, Miller contacted a helicopter pilot named John Ruhl and asked him to fly the pair around in search of potential sites. Shumway's father had taught Earl how to use aircraft in search for ruins. With diggers on the ground and a lookout in the sky, looters could easily avoid detection. Shumway, with Ruhl's knowledge, rented a  helicopter by telling Ruhl's employer he was a film scout.

     Ruhl flew Miller and Shumway to Dop-Ki Cave in Utah's Canyonlands National Park, a 350,000-acre tract where they dug up the skeleton of an infant wrapped in a blanket inside a burial basket. Shumway took the blanket and all of the bones except the skull. A few days later, Ruhl flew Shumway and Miller to Horse Rock Ruin where they spent the night. The next morning, Shumway dug up a pair of ancient sandals and a sleeping mat.

     At Shumway's November 1995 trial, AUSA Dance, through DNA analysis, connected the defendant to a cigarette butt found at the Dop-Ki Cave site. The jurors, based upon the first use of DNA evidence in an ARPA case, found Shumway guilty.

     Convicted of seven felony counts, Judge David K. Winder, appalled at Shumway's callous handling of the infant's remains, exceeded ARPA's punishment guidelines by sentencing the looter to six and a half years in prison. The judge also fined him $3,500. Shumway appealed his sentence to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which reduced it to five years, three months.

     While being transported to prison, a group of Native American prisoners gave Shumway a severe beating. In 2003, three years after getting out of prison, Earl K. Shumway died of cancer. He was forty-six-years-old.
   

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Carlos Diaz Attempted Murder-Arson Case

     Carlos Diaz and Cathy Zappata were married in 2007. He worked at W. D. Auto Repair at Tenth Avenue and 207th Street in Harlem, New York. A year later, the couple had a son. In 2010, Diaz lost his job at the body shop, and shortly after that his marriage fell apart. He became homeless, moving from one parking lot to another where he slept in his van.

     Although estranged from his wife, Diaz refused to accept the fact they were finished as a couple. He resented it when Cathy, to improve her looks, had cosmetic breast surgery and liposuction. She also made him jealous by going out with other men.

     On January 15, 2013, Diaz flew into a rage when he discovered that Cathy had sent a nude photograph of herself by cellphone to another man. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. The next morning, at eight o'clock, Diaz asked Cathy to meet him at a Pathmark parking lot on Ninth Avenue at 207th Street where he had spent the night in his van. The lot was a block from the auto body shop where he had once worked.

     As Cathy sat behind the wheel of her car, Diaz sprayed the 38-year-old's face, head, and neck with lighter fluid, then ignited the accelerant with a blowtorch. With her entire head engulfed in flames, Cathy managed to exit the vehicle and extinguish the fire by rolling in a puddle of water. (The victim was rushed to Harlem Hospital's burn unit with second-degree burns on her lips, eyelids, nose, cheeks, and neck. Her hair had been burned off to the scalp. Doctors listed her condition as critical.)

     After setting his estranged wife on fire, Diaz, in possession of a can of gasoline, walked to W. D. Auto Repair. He found the owner, Helson Marachena, the man who had fired him, in his office. Diaz doused the room with the accelerant, but when he tried to ignite the place, his lighter wouldn't fire. The malfunctioning lighter gave Mr. Marachena the opportunity to escape.

     Later in the day, the 35-year-old arsonist turned himself in to the New York City police. When questioned by detectives, Diaz said, "I had to teach her a lesson. To give her a little pain. Now she can worry about our kid and get serious instead of focusing on going out with other men." In relating how he felt when he discovered the nude photograph on his wife's cellphone, Diaz said, "I couldn't think straight. I wanted to pass out. I had to do something. I had to be a man about it. She hurt my pride." Diaz described his perception of his marriage this way: "She was my right arm. I did everything for her. I forgot all about my own life. I just worked to support her and to pay the rent. And this is what she does."

     Charged with attempted murder, arson, assault, and attempted assault, Diaz was held at the city jail on Riker's Island. A magistrate denied him bail.

     On December 15, 2015, a jury in New York City took just four hours to find Diaz guilty of attempted murder and the other charges. Three weeks later, the judge sentenced Diaz to 35 years to life in prison.

     Jealous boyfriends, discarded husbands, and rejected suitors can be dangerous. In the annals of crime, men like Carlos Diaz have done terrible things with fire, including mass murder. It's extremely difficult for women to protect themselves from these angry, sociopathic losers who feel justified in their acts of violence. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Tong Shao Murder Case

    Tong Shao grew up as the only child in a middle-class family in Dalian, China, a coastal city of 7 million 300 miles east of Beijing. Her parents saved up $100,000 for her college education in America. In the fall of 2012, she enrolled as a chemical engineering major at Iowa State University in Ames. As one of 5,000 Chinese students in the state, her parents thought she'd be safe living in central Iowa.

      In the summer before she started her junior year, Shao completed an internship in Kentucky where she had purchased a gold-colored, four-door 1997 Toyota Camry.

     On September 6, 2014, Shao drove to Iowa City to visit her boyfriend Xiangnan Li. Xiangnan also attended Iowa State University as an international student from China. Shao had met Li in the summer of 2011 in Beijing where they took English prep classes.

     Xiangnan Li was from Wenzhou, China, a city of 9 million on the country's east coast 300 miles south of Shanghai. He had transferred to Iowa State University from Rochester Institute of Technology to be closer to Shao.

     In the U.S. Li resided in Iowa City at an apartment complex called Dolphin Lake Point Enclave. He also stayed in the Ames apartment Shao shared with her roommate Jean.

     Two days after Shao left Ames, a message sent from her cellphone to a friend said she was driving to Minnesota to visit someone there. Her college friends didn't hear from her for more than a week after that September 8 text message. On September 17, her roommate Jean reported Tong Shao missing to the Ames Police Department.

     On Friday September 26, 2014, police in Iowa City, at Li's apartment complex along U.S. Highway 6, found Shao's Toyota parked in the parking lot. After smelling the odor of death coming from the trunk area of the vehicle, officers acquired a warrant to search the car.

     Inside the trunk of Shao's vehicle, officers found the decomposing body of the 5-foot-2-inch missing college student. Next to her body lay a 15-pound barbell. According to a resident of the Dolphin Lake Point Enclave, the 1997 Toyota with the Kentucky plates had been parked in that spot for a couple of weeks.

     Xiangnan Li's blue 2009 BMW was also parked at the Iowa City apartment complex. He, however, was gone. On September 8 he had flown back to China. (He had boarded the plane in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and had a layover in Chicago.) Iowa City police officers, on September 27, 2014, searched his car. Inside the vehicle they found Li's flight information.

     In November 2014, a forensic pathologist with the Johnson County Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy on Tong Shao's remains. A medical examiner's office spokesperson, however, didn't announce the postmortem results until January 2015. According the autopsy report, the college student had died from asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. (I don't understand the dual causes of death. She was either strangled or bludgeoned to death. How could she die from both?)

     According to homicide investigators, the text message from Shao's cellphone had been sent on September 8 from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago where Li was laid over en route to his home in China.

     Karen Yang, a friend of Li's, told detectives Li had been jealous over Shao's interest in another man. Li had overheard Shao complain to this man over the phone that she was not happy with her current relationship. This had made Li extremely angry.

     Detectives with the Ames Police Department learned that on September 5, 2014, Li and Shao checked into room 218 at the Budget Inn in Nevada, Iowa. Hotel surveillance camera footage showed Shao walking alone in the lobby the next afternoon. She was also seen in the town of Nevada driving a gold-colored car believed to be her Toyota. According to hotel records, the couple checked out on September 7, 2014. They had stayed at this place in 2013 and earlier in 2014.

     Detectives believed that Shao had been murdered by Li during the early morning hours of September 7 at the hotel. The walls in room 218 were stained with "splatter and drips of various dried liquids." Crime scene investigators also found dried blood behind the headboard of the bed.

     When police discovered Shao's body in the trunk of her car on September 26, 2014, they discovered that her head had been wrapped in a towel with the tag "Premium Quality," the same kind of towel used at the Budget Inn and Suites.

     On March 23, 2016, in eastern China, Li Xiangnan pleaded guilty to murdering Shao Tong. Since the Chinese do not extradite its citizens, Li will remain in China where, if not sentenced to death, will be sentenced to life.

     

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Handwriting Evidence in the Lindbergh Kidnap-Murder Case

     On April 3, 1936,  Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany who lived in the Bronx, New York, died in the electric chair for the kidnapping and murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. At the 36-year-old unemployed carpenter's trial held in Flemington, New Jersey in January and February 1935, prosecution handwriting experts took the stand and testified that the defendant had written all of the ransom notes as well as other documents associated with the abduction and murder. It was this forensic document evidence that sent Mr. Hauptmann to the death house in Trenton.

     At the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial, eight nationally known questioned document examiners, from Los Angeles to New York City, both private and government employed, testified that Hauptmann wrote the fifteen ransom letters, including the note left by the kidnapper in the baby's nursery. The Lindbergh crime produced an unusually large quantity of questioned writing. Moreover, the experts had plenty of known handwriting to work with in the form of request writings--a carefully worded paragraph dictated to Hauptmann--and his conceded or "course of business" writings in the form of his personal notebooks and his auto registration, driver's license, and insurance applications.

     The prosecution experts testified that Hauptmann's known writing looked like the writing in the ransom documents. They produced dozens of word chart exhibits for the jury that illustrated the similarity in the two sets of cursive writing. Hauptmann and the ransom note writer also misspelled certain words the same way.

     The questioned document testimony phase of the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial took up four days, and produced 800 pages of trial transcript. Besides the eight experts who took the stand, the prosecution had four rebuttal experts who would have testified against Hauptmann had the defense put on a credible battery of their own handwriting witnesses. As it turned out, these rebuttal witnesses were not needed.

     One the the rebuttal witnesses, John Vreeland Haring, later published a heavily illustrated book showing why he believed Hauptmann had written the ransom documents. Mr. Haring made a special effort to illustrate the similarities between the defendant's writing and the ransom note left in the nursery. For comparison purposes, Haring used as known handwriting samples, two post-conviction letters Hauptmann had written in hand to the Governor of New Jersey.

     In addition to the prosecution's eight handwriting witnesses and the four rebuttal experts, Charles A. Appel, Jr., the head of the FBI crime lab, believed Hauptmann was the ransom note writer. The crime lab director testified against Hauptmann before the Bronx Grand Jury months before the trial.

     Hauptmann's defense attorney, Edward J. Reilly, asked seven document examiners to look at the handwriting evidence. Three declared that Hauptmann had written the documents, another three said the ransom notes had been altered after Hauptmann's arrest to look like his known writing--thereby conceding that the known and questioned writings were similar. The seventh examiner asked by the defense to analyze the evidence, a man named John C. Trendley from St. Louis, ended up being the only  examiner who actually testified for the defense at the Hauptmann trial.

     A reporter who covered the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial wrote this about Mr. Trendley: "He was a furtive, musty little codger who had the greatest difficulty establishing his claim to be an expert....And his testimony was really pathetic." Besides his background as a courtroom charlatan, Trendley's testimony was weakened by the fact he had not spent much time with the evidence.

     Hauptmann's defense lawyers--he had five--were never able to counter the prosecution's overwhelming handwriting case against their client. Notwithstanding all of the other physical evidence connecting Hauptmann to the crime, it was his handwriting that sent him to the electric chair.

     To this day, the Lindbergh case remains the high water mark in the American history of forensic document examination.

   

     

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

O.J. Innocent? Junk History in the Simpson Murder Case

     From the June 1994 day in Los Angeles when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were stabbed and slashed to death outside of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife's condo, to his October 1995 acquittal, the double murder case dominated the news in the U.S. and abroad. The investigation and trial involved DNA analysis, blood spatter interpretation, and plenty of forensic medicine. Because the physical evidence pointed to Simpson's guilt, the not guilty verdict introduced the public to the concept of jury nullification.

     The infamous case turned police detectives, defense attorneys, and the trial judge into instant celebrities. Several of the major players in the case cashed-in with lucrative book deals. A few of these people evolved into television personalities. The Simpson case put CNN on the map, and elevated the careers of more than a few talking-heads.

     In America, the combination of celebrity-worship and the fascination with violent crime has produced a dozen or so "crimes of the century." In my opinion, the 20th Century featured three crimes of the century: the Lindbergh Kidnapping (1932), The John F. Kennedy Assassination (1961), and the O.J. Simpson double murder. In the Lindbergh case, Bruno Hauptmann, after being convicted on the strength of physical evidence connecting him to the crime, was executed in April 1936. Since then, there have been a handful of books, several television documentaries, hundreds of articles, and a HBO movie devoted to the theory that Hauptmann was an innocent man framed by the New Jersey State Police. It is my view that these exonerations of Hauptmann amount to junk history.

     There have been more than 500 books written about the Kennedy assassination. While I am not an expert on this case, I subscribe to the view that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Dr. John Kelly, a friend of mine who taught in the University of Delaware's criminal justice department, spent twenty years investigating the assassination. He is firmly convinced that the Warren Commission got it right, and that's good enough for me.

     Because the physical evidence pointing to O.J. Simpson's guilt was so plentiful and incriminating, the case hadn't moved into the revisionist stage until 2012. In the fall of that year, a book came out that purported to exonerate Simpson. It was followed by a television documentary in which another man was identified as the Nicole Simpson/Ronald Goldman killer. The revisionist stage of the O.J. Simpson case had begun.

     In his book, O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It, true crime writer/private investigator William Dear makes the case that Simpson's then 40-year-old son Jason committed the murders. According to the author, although O.J. was present when the victims were murdered, he didn't wield the knife. This is convenient because it helps explain away the physical evidence linking O.J. to the crime scene.

     So, what evidence does this revisionist author have against Jason Simpson? Not much. In Jason's abandoned storage locker, Mr. Dear found a hunting knife that could have been the murder weapon. There was nothing, however, on the knife that connected it to the crime. (Over the years there have been several knives discovered that were purported to be the missing murder weapon. None of them were connected to the killings.) The other so-called incriminating evidence involved the fact that after the murders, Jason retained an attorney. The author also found a photograph of Jason Simpson that shows him wearing a knit cap similar to one recovered from the crime scene.

     Two months before the murders, Jason Simpson assaulted his girlfriend, and according to some crime profiler, the suspect had a homicidal personality. And finally, Jason Simpson did not have an airtight alibi. Although there was not nearly enough against Jason Simpson to even justify a legal arrest, William Dear managed to pad this "evidence" into a book-length manuscript someone was willing to publish. When the book first came out, it attracted a little media attention then quickly fell out of the news. But uncritical readers willing to believe revisionist accounts of famous cases based on nothing but speculation and faux evidence, embraced Dear's book.

     On November 21, 2012, the Investigation Discovery Channel aired a documentary called "My Brother the Serial Killer," a story about a convicted serial killer from Kentucky named Glen Edward Rogers. Narrated by his older brother Clay Rogers, the documentary was a well-told, visually dramatic, and interesting biography of a serial killer. The 60-year-old murderer, who claimed to have killed 70 women, had been on Florida's death row for fifteen years. (Although lRogers exhausted his appeals in 2012, he was still alive as of March 2016.) The documentary revealed, among other things, how easy it is for a serial killer to get away with his crimes.

     The documentary's main hook, however, was its connection to the O.J. Simpson case. According to a criminal profiler and true crime writer named Anthony Meloli, Glen Rogers revealed to him that O.J. Simpson had hired him to break into Nicole's condo. Rogers, who claimed that he was working at the dwelling as a painter, was supposed to steal a set of $20,000 diamond earrings Simpson had given to his ex-wife. According to Rogers, O.J. told him that "You may have to kill her." Rogers also informed the profiler that after murdering Nicole Simpson, he took an angel pin off her body and mailed it to his mother. The killer's mom supposedly wore this piece of jewelry at one of her son's murder trials.

     As the story goes, O.J., shortly after the murders, walked up the bloody sidewalk to check on Roger's work. This doesn't make sense. One would think that Simpson would take pains to distance himself from the crime scene.  In so doing, Simpson left his shoe impressions at the death site.

     Ronald Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, in speaking to a reporter after having watched "My Brother the Serial Killer," said, "I am appalled at the level of irresponsibility demonstrated by the network and the producers of the so-called documentary." A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said, "We have no reason to believe that Mr. Rogers was involved [in the case]. Nevertheless, in the interest of being thorough in the case, our robbery/homicide detectives will investigate [Roger's] claims." Nothing came of that inquiry,.

      Except for the O.J. Simpson angle, "My Brother the Serial Killer" was an outstanding true crime documentary.    

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?

     At three in the morning on August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, saw a light under the movie star's bedroom door. After knocking and getting no response, Murray called Monroe's psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. The doctor arrived at the Brentwood, California hacienda shortly after being summoned, and upon entering the bedroom, found the 36-year-old actress dead. Following a considerable passage of time, Dr. Greenson called the Los Angeles Police. (Before alerting the authorities, Monroe's  psychiatrist phoned Peter Lawford, an actor friend of Monroe's who rushed to the scene. Peter Lawford happened to be President John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law. Lawford was also rumored to have fixed the president up with Monroe.)

     The first detective didn't arrive at the scene until 4:30 that morning. Based on the state of Monroe's rigor mortis (postmortem body stiffening), the officer estimated the time of her death to be 12:30 AM, give or take an hour. In the bedroom, the detective found 15 bottles of prescription drugs, and an empty bottle of champagne. The scene was never processed for latent fingerprints.

     Because of the delay between the time of death and the arrival of the police, valuable evidence from the bedroom and the house could have been removed and destroyed. For example, Monroe was known to have kept a diary. Had she been sexually involved with President Kennedy, and later with his brother Robert, the U.S. Attorney General, her journal might have contained revealing and embarrassing information related to, among other things, a motive for  her murder. The diary was never recovered. Monroe's phone records also turned up missing. Regardless of how Marilyn Monroe died, the case has all the earmarks of a cover-up.

     Five or six hours after Marilyn Monroe's sudden and unexplained death, her body was turned over to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office for autopsy. The so-called "Coroner to the Stars," Dr. Thomas Noguchi, performed the autopsy. According to all accounts, he did a thorough job which included a careful examination of Monroe's body for signs that she had been injected with something. The forensic pathologist did not find any evidence of foul play.

     A toxicology test of Monroe's blood revealed high levels of Nembutal (38-66 capsules) and chloral hydrate (14-23 tablets). Based on his autopsy, the apparent circumstances surrounding the death, and the toxicology report, Dr. Noguchi ruled Monroe's death a "possible suicide."

     The medico-legal examination of the corpse, however, was not complete. Because the samples had been "lost," there was no toxicological analysis of Monroe's stomach and intestine contents.

     In 1982, twenty years after Marilyn Monroe's death, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office reviewed the case and issued a report. The cold case investigators, aware of the flaws and problems with the initial inquiry, concluded that Monroe had probably died of an accidental overdose. However, not everyone, then and now, ruled out the possibility of homicide. Perhaps the most popular theory of murder, and the motive behind it, involves keeping Monroe from spilling the beans about her affairs with the Kennedy brothers. The well known forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, publicly expressed his opinion that Monroe could have been injected with a toxic substance.

     In 2011, the Associated Press, anticipating the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death on August 5, 1962, attempted, under the Freedom of Information Act, to acquire the FBI's voluminous file on Marilyn Monroe.

     J. Edgar Hoover, as part of his war against domestic communism, monitored the activities of hundreds of novelists, actors, musicians, screenwriters, sports figures, and politicians. In 1955, the bureau opened an on-going intelligence file on Marilyn Monroe. Agents kept track of where she went, what she did, and who she associated with. FBI investigators conducted hundreds of confidential interviews of people who knew the actress. None of this information was made public.

     Nine months after its request for the Monroe FBI file, the bureau replied that the agency no longer possessed this material. The Associated Press then requested the files from the National Archives which also denied possession of the Monroe data. So, where was this information?

     Before a serious re-investigation of Marilyn Monroe's death could occur, cold case investigators would need full access to the information the government denied possessing. Until this data is made public, Marilyn Monroe's death will remain a mystery, and a favorite subject among highly imaginative armchair detectives.

      

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick Serial Arson Case

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia's Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months, volunteer firefighters in the county responded to 77 intentionally set fires involving abandoned houses, barns, camper trailers, and various out-buildings that included a chicken coop.

     Arson investigators with the Virginia State Police and the Accomack County Sheriff's Office suspected that the serial fire-setter was either a disgruntled firefighter, a teenage boy sexually aroused by flames, or a young man committing arson simply for the thrill and excitement of causing havoc. Given the nature of the places burned, financial gain was not a motive. These were pathologically motivated arsons.

     Since the vast majority of arsonists are men, the fire investigators were not looking for a woman. Female arsonists usually have histories of mental illness, and set fire to their own property. A vast majority of the fires set by women are motivated by the need for sympathy and attention.

     On April 2, 2013, forty-five minutes after midnight, a Virginia State Trooper near the Eastern Shore community of Melfa, pulled over a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker. (This was probably not the real reason for the stop.) The traffic stop occurred shortly after a nearby abandoned house had been torched. Later that morning, a local prosecutor charged the occupants of the car, 38-year-old Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick, his 40-year-old girlfriend, with setting the Melfa house fire.

     Smith (also known as Charlie Applegate) and Bundick were held without bail at the Accomack County Jail. They were both from Accomac, Virginia. Smith, the owner of a body shop, was once captain of the Tasley Volunteer Fire Company. Smith and Bundick had planned to get married within a month.

     A Virginia State Police spokesperson, at a press conference on April 2, 2013 said, "We are confident that Bundick and Smith are guilty of the majority of fires."According to reports, arson investigators watched Smith set the Melfa house fire. He started the blaze with a towel soaked in gasoline.

     Tonya Bundick resided in a dwelling that sat next door to a shed that had been set on fire in December 2012.

     The authorities did not identify the motive behind the arson spree. Since the couple received no monetary gain from the fires, their motives were probably pathological. Perhaps they were bored, or simply angry at the world.

     In October 2013, Smith pleaded guilty to 67 counts of arson. He faced life in prison, and $5.6 million in fines. As part of the plea deal, Smith agreed to testify against Tonya Bundick.

     Bundick's arson trial got underway in Virginia Beach in January 2014. Smith took the stand against the defendant as the prosecution's star witness. Following his testimony, Bundick entered an Alford plea to one count of arson. (She faced dozens of other arson charges.) By this plea, Bundick did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.

     On September 15, 2014, the judge sentenced Tonya Bundick to ten years in prison. The judge, on April 23, 2015, sentenced Charles Smith III to fifteen years behind bars. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Orville Fleming Murder Case

     In 2012, 53-year-old Orville "Moe" Fleming and his wife Meagan separated after she accused him of cheating on her. That year, the 20-year veteran and battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (known as Cal Fire) began dating 24-year-old Sarah Jane Douglas. Douglas had come to Fleming's attention through an Internet site that advertised her services as a paid escort. Shortly after they met, she moved into his house in south Sacramento County. At this time Fleming worked as an instructor at the fire academy in Ione, California.

     By April 2014, Fleming's divorce from Meagan was about to be finalized but his relationship with Douglas had deteriorated into turmoil. Having grown weary of his obsessive, controlling behavior, Douglas wanted out of his life.

     On April 28, 2014, shortly before the finalization of their divorce, Fleming reached out to Meagan with the following text message: "Can we put us and our family back together!?" She replied, "No!!! It's over, sorry. I gave you many chances. Please leave me in peace now. You already hurt me so bad. I'm over it. Never going back to a cheater. Never. But God bless you. Now leave me alone!!!" Fleming responded by texting: "Come and pick me up….We're supposed to grow old together." She did not respond to his plea.

     On Wednesday night, April 30, 2014, Sarah Douglas, her younger sister Stephanie, and their mother, spent time together at a local gambling casino. During the evening, Sarah revealed that she planned to leave Mr. Fleming.

     Just before midnight, after their night out, Stephanie Douglas and her mother dropped Sarah off at the house she had been sharing with Fleming. Not long after that, Stephanie received a phone call from her sister. In the background she could hear an angry man's voice. Sarah screamed and the phone went dead.

     After the disturbing phone call, Stephanie tried but failed to get back in touch with her sister. Sometime after midnight, Stephanie went to the house to check on Sarah. She found her sister lying face down and dead with a blood-soaked bed sheet wrapped around her neck. Orville Fleming and his vehicle were not at the scene. Stephanie called 911.

     At two-thirty that morning, May 1, 2014, Fleming sent the following text message to his soon-to-be ex-wife: "You should have come and picked me up."

     At the murder scene, detectives encountered the stabbed-to-death victim as well as pools of blood and bloodstains scattered throughout the house. A few hours later, a judge issued a warrant for Orville Fleming's arrest on suspicion of murder.

     At seven that evening, police officers in nearby Elk Grove, California, found the fugitive's abandoned white, 2007 Chevrolet pickup truck with Cal Fire written on the doors. The vehicle had been sitting there all day.

     Because the firefighter had outdoor skills and a familiarity with the Yosemite Valley and other regions of the Sierra Nevada and Santa Cruz Mountains, officers figured he might be hard to find. Fleming also possessed keys to dozens of state buildings, lookout towers, and storage sheds stocked with food and water. He was also presumed to be armed with two handguns that were registered in his name.

     Fleming's superiors at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a few days after Sarah Douglas' murder, terminated him from his $100,000-a-year job. (In 2013, in addition to his base salary, Fleming earned $30,000 in overtime pay.)

     On Friday, May 16, 2014, police officers arrested Orville Fleming as he boarded a bus in Elk Grove, California where he had been hiding all along. The following Monday, at his arraignment hearing, Fleming pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. Relatives of the victim were infuriated when the defendant winked at an acquaintance in the courtroom.

     A few weeks after the murder, Meagan Fleming, the murder suspect's ex-wife, told reporters that Orville Fleming and other firefighters had sex with prostitutes on firetrucks at the academy. Moreover, someone had made a sex tape of this activity. She claimed to have seen a tape of her ex-husband and other firefighters having sex with Sarah Douglas. Because of the seriousness of this allegation, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office asked the California Highway Patrol to investigate the claim.

     On Monday December 29, 2014, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson announced that sixteen firefighters, most of whom were instructors at the fire academy, had been placed on paid administrative leave. The spokesperson did not say why these firefighters had been given "administrative time off."

      Amid the fire department scandal, Orville Fleming remained incarcerated in the Sacramento County Jail awaiting his trial for the murder of Sarah Douglas.

     On July 15, 2015, after a jury in Sacramento found Orville Fleming guilty of second-degree murder, the Superior Court judge sentenced him to 16 years to life in prison. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Murder in Amish Country: The Edward Gingerich Case

     Twenty-two years ago to this day, Edward Gingerich became the first old-order Amish man in history to be convicted of criminal homicide. A year earlier he had crushed his wife's skull by repeatedly stomping her. He next scooped out Katie Gingerich's brain with his hands, then opened her up with a kitchen knife and ripped out all of her internal organs. This atrocious assault took place in the kitchen of the couple's farmhouse located in a remote section of Crawford County in Rockdale Township near Mill Village, Pennsylvania. Two of Edward's children, ages three and four, witnessed the brutal March 19, 1993 killing.

     Edward Gingerich was a gifted young man. Unfortunately, the subjects that excited him were science and technology, disciplines that threatened the Amish way of life. An excellent mechanic, he built engines from scratch and could fix anything that contained a motor. A fish out of water, Edward Gingerich felt trapped in a society at odds with his talents and goals. He eventually built a modern sawmill with a machine shop near his house on property owned by his father. The business put him in touch with a lot of local English people and put him at odds with the local Amish bishop. His estrangement from his family and the Amish community led to depression, anger, and eventually madness in the form of paranoid schizophrenia.

     Prior to killing his wife, Edward spent two, ten-day stints in mental wards in Erie, Pennsylvania and Jamestown, New York. On Katie Gingerich's last day of life, she took Ed to see a chiropractor in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania who specialized in treating the Amish for physical aliments. The chiropractor, pursuant to his regular program of treatment, pulled Edward's toes and sent him home with a jar of blackstrap molasses.

     At the Edward Gingerich murder trial in March 1994, the Crawford County jury, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, refused to find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Instead, they found hims "guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill." This meant Ed would receive psychiatric care while serving a fixed term in prison. Had he been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have been treated in a mental institution until the staff psychiatrists declared him well enough to return to society.

     Prior to Edward Gingerich's sentencing, every member of the small Amish enclave put their names on a petition asking the judge to impose the maximum sentence. Since Ed had been convicted of the lesser homicide offense of involuntary manslaughter, the maximum sentence sentence was only five years. The trial judge, noting that Gingerich had already spent a year in the Crawford County Jail, sentenced him to four years.

     Edward Gingerich served his time in a minimum security prison near Mercer, Pennsylvania. He was released from custody, without any strings attached, in March 1998.

     In January 2011, following a troubled post-prison life, Edward Gingerich hanged himself in a barn near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, he was living outside the local Amish community on a small farm owned by his defense attorney. His suicide message, etched in dust in the barn, read: "Please forgive me."

     Today, the Mill Village Amish enclave is less than half the size it was at the time of the murder. The killing, besides costing the life of a young Amish woman, tore the Gingerich family apart and destroyed a once thriving community.

     A detailed narration of this tragic case can be found in my book, Crimson Stain.   

Friday, March 18, 2016

Did Levi Chavez Murder His Wife?

     Levi Chavez, a 26-year-old officer with the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department, at nine o'clock on the night of October 21, 2007, called 911 to report that his wife had committed suicide with his department-issued Glock 9 pistol. Responding officers with the APD found, at the Chavez home in Los Lunas, 26-year-old Tera Chavez. The officers found the woman in the master bedroom with a massive exit bullet wound at the base of her skull. Next to her body officers saw the 9 mm Glock that still had a round in its chamber. Nearby lay the fatal bullet's spent shell casing and, detached from the handgun, its clip. It appeared that the barrel of the gun had been inserted into the dead woman's mouth.

     Officer Chavez informed his fellow officers that he and his wife had been having marital problems for years, and that on countless occasions the mother of two, who worked at a beauty salon as a hairdresser, had threatened to kill herself.

     Because it was apparent that Tera Chavez had been dead for several hours, the crime scene officers wanted to know the circumstances under which Levi had discovered his wife's corpse. In response to that question, Chavez said he last saw his wife on Friday morning, October 19 before going on duty at the APD. That night, he decided to stay over at his girlfriend Deborah Romero's house. Romero was also a member of the Albuquerque Police Department.

     According to Levi Chavez, on Saturday, October 20, Tera called him 176 times. He ignored her calls by turning off his cellphone. Chavez said he spent Saturday night with Romero, and the next day, when Tera didn't call him, he began to worry. Later that Sunday evening, Levi said his mother told him that Tera had not shown up for work that day at the beauty salon. At that point he rushed home to find that his wife had committed suicide.

     In 2007, the Albuquerque Police Department, due to a series of questionable police-involved shootings, and allegations of institutional corruption and departmental cover-ups of officer wrongdoing, was under investigation by the FBI. Shortly after Tera Chavez's sudden and violent death, critics of the APD accused the department of helping officer Chavez cover up the murder of his wife by destroying crime scene evidence. Because the police department had such a bad reputation, and a police officer's wife had died under suspicious circumstances, Detective Aaron Jones of the Valencia County Sheriff's Office took charge of the homicide investigation.

     Detective Jones, who suspected that Levi Chavez had murdered his wife eighteen to twenty hours before he called 911, had to back off when Dr. Patricia McFeeley, the state medical examiner, ruled Tera's manner of death a suicide. In November 2007, Detective Jones showed Dr. McFeeley crime scene photographs that caused her to change Tera Chavez's manner of death to "undetermined." Despite Jone's efforts, the homicide investigation eventually died on the vine.

     In April 2011, three and a half years after Tera Chavez's death, following a cold-case murder investigation, Dr. McFeeley changed the manner of death in the case to "criminal homicide." Assistant Sandoval County District Attorney Bryan McKay charged Levi Chavez, who was no longer on the police force, with first-degree murder in his wife's death.

     The Chavez murder trial got underway on June 3, 2013 before Sandoval District Court Judge George Eichwald. In his opening remarks to the jury, lead prosecutor McKay presented the state's theory that the defendant had murdered his wife sometime between late Saturday night, October 20, 2007 and the early morning hours of Sunday, October 21. After shooting his wife in the mouth with the Glock 9 pistol, the defendant staged a suicide by placing the gun, the shell casing, and the clip next to her body.

     Levi Chavez's trial attorney, David Sema, a lawyer well known in New Mexico for representing several high-profile criminal defendants, told the jurors that his client's wife had committed suicide over her husband's extramarital affairs.

     Detective Aaron Jones took the stand for the prosecution. According to the Valencia County homicide detective, the Glock magazine found next to the victim's body was "unseated." By that, the witness meant it wasn't locked into the butt of the gun. This suggested that after the weapon had been discharged, the shooter had pressed a button to release the clip.

     DNA expert Alanna Williams, who in 2007 worked for the New Mexico Crime Laboratory, but was now employed by the APD, testified that she had tested the Glock and a pair of sweatpants found in the Chavez home washing machine for DNA. Williams said she had found blood on the muzzle of the pistol that contained the victim's DNA. On the handgun's grip, the forensic scientist found a mixture of Tera's and the defendant's DNA. The sweatpants, believed to have been worn by the defendant, contained DNA from the victim.

     Dr. Patricia McFeeley, now the former medical examiner, testified that the death scene Glock had been inserted at least one inch into Tera Chavez's mouth. The fatal bullet had vaporized the victim's brainstem. The forensic pathologist explained that the victim, after being shot, couldn't have pressed the button that released the magazine from the butt of the pistol.

     One of the defendant's mistresses, APD officer Regina Sanchez, took the stand. In September 2006 she and Levi began an intimate relationship. A month later, Sanchez, believing that Chavez was in the process of divorcing Tera, allowed him to move in with her. After the witness received an angry call from Tera Chavez, he moved out.

     Rose Slama, another of the defendant's girlfriends, testified that he told her that when Tera shot herself, he was in the house taking a shower.

     After the prosecution rested its case on June 26, 2013, defense attorney David Sema put Dr. Alan Berman, a suicide expert who lived in Washington, D. C., on the stand. Based on Tera Chavez's diary entries, text messages, medical history, and two notes in her handwriting found at the death scene, Dr. Berman said he believed that she suffered from low self-esteem and self-hate due to her emotionally abusive relationship with her philandering husband. She had been, in the witness' opinion, depressed as well. According to the psychologist, these factors combined to create what he called "acute risk factors for suicide."

     Dr. Berman read several text messages Tera had sent to her husband between August and October 2006. In one such message she had written: "I am a loser. I've failed at everything, especially you. I want to die." In another text she had said, "I'm tired of being your dumb wife. You treat me like shit...please respect me...I have a job."

     Prosecutor McKay, on cross-examination, asked the "suicideologist" to read Tera Chavez's last diary entry, dated July 12, 2007, which read: "...so goodbye to the person I used to be. Welcome a new day. Happiness!" Dr. Berman testified that he did not believe this statement was inconsistent with a suicidal mindset.

     On July 1, 2013, a crime scene reconstruction expert took the stand for the defense. In the course of demonstrating to the jury how Tera Chavez, after shooting herself in the mouth with the Glock, had pressed the button that released the magazine, failed to eject the magazine pursuant to his theory of what happened. In other words, the demonstration failed.

     Defense attorney Sema, on July 9, 2013, presented his star witness. Dr. Charles V. Wetli, the former medical examiner of Suffolk County, New York, had testified for the defense in dozens of high-profile murder cases. According to the forensic pathologist, had the defendant shoved the pistol into his wife's mouth, he would have broken some of her teeth. According to Dr. Wetli, Tera Chavez, in killing herself, had turned the gun upside down and used her thumb to pull the trigger.

     Prosecutor McKay's associate, Assistant District Attorney Anne Keener, on cross-examination, showed Dr. Wetli a death scene photograph that appeared to show that one of Tera's lower teeth had been chipped. When asked if one of the dead woman's teeth had been broken, the forensic pathologist said, "It's possible." Prosecutor Keener asked Dr. Wetli if he had visited the death scene or personally examined Tera Chavez's corpse. He said that he had not.

     The second major defense witness, the defendant himself, took the stand on July 11, 2013. In describing his discovery of his dead wife on the night of October 21, 2007, Levi Chavez said, "I turned on the light and it was like terror. I couldn't believe what I was seeing." The defendant told the jury that he blamed himself for Tera's suicide, and felt that God was saying to him: "This is all your fault." Chavez assured the jurors that he had found religion, and had not cheated on his second wife. At several points during his direct examination by attorney Sema, the defendant broke down in tears.

     On cross-examination, prosecutor Bryan McKay asked the former police officer why he had left his loaded department-issued gun "with a woman who was depressed and talked about possibly hurting herself. You had small children in the house."

     "We had," the defendant replied, "an attempted break-in. A truck was stolen right out of our driveway when she was there. And yes, I had small children in the home, but this is exactly why I left the gun in the house. (Regarding the theft of Levi's 2004 Ford F-250 truck, Tera allegedly told her fellow beauty salon workers that he and his "cop buddies" had staged the theft as part of an insurance scam. Prosecutor McKay had attempted to get this information before the jury, but Judge Eichwald had suppressed it.)

     On July 16, 2013, the jury, after ten hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty.





Thursday, March 17, 2016

Forensic Pathology: A Profession in Trouble

     Forensic pathologists are physicians educated and trained to determine the cause and manner of death in cases involving violent, sudden, or unexplained fatalities. The cause of death is the medical reason the person died. One cause of death is asphyxia--lack of oxygen to the brain. It occurs as a result of drowning, suffocation, manual strangulation by ligature (such as by rope, belt, or length of cloth), crushing, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Other causes of death include blunt force trauma, gunshot wound, stabbing, slashing, poisoning, heart attack, stroke, or a sickness such as cancer, pneumonia, or heart disease.

     For the forensic pathologist, the most difficult task often involves detecting the manner of death--natural, accidental, suicidal, or homicidal. This is because the manner of death isn't always revealed by the condition of the body. For example, a death resulting from a drug overdose could be the result of homicide, suicide, or accident. Knowing exactly how the fatal drug got into the victim's body requires additional information, data that usually comes from a police investigation. When the circumstances of a suspicious death are not ascertained or are sketchy, and the death was not an obvious homicide, the medical examiner (or coroner) might classify the manner of death as "undetermined."

     The autopsy, along with the crime-scene investigation, is the starting point, the foundation, of a homicide investigation. If something is missed or mishandled on the autopsy table, if the forensic pathologist draws the wrong conclusion from the evidence, the investigation is doomed.

     Up until the 1930s, before the English forensic pathologist Dr. Bernard Spilsbury glamorized the profession through a series of high-profile murder case solutions, forensic pathology was called "the beastly science." Today, in the U.S., there are about 400 practicing forensic pathologists. For medical examiner and coroner systems to work properly, we need at least 800 of these practitioners. On average, about 35 of the 15,000 students who enroll in medical school every year graduate to become forensic pathologists. Recently, 12 of the nation's 37 forensic pathology programs had no students.

     Forensic pathologists in the United States are overworked. Given the nature of the job, they are under constant pressure from politicians, prosecutors, homicide investigators, families of the deceased, and the media. The pay is relatively low, they often work in unsanitary morgue conditions, and in many jurisdictions, have run out of space to store dead bodies. Many forensic pathologists have burned out, and more than a few have had mental breakdowns.    

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sheriff Larry Dever: A Sudden, Violent and Unexplained Death

     In 2008, the citizens of Cochise County elected Larry A. Dever to his fourth term as Sheriff of this southeastern region of Arizona adjacent the Mexican border. (Cochise County, with a population of 132,000, shares an 83.5 mile border with Mexico. Bisbee is the county seat.) Larry Dever resided in St. David with his wife, a retired special education administrator. He had grown up in the town of 1,700, and had helped raise a family there. Three of the sheriff's six sons worked in Arizona law enforcement. Sheriff Dever began his law enforcement career in 1976 as a Cochise County deputy sheriff. In Cochise County, Sheriff Dever was well-liked and respected as a law enforcement officer and member of the community.

     Because Cochise County had experienced crime and other social problems associated with the wave of illegal immigration from Mexico, Sheriff Dever, an authority of border enforcement, had testified before Congress, and had appeared numerous times on national television.  In 2011 and 2012, Sheriff Dever spoke out as a strong proponent of Arizona's new immigration law (SB 1070), and publicly criticized the Obama administration for under-enforcing current immigration laws. Dever believed that the federal government had intentionally lost control of the U.S./Mexican border.

     On September 18, 2012, less than two months before he would have been elected to his fifth term in office, Sheriff Dever was driving alone in his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado on a graveled U.S. Forest Service Road in the north central part of the state just west of Flagstaff. He was en route to White Horse Lake to participate in a two-day hunting and camping trip with his six sons.

     On that day, at 6:30 in the evening, a motorist called 911 to report a single vehicle accident on U.S. Forest Road 109 in Coconino County two miles north of White Horse Lake. The witness said he had been following the extended-cab Silverado, but lost sight of the pickup when it rounded a curve. When the witness rounded the bend, he saw a cloud of dust, and the truck off the road sitting in an upright position. The caller told the 911 dispatcher that the man in the vehicle showed no signs of life.

     Coconino County Sheriff's detective Jerome Moran, in his six-page accident report dated September 19, 2012, wrote: "The initial investigation indicates that [the] driver was traveling southbound on the dirt road when it lost control, veering off the lefthand side of the road then rolling over and crashing into the righthand (west) side. [The] driver was pronounced dead at the scene and later removed by the county medical examiner to the M.E. Office."

     In his accident report, Detective Moran indicated that the Siverado's airbags had not deployed. The detective also noted that Sheriff Dever had not been wearing his shoulder and lap belts. The report contained no information regarding the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, or the odor of beer or liquor in the cab of the truck.

     On October 1, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coconino Sheriff's Office reported that according to the Siverado's "black box," Sheriff Dever, at the time of the accident, had been traveling 62 MPH. Moreover, there had been containers of beer and liquor in the vehicle.

     The Cochise County Sheriff's Office, on October 5, 2012, issued a statement that Sheriff Dever, at the time of his death, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.291 percent, three times the legal limit (0.08) in Arizona. (A company in Indianapolis, Indiana called AIT Laboratories, performed the toxicological urine analysis in this case.) In the prepared press release, the sheriff's office informed the public that Sheriff Dever had been under "stress and pressure" due to the recent death of his 86-year-old mother, and the upcoming deployment of one of his sons to Afghanistan.

     Three days after the shocking revelation that Sheriff Larry Dever had been extremely intoxicated behind the wheel of his vehicle, the Coconino County Medical Examiner, Dr. A. L. Mosley, announced that the sheriff had died of "multiple injuries due to a pickup truck crash." Regarding the sheriff's manner of death, Dr. Mosley classified it as "accidental."

     A review of Dr. Mosley's six-page autopsy report revealed that Sheriff Dever had a dislocated shoulder, a rib fracture, a puncture lung, and abrasions, contusions, and lacerations on his face, hand, arm, and neck. There was no indication in the report of severe bleeding, or major trauma to Dever's head, neck or torso. In summarizing Sheriff Dever's cause and manner of death, Dr. Mosley, in my view, was quite vague: "Based on the autopsy findings and investigative history, as available to me, it is my opinion that Larry Albert Dever, a 60-year-old Caucasian male, died as a result of multiple injuries due to a pickup truck crash. [His] manner of death is accidental." (From this I presume that Dr. Mosley was not the pathologist who actually performed the autopsy.)

     "Multiple injuries?" Did Sheriff Dever die of a dislocated shoulder, a rib fracture, or a punctured lung? Surely the sheriff didn't die from his cuts, scrapes and bruises. He didn't bleed to death, or sustain brain damage, and he suffered no injury to his heart. How exactly, did this man die. Exactly what had killed him?

     On October 10, 2012, a freelance writer named Dave Gibson wrote an online article for the Immigration Reform Examiner called, "Sheriff Larry Dever's Autopsy Results in More Questions than Answers." In his piece, Gibson wrote that a man of the sheriff's size--175 pounds--to achieve a blood-alcholol percentage of 0.291, would have, during a short period, consumed 12 beers or 12 shots of 80 proof liquor. According to a longtime friend of the sheriff's who was interviewed by Gibson, Dever was a light drinker. Gibson also pointed out that the sheriff's 4-wheel drive truck had light damage from the accident.

     It seemed odd that a law enforcement officer who had been to the sites of dozens of fatal traffic accidents involving alcohol, would be speeding on a graveled road while extremely drunk and not wearing his seatbelt. It also didn't make much sense that Dever would be driven to such recklessness over the cancer death of his 86-year-old mother. If he had been so distraught over her death, why was he going on a camping/hunting trip with his sons?

     Suicide in this case even made less sense. Had Sheriff Dever wanted to kill himself in a way that looked like a traffic accident, why did he get drunk, and unfasten his seatbelt?

     Every year in the United States there are hundreds of sudden, violent deaths that, for one reason or another, are mislabeled in terms of their cause and manner of death. Perhaps Sheriff Dever's death was one of these cases. In any case, I think the circumstances surrounding this prominent law enforcement officer's sudden and poorly explained death deserved a closer look. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Youth Football: A Contact Sport For Adult Jerks

Wickenburg, Arizona

     On Saturday afternoon on September 29, 2012, in the northern Arizona town of Wickenburg, the Wickenburg Wranglers were playing the Prescott Valley Panthers in a Northern Arizona Youth Football League game. (Players in youth football are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.)

     A man and a woman who were Wickenburg parents, approached a Prescott Valley father who was videotaping the game, and told him he couldn't do that. When the video-taper asked why, the opposing male parent said, "If you don't pack up [the camera] I'm going to pack up for you."

     To this, the man with the camera replied, "Don't touch me, bro." (I guess some people really talk this way.)

     When the Wrangler fan hit the Panther guy in the arm twice, the video-man socked him in the jaw. At this point, the attention shifted from the kids and their football game to the adults on the sideline. (After all, isn't this what organized sports for kids is really all about--the adults?)

     A woman watching the game tried to break-up the fight between the video-taper and the arm-puncher. (The police haven't released the names of these people.) Davis Coughanour, an off-duty Department of Public Safety officer, presumably a Wrangler parent and probably an ex-high school football player, tackled the video-man, then got into a scuffle with the woman who had tried to break-up the fight in the first place. (She claimed that Coughanour never identified himself as a police officer.)

     During this Saturday afternoon youth football melee in northern Arizona, four children were struck by adults. Another off-duty cop tossed a boy to the ground so hard they rushed him to the hospital in an ambulance. The nature and seriousness of the boy's injuries were not reported.

     A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety told reporters his agency was not investigating the brawl. Moreover, Officer Coughanour was not disciplined for his role in the youth league disturbance.

     Nine adults with the Prescott Valley Youth Football and Cheer Association were suspended from the organization. No criminal charges were filed against any of the sideline brawlers. Fortunately for people like this, it is not a crime to be a flaming jerk. There is a help group for people like this--AA--Assholes Anonymous.

Sacramento, California

     On Saturday, October 6, 2012, at the Grant High School football stadium in Sacramento, the San Francisco Junior 49'ers were playing the Grant Chargers Junior Midgets (I thought we weren't supposed to use that word) in a NorCal Youth Football League game. (Grant Chargers Junior Midgets--try using that in a cheer.)

     Either during or just after the game, the opposing coaches exchanged angry words. But it didn't stop there. The 49'ers' coach bull-rushed the Chargers' coach, and in the process, knocked down several people standing on the sideline. When the charging coach reached the Chargers coach, he tackled him to the ground. With some of the kids looking on, and others hustling to get out of the way, the two beefy, gone-to-seed, ex-jocks rolled around on the ground throwing punches. After a few moments, other ex-football players pulled them apart, ending this embarrassing display of adult adolescence.

     No one was seriously injured in the fight, and no criminal charges were filed. The raging bull who lost control of himself was suspended from the league, but I'm sure he'll be back. These guys never go away. A parent at the game caught the youth league disturbance on video that she posted on YouTube the next day for all the world to see.           

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Edgar Steele Murder-For-Hire Case

     Edgar J. Steele, in 2010, resided with his wife Cyndi on a horse ranch near the town of Sagle in northern Idaho. Ten years earlier the lawyer, who billed himself as the "attorney for the damned," represented Aryan Nations founder and leader Richard Butler in a civil suit the white supremacist lost.

     In January 2010, the 65-year-old Steele solicited a man (who was not identified in the media) to kill his 50-year-old wife and her mother by staging a fatal car accident. According to the murder-for-hire plan, Steele would pay the hit man $25,000. If his wife's life insurance paid off, Steele would kick in an additional $100,000 for the double-hit.

     On June 9, 2010, the man Steele had solicited for murder got cold feet and called the FBI. The next time the would-be hit man and the mastermind met, the snitch secretly recorded Steele soliciting the murders of his wife and his mother-in-law.

     Two days after the FBI learned of the murder-for-hire plot, agents arrested Steele at his home. While the attorney sat in the Kootenai County Jail, FBI agents questioned his wife.

     According to Cyndi Steele, between 2000 and 2010, her husband had sent 14,000 emails to hundreds of Ukrainian women. In 2000, she caught him soliciting relationships with Ukrainian women on Match.com. To lay a trap, Cyndi posted a phony profile of her own on Match.com under a fake name. Steele replied to her posting. Not long after Cyndi filed for divorce, she and her husband reconciled.

     A few days following Steele's arrest, Cyndi decided to get an oil change before driving to Oregon to visit her mother. When an employee of the oil change service looked under her SUV, he discovered a pipe bomb. ATF agents responded to the scene and disarmed the device.

     Shortly after the car bomb discovery, FBI agents arrested Larry Fairfax, a former Steele handyman. Fairfax confessed to planting the car bomb on May 20, 2010. According to Fairfax, Edgar Steele had given him $10,000 in silver coins as a downpayment for the murder of Cyndi and her mother. As part of the murder-for-hire plan, Fairfax was supposed plant a pipe bomb under Edgar Steele's car, a device the murder-for-hire mastermind could detonate to make himself look like an intended victim.

     On June 15, 2010, a grand jury sitting in Coeur d' Arlene indicted Edgar Steele on two counts of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. The grand jury also indicted him for tampering with a federal witness. (From his jail cell, Steele had called his wife to tell her that the voice on the audio tape that contained the murder-for-hire conversation with the FBI snitch was not him.)

     The government provided Steele, who claimed he was broke, with a federal public defender. However, by February 2011, Steele's supporters had raised $120,000 for his defense. That allowed the accused to hire Robert T. McAllister, a prominent trial attorney from Denver.

     In January 2011, Larry Fairfax pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the placing of the pipe bomb on the intended victim's car. In return for his promise to testify against Steele at his upcoming trial, the judge sentenced Fairfax to 27 months in prison.

     The Edgar Steele murder-for-hire trial got underway on April 30, 2011 in Coeur d' Arlene, Idaho before federal judge B. Lynn Winmill. Assistant United States Attorney Traci Jo Whelan, in an effort to establish the defendant's motive in the case, introduced several love letters Steele had written from his jail cell to a Ukrainian woman named Tatyana Loginova.

     The prosecutor also introduced the audio taped murder-for-hire conversations between Steele and Larry Fairfax. The former handyman took the stand and explained why he had planted the pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele's SUV.

     Defense attorney Robert McAllister portrayed the government's case against his client as a conspiracy based on fabricated audio tapes, perjured testimony, and FBI wrongdoing. According to McAllister, the federal government objected to Steele's political beliefs and wanted to silence him.

     Cyndi Steele, one of the intended victims, took the stand to testify on her husband's behalf. (This was not the first time in a murder-for-hire case where the targeted wife stood by the husband who had plotted her death.)

     On May 5, 2011, the jury of eleven women and one man found Edgar Steele guilty on all counts. Seven months after this verdict, Judge Winmill sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to fifty years in prison at the federal corrections facility at Victorville, California.

     Steele, with the help of a new lawyer, appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. According to the appellant, Judge Winmill had improperly instructed the jury. Steele also claimed that he had been denied adequate counsel. This assertion was based on the fact that one month after the guilty verdict, attorney McAllister was disbarred for stealing money in an unrelated case. As a result, he had been so distracted by his own legal problems that he hadn't performed well for Steele.

     In October 2013, the three-judge panel sitting on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Steel's murder-for-hire conviction. The decision, however, did not deter Steele's ardent supporters, people who claimed the FBI framed him because of his anti-government politics. They continued, without result, to fight for his freedom.

     

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dr. Roy Meadow and His Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Doctrine

     In 1977, a pediatrician from England published the results of an investigation he had conducted into the cases of 81 infants whose deaths had been classified either as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or natural death. The study, by Dr. Roy Meadow of St. James University Hospital in Leeds, covered a period of 18 years. His article, "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: The Hinterlands of Child Abuse," which appeared in the journal Lancet, was shocking in its implications. Dr. Meadow claimed that these 81 babies had, in fact, been murdered, and that the forensic pathologists who had performed the autopsies had ignored obvious signs of physical abuse in the form of broken bones, scars, objects lodged in air passages, and toxic substances in their blood and urine. He came close to accusing some of these pathologists of helping patients, mostly mothers, of getting away with murder.

     The Munchausen Syndrome, a psychological disorder identified in 1951 by Richard Asher, described patients who injured themselves, or made themselves sick, to attract sympathy and attention. Asher named the syndrome after Baron von Munchausen, a man known for telling tale tales. Dr. Meadow added "by proxy" because the people gaining sympathy and attention from illnesses and injuries were not hurting themselves. They were getting sympathy and attention by injuring and sickening their infants and children.

     In his landmark article in Lancet, Dr. Meadow profiled some of the pediatric cases that had puzzled him in the early 1970s. For example, he was treating a young boy who had extremely high salt levels in his blood that adversely affected his kidneys. Because there was no way the boy could have eaten this much salt, Dr. Meadow came to suspect that the mother, a nurse, was force-feeding salt into the child through a nasal tube. When Dr. Meadow voiced his hypothesis to his colleagues at the hospital, they ridiculed him. In this case, however, the boy's mother confessed to exactly what Dr. Meadow had suspected. Her intent had not been to kill her child, but to use him as a way to make herself a center of attraction at the hospital, an environment she found exciting and romantic.

     After the publication of Dr. Meadow's shocking article, physicians all over the world sent him accounts of cases similar to the ones he had described in his Lancet piece. Even Dr. Meadow was shocked by some of these stories--cases that involved punctured eardrums, and induced blindness, as well as inflicted respiratory problems, stomach ailments, and allergy attacks. Years later, Dr. Meadow would design a controversial experiment involving hidden cameras in hospital rooms where suspected MSBP victims were being treated. Of the 39 children under surveillance, the cameras caught 33 parents creating breathing problems by putting their hands, bodies, or pillows over the victim's faces. Staff members monitoring nearby television screens quickly entered the hospital rooms, causing the abusers to discontinue their assaults. In England and the United States, some of these videotaped episodes were later shown on commercial television. After that exposure, MSBP was no longer an obscure psychological disorder.

     In the years that followed Dr. Meadow's initial research into these child abuse and infant death cases, he came to believe that the vast majority of MSBP perpetrators were women, and that one-third of them were either nurses, or women who worked in some other capacity within the health care industry. His research also suggested that many of these mothers were married to men who were cold and indifferent, and that at least part of the motive behind making their children ill was an attempt to emotionally energize their spouses. According to Dr. Meadow, many MSBP women also enjoyed the attention and sympathy they received from physicians and nurses.

     Because of his groundbreaking work on behalf of helpless and endangered children, Dr. Meadow received a lot of attention himself. He was in great demand as an MSBP consultant, was asked to give speeches and presentations all over the world, and testified as an expert witness in dozens of high-profile murder trials. In England, he received a knighthood in recognition of his contribution to the fields of medicine and forensic science. As a result of his testimony in homicide trials involving multiple SIDS deaths in the same family, his comment that "one [SIDS death] in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder," became widely known as Meadow's Law. (In the United States it's referred to as "the rule of three.")

     In Great Britain, in a handful of homicide trials between 1996 and 1999, Dr. Meadow's theory that three SIDS cases in one family equals murder, was challenged by the defendants. As a result, Meadow's Law is no longer a court recognized doctrine in England. (Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy   in Great Britain is now called, "fabricated illness.")

     In the United States, a new version of this personality disorder emerged. Called Munchausen Syndrome by Internet, mothers seek sympathy and attention by faking their own illnesses--mainly cancer--online in support groups and other social networks. At present, this version of the syndrome is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. While there is no known cure for the Munchausen Syndrome generally, the virtual form of this disorder does not involve actual self-harm, or the abuse of children.