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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.

   

      

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.

     

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.   

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.

       

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Forensic Science Hall of Shame: Courtroom Experts From Hell

     The inaugural inductees into my Forensic Science Hall of Shame represent the worst of the worst. They are, in no particular order:

Albert H. Hamilton
     In the 1920s and 30s, this druggist from Auburn, New York, professing expertise in toxicology, fingerprint identification, fireams analysis, and questioned document work, testified falsely in dozens of criminal trials. A pure charlatan, Hamilton was caught switching gun barrels in the Sacco and Vanzetti murder case. He also injected himself as a forensic document examiner into the Lindbergh kidnapping case. By then his reputation was so shot neither side wanted to put him on the stand.

Dr. Ralph Erdmann
     Beginning in 1981, Dr. Ralph Erdmann began serving several west Texas counties as a private contract forensic pathologist. During the next fifteen years he performed thousands of autopsies and testified in dozens of homicide trials. Prosecutors loved Dr. Erdmann because he always gave them exactly what they needed. Stupendously incompetent and dishonest, Dr. Erdmann's testimony and bogus cause and manner of death findings sent scores of defendants to prison. While several were later exonerated, there is no way to know how many more of these defendants were innocent.

Joyce Gilchrist
     The damage a single phony forensic scientist can do to the criminal justice system is enormous. Such is the case of Joyce Gilchrist, a DNA analyst and hair follicle identification practitioner who worked in the Oklahoma City Crime Laboratory in the 1980s and 90s. Gilchrist, through a series of unscientific identifications, was accused of sending dozens of innocent defendants to prison. Like the other inductees into the Forensics Hall of Shame, prosecutors found this expert witness extremely helpful in weak cases.

Fred Salem Zain
     A West Virginia state trooper who flunked chemistry in college, Zain began working in the state police crime laboratory in 1977 as a forensic serologist. He later became a DNA analyst, and in that capacity, through his recklessly bogus testimony, falsely linked dozens of innocent defendants to crimes they had not committed. Because Zain was so flamboyant and prolific in his willingness to tailor his testimony to the needs of prosecutors, he was in demand all over the country as a prosecution witness. This was particularly true in Texas. His dreadful career as a phony expert came to an end with his early death in 2002.

Dr. Louise Robbins
     In the 1980s and 90s, Dr. Louise Robbins, an anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, testified for the prosecution in scores of homicide trials involving footwear impression evidence. Prosecutors liked Dr. Robbins, who looked and sounded like the "Church Lady," because she always linked the defendant to the crime scene shoe or boot print through a whacky method all her own that had absolutely no basis in science. If Dr. Robbins hadn't died early from a brain tumor, there is no telling how many more defendants would have been falsely connected to crime scenes. Prosecutors would bring Dr. Robbins out of the bullpen when no other forensic expert saw a physical connection between the defendant and the murder scene. I've often wondered what motivated Dr. Robbins. Was she simply stupid and full of it, or did she like the money and the attention? For the innocent defendants sent to prison on her bogus testimony, it really didn't matter what motivated this forensic science charlatan.

Dr. Michael West
     In the 1990s, this forensic dentist from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, through his patented "blue light technique," helped convict innocent homicide defendants by testifying to the presence of human bite marks qualified odontologists could not see. Dr. West later expanded his forensic repertoire into blood spatter interpretation, forensic photography, video enhancement, and gunshot-powder analysis. As a forensic scientist, Dr. West attacked the criminal justice system like an out of control wrecking ball. Several of the defendants sent to prison on the strength of his testimony were later exonerated through DNA analysis. It will take years to sort out the mess he made of so many homicide trials.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Daniel DeJarnette Murder Case

     In 2003, 50-year-old homicide detective Daniel DeJarnette, after 21 years on the force, retired. He and his wife Yu Kue moved to the town of Ka'u on the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island. During his last ten years on the force, Detective DeJarnette had been a member of the Van Nuys Division's robbery-homicide unit's rape section. During that period, DeJarnette investigated a series of high-profile homicide cases involving sexual attacks.

     By 2006, the retired detective's marriage had fallen apart. His wife Yu Kue told her co-workers at a grocery store in the town of Kona that she wanted to leave him but he wouldn't let her go. They fought all the time, and he was physically abusive.

     On November 12, 2006, officers with the Hawaii County Police responded to the DeJarnette home after Daniel called 911 to report that his wife had fallen off a lava embankment while hanging out laundry to dry. The officers found the 56-year-old wife lying dead twenty feet from the house with two gaping head wounds. The officers immediately arrested DeJarnette on suspicion of homicide.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Yu Kue DeJarnette had died from blunt force trauma to the head. Notwithstanding the presence of paint chips in her hair from the suspected murder weapon--a stand for a car jack--and scrapes on her body suggesting that she had been dragged over the lava to where the police had found her body, the forensic pathologist ruled her manner of death as "undetermined." As a result of this postmortem finding, Daniel DeJarnette was released from custody due to lack of evidence.

     In January 2012, more than five years after Yu Kue's suspicious death, Hawaii County Deputy Prosecutor Linda Walton re-opened the case. Employing modernized forensic science, a DNA analyst identified traces of the victims's blood on the jack stand. Another crime lab expert connected the paint chips in the victim's head hair to the murder weapon. Forensic scientists also determined that someone had used a bleaching agent in an effort to clean up Yu Kue's blood in the couple's bathroom and other parts of the DeJarnette house.

     On May 14, 2012, a grand jury indicted Daniel DeJarnette of second-degree murder. Police officers arrested the 59-year-old at his Big Island home. If convicted as charged, the former LAPD detective faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. A judge set his bail at $300,000.

     Ten months after his arrest, DeJarnette confessed to killing his wife. They had been fighting, she slapped him, and he struck her in the head with the jack stand. He dragged her body from the bathroom across the lava field to the embankment where the police had found her. Just before he killed Yu Kue, Daniel had purchased a $300,000 insurance policy on her life.

     On March 26, 2013, Daniel DeJarnette pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter while under extreme emotional stress. Two months later, a judge imposed the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Conspiracy Nuts and Their Bombs: The Kevin Harris Case

     Kevin Harris lived by himself in a modest, one-story house in a quiet residential neighborhood in the southern California city of Costa Mesa. The 52-year-old, by covering his home in aluminum foil, attaching copies of his anti-government newsletters to a front yard tree, and videotaping his neighbors, revealed that he was strange, and probably mentally ill. He had also established himself as an anti-social loner with his Internet writings that included the statement: "I am the only one who can get into my house. I think it may be dangerous for you to come to my house alone."

     In America, we have more than our share of oddballs. Most of these people, usually men, are harmless eccentrics. Some of them, however, are psychotic, paranoid, and dangerous. Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, fell into this category. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire way to distinguish the Ted Kaczynski types from the common garden variety conspiracy kooks. When the distinction becomes clear, it's usually too late.

     Mr. Harris, in a 17,000-word Internet-published manifesto called, "The Picker: A True Story of Assassination, Terrorism, and High Treason," described the nefarious and clandestine activities of government agents. The author of this rambling manifesto had obviously convinced himself that secret government operatives were using a weapon called a "picker," a device that deposited germs on a victim's skin on contact. Government agents armed with these secret devices were infecting dissenters with illnesses like cancer and AIDS. According to Harris, government agents also used the deadly tool to cause various enemies of the state to die in freak accidents.

     The Costa Mesa conspiracy theorizer, in his manifesto, said: "I have had personal experience with both domestic and foreign operatives using pickers within the U. S. at the request of the U. S. Government. The rationale stated here should give you a reasonable indication that pickers are used in this country, but it is not absolute proof. The diseases of the ex-spouses, which I will describe, provide a proof so strong that some of these attacks will have to stop....

     "Many years ago I met a woman who had just divorced a government agent. She had also just had a radical mastectomy. She was afraid of her ex-husband, afraid for her life. That a woman should have to live (and die) in fear of this 'public servant' struck me as very wrong. Since then I have met a couple of other women who have broken off marriages with government agents. In each case the woman was diagnosed with cancer within a year of breaking up....

     "These women didn't get cancer because divorce and mortal fear are stressful. Emotional stress as a factor in carcinogenesis can account for a few percentage points at most. That is too small an influence to be reliably detectable. This is a cancer rate that is thousands of percent too high. Among other things, several attempts on my own life have confirmed to me that these cancers are intentional assaults...."

     At six-fifteen in the evening of Sunday, April 14, 2013, several of Kevin Harris' neighbors called 911 to report  that he was sprawled out on his front lawn. After the ambulance rolled up to the aluminum-wrapped house, Mr. Harris refused treatment. The paramedics drove off, and Mr. Harris disappeared inside his strange looking dwelling.

     Ninety minutes following the medical emergency, neighbors called 911 again to report a powerful explosion at the Harris house. Police arrived to find the front entrance to Harris' dwelling shattered from an explosion. The resident of the home lay dead in the doorway. Near his corpse Costa Mesa police officers saw an unexploded pipe bomb.

     Dozens of homes in the neighborhood were evacuated as FBI agents, the Orange County Bomb Squad, and a Huntington Beach hazardous materials team searched the Harris dwelling for additional bombs and explosive substances. They found three more pipe bombs on the premises.

     Because Kevin Harris was alone in the house when one of his pipe bombs detonated, the authorities have no way of knowing if he had killed himself intentionally, or had accidentally triggered one of his explosive devices. Perhaps he had mistakenly set-off a booby-trap of his own making.

     One of Mr. Harris' brothers told a reporter that Kevin was the youngest of five boys. Although all of his siblings were highly educated professionals, Kevin was the smartest one in the family. (His manifesto suggested that Kevin had been well-educated as well, possibly in the hard sciences.)

     The day after the Costa Mesa house explosion, terrorists detonated two bombs at the Boston Marathon. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

The David Ranta Wrongful Conviction Case

     In 1990, following a botched robbery of a diamond courier in Brooklyn, New York, the robbers carjacked and murdered Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, a survivor of the Holocaust. A few days after the highly publicize murder, police officers picked up a 35-year-old unemployed drug addict named David Ranta.

     Following his interrogation by NYPD detective Louis Scarcella, Ranta signed a confession in which he admitted helping plot the diamond robbery. A boy who had witnessed the crime, picked Ranta out of a police line-up.

     A few months later, a Brooklyn jury, relying on the defendant's confession, and the line-up identification, found David Ranta guilty of murdering the Rabbi. The judge sentenced him to 35 years in prison.

     The Conviction Integrity Unit of the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office took up the old Werzberger murder case after it became apparent that the evidence against Ranta had been unreliable. Years after the conviction, the young eyewitness of the diamond robbery informed investigators that detectives had coached him into picking Ranta out of the line-up. Evidence also surfaced that cast serious doubt on the reliability of the confession.

     On March 21, 2013, David Ranta walked free after serving 23 years behind bars. He was 58,

     Louis Scarcella, the retired NYPD detective who was in charge of the case, told an Associated Press reporter that Brooklyn prosecutors had pressured him to bring the Rabbi's killer to justice quickly. (I have no doubt that is true.) "I caught a lot of cases and I got confessions," Scarcella said. "I was called in and I did my job and I got confessions." (A detective's job is to get the truth.) Scarcella denied coaching the boy into the line-up identification, and said he continued to stand behind his role in the case.

     There was no evidence to suggest that Detective Scarcella had intentionally framed an innocent man. Moreover, the prosecutor in the case also bore responsibility in this wrongful conviction. But because of public pressure to catch the killer of a Holocaust surviving Rabbi, the prosecutor went ahead and put the burden of determining the guilt or innocence of this defendant on the jury. And he did it with unreliable evidence. Many jurors assume, even in weak cases, that because the defendant is being prosecuted, he must be guilty. It appeared that neither the detective nor the prosecutor were interested in digging deeper into the case. If they had, Ranta would have been exonerated and the real perpetrators brought to justice.

     Two days after he walked out of prison, David Ranta suffered a massive heart attack. He survived his illness, and in February 2014, settled his $150 million lawsuit against the city of New York for $6.4 million. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Betty Neumar Black Widow Murder Case

     In November 1950, Betty Johnson, an 18-year-old coal miner's daughter who had grown up in Ironton, a town in southeastern Ohio along the West Virginia border, married Clarence Malone. In 1952, shortly after the birth of their son Gary, the couple, while living outside of Cleveland, separated. A year later, Betty married an alcoholic from New York City named James F. Flynn who died suddenly in 1955. In the years following Mr. Flynn's passing, Betty told people various stories of his death. She said that he had been killed in a car accident, was murdered on a New York City pier, and died in the snow from exposure. The cause and circumstances of his death are, to this day, unknown.

     In 1964, while working in Jacksonville, Florida as a beautician, Betty, then 36, married a 29-year-old Navy man named Richard Sills. In April 1967,  police found Mr. Sills shot to death in the bedroom of the couple's mobile home in Big Coppitt Key, Florida. Betty told investigators that her husband, during an argument they were having, pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and shot himself in the heart. Mr Sill's highly suspicious death, without the benefit of an autopsy, was ruled a suicide. (Years later, a forensic pathologist determined that Richard Sills had been shot twice.)

     Betty married an Army man named Harold Gentry in January 1968. Two years later, while still married to Mr. Gentry, Clarence Malone, Betty's first husband, was shot to death outside his automobile repair shop near Cleveland. Police never identified the gunman, who, in execution style, shot Mr. Malone in the back of the head.

     Betty's 33-year-old son Gary, in November 1985, was shot to death in his Cleveland area apartment. As the beneficiary to his life insurance policy, Betty received $10,000. The police never identified Gary's killer.

     In July 1986, Betty and Harold Gentry, now retired from the Army, were living in Norwood, North Carolina about 50 miles east of Charlotte. That month, someone fired six bullets into Mr. Gentry. Betty claimed to have been out of town when her fourth husband was shot to death in his own home. The police never identified the shooter. As a result of her fourth husband's untimely and sudden death, Betty enjoyed another life insurance payday.

     In 1991, the 60-year-old serial widow married her fifth and last husband, John Neumar. Nine years later, while living in Augusta, Georgia, the couple, owing $200,000 on 43 credit cards, filed for bankruptcy. In October 2007, Mr. Neumar, at age 79, died. While his cause of death was listed as sepsis (a bacterial blood infection), Mr. Neumar's children believed his wife Betty had poisoned him to death with arsenic. Even though he had paid for a burial plot, Betty had her husband's body quickly cremated. Those who suspect her of murdering Mr. Neumar believed she had him cremated to avoid an autopsy and telltale toxicology tests.

     In 2008, following a cold-case homicide investigation in North Carolina, a grand jury indicted Betty Neumar on three counts of solicitation to commit the first-degree murder of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry. According to investigators, Betty had asked three people-- a former cop, a neighbor, and a third man--to kill her husband. None of these potential hitmen carried out the murder, but a fourth person who had never been identified did follow through on the suspected contract killing.

     Almost a year after her arrest in the Gentry case, Betty Neumar made her $300,000 bail. (Where did she get the money for that?) After being released from jail, she moved to Louisiana. That year a television documentary about Betty Neumar called "Black Widow Granny," was aired on the BBC in the United Kingdom. Film-maker Norman Hull interviewed Betty and the relatives of her dead husbands who believed she had murdered them for their insurance money. In response to these accusations, Betty said, "I cannot control when somebody dies. That's God's work." (Not always.)

     Betty Neuman died of cancer in June 2011 while being treated a Fork Polk, Louisiana hospital. The so-called Black Widow passed away before the authorities in North Carolina could try her for soliciting Harold Gentry's murder. Under the law, Betty Neuman went to her death presumed innocent. Her in-laws, however, did not share that presumption. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Captain Andrew McClure Assault Case: The Hate Crime Ignored by the Media

     Army Captain Andrew McClure, during his 14 years in military service that included a combat tour in Iraq, had escaped physical injury. On April 11, 2013, as he stood in the Walmart checkout line dressed in his camouflage fatigues, Captain McClure didn't expect to become the target of an anti-American assault. The incident took place at six o'clock in the evening in Albany, New York.

     In response to something mumbled by the man standing behind him in the Walmart line, Captain McClure turned around to determine if the man was speaking to him.  Forty-seven--year-old Yiqiang Wu responded by giving the man in uniform the finger.

     "Is that for me?" the Captain asked.

     "F---you, American scum," said Wu. "F---you, F---your nation!"

     "If you don't like it here, you can always go home," McClure replied. Before the Captain could turn from the man who had insulted him, the uniform, and the country, Wu punched the Captain several times in the face. Bystanders rushed to McClure's aid. The Walmart customers subdued the attacker until the police entered the store and hauled him away in handcuffs.

     The next day, the Walmart assailant from the Schenectady, New York area stood before a magistrate in an Albany criminal courtroom. Wu was charged with third degree assault as a hate crime. Following his arraignment, the suspect posted his $5,000 bail and was released. The judge ordered a mental illness evaluation.

     Captain McClure, in explaining to a local reporter why he hadn't used his black belt skills to protect himself, said: "I had the presence of mind to know that we're on camera. I'm in uniform and I have to conduct myself as a professional and not do anything that would tarnish or embarrass the unit or the uniform."

     Yiqiang Wu, in speaking to a reporter, said that he heard voices and suffered from headaches. According to him, whenever he plugged his ears to block out the voices, his middle finger shot up. (I'm hearing a voice in my head right now and it says, "load of crap.") Wu assured the reporter that he has no ill-will toward the U.S. military.

     Almost three years have passed since this hate crime assault and there has not been one update in the media about this crime. As a result, we are left with questions regarding the disposition of the case. Was he found guilty? Was he a Chinese citizen who faced deportation? Was he institutionalized as a mental patient? And more importantly, why has the media ignored this outrageous crime?


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

David Viens: The Chef Who Cooked His Wife

     In 2009, 46-year-old chef David Viens and his wife of 14 years, Dawn Viens, owned and operated a restaurant called the Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita, a town in southwestern Los Angeles County. The hard-working couple had previously owned a restaurant in Bradenton Beach called the Beach City Market.

     In late 2009, Dawn Vien's sister filed a missing person's report after no one had seen Dawn for at least a week. When questioned by a Los Angeles County detective, David Viens said his 39-year-old wife had been angry over having to work 70 to 80 hours a week at the restaurant. After an argument on October 27, she moved out of their Holmes Beach apartment. But according to the couple's neighbors, Dawn had not been seen since the early hours of October 18.

     A few hours before daybreak on October 18, 2009, residents of the Holmes Beach apartment complex heard David and his wife arguing as well as sounds of objects being thrown about the dwelling. Neighbors also heard Dawn storm out of the apartment, slamming the door. This was the last time any of the neighbors saw her.

     Over the next ten months, David Viens told friends and acquaintances a variety of stories accounting for his wife's apparent disappearance. He told some people that she was in a drug rehabilitation facility, and others that she had left him and was living in the mountains. Eventually, after Dawn missed appointments, failed to pick up money she had stashed with a friend, and wasn't seen by anyone, the county missing persons bureau turned the case over to the homicide division. In the meantime, David Viens had acquired a live-in girlfriend named Kathy Galvan.

     Following the disappearance of his wife, David Viens asked Jacqueline Viens, his 21-year-old daughter from his first marriage who was living in South Carolina, to move back to Lomita and help out at the restaurant. On February 21, 2011, when questioned by detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, Jacqueline revealed that her father, one night when they were having drinks after work, said he had killed her stepmother. He said that back in October 2009 they had gotten into a terrible argument. He had been exhausted, and had taken a sleeping pill to get some rest. But she kept pestering him and wouldn't let him sleep. Because she wouldn't leave him alone, he had tried to lock her into the bathroom, even blocking the door with a dresser. When that didn't work, he bound her arms and legs with rope, and covered her mouth with duck tape. The next morning, after a good night's sleep, Viens found his wife dead. She had choked to death on her own vomit. He referred to Dawn's death as an accident, and told his daughter that the method in which he had disposed of her body guaranteed that her remains would never be found.

     In the course of the police interview, Jacqueline Viens admitted helping her father mislead detectives who were looking into her disappearance. Using her stepmother's cellphone, she sent her father a text which read, "I'm OK. I'm in Florida and I have to start over." The detectives conducting the interview pressured Jacqueline to help them prove that her stepmother had been murdered. She did this by calling her father and informing him that she had just spilled the beans. "Dad," she said, "They are going to come after you. I told them everything."

     Earlier on the day Jacqueline Viens broke the news to her father that she had ratted him out to the police, a reporter with The Daily Breeze, a newspaper published in Torrance, California, informed David Viens they were coming out with a story about the police finding, on the walls of the the Holmes Beach apartment, traces of his missing wife's blood. (Viens and his girlfriend had since moved out of that apartment.)

     The next morning, Viens asked his girlfriend, Kathy Galvan, to accompany him on a ride to a quiet place where he could tell her something. While being surveilled by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy, Viens and Galvan drove off in his 2003 Toyota 4Runner. Viens led the deputy to a spot not far from the Point Vicente Light House where he pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road and stopped. As the deputy approached, Viens, realizing that the was being followed by the police, sped off with the deputy giving chase.

     Views pulled into the parking lot at the Point Vicente Light House and drove up to the fence at the edge of an eighty-foot cliff. He and Galvan got out of the SUV, and after a brief struggle, Viens climbed the fence and jumped off the cliff to the beach below.

     When emergency personnel reached Vien's body, they were surprised to find him still breathing. Rushed to the County Harbor UCLA Medical Center, Viens underwent surgery. As it turned out, he has broken his ankles a femur and both hips. Doctors put him into an induced coma.

     A month following Viens's attempted suicide, while still recovering in the hospital, he admitted to detectives that he had accidentally killed his wife. Viens said he had been drinking that night, and after finding Dawn dead in the bathroom the next morning, had dumped her body behind the restaurant. To the detectives he said, "You will never find her body."

     Following his quasi-confession, police officers searched the restaurant for Dawn's remains. (After her disappearance, Viens had the place completely renovated.) The officers dug up concrete, and used cadaver dogs to sniff the soil underneath. After the two-day operation, a police spokesperson announced they had discovered no evidence of the missing woman's body.

     A year later, in March 2012, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged David Viens with the first-degree murder of his wife. Prosecutor Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil, who obviously didn't buy the defendant's story of an accidental death, would have to prove her case without the corpse.

     The Viens no-body murder trial got underway on September 14, 2012 in downtown Los Angeles. The prosecution's first witness, the defendant's daughter Jacqueline, told the story of his confession, and mentioned that her father had once joked about how to get rid of a body by cooking it. "He's a chef," she said.

     Richard Stagnitto followed the defendant's daughter to the stand. On the night of October 18, 2009, Stagnitto was working in the restaurant with David and Dawn Vien. According to this witness, the defendant told him that evening that Dawn, to keep herself in alcohol and drugs, was stealing from the business. "That bitch is stealing from me," Viens allegedly said. "Nobody steals from me. I will kill that bitch." Mr. Stagnitto testified that he told Dawn what David had said about her. According to the witness, "She was very upset. She was crying and at times kind of incoherent and upset that Dave was not happy with her work." After that night, the witness never saw Dawn Viens again. With this witness, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil established the defendant's motive, and his intent to murder his wife.

     In a recorded interview session with the police as he lay in a hospital bed after jumping off the cliff, a recording played for the jurors, the defendant explained to detectives how he had disposed of his wife's body. "I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days." Viens said he had stuffed Dawn's 105-pound corpse face-down in a 55-gallon drum of boiling water, and kept her submerged with weights. After four days of this, the defendant dumped the drum's contents, minus some body parts, into a grease pit at the restaurant. Viens placed what was left of his wife's remains into garbage bags, and tossed them into a dumpster. He said he took her skull to his mother's house in Torrance where he hid it in the attic. (Detectives searched that house without finding the skull.)

     When a detective at the hospital asked Viens what happened on the night of his wife's death, the defendant said they had been using cocaine together, and the she kept pestering him while he tried to sleep. "For some reason," he said, "I just got violent."

     On September 20, Viens informed the judge that he had lost confidence in his attorney, Fred McCurry, and wanted to defend himself. The judge ruled that McCurry had represented Viens competently, and that it was too late for the defendant to take over the case. A short time later, McCurry informed the judge that the defense had no further evidence to present. When Viens heard that, he jumped out of his wheelchair and yelled, "Your honor, I object!" (After seeing the defendant leap to his feet like that, many people in the court room believed the wheelchair had been more of a prop than a necessity.)

     On September 25, 2012, following the closing arguments, the jury retired to deliberate the defendant's fate. Two days later, the jury returned with its verdict: Guilty as charged.

     On March 22, 2013, the judge sentenced Viens to fifteen years to life.