Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Get Ready for the New Year

by Lucy Puryear, M.D.

I am writing this from the front porch of a cottage in beautiful Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. We've been fortunate to have three days of gorgeous sunny weather. I've ridden bikes, walked the beach, been kayaking on a lake, and rested. Rest is not something I ever get enough of and it's a luxury. It's been easy to put the anxieties and traumas of 2008 aside and just be in the moment.

I must admit I am dreading the ten-hour car ride back home to Houston with four children and luggage crammed into two back seats. Fortunately we left the exuberant black lab at home with good-natured friends. We hope they are still good natured—and still our friends—when we retrieve her. And I am praying that the good time we all had in Shangri-la will make our drive home a little kinder and gentler than the trip here.

As I think back on 2008 with some perspective I can see it's been a hard year. We've all suffered from the economic roller coaster, though I am grateful that I am one of those that have been least affected by the chaos. I have never been rich, so I haven't had much to lose. I am not retiring tomorrow so hopefully my 401K will have a chance to rebound. I have a good career and I am my own boss so I know I won't be fired as the company downsizes. It is difficult though to watch parents or neighbors or friends suffer with the uncertainty and fear about their financial futures.

Houston was hit by Hurricane Ike, and I realized a VERY little bit what those of New Orleans must have struggled with after Katrina. I was only without power for eight days but those eight days felt like a ring of hell. I can't even imagine what it must feel like to have lost your home (though some of my friends and patients did) or loved ones. Houston is still struggling to recover normalcy and Galveston will never be the same.

I know that many of us feel disoriented and confused by these times. I hear it from patients in my office every day. Our houses used to be worth more than we bought them for, and we could imagine buying something bigger and better when we decided to sell. Vacation plans were extravagant and credit seemed endless. If I wanted to go on a biking trip to Italy, then I could put it on a credit card and know that there was more where that came from. Having more and more seemed to be the goal and we could all feel good that we were prospering. Then the sense of endless attainment fell apart and the rules changed.

As I face into 2009, what do I see? I see hope. There is hope that with a new administration real change will happen. Common sense will prevail and we will scale back to a more reasonable economic climate. Poor Barack Obama. Whether you voted for him or not, you have to feel compassion for the man who is taking over our country at one of the worst of times, and feel hopeful that he can accomplish even some of the changes he envisions.

I feel hopeful that the stock market will recover, and my retirement fund will regain some of what it lost. I am hopeful that eventually falling housing prices will allow those who could never own a home to enter the market. And I truly hope that the middle class will prosper and we will be a country with a middle class again; not just a country of the rich and the poor.

And then I have those dreams I've had for a long time. Dreams that there will be no poverty, child abuse, domestic violence, or mothers who kill their children because of treatable mental illness. I wish for the abolition of the death penalty, and a change in our penal system from one of harsh punishment to a focus on rehabilitation. I hope that everyone who wants a job can find one, and that children are loved and cared for by their parents.

Yep, you have now pegged me as a liberal, soft-hearted, fool. Some of you may be thinking worse of me. But in the job I do, sitting with those who have suffered loss, trauma, and pain, I have to believe that good things can arise from hard times. And it is our humanity that allows us to take hardship and learn from it to make our lives better, more fulfilled, and more human. Without that belief and that hope, we should all give up and go home because none of us are fortunate enough to be spared pain.

So I am looking forward to 2009 with hope for better things to come. I am grateful to be part of this great group of intelligent and accomplished women who write for this blog. Although we don't always agree with each other (I'm waiting for my anti death penalty comment to take some heat), we all like and respect each others' knowledge and accomplishments. How much fun it is to be included.

As I shut this down for the night and get ready to post, I wish all of our bloggers and readers many blessings and good things for the new year. Please wish for me safe travels, quiet children, limited bathroom stops, and a dog who is welcome back at our friends' house.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jury Duty: Drama and Trauma

by Donna Pendergast

The paperwork has arrived, the die has been cast: You have been summoned for
jury duty. Unless you are excused by the court because you fit one of a few limited exceptions, you will be pulled away from your daily routine to report to the courthouse at the date and time indicated, ready to fulfill your civic duty. But are you really prepared for what fulfilling your civic responsibility may entail?

Imagine being the juror who has to listen to testimony about a serial murderer and his/her path of death and destruction. Try to comprehend being a juror in the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer (mugshot right) and having to listen to testimony about multiple murders and cannibalism.

juror experience is a unique one, especially in a criminal case involving death or violent physical injury. Unlike television, in a courtroom, the horror and gore are for real. Jurors in a way become victims of the crime. They have front row seats where they see the blood, hear disturbing testimony, view the horrific photographs, and become a part of the crime scene in a way that becomes very real to them.

Those horrific details can leave jurors emotionally depleted. Crimes involving physical violence to children or the death of a child can be especially traumatic to jurors who are not prepared to deal with the emotional impact of that sort of grizzly testimony.

death penalty cases where jurors have a life in their hands the stress factor is usually considerably magnified. Jurors watch as defendants' families and friends beg for mercy while weighing those pleas against horrific and brutal facts. They then contemplate taking the life of another human being and ultimately render a life or death judgment.

Studies have found that trial-induced stress—related to disturbing testimony, concern over personal safety issues (especially in violent gang-related crimes), and the court's prohibiting jurors from discussing troubling issues with their normal support network—can affect mental health and cause post-trial psychological problems. While some jurors may go away from the jury experience relatively unscathed, others may have a much harder time dealing with what they have seen and heard. Stress-related maladies ranging from anxiety and sleeplessness to
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have been reported by jurors.

Traditionally, jurors end their jury service by coming to an exhausting and usually emotionally charged decision.
They are then sent home to resume their daily routines without any assessment of whether or not the events of the trial might have had any impact on their mental and emotional health.

Increasingly, courts are recognizing that compelling jurors to take part in a gruesome or high-profile trial situation can result in juror trauma and are offering counseling to jurors who might want help sorting through issues related to the trial. This trend, known as
jury debriefing, is usually offered to jurors by professional counselors immediately following the trial.

The debriefing counseling can take many forms—ranging from a group talk session where jurors are reassured that their feelings are normal, to more intensive individualized counseling sessions. The counselors are also adept at spotting individuals who might be more severely affected by the impact of what they have seen and heard and can assist them in accessing more resources in the future if necessary.

In Washington State, Seattle's
King County Court system was one of the first jurisdictions to offer juror counseling beginning in 1998. They have an ongoing contract with a local mental health center to provide services to jurors who may be traumatized by the juror experience. In Texas, a bill offering up to ten hours of juror counseling was approved by the legislature and signed into law on September 1, 2008. Other jurisdictions, including Florida, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin, have implemented programs which give jurors access to counseling services to help counteract the negative psychological effects which may result from jury service.

Despite a demonstrated need, the implementation of programs offering counseling services to jurors has been hampered by a lack of funding sources necessary to pay for those services. The economic recession has resulted in lean state and local government budgets leaving no room for discretionary services.

Which leaves us asking the question: What is the judicial system's responsibility to jurors who have fulfilled their civic duty by serving on a jury and paid a high psychological price in the process?

That question is still being answered.

Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Christmas Killer

by Connie Park

On Christmas Eve, when families gathered together to enjoy the holidays and to celebrate the season, the small suburb of Covina, 25 miles from Los Angeles, received news of a devastating tragedy right in their neighborhood: a "Santa Gunman" had killed nine family members and torched their house to the ground. This year's Christmas celebration turned into a tragedy that the Ortega family will never forget.

At approximately 11:30 p.m., 45-year-old Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, dressed in a Santa Claus suit, showed up at the doorstep of his former in-laws' home, where his ex-wife, Slyvia Pardo, and her three children by a prior marriage, had been living for the past year.

This Santa Gunman wasn't there to deliver presents or to spread joy. Bruce Pardo (pictured above) was armed with 4 pistols and a flame thrower containing racing fuel. This man came to seek revenge on his ex-wife. It was apparent Pardo didn't care who got in his way or who he was going to hurt or kill. He was a cowardly man who shot an 8-year-old girl in the face when she opened the door to Santa. Pardo also fired a gun into the back of a 16-year-old girl. He continued shooting towards the 25 family members and friends who were at the house and then sprayed racing fuel all around the house, setting the home on fire.

Next, Pardo drove to his brother's house in San Fernando Valley and killed himself. At three in the morning on Christmas Day, the mass murderer's brother, Brad Pardo, found Jeffrey dead with a gunshot wound to the head. Police discovered $17,000 strapped to Pardo's body and a plane ticket to Canada. Unfortunately enough, this Christmas present of Pardo killing himself didn't come soon enough for the Ortega family.

Police stated the vehicle found outside Pardo brother's house was tripwired to set off 500 rounds of ammunition. A second vehicle was recovered in Glendale, California on December 28, but no explosives were found. By early Christmas morning, the house was engulfed in flames and 9 family members were killed. According to the authorities, the bodies were so charred that they were not able to make any identifications at the scene.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Bruce and Sylvia married in 2006. However, Sylvia filed for divorce after discovering that for the past several years, Bruce Pardo had been claiming his brain-damaged son from a previous relationship as a tax exemption. Also, in July 2008, Pardo lost his job in with ITT. He had accumulated extensive debt. The final divorce settlement ordered Pardo to pay $10,000 to Sylvia and to give back the diamond ring and custody of the dog.

From the scene, it was apparent that Pardo had been planning the massacre for several months. He rented the Santa Claus suit earlier in September asking for a extra large suit to hide "big presents."

The 9 family members who were killed were Sylvia Pardo; her parents, Alicia and Joseph Ortega (70 and 80 years old); Teresa and James Ortega (51 and 52); Cheri and Charles Ortega (45 and 50); and Alicia Ortiz and her 17-year-old son, Michael. As a result of this tragedy, 16 children were left without one or both parents. The 8- and 16-year-old girls miraculously survived the shooting and are recovering from the injuries.

The facts and evidence of this multiple homicide-suicide will be documented. But the question of why Pardo resorted to that level of violence—rather than, say, simply taking his own life instead of embarking on a complicated killing spree—will remain incomprehensible.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year in Review: Top Criminal Cases of 2008

by Robin Sax

It’s that time again—our chance to reflect upon the year just ending. It’s time to look at the good and the bad, the trends and the hook-ups, and the births and the deaths. From my perspective as a member of Women in Crime Ink, I’d like to examine the crime stories that represent justice, truth, and closure for the many lives that were affected by crime.

So, after perusing the papers, magazines, and the Web from the last year, I’d like to remind you of these 12 cases (one for every juror on a panel) from 2008.

1. Vati-Con

Italian “businessman” Raffaello Follieri received a 4½ year prison sentence for defrauding investors of millions of dollars. Most of us had never heard of Follieri prior to these events, and those who did know his name only knew it because he was the boyfriend of actress Anne Hathaway. But Follieri has now made a name for himself. According to prosecutors, he spent years claiming ties to the Vatican, even saying he was the Vatican Chief Financial Officer, to induce investments in his real estate company, the Follieri Group. But the money never went into his business–it went towards funding Follieri’s lavish lifestyle. When caught, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

2. Joseph Fritzl

One of the more bizarre cases that came to light this year was that of Josef Fritzl, a 73-year-old electrician in Austria. It was discovered that Fritzl had been imprisoning his own daughter, Elizabeth, in the windowless cellar of his family’s home for 24 years. More appalling was the fact that he had been torturing and sexually abusing his now 42-year-old daughter the entire time.

She had actually given birth to seven of his children. Fritzl brought three of the children out of the cellar, claiming that Elizabeth had joined a religious cult and then left the children on his doorstep. Fritzl’s horrific activities were only discovered after one of the three children still being held in the cellar with Elizabeth became ill and was taken to a doctor. These three children had never seen sunlight before authorities came to release them. Fritzl admitted to imprisoning and repeatedly raping his daughter, and prosecutors have also charged him with the murder of one of the seven children–an infant who became ill and died for lack of medical treatment.

3. Eve Carson

Eve Carson was the 22-year-old Student Body President at University of North Carolina. On March 5, 2008 she was found dead on the side of the road in Chapel Hill–killed by a gunshot to the head. Her SUV was found about a mile away. What seemed like a completely random crime has now been linked to the murder of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, who was also shot in the head, in his own apartment. Laurence Lovette had been charged in the murder of Mahato, and Lovette along with Demario Atwater were charged with Carson’s murder. Both Lovette and Atwater have criminal records. These killings have caused many in North Carolina to look to the state legislature to crack down on gang violence.

4. O.J. Simpson

In a flashback to 1994, we got to see O.J. Simpson at the defendant’s table yet again this year. This time, he and co-defendant Clarence Steward were convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and conspiracy. The crime occurred in late 2007, when Simpson and his accomplices were arrested for robbing the Palace Station Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas. Although Simpson claimed he was simply trying to retrieve his sports memorabilia after it had been stolen from him, he and his gang were charged with robbery while in the Palace Station hotel. Simpson received 9 to 33 years in Nevada state prison and Steward was sentenced to 7½ to 27 years. The four other co-defendants received probation after taking plea deals in return for testifying against Simpson at trial.

5. Northern Illinois University Shooting

Early 2008 saw yet another school shooting that left several dead and many in shock. This time the shooter was armed with a shotgun and two handguns, and opened fire on a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. The shooter, a former student of the university, turned the gun on himself at the end of his short rampage. Although there didn’t appear to be a motive, the shooter caused 22 injuries and 6 deaths. It was the fourth U.S. school shooting in one week’s time.

6. Canada Bus Murder

On a Canadian Greyhound bus traveling from Edmonton to Winnepeg, 22-year-old passenger Tim McLean was suddenly and unexpectedly stabbed by Vince Weiguang Li, the man sitting next to him. The other passengers fled from the bus as Li repeatedly stabbed McLean. Once outside the bus, they watched as Li beheaded McLean and then began cutting off parts of the corpse and eating it. Li has been charged with second-degree murder, and has been found fit to stand trial. Testimony began in November 2008.

7. Jennifer Hudson

A shocking Hollywood crime occurred with the triple murder of singer/actress Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother, and nephew on October 24, 2008. Hudson’s mother and brother were found shot in their home, and her nephew’s body was found three days later in an SUV. After several weeks, William Balfour, the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, and home invasion. According to prosecutors, Balfour had met his estranged wife, Hudson’s sister, at her home the day of the crime. Police believe the crimes were committed in the heat of passion after Balfour found out his estranged wife was dating another man. Balfour had previously served time in jail for attempted murder, vehicular hijacking, and possession of a stolen vehicle.

8. Texas Polygamist Ranch

In April 2008, authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch just outside Eldorado,Texas, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The 1,700-acre community became of interest after Texas Child Protective Services and other authorities received several tips that underage girls were being forced into marriage and sexual relations with older men. All the children were removed from the ranch by Protective Services until the Court of Appeals determined that there was not enough evidence of immediate danger to have taken the children. In June, the children were returned and the FLDS Church is said to have renounced underage marriage. Still, to date, twelve FLDS men have been indicted on a variety of charges, including bigamy, performing unlawful marriages, sexual assault of child, and tampering with evidence.

9. Caylee Anthony

Probably the most publicized crime story of the year is the disappearance and murder of Caylee Anthony. The two-year-old was reported missing by her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, on July 15, 2008, after Caylee’s mother, Casey, would not produce her. Cindy originally stated that she was alarmed after not seeing her grandchild in weeks, and because she had smelled the odor of a dead body coming from the trunk of Casey’s car. Unfortunately for authorities, the stories told by Cindy and Casey became more and more muddled. Casey indicated that a babysitter was with Caylee when she disappeared, but the Anthonys did not know the alleged babysitter. In addition, Caylee had been missing for a least a month prior to the grandmother’s call, but Casey never alerted authorities to her daughter’s disappearance.

During their investigation, police found hair samples and stains, as well as traces of chloroform in Casey’s trunk. Casey has been arrested four times since her daughter’s disappearance, although three of the arrests were not for Caylee’s murder. However, the fourth arrest came after Casey was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, and four counts of lying to investigators.

There have been many leads from people who claim they saw Caylee in different places since her disappearance. But the most promising lead came on December 11, 2008, when the remains of a small child were found in the woods near the Anthonys’ home. The remains have recently been identified as those of Caylee.

10. Anand Jon

A win for the good guys came in November 2008. Too often Los Angeles juries are not associated with the word “guilty.” Well, thanks to the amazing work of prosecutors Mara McIlivain and Frances Young, Anand Jon was convicted of many counts of sexual assault. Anand Jon Alexander (born 1973 in India) is a former fashion designer turned convicted rapist who had previously appeared on America's Next Top Model” and rose to fame in the fashion industry prior to being convicted of several counts of sexual abuse.

Jon was born in South India, and came to the U.S. to study at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and later at Parsons. He sold collections at stores including Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, and Luisa Via Roma in Florence, Italy. His clothes had been modeled by and designed for celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Rosario Dawson, Lawrence Fishburn, Gina Torres, Oprah Winfrey, and Janet Jackson.

In March 2007, Jon was arrested in in Beverly Hills on rape and related charges based on the allegations of numerous aspiring models. He was also charged with committing a lewd act on a child. After investigating, prosecutors added 15 additional felony counts to the list, and Jon was required to surrender his passport and ordered not to leave the country. He pleaded “not guilty” to all charges.

On November 13, 2008, Jon was convicted of 16 out of 23 counts of sexual abuse, including the forcible rape of seven women and girls aged 14 to 21. Jon is scheduled to be sentenced on January 13, 2009. Because the case involves special circumstances against multiple victims, the penalty is a mandatory life sentence, making him eligible for parole in 67 years (2075). Jon still faces charges in New York and is also under investigation for similar charges in Texas and Massachusetts.

11. Anthony Pellicano

Anthony Pellicano is a former high-profile Los Angeles private investigator who recently served a sentence in federal prison for illegal possession of explosives. He was arrested on February 4, 2006, for unlawful wiretapping and racketeering charges.

On May 15, 2008, after acting as his own lawyer and enduring a nine-day jury deliberation, Pellicano was found guilty on 76 of 77 counts related to racketeering, along with four co-defendants. However, a parade of wealthy witnesses admitted they knew about, paid for and listened to wiretaps, but were not charged. They included Alec Gores, a billionaire corporate buyout specialist; Freddy DeMann, a music executive who was once Madonna’s manager; Adam D. Sender, a hedge fund manager and onetime movie investor; and Andrew Stevens, an actor turned movie producer. Summing up, the prosecuting attorney stated that he chose to attack the supply rather than the demand, the way that vice investigators attack pimps and prostitutes rather than johns, because “that’s how you make a dent in it.” The johns in this case were the likes of Bert Fields, Brad Grey, Ron Meyer, Michael Ovitz and Chris Rock, all of whom paid Pellicano for services rendered.

“If the government has no plans to go higher than Pellicano, this is a depressingly pedestrian effort that shows a lack of ambition,” commented John C. Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on white-collar crime, as quoted in the NY Times story on the verdict.

In a subsequent six-week Federal Court trial, Pellicano was convicted of wiretapping and conspiracy to commit wiretapping. Facing 78 guilty counts, Pellicano was sentenced in December 2008 to 15 years in prison, and ordered (with two other defendants) to forfeit $2 million.

12. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter a.k.a “Clark Rockefeller”

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. “Clark Rockefeller” is a German citizen who allegedly kidnapped his daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, on July 27, 2008. He was apprehended on August 2, 2008, and the daughter was returned to her mother, who lived in England.

Through fingerprint analysis, the FBI has confirmed that he is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter of Bergen, Upper Bavaria in Germany. Alexander Gerhartsreiter, who lives in Bergen, identified "Rockefeller" as his brother, stating that they are the sons of a painter and homemaker, not the industrialists and philanthropists whose name symbolizes 20th Century American wealth and power.

Reportedly, Gerhartsreiter came to the United States as a West German foreign exchange student in 1979. Although his family states that Christian Gerhartsreiter was born 21 February 1961, he maintained that he was born 29 February, 1960. “Rockefeller” also told Boston police that his mother was Ann Carter, an American child actress of the 1940s, which Carter has denied.

On August 15, 2008, the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County District Attorney announced confirmation of the true identity of the individual who used the aliases Clark Rockefeller, Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, and Chip Smith, among others. According to their report, his real name was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. Gerhartsreiter was conclusively identified by means of forensic examinations conducted by the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

When Gerhartsreiter, using the name Clark Rockefeller, was arrested, his fingerprint impressions were taken by FBI agents in Baltimore and by Boston Police when he was returned to Massachusetts. Those fingerprints were compared to latent fingerprints lifted from a variety of sources. They match a latent print lifted from a wine glass in Boston collected at the time of the search for "Rockefeller" and his daughter earlier in the month. Those fingerprints also match a latent print developed from a document in Gerhartsreiter's immigration file from the early 1980s.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is being held on charges he kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter last summer. He's also been named a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance of a California couple.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Reviving Ghosts of Christmas Past

by Vanessa Leggett

South Pittsburg, Tenn.—After dark, the hush of Christmas night had fallen over Main Street. Most of the 2,400 citizens were gathered in the warmth of their homes, surrounded by family and the tranquility of the season, not knowing that armed men were squaring off downtown.

At 9:00, shotgun blasts shattered the silent night. Within minutes, several men lay lifeless or bleeding to death on the street. Police never responded. They couldn't. The principal members of city and county law enforcement were dead or wounded that Christmas Day in 1927—shot by each other.

The Christmas Day Massacre story made the New York Times, which headlined a "Street Battle of City and County Police," declaring that "virtually all local law enforcement officers [there were] dead or disabled."

Six of community's finest were killed: the Chief of Police; the Sheriff; a deputy; the City Marshal; the Night Marshal (a former Sheriff); and a special policeman. Several others were injured. According to the Times, none of their service revolvers had been discharged. Each had carried a shotgun.

When I ran across this story, two questions stood out in my mind. The obvious question was: How could this have happened? How could those who are expected to keep the peace and to protect the public violate their sworn duties in such an unthinkable way and on what should be the most peaceful day of the year? Christmas—on a Sunday, no less.

Members of law enforcement consider themselves part of a brotherhood. Yet here was mass fratricide on an incomprehensible scale. In fact, actual brothers in this Cumberland Mountain community had been at war with each other. The Times wrote that "brother was arrayed against brother in the fatal feud":

Thomas Connor, a deputy sheriff and brother of Police Chief [James] Connor, whose account furnished the only known coherent story of events leading to the shooting, said that city officers had drawn pistols on him in an encounter earlier in the evening and that the fight began when Sheriff Wash Coppinger and several deputies later sought to arrest members of the opposing group for displaying their weapons threateningly.
Why had the city officers menaced the county deputy with guns? The conflict was not born that night. This was not a Southern Christmas brawl that developed out of a lethal mix of Jack Daniels and testosterone. The tragic event was the culmination of an industrial strike that had been brewing tension in the town for a year. A local stove manufacturing plant that employed 75% of South Pittsburg's population was attempting to dissolve its unions.

As happens in disputes that polarize communities, law enforcement became involved. In this case, the two major agencies took opposing sides. The Marion County Sheriff and his men supported the union strikers, while the South Pittsburg City Marshals and his deputies backed the stove company and attempted to break up the strike. The County union sympathizers believed their efforts were being undermined by City lawmen. The Sheriff's men accused them of helping special policemen who had been assigned to guard locations.

News accounts reported that the officers involved in the shooting were accompanied by civilians—from both factions of the strike—bringing the total number in gun battle to around twenty.

After some cursory research, I was never able to fully answer that first question: How could peace officers have resorted to murder, the most violent crime of all? Which brings me to the second question, which is less obvious but, to me at least, more bothersome: Why wasn't there more information?

And what ever happened to law and order in South Pittsburg? The only resolution I could glean was that the National Guard had been summoned to restore order. And the slain Sheriff's son assumed the top lawman's post, but not without resistance. The City Administration was set on ousting the Sheriff's family from county authority. The City unsuccessfully supported one of the few surviving officers of the South Pittsburg Police Force. The Attorney General was supposed to investigate, but I could not find any follow-up to this announcement in the New York Times: "An investigation has been started by Attorney General Tom Stewart, who said today that a hearing probably would be called soon to fix responsibility for the fray."

Among the four New York Times pieces I located, one story acknowledged that details of the shooting were "meager." That was reported two days after the police massacre. Eighty-one years later, information is still scant. The South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society has archived one local story. Usually local papers have the most in-depth information. But aside from a basic summary of events, all the South Pittsburg Hustler had to report 10 days following the shooting was that "no investigation has been made of the horrible tragedy."

A story appeared in the Nashville Banner and likely other papers as well, but none of the stories I read revealed any meaningful details. I could not find a single quote from a witness, and there were survivors and bystanders, according to the Times, which noted that "[s]pectators held back for fear the firing might be resumed." (The shootout took place next to a hotel, whose guests might have been roused by the gunfire.)

Any substantive fact-gathering efforts or accounts of the incident have been recent. Perhaps the most comprehensive account is a scholarly article in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly co-authored by two professors from Middle Tennessee State University in 2004. Researchers at MTSU have been trying to recreate events surrounding the shooting. According to a news story highlighting their work, they consider the Christmas Day Massacre "an important milestone in what happened to unions in the south." (See the video clip below for a documentary encapsulating their research.) In 2005, the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society sponsored a presentation on the "Infamous South Pittsburg Shootout," which was attended by the fallen Sheriff's granddaughter and other descendants of those who lost their lives in the gunfight. The co-authors of the scholarly article, professors who spoke at the event, are still looking for information, as is the Society.

Why was there so little contemporary reporting? I believe one factor might be the shroud of secrecy that surrounds investigations into members of law enforcement. There's a reason it's called Internal Affairs. But in a case of such historical import, I don't believe officers' affairs should be kept internal. The public deserves to know exactly what led to the fatal feud that claimed so many lives. The survivors should have that knowledge available.

I don't blame the police. The fault lies with the press. Even if a collective perhaps subconsciously selective amnesia gripped South Pittsburg in the days after the shootout, reporters should have stayed with the story, continued to dig, and to update the public.

Journalists and authors delve into the minds of killers, dissecting their psyches and revealing their personal histories. Why does there seem to be a reluctance to examine that backgrounds of killers who happen to carry badges? Especially, as in this case, those who murder their own?

These ghosts of Christmas past deserve to have their stories told. If you have information on the Christmas Day Massacre of 1927, please contact the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society at

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

YOUR TURN: Why Does Everyone in Betty Neumar's Life Die?

by Michelle Feuer

I am thirty-five years old and I should have babies—not grandmothers—on the brain. As a producer for CBS 48 Hours, I rushed short notice to a story in Virginia for a colleague whose grandparent died, which, oddly, was on the same day that my 90-year-old grandparents were coming in from L.A. to Atlanta for a visit. All these grandmothers made me remember a case that I started in May, but which came to a complete halt. The jarring stop contrasts with the international media coverage and piles of investigative work by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mitch Weiss, and the endless stream of oddities that I haven’t found answers to.

Bad Luck Grandmother or Black Widow?

The case of 76-year-old grandmother and hairdresser Betty Neumar made headlines last spring. In May, a source in Augusta, Georgia told me Betty had been arrested for soliciting the murder of her former husband, Harold Gentry, way back in 1986. Solicitation of murder, a murder that happened in 1986? Why should we all be so interested? (This is the second Women in Crime Ink story on the case.)

CBS 48 Hours allowed me to dig deeper. Guided by reports from then-AP reporter Mitch Weiss, who was on the ground in Albemarle, North Carolina (where Betty had lived with her husband, Harold Gentry), I learned that Betty Neumar has five dead husbands—and a dead son.

The Body Count Begins

Betty was in Ironton, Ohio when she met her first husband, Clarence Malone, whom she married at age 18. Shocking for the 1950s, Betty filed a public complaint against him claiming abuse. I could never find a divorce record, but family members now say the couple split eighteen years before Clarence Malone was found dead with a gunshot wound to the back of his head at his auto repair shop in 1970. Betty and Malone had son Gary together who was later to be adopted by Betty’s second husband (see below). No one was arrested for Malone’s murder.

Also known as “Bee,” Betty stayed in Ohio and married James Flynn (Husband #2, who adopted her young son, Gary). And the question marks just keep getting bigger when looking into this stage in her life. Betty reportedly told investigators that James Flynn died on a pier somewhere in New York in the 1950s, and that she had no other information.

Decades later, her son, Gary, would die of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound" after his mother took out a life insurance policy on him, according to her grandson Jeff Carstensen.

Before you can understand the death of her son Gary, you have to understand her move to Florida and marriage to Husband #3, Richard Sills.

Did Husband #3 Know Too Much?

Richard Sills was a Navy guy and in July 1965, Sills was found dead in the couple’s home in the Florida Keys. Betty reportedly told investigators that they were arguing when Sills snapped, took out a gun and shot himself.

Again, the investigation didn’t lead anywhere at the time. After Betty’s arrest this spring, NCIS investigator Mark Barstow found military records about the case, but without an autopsy it wasn’t clear how many bullets entered Sills’ body. Recent reports suggest that Sills may have been shot twice, not once, although there is no solid proof for such claims. The records are simply gone or never existed at all.

The way it has been explained to me is that due to the Florida statute of limitations, Sills’ body cannot be exhumed. Does his death scream motive for Betty’s son, Gary Flynn who died in 1985? Gary Flynn was reportedly in the house at the time of Sills’ death. Was he going to blow the whistle?

More Nuptials, More Funerals . . .

Husband #4,
Harold Gentry, has been the most publicized death and the one that sparked the big dig into Betty's background. In 1968, the couple married in Georgia. At 36, she was the older woman; he was 29. Didn’t he ask about her past? Yes. According to Harold’s brother, Al Gentry, Betty told Harold that she’d been married before, but that her first husband had died of cancer. She worked as a school bus driver, waitress, and did hair. He was gone a lot, driving trucks.

The marriage lasted for two decades until Harold was found dead in the house with multiple gunshot wounds. Al Gentry and his brother, Richard, said Betty collected at least $20,000 in life insurance, plus other benefits from the military and sold the couple's house and other items. The death remained unsolved.

After Gentry’s death, Betty moved on to
Husband #5, John Neumar. They stayed married for fourteen years until he died in October. The cause of death was due to sepsis. Laboratory analysis of the urn and ashes came up with nothing of interest.

Betty’s attorney in North Carolina, Charles Parnell, spoke to CBS 48 Hours on-camera, but sticks strictly to the subject of Betty’s solicitation case. She is currently out on bail, despite suggestions by prosecutors that she may have at least 28 aliases and an overseas bank account. We’d all love to hear Betty’s side of things—especially because there is relatively no paper trail to sort out truth from possible falsehood.

Today, Harold Gentry's brother, Al, still never leaves the house without a gun. He believes that Betty Neumar isn’t done yet. Is he right? Regardless of the answer, the truth should not be buried with Betty Neumar.

Michelle Feuer is a producer with CBS 48 Hours Mystery and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Her passion is developing shows for CBS which end in remarkable stories being told to millions of people. She refuses to have a boring day and tries to be in the outdoors as much as possible. She is always inspired by her colleague, Jenna Jackson, who got her to blog for Women in Crime Ink.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Legal & Life Lessons from a Dallas Cowboy

Hunt for Justice by Cynthia Hunt

How could he not be bitter?

Marcus Dixon’s case proves our justice system can fail miserably.

Still, he’s not bitter.

How would you feel if our justice system stole almost two years of your life and a dream you had defied odds to make come true?

You may remember Marcus’s story. It sparked national outrage and a change in Georgia laws.

His Father Abandoned Him & His Mother Went To Prison but the Little Boy Still Excelled

Marcus Dixon (pictured above) was always special despite how unfair his life seemed to be. His spirit and athletic talent made him stand out even in little league. After his father vanished and his mother went to prison, his grandmother gave her blessings when a white family asked to adopt 9-year-old Marcus, who is black.

Kenneth and Peri Jones, a school maintenance manager and teacher, lost relationships with two immediate family members but never regretted their decision to adopt a black child in the mostly white community of Rome, Georgia. They treated him the same as their son by birth.
(Pictured Below Peri & Ken Jones Appear on CBS to Discuss Marcus's Case)

Marcus was a superstar in the classroom and on the field. As a high school senior, he had a 3.96 grade-point average and a full football scholarship to Vanderbilt University. The Joneses never dreamed they would soon be spending their life savings defending their star son.

The Racially Charged Case Begins

When Marcus was 18, he had sex with a white girl who was just shy of her 16th birthday. She later claimed he raped her. He said the sex was consensual and the girl had told him her father was a racist and would never approve. Many felt the prosecution that followed was harsh and racially motivated. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the following if the boy had been white and the girl black.

For the most part, the jury believed Marcus and rejected the long list of charges the prosecutor had thrown at the teen—rape, sexual battery, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault. However in this “she said—he said” case, the jury convicted Marcus of the odd combination of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and the more serious charge of aggravated child molestation because it was illegal for him as an 18-year-old to have sex with a girl who was just shy of 16.

The jurors were shocked and outraged when the judge, who was bound by Georgia’s mandatory sentencing laws, sent Marcus to prison for 10 years with no possibility of parole. The jurors did not realize what they had done until it was too late, and Marcus was headed to prison for the next decade. Five of the jurors said they never would have voted for what they thought were lesser convictions if they had known the result of their decision.

Outrage Spread Across the Nation Over How Legal System Treated Marcus

Marcus’s story sparked a national outcry and charges of Old South injustice. A white attorney saw the teen’s story and worked on Marcus’s appeal pro bono. After Marcus served 15 months in prison, the Georgia Supreme Court threw out Marcus's conviction and sentence for the molestation charges agreeing with his attorneys that it was cruel and unusual punishment. It's interesting to note that in this racially charged controversy, it was a white corporate Georgia attorney who donated $400,000 worth of legal work to free Marcus. Lawmakers themselves said they never realized that the law they had passed to strengthen sentencing guidelines for child molesters could be applied to consensual sex between teenagers. (Above, Marcus is freed)

Marcus Shows the Dallas Cowboys the Stuff of a Real Champion

Marcus could not regain everything he had lost, especially the full scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Marcus got a football scholarship to Hampton University in Virginia. Now five years after this legal nightmare started, Marcus is getting a second chance at his dream. He’s on the practice team for the Dallas Cowboys with hopes of making the team.

Pam Oliver, FOX’s awesome and respected NFL Correspondent, updated the story of Marcus Oliver last Sunday. In her interview, I was struck when he told her he is NOT bitter. (Watch video of Pam’s story on Marcus.)

NOT Bitter?

Marcus's Story Presents a Question for Us All

During this miraculous time of the year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, there is so much to learn from this 24-year-old kid who lost so much because of a failure in our legal system.

Holiday Flying & A Cold-Hearted, Continental Gate Agent Made Me Daydream about Breaking Laws

I know people who are bitter about all events great and small in their lives. As I was flying home to Alabama to see my family yesterday, a bitter Continental gate agent went on the plane just before takeoff to yank me off the flight because she could not find my ticket for my 5-pound Chihuahua who was sitting in a carrier underneath my seat. I begged her to let me work it out with Continental in Nashville, but nope. She took me off the plane and let the plane leave with my seat empty.

I’m bitter about that.

At first, I had visions of this obviously miserable woman going hunting with Dick Cheney. That made me ashamed. Then I had visions of her going clubbing with Plaxico Burress. That made me laugh. The woman who had been incredibly rude all morning to even elderly passengers is obviously a bitter person. After spending almost six hours waiting for the next flight . . . hours I was supposed to be spending with my terminally ill younger sister . . . I became more embittered.

Still m
y thoughts go back to Marcus Dixon—a young man with so much grace that he can forgive and forget how unfair life has often been to him and persevere. My six hours of airport waiting was nothing compared to his 15 months in prison. Could you feel the same way if our legal system robbed you of an experience you richly earned and stole two years from your life? Our legal system is made by humans and therefore will have more cases like this.

I’ve decided the world is made up of the bitter and the not bitter. The bitter are petty about everything, worrying that someone, somewhere is getting a better deal. These people are so overwhelmed with insecurity and jealousy, they spend valuable energy trying to bring others down . . . even others who are on the same team as they.

Marcus & My Sister Share a Secret

The “not bitter” are the champions in life. The people of all ages and races who refuse to let life’s circumstances ever damage their spirit. The ones who want good things for all their peers because they understand when one wins, we all win.

My sister Angelia (left) isn’t bitter. After a massive heart attack at age 23, she was told she had inoperable brain aneurysms and a heart aneurysm and that she would probably live only a few more months. I am incredibly blessed to tell you nine beautiful years later she is still alive and doctors call her a little miracle, a word MD's don't use lightly.

Angelia takes 12 medications a day. She cannot lift more than five pounds or exercise. She cannot dream of becoming a mother. There is no treatment for her DNA flaw that causes her collagen to be so weak and therefore her blood vessels to be so fragile. Doctors don't know how long she can defy the odds, but I know she is blessing all in her path with her happy spirit . . . a spirit of faith and thankfulness for each day she wakes up alive . . . a spirit with no bitterness.

In this season of Christ, I hope I can be more like my sister and Marcus. I hope I can rise above anything that comes in my path and find the grace to be thankful. Since this is a crime blog, I guess I am somewhat helped by the fact many people aren’t like Marcus. . . . We wouldn’t have so many murders and crimes to fill our blog with lively writing and debate.
Marcus told a Dallas Morning News reporter "I stayed in the Word. I stayed prayed up. My faith can't be broken. It's so strong, nothing can break it. It's always hard to have faith because you are tested every day."

Thank you Marcus for being wise at only 24 . . . and for reminding me the best revenge is to beat bitterness. The Dallas Cowboys will be lucky to have you on their team to remind some of the spoiled and the petty multi-millionaire star athletes what a true champion is like.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's a Crime

by Diane Fanning

This year, give the gift of crime. No. I am not suggesting that you break in to your neighbor's home and take custody of the nicely wrapped Wii under their tree. I'm suggesting that you take a look at the wealth of crime books available for your gift giving.

And while you're at it, think about shopping at your local independent book stores. They are all in a serious crisis caused by the economic downturn. Yes, Barnes and Noble and aren't having it easy either but odds are they will weather the storm. The small shops are in a more precarious position.

On this subject, Roy Blount, Jr. (right) wrote a Holiday Message in the Author's Guild newsletter: "We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge."

I say we all take up Roy's challenge. Shop at your area independent store or visit one on-line. My personal favorite is Murder by the Book in Houston. Not only do they have a delightfully crime-centric store but they also have a huge assortment of autographed books which make very special gifts.

In addition to signed books, here are a few other ideas for giving the gift of crime:

  • Grab a few true crime paperbacks to stuff in a stocking.
  • Pick up a group of books by different authors all set in a locale that has special significance for the recipient.
  • Select books written by authors in your home state for someone far away who misses home.
  • If you know someone interested in a particular type of crime, pull together a combination of fiction and non-fiction books featuring that element.

  • Or be even more creative--start with Stacy Dittrich's book, The Devil's Closet, and find other crime books with a doll on the cover.

Do your part this holiday season to keep these independent operations stores alive through 2009. Don't let the Grinch of an economic downturn shutter their doors.

If the Grinch wasn't a fictional character, profilers would undoubtedly label him a sociopath--and Pat Brown would be the first to tell you not to trust his contrition at the story's end. Be a grinch-fighter, shop an independent book store and give the gift of crime fiction and non-fiction books this year.

Whatever you choose, books are great gifts. For Christmas. For Hanakuh. For Kwanzaa. Forever.

See below for the mysteries, thrillers, true accounts and informational crime books, released in 2008 by the contributors of Women in Crime Ink.

Scared Monkeys Tonight

Sunday, December 21, 2008 - Tonight’s Guests: ADA Robin Sax, Tim Miller of Texas EquuSearch, Victims’ Right Advocate Wendy Murphy and Author Diane Fanning .

Tune in tonight LIVE at 9:00 eastern as Dana Pretzer welcomes the following guests:

Wendy Murphy, a victims’ rights, sex crimes, violence against women and children advocate and the author of And Justice for Some will be discussing the Casey Anthony case and the recent events in the discovery of Caylee Anthony.

Diane Fanning will be discussing her new book The Pastors Wife the story of the Mary Winkler case. She has also just signed a contract to write a book on the Anthony case.

Tim Miller of
Texas EquuSearch will be discussing the Caylee Anthony case.