Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Acting Irrationally and Being Radical Doesn't Help Crime and Its Victims

by Stacy Dittrich

Last year, I received an email from an inmate in an Illinois maximum security prison who had been convicted of child murder. Of course, he was wrongly accused and told me, “you need to write my story.” In my own deranged way I was somewhat flattered that a complete stranger chose me. My first novel had just been released and I could’ve patted myself on the back and said, “Voila! I’ve finally arrived as a successful writer, now people are coming to me to write their stories!” Now, after having my eyes opened to the plethora of the strange and unusual thrown my way, I think back to that day and shudder. In fact, receiving an email from a convicted murderer is one of the simpler requests I receive. I’ve learned, undeniably, there is a large cult-like following out there in cyberspace—on the blogs, in the forums, and in the instant messages—they are the radical crime followers and victim’s advocates.

For those of us that live on the surface of reality, and whose professional lives are involved in the criminal justice system, to those who impatiently wait for the next Women in Crime Ink contributor’s novel or true crime to hit the stands, it’s merely a job or a healthy interest. But there is growing factions of bloggers, advocates, and activists that put the word “healthy” aside, and embark on a mission of hell fire to aid victims or solve a case before the cops. And, there is nothing that will stop them in completing this “mission” either.

This was a new world to me. I understood the criminals that we define by their lengthy police record. The armed robbers, burglars, rapists, vandals, thieves, and stalkers were within the realm of comprehension as a police officer. As a writer with a law enforcement background, the playing field changed drastically. I’ve spoken to several of the WCI contributors—and many others lately about this topic. After hearing their own stories, and a slight chuckle, I felt like a naïve buffoon.

All of their stories were the same as my own.

I receive many requests to “look into cases.” Some are clearly written by those that mirror L. Ron Hubbard’s affliction for aliens, but once in awhile, I come across one or two that actually read legitimate. Say for instance, I receive a well written email from a professional business person claiming to have stumbled across compelling evidence in a high profile case. Okay, I keep reading. In fact, I even decide after a lengthy criminal background check (clean as a whistle)and references that their “evidence” is solid and meet them in person. Ignoring all of the red flags I learned as a law enforcement officer—the ones that scream “Get out now! Save yourself!” I keep going. When I get to something that doesn’t make sense, this person becomes angry, irrational.

To make a long story short, this lonely person followed a high profile case, minute by minute for years. After becoming a self-proclaimed “expert” they literally formed relationships—close ones, with the family members of the victims, the suspect, and law enforcement. Now, they wanted to cash in. Throughout the entire ordeal, I kept asking myself, “Who does this? Who spends every waking minute and thousands of dollars of their own money following a case and becoming a part of it?” (Calling Pat Brown, insert profile please). The ultimate outcome was that this person had banded together with several people close to the suspect. It’s my opinion they wanted their “evidence” published into the public to throw the media attention towards someone else. It was completely foreign to me. And, the elaborate and meticulous planning of it was a little frightening.

When you look at the growing debacle of the Caylee Anthony case and those who are trying to cash in and insert themselves for fame, reassurance, or unknown reasons (Leonard Padilla) I can only imagine the wealth of at-home-super-sleuths that feverishly write law enforcement and true crime writers claiming to have the “golden ticket.” They believe their intelligence is unsurpassed. They have graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of NYPD Blue and CSI: Miami. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the cyberspace conspiracy theorists.

Granted, in my days of street patrol I would get slightly irked when someone would demand that I perform a DNA test on a broken porch light because they know for a fact it can be done—they saw it on television. When I ask them if they are willing to foot the $10,000 bill for such a test on a minor misdemeanor they quietly go inside. In cyberspace it is a far greater scale.

Then come the irrational and self-proclaimed victim’s advocates. These are the people who have known a crime victim and feel the need to speak on their behalf. This is a wonderful thing, actually. However, it’s when groups of them band together and target well known victim’s advocates who are frequently in the media, things get a little harried. If the advocate isn’t working fast enough or to their standards, they begin to blast district attorneys, blogs, news media, and forums with hate mail—sometimes violent. In their own minds they believe they are getting their voices heard. I have seen this on Facebook; some “questionable” pages are bombarded with death threats, harassment, and violent intimations—usually from the same people or groups. These people, like the "radical" crime conspiracy theorists, can’t be rationalized with—it’s their way or the highway. Try to explain a documented and legitimate fact of a case to them and all hell breaks loose.

What these radical theorists and advocates don’t realize, and clearly don’t want to hear, is that they are doing far more damage to current crime cases and victims voices than helping them.
There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way, whether or not your intentions are the same.

It’s rather unfortunate that in my own pile of emails I have received some genuine pleas for voices to be heard, but it’s the others that take up my time and cloud my vision. The family of Davina Buff Jones was one of those “genuine” pleas, and I was more than happy to spread their heart wrenching—and legitimate, story. And, a few similar ones still remain.

The Internet has allowed us to bring the world of crime to those “healthy” followers via blogs, forums, and Internet radio. Women in Crime Ink showcases a bevy of women who are “in the know,” and makes them accessible to our readers. Blogtalk Radio shows like The Dana Pretzer Show, The Levi Page Show, and my own Justice Interrupted provide a wealth of knowledge and insight to those who want to kick back, grab a glass of wine, and listen. We all have our faithful listeners who chime in from time to time and whom we look forward to seeing in our chat rooms each week. But every once in awhile . . .

To readers and listeners of blogs, most of us love controversy and heated debates, but we don’t warm too well to comments where one hopes something bad happens to one of our kids because we didn’t jump on your cause.

The cold-hearted truth is that if you have no law enforcement or criminal justice experience, chances are you didn’t figure something out that the cops weren’t aware of and they probably won't take your phone calls or emails. But, have fun blogging about your theories, that's what they're for! We all theorize on crimes, the majority of us just happen to do it rationally. Lastly, if you know a crime victim and feel that by using bully tactics you will get their voice heard louder—chances are you are hurting the one you love even more.

Try sleeping on that for awhile.

9 comments:

Jan C, said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan C, said...

Great post, Stacy. I think we have all seen people on blogs, or even in our own communities, who have lost touch with reality.

You are completely right. There is NO reasoning with them. Anyone that distorts their version of reality is either ridiculed or attacked.

The world has become much smaller with the internet, and given the fringe a much wider audience.

Levi Page said...

You know Stacy, that is something I've been wanting to get off my chest for the longest time, and you took the words right out of my mouth. I haven't gotten any messages from death row inmates, but I've got a couple of nut jobs.

Just recently someone sent me a email calling me a racist (A lot of people love to play the race card when they have nothing else to go on.) because all I discussed on my radio show is Caylee Anthony (which is a lie) and they wanted me to have on the case of a African American child who went missing. And they asked why I never had it on.

I emailed back that I never had the case on, because I had never heard of the case. I said I appreciate suggestions and take them seriously.

But do they really expect you to take them seriously and highlight their pet case after they insult you?

And then you have the nutjobs even after you help them get their cases on major media shows, they send you nasty messages or write bad things about you on their blog...

Sometimes ya just feel like telling them to take a long walk off a short pier.

I remember emailing a case into Women in Crime ink, one that wasn't getting a lot of media attention, and you wrote a post on it Stacy. I think that is how we met online.

I think there is a right way to go about things, then there is the stupid way.

Oh and the JonBenet Ramsey case really brings out the nuts!!! Don't even get me started on that one! LOL

craig said...

Nice post. The internet can be a scary place: you bump into people everyday that you would avoid like a plague in real life.

I have one disagrrement though. I think you unfairly disparage all of those who "have no law enforcement or criminal justice experience" and ask us to give too much credence to those who do.

If the blog hooligans had accepted that, then the Duke lacrosse team would still be at the mercy of Nancy Grace and Wendy Murphy. It turned out that Murphy and Grace's experience did not make them right. And KC Johnson's amateur status was no barrier to outstanding work.

Stacy Dittrich said...

Craig,

Duly noted! :-))

andy kahan said...

Stacy:

Great Post--Just curious--how did an inmate have access to the internet to email you?

Correct me if I am wrong but usually internet access is off-limits.

dcheryl83 said...

The Fed system allows inmates to have email accounts. A request is sent asking your permission to allow the inmate to write to you. If they delete your email you are notified as well.

Soobs said...

I'll agree with most of this post. I find that a lot of people who have time to devote 8-9 hours a day on blogs, really have no life of their own. Of course, these "sleuths" also pat each other on the back every few seconds, telling each other to "Call LE!!" - as if LE wouldn't have thought of the same thing on their own.

Then again, the conspiracies that fly about...well, you KNOW LE wouldn't have thought of THOSE.

This isn't relegated to bored housewives, however.

Stacy Dittrich said...

Andy,

Your guess is as good as mine...LOL However, I assumed once I read it that he had someone send it for him, the only logical explanation. :))