Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Documenting the Crime Scene with A Sketch

by Andrea Campbell

After the first responder cordons off and protects a crime scene, the next step is a documentation of record that lays out the room and the evidence. Reports can be made in many different manners; for example, an investigator can record audio of the scene, take extensive notes, shoot photos or video, and map out the scene. 

Today we are going to talk about sketching.

Investigators need to document all observations of the scene. A sketch will help them to recall locale and evidence. They may make a rather informal first sketch, using any drawing tools, such as pencils, pens, even colored pencils. It probably won’t help to use chalk or charcoal because they smudge unless preserved with a setting spray. This is not a good idea at the scene, since other elements may be sprayed there.

Sketch after the scene has been photographed. This ensures nothing has been moved, kicked or otherwise disturbed. While a “rough” sketch will be difficult for some budding artists, rough is all you need in the beginning. If it's used in a court of law, it can be cleaned up. So go with messy and crude but accurate.

Sketches help clarify what is where in a photograph. A sketch may offer a different perspective, such as a top-down bird's-eye view, an elevation or side view, or a three-dimensional view. Oftentimes an exploded or larger view can accompany any perspective; this view may be a close-up or cross-sectional view of the scene.

What should you document? The physical artifacts, such as furniture, tables, lamps, and so forth, similar to a blueprint; the precise location of weapons, evidence, and the body; even a traffic pattern. Investigators may use this documentation to help with interviews, jog someone’s memory, establish a permanent record of the scene or location, and assist when writing a report. In jury trials, sketches can help answer various questions and aid witnesses, lawyers and judges. If the perpetrator or suspect visited several areas of the house, for example, going from bedroom to bathroom or into the kitchen, the sketch will help to recreate the series of events. With accident scenes, sketches may display distances for a better understanding of the sequence of events. 

*Note: Don’t forget to reference on your crime scene drawing where you were standing.

A final sketch can be made using templates or a computer. It should indicate distances; most art uses a scale of one inch to one foot to ease understanding. The sketch needs a label of the crime, such as Private Residence and Homicide. It needs the name of victim,  location, date and time, case number assigned, and the initials or name of the person who drew it. As with any good map, include a legend so the reader can learn some facts without having to ask. Besides the scale, indicate direction if possible -- north, south, east, west. Try to indicate which way doors open, potentially important elements later on. If you use symbols to represent something, such as a square for a seat or a triangle for an end table, make that known. You may code key elements with the alphabet for clarity. Itemize specific evidence, artifacts and elements. The couch might be where the body was found, making it item “A” or, in a numbered system, “1”. Don’t include clutter that's not relevant. A pile of clothes may not mean anything -- unless it has blood on it. Label a table of measurements with the disclaimer “All measurements are approximate.”

Remember that a bird’s-eye view won’t show the height of items at the scene. If the gun was on top of a cabinet, only an elevation view with measurements will indicate that. A 3-D crime scene is usually the function of a computer rendering, created by a software program.

If the distance markers were established or made by someone else, make note of that for credibility. It's better to anticipate a question than try to answer one if you get blindsided in court.

The National Crime and Investigation Training website has an example of a sketch. See: http://www.ncit.com/Tips Tricks/Sketching/sketching.html

The Crime Scene Sketch has a pdf file of key facts to remember along with tips. (Search Crime Scene Sketch):

Another extremely detailed pdf file, complete with CAD drawing examples and notes on triangulation of measurements, can be picked up here:

One particularly delightful website, created by retired forensic investigator Thomas F. Hanratty, includes crime scene sketches from all Sherlock Holmes cases.

An absolutely beautiful rendition, including some top-notch software examples, can be found at: http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dles/crimelabs/physicalEvidenceHB/Ch4_CrimeSceneSketch.pdf

A commercial site that sells the Smart Draw program: http://www.smartdraw.com/resources/how-to/Crime-Scene-Diagrams

Monday, March 29, 2010

An Unwritten Law

by Laura James
Love triangles turned deadly have been around longer than David and Bathsheba and Uriah, and you know the ending of that story (unless you skipped your true crime lessons from Sunday School). In Michigan in the mid-1950s, the last chapter of a classic love triangle was written in a courthouse, as they so often are these days. 

But this case was so sensational that the story achieved national prominence. Thousands of articles delved into the details of the tawdry affair; the press of the crowd seeking admittance at the trial shattered two glass doors to the courtroom. The verdict was a shock only to those who believe in strictly codifying human behavior. 

The matter aroused so much interest because the participants were all very beautiful and very wealthy but had the habits and bad taste of the lowest sorts. So many people were touched by this not-all-that-long-ago love disaster that it seems appropriate to change the names. There’s no other mention of the case on the internet. 

So meet “Madame Bovary.” Let’s call her Emma. The press will call her “an oval-faced brunette.” In 1944, she was caught in a whirlwind romance in Ann Arbor, falling in love with Kevin, a dental school student, on the eve of his graduation from the University of Michigan. He was six feet tall, dark-haired, and very handsome. They married soon thereafter, and he joined the Navy. She became a loyal military wife, and they had three sons together.

After his military service honorably ended, Kevin settled his family in Detroit near Emma’s parents, who loved them both and lavished them with thousands of dollars, setting up Kevin’s dental practice and buying them a mansion. They had servants and a nurse to care for the boys. Imagine Emma as Mrs. Cleaver, in dress, heels, and pearls, but without the vacuum cleaner.

It was then that Emma grew restless and dissatisfied with her husband. She would later describe the eighth and ninth year of their marriage as a “clash of ideologies.” She wanted Kevin to be a “bigger man,” but his main interests seemed to lie only in his home, his family, and his work. “It isn’t anything tangible and it’s hard to explain,” she would say about her curious abstractions. “Kevin never gave me credit for decisions, and we had a lot of arguments. I never cared for money as money. I felt it was to be used for the things one wanted. For instance, if I wanted a stick of bubble gum and it made me happy, it should make him happy too.” 

Then Emma’s father died, and she inherited a large amount of money. She took to vacationing without her husband and hanging out with divorcees, and sooner rather than later she met Jack, a wealthy industrialist and New York playboy who hung out at the “21 Club” when he was in town and jet-setted across the country. Emma was introduced to him in Florida, and they had three unforgettable dates. On the night she returned to Detroit, Emma told Kevin she wanted a divorce.

The news transformed Kevin in an instant. He turned to drink for the first time in his life and became alternately abusive and pathetic. He hit her once. He threatened suicide. There were scenes featuring a brandished pistol. He pleaded with her. “Even a dog is entitled to another chance,” he told her. But she locked him out of the bedroom. Kevin threatened to knock it down. She called the police from the bedroom phone. 

A few days later, she left for New York to be with Jack. When her husband begged for their marriage, she told him to see a psychiatrist. “He told me I should see one,” she said, “that it was I who was all mixed up.” Meanwhile, Kevin moved to a hotel and immersed himself in self-help books like Wake Up And Live.

After Emma filed for divorce, she had a rendezvous with Jack several hours from Detroit in a summer house in Douglas, Michigan. It was no cottage -- there were servants and gardeners and a stunning view of Lake Michigan sunsets. But Emma began to miss her children, or so she said. She phoned home. Kevin happened to answer. An argument followed – “I thought you were in Chicago!” was in the earful Kevin gave her. 

The next thing she knew – as she sat on a couch in the summer home, reading a magazine, the lake’s swells singing in the background -- she heard her husband’s voice at the front door, followed by pistol shots. Kevin had tracked them down and promptly shot Jack twice in the chest. 

Kevin was imprisoned in the Allegan County jail and put on trial two months later. The case was an exercise in histrionics. Emma bolted from the room several times while others were testifying. Kevin’s father collapsed and had to be carried out. The judge had to hand out tickets in advance after the crowd smashed the glass doors. Journalists came from hundreds of miles around for this one, and each witness was a spectacle. 

Kevin’s money bought a good defense – he argued he was not guilty by reason of insanity. Three psychiatrists testified that he was “definitely insane,” in a “post-psychotic stage,’ at the time he killed Jack. The murder was the result of extraordinary events, one expert said; “it’s like striking a match – once you strike it, you don’t strike it again.” 

Kevin himself was on the witness stand for less than ten minutes. “I can’t say what I did. I can’t say what I did. I don’t know.” 

When the jury retired to deliberate, Kevin spent the night in his jail cell, praying with his cell mate, rereading the many letters sent to him, the only lights he had in the nightmare. Then in the wee hours of Saturday came word that the verdict had been reached. The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. 

At once, the flash bulbs started popping off, and the expression they caught on Kevin’s face is pure relief. His last words in the courthouse: “I never knew people could be so nice.” 

Kevin spent three months at Michigan’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane before the pretense was dropped and he was released. Emma divorced him – he didn’t contest it – and their real names are now quite forgotten. 

The legal lesson remains -- statutory prohibitions on murder are sometimes trumped by an older, unwritten law.

Friday, March 26, 2010

We Should All Be "Violently Enraged"

by Lisa R. Cohen

On Wednesday, pediatrician Earl Bradley shuffled into a Delaware courtroom, shackles and handcuffs accessorizing a gray prison jumpsuit above white sneakers. It was the first time he'd been seen publicly since the last time I wrote about his case here, almost a month ago, when he was indicted on 471 counts of child molestation.

Some in the audience, parents of his victims, cried openly. Others tried to get a closer look as Bradley moved to the lectern and
pled not guilty to all 471 counts. These were all brutal acts that took place during thousands of visits to BayBees Pediatrics (below right), the private practice where countless
parents in the sleepy fishing village of Lewes, population 3,000, trustingly took their children. From the outside, the office looked more like Disney Land, with a miniature Ferris wheel and colorful merry-go-round beckoning children. But inside, authorities say, it was a true house of horrors.

From as far back as 1998 until his arrest in December of 2009, prosecutors charge, Bradley forced at least 102 children as young as
three months old to engage in sexual acts, including vaginal intercourse and oral sex with him. Often he took the kids to a basement room after the exam, without their parents. "Come down to my toy chest and pick out a prize," he'd tell toddlers and older kids alike. They'd be gone just a few minutes -- but long enough for him to do unspeakable things and damage them forever. The children would return to their parents, toys in hand.

Sometimes Bradley assaulted his victims right on the exam table, with prolonged internal exams, as when, for instance, one 12-year-old came in complaining of a sore throat and pink eye. According to police reports, Bradley penetrated her for two minutes, then gave her a toy meant for a toddler. Another mother complained that Bradley conducted a four-minute internal exam on a child brought in for ADD.

Yet another mother reported her three-year-old leaving the exam to ask her, "Why did Dr. Bradley kiss my tongue?" The mother went to the police with the same question.

But the complaints and outrage went on for years before Bradley was finally arrested this past December. And perhaps the toughest, most important question that bears answering is: Why did it take so long? Especially since police had fielded enough complaints by December 2008 to ask a judge for a search warrant to raid Bradley's office.

The warrant was denied. The judge said there wasn't enough probable cause. The name of the judge isn't being made public. That's probably good for him, because a lot of the folks in Delaware would jump all over him.

During the ensuing twelve months, Bradley continued to sexually assault dozens more of his patients -- 47 of them, the indictment says. Now the finger-pointing has gone beyond the shortsightedness of an unnamed judge. Delaware press and residents want to know why the prosecutor's office didn't persist in getting into that examining room to do their own examination. An excellent article by the Wilmington (Delaware) News-Journal's Cris Barrish, who's been covering the case, raises a lot more questions.

Why didn't police go to another judge? Or ask the judge to do something else -- sign an arrest warrant, for example, which would have allowed the cops to get in there and possibly catch Bradley incriminating himself? Or ask for federal help? Or report Bradley to the state medical board for misconduct?

Prosecutors have responded that they feared notifying the medical board would have tipped off Bradley, since he'd have been informed of their action. But it might have stopped him from
molesting all those little girls in 2009 (only one of his victims so far was male). We know that girls ran from him screaming and crying, that he yelled and raged at them, demanding they obey. We know that his face at such times was terrifying -- "violently enraged," according to the arrest affidavit. And we know that at least five of his victims appeared to lose consciousness or stop breathing during the attacks.

We know all this because now, 47 victims later, there's more than probable cause. There's video. When Bradley was finally arrested, video files seized from his computer replay all the scenes described in the affidavit, and more. When the Feds were finally called in, it was to help access the files.

The video came from a camera Bradley himself set up, probably to enjoy his conquests over and over again, after the fact. But here's the really stunning part: police
knew that Bradley had installed a camera in his office as early as December 2008, around the time they were asking for the search warrant, and that the doctor could view the video remotely from his home.

And yet they didn't push the case further until new victims came forward in the months ahead.

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. And it didn't help that the police investigator in the case retired in early 2009, when it was taken over by a new detective. But in this case, foresight and good old common sense should have provided a pretty clear picture.

Wednesday, the judge upped Bradley's bail from $2.9 million to $4.9 million -- cash. That's $10,000 for each count. A case review is now scheduled for May 19th, but Bradley's public defender said he doubts it will take place, since it would be based on the prosecutor preparing to offer a plea deal. That's not going to happen. Bradley's lawyer is talking insanity plea.

One of the mothers who cried at Wednesday's hearing said,"I just want to see him rot in hell."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Keep Him in Prison

by Kathryn Casey

I don't go to my P.O. Box as often as I should. I finally made it over there this past weekend, and to my dismay I discovered a letter from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice dated March 9. The subject: James Edward Bergstrom, the rapist in my book Evil Beside Her. The bad news: Bergstrom is up for parole.

Although the jury handed down four 99-year sentences, it shouldn't have been a shocker. Bergstrom was eligible a couple of years ago. At that time, I went on Montel and did a bunch of radio interviews, asking people to write letters protesting his release. I don't usually do this with the folks I write about. Once they've served their time, if the parole board decides to let them out, I don't try to keep them in. Bergstrom is an exception.

Why? Well, let me tell you something about him. He started out as a teenager, molesting a little girl. As an adult, he was a peeping Tom, skulking around windows, looking in on women, hoping to see them undress. From there, Bergstrom began breaking and entering, figuring out how to get into the houses. When he attacked his first intended victim and she fought back, he ran away.

Still, Bergstrom was determined. Stung by his failure, he began planning, thinking, watching, deciding the best way to subdue a victim, how to keep from getting caught. When he couldn't accomplish his goal by sheer physical force and intimidation, James Bergstrom began carrying a knife, and then a gun.

Once he had a weapon, he was in control. He tied his victims up, sometimes for hours, while he stayed in their homes, raping them. He psychologically tormented them, talking like they were friends, like they were willingly with him. It was demented, and he was obsessed.

Day and night, all waking hours, James Bergstrom fantasized about stalking and raping women. Over a period of two years in Houston, he has admitted attacking 35 women and raping five. He told me that they wanted him as much as he wanted them, insisting some of them enjoyed it. He threatened them with guns and knives, and told his last victim he'd kill her if she fought back.

The bottom line is that James Bergstrom is a very, very sick man, and he belongs in prison, forever. I have no doubt that he will attack more women, claim more victims, if he's ever released.

So I'm asking all of you, no matter where you live, to help me keep James Bergstrom in prison, where he belongs. It's easy. It doesn't matter where in the world you live. It's as easy as sending an e-mail.

Include this information:

His name: James Edward Bergstrom
His state ID: 04408281
TDCJ ID: 00659297

E-mail, fax or mail your protest letters to:

TDCJ – Victim Services Division
8712 Shoal Creek Blvd, Ste 265
Austin, Texas 78757
Email: victim.svc@tdcj.state.tx.us
FAX: 512-452-0825

You don't need to list your address, only your name. TDCJ assures me that the inmates don't see the protest letters and all names are kept confidential. Simply detail in the e-mail why you want James Bergstrom kept behind bars: because he's a psychopath obsessed with victimizing women. Spell it out: If he's released, more women will suffer. He threatened to kill his final victim, a 16-year-old high school student. There's absolutely no reason to believe he won't carry out his threats if he's ever allowed out on parole.

Take a few minutes, send TDCJ an e-mail. You may be saving another woman's life.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The East Coast Rapist Strikes Again

by Pat Brown

I just read about the East Coast serial rapist who has been plaguing the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut since 1997. Last Halloween, he resurfaced. This elusive predator grabbed three teenage girls at gunpoint and raped one after the other. DNA links the rapist to twelve rapes, and he is suspected in at least seventeen attacks.

The police went public after the first three assaults in Prince George's County. They told the media there was a bicycle-riding rapist on the loose with a gun. Then he changed his MO. He got rid of the bike and started using a knife. The victims noted he had a chipped front tooth and there was a composite sketch of him. Some detectives working serial sex cases are reluctant to give out specific information to the public for fear a offender will change his MO, making it harder to link him to future crimes, but I say Prince George's County did exactly the right thing. The best way to catch a serial predator is to give as much information as possible (excluding anything that wouldn't help with identification and would be more useful if withheld) to help the public identify someone they know that meets the description. Without this information, stranger rapes and homicides leave detectives often stuck with a whole community of possible suspects and no way to narrow down the list. Tips from citizens can make all the difference.

Going public with as many clues as possible is the best way to nail a serial predator outside of a lucky DNA match from the offender bank, or the criminal doing something criminally stupid like getting stopped by a cop for dead tags when the body is still in the car.

One very fascinating case proves how going public with pertinent information could make a major difference. In the 1980s, out in northern California, the so-called I-5 strangler was giving police a run for their money. By the third crime, it was clear there really was a signature (a fairly rare element of serial murderers regardless of what Hollywood tells us). The killer liked to cut up the victims' clothes - just chop, chop, chop, for the fun of it, not to remove them from the bodies, but just because he enjoyed doing it.

Sacramento County Homicide Lieutenant Ray Biondi immediately thought this would be a great piece of information to release to the public, but his department balked. "This is something only the killer would know," they objected, "and this secret clue will help prove he is the right guy if he confesses to that in an interview." Biondi disagreed; he knew one of the best ways to catch a serial killer was to put out recognition keys for someone in the public to connect to someone they know. "Sometimes you have to give up something to get something. Revealing, not concealing, is the name of the game," Biondi says.

Bruce Henderson details the case in his exceptional book, Trace Evidence. Ray Biondi finally wore them down. The information about the weird cut-up clothes went public. It turns out that this information was known to the killer's juvenile parole officer and his father (although they ended up finding it in his police report). One of the possible suspects, Roger Kibbe (above left), was caught stealing women's clothing off clotheslines thirty years earlier -- and cutting them up. If that description hadn't been in the police files, investigators would have needed someone to remember it and give them a call.

Another excellent method to dealing with serial rapes and homicides is to bring in a criminal profiler. The best time is early in the series, but anytime is better the never. The profiler can put in the time that most detectives working the cases don't have; they can spend hours and hours analyzing the crime scene and forensic evidence, reconstructing the crimes to uncover offender behaviors, and working to link crimes through MO and signature aspects exhibited by the perpetrator. They can review suspect lists and reread statements, performing statement analysis to ferret out deception and overlooked bits of information that might forward the investigation. They will review police reports and victims' descriptions of the crime and their attacker (if they are alive) and look for behavioral patterns in the offender's choice of victims, behavioral patterns of the victims which might have made them targets of the predator, and examine geographical patterns that might indicate where the offender has lived, worked, traveled, and how this identifies him and links him to the crimes.

Support for the investigative team over the long time period these cases are worked is imperative. This is another critical aspect of handling a series of sex crimes. Information overload, case management issues, burnout, and community and media pressure, take a toll on the team. Serial rapes and homicides are the most difficult of crimes to solve because they usually involve offenders with no or little connection to the victim and with serial homicides there is often no witness to any part of the event. The offenders may change victim type, methodology, and jurisdiction. There are often months, if not years, between related crimes and each crime may be handled by a different detective in the department, or detectives from different jurisdictions and they may not even know their cases are related unless DNA links them or someone realizes they may indeed be connected. Then a task force might be created to pull the cases together and the cases looked at together. If no progress appears to be made, the detectives can become extremely discouraged and lose the initiative to keep plugging away at it, year after thankless year.

If the best techniques are followed in handling serial homicide cases, there is a higher chance of seeing a successful outcome, but, even so, sometimes you hit a dead end. And sometimes when all has gone quiet and you think the perpetrator of a series of rapes or sexual homicides has quit, been incarcerated, or died, he pops up again. The East Coast Rapist has done just that, resurfacing after years of quiet. It's time to pull out all the files again and start the process over. Hopefully, this time, the East Coast Rapist will be identified and put out of business.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Strange Death of Mike the Durable

by Deborah Blum

In the winter of 1933, the empty store stayed dark all day, dusty wooden crates piled high behind the windows. But if you lived close by, you knew that the door opened at night and that behind the stacked boxes was a bare-bones little speakeasy, a sofa, four tables, a plywood bar along the back wall, a fair supply of bootlegged whiskey, and a bartender who slept it off at night on the sofa.

The speakeasy, such as it was, kept its owner out of the breadlines. Barely. Sometimes his patrons paid; sometimes they didn’t. They’d empty the ragtag of coins out of their pockets and put the rest on a tab. Sometimes they paid that tab, sometimes not. The worst was old Michael Malloy, who drifted in and out of employment – street cleaner, coffin polisher - according to whether he was able to stay upright. There were nights when the owner would have sworn that he was pouring most of his profits down Mike Malloy’s neck.

Malloy and money were the topics of discussion one night after he’d had passed out again atop the plywood bar. The speakeasy boss, Tony Marino, and several of his friends were playing an idle game of pinochle, drinking some bootlegged whiskey, all of them worrying over money and the Depression’s hard times.

If only one of them had a wealthy relative or, barring that, a sick one with a good insurance policy. The right kind of dead family member would have really come in handy right then. Too bad none of them had an expendable relative. But perhaps, Marino suggested, they could create one -- someone no one would miss, someone hardly worth keeping alive anyway.

As the story was later told, to a man, they turned to look at Mike Malloy, snoring off another bender in the backroom bar. And at the moment, in a ragtag speakeasy in the Bronx, was chosen the worst possible victim of a murder scheme, a man the newspapers would later dub “Mike the Durable.”

The saga of the almost invincible Mike, the improbably cursed murder syndicate, and the investigation that sent all four of those card players to the electric chair, is probably my favorite true crimes story from The Poisoner’s Handbook. It’s just natural Alfred Hitchcock material, with the same macabre sense of the ridiculous, a corpse that just won't go away, that pervades Hitchcock's film “The Trouble With Harry".

I’m not arguing that murder – in this case the death of a harmless and rather pathetic old man – is laugh track material. But this particular story is a dark comedy of errors. And it definitely proves that familiar saying – you couldn’t make it up – reminding us that even the most creative fiction writers can’t always top what people come up with all by themselves.

The conspirators in the Malloy scheme finalized their plans in January of 1933, clustered around a table at that no-name speakeasy. They’d persuaded their amiable victim to pose as the brother of bartender Red Murphy – in exchange for free whiskey – and taken out two insurance policies with a combined payout of $1,800.

In addition to Murphy, the others in the oddly assembled plot included Marino, a fruit vendor named Daniel Kriesberg, and Frank Pasqua, an increasingly money-strapped funeral home director. Their initial idea was simple. Prohibition was still in effect, and New York City was awash in poison alcohol, the product of shoddy home brews, government efforts to contaminate the liquor supply as an enforcement tool, and bootlegger concoctions. They would just provide Malloy with a generous allotment of bad alcohol and watch him go down.

But the old derelict thrived on bad whiskey, drank himself into a stupor every night, and returned the next day. So they decided on poisonous snacks to go with the liquor – bad oysters, rotten sardine sandwiches, sandwiches with metal shavings, sandwiches with glass. He loved those too.

A month later, they had yet another plan. They waited one night until he passed out, carried him to a park bench on a freezing February night and poured water on him. He didn’t even wake up during the soaking. But he was back next night without so much as catching a cold. Finally, the exasperated would-be killers hired a cab driver, Hershy Green, to run over Malloy in a nearby street. But a policeman found him after the accident and took him to a hospital. He was back in the bar, asking for a drink, a few weeks later.

It wasn’t until the end of February that they figured out a way to kill him, using illuminating gas, dense with poisonous carbon monoxide. Finally, they started collecting their insurance money. But unfortunately – at least for them - the story of the indestructible Malloy was too good to stay secret. It started circulating in other bars, making its way round other card games, until the Bronx police picked the rumors and began an investigation.

And the conspirators had other bad luck too. They’d paid a corrupt local doctor to sign a death certificate attributing Malloy’s death to poison alcohol and had their victim hastily buried. But the city exhumed the body. And even though this was several months after the death, forensic scientists could detect lethal levels of carbon monoxide in the old man’s tissues.

Both the cab driver and the physician made deals and testified for the prosecution. And Murphy, Marino, Kriesberg and Pasqua all went to the electric chair in the summer of 1934. A reporter for the now-vanished New York Daily Mirror recorded the execution in crisp staccato: “The kw-e-e- of the dynamo. Two thousand volts and ten amperes. The rip-saw current that tears one apart. Three shocks.” It was, he wrote, “the State’s toast to old ‘Mike the Durable’.”

Friday, March 19, 2010


by Kathryn Casey

You know Women In Crime Ink’s Diane Fanning best for her ten true crime books, but she also writes fiction novels that have been praised by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist and Library Journal. Now, fresh from her overwhelming success with her latest true crime book, MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL, Diane announces the release of a new novel, MISTAKEN IDENTITY. I wanted to know more about it, so I interviewed the author about her latest publication.

Kathryn Casey: Obviously, since MISTAKEN IDENTITY is the third book in the Lucinda Pierce mystery series, Detective Pierce is the main character of this novel. What other characters from the first two books appear again?

Diane Fanning: A number of them are back: FBI Special Agent Jake Lovett returns, and the attraction between him and Lucinda heats up. Charley Spencer, who is now ten years old, is back interacting with Lucinda, as well as helping out the newly orphaned Freddy Sterling. Lucinda’s siblings, Maggie and Ricky, have expanded roles in this book, revealing more details about their current relationships and their family’s past. Returning in less prominent roles are Charley’s father, Dr. Evan Spencer, Dr. Rambo Burns, Ted and Ellen Branson, Dr. Audrey Ringo, Officer Robin Colter, District Attorney Michael Reed, forensic specialist Marguerite Spellman, defense attorney Stephen Theismann and Lucinda’s supervisor Captain Holland.

KC: Aside from the characters, what are the similarities between MISTAKEN IDENTITY and the other two books in the series?

DF: Each of my books developed a focus on a particular problem in our society. THE TROPHY EXCHANGE explored the cost of domestic violence through the murder of Lucinda’s mother and the suicide of her father, as well as the ugly incidents that impacted her professional life. PUNISH THE DEED looked at people who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and instead place the blame on others — the most striking example being the serial killer who hunted down the heads of non-profit organizations. MISTAKEN IDENTITY continues in this tradition by taking a look at the damage of childhood scars and the consequences of irresponsible parenting.

KC: Is there anything that makes MISTAKEN IDENTITY different from its predecessors?

DF: Most definitely. In the first two books, Lucinda tracked down serial killers — in each one, the offender had a different motivation and method of operation but still both were homicidal psychopaths with blood lust. In MISTAKEN IDENTITY, the homicides are far more personal. Instead of leaving a string of bodies for Lucinda to connect and follow, this perpetrator leaves a trail of contradictory clues.

KC: Your first two true crime books were about serial killers, too, weren’t they?

DF: You know, until this moment, I hadn’t thought about that, but you are right. I wrote about Tommy Lynn Sells and Richard Marc Evonitz and their strings of murders before turning to the far more personal homicide committed by Michael Peterson in WRITTEN IN BLOOD. I knew writing true crime had provided me with a lot of knowledge and information that helped add to the credibility of my fiction, but I guess writing about real crimes had more of an impact on my fiction than I knew.

KC: What are your plans for the future? Will you be writing true crime or fiction?

DF: Actually, I plan to do both. Fiction it very solitary work that makes me appreciate the places researching true crime takes me, as well as the interaction with people I get from doing interviews and visiting courtrooms. On the other hand, it is a nice escape from reality to write fiction, shape a story the way I want it to go and kill off whoever needs killing without causing any grief to real people.

KC: So what are you working on now?

DF: I have two books in progress. One is a true crime about Raynella Dossett Leath. Her first husband was thought to have died in a cattle stampede. She claimed her second husband’s death was suicide. Now, she has been convicted of the murder of her second husband and is facing trial for killing her first husband. I am also working on a fourth Lucinda Pierce novel. And I need to get both manuscripts completed this year.

KC: My friend, you are going to be busy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's Wrong With Being Right?

by Katherine Scardino

Hank Skinner is about to die. He is a convicted capital murderer with an execution date of March 24, 2010. However, there's a problem. Hank Skinner has continuously said that he is an innocent man. We don't know that he's an innocent man. But there's one way to determine whether he's telling the truth. For fifteen years, Hank Skinner has asked for a DNA analysis of the evidence in his murder trial. He was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and stabbing to death her two mentally impaired sons, Randy Busby and Elwin Caler. The murders occurred on December 31, 1993. Skinner was convicted of the murders on March 18, 1994, and sentenced to death on March 23, 1995.

Skinner has filed numerous appeals. This article isn't about whether Hank Skinner is guilty or innocent. It's about whether his request for DNA testing should be granted. Regardless of the facts of any case, if there's a test that would resolve the issues, wouldn't most people say: Go ahead and do it? Let’s settle this issue once and for all. If Hank Skinner’s DNA is linked to evidence used to prove his guilt, then by all means, let’s show it. If Hank Skinner’s DNA isn't on that evidence, then let’s show that also. Who would object to that? Well, let’s answer that. Maybe the prosecutor, who wouldn't want it proven that he got the whole case wrong? The judge, who wouldn't want to be reversed -- and revealed as a total idiot whose every ruling and the theory of the case presented by the State were totally and provably wrong. Just wrong. No one wants to be proven wrong.

So what's the issue? It's that Hank Skinner has asked for a DNA analysis of the untested evidence ever since his 1994 trial, and has been refused every step of the way. My question is this: If a simple DNA analysis would prove this man innocent, or even throw some doubt on his guilt, what in holy hell is wrong with doing that?

I'm not saying Hank Skinner is innocent. I have no idea about whether he is actually innocent or guilty as sin. My question is simply -- if this man’s culpability can be shown by a simple test, why in the world would the State be opposed to it? He is about to die, for God’s sake. What would they be afraid of? Are we so into this idea of finality that we forget what is really fair? The State argues that finality is the goal, and the courts have ruled. But DNA testing is in the hands of the State. They could have answered this question years ago.

Hank Skinner has been accused and convicted of horrible crimes. Again, I reiterate, I have no knowledge whether Skinner is guilty or innocent. I just know that when a person proclaims his innocence, over and over to every appellate court possible, and the State refuses to do the simple DNA testing that would resolve several layers of appellate review, I get suspicious. Why the opposition? The DNA would show one way or the other, right?

It reminds me of the Timothy Cole case. Timothy Cole was convicted of the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech student and  sentenced to 25 years in prison. His conviction was based in part on the victim’s identification of him as her attacker, in part on what a judge later called faulty police work and a questionable suspect lineup. The victim later fought to help clear Cole’s name. Cole died in prison in 1999, at age 39, after an asthma attack sent him into cardiac arrest. Cole was cleared by DNA in 2009, posthumously exonerating him, after repeated confessions by another man in 2008.

When Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Timothy Cole, it ended the Cole family’s long battle to clear Timothy’s name. But it did something else. It reminded all of us that Timothy Cole was wrongfully convicted of rape two decades ago, and DNA would have proved his innocence -- if someone had had the cajones to stand up and say we should give this man have the test he was asking for. DNA would have disposed of this case years ago. Why did we take so long? As I see it, there is only one answer. Pride. The prosecutor. The judge. The defense lawyer. What was the delay? If there is an iota of reason why a defendant should have DNA testing of any piece of evidence, why in the world would anyone object?

But what about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham? He was executed in 2004 for arson in a fire that killed his children. At his trial, forensic experts for the State said the fire was set intentionally. But later, other experts in forensic evidence involving arson found the forensic science used in the case was invalid and that the analysts should have known that it was faulty at the time of their testimony. Simply put, Texas executed an innocent man.

About four years ago, the Texas Innocence Project, of which I can proudly say that I am a board member, asked the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the Willingham case and similar cases. The conclusion of the Texas Innocence Project is that there are likely other cases in Texas like those of Timothy Cole, Cameron Todd Willingham, and maybe Hank Skinner. Science proved Timothy Cole’s innocence 10 years too late. It threw Cameron Todd Willingham’s case into doubt several years too late. And it will soon be too late for science to prove whether Hank Skinner is an innocent man.

If an inmate says “I am innocent and I can prove it,” what's wrong with letting him prove or disprove his innocence with DNA testing? It seems silly to even try to argue that denying this testing serves justice in some way. When Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Timothy Cole this year, it was good for Cole's his family but embarrassing for the State of Texas. We had a governor who refused for a very long time to address this issue. It took years. Nor should Perry granted Cole a pardon. Cole should have been exonerated years ago; the television cameras would have been at the front door of the prison as he walked out, a free man.

The State of Texas needs to do some re-thinking, and our citizens should remember this at the voting booth.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Ballad of Barefoot Harris

by Donna Pendergast

It would seem logical that Colton Harris-Moore would have a hard time hiding. The lanky six-foot-five 18-year-old would certainly stand out in a crowd, let alone on Camano Island. The island is a slightly less than 40-square-mile block of land in Puget Sound off the Seattle mainland. But the serial burglar has eluded police since walking away from a halfway house in April 2008. In the last two years he has gained a fan club, a large Facebook following, and national media attention for his exploits as he has outfoxed police at every turn. The one-man crime wave has made a mockery of local authorities in Catch Me As You Can Fashion while achieving cult hero status for committing crimes that seem straight from the movies.

The Stuff of Bad Legends, aka Momma Tried

Brought up for the most part by a single mother in a dilapidated trailer on Camano Island, Harris-Moore first became known to police after stealing a bike at age eight. First convicted of possession of stolen property at age 12, he quickly racked up three similar convictions within a few months of turning 13. By age 15, with nine previous arrests to his credit, he was sentenced in 2007 to more than three years in juvenile detention after being caught in an unoccupied home when a neighbor noticed lights on. Harris-Moore was later transferred to the halfway house, where he snuck out a window and into notoriety.

Among other things, the elusive escapee is suspected of committing scores of residential burglaries in Washington and Idaho, and in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle, stealing money, credit card numbers and other valuables. He also takes necessities like blankets and food to survive day-to-day while running from the law. A bit of a survivalist, it is believed that Harris-Moore has managed to fly under the radar and avoid detection by living and hiding in camps in the woods, sometimes using infra-red goggles ordered off the internet. He is said to have a vast knowledge of northwestern plants and animals, and he's known to run through the woods barefoot and catch his own food. He is also known to enter unoccupied seasonal homes in remote areas in the islands around Seattle.

Harris-Moore's escapades range from breaking into houses for baths and ice cream, to stealing thousands of dollars from safes and ATMs in the Orcas Islands. On a larger scale, he is suspected of stealing boats and luxury cars, which he later abandons after committing his crimes. On one occasion Harris-Moore, in a Mercedes "borrowed" from a neighbor, eluded chasing police by bailing out of the still rolling car and slipping into the adjacent woods. The rolling car dislodged a propane pipe at a cafe and grocery, and pursuing police only narrowly averted a disastrous explosion. Authorities later found a self portrait on a digital camera on the front seat of the vehicle. That photograph (top) shows Harris-Moore lying in ferns wearing a polo shirt with the Mercedes logo. That shirt was taken from the neighbor as well.

Surveillance footage from many of the burglaries show Harris-Moore as a barefooted thief, earning him the nickname the "Barefoot Burglar." His sans-shoes proclivity has been parodied on YouTube in a song labeled The Ballad of Barefoot Harris. As light-hearted as the song may be, Harris-Moore recently revealed a more sinister side. He broke into a police car and stole a rifle. He later left a note saying "Cops wanna play huh!? Well it's no lil game ... it's war and tell them that." As a result of that note he is now considered armed and dangerous.

Perhaps most intriguing to his fans and followers is the suspicion that Harris-Moore has recently taken to joyriding in airplanes which he has taken by hotwiring and later crashed while managing to walk away unscathed. Although the evidence has not yet conclusively linked him to the robberies, four stolen airplanes have been found crashed near areas where Harris-Moore is suspected of committing crimes. With no formal flight training, but harboring a longtime fascination with flying, it is believed Harris-Moore taught himself to fly by reading flight manuals, playing video games and searching the internet.

Last month, during his most recent aviation aventure, Harris-Moore is believed to have nearly entered restricted airspace above Vancouver during the Winter Olympics before crash-landing on a runway at Orcas Island's Eastsound Airport. His handiwork was later discovered by the owner of a nearby market, who arrived later that morning to find his store burglarized. He also discovered giant chalk outlines of feet drawn all over the floor; meanwhile, his surveillance system sat in a sink under running water. Two of the chalk feet led out the market's door and were accompanied by a scrawled message that said "C-YA."

Harris-Moore's mother claims that her son is still in the area and goes out regularly in public while in disguise. Police officers who have caught a glimpse of Harris-Moore during his multiple misdeeds claim that he has an uncanny ability to vanish into thin air, or at least into the woods, in the blink of an eye. Law enforcement authorities have grown weary of Harris-Moore's cat-and-mouse games and vow to apprehend him sooner rather than later. We will see, in the meantime, as the legend of Barefoot Harris continues to grow.

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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Robert Halderman, Winner: David Letterman

by Robin Sax

CBS News producer Robert Halderman plead guilty to second-degree larceny in a New York courtroom this week. It is quietly over for David Letterman, who has come out on top of this whole mess. No trial, no fuss, and no punch line. Halderman attempted to extort $2 million from Letterman back in October of 2009 by threatening to expose the late night host’s affair with Stephanie Birkitt and other sexual liaisons.

But Letterman went on national television and preempted Halderman. He came clean about having the affairs. He bravely thwarted Halderman’s attempted extortion. And we all gasped!

I know we were all pretty shocked when Letterman made his announcement. Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this story was not that he was extorted, not that he had sex while having a girlfriend, and not that Robert Halderman actually tried to cash the $2 million check. Oh, no, it was the response of Letterman's audience that was most intriguing.

His audience laughed at what they thought was a punch line, but this was no joke. If you watch that original admission back in October you’ll see the strain and lines in Letterman’s forehead. This was no laughing matter. But Letterman gets the last laugh now.

I say kudos to Letterman, who probably made one of the most difficult appearances in his career. To come clean before the whole nation is something we don’t see very often.  Actually, I don’t even remember the last celebrity figure or politician who had the guts to do it.

A decade ago, such an announcement could have been the beginning of the end of a career. But honesty goes a long way today. Letterman will move on unscathed.

When Letterman addressed the case this week, his audience had a decidedly different reaction: somber and respectful.

Letterman started with: “I need to talk to you about a segment of my life here that began six months ago,” and the audience received him very well.

Letterman said he brought the matter to the attention of the New York District Attorney’s office because he “was concerned and full of anxiety and nervous and worried.”  The District Attorney’s office told Letterman at the time that the case “will be handled professionally, this will be handled skillfully, and appropriately.”

Letterman praised the NY DA’s office, saying: “Well, the matter was resolved today, and they were exactly right – it was handled professionally, skillfully and appropriately.” He then personally thanked members of the DA’s office.

As part of a plea bargain, Halderman will receive six months in jail, five years probation, and a thousand hours of community service.  I think Halderman should get more then six months, but that’s just me.

Letterman, meanwhile, wanted to ensure that he wasn’t going to be extorted again, so he did the right thing: he shaped the message and told the truth.  All public figures, politicians, law enforcement and entertainment personalities should learn from Letterman’s example.

But it's likely that in the future, public figures will still pretend “it never happened” when things come out -- and then have to lamely apologize when it’s proved that “yes, it did!”  Fact is this:  Today, people will find out about your mistakes and talk about them. In the global media market, with interconnected networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and LinkedIn, you can’t hide from the truth. 

If you’re honest, just like Letterman, you'll come out on top. You may even get applause, and in the end, justice. Letterman is the big winner here and will move on with his life as the host of The Late Show. The loser, Halderman, is exactly where he should be: in jail.