Monday, January 31, 2011

The Poisoner's Handbook

By Deborah Blum

 My book, The Poisoner's Handbook, comes out in paperback this week. It was published a year ago, and I had the pleasure of joining Women in Crime Ink as a blogger shortly later.

It's been a wonderful year to be the author of a story about 1920's forensic detectives figuring out how to catch poison killers. The book was named one of the top 100 books of 2010 by Amazon. I've visited more than 15 cities to talk about it, and I am actually booked to continue talking about through October of this year. I do sometimes show up wearing the Victorian poison ring that I purchased in honor of the book.

"Where did women actually get those rings?" my son asked me. "Did they go to the jeweler and ask to see the rings kept under the counter?"

As you may guess, my family and friends worry a little about my ongoing obsession with poison, murder, and the more sinister aspects of chemistry. I'm awfully prone upon hearing the name of a poison - say, mercury - to relate the story of 1920's film star Olive Thomas (Mary Pickford's sister-in-law) who was killed by mercury. And don't get me started on arsenic. My neighbors have promised my husband that they are looking out for him. My husband now drinks his coffee at a distance.

But I continue to find the subject endlessly fascinating. Poisoners themselves, with their devious ways and cold-hearted plotting, tell us a lot about who we are, often at our worst. Poisons themselves are a reminder that we need to navigate with care and knowledge through the chemical world in which we live.

Of course, poisons really are fascinatingly wicked chemical compounds and many of them have fascinating histories as well. In honor of the paperback publication, I thought I'd share with you a few of my favorites:

1. Carbon Monoxide: It’s so beautifully simple (just two atoms--one of carbon, one of oxygen) and so amazingly efficient a killer. There’s a story I tell in the book about a murder syndicate trying to kill an amazingly resilient victim. They try everything from serving him poison alcohol to running over him with a car. But in the end, it’s carbon monoxide that does him in.
2. Arsenic: This used to be the murderer’s poison of poisons, so commonly used in the early 19th century that it was nicknamed the inheritance powder. It’s also the first poison that forensic scientists really figured out how to detect in a corpse. It stays in the body for centuries, which is why we keep digging up historic figures like Napoleon or U.S. President Zachary Taylor to check their remains for poison.
3. Radium: I love the fact that this rare radioactive element used to be considered good for your health. It was mixed into medicines, face creams, and health drinks in the 1920's. People thought of it like a tiny glowing sun that would give them its power. Boy, were they wrong. The two scientists in my book, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, proved in 1928 that the bones of people exposed to radium became radioactive, and stayed that way for years.

4. Nicotine: This was the first plant poison that scientists learned to detect in a human body. Just an incredible case in which a French aristocrat and her husband decided to kill her brother for money. They actually stewed up tobacco leaves in a barn to brew a nicotine potion. Their amateur chemical experiments inspired a very determined professional chemist to hunt them down.

5. Chloroform: Developed for surgical anesthesia in the 19th century, this rapidly became a favorite tool of home invasion robbers. If you read newspapers around the turn of the 20th century, they’re full of accounts of people who answered a knock on the door, only to be knocked out by a chloroform soaked rag. One woman woke up to find her hair shaved off, and undoubtedly sold for the lucrative wig trade.

6. Mercury: In its pure state, mercury appears as a bright silver liquid, which scatters into shiny droplets when touched. No wonder it’s nicknamed quicksilver. People used to drink it as a medicine more than 100 years ago. No, they didn’t drop dead. Those silvery balls just slid right through them. Mercury is much more poisonous if it’s mixed with other chemicals and can be absorbed by the body directly. That’s why methylmercury in fish turns out to be so risky a contaminant.

7. Cyanide: One of the most famous of the homicidal poisons and, in my opinion, not a particularly good choice. Yes, it’s amazingly lethal--a teaspoon of the pure stuff can kill in a few minutes. But it’s a violent and obvious death. In early March of last year, in fact, an Ohio doctor was convicted of murder for putting cyanide in his wife’s vitamin supplements.

8. Aconite: A heart-stoppingly, deadly natural poison. It forms in ornamental plants that include the blue-flowering monkshood. The ancient Greeks called it the queen of poisons and considered it so evil that they believed that it derived from the saliva of Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of hell.

9. Silver: Swallowing silver nitrate probably won’t kill you, but if you do it long enough it will turn you blue. One of my favorite stories involving a silver bullet concerns the Famous Blue Man of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus who was analyzed by one of the heroes of my book, Alexander Gettler.

10. Thallium: Agatha Christie put this poison at the heart of one of her creepiest mysteries, The Pale Horse, and I looked at it in terms of a murdered family in real life. An element discovered in the 19th century, it’s a perfect homicidal poison. Tasteless and odorless, except for one obvious giveaway, the victim’s hair falls out as a result of the poisoning!

Now that I’ve written this list, I realize I could probably name ten more. But, I don’t want to scare you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

'A Change Is Gonna Come'

by Katherine Scardino

My client, Anthony Graves, walked out of the Burleson County Jail on October 27,  2010, after having been incarcerated in jail and prison for a whopping total of 18 years.  Out of those 18 years, Anthony was on death row for 14.  Can you close your eyes and imagine how long 14 years is?  And, being locked in a box for that long for a crime that you know in your heart you did not commit.  I cannot imagine the confusion and terror that must build inside after only a very short period of time, not to mention 18 years.

Anthony Graves is free. But what now? Although no amount of money can replace nearly two decades of an innocent man's life, it seems obvious that the state of Texas should take some responsibility for this egregious wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In 2001, Texas passed a law that provided exonerated people monetary compensation for every year they were wrongfully imprisoned. This law awarded exonerated prisoners $25,000 for every year of wrongful incarceration, with a maximum allowance of $500,000 per person. Of course, this was only for wrongful incarceration claims that were approved through the state comptroller's office. From 2001 to 2006, only about half of the claims submitted were approved.

In May 2009, Texas passed the Tim Cole Compensation Act.  This legislation was named after and inspired by Timothy Cole, an inmate who was wrongfully convicted for rape and who received a 25-year sentence.  Mr. Cole died in prison in 1999, at age 39, from a heart attack, after spending 13 years locked up.  Naming a piece of Texas legislation after this man hardly seems like enough to do much for his family’s feelings.  But, this act did, in fact, increase the annual amount a wrongfully convicted man receives for each year, spent behind bars for doing nothing, from $50,000 to $80,000. In addition, the act also provides health insurance and college tuition. However, if someone accepts the state compensation, they lose their right to file a civil lawsuit against the State of Texas. Also, any wrongly incarcerated person who went on to commit other crimes would not be eligible for the compensation.

Currently, Anthony Graves should receive $80,000 for each year he was incarcerated.  That adds up to right under $1.5 million dollars.  I suppose we could discuss how much is really enough, but that may be for another day.  Unfortunately, there is a snafu with Anthony's claim to the state for compensation.

Last October, the district attorney and his special prosecutor held a press conference and stated that after a thorough investigation of the case, they were dismissing the indictment of capital murder against Anthony.  They both said that Anthony Graves was actually innocent of the charge of capital murder.  An Order of Dismissal was prepared by the district attorney and presented to the judge for her signature.  The order stated the following: “We have found no credible evidence which inculpates this defendant.” It was signed by both the district attorney and the judge.  Anthony Graves was released from the county jail that day, and we picked him up and took him home.

Now, several months later and after applying to the proper authorities for the funds under the Tim Cole Compensation Act, we have learned that there may be a problem.  The state has not yet officially responded to our application for funds, but the defense attorneys are anticipating a serious roadblock. We have been told that the words "actual innocence "must be included on the order of dismissal.

To try and straighten out this technical difficulty, we timely prepared and submitted to the district attorney of Burleson County an amended order of dismissal that included those two magic words--words that he had used in front of cameras last October.  Bill Parham, the DA, refused to sign the amended order, which would have assured that Anthony would be eligible for these funds. This is despite the fact that he had no problem discussing Anthony's innocence with the media on the day of the news conference. 

So, here we are, waiting and hoping for a miracle.  Anthony Graves has been learning a lot about life since October.  He has a new computer, a cell phone, a flat-screen television, and most recently, a used car to call his own, and even a job.  Most of those items were gifts to him from his lawyers, family and friends.  It is hard to walk out of jail or prison after 18 years and be expected to simply get a job.  He did not even know how to send an e-mail, God forbid.

But, he will overcome these hardships. Anthony Graves always has met, pondered and mastered the greatest adversities imaginable.  There are some good things that are happening to him, also.  He has spoken at several functions around Texas about his life experiences to try and convince young people to be careful about who they run with and what they put in their bodies.  He wants to do what he can to change lives.  And, he can.  

CBS’ 48 Hours is doing a special program on Anthony's conviction and release.  They have interviewed many people having to do with his case--even the DA who caused the entire fiasco.  Anthony told the reporter that when he was on death row, he entertained himself by singing, and eventually she convinced him to sing the song for her. I spoke with her yesterday and she described for me the scene when Anthony began singing for her and seemingly forgot the cameras were on.  He closed his eyes, and as tears fell down both cheeks, he sang  from his soul A Change is Gonna Come.   She started crying; I started crying.  There but for the Grace of God go I--or you.  

There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will 

- Sam Cooke

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Disabled Mother Fighting for Visitation Rights

“This is disturbing and sad on so many levels,” says Nicole Leibovitz Klauzar on my Facebook page. I whole-heartedly agree.

For those of you who missed this touching piece in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, January 24, titled “A Precious, Secret Meeting,” I will give you the summary. Abbie Dorn, 34-years-old, is confined to a wheelchair after suffering sever brain damage following a grave medical malpractice incident when she gave birth to triplets about three years ago. Abbie has not held her children since the day they were born because her now ex-husband is battling to prevent her visitation with her parents and custodians, Paul and Susan Cohen. Finally, just last month, Abbie’s children were allowed to spend a few precious hours with her.

As I read this article, I felt awful that a case like this is even tangled up in our justice system. I am all about fighting and duking it out in court when necessary, of course. I earn a living at it. But, does this father really have to fight this mother and her family so hard? Why shouldn't the kids meet their mom and get to know their mother’s family and their grandparents? One tragedy, their mother’s brain damage, doesn’t have to mean another tragedy, the alienation of the kids from the mom and their own relatives. It is outrageous. I mean, what or who, exactly, are you protecting the kids from?

Vicki J. Greene, who represents Dan Dorn (the ex husband), has argued in documents and in court that “the constitutional right to visit with one’s children is reserved for fit parents only.” According to Greene, Abbie “is incapable of communication (blinking is merely reflexive) and more likely than not, would not know or acknowledge her children if they were standing before her.”

In response, Lisa Helfend Meyer, Abbie’s attorney, puts it succinctly: “Even prisoners have the right to see their children.” Arguably it is in the best interests of these children to have a relationship with their mother. But even more so, the mother has a right to visit with her children.

According to an analysis by Solomon Park who wrote Involvement in the Child Welfare System Among Mothers with Serious Mental Illness, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not yet provide adequate protection for parents threatened with this kind of custody loss.

The ADA does establish something called community integration as a right for people with psychiatric disabilities, though. The number of parents living with a mental illness in the United States is estimated to be in the millions. These parents are at a much greater risk of losing their children, and they need additional review and protection. Research has shown that mothers with a serious mental illness were almost three times more likely, when involved in the child welfare system, to have lost custody of their children. In light of this, the father never should have brought the fight to the system. He should have put the kids first and worked out an arrangement with the family.

It has been proved that being in the parental role, however limited, still remains extremely important to individuals with severe mental disability. It has been identified as a strong motivating factor for treatment and better recoveries based on research conducted by the UPENN Collaborative on Community Integration, based out of the University of Pennsylvania.

Some commentary from the LATimes website is worth sharing. In response to the father’s actions: Without question this father is violating Jewish law by fighting this out in court. Jewish law demands that the children and their mother have a relationship. His behavior is a major source of embarrassment to the Orthodox Jewish community. Lets all pray that Abbie has a full recovery (G-d should make a miracle!) and that she raises her 3 children in a loving environment away from this vengeful father!

In response to the mother’s actual mental condition: One neurologist suggests that this woman can see images and can remember family members. Her speech therapist is making weekly progress and Abbie can respond by blinking to Yes and No questions. Shouldn’t that be enough to warrant visitation rights? If there is even a sliver of a chance that this woman can see and recognize the fact that these are her children, what is the harm of her having some sort of visitation? Let’s say some of the doctors on the “other side” are right and she is completely brain dead – still, what is the harm of visitation? This just could be more beneficial for the children to see their mother, to know that the reason she isn’t and hasn’t been there for them is that she is ill.

Here is an opportunity for the father and the families to blend and create a unique magnificent family environment for the kids. The father has moved on from the marriage, but why wouldn’t he want his triplets to see their mother and extended maternal family? What is disturbing on so many levels is that this case has been tangled our justice system for the three years. 


 The picture you see of an imaginary healthy Abbie (above) standing with her three children was not posted in the online version of this LA Times story, but it did appear in the printed. Abbie’s mother had this painting made. As I look at this composite of what Abbie “should have been” (a mother raising her triplets in a home with love), I can’t help but muse on the fragility of life and how easily it can all be taken away by chance. It also makes me even angrier at this unfeeling father who is doing a further, almost crueler, injustice to his children by pursuing all this needless and expensive litigation to prevent them from seeing their mom.

Why hasn’t a judge come in and put a stop to this nonsense? As a mother and an advocate on behalf of children it is a no brainer that the longer the time away from a family in the formidable years the worse it is for the children. Critical family bonding time has already been lost.

I guess the thing that is so troubling from a legal point of view is that this is a classic maneuver of how the justice system simply mucks up what should be very clear. I think most people universally agree, as well as all the literature suggests, that kids thrive the most when they have some relationship with their parents, and that bonding begins from the first moments of life and continues throughout development.

All kids do better knowing their parents and having a relationship with them. As a matter of fact, it is even the goal of the Dependency Courts who decide parental rights, to engage in parental reunification even in cases where abuse has been found because some familial relationship is better than none. So if the goal of the court system is to weigh the children’s best interest, and relationships with both parent are encouraged, how is it that we are even hearing about a case like this? Simply put, if you have the cash to reek havoc, some people just will. And if reeking havoc can be done under the guise of a lawsuit, then there is a better chance that the shake down will achieve the desired result—that the other side will retreat or give up.

To me, as a lawyer who has spent many years in the courtroom, there are cases that clearly need legal involvement and others that do not. Cases with unique legal issues or egregious abuse or completely unfair treatment are all examples. But, this is a simple case. There is no big custody dispute. This is a mom who merely wants to see her three kids. That’s it. See them. Let them know she is alive and be able to spend some time with them. This is not about over nights, moving, or anything but mere face to face visit time. A fight for what would be a few hours a week of time with their mom? Give me a break.

Unfortunately, so often there are people who misuse the justice system to facilitate their own selfish requests, to waste time, and to cost other people money. You know what I am talking about, we see it all the time. People bring expensive lawsuits to force people to settle, drag people to court to wear them down and air dirty laundry just for some legal advantage. I can see why it happens in divorce cases and custody cases where big dollars are at stake or there is a scorned spouse on the not so good side of an affair. But, why here?

For purposes of full disclosure, I have not read the documents in this case, but to the discerning eye on the surface there seems to be no legitimate reason for the father to mount this battle in this case. So why is he? Just to get back at his in-laws? For money reasons? Although that doesn’t make much sense. To me there seems to be only three possible reasons:
1. He is a completely narcissistic individual that has no concept of parenting and is so hateful that he would want to keep his children from knowing their mom, or
2. The guy is so naive and so misguided that he is just making idiotic choices, and/or
3. There is some financial or business interest (that has not been made public yet) that is forcing him to misuse the kids and the system for another purpose.
If it’s not one of these, I challenge you, Dan Dorn, to explain yourself, because I, and my Facebook friends and a few more thousand around the country want answers!

In California, as in most states, courts look at the best interest of the child when making decisions of custody and visitation. Here the dad has an unfettered opportunity to act in their best interest. He could use this as a chance to teach his three young children how to be tolerant, loving, accepting of disability, and unified even with a broken family. The three kids should and will know that they have a mom, and if they can establish a relationship at any time it will be better for them. They should know their history and their mother’s history, and be actively involved in all their parents and grandparents life. 

Why would dad want to prevent that? He has remarried, presumably happily, and has gone on with his life. He is not even being weighed down with the notion of sickness and health, and has bailed on his ex-wife Abbie anyway. He has a new wife and a potential new family in his future. If I were counseling Dan, I would say he is missing an opportunity and clogging our system with a case that does not belong. Dan has an opportunity to be father of the year by teaching his children about how to deal with disabilities, and by allowing for critical mother/child bonding that will effect these kids throughout their whole life.

The kids have missed out on so much already. Isn’t it time to do the right thing? Besides the obvious, that kids need their mother, isn’t it time we teach our children to be loving and accepting the disabled as well? Since we know we cannot rely on individuals to do what needs to be done, I can only hope that the court system puts a swift end to the needless litigation that is not only baseless but time consuming and costly as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Millionaire's Wife

by Cathy Scott

On a rainy morning in the fall of 1990, a gunman, in broad daylight, caught up with George Kogan as George walked home from a Manhattan Upper East Side market. The shooter pumped three slugs into his back. Seven hours later, George was dead.

From the start, the prime suspect was the estranged wife of George Kogan, because, in part, George had $4 million worth of insurance on his life, and Barbara was the beneficiary. Yet, it would take nearly two decades to solve the murder. George, who had turned 49 the month before the killing, was gunned down as he approached the lobby doors of his East 69th Street apartment building, where he lived with his young girlfriend.

Manuel Martinez, an attorney with a small law practice who mostly handled eviction cases, once represented Barbara and eventually was charged and convicted of hiring a hit man to kill Barbara’s husband. It 's a love triangle and a hit-for-hire, and the story fascinated me.

It's also a sad story, because, in the end, everyone lost, including George's two sons, who were in college at the time of the murder, and who lost their father to murder and, ultimately, their mother to prison.

Nineteen years long years after the death of her husband, Barbara Susan Kogan was indicted for the murder of her husband, but not until she had spent every penny of the insurance payout, the last of which went toward her defense.

I’ve spent the last year piecing together this book. It’s titled THE MILLIONAIRE'S WIFE: The True Story of a Real Estate Tycoon, his Beautiful Young Mistress, and a Marriage that Ended in Murder. And while it is my eighth book, it is one of the toughest I’ve ever written.

True crime books, my friend and colleague Kathryn Casey recently reminded me, are not easy to write. As a journalist, I’ve been trained to chase the story, go to the scene, find sources, get documents, land interviews--anything and everything to flesh out the story. True crime books take real perseverance, especially in cases that are about to go to trial and when those on either side of the case are skittish about talking.

I was scheduled to interview Barbara, with her attorney, before her arrest. But, soon after, a warrant for her arrest was issued and her attorney instead arranged for her surrender. It was disappointing, and, while difficult, I love a challenge, plus I was lucky.

After I went on a radio show and talked about the case and after posting or two an article updating the case on Women in Crime Ink, family members on both sides of the case contacted me. I also was able to speak several times with the deputy district attorney as well as three defense attorneys. And a generous reporter who had covered the crime 19 years early shared with me what he recalled. And a doorman at George’s building, where George had been killed nearly two decades earlier, was particularly helpful and walked me through the crime scene. Several people at the courthouse were helpful as well, as were a couple of NYPD police officers. And E.W. Count, a crime writer in New York City, on two occasions became my eyes and ears in a Manhattan courtroom.

For the research part of books, I approach them in the same way I do news stories--digging for clues, links, and, especially, documentation and confirmations via paperwork and those I interview. For every book, I invariably contact mortuary personnel and verify college degrees with universities; this case was no different. Thank goodness the records were fairly easy to find, despite the passage of time. Fact-checking our own stories is part of the deal.

For newspaper and magazine articles, I got into Lexis-Nexis to pull up the original articles and, at the same time, stumbled on some relevant federal court documents. Early on, writer/author Sue Russell
pulled a couple of articles from Lexis-Nexis for me. After that, I did pay-as-you-go searches (a great service for research). The one thing, however, I could not find was George Kogan’s obituary. I knew there had to be one, and, ultimately, getting creative with search words (“slaying” instead of “murder” worked in this case), I found it. It was a real prize, because it was loaded with the detail I had been looking for--when and where George was buried, who officiated, who attended, and who did not.

When it came to police and court records, that got tricky. As soon as Barbara appeared in court, I filed a Freedom of Information Act form; it was ignored. So, with the help of attorneys, a defendant’s family members and a journalism student working on a class paper (and whose professor was friends with the defense), I was able to get the complete court files, trial transcripts, copies of depositions, a transcript of a surveillance telephone conversation, statements from witnesses from the scene of the crime, a list of witnesses and evidence, and a roster of jurors.

Then, the reading began. I pored through documents. It became a matter of learning who the characters and players were--and there were lots. Because two defendants were charged three years apart, it made the story more complicated. So I tried to boil it down and tell the story chronologically, as it had unfolded.

Deciding where to start a book is always a challenge. With The Murder of Biggie Smalls (a k a Notorious B.I.G., I began with Biggie, at age 15, sitting in a Brooklyn police precinct, crying for his mother after an officer detained Biggie and a friend for questioning to see if they were witnesses to a murder in a Bed-Stuy neighborhood. To me, that scene at the precinct spoke volumes about Biggie, whose real name was Christopher Wallace. He was not the street thug, like Tupac Shakur, who came of age on the mean streets of the Jungle housing project in Oakland, Californai. Biggie, conversely, was a mama’s boy, and his mother was a school teacher who sent Biggie to Jamaica every year to spend the summer with his grandfather, an ocean away from Brooklyn.

In Murder of a Mafia Daughter, after I went to victim Susan Berman’s Beverly Hills home, in Benedict Canyon, and met a neighbor who’d been the one to alert police that something was awry next door, I began the book with the neighbor awakening to Susan’s dogs running loose, on Christmas Eve morning, in his front yard.

With the Kogan case,  after traveling to New York City several times, the way the killer stalked George as he made his way home from a neighborhood market became a vivid picture to me, and I began the book with the morning he died.

I love the cover of this book, because it captures the feel of that fateful morning. So, it is with pride and pleasure that I give you, the reader, a sneak peek at the cover of The Millionaire’s Wife, released here, on Women in Crime Ink. When the book comes out later this year, I’ll give you a heads up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Body Language Does Not Lie in Casey Anthony Trial

I have repeatedly said that the body does not lie. I have also said that no matter how hard a person tries to conceal their thoughts and feelings, the truth eventually leaks out through one’s body language and facial expressions. It doesn’t matter how hard the person tries to hide it. That was the case with Casey Anthony's last appearance in the courtroom.

While Casey Anthony, charged with murdering her daughter Caylee, may have been coached to sit up straight, or may have been given an image makeover with a unique hairdo, the truth always prevails as far as body language is concerned. The truth is that Casey is still flirting with attorney Jose Baez in the courtroom. It is clearly not endearing, and it is definitely not charming. In fact, it is incongruent with the reason she is in court in the first place.

Anyone accused of murdering a child, especially their own child, has absolutely nothing to smile about whatsoever. The last time we saw Casey beaming with smiles and laughter in the courtroom was when a  law clerk on her legal team was ambushed by Jose Baez and was unexpectedly sworn in as an attorney. But now there is clearly nothing to smile about. Her latest appearance in court dealt with some very serious matters, on which her life hinges. They involve very major issues in her cases, such as what would or would not be admissible.

The second Casey is seen walking into the courtroom there is a smirk on her face. No doubt, after being locked up in her jail cell with little or no human contact all this time, she is thrilled to be out among people. But the fact that she enters the courtroom with a smirk on her face is disconcerting. It does not matter that she has a form fitting blue sweater that showcases her  curvy figure to make her look  sexy and appealing. It does not matter that she has a new hairdo. It does not matter how good she looks if her behavior and actions are inappropriate.

Studies have shown that if a person looks good, then they are perceived more favorably by a jury. However, that theory  is null and void when behavior is inappropriate. Casey Anthony’s recent courtroom behavior is inappropriate, in my view, especially as it pertains to Jose Baez.

While she always seems to have her ritualistic behavior going on where she repeatedly grooms herself, she is doing even  more self grooming than usual. Note the double-handed hair groom. It may have been done  in anticipation of seeing Jose. Now we see her facial expression change as she begins an anticipatory smile.  That means she is getting excited that she will be having  an upcoming interaction with Jose. Like a school girl, she readies and vigorously grooms  herself  so the  man she finds attractive, Jose, will, in turn, find her mutually attractive

Jose sits  down next to her and Casey does an initial eye flash of excited recognition. She then exhibits body language behavior that clearly indicates flirtation and coquettishness. She immediately breaks eye contact and gazes downward, all while trying to suppress a smile. But she cannot do it for long. The truth always leaks out, body language-wise.

She beams a huge toothy smile, as she appears beyond thrilled to see Jose. She immediately notices a change in Jose’s appearance, namely his new hair cut.  She lasers in on his hair change. She obviously likes what she sees, as she can’t stop smiling. We  even hear her saying to Jose that he cut his hair.  No doubt Jose’s new closely cropped 'do makes him look more hip and younger in her eyes, and she lets him know it. Her shoulder is rotated forward, indicting a flirtatious action. She has an open-mouthed, tooth-showing smile, which indicates she can’t hide that she  genuinely likes what she sees.

There is no doubt that Jose is flattered. Both Casey and Jose are now laughing at something they see in the  monitor in front of them. It must really be amusing because Jose’s cheeks are raised and his eyes are crinkling. We have rarely seen Jose with this type of expression. Instead,  we usually see him with a serious facial demeanor.  Casey continues to self groom in subconscious flirtation with Jose.

No matter what they are looking at, it looks bad to others who are watching them.  It would be one thing if Jose was looking at something  in the monitor and it amused him, or if there was something he found funny.  But the fact Casey is joining in and being equally amused is disconcerting. What in the world could be funny two both of them at a time like this? I guess  Casey needs to find joy and laughter where she can because, when she is sentenced to a lethal needle, there will be nothing to laugh about.

And, yes, that is a very real possibility, especially if a jury sees her laughing and smiling and flirting and carrying on like she doesn’t have a care in the world. To a jury, it will be sickening.  That is what happened to Amanda Knox, who  now sits in an Italian jail cell accused  of murdering her roommate. Like Amanda’s jury, who saw her laughing and acting as though she did not have a care in the world, if Casey acts similarly, her actions will anger a jury as well.

It will no longer matter if there is a male juror who finds Casey sexy or attractive, or if a female juror identifies with her or takes pity on her. It will all be negated when she leaks out her true self.  When she shows that she is amused and laughs and flirts, jurors will take that as a signal that she has little or no feeling about what happened to her own daughter Caylee.

Afterword, we see Casey begin to  rigorously groom herself even more. At one point, she even turned away so that we could see the back of her hair, which she creatively coiffed into  an unusual looking do. It looked like a combo of three different styles that she flung to one side and let hang over her shoulder.

The bottom line in all of this is that while Casey’s looks may indeed be a factor  in how she is perceived by a jury, it won’t matter. It's the leaking out of her lustful feelings toward Jose and her uncaring lack of feelings toward her daughter that ultimately will matter to a jury.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes

by Susan Murphy-Milano

The Road Through Wonderland is a real-life story that impacts not only the storyteller, but those affected 365 days a year by human trafficking--the abuse and power and control happening behind closed doors and across the country. Tune into Nancy Grace or Jane Velez-Mitchell and and all you get is 30-second sound bites of human tragedy neatly packaged for commercial viewing. In my opinion, there is the real tragedy.

We don’t bother to listen to victims and their families unless they have made the nightly news. We do not take the time to understand and learn from others who could stop children being taken from our streets and sold for sex. We do not listen to the battered woman’s cries for help until she is listed in an obituary. We wait until a helpless child is murdered by a family member before we show any outrage.

It is time we stop and listen to those who have survived the unimaginable. We need to allow survivors voices to be heard so that lives are no longer condensed into sound bites. The subject of human trafficking in this country still has a long way to go and there is one voice effectively answering the call that is changing lives for those in harms way, Dawn Schiller.

Dawn is the author of The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes, which tells the story of a young girl who was caught in the whirlwind of the underworld surrounding John Holmes, an infamous porn star with many questionable ties.

From a broken home, Dawn Schiller was, by society’s definition, a "throwaway teen." For survival in a poor home with a disabled father, she was unwittingly thrown into the arms of John Holmes at the age of 15. Dawn was at this man’s side for years, even as he got her hooked on drugs, just like thousands of today’s trafficked teens. He beat her, and then prostituted her on the street corners of Los Angeles. She was, by all accounts, carefully brainwashed, groomed to bring in money, and trafficked so Holmes could maintain his drug habit and ultimate power over this child. When she didn’t bring enough cash in from the streets, Holmes withheld food and the basic necessities for daily survival.

Survival is what Dawn Schiller’s book is about, not the infamous porn star and self proclaimed public persona, but the abuser which his fans never saw up close and personal. Frankly, that is why abusive men get away with their violent and controlling behavior, the world sees the side they want you to see and nothing more. In the eyes of his fans it is not possible for John Holmes to have treated anyone unkindly. What those adoring fans, who still watch his movies, refuse to acknowledge is that John Holmes was, first and foremost, a human trafficker. He hijacked the life of teenager Dawn Schiller.

Most teens do not survive. Instead, we read about them only after they are abducted and are reported missing by their families. Dawn Schiller is changing all hat. She uses her story with the hope that other young teens won’t fall into the same hell that she did. She has developed a national presentation titled “Our Throwaway Teens: Who Are They and How Can We Help?” to raise awareness of the vulnerabilities of teens growing up in abusive and neglectful environments.

Dawn educates audiences about what a teen might be experiencing internally when targeted and groomed by a predator, how to identify a young victim in trouble, pedophile seduction techniques, and the use of drugs to manipulate and trap a victim. She gives an inside view of what it’s like to be a throwaway teen and how we, as a community, can help. Dawn has founded E.S.T.E.A.M., (Empowering Successful Teens through Education, Awareness & Mentoring), a nonprofit dedicated to assisting teens who are struggling to find a safe and successful path to adulthood.

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."--Anne Frank.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Importance of Fun

Let's face it, we're pretty serious around here. On any particular day at Women in Crime Ink, you can pretty much count on the topic involving some sort of crime and somebody has gotten, if not dead, hurt. Typical subjects revolve around murder, rape, assaults, bank robberies, stalking: think major crimes. We write about the worst of humanity, the real bad guys.

Now, please don't misunderstand. It's not that these evildoers, as George W. Bush described bad folks, control our lives. Even while working, they're a small part of the equation. We all have family and friends. And even at work, we're around more good people than bad ones. Take me, for instance; people often ask if writing about murders isn't depressing, if it doesn't expose me to the dark side of human nature. Yes, of course it does. I honestly could go without ever looking at another autopsy photo and feel pretty good about it. On the other hand, say I do 100 interviews for a book, which is an average number. I'd be willing to bet that 95 of the people will be pretty decent folks, considerate, for the most part honest, concerned about their fellow human beings.

Still, writing about sensational murder cases can get pretty heavy, and it's always nice to take a break. So a week ago, I packed my bags and took off for the small town of Jefferson, Texas, for a three-day book club extravaganza, the Pulpwood Queens' Girlfriend Weekend.

Now, I may be breaking the rules here. One of my fellow authors, Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), rightly pointed out that what happens at Girlfriend Weekend stays at Girlfriend Weekend. But I had so much fun, it's pretty hard not to spread the word. That's me peeking from the back in the opening photo with Jamie, Kathy Patrick (The Pulpwood Queen's Guide) and Shelly Rushing Tomlinson (Suck in Your Stomach and Put Some Color On).

There were, I think, about forty of us, authors from all over the country. Some talked about their first books, others were working on our tenth book or more. Many are fixtures on the NYTimes list: not just Jamie, mentioned above, but the delightful trio in the photo to the right: Fannie Flagg (I Still Dream About You), Mark Childress (Crazy in Alabama), and Pat Conroy (My Reading Life). What's amazing is that all of us would fly and drive to get to this small East Texas town while most of the country was socked in with a horrific winter storm. But we did. As did the club members, wonderful, warm-hearted women, all avid readers. They came from both coasts, Florida, and the frozen north. Amazing.

The reason is Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Kathy is the PQ's founder, and eleven years after opening her first club, she has 400 branches and more than 3,500 members across the globe, running it all out of her combination beauty parlor/bookstore, Beauty and the Book. In addition to picking wonderful books to read and discuss, Kathy is a champion of literacy. This year's GF Weekend raised more than $6,000 for the Dolly Party Imagination Library Literacy Foundation.

So, this is a brief synopsis: Thursday evening we authors all played waiter, serving dinner to the Pulpwood Queens. (Here I am with my table, the great gals from Lake Charles, La.) Then, over the course of the following two days, Friday and Saturday, we took our turns on the stage. Kathy and author Robert Leleux (The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy) kept the conversation moving. When it was my turn, I discussed my latest Sarah Armstrong mystery, The Killing Storm, the PQ's main selection for this coming July. It was great looking out at such interested faces. It's unusual to be in front of such a large crowd where everyone is actually listening.

In between, we had so much fun. Songwriter/author/Nashville performer Marshall Chapman took the stage both nights, and 12-year-old blues guitarist Matthew Davidson couldn't have been better. The final evening, we all dressed as characters out of a book. I joined a group of Alice in Wonderland wanna-bes, and we danced to Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. (I was a mischievous Cheshire Cat.) Our choreographer and leader was Marsha Toy Engstrom, the Book Club Cheerleader. Let it suffice to say I was relieved that we didn't later turn up on YouTube.

The point is that all of us need love and fun and good times in our lives. I sometimes worry that we're addicted to the bad news in the headlines and we don't take time out to realize how truly glorious life is, how many outstanding people are out there. I drove the five hours home to Houston that Sunday afternoon smiling all the way, and I've felt better for my sojourn ever since.

So, that's my recommendation for all of you. And, if you're into books, especially the ladies out there, take a look at starting a Pulpwood Queen chapter. You'll have a great time with friends, reading and discussing amazing books, and next year you can polish up your tiara, grab your favorite feather boa, and meet me in Jefferson. Because the really good news is that Girlfriend Weekend is an annual event. To introduce you to the amazing Kathy Patrick, I've attached the trailer for her new Internet program.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How To Stop a Stalker

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Whip-smart, blonde, from a loving family, Peggy enthusiastically prepared for medical school. For the past three years, she'd dated a man named Patrick. Her family noticed changes in her personality after she entered into a relationship with Patrick. Peggy then broke up with him. Patrick relentlessly called, followed, and sent messages to Peggy. He jumped out of the bushes at her workplace with flowers, a ring, and a marriage proposal. Peggy insisted the relationship was over. Patrick circulated a flier in her neighborhood slandering her. Peggy reported Patrick's behavior to the police.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and cases like Peggy's highlight the importance of educating women.

That's because most stalking victims are women. In fact, one in twelve women will face victimization-by-stalking within her lifetime. One in 45 men will experience stalking victimization. Most victims of stalking knew their offender in some way. About 10 percent of victims were stalked for five years or more. About four in ten stalkers threaten not only the victim, but also the victim's family, friends, co-workers and even the family pet. Stalkers threaten workplaces and the community.

Peggy and her family went out of state to attend her brother's wedding. She brought her new boyfriend, Mark, with her. Patrick took the opportunity, in the family's absence, to vandalize Peggy's mother's home in Ohio and burn down Peggy's boyfriend's house in Albuquerque. Peggy, her family, and her boyfriend reported the crimes to the police.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a Special Report on stalking victimization in 2009. Researchers found that typical stalking behaviors include:
  • making unwanted telephone calls
  • sending unsolicited and unwanted letters or e-mails
  • following and/or spying on the victim
  • showing up at places the victim attends without a legitimate reason
  • waiting at places the victim is expected to attend
  • leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers
  • posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth
If you have experienced at least one of these behaviors on more than one occasion, felt fear for your safety or the safety of a family member as a result of that behavior, or experienced additional behaviors that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear, then you are a victim of stalking. Victims stalked by a previous sexual partner are at higher risk for violence. 76 percent of female murder victims were stalked by their intimate partner and 67 percent experienced physical abuse. Of those who were physically abused, 89 percent had also been stalked in the twelve months before their murder.

Peggy, her boyfriend and family felt frustrated at the delays in the trial against Patrick. Despite the threats, vandalism and relentless pursuit of Peggy, Patrick still remained free. With his trial months away, and in fear for her safety, Peggy went into hiding. She set up a new life in another state, hundreds of miles from her stalker. She informed her new employer, friends and neighbors, advising them to call police if they saw her stalker. Peggy kept an unlisted phone number and address, and communicated with her family using every security precaution.

In 1990, California became the first state to enact an anti-stalking statute. Since then, every state has passed some type of anti-stalking or anti-harassment legislation. Judge Wells, former head of the Stalking Unit at the San Diego District Attorney's Office, said that there is no one profile of a stalker. Studies suggest that stalkers come from all walks of life. Stalkers can be intelligent, charming, and sophisticated, while some appear mentally ill, have controlling, dependent or narcissistic personality traits. The most dangerous, like Patrick, often have a love affair with guns and the power they can wield with weapons.

Patrick hired a private investigator to find Peggy. Even with a valid restraining order against him, the investigator gave him Peggy's location. Patrick checked an assault weapon and handgun at the airport, and flew to California. He picked up his bag with the two weapons and drove to Peggy's street. Posing as a detective he showed a delivery person Peggy's photo. The delivery person recognized Peggy and gave Patrick her exact address.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Kerry Wells says about stalking:
"The primary advantage to having a restraining order against the suspect is that it allows him to be immediately arrested when a violation occurs. It is thus vitally important that, when a police agency is attempting to utilize such orders as part of an overall intervention plan, the involved personnel be prepared to respond quickly to each violation. Only then is there a demonstration that the 'system' is determined to sanction the suspect in order to control his behavior." (From a presentation at the Stalking the Stalker Conference, 2001)
Restraining orders often provoke attacks because the perpetrator sees the order as humiliating or a threat to his power. If law enforcement can't respond in time, many victims obtain no protection from the order. A restraining order should not give victims any sense of security. Instead it should be seen as an aid to law enforcement. If the perpetrator is apprehended, a restraining order can allow stiffer penalties to hold him longer. As Wells says, a restraining order should be considered only one piece of a comprehensive protection plan.

Patrick attacked Peggy outside her home, duct-taped her hands and beat her head bloody with his gun. She broke away from him, ran into a neighbor's home, and called 911. Patrick broke down two doors to get to her. With the police outside the door, he shot Peggy in the back of the head and then killed himself.

How do you stop a stalker? Some victims report that the behavior stopped after the stalker was warned by police (15.6 percent). Others stopped after the victim agreed to talk with them (13.3 percent). About 12.2 percent of stalkers stopped after a friend or relative intervened. Only about a tenth of victims reported that a protective, restraining or stay away order stopped the stalking behavior. Threat Assessment expert, Gavin de Becker, cautions against giving pat answers to victims of stalking. Each case should be viewed individually, considering the behaviors of the perpetrator and victim within their unique context. If you're a victim of stalking, contact the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals for a referral.

Peggy Klinke's sister, Debbie Riddle, called the Stalking Resource Center, after her sister's tragic murder, with a passionate need to make things better for other stalking victims. She participated in a national program on Lifetime Television, hosted by Erin Brockovich, and a Lifetime video to train law enforcement about stalking. Last month, President Obama issued the first presidential proclamation declaring January, National Stalking Awareness Month.

We can all help by promoting National Stalking Awareness Month on our web and social media sites. Educate yourself and let others know about the Stalking Resource Center.

Peggy's last words, moments before she was shot, were:
"Please tell my mother that I love her. Please tell my niece that she will now have a guardian angel watching over her ... and tell my sister to name her baby after me."
For Peggy, her family, and all victims of stalking, let's never forget.