Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Cult of the Disgraced

by Diane Dimond

It is an odd thing we do here in America. People who get wrapped up in scandal often become elevated to celebrity status.

You know the type of people I’m talking about – those who are caught up in sex or drug scandals, criminal suspects, or some other type of social misfit who’s every move is followed by reporters. Cameras are there as they hustle in to court, show up for their community service or just try to dodge embarrassing questions about their problematic behavior.

These folks become famous for being infamous.

Think Kato Kaelin whose dodgy testimony at the murder trial of O.J. Simpson got him branded as “hostile” to the prosecution. Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern who engaged in sexual relations with President Clinton. Florida murder defendant Casey Anthony acquitted of murdering her 2½ year old daughter. And, now the former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich who has admitted that he was, indeed, guilty of corruption after denying it for years.

I call them the Cult of the Disgraced and the Misplaced – a cult that attracts media honchos who are eager to exploit scandal for ratings. Hardly anyone in the cult seems to be out of bounds.

After his 15 minutes of fame at the Simpson trial the mop-haired Kaelin got a radio show and appeared on several TV programs. Monica Lewinsky was chased by all the major networks, newspapers and magazines for her first exclusive description of illicit sex in the White House. (ABC’s Barbara Walters won that race snagging what turned out to be the highest rated news broadcast ever.) NBC vigorously pursued Casey Anthony and tried to fashion a book deal for her in exchange for her first TV interview. And, Blagojevich? Well, he fit right into this cult and eagerly took the bait when TV producers came to call.

Three years ago when federal prosecutors revealed they had recordings of the Governor (nicknamed: Blago) arrogantly attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, Blagojevich came out swinging. He vehemently denied asking for money in exchange for his appointment to the seat. He also denied that he lied to the FBI and had shaken down constituents for campaign contributions. He called it all a political conspiracy and then instead of hunkering down for the fight of his life Blago took meetings with top TV bigwigs.

Not even Blagojevich’s impeachment by the Illinois State Legislature in January 2009 slowed down the offers. NBC was knocking on the door for Blago to star in the “reality” show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

In a petition to the court in the spring of 2009 the disgraced governor, pleading poverty, asked the judge for permission to travel to Costa Rica for the filming. The request was denied. Ultimately, his wife, Patti, took the job and was seen on one episode eating a dead tarantula.

Humiliation heaped upon humiliation, I’d say.

But watching his wife forced to ingest insects to pay their bills didn’t seem to give Blago pause. After hosting a radio talk show he went on to make a deal to appear on The Celebrity Apprentice hosted by Donald Trump. More recently he was hired to be the face of Wonderful Pistachios which admitted they were looking “for some buzz” to attract people to their nuts. There’s a joke in there somewhere.

But this celebration and rewarding of the scandalous baffles me. Has the concept of shame ceased to exist in America? If I was criminally indicted or caught up in a disgraceful episode playing out publicly I think I’d hibernate until it passed. Although, I suppose the lure of the money and the idea that sins can be erased if one is seen on TV is too much temptation for some.

The job of media executives is to get ratings and apparently these kinds of shows – highlighting these kinds of people—attract viewers. Why? I’m at a loss to explain except maybe we watch the notorious to make sure we are nothing like them. Maybe we want to see them be shamed on some level.

When Rod Blagojevich appeared in court earlier this month for sentencing (he was found guilty of 17 corruption charges) he suddenly dropped his past denials and admitted his criminal behavior.

“I caused it all,” he said to the judge. “I was the governor and I should have known better. I am just incredibly sorry.” He was then sentenced to 14 years in prison. Blagojevich’s admission laid bare the phoniness of those who rationalized giving him a shot at the public airwaves by saying, “Well, he hasn’t been convicted of anything…”

We had all heard his voice on that recording made years earlier blatantly trying to trade his public position for personal gain. We knew the real story from the get-go.

Blago must serve almost a dozen years before becoming eligible for parole. Let’s hope by then we’ve all come to our senses and decide that TV programs featuring disturbed, addicted or criminal players are a simply not acceptable. Maybe by then TV executives will stop rewarding the least deserving among us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are Cadaver Dogs saying You're Lying?

by Pat Brown

Funny thing about those cadaver dogs; they haven't got a bone to pick with the person being investigated, no interest in closing a case or in railroading anyone. They just do what they have been trained to do. They may not be perfect in that they miss hitting on a spot, but they don't hit on spots for no reason. They are trained to locate where dead bodies of humans have been, not live human beings, not dirty diapers, not on a package of meat, nor a hundred other unseen types of biological items. There is only one thing that trips them up; the body of a decomposing pig (because of the similarity it has to a human body). Unless you can prove you had a dead hog lying about in you living room or in your car, the hit a cadaver dog makes is going to be on human remains. Actually, I am the one of very few people who could actually have a cadaver dog hit in my house for that very reason since my beloved potbelly pig, Gwendolyn (see the video) did indeed expire on my living room floor; however, most people can't make that claim.

Gerry and Kate McCann, parents of the missing child, Madeleine McCann, dismiss the fact that Eddie, the cadaver dog, hit in their vacation apartment and in their rental car in 2007 (but not in any of their friends' vacation apartments nor early suspect Robert Murat's house or property) as meaningless because cadaver dogs are "rubbish." In that same year, a cadaver dog also alerted to the smell of death in Adrian Prout's UK home after his wife, Kate, vanished. Although he claimed he was innocent and her body had not been found, Prout was convicted. After having a fan club that protested steadily that Prout was railroaded, Prout confessed and indicated the area where the body was buried; then more cadaver dogs helped police in the search and Kate's body was found on his farm.

Next we have cadaver dogs hitting in the case of missing baby, Lisa Irwin, who supposedly was abducted in the middle of the night while her intoxicated mother slept. They hit on one spot in the Kansas City home of the parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, right on the floor next to the bed in the master bedroom. Deborah, the mother, claims she changed diapers there, but if the dogs were hitting on dirty diapers in the home, I would gather they would hit in more places than that one spot.

Now, cadaver dogs have hit again in a missing child case. Two-year-old Bianca Jones went missing in Detroit on December 2. Her father, D'Andre Lane, who was babysitting her at time, claimed on the day he was to return the child to her mother's home, he was carjacked at 10 in the morning by two men with guns. Now, his story stinks worse than a decomposing body. First of all, the "carjackers" choose him (a streetwise felon) driving a 1994 Mercury Marquis (not exactly a hot car from the most carjacked automobiles list). Daddy, seeing two thugs are about to drive off with his little girl puts up no resistance. Instead he calls 911 and the police go searching for the car.

Oddly, it is found just six blocks away (and one block from Binika Jones' house, the mother of Bianca), with no child in it. So, let me get this straight. These two carjackers went to the trouble of ousting D'Andre Lane from a car with a toddler in the car seat, don't take the car somewhere and strip it, don't sell it, don't use it for committing robberies (a common use of a carjacked vehicle) and don't take it for a joyride. They drive just six blocks and dump it. Maybe they didn't realize there was a child in it and, therefore abandoned the car? Maybe, but then why would they take the child? The story blows. And so did Dre's attempt to pass the polygraph. Not only that, but two witnesses saw the action: one saw D'Andre driving alone down the street and the other, standing by a window overlooking the alley, saw Lane pull the vehicle into it and walk away. No baby seen with him or in the car.

D'Andre Lane is swearing up and down he didn't have anything to do with his daughter going missing, but everything about his story has been pretty much been annihilated by the circumstances and witnesses. The cadaver dogs hitting in his apartment and in his car pretty much puts a bow on his story as being a crock.

D'Andre Lane is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but he isn't a suspect for nothing. In the words of Gerry McCann, "Ask the dogs."

(left: cadaver dog hits behind sofa in the McCann's Praia da Luz, Portugal vacation rental apartment. From police files.)

My ebook, Profile of the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, removed from Amazon following threat of legal action by Carter-Ruck on behalf of Gerry and Kate McCann, can still be found online at Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Keep posted for news of my upcoming legal action with attorney Anne Bremner against the McCanns for tortuous interference with business and libel.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Caveat Emptor: If Walls Could Talk

by Donna Pendergast

Stigmatized property is property which buyers or tenants may shun for reasons that are unrelated to its physical condition or features. Homes which have been the sites of murders, suicide or which have been reportedly inhabited by ghosts all qualify as stigmatized properties. It is a psychological taint rather than a taint associated with the physical condition of a property. The National Association of Realtors defines stigmatized property as property that has been "psychologically impacted by an event which occurred or was suspected to have occurred on the property such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind."

The Amityville Horror house (pictured above) is an example of a property contaminated by a sordid past. It appears cheery and comfortable but it's history is anything but. Six of seven members of the Ronald DeFeo family were murdered here in 1974 by DeFeo's oldest son who later was convicted of all crimes. George and Kathy Lutz moved in a year later and began to report unusual and bizarre paranormal activity. These events later became the subject of the best selling book and movie The Amityville Horror. Another movie Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive chronicles true events surrounding a house located near an abandoned graveyard where two human graves were found during excavation for a swimming pool. A series of inexplicable paranormal events followed this discovery. The Jon Benet Ramsey house and the house where Nicole Bown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered are also examples of properties tainted by association with a horrific event.

The subject of stigmatized properties is a complex one and the rules vary state by state. Currently about half of the states have laws requiring disclosure of psychological impairment. Other states such as California have passed legislation limiting the requirement for disclosure of a murder or other violent event to three years after the event. Even in the states with disclosure statutes there is variability in what defects must be disclosed.

Where I live in Michigan there is no hard and fast stigma disclosure statute. The language in the form required under Michigan's Seller Disclosure Act suggests that residential sellers are not required to disclose information about the properly beyond it's physical condition. Since a seller normally does not make any form of representation about the stigmatizing event a claim or fraud or misrepresentation can not be sustained.

Yet many believe that he "bad karma" associated with a violent history or a gruesome reputation should mandate disclosure. Even thought the property may not be changed in a physical way the perception of it has changed and the buyers willingness to purchase may well be impacted. Stigmas also impact the value and future salability of a property.

Buyers make emotional rather than rational decisions when they purchase property. How a property "feels" is often the most factor when purchasing a piece of real estate. So would a property feel differently to a prospective buyer if they knew about the history or the psychic imprint associated with that parcel? With most purchasers that question can only be answered in the affirmative. Knowing that a property is tainted by association with murder, suicide or frightening paranormal phenomenon may well be a deal breaker. The lives and deaths of a home's former residents are considered to be a material consideration by many who want to make decisions based on full consideration of all factors.

What do you think? If you really loved a house would a home's sordid past impact your decision to buy? What about if you got a significant price reduction?

As for this girl-----I like to sleep at night. I'm taking no chances.

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dying in Water: Clues for Foul Play

"They could be drowning."
by Andrea Campbell

I don’t know if you have ever had the conversation with someone about the worst way to die? Even though I am a swimmer, drowning and the panic associated with taking in water and then succumbing to drowning has been a fear of mine.

That’s why when I was reading about water-related death investigation, I became fascinated about this particular area of examination. Obviously the most common way of drowning would be in a submerged vehicle—a tactic Susan Smith used to kill her small children—then there is drowning in a pool, bath, hot tub or a river, and, yes, even a bucket.

A death investigator looks for certain sign posts that alert him to the possibility of foul play. While we talk about some of the clues the water investigator looks for, you will notice that many of the red-flag indicators are based on well-thought-out common sense ideas and principles. Investigator Kevin L. Erskine—who developed a Master Course in Water-Related Death for the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy and a Children’s Ice Drowning Prevention Workshop—has the wherewithal and savvy to demonstrate just how interesting his discipline is. He has also remarked that if you recognize more than one of the potential indicators of foul play, it gives you the determination to look further than just accepting it as an “accidental” mishap.

Bath Tub or Hot Tub Drowning
Parents have been known to dunk their children as punishment and word from expert's has it, it’s widely practiced. On a child’s body, certainly signs of injury—fingerprint grip marks, or bruising on both sides of the neck could indicate a form of strangulation, while, other bruises showing up around the neck or behind the ears can indicate the assault of forced dunking.

Other clues would be: the fact that parent’s or caretaker’s clothes are dry; water samples that contain vomit, mucus, soap or urine; inconsistent water temperature, meaning, too hot may be punishment by scalding, or, if the water tests cold or if the water has been mopped up—or wet towels are around—the perpetrator may have waited too long to call or tried to hide a water fight or struggle. Look too, for things missing: no toys, washcloths or soap? These items will usually support an actual claim of bathing.

Also, if during an interview, the parent claims he was distracted yet a sound barrier prevents anyone from hearing the doorbell, an investigator may have reason to look deeper than first believed. Of course, with an elderly person’s drowning, look for a new life insurance policy, severe or terminal illness or disease of the victim, or prior domestic-violence reports.

Submerged Vehicles
If you’ve been watching any fictional mysteries or detective shows lately, you will come across the body in the car scenario where the driver’s seat has been readjusted and couldn’t possibly fit the 5-foot tall victim. Erskine says too, to look at the vehicle’s gearshift—was it in neutral or drive? Is there anything weighing down the accelerator? There is a long checklist of clues to look for, but if there is a blow to the victim’s head and the car or truck is relatively undamaged, that may point to suspicious circumstances for sure.

As you are beginning to see, this can be a lengthy, interesting concept. For more than just casual reading, you might want to check out Erskine’s book with Erica J. Armstrong: Water-Related Death Investigation:Practical Methods and Forensic Applications, published by CRC Press.

Source: Evidence Technology Magazine, May-June 2011.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How to Help Child Victims of Sexual Abuse

Free Dirty Forgotten Sad Child Creative Commonsby Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

As we learn more about the Penn State child rape scandal, my thoughts and concerns remain with the victims. Many children do not tell anyone what happened. I have clients in their 40's who never told their parents they were raped or molested. Sometimes they don't tell because they were threatened by the perpetrator. Here are a few of the comments said to some of my client victims by their perpetrators:
  • If you tell, everyone will blame you.
  • No one will believe you and they will call you a liar.
  • I'll hurt you and your family if you ever tell.
  • Everyone will know what a slut you are.
  • I'll do it to your little sister too if you ever tell.
  • Your family will know you're gay and never speak to you again.
Perpetrators often pick victims with vulnerabilities they can exploit. Children from single parent families and/or of low socioeconomic status make easier victims - children like those involved in accused child rapist Jerry Sandusky's Second Mile charity. These kids want to protect their family from any more stress, as they might live a paycheck away from hunger and homelessness.

Child victims from wealthier homes or socially prominent families are often threatened with loss of life, social status, or public humiliation. Many child victims take on the heroic burden of protecting their families from pain, by keeping the big secret, at astonishingly young ages. I worked with a little 6 year old girl who said, "I can never tell my mother because she will cry and cry and never stop."

Physical Symptoms

Victims of child rape and molest often go through a familiar painful process. After the physical wounds heal, confusing emotions take hold. Anger, hurt, embarrassment, guilt, shame, fear and revulsion can take residence in the body, causing physical symptoms.

  • gastro-intestinal complaints
  • stomach aches and headaches
  • sleep problems
  • encopresis
  • enuresis
Behavioral Symptoms
Children often regress to behaviors of a younger age, before the molestation took place. This provides comfort for them as they can imagine a happier sense of safety and innocence. For some the burden of the secret provokes internal conflicts that leak out in a noticeable change of behavior. Some children go from happy, compliant, obedient angels to angry, incorrigible, destructive delinquents after a rape or molestation. Other behavioral symptoms include:
  • self-mutilation (burning, cutting, etc.)
  • eating disorders
  • substance abuse
  • sneaking out or running away
  • changes in friendship group
  • social isolation
  • lack of interest in normally pleasurable activities
Damage to Body Image
Rape and molestation change a child's relationship to his or her body. Instead of feeling free to explore the world and master new skills, the body becomes a source of conflict. The little girl assumes her early developing breasts caused the rape. The victimized boy believes his body is defective because it brought on this attack by a pervert. This can trigger a lifelong battle with the body as the enemy of one's happiness and serenity. One young woman raped as a preteen hated her breasts and had panic/rage attacks when men would look at her chest. She begged her parents to have her breasts surgically removed.

Family Reactions Can Hurt Worse Than Rape
Many victims of rape and molestation tell me that they recovered fully from the crime itself, and even forgave the perpetrator. But some feel wounded and resentful years afterward by the reactions of family and friends. Victims of incest often face an even bigger evil. I like this line from the Survivors Speak Out network, "The taboo against talking about incest is stronger than the taboo against doing it." Children raped by family members can be made to feel responsible for the break up of the family. One woman told me that her siblings angrily blamed her for the loss of their father after he was convicted of molesting her. Many victims say, "everyone would be happier if I just shut up and disappeared." That's a cruel and unfair burden for a child to bear.

How To Protect Your Children

Children need to know about sexual matters. Ignorant children are vulnerable. Parents should provide age appropriate sexual education starting with the proper naming of body parts in toddlerhood. Parents need to know that words like "rape", "penis", and"vagina" are talked about on every elementary school playground. It's best if these terms are defined by the parents, and not by a seven year old who watches R-rated films.

Sexual abuse prevention programs, like Good Touch, Bad Touch, provide parents with helpful guidelines for preventing child abuse. It's important for parents to know that just because a child knows the difference between "good" and "bad" touch, doesn't mean that child should be responsible for self-protection. Parents need to remain vigilant. Children should never be coerced into providing physical affection to relatives and friends. This disturbs their ability to set appropriate boundaries with adults or teens who wish to get too close. We all have a natural "ick" detector, and if we've been forced to endure grandpa's icky wet kisses, we can lose that protective instinct.

One of my biggest peeves involves the squeamish, juvenile avoidance of sexual communication in families. It's is one of the biggest, crazy-making ironies of our culture, that sex is everywhere, selling everything and yet parents can't say the words "penis", "vulva" or "vagina" without red-faced embarrassment. Years ago I confronted this discomfort at a meeting at a mental health clinic. A group of professionals were discussing what should be on the new counseling intake form. In a long list of questions about substance abuse, legal difficulties, and family history of mental illness, someone suggested sexual abuse should be on the form. Another therapist said, "oh no, we don't want to open that can of worms." As I felt the bile go to my throat I said, "why is sex abuse any bigger can of worms than substance abuse? Victims need a safe place to talk. It's our job to hear these things, open them up for discussion and help victims heal." The question ended up on the form.

When we feel and act embarrassed talking about sex around children we just add to the pedophiles arsenal of weapons. When we equate ignorance with innocence and virginity with purity, we give the perpetrator the ability to define the abuse as good and the child as bad. Do we want our children so ignorant that they learn about sex from a pervert?
Is a raped child any less pure? Perpetrators know that kids are sexually ignorant and parents won't ask the right questions. Child abusers know that adults get all wimpy and squeamish and giggly at the mention of anything sexual. Perpetrators thrive in an environment of denial and avoidance.

What To Do if Your Child Was Molested

If your child shares abuse information with you let them talk. Listen without judgment. Let them know you love them. Call the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD) for help. Take the child for a medical exam, and consider rape counseling and support groups. Get educated with resources and books like, What To Do When Your Child Has Been Molested, or this helpful article from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Imagine that instead of sexual abuse, your child is telling you about getting beat up at school. Would you get all embarrassed and tongue-tied? Would you flip out and get homicidal? It's more likely that you would ask questions like, "what happened?" and "are you hurting anywhere?" Express loving concern, but stay calm and supportive. The child has enough to worry about without having to take care of you.

It's important to know that a child's life need not be ruined by sexual victimization. Many children recover and go onto lead healthy, normal lives after molestation and rape. What's most important is how their loved-ones react, and how safe they feel after the trauma.

Other factors that impact recovery from abuse include:
  • The severity of abuse
  • The duration of the abuse
  • The relationship to the perpetrator
Goldie Hawn - hi res scanActress, Goldie Hawn writes about her molestation as a child, in her memoir A Lotus Grows in the Mud. She says she was able to recover and feel normal feelings of trust for men after her mother explained that the perpetrator was "sick in the head." Goldie felt loved and accepted by her mother, and says she was never made to feel "dirty" or defective because of the abuse.

One silver lining in the media's attention to the Penn State scandal is that it might encourage more victims to come out and talk about their abuse. Relinquishing the secret of sexual victimization can help many begin to heal. Realize that a victim is a complex human being, with a unique story. We are splendid and beautiful beings, far more significant than any crime(s) perpetrated against us.

Photos courtesy of pinksherbet photography and Alan Light.