Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Save Your Daughter's Life

by Pat Brown

There once was a girl who, after having a fight with her boyfriend, left their apartment in a huff. While she as out wandering around, she decided she might as well check a few places to see if there were any jobs available she might apply for. She walked into the local bowling alley and talked with the manager. She filled out an employment form and they chatted. He was cute and sweet, and he asked if she wanted to hang out and go smoke a joint when he went on break. She was in a bad mood, so she said yes.

He directed her to a door that led into an unused area of the building. He said he would slip in through the back and let her in; he didn't want the other employees to see him sneaking out with her. She followed his directions. He let her into the other part of the building, and they sat down just inside on the floor and smoked the weed and chatted. Not so abnormal for a couple of young people (she was just twenty-two and he was about thirty).

After twenty minutes, his break was over, and he told her he had to get back to work. He instructed her to follow him out the back so he wouldn't get caught "playing hooky" with her. He indicated they would need to go down some stairs into the basement and out the back way.

Suddenly, the girl felt something was wrong. She felt the "gift of fear," as security specialist Gavin de Becker would call it. (Becker is the author of the book of that name in which he advises women to pay attention to their gut feelings about danger.) She told the man she wouldn't go out that way, and she stood next to the glass door at the front. 

He looked at her with dead eyes and said, "You think I am going to kill you, don't you?"

She looked straight back at him and said, "Yes, I do."

He let her out the  front door. Whether he did this because he knew she would put up one hell of a fight or because he admired her for being so direct with him, we will never know.

One thing I do know: I am happy to be alive, because that dumb girl who went off to smoke dope with a stranger was me.

(excerpt from How to Save Your Daughter's Life: Straight Talk for Parents from America's Top Criminal Profiler by Pat Brown)

For more on the book, listen to my interview on Elliot in the Morning.


How to Save your Daughter's Life by Pat Brown available now in local bookstores and online at from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Included in this book, what parents of teen girls need to know about:

The Early Years
Partying, Drinking, Drugging, Casual Sex (Hooking Up), and Gangs
Date Rape
The Dangers of Social Networking and the Internet
Risky Relationships
Child Predators, Serial Rapists, and Serial Killers
The Sex Trade and Sex Trafficking

Friday, August 24, 2012

10 Clues to the Modern Poisoner

Syringe Needles
Wikipedia Commons
by Deborah Blum

Ever since I wrote my story of early 20th century toxicologists learning to catch killers, The Poisoner’s Handbook, many people have asked me what has changed since then. The short answer is: not much as we might hope.

Contrary to what many people think, except in political killings, poisoners don’t make much use of  exotic new compounds. They use – as they always have – what’s at hand. They kill for the same old reasons -  for anger, jealousy possessiveness, greed. They are rare, as this analysis shows,  farmore rare than other forms of killing. And that’s probably the most important change. Poison homicides don’t occur as often as they did a hundred years ago, mostly because scientists are better at solving these mysteries.

But if you’re the kind of person who likes to be prepared against all possible harm, then I’ve put together this short list of warning signs based on a scatter of recent cases. Don’t take them too seriously, as I said, this kind of thing is rare. But still, there’s a few reasonable assumptions here. For instance, you  should probably pay attention if:
1. Your bowl of Rice Krispies tastes like  solvent.

In January, a southern California man poured the paint remover Goof Off into his wife’s evening cereal snack. After swallowing a spoonful, she turned to her daughter saying “Something’s in it. Something’s in it.” Her daughter called 911. When police came to the hospital, the husband fled the building (he was arrested later at a nearby convenience store). He pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
2. The coffee in your morning cup turns green.

In March a Kentucky man was charged with poisoning his estranged wife’s coffee. She called the police after she noticed the dark liquid in her cup had an oily greenish tint. A lab analysis found a sludge of rat poison in the bottom of the pot. He told  the police  that he was merely trying to make her a little sick. But she said friends had warned her that he planned to kill her after she started divorce proceedings.

3. Your coffee is, maybe, a little too bitter.

In 2010, a Long Island man pleaded guilty to killing his wife by putting cyanide in her coffee. The couple, who had two sons,  had separated after he told her that he’d realized that he was gay. But he later told police he’d also realized that he didn’t want her to be with anyone else.

4. Your iced tea is, maybe, a little too sweet.

In July, police brought murder charges against a Cleveland, Ohio woman, accusing her of poisoning her fiance with antifreeze in 2006. Although evidence of ethylene glycol – the key ingredient in antifreeze – was found early in the investigation, it took police years longer to build a conclusive case for the poisoning itself. Detectives said ethylene glycol, which is known both for  its strong, sweet taste and ability to destroy the kidneys, was mixed into the victim’s iced tea. She was ready, they said, for the relationship to be over.

5. Your mother mixes you up a cocktail when she has never done so before.

One of the more notorious recent poison killers, Stacy Castor of Clay, New York, was convicted of murder in 2007 for killing her husband with antifreeze.  She then tried to frame her daughter for the crime, writing a fake suicidal confession, and serving the girlan unexpected cocktail of orange juice, soda, and crushed painkillers. The girl told police that the drink tasted “nasty” but she swallowed at her mother’s urging. Her survival led to a break in the case.

6. Your husband insists that you take those “special” calcium supplements he’s found for you.

In 2010, a Cleveland, Ohio doctor was found guilty of murdering his wife with cyanide, which he had carefully injected into her calcium supplements. His wife died in 2005 after she collapsed from the poisoning while driving and crashed her car. Before she crashed, she had told a friend that she felt increasingly ill and wondered if it was related to the mineral supplements her husband had provided.The investigation suggested that he was tired of being married.

7. Your wife works at a pharmaceutical laboratory where certain supplies have gone missing.
In March of last year, New Jersey prosecutors charged a Bristol Meyers Squibb chemist with poisoning her husband with thallium stolen from her employer. They were at the time going through a divorce.  Thallium is a potent, systemic poison once widely used as a pesticide until it became considered too dangerous for general use.  Today it’s mostly found in manufacturing facilities only.

8. Your wife takes a sudden interest in growing her own salad greens.

In 2008, the wife of a Missouri police officer decided she was ready to end the marriage but didn’t want to go through a divorce. Instead, she served her husband salad mixed with leaves from foxglove plants in the garden. Foxglove contains the compound digitalis which, in the right dose, can stop the heart. She’d researched the poison in the internet, police said, but she got the dose wrong anyway. Her husband survived and she pleaded guilty to assault in 2010.

9. Your jilted lover adds some secretly acquired “herbs” to food in your refrigerator.
After a London man broke off a 15-year affair and decided to get married, his ex-mistress used an old key to enter his home and add seeds from the monkshood plant (sometimes called the Devil’s Helmet) to some leftover food in his refrigerator. The plant contains an extremely powerful neurotoxin. He died and his fiancee was in a coma for two days.  The killer pleaded guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to life in prison.

10. A cautionary note. If you see serious warning signs and ignore them, you may want to leave a letter.

In 2008, Wisconsin resident Mark Jensen was convicted of murdering his wife Julie by spiking her wine with antifreeze. The actual death had occurred a decade earlier and was at first thought a suicide. Jensen had been having an affair at the time and angry divorce discussions were underway. But Jensen had left a letter in case of her death, detailing her husband’s suspicious behavior. Wisconsin prosecutors were able get this “letter from the grave” admitted under a rule allowing evidence of the dead woman’s state of mind in response to the suicide claims.  Jensen was convicted of murder in 2008; the conviction was upheld in 2010.

And, finally: You begin to realize that your wife just knows way too much about poison. My husband hasn’t let me pour him a cup of coffee since I wrote the book.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Janet Danahey Deserves Special Consideration for Clemency

Janet Danahey, N.C. Department of Correction
Photo Caption

by Diane Dimond

Any parent would agree that young people can do impulsive and thoughtless things.

But what if one of their stupidly spontaneous acts accidently turns deadly? Should society give that young person special consideration? Should it depend on the kid’s past good or bad character? Should the justice system treat them the same as career criminals?

The case that caused these questions to pop into my mind comes from Greensboro, North Carolina, and involves a young woman named Janet Danahey. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that what happened to Janet could happen to any one of our kids.

It was Valentine’s Day 2002, and since Janet and her boyfriend, Thad, had recently (and amicably) broken up, the then-23 year old got together with two girlfriends that night to play cards and drink some wine.

Their circle of friends was always playing pranks on each other and this night the three girls – Janet, Nicole and Adrianne – schemed about what kind of trick they could pull on Thad. They decided to sabotage his car and visited a grocery store looking for fish oil or something smelly to pour into the young man’s fresh air vent. They bought a bottle of clam juice and headed to Thad’s apartment building. When they discovered his car wasn’t there Janet grabbed charcoal lighter fluid and set a small fire atop an old futon outside Thad’s door. They could hear people inside the apartment and the idea was to knock and run leaving Thad’s roommates to stamp out the flames.

The night was windy and the fire soon engulfed the apartment building. Four people were killed – sisters, Rachel and Donna Llewellyn, ages 21 and 24; Ryan Bek, 25; and Elizabeth Harris, 20.

Janet never stopped to think what heartache would result from that childish and senseless act.

Janet admitted to police and to the father of Elizabeth Harris that she had set the fire and begged for forgiveness. But she was soon faced with the cold reality of North Carolina’s felony murder statute which dozens of other states also have on the books. Under the felony murder rule if anyone is killed during the commission of a felony (in this case – arson) the perpetrator of the felony can be charged with murder and sentenced to death. It holds even if the victim’s death was an accident.

Janet had to choose between pleading guilty and receiving life in prison with no chance of parole or going to trial where, if found guilty, she would automatically get the death penalty. She pleaded guilty. (The felony murder rule is applied differently depending on the jurisdiction, but, generally speaking, the underlying felony must present a “foreseeable danger to life.” In some cases, accomplices can also face the ultimate penalty too – if they exhibited “extreme indifference to human life” – but in Janet’s case, her two girlfriends never spoke to her again and were not charged. Janet assumed full responsibility.)

As you ponder this tragedy realize that before this happened Janet had been an exemplary child. As a high school student she was described as “sweet, responsible, and very respectful.” Janet had won the Girl Scouts top award, was active in several clubs including the Young Christian Society. She played the viola, carried the Olympic torch during part of the run to Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympic Games and she made the dean’s list in college. None of this, of course, absolves her of blame but the record shows Janet Danahey made one awful decision on one horrific night.

On the other hand, as prosecutors rightfully pointed out in court Janet was an intelligent college graduate – a woman who should have known that using an accelerant and setting a fire on a windy night could result in catastrophic damage. And, the state maintained, Janet and her friends exhibited complete indifference by leaving the scene without making sure the fire was actually put out.

Now, 10 years later, Janet’s lawyers note that she has been a model prisoner and they have filed a petition for clemency with the outgoing governor to have her sentence reduced to time served. The attorneys call what happened on that February night, “A joke … A foolish prank. A thoughtless act, but with no malicious intent.” They have asked for an adjustment: “To a sentence that is out of all proportion to the conduct involved.”

One of Janet’s most visible supporters is Elizabeth Harris’s father, Robert, who said he forgave Janet years ago. His words are part of the clemency petition:
I still picture Janet, standing with outreached hands, handcuffed, trembling, shaking almost violently, crying intensely, speaking almost incoherently, ‘These are the hands that are responsible for Beth’s death.’ My reactions were instinctive. I went over to her, held her tightly … (and) whispered …‘I forgive you, Janet’ several times.
At this writing there have been no comments from other victim’s family members so there is no way to know if they will challenge the clemency request.

As one North Carolina newspaper pal wrote me recently, “Two-and-a-half years per life doesn’t seem like much punishment for a deliberate act of arson that went bad.”

I guess I agree with that but I have this nagging feeling that our felony murder laws should be adjusted for people like Janet. I think only career criminals should get life in prison with no chance at parole.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Excerpt: The Millionaire's Wife by Cathy Scott

Today's post is an excerpt from the first chapter of Los Angeles Times bestselling author Cathy Scott’s latest true-crime book, The Millionaire’s Wife: The True Story of a Real Estate Tycoon, is Beautiful Young Mistress, and a Marriage that Ended in Murder. George Kogan, a wealthy businessman, was cut down in broad daylight on an Upper Manhattan sidewalk. It's a fascinating read with lots of twists and turns.

A Cool Manhattan Morning
by Cathy Scott

A light rain fell over Manhattan on a weekday morning like any other. But life can change on a dime, and that’s exactly what happened as middle-aged business tycoon George Kogan hurried back to his ultra-chic Upper East Side apartment with a bag of groceries on each arm in anticipation of break- fasting at home with his young lover. The late morning of Tuesday, October 23, 1990, turned out to be anything but a typical day in the city.

On the busy sidewalk, George, who’d recently celebrated his forty-ninth birthday, turned the corner onto East Sixty- ninth Street and headed toward his mid-block building, between Second and Third. As he hurried down the tree-lined street, he didn’t notice anything unusual other than the cool morning temperature. He continued walking toward the canopied entrance to the co-op where he’d lived for the last two years with Mary-Louise Hawkins, a twenty-eight-year-old rising star in the public relations world. Across the street, carpenters noisily worked on the new Trump Palace high-rise apartment building. A few blocks away, Central Park was alive with pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers as they coursed through the park’s major arteries to their destinations in New York City, where the drone of urban traffic awaited them. George enjoyed walking the neighborhood. He’d lose himself in the bustling sights and sounds of the city. And this day was no different.

Walking from the neighborhood Food Emporium, he looked forward to spending the late morning with Mary- Louise. Quiet breakfasts were how their relationship had moved from platonic to romantic, and they especially appreciated those moments. Plus, George was anxious to prepare for an afternoon meeting with his son, William, who was acting as mediator to nail down an agreeable divorce settlement with George’s estranged wife, Barbara, and bring to a conclusion the marriage that in essence had ended two years earlier.

As George headed home that morning, William telephoned his father’s apartment to confirm their afternoon appointment. Mary-Louise told him she’d have George return the call when he arrived home from the store. George was optimistic about the settlement and finally getting the lengthy divorce behind him, so he and Mary-Louise could move on with their life together. Also uppermost in George’s mind was settling the divorce to help repair the damaged relation- ship he’d had with William, who had sided with his mother after his parents’ separation.

As George continued his walk home, the usual cast of characters were out and about—nannies pushing babies in strollers, residents leaving their high-rises to walk their dogs, business people hurrying to the subway entrance just steps away. George, distracted with the nagging thought of the afternoon meeting, quickened his pace when his limestone building came into view.

He lived in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, once called the Silk Stocking District, so named for the attire worn by the rich people who had once lived there. Long gone was the 19th-century farmland, as well as the market and garden districts that had peppered the area. Left were skyscrapers, rows of stylish townhouses, mansions, and the occasional walk-up apartment building.

For a millionaire antiques and art dealer who had once had interests in a casino and several properties in Puerto Rico and New York, George lived a surprisingly modest life on New York’s well-to-do Upper East Side—broadly defined as the area from Fifty-ninth to Ninety-sixth Streets, east of Central Park. His living quarters with Mary-Louise Hawkins were definitely nice, although small, with just one bedroom and a marbled-bath washroom. And while the apartment had a prestigious address with the coveted 10021 zip code in a luxurious high-rise complex, it was not quite up to the elite level of Fifth Avenue, which serves as the symbol of wealthy New York, where George once lived with his now-estranged wife Barbara. Still, he admired the high-end building that housed his current apartment.

The Upper East Side has a legacy of outstanding eclectic architecture, including George’s pre-war apartment. The facade of his co-op, a mix of limestone and beige brick, created a grand entrance with its surround and above-the-door stone molding, with tall arched relief details and shallow columns on either side and carved renaissance-style capitals. Above that was a heavy, stately ornamental stone molding.

The variety of styles added a touch of grace and grandeur from a bygone era. As a connoisseur of fine antiques, George appreciated the artistry that went into the face of the building and enjoyed walking through the double-glass doorway, framed in oak, with its etched Art Deco design. What George could not know was that he would never again walk through that entryway, and the anticipated meeting with his son and his soon-to-be ex-wife to finalize the divorce was not to be. What happened next, he never saw coming.

As he neared the entrance to his Sixty-ninth Street apartment, his face flushed from the damp morning air, what he heard next was startling. It sounded like an explosion, most probably coming from the construction site across the street.

“What the—?” George cried out a nanosecond later, when it dawned on him what the noise really was. It was the distinct sound of gunfire.

No, no, no! he said to himself, and then, Mary-Louise!

The force of the bullets entering George’s back thrust him into a forward dive and catapulted him into the air; he landed in a skid on the rain-soaked concrete. He was face down just yards from his apartment lobby. Seconds felt like minutes.

Coins, bills, and groceries—a carton of eggs, a slab of cheese, a bottle of milk, pieces of fresh fruit—tumbled to the ground, along with George.

Sprawled on the sidewalk next to the wall, with his arms stretched out in front of him amidst the scattered groceries and money, George lifted his head and cried out, “Help me!”

The book is available at bookstores and online at Amazon.com.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Technology of Facial Recognition

by Andrea Campbell

Television and movies are famous for zeroing in on the technologies of the present and future. Some are outrageous such as the vertical mid-air computer manipulation screens and the holograms used for facial reconstruction--fascinating but most cities’ law enforcement and forensic science divisions are cash-strapped, so fantasy is more the reality. There is one thing though that criminal justice has been good at, and that’s compiling information, mainly data in regards to identification.

The History of Identification
In 1924, the Criminal Justice Information Services created an FBI Identification division that began with the collection of fingerprints. Prior to that, things were fairly unsophisticated and rather chaotic in terms of holes--states were responsible for their own mug shots and fingerprint collections and since information was collected manually, if a perpetrator crossed state lines, his slate was temporarily clean. The need for centralization and an organized repository wasn’t really met until as late as 1999. Instead of mug shots, photographs and criminal history traveling through the U.S. mail and processed manually, the IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint System), system improved all that. Now with the launch of IAFIS, it made it easy to search, process and store data electronically. Wherever a suspect went, his identification could follow.

The New Generation
With the advent of a growing demand for identification services, the FBI stepped up its criminal justice data system with its new Next Generation Identification or NGI program. Previously, the technology infrastructure was fast becoming obsolete. Just as you have to stay current with upgrading your computer software and equipment--with all the identification requests the FBI receives, they were struggling to fulfill their mission. So while NGI attempts to shore up its reputation, staying a global leader in biometrics is a feat. Because biometric submissions come from tribal, local, state, federal, international and other intelligence systems, the rapidly expanding database is a race--and the timeline for upgrade was posed as a multi-year time frame developed with incremental phases (or one step at a time).

Our Identification Rights
Generally what happens as new technologies evolve, its development has a tendency to stop on people’s rights, that is to say, their right to privacy, searches or just by being required to submit to varied forms of ID.

There are federal codes however, that provide much-needed authorization for such information and it can be found in U.S. Code, number 28 to be more precise, and it outlines how to acquire, collect, classify and preserve such identification and crime records. The exchange of this data between agencies must follow guidelines set out in section 534 of the same code, and section 3771 outlines the authorization for the FBI director to develop new approaches, techniques and devices.

Several of the program increments for the NGI platform have been completed like: increasing the true match rate of fingerprints to 99.6 percent and providing the ability to process less than ten prints as well. Another program named RISC (or the: Repository for Individual of Special Concern) was also completed that helps to ID wanted persons, suspected terrorists, persons of special interest and sex offenders. A National Palm Print directory is on the agenda for next spring, 2013, and Increment 4 called Rap Back, Facial and Scars, Marks and Tattoo search capabilities should be up and running summer 2014. The National Rap Back service is all about notifying searchers about folks who are already in the criminal system, and will include Facial and SMT--Scars, Marks and Tattoo--designs for investigation purposes.

Next Generation for Facial Recognition
A pilot program debuted in 2012 for facial recognition, but should be fully operational summer of 2014. This will make possible image-based facial recognition searches of the FBI’s national repository. What comes back from a search will be a list of candidates to investigate. The bank of photos are based on criminal mug shots that were taken as a part of the booking process during arrest. The concerns have been that photos from other sources like Facebook, or surveillance cameras would be used but the FBI site says they will not use those as sources. Currently the National Repository holds approximately 12.8 million searchable frontal photos. The FBI claim that only authorized criminal justice agencies can query, and the requests are processed in what’s referred to as a, “lights out” manner, meaning that no one person prepares the ranked candidates list--it is constructed without human intervention.

A government act called the “Interstate Photo System Privacy Impact Assessment” (PIA) is in a renewable phase as any evolutionary changes that have since come into fruition will be reevaluated since June 2008. States that have already sampled the facial recognition as part of a pilot program will still need to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that reiterates why they need the information and how they intend to use it. The Facial Recognition pilot should be fully functional summer 2014.