Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Riders on the Storm

If you're wondering what the Hurricane has to do with crime, you're not paying attention to the news. There's gunfire on the streets down there in New Orleans. More than usual. This blog is collecting stories of the horror going on down there, including an excerpt from horror/thriller writer Poppy Z. Brite. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Yet It's a Crime for Me to Not Recycle

Back in February, I linked to a story about one of the scariest things I've read all year: a rabbi in New York who killed at least one child by giving him herpes. And not in some Catholic priest kind of way, either. No, this rabbi (turn back now, please) circumcised this baby, and then, in front of the baby's family, sucked blood from the baby's penis. And he wasn't beaten to death by the child's father. No, this was part of the ceremony. This is standard operating procedure for some sects of Judaism.

This week, Mayor Bloomberg said he wasn't sure if this should be made illegal or not. As Christopher Hitchens points out in this Slate piece:

I could wish that Bloomberg were always so careful about keeping out of other peoples' business: He has made it legally impossible to have a cigarette and a cocktail at the same time, anywhere in the city. But I'll trade him his stupid prohibitionist ban if he states clearly that it is the government's business to protect children from religious fanatics. Female genital mutilation, for example, is quite rightly banned under federal law , and no religious exemption is, or ever should be, permitted. The Mormons were obliged to give up polygamy and forcible marriage before they, or the state of Utah, could be part of the United States. A Christian Scientist who denies urgent medical treatment to his or her children may well be hauled up for reckless endangerment, as may those whose churches teach redemption through violent corporal punishment. The First Amendment does indeed forbid any infringement of religious freedom, but it is not, as was once said, part of a suicide pact, let alone a child-abuse one.
Hey, I'm a libertarian most of the time. I write about crime, and I want the things I write about to be robbery and murder, not smoking in the boys' room. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it way before we get to "mouth on bloody infant genitals." But that's just me.

Boy, this post is going to open me up to some interesting Google searches.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Did Someone Shoot Suge or Did Suge Shoot Suge?


It's not only a tongue twister ... it's a question police are asking. As much as I enjoy the idea of Suge Knight shooting himself in the ass, I'm pulling for a new rap war. I think that we can all agree that P-Diddy (I'm not dropping the "P" until I see the whites of his eyes) needs some fear in his life. Think of all the things a new rap war could bring us:

*Black velvet paintings of Lil Jon with a single tear running down his face

*More interesting music awards parties

*Ice Cube ... done with crap movies and back in the studio with Dr. Dre

*Nelly acting hard

*More bad murals in Brooklyn!

From the Vault: Prison is Bad

[another in an occasional look back Crime-Sprees past ... for the viewing pleasure of my visitors from Defamer]

Watched two prison documentaries this week: Gladiator Days and Scared Straight! Days investigates the backstory behind a brutal prison murder, a 67-stab wound shanking* caught on video. It's really hard to watch; at one point the shank gets stuck in the victim's skull ... yeah, it's hard to watch. Some folks have argued that killer Troy Kell is a victim of the system, as he received a no-parole life sentence at the age of 18. But, seeing as how he shot a guy six times to get that sentence, this is a really, really stupid argument.

Not that prison doesn't change you, a point made perfectly clear by Scared Straight! This 1978 documentary follows a group of young punks as they are taken into a New Jersey maximum security prison to get lectured by a bunch of scary lifers. There's a main thrust, if you will, to their threats. Allow me to present to you the two-minute version of Scared Straight!

BEFORE THE TRIP:


"I'm just a bad motherfucker. No doubt." Posted by Hello


"What up, fool?" "Word, holmes." Posted by Hello

THE LECTURE:

"...and then I'm going to rape you sideways style. After that, I'll do some rape crunches to keep the abs tight. After that, I'll beat your guts with my rape stick. Then my friends will rape you while I take a rape nap." Posted by Hello


[in the background]"rape, rape, rape." Posted by Hello


"...breakfast rape, except on Sundays, when it's brunch rape. Rape with feathers! Cream of rape!" Posted by Hello

AFTER THE LECTURE


"Is the army hiring right now? 'Cause I'd like to thank Uncle Sam for my perfectly-sized, non-distended anus."Posted by Hello


"Like, I thought prison was all tattoos and pruno. I didn't realize it involved widening my rectum like an elephant gun. I'm joining the Key Club. "Word, holmes." Posted by Hello

*67 Stab Wound Shanking is the name of my new metal band.

You know ... for kids!

Someone needs to fly to Atlanta and give Steve Huff a hug. Out of all of us crimebloggers, he's the one who really digs in the dirt. But today he's scraping the bottom of the barrel: pedophilia webrings! Man, you really can find anything on the Internet. Steve holds back from actually linking to the sites, so folks looking for guys to talk about little girl leg hair with will have to do their own heavy lifting.

The Chateau Story


Defamer has invented his own 'Aristocrats' style story, this one involving rampant drug use and celebrities. Again, the beginning and the end are always the same, but the middle is pure improv. Here's mine.

So there I was at the Chateau Marmont with 17-year-old Robert Downey, Jr. and Jimmy Spader. We'd been snorting so much coke of the ass of this one hooker that when we ran out of powder, Rob was able to scrape up another rail from her right cheek. But his nostrils were totally plugged by this point, so he gave himself a nose enema with an eyedropper full of vodka. He let the snot/coke/vodka mix drain out into a cup and just left it there, so I grabbed my works, slurped it into the needle and mainlined it. I guess I went into some kind of psychotic frenzy or something and tried to set Jimmy on fire, so he shot me up with the last of his brown just to calm me down. He didn't talk to me for a week after that, but I'm not sure if it was because he was pissed or because we were on K the whole time. We probably shouldn't have tied up the hooker before we went into the K hole, 'cause she had to chew off her right arm to escape. Hey, that's drugs.

Patricia Cornwell Doesn't Know Jack


Patricia Cornwell, the American crime writer who wrote the very bad Portrait of a Killer: Case Closed, has taken out full-page ads in a couple of papers defending herself from critics. Apparently, she was upset that this article wasn't a fluff piece and actually included people of an opposing viewpoint. Well, Pat, if you're going to go around claiming to solve perhaps the world's most famous unsolved crime, perhaps you ought to toughen up a bit.

I am not a Jack the Ripper expert. I've read several books on the case, but in today's world that doesn't mean much. Since I find it highly unlikely that the killer will ever be found (or, I should say, that it will ever be proven: so many people have been accused of being Jack the Ripper that someone may have got it right by accident) I prefer to enjoy the ludicrous myths of From Hell than argue over meaningless minutiae. But I can spot shoddy sleuthing just fine, and Cornwell sets off lots of alarms in that area. So I'm not the person to rebuff Cornwell's huffy claims. I'll let the Casebook do that for me.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Suge Knight Shot


Gangster rap mogul (and that's an accurate title) Suge Knight was shot in the leg while attending a pre-party for tonight's MTV Music Awards. The police have no idea who approached Knight in the Red Room club and fired at least two shots at the notorious fella. And they probably won't. Knight was famously uncooperative the last time he was wounded, during the murder of Tupac Shakur. I think he might like to take care of his own problems.

We'll have to see if this affects tonight's broadcast (well, I won't, because I don't get MTV). I'm thinking it won't. After all, it isn't like Lindsey Lohan was shot. Suge Knight gets shot; that's part of what he does.

PS - The last link up there is to a site that thinks Suge Knight had Tupac killed to keep control of Pac's catalog. I have dismissed this theory in the past for a simple reason: Suge Knight was in the car. He was hit. Now, he may be a stone gangster, but putting yourself directly in the line of fire is beyond tough. Has there ever been a mob hit where that has happened?

Beyond matters of justice, I think our inability to completely map out the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls are causing us to miss out on one of the great stories of our generation.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Young Brothers' Massacre


The 1932 gunfight that claimed the lives of six law-enforcement officers, the Young Brothers' Massacre is a truly lost piece of American history. Outside of the Ozarks, where it occurred, it is virtually unknown, but it is still the largest loss of LE life in a gunfight in American history (it lost its status as the largest loss of LE life total when 9/11 occurred, as Henry Garfield pointed out to me in my comments section).

The story of how the men who went to arrest Harry and Jennings Young were slaughtered is a central part of my family's history. Ollie Crosswhite (below), who died that day, was my great grand-uncle. My grandfather, who recently passed away, told me of remembering sitting at the dinner table when the call came to say that Ollie, his father's brother, had been killed. Ollie's wife was sitting at home with a pot of ham and beans, Ollie's favorite food, when she learned about it herself. (Ironically, Ollie was only a "special deputy" at the time, not a full-fledged one, due to a Republican administration coming into power and kicking the Democrats in service out of full-time work (according again to my grandfather). He was supplementing his income as a security agent for the railroads at the time of the massacre, and joined up on the raid at the spur of the moment).

The Young brothers were car thieves (their sister was trying to sell a hot car, alerting the police that the Youngs were in town) and already suspected cop-killers, but Sheriff Hendrix knew the family and couldn't have dreamed that they'd come out killing. This explains the lackadaisical nature of the raid, and the fact that the cops ran out of ammo early on in the fight, leaving them at the mercy of the killers.

The two men, armed with a rifle and a shotgun (and possibly gas masks, although that's disputed) hid inside a house and picked off the officers who attempted in vain to take cover behind small trees when the shooting started. Sheriff Marcell Hendrix, who thought he could round up a small posse and go get the bad Young Brothers, was one of the first to die when he walked into the house after forcing it open.

It might seem strange that two men could take on so many police (ten total plus one civilian, several survived the massacre, mostly those who went for help), and there is some debate as to whether the killers acted alone. But shooting unseen from a house at men with scant cover, and being able to climb to the second floor to get a shot, offers untold advantage.

This occurred on January 2nd, 1932 ... just before the Midwest when crazy. It's the year just before the famous 1933-34 crime wave that Bryan Burrough wrote about in his recent best seller Public Enemy (which mentions the massacre in passing). It really can be seen as the moment that rural law enforcement, having grown lax since the Mother of Bandit years, received its first wake-up call that they were going to have to get tough again. But it would be later, with the Kansas City Massacre, that the world would listen.

There was a massive manhunt which led down to Texas, where the Youngs had been stealing their cars. The two men wound up dead in a motel room when they were surrounded by the cops. Was it suicide? Murder/suicide? Or, seeing as how they were both "riddled with bullets," did the police just shoot the bastards to not bother with a trial? I don't know.

Later in 1932, a book was written and printed up in Springfield (partially funded by my great-grandfather, Raymond Crosswhite). I have just discovered that this website has transcribed the whole book online. It's a great piece of American history, and needs to be preserved. My own copy of the pamphlet is in okay shape, but they weren't really built to last. It's not 100% historically accurate (the book was also partially funded by a tear-gas company, and there are a suspicious number of references to the effectiveness of tear gas), and the writing style is baroque (to put it politely). But it's something very near to me, a relic from my own personal history and the nation's history, and I'd like to say thanks to the folks who took the trouble to get it on the web.

A "False Criminal" Dies


A few posts down I wrote about the stupid "political movement" known as Yomango, or "I steal": people who shoplift in the name of bad politics. It posits stealing as a politically liberating artform. It's wrong.

The concept of "Urban Exploration," however, is right on. The idea is basically to take the skills of a master thief, and use them to steal nothing but experiences. As a crime fiction writer imagines himself committing crimes, the Urban Explorer goes places he is not supposed to go (but not, I must add, into truly private areas) using the same means a thief might. It's a truly interesting concept, and while it can get gussied up by talk of public spaces and facades, I imagine its the visceral thrill of sneaking that makes it fun.

The leading proponent of the artform, Ninjalicious, passed away on the 23rd due to cancer. It's especially sad as his first book, Access All Areas, is just getting ready to be released (I saw it today in a New York bookstore, but Amazon says it isn't to be released until October 25). The website for his zine Infiltration can fill you in on the hobby.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Bookhouse


Still putting in work on the Bookhouse. It's going to take a couple of months before I think it's a really respectable crime library. I've started adding discussion questions to some of the entries, so start a chat if you'd like. I'm planning on adding websites and video games in the future. Whew.

Recently added: Dopefiend, Glengarry Glen Ross, the Crime Classification Manual, The Untouchables, Boyz in the Hood, Mystic River, Cracker, Chinatown.

"Yomango" is Spanish for "bullshit"


Here's a story about how folks in Spain are "rebelling" by shoplifting. From their manifesto:

"Buying" is an excercise in passivity. Boring and alianating, it is a socially predetermined act. YOMANGO is a creative and exciting practice. "Stealing" is understood to be a crime, but YOMANGO does not acknowledge legalities or illegalities. More so, it speaks of a kind of legitimacy which comes from below, the legitimacy of daily life, of wanting to live freely, creatively.


Riiiiiight. Well, let's put that one on the shelf next to "free love," "not having a job," "drugs" and "spray painting stuff" ... the shelf is called, of course, "stuff that we'll say is political so we don't have to admit that we're fucking off here."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Supernotes

Check out this Slate article on "Supernotes," expertly prepared funny money of unknown origin. It might be coming out of North Korean, the bastards. Or it might be coming from Jakarta and Hong Kong, where dashing gangsters trade fake currency, light cigarettes with fake $100 bills and kill hundreds of bad guys for the love of brotherhood.

Or that could be the plot to A Better Tomorrow. I get it all confused some times. Damn, Chow Young Fat is cool.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bad Heroin Brief

Jack Shafer over at Slate beat me to the punch when he figured out on August 17 that there was no bad heroin floating around New York and that it was probably just drug combos that did the deed. Which is pretty much what I said, except he says it better and with research.

He also directs us to this website on meth that I find entertaining. Enjoy.

Columbine Myths


What he said. Trench here catches the Washington Post in a goof: it mentions the Columbine killers as the victims of bullying. Which, folks, just ain't true. Trench also links to a story that I have pumped in the past: Dave Cullen's excellent piece on the mental health of Klebold and Harris. Hey, dipshits who romanticze these two: they were insane. End of story.

Trench, in my opinion, wastes time when he bothers to debate these guys when they show up on his message boards. They're the equivalent of Holocost deniers, Trench.

Crime Fiction

The Bookhouse Boy is looking for someone, anyone, who publishes short crime fiction. Print is nice, but even a website would be okay. I've been searching for a couple of hours now and all I've learned is that crime fiction is way more popular in England than it is here. Aside from the well-named Crimespree magazine, I haven't seen much here stateside. Please leave a comment if you know where I could send this story I've got. I've half a mind to just publish it here and be done with it.

By the way, I added Out of Sight and I, the Jury to the Bookhouse.

Even the crickets are shooting up ...


So, a little time has passed since the deaths of Mellie Carballo and Maria Pesantez ... and junkies have not dropped dead all over New York. Could it be that despite the hysteria there was no bad heroin on the loose in the city? Could it be that we had a string of overdoses featuring two attractive girls, and that was the news?

Well, yeah, probably. Crimes committed against the attractive get more attention (even though here it appears that the women committed the crimes against themselves). This is just a fact, and has been since at least The Black Dahlia. I know that some of my colleagues occasionally get flack because of the amount of attention that gets paid to pretty white missing women. I would say that this is a fair criticism of the current state of "true crime" in general, but I'd also note that this is my third post on these two girls. Sometimes having a pretty person become a victim is like a disease getting a celebrity spokesperson.

Here's a pretty interesting article on how to prevent heroin overdoses, courtesy of the Village Voice.

Another Gotti going down the tubes


Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, testified yesterday against John Gotti, Jr. Sliwa was shot by Gotti thugs in 1992 after bad-mouthing the family. Hey, Junior: if someone calls your family thugs and your response is to have him shot, um, then aren't you kind of proving his point?
From the story:
During cross-examination, Gotti attorney Jeffrey Lichtman tried to portray Sliwa as a fraud and self-promoter who lied to the police and media to draw attention to his fledgling Guardian Angels
Well, that may be, but he didn't fake shooting himself, did he? The cab driver has already testified that Gotti ordered the whole thing.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The terrible nines


Erika Ruiz's trial is starting today in Texas. A run-of-the-mill boyfriend murder with one nice touch: She blamed the crime on her nine-year-old son! Well, yeah, I can see that. I mean, kids are growing up fast these days.

By the way, in looking for a photo of a shrugging kid, I first tried Google image searches of the words "oops" and "whoops." Must everything on the web be porn? I mean, really. So now I have that creepy-ass thing up there.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Crimeblog Round Up

Once again, here's what's going on in some of the other crime blogs you should be reading.

The Special Constable: This Brit copper has an interesting post on how the policeman's oath has changed over the years.

Wally over at In the Hat has the most interesting comments section of any blog I read. These cats know what they are talking about: in this case, informants.

Henry Garfield over at Extreme Politics took the interesting and ballsy decision to directly engage some neo-nazis in a conversation on their own message boards. Here, he reports his results. He's also found a report that suggests that Muslim terrorists may be recruiting African Americans in our prison system. Which is bad.

Trench asks a question I echo: who cares what Mumia Abu Jamal thinks about anything?

Steve Huff is having fun (okay, that's not the right word) with sex-offender maps. Cyber-sleuthing is getting easier every day. At what point does that stop being a good thing? Steve's other blog, the missing persons report The Twilight Kingdom, has a tale of a judge who has been missing for 75 years, and may be found yet.

That's a story that CLEWS would have jumped on, were not Laura James on vacation.

In the self-promotion column, I'm still adding reviews to the Bookhouse. Recently added: Blood Simple, A Better Tomorrow, The Spanish Prisoner.

Friday, August 19, 2005

There's no "V" in November


V for Vendetta has been pushed back until March. As Defamer points out, this could have less to do with "post-production problems" and a lot more to do with the hero being a terrorist blowing shit up in London.

Let's blame the Godfather!

Man, the New York Daily News is just doing my job for me today. Paired with its tale of bad heroin is a survey showing that more kids are using drugs and alcohol. This sentence I can't make heads or tails of:

That doesn't bode well for keeping kids free of drugs and alcohol, the survey found, because 12- to 17-year-olds who attend schools where drugs are used, kept or sold, are three times as likely to try pot and twice as likely to drink alcohol than teens at drug-free schools.
Um, isn't that obvious? But here's the bombshell, buried down in the story:

For the first time, researchers also linked R-rated movies to teens' illicit behavior. Those who watched R-rated flicks three or more times a month were seven times more likely to smoke cigarettes, six times more likely to smoke pot and five times more likely to drink alcohol than teens who didn't watch those movies, the survey found.
Let's speak slowly here ... that in no way means that R-rated movies cause drug use. What that means is that parents who don't let their kids watch R-rated movies have their kids under their goddamn thumb.

To put it in the words of the Bookhouse Gal, who wasn't allowed to watch R-rated movies as a teen, "you're under lockdown." So, yeah, if you want to home-school your kids and make them be terrified of you and not let them watch The French Connection, Silence of the Lambs or any of the other Best Picture winners that have been rated "R," go nuts.

What is bad heroin?


New York is still buzzing about the bad batch of heroin that killed Mellie Carballo and Maria Pesantez. Cops filed charges against a man who gave the two girls cocaine which they themselves mixed with heroin. Pesantez, at least, had both coke and heroin in her.

Let's look at the last line of the story: "The smack may have been too pure or altered with a poisonous additive, authorities said."

So, is there bad heroin floating around New York? Well, it's hard to say. For one thing, heroin can be considered bad if it is too good. And people develop resistance to the drug, so one person's too good is another's just right. And if more people who have died recently turn up with both coke and heroin in their veins, it could mean not that a bad batch of heroin is coming into the city, but that speedballs are coming back into vogue. Speedballs kill, y'all.

Heroin is the drug that gets associated with these kind of alerts. Check out the Google results for "bad heroin" to "bad cocaine" to, just for laughs, "bad marijuana." Injecting a substance of dubious origin into your bloodstream is simply a stupid thing to do.

I'm going to say something ugly now, and it will probably offend some of you. That's fine. But it needs to be said: while the death of two college co-eds is sad, they were two legal adults who made some very, very bad decisions. I have not heard anything that suggests that these two were forced to shoot up.

As someone who believes that drugs should be legalized, I also believe that you have to take responsibility for your actions. No one killed these two girls. They killed themselves, just as if they'd gotten very drunk and drove into a telephone pole. It is tragic. I feel for the parents. But it isn't the fault of the person who gave them cocaine. It isn't the fault of whoever gave or sold them the heroin. It isn't society's fault. Any person with the ability to gain entry into college is smart enough not to inject drugs. These girls are not victims of anyone but themselves.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Breaking News: BTK to Die in Prison

The Bookhouse is Open!

I have created a sister site for The Crime Spree: The Bookhouse. It's filled (well, it's getting filled) with reviews and comments on the best of true crime, false crime and crime cinema. I'd also like it to be a place where fans of crime culture can discuss their favorites, so please use the comments section to get conversations started.

I've really been enjoying the way that crimeblogging has been influencing the news right now. And I'm also happy that a community of crimebloggers seems to be shaping up nicely. And Steve Huff is on a one-man mission to make the mainstream give a little respect to crimebloggers. What on Earth is going on?

But my peers (um, though not in readership ... these guys all squash me) focus on reality, a place I don't spend too much time. And while there are lots of places for people to discuss real cases and true crime, I don't know of anyplace to talk about true crime books as books (instead of as parts of a certain case) or crime flicks and books. (If there is such a place, well, now there are two such places).

The Bookhouse
is little threadbare right now, with only about 20 reviews, but I'll be adding more both new and classic stuff. I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Heroin Chic in Remission


(Edit: I've kept up on this case, for more on Mellie and Maria, please visit The Crime Spree)

There's a bad batch of heroin floating around New York City that's already killed six people. To make matters worse for the drug dealers who've been selling the smack, two of the victims were attractive young co-eds, making this the kind of story that the New York Daily News can put of its front page for weeks. Not to make light of the deaths of Mellie Carballo (right) and Maria Pesantez, but the News doesn't even mention the other victims until the 11th paragraph. And then in the 13th paragraph they get around to mentioning that there are 900 drug-related deaths in New York every year.

Look, kids ... heroin is bad news. I shouldn't have to tell you that. Police aren't sure if this batch was tainted or abnormally pure, but you simply shouldn't put something in your veins that you bought from a guy you wouldn't share a sandwich with.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Kids Today, With Their Hair and Their Organized Crime


"Baby Gangs," made up of criminals under the age of 14, are on the rise in Italy, spreading from the North into the South. These gangs of cute li'l bastards are thieves, for the most part. The tradition is for them to be pickpockets (who hasn't heard of the child pickpockets of Rome?) but as the gangs get bigger they seem to be branching into more ugly crimes, such as mugging.

And, of course, their profits get pumped up into the coffers of older men who are happy to get rich of the backs of thieving children. Pimpin' ain't easy, right?

Monday, August 15, 2005

I Like Sex and Violence


OR "The Death of the Casual Boob"

Slate today has a great article (by their always fantastic Edward Jay Epstein) on why there is almost no sex in film today. (Short answer: Wal-Mart). Epstein doesn't address, however, the huge impact that the introduction of the PG-13 rating system had on film. He mentions NC-17 (the worst thing to happen to film in a long time), but the PG-13 rating allowed filmmakers to cram plenty of violence into a film and still market it to teens ... as long as there wasn't a casual boob in there.

By coincident, today is the release date for the DVD of Sin City, a film that not only had casual boobs but a great deal of casual violence as well. You probably haven't noticed the picture of Rosario Dawson to the left yet. But it is from the film, in which Dawson plays queen of the killer hookers. Sin City is so fun.

And Sin City is as graphic as a film can get without getting a NC-17 rating ... and has more nudity than you've seen in a film in a while. But director Robert Rodriguez has never ran from sex in film. In fact, he probably should get a lifetime achievement award for filming the Salma Hayek/Antonio Banderas nude scene in Desperado. Compared to his contemporary Quentin T, especially. For all the violence in Q's films, I can only think of one sex scene, and that one (in Jackie Brown) was played for laughs.

Three Missing Women

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about the crimes that I remembered well from my childhood and teenage years. One case that rocked my hometown in particular was the case of the "3 Missing Women," one of the most talked about cases in the history of Springfield, MO. You may remember it: Sherrill Levitt, her daughter Suzanne Streeter and Streeter's friend Stacy McCall disappeared from Levitt's house on June 7, 1992. Gone, without their cigarettes, without their glasses, without their keys. And nothing has ever turned up.

Through either coincident or simpatico, the moment I went on to Google to research the case, I found that crime-blogging kingpin Steve Huff had just a week before done a profile on the case. Huff's memory of the case shows why it terrified folks nationwide:
I know that writing about it now, when perhaps to some even in Springfield, Missouri, this story is an old nightmare fading fast, I find I am no less aware of the three women's faces, filled with life, captured and suspended on the page. I am no less aware that the reality of their images juxtaposed with the outlines of the mysterious tragedy that must have befallen them still haunts. Still makes me check the porchlight late at night, and sometimes jump at the odd set of 3 a.m. car headlights flashing by.

The emotion in Springfield was far, far beyond this. Springfield, MO, home of John Ashcroft, Brad Pitt and me, still prides itself as a small town no matter how large it gets (around 150,000 in the city proper with a very quickly expanding sprawl). It's the home of the Assemblies of God. It likes to think of itself as a place where "those types of things don't happen." Yet every few years something happens to remind the good folks that it gets its fair share, if not more, of crazies.

I had turned 16 just a week before the women turned up missing. I think you can agree that perhaps no one is more self-directed than a teen who has just gotten their first car. I was as invincible and immortal as I ever would be, and so I probably wasn't as concerned about the situation as I should have been. But it was the topic of conversation in Springfield for the rest of my time there. For a while, it was the topic of everything. Every newspaper, every radio station, every bar room whisper and every rumor-monger's brain cell ... billboards, news programs, flyers ... everything.

And then ... nothing. Huff speaks about the question mark at the heart of every missing persons case. I recently have been reading The Badge, Jack Webb's book on the LAPD, and he had this to say about the cops in charge of the Black Dahlia case:

Nothing, nothing, except to close out false scents and then try to get back on the right one. Sometimes police know their man and yet cannot pin the evidence on him. Sometimes the sense with the hunter's intuition that they are close, very close, and lose him only because he has suddenly died or managed to flee into obscurity, Usually, almost always, they can reconstruct the motive and sex of the killer ... but [in this case] they have never felt like they were anywhere near close.
I do not know, but I suspect that after these thirteen years, this is how the police feel about the three missing women. I have heard the rumors that the three women fled to escape drug debts (certainly false) or murdered by the mob (ditto). This site is willing to make the case against a fellow named Robert Cox. Perhaps, perhaps. And I have heard one rumor, which I hesitate to discuss in public due to the level of detail it gets into, that places the blame on someone known to Streeter (who is the most likely target of the assault). But I do not know. And, I'm sorry to say, at this point I don't think I ever will.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Scam o' the moment

I've seen a couple of stories in the last few weeks on this scam. The basics: I buy something from you, and "accidentally" give you a certified check for over the amount. I ask you to send me some cash to cover it. You do, the certified check is a fake.

A general rule: wait until the check clears before you pay, be it from Florida or Nigeria.

Beats wallet-making


Check this out: a summer camp where little kids inspect crime scenes and try to solve fake crimes. Is this okay?

There in the heat of a hot August afternoon, with hands supposed to be in pockets or behind backs and with their imaginations running wild, the campers found Resusu's body, actually Penn State-Beaver's much-used CPR mannequin.

She was lying face up on the porch, head in a pool of blood, obviously dead. Blood was splattered on the house's outside walls and more of what appeared to be blood drops were speckled about the porch's wooden floor.
I'm (perhaps obviously) not a parent. And lord knows that I purposefully exposed myself to all sorts of mind-polluting material as a child. Gleefully. But it seems kind of strange to immerse your nine-year-old in murderin'.

PS - Is that movie poster awesome or what?

Dark Deceptions


I had family in town this weekend. Along with some truly great food (Grimaldi's pizza, Nathan's hot dogs, beef marrow, oysters, tomato sorbet with Parmesan foam, a banana split at one point ... the Bookhouses eat well), part of the weekend consisted of checking out the opening night of Dark Deceptions. It's a one man show put together by Todd Robbins, an interesting fellow. Deceptions is an attempt to re-create a 19th century seance. As you can tell by the name, it's done to illustrate that those who claim to talk to the dead are con men.

It was a half-successful show. As Robbins admits before getting into character, the type of magic done by those guys is really pretty lousy stuff. Robbins asked the audience members to, in effect, be stupid and go along with the show. But these are New Yorkers ... they wouldn't allow themselves to play along, and Robbins threw in too much comedy. It broke the mood.

But still, the final portion of the show, which took place in the total dark, was kinda spooky. (My sister screaming certainly helped). Robbins seems like a pretty good performer. I'd like to see him do a modern-day "talking with the dead" show ... although it's all pretty lame stuff too.

Sopranos ... Fat Lady Sings in 2007

Well, it looks like we're going to have to wait another couple of years to get some closure on the Sopranos. As much as I like that show, it has been going downhill a bit, and it's getting left behind. I'll watch, of course, but I don't know if I care. I'm more of a Deadwood man these days.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The First True Crime Blog Roundtable and Potluck Bingo Dance

Crimeblogging is a growing concern. This week, Steve Huff from the Dark Side was on Fox News to talk about it. In a few weeks it'll be on the cover of Newsweek and I'll have sold out to Microsoft for millions of dollars. In the meantime, I invited a few fellow crime bloggers to engage in an online roundtable to discuss our strange little corner of the web. We barely scratched the surface, so perhaps we'll do it again soon.

The panel: The aforementioned Steve Huff, who focuses on missing persons, serial killers and very bad people. Laura James is the author of CLEWS, in which she digs deep into our past to explore interesting murders through history. Trench produces The Trenchcoat Chronicles and News of Doom, exploring krazy kids and the general rotteness of humanity. And me? I'm the Bookhouse Boy. I like true crime and false crime and have a potty mouth.

The Bookhouse Boy asks:
Unless I'm mistaken, none of us makes a living off true crime (Laura, I'm not sure what kind of legal work you do). For instance, I had to write a piece on Avril Lavigne and Hootie and the Blowfish this morning before I could come play in the mud. Would you like to be able to live off true crime, or is it safer as a hobby?

Trench
With the subjects that I take on, I think it's safer as a hobby. You'd be surprised at the amount of hate mail I get from people defending these school shooters.

Steve Huff
I would like to make a living off of it, and am taking steps to do so -- the extra publicity lately has certainly helped. But I know there are pitfalls. One of them is the psychological toll. This stuff isn't, uh, fun, to deal with. I came to reading true crime as a genre from reading horror and suspense fiction. I said, 'hey, here's horror, and it's real!' and I was hooked, for want of a better word. A journalist from the Seattle Times said to me recently in an interview, just in passing, that there was probably "a hell of a book" in the case of Joseph Edward Duncan III and the Groene murders and kidnapping in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I agreed with him, and admitted I wouldn't turn down the chance to be the one to write it; however, I know enough already about the crimes Duncan is alleged to have committed to say that I would probably need to take very good care of my mental state if that opportunity arose. As a father, stories involving children being harmed in general are more upsetting to me than some others, and some of the details that are not being revealed to the public yet of Duncan's acts with the Groene kids are just beyond horrific. A person writing the book, say after the trials are over, would have to at least know all of this, even if specifics still didn't make it into the book. That's how Ann Rule writes; she waits for the trial to be complete. Then it's usually easier for her to be allowed access to court documents, evidence, etc. I'd probably want to write that book -- but I would dread delving into the worst truths.

So... yes, I'd like to make a living, but yes, it would probably be safer as a hobby. But we can't do things safely all our lives if we want to move forward.

Laura James

I’d like to get paid to do this, but I can't get anyone interested in the cases that move me. I've tried for years to get an agent or publisher without luck. So I decided I'd rather be a successful blogger than a failed author.

The case that I want to write a book about is the murder of Dr. Zeo Zoe Wilkins, who was stabbed to death in her home in Kansas City in 1924. After investigating the crime for years, I concluded that the person who most likely murdered her and stole $100,000 in diamonds and bearer bonds from her home was her last lawyer, a fellow by the name of Jesse James, Jr. He was the only son of the famous bandit and a silent film actor who spent his weekends riding shotgun for the Ku Klux Klan. He was also severely mentally ill. But agents and publishers keep telling me that nobody is interested in historic cases. "Too old, not famous enough." If my blog is successful, it will prove them all wrong.

The Bookhouse Boy
To answer my own question, I see it much more likely that I'll make a living doing crime ficiton than crime fact. I just don't think there's much of a market for black humor in today's true crime market.


Steve Huff asks:
I keep getting asked this one; why write about real crime, in particular? How did you start? How old were you when you first read a true-crime book?

The Bookhouse Boy
My first true crime book was about Wild West gunslingers, bought at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. I was probably ten. My grandfather was an ex-prison guard who made knives and sold them at the Branson theme park. His uncle, Ollie Crosswhite, was a police officer who was killed in the Young Brothers Massacre, which still stands as the largest loss of law-enforcement life in American history. (This case gets no respect, something I plan on changing some day).

I had a typical teenage interest in serial killers. But I didn't really embrace my true crime enthusiasm until about a year ago, when I made the conscious decision that I needed a hobby at that this is what I'm interested. My interest in crime fiction and films probably comes first, and true crime is a part of that, of course.

Trench
To be honest I never read a true crime book. My wife on the other hand loves them. Like I told Steve I never even considered myself a crime blogger until he pointed it out to me. I got involved because I was tired of these people who were trying to make out the Columbine killers as victims and it just blew up from there.

[new email]

Now that I think about it I lied. I actually have read a true crime book. It was called .44 about David Berkowitz. That was my first real experience seeing a serial killer on the news.

Laura James
My interest in true crime started as a teenager when I was obsessed with Lizzie Borden, a woman who was forced by the times to lead the awful, restricted life of a New England spinster, but who lashed out, and it was the very same prejudices that saved her neck. At the same time, I was petrified of serial killers, and studying them is akin to turning on the lights at night. I started writing true crime stories as a newspaper reporter. After covering a few criminal trials, I decided that I could do a better job than a lot of the trial lawyers I saw in action and went to law school. Found out it's a lot harder than it looks.

Laura James asks:
A lot of people have no interest or appreciation for the study of true crime and say that true crime writers create an admiration for desperate and wicked men, from Jesse James to Ted Bundy and beyond. What do you say to that?

The Bookhouse Boy
I'd have to say that honestly, I'm a little guilty of that. I do not lionize someone like Ted Bundy, but I have a somewhat romantic image of con men, hustlers and professional thieves. The important thing is that I recognize that this is a romantic view, and try to focus it on fictional folks. I love a good heist tale, and in a movie like Heat I'm not rooting for the cops.

On the other hand, I had my car stolen once, and I didn't want those folks getting away. So I'm very aware of the difference between a fictional "honorable" criminal and a real life thug. And I also feel like there is a world of difference between, say, admiring the skills of a pickpocket or secretly wishing you could live the high-flying life of a gangsta and the sad sack folks who think the Columbine killers were heroes. Reading some of the comments for your blogs just seems to confirm that there are a lot of stupid people in the world, and some of those folks read crime blogs.


Steve Huff
No, I definitely don't think anything we write, or anything written by the big names on the bookshelves like Rule, Schechter, etc, creates that admiration. If someone is going to admire serial killers, they would do it whether I wrote another word about sk's or not. I do think we are all guilty, as is a large segment of the rest of society, of being fascinated with serial murder because pop culture has imbued the killer with the kind of dark power that was once reserved for movie monsters like Dracula and the wolfman. I can't think of anyone who saw Silence of the Lambs and didn't kind of feel amused when Hannibal got away. That was a feat on the part of Anthony Hopkins as an actor, but it was also testimony to Hannibal becoming the new Dracula, if you think about it. I feel like we're writing real horror, in a way. We share the same territory with Stephen King, as much as Ann Rule in my mind, the difference being that King has the freedom to say supernatural evil is the culprit, and we're stuck with looking for real-world answers. Basically, though -- if people are going to admire bad men, women, and bloodletters, they will find their inspiration no matter what I write. I do try and be careful to not elevate the criminals I focus on to some sort of evil mastermind status, but that's hard to not do with some, say the Zodiac, who got away, no matter how you slice it. I don't admire him, but I can't deny the curiosity that remains inside about how that particularly clever and creative brand of killer worked. I do think there's a difference between curiosity about bad things and a fascination with them that borders on a kind of lust. The accusations that we aid those who cross the line into "lust" or admiration are made by people who can't admit their own curiosity about bad things.

Trench
To over simplify things, as I tend to do, the "admiration" for people like Bundy or a Jesse James was there long before anything was ever written.

Laura James
True crime is an exploration of the extremes of human behavior, and I think for the most part, true crime writers and fans are interested in it because we have a strong empathy for the victims and the desire to see justice done, the bad guys and girls caught, and the worse they are, the more satisfying it is to see them punished. That's why I think there aren't many books on the shelves regarding unsolved cases. Readers want to know whodunnit, and even if it's too late to see a murderer come to his just desserts, at least s/he can be named and shamed. But sometimes you can see extreme behavior in the response to famous criminals, and those responses can be a reflection of cultural forces (Jesse James, Lizzie Borden) and sometimes an expression of one person’s warped psyche (like women who marry convicted serial killers or troubled teens who admire teen murderers).

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Chris Cunningham scares the pee out of me

This really doesn't have much to do with crime, but I'd just like to say that British filmmaker Chris Cunningham scares the bejeezus out of me. He's just released his new film Rubber Johnny on DVD. The abstract tale of a inbred mutant who lives with his dog in a basement, I imagine that the film might get old after a while. But before that time, my bits and pieces will have hitchhiked up to my gallbladder.

You might not remember the video to Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy," so let me refresh you: it's the video that played on MTV in the 90's, the one that every time it aired, you could hear the scream of a little girly-man in Springfield, MO echoing through the country.


If Cunningham isn't up to directing a feature, someone like David Fincher ought to team up with him. Together, they could reduce me to a quivering bowl fulla scared.


I mean, Jesus.

Checking in With MTV


Some days MTV reads like a crime blotter:

Two Michael Jackson jurors claim they were pressured into acquitting them
. They both have book deals and, coincidentally, are bad people. If you voted to acquit a child molester when you thought him guilty, you are evil. They say they did it because they would have been thrown off the jury if they didn't go along. So what? Get thrown of the jury ... or would that make the book deal a harder sell?

DMX is in trouble with the law again. Hey, D, do you need a hug?

And, finally, there just might be some illegal activity in these excerpts from 50 Cent's autobiography. And by just might, I mean ... well, you know what I mean.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Six Degrees of Satan: Tom Cruise

Among my favorite cheesy books stashed in the Bookhouse, my favorite might be Raising Hell: An Encyclopedia of Devil Worship and Satanic Crime. I thought we might use it to play Six Degrees of Satan. Just how close are some of our favorite celebrities to the Devil?

Let's start with Tom Cruise. Sure, he's had so many stones thrown at him that it's kind of cruel to keep pounding on him. But, what the Hell, as the Night Stalker might say.

Degree #1: Scientology
If you've breathed American air in the last six months, you don't need the connection between Tom and Clears explained to you.

Degree #2: L. Ron Hubbard
Hubbard was a hacky sci-fi writer who created Scientology.

Degree #3; Jack Parsons
Hubbard was a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis under Jack Parsons, who reported directly to ...

Degree #4: Aleister Crowley
Perhaps the most famous "magician" of the 20th century, Crowley referred to himself as the Beast 666 and was therefore obviously buddies with ...

Satan!

Four steps. Not bad. Can you do better? (You could arguably cut out Parsons, but this way is stronger, you know).

Let's try again:
Tom Cruise

Degree #1: Scientology

Degree #2: Charles Manson
Manson studied Scientology in prison.

Degree #3: Jesus Christ
Whom Manson hinted at being. Jesus had a famous meeting once with ...

Satan!

Three steps. Not bad. Can you beat it?

Reasonable doubt, meet a jerk-off


E and I stayed in the Bookhouse Saturday night, which led me to watch 48 Hours. It's a show I usually miss, but this episode was a keeper. It told the story of Sebastian Burns (right) and Atif Rafay, two teenagers who "discovered" the bodies of Rafay's entire family. Those quotes are there because Burns and Rafay were later convicted for the murders. The two confessed to undercover cops posing as the mob (long story), and their best friend testified that they had told him about the crime.

In typical 48 Hours style, the show somehow managed to be thorough and facile at the same time. However, I felt pretty sure that Burns and Rafay were guilty. It wasn't just the evidence or the confessions. It was the fact that Burns, who allegedly wielded the baseball bat in the killings, came off as a totally arrogant psycho killer every time he was in front of the camera.

I know what you are saying: "Hey, appearances can be deceiving. You shouldn't judge someone on their attitude like that." Aw, the hell I shouldn't. Just look at the bastard up there. That''s him delivering a hour-and-a-half long lecture to the court during his sentencing. When the jury declared him guilty, he gave them such a classic "angry psycho" expression I laughed out loud. Burns struck me as an amoral (a word the judge used) semi-intelligent bastard who mistook a slight facility with words for awesome ubermenschian superiority. When convicted, he looked like he thought that he had performed such a perfect crime, the jurors were idiots for convicting him on the evidence. Oh, no, not that he could have messed up.

His condescending tone of voice alone should have gotten him 3-5 years in the joint. And tack on another year for writing a screenplay called The Great Despisers. That is a semi-smart hack title there, Burns. The defense website for the pair doesn't bother to mount a defense of Burns' startling douchiness: for some attacks there are no blocks. However, it clearly helped convict him, as one juror said later that she was terrified of Burns. Might want to keep him off the stand next time.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Technology in the wrong hands ...

New York City has just implemented a Real Time Crime Center, which is basically a giant supercomputer that tracks crime (in real time, natch) and searches for peaks and patterns. It will deliver instant updates to policemen in the field.

This is going to end badly. Am I the only person who has seen Robocop? Or, more to the point, Wargames? All it's going to take is one Matthew Broderick-lookin' hacker to sneak into the system at type in "I want to play Grand Theft Auto." And the whole city will be in chaos! Chaos, I say.


I know what you are saying: "But what about the Batcomputer? It certainly helped Batman fight crime! Well, you answered your own question. Batman was involved. He can have anything he wants. Matthew Broderick couldn't hack the Batcomputer. But you think Sipowicz can stop hackers? He probably doesn't even update his virus shield software.