Cartoons that Label You as a Potential Terrorist

Excellent blogger and runner Mappchik had an insightful post last week regarding a recently released (then amended and rereleased and then fully retracted) intelligence report from the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC). MIAC is an arm of the Missouri Highway Patrol, and distributed the report to law enforcement agencies throughout the State.

In the original version, the Center’s document described typical militia members’ politics (or what the authors believed) as those likely to support 2008 presidential candidates Bob Barr, Chuck Baldwin, or Ron Paul.

The report also characterizes libertarians, those against abortion, and persons who display anti-IRS cartoons as potential terrorists.  
Evidently, the story captured national attention after a concerned police officer contacted a radio host and the radio personality ran with the story.

The revised version of the document is posted here. After viewing this “intelligence information,” I had a few comments:

1) Obviously, labeling groups of people as potential terrorists because of their voting tendencies or beliefs is idiotic. If the purpose of the report was to help police through education, promoting the idea that vehicles with Ron Paul bumper stickers are possible militia members certainly does not help officers perform more effectively.

2) After the inflammatory comments are removed, the report unfortunately reads like something from Wikipedia—not much useful information for officers working the streets (I think the equivalent of militia members do not like the government would be that certain types of gang members predominantly listen to rap music).

3) There are no endnotes/footnotes in the document that could provide a reader with references. With no citations, the sources of the information for the report it are difficult to establish the report’s information as credible.

4) Finally, the report refers to “Christian Identity” as a characteristic for militia members. The phrase is capitalized as a heading, and was confusing for me in understanding if the authors were referring to those who identify themselves as Christian as opposed to the followers of the idea of Christian Identity. I think adding the word “Movement” after Christian Identity would have better clarified the heading.

Encouraging authorities to judge individuals displaying bumper stickers or holding specific political views as potential terrorists undermines our free society.

Though I understand the interest in trying to assist police in identifying potentially dangerous individuals, I think citizen complaints about the report’s content were warranted, and police officials needed to retract the report-—even with the egg still covering their faces.

Part II: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the second post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case.* Maitland was last seen during around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, as she was completing her shift at the Black Lantern Inn restaurant in Montgomery, Vermont. She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm--about one mile from the restaurant. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in an accident.

With the first post, I provided the Maitland case history and introduced several peculiarities with Brianna’s disappearance. In this segment, I will discuss the most intriguing aspect of this case: the photographs of the missing woman’s car as the scene appeared after police initially discovered it on March 20, 2004. The photos were taken by a citizen-—showing Maitland’s Buick crashed into a wall of the Dutchburn farmhouse.

Multiple news sources reported the initial police discovery in the following manner. In the early morning hours of March 20, a trooper with the Vermont State Police patrolling on Rt. 118 noticed a Green Buick sitting on the abandoned farm property (the farmhouse is very close to the highway road and is clearly visible). He stopped and briefly inspected the vehicle. The trooper saw no one around, opened one of the car’s unlocked doors, and noticed two Black Lantern Inn paychecks made out to Brianna Maitland on the front seat.

News reporter H.P. Albarelli, Jr. states the officer then picked up several items off the ground near the vehicle, "including a broken necklace, and tossed them into the vehicle's back seat." He then left the scene on another call and assumed that the Buick was a hit-and run accident.

Maitland’s car was again noticed by a group of citizens driving on an out-of-town trip early in the morning of March 20. Concerned someone might be injured, they stopped and also saw no one around the vehicle. One of the persons with the group thought the vehicle crashed into a farm house was interesting enough to snap two pictures of the collision scene before the friends departed. These have been the pictures of the incident scene that became synonomous with the case.

Police responded again to the scene later that morning, believed the vehicle was involved in a simple a hit-and-run, and had the car towed to a local wrecker company where it would stay until someone claimed it. Maitland’s vehicle then sat for several days due to an unfortunate set of circumstances that included Brianna not initially being reported missing and then police not realizing that they had already recovered the missing person’s vehicle.

Below is a tiny version of one of the citizen’s photographs of Brianna’s wrecked vehicle. Due to access limitations with the image, I am unable to enlarge the size of the photo, but you can go here for a much better look (you can use the magnify tool there to see the picture full-screen).

What do you notice? If you didn't use the photo's original link, probably not much.

Here are some of my notes regarding the image:

--There was snow on the ground and it could have been on the road at the time of the incident.

--The house’s damage seems to indicate that the car was not driving at a high rate of speed when the collision occurred.

--One of the house's boarded-up window that received the car’s impact apparently rests on top of the car.

--There is damage on the front passenger side of the vehicle.

Looking at the photo is still a bit haunting for me--considering that the scene displayed could very well have been the place of a violent struggle.

Next time, I’ll continue with my discussion of this case with more on the collision scene, the photos, and the surprising past of the abandoned farmhouse where Brianna’s vehicle was found.

*Note: Because many of the resources and articles are no longer available on this case, I am only able to provide links for some of the information. Also, I am providing some of the information by memory (since the articles are no longer online), and any detail that I screw-up, I'll apologize and correct immediately.

Disabled Collegiate All-American

For an inspirational story this week, one needs to look no farther than Arizona State University Wrestler Anthony Robles:

Arizona State sophomore Anthony Robles, born with one leg, fulfilled a dream Friday by becoming an All-American wrestler. He will have to wait until next season to continue his quest for an NCAA Division I individual championship.

Robles was beaten 5-2 Friday night by top-seeded and unbeaten Paul Donahoe of Edinboro (Pa.) University in the semifinals of the NCAA championships in St. Louis.

Robles, who came into the tournament as the 12th seed, remained in contention for third place.

"I expected to win, but props to my opponent. He just came out on top. … I brought my A-game, and so did he. He just came out on top," added Robles, cheered by the crowd as he hopped off the mat after his defeat

Robles, now 28-7 on the season, earned his way to the semifinals by winning three matches, two of them against higher-seeded wrestlers.

With a quarterfinal victory, Robles became an All-American. That status goes to the top eight finishers among 33 entrants in each weight division. Robles came one victory short of making All-American last season. His quarterfinal win Friday assured him no worse than sixth place this year.

Robles, who won two Arizona state titles as a high school wrestler, was born without a right leg from the pelvis down.

He uses crutches off the mat. For the start of each match, he hops to the center of the mat and starts in the standup position. When the whistle blows, he but immediately drops to the mat and uses his left knee and arms to maneuver and balance himself…
Looking beyond the praise that the guy rightfully deserves, I wondered if Robles’ physical status could actual work to his advantage while on the mat:

1) Psychologically—Opponents consciously or sub-consciously aware of his appearance don’t pursue his leg initially and/or as aggressively as they would another wrestler.

2) Physically—When an opponent is grappling on the floor with Robles, they by nature are likely to reach for or otherwise try to account for a leg that is not there.

I posed these thoughts to my little league football teammate and former NCAA Division I wrestler. He agreed that his balance would be incredible, and that there would be less for an opponent to hold on to.

In contrast, he sees being an underdog as more of an advantage--as the guys with low rankings have nothing to lose and can aggressively take risks against the more cautious seeded wrestlers.

Whatever the case, Robles shows that through dedication and believing in one’s self, anything is possible.

Part IV: Off the Beaten Path

For as long as I can remember parades have held a special place in my heart. Growing up in a military family, I was towed to parades even as an infant and very much enjoyed the events as a child. My favorite part of a parade was watching the soldiers--and Halloween, Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades were always a big hit in our family.

Even though my fellow classmates (we had all just graduated the police academy) were less than excited about being assigned to work in the cold at our community’s annual Christmas parade, I actually relished the opportunity. Watching all of the enthusiastic children and their parents respond excitedly as the various floats and characters passed by along the route reminded me of the wonderful times spent at similar events during my childhood.

So, have you ever just wanted to go to a parade but it was not a holiday? Where can you find a good low-cost parade during the summer?

Well, since I said low-cost that eliminates the Disney parks’ daily parades. What if I said that maybe the best parades that one will see are held twice a week between May and August in Washington DC and charge no admission?

Yes, for free admission, parade fans can attend the US Marine Corps’ Evening Parade (held on Fridays) and/or the Sunset Parade (held on Tuesdays) during the summer.

The Sunset Parade is held at Arlington National Cemetery in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. It includes a one hour performance by the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and precision drill by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. No reservations are required, and the public is welcome to bring a lawn chair and enjoy the parade.

Offered at the 8th and I Streets facility, the Evening Parade features the US Marine Marching Band, the US Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, the Marine Corps Color Guard, and the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, among other participants. The show lasts one hour and fifteen minutes and includes music performance and lots of marching.

A little more on the history of the Evening parade at Marine Barracks known as "8th and Eye" to folks familiar with the service:

The "Oldest Post of the Corps," was established in 1801, and has performed military reviews and ceremonies since its founding. The present-day Evening Parade was first conducted on July 5, 1957.

The presidential inaugurations and specific occasions prompted the parades and ceremonies conducted at the Barracks during the early 1900s. The traditional reveille and morning muster parades were conducted with varying frequency at the post, and they eventually resulted in more formalized ceremonies. In 1934, when MajGen. John H. Russell, Jr. was the 16th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Barracks initiated its first season of regularly scheduled weekly parades.

The parades were conducted in the late afternoon, usually on Mondays or Thursdays and varied from 4 to 5:30 p.m. The parades were commonly referred to as "Sunset Parades." The ceremonies were conducted from April to November, concluding the week of the Marine Corps Birthday, November 10.

…Using the resplendent setting of the Barracks, wistful imagination and the Marines' flare for showmanship, the parades were to be a showcase for the ceremonial prowess of Marines and the musical eminence of the U.S. Marine Band, which had achieved international renown under the premier military band leader of all time, John Philip Sousa.

In planning the parade sequence and format, Colonel Leonard F. Chapman Jr., the future 24th Commandant of the Marine Corps, insisted that the parade adhere to strict regulations. The parade drill would be without fancy theatrics, which frequently characterized drill routines of that period. Since its inception, the Evening Parade has become a unique patriotic tradition of the "Oldest Post of the Corps".

The parade's heritage is entwined with former military rituals such as tattoo, retreat, and lowering of the colors ceremonies. The Evening Parade is offered solely to express the dignity and pride that represents more than two centuries of heritage for all Americans.
Eighth and Eye is home to the Commandant's House--the official residence of all but the first two Commandants who have headed the Marine Corps during its long history. This house has quite a rich history, and is considered to be the oldest public building in continuous use in the Nation's Capital.

The Commandant’s House was spared during the British attack on Washington in 1814--one of the few structure that did not meet the torch. The predominant theory (maybe because it makes the military look good) is that the stand of the Marines during the fighting at Bladensburg so impressed British General Robert Ross that he ordered the House and Barracks left untouched as a gesture of soldierly respect.

Of course no old building can be labeled fascinating without a ghost and/or treasure story connected to its history, and the tales of the Commandant’s House do not disappoint. Here is the legend of the buried treasure on the grounds at 8th and Eye:

In August 1814, as the British Army approached Washington, two sergeants of the detachment at Marine Headquarters (then located at the Marine Barracks) were, so the story goes, charged with the safety of a chest containing a considerable amount of Marine Corps funds. The Marines were supposed to have buried the chest on the grounds of the barracks or to have hidden it within the walls of the Commandant's House.

They then rejoined their comrades on the battlefield of Bladensburg where they were killed in the fighting, taking the secret of the money's location with them to the grave.

In another version of this story, the two NCO's were killed in a rugged floor-to-floor defense of the Commandant's House when the British invaders reached Washington. Treasure seekers still eye the walled barracks and hoary house with longing, for the money has never been found and may still be, as legend has it, waiting for the persistent hunter.
So, if you are in the Washington DC area during the summer, it is well worth your time to see the Sunset or Evening Parade. I witnessed both events as a child and am looking forward to taking our family someday so that they will be able to cherish the memories of time spent at a great parade.

Previous tour stops in this Off the Beaten Path Series are Lynchburg, TN, Centralia, PA, and Murfreesboro, AR.

And the Most Dangerous State in the US is…

I know everyone is excited that CQ Press’ book entitled the “Most Dangerous States in America” is now available for just under $70. The rankings are based on scores derived from a formula that factors crime, arrests, and population numbers. The data is taken from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and analyzed. To coincide with this insightful publication, I think it is time for another multiple choice question.

According to CQ Press, 2009’s most dangerous state is:

A) California
B) New York
C) Nevada
D) Tennessee
E) Texas

If you answered A, B, D, or E then you are in for a big surprise. Yes, the Sagebrush State aka Nevada was named the most dangerous state in the research. I am sure families from Carson City to Las Vegas are already packing belongings and searching for houses in a much safer state like New Jersey (16) or colder but sparsely populated Montana (6).

Wait, maybe California has found an effective approach in reducing their crime rating: by taxing, boasting unbelievably high living costs, and otherwise annoying residents until they relocate to other states like Nevada.

After examining the rankings and their methodology, I had a few conversation points on this report:

--The UCRs are simply total crimes with little explanation as to the details of the crime. For example, aggravated assault (labeled an assault in the CQ study) is defined by the FBI as an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. Louisiana finished most dangerous for murders and second most dangerous for aggravated assaults.

How many aggravated assaults were domestic related? How many involved crack users fighting in the French Quarter? How many were the result of drunken fraternity initiations?

I have no idea, but if the typologies of aggravated assault were examined in relation to the rankings and: 1) You and the spouse are on good terms; 2) You are not living on the streets of New Orleans; or 3) You didn’t pledge a frat this semester, Louisiana will most likely not have as many aggravated assaults and therefore may not be as dangerous as presented.*

Also, since aggravated assaults that involve theft or robbery are classified as such, I would be more concerned with those crimes.

--Comparing state totals without recognizing the diversity between urban areas and non-urban areas is ridiculous. Are residents of Trenton, NJ safer due to their ranking as compared to persons from Pahrump, NV?

--In states, high crime areas are in the big cities. These violence issues are not reflective of the other thousands of communities in the state. Should all of Louisiana be frowned upon because of the violence that exists in New Orleans? Is Nevada receiving its most dangerous state label because of the sins (ouch, poor word choice) of Las Vegas?

--As mentioned above, the UCRs only capture reported crime and are not representative of actual crime. As such, it could be argued that the citizens of Nevada actually report a higher percentage of crime as compared to persons in New York or Virginia.

I’ll close with my thoughts on the publisher’s notes:

In previous editions, the terms “safest” and “dangerous” were used to describe the states with the lowest and highest rankings. These terms will no longer be used because perceptions of safety and danger are just that—the perceptions of the individuals who live in these communities. We want to emphasize that the analyses in this book are purely descriptive.

Translation: In previous versions of this report, we wanted to attract as many customers willing to pay $68 for our publication. Unfortunately, since someone noticed that we were misleading and this increases our organization’s risk for civil litigation, we decided to change our nomenclature. At least the media won’t read our press release closely and will still refer to states as dangerous.

At no time do we attempt to explain why there are differences between and among states.

Translation: We know that by providing some explanation as to why there are crime differences among states, we may have made this publication actually useful, but that would be too much effort considering the bargain price tag.

Such explanations are beyond the scope of this book but are currently being pursued by criminologists and other social science researchers.

Comment: Yes, criminologists and social science folks are researching reasons for differences in geographic crimes, but they avoid the aggregate state totals (FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports) used to compile this pristine publication like the plague.
In my opinion, there are much better purchases for $70 as opposed to buying this door prop.

*Note: I understand the publisher’s argument in that if they miss count everyone’s totals then the numbers might be comparable, but the numbers would fluctuate contingent upon multiple factors ranging from the likelihood of residents to report crime to investigative factors by police.

Tuber of the Week: Unpopular Law Enforcement

To incorporate some structure into my weekly postings, I removed the “You Tuber of the Week” side link that was on the blog, and will now select a video of the week as a regular post.

As a result, my posts will primarily be organized in this fashion:

--Missing Person Monday
--You Tuber of the Week on Wednesday
--Off the Beaten Path on Friday

Also, I was happy to figure out the Java component that allowed me to add the gadget showing images of books on my current and recent read list-—I swiped that idea from another blogger.

Of course, the structure is subject to change due to sleep deprivation, whim, or too much caffeine.

This Tuber of the Week relates to a serious police incident that occurred in 2007.* Eric Montanez was arrested after police conducted a surveillance-based investigation of him for being in violation of a new (in 2007 it was new) Orlando city ordinance that placed restrictions on feeding more than 25 homeless persons at one time. The news articles stated that Montanez was arrested for trying to conceal his identity and bonded out of jail on the same day.

Later, the same article says that he was charged also with violating the homeless ordinance. I assume that means that he was booked on the false information charge and received a citation for violating the ordinance.

In my opinion, the officers did what the government had assigned them to do—-enforce what officials felt was a necessary ordinance. Officers regularly get stuck doing lousy jobs and trying to enforce unpopular laws (the ordinance was being challenged in the courts at the time of the incident) that they may not personally like. This would not be an assignment that I would have enjoyed: surveillance on picnics for street residents? I can understand why anti-police sites had a field day with this one.

Also, I think Mr. Montanez got what he wanted. He seemed very proud to have been arrested, and the little bit about him tossing his identification may have been part of the stunt to ensure that he was taken to jail (especially after learning that the initial offense would only result in a citation with a court date). Finally, it does not look like the ordinance provided many more criminal cases there-—so hopefully police surveillance equipment and personnel can now be used more effectively.

*Note: I always try to link to the original blog where I find posting information, but I felt the source site for this story contained too much foul language and was unreasonably anti-police for the plug.

Supermarket Encounter

Just when you thought it was safe to stroll through the produce aisle:

TULSA, OK -- The world's deadliest spider (was) found in a Tulsa grocery store. An employee at Whole Foods Market at 1401 East 41st Street found a Brazilian Wandering Spider wandering around in their produce section.

The store handed the spider over to biologists at the University of Tulsa who say that employee is lucky to be alive.

Terry Childs is the director of TU's Animal Facilities and a self-proclaimed spider lover…

"The venom starts to break the prey down on the inside and then she slurps it out kind of like a smoothie," said Terry Childs.

Childs' department is now home to a Brazilian Wandering Spider. It's being kept in a terrarium with a do not disturb sign. More people die from the spider's bite than any other spider in the world.

"Within minutes you will have breathing problems, you'll start to lose control of your muscles, you'll start to drool and within 20 to 25 minutes you'll probably collapse on the floor and die of asphyxiation," said Terry Childs.

And, that's why he says people at Tulsa's Whole Foods market are lucky to be alive.

On Sunday an employee found the spider wandering across the bananas in the produce section.

"She managed to capture it in one of these containers until I got there," said Terry Childs.

Apparently the spider, also known as a banana spider, hitched a ride on some bunches of bananas all the way from Honduras. It turns out it is the kind of thing that happens all the time, but this particular spider is more threatening than most.

"This particular one happens to be one of the most aggressive ones I've actually come across. This thing will actually jump at you," said Terry Childs...
One bite causes a painful death in 25 minutes? The employee was able to capture the spider alive eh? Ok, that story would have a different ending had it been me discovering the hairy arachnid in the fruit section--something like: “Petrified customer stomps tourist spider into 1,000 tiny unrecognizable pieces.”

When I was little, my brother and I would play baseball in the backyard of our parent’s home in Oklahoma. Since our yard was surrounded by neighbors’ privacy fences on all sides, the object of the game was to hit the ball hard but as a line drive or a grounder; otherwise you would have to make a trip to go search for it in someone else’s yard.

Well sure enough, I smacked one over our neighbor’s fence. Disgusted, I hopped over a tall wooden fence and into their yard--which was covered with plants and brush (I think the guy hated to mow or something). As I reached for my plastic baseball, I saw a hand size dark brown spider crawl into an adjacent plant.

It took me many months and the onset of cold weather before I showed interest in backyard baseball again—-mom could never figure out why.

Below is the type of harmless (I should have kept repeating harmless) tarantula that I believe I saw--yuck...

Part I: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the first post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. As with the Ray Gricar discussion, I hope to provide insight into the case from someone with a policing background. Also, similar with Gricar’s disappearance, I have no connection to the family, investigators, or witnesses and am basing my perspectives on the information publicly available. In contrast with the Gricar case, I will not spend as much time exploring possible scenarios, but instead will focus on several facets of the Maitland case that I found specifically interesting.

The Case Details
At the time of her disappearance, Brianna Maitland was 17 years old and lived with a roommate in an apartment in Sheldon, Vermont. She reportedly had moved out of her parent’s house as a show of independence and was interested in attending another high school in the area. She lived in a couple of places in the area before moving in to the apartment in Sheldon. Instead of finishing high school, Maitland decided to take her GED. She reportedly had just passed her GED exam, and told her mom that she wanted to continue working and enroll in college part-time.

On March 19, 2004 around 11:30 pm, Maitland left her dishwashing job at the Black Lantern Inn (now called the Montgomery House Bed and Breakfast) in Montgomery, VT. It has been reported that Brianna had been invited to stay for a late dinner with coworkers, but stated she was tired and had to work early the next day at a second job. Maitland’s apartment was in a neighboring town and she was supposed to be headed there that night.

When she did not arrive that evening or the next day, her roommate was not specifically worried and had assumed she was staying back at her parent’s house. After not hearing from her for several days, the roommate called Maitland’s parents and it was then that they realized that she was missing.

Unknown to the family at the time, Maitland’s four-door green 1985 Oldsmobile had been found abandoned at an old abandoned farmhouse property that sat along Rt. 118. This location is less than two miles from her place of employment. State police had towed the vehicle on March 20 thinking it was related to a hit-and-run collision.

The Oldsmobile was found with minor rear end damage backed into an old barn on the property. Inside the vehicle were two of Maitland’s uncashed paychecks. Further, some of her belongings were found on the ground outside the car. The family and investigators reported that she left behind her contact lenses, clothing, medicine, driver’s license, and other personal effects.

Authorities and volunteers searched the area of the farmhouse and other places in the region multiple times, but Brianna was never found. Several reports stated that police were suspicious of the accident scene and believed it to be staged. Also, authorities initially felt that Brianna had left the area voluntarily and did not discuss her as a possible crime victim until later in the search.


Several aspects of the Maitland case make it fascinating:

--The victim’s interactions with others in developing potential motives.

--Similarities to another missing person case involving a missing young woman near Montgomery only a few weeks before Maitland’s disappearance.

--The history of the farmhouse location where the car was recovered.

--The confusion that contributed to the delay in actually realizing that she was missing and that authorities had towed her vehicle.

Finally, I’ll cover perhaps the most intriguing detail of Brianna Maitland case next time: the public can view the photo of the crime/incident scene as taken by a citizen.

I’ll continue Brianna’s case next week.

Time for Another Peterson Punch

Last night, I decided it was time for another “Peterson Punch”:*

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task.

The cosmic conflict between good and evil is joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab.

In the boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”

Melville’s sentence is a text to set alongside the psalmist’s “Be still and know I am God (Ps. 46:10), and alongside Isaiah’s “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
Why do I never accept this “rest” concept and instead plow forward as a busy-body performing at about 65% of my potential?

*Note: This was borrowed from the book Living the Message.

The Poem, Two Missing Children, and the Photo

Regarding my previous post on Saturday highlighting a poem by the very talented Karen J. Weyant, I was contacted directly by the author on the same day. Obviously, news travels fast on the Internet and interested folks can even find obscure blogs such as mine.

Anyway, Karen was gracious enough to provide me with the background on her work that I had featured previously entitled “The Girl Who Turned Cartwheels”:

This poem was based roughly on the case of Susan Reinert, whose body was found in the trunk of a car near Harrisburg, PA. Her story and the trial afterwards was the basis of Echoes in the Darkness and a lifetime movie by the same name.

Susan had two children, Karen and Michael, who disappeared. Their bodies have never been found.

Susan was from my hometown in Western PA -- and my parents knew her family. Everyone knew her family. So, for so many reasons, her murder haunted my parents -- especially since Michael, if he was alive today, would be my age.

In some ways, it's a poem of innocence lost. But for me, it's also a small token of remembrance for two missing children and their murdered mother.
I did some searching based using Karen’s information and found quite a bit of material on the Reinert case. Sadly, the children (Michael and Karen) were declared legally dead in 1987 and the missing person investigations are still classified as open.

Their story is summarized by the good folks over at the DOE Network:

Michael Reinert was last seen at approximately 9:20 p.m. leaving his home with his sister, Karen, and their mother, Susan Gallagher Reinert, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania on June 22, 1979.

Three days later, on June 25, 1979 Susan's nude body was found in the trunk of her own car, which was parked in the parking lot of the Host Inn in Swatara Township, Pennsylvania. She had been beaten and bound with a chain, then killed with an injection of morphine 24 to 36 hours after the beating.

There was no sign of Michael or Karen at the scene and an extensive search turned up no signs of either of them.

Various tips came in about the whereabouts of the children. One tip claimed the children were with an ex-con in Denver, Colorado…

…Two men were convicted of the murders of the Reinert family. One of the men, William Sidney "Bill" Bradfield, Susan’s boyfriend, died in prison; the other Dr. Jay Charles Smith, principal of the school where Susan taught, was released when his conviction was overturned because of allegedly concealed evidence by the prosecution…

It is believed they were murdered for Susan's insurance money.
Interestingly, after the death of Bradfield, investigators discovered the photograph shown below of what they think is a grave, and have been trying for years to identify the location of where it was taken-—believing that the children may be buried there.

Karen’s new release chapbook entitled “Stealing Dust” focuses on the working class environment, especially concerning women.

Thanks again to Karen for the background and crime details of this interesting yet tragic case.

Off the Beaten Path: Part III

In previous posts on odd yet interesting travel stops, I discussed Centralia also known as Pennsylvania’s “Town on Fire” and Murfreesboro, AR--home of the US’s most productive diamond mine.

Today, I’ll stay in the southern portion of America and talk alcohol. Now, this is a peculiar topic for me considering I am a teetotaler and have not consumed a drop of alcohol since being dared to at about age 13. Interestingly enough that dare involved whiskey, and that is this topic of this post’s odd stop.

Off of Highway 55 in the middle of this southern state sits tiny Lynchburg, Tennessee. Lynchburg is the seat of Moore County—which has the distinction of being the smallest county in the Volunteer state. In small-town Lynchburg resides one big name distillery: Jack Daniels.

Since 1875, the Jack Daniels company has brewed 80 proof or stronger whiskey in Lynchburg with two notable respites: one break for several years due to prohibition and the other related to World War II.

The Jack Daniels plant has a walking tour, a nice gift shop, and a little visitor’s center that offer amenities for weary travelers. But, the funniest aspect of the Jack Daniels whiskey distillery is that it is located in a dry county. That is correct, Jack Daniels employees can make alcohol here, but the beverage cannot be sold until you reach a neighboring county.

A few years ago, the State realized they were missing out on tourism money so they passed legislation that now allows Jack Daniels and other TN distillers to override local restrictions and sell small gift bottles of their product in gift stores. Despite this token opportunity, one understands the limitations in alcohol availability while driving to the plant and reading 150+ signs that say “Last Chance Alcohol” scattered alongside the roadway right before entering Moore County.

I’ll assume that Jack Daniels is either the top or one of the three largest employers in the county, but isn’t ironic that the association of alcohol as evil allows citizens to ban alcohol sales in their communities—but making it is well, ok.

Three other sight-seeing notes if you are in that area:

--Mr. Daniels died due to blood poisoning from an infection—-allegedly the result of a foot injury sustained when he kicked his safe at work after forgetting the combination. The safe is part of the tour and I can relate to hitting and kicking inanimate objects in a rare fit of anger (glad I did not meet the same fate as Jack did).

--As a boy, Mr. Daniels reportedly learned his alcoholic beverage making from a local Lutheran minister.

--Eating some fried catfish, country ham and fried okra at a local historic restaurant called Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House is worth a few minutes as well. I also noticed that they opened a barbecue place (hello) nearby--too bad that wasn’t around when I was there.

--Get ready when you visit that area because the people are unbelievably friendly. We took the father-in-law who has lived in the North his entire life, and he still laughs today about how many other drivers waved to him as we moved along the back roads to the distillery. I think he was shocked at first, but got used to it real quick. It is something that I have yet to replicate up here (despite offering plenty of friendly hellos and waves) in the Northeast.

The distillery also offers a nice online tour complete with your choice of guides.

In sum, if you are every around the central part of Tennessee, visiting the Jack Daniels plant in Lynchburg is a nice stopover—just make sure you don’t go expecting taste testing or the opportunity to browse through a liquor superstore (unless one of those last chance stores at the county line has expanded).

Police Officers Should Feel Safer Because of What?

Social scientists who study violence against police have noted several trends in the data sets. One unusual feature consistent over the years has been the high number of African-American defendants involved in murders of police officers. African Americans comprise approximately 12% of the U.S. population but about 40% of felons who murder police.

Researchers have offered two primary reasons for this:

…One view holds that police homicide rates are explained primarily by of levels of crime and violence and/or the underlying structural conditions that generate criminal motivation (economic strains, low social control). According to this view, police officers are most often killed by offenders who simply wish to avoid apprehension and punishment, with the overrepresentation of black offenders being a function of higher levels of crime and violence in disadvantaged black communities.

A second view holds that the overrepresentation of blacks is a result of their economic and political subordination by the state. According to this perspective, murdering police is a form of inarticulate protest or primitive rebellion directed against repressive state agents...
Why are African-Americans overly represented in the “murder of officers” population?

I think this represents an interesting question. Researchers offer economic strain/low social control and economic/government subordination as two theories to explain this behavior. These are reasonable theories (not my favorites), and I have no problem with them being tested.

I then read of a study by Ohio State researchers Jacobs and Carmichael (2002) that tried to test the government subordination explanation as a motive for killing officers.

What variable did the researchers select: the number of cities with African-American mayors. Scientist identified 11 cities with African-American mayors and determined that African-Americans represented a lower percentage of the police killer population as compared to cities with mayors of other nationalities. Say what?

I have to confess, I have not read the full Jacobs and Carmichael (2002) study, but if one police officer were interviewed about this finding, I can’t imagine anything but laughter as a response. Speaking anecdotally from my police officer days, I cannot remember one defendant who tried to hurt me that I would wager could even name the mayor of the city or even cared.

Did the researchers sample the police killers to determine their awareness of city politics? How many of the police killers actually even lived in the city where the murder took place? My guess is that the researchers simply used officer murder totals and comparing them to various other statistical categories looking for some type of trend.

My pet peeve with research is when auto theft, murder, robbery, or whatever offense statistics are examined in aggregate without an understanding of the typologies that exist under each official classification.

For example, to the untrained eye, auto theft statistics are all the same. In contrast, officers and the few educated others know that car thefts occur for several reasons: 1) To sell the car or to sell the parts; 2) To use the car in another crime; 3) to joyride; or 4) As temporary transportation. The total auto theft numbers lump all of these crimes together. If a researcher tries to compare total auto thefts without recognizing typologies, their analysis will obviously be lacking.

Researchers examining police issues could most certainly benefit their studies by actually talking to an officer. Perhaps then he/she would learn that using the variable of suspect’s opinion of the city’s mayor as a relevant factor in officer assaults is simply ludicrous.

It is no wonder why a number of researchers have credibility problems with police practitioners.

Motivated Seller: Just Don’t Ask Why

Last month, Dr. Uggen had an interesting post regarding the resale of homes that were the settings of violent and non-violent crimes.

The first photo is of a home for sale in California with the following description: "Moorpark, CA— 4 beds, 3 baths, $449,900, extremely motivated seller." Ok, that picture is certainly an attention-getter, but judging from the shade of red on the carpet, I am making an educated guess that the stain is not blood. The second photo shows a three bedroom house for sale in St. Paul, MN.

These properties are fairly inviting eh?

How about a living in a house where a murder occurred? What about sleeping in the former location of a large meth lab? Would you be interested in the condo where the Menendez brothers were convicted of killing their parents?

Crime scene stigma is the term used to describe homes that are undervalued since they were the settings of murders, aggravated assaults, or similar tragedies.

An ABC News article offers this example:

Crime scene stigma has two effects on property values," Bell said. "One is the most obvious, and that's the discounting effect. And the second is that it takes longer to sell these properties."

Three years ago, Ron Austen and his girlfriend, Cathy Nazarian, bought a home in Ventura, Calif., with an ugly history. And they knew terrible things had occurred there.

"I knew that rapes had occurred here, druggings," Austen said.

Andrew Luster, the great-grandson of cosmetics millionaire Max Factor and heir to a fortune, lived discreetly in the house for 20 years.

In 2003 he was convicted of drugging and raping women, and police discovered he'd recorded his crimes on video. He's currently serving a 124-year prison sentence.

Austen and Nazarian said the history of the house definitely gave them pause.

"It had a little bit of effect on me," said Austen. "I figured it was the ultimate fixer-upper in that they say to buy a place in the nicest possible location that's in the worst possible shape and this was both."

And the price was right -- 20 percent below market value.

Nazarian said she tried to sleep in the bedroom where Luster committed the crimes, but just couldn't do it. "Just walking into this room I'm in a bad place," she said.

The property needed more than just time to remove this stigma -- it needed a makeover. Ron says he has spent almost $100,000 renovating the property and it has been worth it.
I can understand where perhaps an infamous crime might be of interest to someone with odd tastes, but I would think that most of these places are simply leveled and another structure is rebuilt (as was done with Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building). To each his/her own…

Part XI: Ray Gricar Missing Person

This is my eleventh (am I long-winded or what) and last planned post on the Ray Gricar missing person case. Gricar was a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania, and disappeared in 2005. On the day he went missing, he told his girlfriend that he was taking a vacation day from work, and was driving on a local highway. His car was found abandoned the next day in a town about an hour east of his home, and his laptop computer was later recovered submerged under a bridge near his parked vehicle.

In previous discussions, I stated that the two most probable general theories to explain Mr. Gricar’s disappearance are that he was the victim of a crime or that he voluntarily went missing. Based on what is currently public information, I have argued that crime victim is slightly more likely considering two details of the case--the recovered locations of the laptop computer and hard drive and the fact that someone was evidently inside Mr. Gricar’s vehicle smoking-—something that he reportedly would not have likely permitted.

Now, if I argue that Mr. Gricar met with foul play, I’ll need to take an educated guess as to where to find evidence of such an act—and that is the purpose of this post. If Mr. Gricar was a crime victim, where is a likely place to look to help bring a resolution to the case?

Before I start with my thoughts, I want to say that I have no connection to the investigation. Authorities may have searched the area that I describe comprehensively and found nothing –either initially or in subsequent follow-ups. I can say that I have not seen any mention of police searching this specific location as reported by the press. With that in mind, here goes…

For persons to have hidden a body, they likely would have selected a secluded yet convenient area. For long-term secrecy, persons would prefer a location that would be away from the general public; especially hunting and fishing enthusiasts. Note: This also leaves open the possibility that persons selected a location to conceal a crime without knowing that it represented a good place to hide the act over the long-term .

Since it can be argued that Mr. Gricar’s laptop was thrown from a vehicle off of the Lewisburg Bridge, from this perspective, it also then makes sense to believe that the subjects may have been returning from disposing the body and were driving west on Rt. 45 when crossing the bridge.

As a result, the location of any crime scene would be more likely to be east of Lewisburg-—and perhaps, not far at all. Further, considering that the computer was dumped so close to the recovered vehicle location, it may mean that the subjects were trying to flee hastily—perhaps after dumping the body very nearby.

That leads to a question: if the body was hidden nearby why has it not been found? Is there somewhere close that would not be frequented by hikers, hunters, and persons carrying fishing rods? I say emphatically “yes”—there is one location that meets all of these descriptors mentioned and it is called the Montandon Marsh.

The Marsh consists of 500 acres of wetlands (77 acres are protected) and is adjacent to Rt. 45 approximately 3/10 of a mile east of the Lewisburg Bridge. The property consists of sand dunes interspersed with swamps and marshes, at least two ponds, and vehicular traffic on its access road is restricted by an iron gate (Note: I am only familiar with the primary access road—there may be another way into the area via vehicle).

The Marsh is owned by Central Builders Supply who mines sand and gravel from the site. Hunting and fishing is not open to the public on the lands, and the acres are bordered by Rt. 405 to the west and a trailer park on the east.

A local university has several on-going educational projects at the Marsh, but the foot traffic to the area is negligible. As one can imagine with faculty and students, they are not consistently roaming the wetlands, but rather collecting soil samples, retrieving measurement information, and performing other low-impact activities so as not to disturb local wildlife. As a result, these folks are not trampling all over the land. The quarry part of the Marsh experiences much more daytime activity—as trucks and workers are present during the week.

This is how scientists describe the Marsh:

Montandon Marsh is one of the few remaining diverse riparian wetlands ecosystems in central Pennsylvania, along the west branch of the Susquehanna River. Its environmental significance has been hailed by local and regional conservancy groups because of its role as a refuge for migratory waterfowl, as a permanent home for many wetlands birds, and as home to the rare spade-foot toad.

Marsh plant communities are diverse; containing sundew, sphagnum, and cranberry characteristic of Pocono bogs, while it is also home to bulrush and sedge communities normally found on the Atlantic coastal plain.
An aerial view of the quarry and protected marshland can be viewed here.

Could subjects have accessed the Montandon Marsh area in the dark and hidden a body? How frequently is the access gate locked to the property? Was anything unusual noticed in the weeks before and after Mr. Gricar’s disappearance? Was this area searched? Did the university have many projects active during the summer immediately after the disappearance?

Unfortunately, I do not know the answers to these questions, but the presence of a private area of sand hills and swamplands so close to the Lewisburg Bridge that would offer limited to no visibility from the Rt. 45 (in my opinion) should make the Marsh an area of interest for authorities.

One final note on the Marsh—Gricar case follower FD who participated in my question and answer session Part X mentioned something interesting in an email regarding the recovered locations of evidence/items from the Gricar case. He stated something to the effect that the locations of the recovered car, the hard drive, and the computer almost seem to represent a line of bread crumbs moving from west to east.

If one continues with that thinking, further evidence/items of the case should be found east of and in close proximity to the Lewisburg Bridge—again, this is consistent with the location of the swampy area less than ½ mile east of the parked car site known as the Montandon Marsh.

And that is all for now on the RG case...

Continuing in my missing person series, the next investigation that I will discuss is the sad yet fascinating case of Brianna Maitland-—a young woman who disappeared from Vermont in 2004. Her case remains unsolved.

To see Part X on this case or to view a list of other postings, go here.

Great Writing Transcends

I consider it an example of a great writing if, despite having differing world views as compared to the author and limited interest in the selected topic, I enthusiastically read and reread a specific piece multiple times. With each review, a mental image resembling the author’s written narrative becomes clearer until sharply focused. After finishing the work, I then search for other writings by the author, and when found, am not disappointed. Such is the case with poet Karen Weyant.

The following poem appeared in the Coal Hill Journal in Autumn 2008:

--The Girl Who Turned Cartwheels--

It’s dusk. And dry. Boys in the neighborhood

ride their bikes, back tires kicking up dust,

spokes spinning like the cartwheels I turned

that summer those kids disappeared. For hours

every day, I too, vanished without explanation.

The rails are better than school balance beams,

I explained, coming home with blood

on my elbows, cinders in my knees.

My aunt clutched her rosary beads, prayed

to Saint Nicholas. My mother

hugged me. And then had nightmares.

I felt trapped in a car trunk, she said

to my father, sure I wasn’t listening.

I didn’t understand the crime done

so far away, the local girl and her kids

now gone. I just practiced more —

until my back was straight, until my arms

locked tight, until I no longer fell.

When my fingers burned on the August steel,

I moved to the shade. Only the sumac noticed,

bowing to my dismounts, applauding

through the rustle of dry leaves. I didn’t stop

until the rails trembled. I was sure

ghosts were there, somewhere,

making the metal beneath my fingers,

my hands, my toes, tremble.

Weyant has another poem entitled “The Flyfisherman’s Daughter” that I have only found published in hardcopy. If I ever see that work on the Internet, I’ll post a link to it-—her work is moving.

Falsifying Reports

The headline states something like: “Officers Accused of Falsifying Reports.” What thoughts enter your mind when you hear about police faking reports? Would you select one of these answers below to describe the probable content of the news article?

Reports were falsified because:

(a) Officers wanted to steal money or possessions.
(b) Officers needed to cover-up excessive force.
(c) Officers were involved in sexual misdeeds.
(d) All of the Above
(e) None of the Above

Just for the record, I have always hated multiple choice exams with all or none of the above as options.

As for the Detroit story, if you selected “(e) None of the Above” then you win a gold star for the day. The article on falsifying reports does not center on money, police force, or sexual activity (well not directly), the reason officers the are accused of submitting false reports is… drum roll… to make an apparently ineffective sting operation look successful.

Yes, officers are accused of making prostitution arrests in one part of Detroit, and stating that the illegal activity was occurring in another area of town. The officers could then count the enforcement activity as the positive results of their sting known as Operation Ice Breaker.

…The cops labeled it Operation Ice Breaker, a city-suburban law enforcement effort to bust drug dealers and prostitutes along 8 Mile.

Instead, seven Detroit vice cops have been suspended with pay on allegations of falsifying the arrest reports.

The allegations against the cops are: They couldn't find any prostitutes on 8 Mile, so they went to Harper and Chalmers on the east side and arrested five people for prostitution during three days in mid-February. The officers are accused of writing their report to say the busts happened on 8 Mile to fit the roundup's purpose.

Members of the Board of Police Commissioners last week refused to suspend the cops without pay, despite a recommendation from police executives and Chief James Barren...
I had two observations about the incident. First, the article states that seven officers were under investigation. I am assuming the generic term of officers is being used and that these are not all line personnel. It will be interesting to see the ranks of the officers-—as this type of behavior is certainly the brainchild of supervisors.

Supervisors would be the ones under pressure to report positive numbers regarding a specific initiative like a sting. I believe officers would be just fine reporting zeros in activity ("nope, we tried our best but did not find any prostitution or drugs on 8 mile today") if the folks in charge were ok with it.

Second, the story reminds me of several years ago when the media began using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) to try to make direct comparisons about the safety of major US cities. As one would imagine, politicians and administrators began demanding lower UCR violent crime rates in their jurisdictions, and some police (civilian and sworn) were caught fudging numbers to make their city appear safer.

The pressure to produce is present in every line of work—and policing is no different. In the agency that I worked as well as hearing anecdotal information, the message given by administrators to line officers regarding new initiatives is that we encourage innovation in our police agencies—-just as long as you are sure it will work immediately. This represents a major stumbling block in viewing policing as a profession where best practices are pursued.

With problem-oriented policing and other similar strategies, officers are encouraged to try new approaches, and to fine-tune them when they initially show marginal or unsuccessful results (as many times new things do). In reality, many departments have no tolerance for setbacks and the pressure to show immediate success can be overwhelming for personnel of any rank.

If this burden is not mitigated correctly by folks in charge, police personnel may find themselves in situations like those officers in Detroit-—accused of incorrectly listing the address of arrests to show instant program success.

I'd Have a Million Dollars

The general public’s anger with the economic situation and the large opposition to the bailouts represent a depressing situation. Fortunately among the sadness, sprinkles of humor exist.

On the funny side, blogger Shotgunwildatheart has a hilarious post that includes information on CNBC’s financial experts and their predictions (or lack thereof) of the present economic recession. His writing features links to two YouTube videos, including this one from the Jon Stewart Show:

My favorite part of the clip is when Jon Stewart states:

If I only had followed CNBC’s advice I’d have a million dollars today…provided that I started with $100 million dollars.

How do they do it?
Trying to gauge this market as a short-term buying opportunity or a pull-out everything and put it under the mattress is difficult. At least being able to laugh on occasion has offered some relief.


Finding places to entertain little ones during the winter months in a non-urban part of the Northeastern US requires creativity and an adventurous soul. With freezing temperatures the standard, the grocery store and Wal-Mart have only limited appeal to two-year olds.

One place that I discovered has become a big hit with the kids. It is a recreation area that features a small indoor education center and outdoor hiking trails; complete with a water area that attracts lots of critters. Even on chilly days, we can entertain ourselves there for hours—using the indoor area to warm-up after rock throwing, stick collecting, and more physical events like tag or modified hide-and-seek. The indoor part of the park is also wonderful in that rarely do we see anyone else there—other than the maintenance staff.

Last week, I had the brother and sister at our recreation area and we had just finished pushing every button, flipping all switches, and otherwise doing everything allowed in the museum area. As kids are prone to do, the pungent fumes alerted me that it was now time to change diapers. Fortunately, this indoor area also has the elusive treasure rarely available to many dads—the infant/toddler changing area located in the men’s bathroom. Much easier than changing diapers in a vehicle, the folding plastic changing table is a welcome site for dealing with those smelly emergencies.

The little girl’s diaper appeared to be the worst, so I placed her on the small table, strapped her in, and began the changing process. While working on the soiled diaper, the little boy (whose behavior I have described as resembling a dumpster fire) peered into every toilet wanting badly to touch the water, turned all of the water faucets on, and was trying to extract enough paper towels for a small village of children to use.

As he cheered for more paper towels, the park’s education director entered. I had met him several years ago, but he did not recognize me. Since my hands were covered in unappealing matter, I decided that this was not the proper time to reintroduce myself and offer a handshake. Instead, I corralled the destructive boy in the area where I was working and focused on the task at hand. To try to make the guy at ease, I joked, “Whew--this one really needed a diaper change.”

The director smiled looked unsure of what to do next, but then walked over to one of the urinals and began doing what he had entered the restroom to do. Meanwhile, the little girl was still lying on the changing table. The table was located on a wall that ran parallel to the line of urinals. I was trying to distract her as much as possible while getting the diaper changed and fending off little brother who wanted more water play time, when the little girl said. “Daddy, look that man over there is peepeeing!”

I tried to block her view of the man, but I could not finish the change and stand in front of her head, so after a few moments I went back to fastening the new diaper. She said again, “Dad, that guy is peepeeing.” I am sure the guy had one of those realizations that “boy did I screw-up, I should have went into a stall to do this;” especially with the little girl in plain sight lying in changing area table. Anyway, he finished his work in record time and barely got his pants buttoned and hands washed before fleeing the bathroom--red-faced and all.

I had a good laugh over the episode. As I thought about what happened, it was uncomfortable for me, but even more awkward for the education director just trying to relieve himself with a little one over his shoulder giving a play-by-play account of the urinating incident. The little girl was unfazed and I am sure is waiting patiently to announce the potty habits of the next poor guy that she sees to the world.

On a side note for those interested in, well, unique bathrooms, I found a link to famous urinals around the world.

Note: The picture above is of the Taj Mahal and not from our recreation area facilities.

Kidnapping South Heads North

The seriousness of the violence that is commonplace south of the US border has become staggering. As drug traffickers battle over control and entry points into US cities, murder and related crimes have almost destroyed the structure of Mexican law enforcement and continue to threaten the ability of American police to preserve safety in border state communities.

A recent article in the Global Security and Intelligence Report by Fred Burton and Scott Stewart had this to say on crime—specifically kidnapping(an excerpt):

...But of all the crimes committed by these gangs, perhaps the one that creates the most widespread psychological and emotional damage is kidnapping, which also is one of the most under-reported crimes. There is no accurate figure for the number of kidnappings that occur in Mexico each year. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and anecdotal accounts and, in the end, can produce only best-guess estimates.

Despite this lack of hard data, however, there is little doubt — based even on the low end of these estimates that Mexico has become the kidnapping capital of the world.

One of the difficult things about studying kidnapping in Mexico is that the crime not only is widespread, affecting almost every corner of the country, but also is executed by a wide range of actors who possess varying levels of professionalism — and very different motives.

At one end of the spectrum are the high-end kidnapping gangs that abduct high-net-worth individuals and demand ransoms in the millions of dollars. Such groups employ teams of operatives who carry out specialized tasks such as collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim's family and establishing and guarding the safe houses.

At the other end of the spectrum are gangs that roam the streets and randomly kidnap targets of opportunity. These gangs are generally less professional than the high-end gangs and often will hold a victim for only a short time. In many instances, these groups hold the victim just long enough to use the victim's ATM card to drain his or her checking account, or to receive a small ransom of perhaps several hundred or a few thousand dollars from the family.

This type of opportunistic kidnapping is often referred to as an express kidnapping. Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for the duration of their ordeal, which can sometimes last for days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit.

Other times, if an express kidnapping gang discovers it has grabbed a high-value target by accident, the gang will hold the victim longer and demand a much higher ransom. Occasionally, these express kidnapping groups will even "sell" a high-value victim to a more professional kidnapping gang.

Between these extremes there is a wide range of groups that fall somewhere in the middle. These are the groups that might target a bank vice president or branch manager rather than the bank's CEO, or that might kidnap the owner of a restaurant or other small business rather than a wealthy industrialist.

The presence of such a broad spectrum of kidnapping groups ensures that almost no segment of the population is immune from the kidnapping threat. In recent years, the sheer magnitude of the threat in Mexico and the fear it generates has led to a crime called virtual kidnapping.

In a virtual kidnapping, the victim is not really kidnapped. Instead, the criminals seek to convince a target's family that a kidnapping has occurred, and then use threats and psychological pressure to force the family to pay a quick ransom.

Although virtual kidnapping has been around for several years, unwitting families continue to fall for the scam, which is a source of easy money. Some virtual kidnappings have even been conducted by criminals using telephones inside prisons.

As noted above, the motives for kidnapping vary. Many of the kidnappings that occur in Mexico are not conducted for ransom. Often the drug cartels will kidnap members of rival gangs or government officials in order to torture and execute them. This torture is conducted to extract information, intimidate rivals and, apparently in some cases, just to have a little fun.

The bodies of such victims are frequently found beheaded or otherwise mutilated. Other times, cartel gunmen will kidnap drug dealers who are tardy in payments or who refuse to pay the "tax" required to operate in the cartel's area of control…

As expected, this violence continues to move North. The Houston Chronicle recently had a story describing crimes by drug cartels like the kidnapping styles discussed by Burton and Stewart:

…Houston has long been a major staging ground for importing illegal drugs from Mexico and shipping them to the rest of the United States, but a recent Department of Justice report notes it is one of 230 cities where cartels maintain distribution networks and supply lines.

“I thought I was going to die for sure,” recalled David DeLeon, a used-car dealer who was kidnapped on Airline Drive and severely beaten while being held for ransom, also in 2006. He was rescued by Houston police, but not before he was punched, kicked and thrown across a room so much that his face was unrecognizable.

Authorities say the kidnappers were low-ranking thugs working for a cartel cell.

In another instance, men armed with assault rifles attacked a Houston home. The resident used a handgun to kill one and wound another before the survivors left…
The Burton and Scott article discusses the psychological effect that kidnappings have on the law-abiding public. The Spanish-speaking community in my previous community, had to deal with numerous violent crimes that often went unreported to police. The agency where I was employed had to perform lots of outreach to begin to build trust among the Spanish-speaking citizens—-in hopes that members would be more likely to report kidnappings and robberies more frequently.

With violent activities related to cartels expected to continue to increase, it is a humbling thought of the individual and societal impact that drug violence will have in the US over the next few years.

Part X: Ray Gricar Missing Person (Q & A)

This continues my discussion of the Ray Gricar missing person case. My previous post on the case is here. Below are the comments of three readers who responded to my questions concerning the disappearance of Mr. Gricar. My response is also included. Thanks to all who participated.

Note: JJ in Phila's blog on the case can be found here.

Question (1) Based on the evidence, what percentage (total of 100%) would you assign to the three explanations for Mr. Gricar's disappearance (suicide, crime victim, voluntarily missing)?

--FD: My brain tells me there’s not enough public information to point toward any particular theory. But my gut-guess is 98% targeted crime victim, 1% suicide, 1% voluntarily disappearance, 0% random crime victim, accidental drowning, wandering off in a sudden fugue state, witness relocation program, alien abduction, etc.

--JJ in Phila: Voluntary departure: 48% Murder: 43% Suicide 8% Something else: 1%

--TC: 60% Suicide, 35% Voluntary, 5% Crime or Other.

--Me: Crime Victim 46%, Voluntary Disappearance 44%, Suicide or Other 10%.

Question (2) What do you consider to be the most critical piece of evidence in the case?

--FD: Since police are naturally reluctant to release information which might hinder a future prosecution, I believe the most critical evidence in this case is that which we haven’t heard about. It’s everything that has been made public which drives my gut-guess. In that, nothing stands out as being “critical”. Everything gets factored in.

--JJ in Phila: For me, it has not been checked and publicly disclosed. It would be a though investigation of the methods Mr. Gricar could have used to leave Lewisburg. That is the key.

--TC: Since the computer is apparently worthless, his actions prior to when he went missing and information that friends may have are the key right now. I still want to know: why did the state police investigator believe that he committed suicide?

--Me: The computer is the most crucial piece of information known to the public. I believe its location hints to the disappearance being crime related. If one believes that it was hastily tossed out the passenger window of a vehicle driving into Lewisburg from the east, then it seems like more than one subject was involved in tossing evidence from a car. If one believes the computer was placed in the river after police completed their search, then it seems to me again, subjects were trying to hide evidence of a crime.

Question(3) Do you believe that Gricar's laptop was tossed into the River when he disappeared or some time well after?

--FD: I don’t believe the laptop (or the hard drive) was put in the river at the time Gricar disappeared. That belief factors into my gut-guess.

--JJ in Phila: I honestly don't know.

--TC: Do you know how crazy that is on multiple levels?

--Me: I didn’t believe this was possible, but after listening to some of the arguments made by others and knowing how shallow that river is, it is difficult to believe that the nine or so police divers missed the laptop; even though the first time they were looking for a body more than an item.

FD sent some interesting information on the recovery locations of the laptop and the hard drive in proximity to the bridge, and maybe he’ll allow me to post it later.

Question (4) If you believe that the laptop was thrown into the river some time well after searches by police, explain your reasoning to support why a subject would do this.

--FD: I think the laptop was planted in the river later to confound police. This is reinforced by the locations where the laptop and hard drive were supposedly found and by the failure of police to find either.

--JJ in Phila and TC: N/A

--Me: I am just starting to think that this is possible and have no idea how to explain it—other than to taunt someone or as FD stated to confuse authorities. I believe if the evidence was planted later, then it certainly reduces the chance that this disappearance was suicide or voluntary.

Question (5) If you were advising the police regarding the case, list two or three things that they should be doing to investigate the disappearance.

--FD: If I was addressing the district attorney I would advise him to request the state attorney general to independently investigate. If I was addressing local police I would advise them to look closely at all aspects of the cases Gricar was personally handling in 2005 (from pending trials to concluded appeals). This should include interviews (and, if possible, polygraphs) of anyone with a known association on either side (prosecution and defense).

I would also advise them to look closely at Gricar’s closest personal relationships since the time of his last divorce.

--JJ in Phila:
A. Look at all car purchases in a 10 mile radius of Lewisburg on 4/14-4/15/05. Match them with real people.

B. Determine the whereabouts of Mr. Gricar’s close friends, staff members, and current and former girlfriends on 4/15/05 and 4/16/05. Also look at any car purchases from these individuals in the thirty days prior to Mr. Gricar's disappearance and any car rentals each made in the from 4/14 through 4/16 by these individuals.

C. Do a forensic audit of Mr. Gricar's assets and spending from 1997 until 2005; review his divorce settlement in the early 2000's.

--TC: Interview as many coworkers and friends as possible as there has to be something that was missed. To continue ruling out voluntary disappearance, begin watching his bank accounts again. Enough time has passed to where many people have forgotten about the incident and if he did disappear, he may try to secretly obtain some of his possessions.

Finally, release more information on the case—there must be much more on the suicide angle with the police investigator’s comment supporting that theory.

--Me: First: the agency handling the case should turn it over to someone else. The investigator’s explanation as to why several of Mr. Gricar’s close friends and associates were not interviewed was because his chief did not want it done and that they thought it would only reinforce one of the existing theories (and not provide anything new) was disappointing.

In my opinion, that means that they are in reactionary mode and are simply waiting for something new to develop; unwillingly to invest any new manpower/resources in the case. Unfortunately, investigations such as this one can become a territorial issue, and those involved should swallow their pride and do what is best to get the matter resolved. I think a new set of eyes on the case to do more than make recommendations would be helpful.

Second: all friends and associates should be interviewed. If the case can be explained as a crime or voluntary disappearance, I believe that clues exist that would help investigators solve the case. I find it hard to believe that the only information about the incident was apparently on Gricar’s laptop.

Last: create a computerized catalog of everything about Mr. Gricar’s life in the twelve months prior to his disappearance. This would include known actions on the Internet, trips, cell phone records, snail mail, interviews with friends and associates, purchases and any other accounting records.

Once this information has been entered into a database, begin looking for trends and create scenarios based on the information known. Once scenarios have been developed, try to disprove each of them.
I expect to post at least one more item on the Gricar disappearance. I can certainly add to that if additional information becomes available.

Fixing Bad Links

I apologize for the bad links in the last few posts--I have fixed most of them and will get the rest later.

Trampling on Those Grieving

As a follow-up to my posting on Wednesday (Lost and Alone at Sea) about the NFL players lost in the Atlantic Ocean after a fishing trip, the headline used by some media outlets concerning those who perished really bothered me.

--Fox News reports: Florida Boat Accident Survivor: 2 NFL Players Gave Up Hope

--The New York Daily News describes it as: NFL players lost at sea, Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith, gave up, says rescued friend Nick Schuyler

In my opinion, printing this message being used as the headline is irresponsible and represents sensationalistic journalism at its worst. The idea that anyone “quit” is based on the supposed statements of the only survivor—-a man who was in serious condition until recently and who is probably still having difficulty remembering his middle name.

I read that during the ordeal, the guys started seeing helicopter lights and thought they were being rescued. Exactly what happened out there in the water will remain shrouded in mystery as the survivor’s recollections are seemingly a mix of imagination and reality.

I remember that the one of the players involved (Cooper) is married with a three year old son. The other two deceased men, married or not, had loved ones and family members deeply saddened by the tragedy. What exactly are those loved ones supposed to think when they read a news headline that says that dad/uncle/son/best friend gave up on life?

A few years from now, when the victim’s son reads the accounts of his father’s death, how will that make him feel living with the idea that (the one the newspaper puts forward) maybe dad did not care enough about his family to keep fighting for just a few more hours until help arrived?

I hope this is the last headline I see that highlights conjecture for the purpose of selling a story, but I really doubt that I’ll be able to make it one week without seeing something as abysmal.

Shoot or Don't Shoot

A new study from the University of California State at Fresno that appeared in a December 2008 edition of the Forensic Examiner was generating some interesting discussion over at .

The research examines perceptions and reactions in potential deadly force incidents. Researchers used an interactive test and compared the results of citizen (college students for the article) reaction times and effective decision-making versus those of police officers.

Interestingly, the study reported that citizens did not believe that officers should shoot as often as they did, but the non-officers actually pulled the trigger more frequently in the test scenarios as compared to police test subjects.

Specifically, the researchers found:

1. Contrary to much popular opinion, average people exhibited extreme difficulty in distinguishing a handgun from an innocuous object such as a power tool.

2. This difficulty was observed even under ideal viewing conditions, far superior to those in actual crime situations.

3. Average people indicated an overwhelmingly strong tendency to shoot, or at least to decide to shoot, an armed perpetrator themselves if given the opportunity, and did so at the same levels even if the perpetrator was “armed” only with a power tool which was evidently readily mistaken for a weapon.

4. However, even though the vast majority of the civilian respondents indicated a readiness to shoot the perpetrator themselves, only about 1 person in 10 felt it would be appropriate for the police to do so under the same circumstances.

These results reveal a substantial disparity between the actions, attitudes, and beliefs of typical adults and the practical realities of police work in violent situations...
Obviously, there are numerous limitations with this study including arguing that psychology students are representative of the population, the video game reflex aspect to the test, a power tool as innocuous in the context of a shooting scenario, etc., but it still makes for an interesting demonstration—-encouraging the public to consider that shoot/don’t shoot scenarios are complex split-second decisions that occur in less than ideal circumstances.

You can take a modified yet enhanced version of the shooting test online at the University of Chicago’s site .*

*Notes: it takes a few minutes to load all of the images at this site, I don't remember seeing the power tool described in the results above, and the test itself takes several minutes to complete.

How did I perform on the test?

Game Over
Your Score: 695

Average reaction time:
Black Armed: 756.28ms
Black Unarmed: 804.28ms
White Armed: 694.16ms
White Unarmed: 758.72ms

Targeting a Message

Drugs will kill you.
Drugs fry your brain.
Drugs are really really bad for you.

Youth drug prevention messages have taken many forms over the years. As seen above, many are abstract to young people and offer little motivation for children faced with the decision to experiment with various types of illicit substances. In my opinion, the “drugs will kill you” strategy was one of the least effective-—a scare tactic that flounders once young people see their peers taking drugs and not immediately passing away.

Fortunately, innovative programs are available to show youth the dangers of substance abuse. Deputy Bret King decided to take a different approach in educating young people about methamphetamine abuse in his jurisdiction:

Faces of Meth is a project of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. This project began when a deputy in the Corrections Division Classification Unit, Deputy Bret King, put together mug shots of persons booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center.

Deputy King worked with his co-workers in the Classification Unit to identify people who had been in custody more than once. He then worked to verify criminal records and files to determine and assure a history of methamphetamine related use.

Deputy King also started interviewing people in custody to learn of their drug use, experiences with methamphetamine, how or if methamphetamine contributed to their criminality, and asked what they would tell young people about methamphetamine.

What Deputy King set out to do was create a realistic presentation about methamphetamine. He didn’t want to create something that made people curious about a drug nor that was a scared straight program. The idea was simple, be honest with kids, let them hear directly from the inmates, and show them what people who work on the front lines – whether it be a Corrections Deputy in the Jail, a Police Officer on the streets or a Public Health Nurse in a clinic see methamphetamine doing to people and to our communities...

King's work resulted in a serious of mug shots and below is one of the many images at the Faces of Meth site:

Preach to a young person about the negative health risks associated with meth use and you will most likely get a look of slumber and inattentiveness. In contrast, show a youth before and after pictures of a meth abuser complete with large blisters, rotting teeth, and other facial problems—-and you immediately have their attention. The photographic evidence displayed on the Faces of Meth website is haunting.

At a leadership conference a couple of years ago, I was helping high school students design a project related to combating drug abuse in their schools. They were stumped trying to transform the anti-drug statistics into a cogent message that could be internalized by their peers. After showing them the Faces of Meth website, they used the information from that URL as the centerpiece of their project.

I believe Deputy King's work represents how one person's small idea can make a sizeable impact on a problem as large as drug abuse by young people.