Guy Cry Movies


Though my knowledge of popular culture, especially movies, contains a massive void of anything made over the last fifteen years (due to kids and night school), I constructed a list of five “guy-cry” or better yet “guy-makes-awkward-faces-and-then-suddenly-leaves-the-room-to-check-the-oil-in-the-car” movies:

5. Shenandoah (1965)
This classic tale starring Jimmy Stewart follows a large Virginia family who unsuccessfully try to stay neutral during the Civil War. I can’t hear the old church hymn “Rock of Ages” without remembering the film’s vivid scene involving Stewart’s younger son entering their church.

4. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
No additional commentary necessary on this movie.

3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
In comparison to Titanic, when you have a main character “thinking back,” this movie was done so much better as the audience did not know whose grave the old man was viewing at the start of the film. In contrast, with Titanic, everyone knew from the start the surviving woman’s identity, therefore making the scenes where she almost died so much less dramatic.

2. Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)
Anything with dogs in it is a slam dunk for causing most guys to sniffle. This movie based on the classic novel set in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (not to far from my childhood stomping grounds) follows a boy’s dream of purchasing Redbone coonhound hunting dogs. According to Indian legend, wherever a red fern grows is sacred ground—-wonderful title, excellent book, good movie. Old Yeller was a special one as well.

1. Brian’s Song (1971)
This film is based on the true story of the friendship of professional football players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Actors Billy Dee Williams and James Caan excel in this movie. I remember as a child, watching this movie on television with my dad and brother—and all three of us sitting silently doing are best to “think happy thoughts.”

I have not seen Up, The Passion of Christ, Taking Chance (detailing a Marine escorting the body of a fallen soldier home), A Walk to Remember (only read the book—probably more of a “chick flick” though), or Schindler’s List, as those likely would have made me expand the list as well.

Also, I looked at several online compilations of “guy cry” movies (including this one), and saw on a few that Field of Dreams and Glory were listed. Even as a baseball fan, I did not like Field of Dreams; much less feel teary-eyed while watching it.

With Glory, the movie was well done and had dramatic scenes, but maybe I know too much about that history-- I was just too caught-up in watching what scenes were accurately portrayed versus parts that involved the writers’ creative licenses.

I am sure that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of several other films that should be on the list.

One Surprising Stat on Missing Persons


Note: With this weekend's travels, I was unable to finish my next installment of the Brianna Maitland missing person case. I'll have that ready soon.

Detective Sergeant Volitta Fritsche, a 20-year veteran of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department in Indiana, recently wrote an informative article on missing persons over at LawOfficer.com.

In the post, she discusses misconceptions about those types of cases, missing person stats in the US, how police respond, and other resources available for those interested in learning more.

Her article also contained this surprising bit:

...Unidentified Person File

To help in identifying and/or locating some of these people, the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) Unidentified Person File came online in 1983. Records are retained indefinitely, unless removed by the entering agency. The Unidentified Person File contains records of:

--Unidentified deceased persons (Deceased-EUD),

--Persons of any age who are living and unable to determine their identity (Living-EUL), and,

--Unidentified catastrophe victims (Catastrophe Victim-EUV).

As of December 31, 2008, there were 7,134 unidentified person records in NCIC. Of the 7,134 active entries, 1,133 (15.9%) were entered in 2008. This is down 36.6% from the 1,788 entries made into the file in 2007.

The records entered in 2008 consisted of 918 (81.0%) deceased unidentified bodies, 16 (1.4 percent) unidentified catastrophe victims, and 199 (17.6 percent) living persons who could not ascertain their identity.
Wow, 199 persons last year who have no idea who they are?

I would have guessed that number to be only like ten or something considering I rarely hear about those cases publicized.

The last two amnesia-like stories that I vaguely remember seeing was a detective who helped identify an older woman living in an assisted living home who spoke very little English (I think it was in Baltimore, but I did not find the story) and a man living under the assumed name of Benjamin Kyle in Savannah, GA.

Kyle was found with a head injury behind a fast food restaurant and his case remains open with the FBI.

Pretty Maps, But Not Useful Ones


Note: Will be traveling this weekend, so there will be no Saturday post. I'll try to get back to normal next week, and I'll have a missing person-related post ready for Monday.

Crime author and blogger Stacy Horn recently linked an effort by the NY Times to provide a spatial representation of homicides in the five boroughs of New York City between 2003 and 2009. Representatives from The Times allow a viewer to plot the crimes by several categories including temporally, sex/race of the victim and perpetraitor, and if a weapon was used.

The reader can also zoom into street level to see approximate locations of homicides.

Under the well constructed GIS work, the following text appears:

Do you see a pattern that should be explored further? Have suggestions for a story? Comments about this database? Please email us.
Well they asked so here would be my comment:

I love maps as much as the next guy (sorry I am stereotyping), but this is nothing more than a lot of time-consuming work with little potential for substantive analysis. In its current state, you lump every kind of homicide together; when there is plenty of variation within that category.

For instance, there is a distinct difference between the meaning of a domestic related homicide (to a citizen) involving a husband and wife and one homeless man killing another over a liquor bottle. Yet each of these crimes would represent the same two blue dots on the displayed map.

If you really want to crunch some numbers and make the spatial data useful, start categorizing the homicides by typology (some may be unknown and that is ok). I want to know how many domestic violence murders occur in the Bronx. Where are the hot-spots for drug related killings? Should residents of lower Manhattan be concerned with homicides that began as armed robberies?

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports use classifications like homicide to track police reported crime in the United States—it does not mean that you as newspaper reporters are stuck with that standard.


One of the professors (and a former officer) that I hope to work with in the future, told me a humorous story about assisting a large city’s police department with evaluating their juvenile crime problems. After spatially analyzing the agency’s use of curfew enforcement to sweep juveniles off the streets, he found that the highest juvenile crime rates at night were located in the areas where the teens were being returned home (after being taken into custody by police) as opposed to their arrest location.

The professor had a really fun time informing the chief that he may need to rethink his curfew enforcement strategy—making it sound better than “hey, chief, you all are better off just leaving the delinquents on the street corners where they hang out.”

In addition to providing an example of a good spatial analysis, I think the story unfortunately also illustrates the troubled home-life of a significant number of urban young people.

With the Times crime maps, I concluded with this: nice try, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Careless Burglars and Scary Police Calls for the Midnight Shift


Another not so swift burglar is apprehended in the big city:

It's that same old song and dance; cell phones just keep coming back to bite criminals in the rear end. Now, you can add a bumbling burglar in Yonkers, New York to this infamous list.

Yesterday LoHud.com reported that 48-year-old Charles Perkert allegedly broke into a Chinese restaurant and left his cell phone at the scene. Cops found the phone and began scanning through its contacts list. When they came to 'Mom's number,' an officer dialed and asked the lady on the other end how he could return the phone to her son.

The woman unknowingly led the cops right to her son's front door, where they arrested Perkert and charged him with third-degree burglary.
After answering alarm calls on the overnight shift for years, I was shocked to see first-hand the unsanitary conditions of some of the eateries in my jurisdiction at 2 am.

If Perkert would have left his cell phone at several of the restaurants in my district, the creepy crawlees would have likely carried it off along with the all the other food that was left scattered on tables, counters, and other open places after closing time.

My experience was certainly enough for me to want to dine-in more frequently.

On a related note, I think it would be interesting to see how restaurants would score on surprise sanitary inspections during the early morning hours—-sort of a light-switch test. It could even be just a pass-fail grade.

Tuber of the Week #14: Flashmob Hammer Time


Despite being one of the few pro-police readers over at libertarian blogger Vox Day’s site (and usually feeling like General Custer surrounded in Montana in Day's comment section), I can usually find something worth the visit. Despite upsetting individuals from just about every human subgroup in existence at one time or another, I find it unbelievable how he cranks out so many well researched and/or interesting blog posts—-often, several per day.

His ongoing debates with evolutionists have been fun to watch. He offers the following video and commentary as strong proof of his arguments against those he labels as "irrational atheists" (posting from June 10, 2009):




When I see things like this, I have to admit that I feel a glimmer of hope for the human race. Do you want to know why God created Man? Because zebras and chimpanzees don't do things like this. Umberto Eco is wrong. God laughs, and most of the time, He's laughing at the infinite lunacies of Man.
Ok, maybe he did not keep a straight face when posting this Flashmob Hammer Time dancers video surprising shoppers at a retail store in California, but it certainly made me laugh.

Vacation: Passed the Halfway Point


After reaching the midway point of the annual vacation, here are four ponderings that I have wrestled with:

1) At what age do you humans gain an aversion to cold water?

Our young kids and the others here (all under 10), could care less if the swimming pool is ice cold or not. They just jump in, perhaps give some yelps when surfacing from the frigid drink, and then go about their playing and laughing. Meanwhile, the adults dip a toe in the water, make groaning sounds, and contemplate a range of strategies that may effectively enable them to postpone swimming until the water reaches a reasonable temperature.

2) Why do I never check the bike rack until installing the mountain bikes just prior to leaving for a trip?

Note: three extra bungee cords were necessary to compensate for a missing piece on our drive from home.

3) How did the surfer-dude employee at a local gift shop keep a straight-face when replying to a woman’s question about how long the hermit crabs that they sell live?

He said:

“Wow, I have no idea. I do know that the little ones live longer.”

(hmm. Do you mean my young sons have a longer life expectancy than middle-aged me? Do tell…)


4) What triggers us to remember certain images, but not others?

In my mind, I can see lots of rather mundane memories--like the bland countryside from the passenger window while riding home with my dad after playing a baseball game in a place called Pauls Valley in 7th grade.

Yet, my brother tells me I was unstoppable when some of the guys that attended my wedding and I were playing basketball the day before the event. He said I barely missed a shot. Why do I have no memory of that?

Maybe I need less time thinking and more time being cannonballed by little ones in the hottub.

Want a Job? Please Provide Facebook Password


Note: Missing Person Monday's post was moved to Saturday.

A few months ago, I blogged about how applicants to the NYPD were asked by agency background examiners to provide usernames and passwords to their social networking sites. Police background examiners have always had a reputation of being thorough—understandably, since officials don’t want to hand a city-issued Glock to an unstable employee who is going to screw-up and/or embarrass the department.

In my previous writing, I stated that I could see why the agency would want to learn everything about want-to-be police officers, but that I did not think it would stand-up to a court challenge; especially since NYPD apparently does not have a policy on the procedure.

Last week, the same issue appeared again in the news; this time in Bozeman, Montana:

If you’re planning to apply for a job with the city of Bozeman, prepare to clean up your Facebook page.

As part of routine background checks, the city asks job applicants to provide their usernames and passwords for their social-networking sites. And it has been doing it for years, city officials said.

“Please list any and all, current personal or business Web sites, Web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.,” states a city waiver form applicants are asked to sign. Three lines are provided for applicants to list log-in information for each site.

City officials maintain the policy is necessary to ensure employees’ integrity and protect the public’s trust, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana says they may be crossing the line.

“I would guess that they’re on some shaky legal ground with this and we would certainly welcome (the opportunity) to look at something specific from somebody who’s impacted,” Executive Director Scott Crichton said Thursday.

He said Bozeman’s policy is unprecedented as far as he knows. ACLU’s legal counsel in Washington, D.C., had never heard of another city asking for log-in information for social networking sites as part of a job application.

“It’s like saying, ‘Let me look through your e-mails,’” Crichton said…
The practice had started with police and fire applicants and then was expanded into all job seekers. The article continues that city officials were quickly meeting to study and likely amend the procedure.

Well, late Friday they released this:

…"Effective at noon today, the City of Bozeman permanently ceased the practice of requesting that candidates selected for positions under a provisional job offer to provide their user names or passwords for candidates Internet sites," Bozeman City Manager Chris Kukulski said Friday….

This won't be the last time we see this issue in the news.

I just feel bad that I actually agreed with the ACLU on an issue…

Part XIV: Ray Gricar Missing Person


Note: My missing person post for Monday is being moved to today because I wanted to link a piece on the Ray Gricar missing person case.

Fellow blogger JJ graciously allowed me to be a guest contributor over at his blog on the Centre Daily Times (State College, PA newspaper which is also home to Penn State University) website.

JJ has been discussing the Gricar case for years now and is very well versed in the matter. He has also posted his opinions regarding the investigation on this blog as well.

The question posed to me was what can police do to jumpstart the Ray Gricar missing person case.

In summary of the Gricar case—he 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 last spoke to her via cell phone while 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.

Here is part of my response on JJ's site:

Recommendation #3: Try these unconventional methods to generate new leads:

1) Mr. Gricar was a vocal supporter of the Cleveland Indians and had attended professional baseball games in the past. If he is using an assumed identity, it is reasonable that he may attend major league games. Police could contact officials with Major League Baseball and gain their support in distributing Ray Gricar Missing Person flyers at baseball stadiums. For all the venues or at select stadiums, a public service announcement could be made regarding the case—displaying a photo, any related reward money available, and the contact information for the investigating agency.

2) In general, human beings are creatures of habit. This applies to computer activity habits as well. Most of us use one or two user names and passwords for all of our computer accounts.

If Mr. Gricar used a handful of unique user names and passwords for his computer activities, authorities could use this information to search other online accounts for matching credentials. For instance, if Mr. Gricar regularly used the user name “DisplacedTribeFan00” with the password “lovebellefonte”, common search engines could be used to see if those names appear elsewhere on the Internet. In addition, police could search for that user name or a similar combination being used with a Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL email account (this would require extra hoop jumping but I believe is worth a try).

3) Release what information exists (in a sanitized format) related to Mr. Gricar’s computer activity prior to his disappearance including search terms and browsing history. What may appear as irrelevant to one or two people, might be considered important in developing new leads when viewed by other individuals.

4) Release details in the State Police report as to why the investigator believed that Mr. Gricar was likely a suicide victim. Most of the persons who have followed the case through the publicly accessible information rank suicide behind crime victim and voluntary disappearance scenarios.

What did this investigator consider in his/her decision that pushed suicide to the front of likely explanations for Gricar’s disappearance?

5) Maintain a regular dialogue with technical data recovery specialists. Just because the submerged hard drive has been examined twice using mid-2000s technology, does not mean that someone 5 or 10 years later will not be innovative enough to recover data from Gricar’s formerly submerged drive.

There is more over at JJ's blog. To view the full post, you have to an account on the newspapers website which can be done here.

To access previous posts on Ray Gricar go to the left and click on the "Ray Gricar" keyword.

Off the Beaten Path #10: Go West


Note: The newer version of my Off the Beaten Path series highlights places that I want to visit. With these stops, I either traveled to them as a young child (and don’t remember well enough to recommend to others) or I have never visited yet heard good things about.

Today’s travel destination features a place that I have not seen since I was maybe eight years old. But, it is on top of my places to visit--if not just to view the grand scenery.

Along I-40 in Northern Arizona, lies a unique place for visitors with or without a geological interest. The Petrified Forest National Park offers one of the world’s largest concentrations of, yes you guessed it, petrified wood. Not only do you get geological treasures with a visit to this site, but from about three miles into the park on Pintado Point, at an elevation of 6,000 feet, a visitor is said to be breathing some of the cleanest air in the United States.*

Being a family of amateur fossil geeks, we are very interested in viewing the park’s many gems. The Petrified Forest has a history of producing some of the earliest dinosaur fossils in North America. Numerous fossils including those of giant crocodiles, metoposaurs (giant creatures resembling salamanders), and small ocean creatures have been found at the park.



For a neat look at the geological science related to the area, the US Geological Survey created a 3-D tour of the Petrified Forest.

Unfortunately, visitors are not permitted to take any of the wood from the site, but I am sure authorities will sell you some in the gift shop. I was surprised to learn that despite the hefty fine of $325 and park rangers doing their best to enforce the restrictions, it is estimated that over 12 tons of fossilized wood is stolen from the park annually.

Part of the Forest also includes some of an area known as the Painted Desert--named after the colorful decayed matter that covers the landscape. In conjunction with the rock formations, this area is supposed to commonly produce fantastic sunrise and sunset scenes.



Ancient Pueblo villages, scenic views, geological history, ancient footprints, petroglyphs, and other appealing discoveries await visitors to the park.

The Lone Star Travelers over at WordPress have a wonderful series of short posts on sites to see in and around the park including the Forest’s link to American transportation history (If you go here, you can see the photo they refer to in the following text):

Petrified Forest National Park is the only National Park that Route 66, the first interstate highway system in the United States, offering 2,200 miles of open road from Chicago to Los Angeles ending at the beach in Santa Monica California crossed through. 6 miles into the park the line of the roadbed and the telephone poles in front of you mark the path of the famous “Main Street of America.” Of those days gone by, a 1932 Studebaker commemorates this landmark.
In sum, I am eager to see the beauty of the American West again with its newer mountains and unique landscape. The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert are not only accessible along I-40, but certainly will be worth a stop in the future for our young crew of wanna-be explorers.

*Note: I just realized how ironic it is for me to promote clean air in this post yet advocate for manure tourism in my previous travel entry.

All pictures were used from this site.

Follow-up on Trooper-Paramedic Incident


In a follow-up post on the videoed scuffle between two Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and a paramedic, more information was released this week on the incident. Authorities with the State (evidently reluctantly) made available the video of the incident from the trooper’s dashboard camera—something that I said should help or hurt the conflicting stories of those involved in the incident.

You can read the article by going to officer.com's coverage.

The dash-cam scenes are less dramatic as compared to the cell phone video that was first shown by media outlets, but this version does show the trooper's unit when it initially passed the ambulance--which is what started this mess.



After reviewing the tapes and statements, the county’s district attorney has refused thus far to pursue any criminal charges. The remaining news on this unfortunate situation should limited to two topics: 1) OHP’s findings for or against disciplining the troopers involved; and, 2) the resulting civil suit(s) that will occur from one or more of the parties involved.

Tuber of the Week #13: Riding a Wave


Running after the two year old future track start along the soft white beach sand this morning, I saw a trio of eager long boarders in the surf. Patiently, the young guys wait. Their best hope today is to catch a wave that allows them to stand on the board for five seconds before plopping into the cold ocean.

The waves here are placid for the most part. Nothing like watching the professionals on Maui’s North Shore be thrown through the air on fiberglass missiles. Despite the non-threatening appearance of the ocean today, I still remember how overwhelmed we human beings can be versus some water.

Below is an amazing video in this week’s Tuber of the Week (fitting since it has a vacation feel to it).



That wave is 65 feet or so high, and the surfer, Mike Parsons, illustrates the physical potential in us “insignificant” folks.

Gun Purchases and Politics?


Dr. Chris Uggen from the University of Minnesota recently had an interesting post over at the Public Criminology site. Dr. Uggen examined historical data on background checks for firearm purchases using the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System (NICS). Here is what he found:

…gun sales continue to rise, with april (2009) marking the sixth consecutive month of big increases in use of the fbi’s national instant background check system. since some attribute rising gun sales to fears of gun control, i wanted to know how much sales have risen since president obama was elected in november.

firearms sales are seasonal, typically peaking in december and bottoming out around may. since i was interested in the post-election period, i plotted sales from november to april of each year since the nics system came online.

there were about 8.1 million background checks from november 2008 to april 2009, an increase of 29 percent over the previous period from november 2007 to april 2008. this was by far the largest increase of the past decade, though i can’t really tell whether it was due to president obama’s election, a deepening recession, or some other factor…
Dr. Uggen has some other commentary and a nice graph that illustrates his finding at his site. He was also surprised by the volume of recent gun purchases:
…in a nation of 218 million adults, i count 8,097,100 background checks in the past six months alone.

how can that figure be correct?

i know that not every check represents a single individual, but i’m still having trouble getting my head around the idea of 8 million in just 6 months. it would be as if every single adult resident of wyoming, vermont, north dakota, south dakota, alaska, delaware, montana, rhode island, hawaii, new hampshire, and maine all walked into bill’s gun shop to plunk down five hundred bucks for a glock 19. …
Before linking the potential steep increase in gun sales during the current president’s term to anything, well political, I would want to eliminate any systemic issues that could have contributed. Were their changes in the system over the past decade that could have caused the increase? Are fewer states conducting their own checks? Has the FBI noticed the increases, and if so what do they attribute the changes to?

Interested in an answer, I contacted the FBI via email, using (my professional name and contact), but only received an anonymous reply. The unnamed federal employee simply stated that their office does not maintain the figures that I requested and that any questions about the number of gun dealers should be directed to the ATF.

Was the FBI aware of increases in purchasing during different presidential administrations? Can the increases be easily explained by changes in counting methods or participation numbers? Are guns being purchased and stockpiled somewhere in the US due to the current political environment?

It certainly sounds like an interesting prime time movie plot, and this is where I should insert something witty that either supports or disputes the professor’s post. Unfortunately and with no help from the Feds, I do not know why gun sales have increased.

I did read that the NICS program recently moved from under the direction of the ATF (in Georgia) to the FBI’s West Virginia office. I believe that there is a technical explanation that makes sense for the increase, but I would think the FBI would have that immediately available for inquiry goobs such as myself.

Perhaps, someone in the know will provide evidence and make a case in the future.

Part XI: Brianna Maitland Missing Person


This is the eleventh post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn 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 a traffic collision.


During this series, I have discussed at length what makes this case odd including: a low speed car crash; haunting photos of the scene; the delay in discovering that the young woman was missing; lots of rumors from the local young people; a sad affidavit that has remained uncorroborated.

Of the evidence that has been made available to the public, I believe the most important are the location of Brianna’s car, the compact timeframe of her disappearance, and her broken necklace. Further, the uncashed paychecks are a critical piece of information, but it is most convincing in ruling theories out that involve Brianna voluntarily leaving.

My final two posts in this series will focus how the key evidence supports or undermines three explanations of the disappearance.

In my opinion, here are three theories that best explain Brianna Maitland’s case—discussed in terms of the key evidence listed above.

Scenario #1: She was abducted by a stranger at the location that her vehicle was recovered (Dutchburn farmhouse).
Brianna was popular in her community and certainly would have been seen around town by strangers. She worked at a local restaurant that gave her visibility and the opportunity for chance encounters.

What if someone forced her into her vehicle or was waiting for her inside the vehicle and they both drove away from work late the night of her disappearance? When interviewed by police, a coworker simply reported seeing her car leave a little before midnight. This theory would fit well within the known short time frame as the recovery location of Brianna’s car was about one mile from work. The car crashing into the farmhouse and the broken necklace could also indicate some sort of struggle.

So why does this theory not appear to be the most likely? First, the assailant would need to be working with at least one other person as the attacker would need transportation away from the farmhouse. This would eliminate spontaneity from the equation since the aggressor would need to plan the crime in order to have the proper type of assistance available.

Second, no reports of suspicious vehicles or struggles were reported in the parking lot of the restaurant. No one remembered seeing anything away from the ordinary that night at her workplace.

Also, you would think that a stranger wanting to kidnap a young hostess would have a better plan than to crash her vehicle in plain view of a highway—another alternative that involved hiding her vehicle a little better would make much more sense.

If one argues that Brianna stopped willingly at the abandoned farmhouse for a stranger, the question “why” would take center stage. Explanations involving Brianna, a woman driving by herself late at night, assisting a stranded motorist simply seem unlikely.

The stranger abduction theory is possible, but not as likely as the other explanations.

In my next post, I’ll complete my thoughts on two other potential scenarios.

Craigslist and the Fear of Going on Vacation


Programming Note: I apologize, but Off the Beaten Path is missing again today. It will return better than ever next Friday.

Also, there will be no new post on Saturday--as we are leaving for a vacation. Our destination should have working Internet and I expect to be blogging again on Monday.


While researching my post on Monday regarding violent crime and Craigslist (Craigslist and the Fear of Crime), I saw this PC World article from last year and am using it to generate a companion post:
This Craigslist Crime Tops Them All

A Craigslist-related scam has left an Oregon man without most of his belongings. According to an Associated Press report, Saturday a pair of ads popped up on Craigslist advertising that the owner of the home had been forced to leave the area and that all of his belongings were free for the taking.

The second of the two ads was more specific stating that a horse that had been abandoned by the sheriff's department was free to anyone willing to give it a good home.

Here the kicker: Robert Salisbury, the owner of the home and horse, was out of town and completely unaware of the Craigslist ads and that his house was being cleaned out.

When a woman tracked Salisbury down and called him to claim his horse Salisbury rushed home. He even stopped a truck full of his possessions on the way home. "I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back," Salisbury to the Associated Press. "They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did."

Deja Rip-Off

Believe it or not this is the second reported time a house has been ransacked because of a Craigslist ad. Last May a Seattle woman placed an ad on Craigslist stating: "Moving out ... House being demolished. Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits," without the homeowners knowledge. The house was cleaned out…
You can go to Scott Nichols’ original post at PC World to read more on this unreal story, and get the links to the Oregon and Washington examples that he cites.

I can just see a group of people trying to convince an officer that “this here Craigslist ad I am holding gives me permission” to kick “this here door” and load “these here three large televisions into my truck.”

Vacation Note to Self:

1) Animal has food and water (check)

2) Windows secured (check)

3) Lawn and trash helpers briefed (check)

4) Bookmark Craigslist and scan want ads daily to verify that no listing has been placed offering free stuff at my address while I am gone (no check—yikes)…

Lessons for the Pup


I am jealous.

There is now so much good information on policing available online through officers who write blogs--much more than when I could have used it. New officers or persons interested in pursuing a career as an officer can glean valuable perspective into real policing by reading these online journals.

When I was trying to prepare for the police academy my idea of the job was based solely on books. Now, cop books are a great resource, but the goal with a book, for the most part, is to sell more books. As such, police authors tend to focus on the 2% of their job that is pure adrenaline rush. Readers gain insights into shootings, pursuits, fights, hot calls, etc.; as that is what is interesting.

But what about the other 98% of police work? I had no clue what was involved. How do you patrol?

When asked by criminal justice students what blogs on policing that I recommend, I provide these three links: Cst. Sandra Glendinning over at Behind the Blue Line, The Roanoke Cop, and Christopher at The Warrior Poets.

Each of these sworn authors provides excellent writing on all aspects of the job sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom for persons interested in what makes a good officer.

Recently, I read several posts by an officer using the name "Raindog" over at a Typepad blog. The officer’s posts are a mix of poetry, wit, and outstanding police writing.

The following is a snippet from a post last year in which he describes being assigned a new officer to train for the night (something that he does not regularly do). Riding in their zone, Raindog discusses how to patrol—stressing patience and observation.

After awhile, the two patrol officers see a man walking alone and acting in an aggressive manner. Here is his description (note: he refers to the new officer as “the pup”):
...He is walking down the middle of the street with a hard stride. I can feel his anger. Hearing the rush of the approaching car, he glares back. Seeing the patrol car, he stuffs an item in his jacket.

We need to talk to him.

The pup, eager all night for anything, despite my words, keeps driving. The pup can smell the potential for a fight, but he is still a pup and freezes.

We need to talk to him.

Alpha dog wins. The car stops. We hop out.

The angry man doesn’t want to be stopped. He looks at the pup, then me, and wisely begins barking at the pup. The pup takes a step back. Mistake. He lost his show.

I step in, low growl, and engage eyes. I talk him back to standing on the curb. He is angry, but wants no fight.

He missed the bus out of the little town he was visiting a friend in, and has walked five miles only to miss the last bus in this section of town, so he will have to walk another 5 miles to his apartment downtown...
I’ll let you go to his blog to read the entire post and see how the incident ends—as he integrates a clever crime prevention strategy to effectively deal with this issue in the short and long term .

This story illustrates the value, maybe more than only a handful or professions, of a good field trainer. I had three of them during my probationary period. I was the pup before.

My learning curve would certainly have been reduced had I been exposed to someone like Raindog’s guidance before being thrown into the real world of policing. Instead, how to patrol was learned the hard way.

At least for those with a desire to find illustrations of good policing-—the lessons are clearly out there online.

Tuber of the Week #12: Kids Behind Closed Doors


When the phrase “kids behind closed doors” is uttered, it usually has a negative connotation.

In contrast, a teen spending time in his or her room is not always a bad thing. Take the case of Mathieu Rachmajda of France who has spent long hours in the privacy of his own loft bedroom.

“What does he do up there” might have been a common phrase asked by visitors to his parents house. This question was likely answered quickly due to the wonderful sounds emanating from up the stairs.

You see, Rachmajda or MattRach as he is more commonly known is considered a music virtuoso. He invested his time behind the doors writing and performing songs. He began posting his creative music videos online at age fifteen. His videos are built around a diverse number of music styles, and he is commonly seen playing a variety of instruments—including his favorite: the guitar.

He also mixes in video editing for an entertaining final product.

Promoting yourself as a musician via the Internet is not for the faint of heart. After receiving consistent negative comments on his work to the extent of “Dude you have talent, but you sure are funny looking,” MattRach showed his sense of humor and posted a video and song entitled “Welcome in my Square Head.” He just rolls with the punches, and is not going to let words affect him.

What has all of this time alone spent in his small self-created musical studio produced?

How about this: over 40 music videos, a large fan-base from around the globe, a profitable selection of downloadable songs on ITunes, and a sponsorship from Fender Guitars. Also, in March of this year, MattRach announced that he started working on his first album release after reaching an agreement with Spidart.



Rachmajda shows us the good things that can go on upstairs with teens behind closed doors—a welcome respite in this day and age of depressing news headlines.

Part X: Brianna Maitland Missing Person


This is the tenth post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn 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 a traffic collision.

After last week’s detour to discuss potential witness sightings, I want to finish sharing crime reporter H.P. Alabarelli Jr’s article. Brianna’s family, frustrated by the pace of the investigation and eager to uncover new information, agreed to have private detective Greg Overacker take a look at the case. Overacker had been following Brianna’s disappearance as an interested party and had offered his services to the family for only travel costs.

Reportedly, here is what the private detective learned—and once again we see the name Ramon Ryans:

…he (Overacker) made a trip to Vermont and spent nearly a week interviewing people in Richford, Montgomery, Enosburg, St. Albans and Burlington.

"Two days into my meetings with various people," Overacker said, "I knew and understood how deep and convoluted this case was going to be. It seemed that lots of people were involved in aspects of the case and that there was somewhat of a conspiracy of silence about certain events."

One of those events that kept repeatedly coming out in his interviews concerned a late-night party in Richford the night Brianna disappeared.

Overacker said, "The party report which kept coming up had Brianna in attendance and had something horrible happening to her at the party. Some people claimed she was killed at the party, others said she over-dosed, others said she was deliberately over-dosed."

Several reports that Overacker heard had Brianna's body disposed of "on a farm somewhere in Franklin County."

Said Overacker: "The reports for the most part were very gruesome. When I was able to sit down with (an independent journalist) and compare notes, I knew there had to be a strong element of truth to the reports. I spent a few days with (him) in Richford, and we met with more people all over the county and then I was really convinced, but still things were cloudy in some ways."

Things remained somewhat cloudy until Overacker called a couple in Enosburg last month to confirm a few basic facts about Brianna. The couple, who requested anonymity, told Overacker about a possible statement that had been given to Burlington police "months ago" concerning Brianna's alleged murder...
The pair were able to locate a copy of the affidavit that was signed by a Burlington (VT) police officer. The document was based on a conversation with a woman named Debbie Gorton who stated that Maitland had been killed and her body disposed of shortly after her disappearance.

The affidavit was produced shortly after the officer assisted the Colchester Police in March 2006 "with an investigation that (led) them" to a home occupied by Debbie Gorton and her three children.

The investigation, according to the affidavit, led to one of Gorton's sons being arrested. While police were in the process of arresting her son, reads the affidavit, Gorton "became outraged and began shouting at the officers that she would not testify against her sister, Ellen Ducharme, in the upcoming Ligia Collins murder trial, if police took her son."

The affidavit continues: "In a fit of rage, [Gorton] also shouted some things about Brianna Maitland, the subject of a high profile missing persons case in Vermont. After the police left the residence, I asked to speak to Debbie in private, and she agreed ... I digitally recorded our conversation."

Gorton then told the officer "that as a parent, she would want Brianna's body found, but insisted that no one would find it. [She] said she received all of her information about Brianna from her sister, Ellen Ducharme, who is currently incarcerated.

Ellen allegedly told Debbie that Moses Robar, Timothy Crews, and Ramon Ryans killed Brianna. She said they took Brianna's body to a farm and cut her up into pieces. They transported her body in a truck to the farm.

Debbie said this happened about one week after Brianna went missing. She said that Brianna's body was in Ellen's basement at one point, according to Ellen.

Ellen told Debbie that Ramon was the person who killed Brianna. Debbie then commented that she never told Detective Burke about Brianna because Ellen told her about Brianna after Detective Burke interviewed her.

Debbie further commented that this was the first time she had spoken to a police officer about what she knew of Brianna. She was not sure if Ellen disclosed this information to police."

The two-page affidavit concludes: "Ellen knew Ramon through Ligia Collins because Ramon supplied Ligia with drugs and was also her boyfriend. Debbie said that Ellen told her the information about Brianna after Detective Burke questioned Debbie about the deaths of [name withheld] and Ligia Collins. Debbie said Ellen was present when Brianna was killed and witnessed her killing.

Debbie speculated that was why Moses Robar killed himself. Debbie swore to the truthfulness of her statement."
The information from Gorton was new for the public, but was something that authorities had evidently been exploring for some time. Police stated that they have been unable to corroborate the claims made in the affidavit—and the cause of Brianna’s disappearance continues to remain a mystery.

I have at least one more post on this case—concluding with my final thoughts.-

All previous entries in this series are now available on the left column of the homepage under “Brianna Maitland.”

Craigslist and the Fear of Crime


Note: I wanted to comment on this timely news story today, so my regular missing person segment on the Brianna Maitland case will appear tomorrow.

Several recent front-page stories of crime in the United States have had one aspect in common—-the mention of the popular classifieds website Craigslist.

 This weekend in Oregon, Korena Roberts was jailed and accused of murdering a pregnant woman named Heather Snively. Reportedly, Snively went to Roberts’ residence in response to a Craigslist advertisement for baby clothes.

Media reports also stated that Roberts is accused of “extracting” Snively’s baby from the womb, but both the mother and the baby boy were found dead by police—the baby initially and the mother when police returned and searched the location.

 On June 3, authorities arrested a North Carolina man and claimed that he had arranged through a Craigslist ad for an assailant to enter his residence and sexual assault his wife

 In April, Philip Markoff of Massachusetts was nicknamed the “Craigslist Killer” after being arrested and accused of placing ads on the website and then attacking the responding women.

 In 2007, Michael John Anderson was charged with the murder of Katherine Olson in Minnesota after she allegedly responded to a want ad on the website for a nanny that was supposed to have been placed by Anderson.

These are not the only tales of violent crime with alleged Craigslist connections, but I selected these four to offer that some incidents are alleged to originate in the adult services section of this site, while other ads thought to be linked to violence were said to be posted in areas having nothing to do with “erotic” services.

The case involving Markoff had newspapers editors like those at the Boston Globe questioning the practices of Craigslist:

…Either Web companies such as Craigslist need to take more responsibility for how their sites are used, or Americans need to get used to a lot more risk in the spaces where they gather.
The founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark, responded to the April murders with a short statement that included this:

…craigslist gets around 50 million people using it per month; considering that, the crime rate we see is very low.
From the statement, it does not sound to me like management at Craigslist has thought much about what their “crime rate” is—otherwise management could have included much more specific information in the post.

For example, why not say something like “stats for the national average on violent crimes related to a social networking are in their infancy, but this company is a leader in protecting our customers. In the last five years, our community has been challenged with X number of violent crimes, which is still 20% below reported numbers for Website A and Website B based on user volume.”

With the two heinous crime stories from the last week including the website’s name, the company should be able to provide everyone with specific details on safety improvements to the site over the last three months (since Markoff's arrest). If not, expect immediate trouble for the firm from the public, media, and politicians (this will likely happen anyway, just not as immediate if the company proactively responds).

Nevertheless, statements by Craigslist executives similar to those issued after the Markoff arrest directed at general crime rates will not be enough in the coming months to combat the growing firestorm associated with the fear of crime and the web's most popular classified section.

Current users will certainly become more suspicious of activities on the site, but I think the major impact will be on potential users—“hey isn’t that the site that offenders use? Why do I want to go there?”

Criminal justice researchers have shown the fear of crime to be as or even more significant to the public as the actual crime rate—-fear determining how freely people live. Mr. Newmark and his colleagues are about to learn this differentiation firsthand.

After the weekend’s tragic event, I think that the management at Craigslist will be making wholesale changes in policies and business practices-—modifications that will be couched in a new emphasis on user protection.

Further, I would not be surprised to see lots of publicity as government officials, seeing an opportunity, become involved in the calls for enhanced protection as well.

On Criminal Profiling


The excerpt below is from an interesting article on the deployment of the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Deployment (CARD) Team in Indiana on an unsolved child abduction, rape, and murder case.

In 1988, April Tinsley was kidnapped near her home in Fort Wayne, IN and her body was later found in a ditch 20 miles away.

The killer left several clues behind including a hand-written note. Sixteen years later, similar notes were found on children’s bicycles in the same area (no more abductions)—with enough in common that police believe they may be connected to the old case.

…Federal investigators were deployed to Fort Wayne to work the Tinsley (the murdered little girl) case earlier this month. After the "America's Most Wanted" profile and the renewed push, authorities received between 400 and 500 tips, Shrawder said. Some could be ruled out right away -- someone who had died between the murder and the 2004 notes, for instance, he said.

DNA samples were taken on about 150 people.

Police are still trying to run down about 50 or 75 tips, he said. "That was the purpose, was to go out and run down every single one of these, no matter how vague it was."

Some of the authorities' leads, according to the FBI, include identifying Fort Wayne residents who used Polaroids as late as 2004; tracking down a green paisley bedspread similar to that seen in one Polaroid; and looking at misdemeanor offenses in the area near the time of April's death and the 2004 note spree, as offenses like indecent exposure could indicate more serious sex crimes.

In addition, the FBI has released a behavioral profile of Tinsley's killer. Police believe he is a white male currently in his 40s or 50s who prefers and desires sexual contact with children, particularly little girls.

"This offender has demonstrated that he has strong ties to northeast Fort Wayne and Allen County," the profile said. "This is where he likely lives, works and/or shops. You may be standing next to him in line at the grocery store, sitting beside him in the pew at church, or working beside him on the production line."

Such profiles can be helpful in that they might spur local residents to tell police, "You know, I always wondered about this one guy," Shrawder said.
The article insinuates that CARD Teams are used primarily for profiling. In reality, these folks provide on the ground assistance in a variety of ways—-including the ability to quickly produce correlated reports of known sex offenders near a crime scene (a scenario that authorities are certainly exploring in the Tinsley case with all of the DNA collection).

On profiling, it is important to remember that this technique is still nothing more than educated guesswork. Despite the impressions provided by television programs, these experts do their fair share of swinging and missing as well.

The folks that do this work are highly skilled and intelligent, and I think that profiling should be viewed as an important investigative resource, but not be considered the only tool in the toolbox.

I actually like to see profiles used in cold cases such as this one—-as opposed to potentially jading the focus of an investigation in its early stages with an inaccurate profile.

Can You Name America’s Worst School Violence Incident?


Note: No Off the Beaten Path segment for today. I’ll have a new post in this series next Friday.

I have always been interested in history and crime. Related to these topics and specifically dealing with school violence, a recent post over at the General Blog of Crime had me doing some extra reading. See if you can answer the following multiple choice question.


In what state did the US’ worst instance of school violence (measured in total loss of lives) occur?

(A) Texas
(B) Michigan
(C) Virginia
(D) Colorado
(E) Alabama
(F) None of the Above
Well, if you answered A, C, D E or F, then you are incorrect and do not get a gold star on your paper—don’t feel bad as neither did I.

Surprisingly, the greatest loss of life involving US school violence occurred in Bath, Michigan in 1927. This little remembered yet tragic incident resulted in the deaths of forty-five persons—including thirty-eight school children. Fifty-eight others were injured.

The terrible crime is documented in a new book entitled America's First School Bombing by author Arnie Bernstein. Amazon book reviewer L. Blumenthal provides this background to the disturbing event and a brief review of the book:

…The story takes place in 1927 in the small town of Bath, Michigan, where a farming community built their first consolidated school after a history of one-room schoolhouses. On the school board was a man named Andrew Kehoe.

The book sets up the psychopath Kehoe quite well with descriptions of his bizarre upbringing, then neighbors' commentary on his odd methods of farming (leaving most of the crop to rot in the fields), and some pretty nasty stories about his relationships with animals. It always seems to me that if a person is cruel to animals, it says volumes about what kind of character he has. Kehoe, it seems, had very little character at all.

But he managed to fool a lot of people. To some he was just the neighbor down the way--who had a fondness for dynamite and blowing things up in the middle of the night.

As the school board treasurer, Kehoe would balance books to the penny. But he wouldn't always get his way in policy decisions. He also had an unexplainable, long-running hatred for superintendent Emory Huyck. No one knew what gripes were festering in Kehoe's brain, but something made him spend long hours in the basement under Bath Consolidated School. When discovered by the janitor, he'd explain it away as "fixing the wiring."

Meanwhile, he kept ordering more dynamite from various sources.

There are a few side tales. Kehoe's wife Nellie was chronically sick with breathing problems and was often in the hospital, giving Kehoe plenty of time alone. He also had at least two severe brain injuries, for which he never got proper treatment.

The day before the school year ended, Kehoe finally cracked. That morning, a clock triggered an electrical system that set off an enormous amount of dynamite hidden in the school's basement.

The school heaved up and then its roof came crashing down. Children were trapped--alive and dead. Teachers tried to save them, if they weren't seriously injured themselves. Huyck helped the high school students jump from the roof to safety.

Meanwhile, the Kehoe home burst into flames and dynamite roared there too.

Bernstein does a remarkable job of portraying what the confusion might have felt like by slowing down the time and writing small vignettes. One child wonders about his siblings as he is trapped in the rubble. A teacher instinctively reaches out and hugs two children to her chest.

A child watches an inkwell shoot to the ceiling. Later, that's all he can remember. A woman plants melons, looks up after hearing a boom, and hears faint screams coming from down the road.

Amid all the chaos and confusion, the little stories like these are what we remember. The rest of the story ends in predictable horror. Kehoe drives up to the school, his car full of explosives, calls Huyck to his vehicle and blows the both of them sky high. The farm continues to burn. Only later do authorities find the charred remains of Nellie. Thirty-eight children and six adults die. The funerals go on for days...

Today, you will find a memorial in Bath, Mich., on the grounds of the old school. It's a peaceful park now. The violence that marked its past seems to have been erased. But Bernstein makes sure that the significance of Bath never is forgotten.
The photographs of the incident are unbelievable. I cannot imagine coordinating an emergency response to such chaos in an era before well organized public safety departments even existed. The emotional effect for those at the scene must have been overwhelming.

Here are five vivid photographs of/related to the incident (these images and more can be found here):



Above is a shot of the heavily damaged second and third grade classrooms. Notice in the upper left hand corner the children’s jackets neatly hung.



This is Hazel Weatherby, who at age 21 taught 3rd and 4th grade at the school.
When the building collapsed, she pulled two children into her arms for protection. Weatherby was found in rubble still holding her students, both of whom were killed in the explosion. After handing them to rescuers, she gave into death.
The final three pictures do not need much explanation, but give a glimpse as to the scope of the incident. The first is a triage area onsite setup for the wounded, and the second one is a temporary morgue established adjacent to the school grounds. The last one is a shot of the heavily damaged building.







One additional note—the first blast at the school building that heavily damaged one wing of the school, was evidently only half of the killer's plan. State police investigators later found an additional 500 lbs. of explosives wired to a timing device hidden underneath the undamaged side of the school--dynamite that did not detonate.

Bernstein’s book looks very interesting if you are looking for a summer read.

The Bath School disaster is certainly one of the most horrific yet forgotten events in US history.

I have an idea for a follow-up post to this, but I’ll have to see how it pans out.

Nuclear Gaffes and Those Involving Slightly Less Destructive Power


And from the yesterday’s top news stories:

The government accidentally posted on the Internet a list of government and civilian nuclear facilities and their activities in the United States, but a U.S. official said Wednesday the posting included no information that compromised national security…

Included in the report, however, are details on a storage facility for highly enriched uranium at the Y-12 complex at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and some sites at the Energy Department's Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, this official acknowledged…
Understandably, the administration is in full damage control mode trying to convince everyone that the information released was unrelated to national security. The Feds make an appealing argument; that is until you try to find the report online and discover that it has mysteriously been removed from all public sites.

Now, I have never inadvertently released classified information on nuclear reactors to the public, but have to confess to an occasional act of buffoonery.

Reading this story inspired me to create my own participated and/or witnessed list of less serious but still annoying gaffes:

 A couple is waiting outside an unnamed clothes collection site (at the posted opening time) for those less fortunate with a load of goods waiting to be donated.* Their stuff is in an uncovered pickup bed, and the employee charged with collecting the items is running 10 minutes late. Five minutes prior to the doors opening (the worker is already five minutes late), it starts to rain.

The attendant finally opens the door, sees the load of donations, and over the noise of the downpour tells the pickup-driving couple, “Sorry but, I can’t accept wet donations.”

*Note this happened to the folks in front of us this week.

 Before leaving to drive to a hiking trail about 45 minutes away, the Mrs. verifies with me that I have all the kids shoes packed in our vehicle. “Check,” I curtly reply. We later arrive at the park and I discover that I brought two left shoes for one of the little ones. Wonderful…

 In a hurry before leaving on a family weekend trip, I did not have time to get directions to our hotel directly from them. Instead, I printed off an unnamed travel site’s turn by turn directions. We arrive in our big city destination late at night only to find that those “specific” directions end with us staring at a busy divided highway—a road with no promised hotel or any other buildings in sight for that matter.

 When my brother and I were less than 10 years old, mom and dad had the fantastic idea of wading into the Pacific Ocean on a glorious sunny day in Southern California. We all held hands and jumped a few waves that were like waist deep on me.

All of the sudden, a thunderous wave appears out of nowhere. It crashes into us and knocks everyone down like bowling pins. It must have been a hilarious scene—feet, arms, legs and body parts flying everywhere. Fortunately, the ‘rents had strong grips and the kids spent the next hour coughing-up salt and sand to rid our bodies of an extra souvenirs from our day at the beach.

 During the middle of our honeymoon in the great state of Vermont, I made the mistake of mentioning that the trunk-strap bike rack did not fit as well as I thought it should on the Mrs. really cool Camaro. The rest of the driving was spent with conversations similar to this one:


Mrs: {Staring intently at the back window} The bikes are wobbling too much. You got those straps tight right?

Slamdunk: Yes, they are ok.

Mrs.: {After a short pause} Did you see that? Look, the left strap is loose!

Slamdunk: Where? It looks fine to me.

Mrs: It should not be moving like that. You need to stop the car, get out, and tighten that strap now.

Slamdunk: {loud exhale}.

Mrs: Don’t give me attitude.

In sum, the bikes and I survived the rest of the 10 day trip—well, some of it just barely. Perhaps a slip-up involving nuclear energy is not so bad in comparison.

Tuber of the Week #11: Nice Hands


In amongst her insightful writings on autism and parenting and as well as her great photography, blogger Faye over at Fayezie posted this neat video a couple of weeks ago.

I think this excerpt is especially meaningful considering a loan officer at a bank (the catcher's name is Joel Armstrong, by the way) is the hero. In these uncertain economic times, bankers need all the positive publicity that they can get.



Nice hands!

Another Reason Not to Smile at the DMV


Attention, there is another reason not to be happy about a visit to your local department of motor vehicles:

The next time you step in front of the camera for your driver's license photo, you might want to skip the forced smile. Four states have urged drivers to stop grinning because it interferes with anti-fraud protections on driver's license pictures, USA Today reported.

Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia tell drivers to keep neutral expressions when they get their license photos taken. The states are using software that compares new license photos with hold ones. Grinning can mess up the facial recognition technology.

A Virginia official told the newspaper that the state prefers dull expressions because they help the software work more accurately. The other three states allow small smiles…
I was trying to decide how the DMV defines a “small smile.” Does that involve a ruler and an official determination by a smile inspector?

In continuing to discuss the use of facial recognition software (as I did in yesterday’s missing person post), drivers license photos are another example of innovative technology being used by government authorities (like it or not).

I do want to thank blogger Jennifer over at Kerberism for including this phony driver’s license in her post:



I don’t think I have ever seen someone try to pass off a fake ID featuring a “couple’s photo.”

Part IX: Brianna Maitland Missing Person


This is the ninth post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn 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 a traffic collision.*

In today’s post, I wanted to take a break from focusing on potential suspects to discuss another part of missing person investigations: sightings of the missing individual that are reported by the public. Obviously, the higher profile the case, the more likely that citizens will report seeing someone who looks like the person in question. These incidents become more believable when a video image or photograph is presented to corroborate the witness’ account.

In the Ray Gricar case, the missing District Attorney was reportedly seen by a dozen individuals in Pennsylvania (JJ in Phila's Gricar site contains a comprehensive witness list) . Authorities had to interview the witnesses and evaluate each report—a process that typically yields less than reliable results in ascertaining: “was this really our missing person?”

One witness claimed to see Ray Gricar at a restaurant in Texas. The person reporting this was able to snap a photograph with a cell phone camera to provide to authorities.



After the FBI used facial analysis techniques to examine the Texas’ image, authorities announced that the man in the picture eating was not connected to the Gricar case.

Similarly, a concerned citizen reported seeing someone with a strong resemblance to Brianna Maitland with a male at a casino in Atlantic City. After interviewing the witness, investigators pulled the following image from one of the casino’s surveillance cameras:



You can go here to view enhanced yet still blurry photos of the individual.

The woman in the photo does look like Brianna, and police have been unable to completely dismiss the image. Here is what the family believes:

...In mid-February, Vermont State Police informed the Maitlands they had obtained a videotape of a woman who "resembled Brianna." A surveillance camera in Caesars Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., had produced the tape. Police requested it from the casino after a Vermont man who had been gambling there reported he had seen "a woman there who looked like Brianna."

The quality of the tape is poor, the picture grainy and taken from a distance. The woman in question looks older than Maitland's photos and does not have a nose ring, as she wore. The woman in the video is with a man who appears to be in his early 40s, perhaps older. Bruce and Kellie Maitland can't positively identify the woman as their daughter and doubt very much it is her.

"But we can't discount anything. We would really like to know who it is so that we can move on with the investigation," Bruce Maitland said....
I do think with the advent of facial recognition software, missing person investigations will have an additional tool in solving cases. Despite encouraging potential eye-witness accounts, this these photos evaluated in the Maitland and Gricar investigations were not helpful, and unfortunately the cases remain unsolved.
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On a side note—do you believe that there is at least one doppelganger or look-a- like for each of us in the world?

With the number of people walking the earth, it is reasonable to belief that each of us as one or more individuals who bare a strong resemblance to us—and it is no wonder that possible sightings on high profile cases are received from the around the globe.

A humorous example with facial recognition technology is available here on the MyHeritage.com website. The program allows you to experiment with your own photos to determine which celebrity that you most closely resemble.

I was afraid to upload my image and try-—I don’t think a result that matches me with Air Bud would be good for self esteem.

Previous posts in this series can be accessed by clicking "Brianna Maitland" on the left margin of the home page.

*Note: The first picture was used from the MSNBC site.