Humor By the Kids and About the Kids

Programming Note: I don’t have a post ready for my regular Friday topics—so I went with this one instead.

*Those Neighbors*

Why is it that every neighborhood, rural or urban, east or west, Northern or Southern, has a quota of odd neighbors?

I think it is one set per every ten houses.

Anyway, I was putting the trash to the curb a few days ago, and I was approached by our quirky neighbor walking her dog. We are on friendly terms though they do keep the local police busy with regular calls ranging from prowlers to disputes with neighbors.

The woman says hello to me and asks if we are going to be home later. "Uh, yes," I reply less than emphatically.

"I have some stuff I wanted to give your kids," she states.

I am not a big fan of allowing the kids to accept gifts from anyone; and especially suspicious of anything offered by our peculiar neighbors.

The neighbor continues: "I have some books, a toy phone, and a stethoscope from when Sally (her roommate) had shingles. The doctors did not use the stethoscope on her, I mean, it was just next to her bed in the hospital. Don’t worry, I soaked it in Clorox so it will be just fine."

As I watched the well meaning lady walk away I was tempted to say:

"Super, and don’t forget to bring the unexploded munitions that you all dug up last month in the backyard or the casually used hypodermic needles that you collect—those are a big hit with three-year olds on car trips."

I was able to warn the Mrs. of the expected gift and she was able to dispose of it properly (she was likely wearing a hazmat suit at the time).

*Geography Lesson*

Lately, we have been talking-up how great preschool is in our household since the little girl will be starting soon. She is doing well with potty-training and is excited about the prospect of regular play opportunities with other kids besides her brothers.

After discussing the wonders of preschool art, recess, and snack time with our daughter, the following exchange took place:

The Mrs.: Do you remember the name of your preschool?

Little Girl: Briarcreek

The Mrs.: Excellent. Do you remember the names of your teachers?

Little Girl: Mssss. Jane, Mssss. Jackie, and Mssss. Phyllis.

The Mrs.: There is one more. Do you remember?

Little Girl: Ummm… Msssss…. Mssss…. Mssss. Issippi!
Where do kiddos get this great comedic material?

Two Questions about the Bath School Bombing

A native of Chicago, Arnie Bernstein is a nonfiction writer who authored the books The Hoofs and Guns of the Storm: Chicago’s Civil War Connections and Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago and the Movies—as well as Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing. He was also awarded a Puffin Foundation Grant and Midwest Regional History Publishing Honors.

Recently, Arnie was gracious enough to answer two questions about his book describing the 1927 Bath school tragedy:

Question #1: In the book, you describe at least two persons who defend the bomber Andrew Kehoe. These supporters do not argue that Kehoe was innocent, but rather that he did not intend to detonate the explosives while the children were in the school. They insinuate that Kehoe's plan was to bomb the building at another time--perhaps during a night meeting of administrators and parents. Your research indicates that this did not appear to be Kehoe's plan.

Do you believe residents gave much credence to the idea that Kehoe's explosives detonated early or late? Would not Kehoe's final act of murder involving the car bomb that killed victims, including children, in front of the school strongly refute any claim that Kehoe just had bad timing?

Author’s Response: Kehoe meant the bomb to go off at exactly the time it did. The almost simultaneous fire that quickly engulfed his home, as well as his other actions that morning all are strong indicators that he meant to do what he did at the time it all happened. The only failure in this phase of his plan was that the dynamite planted beneath the Bath Consolidated School main building failed to go off.

Kehoe’s suicide bombing was meticulously planned out, from the packing of his truck with shrapnel and explosives to his final words to Superintendent Huyck. I think that the people who wanted to believe Kehoe’s bombs went off late had a natural human reaction. It’s genuinely hard to fathom why someone would want to kill so many children for such senseless reasons.

Question #2: I was also curious about your impressions of the sign that Kehoe left at the remains of his farmhouse: "Criminals are made not born."

With the message, it almost seems like he realizes his actions are wrong, but is being forced into the crimes--would you agree?

This seems different from the VA Tech and Columbine killers where they do not seem to think that there is anything wrong with their actions (although there are similarities in the shared belief that society forced them to make such unreasonable choices).

Author’s Response: The words on Kehoe’s sign were indicative of a psychopathic logic that refuses to take responsibility for horrendous actions. It was very easy for him to blame others, as it was for Cho, Klebold and Harris. It makes no sense to rational people, but in the twisted psychology of someone like Kehoe, blaming others for his horrific actions is natural and perfectly understandable.

I used a quote from Clarence Darrow in the book, from his summation in the trail of the “thrill killers” Leopold and Loeb: “They did not reason; they could not reason; they committed the most foolish, most unprovoked, most purposeless, most causeless act that any two boys ever committed…They killed…because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped...”

That explanation (such that it is) accurately describes who Kehoe was, why he did what he did, and why he refused to take any blame or responsibility for his crime.

You can read more of my previous posts on the Bath school incident as well as my thoughts on Arnie’s book here.

The author’s website contains lots of photos and additional information about the incident and his book.

Thanks again to Arnie for taking time to speak with me.

Tuber of the Week #18: Fortitude Lesson

Fortitude: mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.

I think it is fair to say that eight-year-old Adam Bender of Kentucky emblazons the term fortitude:

Mr. President, a Harvard PhD, and a Sgt.: My Comments on the Gates Case

Now that President Obama, Harvard University’s Dr. Louis Gates Jr., and Cambridge Police Sergeant Jim Crowley have all agreed to discuss their differences over adult beverages, I’ll leave the racial aspects of the incident for other news sites and blogs to cover.

I did find three articles/blogs that provided insight into the Harvard professor’s recent police encounter:

1) The police officer who blogs at Pepper Spray Me (a writer who I find myself regularly disagreeing with) provides a fair assessment of the matter.

2) Dr. Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University offers several keen insights.

3) Finally, the criminology professors over at the General Blog of Crime discuss the incident from several perspectives. In their comments, regular contributor “Dr. Cranky” is absolutely correct when he states that in studies of officer discretion and arrests the most common determining factor regarding arresting someone is not race, sex, age, or income—-it is a suspect’s demeanor (bad attitude commonly leads to arrest).

One relevant aspect of the Gates case that has not been the focus of much debate involves what this sociology professor accuses the sergeant of doing:

...I am struck by the police report, given that it details a ridiculous action on the part of the officer and an example of discretion gone wrong. If accurate, the officer induced Gates to follow him outside (by declining to give his name and badge number until Gates was outside with him) after he had established Gates’ identity and that no crime was afoot and then came the disorderly conduct charge…
The blogger refers to this approach being described in a recent book by Dr. Peter Moskos entitled Cop in the Hood (the book details the life of a sociologist who spent a year as an officer with the Baltimore PD around 2002).

Moskos talks of how officers used this tactic in a domestic situation to make an arrest outside a home—-when no arrest was previously possible due to everyone being in the house.

Now, I am not going to say that the old “hey, let us go outside and talk about this—whamo arrest on the lawn” approach was never or is not used by some police across the country.

I will say that this type of strategy was not common where I worked, is certainly not frequently employed nationally, and I do not know anyone personally who has tried the approach. I believe it is most likely to be used in a domestic call (as the Moskos example describes) where the officer’s liability and pressure from supervisors to separate the parties can be immense.

More importantly, I say the “coax a person outside to arrest them” will work, well, ONCE—-that is until the district attorney’s office finds about it, dismisses the charges, lights a fire under the officer’s supervisor, and then verbally kicks the arresting officer in the posterior.

It is important to remember that police are one component of the criminal justice system and his/her reputation is everything. If an officer is linked to bringing lousy cases like this one to prosecutors, he/she will spend free time in civil court and/or federal court and quickly be an outcast at the courthouse-—a label that no sworn with career aspirations wants to be tagged with.

The question of expanding officer discretion in using disorderly conduct charges to make an arrest in this situation is an interesting debate. If the sociologists want to convince me that officers use this tactic regularly, they better have good data-—because I am not believing it until then.

In my opinion, considering the type of call (not a domestic) and the liability for false arrest in this instance, I have difficulty believing that Crowley (a supervisor) tricked Gates into stepping outside simply to arrest him; thereby changing both of their lives forever.

In closing, one of the more troubling aspects of the incident is that Lucia Whalen, the citizen who took the initiative to call 911, needs an attorney to deflect all of criticism that she has received. I doubt that she will be contacting authorities again about suspicious behavior anytime soon.

Her experience does not bode well for community and police partnerships in combatting crime, does it?

Part XV: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is post fifteen of 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 last week’s post, I stated my best guess as to what happened to Brianna on the evening/morning of her disappearance. I believe the evidence made available to the public—the broken necklace, the positioning of her car (backed into an abandon building, yet clearly visible from the road), and the compact timeline--seems to indicate that the victim willingly stopped at the Dutchburn farm on her drive home from work, and was taken by force from that location.

If I am arguing that there was a struggle at the farmhouse, why was there no other evidence indicating such?

Here are some possibilities.

First, I believe the struggle was brief. Despite being trained in martial arts, I would argue that if the victim was surprised and restrained by someone larger, there would not be much evidence that a altercation occurred.

Not being a big guy but still athletic (at least I can fool myself), I can restrain someone smaller using a full nelson hold (one that uses leverage and limits the movement of the arms), and if someone else is there to carry the smaller person’s feet, that subject would be removed quickly from an area leaving behind little to no indication of a struggle.

Second, the exterior of Brianna’s car had marks and dents already. Her vehicle had been involved in an accident previously, and the interior was certainly far from spotless. If a new scratch or small mark was made on the car during an altercation at the farmhouse, it would likely not be noticeable anyway.

Finally, the weather that night in Vermont was for light snow and freezing temperatures. The ground was frozen the night/morning that she disappeared. As a result, indications of a struggle (footprints, places on the ground where persons fell, etc.) would likely not be noticeable several mornings later when police returned to the scene to investigate what was now a missing person case.

One more thing-- I think the factors in this case have a domestic violence feel to them. With my best guess, Brianna stopped at the abandoned farmhouse and was taken against her will from that location. Seeing someone that she had dated previously or a male friend could have been reason enough for an unplanned stop, and he would have been allowed close enough to grab her.

I would guess that with her easy-going personality and being attractive that she would have had plenty of interest from men—quite possibly guys willing to fight over her. I think the lack of solid leads also indicates that her disappearance likely was perpetrated by one, two or a very small close-knit group of people.

In closing, the Maitland case remains an unsolved mystery that unfortunately is now also a cold case.

My next posts on this topic will be based on a discussion with a man named Bob who knows more about the investigation, and will challenge some of my assumptions. Stay tuned…

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

Jeannie Benton's Summer

For most people, summer is meant for vacations to exotic and/or peaceful places.

Destinations where a person can forget about his/her daily concerns and perhaps partake in some selfish comforts.

That is not the case for Jeannie Benton. This summer the 51 year old is riding her bicycle from Astoria, OR to Portsmouth, NH to raise money for the non-profit Operation Life Transformed (OLT).

OLT is a 501(c)3 initiative that is operated by military spouses and war wounded caregivers. Founded in March 2007, the mission of Operation Life Transformed (OLT) is to provide education and resources to their military spouses and caregivers, and increase awareness of the long term needs of these families and support the military spouse and caregiver as they re-enter the workforce.

The organization's focus is to enable military spouses and caregivers to find accessible short term training certifications, with immediate career accessibility in fields that readily fit around permanent change of station, deployment, medical schedules, disabilities, future rehabilitation and transitioning, to create a portable lifestyle for the military family.

Jeannie currently riding through Wisconsin and you can follow her daily blog posts at this site.

You can also read more about supporting her cause by going here.

Cheers to Jeannie and OLT with their summer well spent--devoted to helping our military families.

Note: The image is from Jeannie's blog.

July 24th

Note: I'll return next week with one of my regular Friday posting topics.


July 24th. On a summer afternoon thirteen years ago, while on vacation, I received a phone call.

I could not comprehend much of what the old Marine was saying to me, but I understood Dad’s message: His wife was no longer there. Mom had passed away.

July 24th also happened to be Dad’s birthday. He does not recognize July 24th as his entry into this world any longer. It is simply the day when he lost his loving spouse.

So much has changed since then. One constant is my desire not to see my father, the gunny, the grunt, get punched in the stomach like that again.

It is ironic how mothers and fathers spend decades protecting their children from everything and then at some point the roles change--sons and daughters begin shielding their parents.

Insightful blogger Expat recently wrote:
The road ahead seems to be flattening, getting narrow, starting to darken a bit around the edges these days for me. It is times like these that I have to constantly remind and encourage myself of life's little surprises, the ones that you don't see coming...
Recently, a childhood friend that I played sports with for more than a decade sent me two photos of our Little League football team: the Wildcats.

In the background of one of the team photos, several parents are visible. They are seated in the distance and most have their backs to the players.

I noticed one of the women behind the football players was wearing sunglasses and a blue and white striped shirt. She is turned toward the camera and is smiling. Mom.

I emailed the photos to career Marine Dad a few days ago, and told him of the special person in the background of image #1. It is a photo of his wife, smiling, that was previously unknown.

July 24th: A day when my father, the Marine, lost his spouse.

Perhaps through a photo, representing one of life’s little surprises, this day was made less painful for him—-if only for a moment.

More on America's First School Bombing

I just finished reading the book Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing and enjoyed it immensely.

The author, Arnie Bernstein, combines the research of a good writer with a crime reporter’s insights to effectively describe one of America’s tragic and forgotten events:

On May 18, 1927, the small town of Bath. Michigan, was forever changed when Andrew Kehoe set off a cache of explosives concealed in the basement of the local school. Thirty eight children and six adults were dead, among them Kehoe, who had literally blown himself to bits by setting off a dynamite charge in his car.

The next day, on the Kehoe farm, what was left of his wife—burned beyond recognition after Kehoe set his property and buildings ablaze—was found tied to a handcart, her skull crushed…
From a policing perspective, the book contained several “what the frijoles?”

Here are my top three:

Number 3: With all of the destruction and death that occurred that day, it is mind boggling to consider that only 100 lbs of the planted explosives discharged (only half of the school was destroyed). While working the site for several weeks, authorities recovered more than 500 additional pounds of explosives—much of it hidden below the surviving part of the structure.

Number 2: Investigators retracing perpetrator Kehoe’s movements on the day of the disaster learned that he had mailed a package that morning using a train service. The attendant remembered that the box was labeled as containing explosives, and authorities were rightfully concerned that the bomber had also more surprises waiting.

The package was inadvertently directed to an incorrect destination so it took nearly 12 hours before the box was located. Thus, two detectives were sent by command to secure the package, and um, bring it back to police headquarters.

Yes, these two agents picked-up what authorities believed to be a booby-trapped package, loaded it into the back of a truck, and the pair made the tense (that is an understatement) return drive 20 miles along a bumpy dirt road at a very slow speed back to police HQ.

I am not sure if the two officers immediately filed pension paperwork after this trip, or they were too busy wringing out the remains of their tidy-whities.

Number 1: With rescue efforts of those trapped and injured in the catastrophe underway (oddly being handled by the townspeople), Lansing fire department officials examined the school building in an effort to determine the cause of the disaster.

The responders soon found unexploded devices hooked to wires in the basement. Once police bomb experts arrived, they began removing the dynamite and pyrotol.

Unfortunately, some of the explosives were hidden in crevices that were too small for an adult to negotiate.

What should authorities do to clear the scene?

They recruited a local smallish youngster to retrieve the explosives from the building. With the term “youngster I mean they used a fourteen year old boy named Chester Sweet. Yes, fourteen.

Certainly a move not repeated since in the annals of law enforcement bomb removals.

I did try to envision the conversation that Chester had with mom later in the day when she asked her smallish kiddo how his day went. “You did what????” {sounds of screaming in disbelief}

In sum, Bernstein’s book is a full of unbelievable tales of courage and sadness. It is a quick read and places the school bombing, an event that every American should be familiar with, into a clear yet disturbing focus.

Note: The two images were used from Arnie Bernstein's website.
One further note, Mr. Bernstein has graciously agreed to participate in a brief discussion with me about the book and I’ll post my standard “two questions” and his responses in a subsequent blog entry.

Tuber of the Week #17: Africa & Thunder

I always have liked the old song “Africa” by Toto. I thought the tune’s sound was unique--obviously, since it was created using a variety of instruments including a marimba and kalimba. It certainly was something different musically in a decade of guitar-smashing-big-hair-sound-a-likes.

Released in 1982, "Africa" reached #1 in 1983 on the Billboard charts.

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa, I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa, I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
I was introduced to this version "Africa" over at Shotgun's blog.

The performance, by the Slovenian choir Perpetuum Jazzile, and their simulated thunderstorm routine is just fantastic:

Breaking DUI Story: Found Only on This Blog

Slam Dunk’s blog where you the reader are provided breaking stories that may be picked up by the Associated Press and published nationally.

This item is from August of 2008:

Manatee County, Florida -- They say you live and learn.

But apparently, that's not the case for an Ellenton woman who was arrested on her 10th DUI charge over the weekend.

Deputies stopped Janet Landrum, 41, early Saturday morning. She told deputies she'd had two glasses of wine and had just left the Joyland Country Music Night Club on 14th Street in Bradenton.

Her passenger, Sammy Howard Campbell, told deputies he'd also bought a vodka and cranberry juice that Landrum drank. He also said Landrum was behind the wheel because he was too intoxicated to drive.

Landrum, who is 5'4" and 100 pounds according to the affidavit, had a blood alcohol level of .108.

Saturday's arrest was Landrum's 10th DUI arrest, according to records supplied by Dave Bristow, spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

In the last 20 years, Landrum has been arrested in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. She was arrested in Hillsborough County in 2005 for driving with a suspended license.

Law enforcement note that they are doing their job by arresting her, and they say it's up to the judicial system to see it through.

"But we can't follow her around [to make sure she doesn't drive on a suspended license]," Bristow said.

He said he has never heard of someone having as many DUI arrests.

"She might make it in the Guinness Book of World Records," he said…
So, why am I highlighting Ms. Landrum’s tenth DUI arrest from last summer?

Fast forward to yesterday at about 5 pm EST, when Landrum was booked for her eleventh DUI by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department.

It looks like Bristow was prophetic with his Guinness Book comment, but Landrum apparently needs eleven more DUI arrests to tie William Roberts of Wisconsin.

For Ms. Landrum, I guess being a self-employed CPA allows for lots of free time during months other than April. Also, her two booking photos seem to show an unconcerned and carefree defendant.

Good grief…

And for me, I’ll just sit back and watch this blog be cited across the nation when Landrum’s story becomes public.

This is your investigative reporter signing off.

Who just mumbled: “don’t quit your day job!!!”

Update: Ms. Landrum was also arrested on 7/19 by the Sarasota Sheriff's Office and charged with three counts of drug possession.

Part XIIII: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is post fourteen of 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 the last several case posts, I discussed two theories that could explain Brianna’s disappearance and how three key pieces of information either support or detract from each scenario. Today, I’ll explore a third possibility.

Scenario #3: Brianna Maitland was a crime victim and the incident occurred on the Dutchburn property where her car was recovered.

Let me organize the relevant facts related to the first two pieces of evidence:

1) Compact timeframe: Could Brianna have decided to stop at the property for some reason (e.g. she was signaled to by an acquaintance, had made a pre-arranged plan to meet someone there, etc.)?

--Brianna left her job between 11:30 pm and Midnight on the night she disappeared.

--Her vehicle was noticed earlier the next morning by a state police officer.

--The abandoned farmhouse is about a mile from work—easily reached along a highway in minutes.

My Response
Absolutely, anyone familiar with where the victim lived and knew the location of her employer, would have also known that the Dutchburn property would be a convenient and private quick stop between work and her residence.

2) Location of the car: Did Brianna’s car accidentally crash into the home?

--Brianna’s car was found backed into an old building on the property.

--The car and house were clearly visible from the highway.

--Initially, the police officer assumed that the scene involved a drunk driver who had left the vehicle at the scene.

Note: Despite criticism of the officer’s actions on that morning, I believe his actions were reasonable that morning as argued here.

--The crash was at a low speed, and not consistent with someone losing control of the vehicle from the road.

My Response
Yes, I believe that there is a good possibility that Brianna’ s car accidentally struck the farmhouse. Here are two possibilities. First, Brianna and one or more people are involved in a struggle in or near her car. During the altercation, the car is inadvertently backed or rolls freely into the farmhouse.

Second, the victim is taken by force from her vehicle and in haste to have the car moved quickly, someone not used to driving the old car, doesn’t fit well in the driver’s seat adjusted for a petite person, or is under the influence of an intoxicant--when he/she loses control of the car while trying to hide it behind the abandon building.

Finally, this theory is strongly supported by the third piece of evidence—Brianna’s broken necklace. The item was noticed by the police lying on the ground next to her vehicle. I’m not sure how else this damaged necklace would be recovered on the property other than an unlikely scenario where the item stuck to the person who left the car there and was just fell off.

My best guess:
Brianna leaves work and is driving home when she stops at the Dutchburn place either as a pre-arranged meeting place or responding to another familiar face. Brianna turns into the property with her vehicle’s rear bumper parallel to the road.

She exits her vehicle, leaves it running, and sits inside the other vehicle to escape the cold and slight snow falling. Another vehicle pulls to the location, additional people approach Brianna and the acquaintance, and she exits the second car.

Brianna makes a run for her car, jumps into the driver seat and is grabbed as she attempts to shift the automatic into drive. The shifter stops at reverse, the car rolls backward, and Brianna is forcibly removed from the car—the steering wheel turns as she loses grip on it.

Brianna’s Buick continues to roll backward at a very slow speed until striking the farmhouse and stopping. Brianna is restrained by someone larger than her, and her necklace is broken while she is being placed into a second vehicle.

I don’t believe that police released whether Brianna’s Buick headlights were on or whether her driver’s door was open when first seen by the patrolling officer. If the headlights were left on and the door open, the suspects would have simply turned them off (likely removing the keys first) and shut the door before leaving the scene.

Certainly, all of this is simply a theory. I do believe that this scenario is strongly supported by the three key pieces of evidence that have been released to the public—the compact timeline, the car’s location, and the broken necklace.

I do have more to discuss concerning Scenario #3, and in the next post I’ll discuss potential reasons for the lack of evidence of a struggle at the scene.

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

Trying to Beat the Breathalyzer

Programming Note: My next post in the Briana Maitland Missing Persons case will hopefully be ready by tomorrow.

Internet search engines are powerful tools; especially when needed to expose myths. Unfortunately, the defendant in this arrest did not do her homework*:

A local woman who apparently thought she could beat a Breathalyzer test by stuffing her mouth with pennies is facing up to 30 days in jail after admitting to her second DUI.

Anne O'Rourke, 29, recently pleaded guilty to an arrest Feb. 21 when she got pulled over with an intoxication level of .14 percent, charges say. Well over the legal driving limit.

O'Rourke was initially stopped for erratic driving along Main Boulevard shortly after 2 a.m.

The local police chief couldn't understand what the woman was saying when he approached her vehicle and noticed how her cheek was "puffing out," according to an arrest report.

When asked what she had in her mouth, O'Rourke "mumbled nothing" and was then told by the officer to open her mouth, charges say. That's when the chief said he saw a large number of pennies.

The officer told the woman to spit them out, adding it was "a myth" that copper coins might alter Breathalyzer testing.

O'Rourke went on to fail sobriety tests, police say.

She was unable to walk a straight line or stand on one leg without swaying or holding onto the back of her Chevrolet Cavalier, according to arrest papers…
Just for laughs, I googled breathalyzer and pennies and the search returned over 25,000 results—pages and pages of how copper pennies are not useful in fooling a breathalyzer machine.

Had the defendant tried Google, she would have learned from Snopes, UrbanLegends, Yahoo Answers, and other sites that such an idea is foolhardy.

The “slam dunk” affirmation that pennies do not work was determined by none other than the sharp minds at the television show MythBusters-—where they tried several strategies including coins, onions, and mints and all of them failed to lower the breath test.

On a side note, this was episode six which disapproved the idea that metal body piercings increase a person’s chance of being struck by lightning. Everyone breathe a deep sigh of relief now.

In sum, I hope the woman decides not to drive drunk anymore, learned that pennies don’t affect the breath test, and will Google any additional rumors before trying.

The thought of placing pennies in your mouth that have been rolling around on the floor at the gas station restroom is bad enough, but at least she did not try to deceive the breathalyzer with feces like that Canadian fellow did.

Wow, I am glad I ate before writing this…

*The story of the woman’s arrest appears at a password protected news site, so I am unable to provide a direct link.

Death of an All-American Girl?

Last night, I was finishing my blog post, minding my own business, when this news headline caught my attention: “Death of an All-American Girl (and Drug Dealer).” Next to the story was the picture of a smiling young woman.

I followed the link to this:

She had the kind of high-wattage smile and wholesome, all-American-girl look that one might expect from a beauty pageant winner. Rian Thal, 34, loved her cats and chocolate. (She tweeted about having a "foodgasm" from chocolate bread pudding).

Many had no idea that the bubbly party planner led a double life as a drug "holder" and dealer.

On June 27, two men took the elevator to the seventh floor of Thal's swanky apartment complex and shot Thal and her friend Timothy Gilmore in the head. Police say another shooter was waiting on the other side of the hall.

The suspects then calmly walked out of the building.

How'd This Happen?
The murder -- a suspected drug deal or robbery gone awry -- has much of Philadelphia wondering how a nice suburban girl like Thal got mixed up in the drug scene. According to Jeff Deeney of the Daily Beast, it's a lot easier (and more common) than one might think.

"It's not as surprising as you'd think that someone like Thal, a reported casual coke user, would find herself being asked if she wanted to start participating in deals," Deeney writes, adding, "I, too, was asked if I wanted to get in on the game. Did I want to front five grand and go in on a niner? The question came up more than once…"
Now, I feel sorry for the victims’ families about their losses, but calling Rian an “All American Girl?”

Are you serious?

Reading more of this article, additional aspects of Rian's past, the "All American Girl," are revealed:

1) she was a former stripper;

2) she had been arrested for cocaine possession;

3) she was previously convicted of smuggling meth to the US from the Netherlands; and,

4) when authorities searched her apartment after the murders, they recovered $100,000 in cash and four kilos of the white powder.

What is the criterion for an "All-American Girl"-—bleached blonde hair, no morals, slim figure, dope dealer, and pursuer of earthly riches?

If that is the case, then I need to find another country of “girls” for my young daughter to emulate.

Its times like these when I hear Eugene Peterson yelling from a tall mountain:

The puzzle is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly. There's little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities, but not saints.

Famous entertainers amuse a nation of bored insomniacs. Infamous criminals act out the aggressions of timid conformists. Petulant and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and apathetic spectators.

People aimless and bored amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness get headlines...

No other culture has been as eager to reward either nonsense or wickedness.
Unfortunately, not many are listening to Peterson’s sage observation, and we are left with the catchy yet inaccurate headline: "Death of an All-American Girl."

Officer Dummkopf #2: Directions

Note: This is the second post in our series of misadventures for poor Officer Dummkopf. Things just never seem to go his way.


Officer Dummkopf has just been cut loose.

He is riding solo for the next two weeks working downtown on the day shift as a patrol officer. He is still technically on probation, but the chief decided to end the training officer period for most of his class so that the agency has immediate access the newbies to meet current personnel demands.

For the patrol division, it was a never ending cycle of being short-handed.

A new class of officers would finish their training, a few weeks later transfers out of patrol would be made to fill detective and other slots (reducing the number of officers available to work the streets), and then attrition, illnesses, vacations, and various other personnel issues would make scheduling for patrol supervisors tense—just in time for a new class of pups to fill slots.

In another two weeks Officer Dummkopf will be assigned a much less popular work shift, and would not have seen a day shift in patrol again for at least seven years—that is until after five years he transfers to another division.

In any event, Officer Dummkopf sits with the gray-beards through roll call, gets his assignment, and is ready for some real policing.

“Dummkopf,” the grumpy balding sergeant says.

“I need you to handle a special assignment for me first over at First and Blair. The law breakers in your zone will wait until you check back in service."

“Go there and ask for Ms. Shelly. She’ll tell you what she needs.”
The eager yet careful Dummkopf does his pre-shift car check on his extra car, disposes of the remains of a what looks to be like a chicken dinner pushed well under the driver’s seat (still waiting on the carbon dating report to come back for an exact analysis), and exits the parking lot with the odd realization that new officers get—“Wow, I am really armed and alone in this cruiser.”

The marked unit travels east through light traffic and makes it four blocks into the city before the officer sees a man and woman sitting in a vehicle pulled alongside a building. The female waves requesting him in a non-threatening manner.

The officer pulls closer, sees two young children in the backseat, a filled luggage rack on top of the car, and two or three maps unfolded laying on the dash. A quick glance to the rear of the vehicle reinforces what he already knew: an out-of-state-tag.

The man, looking concerned yet embarrassed, asks: “Can you tell us how to get to The Henry Monument?”
Officer Dummkopf frowns and then shot a look that resembled a white-tail deer in a headlight.

Now our hero officer is thoroughly trained in his state’s legal codes. He knows domestic violence law like the back of his hand. He is comfortable in ground fighting. He finished first in his recruit class in physical fitness and is ready at a moment’s notice for a foot pursuit, but…um…well…directions?

Officer Dummkopf, seemingly prepared for any police matter, had sort of forgotten to be ready for this simple yet common request of law enforcement: the “How do I get to…”

Previously, his training officers had always taken care of it. Duh…

It did not help that Officer Dummkopf had only recently fell of the manure truck from Oklahoma, landed in the big city, and with the time demands of the academy, had not exactly visited a few, or well any of the jurisdiction’s tourist attractions.

The officer quickly considered his options: 1) call someone else to help with directions and lose any self-respect with his veteran colleagues (all of which was imagined); 2) confess his ignorance; or, 3) try to figure it out himself.

It was then that Dummkopf’s genetic code began to kick-in. “Never ask for directions,” the manly voice screamed inside his head. The officer decisively chose Option #3.

“Sure. Let me see those maps and I can try to help,” Dummkopf directed.
After a few moments of getting his bearings (also known as looking desperately at the map to see if the historic site was marked), the officer finds the monument, locates where the travelers are, and turn-by-turn directions are hastily developed.

After pleasantries are exchanged, our friendly newbie officer is back enroute to his special assignment—feeling good about helping the visitors.

Later that evening, Dummkopf reviews his tourist maps of the city and compares them to the directions that he had disseminated earlier.

“Wow, I gave only one wrong exit number and a left when I meant right.”

The officer then had the sinking feeling that his less than stellar directions had left the visitors in a similar situation as Chevy Chase lost with his family in the movie European Vacation. You know the part where Chase, as the incompetent father Clark Griswald, repeatedly quips: “Look, Big Ben kids…” as they drive in a circle in London.

As part of Dummkopf’s maturation process and until he could navigate the city’s tourist areas better, he decided to select “Option #2: Ignorance” when stopped again for driving directions.


Note: My department recruited heavily nationwide and the result was a large percentage of academy classes that were certainly not comprised of locals. In addition, new officers were assigned as extras and moved around within a sector/station regularly—making it tough to learn a new area.

Though this strategy allowed the agency to meet their high-level of hiring standards, tourists paid a hefty price in frustration when asking fresh-faced officers for directions.

One More Reason for a Sleepless Night at the Hotel

Here is another factor that may contribute to a less than perfect night's rest the next time you sleep in a hotel room:

Please, sir, do not throw your toilet out the window, no matter what the stranger on the phone is telling you.

If the phone in your hotel room rings unexpectedly at 2 in the morning, you might soon become the next victim of a network of scammers who are causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage at accommodations around the country.

Often imitated and deviously duplicated, a group called PrankNET appears to be at the center of a growing trend that has harried hoteliers and restaurateurs for months and is now being investigated by the FBI.

The head of PrankNET, who goes by the online name "dex" and has been behaving badly since 2000, leads an online chat system where he and fellow merry pranksters collaborate. Members of PrankNET chat online, stream their calls live on an Internet radio show and post their greatest hits to a YouTube page, a popular breeding ground for more pranks.

During their calls they often drop the name of a security corporation or say they are phoning from a hotel's front desk to lend themselves an air of credibility — and to get their victims to do surprising things.

In February, Dex's work made headlines when he called a KFC in Manchester, N.H., and convinced workers there to douse the restaurant with fire suppression chemicals, evacuate the building and strip outside in freezing temperatures. Dex accomplished all of this by pretending to be their boss from a corporate office.

Calls recently posted to PrankNET's YouTube channel have upped the ante even further, capturing scenes where confused hotel patrons have been duped into setting off fire alarms and sprinkler systems — flooding hotels and panicking sleeping guests.

A Florida family staying in an Orlando Hilton was tricked last week into smashing windows, breaking a mirror, bashing in a wall with a lamp and tossing their mattress outside, causing about $5,000 in damage, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The caller persuaded them to do all of that in order to save themselves from a gas leak...
As unbelievable as some of the successes of the online hucksters, the funniest two sentences in the article are likely these:

...The sheer difficulty of tracing prank calls placed online, and the social-networking programs used by pranksters, has increased their visibility and daring.

Last week, a North Carolina teenager was indicted in federal court for allegedly phoning in bomb threats to colleges and universities — and taking payments to threaten specific high schools, canceling classes for anyone who'd put $5 into his PayPal account...
But wait, aren’t Internet phone calls difficult to trace? How did this felony defendant get caught?

Ha, I assume it cost authorities five dollars made payable to a very traceable PayPal account that resulted in our high-tech criminal dialing a few numbers and earning a stay at one of his area’s fine detention facilities.

Note: the teen’s mom appears ready for a legal fight and she and her son adamantly deny the charges.

Tuber of the Week #16: Crossing Lines?

Last week, I was intrigued by Mrs. Fuzz's post over at A Police Wife concerning a Middle Tennessee television station’s aired report after a Metro Nashville police officer was shot during a traffic stop.

The organization Police Wives, Inc. started a petition in protest of the following video—stating that the reporter’s visuals and commentary compromise officer safety.

Here is the excerpt:

Siding with Police Wives, the blog comments posted by readers at A Police Wife were also in agreement that the reporter provided too much information.

I posted the video over at to further promote the petition and to see what opinions would be voiced there—since I felt the station’s side (that they weren’t reporting anything not stated by the police chief during the shooting incident’s media briefing or revealing anything that cannot be found elsewhere) was reasonable as well.

Surprisingly, a large percentage of respondents did not feel the video compromised officer safety. The vast majority thought that specific areas protected by ballistic vests were common knowledge to the public or could be learned easily.

Personally, I thought the reporter went beyond what should have been stated. I spent a few minutes googling keywords to see what advice was online for causing harm to police, and did not find much with a cursory search.

If a picture is worth a thousand words than this report could certainly be considered supporting a “how to” for unsavory individuals interested in injuring law enforcement.

Whatever you believe, I do feel that the feedback on this video demonstrates a valuable point: How can police officers, police spouses, and police advocates all watch the same video, yet arrive at far different conclusions?

I think that is what makes the profession most exciting. It is not comprised of persons with exactly the same mindset, values, and “vanilla” opinions, but rather includes a wide range of perspectives from individuals certainly not afraid of sharing.

Police and supporters debating their differences leaves the profession stronger.

Part XIII: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the thirteenth 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 post #11, I stated that I consider the three critical pieces of case information made available to the public to be the location of Brianna’s car, the compact timeframe of her disappearance, and her broken necklace.

In that same post, I discussed how this evidence did not appear to support Scenario #1—that Brianna was abducted by a stranger. In this post, I’ll examine another possible explanation.

Scenario #2: She was a crime victim/overdosed at another location and her car was simply abandoned at the Dutchburn farmhouse.

Authorities estimate that Brianna left work around midnight. She had previously told her roommate that she was going to be home after work—as she had to be a second job early the next morning. The location of the Dutchburn property follows the route that she would have traveled to drive from work home.

Investigators hired by the family (and most likely police) explored the possibility that Brianna traveled from work to a party in nearby Richford, VT that morning, and some attendees interviewed years later seemed to believe that she was there. Did something happen to Brianna at the party and then her vehicle was moved later to the abandon farm?

Though possible, I argue that there are several problems with this theory. First, Vermont State Police spotted Brianna’s car during the early morning hours after she had left work. To me, this means between 1 am and 3 am, and I’ll use 2 am for this post. The officer checked the scene, but after a few minutes was called away on another call.

Considering it would take about less than a half-hour for Brianna to drive to Richford, she would have arrived at a party no earlier than 12:15 am and likely around 12:30 am.

Light snow was falling in the area that night, but nothing that should have affected her driving.

This leaves only 90 minutes or so for a lot to occur including her socializing at the gathering, something happening, those responsible or persons on the scene deciding what to do, having someone find her car keys, then a person driving the car to the Dutchburn place, and finally crashing it (at a very slow speed) into the barn. The strict timeline certainly does not favor such an idea.

Second, why would Brianna’s broken necklace be on the ground at the farmhouse and not at the party? Did it break at the party and then somehow get stuck to the person moving Brianna’s car? It just does not sound likely.

Third, if the idea was to relocate Brianna’s car from the party site, would there not be 1,000 better spots to dump a car as opposed to slowly backing the old Buick into a farmhouse that is plainly visible from a two lane highway?

She had to drive about ten miles from Montgomery Village to Richford, have whatever happen there, and then be transported or at least her vehicle be driven back to within a mile of her workplace. Why?

In sum, the theory that something happened at another location and Brianna’s car was driven to and left at the Dutchburn farmhouse does not seem likely when considering the three key pieces of information described above.

I’ll continue with a third theory on Brianna’s disappearance next time—one that I’ll argue is very possible.

Previous posts on this case can be accessed by clicking the keyword “Brianna Maitland” on the left margin of the home page.

Alarm Clocks and Joblessness

Programming Note: I am late on my usual missing person post for Monday. I hope to have it ready for tomorrow.

My current read is sociologist Dr. William Wilson’s book "When Work Disappears" about the effects of joblessness in the ghetto.

On page 39, Wilson includes this quote from a 29-year old unemployed South Side male discussing one “challenge” in finding employment:

You gotta go out in the suburbs, but I can’t get out there. The bus go out there but you don’t want to catch the bus out there, going two hours each ways.

If you have to be at work at eight that mean you have to leave for work at six, that mean you have to get up at five to be at work by eight…”
Should I be more disappointed with:

1) this guy complaining that setting his alarm clock for before 6 am is too much of a burden to secure full-time employment; or,

2) that Dr. Wilson actually believes that the man’s quote strengthens Wilson case in arguing for the creation of mammoth social programs to alleviate factors like this that he argues are causing joblessness in urban America?

I believe it is the latter.

With the South Sider’s preference for sleeping, I guess the fellow eliminates farmer, police officer, fire fighter, EMT, cattle rancher, and plenty of other possibilities from his job search as well.

In addition, it is a good thing that I am not a sworn officer anymore or Wilson’s inclusion of racial profiling by police in the book as an impediment to urban residents trying to work would have been insulting—-especially since his charges are supported using no empirical evidence, but instead couched in colorful anecdotal resident stories.

Law enforcement folks just love reading books penned by sociologists.

Awkward Family Photos

The website Awkward Family is a fun stop if you have a few minutes for a laugh.

Their niche is described as:
Let’s be honest– we’ve all got them. At some point in our lives, someone close to us has made us pose for an uncomfortable photo. Well, here’s your chance to share your family’s awkwardness with the world. Submit family photos, wedding photos, vacation photos, engagement photos, baby photos, etc!
Why is it that just about every family photo taken between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s is at the least borderline hilarious?

What were we all thinking back then?

This family photo posted on July 7 appears to have been taken more recently than the hippie-disco-GenXer time frame mentioned above, but is none the less “awkward”:

Oh well, I going back to researching their old posts to ensure that none of Slam’s goofy family shots are in the site's archives…

Off the Beaten Path #11: Lookout Towers

After the intense cold winter temperatures and the sizeable snowfalls are a speck in the rear view mirror of the seasons, Big Sky country becomes much more appealing to visit. For persons interested in outdoor activities, the state of Montana offers fantastic fishing, hunting, bicycling, camping, and hiking opportunities.

One unique activity in Montana involves soaking up the view from historic towers. The US Forest Service provides plenty of access to visitors interested in seeing old lookouts. For decades, this network of towers was manned by agency personal and served as a critical early warning system for forest fires. In recent years, this job was replaced by aerial and other high-tech spotters; thus rendering the lookout towers obsolete.

Fortunately, someone had the good of idea of allowing interested travelers the chance to rent a fire tower for the night. Accommodations vary, but most are equipped with a small stove, food cupboards, bed, and other basic necessities. One thing that each fire tower will offer is a 360-degree view of the countryside’s rugged natural beauty.

One such experience can be secured at the Yaak Mountain Lookout. Located six miles north of Troy, MT near the Canadian border, this site features a forty-five foot treated lumber tower with locking access gate. The lookout can be reached by vehicle using paved and dirt roads.

Yaak Lookout’s tower height is 4,995 feet above sea level, and offers 144 square feet of interior space. It is located in the Kootenai National Forest and the site has been used by authorities since 1917.

When researching tower visits, I found that you do have to be careful. Discussing their stay at the Gem Peak Lookout Tower (also in Northern Montana), Dave and Diane relayed their experience:

…Finding the Gem Peak fire tower was easy. Although it was a 25 mile drive along back woods gravel roads, there were plenty of signs at all the intersections. This was also unfortunate in that it made it a lot easier for every Tom, Dick and Harry to also find the fire tower.

Also the access road was not gated and the tower was not locked. This meant that we had visitors to the tower and any hour of the day or night.

People would drive up and walk up to the catwalk and expect to walk around, irregardless (sic) of the fact that you were renting the tower. This was the worst fire tower that we've rented from the point of view of privacy.

The interior of the tower cabin was in the worst shape of any other tower. With so many day people coming up and accessing the tower, there had been a lot of use and abuse...
Nevertheless, after doing a little due diligence to select the appropriate site visit, spending a summer evening watching eagles soar and then staring at the stars while perched high atop an enclosed fire tower would be quite the experience.

On a side note, if I ever do make it up that far North, no visit to Montana would be complete without a stop at Little Bighorn National Park in Crow Agency (Southern Montana); the site of General George Armstrong Custer’s demise.

Lookout towers for rent in other states can be found here.

Note: Images were used from this site.

More than Luck

The recent rescue of a twelve year old girl from the Indian Ocean after her plane crashed enroute to Yemen is nothing short of miraculous.

A boat responding to the plane’s distress call found Bahia Bakari in 16 foot waves trying to grasp a floating piece of wood. Bakari, who had been in the water for 13 hours, suffered only a broken collarbone and hypothermia. It is believed that the other 150+ passengers and crew perished.

CNN dove-tailed their coverage of the Yemen incident with this amazing survival story:

…It was Christmas Eve, 1971, when (Juliane) Koepcke, then aged 17, and her mother boarded a Lockheed Electra turboprop for a flight from Lima, Peru, to Pucallpa in the Amazonian rainforest. Her parents, both famous zoologists, ran a research station in the jungle studying wildlife.

The airline, LANSA, had already lost two aircraft in previous crashes. "We knew the airline had a bad reputation," Koepcke told CNN, "but we desperately wanted to be with my father for Christmas, so we figured it would be alright."

The flight was supposed to last for less than an hour and for the first 25 minutes everything was fine, Koepcke recalled.

"Then we flew into heavy clouds and the plane started shaking. My mother was very nervous. Then to the right we saw a bright flash and the plane went into a nose dive. My mother said, 'This is it!'"

An accident investigation later found that one of the fuel tanks of the Lockheed Electra had been hit by a bolt of lightning which had torn the right wing off.

"We were headed straight down. Christmas presents were flying around the cabin and I could hear people screaming."

As the plane broke into pieces in midair, Koepcke was thrust out into the open air:

"Suddenly there was this amazing silence. The plane was gone. I must have been unconscious and then came to in midair. I was flying, spinning through the air and I could see the forest spinning beneath me."

Then Koepcke lost consciousness again. She fell more than three kilometers (two miles) into the jungle canopy but miraculously survived with only minor injuries. Ninety-one other people aboard Flight 508 died…

Her collarbone was broken, her right eye swollen shut, she was suffering concussion and had large gashes on her arms and legs.

"I didn't wake up until nine o'clock the next morning. I know this because my watch was still working. So I must have been unconscious the whole afternoon and the night. When I came to I was alone, just me ... and my row of seats."

Her ordeal was far from over. Rescue planes and search crews were unable to locate the crash site and Koepcke was stranded in the jungle alone. But she had spent years on the research station with her parents and her father had taught her how to survive in the rainforest -- she knew how to cope in that environment.

"He said if you find a creek, follow it because that will lead to a stream and a stream will lead to a bigger river and that's where you'll find help."

The day after the crash she found a creek and started to wade down stream, but it was tough going. The only food she had was some candy she had found at the crash site and her wounds were quickly infested with parasites.

"I had a cut on my arm and after a few days I could feel there was something in it. I took a look and a fly had laid her eggs in the hole. It was full of maggots. I was afraid I would lose my arm.

Later, after I was rescued it was treated and more than 50 maggots were found inside. I still wonder how so many maggots could have fitted into that little hole, it was no bigger than a one euro coin."

As she travelled downstream, Koepcke discovered more wreckage from the plane -- and found some of the crash victims...
You can read more of the CNN article and learn how Koepcke reaches freedom by going here.

Luck or divine intervention (whatever your preference) plays a role in all of these unbelievable stories. The will to live, displayed in treading water for 13 hours in a violent ocean or walking solo in the jungle while collecting leeches and dodging crocs, must then be matched with the person’s good fortune to stand a chance at survival.

Note: The image is from CNN's website of Juliane Koepcke.

Tuber of the Week #15: Three Minutes

One secret of parenting is buying three minutes of free time to accomplish some task. Whether the obligation is fun or mundane, distracting the curtain climbers for a short period can be a challenge.

Some parents rely on toys with flashing lights while others go for the traditional approach—a television displaying Barney, Elmo, or some other popular children’s show. For maybe the funniest and most innovative purchase of a few minutes of peace while traveling, Erin over at the Fierce Beagle had a priceless post.

For me (being less creative and having fewer well garments), I rely on the trusty laptop with Internet access for child entertainment. Whether traveling or enjoying the wireless router at home, sites like YouTube allow me to quickly choose from thousands of potentially interesting yet temporary distractions.

With that site, I can pick from a range of Wiggles show clips, popular kid movies like Monsters Inc., and animated commercials made by Pixar.

The end result is three or four minutes that I can use efficiently.

One of the little ones’ favorite videos over at the Tube is a song by musician Eric Herman. "The Elephant Song" leaves them laughing, trying to remember which animal is next, and enamored with the computer screen for, well, three minutes and six seconds. Herman’s tune is catchy, but I should warn you that it sticks—-you may be whistling it four hours from now:

Warning: This technique should not be overused as too much of a good thing is not without consequence as I learned the hard way. One time, I returned to my laptop after the kids did not apparently like the selected video I left them with to find that the youngest delinquent had pulled three keys out of my keyboard.

At least this learning experience allowed me to develop a marketable skill in computer repair.

Kissing the Boss

Romantic relationships develop in every field of work. Some employers ignore the issue, some address them as they occur, while others have stringent policies against dating among employees.

Most police agencies have specific policies against romances involving members of the same line of supervision or chain of command. Obviously, these encounters can be demoralizing, damaging to the public trust, and most of all, a liability magnet—an area that no government official wants increased exposure.

I initially saw this story referenced on Making national headlines, a recent videoed encounter between two police officers has resulted in a large controversy for a small law enforcement agency in Ohio:

…The police chief of a northeast Ohio township has retired after a video became public showing him and a female office kissing and caressing in the front of a police cruiser while a prisoner was in the back seat.

Timothy Escola retired Tuesday night after four years with the Perry Township police department about 50 miles south of Cleveland. Law Director Charles Hall says Escola's retirement closes an internal investigation.
You can watch the dashboard video from the cruiser over at the local newspaper’s (Canton (OH) Repository) website as they have additional coverage including emails between the two persons.

Just to caution you, the video is not graphic at all, but you may feel a little like a peeping-tom after viewing it--I sure did.

The incident is sad to watch knowing that both are married and that there is a prisoner in the back seat, but I was particularly disappointed in Officer Janine England’s (the other officer in the video) prepared statement that was released through her attorney:

“Being a female police officer in a predominantly male profession comes with its own set of challenges. Notwithstanding those challenges, officer England, who has an exemplary professional record, recognizes that the conduct in the police cruiser was inappropriate.”
What is wrong with this statement?

How about it: 1) leads with excuse (one I would describe as lame); 2) lacks an apology for her own behavior; and, 3) fails to apologize or acknowledge how her actions have compromised the public’s trust in her department; thereby making the jobs of other officers that much more difficult.

Taking responsibility for mistakes, apologizing, and then recognizing others (including the agency) that have been negatively impacted by poor behavior should always be a priority in these situations.

Stating that she was ashamed of her actions and apologizing to her family, colleagues, and citizens of the community for how the incident has detracted from the law enforcement mission of her agency would have been a much better approach to encourage forgiveness.

Not surprising the female officers at were also underwhelmed with England’s statement.

The former chief’s statement is here.

Officials decided not to take any disciplinary action against Officer England, and the inquiry into the chief’s behavior ended when he announced his retirement from the agency.

Part XII: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the twelfth 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.

I’ll delay finishing my thoughts on the case to further discuss potential photos of the missing woman.

In a previous post, I discussed how a citizen reported to authorities that a woman who resembled Maitland was seen with a man at a New Jersey casino almost two years after her disappearance. Police investigated and were able to locate grainy security camera images of the young brunette who was accompanied by a male white. The images were enhanced, shown to the family, and then released to the public.

This is one of the pictures:

As I stated before, the family was initially unsure if the woman in the security video was their missing daughter. After closer examination, I remember reading that they do not believe it is her, but are still not completely certain.

Several years ago, the Maitland family hosted an web-based discussion board on their daughter’s disappearance. I believe the site was important as family members, several people with insider-knowledge of the case, and the general public interacted. Not only did the board allow the case to remain fresh for persons interested in the woman’s disappearance, but it also promoted participation. As one would guess, case followers began examining the casino images more closely.

First, once the images were made available, a reader named Peter created comparison photos of the woman in the casino with Maitland’s photos. The chins, noses, mouths, and facial shape of the two people were posted so that readers could compare and debate. Peter has followed the case closely for many years now, and was kind enough to send me the following side-by-side facials that were compared.

Is this woman Brianna Maitland?

Second, authorities had little to go on in identifying the casino couple. From the video, it appears that the man is wearing a t-shirt with a logo. Unfortunately, the quality of the images makes it difficult to read or identify much else about either person.

Again, the boarders went to work and soon the man’s logo/shirt design was enhanced and posted to the board for discussion. After much debate, a Maitland case insider tells me that the shirt logo was believed to be of the rock group Avenged Sevenfold. Not the big break that everyone was hoping for, but still added more information to the mix.

Did this information identify the man or woman at the casino? No, but it did show the potential of interested persons from all over the world brainstorming about a missing person case and providing relevant insights.

I am having discussions with some others that were involved in Brianna’s case and I hope to have some of the discussions posted to the blog soon.

Freedom is Not Free

Amidst the barbecues and fireworks, the 4th of July is also a reminder that our freedom did not come free.

The decoration commonly referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest military recognition awarded by the US government.

Of the Medal of Honor awardees, 2,404 served in the Army, 746 the Navy, 297 the Marine Corps, 17 the Air Force, and 1 in the US Coast Guard.

With its roots going back to 1790, the US Coast Guard was officially established in 1915.

This is the heroic story of Douglas Munro--the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient:

It was 27 Sept., 1942. Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro wouldn't see the 28th.

Munro, the first and only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor, had been aboard the seaplane tender Ballard.

Anchored just off Guadalcanal, the ship received word that 500 men from the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, had met fierce resistance from the Japanese and were pinned down on the beach, their backs to the sea. So bad was it that the Marines had begun to stack dead bodies - like sandbags - for cover.

Munro immediately volunteered to lead five Higgins boats in to get them out.

The signalman and his crew stayed low in the small boats as lead whistled and screamed overhead. As they neared the island the anguished cries and moans of wounded Marines grew louder, until a gentle bump followed by a scraping sound told the rescue team they had arrived in hell.

The gray-helmeted Munro and his crew swung into action. The evacuation had begun.

The Higgins boats, too small to remove all of the Marines at one time, made several trips from the island to ships.

Near the end of the mission, when only a few Marines remained on the beach, enemy fire intensified, pinning them once again.

Munro recognized immediately that the Marines were in an untenable position, and their deaths were imminent. He quickly placed his vessel between the beachhead and the enemy, thus drawing the fire to himself.

When the last Marine was huddled safely behind the boat, Munro grabbed one of the Higgin's two guns and released a murderous burst of return fire, trying desperately to hold the enemy off until Marines could be taken aboard. Moments later he was mortally wounded. His crew, injured themselves, carried on until the last boat arrived and cleared the beach.

Munro maintained consciousness long enough to utter these last four words: "Did they get off?"

Assured that they had, he slowly closed his eyes and entered eternity. He died knowing he had successfully completed his last mission…
Just trying to keep the Fourth and all other patriotic celebrations in perspective…

Note: The photo is of Munro at age 3 and is from the Coast Guard’s site.

Poems from the Battlefield

Note: My Off the Beaten Path travel post will appear next week.

I saw that poet and author Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt just released two new books “Poems from the Battlefield” and “What Would You Rather Be? a game for kids of all ages.”

For a few years during my childhood, we lived near Manassas National Military Park in Northern Virginia (one of Katherine’s favorite poetry places). I have wonderful memories of running on the trails there and posing for pictures next to cannons. With my dad being career military, I have always been interested in history—especially from the Civil War period.

This is a summary of Katherine’s battlefield poetry book:

Poems from the Battlefield captures unique aspects of the Civil War in Manassas and Prince William County, Virginia. Using persona, metaphor, photos and quotes, Gotthardt brings readers from contemporary park experiences back to the days of the Civil War, offering multiple perspectives and rare insight.

Gotthardt does not seek to relay details of history or battles. Rather, she offers a collection of powerful impressions, images, and emotion, as well as obvious bewilderment at how easily we invite our own destruction.
Katherine was also gracious enough to speak with me about her Civil War project:

Question #1

Me: What inspired you to write poems about Manassas and Prince William County?

Katherine: I moved to PWC in 1999. Having two small children, I realized I needed some meditation space, and as they grew to school-age, I had more time to explore those spaces. Manassas Battlefield Park was the most obvious and intriguing choice.

For at least two years, I spent 5-6 hours per week there, hiking and taking photos. The hikes thrilled me. I kept finding more and more trails, seeing more and more wildlife and learning more and more about what happened in those fields. It was quite an adventure.

Since I've always written poetry, it seemed natural that poetry made a nest in my head whenever I went out there. I wrote a few poems based on my impressions, but it wasn't until I came out with "Poem from the Battlefield" that I realized I had a theme going. I wasn't in any particular hurry to get a book out, but my long-term plan was to use my hiking time to think, write and daydream while getting healthier.

In 2005, I was the victim of a rape (mentioned briefly in the book's afterward). Among other things, the trauma prevented me from hiking the way I had prior. Though the crime didn't take place in the Battlefield, I was no longer capable of going many places without having panic attacks. I continued to work on the poetry, but by then, it was taking a darker turn.

My own battle with PTSD and depression worked as conscious and unconscious metaphor within the Civil War poetry focusing on the people I imagined had lived through the battles in Manassas and PWC.

As I got better, I wanted to walk the battlefields again, but I needed something closer and less remote. I had been putting off going into Brentsville (because it seemed I was always on my way to someplace else when I passed) but finally got in there. What a treasure! I got to tour the Courthouse Center and Bristoe Station. The more I learned, the more I took pictures, the more I wanted to get back to my Battlefield collection.

In the meantime, I checked out the Manassas Museum a few times. All I can say is, I am thankful for the people who have worked to preserve the history of this area.

By the time I got down to the final book revisions, I realized I wanted more than what I had started out with which were a couple of light, pretty pieces about trails, fields and forests. I wanted to get into the psyche of the people who had lived through the war. I wanted to really connect with these people because I believe that is the only way to really understand history, especially if we are not historians, which I am not. To understand history, we need to understand the people.

It turned out to be quite a healing process. When I looked at what had happened then, what is happening now in our country, and what has happened in my own life, I had this mind-blowing feeling of connectedness between ages. I know that probably sounds silly, but for me, it was a major "Ah Ha!" moment that put everything in perspective.

I came away from the writing believing certain truths. Among those are:

1. Our country, from the federal level down to the local levels, is still in a civil war. We just don't see as much blood.

2. Most of us have a disconnect with history we have not personally lived. It isn't real to us. It's still too easy to dismiss as irrelevant.

3. Historical and natural preservation are highly valued by some, but not by enough. Compared to other countries, our history is short. We MUST preserve as much of that as we can, not only intellectually and in print, but physically, as we move into the future.

4. "History" might not be what first comes to mind when you hear PWC or Manassas, but it SHOULD be. When people hear "Gettysburg," they think "history." It should be no different here. This area is so much more than it is currently perceived to be.

Question #2

Me: During your visits to these sites, did you see vandalism or other criminal activity as a threat to preserving the area’s history?

Katherine: I saw only a few minor things when I was hiking the Manassas Battlefields, particularly in the more remote areas (which I used to visit alone, but not anymore).

Stuart's Hill, Manassas Battlefield's most recent acquisition, still has piles of "stuff" like tires and rusty car frames, that kind of thing, within site of the trails. There is evidence of partying going on--beer bottles and such. I often wonder if homeless people camp out there, but I've never seen that because the park is closed at night.

Stuart's Hill also has a large hill full of junk that was dumped. Last time I saw the pile (3 months ago?), it included a stove, tires, etc.

Once when hiking Stuart's Hill, I saw three guys (late 20's?) off the trail. It looked like they were digging behind a log or something, and they looked up in that way that tells you they weren't supposed to be doing whatever it was they were doing. Since I was still in my PTSD era when I saw this, I was completely freaked out and imagined the worst.

I have never seen vandalism on the monuments at any of the sites I've visited.
With my second question, I was curious if she was seeing the same types of property crimes that Gettysburg National Park has experienced. It is difficult to write about a historical landmark if it is consistently being defaced. Fortunately, that has not been Katherine’s experience.

Thanks to Katherine for her inspiring story and best wishes with the books.

Officer Dummkopf #1: An Incorrect Exit Strategy

This is the first installment of a new series of posts that I want to write. After thinking about some of the wonderful police blogs that are available and the endless content of continuous heart-stopping action, I decided that describing some of my less than inspiring moments on the job might be a fun niche.

Though this is the first formal post about the misadventures of Officer Dummkopf, it probably should be numbered 1b-—as 1a is included in this post about how I inadvertently aided a car thief in his great escape.

“21” The police dispatcher’s soft drawl breaking the radio silence on what had been a quiet morning on the graveyard shift.
“21” Being the eager officer fresh from the academy, I immediately replied hoping to get a hot call.
“10-43 at Riverpoint Apartments, 221 Hastings Place, Apartment L-3. Talk to an officer about problems with a neighbor.”
“10-4” I replied frowning.
Well, that is about as far removed from a hot call as one can receive. Maybe the problem will be with the neighbor’s dog stealing laundry off a clothes line, I thought, and I can get into a foot pursuit or something—-I didn’t have time to workout before my shift anyway.

“21-97” I chirped over the air to let the dispatcher know that I was on scene of this critical police call; somewhat disappointed that none of my colleagues were interested in taking the loud music/barking dog/all of the above apartment dweller complaint call for me so I could go back to “real policing.”
At apartment L-3, the front door opened after one knock. Behind the partially opened door, I could see another smaller closed door (probably a closet). I was ushered by a friendly face away from the two doors and into the apartment’s living room where two older females stood.

The talker was a middle aged fellow who was translating for the women as they only spoke broken English. It seems that the older women needed the handicapped parking space adjacent to their building, but one of their young fully-fit neighbors evidently used the handicapped spot regularly when no other places nearby were open (more specifically if he had to walk more than 15 feet to his stairwell).

The offending neighbor’s car was not currently parked in the handicapped zone, and the folks just wanted some advice on how to prevent the situation from happening in the future.

After explaining the process that involved talking to their apartment manager and getting the handicapped parking spaces properly marked, they seemed content. I answered their couple of questions and handed the talker a complaint card with my name on it. I added that they were welcome to pass the information along to their building manager if he/she needed any further explanation.

I said my goodbyes to all, felt good that despite being a new officer my informational speech seemed confident and effortless. Yes, I thought to myself, I am getting the hang of this cop thing.

I turned, walked away from the living room and back toward the two doors.

I grasped the gold knob on the left, and in mid-pull realized what I had done. The smaller door swung open and I was staring directly at a closet stuffed full of women’s coats with a couple of handmade quilts on a top shelf above a clothing rack.

“And if you need anything else from me, I’ll be here in your closet,” I declared.
After my goof, we all had a nice laugh (as stupidity does cross language barriers). I exited apartment L-3, this time through the correct larger door, a few more shades of red than when I entered.

I was definitely glad that no other officer had dropped by to see how my big call was progressing.