Scaring Me

I am delaying my regularly schedule post on The Death of Nikki LaDue January until Tuesday. 

I thought this would be more appropriate for Halloween.

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As a child, I attended a friend's birthday party, and his parents took the group of boys to the movies.  I had no idea what we were going to see, it was just always fun enjoying the tub of popcorn and a large soda there; especially since I wasn't paying.

That was until the boy's dad got us in to see The Amityville Horror

All I knew was that it was based on a true story.

And the movie had a predictable effect on me--I was scared silly.

Despite hiding my eyes from the screen as much as possible, I still slept with the light on for a couple of years.

I never told my parents, and they had no idea why adequate lighting became so important for me.

Based on a true story and real life experiences, still get to me.

As such and on Halloween, I thought I would select two previous posts that illustrate what scares me:

1) The Blogger

He hits the snooze multiple times when his alarm goes off. 

His breakfast included a granola bar at his work desk.

He sees a police car and wonders if the officer recognizes him.

Why is this online writer and his blog, Blogging the Fifth Nail, different?

Well it is the author, not the content.

You can go here to read about Mr. Duncan.

2) The Deception

When speaking to youth on dangerous situations, I am a firm believer that if I create a PowerPoint presentation of things not to do and talk in generalities, my message will not be well received. 

The audience will yawn and spend the time texting and daydreaming.

As such, offering powerful examples of an issue are essential in creating an appealing message.

Like with the dangers of social media; specifically people may not always be who you think they are.

This was illustrated, via a hammer, in the case of a teen named Justin Bloxum--and his unfortunate encounter with Brian Douglas Horn.

To read about this deadly deception, you can go here.

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Happy Halloween to those who celebrate it.  

American Picker

Background Notes for this Post:

1) For my international readers, Goodwill Industries International, host of the site "ShopGoodwill" that I discuss in this post, is a non-profit active in the US and Canada that focuses on helping to employ folks.  They are very active in assisting persons with disabilities find meaningful work. 

2) Though the item described below is a religious item, I did not select it specifically to condone such a practice.  It just so happens that the item best illustrated my lesson.

3) I did not receive any compensation or benefit from mentioning the site ShopGoodwill in today's post.  Actually, I'll probably be in the doghouse when older son learns that I describe his favorite treasure hunting website--thinking that it will somehow increase the number of bidders there.

Ok, now that is out of the way...
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Though my interest in crime and investigations are generally not an appropriate topic for our ten-year-old son, it still does not mean that the same approach to solving mysteries cannot be used in other areas of life.

His most recent hobby is to pretend he is a "picker" and visit yard sales looking for a discarded item that is really a hidden treasure.

One of the local dog and cat rescue organizations recently had an indoor yard sale, and he came home with a few vintage toys, lamps, and an old Looney Tunes watch.  These items were purchased for pocket change, but are worth much more.

To help him understand how real pickers research and assign value to items, I used this example involving a painting that just sold on ShopGoodwill's auction site--a place online where Goodwill sells items that were donated to their organization.

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ITEM: Original Framed Painting

ITEM DESCRIPTION: 1918 Crown of Thorns Oil Ptg. Signed Hagenaber. First initial appears to be an "R", but I am uncertain. Condition issues: one scratch resulting in loss of paint on upper right edge; square indentation to canvas caused by stretcher bars; two white marks on left portion of image; whitish residue on lower edge; canvas loose within frame....piece measures approx. 14 1/8" x 19 3/4", framed.



So, it is appears to be an old painting by an unknown artist.

Step #1: Examine the Artist's Signature

It is important to realize that the good folks at Goodwill do the best they can, but they are not experts and spend the day busily posting items for sale online.  They have limited time to research paintings and other potential antiques--as there is a pile of stuff waiting to be processed for sale. 

So, to learn more about this painting and the artist, start with the signature: "Hagenaber." 


In the photo, the letters are difficult to decipher.  Maybe it is Hagenaber, maybe not.

Step #2: Search for the Artist

When the name "Hagenaber" is Googled, the results reveal, well, nothing.  No painter.  No artist.  Actually no information on anyone by that name.  A red flag. 

If the name is spelled correctly, certainly someone somewhere with that name would have been returned. 

Step #3: (if Step #2 reveals nothing) Modify the Artist's Name and Conduct Additional Searches

So, begin trying other possible combinations of the letters.

With a keen eye and/or some luck, the name "Hagenauer" is tried, and we learn there was an artist by that name with the first initial "R."

One of the search records reveals this gem of information:


Smithsonian Institution
Painter: Hagenauer, R.
Medium:oil: Oil on canvas. canvas
Type:Paintings
Date:1800-1914
Topic:Religion--New Testament--Christ
Control number:IAP 9A450004
Notes:Owner, 1990, 1997
Summary:Half-length figure of Christ in white and red robe; stigmata evident on Christ's palms

So, none other than the Smithsonian Institute possesses an oil painting by R. Hagenauer, and the theme of the work is Christian.

Unfortunately, there is no image online where one could compare the signatures, but it is strong circumstantial evidence (name, time frame, technique, subject matter, etc.) that the painting at Goodwill and the one in the Smithsonian's collection are by the same artist.

Step #4: Assign a Value

Obviously, this is difficult.

E-Bay's selling history database or other tools can be used to determine what folks have paid for specific works of art. Also, one could find current selling prices for paintings by the artist to get a feel for value (remembering that what people pay for something and the price on an unsold item are two very different concepts).

In this case, that information does not appear to be available online, so using a pay-for art research service or having an expert examine it would be a next step if valuation is necessary.

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I do believe that the Shop Goodwill buyer of this early 20th Century work by "R. Hagenauer" got a fantastic deal in that the purchase price was a whopping $21.

Twenty-one bucks for an artist whose work is featured in the Smithsonian?

I'd say that was an overlooked treasure; and not the last to be found at yard sales or online, if someone uses a well-designed approach and has the patience. 

And the son had fun with this exercise as well.

Extreme Cannonballer

Watching this incident unfold, must have been quite a shock:

A man who fled an ambulance Thursday and dropped 80 feet into the Oklahoma River was captured by authorities and identified as someone wanted on a robbery charge in Colorado.

...police first responded to reports that a man had been hit by a car in the parking lot of Walmart in the 5500 block of Tinker Diagonal.

An ambulance from Midwest Regional Medical Center responded and was transporting the man to OU Medical Center when the incident at the bridge occurred.

Larry Terry, director of Midwest Regional Emergency Medical Services, said the patient assaulted a paramedic while en route.

The paramedic was not seriously injured, but in response to the disturbance the driver of the ambulance stopped in the westbound lanes of the I-40 bridge.

Paramedics and police, who were following the ambulance, then saw the patient (Eugene David Overton) exit the vehicle, lower himself from the edge of the bridge and drop 80 feet into the water.

He then swam to the shoreline and ran off.

The average depth of the Oklahoma River is 7 or 8 feet.

Jumping 80 feet and taking your chances that you are going to hit a deep spot?

Wow, that is spinning the roulette wheel with your life.

I think it is safe to say Mr. "Extreme Cannonballer" Overton now has less than nine lives.

Messin with the Spouse

Waiting at pick-up time in the lobby of the church that houses our youngest son's preschool, I entertain myself by reading the bulletin boards.

Potluck Dinner on Wednesday.

An exercise class for senior adults is seeking new members.

Information on collecting used eyeglasses.

With just me, myself, and I to talk to, I look outside.  All is quiet.

I realize that being alone here is odd.

I get that worrisome feeling.

Where is everyone?  Did the kids take a field trip today and I forgot that the pick-up location had changed?

No kids.  No teachers.  No parents.

Strange.

By the door the church's security alarm is visible, and I see the clock "11:15 am."

11:15 am?  That can't be right!  I left my car to walk in this door at 11: 20 am.

The car's clock. 

The Mrs. must have changed it.

The clock had been 4-5 minutes slow for sometime, and she must have changed it.

The new time displayed is 10 minutes fast.

She got me--inadvertently of course.

But still.

Well, I twiddled my thumbs for a little while longer, and eventually teachers, parents, and noisy little ones appeared.

And as a typical husband, I immediately began plotting my revenge.

Hmm.

Should I leave my muddy grass-covered mowing shoes on the front porch near the entry door to greet all visitors who enter?  How about that?

Um, no, that is where my shoes are right now.

Ok, should I leave the toilet seat lid in the upright position for an entire week?

Wait, no, I have been doing that for the more than a dozen years of marriage.

Well, I'll just leave my razor clippings partially cleaned-up in the sink.

Yeah.

Hold on.  Man, I thought I cleaned up all those tiny disgusting hairs this morning.  I guess I missed a few on the porcelain...

Well.

On second thought, perhaps resetting the car clock is no big deal, and the Mrs. deserves to give me 50 or 60 more "gotchas" just to call it an "Even Stephen" between us.

Now to go clean that sink...   

The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part X

Continuing with the LaDue January case.
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Case Summary

In July of 2002, the body of Nikki LaDue January was found seated on the balcony of her condominium in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  Officers stated that she had a single gun shot wound to her right temple area.

A Sterling .380 caliber pistol was partially under her left thigh on a chair, her right leg was propped up against the table in front of her, and a cordless phone on the table was covered in blood.



There were two different brands of cigarettes and two different lighters on the table in front of her.

A bullet was located in a chair on the next balcony, and a shell casing was later found by a maintenance man in the condo's pool.

Ms. January had apparently been deceased for several hours, and her five-year old son was found in the residence unharmed.

Authorities at the scene quickly classified the death as a suicide. 

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Additional Oddities 

In the previous nine posts on the death of Nikki LaDue January, I have discussed multiple facets of the investigation--including Nikki's behavior the night before her life ended, the crime scene, the 911 call, police response, etc.

Here are three additional aspects of the case.

1) The Bullet

Note: The description of the bullet's trajectory was taken from the family's site here

Authorities determined that Ms. LaDue January was shot once in the head.  A physician who was hired by the family to conduct an independent autopsy confirmed this and theorized that the victim died near instantly.

Based on the findings of Pass Christian Police Detective Tom Putsay, the bullet entered Nikki’s right temple and exited through a tiny hole above her left ear.  The family stated that the exit would was so small that three different funeral directors were unable to locate it.

After passing through Nikki, the investigator believes the round then hit the wall about 5 feet from the floor and just inches to Nikki’s left. 

The bullet then ricocheted into the aluminum door frame on the same wall, and bounced back onto a chair on the adjacent balcony.

Unfortunately, no photos or diagrams were constructed to document the theory.

The family asks a valid question: How does a round fired from a .380 handgun (not the most powerful gun), do this yet leave such a small exit wound?  

I can see their concern, but could envision this happening.

If the gun was pressed to the victim's temple when fired (as is believed) and the projectile was not significantly slowed as it passed through her head, the bullet's velocity could have followed the flight path Detective Putsay projects.

The problem with this theory is that authorities did not observe blood spatter or other discharge on the wall behind the deceased woman--where the bullet is believed to have been bouncing around.

Was the spatter there and not photographed or otherwise documented?

Or was it just not present?

Related to the bullet--the maintenance man who recovered a shell casing from the pool near Nikki's condo, believed it to be from a 9 mm handgun and not a .380.

Again, and unfortunately, the caliber of the bullet described in the police report and the type of shell casing recovered from the pool were not listed by authorities.

In sum, authorities describe a bullet and a shell casing found at the scene.  No specifics about either piece of evidence was recorded, and the items have apparently disappeared (unclear whether they made it to the police property room or not)--so testing is not possible.

2) Nikki's Car

Nikki owned a convertible and took excellent care of it.  Reportedly, Nikki was very security conscience--making sure that her vehicle and her music selections were secured.  On the morning police had arrived and were investigating the woman's death, Nikki's babysitter (the woman who had taken care of her son the night before her death) was told that Nikki had been found dead, and drove over to the condo to speak to authorities. 

Though police determined that a statement from the babysitter was unnecessary, the woman noted that Nikki's car was parked in the condo's lot with the top down.

Evidently, Nikki had left all of her music and other personal items unsecured that night.

The family argues that if Nikki had meant to spend the night at the condo, she would not have left the top down in her car--exposing the interior to the elements and to potential thieves.

3) The Condo

Prior to the night of her death, Nikki and her son had been staying with Nikki's friend Nancy.  Nikki provided no specifics to her family, but indicated that she was afraid to stay at the condo.  Reportedly, she was also afraid of guns, but knew her husband carried one--and authorities believe she found that gun and used it to end her life after arguing with her husband on the phone. 

So, the condo represented a place of fear--yet Nikki decided to go back there with her young son the night before she moved out of state.

Did she go back just because it was more convenient to handle the move in the morning or was she there to meet someone?

Or, was she at the condo simply to have a private place to talk on the phone?

Family members stated that the condo was crammed full of items that were boxed and ready to be moved in the morning. 

The beds did not even have sheets on the them. 

Seemingly not the best place for her five-year old son to sleep.

So, it is reasonable to ask:

Did Nikki return to the condo that evening with the intention of staying the night or was she just there temporarily with plans to go elsewhere to sleep?

The scene as described would appear to favor the latter explanation.
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All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.

On Penn State Beaver

And even a rare Sunday night post from me...
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I saw this weekend that officials at Penn State Beaver had enacted parts of their safety plan after an apparent threat was made by a former student

The ex-student and former member of their basketball team, Michael Mollett, reportedly made threatening comments on Twitter referencing VA Tech--concerning enough for the school to cancel all activities this weekend and involve local, state, and federal (the FBI) law enforcement.

Authorities continue to search for Mollett who has outstanding criminal warrants.

Since it was supposed to be an open house at Penn State Beaver this weekend, I went over to the university's website to see what information they had regarding this potentially violent situation.

And, I found nothing.

The lead story on the homepage was "Fall Open House Click for Info" with the status of "Postponed: To Be Rescheduled."

I clicked on the story and it described the event with a canceled note and just this: "Watch this space for new date and time."

Nothing on why the event was canceled.

Nothing on the potentially violent situation involving the campus.

Nothing on who police are looking to apprehend--despite the guy having warrants. 

No information whatsoever for individuals arriving on campus. 

Now, I am certain university administrators acted in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act--in that officials disseminated campus safety information to students, parents, and employees.

But what about visitors interested in the open house or others traveling to the university this weekend?

Wouldn't posting some relevant information to their website been appropriate?

For university leaders--avoiding unnecessary bad publicity is understandably an issue, but those administrators certainly could have done more to inform others about the potential dangers the campus was/is facing.

Errant Fax

Talk about an early Christmas gift for a group of newspaper reporters.

They are working hard trying to develop several stories, when this falls into thier laps (or more like into their "Fax Received" tray):

St. Clair County Sheriff's Department (IL) records clerk Joann Reed wanted a speeding ticket for the son of a deputy dismissed, but she didn't go to a judge or jury in traffic court.

Instead, Reed faxed a copy of the Centreville Police Department's ticket from the Sheriff's Department's fax machine to Centreville village attorney Carmen Durso, with a handwritten message: "Dismiss this case."

The problem is, she didn't fax the ticket to Durso. Reed accidentally faxed it to the Belleville News-Democrat's newsroom.

"Guilty. Period," Reed said after a reporter questioned her about the errant fax.

The three-page message, signed by Reed, included a notice to appear because the 18-year-old alleged traffic violator failed to show up for court. The new court date is set for today.

"The guy is the son of one of our deputies," was handwritten on the notice to appear.

Reed, who unsuccessfully ran for Alorton mayor in 2009, told a reporter that statement wasn't true. She was doing it to help out a college student. She only wrote that to make sure the ticket was dismissed, she said.

Though one number of the address on the ticket was omitted and the last name wasn't the same as the deputy, reporters discovered the ticket was issued to the son of Cerether White, a St. Clair County sheriff's deputy.

The Centreville officer who wrote the ticket on Aug. 18 stated the 18-year-old motorist, Jonathon Yates, was driving 43 in a 20 mph zone, a ticket that carries a $175 fine.

Durso prosecutes municipal tickets in Centreville, but said he can't dismiss violations of state law -- such as speeding tickets...

When researching this story, I saw that some theorized that the clerk may have faxed the information to the newspaper on purpose--acting as a covert whistle-blower.

 I say: "No way."

When acting as a whistle-blower and providing a news outlet with potential evidence on a criminal or unsavory practice, the last thing the individual wants to do is cast a negative light on themselves.

In this case, Ms. Reed will likely lose her job, and  raised the anger of every citizen in Illinois who has received a traffic citation in the last decade.

Certainly not the outcome that someone simply looking to report an unfair practice would desire.

Anyway, I am unsure who is more embarrassed here, the clerk involved or her boss--Sheriff Mearl Justus, who launched an investigation into the incident.

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Have a good weekend everyone.

A Last Post

I was sorry to read that blogger Julie had lost her mother recently (Julie writes at the Midlife Job Hunter).

Her mom, Bernice Sucha, was 85-years old and also had a personal blog ( Old? Who? Me? ) that she had maintained for three years.

On her mom's blog, Julie posted Bernie's obituary, and a farewell note from another family member.

Bernie's readers now know that her blog has reached the end.

It reminded me about last posts for bloggers.

What if I suddenly passed away?

I have thought about about writing a brief last post, and then leaving specific instructions so that it can be posted here, but I have not finalized that plan.

Since I have been doing this blog thing for several years now, I'd want readers to know why the posts here suddenly stopped--rather than you all assuming that I won the lottery and now spend my free time playing shuffleboard on an island in the South Pacific.

So how about you? 

If you have a blog, do you have a final post written and someone to post it for you?

Have you thought about your last post?

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My prayers are with Julie and her family.

Tuber of the Week #46: Road Trip

Hearing automobile marketers tell us that their car is energy efficient, and a driver will rarely need to stop for fuel is, well, yawn-inducing.

Fortunately, the folks at Volkswagen used this creative approach in convincing us regarding the message above:



I have vivid memories of an 8 am Spanish class in high school--sleepy students who were less than excited to be there.

Listening to first part of the commercial and the blah pronunciations of "vamonos" and "gracias," gave me flashbacks to that time.

Nothing like hearing 30 high schoolers butcher a foreign language first thing in the morning.

Those were the days.

The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Interviewing Children

I am honored to host Momma Fargo from The Boogie Man is My Friend as a guest writer today.

She is a veteran police officer in the Western United States, and readers of her blog are instantly attracted to her humor and candor.

Momma Fargo is a former investigator and a certified forensic child interviewer, and I asked that she share her expertise on whether or not police should talk with a child who may or may not have been exposed to a violent incident.


I believe this topic to be relevant in the context of the death of Nikki LaDue January--when authorities chose not to speak to Nikki's five-year-old son who was present in the condo when his mother passed away.

And now, Momma Fargo.

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Witnesses can help an investigator include or exclude evidence, information, or facts.

Whether they are considered material or immaterial witnesses…shouldn’t be weighed until court time. Their statements should be obtained as soon as possible after an incident.

Children are witnesses often forgotten.

Mostly, investigators may overlook their importance because they are small and their minds are underdeveloped. However, when they are present during an incident, they hold pieces to a puzzle that may make all the difference in a case.

I learned of their value when I became a forensic child interviewer and for many years investigated crimes against children. Finding that children behold valuable information at a young age is an understatement.

Taking the training one step further, I used my skills in homicides when the children were witnesses to a crime.

What age is too young to gather information?

I don’t think we really know a definite age, but we do know it depends upon the cognitive skills of a child. In a homicide case, I interviewed a child who was only 3 years old and her brother was only 4 years. They were both below the age I had ever interviewed a child before for any reason. It was a shot in the dark.

Forensic interviews are geared to be child friendly and gather information that doesn’t harm the child. They focus on only what is real, not allowing pretend or to introduce things to the child they didn’t experience or see. These methods were designed to obtain a true statement.

In 2002, two young children were present in the home when their mother was brutally killed by their father.

They watched this happen, this I am sure. The interviews took place at our Children’s Advocacy Center where the forensic interviews were conducted.

Using forensic interviews in a homicide case was new to us and we were treading on unknown territory in the legal realm as well. The children’s information was used to obtain a search warrant. The search warrant was crucial in getting into the home where we later found the woman’s body inside a duffel bag. The interviews did not come up in trial.

The children’s interviews were video and audio taped.

I still have them. I don’t need to watch them to know what they said. It will be forever ingrained in my head and I have spoken of it often in trainings.

The daughter stated things in her interview such as “mommy, daddy fight“, “ mommy’s face was red,” “daddy shoot”, “ mommy cry“ , “mommy fell down the stairs“, “mommy sleep”, and “daddy cleaned the house”.

She told the story while demonstrating and drew a picture of her father shooting her mother. Her brother stated, “daddy used a bat, hit mommy”, “blood everywhere”, “mommy have owies on her head”, “mommy not wake up“, and “mommy dead.” He also drew pictures.

Here is actually what happened…

The husband and wife got into an argument because she was leaving him the next day and divorcing him because of his drug problems. During the argument, the two became physical. He grabbed a shotgun and swung it like a bat, hitting her in the head. She tried to defend herself and the confrontation continued for quite some time until her death from blunt force trauma. He had beaten her over and over, using the shotgun like a bat. He had shoved the barrel into to her head, leaving an imprint of it which was found at autopsy. She had fallen down the stairs. No shots were fired.

How do you interpret what happened from the children’s statements given which were not “exact” or “factual” matching the evidence like an adult’s statement may have been or an older child’s?

Both the children’s stories were correct in the perspectives from how they saw the confrontation.

The girl saw her father shove the barrel into her mother’s head and she saw the action of the gun as appropriate to its use…pointing, hand on the butt of the gun, aiming it forward.

The boy saw the gun being swung and viewed it as a bat would be used. Both saw their mother fall down the stairs after getting beaten. The mother’s face was red from blood. She was asleep…permanently.

One child knew the mother was dead. They both saw her fall down the stairs, an action they could comprehend. The other information they may not come to understand until later if they remember. They both had years of therapy. They both lost both of their parents.

The man was convicted of murder.

How do you (the investigator) balance the child's trauma while obtaining case information?

Forensic interviews are designed to bring out information and avoid traumatic harm to the child. At the same time, information can be gathered to assist Victim’s Services in therapy or other need for the child and their family. Child advocacy centers are set up to provide all these services and have been established to investigate as a multi-agency process.  

Is it often best to conduct the interview as soon as possible or wait until the loss can be addressed through family support and/or counseling before talking with the child?

Not only are children’s statements important, it is crucial to get them right away. You have to take into effect contamination, coaching, threats, and also alertness, attention span, and sleep. Perhaps you need to take their statements first thing in the morning versus at 11 o’clock at night. However, they must not be tainted by other persons in the meantime, so the investigator must weigh which is best for their case.

Waiting is detrimental to the case and to the validity of the child’s statement. Family can taint the child’s statement or memory and they can cause more trauma without first getting what we investigators call a “clean” statement. This can be unintentional.

If a child does not give a statement, counseling can sometimes provide that release. However, it depends on the situation whether the statement can be used. The Crawford decision limits these statements in court. Statements given to a doctor or counselor in the means of treatment can sometimes be brought into court. If the counselor or doctor is acting as an agent for police, the statements would not be admissible. Other exceptions exist as well.

In many of my cases, the perpetrator took a deal after seeing the audio and video of the child talking about the allegations against them in a child molestation case.

In the homicides I have worked, the child witness took the stand once. She recalled nothing because at the age of 18, she did not remember what happened when she was 3 years old.

However, the psychiatrist was able to bring her statements into court because she was seeing this doctor for treatment outside the scope of the case and law enforcement was not involved.

Whatever comes forward in court is a matter for the prosecutor. The investigator must gather the facts and evidence. This includes witness statements. It is important for a thorough investigation to remember everything…even when they are small and innocent.
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As Momma Fargo stated, it is imperative to get statements from children sooner rather than later. 

Sadly, no attempt was made to talk with Nikki LaDue January's young son.  As such, no information was gleaned about the case or the potential need to refer the boy and his surviving family members to available counseling services.
 
Anyway, thanks to Momma Fargo--you can read more at her blog here.

Or,to view additional on the Nikki LaDue January case, go here.

Corn Maze Visit: Do Not Forget the...

Fall in the Northeastern United States mean lots of fun things, and corn mazes are at the top of our family's list.

To be prepared for your corn maze visit, be sure to pack water, a hat, a GPS, and comfortable shoes (or boots if it has been rainy).

Oh, and you are this family from Massachusetts, a flare gun is essential as well:

DANVERS, Mass. - Authorities in Massachusetts say a family that got lost in a seven-acre corn maze called 911 for help, apparently taking advantage of the police department's motto that says "We Want To Be Bothered."

The maze at Connors Farm in Danvers has pathways totaling seven-miles long and can take up to an hour to navigate.

A police officer and his dog entered the maze with a farm manager on Columbus Day to search for the disoriented father, mother and two children, including a three-weeks-old infant. The family didn't realize they had almost made their way out and were just 25 feet from the street.

It took the search party about 10 minutes to find the family. They were helped by a police dispatcher who stayed on the phone with the caller and asked the couple to yell for help to enable those looking for them to identify their location.

"Never again!" the woman is heard telling the dispatcher on police tapes. "We thought this would be fun, instead it's a nightmare."

I am glad that the K-9 officer helped to rescue this disoriented family and prevent them from starring in a future episode on the Animal Planet Show: I Shouldn't Be Alive.
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On Monday, the talented and always entertaining Momma Fargo will be guest blogging on the topic of interviewing children at violent crime scenes as part of my series on the death of Nikki LaDue January.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Blogs as Evidence

Sorry for the two posts in one day, but...

For anyone arriving here who is researching the felony stalking case involving Toni Jo Silvey and Peter Main (Ms. Silvey is accused of calling her ex-boyfriend over 1,000 times in a month and smashing his windows with a sword), the blogs that authorities describe are apparently at the following links:

The Real Peter Main Leather Artist Beyond Artist the Man (Primary)

The suspect apparently started this blog as well, but abandoned it: Wounded Poetic Soul.

Since the accused used the online name of "wounded poetic soul", I am sure others will find additional information about the case.

It is certainly an example of how blogs can and will be used as evidence in a criminal case.

Note to Self

Last weekend, I got into trouble twice for inadvertently speaking what I was thinking.

Two moments of head-scratching and wondering, "Wow, did I just say that aloud?"

As a result of my goofiness, I reminded myself of the old adage:

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Wait... Better yet:

If you can't think anything nice, don't think anything at all.

I am sure that this is a universal husband lesson that I failed to retain.

Domestic Violence Decriminalized?

E. D. Cain, a contributor for Forbes magazine, recently reported on a controversial law enforcement issue.

His story appeared with this eye-catching title:

Topeka Kansas Considers Decriminalizing Domestic Violence

Now that is a troubling headline, eh?

A community that would allow domestic violence?

And Mr. Cain's article appears convincing in stating that domestic violence enforcement is on the chopping-block in Topeka.

That is at least on the surface.

Here is an excerpt:


In Topeka, Kansas city officials are considering a controversial move to decriminalize domestic violence in the city after the Shawnee County government offloaded domestic violence enforcement on to city governments. Cities facing budget cuts and lost revenue are turning to many different cost-cutting measures, but this is perhaps the most extreme.

Already, the county government has turned away at least 30 domestic violence cases.

Most domestic violence cases go unreported. Decriminalizing domestic violence will simply push these cases further into the shadows.

Considering that marital rape was legal in almost every state until 1976, perhaps this is simply an illustration of our society slipping backwards, toward the days when men had total domination over the wives...

...Even advocates of austerity (and I am not one of them) should realize that this is wrong-headed, both in terms of raw economics and simple morality.

Hopefully the bill will die in a flurry of outrage and indignation. Women are already facing an uphill battle with few good choices in situations of domestic violence. In Topeka, a grim picture will become a great deal more bleak if this law is passed.

So what happened last night at Topeka's City Council Meeting?

Did officials kill the proposal as Mr. Cain argued they must?

No.

The measure passed 7-3, and Topeka's domestic violence ordinance was repealed.

What?

The reality is that domestic violence enforcement was not crippled with the "Yea" votes.

The realization that Mr. Cain missed was that each state, as mandated by the federal government, has domestic violence laws.

Whether local ordinances exist or not is irrelevant.

It is not the norm for police to arrest for domestic violence based on local charges.

If an officer arrives at the scene of domestic violence, he/she can arrest for a misdemeanor or felony based on that state's law (or Commonwealth, but I'll try to keep it simple).

Topeka not having a local ordinance banning domestic violence should have no impact on the problem there.

If anyone is putting domestic violence victims at risk, it would be county prosecutor Chad Taylor.

But I believe Mr. Taylor's statement that he does not have the funds to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence cases as just managerial maneuvering. 

The district attorney wants more money for his office, but it looks like Topeka's council called his bluff.

And I have no doubt that the DA will continue to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence cases in his county

If he chooses the alternative, the nationwide backlash that he would face from citizen groups in combination with the jurisdiction's liability of letting potential repeat violent offenders go would be overwhelming.

Expect the county attorney to find another way to deal with his office's budget constraints.

It sounds like the city council made a rational decision despite what those who failed to grasp the full extent of the situation would lead us to believe.

What Animals Eat: A Clarification

Under a cloudless azure sky, the youngest, Luca, and I were enjoying play time at a local park.

After exhausting our usual concert of pushing-on-the-swing singing tunes (Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Wheels on the Bus, etc.), I transitioned to a different line of conversational engagement.


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ME: Hey Luca. What does a cow eat?

LUCA: Grass.

ME: Good. How about horses?

LUCA: Apples.

I feel the breeze from the swing as Luca tries to touch the treetops with his feet. The chain rubbing the set's hinge creates a staccato rhythm.

ME: What does a rooster eat, Luca?

LUCA: Umm...umm...ummm...worms.

ME: Excellent. What does a dog eat?

Luca stares, obviously lost in thought, but says nothing. I give him a moment and follow-up.

ME: So what does a dog eat? What does your dog Chuckie like? What does that yellow-buffalo-of-a-dog eat?

Luca finally breaks the silence.

LUCA: Ice cream.

ME: What?

LUCA: Ice cream. Ice cream cones.

ME: Ahh yes. Your dog Chuck aka "yellow buffalo" sure is good at stealing little kid ice cream cones. You got me there man.

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You never know what children think until you ask.

Marie Hanson, Missing

Anything I touch lately seems to break.

We are down two computers, so I don't have the next post on the Nikki LaDue January case.

Instead, I wanted to discuss the search for another missing person.

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Case Summary


Fifty-six year old grandmother Marie Hanson was last seen at July 6, 2011. She and a friend had been camping at a large gathering at the Skookum Meadown near Stevenson, WA organized by the "Rainbow Family."

It was Marie's first time attending the Rainbow Family's annual event, and reportedly she had been ill during her time there.

Because the gathering involved more than 20,000 attendees, Marie's friends searched for her for a few days before returning home with her belongings.

Authorities and the woman's family have conducted several searches of the rugged forested area around where her camp was, but have not found any new leads as to her whereabouts.

Though members of the Rainbow Family (the Family is considered the largest non-organization in the world) are usually a closed-knit society, they have been supportive in providing information and assisting the woman's relatives in searches of the area.

---------------

I am currently reviewing Marie's case, and will have an additional post on specifics of the investigation later.

I do have several concerns after listening to this recent podcast that included an interview with Marie's family--one being with a "psychic" trying to help.

At about 12:01 of the show, the "clairvoyant" tells members of the family that Marie is "not alive" and "...being under the assumption that she is alive and will pop-up is being in denial."

Its not bad enough that the loved ones of a missing person are saddled with having to navigate the investigation with little guidance, using their own creativity to generate awareness, contacting and meeting with persons who may have information, and organizing searches.

But to also have to sit and listen to a person claiming to have mystical powers criticize you, and say to get over it (stop hoping that she is alive) that your loved one is deceased must be infuriating.

I just have this image of a sunglasses-wearing clairvoyant with her feet propped up in a recliner, eating Doritos, next to a phone that is labeled "Psychic Friends Network" making all of these predictions.

Interestingly, the psychic eliminated certain pieces of case information as irrelevant; arguing this on the basis of feelings.

Nice.

Anyway, the family held their composure during the interview and it provided lots of useful information--a credit to them and something I would not have been able to take.

Searchers for information involving Marie's disappearance have been hampered by bad weather, but were still able to use dogs in certain areas.

I'll have additional information on this case in the coming weeks.

Kudos to family members for their patience.

More also can be found on the family's site here.

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UPDATE OCTOBER 10, 2011: The family announced that the Skamania County Sheriff told them that human remains and jewelry were discovered near the campsite by searchers. 

A positive indentification is pending.


I stand by the post.  If I were in their situation--my loved one is not dead until I am convinced he/she is no longer. 

No psychic is going to crush my spirit.

My prayers are with the Hanson family.

Baseball Loses, Marching Band Gains

I usually don't need to borrow humorist family exchanges from others, but this one relayed to me by the Mrs. seemed worth it.

In the story below, Dr. Jolly's ten-year-old son is afraid that a decision may disappoint his father, but that is not the case. As every supportive father should, the Dr. just wants his children to be happy.  


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DR. JOLLY'S SON: Dad, I don't want to play baseball this year.

DR. JOLLY:  Why not son?  You were hitting the ball well last year and having fun.

DR. JOLLY'S SON: I just don't like it.  Sorry dad.

The son bows his head thinking he has disappointed dad who played baseball in college.  Dad pats his son on the head to comfort him.

DR. JOLLY:  Ahh, no worries son.  Your mom and I do expect you to be involved.  You'll need to pick another activity.

DR. JOLLY'S SON: Ok.

DR. JOLLY:  How about scouts or soccer or something?  .

DR. JOLLY'S SON: No, I don't think so.

DR. JOLLY: How about the school band? You could pick up an instrument now, and be ready for the marching band in a few years.

The son lifts his head, smiles, and stares out the car window.

DR. JOLLY'S SON: Yeah Dad! That is what I want to do. And I know what instrument I can learn to play for the marching band.

DR. JOLLY: Wonderful son, I am proud of you. What instrument?

DR. JOLLY'S SON: Dad, I want to play the ukulele.

The father lets out a playful chuckle, but quickly composes himself to address his son's dream.

DR. JOLLY: Now, I am not a musician, but I am certain that the marching band does not have a first and second chair ukulele player.

DR. JOLLY'S SON: I don't care. I am going to be a ukulele star.

-----------

And so it was.

Several weeks later Dr. Jolly's grade schooler sits with an instructor and three other ukulele players--the next youngest aspiring musician being twenty-five years old.

Perhaps he will become the first marching ukulele performer.


___________________________________

Thumbs-up to everyone who still has a dream.

Have a good weekend everyone.

What a Captain Should Not Say

It was wonderful to hear that missing person David La Vau was rescued last week

The 68-year-old man had survived six days on his own after his car veered off a California road and plunged down a 200 foot ravine.  La Vau had survived on creek water and bugs, and is currently recovering from multiple injuries in the intensive care unit of a Santa Clarita hospital.

Sadly, another missing person, Melvin Gelfand an 88-year old veteran, was found dead in his vehicle in the same ravine--Mr. Gelfand had been missing for almost two weeks longer than Mr. La Vau. 



Not content with sitting and waiting, La Vau's family found David after launching their own ground search for him:

...A sheriff's detective helped them determine a general area to look by tracing Lavau's cellphone, but it was a large and remote mountain area with canyons and ravines that could barely be seen from the road.

Once they had that information, they found him quickly, which was essential because he had been living on bugs, leaves and creek water and borrowing Gelfand's glasses for nearly a week.

"It seemed like forever, but it wasn't, we're talking hours," Lavau's son-in-law Jesse Hooker, one of the six in the family search party, said Saturday.

Hooker said family members took matters into their own hands not because they had a big problem with the response of the Sheriff's Department, but they didn't have the patience for police procedure.

"I don't think they did a bad job," said Hooker, husband of Lavau's daughter Chardonnay Hooker. "I know that we weren't willing to wait the time periods we were going to have to."

And Hooker had only praise for Diane Harris, the sheriff's detective who gave the family direction. Hooker said "if she didn't do that, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did."

In the same article, I was disappointed that authorities included this in response to the search effort:

...Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Mike Parker said the department did everything it could on a missing persons case with no evidence of foul play, and called the rescue "remarkable"...

Really?

Captain Parker of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arguing that the "department did everything it could" when family members spearheaded the investigation and search to find their elderly loved one trapped in a life-threatening situation that involved him eating bugs for almost a week?

Now that is ridiculous.

One would expect the sheriff department's spokesman to, at the least, state that his agency's policies and procedures are currently being reviewed to determine if improvements can be made for future missing person investigations.

That the agency's response would be driven by urgency--as in this urgent case considering the man's age and that his cell phone trace resulted in a "ping" leading the family to him in the remote area.

Please Captain, save the CYA talk for the lawyers, the public deserves better.

Tuber of the Week #45: Are You with Me?

Our youngest's (who is on the spectrum) current fixation is farm animals.

He can't get enough of Old McDonald Had a Farm, The Farmer and the Dell, or any other song/show/book that mentions cows, horses, pigs, sheep, or roosters.

The following video, sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board, is one of his favorites (no, he has not seen the movie that the commercial pokes fun at).

We recruit his stuffed animals for a fun reenactment, and I add my best Scottish English accent--and voila, we can play along with this one.



If you want more "Happy Cows" entertainment, you can go here and meet Alicia.

The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part IX

Continuing with the LaDue January case.
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Case Summary

In July of 2002, the body of Nikki LaDue January was found seated on the balcony of her condominium in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  Officers stated that she had a single gun shot wound to her right temple area.

A Sterling .380 caliber pistol was partially under her left thigh on a chair, her right leg was propped up against the table in front of her, and a cordless phone on the table was covered in blood.

There were two different brands of cigarettes and two different lighters on the table in front of her.

A bullet was located in a chair on the next balcony, and a shell casing was later found by a maintenance man in the condo's pool.

Ms. January had apparently been deceased for several hours, and her five-year old son was found in the residence unharmed.

Authorities at the scene quickly classified the death as a suicide. 

--------------------------------------

E) Unknown Pieces 

The photographs taken of the Nikki LaDue January death scene are poor (e.g. looks like an old Polaroid instant camera was used despite it being 2002, context was not included so it is guess work in estimating relationships, size, and distance, a foreign object was visible in some of the shots, etc.). 

But, that does not make the scene images useless.

They do provide a glimpse as to what was and what was not present when authorities arrived to find Ms. LaDue January seated on her balcony with a single-gun shot wound to the head, and a handgun underneath her leg.

Authorities recorded the general position of some of the items photographed. 

Like the woman's hands.

Blood spatter on the floor and wall.

The gun on the chair.

But what about objects photographed that were briefly mentioned or omitted?

I previously discussed the phone on the table--and that the lead investigator was unsure how it became covered with blood.

Look at the image of Nikki's feet that I posted previously.


In the upper-right hand corner of this image, a white object is visible on the balcony floor.  Though the quality of the photo is lacking, if you look closely on the floor between the victim's legs another piece of white is visible. 

Also, in a photo of the glass table in front of Ms. LaDue January there are some small bits of white visible next to the phone.  It is unclear if the pieces of white are present on the table or on the floor underneath it.

From images of the balcony that I have viewed before and after Nikki's death, it appears that the balcony area was kept clean--just tables, chairs, plants, etc.

In any event, these pieces of white are not described in the police reports.

So what are these white objects visible on the balcony floor?

Accidental droppings from when the condo was last painted? 

Small bits of paper? 

Possibly, but the larger piece of white sure looks like plastic.

How about this: the white debris is the result of the woman's broken white phone.

If you recall, the police dispatcher tried to call directly into the condo, but got no answer even though Nikki's husband Phil was there and waiting for authorities.

It is reasonable then to believe that the phone was not operational because pieces of it were scattered on the balcony.

Now, if the phone was broken, was it being held by Ms. LaDue January when she was shot and then dropped on the ground?

Would a three to four foot drop onto a floor be enough to shatter the phone, or was the cordless thrown down in a fit of rage?

If so, how did the phone become covered with blood and then placed on the table? 

Unfortunately, I am left with more questions than reasonable responses.

In sum, the unknown white pieces visible in the crime scene photos are one more reason to question the suicide classification that authorities assigned to the LaDue January case.     
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All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.