Blogger Holiday

Kids bringing home colds.

Parents wiping noses, and then battling their own coughs and sniffles.

Snow flurries and colorful lights.

Early dismissals from school.

Yes, it must be close to Christmas. 

As such, I'll be taking a blogger vacation until after the holidays.

I'll be back posting on Monday, January 2, 2012, but hope to visit lots of other blogs until then.

Thank you for stopping by in 2011, and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays to all.

War Horse: The Inspiration

I was able to grab and read my son's newly purchased copy of the book War Horse.

It is excellent (well developed characters, integrated historical research, and suspenseful), and is the story of Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, who is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the the first World War.

I am always interested in learning how authors develop a book idea.

The story behind the story.

Finishing War Horse in 1982, Michael Morpurgo's creative journey is an interesting one.

As a teacher, he decided to write books because he had difficulty finding works that interested his students.

Like: "if you want it done, do it yourself."

Reminds me of two other authors (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) who were similarly motivated.

Years prior to that, Morpurgo listened to the stories of World War I veterans in the Devon Village of Iddesleigh (Britain).

A seed was planted--he wanted to create a story that would help others understand World War I, but target it to a children's audience.

Morpurgo wrestled with idea, but no approach seemed to work.

Until he observed this:

Then one evening he was at the farm he and his wife run in Devon, where poor children come to work with animals...

He was passing through the stable yard when he saw one of the children, a troubled boy who had a bad stutter and had not uttered a word in school in two years, standing head to head with a horse.

“He started talking,” Mr. Morpurgo recalled.

“And he was talking to the horse, and his voice was flowing. It was simply unlocked. And as I listened to this his boy telling the horse everything he’d done on the farm that day, I suddenly had the idea that of course the horse didn’t understand every word, but that she knew it was important for her to stand there and be there for this child.”

That became Joey’s role in “War Horse” — observer and witness as much as protagonist.

The book was a limited success, but in 2007, the work was adapted to a play that was a hit in London.

In 2010, the production moved to New York City, and a movie-version of the project premieres this Christmas Day.

I wonder if Mr. Morpurgo ever dreamed that the famous director Steven Speilberg would be moved to tears after seeing the play version of his work, and quickly purchase the rights to put his idea on the big screen?

Not bad for a farmer, teacher, and author with an idea.

A creative idea that he would not let slip away.

And that is the story behind the story.

This is the trailer for War Horse...

The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part XV

On my last LaDue January case post, super blogger and writer Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative asked if the case was closed and could it be reopened.

Yes, Ms. LaDue January's case was closed and labeled a suicide after a brief investigation. Authorities do not like to reopen cases, but it does happen if information is received that places considerable doubt on the initial cause of death determination.

Unfortunately, appeals to local and state officials to take a second look at this death case have been unsuccessful.
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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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Two primary reports by law enforcement exist that describe the death scene of Nikki LaDue January.


I previously covered, Sgt. Willie Davis' (the first responder) report, and now I'll focus on the lead investigator, Detective Tom Pustay of the Pass Christian Police Department.*

*Note: Det. Pustay no longer works in law enforcement, and is currently serving a multi-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of a minor.

The following are excerpts from Det. Pustay's report.

STATEMENT #1

"On Monday, July 29, 2002, I received a call to go to Gulf Palm Villa Condos Unit 303 in reference to a suicide."

Unlike first responders, investigators are less likely to arrive at a fluid homicide scene. Along with contacting the detective, the dispatcher or person at the scene would provide him/her (him in this case) with a summary of the situation. The "it looks like a suicide" theory would have been introduced as soon as the detective was told about the case.

As with anyone, it sometimes can be difficult to think outside the box when a theory, backed with supporting evidence, is initially proposed.

STATEMENT #2

"There is post mortem lividity in her legs and the palms of her hands."

Post mortem lividity or livor mortis is the reddish purple discoloration of the skin due to the settling of thickened blood.  In a body found supine or face-up, one expects to see livor mortis in the posterior parts of the body--while the opposite is true: face-down, lividity in the anterior parts.

Livor mortis can help investigators determine if a body has been moved after death.

STATEMENT #3

There was a Sterling .380 caliber pistol serial number B064298 partially under her left thigh on the chair. I secured and cleared the pistol.

Pistols at a crime scene should be "secured" immediately. When a pistol is "cleared" is dictated by the situation.  Unless the firearm presents an immediate danger, like when it is in an area hostile to police, it should not be handled and cleared until it is being photographed and then processed.  During the clearing process, an investigator would then note the number of rounds, whether the safety was on or off (if applicable), if a bullet was found in the chamber, the type of load, etc.

Strangely, these specifics about the bullets, load, and gun were not included in this report.  One has to review the coroner's summary to learn that the pistol's safety was evidently found "off" and the hammer back.

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I'll be back next time to discuss Det. Pustay's notations on blood spatter at the scene.

The spatter appears to be one of the many problems encountered in matching information contained in the reports to the other evidence available in the case.     
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All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.

Unexplained Phenomenon

After several years of testing my craftiness as a Dad playing indoor hide-and-seek, I recently had a startling revelation.

For some unexplained reason, it is not comfortable trying to access places of household concealment like it used to be.

Has anyone else experienced this?

I mean the feeling that the best places (e.g. under the beds, in the backs of junk-filled closets, inside curtain-covered windows, etc.) have shrunk over the years since I started hiding in similar spots in my childhood home.

It is crazy.

Like our house is getting smaller.

Could the beds in our home have somehow moved closer to the ground so that my body does not fit underneath?

I am not sure if you all have a sensible explanation, but I am favoring that alien invaders armed with shrink rays are responsible.

Any ideas?

Wait, maybe I don't want to here them.

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Have a good weekend everyone.

Juniata College Admin: Explaining to Do?

I usually take Wednesday off from posting, unless something really bothers me. 

Like this story.
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It looks like officials at Penn State are not the only administrators that have some explaining to do regarding the activities of accused child molester and former coach Jerry Sandusky:

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Jerry Sandusky continued to coach football at Juniata College despite being denied an official coaching position there, CBS 21 News Sports Director Jason Bristol has learned.

Two Juniata College football players tell CBS 21 News that Sandusky was actively involved with the Eagles program in 2010, even though his volunteer coaching application was rejected because a background check revealed he was being investigated at a Clinton County High School...

The players' stories were then verified by another, independent Juniata College football player who was not previously aware of their claims...

Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse and prosecutors allege he met his victims through The Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977 to help at-risk children. Sandusky, 67, denies being a pedophile and has vowed to fight the charges...

Sandusky's presence in the press box wasn't a one time thing, either. The players say he was there during every game of the season--even at home games, despite the school's former athletic director reiterating to the head coach that Sandusky was to have no connection with the team.

Juniata College said it has no documented evidence that Sandusky was in the team's press box, except for a sighting at Franklin and Marshall College on September 25, 2010.

Both players can't understand why.

"How do you not know he's here?" asked the second player in amazement. "It's not like the press box is some closed-off area. You just turn your head (around) and look up (into the windows)...you see all the coaches in the press box."

The players say Sandusky would wait in the press box until after the game and would leave once the stadium had cleared.

Juniata College spokesperson John Wall said that Juniata College senior leadership gave then-head coach Carmen Felus "three distinct orders" that Sandusky was not to be associated with the program. He added those officials were not fully aware of Sandusky's involvement in the program until the following semester.

Wall said that the school followed proper protocol and the "breakdown" in communication falls on Felus.

CBS 21 News has repeatedly tried to contact Felus, who is now the co-offensive coordinator at UT Martin in Martin, Tennessee.

The school's former athletic director Larry Bock, who is one of the top volleyball coaches of all-time and now heads the program at Navy, confirmed he reiterated the college's stance to Felus after the F&M incident in September 2010. He recalled that he never spoke to Sandusky directly -- Felus told him he would do it...

So, let me understand this.

College officials learned that volunteer coach Jerry Sandusky failed a standard background investigation conducted on anyone wanting to work with young people.

They then forbade Sandusky from working for the team, yet he evidently continued to assist behind the scenes.

Then the athletic director received a report during the season that Sandusky was still working with the team, reminded the head coach of the previous ruling, but Sandusky secretly continued his association through the entire 2010 season?

Wow, talk about colossal failure in oversight.

Why bother with the background check then?

Here are three actions that should occur immediately based on the serious allegations:

1) Juniata College should launch a public internal investigation

Having a spokesperson insist that administrators followed "all protocols" and blame a former coach is simply not adequate considering the charges facing Sandusky. The College's liability is already under scrutiny.  Meanwhile, at least some of their current student athletes are fearful (they insisted on being anonymous when talking to the reporter) and evidently have much more details regarding Sandusky's involvement with the team--that is when college officials stop making excuses and get around to asking about it.

2) The NCAA should initiate an immediate investigation

The governing body and the public need to know why an individual who had failed a required background check was permitted to have contact with Juniata College's student athletes for at least several months.

3) The University of Tennessee at Martin should immediately place Coach Carmen Felus (the former Juniata coach) on administrative leave

Felus's former employer insists that he was solely responsible for allowing Sandusky to continue working with the team despite orders against it. If he did ignore the results of the required background check, he should face harsh disciplinary action from the NCAA--depending on the outcome investigation, I'd be comfortable with banishment from coaching.

Also, I would recommend that the Naval Academy place current coach Larry Bock, Juniata's former athletic director, on administrative leave as well until his involvement in this scandal can be determined.

In sum, the horrific allegations of child sexual abuse at Penn State and Syracuse should be a wake up call for other institutions that may have failed to or failed to adequately protect students and/or children.

The NCAA should be taking action and investigating sooner rather than later at places like Juniata College; an institution where an individual who should not have had been a volunteer coach was permitted to do so.

College and university administrators should be held accountable for management of these volatile situations.

The institutions that did act appropriately should be championed, while corrective and/or punitive action should be taken against those where skeletons are found hidden in closets.

To the NCAA and Juniata College: Please do the right thing today.

Marie Hanson Update

I have been holding this post for awhile, and needed to publish it.

As such, I'll be back with the series on Nikki LaDue January next week.

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Missing person Marie Hanson's remains were found by authorities on October 9, 2011.



Her body and jewelry were located buried in Skamania County, WA--about 1/2 mile from where she was last camped at the Rainbow Gathering's annual event.   

Initial information from the autopsy was inconclusive as to a cause of death, and full toxicology reports were not available yet.

As one would expect, determining how the woman died is essential in clarifying the reported suspicious behaviors of the man and his girlfriend that Ms. Hanson attended the event with.

Because, if authorities cannot categorize the death as a crime, it will likely be closed (pending any additional information) and forgotten--similar to what was done in the missing person and then death case of Sgt. Patrick Rust.   

So, though the "missing person" portion of the case has ended, the family's pain continues as they wonder whether someone got away with murder.

Picking Up Butch

Today (well technically this weekend), I am guest blogging over at police officer Momma Fargo's place.

Initial feedback from the post is that I am making people cry.

Making people cry? 

I have not been accused of that since the incident that led to the Mrs. revoking my permissions to choose my own wardrobe color combinations: After a particularly bad shirt and short selection, a teary-eyed Mrs. declared something about me being "fashion clueless."

Well anyway, you are welcome to jump over to Momma Fargo's blog here and read my guest post on the topic of youth motivation

I call it Picking Up Butch; after an inspirational tradition at one college in Vermont.

Hope to see you there, and not crying, of course.

Idea Thieves

Recently, the Mrs. has been frustrated with those in authority at her work who steal ideas and claim them as their own.

I tell her not to worry for three reasons:

1) Fountains versus Showers

Creative employees are fountains of ideas while the intellectual property thief is like a passing rain shower.  The person who developed the idea will likely have two or three more waiting in the wings.  After the initial concept is in place, a fresh direction can then be pursued.

In contrast, the idea thief will ride the one "shower" initiative for as long as possible, and then be dependent on swiping another idea to continue impressing others.

2) Implementing is a Different Story

Initially, the idea thief will bask in the glory of something unique, but when it is time to implement the concept, he/she may struggle.  When one did not develop a concept, as in the case of the idea thief,  he/she will likely not have the same attachment, understanding, or passion necessary to transform the plan into action.

3) And the Veil Will be Lifted

Sooner or later, the idea thief will be discovered.  Good supervisors learn who is dedicated, who is a team-player, and will eventually identify an employee solely interested in performing the least amount of work to gain individual recognition. In general, executives want to surround themselves with the best--the sooner those of questionable character are weeded out the better. 

So, I told the Mrs. to hang in there and keep churning out the good ideas.

And with patience, one will be rewarded in watching the idea thieves fall from grace. 

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Have you ever had this problem: when someone else was taking credit for your hard work and creativity? 

Lacey Gaines Remembered

On December 7, 2009, Lacey Claire Gaines, a 20-year-old mother of one, was found murdered inside the kitchen of her Justice, IL apartment.

Reportedly, police found no evidence of forced entry, robbery, or sexual assault.

The victim was found strangled--an electrical cord wrapped around her neck and her throat cut.

Thankfully, her young son was visiting a relative at the time of death.

Authorities believe that Ms. Gaines knew her attacker, but no arrests have been made and the crime remains unsolved.

Information regarding this case can be sent to:

Detective R. Plotke
7800 S Archer Rd, Justice, IL 60458
Ph: 708-458-2191, Email: rplotke@justicepolice-il.org


As the holidays traditionally bring families together, please remember those who have empty places at their tables.

Loved ones who are noticeably absent.

My prayers are with the family and friends of Lacey Gaines on this day--the anniversary of her death.

A Teaching Moment?

Is this what is referred to as a teaching moment?

MURRAY, Utah (AP) — At 7-foot-6, former NBA center Shawn Bradley needs just about everything custom-made, from clothes and chairs to countertops and doorways.

It's why he was bummed when his custom-build Trek road bicycle, complete with an 80 centimeter carbon fiber-aluminum frame, was stolen last Friday...

A random search of a residence by state probation and parole officials turned up the bike Thursday afternoon in the town of Murray, where Bradley has a home, police said. Joshua Carter, 34, was arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property and felony theft, Murray police Sgt. Brian Wright said...

So, you, Mr. Thief, stole a custom bicycle owned by someone who is almost 8-feet tall?

I am certain police knew they had the right address when they encountered Mr. Carter using a step ladder to reach the top of the Trek, and saw him pounding on the bike seat with a wrench screaming: "Of all the bikes to jack in this city, and I gotta pick one that belongs to Goliath."

The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part XIV

One corrected programming note--tonight's episode (December 5, 2011) of Disappeared featuring the Brianna Maitland missing person case, will be shown on Investigation Discovery at 9 pm ET/PT rather than the 10 pm that I stated last week.

You can see the trailer here.

I hope it generates much discussion and new leads.

Ok, now for my next post on the death of Nikki LaDue January.
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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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I have dedicated lots of time on this case to discussing the evidence.

Evidence captured by the investigator's photos: a handgun, the victim seated on a stool in the corner of her balcony, blood, etc.

Scene details recorded by law enforcement in official reports--including the bullet's estimated trajectory and a mysterious bloody phone.

And have discussed important statements by witnesses; ranging from the victim's mother who said that her daughter had an aversion to going barefoot (yet was found barefoot) to a responding sergeant writing that the victim's husband said that he had been a police officer for several years in Texas (yet this was oddly not able to be verified).

But the confusing evidence is not as problematic as what I feel is the lack of professionalism shown in processing the death scene--no measurements, no sketches, little collection of evidence, missing evidence, and the limited usefulness of the photos (one image that includes the detective's camera case) to offer some examples.

This makes testing alternate theories to suicide nearly impossible.

But what if someone used mathematics to help recreate the scene--as well as derive some of those lost measurements?

Would that be sufficient to then test the theory that Nikki LaDue January ended her life that morning in July so long ago?

Well, a guest writer named "The Logical Engineer" over at the victim's blog has done this and offered his/her informed opinion.

He/she reviewed the police reports, the photos, and the independent coroner's report.

Here is an excerpt from the resulting post Math=Murder! :

...Nikki would have had to hold the gun at an awkward 30 degree angle to the side of her head (wrist bent forward, with the gun tilted slightly downward by around 10 degrees (even more awkward).

Keep in mind that the gun has a 3.5” barrel length and her hand would be this distance away.

Keep in mind that the gun used was a double action only gun (DAO), with a reported notoriously long and heavy trigger pull.

Keep in mind that Nikki would have to have done this with her head turned more than 50 degrees to the right.

Get a protractor and try to mimic these angles . . . they are uncomfortable (un-natural) and would have made pulling the trigger difficult at best!

One additional note to the author's above discussion of trigger-pull--evidently Nikki was also recovering from arm/hand surgery related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the weeks prior to her death. This surgery could have impaired her ability to pull the trigger; certainly making it more logical for her to choose another method of suicide that did not rely on finger strength.

In sum and with the information provided and inferred, The Logical Engineer argues that it is difficult to believe that a Ms. LaDue January would choose to commit suicide in this manner.

He/she even offers a different theory.

One that involves homicide.

The post is technical, but is an important part of this sad story.

It offers a foundation for others to challenge/enhance.

In this continuing tale of a deceased mother prematurely labeled by authorities as a suicide.

You can read The Logical Engineer's full post by going here.
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All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.

Seasoned Rather than Old

The following is an excerpt from a conversation between my wife and our kindergarten-aged daughter.
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THE MRS: Now Sissy, your father will be there tomorrow to watch your school's musical to honor grandparents. I am sorry, but I can't make this one. Are you ok with that?

SISSY: Sure mommy. Since daddy does not have any hair, everyone will think he is a grandpa anyway.

Kids.

On second thought and with a "when dealt lemons, make lemonade" attitude, perhaps I can capitalize on this.

Hmm.  Since I am now eligible for the senior citizen discount, anyone want to join me for lunch, I'm buying?

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Have a good weekend everyone.