kottke.org posts about murder
Veronique Greenwood’s story on a new method to infer someone’s physical appearance from DNA evidence doubles as a skeptical mini-history of forensic science:
In 2009 the National Academy of Sciences released a blistering report calling into question the scientific validity of the analysis of fingerprints, bite marks, blood spatters, clothing fiber, handwriting, bullet markings, and many other mainstays of forensic investigation. It concluded that with one exception [DNA evidence], no forensic method could be relied on with a high degree of certainty to “demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”
And even with DNA, it’s tricky. The common theme: academics doing pure research have a better track record than criminal investigators trying to prove or crack a case, or companies trying to develop a product. (See also: everything.)
From Parents Against Gun Violence, a few of the reasons people shot people in May 2015.
My fiancee and I had an argument, so I open-carried my gun to a park and shot four random people.
The bartender put Clamato in my beer when I wanted tomato juice, so I shot him and his dog.
I found suspicious calls on my boyfriend’s phone, so I shot him. He was armed at the time too.
Rather than let my ex-wife win custody, I shot my own daughter to death.
Click through for the whole depressing list and links to news articles about each incident.
Whoa! Robert Durst has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with the killing of his friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles in 2000.
Robert A. Durst, the scion of a New York real estate family, was arrested on Saturday in New Orleans on a warrant issued in a homicide investigation by Los Angeles County, law enforcement officials said.
For years, questions have swirled around Mr. Durst about the unsolved killing of a close friend and confidante in Los Angeles 15 years ago, and about his first wife’s disappearance in 1982 and the shooting and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor in 2001.
Durst is the subject of the HBO series The Jinx, which I have been obsessed with over the past few weeks. The final episode airs tonight. Jinx director Andrew Jarecki must be freaking out…the arrest might be due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki during the production of the show.
Melissa Moore’s dad was Keith Jesperson, aka The Happy Face Killer. In this piece, she talks about what it was like growing up with a serial killer as a dad. This is the most disturbing thing I’ve read this week.
It was during this meal that my dad said, “Not everything is what it appears to be, Missy.” And I said, “What do you mean Dad?”
I watched him wrestling with something internally. Then he said: “You know, I have something to tell you, and it’s really important.” There was a long silence before I asked him what it was. “I can’t tell you, sweetie. If I tell you, you will tell the police. I’m not what you think I am, Melissa.”
I felt my stomach drop, like I was on a rollercoaster and had just hit the lowest part of the loop. I had to run to the bathroom. When I returned to the booth I felt calm again and I found to my relief that my dad was willing to just drop the conversation.
But I go back to that incident so often and I think: “If he had told me, what would have happened next? If he had told me about his seven murders — it was very soon to be eight — would I have gone to the police? Having revealed his secrets, would he have given me the chance?”
Could my father have killed me? That has been a huge question mark in my life.
John Reed thinks his grandma poisoned a number of her relatives over many years. Maybe.
But here’s the thing: You don’t want to believe your grandmother is poisoning you. You know that she loves you — there’s no doubt of that — and she’s so marvelously grandmotherly and charming. And you know that she would never want to poison you. So despite your better judgment, you eat the food until you’ve passed out so many times that you can’t keep doubting yourself. Eventually, we would arrive for holidays at Grandma’s with groceries and takeout, and she’d seem relieved that we wouldn’t let her touch our plates. By then, her eyesight was starting to go, so she wouldn’t notice the layer of crystalline powder atop that fancy lox she was giving you.
So the question became: How did we explain to guests, outsiders, that they shouldn’t eat grandma’s food? One time, maybe on Passover, my brother brought his new girlfriend, an actress. Grandma had promised not to prepare anything, and it seemed she’d kept her word, so we didn’t mention the poisoning thing to the girlfriend, but after we’d eaten lunch, Grandma came out of the kitchen with these oatmeal raisin cookies that looked terrible. They were bulbous, like the baking soda had gone haywire. My brother’s girlfriend ate two of them, maybe out of politeness. We looked on, aghast. She had a rehearsal in the city, but she passed out on the couch and missed it.
In London in 1888, an unknown person known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in brutal fashion. Russell Edwards recently bought a shawl allegedly tied to one of the killings. After DNA testing, the shawl was shown not only to have the victim’s blood on it but also semen from the alleged perpetrator, hairdresser Aaron Kosminski. Edwards and the person responsible for the forensic research explain their findings in this article.
The tests began in 2011, when Jari used special photographic analysis to establish what the stains were.
Using an infrared camera, he was able to tell me the dark stains were not just blood, but consistent with arterial blood spatter caused by slashing — exactly the grim death Catherine Eddowes had met.
But the next revelation was the most heart-stopping. Under UV photography, a set of fluorescent stains showed up which Jari said had the characteristics of semen. I’d never expected to find evidence of the Ripper himself, so this was thrilling, although Jari cautioned me that more testing was required before any conclusions could be drawn.
Hmm. Given the source (The Daily Mail) and the lack of independent corroboration of the results, a little skepticism in in order here.
Hanna Rosin writes about Murder by Craigslist, the story of a killer who advertised for victims on Craigslist in order to steal their possessions.
Davis wasn’t the only person to answer the Craigslist ad. More than 100 people applied for the caretaker job — a fact that Jack was careful to cite in his e-mails back to the applicants. He wanted to make sure that they knew the position was highly sought-after. Jack had a specific type of candidate in mind: a middle-aged man who had never been married or was recently divorced, and who had no strong family connections. Someone who had a life he could easily walk away from. “If picked I will need you to start quickly,” he would write in his e-mails.
Jack painstakingly designed the ad to conjure a very particular male fantasy: the cowboy or rancher, out in the open country, herding cattle, mending fences, hunting game — living a dream that could transform a post-recession drifter into a timeless American icon. From the many discarded drafts of the ad that investigators later found, it was clear that Jack was searching for just the right pitch to catch a certain kind of man’s eye. He tinkered with details-the number of acres on the property, the idea of a yearly bonus and paid utilities-before settling on his final language: “hilly,” “secluded,” “job of a lifetime.” If a woman applied for the job, Jack wouldn’t bother responding. If a man applied, he would ask for the critical information right off the bat: How old are you? Do you have a criminal record? Are you married?
Jack seemed drawn to applicants who were less formal in their e-mail replies, those who betrayed excitement, and with it, vulnerability. “I was raised on a farm as a boy and have raised some of my own cattle and horses as well,” wrote one. “I’m still in good shape and not afraid of hard work! I really hope you can give me a chance. If for some reason I wouldn’t work out for you no hard feelings at all. I would stick with you until you found help. Thank you very much, George.”
This was your standard well-written crime story until about 2/3rds of the way through when Rosin highlights a societal trend that more deeply connects the victims with their killer.
I was initially drawn to the story of the Beasley murders because I thought it would illuminate the isolation and vulnerability of so many working-class men, who have been pushed by the faltering economy from one way of life — a nine-to-five job, a wife, children — into another, far more precarious one: unemployed or underemployed, single or divorced, crashing on relatives’ spare beds or in the backseats of cars. At what other moment in history would it have been plausible for a serial killer to identify middle-aged white men as his most vulnerable targets?
But what I discovered in the course of my reporting was something quite different. As traditional family structures are falling apart for working-class men, many of them are forging new kinds of relationships: two old high-school friends who chat so many times a day that they need to buy themselves walkie-talkies; a father who texts his almost-grown sons as he goes to bed at night and as he wakes up in the morning.
There’s a bit more to it than but I don’t want to spoil it for you…the entire piece is worth a read.
Executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, The Act of Killing is a documentary directed by Joshua Oppenheimer about a group of Indonesian mass murderers.
In The Act of Killing, Anwar and his friends agree to tell us the story of the killings. But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary: they want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. We seize this opportunity to expose how a regime that was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable, would project itself into history.
And so we challenge Anwar and his friends to develop fiction scenes about their experience of the killings, adapted to their favorite film genres — gangster, western, musical. They write the scripts. They play themselves. And they play their victims.
Wow. (via @aaroncoleman0)
Update: It expires today, but The Act of Killing is available to watch for free on PBS. After today, try Amazon.
The national rates of gun violence and homicide in the US have fallen significantly in past 20 years, but most people are unaware. From a recently released Pew Research report:
Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007. The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008. The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall also dropped in the 1990s before declining more slowly from 2000 to 2010, then ticked up in 2011.
Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.
The whys behind the drop in gun violence (and in crime in general) are more difficult to come by:
There is consensus that demographics played some role: The outsized post-World War II baby boom, which produced a large number of people in the high-crime ages of 15 to 20 in the 1960s and 1970s, helped drive crime up in those years.
A review by the National Academy of Sciences of factors driving recent crime trends (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 2008) cited a decline in rates in the early 1980s as the young boomers got older, then a flare-up by mid-decade in conjunction with a rising street market for crack cocaine, especially in big cities. It noted recruitment of a younger cohort of drug seller with greater willingness to use guns. By the early 1990s, crack markets withered in part because of lessened demand, and the vibrant national economy made it easier for even low-skilled young people to find jobs rather than get involved in crime.
At the same time, a rising number of people ages 30 and older were incarcerated, due in part to stricter laws, which helped restrain violence among this age group. It is less clear, researchers say, that innovative policing strategies and police crackdowns on use of guns by younger adults played a significant role in reducing crime.
(via hacker news)
Here are some of the rules students live by at Harper High School in Chicago: Know your geography (whether you join a gang or not, you’re in one). Never walk by yourself. Never walk with someone else. If someone shoots, don’t run. These are just a few of the exhausting complexities that face the kids at Harper High, where 29 current and former students were shot last year. The reality on the streets leads the kids to one final rule: never go outside. This American Life spent five months at Harper High School. Part one of their report is a must-listen. Within a few minutes of the piece, you’ll understand what one of the adults who was interviewed means when he says, “it ain’t a fairy tale.”
Unsurprisingly, people are continuing to die from guns in the US. Adam Lanza killed 28 people on December 14th, 2012 and since then, 393 more people have died.
“The man stepped toward him, caught [Trevell] Coleman’s eye, and grabbed for the gun. Startled, Coleman squeezed off three shots. The man winced, but didn’t make a sound.” That was seventeen years ago. Trevell Coleman never knew what happened to the person he shot, but he wanted to find out. From NY Mag: The Man Who Charged Himself with Murder.
In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in the apartment that she shared with her husband. The police eliminated the husband and ex-lovers as suspects and the case remained unsolved for 20+ years until a pair of detectives pulled it from the cold case files and looked at the evidence with fresh eyes. Mark Bowden has the story in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.
Soon after the murder, [Sherri’s father] Nels was shown sketches of two Latin male suspects, and the burglary theory was explained. There was no way for him to recognize the drawings, and the whole scenario did not make sense to him. He had to wonder about the competence of these detectives. The apartment showed signs of a protracted fight. Mayer estimated that the struggle may have lasted for an hour and a half. How could his daughter have fought off two men for that long?, Nels asked. There was the bite mark on her forearm, which led Mayer’s partner, Steve Hooks, to conjecture that the suspect may have been a woman, on the theory that women are biters. But the notion was dismissed. Women don’t typically engage in breaking and entering, and fighting men have been known to use their teeth. There was also the bullet wound in the center of Sherri’s chest, and the hole and powder burns on the blanket. Mayer told Nels that his daughter had not simply been shot and killed; she had been assassinated. Why would a burglar do that?
Nels asked if they had checked to see if the lady cop had been working that day. Had they examined her, taken pictures of her? The answers were no. No one ever checked up on Lazarus. Mayer or Hooks or someone apparently did talk to her on the phone eventually, and the conversation was enough to close that line of inquiry. There is only one brief entry in the case file that mentions her, recorded on November 19, 1986, more than eight months after the murder. It reads, “John Ruetten called. Verified Stephanie Lazarus, PO [police officer], was former girlfriend.”
No arrests were ever made. The evidence of Sherri Rasmussen’s murder was packed away in commercial storage.
Update: I forgot to include this with the original post…it’s a video of the hour-long interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus, the “lady cop” Nels is referring to.
Also, The Atlantic ran a story about the Rasmussen case last year. (thx, dewayne)
A fascinating story by David Grann in the New Yorker about a pair of political assassinations in Guatemala that aren’t what they first seemed.
As Rosenberg dug deeper into the subterranean world of Guatemalan politics, he told friends that he had begun receiving threats himself. One day, Mendizábal says, Rosenberg gave him a phone number to write down — it was the number that showed up on his caller I.D. when he received the threats.
Rosenberg told friends that his apartment was under surveillance, and that he was being followed. “Whenever he got into the car, he was looking over his shoulder,” his son Eduardo recalled. From his apartment window, Rosenberg could look across the street and see an office where Gustavo Alejos, President Colom’s private secretary, often worked. Rosenberg told Mendizábal that Alejos had called him and warned him to stop investigating the Musas’ murders, or else the same thing might happen to him. Speaking to Musa’s business manager, Rosenberg said of the powerful people he was investigating, “They are going to kill me.” He had a will drawn up.
Anything by Grann is becoming a must-read at this point. (via someone on Twitter, I forget who (sorry!))
Did former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison shoot a North Philly drug dealer and later have him murdered?
The cops also thought it was wrong to drop the case just because a piece-of-shit famous person might be guilty of shooting a piece-of-shit unfamous person in a piece-of-shit part of the city. If prosecutors required every witness to have a pristine record, one detective says, “most of the cases in the city wouldn’t be solved.” None of the cops doubted for a second that if Harrison was a plumber or a UPS driver instead of a famous athlete, he’d have long since been arrested.
I was drawn into Longo’s life through the most improbable of circumstances — after the murders, while on the lam in Mexico, he took on my identity, even though we’d never met. Starting from this bizarre connection, using charm and guile and a steady stoking of my journalist’s natural curiosity (he was innocent, he was framed, he had proof, he would show me), he soon became deeply enmeshed in my own life. In the first year, we exchanged more than a thousand pages of handwritten letters. I wrote a book about him.
After I started a family of my own, I didn’t communicate with Longo anymore. But I was not disentangled from him. I remained haunted by Longo, by what he’d done; nearly every day, as I held my own kids, images of his crime — a child locked in a suitcase, or falling from a bridge, or fighting for air — would flit through my mind and I’d flinch, as if I’d brushed against a hot burner on the stove.
This a brutal read, fascinating in places (especially the economics of death row part) but I have a hard time wrapping my head around what this guy did and how he feels about it.
This episode of This American Life about murder will put you in a weird mood. For instance, you might find yourself about to cry in the dairy aisle at the supermarket (not that such a thing happened to me, nosirreebob).
Act Two. The Good Son. - A story about a mother who wants to commit suicide and a son who dutifully helps her do it-even though his mother is a happy, healthy, independent person. How did they manage to pull it off? Practice, practice, practice.
Even though I wasn’t that familiar with the whole Jim Jones/Jonestown story, I felt like they rushed through the early parts of the story…might have worked better at 2 hours than at 90 minutes. The ending is great, a well-paced mix of personal narrative, photography, audio, and video from the last fateful day of over 900 people. After the movie ended, I was trying to imagine what would happen if Jonestown (or to a lesser extent, the Branch Davidian thing or Heaven’s Gate) occurred today. Religious cult leader brainwashes all these people and then kills 900 of them in the South American jungle, including a United States Congressman? CNN, et. al. would got nuts for a start…I don’t know if 72 pt. type on their homepage would be enough. The blogosphere would probably go supernova as well.
The American Experience site has more information about Jones and the film. Check your local listings as well…you might be able to catch the film on PBS sometime in the next week or so.
After a couple of surprising losses in the Cricket World Cup, the coach of the perennially mighty Pakistani national team turned up dead. It’s feared he was murdered.
Because of his open source programming connection, Hans Reiser’s arrest for his wife’s murder was big news in that community. After his wife disappeared, Reiser bought 2 books on murder, including David Simon’s Homicide. Simon is the creator of The Wire.