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kottke.org posts about crime

NXIVM co-founder admits guilt

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

Nancy Salzman, co-founder of “sex cult” NXIVM, plead guilty to charges of digitally monitoring members to prevent them from leaking information. She’s the first to plead guilty from the leaders facing criminal charges. Founder Keith Raniere has yet to appear in court, but there have been new charges leveraged against him.

The details surrounding this organization are truly bonkers and quite disturbing. If power dynamics of cults and the psychology of self-help seekers are of interest, I highly recommend season 1 of CBC podcast Uncover, in which journalist Josh Bloch interviews his childhood friend about her escape from the leadership circle of the organization.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2019

Quentin Tarantino brings back two of his biggest stars, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, in his new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The teaser trailer is low on details, but we do know that Pitt plays stunt double to DiCaprio’s aging film star, the plot involves the murder of Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family, and it opens on July 26. The film is also the last movie that Luke Perry made before he died.

The Fertility Doctor’s Secret

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

For The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang tells the story of dozens of people who found out through DNA testing that a fertility doctor named Donald Cline had used his own sperm in artificial insemination procedures on their mothers. The piece begins with the story of a woman whose parents had been treated by Cline more than 30 years ago.

It was only when she got home and replaced her phone that she saw the barrage of messages from even more half siblings. They had found her on Facebook, she realized, after searching for the username linked to her Ancestry.com account. Her husband had given her a DNA test for Christmas because she was interested in genealogy. Her heritage turned out to be exactly what she had thought — Scottish, with English, Irish, and Scandinavian mixed in — and she never bothered to click on the link that would show whether anyone on the site shared her DNA.

Apparently she did have relatives on Ancestry.com — and not just distant cousins. The people now sending her messages said they were Cline’s secret biological children. They said their parents had also been treated by Cline. They said that decades ago, without ever telling his patients, Cline had used his own sperm to impregnate women who came to him for artificial insemination.

According to her DNA, Woock, too, was one of his children.

In the time since Woock’s half siblings got in touch with her, they have broken the news dozens more times. The children Cline fathered with his patients now number at least 48, confirmed by DNA tests from 23andMe or Ancestry.com. (Several have a twin or other siblings who likely share the same biological father but haven’t been tested.) They keep in touch through a Facebook group. New siblings pop up in waves, timed perversely after holidays like Christmas or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, when DNA tests are given as well-intentioned gifts.

One of Cline’s patients said recently: “I feel like I was raped 15 times.”

When They See Us, a Series on the Central Park Five by Ava DuVernay

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Ava DuVerney has written and directed a four-part TV series called When They See Us that “chronicles the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit”. Here’s a teaser trailer:

The series starts airing on Netflix on May 31.

And if you haven’t seen it, the documentary The Central Park Five (directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon) is excellent.

El Chapo, Master of the Drug Tunnel (and Escape Tunnel)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In this video, Vox takes a look at how El Chapo leveraged his use of tunnels for transporting drugs into the United States and became one of the richest and most powerful drug lords of all time.

Throughout his career as a drug trafficker, tunnels have been the common theme in El Chapo’s story. When he gained control of a major drug trafficking corridor in the late 1980s, Joaquin Guzman Loera — then known as “el Rapido” — was the first to create super tunnels for transporting drugs across the border.

At the time, a crackdown by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) meant Colombian cocaine was in decline and the Mexican narcotrafficker saw an opportunity. By using tunnels to facilitate fast transport, El Chapo leveraged his role as a trafficker to claim new responsibilities as a cultivator and distributor of drugs.

El Chapo is currently on trial in the US and the proceedings thus far indicate that the Trump administration’s proposed border wall likely wouldn’t stop the flow of drugs into the US from Mexico. Most of the drugs shipped by El Chapo into the US went through regular old border crossings on trucks and trains, hidden in truck panels, packed into fake plastic bananas, or surrounded by food.

At one point, testimony at the trial has shown, Mr. Guzmán sent tons of cocaine across the border in cans of jalapeños marked with the label La Comadre chiles. The cans were stacked on pallets in the backs of commercial tractor-trailers, which simply drove through official border entry points. To protect his product from being found, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán often placed the cans filled with cocaine in the middle of the pallets, surrounded by cans with actual chiles.

The NY Times link is via Geoff Manaugh, whose take on this tunnelling I’d love to read.

Meet the Black Market Dropgangs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Ok, this is fascinating. In “dropgangs, or the future of darknet markets”, Jonathan Logan shares how vendors on the darknet have evolved in recent years. Instead of relying on markets like Silk Road to connect with customers and the post office to deliver, vendors have brought customer communications in-house and utilize public dead drop locations for delivery, just like espionage organizations.

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.

The use of messaging platforms provides a much better user experience to the customers, who can now reach their suppliers with mobile applications they are used to already. It also means that a larger part of the communication isn’t routed through the Tor or I2P networks anymore but each side - merchant and customer - employ their own protection technology, often using widely spread VPNs.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means - he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

Logan expects this type of thing to become more widespread in the near future and it will be difficult to know what effect it will have on society. Maybe one of those effects is that being a corner hopper (like in The Wire) will be more widely available to young people (emphasis mine):

More people will find their livelihoods in taking part in these distribution networks, since required skills and risks are low, while a steady income for the industrious can be expected. Instead of delivering papers, teenagers will service dead drops.

(via @pomeranian99)

Package Thief vs. Glitter Bomb Revenge Package

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

This is pretty nerdy and entertaining. After someone stole a package off of his porch, Mark Rober spent months designing and building a fake package to get revenge on the next person stupid enough to try it. He outfitted the box with GPS, motion sensors, four cameras that auto-uploaded to the cloud, a glitter bomb that detonated when the package was opened, and a canister of fart spray that sprayed periodically until the thief threw the package out. Genius.

Update: At least some of the package robberies in this video were staged.

But shortly after the ode to all the packages we’ve lost before swept across the media landscape, viewers on the internet did what they do best: pick it apart.

They noticed some strange coincidences, like how one of the porch bandits seemed to live directly next door to Rober’s friend, Cici, and that the car used in one of the heists, a black Ford Focus with a rosary hanging on the mirror, was parked right in front of her house in Pittsburg, California.

Way to ruin Christmas, you jackholes.

How to Spot a Fake Jackson Pollock Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2018

Forensic scientist Thiago Piwowarczyk and art historian Jeffrey Taylor are often called upon to authenticate purported paintings by well-known artists. Using a drip painting resembling Jackson Pollock’s work, they show how they use historical research, hardcore science, and good-ol’ human observation. The steps they go through are:

1. Provenance research. Is there any documentation of the artist painting this? Who owned it and when? Forged documentation can be an issue here.

2. Visual analysis. Does the material used for the painting fit the artist and the timeframe? Often, a forger won’t sign a fake to mitigate any potential legal ramifications.

3. Photography and ultraviolet analysis. Was the canvas reused? Is there an under-painting or drawing?

4. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. What elements are present in the paint? Do they match those in the paints normally used by the artist?

5. Microscopy & Raman spectroscopy. What kind of paint was used? Did that paint exist when the artist was working?

Super interesting. All of the craft aside, Piwowarczyk also says that “if the deal is too good, there’s something wrong”. $25,000 for a Pollack? Nope. (via open culture)

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2018

For the past few years, whenever a mass shooting occurs in the US that gets wide press coverage, the satirical news site The Onion runs an article with this headline written by Jason Roeder: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”. The reason they only do it when a shooting gets big coverage is that there have been 307 mass shootings so far this year and if they covered every one, about half of The Onion’s content would be this same article.

Each of these articles consists of an identical paragraph save for the dateline, the number of people killed by the shooter, the photo, and a couple of details from the shooting. From the piece on the Las Vegas shooting:

In the hours following a violent rampage in Las Vegas in which a lone attacker killed more than 50 individuals and seriously injured 400 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Monday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Iowa resident Kyle Rimmels, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep these individuals from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

From the headline on down, the piece is designed to skewer the tragic truth of contemporary America: we consider ourselves a civilized country but also accept without any real action that 10 or more people are going be executed in public every once in awhile while gathering to dance, to worship, to learn. Each successive posting of the article underscores that point with a clever cruelty: it happened here again and nowhere else.

In chronological order, here is every mass shooting article The Onion has posted, representing a total of 177 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 5/27/14. Isla Vista, CA. 6 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 6/17/15. Charleston, SC. 9 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 10/1/15. Roseburg, OR. 9 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 12/3/15. San Bernardino, CA. 14 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 10/2/17. Las Vegas, NV. 58 people killed (851 injured).

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 11/5/17. Sutherland Springs, TX. 26 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 2/14/18. Parkland, FL. 17 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 5/18/18. Sante Fe, NM. 10 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 9/13/18. Bakersfield, CA. 5 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 10/28/18. Pittsburg, PA. 11 people killed.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 11/8/18. Thousand Oaks, CA. 12 people killed.

In between the San Bernardino and Las Vegas shootings, they missed the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL on 6/12/16 in which 49 people were killed as well as shootings in Dallas, TX, Lincoln County, MS, Plano, TX, and a second shooting in Orlando, FL in which 6 or more people were killed in each case.

I’ll keep this list updated, but I’m eagerly looking forward to a time when I never have to see a new version of this article ever again.

How VW Turned Beastie Boys-Inspired Theft of Car Parts into a Clever 80s Ad

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2018

In the music video for (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) and in promotional material surrounding the release of the band’s debut album Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D wore a chain with a VW emblem around his neck.

VW Beastie Boys

In the US and around the world, fans of the band started stealing VW emblems from the fronts of cars on the street and in dealer lots. In the UK, facing down some potential bad publicity, Volkswagen cleverly turned this into a marketing opportunity with this magazine ad:

VW Beastie Boys Ad

Using the iconic layout of the groundbreaking “Think Small” and “Lemon” ads and calling their logo a “designer label”, VW offered fans of Beasties a free emblem just for writing into the company and requesting one. Brilliant ad. (via @imperica)

Powerful Photos of School Shooting Survivors

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2018

For New York magazine, Michael Avedon took photos of 27 survivors of school shootings, including Parkland’s Anthony Borges, a 15-year-old who “barricaded a door to a classroom to protect other students, saving as many as 20 lives”:

Michael Avedon Survivors

Also pictured are survivors from Virginia Tech, Columbine, San Bernardino, and a 1946 shooting in Brooklyn. Accompanying the photos are interviews with each survivor. Here’s Colin Goddard, who was shot at Virginia Tech in 2007:

There were 17 people in that room with me. I’m one of seven alive today.

Eventually, I was able to play sports again and return to my same physical state, which helped my mental state. However, ten years later, I’m dealing with lead poisoning. My mom forwarded me an article about lead levels in gunshot victims, saying, “You ever get tested?” I was never told to.

Sure enough, I had significantly elevated levels of lead in my blood. Thousands of people get shot in this country every year. It’s blown me away that there really is no consensus about how to treat this.

The Chicago Tylenol Murders of 1982

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2018

I don’t know how many people under the age of 35 know about the Chicago Tylenol murders, but for a few weeks in 1982, it was a national news sensation. Seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide. Retro Report took a look back at this episode, with a focus on how Johnson & Johnson and other drug companies modified their packaging to prevent in-store tampering.

The company considered renaming Tylenol, a word that incorporates some of the letters from 4- (aceTYLamino) phENOL, a chemical name for acetaminophen, the drug’s active ingredient. But a name change was rejected.

Instead, a mere six weeks after the crisis flared, the company offered a different solution, a new bottle with the sorts of safety elements now familiar (if at times exasperating) to every shopper: cotton wad, foil seal, childproof cap, plastic strip. Capsules began to be replaced with caplets the following year.

Johnson & Johnson was viewed as an exemplar of corporate responsibility, and enjoyed what some people described as the greatest comeback since Lazarus. Nowadays, all sorts of products come in containers deemed tamper-proof, or at least tamper-evident, meaning that consumers can readily tell if a seal has been broken or something else is amiss.

Incredibly, the case is still unsolved…no one knows who did it or why. Thinking about the amount of in-store surveillance that we have, it seems unlikely that such a crime would go unsolved for long today.

The Typographic Ticket Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

Type Ticket Book

Hoefler & Co are selling copies of The Typographic Ticket Book for type nerds on the go. The idea is that when you’re out and about, you can issue citations for “use of display font at text size” or “unironic use of Helvetica” to people and businesses misusing type.

Contains fifty tickets, each neatly perforated for a satisfyingly loud rip prior to presentation. Bound in soul-deadening municipal pressboard, with a heavy-duty 100pt millboard backing, and foil stamped with an official-looking clip art emblem in gold. Police uniform not included, nor recommended. For novelty use only.

Looks like the book contains a few in-jokes as well…I spotted “$TKTK” as the fine for “failure to replace dummy copy” and the kerning on the fine for “improper kerning” looks a liiittle tight to me.

Making a Murderer, season two

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

In season one of Making a Murderer, filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos profiled Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were convicted for murdering Teresa Halbach in 2005, following the process of the police investigation, the trials, and how their families and the family of the victim reacted to everything.

In season two, which starts on Netflix on October 19, Demos & Ricciardi return to Wisconsin as the two men fight to get released from prison. Here’s the teaser trailer:

I thought the first season of the show was excellent, perhaps the best of the recent crop of true crime stories that includes Serial, S-Town, and the like.

Update: Here’s the full trailer.

I could have done without all the ham-fisted dramatic music and cuts…in my recollection, the series isn’t like that at all.

Law & Order: Martian Victims Unit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

I loved this imaginative and clever piece by Geoff Manaugh called How Will Police Solve Murders on Mars? about how a future human settlement on Mars would handle matters of law and order. For one things, crimes might be more difficult to investigate.

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

At a broader level, what sort of political system develops because of the Martian environment might shape how law enforcement happens.

In the precarious Martian environment, where so much depends on the efficient, seamless operation of life-support systems, sabotage becomes an existential threat. A saboteur might tamper with the oxygen generators or fatally disable a settlement’s most crucial airlock. When human life is so thoroughly entwined with its technical environment, we should not consider these sorts of acts mere petty crimes, he explained to me. In a literal sense, they would be crimes against humanity-even, on a large enough scale, attempted genocide.

“I think the fact that tyranny is easier in space is a foregone conclusion,” he explained to me, precisely because there is nowhere to escape without risking instant death from extreme cold or asphyxiation. In other words, the constant presence of nearly instant environmental lethality will encourage systems of strong social control with little tolerance for error. Orders and procedures will need to be followed exactly as designed, because the consequences of a single misstep could be catastrophic.

A few paragraphs after this, the terrifyingly wonderful phrase “politically motivated depressurization” is used. I don’t think we’re super close to the colonization of Mars, but Manaugh says, better to think about it now before we “unwittingly construct an interplanetary dystopia run by cops who shoot first and ask questions later”.

Did this unassuming small-town couple steal a $160 million Willem de Kooning painting?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2018

De Kooning Stolen

When Jerry and Rita Alter died, a painting was found in their bedroom in the tiny town of Cliff, NM, and then was sold to an antiques dealer along with the rest of their effects for $2000. The dealer soon discovered that the painting was an original Willem de Kooning worth in the neighborhood of $150 million. The painting had been stolen in a daring raid from a Tucson museum in 1985 and a recently discovered piece of evidence shows the Alters were in Tucson on the day before the theft.

De Kooning Stolen

The next morning, a man and a woman would walk into the museum and then leave 15 minutes later. A security guard had unlocked the museum’s front door to let a staff member into the lobby, curator Olivia Miller told NPR. The couple followed. Since the museum was about to open for the day, the guard let them in.

The man walked up to the museum’s second floor while the woman struck up a conversation with the guard. A few minutes later, he came back downstairs, and the two abruptly left, according to the NPR interview and other media reports.

Sensing that something wasn’t right, the guard walked upstairs. There, he saw an empty frame where de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre” had hung.

At the time, the museum had no surveillance cameras. Police found no fingerprints. One witness described seeing a rust-color sports car drive away but didn’t get the license plate number. For 31 years, the frame remained empty.

Earlier this year, WFAA made a short documentary film about the Alters and the heist.

(If you don’t want to watch the entire video, at least check out the bit starting at 18:00 where the painting is given back to the museum and authenticated…that is something you rarely see on video as it happens.)

Adding to the mystery: the couple obviously never sold the painting but they retired early, travelled the world, and left a $1 million inheritance, all seemingly beyond their means as public school employees.

Something else doesn’t add up. Jerry and Rita Alter worked in public schools for most of their careers. Yet they somehow managed to travel to 140 countries and all seven continents, documenting their trips with tens of thousands of photos.

And yet, when they died, they had more than a million dollars in their bank account, according to the Sun News.

“I guess I figured they were very frugal,” their nephew, Ron Roseman, told WFAA.

Hmm, where did they get all that coin?

How one man rigged McDonald’s Monopoly and stole millions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

For years, Jerry Jacobson was in charge of the security of the game pieces for McDonald’s Monopoly, one of the most successful marketing promotions in the fast food giant’s history. And for almost as long, Jacobson had been passing off winning pieces to family, friends, and “a sprawling network of mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers”, to the tune of more than million in cash & prizes.

Dent’s investigation had started in 2000, when a mysterious informant called the FBI and claimed that McDonald’s games had been rigged by an insider known as “Uncle Jerry.” The person revealed that “winners” paid Uncle Jerry for stolen game pieces in various ways. The $1 million winners, for example, passed the first $50,000 installment to Uncle Jerry in cash. Sometimes Uncle Jerry would demand cash up front, requiring winners to mortgage their homes to come up with the money. According to the informant, members of one close-knit family in Jacksonville had claimed three $1 million dollar prizes and a Dodge Viper.

When Dent alerted the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, executives were deeply concerned. The company’s top lawyers pledged to help the FBI, and faxed Dent a list of past winners. They explained that their game pieces were produced by a Los Angeles company, Simon Marketing, and printed by Dittler Brothers in Oakwood, Georgia, a firm trusted with printing U.S. mail stamps and lotto scratch-offs. The person in charge of the game pieces was Simon’s director of security, Jerry Jacobson.

One of the winners, Jerry Columbo, a partner of Jacobson’s who was allegedly a member of the Mafia, even appeared in this TV commercial holding an oversized novelty key to a car he had “won”:

At the height of the scam, no normal person won any of the best Monopoly prizes…they were all arranged by Jacobson. This has to become a movie, right?

I remember when the Monopoly game started. We didn’t eat out that much when I was a kid, but we still played a few times here and there. But I distinctly remember studying the game board, looking at the odds of winning, and figuring out how they must restrict some single game pieces to make it all work. You could get Park Places all day long, but you’d never ever see a Boardwalk. After that realization, I lost interest in playing. It was an early lesson about not spending too much time and energy striving for unattainable goals. Besides, those delicious McDonald’s fries were reward enough.

Update: Ah, a movie version of the story is in the works with Matt Damon playing Jacobson and Ben Affleck directing.

A map of Chicago’s Gangland circa 1931

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2018

Chicago Gangland Map

This is A Map of Chicago’s Gangland from Authentic Sources published in 1931 by Bruce-Roberts, Inc.

Map of Chicago gang locations showing Little Italy, Little Sicily, Cicero, Capone Territory, Westside O’Donnell Territory, Stickney, Saltis Territory, Southside O’Donnell Territory, and Little Africa. “Designed to inculcate the most important principles of piety and virtue in young persons, and graphically portray the evils and sin of large cities.” Numbers in red circles give the sequence of important events in Chicago’s gangland war. Insets include: Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, lawyer running to spring his client, an armored car, bootleggers stealing wheels from prohibition cars, machine gunners arriving from Detroit, World’s Fair grounds of 1933, police tipping over a speakeasy, and “gangland dictionary”.

Al Capone looms large over the map; he was arrested for tax evasion that year and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. There’s also a zoomable reproduction you can explore at the David Rumsey Map Collection.

Update: See also these historic vice maps of Chicago depicting “all of the bars, dives, brothels, saloons, pool halls and gambling houses in the Levee and Little Cheyenne Districts of Chicago between 1870 and 1923”.

A brief history of fingerprints

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2018

Smudge Art

Chantel Tattoli’s piece for The Paris Review, The Surprising History (and Future) of Fingerprints, is interesting throughout, but these two things leapt from the screen (italics mine):

It is true that every print is unique to every finger, even for identical twins, who share the same genetic code. Fingerprints are formed by friction from touching the walls of our mother’s womb. Sometimes they are called “chanced impressions.” By Week 19, about four months before we are issued into the world, they are set.

WHAT?! Is this true? A cursory search shows this might indeed be the case, although it looks as though there’s not established scientific consensus around the process.

Also, Picasso was fingerprinted as a suspect in the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre:

When French authorities interrogated Pablo Picasso, in 1911, at the Palais de Justice about the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre that August, he was clad in his favorite red-and-white polka-dot shirt. Picasso cried. He begged forgiveness. He was in possession of two statuettes filched from the museum, but he hadn’t taken her.

“In possession of”? Turns out a pal of Picasso’s lifted the statuettes from the museum, which was notoriously easy to steal from, and sold them to the artist, who knew exactly what he was buying.

True to Pieret’s testimony, Picasso kept two stolen Iberian statues buried in a cupboard in his Paris apartment. Despite the artist’s later protestations of ignorance there could be no mistaking their origins. The bottom of each was stamped in bold: PROPERTY OF THE MUSÉE DU LOUVRE.

Fingerprint art by Evan Roth. (via @claytoncubitt)

Still Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2018

This short film by Ben Proudfoot features Melvin Dismukes, who was a private security guard during the Detroit race riot of 1967. Dismukes responded to a situation at the Algiers Motel and ended up being accused of murder, spending years trying to clear his name. In this film, Dismukes tells his story, which is intercut with scenes from Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, which features Star Wars’ John Boyega as Dismukes.

Dismukes also told his story to the Detroit Historical Society last year.

After getting outside there, you could hear gunfire coming from the area of the Algiers, Virginia Park area. National Guard showed up over there to find out what had happened on the corner, and they heard the shots also, so we started headed toward the Algiers, the other two guys that was working with me stayed at the store because we had to protect the store, needed somebody there. Went across the street to the Algiers, gunfire was still coming from the building, lots of gunfire, we couldn’t tell where the gunfire was really coming from. One of the policemen that was in the area with us told us to take out the streetlights. I would say I had a rifle, I didn’t have a shotgun, so the guys with the shotgun took out the streetlights. I had one guy what I thought was a sniper, because I’d seen a flash from a window in the Algiers, it was up on, I think it was the second floor. I fired at that guy, I missed the guy, that’s the only shot I fired during the whole riot, second shot I fired with the rifle. Prior to that, I fired my first day on the job on Sunday, I fired the rifle to get some people off the streets, you know, and they wouldn’t move, and they wanted to play the honky town thing, so fired the gun, the gun had never been fired before, so the barrel was full of oil, and when it went off, and there’s this dust you get flames coming out of it, and they hollered, “He’s got a flamethrower,” so they all turned around and started running.

Older Japanese women are shoplifting to find community and meaning in jail

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

Shiho Fukada

Shiho Fukada

In Japan, where 27.3% of the population is 65 or older, elderly women are committing petty crimes like shoplifting in order to go to jail to find care and community that is increasingly denied them elsewhere. Japan’s jails are becoming nursing homes.

Why have so many otherwise law-abiding elderly women resorted to petty theft? Caring for Japanese seniors once fell to families and communities, but that’s changing. From 1980 to 2015, the number of seniors living alone increased more than sixfold, to almost 6 million. And a 2017 survey by Tokyo’s government found that more than half of seniors caught shoplifting live alone; 40 percent either don’t have family or rarely speak with relatives. These people often say they have no one to turn to when they need help.

Even women with a place to go describe feeling invisible. “They may have a house. They may have a family. But that doesn’t mean they have a place they feel at home,” says Yumi Muranaka, head warden of Iwakuni Women’s Prison, 30 miles outside Hiroshima. “They feel they are not understood. They feel they are only recognized as someone who gets the house chores done.”

All photos by Shiho Fukada. The first photo is of Mrs. F, aged 89, who stole “rice, strawberries, cold medicine”. She says: “I was living alone on welfare. I used to live with my daughter’s family and used all my savings taking care of an abusive and violent son-in-law.” The woman in the second photo recounts:

The first time I shoplifted was about 13 years ago. I wandered into a bookstore in town and stole a paperback novel. I was caught, taken to a police station, and questioned by the sweetest police officer. He was so kind. He listened to everything I wanted to say. I felt I was being heard for the first time in my life. In the end, he gently tapped on my shoulder and said, ‘I understand you were lonely, but don’t do this again.’

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy working in the prison factory. The other day, when I was complimented on how efficient and meticulous I was, I grasped the joy of working. I regret that I never worked. My life would have been different.

I enjoy my life in prison more. There are always people around, and I don’t feel lonely here. When I got out the second time, I promised that I wouldn’t go back. But when I was out, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic.

A obsessive search for the Golden State Killer

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

At the time of her death, Michelle McNamara was in the middle of several years of research for a book on the Golden State Killer.1 After she died, her widower Patton Oswalt enlisted an investigative journalist and a researcher to comb through her notes and finish the book. The result, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, is not only a book about the killer but about McNamara’s descent into obsession. In a blurb, Stephen King wrote:

What readers need to know — what makes this book so special — is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark. The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.

A NY Times piece about the book describes how consumed she was by the case:

The research consumed her, and began to weigh on her. She suffered from insomnia and anxiety. Once, she panicked because she woke up to a scraping sound: A neighbor was dragging his trash can to the curb in the middle of the night, Mr. Oswalt said. Another time, when Mr. Oswalt tiptoed into their bedroom, trying not to wake her, she mistook him for an intruder and jumped out of bed and swung a lamp at his head. She felt an obligation to solve the case, and was devastated each time she developed a promising theory or zeroed in on a suspect but failed to find sufficient evidence.

“She had overloaded her mind with information with very dark implications,” Mr. Oswalt said.

Update: A suspect has been arrested in the GSK case.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who was taken into custody outside his home on Tuesday and charged with six counts of murder, had been living undisturbed a half-hour drive from where the 12-year rampage began. He was described as a former police officer, and his time in uniform partly overlapped with many of the crimes he is accused of committing.

The case was cracked in the past week, Sheriff Scott Jones of Sacramento County said on Wednesday, when investigators identified Mr. DeAngelo and were able to match his DNA with the murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith in Ventura County in 1980.

This is a chilling in-retrospect red flag:

[DeAngelo] was convicted in 1979 for shoplifting a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a store in Sacramento County. The incident led to his dismissal from the Auburn police force. The arrest came amid the rash of rapes in the area.

Dog repellent and hammers are useful for breaking into homes and he likely shoplifted them because he didn’t want the purchase traced to him.

  1. If you ask me, the guy in the middle here looks a lot like a certain YouTube star who’s been in hot water lately…

Slaughterbots: swarming killer drones powered by AI

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

We’ve seen autonomous swarming killer robots before (in Black Mirror and other places), but this video presents a particularly plausible scenario for their development: a venture-backed company led by a Travis Kalanick-style CEO combining tiny drones invented by a playful technologist, AI-powered facial recognition, and miniature explosives to make tiny killbots that will no doubt disrupt the world while creating a ton of shareholder value.

The video is produced by a group that wants to ban autonomous weapons, and I think these things will probably be banned in some form, possibly by banning drones and some kinds of consumer electronics altogether. What struck me most while watching this is that if guns were a new invention, they would most likely be banned in the US, just like lawn darts or explosive devices. A hand-held machine that can kill a person 1000 feet away and hides easily in a pocket? That sounds like a dangerous, litigious nightmare, just the sort of thing the US routinely regulates against for the safety of its people.

Errol Morris’ new Netflix series, Wormwood

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

True crime OG Errol Morris has teamed up with Netflix for a 6-part series called Wormwood. The series is an exploration of the CIA experiments with LSD in the 1950s and the death of CIA employee Frank Olson, who was covertly given LSD more than a week before he died. Olson’s death was ruled a suicide, but many years later, the US government settled a potential wrongful death lawsuit out-of-court with a $750,000 payment to the family.

The show itself is a mixture of documentary and historical reenactment (starring Peter Sarsgaard & Bob Balaban) that is now somewhat standard in the true crime genre, having been pioneered by Morris in The Thin Blue Line. Of the show, Morris writes:

Isn’t journalism the pursuit of truth? But what if the truth proves to be elusive, hard to get at? How far does one go? Where does one stop? Are there limits, emotional and otherwise, to the pursuit of truth? Can it be injurious to one’s health? Here we have the story of one man’s sixty-year quest to identify the circumstances of his father’s death. Did he jump from a hotel window? Or was he pushed? And if he was pushed, why? What for? A shadowy world of hidden and imagined intentions coupled with dark and horrifying revelations. In many ways, a personal family story, but in many other ways, a story of America’s decline in the period following World War II. It asks the question: To what extent can a democracy lie to its citizens and still, in the end, remain a democracy?

On Netflix on December 15.

Update: Here’s the full trailer for Wormwood:

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2017

Before yesterday, I never wanted to hear or read about Dylann Roof ever again. But Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s superb piece in GQ about what led Roof to commit his terroristic act is very much worth reading.

Felicia Sanders, one of the few survivors, told the courtroom early on that Roof belonged in the pit of hell. Months later, she said that because of him she can no longer close her eyes to pray. She can’t stand to hear the sound of firecrackers, or even the patter of acorns falling. Because of Dylann Roof, Felicia Sanders had been forced to play dead by lying in her dying son’s blood, while holding her hand over her whimpering grandbaby’s mouth. She had pressed her hand down so tight that she said she feared she would suffocate the girl. Eighteen months later, Felicia Sanders pointed that same hand toward Dylann Roof in the courtroom and said, with no doubt in her voice at all, that it was simple — that man there was “pure evil.”

Their vitriol was warranted but also unexpected, since in most of the press coverage of the shooting it had largely been erased. Almost every white person I spoke with in Charleston during the trial praised the church’s resounding forgiveness of the young white man who shot their members down. The forgiveness was an absolution of everything. No one made mention that this forgiveness was individual, not collective. Some of the victims and their families forgave him, and some of them did not. No one acknowledged that Dylann Roof had not once apologized, shown any remorse, or asked for this forgiveness. Or the fact that with 573 days to think about his crime, Dylann Roof stood in front of the jurors and, with that thick, slow tongue of his, said without any hesitation whatsoever, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”

On the first morning that Felicia Sanders testified, I was seated directly behind Dylann Roof’s mother, and because she is skin and bones, it was apparent that she was having some kind of fit. She trembled and shook until her knees buckled and she slid slowly onto the bench, mouth agape, barely moving. She said, over and over again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She seemed to be speaking to her boyfriend, but maybe it was meant for Felicia Sanders, who was soon to take the stand. A communiqué that was a part of the bond that mothers have, one that was brought up by the radiant shame one must feel when your son has wreaked unforgivable havoc on another mother’s child. Whatever it was, it was Gothic.

The NYPD’s doppelganger problem and racially unfair policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

Lisa Davis Lisa Davis

For years, a white woman named Lisa Davis was paying the price (sometimes literally) for tickets issued to other women named Lisa Davis living in NYC.

Finally, the DMV told me that I wasn’t the victim of identity theft; there was simply another Lisa S Davis with the same birthday in New York City. Our records were crossed. When cops run a license, they don’t check the person’s address, signature, or social security numbers. They check the name and the birthday, and both the other Lisa S Davis’s and mine were the same. We were, in the eyes of the law, one person, caught in a perfect storm of DMV and NYPD idiocy.

In fighting all of these improperly filed tickets, Davis learned that most of them issued for bullshit “broken windows” misdemeanors in predominately minority neighborhoods.

It was then that it became clear to me: the reason for the tickets wasn’t that these Lisa Davises were petty criminals. The reason was likely that they lived in highly policed areas where even the smallest infractions are ticketed, the sites of “Broken Windows” policing. The reason, I thought, was that they weren’t white.

That could have been the “proof” I offered to the judge. Brownsville’s population is less than 1% white. It almost couldn’t have been me. My neighborhood, though fairly diverse (and cheap) when I moved there in the early 90s, is now 76% white. I have never heard of anyone getting tickets in my neighborhood for any of the infractions committed by the Lisa Davises in neighborhoods of color.

I felt there was only one thing to do. I had to find the Lisa Davises, to untangle myself from them, to talk to them about being Lisa Davises, and to see if they agreed with my supposition: that the real “crime” they had committed was being non-white.

See also Pro Publica’s report published today, Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk.

A powerful memorial to racial terror lynchings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

Lynching Soil

The Equal Justice Initiative is filling jars with soil from the sites of lynchings to honor the victims and to create a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950 — several hundred of these victims were lynched in Alabama.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West in the first half of the 20th century. Lynching created a fearful environment in which racial subordination and segregation were maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.

Rob Holmes recently visited and took some photos of the jars…just row after row of them. “Stunning,” he said.

Update: See also this map of lynchings in the US.

Evolution at work: ivory poaching and tuskless elephants

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

Tuskless Elephants

Poachers in Africa in search of the biggest ivory tusks have altered the gene pool of African elephants in the process.

In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, 90 per cent of elephants were slaughtered between 1977 and 1992, during the country’s civil war. Dr Poole said that because poachers disproportionately targeted tusked animals, almost half the females over 35 years of age have no tusks, and although poaching is now under control and the population is recovering well, they are passing the tuskless gene down to their daughters: 30 per cent of female elephants born since the end of the war also do not have tusks.

“Females who are tuskless are more likely to produce tuskless offspring,” she said.

(via mr)

Update: Vox has an interesting look at the growing trend of tuskless elephants.

Voting under the influence of celebrity

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2016

Dave Pell from Nextdraft on the connection between OJ Simpson and Donald Trump and how celebrity warps American minds.

By the time OJ Simpson was arrested after the infamous ride in the White Ford Bronco, it was totally impossible to imagine he’d be found not guilty.

By the time Trump reached election day, he had broken every rule of politics. He committed more campaign-ending gaffes in a week than most losing presidential campaigns during an entire run.

Both men had a fame that completely cut across all American demographics.

I thought I’d mentioned this somewhere at the time — Twitter? kottke.org? Can’t find it… — but when I watched the excellent OJ: Made in America documentary this summer, the parallels between the OJ story and Trump made me feel very uneasy. Two men, both broadly famous, both wealthy, both charming, both outcasts from their respective social groups, both misogynist abusers, both committed crimes, both gamed the American political and legal systems to get away with something that they shouldn’t have. OJ eventually got his but will Trump? Are Americans doomed to keep repeating these mistakes when it comes to celebrity?

Advice from burglars to homeowners

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2016

Burglar Letter

A local TV station in Portland, OR wrote letters to dozens of convicted burglars and asked them for details about how they broke in, what they were looking for, etc. in order to give homeowners some suggestions on how avoid being robbed.

7. Did you typically knock on the front door before breaking into a home?

Yes. All of the inmates who responded said they would knock on the front door before breaking in.

8. If someone answered the door, what would you do or say?

“Act like I was lost or looking for a friend.”

“I would approach the resident as though they had posted an ad on Craigslist.”

“Say wrong house, sorry and thank you.”

“Ask if they’d seen my dog and leave.”

“Sometimes I would wear nice clothing and print a questionnaire off the Internet and carry a clipboard and see if they could spare a moment for an anonymous survey.”

Possibly relevant note: all this information is from people who got caught burgling, so, you know, grain of salt.