Prisons

Prison

No Criminology section of a library would be complete without also taking a look at prisons designed to keep  bad guys (or bad girls) off the streets.  Prisons have varying levels of security depending on the nature of crimes committed. Most of us are aware that our penal system is flawed.  In Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman,  the author comments on her experiences and observations during her year of incarceration in a women’s prison.

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Kerman comments on the system being punitive and not rehabilitative. There is a sort of economy system and culture within the walls of the prison, neither of which do anything to prepare offenders to reenter society and thus contributes to the recidivism rate. Often relatives such as sisters or mothers / daughters spend much of their lives in and out of prison. The author comments on the generational aspects of incarcerated families. It’s what they know.

Although this isn’t typically the type of book I would just pick up and read, I did find it interesting to read about what a woman’s prison is like from an insider’s perspective. Also interesting is the way in which Kerman describes her fellow inmates as people just trying to maintain some human dignity in the face of an uncaring and punitive system. One thing the author makes crystal clear is the need for more rehabilitative and educational programming on the inside.

There is a DVD series Orange is the New Black.

DVD Orange is the New Black

This series was originally created in 2013 and streamed by Netflix users and is now available to the public as a DVD series with several seasons.

The next book I came to in my read through of the Fulton County Public Library  is The Punishment Imperative by Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost.

The Punishment Imperative

This book basically echoes Piper Kerman’s ideas that our penal system is in need of some major and rehabilitative changes. Where Kerman’s book reads easily and delivers ideas in an engaging and entertaining fashion, this book reads like a college term paper and throws a lot of facts at the reader without necessarily engaging the reader. The thesis of the book is located on p.16 and reads:

This book is about an American idea that took root in the 1970’s, rose to dominate discourse and practice through the 1980’s and 1990’s and has, as we enter the second decade of the new century, shows distinct signs of having run its course.

The rest of the paragraph goes on to explain that the authors regard our current penal system as a “grand social experiment in punishment.” The rest of the book discusses the consequences of our current system and attempts to explain the high rate of recidivism.

Perhaps of more interest to me was the next book Prison Profiles by Mary Knochel, Ph.D. and Rafael Ramirez, J.D.  These authors are fellow Hoosiers writing about different types of incarceration in my home state of Indiana.

Prison Profiles

I found this book highly informative and interesting. This book follows fictional characters through the Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) beginning from the time they arrive in the sally-port of the DOC. All of the characters are actually composites of  male inmates with actual details of their crimes and incarcerations. One character, Clarence Speakman, is totally fictional but is used to describe the role a Classification Specialist within the Department of Corrections. Classification Specialists are the only DOC employees who actually interact with both prisoners and paperwork. All other employees of the DOC deal only with prisoners or paperwork.

The men arriving in the sally-port are all wearing jeans and T-shirts. Each has a brown paper bag containing personal possessions. They are all in full restraints which consist of handcuffs, leg shackles, and waist chains. The list of prisoners on the transport is compared to the abstract of judgement which is paperwork that confirms that these prisoners are supposed to be arriving at the Reception and Diagnostic Center.Once confirmation has occurred, the men are allowed to exit the transport. Once the men enter the building their paper bags are collected by an officer who begins to catalog each bag’s contents and label who the items belong to. At this time, the officer also decides what is contraband and must be mailed to a relative and what the prisoner is allowed to keep. Shortly after the prisoners arrival, a second van arrives which contains boxes of paperwork. The prisoner’s “packet” of paperwork will follow each man throughout his stay in the DOC. From this moment onward, the goal at the Reception and Diagnostic Center is to decide where and how each prisoner will do time.  This procedure is called the classification process and takes anywhere from 30-45 days to complete. Once the classification process begins the prisoners are considered to officially be in the custody of the DOC.  Although there are more than 20 prisons for men in Indiana, every man begins his journey through the system at the Reception and Diagnostic Center in Plainfield, Indiana. The only exception to going to the Reception and Diagnostic Center is if an inmate has been sentenced to death. In that case, he is taken directly to death row (also called x-row)  at the Indiana State Prison.

Reception and Diagnostic Center Reception and Diagnostic Center 2

 

 

 

 

Every man entering the Indiana DOC does so naked with fellow new arrivals. They are taken to a “strip area” and told to strip.  After stripping they are then strip searched and showered. At this point each man is given a towel to wrap around himself while he waits for his turn to be “de-loused.”  The men work in pairs and spray each other with a fumigant before finally being issued prison clothing. At the Reception and Diagnostic center inmates wear tan t-shirts, undewear, blue scrub pants, socks, and sandals.

The next step is a quick medical evaluation by a nurse where standard vitals are gathered: height, weight, and blood pressure. Inmates are questioned about medications in an effort to avoid missing scheduled dosages of any prescribed meds they may take. Those inmates who are in good health will be seen by a doctor within 48 hours. Inmates with more serious issues will be seen sooner than 48 hours.

After their medical intake, inmates are sent to an inmate barber. The new arrivals have 2 style choices: above the collar and above the ears or a burr.  With haircuts done, it’s on to fingerprinting and being photographed for the official prison ID. At this point, inmates are given back their paper bags with any possessions they are allowed to keep during their incarceration. Any items deemed to be contraband will be mailed to the inmate’s relatives. If an inmate has $30 or more in his prison account, the inmate will have to pay the postage to mail the item(s) to relatives. If the inmate does not have $30 in his account, the DOC will pay this expense.

Once the entire group of incoming prisoners has completed all of the above steps they are taken to a Count Officer to be assigned a bunk in the Admitting and Orientation Section (A&O). Elderly and sickly patients are assigned to bottom bunks but all other bunk assignments are random depending on where there is an available bed. There are a few permanent residents of this section. They are prisoners with medical conditions requiring daily dialysis. These prisoners are housed here to facilitate treatment. Permanent residents of this section have cardboard boxes for their possessions and temporary residents keep their paper bags.

Prisoners are escorted between their temporary cells and the dining hall for meals. After dinner on the arrival day inmates are required to attend an orientation class where they will be told about procedures and will be given a rule book. When finished with the orientation the prisoners are transferred to a pod where they will remain for the rest of their stay at the Reception and Diagnostic Center.

At this point the classification process begins in earnest. Inmates days will now be filled with medical, dental, and psychological examinations. If an inmate is illiterate, he will be administered an oral Beta IQ test. Only those offenders with low literacy skills have their IQ tested routinely by the RDC staff.  Some inmates may have taken an IQ test during the Pre-Sentencing Investigation (PSI). Prisoners may refuse to undergo any type of testing although most do not refuse since it gives them something to do. Once tested, certain personality profiles indicate the need for psychological interviews. All inmates who reveal tendencies toward substance abuse, sexual deviance, or violent behavior will be seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

immate testing

All inmates will be seen by a Classification Specialist. The Classification Specialists use a point system that will determine what an individual inmate’s security level will be and where they will be housed during the incarceration. Points are assigned based upon such things as the severity of the current offense, severity of any prior convictions, bodily injury in prior convictions, and parole violations. There are 5 Security Levels which are earned by having a score as follows:

0-9 Level One – Facilities have a defined boundary but no fences, open dorms, and minimal staff supervision.

10-17 Level Two– Facilities have single or double fences with single razor ribbon, some towers, single housing or multiple dorms, direct and indirect staff observation

18-22 Level Three-Facilities have a single fence with double razor ribbons or double fences with single razor ribbons, manned towers and/or perimeter detection devices, secure single housing and/or multiple dorms, and close staff observation

23-37 Level Four-Facilities have walls or double fences with razor ribbon, many manned towers, perimeter detection devices, and constant direct staff supervision

Level Five– No inmate in Indiana is ever sent directly to this level. This level is popularly called Super Max and is reserved for inmates who commit offenses within the prison system.

Once an inmate is scored in this way, behavioral considerations are taken into account and may change the score. For instance if the prisoner has been involved with drugs and alcohol in an illegal manner he may score another 5 points. Other things are also taken into consideration such as if there were infractions or escape attempts during a previous incarceration. The Classification Specialist may then make certain recommendations. For instance if the offense(s) are alcohol related it may be recommended that the inmate should complete a rehabilitation program before becoming eligible for work release programs. Medical needs and educational levels of each inmate are also reviewed before assigning an inmate to a particular prison.

The remainder of the book follows the six inmates through their prison assignments and describes how their environments and experiences may vary for each. Pursuit of educational programs, work and work release programs, recreational activities, and whether or not they took advantage of things like drug and alcohol rehabilitation opportunities.

In addition to all of the above things, this book also describes the history of the prison system in Indiana and comments in depth about the way in which the Indiana DOC has always stressed rehabilitation over punishment. This book is an older book and some of our current prisons were actually being built at the time it was written. Overcrowding wasn’t such an issue at the time of this book. The idea of the Reception and Diagnostic Center is to find out the needs of the inmates and then assign them to the facility best suited to deal with the need. For instance young offenders may need to complete high school. They may be sent to the Plainfield facility where there is an actual high school for the inmates. Some inmates may possess skills such as carpentry and may be sent to a facility where they will be able to work making furniture–which is then sold in the community. As much as possible all inmates will still be able to achieve educational goals and be productive members of society even behind bars. This is part of the rehabilitative mind set in Indiana. Even prisoners need to feel useful. As much as possible it is stressed that inmates can still positively contribute to society. For instance inmates can participate in the Locks of Love program.

Unfortunately prison conditions have changed. Overcrowding has many drawbacks. While prisoners may be recommended for certain facilities, placement ultimately now comes down to the luck of the draw and where there is an available bed with that inmate’s security level. Some other factors may affect a prisoner’s placement as well. For instance if there are known gang rivalries or “separatees” (a person or persons who it would be dangerous for a given inmate to be around) an inmate may be assigned to an other than first choice placement.

Do you believe prisons should be more punitive than rehabilitative? Do you know anyone currently in prison? Do you have recommendations to improve the system?

 

 

 

 

 

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Future Crimes & Rogue Justice

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In 2002 Tom Cruise starred in the movie Minority Report, a Stephen Spielberg directed film.

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Minority Report is a futuristic tale based on a Phillip Dick story with the same title. The plot is about crime fighting in the year 2052. More specifically,  fighting crime in 2052 seeks to prevent crimes before they happen. Cruise’s character is the head of the Precrime Unit and is himself accused of a future crime. The Precrime Unit is connected to “precogs” who have psychic ability and are a component of the actual computer system.  Crime details are reported and the Precrime Unit goes to arrest the accused, thereby preventing the crime. This movie raises important ethical questions such as: Is a person guilty of a crime they haven’t yet committed? If the future is known but can be changed, where does a person’s freewill  fit into a predetermined outcome?

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In Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman the author explains everyone’s vulnerability through all of our interconnected devices. Many (though not all) of these future crimes deal with Identity Theft. Goodman discusses crimes such as murder that can be committed remotely. For instance, sending a lethal jolt of electricity through a pacemaker could kill. More and more our reliance on technology and the way those technologies rely on each other makes all of us vulnerable to new and appalling crimes.

Criminals have proven time and again that they are early adopters of technology. This proves to be challenging for law enforcement agencies who tend not to be first adopters. Criminals have created a significant gap between themselves and law enforcement officials. Only in recent years have the “good guys” realized that they need to narrow the gap, but at what cost? Is privacy a thing of the past? Technology is a two edged sword.

If you think that a world similar to the 2052 Precrime Unit is only fiction and will never happen, think again. It’s already here.  Though the details and technology may be somewhat different than the movie depictions of these events, predicting crimes before they happen is happening today in China. Predict Crimes Before They Happen. People are tracked by surveillance and more or less assigned points based on their activities. The higher one’s points the more suspicious one is considered. For instance if you shop for kitchen utensils (such as knives) and later shop for tools (Such as a hammer or an axe) you might be considered suspicious. Similarly patterns of behavior are tracked to determine if one is a thief or other type of criminal. Needless to say this raises all sorts of ethical questions about everything from privacy to when law enforcement should intervene. Is this sort of surveillance profiling even legal or moral? The questions are endless.

This type of Precrime activity has been in the US since at least 2010. In Indiana when you get your driver’s license picture taken, you have to pose for a facial recognition photo. You are not allowed to smile, there can be no bangs on your forehead, and you must remove your glasses. These are just some of the facial recognition points that are used by facial recognition software.

Facial Net

The next image is information released by Homeland Security.

FAST Vision

Those “non-intrusive sensors” and “prototype system” could look like this:

FB Facial Recognition

Crowd Face Nets

facere

You are on camera almost everywhere you go. Any time you are in public (and sometimes even when you aren’t such as when you are on the internet at home) information is being gathered about you. Your shopping habits, work habits, daily schedule, etc. is all being tracked. This kind of technology can be used for very good purposes or for very bad purposes.

 

Rogue Justice

In Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State,  Karen Greenberg talks about how our  American liberties have been compromised and our laws weakened in the aftermath of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Spying on American citizens by our own government has become commonplace. Situations such as illegal and indefinite detentions have become the norm in certain situations and the use of torture by some government entities is either condoned or completely ignored all in the name of national security. Greenberg, who is a top expert on Guantanomo, torture, and terrorism makes the point that justice suffers when our reported beliefs about liberty clash with matters of national security. This is a book that will make the reader think and question some of our currently accepted protocols.

Where you aware that facial recognition is already being used to track you and your movements? Do you see other parallels between the Precrime Unit in 2052 and our current world?

 

Pirates

Psychopaths and Priates

When the majority of us think about pirates, we are likely to think about men with a patch over one eye, strange clothes, a hook in place of one hand, and a sword in the other hand. Sometimes pirates are portrayed with a wooden leg or a crutch and with a parrot on one shoulder. Classic Pirate

Most of us will never encounter a real pirate (thankfully). Our pirate run ins are likely to be at costume parties and all in good fun.

Hollywood has included and glamorized pirates in movies such as Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,

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Treasure Island: Pirates’ Plunder, 

Treasure Island

and Peter Pan just to mention a few movies involving pirates.

Peter Pan

A few myths about pirates are:

They buried treasure to find later. While this may have happened on rare occasions, the majority of pirates weren’t future planners. They were in a very dangerous profession and many didn’t expect to live long enough to have to worry about the future.

They made their victims “walk the plank.” There is no evidence of this ever happening. If a pirate was going to execute a prisoner, they would likely just stab the victim. There is some evidence that pirates tied their victims with ropes and dragged them behind their ships. If the ship was moving quickly, the victims were caught up in debris which might cause serious wounds (and thus attract sharks). If the ship moved slowly, the victims would likely drown eventually.

Pirates said “Arrr.” This sound is more of a Hollywood invention.

A few pirate jokes (Answers at the end of the post):

What is a pirate’s favorite restraunt?

What is a pirate’s favorite store?

Why do pirates wear ear rings?

The truth of the matter is that pirating is serious and often violent crime even in our time. The act of piracy is seizing items that belong to others, usually by force. Both men and women have been known to be pirates, although it’s a male dominated crime.

Modern day pirates look like this:

Nigerian Pirates

Lithuanian Pirates

(The above images are from Somalia and Lithuania although pirating happens all over the world.)

Pirates on the sea today make use of technology and modern day weapons. The weapon of choice is an AK-47. Computer systems and radar as well as two way radios are often part of a pirate’s arsenal. Pirates may use small fishing vessels to try to appear inconspicuous. Often there will be a “mother ship” hiding just out of sight. Small vessels are equipped with weapons, technology, and boarding ladders.

The World Atlas of Pirates: Treasures and Treachery on the Seven Seas – in Maps, Tall Tales, and Pictures by Angus Konstam is a very interesting and informative book.

The World Atlas of Pirates

Although this book deals with piracy all over the world, for purposes of this post I will mostly discuss American piracy.  In order to understand American pirating, though, we need a bit of background about pirating in general.

High seas pirating has probably existed ever since there were ships. However, the hey day of pirating was in the 18th century when many wars were fought at sea.  At that point in time it was sometimes even legal.  If a pirate’s country was at war, it was actually encouraged to attack and plunder enemy ships. Governments couldn’t call this activity “pirating” so they called it “privateering.” To become a privateer all a person needed was a ship and a government permission letter called a “letter of marque.” As long as a ship’s captain had a letter of marque, all attacks on enemy vessels (which loosely translated was any vessel not belonging to the captain’s country or any vessel that fired upon your ship) were perfectly legal. If, however, a ship’s captain was captured and failed to produce a letter of marque, he could be tried and hung as a pirate.

Britain and France used privateers against each other. When American colonists rebelled against the British, the Americans turned Britain’s tactics against them. British ships blockaded the coastline along the colonies and the Americans responded by having purpose built privateering ships built, obtaining letters of marque and then turning these ships against the British.

American privateers had become a serious menace to British ships in American waters by 1775, capturing around 30 ships by the winter of 1776 just off the Boston coast line. However this conflict between the British and the Americans was happening from the New England colonies all the way south to Charleston. By 1777 American privateers had captured over 3,000 British merchant ships. Privately owned American privateering ships had grown to an impressive fleet of 449 vessels by 1781.

A privateer / pirate named John Paul Jones is generally credited with being the founder of the US Navy.  John’s surname was Paul. John  was born in Scottland and at the age of 13 apprenticed aboard the Friendship.  After the Friendship he served on several British merchant ships. He became a captain in 1770 at the age of 23. During a dispute in 1770  John Paul killed a crew member.  At this point in time he fled to America and added the name “Jones” to his full name. When the Americans began to rebel against the British in 1775, John Paul Jones offered his services and was commissioned as an officer into the fledgling US Navy. Jones first served as the second in command on an improvised warship the Alfred which cruised the Delaware River. In 1777 he was put in command of the USS Ranger, an 18 gun brig. The USS Ranger set sail from Portsmith, New Hampshire on the way to France. After just a month at sea the USS Ranger arrived in Quiberon Bay having captured two British ships on the way. In Quiberon Bay, the French gave the first official salute to a ship bearing the brand new American flag. Because of his service, John Paul Jones was considered a hero by the Americans and a pirate by the British.

If a privateer captain could capture a particularly good enemy ship with rich cargo (often called a prize), then his own ship could be paid for with one prize and also enable him to pay his crew. As wars dragged on and more prizes were captured, the privateer captain was able to buy more ships and increase his fleet. Governments were paid 10 percent of a prize and were able to use privateers as cheap and effective resources which generated money for the various governments. During this time period a good yearly salary was around $50. Capturing one good prize might generate $500 for a single privateer for doing just one job. When wars ended, privateers sometimes were tempted to turn to piracy rather than return to lesser paying respectable professions.

Piracy Today: Fighting Villainy on the High Seas by John C. Payne discuses ways in which modern day piracy is being fought. Just like modern day pirates who use modern technology, so too do governments use modern technology to fight piracy.

Piracy Today

One of the most interesting things that I read in this book was that the United States is using drones to effectively bring pirates to justice. Drones can fly over the seas looking for and taking images of suspicious crafts and crews. Of course drones can be spotted so pirates sometimes try to use camouflage or try to outsmart the drones. Some pirates have attempted to move under the cover of darkness in order to avoid being spotted by drones. In one example a drone flew over a pirate ship, taking pictures of the crew and equipment aboard the vessel. Images and radio messages are relayed to US ships in the area. Officials are already on the way to the spotted vessel by the time the pirates realize they are being watched. One pirate crew threw a boarding ladder and other things overboard trying to avoid detection but because the drone had captured images of the crew and cargo, those pirates were picked up and arrested. Moving under cover of darkness does no good since the drones are equipped with night vision.

Did you know the US Navy was started by a pirate? Have you heard about drones being used to fight pirates?

Answers to jokes:

Arrrby’s!

Big Arrrr

Because they are a buck an ear

Psychopaths (& Sociopaths)

ed-gein

Some criminals among us are like chameleons. They are experts at appearing normal at least at first glance. They can be charming, witty, highly intelligent, and attractive. They can be male or female. Most of us have heard of these types of criminals that we categorize as sociopaths and psychopaths. The psychopaths tend to be the more physically violent, but sociopaths can be very psychologically violent. Not all sociopaths and psychopaths end up in jail. Many remain at large in the general population affecting everyone they come in contact with. It is important to be aware of the warning signs.

First, let’s learn who the psychopaths and sociopaths are and how to spot them.

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How to Spot a Sociopath

How to Spot a Psychopath

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Some of the most heinous crimes are committed by psychopaths. We have touched on this category before in my posts on PredatorsBad Guys, and True Crime.

Next, let’s look at an example of a known psychopath.

I have mentioned Ed Gein before in the Bad Guys post. Ed Gein was a psychopath who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin. He was truly the orignal “psycho.” I’ve mentioned the connection between Gein’s crimes and Hollywood movies. Now my library read through has brought me to Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original “Psycho” by Harold Schechter.

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Ed Gein was the child of an alcoholic father and a domineering, self righteous mother.  Ed had one sibling, a brother, who died under questionable circumstances. At the time of his brother’s death, Ed acted strangely. He claimed that he thought his brother was killed from a fire they were trying to put out. Ed claimed he didn’t know where his brother was and rounded up a search party. However, as soon as the search party started to look for the missing brother, Ed led them straight to the body. His brother’s body had mysterious bruising about the head area. There were no burn marks or singeing of his body or clothing. Foul play was briefly suspected. It was known that Ed had been upset when his brother implied a slight criticism of their mother, but even law enforcement could not believe that Ed would harm his brother. The death was ruled accidental. Since Ed’s father had died four years previously Ed now had his mother all to himself.

Ed seemed inappropriately connected to his mother. She was his life and his inspiration. His mother’s approval was all that ever mattered to him. Ed’s mother had isolated her family in the country to avoid having to interact with the town’s people of Plainfield, who she believed were all evil. No one was good enough and she encouraged both of her sons to never marry or even interact with anyone unless absolutely necessary. Trips to town were only made when absolutely necessary. When Ed was old enough to drive, his mother would send him to town for the occasional necessities. However, she would constantly warn him about individual people in the town. Anyone Ed may have happened to mention would be an evil person whose sins were known and recited by his mother. Ed never questioned his mother’s omniscience. To Ed, his mother was at least equal to God. Ed’s faith in his mother was slightly shaken when she said she was so ill that he would have to take her to the hospital. Ed had a hard time believing that his mother needed help from anyone. After she suffered a stroke, Ed kept vigil at his mother’s hospital bedside. After her release from the hospital, Ed had to carry his mother into their house and then he nursed her back to health. When she was back on her feet, Ed was elated though somewhat disgruntled because his mother never once thanked him for taking care of her even though she was completely reliant upon him. When Ed’s mother had a second stroke and then died, Ed was very distraught.

From all outside appearances, Ed Gein appeared to be a quiet middle aged man. He helped his neighbors with anything he could and would sometimes hire on for odd jobs. Ed also became a somewhat popular babysitter. He was considered a very good and reliable worker. However, because Ed was different he was the brunt of pranks and often bullied and teased. He retreated inside himself holding in a lot of resentments towards his neighbors who he believed mistreated him and cheated him out of his pay.

Ed’s mostly pornographic reading material was focused on such things as tortures in Nazi prison camps, grave robbing, head shrinking, cannibalism, and various ways that the human body could be used to make household items and even musical instruments.

Eddie Gein killed two women, both of whom reminded him of his mother. Other victims are suspected but it was never proven that he killed more than two people. It was also never proven that Gein never killed men. (He was suspected in a least two murders of men.) It was proven that he dug up the remains of some of his victims from local cemeteries and perpetrated atrocities on the corpses.

The remainder of the book goes on to explain Eddie’s journey through the court system and mental health hospitals, as well as how the town’s people of Plainfield, Wisconsin dealt with the aftermath of Eddie’s crimes. Since I don’t want to spoil the book for those who may want to read it, I won’t say anything about the findings of the courts or the mental health system.

I would recommend this book to those interested in this true crime story. The author does a fantastic job of following Eddie through his life from his birth to his death. Harold Schechter keeps his tone conversational while clearly explaining what drove Eddie to commit the heinous crimes he committed. He also does a great job of following up the aftermath of Eddie’s crime spree. The reader will come away with a deep understanding of exactly what happened and why. The book itself is not scary, but it does have some rather gross descriptions in it that are definitely not for the squeamish! To me, the story is more sad than scary.

Due to the length of this post, I won’t comment in depth about the next book I came to, which is also by Harold Schechter. Psycho U S A: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of is a book which seeks to document psychopathic crime from almost the birth of the US.

Psycho U S A

Schechter identifies time periods from 1782 through 1961 when such crimes were not so widely publicized. Time frames and categories covered in this interesting book are:

  1. Fiends of the Early Republic 1782-1826
  2. Antebellum Maniacs 1840-1860
  3. Post Civil War Monsters 1866-1880
  4. Turn of the Century Psychos 1892-1896
  5. A Year of Horror 1927
  6. Demons of the Depression (Exact dates not given. Approximate dates 1928-1940)
  7. Soldier, Sailor, Serial Killer 1941-1961

There are very interesting articles in this book describing how certain stories have entered into American folklore. This book is worth the reader’s time.

Have you seen any of the movies based on Eddie Gein? Have you ever met someone with a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder?

 

Famous Historical Crimes

Famous Crimes

Some crimes are historically famous. Here are a few examples all from the 1930’s.

Famous Criminals

Although the above examples are all from the 1930’s, every decade seems to have its notorious criminals. I have perused books in the Fulton County Public Library about all of the criminals mentioned above – and many, many more.

Since time and one blog post will not allow me to comment on all notorious criminals, I’ve decided to comment on just one very famous case; Jack the Ripper. Although the Ripper’s crimes were committed in London, this case has world wide recognition and following. Many Americans have shown great interest in the case since the 1880’s when the crimes occurred. Jack the Ripper has been the subject of fiction and nonfiction books, movies, radio and television shows, stage plays, newspapers, magazines, photographs, and works of art. The Ripper’s story is on the world wide web and in the files of many police officers and detectives. There are even tours to learn about the Ripper’s crime spree (Scroll down the linked page to the second video to watch a 2 minute video about a very popular tour). This crime is retold in every medium imaginable.

One of the reasons I chose to write about this case is because it covers most of the areas of Criminology I’ve already written about. It is an obvious True Crime story. There have been many people accused of this heinous crime spree as well as many false confessions, making it a Falsie. The case was an Unsolved Crime for approximately 130 years which made it a famous historical crime.

JTR Ghastly Murder

The Ripper was active in the “East-End” of London in an area known as Whitechapel. He would strike at night. His targets were always female prostitutes who roamed the poverty stricken areas of London’s east side. The Ripper usually cut the throats of his victims and then performed horrid mutilations of his victims. Some of the victims had organs removed.  This is how the killer got his nickname. There are actual photographs but they are much too graphic to be shown in this post.  Because of the mutilations and a knowledge of anatomy, many believed that Jack the Ripper had medical training.

George Lusk, who was part of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, received a letter containing part of a preserved human kidney. The letter has become known as the “From Hell” letter. The image below is of a photograph taken of the letter before evidence went missing. The letter was postmarked “15 October 1888.”

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The letter reads:

“From hell

Mr Lusk
Sor
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother pirce I fried and ate it was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer.

signed Catch me when

you Can

Mishter Lusk.”

Jack the Ripper had 5 known victims, but some believe these were not his only victims and that the true number may have been 11 or higher. The 5 known victims are now referred to as the “Canonical Five.”

canoniacal five

Later, Johnny Depp  and Heather Graham would star in the movie From Hell which took it’s title from the Ripper’s letter. From Hell is, of course, the story of Jack the Ripper and his five known victims.

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Here are some of the books I checked out:

JTR Uncensored Facts
The Complete JTR A to ZJTR Secret Confession

Naming Jack the Ripper

In Naming Jack the Ripper Russell Edwards claims to have discovered the identity of Jack the Ripper by using a shawl of one of the Ripper victims, Catherine Eddowes. Catherine was the Ripper’s fourth victim. The author of this book explains how he traced a shawl belonging to Catherine, bought it at an auction, and was able to have blood on it tested for DNA. Modern technology has helped to unmask Jack the Ripper. This is a very interesting story which not only tells the story of Jack the Ripper in an engaging way, but which also follows the investigative process of the shawl itself to reveal the identity of the killer.

Spoiler Alert: If interested in learning more about the shawl you can follow my link, however the killer is also revealed. If you would prefer to follow the story and then find out, I suggest the above book. Shawl and Identity of the Killer.  There are also some interesting docudramas about the Ripper  (not scary) on this site. There is some criticism of the Russell Edwards findings, but the DNA evidence seems pretty strong.

Were you aware that Jack the Ripper had been named? Is this a story you have followed? Are you more curious now about Jack the Ripper?

 

Unsolved Crimes

Unsolved

Unsolved crimes may remain open cases for years before being solved. If this happens they may also be referred to as cold cases.  These crimes may be really old (decades or centuries) or they may be contemporary to our time period. One such contemporary case is the unsolved murder of a little six year old girl named JonBenet Ramsey.

Death of a Little PrincessWho Killed JonBenet Ramsey

Both of the books shown above chronicle the details of JonBenet’s death and the subsequent police investigation. JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado on Christmas night in 1996. JonBenet had been strangled. JonBenet’s body had been moved twice before investigators got to it, potentially destroying information and evidence. Initially investigators focused on family members. Police suspected Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet’s mother and Burke Ramsey, JonBenet’s 9 year old brother even though police said that Burke was not a suspect.

From the very beginning there were many conflicting pieces of evidence in the investigation of JonBenet’s murder. For instance there was a ransom note found as one might expect in a kidnapping case, but JonBenet wasn’t taken from the home. The note referred to John Ramsey’s business dealings and the note was written in the house with materials found inside of the home. The note suggested possible disgruntled business associates, but it had information in it that only the Ramsey’s should have known. Kidnappers who leave notes generally already have their notes prepared and won’t risk getting caught writing a note in the home of their victim. The evening of JonBenet’s murder the only known people in the home were the Ramsey’s themselves.

Two basic theories evolved:

  1. The Ramseys killed JonBenet. Police suspected that John and Patsy Ramsey worked together to try to cover up the murder. Were they protecting their other child, Burke? Did Patsy Ramsey kill JonBenet in a fit of rage and then John Ramsey tried to protect Patsy? Some evidence seemed to suggest one of these two scenarios may be true.
  2. An intruder killed JonBenet. Other evidence at the scene may have indicated an intruder. There was a broken window with a suitcase below it where an intruder may have entered (or exited) the home. A ransom note was left. JonBenet was somewhat of a public figure due to the beauty contests her mother entered her in and it was theorized that a pedophile may have been obsessed with JonBenet.

Although in the beginning of the investigation police focused almost exclusively on John and Patsy Ramsey, by 1997 there were over 1,600 suspects. In 2016 with improved DNA testing, the original DNA sample indicated that there were genetic markers for two people other than the victim.  At least one of the genetic markers indicates an unknown male. There are 437 items of evidence pointing away from the Ramsey’s yet police investigators at the time continued to believe the Ramsey’s were guilty. They seemed to ignore evidence of an intruder choosing to believe that the Ramsey’s staged evidence to suggest an intruder and cover up their crime.

Regardless of which theory one ascribes to, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey remains frustratingly unsolved. The murder investigation was reopened in 2010 and in 2016 the Boulder police department reported that the murder of JonBenet continues to be an active homicide case.

Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006 still not knowing who killed her daughter. Patsy was buried next to JonBenet.

There are many other unsolved mysteries and/or crimes. I read about several in the following books:

Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries

More of Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries

There is compelling evidence linking some of Hollywood’s most famous deaths to people like the Kennedy’s and organizations like the CIA. In many of these cases there seems to be a common thread about people who knew too much and threatened to reveal what they knew. There are far more stories than I can cover in one post but if you like to try to solve mysteries yourself, you may want to check out unsolved crimes and become an amateur sleuth!

Do you have an opinion about  the JonBenet Ramsey case? Do you believe Elvis Presley is still alive? Have you heard of the connection between Marilyn Monroe’s death and the Kennedy’s?

Falsies

False Confession

Crime fighters and the criminal justice system sometimes have to contend with false confessions and false convictions. Prisons are full of people claiming that they are innocent. Could some of them be telling the truth? Before DNA evidence it was impossible to find out and as we later learned many were wrongfully convicted. As DNA evidence became available it has helped to set many innocent people free. We have learned in hind sight why it is so important not to rely solely on circumstantial evidence for a conviction.

One case that involved both a false confession and false convictions was the West Memphis Three case. This is one of those true stories that no one could possibly make up. Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers were 8 year old boys who were murdered in a wooded area not far from a major highway.

victims

Three area teenagers who were considered misfits were later charged and convicted of the crime. DNA testing was not widely available at the time of the arrests and convictions.

west-memphis-three-peter-jackson-2011-movie-curt-johnson (1)

Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley were all questioned and assumed guilty. Jessie Misskelley is a special needs individual with an IQ of 72 who did not fully understand what was happening. He was questioned without a parent and was worn out by interrogation tactics. He was told he could go home if he confessed so he confessed and also said that Baldwin and Echols were involved just so he could leave the police station.  He was asked leading questions and had his answers directed by the person doing the questioning. Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols were similarly interrogated but neither of them would confess to any wrong doing concerning any of the murdered children. There appears to have been some dabbling in occult practices, especially by Damien Echols. The police claimed that the young boys had been murdered as part of an occultic sacrifice. None of the accused teens could afford adequate legal council.

Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt explores not only the wrongful arrests and convictions of three local teens but many mistakes made by investigators. There were other suspects which were never followed up. The night of the murders the police received a phone call reporting a man covered in blood who had entered a local restaurant to use the restroom to clean himself up. This unknown suspect is now referred to as “Mr. Bojangles.” Police failed to respond quickly and physical evidence was literally washed away. There were other persons of interest in the local area and clues pointing away from the teen boys that were totally ignored. Despite the fact that dental impressions were given by both Baldwin and Echols which did not match bite marks found on the victims, this evidence was ignored.  Many more examples like these can be found in the Devil’s Knot book.

 Devil's_Knot_-_The_True_Story_of_the_West_Memphis_Three

After their trials, all three teens were convicted based upon Misskelley’s confession and circumstantial evidence. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison. Echols, who was 18, was sentenced to death.

Years later,  DNA evidence came to light and exonerated all three men.

Not Guilty

Mara Leveritt (with Jason Baldwin) wrote a sequel to the Devil’s Knot book called Dark Spell: Surviving the Sentence. This book goes on to describe what prison had been like for all three men, with the emphasis on Baldwin’s experience.

Dark Spell

With the exoneration of Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley West Memphis police were forced to reopen the investigation into the murder of the three 2nd grade boys. Unbelievably, police once again ignored evidence and concentrated on the wrong man.  In his book Untying the Knot by Greg Day (with John Mark Byers) the second murder investigation focuses on John Mark Byers, the father of one of the murdered boys. Mr. Byers is the first to admit that he is no angel but there is substantial evidence that Byers is, again, the wrong suspect. There is convincing evidence that points to other suspects which the police seemed to have ignored again in the murder of the three little boys.

Untying the Knot

Meanwhile, Damien Echols wrote about his time in prison and what happened when he got out of prison in his book, Life After Death. Echols had to go through numerous appeals to get off of death row. This took quite a toll on him as you might imagine and then he was actually proven innocent by DNA.

Life After Death

Not only is this a story of overcoming impossible odds, but it is also a very moving love story. During his time in prison, Echols met and married Lorri Davis. Davis was instrumental in helping Echols through the entire appeals process. It’s because of her efforts that Echols was saved from death row.

After his release Echols co-authored Yours for Eternity which chronicled the love story with his wife, Lorri Davis, and how they worked together for his release.

Damien Echols and Lorri Davis Photo and Book 06022014

All four of these men’s lives are intertwined and it may be difficult to keep up with all the many details of the case. However there is a docudrama trilogy called The Paradise Lost Trilogy that presents all of the major facts which anyone interested in this story would find helpful and informative.

Paradise Lost Trilogy

Originally, I had planned to relate stories of other falsies like imposters, fakes, and forgeries. However, since this post is quite lengthy already, I will just ask you to follow a link to my post on Identity Theft where you will learn about a famous forger by the name of Frank Abagnale who was one of the best falsies of all time.

Other books that I checked out but don’t have time to comment on are:

False Confessions
False Arrest

Imposters

Were you familiar with the West Memphis Three murder case? Have you ever seen The Paradise Lost Trilogy?

 

 

True Crime

True Crime

Criminology is such a huge and important topic that an entire genre of true crime has sprung up around it. You can find true crime stories in all formats (books, movies, documentaries, TV shows, websites, live plays, radio programs, games, etc). The topic is horrifying, entertaining, and comical all at once. It can leave you gasping for breath and then have you rolling on the floor laughing.

Many people enjoy a good scare – such as when you watch a scary movie or ride a scary ride. People know that they aren’t actually in danger, but they still get the adrenaline rush. When people read about true crime, it’s as close as they can get to the danger–without actually endangering themselves. At the same time they are usually learning (hopefully) what mistakes not to make should they ever encounter a similar real life situation. It is thrilling and educational at the same time.

The Fulton County Public Library usually does a true crime display around Halloween (a time when many delight in being scared).

True Crime 002

One of the most famous true crime writers is Ann Rule.

Ann-Rule

Ann Rule was a police woman turned true crime writer and lecturer. She led an interesting life which you can read about on her bio page: Ann Rule Bio.  Rule wrote 36 books and multiple magazine articles. I’ve come across many Ann Rule books in my library read through.

In my opinion, Ann Rule’s most chilling book is The Stranger Beside Me.

The Stranger Beside Me

The reason I believe this book is the most haunting of all of the Rule books is because it is personal to Ann Rule. Ted Bundy (yes, the serial killer) and Ann Rule worked together at a Seattle crisis prevention center. Ann considered Ted Bundy a personal friend and spent many hours with him, even entertaining him in her home. Of course, at the time Ann had no idea what Ted was capable of doing. After all, their job at the crisis center was to save lives. Ann and Ted were friends for 18 years. I also find it rather chilling to think that Bundy was a trusted coworker. How well do we know our coworkers? I feel sure that Ann Rule had many occasions in which she thought about how close she (or her daughter) was to being a Bundy victim.

There is also a movie The Stranger Beside Me which is based on the book by the same name. It was a made for TV movie in 2003, so it’s not too scary for most people to watch.

Other books written by Ann Rule are about true crimes that she investigated beyond the newspaper headlines. Ann Rule was always interested in trying to figure out the “whys” behind the criminal act.

While Ann Rule’s books deal with very serious crimes, the next book America’s Dumbest Criminals  by Daniel Butler, Leland Gregory, and Alan Ray deals with the more ridiculous and rather comical stories of crime.

America's Dumbest Criminals

This book contains several very short stories of true but seriously dull witted criminals. This book is a quick, entertaining, and humorous read. There was a TV show by the same name which is now available on YouTube which can be quite hilarious.

Are you a True Crime Reader? Do you prefer the more serious stories or do you enjoy the humorous ones?

 

 

 

 

Bad Guys

bad guy

The library read through of the Fulton County Public Library is still ongoing in the 360’s (Social Problems & Social Services).  I have officially reached the 364’s (Criminology). Criminals, unfortunately, are a major social problem. We can learn a lot by studying the criminal mind set and behaviors. Hopefully the knowledge gained through Criminology will help us to predict and prevent bad events from happening. (For more information on how to protect yourself from criminals, read my post about Predators.)

In The Giant Book of Bad Guys: The World’s Worst Crooks, Gangsters, Murderers, Despots, and Desperadoes by Ian Shott the topics of dictators, serial killers, robbers, and gangsters are explored through real life stories.

The Giant Book of Bad Guys

I’m quite interested in the true crime genre. As pointed out in my post Lying, crime sells. It’s a huge money maker in multiple formats. I’ve seen many documentaries, movies,  TV shows, and have read many different types of books and magazine articles about criminals. Bad Guys is the first time I’ve encountered a category called “The High IQ” killer. Of course I have read about the typical very smart sociopaths and psychopaths, but didn’t realize that “High IQ” is an actual category.  I found this to be quite interesting in the book as well as some of the historical information.

The next book about bad guys that I read was Villiains, Scoundrels, and Rogues: Incredible True Tales of Mischief and Mayhem by Paul Martin. This book is exactly what it sounds like.

Villians, Scoundrels, and Rogues

Because I don’t think I could write it any better I have shamelessly copied below the descriptive summary out of the Fulton County Public Library catalog, which in turn was a quote from the publisher.

“Everyone loves a good villain! From the back pages of history, vivid, entertaining portraits of little-known scoundrels whose misdeeds range from the simply inept to the truly horrifying. Even if you’re an avid history buff, you’ve probably never heard of this disreputable cast of characters: A drunken, ne’er-do-well cop who abandoned his post at Ford’s Theatre, giving assassin John Wilkes Booth unchallenged access to President Lincoln; a notorious Kansas quack who made millions by implanting billy goat testicles in gullible male patients; and America’s worst female serial killer ever. These are three of the memorable but little-known rogues profiled in this eye-opening and entertaining book. Dividing his profiles into three categories–villains, scoundrels, and rogues–author and former National Geographic editor Paul Martin serves up concise, colorful biographies of thirty of America’s most outrageous characters. Whether readers choose to be horrified by the story of Ed Gein, Alfred Hitchcock’s hideous inspiration for Psycho, or marvel at the clever duplicity of the con artist who originated the phony bookie operation portrayed in The Sting, there’s something here for everyone. Brimming with audacious, unforgettable characters often overlooked by standard history books, this page-turner is a must for anyone with an interest in the varieties of human misbehavior”– Provided by publisher.

From this book, I learned that Ed Gein was the ultimate “psycho.” His behavior was so disturbing that the details of his killing spree  (which took place in 1952) couldn’t be put together all in one movie. Because of Gein’s crimes, Robert Bloch wrote the book Psycho in 1959 which Alfred Hitchcock later turned into the movie Psycho in 1960. The Norman Bates character was based on Ed Gein. It was because of Ed Gein that Hollywood began to develop the ghastly characters of  many horror movies. It wasn’t until 1974 that another movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was produced and was also based on Ed Gein’s crime spree. The leather masked killer and cannibal was inspired by Gein. Later in 1991 another movie, The Silence of the Lambs, was in theaters. In The Silence of the Lambs, character Buffalo Bill was a demented transsexual who slaughtered women and used their skins to make various clothing articles for himself so he could dress up in them to turn himself into a woman. This repulsive behavior was based on true details of Ed Gein’s insane behavior. If Ed Gein had not gone on his murderous crime spree in 1952, the movie horror genre might not exist as we know it.

Ed Gein was also somewhat inspirational in the realm of music. You may have heard the children’s song whose lyrics include:

Buffalo Bill won’t you come out tonight

come out tonight

come out tonight

Buffalo Bill won’t you come out tonight and

Dance by the light of the moon

which likely refers, at least in part, to Ed Gein who would dress up in his “woman suit” and go outside and dance in the full moon. (There is also a creepy dance scene in The Silence of the Lambs which is based on Gein’s dancing.)

In movies or books do you ever identify with the bad guys? If you were an actor, would you want to play the good guys or the bad guys?

 

High Tech Waste and Recycling

burningwire

Have you ever had a digital device that died? Even if you were responsible and took it to a recycling center, have you ever wondered what the recycling center does with dead digital devices? Sometimes devices such as phones, computers, laptops, tablets, plasma TVs, etc are just no longer wanted because their owners have upgraded. There are the options of selling and gifting your unwanted devices, but eventually those devices will either die or no longer be wanted by their new owners. Sooner or later all of these devices end up in trash heaps awaiting recycling. Most people think that by taking an unwanted or dead device to a recycling center that the recycling center actually recycles it by reworking it and then reselling it. This is true to an extent but what normally happens is the middle men, women, children, and country.

child in tech trash

To put it rather simplistically, the recycling centers in the US (as well as other developed countries) collect all of the unwanted or broken high tech devices. Then they are loaded onto ships and exported to third world countries where the devices are disassembled and end up in supposedly temporary trash heaps.

keyboard and mouse

digital gizmosPile of Waste - Electronic Waste Documentation (China: 2007)

Americans own over 2 billion pieces of high tech equipment and discard 5-7 million tons of electronic equipment each year. Add in the E-waste of other developed countries to all of this and this becomes a huge global issue.

Once this high tech trash reaches it’s destination it is sorted into like piles, disassembled, and then the recycling process begins–almost all  picked apart by hand (another reason all of your personal information should be wiped from any electronic device before it is discarded. Learn more about how to protect yourself by reading my post about Identity Theft).

cell-phone-landfills

In the majority of situations no safety equipment or precautions are used. Wires are stripped down by burning off the protective insulation.

ewasteland.burning.IMG_1121.360gpexport

Once the stripping of  electronics and burning processes begin, there are threats to human health and the environment because workers (who do not usually wear gloves or masks) are exposed to toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and various plastics to mention just a few. Not only is there danger of absorption through the skin, open wounds, cuts, etc but by burning off the wires, some of the toxins are airborne and may affect residents and animals in the area by forcing them to breathe in toxic fumes.

section_03_burning

Once the component parts are broken down and items like copper and other metals are harvested then they can be sold to high tech companies who then will use the materials to make more electronic devices and are thus recycled.

Elizabeth Grossman does a great job of describing this issue in depth in her book High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health.

High Tech Trash

It seems that all of our electronic equipment such as computers, cell phones, smart devices, etc is safe for human use as long as these devices remain intact. The toxins, health threats, and environmental threats do not occur until the e-waste recycling process begins.

Europe is light years ahead of the US in terms of understanding the significant threats created through the recycling process of high tech devices. Europe regulates which materials are used in high tech devices to begin with and also monitors e-waste recycling. The US has not officially recognized the ongoing threats to human health and the environmental effects of toxins in high tech devices and takes no active involvement in the recycling process.

Another book I checked out was Recycling by Rebecca Stefoff.

recycling

This book (as you can see) is usually now cataloged as a children’s book, but when first cataloged in 1993 by the Fulton County Public Library, it was put into the adult nonfiction section. Recycling was really just beginning to be widely practiced during the 90’s so this book was quite topical for it’s time. Because it’s now at least 24 years old, I will only mention it briefly as part of my read through of the Fulton County Public Library.  I believe that the majority of Dewey Hop readers are familiar with the basic concept of recycling.

Do you think the US should in any way regulate the recycling of high tech devices? Were you aware of threats to the environment or human health during the recycling process of electronics?