Showing posts with label meat packing plant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meat packing plant. Show all posts

23 April 2020

Modern Little Plague on the Prairie



by Eve Fisher

NOTE:  Due to complete discombobulation last week, I posted this a week early.  But, here it is again, newly updated and with a new section - at the end, don't cheat - on possibilities for crime in a time of pandemic.  Enjoy!

As some of you may have heard on the national news, Sioux Falls, SD, currently hosts one of the top hotspots for COVID-19 in America, thanks to Smithfield Foods.  With 941 cases just from Smithfield, we were #1 until we got beat by two correctional facilities in Iowa, and they can have the honor.

Smithfield (which bought Morrell's, and then in turn was bought by a Chinese company back in 2013), was operating like any other meat packing plant, with super-crowded conditions for animals, carcasses, and people, all at super-high speeds, thanks to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who pretty much deregulated the industry in September, 2019. (See story HERE)  And, lest you think Smithfield was an outlier, meat packing plants are popping up all over the country, full of COVID-19, thanks to a tendency to cram workers cheek by jowl for their shifts.  See "Poor Conditions at Meatpacking Plants" HERE.




Anyway, Smithfield wasn't transparent - there's a shock - and covered it up from March 25-April 6, when they had 80 cases and couldn't hide it anymore.  So they promised to close the facility for 3 days for deep cleaning. The next day there were 160 cases, and the day after that 234, and it turned out Smithfield hadn't closed for cleaning but was still processing.  So our Mayor and Governor asked for 14 days quarantine and cleaning, and the CEO closed the plant "indefinitely" and put out a snippy letter saying they'd only kept it open so long to "protect the food security of the nation." Yeah, right.

But I don't want to go into our sorry tale of woe. Instead, I want to post some observations for future mystery writers and historians. Because you know, sooner or later, people are going to start writing about this, and they need to get it right.

In Sioux Falls, 90% or more of the people grocery shopping - and the clerks - are wearing masks and gloves. The aisles in grocery stores are all one way, and they have 6-foot markers on the floors. But most people are not wearing masks / gloves outside for walks or exercise (including myself) because your glasses fog up and God knows we have plenty of fresh air because here the wind never stops.

Norwegian Stoicism - In other parts of South Dakota, however, most people are NOT wearing masks or gloves anywhere. And it's business as usual regarding the number of people in the store, etc. And in many areas, someone wearing a mask and gloves is considered pretty much a wuss. They receive rolled eyes or a little sad chuckle: the Norwegian Lutheran version of the Southern "Bless your heart" - which is not a blessing. Of course, the average Norwegian / German / etc. Lutherans are by and large a stoic lot and expect everyone else to be the same. Another reason for no masks / gloves: these are the same people who'll be out in sub-zero weather without hat or gloves, because they can take it. 

Libertarians - From the get-go of COVID-19 in our state (currently 1,858 cases, 1,659 in Sioux Falls) our Governor, Kristi Noem, has only given directives, and will not put in place official shut-down orders of any kind for any location. "We're not New York", which is pretty much the mantra of many rural areas. Apparently this gives some kind of immunity except in Sioux Falls, which is an urban area, so what do you expect?  
BTW - one surprising thing is that many people aren't thinking about what happens if Sioux Falls does go all New York City, overwhelmed by cases and deaths. The truth is, if that happens, the whole state of South Dakota is screwed, medically, because guess who's the health care center of the state?  Avera McKennan and Sanford hospitals and all their clinics are here. Where all patients with serious health issues are brought. When Allan had his heart attack in 2010, they airlifted him from Madison, SD to Sioux Falls for (successful) surgery. What happens if there are no beds because COVID-19? 
Mayor TenHaken tried to get a stay-at-home order for Sioux Falls, but he couldn't get the Sioux Falls city councillors (made up mostly of business owners) to back him, nor some residents, who were "concerned that it violates constitutional rights, is difficult to enforce and will bankrupt business barely holding on as it is. And one pastor called it "a massive government overreach." (Argus Leader) (On the other hand, the front-line workers want it, and want it NOW.)

Last night, the city council agreed to a "no lingering" ordinance and expanding and enforcing the rule of 10 or less for gatherings.  But the same people showed up to protest:
Some said they were concerned about what the measures had done to the economy. Some said they didn't believe the virus was really a threat at all, citing stories they'd seen online. Former political candidate Lora Hubbel questioned the credentials of Public Health Director Jill Franken and asked why the public was listening to doctors "who are not elected officials." - (Argus Leader)
Economics!

“After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world." - Calvin Coolidge, Jan. 27, 1925.

Oh, Cal, you don't know the half of it.

Park Jefferson Speedway in North Sioux City plans a racing event with up to 700 spectators Saturday night.

Fun fact:  The Park Jefferson International Speedway (above) in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota, is going to host a dirt track racing event with up to 900 spectators this Saturday.  Our Governor, bless her heart, will not lift a finger to stop it, but did "strongly recommend" that no one go.  And Union County officials, including the Sheriff, say they can't do a thing to stop it from happening.  (Argus Leader)

Further fun fact:  The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming up in August.  This hosts about 500,000 bikers annually, and they spend a lot of money on concerts, concessionaires, etc.  How many people believe that our Governor will stop it?  Or the city councilors of Sturgis, SD?  Pray for us.  But also for yourselves, because most of those 500,000 are from out of state, and they do go home eventually.

Religious - As someone told me, "Why is everyone so afraid? If you're a true Christian, you shouldn't be afraid of anything, because everything is in God's hands." To which I replied, "Gethesemane." (see Matthew 26:39) Which was a polite way of avoiding screaming, "WE ALL GET AFRAID SOMETIMES.  EVEN JESUS."
I detest people who try to be holier than Jesus, I really do. Life is hard enough as it is.
Reminder:  "Courage is fear that has said its prayers."   

Media driven - There is a distinct difference between the Fox News / Sean Hannity / Rush Limbaugh / OANN / QAnon crowd and the rest of us. Those 6 weeks of presidential golfing and rallies - with the full on support, encouragement, denial, and general "it's nothing!" of Fox News, etc. - pretty much poisoned the well. Today, most of those media consumers still don't believe that COVID-19 is anything more than just another flu, and everyone should just go ahead and get exposed to it.  In the immortal words of Bill O'Reilly, “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway." (Hill)  So let's let everyone get it, get herd immunity, and whoever dies, dies. 
NOTE: What's interesting to me is that most of the people who are in denial are the same people who are hoarding. "Well, I thought I might as well pick up that extra bale of toilet paper..."  
And as for the young people - well, when you're a teenager you think you're bulletproof and invulnerable. I remember it well.  God bless you, and there's a reason I'm staying on the other side of the street.  

Good Stuff:  On the other hand, people are volunteering, in various ways. They're sewing masks, running errands for the elderly, sending cards, making posters, and helping at food banks. They are Zooming and GoToMeetings and calling like crazy.  (BTW:  FUND THE USPS!)  There's a lot of good going on. A lot of helping. A lot of prayer. And a wonderful team of doctors (including a godson), nurses (including a goddaughter), grocery clerks, USPS workers, police (BTW, here in Sioux Falls, the Chief of Police, a police captain, two lieutenants, a sergeant, an officer and three civilian employees all have the virus), and other front-line workers.  Please pray for them all. 

But now let's talk about possible future mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, etc.  

  • Robberies - well, when almost everyone's staying home, how well does B&E work?  However, I'd like to point out that cars must be feeling fairly abandoned.  (You would be amazed at the number of guns that are stolen out of unlocked cars every month up here...  it got to the point that one of the City Councilors even proposed penalizing gun owners who didn't lock their guns in their vehicles.)
  • Kidnapping - Besides the obvious who's going to know who's gone if no one's going out, here's a little scenario.  If plasma treatment is the only thing that works for a while (or longer), what if a group of billionaires - like the ones at Saint-Tropez - with their own medical facilities at their own compound hire / co-opt / acquire recovered COVID-19 patients for future treatment?  (WaPo)  (Might be time to re-watch Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"...)
  • Scams - going full throttle.  Invent your own, every one else does!
  • Murder - Well, there's lots of opportunities, as always.  Even more, what with the effects of COVID-19 on a body, and the lack of time for autopsies in a pandemic.  And I think it was Brendan DuBois who pointed out on Facebook that giving unregulated medicine to an irritating spouse might be one way of getting away with getting rid of them...  
  • And how does the prevalence, indeed in some places, requirement of masks add to these scenarios and more?  

Strange times.



Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

04 August 2016

Why I Hate Serial Killers


by Eve Fisher

I don't like serial killers.  I know, you're thinking, who does?  Well, a hell of a lot of people, apparently.  Not only do they like stories / movies / TV shows about serial killers, they even like them when the serial killer is the hero.  I don't.  One of my few lines in the sand (along with torture porn and child porn) is this:  if the serial killer is the hero, I won't watch it or support it with my dollars.  I don't want people to think it's "okay", or "justifiable", or "entertaining", because, to me it isn't.  For a number of reasons.  Among them is the fact that I've seen a serial killer and all his fall-out at close hand, and it's probably the most horrific thing I can imagine.

Here in South Dakota, back in the 1990's, Robert Leroy Anderson was tried and convicted for kidnapping, raping, torturing, and killing two women.  I was Circuit Administrator at the time, and he was tried in my circuit.  Twice.

Though no one knew it at the time, it all began when Larisa Dumansky disappeared on August 27, 1994, after working the night shift at John Morrell & Co. meat packing plant in Sioux Falls, SD.  As so often happens, her husband, Bill, was briefly under suspicion, perhaps of an argument, perhaps of more.  The idea was also floated that she might have taken off.  The Dumanskys were both Ukrainian immigrants - maybe she'd gone home? Maybe she'd only come with him to get American citizenship? Maybe...  But her husband denied all of it, and said she'd never have run off, they were perfectly happy, and even more so, because she was pregnant.  But nothing was heard of her for years.

On July 29, 1996, Piper Streyle was getting her children (2 year old son, 3 year old daughter) ready to go to their daycare center.  They lived in Canistota, and she worked at Southeastern Children's Center in Sioux Falls. Her husband Vance, had already gone to work. Piper never made it to work; the children never made it to daycare.  Instead, one of Piper's co-workers called that afternoon, and was stunned when the daughter answered, weeping, saying that she and her little brother were alone in the house and that her parents were dead.

The daycare worker got on the phone to Vance and the Sheriff.  They found the children alone in a trashed living room, with Piper's purse emptied on the floor.  The sheriff asked what had happened, and the daughter told him, "Mommy's going to die."  A"mean man" had come into the trailer, argued with their mother, and taken her away at gunpoint.  Vance Streyle remembered a balding man, in his twenties, named Rob Anderson who'd come to their trailer 3 days before, at 7:30 a.m., to ask about enrolling his kids in the Streyle's bible camp for children.  Piper told Anderson the camp was over for the year, but to sign up for next year.  Anderson left his name and telephone number.

Robert Leroy Anderson was 26 years old, and had already been married twice, with 4 children.  He was a maintenance man at John Morrell & Co. meat packing plant.  Witnesses remembered seeing his truck parked up the way from Streyle's on the 26th and the 29th.

The police searched his truck, and found (among other things) receipts for duct tape, and a wooden platform with holes drilled into it with Piper's hairs on it, a dirty shovel, furniture moving straps, weeds, a toolbox and other evidence.  At his home, the police found a pain of jeans stained with blood and semen.  Also, handcuff keys.

Two days later, the little daughter ID'd Anderson's photo as the man who took her mother. He was arrested on two counts of kidnapping, but not murder, because there was no body. In fact, they never found a body, despite a massive search that went on for days all around the Big Sioux River.  They eventually found half of her shirt; later a farmer picked up the other half on the side of the road.  They also found a roll of duct tape with human hairs attached to it that matched Piper's DNA, as well as rope and chains, eyebolts, a vibrator and a half- burned candle.

In May 1997, Anderson was tried and found guilty of kidnapping Piper, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Well, after that, a buddy of Anderson, Jamie Hammer, said that Anderson had been obsessed with torturing and murdering women ever since high school.  Hammer was kind of into it himself.  They used to sit around and plan the perfect crime.  In 1994 they tried it.  They got "wheel poppers" and put them on the road and were almost successful, except the poor woman whose wheel got flatted managed to break free.  She was one of those who testified against Anderson.

There was another friend who was in on that attempted kidnapping:  Glen Walker.  In 1997, after Anderson's conviction of kidnapping Piper Streyle, Walker confessed to participating in the kidnapping (at knifepoint) of Larisa Dumansky, as she left work on August 26th, 1994.  The two men drove her out to Lake Vermillion, where Anderson raped, tortured, and killed her.  (If you want the details, look them up yourself - they are horrific.)  Walker always claimed that he just watched.  That was how he knew that she pleaded desperately for her life (remember, she was pregnant).

Walker was the one who showed them where Larisa was buried, under a chokecherry bush.  Only part of her skeleton was still there, but they found enough to identify her.

Meanwhile, Anderson was in prison, and his one-time cellmate, Jeremy Brunner, contacted the attorney general's office in August 1997. He told them that Anderson bragged in great detail about the murders of Piper Streyle and Larisa Dumansky.  That Anderson admitted he was a serial killer; that he kept souvenirs or trophies of his victims at his grandmother's house. That he had moved Larisa's skull to prevent them from IDing the body.  And he asked Brunner to kill Walker, his old friend, because he knew Walker would turn him in.  Anderson drew up maps for him, and told him where he had a gun stashed - again, in his grandmother's house.

The police searched his grandmother's house and found jewelry belonging to Piper Streyle and Larisa Dumansky, as well as Anderson's gun, all exactly where Brunner had said they would be.

September 4, 1997, Anderson was finally charged with murdering Larisa Dumansky, and with the rape and murder of Piper Streyle (remember, he'd just been convicted of kidnapping her before).  The trial began in March, 1999, and he was convicted on April 6th on all counts.  Three days later, he was sentenced to death.  Walker was tried in March, 2000 and pled guilty to attempted kidnapping, and accessory to kidnapping and first-degree murder and conspiracy to kidnap Larisa Dumansky.  He received a total of 30 consecutive years.  He just got out on parole this year... (believe me, I feel your horror.)

Anderson appealed his death sentence in 2002 - which here in South Dakota was a non-starter - but on March 30th, he was found dead by hanging. The interesting part of this was that he was in a segregation cell, not his death-row cell, because he'd been found in possession of a razor blade. (There's been some unofficial debate about that...)

Reactions were universally, grimly positive:
Robert Leroy Anderson
Prosecutor:  "There's a lot of women who will sleep better knowing that this guy is deceased."
Vance Streyle:  "This is what we were after anyway. It just saved some time and effort."

I remember going to the last day of Anderson's trial - Anderson sat like a big fat white slug and smirked through the whole thing.

Did I mention that, back at Morrell's, a lot of coworkers admitted that they'd heard Anderson talk about kidnapping, raping, torturing, killing women, but couldn't believe that he meant it?  That he was serious?  So they never said a word to anyone, because they didn't want to look ridiculous...  Two women dead, another woman terrorized, and hints, rumors, of other women who might have disappeared, back where he used to live...

As I used to tell my classes, if anyone starts talking about how much fun it would be to do the things that Robert Leroy Anderson did, the hell with ridicule, I'm going to turn them in.

A serial killer as the hero?  Not in my fictional universe.  Not now, not ever.