Showing posts with label murder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label murder. Show all posts

15 May 2022

¿Quién mató a Sara?


John Floyd Bad Guy Award

Not every miniseries on Netflix is a Harlan Coben story. Astounding, yes, I know, even though I enjoy them sprinkled amongst other series.

My Netflix favorites tend toward foreign productions. European shows dominate, but occasional works slip in from South Korea, South Africa, Venezuela, and Mexico. And Mexico is where the murder mystery Who Killed Sara? is set.

Many of its actors appear in telenovelas, i.e, Hispanic soap operas, sexy soap operas. Cultural tip: Pretty much everything on Telemundo and Univision is sexy, good motivation to learn Spanish.

So, because a number of these actors are cast in daytime dramas, Who Killed Sara? was miscategorized as another telenovela and dismissed. Creator José Ignacio Valenzuela never expected the show might become a global sensation, and misjudging the series as a mere soap serial seemingly sealed its coffin, limiting its impact within Latin America.

Except word got out. People watched. And more people watched. And more. So many viewers, Netflix noticed. And funded a second season. And a third. At one point, it topped their popularity list. Who Killed Sara? had made it.

How Good Are the Bad Guys?

I’m convinced the success of a crime novel hinges upon how good– er, I mean how bad the bad guy is or how complex. The worst of the bad guys should either make your fictional life much more interesting or scare the bloomers off Buchenwald Oberaufseherin Ilse Koch… or both.

Think of any James Bond movie. The best are those with the baddest badass bad guys. The cars or the fancy ass gadgets from Q, might have drawn our curiosity, but remember the scary Colonel Klebb, Dr No, the metallic-toothed Jaws, and pretty much anyone from Golden Eye. Them’s scary!

(A major miscast in Tomorrow Never Dies was media mogul Elliott Carver– the world had yet to meet Rupert Murdoch, an Australian leftist hellbent on bringing the US and Britain to its knees… That’s one hypothesis.)

I previously promoted Hungarian actor Lukács Bicskey as one of the most interesting bad guys in the film Titled Day of Wrath / Game of Swords. Sadly, the movie’s star, American actor Christopher Lambert, sucked the life out of the show, guaranteeing a spot in Film Purgatory.

Who Killed Sara? poster

I present a new nominee for badass bad guys: Ginés García Millán playing César Lazcano, self-made multimillionaire businessman, patriarch of the Lazcano crime family. He’s a charming man who kicks the crap out of his son Chema for being gay and recreationally bangs the wife of his older son, Rodolfo. He and his henchmen are not above murder, including multiple attempts to kill their children’s betrayed friend, our hero Álex. And yet as much as César hates and fears the boy he betrayed, he also admires him. More than once, he is heard berating his kids, telling them he wished he had Álex as his son instead.

Other bad guy nominees might include the OddJob to  Lazcano’s Goldfinger is psychopathic sadist Sergio Hernández, played by Juan Carlos Remolina, César’s best friend and business partner. And Mariana Lazcano, portrayed by Claudia Ramírez, wifely manipulator and enabler. Thanks to her motherly pretense, her insidious nature takes longer to reveal. But César Lazcano…

The plot’s problem becomes not who killed teen Sara, but who didn’t have a motive to kill her? Sara, her brother Álex, and the three Lazcano children were close childhood friends, but Sara was extra ‘friendly’ with everyone. She pretty much jodido’d the entire cast except possibly her brother Álex… I think. Then someone sabotaged a parasail killing her.

To keep his family and their business at arm’s length, César and Mariana Lazcano persuaded the dead girl’s young brother Álex to shoulder the blame, promising at most weeks in jail, a transplant for his ailing mother, and a handsome reward him for his troubles. Álex and the Lazcano children were shocked when Álex was sentenced to eighteen years, and worse, reneged on the promises, including caring for his dying mother. Lazcano even attempted to kill Álex in prison.

Thus the series begins with Álex’s release from a tough Mexican prison. He’s angry, wants vengeance, and is determined to sort out who killed his darling sister, not knowing she had carnal relations with half of Ciudad de México, both Lacano parents and their son Rodolfo, Álex’s former best friend.

And then things change. Fluid situations melt and reform. Alliances shift. César Lazcano and Álex team up and attain a mutual respect, whereupon the second season wraps, waiting for season three, and we’re not much closer to figuring out who killed Sara.

Some of My Best Friends…

Actor Eugenio Siller plays the Lazcano’s middle child, José María ‘Chema’ Lazcano, César and Mariana's middle child, second best friend of Álex… and deeply in love with him, unrequited love. His father refuses to acknowledge Chemo is gay and beats him badly to demonstrate manly virtues of something or other.

Nothing goes right for poor Chema. Minor missteps and the simplest of errors results in magnified consequences. To my surprise, I found my heart breaking for him. His character has tragedy stamped all over him. Second only to the relationship between Lazcano daughter Elisa and Álex, I chewed my metaphorical nails over Chema. The actor and writers reached across the border, the cultural barrier, and the gay-straight continuum shaking up my normal affectionate tolerance similar to Álex’s. Nicely accomplished.

And Now We Wait

This project has been filmed through the pandemic. I can’t imagine what the crew had to go through to avoid infections in this midst of this killer coronavirus. For certain, they have created an innovative story with care worthy characters, at least through two seasons. I’m adding this to my list of pending new seasons. It’s darn well worth it.

Have you seen it?

Update: NetFlix says season 3 will be released on the 18th of the month. Yay!

12 March 2022

Perfect Spy 'o the Time: The Macbeth Murder Mystery


It wasn’t an elaborate murder plot, nor did it go as planned. Not Macbeth’s plan, anyway. He put real thought into it, though. Ambushing his best friend Banquo outside Forres Castle required not one, not two, but three bushwhackers. What happens next is a Shakespeare whodunnit.

Macbeth (or The Scottish Play, for the superstitious) up to this point: Scotland is thunder and fog and war. The ever-hovering Weird Sisters have prodded general Macbeth's ambition with a prophecy that he'll rule Scotland. And Macbeth does, by killing his cousin and legit king, Duncan, and escaping blame with help from Lady Macbeth. But this power couple has a problem: The Weird Sisters also foretold that Banquo's heirs would assume the crown. The Weird Sisters are yet to be wrong. If Macbeth wants to hold and pass that crown, Banquo and his son Fleance's brief candles need snuffing.

Opportunity knocks at Forres Castle, Duncan's old palace. Macbeth freed up everyone's afternoon to relax before a self-congratulatory banquet that night. In actuality, he wants to catch a target alone. Banquo and Fleance, there at court, plan a conveniently lonely ride upon the heath before the banquet. It’s an odd move to leave the relative safety of the other thanes, what with Banquo--and most everyone else--not fooled by Macbeth’s bloody power grab. Banquo must feel most secure keeping himself and Fleance clear of Macbeth.

With cause. Ahead of the ambush, Macbeth tells Murderers One and Two:

…Within this hour, at most,
I will advise you where to plant yourselves;
Acquaint you with the perfect spy o' the time,
The moment on't — for't must be done tonight
And something from the palace, always thought
That I require a clearness.
Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 1

With Banquo connected and well-respected, Macbeth needs the job to go perfectly, but he's condescending at best to his crew already onboard. This new op is who Macbeth trusts, someone who knows the local ground and Banquo's riding habits, where he must dismount and walk his horse for the stables.

Enter Third Murderer. It's Third Murderer who positions the bushwhack while First and Second complain about Macbeth’s obvious lack of faith. They have no idea who this new accomplice is, nor is Third Murderer volunteering a name. It’s Third Murderer who spots Banquo, but Fleance scarpers off unwhacked into the heath. Third Murderer notices that, too.

Macbeth never identifies this perfect spy o’ the time. Third Murder just murders thirdly. The simplest theory: Read no critical meaning into this. Often, Shakespearian parts were tossed in to reposition the stage post-scene. But Third Murderer stalks the enduring 1623 script so trusted but so anonymous as if a clue. After all, if the production needed an extra hand to clear the heath, Macbeth could've hire a trio.

Henry Fuseli

And the play does need a trio. In Macbeth as in life, what's bad comes in threes. Ghostly knocks, incantations, murders on stage (Duncan, Banquo, Macduff’s son). Three was the unluckiest number in Shakespeare’s England. Third Murderer perfecting yet another unholy trinity amps the supernatural unease.

Third Murder perfects something more important: dramatic structure. Up to Fleance's scarpering, everything clicks for Macbeth. He won fame, avoided justice, taken the crown, and consolidated power. After Fleance scarpers, Macbeth suffers desertion and defeat. His hand-picked asset proves imperfect or at least inexpert– Macbeth's pivotal miscalculation and core to the play's message: Rulers turned tyrants will inevitably self-destruct.

Who, then, might be our imperfect spy o' the time?

LENNOX

The thane Lennox tracks after whoever is king. Lennox stays at court longest among the thanes, long after the most forthright have defected to the opposition cause. After Banquo's murder, Macbeth brings Lennox along for a final consultation with the Weird Sisters.

Lennox didn't, however, have motive. He may keep hanging around the palace, but not as a friend to Macbeth. Lennox is repeatedly sarcastic about Macbeth's suspicious rise and Scotland's trail of too-convenient deaths. Soon enough, Lennox joins the rebellion. It's unlikely he seeks or finds welcome there if he third-murdered Banquo.

ROSS

© Wikipedia

Joel Coen's 2021 movie re-fashions the thane Ross as Third Murderer. It's not the first such interpretation. Ross, a cousin both to Macbeth and poor Duncan, is a wheeler-dealer, in on court gossip and happy to run errands for the crown. The Coen movie fashions Ross into a ruthless king-maker. The botched murder of Fleance intentionally furthers his own ambitions.

A cool take– that doesn't quite jive. In the First Folio (admittedly compiled some 17 years after Macbeth was first staged), Ross breaks with Macbeth early. Ross warns Lady Macduff to flee, at some risk to himself, and Ross tells Macduff about his family's assassination. Ross helps secure English forces to unseat Macbeth. Why murder for a tyrant while tipping everyone else to the body trail?

A DUBIOUS ASSOCIATE

Macbeth was a successful warrior thane prior to the Weird Sisters' appearance. He would've had a network of useful associates and willing mercenaries. Third Murderer as a random agent moves the play along, but Macbeth is also about specific choices leading to specific fates. Even First and Second Murderer get a scene to choose their dark path of revenge for perceived insults off Banquo. It's too loose a thread if Third Murderer is just a mercenary.

SEYTON THE ARMORER GUY

The Scottish-English alliance creeping up forest-style on Macbeth also vow to punish his "cruel ministers." The play shows one such official around for the final battle: Macbeth's attendant and armorer, Seyton. He is introduced late--at the Act V climax--and with little ado. He seems there mostly to provide Macbeth updates on the crumbling situation. But Seyton is all-in with Team Macbeth. His rise to captain might've been launched as a trusted bushwhacker.

A CONJURING

Scotland grows full of eerie happenings as the Weird Sisters run amok. It would've hardly been past the Sisters to place a malevolent entity at Macbeth's disposal. Or perhaps Scotland's hauntings reach a critical mass and conjure their own demons. It's all possible in Macbeth's story world, and such an entity would've seen that fated characters met fated ends: death for Banquo, escape for Fleance, doom for Macbeth. Still, Macbeth had a known someone in mind for third murdering. A random ghoul doesn't inspire the requisite trust.

LADY MACBETH

John Singer Sargent,
1889 (Tate Gallery)

To here, Lady Macbeth has been clinical and composed about murder. This woman turned to direst cruelty is, at last, someone Macbeth could believe reliable at so great a task.

Directly before the bushwhacking attempt, though, she is at Forres Castle with Macbeth, who hints that it's a shame what might happen to Banquo. Macbeth leaves her with plausible deniability, and he's not interested in discussing her emerging reticence for bloodshed. We next see her entering the banquet with the royal entourage. By all evidence, she stuck to the castle and kept, ahem, her hands clean.

Then, there's theme. Macbeth is overt about gender roles. Lady Macbeth vows to “unsex” herself when she helps murder Duncan. The Weird Sisters are feared doubly for how they defy expectations of womanhood. Even if somehow First and Second Murderers didn't recognize the dang queen as Macbeth's perfect spy o' the time, they would’ve noticed something feminine or unsexed about this new partner.

MACBETH

By this point, Macbeth keeps his own counsel. He came to the throne by violence, and violence to hold power is fine by him. More than anyone, he knows old pal's Banquo’s habits and formidable skills in a fight. A direct part in Banquo's death would further explain Macbeth's sanity break when Banquo's ghost appears--only to Macbeth--at the feast.

But Macbeth, too, arrives at the feast on time and unruffled. If he did slip away and return under the wire, he has to feign surprise when First Murderer reports Fleance's feet-don't-fail-me-now escape. Like Lady Macbeth, though, it’s farfetched to imagine First and Second Murderer not recognizing the king even disguised. They don’t, either overtly or by inference, and as a practical matter, First Murderer wouldn't risk reporting to Macbeth what the boss witnessed in person.

SHAKESPEARE

That's right. The Bard pulled it off. He wrote in Third Murderer with such brilliant vagueness that production options were wide open.In a play about ambition and abuse of power, the suspect list is half the cast. It’s a testament to Macbeth's power that five centuries later we're still sifting through the couldadunnits.

outcomes of the accused

01 March 2020

Tales from the Wood


Just two
Friends
Sexual
‘Cement’ their love
Killing
Five victims… or twelve… or seventeen or eighteen
… numbers unknown.
Catherine Wood

Gwendolyn Graham
Made it a game. Made it fun. Tried to spell out ‘m-u-r-d-e-r’ with victims’ names. Couldn’t spell worth nuthin’.

Made up for spelling in sing-song verse– Love ya forever and a day… for each killing.

You no tell, I no tell… forever. Until one cheats.

Gwendolyn Graham, Catherine Wood.

Wood sought revenge on Gwen. Cathy, the manipulator, the planner, the convincer of police and prosecutors, she testified convincingly against her former inamorata.

This unfolded in the latter 1980s, back when female serial killers didn’t exist, never mind two working in concert. So why should we care now?

One of them, Wood, the one incarcerated here in mad, mad, mad, mad Florida, won parole. Graham remains locked away forever.

Has justice been served?

Wood initially imparted the tales of the killings to her ex-husband. Not knowing what to think, he brought in police which, oddly enough, may have been part of Cathy Wood’s revenge plan.

She and other witnesses told authorities a number of stories:
  1. All Gwen’s fault. Gwen thought it up. Gwen planned the murders. Gwen picked targets. Gwen executed victims. Gwen took souvenirs. Gwen bullied Cathy to serve as reluctant lookout. Gwen guilty. Cathy not so much.
  2. Nobody killed nobody. Catherine Wood made it all up as a mind game to punish Graham.
  3. Cathy Wood planned and killed at least the first woman, then involved Graham in a calculated move to bind Gwen Graham to her forever.
  4. Wood planned and executed all five to a dozen or more murders to implicate Graham. The goal was revenge for cheating on her, a plot that spun out of control.
  5. Graham herself contends she’s innocent, a victim of Wood’s hatred and thirst for vengeance. She might be right… or not.
Here’s Nancy Grace going breathlessly verklempt about it.


Remember the case? What’s your opinion? Do weigh in.

02 December 2019

Patio Writer


As I recall, I first encountered Joseph D'Agnese when I read his first story in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and rated it the best story I read that week.   We had a chat and later shared a lunch with our editor Linda Landrigan.  Yes, that was name-dropping. Suffer.

Joe has a new book and I asked him to tell us about it. But first, let's talk about the man himself.  

Joseph D'Agnese is a journalist, author, and ghostwriter who has written for both adults and children alike. He has won a Derringer Award for his short mystery fiction, and one of his stories appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories 2015 anthology. D'Agnese lives with his wife in North Carolina. Joe has been called “The Meryl Streep of Short Fiction,” but prefers to think of himself as The Susan Lucci. Visit him at josephdagnese.com  -Robert Lopresti



PATIO WRITER

by Joseph D'Agnese

Once upon a time I wrote a novel, and it was awesome. At least my parents and I thought so. And why wouldn’t we all think that? I was all of 15 years old.

My parents did not actually read the book, and never would. Neither of them had finished high school. They were, as people are fond of saying, not big readers.

But for some reason, they thought it was wonderful and perhaps a little strange that their son preferred sitting on the patio banging away on a manual typewriter, instead of doing things his brothers or other kids did. All summer long, when it came time for dinner, my mother would scoot me off our picnic table in the Jersey suburbs so we could fire up the grill and eat dinner al fresco. She would say things like, “You’re gonna ruin your eyes!” “What is this, your office?” and “How long is this thing going to be?"

The story in question had something to do with a bookseller who solved mysteries in his spare time. He had a bookshop in New York City, and a nephew who was a professional gumshoe who helped investigate. The nephew narrated; the uncle solved the mystery. A complete Nero Wolfe rip-off—er, dynamic. Aside from the fact that I’d never set foot in a Manhattan bookstore in my life, I figure the story was about as clever as a kid my age could make it. A kid who obsessively read mysteries, that is.

In my defense, I also had a summer job of sorts. When I wasn’t reading or writing, I worked for my dad, who was a pattern maker in New York’s Garment District. (Astute readers will recall that my very first story to appear in AHMM was set in that world.) Dad brought home extra work to make a little money on the side, and I helped him out nights and weekends in his shop in the garage.

I used my meager earnings to make two photocopies of the manuscript, which I presented to my parents. I have no idea what my mother did with her copy. My father tucked his into the plastic gray briefcase he took with him to work every morning, and showed it off to friends when they lunched in greasy spoon diners that catered to the men of New York’s Fashion Avenue.

School started up and I had tucked away my Olivetti until my next big writing season. My father returned home from work one night and announced with utter seriousness, “Next week, you’re coming to the city with me. An editor wants to talk to you about that book of yours!”

What the hell was this now?

If you’re looking for tips on how to break into the competitive literary market, pay attention. Apparently growing tired of lugging around the MS, my father had slipped it to the ladies coat buyer for Montgomery Ward, a woman whose sister happened to work as an assistant to an editor at some publishing house in New York City. A firm my father kept calling The Bantam.

Was I familiar with The Bantam? I was, Dad, highly freaking familiar. I had a ton of paperbacks published by them.

This news took me aback. This was not supposed to happen. The book was for private consumption only. My youngest brother, for example, had recently announced he might just read this book of mine, if he could squeeze it in between homework and clarinet practice.

I was simultaneously terrified and elated at the prospect of real-life editors reading my book. When that day arrived, I donned an ill-fitting jacket and tie and ascended an elevator with my dad at The Bantam offices at 666 Fifth Avenue.

The editor was lovely, and told me just what a kid who thought he sorta, kinda, maybe wanted to write needed to hear. My work was wonderful for a writer my age. My characters fun and funny to be around. Oh sure—there were a few implausibilities that made the book unsalable, but I had to keep plugging away. I should read widely and keep writing. I should learn what I liked. And learn how to edit myself. Learn the difference, if I could, between commercial and literary work. The editor’s name was Linda S. Price, but the hour she gave me that afternoon was absolutely priceless.

As I rode back to Jersey with my dad on the bus, a shopping bag of Bantam books at my feet, I felt the world had opened up just a bit. Although those of you who are writers will understand that I ignored all the positive things she said to me, and dwelled only on the negative. What the hell was an implausibility?

That manuscript went into my bedroom closet and was joined by others I cranked out on the patio over the remaining summers I was in school. Then, one day, when I was out of college and working in publishing in New York, I dug out the bookshop mystery and read it.

Guess what? The characters and scenarios were delightful, but the thing was positively riddled with implausibilities. The savvy 26-year-old me—who now worked in cosmopolitan Manhattan—snickered at the stupidity of 15-year-old me.

Still—I liked the characters. And the plot could work. I became convinced that I knew just how to fix it. So I rewrote the whole thing and shopped it around to the very same editors I’d met during my first big job hunt. No takers.

Versions 1 and 2 disappeared into a file cabinet, where they stayed thirty years, until I dug them out earlier this year.

Did I really want to do this again?

I did. So much so that I scanned those brown pages to make a modern digital file to work from.

This time, 54-year-old me stood up for the 15-year-old in ways that the 26-year-old could not deign to. In the course of the third rewrite, it became completely obvious to me that my amateur sleuth was never intended to be a man but a woman. In fact, the sleuth spoke just like an old elementary school principal of mine. She was the first Italian-American woman I’d known who’d completed college. She used words like unmitigated gall and enunciate. The 15- and 26-year-old writers had been blind to this connection, but I like to think the 54-year-old appreciated this truth for what it was—another gift from the grown-ups in his past.

My mother is no longer with us, but my father who is knocking on 90 had little trouble recalling our visit to The Bantam when he called to say he’d gotten the proof I’d dropped in the mail to him.

“What the hell am I going to do with this?” said the man who spends most of his day watching NCIS reruns and not-so-terribly historic programs on the History Channel.

“You could try reading it,” I suggested.

“Yeah, right,” he said. “You got a clear head, kid.”

So after three rewrites and 40 years, Murder on Book Row is finally out in the world. I reserve the right to clear up any lingering implausibilities when I rewrite it at age 80.

21 November 2019

Cold Ads, Cold Cases


Unfreakin' believable:  This is South Dakota's latest ad about the drug wars:

"Meth:  We're On It"

Check out the posters here!  Argus Leader

Apparently, the idea is to say that meth addiction is everywhere, and people of all ages, etc., are on meth, and we need to fight it together.  On the other hand - I know my first reaction was, "What?"  If it works, great...
but is it just another version of the 2015 ad, "South Dakota, We're Better than Mars"?


Or the memorable South Dakota ad campaign that tried to cut down winter accidents with the following slogan:


And they swore that it was all about jerking the steering wheel, not, uh, something else.

Let's just say that I have ceased to believe that any Don Drapers are here in South Dakota.  Granted, he was a true s.o.b., but the ads were good.
BTW, the State of South Dakota's total budget for anti-meth initiatives in 2020 includes $1 million for meth treatment services and more than $730,000 for school-based meth prevention programming.  But this ad campaign "Meth:  We're On It" has already cost $449,000, which could perhaps be used for more... treatment?  Or something?  
Meanwhile, a lot of the news over the last week or so has been a cold case from 1974.  Ellabeth Lodermeier disappeared on March 6, 1974 from her Sioux Falls home, and hasn't been seen since. Seven months later, three of her credit cards were found at a railway station in Manitoba, Canada, but police said this was a red herring.  Then in 1992, Lodermeier's purse and pocketbook were discovered near the Big Sioux River, but nothing came of that.

Ellabeth Mae Lodermeier
Ellabeth Lodermeier
Then, in December, 2018, the Argus Leader ran an investigation piece on her disappearance, and that led to some brand new leads.  (Read here)  So last week, a team of dogs was out searching.  The police have called the results, "promising", but nothing more.

Meanwhile, before her disappearance, Lodermeier had filed for divorce from her husband, Gene.  A lot of people - including her family - believe that he killed her.  But he died back in 2013, in prison for grand theft.  Nonetheless, he spent the rest of his life under suspicion, which he bitterly resented.

Personally, I'm in awe of cold case law enforcement.  Starting all over again, to solve a crime, to find a person, etc. - takes a certain kind of dedication, and more puzzle-solving abilities than I have.

(That's part of the reason I love New Tricks so much - they solve cold cases - along with the fact that I think they're one of the greatest team shows I've ever seen.  Each and every one of them contributes, and who finally figures it out changes with the episodes.)  
One of the big cold cases that was solved in South Dakota was back in 2014, when South Dakota police finally found the bodies of two high school students, Pamela Jackson and Cheryl Miller, who had vanished on their way to a party in 1971. For over 30 years, people believed they had been kidnapped and murdered. One man was even indicted for the charge - a convicted rapist in prison - based on a supposed confession to another inmate. Later, it was proved that the "confession" had been faked. Nonetheless, his family had to put up with a lot of harassment from law enforcement - including digging up the family farm - and neighbors.

And then, in 2013, Brule Creek water levels dropped significantly, and there were the wheels of the girls' Studebaker. "was in third gear, with the keys in the ignition and the lights on. One tire was damaged. ... Miller's purse was found, [then AG] Jackley said. Inside it was her license, notes from classmates and photographs."  (Argus Leader)  It was simply a tragic accident.

Missing girls press conference

Which is easier to deal with?  Tragic accident or horrendous crime?  If you were family or friend of someone who'd gone missing, which would be easier to live with?

I was thinking about that, and decided that, with a crime, the question would always be, "why couldn't we have seen it coming?" or "why couldn't they have caught the criminal back then?" Or simply statement:  "It isn't fair that they got away with it!"

And it isn't.  Life isn't fair - and the fact that we actually recognize it is, to me, one of the major proofs of the existence of God - and that's why I'd plump for a tragic accident.  The heart's still broken, but at least it's free of vengeance.













05 February 2019

I Am Not a Crook – Or: A friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body.


They say write what you know, but we can’t always write what we know because that would severely limit what we could write. I don’t think George Lucas or Robert Heinlein ever went to outer space before they wrote about it. And most of us here are crime writers or readers, but how many crime writers have actually lived a life of crime? Aside from speeding or maybe smoking a joint or a little underage drinking, not exactly heinous felonies. How many of us have committed those?

I’m no goody two-shoes (does anyone say that anymore?) but I also haven’t lived a life on the lam from a criminal past. As RT mentioned recently, I may have had homicidal fantasies, but I only carry them out on the page. I did, however, get a ticket for jaywalking once.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to watch the Murder Channel, the Discovery ID Channel, 24/7 Murder, Mayhem and Betrayal. And one of the things that strikes me in many of the cases they cover is how, not only the main bad guy can so easily kill—and often someone they had once loved,—but how easy it is for them to find friends who will help them carry out their deeds before, during or after the fact. Someone to join you in the fun of murder, or join you afterwards to help you dispose of the body, lie to the cops, etc. Think about your circle of friends. Is there anyone you could turn to to help you kill someone or bury the body afterwards? I know I travel in certain circles, but I don’t think anyone I know would be willing to do that…except maybe the guy I wrote about last time, Brian McDevitt. But since I never tested him on it I can’t say for sure. But you know what they say, a friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body. I’m not sure I have any really good friends… But so far I haven’t needed one. I guess I’ll find out if the time comes 😉.


And though I may not have murdered anyone, my life of crime began at a very early age. When I was around eight, I’m guessing, I stole a couple pieces of candy from a market. Once we got outside my dad noticed them in my hand and made me take them back. It was humiliating but it taught me a lesson—crime does not pay.

When I was in my late 20s, I was approached by a couple—no not for that. They wanted me to marry a friend of theirs from Lebanon so she could become a citizen. They would pay me and at the time I could have used the money, badly. I told them I’d think about it. But I didn’t really need to. I knew I wouldn’t—couldn’t—do it…because it was both wrong and illegal. Nonetheless, I went home and got back to them a day or two later with my negative response. They weren’t happy, but I could live with myself.

But I did commit a crime while down in San Diego. A buddy of mine and I wanted to go to Belmont Park, a small seaside amusement park. We didn’t want to pay, so we hopped a fence on the back side, climbing over barbed wire, and jumped into the park. Nobody caught us. Not exactly in the category of mass murderer, but still illegal.

McDonald’s Incident 1: Also, in San Diego, but another time, another person—my brother this time. We went to McDonald’s. They gave him too much change. A twenty instead of a five. I made him return it. Not a crime, of course, but it ties in with the next point:

McDonald’s Incident 2: Up in LA this time. They short-changed me. I pointed it out. They made me feel like a liar, a thief and criminal. They made me wait while they closed that register and rectified. They found they were wrong and I was right. They gave me my change but never apologized. This happened shortly after the first McDonald’s incident, so I felt like a sap for being honest that time. But I’d probably do it again.

Rear-ender: I was on my way to teach a class. Occasionally I taught one-night screenwriting seminars. I was sitting at a red light and I see this huge Ford pickup barreling down on me. I tried to pull over, but couldn’t in time. He clipped me, sent me through a lamppost and destroyed my car (see pix). I was lucky to get out alive. Luckily I wasn’t hurt more. And all I wanted from his insurance company—and everyone knew and admitted that he was 100% in the wrong—was to have my medical paid, real replacement value for my car, not the bluebook value—I proved to them that these cars were going for more than Bluebook. And for them to pay for my rental car. His insurance company lied to me over and over. They also tried to screw me more ways than one. I had tried being honest and straight with them. But I realized the error of my ways: not getting a lawyer and finally got one. And I’m sure that whatever settlement we got was more than what I would have settled for initially…because I am an honest person and didn’t want to screw them. But they wanted to screw me…so I screwed back, legally.


I probably shouldn’t say this, but since it’s from my wilder and younger days, and I don’t do it anymore: I used to carry a very sharp knife with me. And when people would block me in a parking place one way or another, well, let’s just say they had a hard time driving home…after I slashed their tires. I never felt bad about it. It shouldn’t take me ten minutes to crawl into my car or work my way out of a parking place. It was sort of instant justice.

I may have done some other things, heated arguments and sometimes fights, but nothing major. Never stole (except for the candy when I was a kid), murdered, burgled, robbed. But I write about people who do. And, of course, I did pull a gun on the cops that time...and lived to tell about it… But for that story you’ll have to check out my website: https://pauldmarks.com/he-pulled-a-gun-on-the-lapd-and-lived-to-tell-about-it/ 

So………..do you know anyone who would be willing to help you move the body?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Colman Keane interviewed me for his blog, Col's Criminal Library. Check it out:

http://col2910.blogspot.com/2019/02/questions-and-answers-with-paul-d-marks.html



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

31 January 2019

What We're Best at Being Bad At


Ah, the nuances of our various United States.  And, thanks to the Internet, we have more memes and statistics and sites than ever before to show everyone what we're good - and bad - and very VERY bad at.

According to the Reader's Digest, South Dakota is Best at Retirement — Everyone’s golden years are more, well, golden in South Dakota, where a combination of low taxes and happy residents makes it the best state for retirement according to Bankrate. And we're Worst at Child Mortality Rate — Unfortunately, the younger generation in the Mount Rushmore state isn’t faring so well. With 47 teen and child deaths per 100,000 people every year, it’s leading the nation in child mortality.  So - give birth somewhere else, but come here to retire.  Interesting...

How does this compare to other states I've lived in?

Well, California is Best at diversity, and Worst at quality of life. I'm surprised at that, because I remember California as wonderful - and I don't think it was all youth and hormones...

But it beats North Carolina (where I went to graduate school for a while at Chapel Hill), which is Best at Millenial Living but Worst at STDs. Please folks - start using condoms!

Georgia is Best at onions - specifically Vidalia, and I can attest to their sweetness.  It's Worst at flu prevention.

Tennessee is Best at Fast Wi-Fi - apparently the state's internet is 50 times speedier than the national average, and God only knows how they got that - and Worst at childhood obesity rates.

But let's move on to crime.  What's the most famous unsolved crime in every state?  (see MSN to look up your state.)

In South Dakota, it's the murders of 30-year-old LaDonna Mathis and her two sons, aged 4 and 2, shot dead on September 8, 1981, in Mount Vernon in Davison County, South Dakota. The father, John Mathis, was shot in the arm, but survived. He said a masked man had carried out the attack, but investigators considered him the prime suspect. He was acquitted a year later when a jury found him not guilty, mainly because the prosecution had no witnesses, no murder weapon and little physical evidence.  "As I look back, I would have recognized that at that time there was a myth, a myth that parents could not harm their children, No. 1," then-Attorney General Mark Meierhenry said. "No 2., that sometimes myth overwhelms reason. Because it's what we all want to believe."

NOTE:  The Argus Leader has a whole different set of top five unsolved mysteries - look them up HERE.

BTW, there are lots of gruesome stories on this website, but the weirdest one is from Vermont:
Between 1920 and 1950, as many as 10 people mysteriously disappeared in a patch of woods surrounding Glastenbury Mountain in southwestern Vermont. Native Americans consider Glastenbury Mountain “cursed” and used it strictly for burying their dead. They believed the land to be cursed because all four winds met in that spot. There is also mention in native American folklore of an enchanted stone which is said to swallow anything that steps on it. Some have also reported UFO activity and Bigfoot sightings in the area.  Author Joseph Citro coined the term "Bennington Triangle" in 1992.  Well, sounds like a new movie franchise to me.

John Dillinger mug shot.jpg
John Dillinger
The most notorious crime for each state is almost always entirely different (see Insider) than the "most famous unsolved" one, with the exceptions of the murder of Jon Benet-Ramsay in Colorado, and the murder of TV star Bob Crane in Scottsdale, AZ in 1978.  But they are indeed all notorious - I'd heard of most of them, including the 1924 murder by Leopold and Loeb of their 14 year old cousin, Bobby Franks, the 1954 Clutter murders which was the source material for Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood", and Jeffrey MacDonald, who was accused and eventually convicted of the 1970 murders of his family at Fort Bragg.  BTW, Mr. MacDonald has consistently declared his innocence (but then so do so many), but has consistently been refuted, denied, etc.  However, in 1997 DNA testing was done on some hair from the crime scene, some of which matched no one in the MacDonald family.  So far this evidence has not been enough to get him a new trial.  That happens more often than you'd think.  

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, it's when John Dillinger robbed the Security National Bank in Sioux Falls on March 6, 1934.  He got $50,000, which would be almost a million dollars today.

Now it's very appropriate that a bank robbery would be our most notorious crime, because when it comes to crime statistics, South Dakota is best known for its larceny.  61% of all our major crimes are monetary, and if you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention to my past blogs on EB-5, Gear Up!, and Maria Butina:  61% larceny and theft, 14% burglary, 14% aggravated assault (combine drinking and winter, and a lot of stuff happens around the bars or at home), 7% motor vehicle theft, and the remaining 4% rape, robbery, and murder/manslaughter.  (MuniNetGuide)

I looked over the charts, and while the numbers do change, the actual proportions of crime look almost the same for all the states. But you feel it a bit more in a state like this.  South Dakota has a current population of around 870,000, which means that each and every South Dakotan will either experience crime, commit crime, or feel the effects of crime upon them or someone they know. You know that whole "Six Degrees of Separation" rap? Here it's Two Degrees. At the most.

It's like when Carl Ericsson, 72 years old and holding a serious grudge, came to Madison, SD one night in 2012, and went literally from door to door, looking for someone on his grudge list who was home.  (Yes, he had a list.)  Fortunately for all but one, the only one home was a very popular retired teacher, Norm Johnson, who Ericsson shot twice in the face.  Johnson died that night.  I knew Johnson - he always was the host of the annual Spelling Bee, and I was one of the AAUW women who judged it.  I also knew him from substitute teaching at the high school when we first moved up to Madison.  I didn't know Carl Ericsson, but I knew his brother (who was also on Carl's grudge list), and all of his brother's family.  And that night the deputy who lived next door to us knocked on my door and asked me to babysit his kids while he went to join the other law enforcement looking for the shooter.  This was before anyone knew who the shooter was, or where he was, or who he was looking for.  The deputy gave me a gun in case the shooter came calling, and I sat there while the kids slept for a few hours.  Safe, but listening for footsteps on the sidewalk, and/or a knock on the door.  Everyone in Madison (population 6,000+) knew either Ericsson, Johnson, or both.  It resonated in a way that you almost never see on TV.

But back to embezzlement.  Besides grifting on the state level, there's also one heck of a lot of small potatoes embezzlement here in South Dakota, much of it fueled by gambling addiction and/or medical bills.  $500 from the local VFW; $1,500 from a doctor's office; $2,500 from a nursing home.  Interestingly, besides the public humiliation, the punishment is more a slap on the wrist:  the main penalty is to pay the money back and do community service; rarely is there any jail time.  Perhaps that's why it's so common...

hi-grain_766852540621But every once in a while it gets bigger than video lottery.  Just recently, up in Kingsbury County a family-run grain elevator has gone bankrupt because the family was hedging commodities and lost as much as $15 million of other people's money. Now that's serious gambling. And the farmers who trust them are in a world of hurt.  The farmers hauled their grain to the elevator, waited for prices to go up and the grain to be sold, and then waited, waited, waited for their checks...  Besides the fact that the grain elevator pocketed the money, while grain purchasers have to post bonds to guarantee that they'll pay the grain producers - but this company only had a bond of $400,000.  That's going to resonate for a long time.  Maybe longer than murder.  (KELO-TV)

Anyway, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

PS - In a sea-filled flavor of things to come, Madison, SD is taking up shrimp farming!  Tru Shrimp, from Ballaton, MN, has announced plans to build its first commercial shrimp harbor in Madison. "The facility is expected to employ 60, produce 8 million pounds of shrimp annually, and have a $30 million impact on a five-county area."  (Madison Daily Leader)  Because nothing says shrimp harbor like the plains of South Dakota... I see a real story coming here, folks, and I will keep you posted!

PPS - Leigh Lundin's tid-bits from Florida have made me feel that I need to provide aid and comfort to him in regard to a certain Mr. Sardo.  (Leigh's post)  Here in South Dakota, on January 11, 2019, an Ipswich man was convicted for fulfilling his dream of having sex with underage twins - in this case, two calves.  He tried to claim that the laws against bestiality were unconstitutional, but the judge didn't buy it.  (Story Here)