Showing posts with label serial killers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label serial killers. Show all posts

12 June 2019

Wire in the Blood

David Edgerley Gates



Wire in the Blood is a Brit TV show based on Val McDermid's series of books featuring forensic psychologist Tony Hill. The character's played by Robson Green, who might be familiar to some of you from Grantchester, and who was also in seasons 4 and 5 of Strike Back, which is where he first caught my attention. He's had a solid career going back to the late 1980's, light comedy and heavy drama, but I wouldn't wonder if doing Tony Hill isn't one of the highlights.

Criminal profiling, in the formal sense, goes back at least to the Whitechapel terror - Jack the Ripper is said to be the first object of analysis. David Morrell would give you an argument, and suggest Thomas de Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," which examines the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, predating the Ripper by some 75 years. The 'science,' disputed by some scholars, has gotten a lot of traction over the last forty years or so. The FBI commissioned their Behavioral Science Unit in 1972. Thomas Harris published Red Dragon in 1981. Popular imagination does the rest.


Wire in the Blood falls very much in hagiographic terrain. Tony Hill has an unsettling ability to put himself in a killer's shoes, but his insights aren't always appreciated by the more evidence-driven homicide dicks he works with. He'll make an intuitive leap; they'll be looking for a DNA match. In practice, it usually works out, and the bad guys meet their just desserts. In terms of narrative structure, it can be a little predictable, since Tony's so often proved right. This isn't, in the scheme of things, actually a weakness. It provides a two-track storyline, and even though you know Tony has his finger on the killer's internal mechanics, it's gonna be the cops who run the villain to earth.

There's a very definite something else going on with Tony Hill, though, and certainly in the way that Robson Green inhabits the character. Tony isn't socially adept. If he's not quite as bone-headed as, say, Doc Martin, he's obviously somewhere on the spectrum. This plays out as an interesting contradiction. Tony will walk his way through a crime scene, and try to experience it from the POV of both victim and killer. This kind of sympathetic vibration doesn't work for him, however, with what most of us think of as generic social interaction. He'll stop a conversation cold because he's had a sudden epiphany, he'll forget what he was saying, he'll walk out of a room. He doesn't realize his behavior is often careless or even hurtful. He doesn't mean it to be, of course, and he's embarrassed when he's caught out, but he's obsessive-compulsive. He's got tunnel vision. 


This is a curiously common characteristic in our ratiocinatory detectives - is that a word? Sherlock Holmes, for one. Emotion clouds the reasoning process. On the other hand, empathy is a necessary part of it. Tony Hill is deeply affected by what he does, but he has to keep his distance. It's a puzzle in and of itself, and Robson Green makes the guy fascinating to watch. Not endearing, mind, but isolated, apart. Too much in his own head.

I should add a cautionary note. Wire in the Blood isn't a cozy. The theme is damage, the pathologies are unsettling, the prey are children, or the weak, or the damned. It's not terribly reassuring. It makes for one hell of a compelling narrative, though.

03 October 2016

Blood and Gore

by Janice Law

Some time ago, our SleuthSayers colleague Eve Fisher wrote a good piece on why she hated (fictional) serial killers. I had to agree that too often the serial killer is a convenient, if callous, way to hype up the tension and excitement of a book and not always just in horror fiction or low level pulp. There are some really good writers like Jo Nesbo and Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose style and characterizations I otherwise admire, whose fondness for killers commiting ingenious and torturous murders strikes me as dubious both ethically and aesthetically.

Recently, a couple of writers new to me have got me thinking about serial killers again and even more, about the strain of ingenious sadism which so often accompanies their fictional arrival. John Hart’s The Last Child and Zygmunt Miloszewski’s Rage, one tangentially about a serial killer, the other, about a sadistic serial avenger, take radically different approaches.

Hart’s The Last Child throws a whole lot into the hopper: a young girl’s disappearance, a heroic boy out to find her, possible police corruption, a big helping of dismal history, and a touch of supernatural Southern Gothic. A synopsis of the plot practically screams exploitive melodrama, but the skeleton of the story proves deceptive because Hart is a careful and sensitive writer.

Yes, there is something bad happening out in the North Carolina backcountry, but The Last Child focuses always on the people affected by the disappearance of Alyssa Merrimon and the catastrophic effect of her loss on her twin, Johnny, on her distraught mother, and on the weary Clyde Hunt, the detective in charge of the initial investigation.

The portrait of brave, troubled Johnny is particularly well done, as is the companion portrait of his unhappy friend, Jack, but even minor characters like Mrs. Merrimon’s dangerous lover and the mysterious giant Levi Freemantle are well handled. Evil is present, but it’s not around for cheap thrills. Indeed, the book ends in a sadder, more plausible, way that one is likely to anticipate.

Miloszewski’s Rage is another matter altogether. I like mysteries set in foreign countries, and Olsztyn, a Polish resort town with a multitude of lakes and seemingly wretched weather, is a locale ripe for mystery and mayhem. The investigator, Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, is cranky and over worked. He is often difficult with both his lover and his teen-aged daughter and inclined to be abrupt with innocent members of the public.

Harried by the investigation of an exceptionally cruel, if equally exceptionally creative, murder, he fails to pick up hints of serious domestic abuse and finds himself not only in bureaucratic hot water but in true physical danger. This interest in domestic violence apparently represents something new in Polish crime fiction, but that alone probably does not account for the inventively gruesome revenge plot.

The lack of nuance in Rage is too bad, because both the settling and admittedly crusty but not entirely close-minded Prosecutor Szacki are intriguing. But a strain of zestful cruelty runs throughout the novel, and to my mind, at least, too much of the momentum and impact of Rage relies on gruesome ingenuity as opposed to intelligent characterization or to a real exploration of the ethical and social issues raised by the plot.

Oddly enough, in this case, The Last Child, a novel with a bona fide serial killer, if one kept mostly off stage, turns out to be a moving and subtle character study. Rage, with a much lower body count, sadly relies more on gore and sadism than on its distinctive investigator.

I wonder if I am alone in this sort of reaction or if there are other folk out there who find madly inventive and sadistic murders a dubious literary resource?

15 January 2015

Cloudstreet

by Eve Fisher

We moved up to small town South Dakota 25 years ago.  There was one movie theater, that back then showed movies about 6 months to a year late.  (Things have improved.)  Back then you could rent videos - remember those?  and the main rental center was at a local liquor store.  Let's just say that the selection was limited.  We missed a lot.

But now, with Netflix, I can get almost anything I want.  I troll Netflix the way some people troll bars, looking for suitable pick-ups.  About the only thing I won't watch is anything with extreme gore.  (I have a sensitive stomach.)  And if the show is good enough, I'll read the book.

A classic example of this is Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton of Perth, Australia.  It's Australia's favorite novel, and the miniseries was produced by the Australian television station Showcase.  I rented the miniseries - 6 episodes - and we binge-watched it.

Two families, the Pickles and the Lambs spend over 20 years living in the same, large, ramshackle, haunted (more about that later) house.  They split it down the middle, and a good thing, because they are night and day to each other.  Sam Pickles is a gambler, his wife Dolly is the sexiest drunk God ever put on this earth; between the two of them there isn't much on the table or in the future for their kids.  The Lambs are industrious, but with Oriel as the matriarch, they have to be:  she runs a tight ship.  As her husband, Lester says, "People have always been a disappointment to her."  The Lambs find meaning in God's grace, the Pickles, in luck.  The Pickles' God is the "Shifty Shadow" of fate, and Sam is its high priest.  The Lambs' God is a maker of miracles, although they also trust to the spinning knife, because it's "always the miracles you don't need."  Like a talking pig.  Or a son (Fish Lamb, the narrator) who Oriel beats back into breath after drowning, but not much else, or so it seems.

The house at Cloudstreet is a character in itself.

Cloudstreet - the House
It moans, it breathes, it lives - it's "a continent of a house", trembling with life, past and present.  It's haunted by the ghosts of at least three stolen Aboriginal children, who were being "trained" by an eccentric woman to become nice white ladies at tea before their suicide.  Fish Lamb cries to it; Oriel Lamb runs from it, to the point where she sets up a tent in the back yard and sleeps out there for almost 20 years.  Add to all of the above magical realism, two resurrections, a plagiarist, a parrot that craps money, Lester's ice cream, Oriel and Dolly dancing for the dead, Quick Lamb glowing white hot as the sun from the inside, Fish Lamb leaping, a boat that sails on grass, and a bilocating dog... It's a miniseries worth seeing.

- BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SERIAL KILLER? - 

In Cloudstreet the novel, one of the darker plot lines is provided by the real life Nedlands Monster, Eric Edgar Cooke, who terrorized through Perth from 1959-1963.  He committed over 250 robberies, during which he killed 8 people, and tried to kill 14 others.  It's true that Cooke was a horribly, notoriously abused child, frequently hospitalized for head injuries.  He was born with a cleft palate and had many surgeries, which weren't entirely effective.  He joined the armed forces, but was discharged once they found out about his record of B&E, vandalism, and arson.  He married in 1953 and he and his wife had seven children.  Some time after 1957, after two years' imprisonment for stealing a car, he went on a killing spree, that was the most entirely random thing you can imagine. He shot people, strangled them, stabbed them with knives and/or scissors, ran them over with cars, and axed them.  Whatever worked.  Some he killed when they woke up while he was robbing their house in the middle of the night.  One he shot dead when they answered his knock at the door.  He was eventually caught, tried, convicted and hanged in 1964.

Sadly, before Cooke was convicted, two false convictions were made:
Beamish, Button, and
crusading journalist Estelle Blackburn
after Beamish's acquittal in 2005

  • Darryl Beamish, a deaf mute, was convicted in December, 1961, of murdering Jillian Macpherson Brewer, a Melbourne heiress.  Despite Cooke's confession in 1963, Beamish served 15 years.  (The Chief Justice of Western Australia refused to believe Cooke's confession because he was a "villainous unscrupulous liar.")  After Button was released, though, in 2005, Beamish was finally acquitted.
  • John Button was convicted of manslaughter in 1963 of the death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson (one of Cooke's first hit and run victims).  Button's bad stutter led the police to believe that he was deliberately concealing his guilt, and they coerced a confession out of him.  Again, despite Cooke's confession later that year, Button's appeal was denied.  In fact, Button's appeals were continually denied until 2002, when the Court of Criminal Appeal finally quashed his conviction. Sadly, Ms. Anderson's family continued to believe that he was guilty, and when they finally accepted that he didn't run her down, they held him responsible for her death because he was her escort the night that it happened, and he should have seen her home safely.  Button is currently the head of the Western Australia Innocence Project.

None of this shows up in the miniseries, but in the book, after Rose Pickles (Sam and Dolly's oldest) marries Quick Lamb (Oriel and Lester's oldest), Quick becomes a police officer, one of many assigned to try to catch the Nedlands Monster.  You can see "the murderer" as a symbol of another way of life, or a way to add to the tension, or as another example of the haunting of the world, the way Cloudstreet is haunted:  take your pick.  But he's all over Part IX:  he even shows up at the Cloudstreet house at one point, (looking for who?) but is chased off by the talking pig while the Aboriginal (sporadic visitor and prophet) watches approvingly.  And his eventual capture is another turning of the "shifty shadow", this time to good luck.

I don't know why they cut Cooke out of the miniseries.  (It's still worth seeing, even without him.) Maybe they thought that no one in Australia wanted to see it.  And I know there's never enough time in a movie or miniseries for everything that's in the book.  But still.  The novel was published in 1991, the miniseries made in 2010, and I would swear that if it had been made in America, they'd have left that serial killer in.  Can you think of any American miniseries where the serial killer got left out?

10 September 2014

Resurrection Men

by David Edgerley Gates


Ian Rankin published his thirteenth Inspector John Rebus novel, RESURRECTION MEN, in 2002. The story is about a group of cops in a rehab facility - sent down in disgrace because of alcohol or domestic violence issues, or they've fallen afoul of Internal Affairs - but being Rankin, the book is of course about a lot more than that. The title is double-edged, a turn of phrase with a dark history.


In the early 19th century, medical schools relied on the dead bodies of executed criminals for anatomy studies. It was illegal, in that day and age, to leave your body to science. but the supply began to dry up, and it gave rise to a trade in fresh cadavers, and the graves of the newly buried were dug up by body-snatchers, who sold the dead for necropsies. They were known as Resurrection Men. 



Two of these entrepreneurs, Burke and Hare, resident in Edinburgh in late 1827, improved their market share by skipping exhumation and turning to murder. Their victims were the derelict, the sickly, women of the street - people who wouldn't be missed. Over the course of the next year, they killed at least sixteen people, and shopped their corpses to a surgeon named Knox, to use in his anatomical lectures. How much Knox knew, or suspected, is an open question, but certainly he turned a blind eye. After they were caught, Hare turned King's Evidence, in return for immunity, and Burke was hanged. His body, as it happens, was then publicly dissected at the University of Edinburgh. Knox, the doctor, was never prosecuted.


"A wretch who isn't worth a farthing while alive," Sir Walter Scott remarked, "becomes a valuable article when knocked on the head and carried to an anatomist." Scott was being ironic about economies of scale, but as far as I know, he never used this incident as material. Dickens wasn't so shy. One of
his characters in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Jerry Cruncher, is explicitly a grave-robber. And in 1884, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a story called "The Body-Snatcher," which stops just short of naming Knox as a knowing accomplice. Stevenson's DR.
JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is a reimagining of the Whitechapel murders, and there's been some conflation, in books and movies, of Burke and Hare's crimes with Jack the Ripper. The serial killer, as a figure of fear, is a mid-Victorian invention, I believe. Not that somebody might not claim many victims, but that he does it for the sick thrill.


Psychopathology wasn't well-understood, in the 1800's - the term didn't even come into general use until the early 20th century. One of the narrative engines of David Morrell's gripping recent novel, MURDER AS A FINE ART, which takes place in 1854 London, is the lack of any practical forensic approach, and the inability to process, let alone inhabit, the mindset of a serial murderer. It's not simply an unknown, but unimaginable, like an empty space on an old map, which simply states: Here Be Monsters. Burke and Hare took up their trade for the easy money, but the seeming
effortlessness of the murders gives you pause. They displayed no remorse. Burke, in fact, before he went to the scaffold, asked whether Dr. Knox would give him the five pounds he was owed for his last victim, so Burke could buy a new suit of clothes to be hanged in. 

"To know my deed, 'twere best not to know myself," Macbeth says. Burke and Hare apparently avoided any kind of self-knowledge. They denied the humanity of the men and women, and at least one child, that they murdered, but did they deny their own? Neither one of them were crazy, so far as we know, although they were probably a few cards short of a full deck. They were paid five to ten pounds for each dead body they delivered. In today's numbers, between six and twelve hundred bucks. Not too shabby, if you're desecrating a grave in the wee hours, but for a capital crime? The odd thing about these guys is that they were very far from the pathology of the Ripper. There was actually nothing out of the ordinary about them. They were simply dumb enough to get caught.

Maybe that's the thing. It isn't that Burke and Hare live on in our imagination because they were criminal deviants who've evaded detection for 125 years - is the Ripper case solved? More, perhaps,
that Burke and Hare touched a popular nerve at the time, and that a writer like Dickens or Stevenson gives them shelf life. (Burke's skeleton is still on display at the Edinburgh Medical School.) No, the dread lies in the open grave. 

http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

10 April 2013

The Night of The Generals

by David Edgerley Gates

Not that many movies begin with a guy hiding in a stairwell toilet, peeking through a crack in the door. Warsaw, 1942, the German occupation. A whore is murdered. A major in German intelligence is called in by the Polish police, because the case may have unhappy political considerations. The girl was a German informant. Oh, and the guy in the toilet? He saw somebody coming down the stairs, but he can't identify him, because all he saw was the lower half of a Wehrmacht uniform, with a red stripe down the leg. It happens only German generals wear the red stripe.




Three of the generals posted to Warsaw have no explanation for where they were on the night in question, and Major Grau of Intelligence takes it on himself to narrow the field of suspects. His immediate subordinate, a captain, asks him why it matters who killed the girl, a nobody. Grau asks him in return, Have you ever heard of the Eumenides? Grau's point is that even a whore's lonely death, unrevenged, will call down the Furies. One of the suspected officers, General Tanz, makes the explicit counterargument, later in the picture, when he says, Why should this woman's murder attract any attention at all?---our century has seen millions of deaths more horrible than hers. From this perspective, the moral question is one of degree.

NIGHT OF THE GENERALS is compelling not because of the mystery---it's pretty transparent from the get-go which of our guys is a nutjob---but because it's about a murder in wartime. Everything plays out against the worsening backdrop of Germany's coming collapse, from Warsaw in '42 to Paris in July of '44, after the Allied landings in Normandy, and everybody's got something to hide. One of the major plot strands is the conspiracy in the German high command to assassinate Hitler, for example. This raises the stakes considerably, and while you might not agree with General Tanz, and his moral relativism, you can see where he's coming from. With defeat looming, who seriously cares about dead whores? (There's more than one victim as the movie goes on. It turns out there's a serial killer on the loose.) And the dogged military cop, Grau, keeps getting the brush-off, swatted away by higher ranks, and reassigned because he's a nuisance. Not necessarily by the murderer, either. That's where the real mystery lies, not in the homicide investigation itself, but why all these people are so determined to throw Grau off the scent.

Donald Pleasance, Peter O'Toole, Charles Gray, Omar Sharif

The picture uses an effective structural device, which is basically a frame story, although that's not immediately apparent, since it begins in media res, but then it starts to shift back and forth in time, between the war and the present day---the present day being twenty years later. This allows people to comment on the events of the past, as you see them in flashback, or flash-forward, and often enough, they get it wrong. So there's an element of unreliable narrative mixed in. You don't know whether to trust the witnesses. Their memories may be corrupted by dubious loyalties, or simply self-serving, or they're still protecting old secrets.

Lastly, although this is perhaps parenthetical, when I first saw the movie, in late '67, I think it was, I'd been in Berlin almost two years, and one of the things I thought the picture got dead right was the German habit of mind. In particular, the way the Germans chose to to think about the war, or more to the point, the way they chose not to. In one scene, a veteran officer, now managing an automotive plant, laments that the Wehrmacht might have been able to stop the Allies, if the Army hadn't been stabbed in the back---as usual, he adds. This is willful disbelief, and a denial of history.  In another instance, an aging general is writing his memoirs, and he's gotten as far as the July 1944 plot against Hitler. He remarks that one has to be circumspect, so as not to re-open old wounds, particularly, he says, since so many of the convicted war criminals are now being released. This beggars imagination. Most people, on the other hand, can't be blamed for wanting to reinvent themselves, or be cast in a better light. For example, the French, everybody secretly in the Resistance, and nobody a willing collaborator. Or the Russians, or the Brits, or the Japanese, or us. Americans conveniently forget how strong the isolationist sentiment in this country was, before Pearl Harbor, and how many people thought Hitler was right about the Jews. In this sense, then, NIGHT OF THE GENERALS is subversive. It chooses both to forget, or to blur memory, and at the same time to serve as a sharp reminder, that only some of us are guilty, but none of us are innocent. No less than the Germans, we congratulate ourselves on learning the wrong lessons. No matter how this turns out, Rommel says, talking about the soon-to-fail July plot, history will judge us as patriots, or traitors.

At the end, though, NIGHT OF THE GENERALS does in fact turn on justice for those murdered whores, and there's some small satisfaction in that. In spite of its large canvas, and larger issues, the picture manages to keep a tight focus, and the Furies are held at bay. Or as Stalin is said to have remarked, one death is a tragedy, millions are a statistic.

IMDb movie website link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062038/?ref_=sr_1



08 November 2012

Notes from the Eurozone

by Eve Fisher

My husband and I went on vacation for two weeks and it went quickly.  We were on a cruise to the Canary Islands, which left from and returned to Barcelona, and then we spent a couple of extra days in Barcelona before heading back.  This meant we were lucky on many counts:

(1) We had a great time.  Great food.  Warm weather.  Incredible flowers and fruits.  Great seafood.  And we got to spend time in Barcelona, which was so fantastic that Allan (who's been an artist all his life, primarily sculpture) said that if he'd known at 20 what Barcelona was like, he'd have moved there.  I'll include, at various stages, some of the reason, mostly Gaudi.  (When I first saw his cathedral, I thought, like Dennis Hasset in "Oscar and Lucinda", "many things at once... that it was a miracle... a broken thing... a tragedy... a dream..." I loved it.)

(2) Because our flight was from Amsterdam to Minneapolis, we managed to miss Hurricane Sandy, thanks to flying over Greenland.  Some turbulance, but no cancellations!

(3) Because we were gone for 2 weeks, we missed 2 weeks of election coverage, spin, advertisements, campaigns, and the whole nine yards.  May God be praised.  And I am not going to say another word (no matter what the results) about it.  :)

(4) I got to watch, once again, European TV.   After a long day's hiking around a foreign city, I love to kick off my shoes and turn on the tube.  For one thing, it's so comforting to know that it's not all like it appears on PBS.  In fact, most of it's shlock - bad sit-coms, worse game shows, really boring news shows, and endless cop shows.  Just like America.  Except that in Europe, the women are sometimes actually naked, and the cop shows mix in a lot of humor, mostly slapstick, with their grit and gore.  Oh, and we do have some sense of reality in America.  For example:  (and, in case you're wondering, no, I don't speak Spanish - but I could get the gist of it, and most of it was practically in pantomime.)

Only on European TV would the cop's wife show up at the office to discuss things with the mistress (who is also a cop), and then go home to her lover. 

Only on European TV would another female investigator, dressed in the mandatory skimpy clothing, skid off a bridge during the mandatory car chase, have her car sail out and then crash land twenty+ feet below, UPSIDE DOWN, on top of a bunch of other cars, crushing the roof, without any damage to her hair, body, make-up, or clothing.  Instead, she managed to climb right out of that car and walk.  In fact, I think later that evening she had sex. 

Only on European TV would the slapstick partner have no idea that there's an illegal substance in that gift pillow and, at the party later that night, get everyone at the party so stoned that they all pass out.  The next day, everyone had a good laugh but not, I noticed, any investigation of either the drugs or the partner.

All of this was on the same episode, in which the main investigation was of a middle-aged female serial killer whose victims were elderly women she met at bingo, befriended, and, after smoking a ritual cigarette in their bathroom (don't ask me why), came out and killed them with a wet towel.  She was also the cook at the local cafe, and fed every cop on the show her world-class tortilla (Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions), and it broke their hearts when it turned out she was the killer.

Love that Euro-TV!

18 September 2012

Saucy Jack

By David Dean

It was inevitable, I guess, that after doing postings on Lizzie Borden, the princes in the tower, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the child murders in the Bahamas, and even Uncle Jimmy, that I must, at last, come to this--Saucy Jack...that Jack...the Jack.  I do so almost reluctantly because of the emotions  he stirs to this day, and the controversy that continues to swirl round his legend.

By today's standards, Jack the Ripper's body count wouldn't even get him into the top ten of modern serial killers.  He had only five, though some argue there are one, or more, additional murders that should be attributed to him.  Whatever the true count may be, his savagery places him right up there with the heavy hitters of any age.  Additionally, he has the distinction of being both an original and uncaught.  After five (or more) unsolved murders of prostitutes, he simply stopped--his mystery remains.

Just like Lizzie, but much, much more so, there have been millions of words written about Jack--so much, indeed, that you might think he was still among us and practicing his devilish trade in murder.  There have been dozens of suspects offered up by writers and scholars that were unknown to the police of that time, or never considered by them if they were.  In fact, there has probably been no case in the history of recorded crime in which the public has done more second-guessing of the police than this one.  It went on during Jack's heinous career, and has continued to this day.  I will not be doing that.  I can't come up with a single theory or suspect that hasn't already been put forth by someone...somewhere.  So I'm not even going to try.  Why this case continues to fascinate us so long after the brutal acts were committed--that, I might can answer.


A number of elements conspired to make Jack the Ripper a household bogeyman during his own time: The emergence of the modern tabloid newspaper, a Victorian-era fad of philanthropic concern for the destitute of London's slums, the thwarting of the seemingly implacable Scotland Yard, and interest in the case from Queen Victoria herself.  For later generations, I would add that the glamor of a seemingly genteel, mysterious, and by-gone era, cloaked in fog and black lace, provided an irresistible backdrop to Jack's horrors.  He was a real-life Mr. Hyde, and the mystery lay in trying to uncover his Dr. Jekyll alter ego.

Of suspects, there is one for every taste; they run the gamut from butcher to surgeon, royal heir to crazed foreigner.  But Jack was no gentleman, whatever his day job might have been.  Though his murder spree only extended over a few months (much longer according to some), each killing was more brutal than the last.  The victims, all the poorest of prostitutes, were savagely killed, their throats sliced, their abdomens mutilated, and in several instances, organs were removed.  All, but one of the murders were carried out on the streets, the bodies left for a terrified public to discover.  The last was accomplished indoors, in a small, bed-sitter, as the British dub them.  There he was able to work without fear of discovery or interruption, and he, quite literally, destroyed the poor woman.  Then, he seemingly vanished.

There are as many theories about his disappearance as there are about his identity: he killed himself, he was imprisoned on unrelated charges, he was committed to an insane asylum, or he fled to another country; perhaps America.  These are just a few of the ideas put forth.  Of course, it is unlikely we will ever know who he was or what became of him, but his stealing away into the fog has impressed an indelible image into our collective minds; adding to his myth.

Jack was also his own publicist, which was a new wrinkle that contributed greatly to his legendary status.  He wrote several letters "From Hell," expressing his glee and enjoyment with mutilation and murder.  He signed himself, "Jack the Ripper" and also coined the coy moniker of "Saucy Jack."  The details leaked out to the public--the denizens of London may have been terrified of Jack, but they were also insatiably curious about him.  Jack was proud of his horrific deeds and didn't mind saying so; writing in  red ink, and once sending a piece of human kidney along with his message to the world.  He was truly a vile creature.

Much has been made of these letters, and like everything else about Jack, they have inspired debate and controversy.  The police and the professional ripperologists disagree over the authenticity of every letter attributed to the murderer.  Scotland Yard settled on two as being from the real Jack, the others they laid to "copycats."  None featured a return address, which  might have been useful.

Another factor that fueled the growth of Jack's hellish reputation was the slum of Whitechapel that he prowled.  This teeming, filthy neighborhood was no stranger to murder before, or after, Jack.  And the prostitutes that plied their trade there were often the victims of it, even as they are today.  But after the advent of the Ripper murders, every unsolved murder of a female in Whitechapel was laid at his door.  According to some his spree continued until February 1891; the police of that time lay only the five murders to Jack, the last being in November 1888.  In fact, the Metropolitan Police of London divide the murders into two categories: the Ripper murders and the Whitechapel murders.  They do so with good reason.  The details of many of the murders that took place in Whitechapel during the period of August '88 to February '91 show them to be clearly unrelated; the modus operandi, beyond the fact that the killing was of a prostitute, bore little resemblance to Jack's handiwork.  Ironically, some of these "Whitechapel Murders" may also have been the work of the same killer, an unknown person no less brutal than Jack who successfully operated in his shadow.  This, I caution, remains a possibility, not a proven fact.

In most minds, the shadowy, knife-wielding Jack remains the epitome, the touchstone of our acquaintance and fascination with serial murderers.  In spite of that, he was not the first.  Jack was predated by such bloodthirsty villains as Gilles de Rais, who may have murdered hundreds of children before being executed.  Sadly, there were others, as well...many, many others throughout history, and quite probably even before recorded history.  There's no particular reason not to think so.  But Jack remains the penultimate to much of the world because of a perfect storm of factors, not least of which was his penchant for self-aggrandizement and a voracious press.  Add to that mix a mysterious, fog-clad setting offering occasional and salacious glimpses of the seamier side of Victorian London and you have the makings of a dark legend.

On a personal note, I would add that Jack, just like those that come before and after him, was not, in any sense, a romantic creature.  He was a vicious, merciless killer of defenseless women--a monster, really.  You have only to look at the crime scene and autopsy photos to see that.  The last murder, that of Mary Kelly, is not for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach.  Jack may have written his gloating letters "From Hell," but if there's anything certain in this case, it's that he's certainly there now.

17 April 2012

Evil Under The Sun--Part Two

by David Dean

The following account was largely drawn from the Nassau Guardian and Freeport News of the Bahamas.  Some of the background research was done by myself and any factual errors are my own and unintentional.  I think it serves to illustrate how an insidious crime can infect and corrode an entire nation.  This is the second and concluding half.  


When three boys went missing from Freeport in May of 2003, the entire Commonwealth of the Bahamas experienced a sense of unease, concern, and a shared bafflement as to their fates.  An almost forgotten case of twenty-two years before was resurrected--another instance of three young boys gone missing and never to be seen again; also in the month of May.  Satanic sacrifices and witchcraft began to be discussed and the people's unease soon became suspicion and fear.  The police were unable to shed any light on the circumstances even with the help of a team of FBI profilers.  Then...Junior Reme disappeared from his Freeport home one morning in July.  Fear graduated into terror and xenophobia.  A mysterious grey van was reported to be trolling the back streets of Freeport for little boys; its occupants always in shadow.

With a fourth boy now added to the list American television was enlisted in the search, and Adam Walsh of 'America's Most Wanted' offered his services.  An episode featuring photos of all the boys was duly filmed and aired--all to no avail.  Still there were no witnesses, no new clues...only silence.  Rallies were held in support of the suffering families with massive turn-outs, but still nothing broke in the case.  Two months after Junior Reme's disappearance, September 28th, a fourteen year old boy did not return home.  Desmond Rolle became the fifth name to be added to the list.  The devil was at his play in the Bahamas.

The Nassau Guardian appealed to the mothers of the Bahamas to search their hearts when it came to their own sons...could they know something...could they be somehow involved?  The public, in their turn, castigated the police on their lack of progress, and accused them of being concerned only with the tourists and wealthy; not the poor and working people that appeared to be the target of this plague of disappearances.  The rifts that had begun in May grew wider and uglier.  Haitian immigrants, long a source of heated debate within the Bahamas, came under an ever closer scrutiny.  Their ways were not the ways of Bahamians: Whereas the Bahamians spoke English, the Haitians spoke Creole French; the natives were by and large Protestants, the immigrants were Catholic, the Bahamians prized good behavior and obedience to the law, the foreigners had come from a lawless, violent country.  Perhaps more importantly was the Haitians legendary Voodoo practices--were these not Satanic in nature?  Though some Bahamians practiced a similar alternate religion call Obediah, it was not generally accepted.

October was to change everything--On the third of the month Assistant Commissioner Ellison Greenslade announced that more than three persons had been taken into custody as a result of "substantial" tips received by the police.  He added that the police still had reason to believe that the missing boys were alive.  He also made clear that Desmond Rolle, the latest victim, had been a packer at the local Winn Dixie grocery store just as the others had been and that they now knew all the boys had frequented the same downtown video game store.  He refused any information on the suspects in custody.

Immediately following the press conference, a team of policemen descended upon the Winn Dixie, as a large crowd gathered in the parking lot and rumors began to swirl of refrigerated body parts.  The police denied the rumors: "Absolute Hogwash," said Greenslade.  There were still no boys.

The following day, when pressed by reporters, the police stated that they had nothing major to report.  When the liaison officer was questioned as to rumors that the boys may have become victims of 'organ harvesters' for the medical black market, he responded that there was no evidence to substantiate such a thing.  The police continued to be tight-lipped on the suspects in custody.  Meanwhile CNN aired a story on the disappearances world-wide and a cruise ship cancelled its trip to Freeport.

By October 8th it was learned that several mothers and their juvenile sons were being held by the police.  The story was broken when one of the mothers complained to the media after her release that she wanted her boy back, and that she was contemplating suicide as a result of their treatment.  It became understood that three; possibly more, juveniles, some as young as eleven, were being detained.  The police had 96 hours in which to hold them without charges.  Citizens reported extensive police searches going on in a wooded area to the rear of the Tivoli Gardens apartment complex.

On another front, Member of Parliament, Lindy Russell, decried the intrusive and disruptive nature of the media's handling of the entire crises, and accused them of hurting the families and hampering the investigation.  He further castigated his fellow MP's over their lack of action in the matter, and said the government must move swiftly to assist families in socially depressed areas that can become catalysts for sexual exploitation of children and adults.

On October 10th, the police released a bombshell when they announced that four boys were being charged with the manslaughter of Jake Grant, the first of the children to go missing.  The youngsters, ranging in age from 11 to 13 were indicted at the Grand Bahama Island courthouse late on a Friday morning.  It was the first substantial break in a case that was now five months old and with as many missing children.  Three of the arrested boys were Haitian nationals.  During the arraignment a large crowd had to be held back on the courthouse lawn by a combination of police and Defense Force officers clad in army fatigues.  The crowd and media was reminded over and over to stand back as they continued to inch forward.  After just an hour the boys were escorted from the courthouse to a waiting bus and the horde of on-lookers surged forth.  Screams of "my boy" and "they little boys" were heard and reported by the press.  An ambulance was summoned to treat a woman who had collapsed.  As the police bus sped away with the boys to the airport, from where they would be flown to the Simpson Penn Juvenile Detention Center in Nassau, people wept and clung to one another.  Some family members became angry and began shouting at the police, but a heavy rain shower intervened, dispersing the irate, sobbing crowd to their various homes. The remainder of the missing boy cases were being treated separately according to a statement from the police.  The public remained anxious and confused.

Rumors spread quickly on October 26th that two bodies had been discovered at Freeport's Barbary Beach and that a man was being held in custody.  The police denied the rumors.  Three days later, Cordell Darrell Farrington, 35, a warehouse worker for Kelly's Freeport Limited, was charged with five counts of murder--that of the four remaining boys and an adult who had been missing since 2002.  He had turned himself into the police. It was also revealed that the police had recovered five skeletal remains in a remote pine forest on the eastern part of the island.  Police said that Farrington, a Bahamian national, met the boys informally and was able to gain their confidence before murdering them.  It appeared that, at last, the six-month reign of terror was over.

Cordell Farrington pled guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of Mackinson Colas, Deangelo McKenzie, Junior Reme, and Desmond Rolle.  He was later convicted of murder in the case of the adult, Jamal Robins, 22, who had allegedly been his lover.  This conviction was changed to one of manslaughter in 2008 due to the court accepting proof that he suffered from a severe personality disorder.  He was the eldest of five children.

Jake Grant's body was never discovered.  It was alleged by the police that he had been drowned in a swimming pool by the boys charged in his death.  Several years later the charges were dismissed. Jake's mother still holds on to the hope that he will be found.

Farrington's mother, who was also a victim in all of this, stated that, "We will never be known by our name anymore."

The boys funerals were not held for over a year pending forensic testing on their remains. 

The Funeral of Deangelo McKenzie, Mackinson Colas, Junior Deme, and Desmond Rolle


03 April 2012

Evil Under The Sun– Part One

by David Dean

The following account was largely drawn from the Nassau Guardian and Freeport News of the Bahamas.  Some of the background research was done by myself and any factual errors are my own and unintentional.  I think it serves to illustrate how an insidious crime can infect and corrode an entire nation.  It is presented in two parts due to the amount of information contained. 

Many years ago, November of 2003, to be exact, Robin and I took a five day vacation to Nassau in the Bahamas.  We fell instantly in love with the Caribbean atmosphere (though, technically the Bahamas lay in the Atlantic).  But as it turned out, our Friday there was a damp and drizzly one with overcast skies and that evening Robin hit the sack early.  I remained restless and turned on the television (low volume, of course) to take a look at the local news...something I tend to do whenever I travel...it can be very enlightening, and this time would prove no different.  In fact, it would open my eyes to an ongoing national tragedy that was playing out unbeknownst to the average tourist.  Not that it was a secret...far from it...but none of 'us' were paying any mind to what was happening with the locals.  My discovery was completely inadvertent.

What I found being played as the story of the day was a national prayer service.  It was being shown live and, at first, I couldn't make heads nor tails as to what had triggered this event.  As I continued to sip my rum and decipher the accents it became slowly apparent to me from the various speakers (ministers, government officials, private citizens) that somehow six boys had been killed in a terrible tragedy.  It was obvious that the Bahamian audience were well aware of the circumstances, while I watched bewildered as to what had actually occurred: I envisioned some sort of boating accident, actually.  It was a depressing and sad affair, and I eventually turned it off and went to bed, thinking of my own children and what a fragile gift life is.

The next morning I paid a visit to the hotel gift shop and bought the local paper: The Nassau Guardian.  The entire affair was front page news.  I began to read expecting to be find out what kind of accident this might have been, only to discover that the deaths were not accidental at all...

Young boys began to go missing on Grand Bahama Island (the most populous of the Bahamas archipelago; second only to New Providence Island where the capital, Nassau, is located) in May of 2003.  One followed the other into oblivion in rapid succession--Jake Grant, 12, May 9, Mackinson Colas, 11, May 16, and Deangelo McKenzie, 13, on May 27th.  Each had been in his own neighborhood amongst familiar surroundings.  None had a history of delinquency; just the opposite, in fact.  Attempts at locating the boys were fruitless and yielded no clues as the circumstances of their disappearances.  Police resources from national headquarters were brought in to assist the local officers.  Rumors quickly became rampant and the police warned the public to avoid indulging in speculation or providing tips based on  homegrown theories.  This did not work and the police found themselves deluged with useless lines of inquiry.  Their resources were rapidly maxed out.  Fissures began to show between the police, the citizens, and the government.

On June 19th the Police Press Liaison Officer, Superintendent Hulan Hanna, said that even though the search has spanned nationwide, the police would continue to treat the case as one of "search and rescue," rather than "search and recovery," and that they had no reason, as of yet, to consider the boys as anything other than missing.  He went on to add that he was "concerned" after visiting Grand Bahama and seeing so many children out on the streets late into the evening, and appealed to the parents to take primary responsibility for the safety of their children.  Additional personnel from the Defense Force (the Bahamian armed forces) and from citizen volunteers failed to produce any results.  K-9 units fared no better.  It seemed the boys had simply vanished into thin air.  A reward of $25,000 was offered and grew to $75,000 within weeks--a sizable amount of money to the average Bahamian.  But no one had actually seen or heard anything useful and it went unclaimed.

On July 7th, members of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse weighed in expressing their concern and horror over the circumstances and likening it to events in the U.S.  "This is something that happens in the U.S. and it is something that we see on the television in the U.S.  It is something that we have not associated with our country," said Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson during a press conference at the Ministry of Social Services.  The spectre of foreign influences began to play a larger and more malevolent role in the Bahamian psyche.  Like Supt. Hanna, she also expressed concern over children wandering the streets unsupervised by adults; even approaching strangers (tourists) at the Straw Market to get them to buy things.  Clearly the public had moved on from the "search and rescue" mentality that the police maintained.  On July 10th, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas celebrated its 30th year of independence from British rule under a pall of apprehension.

flag
Bahamian National Flag
On July 14th, a disturbing story by staff reporter Jimenita Swain appeared in the Nassau Guardian.  It had to do with two separate incidents of boys gone missing from Grand Bahama Island: the current crop, of course, but also three boys that had vanished twenty-two years earlier; also in May, and all of a similar age.  However, in the older case all three boys had disappeared on a single afternoon!  According to the sister of one of the earlier missing boys, the police had told her family that they could not search until twenty-four hours had elapsed.  Three days later the clothes and school books of the boys were found on a remote beach near a 'blue hole'--essentially a deep hole in the ocean's bottom; a sort of vertical marine cavern.  The police ended the search and pronounced the boys dead.  Memorial services were held.

Twenty-two years later, the same woman, Nicole Lewis, brother of George 'Kip' Lewis, noticed something strange--Mackinson Colas bore a striking resemblance to one of the earlier trio, Jake Grant.  A meeting between her and Jake's sister spawned a theory about what might have happened to their brothers so many years before and the ones gone missing in 2003.  Ms. Lewis based her theory on a book entitled "Devil's Knot" which recounted the story of three missing boys from West Memphis who were discovered to have been drained of blood and one of them mutilated.  Three people were arrested and convicted for the crimes.  It was believed they acted out a satanic ritual as the method of the boys murders.  The deed had been done in May around the time of the full moon and the victims had also been three young boys.  The Bahamian police discounted the theory.  The public, however, was thinking it over.

On July 29th, the mother of an eleven-year-old boy filed a missing persons report with the police--Junior Reme had joined the ranks of the vanished children of Grand Bahama Island.  His mother had last seen him at 9:30 in the morning when he had asked for four dollars for snacks at a movie.  She had refused and last saw him watching television.  She left the room for a moment and when she had returned, he was gone.  When he failed to return after dark she had visited the Freeport grocery store where he worked as a packer but he had not been seen there either.  Unlike the other boys, Junior was a Haitian national; his family recent immigrants from that beleaguered island.

In mid-August, the Royal Bahamian Police Force reached out to the FBI for help and assistance with the on-going cases and a team was dispatched by Washington.  It consisted of a Supervisory Special Agent, a Miami Liaison officer for the Bahamas, and two profilers.  They met with their Bahamian counterparts and gathered the meager facts available.  A sense of relief spread through the islands at the notion of such experienced and well-resourced officers being brought to bear on the mystery. But when they departed a few weeks later all that the local constabulary was left with was that their case was "unique"--there was no evidence to evaluate; no suspects to interrogate; not even a person of interest to interview.  After nearly four months all that had been learned was this: Each of the boys had lived within a mile and a half radius of the other and played and congregated in the same neighborhood.  Two had attended the same school and they were all around the same age.  All four of the missing children had last been seen by their mothers, were active basketball players, and packed groceries at the same Winn Dixie grocery store in Freeport.  

It was not over.

The conclusion on April 17th.

12 January 2012

Profiled

Deborah Elliott-Uptonby Deborah Elliott-Upton

I love those mysteries where a police chief hands over the podium to a serious-looking individual who states as a serial killer profiler, he is certain the perpetrator is a male with problems with authority. He lives with his divorced mother and has abandonment issues. He has difficulties with the opposite sex and hates to get his hands dirty, except when he is strangling his victims. This information is usually attributed to careful attention to detail and years of profiling studies. In the mystery novel, the profiler may claim some odious characteristic which is not true simply to force the culprit to become angry enough to strike out and fall into a police setup trap to catch him in the act, but before another death occurs.
crime scene
If a person could be described by his collection of reading material, I could be on a serious list or even verified as threat to national security due to the trips to websites concerning methods of criminal activity and how they could be apprehended.

Remember when someone in the Casey Anthony household had searched for information on chloroform on the Internet? I'm not claiming it was or was not an innocent search, but writers delve into that territory all the time. It doesn't make us purchase such items or use them, but the information could color our profiles in a not so nice shade of suspectability.

Most of us have a public profile these days. It lurks on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Classmates.com not to mention all those places we make purchases online. Oh yes, we have a customer profile there, too.

Hopefully, none of the readership here have a police profile. Still, we need to be aware if the amount of information others can easily obtain about us in 2012. Keeping our privacy intact has never been more difficult than in the Age of Information.

I own the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle concerning Sherlock Holmes. I have a copy of Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs. The serial killer profiling expert, John Douglas, has written many nonfiction books in his work for the FBI. I own several although it terrifies me to know these are true accounts.

I treasure the cosies written by Barbara Burnett Smith and Agatha Christie as much as the hard-boiled exploits of characters created by Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. If a profiler attempted to evaluate my behavioral tendencies by what I read, would I be in trouble?

Like many readers, I am a fan of mysteries whether they are short stories, novel length or true crime exposes. My book shelves contain a bevy of titles from well-known and not-so-well-known authors.

Even Sherlock Holmes may be shaken by a few of our reading choices. Do our e-readers prove we are morbid if we relish Edgar Allen Poe? Easily amused by chicklit? Love to scare ourselves senseless with Dean Koontz?

Do we buy into the profiler's listings for a criminal? Absolutely. Why? Because it is a proven fact that they are usually right on the money.

This is why the television programs, "Psych" and "The Mentalist" are so popular. Like in a Sherlockian tale, the evidence is there, but most of us don't notice what's in front of our face. We aren't observant. We need a good detective to point out the facts.

As the profiler lists the quirks of a serial killer, aren't we a bit slapped in the face to realize the man being led away in handcuffs wasn't really the nice, old guy who took care of his mother as much as the weird guy who had never had a real girlfriend and still lived with his mother.

If we used better observation skills, we'd discover the true murderer in a detective novel before the author intended and we just might live in a safer world.

10 November 2011

All the Beautiful Girls are Murdered



by Janice Law

"The more things change," wrote a French journalist, "the more they stay the same." I have been thinking about Jean Baptiste Alfonse Kerr's epigram in connection with the mystery genre.

Certainly nothing much changes in the visual arts; styles and subjects and attitudes simply come in and out of fashion. There is no progress. Who would say that any drawing since has surpassed the animal sketches of the cave painters of Lascaux or that metalwork has improved on the Chinese bronzes or the sculptures of Benin? Rather work runs from one extreme to the other in size, in technique, in delicacy of sentiment.

But surely our own favorite genre has seen changes, and changes for the better? Isn't there greater variety? Isn't the level of writing far superior to the old pulps? Aren't the characters more complex? And aren't women writers, in particular, a good deal more welcome than when a reputable paperback house told my agent that they "already had their woman writer"?

All true. And yet Monsieur Kerr's cynical remark has lingered in the back of my mind, since reading one of Jo Nesbø's well written, well plotted, and frankly sadistic mysteries: Snowman. I don't want to lay all the blame on this in-many-ways excellent writer. Other novelists and recent television shows have all had a high body count of pretty young women, not to mention the rabid coverage given to the murders and disappearances of certain members of the female population. Hint: it helps to be blonde, middle class, and attractive.

No, Snowman was only the tipping point, with a variety of attractive women tortured to death in the sort of queasy-making detail once reserved for martyrdoms and high church décor. The fact that each had been adulterous reminded me of an article that was the latest thing back when I was an undergrad. Someone had gotten his (or much less probably) her scholarly bones for an essay on the "good-bad" girl.

She was, according to the author, and I'm in no position to dispute him, something new on the literary scene. A female character who was not solely defined as virgin, wife, or whore, but who could, to a modest extent, live "like a man" and still be an accepted member of society.

And yes, indeed, she has blossomed, as a glance at any of our female detectives, police investigators, or other protagonists will show. Change, indeed. But the preference for female victims, indeed for multiple female victims, has not altered. In fact, the trend away from what P.D. James referred to as "body in the library" stories has only allowed plots to move from the frivolous rococo to the blood and gore baroque.

Crimes are as ingenious as anything Agatha Christie ever cooked up, but done realistically with labeled body parts and blood spatter patterns and all the scientific grand guignol effects of forensic medicine. Add to all this the preference for young, sexy, and beautiful victims, and it doesn't take a Freud to sense a deep seated cultural pattern. Beautiful women are still threatening as well as desirable, and sexual activity for women in still problematical.

Indeed, for any female denizen of the mystery universe, my advice is to dress down and look homely, as it appears to be beauty, rather than the gang membership, seedy neighborhoods or bad company, that, in real life, puts one in harm's way.

Years ago, I was at a program where Mary Higgins Clark noted the eternal popularity of 'the woman in jeopardy' theme, and in the interests of full disclosure I am currently enjoying Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, a classic of the type. Just the same, it is fortunate that the female characters of mystery novels have escaped from being just damsels in distress to participate in all sorts of adventures. Things do change.

But woman as victim is still very much with us. Perhaps as a reaction to the real changes in society, and even in genre fiction, one of the bastions of conservatism, female victims meet worse and gaudier fates than ever before, and, I suspect, in greater numbers.

Things change, yes, indeed, but as the wonderfully named Jean Baptiste Alfonse Kerr observed, sometimes underneath they remain the same.