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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query gone south. Sort by date Show all posts

22 October 2015

A Little Light Corruption


By gum, we folks in South Dakota really know how to keep things quiet.  Until someone dies, and then the whole thing comes boiling out.  Mayberry it isn't.
2013-2014

October 20, 2013 - Richard Benda was found dead from a shotgun wound to the stomach in a field in October.  The SD Attorney General, Marty Jackley, instantly ruled it a suicide.  Came out shortly thereafter that Benda had, apparently, embezzled pots of money from the EB-5 program, an immigration program set up by George H.W. Bush in 1990 that grants Visas to foreign investors for a minimum $500,000.00 investment. Quick money for the state, quick green card, and everything's hunky-dory.

Now Richard Benda was the former commissioner of then Governor Mike Rounds' Office of Economic Development. (Rounds is currently one of our two State Senators, the other being John Thune.)  He was also the one-time financial monitor of the Northern Beef Packers of Aberdeen, a $100 million slaughterhouse, funded largely by Asian EB-5 investors, which later was auctioned off in December, 2013 for $4.8 million in cash and $39.5 million in the cancellation of what's been called a “somewhat murky debt." Benda was soon accused of stealing $500,000 and "amending" grant proposals to give Northern Beef Packers more money. AG Jackley has refused to release the autopsy of Mr. Benda ("out of respect for the family"); and in July of 2014, after 9 months of increasing stink, Jackley waved a document in front of news cameras that he claimed were the indictments for Aggravated Theft and Aggravated Grand Theft by Deception that were about to be served on Benda right before he killed himself/was murdered. (Take your pick; we all have.)

Like any good crime fiction writer, I looked at the documents and recognized the simple fact that, without a signature or notarization, these documents could have been typed up at any time, say the weekend before the Monday July news conference, when the crap was piling too deep to ignore any more.  And, as more and more people demanded answers, the SD legislative committee declared in December of 2014 that Richard Benda was solely responsible for the $500,000 embezzlement and probably the loss of millions of dollars (last report, $140 million, but who's counting), but no one knows where that money went, and they were not going to investigate further.  They were especially not going to investigate a man named Joop Bollen, a Dutch foreign national who ran the EB-5 program for Governor Rounds and later set up his own private corporation, SDRC, which took over administration of the EB-5 program.  Mr. Bollen was asked some questions by the SD legislative committee, but was allowed to answer them in writing, and never had to appear.  He has never been charged with anything.  Anything at all...

But wait, there's more!  I've been on vacation, and while I was gone, the Feds, yes, the Feds! have decided that South Dakota is too corrupt to use EB-5 funds, and we are barred, yes, BARRED, from every getting EB-5 money again.  Plus, they're suing South Dakota:
http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/10/18/feds-say-south-dakota-too-corrupt-to-use-eb-5/
http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/news/state/3863619-feds-aim-kick-sd-out-eb-5-program-state-sues-bollens-records
And, at last, the State of South Dakota is going to sue Mr. Bollen.  Like there's any money left...

Meanwhile, there's a whole new bit of nasty coming out from under the rocks:

2015

Late at night on September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It wasn't until a few days later that it turned out that all six had been shot to death.  SD Attorney General Marty Jackley declared it a murder/suicide/arson, perpetrated by Scott Westerhuis.  The only question was why.  Now, I'm writing this in early October, and this is only going to get messier.

Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of MCEC, the Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which is, among other things, a hub for distributing federal grand monies to other non-profit organizations.  One of these was South Dakota Gear Up, whose website was taken down after all the employees were fired...  Well, here's the deal, Gear Up received a $4.3 million dollar contract to help get Native American kids into college. On September 16, 2015, Department of Education terminated the contract after an audit declared bad reporting, bad accounting, and general bad books. On September 17, the Westerhuis family tragedy occurred.  On September 25, State Education Secretary Melody Schopp fired every surviving employee of Gear Up, and shut down the Gear Up website.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.
screen cap from Google Maps,
2015.09.22.

But wait, there's more! The Westerhuis family lived on a $1.3 million rural Platte property that included a 7,600 square foot house, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, weight-lifting area, and computers, and a loft with a meeting room, rooms for guests, and a kitchen.  This was on an official combined MCEC salary of $130,549.82.

But wait, there's more! Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education:




Some are inactive, but Rock Ranch Consulting, which has no easily identifiable online presence, may refer to the Westerhuises’ rock-decorated rural home, torched on September 17. Rock Ranch Consulting was the source of incorporation funds for “American Indian Institute For Innovation and Excellance,” [sic], whose 2014 Form 990 shows $2.7 million in revenue and $3.0 million in expenses, including $1.58 million in salaries and wages, $311K in pension and benefits, and $270K in travel, conferences, and meetings. Apparently very little education of Native Americans actually happened. And there's Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium (OSEC), formed in 2011 and still in good standing, whose 2013 Form 990, completed by Nicole Westerhuis on November 6, 2014, shows $965K in revenue and $935K in expenses. Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.
(Thanks to Corey Allen Heidelberger for his incomparable fact-finding on Dakota Free Press: http://dakotafreepress.com/tag/mid-central-educational-cooperative/ )

But wait, there's more! We are just now cracking (again, thanks, Corey!) the list of high-level education professionals who received significant monthly and annual payments ($150,000+ in some cases) for consulting and administration from Gear Up and/or MCEC, and are scrambling to cover their assets, er, what they did and when and why.  My two favorites:

  1. Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, received his money from the MCEC for the Teaching American History federal grant; what makes this especially sweet is that the South Dakota Board of Education has made teaching early American history optional in South Dakota.  
  2. Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who simply couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television:  http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/melmer-answers-questions-about-gear-up-work/?id=185508   You really can't make this stuff up.  (I don't know about you but I've never forgotten a single thousand dollar check I've ever gotten in my life, much less nine of them...)
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard
Governor Dugaard
Now I could go on into a tirade about South Dakota mismanagement of federal grant monies, i.e., the political cronies slurping on the federal gravy train.  (Meanwhile our distinguished Governor Dugaard refuses to expand Medicaid coverage because the feds might not have the money:  note to Gov - if so, it's because your pals have siphoned it all off to build large gyms.) Or I could discuss the shameful use of Native Americans to get grant monies.  I have, I will, and I will again.

I will go off, for a moment, again, on the fact that South Dakota has been ranked #2 for government corruption.  (New Jersey, eat your heart out!)  How can this be? Simple:  South Dakota is a one-party state:  the Governor is Republican, the GOP has a super-majority in the legislature, the districts are gerrymandered so that Republicans consistently keep their super-majority (this is especially farcical when you see the little corridor linking the entire Rosebud Reservation, votes 90% Democratic, to staunch Republican Pennington County, a/k/a Rapid City).  It helps that Pierre, our capital, is one of the few US state capitals which is not on a major interstate - it's literally out in the middle of nowhere - and there is no major news media located there.  This helps ensure that whatever happens in Pierre, stays in Pierre.

Until someone dies.  And the death toll is starting to rise.

Meanwhile, why does hell always break loose in autumn?  

I'll keep you posted.  

03 January 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me


Dusty Johnson's July 15, 2015 tweet praising Maria Butina.
https://kelo.com/news/articles/2018/jul/18/
congressional-candidate-dusty-johnson-
praised-maria-butina-in-2015/
Some of you might remember - not that long ago! - when I did a couple of blog posts  (Mata Hari in South Dakota) about Russian spy Maria Butina and her paramour, South Dakota's own GOP operative, Paul Erickson.  They lived here in Sioux Falls and Ms. Butina did the South Dakota speaking tour, representing her own [Russian] Right to Bear Arms organization.  The tour - all about God, Guns and Let's Be Friends With Russia! - included SDSU, USD, and the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills.  The last was an interesting example of how you should be careful who you bring in as a guest speaker, considering the number of past and current South Dakota legislators (including recently elected US Representative Dusty Johnson!) were counselors, attendees, or just there for the party.  Bet Dusty's banging his head every day over this little tweet:

Well, now Maria's pled guilty to conspiring to be a foreign agent in the U.S., and is cooperating with authorities.

Her partner, in more ways than one, was Paul Erickson - whose resume includes:
  • National political director / campaign manager for the 1992 Pat Buchanan presidential campaign, 
  • Advisor to both of Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns. 
  • Former board member of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).[5] 
  • South Dakota Trump campaign, claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team. and during the 2016 NRA convention sent an e-mail to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump (via Trump's campaign advisor Rick Dearborn and then-Senator Jeff Sessions) with the subtle subject line: "Kremlin Connection."  
Mr. Erickson has been hiding in Virginia, and has recently "lawyered up", which is the best idea he's had in years. For one thing, he's "Person 1" who, according to the Statement of Offence, "agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official [that’s Alexander Torshin, Russian billionaire and close personal friend of Vladimir Putin] and at least one other person [ooo! a new mystery player!] for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of [Torshin] without prior notification to the Attorney General.” The purpose of this conspiracy was for Butina to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. policies… for the benefit of the Russian Federation.” Butina acknowledges that she used the National Rifle Association to forward the Russian Plan, because she believed the NRA "had influence over" the Republican Party.  (Thanks, Cory Heidelberger, for the summation)

NOTE:  The NRA is STILL staying silent as a tomb about Ms. Butina, despite the fact that there are pictures out the wazoo of her at various NRA functions (see below),
even though both Ms. Butina and the missing Mr. Torshin were made lifetime members of the NRA.
AND former NRA president David Keene visited Moscow at Mr. Torshin's behest.
AND the NRA spent a lot of money on Donald Trump's campaign.  $30 million, to be specific.  All of this is currently being investigated.  

Ms. Butina in 2014 with James W. Porter II, then president of the N.R.A.; Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president; and Rick Santorum, the former senator.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/04/us/politics/maria-butina-nra-russia-influence.html
NOTE: Russian President Vladimir Putin - who was eager for her release while she was first arrested - currently says he never heard of her.  Considering that Alexander Torshin has gone missing and is rumored murdered, Ms. Butina may want to try to stay in the US after trial, rather than be deported back home.

Image result for paul erickson south dakota
Meanwhile, though, a lot of people have asked me the simple question:  why South Dakota?  Why did she come here, other than for Paul Erickson's rugged good looks?  

Well, South Dakota is a large rural state with a very small population (under 900,000).  Our politicians are extremely, notoriously frugal - i.e., cheap.  Our current assets are $3.13 trillion (yes, you read that right) in commercial and savings bank assets.  We have the weakest reporting regulations you can imagine.  The FBI recently busted a major New York auto theft ring using South Dakota because, "South Dakota, a state that lets people register out-of-state vehicles by mail and wasn’t thoroughly checking to see if they were stolen, the FBI said." (Citation)  We also have (among?) the most pro-business laws regarding credit cards, payday loans, and setting up LLCs and their like in the country.  In my last blog I mentioned that Butina and Erickson formed a couple of LLCs here in Sioux Falls - which, it turns out, may have been laundering money from Torshin and from an as-yet unidentified Russian oligarch (perhaps the anonymous person cited above?) who has a net worth Forbes estimates to be about $1.2 billion.  (This Vox article is still pretty darned good on the ins and outs of the whole thing.)

Anybody can form a shell corporation in South Dakota for $50 per year, without requiring a physical presence and a minimum of personal information.  We have had at least two major scandals - EB-5 and Gear Up! - in which suicide (?) and/or murder-suicide and/or plain old murder followed on millions of federal dollars going missing (and still unfound).  (For that matter, we haven't yet found the Westerhuis safe.)  We are ranked 3rd in the country for corruption, because of single-party government, lack of transparency, backdoor decisions, and we got an "F" in executive and legislative accountability, as well as next to last in lobbying disclosure.  

In other words, you can could get away with a lot in South Dakota, and nobody would notice.  It was the perfect place for a red-haired, gun-toting, freedom-loving, handy Russian to be.

Which leads me to the second obvious question:  why did everyone fall so hard for, and buy so completely into, Maria Butina, and her story about her pro-gun rights Russian organization, Right To Bear Arms?  In Vladimir Putin's Russia?  HAH!  But buy it they did.

The quick answer:  look at the photos:

Maria Butina, Washington Post




  Image result for maria butina instagram  Image result for Maria Butina sexy photo with gun

I wrote back in April of 2015 that "As societies show greater respect for "the interests and values of women" things get better, more peaceful, more prosperous, as a whole.  Ironically, we're currently trying to masculinize women both in business and entertainment, where the ideal woman is now presented as a slim, beautiful, brilliant, athletic ninja warrior."  (The Better Angels...)  Meet Maria Butina.  Or at least her photographs.

"Maria Butina was the ultimate NRA Cool Girl" says a Washington Post article, and goes on to add, "But is there a surfeit of highly intelligent, hot, bilingual Eastern European graduate students who love Jesus, cooking, guns, big-game hunting, bourbon, lipstick, cowboys and tenderly repairing the hearts of damaged men?"

Maybe.  At least, that appears to have been the general conservative male hope.  And, according to Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl, THE male hope.  Read all about the Cool Girl HERE.

Back to WaPo:  "The fact that Butina became so popular in conservative circles so quickly seems to point in the other direction: There aren’t a lot of (real) women like her. “She was like a novelty,” a former Michigan GOP chair told The Washington Post last week. “Friendly, curious and flirtatious,” described another anonymous source, who met her through the Conservative Political Action Conference.  The men who championed her were so pleased to meet a woman who fit an ideal mold, they never stopped to think that maybe she was an ideal mole."  Washington Post

Red Sparrow came to South Dakota, [Grateful] Deadheaded the NRA, was invited to and attended the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, CPAC, and everything else she could find.  Even John Bolton made a video for her in 2103. (YouTube.)   Hell, she even interviewed Candidate Trump, who was happy to take her question and answer freely (and exceptionally eloquently):  You Tube Video.

Everyone loved her.  No one could get enough of her.  But they're being awfully quiet about it now.




"What is the right to life, ingrained in our constitution, if you donĂ¢€™t have the right to bear arms?" says group founder Maria Butina.
Maria in Moscow,
2012
PS:  A lot of Russians also bought Maria's story and her organization.  The Right to Bear Arms united almost all the gun rights' organizations in Russia, largely thanks to her personality. Butina was the "battery that ignited everyone" and "things started to decline" after she left, said the improbably named co-founder Muslim Sheikhov.

But Vladimir Milov, a veteran Russian opposition politician, said he noticed at the time how "well technically equipped" Butina's group appeared to be and the quality of the merchandise at their rallies. "There was a clear idea from the beginning that somebody is behind them." But, at the time, "Butina's associates... believed that Right To Bear Arms was being funded mainly thanks largely to member fees and the sale of several furniture stores she owned in her Siberian hometown of Barnaul." Radio Free Europe

Instead, it was Russian billionaires Alexander Torshin and Konstantin Nikolayev, both friends of Putin.  And with that knowledge comes the fear that the charismatic Butina had "founded" an organization whose chief purpose was to infiltrate Russian opposition groups and, later, the NRA.  And which succeeded in doing both.

In other words, Putin managed to find a way to kill two birds - in two countries - with one stone.  

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)

07 June 2018

The Horse-Off


"Baseball is something like a war."  - Ty Cobb (1886-1961)
And so is politics.  That or the most dysfunctional family reunion ever.  Certainly that's the way the Republican Primary has been here in South Dakota.  In case you didn't know, South Dakota is red, red, red, red, and more red.  We have Democratic candidates, but there are never any Democratic primaries, because rounding up just one per position is pretty much all we can do.  Anyway, the primary had two huge sections:

FOR GOVERNOR:

Attorney General Marty Jackley v. US House Representative Kristi Noem

US District Attorney Marty Jackley.pngImage result for kristi noem on horseback
(Notice the horse.  This is going to be
important.)


FOR UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:

Dusty Johnson v.              Shantel Krebs v.                          Neil Tapio

Johnson and Krebs     Neal Tapio in Watertown, South Dakota.jpg 

a/k/a the nerdy Chief of Staff to the governor, the beauty queen SD Secretary of State, and the State Senator/South Dakota Trump Presidential Campaign Director.
(Others, not so kind, have referred to them as Howdy Doody, Clarabelle, and Phineas T. Bluster.)

Now before I get started, you need to remember that all of these people know each other, have worked together, have gone to the Governor's Annual Pheasant Hunt ("if you're not there, you're nowhere", and it's invitation only, my dears, invitation only) together, attended Republican conventions and fundraisers, annual ALEC meetings, etc., etc., etc.  South Dakota is one big small town, and there aren't six degrees of separation between anyone - more like two.  Three at the most.

So the campaign started off slow and respectful.  Dignified, even.  The first political ads were exclusively for Jackley, Noem, and Krebs, and I swear each and every single one of them all showed the same words: "Experienced.  Conservative.  Tested."   And then someone would ride a horse.  And load / carry a gun.  Also lot of shots of cattle, hay, farms, and rolling hills.

Now Kristi Noem has always made her horse riding central to her campaigns and she does look damn good on one.  Marty Jackley stuck with just having almost every sheriff in the state sing his praises, after which he'd go pheasant hunting, and then lead his daughter around on a horse.

And then, the local newspaper came out with a poll that said Jackley and Noem were neck and neck, and things got nasty.

Kristi Noem launched ads about the EB-5 scandal (which yours truly has spoken of at length in these blogs).  No mention of my favorite question, "Who killed Richard Benda?" but she did raise the missing $5 million.  (The reason why the United States Customs and Immigration Service letter of September 28, 2015, found South Dakota too unreliable and incompetent, if not downright corrupt, to handle EB-5 visa investments any more. Thanks Dakota Free Press!)

Marty Jackley, who talks about EB-5, the missing millions, Richard Benda, or the missing Gear Up! millions about as often as I request a colonoscopy for fun, ignored all questions of corruption and fired back with ads about how Ms. Noem hadn't kept any of the promises she made on going to Washington.  Even more shocking he appeared in the ad below, talking about balancing the budget.  Locked and loaded indeed!


(My first reaction was, "First they had to drug the horse, right?")

And then Kristi hammered away with ads about Jackley holding up a $1.5 million settlement payment for a DCI employee (sexual harassment; and I can assure you that it was serious, and seriously well-documented, for her to actually win in this state) after Jackley saw said ex-employee sitting with Noem at a Republican fundraiser.  (Argus Leader)
So Jackley retaliated with photos of Noem shaking hands with (gasp!) then-President Obama back in 2015...

Back to our candidates running for our sole House seat.  Dusty Johnson was the odd one out, with quiet ads illustrating fiscal responsibility at dinner out with the kids.  Shantel Krebs ran pheasant hunting ads (it's a theme up here) and urged South Dakota to send her to Washington to help Donald Trump make America great again.  Neal Tapio's ads were a combination of lies about his opponents (Shantel Krebs, for all her faults, certainly did not make South Dakota the 3rd most Obamacare-compliant state in the nation - for one thing, our Governor never expanded Medicaid) and his passionate loyalty to Donald Trump.

Then the aforementioned poll also said that Dusty Johnson was leading (which surprised almost everyone, including, perhaps, Dusty), and things got nasty:  Shantel approved ads that claimed Dusty flew on private planes on government expense to the tune of almost $10,000.  A private Ohio group accused Shantel of raising taxes - and her salary - whenever possible.  Johnson swore he wasn't behind the ads, and I believed him.

Remember, all these people worked together for years.  I see them cousins at a 4th of July reunion, who smile at each other and then hiss gossip about the others to everyone as they load up on baked beans and potato salad.  And Mr. Tapio, who is the crazy Alex Jones fan at the picnic.  You think I'm kidding?  Back in January Tapio gave a speech and said that "one more terrorist attack between now and then [the election] and I will be the … just by the ‘Trump effect,’ I will be the candidate. That’s the way I look at it.”  (Listen here.)  But then Tapio is an anti-Muslim zealot.  He accused South Dakota Lutheran Bishop Zellmer of aiding and abetting terrorism, and "taking away the Christian fabric of our nation" by holding an Interfaith Day at the Capitol in Pierre (Argus Leader).  Above all, Mr. Tapio ran on Trump.  110% pro-Trump.  Send him to Washington, so he can help Trump.  Period.  And then he decided to up the ante by calling for an end to tribal sovereignty, and to rewrite all the treaties between the United States and Native American populations.  (Argus)
And another SD Representative, Michael Clark, applauded the recent SCOTUS decision about cake-baking by saying that business owners should be able to discriminate based on race.  (Argus)

So it was a Republican Primary, and all the dogs were howling.  Literally.

So what were the results?

Kristi Noem is our new Republican candidate for Governor, 57%-43% over Marty Jackley.  (Proof that negative ads work, especially if they're 100% true.  And the question has already been raised of who's going to run against Jackley for AG in November – the sharks smell blood.)
Dusty Johnson is our new Republican candidate for United States House of Representatives, with 47% of the vote (Krebs got 29%, Tapio 24%).

Who'll win in November?  Danged if I know.  But I can guarantee you we'll see a lot of horses.

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

 

PS:  Oh, there was also one non-partisan item on the ballot, an Amendment to modify Marsy's Law.  I went and voted, and even the polling people agreed that this was ridiculous:  any amendment should be on the November ballot, not a Republican-only primary, where as few Democrats and Independents would vote as possible.  As a friend of mine said, "they did it as dirty as they could."  It passed.

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.













16 February 2017

They're baaaack.... or, Further Updates from South Dakota


Here in South Dakota, we never quite do things the easy way.  As you may or may not remember, last November, we South Dakota voters passed four voter initiatives:
  • Amendment R, which transfers control of tech schools from local school boards to a new... something
  • Initiated Measure 21, which caps payday loans at 36%
  • Amendment S, "Marsy's Law", "creating constitutionally protected rights for crime victims"
  • Initiated Measure 22, on campaign finance reform.

So far Amendment R and Amendment S have been left relatively untouched.  Except that crime victims have to opt-in for their rights under Marsy's Law (something nobody mentioned in the high-profile ads that were running non-stop before the vote), and names, addresses, etc., may continue to be given to news media, insurance companies, etc.

But IM 21 is under challenge, thanks to a House Bill 1090, which - while keeping 36% as the maximum interest a lender can charge, adds all sorts of new fees that a lender can charge, including "fees for optional maintenance agreements and extended service contracts, official fees and taxes, sales tax, title fees, lien registration fees, and dealer documentary fees. Late fees, return check fees, and attorneys' fees incurred upon a consumer default." No wiggle room there, eh?  (Why do I get the feeling that someone in the legislature was trying to text Chuck Brennan - "come back!  all is forgiven!")

Image result for 2017 south dakota legislative session
Governor Daugaard, chastising the voters
And IM 22 - well, we've made the national news with that one. Governor Daugaard, who offered to veto it as soon as it passed, is still in a snit. “They were hoodwinked by scam artists who grossly misrepresented these proposed measures." To be fair, he has some reason to be upset and in a hurry to veto it:  "Gov. Dennis Daugaard has more than a million dollars in his campaign account which, if this law is killed by his legislators, he will be able to put into his own bank account. If IM 22 is able to stand, he will not be able to touch the money." (Argus Leader)

Meanwhile, our legislature is shocked, appalled, and offended that we think so little of them to have passed IM 22.  Some of those ads depicted lobbyists handing out cash!  As if they'd ever do that! After all, there is no corruption in this state.  EB-5, Gear-Up!, and that little sex scandal have all been taken care of.
NOTE:  Under the "you can't make this stuff up" column, our legislature rejected a bill to ban legislators from having sex or sexual contact with interns.  (My favorite defending quote, not to mention defender:  "I'm hesitant to pass something when we get into itemizing every potential wrongdoing that a legislator could commit, lest this become a criminal code rather than a code of ethics," Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City.)  Seven days later, SD Representative Matt Wollman admitted to sexual contact with two interns and a few days later, resigned. But that doesn't mean we need any laws against that kind of thing...  
Anyway, the SD Legislature would like you to know that there is no corruption, no problems, IM 22 is unconstitutional, that's all (but they won't wait for a ruling from the SD Supreme Court), we voters were hoodwinked by out of town money (not that that's a problem when it's our legislators going to ALEC conferences on ALEC's dime, or when ads starring Kelsey Grammer and paid for by California billionaire Henry Nicholas are pushing Marsy's Law), and so they are pushing their anti-IM 22 legislation "emergency legislation". What's the emergency?  Well, under our constitution, emergency legislation is exempt from any referendum of, by and for the people (Article 3, Section 1).  So...  our SD Legislature's message seems to be pretty much, "sit down, shut up, you had your vote, you were wrong, and we say to hell with you."

IMG_0058
In a strikingly tone-deaf picture, four of our legislators -
who'd just voted to kill a commission to enforce
campaign finance regulations - posing with
make-believe “gold” watches that contained candy.
You really can't make this stuff up.
I understand that attitude has become a trend.  As this GOVERNING  headline says, "Don't Like the Ballot Measure Voters Approved? Just Ignore It, Some Lawmakers Say."  And the article says that we South Dakotans are not alone...

Anyway, on February 1st, our legislature struck down IM 22, taking time to lash back at the IM-22 campaign that painted them as corrupt, self-dealing politicians.  "I've not known anybody to accept a bribe, I've not known anybody to offer a bribe. In South Dakota, while we're not infallible, that has never been a concern," said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. "There are no gold watches, there are no bags of cash."  (ARGUS LEADER)

Really?  First of all take a look at the picture to the right, my friends.  Real classy, huh?

And, for Valentine's Day, South Dakota Senate killed a bill which would have set up a commission to enforce campaign finance law.

And then there are the idiots out there:  Rookie SD Rep. Neal Tapio (R-5/Watertown responded to a question about getting rid of Medicaid by saying (timestamp 54:35), “I want to kill it altogether.”
Three minutes and fifteen seconds later, in response to a follow-up question about how we proposes to take care of elderly, children, disabled, and other folks currently on Medicaid, Rep. Tapio said, “I’m not saying that we get rid of it.”

NOTE:  Rep. Neal Tapio was Presidential candidate Donald Trump's state campaign chairman...

Meanwhile, other times, other scandals...

joop.jpgAllow me to re-introduce you to Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 (cash for green cards, largely used by Chinese investors) and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.).  Last April, AG Jackley finally indicted Bollen, for "misappropriating" funds - at the time counted at $1.2 million.  Yesterday, Mr. Bollen pleaded guilty to one felony count and got... 2 years probation.  ("Authorities" say he paid back most of the money, except for $167,000.)

This might not bother me so much if there still weren't $120 million missing from the EB-5 program, which had to have gone somewhere.

It also might not bother me if a woman in Sioux Falls wasn't facing 10 years for embezzling $57,000.00.  My bet is, she'll do time in prison, not probation.

Well, that's it for now.  More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 




17 January 2012

Gone South



To my old friend John Cruickshank Rose
With happy memories of my visit to the West Indies
                            Agatha Christie
                            Dedication, “A Caribbean Mystery”


     The regular contributors here at SleuthSayers have an on-line staging area where we can compose our articles, and then edit and tweak them before they are finally scheduled for publication.  There we each can see not only our own articles as they develop, but also the titles and publication dates for upcoming articles by other SleuthSayer contributors.  If you were to look at this collection of works in progress you would come away with some basic information about the various authors.  Principally you would note that some schedule articles way in advance – sometimes three or four are sitting in the queue, just waiting for 12:01 a.m. of their designated day to arrive so they can strut and fret their day in the sun. 

    That, my friends, is not me.  I usually spend the days just before my every other Tuesday posting looking (sometimes frantically) for an idea that will grow into an article.  I mention all of this because I am going to be battling some challenges over the next few months.

     Let us back up.  My wife Pat and I live in Washington, D.C.  Summers are nice here.  Not so winters.  January is depressing enough, but February – no matter that it only has 28 days – is the longest month of the year.  So we decided years ago that if we were lucky enough to celebrate early retirements (which we did in 2009) we would absent ourselves from Washington every winter for as many weeks as possible.  Lucky for us we have adult sons who can be left behind to take care of the house and the cats.
   
Royal Clipper
    All of this leads up to the fact that this is being written in early January, but by the time it is posted, on January 17, we will already be six days into a three week trip, including two weeks on board the tall ship Royal Clipper, sailing from Barbados to the leeward islands and then down to the Grenadines.  We have other less grand southerly sojourns scheduled for February and March, but more on those later.
   
The library on Royal Clipper
    Whenever we head south in January I try to go armed not only with a good deal of reading material (made easier now that I read almost exclusively on my Nook, which tucks nicely into carry-on luggage) but with a plot outline as well.  So my hope is to make the trip a bit productive.  . 

    Even though I am every bit as retired at home as I am abroad, I still seem better able to adhere to the discipline of writing when we are away.  The Royal Clipper works well for this – while it is a sailing ship, it is very well equipped, and has a nicely appointed library where I can find a desk for my laptop.  There I follow Ian Fleming’s model – I write for an hour or two and then take the rest of the day off. 
      
Goldeneye -- Ian Fleming's Jamaican home
     Thinking of Ian Fleming brings to mind authors who have retreated to the Caribbean not only for inspiration but also in search of a conducive place to write.  Fleming, famously, wrote all of his James Bond novels at Goldeneye, his vacation home in Jamaica.  He refused to write any fiction elsewhere.  It was at Goldeneye that he died of a heart attack in 1964, just after finishing the first draft of The Man with the Golden Gun.

      On at least one occasion Agatha Christie also sought out the Caribbean for literary stimulation and found there  the inspiration for A Caribbean Mystery, as the above dedication indicates.  Apparently she was looking for something of a jump start when she headed to the West Indies.  Christie had received lukewarm reviews for her previous two novels, The Mirror Crack’d  and The Clocks.  The jinx was broken with A Caribbean Mystery, however.  In its December 11, 1964 review of the novel The Guardian  noted
 "Mrs Agatha Christie has done it again. In A Caribbean Mystery she tells the reader explicitly what is going to happen; and yet when it does, nine out of ten will be taken completely by surprise – as I was. How does she do it? For the rest, it is Miss Marple this time who is in charge of the story; and all one can guess is that the setting is a Caribbean island."

    Herman Wouk also went south for the inspiration for his cautionary serio-comedic classic Don’t Stop the Carnival.  The novel tells the story of the hopeless and hapless Norman Paperman, who deserts the bright lights of Broadway to purchase and then attempt to run a small hotel on the imagined Island of Kinja (short for “King George Island").  The book inspired a musical by Jimmy Buffett (sound track highly recommended) and on a more personal note provided the name for our cat, Kinja, who is wandering around my ankles as I type.  The model for Norman Paperman's Gull Reef Hotel in the book was the Royal Mail Inn, now long gone, but which was once was located on Hassell Island in St. Thomas across from Charlotte Amalie, and which Wouk managed for a short time in the early 1960s.  While it can be hard to find Don’t Stop the Carnival in State-side bookstores (and the book has yet to come out in an e-publication) you will find it everywhere in the Caribbean – even in convenience stores.  In the Caribbean it is the ex-patriot’s Bible.

    Who else can we add to the list?  Certainly Graham Greene, who wrote Our Man in Havana after a prolonged visit to Cuba.  And The Comedians, one of the finest novels I have read and a brilliant and scathing send-up of the Duvalier government, was written by Greene following his numerous visits to Haiti.  Reportedly the owner of Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, where Greene frequently stayed, named a room in his honor.   

    I do not know for certain that the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson frequented the Caribbean, but I suspect that he must have as evidenced by the beginning section of the second book of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, The Girl who Played with Fire.  There, in a rather strange stand-alone prologue to the book, Salander has traveled down the leeward islands until she reaches Grenada, where we find her, at the beginning of the book,  lounging on Grand Anse beach -- surely one of the finest beaches in the Caribbean. The descriptions of Grenada there, and in the action that follows before the actual book kicks in, are wonderful, and ring true.  Certainly Larsson must have walked Grand Anse himself before he allowed his greatest creation, Lisbeth, to do so.

    We can also add to the list James Michener, who returned frequently to the Caribbean and who lived for some months on the island of  St. Lucia, which is the counterpart for his fictional island of All Saints in his 1989 novel Caribbean.

St. Lucia is also where I will be on the day this article posts.  I should make it to Grenada and Grand Anse the next week. This list of authors who have retreated to the West Indies could go on, but I need to pack!

    It is now several days later. Updated material follows:

Sea U Guest House, Barbados  January 14, 2012

23 January 2012

Red Rum


Fran Rizerby Fran Rizer



Many readers are familiar with South Carolina's three most notorious killers: Donald (Pee Wee) Gaskins, Larry Gene Bell, and Susan Smith.


Gaskins (photo on left) tortured, killed, and admittedly cannibalized anywhere from one hundred to a hundred and ten victims--some for fun, some for profit. He once escaped prison by hiding in a garbage truck and fled to Georgia, but was recaptured there. Sentenced to the electric chair twice, Gaskins's first sentence was changed to life in prison when the courts reversed South Carolina's capital punishment laws. While serving the life sentence, Gaskins killed a fellow death-row inmate by blowing him up with explosives. This was a hired hit, and capital punishment had been reinstated in South Carolina. Gaskins was electrocuted in "Old Sparky" in 1991. He was known as "The Meanest Man in the World" and the "Redneck Charlie Manson."

Larry Gene Bell (photo on right) chose electrocution over lethal injection for his execution in 1996 for the kidnapping, abuse, and murder of seventeen-year-old Shari Smith and ten-year-old Debra May Helmick. He forced Shari Smith to write a "Last Will and Testament," which he mailed to her family. He also harrassed the family by telephone both before and after Shari's body was found. He obsessed about and threatened Shari's sister Dawn. Bell is suspected of having murdered more young females before these two.


Susan Smith (left) is serving life for the intentional drowning of her sons, fourteen-month-old Alexander and three-year-old Michael. Born 9/26/71, Smith had a tragic childhood. Her father committed suicide when she was six years old, and later she was a documented victim of sexual abuse by her step-father. Smith had hopes of a future with her wealthy employer when her divorce was final, but the man told her he wasn't interested in a "package deal" or raising another man's children. Her sentence start date was 11/04/94.

There are many books, movies, and documentaries about these three, or to make it simple, just look them up on Wikipedia. Our topic for today is also murder in South Carolina, an
account written by Evelyn Baker, who knew the victims. Though less notorious, the case of The Good Twins is as chilling as any of the more famous killings. Here’s the story:

THE GOOD TWINS
by Evelyn Baker

It seems like yesterday when my older friend Cleo said, "Eve, my son Frankie is moving down here from Tennessee. He's divorced, and I'd like you to meet him."

I thought, "If he's anything like his mom, I'll like him." Cleo was a character. That's the best word for this petite, guitar-playing singer from Nashville. She was full of off-the-wall advice like, "Enjoy your youth. When you wake up on your fortieth birthday, take your clothes off and stand in front of a mirror. You'll see gravity drop everything toward the floor," and, "Don't put all your eggs in one bastard."

Frankie moved to Columbia, SC, Cleo introduced us, and we dated, but there wasn’t any chemistry. We simply became friends. Frankie talked a lot about his kids, twin boys who lived with their mother in Nashville. He was worried because his ex was having trouble with them. They were fifteen years old, in special ed classes, and refused to follow rules—their mother’s or the school’s. Frankie talked about his mom, too. Cleo lived in an elegant water-front home on Lake Murray. Unhappy in her
mar
riage, Cleo wanted another divorce.

Soon Frankie had gone to Tennessee to pick up the boys, a
nd Cleo had moved out of her beautiful house. Mother and son rented a mobile home in Irmo to live in while they built a new house on lake-front property Cleo owned. They put a small travel trailer camper on the lot for convenience
when working because they were doing some of the building themselves.

With that good old SC hospitality, I invited Frankie and his twin sons--Craig and Timmy--to my home for a cookout. The twins didn't like hanging out on the patio, and my three children invited them to the upstairs game room. At a reasonable hour, Frankie called the boys down to go home. After they were gone, my oldest child, Susan, told me, "Mom, you don't want those boys around Chris and Jeffrey. They talk ugly, and they're mean."

"What did they do?" I demanded, immediately defensive of my young ones.

"They didn't hurt any of us. They just talk mean. I would have called you upstairs if they hurt anyone."

Susan refused to add anything more, but I didn't invite Frankie to bring his sons back. When he suggested family activities, I made up excuses. He acknowledged that his sons were “a hand full,” but he loved them. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, “My kids don’t like your kids.” We saw less of each other, but Frankie and I still talked on the telephone a lot.

That fall, Frankie's cousin LeeAnn called me one night and asked, "Eve, do you know where Frankie is? Nobody in the family has heard from him for days. Even Cleo doesn't know where he is."

I was able to ease their minds by telling her, "Frankie told me he was going to Nashville for a few days."

Months later, LeeAnn called me again looking for Frankie. I was working at a supper club, and she actually had me paged at work, which was as rare as the snow on the central South Carolina ground that Friday night.

"Do you know where Frankie is?" LeeAnn asked. "Nobody in the family has heard from him or Cleo all week. I called the school today, and the twins have been absent several days."

I admit I was a little irritated to be called at work about this. "You know Frankie and Cleo. They're both free spirits. Probably took off for Tennessee again," I answered. "Don't worry. They're both adults and I'm sure the twins are with them, where ever they are."

LeeAnn continued, "I went by their mobile home in Irmo. I tried to look through the blinds on the window, and it looks like Cleo is lying on the couch, all wrapped up in that afghan she loves so much. I beat and beat on the door, and she didn't move."

"One of them must have dropped the afghan on top of something on the couch," I suggested. "Frankie is so excited about building the new house. I'll bet they're up there and the phones aren't working because of the ice and snow. They're probably fine in the travel trailer," I assured her, eager to get back to work.

"Would you ride up there with me after you get off?" LeeAnn's voice was pleading.

Now the last thing I wanted to do at two o'clock in the morning was ride thirty miles on icy, snowy roads in South Carolina, where most of us don't know how to drive in those conditions. "Call the sheriff," I suggested. "Get them to stop by and check. They'll probably call you back to tell you everything's fine."

"I'll call you when I know something," she said.

"Wait 'til I'm off work," I replied.

A few hours later, at the busiest time of the night, LeeAnn had me paged again. "We're slammed right now," was the first thing I said. Then I realized she was crying.

"They're dead!" she sobbed. "The cops found Frankie and Cleo shot to death in the travel trailer, and the boys are missing. They've been kidnapped."

I personally couldn't think of why anyone would want to kidnap fifteen-year-old boys other than for ransom, and the only ones who'd pay ransom for them had been killed. I'd bet the boys were injured or dead somewhere.

Cleo had apparently been cooking when she was shot standing in front of the open refrigerator. One of the bullets went through her and wound up in an egg stored on the fridge door. Frankie had been shot in the back.

Though I tried, it was impossible to console LeeAnn and other family members who were devastated by the deaths and worried sick about the twins the next few days. Their fear for the twins changed when the cops told them that Cleo's jewelry had been pawned downtown by identical teenagers. Craig and Tim are identical twins. A few days later, the boys were arrested hiding in Nashville. They'd trashed motel rooms on their way.

Craig had always been the dominant brother, and Timmy generally followed along. They confessed that they'd planned to kill their dad and grandmother so they could have money and move back to Tennessee. In 1989, Craig was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Tim was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to fifty-five years and six months in prison. Tim's first parole eligibility is 9/20/12 and Craig's is 11/09/13. The boys have been incarcerated in separate facilities, but neither has a good record in prison, so it's unlikely, though not impossible, that either will be paroled at first eligibility.

Why would anyone call men who brutally murdered their father and grandmother "good"? Because that's their surname. Craig is Craig Layman Good and Tim is Timothy Sean Good.
They are "The Good Twins."

Postscript from Fran: Writers are frequently asked where story ideas originate. Real life is the basis for more than just true crime stories. Truth is, sometimes, indeed, stranger than fiction. If you'd like to see current photos of Susan Smith, Craig Good, and Tim Good, go to
SC's Incarcerated Inmate Search at http://sword.doc.state.sc.us/scdc-public/

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.

18 February 2014

Gone South: Doing Something About February



by Dale C. Andrews
 Shakey crashed through the door of the bar looking like the last day of February
                                                     Herschel Cozine
                                                     Shakey's Debt
February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer.
                                                     Shirley Jackson
                                                     Raising Demons
February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.
                                                     Dr. J. R. Stockton


Frazz, February 1, 2014, ©2011 2011 Jef Mallett/Distr. By Universal Uclic


     When my wife and I each retired in 2009 we had a shared goal. We wanted to never again endure the month of February in Washington, D.C. So far we have made good on that quest, and this year, as in previous Februaries, we are holding forth in a rental condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

       Mao Tse Tung was an advocate for the battle tactic of planned retreats, and in no year has a planned retreat from the frozen north made more sense than this one. When you look at those weather maps that have been so common this month, with that bulge of blue swallowing up the Midwest and the entire East Coast, we are right down there at the bottom -- where, in the course of a few scant miles, the color of the weather map on most days shifts from blue, to green, and then finally to yellow, where we are. It doesn't always work -- this year in our first few days here we did find ourselves in the path of that ice storm that hit the south, and that left us apartment bound for a day, but by and large we enjoy 60s when our home in D.C. has to tolerate 20s.  And this week it is all sunshine and mid-70s.

The only time this year that February
caught up with us at Gulf Shores
       So we run away before the cold. And in doing so we escape the dreary and dreaded month of February, at least as it is experienced up north. Paradoxically, while only 28 or 29 days, February nonetheless plays out as the longest month of the year. It is cold, the days are short, and it invites the onset of cabin fever. When you are held captive by the deranged beast that is February -- that is, when pressures of life conspire to hold you in place, precluding that planned retreat -- the result challenges even the stalwart optimist in each of us.  It can tempt us, in fact, to retreat from rational thinking in our quest for an escape.

A cargo cult's "runway"
       When I was a sociology major back in college I remember studying the cargo cults of the South Pacific -- island tribes that, watching the cargo-rich U.S. air fleets in World War II fly overhead, were inspired to build mock runways on their islands in hope that the planes would land there as well. We smile and shake our heads at the naive innocence of all of this, pinning hopes on magic.  But every year on February second, no doubt in trepidation of what lies ahead, we trot out analogous witchery. We gather in ritualistic regalia, we sometimes require that only German is to be spoken, and we scrutinize awakening groundhogs in an attempt to discern whether they will see their shadows.  All in the hope that ritual can somehow foreshorten our misery.

       This year, as reported in the Washington Post, Phil the groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania saw his shadow, which, per legend, meant six more weeks of winter.   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has dismissed statistically any soothsaying abilities of Phil and his cohorts, and on bright and warm days we smile and shake our heads at the whole cargo cult ritual of this annual event. The planes do not arrive for the cargo cults, and spring does not arrive for us.  But that does not stop us from showing up each year to watch the groundhog. And this is not limited to that town in Pennsylvania. The Washington Post reports that other groundhogs, also sought out each year in a quest to short-hop the miseries of February, include:


       And in Washington, D.C., we add Potomac Phil to the list. The Washington would-be prognosticator is actually a stuffed Groundhog, but it nevertheless somehow manages to impart a prediction annually at a gathering at Dupont Circle.

       It is not just those of us in the United States who behave this way. In Serbia, for example, on February 15 during the feast of celebration of Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord. celebrants watch a bear that is awakened from winter sleep. According to legend there if the bear sees its shadow it goes back to sleep for another 40 days, and winter continues. European folklore generally also looks to badgers or bears, usually on February 1, in hope of a signal that winter will end early. But, again according to NOAA, approximately 75 percent of the time there is no early spring, and our hopes are in vain. Regardless of the vagaries of animals’ shadows we, like those South Sea islanders tempting the planes to land, get nothing.

       In fact we do worse -- we get February.

       All of these February rituals simply evidence our desperation. Those who face February without the possibility of retreat can be rendered senseless and desperate in their endurance. A resort to witchcraft is but a small step where nothing rational works.

       So. Where did this affront that is February come from in the first place? As one might suspect, the dratted month owns a checkered past. No such month existed in the early Roman calendar, a ten month affair that simply left the period that is now January and February a nameless blot of bleak days. In effect the early Roman calendar at the end of December said That's it.  See you in March.  When February (along with January) eventually was added to the Roman calendar, around 700 B.C., it was a period of varying lengths -- 23 to 27 days -- and a thirteenth month, Intercalaris, was inserted between it and March as a device to re-align the calendar with the seasons each year, a necessary tool since the year, but for Intercalaris, was calculated out at 355 days.

       Under the reforms instituted with the Julian calendar, Intercalaris was abolished, the year was set at 365 days, and February was likely assigned 29 days. I say “likely” because there is some argument as to how February became a 28 day month (except in leap years). According to popular history this reduction occurred as a result of rivalry between Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus. Julius Caesar had already requisitioned and re-named the seventh month of the year “July,” in honor of, well, himself. Then, so the story goes, when Augustus Caesar ascended to power he decided he needed his own month as well, and we were given a re-named eighth month -- “August.” Up until that time all months (except for February) were either 30 days or 31 days, alternating on an every-other month basis. But Augustus wanted his month to be as long as Julius Caesar’s, so he robbed a day from February and placed that day in August, making it 31 days as well.

Washington, D.C. earlier this month
       Fear not. There is a demented rhyme to the madness of today’s discussion. Our dread of February, as evidenced, among other things, by that groundhog fetish, coupled with our willingness, evidenced by the Romans, to first invent, and then re-invent the length of February, provide something of a spring board for creative thinking. Even when we are not free to run south in front of the dreaded second month of the year, might there still be some other alternatives that we could pursue?  Something that does not exactly solve the problem of February but still offers more than a mere placebo? We cannot end winter sooner, but is there some lesser measure that, while realistically ineffective at combating winter, could nonetheless help to avenge the wrongs done to the tortured and shivering masses better than that resort to groundhogs, bears and badgers?

       I have a modest suggestion.

       We all accept that February already differs from other months in the number of its allotted days. And the Romans have already fiddled with that number, as discussed above, before agreeing on our present 28 day (and 29 day leap year) approach. Since the month is already demonstrably too long at 28 (or 29) days, my proposal is simply this: Chop another week off of it. Make it 21 days -- a three week sprint from January to March. And then take that extra week, the one we just chopped, and plop it down smack dab in the middle of June -- a month that often seems too short.

Gulf Shores Alabama -- View from our condo
February 17, 2014.  72 degrees.
       What about leap year? you ask. Simple, again. Leap year day should be designated a national holiday. The holiday would float, and would be used, as needed, as an extra day adjacent to July 4, thereby ensuring that Independence Day would always at the least be a two-day holiday. I know, I know -- I see all of you math majors waving your hands, eager to point out that the extra day would be needed whenever Independence Day falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and that these alignments occur more than once every four years. The solution remains simple -- just take those extra days, as needed, out of February.  If the second month of the year ends up less than 21 days, I mean, who is going to complain?

       I could go on. But I am off to the beach.