10 April 2012

Easter Eggs – The Sequel

   Since Leigh has the Sunday domain at SleuthSayers, he drew Easter and offered a column this week that addresses a topic similar to mine today.  While I didn’t quite hit the holiday itself, apropos of the re-birth that is Spring, an article focusing, just a bit, on Easter beckoned me as well.  So today’s piece, similar to Leigh's, is about Easter Eggs.

   The Easter Eggs that we are hunting for today are not of the candy or hard-boiled variety.  Nor are they of the computer variety that Leigh addressed.  They are, however, hidden and, unlike those discussed by Leigh, the ones this article focuses on actually relate to Easter..  And consistent with the recurring themes of SleuthSayers, to find them one does not comb the back yard.  One combs mysteries. 

    An Easter Egg, as Leigh explained on Sunday, is a hidden message, or an “in joke.”  Leigh's column focused on Easter Eggs  in the context of computer programs, and it is there that the term itself first originated.  While the practice of embedding hidden messages has existed for many decades, the term “Easter Egg” reportedly was coined in the 1980’s in the context of the then-popular Atari Adventure games authored by programmer Warren Robinette, who was fond of dropping hidden messages into the midst of his games.  There are plenty of examples of Easter Eggs outside the computer gaming context however -- there is, for example, a popular pastime at Disney World of looking for the resort’s many “hidden Mickeys,” and just over a week ago John Floyd offered an article dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock’s habit of appearing in cameo in  his movies.  Each of these meets the definition of an “Easter Egg.”

    Some of the strangest Easter Eggs that you will encounter in mystery literature, however, are those found in the mystery novels of Ellery Queen.  Most of the hidden messages in the works of Queen are so obscure that you can read the mysteries they are contained in and never realize that they are there.  And generally Queen's Easter Eggs are completely unimportant to the underlying mystery story.  Usually these references are to dates that have a hidden meaning, and more often than not those dates have something to do with . . . the holiday Easter.   

    How strange is this? 

    Well, first of all, these hidden references – hidden messages that in fact refer in many cases to Easter – pre-date by decades the coining of the phrase “Easter Egg.”   And I know of no other Easter Eggs that actually reference the holiday Easter.

Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay
    Secondly, this fixation on the Easter holiday, and the repeated obscure references to it, occur in books written by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who were born Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky, respectively.  Queen scholar Francis M. Nevins in Royal Bloodlines describes the two as follows:
Both were born in 1905, nine months and five blocks apart, of immigrant Jewish stock in a crowded Brooklyn tenement district.” 
Why would these two Jewish cousins begin hiding references to the holiday Easter in their works?  I asked that very question of Richard Dannay, Frederic’s son, at the 2005 Ellery Queen centenary symposium hosted by EQMM in New York.  Richard’s answer was “I have absolutely no idea.”

    A word of caution here:  to delve into the hidden meanings behind the dates in Ellery Queen mysteries is to invite a headache.  A comprehensive analysis of possible meanings of date and numerical references in the Queen oeuvre has been set forth in the webpages of Remi Schulz, the French Ellery Queen scholar.   Only some of Remi’s theories and analyses have been translated into English, but a summary of Remi’s reasoning also appears in two essays that can be found on Kurt Sercu’s Ellery Queen:  A Website on Deduction.  Remi’s theories concerning the Queen novels are Byzantine in their complexity, but today, fitting of the recent holiday, we will focus almost solely on Easter.

   With all of that as introduction, let’s jump onto the roller coaster.  Fasten your seat belts, and hold on tight! 

    What is likely the first reference to Easter in an Ellery Queen novel appears in The Four of Hearts, published in 1938.  There a character in the mystery dies on April 17, which, in 1938, was Easter.  The reference is obscure and, as with virtually all such references in the works of Queen, does not relate to the underlying mystery.  The story is, in many respects, an homage to Maurice LeBlanc’s Arsène Lupin mystery Le Triangle d’Or, which, itself, has many references to the holiday Easter.  Standing alone, the date in The Four of Hearts would likely mean nothing.  But, as will be seen, it hardly stands alone.

    Four years later, in Calamity Town, published in 1942, the first Ellery Queen mystery to be set in the Queen-created upper New York town of Wrightsville, a culminating episode occurs in chapter 27, which is titled “Easter Sunday:  Nora’s Gift.”  Interesting, but still, we could be dealing with coincidence.

    In 1950 another Wrightsville mystery was published, Double, Double.  The chapters in Double, Double are all titled with dates, beginning with April 4, and culminating events occur in the chapter entitled “Weekend, April 8-9.”  In 1950 that weekend was Easter.

    Dannay and Lee likely intended the Queen saga to end with the publication of The Finishing Stroke in 1958.  Easter did not figure into that story, which instead focused on Christmas week – and also on the date “January 11,” a reference that relates to Manfred Lee’s birthday.  The date has nothing to do with Easter, but it has some personal importance to me as well, which I previously explored in a Criminal Briefs article three years ago.

    But by 1963 Ellery arose from his literary death with the publication of The Player on the Other Side, and the Easter game was again afoot.  During the course of  Player we learn that a central character was born on the 20th of April, 1924.  You guessed it – Easter.

    That particular date is cloaked in at least two other obscurities.  First, exactly thirty-five years before, on April 20, 1889, Hitler was born.  Beginning with that reference in 1963 the works of Queen occasionally combine references to Hitler in tandem with Easter.  But second, in the circle of the year April 20 is precisely one half of a year separated from October 20, the day on which Frederic Dannay was born in 1905.  So just as The Finishing Stroke references Lee’s birthday on January 11, so to, The Player on the Other Side references, albeit more obscurely, Dannay’s birthday, and does so by tying the date to Easter. 

     Were there to be any doubt as to the recurrent Easter themes (as well as references to Hitler) in the works of Dannay and Lee, those doubts would be dispelled by And on the Eighth Day, published in 1964.  While this mystery is one of my favorites, many Queen fans do not like it at all.  The book is unlike any other Queen novel, much more of an allegory -- an Easter allegory -- than a mystery.  Although written in 1964, And on the Eighth Day recounts Ellery’s visit to a hidden southwest religious community twenty years earlier, in 1944.  As was the case in Double Double, the chapter headings in Eighth Day are dates, beginning with April 2 and ending, on April 9.  You guessed it – in 1944 this was Easter week.  Moreover, the story revolves around a book, thought to be a recovered religious tract long lost by the community, that had been re-discovered and purchased by the leader of the community on April 8, 1939 – yet another Easter. 

    One of the strangest aspects of And on the Eighth Day is the fact that there are many “clues” in the book that are never in fact dealt with or even addressed during the narrative.  These include a very significant (and Easter-related) anagram, which (because I hate spoilers) I will leave unexplained, just as Ellery did.  Also, the title of the actual lost religious tract is never disclosed, although I have speculated elsewhere as to what the title might have been.  (Remi Schulz took these speculations, much to my amusement, as gospel – here is a link to his discussion for anyone interested.) 

    And what does the title of the mystery itself mean?  An obvious answer is the fact that the story unfolds over an eight day period.  But, as always with Queen, there is more to it than that.  The book of Luke, 1:59, suggests that the Eighth Day was the “naming day,” or day of circumcision for Jesus. (“And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father.”)  Readers of And on the Eighth Day  will note that there is, indeed, a naming of sorts on the eighth day of the narrative.  There are also repeated and unexplained references to the number “50,” in And on the Eighth Day – as an example, the number “50” appears on the buttons of the leader of the community’s robe.  While the significance of this is never explained by Queen (the authors) or Queen (the detective),  there is one, and only one, book in the Bible containing precisely 50 chapters – the Book of Genesis; the book that begins with a recounting of what transpired beginning "on the first day.”  Finally, and I think most intriguing, is the fact that the Jewish “Eighth Day” holiday is Shemini Atzeret, a holiday that occurs on the eighth day of the Festival of Sukkot.  And why is that interesting?  In 1905 Sukkot began at sundown on October 20 – the day that Frederic Dannay was born.  So which of the foregoing oddities explains the title of the mystery?  My bet, knowing Ellery Queen, is “all of the above.”

    From the obvious Easter motifs in And on the Eighth Day Queen brings us back to Easter by way of obscurity.  In Face to Face, published in 1967, there is absolutely no reference to Easter.  However, near the end of the mystery Ellery is called upon to help find  someone to officiate at a wedding, that, contrary to Christian tradition, is planned for Palm Sunday.   Face to Face concludes the next day at a New York airport.

    Queen’s next book, The House of Brass, published in 1968, centers on the Inspector and has no Easter references.

    But then, in 1970 – fully three years after Face to Face –  Ellery is back in The Last Woman in his Life, which begins just minutes after Face to Face concluded -- on the same day and at the same New York airport.  The Last Woman in his Life nowhere uses the word “Easter,” but  if you start with the date of the Palm Sunday wedding in Face to Face, count the additional day in that book, which is also the day on which The Last Woman in his Life begins, and then calculate out the days that transpire in Last Woman it becomes apparent that the victim in Last Woman, who is the son of a carpenter, was  murdered on – Easter Sunday.

    So, there you have it.

    Given all of this, when I was working out the outline for The Book Case, an Ellery Queen pastiche in which a 102-year-old Ellery solves one last murder, I made certain that the reader could calculate that the murder, in fact, took place on Easter.  This seemed the right thing to do.  But if you asked me why it was the right thing to do, I still would have to shrug and give Richard Dannay’s answer – I have absolutely no idea!

09 April 2012

Late Sunday… Easter Sunday

by Jan Grape

Jan Grape

Late Sunday...Easter Sunday.

Okay, no little kids to worry about Easter bunnies but since my grown-up grandson, Cason lives here with me, I broke down and got an empty Easter basket and filled it with Chocolate Bunnies and Candy. Just couldn't resist.

Mostly today was like most any other Sunday. Read the paper, watch bowling on TV and read greetings and jokes that family and friends sent. One of the funniest was from a friend and it was about Bob Hope reaching heaven's gate and St. Peter telling him to come on in that many friends were waiting for him. It quoted several Hope jokes and for some reason, one that tickled me was his comment about not ever receiving an Oscar. He was hosting the event and said, welcome to the Oscars or "Passover" as we all it at our house.

That has absolutely nothing to do with mysteries or writing or even blogging, it was just a funny line that caught my attention. Funny lines. They say that comedy is hard to write. And I suppose it really is. What I may think is funny...you might not even crack a smile over. And a belly laugh to you may not seem a laughing matter to me.

That's honestly how all writing is in many ways. We pour our thoughts out, write a good story, build suspense, dynamic characters and send it out to some jaded agent or editor only to be rejected after waiting for six months to hear back. That's just the name of the game. Wait, and wait and wait. Then someone says no thanks. What do you do?

All you can do, is brush the tears away and send it out to the next person on your list. Because, class, all writing is subjective. No matter how hard you try there is no magic way to write a story or a book that someone will pay money to publish.

However, if you are lucky enough to find the right person who likes your work, you are in a small class by yourself. Even the best-selling authors still get rejected. Of course, most of us know already that if you are a best-selling author you won't get rejected very often. Whereas we mid-list writers are still struggling and we get dealt the REJECTION hand fairly often.

Sometimes the hardest thing to understand is how some writers ever got published in the first place. I've run across a few in my years of reading, especially when we had our mystery bookstore. There's no way to explain some successes. A writer friend one explained it this way. It's like there's this giant claw hand...like in those arcades...the claw hand will grind down and pick up a toy and sometimes get tantalizing close but the hand then opens and drops the toy. However, once in a great one thousand, million times the hand will pluck a toy and drop it through the slot. Wow, Bam, Whoo-hoo...a publisher will grab a book, promote the heck out of it and the author is on the way to NY Times Best-Seller status.

Never forget for everyone of those lucky picks there's the remainder of us. Margaret Mitchell was rejected over 39 times and she only wrote one book. Harper Lee only wrote one book...I have no idea if she was rejected or how many time, but I imagine she was. Eventually they were published. They kept on, learning and working and sending their work out and finally found some wonderful editor who liked their book and published it. I'll bet neither of their editors ever had any idea how timeless or how classic their book would be.

So my message on this late Sunday evening is: keep on trucking, kids. We may not ever make the best-sellers list, but we can continue writing and if we get published we've joined an elite group. And that class is what it's all about.

08 April 2012

Easter Eggs

by Leigh Lundin

Apples and Eggs

I first stumbled across secret Easter eggs– the computer kind– in the early days of the Macintosh. Holding down the OPT key or clicking in certain obscure places could bring up a surprise… names of developers, pictures, or little animations. Other companies began to include hidden features. One of the more unusual third party eggs turned out to be a hidden file of Michelangelo's David… with an erection.Area 51

Most Easter eggs are not that scandalous but evoke a wry smile or a raised eyebrow. For example, the Apple Newton PDA shipped with handy interactive maps and an atlas. If you happened to click 37°14'06"N 115°48'40"W in Nevada, an alien popped up along with the tag "Area 51", a decade and a half before the USAF finally acknowledged the existence of Dreamland, the super-secret facility at Groom Lake. Rumor has it the federal government asked Apple to remove that particular feature.

A number of Easter eggs hide today in the Macintosh, some in plain sight– Apple's iconic high resolution icons. For example, the TextEdit (like WinPad) icon shows the text of a speech and the icon of Keynote contains lyrics from the rock musical Spring Awakening's "The Bitch of Living". You can stumble upon an egg that can tell you a joke or provide a cookie recipe.

A Little History
In the late 1969s and early 1970s, software developers occasionally planted quirks into programs. For example, developers might insert a seemingly meaningless string of characters in memory, invisible to the user, but would show up as a picture in what programmers called a core dump.

In a 1974 package called DOCS, CFS developer Dick Goran imbedded a New York Times headline file that would crop up when a terminal's otherwise useless Test Req key was pressed. In an earlier package called DUCS, the same key brought up tic-tac-toe (written by yours truly) that could be played with a light pen.

Even earlier, IBM hardware 'customer engineers' discovered the IBM 1130 gave off RF– radio frequency radiation. In 1968 or so, CEs could set a transistor radio on the CPU cabinet and, running a diagnostic program, play 'tunes' through the radio.


University Unix aficionados were known to hide embedded 'features' in Unix programs. A few of these routines survive in the Emacs editor. Even today, even on the Macintosh, you can type ESC-X (or M-x) and type commands to activate simple 1970s video games:
  • Adventure (command: dunnet)
  • Pong (command: pong)
  • Snake (command: snake)
  • Solitaire (command: solitaire)
  • Tetris (command: tetris)
  • Eliza manual (command: doctor)
  • Eliza automatic (command: psychoanalyze-pinhead)
  • For fun… (command: zone)
Thanks to some late night student, you can even watch Star Wars Episode IV… sort of… using Telnet on Unix, Mac, or Windows.


Microsoft developers entered the game late, but Redmond never seemed as comfortable or as subtle as their Apple counterparts. Perhaps their best egg was a road racing game built into Excel. Officially, Microsoft ended the practice of Easter eggs in 2003, but if you use Windows XP or Vista, you can still find Easter eggs.

Katmandu airportGoogle Earth

If you have Google Earth (and you should!), there's a hidden flight simulator. To bring up a plane, hold down CTL-ALT (Windows) or CMD-OPT (Mac) and tap A, where you'll be given your choice of a single engine Cirrus SR22 or a Viper F-16 fighter, followed by a list of international airports. For help, press CTL or CMD and H.


If you use the Firefox browser, you can bring up a couple of hidden features. In the address bar, enter "about:mozilla" or "about:robots" to bring up hidden screens.

Business Insider has Easter eggs for everyone. In the meantime, have a safe Passover and a happy Easter.

07 April 2012

A 21st Century Passover

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I’ve attended and officiated at some quirky Seders, but this one takes the cake, er, matzoh. We’re going to the home of my first husband, where his current wife will preside and the guests will include my Irish Catholic second and current husband, my Filipino Catholic daughter-in-law, and my adorable granddaughters, of whom the older will be making her First Communion in a couple of months.
Genetically, the girls are half Jewish, 7/16 Filipino, and 1/16 Chinese. (The Chinese, as we learned when we went to Manila for the wedding ten years ago, occupy much the same sociological position in the Phillippines as the Jews have in many European cultures over the centuries: outsiders who become prosperous merchants and tend to get resented by the dominant culture when times are tough.) Anyhow, Passover and Chanukah every year are all the grandchildren are going to get of their Jewish heritage, so all the grownups are invested in making these holidays as memorable as possible.

The secret of a successful blended family is this: if you get the divorce over with early in life, by the time the grandchildren come along, all the hostility has been long since dissipated. I’ve always gotten along fine with—what do you call your first husband’s second wife? I don’t know if there’s a word that precisely describes the relationship. I call her Mimi, and my granddaughters call her Grandma Mimi, as they call me Grandma Liz. (For the third set of grandparents, they use the Tagalog designations: Lolo and Lola.)

Having grandchildren who aren’t being raised in the Jewish tradition has made me have to think about what exactly being Jewish means to me—not for the first time, but perhaps from a fresh perspective and with a little more of the perceptiveness I hope I’ve acquired with age. My family were secular Jews, who hardly followed any of the tradition except observing the major holidays, though their sense of the Jews as a people was strong and they wanted to pass that sense of peoplehood along to their children.

When I was a kid, there were no alternatives to the traditional Haggadah, the book that contains the ritual of the Passover Seder—no feminist Haggadah with an orange on the Seder plate, no egalitarian Haggadah with a special prayer for vegetarians. We went through the whole Haggadah in Hebrew, which my father and his brothers and sisters had learned by rote as children back at the beginning of the 20th century. (My father must have had his bar mitzvah in 1912.) In those days, no attempt was made to help the children understand what they were reading. They didn’t skip anything, we didn’t understand anything, they didn’t let us have carrot sticks or a piece of matzoh before the part where the Haggadah says you can eat the meal, and by the time that point came, we were starving.

But as I’ve tried to find ways to explain the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery so my granddaughters will understand, I’ve found much to be proud of in what the Jewish people chose to make of that experience and repeat to their children and their children’s children down through the centuries. On Passover, we remind each other that we have been oppressed in every age. If you look at history, it’s true: the expulsion from Spain and persecution by the Inquisition in 1492, a period I’ve written about in my fiction; the Holocaust.... They tried to destroy us, and we survived.

But that’s not the point. If you pay attention to what the Haggadah actually says, we tell our children that we cannot be completely content while one person in the world suffers—not one Jew, but one person—even our worst enemy. God visited a series of plagues on the Egyptians, the story goes, until Pharaoh finally let our people go. When Pharaoh broke his promise and pursued the Jews, we’re told the Red Sea parted and the Egyptian soldiers were drowned. Yet we are admonished not to gloat over the downfall of our enemies, but to empathize.

06 April 2012

Explosives 103: Non-Electric Blasting Caps & Fuse

A Quick Recap
1.The Explosive Train is a chain of explosions used to detonate a large, stable charge though what’s known as “Sympathetic Detonation” (one explosion causing another).
2.The first explosion in the chain is usually quite tiny; the next a little larger … and so on … until you manage to generate a walloping BANG!
3. The little explosive gadget most often used to initiate the Explosive Train is a Blasting Cap.
4. Blasting Caps come in two primary types: Electric and Non-Electric.
5. Last time, we covered general practices for using an Electric Blasting Cap.

So, this time we’ll be turning our eyes toward:

Non-Electric Blasting Caps
Note: Should anyone be familiar with a product or firing system known as NONEL, please be forewarned: NONEL is not what we’re going to look at today; it’s a completely different kettle of fish, which permits a blaster to fire a charge almost instantaneously (in fact it’s so nearly instantaneous, that’s it’s often referred to as being “an instantaneous firing system”). Standard non-electric blasting caps work differently, using Time Fuse, which is NOT an instantaneous ignition source, so it’s important not to confuse the two.
The picture on the left shows a bundle of non-electric caps rubber-banded together.

I’m sure we’ve all seen action heroes light a fuse that’s connected to a bundle of explosives, in a movie. When a character lights a fuse to set off an explosion, that person is — generally speaking — using a Non-Electric Blasting Cap to set off the charge. Technically, the first non-electric blasting cap was patented in 1867 by Alfred Nobel (because he needed something that would set off the dynamite he’d also invented).

Below are a couple of “cutaway” drawings that should give you a serviceable idea of what’s inside a non-electric blasting cap. One picture is a little more detailed than the other, but both clearly reveal how a non-electric cap is contained within a metal tube, which holds a primary explosive (also sometimes called a “booster”), and a secondary or output explosive — just as an electric blasting cap has. But, they also have an initiating charge that starts the explosive ball rolling.

The diameter of the blasting cap’s metal tube usually runs about a quarter-inch wide by two to three inches in length. (A quarter-inch equals 0.25 inches, versus the 0.241-inch measurement at the base of the cap [right side] in the lower drawing, and the 0.260-inch dimension at the open [left] end in the same drawing.) In both cases, the area to the left of the ignition charge (the charge labeled Pyrotechnic Ignition Mix in the color drawing) is hollow. This hollow section of tube is there so you can slide your Time Fuse into it, butting the end of the Time Fuse up against the initiator, and crimping the fuse in place so it won’t slip out.

The idea, of course, is that one lights the far end of the Time Fuse, then the powder train inside the fuse burns slowly along its length, until that flame spurts out at the other end — right into the initiator (or Pyrotechnic Ignition Mix), which is highly volatile and explodes because that tiny little spurt of white-hot flame is enough to set it off.

The initiator’s small explosion sets off the Primary Explosive (AKA: intermediate charge, or “booster”), which makes a greater explosion, which in turn sets off the Secondary Explosive ( AKA: base charge; AKA: output explosive), which is large enough to (hopefully) detonate the dynamite, TNT or C-4 (or whatever) that the blasting cap is snuggled up inside of. And . . . WHAMMO!


Generally speaking, one sets off a non-electric blasting cap by lighting a fuse. That fuse runs into the blasting cap, so the fire from the lit end of the fuse can find the place where it can set off the explosive chain.

Fuses come in many different types, depending on what you want to classify as a fuse. A fuse is essentially anything with black powder (or other well-burning substance) running through the middle of it. If you’re like me, you may have disassembled the fuse of a Black Cat fire cracker in your youth, and discovered that it was primarily a black powder train running through (wrapped in a tube of) something similar to newsprint. That’s a pretty simple fuse.

But, what makes a fuse, a fuse?

When Richard Sharpe (of the Sharpe’s Rifles series, set during the Napoleonic era) pours a line of black powder along the ground, from an ammunition dump, then lights the far end of that powder line in order to blow up the ammo dump — is this a fuse? Well, maybe. But, the word “fuse” usually connotes the idea that the “burning agent” (such as black powder) is combined with some sort of fibrous material to make it more reliable.

In that Sharpe’s Rifles example, for instance, the powder train could easily be disrupted by kicking apart the loose powder on the ground. If that were to happen, the flame would burn along the black powder train right up to the point where it ran out of any more flammable material, at which point the flame would fizzle — and that ammo dump wouldn’t blow up.

If you soaked a string in kerosene or gasoline, you’d have a rudimentary sort of fuse that couldn’t be so easily disrupted. Nobody could just kick it apart, for instance; they’d have to take additional time to cut it apart. However, it wouldn’t have a long life (because things like kerosene or gasoline evaporate fairly quickly), and it wouldn’t necessarily burn at a steady rate. Black powder, however, doesn’t lose its efficacy as quickly, and it does tend to burn in a fairly uniform manner. As noted earlier, though, a black powder train — in and of itself — can easily be disrupted.

One obvious solution is to weave a line of black powder into a line (string or rope) as the line is being braided. (In case you’re not familiar with the term, “braiding” a rope means making a rope by twining several lengths of twine or string together. If anyone is interested in the details, let me know and maybe I can do a post about Pioneering [the use of rope, for lashing poles in the construction of towers, derricks, or cranes, for instance].)

When a black powder train is woven into a line (string, rope), in a manner that insures the powder train runs all the way through without interruption, the result is a strong, flexible fuse that has a fairly consistent burn rate and is not easily disrupted. It’s also easy to carry (coiled in a backpack, for instance) and can be cut to any desired length. And this is basically all that a fuse really is.

Non-electric caps can be set off in other ways, but this post will deal primarily with the use of Time Fuse, when it comes to setting off blasting caps.

Time Fuse

The fuse used to set off a contemporary blasting cap is normally called either Time Fuse, or Safety Fuse. It comes in spools similar to the one seen above.

I’m used to calling it Time Fuse, since that’s what the Army calls the stuff it uses. However I’ve worked with Safety Fuse in other countries, as well as when dealing with civilian blasters here in The States. The two fuses are really interchangeable, and are composed of a black powder core that’s protected by a fiber wrapping (or wadding) encased in a water-proof plastic or waxed coat.

Imagine you took a brown paper lunch bag and fed it through a cheap paper shredder (one strong enough to shred a paper bag, that is). You know the sort of shredder I mean: it cuts the paper into long, skinny strips — almost as if making thin ribbon, or paper fettuccini. Now, imagine you waxed the interior and exterior of the brown paper bag before feeding it into the shredder; the strips of waxy brown paper that came out would be very similar — in both appearance and feel — to the braided wadding inside of Time Fuse.

The black powder is sort of “woven” into the braided twists of waxy brown paper strips to make a long braided cord. In some types of fuse, this cord is then encased inside something very much like a thick, hollow cotton shoestring for added durability when bending the fuse. Then, this cord is covered with a plastic coating. In civilian versions, this plastic coating may be day-glow green, or pink – even orange. With military Time Fuse, this coating will be olive drab (OD) green, with twin yellow hash marks every foot-and-a-half or so.

(You may be interested to know: When movie actors handle bombs with powder-blue Time Fuse, that powder-blue color is actually a telltale indicating the fuse being used is inert. Nearly all military training explosives — fake TNT blocks, Time Fuse, Det Cord, etc. — are this powder-blue color, making it easy to differentiate the real stuff from the practice materials. Blue, training materials show up in a lot of movies. You might find it fun to watch for them.)

Lighting Time Fuse

Time Fuse just needs heat, to be ignited. But, it needs quite a bit of heat.

You can light it with a match, if you hold the match to the fuse long enough. Or, with a Zippo or Bic lighter. You can also use a cigar, because cigars burn in excess of 700° f. You can’t light Time Fuse with a cigarette or pipe, because they don’t burn hot enough.

But, the surest way to light Time Fuse is by using a Mechanical Match.

The Mechanical Match in the picture on the left is lying on a plastic sheet of some kind. The device, itself, is a plastic tube with screw-on lids at both ends. If you look at the picture, you can see that the device is thinner in the middle, than it is on both ends. This is because those thicker ends are actually screw-on caps. The thin, middle part is the plastic tube they screw onto.
One end of the Mechanical Match has a pull-ring, similar in appearance to the pin on a hand grenade. This end contains a trigger, that’s hooked to the pull-ring pin (The pin is that short-looking shiny metal rod that runs out of the top of the screw-on cap and has a hole that the pull-ring goes through.). The trigger and a spring-loaded firing pin assembly are inside the tube. When the pull-ring is yanked out, it lifts the pull-ring pin, which fires the spring-loaded firing pin. The firing pin shoots across the inside of the plastic tube, to ram its pointy end into a shotgun primer that’s loaded into the other end. That shotgun primer detonates from the impact, igniting the Time Fuse.

Looking at the picture, you’ll also see an olive-drab (OD) green string or cord that comes out of the screw cap near the pull-ring, on the upper right side, then is laid across the front to the left side. If you look at the Mechanical Match, on the other side from where the string comes out (i.e.: the string comes out on the right, so looking on the left side of the device . . .), you’ll see a thin, straight line sticking out of the screw cap. This thing is actually the end of a cotter pin, which locks the pull-ring pin in place, acting as a kind of “safety.” To use the Mechanical Match, you first have to grab that OD green string (which is attached to the other end of the cotter pin) and use it to pull the cotter pin out. Only then can you pull the pull-ring.

The shotgun primer is actually held in one end of the thinner “tube part” of the device. And, the screw cap just below it has a hole in the end. In the picture, to the left of the Mechanical Match, you’ll see some small plastic doodads. Those are shipping plugs that normally block the hole in the end of the screw cap, so dirt doesn’t get in the hole and foul the shotgun primer.

To attach the Mechanical Match to Time Fuse, simply unscrew that screw cap a little bit (this loosens up two C-shaped plastic pieces inside the cap), then pull the shipping plug out. Then slide your Time Fuse up inside the hole until it bumps into an obstacle. That obstacle your Time Fuse just bumped up against is the shotgun primer. So, all you need to do is hold the Time Fuse in place – so it doesn’t slip back out – and screw the cap back tight. When you screw that cap tight, it causes those two C-shaped plastic pieces inside to tighten together, clamping your Time Fuse in place. Now you can let go, and your fuse isn’t going anywhere; it’s held fast against the shotgun primer. When you yank on the pull-ring, the firing pin will strike the primer, which will explode, and the Time Fuse will be ignited by the bang.

On the right is a picture showing a Mechanical Match hooked to Time Fuse. The pull-ring is folded back behind the device, near the top of the man’s hand. His other hand grasps the cotter pin string, preparing to remove the cotter pin "safety."

Cutting Time Fuse for Proper Burn Time

Time Fuse usually burns at about twenty to forty seconds per foot. In other words, it takes about half a minute for the flame inside to travel one foot along the powder train inside the fuse. However, it’s important to understand that Time Fuse has certain properties that cause it to burn at different rates under various circumstances.

For instance, if you compress Time Fuse while it is burning, it will burn faster. Essentially, by compressing it, you’re sort of squeezing the fire down the powder train at a faster rate. It’s similar in mechanics to what happens if you squeeze a garden hose. If you squeeze that hose, the water at the end shoots out with a lot more force, and it shoots much farther through the air. Doesn’t it? Well, this is roughly the same thing that happens when you squeeze Time Fuse; it really amps up the burn rate — the speed at which the flame travels along the powder train. In fact, you can even make the flame shoot out farther when it reaches the end. (I once used this idea to lend greater probability of success to a charge, when I had blasting caps that didn’t seem to have been made very well. The caps kept malfunctioning when I tested them out. Consequently, I covered the last couple of feet of Time Fuse with rocks, in order to amp up the power just before it hit the blasting caps used to set of my charge. My hope was that this would help boost the probability that the caps would get a bigger jolt from the fuse. It worked like a charm.)

There are a lot of ways to compress Time Fuse. You can bury it under dirt, or lay a line of rocks or bricks over the top. You can even squeeze it with your hands. But, watch out! That stuff’s hot! The plastic coating on the outside will bubble up and melt or burst as the fuse burns inside it. But, if you suddenly decide to abort your explosion, you’d better cut your Time Fuse about two or three feet beyond the point where that bubbling and melting is going on, because the fuse is actually burning about 18 inches ahead of that point.

The well-trained blaster takes this compression factor into account when camouflaging his/her Time Fuse, knowing that it will burn faster if it passes through a constriction such as a tight wall join, or mound of earth. Or if it’s hidden under layers of sticks or branches.

The compression factor also means that Time Fuse burns more slowly at higher altitudes (where there’s less air pressure) than it does at sea level. And it burns much more rapidly under water! (Remember: it’s water proof, and has it’s own oxygen source on-board, so it burns very well under water. In fact, you can even light it under water using a Mechanical Match!)
Ambient temperature can also effect Time Fuse’s burn rate. It tends to burn a little faster in a hot climate, and slower in a cold one. Other factors that influence burn rate include: its age, how well it was made, and how well it’s been cared for.

Because of all these variables, the good blaster doesn’t worry about the idea that this stuff is supposed to burn at around 30-seconds a foot. Instead, s/he knows this ratio is very mushy, and therefore conducts a test burn.

A test burn is (usually) a fairly easy thing to do, and can aid a blaster in getting his/her charge to go off within one second of when that explosion is desired. To begin with, s/he cuts 3 feet of fuse from the roll s/he plans to use when setting off the charge. Then, s/he carries this fuse (along with a mechanical match) to a setting that’s as similar to the location where the charge will be placed, as possible. If the charge is going to be used to blow down a train trestle that runs across a mountain pass high in the sky, then the blaster needs to take that test fuse up a mountain to the same elevation. If the charge is going to be set 300 feet below the ocean, the blaster needs to don a wet suit and air tanks, and take it down beneath the waves – preferably to 300 feet of depth.

Once the blaster has gotten as close as possible to the expected conditions, s/he then pulls out a stop watch, hooks up the Mechanical Match, and sets off the Time Fuse. The blaster times how long it takes, from the moment the Mechanical Match is fired, until that little spurt of flame shoots out the other end of the fuse.

Now, the blaster takes that number (the length of time it took to burn three feet) and divides it by 3 (the number of feet it burned in that time). The answer tells the blaster what this specific Time Fuse’s burn rate will be under those conditions.

If, for example, it somehow took 3 minutes to burn three feet, the blaster would divide the 3 minutes (time it took to burn) by the 3 feet (the length of the fuse tested) and arrive at a burn rate of 1 minute per foot. Since s/he now knows that this fuse will burn at the rate of 1 min./ft, if the blaster wants a 6-minute fuse, s/he will divide those 6 minutes by the burn rate. 6 mins. ÷ 1 min./ ft. = 6 feet of Time Fuse. In other words, s/he now knows to cut off six feet of Time Fuse, if s/he wants the fuse to burn for six minutes before the explosion occurs.

In reality, our blaster is much more likely to get a number like “1 minute and 18 seconds”, or “1 minute and 42 seconds” when s/he does the three-foot test burn. The easy way to handle this is to convert minutes to seconds and add it to the seconds left over. (For example, if our time was 1 minute and 42 seconds, we’d convert our 1 minute to 60 seconds, then add that to 42 seconds. 60 + 42 = 102. So, now we know it takes 102 seconds for the fuse to burn 3 feet. Dividing 102 seconds [the time] by 3 feet [the distance burned] gives us a burn rate of 34 seconds per foot.)

In the example above, if we wanted a 6-minute fuse on our charge, we’d divide 6 minutes (which is the same as 6 x 60 = 360 seconds) by 34 seconds/foot.

360 seconds ÷ 34 seconds/foot = 10.5882 feet. But, what about the .5882 feet?

Well, now we multiply 0.5882 x 12 to get inches. 0.5882 x 12 = 7.0584 inches. So, now we have a fuse that’s 10 feet and 7.0584 inches long.

But … what about the .0584 inches?

Simply multiply 0.0584 x 16 to get sixteenths of an inch. 0.0584 x 16 = 0.9344

0.9 can be rounded up to 1, so … we’re going to measure out 10 feet and 7 & 1/16 inches of Time Fuse, then we’re going to cut off that hunk that’s 10 feet and 7 & 1/16 inches long.

That may seem complicated, but I guarantee that if you spell it all out, a reader will be convinced you know how to cut Time Fuse! And that will lend a sense of verisimilitude to your story — which is what I’m aiming for by writing this little reference guide.

If you don’t quite get how it works, feel free to use my numbers. Or, contact me and I’ll be happy to run whatever numbers you want. Either way, no one will doubt that your character knows what s/he is doing. And that’s what counts!

Cutting and Crimping (or “Romper, Stomper, Bomper, Boo!)
Do you remember an old kiddy show called Romper Room? I don’t know if it showed all over the country, but I’ve spoken to a lot of guys (particularly Special Forces Demolitions Sergeants) who remember that the lady who ran the show used to sit in her chair, holding a thing that (I think) was supposed to be a hand mirror (but had no glass, so that you could see right through it) in front of her face as she looked out at the audience (Okay! Actually, she looked straight into the camera lens. But, hey, I was just a kid!). She’d hold that thing up and look out through it, while mumbling something about the “magic mirror” and intoning: “Romper, Stomper, Bomper, Boo! I see Mary and Jacky and Mark and Lisa …” and she’d go on and name all these kids whom she could supposedly see watching the show, by looking through her magic mirror.

You remember that?

You don’t!?!

Well . . . Damn it, Jim! I’m a demo man, not a child psychologist! So . . . on with the penultimate phase of today’s post.

You can cut Time Fuse with a knife, but it takes a little finesse — and a lot of sawing to work through that plastic and cordage. The result is often a frayed mess that doesn’t bolster a blaster’s confidence in his/her charge going off right.

Consequently, one of the best ways to cut Time Fuse is to use Crimpers. The crimpers in the photo on the right (above) are military crimpers similar to the ones I had in the army. On the left, you’ll see an older set of civilian crimpers.

Crimpers are a little like wire cutters in a way. You know how wire cutters often have two functions: you can use one section to strip the plastic coating off of wire, and you can use another section to actually cut the wire? Well, crimpers are sort of similar. That hole near the end can be used to crimp a blasting cap onto Time Fuse (we’ll get to that in a minute), but the scissors jaws just below that hole can be used to cut the fuse. And this cut will be very clean, quick and efficient.

The scissors jaws — as the name implies — cut Time Fuse in the same way scissors would. However, because most scissors tend to be straight, the cutting action would shove the round, smooth-sided time fuse down their length, reducing their cutting effectiveness. Hence the term “scissors jaws”. The jaws part comes in, because the scissors jaws are curved. Sort of like the letter C and its mirror image, where the inner line on the C would be very sharp. This curved C-shape helps hold the Time Fuse in place while you’re cutting it. And the sharp edges slice cleanly through the tough fuse material.

To attach your Time Fuse to your blasting cap, you need to slide the fuse into the cap until the fuse bumps up against the initiator (pyrotechnic ignition mix) inside. Then, you have pinch the metal cap into the fuse, in order to anchor the fuse in place. This pinching process is called “crimping” the cap.

There are a lot of ways to crimp a cap, including the bite-down method, in which you squeeze the cap into the fuse by biting it between your teeth. I don’t suggest you try this.

The preferred method for crimping a blasting cap onto Time Fuse is to slide your fuse inside the cap as described above. Then pull a set of crimpers out of your pocket and hold them up in front of your place. As a mnemonic device, an aid to keep you from cutting the cap instead of crimping it, you then look through the open hole of the crimper, while intoning the words, “Romper, Stomper, Bomper, Boo!” just like that lady on Romper Room. (This may sound silly, but it’s very important: cutting the cap could lead to an explosion.)

Once your sure you know which part is the crimper, you slip that part of the crimpers around the cap, about 1/8th to ¼ of an inch below the top of the hollow end of the blasting cap. After the crimpers are firmly seated, but before you crimp down, you rotate your arms to bring the cap-fuse-crimper assembly out to your side, down low, but as far away from your body as possible, while turning your face in the opposite direction. Then you squeeze the crimpers, crimping the cap onto the fuse. You do all the turning away, etc. to protect your eyes and upper organs from possible shrapnel, should the blasting cap explode when you crimp it. (Now you see why I don’t recommend crimping with your teeth. Right?)

A Final Note of Caution For Writers, Concerning Primer Cord Confusion

In some films you watch, you may hear characters refer to the fuse they’re going to light as: “primer cord” or “Prima Cord.” Please DO NOT make the same mistake in your writing!

“Primer cord” is Detonating Cord, which is NOT a fuse. And, “Prima Cord” is just a manufacturer’s brand name for a type of detonating cord. Detonating cord (often called Det Cord) is filled with PETN or RDX, which burns at 22,000 feet per second if you’re using military grade stuff.

With that burn rate, Det Cord doesn’t really just burn. It EXPLODES!

I mean it. It really does explode. For example: I have personally used Det Cord to cut down small trees in order to create emergency helicopter landing zones (LZ’s). I have also used it to cut through wooden doors (Use it on the hinge side, and it cuts the door off its hinges, for instance.), and to make fairly clean, linear cuts in thin metal.

For those wondering how to use it to open an area for an LZ here’s how it works: If you have a fairly large field with a few too many small trees growing in it to make a good LZ, you just run a line of Det Cord over to the base of a small tree and wrap it three to six times around the trunk (depending on diameter), then keep running the Det Cord over to another tree and wrap it around that one three to six times, etc., until you’ve got the bases of all the trees that are in your way wrapped with Det Cord. After that, you hook up a couple of blasting caps and tape them to one end of the Det Cord. Then, just back off and fire the caps. When the caps go off, the whole line of Det Cord goes BANG! and the trees all fall down. Then you and your buddies move in and drag off the trees, so they won’t get blown up by the rotor wash and knock down the chopper with flying branches when it tries to come in for a landing.

To illustrate the difference between Det Cord and Time Fuse, let me explain that if you run Time Fuse through trees in a similar manner, all you’ll wind up with is Time Fuse that’s melted to the base of the trees and all along the ground. Time Fuse absolutely does NOT explode. That’s why it makes such a good fuse.

Now, let me also warn you that you may run into somebody, someday, who says: “I once lit Det Cord (or Primer Cord) with my trusty Bic lighter, and all it did was burn. It doesn’t explode!” My suggestion is that you simply nod and remain silent, and hopefully that idiot will go away. Because, he’s probably telling you the truth.

If you set Det Cord on fire with a match or lighter (For God’s sake DON’T EVER use a mechanical match, or you might kill yourself!) the stuff will burn and smoke, and stink to high heaven (I know because I’ve done it). But, it won’t explode — because RDX and PETN (Det Cord is usually filled with one or the other) doesn’t go off from heat alone. It requires heat AND shock or compression. (That’s why you don’t want to set it off with a mechanical match; that shotgun primer will give it both heat and shock/compression — and the result will be an explosion.)

In this context, Det Cord is a little like C-4, because — as I’m sure R.T. and most of our other Viet Nam vets will attest — if you light C-4 with a lighter, it also burns without blowing up. In fact, you can even use C-4, that way, as a sort of heat tab, to cook on it. But . . . if a person tries to put out the flame by stomping it with a boot heel, that person is likely to be called “Stumpy” for the rest of his/her life. Because stomping on the burning C-4 usually provides all the shock/compression it needs to explode. And the resulting explosion is probably going to blow that stomping boot (along with the foot inside it) right off the end of the stomper’s leg.

And, just so we’re clear: slowly pushing down with that boot heel, to sort of grind out the flame without stomping it, can also sometimes provide just enough compression to accomplish the same thing (i.e.: earning a new, undesirable, nickname).

Det Cord works the same way. If that idiot who set it on fire had then hit it with a hammer, you’d probably have been spared his odious visit!

So, as I’ve hopefully convinced you, no matter what you’ve seen or heard on TV or in the movies, Primer Cord (or Prima Cord – remember, that’s just a brand name) is not a fuse; it’s an explosive.

05 April 2012

Tell Me Why

I am always curious about the why of things thathappen especially in the criminal world. Whether it is fictional or straight from the headlines, I want to know why someone commits a crime -- especially one that takes another's life, or in some cases even their own.

Online blogs and social media tags are often ignored though the warnings are clear in retrospect. Nicole Simpson told others that one day her husband would kill her and because he was O. J. Simpson, he would get away with it.

A few people leave diaries or prepared-for-the-worst-case-scenario suicide notes behind. They are desperate please left as a clear-marked trail if only someone would look for the clues.

To a trial defense lawyer, these admissions are another hurdle to jump in attempt to snare a release for their client charged with murder. We would think such admissions would be a clear path to a conviction, but that isn't always what happens either.

Tabloids can rake in a ton of sales with headlines and articles that may be true, may be half-truths and may be completely fabricated. A national broadcast channel was caught editing the 911 call made by Zimmerman, distorting what he actually said. What is the truth? Maybe we'll find out the why on this case, but maybe we won't ever find the complete truth.

We may never know the truth about Casey Anthony. Her daughter will still be dead.

Determining why human beings sometimes don't act quite humanely is a puzzle.

Criminal activity isn't anything new. Cain murdered his brother, Abel for a reason as old as time itself: jealousy. In fact, the Bible is more than peppered with crimes, it is well-seasoned with how man isn't always just. Many of those reasons are still filling our prisons today. Why can't we all just get along?

When we ask why a crime takes place, we are interested also in finding the guilty party and having him pay for what he's done. We may not be involved in law enforcement nor the judicial system, but we may all take a turn at the jury box. Sharing space with eleven of our peers, we represent the public at large and want to know more than the who and how. We want to know the why of the criminal activity.

Read a good mystery -- one that ties up the story all nice and pretty by the book's end. Know that the bad guys are locked away. Know they paid for their crimes. Know they are just pretend characters. The real world is sometimes scary.

Sometimes we may not want to really know all the why's. Curiosity killed the cat, you know.

04 April 2012

Five Red Herrings

1.  Did anyone else notice something odd about the March/April issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine?  There were fifteen stories and I am going to summarize the plots of eight of them.  No major spoilers here....

    * A tourist faces danger in the Caribbean.
    * A city hunter disappears in the north woods
    * A wealthy woman visiting 18th century Bath meets a charming rogue
    * A camper faces danger in a mountain park.
    * City kids on a fishing trip here a rumor about a possible serial killer
    * A girl's odd boyfriend wants to take her on a boating trip
    * Suspicious circumstances abound at a family resort
    * An ancient Roman citizen encounters murder in Asia

The theme of the issue seems to be: Stay home.  It's freaking dangerous out there.

Maybe so.

2.  My nephew Chris Messineo is the director of the New Jersey Film School.  Undone is the latest crime short-short put together by him and his students.  The young lady is his daughter Joanna.  I can't get the video to embed here but you can find it here.

3.  Amazing article in the New York Times.    Nothing in it quite rises to the level of crime, unless you want to use words like negligence, I suppose, but boy, you could sure write half a dozen crime stories based on it.

Briefly, the University of California - Berkeley misplaced a piece of art that was in their care.  Worse, it arguably belonged to the federal government.

So what was this little doodad they lost track of?  Only a  23-foot long sculpture, worth over a million bucks.  How do you lose that, much less sell it as surplus - for a hundred and fifty bucks, plus tax?  (I'm glad they got the tax, to keep it all  legit).  Too bad they couldn't find an art expert to assess the piece for them - like, I don't know, maybe at the University of California- Berkeley?

Happy ending: it wound up in a library.

4.  On the Short Mystery Fiction List recently they were discussing framing versus flashbacks as ways of telling a story and I remembered that I had written about that on Criminal Brief.    What I did not recall was that the ornery story I complained about in that piece - because I was having trouble with figuring out a way to tell the opening scenes - was "Shanks Commences," currently appearing in the May issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  So I guess I solved that problem.

5.   Ever hear of James Payn?  He was a Victorian novelist and I believe his books have been forgotten, but he has one eternal claim to fame.  True story: In 1886, as editor of Cornhill Magazine, he rejected A Study in Scarlet.  Yup, the first Sherlock Holmes novel wasn't good enough for his mag.  You have to wonder what he published in that issue instead, don't you?

In his honor, every time I get a rejection I say "What a Payn!"

Written apologies available on request.

03 April 2012

Evil Under The Sun– Part One

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.

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.

02 April 2012

Young at Heart (and Death)

Fran Rizerby Fran Rizer

Mirror, Mirror starring Julia Roberts began showing nationwide three days ago. Needless to say, I haven't seen it as I spend almost all my time at the hospital. I'm not a big Julia Roberts fan, but I'll eventually view the movie because the works of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson in the 1800's are among my long-time loves.

The trailer doesn't indicate whether Mirror, Mirror may be more accurate to the original Brothers Grimm story than Walt Disney's bright animated version with the unforgettable little people singing, "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go."

In the Grimms' version, Snow White is exiled by her evil stepmother, the Queen, who orders a hunter to kill Snow White and bring her heart back as proof she is dead. The hunter gives the Queen a bear's heart instead. The Queen eats the heart, thinking it's Snow White's, but in the end, she's forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies.
Julia Roberts

Snow White isn't the only Grimms story that is more grim than the cartoon/Disney variations. Cinderella's original step sisters cut off parts of their big feet trying to trick the prince and make their clodhoppers fit into the golden (yep, not glass) slippers. The Brothers Grimm had two endings to the Cinderella tale. In the first, the step sisters are gruesomely murdered at Cinderella's wedding. In a later version, the sisters live but are blinded by charmed pigeons who peck out their eyes.

"Rumplestiltskin" is doomed in the original Grimms version by stomping his feet in a temper tantrum so violent that he buries himself up to his waist. When he tries to get away, he tears himself in half. Talk about a need for anger management!

As a child I read the works of Hans Christian Anderson, and they were far from "happily ever after" stories. Disney's adaptation of The Little Mermaid ends fine, but in Anderson's 1837 story, the little mermaid is forced to watch her beloved prince marry another. Then the sea gives her a choice of killing the prince or dying herself. She throws herself into the sea and will perhaps be able to earn her soul back by doing good deeds for three hundred years.

The Anderson stories I loved best were "The Little Match Girl" and "The Red Shoes." Both deal with orphans, evil, and punishment. I must have read "The Red Shoes" a hundred times as a child even though at the end the girl who chose red shoes over doing what her mother said is doomed to dance forever in the red shoes. She winds up dancing at her mother's funeral and the only way to end the dancing is to cut off her feet, which she does. Looking at that story from a senior citizen point of view, it seems a tragic piece to have held so much fascination for me as a young girl. Until this moment, I've never connected the trademark red stilletto heels of my thirties and forties to Hans Christian Anderson.

Not only did the fairy tales of the 1800's demonstrate far more evil than recent versions, modern authors of much famous children's literature were far from childlike innocence in their other works. Louisa May Alcott's early writings were published under pseudonyms. Her purple prose included "Pauline's Passion and Punishment" and "Betrayed by a Buckle" before she became famous for Little Women and Little Men.

Almost every third through fifth grade classroom has copies of Shel Silverstein's poetry collections including Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, as well as the wonderful children's story The Giving Tree. Great kids' books, but country music fans know Silverstein also for winning a Grammy for "A Boy Named Sue," recorded by Johnny Cash. He also wrote "Buy One, Get One Free," a short play in which two hookers pitch their wares completely in rhyme. Dr. Hook and the Medicine Men recorded Silverstein's song about STD's -- "Don't Give a Dose to the One You Love the Most."

I'm compelled to mention one more children's writer, a favorite of mine. You know him as the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (aka Willie Wonka), but my favorite of his kids' novels is The BFG, which I have read aloud to hundreds, perhaps thousands of children. Roald Dahl's earliest writing appeared in Playboy Magazine and included a story called "Switch Bitch."

Perhaps by now, kind readers, you are wondering how on Earth I'm going to relate this blog about children's literature to the primary topic of SleuthSayers– mystery and sometimes murder. One of my favorite Dahl stories is "Lamb to the Slaughter." This is the tale of a woman who… well, view the classic video.

If (and indeed it's a big IF) there's a message to this blog, it is that even if we choose to specialize in mystery, it's perfectly okay to venture into other genres, but if we happen to write something that will survive over two centuries, it may be rewritten by someone else along the way.

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.

01 April 2012

Florida's Right to Kill Law

by Leigh Lundin

Three weeks ago, we brought you the story about Trayvon Martin's death when it was an early local issue. Since then the story has made national, even international headlines. The Reverend Jesse Jackson flew in and Friday the Reverend Al Sharpton called for 'action' and a boycott.

Our local NAACP has declined Sharpton's 'action' and boycott, thank you very much. We have a new prosecutor, the 11-month police chief stepped aside, and a majority of folks– including white folks– believe Trayvon Martin was terribly wronged.

Here's what most people don't know: Someone other than George Zimmerman is ultimately responsible.

Trayvon Martin

Shoot from the Lip

To be sure, radio wing-nuts assert we don't know how frightened and brave Ward Captain Zimmerman was to face an unarmed kid, and a gun group is advertising a George Zimmerman defense fund. Zimmerman's father claims we don't know all the facts and Zimmerman's brother made wild accusations that Martin grabbed the pistol and screamed "Tonight you die," which doesn't seem to fit known facts. We learned Zimmerman's magistrate father may have intervened on the side of his son in earlier arrests.

Worse, far-right sites such as StormFront have taken to defaming the teenager, falsifying photos and a police record. Yes, Trayvon was tattooed– with praying hands and a tribute to his grandmother.

In contrast, Trayvon's brother appeared level-headed and honest to a fault, saying he couldn't be certain if the screams heard on recordings are Trayvon or not. For the record, the Orlando Sentinel hired experts who, using two different technologies, demonstrated the screams weren't Zimmerman's.

Trayvon wasn't perfect, but we know that night the teen was innocent. That evening, he did nothing more wrong than buy tea and candy then walk home chatting with his 16-year-old girlfriend on his cell phone. The two had spent 400 minutes (6 hours 40 minutes!) chatting that day before the phone was knocked aside. Minutes later, he was killed mere meters from his house. [Note: We now know Rachel Jeantel was 19 and didn't consider herself a girlfriend.]


I'm not here to demonize the shooter, much as I believe he caused a tragic death. Although Sanford's police department has had problems, I'm not sure we can focus blame on police. Why? If prosecutors refuse to prosecute, how can police jail the accused? And according to detectives, police wanted to arrest George Zimmerman but prosecutors refused.

Certainly investigators made mistakes, beginning with not dispatching a homicide detective to the scene and accepting the word of George Zimmerman without question. They did not test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol, violating standard procedure. They uncritically accepted recorded screams were the killer's, not the victim's. They stated neighbors' stories conflicted with 'known' evidence. They refused to release the 911 calls until forced to by attorneys.

But in the end, their hands were tied. Why? You're about to find out. I'm going out on a limb and say another man is more responsible for not only Trayvon Martin's death, but the murder of dozens of other Floridians.

Legislated to Kill

This man's name is Durell Peaden of Crestview, Florida, a former state senator, the genius behind 776.013§3 that gives Floridians the right to kill with virtual impunity, a law that tripled the number of 'justifiable homicide' killers set free, jumping from an average of thirty-four a year to more than a hundred. The lobbyist behind the law was NRA's Marion Hammer who argued Floridians needed more than a right to carry a weapon, they need the right to use it pretty much at will.

In 2005, our Sunshine State pioneered a law called 'Stand Your Ground', also called 'Never Retreat', 'Shoot First', 'License to Kill' and, according to Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs, 'that stinking law'. This testosterone-powered statute supplanted the common (and sensible) 'castle doctrine', which gave people the right to defend their homes. Sneering at what they called 'the Brady bunch', the NRA claimed the new statute was needed to prevent authorities from harassing law-abiding citizens with petty arrests.

It's not a 'pro-gun' law nor are the law's opponents anti-gun, although politicos on both sides may argue otherwise. The new statute legalized an aggressive never-back-down philosophy. It says you don't have to walk away from a confrontation. It says you have the right to solve problems with a gun or a baseball bat or a knife or an ice pick.

Applied Murphy's Law

With impunity, it allowed a man to kill another in a playground argument over a skateboard– literally. It allowed a homeowner to legally shoot an inebriated man who knocked on the wrong door and asked for a light. Alcisviades Polanco walked after fatally stabbing another in the head with an ice pick. Numerous avoidable bar fights have needlessly ended in death… and without penalty.

Six months ago, Judge Richard Oftedahl of the 15th Judicial Circuit dismissed all charges against Michael Monahan, charged in a double homicide and facing the death penalty. Monahan walked after shooting two unarmed men from a distance of twenty feet, men who never laid a hand on him.

No Bad Deed Goes Uncopied

This bill was strongly opposed by law enforcement, prosecutors, liberals and conservatives alike, although it appealed to excitable wing-nut elements. Since its inception, as many as twenty-four states copied it.

Its first five years saw nearly a hundred claims of use with more than two-thirds resulting in death. The vast majority of these homicides were excused by prosecutors or, in cases where prosecution actually occurred, given a pass by the courts.

Those favoring the law declare it a great success with fewer people clogging the courts. Victims like Trayvon Martin might argue otherwise. Many of the cases have only two witnesses… one who winds up dead.

Law of Unintended Consequences

Police and prosecutors tried to warn legislators about the predictable effects of the law, but lawmakers blew off their concerns, seduced by NRA donations and that exciting chance to kill a human being. Sadly, they're not the ones paying the price.

For the record, if you think I'm letting George Zimmerman off the hook or if you think I'm opposed to gun ownership, then you've misread the article. What I'm for is common sense which is sadly missing in Florida.

Maybe it's legislative sunstroke.

One more small thing bothers me. In researching this article, I came across two cases in which Florida courts disallowed the Stand Your Ground defense. In both of those cases, the shooter happened to be… black.