The murder trial for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man accused of murdering Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts in July 2018, opened today. Prosecutors say blood found on the trunk of Rivera’s car, and DNA recovered from trunk lining both matched that of Tibbetts’ body. Autopsy reports indicate she had been stabbed from seven to 12 times in the chest, ribs, neck and skull. Tibbetts died from sharp force injuries.

During the weeks after Mollie disappeared, numerous unsubstantiated tips poured into a law enforcement call center set up to handle and screen reports. A few “less than precise” media sources reported totally untrue details of the case, with one claiming they had inside information that the person responsible for Mollie’s disappearance attended a vigil for her, and had closely followed the case. But, as with most criminal cases, police conducted their investigation out of the eyes of public, all while gathering evidence. Those uncorroborated media reports were quickly dispelled by police.
 
In August of 2018, Greg Norman, a reporter for Fox News, contacted me for my opinion regarding the investigation into Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance. Norman wanted to know why the police provided few, if any, case details to the public. And, what sort of items were likely sought as evidence?

Here’s my response.

Fox News, August 16, 2018 – Lee Lofland, author of the book ‘Police Procedure and Investigation’ and founder of the Writers’ Police Academy, told Fox News that what investigators are doing now is sort of like playing poker.
 
“The idea is to not show your hand until the last card is dealt and all bids are in,” he said. “Otherwise, the criminal, who is well aware of the details of the act, could call their bluff and literally get away with murder. That, and have dozens of people confessing to the crime merely to see their names on national news.”
 
Lofland also said “the unsuspecting criminal, no matter how careful” will take material away from a crime scene, whether it’s “carpet fibers buried in the tread of a shoe, DNA transferred to the suspect from an item only found in the apartment belonging to the victim, a unique plant seed stuck to the gas pedal of the suspect’s car, and so on.”
 
He believes it’s “quite possible that police have in hand one of those—a tiny bit of evidence that would or could place a kidnapper or an accomplice in one of the five or six areas police have identified as locations of interest in the case of Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance.
 
“Keep in mind, though, there may be other areas they’re keeping to themselves in hopes the suspect will relax, thinking police are not closing in, when in reality the net is slowly and methodically tightening as clues are revealed,” he added.

Hurry!

Sign up today to attend THE ultimate experience for writers, fans, and readers of crime fact and fiction! MurderCon is a “killer” event!

The criminal trial is over but the story of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin will continue for many years to come.

Chauvin was found guilty of all charges relating to Floyd’s death, including 2nd degree murder, and after being led from the courtroom in handcuffs he’s now tucked away inside a cell at Minnesota Correctional Facility—Oak Park Heights, Minnesota’s only Level Five maximum security prison. The former police officer is no stranger to the Oak Park Heights prison since it’s the facility is where he was housed until he posted bail and was allowed to remain free until trial.

Cell door (Minnesota DOC image)

Now awaiting sentencing , which is scheduled in eight weeks, Chauvin’s home away from home is a 7’x10′ cell inside the institution’s administrative segregation unit. He is under a “suicide watch,” which is not at all unusual in these types of high-profile cases.

For his safety, staff will also closely monitor Chauvin’s every move since he is a former law enforcement officer who likely played a part in the arrests and convictions of inmates within the prison. That, and the prison population are not likely to accept him due to the nature of his crime.

The facility is secure and as safe as they come (keep in mind, it is a prison). No inmates have ever successfully escaped and only one prisoner has been murdered there.

Since Chauvin resides in a restricted housing unit, officers are required to check on him, and other prisoners, at least every half hour. He’ll not have physical contact with staff, unless he acts out in some way, becomes ill or injured, or needs to meet with attorneys or has a visitor. He is allowed one hour of recreation per day, which is a real treat for someone who’s isolated from the world, fresh air, sunshine, raindrops, gentle breezes, grass underfoot, the sounds and smells of spring, the wailing yelps of police sirens in the distance and, well, you get the idea.

Staff conducts more frequent checks of prisoners who are violent, those with serious mental health concerns, and inmates who exhibit odd or unusual behavior. The warden or a senior staff member is required to visit the unit at least once each week.

Cells in the restricted housing unit contain a concrete bed/seat combination that’s equipped with a thin mattress (it’s no Tempur-pedic, believe me) that’s pictured below in use as a seat back. Also pictured below is a steel toilet/sink combo, a standard fixture in jails and prisons.

The only view outdoors from these cells is through an extremely narrow window that’s far too small for a human to pass through.

Narrow window (Minnesota DOC image)

Every thirty days, a mental health professional interviews and prepares a written report on each prisoner who is assigned to the restricted housing unit. Mental health staff also respond to the needs of inmates when requested by corrections staff or the prisoner.

Visiting rules at Minnesota Correctional Facility—Oak Park Heights include:

  • Visits must be scheduled no less than 24 hours in advance and no more than 10 days in advance.
  • Visits for Complex 5 and ACU will be scheduled through visiting NOT the unit.
  • COVID Safe Visiting will be limited to a total of 3 visitors.
  • All visits will be 1 hour in length.
  • All visits will need to be prescheduled by calling the number above or the Online Scheduling Option link above.
  • Visitors and inmates will not be allowed to have physical contact at any time.
  • Social distancing will be followed at all time.
  • Visitors will need to wear a mask at all times.
  • No photos will be taken

Visiting Schedule

Sunday – Wednesday

No visiting

Thursday and Friday

10:35 a.m. – 7:45 p.m.

Saturday

7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.  Visiting Hours of Operation

Holidays

There is no visiting on the following State recognized holidays:

  • New Year’s Day
  • President’s Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Memorial Day
  • July 4 (Independence Day)
  • Labor Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving and the following Friday
  • Christmas Day

Items Allowed

Per prison rules, Chauvin, like all inmates in the restricted housing unit, are allowed to possess only the following items, and nothing more – “clothing, footwear, towels, bedding, writing paper and pen, inmate communication forms, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, soap, shampoo, restricted housing information packet, and a comb.

These additional items are also allowed unless prohibited for safety or security reasons: personal mail, legal materials, wedding rings, approved religious items, shower thongs, address book, eyeglasses, dentures, prosthesis, approved canteen items, ear plugs, and envelopes.

Certain magazines, newspapers, publications, books, and education materials may also be approved as well as radios (in some cases).”

*Next: Eight Longs Weeks Until Sentencing: Why So Long After the Trial?


Only one day left to sign up to reserve your spot!!

Forensic Psychiatry, Murder, LAPD Lipstick, and Memorable Characters  

Presenters

Guest of Honor – Charlaine Harris

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD 

Kathy Bennett

Robert Bruce Coffin

 

Schedule

Schedule (Times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

 

11:00 – 12:20

Forensic Psychiatry and Crime Fiction: Correcting the Top 10 Myths 

Instructor,  Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D.

 

In this illuminating session, acclaimed forensic and perinatal psychiatrist, Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D., describes common misunderstandings about her field of forensic psychiatry when it appears in crime fiction. These include: 

-confusion between forensic psychiatry and psychology 

-misunderstandings about forensic hospitals 

-how confidentiality works in forensic evaluations 

-psychiatrists testifying about their patients 

-whether people look left when they are lying 

-how malingering is determined 

-how forensic psychiatrists get paid 

-what insanity means legally 

-what incompetency means legally 

 

12:20 – 12:50

Break

 

12:50 – 2:10

Murder for Real—Adding Realism to Your Mystery Writing 

Instructor, Bruce Robert Coffin

 

Former detective sergeant and award-winning author Bruce Robert Coffin shares his years of experience as supervisor of homicide and violent crimes investigations. This workshop is filled to the brim with behind-the-scenes law enforcement information. This class, taught by one of the best in the business, is certain to help writers create stories that rise to the highest levels.

  • The CSI effect. What is it and why it doesn’t fly in high-end writing?
  • Evidence gathering (the real deal).
  • Cold Cases. What are they and how are they investigated?
  • First response vs. CID (two worlds-two goals)
  • Dealing with the media.
  • Hierarchy and chain of command.
  • Job stressors and how cops cope (or don’t).
  • Telling lies (everybody does it).

2:20 – 3:40

A Badge, a Gun, and Lipstick: A Female Perspective of Working Patrol on the Mean Streets of Los Angeles 

Instructor, former LAPD Senior Lead Officer Kathy Bennett

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in a high-speed chase and then be involved in a shoot-out at the pursuit termination? Do you think the cop who gave you a traffic citation was wrong? Do you know what it’s like to tell a mother her only child was killed in a traffic collision? Well, Kathy Bennett experienced all these things and more. In her presentation she’ll reveal candid information of the life of a street cop. Kathy is also happy to answer those burning questions you have but were afraid to ask. 

3:50 – 5:10

How to use Research” and “Making Characters Memorable” 

Instructor, Charlaine Harris

Author extraordinaire Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse novels were the basis of the television series “True Blood,” reveals the secrets to using research to craft unique characters. This is a rare opportunity for writers at all stages of their careers.

 

5:10

Final words


Presenter Bios

 
Guest of Honor Charlaine Harris is a true daughter of the South. She was born in Mississippi and has lived in Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas. After years of dabbling with poetry, plays, and essays, her career as a novelist began when her husband invited her to write full time. Her first book, Sweet and Deadly, appeared in 1981. When Charlaine’s career as a mystery writer began to falter, she decided to write a cross-genre book that would appeal to fans of mystery, science fiction, romance, and suspense. She could not have anticipated the huge surge of reader interest in the adventures of a barmaid in Louisiana, or the fact that Alan Ball would come knocking at her door. Since then, Charlaine’s novels have been adapted for several other television series, with two in development now. Charlaine is a voracious reader. She has one husband, three children, two grandchilden, and two rescue dogs. She leads a busy life. www.charlaineharris.com is her website.

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD is a forensic and perinatal psychiatrist. She has practiced in forensic hospitals, general hospitals, court clinics, community mental health centers, and correctional facilities. Dr. Friedman has served as vice-President of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL), and as Chair of the Law and Psychiatry committee at the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP). She has received the AAPL award for the Best Teacher in a Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship, the Red AAPL award for outstanding service to organized forensic psychiatry, the Manfred Guttmacher Award for editing the book Family Murder: Pathologies of Love and Hate, and the Association of Women Psychiatrists’ Marian Butterfield early career psychiatrist award for her contributions to women’s mental health. She has published more than 100 articles (including in World Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry) as well as book chapters. Her research has primarily focused on the interface of maternal mental health and forensic psychiatry, including notably child murder by mothers.  

She currently serves as the inaugural Phillip J. Resnick Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, where she also has appointments in the departments of Pediatrics, Reproductive Biology (Obstetrics/ Gynecology), and Law. Dr. Friedman also serves as honorary faculty at the University of Auckland (New Zealand). 


Kathy Bennett worked for the LAPD for twenty-nine years. Eight years were spent as a civilian employee, and she served twenty-one years as a police officer. While most of her career was spent in a patrol car, Kathy also worked at the police academy as a firearms instructor, promoted to the position of a field training officer, then worked in the “War Room” as a crime analyst. She promoted again, this time to the position of Senior Lead Officer—where she was in charge of a basic car area within a geographic division. She’s done a few stints undercover and was honored to be named Officer of the Year in 1997.

In her spare time, Kathy started writing romance books. However, she decided she wasn’t really cut out to be a romance author—she’d never write the romance but was always killing off one or more characters in the book. After a few years she realized she’d better write what she knew: Authentic Crime told in Arresting Stories. So, this retired cop started killing off fictional people…and she likes it! 

Kathy lives in Idaho with her husband and soul mate, Rick (also a retired LAPD officer.) They have two entertaining and energetic Labrador retrievers, and one cat who isn’t nearly as energetic or entertaining…but she’s loved just as much. Kathy likes to garden, exercise, and spend time with their daughter and her family. Kathy says, “Life doesn’t get much better than the one I’m living. Welcome to my world, and I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to contact me and say “Hi”.

Kathy can always be reached at [email protected]

Her website is www.kathybennett.com


Bruce Robert Coffin is the award-winning author of the bestselling Detective Byron mystery series. A former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive.

His novel, Beyond the Truth, winner of Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award for Best Procedural, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction. His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016.

Bruce is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Murder Books blogs.

Bruce is represented by Paula Munier at Talcott Notch Literary.

He lives and writes in Maine.

www.robertbrucecoffin.com

 


This is a truly must-attend event for crime writers!!

Hamilton, Ohio – Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975—probably sometime near the time of day you’re reading this article, James Ruppert was in the process of killing his entire family.

James was an excellent marksman so there was no better way to execute his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and each of their eight kids than to shoot them point blank, as if they were nothing more than a row of empty and discarded tin cans. And that’s precisely what he did, starting with his brother Leonard.

Next came Leonard’s wife, Alma, followed by James’ own mother, Charity. And, before either of the children could escape disaster, James shot and killed them, including four-year-old John the youngest of the Ruppert brood.

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Leonard Ruppert, his wife, Alma, and their children.

The massacre took no more than five minutes.

James positioned his weapons throughout the house, staging the scene much as would a Realtor who carefully and meticulously places items in preparation of showing a house to potential clients.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Then, when he was satisfied that everything all was in order, James called the police and calmly stated, “There’s been a shooting.”

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Ruppert crime scene photo – living room

Officer Bob Minor was the officer who responded to the call. Officer Terry Roberts would arrive a few moments later, as backup.

Ruppert home

Officer Minor, no stranger to gruesome homicide scenes, had never witnessed anything close to the carnage he saw inside the Ruppert House—the once neat-as-a-pin living room cluttered with the corpses of Charity Ruppert’s precious grandchildren, and a kitchen so full of dead bodies that Minor couldn’t make his way through without stepping on an arm, leg, or a torso. There was so much blood, Minor later told me, that it had begun to seep through the floorboards, dripping into the basement.

Ruppert7

Ruppert crime scene photo – kitchen

James Ruppert was originally found guilty of eleven counts of 1st degree murder. However, on appeal, a three-judge panel  found Ruppert guilty only of the murders of his mother and brother. They ruled him not guilty by reason of insanity for the nine other deaths.

Rupoert was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years, to a maximum of a life sentenced. He entered the Ohio state prison on July 30, 1982. He’s been denied parole at each hearing.

James Ruppert’s next parole hearing is scheduled for February, 2025.

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James Ruppert inmate photo in 2015

James Ruppert inmate photo in 2020


Hamilton, Ohio – June, 1996

Twenty years after the Ruppert murders, a second gruesome killing occurred in a two-story duplex across the street from the house at 635 Minor Avenue, the home where James killed his family.

It was at 622 Minor Avenue where Timothy Bradford slashed the throat of his girlfriend, Tina Mott, killing her.

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622 Minor Ave. I stood in the front yard of the Ruppert house to take this photo.

Bradford, in attempt to cover his tracks, slowly and methodically used 19 knives, a hacksaw, a meat cleaver, and a pair of pliers to dismember his girlfriend’s body. He later scattered most of her remains in a nearby field and lake.

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Bathtub where Timothy Braford dismembered and skinned the body of his girlfriend, Tina Mott.

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Two young boys found Tina’s skull while fishing.

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Marks on the skull indicated the use of a serrated knife blade to scrape away flesh and tissue.

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Tina Mott

Tina’s former next-door neighbors told me that they’d occasionally seen her shadow pass by the windows in her apartment. Another neighbor firmly believed that Bradford consumed portions of Tina’s flesh after cooking it on a grill outside on the balcony. The upstairs apartment where Tina lived and died burned in April 2020. The fire started on the balcony.

*Tina expressed on numerous occasions how spooky it was to live across the street from the Ruppert house, a place where people had been murdered.


Here’s part of Bradford’s confession to police.

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Per a negotiated plea agreement, Timothy Bradford was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and abuse of a corpse.

Bradford’s booking photo at the time of his arrest

He was sentenced to 12-25 years for his crimes—Voluntary Manslaughter, Misuse of Credit Cards (Tina’s, after he killed her), Theft, and Abuse of a Corpse. He entered Ohio’s state prison system on September 24, 1997, just over a year after he murdered Tina Mott. He, too, has been denied parole at each hearing, including the last in June of 2015.

Bradford is scheduled for mandatory release on December 6, 2023. He will have completed serving his full 25-year sentence at that time.

Bradford

Timothy Bradford’s 2015 inmate photo.

Timothy Bradford’s current inmate photo.

*     *     *

I wrote about each of these murders and the story was published in the true crime anthology, Masters of True Crime, Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre.

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Masters of True Crime is also available as an audio book.

 

The late 1970’s brought fear into the city of Richmond, Virginia. Not knowing who would be the next victim in the Briley brothers’ killing spree caused many to stay inside their homes, hiding from a pair of murderers who randomly assassinated people for fun. The two brothers, James (below right) and Linwood (below left), were responsible for nearly a dozen vicious homicides during a seven month period.

Linwood was the first of the brothers to kill. In 1971, while still a juvenile, he sat at his bedroom window with a rifle and took aim at his elderly neighbor through her kitchen window as she went about her daily routine. He shot and killed her. Later, he told police that she had heart trouble and was going to die soon anyway. Linwood served only one year in a juvenile facility for the murder of his neighbor.

James, in the meantime, was following in his brother’s footsteps. He, too, was sent to a juvenile facility for shooting at police officers during a pursuit.

The Briley Brothers had a younger brother, Anthony, who joined his older siblings in their rampage, along with a friend, Duncan Meekins. Meekins would later testify against the Brileys.

These four killers murdered their victims in unimaginable ways—they; burned a couple, used a cinder-block to crush a man’s skull, used a baseball bat to beat a man to death, violently raped a woman before ending her life, used scissors, a bat, several knives, and a meat fork to kill another man, killed a 5-year-old boy in front of his parents before shooting them to death. And the list goes on.

The Briley’s victims:

  • William and Virginia Butcher – tied up and left to burn to death after the Brileys robbed them and set their home on fire. These are the only two victims to have survived a murder attempt by the Briley Brothers.
  • Michael McDuffie – assaulted and shot dead before being robbed of his possessions.
  • Mary Gowen – violently raped and murdered.
  • Christopher Phillips – dragged into a back yard by the three brothers and pinned to the ground while Linwood crushed his skull with a cinderblock.
  • John Gallaher – Gallaher stepped outside a nightclub where his band was performing and was kidnapped by the Briley Brothers. The men placed Gallaher into the trunk of his own car and then drove to a location near the James River where Linwood Briley shot Gallaher in the head at point blank range. Linwood then dumped the body into the river. The kidnapping was a random act. Gallaher just happened to step outside into the paths of the passing brothers.
  • Mary Wilfong – beaten to death with a baseball bat by Linwood.
  • Blanche Page and Charles Garner – Page was beaten to death. Garner was assaulted with many weapons including a baseball bat, scissors, several knives, and a meat fork. The scissors and fork were left embedded in Garner’s back.
  • Harvery Wilkerson, his wife, Judy Barton (she was five months pregnant), and their five-year-old son – Wilkerson and Barton were bound and gagged. Judy Barton was sexually assaulted by Linwood and Meekins. Meekins then shot Wilkerson in the head while James shot Barton and the five-year-old boy.

James and Linwood were sentenced to death for their crimes, and later masterminded the largest escape in history—5 inmates—from death row. They have since been executed.

Needless to say, to survive an encounter with the Briley brothers would be a miracle. However, today’s guest on The Graveyard Shift did just that. He survived a confrontation with Virginia’s most evil killers. To protect his identity we’ll refer to him as “KW.” Here’s his story.

“Lee, I just read your incredible description of the Brileys,’ the escape, and the executions.

In 1979 I was working for the VA Medical Center Richmond as a Pulmonary Biochemical Research Technician. Our job was to anesthetize dogs, and recreate an old veteran vomiting and aspirating, and to develop some timeline when the membranes of the alveoli broke and flooded the lungs with blood, lymph and vomitus.

Unfortunately, I was also working on a serious drug habit. Cocaine and sedatives combined with liquor, pot, stupidity and testosterone are more powerful than Long Island Ice Tea. Trust me.

I was apprehended by VA Security and Chesterfield County Police with 20cc’s of Phenobarbital, 10 Placidyl capsules and a bunch of the VA’s Insulin Syringes. Needless to say, I’ve never been rehired at the VA. I was hired at a glue factory on the Southside of Richmond. We made the resin and polymer adhesive that sealed cigarette packs and cartons for Phillip Morris.

The plant I worked at was two blocks from the Log Cabin Dance hall where the Briley’s abducted Johnny G, who was such a favorite DJ of mine that his death affected me like having lost a family member. “Johnny G from Tennessee, WXGI ,Richmond.”

My best friend in that plant was a guy about my age who had spent most of his life incarcerated. Everybody in the “Glue Pot” had done time for various misunderstandings with local law enforcement.

My “Friend,” I am sure had spent time at Beaumont Youth Correctional Center with one or more of the Briley’s. His most recent bit was served at Powhatan Correctional Center. He did 3 years for assisting in the armed robbery of a grocery store. I know that he was the one who conspired with Linwood and James to rob the apartment that was occupied by 5 adults and one child. I went there with the promise of Preludin, or “Bam” on the street, and reefer with 151 rum.

His girlfriend was the dealer. Big girl about a cool 350. Went from Petite to Junior-Plenty overnight. I ran out of cigarettes which we bought at the plant every Thursday morning when a guy from Phillip Morris showed up with grocery bags full of untaxed Marlboro’s and Merits ($2.50 a carton).

As I approached the back door to the apartment, the boys (Briley’s) were coming in with the most bizarre disguise I had ever seen. They had taken 1/2 inch white adhesive tape and marked their faces like Indians wearing warpaint. It was so striking and scary that at first, I didn’t see the pistol grip 12 gauge that Linwood was carrying. I soon took care to keep an eye on it. James and either Anthony or Meekins had two .38 revolvers pointed at my face and chest. Linwood had the 12 at the back of my head.

I assured them that I “wasn’t gonna act a fool.” They wanted me to get them into that apartment. I told them I would do anything they wanted , but there was a 4 year old in there. Ol’ Linny hit me in the back of the skull on that roundish bone at the base at the neck, and said, “F*** dat kid.”

They ordered everybody on the floor and Ol Big Girl couldn’t manage. She kept screaming, Oh Lawd Jesus!!!! I told her to tell him where the dope was. He had her baby by one arm up in the air with the 12 pointed at his chest. The Preludin was in a baggie rolled up like a tight joint and had transparent fishing line wrapped around and suspended in the toilet just under where the lid went on. If you didn’t look hard, you wouldn’t see it. The other two robbed everybody of cash and jewelry while Linny went to the bathroom for the pills.

They were in and out in 60 seconds. One of the other jackasses jumped up screaming at me, “Why didn’t you say something?” I replied, “What? Like goodbye?” “I ain’t dying for your no good ass.” I made sure that they understood that I saved their f***n’ lives by keeping the boys calm.

Two months later, I go out to get the morning paper, and all over the front page are Linwood and James. I stood in my boots, trembling. My body was actually convulsing when I realized who I had met. The angels were with me that night at Dove and Barton Streets. It was my last visit.

Everything I have told you is 100% true. I wouldn’t bother to write, if it weren’t. I am really taken by your work, and will follow from now on. Thank you for your contribution to society. Now, if we can only get the idiots off the phone or TV and have em’ read a book.

God bless you.

KW”

 

Murder on Minor Avenue

Murder On Minor Avenue

(excerpt from Chapter 14 of Masters Of True Crime: Chilling Stories Of Murder And The Macabre)

James responded to his brother’s question by immediately shooting him to death. No hesitation. No brief thoughts of the “good old days.” No moment of brotherly love. Nothing. Just a couple of rapid trigger pulls, and his brother was dead. Then James quickly fired a round at Alma and another at Charity, his own mother. When their bodies hit the floor, he quickly blasted a round, point-blank, into each of their skulls.

James then killed two of the kids in the kitchen in the same manner, first a round or two to drop them, and then one to the head to be sure they were dead.

The third child made a futile attempt to escape through the back door but was gunned down before she could reach the safety of outdoors. Her body came to rest backed up to a full-length mirror hanging beside a bathroom door in the narrow hallway. The grisly reflection clearly showed an exit wound in the little girl’s back. It also doubled the appearance of the large pool of blood surrounding her head, oozing its way along the baseboard.

Charity Ruppert, the family matriarch, lay dead on the cold linoleum—her midsection a mangled mess. Her right hand rested above her right breast. The left stretched above her head, as if reaching for something just out of her grasp. Her slacks and dress shoes were painted in blood spatter. Her eyeglasses lay beside her on the floor, tangled in her wavy hair. The expression frozen on her face was one of surprise and disbelief. Her eyes stared blankly skyward.

Alma almost appeared to be sleeping, lying partially on her right side with her cheek against the cool floor. Her glasses were still in place. Her right leg was curled gently beneath her, and her left leg was extended straight to where her foot rested in one of her dead children’s blood-matted hair. Her husband’s face was a few inches away, in a puddle of their daughter’s blood.

James reloaded his guns and calmly made his way to the living room, where he began firing at each of the five remaining kids, as if he were in a field taking target practice at a row of tin cans. And to be certain that no one but him would ever receive a dime of the insurance money, he walked around the crumpled bodies of the dying children and fired a single shot to each of their heads.

Standing in the center of the living room, James surveyed the aftermath of his actions. An overturned wastebasket with its contents—wadded papers and cigarette butts—scattered across the space. The corner of a TV Guide rested against the black tennis shoe of one of the dead boys. A caricature of Bea Arthur’s face stared back at James from the cover of the magazine.

A child’s Disney book lay in the center of the carpet. Mickey Mouse’s wide smile and trademark ears were out of place among the carnage. A little girl’s body lay in a corner, her feet clad in black and white saddle oxfords, tangled in a heap of boxes that had once been stacked neatly against the wall. She’d apparently been trying to escape but had backed into the corner, trapped, where her uncle took aim and shot her. Her body fell to the floor, face-up beside a bouquet of fresh Easter flowers. Her head was a bloody mess.

Charity Ruppert’s once neat-as-a-pin living room was now cluttered with the corpses of her precious grandchildren.

With his entire family now out of the way, James was ready for the final stage of his plan: to prove he was mentally incapable to stand trial for the murders, the only way that he could legally claim the inheritance.

James moved about the house, carefully positioning each of his guns on various pieces of furniture. Two revolvers on the coffee table and another on the arm of the couch, along with a box of bullets. A rifle beside the refrigerator, and four boxes of bullets as well as several loose rounds of ammunition on the kitchen table. Yes, everything was just right. Perfect, actually. Only a person not fit to stand trial would do what he’d just done.

It was time to call the police.

*Also available as an audiobook.

Collusion is a word we’ve all come to hear on a regular basis, if not  weekly daily hourly minute-by minute … okay, practically every second. But what is collusion? Is it the proper terminology when speaking about an incident involving two people, one of whom is seeking political office? Well …

Please, this is not a political statement, nor am I supporting or not supporting anyone. This is strictly a factual piece. There is nothing hidden between the lines!! NO political comments, please. 

According to Black’s Law Dictionary (a standard): Collusion. n. where two persons (or business entities through their officers or other employees) enter into a deceitful agreement, usually secret, to defraud and/or gain an unfair advantage over a third party, competitors, consumers or those with whom they are negotiating.

*The above definition could be used to to describe nearly ALL political campaigns and campaigners throughout history!

The crime of collusion is associated with illegal business practices and does not apply to elections. Instead, this particular crime (collusion) falls under the heading of Antitrust laws (also called competition laws), the statutes developed by the U.S. Government to protect consumers from shady business practices, thus ensuring that just and fair competition exists in the marketplace.

The Sherman Act, 1890  (click to read)

*Note that I highlighted the word “crime” above, because that’s what we’re talking about here today, a crime, such as Price-Fixing, or Bribery of Public Officials. These two are indeed Crimes of collusion.

So, is collusion a crime when it involves elections? Well …

  • Taking advantage of what another person or group does during an election is not illegal. Sure, it’s a bit of political “not-so-niceness,” but it is not a federal crime to do so.
  • Asking someone to release information about a political opponent is not illegal unless the party asking was involved in illegally obtaining the information in question (wiretaps, illegally recorded conversations, etc.). Still, the act of asking to release information is not in itself a federal crime.
  • A person or group of people supporting a political candidate is not a federal crime, even if that person(s) releases potentially damaging information about politicians running for office (favoring one above the other). Not illegal = no crime. For example, you’re running for the office of county sheriff and a person you encounter tells you they have possibly damaging information about your political opponent. You ask them to show the dirt to the world and they do. After all is said and done, you win the election. Asking the person to release the information is not a crime. Doing so is no different than a political party digging up dirt on their opponents and then running the juicy tidbits in TV or media ads and articles. Again, no crime, and definitely not collusion as it relates to federal law.

Remember, we’re addressing the specific definition of collusion as it relates to elections, not a matter of, well, stuff I do not discuss here. So please don’t make this into something it’s not!

The word collusion has sort of evolved to loosely and unofficially encompass a variety of non-related offenses. It’s so watered down that it’s almost reached the point of being a slang term, much like the word “Mace”is often used to incorrectly identify all chemical sprays used by police. Not so. Mace is a trademarked name of a company that manufactures a variety of merchandise under the same name.

*To those of you who’ve asked … yes, I’m behind the goofy drawings. And yes, I purposely make them crude and and a bit off-kilter. Why? Because I, too, am goofy.

Again, I’m begging you to please not make this political or a discussion or argument about anything outside the text above. I’m merely pointing out the law as it relates to a specific topic. I take no sides. My goal and purpose for much of what I do—I’m dedicated to helping writers write believable make-believe.

*All factors in a criminal case are considered. Sometimes, in order to achieve a conviction, it takes the piecing together of multiple pieces of evidence—the totality of circumstances. This may include circumstantial evidence, if related.

Meet the men and women that murdered cops

 

Benjamin Holterman shot and killed Deputy Jonathan Scott Pine after he responded to reports of a couple breaking into cars. Holterman later committed suicide. Pugh fled the scene but was later captured.

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Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui and his girlfriend, 17-year-old Meagan Grunwald, shot and killed Sergeant Cory Wride from ambush. The couple also shot another deputy in the head, but he survived. They attempted to shoot a trooper, but missed. Garcia-Jauregui was later killed in a shootout with police.

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William Thornton shot Detective John Hobbs the instant he stepped from his vehicle to serve a felony warrant. Detective Hobbs, although severely wounded, was able to return fire, killing Thornton. Detective Hobbs succumbed to his wounds after being transported to a local hospital. Thornton had been released from prison in January.

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Troy Whisnant, a man who had murdered his parents, was on the run when he shot and killed Officer Jason Crisp and his K9 partner “Maros.” Whisnant had served time in prison for a previous murder.

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Ricardo Antonio Chaney shot and killed Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino in a shootout after Chaney stole a vehicle and forced the occupants into the trunk. At the time of the murder, Chaney was in possession of body armor and several firearms, including a modified AR-15.

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Brandon Goode, 18, and Alexandria “Alex” Hollinghurst, 17, murdered Officer Robert German when he responded to check on two suspicious people. The couple then turned the gun on themselves. They’d each left notes for family members.

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Jeffrey Savage, a 35-year old ex-convict, boarded a navy ship and was immediately confronted by an armed petty officer. Savage struggled with the petty officer, took her sidearm, and was preparing to shoot her when Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Mark Mayo ran to her aid, stepping between the petty officer and the suspect. Mayo was shot once in the front and then turned to shield the petty officer from the gunfire. Savage then shot Mayo three times in the back, killing him. Savage had previously served time for manslaughter.

The petty officer, as per navy regulation, carried her pistol without a round in the chamber, slide forward, and safety on. She had no time to switch off the safety and/or “rack the slide” to insert a round into the chamber. In short, her 9mm was useless as a firearm. This is precisely the reason police officers carry their sidearms ready to fire, with safety OFF and a round already in the chamber.

 

 

When a police chief goes bad

 

The city of Savannah, Georgia is a favorite tourist destination. It’s a great place for vacationers to leave the rat race behind and climb into a horse-drawn carriage to clippity-clop their way through the city’s scenic historic squares. From there their carriage winds down to the waterfront, along River Street, where riders are often seen gawking at the shops and inside open-front bars. The slow-moving carriages are passed by groups of squealing and laughing teenagers, with heads and arms hanging out of the windows of old black hearses, as they head for the next stops on ghost tours.

Well into the night, tourists are often out and about, strolling along the downtown sidewalks doing the things all Savannah tourists do—point at old buildings, gaze at civil war relics, and play touchy-feely with the gray-green Spanish Moss that dangles from the crepe myrtles along the waterfront. It’s a fascinating place, for sure.

But residents of Savannah see things a bit differently. They know not to challenge the unwritten rule of crossing the line that separates one gang turf from another. The locals know and understand that just a few blocks away from the hub of tourist activity is a place where gunshots ring out at any time of the day or night. Bodies are sometimes found sprawled on the streets, in front or back yards, and in homes or cars shot up by gang members.

Drug activity is rampant. Prostitution is nearly out of control. Illegal gun sales occur on a regular basis. Assaults. Rapes. Illegal gambling. It’s all there, and it’s all within a stone’s throw of pricey hotels and Paula Deen the Butter Queen’s eatery.

Help! Help! Help! That’s what the residents of Savannah have cried for a long time now. They want relief from the violent crime they’ve endured for so long. They’re tired of seeing people wounded and dying from gunfire, stabbings, and beatings. They’re tired of cowering inside their homes at night. Over five dozen unsolved murders in the past eleven years is certainly enough to make even the strongest person a little weak in the knees.

Savannah residents are also extremely weary of the turmoil within the ranks of the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department. Internal trouble, many say, is the reason violent crime is so out of control in their beloved city.

And that, the roiling troubles inside SCMPD, brings us to the real story, and quite possibly the root of the violent crime woes.

First, though, I have to say that the police officers working to keep Savannah’s streets safe are highly-trained professionals. They’re good people who work hard and love what they do. I’ve met several SCMPD officers and, well, they don’t play second fiddle to anyone. But we all know that a chain is only as good as its weakest link. And when that weak link is at the top of the chain, well, when it breaks the rest must fall.

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The troubles within SCMPD first came to the attention of the public when Domestic Violence Detective Trina Mayes filed a sexual harassment suit against Willie Lovett. At the time, Lovett was chief of the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department.

Shortly after the claim was filed, Lovett unexpectedly resigned his position as chief, and retired.

Next came the suspension of three officers assigned to a narcotics detail. Without going into the details, this was related to an officer helping to cover up drug sales by a “friend of a friend,” or something like that.

Detective Trina Mayes was fired, and later charged criminally with making false statements. Mayes claims the criminal charges were retaliation because of her lawsuit against the department. In February 2014, she was arrested and booked into the county jail. Turns out she was allegedly romantically involved with convicted felon William Lamont “Rocky” Sellers. Did I mention that Mayes was married to another SCMPD detective, who, by the way, had been placed on paid leave at the time he filed a formal complaint stating Lovett denied him a promotion when his wife ended her affair with their boss (Lovett).

Lovett, a chief who, according to news reports, was indeed having an affair with at least one female detective. A captain was accused of helping Lovett arrange meeting times and places, and helping to cover up his bosses indiscretions.

This he-said/she-said soup continued boil and play out in front of the entire department and population of Savannah, and surrounding areas, and all while violent crime in the city was spiraling out of control.

To add to the confusion, the city manager at the time was dismissed (something about misusing funds and/or using her position as city manager for personal gain).

Anyway, the new city manager and other Savannah leaders put their heads together and appointed a new city manager and an interim police chief, former Major Julie Tolbert. Tolbert immediately began cleaning up the department. Yes, heads rolled, which was a necessary evil. It’s tough to go out into the streets each day when you’re unsure of what’s going on behind closed doors. Even tougher, is to face a public that’s lost its confidence in their police department.

THEN…the bomb dropped.

Former Chief of Police Willie Lovett was indicted in federal court on 7 counts—extortion, participating in an illegal gambling operation, and conspiring to obstruct the enforcement of state criminal laws. The gambling charge is “aiding and abetting commercial gambling in violation of law.”

*Read the actual indictment here.

In other words, Lovett allegedly accepted bribes/money to allow illegal gambling within the city of Savannah. He also used his position and power to provide protection to those in charge of the operations.

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Also indicted were Randall Wayne Roach and Kenny Amos Blount, who were charged with running an illegal gambling business, and with conspiring with Lovett to obstruct the enforcement of Georgia gambling laws.

Lovett faces over 100 years in federal prison if he’s found guilty and sentenced to the maximum sentence allowed. He entered a not guilty plea on all seven charges.

Interestingly, Randall Wayne Roach is expected to withdraw his not-guilty plea and change it to guilty. Sounds like he’s may be working a plea deal with federal prosecutors, which could mean big trouble for Willie Lovett. We’ll see.

Anyway, the dust has finally begun to settle in Savannah. Interim Chief Tolbert has taken control of the department and things are now headed in the right direction. The weak link in the chain is once again strong.

Although, just this past week, a 48-year-old man was gunned down and killed as he was walking along a residential street, a man was cut/stabbed during an altercation on River Street (the cobblestone waterfront street where tourist visit shops, bars, etc.), a man on Wilmington Island (where Paula Deen resides) was arrested and charged with the death of his wife, shots were fired into a vehicle just blocks away from the tourist area, and well, you get the picture. Still, it’s far better than than it was this time a year ago.

The good officers of the Savannah Chatham Metro Police certainly have a tough job and a long road ahead of them.

The police department is healing, slowly.

No thanks to Wille Lovett, a chief gone bad…

Good day to pick cotton

 

Some forty years after I’d made the entry in my notebook, I found that my handwriting was a bit difficult to read on some of the yellowing pages—the result of quickly-written memos then, and failing eyesight today. But I was able to make out the basics, and there was enough there to take me back to the time when I wore the brown over khaki uniform of a deputy sheriff.

Flipping through the pages, one particular entry caught my eye. It was a Friday night during an unusually cool and blustery October. The skies were clear and brightly lit by a near full moon. The gas tank in my take-home Crown Vic was full (I’d filled it at the end of my shift the preceding morning) and the speedometer had just tripped 80,000 miles. The lights and siren were both in working order.

I’d signed on at 2342 hours that night, and in my mind I can still hear the dispatcher’s voice acknowledging my radio message in a drawl that prompts a craving for mint juleps and an urge to plant a magnolia tree in my front yard.

It’s no secret that I was not born a southerner. In fact, before “the conversion,” I was such a Yankee that one of my relatives owned a house that was once used by Harriett Tubman as a stop on her vast underground railroad, and we lived nearby.

As a child born north of “the line”, the switch to the south was a major change. Everything was different, including the schools and how they conducted business. Classes in our new southern location began each day with a child reading from the Bible, followed by the deep voice in the wall-mounted speaker leading us in prayer. We didn’t do that in northern schools.

The thing that stuck with me the most, though, was to see peanuts, tobacco, and cotton in their natural habitats, and not in jars or bags, rolled into cigarettes, and as a word printed on the label of my school clothes.

Okay, back to my notes. It hadn’t rained in nearly three weeks and the local farmers and their field hands had been hard at work for several days, picking cotton. And, as always during harvest time, the white, fluffy stuff was everywhere. Sure, workers had loaded large farm trailers filled to the point of overflowing, like giant pillows on wheels. But that didn’t stop the wind from blowing what didn’t make it to the trailers, sending it across the roads, into trees and, well, freshly picked raw cotton was everywhere. Shining my spotlight across the fields made them look as if they’d been dusted by a light snowfall.

Virginia cotton

Of course, shining a spotlight across the fields also illuminated the wildlife—deer, foxes, raccoons, ‘possums, and even an occasional black bear. And, on the night referenced in my spiral notebook, the light also illuminated a woman’s body lying between two unpicked rows of cotton.

She was young, mid to late 30’s. Fully clothed with the exception of her bare feet. There were no shoes at the scene. A bit on the heavy side, probably around 150 – 160, or so. Approximately 5’ 5″ tall. Round face. Skin the color of Vermont maple syrup. Her eyes were open, without focus and looking toward the sky into infinity. A bullet wound to her forehead, just above her left eye, and another closer to her right eyebrow told me to save my CPR skills for another day.

Small clumps of loose cotton dotted the area around the body. Some were the brilliant white of summertime clouds. Others were rusty red and saturated with the victim’s blood.

Three sets of footprints entered the field—large boots, small tennis shoes, and a set ending with bare toes. Only two sets headed out. The toes remained.

The victim had two small children at home. A neighbor was called to sit with them while their father went out searching for his wife who’d called earlier to say the church meeting was running a bit longer than she’d expected. No, no need to pick her up. Wanda was at the meeting and would bring her home.

Twenty minutes later, Wanda called and asked to speak to his wife. No, there was no church meeting that night.

He knew where exactly where to look.

The victim’s lover, a cotton farmer, escaped the gunfire.

There was no DNA. No fingerprints. No cell phone calls to trace, and no bullet casings.

Just a pair of womens shoes found five hours later, in the farmer’s truck. And a revolver containing four bullets in his jealous wife’s car.

If I’d kept a tally over the years I could’ve added another hash mark to the “life taken” column, and five to the “lives ruined” section.

My last notations on the page that night were four short lines that read…

“Murder warrant issued”

“17 gallons of gas, no oil”

“10-42 (off duty) at 0815”

“Sunny and warmer – a good day to pick cotton”

 

Grandma dope smoking

 

We can’t be certain of our future, but if we base it on the past, especially the recent past, well, we’re doomed. And here are a few small reasons why (the big reasons are simply too scary to list).

– The Philippines’ civil aviation authority announced that it is now permissible to use all electronic devices, including cell phones, during flights. The only restriction is that the devices must be turned off during pre-flight operations, such as fueling the planes.

Imagine sitting next to “chatty grandma” while she rambles on for three or four hours, at the top of her voice, about pumpkin pie recipes, support hose, and her upcoming colonoscopy. Attention all writers: Imagine this as a new motivation for murder by your fictional characters—sex, greed, money, revenge, and now, silencing the obnoxious phone-talker seated next to your villain.

– U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman ruled that U.S. border patrol agents may search and copy the files from travelers’ laptops and other electronic devices, and they may do so without probable cause or suspicion of illegal activity. What happened to a U.S. citizen’s protection against illegal search and seizure?

– A sixteen-year-old Seattle girl escaped serious harm when her eyeglasses deflected a bullet during a drive-by shooting at her home. The girl was asleep on the couch when incoming rounds penetrated the walls of her home. Remember, mystery and thriller writers, drywall, plywood, and wood doors do not stop bullets.

– Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) is calling on auto manufacturers to install anti-virus and other security-based software on all cars and trucks to prevent hackers from gaining control of vehicles. Another concern is driver privacy. A recent DARPA study showed that two professionals were able to hack into the computer systems of various cars, and that they were able to use a wireless connection to take control of the vehicle’s brakes, steering, engine, and other computer-controlled systems. This is certainly better than having a fictional villain attempting to cut a brake line or rig the steering controls to make the vehicle crash as it rounds a sharp curve in the mountains (besides, isn’t it time to dump that tired, old scenario?).

– Scientists have developed a new means of detecting surveillance and/or explosive devices. By mimicking the way dolphins hunt using bubble nets, experts came up with a new type of radar—twin inverted pulse radar (TWIPR)—that’s able to detect even the smallest well-disguised explosive devices, such as those hidden in soft drink cans and pipes. Of course, scientists have recently discovered that dolphins get high by milking the toxins from puffer fish. Then they pass the fish to the next dolphin in the group. So, can we really trust the word of stoned dolphins?

Finally, California recently approved granting drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, and critics say that by doing so the state is increasing a threat to American citizens.

To obtain a California drivers license, the illegal immigrant need only to present a few unverifiable, or easily forged documents, as a means of establishing their ID. Some say this would make it extremely easy for terrorists to enter the U.S. and then acquire a legal ID and license to drive.

To add to the critic’s woes, the new law bars police from using the licenses as a basis for arresting or detaining someone for immigration violations. In other words, if an officer stops a vehicle for a traffic offense and found the driver to be in possession of a license as an illegal immigrant (the license shows this status), he/she is not able to detain the driver merely because he is indeed an illegal immigrant. This is sort of like saying police could not arrest a man who’s carrying an official state document stating that he is in possession of a kilo of cocaine, even when the cocaine is on the car seat next to him. As long as the offender has that state document in his possession, well, he’s basically immune from arrest.

So what do you think? Is the U.S. headed down a path of self-destruction? Should we draft laws to protect the security of our automobiles and the data stored in a car’s computer system? Should cellphone use be allowed on planes? Is it okay to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants?

I certainly don’t have the answers to all of our troubles, but I’m thinking we could turn to the dolphins for temporary relief from our woes.

So, “Hey, Flipper, stop hogging the puffer fish and pass it this way!”