Holiday Crime Stats (Some might Surprise You)

Every year someone tells me that Halloween has a high murder rate.  And every year, I point out that person is wrong.  As a matter of fact, Halloween has a low murder rate.  I think it’s because we aren’t forced to be with family.  Anyway, I decided this year, I’d get a post written that I can just refer these “Halloween is murder night” people to.

  • Property crime does see a slight increase on Halloween.  Probably because all teens are basically sociopaths and find egging houses and TPing front yards as fun.  Although last year, a friend of mine who did not hand out candy found someone had hurled fresh piles of dog poop at their house (so weird and so gross).
  • The three weeks or so before Christmas could be called “Crime Weeks”.  Christmas seems to bring out the worst in everybody, even criminals.  Burglary, home invasions, murders, and suicides increase around Christmas.  Drug overdoses also see an minor uptick.
  • And it’s not just crime and drugs affected by Christmas.  People with mental health issues like anxiety and depression find December a difficult month to deal with.
  • Personal debt increases and in many cases, it takes several months to pay it off, which leads to people being crankier after the New Year starts according to researchers at Duke that did an economics and mental health study a decade or so ago.
  • In 2nd place for Holidays make crime and our mental health worse, is Thanksgiving.
  • Even Easter and Valentine’s day is “more stressful” than Halloween.

Having said Halloween has a low murder rate, murders do still happen on Halloween.  But it’s no different than a Tuesday as far as murder rates go.


Murder & Crime Scenes Before the 1950s

Yesterday, I discussed the Villisca Axe Murders and J. N. Wilkerson and someone sent me a note about why on earth there weren’t detectives in the 1912.  Murder before the 1950s was handled much differently than it is now days.  Hell, even in 1950 it was handled much differently than it is in 2018.

First off, in 1912 the discovery of fingerprints was new.  The discovery that humans left fingerprints when they touched things was also still new.  Yep, humans spent thousands of years looking at their finger tips without realizing that sometimes when they touched shit, they left fingerprints.  I know that sounds crazy, but it makes a lot of sense actually…

People understood that dirty hands left marks on clean surfaces, but that really just meant cleaning whatever clean surface some asshat had touched and left dirt on.  And everyone had fingerprints, why wouldn’t they all be the same, unless you had scarred them and lots of people had scarred fingerprints, so again why would anyone think they were unique to every person on the planet?

Forensics really wasn’t a thing.  Not like we think of them.  Forensics was in its infancy in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  And between the beginning of homo sapien sapien to now, it was pretty much standard operating procedure to let every Tom, Dick, Harry, their wives, their parents, and their kids tramp through a murder scene.  It was a social event.  “Oh, did you hear about Marvin?  He was murdered, me and the family is headed over there now to see how gruesome it is.”  Yes, things like that happened, often.

The Villisca Axe Murders deviated from this a bit, the sheriff at the time called out the national guard to try and stop people from going through the house.  And those that did get through before the guard showed up, did so without the bodies being present, which was also unusual.

And no, most police departments didn’t have detectives.  Hell, most of them didn’t have many officers.  Think Mayberry folks.  The reason the sheriff of Montgomery County called the national guard to protect the Villisca murder site was because even with a population of nearly 2,000, there weren’t enough full and part time officers to do the job.  They weren’t busy with other crimes, they just didn’t exist.

Furthermore, forensics wasn’t the only science in its infancy, psychology was too.  I’m sure Freud and Jung would have had some ideas about the murderer, but they wouldn’t have been terribly helpful.

Finally, while serial killers had popped up by 1912, they definitely weren’t at the forefront of most people’s minds.  And those that had been caught, hadn’t been caught by police forces.

Private detective agencies were well funded.  They could train their investigators (and usually did).  And they had resources that most city and county law enforcement didn’t.  The Bureau of Investigation didn’t open until 1908 and they didn’t cut their teeth on serial killers or general murders.  And when they did finally have some experience in investigating crime, they mostly went after organized crime and bootleggers, not murderers or multiple murderers.

The Villisca Axe Murders & The Man Looking to Get Rich

1912 Villisca, Iowa was a small, small town, with a handful of businesses and some train tracks.  Unfortunately, it was about to become famous across the nation.  On the morning of June 10, 1912, six members of the Moore family and two girls that had stayed over with the Moore daughters were found bludgeoned to death.  The case remains unsolved.

However, author Troy Taylor makes a fairly good case that it was a string of murders committed by a train hopping serial killer in his book Murdered In Their Beds.  I’ve been a fairly avid reader of Troy Taylor for at least a decade, maybe more.  Recently, I was told Bill James – the father of Sabermetrics – had turned his vast practical stat knowledge towards researching the exact same topic and that his book The Man From the Train was even better.  So I grabbed it.

I agree that Bill James’ book is better.  And by the end of it, I was thoroughly convinced that yes, Villisca was one in a long series of murders committed by a man he refers to as The Man From The Train.  It also reminded me of my original theory on why the axe murders went unsolved for a century… J. N. Wilkerson.

It’s nearly impossible to do any in depth study of the murders and not come across the name J. N. Wilkerson.  Wilkerson was a private detective that worked for the Burns agency out of Kansas City.  And one of those guys that stands on both sides of the law.  Before the 1950s, nearly all murders that didn’t happen in a major metropolis were investigated by private detectives, usually paid for by something called a reward fund.  Or if the family had money, by the family.  Professional detectives working for police departments just weren’t really a thing at the time.

The Burns Agency was the Midwest version of the Pinkerton Agency in New York City.  And the majority of their investigators were on the up and up.  But there’s always a few bad eggs when there’s an endless supply of money to be made from murder.  And J. N. Wilkerson was one of those bad eggs.

Wilkerson was put in charge of the investigation in Villisca, Iowa after the original detective was given a promotion and moved to Chicago.  I have always been of the opinion, that Wilkerson had no desire to solve the murders, because it was more profitable to keep investigating them.  He even accused at least one man he knew to be innocent in an attempt to blackmail him.  Frank Jones, the accused, didn’t go for it and eventually he sued Wilkerson for slander, which would make it even more profitable to not solve the murders.

Of course, even if Wilkerson hadn’t been a tool, the murders still probably wouldn’t have been solved, simply because serial killers were rare and the linked cases were never investigated as a whole.  Wilkerson just made it more difficult for detectives interested in solving the murders that had occurred in multiple states from Oregon to Texas to Iowa, because he became doggedly determined to hold Frank Jones accountable for as many things as possible after the slander case – which Jones lost.

Eventually, Wilkerson was fired by the Burns Agency, because Villisca wasn’t the only place he was uninterested in getting justice as long as there was money to be made.  By then, the Burns Agency’s reputation had taken a huge ding and several places like Kansas City where they were headquartered canceled the standing contract they had with the agency and started their own professional investigative division.

Also, the reason Villisca is better remembered in this possible string of murders over any of the others is because of Wilkerson.  As other cities that had these brutal murders went back to daily life, Wilkerson was having weekly town hall meetings, trying to drum up support (and therefore money) to continue his investigation.  He even told a fellow detective that as long as he could keep the people of Villisca angry and in a panic, they would give him all the money they could to keep him on the case.

And they did.  At one meeting, a rich local farmer decided to take the payment matters into his own hands and started a register of locals who pledged money to the reward fund from which Wilkerson was paid.  The richest man in Villisca would categorically refuse, because he didn’t trust Wilkerson and why should he since it was Frank Jones.

I actually recommend both books, by both authors for different reasons.  And the more I learn about the other cases mentioned in their books.  The more convinced I become that the Villisca Axe Murders were committed by a serial killer.

Fine Line Between Criminal and Law Enforcement

I’m willing to bet most of US readers will be familiar with the name Wyatt Earp.  Most of what you know about Wyatt Earp is not exactly the truth.  One of the things all those stories does get right though, Wyatt Earp made a name for himself as a lawman in Dodge City, Kansas as well as a US Marshal in Tombstone, Arizona.

Oh, and the shoot out at the OK Corral was real… Mostly.  Earp really did decide to clean up an outlaw gang in Tombstone, the Cochise Cowboys.  And like most shoot outs it was bloody.  Here’s the kicker about it.  Earp had actually committed a crime at a previous date with many members of the Cowboys and owed them money.  Virgil Earp was the marshal of Tombstone and the Cowboys took their revenge out on him when they couldn’t get to Wyatt.  It was an unhappy time for the entire Earp clan as Virgil was left maimed from the encounter with the Cowboys and Morgan Earp was later murdered by the Cowboys.

And if you think it’s shocking that our most celebrated US Marshal was also a crook, I’m here to bust that fantasy.  Many US Marshals in the late 1800s and early 1900s were both Marshals and criminals.  And they were rarely prosecuted, although a few were lynched.

I was reminded by this fact while listening to a true crime book by none other than Bill James the creator of the famous sabermetrics analysis system of of baseball players.  The book has been good so far as he tries to make a case for a serial killer being responsible for the Villasca, Iowa ax murders.

It reminded me of something else as well; police detectives are a relatively new phenomenon.  Before the police got their own detectives, the standard operating procedure was for the police to hire private detectives like the Pinkerton Agency in New York.

At the time, it was these private agencies that had the money to invest in whatever forensics were available and most of their detectives went through some form of training.  While we have all probably heard of the Pinkertons, it should be noted that there were lots of private detective agencies across the US, the Pinkertons were just the most famous.

Also, there were lots of crime concepts that didn’t exist.  For example, stranger murders just didn’t happen that often unless money was the motive.  Because of this, many cases went cold and scapegoats were found, tried, and convicted to appease the public.

The book I’m listening to attempts to make a case that there were a string of murders committed that were probably committed by the same man.  And he is responsible for the Villasca Axe Murders as well.  Of course, it’s all theory, but it’s interesting to listen to.  It’s called The Man from the Train and I highly recommend it to any true crime readers.  James seems to have researched the killings quite thoroughly from the stand point of a statistician.

Beyond #MeToo

We’ve all had our kumbaya moment.  We’ve admitted that we were victimized by sexual predators and that these fiends ruin lives.  But did we achieve anything?  Did we make the world realize it is more common than everyone thinks?  Did we make people realize that many of us hold this trauma inside us until we can’t anymore?

I lean towards no, it did nothing, but make us feel a little better having gotten this out in the open.  As I type this, the US is divided once again, it happens so often anymore, that it it is hardly noteworthy.  Two women have accused Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the Supreme Court of sexual assault and President Trump is cluttering social media and the news with statements about how the accusations are suspect because the women haven’t come forward before now.

This accusation infuriates me, President Trump’s accusation that is, because it’s proof that the conditions of sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, are still not understood, possibly because people want to be obtuse or willfully ignorant.  I didn’t tell my parents I had been molested by my step sister until I was in my mid twenties.  I’m not even sure I ever told my best friend, who has been my best friend for most of my life because she is also my cousin.  I was ashamed.  I was embarrassed.  I didn’t want to admit that I was a victim.

I told my psychiatrist though.  More than a decade after the abuse, when we were trying to sort out some of my anger and anxiety issues, he asked if I was sexually abused by as a child, because he said I had symptoms of it, and the confession tumbled from my lips, releasing a weight I hadn’t realized I had been carrying.  I cried about it and hurled curses at Shannon who was no longer even in my life, but it took another decade or so before I told either of my parents, and I am very close to my mother.

I always think of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim when someone accuses a victim of lying.  I grew up in the 1980s.  The Coreys were a part of it.  And The Lost Boys is still one of my favorite vampire movies of all times.  Comic book nerds who turn to vampire hunting on the boadwalk?  Yep, great movie.

Haim died in 2010 after years of drug addiction, depression, and a slew of other mental health problems.  And it would take Haim’s death for Corey Feldman to admit that the Coreys were sexually abused and molested as child stars in Hollywood by men that held power over them.  It took 20 years and a tragedy for Feldman to admit to the sexual abuse and lots of people booed him for it, that wouldn’t have happened they said.

But I believe Feldman because Haim could be the poster child for the disaster that life turns into for a child that is sexually abused.  Many molested, abused, and sexually assaulted children suffer from drug addiction, mental health issues, low impulse control, mood swings, rage, hyper-sexuality, and withdrawal from society.  Feldman fared better, but if you ever read his book Coreyography, then you’ll read that Haim was the favorite target for sexual abuse, not Feldman.  And you’ll also find out that many child stars suffered like the Coreys did, which is why many of them go through a period where they seem unhinged.  I have often wondered if the complete reversal of personality experienced by stars like Miley Cyrus and Lindsey Lohan wasn’t also related to sexual abuse.

And I can relate, because it took me 20 years and a tragedy before I admitted being sexually abused to someone not bound by doctor/patient confidentiality.  The President believes if these things had happened, they would have come forward with the allegations years ago, proving he’s never been sexually victimized.  In my opinion, the confirmation of Kavanaugh constitutes a crisis and most victims require a crisis before they step forward with their stories of abuse… Because we automatically assume that everyone will treat us like they did Corey Feldman, “boo hiss, this didn’t happen, you’re lying to get attention.”

With each new boo hiss, whether it’s from the President of the United States or the general public of your hometown, more damage is done to people who have already been victimized.  Victimizing the victims all over again.  The most painful thing my father has ever said to me was “well, it was just kids being kids,” my step sister was in her mid teens and I was in single digits, maybe 6 or 7.  It was definitely not kids being kids.  In his mind, it was like 2 kids playing doctor and in my mind, it was anything but that.  And in that moment, when those words left his mouth, I wished with every ounce of my being that I could take back that confession, keep it inside for the rest of my life, and never ever think about it again.

I don’t know if it’s true in other countries, but in the US, most people believe the victimizer over the victimized.  It’s like they want video proof it didn’t happen and even then, some would still not be convinced.  This thinking is why it takes fucking decades and a crisis for victims to step forward.  Here’s the deal, over the next week or two, these women are going to have their lives shredded.  The press and political cronies will dig through every bit of their personal and professional lives trying to prove they are liars.

At the end of it, most people still won’t be convinced and they will have lost more than they would have gained by stepping forward and contrary to popular opinion, no amount of money makes this type of investigation worth it… Ask Anita Hill if her life was improved by the investigation that followed her accusation of Clarence Thomas.  What saddens me most is even if someone finds that there is evidence to support the sexual assaults, Brett Kavanaugh will still be appointed to the Supreme Court, he will not receive any blow back from it, but the women who made the accusations will be left with tattered lives.

And there will be irrefutable proof that our #MeToo statements will have had zero impact on society.

The Dysfunctional Mob

This is not a post about the novella I wrote, well novel really, but about the mob itself in our society or rather, all organized crime groups, because the dysfunctional niche they fit into blew my mind the other day.

In preparation for surgery on the 17th, I bought a physical book from a historical society.  The title is Crazy Cults and Secret Societies. Yep, sounds like my kind of book.  I was on chapter 6 when I was taken back for surgery.  Since I was the one going under the scalpel, I decided against my tablet and took an actual book instead.

However, it was chapter 4 when I made the stunning and startling revelation.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition for a cult:  A relatively small group of people having beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange.  We almost always think of cults in terms of religious beliefs, but shared beliefs is really the thing, shared beliefs considered weird by mainstream society that causes people to bond together is all that is required.

The Italian Mafia, the Russian Mafia, and even drug cartels in Mexico are in fact cults.  These groups have their own code of conduct and morality that it strictly enforces among those within the groups.  And even though today, most organized crime syndicates are no longer made up of members from a single family, they are still referred to as families, by both outside influences and the members, as a technique to make members feel obligated to follow the rules of the group.

Even as non-religious cults, organized crime does utilize brain manipulation techniques… what we would consider brain washing, to ensure that members remain loyal to them.  It is part of the reason I have always had some difficulty discussing and explaining the Russian mob in the Dysfunctional Chronicles.  The Russian Mafia is even less likely to be made up of family members and is even more fractured than the Italian mafia, which is the mafia group Americans are most familiar with.

Thinking about them as a cult, makes them easier to understand, and explain.  And to some degree, those that leave mob families do have to be deprogrammed, just like someone that leaves a religious cult.  This also explains why people don’t betray mob bosses more often.  It isn’t the fear of what might happen to them so much as an ingrained sense of loyalty created using the same brain washing techniques religious leaders use to keep their followers, following without question.

Next time you watch Goodfellas, keep this in mind and watch for the signs that they are indeed a cult.

Immigrating into the US

The media has us convinced that to get into the US, Mexican citizens pay coyotes (smugglers) to bring them across the border in semi trailers.  This is not exactly accurate.

I had never even heard the word coyote until the last decade or so.  However, I did know a girl when I was in college who had come here as a child and neither her or her parents had papers.  They all eventually got them, but it took a while and she told me about having forged papers for most of her time in school.

They did not run through the desert and then wade across a dry Rio Grande and walk into Texas avoiding border guards in the dead of night.  They crossed the border in Texas to go visit her father’s brother in New Jersey and they just didn’t go back to Texas and cross the border back into Mexico.

In other words, they legally crossed the border from Mexico to the US and didn’t go back home.  As I understand it, if you live in central America or Mexico and you know someone in the US, that’s how you illegally immigrate into the US.  You don’t pay a coyote to smuggle you across as cargo in a semi trailer full of vegetables.  You only pay a coyote to take you across when you don’t know anyone.  Coyotes take you to an area that is populated by other Hispanic immigrants where someone knows how to forge you papers.

Now forged papers aren’t cheap so if you can’t afford them, you get a job somewhere they don’t ask for them and you save up to get them, especially if you have children because your kids will need them to go to school.  If you know someone here already, the fee to get papers is usually cheaper because the business isn’t exclusive, and competition drives down the cost.

Sadly it does mean that you will probably have to consort for a short time with some unsavory characters, but in the larger cities, they aren’t hard to find.

Nowadays most coyotes are also connected to the cartels and the days of truck loads of immigrants packed into semi trailers has decreased significantly because cartels have built drug smuggling tunnels into the US.  It’s safer to move drugs through tunnels than through mules or even through trucks filled with crates of coffee beans.  This means coyotes can also use the drug smuggling tunnels to smuggle people into the US.

Theory of the Crime v. Evidence

Crime shows like CSI, Law & Orderr, and even Elementary portray detectives as working solely from the evidence.  If you talk to a detective, evidence is rarely where the investigation starts.  Once they have a body or bodies, they create a theory about what happened.

Only after test results start coming in does evidence start to play a role in the investigation, unless of course the victim wrote the name Jack Ripper in their own blood.  At that point, they investigate Jack Ripper and hope the evidence supports the five hour interview with Jack.  If it doesn’t they move on to other things, like why did the victim write Jack’s name in their own blood as their last act before dying?  And as evidence comes in to support or exclude aspects of the theory, the theory is revised.

It’s hard to understand exactly why a Theory of the Crime is important.  The Monster of Florence case that I mentioned a while ago though does a fairly good job of highlighting both the theory of the crime and the evidence of the crime not lining up.  It’s actually one of the problems with the case.

The first murder was in 1968.  It was a woman and her lover, the woman was married.  She had also stolen 600 Lyra.  The husband didn’t care about the running around, it is said he actually encouraged it.  Being married didn’t seem to be his thing or at least being married to Barbara Loche wasn’t his thing.  The reason this case gets included with the Monster of Florence case is important and somewhat peculiar.  Barabara’s husband Stefano Mele (maybe spelled right, I don’t remember) confessed to the murders of Barbara and her lover sighting jealousy.  He shot both of them multiple times.  He says after the murders he threw the gun away in an irrigation ditch.  The police never recovered it.  Stefano Mele served his prison time, but at times, he claimed there were others involved in the murders and that it was actually about the stolen Lyra (Italian currency) than her affair.

When the Monster of Florence murders started, Stefano Mele was in prison.  The police and press received tons of letters during the initial years of the case, some reporting to be from the Monster of Florence.  Others making accusations against others as being the monster of Florence.  However, one letter that was received was simply a clipping of a newspaper article regarding the murders of Barbara Loche and her lover and mentioning the gun.

This was weird, but okay.  They found the shell casing from the murder of Loche and they connected the Monster of Florence murders to that double homicide.  There was a strange indentation, an imperfection with the firing pin of the gun used in the Loche murder and the same immperfection was in the shell casings of the Monster of Florence murders.  Essentially, the same gun was used to kill Loche and her lover that was being used in the Monster of Florence killings.  But Stefano Mele was in prison and no one knew what had happened to that gun.

Police had suspected at least one other person involved with the Barabara Loche murders, a Sicilian thug named Salvatore Venci (maybe, I’m not good at spelling Italian names from memory).    So they theorized he had taken the gun.  However, they didn’t go after Salvatore in the beginning, they went after his brother Francisco.  For the record, Italians just generally assume all Sicilians are thugs (in this case, the Venci brothers fit the stereotype and they are all thugs).  However, there was no real evidence to connect Salvatore or Francisco to the murder of Barbara Loche.  There was Stefano Mele’s retracted and then renewed statements that they were there with him and that it was Salvatore that insisted Barbara’s betrayal required death.

However, Stefano didn’t say who had taken the gun away from the Loche crime scene and as the police would later learn, the Loche murder was some sort of Sicilian clan killing (I don’t understand Sicilian society enough to really understand this concept, but I think it was basically an honor killing).  And while Stefano had actually hooked his wife up with some of her boyfriends, his father was not happy about Barbara’s many boyfriends.  So he was nearly as likely to organize an honor killing as anyone else in Barbara’s life.

And with Stefano not really talking, the suspect pool for the Monster of Florence murders grew to anyone that might have been involved in the Loche murder.  In the mid-1980s, the police decided there wasn’t a “monster” but a group of them and that the Monster of Florence murders were being committed by at least 4 individuals.

This is when the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit first volunteered their assistance with the Monster of Florence case.  We know this division of the FBI as the profilers of serial killers in the US and they didn’t think the evidence supported a group.  While the Monster was killing couples, shooting them, most of the female victims were sexually mutilated by having their vaginas cut out, thankfully post-mortem.  The bodies of the women were dragged several meters (there are 38 inches in a meter so just over 3 feet per meter for my American readers who don’t want to do the math while reading this riveting post).  Dragged, not carried.  That is important.  The majority of the women were pretty and petite.  A group of men could easily have carried them.  So why were they dragged from the vehicles to where they were mutilated?  With four men, carrying them would have been faster and easier.  But all of them were dragged about 10 meters from the vehicles and they were dead when dragged.  There was no evidence of multiple people.  There were some sort of witnesses to the crimes, people that happened to be close enough to hear the gunshots in the cases and none of them saw a gaggle of men standing around.  And the removal of the vagina was nearly identical in all the cases, which suggests the exact same person did it every time.  Now the knife he used seemed to vary from time to time, which was odd, but does not completely exclude a single killer, whereas the change in knives was believed by the Italian police to prove that different people did it.

In other words, to FBI profilers, the killings were the work of one person, obviously male, and someone who hated women.  The sexual mutilation was not about sexual sadism since the victims were dead when the vagina was excised from their bodies, profilers interpreted the removal of the vagina to indicate a deep seething rage aimed at women.

The Italian police disagreed.  Pointing out that the dragging could be done to lead investigators in a different direction and that the same cutting method could be because one person in the group taught the others to do the mutilations.

This case is one of the few serial killer cases where there is too much evidence to narrow it down to a single suspect.  Also there are a lot of suspects and at one time, nearly every butcher, surgeon, and chef was worthy of investigation.

The other theory is that the killer is not Italian, which is why some suspicion landed on Douglas Preston, and Thomas Harris who was in Italy for the trail of one suspect that was eventually released because the Monster of Florence killed while he was in custody, Harris was in Italy researching for the Hannibal Lecter trilogy and he drew heavily on the Monster of Florence case for some of Hannibal Lecter’s backstory, Harris was questioned by the Italian police who wanted to know why he was interested in the case and trial and even his whereabouts at the times of some of the crimes (he was at home in the US for the majority of them).  The Italian police occasionally say things like this is more of an English or American crime, Italians do not do this to each other and they have investigated Ex-Pats from both the UK and the US living in Italy as being the Monster of Florence.

As someone with a slightly unhealthy interest in serial killers, I tend to agree with the FBI profilers, the Monster is most likely a single individual somehow connected to Stafano Mele and possibly dead by now.  Some have suggested the lack of capture or willingness for the Italian police to investigate theories other than the one about it being a group is part of a conspiracy because they know who the Monster of Florence is and he is a wealthy and powerful man whereby it would be much easier for the Italian police to make a case against a Sicilian thug or an American living in Italy than the real Monster.

The Strange Case of Douglas Preston

I am a huge fan of the Pendergast series written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  I own the book Relic and have watched the movie several times.  I also own Reliquary and The Cabinet of Curiosities.  I don’t know why I stopped reading the series, but when I started listening to audiobooks on Scribd, I grabbed all three of those to refresh my memory.

They were just as good as I remembered and I am now waiting for A Still Life of Crows to become available to me.  Since I read a lot of bestsellers, Scribd limits how many best selling authors I can listen to in a month, I think.  That’s the only reason I can think of for so many books to be unavailable today but available at a certain date next month.  I am listening to the Women’s Murder Club, the Pendergast Series, and several Dean Koontz books or trying to.  I keep getting stuck waiting for the “available” date. I’ll write about Scribd more in a different post.

Once I finished The Cabinet of Curiosities, Scribd recommended The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston.  It is a non-fiction book written by Douglas Preston.  I read it when it first came out and it documents Douglas Preston’s life in Italy…

The book titled is based on a serial killer that was active between 1968 and 1984 in Florence, Italy.  He killed couples that were having sex in their cars.  The murders are unsolved.  There’s been a lot of talk about how Italian police botched the investigation when it first started and just continued to screw it up.  For starters, they were unwilling to admit they had a serial killer, which is never a good way to go about a murder investigation.  It wasn’t until the late 1970s that they decided the cases were all tied together.

In the late 1990s as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s books became bestsellers, Preston moved his entire family to Florence, Italy.  Preston said it was a dream come true.  He had always wanted to live in Italy.  The dream didn’t last long.  As Preston and a journalist began to investigate the monster of Florence killings, the Italian police began to investigate Preston and the journalist he was working with.  Eventually, they arrested Douglas Preston (who lived in the US at the time of the last murders and all the murders before then) as an accessory to murder.  The journalist was arrested for murder and accused of being the monster of Florence.

Eventually both men were released, but Preston was told he was not welcome in Italy anymore.  He was told to leave and he’s not even allowed to vacation there now.  Preston and the journalist even had a suspect in the killings and interviewed him.  The police vehemently deny the man could have been involved, which is kind of weird… but Italy has a very long history of botching murder investigations, corruption within the police, and not being very good at dealing with crime as a whole.  Interpol has been investigating the Italian justice system for years because several European countries have filed complaints against the Italian justice system.  In the early 2000s, a German tourist in Italy was mugged and stabbed multiple times by his mugger when he fought back and the Italian police arrested the German tourist for assault.  The German government had to intercede to get the man released from prison.  Just like the US government had to intercede to get Douglas Preston released from jail and Italy.

In 2007 or 2008, profilers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation wrote to the Italian government to say that the suspect identified by Douglas Preston and Mario Sperizi (the Italian investigative journalist that worked on the book with Douglas Preston and his name might be spelled wrong) in The Monster of Florence did indeed fit the profile and was worthy of investigation. The Italian justice department told them to butt out.  Several investigative journalists have made claims that the Florence Police Department and the Italian Justice System have always known who was responsible for the murders, but because he is rich, they won’t do anything to him.  Furthermore, before Mario Sperizi, other Italian journalists who have investigated the monster of Florence case have been put in jail and the Italian police are not above censorship.  Writing about the Italian police is done so at a journalists own risk – the police have been known to force newspapers to pull unfavorable articles, and they have ruined a few journalists’ careers for writing unfavorable articles about them.

Interestingly, Douglas Preston’s experience, actually helped bolster the position of the US when they intervened in the Amanda Knox case (Knox was accused and then convicted of killing her roommate as part of a Satanic sex ritual both Knox and her roommate were exchange students living in Italy at the time).  Knox was eventually acquitted of the crime by the Italian Supreme Court, but most people are still not happy with the verdict.  One day I will write a post on how we will never know what happened in the actual murder, since the Italian Supreme Court found that there was evidence tampering, witness tampering, failure to follow investigative procedure, and several other problems with the investigation into the murder for which Knox and her boyfriend (an Italian who has not been acquitted) were convicted.

I Don’t Recommend Selecting an Image Search

I have been doing research on cults.  Not mainstream cults and no, that is not an oxymoron.  The Kashi Ashram is a cult, but it is considered a mainstream cult, unlike The Brethren.  One could argue that neither or both of these cults are basically mainstream and I’m not sure I understand the difference between a mainstream cult and a run of the mill every day fringe cult.

Since a picture is worth a thousand or so words, when Google offered me an image search for modern day cults, I accepted the image results.  I don’t recommend it.  Cult life can be extreme and brutal.  Images of cult life are no different.  And you may or may not accidentally see death, destruction, and graphic nudity after hitting that image button.

I’m not sure what I expected from the image search, maybe starving yogis and pictures of bearded homeless men eating garbage (search The Brethren for more on that).  Maybe a few crime scene photos from The Heaven’s Gate Cult mass suicide or from Aum Shinrikyo’s  Sarin gas attack in Tokyo in the 1990s.

However, what it reminded me of is that cults can be very dangerous places depending on the leaders.  I try to keep that in mind every time I open my computer to start writing on a D&R book, because for the most part, the SCTU and The AHEAD movement are both basically cults.

Cults in and of themselves, are not inherently evil.  They exist, nothing more.  And every major religion practiced on the planet today started as a cult.    But when they are in the hands of a charismatic psychopathic leader, they can and usually do become a problem.  Everyone’s go to for this example is Charles Manson, but there are so many to choose from, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, Adolfo Costanzo all spring instantly to mind, oh and that crazy Japanese guy Shoko Asahara, who organized and planned the sarin gas attack that took place in a Tokyo subway station…

Jim Jones managed to do two very terrifying things; convince some of his followers they wanted to die and convince other followers to kill those that didn’t want to die, which is why I consider him a double threat as a cult leader.  And of course, those crime scene images are available online if you feel the need.

Most of them I had already seen, they were used in a documentary about the Jonestown Massacre.  Called Jonestown: Life and Death of the People’s Temple, it is very eye opening.  Mostly because the film makers did a good job of tracking down survivors and getting them to go on camera about the event.

Then of course, you have things like the Children of God cult, which I also don’t recommend Googling in any way shape or form, especially not an image search, as the Children of God cult believes that sex is a manifestation of God’s love, and it should know no boundaries.  As far as we can tell the Children of God cult hasn’t killed anyone directly, but it does promote pedophilia.

This is the cult that Rose McGowan grew up in and guitarist Jimmy Spencer left the band Fleetwood Mac to join, which makes me scratch my head a bit.  But different strokes I guess.


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