Backseat Killer – Another Urban Legend

I’m sure you’ve heard this one, woman driving a car has a car behind her continuously flashing their high beams. She races to safety terrified that the car behind her is up to something nefarious, only to find that the car behind her saved her life from the killer hiding in her backseat. It’s a popular urban legend that makes the rounds fairly often. Since the 1990s, it’s been told with a variation that the killer in the back seat is a gang member and killing an innocent victim is his gang initiation.

However, it might not be a totally made up story. Remove the lone female driver and the car chasing while flashing their high beams and the bare bones of the killer in the backseat did happen. In 1964 in New York, however this killer picked the absolute worst car he could have to hide in.

The real story is that an escaped convict (murderer) made his way to a small town in upstate New York and climbed into the back of a car at a gas station. Upon returning to the car, the owner shot the convict to death. The convict had unknowingly climbed into the backseat of a car owned by an off duty police officer, who recognized him as the escaped convict.

The man was found to be in possession of a knife and police suspected he intended to steal the car from the owner once they left the gas station. The convict whose name I was unable to find was said to have been convicted of murdering his wife in the 1950s.

Most urban legends do have a real story behind them. Often they are embellished to make them scarier. And they often serve as warning tales, don’t drive alone in this place because this happened. However, it’s also a bit like the game “telephone.” By the time its three or four people removed from the source, the original story has changed quite a bit.

The Oakland County Child Killer

The Oakland County Child Killer (OCCK) is a serial killer that didn’t garner national attention (surprisingly, most serial killers don’t garner national news coverage). Between 1976 and 1977, the Oakland County Child Killer is known to have killed 4 pre-teens in Oakland County/Wayne County Michigan.

2 male children (Tim King 11 years old and Mark Stebbins 12) and 2 female children (Jill Robinson 12 and Kristine Mihelich 10) were conclusively linked to the Oakland County Child Killer in the late 1970s. There are at least 2 other cases that are deemed possibly related as of 2015. The connection between the cases isn’t DNA or anything so concrete, all four victims were found with white animal hair on them (they were all killed in different ways, abducted and held for different lengths of time, and assaulted differently) and all four were found in a similar positions after their bodies were dumped (indicating the bodies were staged after death).

There have been hundreds of suspects including John Wayne Gacy, who was in Michigan at the time of some of the killings. Chris Busch, a notorious pedophile that committed suicide in 1978 was also considered a suspect and one of his victims James Gunnels was linked to the murder of Kristine Mihelich via DNA evidence in 2010.

Unfortunately, Gunnels could not be linked to any of the other murders and the case was officially reopened in 2010 as a result. All four children were sexually assaulted before being murdered, but they were assaulted with an object that did not leave DNA evidence.

In 2012, Bob popped up in the investigation. Not as a suspect but as a bit of a mystery. Bob claims there are really 11-12 victims of the Oakland County Child Killer. Bob also claims that the assaults and murders were part of a Wiccan Sacrifice Ritual. Furthermore, Bob claims to be a member of a 12 man team investigating the Oakland County Child Killer and has worked the case for more than 10,000 hours. Bob also claims he knows who did it.

I keep repeating “Bob claims” because Bob is an odd duck. Bob’s real identity is unknown to the general public. He has approached journalists and the ADA of Oakland County with his claims. The ADA he spoke with says the meeting was a long rambling one in which Bob made a lot of claims but didn’t produce any evidence. Bob says the meeting didn’t happen.

In order to get the name of the person Bob says is responsible for the murders as well as the 7 or 8 unknown victims Bob claims exists, Bob wants access to crucial evidence in the murders. Specifically, Bob wants to read the original of a letter signed “Allen” that had details unknown to the public about the murders and was sent to a Dr. Bruce Danto. Allen didn’t take responsibility for the killings, but he said he knew who was responsible and that he would tell Dr. Danto (this was in 1977) that he would give him the information if the doctor could get a letter from the Governor of Michigan stating Allen would be granted immunity for his involvement with the murders. Dr. Danto did secure the letter, but Allen failed to appear at the rendezvous and he hasn’t been heard from since.

This case was already complicated before Bob got involved. It is rare for a sexual sadist (which is what the Oakland County Child Killer appears to be) to take victims of both sexes. And if the two possible cases are indeed linked, then there is some major disparity in ages, the 2 possible cases are both females one was 14 years old and the other is 16. There are precedents for pedophiles to have victims that are pre-pubescent girls and pre-pubescent boys. However, the 16 and 14 year olds would be a huge deviation as both girls would have been in puberty by this time.

Bob has stated Gunnels wasn’t involved. Well, okie dokie. Police don’t actually suspect Gunnels of the murders or assaults. Gunnels’ hair was found on the body of Kristine Mihelich. Police suspect Gunnels disposed of the body and does know who was responsible for the murders. Gunnels was also found to be in possession of a sketch of a young boy screaming and there was an eerie resemblance to Timothy King (the fourth victim).

Bob has even gone so far as accuse ADA Jill Cooper of participating in a cover up for the Oakland County Child Killer. I’m not sure who Bob is, but I believe Bob should be thoroughly investigated by police and journalists. Serial killers are narcissists who often involve themselves in their own cases (Gary Ridgway even volunteered to help with the manhunt for the Green River Killer – Ridgway is the Green River Killer).

I heard a theory recently that James Gunnels’ was Allen and that Chris Busch was the Oakland County Child Killer. It’s actually not a bad theory. Except neither Busch nore Gunnels (who was 16 at the time of the killings) drove an AMC Gremlin – the car King was reportedly seen getting into. Also a witness who saw King talking to two men, did not identify either Gunnels or Busch (although her description of one of the men did match John Wayne Gacy fairly well – DNA evidence and a timeline of movements has ruled Gacy out as the OCCK).

If Bob was not involved in the original murders, Bob needs help. I have two theories on Bob – he’s an armchair sleuth who wants to be involved and has taken it too far – or he’s a serial killer groupie.

As of 2018 the case remains unsolved.


The definition of stalking as a crime is as follows: a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. However, nearly every jurisdiction has their own definition of stalking and most of them do not have standardized penalties for stalking and it is often a crime not seriously investigated.

Stalking is a serious problem, more than 10 million people are stalked every year in the US. And most stalkings last more than five years. More than 70% of stalking victims require therapy for mental distress created by stalkers. It is basically a form of psychological warfare and in my opinion should be treated as such.

Penalties against stalkers also vary greatly. If a case can even be made against a stalker, the penalties are very light, it is not uncommon for stalkers to be sentenced to probation and community service if they do not commit a violent crime in the course of stalking their victim. And if a violent crime is committed in association with stalking, the stalker is still usually only given a few years in prison as long as the violent crime isn’t murder.

Stalking victims commonly develop anxiety, insomnia, and sometimes PTSS (PTSD) and there is a risk of a victim developing agoraphobia (fear of leaving their house). On average, a stalking victim has a face to face encounter with their stalker once a week, usually in a public place. And it is sadly rare for the victim of a stalker to be able to get a restraining order against their stalker and if they do manage, enforcement is difficult because most encounters are in public and “accidental encounter” can be claimed. Furthermore, a victim with a restraining order can be in violation of the restraining order if they run into their stalker at say a coffee shop and neither the stalker or victim leaves, if the victim violates the restraining order it can be negated.

Actions of a stalker include some of the following (this is not a comprehensive list by far):

  • Sending unwanted gifts
  • Showing up where the victim is
  • Following a victim
  • Posting private information gleaned by the stalker (via going through the victim’s trash, scrounged from the internet, captured via malware installed on the victim’s computer, photographs taken by the stalker, etc)

This causes the victim to feel fear, no part of their life is private. Their daily routines are interrupted and have to be changed because the stalker knows these routines, insomnia, anxiety, victims often have to miss multiple days at work due to their stalker, victims will move to escape a stalker only to have the stalker move too, and minor property damage is commonly committed by stalkers.

Only 55% of female stalking victims and 45% of male victims are stalked by an ex-partner. However, when an ex-partner is the stalker, only 30% were abusive during the relationship (physically, emotionally, and/or sexually). Over 50% of stalkings committed by an ex-partner end in violence (murder, sexual assault, physical assault) compared to just 35% of stalkers who are not ex-partners end in violence.

While most crimes in the US are on the decline, stalking is not one of them. Stats show that between 2006 and 2016 crimes of stalking increased by 27%. And those are just the crimes we know about. Stalking is often an unreported crime because victims know that law enforcement intervention without a violent encounter is nearly impossible.

The general public has the misconception that stalkers are mentally ill and that stalking almost always ends in violent encounters. Most stalkers are just average people. Many criminologists believe stalking is on the rise because it does maximum damage with This little chance of the perpetrator being punished for it.

And people like Kathleen Hale (who has now been signed to write a book about her time as a stalker) make it worse. Kathleen Hale is a young adult novelist who was signed by HarperTeen. As per usual, HarperTeen sent advanced read copies of her book to several people, including a well known and respected book blogger. The blogger hated Hale’s book. HarperTeen warned Hale that she would be getting a negative review and to not retaliate, but Hale decided to stalk the blogger for it.

Hale even found the woman’s home address and left packages for her at her home. She got the woman’s cell phone number and began calling her to get a recorded interview regarding why the blogger hated Hale (note I said Hale, not the book, as Hale considered it personal that this blogger didn’t like her book) Hale’s victim quit blogging about books and became a recluse, refusing to talk about her ordeal. Hale on the other hand, was given a contract to write a book titled Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker.

I am of the opinion, that HarperTeen should have punished Kathleen Hale. They could have stopped publication of her book, demanded the return of the advance, and voided her contract. Her victim had to give up her job, but Kathleen Hale profited from her stalking, which seems unfair to say the very least, especially since Hale obviously caused her victim a great deal of emotional distress (enough that she quit her job).

On a side note, the thing that stalkers want is the exact same thing terrorists want, to cause their victim to change their lives because of fear.

How Family Tree DNA Caught The Golden State Killer

In 2018, the world became acquainted with Family Tree DNA. It actually wasn’t new technology in 2018. It’s been around for a while. It’s just been very quietly used right up until it caught a prolific rapist and serial killer James D’Angelo aka The Golden State Killer.

The system is actually very controversial with privacy advocates arguing there is nothing more private than a person’s DNA. Here’s what happened in that case. It is complicated, just FYI. So I’ll try to make it less complicated to understand.

Between 1974 and 1986, police had a prolific rapist on their hands known as the East Side Rapist. They had a less prolific serial killer, The Original Night Stalker (yep, before Richard Ramirez earned the moniker, someone else had it). There was also a prolific burglar in southern California that may have been connected to either the East Side Rapist or the Original Night Stalker. Police weren’t sure.

There were literally hundreds of suspects in the three cases and the cases crossed multiple jurisdictions, which made it even messier. In 2001, DNA from cold cases were logged into the California crime DNA database. And the East Side Rapist case was genetically linked to the Original Night Stalker and some of the burglary cases. A task force was formed and the cases reopened and the killer renamed to The Golden State Killer.

He had bled at a couple of the burglaries. He had left seminal fluid at several of the rapes and the murder scenes. In 2005, serial killer BTK (real name Dennis Rader) plead guilty because he could not explain away the familial DNA match BTK had to Rader’s children. He’d basically been caught red handed. A motion to suppress the familial DNA evidence was ruled against in the pre-trial motions. After BTK basically sent the police a business card with his name and address on it, and police obtained DNA samples from both of Rader’s children to compare to DNA left by BTK. Rader was obviously the father of Rader’s children and Rader couldn’t build a defense around it.

In 2007, a handful of states, including Colorado, decided that law enforcement could use public DNA databases to search for suspects in cold cases that involved violent crime with a warrant. The argument goes like this, “the perpetrator of the crime, voluntarily leaves DNA at the crime scene, if it is a large enough sample to be tested, then it should be allowable for that sample to be checked against open DNA databases, because the databases are made up of people who volunteered their DNA reports” (you send your DNA to 23&Me or any of the other companies that do it, and they send you a report about your heritage, you can then submit that DNA report to companies like GEDMatch and search for genetic relatives to get a more complete look at your genealogy.

Between 2007 and 2018 there were a handful of cold cases solved using these public DNA databases. But nothing that earned the public DNA databases notoriety or lots of headlines in the news.

In 2016, law enforcement in California went to GEDMatch with the DNA profile of the Golden State Killer. There were no familial matches. However, at the time, 23&Me,, and several others were growing in popularity as people searched for the genetic lineage. As a result databases such as GEDMatch were also growing in popularity. In 2017, the DNA of the Golden State Killer was submitted again to GEDMatch. At the time, law enforcement was conducting the search of GEDMatch with a warrant, meaning even if GEDMatch hadn’t wanted to cooperate, they would have been compelled to do it anyway.

In 2017, a familial match for the Golden State Killer was found. A genetic genealogist was able to compare that volunteered report to the report of the Golden State Killer and discovered they were 2nd cousins (if I remember correctly). Police began to investigate James D’Angelo who had once worked in law enforcement as a viable suspect in the Golden State Killer case.

Police actually followed D’Angelo around and watched him throw away a piece of trash (possibly a disposable cup) that they removed from the trash and compared his DNA to that of the Golden State Killer and it was a perfect match.

In 2018, the State of California charged James D’Angelo with multiple counts of murder and suddenly Family Tree DNA was mainstream news. As was GEDMatch, the database company that law enforcement had searched to find the familial link. In May 2018, GEDMatch changed its privacy policy, announcing to all users that the database was an investigative tool that could be searched by law enforcement officers without the need for a warrant. And the ethics debate began, was it actually ethical to let law enforcement have unrestricted access to a DNA database like GEDMatch and the specialists GEDMatch employs, because the genetic genealogists kept on staff by GEDMatch are part of the law enforcement package, not only can law enforcement submit samples and receive information back without need of a warrant, but the genetic genealogists that work for GEDMatch assist law enforcement with the sample submission and do the leg work involved in discovering familial links.

I mentioned Colorado earlier for a specific reason. Nearly every case that has involved Family Tree DNA has involved violent crimes, essentially murders. In 2009, Colorado submitted a sample to an open DNA database of a car burglar. There was some property damage and I think the amount of stuff stolen was only about a hundred dollars (not even a felony). A match was found and the burglar was arrested and charged with the crime.

I bring it up because this work is time consuming. It’s not just about finding a match with a similar DNA profile. The heritage of each sample has to be traced and a family tree somewhat mapped out, which is easier to do when you have a name than when you don’t. Tracking genealogical records to see if the two samples are indeed related and who the unknown sample might belong to within the family tree that has been mapped. Now, nearly all genealogists today work with genetic evidence to prove kinship. It still takes a lot of man hours to track down the genealogy of a genetic sample, let alone two genetic samples one without any information other than what can be gleaned from the DNA report (white male, brown eyes, blond hair, mainly of Eastern European heritage – haplogroups are amazing). Should something this time consuming be used for car burglary, especially a car burglary that is only a felony because windows are expensive?

Don’t get me wrong, all criminals should be punished for their crimes. I just believe that this investigative technique is so involved and time consuming that it should be used for violent crimes. Having your car burglarized sucks, but no one died, so perhaps the means weren’t justified by the end in that case.

The Allentown 4 – aka The Bodies in the Barrels

In 1985, a grizzly discovery was made in a wooded area near Allentown, New Hampshire. A barrel containing the bodies of an adult female and a juvenile female that had been decomposing for a long time. With advances in DNA testing that happened in the 1990s, it was determined the two female bodies were related. Possibly mother and daughter. The woman was in her late 20s or early 30s and the juvenile was maybe 8 or so years old.

Despite the bad condition they were found in, police were able to figure out that they had both suffered from being badly beaten just before they died and were sealed into the barrel. The case went cold. The identities of the woman and child were never discovered. In my post on familial DNA, I actually mentioned using this method to discover the identities of the bodies in the barrels.

In 2000 with no new leads, a new detective was assigned to the case. He went out to check out the area where the barrel had been located and found a second barrel. This barrel contained the remains of two more female children and DNA confirmed they are related to the woman, although how exactly they are related is still a mystery for some reason.

This barrel was discovered 15 years after the first barrel, even though all four murders seemed to have taken place around the same time. The reason is because the first barrel was moved from its original location. The wooded section where the bodies were found backed up to a neighborhood. Some kids had run across the barrel and begun to play with it, rolling it around, until the lid popped off. At which point, the kids apparently ran away and didn’t tell anyone about it. It was refound a few days later by a hunter and when he realized there were dead bodies in the barrel, he reported it to the police.

In 2017, police finally found a possible suspect and tip on who the woman might be. A woman living in Denver called to report that her mother had abandoned her as an infant to run off with a boyfriend named Bob Evans. Evans was actually serving time for murder in a California prison and his DNA was on file as a result. He had died in 2010.

Evans had lived in New Hampshire at the time the bodies were thought to have been placed in the barrels (1977-1981). His DNA was run and he turned out to be the biological father of one of the female children. In 2002, Bob Evans had married a young woman named Eunsoon Jun. After four months of no one hearing from her, a friend reported her as missing. Her body was found in a crawl space under Bob Evans house, mummified using cat litter.

Police were able to put together some details from Bob Evans’ life and made the discovery that Evans hadn’t just killed Eunsoon Jun. He had a history of molesting young girls. And Eunsoon Jun wasn’t his first murder or even his second. He’d been able to avoid being noticed because Bob Evans was constantly changing his identity.

Familial DNA finally identified Bob Evans as Terry Rassmussen in 2018. Rassmussen had been in the US Navy and he’d had a wife and four children, that he divorced in 1974 before setting out to see the country. This DNA evidence linked Bob Evans (Terry Rassmussen) to the 4 bodies in the barrels. And it linked him to a third murder. With the help of familial DNA we now know that Rassmussen was a serial killer and pedophile and we are that much closer to identifying the 4 bodies in the barrels.

An Urban Legend From Columbia, Missouri is Known Worldwide

I’ve mentioned dozens of times that I live in Columbia, Missouri. It is a college town with a population of 110,000 to 150,000 people depending on whether classes are in session or not and how attendance is doing. Not only do we have the home base for the University of Missouri, but we are the headquarters for a private college that has campuses all over the world – Columbia College and we still have one of the few female only colleges left in the US Stephen’s College. However, we could be known for a crime that happened in the 1940s and 1950s has made its way into urban legend status the world over.

The story is the one where the babysitter is getting creepy phone calls and when she has the number traced, the calls are coming from inside the house. The phone creepy calls can be chalked up to fictional license. The murders not so much. There were at least 2, one in 1946 and one in 1950. And a series of babysitter rapes that happened between 1945 and 1951 that police believed were all the work of the same person.

It is much harder to find records about rapes pre-1980 than murders, so my information will concentrate on the two murders, but I did find some stuff about the rapes. In late 1945, a 19 year old woman babysitting for two kids down the street told police a man broke into the house by smashing a window, tied her up and raped her saying he would kill the kids if she woke them by screaming.

In July 1946 Mary Lou Jenkins, a 20 year old woman, was found murdered by the children she was watching. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. A window at the back of the house had a pane broken out and the window had been raised.

Between 1945 and 1950, there were at least a half dozen rapes with similar details reported, all of them by young women who were raped while babysitting and who said that he would kill the children if they woke. In 1947, a young woman reported to police that a man had broken into the house where she was babysitting and had raped her. He had then tried to strangle her. When she fell unconscious, he left. She was sure he had left her thinking she was dead.

In March 1950, a family returned home around 1 am to find their babysitter, 12 year old Janett Christman had been raped and murdered. The two children she was babysitting were found unharmed in their rooms. Someone had broken a window during a thunderstorm to gain access to the house.

A man named Robert Mueller who had harassed Christman was arrested and convicted of her murder. He eventually won an appeal and a lawsuit against the State of Missouri for wrongful conviction and left the area.

However, if Mueller wasn’t the right man, then the right man was paying very close attention. Once Mueller was arrested, no more babysitter rapes happened.

The reason the urban legend is thought to be based upon these specific crimes is because in the urban legend, the babysitter goes upstairs to check on the kids after the caller asks if they are alright. And the babysitter rapist used threats of violence against the children in the babysitter’s care as a means to control them.

8 Insane Roman Emperors

History has been brutal to 8 Roman emperors, they are considered bloodthirsty madmen. They are Caligula, Nero, Commodus, Elagabalus, Domitian, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla), Tiberius, and Diocletian. However, most of the stories about their cruelty are probably exaggerated or completely made up and even if a normal person had lead the lives they lived, a little madness would be expected.

Nero did not fiddle as Rome burnt, he wasn’t even in Rome when the Great Fire broke out and the fiddle had not yet been invented. And he didn’t have the fire set, most historians agree that the fire that killed thousands of people was probably set by the Christians. Which was Nero’s opinion at the time. In the aftermath of the fire, Nero opened the treasury up to rebuild the city, even having villas and houses built and donating them to tradespeople who couldn’t afford to rebuild. For the record, Nero was still a jerk, he just wasn’t as big a jerk as history makes him out to be. He did cut off his wife’s head and present it to his mistress as an engagement present afterall… But he wasn’t specifically trying to burn the citizens of Rome and he didn’t take delight in the fire.

Caligula might very well have been a bit paranoid and he did not trust the Senate or the wealthy citizens of Rome. But he survived 5 assassination attempts, so perhaps his paranoia was justified. Also, it’s the 1st Century, cruel rulers aren’t exactly unknown the world over. However, Caligula wasn’t doing anything different than any other ruler of the time. Disobedience was met with swiftly and harshly. Plus, his sister was always trying to snatch the throne away from him for her son – Nero – so perhaps punishing disobedience and disloyalty was the right course of action. As far as sanity goes though, Caligula declared war on the god Neptune, ruler of the Seas. So his elevator may not have gone all the way to the top.

Commodus was made famous by Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Gladiator. Until then, most modern people had never heard of him. Commodus also dealt with several assassination attempts by members of his family and the Senate and as such, didn’t trust either of them very much, which is understandable. Towards the end of his reign, he did start accusing anyone near him of trying to kill him every time he got sick, often ordering them killed. However, Commodus’ own wife, did indeed try to poison his food, so again he might have been paranoid with good reason.

Tiberius was the successor of Augustus. And his biggest problem was that his stepfather hadn’t wanted him as heir. Augustus constantly told Tiberius that he was stupid and didn’t deserve the throne. But Tiberius was a very smart military strategist and earned his spot as Emperor when his stepfather died without having named an heir, the military supported Tiberius’ claim. However, when those with money know that you were not supposed to be in the head spot, they tend to plot against you and the wealthy of Rome did exactly that. Tiberius ended up having to bring back treason trials as a result of the plotting and it wiped out a few families that held positions within the Senate, which made him more enemies. Tiberius like his successor Caligula would also deal with multiple assassination attempts. I don’t know how much poison one person can ingest before it makes them a bit wonky, but Tiberius and Caligula and Commodus probably had every bit of those doses.

Elagabalus was a teenager who had never even visited Rome when he became Emperor. His grandmother was a relative of the Emperor and she plotted to make Elagabalus emperor. He was just 14 when he was given the power to rule an empire. Elagabalus was 14 and like most 14 year old boys, he didn’t like to listen to his elders and he had the same sense of humor as most 12 year old boys. Elagabalus was ruled by his hormones, taking a string of brides, and expressing some extreme sexual tastes, it’s fairly difficult to offend Romans when it came to sex, but Elagabalus managed. When he was 18, his grandmother (the same that had instilled him as emperor) had him murdered.

Caracalla’s father Septimius Severus wasn’t all that thrilled at the idea of having his son serve as emperor, but Caracalla was the oldest. To temper his impulsiveness, Septimius Severus made his two sons co-heirs and co-emperors. Caracalla served for two years as co-emperor with his brother Geta, but things didn’t go well. The two could not agree on anything and it was dividing the empire. To fix it, Caracalla had Geta killed. At which point, Romans who had supported Geta began plotting against Caracalla. Caracalla became paranoid. Caracalla reacted violently, sending troops into the Egyptian city of Alexandria and executing any person suspected of plotting an uprising against Caracalla.

Diocletian on the list is actually the result of the influence of the Catholic Church on history. He was actually a really good emperor, very capable, the Empire saw an improved economy and expanded. Diocletian even had a co-emperor that ruled half the empire from Alexandria, Egypt while he ruled from Rome. But he really enjoyed finding new ways to kill Christians, whom he considered troublemakers. After the Catholic Church rose to power, the history of Diocletian was revised a bit by them, to make him seem crazier and crueler than he was.

Domitian isn’t all that different from Diocletian. As far as emperors went, he was really good at it and the empire prospered under his leadership. However, he was suspicious of the Senate like most emperors and he had 12 of them killed one night at a dinner party… or that’s the story. Domitian like Diocletian fell victim to some revisionist history at the hands of the Catholic Church long after his death, because he had the same hobby as Diocletian, killing Christians for fun and profit.

Family Tree Forensics

In 2018, law enforcement using the assistance of GEDMatch a DNA database made up of millions of volunteered DNA samples managed to use that database and the work of a DNA sleuth to capture Serial Rapist Joseph DeAngelo. At that time (The Golden State Killer), it was predicted that family tree forensics would be used even more by law enforcement. GEDMatch officially changed its terms of service to let users of the site know that GEDMatch would be available to law enforcement bureaus.

And it has solved at least 5 more cold case murders in Pennsylvania, Washington, Texas, Michigan, and Virginia, as well as helping identify a man who committed suicide at a Seattle motel just a few days after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers who checked in under a false name.

In the Washington murder case, two Canadians came down to run errands in the Sea-Tac area and were found murdered on a deserted road. The man had been strangled, the girl raped and shot in the head. The man they arrested wasn’t in the system, his DNA didn’t appear in any of the local or national forensics databases. Any crimes he committed after the murders were not crimes where DNA could be forcibly taken and put into the national forensic databases.

The case was 30+ years old with no new leads. He wouldn’t have been caught if two of his cousins had not provided samples to GEDMatch. I’m all for putting murderers in prison, but I would be horrified if the power I gave to the SCTU was wielded by any branch of law enforcement. And I’m not convinced that law enforcement having access to GEDMatch isn’t a little close to the powers outlined by the SCTU. I could actually go back and forth on this thought process for days. Sometimes, I’m okay with, sometimes I’m not and I do believe in taking responsibility for one’s own actions – if you don’t want to go to prison for murder, don’t commit murder – but should your cousins’ attempts to find out their ancestry be used against you – but again…

However, I can think of lots of exciting ways to use it. How about the Orange Socks case? Not the killer’s DNA, but hers, could it help us find out who she was and return her to her people? Or what about the family found in barrels in New Hampshire?

I mentioned a DNA sleuth earlier, it is a necessary part of Family Tree Forensics, someone who understands DNA has to work back from the available samples in the database to get to a person. Sometimes, the DNA in the database are cousins to the sample. That requires someone to fill in the blanks, how can Person X (the unknown sample) be related to Person A and Person B? For instance, one of the cases had an complication because the person they thought should have provided paternal DNA didn’t… in other words, he wasn’t the child of his father apparently. Which created a hitch.

Furthermore, sometimes “cousins” don’t share as much DNA as one would think. I know the DNA I share with my first cousins on my mom’s side is much closer in relation to each other than the DNA I share with my first cousins on my dad’s side because of divorces, re-marriages, etc.

As this continues to grow, I’ll try to keep up on it, I think it is fascinating and could be so helpful for crime fighting and identification of John and Jane Does. (I would love to see DNA work done in the Talmud Shud case, both phenotyping and family tree could be incredibly exciting).

Not Getting Easier

The evolution of technology should make it easier to solve crimes, but the reality is a bit different. Even when fingerprints, DNA, and a witness or victim gets a photo or video of the criminal, there has to be something to compare and match it to, which can be difficult even when the criminal is a repeat offender.

I know that sounds nearly impossible, but with fingerprints, it’s quite easy. Some years ago, I accidentally cut off the pad of my ring finger with scissors. When the skin grew back, it was missing part of the finger print. The main part with the biggest grouping of loops and whirls. It doesn’t look like a scar exactly, it isn’t raised or anything, it’s just a section of my finger where when you look at it it’s completely smooth. However, a doctor told me even if it hadn’t grown back smooth, there’s no guarantee it would have grown back with the exact same pattern on it had before I accidentally cut it off.

Even security videos aren’t without faults. In Boston some years ago, a man in his 20s went missing from a bar. He was seen on video surveillance in the bar, but at the end of the night, he was gone and never heard from again, yet the cameras didn’t see him leave. CCTV in London followed a man for several blocks, he stepped out of view of the cameras in one area and just never reappeared. A decade later and no one has ever heard from him again either. Then there’s the bizarre Elisa Lam surveillance video footage of her in the elevator, right before she disappeared only to be found several weeks later in the water tanks on the roof of the hotel she had disappeared from, but without any evidence or ideas on how she got there.

In 2016, between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro Brazil there were 2 different days when it rained blood and what appeared to be meat. There are lots of pictures and videos of the event taken by people with cell phones, but no adequate explanation has been found for the events.

The disappearing men were eventually chalked up to being murdered, but their bodies haven’t been found and I’m not convinced murder covers it, healthy male 20-somethings are not the preferred victim pool of killers. Did they have a break from reality and disappear of their own accord then? It sounds fantastic, but it does happen.

Or does something happen to them to cause amnesia like the guy in California who appeared on several episodes of Unsolved Mysteries in the 1980s and 1990s whose identity was eventually discovered and he was returned to his family in Canada still without memory of who he was or what had happened to him?

And technology didn’t help solve the mystery of the possessed family in Indiana a few years ago that made national news. As a matter of fact, it deepened it. Someone once commented to me that they wished the Dyatlov Pass victims had been in possession of video cameras so we would know what made them flee their tent to their deaths. Except, I’m not sure it would have solved the mystery. Even if they had captured video of a yeti stalking them or a mysterious alien craft landing near their tent, would we believe it?

The Pirate Code

The modern idea of pirate life is fairly inaccurate on nearly every front. About the only thing we do seem to get right is the idea that some pirates were more ruthless than others, men like Blackbeard and Black Bart really were horrible to come up against. Let’s set the record straight about the pirate’s code of conduct though.

  1. Nearly all pirate ships were run as a democracy. They would actually vote on which ships to attack, when to enforce harsh punishments, and how many hostages to kill.
  2. Spoils were split evenly among all the crew, although rank did have privileges, it also had responsibilities. Blackbeard required new crew men of rank (first mates, gunners, botswainsmen, etc) to invest in the common stock fund first.
  3. There was no fighting on board the ship. All quarrels between crew mates were to be settled on the shore, where they could be replaced should one of them die during the duel.
  4. Black Bart and Blackbeard were contemporaries and both made gambling on the ship an offense punishable by death for practical reasons. Gambling leads to fighting. Also, Black Bart encouraged sailors that sailed with him to save their money and invest it; in case they outlived their usefulness on a ship.
  5. Dates were not allowed to be brought back to the ship by any member of the crew, including a captain.
  6. Don’t steal.
  7. Stand by your friends, loyalty went a long way among pirates.
  8. Same Sex Marriages were allowed and legally binding upon the ship. Let’s say you and your best friend both enlisted as crew upon a pirate ship, you could get married, not for sexual reasons but for burial and financial reasons. Once married, if you died, your mate got your portion of the spoils. However, they were also responsible for shipping your body home for burial and paying for it. Like gambling, it was a rule that nodded to practicality.
  9. On any ship captained by Black Bart curfew was 8 pm. That was what time shore leave ended and when the ship wasn’t docked, it was the time you were expected to hit the hay, unless you were standing look-out. Blackbeard was slightly more lenient putting his crew to bed at 8:30.
  10. Finally, Black Bart and Blackbeard both ran a disability pension program. If you lost a limb or eye or whatever when the ship was in battle, they would pay you a small salary from something they called the common stock which was treated exactly like a person when bounty was divided up. The common stock kept the ship in running order, supplies on board, and it paid out to pirates who became disabled. It would also pay out death benefits to a widow with children in the event her husband died aboard the ship.

To pass away the long hours, Black Bart kept musicians aboard his vessel. The only day they got off was Sundays and they might actually have worked less than modern cruise ship musicians and been paid more.