Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Unnecessary Headaches: Wikipedia

Click the pic to go to the article
Wikipedia can be a great tool to initialize a research project but I would strongly encourage anyone writing a term paper to never quote Wikipedia directly (if ever).  You see, the problem is that the same person who might have written an article about cancer treatment also wrote the episode guides for ALF, which is okay if it just happens to be an oncologist that also is a big fan of ALF but I would guess that isn't the case.  Over the holiday I decided to look at the Wiki entry for the Villisca case, just to see what was written there; big mistake.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Victimology: Pauline Showman

The frame is to class up the the
poor quality picture
Continuing in my series on the victims I'll write a bit more on Pauline Showman.  As readers may know, when the murder of the Showman family was discovered, investigators immediately settled on the motive being revenge against Pauline for...something.  For small, Midwestern town sheriffs and night marshals this would be a natural conclusion to make.  Mrs. Showman was mistreated after she was killed and was the only victim in the house which received any postmortem attack.  See here for comparison.  Pauline was born in Kansas to John and Theressia Kratky in Dec of 1885 and was one of the younger of many Kratky children.  John and Theressia had emigrated to the United States around 1878, right after their daughter, Wilhelmina, or Willie, had been born in their native country, Czechoslovakia, which was sometimes referred to as Bohemia. John farmed mostly but his children pitched in to help the family where they could.  At the age of 14, Pauline took the job of a live-in house keeper for another family in the county.  In 1904 Pauline would meet and marry a local chauffeur named Will Showman.  I am only speculating but it is likely that he was working for the same family that Polly was keeping house for.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Suspect Roundup: The Rainier Unsub

Cuz unsubs are camera shy
I don't know if anyone is still actually reading this blog but in an effort to keep myself on a somewhat regular posting schedule I've decided to introduce a new, monthly feature/post; The Suspect Roundup.  I will be featuring one suspect, from the well known and plausible to the unknown and incomprehensible. I'll provide photos when available but when a photo isn't available, you'll see something like the image on the left. So without further delay, let me start off with my first Suspect Roundup!

The Rainier Unsub is the name I give to a man who wandered onto a ranch in Roy, Washington, a little hamlet about 12 miles away from Rainier.  The owner of the ranch, Frank Betchard, related to authorities a tale of a man who came knocking on his door to beg a meal on Wednesday, about 2:00 p.m., after the murders..  This in of itself is not remarkable but the conversation at dinner might have been.  According to Mrs. Betchard and her daughter, the man spoke about the Coble murder which had occurred on Monday night, the 10th of July.  They specifically stated that the man said "there had been a murder in Rainier Monday night."  The crime wasn't discovered until Tuesday the 11th in the afternoon and wasn't carried in any newspaper until Wednesday morning, the 12th.  The Betchard family had no knowledge of the crime until the unknown beggar told them about it at 2:00 P.M. the 12th.  Now I do have to concede that it is possible this beggar had spent Tuesday evening in the town of Yelm, woke up and saw the news in the paper and told the Betchards.  Yelm is just five miles south of Roy but Yelm had no local paper until 1922.  The nearest large cities which likely were the major newspaper distribution points were Tacoma and Olympia, both 17 miles away as the crow flies.  Either of these newspapers would have been in Yelm Wednesday morning screaming headlines about the murder.  But wouldn't it follow that the Betchards would have heard about the murders by 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday as well?
Headline from Wednesday, July 12, 1911
As you can see from the headline, this was a "last edition" copy which implies there was an earlier, morning addition proclaiming that a murder had occurred.  The description the Betchard women gave of their beggar was "younger, better dressed and darker complected [then the suspect mentioned above]."  Which means he would have been (or looked) younger then 60/45 (the paper declared the suspect to "look 45"), dressed better than an itinerant hobo/railroad laborer and darker complected then an emigrant from Sweden, and we all know how tan those Scandinavians can look.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Woeful Story of Mrs. Emma Hill

We have probably all known or heard of someone whose story is so sad you'd swear it was the plot of an Ingmar Bergmen film. The story of Emma Bell Hill, mother of May Hill, seems to be such a story. In my victimology of May Burnham I recounted how John Hill moved his family across the country following his job with the railroad. By 1905 John had essentially left the family to go work in the mining regions of "frontier" Colorado. He sent money back to the family but it didn't seem to be enough. By 1910 he was in Mexico, where he would stay the rest of his life, never seeing his family again, dying in 1950. In 1911 Emma began divorce proceedings from her estranged husband, of course around the time this was happening her oldest daughter and only living grandchildren would be murdered.

Now by all accounts, Emma Hill was very close with her son-in-law, Arthur Burnham, and declared his innocence every time a reporter was near enough to hear, even going so far as to dramatically proclaim her belief at her daughter's and grandchildren's funeral. In February of 1912, Arthur Burnham would finally succumb to the tuberculosis that had brought him to Colorado in the first place and Emma would lose the man who'd become "like a son" to her.

Her divorce from John would be granted in 1914 and in 1919 Emma would remarry to William Carnahan, a man about ten years her senior. Now 1919 would turn out to be a good year for Emma as she was able to celebrate her new marriage and the birth of her grandson, Patrick Ruth. Called "Pattie" for short, he was the son of Emma's youngest daughter, Nettie and her husband, June Ruth. The celebration was short lived, however, as tragedy would strike twice. First, Nettie would die early in 1920 then her grandson Pattie would die the following year. Sometime after that her new husband, William Carnahan would pass away. In 1930, Mrs. Hill was shown in the census as living alone as a widow. She would die in April of 1955. She is currently interred in the grave next to Arthur's family so if you happen to be visiting the Burnham's, don't forget to show a little respect to Emma Bell Hill, I think she earned it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How I spent my weekend...

The structure on the left is the chapel at the Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. I had a chance to visit so I took a trip. Unfortunately, as is my tendency, I left my notes about where the Burnham family was interred back at the hotel. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just drive around till I find the 'old section' of the cemetery and find it that way." Well I'd still be in the cemetery looking if it hadn't been for my trusty Droid. I have to admit it felt strange traveling all that way to visit the graves of people I am not related to and never met in my life. I haven't put near the amount of time and effort into researching these crimes as some and still I felt just the slightest bit of a connection to those people. A silly sense of loss, a quiet pang of remorse and a general feeling of sadness. As I stood there in front of the old headstone I looked around and saw the various other graves surrounding me. There were more then a few that were decorated with fresh flowers or trinkets as this is still an active section of the cemetery. Today, I'm pretty certain the Burnham's receive visitors but it isn't the same kind of visitor their silent neighbors get. There's nothing wrong with that either because it means someone is remembering; someone is recalling. I have no answers if a person seeks the "why" or "who" of what is ultimately a senseless tragedy, but as long as someone asks those questions then I feel I am doing the Burnhams, Waynes and the other victims some kind of service.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Questions about the Dawsons and the crime…

During the last year I have doing my best to track down more information about William Dawson and his family. I have come up with nothing I didn’t already know. You can read about that here. Instead of rehashing the Dawson murders I would like to discuss something I’ve found interesting about the Monmouth crime; location, location, location.

The photo above is the former location of the Dawson's house as seen through Google Maps. The blue line indicates the direction the killer went after the murders. To the north of the house is the section of the railroad tracks nearest the house. It’s approximately a half mile way. The portion of town south of those tracks was referred to by locals as the “colored section” of town, indicating a high concentration of black families. Now I don’t know what the ratio of black to white households in that part of town were in 1911 but it probably leaned heavily toward black since this was also where the brand new “colored church” was located (right across the street from the Dawson’s home in fact). The question I have is this; what are the odds a killer would pick, at random, one of the few white families in a heavily black community? Just something I think about…

The Monmouth crime has something in common with Villisca besides the obvious things. Both in Villisca and Monmouth the crime scenes were located quite a bit farther away from the railroad tracks then at the other crime scenes. In Colorado Springs, the tracks were just a half a block away; in Ellsworth they were almost in the front yard of the house and in Paola they were only a few houses away. If the killer was utilizing the railroad to make his escape then he needed to walk quite a ways through both Villisca and Monmouth before getting to the tracks where he likely escaped from town. Does this indicate the killer had some knowledge of at least those two towns?

If there are any descendants of William and Charity Dawson who are reading this post, I would be very interested in hearing from you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

User error or something...

Sorry about the formatting thing going on with the previous post. I've tried everything but Blogger appears to be smarter than I am.

Problems with Profiling …

Profiling is the double edged sword of criminal investigation. On the one hand it can be beneficial in building a strategy for interrogation and investigation of suspects but on the other hand it can create false leads and throw off investigations. John Douglas, one of the FBI detectives who helped create the discipline of criminal profiling, has stated that profiling is just one tool an investigator can use to apprehend a killer. It is through hard and tireless work of detectives that crimes are solved. Historic crime hobbyists, me included, often reach for modern concepts to gain insight into crimes of the past. This can be both fun and yield some new avenues of investigation. The problem comes when people watch TV shows like CSI and Criminal Minds which tend to portray psychological profilers as some kind of warlock looking through layers of time to see the murderer. Can modern profiling be useful in historic crimes? Yes but I think there are problems when context isn’t considered.

Warlocks (and a witch) with dramatic Sunglasses of Omniscience!

Context can be a major problem when profiling a historic crime. Robert Ressler offers a profile of the killer based on the Villisca crime scene in the excellent documentary Villisca: Living with a Mystery. In his opinion the killer was a “mixed typology.” Okay, Inspector, so what? You say the same thing. Well to answer my own hypothetical (and slightly schizophrenic) question I have to point out a couple of those elements which make the crime scene disorganized.

1) Weapon left at the crime scene

2) Lots of forensic evidence (fingerprints as far as I know) left at crime scene

First of all, you have to understand the difference between criminal investigation in 1911 and criminal investigation in the 1970’s (when these typologies were proposed). Aside from the awesome soundtrack of a 1970’s investigation, there also needs to be consideration for what tools were available to an investigator at the time. The organized killer plans out the crime in large part to conceal his/her involvement. By 1970 fingerprint, fiber and blood analysis were common ways a crime was investigated. By the time the typologies of Organized, Disorganized and Mixed entered into investigations (1992) forensics had advanced geometrically in ways that a serial killer in 1911 would never have imagined. An Organized offender today would take steps to ensure no finger prints, hairs or blood (or other body fluids) was left behind at the crime scene because these are all things which modern forensics can trace back to the killer.

In 1911 the organized offender didn’t have to worry about these things at all. Investigators could barely tell if blood found at the scene was human, let alone a blood type. Fingerprint analysis was in its very early stage and it had not been used to solve a crime in the United States yet (with the exception of Bertillon anthropometry). A killer in 1911 could wipe his forehead with a handkerchief, throw it on the floor then spit and there wasn’t anything an investigator could glean from, what today would be, very damning evidence.

This leads me into the weapon being left at the scene of the crime. Organized offenders tend to not do this because often the murder weapon rolls into the fantasy being played out and also the whole forensics argument again. In 1911 discarding the weapon would have been the most effective means of concealing involvement in the crime. And it wasn’t like the killer was disposing of something relatively valuable, like a gun, it was just something he’d stolen (untraceable to him) and had no value to him at all because the next time he felt the urge to kill he could just steal another. Discarding the weapon in another spot would have also been riskier then leaving it at the crime scene. The killer wasn’t throwing the weapon into the trunk of his car and driving away, he was walking (running) to make his getaway. Carrying an axe, lead pipe or pick while doing so would slow him down and if he was stopped and questioned, that was it. He was sure to swing. One could argue that leaving the weapon at the scene was a trait of the Organized killer in 1911.

P.S. ~ The Halloween season is upon us. For those of you who found this place Googling “axe murder” or “serial killers,” welcome. Look around and leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Victimology: May A. Burnham

Victimology is becoming a much more important area of study in the larger field of criminology. Most often a criminal is caught by tracking down points in time and locations at which the victim may have contacted the perpetrator. What were the victim’s habits or actions that might have led to this contact? Often times a victim who seems to be a low risk for violent crime is discovered to have engaged in high risk behaviors such as drug use or prostitution. Victimology is not without controversy. Victim’s advocates have argued this is a way of assigning partial responsibility for the criminal’s actions to the victim themselves (the old “[he, she] was asking for it” fallacy. In fact there is a term in sociology, penal couple, which assigns near equal blame to the victims of violent crimes. As an anthropologist I think this, along with a lot of sociology, is utter crap. But that’s for another day. For now let’s look at May Burnham.

Twenty-five year old May Alice Burnham was the oldest daughter of John and Emma Hill. John met Emma while working for the railroad making railroad ties and they were married about 1882. John’s job would require him to move his family on down the line as the rails were built. May and her younger sister Nettie would be born in Kansas before John picked up and moved the family on into Colorado Springs. Around 1890 Emma had had enough and it was time her daughters went to school. John purchased a house and took a job as a wagon maker, giving his family some geographic stability for a change. May and her sister were extremely close growing up, likely owing to their constant relocation, and this closeness remained strong even after both of them had married. John, it seems, took up with the railroad shortly after Nettie had married. This time his work as a carpenter for the railroad took him south into Mexico. This is where he was at the time of his oldest daughter’s murder. Shortly before this, Emma, now making pastries at a local hotel, petitioned for a divorce.

May would marry Arthur, then a recovering “lunger” around 1904. Arthur worked as a store clerk in various locations throughout Colorado Springs, including a candy store near the neighborhood they would later live in. When Arthur’s tuberculosis became worse and he moved into the sanitarium almost full time, May became essentially a single mother. She and the children moved into her childhood home to live with her mother for a while. Sometime in the middle of 1910, Arthur was deemed well enough to leave the sanitarium occasionally and he moved his family out of Emma’s house and into the upstairs rooms of Anna Merritt. It was during this time that Anna and May would become good friends. Some time in early 1911, Arthur would discover the little cottage on the edge of town, near the railroad tracks. It was a quiet little neighborhood and very near the road out to the sanitarium.

One thing to examine when putting together a victimology is the kind of behaviors a victim has that put them into contact with strangers. In order to make ends meet, May would take in “overflow” from Anna Merritt’s house when someone needed a bed for the night. This often involved renting the bed in one of the two rooms of the house. The door between these rooms had a lock on it and could be secured from one side although I admit I do not know which side it was. May also allowed borders to rent the hammock on the front porch of the house. This would have brought her into contact with strangers regularly and in the few weeks the Waynes lived in their home, would have brought them into contact with these strangers as well. Because of the proximity to the D&RG railroad tracks and with the prevalence of “stowaway” passengers on (yes I know, hobos) they would have seen more then their fair share of itinerant strangers as well. For a general timeline of the Burnham’s movements on the day of the murders, go here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Entrances, Exits and Procurement…

The neighborhood the Burnham and Wayne families lived in was decidedly lower class and populated by people of very little means. It was just a half a block away from the Denver & Rio Grand railroad tracks. To the west of the homes ran a trolley line which ran late at night in order to accommodate the late shift workers of the Golden Cycle Mill to the west. Below is a (not scale) map of the neighborhood from 1909. The map is running with North on the right side. The arrows indicate the two houses and are pointing in the direction the front doors faced. The houses running along the trolley tracks were all vacant but due to the high use of the road they faced, there were electric street lamps running in front of them. The “Alley” to the east of the two houses was dark.

I think the most likely path of the killer was along the Alley. He could have come in from the west but would have risked being seen entering the back yards of the vacant houses along the trolley line. By coming in from the railroad tracks in the east and cutting south into the Alley, the killer would have been moving in almost complete darkness. Why did he then choose the Wayne’s house to enter? By coming from either the south or the north through the alley he would have passed two other occupied houses first; Joseph and Martha Evans to the south of the Wayne’s house, and Mrs. C. L. Brown's house just across the Alley from the Burnhams. There are two characteristics that stick out to me as possible reasons for skipping those two houses. First, the Browns were African-American. Second, the Evans were in their fifties. Opportunity didn’t seem to be a factor since the killer forced entry into both murder houses so if he was willing to break into those two houses, why not the Evans or Brown homes? "But are implying the murders weren't random!" Kind of, yeah. I don't think the killer actively stalked the victims in Colorado Springs but I also don't believe he just broke into a house without any idea who might be in there. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest the killer observed his victims at Ellsworth and Villisca. I think it is likely he did the same in Colorado Springs. There were numerous spots, including vacant houses, surrounding the crime scenes where the killer could have hidden and observed his targets. A worker on his way to the Golden Cycle Mill reported that he observed a man "loitering" in the vicinity around midnight on the night of the murders. Could this have been our guy?

Maybe one of these guys knows?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Victimology: Blanche V. Wayne

I have already gone into Blanche Wayne’s family background here so I won’t repeat it. I want to try, as best I can, to follow her movements before the night of September 17th, 1911. Blanche had just turned 23 and from photos and descriptions was quite pretty.

Based on Arthur Burnham’s statement that Henry Wayne had called him on August 23rd (a Wednesday) then it is likely that the entire Wayne family arrived in Colorado Springs either on or near that date. Burnham stated that he spoke to Wayne about the cottage and the next time Burnham went home (Wednesday the 30th) the Waynes had moved in. The little cottage was $6 per month rent (about $138 today) and Henry paid for two months in advance. Lulumay and the Burnham children played in the back of the houses from time to time and May Burnham had told Arthur “[Blanche was] a nice little woman.”

Colorado Savings Bank (1950s)

From the time the Waynes moved into the little cottage, Blanche would be seen around the neighborhood with her daughter while on walks to the corner store and to the park a few blocks away. To a person, those in the neighborhood said they didn’t know the Waynes well. The only exceptions were apparently May Burnham and Grant Collins, the owner of the corner store. Collins told investigators he saw the Wayne family almost every day but hadn’t really talked to them until the Sunday afternoon before their deaths. Blanche apparently did speak to her neighbors as some of them stated she told them the $55 Henry placed into savings was from the sale of furniture in Indiana. Some time during the week of September 17th, 1911, Blanche spoke to her neighbor, Martha Evans, about barrowing her axe, which would ironically become the murder weapon. There hasn’t been anything in my research to indicate Blanche or Henry were high probability targets for violent crime. If anyone has any more information about Henry or Blanche Wayne, particularly from relatives, I would really appreciate hearing from you. I would like to flesh out these victimologies with a bit more info and history.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Victimology: Henry Wayne

September 17th, 2011 will mark 100 years since the (unofficial?) beginning of the series of murders known as the Midwest Axe Murders. I am in the camp of these murders being the work of a highly mobile serial killer. Of particular interest to those who study serial killers are the victimology. What traits, characteristics or actions lead to the killer choosing this particular victim? Ideally I want to start examining the victims a bit more in order to gather information that could lead to, at least a few, conclusions about victim selection by the killer. Since the Wayne’s were possibly the very first victims of the Midwest Axeman, I’ll look at them first, starting with Henry “Frank” Wayne.

Henry Wayne was the third of eight children born to George and Terrissa Wayne. Henry grew up in Pulaski County, Indiana, near the small town of Medaryville. George was a farmer, originally from Ohio, and made sure his children went to school. Henry alternatively went by Frank which was the short form of his middle name, Francis. Henry married Blanche McGinnis in 1908 and their daughter, Lulamay was born in 1909. Probably around September of 1910 Henry left for Colorado Springs to receive treatment for tuberculosis at the recently opened Modern Woodman Sanatorium. He stayed in the Sanatorium for 11 months and was released. Arthur Burnham told investigators he had told Henry about the cottage next to his and Henry decided to move in. According to Burnham that was the extent of their socializing. In early August of 1911 Burnham was told by the cook at the sanatorium that Henry was to be his replacement in the kitchen. Henry worked there for a few days then went back to Indiana to bring out his family. On August 23, Henry placed a call with the operator to Burnham and asked about the empty cottage next door. On August 31, 1911 Henry made a deposit of $55.00 ($1300 today) in a local bank. Blanche Wayne had told neighbors this was from the sale of furniture in Indiana.

A restored TB hut on the old grounds of the Modern Woodman Sanatorium

Initial investigations of the murders focused around love triangle hypotheses and it wasn’t just regarding the Burnhams. Remember I said in a previous post that Denver Chief of Police Hamilton Armstrong believed the murderer was a woman? Well the hypothesis behind this belief was Henry, away from his family for so long, had been friendly with another woman and Henry broke the whole thing off when his wife and daughter got to town. There isn’t anything to suggest this was the case at all. In fact it’s very likely that Henry spent the majority of his time at the sanatorium before he was released. According to accounts in the newspaper, Henry had no friends in the city and only vague acquaintances at the sanatorium any way. The only solid evidence of Henry interacting with anyone was an argument he was seen having with another man in the front yard of his cottage the week before the murders. No one could say what the argument was about and the man was never found.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Cobles of Rainier...

Just 150 miles north of Ardenwald, in a little cottage just outside Rainier, Washington, Archie Coble, formerly of Topaz, Missouri, was just starting his life with his brand new wife, Nettie. Nettie was about 10 years younger than Archie and said to be quite attractive. Archie worked in Rainier at a general store as a clerk and had to start his way into town very early, following the nearby railroad tracks into town. On the night of July 10, 1911 it was a full moon. Archie set his alarm clock for midnight so he could begin his day. Archie did not make it to work that morning.
I have only mentioned this case in passing. I now want to go into a bit more detail about it. I told you before that I am not certain about the link between Ardenwald and the rest of the “Midwest Axe Murders.” But I have more information about the Coble crime scene that makes this particular murder very intriguing to me. When the bodies were discovered on Tuesday night, the back door of the cottage was open. The bed in the front room where the bodies lay was tucked into a corner. Archie slept on the outside and was lying on his back. Nettie slept on the inside against the wall and was lying on her left side, facing the wall. So what are the similarities here?
First, the disposition of the bodies; both lying in bed with sheets pulled up over the victim’s heads. Archie had been hit once or twice and I’m not certain how many blows Nettie absorbed. Archie had a cotton handkerchief placed on top of his face. Nettie was positioned slightly down off her pillow and lower in the bed. The position was believed by investigators to suggest she had awoken and made an attempt to evade the killer’s axe. If you want comparison see here. Left out of the news reports was the fact that Nettie had been “criminally assaulted” which would have occurred postmortem (see here and here).
Another, similar element was an oil lamp. On top of the lantern glass were smears of blood, indicating the killer had handled the chimney after the attacks. Was this to remove the chimney in order to look upon the scene by the flicker of a dim, open flame? The murder weapon was a double bitted axe and had been placed on the bed cover. The crime was described by investigators as “cleaned up” which, while vague, indicates that little bit of OCD inherent in serial killers. The killer apparently exited the cottage through the bedroom window as indicated by shoe prints found in the soft soil outside the window. In a “tent house” located behind the cottage was found a bloody newspaper which either means the killer went into the tent after the murders to look around or went there to go to sleep. I’ll get into the suspects in another post. So was this a random act of violence or the second (or first) in a series of bloody murders?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Darwin Linn (1934 - 2011), owner and restorer of the old farmhouse now known as The Villisca Ax Murder House, passed away July 15th, 2011. My condolences to his family and friends. I never met Mr. Linn but I have him to thank, or blame, for my interest in this series of historic crimes. I recall when I first heard of Villisca which set me off on this goose chase of history. I was doing some research on Lizzy Borden and came across a link to a site about the restoration of an old farmhouse in a town I'd never heard of. Being the macabre sort I figured there must be a reason the link popped up at all so I checked it out and I was hooked.

In spite of controversy Mr. Linn pressed on with the restoration. The house has been placed on the National Register of Historic Sites and won an award from the Iowa Historic Preservation Association. Mr. Linn was an historian, plain and simply put. He will be missed by many. Rest in peace, Darwin.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Red Herrings and such...

Some things I know that may or may not be true (or important):

Paola, KS: June 6th, 1912, shortly after midnight, a night watchman for the MK&T railroad saw an "ungangly" figure running south down the tracks, "wildly flailing." The figure tripped and ate dirt, got back up and continued his run.

In August July of 1911, a young Rainier, Washington couple was found dead in their bed, having been bludgeoned to death in their sleep. Both bodies were covered with bed clothes and at least one of the victims' face was covered with a "cotton handkerchief."

At least one of the crime scenes in Louisiana and Texas had victims faces covered with bed sheets as well as an article of clothing or some other piece of cloth.

Just some little things I've discovered. Feel free to discuss :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

You never know how the Jury will go...

Apparently a forgone conclusion was NOT reached today in Florida. There are two ways to take a trial like this; either justice prevails or the prosecution was a bunch of nincompoops. I find the defense's tactic interesting but altogether necessary and not the first time it has been done. Casey Anthony's defense team referred to their client as a "lying, no-good slut" taking away the ammo of the prosecution and choosing not to try and defend the "indefensible" acts of a mother who many thought should have been behaving less like a Girls Gone Wild stereotype and more like a parent desperate to find her daughter. During the 1917 trial of Rev. Lyn Kelly, Kelly's defense argued their client was crazy. They pointed out his "confession" to sinking the Lusitania and his antics inside the courtroom did nothing to dissuade the jury of his outhouse rat personality. While the prosecution relied on his confession for the Moore-Stillinger murders they also made a point of drawing attention to how crazy the minister was. The defense knew they couldn't just stand up and say "Reverend Kelly's just really unique," and get away with it so they doubled down and went with the "hell yeah he's crazy, but he's not a murderer."

With this acquittal it isn't likely Caylee Anthony will ever have justice. I cannot say for certain that Casey Anthony was the murderer of her daughter but her actions indicate she certainly knew more about the case then she let on. I'll leave it to blowhards like Nancy Grace to scream about miscarriages of justice on this one. For now perhaps we can all move on and those who wish to can mourn the senseless loss a beautiful little girl. But I am getting out the popcorn in anticipation of the number of people who will try to capitalize on this verdict, from Casey herself to juror numbers five and twelve and alternates three and six.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gearing up

As some of you may have heard, the beginning of the end did NOT occur this past Saturday. In preparation for a return to posting I'm stretching my legs a bit with this story. Since everyone else in the blog-world is writing about it I figure I might as well join in. What does Harold Camping have to do with the Midwest Axe Murders? You have to humor me to get there.

When a good speaker believes what he's saying strongly enough, it's quite easy to convince others of the truth of their words. For the most part, we hear only of those who use their conviction and voice for bad things, like starting World War II. Indeed the term "Drinking the Kool-Aid" derives from one such infamous event carried out at the behest of a charismatic madman. Now Mr. Camping doesn't deserve the same condemnation as the two examples above, but he clearly believed in his own words and those words led to bad decisions being made by others, as well as significant windfalls to his organization. James N. Wilkerson was such a fellow as well. He was a firm believer in conspiracies and weaved together a story of business rivalry, lust and money so compelling it divides a town nearly 100 years later. All the major players in the drama have long since been buried but the arguments persist. Wilkerson condemned one innocent man in the court of Public Opinion and derailed a promising political career. At the same time he may have helped exonerate a guilty man and allowed a serial mass murderer to go free; or maybe allowed the exoneration of an innocent man being railroaded by investigators desperate for a conviction. Who knows?