Monday, January 31, 2011

My Chat with Author M.M. Gornell

I'd like to thank M.M. Gornell, the award-winning California author for inviting me to chat with her today on her blog. I had the pleasure of meeting Madeline at the Public Safety Writers Conference in Las Vegas in 2009 and 2010 (Photographer Sherman Lee caught us chatting at the 2009 conference - see photo below). BTW, the 2011 PSWA conference is scheduled at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, July 14-17. There's a break on the cost if you register before March 31.

If you're not familiar with PSWA, here's some background info, as found on their website:

Founded in 1997 as the Police Writers Club, the Public Safety Writers Association is open to both new and experienced, published and not yet published writers. Members include police officers, civilian police personnel, firefighters, fire support personnel, emergency personnel, security personnel and others in the public safety field. Also represented are those who write about public safety including mystery writers, magazine writers, journalists and those who are simply interested in the genre. The association also welcomes publishers, editors, agents and others who help writers realize their writing goals.


Authors M.M. Gornell & Kathleen A. Ryan, Las Vegas, 2009

photo taken by Sherman Lee

If you have a moment, please stop by and visit and say hello to Madeline. She's the author of Uncle Si's Secret, Death of a Perfect Man, and Reticence of Ravens, published by Aberdeen Bay. You can also find Madeline, (a member of Sisters in Crime in L.A. and Nevada, and the California Writers Club) on Facebook. You can read more about Madeline in The Examiner, in a lovely "Spotlight" interview with Morgan St. James.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Serial Killer Indicted in Cold-Case Murders

A serial killer on death row in California for the murder of a 12-year-old girl and four other women, incarcerated since 1980, has been indicted for the murder of two New York women: Cornelia Michel Crilley in 1971 and Ellen Jane Hover in 1978. Both women were 23 years old at the time of their deaths.

In a creepy twist, the suspect, 67-year-old Rodney Alcala (photo, above, via the New York Post) had appeared as a contestant on The Dating Game in the late '70s ~ and he won. However, the woman ultimately decided not to go on a date with him ~ she found him "too creepy," according to New York magazine. At the time he appeared on the show, he had already committed two murders.
Alcala, a photographer, used an alias of John Berger when he lived in New York, according to the New York Times article by Mosi Secret. The New York Daily News indicates that Alcala studied film with Roman Polanski and had a genius IQ.

The New York Daily News has a collection of 215 photos taken by Alcala in the '7os, in which NYPD is looking for clues from the public. Anyone with information about the photos is asked to call 1-800-577-TIPS.
On this Thank-a-cop-Thursday (#tacop on Twitter), I'd like to thank the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and his cold case squad who didn't give up on the murders of Ellen Jane Hover and Cornelia Michel Crilley. Thanks to Detectives Wendell Stradford, Robert Dewhurst, and (retired) Stefano Braccini for their efforts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

War Story Wednesday: ID Blunder

Welcome to War Story Wednesday, when I share a story from my days on the job, or share someone else's war story. I'd love to hear your war stories, so please feel free to participate in the comment section, or write a blog post and provide a link here, and I'll revise my post to include your link.

This story comes from a P.A. (Physician Assistant) who worked in the M.E.'s office.

A victim was found in the back seat of a car. He had been shot in the chest, the gun pressed right against his chest when it fired. In order to prevent the identification of the victim, the bad guy(s) cut off the victim's head and hands.

They failed to check his pockets, where the victim's wallet contained his identification.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mystery Monday: Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?

This past fall, I watched the outstanding HBO series, Boardwalk Empire. Last week, I saw the brilliant movie, The King's Speech. The two stories remind me of the unsolved murder of Sir Harry Oakes.

Let me explain.

The series, directed by Martin Scorcese, is based upon the 2002 book, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, by Nelson Johnson. Among the many characters portrayed in the Prohibition-era series is Lucky Luciano (photo below) who was instrumental in creating the American Mafia.
The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, is the amazing story of King George VI (who took over after his brother, Edward, abdicated the throne in order to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson), and the difficulty he faced as a stutterer.
Harry Oakes was born in 1874 in Sangerville, Maine. He attended Syracuse Medical School, but gave it up to pursue a gold rush in the Klondike. At 23, he ventured to the Klondike; he was shipwrecked off the Alaskan coast, was taken prisoner by Russians, he sailed to Australia, New Zealand and California. He nearly froze to death in Alaska. When he made his way to Kirkland Lake, Ontario, he discovered gold underneath the lake. His Lake Shore Mines earned him about $60,000 a day.

He was soon the richest man in Canada. He married Eunice MacIntyre, and for tax reasons, they settled on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas. Oakes was named a baronet by King George VI in 1939.

When Oakes' family was vacationing in their summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine, in July 1943, Oakes was murdered in the Bahamas on July 7 in his bedroom. A fire had been set in the bedroom. His body was discovered by Sir Harold Christie, a close family friend.

Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, became a suspect. He was disliked by Oakes and the society members of Nassau. The other notable figures on the island included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Edward and Wallis).

The investigative work on the case was poor. Marigny's trial began in October 1943 and when the case went to the jury, he was acquitted in less than 2 hours. Marigny later accused Christie of the murder. There were rumors that Mob boss Meyer Lansky was behind the murder because of Oakes' opposition to build casinos. It was believed to be Lucky Luciano's idea to build casinos on the island, and figured between the connections with Christie and the Duke of Windsor, he'd have the means to do it; only Oakes wasn't interested.

The murder of Sir Harry Oakes remains unsolved.

Steve Buscemi, one of my favorite actors (and fellow Long Island native), won a Golden Globe for his performance in Boardwalk Empire. HBO recently began airing an encore presentation of the series. If you have HBO and missed it this fall, catch it now!

Monday, January 17, 2011

James Ellroy's LA: City of Demons

One of Hollywood's notorious unsolved murders, that of Elizabeth Short, whom the papers dubbed "The Black Dahlia," is featured in the first episode of Investigation Discovery's new six-part series, "James Ellroy's LA: City of Demons," which premieres this Wednesday, January 19, at 10 p.m. ET.

Short's body was discovered on January 15, 1947.

Ellroy is the best-selling crime writer of such novels as L.A. Confidential, Blood's a Rover, American Tabloid, and two memoirs, The Hilliker Curse and My Dark Places.

Ellroy is a larger-than-life character who was so emotionally wounded as a child when he secretly cursed his mother dead after an argument, and she turned up dead three months later. When his father gave him The Badge by Jack Webb, he was astonished after reading about the Black Dahlia. For him, the Black Dahlia was just like his mother -- and he became obsessed.

Wednesday's episode, "Dead Women Own Me," also features several other murders, including Ellroy's mother, Jean Hilliker (1958), 16 year old Stephanie Gorman (1965) and 17 year old Lily Burk (2009).

Ellroy is a lively host who enjoys alliteration. He also doesn't mince words. "Closure is nonsense," he insists. "Nothing this bad ever ends; murder is a powerfully perennial puzzle."

The show includes several interviews and a couple of scenes with "Barko," Ellroy's animated bull terrier sidekick.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Driver in Officer's Death Sentenced

A 24-year-old Plainview man was sentenced to 1 1/3 - 4 years in prison for causing the 2009 crash that killed 45-year-old Suffolk County Police Officer Glen Ciano. Jose Borbon's blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit, and he was talking on a cell phone when he struck Officer Ciano's patrol car in Commack, Long Island, causing it to crash into a pole and burst into flames, trapping Officer Ciano in the car.
Glen was killed on 2/22/09, in his 22nd year on the job, and was the 22nd officer to die in the line of duty in Suffolk. Glen and his wife Susan, the parents of two children, would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last year.

Jose Borbon has been in jail, serving a one-year sentence on an unrelated DWI charge stemming from an arrest six weeks before killing Officer Ciano. Borbon worked out a plea deal on a charge of first-degree vehicular manslaughter; had he gone to trial, he might have faced up to ten years.

This article in the Huntington Patch includes emotional statements made by friends and family just before sentencing.
I had the privilege of working with Glen in the Second Precinct in the late 1980s and early 90s. He is dearly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thank-a-Cop-Thursday: Robbery in Progress

This video is awesome ~ for a rare and unusual moment caught on tape: a robbery in progress occurring right in front of a cop.

At 5:45 a.m. on December 16, 2010, Police Officer Joshua Campbell walked in to a Walgreen's in Dayton, Ohio, to pick up a surveillance video of a robbery that occurred at 2:15 a.m., involving the use of a firearm. He waits for the clerk to finish her transaction before approaching the counter. The customer, completely unaware that a police officer stands behind him, decides to pull a robbery. Officer Campbell notices the customer reaching over the counter to grab cash from the register. Officer Campbell draws his weapon and confronts him. The pair end up in a violent struggle, which can be seen on another video, which includes commentary by Officer Campbell.
Who says there's never a cop around when you need one? Thanks, Officer Campbell, for a job well done!

Don't forget ~ today is "Thank-a-Cop Thursday" on Twitter, using the hashtag #tacop.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

War Story Wednesday: "Jail Mail'

Over at Women of Mystery, I share a story about my experience as a gal Friday in the early 80s, corresponding with inmates, before joining the Suffolk County Police Department in 1986. Stop by if you have a chance.

As always, if you have a war story you'd like to share, feel free to do so in the comments below, or provide a link to your post and I'll update this post to include it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mystery Monday: The Murders of Nicole Simpson & Ron Goldman

F. Lee Bailey has just released what he calls "new evidence" proving O.J. Simpson's innocence of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Bailey was one of Simpson's defense attorneys in the high-profile 1995 trial.

It is a 46-page document on his web site, entitled, "The Simpson Verdict." (photo source: Bailey and Elliott Consulting.)

I've always wondered, if O.J. didn't do it, who the heck did? (I know they brought up some nonsense about drug dealers, but it was laughable). On June 12, 1994, someone wanted to kill Nicole, and Ron was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I watched most of the televised trial and of course the verdict. I couldn't believe it when one of the jurors, Brenda Moran, interviewed after the verdict, said, "This was a murder trial, not domestic abuse. If you want to get tried for domestic abuse, go in another courtroom and get tried for that." Moran told People magazine that the prosecution's suggestion that Simpson went from being an abusive spouse to a killer was "a waste of time."

What planet was she residing on?

What do you think?

(O.J. currently sits in jail after being convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping, and assault charges in Las Vegas. In December 2008, Simpson was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

War Story Wednesday - A Cold Winter's Night

One freezing winter's night during a midnight tour in the late 80s, I was checking the churches in my sector, as there had been a spate of break-ins. Near the entrance of a church on Vernon Valley Road, I noticed a figure tugging on a locked door. I was surprised to see it was an elderly woman.

I lowered the passenger side window and summoned her. "Hop in ~ it's five degrees outside!"

She got in, and I asked her what she was doing, and if she had any ID. She was trying to find someplace warm, she said. She opened a small purse, which contained three unusual items: a checkbook register from 1969, a knee-hi stocking, and a spoon, but no ID. I requested her name and date of birth (DOB). I imagined some family worrying about their missing loved one, yet I hadn't heard any local notifications recently. I asked where she lived. She cryptically replied, "Near the water." I assumed that meant Northport. I found her in East Northport, which is actually south of Northport (that's another story). I asked if she knew the name of the street or her house number, but she did not.

I drove to the nearest Dunkin' Donuts (24 hour places were limited at the time), so I could use a pay phone (no cell phones, or computers in the patrol cars). I brought her to the counter, gave the clerk money to buy a warm drink and a snack for the lady while I used the phone. I called the precinct and asked a desk officer to run a missing person's check. She was not an active missing person, but her name appeared in the computer -- with a DOB 20 years older than what she provided. He supplied her address on Vernon Valley Road, not far from the church where I found her. We returned to the car. After mentioning her address, she seemed to recognize it. As I drove along Vernon Valley Road, I asked her if she could point out her house; she could not. I tried looking for house numbers where you'd expect them ~ on mailboxes, curbs, houses or garages ~ and several in a row displayed no house numbers (one of my pet peeves in patrol work).

I had delivered mail in the Northport area one summer while waiting to join the police academy, and I learned that strange house numbering is the norm on Long Island. (House number image: L.A. Times blogs.)

I chose a house that I estimated to be near the woman's address. It was still dark out when I woke an occupant at some ungodly hour.

"Who is it?" the groggy voice answered, without opening the door.

"It's the police. What's the number of your house?"

"Oh, yeah, we don't have our number on our house."

"I know. Sorry to wake you. I'm trying to locate the home of a woman who wandered away." I mentioned her name, but the resident didn't know her. I apologized and tried the next unnumbered home.

It was the wrong house, too. This woman knew her, though. "You know what it is, right?" she asked. I nodded as she said, "Alzheimer's." She explained that when the wandering woman and her husband, now deceased, had moved in 30 years ago, their house was facing a side road that didn't exist yet. That's why I had such difficulty finding the house. The lack of numbers on the surrounding houses didn't help.

She said that her wandering neighbor, who had no family except one relative in Europe, lived alone. A social services worker visited weekly, and the house was boarded up from the inside to prevent her from wandering. Sounded like a fire hazard to me.
She offered to take the woman home. When I said that she had claimed to live near the water, the neighbor said she was referring to Battery Park in New York City ~ where she lived as a young girl. (photo: www.common/

When I retrieved the woman from my patrol car, the wanderer said to her neighbor, "How's Charlie?"

The neighbor gently replied, "Oh, he died ~ twelve years ago."

It was heartbreaking.

According to, experts estimate the people age 65 and older in the U.S. is projected to double by the year 2030. By age 72, 1 in 8 Americans will have Alzheimer's Disease. Project Lifesaver International was established in 1999, to help families find missing loved ones who wander because of Alzheimer's, Downs Syndrome, dementia, and autism. It's headquartered in Chesapeake, VA., and they work with law enforcement agencies in 1000 communities in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

A reminder for the new year: if your house number (or the house number of your loved one) isn't prominently displayed, make sure that it is. When emergency responders are trying to locate a sick or injured party, seconds count. It's frustrating when a house is difficult to find because it isn't numbered. At the very least, if you are in a home occupied with several people, and are awaiting an ambulance or cop to respond, have someone be on the lookout for the responders ~ and wave them on.

I'm impressed with the Fire Department of Franklin Township in Erie County, PA. They distribute free, highly reflective numbers for the mailboxes or driveways for residences and businesses. Cool idea!

If you notice your street sign has been stolen or knocked down, contact your local village or town to have it replaced. According to the Cape Cod Times, a missing street sign delayed the rescue response for a woman who was choking, and it resulted in tragic consequences.

One more thing ~ if you have an elderly neighbor who lives alone, if you don't already know him or her, why not introduce yourself sometime? Check out these suggestions.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rookie Cop Killed in Arlington, Texas

A rookie cop, who had just completed her field training two weeks ago, was shot and killed during a domestic incident on Tuesday, December 28, 2010, while shielding an 11-year-old girl from gunfire. The child's mother was killed just before the suspect took his own life.

Officer Jillian Smith, age 24, responded alone to take a report from 29-year-old Kimberly Deshay Carter, who lived with her daughter at an apartment complex. Arlington Police Chief Theron Bowman referred to the taking of this report as a "low-priority" call, one that they would expect only one officer to handle.

Who is making the decision on the priority of the calls?

As a retired 21-year veteran police officer who handled domestic violence calls while working in the patrol division, I cannot imagine sending only one officer to a domestic incident call. Last I checked, no one has a crystal ball that can predict the volatility of a domestic incident. The department's priorities should be adjusted; this shouldn't have been categorized simply as "taking a report," but remained as a high-priority call of a domestic assault.

Especially when the suspect is a registered sex offender with a criminal record.

Especially when the suspect, 38-year-old Barnes Samuel Nettles (photo) threatened Kimberly's step-mother, Leah Richardson, and Kimberly's sister, in September -- that he'd kill the entire family, according to Leah's story in The Dallas Morning News.

According to Carter's father, Willie Richardson, his daughter called him shortly after the assault, and that she was afraid to leave, as she thought he was still outside. He advised her to wait for the police, and he was on his way. By the time Richardson arrived, three people were dead in the apartment.

It's very sad that the question, "Is he still there?" turned this high-priority call into the "low-priority" response. The nature of the call should determine the response. If the department has the crystal ball on whether a violent man is lying in wait, I wish they'd lend it out.

As Gerald W. Garner, a police veteran and author of several books concerning police safety, pointed out in his 2005 article, "Fatal Errors: Surviving Domestic Violence Calls," on

"A domestic violence assignment is never to be handled solo."

Read Garner's sage advice here ~ which should become required reading for the Arlington Police Department:

The scene of a domestic violence crime contains great potential for continuing or additional violence. A new attack could be instigated from virtually any quarter. As you already know, people besides the initial offender could launch it. Or the attacker could re-escalate into more violence even after the police are on-scene. If he sees he’s headed for jail, he may attack to avoid custody. Violence could even erupt on a scene where the attacker has fled before you arrived. The batterer may return unexpectedly to finish the job or attack the meddling cop who dared interfere in his private affairs and mess with his marital “property.”

Information on Officer Smith's wake and funeral can be found here, as well as details concerning donations for her family.

Kimberly Carter's family spoke with NBC-DFW. Information about her funeral arrangements and how to donate for the cost of the funeral can be found at the end of this article.

I hope these women did not die in vain; may the Arlington Police Department review their policies concerning the prioritization of domestic incidents and make some wise decisions.

May Kimberly Deshay Carter and hero Officer Jillian Smith rest in peace. My thoughts and prayers go out to their grieving families, friends, and colleagues.