kottke.org posts about crime

Why do women stay with abusive partners?Sep 11 2014

[Note: if you're unable to read about domestic violence against women for any reason, you might want to skip this post. Possibly related: the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.]

From an anonymous author on The Frisky, Why I Married My Abuser.

One Saturday afternoon a few months after our first date, I opened one of the cards and then smelled it as he beamed on proudly. I sniffed and joked "like a woman" because he was the first man I ever knew to send a scented envelope.

I know it's a cliche, but if I close my eyes, I can still see that moment in slow motion. His face changed from beaming to furious. And suddenly, I was on the floor. It wasn't until he extended his hand down to me saying, "Oh baby I am so sorry! Why did you have to say that? I'm so sorry!" that I realized I was on the floor because his fist had put me there. I actually thought for a second that a piece of the ceiling must have fallen down. Surely Hank couldn't have hit me? That was something that happened to other people.

"Why did you have to say that?" The insidiousness of that simple phrase is chilling. From Obsidian Wings, the perspective of someone who worked at a battered women's shelter for five years: Why Do They Stay?

So imagine yourself, in love with someone, on your honeymoon or pregnant, when suddenly this guy just goes ballistic, often for very little reason, and hits you. For a lot of women, this is profoundly shocking and disorienting. There are things that are comprehensible parts of the world, even if they're rare, like having your car stolen; and then there are things that are unexpected in a completely different sense, like having your car turn into an elephant before your eyes: things that make you wonder whether you're completely crazy. Being beaten up by someone who apparently loves you is one of those things.

What this means is that precisely when a woman needs as much confidence in her own judgment as she can muster, the rug is completely pulled out from under her. And it's not just that she questions her judgment because she got involved with this guy in the first place; she questions her judgment because something so completely alien to the world she thinks she knows has just happened.

And via the National Domestic Violence Hotline site, Sarah Buel's Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.

14. Financial Abuse: Financial abuse is a common tactic of abusers, although it may take different forms, depending on the couple's socio-economic status. The batterer may control estate planning and access to all financial records, as well as make all money decisions. Victims report being forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions. Victims also may be convinced that they are incapable of managing their finances or that they will face prison terms for their part in perpetrating a fraud if they tell someone.

Since the video of former NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée out in an elevator leaked, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an 84% increase in call volume. If any of the above rings true for you and your domestic situation, that phone number again is 1-800-799-7233.

Jack the Ripper's identity revealed?Sep 08 2014

In London in 1888, an unknown person known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in brutal fashion. Russell Edwards recently bought a shawl allegedly tied to one of the killings. After DNA testing, the shawl was shown not only to have the victim's blood on it but also semen from the alleged perpetrator, hairdresser Aaron Kosminski. Edwards and the person responsible for the forensic research explain their findings in this article.

The tests began in 2011, when Jari used special photographic analysis to establish what the stains were.

Using an infrared camera, he was able to tell me the dark stains were not just blood, but consistent with arterial blood spatter caused by slashing -- exactly the grim death Catherine Eddowes had met.

But the next revelation was the most heart-stopping. Under UV photography, a set of fluorescent stains showed up which Jari said had the characteristics of semen. I'd never expected to find evidence of the Ripper himself, so this was thrilling, although Jari cautioned me that more testing was required before any conclusions could be drawn.

Hmm. Given the source (The Daily Mail) and the lack of independent corroboration of the results, a little skepticism in in order here.

Policing by consentAug 18 2014

In light of the ongoing policing situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and how the response to the community protests is highlighting the militarization of US police departments since 9/11, it's instructive to look at one of the first and most successful attempts at the formation of a professional police force.

The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as "bobbies" after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.

At the heart of the Metropolitan Police's charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public". Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)

Help wantedAug 11 2014

[We're all adults here (or reasonably mature humans anyway) so I rarely feel the need to warn you about what you might be getting yourself into, link-wise, but this article is REALLY disturbing in spots. If you have young children especially, you might want to take a pass on this. -jason]

From Luke Malone on Medium, a story about a support group of pedophiles who haven't and don't want to act on those impulses, You're 16. You're a Pedophile. You Don't Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that most pedophiles first notice an attraction toward children when they themselves are between 11 and 16, mirroring that of any other sexual awakening. It can be a confusing time for any of us, but imagine realizing that you're attracted to little kids. How do these young men and women negotiate that with no viable role models or support network? There is no It Gets Better for pedophiles. Are they all fated to end up as child molesters? Or is it possible for them to live a life without hurting children at all?

You may have heard a version of Malone's story on This American Life earlier this year. Over at The Awl, Choire Sicha talked with Malone about his reporting of the story and how it came about.

People would eventually find out what I was working on, and the questions would come thick and fast: How did you find them? How can you stomach it? Why are you defending pedophiles? It was really telling about a person if they asked that last one. I get it, pedophiles get a bad rap and in many cases rightly so. But I found myself trying to convince people that there are plenty who don't want to act and really want help not acting on their attractions. Which, side bar, would be a big ask of anyone. Imagine if you were told at 16 that you could never have sex in a way that was appealing to you, Okay, thanks, bye! There's obviously a reason for that, but it makes no sense not to help them out. Anyway, most of my friends got it but a few were like, "Okay, but at the end of the day you have to put the kids first." I would reply that talk of preventive therapy was putting both teenage pedophiles, who are essentially kids themselves by the way, and their potential victims first. It's win win. But they'd think about it for a minute and reply, "Yeah, I get it, but we have to put the children first." It was all very Helen Lovejoy.

StalkedAug 07 2014

A harrowing piece by novelist Helen DeWitt about being stalked by her neighbor.

E turned up next morning at six because his fire had gone out. I said I had to go for my walk. He went home. When I got back I found a pane of glass on the dresser; there was a gap in its normal home in the side door. E: 'I was cold and you weren't there. But yeah, yeah, I know that was wrong. Don't worry, I'll fix it.'

This was clearly something I could report to the police. It seemed harsh to lock someone up for social cluelessness, but I was spooked. I packed my bags and left for a motel within the hour. Then I found a room on Craigslist that was available until the end of January. I was desperate to finish a book.

E's landlord: 'You're a very attractive woman. He can't help himself. I'm sorry you can't live on your property.'

It's a big leap from 'you know I love her' to baseball bat by the bed. I read the Vermont law on trespass on 28 December 2012 and it appeared to confirm my sense of the social norm. Entering a property when forbidden to do so, or remaining on a property after being asked to leave, carries a maximum sentence of three months and/or a $500 fine. It's not a heavy sentence, but the law is beautifully genderblind: I have the same right to occupy my property undisturbed as my uncle the ex-marine. I believed I could exercise this right and attempted to do so. This was the first step on the slippery slope to the baseball bat.

For sale. Knockoff Jeff Koons. $500.Jul 24 2014

A seller on Chinese b2b site Alibaba is offering stainless steel sculptures of balloon animal dogs in the style of Jeff Koons. For as little as $500, you can get your own knock-off copy of Balloon Dog, which sold for $58 million last year.

Koons dog knockoff

Koons' dog was about 10 feet tall but the seller notes they can make them anywhere from 3 feet tall to almost 100 feet tall. Jiminy. I wonder what these things look like? I bet they aren't nearly as precise as the originals, but you never know. See also: Rex Sorgatz's Uber for Art Forgeries. (via prosthetic knowledge)

A pickpocket's storyJul 21 2014

Until his recent incarceration, Wilfred Rose was a very successful pickpocket operating on the streets of NYC.

Some of the thieves have a shtick. There is Francisco Hita, who when caught touching someone's wallet, pretends to be deaf, the police say, responding with gesticulations of incomprehension. There is an older man who pretends to be stricken by palsy while on a bus, and then uses a behind-the-back maneuver to infiltrate the pocket of the passenger next to him.

There are flashy dressers, like the 5-foot-3 Duval Simmons, whose reputation is so well known among the police that he says he sometimes sits on his hands while riding the subway, so he cannot be accused of stealing. Mr. Simmons, an occasional partner of Mr. Rose's, said he honed his skills on a jacket that hung in his closet, tying bells to it to measure how heavy his hand was.

Mr. Rose's notoriety stems from how infrequently he has been arrested, and how, at least in the last 15 years, he has never been caught in the act by plainclothes officers.

See also Adam Green's fascinating piece on Apollo Robbins from The New Yorker. Especially the bit about surfing attention:

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. "It's all about the choreography of people's attention," he said. "Attention is like water. It flows. It's liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way."

Robbins uses various metaphors to describe how he works with attention, talking about "surfing attention," "carving up the attentional pie," and "framing." "I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would," he said. "If I lean my face close in to someone's, like this" -- he demonstrated -- "it's like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, 'You had a wallet in your back pocket -- is it still there?' Now their focus is on their back pocket, or their brain just short-circuits for a second, and I'm free to steal from their jacket."

Vermeer and authenticityJul 10 2014

In the first two installments of a series about artistic authenticity, Rex Sorgatz writes about five different people's efforts to own a Vermeer and how you can get your very own masterpiece.

It's possible that Vermeer -- an artist who many consider the greatest painter of all time -- could paint with no more acuity than you or me. Vermeer may have been a simple technologist -- but a technologist who could recreate the world with scintillating photographic intensity, centuries before photography was invented, which might actually be a bigger deal than being a good painter.

I loved these articles. I wish I would have written them...I am fascinated with both Vermeer and art forgeries. Good stuff.

Central Park Five suit settledJun 20 2014

NYC and the Central Park Five have agreed to a $40 million settlement that will bring a years-long civil rights lawsuit to an end.

The five men whose convictions in the brutal 1989 beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park were later overturned have agreed to a settlement of about $40 million from New York City to resolve a bitterly fought civil rights lawsuit over their arrests and imprisonment in the sensational crime.

The agreement, reached between the city's Law Department and the five plaintiffs, would bring to an end an extraordinary legal battle over a crime that came to symbolize a sense of lawlessness in New York, amid reports of "wilding" youths and a marauding "wolf pack" that set its sights on a 28-year-old investment banker who ran in the park many evenings after work.

Ken Burns made a documentary film about this case in 2012. Highly recommended viewing...and you can watch the whole thing on the PBS web site.

Trending: insider tradingJun 17 2014

A new study finds that insider trading is much worse than commonly thought: a quarter of all public company deals may involve some kind of insider trading. From the NY Times:

The professors examined stock option movements -- when an investor buys an option to acquire a stock in the future at a set price -- as a way of determining whether unusual activity took place in the 30 days before a deal's announcement.

The results are persuasive and disturbing, suggesting that law enforcement is woefully behind -- or perhaps is so overwhelmed that it simply looks for the most egregious examples of insider trading, or for prominent targets who can attract headlines.

The professors are so confident in their findings of pervasive insider trading that they determined statistically that the odds of the trading "arising out of chance" were "about three in a trillion." (It's easier, in other words, to hit the lottery.)

Only about 5% of the deals are ever litigated by the SEC. (via mr)

Lufthansa heist crooks nabbedJan 23 2014

Whenever we needed money, we'd rob the airport. To us, it was better than Citibank.

So said Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in GoodFellas. Now, more than twenty-five years after the Lufthansa heist that was fictionalized in Martin Scorsese's movie, the FBI has arrested five mobsters in connection with that crime and a list of other jobs that "reads like a greatest hits collection of the Mafia: armored truck heists, murder, attempted murder, extortion and bookmaking."

Portraits of Rikers Island inmatesJan 14 2014

Pencil portraits of young men and women incarcerated on Rikers Island by Ricardo Cortés.

Ricardo Cortes

Cortés wrote an essay about the portraits and his experience at Rikers.

The grossest irony is that increasing levels of imprisonment may exacerbate the very problems it is intended to solve. Imagine a drug-dealer, a check forger, a prostitute or a burglar who comes to Rikers. They're often leaving family behind, possibly as the primary breadwinner, breaking up a critical support network and causing measurable damage to spouses, siblings, parents and especially children. They're losing a job during their incarceration, thus falling further behind in bills, rent, and ultimately housing. They're being released after their stay with little treatment or prospects for a new job; their completed sentence may stain their record such that it's even harder to find employment. And they're back on the street with the same personal struggles of addiction, domestic abuse, health issues and difficulty in finding sustainable housing and legal employment. It's not hard to guess what happens next.

(via @jessicalustig)

Entrepreneurs and con artistsJan 06 2014

James Surowiecki writes about the similarities between confidence games and American entrepreneurial spirit.

It seems that con artists, for all their vices, represent many of the virtues that Americans aspire to. Con artists are independent and typically self-made. They don't have to kowtow to a boss -- no small thing in a country in which people have always longed to strike out on their own. They succeed or fail based on their wits. They exemplify, in short, the complicated nature of American capitalism, which, as McDougall argues, has depended on people being hustlers in both the positive and the negative sense. The American economy wasn't built just on good ideas and hard work. It was also built on hope and hype.

The neverending terrible twosDec 17 2013

According to developmental psychologist Richard Tremblay, violent criminals are basically toddlers who never grew up and never outgrow their tendency to use physical aggression to get what they want.

The study tracked behavior in 1,037 mostly disadvantaged Quebec schoolboys from kindergarten through age 18. The boys fell into four distinct trajectories of physical aggression.

The most peaceable 20 percent, a "no problem" group, showed little physical aggression at any age; two larger groups showed moderate and high rates of aggression as preschoolers. In these three groups violence fell through childhood and adolescence, and dropped to almost nothing when the boys reached their 20s.

A fourth group, about 5 percent, peaked higher during toddlerhood and declined far more slowly. Their curve was more plateau than hill.

As they moved into late adolescence and young adulthood, their aggression grew ever more dangerous, and it tailed off late. At age 17 they were four times as physically aggressive as the moderate group and committed 14 times as many criminal infractions. It's these chronically violent individuals, Dr. Tremblay says, who are responsible for most violent crime.

Stop-and-frisk for white collar crimeDec 10 2013

In a clip from The Daily Show in August, Jessica Williams completely skewers the Bloomberg administration's asinine stop-and-frisk policing by advocating for a stop-and-frisk policy for white collar criminals on Wall Street (aka Business Harlem).

[Deleted the embed because of some reports of autoplaying. Why can't anyone but YT and Vimeo get this right?]

Stabilized Zapruder film in HDNov 21 2013

I linked to a stabilized version of the Zapruder film of JFK's assassination a few years ago but Antony Davison has made a version that presents the whole film in panoramic HD, resulting in an amazingly clear representation of the event.

November 22, 1963, a short film by Errol MorrisNov 21 2013

Errol Morris and Tink Thompson share an obsession about the nature of photographic evidence. In a short film for the NY Times, Morris talks to Thompson about the photographic and filmic evidence of the JFK assassination, which Thompson has been investigating on and off since 1963.

Interesting that 1) there exists much more photographic evidence of the assassination than is commonly shown/known, and 2) Thompson very much has a theory of what the evidence shows but Morris doesn't spill those particular beans:

Is there a lesson to be learned? Yes, to never give up trying to uncover the truth. Despite all the difficulties, what happened in Dallas happened in one way rather than another. It may have been hopelessly obscured, but it was not obliterated. Tink still believes in answers, and in this instance, an answer. He is completing a sequel to "Six Seconds" called "Last Second in Dallas." Like its predecessor, this book is clearly reasoned and convincing. Of course, there will be people who will be unmoved by his or any other account.

See also Morris' previous short film featuring Thompson & the assassination, The Umbrella Man.

A junkie's view of the Chicago drug tradeNov 18 2013

Fascinating article about what it's like to buy heroin on the west side of Chicago. The ritual of buying is just as exciting as the shooting up.

The fact is, and I don't care who tries to dispute this, that a majority of the people who make the daily migration to the West Side to cop blows are as addicted to the ritual of copping dope as they are to the dope itself. It is an adrenaline rush no different than those achieved by people who jump out of airplanes. And dope fiends get to experience it every day.

(via @torrez)

Mike Tyson's life as a young thugOct 21 2013

In New York Magazine this week, Mike Tyson writes about growing up in Brooklyn and his discovery of boxing as a way out and up.

Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, "Hey, you got any money?" I said, "No." He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, "No, no, no!" I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didn't get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That's a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.

The piece is adapted from Tyson's upcoming memoir, Undisputed Truth. Tyson wrote the book with Larry Sloman, author of Reefer Madness who has also ghostwritten for Howard Stern, Anthony Kiedis, and KISS's Peter Criss.

Update: Spike Lee directed a documentary version of Undisputed Truth; it'll air on HBO on November 16. Here's the trailer:

Silk Road falloutOct 09 2013

With Silk Road kingpin Ross Ulbricht in custody, one imagines that a whole lot of his former customers are feeling a bit nervous right about now. And they should be. Buyers and sellers are starting to get arrested.

Charles Thompson might be a little nervous as well. As he explains:

In February of 2013, I decided to order one gram of MDMA from Silk Road because I wanted to write an essay on whether it really was that easy to click a few buttons and have a package of Schedule I substances arrive at your door a week later.

It was that easy. And that's the bad news. From The Morning News: My Brief, Binding Road.

Capture housesOct 03 2013

For the past few years, UK police have used a secret network of fully furnished fake houses to snare burglars. They're called capture houses.

Based in the city of Rotherham, Stopford explained to me the hit-and-miss nature of a capture house. Some of the fake apartments have been open for as little for one day before being hit by burglars, and as long as nearly a year without being broken into even once. As Stopford went on to describe, these otherwise uninhabited residences are fully stocked, complete with electronic equipment, lights on timers, and bare but functional furniture, and they tend to be small apartments located in multi-unit housing blocks.

That apartment you pass everyday on the fourth floor, in other words, might not be an apartment at all, really, but an elaborate trap run by the police, bristling inside with tiny surveillance cameras and ready to spray invisible chemical markings onto anyone who steps inside-or slips in through the window, as the case may be.

See also bait cars and honeypots.

Project UnbreakableSep 19 2013

This is powerful and amazing (and upsetting): Project Unbreakable is a photography project that features images of sexual assault survivors holding signs showing what others (attackers, family members, cops, etc.) said to them about the assaults.

Project Unbreakable

It's difficult to pick the yuckiest bottom-of-the-barrel sludge here, but the comments from the police officers really get my dander up.

"If you were my daughter I would have killed you." - Lady police officer while being interrogated

"If you don't tell us how many people you've slept with, the ADA won't even consider your case." - Interviewing Dectective

"This is why we have underage drinking laws! THIS IS YOUR FAULT! If you hadn't been drinking this wouldn't have happened to you!" - St. Petersburg police when I tried to press charges

Sickening, sickening. The police are supposed to protect the vulnerable, not persecute them. (via @rebeccablood)

Murder by CraigslistSep 05 2013

Hanna Rosin writes about Murder by Craigslist, the story of a killer who advertised for victims on Craigslist in order to steal their possessions.

Davis wasn't the only person to answer the Craigslist ad. More than 100 people applied for the caretaker job -- a fact that Jack was careful to cite in his e-mails back to the applicants. He wanted to make sure that they knew the position was highly sought-after. Jack had a specific type of candidate in mind: a middle-aged man who had never been married or was recently divorced, and who had no strong family connections. Someone who had a life he could easily walk away from. "If picked I will need you to start quickly," he would write in his e-mails.

Jack painstakingly designed the ad to conjure a very particular male fantasy: the cowboy or rancher, out in the open country, herding cattle, mending fences, hunting game -- living a dream that could transform a post-recession drifter into a timeless American icon. From the many discarded drafts of the ad that investigators later found, it was clear that Jack was searching for just the right pitch to catch a certain kind of man's eye. He tinkered with details-the number of acres on the property, the idea of a yearly bonus and paid utilities-before settling on his final language: "hilly," "secluded," "job of a lifetime." If a woman applied for the job, Jack wouldn't bother responding. If a man applied, he would ask for the critical information right off the bat: How old are you? Do you have a criminal record? Are you married?

Jack seemed drawn to applicants who were less formal in their e-mail replies, those who betrayed excitement, and with it, vulnerability. "I was raised on a farm as a boy and have raised some of my own cattle and horses as well," wrote one. "I'm still in good shape and not afraid of hard work! I really hope you can give me a chance. If for some reason I wouldn't work out for you no hard feelings at all. I would stick with you until you found help. Thank you very much, George."

This was your standard well-written crime story until about 2/3rds of the way through when Rosin highlights a societal trend that more deeply connects the victims with their killer.

I was initially drawn to the story of the Beasley murders because I thought it would illuminate the isolation and vulnerability of so many working-class men, who have been pushed by the faltering economy from one way of life -- a nine-to-five job, a wife, children -- into another, far more precarious one: unemployed or underemployed, single or divorced, crashing on relatives' spare beds or in the backseats of cars. At what other moment in history would it have been plausible for a serial killer to identify middle-aged white men as his most vulnerable targets?

But what I discovered in the course of my reporting was something quite different. As traditional family structures are falling apart for working-class men, many of them are forging new kinds of relationships: two old high-school friends who chat so many times a day that they need to buy themselves walkie-talkies; a father who texts his almost-grown sons as he goes to bed at night and as he wakes up in the morning.

There's a bit more to it than but I don't want to spoil it for you...the entire piece is worth a read.

How a convicted murderer prepares for a job interviewAug 01 2013

Sabine Heinlein follows several people through a post-prison jobs program to see how ex-convicts prepare for re-entry into the workforce.

In prison Angel thought that it wouldn't be too hard to find a job once he got out. He believed he had come a long way. At eighteen he hadn't been able to read or write. He wet his bed and suffered from uncontrollable outbursts of anger. At forty-seven he had studied at the college level. He told me he had read several thousand books. He earned numerous certificates while incarcerated -- a Vocational Appliance Repair Certificate, a Certificate of Proficiency of Computer Operator, a Certificate in Library Training, an IPA (Inmate Program Assistant) II Training Certificate, and several welding certifications -- but in the outside world these credentials counted for little.

"Irrelevant," Angel said. "They might as well be toilet paper."

This piece is the seventh chapter from Heinlein's book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison.

Zeitoun rewrite?Jul 30 2013

In 2009, Dave Eggers published a book called Zeitoun, the story of a man and his family experiencing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Through the story of one man's experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.

The story has taken an unexpected turn since its publication. The protagonist of the story, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is currently on trial for the attempted first-degree murder of his wife.

Zeitoun made an offer: $20,000 to kill his ex-wife, Kathy, according to Pugh's testimony. Zeitoun instructed Pugh, who was to be released soon from jail, to call Kathy Zeitoun -- Zeitoun allegedly wrote her phone number on an envelope, which was introduced as evidence -- and ask to see one of the family's rental properties. When she took him to a certain property in Algiers, he could kill her there, he allegedly said. Zeitoun also allegedly told Pugh to buy a "throwaway phone" and take pictures to confirm she was dead.

(via digg)

Update: Zeitoun was found not guilty.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun was found not guilty Tuesday of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.

The verdict came from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo. Zeitoun, 55, had waived his right to a jury trial. He had been charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of his ex-wife. He was acquitted on both counts.

(thx, mike)

A friendship with Charles MansonJul 05 2013

Denise Noe wrote an article in 2004 about how Charles Manson was more pathetic than mesmerizing or messianic. She sent the article to Manson and the two became pen/phone pals.

Over the past two years, we have spoken many times. Talking with him was spooky at first but soon lost that eerie sense. Describing our conversations can be difficult as his diction consists of a motley mix of allegory, parable, hyperbole, fantasy, and metaphor. He habitually jumps from subject to subject and from one mode to another. Many listeners would call his conversations "crazy." My take is that he is not psychotic but deliberately refuses to humor his listeners by settling down to a subject or mode when he talks. He enjoys free-associating.

His often muses about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They are probably the two most famous American presidents with one tied to the country's founding and the other to its continued unity despite its Civil War. For reasons I don't quite understand, Manson tends to be positive on Washington and negative on Lincoln.

Part of the reason he tends to talk in a kind of free floating manner may be the particular effect on him of so much time behind bars. It has necessitated a lot of time spent simply in his own head. He is locked down rather tightly, primarily for his own protection. He told me that he is allowed to play his guitar in his cell. He has always enjoyed music although the Beatles obsession is probably just myth. The music he makes tends to be country and folk with some rock flavor and shows little Beatles influence.

He also spends quite a bit of time watching television.

Recapturing the FriedmansJun 26 2013

Back in November, I posted about the effort of the filmmakers of Capturing the Friedmans to prove the innocence of one of the film's subjects, Jesse Friedman. On Monday, a 168-page report released by the Nassau County District Attorney's office found that there was enough evidence to charge and convict Friedman of sexual molestation of minors.

Friedman, his supporters and the makers of the Academy Award-nominated documentary have long maintained he was railroaded into pleading guilty to charges he molested 13 kids in the late 1980s, and were expecting the report to exonerate him.

It did the opposite.

Friedman, they found, was labeled a "psychopathic deviant" by his own shrink, and had actually sexually abused a total of 17 children.

"The District Attorney concludes that Jesse Friedman was not wrongfully convicted," the blistering 172-page report says.

"In fact, by any impartial analysis, the investigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman . . . has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman's guilty plea adjudication as a sex offender."

The panel said it interviewed three of Friedman's now-adult victims. "Each confirmed that he was sexually abused by Jesse Friedman. Each told their separate story, marked by pain and recovery," and "recounted years of shame and humiliation," the report said.

The Washington Post has more. (via @DavidGrann)

The Act of KillingMay 28 2013

Executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, The Act of Killing is a documentary directed by Joshua Oppenheimer about a group of Indonesian mass murderers.

In The Act of Killing, Anwar and his friends agree to tell us the story of the killings. But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary: they want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. We seize this opportunity to expose how a regime that was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable, would project itself into history.

And so we challenge Anwar and his friends to develop fiction scenes about their experience of the killings, adapted to their favorite film genres -- gangster, western, musical. They write the scripts. They play themselves. And they play their victims.

Wow. (via @aaroncoleman0)

US gun homicide rate down 49% over last 20 yearsMay 08 2013

The national rates of gun violence and homicide in the US have fallen significantly in past 20 years, but most people are unaware. From a recently released Pew Research report:

Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007. The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008. The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall also dropped in the 1990s before declining more slowly from 2000 to 2010, then ticked up in 2011.

Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

The whys behind the drop in gun violence (and in crime in general) are more difficult to come by:

There is consensus that demographics played some role: The outsized post-World War II baby boom, which produced a large number of people in the high-crime ages of 15 to 20 in the 1960s and 1970s, helped drive crime up in those years.

A review by the National Academy of Sciences of factors driving recent crime trends (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 2008) cited a decline in rates in the early 1980s as the young boomers got older, then a flare-up by mid-decade in conjunction with a rising street market for crack cocaine, especially in big cities. It noted recruitment of a younger cohort of drug seller with greater willingness to use guns. By the early 1990s, crack markets withered in part because of lessened demand, and the vibrant national economy made it easier for even low-skilled young people to find jobs rather than get involved in crime.

At the same time, a rising number of people ages 30 and older were incarcerated, due in part to stricter laws, which helped restrain violence among this age group. It is less clear, researchers say, that innovative policing strategies and police crackdowns on use of guns by younger adults played a significant role in reducing crime.

(via hacker news)

The Jewish prisonerMay 02 2013

In a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, David Arenberg describes his experience as one of the very few Jews in the state prison in which he's currently incarcerated.

I am always the last person to eat. It's part of a compromise I worked out with the skinheads who run the western state prison complex where I am incarcerated. Under this compromise, I'm allowed to sit at the whites' tables, but only after the "heads," and then the "woods," and then the "lames" have eaten. I am lower on the totem pole than all of them, the untouchable. I should feel lucky I'm allowed to eat at the whites' tables at all.

Not that there's anywhere else I could eat. The prison yard is broken down into five distinct racial categories and segregation is strictly enforced. There are the "woods" (short for peckerwoods) that encompass the whites, the "kinfolk" (blacks), the "Raza" (American-born people of Mexican descent), the "paisas" (Mexico-born Mexicans), and the "chiefs" (American Indians). Under the strict rules that govern interracial relations, different races are allowed to play on the same sports teams but not play individual games (e.g., chess) together; they may be in each others' cubicles together if the situation warrants but not sit on each others' beds or watch each others' televisions. They may go to the same church services but not pray together. But if you accidentally break one of these rules, the consequences are usually pretty mild: you might get a talking to by one of the heads (who, of course, claims exemption from this rule himself), or at worst, a "chin check."

Eating with another race, however, is a different story. It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you'll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you'll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don't have any play.

The wisdom of crowdsourcing manhuntsApr 25 2013

James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, wrote about what was right and wrong about Reddit's crowdsourced hunt for the Boston bombing suspects.

The truth is that if Reddit is actually interested in using the power of its crowd to help the authorities, it needs to dramatically rethink its approach, because the process it used to try to find the bombers wasn't actually tapping the wisdom of crowds at all -- at least not as I would define that wisdom. For a crowd to be smart, the people in it need to be not only diverse in their perspectives but also, relatively speaking, independent of each other. In other words, you need people to be thinking for themselves, rather than following the lead of those around them.

When the book came out in 2004, I wrote a short post that summarizes the four main conditions you need for a wise crowd. What's striking about most social media and software, as Surowiecki notes in the case of Reddit, is how most of these conditions are not satisfied. There's little diversity and independence: Twitter and Facebook mostly show you people who are like you and things your social group is into. And social media is becoming ever more centralized: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, Pinterest, etc. instead of a decentralized network of independent blogs. In fact, the nature of social media is to be centralized, peer-dependent, and homogeneous because that's how people naturally group themselves together. It's a wonder the social media crowd ever gets anything right.

A pair of 2011 blog comments by "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev"Apr 19 2013

UMass Dartmouth is reporting that "a person being sought in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing has been identified as a student registered at UMass Dartmouth":

Umass Dart Closed

I don't know that there's any verified report that registered student is bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but I found a blog post from August 2011 that suggests that Tsarnaev was participating in the school's summer reading program for incoming first-year students. The students were participating in a group discussion blog while reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The post in question was written by UMass Dartmouth English teacher Shelagh Smith on the concept of thin-slicing as it pertained to the case of the West Memphis Three. The post reads, in part:

I believe that thin slicing put them in jail. It helped an entire community make a rash decision and justify their actions in convicting three teens of murder. Once the town was able to identify the bogeyman, they could rest easy again.

But it all went horribly wrong. The real murderers were never found. These young men went into prison at 18 years old. Today, they walked out at 36 years old.

Being different - being unique - is a right we're supposed to enjoy in this country. But what we can't control is how people view us.

So what do we do about that? Is there anything we can do about it?

In response, a commenter listing his name as "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev" posted the following about a week and a half after the original posting:

In this case it would have been hard to protect or defend these young boys if the whole town exclaimed in happiness at the arrest. Also, to go against the authorities isn't the easiest thing to do. Don't get me wrong though, I am appalled at the situation but I think that the town was scared and desperate to blame someone. It's because of stories like this and such occurrences that make a positive change in this world. I'm pretty sure there won't be anymore similar tales like this. In any case, if they do, people won't stand quiet, i hope.

Tsarnaev also made another comment in another thread on the blog a few minutes earlier in which he offered a critique of Gladwell's book:

While I understand and agree with most of the concepts that Gladwell explained in his book, there are several ideas of his that I cannot fathom or just choose not to believe. Yes, this book was very interesting but the idea that a person can predict whether you and your partner are going to be together in the future is honestly a little hard to believe. Sure, if you put two obvious celebrities in a room talking about how they're going to adopt six children, that's just not going to work out. And the idea that a more experienced doctor is more likely to be sued is likely to happen because they would have way more patients and more time in the work force. "Thin-slicing" and other concepts made me want to keep reading.

The Central Park FiveApr 17 2013

Caught The Central Park Five on PBS last night and it's one of those films that puts you into rage-against-the-machine mode.

The Central Park Five, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City's Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.

The entire film is available to watch on the PBS web site. Tonight, there's a TimesTalk in NYC featuring Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, Times columnist Jim Dwyer, and all five of the exonerated men; the talk will be broadcast live on the web here.

Crouching government, hidden compartmentApr 01 2013

Alfred Anaya was really good at putting secret compartments into cars and he thought he was in the clear if he didn't know what his customers were putting in these compartments. He was wrong.

Alfred Anaya took pride in his generous service guarantee. Though his stereo installation business, Valley Custom Audio Fanatics, was just a one-man operation based out of his San Fernando, California, home, he offered all of his clients a lifetime warranty: If there was ever any problem with his handiwork, he would fix it for the cost of parts alone-no questions asked.

Anaya's customers typically took advantage of this deal when their fiendishly loud subwoofers blew out or their fiberglass speaker boxes developed hairline cracks. But in late January 2009, a man whom Anaya knew only as Esteban called for help with a more exotic product: a hidden compartment that Anaya had installed in his Ford F-150 pickup truck. Over the years, these secret stash spots-or traps, as they're known in automotive slang-have become a popular luxury item among the wealthy and shady alike. This particular compartment was located behind the truck's backseat, which Anaya had rigged with a set of hydraulic cylinders linked to the vehicle's electrical system. The only way to make the seat slide forward and reveal its secret was by pressing and holding four switches simultaneously: two for the power door locks and two for the windows.

Esteban said the seat was no longer responding to the switch combination and that no amount of jiggling could make it budge. He pleaded with Anaya to take a look.

Anaya was unsettled by this request, for he had suspicions about the nature of Esteban's work. There is nothing intrinsically illegal about building traps, which are commonly used to hide everything from pricey jewelry to legal handguns. But the activity runs afoul of California law if an installer knows for certain that his compartment will be used to transport drugs. The maximum penalty is three years in prison. Anaya thus thought it wise to deviate from his standard no-questions-asked policy before agreeing to honor his warranty. "There's nothing in there I shouldn't know about, is there?" he asked. Esteban assured him that he needn't worry.

Read all the way to the end for author Brendan Koerner's conclusions about our government's position of the moral neutrality of technology.

Man caught with 21 tons of stolen cheeseMar 29 2013

Veniamin Konstantinovich Balika recently used false paperwork to load his 18 wheeler with 42,000 pounds of Muenster cheese worth about $200K. Balika's plan was to sell the cheese to retailers on the east coast.

"There's a black market for everything," said Sissman. "We've seen everything stolen. We've found stolen beer, stolen food, stolen machine parts, but this is the first time, we've found stolen cheese.

I wanted the opinion of an industry professional so I reached out to Aaron Foster, Head Buyer at Murray's Cheese Shop.

I've seen a lot of people wondering how the culprit was planning to unload 40,000 lbs of cheese without raising suspicion. Is there such a thing as a cheddar fence? In my opinion, it really wouldn't be that hard. While the larger retailers and chains -- and, of course, Murray's -- have all become much more conscious of food safety and food security, there remains plenty of retailers who would jump at the chance to buy their product for pennies on the dollar, no questions asked. Literally as I wrote this, I received a vague email with the subject "RE: Special sale - Mega aged WI Cheddar". I'll pass, thanks. Groceries, specialty shops, and bodegas that work with perishables need every edge they can get to scrape by. Think about that next time you order your egg and cheese from the corner store.

And then I couldn't help but find out more about stolen cheese. Cheese theft isn't actually that uncommon. In fact, cheese is the most stolen food item of all with up to 4% of all cheese stolen at some point in it's journey from maker to mouth. A cursory Google search turned up trunks full of stolen cheese in Michigan, 52-year old naked library denizens arrested with knives and stolen cheese, stolen government cheese in 1983(!), stolen cheese spread all over a Hy-Vee men's room, video of brazen cheese wheel thieves, "the crushing authoritarianism of the Crown of England," a cheese thief in Brooklyn, and a shoplifting celebrity chef. (thx, drew)

Hitting the wowMar 25 2013

A long piece in this week's New Yorker by Marc Fisher about more alleged sexual abuse at The Horace Mann School, a prep school in the Bronx. Fisher's piece focuses on Robert Berman, an English teacher at the school for many years.

One group of boys stood apart; they insisted on wearing jackets and ties and shades, and they stuck to themselves, reciting poetry and often sneering at the rest of us. A few of them shaved their heads. We called them Bermanites, after their intellectual and sartorial model, an English teacher named Robert Berman: a small, thin, unsmiling man who papered over the windows of his classroom door so that no one could peek through.

Assigned to Berman for tenth-grade English, I took a seat one September morning alongside sixteen or seventeen other boys. We waited in silence as he sat at his desk, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watching us from behind dark glasses. Finally, Mr. Berman stood up, took a fresh stick of chalk, climbed onto his chair, and reached above the blackboard to draw a horizontal line on the paint. "This," he said, after a theatrical pause, "is Milton." He let his hand fall a few inches, drew another line, and said, "This is Shakespeare." Another line, lower, on the blackboard: "This is Mahler." And, just below, "Here is Browning." Then he took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the chalk onto the floor, and, using the heel of his black leather loafer, ground it into the wooden floorboards. "And this, gentlemen," he said, "is you."

The next day, I asked to be transferred. I was not alone. By the end of the week, Berman's class had shrunk by about half. The same thing happened every year; his classes often ended up as intimate gatherings of six to eight. Many students found Berman forbidding, but some of the teachers referred to him as a genius. Boys competed to learn tidbits about him. It was said, with little or no evidence, that he was an artist and a sculptor, that he knew Sanskrit, Russian, and Urdu, and that his wife and child had been killed in a horrific car crash. Though he was only in his mid-thirties, a graduate of the University of Michigan, it was rumored that he had been a paleontologist and had taught at Yale. Administrators told students and their parents that Horace Mann was incredibly lucky to have him, however odd he might be. The boys who remained in his classes were often caught up in his love of art, music, and literature, and in his belief that every moment of life should be spent reaching for the transcendence of the Elgin Marbles, of a fresco by Fra Angelico, even of an ordinary sunset. The boys absorbed the lists he made. "Take this down," he'd say. "The ten greatest racehorses of all time." Or, "This is the list of the ten greatest movies ever made-but you won't find 'Lawrence of Arabia' on it, because it's off the charts!" One day, he mounted a rearview mirror on the far wall of the classroom so that he could stare at the portrait of Milton behind his back.

Big break in the Gardner Museum HeistMar 19 2013

Yesterday, the FBI announced major advances in solving the biggest art heist in history. The break in occurred at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 when a night watchman opened the door to men dressed as police. Works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet valued at over $500M were taken and have not been seen since.

"The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft. With that confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England," Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the Boston office of the FBI, said.

The guard who opened the door, Richard Abath, was looked at pretty closely again last week, though he's not mentioned specifically this week.

The Bolshoi Ballet acid attackMar 18 2013

Writing for the New Yorker, David Remnick covers the Bolshoi acid attack and the larger ills that afflict the historic ballet company.

At around eleven, Filin, feeling tired and eager to see his wife, steered the Mercedes into a parking lot outside his building and headed for his door. The snow was icy and thick. Filin was reaching for the security buzzer when he heard someone behind him call out his name. Then the voice said, "Tebye privet!" -- literally, "Hello to you!," but more abrupt and menacing, as though someone were relaying an ominous greeting from a third party.

Filin turned and saw a man in front of him. He was neither tall nor short. He wore a woolly hat and a scarf wrapped around his face. His right arm was crooked behind him, as if he were concealing something.

A gun, Filin thought, in that flash of confrontation: He's holding a gun and I am dead. Bolt! But, before he could move, his attacker swung his arm out in front of him. In his hand was a glass jar filled with liquid, and he hurled its contents at Filin's face. A security camera in the parking lot fixed the time at 23:07.

The liquid was sulfuric acid -- the "oil of vitriol," as medieval alchemists called it. Depending on the concentration, it can lay waste to human skin as quickly as in a horror movie. Scientists working with sulfuric acid wear protective goggles; even a small amount in the eyes can destroy the cornea and cause permanent blindness.

Filin was in agony. The burning was immediate and severe. His vision turned to black. He could feel the scalding of his face and scalp, the pain intensifying all the time.

Always good to read Remnick on Russia...he was The Washington Post's Moscow correspondent for a few years in the late 1980s.

The professor and the bikini modelMar 08 2013

Paul Frampton is a 69-year-old theoretical particle physicist who has co-authored papers with Nobel laureates. In late 2011, the absentminded professor met a Czech bikini model online. Over email and Yahoo chat, they became romantically involved and she sent him a plane ticket to come meet her at a photo shoot in Bolivia. Then she asked him to bring a bag of hers with him on his flight.

While in Bolivia, Frampton corresponded with an old friend, John Dixon, a physicist and lawyer who lives in Ontario. When Frampton explained what he was up to, Dixon became alarmed. His warnings to Frampton were unequivocal, Dixon told me not long ago, still clearly upset: "I said: 'Well, inside that suitcase sewn into the lining will be cocaine. You're in big trouble.' Paul said, 'I'll be careful, I'll make sure there isn't cocaine in there and if there is, I'll ask them to remove it.' I thought they were probably going to kidnap him and torture him to get his money. I didn't know he didn't have money. I said, 'Well, you're going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?' And he said, 'You can contact my brother and my former wife.' " Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon's warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.

On the evening of Jan. 20, nine days after he arrived in Bolivia, a man Frampton describes as Hispanic but whom he didn't get a good look at handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. Frampton was expecting to be given an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton, but the bag was an utterly commonplace black cloth suitcase with wheels. Once he was back in his room, he opened it. It was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why this particular suitcase was so important. She told him it had "sentimental value." The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.

Crazy story. (via @stevenstrogatz)

The rules at Harper HighFeb 20 2013

Here are some of the rules students live by at Harper High School in Chicago: Know your geography (whether you join a gang or not, you're in one). Never walk by yourself. Never walk with someone else. If someone shoots, don't run. These are just a few of the exhausting complexities that face the kids at Harper High, where 29 current and former students were shot last year. The reality on the streets leads the kids to one final rule: never go outside. This American Life spent five months at Harper High School. Part one of their report is a must-listen. Within a few minutes of the piece, you'll understand what one of the adults who was interviewed means when he says, "it ain't a fairy tale."

Before fingerprintingFeb 18 2013

Welshouse Bertillon

Seeing so many CSI and police procedural shows on TV today, it's easy to take for granted being able to rapidly and accurately identify criminals. Fingerprinting, as probably the biggest technological advancement in identifying criminals, is a big part of that. But what'd we have before fingerprinting?

According to the National Law Enforcement Museum:

Alphonse Bertillon was a French criminologist who first developed this anthropometric system of physical measurements of body parts, especially components of the head and face, to produce a detailed description of an individual. This system, invented in 1879, became known as the Bertillon system, or bertillonage, and quickly gained wide acceptance as a reliable, scientific method of criminal investigation. In 1884 alone, French police used Bertillon's system to help capture 241 repeat offenders, which helped establish the system's effectiveness. Primarily, investigators used the Bertillon system to determine if a suspect in custody had been involved in previous crimes. Law enforcement agencies began to create archives of records of known criminals, which contained his or her anthropometric measurements, as well as full-face and profile photographs of the perpetrator (now commonly known as "mugshots," which are still in use today).

It was essentially a criminal justice Dewey Decimal System, the first step in taking police out of the dark ages. Before Bertillion standardized measurements, police just had a jumble of descriptions and photographs with no way to organize them so they'd almost never be able to cross reference existing records when people were arrested.

Of course Bertillion's system was just a stop-gap measure. The system was only really in use for about 30 years before fingerprints became the dominant identification method.

In 1903, a man named Will West was committed to the penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was photographed and measured using the Bertillon system. Will West's measurements were found to be almost identical to a criminal at the same penitentiary named William West, who was committed for murder in 1901 and was serving a life sentence. Furthermore, their photographs showed that the two men bore a close physical resemblance to one another, although it was not clear that they were even related. In the ensuing confusion surrounding the true identities of the two men, their fingerprints conclusively identified them and demonstrated clearly that the adoption of a fingerprint identification system was more reliable than the older Bertillon system.

The guy in this photo is John Welshouse who was convicted in 1914 for violating the White Slave Act (prostitution). (via @pruned)

More Apollo Robbins pickpocketing amazingnessFeb 06 2013

In January, I linked to a piece in the New Yorker about master pickpocket Apollo Robbins.

One day, over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a Las Vegas strip mall, Robbins demonstrated his method on me. "When I shake someone's hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left," he said, showing me. "The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I'm finding out what kind of a partner they're going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them."

Robbins was recently a guest on the Today show and the amount of criminal shenanighans he pulls off in this four minute video is astounding:

(via digg)

How to find your stolen carJan 31 2013

Tyler Cowen gets the best email. Case in point is this advice from a former cab driver on the best way to get your stolen car back:

If your car is ever stolen, your first calls should be to every cab company in the city. You offer a $50 reward to the driver who finds it AND a $50 reward to the dispatcher on duty when the car is found. The latter is to encourage dispatchers on shift to continually remind drivers of your stolen car. Of course you should call the police too but first things first. There are a lot more cabs than cops so cabbies will find it first -- and they're more frequently going in places cops typically don't go, like apartment and motel complex parking lots, back alleys etc. Lastly, once the car is found, a swarm of cabs will descend and surround it because cabbies, like anyone else, love excitement and want to catch bad guys.

Televised police chase goes by house of guy filming it on TVJan 15 2013

Some YouTube commenters claim to have found the cameraman in the TV footage, looking out the window at around 13:03. This video is posted with healthy skepticism, but also an unbridled joy in amazing timing. (via digg)

Update: Andy Baio synched the two videos up and it seems legit.

YouTube gun nut shot deadJan 11 2013

Keith Ratliff posted dozens of videos showcasing high-powered guns on his popular YouTube channel, FPSRussia. Last week, he was found dead with a single shot to the head, surrounded by several guns...but not the gun that killed him.

The news, coming amid a national debate about gun control, rippled across the blogs and social networking sites where his videos were popular. Tributes on Facebook and Twitter came from fans stunned that such a well-armed expert had not been able to defend himself.

"For him not to pull out that gun and try to defend himself, he had to feel comfortable around somebody," his wife, Amanda, told a television channel in Lexington, Ky., where he used to live. "Either that or he was ambushed."

Here's a FPSRussia video showing off a fully automatic shotgun that can shoot 300 rounds per minute even after being submerged in water:

And this drone with a machine gun on it is terrifying:

(via the atlantic)

Update: Just to clarify because I'm getting a bunch of mail about it, Ratliff was a gun nut and the owner of that YouTube channel, but he was not the person in all those videos...he was more like the producer/camera operator.

Also, that quadricopter machine gun thing is CGI and a commercial for a video game. Soon enough though.

Crooks are stealing Tide to trade it for drugsJan 08 2013

I had no idea that laundry detergent could be so interesting. Procter & Gamble has done such a good job positioning Tide as a luxury laundry detergent that they can charge a premium for it and people will still buy.

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30 percent of the liquid-detergent market.

Because of this premium status and because laundry detergent is not usually well-guarded in grocery stores, Tide has become a large target for theft and subsequent resale, either for cash or crack on street corners across the nation.

What did thieves want with so much laundry soap? To find out, he and his unit pored over security recordings to identify prolific perpetrators, whom officers then tracked down and detained for questioning. "We never promised to go easy on them, but they were willing to talk about it," Thompson says. "I guess they were bragging." It turned out the detergent wasn't being used as an ingredient in some new recipe for getting high, but instead to buy drugs themselves. Tide bottles have become ad hoc street currency, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 worth of weed or crack cocaine. On certain corners, the detergent has earned a new nickname: "Liquid gold." The Tide people would never sanction that tag line, of course. But this unlikely black market would not have formed if they weren't so good at pushing their product.

Please don't let this be a hoax, it's almost too good to be true. (via @mulegirl)

How to pick a pocketJan 06 2013

If you read the piece on pickpockets in the New Yorker last week (and if not, I encourage you to), you've got to check out this video they made of Apollo Robbins taking all sorts of stuff from Adam Green, who plays the bewildered NYer writer part perfectly. Way better than the YT video I embedded last week.

US prison population on the declineJan 04 2013

A wee bit of good news about American prisons for a change: after rising each year since the mid-1970s, the US incarceration rate has declined each of the past three years.

Prison Stats 2012

I hereby submit my nomination for the most underreported public policy story of the past year: The continuing decline in the number of Americans who are behind bars or on probation/parole. Both the change itself and low level of attention it has garnered are worthy of reflection.

At the time of President Obama's inauguration, the incarceration rate in the United States had been rising every single year since the mid 1970s. The relentless growth in the proportion of Americans behind bars had persisted through good economic times and bad, Republican and Democratic Presidents, and countless changes in state and local politics around the country.

If a public policy trend with that much momentum had even slowed significantly, it would have been merited attention, but something far more remarkable occurred: The incarceration rate and the number of people under correctional supervision (i.e., including people on probation/parole) declined for three years in a row. At the end of 2011, the proportion of people under correctional supervision returned to a level not seen since the end of the Clinton Administration.

Commenters over at Marginal Revolution dug into the report a bit more and the decline may have a lot to do with things like state budget cuts and less to do with things like fewer/shorter prison sentences.

Does lead cause crime?Jan 04 2013

In recent years, we've seen a pretty steady drop in serious crime in many American cities. There are several theories to explain the drop -- better policing strategies, shifting demographics, economic ups and downs -- but none of them seems to provide a full and consistent explanation. In Mojo, Kevin Drum thinks he may have found the villain behind crime (and lower IQs and ADHD): Lead. "When differences of atmospheric lead density between big and small cities largely went away, so did the difference in murder rates." I'm not sure if this is truly the answer, but it's a very interesting read: America's Real Criminal Element.

Gun deaths continue in US following NewtownJan 02 2013

Unsurprisingly, people are continuing to die from guns in the US. Adam Lanza killed 28 people on December 14th, 2012 and since then, 393 more people have died.

The neuroscience of pickpocketsJan 01 2013

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Adam Green profiles Apollo Robbins, by most accounts the world's best pickpocket. How he goes about engaging his prey is fascinating:

One day, over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a Las Vegas strip mall, Robbins demonstrated his method on me. "When I shake someone's hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left," he said, showing me. "The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I'm finding out what kind of a partner they're going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them."

Robbins needs to get close to his victims without setting off alarm bells. "If I come at you head-on, like this," he said, stepping forward, "I'm going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that's going to make you uncomfortable." He took a step back. "So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I'm in your space." He demonstrated, winding up shoulder to shoulder with me, looking up at me sideways, his head cocked, all innocence. "See how I was able to close the gap?" he said. "I flew in under your radar and I have access to all your pockets."

Hard to choose just one passage from this story, so I will also include this bit about attention:

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. "It's all about the choreography of people's attention," he said. "Attention is like water. It flows. It's liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way."

Robbins uses various metaphors to describe how he works with attention, talking about "surfing attention," "carving up the attentional pie," and "framing." "I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would," he said. "If I lean my face close in to someone's, like this" -- he demonstrated -- "it's like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, 'You had a wallet in your back pocket -- is it still there?' Now their focus is on their back pocket, or their brain just short-circuits for a second, and I'm free to steal from their jacket."

This routine is a pretty good demonstration of how Robbins diverts attention for the purpose of theft.

Senator Moynihan's bullet taxDec 18 2012

In an editorial for the NY Times in 1993 called Guns Don't Kill People. Bullets Do., US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described a bill he introduced in the Senate which would have levied a 10,000% tax on hollow-point bullets.

"So far this year, 342 New Yorkers have been killed by stray bullets. And in the past few days, two young women were shot in their pregnant bellies." A. M. Rosenthal wrote that on this page last Tuesday, the day of the Long Island shooting. By Thursday there were 11 more homicides. If we are to stop it, or come anywhere close, we have to get hold of the ammunition.

On Nov. 3, I introduced a bill that would levy a 10,000 percent tax on Winchester hollow-tipped "Black Talon" bullets, specifically designed to rip flesh. (Colin Ferguson, the suspect in the Long Island shootings, had some 40 of them.)

The tax would effectively raise the price of Black Talons from $20 a box to $2,000. On Nov. 22, 19 days after my bill was introduced, Winchester announced that it would cease sale of Black Talons to the public. Which suggests that the munitions manufacturers are more responsive than the automobile companies were a generation ago. It is also important to note that in 1986 Congress banned the Teflon-coated "cop killer" bullet, which penetrates police body armor. The Swedes are now making a new kind of armor-piercing round. We got that banned in the Senate version of this year's crime bill without a murmur.

The Long Island shootings Moynihan refers to resulted in the deaths of six people and the injury of nineteen more. (via @Rebeccamead_NYC)

Gun trends explain US gun cultureDec 18 2012

Emily Badger highlights some trends in gun ownership, gun violence, and public opinion related to gun control over the past several decades.

A handful of charts paint a remarkable picture of some key shifts over the past 30 or 40 years. During that time, gun violence nationally has declined significantly even as aberrant mass shootings have grown less so; public sentiment for regulating the weapons has fallen steeply, too. Mother Jones has estimated that we're approaching a demographic reality where our population of firearms will outpace our population of people. But hard data on the total number of civilian-owned guns in America is hard to come by, and so much of what we know on the topic is based upon what gun owners themselves say in surveys.

Gun violence in the US since FridayDec 17 2012

This morning at 11am, Ken Layne collected a number of incidents of gun violence that have occurred in the US since the Newtown shootings on Friday. They include:

In Mississippi, one man is dead and two are injured (including the dead man's father) "after an argument over a man 'doing donuts' -- or spinning his truck in circles -- in a field."

Two police officers were shot dead in Kansas on Sunday morning. They were investigating a "suspicious vehicle."

A 42-year-old destitute maniac fired 50 rounds at the Fashion Island luxury mall in Newport Beach, California, on Saturday evening. No one was injured.

Layne also noted "this is not a comprehensive list of the U.S. gun violence over the past 48 hours".

The results of tougher gun laws in AustraliaDec 17 2012

A 2006 paper that appeared in Injury Prevention analyzed the possible results of the 1996 gun law reforms in Australia. The most striking result: in the 18 years before tougher laws were passed, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia...and none in the 10.5 years afterwards.

Results: In the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, and none in the 10.5 years afterwards. Declines in firearm-related deaths before the law reforms accelerated after the reforms for total firearm deaths (p = 0.04), firearm suicides (p = 0.007) and firearm homicides (p = 0.15), but not for the smallest category of unintentional firearm deaths, which increased. No evidence of substitution effect for suicides or homicides was observed. The rates per 100 000 of total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides all at least doubled their existing rates of decline after the revised gun laws.

Conclusions: Australia's 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm homicides and firearm suicides.

The blueprint for media coverage of mass killingsDec 14 2012

From a few years ago, Charlie Brooker's Newswipe takes on the media's reaction to mass killings, similar to what Roger Ebert was getting at.

(thx, daniel)

Remnick to Obama: take action on gun controlDec 14 2012

The New Yorker's editor in chief David Remnick strongly urges President Obama to take decisive action on gun control.

Barack Obama has been in our field of vision for a long time now, and, more than any major politician of recent memory, he hides in plain sight. He is who he is. He may strike the unsympathetic as curiously remote or arrogant or removed; he certainly strikes his admirers as a man of real intelligence and dignity. But he is who he is. He is no phony. And so there is absolutely no reason to believe that his deep, raw emotion today following the horrific slaughter in Connecticut-his tears, the prolonged catch in his voice-was anything but genuine. But this was a slaughter-a slaughter like so many before it-and emotion is hardly all that is needed. What is needed is gun control-strict, comprehensive gun control that places the values of public safety and security before the values of deer hunting and a perverse ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment. Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown "as a parent," and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises-a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.

The Onion, often the most emotionally honest media sourceDec 14 2012

The Onion takes on the CT school shootings in a series of articles. First, there's Fuck Everything, Nation Reports:

Following the fatal shooting this morning at a Connecticut elementary school that left at least 27 dead, including 20 small children, sources across the nation shook their heads, stifled a sob in their voices, and reported fuck everything. Just fuck it all to hell.

All of it, sources added.

"I'm sorry, but fuck it, I can't handle this-I just can't handle it anymore," said Deborah McEllis, who added that "no, no, no, no, no, this isn't happening, this can't be real." "Seriously, what the hell is this? What's even going on anymore? Why do things like this keep happening?"

From Right To Own Handheld Device That Shoots Deadly Metal Pellets At High Speed Worth All Of This:

"It's my God-given right and a founding principle of this country that I be able to own a [piece of metal that launches other smaller pieces of metal great distances, one after the other], and if a few deaths here and there is the price we have to pay for that freedom, then so be it," said Lawrence Crane of nearby Danbury, CT, who is such a staunch advocate of the portable deadly-pellet-flinging apparatuses that he keeps multiple versions of such mechanisms in his home, often carries one with him, and is a member of a club whose sole purpose is to celebrate these assembled steel things and the small bits of metal they send flying.

And Report: It Okay To Spend Rest Of Day Curled In Fetal Position Under Desk:

Following reports of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children dead, sources just confirmed that it is totally fine to spend the entire rest of today curled up in the fetal position underneath your desk. Early reports also indicated that sitting on the floor while holding your knees to your chest and slowly rocking back and forth is not only acceptable, but, sources said, absolutely understandable.

Kids and guns in the USADec 14 2012

Back in 2007, Gary Younge wrote an article for the Guardian about nine children who were killed with guns in one day in the US.

In many respects, then, Gerardo's death set the scene for just another day in America. Over the following 24 hours, on this day picked at random, another eight children would lose their lives. Gerardo was the eldest; the youngest was two. Eight were black and one was Hispanic. They died in housing estates, suburbs and malls, at parties and on porches, in areas of average income and of above-average poverty. They were shot by a relative, friend, unknown assassin, a pizza delivery man, an off-duty police officer and by accident. It was Thanksgiving, the biggest travelling weekend of the year, when people are returning home after joining their families for the holiday. By the time the day was over, nine families were one member short.

The NRA is winning the war on gunsDec 14 2012

And it's not because they have guns. They've got money and political influence.

While the NRA wins court fights, laws allowing more guns in more public places continue to spread, often for reasons that defy logic. For example, take the reasoning offered by Alabama state Sen. Roger Bedford, a Democrat, when explaining to Bloomberg earlier this week why he introduced a bill that would allow people to keep their guns in their cars in the workplace parking lot. "This provides safety and protection for workers who oftentimes travel 20 to 50 miles to their jobs," Bedford said. What does this mean? If there's a workplace shooting, people need to be able to have their guns in the parking lot to turn the place into a true shootout? Or does he just mean that maybe people need to be able to shoot to kill while driving down the highway on the way to work?

Facts about guns and mass shootings in the USDec 14 2012

More facts about guns in America from Ezra Klein, beginning with the sad fact that "shooting sprees are not rare in the United States".

If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation's security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. But that's unacceptable. As others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn't "too soon." It's much too late.

How do we prevent school massacres?Dec 14 2012

Josh Marshall at TPM asks: how do we fix this?

I don't want to hear about these tragedies being rooted in evil or the human heart. We know the human heart is a substandard product. The brain frequently malfunctions. It's offensive to put this forward as part of a discussion about policy as opposed to theodicy and meditation. We know that the vast, vast proportion of gun owners use them legally and safely. We also know that gun deaths are rare in many other countries quite similar to the USA for the simple reason they don't have so many friggin' guns all over the place. This is obvious. And guns just make it easy to kill a lot of people really quickly. Freely available body armor helps too.

The United States of GunsDec 14 2012

From the New Yorker back in April, Jill Lepore wrote about the history of guns in America.

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane's parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather's barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

The right day to talk about gunsDec 14 2012

Writing for the New Yorker, Alex Koppelman says that today is the right day to talk about guns.

Carney's response was a predictable one. This is the way that we deal with such incidents in the U.S.-we acknowledge them; we are briefly shocked by them; then we term it impolite to discuss their implications, and to argue about them. At some point, we will have to stop putting it off, stop pretending that doing so is the proper, respectful thing. It's not either. It's cowardice.

It is cowardice, too, the way that Carney and President Obama and their fellow-Democrats talk about gun control, when they finally decide the time is right. They avoid the issue as much as possible, then mouth platitudes, or promise to pass only the most popular of measures, like the assault-weapons ban. And then they do nothing to follow through.

Japan is a land without guns (and shooting deaths)Dec 14 2012

Max Fisher on firearm ownership in Japan.

But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world's least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.

Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country's infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.

Six facts about guns and gun controlDec 14 2012

In the aftermath of the Aurora, CO shootings, Ezra Klein wrote six facts about guns, violence, and gun control.

1. America is an unusually violent country. But we're not as violent as we used to be.

5. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Studies: more guns, more homicideDec 14 2012

The Harvard Injury Control Research Center has reviewed the literature and the results are clear: more guns = more homicide.

Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

Ol' Dirty Bastard's FBI fileDec 14 2012

Earlier in the year, Rich Jones at Gun.io filed a Freedom of Information request for Ol' Dirty Bastard's FBI file. It appears Wu-Tang may not actually be for the children. Here are the parts Jones noted.

"The WTC is heavily involved in the sale of drugs, illegal guns, weapons possession, murder, carjacking and other types of violent crime." [p5]

Connections to the murder of Robert "Pooh" Johnson and Jerome "Boo Boo" Estrella. [p6]

Connection to murder of Ishamael "Hoody" Kourma. [p13]

A shoot-out with the NYPD. [p15]

Arrest for felony possession of body armour. [p16]

Connections to the Bloods Gang. [p17]

Found in possession of large bags full of paper currency. [p40]

Details of his being robbed and shot while staying in the Kingston projects. [p45]

But also, Wu-Tang Flan, creator unknown.

wu-tang-flan.jpg

A day without violent crime in NYCNov 29 2012

According to the NYPD, not single violent crime (shooting, stabbing, murder, etc.) was reported in NYC on Monday, "the first time in recent memory" that has happened.

The rare day occurred on Monday, near the end of a year when the city's murder rate is on target to hit its lowest point since 1960, according to New York Police Department chief spokesman Paul Browne.

Browne said it was "first time in memory" the city's police force had experienced such a peaceful day.

While crime is up 3 percent overall, including a 9 percent surge in grand larceny police attribute to a rash of smart phone thefts, murder is down 23 percent over last year, the NYPD said.

Unfortunately, some are crediting the crappy NYPD stop-and-frisk policy with the drop in violent crime. (via marginal revolution)

Uncapturing the FriedmansNov 26 2012

Since Capturing the Friedmans came out in 2003, the filmmakers have been quietly working to prove the innocence of one of the films subjects, interviewing the sexual abuse victims of then 18-year-old Jesse Friedman. What they have found may point to Friedman's innocence.

One of those affected by the case was Arline Epstein, the mother of a child who had attended group therapy along with children who had testified against Jesse. Earlier this year, Arline's son Michael told her that, as a young boy, he had lied to his therapist about being sexually abused. In her testimony, which was featured at Sunday's event, Arline talks about revisiting a file of notes she had kept during the case and finding one that mentioned that during the first round of questioning of the children by police, none of them said they had been abused.

Arline and Michael Epstein are two of the witnesses featured in the video reel of new testimony compiled by Jarecki and Smerling, and both were at Sunday's event. Friedman was overwhelmed by the warm welcome he received from someone, who, as he put it, "for 25 years thought that I'd raped her son."

The evidence the filmmakers have compiled is available on a web site they have set up. (via @DavidGrann)

The Man Who Charged Himself With MurderNov 20 2012

"The man stepped toward him, caught [Trevell] Coleman's eye, and grabbed for the gun. Startled, Coleman squeezed off three shots. The man winced, but didn't make a sound." That was seventeen years ago. Trevell Coleman never knew what happened to the person he shot, but he wanted to find out. From NY Mag: The Man Who Charged Himself with Murder.

Riding with the Truck Stop KillerOct 25 2012

In 1985, Vanessa Veselka was a teenaged hitchhiker who was picked up by a man who would come to be known as the Truck Stop Killer. Nearly three decades later, she returns to the scene of that experience and writes about it for GQ: "I said I wouldn't go to the cops if nothing happened to me, but it was his choice -- until he looked at me and I went still. There was going to be no more talking. I knew in my body that it was over."

Anton Kusters' photos of the YakuzaSep 06 2012

For his Yakuza project, photographer Anton Kusters spent two years documenting some members of the Japanese mafia.

Yakuza Anton KustersA limited edition of a book containing the photos is available. Steward Mag recently did an interview with Kusters:

The values were almost comparable to general Japanese workplace values, actually. Most yakuza gangs actually have neighborhood offices, and the plaques they have on the door state core values like "respect your superiors," "keep the office clean," and so on.

One thing I noticed early on with gang life was how subtle everything was. Everything was unspoken, and will was expressed through group pressure. A pressure was constantly there. There was this innate understanding of form-if someone did something wrong, no one would say anything; he would simply be expected to apologize. And the fact everyone would be so silent about it made the pressure really intense.

(thx, david)

The Chickens and the BullsJul 17 2012

Writing for Slate, William McGowan tells the story of the Chickens and the Bulls, an extensive and brazen extortion ring that targetting prominent homosexuals (admirals, Congressmen, entertainers, etc.) and the NYPD & FBI investigators and prosecutors who put the kibosh on the whole thing with minimal exposure to the victims.

Though now almost forgotten, the case of "the Chickens and the Bulls" as the NYPD called it (or "Operation Homex," to the FBI), still stands as the most far-flung, most organized, and most brazen example of homosexual extortion in the nation's history. And while the Stonewall riot in June 1969 is considered by many to be the pivotal moment in gay civil rights, this case represents an important crux too, marking the first time that the law enforcement establishment actually worked on behalf of victimized gay men, instead of locking them up or shrugging.

The coda of the case is surprising...one of the members of the extortion ring became one of the gay movement's most powerful leaders.

Pineapple under OCJun 28 2012

This story involve: ninjas, Orange County, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Depending on who you ask, artist Todd White, lead character designer of SpongeBob SquarePants, either hired a gang of ninjas to hold hostage a gallery owner for several hours while they stole all his work from the gallery or sent his manager, his lawyer, and an off duty LAPD officer to take his art back from a gallery owner who fraudulently reproduced and signed his work.

Claiming that she had been assaulted and imprisoned, Howell told the cops that she only agreed to be recorded by the men because she was scared. "She was extremely afraid for her life," the officer noted. Terrified for her safety, according to the report she gave the police, she told Eddy and the others what they wanted to hear and signed the settlement only because she had been coerced. She suspected that the caper was designed to eliminate her from White's life and allow him -- and Lavoie, who now worked as White's office manager -- to take over her lucrative gallery themselves. Later that month, she filed a lawsuit against White seeking $7.5 million for physical and emotional trauma. The settlement she had signed that night had no merit as far as she was concerned, and she would continue her business at the Hyatt as normal.

And to round out the art theft beat, a Salvador Dali drawing was stolen out of a NYC gallery in broad daylight last week.

The man who stole a drawing by the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí on Tuesday wore only the most basic of disguises: that of an everyday gallery visitor, walking past the Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst works on display. And he brought only the most basic of tools for his heist: a black shopping bag.

What a wascally wabbit.

Update:
The drawing mentioned above has been returned.

Cold murder case solved after 23 yearsJun 18 2012

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in the apartment that she shared with her husband. The police eliminated the husband and ex-lovers as suspects and the case remained unsolved for 20+ years until a pair of detectives pulled it from the cold case files and looked at the evidence with fresh eyes. Mark Bowden has the story in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Soon after the murder, [Sherri's father] Nels was shown sketches of two Latin male suspects, and the burglary theory was explained. There was no way for him to recognize the drawings, and the whole scenario did not make sense to him. He had to wonder about the competence of these detectives. The apartment showed signs of a protracted fight. Mayer estimated that the struggle may have lasted for an hour and a half. How could his daughter have fought off two men for that long?, Nels asked. There was the bite mark on her forearm, which led Mayer's partner, Steve Hooks, to conjecture that the suspect may have been a woman, on the theory that women are biters. But the notion was dismissed. Women don't typically engage in breaking and entering, and fighting men have been known to use their teeth. There was also the bullet wound in the center of Sherri's chest, and the hole and powder burns on the blanket. Mayer told Nels that his daughter had not simply been shot and killed; she had been assassinated. Why would a burglar do that?

Nels asked if they had checked to see if the lady cop had been working that day. Had they examined her, taken pictures of her? The answers were no. No one ever checked up on Lazarus. Mayer or Hooks or someone apparently did talk to her on the phone eventually, and the conversation was enough to close that line of inquiry. There is only one brief entry in the case file that mentions her, recorded on November 19, 1986, more than eight months after the murder. It reads, "John Ruetten called. Verified Stephanie Lazarus, PO [police officer], was former girlfriend."

No arrests were ever made. The evidence of Sherri Rasmussen's murder was packed away in commercial storage.

Update: I forgot to include this with the original post...it's a video of the hour-long interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus, the "lady cop" Nels is referring to.

Also, The Atlantic ran a story about the Rasmussen case last year. (thx, dewayne)

Business lessons from a Mexican drug cartelJun 18 2012

The Sinaloa drug cartel is headed by a man who goes by El Chapo. That Chapo is 55 years old and still around tells you something about well he runs his business.

The drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006. But what tends to get lost amid coverage of this epic bloodletting is just how effective the drug business has become. A close study of the Sinaloa cartel, based on thousands of pages of trial records and dozens of interviews with convicted drug traffickers and current and former officials in Mexico and the United States, reveals an operation that is global (it is active in more than a dozen countries) yet also very nimble and, above all, staggeringly complex. Sinaloa didn't merely survive the recession -- it has thrived in recent years. And after prevailing in some recent mass-casualty clashes, it now controls more territory along the border than ever.

"Chapo always talks about the drug business, wherever he is," one erstwhile confidant told a jury several years ago, describing a driven, even obsessive entrepreneur with a proclivity for micromanagement. From the remote mountain redoubt where he is believed to be hiding, surrounded at all times by a battery of gunmen, Chapo oversees a logistical network that is as sophisticated, in some ways, as that of Amazon or U.P.S. -- doubly sophisticated, when you think about it, because traffickers must move both their product and their profits in secret, and constantly maneuver to avoid death or arrest. As a mirror image of a legal commodities business, the Sinaloa cartel brings to mind that old line about Ginger Rogers doing all the same moves as Fred Astaire, only backward and in heels. In its longevity, profitability and scope, it might be the most successful criminal enterprise in history.

The ImpostorJun 04 2012

The Nicholas Barclay/Frédéric Bourdin case, which David Grann covered in a 2008 article for the New Yorker, has now inspired a documentary film coming out in July.

As I wrote about Grann's piece:

At some point, Bourdin's story gets intertwined with that of Nicholas Barclay, a teen who went missing in Texas in 1994. After that, the story proceeds like the craziest episode of Law and Order you've ever seen.

(via @aaroncoleman0)

Texas executed an innocent manMay 15 2012

Antonin Scalia once said that no one had ever been executed in the US for a crime they didn't commit. Well, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review is devoting its entire spring issue to the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez. Their investigation reveals that another Carlos, Carlos Hernandez, actually committed the murder.

Many other glaring discrepancies also stand out in the DeLuna case. He was put on death row largely on the eyewitness testimony of one man, Kevan Baker, who had seen the fight inside the Shamrock and watched the attacker flee the scene.

Yet when Baker was interviewed 20 years later, he said that he hadn't been that sure about the identification as he had trouble telling one Hispanic person apart from another.

Then there was the crime-scene investigation. Detectives failed to carry out or bungled basic forensic procedures that might have revealed information about the killer. No blood samples were collected and tested for the culprit's blood type.

Fingerprinting was so badly handled that no useable fingerprints were taken. None of the items found on the floor of the Shamrock - a cigarette stub, chewing gum, a button, comb and beer cans - were forensically examined for saliva or blood.

There was no scraping of the victim's fingernails for traces of the attacker's skin. When Liebman and his students studied digitally enhanced copies of crime scene photographs, they were amazed to find the footprint from a man's shoe imprinted in a pool of Lopez's blood on the floor - yet no effort was made to measure it.

"There it was," says Liebman. "The murderer had left his calling card at the scene, but it was never used."

Even the murder weapon, the knife, was not properly examined, though it was covered in blood and flesh.

Other photographs show Lopez's blood splattered up to three feet high on the walls of the Shamrock counter. Yet when DeLuna's clothes and shoes were tested for traces of blood, not a single microscopic drop was found. The prosecution said it must have been washed away by the rain.

Awful. See also Cameron Todd Willingham.

George Wright, arrested after 40 years on the runMay 08 2012

On the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1962, George Wright and another man walked into a gas station in NJ with the intention of robbing its owner, Walter Patterson. After a scuffle, Wright's associate shot Patterson, wounding him severely enough he would die two days later. Ten years later, after escaping from jail, Wright helped hijack an airplane with 86 passengers, ransomed the passengers for $1 million, flew to Algeria, and disappeared for 40 years. Last year he was arrested in Portugal.

This profile in GQ by Michael Finkel is sympathetic, but fascinating. Wright is described as a positive member of the community, a man rehabilitated, which is supposed to be the purpose of prison. And yet, he's never paid for his crimes. If pressed, I'd have to say I agree with how it ended up playing out.

During my flight back from Portugal, I try to sort out how I feel about Wright. I'm troubled, of course, by the gas-station crime--even if it wasn't his gun that fired, he still let an innocent man die. He never called for help. Still, he was a teenager at the time. You can no longer use youthful rashness as an excuse when you're 29, brandishing a loaded weapon on an airplane and holding more than ninety people hostage. That incident could've easily ended in disaster. Wright is fortunate it did not. And I am not entirely sure there aren't other crimes--crimes for which Wright wasn't caught. He may still have secrets inside him. We'll never know.

(via Long Reads)

Mugshots from the 1920sMay 08 2012

A collection of vintage mugshots from the 1920s. Crime used to be a lot more civilized.

1920s mugshot

(thx, david)

Lenny Dykstra never grew upApr 23 2012

Remember this New Yorker profile of Lenny Dykstra's "improbable post-career success story"?

Dykstra ordered a Coke and French fries with ketchup: "And I'm actually going to have that as my meal-might be the oddest order of the day." (Healthy living was never his specialty.) When the Coke arrived, he sent it back, believing it to be Diet. After the fries were delivered, he made a show of extracting a "You're welcome" from the waiter, who had since moved on to another table. "I pay a thousand bucks a night -- actually, three thousand bucks a night -- and people are discourteous," he said, shaking his head. "There's some point in life when you have to grow up."

For many ballplayers, the growing-up point does not arrive until after retirement, when all the freebies vanish and equipment managers and hotel maids can no longer be relied upon for regular laundry service. Dykstra last played in the majors in 1996, at age thirty-three. Improbably, he has since become a successful day trader, and he let me know that he owns both a Maybach ("the best car") and a Gulfstream ("the best jet"). The occasion for our lunch, however, was a new venture: Dykstra is launching a magazine, intended specifically for pro athletes, called The Players Club. An unfortunate number of his former teammates have ended up broke, or divorced, or worse. The week before we met, the ex-Yankee Jim Leyritz, himself twice divorced and underemployed, had hit a woman while driving home from a bar. He never grew up.

"You've got the ten per cent who are going to find their way no matter what," Dykstra said of the athlete population. "And you get the ten per cent that are fuckheads no matter what-- we'll paste an 'L' to 'em." The rest need guidance, and Dykstra, who will write a regular column called "The Game of Life," is prepared to give it. "This will be the world's best magazine," he said.

Since then, Dykstra has declared bankruptcy, divorced from his wife, was sentenced to three years in state prison for grand theft auto (and several other charges), and most recently was sentenced to nine months in jail for assault and indecent exposure. He's also awaiting trial on federal bankruptcy fraud charges.

It's easy to steal a bike in NYCMar 13 2012

Casey Neistat tries to steal his own bike in several locations around NYC and finds it's pretty easy...even if you're doing so right in front of a police station.

I recently spent a couple of days conducting a bike theft experiment, which I first tried with my brother Van in 2005. I locked my own bike up and then proceeded to steal it, using brazen means -- like a giant crowbar -- in audacious locations, including directly in front of a police station. I wanted to find out whether onlookers or the cops would intervene. What you see here in my film are the results.

This is a video of the earlier attempt he mentions. (via ★ironicsans)

Ten commandments for con menFeb 29 2012

Con man Victor Lustig shared a list of commandments written for aspiring con men. Among them:

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).

8. Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.

The Philly unburglaryJan 26 2012

Aaron Cohen calls this "the best story you'll read about a burglary you'll read this week" and I think he's right.

When John Davidson's apartment gets robbed, he learns that the easiest way to get his stuff back is to have one drug dealer lie to another drug dealer while he lies to the police.

Mercenary hacker to the starsJan 25 2012

Adrian Chen has an interview with a renegade IT guy named Martin who does social media, hacking, and other tech stuff for "High Net-worth Individuals" and criminals. One of things he does is set up drug rings with prepaid cell phones and a rotating collection of SIM cards a la the Barksdale/Bell drug crew in The Wire.

With Martin's system, each crewmember gets a cell phone that operates using a prepaid SIM card; they also get a two-week plastic pill organizer filled with 14 SIM cards where the pills should be. Each SIM card, loaded with $50 worth of airtime, is attached to a different phone number and stores all contacts, text messages and call histories associated with that number, like a removable hard drive. This makes a new SIM card effectively a new phone. Every morning, each crewmember swaps out his phone's card for the card in next day's compartment in the pill organizers. After all 14 cards are used, they start over at the first one.

Of course, it would be hugely annoying for a crewmember to have to remember the others' constantly changing numbers. But he doesn't have to, thanks to the pill organizers. Martin preprograms each day's SIM card with the phone numbers the other members have that day. As long they all swap out their cards every day, the contacts in the phones stay in sync. (They never call anyone but each other on the phones.) Crewmembers will remind each other to "take their medicine," Martin said.

That's clever. The "take their medicine" detail reads like it's straight out of the movies.

Guantanamo Bay a black stain on AmericaJan 09 2012

Lakhdar Boumediene was imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for seven years on no charge and with no trial.

On Wednesday, America's detention camp at Guantanamo Bay will have been open for 10 years. For seven of them, I was held there without explanation or charge. During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. Most of their letters were returned as "undeliverable," and the few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that their messages of love and support were lost.

This is deeply deeply shameful.

Startup lessons from a crime bossJan 09 2012

An entrepreneur shares the business lessons imparted to him by a organized crime boss.

Interesting things happen when we cut out the middleman. In addition to reducing cost, we often end up creating an internal byproduct that can be productized and sold to a completely new customer. (Amazon Web Services is an example of this.) Sometimes the middleman's market is so huge, that a freaking enormous business can be built simply by providing their customers a lower cost and more efficient option.

Taking down slumlords with social network analysisJan 06 2012

A group of buildings whose tenants continually complained about living conditions changed hands so frequently that city officials could do nothing about it....until a group representing the tenants used social network analysis to reveal the connections between all of the seemingly separate owners.

It was now obvious that properties exchanged hands not as independent and valid real estate investments but as a conspiracy to avoid fixing the building violations. The green links represent borrowed money flowing into the buildings through new mortgages. As time went on, and the buildings appreciated in value during a real estate boom -- loans from the mortgage company allowed the owners to "strip mine" the equity from the buildings. This is a common slumlord modus operandi -- they suck money out of a building rather than put money back in for maintenance.

The woman who took on Glasgow's gangsDec 20 2011

Up until very recently, Glasgow's gang culture made the city one of the most violent in western Europe. Then a program led by Karyn McCluskey turned the city in a better direction.

The unit's big moment, McCluskey says, was understanding that violence works "like an infectious disease. It's passed on. You can catch it. You might live and die in a square mile. Your life is not predictable or manageable. You may have alcoholic parents, suffer domestic violence. Nobody cares about you. You're incapable of empathy: hard-wired for violence."

They coined a phrase: recreational violence. "There's also the thrill, the sensation-seeking," McCluskey says. "You look at their faces on the CCTV, they're loving it. They're young guys just not equipped to make good decisions for themselves, caught up in the gang dynamic."

So, if they see themselves as a group, treat them as a group, reasoned McCluskey. She went to the United States and met a man called David Kennedy, whose model for tackling gang violence had worked in Boston since the late 1990s. In the jargon, it's known as a "focused deterrence strategy", harnessing a multitude of different agencies plus resources from within the community. McCluskey set about bringing it to Glasgow.

Since late 2008, the program has cut the rate of violent offending by 46%. John Seabrook wrote about David Kennedy and his program for the New Yorker in 2009. (via @jcn)

Crime scene panoramasNov 28 2011

Over the past two years, the NYPD has been taking panoramic images of crime scenes in an attempt to better record the evidence.

Each panorama takes between 3 to 30 minutes to produce, depending on the available light, and is added to a database where detectives can access it. Before the switch to the Panoscan, crime scene images sometimes took days to process. Now, soon after the photos are posted, investigators can point and click over evidence from a scene that they might have missed in the hectic hours after the crime.

What's the best way to escape the police in a high speed chase?Oct 11 2011

The short answer is "you can't" but the longer answer by a former patrol officer is more interesting.

How often do you drive in this manner? Unless you're running because you're on parole, this is likely your first dance. Sure, you've driven fast before -- for a while. Then, for whatever reason, you got uncomfortable and backed off. Maybe your car made a sound you got concerned about, maybe you caught a glint you thought might be a trooper's windshield, maybe you thought you heard the faintest pulses of a siren. Whatever it was, it weakened your resolve and you slowed down. You have no such luxury here. And while this is fresh for you, this is, to many of the people pursuing you, another day another dollar. They've trained for this in training scenarios and have been involved in pursuits in the field. They run code multiple times a week. Even if one of your pursuers was a rookie who got eaten up by the stress, there will be a dozen vets to take his place.

(thx, byrne)

Miranda July, shoplifterOct 11 2011

Artist and filmmaker Miranda July used to shoplift as sort of a useful hobby.

But it wasn't just about the supermarket -- the whole world was one giant heist. It goes without saying that I used magnets to reset the Kinko's copy counters to zero, and carried scissors to cut alarm tags out of clothes. Everyone I knew did these things. I say this not to excuse myself but just so you can visualize a legion of energetic, intelligent young lady criminals. Anytime anyone we knew flew into Portland, we urged her to buy luggage insurance and allow us to steal her bag from the baggage carrousel. The visiting friend then had to perform the role of the frantic claims reporter and was given a cut of the insurance money. Some friends were up for this; others thought it was an inhospitable thing to ask.

Christopher Hitchens on capital punishmentSep 22 2011

From Lapham's Quarterly, Christopher Hitchens on capital punishment in America.

Since then no country has been allowed to apply for membership or association with the European Union without, as a precondition, dismantling its apparatus of execution. This has led states like Turkey to forego what was once a sort of national staple. The United Nations condemns capital punishment-especially for those who have not yet reached adulthood-and the Vatican has come close to forbidding if not actually anathematizing the business. This leaves the United States of America as the only nation in what one might call the West, that does not just continue with the infliction of the death penalty but has in the recent past expanded its reach. More American states have restored it in theory and carried it out in practice, and the last time the Supreme Court heard argument on the question it was to determine whether capital punishment should be inflicted for a crime other than first-degree murder (the rape of a child being the suggested pretext for extension).

Hitchens, as you may have guessed, pins much of the blame on religion...after all, the US is the most (or only?) fundamentalist country in the West. (via ★interesting-links)

Airbnb horror storyJul 27 2011

Airbnb is becoming a popular option for travellers looking for cheaper/homier places to stay and owners/renters to make a little dough on the side. But when you're dealing with people that you don't know staying in your house, things can sometimes go awry. Or very crazy:

They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother's jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals... my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied - using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests' use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor. They found my coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and used the discount, along with my Mastercard, to shop online. Despite the heat wave, they used my fireplace and multiple Duraflame logs to reduce mounds of stuff (my stuff??) to ash - including, I believe, the missing set of guest sheets I left carefully folded for their comfort. Yet they were stupid and careless enough to leave the flue closed; dirty gray ash now covered every surface inside.

According to the CEO of Airbnb, they have been working with the police and supposedly a suspect is in custody.

How to fake a fingerprintJul 22 2011

From a NY Times article on how to disappear, a quick tip on how to effectively fake a fingerprint:

Are officials troubling you for fingerprints? "There's a nongreasy glue, like a mucilage," he said, that is more or less invisible once applied. "You put it on your thumb. You roll your thumb over your heel. Now, you've got a heel print on your thumb for no one who exists."

Frank Ahearn, one of the people quoted in the article, actually runs a business that helps people disappear...or at least he used to, until he disappeared.

Of bicycles, drugs, and traffic accidentsJun 16 2011

The author of the A Girl and Her Bike blog tells the story of how she and her bike were "nudged" from behind by a car (twice, on purpose) and what happened when the driver discovered that she was a police officer.

The light turned green and I started to proceed. And then I felt *BUMP!!!!!* again, this time a bit harder.

Oh no. No. No. No. I can't ignore this. I just can't.

So I stopped. Pulled out my police badge (yes, I'm a cop if you didn't know before. No I really don't want to talk about it, thanks) showed it to the driver and motioned him to stay right where he was.

And that's when he panicked.

(thx, nichol)

Why the crime decline?May 31 2011

Nice summary of the current thinking about why crime is falling in the US even though the unemployment rate is relatively high. One possible culprit is leaded gasoline:

There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb).

Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans' blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future. Another economist, Rick Nevin, has made the same argument for other nations.

(via @kbandersen)

Unabomber auctionMay 17 2011

The U.S. Marshals Service is auctioning off some of the personal effects of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. There's a photoset up on Flickr of some of the items. This is the sweatshirt and sunglasses Kaczynski wore to one of his bombings...it inspired this famous police sketch.

Unabomber sweatshirt

"The U.S. Marshals Service has been given a unique opportunity to help the victims of Theodore Kaczynski's horrific crimes," said U.S. Marshal Albert Najera of the Eastern District of California. "We will use the technology that Kaczynski railed against in his various manifestos to sell artifacts of his life. The proceeds will go to his victims and, in a very small way, offset some of the hardships they have suffered."

The auction starts here on May 18.

The mafia and NYC pizza cheeseApr 26 2011

Why can't you get a slice of pizza at John's on Bleecker or Patsy's? Allegedly because of Al Capone:

In his 1981 book on the mob called Vicious Circles: The Mafia in the Marketplace, the late Jonathan Kwitny detailed how Al Capone -- who owned a string of dairy farms near Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin -- forced New York pizzerias to use his rubbery mob cheese, so different from the real mozzarella produced here in New York City since the first immigrants from Naples arrived in Brooklyn around 1900.

As the story goes, the only places permitted to use good mozzarella made locally were the old-fashioned pizza parlors like Lombardi's, Patsy's, and John's, who could continue doing so only if they promised to never serve slices. According to Kwitny, this is why John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street still has the warning "No Slices" on its awning today.

(via ★kathryn)

The politician who actually went to jailApr 13 2011

Jeff Smith was a Missouri State Senator who ended up in jail for a year; here's an account of his experience in the klink.

Before I was shown my new digs, the staff processed me. That meant going repeatedly through the standard battery of questions. The third questioner finished and sent me to a heavyset woman.

"Height and weight?" she asked.

"5'6", 120."

She examined my slight frame and frowned. "Education level?"

I winced. "Ph.D."

She shot me a skeptical look. "Last profession?"

"State Senator."

She rolled her eyes. "Well, I'll put it down if you want. If you wanna play games, play games. We got ones who think they're Jesus Christ, too."

Political intrigue in GuatemalaApr 04 2011

A fascinating story by David Grann in the New Yorker about a pair of political assassinations in Guatemala that aren't what they first seemed.

As Rosenberg dug deeper into the subterranean world of Guatemalan politics, he told friends that he had begun receiving threats himself. One day, Mendizábal says, Rosenberg gave him a phone number to write down -- it was the number that showed up on his caller I.D. when he received the threats.

Rosenberg told friends that his apartment was under surveillance, and that he was being followed. “Whenever he got into the car, he was looking over his shoulder,” his son Eduardo recalled. From his apartment window, Rosenberg could look across the street and see an office where Gustavo Alejos, President Colom’s private secretary, often worked. Rosenberg told Mendizábal that Alejos had called him and warned him to stop investigating the Musas’ murders, or else the same thing might happen to him. Speaking to Musa’s business manager, Rosenberg said of the powerful people he was investigating, “They are going to kill me.” He had a will drawn up.

Anything by Grann is becoming a must-read at this point. (via someone on Twitter, I forget who (sorry!))

Where are all the pickpockets?Mar 25 2011

Due to tougher laws and easier opportunities in other areas of crime, pickpockets have all but vanished from the streets and trains of the US.

The decline of dipping on the rails is extraordinary. Subways were always the happiest hunting grounds for pickpockets, who would work alone or in teams. There were classic skilled canons-organized pickpocket gangs-at the top, targeting wealthier riders, then "bag workers" who went for purses, and "lush workers" who disreputably targeted unconscious drunks. Richard Sinnott, who worked as a New York City transit cop in the 1970s and '80s, also admiringly recalls "fob workers," a subspecies of pickpocket who worked their way through train cars using just their index and middle fingers to extract coins and pieces of paper money-a quarter here, a buck there-from riders' pockets. "They weren't greedy, and they never got caught," says Sinnott. Bit by bit, fob workers could make up to $400 on a single subway trip; then they'd go to Florida in the winter to work the racetracks. Many of the city's pickpockets trained elsewhere, "and if they were any good, they came to New York," Sinnot says, with a touch of pride. "In the subways, we had the best there were."

I'm generally a fan of Slate's compulsive contrarianism, but asking if we should miss pickpocketing is just too much.

Snoop from The Wire arrested in drug raidMar 10 2011

Felicia Pearson, who played Snoop on The Wire, was arrested today on drug charges.

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson had served a prison sentence for murder and returned to drug dealing on the streets of East Baltimore, before a visit to the set of "The Wire" led to a star turn on the show and offered a new chance to change her life.

But her past kept creeping back - she was a witness to a murder and was arrested after she refused to testify -- and subsequent film and television offers were hard to come by.

Now, Pearson, 30, has been accused of playing a part in a large-scale drug organization, whose members were arrested in raids Thursday throughout Baltimore and surrounding counties, as well as in three other states.

(via df)

Wrongly convictedMar 02 2011

In 1981, Ray Towler was convicted of rape, kidnapping, and felonious assault of two young children and sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-nine years later, in 2010, DNA evidence proves he didn't commit the crime and Towler is released from prison.

So many choices. Which car insurance. Which cereal. Which deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo. Rows and rows of products. Varieties, sizes, colors. Which is cheaper? Which is better? What's the best buy? Which gum to chew? When he went into prison there were, like, two kinds of chewing gum. Now there are a zillion. One of the small gifts he gives himself is trying all the gums. "I can spoil myself a little so long as I stay within my means," he says. Papaya juice! Kiwi and strawberry nectar! Green tea! Arnold Palmer -- he was a golfer when Towler went down. Now he is a drink, sweet and so incredibly thirst quenching.

He loves work. He got out May 5 and started working June 21. Hell, I've been vacationing for thirty years. He wears a smock and pushes a mail cart. He stops at all the cubicles, greets everyone with his friendly smile. Ray even loves commuting to work, especially now, in his new car, a black Ford Focus. He's like a sixteen-year-old who can finally drive himself to school. It costs almost the same to park as it does to take the train.

File this one under "crying at work".

Portugal's drug experimentationJan 21 2011

In 2000, Portugal passed a law decriminalizing the possession of drugs, continued to vigorously pursue drug traffickers and distributors, and improved access to treatment. What happened?

But nearly a decade later, there's evidence that Portugal's great drug experiment not only didn't blow up in its face; it may have actually worked. More addicts are in treatment. Drug use among youths has declined in recent years. Life in Casal Ventoso, Lisbon's troubled neighborhood, has improved. And new research, published in the British Journal of Criminology, documents just how much things have changed in Portugal. Coauthors Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens report a 63 percent increase in the number of Portuguese drug users in treatment and, shortly after the reforms took hold, a 499 percent increase in the amount of drugs seized -- indications, the authors argue, that police officers, freed up from focusing on small-time possession, have been able to target big-time traffickers while drug addicts, no longer in danger of going to prison, have been able to get the help they need.

Pimp business planDec 10 2010

Items on this pimp's handwritten business plan -- aka "Keep It Pimpin'" -- include:

- my word is my bond
- take my game to the next level (from the concrete streets to executive suites)
- take care my bitches more better
- minimize my budget (cash cars, houses, etc.)
- keep a good photographer

Realistic mask used to rob bankDec 09 2010

I told you that someone was gonna use one of these to rob a bank someday.

A white bank robber in Ohio recently used a "hyper-realistic" mask manufactured by a small Van Nuys company to disguise himself as a black man, prompting police there to mistakenly arrest an African American man for the crimes.

In October, a 20-year-old Chinese man who wanted asylum in Canada used one of the same company's masks to transform himself into an elderly white man and slip past airport security in Hong Kong.

News reports of similar exploits have increased the demand for the masks.

Threaten customers for SEO? Go directly to jail.Dec 07 2010

The dickwad who threatened his customers as an SEO tactic (detailed here in the NY Times) was arrested on Monday by federal agents.

The merchant, Vitaly Borker, 34, who operates a Web site called decormyeyes.com, was charged with one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats and cyberstalking. The mail fraud and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The stalking and interstate threats charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

He was arrested early Monday by agents of the United States Postal Inspection Service. In an arraignment in the late afternoon in United States District Court in Lower Manhattan, Judge Michael H. Dolinger denied Mr. Borker's request for bail, stating that the defendant was either "verging on psychotic" or had "an explosive personality." Mr. Borker will be detained until a preliminary hearing, scheduled for Dec. 20.

Law and orderDec 02 2010

A jury foreman in a criminal case describes his experience and what the jury ultimately decided (or actually, didn't decide).

These are the facts we were given as a jury, facts upon which we were to decide if a boy was guilty of a crime that would put him in prison for 10 years. We were admonished to consider all of the facts but nothing outside of them. Don't consider the sentence, or the age, or the race, or anything unrelated to what we heard while sitting in the juror box. Just focus on the facts that are presented. Yet, we were also told, time and again, that our Constitution is absolutely unwavering in its mission to protect the innocent, that no matter how clear-cut the evidence may seem, the burden of proof in criminal cases always, always, always falls on the prosecution. The boy sitting in that chair next to a pair of public defenders, possibly wearing borrowed clothes to look presentable in court, is innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hacker double agentNov 22 2010

While assisting the Secret Service in bringing down a cybercrime ring called Shadowcrew, Albert Gonzalez was, unbeknowst to the agents he was working with, involved with a much larger scheme to steal credit card information on a massive scale. Despite making millions of dollars hacking into the databases of large companies, Gonzalez preferred living at home with his parents for three reasons:

1. he loved his mother's cooking
2. he loved playing with his nephew
3. he could more easily launder money through his parents' home-equity line of credit

When they pieced together how Gonzalez organized these heists later, federal prosecutors had to admire his ingenuity. "It's like driving to the building next to the bank to tunnel into the bank," Seth Kosto, an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey who worked on the case, told me. When I asked how Gonzalez rated among criminal hackers, he replied: "As a leader? Unparalleled. Unparalleled in his ability to coordinate contacts and continents and expertise. Unparalleled in that he didn't just get a hack done -- he got a hack done, he got the exfiltration of the data done, he got the laundering of the funds done. He was a five-tool player."

The case of the vanishing blondeNov 19 2010

A woman in Florida turns up raped and beaten in a ditch and can't remember who attacked her. The security tapes at her hotel show that she didn't leave her room that evening. What follows is a good ole fashioned detective story with a tenacious private detective getting to the bottom of the story.

He had a fixed policy. He told potential employers up front, "I'll find out what happened. I'm not going to shade things to assist your client, but I will find out what the truth is." Brennan liked it when the information he uncovered helped his clients, but that wasn't a priority. Winning lawsuits wasn't the goal. What excited him was the mystery.

The job in this case was straightforward. Find out who raped and beat this young woman and dumped her in the weeds. Had the attack even happened at the hotel, or had she slipped out and met her assailant or assailants someplace else? Was she just a simple victim, or was she being used by some kind of Eastern European syndicate? Was she a prostitute? Was she somehow implicated? There were many questions and few answers.

Somali piracy and anarchyOct 18 2010

From The New York Review of Books, an overview of the bleak Somali pirate situation.

There's no doubt that in Somalia, crime pays-it's about the only industry that does. There is even a functioning pirate stock exchange in Xarardheere, where locals buy "shares" in seventy-two individual pirate "companies" and get a respectable return if the company is successful. Most of the money, though, is frittered away. Boyah, who personally has made hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions, asked me for cigarettes when I met him. When I asked what happened to all his cash, he explained: "When someone who never had money suddenly gets money, it just goes." He also said that because of the extended network of relatives and clansmen, "it's not like three people split a million bucks. It's more like three hundred."

The pirates used to be fisherman who moved from defending their fishing territory by boarding foreign ships to collect "fines" to more lucrative full-blown piracy. (thx, tom)

What's prison like?Oct 15 2010

This is a fascinating post made by a man who has just gotten out of prison after serving two years for armed robbery. This is a bit rough in spots, so reader beware.

I joked to my cell mate on the first day that at least the GFC [global financial crisis] couldn't fuck us inside. He'd been done for assaulting a cop when his house got taken by the bank. But within months 'GFC Nigger' became the standard reply to any query as to how black market prices were suddenly going through the roof. The price of a deck of smokes tripled. There was an actual economic reason about this. I went away in Michigan, where a lot of people lost their houses, mostly poor people already. When they had to move away from the prison, it meant they couldn't bring their loved ones as much contraband group, which meant the price of what there was sky rocketed. And the worse things got, the more the people who worked in the store would wonk and take home with them, which meant stocks ran low which fucked us even further.

Bet you didn't read about that one in the Wall Street Journal.

Some over at MetaFilter think this is fake, so grain of salt and all that. (via waxy)

Twenty-nine years aloneSep 27 2010

Robert King spent 29 years in prison in solitary confinement for a crime for which he was later cleared.

It was a dimly lit box, 9ft by 6ft, with bars at the front facing on to the bare cement walls of a long corridor. Inside was a narrow bed, a toilet, a fixed table and chair, and an air vent set into the back wall.

Some days I would pace up and down and from left to right for hours, counting to myself. I learned to know every inch of the cell. Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal, but I had no choice -- I needed to feel in control of my space.

See also Atul Gawande's piece about solitary from the New Yorker last year.

Michael Lewis on the Greek financial crisisSep 15 2010

Of all the stories I've heard about the recent financial crisis -- the high-risk mortgage loans, the CDOs, the credit default swaps, the Icelandic crisis -- the story of the collapse of the Greek economy by Michael Lewis in the October issue of Vanity Fair is the craziest. And it's the only one involving monks.

The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 has just now created a new opportunity for travel: financial-disaster tourism. The credit wasn't just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, "The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know." What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way.

As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a pinata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms-and that number doesn't take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece's rail passengers into taxicabs: it's still true. "We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension," Manos put it to me. "And yet there isn't a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay." The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland's. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as "arduous" is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average-and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

Read the whole thing...it's insane.

The Rapist Says He's SorrySep 01 2010

In 1996, Tom Junot won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing for a story published in GQ called The Rapist Says He's Sorry. It's about a man named Mitchell Gaff:

Who is Mitchell Gaff? Well, he is that which, at this moment in our history, frightens us the most-about ourselves, and about our democracy's ability to contain what is worst in us. Mitch is a sex offender, but not only a sex offender; he is a rapist, but not only a rapist. He is, in the words of a law written in 1990 by the Washington state legislature, "a sexual predator"-that is, someone who "suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes [him] likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility." Now, never mind for the moment that this law created a category of mental illness unrecognized by modern psychiatry, and that it did so for the purpose of enabling the state to achieve in the name of mercy what it couldn't in the name of justice: the removal of men like Mitchell Gaff from the face of the earth. What's important to know right now is that Mitch Gaff is or has been a human being who hurts other human beings for sexual pleasure: not out of need, not to gain the dire exigencies of food, shelter, money, transportation and status, but out of want-because he likes it. It's the wanting that scares us the most, of course, because of what we know about our own wanting-that it rises from someplace deep within us, that it is immune to intention and that it doesn't just go away. We want Mitch to go away. It hardly matters that he has done his time; that he has, in that quaint old phrase, "paid his debt to society"; and that his continued incarceration is probably unconstitutional. We want him to go away for as long as his wanting lasts, and that's why the state of Washington invented something called the Special Commitment Center.

There's a short intro available here as well as a special note by Junot at the end of the main article. And after you read the article, there are two further updates on Mitch Gaff here (complete with inappropriately lusty personal ads running alongside the article) and here.

Yakuza video game reviewed by real Japanese gangstersAug 20 2010

Yakuza 3 is a video game about the Japanese gangsters (known as Yakuza). Boing Boing sent someone to put the game in front of three actual yakuza to see what they thought of it.

Of the three reviewers, only Kuroishi manages to play it all the way to the end. Two of the three are missing their pinkies -- in the old days, when a yakuza or his subordinates screwed up, they chopped off pinkies as an act of atonement -- and this seems to affect their gameplay.

The game got high marks overall.

M: The corporate yakuza guys get a thumbs up for realism. Nice suit. Smart. Financially savvy. Obsessed with money. Sneaky and conniving. Ruthless.
S: There are a lot of guys whom I feel like I know. The dialogue is right too. They sound like yakuza.
K: Braggarts, bullies, and sweet-talkers. I agree -- it feels like I know the guys on the screen.
M: Kiryu is the way yakuza used to be. We kept the streets clean. People liked us. We didn't bother ordinary citizens. We respected our bosses. Now, guys like that only exist in video games.
S: I don't know any ex-yakuza running orphanages.
K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy.
M: You sure it wasn't just a tax shelter?
K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know.

I am a sucker for this stuff...it reminds me of Chicago gang members reviewing The Wire.

Fraud and art-world CSIJul 06 2010

In a barnburner of an article for the New Yorker, David Grann investigates the work of Peter Paul Biro and the forensic analysis of artworks for which he is well-known.

He does not merely try to detect the artist's invisible hand; he scours a painting for the artist's fingerprints, impressed in the paint or on the canvas. Treating each painting as a crime scene, in which an artist has left behind traces of evidence, Biro has tried to render objective what has historically been subjective. In the process, he has shaken the priesthood of connoisseurship, raising questions about the nature of art, about the commodification of aesthetic beauty, and about the very legitimacy of the art world. Biro's research seems to confirm what many people have long suspected: that the system of authenticating art works can be arbitrary and, at times, even a fraud.

However, the more Grann and others dug into his past, the more Biro seemed to be in fraudulent territory himself.

Criminal ISO other criminalsJun 01 2010

From a book called Codes of the Underworld, the first chapter on "Criminal Credentials"...or the problems criminals face in finding collaborators and weeding out undercover law inforcement.

"On the street," wrote FBI special agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the Colombo and later the Bonanno mafia families of New York under the name of Donnie Brasco, "everybody is suspicious of everybody else until you prove yourself." If someone says, "I am ready to deal with you, pal," or sports some item of clothing that conventionally indicates he is a criminal, such as a pair of dark glasses, these signals are hardly sufficient to prove that he is a criminal. As a professional thief put it, "language is not in itself a sufficient means of determining whether a person is trustworthy, for some people in the underworld are stool pigeons and some outsiders learn some of the language." Proving oneself requires tougher tests than cheap talk.

The whole thing is worth a read.

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