True Crime Thursday – Assault with a Deadly…Alligator?

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

In 1967, alligators were close to extinction in the US and placed on the Endangered Species List. Under federal and state protection, the reptile population rebounded enough that they were removed from the list in 1987.

Alligators have recovered nicely, thank you very much. Nowadays, many people consider them pests because they’re found in swimming pools, on golf courses, and in carports. In Florida, special fencing was installed along interstates to keep them from wandering onto freeways.

There’s even a long-running reality TV series called “Swamp People” about professional gator hunters.

Florida’s gator hunting season runs from August 15 to November 1 with more than 7000 permits issued. Over this past Labor Day weekend, a woman caught this shot on I-95 in Brevard County and the photo went viral. Apparently, this hunter successfully filled his tag.

Deep-fried alligator tail is featured at many restaurants—the texture is similar to gristly Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles) with a fishy overtone. Neither is on my list of favorite delicacies.

An alligator was even used as a deadly weapon, according to Palm Beach County prosecutors.

Photo from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

In October, 2015, Joshua James, in his early 20s, picked up a live, three-foot-long alligator at the side of the road and tossed it in the back seat of his truck. At 1:30 a.m., he ordered a drink at the Wendy’s drive-through in Loxahatchee, Florida. When the cashier momentarily turned away, James added an unexpected tip—he tossed the gator through the open drive-up window and drove off.

He wasn’t caught for several months. When arrested in February, 2016, he admitted throwing the gator and claims he didn’t realize anyone would take his prank seriously. Apparently, he knew someone who worked at the restaurant and thought they would be there at the time.

James was charged with “assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do less than murder” and “unlawful possession of alligator or parts,” both misdemeanors. Bond was set at $6000 with the condition he stay away from any animals except his mother’s dog.

Here’s an interview with James after he made bail.

According to his mother, Linda James: “It was just a stupid prank that he did that’s now turning into this. He’s a prankster. He does stuff like this because he thinks it’s funny.”

When asked if she thought the Wendy’s employees saw it as a prank, she replied, “Well, I mean, how could you not think something like that was a prank?”

Judge Barry Cohen didn’t agree. At trial in May, 2016, he told James, “In my view there is absolutely no excuse for taking an animal, particularly an alligator, and throwing it through a window at a total stranger.”

According to the Sun Sentinel, “David Hitzig, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, testified that the alligator, while under four feet in length, would still be ‘very powerful’ with extremely strong jaws.”

James apologized for his “stupid prank.” 

Judge Cohen sentenced James to a year of probation, $500 fine, and 75 hours community service.

No one was hurt in the incident, including the alligator. It was not called to testify and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers released it into a canal.

As the woman who took the viral gator photo said, “This is Floriduh.” 

~~~

TKZers: Have you heard of unusual weapons used in commission of crimes? Please share.

True Crime Thursday – Investigative Genealogy Solves Cold Cases

Harry Edward Greenwell

By Debbie Burke

 

Between 1987 and 1990, three women were sexually assaulted and murdered and one more was raped and left for dead in what were dubbed the “Days Inn/I-65 Murders” in Indiana and Kentucky.

The victims were all hotel clerks working the night shift. Vicki Lucille Heath, 41, was sexually assaulted and murdered on February 21, 1987 and her body found behind a trash bin. Two more victims, Margaret Mary “Peggy” Gill, 24, and Jeanne Gilbert, 34, were both sexually assaulted and killed four hours apart on March 3, 1989 at two different Days Inns in Indiana.

On January 2, 1990, a 21-year-old victim was sexually assaulted and stabbed but survived. She gave information to investigators that led to a composite drawing of the attacker.

Composite of I-65 Killer

Ballistic evidence and DNA connected the cases and indicated the same person committed all four attacks.

But who was he?

For more than 30 years, the cases went unsolved despite physical evidence…until the advent of the relatively new field of Investigative Genealogy.

According to the FBI:

Investigative Genealogy and combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes.

This technique involves uploading a crime scene DNA profile to one or more genetic genealogy databases in an attempt to identify a criminal offender’s genetic relatives and locate the offender within their family tree. Utilizing this process, a match was made to [Harry Edward] Greenwell with a close family member. Through this match, it was determined that the probability of Greenwell being the person responsible for the attacks was more than 99 percent.

Harry Edward Greenwell, born in 1944, had a long, violent criminal history beginning in 1963 and spent time in and out of various prisons for armed robbery, sodomy, and burglary. Following his release in 1983, he went to work for a railroad and worked on tracks throughout the Midwest.

Greenwell was married, had a family, and was well-liked in his Iowa community, selling organic produce at the local farmers market.

He died of cancer at age 68 in 2013 without ever being connected to the murders…until investigative genealogy identified him as the killer with 99.99% probability, based on links between DNA evidence and information about a close relative on genealogy sites.

In 2022, the FBI and the Indiana State Police announced Greenwell was the I-65 Killer, solving the crimes. Additionally, he is being investigated for similar cold case crimes.

After 30+ years, families of the four victims at last have closure, although not justice.

~~~

TKZers: Have you heard of using Investigative Genealogy to solve cold cases? Do you know of any?

~~~

 

Discover vital links between genealogy and DNA in three baffling cases in Debbie Burke’s latest thriller, Until Proven Guilty.

Available at major booksellers at this link. 

True Crime Thursday – Federal Gas Relief

 

Photo credit: rock staar, unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Something for nothing is the bait that lures many people to fall for scams. Even more insidious are the ones that promise to solve a bona-fide problem. When there is pending legislation about that problem, the scam becomes even more convincing.

With skyrocketing gas prices, the stage is set for enterprising fraudsters who never let a good crisis go to waste.  

Attorney Steve Weisman, creator of Scamicide.com, is consistently on the forefront of new scams that surface faster than lawn mushrooms after a rain. (His alerts have spawned several True Crime Thursday posts and he graciously agreed to be quoted again.)

The latest scam he highlighted is the Federal Fuel Relief Program.

Except there is no such program.

The FTC reports an uptick in calls, emails, and texts supposedly from government representatives who offer rebates or relief checks to soften the impact of high gas prices.

According to Steve: “All you need do, they tell you, is provide some personal and financial information in order to be eligible for the program.”

Sounds simple, right? Simple for scammers to steal your information to commit further fraud.

Why do people continue to fall for these tricks? Because it’s increasingly confusing to parse out actual facts from the news/rumor mill.

It’s even more difficult when some municipalities are in fact paying out such rebates, as described in this article on GoBankingRates.com:

The city of Chicago has already started issuing some of the 50,000 prepaid $150 gas cards and 100,000 prepaid $50 transit cards approved by the city council.

North Carolina and California have pending legislation for similar measures. Californians could qualify for up to $1050 in relief.

The proposed Gas Rebate Act of 2022 is currently being discussed in the U.S House of Representatives, potentially with payments of $100/month or higher to qualified households during every month that average gas prices are above $4/gallon.

Photo credit: boopathi-rajaa-nedunchezhiyan-unsplash

Whether these or other proposals pass is up in the air. Some end up only being hot air.

But people often assume they’ve gone into effect. Next thing they know, that friendly, helpful “government employee” calls up, offering to expedite the process. Just verify your Social Security number and bank account number so they can direct-deposit the rebate.

Steve’s tagline is “Trust me, you can’t trust anybody.” That includes the caller ID that claims the IRS or Social Security is on the line or a link in an official-looking email or text that takes you to a fraudulent site masquerading as a government agency.

Scammers continue to refine their tactics and grow ever more sophisticated and convincing with their frauds.

Warn family and friends, particularly seniors who are prime targets, NEVER to give out personal information when someone calls, emails, or texts, without first verifying the sender is legitimate.

The Federal Fuel Relief Program is pure flatulence. The only relief is to hang up or hit delete.

~~~

TKZers: What’s the latest scam you or someone you know has been targeted by?

Feel free to share horror stories. The more we know, the less likely we are to be victimized.

~~~

 

Please check out my thriller Stalking Midas about a glamorous con artist who targets an addled millionaire with nine feral cats.

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True Crime Thursday – Instant Justice

Not the site of the actual crime. Photo credit: Eli Duke, CC by SA-2.0

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Oxford Languages defines the informal use of the word karma as “destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.”

Today’s True Crimes are two different cautionary tales of instant justice for wrongdoing, proving karma’s a b*tch.

According to this story by NPR, Joseph McKinnon learned that lesson the hard way. 

In May, 2022, Patricia Ruth Dent, 65, didn’t show up for work at the Mount Vintage Golf Club, North Augusta, SC. Concerned coworkers called her and left messages but she never answered.

Then deputies and paramedics received a report of a man who’d collapsed in his yard in Trenton, SC. They found Joseph McKinnon, 60, dead at the scene. There were no signs that his death was anything other than natural causes–a cardiac arrest.

While searching his home to find information to notify next-of-kin, deputies found blood.

McKinnon shared the house with Patricia Dent. There had been no previous police calls to the residence for domestic violence.

However, deputies soon realized Dent was missing and suspected foul play.

Their investigation led them to search the property where they found a large, recently-dug hole in the ground. Dent’s body, bound with tape and wrapped in trash bags, was in the pit, partially covered with soil. The coroner determined her death was a homicide by strangulation.

Evidence indicated McKinnon had strangled Dent inside the house then attempted to bury her body in the yard.

The effort of covering up his crime evidently triggered the cardiac event that killed the killer.

~~~

Here’s another case of karma on the other side of the world. In June, 2019, the Taiwan English News reported an unidentified dead man found head first in a hole in the Jiaboa public cemetery in Hemei Township, Changua County, Taiwan. A passerby saw legs sticking out of a hole in the ground and discovered a decomposing body.

The body was shirtless, wearing jeans, and described as a balding, middle-aged male with missing teeth. He was not identified.

Beside him was a shovel and tool case. The hole was directly above a coffin.

Police suspect he fell head first into the hole and suffocated while trying to rob a grave.

~~~

Karma’s a b*tch, all right.  

~~~

TKZers: do you know of any crimes where the punishment was especially appropriate and/or ironic? 

~~~

 

 

Irony and karma play roles in Debbie Burke’s latest thriller, Until Proven Guilty, on sale for only $1.99 at major online booksellers at this link.

True Crime Thursday – Pee for Profit

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Did you ever think pee could lead to riches? Me neither.

However, the owners of Northwest Physicians Laboratory (NWPL) of Bellevue, OR, figured out a way that earned them millions of dollars before the feds caught them.

In April, 2022, Richard Reid, 53, of Astoria, OR, was convicted of five federal felonies resulting from his and his co-conspirators’ scheme to receive illegal kickbacks for lab tests on urine specimens.

According to U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, NWPL officers and Reid knew:

“…it was illegal to profit on tests conducted by his toxicology lab that were paid for by government insurance. The web of referrals and kick-backs increased profits for Reid and his co-conspirators, while inflating medical costs for the rest of us. This is essentially theft from taxpayers.”

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits physician-owned labs from profiting for services billed to Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE. A statement from the Department of Justice says:

“Paying remuneration to medical providers or provider-owned laboratories in exchange for referrals encourages providers to order medically unnecessary services.” 

How did NWPL’s scheme work?

Reid, VP of Sales, and his cohorts steered urine tests to other labs, resulting in payments from Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE of more than $6.5 million. Those labs then turned around and shared the ill-gotten gains with NWPL by paying them more than $3.7 million disguised as “marketing services.”

The scheme lasted from 2013 to 2015 until investigators uncovered it. In February, 2021, NWPL pled guilty and was sentenced to pay more than $8 million in restitution. The lab is now out of business.

NWPL’s CEO Jae Lee and Executive Director Kevin Puls pled guilty, along with Steve Verschoor, the head of a lab that paid kickbacks. In July, 2022, the co-conspirators will be sentenced and face up to five years in prison for each count.

Pee for profit sounded like a good idea at the time. After conviction, though, I suspect the conspirators might say, “Aw, p*iss on it!”

~~~

TKZers: Any thoughts on this scheme? Bad jokes welcome.

~~~

 

 

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A World Filled With Ideas

I often have the opportunity present talks and workshops here in Texas, and recently a lady raised her hand when I asked for questions or comments. “So where do you get your ideas for these novels you’ve written?”

“They’re all around us. I draw from the news, recollections, personal experiences, stories I’ve heard, and people who are great story tellers.”

“I never see anything I could put in a book, even if I could write.”

I laughed and told her about the Florida experience below.

The story in a nutshell.

I flew to St. Petersburg a few years ago and while driving to Sarasota in my rent car, heard two angry men exchange words. Only a mile later, I came across a beached sailboat full of drunks who were arguing with other inebriated individuals who’d been enjoying a quiet day on the sand.

I took what I saw and added some imagination…and the following paragraphs are the result of that question.

After flying down to St. Petersburg for a writers conference a few years ago, I rented a cherry red convertible and joined hundreds of cars headed south to Sarasota along Highway 41. That gulf coast ribbon of highway was stiff with vehicles, forcing us to proceed at school zone speed.

Except for the bumper to bumper cars and trucks, it would have been a peaceful drive down the old highway. The flow of traffic passing colorful old buildings, neat little vintage 1950s trailer parks, and palm-ridden mid-century motels kept me locked into place from one red light to the next.

At still another red light under a bright blue sky, I was startled when an angry, red-faced guy with a head bald as a cue ball pointed his finger in my direction and shouted over his female companion and through her open window. “Hey, you dread-headed fool! Get off your phone and pay attention to the damned highway. You’re all over the lanes!”

Startled by his verbal attack I had to study on what he said. I hadn’t been on my phone, so I knew he wasn’t shouting at me. Oh, and I don’t have dreads anyway.

A voice from my right yelled through his own open window. “Shut the hell up!”

I turned right to see a man with long dreads responding with vigor.

“The Bible says the word fool is the worst insult you can use, fool! And besides, it’s a free country! You and your mama need to mind y’own dayum business.”

Incensed, the woman beside Bald Guy immediately became enraged. “I’m not his mama, I’m his wife!”

Thinking I was kinda right there with Dreads’ unfortunate observation, my eyebrows raised when Bald Guy yanked the handle of his car and roared from the vehicle like an attack dog. “This free country you’re talking about gives me the right to come over there and knock your #@&%ing head off!”

The light changed and I drove off from between the combatants, leaving them to their philosophical, observational, and constitutional discussions.

The road forked half a mile later and I took the two-lane hugging the beach lined with palm trees. It wasn’t five minutes before I came up on a sailboat full of tanked partygoers heeled over in the shallow water directly in front of a beach packed with young sunbathers.

Traffic slowed even more, as drivers tried to watch what was happening. The pace was so slow that an ambitious turtle could have passed us without breaking a sweat, giving me the opportunity to absorb the scene in its entirety.

An equally sloshed and obviously visually impaired young man sitting on the sand with his girlfriend pointed and shouted. “Get that damned boat out of here!”

The mast stuck out over the beach, and the vessel’s annoyed occupants milled around the deck on a thirty degree slant. Again, a red light brought me to a stop in the middle of two armies so mad they could spit at each other.

“Can’t you see I’m trying for God’s sake!” A guy on the tilted deck braced his feet on the rail. “Whatta ya’ want me to do, get out and drag the sonofabitch back into deep water?”

A young woman barely covered by three Dorito-size triangles of thin blue material stood on her towel as if afraid of getting sand on her feet. “I don’t care how the hell you do it! Just get it out of here, you’re ruining our view!”

One of the many young men on the sailboat tilted a liquor bottle to his lips and swallowed before verbalizing his own opinion of the situation. “The view ain’t half bad from here.”

“I’ll ruin your ass!” A young man in colorful jams charged the listing sailboat.

The boat’s passenger with the view chucked an unopened can of beer at his attacker but missed and hit a previously uninvolved guy sitting on the sand.

In response, the offended beachgoer picked up the beer, and for some confounding reason, opened it before firing it back at the boat like a rocket. It struck the cockpit coaming right beside a young female passenger, spraying her tiny bathing suit with foam.

The return fire angered one of her other companions who then heaved another full beer at the beachgoers. By the time the light turned green, the air was filled with a barrage of glittering cans arcing in the sun.

The last thing I saw as the light changed was a young man on the beach, throwing handfuls of ice at the shipwrecked crew that was returning the frozen salvo with empty liquor bottles.

A landlubber woman shrieked. “No glass on the beach for chrissakes!”

And the battle faded into my rearview mirror as I resumed my pleasant drive to Sarasota.

Where do plots, characters, and ideas come from?

They’re all around us. Authors simply need to grab one and ask themselves…what if, and expand on that two-word question.

 

True Crime Thursday – DEEPFAKES

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.

This saying has been around for centuries, variously attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allen Poe.

Today, thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), you can no longer believe anything you hear or see.

That’s because what your ears hear and what your eyes see could be a DEEPFAKE.

What is a deepfake? Wikipedia says:

…synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness. While the act of faking content is not new, deepfakes leverage powerful techniques from machine learning and artificial intelligence to manipulate or generate visual and audio content with a high potential to deceive. The main machine learning methods used to create deepfakes are based on deep learning and involve training generative neural network architectures, such as autoencoders or generative adversarial networks (GANs).

Deepfakes have garnered widespread attention for their uses in creating child sexual abuse material, celebrity pornographic videosrevenge pornfake newshoaxes, bullying, and financial fraud. This has elicited responses from both industry and government to detect and limit their use.

 

I wrote about AI three years ago. Since then, technology has progressed at warp speed.

The first recognized crime that used deepfake technology occurred in 2019 with voice impersonation.

The CEO of an energy business in the UK received an urgent call from his boss, an executive at the firm’s German parent company. The CEO recognized his boss’s voice…or so he thought. He was instructed to immediately transfer $243,000 to pay a Hungarian supplier. He followed orders and transferred the money.

The funds went into a Hungarian account but then disappeared to Mexico. According to the company’s insurer, Euler Hermes, the money was never recovered.

To pull off the heist, cybercriminals used AI voice-spoofing software that perfectly mimicked the boss’s tone, speech inflections, and slight German accent.

Such spoofing extends to video deceptions that are chilling. The accuracy of movement and gesture renders the imposter clone indistinguishable from the real person. Some research shows a fake face can more believable than the real one.

Security safeguards like voice authentication and facial recognition are no longer reliable.

A November 2020 study by Trend Micro, Europol, and United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute concludes:

The Crime-as-a-Service (CaaS) business model, which allows non-technologically savvy criminals to procure technical tools and services in the digital underground that allow them to extend their attack capacity and sophistication, further increases the potential for new technologies such as AI to be abused by criminals and become a driver of crime.

We believe that on the basis of technological trends and developments, future uses or abuses could become present realities in the not-too-distant future.

The not-too-distant future they mentioned in 2020 is here today. A person no longer needs to be a sophisticated expert to create fake video and audio recordings of real people that defy detection.

In the following YouTube, a man created a fake image of himself to fool coworkers into believing they were video-chatting with the real person. It’s long—more than 18 minutes—but watching even a few minutes demonstrates how simple the process is.

Consider the implications:

What if you could appear to be in one place but actually be somewhere else? Criminals can create their own convincing alibis.

If corrupt law enforcement, government entities, or political enemies want to frame or discredit someone, they manufacture video evidence that shows the person engaged in criminal or abhorrent behavior.

Imagine the mischief terrorists could cause by putting words in the mouths of world leaders. Here are some examples: https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/01/business/pentagons-race-against-deepfakes/

Deepfakes could change history, creating events that never actually happened. Check out this example made at MIT of a fake Richard Nixon delivering a fake 1969 speech to mourn astronauts who supposedly perished on the moon. Fast forward to 4:18.

How was this software developed?

It arose from Machine Learning (ML). The process involves pitting computers against one another to see which one most accurately reproduces expressions, gestures, and voices from real people. The more they compete with each other, the better they learn, and the more authentic their fakes become.

A fanciful imagining of a contest might sound like this.

Computer A: “Hey, look at this Jack Nicholson eyebrow quirk I mastered.”

Computer B: “That’s nothing. Samuel L. Jackson’s nostril flare is much harder. Bet yours can’t top mine.”

Computer A: “Oh yeah? Check out how I made Margaret Thatcher to cross her legs just like Sharon Stone.”

The Europol study further outlined ways that deepfakes could be used for malicious or criminal purposes:

Destroying the image and credibility of an individual,

Harassing or humiliating individuals online,

Perpetrating extortion and fraud,

Facilitating document fraud,

Falsifying online identities and fooling KYC [Know Your Customer] mechanisms,

Falsifying or manipulating electronic evidence for criminal justice investigations,

Disrupting financial markets,

Distributing disinformation and manipulating public opinion,

Inciting acts of violence toward minority groups,

Supporting the narratives of extremist or even terrorist groups, and

Stoking social unrest and political polarization

 

In the era of deepfakes, can video/audio evidence ever be trusted again?

~~~

A big Thank You to TKZ regular K.S. Ferguson who suggested the idea for this post and provided sources.

~~~

TKZers: Can you name books, short stories, or films that incorporate deepfakes in the plot? Feel free to include sci-fi/fantasy from the past where the concept is used before it existed in real life.

Please put on your criminal hat and suggest fictional ways a bad guy could take advantage of deepfakes.

Or put on your detective hat and offer solutions to thwart the evil-doer.

~~~

 

Debbie Burke’s characters are not created by Artificial Intelligence but rather by her real imagination. 

Please check out her latest Tawny Lindholm Thriller. 

Until Proven Guilty is for sale at major booksellers here. 

How to Earn Short-Term Rewards During the Long Haul

Author Debbie Burke and Buffy

No, this picture is not Photoshopped clickbait. It’s me and a real bear. Details below. 

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

In your real-world job, would you be willing to work for two or more years before receiving a paycheck? Probably not.

Yet, as authors writing books, that’s exactly what we do.

Writing a novel is often likened to a marathon. It takes months, if not years, to complete a book. Traditional publishing tacks on another one or two years before you see your book for sale. Indie-pubbing speeds up the process but it still doesn’t happen overnight.

Thirty-plus years ago, I was stuck in the endless loop of writing novels, submitting them, and being rejected. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Because fiction was my passion, I didn’t really consider writing nonfiction until a couple of journalist friends offered their help and encouragement. I dipped my toe into article writing and made the happy discovery that nonfiction was much easier to publish than fiction (not to mention it paid better).

At last, I had the satisfaction of seeing my words in print.

One magazine gig led to another. As my file of published clips expanded, editors began to call me. Article assignments took a little sting out of the rejections that my novels continued to collect.

Many more years would pass before I reached the ultimate reward of a published novel but, along the way, articles were small consolation prizes. They encouraged me to keep moving toward my goal.

My journalist friends taught me another neat trick—take the same article but re-slant it for different markets. Do research once and get paid several times.

For instance, a story about how to run a successful garage sale could be pitched to community newsletters, antique/collectible magazines, and senior-interest markets as tips for retirees to earn extra money.

An article about gold mines might fit in a travel magazine, a state historic journal, and a niche publication for hobbyist prospectors.

Often, during research, I ran across interesting people and wrote personality profiles about them.

One in particular led to a number of offshoot articles plus a memorable experience with the stunning bear in the above photo.

At the Flathead River Writers Conference in the 1990s, I met Ben Mikaelsen, a kid-lit author who had his own bear. Buffy had been a research cub that couldn’t survive in the wild. To save him from being euthanized, Ben adopted him. Life with Buffy inspired Ben’s award-winning novel Rescue Josh McGuire and several other books.

Side note: Ben does not advocate keeping wild animals as pets. He went to great effort and expense to build a suitable home for Buffy that was approved by state and federal authorities.

The unique friendship between an author and a bear was a story idea that begged to be written. Ben graciously invited me to his home near Bozeman, Montana, for an interview and to meet Buffy

Yes, that really is me feeding Wheat Thins to the 700-pound black bear. Fun fact: He didn’t use his teeth or tongue to take the treat but rather his prehensile lower lip, similar to an elephant’s trunk. I watched in awe as his bottom lip gently folded around the cracker in my hand.

The amazing encounter resulted in multiple articles that were published in Writer’s Digest (including a reprint in their annual children’s writing guide), several Montana general interest magazines, and international nature and wildlife magazines.

This experience was definitely not a consolation prize but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which I’ll always be grateful.

Back to the marathon. While I wondered if I’d EVER have a novel accepted, articles were like short sprints where the rewards of publication and payment were only months away rather than years. Those helped sustain me through decades of discouragement.

In addition, writing nonfiction helped hone my craft.

Here are a few things I learned:

Write concisely and clearly. If an editor said 500 words, that’s what has to be turned in.

Choose what’s necessary and what should be cut. No matter how fascinating the research might be, it can’t all be crammed into the allotted space.

Always meet deadlines.  

Most important, I learned about storytelling and pacing to keep the reader engaged.

The 21st century changed the market for short nonfiction from print to online. As the internet expanded, magazines went out of business.

Nowadays my articles are mostly digital content. Fewer trees give their lives. I no longer have to buy sample print copies to study magazines’ style and focus. Finding outlets to write for is as easy as asking Mr. Google.

The downside is online markets often pay little to nothing because there is so much free content on the net. To make significant money, one needs to find particular niches that pay for specialized content.

However, there’s a different kind of reward: Publication is fast. As soon as authors hit submit, their writing is available to an audience of millions. 

On top of that comes the gratification of immediate feedback. I really enjoy reader comments on my posts for TKZ.

Steve Hooley recently asked me if research for an article had even sparked an idea for a novel. Not yet. But the research I do for articles often finds its way into my plots.

The second book in my series, Stalking Midas, concerns elder fraud. I attended seminars presented by local and state watchdogs to learn about that growing, insidious crime. Unfortunately, research turned personal when my adopted mother was victimized by a caregiver. Her experience became a True Crime Thursday post.

Several newspapers published my elder fraud article. It also formed the basis for a talk that I give to senior groups. Additionally, I revamped parts of Stalking Midas to incorporate what I’d learned.

I started writing articles to counteract discouragement during the long marathon of trying to get novels published. Articles became short sprints refreshed by water breaks of publication. They helped keep me going toward the ultimate finish line.

In 2017, my thriller Instrument of the Devil was published.

Seven novels later, I’m writing more articles than ever because…

A funny thing happened during that decades-long marathon. I discovered I like writing nonfiction as much as fiction.

Especially when I get to meet a bear.

~~~

TKZers: Do you write fiction, nonfiction, or both? How important is getting published to you? What sustains you during the long haul of writing a book?

~~~

 

 

DNA is supposed to prove guilt or innocence. Instead, it reveals deception and betrayal in my new thriller, UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Please check it out at these online booksellers.

True Crime Thursday – Racehorse Doping

Photo credit: MJ Boswell – Wikimedia

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

In March, 2022, Federal Correctional Institution Miami, a low-security facility that was formerly home to Manuel Noriega, welcomed a new resident: Jorge Navarro, a thoroughbred horse trainer who pled guilty to federal charges of doping racehorses with performance enhancing drugs (PED).

Navarro’s nickname was “Juice Man,” a moniker he had emblazoned on a pair of Croc shoes he kept at his barn.

In January, 2020, one of Navarro’s horses, XY Jet, died of a heart attack at the age of eight. XY Jet had won $3 million in purses including the Dubai Golden Shaheen race. At the time of the horse’s death, Navarro gave this statement:

With deep regret, I am sorry to notify you that X Y Jet died this morning as a result of a heart attack. X Y Jet was more than a horse on my trained list. (He) was the one that took us through a wonderful and exciting roller coaster of emotions. He always fought against adversity and despite the injuries that affected him during his career, he always brought out that kind of champion he was.

PEDs used in horses do not actually improve their performance but rather mask pain that could slow them down.

In December, 2021, U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said:

Structures designed for the protection of the horses abused in this case failed repeatedly; fixtures of the industry – owners, veterinarians, and trainers – flouted rules and disregarded their animals’ health while hypocritically incanting a love for the horses under their control and ostensible protection. Standing as the keystone for this structure of abuse, corruption, and duplicity was Jorge Navarro, a trainer who treated his animals as expendable commodities in the service of his ‘sport.’

Navarro made a tearful statement at his sentencing hearing: “I became a selfish person who only cared about winning and I lost my way.”

Navarro was fined $26.8 million and given the maximum sentence of five years.

At FCI Miami, his options include working in the commissary, laundry, kitchen, or doing landscaping with a pay range of 12 to 40 cents an hour.

Paying his fine could take a while.

In a similar scenario, the 2021 winner of the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit, was later disqualified after he tested positive for corticosteroids. On December 6, 2021, the horse collapsed and died at age three during a workout at Santa Anita Park.

Corticosteroids act differently on the body than anabolic steroids, which are long-lasting drugs used for muscle building and strength. According to MoveUnited.org:

Athletes have reported that corticosteroids help them push through the pain of extreme exertion and allow them to recover faster for the next event. The benefits of corticosteroids wear off pretty fast, which is why they are prohibited in-competition only.

Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, was suspended for 90 days by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and fined $7500. Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer, also forfeited his purse from the Derby win and was banned from entering horses in the Derby for 2022 and 2023. Hearings to delay the suspension are ongoing as of March, 2022.

The day before Medina Spirit’s death, Baffert’s horses swept the Los Alamitos Stakes.

Were any of those horses tested? Who knows? 

Starting in December 2018, thirty-seven horses died at Santa Anita in less than a year.

In December, 2021, Deadline.com reported:

Former Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey organized a task force to investigate and released a report two years ago that found ‘no criminal wrongdoing’ on Santa Anita’s part.

Existing safeguards against doping are not working and many critics are calling for a ban on horseracing.

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TKZers: What do you think? Should horseracing be banned? What action would clean up the sport?

~~~

 

An innocent father in prison. A guilty rapist set free. A surprise son from the past.

DNA links three puzzling cases in my new thriller Until Proven Guilty. Order at Amazon. 

True Crime Thursday – Eyes of a Killer

Photo credit: perchek industrie-Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

April is National Donate Life Month to promote the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation. I covered this subject in an article for Montana Senior News. While researching, I spoke with people who had either been recipients of donations or surviving family members who agreed to donate organs, corneas, or tissue from their deceased loved ones.

The stories were bittersweet but also heartwarming. A recurring theme ran through them: the worst day for one family is the best day for another family.

 

Miranda Denison with the tools of her trade.

A major source for my article was a woman named Miranda Denison, one of six people in Montana with the unusual job of harvesting corneas. When someone dies, she or one of her colleagues goes to the hospital or funeral home to remove the thin, dime-shaped tissue that gives sight. She carefully packages it, then arranges transportation to an eye bank. There, the corneas are medically evaluated and, if viable, sent to hospitals to be transplanted. The surgery has a 95% success rate of restoring vision.

Miranda’s duties are similar to that of a coroner or medical examiner. She undresses bodies and thoroughly examines them, draws blood and other fluids for lab analysis, makes note of injuries, scars, tattoos, needle tracks, and signs of trauma or disease that might affect whether or not the corneas can be transplanted. For instance, IV drug users are excluded as donors, as are people with hepatitis C or who are HIV positive.

Donors’ and recipients’ identities are confidential but a transplant coordinator can act as an intermediary. This allows recipients to send thanks to the surviving donor family. With consent from both parties, they may communicate directly with each other, often forming lasting friendships because of the gift of life that connects them.

What does this have to do with True Crime Thursday?

Sometimes donors are victims of crimes. In such cases, recovery of organs takes place at the crime lab in Missoula, Montana.

Sometimes donors are perpetrators of the crime.

In the early morning hours of January 19, 2022, Kirk Brown, 48, shot and killed his dog and his mother, Florence Brown, 79, in the home they shared in Big Arm, Montana. Then he turned the gun on himself. He didn’t die immediately and was transported to a hospital where he later succumbed to his injury. The case was ruled a homicide/suicide.

Kirk Brown was a registered organ donor. Recovering his corneas was an especially grisly task because of the gunshot wound. Although Miranda didn’t work this particular case, she was familiar with it because her colleague handled it at the Missoula crime lab.

Miranda knows I write thrillers. After she told me about the case, we started talking about fictional possibilities.

If someone received the eyes of a killer, how would that affect them? Would they view life and people differently? Would they take on characteristics of the murderer?

The concept is not new. A 1920 French novel, Les Mains d’Orlac (The Hands of Orlac) explored the idea of transplanted body parts. After an assassin is executed by guillotine, his hands are attached to a pianist who had lost his in an accident. The pianist begins to commit crimes because he cannot control the grafted hands. That story inspired several horror films, including Hands of a Stranger (1962).

Other films, including Body Parts (1991), In the Eyes of Killer (2009), told stories of characters who develop criminal characteristics after receiving parts from a murderer.

I’ve never written horror or sci-fi/fantasy. But the idea of a killer’s eyes intrigues me. I may have to give it a whirl.

Kirk Brown’s corneas were indeed successfully transplanted—the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud.

Thanks, Miranda, for introducing us to your unusual occupation and for triggering my imagination. 

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TKZers: What are some other works of fiction or movies where transplanted body parts are the basis for the story?

How about the opposite scenario? Do you know of fiction where an evil character receives a good person’s organs that redeem the bad guy?

~~~

UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY is published!

Today is launch day for the seventh book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

An innocent father in prison. A guilty rapist set free. A surprise son from the past.

Investigator Tawny Lindholm and her attorney-husband Tillman Rosenbaum juggle three baffling cases where DNA is supposed to prove guilt or innocence. Instead, it reveals deception and betrayal, triggering a crisis in their marriage and an unimaginable threat to their family.

You can buy UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY from Amazon and major booksellers.