True Crime Thursday – Murderpedia

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Public Domain Review

Crime writers have—shall we say?—unusual research needs. We often joke that law enforcement could knock on our doors at any moment because of suspicious internet searches.

Recently, I ran across a site called Murderpedia. It claims to be the largest free database of serial killers and mass murderers around the world. It lists more than 5800 male murderers and more than 1000 female murderers going back hundreds of years in history.

It’s indexed alphabetically by both the killer’s name and by the country where the murder(s) occurred. Each entry chronicles the crime(s), method of death, and ultimate disposition of the case–hanging, firing squad, guillotine, life in prison without parole, etc. Additionally, there are photos, artists’ renderings, and illustrations to go with some stories.

At random, I chose a link to Bridget Durgan, an Irish housekeeper who was so horribly mistreated by her various employers that she vowed to kill them if she ever had the chance. In New Jersey in February, 1867, an opportunity arose. Durgan stabbed and clubbed her employer, Mrs. Mary Ellen Coriel, to death then set the Coriel house on fire, blaming the crime on robbers. Nobody believed her and she was found guilty at trial.

While in prison awaiting execution, Durgan revealed her sad life to the Reverend Mr. Brendan who published her story as a cautionary tale. The illustrated pamphlet was also likely sold to spectators at Durgan’s hanging.

Public Domain Review

Lurid pen and ink drawings show the mortally wounded Coriel still alive, lying on the floor near her baby, Mamey, and the wild-eyed Durgan standing over them. Durgan reportedly said she allowed Coriel to kiss her child goodbye before finishing her off.

Durgan was hanged in August, 1867.

After perusing the Murderpedia site for an hour (or three!), I was struck by the immense amount of work that had gone into researching and cataloging thousands of cases. Then I noticed the last update was in 2017.

What had happened to Murderpedia?

Down the rabbit hole I tumbled.

I found out that the curator/director was a Spanish criminologist and author named Juan Ignacio Blanco whose own story is nearly as strange as the cases he chronicled. In 1992, he investigated the triple murder of three teenage girls, known as the Alcasser case. He believed two men accused of the crimes were scapegoats who’d been set up by wealthy, politically-connected, Spanish power brokers to cover their own guilt and to divert attention from their other crimes, including pedophilia.

Blanco was branded a conspiracy theorist.

After he published a book about his findings, he was convicted of insulting and slandering officials in charge of investigating the case and served time in prison. His book was judicially seized in 1998 because it included autopsy photos of one victim without her family’s consent. Accusations swirled that Blanco and the father of another victim in the case had set up and operated a foundation that resulted in hefty profits to both of them.

Shortly before Blanco’s death from cancer at age 63, he appeared in a 2019 Netflix series that reexamined the Alcasser Murders.

Was Juan Ignacio Blanco a greedy opportunist who capitalized on a terrible tragedy or a courageous crusader against corruption seeking truth and justice?

Whatever he was, he left behind the vast library of Murderpedia, crammed with painstaking research that’s a fascinating resource for crime writers.

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TKZers: What’s your favorite crime research rabbit hole?

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If Hurricane Irma doesn’t kill Tawny Lindholm, a shady sports dealer will when she becomes the bargaining chip in a high-stakes gamble. The winner lives, the loser dies.   

Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff is now on sale at the introductory price of $.99. Here’s the link.

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True Crime Thursday – Invasion of the Body

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: atimedia – Pixabay

What if a device measures your heart and respiration rate, body temperature, and blood pressure from almost 200 feet away without you ever knowing it? What if that intimate information is collected into a database? Who uses that information and what do they do with it?

Is this the premise for a dystopian/sci-fi/horror story?

Nope. It’s reality.

Pandemic drones created by the Canadian company Draganfly can do all that and more. In a video interview here, Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell claims the software will help public safety officials (in other words, law enforcement) track and prevent spread of disease.

Huh? Cops are now in charge of public health?

On April 21, 2020, Westport, Connecticut police announced implementation of pandemic drones that measure people’s body temperature, heart and respiration rate, and coughing and sneezing. Drones are already being used for enforcement of social distancing in New Jersey, Florida, and elsewhere.

The next day, the ACLU filed a protest statement saying, “Towns and the state should be wary of self-interested, privacy-invading companies using COVID-19 as a chance to market their products and create future business opportunities.”

Following public outcry, on April 23, Westport reversed its decision to use pandemic drones.

Is sneezing, coughing, or running a temperature a crime?

Does invasion of a person’s body by technology constitute unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment?

TKZers: What do you think?

 

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Drones play a sinister role in Debbie Burke’s thriller Eyes in the Sky, available here

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True Crime Thursday – Crazy but True Laws

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Criminal Kissing
Photo credit: Vera Arsic – Pexels

In Elko County, Nevada, the law requires people to wear a mask at all times.

Since Covid 19, many cities and counties have enacted similar ordinances requiring masks so what’s strange about that?

Elko County’s law has been in effect for a century. It was passed at the time of the Great Influenza Pandemic in 1918-1919. No one got around to repealing it so it’s remained on the books all these years.

As of April 13, 2020, the Elko City Council considered passing a new ordinance requiring employees of businesses to wear masks and gloves. Maybe if they dust off old records, they’ll find they’ve already had such a law…for the past hundred years!

While they’re at it, legislators should consider repealing a late 19th century law in Eureka, Nevada, that prohibits a man with a mustache from kissing a woman. The lawbreaker in the above photo is reportedly still at large, armed and dangerous. 

 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Since 1961, it’s been illegal in Gainesville, Georgia to eat fried chicken with a fork—only hands are permitted. That law actually makes a lot of sense because it’s “finger-lickin’ good.”

 

 

 

In Florida, it’s illegal for a man to wear a strapless dress in public—no mention of other dress styles. It’s also illegal to sing in public while wearing a bikini or bathing suit.

A widely-circulated urban myth is that Florida bans sex with porcupines. Actually Florida’s 2011 law prohibits sexual relations with any animal, not singling out porcupines. However, a couple of Russian tourists decided to challenge that law…with predictable results.

Also in Florida, you cannot legally ride a skateboard without a license.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Speaking of skateboards, on April 16, 2020 in Los Angeles, a front-end loader filled the Venice Skatepark with beach sand to prevent Covid 19. Hmmm.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Pexels

 

My home state of Montana has its share of unusual laws. For instance, it’s illegal to drive with a sheep in the cab of your truck unless you have a chaperone.

 

 

 

TKZers – What crazy but true laws does your state have? What is the weirdest law you’ve heard of?

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True Crime Thursday – Shut the Door Murder Confession

Credit: Wikimedia

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

A mistake in a court transcript resulted in a “confession” to a double murder in Syracuse, NY.

During testimony before a grand jury in February 2020, 13-year-old Brendell Elmore said he “shut the door.” However, the court reporter erroneously transcribed that he “shot the dude.”

Big oops.

By law, grand juries do not allow recording. A transcription by a court reporter is the official record of the proceedings. If the reporter doesn’t record something, it didn’t happen. Or if s/he records something incorrectly, that error stands unless challenged. Transcripts are critically important because they are the only documents that judges consider when they make rulings and decide appeals. 

Fortunately, in Brendell’s case, an audio recording verified his actual words–“shut the door.” The reporter had inadvertently activated a record option, saving his testimony. Although illegal, the judge ruled the recording was not intentional and it was crucial to the accuracy of the proceedings.

A news report about the error can be found at this link. A trial in March resulted in the conviction of Brendell’s older brother Treamon in the double murders, covered here. Even though Brendell didn’t pull the trigger, he was present during the crimes and held the victims at gunpoint with a non-working pistol. He faces time in a detention facility for his role.

The disturbing error in the transcript calls into question the long-standing practice of human stenographers who record documents by hand (and ear) in an age when digital recording is reliable and accurate.

While some courts are trending toward technology, lawyers still come down in favor of human stenographers, according to this article.

UPDATE: Please scroll down to Jim Bell’s comment for a more expert analysis than mine. Thanks, Jim!

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TKZers: Do you think court reporters are obsolete? Should digital recording be allowed in legal cases? What about using both reporters and recordings in tandem?

 

 

 

 

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True Crime Thursday – Slogans that Hit…or Miss

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Today’s True Crime Thursday offers a collection of catchy slogans meant to raise public awareness of various crimes. Some advertising campaigns address crime in general:

 “If you don’t have money for bail you should stay out of jail.”

Wikimedia CC license

 

 

Or specifically, in anti-drunk driving mottos:

“You booze, you cruise, you lose!”

“Drive Hammered. Get Slammered.”

 

 

 

Crimes of violence:  “Let’s cut out knife crime.”

Photo credit: fbi.gov

 

 

Human trafficking:

“Slavery. Still happening today.”

 

 

 

Sexual assault:  “No consent + Sex = Rape”

The war on drugs spawned perhaps more slogans than any other crime. Samples include:

“Just Say No.”

“Drugs cost you more than just money.”

“No drug user grows old; because they die young.”

“Smoke fast and die young.”

“Don’t Meth Around.”

Last November, South Dakota proudly unveiled a new campaign against methamphetamine that cost nearly a half-million dollars:

“METH – WE’RE ON IT!”

The message caused an uproar…of laughter, probably not the effect the promoters hoped for.

Some slogans work. Others, ahh, not so much.

 

TKZers: What crime slogan sticks in your memory? The best? The worst?

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True Crime Thursday – 911 Pizza Emergency

Photo credit: In memorium: Mr. Ducke, Visual Hunt

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

On a dreary winter night when hunger pangs strike, the craving for a thick-crust pepperoni pizza with double cheese might FEEL like an emergency.

But in this True Crime Thursday case, a 911 dispatcher in Oregon, Ohio answered a call from a woman ordering a pizza that turned out to be a bona fide emergency.

Tim Teneyck, a 14-year veteran at the 911 center, at first thought the call was a prank. But the woman was insistent and repeated her address, tipping Tim off to a problem at that location. He asked if someone was threatening her. She answered yes. He asked more questions and determined she was in danger even though she couldn’t say so directly.

He dispatched officers to the address. Inside the residence, they found a drunk man menacing the caller’s 57-year-old mother. The man was the mother’s live-in boyfriend who had a history of domestic abuse. He was arrested, averting a possible tragedy.

From time to time, social media spreads the word that there is a “secret code” for domestic abuse victims. Supposedly, if they call 911 and order a pepperoni pizza, that indicates they are in danger but cannot talk. According to law enforcement, this code is neither standard nor official.

But quick-thinking 911 dispatchers recognize signs of stress in a caller’s voice and will prolong the conversation, as Tim did, until help arrives.

Thank you to the unsung heroes who answer frantic calls to 911.

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TKZers, do you have an unusual or interesting 911 story to share in the comments? Some regular TKZ readers are dispatchers or connected to law enforcement. Please chime in with your anecdotes.

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Please check out Debbie Burke’s new release, Eyes in the Sky, book 3 in her Thrillers with a Heart Series. You can read a sample here.

 

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True Crime Thursday – Snowballing Out of Control

Photo credit: Annatsach

By Debbie Burke

In the dead of winter, here’s a selection of true crime stories about snowballs.

In December, 2019, the Wisconsin town of Wausau outlawed throwing snowballs, classifying them in the same category of weapons as “arrows, stones, or other missiles or projectiles.”

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A Douglas, North Dakota man, 68, was charged with felony aggravated assault of a victim under the age of 12. The man was walking his dog in the vicinity of snowball fight among a group of children. He was hit by a stray snowball and allegedly pursued a 9-year-old boy, knocking him to the ground and kicking him.

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In a triumph of youthful activism, a 9-year-old mover-and-shaker from Severance, Colorado convinced members of the town meeting to overturn an ordinance banning snowball fights. Now that the activity is legal, young influencer Dane Best intends to throw his first snowball at an appropriate target—his little brother.

Photo credit: Visual Hunt

Next, Dane may tackle reforming other Severance ordinances–specifically a definition that currently limits “pets” to cats and dogs, which means his guinea pig is technically illegal. Go, Dane! 

TKZers: Should snowball fights be outlawed?

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Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Eyes in the Sky, includes many crimes but no illegal snowball fights. It’s book 3 in the Tawny Lindholm series Thrillers with a Heart. Please check out the preview at this link.

 

 

 

Stalking Midas, book 2 in the series, is specially sale priced until January 28. Please check it out here.

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True Crime Thanksgiving

 

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

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Happy Thanksgiving! 

For True Crime Thursday, I dug up a few Thanksgiving stories about fowl play–go ahead and groan, you won’t hurt my feelings.

The fight against retail theft leads to new technology at self-checkout stations. Would-be turkey-nappers leave the bird in the basket without scanning it; or they place the turkey on the scale but enter a code for a cheaper item, e.g. 59 cent/pound bananas. Here’s a link.

Thanksgiving in Canada was October 14. This video caught a woman in Ontario who thought she could stuff the bird under her shirt and masquerade as pregnant. No report if she suffered frostbitten belly.

Thieves stole 85 turkeys and pheasants from Gary and Val Ertman’s Thumb Egg Ranch in Unionville, Michigan.

According to the Saginaw/Bay City News: “The farm produces birds for purchase as babies, egg layers, and meat for a variety of customers. The farm raises ducks, geese, pheasants, quail, peacocks, chickens, and turkeys. The Ertmans also sell young birds to 4-H kids for their poultry projects.”

Normally, the Ertmans butcher turkeys on the Monday before Thanksgiving for customers who want a fresh bird. Unfortunately this year, there’s no time to raise stock to replace the stolen poultry.

“If somebody is hungry, we would feed them…but don’t steal that many,” said Gary Ertman.

Last but not least, here’s tidbit of North Dakota history. In 1925, “grand theft turkey” was a felony punishable by up to five years in the penitentiary. The law was passed after a rash of thefts from farms. The most notable case involved nine stolen birds and a high-speed (50 mph) automobile chase where neighbors pursued rowdy young locals. Thieves released the birds but were caught with two feathered kidnapping victims still in the trunk of their getaway car.

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Today, among many blessings, I especially give thanks for my husband, reasonably good health, and the opportunity to pursue writing surrounded by wonderful friends including TKZ readers.

Wishing you a bountiful Thanksgiving! Hope the worst crime you experience is that darn brother-in-law who steals the drumstick you had your eye on.

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True Crime Thursday – Halloween Phobias

Credit: Myriam Zilles, Pixabay

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Halloween is spooky.

Fear can be real, as in these true crimes that occurred on Halloween.

Fear can be from scary movies like these perennial favorites.

Spooky movies can trigger phobias like:

Optophobia – Fear of opening one’s eyes, especially when the sinister organ music gets really loud.

Bogeyphobia – Fear of the bogeyman; or Kinomortophobia – Fear of zombies

Pediophobia – Fear of dolls…like Chucky.

If you’re a vampire, you might suffer from:

Spectrophobia, the fear of mirrors and one’s own reflection; or Alliumphobia, fear of garlic.

If you’re an author, you worry your readers will develop logophobia (fear of reading) or hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words).

Some phobias are head scratchers.

Ompholaphobia: Fear of belly buttons

Photo credit: Thorsten Frenzel, Pixabay

Lutraphobia: Fear of otters

Photo credit: hamikus, Pixabay

Anatidaephobia– Fear of a duck or goose watching you

Photo credit: Dighini, Pixabay

Arachibutyrophobia: Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. Our last dog, a German Shorthair, developed this phobia after I fed him an open-faced peanut butter sandwich. While watching him trying to lick it loose, I dissolved in helpless laughter. Come to think of it, maybe he didn’t have arachibutyrophobia, after all, but rather katagelophobia (fear of being embarrassed).

Photo credit: Robert-Owen-Wahl, Pixabay

Wishing you a safe and happy Halloween–just don’t answer the door or look under the bed! 

TKZers: What’s the weirdest phobia you’ve heard of?

 

 

 

Debbie Burke’s new thriller Stalking Midas contains no belly buttons, otters, ducks, nor peanut butter. But it does include a scary mountain lion. Check out the Kindle versionFREE today through November 2.

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True Crime Thursday – Calder Road Killings

Photo courtesy of FBI

In the mid-1980s to 1993, a remote area between Houston and Galveston became a dumping ground for the bodies of four murdered women. The desolate fields off Calder Road near League City, TX became known as “The Killing Fields.”

Police detectives and the FBI believe one person is responsible, likely someone who lived in the area and was familiar with the location. But they have no suspects and no discernible link between the four victims.

Dental records identified two women soon after they were found but two more remained “Jane Doe” and “Janet Doe” for decades until they were at last IDed a few months ago.

Here is a link to the FBI report, which includes a five-minute video. Particularly poignant is the interview with Tim Miller, the grieving father of 16-year-old Laura Miller.

Starting at the two-minute marker, he describes how he would go to the fields off Calder Road to visit her memorial. He would place his hand on her cross and say, “Laura, please don’t hate your daddy but I can’t come out here anymore. I have to say goodbye and I have to put my life back together. And I’d literally be walking away and I’d hear this little voice say, ‘Dad, don’t quit, please, don’t quit.’”

He didn’t.

Instead, Tim Miller focused on finding answers for families of missing persons. He runs Texas EquuSearch, a nonprofit organization that has located 250 missing people.

We can only hope someday he finds justice for his own child.

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 TKZers: Are there unsolved cases that haunt you?

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