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

!

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.

~~~

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.

~~~

 TKZers: Are there unsolved cases that haunt you?

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True Crime Thursday – Artificial Intelligence

Photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider, Unsplash

by

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Check out the photos of people on this website. Facial expressions change. Body movements and gestures look natural. Yet these “people” aren’t real. They were created by artificial intelligence (AI).

Previous iterations of computer-generated models had telltale signs that gave away their artificial nature.

However, a Japanese company called DataGrid, Inc., founded by three brilliant twenty-somethings, appears to have perfected the technique of creating realistic humans generated by artificial intelligence. This recent article in Forbes describes DataGrid’s process. Here’s the link.

How do they achieve this? They pit two AI systems against each other in a competition called “generative adversarial networks” or GAN. One creates an image from databases, the other critiques it, tweaking the tiniest details until the creation is indistinguishable from reality.

DataGrid plans to license this technology to the fashion industry to showcase clothing lines with created models of the desired size and shape.

But a writer’s imagination explodes with possibilities.

What real-life crimes could be spawned by AI technology? Here are a few ideas:

An innocent person is framed because their created double appears on video committing a crime.

What happens to eyewitness testimony? Whom did the witness see? An actual human or a model?

A head of state is kidnapped/killed and a double takes over, changing the course of history.

~~~

The late, great comedian Redd Foxx used to say, “Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?”

Who are we gonna believe? How will we know if our eyes are lying or not?

 

TKZers: Let your imaginations run wild. Share crimes you envision from the nefarious use of AI.

What do you think will be some of the unintended consequences?

~~~

Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Stalking Midas, contains no characters created by AI, only ones dreamed up by her imagination. Available in Kindle or paperback.

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True Crime Thursday – Elder Fraud…And a Book Giveaway

Courtesy of Pixabay

by

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer 

Today’s true crime is personal. My adopted mother, Ruth, was a victim of elder fraud.

Estimates of losses from elder fraud range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion per year. That’s billion with a B. Every single year. 

After doing considerable research into elder fraud, I was shocked to discover dirty, little-known secrets about indifferent banks, lack of prosecution, and impotent enforcement.

Here’s what happened to my mother:

Ruth, a widow, was fiercely independent and insisted on living alone in her own home in San Diego. After a medical crisis in 2016, Ellie (biological daughter) and I (adopted daughter) tried to convince Ruth to move in with one of us—Ellie in L.A. or me in Montana–or to have another relative live with her. Ruth flatly refused but finally consented to a visiting caregiver three times a week.

For several years, Ruth’s older sister had been taken care of by a woman named “Jane,” (not her real name for reasons that will soon become clear). The sister’s adult children vouched for Jane. The situation seemed ideal since Jane was already familiar with the family and could drive our mother to visit her sister.

Fast forward to 2017 when a catastrophic stroke left Ruth unable to speak or swallow. Ellie and I rushed to San Diego to care for her.

While we were there, Ruth’s credit card bills arrived in the mail…showing balances of more than $15,000 for items Ruth clearly not had charged.

Ellie called Jane and asked about the charges. Jane broke down and admitted she had been using Ruth’s credit cards. She had also been intercepting mail so Ellie would not find out about the bogus charges. After their distressing phone conversation, Jane sent numerous apologetic texts, promising to pay back the money.

But more evidence of fraud kept turning up, like:

Months before, Jane had changed the address for the cable TV, redirecting the service to Jane’s own home, and set up auto-pay from Ruth’s checking account to pay for it.

While we were at the hospital, a neighbor saw Jane snooping in Ruth’s mailbox, evidently trying to intercept more bills.

Jane had written checks to herself for large amounts of cash that Ruth had signed.

We notified Ruth’s local bank. They closed the checking account and turned the case over to their fraud department.

Ellie called Discover and they immediately froze Ruth’s account. They provided photocopies for the past year and we quickly identified many bogus charges Jane had made.

Now for the first dirty little secret: Your bank may not protect you from theft.

Ruth also had accounts and a VISA at a different Big-Name Bank. Ellie and I visited the branch to report the fraud. We explained Ruth was in the hospital and Ellie brought a copy of her power of attorney giving her authority on the accounts.

A bank officer told us the account could not be frozen nor would they provide copies of suspicious charges…until after Big-Name Bank’s legal department reviewed Ellie’s POA, which could take ten business days.

What???

The POA was simple and straightforward. Because of this mindless policy, the bank left the account wide open to more bogus charges. For the time being, all we could do was destroy the card and pray Jane didn’t have a duplicate.

Next, we called the police. Two detectives from the elder fraud division interviewed us. They copied the texts where Jane admitted the theft. We gave them paperwork showing the bogus charges from Discover and from the local bank where the auto-pay accounts had been compromised. They agreed the evidence was more than enough to recommend prosecution of Jane.

Two weeks after the stroke, Ruth passed away just before her 91st birthday. At the funeral, we heard the first hints of suspicion from the children of Ruth’s sister (who had died a few months earlier). The sister’s jewelry was missing and other money had mysteriously disappeared while Jane was caring for the sister.

Meanwhile, Jane had apparently fled to Arizona.

People don’t like to talk about fraud. They don’t want to accuse someone without proof. They’re embarrassed they didn’t catch on sooner. They feel foolish. Therefore, fraudsters have free rein to continue their crimes.

Ellie and I returned to Big-Name Bank where the POA was supposedly under review by their legal department. We were told that, since Ruth had died, the POA was no longer valid and they refused to help, even though Ellie was executor. Fortunately no additional charges had been made.

We then followed up with the police detective. He said he’d tried to interview Ruth but couldn’t locate her because she’d been moved from the hospital to hospice. Not that an interview would have helped—she couldn’t talk and was comatose.

Then came the biggest shock of all.

The detective said that, since Ruth had died, the case against Jane would not be prosecuted because the victim could not testify. The text messages where Jane confessed the theft plus the paper evidence of fraud were not enough.

WHAT???

Thanks to Discover and the local bank that acted quickly, Ruth didn’t suffer a significant loss. Discover reversed all charges. They were responsible about protecting their customer who’d been a crime victim. I feel bad they had to write off thousands of dollars.

However, my heart doesn’t break for the loss incurred by Big-Name Bank that refused to freeze Ruth’s VISA.

After that account was finally closed, Big-Name Bank then tried to claim Ruth’s estate owed them more than $5000, despite irrefutable proof the charges were fraudulent. The lawyer for the estate finally convinced them it would be a cold day in hell before they collected a cent.

What lessons did we learn?

First, it’s hard to prevent predators from taking advantage of vulnerable seniors. Be aware and suspicious of allowing outsiders access to a loved one, even if their references seem valid.

Second, no one is immune. Ellie works for a superior court judge whose own brother was victimized.

Third, encourage your family member to share their financial dealings with a trusted relative or friend. Understandably, many seniors resist because they fear they’ll lose control of their money. Too often, sadly, they instead lose control to a smooth-talking fraudster.

Fourth, glaring loopholes in the law allow scammers to slip through and move on to their next victim.

Fifth, there are no easy solutions.

If Ruth had consented to live with Ellie or me, would this have happened? No.

But if we had insisted on imposing our good intentions on her, we would have disrespected our mother’s proud, independent spirit. We loved her too much to do that. 

We thought we were making her life safer and easier by hiring a caregiver. Instead, we inadvertently opened the door to the henhouse for the fox.

How do you respect the rights and autonomy of loved ones while protecting them from those who would take advantage?

I don’t know. Dammit, I wish I did.

~~~

Life imitates art. More than a year before my mother’s incident, I had been writing Stalking Midas, the second book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

The theme?

Elder fraud.

After this experience, I rewrote parts of Stalking Midas to incorporate some hard lessons learned. Although the story is fiction and very different from Ruth’s, I hope readers will find truths within the book to protect themselves and their family.

Justice never caught up with Jane. Her successes with Ruth and Ruth’s sister probably emboldened her to victimize others. That makes me sick.

However, a crime fiction writer can dispense justice on the page……

And I did!

~~~

I’m happy to announce the launch of my new suspense thriller, Stalking Midas.

 

Charming con artist Cassandra Maza has cornered her prey, Moe Rosenbaum, an addled millionaire with nine cats, until investigator Tawny Lindholm disrupts the scam. Tawny suspects elder fraud and won’t stop digging until she finds the truth.

Cassandra can’t allow that. She’s killed before and each time it’s easier. Tawny will be next.

 

 

Stalking Midas is available in ebook and trade paperback.

Especially for TKZ readers, I’m giving away a signed copy of the paperback. The winner will be selected at random from comments on today’s post.

For discussion: Have you or a loved one been a victim of elder fraud? What lesson did you learn?

 

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True Crime Thursday – The Burt Reynolds “Murder” Scandal

by

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer 

Congratulations to David F., lucky winner of the book giveaway from Tuesday’s post. H.R. D’Costa will send you a print copy of Story Stakes. David’s name was drawn randomly from everyone who commented. Thanks to all of you who provided terrific examples of story stakes.

Now for True Crime Thursday

Wikimedia Commons – Photo credit Adam Bielawski

The passing of mega-star Burt Reynolds in September, 2018 resurrected tabloid rumors about a mysterious death in 1973 during the filming of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.

David Whiting, assistant to Reynolds’s costar Sarah Miles, was found dead in a pool of blood and pills after an altercation with Miles. An inquest determined cause of death was a drug overdose. The blood may have occurred when Whiting hit his head on a counter.

Unless you’re a tabloid reporter.

In that case, Reynolds’ hair-trigger temper and fast fists, his friendship with Miles (who was married), and his admission that he’d removed a vial from the dead man’s hand were enough to spin the tale into a full-blown scandal alleging murder.

MGM Studios likely made the situation worse by initially refusing to allow Reynolds and Miles to testify at the inquest, saying the delay would cost them $25,000 in production costs. When Whiting’s mother accused the studio of a cover-up, Reynolds and Miles ultimately were forced to testify.

Turns out Miles and Whiting were allegedly lovers (a revelation that later broke up Miles’s marriage) and apparently got into a fight because Miles had been drinking with Reynolds, inflaming Whiting’s jealousy. The fight turned physical and Miles told her son’s nanny to “Get Burt,” apparently to protect her from Whiting.

Reynolds arrived and Miles spent the rest of the night in Reynolds’s motel room. The next morning, they found Whiting’s body in Miles’s room. At that point, Reynolds removed the vial and didn’t remember what he did with it. The inquest cleared them but rumors persisted for years.

Mystery author and popular blogger Anne R. Allen adds a weird twist to the story. She had dated Whiting in college in the 1960s. In 2012, she wrote The Gatsby Game, a novel inspired by Whiting’s mysterious death. In 2014, a docu-drama about Whiting won the L.A. Film Critics award.

In this post from February, 2019, Anne explores the blurred world between real and fictional people.

Thanks to Sue Coletta for alerting me to this story.

 

TKZers, have you ever used a real death as the basis for a fictional murder most mysterious?

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