Review of Netflix’s: The Confession Killer

Lucas
Liar, liar, pants on fire…

This is one of those stories that resonated with me as a true crime writer because I’ve seen it with my own eyes on a case.  More on that later.

The Confession Killer is the story of Henry Lee Lucas, a man that confessed to upwards of 300 (or more) murders in the 1980’s.  He was a killer.  He had murdered his mother and spent time in prison for that crime. Early on in his confessions, he led authorities to the remains of two victims…only their killer could have done that.

The local sheriff and the Texas Rangers had a person in Lucas who was willing to confess to countless crimes, all for a strawberry shake and some cigarettes.  He provided details that only the killers could know, or so it seemed.  Police from all over the country lined up for 20 minute sessions with Lucas where he would confess to crimes in their jurisdictions and allow them to close the cases.  It gave dozens of families closure finally.

Lucas loved the attention and the limelight.  He basked in it. For one time in his life, he had importance.

Then a dogged reporter started actually digging into Lucas and discovered proof that with many of his confessions, Lucas was not able to have committed the crimes – he was in other parts of the country.  The local sheriff and the Rangers ignored the evidence.  I have to say, at first, I thought that the reporter was the real hero of this true crime saga.

If this had been the crux of the story, it would have been a very good documentary.  But wait, there’s more!

A young and determined Waco prosecutor spotted the same errors and opened a grand jury investigation into the Lucas task force.  The Rangers, the FBI, and the IRS were brought to bear on him, framing him for bribery.  Lucas’s information disappeared from law enforcement computers.  A massive cover-up was eventually exposed, complete with law enforcement manipulating the media to go after the prosecutor.

So how did he do it?  Officers fed him information, led him to crime scenes, gave him photographs of crime scenes and pictures of the victims.  Lucas had an uncanny ability to read his audience and give them what they wanted, confessions.  They were able to overlook errors he made, or they even corrected him when he made mistakes.

Henry Lee Lucas played them like a cheap fiddle.

As a sidebar:  My daughter and I witnessed this ourselves when writing The Murder of Maggie Hume. Michael Ronning had confessed to her murder but it was, most likely a false confession.  We watched videos of them taking Ronning to crime scenes and it was eerily similar to what Lucas did.  When officers took him out to another murder site that he claimed credit for (Patricia Rosansky) along the river, Ronning didn’t point out the area where they should turn off.  One officer we heard on the tape said, “Michael, doesn’t that area over there look familiar to you?” as he pointed to it. Another officer off camera can be heard saying, “Damn it Denny, why don’t you just get out and show him where the body was?”

There are officers that swear to this day that Ronning’s confessions were solid, despite errors that cannot be overlooked.  Why?  Because they want Ronning to be a serial killer, they wanted to be the officers that closed cases involving such a murderer. That notoriety, of being involved with a serial killer is like winning the Super Bowl for law enforcement.

Which is how Henry Lee Lucas played authorities.

I really enjoyed this short series by Netflix.  A solid five out of five stars, perfect for your winter binge watching needs.

Review of The Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez on Netflix

hernandez

I know this will stun some folks but I don’t watch football.  It’s just not my thing.  What I knew about this case was limited.  New England Patriot’s player Aaron Hernandez, a man at the top of his game professionally, had been convicted of murder then had hanged himself.  That was what I knew going into this mini-series on Netflix.

The series is very good and well produced.  There’s some hopping around that takes place but they make great use of a timeline to help you keep track of what is happening.  What emerges is a very complex story.  It is a strange cocktail of sorts to watch.  Hernandez apparently, from what was shown, was gay, which may have led to some emotional conflict in his life.  He had a drug problem in that he vigorously chain-smoked marijuana.  Anyone saying that pot smoking is harmless needs to see it in the context of the person doing the smoking – and in this case, Hernandez lived his later years high.  He is portrayed as a young man that had a strained relationship with his mother.  Hernandez surrounded himself with horrible people which led to not just one murder, but several.  His family members covered up for him, which in the end, only made matters worse.

You get a story that is purely American with some almost neo-gothic twists.  The New England Patriots tried to fill a void in his life in terms of discipline, but failed miserably.  They knew he was emotionally immature, but he became immersed in a lifestyle that allowed him whatever he wanted.  There were no boundaries with him, and that led to a spectacular downfall.

Was he the victim of repeated concussions?  Certainly that case is made at the end of the series, but you realize that even with his head trauma, there was something else at play…a lack of moral compass or control. When I was done watching it I felt that his downfall was inevitable and was destined to be spectacular.  Hernandez is an American tragedy and one we have not learned from.  You are left wondering how many others are out there just like him.

It is notable that his wife and family didn’t take part in the series, nor did the Patriots.  So you are left wondering if there was even more to this story that we have yet to see.

Overall, I give this four out of five stars.  Good true crime.  I’m sure football fans will rate it much higher.

 

Tantamount Podcast Episode Five -The Green Vega Gang – Supplemental Material

This material supplements episode 5 of our podcast on the Washington DC serial killer, the Freeway Phantom.  Please follow us on Spotify, Podbean, iTunes, etc.

Podbean – Tantamount – Episode 5

The focus of the Freeway Phantom investigators shifted to the members of a serial-rape gang in Washington DC.  The gang operated in the same neighborhoods as the Freeway Phantom at the same time.

Gray
Melvin Gray.  Postal worker and member of the Green Vega Gang, he confessed to two of the Freeway Phantom murders but his confession was a work of fiction
Brooks
Paul Brooks, member of the Green Vega Gang – responsible for possibly hundreds of gang rapes in the District of Columbia

 

Warren
Morris “Fatsy” Warren.  His confessions into the involvement of the Green Vega Gang in the Freeway Phantom murders spurred the largest criminal task force in the city’s history up to that point.  Later he recanted all involvement with the crimes.  

 

Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) – A Bridge Too Far?

Diversity.jpg

Before I begin, let me assure you, I am in favor of workforce diversity, moreso now since I retired three months ago and don’t have to deal with it. I think it is wrong to exclude people based on any criteria other than intelligence or appropriate skills from contributing to a project or a team.  I am against bias in the workplace as well. My following criticisms are aimed at organizations who are doing D&I and want to do it right.

Imagine you work in a company and have successfully led many teams over the years.  Suddenly, thanks to a new initiative the company sponsors, you find out that you have not been staffing your teams correctly.  In fact, you’ve been doing it all wrong.  “How can that be, my projects have all been successful?  Sure, most of the work we had to do sucked, but we met and exceeded our goals?”  The response you receive is you have not been factoring in Diversity and Inclusiveness in your staffing. “But I have always put the best people on a project.”  “That’s wrong.  You need to put the most diverse and inclusive team together.”

Thus the head-scratching begins…

Believe it or not this is happening everywhere. It is a convulsive fit of political correctness infiltrating the workplace.  Like the road to hell, it is built on entirely good intentions.  Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) is all the buzz in the realms of the corporate overlords. If you are not aware of D&I yet, your time is coming.  In its most basic form, D&I philosophy says that if you have a diverse working team (race, sexual preference, etc.) you will produce better products. It claims that people should be paid equitably – i.e. men and women should make the same pay for doing the same job.  On the surface, this seems innocent enough.

Let’s tackle this from a perspective of asking, “Why wouldn’t you have a diverse team?  Why wouldn’t you pay people fairly?”  First, you may be biased, consciously or unconsciously, to exclude people who are not like you.  That’s bad. No sane person can argue in favor of bias.  Things start to fall apart after that though.  What if your approach is simply to have the best people talent-wise on your team?  What if that team is not diverse?  Is that bad?  D&I die-hards will say “yes.” Why, because you may get better results with a diverse team. In other words, you should sacrifice having the best team to the concept of having a highly balanced, well-rounded team.  Thus begins the D&I conundrum.

The Claims That D&I Makes Money or Increases Quality

While many advocates proclaim they support D&I because it is the right thing to do, what really is fueling the surge of these programs is an increase in potential profits.  Stress “potential.”  Consulting companies that sell D&I services (and there are a lot of them now) claim that companies that have such programs in place and have diverse leadership teams generate anywhere from 10-19% more revenue.

Of course, most of that “research” is designed to sell their services.  Some of it is outright faulty,. It also does not take into account other factors that might be driving revenue increases.  I’ve looked at few of the studies and some are not balanced or even “scientific” at all.  There are often no control groups and how they measure the alleged boosts in profitability is questionable.  Quality improvements that are claimed are judgmental rather than measured against another team producing the same product the old-fashioned way.  Most of these studies concentrate on leadership teams that are diverse, which really doesn’t address the expense, time, and effort to put full-blown D&I programs in place.

In many respects, D&I programs can be viewed as a solution in search of a problem. They are unguided missiles fired into the organization, looking for places to impact.  Today the topic may be sexual diversity.  Tomorrow they may target a team because it doesn’t have a strong LGBT representation. Next week it might be the lack of Lithuanians on your global teams. Next month you may find yourself questioned as to why you didn’t put the Romanian transgender on your team, despite the fact that didn’t speak the same language as the rest of the team.  There is no end in sight because the people running these teams are always looking for the next hit.

Anyone speaking out against these programs is immediately labeled as biased, or far worse.  While so far, few have advocated having quotas for hiring and promotion; D&I gets dangerously close to the Q-word – quotas.  In some instances it is social justice reformation infiltrating the workplace under the guise of better productivity. I won’t argue the merits of whether such programs are needed…because I think they are useful if properly aligned to the organization and administered as change efforts.  The challenge is that many are not well run.  They do not have success and actually waste time rather than increase quality or profits.

Roots of Resistance and the True Motivation for Having a D&I Program

So where do these programs falter or fail? Let’s take a look.

An organization implementing a D&I program is essentially admitting they do not adhere to the ideals of diversity and inclusiveness.  Otherwise, why have a program in the first place?  So collective guilt is the messy foundation of the launch of many of these programs.  Guilt, which generates instant resistance.

But is a formal program like this actually needed?  Let’s assume you run a company or firm and are not paying people fairly/equitably; one of the many targets of D&I programs.  That can be proved fairly easily by running some reports from payroll and HR.  If you are not paying people equitably by sex or race; you can change it!  Start paying people fairly in the next pay cycle.  Problem solved. Likewise, if you have managers that are not adhering to the hiring and teaming guidelines and discriminating, why not fire them?  If they are discriminatory, terminate them.  Again, problem solved.

This begs the question:  Why do you need a program in the first place?  Just make the changes, no one will complain. If you fired a few senior VP’s for not staffing teams with good unbiased mixes of people – you might be surprised at how quickly the rest of the organization falls in line.  Like Stewie Griffin said, “Nothing says ‘obey me’ like a bloody head on a post.”  You don’t need a program in place to do the right thing. You need leaders who instinctively know how to do the right thing and hold themselves accountable. And if the leaders do it, it will get enforced further down the organization.

I know, you’re already chuckling.  I mean seriously, leaders holding themselves accountable?  It is funny.  However if you are delusional enough to think that forming a team of lower ranked staff can make the senior leaders, who are their bosses, do to the right thing, then grab a cup of the D&I Koolaide and chug it down.  That is what happens when you designate a D&I team and kick off a program.

The argument often countered to this is, “It’s more complicated than that.” But is it really?  In reality, having a D&I program is, by design, only to propagate itself with no end in sight.  In fact, other than withering on the vine and dying of natural causes, most D&I programs don’t have an end-state that is defined. When do they run the flag up and declare victory?  Never.  Because they will always be looking for another injustice or inequality in the organization.  If they can’t find them, the people allocated to work on these programs have nothing to do and are redundant – so they are on a constant search for the next social injustice in the company.

So let’s cut to the chase as to why these programs are in place.  The REAL reason is that these programs exist is so that the organizations that have them can tell the world they have them.  “Look at us, we believe in Diversity and Inclusiveness!  We are doing the right thing…because we have a program and people dedicated to it to prove it.”  This is all about public image rather than actually driving change.  It helps with recruiting of the millennial workforce as well.  “You should work here, we have programs that target the injustices of the world.”

You may say that’s not the case, but I have hands-on experience with this.  I went to D&I leadership at my last company, which I will not name and said we should have a professional network of older employees, those near retirement who are not in the top levels of rank in the organization.  “We have special needs and interests and are in a different place in our careers than other groups. We also have a lot to contribute given our experience.  Rather than marginalize these employees, why not invigorate them?”  I even labeled it, “Chronodiversity ©.  I went so far as to suggest that if we had such a program, we could sell it as a service to our clients. In other words, not only would it help our people but we could cash in on it.

You would think they would have been all over it.  Wrong.

What I was told, and I quote here, “We can’t support an age diversity group because millennials won’t want to take part in it.  The reason we have these networks and programs is to appeal to the younger employees.”  In other words, age diversity wasn’t allowed to exist or even acknowledged. The message to me was crystal clear, D&I, in this instance, was a marketing tool for recruitment and retention.  If it could not involve millennials, the firm wanted no part of it. That framed this for me perfectly. It wasn’t about diversity – it was about the illusion of diversity and inclusiveness.

The Pitfalls of D&I

Since then I’ve talked to people in several companies and have my own experience with these programs.  Many stagnate and flounder, trying to take root.  What are the issues with D&I initiatives? Here are a few problems they introduce or struggle with as well as some counters to these issues:

  • As stated earlier, there is a collective presumption of guilt associated with D&I.  “Clearly you all have bias and are all offenders, holding down minorities, women, and other negatively impacted groups.  All of you are the problem.” For advocates of D&I, this predetermined guilt, along with organizations that allow this to happen, are what is holding diversity groups back in their careers.  Essentially it lays blame on a portion of the organization that may or may not have ever taken part in an act of non-inclusiveness rather than targeting those individuals that are, indeed, violators.
  • The heart and core of most D&I programs is training, a lot of training. Ironically, training is also one of the least effective ways to drive cultural change, yet most programs start and end there. D&I tends to be like the person with a hammer in their hand…the whole world looks like a nail.

To expect people to attend a few hours of learning and that will somehow drive them to behave differently is arrogant and flawed thinking. Some of these biases come from a lifetime of experience and upbringing.  To expect they can be solved with a course on unconscious biases in an hour or two is laughable.  If you want to drive real change you need positive and negative reinforcement, consequences for bad behavior, rewards for good behavior, and leaders who put action over words.  You need supportive networks where issues can be surfaced and addressed without fear of repercussion.  Training has a role to play, but it is a secondary one if you want to alter workplace culture. For D&I to work, it has to have teeth.  It must have the ability to impact senior leaders, up to termination, or it is just a bunch of unsupported training.

  • There is an assumption that white males have advantages in the workplace. I, for one, never felt like I had any advantage being a white male. I had to work hard for every promotion I ever earned.  I also have had female managers for a good portion of my career. They too worked hard for their promotions.  Where is all of this “advantage” I keep hearing about?  The argument that because I haven’t seen it, that it doesn’t exist is akin to saying, “Just because you haven’t seen Bigfoot, it doesn’t mean that he’s not out there.”  Please don’t tell me that I experienced a benefit as a white male when you don’t know me, know my career, or know what I have had to sacrifice over the years.  While it may not be stated out loud, it most certainly is implied.

This thinking actually erodes D&I efforts because it forces white males to oppose the efforts of D&I because it is based on a fallacy in their eyes.  You need everyone, including white males, to be on-board with a cultural change.  Ironically, to implement a real change, you need this group to be aligned to D&I ideals – but instead the D&I program makes them the target and adversaries by default. Like one person I spoke to put it, “Why am I being told that I’m the problem?”

  • There’s some confusion as to what problem D&I is actually fixing. What is the actual goal of D&I? Is it quotas or predefined team compositions? If you cannot define the endgame, you cannot hope to win.

Over the years I had gay people working for me, but I often didn’t know if for a long time.  I just hired the best people.  I didn’t care if they were female, male, or what their country of origin was.  If they happened to be gay or transgender, well, I always figured that was their business. I just staffed great people.  To me, this seems to be what should be the goal of D&I…that managers just put fantastic people on their teams without any bias.  Instead, what I have seen, is there are mythical numbers – quotas – that people seem to believe constitute what makes a great team. To me, and to many people, that is wrong.

  • Many D&I programs target “barriers” in the workplace. There is a presumption barriers for women (and other groups) to undertake some careers and those barriers are seen a problem.  Example:  “We need to encourage more women to enter the STEM fields.” I challenge that.  Why must me we (at the corporate level) attempt to sway their career choices?  Personally, I always assumed women were smarter than those of us men that pursued such careers.  Perhaps many of them don’t want to enter a field that is filled with idiotic managers, constant (often frustrating) change, the persistent threat of outsourcing and layoffs, and long unforgiving hours.  If I had my career to do over, I probably wouldn’t have pursued this career path myself.  There is a supposition that there is some sort of barrier erected by men to keep women from certain career paths.  In reality, they are probably just smarter than those of us that went into STEM as a career.

It is also safe to assume that the choice of a STEM career begins much earlier in life, before college.  This is not something for corporate America to wrestle with, but society, families, and early education institutions.  If you were raised in a family that discouraged you from going to college, one that insisted that you get married and have children – why is it the corporate world’s responsibility to encourage you with a STEM career?  Hell, it has been ingrained in you for decades to not go down this path.  Putting this burden on the corporate overlords is folly, by this time in life, many people have already chosen their career paths.

Bottom line – may people think it is wrong to try and force people down career paths…even if your intention is good.

  • Many D&I programs start with a presumption that the problem exists at every level of the organization. Everyone is the problem equally.  In reality, any issues are almost always at the top and trickle down.  I saw one message on the subject that said, “You have to challenge the thinking that women and minorities don’t have a lot to offer.”  The word, “challenge” is interesting because in reality, it is challenging those in authority.  As one colleague put it, “Why are they putting me through all of this training?  I don’t hire anyone nor am I likely to.  The problem is with all of the people at the top not hiring diverse talent.” Organizations that claim to get a lift from D&I programs, almost always have a leadership level that has adopted the principles of inclusiveness.
  • Diversity is a slippery slope. What constitutes diversity?  Is it categorizing people or is it diversity of thinking?  Defining this is critical yet most D&I programs try and dodge hard and fast definitions. Diversity of thought is probably more important than any other aspect of D&I, but it is often glossed over.
  • There is a political undercurrent in some D&I efforts. The Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer person at Kellogg Community College in my hometown of Battle Creek recently attended a protest over the visit of Donald Trump to the city. He carried a sign that boldly said, well you can see for yourself:DandI

Now while you can go out in your private life and do what you want to do, it seems pretty clear that in this case the person they have leading their D&I efforts is not open to other ways of thinking – a diversity of thought.  It is a case of someone not living the ideals they are responsible for leading. While you may claim this is an isolated case, I have several folks I know who have photos I have seen circulated in knitted vagina hats screaming at protest marches on the weekends, while at work they are “leading” diversity efforts.  While I don’t want to dive too deep into political debate, there seems to be an underlying agenda at play here that cannot be ignored. Bottom line: If you are going to tell people to act a certain way, you need to demonstrate those behaviors both at work and in your personal life and be open to frank and candid conversations that challenge your beliefs.

  • I touched on this earlier, but it deserves its own bullet. Much of our belief and values comes from our upbringing, our families, our parents, what we are exposed to as children, etc.  To expect the workplace to solve a potential problem that may have its roots in family expectations and morals is crazy.  Some families might only encourage certain career paths, or lifestyle choices.  Religion plays a part in people’s lives too and may be deeply instilled.  If you want to get to the source of potential D&I issues, you have to look outside of the workplace.

In some cases D&I programs can conflict with regional and country values.  I watched one leader in my former organization do a D&I talk in India, telling the employees they needed to act differently towards women at work. It was awkward and weird and actually put the females in an uncomfortable position – having to choose a corporate program over their culture.  It is cute to think that your organization has the clout to change a national or religious culture, but that’s all it is – cute.

  • Just having a D&I program can actually diminish the achievements of individual that the programs claim to be supporting. When someone is promoted, it begs the question, “Was this person promoted because of their being in a diverse group?  They just promoted her because she was female and they wanted to improve their numbers.” Perhaps that person DID deserve the promotion, but thanks to the D&I program being in place, few may believe that.  Organizations should promote people based on their performance, with no bias.  But having a program in place makes people wonder, was the D&I program a factor in this person getting their new position?

I would counter that the measurements are all wrong. Instead of looking at the number of women and minorities that are rising through the ranks of the company, why not measure the impact of those teams that use more diverse teams?  The argument/myth is that having a diverse team leads to better quality solutions…so measure that.  Prove that D&I produces the results the experts and studies claim.

  • Often times the money spent on D&I is misused. There are dozens of conferences around the planet for D&I.  D&I teams LOVE to attend conferences and meetings.  Rather than send a different diverse group every time, some of the same people go over and over.  Why?  Well, your company wants to make sure it is known to the public and potential employees that they have a D&I program – so attending is seen as vital.  Not because it advanced D&I at all, but because it was a public relations move.  Sidebar:  Nothing cracked me up more than my last organization sending a male, balding, 60 year old, heterosexual, to a Lesbians Do IT meeting…and I wasn’t alone. This guy was not the problem in the organization, trust me.  And while good PR for the organization was important, it seems like this networking opportunity was squandered on a handful of people out to latch onto D&I to advance their own careers.

Ultimately, many D&I programs are telling people how to think and act based on what the program thinks they are thinking. No one ever asked me where I thought the problems lay in our organization, they just assumed I, like so many others, were part of the problem.  It is a recipe for failure.

From people I talked to in preparation of this article, I got the sense that their organizations are struggling with D&I.  It is almost as if it is a home for folks who pursued social justice degrees.  One person summed it up this way, “I wish they would just tell me what they want me to do differently and then leave me alone.”  Hardly the embracing that most organizations seek, but it is often the attitude of those that have these programs inflicted upon them.

By now I am sure there are some folks, the budding social justice warriors out there, whose blood is up, ready to slap some sort of derogatory label to me.  Might I suggest, “Quasi-retired, white, male, overweight, arrogant, prick (or asshat – your call).” I encourage some creativity here on your parts.  Those who are most offended by this article are likely the people that are involved (or leading) dysfunctional D&I programs and this hit too close to home.

It wasn’t my intention to make you angry (okay, it was, just a little though.)  My intention was to point out the flaws with some of these initiatives so that you can recraft your D&I program so that it is effective and impactful.

It is actually quite simple.  Treat your D&I program as a change program not an extensive training program. Target your initiatives to the groups or individuals where there are known issues rather than the masses.  Figure out a goal and articulate it clearly.  Take meaningful, visible actions like firing those that blatantly are biased. Don’t exclude diverse groups (like older employees) because it doesn’t warm the cockles of your millennial workforce. Don’t try and fix perceived social injustices that you cannot because they exist outside of the workplace.  Define how you will measure success and completion.

Best of luck.

The Grindr Killing – The Murder of Kevin Bacon This Christmas Eve

This is a special posting for fans of Crime Café.  I usually don’t write about current crimes, my preference is writing about cold cases or older crimes.  This case is worthy of special attention on several levels.  I am also doing a contest for a copy of A Special Kind of Evil – our book on the Colonial Parkway Serial Murders.  Follow this blog on WordPress and send me an email at bpardoe870@aol.com to qualify.

Now, onto my special blog post for fans of Crime Café.

When you write true crime like me, certain crimes do grab you.  This one came to me as a result of my son who was visiting us for the holidays.  The victim had gone missing before Christmas and my son knew him because he wanted to shadow him at the hair salon my son owns in Ferndale, Michigan.  My son, Alex, really isn’t a true crime buff like his sister (and my co-author) but this one hit close to home with him…so Alex, this one’s for you.

We talked about the crime all through the holidays.  It was one of those that could and should have been averted.  There was almost a Jeffrey Dahmer vibe to it.

Here’s the scant facts that we know at this point:

  • The victim in this case is Kevin Bacon.  No, not the actor, but the name similarity even brought that actor to share his outrage at this crime.
  • Kevin Bacon was told his roommate, Michelle Myers, that he was leaving Christmas Eve to meet a man he found on the dating app Grindr.  He was last seen at 5:23 p.m.  He lived in Swartz Creek just outside of Flint, Michigan.  He was a big guy, six-two, 250 lbs, so whoever took control of him had to have used some sort of means (a gun, or knife) to do so.  He has the look of a kind, gentle young man, which makes this crime seem even more horrible.
  • At 6:12 p.m. he sent a text to his roommate saying he was out for a while, he was having a good time and did not know when he’d be back.
  • Bacon’s car was found abandoned with his clothing, wallet, and cell phone in it.
  • As of now, Mark Latunski, a 50 year old Shiawassee County resident has been arrested for the murder and mutilation of Mr. Bacon.  This was not his first clash with the law.  Two times in 2013 he was arrested for custodial kidnapping, namely the abduction of two of his four children that he had with his wife Emily.  He was found incompetent to stand trial and was ordered to undergo outpatient treatment.  Eventually the charges were dropped by the victim.
  • In the autumn of 2019, the State Police were called to Latunski’s house in Bennington Township with reports of a partially clothed man running outside of his home, allegedly with handcuffs on.  Latunski claimed that the man was there consensually and had become, “spooked.”  Latunski claimed he was chancing the man because he was wearing his clothing, namely a leather kilt.  Both men claimed the incident was consensual, so Latunski dodged the proverbial bullet of the law.  This is eerily similar to the Jeffrey Dahmer’s attack on Tracy Edwards.
Latunski
Mark Latunski
  • Latunski has a record of going off his medication for mental problems.  He has been diagnosed for major depression, paranoid schizophrenia and displaying traits of a personality disorder.
  • Latunski was charged in the past for failure to pay child support.
  • Latunski was married to Jamie Arnold for just over three years according to records I was able to track down.
  • Bacon’s father relayed some posts by his son on Facebook that led them to turn their attention to Latunski.
  • On December 28 the police searched the home of Latunski and found the mutilated remains of Bacon in his house at around 1am the day of the search.
  • When arraigned, Latunski claimed that he was Edger Thomas Hill and that Latunski was his “nephew.”
  • Initial reports by several agencies reported his name as Matt Latunski.  These have been corrected to his name, Mark.  A Mark Latunski is shown to work at Dow Chemical but there has been no confirmation that this is the same person.

I will tell you, as someone that privately investigates crimes as an author, there is a reason that the authorities are not releasing information on this case.  This is someone with a history of kidnapping, mental illness, and picking up strange men.  It is entirely possible that he has killed before.  There are a number of missing gay men in and around Flint. Trust me, this case is worth following.

Non-Spoiler Review of Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker

Skywalker

I went into this film with relatively low expectations given the flaws in The Last JediThe Rise of Skywalker was ambitious on a rare scale for movies.  It was aimed at wrapping up story arcs that were over 40 years in the making, including some arcs we didn’t even know were out there.  The character arcs were, in some cases, less-than-inspiring.  On top of that, Carrie Fisher had died between films.

So my expectations going in were pretty shallow.  Imagine my surprise that I was pleasantly pleased with this film.

My friend Scott summed up one thing that had to be addressed.  Rey had to be somebody.  She couldn’t be a nobody.  He was 100% right.  That was missing from her arc and was critical.  Well, we got that with The Rise of Skywalker.  It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it was a neat twist.

In fact, this movie answered a lot of questions we had from The Last Jedi, which now makes me reevaluate that movie.  Touché JJ Abrams.  The film also avoided all of the Hollywood socio-political statement scenes that assisted in my loathing of The Last Jedi.

I came away with a whole new bag of questions I wanted answered, but for the most part, the strands of storyline that have been dangling with this trilogy were, for the most part, tied into a neat Christmas knot.  I saw some old friends and we saw some depth in some of the characters that we hadn’t seen in previous films.

While I more than got my money’s worth, I can say with honesty that this movie is not in the top three of the Star Wars films.  It is good, it has some heartwarming moments, but it is not epic or great.  Bear in mind this was a year where we saw the culmination of the Marvel films as well, and Endgame would be tough to top.

I had fun and enjoyed myself.  From a writer’s perspective, I tried to come up with a nerd-based litany of changes I would have done, but my list was less about the story and more about scenes that could and should have been included.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  There are bound to be a lot of haters out there, but they won’t sway my take on the film.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 35 – Priory at Talismith

Purple Worm

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Arius…

Lexa Lyoncroft as an ally – who would have conceived of this?  Yet there we sat with her, mapping out our strategy.  V’sarin, the dragon’s graveyard, sounded forbidding at best.  Yet there we would find the way to return Viktor Barristen to his grave, permanently.  The only catch was that we did not know where V’sarin was to the south, beyond the realms we knew.  The problem we faced was simple, how do we find this place?

Lyoncroft stirred the coals of the fire as she spoke.  “There’s an old monastery some eight days south of here, long abandoned.  It is said they were great map makers.  You may find some clue as to where you go. It is called Talismith.

“I would not recommend you go to your home town.  Barristen knows who you are, he will have his minions looking and waiting for you.  As it is, we must move on as well.  Hiding in a haunted battlefield may not be the best place to conceal one’s self when facing an undead lord.  We will go north and west exploring what you found on that map.”

“Karn had a mapmaker, but I am not sure we should go there.  This monastery may be our best chance,” Althalus said.

“Where should we rendezvous?” I asked.

“At the Rangersmeet at Villineau,” Brandon offered.  “It is safe and we may need their aid before all of this is done.”

She nodded.  “Now, we need to get messages to each other…”

“I have that covered,” Althalus said.  “I have a spell that lets me communicate.”

“What can you tell us about this library?” I asked.

“The Priory at Talismith was, a century ago, a place of great learning with a large library of tomes and manuscripts.  The monks that lived there were a small order but deeply respected in the church.  Around four decades ago the monastery suffered from a plague that wiped out half of the order.  Then a Gorgon moved into the area and killed the remaining monks.

“The church sent in a party to try and rescue the manuscripts, especially the maps said to be stored there.  The party that went in was never heard from again.  Others were sent but none came back.  The Library and monastery were considered lost after that.”

“Gorgons…” Althalus muttered.  “That is useful information…and possibly deadly.  I like this plan, but less so now.”

“We will need allies along the way,” Lyoncroft offered.  “The coming fight will be vicious and cost many souls.”  I gave her a knowing nod.  This was indeed a quest worthy of one of my order.  I muttered a prayer of protection for us all before bedding down that night.

The next day we set out across the Gallesian Fields, finding the road south that we had taken months earlier.  That evening we saw the statue where Theren enchanted his staff.  It was oddly reassuring to see sights we knew. The next day as we moved through the creepy old battlefield we were approached the Bailey Hills where the hangings after the war had taken place.  The next day, on the road, we were approached by a massive Ogre wearing a wine cask that had been split in half and was worn with half on the front, half on the back, with straps to make it a big wooden piece of armor.

“I am thinking this might be Barrel Chest, who Lexa told us about,” Theren said.

“You think?” Althalus snapped back with a wry grin.

“Hail Barrel Chest!” Theren called as he clunked forward towards us.

“Hi friend,” Althalus called as he approached, his massive tree-like club at the ready.  “We are friends of Lexa Lyoncroft.”  The warlock continued to weave a retelling of our arrangement with Lexa, dumbed down so that the Ogre could understand it.  His persuasive capabilities were good.  Barrel Chest sat down to listen, hanging on every word. We were all thankful he had not mentioned Pot Head, his brother whom we had slain. I joined in on the conversation when it looked like Barrel Chest wasn’t entirely following the story.

We conversed with him for several minutes.  He mentioned his missing brother, and we played stupid about Pot Head’s fate.  He finally asked, “Where Lexa?  Where she go?”

“She went northwest,” I said.

He looked downright sad.  “Aw, Barrel Chest upset. Barrel Chest like Lexa.”

“She will be back,” I offered.

“Me go after her.  Lexa true friend of Barrel Chest.”  With those words, he called us “Friends” and left, lumbering off into the Fields.

Two days later we passed the gate that marked the edge of the Gallesian Fields.  As Althalus put it, “The air feels less un-deady now.”  That didn’t mean that the danger had passed, as evidenced the next night.

Theren heard three horses and riders slowly approaching our camp during his watch.  He doused our fire and eventually woke us.  Althalus moved behind a tree as did I.  They slowly came into view, three humans wearing black plate armor.  Armed with lances, they leveled them in our general direction as they came into view.

“Who goes there?” I asked.

“Who’s over there?” came a voice back.

“I asked you first.”

“We have been asked to look for some people.”

“We are people.”

“We are looking for a paladin and a warlock.”

Althalus spoke up, “Non-church magic is illegal.” The irony was not lost on me.

“Why?” I asked.

“We were hired to find them.”  The menacing lance said they wanted more than to just find us. Their leader added, “And apparently we found them.”

They charged, dropping their lances and switching to maces – heading towards where Althalus and I were. Althalus blasted the horse that was rushing him, knocking it back in a blur of brilliant green magic, knocking the rider off of his steed and sending him rolling along the ground.  Brandon fired his bow, hitting another, his arrow protruding from his target’s thigh.  A magical attack on Althalus lit one of the men on unholy fire.

I faced one rider alone.  I used my thunderous and divine smite, making Skullringer shimmer in the darkness as I swung.  I hit his breastplate squarely, passing through his chest and out of his back – through his spine – killing him instantly.  The magical blast threw the horse sideways, breaking its leg as it sprawled out.  The upper torso of the rider landed at Brandon’s feet.  Mercy demanded my last attack was to finish off the wounded horse.  I missed seeing the death of one of the riders that Brandon was tangling with.

“Meat’s back on the menu boys!” called out Althalus with a twisted grin.

Theren’s thornwhip spell, pulling the one rider off his horse and towards the druid. Althalus opened up some God-awful void of darkness centered on the rider, sucking in the air and life around it.  Pure darkness slurped and whispered from the void as it devoured the rider.

“What in the hell is that?” I asked, never having seen anything like that cast before.  The warlock grinned back at me.

When the sphere of darkness ended, we saw the tormented, charred body of the rider that had been trapped in the spell.  Anguish was locked on his face.  Theren found 350 gold pieces and found a small glass sphere in a leather pouch.  One was broken at the feet of the man, but we did not know what it was for.  Theren determined that it was indeed magical.  Althalus learned that it was some sort of communication device.  “I surmise this is broken and used to communicate with someone else.”

That was ominous. Did that rider tip off Barristen with this sphere? Our warlock suggested just getting rid of it entirely.  “I don’t like the idea of holding onto this.”  I dug a small hole and Althalus put it in, burying it.

We rode on for three days heading south, into lands we had never traveled before.  The area was wooded, with rolling hills, low hollows, and the occasional creek. That night we noticed the glow of a fire of some sort, nearly a mile from our campsite, glowing in the west.

The next day we headed that direction, coming across a statue of a monk or some sort of priest.  It looked as if it were frozen mid-running stride.  A bird nest was built on it, and streaks of white bird shit streaked its torso. Moss and vines clung to it.  That conjured images of the Gorgon that were said to be in the area.

We progressed further and came across a large ruins.  Brandon pretty much confirmed that this where the fire was that night.  Outside the ruins, there are statues, covered in moss and vines.  The ruins are of a building that is 300 heads by 150 heads.  There is a tower that has crumbled, but still stands at two stories tall.  It appears at one time that this was a four story structure, but now only parts of the outer walls and rubble remain. Vines and growth seemed to be blanketing some areas of the jumble of broken stones and roof tiles.  This had to be Priory at Talismith.  In the middle of it, there was a camp site of sorts.  There was a large iron pot suspended over the smoking remains of the fire.

Brandon found a track, giant in size, with nasty claws.  He had no idea what had made it, but it was enough to give me pause.  I stopped and uttered a prayer when he told us that it was recent.

There was no easy way to approach the ruins.  We crept up on the rubble single-file, getting close to the fire-site in the middle of the ruins.

Movement popped up around us…a trap!  The creatures were massive, greenish gray skin, lanky with long arms and hideous claws.  Theren and Althalus called out, “Trolls!” and I knew we were in for a battle worthy of God’s trust in me.  Three of the monstrosities closed in on us.

The battle was a flurry of action, all blurred in my mind. A magical sphere of fire that Theren cast moved in on them and I remembered that Trolls had to be burned or they recovered injuries. The rubble hindered our movement as we tried to shift to cover each other.  Althalus’s green magic blast staggered one back, searing some of its grotesque flesh in the process.

Brandon hit one with an arrow that only seemed to irritate the Troll.  I struggled to land a solid blow with Skullringer but bit more air than Troll with both swings of the warhammer. Theren’s sphere of fire seemed to herd them…in my direction.  A magical whip wrapped around one creature, cutting it and spilling sick-green blood.

One of the creatures lunged at me, missing me with a clamping bite, but a claw dug me deeply in the arm. It was close enough for me to smell its rotting breath.

Brandon’s hail of thorns missed entirely. One Troll hit Althalus and burst into flames as a result of hitting the Warlock.  I hit the Troll on me, furrowing its flesh with Skullringer.  The ball of fire that Theren was moving and the burning Troll were a bit of a distraction that I opted to ignore.  Althalus blasted one Troll back into the rubble but another Troll slashed him up with both of its claws, splattering his blood on the rocks.

Skullringer caught my Troll in an uppercut, shattering its jaw and skull and tossing its limp body near my feet.  Green blood sizzled on Skullringer as I stood triumphant over my fallen foe.  Theren finished one of the fallen Troll in a withering flame that made its flesh hiss.  I was stunned when one of Theren’s blasts missed the Troll and instead slammed into me by mistake.

One Troll rose, regenerated by unholy means, and viciously clawed at me but I managed to take it down.  Theren’s wave of hands set the Troll ablaze, filling the air with the stench of charred rotting flesh stung at my nostrils.

Althalus’s magical blast on the last Troll knocked it back slightly, but it rushed forward and bit and slashed at the warlock.  The hit made the Troll burst into hellish flames as a result of contacting our comrade.  I sprung at that one as well, knocking the smoldering Troll with my warhammer, shattering its ribs in the process with a crackling noise.  Chaos owned the day!

Brandon hit him as well, but the Troll proved highly resistant.  Althalus’s next blast sent the now-dead Troll back into the burning sphere, destroying it.

We were exhausted and fell back to the Troll’s camp and began poking around their belongings. Rotted sacks filled with ill-gotten booty.  We found small bars of gold and silver, a few thousand copper pieces, and some rough-cut gems.  Digging deeper, we found a planking covering some sort of tunnel downward. I doubt the Trolls even knew they were camped on top of some sort of doorway.

Althalus found a sword, wedged in next to the planking that covered the hatch down. The blade near the hilt was twisted around twice, something we had never seen before.  Theren determined it was a Gnomish blade, named Quaker in their tongue.  From what Althalus was able to discern, if the blade struck true, it emits a spell called Thunderous Wave.  Theren took it for himself as the rest of us took a much needed break.

We opened the doorway under the ruins and found a narrow shaft leading down into the darkness.  Theren, in giant spider form, crawled down to a large domed chamber.  There were paintings on the walls, most cracked and covered with a thin sheen of mold.  When I got there, I saw the painted eyes of monks staring down at me from the fading works.  A thin dank pool of water covered the floor and we splashed in it as we moved.

Althalus cast a spell of a humanoid shape of light to provide us illumination.  The image of the monks painted on the dome at least told me that we were likely near the library. Theren-the-spider moved along the ceiling over us as we opened the door and started down a long hallway.  There were doors along the way but we heard nothing there.  There as a pile of rubble near the end as it curved and went down two wide flights of stairs, but the barrier of broken stone was not natural.  Someone had apparently piled up debris and benches against a pair of large bronze doors, as if they were keeping something there at bay.

We went down a hallway off of the main corridor and found a kitchen area, filled with rot, rust and dust. We went into the pantry area and saw an iron chandelier hanging above us with what looked like ravens on it…until they moved.  Stirges!

Three of the creatures dove on me, all missing, swarming around me. Three more went onto Brandon, latching onto the back of his neck, finding a crack in his armor. “Get it off of me!” he cried out, attempting to swat at the one drawing blood from his neck.

A festival of sword and hammer blows splattered the obnoxious creatures, though we were fortunate that we did not hurt each other in the melee.

We explored some of the bedchambers and found little more than signs of sacking and looting many years before.  Brandon found a sealed marble urn and he left it that way.  In one of the bedchambers, I found two vials but the labels had long ago rotted off. Theren found a golden artifact with the name of the priory intricately carved into it.

After all of our searching, we found ourselves facing the barricaded landing. Old iron candle stands and benches were part of the rubble piled up against the bronze doors. The word, Librarium was on a sign above the door. We came for a map, and obviously this would be the place where we might find one.

It took us a few minutes to clear the barricades and bracing.  I stepped forward and forced open the bronze door.  The room was massive – some 250 heads square, some twenty-five heads high. There was finger’s worth of water puddled on the floor.  Many of the book cases had been crushed, knocked over or fallen in time.  There were two points on the walls where rubble had been pushed into the chamber, but some massive force.  Books, tossed or fallen lay everywhere, but the center of the room seemed oddly cleared of shelving and debris.  A stench filled the air, a mix of mold, feces, and long-rotted flesh.  Tapestries clung to some of the walls still, while others lay rotting in the puddle.

“We’re going to be here for a while,” Althalus said as he looked at the library, stepping in and moving to some of the toppled shelves.  Most of the books that I saw were filled with marriage records or histories of places I had never heard of.  Some fell apart in my hands, so bad was their condition.  I wondered if we could, indeed, find a map of the realm still intact here.

Brandon found a book that was readable – The Tale of Sir Kavely.  A brave a virtuous knight who roamed the lands some 400 years ago.  As one of the early paladins, this book has value to any paladin holy order.  That was a story that I looked forward to reading.

Theren found a copy of Abastor – The Chronicle of the War of the Druids.  This details the Church’s war against the druids.  In scanning it, he saw that it documented evidence that the church may have very well falsified the evidence against the druids in order to purge them. It was fortuitous that our druid had found such a book.

Althalus found a black hide-bound book simply marked, “Devils” From what little he could read, the book detailed the nature of devils, how to trap and kill them, and how to control them.  In his possession, along with the Devil’s skull that I still carried, he was destined to get into trouble at some point in the future. He glossed over the warnings of potential madness from reading the tome.

“I fear you having that book,” I said to the warlock.

“What could go wrong?” he replied.

We did not get to that answer.  There was a rumble and bursting into the library chamber was a massive worm-like creature, purple, its mouth a menacing maw of death and devouring.  I drew Skullringer and rushed forward towards the massive creature.  Althalus waved his hands which made me feel better.  Both of his eldritch blasts missed, which seemed impossible given the size of the beast.

Purple Worm

The stinger hit me in the chest, punching through my shoulder armor plate.  The poison made me go cold and I dropped unconscious.  I heard the sounds of battle but was held prisoner by the pain from my wound and the poison oozing in my bloodstream.

I have no idea how long I was out, but came too in a cold sweat and panic.  I staggered to my feet and noticed that Brandon was missing and that Theren and Althalus were doing what they could to stay away from the great beast.  As I got to my feet, I called out, “How are we doing?”

“This is very not-good,” Althalus replied.  A cloud of lightning hovered over the worm, no doubt the work of our druid.

The purple worm spun to go after Theren.  I drew a javelin and planted it in the side of the creature.  I kept looking for Brandon but could not see him.  I feared that the beast had swallowed him.

Theren unleashed a bolt of flame that seared the hide of the beast.  He then transformed into a giant spider and hopped away.  The worm swung on Althalus and narrowly missed with a bite and an attempt to sting him.

The lightning bolts stabbed at the creature, searing black holes on its hide.  Bolts of flames roared down from the ceiling, hitting the purple worm at almost the same instant.  The worm bit Althalus, spraying blood everywhere, then was swallowed whole.  I now knew where Brandon was!  By God this creature was daunting.  I still struggled against the venom in my body.

The worm spun to face me and I braced myself for the rushing assault.  It suddenly paused and spit out the contents of its guts, dropping Althalus and Brandon onto the wet manuscripts of the library floor. The ranger was pale, near death, and the warlock seemed to be trying to help him.

I swung Skullringer twice, hitting once hard on the maw of the worm, knocking the head to the side for a moment.  It tried to bite me but I whirled and it missed.

Theren’s indoor lightning storm brought it down.  We were exhausted, winded, and injured. Brandon’s face was badly scarred from the stomach acid of the beast.  It would take a special kind of girl to love him from this point forward.  Our party paused and recouped, healing those who needed it.  I was still wobbly on my feet and welcomed the rest.

After we rested, we continued our search for a map.  Althalus found a crucifix and a silver edged mace in the debris. There was an elvish blade with the name “Suresh” on it.

It was I who suggested searching behind the tapestries. Brandon found a secret door behind one and we went into the antechamber.  The room was filled with racks and bone tubes sealed.  The map room!  Those we found open crumbled in our hands.  Brandon came across one ivory tube sealed in wax that had potential.  When we opened it, we found a hand-scrawled map of our realms!

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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