True Crime Review – A&E’s Live PD

LivePD

As a true crime author, I occasionally watch true crime shows when they catch my attention.  Honestly, I’m usually busy doing research or writing.  One that I do watch every Saturday night is A&E’s Live PD.  It is reminiscent of Cops, but is filmed live, with six departments across the country.  Where Cops was always edited, with Live PD, you get unscripted police work as it happens.  There’s some grittiness with this approach.  You are seeing situations unfold as they happen, which adds to the tension. 

Needless to say, I’ve become a Live PD junkie. 

The show is hosted by Dan Abrams with two co-hosts, usually Sgt. Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Tom Morris Jr. – both law enforcement officers.  These officers are there for context, and a bit of comedy relief.  Dan throws out some incredibly funny one-liners (kudos to his staff who must be feeding him these lines).  It’s not fun and games, these are serious situations.  The humor helps take the edge off of what are very tense situations.
Live PD is a blast to watch.  Some nights it is slower than others, but some nights develop their own themes,  drunk-driving, warrants being served, animal issues, etc.  It is unrehearsed, unedited, unscripted, and undeniably a lot of fun to watch. 

 

Things I have learned watching Live PD

  • When your response to the question, “Do you have any outstanding warrants?” is “I don’t think so,” then you have outstanding warrants. 
  • “Those aren’t my drugs!” has never gotten a person out of being arrested. 
  • Everyone that has an outstanding warrant just took care of it.  “I was just down to the courthouse yesterday and took care of it!” 
  • Every car that is borrowed from a friend has drugs or guns in it that the driver has no knowledge of (NOT). 
  • No matter how fast you are, your ass can’t outrun a police dog. 
  • There are a lot of creative places to hide drugs in the car – and police know all of them.  The ones they don’t know, their dogs do. 
  • Yelling at officers rarely works to your advantage. 
  • If you keep smoking that cigarette when they put you in cuffs, you are not tough – you are more likely about to be arrested. 
  • The police dogs are characters just like the human officers.
  • Domestic abuse is not just men abusing women.  
  • Millennial’s think they know more about the law than law enforcement and love being confrontational with officers.  “You can’t pull me over, you don’t have probable cause.  This is unconstitutional.”  They are so cute – and often guilty. 
  • If your whole family comes out to yell at the officers, all at the same time, someone is going to jail.    
  • Getting “pissy” with an officer is a great way to get a ride to the jail.  
  • If you are asking questions about your how to do your field sobriety test, you have already failed.
  • On a given Saturday night, 90% of the cars in America are driven by drunks or people smoking weed. 
  • Most people with drugs in their car are pulled over for something incredibly minor, like a busted tail light.  Yo, druggies, keep your cars maintained and you might not get your ass pulled over. 
  • If you are asleep in your truck on a road because you are drunk, you are still going to jail (in most jurisdictions).  
  • Apparently my wife and I are the only people in America driving with our licenses, registration and proof of insurance. 
  • A lot of people are driving out there on suspended licenses.
  • Crying doesn’t get you off with officers…nor does pleading.  
  • When confronted with flashing lights, if you don’t pull over immediately, you are guilty of something.  “I was just looking for a safe place to pull over officer…” 
  • If you are out with no shirt on, body covered in tattoos, and the police show up – you are guilty of something. 
  • Officers are not very happy when you call them, they show up, and you are on your phone and continue your conversation.  Here’s a tip, hang up the freaking phone!
  • My house is pristine compared to 95% of the homes that police enter.  Many are hoarder situations. 
  • When the police tell you to keep your hand up, and you don’t, you deserve to have your ass tossed to the pavement. 
  • Officers don’t need your life story when they ask, “So what’s going on here?”  In fact, the more you tell them, usually the more guilty you are.  Example:  “This whole thing with my ex-wife started three years ago when we were in Miami…” 
  • Anyone pulled over for drunk driving has only had, one or two drinks when asked.  No one ever says, “I’ve had eight or nine drinks…I’ve lost count.” 
  • If the police are showing up for the second time for the evening, someone is going to jail. 
  • My wife and I have actually practiced field sobriety tests while watching Live PD and have come to the conclusion we would fail them while stone sober. 

 

The show is so popular there are people out there that host Live PD parties Saturday night.  The live tweets on Twitter during the show are hilarious to read as you watch. 

#LivePD

#LivePDNation

 

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Review of The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation by William J. Martin and Bill Kunkle

Crime of the Century

I had heard of these crimes but only became truly aware when the serial killer Richard Speck died and a video of him in prison was released.  His callous behavior and the fact that he was seemingly enjoying life behind bars appalled me.  I read about his heinous crimes, killing eight young nurses in Chicago in 1966, and I was even more appalled.

When this book came up on my feed on Amazon as a suggested read, I picked it up.  I wanted to read a definitive account of the crimes and the conviction and was hoping this would provide that.  I wanted all of the nuts and bolts detail of what happened that one macabre night when Speck slaughtered eight women, but ignorantly left one alive – one that would, in the end, take him down.  There was almost an Arya Stark (Game of Thrones) story there.

I didn’t want to read the older book, Born to Raise Hell, because I had heard that it was one that seemed to favor the perspective of the criminal.  As a true crime author, I don’t like the criminals being the focus of true crime books.  I know some readers like those…I do not. I wanted not a shred of sorrow for this brutal murderer as I read about the crimes.

This book did not disappoint.

The authors have provided a well-balanced and comprehensive account of the killer, the victims, and a crime that shocked the nation.  This is not a light read, which I embraced.  I have nothing but respect for these authors.  In the pages of Crime of Century, they have recreated the seedy, dingy neighborhoods and characters of 1966 Chicago.  They put you back there as the police stalked a spree-killer through grungy bars and flop-houses.  They masterfully take you on the journey of the surviving nurse, Corazon Amurao, to eventually take the stand against the man that killed her friends and roommates.

Recreating such an old crime is never easy, but the authors have clearly done their homework.  This is one of the better true crime books I have read in recent years and I highly recommend it.  Add this one on your Kindle for your late-summer reading. Five stars and kudos to Martin and Kunkle!

Review of The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders: The Story of a Town in Terror – by James Presley

Phantom Killer

I stumbled across this serial killing spree by a meme posted on Facebook that said that this was an unsolved series of cases in Texarkana.  I made note of it because I write about cold cases, with an emphasis now on serial killings.  I thought this might be worth looking into.

I did find a book on the case, The Phantom Killer, so I picked it up.  Wow.  I went from not knowing anything about these murders to being immersed not just in the cases, but in the culture and period of the crimes. The internet meme was wrong (I know, misinformation on the internet?  I was stunned too – NOT!)  The killer was known, but never fully brought to justice.

Taking place in 1946, the Phantom Killer killed five people and wounded three.  The victims were in pairs, which resonated with me after writing about the Colonial Parkway Murders.  The author, James Presley, is a master-historian, taking you back in time to Texarkana in 1946, putting you on the streets of his hometown in that era.

This was a ruthless killer in an age long before DNA testing and modern police investigatory techniques.  Today, this killer would have gone to jail much earlier.  Instead, the murderer hid in the folds of history, concealed by police incompetence or lack of skills we now take for granted.  The stories of the victims are recreated in painstaking detail.  Kudos to the author for what had to be difficult research after all of these years.

The books brings you a cast of characters that are right out of central casting – including a wily Texas Ranger that is bigger than life.

This is not a true cold case though.  The police caught Youell Swinney, a car thief, whose wife implicated him in the murders.  While the case was largely circumstantial, I feel confident that Swinney was indeed the killer.

What follows though is the legal twists and turns as to how Swinney dodged ever being tried as the Phantom Killer.  This is a book that leaves you wondering at the very end if the decisions by the authorities was the right course of action.  Yes, the killer spent years in jail, but never for his most heinous crimes.

James Presley is a great writer.  I found the book compelling and written with the care needed to take us back to the crime scenes.  He weaves a stirring tale of a serial killer in an era far before that label existed.  I devoured the book on a business trip, unable to put it down.

Well worth picking up – I recommend highly The Phantom Killer.

Review of Netflix’s Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Evil3

I still remember when it happened…when someone attached a collar bomb on a pizza delivery man in Erie Pennsylvania and sent him on a bank robbery. When I watched the footage of him it didn’t make sense.  His behavior was odd, not really concerned until a few moments before the bomb went off and killed him.  There was a lot of media coverage and then it died off.  It took years before someone was brought to trial on the case.  I admit, I didn’t follow it closely.  It seemed like a bizarre plot out of a bad Zach Galifianakis film.

Evil 2

Netflix has recently aired Evil Genius – a four-part true crime series on the case.  It does what the media struggled to do, bring clarity to the strange characters and twisted plot that led to the death of pizza deliveryman Brian Wells. I went into this series hoping to learn what happened, filling that curiosity that the internet couldn’t satisfy.  This is a carefully crafted story of a group of idiots and geniuses that are intertwined with each other in a sick and deadly plot to rob a bank to fund a murder.

The producers have done a great job with each episode, almost leaving you on a cliff-hanger each time with a new tid-bit of information.  This is the kind of case that when you think you have a handle on it, there’s something new that is introduced.   Mistake were made between the local authorities and the federal agents.

To say this band of cutthroats is bizarre is putting it lightly.  You have the prostitute that lured in the victim in this plot, the man that built the bomb and turned in a co-conspirtor for killing her former boyfriend…and storing him in a freezer.  You have the child molester and fugitive.  The drug dealer.  And the queen of this macabre plot, the batshit-crazy Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong – a strange bipolar genius that makes your skin crawl. How these people came together and concocted such a strange plot is the crux of this story.  Why they devised using a collar-bomb and a scavenger hunt to rob a bank and kill a man; is all masterfully pulled together.

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She is right out of central casting…

What is disturbing about all of this is that it oddly makes sense when you hit episode four, in a weird kind of way. You are repulsed and disgusted by what they did, but it all seems to come together.

Word is that Netflix has approved another season. I’m on board.  This is a short little series and a great binge option for your true crime summer.

After-Action Report on CrimeCon 2018

 

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Like I’ve said before, I’m never off a cold case.  My only regret is Victoria couldn’t join us on the stage to talk about the Colonial Parkway Murders.  

This was CrimeCon’s second year.  I didn’t attend last year because I was unsure just what it was going to be all about.  This year I was on panelist for the Colonial Parkway Murders and, having reviewed the images and reports from last year, I felt pretty sure I was not attending some crazed weirdo cult gathering.

I had a good time.  Incorrect.  I had a GREAT time.  CrimeCon is one of the few places on the planet when you can say, “I write true crime,” and people don’t wince or say things like, “Oh, that’s nice…” while backing away slowly.  I get it, for decades true crime has been a secret pleasure for a lot of people.  The people here were fans – some were die-hard fans.  Others were dipping their toes into the true crime waters.  It was a very friendly group.

A bit about the demographics.  Most of the attendees were female…I don’t know the exact ratio but it seemed like 12 to 1.  Many were younger than me, which is easy because I’m 55.  There were fans of a wide variety of sub-genre’s too – TV crime show fans, author fans, serial killers, cold cases, podcast groupies, you name it.

The night we arrived at the Gaylord Resort in Nashville we were told we couldn’t go out to dinner at the mall because there had been a murder there.  I admit, I thought they were joking at first.  They weren’t.  Talk about mistakes.  We had a large number of FBI, law enforcement, lawyers and 3,500 armchair detectives only a half-a-mile away.

Victoria and I attended the session with Dianne Lake about her time with the Manson Family.  It was an interesting presentation.  It is hard to emotionally bond with Ms. Lake given where she was and who she was with in the summer of 1969.  You get this weird feeling with her of sadness, pity, yet some degree of distaste given that she was a member of the Manson Family.  I have to admit, I was fascinated on how Charlie got his talons into her.  Dang it – I will have to buy her book now.

The next session I attended was by Jim Fitzgerald on cracking the Unabomber case.  That’s right, it was “Fitz” himself.  He explained to us what parts of the show were not based on real life and did it in an amusing way, with actual Facebook and Twitter posts he had received.  Great stuff.  His insights and role in cracking that crime were incredible to listen to.  I want to go on Netflix now and re-watch it over again.

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“Fitz”  True story – Tabby was just a character.  He didn’t get someone’s career trashed – honest.  

I talked to Fitz about a serial murder spree that Victoria and I are working on.  More on this as we move forward…but our discussion was promising!

At the same time my co-author daughter attended the session on the Golden State Killer.  They had a great panel including one of the officers involved with this scumbag’s takedown.  New facts not in the press yet were presented.  I won’t take her thunder, she promised me a blog post on it, but I was intrigued to learn they had recovered some of the souvenirs this bastard had taken from his victims.  Oh, and that wheelchair?  Totally for the press.  I think his lawyer knows he’s going to lose the case but they want to try and mitigate the sentencing with a, “poor old feeble man,” routine.  Well, it’s a routine…and not very convincing.

I met with Gemma from The Keepers.  She was very nice.  We are cold case comrades.

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Giving up on cold cases is never really an option.  

The panel on the Colonial Parkway Murders that I was on was outstanding.  Bill Thomas and Joyce Call were on it; relatives of victims of Cathy Thomas and Keith Call respectively.  Both were outstanding as was expected.  We were moderated by former FBI agent Maureen O’Connell who did an admirable job of keeping us on task (no small feat mind you.)  We had over 520 attendees for the session – which is outstanding.  Get the word out about these crimes!

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Maureen O’Connell – A Class Act
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Bill Thomas – He’s been living this for 30 years.  
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Joyce Call did a great job keeping the family perspective first and foremost.  

We both sat in on the Delphi Murders panel.  Kudos to the family members and the Indiana State Police for coming.  Deeply moving.  I met with the grandfather of one of the victims later and offered him a couple of suggestions that he might consider.  The guy looked like a truck driver for some reason.  I suggested checking with the weigh-stations near the town.  You never know…

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Let’s get these families some closure.  

 

Victoria and I attended the early morning podcast session with Nancy Grace on the Delphi Murders…which we totally enjoyed.

While the rest of my family took in the Country Music Hall of Fame, I sat in on a session by Steven David Lampley on How to Catch a Liar.  Holy crudstunk – that was useful.  Not only is it something I can use as a true crime author when I interview people – it is something I can apply in my day-job as well.  Book purchased!

I attended the Nancy Grace Meet and Greet.  Wow has she got some great fans.  We were in line all talking and chatting about cases etc.  A young woman was there telling us about her cousin and a highly suspicious suicide down in Mississippi.  It was heart wrenching.  We offered her some advice on how to proceed.  I promised to post her information – so here it is.  Spread the word true crime fans!

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Christian Andreacchio – suicide or murder victim?  I want to know.  
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This is a case that demands someone to poke at.  It has a good-old-boy cover-up vibe to it.  

Nancy didn’t just do a meet and greet, we actually had a good conversation…so much so she asked for and got my phone number so we can talk at a later date.  It helped that I had a little gift for her – an autographed copy of A Special Kind of Evil.  It has been so long since an attractive lady has asked for my phone number, I was humbled by that alone.

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Nancy was a class act.  She’s jotting down my number inside our book.  

Later, I attended a fantastic session on Serial Killer profiling by Jim Clemente and John White.  They hit on some cases that I was unfamiliar with which made it interesting.  Their banter was funny, but not disrespectful to the victims (a line some podcasters need to learn from.)  I really enjoyed Dr. White’s perspectives on what make these killers tick.  I need to touch base with him on some work we are doing.

During the time there Victoria and I connected with quite a few podcasters and got approached for autographs – which is always good.  It is nice to meet our “fans.”  True Crime has never been this popular and CrimeCon helps make it more respectable.  Next year is New Orleans!

#crimecon

#ColonialParkwayMurders

#crimecon18

#NancyGrace

The Golden State Killer’s Arrest – The Perspective From the Desk of a True Crime Author

GOLDEN STATE KILLER
The faces of evil.  

I was overjoyed with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for several of the Golden State Killer’s brutal crimes.  For the victims, it means that his crime spree of 12 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, was finally over.  He will never call his victims again and threaten them.  He will never cause nightmares with the survivors.  He looks like a pathetic old man who will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars…something I am quite comfortable with.  His reign of fear and torment are done.

We will learn more about this douchebag’s activities over time.  The nuts and bolts of the investigation will be played out the courts.  He may talk, he may clam up.  In the end it doesn’t matter.  It is a rare thing, to beat DNA evidence.

I write true crime books about cold cases.  I was thrilled when the news was announced.  I listened to the press conference live in the background while I worked my day job, hanging on every word.  It gives hope to the thousands of victims and family members out there waiting for resolution on their open cases.  At the same time it sends a ripple of fear into every murderer who believes he or she had gotten away with their crimes.  Justice comes…prodding painfully slow in many cases…but it comes.  Every uncaught serial murderer out there had a restless night of sleep as a result of this arrest.  Once more, they are forced to look over their shoulders and wonder when, if ever, the long arm of the law will apprehend them.  Good. Let these bastards sweat.  Let them worry.  Let them have a healthy dose of fear and mental anguish.

When they held the press conference the first question asked was, “Did Michelle McNamara’s book on the case have any influence?”  Law enforcement said no.  I respectfully disagree.  Her writing of that book, like any book written on a cold case, keeps it in the public’s eye.  Books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark keep the pressure on law enforcement when it comes to cold cases.  While her book did not necessarily generate a tip that led to DeAngelo’s arrest, it spawned at least three documentaries to be produced in recent months.  It made the phrase, “Golden State Killer,” become embedded as part of our true crime lexicon.  It kept the public’s interest in the case and as such, keep the pressure on law enforcement.  While they offered Ms. McNamara any credit, I will extend it at this time.

There are others that wrote books on the case that deserve equal credit.  Countless podcasters covered the case over the last few years too and they deserve a professional nod from the true crime community.  They were part of a secret army of citizens that were struggling to keep this case fresh in the minds of a generation that did not know this murder/rape spree. They are part of that unspoken True Crime brotherhood that refuses to let cold cases remain frigid.  Hats off to all of them as well.  A job well done!

When I proposed writing my first book on a cold case, Murder in Battle Creek, there were publishers that wouldn’t touch it.  Not because of the writing or the content, but because it was about an unsolved murder.  I remember one telling me, “Who wants to read about a case that never gets closed?  True crime books have to have an arrest, a trial, and a conviction…that’s how they end.” It was such a narrow view…and discouraging.  It was as if they were saying the victim (Daisy Zick) didn’t matter, that because their crime was unsolved that no one cared. I felt differently.  I cared, and I didn’t think I was alone.  I think the public likes to be a part of such an investigation.  They want to know what went wrong and set it right.  It is in the public’s nature to want to help.  They want the facts and want to play armchair detective.  They want the pain and suffering of the families to end too.  I didn’t’ give up on trying to sell the book and was eventually successful.

The result – over two dozen new tips and leads…one just two months ago.

My second cold case book, I wrote with my daughter Victoria Hester.  The Murder of Maggie Hume exposed the flaws in some of the investigatory work in that case, as well as exposed a suspect that the public had never heard of.  The two of us had full cooperation with the prosecutor’s office and police.  We reached out to the public in speaking events and made sure the story got to as many people as possible.  The word got out.

The result – new tips and leads for the authorities to act on.

Our second book together, A Special Kind of Evil, The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, has generated numerous new tips that have been turned over to the authorities. We have met with numerous people that are pounding the pavement in their own way, looking for resolution.  I know some folks think true crime authors make their money off other people’s misery.  They are wrong.  Most of us, the ones I know, simply want to help.

I feel like we’ve done our small part in shaking the stigma about writing about cold cases in the publishing world.  This recent arrest fills me (and my daughter) with renewed energy on the new cases we are exploring, as well as some of the new avenues we are looking into on the Colonial Parkway murders. The new cases we are looking into are exciting and bitterly cold.  We look forward to thawing them out and bringing them into the light of public debate, investigation, and speculation.

Those of us that write about cold cases never are done with our work; not until the arrest and conviction takes place.  We are on the cases until they are resolved.  That’s part of the commitment on our part. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.

In the meantime, the good guys have racked up a heck of a triumph.  This arrest is a victory for the law enforcement.  It is vindication and resolution (hopefully) for the many victims of this scumbag.  And, despite what was said in the press conference, it is a win for Michelle McNamara and her countless long hours of work and effort to keep this case in the public’s eye.

#truecrime

#GoldenStateKiller

Review of HBO’s Paterno

True crime stuff always pulls me in and I thought it was great that HBO was going to take a run at the Jerry Sandusky debacle at Penn State.  Having seen Al Pacino play Dr. Kevorkian in a HBO show, I was hopeful to get some real insights as to what actually happened during the turmoil of the case.  I thought with the passage of time, we might get some clarity around the events that rapidly unfolded.

I was disappointed.

The HBO film, Paterno, is a bizarre collage of bits and pieces that barely hang together as a movie.  I stuck with it to the end, because I was still in search of some resolution.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Paterno comes across as entirely unsympathetic from a character perspective.  He is detached to the point of senility.  The question remains through 99% of the movie as to what he knew and when he knew it.  Only in the last few minutes do we get a glimpse of how many decades he covered for Sandusky.

The reporter character who broke the case is about the only character you can latch onto as redeemable and her parts are a jumble of disjointed segments leaving you to wonder what she actually thinks and believes.   Her character could and should have been used to guide the viewer through the allegations of misconduct.  In reality, you get the feeling she is along for the ride with the rest of us.

We never see the critical scenes where Paterno is told of Sandusky’s terrible infractions or his action.  All we see is Pacino’s character struggle to remember the event and blow it off as not important.  There are parts of this movie that either were left on the cutting room floor or never filmed in the first place.

Pacino’s acting is great but there is nothing in the character he plays that viewers can or will identify with.  The victims of Jerry Sandusky are backgrounds to a choppy plot.  What was needed here was a treatment like All The President’s Men or The Post. What we get is dull and filmed with lots of strange moving camera angles and poorly written lines about characters none of us can identify with or care about.  It fails as true crime or even as fluff-entertainment.

I was disappointed in HBO this time around, a rarity.