Tips – One of the Chief Reasons I Write True Crime

Scooby
I am not a police officer nor do I play one on TV.

People ask why I write about cold cases.  The last few weeks brought the issue to the forefront and I thought I’d share.

In the last few weeks I have had two tips come in on two different serial murder cases I have written about.  I get tips at least monthly, if not more often.  They seem to come in batches, which begs some sort of scientific study.  When I get tips I pass them onto the authorities.  I do this because I’m not one of the Scooby Doo Gang out solving mysteries.  The crimes get solved and go to trial when the authorities do their job and investigate.

I don’t share names or even what the tips are with the public so please, don’t ask.  Again, that’s for the investigators to do. You have to remember that with some of these tips, people feel their lives might be in danger. They may be right, it is difficult to say.  While most of the cases my daughter and I write about are old, that doesn’t mean that the killer(s) want it resolved. I protect my sources, but at the same time, if you call me, I will pass on the info to the police.

One tip, I finally heard from, was a dead end.  It is pretty rare that the authorities tell me if it is a good tip or a dud.  It was very nice that they followed up with me.   I think for the person that reached out to me, and her family, it was welcome news.

The other person with a tip not only contacted me but the authorities and it sounded promising…very promising.  Time will tell.

Someone asked if I ever felt I was putting my life at risk.  The short answer is yes.  I am sure that most murderers don’t want attention drawn to their cases…and that’s what we do as writers.  My daughter/co-author and I do take photos of the crowds at our speaking events because there’s a chance that the killer is sitting in the audience.  I’ve even shared some with law enforcement, because you never know…   I have had one person we outted as a suspect show up at a book signing once, though he didn’t have the nerve to come up to us and confront us.  I recently had someone threaten me over the phone.

Remember though, we tend to write about crimes from the 1960’s-1980’s.  That means that a 25+ year old killer then would be in his 60’s now.  So while there are times I am reminded that I could be in danger, I am picturing someone trying to chase me down driving a Rascal or with a walker.

There have been times when cars have parked in front of our house for hours at a time, only to speed off when I approach them.  There have also been some plain white-panel vans with government plates that have parked out there…so I presume the good guys are nearby.

People that cover true crime; authors, podcasters, bloggers, reporters, we all take a calculated risk when we start poking into cases.  It’s not glamorous by a long shot.  Still, we do it because we can help the authorities with new tips and leads that might lead to a conviction.

Totally Biased Review of BattleTech: Kell Hounds Ascendant by Michael Stackpole

Kell

I know it’s hard to believe, but I am not just a writer of BattleTech, I’m a fan.  So when these three novellas came out in a compendium, I got a copy.  I wasn’t disappointed.  These are tales of the Kell brothers in the formation of the infamous Kell Hounds mercenary unit.

This takes place during the Third Succession War, back when we could conquer a planet with a company of BattleMechs.  Boy, those were the days. Rumors of lostech prevail, pirate raids are a reality, and you had to make every missile count.  ‘Mechs were patched and cobbled together with binder-twine and a prayer.  Politics was less about what the Archon or Chancellor were thinking, but what happened on a local planet-level.  I miss a lot of that era as a fan because it was so simple and fun.  Mike has done an outstanding job of taking us back to those heady days of yesteryear with these stories.  It is as if he adopted a writing style he used back-in-the-day.  The pacing is brisk with subtle twists and turns.

When I was at the writer’s meeting two months ago I spoke with him about the stories and told him what I really liked best was the dialogue between Morgan and Patrick Kell.  The quips, the intricately crafted barbs, they were fun to read.  Mike pointed out to me that before these novellas, fans had never really seen and heard the brothers together.  For long-time fans, it is a special treat.

Each story stands alone and I won’t spoil any plots here.  I love the characters we get air-time with…Prince Ian Davion, Archon Katrina Steiner…and some of the foundational characters in the Kell Hounds.   It’s the little bits I enjoyed, like baby Melissa Steiner crying in the background of a scene.  These materials are perfect if you are going to run the new MechWarrior RPG because they give you some of the intrigue and challenges of starting up a mercenary unit from scratch.

Personally, I liked the first and third stories the best.  The second one deals with religion, and while masterfully done, I always lean away from religion in BattleTech.  Too many years of ComStar do that to you. Too much, “Hocus Pocus HPG Focus…” makes you shy away from true religious-based stories – though Mike does a great job with his.

This is not one of the spine novels, something universe shattering.  Instead these fill wonderful and entertaining gaps in BattleTech history.  They become more important with some of the events yet to come – so go out and buy this compendium!

Tantamount – The Pursuit of the Freeway Phantom Serial Killer, is now available

Phantom Poster

There is a strange sense of relief for an author when a new book is released.  This book is no different.  There will be pundits and critics, there always are.  I’m also fairly sure that the Washington Metropolitan Police and the Prince George’s County Police are not going to be elated.  We are releasing a lot of new information on this string of serial murders.  I anticipate them complaining about the book (if they say anything at all.)  We tried to work with them, to speak with investigators, to confirm sources, to let them know what material we had…but were stonewalled or outright ignored. The Washington MPD and mayor’s office spent more resources telling us why they refused to work with us than it would have taken them to actually cooperate.  They have good reasons to cover things up, which we will present in detail in the book.  There may be cries that this muddies their ability to investigate and prosecute the cases.

To which, I cry, “Bullshit.”

The Freeway Phantom cases have been open since 1971.  Trust me when I say our book does not impede the speedy investigation of these cases.  For almost 600 days the Freeway Phantom struck at the nation’s capital, stalking, kidnapping, raping, and murdering young girls aged between 10 and 18 years old.  He taunted authorities working the cases.  As mysteriously as he started, the Phantom stopped.

Or did he?

There’s some serious questions about other cases that occurred in the same neighborhoods that may be linked to the Freeway Phantom.  It is one of the things we pry open in Tantamount.  Some other items you will find made public for the first time:

  • A detailed exploration of the Green Vega Gang, some of whose members confessed to these crimes.
  • Dissecting key suspects never made public before, including an in-depth investigation of one of the prime suspects, Robert Askins.
  • Details about the crimes that have never been made public before, including a bizarre pattern of how the killer bathed his victims.
  • A listing of other possible related victims – including those that might have gotten away from the killer.
  • The confidential FBI profile of the killer.
  • New analysis by renowned FBI expert on linguistic forensics, Jim Fitzgerald, of Unabomber fame, of the note left by the killer on one of his victims.

We look forward to you joining us on this journey as we delve into the Freeway Phantom crimes.  Who knows, maybe one of you holds the secret to identifying this mysterious killer.

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BattleTech Storyline Meeting

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Jason is embarassed to be sitting with us.  Totally understandable.

We got together this weekend in Seattle to map out where we are taking the BattleTech storyline.  First off, it was mentally (and sometimes emotionally) exhausting.  We started at 8am and went well into the night. I have to admit, I had fun despite the changes I need to do refine the work. The reason I had fun is that I think most of the changes are for the better…so that the fans of BattleTech will like it and so it can better feed future products. I appreciate your patience.

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Randall:  “We only took this much off his leg at the knee…” 

I had a lot of fun with Mike Stackpole getting caught up and brainstorming some very cool ideas that you will get to see at some point. It was fun to see Ray, John, and Brent too.  Ray wore a different house or unit hat every day which, I have to admit, made me jealous and roused my competitive nature. Loren and Randall were in their element, though it was akin to herding cats. For some folks it was their first time in such an esteemed (albeit mad) gathering.  For some of us old veterans, it was a trip down memory lane.

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Brent:  “Peace of Blake Be With You.” 

Our debates were lively, frustrating, and hilarious. I know you fans would love to see all of my notes – and that is never happening.  Here’s the fun teasing stuff I feel safe sharing:

  • (At breakfast).  Blaine:  “Hey Randall, I see a press release that you guys are re-releasing the Succession Wars boxed set.  Pretty aggressive given the Kickstarter isn’t it?”  Randal:  “What are you talking about?”  Everyone went to their phones in unison…hilarity followed…
  • Two in-depth discussion and debates about technologies that do not exist. Loren:  “We have to understand how it works so we never use it again.”  Only in that room does that sentence have any real meaning.
  • “Life is cheap – BattleMechs aren’t.”
  • “Remember, we’re a little cash-strapped right now.”  (Yes, the sarcasm was heavy in the meeting.) This was running joke #1.
  • “While you guys were having a sidebar, we added a few things to the list…” This actually qualifies as a running joke (see below).
  • Blaine:  “As the only person in this room that has taught at a US military academy, twice, let me say…”
  • Brent breaking out the miniatures in the middle of our debate.  I thought we were going to draw a Circle of Equals on the table and dice it out.
  • Blaine:  “So we are setting in stone the list of novels, correct?”  Everyone:  “Yes.”  Blaine:  “Good, because I stuck on a Clan Wolverine novel on there and you just approved it.” (Followed with a shit-eating grin) Randall – with Sharpee in hand, “I can fix that!”
  • Loren:  “So what do we call the new magazine?”  Mike:  “War Porn Quarterly.”  John:  “That will sell copies…”
  • (Everyone at one point or another)  “Where is House Arano on the map?”  Running joke #2.  You needed to be there, but it was funny.
  • Blaine impersonating Edgar G. Robinson from a 20’s gangster film.
  • Randall:  “Let’s face it, Katherine was our favorite person to hate.” A room of nods in unison followed.
  • Loren:  “So, does X have any kids?  They must have had kids, I mean the guy is like 45 now.”  I cannot tell you the number of times we were reconstructing famous house genetic trees.
  • All (at one point or another):  “WWJWD?”
  • The older guys, repeatedly, “Well, back in the FASA days…” We wore those words as a badge of honor with a dash of shame.
  • Randall:  “I think I can make a ‘Mech summersault in terms of the physics, but I’m not sure we should have done it in fiction…”
  • Loren:  “I think it would be great to capture one of these sessions entirely on film, but then I’m glad we don’t.  No one really needs to see how the sausage is made.”

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    Randall:  “So, for the Succession Wars Boxed Set Re-Release, we are going to need some new art…”  

No one was killed during the session, though I will say we plotted the deaths and births of many characters.  I can’t speak for the others, but we all seemed to have good time…I know I did.  Please don’t press for more details.  It is my job to simply be a tease…

Our next book – Tantamount – The Washington DC Freeway Phantom Serial Killer

Phantom Poster

The time has finally come to tell folks what my daughter Victoria Hester and I have been working on.  Our next true crime book is about the Freeway Phantom serial killing spree, 1971-72.  We have been working for over a year and a half on the book, gathering research materials, interviewing investigators, etc.

We have both been heads-down writing and are nearing the completion of the first draft.

For those of you not familiar with the Freeway Phantom, he struck in Washington DC’s Southeast neighborhoods (primarily) in the early 1970’s.  Depending on the list you use, he killed between six and eight young girls, sexually assaulting then strangling them.  On one, he had the victim write a note that was left with her body – taunting the authorities to “Catch me if you can.”  The book title comes from a key word in the note he had his victim write.

Was the murderer cunning and crafty, or damned lucky?  Why did he stop…or did he?  Were there other victims?  Who were the suspects, and why?  We have been able to really pry this case wide open in some areas – providing more facts than the public has known before.

This book will be different than our last book, A Special Kind of Evil, in several ways.  Our last book focused heavily on the victims and their stories.  With Tantamount, we are focusing more on the investigation.  Our efforts to contact the family members have, understandably, been either disregarded or in some cases, outright rejected.  These folks have had nearly fifty years of reporters dredging their painful losses up – and we respect that.  On top of that, the victims were very young, making it difficult to write a great deal about them.

It is a different style of book, as a result…a little grittier, with some real insights as to how and why the case became so cold.

My co-author/daughter Victoria and I have been immersed in this for a while now.  Even how we split the book up is different this time around.  I’m not sure which one of us had the harder job. There are nights when I am done that I feel physically and mentally exhausted. Serial murders are like that.

We are quite excited about the book. For us, it is a chance to thaw some cold cases…bring them to the light of day and expose new information, facts, and details that might bring in new tips for the authorities.  Our books on cold cases have always succeeded in that in the past, and we’re confident this one will as well. Though with this one the solvability gets harder each passing day.

In some instances we have struggled to get information – where in other areas, we almost have too much data.  I’ve corresponded with prisoners, which is interesting and weird at times.  Victoria and I have been all over Washington DC meeting with former detectives who themselves are still on the case.  From a local bar on Pennsylvania Ave to hours at the DC Superior Court, we’ve been finding information in the most interesting of places.

The book will present reams of new data about the cases that has never been made public before.  We have learned a lot about not only the key suspects, but how the case went off the rails and has remained cold all of these decades.  We have been stonewalled by the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department on numerous fronts.  Still, I think we have prevailed and have been successful in crafting a meaningful story out of these murders.

Something else we will be doing differently with Tantamount is that we will be doing a podcast about the Freeway Phantom that will coincide with the book.  We’ll be talking not only about the case, but about writing about the book as well.  It will be an insider’s look into the Freeway Phantom cases and is likely to include some details we couldn’t confirm or include in the book.  Think of this as a companion.  We’re new to producing a podcast, so we ask you to be patient with us.  Our goal is simple – get this right and get it with a high quality.

Don’t worry, we will still be talking to other podcasters out there too.  The true crime community is tight knit.  Several podcasters out there encouraged us to take this step to go out on our own.

Wild Blue Press is going to be the publisher.  We liked what they did with A Special Kind of Evil and you tend to stick with a winning combination.

So there you have it…another serial killing case near our homes and hearts.

Yes, I Do Play MechWarrior Online

MWarrior

I really started playing MWO about seven months ago.  It all started because of the BattleTech pods at Gen Con.  I LOVE playing in the pods every year – so does my son and my grandson.  I was hoping to recapture some of that experience at home on my PC.

Bear in mind, I’m 56 years old – so I don’t have that energy-drink-fueled set of reflexes that a young kid playing the game does.  I also didn’t do a lot of research into MWO before jumping in – other than it looked like it might be a good way for me to get my BattleTech fix on.

The first few weeks were depressing.  I seemed to be a magnet for long range missile indirect fire.  When I wasn’t being blown apart by LRM’s fired by enemies I couldn’t see, I was having freaking Ravens and Fleas running laps around me, firing at me with pea shooters until my ‘Mech collapsed into a pile of smoking debris.  God I hate Ravens!

Some fellow fans (the 13th Oriente Hussars who I now regularly fight alongside on Friday nights) took me under their wing.  First off, I learned, that the stock ‘Mechs were, “less than freaking effective.”  Customizing a ‘Mech isn’t quite intuitive but I got some help.  Heat is a real issue, but a lot of it was how I configured the target interlock triggers – so I worked on that.  Also, I wasn’t using skills at all.  I was sent by my comrades some great YouTube videos that helped me figure that morass.

I still suck…but not nearly as much.  Moreover, once I got over those hurdles, I found my groove with the game.  Now it is a treat for me.  When I finish writing a chapter or something, I log on and give myself three quick drops.

My callsign is…are you ready…Blaine Lee Pardoe.  Yeah, I know, real creative.  Well it is.  At least once a week I hear somebody threaten me, “Hey man, if the real Blaine Pardoe finds out that you are using his name, he’s going to be pissed.”  Efforts to explain to them the truth often fall on deaf ears.  “Yeah – right, you’re really HIM.”  Also, it can be stupid to have that callsign, because a few folks have killed me and really enjoyed that.  “I killed the guy that wrote some of this stuff!”  “Laugh it up pretty boy – I’m switching to my Atlas Kraken for the next drop.”

I am now using it for research…at least that is my excuse with my wife.  I have picked up some wonderful slang for BattleMech names and such which I am incorporating into my fiction.  Funny how that works isn’t it?
So if you see me online – yes it is me.  Yes it is cool to ask me questions.  No it is not cool to shoot me in the back.  It is most cool if you see a Raven heading my way to kill it.

So I Received This Death Threat The Other Night…

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Last week, while working late, I received a phone call on my home office number.  There was a barking dog at first.  I assumed someone had butt-dialed me.  I said, “Hello.”  What I got back was, “You dead” though it sounded like, “deed.”

“Who is this?”

“You dead.”

“Are you saying I’m dead?”

“You dead.”

We did this at least one more time.

I hung up and went back to my writing.  Hey, I was on a roll.  Frankly, I didn’t appreciate the interruption.  Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up sweating thinking about it.  I had been so focused on my writing, I had shuffled the threat aside.  I had even forgot to tell my wife about it, but in the middle of the night it came roaring back at me.

It dawned on me that I write about cold cases and in many instances, my daughter and I  out would-be killers or draw attention to cases that the murderers might like kept quiet.  I rolled out of bed and *69’d the number and I wasn’t from an area code where we were doing interviews for our new book.  So I contacted the appropriate authorities on the whim that maybe one of their suspects on one of these cases had placed the call. Who knows, that number may actually help law enforcement narrow their list of suspects?

In other words, it was a typical night in the life of a true crime author.

Chances are it was a creep, a drunk, someone upset over a typo…who knows?  I upset BattleTech fans from time-to-time, but I doubt any of them would threaten me outside of social media.

I’ve had closer calls with suspected killers.  I have had one murder suspect my daughter and I outed actually show up at a book signing.  He didn’t confront us, but hovered around behind us. I had some well-placed family members that not only saw him, but photographed him as well.  If you’re going to do that kind of stuff, you shouldn’t have your picture out on Facebook…I’m just sayin’.  We were prepared – my daughter has a conceal and carry permit.  Now I may be getting one as well.

I don’t intimidate easily.  Some of that is raw, raging stupidity on my part.  Another is that most killers are cowards at their core.  That and the cases we research and write about are from the 1960’s thru the 1980’s which means that I’m more likely to be assaulted with a walker or a driveby on a Rascal scooter.

As a writer, I am a public figure of sorts, albeit a minor one.  I cover cold cases with my daughter because we like to think we can make a difference.  We expose new facts and details for public consumption.  We generate tips for the authorities. In doing so, there is a minor element of risk associated with the job. This call reemphasized that for me.

Normally I don’t share this kind of stuff except at dinner with friends (it is also a great way to get people to stop talking to me at parties.)  I understand it.  Normal people don’t get death threats.  I was not going to make this new threat public, but I started thinking about all of the people I know who are authors, bloggers, or podcasters.  They too are stirring the pot on cold cases and crimes and may be putting themselves inadvertently in the sights of killers as well.  So I offer this to them as a cautionary tale and encourage them to share it with their listeners.

It does make you pause and think for a moment.

And to the douchebag that called me – the authorities have your number…