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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fifty Shades of Foolhardy

Think isolated farmhouses, not luxury Manhattan digs
(Lizon farm in W. Virginia)
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Yes, this post is about the book Fifty Shades of Grey. And you will have the opportunity to disagree with me or share your insights. Please, take a moment to step into my world first.

 There are two kinds of people who end up in newscasts: 1) professional politicians, other activists, over-achievers making the world go round  and 2) Everybody Else.   

Something I hear over and over and over again is "I never thought it would happen to me."  Nobody in Category 2 expects to be on the news. But night after night we see a fresh crop of hikers falling down a cactus-dotted mesa or sheer snow drop, a group of prom kids wrapped around a telephone pole surrounded by ambulances, a guy in handcuffs shuffling off while a group of neighbors/survivors/grievers express their shock and anger.  

If you are a professional reporter, you see these people every day in person. They cry on your shoulder, they beg you for information, they unleash their fury.  After a few years as a reporter, a job I started when I was too young to know anything about anything, it finally sinks in to you that it can and does happen to "you." You develop a caution and a sensitivity about warning signs and unnecessary risks. 

Most of all, you absolutely and forever lose that sense that such-and-such "only happens to other people."

Some times people in my personal life chide me for possibly being too affected by the work that I do--which is now exclusively about crime.  Just the other night as I was passing into the KTAR studios, Congressman David Schweikert was heading out. I was about to take over the "guest" chair he had just vacated. I have known Schweikert casually since he was a young state legislator and I was an also young journalist.  He jovially greeted me and asked me if writing exclusively about crime the last few years was "doing something" to my mind? Then he warned me about someone he knew who worked in a forensic profession for 20 years and it "did something" to that man's personality. 

This was a bit of cheerful conversation-making tossed off in a friendly manner, with smiles all around. I don't want anyone to misconstrue that I'm picking on the Congressman in any way -- it was all fine, he's fine, we're fine. I bring it up only as the most recent example of how people, confident in their own security, can consider someone like me an annoying Cassandra. 

Which brings me to my colleague, the very fine crime writer Kathryn Casey. She went ahead and did something I've been toying with doing for a few weeks: she wrote an essay expressing caution about the mega-blockbuster phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey.  She did a much better job of writing this essay than I could ever do for a very good reason. She was willing to read the novel. I am not.

As a crime writer, Kathryn saw alarm bells flashing in the story of violence. So do I. 

But in the comment trail, Kathryn is taking a lot of heat from people deriding her alleged inability to separate fantasy from reality.  I would like to say I am certain Kathryn understands fantasy perfectly. Fantasy is fiction. It's made up.  

Where I am concerned is that the millions of people sharing the fantasy with the Fifty Shades author don't understand non-fiction. Non-fiction is what Kathryn writes and what I write. It's reality. It's all too, too real.  Too, too painful. Too, too irreversible. 

Members of the BDSM community in particular have been whining and wailing about Kathryn's essay.  I won't repeat the discussion, but I will add here that the world of Christian Grey is not derived from some organized club, it comes straight from the mind of the author. That author gets to make up whatever she wants. Christian Grey does NOT have to follow the rules of established BDSM clubs. As Kathryn points out, he does in fact deviate from several of the rules that the commenters are so passionately defending as safeguards against all possible harm to someone in the fictional Ana character's position.  And, as Kathryn also points out, not only is Christian Grey not required to follow the club's rules, NOBODY is required to follow these rules. Club members may have jurisdiction over themselves, but NOT OVER ANYBODY ELSE.

I myself became most alarmed when I started reading news stories about how the book Fifty Shades was driving all kinds of new traffic to various online services where previously uninitiated women could seek their own Christian Grey experience. This, my friends, is where fiction ends and non-fiction begins. Non-fiction is what Kathryn and I know about. This is the part that makes us very, very nervous.

Defenders of the book are quick to point out that the Ana character "agrees" to most of the things she goes through and even signs a contract (with a draconian non-disclosure clause and other forms of legal intimidation). Just this week, in mine and Kathryn's world, a man named Peter Lizon was arrested in West Virginia for allegedly keeping his wife chained up for 10 years and torturing her. I wonder if as this story unfolds investigators will find that Mrs. Lizon signed some kind of permission slip along the way? She is already denying any of her multitude of injuries were anything but accidents.

We know that Colleen Stan signed such a slave contract with sadist Cameron Hooker in California. Prosecutors were not impressed. Nor the jury. Hooker is now serving a prison sentence of over 100 years. And Colleen herself, with name changed, is now active in an abused women's group.
Cameron Hooker under arrest
Try picturing this guy, Cameron Hooker, instead of chic Christian Grey

These are the kinds of outcomes Kathryn and I live with. I know that between the two of us, we could list off zillions more such cases.  This is not fantasy.  This is real life. This is real horror.

So I hereby strongly endorse Kathryn Casey's essay in Forbes and urge you to read it.  If something about Fifty Shades of Grey titillates you, I beg you to keep that safely in your own head, where fantasy belongs. Do NOT go seeking strangers online who will be only too glad to oblige. Do NOT become the person in Category 2 on the news.

I'm begging you, if you want to enjoy a book like Fifty Shades of Grey, please take steps never to become the subject of one of my books. Believe me, it can happen to you.

Now. Go read Kathryn's excellent essay by clicking here.

That comment thread has gotten pretty long, so feel free to come back here to share your thoughts.

Launch your non-fiction habit with short stories from the Masters of True Crime

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Monday, July 23, 2012

What's In a Name? or Face? James Holmes Case

Swiveling on a wheeled chair, large microphone suspended in front of my face, I concentrated on the caller's voice coming through the guest earphones clamped around my head.  "We should blur this guy's photo," he said passionately, "we should erase his name."
James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court, Monday, July 23, 2012, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and could also face additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations stemming from a mass shooting last Friday in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 and injured dozens of others.

The "he" referred to by KTAR caller, Jerry, is James Holmes, the man arrested in Aurora, Colorado with his cartoonish orange thatch spilling out over his even more cartoonishly dazed stare.   I was in studio discussing the case with KTAR's peerless talk show host, Jay Lawrence, because not only am I a crime writer but the subject of one of my books, Dale Hausner, has distinct parallels to James Holmes.

Jerry the caller's point was that when these evil maniacs pop up, they get an instant and grandiose "reward" for their heinous acts by seeing themselves plastered all over front pages and television and all other forms of media (which, incidentally, have become too numerous any more to lend themselves to an easily inclusive roll-off-the-tongue phrase).

Jerry begged that we impose a sort of blackout on ourselves to deprive would be mass killers of this incentive.  "Let's hear the names of the victims," Jerry beseeched, "Who cares about this guy? Let's hear the names of the victims in the newscasts instead."

Jerry has a good point. Not just a good point, a point I embrace with the same passion that he so clearly conveyed to the radio and streaming audience.  Everyone who comes to this blog knows, or soon figures out, that A SUDDEN SHOT: THE PHOENIX SERIAL SHOOTER is my flagship project, my home base. Four years after writing that book, I would LOVE to forget the name of Dale Hausner. I have trouble even typing his name now. Even while writing the book, sometimes I avoided using his name on the page, opting instead for pronouns and other substitutes. I couldn't stand to give him any more ink than I had to. Typing his name seemed especially personal and I had to tamp down my disgust whenever I did so. I still do.

Dale Hausner definitely enjoys his infamy and it will likely turn out that Holmes does, too. But there is something far more powerful driving these men than a desire for fame. There are many, many other ways of achieving fame. Dale tried comedy, cable TV, and (quasi) professional photography. For Holmes, real fame seemed within reach as he pursued his elite science education and research goals.  As a young man of just 24, he could realistically still dream of the big invention, the Nobel Prize, the major patent. So what if he had setbacks?  Who doesn't?  That's called adulthood.

In my work with mass-spree-serial (a distinction without a difference for purposes of this discussion) killers, I can not say that depriving them of fame would change their behavior.

What is driving them to aim their sweaty rifles at perfect strangers is not a desire for headlines but a desire to kill.  Remove that desire, then you can change their behavior.

Nobody knows how to do that yet. Psychologists, priests, prophets, and philosophers all over the world are working on that one.  The collective amount of blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into this effort is immeasurable. The first one who figures it out certainly will achieve lasting fame.

In the meantime, can we at least slow down these guys down in some way by blotting out their names and faces from news coverage, as Jerry begs us to do?  Over the weekend, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper referred to the terrible man in the bullet proof gear as "Suspect A," putting into action Jerry the caller's sentiment.  I like the Governor's gesture. But he can do that because he is speaking from his own heart. He is not responsible for keeping the public informed in the same way that a news professional is.

One thing there was no time for me to say to Jerry over the microphone last night is that there are tangible benefits to the community by putting the perpetrator's face and name on TV.

First, the safety of the community.  Suppose somebody recognizes the face or the name and realizes there is an accomplice at large or a second crime scene or an as yet un-executed act of violence about to explode in a larger scheme?

Second, the investigation itself. A significant break in the case of the Phoenix Serial Shooter came when law enforcement circulated on TV surveillance photos of two men at Wal-Mart. One of those guys was recognized and an arrest soon followed.  In the Aurora case, a gun club manager has come forward with important information because he recognized the name of "James Holmes" in news accounts. I believe that gun club incident will be of notable significance to investigators.

This dynamic is repeated in crime after crime all across the country.  That's why back in the Old West and beyond they put up wanted posters -- to protect the community from further harm and to facilitate justice.  Now we have televisions and computer screens to serve the same purpose in a vastly more efficient network of communications.

I would love to blot out the name of James Holmes. I would love to, as Jerry suggested, replace it with the names of the victims. But it is just not possible in the regular news cycle. But, in my small way, I do try to give the victims their due in the books that I write and the TV shows that I appear on.  These books and TV shows appear months and years after the initial incident and they take more work to produce than does a daily newscast. They also, and this is very important, require more work from the listener, viewer, or reader.  A member of a radio audience, such as Jerry, can not listen all day long to news broadcasts that repeat the name of 70 victims in every newscast every 20 to 30 minutes. Jerry, and every audience member, needs also to hear about gas prices, economic forecasts, and school closings in his neighborhood. He has to continue to manage his daily life and professional newscasters know that. It is their job to keep providing him the relevant information he needs, in addition to keeping him updated on the process of justice and giving the emotional payoff, when they can, of profiles of the victims and their families' efforts to cope and triumph.

Not the color of Cheetos, but not his natural color, either.
Dale Hausner in 2006
It's up to writers like myself and producers of the shows I appear on to give the audience a chance to really get to know the victims and survivors. Followers of mine know that I enjoy and passionately cherish the good relationships I have with the families in my books. Many of these families use my books to tell their story to their families and friends and squirrel them away to share with their youngsters at a later date, when the kids are old enough, and expect them to be handed down to further generations. I also know that my books have inspired perfect strangers to acts of generosity and warmth toward these survivors. So I can say from personal experience that the victims do get the kind of focus that Jerry hopes for them.

But these books and shows will only reach a certain segment of the audience.  I am the first to admit True Crime is not for everyone.  But for those who do want to learn the names and last acts of heroism of the people who, as Serial Shooter survivor Dianna Bein recently reminded me, "face the business end of a shotgun," my books and shows and those of my colleagues are there.  I am not making a plea for customers here. Please do not mistake me. But I am trying to explain why "general" or "daily" reporters cannot blot out the name of that guy in a Colorado jail cell with the windows taped over. Or the guy on Death Row in Arizona who, as a matter of fact, also was arrested with his hair dyed -- red.

What do you think? Scrub the internet of the Ph. D. student's name and face?  Or keep it out there?

Check this out on Chirbit

(To put faces to these voices, just scroll down one post.)

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

James Holmes -- KTAR Discussion Tonight

ADD:  Listen for soundbites from this interview on the KTAR morning show Monday morning, the same day as Holmes' first court appearance. Expect to hear about comparisons between James Holmes of Aurora and Dale Hausner of Phoenix...

Jay Lawrence & Camille in the studio July 22, 2012

The shooting in Colorado brings me sad thoughts.  I know that a whole new group of families are experiencing that awful grief that no one prepares for. And the rest of us are wondering, yet again, how? why? what was in his mind? Knowing that I spend my time with the criminal mind, Jay Lawrence of KTAR has asked me to join his show tonight.  

That will be 8:00 pm Arizona time.  

You can stream it anywhere in the country.  

www.KTAR.com      92.3 FM in Arizona

Jay is working on getting some other folks involved in our discussion, folks who are currently working directly on the James Holmes story. Tune in or call in. Share your thoughts about this national tragedy, a conversation none of us wishes we had to have. 
92.3 News Talk

Pssst! Going to jail, buying documents, and everything else it takes to get this kind of info  for the blog takes time and money! Every time you make a purchase here, it helps me be able to do more for you! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Update on Trophy Wife -- Rick Valentini/Jamie Laiaddee

Rick Valentini was a charming fitness instructor who kept lots of secrets.  I featured him in my story The Trophy Wife in the Masters of True Crime anthology.  At the time that book went to press, Valentini had been convicted of certain crimes.  Since that time he has gone through another trial, this one for murder.

Inmate 268586 R VALENTINI Image
Rick Valentini is no a guest of the State of Arizona 
Inmate 268586

Even though Jamie Laiaddee's body has never been found, a Grand Jury indicted Valentini for Second Degree Murder in her disappearance.  Bail was set for $2,000,000.00  But Valentini was already in custody on other charges.

The jury that convicted Valentini of several dozen charges, some of them related to Jamie, was never told of her disappearance.  They convicted Valentini without hearing from her. Though convicted, the judge withheld sentencing for now.

A few months later, Rick Valentini went on trial for the 2nd Degree Murder of Jamie. He faced an entirely new jury.  Valentini's lawyer, the same Marie Farney from the other trial, had notified the court of defenses ranging from "Alibi" to "Lack of Specific Intent."

Arizona is one of the few states that allow jurors to ask questions from the jury box. But the questions must be approved by the judge, after conferring with both sides, before they can be put to the witness. When Rick Valentini aka Bryan Stewart took the stand to defend himself in the murder trial, they wanted to ask plenty.

Valentini told the jurors Jaimie was still alive and he had sporadically communicated with her since her disappearance, including carrying out transactions such as reimbursing her for some things and being given permission to use her credit cards. In their questions, jurors wanted to know more details about these alleged interactions and such things as what types of her clothing were missing, e.g. "work clothes," "warm clothes," etc.  The court allowed many of these questions.

But one juror question that was not allowed was, "Why do you think Jamie is not here to defend you?"

This is the actual verdict form
Rick Valentini, who had persuaded so many others to buy his stories, was unable to convince this jury. They convicted him of the 2nd Degree Murder charge as well as of more fraud.   Two days before Christmas, he was sentenced to a total of 42 years in prison--consecutive.

The delayed sentencing from his first trial could now go forward. In a mixture of consecutive and concurrent prison terms, Rick Valentini was sentenced to more years behind behind bars. Although he was not technically sentenced to life in prison, effectively he has been.

Valentini is currently serving out his sentence in the complex of prisons in the Arizona town of Florence. If he served it all, he would be released around the age of 92.

But Valentini is appealing his convictions. As he told the probation officer preparing his pre-sentence report, "it is in my best interest not to make a statement, other than the fact that she (Jaimiee Laiaddee) is alive and I didn't kill her."

At Jamie's abandoned house in Chandler, police had not found blood spatter or any other sign of a struggle or overt violence.  Not a trace of her body has ever been found. Prosecuting a murder case without a body is extremely difficult. How did the victim die? Was there criminal intent involved? Or, as Valentini continues to claim, could the person even possibly still be alive?  It happened in 2003 in Australia, when teenager Natasha Ryan stepped out on to the world stage in the middle of her supposed murderer's trial. She'd been missing for years; Leonard Fraser had even confessed to killing her; but she'd really been living as a runaway.

The sudden re-appearance of the "dead" person is extremely rare, though. Maybe one or two a century, it seems.

But no-body cases, when they do go to court,  have a high conviction rate. .  The case of Rick Valentini and Jamie Laiaddee demonstrates why. Uncovering all Rick's secrets and examining Jamie's well-established reliability shows that sometimes the truth is glaringly obvious, even when a seemingly vital piece is missing.

Shortly before the book Masters of True Crime was released, CBS 48 Hours/Mystery did a show on Rick Valentini and Jamie Laiaddee. Their episode is called "Stranger Beside Me."  As is to be expected, reporter Erin Moriarty took a different angle in reporting than I did.  She and her crew have some great footage of Jamie, when she was alive and happy.  They have lots of great video. But the extensive comment thread below the show reveals that some viewers have lots of questions still. It just so happens that my story, The Trophy Wife, covers the material that Erin Moriarty did not. And vice versa, she covers what I didn't have space for.

CBS viewers should know that in The Trophy Wife, you find out more on:

  •  Rick's bizarre childhood
  •  His history with Aunt Donna (who appears in the 48 Hours show)
  • Why Jamie didn't leave "Bryan"
  • Why cops (and the jury) are convinced she is now dead
  • The wacky story of T.J., Rick's new "friend"
  • Why Jamie's friends, who truly did love her, did not know she was missing
  • What "Bryan" and Jamie were quietly doing while those photos were shot at the U. of M.
If you saw the story on CBS 48 Hours, do yourself a favor and read the rest of the evidence. You'll find it in this book. 

For more of Camille's books, please visit the Bookstore page
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The Decision and the Horse - Court Upholds Hausner Conviction

Today the Arizona Supreme Court upheld all 6 death penalties that Dale Hausner, who once terrorized the Phoenix area as the Serial Shooter, was given at his trial.  You may have heard me on the radio in your home town today talking about it.  If that made you want to know more, here it is.

This appeal was a mandatory appeal that Hausner had no choice in. In fact, he made an effort to stop it but defendants on Death Row get at least one appeal whether they like it or not.

Dale Hausner makes a point to his atty, Ken Everett, during a break in his trial
Photo Copyright Camille Kimball

His attorneys argued that the wiretaps installed in a neighbor's wall was illegal.  It was installed with the express permission of the County Attorney, but not of a judge.  The County Attorney had testified that "the sun was going down, more people were going to die, we had to it."  This is important legally because usually a judge must authorize police eavesdropping on private citizens at large.  In this case, Arizona had a statute in place that gave the County Attorney very limited ability to authorize a tap but only if a public "emergency" was at hand.  At sundown on August 2, 2006, police knew that as the light faded, the Serial Shooter would be gearing up to go out and hunt--hunt all of us.

With the neighbor's permission (imagine that knock on your door, finding a slew of cops asking to use your place as an electronic home base!), the listening device was implanted in the wall shared with  Dale Hausner's unit. A platoon of authorities listened in horror all night as Dale Hausner and Sam Dieteman gloried in reliving their acts of murder and gleefully mocked the suffering of their victims.

By morning, the County Attorney had 1) certainty that he had the right guys 2) the signed authorization of a judge for the wiretaps that had already been installed.

Arizona's Emergency Wiretap law does require that a judge sign off on the tapping within 48 hours. If the judge refuses, the tape cannot be used. The authorities complied with this provision 100%.  What Hausner's attorneys argued to the court was that there simply was no emergency because Hausner was already under surveillance therefore the tape should be thrown out anyway.

The Supreme Court justices didn't buy that argument.  Cop after cop, in some of the most harrowing testimony of the trial, explained how they could not have prevented another killing once the sun went down. True, Hausner was under surveillance at all times once they fingered him, but surveillance, by its very nature, is a game of stealth.  The cops were at least 2 or 3 car lengths back from Hausner's lethal Camry and often were as far back as a mile. Sometimes surveillance was taken over from the air. How was an officer, without a time machine, to jump in front of the Camry and wrestle the shotgun away before he saw it raised through the car window to kill someone?

One permanently under cover officer--I cannot reveal his name--testified he took to rolling down his own window to shout at pedestrians "Go home! Get out of here!" without explanation.  To the pedestrians at whom these frantic yells were directed, it must have seemed the underworld-looking figure was a hopped-up maniac. They will never know he saved their lives.  But it illustrates perfectly how being under surveillance does not equate with preventing murder.

The justices were right to uphold the use of the wiretap* tapes and not fall for the empty argument that we were all safe from gory death because cops were trailing Dale Hausner a mile behind.

Apache suffered terribly from his wounds

There was one victory for Dale Hausner in the court's decision: one charge of animal cruelty was dismissed. The justices ruled that there wasn't enough evidence.  The horse in question is pictured above. His name is Apache. He's a beautiful paint and, on the night he was mercilessly shot, he was the pet of a five year old girl.

Apache suffered terribly and his owner struggled with tough decisions that night. Ultimately, the veterinarian was able to save Apache's life. But, though he tried, he was unable to recover the three bullets. That's right, Apache is still walking around with the evidence inside him.  I believe Apache's family made the right decision that awful night to spare him further pain or risk pushing the bullets into fatal positions with the vet's probe.  Now Apache is a living piece of evidence.  It's still possible that one day the forensics he carries inside him may yet find its way into a lab and be tied directly to Dale Hausner's twenty-two calibre rifle.

Apache carries Dale's secrets within him

Throwing out the conviction on this animal cruelty charge will not make a whit of difference to Dale Hausner's fate. He will still serve hundreds of years in prison...or rather, as many as he can chalk up before they come for him with the needles.

This has been Hausner's mandatory appeal. Whether he now makes good on his stated goal of not appealing the death sentences of remains to be seen.  At trial, he did tell the jury he himself believes in the death penalty. And in jail he did make one attempt on his own life with a cunningly hoarded cache of over-the-counter medicines.

Today the news is that the overwhelming pile of evidence against Dale Hausner is still visible, still viable, and still forming a wall of imprisonment around him.  The critical wiretaps have been endorsed by the highest court in the state.  Anyone who has listened to those sickening tapes will be relieved.

The case of the Phoenix Serial Shooter was the first time any one had ever used the Emergency Wiretap Law. If ever there was an emergency that threatened imminent  death to untold numbers of innocents, it was the Summer of the Serial Shooter.

# # #

You may also be interested in this post about a recent visit with one of Dale Hausner's victims. I Feel Angry @#*!!

*The listening device in question is more properly known as a "bug" because it was not installed on Dale Hausner's phone. But at trial it was referred to as the "wiretaps" and the justices specifically repeated that nomenclature in their decision.

For more stories on the damage done by the Phoenix Serial Shooter and the people who hunted him down, please check out A SUDDEN SHOT: THE PHOENIX SERIAL SHOOTER.  Also visit the book's FB page, where family members still gather. Well wishers are welcome to post messages to them. 

Pssst! Going to jail, buying documents, and everything else it takes to get this kind of info  for the blog takes time and money! Every time you make a purchase here, it helps me be able to do more for you! 

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