More than 3,675,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Friday, October 20, 2017

The Ira Bloom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In the domestic battle over who gets what in a divorce, one of the most contentious issues centers around who will acquire principal access to, and responsibility for, the children. Parents who believe they have received a raw deal in the custody fight are embittered. Quite often they are fathers who resent supporting children from whom they have become estranged. Some parents who have lost custody to ex-spouses they consider unfit to raise their children have taken the law into their own hands. A few of these parents, motivated by hatred, the need for control, and the desire to win, have resorted to murder.

     Zhanna Portnov, a political refugee from Russia, emigrated to the United States in 1992. Two years later she met and married Ira A. Bloom, a violent and sadistic criminal who made Portnov as miserable in America as she had been in her home country. The couple lived in Enfield, Connecticut.

     In the summer of 2004, following a string of restraining orders, Zhanna divorced Bloom and gained custody of their 8-year-old son. Bloom, dissatisfied with his 3-day-a-week visitation schedule, petitioned the judge for full custody. Six weeks before the August 2005 custody hearing, Bloom began planning to have his ex-wife murdered.

     Following their divorce, Bloom moved to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a town outside of Springfield. From there he would plot his wife's death, and commit the mistake most murder-for-hire masterminds make: reach out to the wrong person to help him carry out his mission. Bloom asked his friend Donald Levesque, a petty criminal and drug snitch who claimed underworld connections, to find a hitman who would carjack Zhanna as she drove home from the chiropractor's office in Enfield where she worked as a receptionist. Bloom wanted the hit man to rape then kill his ex-wife. Pursuant to his plan, the killer would dump her body somewhere in Hartford, Connecticut.

     Levesque, snitch that he was, went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax and Firearms (AFT) where he informed agents of Bloom's murder-for-hire scheme. (Levesque was a regular, paid ATF confidential informant.) Because murder-for-hire is a state as well as a federal offense, the ATF had jurisdiction in the case.

     The informant told ATF agents that Ira Bloom had promised him $15,000 out of his dead ex-wife's $100,000 life insurance payout. Working with local law enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the ATF launched its investigation.

     On July 8, 2005, Levesque and Bloom met in a restaurant in Enfield. The snitch wore a hidden recorder and had driven a car to the meeting that was wired for sound. To the amazement of the officers and agents surveilling the meeting, Bloom arrived with a woman he had just met. Seated in a booth, Bloom began talking about his battle to regain custody of his son. He said, "I'm really tired of this game anyway. This will save me. I mean, I only owe my lawyer about $500 right now. If we go to court on August 12, I'll owe him about another fifteen grand by then. So everything's gone. I mean, she's dead."

     Before the meeting broke-up, Levesque, acting on instructions from his ATF handlers, asked Bloom for a hand-drawn map showing the route to the target's place of employment. "You think I'm gonna give you a map?" Bloom said. "We'll all go to jail." But the snitch persisted, and a few minutes later, the mastermind sketched a crude map on a napkin.

     In Levesque's car outside the restaurant, he and Bloom, with the mastermind's date sitting in the back seat, continued discussing the hit. When enough had been said to justify an arrest, the officers and agents rushed the car. Just before being yanked out of the vehicle, Bloom looked at Levesque and said, "Don, what did you do to me?"

     In October 2006, Ira Bloom was tried in Hartford, Connecticut before a federal jury. While the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf, his attorney, in his closing argument, characterized the conversation in the restaurant as nothing more that his client's blowing off steam to impress his date. The jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to murder his ex-wife. Following a series of appeals, federal judge Alfred V. Covello, in April 2008, sentenced the 48-year-old Bloom to the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

Releasing Serial Killer Henry Lee Lucas

I told them before I ever left prison that I was going to commit crimes, told the type of crimes I was going to commit, and they wouldn't believe it. They said I was going regardless of whether I liked it or not. And the day I got out of jail is the day I started killing. [Lucas, over a 13 year period, murdered more than 200 people.]

Henry Lee Lucas in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Bret Easton Ellis On His First Novel

When I was writing my first novel, I had no serious hopes of publishing it. I was sophisticated enough to know that twenty-year-olds don't publish novels. I was writing it because I enjoyed writing and because it was cathartic. Some people release their pain and anxiety through, oh, I don't know, playing sports, or a hobby, or through sex or drugs. Writing for me was always a great stress reliever. It was Joe McGinness who thought the book had commercial potential, so he showed it to his agent. Less Than Zero was published in May 1985.

Bret Easton Ellis, Paris Review, Spring 2012 

Charles Bukowski on Trial Lawyers

The language of the lawyer is the language of the trickster. It's an inhuman language, a sub-language. And justice is hardly ever served. Justice is just forgotten. Our court system are just swamps of dark and devious jargon. It's just a wash of dull, crippled, masked wordage put before a jury of twelve imbeciles or a bored judge.

Charles Bukowski

Tom Clancy On Novel Writing

Writing a novel is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.

Tom Clancy in Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, 2002 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Donald Williams Jr.: A Man Unfit For Civilized Society

     Donald Williams, Jr., born and raised in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood to parents who physically abused him and spent their welfare money on crack, murdered a man in 1994. The 20-year-old with a low I.Q. and no idea how to make his way in civilized society, had assaulted his former girlfriend, then killed her boyfriend. Convicted of third-degree murder in 1996, the judge sentenced Williams to ten years in prison. (In Pennsylvania, third-degree murder convictions are almost always the result of plea deals.)

     Early in 2009, Williams began dating a woman from Reading, Pennsylvania named Maria Serrano. In May of that year, after letting him move in with her, Serrano kicked the 35-year-old out of her house. The infuriated ex-con took up residence in a halfway house in Reading.

     On June 25, 2009, Williams returned to Serrano's home. That night he raped her. But he didn't leave it at that. While she took a shower, he stabbed her with a screwdriver. Williams then threw the 49-year-old woman down her basement steps, doused her with gasoline, lit her up and left her for dead.

     To the 911 dispatcher, Serrano screamed, "Oh my God, I am bleeding! Hurry up! There is a fire, I am burning all over the place! There is a fire in the house! Hurry up!" Paramedics rushed the badly burned woman to the Lehigh Valley Burn Center near Allentown, Pennsylvania. On August 8, 2009, she died of her injuries.

     A Berks County prosecutor charged Williams, who was already in custody on the rape, arson, and aggravated assault charges, with first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in this case.

     The Williams trial got underway on September 12, 2013 before Berks County Judge Scott D. Keller and a jury of seven women and five men. When Assistant District Attorney Dennis J. Skayhan rested his case, there was no doubt who had tortured and murdered Maria Serrano. Before she died, the victim had identified Williams as her attacker. A state forensic expert had connected the defendant to the rape though his DNA.

     Public defender Paul Yessler put Williams on the stand. The defendant did not deny that he had raped, stabbed, and set fire to the woman he had thrown down a flight of stairs. In a bold and obvious lie that did not go over well with the jurors, Williams claimed to have "flipped-out" that night after catching Serrano having sex with his younger brother.

     Prosecutor Skayhan, as part of his closing argument, played the victim's 911 tape. Public defender Yessler, in his closing statement, emphasized the defendant's 83 I.Q., his ghetto upbringing, and his childhood abuse. In referring to Williams, Yessler said, "This guy did not have a chance from the get-go."

     Six days after the opening of the trial, the jury, after deliberating six hours, found Williams guilty of rape, arson, and first-degree murder. The defendant showed no emotion at the reading of the verdict.

     Because the prosecution sought the death penalty in this case, the judge scheduled a two-day sentence hearing. In arguing for the death sentence, prosecutor Skayhan focused on how the tortured victim had died a slow, agonizing death. Public defender Yessler, in pushing for life, highlighted the defendant's low I.Q. and inability to control his impulses.

     The jury, after deliberating two hours on the sentencing issue, informed Judge Keller that a consensus could not be reached. The judge had no choice but to sentence Donald Williams to life in prison without parole.

     In speaking directly to the convicted murderer, Judge Keller made no secret of where he stood on the question of punishment in this case. "You deserved the death penalty," he said without trying to disguise his disgust at the jury's performance. "It was torture in any man or woman's world. You inflicted a considerable amount of pain and suffering on a victim which is unnecessary, heinous, atrocious, and cruel."

     While few would disagree with the judge's analysis of this murderer, William's low I.Q. would probably have kept him out of the death chamber anyway. Appellate judges do not like the idea of executing stupid people. (In my opinion, many low I.Q. defendants are simply good at playing dumb.)


Recognizing Truth From Deception in the Interrogation Room

     A truthful suspect will give concise answers because he has no fear of being trapped. The person knows that truth is being told and has no reason to qualify or to delay answers. Furthermore, the truthful suspect is not afraid to say the interrogator is wrong in suspecting him. The truthful suspect is also able, without any difficulty, casually to answer an irrelevant question such as "By the way, where do your children go to school?" and he is more apt to quickly correct an interrogator who makes a mistake about some irrelevant detail. The liar is less likely to do so.

     As a test to discern whether the suspect's mind is free and clear, the interrogator may deliberately err when referring to such matters as the suspect's home or business address. Usually, the truthful person will correct the interrogator, but the liar, due to his concentrated mental concern with deception, may completely miss the error. The lying suspect may be so disorganized that he will even delay giving his own home or business address.

     Truthful suspects will not only respond directly, they also will speak with relative clarity. Liars, however, tend to mumble or talk so softly that they cannot be heard clearly. Perhaps they hope that if they lie softly, they will be misunderstood; then, if later confronted with the falsity of an answer, they can deny it was said or else allege that they did not understand the question. On the other hand, some liars may speak at a rapid pace or may display erratic changes in the tone or pitch of their voices. Similarly, a verbal response coupled with nervous laughter or levity is a common attempt to camouflage deception.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

The Blog Writer

     A lot of blogs about writing are self-centered, and that's fine, but a truly personal blog limits your reach. If there's one thing I've learned about the Internet it's that users come to it to see "What's in it for me?" They want valuable content that speaks to their needs.

     Most writing blogs--and blogs in general--are about the writer of the blog, not about the user. I write my blog to give readers valuable content because I know that's what they want from me. They don't care about my personal life. My readers visit me for writing and publishing advice, so that's what I dish up.

Mary Kole in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2013 

Bad Schools Don't Create Criminals

The criminal delinquent praises virtually anyone who lets him do what he wants and reviles anyone who imposes limits. A group of adult inmates in a Minnesota prison brainstormed 77 ideas in response to being questioned about how schools could help eliminate crime. Their suggestions revealed a perspective unchanged from childhood, namely that schools should cater to the student and make few demands of him. Among the inmates' suggestions were "more spontaneity," "dump dress codes," "more rap sessions," "supervise kids and not teach them," "let kids teach some classes," "let students choose teachers." Additional proposals were offered, but most were directed toward giving students free reign while requiring little personal responsibility.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Mind of the Criminal, 1984 

Nature Writing

Nature writing often requires an ability to understand and interpret the findings of science. If you do not have the education or career credentials for writing about these subjects, you can rely on others who are experts, or you can write as a lay naturalist, an astute observer. However, the onus of accuracy is upon you. Although nature writing rests on science, the essay form leaves plenty of room for the writer's interaction with the environment, including one's inner emotional landscape as well as the outer landscape of the setting. One of the best ways to improve your skill in nature and outdoor writing is to read examples of it, as well as books on how to write this specialized kind of writing.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003