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Friday, January 20, 2017

August Vollmer: The Forgotten Father of Community Policing

     In the modern-day struggle between the opposing models of law enforcement--community-based policing in which officers interact with citizens as public servants versus militaristic policing comprised of cops who see themselves as crime fighters in a hostile environment--the concept of community policing is losing out. The rise of police militarism parallels the escalating war on drugs aided by the growing fear of domestic terrorism. The emergence of shock-and-awe policing and zero-tolereance peace keeping at the expense of police-community relations and the advancement of professionalized criminal investigation would have concerned August Vollmer, the now forgotten police administrator who envisioned an entirely different future for American law enforcement.

     In 1905, the citizens of Berkeley, California banded together to rid themselves of the prostitutes, gambling houses, and opium dens operating openly in their town. The man they elected to do the job was a 29-year-old uneducated mail carrier who promised to clean things up. Reform candidate August Vollmer kept his campaign promises, and as a result, rose from town marshall to chief of police, and, within a period of 16 years, became president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and one of the most influential police administrators in the country.

     During his law enforcement career, Vollmer introduced advances in police training, established concepts of effective personnel deployment, developed methods of dealing with juvenile offenders, established one of the nation's first fingerprint bureaus, maintained and used crime statistics, and crusaded for the use of science in crime detection. Over the years, Vollmer hammered out a theory of police professionalism later adopted by J. Edgar Hoover when he became director of the FBI in 1924.

     Vollmer did not believe in capital punishment and became skeptical of J. Edgar Hoover's efforts to rid America of the "Red Menace" in the late 1940s and early 50s. He spoke out against the KKK at the peak of its power. After Pearl Harbor, he formed a committee to seek humane treatment for Japanese-Americans who were interred in prison camps. Vollmer also spoke out against the so-called "third-degree" as an interrogation technique.

     In 1919, Vollmer placed an ad in the school newspaper at the University of California soliciting student applicants for jobs as police officers. Over the years, hundreds of full-time college students applied for these positions. Vollmer's "college cops" included Walter Gordon, the department's first black officer, John Larson, the future inventor of the polygraph, and V.A. Leonard who became a well-known writer and criminal justice educator.

     Hundreds of Vollmer's proteges became police administrators like O.W. Wilson who became chief of the Chicago Police Department. Others became forensic scientists, lawyers, military leaders, and politicians. By the late 1940s, at least 25 police chiefs around the country had served under August Vollmer.

     In 1924, Vollmer took leave of the Berkeley Police Department to reorganize and head the Los Angeles Police Department. There he established hiring standards and set up a crime lab and a crime records bureau. He formed a vice squad, and created a bank robbery unit to combat the epidemic of bank hold-ups in the city. Notwithstanding his efforts to professionalize the Los Angeles Police Department, Vollmer was unable to eliminate the graft and political corruption that had become ingrained in the organization. After a year in Los Angeles where he had lost political support for his reform agenda, Vollmer resigned in defeat. He had learned that big city police departments, unlike law enforcement agencies in college towns like Berkeley, were almost impossible to control.

     Following his retirement from the Berkeley Police Department in 1932, Vollmer visited Scotland Yard, the Surete in France, and dozens of other European police departments. He wrote four books and continued to survey and reorganize troubled law enforcement agencies in the United States. He became a law enforcement professor at the universities of Chicago and California.

     In 1955, at the age of 79, Vollmer ended his life by shooting himself with his service revolver. Suffering from Parkinson's Disease and cancer, he didn't want to become a burden. His wife had predeceased him and they had no children. Before ending his life, he called the Berkeley Police Department to report his own suicide. He had willed his papers and extensive criminal justice library to the University of California at Berkeley. His archives are located at the university's Bancroft Library.

     

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Derek Ward Murder-Suicide Case

     Patricia Ward resided in an apartment complex on Secatogue Avenue in Farmingdale, an unincorporated village of 8,000 in the western Long Island town of Oyster Bay, New York. The 66-year-old taught English at Farmingdale State College's Long Island Educational Opportunity Center, an institution attended by high school students preparing for college.

     The assistant professor's son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, lived with her in the Farmingdale apartment. The unemployed son, over the past ten years, had experienced problems with the law and his mental health. In 2003, the schizophrenic young man was convicted of criminal mischief. In that case, the judge fined Ward and placed him on probation for a year.

     In 2006, police in Nassau County arrested Ward for possession of drugs and a 9 mm handgun. That judge sentenced him to 45 days in jail and three years probation.

     Just before eight o'clock at night on Tuesday October 28 2014, Derek Ward attacked his mother with a kitchen knife. After stabbing her several times in their apartment, he cut off her head then dragged the headless body down the stairs through the apartment lobby and onto Secatogue Avenue.

     After depositing his decapitated mother on the street in front of their apartment, Ward walked about a mile to a set of Long Island Railroad tracks. From there, he threw himself in front of a speeding commuter train rolling east from Penn Station in Manhattan. The impact killed him instantly.

     When police officers arrived at the Ward apartment complex they found Patricia Ward lying in the street about ten feet from her head.

     Neighbor Nick Gordon told a reporter with The New York Post that, "I saw the body laying right in front and her head was across the street near the corner. There was blood all over. You can see smears going down the stairs." Other neighbors, when they saw Patricia Ward's body thought they were looking at a Halloween prank. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Harvard Bomb Hoax Case

     At 8:40 in the morning of Monday, December 16, 2013, officials at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts received a bomb threat via email. The sender of the email wrote that "shrapnel bombs" were hidden in Emerson, Thayer, and Sever Halls as well as in the Science Center. As more than 100 police, federal agents, and emergency personnel rushed to the university, Harvard security officers began evacuating the four buildings. The bomb threat came on the first day of final exam week.

     Four hours after the threat, after bomb searchers failed to find any suspicious devices, faculty, students and others were allowed back into the buildings. The feared terrorist attack turned out to be a hoax.

     Shortly after the bomb threat disruption that had little effect on students, university sob-sisters sprang into action. In an all-student email from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, students were advised that if they felt unable to take an exam for any reason "including anxiety, loss of study time, lack of access to material and belongings left in one of the affected buildings, or travel schedule" they could skip the final and take a grade based on coursework to date. (At Harvard, professors not only make it easy for academic slackers, they provide them with a menu of excuses. No wonder kids want to get into this school.)

     Because the Faculty of Arts and Sciences email came under intense ridicule, the professors sent a followup memo that required bomb threat affected students to acquire documentation from the school's mental health service. (Universities today have mental health services. When I was in college, if you went nuts your parents pulled you out of school. That's why you tried not to go crazy.)

     Later on the day of the bomb hoax, investigators traced the email threat back to a 20-year-old Harvard sophomore named Eldo Kim. The naturalized citizen from South Korea graduated from high school in Mukilteo, Washington. He played the viola and had interned with a newspaper in Seoul. On the staff of the Harvard Independent, Kim's academic focus involved psychology and sociology.

      On the day of the disruption, FBI agents arrested Eldo Kim on federal charges related to the bomb threats. If convicted as charged, he faced up to five years in prison. He could also be fined $250,000. Freed on $100,000 bond, the authorities released Kim to the custody of his sister who resided in Massachusetts.

     According to Ian Gold, the federal public defender appointed to represent the bomb hoax suspect, Kim had emailed the bomb threat to avoid taking a final exam in his government class. Attorney Gold told reporters that his client had been having difficulty coping with his studies and the upcoming anniversary of his father's death. "It's finals time at Harvard," attorney Gold said. "In one way, we're looking at the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm….It's important to keep in mind we're dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure."

     Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, in addressing the media, took issue with the "great deal of academic pressure" defense. Dershowitz pointed out that due to run-away grade inflation, it's very difficult to flunk out of Harvard. The median grade awarded to Harvard students is A-minus. "I doubt that anyone who got into Harvard would fail a government exam," said Dershowitz. "People come to Harvard with major problems. It's not that Harvard causes them." (I once read that professors at the Ivy League schools are intimidated by their students. For that reason they function more like camp counselors than teachers.)

     After confessing to the bomb hoax, Eldo Kim pleaded guilty in return for probation and mandated counseling. He was also also kicked out of school. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The FBI Crime Laboratory: The Dark Years

     Until the mid-1990s, all of the forensic scientists working in the FBI Crime Lab had at least three years experience in the field as ordinary special agents. Staffing the lab with former criminal investigators (J. Edgar Hoover's idea) was supposed to make them better forensic practitioners. Critics of this policy believed it made them part of a law enforcement team instead of independent forensic scientists. Moreover, by basing the hiring criteria on specal agent qualifications, the FBI Lab was not attracting or being staffed by first-rate scientists.

Agent Versus Agent

     Special Agent Michael P. Malone had earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, and taught high school science for two years before he joined the FBI in 1970. After working four years in the field as a criminal investigator, Malone was assigned to the FBI Crime Lab. During his 25 years as a hair and fiber analyst, Malone testified in hundreds of criminal trials. He became popular as a prosecution expert, testifying in dozens of high profile cases where the fate of the defendant depended upon his identification of a crime scene hair or fiber. As an expert witness he was confident and hard to rattle, and he knew how to impress a jury.

     In the early 1990s, Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI Lab bomb residue analyst who identified chemical components of explosive substances, alerted lab supervisors to problems in the trace evidence section of the facility. Whitehurst complained that the laboratory was so dirty physical evidence was always in danger of being contaminated. Whitehurst was especially critical of hair and fiber analyst Michael Malone whom he accused of allowing his loyalty to police and prosecutors to attenuate his independence and objectivity as a forensic scientist. In memos to the director of the lab, Whitehurst pointed out that hair and fiber identification was an inexact and subjective process, making this form of crime scene identification highly unreliable. The whistleblower noted that Malone's testimony had sent many defendants to prison, some of whom might have been innocent.

     When Whitehurst's internal complaints fell on deaf ears, he began writing long, detailed letters to Michael Bromwich, the U. S. Department of Justice inspector general. Between 1991 and 1994, Whitehurst wrote Bromwich 237 letters. In September 1995, the inspector general launched an investigation after ABC's "Prime Time Live," having gotten hold of some of these letters, aired a story about Whitehurst's campaign to improve the FBI Lab. In April 1997, almost six years after Whitehurst began documenting problems in the nation's largest crime lab, Bromwich issued a 517-page report critical of the laboratory. Bromwich singled out seven lab employees, including Michael Malone, whom he described as having provided "false testimony." The inspector general recommended Malone for disciplinary action.

     Two years later, a second Department of Justice investigation revealed that Agent Malone had made hair and fiber identification errors in four homicide cases in the Tampa Bay area. In the same report detailing these findings, Department of Justice investigators also criticized Whitehurst for overstating the forensic implications of his scientific analysis in some of his own cases. Whitehurst, who had been transferred to the paint identification unit of the lab, was suspended. After the bureau denied his petition for reinstatement, Whitehurst retired and entered private practice. To some, Whitehurst was a hero. To the FBI however, he was a traitor. He was a whistleblower, the lowest form of bureaucratic life.

     Michael Malone denied lying under oath or playing fast and loose with hair and fiber evidence. He blamed the FBI Lab scandal on jealous colleagues whom he described as incompetent. Regarding those cases in which DNA analysis had exonerated defendants whose hair he had identified as being at crime scenes, Malone blamed overzealous prosecutors who overstated the implications of his findings. Following the inspector general's investigations and recommendations, Malone was reassigned back to the field. He retired in December 1999. To the FBI, Special Agent Malone was the hero.

     Today, the head of the FBI Crime Lab hires employees on the basis of their backgrounds in science. Even for crime lab civilians, maintaining scientific objectivity is not easy. But there is no question that the lab is far superior now than it was during those dark years. And as is often the case in governmental scandals that result in improved conditions, it was a courageous whistleblower that made it all possible.    

Monday, January 16, 2017

The William Spengler Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     In past years, murder-suicide in the United States has accounted for about five percent of all criminal homicides. In 2011, 1,300 murderers, almost all of them men, took their own lives after killing their victims. A vast majority of murder-suicide victims are ex-girl friends and estranged wives. These deadly  attacks regularly feature alcohol and drug intoxication, mental illness, depression, and a variety of personality disorders. In terms of motive, none of these killings make any sense to a rational person.

     While nationwide, criminal homicide has been on the decline for decades, murder-suicide has been on the rise. In a country steeped in a culture of violence that seems to be populated by a growing number of people who are unable to cope with modern life, this is hardly a surprise. Criminologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, and police administrators are clueless about how to reverse this trend. That's because nobody knows what's causing the drug addiction and mental instability in this country, or what it is that's making these disturbed people so murderous and self-destructive. Blaming this wave of pathological murder on guns, video games, and excessive crime reporting is either political or simply puerile.

     In the annals of crime, 2012 might be remembered as the beginning of an era of the killing spree culminated with the self-inflicted death of the mass murderer. That year, eighteen men, after murdering three or more people, killed themselves. The following homicidal rampage took place on December 24, 2012 in upstate New York.

William Spengler: The Suicidal Sniper

     In 1980, 33-year-old William Spengler lived in the suburban Rochester area town of Webster, New York with his mother Arline and his 92-year-old grandmother. They resided in a middle-class home in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round houses on a narrow Lake Ontario peninsula. Shortly after William's grandmother was found dead at the foot of their basement stairs, the Monroe County district attorney charged Spengler with first-degree murder. William confessed to beating his grandmother to death with a hammer. (Since rational people don't bludgeon their grandmothers to death, the motive behind this murder was pathological, and therefore beyond rational comprehension.)

     Because Spengler agreed to plead guilty, the prosecutor lowered the murder charge to manslaughter. The judge sentenced the defendant to eight to 25 years in prison. (The prosecutor may have been worried about a successful not guilty by reason of insanity defense.)

     In 1997, after serving 16 years behind bars, Spengler attended his first parole hearing. The inmate, when he learned at the proceeding that his presence at the hearing was not mandatory, said this to the parole panel: "Then it's not worth the time and effort." The parole officials denied Spengler his release. Since he hadn't expected to get out of prison, this was no surprise. The surprise came six months later when these same officials granted Spengler his supervised release. The man who had murdered a 92-year-old woman walked out of prison in 1998 after serving two-thirds of his maximum sentence. (In the  American system of criminal justice, there are very few crimes that the government doesn't forgive. Judges and penologists seem adverse to the punishment rationale justifying sentencing and incarceration. In cases like this, whether or not the murderer has been rehabilitated should be irrelevant.)

     In 2006, while residing with his mother Arline and his older sister Cheryl in the dwelling next door to the house where he had murdered his grandmother, Spengler's term of supervised parole expired. Because he was a convicted felon, Spengler, under New York law, was not allowed to possess any kind of gun.

     In October 2012, Spengler's mother Arline passed away. Although he hated his 67-year-old sister Cheryl, Spengler had loved and doted on his mother. Since his parole in 1998, the gaunt, bearded loner had lived a quiet, uneventful life in the house across the road from Lake Ontario. Because of his low profile, very few people in the town of 43,000 knew he existed. After Arline's death, William, in possession of a small arsenal that included handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a lot of ammunition, began planning arson, mass murder, and suicide. Spengler's years of living in obscurity would soon come to an end.

     Two hours before dawn on December 24, 2012, the 62-year-old ex-felon torched his house and set fire to his car. In possession of a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, Spengler took up a position behind a small hill not far from his burning house. It was from here he planned to ambush the first responders to the fires he had started.

     At 5:35 that morning, two members of the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department rolled up to the blaze in a firetruck. Spengler used his .223-caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster to kill 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka and his firefighting partner Michael Chiapperini, 43. When John Ritter, an off-duty officer with the Greece, New York Police Department pulled his car alongside the firetruck in an effort to shield the two firefighters, Spengler shot and wounded him. Two firefighters who arrived at the scene in their own vehicles, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardina, were also wounded by the sniper on the hill.

     An hour or so later, the four firefighters and the wounded police officer where taken out of the line of fire by a SWAT operated armored vehicle. As Spengler house fire began to spread to other homes, SWAT officers used the armored truck to evacuate 33 residents of the neighborhood. Amid all of the confusion, William Spengler slipped away. Before it was all over, seven homes burned to the ground.

     At eleven o'clock that morning, police officers found William Spengler dead on a nearby beach. He had used one of his guns to shoot himself in the head. (There were no police bullets in him.) From a few feet from his body, officers recovered a typed, three-page, rambling suicide note that contained the line: "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people."

     On Christmas day, arson and homicide investigators found Cheryl Spengler's charred remains in the fire debris. A forensic pathologist determined that Spengler's sister had been killed before the fire.

     I'm not sure what the span of 32 years between William Spengler's first homicide and his mass killing-suicide tells us about people who commit murder. Maybe the lesson is this: People who beat old women to death ought to be put in prison for life. This case also illustrates how difficult it is to enforce gun laws already on the books.

     

      

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Roger Bowling Murder Case

     Around the first of July 2012, Danielle Greenway's 39-year-old ex-boyfriend, Roger K. Bowling, asked if he could stay with her and her fiancee until he got back on his feet after a run of bad luck. The 32-year-old Greenway and Chris Hall, ten years her senior, lived on a well-kept, tree-shaded neighborhood in Allen Park, Michigan, a suburban working class community south of Detroit. She was employed by a cleaning service and Hall was an electrician. Although Greenway and Bowling had broken up five years ago (he was the jealous, controlling type), she agreed to let the beefy, bald ex-boyfriend move into their basement.

     On Thursday, July 17, 2012, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer on routine patrol saw a body, missing its head, hands, and feet, floating in the Detroit River. A U.S. Coast Guard boat crew discovered a second nude body floating in the river on the east side of Detroit. The hands, feet, and head were missing from this corpse as well. Later in the day, a fisherman saw four hands, four feet, and two heads lying in the sand beneath two feet of water along the shore of an abandoned park. The fisherman also discovered a suitcase lying in the water near the body parts.

     The next day, Chris Hall's sister, who hadn't had contact with him and Greenway since July 14, went to their house in Allen Park and pounded on the front door. When she didn't get any response, she reported the couple missing.

     Later that day, officers with the Allen Park Police Department entered the house. Inside, detectives found evidence that someone had tried to clean-up large amounts of blood. In the garage, the police discovered two spent bullets and a bullet fragment that had been fired from a .40-caliber pistol. They also recovered a .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun registered to Roger Bowling.

     The dismembered remains were those of Danielle Greenway and Chris Hall. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies estimated they had been shot to death sometime between the 14th and 16th of July, 2012.

     The Wayne County District Attorney's office charged Roger Bowling with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of mutilation of a body. On Tuesday night, July 24, 2012, officers arrested Bowling at the Greenway/Hall residence. Two days later, detectives recovered the couple's missing 2005 GMC Safari van found parked a few blocks from the house. The vehicle contained physical evidence linking Bowling to the double murder.

     As officers escorted Bowling out of the Wayne County courtroom following his arraignment, Danielle Greenway's mother yelled, "burn in hell."
 
     At the defendant's preliminary hearing on August 20, 2012, Assistant Wayne County medical examiner Jeffrey Jentzen testified that Hall was shot six times, including twice in the head. Greenway had been shot once, through the mouth.

     Roger Slick, a 35-year-old who has known Roger Bowling since first grade, testified that Bowling was angry because Greenway was dating someone else. "We would talk about how we could get rid of our problems--get rid of our women," the witness said. "I talked about taking my wife to the swamp. We'd drink beer and talk about it. I didn't do it. I had the thoughts. I was very upset at that time in my life." This witness testified that when he heard about the deaths of Greenway and Hall, after thinking about it for a few days, he decided to tell the police about these conversations with Bowling. Slick said he believed Bowling used his father's boat to dispose of the bodies. "That was the boat we used to go on. We talked about dropping bodies off in Lake Huron."

     Bowling's attorney, Mark L. Brown, pointed out that there are no eyewitnesses linking his client to the murders. He said that without a confession or an eyewitness the case against his client was entirely circumstantial.

     On September 17, 2014, following a five-week trial, the Wayne County Circuit Court jury found Roger Bowling guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of corpse mutilation. The judge, on October 10, 2014, sentenced Bowling to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Mark Stobbe Murder Case

     In the spring of 2000, 42-year-old Mark Stobbe, the former senior advisor to Roy Romanon, the premier of Saskatchewan, Canada, moved his family from Regina, Saskatchewan to St. Andrews, Manitoba, a rural community north of Winnipeg. The new senior communications advisor for Manitoba premier Gary Doer, moved his wife Beverly Rowbotham and their two sons into a sprawling old house in the country.

     In his new position as the premier's communications strategist, the tall, 350-pound political operative left his house most days at six in the morning and didn't return until eleven at night. This left his wife Beverly alone all day with their sons in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Her husband's new job, and the move, had placed Beverly and the marriage under stress.

     At 2:30 in the morning of October 25, 2000, Mark Stobbe telephoned Betty Rowbotham, his wife's sister, to inform her that Beverly had gone missing. Earlier in the day, Beverly had been to the Safeway grocery store in Selkirk, 12 kilometers from the house. Because the boys had acted up in the store, she had returned home without completing her shopping. That evening, Beverly had driven back to Safeway to finish the job. Mark said he had fallen asleep in bed with one of his sons and woke up to find that Beverly had not returned from the store. Worried that something had happened to her, he called the police, and several hospitals.

     Ten minutes after the call, Betty arrived at her sister's house. The police were still on their way. Shortly after her arrival, Mark went into the backyard where he used a hose to water down something. Ten minutes later, he was back inside where he greeted the first officer to arrive at the scene. While the RCMP officer was questioning Mark, the detective received a call from his office. They had found Beverly, dead in her car, with massive blunt-force wounds to her head. Her Ford Crown Victoria was parked at a gas station in Selkirk. The police recovered Beverly's purse in the vehicle, but her wallet was missing. The killer had also removed the $7,000 ring she had been wearing.

     Based on the RCMP's initial investigation, it appeared that Beverly Rowbotham had been murdered in her backyard where investigators had found fragments of her skull and clumps of her hair. In the garage, where her Ford had been parked, crime scene officers found two large blood stains on the floor, and one on the wall. Also in the garage, police recovered two blood-soaked tissues and a bloody towel, evidence that the killer had tried to clean up. In the car abandoned in Selkirk, the police discovered traces of blood on the victim's purse. They eventually located Beverly's missing wallet on the bank of the Red River, not far from the gas station.

     In the beginning, investigators figured that Beverly had been murdered sometime that night while her husband and children were asleep in the house. But why would the killer put her body in the Ford, and drive it to Selkirk? And how did the killer get to the murder scene in the first place?

     As the investigation moved forward, detectives became more skeptical of Mark Stobbe's account of his whereabouts and activities on the night of the murder. They began to suspect that he had killed his wife. As Stobbe's questionings became more accusatorial, he continued to deny having anything to do with his wife's death. He also insisted that he and Beverly were not having marital problems. Over the next several months, the police chased down 240 tips, and interviewed 400 people. But it wasn't until the DNA reports started coming in did the investigation start getting some traction.

     According to DNA analysis of the crime scene evidence, the bloodstains in the garage and in the backyard had come from the victim. The blood stains on the towel and tissues belonged to Mark Stobbe. And there were stains that comprised a mixture of his and his wife's blood. There were, however, DNA traces at the scene that belonged to an unidentified male. The spots of blood on Beverly's handbag found in her car had also come from an unidentified man.

     By 2001, RCMP investigators had focused their attention on Mark Stobbe as the primary suspect in the murder. According to his story, Beverly had not completed her shopping that day because one of the boys had misbehaved at the grocery store in Selkirk. But a store surveillance tape showed that she had been in the place almost an hour, and her cash register receipt indicated she had spent $108.32, an amount equal to her average purchase. The investigators also considered Stobbe's differing accounts of his activity on the night of the murder incriminating. He told some people that he had fallen asleep in front of the television, and he told others that he had been in bed with one of his sons.

     In January 2001, the RCMP acquired a warrant allowing them to tap Stobbe's home telephone. After listening in to 1,000 hours of his phone conversations, they heard nothing directly incriminating. In a February 28, 2001 conversation between the suspect and Betty Rowbotham, his former sister-in-law, she informed him that the police were gathering physical evidence from his backyard. To that he replied, "Damn it all." Toward the end of the phone call, Stobbe said, "I feel horrible."

     The Rowbotham/Stobbe case eventually hit a wall, and for several years, lay dormant. In 2008, almost eight years after Beverly Rowbotham's murder, the Crown charged Mark Stobbe with second-degree murder. He was arrested, made bail, and pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 16, 2012, Stobbe's trial got underway in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg. Representing the Crown, Wendy Dawson, in her opening statement to the jury, laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: On the night of October 24, 2000, the defendant, during a heated argument with his wife in the backyard of their house, hit her in the head 16 times with a hatchet. He dragged her body into the garage, hit her again, stuffed the body into her Ford, then drove to the gas station in Selkirk. Using a bicycle he had put into the trunk, he rode back to St. Andrews. Along the way, Stobbe tossed his dead wife's wallet into the Red River to lead investigators into thinking Beverly's killer had robbed her. Stobbe also removed her ring. Back at his house, he waited a few hours before calling the police and his sister-in-law. Before the RCMP arrived, Stobbe used a garden hose in an attempt to wash away physical evidence in his backyard.

     Stobbe's attorney, Tim Killeen, assured the jury that Beverly Rowbotham had been bludgeoned to death by an unidentified intruder who had been lying in wait outside her house. The defense attorney pointed to the unidentified male DNA found on her purse, and in the garage.  

     During the next several weeks, the Crown put 70 people on the stand, including several witnesses who testified that on the night in question, they had seen an overweight man riding a bicycle between Selkirk and St. Andrews. None of these witnesses, however, specifically identified the defendant as the man on the bike.

     On March 7, 2012, the defense put on its case which depended almost entirely on the defendant's taking the stand on his own behalf. If just one juror believed Mark Stobbe's account, there would be no conviction. If all of the jurors believed that he might be telling the truth, there would be an acquittal. It was all up to the defendant.

     Under direct examination by attorney Tim Killeen, Stobbe denied killing his wife. "I've spent a lot of nights looking out that window, wondering," he said. When Stobbe learned of his wife's death, "It was confirmation of my worst fears. What it meant was that I was 50 to 60 feet away when she was killed....I should have been able to stop it. I was completely useless in helping her." The defendant, at this point, broke down on the stand.

     The following day, Crown prosecutor Wendy Dawson began her cross-examination of the defendant. She asked Stobbe why he hadn't filed an insurance claim for his wife's $7,000 ring. "You didn't make a claim," she said, "because the ring wasn't stolen. You took it off her hand before you brutally killed her." Stobbe said he hadn't bothered filing a claim because he just didn't care about the ring's value.

     The prosecutor tried to get the defendant to admit that his marriage was under considerable stress. Didn't his long hours at work with his wife alone in the house with the children have an adverse effect on their relationship? "I think it would be fair to say," he replied, "that she wanted me around more, but...she understood that the long hours were part and parcel of my job. She never made a suggestion to me that I change my career."

     Wendy Dawson cross-examined the defendant for five days. In keeping him on the hot seat for so long, the prosecutor risked making him an object of sympathy in the eyes of some of the jurors. On March 22, 2012, the attorneys made their closing arguments. The prosecutor said she didn't want Stobbe to get away with the "near perfect murder of his wife." She said the circumstantial evidence against him was "overwhelming," and that the defendant had "demonstrated all the hallmarks of a dishonest, lying witness. He couldn't keep his story straight," she said. "Certainly he should have been able to hear a cry for help from his wife, or a commotion in the garage. This was a crime of rage."

     In his closing argument, defense attorney Tom Killeen admitted there were reasons for the police to suspect his client, but suspicion alone was not enough to convict a man of murder. The Crown, he said, has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. "Mr. Stobbe has to prove nothing," he said.

     On March 27, 2012, after 82 witnesses and 100 hours of testimony, Judge Chris Martin gave his instructions to the jury. Mark Stobbe's fate was now in the hands of twelve jurors.

     After deliberating two days, the jury found Mark Stobbe not guilty. The prosecutor, with no solid evidence of a motive, no murder weapon, weak eyewitness testimony, and the unknown male DNA on the victim's purse, simply didn't carry, in the minds of this jury, its burden of proof. Some of the jurors may have believed that Stobbe had murdered his wife, but belief and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are not always the same.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Brittany Stykes Murder Case

     At eight in the evening of August 28, 2013, a motorist on U.S. Route 68, forty-five miles southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, saw a yellow Jeep that had gone off the road into a wooded area. The motorist pulled over and as he approached the SUV he discovered a woman slumped over the steering wheel. The man called 911.

     Brittany Stykes, the dead woman slouched over in the Jeep, had been shot in the neck and side. The 22-year-old victim was 17-weeks pregnant. In the vehicle, still strapped into her carseat, sat Stykes' 14-month-old daughter Aubree. One of the five bullets fired into the vehicle had struck the toddler. Paramedics rushed Aubree to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where she survived her head wound.

     According to the Montgomery County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Brittany Stykes had been killed by the bullet that entered her side and punctured her lungs. The shooter or shooters had fired five slugs into the car from outside the vehicle. Investigators found no shell casings in the vicinity of the Jeep which suggested that the victims had been shot by a revolver or revolvers.

     In addition to her two bullet wounds, Brittany Stykes had abrasions on her face, right arm, and finger. The forensic pathologist also found scratches on her right leg. These injuries might have been caused when the Jeep left the highway and plowed into the woods. Toxicological tests revealed no drugs or alcohol in Stykes' system.

     The forensic pathologist ruled Stykes' manner of death as homicide by gunshot. The victim's unborn baby had also been killed in the attack.

     Shane Stykes, the murdered woman's 37-year-old husband, worked in a Cincinnati factory. Detectives ruled him out as a suspect when they learned he had been working out in a gym with three police officers at the time of his wife's death. Shane also passed a polygraph test.

     Detectives, under pressure to solve this case, got nowhere in their investigation. The officers didn't have a suspect, the murder weapon, or a motive. Because the victim had $125 in cash as well as jewelry on her person when she died, detectives ruled out robbery as a motive. She didn't have life insurance which argued against some kind of murder-for-hire case. It also seemed unlikely that she had been a random target or the victim of mistaken identity.

     A Brown County prosecutor, desperate for a break in the case, convened an investigative grand jury with the power to subpoena reluctant witnesses.

     On November 11, 2013, Samantha Grubbs, a woman who had a son with Shane Stykes before he married Brittany, testified, under subpoena, before the Brown County Grand Jury. Following her testimony, in speaking to a local television reporter about Brittany Stykes, Grubbs said, "I think that when you're young--I'm not saying she's young and dumb--you tend not to see the whole story. I think she just got involved with the wrong group of people."

     Samantha Grubbs did not reveal why she had been called before the grand jury, or explain the "whole story" Brittany had failed to see. Moreover, she didn't identify the "wrong group of people" the murder victim had supposedly fallen in with.

     Mary Dodson, Brittany Stykes' 46-year-old mother, in response to Grubbs' "wrong group of people" comment, said this to the TV reporter: "My daughter's crowd consisted of her mom and dad and her sisters." (It's interesting that the mother didn't include Shane Stykes in her daughter's circle.)

     Three months after the unsolved murders, homicide detectives focused their attention on three individuals who had been subpoenaed by the grand jury but didn't show up to testify. One of these people, as reported by the local media, was one of Shane Stykes ex-girlfriends.

     The authorities posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the double-murder.

     In August 2014, the one-year anniversary of Brittany Stykes' murder, the  case remained unsolved. The victim's father, David Dodson, told a local television reporter that he and his wife could not get through the day without thinking about their daughter. Mr. Dodson said he called Buddy Moore, the lead investigator, every day.

     "I talked to him this morning," the father said. "They are chipping away at this, a little bit more every day. There's been a lot of information coming out of the prison and it all keeps coming back to the same group of people," he said. Mr. Dodson didn't identify these people, but did say that he thought Shane Stykes had information about the case he hadn't passed onto the police.  (The murder victim's parents and Shane Stykes were battling in court over custody of his daughter Aubree.) As of January 2017, no one has been charged in this murder. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Michigan State Police Child Pornography Fiasco

     In March 2005, troopers with the Michigan State Police seized a computer they had reason to believe had been used to download child pornography. The suspect, 35-year-old Billy Joe Rowe from the town of Clio not far from Flint, Michigan, admitted downloading the pornography. But for some reason, the case fell between the cracks and was forgotten. As a result, Billy Joe Rowe went on with his life as though nothing had happened.

     In March 2011, six weeks before the six-year child pornography statute of limitation barred prosecution in the Rowe case, Michigan State Police Sergeant Ronald Ainslie found the computer stored at the Computer Crime Unit in Lansing. When forensically examined, officers found numerous images of child pornography on the computer seized almost six years earlier in Clio from Billy Joe Rowe.

     On March 2, 2011, a prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Billy Dean Rowe, a hard-working man without a criminal record who lived near Albion, Michigan 120 miles from where the child pornography computer had been seized in March 2005. While Billy Joe Rowe was six-foot tall and now 41, Billy Dean Rowe was five-foot-four and 32-years-old.

     On March 11, 2011, Michigan State Police officers showed up at Billy Dean Rowe's house near Albion. When the innocent man came to the door, one of the officers asked, "Are you Billy Rowe?"

     "Yes," the puzzled homeowner answered.

     "We have a warrant for your arrest."

     "What did I do?" asked the startled citizen.

     "We can't say. We are taking you to Flint, Michigan."

     "Why am I going to Flint? I've never been to Flint."

     "You'll find out when you get there."

     In Flint, when booked into the Calhoun County Jail, the officers informed Billy Dean that he had been charged with possession of child pornography, a felony that carried a prison sentence of up to six years.

     During his three-day incarceration in the county jail, Billy Dean tried to get someone to believe that they had arrested the wrong man. Eventually, Sergeant Ainslie, after he questioned Billy Dean and showed his photographs to Billy Joe's relatives in Clio, realized he had the wrong man behind bars.

     Sergeant Ainslie notified a judge of the case of mistaken identify. Billy Dean Rowe was released from custody and the charge against him dropped. When he returned home he learned that he had been fired from his job as a meat cutter in Jackson, Michigan.

     Because the statute of limitation had run out on the 2005 child pornography case, Billy Joe Rowe once again went on with his life as though nothing had happened.

     Billy Dean Rowe, in 2014, filed a false arrest lawsuit against the Michigan State Police. The agency immediately raised the defense of sovereign immunity. Per standard operating procedure in law enforcement, no one from the Michigan State Police apologized to Billy Dean Rowe for the stupid and traumatizing foul-up. The state police owe the public an apology for blowing a potentially successful child pornography case. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Nutty Professors: Crime and Craziness Within the Academic Bubble

Publish or Perish

     In April 2011, Diederik A. Stapel, a professor of social psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, published a study based on questionnaires and human experiments that showed, among other things, that advertising works by making "women feel worse about themselves," and that conservative politics creates hypocrisy. Stapel's findings attracted a lot of positive media attention which included articles in the New York and Los Angeles Times. As it turned out, Professor Stapel and his study were frauds. In September, following revelations that Stapel had invented data and lied in more than thirty experiments, Tilburg University fired him.

     Professor Stapel's response to his problem wouldn't surprise anyone familar with academia. He claimed that under pressure from the university to publish, he gave in to temptation and produced a bogus paper. He also blamed the lack of scholarly checks and balances that would have prevented him from being a fraud. "I want to emphasize," he said, "that the mistakes that I made were not born out of selfish needs." (No one admits to actual wrongdoing anymore, it's always "mistakes." But how does someone "mistakenly" commit fraud?)  Professor Stapel managed, in his case, to both publish and perish.

Suffering for his Art

     Michigan State University art professor Danny Guthrie was photographing himself with former and current students--male and female--who were typically forty years younger than him. His critics at the university asserted that these sexually suggestive photographs were "obcene" and "oppressive to women." An outraged student (we are now living in the Outrage Era), writing in the school newspaper, objected to the fact that Guthrie, in the photographs, appeared to be dominating his female subjects who were often sitting or reclining. According to this critic, the professor was "virile, powerful, and masculine" while the female subjects were "disempowered, silenced, and feminine."

     On the university's web site, Professor Guthrie responded to his critics' handwringing this way: "Certainly subject matter such as this is politically charged....My interest is to acknowledge these various traditions and debates, twisting and blurring the codes of classical aesthetics, contemporary rhetorically motivated art, and even erotica." The beauty of this response was that nobody had any idea what it meant. Professor Guthrie had more: "As one ages, it is with no small sense of remorse and regret, that one comes to experience the realm of desire, remorse, and carnality as existing more in the past than the future." (Forget art, this BS artist belonged in the English Department.)

     On November 29, 2011, Michigan State's interim president of university relations told USA Today that Guthrie's behavior and his photographs were not inappropriate. As a result, he was not reprimanded by the university. With that, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Meth Professor

     On November 7, 2011, investigators from several law enforcement agencies searched the Somerville, Massachusets residence of Professor Irena Kristy and her 29-year-old son Grigory Genkin. Narcotics officers had surveilled the couple for almost a year. In the home, the searchers found a large amount of materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Chareged with crimes related to the making and distribution of meth, Genkin turned himself in a few days after the search. On December 4,   2011, police took 74-year-old Professor Kristy into custody for allegedly helping her son operate a meth lab in their home.

     After emigrating to the United States from Russia in 1985, Kristy was hired as an adjunct professor of calculus at Suffolk University. (Adjunct faculty are appointed semester by semester.) Two years later, Kristy accepted a tenure-track professorship at Boston University while holding her position at Suffolk University. Reporters compared the Kristy case to the then popular TV series Breaking Bad starring Bryan Cranston. The show featured a former high school chemistry teacher named Mr. White who was a master meth cook in a high-tech, underground lab.

     The prosecutor's office, in February 2012, dropped the charges against the professor. Boston University, however, did not renew her teaching contract.

Puppy Love

     If you can't handle the stress of law school, how can you deal with the stress of the legal profession? Students at George Mason University Law School, in 2012, were given access to homeless puppy dogs as a means of coping with the stress of academic life.

     One of the George Mason University law students soothed by a puppy told a reporter that as a result of her dog therapy "I got to be human again." These law students, when they enter their dog-eat-dog profession, are in for a shock. It's going to take a lot of puppies.
 
Professor Solicits Prostitution

     In August 2007, Miami Police arrested Donald Marvin Jones for "soliciting to commit prostitution." Jones, a well-known, TV friendly constitutional law professor at the University of Miami, had allegedly offered an undercover cop $20 for oral sex. On September 26, 2011, the 63-year-old law professor was busted again for the same offense.

     The citizens of Miami could take comfort in knowing that as murderers, rapists, muggers, burglars, and drug dealers roamed the streets of their great city, high-paid cops were out there posing as prostitutes to bring down criminals like Professor Jones.

     The professor pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

Bad Santa

     There is nothing more goofy than a professor who has inflated a nonexistent problem into a real problem that can be solved with the professor's easy but ridiculous solution. Say hello to Nutty Professor George Giuliani, the Director of the Graduate School Program in Special Education at Hofstra University. Giuliani, a New York State licensed psychologist and author of books with engaging titles like: "Creating Confident Children in the Classroom: The Use of Positive Restructuring, and What Every Teacher Should Know About Students with Special Needs," appeared on the morning TV show "Fox and Friends" in December 2011 to discuss the evils inherent in the animated film classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

     Professor Giuliani told the TV audience that because of Rudolph's disability--his flashing red nose--the deer was bullied by Santa and his other reindeer. According to the professor: "Comet is saying to children, don't play with this reindeer again. And he [Comet] tells him [Rudolph] to go home and he bullies him and mocks him, and the other kids [what kids?] start mocking him. Can you imagine if your child's teacher said to the class, 'don't ever play with this child again'?" Professor Giuliani obviously didn't like Comet, but he was also tough on Santa as well: "Santa Claus is saying, 'you [Rudolph] cannot be on my team because you have a disability....' "

     Okay, so that's the problem. The solution? Keep "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" off TV! (Perhaps they could rate it for mature audiences.) That won't happen of course, and Professor Giuliani knew that. But hell, what's wrong with dreaming of a perfect world and a chance to appear on national television?