Sun, 9 July 2017
Hey, folks! I talked at length about the 'Boogie House' giveaway going on on my site right now, and I promised I would provide the link to it so you can get in on all the free giveaway action! The giveaway ends July 30, so enter today for a chance to win a SIGNED copy of the first Rolson McKane Book.
Now, on to the episode.
From 2012-2014, Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III texted each other thousands of times. They met, as it were, through absolute happenstance. In 2012, both families were vacationing in Florida, when Carter and Roy met. Turns out, they lived less than an hour away in their hometowns in Massachusetts.
Still, being high school students, they rarely saw each other, and instead fell into an intense online relationship, trading FaceBook and text messages.
Roy’s parents separated and then divorced. Roy fell into a deep despair and then tried to commit suicide. It was Carter who helped him through these difficult times.
Carter encouraged Roy to receive treatment for his depression. His past battles resulted in four failed suicide attempts. Carter herself struggled with emotional issues. She fought depression, too, as well as eating disorders and extreme insecurities. She often cut herself when she was overly distraught. She craved the attention of more popular girls in school and became despondent over their lack of personal attention.
Then, after a time of being Roy’s sort of personal sounding board, in which she kept him from veering to the dark side of his mentality, she then took up the cause of convincing him to kill himself.
Why, exactly, she shifted is up for speculation. However, the evidence points to a perceived complex on Carter’s part regarding her insecurities of being unpopular. This is where the story gets a little bizarre, so bear with me while we delve into it.
Of all the thousands and thousands of messages passed along between Carter and Roy, several happen to relate very closely to the TV show Glee, which ran from 2009-2015 and followed the exploits of high school students with a propensity for leaping into song.
Okay, a little backstory: So, one of the show’s stars, Cory Monteith, died of a drug overdose in 2013. He was dating co-star Lea Michele at the time. The show, to give Monteith a proper memorial, filmed an episode devoted to the young star. The episode, entitled “The Quarterback,” aired on October 10, 2013.
In the wake of Roy’s death, Carter communicated with several friends, and a few of the text messages have an eerie closeness to the script from “The Quarterback” episode of Glee.
Here’s one example. It’s a text message to friend Samantha Boardman six days after the death of Roy.
I had it all planned out. He was gonna graduate Fitchburg and then when I graduated the college I'm going to, we would live happily ever after on the ocean somewhere, with our son Conrad the 4th. He knew too I didn't have to tell him. Now it's gonna be something different, maybe something better, but I just don't think that that's possible. He was my person.
And another text the next day, this time to a different friend, but the wording and message is ostensibly the same.
I just had it all planned out with Conrad. Now I have to do something different, maybe something better, I just don't think that that's possible. He was my person you know?
Now, here’s the script from Glee.
Rachel: I had it all planned out. I was gonna make it big on Broadway and maybe make a Woody Allen movie. And then when we were ready, I would just come back and he'd be teaching here and I'd walk through those doors and I would just say "I'm home" and then we would live happily ever after.
Will: That's a good plan. Did you tell him?
Rachel: I didn't have to. He knew.
Will: And now what?
Rachel: I don't know, something different.
Will: Maybe something better.
Rachel: I just — I don't think that's possible. He was my person.
Play the video:
Here’s another one. In a text to Boardman mere days after Roy’s death, Carter said:
He was the greatest man I ever knew and I literally lived every day feeling like the luckiest girl in the world when I had him.
In a December 2013 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Michele had this to say about Monteith:
I was so happy. He’s such a private person, and I literally lived every day of my life feeling like the luckiest girl in the whole world. I just thought he was the greatest man.
A final example. In the same conversation with Boardman, Carter writes:
One of the hardest parts is feeling like I'm gonna forget everything. And I don't want to. I can still hear his voice so clearly.
And the corresponding lines in Glee. Rachel says to Will:
I can still see his face and I can hear his voice so clearly. Do you think that I'll ever forget it? Because I'm afraid that one day I will.
Though a few others deal tangentially with Glee, the vast majority of text messages, especially the ones on the days of July 13 and 14, are harrowing for completely different reasons.
July 12, 2014
He parked his truck in a KMart parking lot.
Conrad Roy III got out of the truck, trying to back out of the suicide attempt, when Michelle Carter -- an hour away at the time -- told him to get back in and finish the job. This moment, the judge concluded, is what made Michelle Carter’s actions a crime.
The trial took a week. Carter waived the right to a jury trial.
The defense argued that Carter’s reaction to antidepressants had affected her to a dangerous extent. Dr. Peter Breggin, who testified for the defense, “said Ms. Carter was ‘intoxicated’ by antidepressants, which she first started taking at 14, causing her to become unhinged at times and to show intense anxiety, irritability and psychoses.”
Carter, 20, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and will be sentenced August 3. She faces up to 20 years in prison. The defense team is suspected to appeal the decision to a higher court.
The ACLU argues that words alone cannot be responsible for someone else’s actions.
Wed, 14 June 2017
The Manson Family had one last horrific day in the spotlight in September 1975, with the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in Sacramento, CA.
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme walked up to President Ford at an event where he was scheduled to give a speech and pointed a Colt .45 at him. I won't reveal the ending of that story, but you probably can guess, since Ford died in 2006. (Spoiler!)
Charles Manson spent most of his adult life preaching about a revolution, though his was mostly about racial hatred and professional jealousy -- Manson wanted to be a rock star -- and yet this random event would be the closest he or any of his members would get to creating a watershed in American politics.
Squeaky Fromme was one of the earliest and most ardent supporters of Charles Manson and the Manson Family. During the trial over the Tate-Labianca murders, Fromme set up media appearances and interviews for the Manson Family and its members. She and other Family members camped outside the trial, where Charles Manson and the other girls made a complete mockery of the justice system.
Squeaky Fromme would later go on to write a 600-page unpublished manuscript about her time with the Manson Family. She was paroled in 2009 for her attempt at President Gerald Ford's life, the first in two assassination attempts that September in 1975.
This episode corresponds with the shooting today in Washington, DC that injured Rep. Steve Scalise and three others, as members of Congress practicing for an annual baseball game. A lone gunman upset about the election of Donald Trump opened fire on the senators and congresspeople with what appears to be an assault weapon.
The gunman was shot and killed, and the four victims shot by the assailant are, at present moment, alive and doing well. I hope this event does not become typical, and I also hope it does not prevent our elected representatives from doing their jobs.
Plug! My third novel, Dirt Merchant, on sale now!
Sun, 4 June 2017
A grand majority of this true crime podcast episode comes from the Michael Capuzzo book, Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916. It is a wonderful resource about not just these specific shark attacks but the overall history of shark attacks in American and elsewhere, as well. The more you read, the more you will realize that the events in New Jersey act as a precursor and an inspiration for Peter Benchleys novel, Jaws, and the subsequent Steven Spielberg movie by the same name.
I'm providing, rather than a comprehensive list of sources for this episode, the notes I took in preparation for the recording. Feel free to read below about the stories of the various victims and near-victims of the New Jersey shark attacks: Charles Vansant, whose parents watched in horror as he was dragged under water; long-distance swimmers Robert Dowling and Leonard Hill, who barely escaped with their lives; Charles Bruder, a Swiss captain whose hubris ended up getting him killed; and Lester Stillwell and the other Matawan Creek victims.
There is so much to uncover here, I feel like I could have done a whole series on the different locations, people, and misconceptions which allow these events to occur. Feel free to check out Capuzzo's book. It's a masterful bit of reporting, and I couldn't recommend it more vigorously.
This story begins off the southern coast of New Jersey, just beyond the front door of the majestic Engleside Hotel. It was 1916, and the U.S. hadn’t quite stepped into WWI. In fact, Woodrow Wilson was running for re-election based on his promise to keep America out of the Great War.
The Engleside was well north of the more famous Asbury Park, but it was also no slouch, either. Americans had begun to discover the idea of leisure. The Victorian era was over, and people sought to be in the sunshine for more than mere backbreaking work. People in the upper middle and middle classes “vacationed” in the summer, and the Engleside was a nice place to do so. The 1915 summer season led the owners of the hotel to believe 1916 would be record-breaking.
Off the shore, a horror was brewing. A female great white shark had been knocked off its course and ended up near the shores of New Jersey. And even with the fervor of Victorian scientists like Charles Darwin, little was known about carcharodon carcharias. Sharks, in general, were not considered the man-eaters of today.
On July 1, a 25-year-old man named Charles Vansant was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, alongside his dog. His parents -- his father a doctor -- watched from the shore. Onlookers were horrified to see a giant beat leap into the air and drag the younger Vansant under the water.
**Not knowing what to do with shark attacks back then
**Died on the operating table -- literally a door
**Beaches stayed open. People weren’t overly alarmed.
**Ex-Pres. William Howard Taft
Hated giving speeches as much as being president
Gave a speech at the Essex and Sussex
Not too long later, there was a commotion down by the ocean about potential sharks
**Locals tried to dispel the idea that a shark had even killed Vansant. There were lots of rumors going around, and some even believed he had drowned, or that the newspapers had grossly overestimated his death. In other words, no one was aware of the dangers of sharks.
**Robert Dowling and Leonard Hill
Two long-distance swimmers
Leonard Hill was a druggist on vacation with his family
Robert Dowling, the real estate scion, was a long-distance swimmer
He was the first man to swim around Manhattan Island
They came within dozens of feet from the shark.
They swam through the feeding zone of the shark.
No one quite knows why the shark ignored them, but it did
Both vowed to never step foot in that ocean again
“Never again,” Dowling said. “At least not here.”
**45 mi. North. Charles Bruder. Spring Lake, NJ. Swiss Bell Captain.
He was eager to reclaim his reputation after the unexpected exploits of Downing and Hill
He did not fear sharks. Did not think they were dangerous.
Bit him in the stomach / legs. Severed them.
He was pulled into a boat. Bled to death.
**Boston Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, SF Chronicle
All put the second shark attack on the front headline
**Sunbathing decreased by 75%, and cancellations caused $250,000 in lost revenue at resorts
American Museum of Natural History: Press Conf. feat. scientists Frederic Augustus Lucas, John Treadwell Nichols, Robert Cushman Murphy
Stressed a third shark attack was unlikely
Nichols, an ichthyologist, warned bathers to stay close to the shore
**The US House of Reps. appropriates $5K to stop the shark problem
**Pres. Woodrow Wilson meets with his cabinet over the attacks
The basic point is, the shark attacks are national news, at this point
**July 12 Attacks
**Matawan Creek (30 mi. N. of Spring Lake)
**Thomas Cottrell, local sea captain, spotted the shark in the creek
People dismissed him
**Lester Stilwell and other boys were playing
Before he could get out, Stilwell was pulled under
**The kids ran to town. Watson Stanley Fisher, local businessman, also bitten.
They were afraid to touch the wounds, because they thought that shark bites were poisonous, at that time.
Fisher claimed to have wrestled Stilwell’s corpse from the fish’s mouth.
He died while on the operating table from massive blood loss.
**30 mins later. Joseph Dunn. Bitten. Survived. Rel. Sept. 1916.
**John Nichols became involved.
He drove down to the coast and looked for the shark.
Though he had been initially skeptical that sharks were man-eaters, the new attacks all but confirmed it.
He expected a Killer Whale.
The creek was too small for a KW.
Witnesses contradicted him.
**A group of shotgun-wielding locals load up on dynamite in order to kill the shark. They run a cage across the river and overreact to sightings of any fish.
They foolishly think they can blast the shark and cause it to float.
Little do they know, a shark doesn’t work that way.
This is highly reminiscent of the scene from Jaws.
A storm broke out, and men kept throwing dynamite into the water.
Nichols tried to convince them that bullets would not affect the shark.
About the time that they decided to give up, the body of Lester Stilwell floated ashore.
He was barely noticeable. One ankle had been chewed off. His stomach ripped open, his right side chewed away.
**James Fairman Fielder was besieged by requests to have the shark killed.
He requested every major town to construct shark nets.
**Woodrow Wilson even had a meeting about the shark attacks at this point.
Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo, in a press conference
Declared war on sharks
Said the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries
July 14. Barnum & Bailey Lion Tamer and one of the foremost taxidermists in the nation, Michael Schleisser and his friend, were attacked by the shark. The shark leaped onto the back of the boat, Jaws-style, and attempted to rip the boat to shreds to attack them. They managed to beat the shark to death with an oar.
Tue, 9 May 2017
This week's episode features a massacre, though not necessarily the kind you would expect from this particular show. It relates indirectly to the presidency of one Donald Trump, but that's about as political as I would like for it to be.
President Richard Nixon managed to avoid impeachment by resigning just before the articles of impeachment made their way through the House of Representatives into the U.S. Senate.
The basic story is this: President Nixon wanted to prevent some damning audio tapes from being introduced into the investigation into the Watergate break-in and cover-up, so he tried to coerce his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.
The resulting scandal is known as the Saturday Night Massacre. A lot of people are making connections between Nixon firing Archibald Cox and President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey, so I thought I would give a primer on the case.
Here's a brief re-telling of that situation: Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox asked for several of Richard Nixon's dictabelt recordings in lieu of the investigation.
Nixon turned down Cox's request for tapes featuring John W. Dean, citing "executive privilege" because he didn't think it was anybody's damn business.
Richard Nixon, at first, tried to get AG Richardson to get Archibald Cox under control. Alexander Haig, Chief of Staff, met with AG Richardson to try to influence him to calm down Archibald Cox.
At the same time, there was an investigation into VP Agnew regarding taking cash payouts. After a meeting on the subject, Nixon basically said to Elliot Richardson, "Now we have to get rid of Archibald Cox."
Judge Sirica ordered for all of the subpoenaed tapes to be turned over. Nixon really wanted to get rid of Cox after that. He had his lawyer, Fred Buzhardt, to meet with AG Richardson and present a two-pronged plan:
1. Nixon would listen to the tapes and oversee transcripts being turned over.
2. Cox would have to be fired.
Attorney General Richardson said he would rather resign than fire Archibald Cox. The compromise failed, and yet President Nixon attempted to persuade Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson ended up resigning and so did the acting Attorney General, William Ruckleshaus. The third-in-command, Robert Bork, ended up doing the dirty deed.
The result ended up being called the Saturday Night Massacre. The Saturday Night Massacre was notable in and of itself, but it also signaled just how corrupted President Richard Nixon would be.
If you're interested in checking out my books, please do. You can pick up a signed copy of my third novel, Dirt Merchant, at my personal Selz page or the local bookstore that's treated me SO well, Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.
Fri, 28 April 2017
The curious, lurid, shocking case of billionaire sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein is not the normal brand of true crime normally covered in the Principled Uncertainty Podcast, but it is both true and full of crime.
Jeffrey Epstein's net worth allowed him the kind of life one could only hope and dream for. He owned his own private island and private jet. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey, and Prince Andrew.
It also afforded him the ability to prey on dozens (or maybe hundreds) of underage girls under the auspices of hiring them for "massages." It worked like this: he'd hire a teenager to come to his palatial estate on Brillo Way in Palm Beach, Florida. Then, once Epstein had scandalized that one young woman, he'd offer a "finder's fee" to that girl to recruit other girls so that he could receive a "massage."
Jeffrey Epstein 's troubles began when a few of his former victims became police informants after minor run-ins with the law. The West Palm Beach police force secretly began building an airtight case against the billionaire financier as Epstein continued his manifold exploits in Florida.
He was convicted of soliciting sex from a minor in 2008 and served a paltry eighteen-month sentence, after which he continued his hobnobbing, despite having to register as sex offender. The fact that he was a serial molester / sexual predator had nothing to do with the fact that he had lots of money. Lots and lots of money. It allowed him the kind of defense team that only billionaires could get away with, and as a result, he received the equivalent of a slap on the wrists.
This episode of the Principled Uncertainty Podcast is a little different from most, in that it deals with crime but not murder. Still, it's a fascinating tale of deception and horror, even if no one was killed. And to think: Jeffrey Epstein is still walking the streets after only serving thirteen months in jail.
Mon, 17 April 2017
Few guitarists can hold a joint to Dimebag Darrell, Pantera's insanely talented axe man from Pantego, Texas. He was a singularly talented human being, and if you've heard of Pantera, you've no doubt considered giving up a normal life's pursuits in order to be more like one Darrell Abbott.
I spent my teenage years emulating Dimebag Darrell, but I never got beyond chugging along to the riffs from 'Far Beyond Driven.' I was a bit of a metal-head, and along with Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, Dimebag was my hero. If you're not astounded by this dude's guitar playing, you and I can never be blood brothers.
When Dimebag Darrell was murdered on December 8, 2004, I literally punched a tree down in my backyard. It was inconceivable that someone so full of life and joy be struck down at such a young age. (He was 38.) Despite the band's dark themes and messages, Pantera was a band that focused on joy. Pure, raucous, hellacious joy. Dimebag Darrell represented youthful love of metal, and his death was an augur of a different age for me.
It's one of the strangest and most bizarre true crime scenarios to play out in a public setting, especially where a heavy metal band is concernded.
A crazed fan named Nathan Gale ended Dimebag Darrell's life at a Damageplan show in Columbus, Ohio in 2004. He was angry over the band breaking up and possibly by Pantera lead singer Philip Anselmo's fiery words in an interview mere weeks before. Due to that and some degeneration in his mental capacity, he jumped the fence at the Alrosa Villa Club and rushed the stage, pulling a 9mm Beretta in the process.
He shot Dimebag Darrell in the head at point-blank range. He fired into the crowd and tried desperately to find Dimebag's brother, Vinnie Paul, in order to end his life as well. It was a local cop who ended the horror by shooting Nathan Gale with a police-issue shotgun.
Despite the horrific circumstances of his death, 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott's legacy lives on in the wonderful music he created with his friends Rex Brown and Phillip Anselmo, and his brother, Vinnie Paul. You can find Pantera's albums anywhere you steal music. Check out the Pantera Behind the Music for more information.
Sat, 8 April 2017
On April 8, 1994, an electrician looking to install a security system at Kurt Cobain's Seattle, WA residence saw what he thought was a mannequin through a greenhouse window. Upon further inspection, he came to regard the figure as a human being, and a few minutes later, unknowingly made one of the most profoundly disturbing discoveries in rock-n-roll history.
Kurt Cobain, the heralded lead singer and creative force behind Nirvana, was dead. He was found in his greenhouse with a shotgun and a stash of heroin nearby, so Cobain's death was initially ruled a suicide.
Immediately, the news of Kurt Cobain's death set off shockwaves in the music world. He was very often considered a premiere voice in the Grunge movement, and Nirvana was one of the cornerstones of the Seattle sound (along with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice-in-Chains). There were public outpourings of emotion in Seattle, and several copycat suicides occurred in the days following news of Cobain's death.
In the midst of all this, Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, had hired a PI named Tom Grant to track down her husband, who had fled from drug rehab in LA several days before. After news of Cobain's death reached him, Grant gradually became convinced that Cobain had not, in fact, killed himself but had been murdered. He was concerned with several details that didn't seem to add up, and so he began a decades-long push to get Kurt Cobain's death to be re-investigated.
A few pieces of evidence are always cited when presenting Cobain's death as a potential murder. First of all, there's the fact that one of Kurt Cobain's credit cards was used in the hours following his death, before his body was discovered. Then there's the amount of heroin in his system. (He had nearly three times a normal fatal dose in his system.) There's the lack of fingerprints on any item in the greenhouse. There's the weird shenanigans involving Courtney, Dylan Carlson, and a guy named Cali in the days leading up to Cobain's death.
Building a case from all of the disparate pieces of evidence, though, always struck me as bizarre. Nothing ever plays out like a TV show. Even in clear-cut suicide cases, some threads never quite get tied up, so how can you tie them all together, if you're only doing so to prop up your already-reached conclusion.
This podcast episode explores the issue from the inside out. First, I start with the proposition that, Okay, Kurt Cobain was murdered. Why? Who benefits? For me, the issue becomes transparent when you take all of these issues at face value. Hope you enjoy, and I'll be back with a new one soon.
Tue, 10 January 2017
For this week's podcast, journalist and author Bob Kolker joins me to discuss his investigation into the Long Island Serial Killer case. He is the author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. Here is a brief description of the influential and superbly-written true crime work:
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, and presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of online escorts, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. A triumph of reporting, a riveting narrative, and "a lashing critique of how society and the police let five young women down" (Dwight Garner, New York Times), Lost Girls is a portrait of unsolved murders in an idyllic part of America, of the underside of the Internet, and of the secrets we keep without admitting to ourselves that we keep them.
This brief interview focuses intently on how Kolker became involved with this unsolved serial killer case. At the time, he was a writer for New York magazine and became interested as more bodies were discovered off Ocean Parkway on Long Island while looking for a young sex worker named Shannan Gilbert.
Rather than report on the story as just yet another unsolved serial killer case, he dove headlong into the human element of the story, focusing on the victims as individuals and women, instead of as statistics.
Also, I have to mention at this point that, if you haven't read Lost Girls, you must. It's one of the most human stories about crime I have ever read, due in large part to the fact that Kolker approaches the subject with so much care and humanity. Very often, the victims of serial killers remain in the shadow of the monster who took their lives. In Lost Girls, though, the lives of women who took to Craigslist to make money are treated with such deliberate and thoughtful writing so as to render them as real people. It's a welcome departure from a great number of pulpy true crime books.