Book ‘Em Vol. 39

April 1, 2013

Customs come and go but people’s fascination with the diabolical and the deadly is a constant throughout history. Greed, pride, and lust are among the most resilient of the Seven Deadly Sins. These perennial human failings help to power the stories of the books under review here, whether they take place in antiquity or in our own time period. Here are five books that are certain to captivate any aficionado of the true crime genre.

by Denise Noe

The Great Pretender

March 28, 2013

Dr. Donald C. Arthur

Dr. Donald C. Arthur parlayed a number of bogus academic degrees into an extremely successful career in the U.S. Navy, rising all the way to surgeon general of the Navy. He even had the nerve to wear a combat action ribbon as part of his official uniform at his retirement in 2007 despite never having been involved in combat. 

by Michael Volpe

The book Stolen Valor was released with some fanfare in 1998.  It detailed a bevy of individuals who falsely claimed combat action, especially during the Vietnam War. Since then, the Stolen Valor team, led by B. G. Burkett, has gained a reputation for exposing hucksters who falsely claim to have been in combat. Those individuals include Brian Leonard Creekmur, who falsely claimed to be a Navy Seal and sniper. Another individual exposed by the Stolen Valor team was Bill Hillar. Hillar falsely claimed to be a Green Beret and wound up being sentenced to 21 months in prison as a result.

In 2005, the Stolen Valor team began investigating Dr. Donald C. Arthur, then the surgeon general of the U.S. Navy. That’s because Dr. Arthur was seen wearing a combat action ribbon as part of his official uniform at his retirement in 2007 even though there was no record he’d seen combat.

The Legend of Tex McCord (aka Roger Caryl)

March 25, 2013

Roger Caryl aka Tex McCord

Roger Caryl was a tragedy in the making. Bullied in high school, he set off after graduation to become a cowboy in the Wild West. In short order he was broke and on the verge of being fired from the only ranch where he ever worked when he gunned down four people. A massive manhunt pursued him from Montana to Florida.                

by Kim Walker

Let me tell you the story of Tex McCord. He began life as Roger Caryl and early on became a denizen of Mount Zion, Illinois. The welcome sign at the village limits promised “a glowing past and a brighter future,” but not for Roger.

It was the same setting where nearly every day of high school Roger suffered the indignity of his books being jerked, thrown and kicked from his hands. Papers floated down three flights of stairs, sent careening kung-fu style, just like our TV hero, David Carradine.

Roger Caryl’s one yee-haw happy hey-day each year was the annual Fall Festival, where he insisted people call him “Tex” and he became sheriff for a day. He wore a badge and boots and had the power to arrest people and put them in a phony hoosegow. Tex quickly made up for lost time and exacted vendettas worthy of a Louis L’Amour novel. 

The night he graduated high school, Roger Caryl told his parents he was going camping in southern Illinois. Instead, “Tex” followed his life-long dream and moved west.

There he would re-invent himself on a dude ranch in Montana as Tex McCord, after a fabled 19th-century bandit. Seventeen-year old Caryl told people he was a Vietnam vet and a U.S. Marine. He claimed to be an experienced cowhand from a large ranching family in Texas. 

A Beautiful Monster: The Fascination with Oscar Pistorius

March 18, 2013

"I am the bullet in the chamber.  Just do it".-- Nike sports advertisement featuring Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius’s rise to world fame was as unlikely as his arrest for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

By Binoy Kampmark

It remains to be seen whether this will become a crime of its own singular description, or yet another point of comparison in terms of previous acts of brutality.  Will it be deemed South Africa’s O.J. Simpson trial, with its lashings of bloodlust voyeurism that finds form in evidence, exposures, and innuendo?  The suggestions are that this has already begun, despite the fact that the trial is scheduled to start on June 4. The alleged murder of the model and self-appointed spokeswoman against domestic violence Reeva Steenkamp by the Parlympian Oscar Pistorius is something the analysts and commentators find magnetic. More than bullets were fired the day Steenkamp was killed behind the locked door of the Blade Runner’s bathroom.

The Case Against Cardinal Donald Wuerl

March 11, 2013

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Photo: World Tribune)

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of the Washington, D.C. Diocese, has an undeserved reputation as a “zero-tolerance” prelate when it comes to dealing with pedophile priests.

By Michael Volpe

As cardinals from around the world filed into the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, to elect the successor to Saint Peter, a great deal of pre-conclave speculation focused on the possibility of the election of the first American pope in history. The names of three U.S. cardinals were mentioned in a report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” by political reporter Cokie Roberts: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Roberts cited Dolan for his telegenic, charismatic personality, O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, for his down-to-earth humility, and Wuerl for his “management” expertise. There is a notion that the Vatican needs to undergo a sea change to regain its role as a moral authority, thus the focus on out-of-the-box thinking that might open the door at St. Peter’s to an American prelate. The odds against that happening are extremely long, but having Cardinal Wuerl in the mix may be a reflection of his “zero-tolerance” for pedophile priests that won him public acclaim during his years as a bishop. 

The new Pope will also have to face the charges of mismanagement at the Vatican bank and somehow find a way to move beyond the devastating revelations about the bitter infighting in the Vatican’s central administration known as the Curia. This embarrassing episode was set off in early 2012 when the Pope’s butler leaked an enormous stash of papal documents to an Italian reporter that provided an unprecedented inside look at the dysfunctional workings of the Vatican. Known as VatiLeaks, the expose was, no doubt, among the factors that led to Pope Benedict’s stunning announcement in February that he would end his eight-year reign and become the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

But no matter what else the new Pope does, he must be able to move the Catholic Church beyond the priest sex-abuse scandals that have engulfed the church for the last three decades. Other issues are also important, but cleansing the clergy of pedophiles is the most basic challenge the new Pope must meet.

Bradley Manning: Patriot or Traitor?

March 11, 2013

Private First Class Bradley Manning

A whistleblower hero to some, a traitor to others, Private First Class Bradley Manning faces a life sentence for turning over hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and intelligence reports about the United States’ mission in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy Web site operated by Australian Julian Assange. 

by Don Fulsom and Avi McClelland-Cohen

U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is cooling his heels in a military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he awaits a military trial for breaching national security by leaking classified war intelligence. The most serious charges are violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy. 

Prosecutors preparing to try Manning say they will also introduce evidence showing that Osama Bin Laden himself requested some of the reports Manning is accused of leaking.

If convicted, the 25-year-old Manning—whose trial is set to begin in June 2013—could be imprisoned for the rest of his life. 

An Army intelligence analyst, Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010 and accused of disclosing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and intelligence reports—as well as one video of a military helicopter attack.  Most of this information was furnished to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy Web site operated by Australian computer hacker Julian Assange.

In February 2013, Private Manning pleaded guilty to 10 charges related to the misuse of classified information.  The Washington Post reports Manning is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison on those charges.

Dirty Laundry: Cold Case 84-137640

March 4, 2013

For survivors, cold case investigators and the public, solving old homicide cases offers the perfect win- win situation. Beyond the altruistic benefits, though, cold case squads provide a goldmine of good ink for law enforcement agencies. So what's the ultimate bad ink? Botched investigations. Lawmen will go to great lengths to hide their dirty laundry – such as Harris County Sheriff's Office Case No. 84-137640.

by James R. Melton

When Joe Floyd Collins awoke on October 12, 1984, he was exactly six weeks shy of his 46th birthday. Life expectancy tables generously offered him another 32 years on earth. On that autumn evening, as the sun sank over the Southeast Texas prairie, the squeeze of a trigger instantly changed the prospect of a long life into the reality of an early grave.

For the middle-aged man some knew as Floyd and others called Joe, luck was fast running out. But the robber who shot him had the unexpected good fortune to gain the oddest bedfellow — the Harris County Sheriff's Office.       

Fumbling and stumbling from the outset, Texas's largest sheriff's department all but guaranteed a killer would get a free pass and Joe Floyd Collins's murder would wind up quickly — and quietly —in the cold case bin.        

Even a quarter of a century later, Sgt. Eric Clegg said he had searched all of the Harris County Sheriff's Office’s cold cases from the 1980s. He couldn't find records of the one-of-a-kind robbery-murder at a liquor store in Huffman, a mix of suburbs and farms at the county's far northeast corner. In 2009, Clegg was one of two sergeants assigned to the cold case squad.       

A year later, presented with the victim's name, a date, crime details and the actual Harris County Sheriff's Office case number, 84-137640, the sergeant acknowledged the case's existence and reopened the investigation.

The Brussels Airport Diamond Heist

Feb. 27, 2013

Helvetic Airways aircraft at the Brussels international airport (Photo: Associated Press)

In a daring, commado-style operation, eight masked, heavily armed gunmen pulled off a lightening quick heist of more than $50 million worth of diamonds.                           

by J. Patrick O’Connor

For centuries, Antwerp has been the world’s center of diamond trading and remains so today.  According to a spokesperson for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre about $200 million in diamonds enter and leave Antwerp daily, with about 99 percent of that moving through the Brussels Airport in several shipments each week. The spokesperson said that diamonds traded in Antwerp last year had a total value of $51.9 billion, accounting for 80 percent of the world’s rough diamond trade and 50 percent of trade in polished stones. The only other major diamond center is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

Diamond brokers from around the world store their diamonds and gems – sometimes for as little as a day – in one or more of the 160 safety-deposit boxes located in an underground vault at the Antwerp Diamond Centre. Once a deal is brokered for the sale of the diamonds, shipment is arranged through the Zaventem International Airport in Brussels. The diamonds are placed in small packets and driven by armored Brinks vans to the airport.  On the 25-mile trip to the airport, the Brinks vans are accompanied by armed escorts that peel away once the Brinks vans arrive at the airport’s locked gate.

On the evening of February 18, 2013, eight heavily armed masked men were outfitted in airport security uniforms and drove two black vehicles that had police-style lights on top.  They arrived at Zaventem International Airport in Brussels in darkness intent on pulling off the most audacious heist in airport history. They knew, due to construction near the main security gate, that gate would be unlocked. Using wire cutters, they opened a section of the other 10-foot-high security fence on the perimeter of the airport and then waited eight minutes for the Brinks van to unload some 125 packets of diamonds in the cargo hold of Flight LX789, a Helvetic Airways jet waiting to depart in the next 18 minutes for Zurich, Switzerland.