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Guest Blogger: Sharon Torres: 7 Crime Novels That Show the Horrors of Addiction

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7 Crime Novels that Show the Horrors of Addiction

Addiction has been a re-occurring theme in many works of fiction. It is a common human experience shared by many across the world, so it is no surprise that the theme appears in a large number of books. One genre that is partial to portraying addiction is the classic crime novel. Usually centered on detective characters with humanizing flaws, like Sherlock Holmes, crime novels make no attempt to shy away from the realities of addiction. They can take you on a journey that is both frightening and interesting at the same time.

When it comes to these all too common scenarios, many people find they may know someone who’s dealing with the horrors of addiction that are portrayed in these novels. If you know someone or you yourself are dealing with this, whether it’s an alcohol or opiates rehabs you’re looking for, you can get help. Let’s take a look at seven crime novels that show the horrors of addiction and see what happens to the main characters of each story.

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7. Dope by Sara Gran

Dope revolves around an ex-heroin addict and prostitute turned jewelry thief named Josephine Flannigan. She has quit heroin and prostitution, but still steals jewelry from local department stores in New York City to get by. A strange and wealthy couple searching for their estranged and addicted daughter offers Josephine thousands to track her down and bring her back. She must navigate a maze of addict houses, whorehouses, and dance halls in order to solve the mystery. This book provides a harrowing portrayal of the dangers of heroin addiction and how it can ruin someone’s life, but it also illustrates a heroine who is human and has conquered her addiction. Opiate rehabs offer help for those addicted to opiates, such as Dope’s Sara Gran.

6. Inspector Morse by Colin Dexter

The Inspector Morse series of crime novels by Colin Dexter also feature an addicted protagonist. In this case, the eponymous Inspector Endeavor Morse solves murders in a series of investigations. The books were so popular a successful detective drama television series, Inspector Morse, was spawned and ran from for 13 years from 1987 to 2000. Inspector Morse himself is a flawed character, and he is addicted to alcohol. As we will learn later on further down the list, the alcoholic detective is a trend in literature. This is the result of many factors, but the primary factor is likely the fact that giving a character a tragic flaw makes them more human and realistic. Alcoholism is a believable and common flaw that many have, and by no coincidence, writers are infamous as alcoholics.

5. The Next Right Thing by Dan Barden

More likely a novel about addiction than crime, The Next Right Thing by Dan Barden tells the story of a Californian carpenter named Randy Chalmers. Randy Chalmers, a recovered alcoholic, owes his life to his Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor and ex-police officer, Terry Elias. Terry Elias helped Randy Chalmers quit alcohol and take control of his life, but he is suddenly and mysteriously found dead of a heroin overdose after fifteen years of assumed sobriety. Randy is launched into a fact-finding quest to solve the mystery of the death of the man who saved his life. This book provides a terrifying portrayal of the horrors of addiction and an all-too-human tale of redemption and intrigue.

4. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

A community of Jewish Holocaust refugees in the Alaskan panhandle is home to homicide detective, Meyer Landsman. Landsman leads a life of utter disrepair. He is addicted to alcohol, his marriage with his wife is a total disaster, and his career as a detective is fraught with lost cases and unsolved murders. After learning of a murder that occurred in the very hotel he is languishing in, he is spurned into a detective quest to redeem himself and solve the murder. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union offers the reader a sobering tale of alcoholism, a tale of love, a tale of redemption, and a tribute to classic noir novels. This book carries with it a gritty and realistic story of addiction and redemption that is sure to shock, intrigue, and enlighten the reader.

3. Flaggermusmannen by Jo Nesbø

Flaggermusmannen or The Bat is the first in a series of novels revolving around a Norwegian police investigator and alcoholic named Harry Hole. A young and famous female celebrity named Inger Holter has just been murdered in Australia and Harry Hole is called down to help solve the mystery. They eventually learn that the suspect is a serial killer and strangler who specifically targets women with blonde hair. As the plot thickens and more questions come up un-answered, Harry Hole falls deeper and deeper into alcoholism. The story, which was originally written in Norwegian and then translated into English, depicts a harrowing portrait of addiction and entertains with a suspenseful tale of murder and addiction.

2. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Any list of crime novels would not be complete without at least one Sherlock Holmes book. A Study in Scarlet is a classic detective novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that provides a gripping tale of a murder investigation by the famous detective. One striking feature of this particular Sherlock Holmes novel is the exploration of the detective’s addiction to an injected cocaine solution. Perhaps a more obscure flaw of detective Holmes is his addiction to cocaine. In this novel, Doyle describes Holmes lying about immobile for days and days on his sofa in the throes of cocaine addiction. His ever-faithful companion, Dr. Watson, eventually helps Holmes defeat his cocaine addiction, but he underlines his successes by saying, “the fiend was not dead, but sleeping;”

1. The Shining by Stephen King

A classic American horror novel and perhaps an even more famous Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining comes packaged with surreal, mind-bending horror, domestic abuse, family dysfunction, and the perils of alcohol addiction. Jack Torrance is an alcoholic on the road to recovery who must watch over a remote and enormous property with the company of his wife and children. As time progresses, Jack falls prey to a supernatural terror, relapses on his beloved gin martini, and is sent into a murderous rampage against his own family. There is no doubt that Stephen King has incorporated themes of alcoholism and the destructive effect it has on families.

Sharon Torres is a freelance writer who focuses on addiction and recovery. Her favorite author is Phillip K. Dick. You can find her blog here:

https://sharontorreswriter.blogspot.com/

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Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.: Redheads and Serial Killers

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Redheads and Serial Killers

Several killing sprees have targeted women with red hair.

Last week came news that police in Texas and Louisiana are investigating whether a serial killer is killing and decapitating redheaded women. The heads were discovered in plastic bags, tossed near lakes 150 miles apart. On March 1, one was found in undergrowth near Lake Calcasieu, and the other turned up three weeks later near Lake Houston. Witnesses described a man who got out of a pick-up truck and stood on a bridge to toss a trash bag over the rail. Investigators hope to track him down. 

If it turns out that the same person is responsible for both, the case might be similar to a few others, like trucker Charles Floyd. On July 1, 1948, he broke into an apartment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attacking a woman and her two teenage daughters. He raped her, but a neighbor interrupted, so he fled before he killed anyone. Down the street, Floyd cut a hole into the door of another home, entered and bludgeoned a woman to death. The victims all had red hair.

A witness outside the second house described Floyd to police and they traced him to where he worked at a trucking company. Under arrest, he admitted that redheaded women triggered an overwhelming lust in him. In fact, he said, he’d killed before. Six years earlier, Floyd had murdered the redheaded pregnant wife of a fellow trucker. Later that year, he’d raped and murdered a mother and daughter, both redheads. Two and a half years later, he’d killed a redhead he’d seen undressing in her apartment. Due to Floyd’s low IQ, a judge sentenced him to life in a mental institution.

Glen Edward Rodgers also seemed to have a thing for redheads. The “Cross Country Killer” traveled from state to state between 1993 and 1995. He’d cozy up to women and ask for a favor. He even moved in with one, briefly. He was convicted of five murders, but bragged that he’d murdered more than 70 people, including Nicole Brown Simpson. Four of his victims were women with reddish hair. It turns out that his mother was a redhead and Roger’s brother says that she’d rejected and abused him.

Then there’s a series of incidents known collectively as “the Redhead Murders.” You’ll find different ideas about who should be counted among the victims, but according to one source, this set of murders started in 1978 and possibly continued until 1992. Some people identify three victims, but others say there are more (between 6 and 11). Most were strangled and their bodies dumped along major highways, as if they’d been hitchhiking or offering services to truckers. One young mother who disappeared from her home, mentioned on some lists, was found years later in a river. Most of the victims remain unidentified.

Many believe that a serial killer is responsible for all of the victims, and some have suggested links to Glen Rogers. Two truckers became suspects, but both were cleared.

The FBI got involved in 1985 to investigate possible links among victims found in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Linkage analysis turned up significant inconsistencies, such as their state of dress and evidence of sexual activity. The agency also ruled out a victim in Ohio and four in Texas. They did not solve the cases.

Jane Carlisle published a brief e-short, The Redhead Murders. She believed that the killer targeted victims who had no one who might come looking for them. This would suggest that the killer picked up redheads, queried them, and then decided to kill them based on satisfactory responses. Carlisle starts with a body discovery in 1983 in Virginia. The next one was in Arkansas. Several turned up in Tennessee in 1985. Only a few have been identified.

The murder in 1992 in Tennessee that some believe is linked involved a nun. An arrest was made, which undermined any link to the other redhead victims. Since most of the “Redhead Murders” remain unsolved, it’s not possible to know if a serial killer with a preference for redheads committed them, but it’s an intriguing mystery. 

Follow Katherine on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.ramsland

Originally Posted on Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today Blog

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201805/redheads-and-serial-killers

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Crime and Science Radio Rewind: Dr. Mike Tabor: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

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This show originally aired on Crime and Science Radio on 7-26-14. This transcript is courtesy of Suspense Magazine.

To listen to the original podcast go here:
http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/dr-michael-tabor.html

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Dr. Mike Tabor: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

Dr. Michael Tabor has a long list of talents, from being a respected suspense/crime author, to a doctor, and a public speaker. Beginning his career as a family dentist, the good doctor’s work took a unique turn in 1983 when he delved into the highly specialized field of forensic dentistry. Being one of only a handful of forensic dentists in the U.S., Dr. Tabor became a highly sought after expert in this field, performing identifications/examinations on homicide victims, as well as aiding police officers and medical examiners in the prosecution of thousands of crimes.
Dr. Tabor sat down with D.P. Lyle, MD and Jan Burke, to be interviewed on “Crime & Science Radio.” He talks in-depth about everything from his early background and how he got into the field of forensic odontology, as well as his work on some high-profile cases, such as the autopsy of James Earl Ray. He speaks poignantly about his work helping to identify victims of the 9/11 tragedy, and tells readers what to expect from his upcoming titles. 

D.P. Lyle, MD (D.P.L.): Welcome Mike. Being a forensic odontologist (which is a big word for dentist), can you tell people what attracted you to this field in the first place?

Dr. Michael Tabor (M.T.): In addition to dentistry I also have a passion for football, and for 25 years I have been a back judge for high school football in Tennessee. One day, while in my officiating role, our new state medical examiner at half-time came up and said, “You know, I’ve got an interesting body that’s just been pulled out of the Cumberland River here in downtown Nashville that has numerous gold fillings in their teeth, and I have no clue where to begin. Would you like to help me?” And 20-odd years later, here we are on “Crime & Science” radio. True story.

D.P.L.: There’s a big difference between doing fillings and extractions in the office and then moving into forensic odontology, did you have any special training (like they do now) at that time; or did you just kind of learn by the seat of your pants the things you needed to know and how you were going to approach this field?

M.T.: Actually, there weren’t many training programs at that particular time. I had the good fortune, however, to be mentored by three good friends—all of whom were giants in the field then. One, Doctor Richard Souviron, in particular, I had the pleasure of meeting when he served as my opposing expert witness in the first bite mark case ever admitted into a Tennessee court of law. This was just a few years after he testified in the Ted Bundy case, which literally made this “David vs. Goliath” in the Nashville court case. What was strange about it is that afterwards we became the best of friends and have enjoyed a great relationship since then. 

Jan Burke (J.B.): You’ve obviously had a long and storied career. I wanted to bring up that you have served as a past president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. It is clear you’re dedicated to high standards in your field. Could you tell us a bit about the recent study/report by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences that spoke about how to maintain these high standards? In other words, what’s in and what’s out in forensic odontology? 

M.T.: I have to start by saying I certainly respect the Academy and certainly appreciate all suggestions they have for the field of forensic odontology. It’s important to note that forensic odontology is not a specialty of dentistry, it is a specialty of forensic science. When it comes to jurisprudence, everyone from toxicologists to document examiners…we all want to get it right. We want the best possible chance of solving a mystery using our specific field. We have many recognized disciplines within the realm of forensic science and anytime the American Academy comes out with concerns, ideas or suggestions the American Board of Forensic Odontology, as well as the odontology section of the Academy, pay very close attention. 

We’ve made several changes when it comes to the ways our diplomates consider and come up with their opinions for courtroom testimony. We’ve seen roughly 10 cases or so during the last few years that involve people on death row, who have been found guilty of a capital offense, have their conviction overturned since the refinement of DNA analysis. In other words, the wrong opinion was given at the onset and a person was falsely imprisoned as a result. We still maintain that bite mark analysis, when used by a properly vetted expert—and that’s the key term right there, a properly vetted expert witness—adds value to the case. Yet, we are going a step further now, because we want to make sure that we don’t have ten more of these cases appear over the next decade. 

I think one thing that happens, take The Innocence Project, for example, is that people are quite quick to point out these ten cases and fail to mention scores and scores of other cases where bite mark evidence was used properly,  and as a result was a key tool in achieving the right verdict that the jurors came up with. We pride ourselves in knowing this very small niche of forensic science, but there are lots of other witnesses, evidence, and factors that jurors have to consider. It was not the forensic dentist that put this person on death row. Jurors will also review the medical examiner report and one side will have an expert stating that a death was the result of, say…shaken baby syndrome, while another well-respected expert offers the opinion that it is not SBS but death by SIDS, for example. Then jurors have to decide if this is a homicide, suicide, and the list goes on. We recommend that every board certified forensic odontologist seeks a second opinion before trial, and we’re really trying to make sure we adhere to the recommendations and principles the Academy has suggested.

D.P.L.: Can you speak about what is required in order to enter the field?

M.T.: Interestingly enough, only knowledge in the profession of dentistry and an interest in the field of forensic odontology is required. Most of my training, and even up to this day, a lot of it has been on-the-job training. I am proud to announce for the first time however, on this show, that we are getting ready to change that because the field is linking arms with forensic anthropology. And, what better place to have it done than at The Body Farm in the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Starting soon we will offer the first post-graduate degree program in the U.S. where you can earn a masters degree in forensic human identification. We are actually linking arms because we do have a lot of overlap between the fields; forensic anthropology focuses more on age, sex, and race, whereas odontology deals with comparing a known to an unknown, which is how forensic dentistry really started out. There are 32 teeth in the human body and each tooth has five sides, the possible combinations according to what the math professors tell me is five to the thirty-second power which equals a number bigger than the actual number of people living on earth. So let’s just say that the field is going to be around a long time. 

As these programs grow and develop, hopefully forensic dentistry will increase and there will be more courses available to take. Right now we have one in San Antonio and another in Detroit, with a new one starting in Las Vegas. But this in Knoxville will be the first of its kind, and not just for dentists. This is available to dental hygienists, crime scene investigators—anyone with an undergrad degree who wants to further their education in human cadaver identification. We are pretty excited about it.

J.B.: That is worth being excited over, and we are honored that you chose to announce it here. Now, some people are not really sure what a forensic odontologist does, so can you give us a brief overview of what the work entails?

M.T.: I’d be happy to. First off, most all major cities are affiliated with or have a certified forensic odontologist on staff. We only have 105 in the U.S., so there aren’t a whole lot to go around. But the National Board of Medical Examiners, which is the credentialing service for all medical examiner offices in the U.S., recognize the importance of having a forensic odontologist in their morgues. As a result, when each office has to get recertified, one of the points the Board checks on is whether the office is affiliated with a board certified forensic odontologist. If they’re not, they get a ‘ding’ and you can only have so many of those before losing your credentials. It’s like a medical school not being accredited with the AMA; they might just as well not exist.

When it comes to the job requirements, we compare knowns to unknowns. Basically, there are three ways to identify a person: DNA, fingerprints, and dental records. So, say we have a body brought into the morgue. We have to know from the investigator, before we can lend some credible info, who they think the person might be. If they have no idea, we start at the end of the fence and work backwards by making a chart of each of the 32 teeth, and each of those five sides and record any type of fillings there are, what surfaces have been fixed or altered, etc. We x-ray and photograph and make a complete record, just like when it’s a live patient. Our next step is to enter this information into NCIC or NAMUS. These are national databases, with NAMUS being accessible to the general public and NCIC being for law enforcement officials only. These databases record any and all distinguishing characteristics on a body that is currently being held in medical examiner’s offices. We keypunch in our data which goes into national and international databases and searches for a match. It also calls up information on missing persons across the country to attempt to locate a match. 

More often than not we are trying to identify victims from auto accidents, house fires, plane crashes, etc., where the body has been harmed to the point where age, sex and race cannot be determined. That’s where dentistry becomes so valuable. Teeth are virtually indestructible, yet even if a body has been lying on the bottom of the ocean for a hundred years, when they are brought up the teeth will look exactly the same as the day they died. You can’t say that for fingerprints or DNA. We can compare the knowns that come from teeth analysis with the unknowns and use this to identify a victim.

D.P.L.: You mentioned anthropologists earlier. Are both forensic dentists and forensic anthropologists called out to a crime scene at same time? Do they work in tandem? 

M.T.: When it comes to bones that are discovered, say, in the woods, often the anthropologist is called upon first. They are such bloodhounds they can find things no one else can. We wait and take the info the anthropologist gathers, such as the person was six-foot-two, African American, male, etc., and we will use that to try and match their data with a missing person. From then on, we work together. 

Along these lines, the book I wrote is the story of the most bizarre case I ever worked on in my career, which was actually at The Body Farm in Tennessee. I was working there with Dr. Bill Bass (the founder), and Dr. Murray Marx, and his contingency. It was there that they were actually able to develop the age, race, and sex characteristics of a body yet it still remained a John Doe for decades. At the farm what they developed was a system/program called TSD (AKA: time since death.) They have studied and honed their skills for identification by taking a body that has been donated to science and placing that body in a field (inside a protected area, of course), subjecting the body to all environmental conditions. They study and photograph the body on a regular basis to determine even more information such as, what it looks like in the decomposition process (i.e., the insects, the maturation levels of the insect larvae). They record wind speeds, humidity, temperature changes, etc., and from all that they are able to provide a very valuable tool to investigators; in addition to the norms of age, sex, and race, they are able to determine how long this body (or discovered bones) has been there. The time since death is very important to everyone from investigators to crime writers. 

J.B.: You were involved in identifying the 9/11 World Trade Center victims. How did it come about that you got involved with that? What did you do as part of the team? 

M.T.: That was the year I was serving as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. A member who held the same position in NY that I held in TN spoke to me and addressed the enormity of the aftermath. Death investigations were going on just like always, before and after 9/11, and these facilities were quite taxed. Quite a large percentage of experts volunteered their time to assist New York’s medical examiner with this task of trying to identify the victims. 

We first worked to accumulate accurate flight manifests so we could attain various medical and dental records for those on board the planes. When you reach a number of victims north of 25 to 30, you need to use a computerized system to organize records and data. We utilized a software program called WIN ID that was written by one of our diplomates, Jim McGivney. We entered all the information we collected and the antemortem (before death) records into the database, and began identifying remains. We had information from the manifests, port authority records, data given from wives and husbands whose significant others didn’t come home that night, firefighters and police officer records, etc. We also had people who jumped from the buildings, choosing to end their lives instead of having to experience the inferno that would have taken them. We ended up identifying approximately one-third, 1,000 out of the 3,000 who died that day, with many being identified from just the dental records. 

We had rehearsed being on what is called a Mass Disaster Dental ID team, and learned how we would grid off an area and how we would set up ID logistics if a 747 went down and hundreds of people perished. There were days, if you remember, where we didn’t know if we were going to find 3,000 or 30,000 people in the aftermath. In fact, if the planes had hit 30 minutes later, the total would have been even more horrific. It took us approximately 11 months to a year before we had the chance to sift through each bit of evidence and enter it into the postmortem database and let the computer do its’ work. Amazingly, we were pleased to be able to identify a third of them. People will ask, “How come the other 2,000 weren’t identified?” But, to be honest, some just didn’t even exist; they were vaporized by the crash. And, as you might imagine, there was a lot of comingling of remains…but we were (and are) just trying to get it right. To put this into perspective, jumbo jets have two black boxes on board. These are nearly indestructible and yet no black boxes were recovered. 

J.B.: The 9/11 tragedy was horrific. How did it effect you personally?

M.T.: Well, I have given about two or three talks a month for the past 13/14 years. Yet it took quite a while for me to even be able to talk about this without getting choked up. We have little to no training when it comes to dealing with the emotional impact of such a tragedy. I have seen lots of things in my 39-something years and most have been pretty ugly. But I never saw or experienced anything like 9/11 that stayed with me, and still won’t go completely away. 

Buddies would talk about PTSD and their time in Vietnam and I had a hard time getting my arms wrapped around that emotionally. But after spending time at Ground Zero, I can say that it is for real. We were not used to dealing with this; having to walk through a sea of people holding up pictures of their missing husbands, wives, or their only sons and daughters…people coming up to us, pulling on our arms and saying, “Please help me.” 

After our work was done, we were told to prepare ourselves for when we returned home and our close family members commented on changes they saw in us, changes in our spirit. And they were exactly right. They did send us all through a psychological debriefing workshop before we left. Part of it to address the enormity of the situation and part was to help us deal with the emotional aspects that we were ill-equipped to deal with. The last thing is that red, white, and blue that still flutters among all of us and having to deal with the fact that a foreign entity came to our country and did that to us. 

I had a dream many times in that first year after 9/11 where I was driving on a certain road in Nashville and saw a 727 going, nose-down, behind a hotel. I woke up when it hit the ground and exploded. This is a prime example of PTSD. Like opening the body bag and seeing the firefighter still clutching his axe…it gets to you.

D.P.L.: Sobering. Thank you. I hope everyone appreciates you sharing that information. Moving on to your writing, you worked with Dr. Cyril Wecht on a case with quite an infamous name attached to it, that of James Earl Ray. 

M.T.: I’ve actually worked on two cases with Cyril. My third book “Grave Mistake” will focus on one of those. I think the one you’re referring to, however, is the forensic autopsy of Ray. In a nutshell, Ray was serving his life sentence after confessing, recanting, re-confessing and re-recanting to killing Martin Luther King, Jr. 

He actually died in prison of Hepatitis C that he had gotten from being stabbed by a fellow prisoner with a broken Coke bottle. Tennessee law states that if you die in prison you have to have an autopsy done by the state medical examiner. I was called one day by our local M.E. and asked to come down to the office. I thought it was a little odd, needing me to confirm the identity of someone everyone already knew. Of course, just a few years before, there were so many naysayers and conspiracy theorists dwelling on the JFK assassination that a court order was finally gotten to exhume the body of Oswald so it could be re-identified using forensic dentistry. Oswald was in the military and had records on file, so this wasn’t a difficult process. Ray’s family had decided that as soon as the autopsy was complete, they would cremate the body. The family hired Dr. Wecht to oversee the autopsy on their behalf.

The second case I worked with him on was a tragic accident; a van holding six prisoners was in an accident and all were burned alive when the van caught fire. A wayward medical examiner ended up misidentifying bodies based on seat locations. These victims lived all over the United States, so Wecht and I worked together to sort out which body really belonged to which family. It is a true puzzle that we had to solve backwards. It was a wonderful experience getting to know him, work with him, and I cherish the time I get to spend learning more from him.

D.P.L.: Time to talk about the book. Please tell us about “Walk of Death.”

M.T.: “Walk of Death” came from me finding my most favorite thing to do in the world, write down exactly what happened on a case. 

I had a cold case murder that I worked on for over a decade before finally solving. It began in 1998 and wasn’t solved until Christmas of 2010. That’s when my wife told me, “You’re gonna write a book on this.” It was actually bizarre. You cannot make this stuff up. The case involved a staged death utilizing a pair of killers, a hitchhiker, and a life insurance policy. The plan gets a little sloppy, and law enforcement does not know who is buried in a grave. The next ten years are spent trying to put a name with an unknown face. 

This was the first time in a Tennessee court of law (and I believe in the entire U.S.) where a jury has to find someone guilty, without anyone in the courtroom knowing who the victim is. That will get you an upside-down jury. After all, you usually have someone weeping, yelling, angry about killing “Uncle Joe,” and talking about the family. Here, you have a body but it’s very hard to get emotional sympathy from jurors. Using forensic dentistry helped solve the crime, but I can’t tell you the whole thing or you won’t want to read the story. 

J.B.: And you are now working on your third title?

M.T.: Actually, I just finished the second one which is called “Out of the Darkness” and involves a bite mark case in a murder trial that I testified at in Arkansas, and the controversy around the evidentiary value of that bite mark evidence in this particular homicide. The third, based on the case with Dr. Wecht, will be “Grave Mistake.” 

Talk about sending readers running to the library. Dr. Michael Tabor is an unforgettable interview; a man whose background and incredible work on cases has not only created amazing thrillers, but has also made the realm of forensic odontology one of the most fascinating to learn about. For more information, check out http://www.drmiketabor.com or listen to other fantastic interviews from “Crime & Science Radio” with Doug Lyle, MD. and Jan Burke at https://crimeandscienceradio.com.  

Originally aired on Crime & Science Radio; July 2014. 

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Yes, You Can Die From A Broken Heart

The term “broken heart” is well known to everyone. From Romeo and Juliet, to shattered romances, to many a teenager’s angst, a broken heart seems to be part of life. Everyone’s been there. But can you die from a broken heart? You bet.

In a very unusual medical condition known as Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy, dying from a broken heart can actually occur. Takotsubo is a Japanese octopus trap and is shaped like a dilated and damaged left ventricle as happens in a cardiomyopathy.

Takotsubo Pot and LV

Cardiomyopathy is a big word but when broken down into its components is fairly easy to understand. Cardio means heart, myo means muscle, and opathy means disease. So a cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. It often results from coronary artery disease where multiple heart attacks (myocardial infarction or MI) have occurred, damaging the muscle severely. It also can occur after viral infections, certain meds and drugs that are toxic to the myocardium, odd diseases like amyloidosis, some members of the disease group we call autoimmune disorders, and other maladies.

We analyze the pumping function of the heart in many ways. Echocardiograms, CT and MRI angiograms, and with a ventriculogram done as part of a cardiac catheterization procedure. Here a catheter is passed through an artery and into the left ventricle—the heart’s main pumping chamber—and contrast material is injected while a digital video is made. A normal ventriculogram shows the heart squeezing in tightly as the heart muscle contracts.

Normal LVgram

An abnormal one, such as is seen in a cardiomyopathy, will show diminished “squeezing” during the contraction phase (systole) of the cardiac cycle.

CMP LVgram

An odd form of cardiomyopathy is Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy. In this circumstance, extreme emotional upset changes the physiology of the heart muscle in some fashion and leads to it being “stunned” or damaged. The actual mechanism for how this happens is not known but the result is a significant weakness of the heart muscle, which, in turn, can lead to heart failure and death. It is not common, but it is real.

This is likely what happened to Joanie Simpson and perhaps the famous actress Debbie Reynolds.

 
 

Guest Blogger: KJ Howe: THE FREEDOM BROKER, SKYJACK—FULL IMMERSION IN THE DARK WORLD OF KIDNAP AND RANSOM

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Do you ever wonder how well you would cope if you were kidnapped?  This question burned in my mind, so I started digging, and my fascination with this dark world led me down a rabbit hole that has truly changed my life.  

For the last five years, in preparation for writing The Freedom Broker series, I have interviewed kidnap negotiators, former hostages, reintegration experts, psychiatrists who specialize in the captive’s mindset, K&R insurance executives, and the special forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. This monumental journey has been both inspiring and heartbreaking.  Captivity is a form of purgatory.  Hostages are alive, but they aren’t really living, dependent on their kidnappers for everything, all freedoms snatched away the moment they are taken. 

Worldwide, more than 40,000 people are kidnapped every year, and this staggering number only reflects the incidents that have been reported. The actual number is much higher, as kidnapping has become an international crisis, especially in certain politically unstable parts of the globe. Why?  In some cases, displaced military and police turn their security skills to kidnap-and-ransom to put food on the table; criminal organizations of all kinds and sizes abduct locals and tourists for quick cash; and terrorist organizations carry out kidnappings not just as a fundraising mechanism, but also as propaganda stunts. With little to no threat of punishment in some regions, these individuals and organizations can often kidnap at will.

Only around twenty-five to thirty people work as full-time crisis response consultants, the industry term for elite kidnap negotiators—and that number is also growing. Response consultants work for private companies, counseling their clients on travel safety.  And when the worst happens, they offer support and guidance to hostages and their families while negotiating for the release of the captives. Responders travel all over the world and risk their lives to help others. I created Thea Paris, an elite kidnap negotiator who has very personal motivations for following this challenging career.

These kidnap specialists are patient, tactical, and brilliant at making decisions under enormous duress. They are usually fluent in at least one other language (and sometimes many more), as linguistic nuance can be critical in life-and-death negotiations. The backgrounds of these elite negotiators vary, but most have experience in the security arena, with résumés that include jobs at such organizations as MI6 or the FBI.

I had the privilege of getting to know Peter Moore, the longest-held hostage in Iraq—almost 1,000 days—and his story touched me deeply. Peter was taken with four British military soldiers, and he is the only one who made it home alive. He spent many months blindfolded and chained. To keep himself occupied, he caught mosquitos between his cuffed hands, trying to beat his daily record to keep his mind engaged. When the blindfold was removed, Peter spent endless hours staring at the cracks on the wall, designing an entire train system in his mind, which he was able to reproduce on paper after returning home. He also tried to befriend his captors so he could negotiate for small luxuries, like toothpaste and toilet paper.

I hope that the intensive research I’ve done and the novels I’ve brought into the world, The Freedom Broker and Skyjack, help to raise awareness for people fortunate enough that kidnapping remains an experience that happens only to characters in the books they read.  For an in-depth map of the kidnap hot zones of the world, please visit my website at http://www.kjhowe.com

Join Kim Thursday 4-29 at 7 pm at Book Soup in LA and Saturday 4-21 at 3 pm at Book Carnival in Orange.

http://www.booksoup.com

https://www.annesbookcarnival.com

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Posted by on April 19, 2018 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

My Cough Medicine Did It

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Whenever someone does something stupid, like crash a car, get in a bar fight, or, say, stab someone 123 times, they are always looking for an excuse. Somewhere to lay the blame. After all, they couldn’t have done anything like that, so it must’ve been some outside person, or situation, or invisible force, or even a miasma. Perhaps alcohol or drugs. Maybe even cough medicine. Really? I don’t buy it.

That’s apparently the defense of one Matthew James Phelps, a young pastor in North Carolina, who apparently inflicted 123 knife wounds on his wife. He stated that a dose of Coricidin Cough and Cold medicine made him do it. Or as he said: “I know it can make you feel good and sometimes I can’t sleep at night.” Too bad he didn’t simply go to sleep.

No doubt various drugs can cause anger, aggression, and even psychosis in some people. Cocaine has done it, and Phencyclidine (PCP or Angel Dust) was notorious for it. Meth, too. There are others, but I don’t think Coricidin would be a likely member of that group. 

Possible? Maybe. Likely? No.

 

Did “Tourista” Kill the Aztecs?

Many people who travel to other countries end up suffering from Tourista, or Traveler’s Diarrhea, a gastrointestinal upset that is manifested by diarrhea and sometimes nausea and vomiting. It’s due in many cases to E. coli, which is found everywhere. Various regions will have different strains of E. coli. Residents of the area are able to live quite compatibly with it. The problem arises when you travel to a new area and are exposed to a different strain. Until the body readjusts to this foreign strain, gastrointestinal symptoms can occur. Usually, this is mild and inconvenient and after a few days everything settles down and life goes on.

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Not so with the Aztecs. In 1545, an epidemic swept through the Aztec nation killing millions, perhaps as much as 80% of the population. Twenty years earlier an epidemic of smallpox had come through and damaged the population and 20 years later another epidemic swept through killing another huge portion of the population. There have been many infectious processes indicted for the 1545 plague, which the Aztecs called cocoliztli. Smallpox, measles, mumps, and various other infectious entities have been blamed for this. But what if it was actually a gastrointestinal bacterium that did the damage?

The symptoms the victims suffered seem to have been gastrointestinal. Apparently, there was bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and splotches on the skin. These symptoms and signs suggest a form of enteritis and that’s exactly what the bacterium salmonella does.

New evidence suggests that it might be a strain of salmonella that caused this problem, in particular, salmonella Paratyphi C. Genetic research using DNA obtained from the teeth of those who succumbed to the epidemic indicate that this might be the case. Where it came from is another question. Did it come with the influx of Europeans? Or perhaps extend south from northern Mexico? This is still being debated and researched but it does appear that salmonella may have been the culprit in the epidemic that destroyed the Aztec Empire.

Salmonella has been responsible for other public health crises, one of the most famous being Mary Mallon, aka  Typhoid Mary. In this situation, the type of salmonella was salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid fever.

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