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Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: CAUTION: CHILDREN AT PLAY

My current release revolves around a series of deaths at a juvenile detention facility—and seeing as I don’t even have children of my own, this represents a world I know nothing about. Much research was in order. 

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Among many other topics, I read a book about play therapy. Playing—unfettered, unstructured running around, preferably outside, is not only vital to a child’s development but vital to understanding what is going on in their lives. Apparently, children have as much trouble just being ‘themselves’ as adults do. We all bring a suitcase full of ideas and expectations into the room with us, ideas inherited from family life and other experiences. Watching how a child functions on the playground can give great insight as to how they’re functioning in their own mind. 

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Every family assigns roles. Mom is the sensible one, while Dad is a soft touch. The oldest child is the go-getter and the middle one is the whiner. Sometimes these roles can be a good thing, providing support and encouragement, but no one wants a child to feel locked into only one way of being by the age of eight. At school, at activities, at play, a child should be able to experiment with alternative personalities, perhaps finding a better fit or at least rounding out the one they have. 

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Here are some common family roles:

The sensible child is the one that’s helpful, cheerful, mature past his/her years. They’ve been encouraged to be mummy or daddy’s little helper and that’s wonderful, as far as it goes, until they begin to feel so burdened by this role as pseudo-adult that they miss being a little kid. They may begin to withdraw from others. This child would be helped by teachers and playgroup monitors giving him no responsibilities for a while, letting him be free to simply enjoy his childhood.

Another version of the sensible child has been forced into the role of peacemaker by warring parents. At home, this child tries to soften the parents’ messages to each other and perhaps distracts them by acting out so that they focus their aggravation on the child instead of the other parent. In the schoolyard, this child can try to manage their peers’ conflicts to the point where they’re told to butt out. While they may be initially hurt, it’s important to relieve them of the weight of constantly having to solve other people’s problems. 

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Every family has one—the black sheep, the sibling who always starts the fight or never does their homework or lets the goldfish die when it’s their turn to feed it. A scapegoat, who—not coincidentally—helps out by making everyone else look good by comparison. Sometimes this is due to, again, warring parents who enlist the child in their attacks—I’m not mad, but little Timmy was so disappointed that you weren’t here, that he missed the bus and forgot his lunch. Didn’t you, Tim?

Or the opposite—children who are good at everything they do. They allow their siblings to slack off and their parents to feel great about their parenting abilities. But the praise heaped upon them can become crushing if they come to believe the slightest stumble will render them unlovable. 

Similar to the scapegoat is the troublemaker, the one who starts fights and objects to the instructions. Troublemakers usually come from families in which there is a large and hard to manage the problem and it’s much easier for everyone’s psyche to define the problem as child #whatever. The child’s peers who might occasionally feel oppositional don’t have to be, because ‘the troublemaker’ will kick up a fuss for them. They relieve the stress of those around them but need to be guided into ways to relieve their own stress. 

Children’s behavior at play can tell you what you need to know about them. We only need to look more carefully.  

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Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office she analyzed many forms of trace evidence as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI in Florida and is the author of thirteen traditionally published novels. Some of which have been translated into six other languages, one has been optioned for film and one reached the NYT bestseller’s list. The latest is Suffer the Children, which involves forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner in a series of deaths inside a center for violent children. 

http://www.lisa-black.com

 

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Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Crime Scene, Guest Blogger, Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Dennis Palumbo: EROTOMANIA

EROTOMANIA: When the bad guy’s motive is a delusion

By Dennis Palumbo

Nietzsche once wrote, “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Perhaps. Then again, Nietzsche never met Sebastian Maddox, the villain in my latest suspense thriller, Head Wounds. It’s the fifth in my series about Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police.

What makes the brilliant, tech-savvy Maddox so relentlessly dangerous is that he’s in the grip of a rare delusion called erotomania, also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome.

Simply put, erotomania is a disorder in which a person–in this case, Maddox–falsely believes that another person is in love with him, deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must often be hidden due to some social, personal, or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Sometimes it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.

Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. They can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person with erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public or doing certain gestures whose meaning is only known to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.

What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.

I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.

As psychoanalyst George Atwood once said of any delusion, “it’s a belief whose validity is not open to discussion.”

This is especially true of erotomania. People exhibiting its implacable symptoms can rarely be shaken from their beliefs.

Like Parsifal in his quest for the Holy Grail, nothing dissuades them from their mission.

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In Head Wounds, Sebastian Maddox’s crusade–when thwarted in his desires–turns quite deadly and requires all of Rinaldi’s resourcefulness to save someone he cares about. In real life, the treatment options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually antipsychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.

What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction–the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.

Nonetheless, as philosopher Charles Renouvier reminds us, “Plainly speaking, there is no such thing as certainty. There are only people who are certain.”

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BIO: Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineThe Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, all from Poisoned Pen Press), feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. For more info, visit http://www.dennispalumbo.com 

 

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.: Killer Pen Pals

 

Killer Pen Pals

Whenever I give talks about my work, people sometimes ask how they can be pen pals with a serial killer. They’ve gotten hooked on true crime shows and they have the idea that because offenders are behind bars, they’re no longer dangerous. This would give the would-be correspondent a “safe” form of titillation and something cool to tell friends.

Sometimes, people just want to ease someone’s (or their own) loneliness. So, they look for an inmate who seeks connection.

I’m not talking about criminologists and journalists who correspond with killers to acquire information to improve our comprehension. I’m talking about people – especially kids – who think it would be fun to write to a killer. Often, they don’t grasp the potential consequences of having an offender focused on them. Not only do inmates know people on the outside whom they might persuade to be their proxy, but some of them eventually get out, too.

There are plenty of stories about pen pals becoming so enamored that they turn into prison groupies. In fact, in British news this week, a young pen pal from Poland supposedly became engaged to the ailing Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe. He’s 72. She’s 17. This kind of bond can make a person more vulnerable to manipulation.

It doesn’t take much searching to find examples where such relationships have ended in murder. Phillip Carl Jablonski murdered his wife in 1978. He was serving a sentence for it when he placed an ad for a pen pal. Carol Spadoni answered it. In 1982, they got married while he was still in prison. He got out in 1990. A year later, he sexually assaulted and shot Carol’s mother and suffocated Carol with duct tape before stabbing her to death. (That same month, he also murdered two other women.)

These potentially violent inmates can hook people by talking about how lonely they are and how they’re looking for love. They promise that they’ve reformed, they’re “spiritual” now, and they just need a friend. Some pen pals want to give them a second chance. Laura Jean Torres offered a helping hand to violent ex-con Robert Hernandez, who’d served time for aggravated battery. Torres ended up fatally stabbed.

David Goodell, 33, murdered pen pal Viviana Tulli, 22. They’d met when she was 16 and began a relationship through correspondence when he went to prison for assault. Once Doodell was out on parole, they reunited. Their mutual affection was short-lived as he soon strangled her to death. Hoping to avoid prison, he decided to fake a fatal car crash. Putting sunglasses and a hat on Tulli’s corpse, he placed it in the front seat of her car. His staging failed and he was arrested. In 2013, he pleaded guilty.

Darren Pilkington, convicted of manslaughter at 18, had a reputation for being a troubled kid. From prison, he put out word that he wanted a pen pal, which got the attention of 15-year-old Carly Fairhurst, five years younger than him. When she was 16, she visited him in prison, and after he was freed, he moved in with her. He soon began to abuse her. In 2006, after they came home from a pub, they argued. Pilkington hit Carly and she fell down the stairs. He covered her, waiting until morning to call for help. She died a week later from her injuries.

And it’s not just females who are vulnerable.

In 2014, Scott Kratlian fatally strangled 82-year-old Harry Major, a former high school teacher. The men had become pen pals while Kratlian was serving a sentence for manslaughter. Upon his release, Major invited Kratlian to move in. That was a fatal mistake.

Then there was Thomas Knuff, on parole in Ohio after serving 15 years for armed robbery and home invasion. He’d become acquainted with John Mann, 65, and his girlfriend Regina Capobianco, 50, through a prison pen pal program. He’d asked them to pick him up. Since he had nowhere to go, they brought him to their home, where he tied them up and stabbed them, killing both. He then lived in their home, with the bodies, for a week.

Edward Andrews started a correspondence with Thomas Jeffrey Brooks, nearly forty years younger than him. Upon Brooks’ release in 2007, he moved into Andrews’ mobile home. They became lovers, or so Andrews believed. Brooks had other ideas. With an accomplice, he killed Andrews, wrapped his body in duct tape, entombed it in a cement egg in a former employer’s rock garden and drained Andrews’ bank accounts.

“It’s not shocking when inmates behave like criminals,” says former U. S. Probation Officer Sally Keglovits. “It’s what most people expect. Manipulation comes with the territory and it’s not difficult for them to project a sympathetic image while in prison. What is somewhat shocking is the number of people who invite and encourage manipulation. They fall in love with an image that an inmate created. Reality can slap them in the face, often literally, upon the inmate’s release.”

Although many offenders do benefit from a kind word and a helping hand, those people who wish to assist (or acquire a more serious friend) should learn the behavioral red flags. Past violence is among the best indicators of future violence. So is a lack of remorse for harming others, a history of deception, a lack of respect for others, and a tendency to blame others for one’s own behavioral issues. Convictions for murder, sexual or physical assault, home invasion and crimes involving deadly weapons all foreshadow a dim future with such offenders. Often, they have poor skills for inhibiting impulses and for negotiating in relationships.

More to the point, what they’re like behind bars is no indication of what they might be like once free. Those who seek to become an inmate’s pen pal need to educate themselves about risk factors.

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

Originally posted on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201807/killer-pen-pals

 

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/

 
 

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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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

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Predators and Prey

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PREDATORS AND PREY

When my husband and I were buying our second home, the bank we went to suggested an adjustable-rate mortgage. It had a nice rate, much lower than the 30-year fixed, which “couldn’t go up more than 2% per year,” and we “could lock it in at any time.” Period. For some reason I cannot recall, something made me check into this further. I was not good at math and certainly had no head for business, which had always bored me silly, but I did have a job as a secretary, which meant I had a phone, an office in which to use it all day long, and time. I wound up talking to four different people at three different banks before I got the situation clear. The rate that could be “locked in” was a completely different rate—not the adjustable rate at all, but the prime rate plus whatever the bank currently tacked on, a rate that was already higher than the 30-year fixed. When we met with the loan officer I reconfirmed this, and she said only, “But the adjustable rate might go down.” (As it turned out, it did, but still—I’m going to base thirty years of payments on “might”? I don’t think so.)

We passed on the ARM.

But questionable, risky and downright deceptive loaning practices went on, and my hometown, the setting of my books, suffered greatly. As a consumer activist explains to my detectives in Perish:

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“If you remember the housing bust, 2008, thirty percent of Slavic village homes went into foreclosure, Cleveland led the country in vacant homes, etcetera etcetera?”

Riley said only, “Yes.”

“Because mortgage originators like Sterling made loans to people they knew bloody well could never pay them. They set it up, collect their fees for doing a little paperwork, the investors get monthly payments, borrowers begin paying off their house, everybody’s happy.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“You know how that Greek guy said everything had to be in moderation?”

“Yeah?”

“When there’s money being made, moderation goes out the window. Even people with bad credit don’t want to pay high rates and, obviously, don’t have the money to pay high payments, so . . . creative math. Adjustable rates that you can ‘lock in’—except the rate you’re locking in is a completely different rate, prime plus whatever the bank feels like tacking on, so from day one this will already be higher than a thirty-year fixed. Low rates with balloon payments, which would work out fine if you know you’re going to win the lottery in three years. Interest-only payments, in which you aren’t paying a penny of the principal until the payment leaps up by one or two hundred percent in, say, seven years.”

“But—” Riley began.

“Exactly. Why make loans you know are going to fail? Because Wall Street compensation is based on that year’s performance. All the higher-ups get bonuses based on a percentage of profit—for CEOs this can be millions, double- and triple-digit millions. So when they will make more in one year than most people could make in several lifetimes, they don’t think in the long run.

“These firms—Ameriquest, Long-Term Capital, Long Beach Mortgage, and now Sterling—they don’t care if they falsify paperwork, whether they let their clients lie about their income, whether they flat out defraud their clients by pretending to sign them up for a fixed rate and then fake the papers to put them in an adjustable rate—because by the time their monthly payment suddenly triples and they default, the original firm is long out of it and the borrower is arguing with a company that never knew them and only knows what the original firm told it.” Ned went on, using both hands for emphasis. “People have to fight back. Cleveland and a bunch of other cities sued the lenders, but the mortgage banker’s association donated a few million to the state political parties and the lawsuits were thrown out. The Federal Reserve, the SEC, Congress threw up their hands and said there was nothing they could do. In 2008 the music finally stopped and some dancers collapsed, the government bailed out the rest, and our lawmakers were supposed to make laws so this couldn’t happen again.”

Jack’s legs twitched, aching to move, to do something.

“Except with caps on their compensation the investment banks and mortgage banks had plenty of money to keep up the kickbacks to the political parties, so the new laws wound up watered down into trickles.”

“Wait,” Jack said. “Are you protesting things that happened ten years ago, or things that are happening now?”

“The past is preface,” Swift said, but wiped away the smug tone when he saw Jack’s lack of appreciation for it. “The behavior I protested in 2008 slunk away for a while, laid low but never went away. Mortgage securities were a cash cow, and just because we slaughtered the cow doesn’t mean people lost their taste for milk. The big firms reined it in because no one, not even them, wants to go through that again, but little places like Joanna’s saw opportunity. Have you noticed commercials for instant credit and cold calls from barely legal sharks offering anyone who answers a no-collateral, pick-a-payment loan? They’re baaack—doing all the bad things they did before, but this time having the sense to get out before someone blows too hard on their house of cards.”

Borrower beware.

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Lisa Black has spent over twenty years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into six languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s list and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

www.lisa-black.com
@LisaBlackAuthor

 
 
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