The Knee Is One of the Five Worst Body Parts to Bite
At the end of every month, I scour the LexisNexis and Factiva news databases for stories about the criminal exploits of people who are allegedly high on the dissociative drug phencyclidine, or PCP. Urban legend maintains that a dose of PCP—also known as angel dust—can give you superstrength, or make you hunger for human flesh. These are exaggerations. That said, PCP can lower a user’s inhibitions in newsworthy fashion. To wit:
PCP is back in style. Hooray? A new government study found that emergency room visits for PCP-related incidents rose by more than 400 percent between 2005 and 2011. “This report is a wake-up call that this dangerous drug may be making a comeback in communities throughout the nation,” said the director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which performed the study. This is certainly bad news for communities throughout the nation, but it’s great news for crime bloggers who write monthly columns about PCP-addled weirdos.
World’s worst houseguest. When New York man Dennis “Bam” Hill decided to visit Philadelphia before Thanksgiving, it was only natural that he would stay with his friend Darryll Martin. But Martin’s generosity was flouted when, according to police, Hill became enraged late one night and threatened to kill Martin’s young daughters with some kitchen utensils. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Hill was under the influence of PCP when he grabbed the girls with his “gargantuan mitts” and threatened their lives with the forks and the knives. Martin tried to reason with his friend, but that didn’t work, so he whacked him with a baseball bat, which did work. This should serve as a warning to all of us to avoid having houseguests, especially houseguests named “Bam” with gargantuan mitts.
Hellcab. When I’m feeling aimless and desperate, I like to drink a case of beer and cry myself to sleep. When Bronx man Robert Mizell was feeling “aimless and desperate” this fall, he allegedly pulled a gun on an NYC cabbie and demanded that the driver take him to Albany. We’ve all got different ways of coping, I guess. Mizell, who was indicted for the crime last month, made it as far as Tarrytown before the cabbie escaped; the Journal News reports that Mizell had “smoked PCP-laced marijuana” before embarking on the voyage. I’d like to briefly note that the Journal News article about this incident was written by Erik Shilling, a friend and former roommate of mine. I’m thrilled to see that Erik and I have both fulfilled our dreams of writing about whacked-out PCP users for a living. We made it, buddy!
I bite your knee, sir! This month’s naked-guy story comes from Manchester, Conn., where, according to Jesse Leavenworth at the Hartford Courant, cops found a naked, disoriented man named Jarees Robinson standing on a street corner. (According to police, Robinson later admitted that he had taken PCP.) After he was brought to a local hospital, Robinson became aggressive, allegedly going so far as to bite a police officer on the knee. Not to be a Monday-morning quarterback, but if this story is true, then Jarees Robinson could really use some lessons in biting. The knee is one of the top five worst body parts to bite: It’s not very fleshy, it’s hard to get to, and the person being bitten will likely retaliate by smashing his knee into your mouth, thus causing you more pain than you yourself delivered. If Robinson finds himself strung out on the mean streets of Manchester, he needs to go for an arm. And, just in case you were wondering, here are the other four worst body parts to maliciously bite: elbow (even less fleshy than the knee), armpit (hair gets in the way), foot (usually protected by a shoe), and teeth (redundant).
Please don’t Scream. An Allentown, Pa., teenager named Javier Humberto Toro was sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison after he was convicted of robbing three convenience stores while hopped up on a variety of illegal drugs, including PCP. To conceal his identity, Toro wore the same sort of scary mask used in the Scream films, probably hoping that police would end up pinning the crimes on Matthew Lillard. “He is truly a danger to society,” the judge said of Toro, likely worrying that the publicity surrounding his crimes might convince Wes Craven to make another horrible Scream movie.
PCP Story of the Month. According to police, a Dallas woman named Reshonda Fields smoked some PCP this November and went on a destructive joy ride that ended when her car smashed into a pole and caught on fire. Fields allegedly told the cops that “she had fun driving erratically,” which I’m sure she did. But a closer look at the situation reveals that Fields might deserve our sympathy instead of our scorn.
“I just had a bad day. My kids are testing me. My baby’s father won’t make him mind,” Fields said after she was arrested, according to NBCDFW.com. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt nobody. I really don’t.” At one point or another, every mother has been pushed to the breaking point by her kids’ misbehavior and her partner’s apparent indifference. Sure, most women don’t proceed to allegedly smoke PCP and wreak havoc on the roadways, but, hey, not everyone can afford a trip to Rancho Relaxo. Fields is currently facing several criminal charges. What she really needs is a hug.
Previous Months in PCP: This Probably Isn't What They Meant When They Promised Us Flying Cars; This Is What Happens When You Hide Liquid PCP in Your Shoe; An Alleged PCP User Was in an Ambulance. It Crashed. Here's What Happened Next; The Guy Who Allegedly Had the Drug in His Sock and Asked Cops “Am I Dead?”; Firetruck Follies and the World’s Worst Sandwich; Car Crashes, Delusions of Divinity, and a Big Night in Monroe, La.; Naked Guys, Car Chases, and Big Jugs of Sweet Tea (That Are Full of PCP).
$10,000 Reward in Stolen-Whiskey Case Won’t Actually Buy You Much Whiskey
The Associated Press reports that Kentucky authorities are now offering a $10,000 reward for information that could help them catch the bandits who stole 74 cases of expensive, limited-edition whiskey from a Frankfort distillery this October. Sixty-five cases of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old bourbon went missing from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, along with nine cases of 13-year Van Winkle Family Reserve rye whiskey.
Investigators initially focused on a local man who allegedly tried to sell large quantities of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year to a liquor store. But the man is no longer a suspect, and authorities are now hoping that the reward money might help them turn up some better leads. The local sheriff, doing an admirable job as hype man, stressed to the media that $10,000 in reward money could make for “a heck of a Christmas.” You know what else would make for a heck of a Christmas? Seventy-four cases of rare and delicious whiskey.
It’s highly unlikely that the thieves stole the whiskey for drinking purposes, given that Pappy Van Winkle 20-year can fetch a handsome sum on the secondary market. A bottle was listed at $900 on Craigslist this weekend—at that price, $10,000 wouldn’t even buy 12 bottles of the stuff.
Though the 20-year started out as a niche drink meant for serious whiskey enthusiasts, it soon became popular among wealthy philistines who believe that expensive things taste better. These people snatch up the 20-year as soon as it is released each year, and its retail scarcity thus inflates its black-market and online-resale value. That’s where the stolen whiskey went, you can bet on it. And the publicity surrounding the theft will only help raise the whiskey’s profile and push resale prices higher. Oh, those clever whiskey thieves! And for those who love Pappy Van Winkle, those higher prices might make for a very sad Christmas indeed.
The Presidential Candidate Who Shot and Killed a Girl When He Was 12
There are few modern historical figures I admire more than Adlai E. Stevenson, the thoughtful and self-aware mid-century politician best known today for being a perennial presidential also-ran. Stevenson was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956—he lost both times to Dwight Eisenhower, just in case you fell asleep in your high school history class—and he narrowly missed out on the 1960 nomination when the Democrats instead tapped John F. Kennedy. Stevenson initially refused the 1952 nomination; at the time, he was governor of Illinois. “I just didn't feel that I had any God-given powers to figure out the solution to coexistence with the Soviet Union and all our other tremendous problems,” he explained later. Stevenson had none of the pathological self-assurance that infects so many other politicians. He was keenly aware of his own flaws and limitations, and openly admitted those limitations in disarming fashion. He was a good writer and a modest man, and he lived in Libertyville, Ill., a 12-minute drive from where I grew up. I like him a lot.
But, until yesterday, I wasn’t aware that Stevenson had a terrible tragedy in his past, something that likely played a part in making him the man he grew up to become. In December 1912, the 12-year-old Stevenson unintentionally shot and killed a 15-year-old cousin-of-a-cousin named Ruth Merwin when a rifle he was handling unexpectedly discharged. As Noel F. Busch tells it in his 1952 biography of Stevenson, Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, the future politician’s sister was holding a party when a military-academy student in attendance was urged to perform the military manual of arms. Adlai Stevenson fetched a rifle, which the student examined for safety before performing the drill. Unfortunately, the student wasn’t completely thorough in his examination, and one shell remained in the rifle. A few minutes later, when Stevenson took the gun and attempted to mimic the older boy’s performance, the gun suddenly discharged. Here’s Busch:
The bullet entered Ruth Merwin's forehead. She fell dead, on the carpet in the hall. The elder Stevensons returned a few minutes later.
"What boy did this?" Lewis Stevenson asked.
"I did," said Adlai. Then he went up to his room and lay down on the bed.
At an inquest the next day, he was cleared of all blame for the accident. The account of the inquest published in the Pantagraph mentioned that “Adlai Stevenson, prostrated with grief, was unable to be present.”
That’s the official story. But in his thorough 1976 biography, Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, John Bartlow Martin tells a different tale. An anonymous eyewitness whom Martin interviewed claims that “Adlai took the gun from the other boy, pointed it at one of the girls, Ruth Merwin, and pulled the trigger.” This, honestly, sounds more believable than the other story, and more in line with what we know about how unintentional child shooting deaths generally happen. Guns do not often discharge on their own, even old and rusty guns. But it’s entirely plausible that a 12-year-old boy, equally intrigued by guns and girls, might pick up a gun and point it at a girl, hoping to throw a scare into her. It’s just as plausible that, hoping to avoid further tragedy, the family might close ranks and insist that the gun accidentally discharged.
If this had happened in 2012 instead of 1912, I would almost certainly be writing about how Stevenson’s parents ought to face criminal charges over Merwin’s death, for neglecting basic gun-safety protocols like “don’t leave a loaded rifle unsecured in the attic.” But you can’t realistically apply modern standards to the early-20th-century world. We do know that, for years thereafter, guns were barred from the Stevenson home. And for the rest of his life, Stevenson remained silent about the incident—not even mentioning it to his wife—until a Time reporter broached the subject during an interview in 1952.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t affected by it. Most of Stevenson’s biographers have speculated on the effect the shooting may have had on Stevenson’s life. In his 1966 book Adlai Stevenson: Citizen of the World, Bill Severn notes that some of Stevenson’s friends “thought his whole character was changed by it, his feelings deepened and strengthened in a desire to always do what was right.” John Bartlow Martin suggests that Stevenson’s residual guilt over the incident “may explain his self-doubts and his protestations of unworthiness,” as well as his lifelong habit of “turning triumphs into disasters, honors into burdens, as unconscious penance for his deed.” At the very least, we can say that Stevenson carried the memory of Ruth Merwin with him until he died. In 1955, Stevenson wrote a letter to a woman he had never met, whose son had unintentionally killed another child. His advice was heartfelt and brief: “Tell him that he must live for two.”
Previous coverage of child shootings:
A Guide for Reporters: How to Write about Unintentional Child Shootings
A New Study Shows Why It’s So Important to Reduce Child Gunshot Injuries
Gun Safety Laws Are Pointless If Nobody Bothers to Enforce Them
There Are Way More Unintentional Child Shootings Than Anyone Thought
California's Strict New Access Prevention Law Won't Do Much to Stop Child Shooting Deaths
Trigger Locks, the Dubiously Effective Safety Measure that Gun Control Advocates Love
Another “Accidental” Shooting. Another Child Dead. Another State Claims, Wrongly, That No One Is at Fault.
Is It Ever Really an Accident When a 4-Year-Old Shoots and Kills His Father?
Why Would Anyone Steal an Enormous Passenger Ferry?
As multiple Seattle-based sources have reported, a man named Samuel K. McDonough checked “steal a ferry” off his bucket list on Sunday, allegedly scaling a fence at a Seattle dock, starting up the 132-foot Victoria Clipper IV, and sending it out into beautiful Elliott Bay, where it drifted for several hours before a SWAT team clambered aboard and put an end to the madness. (The SWAT team only intervened after talks between McDonough and a police negotiator hit a standstill, and I would love to know exactly where the talks went wrong. “I told you to call me Commodore McDonough. This phone call is over!”) McDonough last made news in 2012, when he was convicted of felony indecent exposure after masturbating in front of two female baristas at a local coffee stand. His alleged exploits this Sunday were less disgusting, but ultimately just as fruitless; reports indicate that McDonough was unable to master the ferry’s steering mechanism, and the ship just ended up spinning around in circles.
The Associated Press notes that, in the wake of Sunday’s incident, the ferry’s owner is “talking with the Coast Guard and a maritime consultant to review its security and block any other would-be pirates.” This is probably justified—“build a higher fence” would be my first recommendation—although I doubt that we’re going to start seeing a wave of ferry thefts. As every professional vehicle thief knows, there really isn’t much you can do with a stolen passenger ferry. You can’t hide it, or repaint it, or bring it to some seedy maritime chop shop. It has little to no black-market resale value. You can’t use it to lead cops on an exciting high-speed chase, because the cops’ watercraft will surely be faster than yours. About all you can do is drift along the water, maybe blowing your horn every now and then. Stealing a ferry is probably the least lucrative form of vehicle theft that exists.
It is also probably one of the most enjoyable. If you don’t really care about speed and/or profit, then “ferry” has to be on any list of “Top Three Fun Vehicles to Steal,” right after zeppelin and time machine. You’re out on the water in a huge ship, cruising around at a reasonable speed, waving to the folks on the shore. What could be better? Sure, you’re not going to make any money from your crime, but can you really put a price on the pleasures of joyriding upon the waves in a massive boat that you probably don’t know how to steer? No. No, you cannot.
"You've Got the Wrong Guy," Claim St. Louis Arrestees. Often, They're Telling the Truth.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been doing some great work lately reporting on the number of mistaken-identity arrests in that city. Robert Patrick and Jennifer S. Mann report that local police have wrongfully arrested about 100 people over the past seven years; lawyers suing the city suspect the true number might be much higher. People have been wrongfully arrested for a variety of stupid reasons: because their names are similar to the people actually being sought; because of clerical errors; because their name was given as an alias by the real suspect; and so on. Some of the wrongfully arrested have lost jobs over the mistakes. Some have done extended and unnecessary stints in jail. One man, “concerned about passing down wrongful-arrest problems that have jailed him for weeks, hesitated to give his newborn son his name. He explained, ‘I don’t know how far this could go.’ ”
What’s most aggravating, according to the Post-Dispatch, is that nearly all of these wrongful arrests could have been avoided if officers had simply paid attention to the fingerprint discrepancies between the people they sought and the ones they arrested—or if, like other police departments, St. Louis equipped its officers with mobile fingerprint readers that can verify a person’s identity on the spot. And sometimes, officers don’t even have to examine the fingerprint data to realize they’ve arrested the wrong person:
A vehicle theft warrant should have gone out for William Lamont Willis, who has only eight fingers. Instead, William Earl Willis, who has all 10 digits, was charged and arrested at least three times, despite multiple fingerprint comparisons.
He was one of several individuals with physical differences that authorities could easily have noticed; a permanently closed eye, for instance, or someone’s own name tattooed on his arm.
On the other hand, the tattoo could’ve been a devious trick designed to throw the cops off the scent, right? Right? Anyway, you’ve probably already guessed that most of the people being wrongfully arrested are poor and black. Many of them have criminal records of their own, which just compounds the problem. Cops are already prone to distrust suspects who claim they have been arrested in error; they’re even less likely to believe the excuse when it comes from arrestees with existing rap sheets. To be sure, cops hear “You’ve got the wrong guy” just about every single day, and it’s rarely true. But there’s no excuse for failing to rectify the error when they do arrest the wrong guy.
The fact that mistaken-identity errors are allowed to linger for so long uncorrected is a clear indication of pass-the-buck management—of the city’s failure to establish protocols that would hold specific people responsible for getting these things wrong. The Post-Dispatch has done a great job establishing that St. Louis has a wrongful-arrest problem, and that it largely comes down to systemic indifference. St. Louis officials have vehemently disputed the paper’s reporting on this matter, even though, as the paper’s editor has written, “no one in an official capacity has directly detailed any specific factual errors.” Rather than playing damage control, the city should just swallow its pride and fix the problem that the Post-Dispatch has so ably documented.
No, This Woman Was Not Performing Satanic Rituals and Sexually Abusing Preschoolers
The Austin American-Statesman just published a story on the case of Fran Keller, a Texas woman who, in 1992, was convicted along with her husband of sexually abusing several children. Keller was freed on Tuesday; her husband will probably be freed sometime next week. Both have served 21 years after being convicted of crimes that almost certainly never happened. The charges against them, which centered on the allegation that they were performing Satanic rituals, were so outlandish that they ought to have been questioned from the start.
Though it seems ridiculous today, in the 1980s and early 1990s, many Americans were convinced that Satanic rituals presented an immediate threat to the nation’s children. Religious zealots and dubiously qualified psychotherapists insisted that Satanists had hatched a worldwide conspiracy targeting innocent children, often in preschools and day-care centers, and a credulous nation listened. A 1987 Geraldo special on the topic drew a record audience, with Geraldo Rivera asserting that American Satanists had built “a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography, and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town.” (Rivera later apologized for his role in feeding the frenzy.)
The Satanic panic led to several criminal cases. By subjecting suggestible children to leading questions, investigators were often able to elicit answers that appeared to validate the Satanic ritual abuse charges. Several of these cases came to trial. The Kellers’ was one of them. Today, the allegations against the Kellers seem like the products of active young imaginations, nothing more. Here’s the American-Statesman:
The children also accused the Kellers of forcing them to watch or participate in the killing and dismemberment of cats, dogs and a crying baby. Bodies were unearthed in cemeteries and new holes dug to hide freshly killed animals and, once, an adult passer-by who was shot and dismembered with a chain saw. The children recalled several plane trips, including one to Mexico, where they were sexually abused by soldiers before returning to Austin in time to meet their parents at the day care.
The only physical evidence of abuse in the case has been discredited; the doctor who originally testified that he found tears in one 3-year-old girl’s hymen that were “consistent with sexual abuse” now believes that hers was a normal pediatric hymen. “Sometimes it takes time to figure out what you don’t know,” the doctor testified this August during an appeal hearing.
That is undoubtedly true. But it shouldn’t take 21 years to figure out that outlandish claims of ritual Satanic abuse are not rooted in reality. And it shouldn’t take 21 years to successfully challenge a case that shouldn’t have been brought in the first place. “A 21st century court ought to be able to recognize a 20th century witch-hunt and render justice accordingly,” the Kellers’ attorney wrote in his appeal. It’s to our shame that the witch hunt ever happened in the first place.
Note: Tuesday, Nov. 26 marked the one-year anniversary of Slate’s crime blog, and, thus, the one-year anniversary of my tenure as Slate’s crime blogger. (Gifts and well-wishes can be sent care of Slate’s New York offices.) I began the year with a piece about erotic cannibalism, and I close it with this piece about ritual Satanic abuse. The rest of the year was sorely lacking in stories of lurid horror-crime, but I think it was a good year all the same. Thanks for sticking with me thus far!
Another Day, Another Murder Plot Foiled By an Accidental Butt-Dialing
Name: Larry Barnett
Alleged crime: Conspiracy to commit murder.
Fatal mistake: Letting the intended victim in on the conspiracy.
The circumstances: Larry Barnett, a used car dealer in Jonesboro, Ark., had a problem: He owed a former employee a lot of money. Rather than pay what he owed, Barnett allegedly decided to solve the problem by having the employee killed. (World’s worst boss?) So Barnett allegedly contacted a hit man, and the two began discussing various details about the target, like where he lived, and why he needed to die. In the middle of this discussion, according to police, Barnett somehow accidentally called the intended victim, who proceeded to eavesdrop on Barnett’s plan. Four out of five murder plots are foiled in exactly this fashion. When will criminals learn?
Put yourself in the former employee’s place for a minute. You’re sitting at home, maybe eating some chips, when the phone rings. Oh, great, it’s my old boss Larry! Maybe he’s calling about the money he owes me. I’d better not let this call go to voicemail! And then you pick up to allegedly find that Larry is actively trying to have you killed—and not for the first time. According to KAIT8.com, “the target overheard that Barnett had attempted to have him killed once prior but ‘they couldn't get the job done,’ ” probably because the assassin slipped on a banana peel.
According to KAIT8.com, the alleged target went to the police. (And not a moment too soon, either: He returned later to find his house had been burglarized and his gas stove “tampered with.”) The cops arrested Barnett, and afterwards were very confused about how something as dumb as this could happen. “I’ve been here now for 25 years and I’ve never recalled a time when a subject has accidentally, if you will, ‘butt-dialed’ someone they’re either trying to commit a crime against or the possible victim of the crime,” a local cop told the media.
How he could have been a lot smarter: Much like the last dumb-criminal butt-dialing story I featured in this space, Barnett’s troubles could’ve been avoided if he would have remembered to lock his keypad, or keep his phone in one of those little cases you clip to your belt. Yes, those little cases look lame, but they could come in handy during your next murder-for-hire plot.
How he could have been a little smarter: Butt-dialed a competing hitman in hopes of sparking a bidding war that might drive down the price of the murder.
How he could have been a little dumber: Intentionally dialed his intended victim to inform him of the murder plot, out of some misguided sense of fair play.
How he could have been a lot dumber: Butt-dialed the target, butt-dialed the police, and butt-dialed a local TV news crew, and then butt-conferenced them all in to the dumbest group chat in the history of the telephone.
Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): Oh, butt-dialing, God’s gift to Dumb Criminal columnists. This particular story is very, very dumb, but it’s more an accident than anything else—a very dumb accident that could have been avoided, but an accident nevertheless. And I have to give Barnett credit for allegedly being competent enough to hire an actual hit man, rather than an undercover cop posing as one on the Internet. Still, this was dumb. 8.5 out of 10 for the alleged butt-dialer.
Previous Dumb Criminals:
The Guy Who Allegedly Tried to Rob a Gun Shop with a Baseball Bat
The Three Guys Who Accidentally Butt-Dialed 911 Mid-Crime
The Alleged Burglar Who Fell Asleep on a Bear Skin Mid-Burglary
The Alleged Disability Insurance Scammers Whose Frauds Got Caught on Camera
The Pimply Guy Who Stole a Bunch of Bus Transfers
The Guy Who Tried to Outrun the Cops on a Very, Very Slow-Moving Moped
The Drunk Driver Who Boasted About It on Facebook
The Guy Who Gave the Cops an Absolutely Terrible Fake Name
The Job Candidate Who Told the FBI about His Child Porn Stash
Holiday Tip: Do Not Threaten to Kill Your Local Bartender
How do you know when you’ve had too much to drink? Fuzzy vision and lowered inhibitions are two possible signs of inebriation. Threatening to kill the bartender because she has run out of your favorite tipple might be another. The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times reports that a local man allegedly did just that on Saturday, in a story that illustrates the dangers of excessive drink:
A woman told police that [Kofi T.] Reaves asked for a particular shot and told the woman: “You’re pretty, but I’m going to shoot you in your face” when the woman told him they were out of that type of liquor, according to his criminal complaint. Reaves repeated the comment three or four times and threw his chicken wings on the floor before leaving, the complaint stated.
Reaves was arrested and taken to the county jail, where staffers refused to admit him because his blood alcohol levels were too high, according to the Journal Times. He ended up at a local hospital.
It goes without saying that threatening a bartender with murder is not the best way to ensure good service. And it’s also obvious that someone who gets that upset when he drinks probably shouldn’t be drinking at all.
That brings me to today’s helpful public service announcement. We’re coming up on the holiday season, where tempers run high, stress is abundant, and many of us take solace in drink. While I would never blame anyone for choosing to flee to a local gin joint rather than spend time with his family, it’s important to know your limits, and to maintain decorum even during those times when it feels like the entire world is conspiring against you. Don’t drink to excess to forget your holiday troubles. Don’t take your stresses out on other people. And if your bar is out of your favorite drink, don’t toss wings on the ground and threaten gunplay. Choose another drink. Or play Ms. Pac-Man.
And if the Ms. Pac-Man machine is broken? That’s a subject for another post.
Did the Alleged Silk Road Kingpin Get Scammed Out of $650,000 by a Phony Hit Man?
Last week, federal prosecutors announced that Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged proprietor of the black market online vice emporium Silk Road, was now suspected of attempting to commission six murders, not just two. In addition to the alleged hits on a former site employee from Utah and a troublesome would-be blackmailer called “FriendlyChemist” in Canada, prosecutors now allege that Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) ordered the assassination of a Canadian Silk Road user named “tony76” and his three housemates. Ulbricht allegedly commissioned these hits from another Silk Road user named “redandwhite,” who was also the ostensible assassin in the first Canadian murder-for-hire plot. Police and prosecutors have no evidence to indicate that any of the five murders for which redandwhite was allegedly paid ever took place. (The hit on the ex-employee never took place, either; the “hit man” in that situation was actually a federal agent.)
Of all the aspects to this ongoing story, the redandwhite angle might be the most confusing. As far as we know, Ulbricht allegedly paid redandwhite $650,000 total to commit these murders. He may have believed that redandwhite was affiliated with the Hells Angels. (Ulbricht allegedly wrote that he “sent payment to angels for hit on tony76 and his 3 associates.”) He apparently received some sort of confirmation that convinced him that they actually took place. Beyond that, nobody really knows what happened. Who is redandwhite? What actually happened here? Here are a few theories that are now in circulation.
Redandwhite was running a very long con on Ulbricht. This is what probably happened: a clever grifter scammed Dread Pirate Roberts out of $650,000. If you believe this theory, whoever was behind the “redandwhite” account was in cahoots with the people whom Ulbricht allegedly was trying to have killed—or maybe redandwhite actually was one of those people. After allegedly convincing Ulbricht that “tony76” and “FriendlyChemist” posed a threat to Silk Road, redandwhite stepped in and offered to neutralize that threat, for a fee. Once Ulbricht allegedly paid for the hits, “redandwhite” staged a murder scene and the offending accounts disappeared, making it look like those users had been killed. This is an elaborate ruse, to be sure, but not an entirely implausible one.
Redandwhite was a government agent. Ulbricht had allegedly been scammed by a government agent posing as a hitman once before. Was the redandwhite saga a similar sting operation? It’s possible. The trouble with this theory is that the government has admitted its involvement in the first sting, which makes it odd that they wouldn’t do the same thing here. While I can think of reasons why the government might want to keep the details of this sort of operation secret—to avoid burning a confidential informant in an ongoing investigation, perhaps—and while it certainly seems like there’s stuff the government isn’t yet telling us about how it identified and caught Ulbricht, I find this theory less convincing than the “Ulbricht was scammed” one.
Redandwhite was an actual hit man, and did a great job covering his tracks. Highly dubious. The Canadian government said there’s no evidence that anyone was ever killed when, where, and how they were supposed to have been killed by redandwhite. Maybe the Canadians are just very bad at investigating or noticing murders. But it’s more likely that the murders never happened in the first place.
The FBI’s Files on Camus and Sartre Confirm the Utter Meaninglessness of It All
It didn’t take much to get your own FBI file back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover; harboring novel ideas on the nature of human existence would suffice. That’s according to a new piece in the British magazine Prospect, which reports that, starting in 1945 and 1946, the FBI kept tabs on famed philosophers and authors Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, in hopes of discovering whether existentialism and absurdism were just communism in disguise. To Hoover, “everything was potentially a coded re-write of the Communist Manifesto,” writes Prospect’s Andy Martin. “Thus we find intelligence agents studying scholarly works and attending lectures.”
It’s funny to think of square-jawed G-Men poring over copies of The Stranger in hopes of discovering some secret cipher in Meursault’s musings, or donning turtlenecks and smoking Gauloises to blend in at collegiate lecture halls. But it’s also an aggravating reminder of just how much money and time the FBI wasted—and quite possibly continues to waste—snooping on people who were never a threat to anyone. And in the beginning, at least, the FBI seemed to have little idea of who Camus and Sartre even were. Hoover kick-started the Camus investigation by asking the head of the New York field office to take notice of “one ALBERT CANUS.” Martin notes that the misspelling was corrected when an agent “had the guts to inform the director that ‘the subject’s true name is ALBERT CAMUS, not ALBERT CANUS’ (diplomatically hypothesizing that ‘Canus’ was probably an alias he had cunningly adopted).” Cunning, indeed!
Camus and Sartre aren’t the only midcentury writers the FBI kept tabs on. Earlier this year the website MuckRock posted the FBI’s 35-page file on author and misanthrope Gore Vidal, an unabashed critic of the FBI and its leader; when Vidal insulted the FBI on a late-night television program, agents discussed whether they should respond by anonymously writing to the network with complaints that the show “stunk” and should be cancelled. After Norman Mailer, in Esquire, criticized Jackie Kennedy for being “excessively soft-spoken,” Hoover instructed his agents to look into Mailer’s life, according to a 2008 Washington Post article. This meant not only monitoring Mailer’s relationships and activities, but reading and responding to his work, sometimes hilariously; one agent remarks that Mailer’s Miami and the Siege of Chicago “is written in his usual obscene and bitter style,” which is a line any book reviewer could be proud of. The FBI also monitored Charles Bukowski, and found that the famously dissolute writer was “an excellent tenant who never associates with any of his neighbors.” If that info had leaked, it might have destroyed Bukowski’s reputation.
None of these investigations ever came to anything, of course. And why would they? While existentialism and absurdism were subversive theories, in their way, they never posed any imminent or long-term harm to America, unless you consider a rise in the number of pretentious comp lit grad students to be a threat to national security. I’ll accept the notion that law enforcement agencies need to be free to pursue leads and develop investigations without too much civilian micromanagement. But eliminate civilian oversight entirely, and this ridiculous literary surveillance program is what you get. It’s enough to make a thoughtful man ponder the meaning of this crazy world, and why, exactly, we’re all here.