A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.

Dec. 9 2013 4:15 PM

The Krokodil Menace Now Seems Faker Than Ever (and It Already Seemed Very, Very Fake)

On Thursday, Time’s website ran a striking photo essay about the horrors of krokodil, the "flesh-eating” heroin substitute that is popular in Eastern Europe and, according to many in the media, is gaining ground in the United States. The Time piece, titled “The World’s Deadliest Drug: Inside a Krokodil Cookhouse,” brings readers to a drug den in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where addicts brewed and injected krokodil only to watch their bodies be ravaged by it. “There are now alarming stories that the monster could be at large in the U.S.,” writes Simon Shuster.

But as I noted last month, there’s no reason to think that’s true. And indeed, in his very next sentence, Shuster admits that “drug-enforcement officials say fears of an imminent krokodil epidemic are overblown.” In a good Columbus Dispatch piece on Sunday, Theodore Decker quoted a doctor who strongly refuted fears of a burgeoning epidemic:

“In the U.S., there is no krokodil,” said Dr. Henry Spiller, the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We’ve been chasing this for a while. There is no verified sample in anybody’s laboratory. None. Zero.”

Despite all the hype, there has been only one credible report of krokodil abuse in the United States. In an article published this fall on the website of the American Journal of Medicine, some St. Louis physicians reported treating a patient for krokodil abuse in 2012. But a couple weeks ago, the paper was temporarily removed from the AJM’s website; a spokeswoman for the hospital where the krokodil patient was allegedly treated told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the article had been “posted prematurely before it was fully reviewed.” The paper’s withdrawal came as no surprise to the science bloggers who had already criticized its methodological flaws, its inaccurate terminology, and its “terrible grammar.”

Disregard the American Journal of Medicine article, then, and we’re left with zero verified cases of krokodil abuse in the United States—some drug epidemic this is. The Dispatch piece goes on to explain why it’s unlikely that krokodil will ever catch on here. Krokodil is used in Russia and Eastern Europe because real heroin is scarce in those places, and, to an addict, a flesh-rotting heroin substitute synthesized from codeine and paint thinner is better than no heroin at all. But in the United States, heroin is not hard to find, and drug users here have no reason to resort to such desperate measures. As the Dispatch suggests, the only way that krokodil might become a thing is if the media keeps hyping it, thus leading curious people to try and acquire this famous new drug. Your move, journalists.

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Dec. 9 2013 2:54 PM

We Are Now Criminalizing Awesome Secret Compartments. What Is Wrong With This Country?

Ross Langdon had a problem. Though he had stolen more than $9,000 worth of goods from local residents, he apparently had no idea what to do with the loot. After presumably considering and dismissing options like “resell it online” and “return it with an apologetic note,” the Missouri man hit on a solution: He would hide the stolen goods in a secret compartment at the back of his kitchen pantry. A clever solution, but, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, not clever enough: Cops found both the hiding place and the stolen goods. Last week, Langdon was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Minor regional theft is not usually the sort of thing I write about, but I’m making an exception here because this minor regional theft involves a hidden compartment, and I have been obsessed with hidden compartments since I was a kid. As a child, I was delighted to learn that it was possible to conceal your valuables inside a hollowed-out book. (For more on this topic, consult the valuable Wikipedia article “Concealing objects in a book.”) Despite the fact that I did not own any valuables, I still wanted to have a hollowed-out book, and I remember using a pair of scissors to try and make one from a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It didn’t work—I just ended up ruining the book and blunting the scissors—but it made me feel stealthy all the same.

If we can agree that there’s nothing lamer than an inept secret compartment, let’s also stipulate that there’s nothing more impressive than a good one. These days, the best secret compartments are usually found in vehicles, where they are often used by criminals to conceal drugs, weapons, or other contraband. The most sophisticated of these “traps” look like the sort of thing you’d see in spy movies. Earlier this year in Wired, sometime Slate contributor Brendan I. Koerner wrote about Alfred Anaya, a California man who was among the best trap-car builders in the land. Anaya built intricate, almost undetectable secret compartments that could only be opened by hitting various buttons and switches in succession. Koerner mentions one trap installed behind the back seat of a truck, “which Anaya had rigged with a set of hydraulic cylinders linked to the vehicle’s electrical system. The only way to make the seat slide forward and reveal its secret was by pressing and holding four switches simultaneously: two for the power door locks and two for the windows.” The man was some sort of genius.

He was also, allegedly, a criminal, at least in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the DEA, much of Anaya’s business came from drug traffickers who used his “trap cars” to smuggle illegal narcotics cross-country. Though Anaya was not involved in the drug business himself, and took pains to avoid asking his clients about why they needed his compartments, the feds claimed he was an active conspirator all the same. A jury agreed, and Anaya is now serving a more-than-20-year sentence in federal prison.

While, as Koerner notes, it’s not a federal crime to build a hidden vehicular compartment, some states are passing laws that effectively make it a crime to have one installed. In 2012 Ohio passed a law making it a felony to knowingly build or install a trap “with the intent to facilitate the unlawful concealment or transportation of a controlled substance.” Intent is a malleable concept, though, and it can be troublesome from a civil-liberties standpoint. A week before Thanksgiving, Ohio state troopers arrested a man named Norman Gurley for having a secret compartment in his car. Though the compartment was completely empty, troopers still claimed that Gurley had intended to use it to smuggle illegal drugs. “Without the hidden compartment law, we would not have had any charges on the suspect,” a Highway Patrol lieutenant said after Gurley’s arrest.

Other people have already weighed in on why exactly that’s so problematic, and I won’t belabor the points that they have so capably made. All I’m going to say is that it strikes me as a damn shame, and somewhat un-American, to criminalize the sort of ingenuity you need to build a good trap-car. I have no problem with cops arresting people who build pathetic hidden compartments; those artless people deserve their fates. And if you’re caught concealing substantial quantities of illegal drugs, well, the fact that you may have violated a hidden-compartment law is probably the least of your worries. But merely conceiving of and installing a good one ought to be celebrated, not criminalized. Who says America doesn’t build things anymore?

Dec. 6 2013 3:26 PM

Cooking Meth in an RV Does Not Make You Walter White

Alleged crimes: Manufacturing methamphetamine, tampering with evidence.

Fatal mistake: Returning to the scene of the crime, and getting stuck there.

The circumstances: The television show Breaking Bad, for all its merits, was never particularly realistic when it came to the vicissitudes of the American meth trade. For example, people who start out cooking meth in an RV will not usually end up with millions of dollars and an international reputation for criminal brilliance. In real life, RV meth cooks are much more likely to end up driving that RV into a tight spot and getting stuck there, as deputies with search warrants look on in disbelief.

According to WOUB.org, that’s what happened to three dumb criminals in Shade, Ohio, last week. The Athens County Narcotics Enforcement Team had obtained a warrant to search an RV they believed was being used as a meth lab. When the deputies arrived at the place where the vehicle was stored, they learned that, just hours earlier, the suspected meth cooks had driven away, one step ahead of the law. The deputies went ahead and searched the property anyway, and while they were doing so, what should come tooling down the road but the missing RV, captained by the alleged meth cooks in question, who quickly realized they had made a very serious mistake by returning so soon. That mistake was compounded when, according to WOUB.org, “The driver of the RV saw the cruisers and attempted to turn around to leave the area, but got stuck.”

The driver got stuck. Come on now. If you’re operating a rolling meth lab, there’s only one thing you really need to worry about: Make sure it doesn’t ever get stuck. Stay away from narrow alleys. Avoid muddy roads. Don’t drive it into places where you won’t be able to turn around. Smart criminals like Walter White know these things. Dumb criminals forget them, and end up getting stuck—stuck in jail, that is.

How they could have been a lot smarter: Cooked their meth in a state-of-the-art underground superlab.

How they could have been a little smarter: Spent $50 on a police scanner.

How they could have been a little dumber: Set up shop in a vehicle that’s even more prone to getting stuck than an RV, like an ark. The turning radius is even less tight on an ark.

How they could have been a lot dumber: Somehow gotten stuck in a drug-free school zone, thus subjecting themselves to tens of additional years in prison.

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): Were these guys dumb, or just unlucky? Despite the premise of this column, I’m leaning toward the unlucky side of the ledger. It’s not really their fault that they allegedly came back to Meth HQ at the absolute worst possible moment to do so. Still, before you start manufacturing drugs in an RV, you ought to learn how to drive it. 3 out of 10 for Casteel, Storms, and Storms.

Dec. 6 2013 12:07 PM

Dallas, Texas, Is a Great Place to Run a Red Light

We already know that Dallas is a good city in which to shoplift. Apparently it’s a great place to run a red light, too. Scott Goldstein at the Dallas Morning News reports that the Dallas Police Department wrote 37,000 fewer traffic tickets in fiscal year 2012–2013 than in the previous fiscal year. While lead-footed scofflaws were ticketed 248,835 times in FY 11–12, they were only hit 211,843 times in FY 12–13. Ticket numbers have been steadily declining since FY 06–07, when Dallas cops issued 495,007 citations. Get thee to Texas, reckless drivers!

This, of course, means a dip in traffic-ticket revenue for the city of Dallas. Police Chief David Brown, however, says that’s not his concern: “The purpose of traffic enforcement is to improve traffic safety, not to raise revenue,” he said in a statement issued to the media. Anyone who has ever been caught in a gratuitous speed trap will likely stand up and cheer Brown’s response, but his statement doesn’t tell the whole story. As the Morning News’ Goldstein astutely pointed out, there’s another reason for the ticketing decline: “The Dallas Police Department, like its counterparts in other big U.S. cities, has shifted resources to concentrate on fighting violent crimes and property crimes, offenses that are reported to the FBI and widely used to assess the overall safety of cities.” It’s not that the DPD doesn’t want to be writing tickets and raising revenue, it’s that doing so doesn’t make the city safer in a way that can be bragged about publicly.

Maybe that’s too cynical. Running a modern police department is an exercise in resource prioritization. With a limited number of cops and a finite budget that, in many places, only seems to decrease, police departments cannot treat every crime report equally. They have to pick and choose, and for many departments, the correct choice is to focus on serious felonies while deprioritizing enforcement of and response to minor matters.

But then there’s the question of how you define “minor matters.” In Las Vegas, for instance, if you are shot but not killed, the police department will put very little institutional effort into finding the shooter. As J. Patrick Coolican at the Las Vegas Sun has reported, the LVPD concentrates its resources on solving homicides, at the expense of other, nonmurderous violent crimes. In cash-strapped Chicago, CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy has poured human resources and overtime payments into policing a few homicide-heavy “hot zones”; elsewhere in the city, the department has announced that 911 calls involving thefts, burglaries, and other nonviolent, nonimmediate incidents will no longer be speedily answered. In a perfect world, all of these cities, including Dallas, wouldn’t have to make these tough choices. But if I’m a Dallas resident, I wouldn’t be displeased with the choice the city seems to have made.

Dec. 5 2013 3:34 PM

Why William Bratton Is the Wrong Man to Lead the New York Police Department

The New York Times is reporting that New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has chosen William Bratton to succeed Ray Kelly as commissioner of the New York Police Department. This will be Bratton’s second stint in charge of the NYPD; he also ran the department during the Giuliani administration, and received much credit for the substantial drop in the city’s crime rate during his tenure. Since then, Bratton has gone on to command the Los Angeles Police Department, work in private industry, serve as a criminal justice commentator on NBC, and, weirdly, be named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. (Bratton narrowly beat out de Blasio’s second choice for the job: Sir Archibald Whitworth of Sussex.)

Bratton will be expected to keep the city safe while simultaneously renewing New Yorkers’ confidence in a police department that has been sharply criticized in recent years, most often for its divisive stop-and-frisk policy. (De Blasio has promised to reform stop-and-frisk, and this will be one of Bratton’s most important jobs.) There are plenty of reasons to think that Bratton’s up to the task. He has a reputation as a brilliant tactician and a lifelong innovator, a leader who’s good with organizational management and unafraid to delegate authority. He’s also an ambitious self-promoter who thinks very well of himself. That doesn’t really bother me: If hustlers and narcissists were disqualified from holding public office, then every city hall in America would be empty. But there are a couple of other, more substantial reasons why I think it’s valid to question whether Bratton is really the best man for the job.

For one thing, Bratton is a hard-core technocrat—in recent years, he co-founded a company called Bratton Technologies that, as far as I can tell, built some sort of social network for law enforcement officers. More significantly, in the 1990s Bratton developed and deployed CompStat, the crime statistics program that, by tracking arrest, summons, and complaint data citywide, was supposed to help the NYPD recognize patterns, evaluate its tactics, and better allocate its resources. Since then, many other police departments have adopted similar programs.

There’s nothing wrong with compiling good data on crime, and in acting on that data. But CompStat meetings too often become poisonous affairs where commanders are berated and embarrassed in front of their peers if they fail to show sustained statistical improvement in their precincts. If all that matters are the numbers, then managers will do whatever it takes to make those numbers look good, regardless of whether the tactics they use to do so are actually good for the community. This is the sort of mentality that leads police departments to impose arrest and summons quotas and artificially downgrade crime reports. This is exactly the mentality that leads to stop-and-frisk excess. We can expect Bratton to tout the uses of programs like CompStat. It remains to be seen whether he’ll want to curb the abuses, or whether he’ll be able to even if he wants to curb them.

Bratton also loves the “broken windows” theory of policing. Loves it, regularly defends it, would probably marry it if our laws allowed him to do so. And that might be a problem. As I’ve written before, adherents of the “broken windows” theory believe that a disorderly city is a dangerous city, and that taking a hard line on quality-of-life violations can help prevent more serious crimes. Under Rudy Giuliani’s direction, Bratton implemented broken-windows strategies in New York in the 1990s, and, lo and behold, the crime rate dropped. Bratton and Giuliani naturally saw this as a validation of these broken-windows tactics, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that other factors—like the end of the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic, for one thing—played a far greater role in dropping the city’s crime rate.

One of the main problems with broken windows is that it gives bad cops an excuse to harass poor minorities who have the misfortune to live in relatively dangerous neighborhoods. Most people who live in dangerous neighborhoods aren’t criminals; they’re regular, honest people who can’t afford to move elsewhere. But by confusing urban decay for moral decay, broken windows encourages cops to treat all poor people as guilty parties. A close cousin to broken-windows policing is “zero tolerance policing,” in which cops actively arrest people for small infractions in hopes that this will then lead to bigger things. The city becomes safer by getting potential felons off the street, someone arrested for drug possession rats out his dealer—those sorts of things. Broken-windows strategies and zero-tolerance policing strategies go hand in hand. But, as I wrote last month in an article about an out-of-control zero-tolerance program in Miami Gardens, Fla., zero tolerance can also lead to serious civil rights abuses when overzealous beat cops disregard or misunderstand what the program was meant to accomplish.  

Since leaving the NYPD in 1996, Bratton has continued to defend broken windows, which strikes me as a serious handicap for a man who will be expected to engender good will in New York’s minority neighborhoods. And it makes him a very weird choice as the man expected to lead the department out of the civil-rights-violating stop-and-frisk era.

Dec. 5 2013 1:10 PM

Watch the Video That Precipitated Aaron Swartz’s Downfall

Eleven months after Aaron Swartz’s suicide, a video has been discovered that records one of the moments that led to his downfall. Kevin Poulsen at Wired’s Threat Level blog has obtained security camera footage from 2011 that shows Swartz entering a wiring closet in the basement of MIT’s Building 16. Police used this footage to help identify Swartz as the mysterious person who had been auto-downloading millions of academic journal articles from the JSTOR database. This set in motion the events that ultimately led to Swartz’s arrest, indictment, and, many believe, his death. While the video isn’t the most dramatic material, it still adds context and details to the story of Swartz’s downfall. It’s worth watching if, like so many people worldwide, you remain interested in Swartz’s life—and how and why it came to such an abrupt, unnecessary end.

When examining Swartz’s life, people tend to see what they want to see. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston saw Swartz not as an innovator or a data liberator, but as a selfish thief, someone who put his own desires ahead of laws that protect private property and, ostensibly, the public interest. To them, and to the people who initially investigated the JSTOR incident, this footage likely helped crystallize what had been an abstract offense, helping to legitimize the notion that there is very little difference between a hacker and a burglar. As Poulsen writes at Wired, “Looking at the video, it’s easy to see what MIT and the Secret Service presumably saw—a furtive hacker going someplace he shouldn’t go, doing something he shouldn’t do.” This is the thinking of the U.S. attorneys: Accessing a closet without explicit permission is the same thing as accessing a database without explicit permission. Bulk downloading is the same thing as burglary.

But that’s far from the only way to see it. Last month Swartz’s friends and collaborators convened a worldwide Aaron Swartz Hackathon, where interested parties on five continents gathered over the course of a weekend to remember Swartz, discuss his legacy, and attempt to honor that legacy by working on various projects related to open data, free culture, and other causes in which Swartz believed. In a speech at the Hackathon’s opening ceremony at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, open-government advocate Carl Malamud—who, in 2008, worked with Swartz to download a significant portion of the federal court system’s PACER database—characterized bulk downloading as an act of civil disobedience against unjust and outdated statutes that, by restricting the public’s access to data, clearly work against the public interest. Invoking Gandhi and Rosa Parks, Malamud urged Hackathon attendees that they, too, could help galvanize social change through careful, deliberate, sustained acts of defiance:

Change comes from movements, when many people begin working towards a common aim. When we question authority, we do so to put them on notice, but also to educate ourselves. If we all stand together, we can tell the authorities “you can govern us, but only so long as we remain the governed.” That is the basis of civil disobedience. That takes time and patience.

Some have suggested that prosecutors wanted to make an example of Aaron Swartz. It’s become increasingly clear in the 11 months since his death that they succeeded, just not in the way they intended.

Dec. 4 2013 3:30 PM

The Dumb Criminal’s Guide to Committing Malfeasance in the Social Media Age

Two Maryland men have pleaded guilty to threatening a pair of Anne Arundel County judges, in a sort of modern, sub-moronic Strangers on a Train scenario. As Pamela Wood at the Baltimore Sun reports, Zachary Mitchell and Justin Ferrell were tripped up by Facebook postings in which they discussed how great it would be if each man killed the other man’s judge. “I’ll hit ur judge and u hit mine lol,” Mitchell wrote to Ferrell; “real tlk I was tthinkin we should do that,” Ferrell replied. The cops discovered the incriminating postings, as they tend to do, and now Mitchell and Ferrell will spend the next three years in prison. ROFLMAO.

These sorts of social media indiscretions seem to happen all the time lately, and they’re so, so dumb. Mitchell, Ferrell, and plenty of other people might still be free if they had only followed some basic, common-sense rules about how to comport themselves online. Here’s what you need to know if you’re going to commit crimes in the social media age.

Realize that everything is public. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus: If you ever post anything on a popular social media service—I know, I know, Google Plus isn’t popular—you have to assume that investigators will be able to find it. Law enforcement officers regularly monitor social media, and they are getting very good at discovering things that you might not want them to see or hear, and at inducing social media providers to cooperate with them. Don’t trust any social media service’s privacy settings; don’t think that you’ve successfully limited a posting to just your friends; don’t expect that you’re ever truly anonymous online. Because you shouldn’t, you haven’t, and you’re not.

Just because you say “LOL” doesn’t mean the cops will think you’re making a joke. Mitchell and Ferrell claimed they were just joking, a claim undermined by the fact that Mitchell allegedly went ahead and tried to buy a gun to proceed with the hit. But even if he hadn’t done so, his postings would probably still have drawn police attention. It’s hard to convey humor online, and it’s easy to take everything someone says literally. On account of that, it’s probably best to avoid joking about criminal activity entirely, even if your joke is both preceded and followed by a line reading “DISCLAIMER: THIS IS JUST A JOKE.”

Resist the urge to unburden your soul on your Facebook wall. It might feel good to expiate your sins by letting your Facebook friends know that you have committed a horrible crime, but all you’re really doing is sabotaging the defense lawyer you will inevitably need when cops discover your confession and arrest you. After a Florida man named Derek Medina allegedly killed his wife earlier this year, he posted a photo of her corpse on Facebook, along with a message reading “Im going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife love you guys, miss you guys takecare Facebook people you will see me in the news.” He has been charged with first-degree murder, and has pleaded not guilty. To his lawyer, I say: Good luck with that.

Assume that everyone is a narc. You might think that your friends are cool, and that they won’t rat you out if, for example, you post a Facebook status update boasting about your drunken-driving exploits. But how many of your social media contacts are actual real-world friends? Maybe 20 of them, I’d bet; the rest are casual acquaintances, distant relatives, or people you met once at a party. If you think all of these people are sufficiently loyal to you that they’ll keep your wanton illegality a secret, you’re absolutely wrong. There will always be someone who sees your incriminating message, thinks “I don’t really know this guy,” and forwards it on to police. So just assume that all of your friends are going to do that, and keep your stupid braggy mouth shut.

You cannot hire a good hit man online. This would seem so obvious as to not be worth mentioning, except that people keep making this mistake, under the misapprehension that professional contract killers build their businesses by responding to random Facebook postings and Craigslist ads. You can’t hire an assassin the same way you’d hire someone for a short-term catering job. Any hoodlum dumb enough to accept your proposition will be a reckless amateur who will likely bungle the job. But 99 times out of 100, the respondent will be a cop who wants to arrest you. Pay attention, people! I really don’t want to say this again.

Dec. 4 2013 2:08 PM

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.

Dec. 3 2013 3:42 PM

$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.

Dec. 3 2013 1:23 PM

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.”

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