Friday, December 31, 2010

The 2010 Darwin Awards

It's that magical time of year when the annual Darwin Awards are bestowed, honoring the least evolved among us. As those who put the list together each year say, the Darwin Awards are about "honoring those who improve the species by accidentally removing themselves from it! This award is usually bestowed posthumously." Happy New Year, and enjoy!

Here is this year's glorious winner: 1. When his 38-caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

And now, the honorable mentions:

2. The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat cutting machine and after a little shopping around, submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine and he also lost a finger. The chef's claim was approved.

3. A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle to find a woman had taken the space.
Understandably, he shot her.

4. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn't discovered for three days.

5. An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was hit.

6. A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer -- $15.

7. Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some beer pretty badly.. He decided that he'd just throw a cinder block through a liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back and hit the would-be thief on the head, knocking him unconscious. The liquor store window was made of Plexiglas. The whole event was caught on videotape.

8. As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse, and ran. The clerk immediately called 911 and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a positive ID. To which, he replied, "Yes, officer, that's her. That's the lady I stole the purse from."

9. The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at 5 a.m., flashed a gun and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn't open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren't available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away. [*A 5-STAR STUPIDITY AWARD WINNER]

10. When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motorhome parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to the motorhome near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline, but he'd plugged his siphon hose into the RV's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying it was the best laugh he'd ever had.

In the interest of bettering mankind, please share these with friends and family, unless, of course, one of these individuals by chance is a distant relative or long, lost friend. In that case, be glad they are distant and hope they remain lost. Remember: They walk among us, they can reproduce, and they do!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Personal Tale of Identity Theft

Credit: Wikipedia Commons
by Cathy Scott

Two days before Thanksgiving, I was the victim of a short-lived identity theft.

I’d gone to the supermarket that evening and spent $75, including dinner-to-go from the salad bar. When I arrived at the grocery, I grabbed my wallet, not my purse, from my car and went inside to shop.

When I walked out of the store after shopping, I had my wallet and keys in one hand and two paper shopping bags in the other. When I reached my car, I put the bags down to press the unlock button on my keyless door opener. Then I picked up the bags and put them in the car. A large SUV was parked next to my car and I had to squeeze in between the two to slip into the passenger seat, which distracted me. I got in, put on my seat belt and headed home.

A few minutes later, once in my driveway, I realized I did not know where my wallet was. I searched the grocery bags, under the car seats, next to them, in the center console, on the floor, in the back. No sign of the wallet. I got back into my car and hurried back to the store. Not more than 15 minutes had elapsed. I parked near where I had just been and checked the blacktop parking lot as I walked toward the store.

The checkout clerk didn’t have my wallet, and no one had turned it in at the service counter. “It must be in my car somewhere, “ I told a store clerk.

Inside my wallet was an ATM/Visa credit card, my driver’s license, my athletic club card, a Barnes and Noble membership card, and some business cards from other people. No money was in the wallet except for coins. I don’t typically keep photos in my wallet.

When I finally walked into my house, two messages had already been left on my phone from the bank. “This is the fraud unit at Wells Fargo Bank,” the message began. “Please call us immediately to verify some recent activity on your ATM card.”

Oh, no, I said to myself. Someone has my wallet.

I called the bank's fraud unit (open 24 hours) and talked to an employee. She asked, “Did you authorize anyone to use your card?”

“No,” I answered.

“Did you lose your card?”

“Yes,” I said. “About 40 minutes ago.”

“Someone just tried to make another purchase a few minutes ago. We flagged it,” she said.

Whoever picked up my wallet in the parking lot had a decision to make. “Should I walk the wallet into the store? Or should I keep it?”

The person kept it. And then she got very busy. (I say “she” because the person used my Nevada driver’s license as identification for her ensuing shopping spree.)

She made her first stop down the street at Grumpy’s, a neighborhood gas station, charging $1 on my card. The bank said it looked like a test purchase, to see if she could get away with using my ID. An internal flag went up at the bank, because it was an even dollar--a dead give-away for a fraud purchase to see if the person could pull it off.

To me, it appears the thief was not alone, and here’s why. The second stop on the spending spree, after having success at Grumpy’s, was a Taco Bell drive-thru about two miles away. The total was $23.68. But that apparently was not enough quick food for the thief. She drove back to a strip mall across the street from the supermarket and spent another $23-and-change on fast food.

Next up was a Payless Shoes in the same parking lot. Grand total? $88.

Then, a few doors away from Payless, she went into Target and attempted to purchase $200 worth of electronics. By then, my bank was onto her, flagged the account, and would not pay. But being declined didn’t stop the thief. She proceeded from the electronics department at Target to one of the main checkout registers for another purchase (I don’t know what the price was). She was turned away for that too.

Not to be dissuaded, she walked a few doors up from Target and went into Bed, Bath & Beyond for yet another attempt to buy merchandise with my plastic. At the checkout, the clerk rang up a $5 item. “Declined,” she was told.

The bank employee assured me that I was not responsible for the purchases and asked if I wanted to prosecute. "Absolutely," I said.

The snafu for the thief in this quick-and-dirty shopping trip is that drive-thru restaurants have surveillance cameras that take clear photos of cars--and license plates--as does Grumpy’s, because it’s a gas station with cameras pointed smack-dab at the parking lot and gas pumps. And at each and every place the thief went to, she not only committed fraud by using my bank card, but she presented my driver’s license as an ID. That’s a felonious federal offense of identity theft.

By my count, she committed four counts of theft, three counts of attempted theft (state offenses), and seven counts of felony identity theft. The bank has its own investigators and, by the next morning, had opened a case.

As for me, I had my work cut out for me. I got up early the next morning--Thanksgiving eve--which wasn't how I had planned that morning; I'd intended to spend it and most of the afternoon, writing. Instead, my first stop of the day was the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

The banker had told me the night before that I could get a temporary ATM card but that I could not do that without proof of a driver's license. So, I drove to the DMV, where I stood in two lines before I was able to present proof of my identity with an ancient photo ID from a newspaper I’d once worked for, along with my phone bill. Because driver’s licenses are now embedded with a logo, the license was mailed and not immediately available.

With a paper driver’s license in hand and the dated press pass, I drove to the bank to get a temporary ATM card. I answered their security questions so they could access my account. But without a name and account number stamped on it, the card they gave me is only useful in ATM machines, not for debit or credit at stores. It was a step back in time to not-so-long-ago banking.

My third stop was Office Max to pick up a fraud complaint form that was faxed there by my bank. I filled it out and faxed it back. I went to the gym later in the day to work out and have my photo taken for a new gym membership card. I needed something with a current photo on it, and that did the trick.

I blame myself for being in a hurry and careless with my wallet, but I mostly blame the thief who took advantage instead of handing over my wallet to a supermarket employee. Luckily, my wallet didn’t have my Social Security card inside, and I don’t include my Social Security number on my driver’s license, so the thief didn't have access to it. And I also don’t typically keep my checkbook in my wallet, so I didn't have to close out my checking account and open a new one, thank goodness.

My fourth stop was at a department store. With gym and ATM cards, cash and a temporary paper driver's license, I needed something to put them in, so I bought a new wallet.

More than anything, this was a major hassle, an expense to my bank, nominal expense to me but a major inconvenience. Luckily, I wasn’t flying out of town for Thanksgiving, because I wouldn’t have been able to board a plane without identification.

This should be a slam-dunk case for Las Vegas police, given the cameras at the two fast-food restaurants and surveillance at the stores, snapping the woman's photo each time she presented my driver's license to a store clerk. I know there are bigger fish to fry, but it appears, relatively speaking, to be an uncomplicated case to solve, given the strong possibility that at least one of the fast-food cameras camptured the license plate. Plus, each transaction made wth my card was time stamped, as are surveillance photos. It's a matter of matching them up.

That afternoon, I went to Payless Shoes, and the clerk there said the thief showed my driver's license to make the $88 credit purchase. And it was the bank employee who told me, because the card was used for credit (my pin number wasn't in my wallet and the person did not use it as an ATM card), that it's identity theft.

It's been just a few days, but I'm already ultra sensitive about my wallet, as well as my Blackberry, hardly letting them out of my sight when I'm out and about. I don't want it to happen again.

My advice to holiday shoppers is, while you're hitting the stores buying gifts, hang on to your wallets! You never know who's nearby, ready and willing to steal your identity.

Reprinted with permission from Women in Crime Ink.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A sad time for our family with the loss of our sister

We're writing on our family blog about our sister Sally, who recently passed away. Please click on the photo, below, to go to the blog:
Cathy, Cordelia and Sally

Friday, November 12, 2010

LUST FOR JUSTICE: The Radical Life & Law of J. Tony Serra

by Cathy Scott 

"His trials have garnered him acclaim as one of the greatest criminal-defense attorneys of the century. He's the white tornado in court, a semantic samyrai, a shaman, a bard, a hero to some, a trickster to others, and always a force to be reckoned with, respected by all." Such is the description of Tony Serra, a renowned, pony-tailed, radical criminal defense attorney in the just-released nonfiction legal biography LUST FOR JUSTICE: The Radical Life & Law of J. Tony Serra. 

Courtroom artist, and now author, Paulette Frankl spent 17 years following Serra--and tracking him down--from courtroom to courtroom. LUST FOR JUSTICE is a culmination of those years. It was in one of those courtrooms, this one in Las Vegas, where I first met Paulette.

It was 2000 and I was in Clark County District Court to cover the Ted Binion case--the first of two Binion trials--and Paulette was there to sketch and paint the goings-on for news outlets. We became fast friends. During a dinner downtown near the courthouse after a day in court, I vividly remember Paulette telling me about the book and her work-in-progress. I also remember her saying, "I'm not a writer." She undersold herself; Paulette is every bit a writer with a powerfully descriptive voice, as evidenced in the pages of LUST FOR JUSTICE. 

During the Binion prelim hearing for the retrial of defendants Sandra Murphy and Richard Tabish, who were accused of murdering casino heir Binion, I met Tony Serra. He had taken Tabish on as a client after Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz successfully argued before the Nevada Supreme Court for a retrial. Earlier, when a phone call came in to Serra's office asking Tony to consider defending Tabish, Paulette happened to be sitting in Tony's office. "Take the case," Paulette told him. After all, she had first-hand knowledge after sitting through every moment of the first lengthy trial--the biggest trial, which ended in guilty verdicts, Las Vegas had seen in recent history. She believed the defendants needed a lawyer like Tony on their side.

For the second trial, with Tony at the helm, the case ended in murder acquittals for Serra's client, Tabish, as well as co-defendant Murphy. Binion died from an overdose of prescription and street drugs, which Binion had himself purchased. The prosecution, however, charged Tabish and Murphy with forcing the drugs on Binion, despite no physical evidence against them. In the midst of the retrial, with nightly prepping for the next day's proceedings, Serra took time out to attend an evening fundraiser where Paulette's art was featured. Attending the event with Serra was his Binion defense team, Shari Greenberger and Anna Ling.
Paulette Frankl's book, with a foreword by attorney Gerry Spence, had been hatched more than a decade earlier. And while she had interviewed Serra multiple times, the idea and content for the book morphed from her early interviews and Tony's soliloquies to the completed literary work we see today, which vividly covers Serra in action in the courtroom. Yet, Paulette doesn't paint a 100-percent positive portrayal of Serra. She includes the flawed man as well.

Despite his foibles, Serra has a following that reaches far and wide. He was the subject of the 1989 movie True Believer, starring James Woods and Robert Downey, Jr., about a Chinatown (San Francisco) murder case in which Serra won an acquittal for defendant Chol Soo Lee. He also successfully represented Huey Newton, leader of the Black Panther Party in a murder trial and represented individuals from groups as diverse and politically charged as the White Panthers, Hells Angels, Earth First! and New World Liberation Front, cases which included clients clients like Patrick "Hootie" Croy, who was wrongly convicted, as well as Ellie Nesler and Symbionese Liberation Army members Sara Jane Olson, Russell Little and Michael Bortin. Serra won the Trial Lawyer of the Year award in 2003 from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice for his successful litigation of Judi Bari against the FBI.

I am so proud of Paulette and her tireless, nearly two-decade effort in capturing lightning in a bottle and pulling together this beautifully written tome. And I'm proud to call her friend.

LUST FOR JUSTICE is, as are Paulette's paintings, a brilliant work of art. She is, after all, an artist first, and the artist's brush is evident in her words alongside her illustrations of Tony, which are sprinkled throughout the text.

Tony, a self-described "street lawyer," is anti-establishment, taking a vow of poverty early on not to become a rich lawyer off of the backs of those who need a fair hand in the criminal justice system. He drives old cars, wears second-hand suits, and lives weekends with his longtime girlfriend in the sleepy beach town of Bolinas and weekdays in a modest North Beach apartment in San Francisco near his co-op law office. He owns nothing and only asks for payment to cover his basic expenses. Still, his vow of poverty landed him in hot water a couple of times with the IRS for not filing tax returns. 

When Tony, celebrated by filmmakers and fellow lawyers as an advocate for the downtrodden, was sent to the Lompoc Federal Prison Camp for 10 months in 2006 for tax evasion, he assisted fellow inmates with their legal appeals. Also while incarcerated, he corresponded with Paulette. At one point, Paulette sent Tony a painting she titled "Desert Landscape." His letter in return was simple and revealed that at the age of around 70--he won't answer the age question--he was looking forward to returning to the courtroom.
Got your "Desert Landscape." Your art work adorns my gray barracks' cabinet wall. Gives me a lift sometimes when the mind drips dreary.
I'm four-tenths finished--it will be over soon. I'm leaner and stronger. I'm ready for my murder trial re-entry in March. I've had a sufficient "retreat"; I'm ripe to join the struggle again.
Indeed, upon Tony's release from prison, he filed, with three attorneys, a class-action lawsuit seeking minimum wages for himself and other inmates, citing slave wages as unconstitutional. Serra's fight for the underdog goes on, and Paulette artfully covered his unwavering quest for justice in this painstaking work.

The book launch for LUST FOR JUSTICE is Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, where Serra is speaking and signing books with Frankl. Order the book direct here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Thomas? Not Anita Hill

Credit: Wikipedia Commons
By Cathy Scott
(Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink)

What is up with Virginia Thomas? On a recent weekend, Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, called Anita Hill’s voice mail and made a bizarre request.

In her message, Mrs. Thomas, seemingly out of the blue, asked for an apology from Hill for accusing the future Supreme Court associate justice of sexual harassment back in 1991 during his confirmation hearings--this, nearly two decades later. She won't get an apology.

Anita Hill has moved on--a long time ago, in fact--and perhaps Virginia Thomas should do the same. Now a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Hill, after receiving the message, first alerted campus security, because she thought the voice mail was a prank. She, unfortunately, has since learned that it was no joke. Yep, Mrs. Thomas had, indeed, left Ms. Hill the message, all these years later. Brandeis officials turned the matter over to the FBI.

According to a transcript of the call made available to the Boston Globe, the recorded voice said:
“Good morning, Anita Hill. It's Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something.
“I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.”

Say what? Lest anyone forget the sordid details from two 
decades ago, Anita Hill, after being called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said under oath that Thomas, who was married to Virginia at the time, had repeatedly made crude and inappropriate sexual comments in the workplace, boasting of his sexual prowess, and referencing pornographic 
novels. (I'll leave the exact details of the alleged comments to your imagination and not repeat them here).

Clarence Thomas adamantly has denied the allegations, calling them “a high-tech lynching.”

Hill recently told the Globe that she has nothing to apologize for and does not intend to retract her accusations that Thomas made sexually suggestive remarks to her when she was an aide and he was her boss at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“I certainly thought the call was inappropriate,” Hill said in a recent statement. “I have no intention of apologizing, and I stand by my testimony. No further explanation is needed. I testified truthfully about what my experience was back in the 1980s.”

For her part, Virginia Thomas, a Tea Party activist, confirmed to The New York Times that she was serious about wanting an apology. Here's Mrs. Thomas' official statement:

“I did place a call to Ms. Hill at her office extending an olive branch to her after all these years, in hopes that we could ultimately get passed what happened so long ago.

“That offer still stands. I would be very happy to meet and talk with her if she would be willing to do the same. Certainly no offense was ever intended.”

The New York Times opined that the he said-she said confrontation between Ms. Hill and the future Justice Thomas “deeply divided the country during what became a national debate about the nature of sexual behavior in the workplace.”

In addition, the paper reported, “Ms. Hill’s descriptions of unseemly conduct and his adamant denials produced one of the most polarizing Supreme Court confirmation battles of modern times.” In the end, the U.S. Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52 to 48. And he's been on the high court bench ever since. Public interest in and debate over Hill's testimony has been said to be responsible in large part for modern-day public awareness of sexual harassment.

As for Mrs. Clarence Thomas, whatever it was--an agenda?--that prompted her, at this long-ago juncture, to reach out and touch Anita Hill is baffling. Virginia Thomas has not explained, other than to confirm making the call and leaving the message.

Perhaps the FBI, in its inquiry, will get to the bottom of the ordeal and provide answers. And maybe Anita Hill can be left alone.

Photos courtesy of The Associated Press.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

One Fatal Night in Las Vegas

Credit: Wikipedia Commons
By Cathy Scott

This week marks the fourteenth anniversary of the day Tupac Shakur was shot.

And with the anniversary comes ESPN’s new documentary: One Night in Vegas: Tyson & Tupac. The rap star, poet and actor was gunned down just hours after watching Mike Tyson knock out Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. “(Tupac) didn't last long, but the time he did last, every minute, every tenth of a moment, was explosive," Tyson told ESPN.

Tupac was also explosive. In the minutes following Tyson’s professional fight, Tupac got into a street-like fight inside the MGM Grand as he was leaving the arena.

At the elevator bank just before the MGM’s main lobby, Tupac and his crew ran into Orlando Anderson, a known Crips street gang member from Compton, California. Tupac’s music producer, Suge Knight, who was with Tupac that night, was a known member of the rival gang Mob Piru.
When he spotted Anderson, Tupac said to him, “You’re from the South,” meaning South Compton. And the fight was on. Tupac, Suge and their entourage stomped and kicked Anderson. A security guard split them up, but Orlando, when Las Vegas police arrived, declined to press charges. The officers did not file a police report and did not even take Orlando’s last name. It would be Compton gang cops, a few days after the shooting, when Las Vegas police realized the scuffle might have significance, later offered up Orlando’s full name. They also offered up Orlando's lengthy rap sheet, gang history, and his street moniker "Baby Lane."

Backpedal a few years to 1992 after Tyson was sent to prison to serve out a sentence for rape. That’s when Tupac reached out to Iron Mike, saying he was going to be in the area and would like to visit him in prison. While they may have been an unlikely pair, both knew how to put up a fight, as evidenced later with the MGM scuffle Tupac started.

From prison, Tyson paid attention to Tupac’s thug-life image. They regularly talked on the phone. That’s when Tyson, who was a few years older than Shakur, handed out brotherly advice. Shakur told friends it meant a lot to him. “Tyson was giving me a lot of advice,” Tupac told a radio station. “I really looked up to him something hard. He’d tell me to calm down.”

But 'Pac did not appear to take it to heart. And he did not calm down. By the time Tyson was released from prison in 1995, Tupac was in jail on Rikers Island in New York, held on suspicion of a similar charge as Tyson’s, this one sexual abuse against a woman Tupac had met at a club and took back to a friend’s hotel room. Tupac was convicted and sent to the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

Tupac was released on bond, posted by his record producer Suge Knight, pending an appeal. But before the appeal could be heard, Tupac was dead.

The same night as the Tyson-Seldon fight, Tupac was shot when a gunman in a white Cadillac pulled up to Tupac and Suge’s car and opened fire with a high-caliber Glock handgun, hitting Tupac several times, including in the chest. The Clark County coroner determined the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds.

The last time Tyson would talk to Tupac would be in Tyson’s dressing room immediately following the fight. “I told him I’d see him that night and we could hang out,” Tyson told ESPN. Six days later, the 25-year-old hip-hop star was dead. Tupac’s unsolved murder has frustrated rap fans ever since, despite Compton Police (a law enforcement department which has since merged with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department) offering up Orlando Anderson as a suspect. For their part, Las Vegas police have said there wasn’t enough evidence against Orlando, and members of Tupac’s entourage were uncooperative. I began covering the case a couple of hours after the shooting, which was the topic of my book, The Killing of Tupac Shakur, and it appeared, after Anderson's name had become known, that there was motive -- the scuffle -- not to mention Compton Police's discovery of a Glock in the home Anderson lived in and Anderson bragging on his home turf that he'd killed Tupac.

But Las Vegas police, who traveled to Compton, did not formally interview Anderson and declined to arrest him. Eighteen months after Tupac was killed, Orlando Anderson was murdered in what police said was an unrelated shooting. We may never know if Orlando was, in fact, the gunman in Tupac's death.

As for Tyson, he told ESPN that Tupac’s memory lives on through his works. "He's going to last until the time this Earth comes to an end. I'm glad to be a part of his life and to have known him. (Tupac) was probably a misguided warrior. He had a heart as big as this planet. He had so much love and compassion, and you couldn't even see it under his rage." 

In the meantime, the murder of Tupac Shakur, unofficially at least, remains unsolved. 

Photo of Tyson and Tupac, courtesy of ESPN. Other photos courtesy of Yahoo! Images.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lauryn Hill: Still Main Street

In 1999, I wrote about Lauryn Hill's particular style of hip hop going mainstream. It was published in the Christian Science Monitor titled "Rap Goes From Urban Street to Main Street." No one knew then that it would be another decade before she'd top the charts again. She'd broken ground as the first hip-hop artist ever to win a Grammy for Album of the Year.

Now, 11 years later, Hill has once again topped the Billboard charts as a lead artist for the first time since '99 with her "Repercussions" single. Here's the article I wrote about Hill on February 26, 1999: 

BOSTON— Just a few years ago, rap music was considered by many to be the enfant terrible of the musical world. 

Now, 20 years after the Sugarhill Gang burst onto the national scene with "Rapper's Delight," the genre is becoming as mainstream as Garth Brooks and platform shoes. 

While many of its lyrics remain as raw as ground chuck, rap is gaining a wider audience - and, in fact, is now the top-selling musical format in America. 

Consider this week's Grammys, when Lauryn Hill became the first hip-hop artist to ever win Album of the Year. Last year, actor Warren Beatty crafted his satire "Bulworth" around rap's language of protest. In perhaps the ultimate sign of acceptance, Martha Stewart, America's arbiter of good taste, appeared at the MTV Music Awards with rapper Busta Rhymes. 

But it's not so much that rap has gone mainstream as that the mainstream has finally caught up with the music. "I don't think the music itself has changed," says Sacha Jenkins, VIBE magazine's music editor. "But since we now have a generation of kids around the world who have grown up listening to rap music, it was only a matter of time when the demand for the music would grow." 

Everything from rock to the tango has ignited a firestorm of criticism when it first hit the airwaves. (Remember all those warnings about "Elvis the Pelvis?") But the one surrounding rap burned hotter and longer, given the genre's raw lyrics and gangsta influences. 

A few years ago, everyone from Tipper Gore to Bob Dole cringed in horror at rap lyrics bragging about guns and prostitutes. In 1992, Ice-T's "Copkiller" sparked a major free-speech battle. The furor over gangsta rap peaked in 1996-'97, when two of its rising stars, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, were shot and killed. Both cases remain unsolved. 

But today, rap is generating more dollar signs than headlines. Last year, for the first time, it outsold country--up till then the reigning US format. And while hip-hop's roots are deep in black urban America, last year more than 70 percent of albums were purchased by whites. 

This change in listeners' tastes hasn't gone unnoticed by radio stations. 

Patricia Cunningham, a host for KCEP, a black-owned R&B station in Nevada, says hip hop is a culture that is not going away, just like rock 'n' roll before it. Music that used to be heard only on black-owned radio stations is now played on pop music stations. 

"I think everybody is realizing you have different styles in rap just like you do in other music," Ms. Cunningham says. "You have good lyrics and bad lyrics and good taste and bad taste... And I think people are realizing it's here to stay. They're used to the sound." 

Hip hop's roots began in the Bronx, N.Y., in the late 1970s. Hip hop encompasses a culture of rap, rhythm and blues, and reggae music with clothes and graffiti-like art to go with it. Today's lyrics still tell harsh stories of what it's like [growing] up on the streets of America. As a result, hip hop has emerged as the voice of a generation. 

While rap lyrics will never be the equivalent of show tunes, the ones honored by the music academy this week were more of the PG variety. Actor/rapper Will Smith, who first made rap safe for the suburbs in the late 1980s with humorous songs like "Parents Just Don't Understand," picked up a Grammy for best rap solo performance. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Smith, star of "Men in Black" and this summer's "Wild, Wild West," talked about a truly terrifying experience he'd had earlier that day: his first parent-teacher conference. 

The big winner was hip-hop diva Hill, who picked up five awards for her deeply personal amalgam of soul, reggae, and rap, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." It was the most ever won by a woman. Accepting her award for Best New Artist, Ms. Hill read from Psalm 40 and thanked her children for being her inspiration "and for not spilling anything on Mommy's outfit." 

What Hill sings about is typical of other hip-hop artists. "She talks about things that are relevant to hip hop and to young people coming up in black America, ranging from love, to education ... to sex, to growth, to change," Mr. Jenkins says. He noted that not every Shakur song was about guns or violence, even though that's the bad-boy image that has always been attached to the murdered rapper. "You can have Will Smith or Biggie Smalls, just like you can have the Rolling Stones or the Beach Boys." 

Sean "Puffy" Combs, head of Bad Boy Entertainment, has assisted in the transformation of rap into a commonplace sound. Mr. Combs, also a rapper himself, helped promote a softer image, putting rap into the rhythm-and-blues category and sampling (recycling) songs from the Police and Diana Ross. 

Rap artists and their music will probably become even more mainstream as time goes on, Jenkins says. 

The kids who grew up on rap in the early days "become old people, and old people run things in this world," he says. "There's always a changing of the guard. The youth are expressing themselves with rap music that isn't so new any more."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Book by O'Brien: My Week at the Blue Angel

By Cathy Scott

Here’s a news release from Huntington Press about my friend Matt's latest book.

For Immediate Release

Huntington Press Announces Release Date for My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas by Matthew O'Brien  

Las Vegas – Acclaimed author Matthew O'Brien (Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas) will release his newest title, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas, on October 25, 2010.

This creative nonfiction story collection boldly explores the disenfranchised and broken side of Las Vegas while highlighting the unexpected beauty in a neon wasteland, forging a path into a hidden world beneath the city, and lending a voice to the voiceless masses rarely seen.

O'Brien, founder of Shine a Light—an organization that aids the many men and women living in the flood channels of Las Vegas—has already gained recognition for one of the stories in the collection, “Another Day on Paradise,” in the form of a fellowship from the Nevada Arts Council. 

Beneath the Neon, also published by Huntington Press, is an internationally acclaimed nonfiction book that received rave reviews from numerous publications and media outlets, including E!, Publishers Weekly, and Wired magazine.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Profile of 'The Profiler'

(reprinted with permission) 

The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths, by criminal profiler and WCI contributor Pat Brown, with co-author Bob Andelman, hits book shelves May 18.

Waiting for police to act on the 1990 murder of Anne Kelley, Pat Brown couldn't understand what was taking so long to bring the case to a close. Brown had long suspected a possible connection to the odd man who'd briefly rented a room in her home. At the time unfamiliar with the criminal investigative process, Brown believed the Kelley case was unusual. But as she began exploring unsolved murders in her area, she soon realized the case, unfortunately, was not all that rare.

For example, in Washington, D.C. alone, Brown learned  that the murders of more than 120 women remained unsolved. "Who killed Nia Owens, Dana Chisholm, and Ann Bourghesani?" Brown asks in her latest book, The Profiler.

Who, indeed?

Brown vowed to do something. It was a move that would define her ensuing career as a criminal profiler. "Dead women were turning up everywhere," she writes in The Profiler. "It's like when you're pregnant and suddenly you notice how many other women are pregnant." It was a seminal moment. While she might not have been able to bring the Kelley case to an immediate close, she could help investigators and families figure out who might have killed other women, plus help determine if any of those cases were related, suggesting a serial killer might be on the loose.

She printed photos of 15 murder victims -- all women -- from across the country. She laminated the photos and placed each above the word "unsolved," written in large letters. Next, she hung the photos in a booth she rented at an outdoor festival. Festival-goers were stunned at the display. They'd assumed cases they'd read about in newspapers and seen on TV news reports had been solved. "They never caught that killer either," one person commented, pointing to the photo of a woman in the display.

Eventually, Brown launched a nonprofit group and web site. She took every training course available and read some 400 books on the subject and subtopics. Then she began profiling criminals. When the D.C. sniper in 2002 shot at people and their vehicles, the news media found Brown through her site. The attention catapulted her into the public eye and onto the airwaves, and one mystery case led to another. Today, she travels across the country consulting, criminal profiling and commenting on cases.

The Profiler is the result of that work, looking at individual cases, the evidence and circumstances surrounding them, any similarities to other cases, as well as peculiarities of certain murders. With this book, which Brown calls purposeful, she not only wants to pass on what she's learned and details of the cases she's worked on; she's hoping to see national changes in use of profilers. Her concept would have police departments use criminal profilers as standard tools, either inside the departments or outside, for the homicides they investigate.
In addition, she wants to to see profilers involved early on in a homicide investigation, within the first 48 hours. "What I've learned over a decade and a half of profiling cases is that you cannot bring a criminal profiler in late in the game. The evidence is long gone. 

"We have far too many unsolved crimes, we have too little justice, and we have too many killers on the streets repeating those crimes," says Brown, who also received a master's degree in criminal justice from Boston University in 2007. Her aim is for "criminal profilers to be trained, including police investigators. There are thousands and thousands of unsolved homicides across the country."

But with law enforcement funding tight, Brown is realistic and understands fulfillment of her goal will take time. Eventually, she believes, it will happen. "In the long run," Brown says, "It could help save a lot of lives."

The Profiler is available wherever books are sold. Or order it on

Monday, May 03, 2010

Scene of the Crime: LAPD's Infamous Exhibit

Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink

Los Angeles Police Department authorities recently put on a show--the LAPD's Homicide Exhibit at the California Homicide Investigators Association conference in Las Vegas. And the community came out in droves to view the two-day "Famous Crime Scenes Exhibit."

It offered a unique behind-the-scenes look at the evidence police gather at crime scenes. Police cases ran the gamut from robberies, murders, serial killings, bank hold-ups, high-speed pursuits and hostage situations.

LAPD Homicide Detective Dennis Kilcoyne explained the reasoning behind making an exhibit and taking it on the road. "Homicide investigators very rarely invite people under the crime scene tape and into the murder scene; this may be as close as some will ever get," he said, to seeing the scene as a detective would.

And so it was for the thousands who stood in line for up to an hour and a half to get in. The evidence of L.A.’s gritty past was more than sobering.

A respectful silence fell over the room as viewers quietly filed in, one by one, during the tour. They looked at evidence, photos, videos, get-away cars, weapons, documents, and autopsy photos. Included was evidence from the Black Dahlia case and Hollywood mob-era contract hits, all on loan from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and LAPD’s evidence vaults.
It showed evidence from the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, who in 1994 was killed after she was repeatedly and brutally stabbed, along with Ron Goldman, in the courtyard of her Brentwood townhouse courtyard. It was almost chilling to see the bloody leather gloves, displayed behind glass, that were made infamous when suspect O.J. Simpson tried on the gloves in court and struggled to get them over his hands. There were a bullet-riddled police car and similarly ventilated
suspect get-away auto from the notorious North Hollywood bank robbery and shootout. 

But perhaps most grisly were evidence and photos from the ritualistic killing at a Benedict Canyon mansion where Charles Manson’s followers murdered five people, included pregnant including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, in the summer of 1969.

Still, it was the Robert F. Kennedy assassination display that seemed to stop people in their tracks. On display was the revolver used to cut down Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel on a June night in 1968.

I toured the site of the killing not long before the historic Ambassador Hotel was razed in 2005 so a public school could be built in its place. Linda Deutsch, longtime special court correspondent for The Associated Press, led the media tour to some of Los Angeles's more notorious crime scenes. We were taken inside the hotel to the upstairs ballroom where the presidential candidate gave a short speech. We walked the path Kennedy took from the ballroom to the kitchen’s pantry area, where he was gunned down at point-blank range. 

The Kennedy evidence exhibit led to controversy. Robert Kennedy’s son protested when he learned it included the torn and bloody shirt, tie and jacket his father was wearing when he was assassinated. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy expressed outrage that his father’s clothing was transported across state lines, from California to Nevada, to be publicly exhibited in Las Vegas. 

"My request was refused by the district attorney's office," Maxwell Taylor Kennedy told the media. "The District Attorney promised, though, to keep the personal items with care and out of public view."
Maxwell Kennedy said he was particularly bothered that his family was denied possession of those items when they requested them. The younger Kennedy's protests made national news that night, after the first day the public was allowed to see it. The next morning, people waited in a line that wrapped around the interior of the Palms casino, where the exhibit was set up in a conference room. 

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued a public statement and an apology: "The last thing we want to do is to traumatize a victim's family, and I am very sensitive to that. But at the same time, we want to preserve the history of the city of Los Angeles and improve the quality and understanding about our homicide investigations." 

The LAPD pulled the shirt, tie and jacket from the exhibit after the first day.
Based on the response from a member of the Kennedy clan, it is doubtful the displays will go on tour again anytime soon, making the exhibit in Las Vegas a one-time-only viewing.

Photos by Cathy Scott

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Look Back at Women in Crime Ink & its 2nd Anniversary

By Cathy Scott
The criminal-expert blog Women in Crime Ink recently reached a milestone by celebrating its second anniversary--and with an impressive lineup of female true crime personalities of producers, anchors, analysts, authors, prosecutors, lawyers. In two short years, it has amassed an archive of essays and commentary about the hottest topics in crime, justice, and law, from a woman's perspective. 

Shortly before the anniversary, I interviewed author Diane Fanning, a co-founder of WCI. Simply put, Diane said, "It’s a cooperative blog of women crime professionals. We started it as a group of women who wanted to cover issues about writing and every aspect of crime. Our point at the time was women are sensitive to issues." A group of five began planning the planning and designing of the blog in December 2007 and debuted in March of 2008. You can follow WCI on Twitter as well as Facebook fan page. 

I'm thrilled to be a part of that lineup of professionals. Here's a post by true crime author and novelist Kathryn Casey about the history and good things that have happened since WCI launched two years ago. 

Break Out the Party Hats & Champagne; We're Celebrating!
March 10, 2010
Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink: 

Time flies, the saying goes, especially when having fun. Obviously, we’re having a blast at Women in Crime Ink. So much so that an important event nearly slipped past us. 

What’s the big deal about March 10, 2010? It's our second anniversary. 

In all honesty, we've been so busy, it hardly seems like two years, at least not until one peruses the links trailing seemingly to infinity in our right hand column, subjects we’ve covered over the past twenty-four months. Our contributors have weighed in on sensational cases making headlines, from Casey Anthony’s psychological peculiarities to Manson follower Susan Atkins’ deathbed bid for freedom. In our posts, we’ve covered mobsters and mayhemhuman traffickers and bank robberspoisonpassion, and Marge Simpson’s provocative Playboy spread. 

Our unique perspective on the world of crime hasn’t gone unnoticed. On June 2, 2009, the esteemed Wall Street Journal featured WCI on its pages, lauding it as “a blog worth reading.” WSJ editor Becky Bright wrote: “Women in Crime Ink is hosted by a cast of female journalists, lawyers, authors, and others with a passion for true crime. It has amassed an extensive archive of essays and commentary from women’s perspectives about crime and the court system.” 

When we began the blog in 2008, we christened it “a well of thoughts on crime and media issues from women criminal justice professionals and authors.” We still have a solid core of the founders among us. In addition, other great contributors have signed on, women we’re proud to have in our ranks. 

So on this day, as we turn two, we’d like to reintroduce ourselves to all our readers. Once again, here are the voices of Women in Crime Ink: 

Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin and the author of six books, the most recent, The Poisoner's Handbook, exploring Jazz Age New York City's murderous history. Kirkus calls it: “Caviar for true crime fans and science buffs alike.” From the cover: "a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime." 

Pat Brown is a renowned Criminal Profiler and 24/7 news fixture, with appearances on The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, HLN’s Nancy Grace and "Issues with JaneVelez-Mitchell," "Larry King Live," the "Joy Behar Show," FOX, MSNBC Prime News, Dr. Phil and others. The Discovery Channel, Court TV, and National Geographic have featured Pat in documentaries and series. She is the author of Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killer. Her second book, The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths debuts May 18, 2010. 

Andrea Campbell writes books about forensic science and law. She holds a criminal justice degree and is a forensic artist whose work includes sculpturally recreating victims’ facial features from skulls. She is editor of Arkansas Identification News (an IAI group) and an American College of Forensic Examiners International Diplomat and Fellow.
Kathryn Casey is the author of six true crime booksAnn Rule calls Casey "one of the best in the genre." Her latest, Shattered, debuts in July. Singularity, the first in her Sarah Armstrong mystery series, waspicked as one of the top crime novel debuts of 2009 by Booklistmagazine. The third in the series, "The Killing Storm," will be out in November 2010. Casey has appeared on Oprah, Montel, Nancy GracetruTVInvestigation DiscoveryE! and A&E. 

Lisa R. Cohen is an Emmy award-winning television news magazine producer with over 20 years in network news, including ABC NewsPrimeTime Live and CBS News' “60 Minutes.” She is also the author of After Etan: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive. Cohen is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and was a Princeton University Ferris Professor of Journalism. 

Diane Dimond has reported for Court TVEXTRA, and Hard Copy, and has hosted MSNBC’s “Missing Persons,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and co-hosted a show with Geraldo Rivera. The award-winning journalist and author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case also writes for The Huffington Post and appears regularly on Entertainment Tonight. 

Stacy Dittrich is an award winning former police officer, and media consultantA co-host of Justice Interrupted, she's appeared on Fox, The O’Reilly Factor, CNN, Geraldo at Large, The Nancy Grace Show, Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, and E! True Hollywood in Crime. The author of the CeeCee Gallagher detective series, Stacy's first true crime book is Murder Behind the Badge: True Stories of Cops Who Kill. 

Diane Fanning is the Edgar-nominated author of ten true-crime books and four mystery novels. Diane has appeared on 48 Hours20/20Forensic Files, and radio stations from coast to coast. She is currently under contract for three books--two true crime titles and one mystery novel. Her bestselling book on the Casey Anthony case, Mommy's Little Girl, was released in fall 2009. 

Laura James is an attorney, true-crime author and crime historian living in Detroit, Michigan. The former reporter is the woman behind CLEWS, a literary blog devoted to the true-crime genre. Laura’s first book came out in May 2009: The Love Pirate and the Bandit's Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James. 

Vanessa Leggett has written essays for Newsweek and Texas Monthly, editorials for the Houston Chronicle, and articles for the Justice Department, which jailed her for protecting sources on a murder case. A former English and Criminology instructor at the University of Houston-Downtown, Vanessa writes and lectures. Her book on the case that landed her in jail is awaiting publication. 

Susan Murphy-Milano is a nonfiction author and violence expert--a defender of victims' rights. Susan has appeared on Oprah20/20,American Justice, and CNN. Susan's third book,” Time’s Up: A Guide On How To Leave and Survive Abusive Relationships will be released in April, 2010. Susan is also co-host of the weekly television and interactive Internet crime show "Crime Wire." When there is no place for families to find answers and seek justice, “The Crime Wire Team is there.” 

Cassie Nelson is Women in Crime Ink's representative from the younger generation. A high school senior, Cassie interned for WCI contributor Robin Sax last summer, and she's stayed on interning at WCI. Her posts have explored everything from dancing in underwearand Octomom to Jaycee Dugard's rescue. Cassie plans to attend law school after receiving her undergraduate degree. In her free time, she trains daily with a kick-boxing coach. 

Donna Pendergast is a career prosecutor specializing in homicides. She has tried 100 murder cases, boasts a 98-percent conviction rate, and put away the most prolific serial killer in US history. Donna has appeared on 60 Minutes, "The Montel Williams Show," Dateline NBC, "True Hollywood Story," "Cold Case Files," and other television and radio venues, featuring her serial and sexual homicide cases. 

Robin Sax is a former prosecutor in Los Angeles, where she specialized in sex crimes against children for fifteen years. An author and legal analyst, she appears on "Larry King Live," HNL Prime News and "The Today Show." A co-founder of "Justice Interrupted," a top-ranked radio show highlighting cases that haven't received media attention, Robin is a the author of "SaxFacts," a weekly digest/blog. 

Katherine Scardino is a defense attorney who has handled 39 capital murder cases. She received the first "not guilty" verdict in 25 years for the State of Texas in a death penalty case, and recently received another acquittal in a capital trial. Katherine has appeared on Court TV, TODAYBill O’ReillyMSNBC and American Justice. She has several capital murder cases pending. 

Cathy Scott's work has appeared in The New York Times MagazineNew York PostSan Diego Union-Tribune, and Las Vegas Sun. Known for her true crime books The Killing of Tupac Shakur and The Murder of Biggie Smalls, Cathy taught journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her most recent appearances include Investigation Discoveryand VH1. Her next book is about Barbara Kogan, charged with the two-decades-old murder of her husband. 

Donna Weaver is an investigator for The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency. She began her education and training after the disappearance and murder of her husband in 1983. Donna is an area director for the Bahamas and Caribbean Region for The Doe Network - International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons. 

Janet Braunstein was a professional journalist and editor for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, newspapers, magazines, internet sites and Agence France-Press. She won multiple awards covering automotive electronics and safety technology. She updated and edited Every Bite a Delight, a collection of advertising slogans. Her interest in the local arts scene includes listening to, editing and encouragingoriginal storytelling, poetry, lyrics and music.

As we concluded our very first post, we say again: Welcome to Women in Crime Ink, your source for the real story behind crime and media issues.