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Posts Tagged ‘crime

“We have met the enemy, and he is us”*…

 

Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain started writing thrillers together for the motor-car racing magazines and rags about bicycle adventures and trucking for which Paris in the early 20th century had a limitless appetite. They knocked out a novel together in 1909 (monkey-men, tire ads, electric corselets and flying bat-suits) and two in 1910 (including a proto-fotonovela of adventure in the theatre), and then they found their lightning bolt, the main line: Fantômas. They wrote a four-hundred-page Fantômas novel every month for almost three years. The books were so cheaply printed that whole pages of the minuscule type were smeared or unreadable, but they were throwaway cheap (65 centimes, about the cost of a week of the daily paper) and sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies. The rules were simple: Juve, the cop, would pursue Fantômas, and Fantômas, l’insaisissable, the uncatchable and elusive, would always escape to wreak fresh havoc.

Fantômas was the ultimate industrial criminal: he was the crumbling gothic castle for an age of masses, cities, shopping, and machines. Always in disguise, the faceless genius of disaster could look like anyone and disappear into the metropolitan crowds he would occasionally massacre… He thrived by perverting modern spaces: releasing plague rats onto luxurious ocean liners, lining gloves with toxic chemicals and chic shoes with broken glass and filling department store perfume atomizers with poison, dumping sleepers off moving locomotives into the canyons outside, opening gas valves to asphyxiate victims. He did his evil on a mass production basis, sinking ships, crashing trains, and packing so many victims into a building that the walls started bleeding. Crowds gathered at the scene of some new outrage were showered in blood, jewels, and banknotes; chaos reigns.

The core of Fantômas’s criminal project is a kind of psychopathology in modern technology itself: in the trucs, the gadgets and elaborate machines he employed. A rigger of trick techniques and special effects, a cheater, a fixer of loaded dice and stacked decks, he turned the world into a movie set…

A kind of free-floating evil – a way of looking delectably askance at electricity and electric light, photography, telephones and telegraphs, industrial equipment and the glittering city – Fantômas was perfectly suited to new formats. There were five French silent films, then a twenty-part American serial; there were translations, knockoffs, and pirate editions of both the books and the character – Belphégor, Tenebras, Judex, Phantomas, Diabolik, Ultus, Za la Mort. The Surrealists created suites of fan fiction devoted to what Blaise Cendrars called “the modern Aeneid”; Alain Resnais made 8-mm test films towards a Fantômas movie in 1934. There was a sound movie, then another, and then remakes after the war and in the 1960s, three of which had a strange cultural afterlife playing over and over in Cuban movie theaters for more than a decade. There was a TV series in the 1970s. He had an enormous parallel career in comic books in Mexico…

Much more (including a pointer to an exquisite Julio Cortazar novella) in Finn Brunton‘s “L’Insaisissable, the latest installment in his always-illuminating newsletter series, Passing Current.

[Image above, one of Gino Starace‘s striking covers for the Fantômas series]

* Walt Kelly, Pogo

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As we find ourselves in a crowd, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow mortally wounded a constable in Miami, Oklahoma and abducted a police chief, whom they also wounded.  The FBI and local law enforcement redoubled their efforts to stop the pair, and succeeded, in a hail of bullets, the following month.

Bonnie and Clyde

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Written by LW

April 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Then murder’s out of tune”*…

 

Thomas Hargrove reviewing notes sent to him by police departments

In 2015, Scripps spun off the last of its newspapers, and Hargrove and the other print reporters lost their jobs. “The only guy who left with a skip was me,” he says. Hargrove, who was 59 at the time and had worked at the company for 37 years, qualified for a large severance and a nice pension, leaving him well-covered. Now he had enough time to go all in on his data project. He founded the Murder Accountability Project, or MAP, a tiny nonprofit seeking to make FBI murder data more widely and easily available…

His innovation was to teach a computer to spot trends in unsolved murders, using publicly available information that no one, including anyone in law enforcement, had used before. This makes him, in a manner of speaking, the Billy Beane of murder…

One might think that there’s a trove of data being crunched by law enforcement agencies across the country to find any clue that might be used to identify the perpetrators of what could be multiple homicides.  Thomas Hargrove found out there wasn’t.  So he starting building one: “Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm.” (Via the always-illuminating Next Draft.)

* Shakespeare, Othello

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As we track ’em down, we might recall that it was on this day in 2002 that former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic went on trial at The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.  Milosevic served as his own attorney for much of the prolonged trial, which ended without a verdict when the so-called “Butcher of the Balkans” was found dead at age 64 from an apparent heart attack in his prison cell on March 11, 2006.

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Written by LW

February 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th Century”*…

 

This fall marks the 128th anniversary of a series of murders in London’s Whitechapel district — at least five, for sure — that have long transformed from an investigation to a vague romantic aura that haunts the more macabre corners of pop culture. The case is more frostbitten than cold: due to a combination of muddled evidence and the deteriorating effects of time, the case will never be solved. Yet despite the lack of leads — in fact, because of them — the content business of Jack the Ripper is still booming.

An Amazon search spits back nearly 4,500 items, IMDb returns 119 TV episodes or movies, but even those numbers don’t account for the subtly titled video games, websites, stage plays, operas, paintings, radio dramas, songs, costumes, or various Etsy crafts that seek to capture that “Jack the Ripper aesthetic.” You know it: that sinister silhouette with top hat and cane, sounds of raindrops and horse hooves echoing on candlelit cobblestones, frantic police whistles in the dark followed by cries that they found another. Jack the Ripper is a perpetual content machine from beyond the grave…

More at “The Jack the Ripper Content Economy.”

* “Jack the Ripper” (in the film From Hell)

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As we avoid dark alleys, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the Senate passed what became The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, at nearly $30 Billion the largest crime bill in U.S. history.  While the bill created the federal assault weapons ban, it also criminalized a number of new offenses and brought “three strikes” sentencing (already in place in some states) to federal trials.  The increased case load caused the legal system to rely much more heavily on plea bargains; the increase in incarceration led to prison overcrowding.

President Bill Clinton signing the bill

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“It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to”*…

 

Early in the morning on Sunday, 28 August, the German artist Anselm Kiefer’s 35,000sq. m studio and warehouse space in Croissy-Beaubourg, about 25km west of Paris, was burgled and robbed, as first reported by the French daily newspaper Le Parisien. The thieves are suspected of cutting through wire cages and making off with a ten-tonne lead sculpture of stacks of books—valued at €1.3m—and 12 tonnes of raw marble, worth around €1m…

More heaviness at “Anselm Kiefer’s studio robbed of 12 tonnes of raw marble and €1.3m lead sculpture.”

* Jean-Luc Godard

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As we recheck our locks, we might note that this is a big day in the history of crime…

On this date in 1935, Huey Long, Louisiana Senator and past-Governor (and inspiration for Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men), was shot in the Louisiana state capitol building; he died 30 hours later. Called a demagogue by critics, the populist leader was a larger-than-life figure who boasted that he bought legislators “like sacks of potatoes, shuffled them like a deck of cards.”

Long in the State house, flanked by the armed guards with whom he traveled

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And on this date in 1974, President Gerald Ford offered his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon, “a full, free, and absolute pardon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in” during Nixon’s Presidency.

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Written by LW

September 8, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Goodness had nothing to do with it”*…

 

“Restaurants are a classic way to move money,” says Kieran Beer, chief analyst of the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists. Beer adds that pretty much any cash-intensive business can be used to launder money — laundromats, used car dealerships, taxi services — but restaurants tend to crop up again and again in money laundering cases…

“In basic terms, money laundering is when a business has ties or connections to organized crime and suddenly starts to book incredible — or even normal — sales,” says Beer. “That’s what criminals want to achieve — take dirty money from drugs or human trafficking or another criminal endeavor, and put into the system to make it look clean. Then, they can buy homes and cars, and it looks like the money was made legitimately.”…

Cleaning dirty money along with the dirty dishes: “How Do Criminals Launder Money Through a Restaurant?

* Mae West

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As we think about tipping, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that the Treasury Office of the City of Paris confessed to a computer glitch:  41,000 Parisians with outstanding traffic fines had been sent official notices charging them with major criminal offenses– murder, extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking, and other serious crimes.  For example, a man who had made an illegal U-turn on the Champs-Elysees was ordered to pay a $230 fine for using family ties to procure prostitutes and “manslaughter by a ship captain and leaving the scene of a crime.”  The City subsequently sent letters of correction and apology.

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Written by LW

September 6, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do”*…

 

If you want to buy soap at the Walgreens on Market Street in San Francisco, you’ll need to find a store employee to unlock the display case for you. 

Fifty dollar earbuds and $100 bottles of Claritin simply sit on the shelves where customers can pick them up and go. But baby formula, shampoo, and soap are all protected by locked display cases. 

It’s well known that pharmacies need to protect their stores of cold medicine, which methamphetamine cooks can use to make illicit drugs. But why soap? Is a $6 bottle of Dove body wash really worth the squeeze?…

The key to understanding the appeal of soap to thieves is realizing that they care less about an item’s price tag and more about the ease of finding a buyer. In other words, thieves want a liquid asset.

The practical economics of larceny: “Why Thieves Steal Soap.”

* Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), The Wide Window

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As we call for a clerk, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that a notorious crime boss met his end:

Mob boss Michael “Mickey” Spillane (not to be confused with the guy who created fictional P.I. Mike Hammer) had a run of very bad luck on Friday the 13th; he was shot and killed outside his apartment in Queens, NY. Spillane, who headed the Westies gang [see here], had moved to Queens from Hell’s Kitchen out of fear for his safety. The previous year, his three top lieutenants had been taken out on orders from Genovese crime family boss Fat Tony Salerno. Salerno coveted control of construction contracts for the Jacob Javits Civic Center, which was being built in Spillane’s territory. Spillane’s killing was rumored to have been carried out by Gambino crime family associates Roy DeMeo and Danny Grillo. After Spillane’s demise, mobster Jimmy Coonan took over as head of the Westies. Coonan had previously challenged Spillane for control of the group. After he took control, Coonan formed an alliance with the Gambino family, in a deal brokered by the newly-“made” Roy DeMeo. Coincidence? Um… probably not.   [source]

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Written by LW

May 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The tracks of my tears”*…

 

In the service of a collection of micrographs he calls “Imaginarium Of Tears,” Dutch photographer Maurice Mikkers has taken pictures, like the one above, of more than a hundred tears.  Friends, family, and complete strangers have donated their tears at dinner parties and exhibitions, like at TEDx in Amsterdam, where Mikkers was invited to set up a temporary tear collecting booth.

In the beginning of 2015 I started the project called “Imaginarium of Tears”, an ongoing photography tear collection with personal stories at its heart… The project evolved, and a lot has happend since.

It all started at the 10th of januari 2015, when I was working on the crystallisation of Diclofenac. When walking back from the kitchen to my desk with the crystalised Diclofenac slide. I bumped my toe really hard against the table. So while in pain, there was was only one thing on my mind: capturing the tear rolling down my cheek with a micro pipet. Right after it was captured, I dispensed the tear it into little drops on a microscope slide. Hoping it would maybe also crystallise just like my other subjects and show its true beauty…

More of and on the Imaginarium of Tears here and here.

* Smokey Robinson (seen here performing the tune with The Miracles)

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As we dry our eyes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1831, that Edward Smith knocked over the National City Bank of New York (an ancestor of Citibank), and made off with $245,000– thus becoming America’s first bank robber.  He was quickly apprehended and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing (which was only five years old when Smith arrived as an inmate).

While Smith has claim to being America’s first “bank robber” as we tend to use the term, his stick-up was not the first theft from an American bank.  That honor seems to belong to the 1798 burglary of the the Bank of Pennsylvania at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.

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Written by LW

March 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

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