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Posts Tagged ‘crime

“Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death”*…

 

The kitchen is well equipped and stocked. There’s a stove, a refrigerator full of food, a table with a rolling pin and a bowl, and a sink with Ivory soap. The wall calendar, featuring with a sailing ship, says it’s April 1944. But there’s something else: Every item is miniature, hand-crafted, and a doll lies on the floor, apparently dead, cause unknown.

This is one of Frances Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of 1/12-scale dioramas based on real-life criminal investigation cases. They were used—and continue to be studied even today—to train investigators in the art of evidence gathering, meticulous documentation, and keen observation. And they were created by one of the most unlikely and influential figures in crime scene forensics…

From “The Grim Crime-Scene Dollhouses Made by the ‘Mother of Forensics’,” which prompts a look back at (R)D’s earlier visit with Ms. Glessner:

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Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) was a millionaire heiress and Chicago society dame with a very unusual hobby for a woman raised according to the strictest standards of nineteenth century domestic life: investigating murder. And she did this through a most unexpected medium: dollhouse-like dioramas. Glessner Lee grew up home-schooled and well-protected in the fortress-like Glessner House, designed by renown American architect H.H. Richardson, but she was introduced to the fields of homicide investigation and forensic science by her brother’s friend, George Magrath, who later became a medical examiner and professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. Instantly captivated by the nascent pursuit, she became one of its most influential advocates. In 1936, she endowed the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard and made subsequent gifts to establish chaired professorships and seminars in homicide investigation. But that’s not all…

Glessner Lee, rather than using her well cultivated domestic skills to throw lavish parties for debutantes, tycoons, and other society types, subverted the notions typically enforced upon a woman of her standing by hosting elaborate dinners for investigators who would share with her, in sometimes gory detail, the intricacies of their profession. Glessner Lee oversaw every detail of these dinners herself, down to the menu and floral arrangements. She could probably tell you which wine goes best with discussion about a strangled corpse found in a bathroom. But the matronly Glessner Lee — who may have been the inspiration for Angela Lansbury’s character in “Murder She Wrote”– wanted to do more to help train investigators. She wanted to create a new tool for them…

In her conversations with police officers, scholars and scientists, she came to understand that through careful observation and evaluation of a crime scene, evidence can reveal what transpired within that space. The physical traces of a crime, the clues, the vestiges of a transgressive moment, have a limited lifespan, however, and can be lost or accidentally corrupted. If a crime scene were properly studied, the truth would ultimately be revealed.

To help her investigator friends learn to assess evidence and apply deductive reasoning,  to help them “find the truth in a nutshell,” Frances Glessner Lee created what she called “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,”  a series of lovingly crafted dioramas at the scale of one inch to one foot, each one a fully furnished picturesque scene of domesticity with one glaringly subversive element: a dead body…

These miniature crime scenes were representations of actual cases, assembled through police reports and court records to depict the crime as it happened and the scene as it was discovered. They were pure objective recreations. The design of each dollhouse, however, was Glessner Lee’s own invention and revealed her own predilections and biases formed while growing up in a palatial, meticulously appointed home. She makes certain assumptions about taste and lifestyle of low-income families, and her dioramas of their apartments are garishly decorated with, as Miller notes, “nostalgic,” and “often tawdry” furnishings.

Investigators had to learn how to search a room and identify important evidence to construct speculative narratives that would explain the crime and identify the criminal.  Glessner Lee’s models helped them develop and practice specific methods –geometric search patterns or zones, for example– to complete an analysis of a crime scene. “The forensic investigator,” Miller writes, “takes on the tedious task of sorting through the detritus of domestic life gone awry….the investigator claims a specific identity and an agenda: to interrogate a space and its objects through meticulous visual analysis”…

Read the full story at “How a Chicago Heiress Trained Homicide Detectives With an Unusual Tool: Dollhouses.”

* William S. Burroughs

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As we re-enact the crime, we might send elegantly-designed birthday greetings to Sir Christopher Wren; he was born in this date (O.S.) in 1632.  One of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history, he was given responsibility for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including what is regarded as his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710; his other works include the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and the south front of Hampton Court Palace, and the Wren Building, the main building at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Educated in Latin and Aristotelian physics at Oxford, Wren was also a notable anatomist, astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist. He was a founder of the Royal Society (and its president 1680–82).

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Written by LW

October 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Whoever said crime doesn’t pay is an idiot. It pays great, which is why there is so much of it.”*…

 

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Low-level criminals in the US make an average of $900 per week, according to an estimate published in the academic journal Criminology.

So, people who commit small crimes, like robberies, forge checks, and deal drugs, are making more money per week than the average US worker ($885).

Low-level criminals are also making more money per week than high school dropouts ($504) and college dropouts ($756).

That might be in part because wage growth (in the formal economy) is so sluggish in the US, even though unemployment is low, at 4.4%. Wages grew only 2.5% between mid-2016 and mid-2017. While some analysts would expect it to be growing at 3.5%

More at Quartz Index.

* Jay Crownover

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As we sigh from the straight and narrow, we might send well-organized birthday greetings to Joseph Michael “Joe Cargo” Valachi; he was born on this date in 1904.  A member of Lucky Luciano’s mob family from the 1930s through the 1950s, Valachi was primarily involved in rackets and gambling– until his racketeering conviction in 1959, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison.

Valachi attained his notoriety– and historical significance in 1963, when he was the star witness in a government inquiry into the Mob (the McClelland Committee).  He provided the Committee with graphic details of Mob life, and named six New York are Crime families.  The first member of the Italian-American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence, he is credited with popularization of the term “Cosa Nostra.”

After returning to prison, Valachi teamed with appointed writer Peter Maas to craft his memoirs, The Valachi Papers, which were published in 1968.

Valachi testifying

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Written by LW

September 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“To me, pictures are like blintzes – ya gotta get ‘em while they’re hot”*…

 

Sure. I’d like to live regular. Go home to a good looking wife, a hot dinner, and a husky kid. But I guess I got film in my blood. I love this racket. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. It’s funny. It’s tough. It’s heartbreaking.  

-Weegee

Weegee wanted his pictures to show some humanity. He walked back about a hundred feet. Set up his camera. Used flash powder and Kazam! There was the whole scene. The corpse. The blood. The cops. The balcony seat of people looking out to see what had just happened. Drama. Humanity. Crime.

Weegee came out of Złoczów now part of the Ukraine. He was born Arthur Fellig in June 1899. He emigrated with his family. They landed New York 1909. Lived in the Lower East Side. His father was a hatmaker and part-time rabbi. Weegee took whatever work came. He became a janitor. Got the nickname “Squeegee Boy.” He hung around with the bums on the Bowery. Started taking photographs. First passport pictures, then commercial work. At the age of thirty-five, he upped his game, quit commercial work, became a freelance news photographer.

He went out nights, hung around the police station waiting for the stories to come in over the teletype. Off he went taking pictures of murders, fires, fender benders, wacko kids on their way to juvie hall. He spent two years with no accreditation following the police all around town. In 1938, the cops gave him his own police radio. Weegee could tune in and pick up on what was happening. Most times he got to the crime scene before the cops. The cops thought he must be psychic. This gave rise to the apocryphal story his nickname was the phonetic spelling of “Ouija.” Weegee added a darkroom to the trunk of his car. He took his picture, developed it at the scene, put his print on the back, and sold it to the papers. During his ten years at police headquarters, Weegee said he must have photographed 5,000 murders—“at least one murder every night.”…

More of the story– and more examples of the extraordinary work– at “Through a Lens, Darkly: Weegee’s Photographs of Death and Disaster.”

For more of Weegee in his own words: “Altering life by holding it still”*…

* Weegee

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As we snap it up, we might send pacific birthday greetings to Mildred Lisette Norman; she was born on this date in 1908.  Better known by the descriptor she gave herself, “Peace Pilgrim,” she was a non-denominational spiritual teacher, mystic, pacifist, vegetarian activist, and peace activist.  In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season; she then walked across the United States to speak with anyone she encountered about peace– and journey that lasted for 7 cross-country round-trips over 28 years.

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Written by LW

July 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“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

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