Tuesday, May 28, 2013

John Norman Collins - Verdict and Sentence

 On Friday, January 16, 1970, the people's case against John Norman Collins finally went to the jury. 

They had been sequestered in a hotel for a full month during the trial proceedings. Now, after lunch at an undisclosed Ann Arbor restaurant, they returned to the jury room to begin deliberations at 1:10 PM. They retired for the evening at 9:30 PM.

On January 20, 1970, after four stressful days, one-hundred and one hours and thirty minutes since the jury began deliberations, the jury foreman informed the bailiff that they had arrived at a verdict. 

The jury had weighed the evidence for a total of twenty-seven hours, heard five and a half hours of trial testimony read back to them, and listened to the judge's instructions for a second time. The jury brought a murder in the first degree verdict against John Norman Collins for the wrongful death of Karen Sue Beineman.

Collins' mother Loretta audibly gasped when she heard the words no mother should hear, but many other Michigan mothers felt some level of relief at the headlines screaming out from the newspapers: Collins Found Guilty

Washtenaw County District Court Judge John W. Conlin set the date for sentencing as Wednesday, August 28th, 1970. 

On the appointed day with a courtroom packed mostly with press, the defendant and his family heard Judge Conlin pass the mandatory sentence: "Life in prison without possibility of parole at hard labor in solitary confinement." 

One hour after the court proceedings, Collins was in a prison van headed for Jackson State Prison.

As imposing as that may sound, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson told the press that the hard labor and solitary provision had not been enforced in Jackson State Prison for "the past fifteen years or so." It is impossible to do both at the same time, he said, so other inmate management plans were in place.

The press also learned that new prisoners are eased into the prison population for the first thirty days. Collins would be quarantined for testing and an adjustment period. 

Physicals, aptitude, intelligence, and psychological tests (which Collins has tacitly refused to take) are given to new arrivals. This helps prison committees determine the best placement for offenders and eligibility for parole.

Collins managed to work a number of menial jobs until he secured a job tutoring other inmates, which his supervisors thought he was good at, particularly with difficult inmates. In that job, he was able to meet people from many different areas of the prison.

While working at a food service job, a large amount of sugar was found missing from the kitchen pantry. When some inmates were caught with "spud juice" one evening. Collins was implicated in the sugar theft and the making of potato vodka. He soon lost all of his job privileges.


Today, John Norman Collins is on Administrative Segregation at Marquette Prison and spends most of the day in his cell with the exception of a one hour exercise period. Weightlifting, a life long interest, is difficult these days because of  knee and back injuries. To complicate matters, rumor has it that Collins had a mild stroke in the early spring of 2012.

Prison reports have it that Collins has taken to feeding birds during his exercise breaks, and he has in fact been reprimanded by prison officials for that. The birds recognize him when he is in the yard earning him the sobriquet, "the bird man."

Because of several attempts over the years to escape from prison, Collins has earned a Level Five security classification. He can not be trusted to work any prison job, but he has his own cell with a television, a prison bed, a small writing area, a bookshelf, and a toilet. So at least the solitary confinement part of his original sentence is being served - sort of.

In the early 1980's, John Norman Collins quietly changed his name to John Norman Chapman and started to engineer another way out of serving his full prison sentence. He hearkened to his Canadian roots. 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Zug Island - Focal Point of Windsor Hum?

Zug Island from Windsor, Ontario

For the last several years, residents of Windsor, Ontario, have complained of a low frequency hum which rattles their windows and keeps them awake at night. Canadian scientists have pinpointed the source as Zug Island, an industrial complex on the United States side of the Detroit River.

Because the blast furnace and coke oven industrial complex is an international border installation, it has come under the aegis of Homeland Security. Surveillance has been beefed up and one of two entrances to the island has been blockaded and fenced off. The exaggerated security of Zug Island combined with the mysterious hum has led to a number of conspiracy theories. 

The SyFy Network is sending Joe Rogan to Detroit to look into this matter, and I've been asked to participate because of my previous on-the-job experience working there and my knowledge of the plant. The producers saw my book, Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel, and thought I could add something to their documentary. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but this project is kookie enough to interest me.

To learn more about the the Windsor Hum, view the link below:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gregory A. Fournier on Blogging and Branding

After a lifetime of teaching English Language Arts, I was ready to try my hand at something else in retirement.

Rather than read and/or teach fiction, I wanted to see if I could write a full length novel, so I began writing Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel. (See link.)

The transition from being a writing instructor to becoming an author was not a huge leap for me. Learning how to present and market my work has been the persistent challenge. 

In addition to traditional publishing which has long dominated the writing market, the explosion of self-published Printing on Demand (POD) books has glutted the marketplace making the field even more crowded.

I've found that speaking at libraries, bookstores, and book clubs is not the best way to attract readers and sell books. Those venues place the author in direct contact with some readers, but the reach of such events is limited. 

Reluctantly at first, I decided to blog at the insistence of my publicist, Paula Margulies (see link below). "You need to establish yourself and your blog as a brand," she said. "That's how you build an audience from the ground up."

I soon discovered that the care and feeding of a blog required a minimum of one post a week. Anything less than that and readers sense a lack of commitment and lose interest.

I feared that I would be spending more time writing blog posts than on my current project, The Rainy Day Murders, about the John Norman Collins coed killings in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Coming up with new material and keeping readers interested in my writing is work, no doubt about it. But what I originally thought I would dread has become an interesting exercise in honing my style and establishing my author's voice. 

My blog has grown steadily over the last two years helping me to interact and create a fan base which is opening some doors for me in the media and publishing business. 

What I once dreaded is now something I look forward to doing. Publishing a blog not only reaches out to potential readers, it also helps me work out my ideas for the book I'm writing. It allows readers to feel a sense of "behind the scenes" which helps me build and maintain an audience.

Effective blogging creates a sense of immediacy for the reader and a sense of instant gratification for the writer who can now publish with a simple stroke on the keyboard. My blog is a virtual electronic business card open twenty-four hours a day, every day, and its reach is global.


In April of this year, I was interviewed by a reporter from Eastern Michigan University for their alumni website and monthly print publication. Here is the link to that article.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Medieval Clink Prison (1144-1780)

Established in 1144 AD, "The Clink" was the prison that gave its name to all others. The name derived from the clinking sound made by the blacksmith when closing the irons around the wrists and ankles of prisoners. The prison was located on the south side of the Thames River just west of the London Bridge in an area named Southwark. 

Originally, the prison was built within palace walls owned and operated by the Bishop of Winchester. It served as the bishop's private gaol (jail). 

Southwark became the place where the people of London went for their adult entertainment, much like Las Vegas is today for many Americans. It was louder, cruder, and more notorious than staid London across the river.  

Activities which were illegal north of the Thames were given free rein on the south side of the river. Drinking and carousing were popular past times. Bull and bear baiting attracted gamblers, as did dog fighting and cock fights. There were twenty-two bath houses (brothels) along Bankside, and in 1587 AD, the new playhouses added to the general lawlessness as petty crimes were rampant and cut purses (pick pockets) worked the area.
Over its six-hundred year history, the Clink has held debtors, heretics, drunkards, prostitutes, thieves, political prisoners, Protestants, Catholics, and the pilgrim fathers before they shipped out to America.

Despite barbaric prison conditions, punishment was not the purpose of Medieval prisons. Prisons were used to confine the accused before his or her trial. The punishment came after the trial

For minor offenses, a prisoner could be locked in the stocks for a public show of humiliation or taken to a pillory where the guilty party would be tied to the whipping post for a public scourging. 

For capital crimes, a person could have his head chopped off, get his neck stretched by the business end of a rope, or be burned at the stake if you were a religious heretic. Executions were popular forms of entertainment in those times and drew huge crowds.

The lower cellars of the prison would regularly flood during high tides and prisoners would have to stand waist high in sewage and human waste. Waterborne infections killed countless people with diseases like Camp Fever (typhoid), The Ague (malaria), and The Flux (dysentery). During the plague years, the Clink must have resembled Hell itself as bodies were piled up outside the prison waiting to be hauled away for hasty burial. 

Because of the accumulated filth, William de Rakyer was hired in 1375 to rake up the muck. This is believed to be the origin of the term "muckraker" used in politics. 

In a footnote to history, King Henry II in 1161 issued fifty-two regulations for the Bankside "stews" in an effort to regulate prostitution. The working girls were not allowed to cheat their patrons, nor could women be forced into that line of work. Women for the first time were allowed to earn an income and achieve a level of independence from men hitherto unknown.

Ironically, the Bishop of Winchester owned several of these "rented" houses and made a sizable income from the wages of sin. The girls were nicknamed "Winchester Geese" partially because of the white aprons and yellow hoods they were required to wear by law. 

The brothels were called stews, which is believed to be a corruption of the Old French word for stove - estuve - for the "hot work done in them."

For the first time, these women had some immunity from prosecution and could ply their trade without constant fear of arrest and incarceration in the Clink.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More Theater Lore

London's oldest active theater site, Theater Royal Drury Lane, opened in 1663 in the early years of the English Reformation. Four theaters have occupied this site over the years. 

The first theater burned down in 1672. It was rebuilt by Christopher Wren and reopened on March 26, 1674. One-hundred and seventeen years later, Irish playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan had the building demolished and opened a larger theater in 1794. That building burned down only fifteen years later in 1809. The current building was rebuilt and reopened in 1812. Presently, it is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Theater Royal Drury Lane was really the first modern proscenium arch theater which provided a visual frame for the audience with permanent wings to the left and right of the stage to hide and shift scenery on and off the stage.

Learning about theater lore from a backstage tour is a fascinating excursion into the past. On the Royal Drury Lane Theatre tour at Covent Garden in London, the tour includes guides who dress in period costumes as they trade off their docent duties for quick costume changes. 

At one moment, a Victorian cleaning woman comes singing "I could have danced all night" down a staircase with a feather duster, then an eighteenth-century, English nobleman in costume suddenly appears and continues the tour. Next, a woman from the gaslight period comes out in a red dress and tells about how the theater was in her day. The tour is quite entertaining.


Learning the origins of words from these tours is an article of faith, but because it is lore, I have a willing suspension of disbelief. For instance, I learned that the term "crew" as applied to the backstage crew derives from a little known fact.

In the early nineteenth-century, the new theater owners rebuilt and redesigned the theater once again. They hired out of work sailors who were between sea tours to work backstage; they became known as "the crew." These sailors devised the system of pulleys and battens which raise and lower scenery from the loft above. This innovation created new staging opportunities for playwrights and directors.


On the Shakespeare's Globe Theater tour, I learned the origin of the term "box office." 

At the various entrances to the original Medieval theaters in the sixteenth-century, patrons would place their pennies in a ceramic box as they entered the theater. These boxes were collected at the box office. The theater owners would "break the bank" there for security reasons.

Today, box offices are where patrons purchase tickets for events, but the term has an additional context also. It has come to be associated with the amount of money a movie or play takes in.

"Good box office" means the production is making money; "box office poison" means the producers are losing money. Weekly and yearly figures are important to the entertainment industry and are reported widely around the world.