Monday, July 29, 2013

The Two Faces of Evil - Identifying Sociopaths (Part Two of Four)

Broadly defined, a sociopath is a person without conscience - a person who does not experience guilt like most people. Sociopathy is a "non-correctable disfigurement of a person's character." In its extreme manifestation - it leads to psychopathic behavior, the subtext of my next book The Rainy Day Murders.

In my last post, I cited a statistic from Martha Stout's fascinating study, the sociopath next door (sic). She convincingly states that one in twenty-five people are sociopaths - that equates to four percent. Of that segment of the population, roughly twenty percent are behind bars. What of the other eighty percent? Where do they hide?

The answer is chilling - at home, at work, and at large! The successful achievers of this group might go into high finance, high government office, the board rooms of corporate America, and of course, the military. These are high-octane professions where conscience is not a part of the collective dialogue - failure is not an option - their game is not culpability - it is winning at all costs.

Most garden variety sociopaths do not play out their schemes on so vast a stage. At work, they harass and intimidate their co-workers with mean spirited mind games - people in positions of petty authority are known for this. At home, they extract their pound of flesh behind closed doors - usually secure in the knowledge that the fear and shame of their victims will insure their family secrets. Many sociopaths are known for their ability to charm and deceive people. How do we recognize these predators before they do us serious harm?

Here are ten traits to look for. If three or more seem to apply, watch yourself:
  • Sociopaths are narcissists who know the words but not the music of life.
  • Something is missing from their "genetic marbling." They suffer from attachment disorder.
  • They are easily bored and need continual external stimulation.
  • They are not comfortable in their own skin.
  • They are absolutely self-involved and high-strung.
  • They tend toward hypochondria and "pity plays."
  • They are not team players.
  • They show unremitting self-interest.
  • They use and abuse people with impunity.
  • They are manipulators.
Other than that, they look just like the rest of us. Why are sociopaths and psychopaths so often described as charming? Look for the answer in my next post. It may surprise you.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dancing with Devils (Part One of Four)

Since September of 2011, my research partner and I have been investigating the John Norman Collins murders in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area between July of 1967 through July of 1969. These seven murders of young women became know as the Co-Ed Killings and have since become a local legend - partly because five of the murders are as yet unsolved - partly because of shoddy police work. Despite early media attention nationally, the trial was overshadowed by the Tate/Bianca murders and the Charles Manson family, which occurred at the same time as the Collins trial.

My research into this matter includes studies of many of the most infamous serial killers, sex criminals, sociopaths, and pathological narcissists in twentieth-century America - almost exclusively angry white males. If ever there was a Rogue's Gallery in Hell, this collection of psychopaths would make their blood run cold.

What makes these people different from the rest of us? They lack something called a conscience. These people are lost in a deep and dark existential void where their actions don't have consequences for them - until they are caught, of course. Then they justify their crimes. These people live in a mirrored reality where they are in control - where they are God.

Dr. Martha Stout, PhD, in her book, the sociopath next door (sic), convincingly purports that one in twenty-five people are sociopathic. That is four percent of the population. Many of these people find their niche in society, but too many others carve their way into our consciousness. At their best, they manipulate and use people heartlessly - at their worst, they unleash havoc and horror on an unprotected and terrified public.

What is even more scary is that most of these characters have charm and cunning to mask their heinous acts and desires. Reminds me of Lady Macbeth's advice to her husband, "Appear the innocent flower, but be the serpent underneath." Even in Shakespeare's time, this "deceptive" feature of psychopaths was known. More the pity, there is no known cure for their madness. But when push comes to shove - Beware! - they will stop at nothing to manipulate reality to suit themselves and satisfy their ravenous rage against a society that hasn't learned to appreciate or acknowledge them.

The study of  sociopathy is in its early stages, and there are many unanswered questions about it. How do we identify sociopaths? Once we identify them, what do we do about them? How can society protect itself?

Lawyers avoid using the term in court because it has not been precisely defined. The term "serial killer" was not used in court until the 1980's, when an FBI man used it in court to describe the dramatic increase of this crime after World War Two. In Colin Wilson's incisive work, The History of Murder, he states that the FBI estimates serial killers kill 300 to 500 people yearly in America.

People just don't become killers. What makes them that way? And if there are natural born killers among us, surely that tendency displays itself early in their lives. Why isn't sociopathy addressed in public schools? We give lip service against bullies, but what is done with these kids who prey on other students - driving an increasing number to suicide? More often than not, we simply transfer them to another school and seal their records? Presently, there is no known treatment to cure these demons among us, but ignoring them is not an option. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Rainy Day Murders - Light at the End of the Funnel

For the last three years, my researcher Ryan M. Place and I have been compiling as many official documents as we have been able to get our hands on concerning the alleged John Norman Collins' murder cases. 

I say "alleged" because the deaths of six of the eight women killed have never been adjudicated. These young women were brutally murdered in Washtenaw County between July 9th, 1967, and July 23rd, 1969. 

Collins was convicted only of the last of these brutal, power and control killings. He was convicted of first degree murder for the sex-slaying of Karen Sue Beineman, an eighteen year old freshman new to the campus of Eastern Michigan University.

Gary Earl Leiterman
The murder of the third victim originally believed to be the work of John Norman Collins was Jane Mixer. In 2005, thirty-five years after the fact, Collins was exonerated of her murder when DNA proved that Gary Earl Leiterman had killed Jane. 

For some of the public, particularly those not born when these frightening murders happened, the shadow of doubt hangs over these events. Collins is cast as a victim of circumstance and not of hard evidence. Many believe he was railroaded by a hungry press and a vindictive county police department bent on venting their revenge upon him.

The comment threads on the John Norman Collins sites are full of incorrect perceptions and blatantly false statements all taken from the John Norman Collins media playbook.

Once the other six cases are presented with the documentable facts, along side what we have recently learned from our extensive research and first-person interviews, readers can make up their own minds. The facts as they exist in these other cases have never been fully revealed to the public.

Ryan and I have read thousands of pages of vintage newspaper clippings, complaint reports from the Michigan State Police, records from the Michigan Department of Corrections, the Ypsilanti Historical Society archives, the archives of the Halle Library at Eastern Michigan University, The Michigan Murders novelization, and Catching Serial Killers detailing police errors of procedure in this case. 

Additionally, we've read all the magazine articles, the internet material, and many of the top titles of the true crime genre in preparation for writing The Rainy Day Murders

Now to funnel this heaving mass of information into a coherent and readable book that will withstand the test of time. A thorough accounting of these matters has never before been accomplished, and if the truth be known, without a full confession on the part of the murderer, the complete story will never be known. 

The purpose of this book is to restore the lost identities of the victims and to pay a debt to history. Ryan and I want to tell the truest and most complete version of these events as we are able. 

The families and friends of the victims deserve to know the truth as it exists, and the public has the right to the freedom of information.

For more information on Jane Mixer's murder, see:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New Investigative Discovery Channel John Norman Collins Documentary - Fall 2013

Last April, I was interviewed for an Investigative Discovery Channel program on John Norman Collins and the coed killings of 1967-1969 in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

Other people appearing on the program will be Katherine Ramsland, forensic psychologist and syndicated contributor to Psychology Today; former Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas Harvey; and Eastern Michigan University Patrolman Larry Mathewson, credited with breaking open the Karen Sue Beineman case.

In addition to interviews, the program will include re-enactments and scripted elements. It should air sometime this autumn, the date to be arranged.


Investigation Discovery true crime series seeks local footage from the 1960s

Posted on Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:47 a.m.

The production team behind a six part true crime anthology series, “The Bad Old Days” - slated to air on Investigation Discovery in the fall of 2013 - are seeking archival footage and home movies shot in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area in the 1960s.
The reason? The series, which details real-life murder cases of the 1950s and ‘60s, will in one episode highlight the "Michigan Murders" (’67-’69), wherein local women were terrorized, and the police rooted out one of the nation’s first nationally known serial killers, John Norman Collins.
The series’ format combines interviews, scripted scenes and archival footage.
“Our creative team wants to strive for an authentic and intimate look at the time period and of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti,” series associate producer Rebecca Morton said in an email. “We would like to weave this material into the scripted scenes.
Those with archives or footage to share should contact Morton at


Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Lost Hollywood Interview

Over two years ago, I did an interview in Los Angeles at a Hollywood hotel. It was the first time I was asked to do a video interview, and I was excited about it.

I drove up from San Diego and somehow managed to get a great parking space in back of the place. I cinched up my tie and looked for my contact person in the lobby. 

She took several of us up to a hotel suite set up as a makeshift studio. One part of of the suite was set up with the camera man and the interviewer; the other part was set up as a waiting area (green room) with snacks and drinks and a half dozen authors.

One of the authors who was also a booking agent was holding court when I arrived. Her project was about Spiritual Cleansing or something like that. She sucked all of the oxygen out of the room until it was time for her interview. 

Then there was the math professor from Cal Poly who was promoting a college textbook he had written. He launched into a discussion of chaos theory.

One by one, the others did their interviews in the other room and were led out by that exit. Finally, it was just me and a solidly-built, blonde, thirty-something woman waiting for our turn. 

"Who are you? She asked me.

"Oh, I'm Joe Nobody."

She laughed. "Yeah, I know what you mean. What's your book about?"

I gave her the Reader's Digest version of my novel, Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel, and my business card.

"Tell me about your book," I said.

"It's about my experiences in ladies' roller derby."


That helped explain her general muscle tone and solid build. She went on to say that she appeared in the feature film, Whip It, with Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, and Drew Barrymore. Her name was Ari Graynor.

Now it was her turn to leave and be interviewed. I was alone.

Finally! Mine must have been the last shoot of the day. I settled into the chair and prepared to talk about my novel when the interviewer asked me about converting a novel into a stage play. 

What? He was either tired, unprepared, or had me mixed up with someone else. Anyway, I made the best of it. "That's show business," I thought.

I left feeling like I had wasted my time. When the producers didn't get back with me, I felt that the interview had gone badly, so I didn't follow up. Then today, it appeared in my gmail with an apology for letting it slip through the cracks. For what it's worth, here it is:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Language in Crisis?

Small segment of Bayeux Tapestry showing Norman French preparing to fight the Anglo-Saxon defenders of the realm.
One of the enduring strengths of the English language is its ability to adapt itself to new language environments. The language was wrought on the sharp edge of a Norman sword and the fine point of a French arrow in 1066 AD, when King Harold was cut down by William the Conqueror's men.

Anglo-Saxon, the language of the vanquished and rural working class, and French, the language of the victors and the ruling class, existed side-by-side until the Norman lads started to intermarry with Anglo-Saxon girls. It could be said that in the beds of merry old England, the English language was born.

Ancient Anglo-Saxon Epic
Eventually, four hundred years or so later, English evolved into a word order language with a simple Germanic syntax and a greatly enriched Latin based vocabulary. This mongrel language was destined to dominate the complicated inflectional language of the French aristocracy and emerge as Britain's mother tongue.

English was spread throughout the globe by the British Empire. Recognizable varieties of English are spoken in Australia, India, Canada, South Africa, and in the United States. 

More of the world's residents study English as a second language than any other language because of its global importance in science and technology, air traffic control, finance, trade, commerce, and of course, pop culture.

But English, as with all of the world's other languages, is undergoing a dramatic paradigm shift from how language is traditionally used and represented in the age of print and how it is evolving in the digital age of hand held computing and text messaging. 

Not since the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg has technology impacted the way people communicate and interact with others. The vox populae (voice of the people) would finally be heard.

Notice the cabinet for upper case and lower case letters at the left.


For over six-hundred years, the mechanically printed word on paper has been the Holy Grail of written thought. The imprisonment of ideas in ink on the page made the modern world possible. 

The ignorant masses were learning to read. Now, public opinion could be influenced and pamphleteering became the new avenue of political and religious thought. Radical ideas and heresies could be spread on an unprecedented rate. The ruling elite began to worry.

Gutenberg Bible Illuminated Manuscript Detail
In some circles, the printing press was deemed an implement of the devil. But in a stroke of marketing genius, Gutenberg chose the Mazarin Bible in 1455 AD as the very first book printed and mass produced on his new invention, and the Church gave him its blessing.

With the invention on the microprocessor in 1975, the personal computer made home computing a reality for millions of people in the 1980s. Countless advancements have been made since those early days. 

The ability to reach out to the world rests literally in the palms of our hands. Movies, television, music, internet, email, shopping, the time and the weather are all at our finger tips twenty-four hours a day.

The characteristic posture of a twenty-first century human seems to be a person hunched over a Smartphone peering into a two by four inch screen, tapping out a clipped message with his or her opposable thumbs.

A popular view held by many people is that writing and reading aren't as valued in our visually attuned and post literate society as they once were. The culture of paper has given way to the digital world.

The paperless workplace is a corporate ideal and books may soon become relics if some people have their way. How close to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 nightmare vision of a bookless world have we come as a culture?

True! Icons and symbols comprise many of the messages we interpret everyday, and they take us back to a pictographic level of clipped, symbolic expression. The very beginnings of written language were symbolic cave paintings. Today, we use apps on our personal electronics to help us navigate the net with the touch of a finger.

Steve Jobs with i-Pad

Many people these days show their joy or grief with emoticons or simple abbreviations which have a whole lexicon and iconography of their own. The age of the love and the Dear John letter is all but a memory.

With today's electronic tablets and smart phones, virtually everyone has a window on the world in their hands. In many ways, as global communications improve, the world seems to get smaller. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is debatable. 

The curious thing I notice about this brave new world of hand held computing is that it tends to isolate people socially. Many people are closer and more responsive to their virtual friends, than they are to the people around them. 

And I myself feel drawn by the cold embrace of my computer if I'm away from it for any length of time. I know of a person who sleeps with her i-Phone next to her pillow. I kid you not!

Lately, I've noticed families or young people out to dinner at some restaurant, and everyone is engaged in text messaging, shopping, watching video, or gaming rather than interacting with each other.

I know this is anecdotal evidence, but have you noticed this too? If not, you may be drawn into the hypnotic stare of the one-eyed looking glass and be too self-absorbed to notice.


Enjoy this Academy Award winning animation on the wonder of books: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Medical Marijuana and William F. Buckley's Take of the Death of Peter McWilliams

Medical Marijuana and William F. Buckley's Take On
The Death Of Peter McWilliams

By William F. Buckley
Peter McWilliams is dead.
Age? Fifty.
Profession? Author, poet, publisher.
Particular focus of interest? A federal judge in California (George King) would decide in a few weeks how long a sentence to hand down, and whether to send McWilliams to prison or let him serve his sentence at home.
What was his offense? He collaborated in growing marijuana plants.
What was his defense? Well, the judge wouldn't allow him to plead his defense to the jury. If given a chance, the defense would have argued that under Proposition 215, passed into California constitutional law in 1996, infirm Californians who got medical relief from marijuana were permitted to use it. The judge also forbade any mention that McWilliams suffered from AIDS and cancer, and got relief from the marijuana.
What was he doing when he died? Vomiting. The vomiting hit him while in his bathtub, and he choked to death. Was there nothing he might have done to still the impulse to vomit? Yes, he could have taken marijuana; but the judge's bail terms forbade him to do so, and he submitted to weekly urine tests to confirm that he was living up to the terms of his bail.
Did anybody take note of the risk he was undergoing? He took Marinol -- a proffered, legal substitute, but reported after using it that it worked for him only about one-third of the time. When it didn't work, he vomited.
Was there no public protest against the judge's ruling? Yes. On June 9, the television program 20/20 devoted a segment to the McWilliams plight. Commentator John Stossel summarized: "McWilliams is out of prison on the condition that he not smoke marijuana, but it was the marijuana that kept him from vomiting up his medication. I can understand that the federal drug police don't agree with what some states have decided to do about medical marijuana, but does that give them the right to just end-run those laws and lock people up?"
Shortly after the trial last year, Charles Levendosky, writing in the Ventura County (Calif.) Star, summarized: "The cancer treatment resulted in complete remission." But only the marijuana gave him sustained relief from the vomiting that proved mortal.
Is it being said, in plain language, that the judge's obstinacy resulted in killing McWilliams? Yes. A Libertarian Party press release has made exactly that charge. "McWilliams was prohibited from using medical marijuana -- and being denied access to the drug's anti-nausea properties almost certainly caused his death." 
Reflecting on the judge's refusal to let the jury know that there was understandable reason for McWilliams to believe he was acting legally, I ended a column in November by writing, "So, the fate of Peter McWilliams is in the hands of Judge King. Perhaps the cool thing for him to do is delay a ruling for a few months, and just let Peter McWilliams die." Well, that happened on June 14.
The struggle against a fanatical imposition of federal laws on marijuana will continue, as also on the question whether federal laws can stifle state initiatives. Those who believe the marijuana laws are insanely misdirected have a martyr.
Peter was a wry, mythogenic guy, humorous, affectionate, articulate, shrewd, sassy. He courted anarchy at the moral level. His most recent book (his final book) was called Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. We were old friends, and I owe my early conversion to word processing to his guidebook on how to do it. Over the years we corresponded, and he would amiably twit my conservative opinions.
When I judged him to have gone rampant on his own individualistic views in his book, I wrote him to that effect. I cherish his reply -- nice acerbic deference, the supreme put-down:
"Please remember the Law of Relativity as applied to politics: In order for you to be right, at least someone else must be wrong. Your rightness is only shown in relation to the other's wrongness. Conversely, your rightness is necessary for people like me to look truly wrong. Before Bach, people said of bad organ music, `That's not quite right.' After Bach, people said flatly, `That's wrong.' This allowed dedicated composers to grow, and cast the neophytes back to writing how-to-be-happy music. So, thank me for my wrongness, as so many reviews of my book will doubtless say, `People should read more of a truly great political commentator: William F. Buckley Jr.' "
Imagine such a spirit ending its life at 50, just because they wouldn't let him have a toke. We have to console ourselves with the comment of the two prosecutors. They said they were "saddened" by Peter McWilliams' death. Many of us are -- by his death...and by the causes of it.
William F. Buckley was a nationally syndicated columnist based in New York.