Saturday, December 20, 2014

Detroit's Saint Anne Roman Catholic Church--the Second Oldest Continuous Operating Parish in America

Stained-glass Windows in Saint Anne's Catholic Church in Detroit
As history records--on July 24, 1701--Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his troop of 105 soldiers and settlers arrived in what became known as Detroit. It took the expedition's 25 canoes 55 days to paddle upstream from Montreal to a clearing on the western bank of the strait that gives Detroit its name. This site was chosen because Cadillac felt it was defensible and had plenty of wild game to help sustain them.

Two days later, the first mass was said in Detroit--on the feast day of Saint Anne's--and the foundations for a small chapel were laid. Catholicism had come to the wilderness. It was the first building constructed in Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit and named after the patron saint of France.

Saint Anne was the grandmother of Jesus Christ and the mother of the Virgin Mary in biblical heredity. Though long considered the patron saint of Detroit, Ste. Anne was installed officially as the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Detroit in a September 2009 decree issued by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Anne Conceiving the Virgin Mary by Flemish Painter Jean Bellegambe
Over the years, there have been as many as eight different church buildings--though archaeologists and historians can't agree on an exact number. The original Ste. Anne's was made of logs and planks and was burned down by Native Americans in 1703--including the chapel, the rectory, part of the fort, and the parish's baptismal records. The church was rebuilt in 1704.

Ste. Anne's has succumbed to flames on two other occasions during its 314 years of existence. A larger church was built in 1708 outside the palisade of Fort Pontchartrain. The settlers burned it down themselves in 1714 during a Native American uprising. They feared that it would offer cover to the Indians, so they sacrificed it. 

And in 1805, most of Detroit was destroyed by an accidental fire--all but one of 300 buildings were burned to the ground--including Ste. Anne's. A new church building was begun in 1818 and completed in 1828.

Locally revered, Father Gabriel Richard arrived at Ste. Anne's in 1796. He was not only a theologian but also a politician. He was a co-founder of Catholepistemaid du Michigania--which evolved into the University of Michigan--and as territorial representative to the United States Congress from the Michigan Territory, he helped establish a road-building project that connected Detroit with Chicago--now known as Michigan Avenue.

In 1832, after caring tirelessly for Detroit's cholera victims, Father Richard succumbed to the disease on September 13th. Legend notes that he was the last person to die from the outbreak. His body is interred under the altar of Ste. Anne's side chapel

The current Gothic Revival Cathedral--designed by architects Leon Conquard and Alert E. French in 1886--has flying buttresses, four gargoyles, and the oldest stained glass in the city of Detroit. They all reflect European French influence. Ste. Anne's Cathedral was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

More interesting background information on Saint Anne:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dead Reckoning by Caitlin Rother

Caitlin Rother's 2011 true crime book--Dead Reckoning--tells the twisted murder-for-profit tale of diabolical killers Skylar and Jennifer Deleon. This young married couple schemed to defraud a retired couple--Tom and Jackie Hawks--of their financial assets and their 55' yacht before tying them to an anchor and shoving them into the Pacific Ocean. The use of a nautical term for the title of this book is most appropriate.

Caitlin Rother brings her considerable talent--as a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist--to guide her readers through the complexity of this multi layered case with clarity and precision reflecting her nineteen years as an investigative reporter. Rother's skillful narrative carries the reader along to help contextualize what would otherwise be an overly complicated story.

Skylar Deleon's personal revelation--behind bars--of his motivation for killing the Hawkses is an unexpected jaw dropper. This is a story of sociopathic greed and ruthless people who were blinded by the same thing--the color of money.

For two days, I did little else but turn pages of this satisfying true crime read.

Aphrodite Jones interviews Skylar Deleon in prison:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Serial Killer Groupie Sondra London Interview--Parts Two and Three

Sondra London
While researching serial killers and why they do what they do, I am amazed at how easily they can rationalize their actions and take pride in them. This perverse narcissism is disturbing and repulsive to most people. 

But there are those people who are in love with lunacy and attracted to these psychopaths. Serial killer groupie Sondra London is a case in point. After establishing a relationship with serial killer Gerald Schaefer, London dropped him for another serial killer Danny Rolling and played one man against the other. Trying to figure out human nature is complicated and often heart-breaking.

If part one of Sondra London's interview--in my last post--wasn't enough to make you lose sleep--parts two and three will send you ranting into the darkness.

Part two:

Part three:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Serial Killer Groupie - Sondra London - Pt. One

Warning! This interview may be disturbing to some people. It is part of my research for The Rainy Day Murders, my book about John Norman Collins and the Washtenaw County Coed Killings of the late sixties in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ex-Deputy Sheriff Gerald Schaefer
More inscrutable than trying to understand the logic of a psychotic serial killer is trying to understand why some women are attracted to them and have relationships with them behind bars. It is the ultimate expression of either falling for the bad boy or flirting with disaster that some women seem wedded to in our culture.

Sondra London
Rather than going crazy trying to understand these people, I will satisfy myself with trying to become familiar with them and their behavior. This video link goes into the relationship between Sondra London, a writer and lover of serial killer Gerard John Schaefer. Watch part one of an interesting interview about their relationship. Then, check out Schaefer's Wikipedia entry. It is amazing how serial killers share so many of the same characteristics. Look at that smile on Schaefer's face. It says "Recognition at Last!"

Gerald John Schaefer had a fatal reaction to some sharpened steel in his Florida prison cell one December night in 1995 - an early Christmas present from his cellmate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Detroit's Griot of Griswold Street--Larry Mongo--on The Blue Vein Society

In a hidden pocket--a couple of blocks up and over from Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit--Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy is tucked within a very short block. Owner Larry Mongo bought the business in June of 1987 from the Greek Seros family. Their specialty was chili con carne. At one time, the building was an old-fashioned soda pop shop.
Larry's son Jerome turned the building into an afterhours club called the Wax Fruit Rhythm Cafe where Detroit rappers performed until it closed in 1993. Larry and his wife renamed the business Cafe D'Mongo's. The "D" represents his wife Dianne.
There is a low counter top and stationary stools bolted to the floor and four booths across from them. Behind the booths is a wall separating an area with upholstered chairs and a few small tables facing a grand piano where the Speakeasy's house band Carl and Company--led by Carl, the Human Jukebox--performs after 8:00 PM on Friday and Saturday nights. The bar is open from 5:00 PM until closing.

There is no better way to describe D'Mongo's Speakeasy than an authentic Detroit dive. The interior decoration looks like a museum of Detroit memorabilia. Its walls are loaded with photos that harken to Detroit's past, mixed with vintage photos of the Mongo family from the 1920s onward. Adorning several spots on the walls are original portraits of American jazz artists painted by longtime docuartist DeVon Cunningham. Many celebrities have made the pilgrimage to D'Mongo's--movie director Quentin Tarantino for one and actor Ryan Gosling for another.

Larry Mongo and Quentin Tarantino

Larry invited my Terror In Ypsilanti researcher Ryan M. Place and me to attend a taping at Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy for a program called Ten Best Bars In America for Esquire magazine. The joint was packed with the new face of Detroit--a mixture of young, upwardly mobile Detroiters. 


The Mongo family has had a long and fabled history in Detroit since the first four Mongo men left South Carolina in 1906 to avoid the long arm of the law. One of them was wanted to murder. During prohibition, the Mongo family worked with Detroit's Purple Gang, so they could safely operate a chain of fish markets in the Detroit area which the gang used to launder their bootlegging, extortion, and gambling profits. This relationship gave that generation of Mongos a certain level of power and respect on the street.

In more recent Detroit history, Larry and his younger brother Adolph have been political advisers to Black mayors from Coleman Young--Detroit's first Black mayor--to Kwame Kilpatrick. When things went terribly wrong in the Kilpatrick administration, the Mongo's wisely took a step backwards to disassociate themselves from the bad publicity.

One afternoon, I was able to meet and talk with Larry Mongo about the issue of race which has dominated Detroit politics for the last fifty years. Being an Ofay--derisive Black term for a White person--I was not aware of something which contemporary social scientists have labeled pigmentocracy. Within the American Black population at the turn of the twentieth-century until the mid-1960s, wealth and status of African Americans were tied to the shade of skin color--the lighter, the better.

"There was an interracial caste system in the Black community where dark skinned blacks were looked down upon by lighter skinned blacks as being genetically inferior," Larry Mongo explained. "There was something called The Blue Vein Society where a person had to show his or her forearm to look for a dark blue vein to determine if the person was mixed race or not.

"Inner racism was worse at times than outer racism. We classified ourselves by shade of color or how much African blood you had. You might be described as an octoroon--a person of one-eighth African blood--or a mulatto--bi-racial--or somewhere in between."

President Johnson and Martin Luther King at signing of the 1964 Civil Rights bill.

I asked Larry Mongo about the impact of the 1964 Civil Rights Act on Detroit's Black community. "After the Civil Rights Act--passed by Lyndon Johnson's administration--everything changed in the Black community and neighborhoods," Larry explained.

"Don't get me wrong, things were never perfect back then, but everyone knew their place and the color lines were clearly drawn. Cross them and you did so at your own risk. That was in the heyday of the Jim Crow--separate but equal--laws.

"All manner of Black businesses catered to Black neighborhoods and things usually went okay. Everyone was getting by. When the Jim Crow laws were repealed and the Civil Rights Act was passed into law, more affluent Blacks could spent their money in White establishments like hotels and restaurants which had been off limits before.

Patterns of segregation--previously enforced by red-lining and real estate covenants--became illegal and drew successful middle-class Blacks out of the ghettos into outlying areas. This migration drew valuable resources away from the Black neighborhoods.

"Many Black businesses were mom-and-pop operations in neighborhoods that could no longer support them. These
neighborhoods went into further decline struggling to survive. Then in the sweltering heat of July 23rd, 1967--all hell broke loose on 12th Street--Detroit started to burn. 

"When (Antoine) Cadillac came here in 1701, it took 250 years to build up Detroit. This city has rotted from the inside out. Detroit needs a new economy--then business growth will begin to feed everything else. The city will survive only by creating wealth and decent jobs to help our residents pull themselves out of poverty and despair. More of our young people need to go to school rather than jail. They need to go to the library instead of the street corner. Now that will be a real revolution."


After my visit with Larry Mongo, I decided to Google the Blue Vein Society to learn more about it. From there, my research led me to several other culturally historic facts about the Black community in the first half of the twentieth-century.

The phrase Blue Vein Society originated at the end of the nineteenth-century, according to American author Charles W. Chesnutt in 1898. "This is a group which limited its membership to blue veins--light-skinned Black people White enough to show blue veins on their forearms.

"At the turn of the century, there were many American cities with Blue Vein Societies representing the miniscule Black upper and upper-middle classes. The Negro Blue Vein Society mimicked the white patrician Blue Blood Societies. Their primary purpose was to sponsor balls and galas as meeting places for eligible blue veined youth."

The Creoles in Louisiana formed almost a separate class of black American because they tended to be better educated with lighter skin--the children of more generations of co-mingling with European Whites--especially the French and Spanish.

Another phenomenon of Black cultural pigmentocracy--a carry over from the nineteenth century--was the paper bag test which originated in New Orleans. A brown paper bag would be attached to the entrance of a party or event, and anyone darker than the paper bag was denied admittance. This test was said to have been used in many churches, fraternities, and nightclubs.

Michael Eric Dyson
American author Michael Eric Dyson wrote, "The brown paper bag test is a metaphor for how the Black cultural elite literally established a caste system along color lines within the black community. This is one of the ways Blacks with European ancestry attempted to isolate and distinguish themselves from those who are mostly African."

My research also revealed some other labels still used within the black community. A redbone describes light coppery or caramel-colored skin with red overtones in the hair, sometimes with freckles and sometimes not. A yellowbone--also called high yellow--is slang for light-skinned Black females who could often pass as a White person.
Remember, this was the world before the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In an attempt to secure a better life in segregated America, many light-skinned, mixed-race Blacks crossed the color line as reborn descendants of European ancestry and never looked back.

The history of mankind is rife with examples of one group who perceives itself as superior foisting itself upon another group who is perceived as inferior. This oppression takes many forms but always ends up the same way with someone being discriminated against.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Murderabilia - Market for the Macabre

Since the 1970s, there has been a growing consumer market in serial killer themed merchandise and artifacts. Murderabilia refers to the collection, sale, and marketing of original artwork, articles of clothing, and personal possessions of notorious killers in general and serial killers in particular. Stories and books about serial killers have great appeal with the public and attest to the popular interest in this type of murder.

Image from the Shroud of Turin
Since biblical times, religious relics and artifacts were believed to have sacred qualities, a belief which carries down to our present day. The sale of splinters and nails from the crucifixion of Christ were sold throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and the Shroud of Turin still has the ability to inspire the faithful, even after the discovery that it was made of Medieval period linen. The Catholic faithful continue to have their rosaries and scapulars blessed by the parish priest.

The trade in items belonging to serial killers or objects having been touched by them is the antithesis of religious relics or items like mass cards and rosary beads that have been blessed. It is believed that these items have an atavistic quality to them, but rather than being imbued with the sacred, serial killer artifacts are tainted with the profane.

The fascination with death and the dark side of humanity has a long history. The display of the bodies of the infamous has always drawn large crowds of gawking, respectable people. The public viewing of the Dalton Brothers and the James Gang comes to mind. In more recent times, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde's bodies were photographed and given wide circulation in newspapers across American. In many places in America, hangings were public events, especially of ruthless killers.

The severed head of Joaquin Murrietta, legendary Mexican outlaw, was popular on the medicine show circuit in the Southwest and drew huge crowds. So many people were willing to pay to see the notorious bandit that several severed heads were known to be touring at the same time. For many people, the sight of a severed head pickled in a jar of alcohol was enough of an attraction regardless of the true identity of the victim. Touring attractions such as Al Capone's bulletproof car and the bullet-riddled car of Bonnie and Clyde still have the power to attract crowds at county fairs and other venues.

The first murder memorabilia I remember seeing was the chair President Abraham Lincoln was shot in by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. Henry Ford had the foresight to purchase the chair before it was lost to history.
Generations of Michigan youth have memories of trips to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and seeing this artifact of our shared national history, still stained with Lincoln's blood. 

Some murderabilia has more historical significance than others to be sure. American collectors in post World War II bought up as much Nazi memorabilia as they could. These artifacts include weapons, uniforms, medals, helmets, flags, and Nazi government documents. It wasn't until the 1980s and the advent of the public internet that the fascination with serial killers began to dominate the murderabilia trade.

Countless magazine articles, books, movies, and cable television shows have made celebrity devils out of many of the most infamous killers in American history. Names like Richard Speck, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, and the poster boy for American serial killers Ted Bundy are widely known and have become part of the criminal folklore of America.

Some people think the marketing of murderabilia is grotesque and immoral, and it should be illegal. They argue that the promotion and marketing of these ruthless serial killers contributes to their celebrity folk status and larger than life portrayals. Much of the public is disgusted with the idea that convicted sex-slayers can parade around like celebrities nourishing their egos at the expense of their victims and their families.

Son of Sam murders prompted new law.

Because of the feeding frenzy of New York publishers in 1977 to pay big money to David Berkowitz for the rights to tell his "Son of Sam" story, the New York State Assembly drafted and passed what is known as the "Son of Sam" law. The law's intent is to prevent convicted felons from profiting from their crimes through book publishers, film producers, or television networks. Convicts lose the ability to tell their own stories and profit from it.

Any money earned from "expressive or creative works" is deposited into an escrow account and then used to compensate crime victims and their families. Eight states currently have "notoriety-for-profit" laws that follow the money trial of murderabilia sales to insure that convicts don't make money indirectly through third-party involvement.

For my part, I have been purchasing the rights to every John Norman Collins related photograph available on the internet, not to buy and sell as murderabilia, but to use as research documentation in my true crime account of the Washtenaw County sex-slayings, The Rainy Day Murders. At some point, I will donate these photos and the government documents I have purchased to an archive in Ypsilanti, Michigan. For the record, I don't trade in murderabilia.

But recently I came across a site that sells Serial Killer Trading Cards, and I bought two of John Norman Collins' cards for under three dollars apiece. One for me and one for him. What prompted me to purchase them was that the card's writer got Collins' name wrong. It is listed as "Norman Collins." Norman Collins was a British author who is in no way related to John Norman Collins. Even in the subculture of murderabilia collectors, serial killer John Norman Collins cuts a sorry figure.    

Murderabilia dealer banned from Texas state prisons system:    

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

John Norman Collins and the Code of Silence

The most frustrating aspect of researching the Washtenaw County murders of 1967-1969 for The Rainy Day Murders is knowing that there are still people out there who are withholding information from some sort of misguided loyalty or fear of self-incrimination.

I can understand that John Norman Collins' brother and sister want to distance themselves from the actions of their younger brother to protect their families. Of these murders, they knew nothing. But they could shed light on John's childhood and help us better understand why these terrible things happened.

Their mother Loretta Marjorie Collins was the unchallenged spokesperson for John during his arrest and trial for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman in 1970. Since Mrs. Collins' death in 1983, neither brother nor sister has commented publicly about their brother. So be it. They have lived with that decision for forty-five years.

But then, there are others who have valuable knowledge about John Collins who are not as closely bound as family. A wall of silence still exists among many of Collins' Theta Chi fraternity brothers. I find it difficult to understand why, after he was kicked out of their frat house for the suspected theft of $40 from their social fund, that they still shield him. There also had been a rash of petty thefts in the W. Cross St frat house while Collins lived there.

Eastern Michigan University Theta Chi fraternity members clean up the day after the annual welcome back party attended by more than 600 people.

And after John Collins moved out of the Theta Chi house, one of his former senior fraternity brothers got his 650cc Triumph motorcycle stolen. Collins kept it under wraps until the bike's owner had graduated and moved back to Benton Harbor on the west side of the state safely out of Ypsilanti. This was the same motorcycle that Karen Sue Beineman was last seen driving away on with Collins at the controls, before her body was discovered three days later at the bottom of a shallow gully.

My researcher Ryan M. Place and I were able to obtain the names and contact information for fifteen of Collins' former Theta Chi Brothers, requesting any information about Collins, either positive or negative, that we could get. We emailed everyone and in some cases made followup phone calls. Of the fifteen Theta Chi we contacted, only three responded. Two agreed to speak with us on the phone, while another met with us in person.

The first was extremely nervous over the phone for fear that his Brothers would discover that he had broken the fraternity Code of Silence. One valuable piece of information we learned from him was the name of the third man in the red and black car that picked up Joan Schell in 1968. Her nude body was found a week later in the outskirts of Ann Arbor shoved under some roadside shrubs.

The next Theta Chi to respond to our entreaties has been acting as John Norman Collins' legal adviser and spokesperson for many years. This meeting in his law office was one of those occasions. I told him what I was hoping to accomplish by writing this book and shared a few matters with him that he agreed to pass on to Collins in Marquette Prison.

Ryan and I were both struck with how uncomfortable he was, even in his own office at his own desk. Collins' mouthpiece put forth his belief that John was innocent and that another frat brother committed the crimes. If that was the case, why wait forty-five years to break the news and spring his client from false imprisonment? There is no evidence to even remotely suggest that anyone but Collins murdered Karen Sue Beineman. Why such loyalty after forty-seven years?

The last person to contact me was a former Theta Chi Brother of John Collins, who also happened to be an Allen Park High School friend of mine. He gave me a full account of JNC's exile  from Theta Chi but asked me not to reveal his name. Apparently, nobody wants to be marked lousy for ratting out a Brother.

From him, I learned about the theft of the motorcycle, an expensive bag of golf clubs, a stereo system, a color TV, and an expensive jeweled Theta Chi pin taken from another Theta Chi member. He said most of the Thetas were glad to see Collins leave their house, though a couple of their members left with Collins where they shared a boarding house at 619 Emmet St. around the corner and up the street, only one crooked block away from the Theta Chi house.

After pledges endure "secret" and usually humiliating hazing rituals, they take an oath of allegiance to one another which entitles them to all the rights, privileges, and protections of the Brotherhood. My question is this, when does that loyalty end? At what point does a person say, I draw the line at murder and mayhem? Theta Chi was conspicuous by its silence throughout the trial.

In a recent prison letter written to his Canadian cousin, Collins justifies the nobility of silence:
John Norman Collins in 1970 and in 2014.
"All my friends I grew up with had OLDER BROTHERS (me included) and you just didn't RAT anyone out. YOU JUST DIDN'T!!! If someone needed to be taken care of, we did it amongst ourselves. I still know "THINGS" that could get people arrested today. Most of them have turned out pretty good, e.g. cops, lawyers, and even a judge. Should I ruin their lives now? I don't think so. That's the "CODE" I grew up with, be it RIGHT OR WRONG? Let God judge that."

"Then when I pledged Theta Chi with (name withheld), we took an OATH to always come to the aid of a Brother. I took that Oath seriously and to Rat Out (name withheld) wasn't "IN THE CARDS" for me at that time... I kind of believed in the SYSTEM in that they wouldn't convict an innocent man. While a few of us still believe in the Brotherhood, a few do not. You are only as good as your WORD." (sic)

There are three former Theta Chi members who are people of interest to us. One of them hasn't spoken for fear of self-incrimination. He was able to tell the prosecution just enough at the Collins' trial to be granted immunity and keep himself out of jail, before slithering away into relative obscurity.

We are certain that Collins' legal adviser knows key information also, but he is protected by lawyer/client confidentiality. Then there is the "third man" who has been pulling back his social media after we made our initial contact with him. His name has come up in connection with the first two coed murders but somehow he escaped notice and was never interviewed as a person of interest by local police. We are still trying to figure out why.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Title IX Bares its Teeth in the Fight Against Campus Rape

In a recent San Diego public radio news story entitled Fraternity Culture Linked to College Sexual Assault Problem, I was surprised to discover that college fraternities indemnify themselves against sexual assault charges. That's correct! Rape is built into the cost structure of their insurance policies. Sexual assault charges against fraternity members represent the second largest percentage of claims brought against fraternities except for assault and battery charges. When parents send their daughters to universities, they don't sign them up for that.

Time magazine took a hard look at the issue of sexual assault on America's college campuses in its May 26th, 2014 cover story "Rape: Crisis in Higher Education," by Eliza Gray. The Department of Education released a list of fifty-five colleges that are under federal scrutiny over how they handle sexual assault complaints. When United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez stood before a press conference and announced there would be a federal investigation of the University of Montana, he told the reporters that "In the last three years, there have been at least eighty reported rapes connected with the university." Perez announced that the university, the city police, and the county attorney were all under investigation. "Other big public institutions like Ohio State, Harvard, and Princeton are also under investigation," he added.

Eliza Gray concluded that the problem is much broader than the big name universities who get all the bad publicity. "The truth is, for young women, particularly those who are eighteen and nineteen years old and just beginning their college experience, America's campuses are hazardous places. Recent research shows that one in five women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during college." Statistics also revealed the obvious that three-quarters of rape victims were incapacitated by alcohol. "College party culture takes particular advantage of young women who lack experience with alcohol," reported Gray.

Because of the cultural tolerance for drunken fraternity parties, aptly portrayed in the 1978 movie Animal House, it is a rite of passage for many young men and women to drift into the "Greek" party environment to see what it is all about. Campus life is a liberating cocktail of new found freedoms for freshmen. But large scale frat parties offer protective cover for sexual assault and attracts more than its share of predatory males looking to have sex with inexperienced and incapacitated young women. This testosterone-driven environment is fueled with large amounts of alcohol and date rape drugs that many young college women fall prey to.

The latest study shows that only12% of university rapes are ever reported to law enforcement because of fear of retaliation. The study also found that women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women. The number of universities the U.S. Department of Education is investigating has grown to eighty. Their study seeks to assess how universities respond to rape on their campuses and has been focused primarily on athletic departments and fraternity row. But the federal government is also examining how university officials and law enforcement handle these charges when they are brought to their attention.

Title IX is a 1977 law that combats gender discrimination in college sports. The Obama Administration has turned it into a weapon in the fight against rape on America's college campuses. In April of 2011, the Department of Education sent a letter warning colleges and universities to adequately address the issue of sexual assault on their campuses or risk losing federal funding.

Fraternity Culture Linked to College Sexual Assault Problem KPBS, October 21, 2014

Rape Culture Reality Check:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ukraine Ranks Second Largest Fornology Audience

Ukrainian folk costume with lovely traditional hand embroidery.
Since I began my blog in May of 2011, the United States has been my biggest audience of Fornology readers by far. But from the start, the second place spot has been shared alternately by Great Britain, Canada, and Germany, with Australia occasionally making a run for the second place spot. But in 2013, I added a translator feature to Fornology's sidebar and noticed a change in my international audience ratings. 

Russia had always made my top ten audience list but now they were climbing up the ranks. France and China started to hit my blog list at roughly the same time, but second place seemed to belong to Russia and Germany for many months on my All-time category report. Then Turkey began to rise up the ranks of my top ten and showed an interest in what I was writing. Finally, in late 2013 and into early 2014, Ukraine started making it onto the listing.

This new audience began to bound up my top ten list. Finally it happened. Ukraine leaped into second place in every reported category for the last month (Now, Day, Week, Month, and All-time).  No other country had come on as strong and as fast as Ukraine. It struck me that I needed to find out more about these proud people who have suffered much at the hands of history.

Pageviews by Countries

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
United States
United Kingdom

(All-time list as of October 13th, 2014)
Like most Americans, I am woefully ignorant about Ukraine, other than it has been having sovereignty problems with the Russians over Crimea, and they have been moving towards possible civil war. Unlike many Americans, I can find Ukraine on the map. It is in southeastern Europe bordering the Black Sea between Poland, Romania, and Moldova to the west and the Great Russian Bear to the east. Its capital city is Kiev (Kyiv), one of the oldest and largest cities in Europe. Ukraine is 603,550 square kilometers with a population of 45,000,000 people.

In high school, all we were taught in history class about "the Ukraine" was that it was the "Breadbasket of the Soviet Union," and its people were brutalized by the Soviets and the Nazis during World War II. Why Ukrainians have shown such a strong interest in my Fornology blog is a mystery to me, so I decided to learn more about them, their history, and their culture and pass that information on to my Fornology readers.

The Ukrainian National Flag
In recent history, Ukraine became independent from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) when that communist regime dissolved in 1991. It is on August 24th that Ukrainians celebrate their Independence Day. The national flag of Ukraine was adopted in 1992. It simply consists of two stripes arranged horizontally, one blue stripe on top representing the skies and rivers of Ukraine and a yellow stripe below symbolizing Ukraine's lush golden wheat fields. Ukraine has a fledgling constitutional republic struggling to maintain its country's independence from Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky, "Hetman of Ukraine", established an independent Ukraine after the uprising in 1648 against Poland.

Ukraine has an ancient history and its territory has changed hands and moved around many times since it was founded in 882 AD as Kievan Rus', a center for Slavic trade and culture. In 1240 AD there was a Mongol conquest, but by the 14th Century, the region was ruled by the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Poland before becoming a Cossack state in 1648. For much of the 18th and 19th Centuries, most of Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, and the rest was controlled by the Austria-Hungary Empire.

Ukraine was free for a brief period after the Russian Revolution between 1917-1920. Ukraine became a republic of the Soviet Union from 1922 until 1991, when that communist regime collapsed. Check the link below for more detailed information and a timeline from CNN on Ukraine's ongoing political crisis.

Traditional Ukrainian cuisine
Ukrainian food is typically Eastern European. Hard cheeses, sausage, and borshch (beet soup), the national soup of Ukraine, are traditional dishes. Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls), kovbasa (smoked or boiled sausage), and varenyky (dumplings with various meat, fruit, or vegetable fillings) are also part of traditional Ukrainian cuisine. Baked goods are bublik (similar to a bagel but bigger), babka (Easter bread made with sweet dough and dried fruit baked in a tall, cylindrical shape), and paska (traditional butter and egg rich Easter bread decorated with Easter symbols baked on top).

A Ukrainian folk art is Pysanka, decorated Easter eggs which are well-known the world over. Each region has its own traditional designs. They use the wax relief method to write intricate designs with beeswax to create symbolic patterns, next the eggs are dyed colors that also carry symbolic significance. The eggs are strongly tied to the Easter holiday and are painted during Holy Week to symbolize the rebirth of man and Jesus Christ's resurrection.

Woven goods with colorful embroidered motifs from around the country are found in traditional folk costumes worn for holidays and special occasions. Men's shirts and women's blouses and decorative vests are embroidered in brilliant colors with regional patterns, each with its own symbolic meaning.

Ukrainian customs and culture are heavily influenced by Christianity. Almost ninety percent of Ukraine's religious community is either Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, though forty percent of its general population claim to be atheists. This is a residual effect of the Russification of Ukraine's population during Soviet domination to discourage Ukrainian national identity. But without their religious traditions to bind them through the dark times, Ukraine would long ago have lost its national identity, its heart, and its very soul. Even now, Ukraine struggles.

The Ukrainian people enjoy celebrations with family and friends, but as a people, they tend to be fatalistic because of their history and geography. Their country has been the corridor to Europe in the west and the gateway to Asia in the east since before written history. Their history is written in blood and is reflected in the Ukrainian anthem, Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (Ukraine has not yet died!). May Ukraine live long and prosper!

For more background on Ukraine's current political crisis with Russia, consult this CNN link:

Petrykivka - Ukrainian ornamental folk art documentary in the Ukraine language. If the audio distracts you, turn the sound down and enjoy the visuals:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Homage to Detroit

I just returned from a successful two week trip to the Detroit area to speak about my novel Zug Island and wrap up some final interviews for my current writing project The Rainy Day Murders (RDM). Since I began work on RDM in June of 2011, I have flown into the Detroit area nine times to do archival and field research with the help of my friend and project manager Ryan M. Place. Every trip has been enlightening, informative, and productive regarding the Washtenaw County murders (1967-1969) and John Norman Collins' role in them. Now, that project is winding down.

Unlike previous trips to the Motor City, this recent trip was a mixture of business and vacation. What characterized this trip for me was a personal feeling of accomplishment and a sense that Detroit may actually be on the comeback trail. While I was there, my wife and I got to share the excitement of the Tigers run for the playoffs and the disappointment of the Orioles sweep in three. As transplanted San Diego Padres fans, it was nice for us to have something to cheer about, even for a little while. Comerica Park is a real gem and a great place to see a ball game in the center of Downtown.

Another notable hot spot in Downtown Detroit is Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy on Griswold St. I was able to meet and speak with Larry Mongo in his club one afternoon to discuss the past and his view of present day Detroit. We talked about the "67" riots and recent city history. Mr. Mongo is truly the Griot of Griswold Street. His night spot is full of Detroit memorabilia, old time family photos, and noteworthy art work. This vintage Detroit bar has a long and fascinating history contained within its walls.

I went there last Saturday night and the place was standing room only, with a vibrant mix of the new face of Detroit, energetic, young, upwardly mobile, and optimistic. Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy is open only on Fridays from 5:00 PM until 1:30 AM and Saturday nights from 8:30 PM until closing. Next time I'm in town, I'll be back for some of that soul food and local Detroit flavor.

I usually travel to Detroit alone, but this trip was business and pleasure, so my wife was surprised to discover that my Allen Park High School Facebook friends were real and not my imaginary friends. Happily, I was able to meet with several of them one evening at the Wheat & Rye on Allen Rd.

Allen Park High School - Class of 1966 members.

Once upon a time in the 1960s, my parents owned that bar under the guise of The Cork & Bottle. A high school friend of mine owns it now and has improved the business. It is the home of Downriver's legendary giant pastrami sandwich which rivals the sandwiches at the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City.

Though I don't normally post about food or restaurants, there has never been a shortage of great places to eat in and around Detroit. The Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck is always a must stop for me when I'm in town, and the Polish Art Center gift shop on Joseph Campau Ave. is a must see. Hamtramck reminds me of growing up in Detroit back in the 1950s.

The Rhapsody on Northline Road in Southgate specializes in authentic Hungarian food and was a great new find. This restaurant has a comfortable dining room and great service. Its walls are festooned with craft displays. As for the food? It was the best I had on my trip.

And when I'm in Ypsilanti doing serious research, I always like to have breakfast at The Bomber on Michigan Avenue, lunch at Aubrey's in Depot Town, and dinner at The Sidetrack across the street. I also indulged my passion for White Castle sliders a couple of times when I was on the run.

No trip to Michigan in the autumn is complete without a trip to an apple cider mill and ours was no different. We spent the day at Franklin Cider Mill with an Eastern Michigan University friend of mine who flew into Detroit from Albuquerque to hear my talk. As it so happened, she had her wedding reception at Pasquale's in Royal Oak many years ago. Small world!

Author Claudia Whitsitt and me at Pasquale's.
In closing, I want to personally thank the Book Club of Detroit and the Detroit Drunken History Society for sponsoring my Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel book talk at Pasquale's Italian Restaurant in Royal Oak, Michigan last week. One-hundred and nine people attended. An extensive buffet dinner was available and the food was fantastic. I look forward to returning here to discuss my true crime book RDM after it is published. My reception here was memorable and appreciated.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote "You Can't Go Home Again." Well, I did, and how sweet it was! Thanks, Detroit!

For more about Claudia Whitsitt and her books, visit her website at

To find out more about my novel Zug Island, check out 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Detroit's Liquid Gold - Vernor's Ginger Ale

One of Detroit's most beloved hometown products was Vernor's Ginger Ale, reputed to be the world's first soft-drink. The folklore about the formula was part of the product's trademark advertising, "Aged four years in wood." When the Vernor's family sold the business and trademark in 1966, the company motto underwent a subtle but telling change. It became "Aged for years in wood." Rather than the original four-year formulation, it was cut down to three years. Now, the Dr. Pepper & Snapple Group owns the Vernor's trademark and bottling rights.

The pure cane sugar of the original formula gave way to high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners. Caramel, vanilla, and extract of ginger root are no longer listed as ingredients, just "artificial flavorings." So people who remember the original Vernor's loved the golden sweetness, the effervescent carbonation, and the ginger root extract taste of the original.

That said, Vernor's is still the tastiest ginger ale drink on the market today. It puts Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale to shame. Vernor's is a soft-drink, and Canada Dry is a mixer for liquor. The two should never be confused.

Vernor's is the oldest surviving ginger ale brand in the United States. Legend has it that just prior to the beginning of the Civil War, a drugstore clerk, James Vernor tried to duplicate the taste of a popular Irish ginger ale. He was called off to war, so he stored his syrup made from a formula of nineteen ingredients in an oak cask. When he returned from the war in 1865, he opened the keg and found his formula had mellowed from the aging process. Four years to be exact. James was said to have exclaimed, "It's deliciously different," which became the drink's trademark motto. He called his soda fountain creation a "soft drink" because it contained no alcohol or narcotic ingredients. It is said to be the first soft drink. Soon, the company added the motto, "Aged Four Years in Wood."

James Vernor died in Grosse Ile, Michigan on October 29th, 1927 at the age of eighty-four from pneumonia and influenza. He handed his business down to his son James Vernor, Jr. When James was interviewed in 1936, he admitted that his father created the formula after the Civil War. Former company president James Vernor Davis and grandson of the originator confirmed the story in a 1962 interview. According to their trademark application, Vernor's ginger ale first entered commerce records in 1880 and not 1866 as the company's marketing still states.


Originally, Vernor's ginger ale was sold only as a soda fountain drink in his own pharmacy on 235 Woodward Ave on the corner of Clifford St. In 1896, James Vernor sold the drugstore and went full-time into the soda franchising business throughout the Midwest states.

When James Sr. died, his son James Jr. took over the business and expanded it into a 230,000 sq, ft. bottling plant and headquarters on Woodward Ave., one block from the Detroit River. Vernor's was ready for mass production and the home consumption market. His father had limited the franchises to selling the Vernor's syrup to drugstore soda fountains. Now the business took off and became a regional sensation.

Vernor's agreed to move their headquarters and bottling plant in the late 1950s. The city of Detroit needed the land for Cobo Hall and other riverfront projects. There was a property swap. The city traded the Vernor family, the old civic exhibition hall at 4501 Woodward Ave for their prime real estate. That is the Vernor's location the Baby Boomer generation knows best.

The term Detroiters use for soft drinks is "pop." It is said to have originated from the sound that the new capped, highly carbonated Vernor's bottles made when opened. The newer canned product makes more of a swish sound when the tab is pulled.

The Vernor family sold their business in 1966 to United Brands, Inc. They operated for another nineteen years, but they shut down the Detroit bottling plant in 1985 and sold out to Pepsi. Pepsi was itself soon bought by the British company Cadbury/Schweppes. Today, the Vernor's brand name and bottling rights belong to Dr. Pepper & Snapple Group.

The familiar Vernor's gnome mascot trademark, Woody, was a creation of graphic artist Noble Fellows. It has been used since the beginning of the twentieth century but dropped in 1987. Woody fans will be happy to know that he was returned to packaging in the 2000s. 

So much of Detroit's not so distant history has vanished. Just last week, the Bob-Lo Boat Columbia was unceremoniously towed from its moorings in Ecorse, never to ply the Detroit River again. 

But a small part of Vernor's history was recovered recently when a building being torn down on Joy and Inkster roads in Westland, Michigan revealed a 1950s era billboard sign found intact, painted on the side of the building next to the demolished building. This image really reminds me of growing up in the Detroit area.

Joy and Inkster roads in Westland, Michigan

Many Detroiters wonder if the eye-popping Vernor's neon sign still exists and if it will ever be on display anywhere. It lit up Woodward Ave at night and is a piece of Detroit's history. Let's bring the gnome home!

Vernor's Gnome "Woody"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Delray Backdoor Shut -The West Jefferson Avenue Bridge Still Out of Commission

Rouge River Bridge on West Jefferson Boulevard
After ninety-one years of accident free operation, the Rouge River Bridge, aka the West Jefferson Avenue Bridge, sustained serious damage to its northeast side. Shortly after 2:00 AM on May 12, 2013, an intoxicated bridge operator prematurely lowered the bridge onto the Great Lakes Class freighter, the Herbert C. Jackson. It instantly collided with the north section of the double-leaf bascule bridge. The bridge's hydraulic gearing and its electrical equipment were unharmed in the accident.

The bridge was closed immediately to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, both ends of the double-leaf bridge were left fully open to accommodate unhampered freighter use of the Rouge River. With this bridge in its down position, Great Lakes Class freighter access to the Ford Rouge Plant would cease. 


The single-leaf bascule bridge has a long history. It originated in Medieval Europe to help defend castles and walled towns by using winches and counterweights. Commonly known as drawbridges in English speaking countries, this style of bridge was used for crossing a moat or narrow river leading to the castle gate. Drawn upward with winches and counterweights when under attack, these single-leaf bascule bridges prevented easy access by invaders.

Tower Bridge in London
Probably the most famous double-leaf bascule bridge in the modern world is the Tower Bridge in London. Construction began in 1886 and the bridge opened in 1894. Many people mistake it for London Bridge. The Tower Bridge is a combination of suspension bridge and drawbridge on the Thames River.


The Rouge River Bridge was completed in 1922 after some jurisdictional legal wrangling and some new law writing. The previous narrow swing bridge had needed replacing since the 1910s, and the federal government had plans to dredge the Rouge River to accommodate direct freighter access to Henry Ford's new, massive Rouge Plant Complex. The inadequate Rouge River Bridge and the Fort Street Bridge would both be replaced with double-leaf drawbridges at the cost of one million dollars apiece. Wayne County voters approved a bond issue to fund construction.

To reroute traffic across the Rouge River while the new bridges were being built, an out-of-service railroad truss bridge owned by Michigan Central Railroad was detached from its moorings. A flotilla of scows pumped full of water to lower them in the river were towed under the truss bridge. When the water was pumped out of the scows, they rose and floated the bridge with the help of tugboats to a location 200 yards upstream of W. Jefferson Ave. The Fort Street Bridge and the W. Jefferson  Avenue Bridge were closed on November 13, 1920, after the makeshift railroad truss detour was in place.

Rouge River Bridge fully open in winter.

Each leaf of the dual-leaf bridges is supported by four 12 foot square concrete footings sunk in the clay to the bedrock 70 feet below the waterline. One worker died of "the bends" during construction because he decompressed too quickly after working in a caisson.

The bascule double-leaves of the Rouge River Bridge were lowered for the first time on August 21, 1922. It opened for traffic on October 17th of the same year. Finally, the bridge reconnected the Detroit neighborhood of Delray with the city limits of River Rouge and the rest of the Downriver area. In 1923, the federal government completed dredging the Rouge River and Great Lakes freighters were now able to navigate upstream, unload their cargo, and turn around in a massive turning basin built by the United States government expressly for that purpose.

In our present time, it is estimated that twenty to twenty-five freighters navigate this narrow waterway weekly. The bridge handled 6,400 vehicles daily in 2012, according to Southwest Michigan Council of Governments data.

Once again, after its ninety-one year record of service, the Rouge River Bridge is closed. The collision with the Herbert C. Jackson on May 12, 2013 was the first accident of its kind in the bridge's history. None of the crew on board the freighter were injured. The 670 foot-long ship sustained a 2 inch gash in its hull about 15 feet above the waterline. The freighter's cargo was 23,000 tons of iron ore pellets destined for the Severstal North American plant in Dearborn.

Bridge's Control Station
Cindy Dingell, spokesperson for the Wayne County Operations Office, told reporters that the bridge operator was immediately tested for drugs and alcohol and was fired from her job, but no charges have been filed in connection with the incident.

Dingell said that Wayne County doesn't have the resources to rebuild the bridge and may have to ask voters for a bond issue to fix it to the tune of $850,000 to $1,250,000. The Rouge River Bridge is the only surviving pony truss bascule bridge in the state of Michigan. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 10, 2000.

For more information on how a Chicago Type, double-leaf bascule bridge operates, tap on this link:

For information on my upcoming Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel book talk September 30, 2014: