Monday, February 25, 2013

Going Dark Once Again

I am taking another hiatus from blogging. I don't know how long I will be away. I know only that I am now deeply involved in another project, one that is not depressing and discouraging, and that the siren songs are too seductive to resist.

_______ Welcome To The Skeptical Juror ________

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Strangulation of Melissa Trotter

Two seemingly insignificant incidents intersected recently in surprising fashion. The surprise, to me at least, is that I have long overlooked a powerful argument of Larry Swearingen's innocence. I have overlooked a gaping hole in the State's theory of the crime.

The first incident occurred as I was working my way through the Numb3rs episodes on Netflix. I was watching Season 1, Episode 8.  From
A man wanted for stock fraud is found garroted in his apartment, and the crime is eerily similar to a murder committed a year earlier, a case in which Don closed when an ex-con confessed. Now, Don must re-investigate the old case to determine if he put an innocent man in jail. He asks Charlie to go over the evidence to see if he missed anything the first time around.
As part of his review, Charlie finds that "according to the FBI's crime stats, in the entire country, three or four people are killed with a garrote every year."

Holy Rarity, Batman!

I had become so used to reading / researching cases of strangulation that I simply presumed they were frequent. Melissa Trotter was strangled with one leg of a pantyhose, and Texas wants to execute Larry Swearingen as her murderer.

I've been writing about Anthony Allen Shore who acknowledges strangling four other young women to death. Shore is far more likely the one who murdered Melissa Trotter than is Swearingen, particularly since Swearingen was in jail when Trotter was murdered.

I've looked a little into the case of Boston Strangler (who almost certainly was not Albert DeSalvo), and  I'm aware of the Hillside Strangler (who was actually two people working in concert).

JonBenet Ramsey was also strangled.

I really could go on and on, so the number of 3 to 4 strangulations per year seemed way too low. I therefore assumed the show's writers meant a particular type of ligature. I also thought a garrote was a ligature with a handle at each end, used as per the sketch below.

The murder weapon used in the Numb3rs episode only reinforced my belief. Here's a portion of the garrote from that episode. If those gloves had a length of wire between them, then they would fit my understanding of a garrote. If, on the other hand, those gloves were bound tightly together by the wiring, they would not fit my understanding of a garrote.

Here's a portion of the murder weapon used in the JonBenet Ramsey case. The FBI referred to it as a garrote. If there was another similar handle on the other end, it would fit my notion of a garrote.

Here's the device Anthony Allen Shore used to kill Carmen Estrada: There was only one handle, and Shore used it to tighten the ligature by twisting it.

When I begin checking definitions, however, I find only modest support for my thought that a garrote must include two handles, or even one. Instead I find that many sources define garrote as simply a synonym for a ligature. From Wikipedia:
A stick may be used to tighten the garrote (the Spanish word actually refers to the stick itself) so it is a pars pro toto where the eponymous component may actually be absent. In Spanish, the term may also refer to a rope and stick used to constrict a limb as a torture device.
From that article, here's a photo of someone being executed by means of a garrote (Manila, 1901):

A method of execution formerly practiced in Spain, in which a tightened iron collar is used to strangle or break the neck of a condemned person. ... A cord or wire used for strangling.
A method of execution by strangulation ... the apparatus used ... an implement (as a wire with a handle at each end) for strangulation
A method of capital punishment of Spanish origin in which an iron collar is tightened around a condemned person's neck until death occurs by strangulation or by injury to the spinal column at the base of the brain ... the collarlike instrument used for this method of execution ... an instrument, usually a cord or wire with handles attached at the ends, used for strangling a victim.
From  Lexic:
An iron collar formerly used in Spain to execute people by strangulation ... something, especially a cord or wire, used for strangulation
A weapon consisting of a wire or cord with handles at each end, used in strangulation ... an iron band placed around the neck and tightened in order to execute somebody
I realized recently that I'm beginning to prefer Bing Maps to Goggle Maps for some applications. Now I realize that I prefer Bing Dictionary to the some of the other online dictionaries, since it reinforces my preconceived notion of what constitutes a garrote.

Even if the Numb3rs episode was correct in that there are only 3 or 4 garrote murders each year in the U.S., that number is of no use to me because it was not accompanied by a definition of garrote. Even if it had been accompanied by a definition, it would have been meaningless in the case of Melissa Trotter since no object (other than the murderer's hands) were used to tighten the pantyhose leg around her neck. I therefore let the number just rattle around in my head.

Later it struck me that I should try and find out how frequently someone is strangled. Perhaps such an occurrence is less common than I assumed. If it was sufficiently rare, it would suggest that Melissa Trotter was more likely murdered by someone known to use a ligature (such as Shore) than someone who had no history of using a ligature (such as Swearingen).

It took me a while, but I finally found this document. Click to enlarge.

Averaging the data for the four years, I get 123.5 strangulations per year out of 14,085 murders per year. That's 0.9%. That includes manual as well as ligature strangulations.

Then I found this document.

This document breaks the data down not only by weapon, but by the age of the victim. Melissa Trotter was only 19 years old when she was murdered. According to the data, in 2002, 1,184 people between the ages of 17 and 19 were murdered. Of those, only 6 were strangled. That's only 0.5%.

This article provides data indicating that the ratio of manual strangulation to ligature strangulation is 10 to 8. The sample size, however, was small.

This article provides data indicating that the ratio of manual strangulation to ligature strangulation is 46 to 23. The mean age of the victims, however, was 78 years.

Assuming ligature strangulations constitute 40% of all strangulations, they constitute only 0.2% of all homicides.

Whatever the final, more precise numbers may be, it is exceptionally unlikely that Melissa Trotter was murdered by anyone other than a person who has demonstrated a propensity for ligature strangulation. Larry Swearingen is not such a person. Anthony Allen Shore is.

So much for the first of two intersecting incidents in this already overly-long post. I'll have to pick up the pace for the second of the two intersecting incidents.

Three days ago I received a comment to my post Spectacular News in the Swearingen Case from astute reader Matthew Faler.
TSJ - I largely agree with the science in this matter regarding how long Trotter had been dead when her body was found. However, a few lingering questions bother me (1) was she wearing the same clothes when they found her as she was last seen in? and (2) if she was alive for several weeks after she went missing, where was she?
I responded with:
You ask two $1,000,000 questions. I have a couple 10 cent answers. 
First, I've wondered myself about the clothes. I've never seen that discussed. It seems as if the police could have clarified that point reasonably easily. A number of people saw her shortly before she disappeared. Was she wearing the same clothes or not? If the clothes were different, where did she change? If the clothes were the same, had she worn them continuously or had they been cleaned? 
I suspect the police / prosecutor must know the answer. I suspect that since it is a secret, it doesn't help their case. My guess is that information about the clothing would tend to further exonerate Swearingen. 
Regarding where she might have been, I speculated in my series Who Killed Melissa Trotter: Anthony Allen Shore.
His comment and my reply, coupled with the infrequency with which people kill via ligature strangulation, caused me to do what I should have done early on. If I had been a juror in the case and if I had failed as I had just failed as a blogger, I would have difficulty living with myself. That task is challenging enough as it is.

Here's what I didn't do. I didn't attempt to recreate the crime, even in my mind. I never walked through the State's case step-by-step to see if it made sense, to see if they proved the critical elements beyond a reasonable doubt. I was so focused (initially) on the post-conviction science and (later) on the possibility that Shore killed Trotter that I failed to carefully walk through the State's case. It wouldn't have been hard. It wouldn't have taken very long.

I'll do it now, at least the portion immediately surrounding the murder. The State claimed that Swearingen and Trotter had recently met and had arranged to have lunch the next day. Swearingen told some friends that he had met a young woman named Melissa and that if things went well, he would "have Melissa for lunch."

Swearingen picked up Melissa at the community college where Melissa went to school. After a delay no greater than an hour and a half, the two arrived at Swearingen's mobile home. While there, the two had a sexual encounter that left a bruise on the wall of Trotter's vagina. At some point, there was a struggle that left Swearingen's home in disarray. Swearingen strangled Trotter with one leg of his wife's pantyhose, put Trotter in his truck, drove to the Sam Houston National Forest, dumped Trotter's body, then returned home.

Here's where the State's case makes absolutely no sense. After having sex, Swearingen decided to kill Trotter, for whatever reason. To kill his victim, he didn't use a firearm, as do 70% of the murderers in this country. Perhaps he didn't own a firearm, or have it at the ready, or feared the noise.

Nor did Swearingen stab his victim to death, as do 13% of the murderers in this country. Surely he had a knife or pair of scissors in his home. He must have had something of the sort in order to cut one leg from his wife's pantyhose.

Nor did Swearingen asphyxiate his victim, as do 6.4% of all murderers in this country. There must have been a pillow nearby.

Nor did Swearingen pummel or kick or stomp his victim to death, with his hands or feet, as do 6.2% of murderers in this country. I know that those makeshift weapons were handy.

Nor did Swearingen bludgeon his victim with a blunt object, as do 4.4% of murderers in this country. Surely he had a frying pan or a hammer laying around.

Nor did Swearingen strangle his victim with his bare hands, as do 0.6% of murderers in this country. Once again, I'm confident those makeshift weapons were readily available.

Instead, according to the State, Swearingen elected to strangle his victim with a ligature, as do only 0.2% of the murderers in this country. Only 1 in 500 murders is committed by ligature strangulation, and the State's case is even more unlikely than that, more unlikely than 1 in 500.

In a moment of passion and panic, Swearingen did not just grab a nearby object to strangle his victim. He did not use any of the victim's clothing, such as a sweater arm, or a brassiere, or a belt. Nor did he use a pillowcase or a lamp cord. According to the State, Swearingen decided to use his wife's pantyhose.

But the State's case is still more unlikely than described so far.

Swearingen took time to manufacture a ligature from his wife's pantyhose. Instead of stabbing or cutting his victim with a knife or scissors, he used a knife or scissors to stab or cut his wife's pantyhose. The State offers no explanation why Swearingen would do such a thing in such a frantic moment, nor does it explain what Melissa Trotter may have been doing while Swearingen manufactured the ligature that would be used to kill her.

And still it is worse than all this.

According to the State, Swearingen left the remainder her of his wife's pantyhose behind when he took Melissa's body to Sam Houston National Forest. He presumably removed the body from his home so that his crime would not be discovered, but he left the obvious remnant of the murder weapon behind.

He couldn't have left it behind carelessly or unconsciously. It must have been deliberate, because he hid the remnant of his hastily crafted murder weapon so well that the police were unable to find it on either of two thorough searches. Swearingen hid it so well that it would not be discovered for three weeks, in the garbage outside his home, after the police finally knew which murder weapon was used to kill Melissa Trotter.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Impending Execution of Paul Howell

Paul Augustus Howell sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Florida on 26 February 2013. I offer the following details of the crime from the appellate decision of Howell v. State (2004):
In January of 1992, Howell constructed a bomb for the specific purpose of killing Tammie Bailey at her home in Marianna, Florida. Bailey, Howell, and Howell's brother, Patrick, were part of a drug ring involving a number of other individuals in which drugs were obtained in Fort Lauderdale and then sold in Marianna, Florida. Howell intended to eliminate Bailey as a witness because she had knowledge that could link Howell and his brother to a prior murder. The bomb was placed inside a microwave oven and then the oven was gift-wrapped. Howell paid Lester Watson to drive and deliver the microwave to Bailey. Although he knew that Howell had often made pipe bombs, Watson testified that he thought the microwave contained drugs. Howell rented a car for Watson to use for the trip. Watson was accompanied on the trip by Curtis Williams. 
While traveling on I-10 toward Marianna, Watson was stopped by Trooper Jimmy Fulford for speeding. Fulford ran a registration check on the car and a license check on Watson, who gave the trooper a false name and birth date because he did not have a valid driver's license. The radio dispatcher contacted the car rental company and was informed that Howell had rented the car. The dispatcher contacted Howell at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to determine whether the rental car had been stolen from him. Howell told the dispatcher that he had loaned the car to Watson but did not know that Watson would be traveling so far with the vehicle. Howell was informed by the dispatcher that Watson was going to be taken to the Jefferson County Jail. Howell did not give any warning to the dispatcher regarding the bomb. 
Deputies Harrell and Blount of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department arrived at the scene and Watson gave them permission to search the vehicle. Trooper Fulford and the deputies observed the gift-wrapped microwave in the trunk of the car. Watson was arrested for speeding and driving without a valid driver's license and was transported, along with Williams, to the jail by Deputy Blount. Deputy Harrell also proceeded to the jail, leaving Trooper Fulford alone with the rental car. Shortly thereafter, a massive explosion took place at the scene. Testimony presented at Howell's trial by the State's explosives expert indicated that Trooper Fulford had been holding the microwave in his hands when the bomb went off. Trooper Fulford died instantly due to the massive trauma caused by the explosion.
I oppose the execution of any person who may be innocent of the crime for which he is to be executed. In all other cases, I stand mute regarding the propriety or wisdom of the execution. In the case of Paul Augustus Howell, I stand mute.

The Impending Execution of Andrew Allen Cook

Andrew Allen Cook sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Georgia sometime during the week of 21-28 February. I present the details of his crime as presented in the adverse appellate decision Cook v. State (1999):
The evidence adduced at trial shows the following: at approximately midnight on January 2, 1995, Mercer University students Hendrickson and Cartagena were parked on a small peninsula known as "the Point," which juts into Lake Juliette in Monroe County, north of Macon. Cook drove onto the Point, parked his Honda CRX near Hendrickson's and Cartagena's car, and shot them. Cook fired fourteen times with an AR-15 rifle from a distance of about forty feet and then moved closer and fired five times with a nine millimeter Ruger handgun. Hendrickson and Cartagena were each hit multiple times and killed. Cook then went to the passenger side of the victims' car, removed Cartagena, and dragged her about 40 feet. He partially undressed her, knelt between her legs, and spit on her. Cook then drove away. The murders were completely random: Cook did not know the victims and there was no interaction between Cook and the victims before he killed them. 
Several people parking or camping around Lake Juliette heard the shots, and the murders were reported to the police the next morning when some campers found the bodies. A couple parked near the Point when the shots were fired said they saw a 1980s-model Honda CRX parked near the entrance to Lake Juliette. Later, they saw headlights going onto the Point, heard shots, and observed the CRX speeding away from the Point. The police recovered .223 caliber and nine millimeter bullets and shell casings from the crime scene, and the State Crime Lab reported that the weapons used in the murders were probably an AR-15 rifle and a nine millimeter Ruger handgun. There was saliva mixed with tobacco dried on Cartagena's leg, and the Crime Lab extracted DNA from the saliva. The police began looking for suspects who chewed tobacco, matched the DNA taken from the saliva, and owned or had access to a Honda CRX, an AR-15 rifle, and a nine millimeter Ruger pistol. 
The investigation lasted almost two years. Many people were interviewed and dozens of suspects were excluded after they submitted blood or saliva samples to the Crime Lab, or allowed their weapons to be examined by a state firearms expert. In the fall of 1996, GBI Agent Randy Upton began tracking the purchasers of AR-15 rifles in the Macon area. He obtained a list of 108 people who bought AR-15 rifles from 1985 to 1995 from one of Macon's most popular gun stores, and he started calling them and asking if they would give saliva samples and allow examinations of their rifles. On November 27, 1996, Agent Upton contacted Cook. Agent Upton told Cook he was conducting an investigation into the Lake Juliette murders and that Cook owned an AR-15 rifle in 1994 and 1995. Cook replied that he had "gotten rid of" his AR-15 in April 1994. Agent Upton stated that that was not possible because the records show that Cook did not buy his AR-15 until August 1994. Cook then became defensive and stated that his father was an FBI agent, and he did not have to cooperate. Agent Upton asked for a saliva sample, and Cook said he needed to talk with his father before giving a saliva sample. The conversation ended. 
Agent Upton learned that Cook pawned his AR-15 rifle back to the gun store in May 1995, five months after the murders. The police also discovered that Cook had an acquaintance purchase a nine millimeter Ruger handgun for him in December 1993 at the same gun store, because Cook was too young to buy it himself. Cook sold the Ruger to a friend in July 1995. The police sought to obtain these weapons from their current owners. They also learned that Cook owned a 1987 Honda CRX at the time of the murders. 
One of Cook's friends, who worked with Cook at a diaper factory, testified that in late November 1996 he and Cook had a conversation about "the worst thing you ever did." Cook said he had killed someone with an AR-15. The friend did not believe Cook, but asked why he did it. Cook replied that he did it "to see if I could do it and get away with it." Cook refused to provide any more details. The friend testified that the following day at work, Cook received a call on his pager, and left his work area to return the call. Cook returned 15 minutes later and was "as white as a ghost." Cook said "I got to go," and spit the tobacco he had been chewing into a trash can. Cook said it was the GBI who had called and they wanted to question him about what he and the friend had talked about the day before, and test his saliva. He said, regarding the saliva, "that's a DNA test right there, so they got my ass." Another friend testified that Cook told him in late November 1996 that he needed to leave town because it was "getting hot." 
After going to Cook's home and not finding him, Agent Upton called Cook's father, John Cook, on December 4, 1996. John Cook was an FBI agent and had been an FBI agent for 29 years. Agent Upton said he needed to ask Cook a few questions regarding the Lake Juliette murders, and asked John Cook for assistance in locating him.[2] John Cook said he could probably contact his son. John Cook, who knew about the case from the media but had not worked on it, testified that he did not think his son was a suspect. 
John Cook paged his son several times and at 11:00 p.m. Cook returned his calls. John Cook told his son the GBI was looking for him concerning the Lake Juliette murders and asked him if he knew anything about them. Cook replied, "Daddy, I can't tell you, you're one of them ... you're a cop." John Cook said he was his father first and, believing his son may have been a witness, asked Cook if he was there during the shooting. Cook said yes. John Cook asked his son if he saw who shot them, and Cook replied yes. Although he still thought "maybe he was just there and saw who shot them," John Cook asked his son if he shot them. After a pause, Cook said yes. Cook told his father he was fishing at Lake Juliette and had an argument with the male victim. The male victim threatened him with a gun, and Cook shot the victims in self-defense. Cook realized that the male victim had only threatened him with a pellet gun, and he threw the pellet gun into the woods. John Cook urged his son to go to the authorities but Cook said he was going to run and "just disappear." John Cook was worried that his son was going to kill himself. 
John Cook was stunned by what his son had told him. After speaking with his wife, he called his friend and FBI supervisor, Tom Benson, who was at a conference in New Orleans. He and Benson decided that Benson would fly back to Georgia the next day and the two men would go to Monroe County Sheriff John Bittick, and John Cook would tell the sheriff what his son had told him. They arrived at the Monroe County sheriff's office at about 4:00 p.m. on December 5, 1996. 
At about 11:45 a.m. on December 5, 1996, Cook was arrested by a game warden for shooting deer and turkeys out of season and giving a false name. He was taken to the Jones County sheriff's office. Agent Upton, who did not know about Cook's admission to his father, learned that Cook was being held in Jones County for game violations. He drove to Jones County to question Cook about the Lake Juliette murders. When Agent Upton introduced himself and asked to speak with him about the murders, Cook blurted, "it's been two years since the murders and you guys don't have anything; I had a CRX; I had an AR-15; I had a Ruger P89; you guys are going to try to frame me." Cook added, "get my father and get me [a] lawyer and I'll tell you what you want to hear." The interview terminated. Agent Upton subsequently learned from Sheriff Bittick that John Cook was in Monroe County, and that Cook had made an admission to his father the night before. Agent Upton transported Cook to Monroe County. 
After Cook arrived at the Monroe County sheriff's office, John Cook asked Sheriff Bittick if he could speak with his son, and the sheriff agreed. Cook and his father had a private meeting. Both men were crying and John Cook hugged his son. John Cook told his son he did not believe that he told the whole truth on the phone. Cook replied that there was no pellet gun, that "I pulled in, the car was already there, and I just stopped and shot them." Cook then dragged the female victim from the car to make it look like an assault or robbery. John Cook testified at trial about his son's admissions. 
The police recovered from the current owners the AR-15 rifle and nine millimeter Ruger handgun that Cook owned in January 1995. Ballistics testing revealed that they were the murder weapons. Cook's DNA matched the DNA extracted from the saliva on Cartagena's leg; the state DNA expert testified that only one in twenty thousand Caucasians would exhibit the same DNA profile. 
The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Cook guilty of two counts of malice murder and two counts of felony murder beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence was also sufficient to enable the jury to find the existence of the statutory aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt.
I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which they are to be executed. In all other cases, I stand mute with respect to the propriety or wisdom of the execution. In the case of Andrew Allen Cook, I stand mute.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Impending Execution of Carl Blue

Carl Henry Blue sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 21 February 2013. From the decision in Blue v. Thaler (2010):
Blue left his College Station apartment in the early morning hours of August 19, 1994.He walked seven miles to Bryan where the victim, his ex-girlfriend Carmen Richards-Sanders, lived.Blue entered a convenience store across the street from her apartment complex three times: once to purchase a beer, once to pay for fifty cents worth of gasoline, and once to obtain a  soda cup.
At the same time, the victim readied herself for work.  She was not alone in the apartment; Lawrence Williams was an eyewitness to the events that would unfold.  A few minutes before eight o’clock, the victim prepared to leave.  As Mr. Williams wished her goodbye, she unlocked the door.  Blue’s eligibility for a death sentence depended on the events transpiring in the next few seconds.  At trial, the State of Texas argued that, after the victim unlocked the door but before she could open it, Blue threw the door open from the outside. 
Blue has never disputed his identity as the killer.  In fact, only hours after the crime Blue turned himself into the police and confessed.  During closing arguments at trial, his attorneys emphatically stated: “We’re not going to suggest to you that Carl Blue did not murder Carmen Richards. He did. And I agree, it would be ridiculous for us to suggest that he did not.” 
Blue’s defense in the 1995 trial of his guilt instead focused on whether his crime amounted to a capital, rather than simple, murder.  In essence, the defense argued that “he did not murder her in the course of a burglary.” ... 
The defense did not seriously question the events that transpired once Blue opened the door. Blue entered the apartment, doused the victim with gasoline, and set her on fire with a lighter. As Mr. Williams stepped out of the kitchen, Blue threw gasoline on him and also lit him on fire. Blue then turned to the victim, emptied the last bit of gasoline from his cup, and said “I told you I’m gonna get you.” 
Blue “threw the cup down on the ... floor and left.” Mr. Williams rolled on the floor, but could not entirely put out the flames.  He struggled  to the bathroom shower and extinguished the remaining sparks. The victim, still burning, stumbled into the bathroom. Mr. Williams helped her into the shower.  Because Blue’s assault had also set the room aflame, Mr. Williams and the victim staggered from the apartment. Mr. Williams spent two weeks in the hospital recovering.  Blue’s assault caused second degree burns on 40% of the victim’s body. She died 19 days later from multi-system organ failure resulting from her burns.
A jury convicted Blue of capital murder. After a separate punishment hearing, he received a death sentence.
I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which he is to die. In all other cases, I stand mute regarding the propriety and wisdom of the execution. In the case of Carl Blue, I stand mute.

The Impending Execution of Warren Hill

Warren Hill sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Georgia sometime during the week of 19-26 February 2013. I find few details of his crime, the most "thorough" collection coming from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals:
In 1990, while Hill was serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, he murdered another person in prison.  Using a nail-studded board, Hill bludgeoned a fellow inmate to death in his bed.  As his victim slept, “Hill removed a two-by-six board that served as a sink leg in the prison bathroom and forcefully beat the victim numerous times with the board about the head and chest as onlooking prisoners pleaded with him to stop.” Hill “mocked the victim as he beat him.” Even locked up in jail for one murder, Hill continued to kill. 
A jury unanimously convicted Hill of malice murder and unanimously imposed a death sentence. Despite the fact that [Georgia] already exempted mentally retarded persons from execution at the time of Hill’s trial, Hill did not assert at trial that he was mentally retarded.  To the contrary, Hill called clinical psychologist William Dickinson, who testified that Hill’s IQ was 77 and he was not mentally retarded.
There are many, many articles about Hill and his impending execution. They focus almost exclusively on Hill's mental competence or incompetence. In this blog, I limit myself to considering issues of actual guilt or innocence. No one, not even Hill, seems to claim that he did not kill his cellmate as described.

I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which he is to die. In all other cases, I stand mute with regard to the wisdom of propriety of the execution. In the case of Warren Hill of Georgia, I stand mute.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Victims of Anthony Shore: Numb3rs

From the fine folks at Wikipedia:
Numb3rs (Pronounced Numbers) is an American crime drama television series that ran on CBS from January 2005 to March 2010. The series ...follows FBI special agent Don Eppes and his mathematical genius brother Charlie Eppes who helps Don solve crimes for the FBI. ... A typical episode begins with a crime, which is subsequently investigated by a team of FBI agents led by Don and mathematically modeled by Charlie ... The insights provided by Charlie's mathematics were always in some way crucial to solving the crime.
It was a decent show, even if you weren't a geek. It's now available on streaming video on Netflix.

The pilot episode dealt with locating the home of a serial killer using a technique known as geographical profiling. That show was based on the real-life work of Kim Rossmo.

Mathematical genius Charlie explained to dedicated FBI agent Don that Don should not be attempting to predict the location of the next murder. Instead, Don should be hunting for the murder's home. Charlie compared the problem to a lawn sprinkler. Even for the mathematically brilliant Charlie, predicting where the next water droplet would land would be an impossible task. However, Charlie could, by examining the location of all the drops, and by using mathematics, predict where the sprinkler was.

With a flurry of clicks on his computer, and with the aid of a large flat-bed printer he must have somewhere in his house, Charlie generated and printed a probability map for the serial killer's home.

That's nice work, and I'm suffering a bit of math envy, and printer envy.

Forty males lived in the central portion of that probability map. Don and his FBI buddies collected rogue DNA from each of the forty males. More specifically, they collected DNA from discarded cigarette butts, coffee cups, water bottles, chewing gum, and other waste products. None of the DNA matched the killer's DNA.

Charlie decided he made a mistake in focusing only on the killer's home when he should have been focusing on the killer's home and work place. He modified his program to allow two hot spots and came up with this.

Even though that was mathematically the weakest part of the show, it did the trick. Don caught the serial killer, the two brothers bonded a bit, and Charlie began working with Don routinely on cases.

The mathematics of geographical profiling is not particularly daunting, as mathematics goes. After reading Evaluating the Usefulness of Functional Distance Measures when Calibrating Journey-to-Crime Distance Delay Functions, I programmed my own version of a serial killer locator using a database software package called Filemaker.

For victims, I used the set of unsolved murders of young women from the Houston area between January 1981 (when Anthony Allen Shore moved to the Houston area from California) and November 2003 (when Shore was arrested). Here's my probability map, crude as it is.

Imagine for now a street map of the Houston area lying underneath. You'll only have to imagine for a little while, since I'll show that soon. Right now, I wanted to explain what you are looking at.

I used a grid of only 50 cells by 50 cells. It's a really crude geometric profile, but I have neither the computing power nor the large flat-bed printer (nor the mathematical gifts) that Charlie Eppes seemingly had. You can seen small dots in some of the cells. Those are the points where the victims were last seen. They are presumably the points-of-first-encounter, or close thereby. Real geographical profilers take advantage also of the locations where the bodies are found and the locations where the murder actually took place, assuming those are known. I'm not a real geographic profiler.

Based on my crude probability map, the most likely location for the home of the serial killer is the red spot. In this case, there are three red spots. I'll call them southeast, west, and north. Perhaps there were three serial killers working the Houston area during that time frame. Perhaps not.

Perhaps instead Anthony Allen Shore lived in three different locations during that time period, and each hot spot corresponds with one of those three residences. To consider that last perhaps, I overlaid my geographical profile over a map of the Houston area, making sure that each of Shore's residences during that period were indicated on the map with a yellow house icon.

Hold on to your fedora. Here's what I got. Click to enlarge. It's worth it this time.

Holy One-to-One Correspondence, Batman. I'll show in a future post that the correspondence is temporal as well as geographical. It seems as if wherever Anthony Allen Shore moved, the bodies of murdered young women were sure to follow.

There is a caveat to my work. I'm not sure where Anthony Allen Shore lived immediately after he moved to the Houston area. A public records search shows that he moved into a house on Tallulah Lane in 1985. That would be the westernmost house. We know he moved from the Tallulah Lane house to the 18th Street House (the northernmost of the three) sometime before he murdered Diana Robellar in August of 1994.

Prior to 1985, Anthony Allen Shore was seemingly staying at some place maintained in another person's name. I'm assuming that person was Anthony's father, Robert Shore. Robert Shore lived in League City. I'm trying to find out exactly where in League City. For now, I've put his house, the southeastern most of the three, in the middle of League City.

I predict that when I learn the specific address of his house, that it will be slightly north and slightly left of where it is shown above. I predict that it will move closer to the center of the predicted hot spot.

If this is merely a temporal and geographical coincidence, then it is one hell of a coincidence. Instead, I think the map I have just presented herein provides good cause to suspect that Anthony Allen Shore has killed many more people than he has admitted to.

I still think Melissa Trotter is one of those people, though she is not on the map. I still wonder whether Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor are two of those people.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Victims of Anthony Shore: Introduction

Anthony Allen Shore is a confessed serial killer. I detailed his five acknowledged victims (four murders and one rape) in my series Who Killed Melissa Trotter. I concluded that series by arguing that Shore may have murdered Melissa Trotter. This could be a significant, life-or-death observation since Larry Swearingen (The Most Innocent Man on Death Row) is scheduled to be executed on 27 February for the murder of Melissa Trotter. (Note: Swearingen's execution has been stayed for the 4th time since I began writing this post.)

I came to learn of Anthony Shore as I continued to investigate the case of Preston Hughes after his wrongful execution. I learned then that Anthony Shore lived but one mile from where Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor were murdered. I learned also that Anthony Shore's first acknowledged victim was murdered two years to the day before the double murder for which Preston Hughes was executed. The two coincidences are troubling.

Because Charles and Taylor were black and Shore's acknowledged victims were either white or Hispanic, and because Charles and Taylor were stabbed in the throat rather than strangled, I am not yet prepared to argue that Shore murdered them. That may change by the end of this series. However, as I studied the acknowledged victims of Anthony Shore, it occurred to me that Melissa Trotter may have been an unacknowledged victim. 

In this series, I intend to raise the possibility that Melissa Trotter was but one of many unacknowledged victims of Anthony Allen Shore.

I'll introduce the series with an overview of serial killers, their characteristics, and their behavior. The overview will help you understand where Shore falls within the spectrum of serial killers. That will be helpful when deciding whether or not various unsolved murders in the Houston area belong to Shore.

I restrict the discussion in this post to serial killers in the United States. Much, but certainly not all, of the information presented in this overview is from a set of student notes by Dr. Mike Aamodt of Radford University

Number of Serial Killers
John Douglas, a former Chief of the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit and author of Mind Hunter says, "A very conservative estimate is that there are between 35-50 active serial killers in the United States" at any given time.

Dr. Aamodt provides the following chart.

Dr. Aamodt seems to have taken his data from a database of known serial killers. The chart would then reflect primarily serial killers who have been captured or at least identified. My interpretation is that the Aamodt chart reflects the number of serial killers no longer active, and John Douglas' number reflects the number of serial killers active at any time.

Let's do a little math to estimate the number of serial killers that might be operating in the Houston metropolitan. We'll divide the current population of Houston metro (6,051,363) by the current population of the United States (and I mean current, at 315,253,444) to learn that 2% of the U.S population resides in the Houston metro area.

Now, assuming serial killers are evenly distributed among the population, and assuming 50 serial killers are operating nationwide, we can calculate that one serial killer is operating in the Houston area. (50 x 2% = 50 x 0.02 = 1) That's an average. Given that it's statistically unlikely one serial killer would always stop just as another begins, it's much more likely that there will be zero, one, or two (perhaps three) serial killers operating the area at any time.

Definition of a Serial Killer
A serial killer is a type of multiple murderer. The other types of multiple murderers are spree killers and mass murderers.

A mass murderer, according to the FBI, is someone who kills 3 or more people in the same attack at a single site. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are mass murderers. Together, they killed 12 students and one teacher during the Columbine High School massacre.

A serial killer is someone who kills 2 or more people with a "cooling off" period in between the killings. Anthony Shore is a serial killer, having killed at least 4 people in events separated by months or years.

A spree killer is someone who kills 2 or more people in different geographic locations without a "cooling off" period. By this definition, Anders Behring Brejvik of Sweden is a spree killer. On the same day, he killed 8 people by bombing government buildings, and 69 people at a Worker's Youth League camp.

I assume in their estimates, Dr. Aamodt and John Carpenter are using the definition of a serial killer as described above.

Age at Which a Serial Killer Begins to Kill
Based on his database of 1,739 serial killers, Dr. Aamodt calculates the mean age for the first kill at 29 years old. He references two other researchers who put the age at 28.5 and 31 years old. Aamodt adds that the youngest was Robert Dale Segee (9 years old when he first killed) and the oldest was Ray Copeland (72 years old when he first killed).

I'm dissatisfied with Aamodt's summary. Here's why. I now suspect Anthony Allen Shore killed young women soon after he returned to the Houston area in January, 1981. His first possible victim may have been Susan Eads. (I'll explain more as this series continues.) She was killed on August 31, 1983. Shore was born on June 25, 1962. He would have been 21 years old at the time of her murder. I want to know how likely or unlikely it would have been for him to start killing at age 21. I can't get that information from Dr. Aamodt's student notes.

Fortunately, Dr. Aamodt comes through in another presentation. There he gives the median age at first kill as 28.8 years old and provides a standard deviation of 9.27 years. That's great. That allows me to build a binomial distribution and get some sense of how likely or unlikely it would be for a serial killer to begin killing as young as 21.

I'll be back in a moment.

[Assume free online music playing while you wait.]

Okay, I'm back. Here we go. Click to enlarge.

No need to try to read specific numbers off the chart. I can now give you the specific number for any given age. Assuming a normal distribution, and assuming a mean age at first kill of 28.8 years, and assuming a standard deviation of 9.27 years, and assuming a normal distribution, there is a 21% chance that a serial killer will make his first kill when he is 21 years of age or younger. (It is mere coincidence that each number is 21 in magnitude.)

Shore's first acknowledged killing was Laura Tremblay. That occurred on September 26, 1986. (I never have to look that date up. It was two years to the day before someone other than Preston Hughes killed Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor.) Shore was three months past his 24th birthday. Using similar assumptions and math as above, there is a 32% chance that a serial killer will make his first kill when he is 24 years or younger.

No matter how you cut it, Anthony Shore started at a younger age than most serial killers.

Classification of Serial Killers
There is a surprisingly large range of serial killers. Once again, Dr. Aamodt summarizes the issue nicely, in a single chart. I've added the ellipse to show into which category Anthony Shore falls. Because Shore searches for a specific type of victim (young girls with long hair in need of a ride), and because he is motivated by sexual impulses, he is classified as an organized lust killer.

I turn to Wikipedia for the distinction between organized and disorganized serial killers.
Organized nonsocial offenders usually have above average intelligence, with a mean IQ of 113. They often plan their crimes quite methodically, usually abducting victims, killing them in one place and disposing of them in another. They often lure the victims with ploys appealing to their sense of sympathy. For example, Ted Bundy would put his arm in a fake plaster cast and ask women to help him carry something to his car, where he would beat them unconscious with a tire iron, and carry them away. Others specifically target prostitutes, who are likely to go voluntarily with a stranger. They maintain a high degree of control over the crime scene, and usually have a solid knowledge of forensic science that enables them to cover their tracks, such as burying the body or weighing it down and sinking it in a river. They follow their crimes in the news media carefully and often take pride in their actions, as if it were all a grand project. The organized killer is usually socially adequate, has friends and lovers, and sometimes even a spouse and children. They are the type who, when/if captured, are most likely to be described by acquaintances as kind and unlikely to hurt anyone. Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are examples of organized serial killers. 
Disorganized serial killers, on the other hand, often have average to below average intelligence, with a mean IQ of 92.5. They are usually far more impulsive, the murders are often done with a random weapon available at the time, and usually no attempt is made to hide the body. They are likely to be unemployed, a loner, or both, with very few friends. They often turn out to have a history of mental illness, and their modus operandi (M.O.) or lack thereof is often marked by excessive violence and sometimes necrophilia and/or sexual violence.
I've recreated a few tables from Dr. Aamodt's notes that nicely summarize the differences between organized and disorganized serial killers. I've highlighted those characteristics that fit Shore in yellow. Two items jump out immediately.

First, Shore did not apparently collect totems from his crimes. That's an unusual characteristic for someone who has so many "organized" characteristics. I understand, however, that the police discovered that Shore kept a stash of pornographic magazines in a rented storage locker. Perhaps Shore did keep totems from his crimes, including totems from his unacknowledged crimes, but the police failed to recognize them as such. It would be interesting to compare the items found in that storage locker against the possessions of all of Shore's possible victims.

Second, Shore selected his acknowledged victims close to home. That's also an unusual characteristic for an "organized" serial killer such as Shore. Perhaps though, he killed others further from home. We'll consider that possibility as we continue to explore the many possible victims of Anthony Allen Shore.