Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review of Blue on Blue by Charles Campisi

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on February 6, 2017: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/blue-on-blue

It’s often said that the police are the “thin blue line,” the fragile wall standing between the public and unrestrained anarchy and crime. But within the realm of policing there is no more despised or guarded assignment then Internal Affairs.

“Their work is often misunderstood, by the public and by others cops. It is racked with uncertainties and ambiguities, not simple black and white but varying shades of grey.”

The domain of Internal Affairs is filled with lies and betrayal, a world of squealers and snitches, wires and wiretaps, shadowy surveillance and covert operations. By necessity officers of Internal Affairs have to operate in the shadows, in secret, separated from their fellow officers. Good cops who recognize that the work they do is essential, are happy they don’t have to do the job themselves. But without these brave, honest, and faithful officers, the thin blue line would most certainly collapse from within.

In Blue on Blue: An Insider’s Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops, author Charles Campisi, a recently retired chief of the Internal Affairs Bureau for the NYPD recounts his 40-year career of flushing out crooked cops and combating police corruption. With assistance from veteran reporter and journalist Gordon Dillow, Campisi offers a fascinating and illuminating description of his career within the NYPD from a lowly rank and file officer in some of New York City’s most crime ridden precincts to his reluctant acceptance of head of the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB).

Campisi is honest but cautious about his assessment of his new job post: “as I leave Ray Kelly’s office . . . All I know is that our mission now is to transform Internal Affairs and I know that’s not going to be easy. Because anybody who thinks he’s going to change the way the NYPD handles corruption and misconduct within its ranks has a lot of history to overcome first.”

With aggressive support from superiors, Campisi sought ways to alter the IAB’s bad reputation.
“As far as most cops are concerned, other cops go into IAB for only three reasons: one, they’re cowards or shirkers who are too afraid or lazy to work on the streets; two, they’re rats who jammed up by their own corruption or misconduct and agreed to work for IAB and rat out other cops to save their own skins; or three, they’re zealots who simply get a sick and twisted pleasure out of persecuting cops.”

During Campisi’s 18-year tenure (1996 to 2014) at the IAB the number of people shot, wounded, or killed by cops declined by almost 90 percent, and the number of cops failing integrity tests shrank to an equally startling low. But to achieve these results wasn’t easy, and Campisi had to triple IAB’s staff, hire the very best detectives, and put the word out that bad apples wouldn’t be tolerated. Although he concedes that eliminating all significant police misconduct is virtually impossible, he emphasizes that the majority of cops do their work professionally and honorably.

Campisi’s narrative is thought provoking, and as an ultimate insider he offers the reading public a rare glimpse inside one of the most secretive branches of policing. Within its pages, he recounts the most critical cases that put the IAB to the test and which ultimately helped clean up the department.
Charles Campisi’s Blue on Blue is a compelling behind the scenes account of what it takes to investigate police officers who cross the line between guardians of the public to criminals. It’s a mesmerizing exposĂ© on the harsh realities and complexities of being a cop on the mean streets of New York City and the challenges of enforcing the law while at the same time obeying it. The breadth and depth of experience of the author and his unwavering commitment to justice makes this a refreshing read that will most certainly enthrall true crime enthusiasts and those interested in the history of modern law enforcement and particularly how police misconduct is handled.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Patty Hearst was Kidnapped (February 4, 1974)

This week (January 30 – February 5) in crime history – Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated (January 30, 1948); Andrew Jackson narrowly escaped assassination (January 30, 1835); Prosecutors announce intention to retry Ray Buckey in the McMartin Preschool molestation case (January 31, 1990); Guy Fawkes kills himself moments before his execution (January 31, 1606); Ted Bundy murdered University of Washington student (February 1, 1974); King Carlos I of Portugal and his heir were assassinated (February 1, 1908); Murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor February 2, 1922); Barnett Davenport committed mass murder in rural Connecticut (February 3, 1780); Patty Hearst was kidnapped (February 4, 1974); Medger Evers assassin was convicted (February 5, 1994)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst, granddaughter daughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California, apartment. Stephen Weed, Hearst’s fiancĂ©, was beaten unconscious by the two abductors. Soon, a ransom demand came from the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical activist group led by Donald DeFreeze.
DeFreeze had formed the SLA in 1973 after he escaped from prison. About two years before Hearst’s kidnapping, an SLA bomb-making factory had been discovered by the police. On November 6, 1973, the SLA shot and killed Marcus Foster, Oakland’s superintendent of schools, with bullets laced with cyanide.
The SLA instructed Hearst’s father to distribute $70 in food for ever poor person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Hearst agreed to give away $2 million to the poor in Oakland. The Black Muslims, Malcolm X’s former organization, were chosen to manage the food distribution, which turned into a riot when more than 10,000 people showed up and fought for the food. Afterwards, the SLA demanded an additional $6 million giveaway. Hearst refused and they did not release Patty.
The Hearst story took a strange and unexpected turn two months after the abduction, when the SLA robbed the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. The surveillance cameras clearly showed that Patty Hearst was one of the machine gun-toting robbers. Soon after followed a taped message from the SLA in which Hearst claimed that she had voluntarily joined the SLA and was now to be known as “Tania.”
On May 17, 1974, police were tipped that the SLA leaders were at a Los Angeles home. With 400 police and FBI agents outside the house, a tremendous gun battle broke out. The police threw gas canisters into the house and then shot at them, sparking a fire in which DeFreeze and five other SLA members died. However, Hearst was not inside the house. She was not found until September 1975.
Patty Hearst was put on trial for armed robbery and convicted, despite her claim that she had been coerced, through repeated rape, isolation, and brainwashing, into joining the SLA. Prosecutors believed that she actually orchestrated her own kidnapping because of her prior involvement with one of the SLA members. Despite any real proof of this theory, she was convicted and sent to prison. President Carter commuted Hearst’s sentence after she had served almost two years. Hearst was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of "The Little Golden Book of Alternative Facts"

You can't go wrong (or maybe you can) with the newest Little Golden Book. The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts inspired by the recent comments of White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The outrage over “alternative facts” began on Sunday, January 22, 2017, when Conway appeared on “Meet the Press” and defended press secretary Sean Spicer’s inaccurate statement about the size of inauguration crowds.

“Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts,” Conway said. “Wait a minute,” host Chuck Todd countered. “Alternative facts? … Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

Conway, who is best known for her fashion sense and slap stick comedy routines is a regular “alternative fact” pundit that apparently never sleeps because she's always on TV. She makes regular appearances on FOX News, a station known for its fair and balanced reporting (wink). While Sean Spicer can be seen near the White House Press room chewing and swallowing copious amounts of peppermint gum while attempting to figure out where his soul and integrity have gone.  

If you are of a certain age, Little Golden Books were a childhood staple for learning how to read, featuring the tales of The Pokey Little Puppy and The Little Red Caboose. While this newest edition takes an “innovative” and "liberal" (no offense to real liberals) approach to facts. It features common household objects and animals, each labeled with an entirely different noun. A picture of a chair is labeled “table,” an egg is called “soup,” and in a nod to Donald Trump’s Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin, a carrot is labeled with his last name.

This book is quite inspirational and great to have around for bedtime stories for kids and grand-kids especially if you think they need a little scare or an "alternative" to traditional education. And heaven knows we could all use a little more terror in our lives. What an awesome way to teach our kids ethics and morals. Although the ending is quite melancholy “we’re all doomed,” it doesn't in anyway resemble an earlier Little Golden Book classic entitled "The Monster at the End of This Book" starring Grover from Sesame Street. Although that title would be better suited for this new classic.
The storyline of Alternative Facts is simple and easy to read and highly recommended for its excellent printing quality and illustrations. A must read for billionaire oil tycoons, oompa loompa's who head our executive branch, Mike Pence, or anyone interested in Duck Dynasty.

Exclaimer - This book can be purchased nowhere but can be seen daily in the comments of Republican pundits and Trump administration officials everywhere.

My sincerest apologies to the publishers of Little Golden Books. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Brenda Spencer - "I Don't Like Mondays" (January 29, 1979)

This week (January 23-29) in crime history – Emmett Till’s murderers publish confessions on Look magazine (January 24, 1956); BTK Killer sends message to Wichita television station (January 25, 2005); Charles Manson and three of his followers were convicted of multiple murders (January 25, 1971); The Mad Butcher of Cleveland claimed third victim (January 26, 1936); The Vampire of Sacramento murdered three victims (January 27, 1978); Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate began their murderous crime spree (January 28, 1958); Brenda Spencer shot and killed two and wounded eight children at a San Diego area school (January 29, 1979)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On January 29, 1979, teenager Brenda Spencer shot and killed two school employees as they enter the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. Eight children and a police officer were wounded in the attack. Spencer blazed away with rifle shots from her home directly across the street from the school. After twenty minutes of shooting, police surrounded Spencer’s home for six hours before she surrendered. Asked for some explanation for the attack, Spencer allegedly said, “I just don’t like Mondays. I did this because it’s a way to cheer up the day. Nobody likes Mondays.”
Spencer was only sixteen-years-old at the time of her murderous attack and suffered with anger issues. In the weeks leading up to the mass shooting, Spencer had repeatedly shot out windows at the Cleveland school with a BB gun. Still, her father gave her a .22 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition as a Christmas gift at the end of 1978.
This seemed to inspire the young girl into more grandiose plans, and she started telling her classmates that she was going to do something big to get on television. When Monday morning rolled around, Burton Wragg, the principal of Cleveland Elementary, was opening the gates of the school when Spencer began firing her rifle from across the street. Wragg and custodian Michael Suchar were killed. When asked why she had committed the shooting Spencer stated, “I just did it for the fun of it, I don’t like Mondays.”
Spencer’s statements were later memorialized by Bob Geldof, the leader of the rock group The Boomtown Rats, in the song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.”
Spencer eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to twenty-five years to life at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California and has been dined parole multiple times.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Boston Belfry Murderer Claimed his First Victim - December 5, 1873

This week (December 5 – 11) in crime history – Boston belfry murderer claimed first victim (December 5, 1873); The bank robbing Reno brothers were hanged (December 6, 1868); Colin Ferguson shot and killed six and wounded 19 on Long Island commuter train (December 7, 1993); John Lennon was murdered (December 8, 1980); Frank Sinatra Jr., was kidnapped (December 8, 1963); Civil rights activist Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered a Philadelphia police officer (December 9, 1981); Bernie Madoff was arrested and charged with masterminding Ponzi scheme (December 11, 2008)

Highlighted crime story of the week -

On December 5, 1873, Bridget Landregan was found beaten and strangled to death in the Boston suburb of Dorchester. According to witnesses, a man dressed in black with a flowing cape was seen running away from the scene. In 1874, a man fitting the same description attacked and clubbed to death another young girl, Mary Sullivan. The killer’s third victim, Mary Tynan, was bludgeoned in her own bed in 1875. Although she survived the attack for nearly a year, she was never able to identify her attacker.

Residents of Boston were stunned to learn that the serial murderer had been among them all along. Thomas Piper, the sexton at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church, was friendly with parishioners and nobody suspected his involvement. But when five-year-old Mabel Young, who was last seen with the sexton, was found dead in the church’s belfry in the summer of 1876, Piper became the prime suspect. Young’s skull had been crushed with a wooden club. Piper, who was dubbed “The Boston Belfry Murderer,” confessed to the four killings after his arrest. He was convicted and sentenced to die, and he was hanged in 1876.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Company-Thirty-Years-California-1950-1980/dp/076435003X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1480956232&sr=8-2&keywords=michael+thomas+barry

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review of "By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O'Neill" By Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Boks on December 1, 2016 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/women-possessed

Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill was a pioneer of the American theater and led the way for other literary legends such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee. His true legacy is found in his ability to fearlessly tackle social and political values that today continue to inspire countless generations of authors and productions. Since his death in 1953, O’Neill’s treasure trove of works such as Long Day’s Journey into Night and others have been in constant production around the world. Although he was a very talented writer, O’Neill was a deeply flawed human being, who struggled his entire life with depression and alcohol abuse, which presented challenges in all of his personal relationships.

“But, whatever O’Neill’s personal failings, there is no denying that, as an artist, he stood tall. An idealist and visionary, he bravely endured his years of struggle, demanding to be accepted on his own terms as a dramatist.”

The celebrated and award winning husband and wife team of Arthur and Barbara Gelb have spent 50+ years studying and examining the life of Eugene O’Neill, and their previous works include O’Neill (1962) and O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (2000). Arthur Gelb died on May 20, 2014 and Barbara “wearily polished” the final few pages of their final collaboration, a book they had been grappling with for nearly a decade. Their third and final collaboration in the O’Neill saga, By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill, is an 869 page epic, in which the Gelbs examine the last 25 years of the playwright’s life through his stormy relationships with the most important women in his life, primarily his third wife, actress Carlotta Monterey.

The word comprehensive is often used to define thoroughly researched biographies and other works, but this definition doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in the amount of excruciating detail the Gelbs have provided in this volume. The majority of the book is spent discussing his emotionally tempestuous marriage to Monterey, which was dominated by years of alcoholic setbacks, mental and physical decline, and hostile resentment. Within this volume are also discussed some of the longstanding misconceptions of O’Neill’s life such as his battle with alcoholism and depression, as well as his views on feminism and racism.

“He also had a violent and destructive temper, especially when he was on a drinking binge. At those times, he didn’t hesitate to manhandle his lovers.”
Unfortunately, there are only brief discussions of O’Neill’s early marriages and his complicated relationship with his mother.

“When, as an adolescent, Eugene O’Neill realized that his mother, Ella Quinlan O’Neill, blamed her morphine addiction on his birth and confessed she wished him unborn, she betrayed him in a way he could never forgive or forget.”

In this work the authors rely primarily of the previously unpublished diaries and interviews of Monterey as well as material from friends and associates. Monterey gave the authors a melancholy version of O’Neill’s final years as a sick and forgotten man who isolated himself from his family and fans.

“O’Neill hated hotels, she told us, because he had been born in one and had spent the first seven years of life traveling from hotel to hotel while his father toured the country with his acting company. . . .” She repeated what are commonly claimed to be O’Neill’s final words, spoken on November 21, 1953, “Born in a hotel room and God damn it, died in a hotel room.”

By Women Possessed is a captivating and in-depth study of one of America’s most revered literary giants. This volume is a superb example of a skillful, thorough, and cynically examined editorial biography that draws from an exhaustive treasure strove of previously unexploited source material. It offers the reader an extraordinary and thought provoking view on the playwright’s life and works. By Women Possessed is heartily recommend to anyone interested in the American theater, Eugene O’Neill, or biography in general.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review of Deirdre Bair's "Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend"

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 16, 2016 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/al-capone

“Al Capone was a son, husband, and father who was looking for the best way to become a good provider for everyone.”

Nearly seven decades after his death, what is it about Al Capone that captures the imagination? Some lives contain multitudes, and his would seem to be one of them. From his heyday to the present, his life has enthralled the public’s collective imagination.

Born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, to Italian immigrant parents, Capone would become one of the most notorious crime figures in American history. During the height of Prohibition, his criminal enterprises, including bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling, dominated the city of Chicago.

His long-running turf war with rival gangs came to a bloody and shocking crescendo on St. Valentine's Day 1929. Through it all, the charismatic Capone remained barely above it all, and Federal income tax evasion was his eventual undoing. In 1931 he was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison but served a little over half his sentence, mostly at Alcatraz. A very ill Capone, suffering from the physical and mental effects of syphilis, was released to live out his final years in Miami.

Deirdre Bair, National Book Award winner and author of numerous biographies, attempts to uncover a more personal side of the infamous crime boss and examines the legend and facts surrounding this intriguing and enigmatic figure in her new biography, Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend.

“His ascent in mobdom was phenomenal, his time at the top sensational, and his downfall meteoric. Indeed, his reign did last only six short years, but everything that happened in that brief time still commands worldwide attention, interest, and speculation.”

The book follows Capone’s entire life from his humble beginnings in Brooklyn to his rise as crime boss in Chicago though his astonishingly swift downfall and imprisonment and death in 1947.

“This is the story of a ruthless killer, a scofflaw, a keeper of brothels and bordellos, a tax cheat and perpetrator of frauds, convicted felon, and a mindless, blubbering invalid. This is also the story of a loving son, husband, and father who described himself as a businessman whose job was to serve the people what they wanted.”

Written with the cooperation of Capone’s family and descendants, Al Capone does a wonderful job of gathering all of the urban myths surrounding his life and career and lays them out side by side with the facts, exposing and demystifying their falsehoods from the realities. “Attempting to reconstruct their truth is much like trying to solve the most complicated puzzle imaginable.”

Although this book is superbly documented and researched, its end results are mixed. The narrative is somewhat dry and uninspiring in its presentation and ultimately failed to uncover any startling new information. In the end, this book is best suited for readers who already have a basic understanding and familiarity with the subject matter. It is recommended for anyone interested in anything related to organized crime, Al Capone, and the Prohibition era in general.