Context for Casey Anthony Murder Trial

In researching my current work-in-progress, a murder mystery set in 1929 (based on my award-winning novella, CHALK GHOST), I discovered some peculiar historical facts that provide an interesting context for the ongoing trial of Florida single-mom Casey Anthony.

American students no longer study Civics or American History in high school. I doubt that anyone under 55 has learned much about the Great Depression, so you may not know that 1929 was the year of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Chicago’s Al Capone Gang gunned down a rival gang by disguising themselves as cops and herding their victims into a garage) and the year of the Great Stock Market Crash on what became known as Black Tuesday (when brokers jumped from skyscrapers after losing their shirts).

I researched 1929 popular culture extensively for the book, which involves a baby-for-sale ring. I was surprised at how different the problem of child kidnapping and murder was in 1929.

Without knowing history, it may seem reasonable that the media is making a “big deal” out of the murder of little Calley Anthony. Knowing history, it makes no sense at all.

I’m not saying that her murder or any child’s murder is trivial; I’m saying—unfortunately—that it is too frequent to justify “wall-to-wall” media coverage. The murder trial of O. J. Simpson was a “trial of the century” because of Simpson’s fame and prominence. Casey Anthony is nobody.

The media is after advertising revenue from free content. TruTV is broadcasting the trial for no public purpose; the company is a for-profit enterprise. It’s banking on revenue from advertising it hopes to sell on the basis of a bump in ratings during the trial. The media in Florida are all out to boost their ratings and their readership—for profit—especially the Fox outlets in the state.

Historical Context

I think it might shed light on the Casey Anthony spectacle to see how child kidnapping and murder was handled in American law historically. In the past, parents were rarely subject to the death penalty for abusing, neglecting, and killing their children.

It didn’t always happen that missing children ended up dead (they were often kidnapped and held for long periods, even into adulthood and until eventual liberation); it didn’t always happen that their parents (such as JonBenet Ramsey’s) were suspected of or tried for their murders (as is Casey Anthony). If the cops couldn’t figure out who else could have “done it” they didn’t always fall back on the parents; they sometimes had the guts to say a crime was unsolved.

In fact, many kidnappers committed their crimes for the value of a living child—as a hostage for ransom, as a product for sale, as the child they always wanted but for some reason didn’t have.

Children have been murder victims since before the advent of written history. Kidnapping has been a fact of American life since the Colonial Period. Parents have always been suspected of committing crimes against their children. Before World War I, for example, an 8 year old named Catherine Winter disappeared and was never found. Her parents were suspected, even though her father was a prominent dentist who spent his life searching for her kidnappers, whom he believed to be Gypsies.

In some periods, in pre-industrial societies, for instance, children had a great deal of value—so much so that abortions were forbidden or were so abhorrent to most women that they rarely willingly aborted a fetus. Children were valuable because they worked in the family business, on the farm, and could support elderly parents. (Even in China today, where there is an official one-child policy, young Chinese only-children often complain that they are worried that when the time comes they won’t be able to provide financial support to elderly parents, along with themselves and their own immediate families.)

But sometimes children in the past were not even viewed as fully human. As a result, in the past (in the 20th century, for instance) the murderers of children were not often punished severely; suspected murderers were often not tried, especially when there was no direct evidence either that the crime was committed (body never found) or when there was nothing but circumstantial evidence that the suspect was the perpetrator.

My point: Our current “advanced” society doesn’t necessarily value children as much as children have been valued at some past periods. Nor is our current self-righteous and vindictive attitude toward parents of kidnapped and murdered children necessarily evidence of contemporary high esteem for children. After all, the birth rate in industrialized countries is declining rapidly; if we really valued children we would have more of them.

Baby Farms

Abortion was essentially prohibited in the United States beginning in about 1820, although some self-induced miscarriages were permitted until the late 1800s. As a result, women who became pregnant “out of wedlock” or as a result of rape, for instance, often retreated to “homes for unwed mother” to give birth and then gave their children up for adoption.

While adoption services were generally humane sources of children for childless couples, occasionally these services were corrupt. Some such services were what was referred to as “a baby farm.” In one case, a former German World War I nurse named Helene Geisen-Volk took in unwanted babies from unmarried single mothers and boarded some babies on a temporary basis and then abused and neglected them so severely that over 50 died in her “care.” Even so, there was found to be insufficient evidence to try her for anything but assisting in one illegal abortion, for which she was given parole, and attempting to substitute a living baby for a baby left in her care who disappeared, for which she was sentenced to less than 3 years in prison. Why? Her baby farm was licensed by New York City; it was a legal business. And yet everyone knew she was responsible for the disappearance of over 50 infants.

In light of Geisen-Volk’s crimes and punishment, Casey Anthony’s “losing” a child whose body was later discovered after an extensive hunt and nationwide publicity seems comparatively trivial—yet she is on trial for her life, and the State of Florida is spending millions on her prosecution and if convicted even more on her punishment.

Infanticide Factories

Infanticide is the term generally used to refer to parental murder of children. The Spartans as a matter of public policy abandoned puny or deformed newborns in the wilderness. Partial-birth abortion is essentially the same sort of practice (even I, a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body, can’t justify it; it seems to be partial-birth abortion is one indication of how little our society values children).

“Baby snuffing” factories operated in this country for decades: An article in Foster’s Daily Democrat (June 1, 2008) lists a number of doctors and “adoption rings” that operated in the last half of the 20th century.

Just last year an abortion doctor in Philadelphia was charged as a serial baby murderer and with running an “abortarium” (Kermit Gosnell). He allegedly murdered infants delivered entirely alive.

When Casey Anthony’s alleged crime is compared to these wide-spread and often condoned forms of infanticide, it’s difficult to understand why she should be charged with capital murder—other than that she is beautiful and presents an exotic image on TV news cameras.

I am not a lawyer—merely a former juror (who suspects her name has been stricken from the jury rolls because the judge in the case didn’t like the jury’s decision).

I pity everyone who ends up on the Casey Anthony jury. It isn’t going to be easy—and the trial isn’t even necessary. Don’t you wish the prosecution had charged her with lesser crimes to which she could have pled guilty and taken the punishment that’s due to her?

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Jury Duty Horror—Serving on the Dr. Kermit Gosnell Jury

The case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell provides a ghastly example of what’s wrong with the death penalty: any charge of capital murder demands a jury trial rather than a bench trial. When the charges are irrefutable as they are in Gosnell’s case, there is no real need for a jury of peers to confirm the obvious. Nonetheless, twelve Pennsylvanians will eventually be compelled to sit in the jury box and listen to weeks of unspeakably horrible testimony.

What sane person would want to serve on such a jury?

I haven’t written in this blog for several weeks, because I was finishing a novel in which one theme is the value of a baby. SNOW GHOST is set in 1929, the year of the St. Valentine Day Massacre and Black Tuesday on the NY Stock Exchange. The crime around which the plot revolves is what was then called “baby farming.

Baby farming was actually an umbrella for a number of crimes: illegal abortions, selling unwanted babies, kidnapping, infanticide, child abuse, and many forms of exploitation of young women.

One infamous case of baby farming was Helen Geisen-Volk (1925). A nurse in New York City, she was ultimately accused of assisting in illegal abortions, taking in unwanted infants and selling them, and grossly neglecting, abusing, and killing infants in her care. (For more details, see Zelizer’s Pricing the Priceless Child and ) She was prosecuted successfully after taking in an infant while his mother was hospitalized, then trying to substitute another infant when the child died in her care.

Ninety years later, we learn that baby farms were not the worst horror the human mind can contrive. Gosnell’s clinic was the opposite of a baby farm; it was a baby slaughterhouse.

Noto Bene: I support a woman’s right to an abortion, because I believe in every human being’s right to complete privacy of their person and control of their body. But I don’t support a woman’s right to murder or abuse her children or to terminate the life of a viable fetus she is carrying, because I don’t believe there is any situation in which her life would be in danger if she committed herself to the care of a competent physician. (I am interested in information that would refute this belief.)

How did we arrive at this 180?

Yesterday InSession’s Vinnie Politan interviewed a Philadelphia DA about the Gosnell case. The DA claimed that Gosnell had separate facilities for poor women and well-off white women, neither of which was sanitary. Doesn’t this puzzle you? Why would any woman, poor or not, submit to an abortion in an unsanitary clinic when so many well-run abortion clinics are available?

Perhaps the answer is that they waited too long to obtain a legal abortion. The DA implied in his interview that Gosnell was willing to perform illegal late-term abortions—not partial-birth abortions, but live deliveries of seven-month babies, which he then murdered in a way too horrible for me to repeat here.

But this puzzles me, too. What would cause a woman who had carried a fetus for up to 30 weeks to decide she didn’t want to give birth?

I have some ideas. Some of them I have explored in SNOW GHOST (which is now in the hands of an agent). I think I’ll write about them in future posts.


In the meantime, I think it’s worth comparing the Gosnell crime and the strange case of Nejdra Nance, a young woman who was kidnapped from a hospital in 1987 and raised by a woman, who abused her.

The woman who raised her is named Ann Pettway. Pettway either kidnapped the infant or obtained the infant from the kidnapper—and then abused Nance so that she never believed she was Pettway’s child. All her life she investigated missing children’s lists in search for her own identity.

Both Geisen-Volk and Pettway: such a strange compulsion—the desire for a child to abuse, but not to bear or care for.

Elaine Clermont—Martyr Mom or Seriously Misguided?

TruTV In Session’s broadcast of the verdict in the case of Nevada v Clermont for kidnapping provided excellent analysis of what went wrong before and during the trial. Among the most interesting facts the jury did not know during deliberations (anchor Rikki Klieman revealed) was that the prosecution offered Clermont a plea deal, which she refused.

Clermont apparently maintains to this day that she did nothing wrong; instead it was the school district that was at fault and was seriously endangering children by its lax security system. She was only trying to expose the risks by notifying the media before she returned a lost little boy to his school.

The more I hear about the situation that resulted in Clermont’s arrest for kidnapping the child, the more I’m convinced she was grossly overcharged. But it’s also obvious that what she did was wrong: no one other than the boy’s mother had a right to restrain him even an instant (let alone 2 hours) for any reason.

The Jury Spoke

The jury found Clermont guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and of false imprisonment.

The first of these verdicts (possibly) resulted from the testimony of Clermont’s supposed conspirator, another school district mother named Laurinda Drake, who was previously acquitted of conspiracy. However, the jury apparently was not told about the acquittal. (This is the sort of withholding of information from a jury that I cannot understand.)

The second verdict is completely understandable (by someone who once was a juror in a situation somewhat like the one the Clermont jury faced). The jury could not find her guilty of kidnapping, because she did not commit kidnapping. Everyone with common sense can see that.

But she did restrain and use someone else’s child in the cause of furthering her point of view—she used a child for political purposes. Given a choice of acquitting her (and committing jury nullification) or convicting her of a lesser charge, that’s what they did.

Jury Rhetoric

I often write about the rhetoric lawyers use in front of a jury, but there’s also a rhetoric that jurors use to communicate with the court—and I suspect few lawyers or judges ever think about this.

In most cases, the only rhetoric a jury has available is the verdict. When lawyers don’t understand a verdict, they call it “jury nullification.” But it rarely is a nullification of the law: it is only a nullification of an inappropriate charge or indictment. The O. J. Simpson murder verdict, for example, was the jury’s way of saying they thought the cops were racist and had targeted Simpson unfairly.

In “my” case, we the jury found the defendant not guilty of kidnapping (but guilty of aggravated assault), because he did not kidnap his victim. Afterwards, the judge came into the deliberation room to find out how we could have been so stupid. One of my fellow jurors asked her, “Why didn’t you just offer him a plea deal?” She replied, “We did, but he wouldn’t take it. So kidnapping was the only way I could sentence him to thirty years.”

Is that justice? No.

Here’s what both juries were telling both judges and all the lawyers: don’t charge our fellow citizens with serious crimes unless they committed those crimes, and don’t let a criminal go free on a technicality, namely, the legalese of a criminal statute.

If the jury had found Clermont not guilty of all crimes they would have been letting her go on a technicality, namely, that the literal law of kidnapping was not committed.

Both the prosecution and the defense miscalculated. The defense made a big mistake by not accepting a plea deal—it looks like Clermont wanted to use the jury for her political purposes, too. The prosecution was absolutely wrong to over-charge her in the first place—they could have charged her with a form of child endangerment, for example, and still have achieved their objectives.

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Child Rapist Free on Bail—what else is new?

The “person of interest” in the Lakewood, WA, police assassination case (a.k.a. suspect) was a man with a long record of violent crimes and repeated releases into the public despite his multiple convictions. He was also free on bail after being charged with several crimes, including child rape.

This case stands in sharp contrast with the case of Elaine Clermont, the Nevada mother, charged with and convicted of kidnapping a child.

So, how did this guy get bail?

I used to think that bail was available only for nonviolent crimes when the accused was not “a flight risk.” Then I served on a jury in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse (Chicago). After that I understood that in the county where I live violent offenders are let loose all the time, and even undocumented aliens who can easily return to their “country of origin” are given bail all the time, despite being more than a flight risk—that is, despite being sure to flee.

Bail Bondsmen

The big part of the problem, it seems to me, is the bail-bond system.

By rights granted in the Constitution, every accused person is entitled to be released until convicted (“habeas corpus”)—unless the accused is charged with a Class A Felony (in other words, a serious crime). When an arrestee goes free on bail, though, the state is entitled to a pledge of security from the accused in the form of bail.

The amount of the bail bond seems to be entirely at the discretion of the judge who presides over the arraignment. If New York City’s bail guidelines are typical, the amount of bail required is very little and need not be cash—the judge usually must accept property as bail (I assume vehicles are typical of such property).

Bail for misdemeanors and first-offenders can be very low. Any judge who imposes a high bail in such cases has to permit the arrestee’s lawyer to justify the bail in a “bail sufficiency hearing.” Given the overcrowding of the courts, few judges are willing to spend their time in such hearings and instead require low bail.

Further shifting the risk toward the citizens of the community and off the suspect’s shoulders is the institution of the bail-bondsman: an insurance salesmen for criminals. Apparently, tradition has set a precedent that no matter what bail the judge requires, a third party can post the bail for the suspected offender (a bail bondsman). The bail bondsman loans the suspect the amount of the bail, for a fee of 10% of the total.

Sidebar: Doesn’t the bail-bondsmen in effect make the whole concept of bail moot? What I mean is—the bail system is supposed to reduce the risk that a freed suspect will skip town. The bail bondsman makes it easy for most suspects to skip town. In fact, if a criminal knows the odds of acquittal in an American court, he ought to skip town at the cost of a few hundred dollars rather than stand trial and be convicted.

Also, tradition has apparently set bail for felonies within a range of only a few thousand dollars up to the mid-five figures (higher bail is very rare). That means, though, that at most an accused person needs to pay the bail bondsman only a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand (about the value of the average person’s car). (BTW: I assume this tradition started when a dollar was worth a dollar).

Free as a Bird—Child Rapists

During the trial in Cook County in which I was a juror, the defendant was free on bail even though he was charged with a Class A Felony (aggravated kidnapping) and other violent felonies, which included the aggravated sexual assault of a 13 year old girl (in IL not a “child”). He jumped bail during the trial, and as far as I know he is still free.

In the Washington state case, the suspect was charged only with second-degree child rape—not a Class A Felony, I suppose. So Washington has a prosecutor to thank for the man’s shooting spree, just as Nevada has a prosecutor to thank for the trumped up charge of kidnapping against Elaine Clermont.

In either case, it’s hard to understand why the judge let these men go free on bail.

An Obvious Solution

  • Crimes against children should be Class A Felonies that are ineligible for bail. How hard would it be for state legislatures to enact such a statute? (What in the world is “second degree child rape”? Unintentional? With consent? It boggles the mind.)
  • Children should be defined by law as anyone under 17 or 18. For example, teenage gangbangers who commit violence against other teenage gangbangers would not be eligible for bail.
  • Bail bondsmen should be required to qualify their clients both financially and as “risks,” just the way a legitimate insurance company does. (Insurance is all about actuarial risk tables. Clearly bail bondsmen are not qualifying their clients at all, but rather are paying bonds for everyone who asks them.)
  • Bail bondsmen should be required to charge fees commensurate with the risks: the criteria should be the seriousness of the charges, the suspect’s prior arrest and conviction record, the potential sentence if convicted, and the flight risk. In other words, some of their clients should be asked to pay less than 10% and many of their clients should have to pay far more than 10%.

Michael King — It seems almost as if he might have done this before . . . .

At the Florida trial of Michael King for abducting, raping, and murdering Denise Lee, her detective father commented that he was proud of his daughter for protecting her babies and for alerting authorities to what was happening so that King could never do it again. He also said something to the effect that King might even have done it before. And this is what I wonder, too.

King’s crime was so brazen that it cries out as an MO (modus operandi). Surely Florida authorities are at this moment combing through their cold-case files for similar abductions.

  • Sidebar: The murder of Laci Peterson comes to mind, too. Since 2002 we’ve heard of many such abductions and also murders in which a fetus was cut from the mother’s womb. Frankly, that’s what worries me most about Scott Peterson’s death sentence.

As I understand it, King stalked his victim to her home in the middle of the afternoon, where she was caring for two infant children. Her husband returned home shortly after that to find his babies alone and his wife’s purse sitting in the kitchen or some other ordinary place. He called 9-1-1 and his police-detective father-in-law immediately.

  • Sidebar: Also chilling to me was a remark by TruTV’s Jean Casarez that King was a plumber. With apologies to all good plumbers everywhere, I never like to be alone at home with a plumber. And now I have a rational explanation for my phobia: I wonder if King’s victim came to his attention during work he did in her home. I have heard no mention of this. Quite the opposite, I’ve heard his choice of victim called “random.” The randomness is what frightens most commentators.

The jury may be thinking the same thing (not about plumbers) about the way King seemed to have things well in hand, to be following a well-rehearsed script, to have no concerns that anyone would care that he had a woman held captive in the foot well of his car’s backseat—even when she screamed and pounded on the window.

My experience on a criminal jury also had me wondering if the defendant had done it before. In fact, I was convinced he had done it before.

During the trial it was proved to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had been trolling for child victims in a neighborhood on Chicago’s south side (far from his own neighborhood). Like King, he was totally brazen. He was driving a pickup truck, which he left with its motor running in a busy street, while he chased a girl into a railroad viaduct. He didn’t have a chance to abduct the girl, though. Good Samaritans performed a citizen’s arrest.

This fact was incredibly puzzling to me and to my fellow jurors. We knew we were not supposed “to speculate” about such things, and we did not do so during deliberations. Unfortunately, we also understood the judge’s instructions to apply the law (as stated by the judge) to the charges, one of which was a kidnapping charge.

Had the defendant been charged with “attempted kidnapping,” we could have found him guilty because of that running motor. But he was not charged with attempted kidnapping, only aggravated kidnapping. After four hours of discussing whether it is kidnapping when a rapist pushes his victim off a sidewalk, we found him not guilty of that crime.

The judge later scolded us when one juror asked why the charge hadn’t been “attempted kidnapping.” She said, “There’s no such thing as attempted kidnapping.” Having studied the Illinois criminal statutes since then, I am puzzled by that statement. Surely kidnapping doesn’t have to be successful to be charged as a crime.

I suspect, instead, that the judge and prosecutor were simply being “too clever by half.” The judge intentionally misstated the kidnapping statute in her jury instructions to make it seem that pushing someone off a sidewalk constitutes kidnapping under the law, because she thought (mistakenly) that we wouldn’t understand the significance of the running motor. Or maybe she didn’t think a “dog that didn’t bark” was sufficient evidence for a conviction. But – let’s face it – the only reason a man would leave his motor running while he chased a victim was because he expected to snatch her off the street and throw her into the truck.

My point is that some sex crimes are never isolated instances. Sex-crime offenders seem to live lives of increasing violence. When a criminal reaches the point he feels free to commit his crime in broad daylight and in public, you just know he must have done it before.

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I heard the screams, not happy screams . . . .

Today in the Michael King murder trial a good-Samaritan witness, Jane Kowalski, testified about hearing screams coming from the backseat of the car next to her on the road. This is at least the second witness who testified to hearing kidnap-victim Denise Lee’s screams for help coming from King’s car.

Think about this: King was entirely unconcerned that he would be caught in the act. He did not bind his victim. He did not gag his victim. He did not render her unconscious as he drove through a populous area during rush hour. His only response to his victim’s screams and pounding on his car’s window was to remove his right hand from the steering wheel and repeatedly push her down into the foot well of the backseat.

Assuming King wanted to get away with his crime, this behavior is unfathomable, isn’t it? His defense is not claiming insanity.

In my opinion, the reason King felt he could do this so blatantly is that society and especially law enforcement and the courts do not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime. When a couple is involved in domestic violence, the woman’s cries for help are ignored. King knew that, just as every abusive man knows it.

Few people report signs of domestic violence to the police. When neighbors hear screams, they shut their ears. When someone calls the police, the police approach the scene warily or not at all. As soon as the police knock on the door, the screams stop. The police counsel the couple to kiss and make up.

I was once in a hotel room and heard a violent fight next door. I could hear screams and a fist hitting flesh. Furniture banged up against the wall. It was loud enough to penetrate the soundproofed walls and loud enough for me to tell a man was hitting a woman.

I can’t remember whether I called the front desk, but I do remember calling the cops. Within a few minutes I heard the knocks on the door of the next room. The sounds of struggle stopped. I heard voices in the hall and then the cops went away.

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Kidnapping, Murder, and Domestic Disputes

At lunch just now I tuned into TruTV’s coverage of the Michael King murder trial in time to hear King’s cousin testify that he heard a woman’s voice emanating from King’s car and saying, “Call the cops.” The cousin’s first response, he said, was to think it was “a domestic” dispute – “a girlfriend.” When he looked again at King’s car, his cousin saw a woman’s silhouette in the vehicle and saw King push the figure down.

I have only one comment: This is what is wrong with the way American law deals with domestic violence.

A Question from The Hung Juror to the Castillo Judge

What if I have “reasonable doubts” concerning the defense claim that the defendant “knew the difference between right and wrong”?

Since the defense has the burden of proof in an insanity defense, does that mean the defendant is presumed sane unless and until proven otherwise? If so, how can this be? It boggles the mind.

And how do I know whether or not my doubts are “reasonable”? I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Maybe all I’m feeling is a silly doubt about my own sense of what is right and wrong.

  • Sidebar (emendation): I learned late yesterday that the burden on the defense is “to the juror’s satisfaction” or something of that nature, not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Under that standard I am even more convinced that this trial will not end in a convcition.

You might think that the Castillo jury has a simple decision to make. I’m sure the prosecution will argue as much. All the prosecutors have to do in their closing arguments is point to Castillo’s confessions and apologies.

But having been a juror on what seemed like an open-and-shut kidnapping case to the prosecutors and judge, I know that nothing a jury must decide is ever clear cut. In “my” case, the defendant was caught in the act and signed a confession. We stupid jurors still “nullified” the kidnapping charges.

If you want to know what it feels like to be a juror on a case the public considers to be open-and-shut, please download my novel, THE JUROR HANGS, from either or (Never heard of Smashwords? Click here for info and instructions on how to download the novel in multiple ebook formats: Sony, MobiPocket, etc.) It reads great on any iPhone, SmartPhone, Blackberry, Sony reader, or Kindle.

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No Good Piracy Goes Punished

Wired Magazine’s most-recent print edition has an article entitled “Cutthroat Capitalism,” by Scott Carney. Carney’s discussion of Somali piracy is the best I’ve come across. The bottom line is that piracy on the high seas is not a problem for anyone. What is a problem is: 50% of the proceeds go to Islamic militant groups at war with us. In fact, pirates are the new suicide bombers—without the risk of death.

Carney took the time to examine statistics from the ICC International Maritime Bureau (check out the Live Piracy Report Center)and the Suez Canal Authority. From these sources he learned that:

  • Only 7.5 % of world shipping goes through the Suez Canal into the Gulf of Aden (the pirate’s waters).
  • Of the ships sailing in Somali waters, only 2/10ths of a percent are successfully attacked by pirates.
  • Because the problem is so insignificant, insurance companies find it less costly to pay ransoms than to insure armed guard forces on ships in the area.

According to Carney, the pirates are funded and armed by “financiers” (wealthy radical Islamists) through Somali tribal elders and land-based commanders and security guards. A mother ship launches the pirate attack squads. Once a ransom is taken, 50% of the proceeds goes to the financiers, 30% to the mother ship and pirates, 10% to the land-based security, and 10% to the elders.

There’s little risk to anyone involved—pirates and kidnap victims alike. In the year from April 2008 to April 2009, only 9 pirates died (5 killed by national navies and 4 by accident). More victims died (19), although the cause of death of 14 of those is unknown (they’re missing, presumed drowned, I suppose); 1 died as a result of a naval attack; 4 were killed by pirates. In addition, apparently the pirates are only able to extort ransom from Western shippers, so they automatically release African and Indian crews.

If Carney is correct, I have to wonder what the fuss was all about when the Maersk Alabama was captured earlier this year. Why didn’t the insurance company want to the pay the ransom? Is it possible that the American Navy need not really have gotten involved? Or was there something about the ship’s cargo and crew that made it unique?

At about the same time, a French boat was captured, and the French Navy attacked the pirates aboard it, too. The Tanit, though, was apparently a private yacht, and the pirates apparently didn’t understand the risk/benefit ratio. The French Navy killed them, along with the yacht’s owner (he may have been killed by the pirates—not sure about this) and skipper.

Now, however, the New York courts will be treated to the trial of one of the Somali pirates who attacked the Maersk Alabama unsuccessfully. Obviously, he and his crew were not good pirates. Good pirates tend to get away with it.

No one knows whether or not he’s really over 18, although the New York Daily News says the pirate’s father was contacted by the judge. The father apparently lied to the judge, but one has to assume the Somali father spoke English or had a good translator and that he was sufficiently proficient with numbers to be able to say exactly when his son was born (Somalia is not the world’s most literate or educated country—they don’t even have a native script—he didn’t have a birth certificate to check).

There’s hardly a presumption of innocence in this case. To claim a Somali youth who committed a crime on an American vessel is subject to American law and American rights seems a bit far-fetched to me. He will surely be found guilty by a jury who are not his peers and then be sent to prison for life at American taxpayer expense. (This is another jury I wouldn’t want to have to serve on.)

I must be missing something here. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights do not apply outside the U.S. Am I wrong? Yet the pirate was arrested by the F.B.I., not the Navy. And the F.B.I.’s charter is strictly American—they don’t police the rest of the world.

The U.S. Navy is charged with keeping the waterways safe for American vessels. And that’s what they did when the Maersk Alabama was captured. But it seems to me it’s the insurance companies that benefited, not American shipping, because all it meant was the insurers didn’t have to pay a ransom, which they wouldn’t have minded paying. And the arrest of the Somali pirate will not serve as a warning to other pirates: piracy is still the best way to make a living in Somalia.

A side note on Carney’s interesting article: He claims that private security contractors serve primarily as liaisons between the shippers and the pirates. Their role is not to protect ships but to see to it that no one is killed during a pirate attack and that the pirates or crew don’t destroy the ship in the process. (Of course, all I know about this comes from a Wired Magazine article. Who knows where the truth lies in this case?)

Sounds like a plot from John Le Carre, doesn’t it?

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Fake Rockefellers, Fake Spouses, Fake Citizens, and Green Cards

According to Fox News, the man known as Clark Rockefeller (a.k.a. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter) first obtained a green card (a work visa) in 1981 by marrying a Madison, WI, woman named Amy Jersild. While she claims they never lived together, they did not divorce until 11 years later.

Then there’s Kathleen Hilton, the mentally challenged Massachusetts woman who was acquitted of arson murder earlier this year. If I recall correctly, she was videotaped telling a psychologist about one of her boyfriends who “wore . . . a turban.” When I heard that, I guessed she meant a Moslem man who wanted to marry her to acquire a green card. (Ms. Hilton, I believe, went on to explain how they were planning to get married in a coffin, so it may have been merely a delusion.)

If you “Google” “mail order brides,” you’ll find hundreds of thousands of listings for what amounts to catalogs of foreigners willing to marry you in order to acquire a visa to enter the U.S. and eventually to become American citizens. Notably, the highest ranking among these listings are  Russian.

Russian women have been sexually exploited in this country for at least two decades. For example, in 2002 a major Russian prostitution ring was broken up in Los Angeles. If I recall the facts correctly, Russian women were smuggled into this country and then forced to repay their “travel expenses” by means of prostitution.

Another source of phony visa applicants is Canada. A few years ago I was president and CEO of a consulting company that employed over a dozen professionals, including computer programmers. One of my staff was a Vietnamese immigrant whose family came here to escape the aftermath of that war. Like a dutiful, lawful employer I required her to prove she was a citizen or had a valid green card. (At the time, employers had to fill out a form swearing to the IRS that they had physically seen valid documentation of a right to work here—I didn’t want to go to jail for failing to do so.) This particular young woman produced a U.S. passport, among other documents. However, several months after I hired her, we were conversing about something—can’t remember what—and for some reason she told me she was sending her passport to Canada so that her “sister” could use it to enter the U.S. Hmm.

After the Bosnian War, I remember reading about the Albanian mafia’s human trafficking, too. There was reputedly a slave market somewhere outside Amsterdam where women from Kosovo were sold. From there, they were trafficked all over the world, including into the U.S. (Learning this inspired me to write a short story called, “At the Foot,” which is now included in THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (a collection of 8 short mysteries.)

In other words, U.S. law permits a U.S. citizen to claim to be engaged to a foreigner and then bring him or her here under a guaranteed visa. Once in the U.S. a person must have a permanent residence here for five years, be over 18, speak English, and pass a U.S. history and citizenship test. (That’s a good deal more than anyone born here has to do in order to vote.)

Unfortunately, it looks as if the visa laws also permit foreigners to be exploited, especially young women.

(More grist for the fiction mill: I’m currently writing a serialized novella on, titled “Chalk Ghost,” in which a Hmong woman is trafficked into the country from Canada—and succumbs to life as a mail-order bride, of a sort.)