book reviews, law, true crime, Virginia

Reviewing Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas, by Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson…

Recently, I mentioned that I would be reviewing an honest to God book, rather than a Kindle download. Thanks to a snowstorm and concerted effort, I’ve just finished reading that book, Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas. It wasn’t easy to read this well-researched 2009 book, written by Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson. Not only was the subject matter difficult and depressing, but the print was also very small for my 50 year old eyes. I ended up investing in a book light to help me with the process. Even with multifocal contact lenses, I still have some trouble with fine print!

In any case, I did finish the book this afternoon, and I’ve been very eager to review it. Based on hits on previous true crime blog posts about Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas, I know people are still interested in reading about this 1990 murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. On December 17, 2022, this blog received a huge influx of hits. Someone linked an earlier blog post mentioning Jessica Wiseman on Reddit. The post in question wasn’t even just about Jessica Wiseman. It only mentioned her case in relation to another true crime case out of Wisconsin.

I decided to seek out more information about the murders and, sure enough, discovered Peppers’ and Anderson’s book. Anatomy of an Execution is not available on Kindle, although the printed version is available through Amazon Prime for $29.95. I don’t often read actual books anymore. Kindle makes reading after lights out easier, plus the print is larger and more adjustable. I also like Kindle books because it’s easy to share passages and make notes. Nevertheless, I was so intrigued by this murder case that I decided to order the physical book, even though it meant temporarily being a Luddite. It arrived a few days ago and I quickly devoured it.

Who are Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas? Why is there a book about them?

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Gloucester County, in the Middle Peninsula of Virginia. Gloucester is adjacent to rural Middlesex County, which is just north. On November 10, 1990, I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University). It was just before Thanksgiving break. On that night, a horrific murder took place in Middlesex. A 14 year old girl named Jessica Wiseman, and her 17 year old boyfriend, Chris Thomas, murdered Jessica’s parents, James Baxter and Kathy Wiseman. The two thought they were in love, and Jessica’s parents– specifically her father– had forbidden them to be together. Chris took a shotgun from his uncle’s house and snuck over to Jessica’s house in the middle of the night. Then, together, the two made the worst decision of their lives.

Jessica had greased the window in her bedroom, to make sure it didn’t squeak as Chris climbed through it on that fateful November night. Even as he entered Jessica’s bedroom, Chris didn’t think he’d actually go through with the plan to commit murder. Jessica was determined. She had spread drug paraphernalia on the floor, to make it look like a drug deal gone bad.

As Chris stood by, Jessica warned him to shoot her daddy before he woke up, lest he kill Chris. Chris fired, and J.B. Wiseman died instantly. Then he shot Kathy Wiseman, but she got out of bed and staggered into Jessica’s bedroom. That time, Jessica fired, and Kathy Wiseman died. In a tragic display of misguided chivalry, Chris Thomas confessed to killing both parents. Because he confessed to firing the shot that killed Kathy Wiseman, Chris Thomas was charged with capital murder, which made him eligible for the death penalty.

I’m not sure if I was aware of the Wiseman murders when they happened. That was before everyone was online, and I was busy with college. I read the local newspapers a lot in those days, and I do remember that Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas were frequently reported about in the newspapers. The case had caused quite a scandal because, at that time in Virginia, no one under the age of 15 could be tried as an adult, regardless of how serious their crimes were. Jessica Wiseman was fourteen years old when she convinced Chris Thomas to murder her parents. She spent just under seven years in juvenile hall, and was released on July 26, 1997, which was her 21st birthday. Chris Thomas, by contrast, was tried as an adult. He was executed on January 10, 2000. He was 26 years old when he died.

Who are Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson?

At this writing, author Todd C. Peppers is a lawyer and a visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He is also on the faculty of the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia. He’s written several books besides Anatomy of an Execution, and specializes in the Death Penalty, Judicial Behavior, Supreme Court History, and Torts.

Co-author Laura Trevvett Anderson taught special education at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian, Virginia, part of Chesterfield County. For two years, Chris Thomas was one of her students. Anderson formed a special bond with her former student. She served as his spiritual advisor before he was executed on January 10, 2000.

Chris’s tragic story…

Chris was born to Margaret and Billy Thomas, a couple who met in 1972 at Donk’s, a pool hall and concert venue in nearby Mathews County. Donk’s is another name that everyone living near Gloucester knew of, back in the day. Sadly, although the two got married, they were not a love match. Billy was abusive to Margaret. She was also a lesbian. The two got divorced in the months following Chris’s May 29, 1973 birth.

Because of Margaret’s lesbian lifestyle, and the fact that she worked as a prison guard, she decided to have her parents adopt Chris. Then, she moved to Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. Consequently, for the earliest years of his life, Chris Thomas was raised by his grandparents, Herbert and Virginia Marshall. Peppers writes that Margaret was jealous of her son, because her parents provided better for him that they had her when she was coming of age. Margaret also had siblings nearby who helped raise Chris in his early years.

In 1985, when Chris Thomas was about eleven years old, he experienced a trifecta of tragedies. His grandfather, Herbert, died of a brain tumor. A few months after that, his grandmother died of ovarian cancer. He also lost his favorite uncle, Winfrey. Chris went to live with Margaret and her lover, and her lover’s children, in Chesterfield. He hated Chesterfield because it was too urban for him. Chris loved to hunt and take solitary walks. He couldn’t do that in Chesterfield, which is much more populated. Chris also resented his mother’s lifestyle, and the fact that she helped raise her lover’s children, but hadn’t been raising him. Chris found a friend in Laura Anderson, a very dedicated special education teacher. With her help, his grades in school improved. But he was still miserable in Chesterfield, and eventually went back to Middlesex.

Chris went to live with his Uncle Herbert and Aunt Brenda Marshall. Herbert had been abusive to Chris when he was younger. He’d even told Chris that he was the reason his parents had died. Nevertheless, Herbert and Brenda provided him with a home in Piankatank Shores, a housing subdivision in Middlesex. Jessica Wiseman also lived there with her parents, along with her grandparents and great-grandparents. Jessica was reportedly a spoiled girl, whose grandparents and great grandparents provided her with everything she could want. She even had her own golf cart for getting around the subdivision. When she wrecked it, they bought her a new one. She had her own bedroom in each of their homes, too.

Chris was a good looking kid, who’d had a number of “girlfriends” younger than he was. Jessica caught his eye, and it wasn’t long before they were spending all of their time together. Chris was also getting in trouble with the law– committing petty, non-violent crimes. Without Laura Anderson’s committed mentorship, Chris’s school performance plummeted. He didn’t care. Neither did Jessica, whose family members didn’t seem interested in instilling a sense of responsibility within her. She and Chris were sexually active, and Jessica worried about pregnancy. She wanted Chris to marry her, but her father, who worked as a truck driver, forbade it. That was when she came up with her plan to murder her parents. Sadly, Chris Thomas let her talk him into helping her with her plan. He paid for that mistake with his life.

My thoughts on the book

I found Anatomy of an Execution a fascinating read on so many levels. Again, I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia, and some of the judges and lawyers involved in the Wiseman murders were from my hometown. Although I was never unfortunate enough to meet any judges or lawyers from Gloucester in an official capacity, it was impossible to read our local newspaper in the 80s and 90s and not see the names of the people who worked on this case. Peppers does a great job of telling Chris Thomas’s story, starting from the tragic beginning.

This book is extremely well-written and researched. There are some typos in the book, as well as a few very minor fractured facts. Peppers refers to Clover Hill as being in Richmond, for instance, when it’s not. I used to drive past Clover Hill on my way to Longwood and had a roommate who graduated from there. Richmond is its own city. However, this is a very minor quibble, in my view. Peppers has jam packed Anatomy of an Execution with information, as well as notes for further research. Chris Thomas’s case is also very poignant. Peppers and Anderson do a fine job of humanizing Chris Thomas and other people on death row.

There was a time when I was in favor of the death penalty. Gloucester County and its environs are chock full of political conservatives, so it’s hard not to go with the locals, especially when you’re a teenager. I have since become more of a (GASP) liberal, and for the most part, I disagree with capital punishment. It was amazing to me when Virginia abolished capital punishment in 2021. I never thought I would see the day.

Anatomy of an Execution was published in 2009, when the death penalty was still legal in Virginia. I’m sure Peppers was as surprised as I was when it was outlawed, as Peppers makes it very clear how very eager Virginia politicians and lawmakers were to maintain it. Peppers is very thorough as he explains the history of capital punishment in Virginia and the many injustices defendants faced in capital murder cases. I found it all fascinating and even wound up looking up a lot of the people involved in this case. Many of the main players are now deceased.

Thomas’s defense lawyer, Damian T. Horne, and his now wife and then co-counsel, Sydney West, are still living and have moved to New Mexico. Peppers doesn’t seem to think much of Horne or West, neither of whom were experienced enough for the case. But he also points out that back in the early 90s, Virginia only paid $600 total to criminal defense lawyers who represented indigent clients.

Chris Thomas’s original lawyer, the late Benton Pollok, was very experienced and had a passion for criminal law, but he had to be replaced due to a conflicting case he was handling involving a private client willing to pay him for his time. The late Judge John Folkes (from Gloucester) apparently didn’t like Pollok, and would not work with him to reschedule the court appointments. Consequently, Pollok was forced to withdraw from the case. Ironically, Pollok had to sue the his “paying client”, who wasn’t so eager to pay him, after all. If Chris had been able to keep Pollok as his lawyer, it’s likely he’d still be alive today.

I also shook my head as I read some of the letters exchanged between Chris Thomas and Jessica Wiseman. It’s pretty plain that Jessica manipulated the hell out of Chris. No, he shouldn’t have committed murder and he absolutely deserved punishment. But he was just a kid when he committed his crimes, and he did not have good counsel. His story is tragic and poignant. It’s a good reminder of how young people can get caught up in terrible situations that lead to their destruction. It’s crazy to me that Jessica spent less than seven years locked up in juvenile hall. She’s out now, has changed her name, and is free to live her life. Meanwhile, her former boyfriend is long dead, and people are haunted by his memory.

Final thoughts

I highly recommend Anatomy of an Execution to anyone who wants to know the whole story behind the Wiseman murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. I only wish the type in this book were a bit larger and/or it could be downloaded on Kindle. I’m definitely not sorry I took the time to read this book. I especially enjoyed reading about the former Virginia State Penitentiary. He also writes about the former death row in Mecklenburg, where Chris spent most of his years on death row (and where a different former college roommate’s father used to work). Chris was later moved to Sussex I Prison in Waverly, Virginia, where death row was moved in 1998 and remained until the death penalty in Virginia was abolished in 2021.

Peppers writes about how local eighth graders were allowed to visit the Virginia State Penitentiary when it was empty in 1991. I wonder if Peppers knows that other schools took students there to visit it before it closed. I have mentioned before that my government teacher took our class to the Virginia State Penitentiary in the spring of 1990, before all of the inmates were moved. We saw one of the cell blocks, as well as the death house. The electric chair was still in use at the time. Some of my classmates even sat on it! I think that’s when I started to change my mind about capital punishment. I’m glad I changed my mind.

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law, true crime

How quickly things can change…

It’s 9:16 am as I write this. I’m having some trouble coming up with today’s topic. I could write about the death of David Crosby, who just died at age 81 after a long illness. But if I did that, I wouldn’t have much to say… because although I enjoyed his music, I wasn’t a super fan. I need more exposure to his work.

Or maybe I could write about the awful story I read out of San Francisco, California. It involved an art gallery owner who sprayed a homeless woman with a hose. The story is extremely sad and infuriating. Here’s a link to the article, unlocked. Yes, I could write about that. But I’m not in the mood to tackle homeless people being abused by mean spirited jerks. I’m not even in the mood to write about the comments on this event.

Most people commenting seem to think the water sprayer, Shannon Collier Gwin, should go to jail for what he did. But there are also some people who think he was justified, as the homeless woman had parked herself in front of his business and was relieving herself on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what homeless people should do. It’s not like we have many places for them to go when they fall on hard times. San Francisco probably has more resources than most areas, but it’s also a very expensive place to be.

Maybe I’ll write about that situation later, if more comes out about what happened, or if something else about it inspires me. Perhaps if my comment section heats up, I’ll blog about it. I guess I can understand why Jacinda Ardern, soon to be the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, is resigning her post. Burnout is a real thing. It can strike even if all you do is write blog posts.

I know I wrote that Prince Harry’s Spare inspired me, and it did. But I can’t think of anything right now that is begging for a blog post. Maybe I need to watch some more of H.G. Tudor’s narcissism videos. I’m also getting tired of addressing narcissism, though. I feel like I’m in a rut.

I think I’ll write about the death penalty in Virginia. It’s a timely subject for me right now, because I am reading a book titled Anatomy of an Execution. The book– and it’s an honest to God book, not a Kindle download– was written in 2009. It’s about a 1990 double murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. The perpetrators were teenagers– Chris Thomas, then aged 17, and his girlfriend, Jessica Wiseman, who was 14. They killed Jessica’s parents, J.B. and Kathy Wiseman, because Jessica’s parents had forbidden them to see each other. I previously mentioned them in this post.

This “real” book is worth squinting for…

Because she was so young when the murders occurred, Jessica Wiseman spent about seven years in juvenile hall. The authorities released Jessica on her 21st birthday. The state chose to try Chris Thomas as an adult for capital murder, first degree murder, and illegal use of a firearm during a felony. Virginia ultimately executed Thomas when he was just 26 years old. The case was controversial because of the differences in sentences, especially since Jessica reportedly talked Chris into carrying out the murders. Chris took responsibility for the crimes out of a misguided decision to protect his girlfriend. That poor judgment cost him his life.

You can expect a review of the book very soon. I anticipate getting through it quickly, even though it’s not easy to read due to the small print. The reading is fascinating to me on many levels. I grew up in neighboring Gloucester County. Many familiar local lawyers and judges were involved in this case. The death penalty also interests me. Capital punishment has been abolished in Virginia since 2021. Frankly, I never thought I’d see the day.

Anatomy of an Execution is well-written and researched. 2009 doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, either. However, a lot of things have changed since then, especially regarding Virginia’s death penalty. For many years, Virginia was a top death penalty state. Virginia is far and away the state that has executed the most people, dating back to the Colonial Era. The “modern” capital punishment era commenced after 1976, when the death penalty was once again legalized. After 1976, Virginia’s rate of executions was topped only by Texas, which is a much larger state with many more condemned people awaiting execution. How crazy is it, then, than as of 2021, Virginia became the first southern state to abolish executions? It is the 23rd state in the nation to abolish capital punishment.

My home state has evolved so much! It’s too bad that Chris Thomas was unable to benefit from the more enlightened attitudes of today’s Virginia. Of course, much of what the authors have written about Virginia’s death penalty in 2009 is now obsolete.

I was eager to leave Virginia in 2007, when I finally permanently moved away from there after years of trying. Now, I think I might be proud to move back “home” again, when the time comes. I don’t know when that will be, or even if I’ll live to see the day. As I mention in today’s title, things can change quickly.

There’s one other thing I’d like to mention before I review Anatomy of an Execution. Reading that book caused me to realize that I have a very curious mind. Yesterday, I found myself looking up the people involved in the Wiseman’s murder case. I was really into it. It just made me realize that maybe in a different life, I would have been a true crime writer. Maybe I would have studied law or criminal justice instead of English. Perhaps I wouldn’t be an “overeducated housewife” if I had done that.

I am excited about the prospect of reviewing Anatomy of an Execution. I hope some folks will want to read it. Jessica Wiseman is proving to be an interesting topic, even 32 years after she helped murder her parents.

I do find true crime stories very intriguing. The real stories surrounding crimes are often more interesting than any story dreamed up by a novelist. The case involving Chris Thomas and Jessica Wiseman is especially tragic on so many levels. I don’t believe Chris Thomas ever had a fair shot at life. He was failed and abandoned by so many people when he was a young boy. I’ll get more into my thoughts on that when I review the book.

Well, I suppose I should end this post so I can get back to reading my book and ending my writer’s block. Hope you have a fine Friday.

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blog news, condescending twatbags, music, true crime

It’s the last Friday of 2022… so how about a few thoughts on the year?

I wasn’t going to share the featured photo, until I realized that it was dated December 24, 2021, which was a week before Betty White died… Eerie! I’d say that kind of sums up a lot of 2022.

Wow… here we are again at Friday! And it’s the very last Friday of 2022, too. Every year, I’m left amazed anew, when I realize how quickly time passes. The older I get, the faster it seems to go. As I’m sitting here thinking about what I would like to write about today, I decided to look at what I wrote about last year. I see that on December 30, 2021, I wrote one of my most popular blog posts– one I wrote about a 2008 French documentary titled America’s Broken Dream. For some reason, a lot of people have hit that post since I wrote it a year ago. I’ve even gotten some comments from people who aren’t regular readers. A couple of people also asked me to update the post with new information, which I haven’t really done.

I don’t really have any insider information about the documentary, or the people who were featured in it, including Amber and Daniel Carter, a young couple with two small children who seemed to be climbing out of poverty when Daniel got arrested for killing his neighbor. When I wrote that post, I was just inspired by my immediate thoughts, after randomly stumbling on the documentary while messing around on YouTube. A lot of people are still intrigued by America’s Broken Dream, but I’ve pretty much moved on, for now. I will keep allowing comments until the comments close automatically, but I don’t have anything to add at this point. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll be compelled to read more about Amber and Daniel Carter, and find out more about what became of them. They definitely have a story, and people are very interested. But, as I’ve unfortunately discovered, sometimes writing about true crime can lead to unpleasant interactions with people. I’d like to minimize those, if I can.

In August of this year, I decided to disable the Facebook page I used to run for this blog. I had been wanting to do it for awhile, but held off because I knew some readers used it to follow me. It also provided a way for people to contact me privately. I had some concerns about the page, though, because it was so public and difficult to monitor. I thought about circumventing that problem by converting the page into a group, but decided I didn’t want to do that, either. I already run two Facebook groups and I’ve mostly found the experience to be rather thankless and unsatisfying. If I’m honest, I think I’d like to discontinue my wine group, because half the time, it leads to drama and negative interactions with strangers who don’t appreciate what I do. The page was less work to administrate, but it was also a lot less secure. I knew the former tenant from our last home was watching it clandestinely, as a way of monitoring my activities. I don’t worry about her anymore, as the issue that prompted her to surveil me is now resolved… and also, I discovered that, for some reason, she decided to end her life.

So the former tenant stopped being an issue of concern… but then in August, I got a very irate private message from a family member of a true crime victim I had originally written about in 2014. The post was based on newspaper articles from several papers, and comments from a family member who messaged me when I originally wrote about it, in 2014. The irate correspondent apparently saw the repost and didn’t notice the original date of the article, which had been up for YEARS, and actually got little traffic. This person decided to send me a nastygram through the Facebook page, complete with legal threats. For the record, I was not at all worried about her threats. I use Statcounter, which allows me to see how long someone spends on my blog. I could see (and I documented) that she spent about two minutes, missed a lot of details, and was apparently unaware of a number of logistical issues that would have made her legal threats pretty hard to carry out. And if she was really that upset about the content of that post, she would have noticed and contacted me much sooner than eight years after I wrote it.

Nevertheless, even though I was pretty pissed off by her message and did not have to comply with her demands, I decided that the blog post she was upset about wasn’t that important, as no one but her and her associates were even reading it. So I’ve made it private, for now. I also blocked her on Facebook. Then I dismantled the Facebook page for this blog, because I’m not here to take abuse from random people who are upset by my opinions and just want to send me offensive comments privately. My mental health matters too, people. I am a real person, and I deserve to be addressed with basic respect, like anyone does. I will happily hear complaints from people, but I expect to be approached with civility. Those who can’t do that are not welcome here, and will be banned.

Recently, I revisited the post I wrote about that incident. It occurred to me that the poster must have also tried to find the now defunct “contact form page”, which I also disabled for similar reasons. I only got one or two rude responses on that page, but I found that the contact page was problematic because people were leaving comments on posts without identifying them. There were times when I literally didn’t know what they were writing about. If they had simply responded to the post in question, it would have been more useful to everyone.

The irate woman who wrote to me a few months ago had hastily identified which post had gotten her so rattled (after eight years of it being online… REALLY?). She must have been looking for the contact form, found my explanatory post about why I no longer have one, and found the Facebook page instead. Well, she can take a bow, because her abusive rant caused me to permanently ax the Facebook page, too. I can’t say I miss it, or the weird messages it used to attract from everyone from unhinged anti-vaxxers to obnoxious Trump supporters. I would always see them right after I woke up, which is not a pleasant way to start the day. Now, if you want to address something I’ve written, you can do it publicly, so everyone can see your comments and share in the response.

Like I said, I’m not here to take abuse from random people. I have a right to express my opinions, as long as they aren’t defamatory, malicious, or deliberately presenting false information as the truth. And this is my space– which I pay for– so I will run it the way I wish. I think of my blog space in the same way most of you would govern your own homes. You wouldn’t put up with abuse from a guest in your home. I don’t put up with it on my blog. This person also wrote, with evident disgust, that I just do this “for the money”, which really made me laugh. I don’t make money from doing this. I have made some ad revenue, but it’s not even enough to pay for the subscription to WordPress. So, if anyone ever does want to try to sue me to get some of the “big bucks” I supposedly make from sharing my opinions, they’re gonna be disappointed on MANY levels. Below is what I’ve made on WordPress so far… since I started hosting ads in July 2021.

And on the less visited travel blog, where I’ve hosted ads from the beginning (July 2019), I’ve made a whopping $7.25. It takes $100 to cash out, so I might make money there after I’m dead.

True crime posts do generate a lot of interest, though. I find crime interesting to write about, as they usually involve ordinary people who do extraordinary things. When I use the word “extraordinary”, I mean “out of the ordinary” or “unusual”. I’m not using that word in the normally positive way. Sometimes, I notice people repeatedly hitting posts I’ve written about, and it’s a little creepy. Lately, I’ve noticed my posts about Frederick West Greene are getting a lot of hits. I’m glad I don’t live in the United States– for many reasons, really, but especially because it creeps me out that he’s no longer in prison (as far as I know).

My post about Betty White and misattributing quotes to her was also a big winner this year. I had written about her in late December 2021, not knowing that she would die on New Year’s Eve. A few days later, I wrote a post about how people were “honoring” her by sharing a funny comment that she never made. That post consistently gets hits and the odd share, although no one has commented on it yet. I think it’s one of my better ones, even though I’ve gotten some shit from people for having issues with misattributed quotes, too. One guy got so angry about a post I wrote that he blocked me on Facebook and complained to all his friends, who later hit the post repeatedly and generated some AdShare pennies. Thanks, guys.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a blogger, it’s that people aren’t always going to like what you do. But if all I ever did was write things about hearts and flowers, this blog would be very boring, both for me as a writer, and for you as a reader. Besides, that’s just really not me. I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of person. I think if I were that kind of person, I would probably be a lot more miserable than I actually am. Because it wouldn’t be natural for me to be so cheery and positive. It’s not in my DNA. Seriously… read some of my posts, and you know I come from a long line of the miserable… but talented. We’ve got lots of funny, talented, artistic people in my family. Lots of attractive people, too. Too bad I didn’t get the gene for being thin and athletic. SIGH.

2022 has been interesting. I would say it hasn’t been as bad as last year. At least most of the stupid pandemic restrictions went away, although I haven’t been traveling more or even going out much, hence my low earnings on the travel blog. That’s mostly because of our dog, Arran, who has cancer and will likely be leaving us sometime in the new year. I am trying to prepare for his exit, because I know it will hurt. But I also know that once he’s gone, there will be new opportunities… for travel, for making new human friends (which often happens when one adopts a pet), for new canine teachers, and for new overall wisdom. Death is just something that simply happens to everyone, at some point. It hurts, but it’s a necessary part of life. Arran has taught us a lot, and continues to teach us everyday. I think one of the best lessons I’ve learned from him was reiterated yesterday, when Bill came home from work. You can see, he taught Noyzi, too… And I think he’ll tell us when he’s done teaching and ready to move on to the next place in the universe.

Arran reminds us that it’s important to appreciate and welcome those we love back to the pack when they come home…

Well, it’s probably time I finished this post and got on with the day. Got to practice guitar, walk the dogs, and work on reading my next book, so I can review it for the interested. Maybe I’ll even record another song. An old high school friend heard a Pat Benatar cover I did the other day… a B.B. King from her one “blues” album, True Love, which she released in 1991. It hasn’t gotten many hits yet, but she said I have a knack for the blues. I believe her, because she was originally a music major at my alma mater before she transferred out and became a therapist. She’s right. I do have a knack for singing the blues… both literally, and in this blog. So I guess 2023 will bring more of the same. I hope a few of you will stay tuned for that. Maybe I’ll make more big bucks from blogging in 2023.

ETA: I forgot to mention, just a couple of weeks ago, I got the most hits I’ve ever gotten in one day when someone on Reddit shared a true crime post I wrote in November 2020 about Jessica Wiseman. It wasn’t even a particularly newsy post, but I probably made $5 because about four thousand people hit it in one day. I grew up near where Wiseman and her boyfriend murdered her parents. She was a juvenile, so she only spent a few years in juvenile hall. Her boyfriend, who was older, but apparently the less guilty of the pair, wound up being executed. I remembered the case and wrote about it, and it got noticed… which is especially notable to me, because it’s definitely not my best work. ūüėČ

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true crime

Repost: Another “crime blast from the past”…

Here’s another repost from my original blog. This one was written on January 15, 2019. I’m leaving it as/is.

This morning, as Bill and I were enjoying biscuits and gravy, we got on¬†the topic of Jayme Closs, the thirteen year old girl who was abducted from her parents’ Barron, Wisconsin home on October 15, 2018. ¬†Jayme Closs, whose parents Denise and James Closs were murdered by her 21 year old captor, Jake Patterson, managed to escape her kidnapper last Thursday. ¬†She was being held about 70 miles from her home, and Patterson apparently got complacent, giving Jayme the chance to escape. ¬†Jayme got help from a woman who was walking her dog past the place where Patterson had been keeping her.

I will admit, I haven’t really been keeping up with this story, since I’ve been busy with our move.  However, I did read about her escape and I remembered hearing about her abduction in the fall.  I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on the news articles written about this case.  A lot of people were posting that they thought maybe Closs and Patterson had an affair.

For the record, I¬†DO NOT¬†believe that to be the case. ¬†I think, even if that was the situation, Closs would still be a victim. ¬†Closs has said she hadn’t known Patterson before he abducted her and murdered her parents. ¬†Patterson has, himself, apparently told police that he spotted Closs getting on a school bus and decided he “wanted” her. ¬†I don’t think Jayme Closs aided and abetted Patterson in any way.

Talking about this case, and the speculation that Closs had something to do with it, made me remember¬†a case that happened in Virginia back in 1990. ¬†The incident occurred in Middlesex County on November 10, 1990. ¬†I was, at that time, a freshman in college, about a month from finishing up my first semester, before I would be coming home to Gloucester County for Christmas break. ¬†To get home from Longwood University, I’d be skirting nearby Middlesex County, although I don’t think the route I took actually took me through there. ¬†I did regularly drive through Middlesex years later when I lived in northern Virginia and came to Gloucester to visit.

On that November day in 1990, 14 year old Jessica Wiseman and her boyfriend, 17 year old Chris Thomas, killed Wiseman’s parents, 32 year old James B. and Kathy Wiseman. ¬†The Wisemans had objected to Jessica and Chris seeing each other, so the young couple decided Jessica’s parents should die. ¬†Chris and Jessica went into her parents’ bedroom and shot them both, although Kathy Wiseman was able to run into Jessica’s bedroom. ¬†She was shot again, and that killed her.

At the time this crime occurred, Virginia law stipulated that no one under age 15 could be tried as an adult, regardless of how serious the crime was.  Because she was only 14 years old, Jessica Wiseman was tried as a juvenile in a closed court.  She was declared a delinquent, and spent the rest of her teen years in a juvenile detention facility.  She was freed on July 26, 1997, which was her 21st birthday.

Chris Thomas was 17 years old, so although he was technically a juvenile, he was eligible to be tried as an adult.  He pleaded guilty to killing James Wiseman and not guilty to killing Kathy Wiseman.  He was convicted of both killings and sentenced to death.  At the time, Virginia juries were not permitted to sentence a killer to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  They were faced with the choice of sentencing Thomas to death or allowing for parole, which could have meant he would have been released as soon as twenty years after conviction.

Attorneys for Thomas have said that he was trying to protect Wiseman by taking the blame.  Two women who were imprisoned with Jessica Wiseman also said that she was the one who had actually pulled the trigger, not Thomas.  I’m not sure exactly where the truth lies, although it does seem unfair to me that Jessica got to live her life while Thomas lost his to state supported homicide.  Thomas was scheduled to be executed in June 1999.  The execution was put off until January 10, 2000, when Thomas was 26 years old.  He ate fried chicken for his last supper.  

I remember when this case was news.  In those days, I used to read the Daily Press every day.  There was a columnist named Jim Spencer who wrote opinions for the paper.  My dad didn’t like him because Spencer was an outspoken liberal.  I, on the other hand, was drawn to Spencer’s columns.  I usually read them whenever I noticed them.  In 2003, Spencer moved on to Denver, Colorado, where he wrote for the Denver Post.

As I was reading up on the Wiseman murders this morning, I happened to find an old column Spencer wrote for the Denver Post in 2007.  He was reporting on another murder that had happened in Denver that reminded him of the Wiseman case, which he’d also written about.  I did know that Spencer had moved out of Virginia, although I hadn’t been following his career from afar.  I went to see if Spencer was still in Denver, but it appears that he was a victim of downsizing.  I think he has managed to find another job in journalism, although it took awhile and he had to detour into a different field.  Looks like he now reports in Washington, DC after a stint in Minneapolis.

It actually makes me a little sad to read about Jim Spencer’s situation.  Good journalists are a dying breed.  Nowadays, people don’t want to pay for a newspaper subscription.  While it’s true that more writers can be read with the advent of blogging and self-publishing, it’s much harder for legitimate authors to make a decent living.  These old stories become relics of the past, with fewer skilled people to write them.

I find true crime fascinating.  Everyone has a story.  People involved in true crimes especially have stories.  Some of the stories are more tragic than others.  What happened to Chris Thomas doesn’t seem fair to me.  I am not a fan of the death penalty in all but the most extreme cases.  I don’t think he should have been executed for killing the Wisemans.  Moreover, he was technically a juvenile when he committed his crimes.  While I would expect most juveniles to know that killing is wrong, I also know that young people do not have fully functioning brains until they’re older.  It also doesn’t seem fair that Thomas was executed while his girlfriend only did about seven years in a juvenile facility.  But then, I guess there is a pretty big difference in a person’s maturity levels between the ages of 14 and 17.

As for Jayme Closs, I have nothing but compassion for her.  She must have gone through hell.  What a blessing it is that she was able to find help after escaping her captor.  He is in Wisconsin, so unless there is a federal angle applied to his case, he’ll probably rot in prison for a long while.  Wisconsin no longer has the death penalty.

I may have to start following the Closs/Patterson case now…

Here are the original comments from this post.

jonoJanuary 17, 2019 at 5:42 PM

Since it happened not too far from here (as the crow flies)it has dominated the local news. Jake will not likely see the light of day again other than obligatory time in the prison yard.

We have been watching the long, slow death of real journalism for some time now. There are still many good ones out there, but the masses seem to prefer entertainment to good reporting. It is very sad.

  1. I hope he doesn’t. He needs to be put away for a long time.
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