book reviews, LDS, narcissists, religion, tragedies, true crime

A review of The Doomsday Mother: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and the End of an American Family by John Glatt…

As I write today’s book review, I reflect on the last twenty years or so and realize that Bill and I have been relatively lucky. I complain a lot about Bill’s ex wife, who converted to Mormonism during their marriage, and then used the religion as a tool to alienate him from his daughters and former stepson. There is no doubt in my mind that my husband’s ex wife, who is on her third husband, and has had two more children with him, is not the sanest person. She has legitimately put Bill through several layers of hell over the years. He has many scars from that marriage, both figurative financial and psychological ones, and literal physical ones. But at least, as far as I know, Ex hasn’t killed anyone, and at least Bill was able to fully recover from their relationship. Bill and I have been very fortunate on many levels. At least his ex wife mostly leaves us in peace. For that, I am genuinely grateful. After reading British true crime author John Glatt’s most recent book, I know not everyone who splits from a relationship that involves religion, mental illness, and narcissism is that lucky.

The book I’m referring to is titled The Doomsday Mother: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and the End of an American Family. It was published January 18, 2022, making it very fresh reporting, as Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell are still awaiting trial for their roles in the gruesome murders of Lori’s children, 16 year old Tylee Ryan, and 7 year old J.J. Vallow, both of whom were last seen alive in September 2019 and “disappeared” for months before their brutally desecrated remains were found in a pet cemetery on Chad Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho. The children were not actually killed by their mother; instead, Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, who had a violent streak and a touch of mental illness, did the deed. Alex Cox is not being prosecuted because he suddenly died in December 2019. Also dead are Charles Vallow, Lori’s fourth husband and the adoptive father of J.J., and Tammy Daybell, Chad’s first wife, who died under sudden and suspicious circumstances.

A couple of other people– to include Lori’s ex husband and Tylee’s father, Joe Ryan, and Lori’s older sister, Stacy, are also dead, but not due to foul play. However, they both figure in this complicated and tragic story. I’m going to try to break it down a bit, and it may seem like I’m giving a lot of details. Trust me. This is a very convoluted story and there’s plenty to unpack. There’s no way I could possibly give away too much information. I also want to note that when this was hot news, and people on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard were posting a lot about it, I deliberately avoided reading the details. I’m not sure what made me decide to read Glatt’s book, but now that I have, my mind is blown. So here goes…

Lori Norene Cox

Just from the previous paragraph, you already know that a lot of people in Lori’s and Chad’s circle did not survive their connection. But even before Lori Vallow Daybell met Chad Daybell, a gravedigger, author, and publisher of weird Mormon based books about the “end times”, Lori was a troubled soul with a long history of failed relationships. Unfortunately, Lori, who was born Lori Norene Cox in San Bernadino, California on June 26, 1973, had a devastatingly appealing combination of superficial charm, good looks, and vivaciousness that men found very attractive. She was also a very troubled and manipulative person who left heartbreak and devastation wherever she went, even among those who managed to survive having anything to do with her.

Lori Cox was raised in California by her parents, Janis and Barry Cox, who had four living children besides Lori: Stacey, Alex, Adam, and Summer. A fifth child, Laura, had died soon after birth. Stacey died young, having developed Type I diabetes that she refused to take care of properly. Stacey left behind a daughter named Melani. Lori’s parents were LDS, but they weren’t considered extremely devout. Her father, Barry, had served as a missionary in England in the 1960s, and then came home to California to sell life insurance. He was successful at his job, and the Coxes lived comfortably. They went to Hawaii frequently. Barry Cox was very vocal about his opposition to taxation, and he and his wife would later get in serious trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion. Even in the 80s, Lori’s older brother, Alex, seemed sinister. Glatt interviewed one of Lori’s best friends, who told him that she always tried to avoid creepy Alex. Lori also told the friend that Alex had sexually assaulted her. Alex was a “wannabe” stand up comedian who was supposedly “obsessed” with Lori and would do anything for her.

Lori’s string of men

Lori married her first husband, Nelson Nelson Yanes when she was just out of high school, but that marriage ended very quickly. Her marriage to second husband, William Lagioia, lasted three years, but produced their son, Colby, in 1996. Lori quickly set about alienating Lagioia from Colby as she married her third husband, Joe Ryan, who eventually adopted the boy after their 2001 nuptials. Lori and Joe had their daughter, Tylee, in 2002, but their marriage soon faltered. Joe Ryan filed for divorce in 2004, and it was granted in 2005. Ryan, like Lagioia before him, also experienced parental alienation as Lori did her best to destroy his bond with Tylee. In 2007, Lori’s brother, Alex, tasered Joe Ryan after Lori accused Ryan of being abusive to her and the children. Alex had meant to kill Joe, but did not succeed. However, Joe later died of heart disease, a broken and destitute man who, by then, had lost contact with his daughter, Tylee. His body was found three weeks after he died alone in his bed; the walls of his home were plastered with pictures of his beloved, estranged daughter. Lori nonchalantly collected life insurance benefits and later casually ripped off Social Security money meant for Tylee.

In February 2006, Lori married Charles Vallow, a handsome Catholic man from Louisiana who was financially successful and had two sons from a previous marriage. Vallow converted to Mormonism for Lori, and the two of them adopted Charles’s grandnephew, J.J. J.J., whose original name was Canaan, was the biological son of Charles’s nephew, who, along with the boy’s mother, had a severe drug problem. Originally, J.J. was awarded to Charles’s sister and J.J.’s grandmother, Kay Woodcock, and her husband. But although the Woodcocks loved the boy, they felt like they were too old to raise J.J., who besides being born prematurely, also had autism. So initially, it seemed perfect that Lori and Charles would raise J.J. Lori was younger, and seemed like a great mom to her biological children. Again, Lori was almost always able to charm most people, at least when they first met her. After awhile, her true colors showed.

For a few years, the marriage seemed to go okay. Lori was preoccupied with trying to alienate Tylee from her father, Lori’s third husband, Joe Ryan. Once Joe was dead, she was free to turn her attentions elsewhere. Lori began becoming obsessed with “the end times”, which if you know anything about Mormonism, will be a familiar theme. Many members of the LDS church think we are now living in “the end times”. Lori became fixated on a passage in the Bible about 144,000 people who would survive the rapture and witness the second coming of Jesus Christ. Lori was a talented singer and dancer, and Charles built her a special mirrored room– probably much like the Sealing Room in a LDS temple– where Lori would dance to religious music or her favorite 1980s era pop love songs. She also read many books written by LDS authors, including some written by Chad Daybell, who would eventually become her fifth husband.

Lori wasn’t one to stay in one location for long. She lived in several places, including Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Hawaii. She was especially wedded to Hawaii– and lived in Kauai several times, where she made friends and mingled in the local LDS church. At one point, she and Charles lived in Kauai. She would return there after Charles was murdered by Lori’s brother, Alex, who shot him twice in the chest. She would eventually be arrested at a Kauai condominium, just across the street from where she’d once lived with Charles Vallow, after she and Chad Daybell fled after Lori’s children disappeared.

Chad Daybell

Chad Daybell was born August 11, 1968 in Provo, Utah. He often heard voices and saw spirits of his ancestors, to include his grandfather Keith. Chad would often claim that his ancestors would bring him messages from beyond, which he would follow– promptings of the spirit.

Chad Daybell was raised a devout Mormon in Utah, completed a two year LDS mission in New Jersey, and in March 1990, married the former Tamara “Tammy” Douglas at the Manti, Utah temple. They are the parents of five children. Chad graduated from Brigham Young University in 1992 with a degree in communications; he worked as a copy editor at a newspaper, but also did a lot of work as a sexton– that is, gravedigger. That skill would eventually come in handy after he and Lori Vallow got together.

Chad fancied himself a writer, and he started his own publishing company called Spring Creek Book Company. He also decided, after a prompting from the spirits, that he would move his family from Utah to Rexburg, Idaho. He made this decision without consulting his wife, Tammy. He also gave up a lucrative job so that he could publish LDS themed books about the end times. Chad was successful in recruiting other LDS writers, including Julie Rowe, whose books were very popular. However, his decision to publish books made life somewhat financially challenging for his family. Tammy Daybell often worked in schools as an assistant librarian to help pay the bills.

Daybell was known as a “prepper”– meaning, he was preparing for the end times. He spoke and wrote extensively about the topic and became well known in certain LDS circles. Although Chad Daybell’s own books were considered “cheesy” by some readers, Lori Vallow was a super fan of his. She came to one of the conferences where he gave a speech. It wasn’t long afterwards that they became obsessed with each other and formed their own religious cult. They were seeing each other, even though both were married to other people. The other people– Tammy Daybell and Charles Vallow– were soon dispensed with– and once those inconveniences were gone, Lori and Chad were free to get married on a Hawaiian beach. It would be Lori’s second Hawaiian beach wedding.

Chad Daybell’s obsessions with the end times, coupled with Lori Vallow’s mental illness, would lead to the tragic, horrifying, and absolutely heartbreaking destruction of several people’s lives, especially Lori’s own children’s. Her son, Colby, is the only one left to live with the absolutely crazy wreckage left in the wake of his mother’s relationship with Chad Daybell. But even if she had never met Chad Daybell, Lori Vallow would have been responsible for hurting many people. Maybe fewer of them would be dead.

My thoughts

At this point, Lori and Chad Daybell are still awaiting trial. Justice has been delayed because of the pandemic, as well as Lori’s mental illness. She was deemed unfit to stand trial because she needed psychiatric treatment. For that reason alone, John Glatt’s book will probably need a sequel, because I am sure the court case(s) will be explosive. Lori’s fourth husband, Charles Vallow, was killed in Arizona, while her children were murdered in Idaho. Lori may also face charges for grand larceny, because she collected her dead children’s Social Security benefits from their fathers for several months before the game was up and she was arrested in Hawaii.

One thing I did notice about this book is that it didn’t appear to me that John Glatt knows that much about Mormonism. He often used terms that Mormons would not use, such as “congregation”. LDS “congregations” are called wards. He also refers to Lori and Charles “attending the temple”, as if perhaps they were Jewish, and visiting the temple was a regular weekly thing. Mormons do have temples, but they don’t typically attend them regularly, as they would a church meeting (Mormons called their services “meetings”). Temple ordinances are usually “special”; they require a “temple recommend”, which is a special ID card that members in good standing carry. The ID allows them to enter the temple for certain religious ceremonies that are only open to Mormons who are deemed “worthy”. A person can be LDS, but not worthy to enter the temple. Members have to convince their bishops that they are worthy, and get that temple recommend, before they can visit the temple. Plenty of LDS members haven’t done that.

I can’t really fault Glatt for not explaining all of this stuff. I don’t know how much he knows about Mormonism. For all I know, he might know a lot, but have decided not to try to explain everything totally accurately. It IS kind of complicated for the uninitiated, and I suspect most of the people who read The Doomsday Mother are not going to be well-versed in the LDS religion’s less popular beliefs. I do think it’s important to understand the church on a basic level, though, because Mormonism does figure very prominently in this story. It helps to know a bit about the church to get a grasp of how and why things unraveled the way they did.

It’s true that Lori is mentally ill, but she and Chad Daybell got together because they were both obsessed with the LDS religion, the Bible, and some of the more obscure teachings. Indeed, the children were murdered because Lori and Chad believed that they were “zombies”. To my knowledge, “zombies” are not part of Mormonism, but the faith does put a lot of emphasis on spirits, supernatural events, “promptings”, “burnings in the bosom”, and “signs”. Most rank and file Mormons can separate the “woo” from the useful church teachings, but someone who is mentally ill probably could take some of the church’s stranger beliefs and really run with them. It sounds like that is what happened in this case.

I do think John Glatt writes well. He included photos, and wisely divided this book into sections. This is not a story that can be successfully written as one big tale. Both Lori and Chad had such complicated histories that created this perfect storm that readers need to get an idea of both of them as individuals, before they met each other and destroyed so many lives. Even without Mormonism, I think this would be a very complicated story. In fact, I think both Lori and Chad could merit their own books about their lives before their abbreviated existence as a married couple.

I also liked that Glatt added a few trivial tidbits. For example, back in 2007, before Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell became huge news, Lori’s brother, Adam Cox, was working as a morning disc jockey in Sacremento, California. Adam and his fellow deejays decided to have a contest called “Hold your wee for a Wii.” The object was for listeners to drink as much water as they could without going to the bathroom. The winner would get a Nintendo Wii as a prize. A nurse called in to the show and warned the deejays that this was a dangerous idea. They blew her off, which led to tragic consequences for the second place finisher, Jennifer Strange, who died of water intoxication after taking part in the contest. I remember when the Wii contest was news, and was surprised that one of the people who masterminded it is related to a notorious killer.

Those who are interested in this story can also watch ABC’s Dateline program, “The Gravedigger’s Wife”, which at this writing, has been uploaded to YouTube. I’ll be watching it myself later today.

On a much more personal note…

I mentioned my husband’s ex wife at the beginning of this post. Those who have been following my blog for awhile might know why I found the story of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell even more chilling than I otherwise might have. There are just so many similarities between Lori Vallow’s and Ex’s stories, right down to connections to Texas, the LDS church, multiple marriages, sexual abuse, parental alienation campaigns, narcissism, crazy religious visions, theft of money, and even autism. Ex has a son who has severe autism.

Ex has always promoted the narrative that she’s an “excellent, caring, and devoted” mother. If you look at her social media footprint, you can see that she promotes that image somewhat convincingly to the unaware. However, if you know the truth about her, and hear stories from people who have been close to her, you see there are a lot of cracks in the facade.

Likewise, Lori Vallow came off as this lovely, vivacious, caring mother who loved people. But then look beyond the surface, and you see someone who is extremely troubled and damaged. If she hadn’t had that very attractive and alluring visage, people would be running away from her. Unfortunately, people tend to believe people like Ex and Lori Vallow. Ex looks like a devoted mom to her five children by three men, but her three eldest children were prevented from having relationships with their fathers, and Ex has repeatedly exploited them for her personal gain. Meanwhile, she posts on social media about everything she’s supposedly doing for her youngest son, who will probably always be under her thumb due to his disability.

In his book, Glatt writes about how Lori Vallow got her son a service dog named Bailey to help him negotiate the world. Later, after Charles Vallow’s death, Lori decided to “rehome” the dog, which really upset her daughter, Tylee. Ex has also been making noises about getting a service dog for her son with autism. Ex also reportedly made her daughters get G.E.D.s (just as Lori Vallow’s daughter, Tylee, did), then enroll in college and take out student loans. Ex then allegedly used the excess loan money to pay her own bills, which the girls were expected to repay. Remember, Lori Vallow used her daughter’s father’s Social Security money and her cell phone to do her dirty work.

While I don’t think Ex is as crazy as Lori is, they do have a lot in common. This book was pretty eerie for me, personally, for that reason. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of comments about how I’m an obsessive second wife. Maybe there’s truth to that, but there’s also a lot of truth to the fact that my husband was married to a toxic person who has harmed a lot of people. Ex hasn’t killed anyone, that I know of, but I have always felt that if the conditions were right, she definitely could kill someone– including herself. In fact, Ex supposedly did attempt suicide at one point, and landed in the hospital. These comments are based on what I’ve heard from family members and have seen Ex post about publicly.

So, my heart goes out to the “sane” people in Lori’s family who stood by and watched her work. I know from personal experience just how scary and unnerving that can be. The sad thing is, narcissistic, manipulative people tend to get the benefit of the doubt, and it often takes an explosive situation involving horrific crimes before they are finally stopped. Lori Vallow manipulated and conned so many people– friends, relatives, church acquaintances, and the like– before people finally opened their eyes to the person she is.

Likewise, Chad Daybell, a very manipulative man with disturbing delusions of the “end times” also fooled a lot of people, taking on jobs that others wouldn’t seek. Daybell’s knowledge of gravedigging proved handy, as he disposed of Tylee Ryan’s and J.J. Vallow’s remains in the pet cemetery on his property. I will warn that the descriptions of how the bodies were disposed of are especially heartbreaking and horrifying. I especially felt terrible for J.J. Vallow, who probably experienced torture before he died. And now, I feel terrible for the heartbroken relatives– especially his grandparents– who are left missing him and know about the terrible things that happened to him because they didn’t raise him themselves. They must be riddled with guilt.

Anyway, I do recommend The Doomsday Mother to those who enjoy true crime and have both a stout heart, and a strong stomach. There’s a lot of death and sadness in this book, but it’s coupled with a lot of crazy “woo” that is a challenge to comprehend, but I think John Glatt has done a good job explaining this story. It’s definitely NOT an easy story to write. It’s amazing what some people get away with in life, and how long they can get away with it before they are finally stopped.

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complaints, mental health, rants

Certain people remind me why I prefer hanging out with dogs…

Fair warning… this post is kind of cranky and negative. You may not want to read it, but I really felt like writing it.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine shared a stale Facebook post about the importance of getting COVID vaccines, even if we don’t know what’s in them. The post also reminded everyone that we don’t know what’s in a lot of things we consume. My friend added the comment that people who refuse to be vaccinated should not be shown compassion or mercy when they eventually get sick with COVID-19.

That post, along with an accompanying judgmental, frustrated, angry attitude, was one I have seen many times since the vaccines first became available. I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of irritation as I prepared to scroll past it. I mean, it’s been two years. Most people have made up their minds and don’t necessary want or need a stale PSA/meme/recycled social media post to change their views.

But then I noticed that one of my friend’s friends had written a rebuttal– not against the wisdom of getting inoculated, but against the attitude that people who don’t get vaccinated are undeserving of medical care. I liked what the man said– that there is no “sin” in not getting vaccinated, especially since the initial promises regarding vaccination turned out to be somewhat invalid.

Let me make it abundantly clear that I do believe the vaccinations are good, and I certainly recommend that people get the shots. I have been fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, and I spend most of my time alone in my house. I take my dogs for walks, but other than that, I don’t go around other people. When I do go around others, I wear a mask as required. And it’s not even so much COVID-19 that has forced me into this isolated lifestyle. I kind of fell into it years ago, when I found myself outside of the work world.

I used to enjoy going out on the weekends, visiting tourist sites, and eating in restaurants. But now, thanks to the miserable and ever changing COVID-19 rules in Europe, even that’s unappealing to me. It’s too confusing, inconvenient, and potentially embarrassing to go out into the world. So I stay home and read hyperbolic comments from high and mighty people in the United States, bitching about how uncaring other people are, and how if they get sick and aren’t vaccinated, they totally deserve to suffer.

My friend had posted about how irresponsible and uncaring unvaccinated people were running around “murdering” people by being infectious. From the very beginning, I have cringed when I’ve read or heard someone accuse someone with COVID of “murder”. Folks, at best, someone who spreads COVID-19 might be guilty of negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter. And even that is a stretch, given that people pick up germs all the time, in all sorts of situations, and there are many variables that influence how well their bodies will cope with, and hopefully recover from, any of the germs they pick up.

Murder generally requires premeditation and malice, and using the extreme and alarmist term “murder” is, in my view, an unnecessary overstatement– especially since most people who get COVID do eventually recover, at least to some extent. This situation sucks plenty already, and it’s already caused incredible hardship and grief. We don’t need to make it worse by calling people who spread COVID “murderers”, when they would never fit the definition of “murderer” in a court of law– at least not in the United States.

My friend also wrote that people who are unvaccinated should not have access to medical care. And again, as I have repeatedly stated, I highly disagree with that view– especially from someone who professes to be a devout Christian, as my friend does. I am not particularly religious myself, but I did go to church for many years. And I was taught that Jesus Christ had compassion and mercy, especially for the sick. Jesus would not deny medical care to someone who needs it, even if that person could have avoided severe illness by getting vaccinated and taking precautions.

Moreover, even if the unvaccinated person has wantonly avoided vaccination and adopted an uncaring, callous attitude, chances are good that the person will still be missed by someone. Chances are also good that someone relied on that person and now no longer has them. That person in need could be a child, or an elderly person, or someone with special needs. Now, their life is going to be upended because someone they needed got sick and died unexpectedly… and people are mocking them, to boot! These people who call for us to have compassion and consideration for others are actually laughing at people who have died of COVID. Of course, dead people aren’t the ones who hear the laughter; it’s their grieving friends and loved ones who are left to deal with that.

Ah– but you might say, if that was the case, then the person should have made it a priority to get vaccinated. To that, I might agree– except we never know why a person has avoided getting the shots. It could be because they simply don’t care, or it could be because he or she has to work, and can’t afford to take time off to recover from potential side effects of the vaccine. Or maybe that person lives in an area that isn’t near a place where he or she can get the shots. There are a lot of “food deserts” in the United States. I would imagine that the food deserts are also pharmaceutical deserts. In any case, I don’t think it’s helpful to laugh about someone’s death. It happens to all of us at some point.

So, I found myself responding with most of the above points to my friend, even though I hesitated at first. I added that here in Europe, lawmakers have tackled the problem of unvaccinated people by trying to make life harder for them. In some areas, for instance, unvaccinated people are being fined, and some are losing their jobs over lack of vaccination. Here in Germany, an unvaccinated person often can’t go into a restaurant or a non-essential retail outlet. They can’t go to theaters or sports arenas. Even those who have been twice vaccinated have to show a negative test result or proof that they’ve been boosted. And guess what! The virus is STILL spreading!

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be taking precautions. It just means that all of the preaching and yammering about masks and vaccines, as if they are going to save humanity, is not necessarily based in truth. Vaccines make severe sicknesses and deaths from COVID less likely, but they don’t entirely stop sicknesses and deaths from happening. So shaming people for not doing exactly what they’re told is kind of pointless, since even if they do what they’re supposed to do, they still might get sick. And no doubt about it, every person WILL someday die of something.

Last night, Bill took Noyzi to the vet to get routine doggy vaccines. Before he could get services, he had to show the receptionist his ID, plus his “COVPass”, which is an app on his phone that provides proof that he’s had his three shots. And then, he STILL had to wait outside. Then he was ushered into the treatment room where our sweet Zane was euthanized in 2019, before all of this stupid shit started.

So what prompted this post? Over the past couple of days, I’ve seen several other “tut tut” posts from supposed friends about the importance of masking and vaccines. And folks, I’ll be honest… I am so sick of seeing them. It’s been two years. If people haven’t gotten the message by now, I doubt they ever will. These kinds of PSAs tend to elicit positive responses from those who have already jumped on the bandwagon, and derisive, snarky responses from those who think masking is a waste of time. And then there are people like me, who just want to get on with life and be done with this shit, for better or worse.

Are people really going to put on a mask because they saw this? I also hate the cutesy little slogans, like “mask up”. I feel like telling a person who says this to “fuck off.” I know that’s not nice, but it’s my honest reaction.

Also… as someone who never saw Star Wars, this reference is lost on me, anyway. Bill is a Star Wars fan, so he clued me in. I know people are going to share this shit anyway, so writing this post is really my only action against this practice. I’m also a firm believer that people should share what they want to on their social media accounts. Still, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t vexed by the constant preaching and lecturing.

Not surprisingly, this one comes from the Cook County Department of Public Health.

While I agree that it is responsible to wear a mask when you’re in a crowd of people, I find these kinds of shaming posts irritating and offensive. Because again– those who don’t believe in masking are not going to be swayed by something like this, and those who are onboard with the program will be cheerleading, and people like me, who believe in science, but are fucking sick of reading and hearing about COVID, are just going to be aggravated by it. When I see these posts, I’m just reminded of how much this sucks. Ditto to those who argue with strangers online, and implore them with comments like “Please educate yourself.” as if they are the authority on all things.

I do hope that COVID-19 will present us with a “silver lining” of sorts. Like, for instance, I think our healthcare system needs a massive overhaul, particularly in terms of the financial aspects of it. Obviously, we all need access to affordable healthcare. In the case of a contagious disease like COVID-19, it’s absolutely crucial and essential that people be able to access competent healthcare, even if some people think the unvaccinated shouldn’t get treatment or comfort measures. That person who stubbornly refused to be vaccinated can still spread the virus, you know, even as they writhe in the death throes that some think they richly deserve. It’s in our best interest to take care of the sick people, even if they chose not to be vaccinated or, in some cases, simply were unable to access the shots. You probably won’t know which case they fall under, and honestly, who’s got time to ask?

Maybe this situation will help us prepare for the next pandemic, and you know there will be one. Hopefully, by the time it hits, I’ll already be dead. But maybe some people will learn from this… maybe. Or maybe some really smart person will come up with ways to make mitigating this virus easier and more effective, so life won’t be so shitty anymore. One can always hope. But for now, I’m probably going to continue to be really crabby. At least I still have my dogs.

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law, racism, true crime

Chasing and finally catching justice for Ahmaud Arbery…

I remember being horrified as I first read about Ahmaud Arbery’s last moments on this planet. The 25 year old Black man was out running in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020. He was unarmed, and made the unfortunate decision to pass through Satilla Shores, where he would eventually encounter the three White men who ended his life. Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, chased Arbery in their vehicles. Unlike Arbery, two of his pursuers were armed. The two McMichaels had weapons and rode in a vehicle together as they chased the young man who was out for a run. Bryan brought his camera, which he used to video the confrontation. In light of what happened yesterday, I’m sure Bryan wishes he’d left the camera at home.

Gregory McMichael, a former police officer in Brunswick, had initiated the chase when he saw Ahmaud Arbery run past his house. He had wrongly suspected Arbery of burglary or theft in Satilla Shores and decided to take it upon himself to make a “citizen’s arrest”, bringing along a .357 Magnum pistol revolver. Travis joined his father, toting a shotgun. Bryan inexplicably decided independently to join in the chase, but hadn’t known if Arbery had done anything illegal.

Although Arbery had, on several occasions, entered an under-construction house with no doors in the neighborhood, there was never any evidence of theft, according to security camera footage. Travis McMichael had made a call to 911 about a week and a half before Arbery’s final run. He reported that Arbery was breaking into the unfinished house. Moreover, according to The Toronto Star, Arbery’s relatives were known to local law enforcement.

Gregory McMichael did have a past with Arbery, as McMichael had been an investigator for Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office from 1995 until his retirement in May 2019. When he was in high school, Arbery was sentenced to five years probation as a first offender on charges of carrying a weapon on campus and several counts of obstructing a law enforcement officer. He was convicted of probation violation in 2018 after he was charged with shoplifting. McMichael had been involved with the case, and was instrumental in getting Arbery’s probation revoked.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, had asked that the Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney, Roger Barnhill, recuse himself from the case. This was because Barnhill’s son was a prosecutor who had worked with Gregory McMichael in a previous court case involving Ahmaud Arbery. It was very fortunate that Cooper Jones had made that request, particularly since she hadn’t known that McMichael and Barnhill had any ties to her son’s legal past. She simply hadn’t wanted Barnhill on the case because his son worked for the Brunswick district attorney’s office. If Barnhill hadn’t recused himself, Cooper Jones’s lawyer, Lee Merritt, said, “the case would’ve been no billed to a grand jury and the McMichaels would’ve gotten away with murder.”

Barnhill had written in his letter of recusal that Arbery and his family had been in trouble with the law in Brunswick, and that his older brother was incarcerated. One of Arbery’s cousins also had a past with the police department. To those revelations, attorney Lee Merritt said:

“This speaks to the wider issue of mass incarceration. If Black people have any kind of criminal record, somehow that justifies their murder.”

But talk to some people in the community, and they will swear up and down that a person with a rap sheet deserves to be killed if they’re caught doing something illegal. Especially if the person with a rap sheet is not White. Sure enough, it took 74 days before the three men who were responsible for killing Ahmaud Arbery were finally arrested and charged with murder. The local prosecutor was friends with Gregory McMichael and did not want to bring charges against the men. So yes, the men were brought to justice, but it could have easily gone the other way.

Justice is served.

The trial took place in Brunswick, but every Brunswick Judicial Circuit Judge recused themselves from the case. Consequently, Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley presided over the trial. Yesterday, I watched as Judge Walmsley read the verdicts for the three men who claimed “self-defense” when they decided to pursue and kill Ahmaud Arbery. I’m not sure why these guys thought Arbery didn’t have the right to defend himself when he was confronted by three men, two of whom had weapons.

Travis McMichael was pronounced guilty of all charges. Gregory McMichael was pronounced guilty of all but one charge of malice murder. William “Roddie” Bryan was pronounced guilty of felony murder (3 counts), aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony (1 count each). These were just the charges brought against them by the state of Georgia. There are still federal charges pending against the three men.

Not a happy day for these guys. They will probably not see the light of day as free men again. Bryan looks like he’s about to burst into tears as the judge announces the verdict.

I am impressed by Judge Walmsley. He handled this case very soberly, professionally, and fairly. I think his conduct starkly contrasts that of Judge Bruce Schroeder, who was reportedly more brash and quirky in the way he ran Kyle Rittenhouse’s recent trial in Wisconsin. The result of Rittenhouse’s trial was much less lauded by the public, as Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges. Of course, these two cases have to do with race relations, but they aren’t really that similar. It still surprised me that Ahmaud Arbery’s case in Georgia seemed to end much more fairly than Kyle Rittenhouse’s case did in Wisconsin. Personally, I think Rittenhouse was acquitted because the prosecutor was too ambitious about the level of charges against Rittenhouse. I do think Rittenhouse should have gotten some prison time.

Today is Thanksgiving, and I have no doubt that Ahmaud Arbery’s family is giving thanks that the men who were responsible for killing Ahmaud will have to pay for their crimes. Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, let out a celebratory whoop when the first guilty verdict was read. He now says that he and his family can move forward. Maybe this is a sign of some progress in our country.

This video was key evidence that got three men convicted. It was recorded by William “Roddie” Bryan, who probably wishes he’d minded his own business on that February day last year.

I don’t take any delight in seeing people locked up in prison, but I do think prison is necessary and just for violent crimes, especially those done out of hate. There is no excuse for the way these men hunted down Arbery and killed him. I do have some compassion for the loved ones of the incarcerated, even though I do think they belong in prison. Prison is tough on families, and Gregory McMichael’s wife is going to see her husband and her son go away, probably for the rest of their lives. I’m sure that is heartbreaking for her. But I also think that justice is finally being done. The McMichaels and Mr. Bryan should not have taken the law into their own hands.

If anything good has come out of this incident, it’s that some very old and bad laws have now been stricken from Georgia’s books. According to The New York Times:

…the trial of [Arbery’s] accused killers also brought up issues of policing — although in this case, it involved questions about private citizens and their rights to detain people who they believe to be breaking the law.

Those rights in Georgia were spelled out in a controversial Civil War-era statute that was significantly weakened by state lawmakers in direct response to the outrage over the Arbery killing. Lawmakers also passed Georgia’s first-ever hate crimes law as a result of the incident.

All of that set up a remarkable kind of trial in which the defendants claimed they were not guilty based in part on an old law that their actions helped to dismantle. At the same time, they were not charged under the new Georgia hate crimes law., though all three have also been indicted under the federal hate crimes statute.

Maybe the new legislation against hate crimes will mean that Ahmaud Arbery’s death won’t be entirely in vain.

Incidentally, Bill and I have been to Brunswick, Georgia. We went there in October 2009 to pick up my car, which was brand new and had just been shipped from Germany. I remember it to be a very weird town, mainly due to the strange taxi driver who picked us up at the tiny airport there. He was an old guy who drove like a maniac and scared the wits out of Bill. Bill ended up complaining about the dude at the hotel where we stayed– an Embassy Suites that was connected to the mall, which apparently didn’t even have an ATM.

The manager of the hotel actually refunded the cost of our stay because Bill noticed that the hotel had a shuttle and it wasn’t mentioned on their Web site. He had If we had known the hotel had a shuttle, we could have been spared the wacko taxi ride with the sketchy guy who had to be paid in cash and drove us to a bank. We never went back to Brunswick, although the beach area was kind of appealing. I think if we ship our cars next time we move to the States, we’ll have them delivered in Charleston. It may cost more, but it’ll be a lot less weird.

Happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate. I think our holiday will mostly be a normal day, albeit with Bill off. He just vacuumed for me, which is a real treat.

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music, nostalgia, true crime

Repost: Remembering Lisa Steinberg…

I wrote this post on June 23, 2017. I am posting it again because I’m not inspired this morning… at least not yet. Also, I just posted about “Dear Mr. Jesus” in a Facebook group I’m in and am now revolted anew by that song. So here it is… a rehashed, as/is post. Maybe later, I’ll write something fresh.

For some strange reason, I was reminded of a song from my youth yesterday.  I’ve already blogged about “Dear Mr. Jesus” on my music blog, but that was a pretty short entry.  I think it was short because besides being associated with very depressing case of horrific child abuse, “Dear Mr. Jesus” is an overtly religious song that kind of gives me the creeps.

Someone set this song to the Sims 2…  The group is called PowerSource and the soloist is six year old Sharon Batts.  They were from Bedford, Texas.
The official video for this song is quite extra… The girl looks like Molly Ringwald when she was on The Facts of Life.

Anyway, “Dear Mr. Jesus” was popular in 1987 or 88, although it was originally recorded in 1985.  I used to hear it on morning radio right around Christmas 1987.  It was constantly played around the time that six year old Elizabeth “Lisa” Steinberg was in the news.  Her illegally adoptive father, disbarred former criminal defense attorney, Joel Steinberg, had beaten her on November 1, 1987.  Steinberg was under the influence of crack cocaine when he struck the little girl.  For hours, Lisa was left in the care of Steinberg’s live in partner, Hedda Nussbaum, who finally sought medical help for the girl when Joel Steinberg went out to party with some friends.

Lisa spent days languishing in Saint Vincent’s Hospital before she died of her injuries on November 5, 1987.  Officials noticed that both Nussbaum and another illegally adopted child, Mitchell, both had signs of physical abuse.  Nussbaum was not prosecuted for the events leading to Lisa’s death because she agreed to testify against Joel Steinberg, who was convicted of first-degree manslaughter.  He spent about sixteen years in New York’s Southport Correctional Facility, a “supermax” prison, because it was presumed he was at risk of other inmates attacking him.

Joel Steinberg was paroled in June 2004.  His illegally adopted son, Mitchell, was returned to his biological mother.  In 2007, a judge upheld an order for Steinberg to pay Michele Launders, Lisa’s birth mother, $15 million.  Launders had initially hired Steinberg to find an adoptive family for Lisa, but he chose to keep the girl and raise her as his own.  He never filed paperwork to adopt Lisa or Mitchell, so he was not legally their father.  As of 2006, Steinberg had moved to Harlem and was working in construction.  He still claims his innocence.

I was a teenager when this case was in the news; and it was in the news every day for weeks.  The tragic child abuse case made “Dear Mr. Jesus” an especially timely entry to popular music.  Americans seem to have a high tolerance for schlock, especially if there are religious overtones.  That song was very syrupy and it struck people right in the heartstrings.  I cringe when I hear it now, although it does force me to remember this very tragic and high profile case. 

Hedda Nussbaum was a former book editor who was well-educated.  She and Steinberg were considered upper-middle class.  And yet, she took his abuse, which was so severe that she needed extensive plastic surgery to repair damage to her nose.  When she called for medical help, she initially claimed that Lisa had choked on food and her bruises had come from falling while skating.  It was later determined that the child had been lying on the bathroom floor for at least ten hours before Nussbaum called for an ambulance.  

It’s hard to believe that this fall, Lisa Steinberg will have been dead for thirty years (ETA: 34 years in 2021– we just passed the anniversary).  I remember when this case was news, seeing Hedda Nussbaum’s tired, defeated face in magazines and on television.  Nussbaum’s plight brought new attention to “battered women’s syndrome” and domestic violence.  I also remember seeing Lisa’s picture.  She was tiny, unkempt, and looked so scared and traumatized.  How awful it is that her short life was filled with so much trauma.

The details of this case are shocking and depressing.  It’s hard to believe this couple was so easily hidden behind the veneer of respectability.  And yet the two innocent kids illegally adopted by them were living in filth and regularly being subjected to Steinberg’s monstrous abuse.  I really think it’s too bad Steinberg was released from prison.  At least Mitchell, now known by a different name, was able to escape Lisa’s fate.  I read that in 2004, around the time Mr. Steinberg was released from prison, he was headed for college.

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Military, obits, true crime

Rest in peace, Colin Powell…

Yesterday, the news reported that General Colin Powell died at age 84. He’d been suffering from multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s Disease, and then he got COVID-19, even though he was fully vaccinated. Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune response by making plasma cells go haywire. So even though General Powell was vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease process made the vaccine less effective for him. Add in the Parkinson’s Disease and his advanced age, and it makes sense that he passed.

I’ve seen a number of people lamenting that Colin Powell died, with some blaming unvaccinated people. While I think any regular reader of this blog knows that I am for the vaccines, I don’t think it’s productive to blame the unvaccinated. The truth is, he was battling some serious illnesses even before COVID-19 struck. He was also 84 years old. Even if COVID never existed, his time was probably drawing short. I just hope his passing was peaceful.

General Powell lived a full lifespan, and he made great use of his time. Besides being a highly respected Army officer, Powell was also the United States’ first Black Secretary of State. And he had a long, loving, and enduring marriage to his wife, Alma, as well as loving relationships with his children, grandchildren, and friends. Personally, I think he was a great man, but even great men have to die someday. It’s just life.

Hearing about General Powell’s death reminded me of a very old friend of mine who died at age 21. Her name was Lisa Bryant, and even at the time of her death, it had been many years since our last visit. Lisa and I both lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England, back in the late 1970s. My dad was the base engineer there, and her dad was an Army officer who had gotten a special assignment at Mildenhall (or maybe Lakenheath– I’m not sure). Lisa had an older brother who was my sister’s age.

The Bryants were a Black family, but other than that, they weren’t all that different… or, at least it hadn’t seemed so to me at the time. I just remember that Lisa and I used to play together and attended the neighborhood birthday parties. Somewhere in my storage back in Texas, I have pictures from my fifth birthday party, and Lisa is there.

When our fathers were transferred, our families both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia. I remember going to Lisa’s house for another birthday party in Virginia. After that, we lost touch, mainly because my parents only lasted two years in Fairfax before they decided to move to Gloucester County and open their own business.

I never saw Lisa again, but if we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have definitely known who she was and probably would have known her well. She graduated from James W. Robinson Secondary School, the same school where one of my sisters and two of my cousins got their high school diplomas. My aunt also taught math there for years. Lisa was a big woman on campus in high school, having been homecoming queen for the class of ’89 and making top grades. Although we were born in the same year, she was a year ahead of me in school. If we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school.

After she graduated high school, Lisa went to Princeton University. She was there on a ROTC scholarship, so she was required to fulfill a commitment to the Army post graduation. Lisa did big things at Princeton, too. She recruited students from the Washington, DC area and founded the cheerleading team. She graduated summa cum laude, and joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority. From what I read at the time of her death, Lisa meant to do her time in the Army and leave the service for a civilian career. She had big plans for her life. Sadly, she never had the chance.

Colin Powell was a close friend of Lisa’s father’s. They knew each other from their Army days. I remember reading that Powell had attended her wake, and his wife, Alma, went to Lisa’s closed casket funeral. The reason her casket was closed was because Lisa was murdered at Fort Bragg. She had gone there for a brief training course before she was to move to Germany for her first assignment. On the evening of July 9th, 1993, she had gone to a bar that was adjacent to her dormitory. That’s where she met Ervin Graves, who was a staff sergeant and ROTC instructor.

Graves had reportedly asked Lisa to dance with him. She said no, which was entirely appropriate. Not only was she an officer, while Graves was a non-commissioned officer, but she also had a boyfriend. Graves was also a married man. When Graves persisted in trying to get Lisa to dance with him, she decided to go back to her dorm. Graves was staying in the same dorm.

Lisa called her boyfriend, who was in California. She’d used the pay phone, because she didn’t want to bother her roommate. While she was on the phone, Graves attacked her, marching her to his dorm room where he meant to rape her. She managed to break away from him as he was attempting to restrain her. He responded by shooting her four times in the face with a 357 Magnum he inexplicably had with him in the dorm. She died in the hallway of her dormitory, right in front of the door to Graves’ dorm room.

Prior to the murder, Ervin Graves had been an exemplary soldier. He’d been a member of the Old Guard, where he had participated in presidential inaugurations, led parades, and been part of many ceremonies, both solemn and festive. His family was reportedly shocked that he was accused of a crime. His wife and sons were devastated. And Lisa’s family, especially her parents, were also extremely devastated. It had been many years since I had last seen Lisa, but even I was totally shocked when I heard about her death. She was a woman who was going to go places.

My mom called me at college to tell me about Lisa’s murder. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of months after it happened. People Magazine, which I used to read religiously, ran a story about Lisa. I remember later reading that Colin Powell and his wife were there to comfort the Bryants in their time of need. That always stuck with me, especially since Powell was such a powerful and famous man. But before he was an important man, he was also primarily a soldier, and when one of his brothers needed him, he was there.

In an article I read about Colin Powell’s death, Washington Post reporter, editor, and author, Bob Woodward, wrote that he’d spoken to General Powell in July. Powell reportedly said, “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”

Even up to the end of his life, Powell remained personable and friendly to Bob Woodward, even though his wife didn’t like him speaking to Woodward. He offered his thoughts on President Biden’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Powell wisely noted that we had to get out of Afghanistan eventually, and that with the massive drawdown of troops in recent years, it needed to be done expeditiously.

When Woodward asked who was the greatest man, woman, or person Powell had ever known, his response was immediate. He said, “It’s Alma Powell. She was with me the whole time. We’ve been married 58 years. And she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”

I know not everyone approved or appreciated Colin Powell’s politics or even his leadership, but I think of him as one of the good ones… While he had been a Republican throughout his career, he was not a Trump style Republican. He didn’t approve of Trump’s tactics. And when Woodward told Powell that one of his journalism students had asked, “What does the truth accomplish?”, Powell’s response was:

“This is scary… You just scared the hell out of me if this is what our kids are saying and thinking. Where are they getting it from? Media?”

I tend to agree with Powell. It IS scary that so many people are willing to overlook the importance of the truth, or the need to have good and decent– humane– people in power. Colin Powell was basically an honest man with integrity and strength, and he deeply loved and was loved by many. My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife, Alma, as they mourn their great loss. I’m sure the Bryant family is mourning, too… but maybe if there is a place after life, General Powell is with Lisa now.

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