narcissists, psychology, true crime, videos, YouTube

Should we have all seen it coming?

Although she’s been all over the news all week, I’ve been cautiously waiting to write more about Gabrielle Petito. Even though I kind of knew deep down that the dead body found in Wyoming would probably end up belonging to her, I hesitated to state outright that she was deceased. I didn’t want to get on the bandwagon of assumptions that people often get on in cases like hers.

This is so sad. She was such a lovely young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

I also initially couldn’t bring myself to comment much on this case. So many people were offering opinions that they were very certain about. I still didn’t feel like I had enough information, although the signs were certainly there that Gabrielle Petito was a victim of abuse perpetrated by her boyfriend. Even now, in spite of the many creepy and disturbing signs that Gabby’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, is an abuser and potentially a murderer, I don’t want to make that statement outright. Because, in spite of all of the damning signs, I still don’t know for sure. I can only strongly assume, and I feel like there’s enough assuming going on right now. The truth is, a lot of this story is still pretty mysterious, especially since Mr. Laundrie is still missing. At this point, he’s still just a “person of interest”.

What I do know is that abusers come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and flavors. So, I also hesitate to be among my friends who have been posting things like this…

While I totally agree about trying to teach children not to be abusive, I also know from personal experience that this is a lesson that EVERYONE needs to learn. And sometimes even when you try to teach it, the lesson still gets lost.

Also, sadly, I don’t think this is a lesson that can always be taught. Sometimes a parent can do their very best to teach their children right from wrong, and the kid still grows up to be an abuser. I think some people are just naturally prone to have bad intentions. I can think of a lot of families I’ve known… good, hardworking, decent folks… who have one or two people in their ranks that aren’t quite as upstanding as the rest of the family. So I don’t automatically put the actions of an abuser on the parents. It’s not always their fault.

I don’t know a thing about Brian Laundrie or his parents, so at this point, I really can’t judge the parents for what their son might have done to his girlfriend. But, the other day, I did watch the entire body cam video of the traffic stop involving Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito in Moab, Utah. The video was over an hour in length, so I can’t say I was watching it very intently. I do remember hearing how friendly and at ease Brian seemed to be with the police, even as Gabrielle was crying and clearly upset.

I wonder how the officers involved in this case feel now…

I do want to commend the cops for treating Petito and Laundrie professionally. They were especially kind to Gabby, letting her sit in air conditioning and giving her water. On the other hand, I heard the main cop, who was primarily in charge, repeatedly talking about Gabby to Brian as if they were buddies. He related his story about his own wife, who has “anxiety issues” and needs medication. I don’t think the cop’s wife’s mental health issues are necessarily relevant to this situation. It sounded to me like the officer was making some assumptions without knowing all of the facts. I can’t blame him too much for that. We all do it to some extent. I also think he truly was trying to help, which is commendable, although I think maybe he got a little too friendly with Laundrie. I wonder if the cop would have been as friendly if Laundrie and Petito weren’t young, attractive, white people.

In the wake of the video and the news about Petito’s remains being found, more people have come out to say that they saw Brian mistreating Gabby in public. But even if those people had come forward sooner, I’m not sure what could have been done. I do remember reading one account of a park ranger who told Gabby that her relationship with Brian appeared to be “toxic”. Melissa Hulls, a visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park in Utah, was among the officers who dealt with the couple when they were stopped in Utah. We don’t see much of what was said to Gabby during the stop, although I do remember hearing the officers discuss whether or not they were going to arrest her for domestic violence against Brian Laundrie. According to the link:

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Hulls said of Petito, who was living with Laundrie and his parents in Florida prior to the trip.

“She had a lot of anxiety about being away from him, I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida,” Hulls added.

I remember all too well crying like Gabby in the calm, assured faces of abusers. They made it seem like I was the “crazy” one. For a long time, I felt like I was crazy. And then, when no one else was watching– or the only other witness was a “flying monkey”– the abusers would go off on a rage. I can also see a red flag in Melissa Hulls’ statement about how Gabby was afraid to be away from Brian. Abusive people like to isolate their victims. They get to the point at which they don’t think they can function on their own. That’s how the abuser wants it to be, because then the victim will always be there to take more abuse.

In the end, the cops decided not to file charges against Petito. Even if they had arrested her, I’m not sure if the outcome would have been any different in the long run. But the fact that Gabby might have been arrested is another wrinkle in this situation. Oftentimes, people who are being abused don’t want to ask for help because if they do fight back, there is a chance that they will be the ones who end up in cuffs. My husband was abused by his ex wife in just about every possible way. He never reported her behavior to the police because he knew that it was just as likely that he’d wind up in trouble. She also had him convinced that everything was his fault. In the above police body cam video, you can hear Gabby talking about how she’d made Brian angry.

Hulls adds that when the stop was made, the police officers really did think it was a mental health situation caused by the two of them being together for too long, living in austere conditions. They had no reason to believe at the time that either party was truly in any danger. More than once, I heard the police refer to Gabrielle’s diminutive size compared to Brian’s, although Brian was the one with visible injuries. And Brian was very calm and friendly, while Gabby was crying and distraught. I think it’s important for people to remember that police officers aren’t necessarily mental health experts. Their job is to assess whether or not crimes are committed and enforce the laws. But clearly, Melissa Hulls got a bad feeling about Brian Laundrie.

Another couple from Louisiana, who happened to be vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming when Gabby and Brian were passing through, remember witnessing a “commotion” at a restaurant. Nina Angelo, and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw Gabby and Brian leaving The Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant on August 27th. Brian was reportedly clearly agitated and angry, going in and out of the restaurant and being abusive toward the wait staff and hostess. The waitress who took care of Gabby and Brian also experienced abuse from Brian and was very shaken. Later that same day, Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, received a strange text that supposedly came from Gabby. It was the last communication she got from her daughter.

Later, on August 29th, a couple in Wyoming gave Brian a ride. They said he offered to pay $200 for the ride, even before he got in their car. The couple said Brian told them Gabby was at the van, working on her blog. But when it turned out the couple was going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, rather than Jackson, Brian allegedly became “very agitated” and asked them to stop the car. He got out of the vehicle near Jackson Dam, less than 30 minutes after they’d picked him up.

These signs that are surfacing now tell us that maybe people should have done more. I think it’s hard to take action in a case that doesn’t seem cut and dry. We’re taught to mind our own business and give people the benefit of the doubt… and there’s also the very real risk that the abuser will turn on those who intervene. There were a few people who did try to do something.

On August 12, someone called the police to report a domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie. In the 911 call, the caller says “We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl… Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.” Another bystander named Chris reported to the police that he saw Gabby and Brian fighting in Utah. He heard Gabby say something along the lines of “Why do you have to be so mean?” He also saw Gabby punching Brian in the arm and the face, trying to take a cell phone from him. He described their interaction as “aggressive.” Below is a video by the Body Language Guy, who analyzes Laundrie’s body language.

Jesus Enrique Rosas is convinced that Gabby was a victim of abuse.

And yet, even though all of this was going on, no one was willing or able to intervene in time to stop Gabrielle Petito’s murder. The autopsy does confirm that she was killed in a homicide. It certainly looks very much like Brian Laundrie had something to do with it. In fact, it looks like he had everything to do with it. I will be very surprised if it turns out he’s innocent. But until I know that for sure, I hesitate to say he’s asbolutely guilty of murder, because we haven’t heard the whole story yet. What I do think is clear is that he regularly abused his girlfriend and, whether or not she “gave as good as she got”, she’s the one who is definitely dead.

Of course, at this point, it looks like Brian might possibly also be deceased. He has somehow disappeared in Florida, and officials there have brought in deep divers and special equipment to see if he’s somewhere at the bottom of an alligator and snake infested swamp or something. The mystery continues.

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psychology, true crime

True crime bonanza… Gabrielle Petito, Brian Laundrie, and Alex Murdaugh…

The featured photo is an idyllic spot in Germany… I posted it because both of these cases involve idyllic places where crimes were committed.

This morning, I woke up to the news that it looks like the authorities might have found the body of 22 year old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito in a “remote, but popular” camping spot in Wyoming. I will admit, I haven’t been following this case very closely, but I would have to be living under a rock not to have seen her young, hopeful, smiling face on the Internet, as worried friends, family, and authorities have been searching for her.

At this point, it looks like her fiance, Brian Laundrie, could have done something terrible to the pretty young woman. She was known for driving around in a tricked out van and vlogging about her experiences, seeing the country. Gabby and Brian were traveling across the United States, documenting their experiences on social media. At one point, they were stopped by the police near Moab, Utah. Gabby was almost cited for domestic violence because Brian had visible injuries, but police ultimately decided to just separate the couple for the night.

Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, says that she and her daughter last communicated by FaceTime on August 23rd or 24th, and there were a few texts after that. Petito and Laundrie were visiting the Grand Teton National Park when Petito disappeared. And now, a body matching her description has been found. Laundrie has evidently lawyered up and isn’t speaking to the police. He’s now back home in Florida. His family members have offered “thoughts and prayers”.

Bill and I were talking a little bit about this case yesterday. While it’s very suspicious that Mr. Laundrie has lawyered up and doesn’t want to talk to the police, we both came to the conclusion that getting a lawyer is probably the smartest thing Laundrie can do, even if he’s innocent. But it sure doesn’t look good for him. He’s now a “person of interest” in a potential murder. It does look pretty certain that the body found in Wyoming might very well be that of Petito’s.

Gabrielle Petito’s case is a compelling story, and one that I would probably avidly follow, if not for the other stuff in the media. Also tracking in the news right now is the very weird story about prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh. Mr. Murdaugh, who is 53 years old, comes from a long line of lawyers in the Low Country of South Carolina. A few months ago, he came home to find his wife and son, Paul, murdered. Or, at least that’s the story he was telling.

Recently Murdaugh was sitting in jail, having turned himself in after he admitted to hiring a hit on himself. He allegedly paid a client to kill him, so his older son, Buster, might get a $10 million insurance payout. Murdaugh recently resigned from the law firm that bears his surname because he allegedly embezzled money to pay for his supposed addiction to opiates. Younger son Paul, who was found dead with his mother, had been facing criminal charges at the time of his death. In 2019, Paul Murdaugh caused a drunk boating accident that left a young woman dead.

It’s possible that the drunk boating accident and subsequent murders are related to the senior Murdaugh’s legal troubles. One day after Alex Murdaugh resigned from the law firm, he was shot in the head. He claimed that he was changing a tired when someone opened fire on him. Later, it turned out that Murdaugh had hired a former client named Curtis Edward Smith to kill him for insurance money. Murdaugh mistakenly believed that his son, Buster, would not be able to get the insurance money if Murdaugh took his own life.

The “hit” didn’t go off as planned; the bullet merely grazed the attorney. Smith has admitted to shooting the lawyer for money, and he’s now in trouble. He faces a number of criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, assault and battery, assisted suicide and possession of drugs.

Murdaugh did go into rehab for his drug problem, prior to turning himself in to the authorities. I would be very surprised if Alex Murdaugh doesn’t go to prison very soon. At this writing, after posting $20,000 bond, Murdaugh has been allowed out of jail temporarily, as he continues drug rehab and awaits his legal fate.

If I were the type of person to write true crime– and maybe in another life I would have been– either of these stories would make for compelling subjects. I think I’d probably be more interested in Murdaugh’s story. It sounds like there’s a fascinating family dynasty history behind the perfect storm that led to where he is right now. I would guess he has had a privileged life up until this point, but for some reason, that wasn’t enough. Next thing you know, he’s hooked on powerful opiates which have ruined his life. How does a high-powered attorney from a long line of high-powered attorneys wind up facing prison? I’m sure greed, a thirst for power, and succumbing to basic instincts have a lot to do with it.

I would also be interested in knowing if his son, Paul’s, troubles were related. They probably were, in some way. Obviously, boating while drunk is irresponsible… but driving a boat when you’re as young as he was indicates a privileged lifestyle… and perhaps an attitude that one is above the law. Of course, I’m speculating. It could be that that the truth is a lot weirder. I’m sure some ambitious writer will eagerly take on researching this case. I’d also be interested in the Murdaugh case because I used to live in South Carolina. I can pretty much picture the type of people the Murdaughs are, having worked in a country club near Columbia.

Adding to the intrigue, of course, is the death of Murdaugh’s long-time housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, back in 2018. Satterfield was 57 years old when her life ended. Murdaugh had said at the time that the housekeeper died after tripping over Murdaugh’s dogs and falling down some stairs. An autopsy did not conclude that Satterfield died due to injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident. And Satterfield’s sons have complained that Mr. Murdaugh never paid them damages after their mother’s death.

Ever since the Murdaugh story broke, I’ve been watching with interest. From the beginning, I thought it sounded like a story that would make for a good true crime book. But now, it seems that everyone’s talking about Gabrielle Petito’s tragic story. I think that story will also end up being covered by a true crime author.

True crime is an interesting genre. It’s based on tragedies that come about from the worst impulses and instincts of humans. It seems immoral to be “entertained” by stories about crimes perpetrated against other humans. And yet, true crime is interesting, because in incorporates so many fields within it. The stories are also true, which means they weren’t necessarily dreamed up by someone with a vivid imagination. I usually find myself drawn to them because I’m interested in psychology, and true crime stories almost always have an element of psychology within them. I’m always intrigued as to how people, often folks who were previously law abiding, end up in so much trouble. And I always wonder what makes them think they will get away with their crimes.

But as I have found out, having blogged about other stories I’ve read about in the news, there’s always a family or friends behind every story. And those people read about their loved ones and are hurt anew. I’ve written innocuous posts about news articles I’ve read on people I don’t know. More than once, someone has contacted me. Sometimes, they’re angry because they think I’m “insensitive”, even if all I’ve done is report what was in the news and offered speculation on what *might* have happened. Other times, people have contacted me, asking me to write more about their loved one’s story. I don’t mind doing that, for the most part. I’m sure it’s frustrating to read what’s in the press with no way to add to it.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of these stories. I’m sure there are writers lining up to research these stories and write best selling books about them. I may even read and review them, although I’m finding it harder to read things as quickly as I used to, so I’m more selective about my reading material than I was in the past. I do think Mr. Murdaugh’s story will be one I’ll want to read. Hell, if it were 30 years ago, I would expect Murdaugh’s story to become a televised miniseries. Isn’t it interesting how we in America turn tragedies into televised entertainment for the masses? As my Italian friend Vittorio would put it– weird-o-rama.

Either way… it’s nice not to be writing about the usual 2021 topics today… and now I have to stop writing, because the dogs are bugging me for a walk.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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history, lessons learned, musings, politics

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it…” George Santayana

Last night, as Bill and I were enjoying the cool evening sundown in our backyard, I suddenly remembered what I had wanted to write about yesterday. Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of connections between people, events, and other things I’ve run into, like books, videos, and music. A few days ago, we had a memorial for a guy I knew in the Peace Corps. My former colleague and I served in Armenia, which has been in the news in recent years as the people there try to get the Armenian Genocide recognized by the international community. I am now living in Germany, where people have been trying to make amends for the Holocaust, which took place during World War II.

The other day, I was watching YouTube videos and happened to see one about The Holocaust. It was very well done and informative. I’ve read a lot of books about people who survived The Holocaust, and I’ve watched many videos about the experiences of people during that time. But, for some reason, this particular video made me think more about what happened than the others had. Or maybe this idea popped up because I have been talking to people I knew in Armenia, and Armenia is more on my mind than usual. It occurred to me that I’ve lived in Armenia, where people are descended from victims of genocide. And now I live in Germany, where I am surrounded by people whose ancestors had a part in committing genocide. It definitely offers a unique perspective. Or, at least I think it does.

Before I lived in Armenia, I had never heard of the Armenian Genocide. In fact, I barely knew anything about Armenia. The only reason I’d even heard of it was because my fourth grade teacher was of Armenian descent and told us a little bit about his heritage. At that time, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, so as a nine year old, I never thought I would ever get to visit there, let alone live there. My teacher did not speak about the Genocide. He told us about how Armenians were Christians and that most people’s last names end in “ian”. He said Armenians were very proud of being Christians, hence the “ian” at the end of their names. Now I know that’s factually incorrect, but it sounded good to me when I was nine.

I also remember my Armenian fourth grade teacher played Jesus Christ: Superstar for us. I didn’t hear that music again until I moved to Armenia in 1995, where it was everywhere. People in Armenia LOVED Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical. I even bought a bootleg cassette of the album and quickly became familiar with it. Andrew Lloyd Webber was very popular in the 80s and 90s, anyway, so I don’t know if Armenians always loved that show or it just became popular during their sudden independence in the 90s. Bill and I finally saw a production of it in Washington, DC in 2004.

I remember resisting this music when I was nine, but I ended up loving it when I was in Armenia.

The Armenian Genocide, which occurred from 1915-1917, resulted in the mass murder of over one million ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The murders were achieved through death marches into the Syrian desert and mass executions. Many Armenian women and children were forced to convert to Islam. When I was in Armenia, I worked in a school in Yerevan that was named after a famous Genocide victim and poet, Ruben Sevak. I see that it’s now an elementary school, but when I was teaching there, there were students of all ages, and I taught kids who ranged in age from 7 to 16 years old. During my first months at that school, Ruben Sevak’s daughter, Shamiram, who was then in her 80s and lived in France, came to Yerevan. She attended a party thrown for her at my school. I tried to keep up with all the toasts and got very, very drunk. That was probably the drunkest I’ve ever been in my life!

While searching for Ruben Sevak’s daughter’s name, I found this fascinating blog post about Sevak and his family. I learned that Ruben Sevak (Sevak translates to “black eyes”) was actually a pseudonym. His real name was Roupen Chilingirian, and he was born in a city called Silivri, located about 37 miles from the city now known as Istanbul, but then called Constantinople. His family was wealthy, and Ruben was well educated. He became a physician, having studied in exclusive schools, including medical school at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He met his wife in Switzerland, Helene (Jannie) Apell. Big surprise– she was from a German military family! Their respective families objected to their romantic affair, but Ruben and “Jannie” finally got married in Lausanne, and later had a religious ceremony at the Armenian Church of Paris. The young couple had a son named Levon in 1912, and then their daughter, Shamiram, was born in 1914.

Ruben Sevak became politically active, joining the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He was a prolific writer, and his works were published in literary journals and newspapers. He wrote a book of poetry in 1909. It was titled The Red Book, and the works within it recalled the Adana massacre— an event in which Armenian Christians were killed by Ottoman Muslims. He planned to write more poetry and political works in more books. He would never get the chance to fulfill that dream. Clearly, Sevak’s writings were threatening to the Ottoman Turks. He was one of the million people killed during the Armenian Genocide, having been conscripted in 1914 and serving as a military doctor in Turkey. In June 1915, Sevak was arrested, and though his wife and her parents tried valiantly to save his life, even involving the German government, their efforts would be in vain. Ruben Sevak was murdered on August 26, 1915.

If you’d like to know more about Ruben Sevak, I highly recommend following this link to the blog post I mentioned earlier. I wish I had known this story when I worked in the school named for Ruben Sevak. It actually blows my mind that I was once in the same room with one of Ruben Sevak’s direct descendants. I’m sure she’s gone now, but how amazing is it that she visited the school where I worked in 1995? What are the odds that I, an American from a small town in Virginia, would one day work in a country that was once part of a larger country that was pretty much off limits to Americans until 1991? And then I would attend a party held in honor of the daughter of a famous poet and doctor who was murdered in the Armenian Genocide? Fate is an incredible thing.

Playing For Time… a movie about the Holocaust that I saw on TV in the 80s.

I had heard of the Holocaust when I was growing up, but to be honest, I think it was because I had seen a made for television movie calling Playing For Time. That film aired in 1980, and my parents let me watch it, even though I was 8 years old. I remember the movie starred Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander. It was about young Jewish women in a death camp who were musicians tasked with playing music for arriving prisoners and entertaining Nazi bigwigs. I’m not sure I totally understood the film as I watched it. I do remember thinking it was interesting and I never forgot it, but the horror of what it was about didn’t dawn on me until years later. And I honestly don’t remember learning about what actually went on during World War II when I was in school. Of course, that was many years ago. Maybe I’m mistaken. But it seems like there was so much that had to be covered during those years that we didn’t spend a long time talking about one specific incident in history. U.S. schools, at least in the 80s, covered world history in ninth or tenth grade, U.S. history in eleventh grade, and Government in twelfth grade. Prior to that, we had civics in eighth grade and social studies in seventh grade and below. I’m not even sure if learning about the Holocaust was considered age appropriate in those days.

Fascinating video, if you can take the subject matter.

So there I was a few days ago, watching the above video about the Holocaust, which had popped up randomly in my YouTube queue. I listened as the narrators described the conditions the Holocaust victims encountered as they arrived at Auschwitz. I tried to imagine the terror and extreme horror of it on some level. I thought to myself that I probably wouldn’t have survived, if I had been among the unfortunate people who went to Auschwitz or the other death camps. Hearing about it and seeing the footage is one thing, but actually living through that– watching friends and loved ones being marched off to be executed, freezing in filthy, inadequate clothes and shoes, starving while being worked to death, getting deathly ill or badly hurt and being forced to keep working… being treated as worse than the lowest form of life. It’s just so hard to reconcile that reality with what I’ve seen in Germany, having now spent about nine years of my life in this country. It amazes me that such decent people can be reduced to treating other human beings the way Holocaust victims were treated. I can’t imagine sinking so low… and yet so many ordinary people did.

It suddenly dawned on me that I have now lived in a country whose citizens were systematically exterminated by Ottoman Turks. And I have also lived in a country whose citizens systematically exterminated Jewish people, as well as political prisoners, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anyone else Hitler didn’t like. I read that Adolf Hitler was actually inspired by the Armenian Genocide when he came up with his “Final Solution”.

This is a screenshot of the text on the last link… Hitler’s justification of the Holocaust, inspired by the murder of Armenians in the Genocide.

Then I thought of our present day situation. I read that Donald Trump is being encouraged to run for president again. He “handily won” a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I have mentioned before that I see some similarities between Trump and Hitler. No, he’s not yet having people rounded up and sent to concentration camps to be murdered, although some people have compared the situation at the southern border of the United States to the Holocaust. I’m not sure I would go that far, as many of the people in that situation weren’t necessarily rounded up from their homes and forced to march to detention centers. And I don’t think there’s really anything that quite compares to the absolute sickness and sheer awfulness of the Holocaust. At least not yet.

Hmmm…
Worth a view.

The similarities I do see between Trump and Hitler have to do with the way both men worked a crowd, as well as some of the historical events in Germany that led to Hitler’s rise to power, and the actual things that both men say– which are things that most narcissistic types say. The narrator in the above video describes how Germans were caught up in fear, poverty, and bigotry. The public were frustrated and looking for scapegoats on which to blame Germany’s depressed economy. Hitler exploited people’s fears, humiliation, anger, and ignorance to get common citizens to accept him as the only person who could make Germany great again. Elections were suppressed, and soon Hitler became a tyrant who murdered millions of innocent people. If you listen to Trump’s speeches and compare them to Hitler’s speeches, you hear a lot of the same kind of stuff. No, they aren’t exactly alike, and they never will be. But I do see similarities that disturb me, and I am not the only one.

Another quotable idea.

I have watched from afar as people in my country have become more and more radicalized and unreasonable. I have seen a lot violence and heard a lot of disturbing rhetoric. I believe a lot of Americans think of Trump as their savior. They ignore the many disturbing signs of his extreme narcissism, as well as the obvious efforts of Republicans to suppress votes from people who won’t vote for them. People are very polarized and some have forgotten their basic sense of decency and compassion. I actually worry less that Trump will be re-elected than someone younger, smarter, more charismatic, healthier, and crueler might be waiting in the wings, ready to take over when Trump inevitably meets his end. I have noticed a lot of vocal Republicans who are rallying disenfranchised and ignorant people to support them in their quest to reclaim power.

“You don’t know me, but I’m your brother…”

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing blog posts like this one. Maybe I will end up being rounded up and killed. I’m sure the people who perished in the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust had no clue that one day, they would face the horrors they faced. But I can’t help but think of Spaniard George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” So I hope and pray that enough of my fellow Americans open their eyes and demand decency and compassion in our leadership.

If you’re supporting a politician who is beloved by the KKK or Neo-Nazi groups, you may want to re-evaluate your choices. Do you really want to be lumped in a group of people who are driven to hate and kill others? Isn’t it better if we come together in peace and moderation? Is money and power really worth more than other people’s lives? Think about it… and all of the exceptional people who have died because of extremism and the desire for power, money, racism, and religion.

Look familiar?
Trump refused to condemn the KKK. He claims to know nothing about white supremacists, and yet they all love and endorse him.
Holy shit. This man was a protestor. Trump is all about silencing the critics.
And yet, they still love Trump, despite his “condemnation” of their groups! Why is that?

So ends today’s blog sermon… Gotta take Arran and Noyzi for a walk before the rain starts again.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Dr. Debora Green… the face of evil

I posted this piece on my original blog on February 22, 2014. It contains a review I wrote for Epinions.com on September 29, 2003. It appears here as/is.

Maybe fourteen years ago or so, I read a book by Ann Rule called Bitter Harvest.  The book was about Dr. Debora Green, a woman who, as a young woman, seemed to have everything going for her.  She was extremely intelligent and had sailed through high school, college, and medical school.  She was pretty and talented and had a thriving career.  She had started out as an emergency room doctor, but then decided she’d rather be an oncologist.  She married her second husband, Dr. Michael Farrar, a cardiologist in the Kansas City area, and bore him three healthy children, a boy and two girls.

As the years passed, Debora Green’s career hit the skids.  She drank too much, was subject to rages, and gained a lot of weight.  She failed her medical boards and eventually lost her license to practice medicine.  And finally, she determined she wanted her husband dead.  As she poisoned the children against their father by filling their heads with lies, she served him food that she had prepared.  The food contained castor beans, which is where ricin comes from.  Ricin is a deadly poison and the contaminated food made Dr. Farrar very sick. 

But Dr. Farrar didn’t die.  He just went through hell.  Finally, Debora Green decided to off him and her children, once and for all.  In October 1995, she set fire to the $400,000 home they had recently purchased, despite the fact Farrar and Green were separated.  She told her thirteen year old son, Tim, not to try to escape the blaze because the fire department was on the way.  Her six year old daughter, Kelly, asphyxiated, along with their dog, Boomer.  And ten year old Kate jumped off the roof to save herself, with no help from her mother.

Dr. Debora Green was eventually tried and convicted for murder and attempted murder.  She sits in prison in Kansas and will soon be celebrating her 63rd birthday.  I thought about this case recently and looked up Debora Green to see if anything new had happened.  I came across this photo.

This woman’s eyes look like pure evil to me.

I’m sure prison life is hard and that has something to do with the way this woman looks.  But to me, she looks like a brute.  It’s hard to believe she was once considered beautiful and brilliant.  I would not want to meet her in a dark alley, let alone go to her for treatment of cancer.

The first time I read that book, I had never run into someone like Debora Green.  Now that I’ve learned about narcissists and sociopaths, this story is easier to believe.

I liked Ann Rule’s book on this subject. Below is my review from 2003.

Is the mother of the year award in the cards for Dr. Debora Green?

Not likely. As a matter of fact, she’s rotting in prison as I write this. Why? Because she murdered two of her three children by burning down her house and tried to poison her husband by spiking his food with ricin. How did all of this come about? The whole sordid tale is spun for us in Rule’s 1997 true crime book, Bitter Harvest, a truly amazing story of a brilliant woman whose personality seemed to change dangerously by the minute.

Debora Jones (aka Deb) started life simply enough. Born to Bob and Joan (pronounced Joanne) Jones, she and her sister Pam grew up in rural western Illinois. Both girls were exceptionally bright. Deb never earned less than an “A” in school– her IQ was tested at 165. She was athletic, witty, musically talented, pretty, and popular, and she had a special gift for chemistry. After high school, Deb went to the University of Illinois to study chemical engineering; however, she was told that there was a glut of engineers. She ended up majoring in chemistry: pre med by default. It was in college that she earned her first “B”, a devastating blow to her ego. Nevertheless, she was able to graduate in three years and go on to medical school at the University of Kansas. During that time, she was married to Duane J. Green, an engineering PhD student at the University of Illinois.

After medical school, Deb became an emergency room physician. She divorced Green and met Michael Farrar, a medical student four years her junior. Farrar fell in love with the attractive, vivacious senior resident who drove a sportscar. They married in May 1979, but Deb kept Green’s name for “professional reasons”. In the early years of her marriage to Farrar, Deb supported Mike with her ER physician’s income as he completed his training as a cardiologist. However, she soon grew tired of the mundane cases she saw in the emergency room and decided to change her specialty to oncology (cancer).

Mike recalled that he knew he was making a mistake as he walked down the aisle on his wedding day. His parents didn’t like Deb and her parents didn’t like him. Nevertheless, he went through with the wedding. On the first night of their honeymoon, he had a hard time getting Deb to consummate their marriage; she preferred to read a novel instead. When they did have sex, it was uninspired. The couple managed to have three children anyway, a boy, Tim in January 1982, a girl, Kate (called Lissa in this book) in December 1984, and another girl, Kelly in December 1988.

Mike enjoyed great success in his career as a cardiologist and was regarded as a rising star in the medical community of the Kansas City area. Deb, however, experienced problems. While she was technically quite proficient, her patients found her cold and uncaring. Her colleagues found her hard to work with, especially when they disagreed with her. Deb rarely kept up with new advances in her field and was unable to pass her boards, while Mike managed to pass with flying colors. While their marriage had never been good, it soon became worse. At one point, Mike caught her stealing painkillers from her patients. Deb eventually ended up leaving medicine altogether.

More disturbing were Deb’s temper tantrums, which she would sometimes indulge in public. Mike would usually see her go off in airports when flights were delayed. She’d cuss out ticket agents, using the “F” word and various other epithets liberally in front of her children and throwing her professional title and Mike’s around in order to get her way.

Despite the horror of their marriage, Deb would not grant Mike a divorce, so Mike moved out of their upscale Kansas City, Missouri house and into an apartment. Four months after his move, Deb implored him to move back home, promising him that things would be better. Mike decided that if he complied, they would need a larger house. They found one in Prarie Village, Kansas, and at a bargain. But at the last minute, Mike changed his mind. Not long afterward, the Kansas City house caught on fire, forcing Deb and the kids to move into Mike’s apartment for awhile. The reconciliation was enough to convince Mike to cave in and buy the house in Kansas, for considerably more than he had originally agreed to pay for it. The fire in Kansas City was ruled an accident, so insurance paid for the damage. Mike and Deb ended up making $20,000 on its sale.

From there, things really started to go south, until the night of October 24th, 1995, when Tim and Kelly Farrar were killed by fire in their parents’ beautiful home. On several occasions during August and September 1995, Mike was in the hospital, suffering from a mysterious illness that brought him to the brink of death over and over again. His symptoms baffled doctors, until Mike found castor beans in Deb’s purse. Castor beans are very poisonous. They contain ricin, which is the third deadliest toxin on earth, next to botulism and plutonium.

I realize that I’ve given quite a bit of information here, but really I’ve only scratched the surface of this very convoluted story. Ann Rule has done a great job of presenting a horrifying case in great detail. There’s a lot of information to digest, but it’s interesting enough that I wanted to keep reading, even though the book is 482 pages long. Rule includes pictures which I found astounding– they show how Deb Jones changed from her high school picture to her middle aged adult picture. As a teen and young adult, Deb had been quite attractive. By the time she was in her forties, she no longer resembled the same person. She had gained a lot of weight, cut off all of her hair, and even her face looked different. In short, the woman was unrecognizable.

If you’ve ever read one of Ann Rule’s books before, you know that she provides several components to her books– the background story, the legal story, and the police story are a few that spring to mind right now. Readers get to examine Deb’s cold detachment as police interviewed her after the fire. Readers also get to read the accounts of other family members and witnesses who noted Deb’s strange reaction to the loss of two of her children.

I’ll admit that it took me awhile to get into this book the first time I read it, but once I started to really read it, I got hooked. This is definitely a fascinating read, and I for one am very glad that this is one mother who won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day in the comfort of her own home. 

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