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Archive for March, 2016

A Cold Murder Case in Detroit Dating Back to 1857

poster

By Gregory Stejskal

There is an apocryphal story – Ernest Hemingway was having lunch with some writer friends when he proposed a wager. He bet $10 that he could write a story in six words. With no doubt some curiosity, everyone at the table put $10 in the pot. Hemingway wrote on a napkin, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Hemingway passed the napkin around the table and collected his winnings.

Hemingway’s six word story is an extreme example of what is called flash fiction. My experience with something that might qualify as flash fiction was an 1857 reward poster that my wife found at an estate sale in Ann Arbor (Michigan).

The poster had a place, Detroit, and a date of April 14, 1857, and was offering “$1,500 Reward!” for information regarding a missing man, “John Rodgers, a resident of the town of Farmington, age 27.” The poster provides a physical description of John Rodgers and the clothing he was wearing when last seen leaving “Finney’s Hotel stable at dusk Tuesday evening, April 7th” (1857) where he left a span (pair) of horses.

The poster also indicates a suspicion of “foul play” and offers $1,000 “for the detection of any person or persons who may have been guilty of the murder of John Rodgers….” The reward is offered by Stephen Rodgers.

Like Hemingway’s baby shoes, the poster doesn’t so much tell a story as it suggests one.

My wife had the poster framed, and it has hung next to my desk. I have often wondered about the fate of John Rodgers, and what clues were contained on the poster.

The thing that literally stands out is the reward amount, “$1,500” In 1857 $1,500 was a very large amount of money worth about $42,000 today. It isn’t clear who Stephen Rodgers was from the poster, but he must have been a man of some means.

Since having the poster, I have made sporadic inquiries of local historians and checked records trying to find the rest of the story behind the poster.

Lee Peel, a historian of Farmington (Michigan), was able to determine that Stephen and John Rodgers were prosperous farmers with land in Farmington, but he wasn’t able to find any information regarding the incident described in the poster.

Later I happened on an article in the Detroit Free Press about the abolition movement and the rise of the Republican Party in Michigan. In the article Seymour Finney was mentioned. In the 1850s Finney was an abolitionist who ran a hotel in Detroit. Behind the hotel he had a large barn on the northeast corner of State and Griswald Sts. (Today there is an historical marker there.) Finney used the barn to hide runaway slaves until they could cross the Detroit River into Canada. The barn was located just blocks from the river.

Canada was a haven for the erstwhile slaves because in 1837 England had abolished slavery in their entire empire. So any slave that made it to Canada was free.

In the 1840s and 50s, an Underground Railroad developed in the US. Slaves followed established routes to northern states where they were relatively safe. Some of those routes led from the south to Michigan where there were many sympathetic people willing to hide them and aid their passage to Canada.

In fact the Republican Party, which was established by people opposed to the expansion of slavery beyond the states where it existed, began to flourish in Michigan. The party’s first statewide convention was held in Jackson, Michigan in 1854. One the party’s founders was Dr. Nathan Thomas, who had a medical practice in Kalamazoo and maintained a “station” on the Underground Railroad in Kalamazoo.

There were also free Blacks in Michigan who were active in the Underground Railroad. George de Baptiste, a freeman, owned a barbershop and a bakery in Detroit. He also owned a steamship named, T. Whitney, which transported freight and passengers from Detroit to Windsor, Canada. The T. Whitney also surreptiously smuggled escaped slaves to Canada at de Baptiste’s direction.

De Baptiste had formed a secret organization, African-American Mysteries or Order of the Men of Oppression, that worked with the Underground Railroad. Seymour Finney as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad would have been a member or an affiliate of the secret organization.

Secrecy was necessary because in 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted by Congress. The act required that slaves apprehended anywhere in the US including “free” states be returned to their slave masters. Rewards were offered for slaves, and despite there being many people in Michigan who were anti-slavery, there were many who were not opposed to slavery or were out to collect a reward. On occasion slave-catchers stayed in Finney’s Hotel while slaves were hidden in the barn.

So John Rodgers was last seen leaving “Finney’s Hotel stable at dusk….” Had he stumbled across some fugitive slaves? Did he attempt to obstruct their escape or did he try to resist efforts by bounty hunters to apprehend slaves?

Recently I talked to a Detroit historian, Bill Loomis, about the poster. Loomis has access to Detroit newspaper archives. (I had previously had other people with access to newspaper archives search for anything relating to John Rodgers disappearance with no success.) Loomis was able to find one article in the Detroit Free Press, dated May 21, 1857 and titled “Verdict in Rodgers Case.”

The article is not about a trial, but an inquest held in the office of Justice Ensworth, presumably acting as coroner. John Rodgers body had been recovered from the Detroit River, but it is not clear from the article when it was recovered. The reward poster was dated April 14th, seven days after he went missing, and the inquest occurred on May 20th.

One witness at the inquest was the father of the deceased, Stephen Rodgers, who offered the reward. Mr. Rodgers testified that he and John had come to the city with a load of pork which was sold. The father kept the proceeds from the sale except for $6 which he gave to his son, John, at about 1-2 pm. Rodgers said that he thought his son had from $25-100 in his possession and that he had two “porte-monnaies” (wallets) with him, a new one and an old one. No money was found with the body.

When Rodgers paid his son the money, he noticed some men standing on the corner nearby. “There were from four to six men and they were talking with one another. I noticed particularly one of them looking at us. They had the appearance of rather hard cases. I never saw them before neither have I seen them since.”

Also testifying at the inquest was a Dr. Terry who apparently was the medical examiner. He had done an analysis of the deceased’s stomach which had been delivered to him the day before in a jar. (In a time before refrigeration, this evokes some unsavory images.) Dr. Terry determined that John Rodgers last meal was corned beef and potatoes. Due to the state of digestion, Dr. Terry believed Rodgers died 2-3 hours after his last meal.

Dr. Terry testified that he had conducted “chemical tests to the contents of the stomach to ascertain whether opium or any of its preparations were present including morphine or its salts. Nothing of the kind was detected. (This seems to infer that at that time if poisoning were suspected, the drug of choice was an opiate.) The time that has elapsed since the death of Mr. Rodgers would render the detection of a vegetable poison very difficult if not impossible.”

Dr. Terry concluded: “I would say, that in regard to Mr. Rodgers’ death, it strikes me that the theory assumed by the physicians on the post mortem examination, that is, that the deceased was drugged is the most probable one. The absence of opium or morphine in the contents of the stomach at such a length of time after his death is no disproof of this supposition.”

The verdict of the jury was: “The jury upon their oaths present that from the appearance of the body and from all the facts and circumstances disclosed by the testimony, they are of the opinion that said Rodgers came to death in the city of Detroit by unlawful means, used by persons or persons unknown to the jurors who are unable definitely to determine from the testimony before them what means in fact were used by the murderers to effect (sic) their diabolical purpose.”

So the jury concluded that Rodgers was murdered, but they didn’t know how or why or by whom. Like the unused baby shoes several possibilities are suggested. I will continue to search for the rest of the story, but at least now I know John Rodgers fate.

Stejskal: A Very Cold Murder Case in Detroit Dating Back to 1857

poster

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

By Gregory Stejskal

There is an apocryphal story – Ernest Hemingway was having lunch with some writer friends when he proposed a wager. He bet $10 that he could write a story in six words. With no doubt some curiosity, everyone at the table put $10 in the pot. Hemingway wrote on a napkin, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Hemingway passed the napkin around the table and collected his winnings.

Hemingway’s six word story is an extreme example of what is called flash fiction. My experience with something that might qualify as flash fiction was an 1857 reward poster that my wife found at an estate sale in Ann Arbor (Michigan).

The poster had a place, Detroit, and a date of April 14, 1857, and was offering “$1,500 Reward!” for information regarding a missing man, “John Rodgers, a resident of the town of Farmington, age 27.” The poster provides a physical description of John Rodgers and the clothing he was wearing when last seen leaving “Finney’s Hotel stable at dusk Tuesday evening, April 7th” (1857) where he left a span (pair) of horses.

The poster also indicates a suspicion of “foul play” and offers $1,000 “for the detection of any person or persons who may have been guilty of the murder of John Rodgers….” The reward is offered by Stephen Rodgers.

Like Hemingway’s baby shoes, the poster doesn’t so much tell a story as it suggests one.

My wife had the poster framed, and it has hung next to my desk. I have often wondered about the fate of John Rodgers, and what clues were contained on the poster.

The thing that literally stands out is the reward amount, “$1,500” In 1857 $1,500 was a very large amount of money worth about $42,000 today. It isn’t clear who Stephen Rodgers was from the poster, but he must have been a man of some means.

Since having the poster, I have made sporadic inquiries of local historians and checked records trying to find the rest of the story behind the poster.

Lee Peel, a historian of Farmington (Michigan), was able to determine that Stephen and John Rodgers were prosperous farmers with land in Farmington, but he wasn’t able to find any information regarding the incident described in the poster.

Later I happened on an article in the Detroit Free Press about the abolition movement and the rise of the Republican Party in Michigan. In the article Seymour Finney was mentioned. In the 1850s Finney was an abolitionist who ran a hotel in Detroit. Behind the hotel he had a large barn on the northeast corner of State and Griswald Sts. (Today there is an historical marker there.) Finney used the barn to hide runaway slaves until they could cross the Detroit River into Canada. The barn was located just blocks from the river.

Canada was a haven for the erstwhile slaves because in 1837 England had abolished slavery in their entire empire. So any slave that made it to Canada was free.

In the 1840s and 50s, an Underground Railroad developed in the US. Slaves followed established routes to northern states where they were relatively safe. Some of those routes led from the south to Michigan where there were many sympathetic people willing to hide them and aid their passage to Canada.

Read more »

FBI Under Investigation After Agents Shot at Wildlife Occupier But Never Reported It

Scene at federal wildlife refuge six weeks ago.

Scene at federal wildlife refuge six weeks ago.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

FBI agents are under investigation after it was discovered they fired shots at LaVoy Finicum at the federal wildlife refuge and never reported it.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said the two bullets fired by the FBI did not strike Finicum, who was shot three times by state troopers and killed about six weeks ago, Washington Post reports. 

State police were justified in the fatal shooting, but Nelson said the FBI agents “did not disclose their shots to investigators, nor did they disclose specific actions they took after the shooting.”

The sheriff’s office and the Justice Department’s inspector general are investigating the FBI’s involvement.

The FBI did not comment.

NSA Whistleblower Snowden Said FBI’s Claim That Only Apple Can Unlock iPhone Is ‘Bulls—‘

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said the FBI could have easily unlocked an iPhone and called the bureau’s fight with Apple a sham, CNBC reports. 

“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’,” to unlock the phone, Snowden said during a discussion at Common Cause’s Blueprint for Democracy conference in Washington on Wednesday.

“Respectfully, that’s bullshit,” Snowden said.

Snowden explained that the FBI could have bypassed the iPhone’s auto-erase function but failed to do so.

Other technology experts backed up those claims, but said the FBI made a big error by trying to reset the iCloud password.

CNBC wrote:

Even so, security researchers say there are other options, like “de-capping” the phone’s memory chip to access it outside the phone (which Snowden has also mentioned), or resetting the phone’s internal counter so that you can guess the passwords as many times as you want. Those techniques are hard and expensive and could destroy the phone, experts say — but have worked in the past.

FBI Director Comey Appears to Be Ruffling the Feathers of the Obama Administration

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

FBI Director James Comey is ruffling feathers in the Obama administration over his aggressive posturing, The Hill reports. 

Some of the issues are Comey’s fight with Apple, his suggestion that the Black Lives Matter movement has hindered police and his warning about “gaps” in the screening of Syrian refugees.

Then there’s the issue of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner who is under investigation for her use of a private e-mail server while she was the secretary of state.

Comey, a Republican who donated to Mitt Romeny’s presidential campaign in 2012, has shown he is “not attached to the strings of the White House,” said Ron Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division and a critic of Obama’s law enforcement strategies.

On the Apple issue, “It’s just not clear [Comey] is speaking for the administration,” said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism and cybersecurity chief. “We know there have been administration meetings on this for months. The proposal that Comey had made on encryption was rejected by the administration.”

Former law enforcement officials said Comey may be giving the president more than he bargained for.

“He takes very seriously the fact that he works for the executive branch,” added Leo Taddeo, a former agent in the FBI’s cyber division. “But he also understands the importance of maintaining his independence as a law enforcement agency that needs to give not just the appearance of independence but the reality of it.”

Border Patrol Agent Charged with Murdering Mexican Teenager Set for Trial in November

courtroomBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Border Patrol agent who has been charged with murder after shooting and killing a Mexican teenager through a border fence is expected to face a trial in November.

Nov. 7 is the trial date set by U.S. District Court Judge Raner C. Collins.

Border Patrol agent Lonnie Ray Swartz was charged with second-degree murder in September in the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, AZCentral reports. 

The trial has been delayed multiple times.

The teenager’s mother, Araceli Rodriguez, said she hopes the right jury is selected.

“I hope that the jury that is deciding the case has morals, is a jury made up of members who have children, is a jury that knows good from bad, that can distinguish the truth from lies,” she said. “I hope that the jury leans towards justice. To choose justice.”

The U.S. government intends to call eight expert witnesses at the trial, including a ballistics expert and three forensic medical examiners.

DEA to Crack Down on Synthetic Drug That is Causing Deaths, Erratic Behavior

dea-badgeBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The DEA is tackling yet another disturbing trend involving a synthetic drug that is causing hysteria and bizarre behaviors among users.

The substance is known as “flakka” and is similar to bath salts, Vice News reports. 

The drug is primarily manufactured in China and sold online under brand names like “Cloud Nine,” Scarface,” and “Lunar Wave.” The drug sells for about $3 to $5 and is often accompanied with a warning that it’s “not for human consumption.”

The drug mimics the effects of methamphetamine and other speed.

One reported user ran naked through the streets of Florida and tried to stab a cop with his own badge. In another incident, a Florida man ran naked from what he believed was a pack of vicious German shepherds.

In Broward County in southern Florida, a medical examine reported 63-flakka-related deaths since September 2014. Last summer, emergency rooms in the country admitted more more than 300 people for symptoms related to flakka.

Taking synthetic drugs is “nothing but a game of Russian roulette,”  chief DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told VICE News said. “The unknown should scare people. You don’t know where it came from, or the kind of lab it was manufactured in.”

Other Stories of Interest

Economic Times: Apple Should Recognize Limits to Privacy in Age of Terrorism

Apple logoBy Editorial Board
Economic Times

Does individual privacy trump national security or vice versa is the question that lies at heart of the tussle between tech major Apple, and the US law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It puts the spotlight on the challenges of privacy in a digital era in a dangerous world. The FBI would like Apple to help break the encryption that protects the iPhone 5s used by Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

Apple has, in the decade since the iPhone became available, helped US law enforcement agencies gain access to locked phones. Apple argues that complying will require it to create a software code that will override the passcode protection that is controlled solely by the user of the phone, a privacy safeguard adopted to address the loss of public faith, and the loss of revenue, following Edward Snowden’s revelations of how the US National Security Agency used backdoors for spying.

Apple has drawn a line in the sand, protesting what it terms as a dangerous precedent for government intrusion on the privacy and safety of citizens. Privacy and security are now at odds. This dichotomy must be resolved given that technology has become pervasive, and will continue to permeate all facets of our lives. Technology is agnostic, and has been used with dangerous effect by terrorists. It is ironical that the same privacy safeguards available to law-abiding citizens become a protective shield for terrorists, preventing law enforcement agencies to mine information that could be crucial to ensuring the security of all citizens.

To read more click here.