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China Exporting Dangerous Designer Drugs for U.S. Teens


By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Cyber information is not the only thing the Chinese are stealing from the United States. A new generation of synthetic designer drugs is robbing the physical and mental health of thousands of American teenagers. In the last two years enterprising rogue Chinese chemists have introduced hundreds of these new chemical combinations into the American market.

Although the motive is crassly profit-oriented rather than something even more sinister, the effect is sadly the same. Emergency room admissions and law enforcement reports reveal a looming public health crisis unlike that caused by any preceding class of drugs.

And there is often little either group can do about it as they struggle to react to the problem.

A dizzying variety of medical and psychological problems are listed in recent reports.

A Hawaii man tried to throw his girlfriend off the 11th floor balcony of their apartment building.

A Kentucky woman threw her two-year old son from her car onto the highway because she believed him to be a demon.

A Mississippi man stabbed himself repeatedly in the abdomen with a hunting knife to remove wires he thought were inside his body.

The list of bizarre and tragic stories of behavior caused by the psychoactive drugs goes on and on and on.

Just when the public and law enforcement were beginning to grab a hold on the problems caused by cathinones (“bath salts”) and cannabinoids (“spice,” incorrectly referred to as synthetic marijuana), Chinese laboratories have unleashed modified chemical compounds beyond the practical and legal reach of all but the most sophisticated law enforcement authorities. The public, parents, and teachers, are almost completely unaware of the new drug problem that is unfolding. Medical professionals who treat these kids in hospitals are just becoming aware of the problem.

Drug analogues and chemical compounds altered to avoid enforcement are not a new phenomenon. Since heroin was made illegal in the 1920s, amoral profiteers have developed related and uncontrolled substances whose effects mimic, or even exceed, those of the illegal substance.

Efforts to modify illegal drugs are unwittingly assisted by legitimate, academic researchers studying psychoactive drugs for medical purposes who then publish the results of their research. A current example is a Purdue University professor studying the effect such compounds have on brain receptors in animals. His scientific publications are immediately co-opted by renegade chemists who use the knowledge to create new “legal” drugs to sell to their customers.

About a decade ago rogue chemists from China and elsewhere started using similar research to develop drugs such as bath salts and spice. The market developed in a generally westerly direction into Russia, then Europe, and finally to the United States.

These drugs were cheap. They were beyond law enforcement, and easily accessible through the internet. Middlemen wholesalers sold them in gas stations, convenience and liquor stores, and smoke shops. They were advertised as plant food, incense, and other purposes for which they had no actual utility. In fact, the substances have no legitimate medical or industrial application. For example, “bath salts” is just a street name and has nothing in common with those colorful little granules you put in your bathtub to make it bubbly. The sellers side-stepped even a misdemeanor FDA violation by printing “not for human consumption” on the brightly colored packaging–sometimes adding a cartoon character to appeal to youthful customers.

Read more »

The History of April 19th: American Revolution, Waco, Oklahoma Bombing

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

Listen my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy Five….

Longfellow’s poem forever immortalized Paul Revere’s ride. What the poem does not say is that Revere’s mission that night was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British soldiers were coming to Lexington to arrest them. It was after midnight, April 19th, when Revere arrived in Lexington and warned Adams and Hancock. Revere also aroused the country side, and that morning the “Minute Men” met the British regulars on Lexington green. No one knows who fired the first shot- “the shot heard around the world”. But on that morning, April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began.

Paul Revere/istock photo

Paul Revere/istock photo

In a perverse twist of fate, on April 19, 1993, it is the 51st day of a siege at the Branch Davidian compound, also known as Mt Carmel, outside of Waco, Texas. It is to be the last day of the siege, a culmination of a series of bad decisions and missed opportunities.

The siege began on February 28th. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had gone to the Davidian compound to execute search warrants. The warrants were based on affidavits stating the Davidians possessed certain illegal weapons to include fully automatic weapons and components to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic. Some of the Davidians were known to have a propensity for violence including their leader, David Koresh, who had changed his name from Vernon Howell. There had been a power struggle a few years earlier within the Branch Davidians and a gun fight had ensued. The history of the Branch Davidians and how they ended up here, led by Koresh is a long story and won’t be told here. Suffice it to say, Koresh became the leader and subsequently claimed to be a messiah, who could procreate with any women followers irrespective of their age or marital status. The group embraced an apocalyptic philosophy, which relied heavily on the Book of Revelation.

The ATF had been surveilling the compound for several weeks prior to the raid from a home across the road. They had also placed an undercover (UC) agent within the Davidians. However, the surveillance was compromised, and at some point Koresh learned of the UC agent. In addition one of the Davidians was the local postman. On the morning of the ATF raid, a TV crew asked the postman for directions to the compound as they had learned there was to be a raid. The postman gave them directions and took the news of the impending raid back to the compound.

The ATF was aware of the Davidian’s potential for violence and obviously knew they had a large stockpile of firearms and ammunition. Consequently the element of surprise was an important aspect of their raid plan. However, surprise was an early casualty. ATF’s leadership was aware their plan had been compromised, but chose to proceed anyway.

waco-branch-davidians

The ATF agents were met at the front door of the compound by Koresh and some of his “Mighty Men” (that’s how Koresh referred to his young male followers). There was a short stand-off . A shot or shots was fired. It has never been determined who fired the first shot-both sides claim it was the other. Whoever fired it, it escalated into a gun battle resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents (16 wounded) and six Davidians. Koresh was wounded along with several of his followers. Thus began the siege of the Branch Davidian compound.

The FBI was given control of the siege. Negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI began and continued throughout the siege. Although the FBI was thrust into a situation not of its making, it learned valuable lessons. Unfortunately many of the lessons were learned from mistakes.

Ultimately it became clear Koresh was not negotiating in good faith. Koresh had said that he would surrender, but he needed to finish his own scripture, something he called the “Seven Seals”. But surreptitiously placed microphones inside the compound had picked up conversations indicating that Koresh was stalling and did not intend to surrender.

The FBI with concurrence of Attorney General Reno and President Clinton decided to pressure Koresh and his followers into surrender by punching holes into the compound walls and injecting tear gas. The conventional way to place tear gas is to fire projectiles containing tear gas into the target area. These projectiles explode on impact and expel tear gas, but this process also produces heat which can result in fire. The method devised for the compound entailed the use of converted tanks to spray the tear gas directly into the holes made in the walls. The error was not how the tear gas was injected, but rather underestimating the potential for mass suicide of an apocalyptic cult. The FBI was warned of this potential, but it was discounted- what person would choose suicide over surrender, not only for themselves, but for their children?

Then there were the fires that ultimately consumed the entire compound. Although a Congressional investigation determined the fires were actually set by the Davidians, the anti-government conspiracy minded will forever believe that they were set or caused by the government. Seventy six Davidians including Koresh died on that day at least twenty of those were killed by self-inflicted gunshot wounds or consensual execution (suicide by proxy). Nine people escaped from the fire and presumably others could have if they wanted. (One woman ran out of the compound and was tackled by a FBI agent to keep her from going back.)

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber witnessed part of the siege. McVeigh was sympathetic with the Davidians and was outraged that the siege ended in the conflagration and death of Koresh and most of his followers. It’s not clear when McVeigh’s anti-government beliefs began, but those beliefs were growing and becoming an obsession.

Federal Building in Oklahoma at time of explosion/fbi photo

Federal Building in Oklahoma at time of explosion/fbi photo

It’s difficult to encapsulate McVeigh’s philosophy. It was clearly anti-government and became virulently so. It was an amalgamation of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and fear of a “New World Order”, i.e., a belief in a world-wide conspiracy to take over the world and the US Government’s leadership being in league with this conspiracy. If there was an over-riding theme to McVeigh’s beliefs, it was probably his trying to replicate the plot of The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel written by William Luther Piece (a white supremacist) under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald. The book depicts a violent revolution in the US ignited by the bombing of the FBI headquarters, which leads to the overthrow of the US Government, nuclear war and ultimately to a race war resulting in the extermination of all Jews and non-whites.

While in the military, McVeigh met Terry Nichols. They became friends and their friendship continued after they left the military. Nichols was a follower and embraced McVeigh’s philosophy and paranoia. After the Davidian compound siege ended, McVeigh began to develop a plan to destroy a Federal Building- an act of retaliation for what had occurred at Waco. Initially the plan was to destroy the building when it was unoccupied, but McVeigh decided he needed to send a stronger message and that would require people to die. Later McVeigh would say, “Kids and women are fair game”.

McVeigh and Nichols plan coalesced into the selection of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as the target. The plan was to build a bomb and place it in the back of a truck. McVeigh and Nichols researched how to construct a large bomb and experimented with making and detonating explosives at the Nichols’ farm in Decker, Michigan.

In April, 1995, McVeigh, using another name, rented a truck in Junction City, Kansas. McVeigh and Nichols had previously obtained and stored the components for the bomb. In a park outside of Junction City, they assembled the bomb in the back of the rental truck. The bomb consisted 13-55 gal. drums: 9 containing ammonium nitrate (fertilizer) and nitromethane (racing fuel); 4 had fertilizer and diesel fuel. Also with the drums was about 350 lbs of Tovex, a commercial explosive. TheTovex would act as primary or initiator. McVeigh ran 2 fuses from the cargo bay to the cab of the truck. The fuses were attached to blasting caps that would set off the Tovex. The bomb weighed about 4,800 lbs. and cost about $5,000.

Prior to April 19th, Nichols and McVeigh drove to Oklahoma City and parked the getaway car several blocks from the Murrah Federal Building. They then drove back to Junction City. McVeigh stayed at a motel in Junction City. Although McVeigh used another name when he rented the truck, at the motel he used his true name with the Decker farm as his permanent address.

On April 19th, McVeigh drove the bomb laden truck to Oklahoma City. A few blocks from the Federal Building, he lit one fuse. Then just prior to parking the truck at the Federal Building, he lit the back-up fuse. He exited the truck and ran the few blocks to the getaway car. When the bomb exploded, it did so with the force of 5,000 lbs of TNT.

It destroyed the Federal Building and killed 168 people and injured over 700. It also damaged or destroyed 324 other buildings. Among the fatalities were children as the Federal Building housed a child care center on the street level. McVeigh had known of the child care center.

Within hours the FBI had identified the rental truck (from the VIN on an axle that had been blown some distance from the site) and knew it had been rented in Junction City. Agents dispatched to Junction City discovered the truck was rented under a false name, but the same person used a different name, Timothy McVeigh, at a nearby motel. A BOL (BE On The Lookout) bulletin was broadcast, and it was learned McVeigh had been arrested by the Oklahoma State Police driving a car without a license plate. An alert trooper also saw that McVeigh was carrying a concealed handgun. McVeigh was about to be released, but a hold was placed, and FBI agents took him into custody.

Two days later, the FBI went to the Decker farm to execute search warrants. The Detroit FBI SWAT team was sent in first to secure the farm as there was a concern about armed co-conspirators (The extent of the conspiracy was not yet known.) and explosives at the farm. I was one of the SWAT team leaders involved. The farm was operated by James Nichols, Terry’s brother. It was known James had anti-government sentiments, but there was never sufficient evidence to prosecute him for being involved in the conspiracy. The search of the farm did find bomb making materials and evidence bombs had been tested there.

McVeigh had picked April 19th for the bombing because it was second anniversary of the end of the siege at the Davidian compound. It also happened to be the 220th anniversary of that shot heard around the world. When McVeigh was arrested he had a quote from Samuel Adams (one of the men Paul Revere was sent to warn): “When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Underneath McVeigh had scrawled, “Maybe now there will be liberty.” McVeigh also had pages from the Turner Diaries, the racist/anti-Semitic diatribe masquerading as a novel.

It dishonors our founding fathers when McVeigh and some militias try to cloak themselves in the legitimacy of the men who valiantly fought for our independence and at the same time embrace the ideology of the white supremacy movement. It is perverse to equate what our founding fathers did and endured to establish a Constitutional government with the bombing of a Federal building- killing 168 people, whose only crime was being in or near that building.

The lesson that was learned on April 19, 1995, was that we in law enforcement or as citizens have to take the anti-government movements seriously. Their ideology may seem foolish, historically and theologically spurious, but that does not diminish their potential for harm.

This column was previously  published in ticklethewire.com.

If Dead Kids Doesn’t Do It, What Will?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s nauseating to say the least to see how spineless our Washington lawmakers are, how fearful they are when it comes to standing up to the NRA and the people who insist that universal background checks are too intrusive and assault weapons are necessary to own.

The Newtown shootings should have been enough to give lawmakers the backbone to stand up.

No, the Gabby Giffords shootings should have been enough.

No, the Aurora movie theater shootings should have been enough.

No, the Virginia Tech shootings should have been enough.

No, the Columbine shootings should have been enough.

You get the point, nothing, not dead high school kids, not dead elementary school kids, not a dead federal judge, nothing will move some of our lawmakers.

Granted, banning assault rifles at this point won’t instantly remove them from circulation. But we have to start somewhere, and banning assault rifles will eventually make them much harder to get. And the universal background checks, well, that’s another no brainer. Currently, about 40% of guns purchased from places other than licensed gun dealer (like collectors and guns shows) do not require background checks. That would change under a new proposal in Washington that is under intense debate.

I’m afraid we’re missing the window of opportunity to enact some tougher gun laws. No, I’m not advocating taking away guns. But we need change. Now. Not after 10 more tragedies involving unstable people.

In most societies, the senseless, mass deaths of kids is enough to make politicians respond.

Apparently, not in this society.

Which really really worries me.

If dead children doesn’t do it, what will?

The Story of 2 Dead Costa Rica Cops, the Drug Cartels and America’s Insatiable Appetite for Drugs

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

As he left for work on a January day this year, Police Officer Carlos Perez said goodbye to his wife and young children at their home in Limon, Costa Rica.

As law enforcement officers and their families across the globe, they faced the unspoken reality that it could be the last time they would have together. This day this reality came true.

Officer Perez and his partner, Jesus Garro, were motorcycle cops in Limon, and their assignment on that day was to apprehend four burglars who had ransacked a house, tied up its owner, and stole his truck filled with much of his personal property. The officers did find the criminals, shots were fired, and the stolen truck veered into them while they were standing next to their cycles, killing them both instantly. One of the officers managed to shoot and kill one of the culprits before the truck crushed him and his partner.

Two of Officer Perez’s relatives, who live in the US, were in Limon visiting at the time of the murders. After they read my column last week about drug trafficking in Honduras, we talked several times about their search to understand his death and what effect drug trafficking was having on their idyllic little country. I am grateful for their sharing with me this discourse at a time of family grief.

Ross Parker

Their unspoken question was whether American consumer demand for cocaine had been a direct or an indirect cause of this tragedy.

The answer, as with so many imponderables in the war against drugs, is that we may never know if there was a direct relationship between the increased Mexican drug cartel activity in Costa Rica and the men who killed the officers. There does, however, appear to be a reasonable likelihood of an indirect connection.

For several years the cartels have increasingly used Costa Rica as a transit point and storage and trading center for cocaine coming from South America and destined for the US. They commonly hire local criminals to assist the operation. These recruits frequently come to use the drug and need sources of illegal cash to support their habits. Burglary is a worldwide method to raise money for drugs.

Life in Costa Rica is much different than that for most Hondurans. As reported earlier, Honduras suffers from all of the ancillary effects of the combination of poverty and drug trafficking, overflowing prisons, unchecked criminal violence, official corruption, unstable governments, and rampant street crime by criminal gangs.

In contrast Costa Rica has managed to avoid the chaos of bloody coups and government instability. In 1949 Costa Rica abolished its army and used the money to promote social improvement. For half a century it has increasingly become a peaceful liberal democracy with a high standard of living and a thriving tourist industry. In 2009 the New Economic Foundation ranked Costa Rica as first in the world on its Happy Planet Index.

This health and happiness assessment is apparent among the people of Costa Rica. They enjoy a long life expectancy, a better health care system in many respects than that of the US, and a high literacy rate. A common response among friends to the question “how are you?” is “Pure Vida” or good life.

The question is whether the drug cartels’ efforts to satisfy their American customers is going to mess up the Good Life in this easy going paradise.

The one area that the Central American neighbors of Honduras and Costa Rica have in common is the unfortunate geography, in this respect, of occupying territory from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Anything traveling by land from South America to Mexico must cross the territorial bridge of each country. Today 80% of the cocaine coming from South America passes through these countries.

The increasing use of the cocaine highway from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, ultimately to the US, has meant that Mexican syndicates like the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel utilize both countries as trading centers. The effects on Honduras have been obvious and deadly.

The effect on Costa Rica has been more subtle but is equally troublesome to its citizens because of the peaceful equanimity they have enjoyed. But evidence of trafficking has become more and more apparent in the last two or three years. The lengthy coastlines and unguarded border crossings make drug enforcement a difficult challenge for the limited number of police in the country, only 11.000 officers with no military support. Even with recent increases the law enforcement budget for the country is less than most major US cities.

On the positive side the US, through DEA and the military, have established an effective partnership along with providing tens of millions of US dollars that have enabled Costa Rica to transform its law enforcement and criminal justice system with the help of  a$2 million satellite and radio communication station on the Pacific coast.

The Costa Rican government has responded to the challenge by taking an aggressive stand against drug activity and related crimes. Further proposals include new wiretap, extradition and forfeiture laws, as well as increased sentences and imprisonment statistics.

Some in the country fear that these efforts are negatively affecting the Good Life in Costa Rica. However, the power and resources of the cartels seem to have given the country few alternatives but to take this get-tough stance.

The President of Costa Rica has asked two things of the US:  Increase its support and cooperation for international drug enforcement, and step up its efforts to reduce consumption in the US. These appear to be reasonable requests.

The Perez children will grow up with the knowledge that their father was a hero who sacrificed his life to improve the lives of his countrymen. Like the families left behind by fallen American law enforcement officers, they deserve to know that their sacrifice came with the realization that a renewed commitment to drug enforcement both at home and abroad was in order in America.

 

America’s Drug Appetite Helps Make Honduras One of the Most Dangerous Places on the Globe

 
By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras —  I spent last week in Honduras with a couple dozen friends under the watchful and protective eye of a Honduran woman who has dedicated her life’s work to bettering the lives of the indigenous peasants of her country.

Despite State Department warnings we felt safe and welcome in the rural villages. The villagers were shyly courteous and grateful for any help to improve their living conditions. Their children were curious, achingly beautiful, and always up for any kind of fun activity which overcame the language barrier. They delighted in regularly beating me in lively rock-scissors-paper contests.

As in so many parts of the world today, individual Americans are well regarded here. The American government not so much. Many American NGOs, like Heifer, International and the Presbyterian Church, to name a couple, have made a real contribution in providing permanent housing, sustainable agriculture, education, and health care to the rural Mayans, whose lives have changed remarkably little in centuries.

On the flip side, Americans have played an important part in making Honduras one of the most dangerous places on the globe. It has the highest murder rate in the world. The city we flew into and out of, San Pedro Sula, is considered to be the most violent city in the world. Urban gang violence, overflowing prisons, robbery and kidnaping—all are endemic in this small country. Add to this the ancillary ills to which drug crime contributes—corruption, unstable governments, inadequate health care, and a weakened economy unable to cope with natural disasters like floods and earthquakes.

How is this, in part, the responsibility of Americans? Our insatiable cocaine habit has for decades produced the market demand fueling the multi-billion dollar export business from Colombia and Peru. With the success of U.S. law enforcement in maritime interdictions, the transit route has increasingly come through Central America to Mexico and then across our southern border. Transportation by the cartels now runs right through this relatively defenseless little country. The weak governments and overwhelmed law enforcement system are no match for the resources of the ruthless drug syndicates.

Honduras, which stretches from the Caribbean to the Pacific, is a battleground between the South American and Mexican drug cartels who violently confront each other in this neutral midpoint over territorial control and market share. Honduran bystanders become victims. All of this to get to the lucrative business of the American consumers.

We unintentionally contribute to the violence in Honduras in two other ways beyond our drug habit. Our relatively lax gun control laws make it easy for cartels to obtain in the United States assault rifles, ammunition, and other weapons to be used as deadly tools of the trade in Latin America. Not all firearms of course since civil wars have produced many left over weapons.

But enough to contribute substantially to the 40,000 Mexicans killed in the last six years. Also, our porous borders have permitted more than a million Hondurans to enter the United States. Substantial numbers have committed crimes, received a criminal education in American prisons, and then were deported back to their native country. They become drug organization recruits as well as violent criminals of opportunity.

In an era of budget tightening American politicians seem to be incrementally reducing support for international law enforcement, indeed for law enforcement in general. Statisticians point out that cocaine use is down and that drug sources have increasingly become domestic, such as meth manufacture, marijuana, and pharmaceutical drug diversion. Anyway, cocaine consumption is said to be relatively benign, victimless, a matter for education and regulation, not police and federal agents. Americans are said to have these Latin American drugs under control.

But ask Hondurans and Mexicans whether the American drug habit is benign for them. Or is it a voracious, self-obsessed monster into whose maw countless and random Latin American lives are sucked in and chewed up?

Perhaps the effect of cocaine consumption is just one symptom of the fact that few Americans give a damn about Central America. When told we were going to Honduras, most of my friends hardly knew where it was or anything about the country. But Hondurans are a proud and courageous people who deserve a safe and satisfying life as much as any American.

Through an interpreter I asked a young Honduran farmer what his hopes were for his daughter. “I dream that she will be able to get an education and live a happy, peaceful life in our village,” he replied.

I could not have stated more eloquently my dreams for my own daughter.

 

 

The FBI, Some Gay Murders and a Fingerprint Examiner Named Thurman Williams

ice photo

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

I was seated, facing Michael Lee Sprague as I interviewed him. We were on the same side of the table. As an FBI agent on the fugitive squad in the Detroit Division, I never liked having anything between me and the person I was interviewing. It was  easier to observe body language, and it didn’t  give the person being interviewed the psychological shield of having an object between them and me.

I was transfixed by Sprague’s eyes. He had just confessed to a double homicide, but his eyes revealed nothing. I knew the aphorism, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Sprague’s eyes were more like black holes – they didn’t reflect light they absorbed it.

But how did Sprague come to be arrested and interviewed by the FBI?

The story really begins in Jackson, Tennessee. Sprague was a drifter, and he had met Thomas Menth on the road. They had decided to travel together. In December, 1975, they picked up two gay professors from Bethel College which is near Jackson. They had all gone to a room at the Holiday Inn where Sprague and Menth overpowered the professors. They bound and gagged them, stabbed them multiple times and slit their throats – their throats weren’t just slit, the professors were nearly decapitated.

The murder scene was extremely bloody. When Sprague and Menth left the room, one of them put his hands covered with the victims’ blood on the wall near the light switch. This left impressions of several of his fingerprints from both hands. These prints were” identifiable,” but there was a problem.

There was a common myth at the time probably propagated by the movies and TV, that a fingerprint found at a crime scene could be matched with someone if their fingerprints were on record. The reality was, at the time, fingerprints were classified using all 10 fingers. The US central repository for all the fingerprint records was the FBI Identification Division in Washington, DC. (In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, was responsible for the establishment of a national repository for fingerprints.)

ice photo

When a person was arrested their inked prints were put on a fingerprint card which had pre-marked spaces for each finger. At the Identification Division, the card was classified by fingerprint examiners using the Henry classification system. Each fingerprint is unique like a snowflake. All fingerprints have common characteristics referred to by terms like loups, arches & whorls. Using these common features with their infinite variations, each of the fingerprints is classified with numbers and letters. These individual classifications are written in sequence determined by the order of the fingerprints on the card. The total sequence of all 10 fingers is the classification.

If an investigator were lucky enough to find an identifiable fingerprint at a crime scene, that is, one that was at least partially classifiable, the investigator could compare the single print to the fingerprints of a suspect. But only if a suspect was developed through investigation, a suspect could not be identified with just the found fingerprint.

Today each fingerprint is digitally classified by a computer. The fingerprints can be electronically transmitted to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, W. Va. (the new Identification Division). So a single fingerprint obtained at a crime scene can be immediately sent to the CJISD and within minutes matched with any of the 100s of millions of prints that are on file. Real life crime detection has caught up to the movies.

But in 1975 all the fingerprints were still needed. The Jackson, Tennessee police had 6 or 7 identifiable prints from the wall and because they were found together their sequence was discernible, that is, right index finger next to right middle finger, etc.

The latent prints, those found at the scene, were sent to the FBI. As luck or fate would have it, they were received by a very dedicated fingerprint examiner named Thurman Williams.  Williams  did a partial classification of the latent prints. Using that partial classification, he was able to narrow the possibilities of matching fingerprint cards on file to several thousand. That was assuming the person who left their fingerprints on the wall had their fingerprints on file.

Williams  would set aside time each day to methodically go through the stacks of fingerprint cards that might match the prints from the murder scene. After examining 1,000s of cards, the examiner got a hit. The person who left those bloody fingerprints was Thomas Menth, a petty criminal, who had been arrested before and had his prints on file.

A warrant charging Menth with murder was issued in Jackson. Menth had no reason to believe he was wanted. He had been involved in a double murder in a town he was passing through. No one knew him in Jackson so how could he be a suspect. But Menth was tracked to New Orleans where he was arrested.

Being the “honorable” criminal that he was, Menth quickly gave-up Michael Sprague as the other murderer. A murder warrant and a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) warrant were issued for Sprague. Sprague’s hometown was New Haven, Michigan, so leads were sent to the Detroit FBI office.

We made contact with Sprague’s family and explained his plight. Within a few weeks, Sprague’s mother told us Sprague was back in Michigan and staying at a motel on the eastside of Detroit. We went to the motel and arrested Sprague. He didn’t resist, nor did he question why he was being arrested. We took Sprague back to the FBI office.

I tried to make Sprague comfortable. I knew it was important to illicit a confession from him as the case against him was not strong. It would be nice to say that my outstanding interview technique resulted in Sprague’s confession, but the truth was, he was ready to confess.

He gave us a detailed account of how he and Menth picked up the two professors and took them to the motel room where they killed them. According to Sprague it was never his intent to kill them, only to rob them. He said he didn’t have anything against homosexuals – they were just “easy prey.”

After they had bound and gagged the two men, Menth became agitated and violent. In Sprague’s version, Menth stabbed both men repeatedly and then slit their throats. That level of violence suggested some deep-seated hatred towards the victims. Since neither Sprague nor Menth knew the victims well, the deduction might be that the murderer(s) hated homosexuals.

When Sprague had finished describing the murders and how they had fled from Jackson, my partner, Paul Lindsay, pulled me aside and told me he was going to call the Jackson authorities to advise them Sprague was in custody and had confessed. I would wrap-up the interview.

Sprague told me how, after leaving Jackson, he and Menth began hitchhiking south through Arkansas and Texas. Sprague was telling me about truck stops and some of their rides. I was thinking about finishing the interview.

I knew that when the interview was finished, we would lodge Sprague in the Wayne County jail. He would then be arraigned in federal court, assigned an attorney before being ordered removed to Tennessee. Once he had an attorney, most probably no one would have an opportunity to interview him again.

As I’m thinking about making sure we got it right and looking at his expressionless eyes, Sprague said: “Then we killed the old man in Texas.” I wanted to react calmly so he would think I knew what he was talking about. So I said something like, yeah, tell me about the “old man.” (I knew nothing about a murder in Texas.)

Sprague proceeded to tell me about how he and Menth were picked-up near Sealy, Texas by a man in a newer car. He described the man as a white male in his 50s. The man took them to his apartment in Sealy. The man told them that he owned several movie theaters. Sprague believed the man was a homosexual. At the man’s apartment, Menth took a shower then Sprague took a bath.

After his bath Sprague walked out of the bathroom and saw the old man bound and gagged. Menth was ransacking the apartment trying to find money. When Menth was satisfied he had found all the money, he handed Sprague a filleting knife that Menth kept in his backpack. Menth told Sprague to stab the man. Sprague refused so Menth took the knife and said, “It’s easy.” Menth then “stabbed the old man in the back many times.”

Sprague and Menth took the old man’s car and fled the area. On Interstate 10 near Beaumont , Texas, they abandoned the car and walked to a truck stop. Sprague told Menth he wanted to separate. They split-up and Sprague hadn’t seen Menth since.

I had Sprague write a signed statement. We contacted the police in Sealy and confirmed that they had an unsolved murder matching the one described by Sprague. They also said they had neither suspects nor leads in the case.

So thanks to an extraordinary effort by a fingerprint examiner, three murders were solved that probably wouldn’t have been resolved otherwise. I also believe Sprague and/or Menth would have continued to prey on gay men.

Epilogue: In June, 1977, in Jackson, Tennessee Sprague and Menth were both convicted of 1st degree murder and received life sentences, the maximum they could receive. (At the time of their convictions, the US Supreme Court had ruled that capital punishment was unconstitutional as it had been administered.)

In addition to the FBI national repository of fingerprints, it now maintains a repository of DNA, the National DNA Index System which may ultimately be a greater aid to crime detection than fingerprints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jon Stewart Talks About the Crazy Restrictions Blocking ATF From Doing Its Job

NCAA Shouldn’t Ignore Steroid Problem

The author (right) Greg Stejksal and late Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

In the summer of 2004, a Senate sub-committee, chaired by Senators Charles Grassley and Joseph Biden held a hearing regarding the prevalence of steroids in sports. I had helped arrange for two of the witnesses who testified at this hearing.

One was Curtis Wenzlaff, a convicted steroid dealer, who had supplied steroids to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Wenzlaff had been prosecuted as part of an FBI undercover operation (UCO) targeting illegal distribution of steroids, codenamed Equine.

It was the late Michigan football coaching legend, Bo Schembechler, that urged our FBI office in Michigan to initiate our steroid UCO in 1989. Schembechler was concerned not only about the prevalence of steroids in college football, but indications that performance-enhancing drugs were being used by high school players as well.

During the ’04 hearing, Wenzlaff testified that the short-term incentives for using steroids were perceived by young competitive athletes to be far greater than the potential health risks later in life – the classic Faustian bargain. Wenzlaff testified that among other incentives, athletes would readily use PEDs if the end result were securing a multi-million dollar playing contract.

The other witness I arranged to appear was the “Mystery Man,” which the Daily News dubbed in their coverage of the hearing. The mystery witness was never identified, wore a hood as he entered the hearing room, and had his voice modified electronically. He was a 4-year football player from a prominent Division-I program, whose last season was 2003. The mystery witness testified that “it became evident that many players on my team were using steroids at some time during their career.” One player was supplying seven to eight other players, according to the witness. He also testified that he knew of players on other Div-I teams using steroids.

The NCAA had already begun to recognize there was a problem; in 1996 the NCAA instituted random, year-round testing with relatively stringent penalties for positive tests – a one-season suspension for a first positive test and permanent ineligibility for a second. The tests are, in theory, unannounced, but athletes can often know up to two days’ in advance. (Steroids are generally clear of a individual’s system within 24-72 hrs. Anabolic steroids are a specific type of steroid that promotes muscle growth, and not all steroids are anabolic. Steroids referred to in this column are anabolic.) The NCAA’s current position is that steroid use is no longer a problem with college athletes. In support of their conclusion they point to less than 1% failure rate on their tests.

In a recent Associated Press article about the continued use of anabolic steroids in college football, the report relied on research that catalogued weight gain of different football players. Extraordinary weight gain by athletes can be an indication of steroid use. Citing training experts, the report said, “Adding more than 20 or 25 lbs. of lean muscle in a year is nearly impossible through diet and exercise alone.” The report also relied on interviews of players who admitted to steroid use or knew of other players using steroids.

Steroid use by college football players affects the integrity of the game. It gives those players and their teams a competitive advantage, and it also puts pressure on other players and their teams to use steroids. This “arms war” mentality filters down to high school players thinking they have to use steroids to play at the next level.

Some football programs, while not explicitly, encourage steroid use. Some schools do testing in addition to the NCAA testing. But it is not required to report positive drug test results and penalties vary and are not nearly as stringent as those imposed by the NCAA. This leads to a patchwork of testing with some schools trying to eliminate steroid use and others just making a show of addressing its use.

I think the resolution should be that NCAA institute a much more rigorous testing regimen. That would mean more random testing, and testing for just cause (based on extraordinary weight gain and/or symptoms of steroid use).The NCAA can afford the increased costs associated with these measures. With the NCAA conducting all the testing, it will insure the testing and penalties are uniformly applied.

I saw firsthand what happened when MLB ignored warnings about prevalence of steroid use in baseball in the mid-‘90s. I hope the NCAA doesn’t repeat their mistake.