Baby Borgia

borgia1On February 3, 1925 a bizarre story broke in the local news — it was alleged that seven year old Alsa Thompson had attempted to murder a family of four with a mixture of sulphuric acid and ant paste she had added to the evening meal. The intended victims tasted the food, but it was so awful they pushed their plates away.

Could a seven year old actually conceive of such a fiendish plan? Evidently the Pratts family, with whom Alsa had been living following her parents’ separation, thought so. It was  also revealed that Alsa had taken the blade from a safety razor and slashed the wrists of the Pratts’ 5-year old  daughter, Maxine, with with whom she’d been playing.

borgia3Alsa was taken by Policewoman Elizabeth Feeley to the Receiving Hospital where she was questioned by police and surgeons about the poisoning plot. The little girl cheerfully confessed that she had indeed attempted a quadruple homicide and that she’d done it because: “…I am so mean.”

Inez Pratts told the police that Alsa had come to live with the family in their home at 1540 1/2 McCadden Place, Hollywood, only two months before the poisoning incident. Alsa’s mother, Claire, worked in a downtown department store and her father, Russell, worked in Santa Ana. Apparently neither could manage custody of Alsa at the time. Inez said that ever since Alsa had arrived family members had fallen seriously ill and were under the care of their family physician. Mr. Pratts had lost his voice and a couple of the children had suffered from mysterious pains.

Investigators spoke with anyone who had come in contact with Alsa and discovered that she was extremely gifted — she was already in the eighth grade. Her teachers described her as one of the best students they’d ever had, and added that she had never caused them any trouble in the classroom.

Alienists were baffled by Alsa, the doctors said that they had never before encountered a case of homicidal mania in a person so young, particularly when there was no apparent grudge against the victims.borgia2

Russell Thompson was vocal in defense of his daughter: “Alsa never poisoned any one.” When Russell was informed that Alsa had further confessed that as a 4 year old she had put ground glass into the food of her twin sisters and killed them, he said that the statement was absurd.

“The twins died when they were 2 years and 2 months of age. That was in Canada. We had two doctors and a nurse in constant attendance on them when they were ill, and they said death was due to intestinal troubles. Alsa couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with that.” No one could fault Russell for believing in Alsa’s innocence, but had he been deceived?

In his 1954 novel THE BAD SEED, William March tells the deeply disturbing tale of 8-year-old  Rhoda Penmark whose mother, Christine, begins to suspect her daughter is behind a series of “accidental” deaths. When Christine’s worst fears are confirmed she has to make the difficult decision–what to do about Rhoda.  If you’ve never read the book or seen the 1956 film adaptation you should. Each has a different, but shocking, ending.

Was Russell wrong? Had his beautiful daughter committed murder?

NEXT TIME: Find out if Alsa’s father was right about her, or if she was actually a high functioning sociopath capable of multiple murder, in the the conclusion of Baby Borgia.

NOTE: Many thanks to Alex Cortes. It was a conversation with him about this twisted case that lead to this post.

Film Noir Friday: Somewhere in the Night [1946]

SomewhereintheNight_WBWelcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, 1946, starring Lloyd Nolan and Richard Conte.

TCM says:

A U.S. Marine recovering from a combat injury in a Navy hospital in Hawaii suffers from undiagnosed amnesia, and while others call him George Taylor, he has no memory of that man. Upon recovery from his wounds, George is transferred to the hospital at Camp Pendleton, California, and is eventually discharged, even though he still has no memory. He returns to his old civilian address at the Martin Hotel in Los Angeles, but no one recognizes him there. At Union Station, he exchanges a bag check he found in his sea bag for a briefcase, which contains a gun and a three-year-old letter to a man named George stating that $5,000 has been deposited for him in a bank account by Larry Cravat.

Amnesia, guns, and money. Sounds interesting to me!  Enjoy the movie!


A Cell of One’s Own, Conclusion

isa_confessionThe fight between Isa Lang and Edith Eufala Norwood over an avocado sandwich ended in death. Isa had grabbed a gun from her former landlady’s closet and shot her in the back of the head. Eufala died instantly.

Isa was indicted for the slaying and ordered to stand trial on March 7, 1935 in Judge Doran’s court. She entered a a double plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity; which seemed reasonable given her stated motive for the murder.

The 46-year-old former school teacher took the stand in her defense and told the jury of nine men and three woman how “Everything went black.” after she and Eufala exchanged angry words. Isa said that the quarrel escalated quickly because: “Mrs. Norwood grabbed the sandwich out of my hands and she called me names. As she ran into the kitchen with the plate I made with my own bread I ran to a closet and got the pistol.”

Aside from the harsh words, Isa’s rage was triggered because she claimed that she had used her own bread to make lunch. She didn’t reveal the source of the avocados. Isa testified that she didn’t recall pulling the trigger, but admitted that she must have done it.

Jurors learned that the two women had been friends for the several years during which Isa had been living in Eufala’s home. But their friendship ended when Isa was told to move out.

Following their deliberations the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree and set Isa’s punishment at life in prison. The defendant addressed the jury telling them that she was “willing to accept any punishment the law requires.”isa_convicted

The verdict and sentence ended the first phase of Isa’s trial–next the jury would have to decide if she was insane when she committed the murder.

Three alienists (psychiatrists) testified that while Isa was undoubtedly eccentric whe was not legally insane when she shot Eufala. Isa’s defense team offered their own witnesses in an effort to prove that she was not mentally responsible for the shooting. It took the jury five minutes to arrive at a decision–Isa was sane–she would serve life in the State Prison for Women at Tehachapi.

There were few high profile female killers, especially during the 1930s, who weren’t interviewed by Aggie Underwood. Aggie started working as a reporter for the Evening Herald & Express in January 1935 and, as you can see from the photo she scored an interview with Isa.

Isa Lang, convicted of murder, with reporter Agness  Underwood, Los Angeles, 1935 resize

Aggie Underwood, notebook in hand, interviews Isa Lang. [Photo courtesy of USC]

There were no further newspaper of reports on Isa until November 1976 when the Los Angeles Times did a piece on her. Isa had been a prisoner longer than any other woman in California–but that wasn’t her only claim to fame.

She was paroled in 1960 at age 71, and she told the interviewer, Charles Hillinger: “The first five years of freedom I really enjoyed. I had my own little apartment and a beautiful cat named Ginger. But the last four years were sheer hell. I became sick. I had to give up my apartment and go into a nursing home. I shared a room with five other elderly women. They were all senile. They had no idea where they were or what was going on. It was terrible. I was so lonely for all my friends in prison. I wanted to get back to prison in the worst way…”

isa_home in prisonAstonishingly, Isa was able to convince the Department of Correction that by giving up her parole and returning to prison she would be treated more humanely than she had been in the nursing home on the outside. Actually, now that I think about some of the stories I’ve read about nursing homes, maybe her request wasn’t so shocking after all.

Isa spoke with some pride of her years in prison: “I have worked at every job there is for inmates here over the years. The laundry, the kitchen, as a gardener in the yard, in the sewing room making American flags that fly over state buildings. For many years i was secretary for the superintendent. She also told Hillinger: “..I did your kind of work, too. I wrote feature stories and editorials for the Clarion, our prison paper, for 6 1/2 years.”

Isa revealed that she never married during her free years: “I’m glad for it. This is a tragic place for married women. Separated from their husbands. Their children in foster homes.”

As she got older and her health began to fail she was confined to a wheelchair, but inmates brought her gifts of rosebuds from the prison gardens–and staff members brought her flowers from their home gardens as well.

Isa wouldn’t say very much about the 1935 murder. “It was something that could happen to anyone. It was terribly foolish for me to get caught up in the situation that I did. I got stirred up. It certainly wasn’t worth it. I’ve accepted the consequences. Only God and I know what truly happened…”

Isa Lang in her 80s.

Isa Lang in her 80s.

That wasn’t the end of Isa’s story. In August 1982 the Los Angeles Times covered her again. At age 93 (she was the oldest person serving time in the state’s prison system) she was likely going to be paroled–and she wasn’t happy about it. She objected to the presence of reporters at her parole hearing, saying: “I don’t want any publicity. The last time somebody put something in the Los Angeles Times about me years ago, people started picketing for my release and even the governor got into it. I want those do-gooders to mind their own business.”

It wasn’t just reporters she objected to. She became prickly when her victim was described as having been her benefactor. “That woman was not my benefactor. I merely rented a room from her. I killed her because she called me a bastard and a harlot and I want the record straight on that.”

Robert Roos, a member of the parole board, tried to sum up the conundrum: “The questions really isn’t whether Isa Lang is suitable for parole. She is by our criterion no longer a danger to society. The real question is whether parole is suitable for her. I, for one, don’t want to impose a death sentence on this lady by forcing her out of a place she clearly considers home.”

Would Isa be evicted from prison? Yes, indeed. Her attorney, James Gunn, declared himself “flabbergasted” by the parole board’s decision. Even Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Charles Havens agreed: “I’m surprised at what they did. It just doesn’t seem the compassionate thing to do.” But the board decided to follow the letter of the law and using that measure Isa was released.

Columnist Patt Morrison wrote about Isa in May 1983. At age 94, the former lifer was living comfortably with a “very compatible” elderly woman–a fellow vegetarian and Seventh-day Adventist.isa_dies2

Isa Lang passed away in 1983 at age 95.

NOTE:  Again, many thanks to my friend and fellow historian Mike Fratantoni for directing me to this deranged tale.

A Cell of One’s Own, Part 1

At about 5 p.m. on Friday, January 19, 1935, Vera Woodman was in her Boyle Heights apartment when she heard a sound. She wasn’t sure what had caused the noise, but it sounded like a gunshot and it had come from next door–226 North Bailey Street–the home of Edith Eufala Norwood, widow and treasurer of White Memorial Church.

Vera walked over to Eufala’s house and tried the door but then she hear a key turn in the lock. There was no further sound so Vera thought that perhaps her neighbor was not in the mood for company and she returned to her apartment.

eufala_picThe next day William Norwood, who worked as the registrar as the White Memorial Hospital down the street from his mother’s house, dropped by to see her. When he entered the house he noticed it was extremely quiet. He called out but there was no answer. He went into the kitchen and that where he found his mother. She was dead, but there was nothing to suggest foul play until she was examined at the morgue.

Eufala had been wearing a bulky sweater at the time of her death and it had concealed a fatal bullet wound to her brain. The police had the how, now they needed to discover who and why.

Good police work means shaking the trees until something happens. A tried and true method is to knock on doors and question friends, family, and neighbors of the deceased. In this case the neighbors had seen more than they had realized.

Dora Byler, a nurse at White Memorial Hospital, found a handbag belonging to Isa Lang, a former boarder in Eufala’s home. It was on the sidewalk about a half-block from the murder scene. Other neighbors said they had seen Isa, shortly before 5 p.m. on Friday, she was carrying a bundle and hurrying away from the Norwood home.

White Memorial Hospital

White Memorial Hospital

When detectives caught up with Isa she admitted that she had stopped by Edith’s home on Friday, but she said it wasn’t as late in the afternoon as witnesses had stated. She’d arrived at 3 p.m. and found the door open but her former landlady was not at home. Isa said that she packed the remainder of her belongings and left without ever having seen or spoken to Eufala. isa_headline

A Coroner’s inquest was held at 1:30 p.m. on January 23 and all of the neighborhood witnesses, subpoenaed by Captain B.W. Thomason, testified. The prime suspect in the slaying, former school teacher Isa Lang,  took the stand too. She emphatically denied being at Edith’s home at the time of the murder, she said she had been there at least two hours prior to when the gunshot had been heard. No one came forward to corroborate her story and Isa’s denials fell on deaf ears. The jury found that she had shot Edith with homicidal intent.

A week following the inquest Isa confessed to Deputy District Attorney Arterberry that she was guilty. She told him that after the murder she returned to her new boarding house at 120 South Boyle Avenue. The next day she went to Manhattan Beach and threw the revolver into the ocean. The gun had belonged to the dead woman and was kept in a living room closet.

isa_confessionThe confession was important, but everyone wanted an explanation. What was the motive? Evidently the two women had had several petty quarrels, and during one of them Eufala ordered Isa to leave the house permanently. Isa found a new place on South Boyle Avenue and on January 18, the day of the murder, she had returned to retrieve the rest of her personal belongings. Moving is hungry work and Isa said that by the time she got to her old digs she needed sustenance.  She pulled open the icebox door and found an delicious looking avocado sandwich. She was just about to take a bite when Eufala came in and took umbrage with Isa’s appropriation of her lunch. Eufala made a grab for the disputed treat and Isa became “insanely angry”.

Denied lunch and in a rage, Isa rushed to the closet where she knew the revolver was kept. She grabbed the weapon and when Eufala saw what was happening she turned to flee; and that’s when Isa took aim and fired. The bullet struck Eufala in the back of the head. She died instantly and collapsed on the kitchen floor

Only a madwoman would commit murder over a sandwich, at least that is what Isa’s defense contended. What would a judge and jury make of an insanity plea?

NEXT TIME: A Cell of One’s Own concludes.

Many thanks to my friend and fellow historian Mike Fratantoni. He finds the most deranged cases.


Film Noir Friday on Saturday: Dragnet [1966]

Harry-Morgan-jack-webbWelcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is DRAGNET 1966, starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.

I’ve show this feature before but I thought that since I’m attending the JACK WEBB AWARDS event tonight it would be appropriate to show it again. I’m looking forward to the evening. It will, once again, be hosted by James Ellroy.

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended to be the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967 but was not aired as originally planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969.

The Internet Movie Database says:

Sgt. Joe Friday is called back from vacation to work with his partner, Off. Bill Gannon, on a missing persons case. Two amateur female models and a young war widow have vanished, having been last seen with one J. Johnson. In the course of tracking down Johnson and the young ladies, the detectives wind up with two different descriptions of the suspect, one of which closely resembles a dead body found in a vacant lot. But the dead man, later identified as Charles LeBorg of France, proves not to be J. Johnson, when a third young model disappears.

The story is based on the Harvey Glatman case which I covered in a series of posts.

The Benetti Hit–Conclusion

The gangsters suspected in the shotgun murder of Gaetano Binetti and the serious wounding of his wife barely spent a moment in lock-up before there was a confession. No, none of the gangsters confessed–it was Gaetano’s cousin Marie Binetti.

binetti_photosMarie, a 37-year-old widow with two children, wanted a husband and she had set her sights on Gaetano’s brother, Cinette a Santa Monica farmer. Gaetano may have been a local “godfather” for a collection of families or he may have been the Benetti family patriarch, but either way Marie needed his permission to pursue her heart’s desire. She asked Gaetano’s permission but he denied her. She brooded for a while before deciding to exact revenge. She had taken Gaetano’s shotgun, then she went into the bedroom where he and his wife were sleeping and fired. She hadn’t intended to harm Gaetano’s wife, Conchetta. She thought she could blame the murder on Gaetano’s rivals and tried to buttress her story by spending the night at a neighbor’s house telling the police that she feared that an attempt would be made on her life.benetti_2

The afternoon following the slaying Detective Lieutenants Hickey and Corsini drove out to New Depot Street to bring Marie in for questioning. She excused herself and went into the bathroom. When she didn’t return within a few minutes the detectives became alarmed. They went to look for her and found her sprawled out on the bathroom floor–she had slashed her throat with a straight razor. There was a lot of blood and Marie’s condition was critical. An ambulance was called and took her to the Pasadena Avenue Receiving Hospital. As soon as she arrived she gasped out her confession to Detective Corsini.

While Marie was rushed to the hospital, police scientists compared her fingerprints to those found on the stock of the murder weapon and they were a match.benetti_5

Deputy District Attorneys Thomas and Menzies, accompanied by a stenographer, went to the hospital to record Marie’s death bed confession but was unable to speak. An inquest was held and the jury formally accused Marie of the crime. Immediately after the inquest District Attorney Burton Keyes filed on Marie for murder.

On August 12, 1928, Marie Binetti succumbed to her wounds.

Film Noir Friday: Nancy Drew–Reporter [1939]


Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature, NANCY DREW–REPORTER, may not be film noir, but I’ve got female reporters on the brain today. I was interviewed this afternoon by KCRW (89.9 FM) in Los Angeles about the photo exhibit I’m curating at Central Library. The exhibit: THE FIRST WITH THE LATEST!: AGGIE UNDERWOOD, THE HERALD, AND THE SORDID CRIMES OF A CITY runs until January 10, 2016.

Here is a LINK to the radio interview.

TCM says this about NANCY DREW:

When the newspaper runs a promotional contest awarding fifty dollars for the best story written by a high school journalist, Bostwick, the city editor, decides to wash his hands of the kids by assigning them to cover trivial topics. Undaunted, student reporter Nancy Drew, the daughter of District Attorney Carson Drew, overhears the staff discussing the Lambert murder hearing and decides to cover the trial herself. At the courthouse, Nancy sits next to a man with a cauliflower ear and listens intently as Eula Denning, the murder victim’s ward, is accused of poisoning Kate Lambert for the inheritance money.

Enjoy the movie and the radio interview!

The Binetti Hit

binetti_headline Bootlegging was a bloody business. Hijacking a competitor’s shipment of booze or encroaching on his territory were considered acts of war. During the 1920s, police became accustomed to finding the bodies of dead gangsters–victims of rough justice. According to LAPD Detective Lieutenant Aldo Corsini by mid-August 1928: “One thing was certain. Either some of the gang killings had to be solved, or somebody was going to get transferred to the sticks. People on the streets were beginning to talk.”

At five past midnight on August 7, the homicide detail in Central Station received a phone call. There had been a shooting at 767 New Depot Street and it looked like another gang job. Detectives Corsini and Frank Condaffer jumped into a call car and drove out to the scene. When they pulled up to the house Detective Corsini recognized it as the home of Gaetano Binetti. Binetti was a known racketeer. If he’d been snuffed out it was likely the result of an underworld disagreement.corsini

The detectives entered the house and found Binetti dead. He’d taken two shotgun blasts to his chest. Next to him his wife, Concetta, lay moaning in agony. Some of the buckshot had entered the back of her head. Gaetano was obviously the target, his wife was collateral damage.

The murder weapon, a shotgun belonging to the dead man, lay on the floor next to the bed. That was odd for a professional hit, but not unprecedented. Concetta was rushed to the Pasadena Avenue Emergency Hospital and her husband’s body was removed to the morgue. Two children, belonging to Gaetano’s cousin Maria, were taken from the home by relatives.

Maria and her two kids lived with Gaetano so police questioned her first. She said that four men had forced their way into the house by breaking in the back screen door. The noise had awakened her and the next thing she knew she was being held at gunpoint by a man wielding a large blue steel revolver. The other three intruders made their way back to Gaetano’s bedroom. Moments later Maria heard gunshots.

The men escaped through a window in the living room. Strange that they didn’t just run out through one of the doors to the home. Maria told the cops that she thought she recognized the assailants, or at least could offer an informed guess as to their identities.

Three months before the hit, Gaetano had been “taken for a ride” by four men who had accused him of hijacking a truck load of illegal hootch from a small farm near Sawtelle where a huge still was located. It may have been one of the few times in his life when Gaetano had been accused of something he hadn’t done. He was able to convince his kidnappers that he hadn’t taken their liquor, and didn’t know who had. Remarkably they believed him and he was released.

williamsThe incident had sparked a gang war and Gaetano was the leader of one of the warring factions. Maria was convinced that the same four men who had taken Gaetano for a late night drive had been the ones to kill him. She gave Detectives Corsini and Condaffer the names of the men. Louis B. Williams, 30 years of age and Gentry F. Watkins, 27, were former police officers who had turned to bootlegging. The other two were Japanese gardeners, George Kunisawa and Henry S. Okamoto, both of them 24.

The police rounded up the quartet and took them to Central Station for questioning. None of the men hesitated to admit to the “ride” on which they’d taken Gaetano; but there was no way they were going to cop to a murder of which they insisted they were innocent. Even so, they were coy to the point of refusal when asked where they’d been at the time of the slaying.watkins

Concetta had been critically wounded in the attack that killed her husband. If she lived she faced the possibility of total blindness. The detectives were hopeful that if she regained consciousness she could reveal the identity of the shooter. When Detective Corsini was finally allowed to get a few words with her she had nothing to offer. She had been sound asleep when the killer entered the dark bedroom. She knew that her husband had enemies but whether or not they had been the ones to murder him, she couldn’t say.

okamotoThe detectives turned their attention back to the men they had in custody. Williams had joined the LAPD on July 23, 1923 and resigned “under pressure” on May 12, 1925. Watkins became a cop on June 22, 1925 and was discharged on January 4, 1928 because of suspicions that he was hijacking bootleggers.The disgraced officers owned a barbecue stand at 12000 Pico Boulevard where it was believed they sold more than sandwiches. The gardeners, Kunisawa and Okamoto, rented the former officers a barn on their Sawtelle ranch. They knew it housed a still and were well paid to keep quiet.kunisawa

The only one talking was the eye-witness, Maria. She said that as she was being held at gunpoint, she heard one of the men shout: “You stole the liquor!” followed by the fatal gunshots.

Unless they got a break Gaetano’s murder might be added to the growing list of unsolved gang hits; but then someone confessed.

NEXT TIME:  A surprising confession and case wrap-up.

Caged Spirits — An Interview with John Joseph Stanley

caged spirits cover

John Joseph Stanley has worked in law enforcement and corrections as a peace officer for over thirty years.  He he is the author of over sixty articles on law enforcement history and tactics and has won awards for his fiction and historical nonfiction. 

In addition to continuing to write fiction, John currently writes a column for the website, contributes to the website and writes a tactical history column for the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO) quarterly publication CATO News.   He is also the principle contributor to multiple law enforcement related Facebook pages including:  The Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Museum, The Los Angeles County Peace Officers’ Memorial, and Tactical Science.

The depth and breadth of his accomplishments continue to astound me–in particular his fascinating novel CAGED SPIRITS. It seems like it was ages ago that he revealed that he to me that he was working on a novel. When I asked him what it was about he offered me only a few tantalizing bits  to ponder: Nazis, the supernatural, and law enforcement. As I discovered after reading it, It is also about love, loss, and redemption.

Recently, John was gracious enough to grant me an interview.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Joan Renner: John, I want to congratulate you on your first novel, CAGED SPIRITS! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a unique book which defies categorization. It combines the best elements of mystery, thriller, and horror fiction. What inspired you to write the book?

John Joseph Stanley: Thank you, Joan. First, I want to thank you for interviewing me and sharing my book with your followers. Caged Spirits reflects my interests and professional experience. As a reader, I’m a big fan of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, among others. But I also love the works of Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. Also, for the better part of thirty years I’ve worked in law enforcement. A lot those years were spent either working in jails or teaching those who worked in jails. Caged Spirits is the outflow of all those tributaries merging into a larger river flowing downstream from my Christian world view.

JR: Although set in the present day, the narrative of CAGED SPIRITS is driven by events from the past, in particular WWII. Is the book historically accurate?

JJS: Yes, I have a Master’s Degree in American legal history and have published articles in many articles historical books and journals. One of the lesser known parts of the Lend Lease agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain in 1941 called for the U.S. to train RAF pilots. Lone Eagle field is the doppelgänger for the very real Polaris Flight Academy at War Eagle field located in Lancaster, California. There were also prisoner of war camps for Axis soldiers all over the U.S. and Canada. Many were attached to existing military bases and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s aero squadron before the war did consist mostly of former military pilots.

JR: I read a lot of crime fiction and I know that most authors have to consult experts when it comes to the finer points of handling lethal and non-lethal weapons. How were you able to bring such remarkable authenticity to the scenes in which weapons were used?

JJS: In my case, I was my own expert. I’m currently a lieutenant on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and command a platoon for one of our four Department riot control teams. I’ve taught less lethal weapons and jail riot and disturbance tactics for almost twenty years. I was also briefly a Senior Master Instructor for TASER International. So I know how all of TASER’s electronic control devices (ECDs) function. Having taken multiple Taser hits over the years, I also know well how the effects of a Taser feel.

john stanley taser

John’s knowledge of lethal and non-lethal weapons comes from his real life experiences. Here he is taking a Taser hit!

JR: Were the tactics employed to contain violent situations in the jail accurate? I found those scenes heart-stopping!

JJS: Yes. I’m very familiar with responding to all types of jail disturbances. In addition to my current collateral duties as a platoon commander for our riot control team, I spent almost ten years of my career teaching the LASD’s Custody Incident Command School. This week long class was designed to teach newly promoted sergeants and lieutenants how to command tactical units in any type of jail disturbance. We even did a shorter version of the class for command officers. I’ve also written a column on jail tactics for several years for the website and recently I started writing a quarterly tactical history column for the CATO News, the magazine of the California Association of Tactical Officers of which I’m a member.

JR: Your protagonist, Gary Conner, personifies the traits associated with the term “compassionate warrior”. Would you mind explaining to readers what that term means?
JJS: It is the job of law enforcement personnel to be firm but fair. This is especially true when working in a correctional setting. It is not our job to punish. Being incarcerated is punishment enough. Still, inmates expect us to maintain control. Most prefer this. Gary Conner reflects this view. Unfortunately, he finds himself in the middle of extraordinary circumstances when he arrives at Lomax. So his compassion is tempered with his need for decisive forceful action.

JR: Is there anything that you would like to share with readers about the story or its setting.

JJS: At its heart, Caged Spirits is a story about redemption and forgiveness. I set it in a part of the country that is equal parts enchantment and isolation. Those elements are in the story as well. I challenged myself to write a novel that I could throw down with satisfaction next to books of some of the authors I read. I’m very pleased with how Caged Spirits turned out.

JR: Are you planning to write another novel?

JJS: Actually, my next novel is already written. It’s titled Racing Apollo. I’m in the process of rewriting it now. My main character is another Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy, but this one experienced a significant episode in his youth that turned his adult life into a mess. In the story, he is given a very unique opportunity to correct this. Like Caged Spirits, Racing Apollo also involves malevolent dark forces at work to tear down my protagonist, but his biggest enemy is the one looking back at him in the mirror. This was a very fun novel to write. It is a road novel that involves time travel. It is actually two parallel stories that intersect over forty-five years apart. In one story my protagonist, at age ten, is reluctantly moving with his family from Buffalo, New York to Anaheim, California. In the other, his adult self is retracing the journey his family took across the country decades before. The original trip took place in July 1969. Specifically, between the 16th and 20th of July. The novel derives its title because my main character’s father tries to make a game of their move by saying they are racing Apollo 11 as it journeys toward the moon while they head west for California. Like most road novels, this one takes a while to tell and is quite a bit longer than Caged Spirits.


Many thanks to John for the interview, and I’m already looking forward to his next novel.

CAGED SPIRITS is available Amazon (see right sidebar) and also through Barnes and Noble.

Film Noir Friday: The Killer is Loose [1956]

killer is loose

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is,  THE KILLER IS LOOSE, starring Joseph Cotten, Rhonda Fleming, and Alan Hale. Bonus — great shots of L.A.

Enjoy the movie!

 TCM says:

Upon encountering Leon Poole in his current position as bank loan manager, Otto Flanders recognizes him as the corporal from his war unit whom he used to call “Foggy” because of Poole’s bumbling mannerisms. Poole, who is not pleased to see his old sergeant, is distracted by a robbery taking place at the back of the bank. When the thief pulls a gun and runs out the front door, Poole tries to stop him and is knocked out. While Flanders is questioned by detective Sam Wagner and his partner, Chris Gillespie at the police station, he now praises Poole’s courage. Later, Sam, Chris and Sgt. “Denny” Denning monitor a wiretap, on which they hear the robber calling his accomplice. They trace the call to Poole’s apartment and attempt to enter. Poole has barricaded the door, however, and shoots at them, prompting Sam to break down the door and enter shooting. When Mrs. Poole steps out, Sam, and who had been told she was not in the apartment, accidentally kills her, and Poole cradles his beloved wife in his arms.

Things go psycho from there as Poole, aka Froggy, plots his revenge.