Every time you read a book you kill a video game! 


Story Time (previous tales)


Working the Murders:

So far, I've collected just over 3,000 newspaper articles on murders up through 1956 in Lorain County, Ohio. Working steadily has, so far, brought me to rough-rough draft write-ups on the crimes up through 1923. It's been a long haul. I've found triple the murders here in Ohio than across the way in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.

Why so many more murders?

Because of the lack of court records I was always certain my Pennsylvania list was incomplete. The criminal dockets here are readily available on microfilm. That makes it much easier to find the court cases. In PA, I had to start with the results of the Coroner's Jury in the incomplete set of civil dockets and work my way backwards from there. Here, I go right to the primary source material.

For Crawford County, only the Titusville Herald is online. It's a fine newspaper, but began publication decades after the county was founded. The major newspapers in Meadville, the county seat, have to be searched by hand. Here, in Lorain County, I can type "murder" into a web search engine and instantly pull up all related articles in a number of county papers. Makes it easier to find the crimes.

There are more and more different kinds of people in Lorain County. It's true they started with the typical mix of Germanic-Anglo-Saxon farmers, but the heavy industry of the county's northern cities and ports brought a wild combination of ethnicity and race. This results in increased tensions between different groups and a tendency for insular populations to settle thing like they did "back in the old country." Plus, since 1910, there have been far more people here than in Crawford. More people equals more murders.

Don't I get tired of murders?

I get discouraged seeing the same type of killings over and over. A husband beats his wife. Wife files for divorce. Husband kills his wife. I see this escalation of violence from abuse to murder with enough depressing frequency to know that a man who can hit a woman is a man who can kill a woman.

Any murder of a child is hard to take. From little ones killed through neglect and abuse to tiny bodies found in fields, along railroads, and in rivers and streams. The saddest thing, perhaps, is that most such victims go unnamed and their cases go unsolved.

The senseless killings get to me. Where a person is murdered over who won a dime in a poker game. Really? You shot the guy for a dime? Or because his horse chewed your fence? Or because he looked at you the wrong way?

The prevalence of handguns. I see case after case where a person walks into a store and buys a revolver a few minutes or couple hours before using it to kill. In all of the murders I've researched in Crawford and Lorain Counties (and that's more than 500, total) not once did an "armed citizen" discourage or prevent a crime. And in a fair number of the killings, the victim was also armed. Do those in the U.S. have a right to carry weapons? Yes. Does carrying weapons do any good for the community? I remain unconvinced.

And let's not forget booze. The single thing that ties many of these crimes together is alcohol. Drunken men are dangerous animals. Let me say that again: Drunken men are dangerous animals.

Why do I continue?

To give voice to the victims. Persistent court records typically only mention the name of the accused. The press usually "names" the case after the killer. The person killed nearly vanishes. We all know who Jeffrey Dahmer was. Can you tell me the name of any of the fifteen people he was convicted of killing? Researching and writing these books brings the victim to light and that's important.

To understand how the press reports crime. Some murders are front page news from the time they're committed to beyond the end of trial. Others get a single, short, paragraph that's buried on page eight. Why that is, how it's controlled, and the effect it has fascinates me.

To see how punishment is meted out to different kinds of people. For instance, a prosperous, married man and a poor, widowed woman are equally involved in the killing of their illegitimate child. The two are tried separately. What are the outcomes? Careful. It's probably not what you think. Add race and ethnicity and things grow very unpredictable.

To know how we got to where we are. I read about more than murders in those old newspapers. To see how things were years ago helps me to figure out why we have labor unions and the EPA. Why Miranda Rights are a good thing. Why Stand Your Ground Laws are based in questionable wisdom. Why making people sit in the back of the bus is a bad idea. Why tolerance is important. Why, sometimes, you need to put up your dukes and fight.

To understand that the world's not going to hell in a hand basket. People talk all the time about how everything's falling apart. Spending hours reading old newspapers is reassuring in that it proves that things really haven't changed all that much in the last couple hundred years.

That's reassuring, and a disappointment.

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Can we buy real poo next time?

 

So... This morning I get into the shower.

 

I’m carrying a brand-new bottle of shampoo. My favorite brand. I use it all the time. Really. It enables what little hair I have to be soft and glowing. Sure does. Yep. I saw it in a commercial. So it must be true.

 

I’m in the shower. I’m soaking wet (no surprise there). I snap open the lid of the shampoo bottle and hold it over my upturned hand... Nothing comes out. I squeeze the bottle. Nope. Nothing. At all. I unscrew the cap. Beneath, I find a plastic seal.

 

What the heck? On my shampoo? A plastic seal? Against what? Shampoo thieves? Shampoo diluters? Shampoo adulteraters?  Shampoo switchers with hair removalers?

 

What's this world coming to? I bought the same brand and size bottle a couple of months ago. There was no plastic seal. Probably some Homeland Security rule or something. The Shampoo Czar declared an orange state of emergency for all bottles. I shouldn't joke, I know, I'll end up on the watch list - if I’m not there already.

 

I try to remove the plastic seal. Should be easy, there's a little tab to pull. I pull on the tab. The tab pulls off. The seal stays on. I curse (out loud) at the wonderful engineering behind such a design. Now what? I’m nekked. Soaking wet. In the shower. What might I have that has a chance of piercing a plastic seal? My teeth? For a shampoo bottle? Even *I’m* not that dim.

 

I have a valve at the shower head that lets me turn off *most* of the flow, to save water while I'm soaping up. I don't use it, of course, being a Wasteful American, but it's there nonetheless. I manage to rip open the shampoo bottle's plastic seal using the edge of that shower head valve-handle. A couple pieces of plastic manage to escape. They hurry down the floor drain. To wait several months before causing a clog. At the worst possible time. Plastic's bad that way. Ornery plastic. Mind of its own, plastic has.

 

I screw the cap back on, trying not to get any water into the shampoo. That'll change the composition of the shampoo. And, somewhere, give a shampoo chemist bad dreams. I hold the shampoo bottle up and, with vim and vigor, snap open the top.

 

Hold on... What's that coming towards me? It's a big blob of un-watered-down shampoo. Heading straight for my right eye.

 

!! BLINK, FOOL !! My brain screams.

 

"Who, me?" Asks my eye. My eyes are sort of slow, sometimes. They've been headed downhill ever since I started wearing bifocals.

 

Blam! The shampoo lands right on the lashes of my right eye.

 

!! DON'T BLINK !! My brain screams.

 

"Who, me?" Asks my eye. And it blinks. I told you they were sort of slow, didn't I? My right eye is now filled with searing shampoo-lava. It burns. With a big B. And a big URNS, too. I hear a shampoo chemist giggling, somewhere (later, when I’m thinking more clearly, I'll put some water into the bottle to get even). I stick my face into the shower stream to flush the chemicals from my eye.

 

Now...

 

I don't know what mornings are like at your house. But here, it's a whole lot of people vying for limited resources. That's why I’ve always crawled outta bed first. No matter where I’ve live or whom I’ve lived with. I want to be at the top of the schedule. The first in line. I always want to kick off the schedule. It comes from being a second child. Really - ask any second child you know. If they say it isn't true, they're fibbing like a sack of (sham)poo.

 

Top of the schedule I am. Still, during mornings, everything has to run like clock-work. Everything. It's like the tides at Normandy on D-Day. The orbits of the planets on a moon launch. Everything has to be lined up just so. Bing. Bang. Boom. Including the amount of time *I* spend in the shower.

 

It's not that somebody's waiting to use the shower. Nope. But. There are only so many butts and only so many commodes, y'know? And, in a house this old, butts, commodes, showers, and faces are all connected by pipes. All in one nice, neat, sweet, perfectly connected string of events. Like the co-incidences that brought you to this point in time.

 

I'm running behind my regular schedule because of the sealed shampoo. And my face is in the shower because I’m rinsing shampoo-magma outta my eye. My right eye. My left eye wonders what's going on.

 

Somebody else, somewhere else in the house. Lifts their butt from a commode. Relieved at finishing one of their first tasks of the day, they push the flush handle... I feel a drop in the water pressure - the cold water pressure.

 

!! FACE...BACK !! My brain screams.

 

My face (which isn't nearly as slow as my eyes) pulls back from the soon-to-arrive flash of heat. I even manage a step back and away. Some reflexes, huh? Of course, it takes an instant before the water rises to scalding temperatures and another instant before I realizes that the course of the shower spray is now aimed directly at what some would politely term my “naughty bits.”

 

My brain screamed something at that point. I don't recall what it was. Except it started with bad words and went on with bad words and ended with bad words. I think I used every bad word I know. That's a LOT of bad words. Trust me. Lots. Luckily I was ‘way too busy dancing around the too-hot water to listen very much to what it was I was saying.

 

I was kind of tender toweling off. My shampooed right eye looked as if I smoked a bale of weed (perhaps I should say what I have read a bale of weed eye would look like. Homeland Security and all that). My left eye looked more angry than anything else. And slow.

 

Stupid shampoo.