Monday, October 31, 2005

Babes in Toyland

Gotta hand it to the folks at Planet Toys. They smelt blood and went for it. How best to cash in on television's forensic frenzy?

Introducing the HOTTEST toys inspired by the smash-hit CSI! Junior's a loser if he doesn't get one of these under the tree this December:

First up, the CSI: Crime Scene Forensic Lab:

This baby comes complete with " sterilized hair samples, synthetic blood samples and a blood-analysis tray". Hey, kids! Do your own analysis and see if you were adopted!

Says one Amazon kid reviewer, "I love this toy it is the bomb. I want to be a CSI agent when I grow up this will help me be like katherin Willows CSI agent" 

CSI Special Agent Katherine Willows

Next we have the deluxe DNA Laboratory:

Complete with a working centrifuge, an electrophoresis chamber, and a three-speed motorized lab unit... hell you could whip up your own batch of Anthrax!

Finally there's my personal favorite, the Forensic Facial Reconstruction Kit: 

This facial reconstruction kit comes with a featureless plastic skull totally stripped of identity, and there are predetermined holes already drilled in to the head for easy peg placement.


But one reviewer appears to be a bit of a party-pooper:

"Why do we reconstruct faces? because a person was usually killed. be realistic. that is why. if this age appropriate level is correct.... EIGHT YEARS old... why would a parent buy such a toy for their child. and the average eight year old is thinking man, i want to be a coroner. A child who is thinking he/she wants to deal with deceased bodies usually has issues. I wouldn't recommend this toy for any child under the age of fourteen, period and I'm appalled that it was put out on the market"

Take it easy, grandma... it's science man! Think of the lives saved if Dahmer had these babies to experiment on!

Coming soon, The Body Farm - Home Edition. Everything you need to transform your backyard into an anthropological dumping ground.


Having lived as a struggling actor for five years in Los Angeles, this one belongs in the But for the Grace of God file

(Who knew the WSJ had such a funnybone):

Hollywood Boulevard
Just Isn't Big EnoughFor Elmo and Friends

Interlopers Don Costumes For Tips, Tussle With Law;Batman, Kato Duke It Out

October 24, 2005; Page A1

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Last Wednesday, the furry red Muppet named Elmo learned that Hollywood Boulevard is a long, long way from Sesame Street.

In plain sight of children and tourists, Elmo -- or at least, a man named Don Harper in a knockoff Elmo costume -- was arrested here by the Los Angeles Police Department. Elmo was taken down by a special task force created to combat a growing nuisance in the Hollywood tourist district: famous costumed characters who try to be photographed with tourists and sometimes badger them relentlessly for tips.

LAPD officers, posing as clueless foreign tourists in front of Mann's Chinese Theater, also busted Mr. Incredible, the superhero from the animated hit "The Incredibles," as well as a man dressed as the villain from the "Scream" movie franchise. All three icons were arrested and could face charges ranging from illegal vending to aggressive begging.

"The Characters," as they're known in the neighborhood, are getting out of hand these days. This famous Los Angeles tourist destination has long been a place where a few out-of-work actors, dressed up as Elvis or Michael Jackson, posed for pictures in hopes of being tipped. They are all free-lancers, unaffiliated with the companies that own or created the characters.
Don Harper (right) was arrested last Wednesday in front of Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

But today, police estimate anywhere from 70 to 80 characters work the one-block stretch that includes not only the Chinese Theater, but also the Kodak Theater (home of the Academy Awards) and a new retail and entertainment center called Hollywood & Highland.

"When I first started here 13 years ago, you had Charlie Chaplin hanging around [the] Chinese Theater, and that was it," says Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "Now, they're multiplying like rabbits."

The characters -- whose roster now includes everyone from Catwoman to Shrek's Princess Fiona and the murderous doll Chuckie -- have gotten more aggressive both with tourists and each other. Fights erupt over precious sidewalk space, especially when two of the same characters show up. Characters grab tourists as they walk down the street. Some of the scarier costumed entertainers jump out at the crowd and frighten children. Perhaps most worrisome is the practice of demanding tips from foreign tourists who don't know the custom, language or currency.

Tourists notice the hubbub, though they aren't always alarmed at being pestered by Shrek. "It's not that different than walking down the main street in Cancún, where people are handing out fliers and trying to take your picture," said Tom Hungerford of Denver, observing the scene on Thursday. His wife Linda nodded and said: "Everybody's got to do their job."

LAPD Officer Michael Shea has spent nearly 25 years patrolling Hollywood and he says this is the craziest collection of characters he's ever seen. Responding to complaints from tourists, business owners and civic leaders, Mr. Shea about a month ago gathered 68 of the characters in a room (many in costume) and candidly informed the Supermen, Batmen and Darth Vaders about the laws that apply to them, which the LAPD vowed to enforce.

For the city, it's a tricky issue: The sidewalk is a public thoroughfare and there are civil rights to be considered. The city only got involved when "tourists were not experiencing a voluntary contribution or donation, but rather much more of a shakedown and some reports of a few characters just taking money out of people's hands," says Bill Kysella, deputy city attorney in Hollywood.

Though many characters left the meeting excited about their roles as responsible "Hollywood Ambassadors," the aggressive solicitation did not abate. So last week, an undercover operation was launched.

Mr. Harper, the 40-year-old Elmo, says he was set up by the cops. But upon returning to his spot a day after his arrest, he conceded that things are tense these days among the characters, who form cliques and alliances to defend their turf and make money. Mr. Harper, for example, says his Elmo is a foe of Batman and Superman, but in cahoots with Mr. Incredible, SpongeBob SquarePants and at least one of the half-dozen Spider-Men who prowl the street.

Members of Elmo's clique often pose in pictures together and split tips when the dollars are flowing. Because many of the costumes have no pockets, wads of cash are often visibly clenched in characters' hands. But as a Saturday stroll down the boulevard showed, other characters are alone and adrift, often wearing ragged costumes and seeming to horn in on others' turf. One Spider-Man and a Puss 'N Boots character, for example, jumped into other characters' pictures at the last minute, then tried to wrangle some of the tip. Both declined to be interviewed.

The hotly competitive environment underscores basic divisions among the characters. Some are weekend hobbyists who take their performance seriously and aren't so concerned about getting paid; others see the gig as a full-time job in which they must scramble for every dollar.

In the former camp are two very passable Johnny Depp impersonators -- Jim Calibur, who portrays Captain Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean" and Brandon Hillock, who plays Willy Wonka from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" -- who work together. They pool their resources and give tourists a double dose of Mr. Depp. Both men have spent more than $1,000 on their costumes.

"We want it to look like Johnny Depp's character has literally stepped off the movie screen and onto the street," says the 36-year-old Mr. Calibur, who thinks there should be official standards regarding costumes and even background checks for characters who work on the street. They never mention tips -- either before or after tourists snap their pictures -- and blame the full-time characters for poisoning an atmosphere that is supposed to be fun.

But those who are trying to make a living at it can grow frustrated when the public doesn't understand the tipping ritual. Tobias Santigo's Charlie Chaplin has worked in front of the Chinese Theater for the past five years. While he also hires himself out to parties and events, his living depends on the tourists who smile under his miniature parasol. "People treat me like a rag doll and think they can do whatever they want," he says. "But if we react to it, then we're the ones in trouble and that seems unfair."

Maxwell Allen earns about $100 a day as one of the top Batmans on the boulevard, thanks to a work ethic that keeps him in tights and a cape 12 hours a day, seven days a week. But he has sometimes clashed with both fellow characters and tourists. A few years ago, Mr. Allen duked it out with Kato -- a character from the Green Hornet comic book -- who he and other characters thought had gotten too arrogant. "I guess I was the better martial artist," he brags, though he claims that he and Kato today are friendly.

But Mr. Allen -- who only refers to his Batman character in the third person -- admits his temper has flared at tourists, as well. The LAPD's crackdown "has taught me to have more patience with the tourists, and I'm getting better."

Write to Peter Sanders at



Absent Friends

A friend of Stephanie Bennett has started a blog in her memory. Check it out at Anger Management (nice title).



"Hey Pa, thats ma' almi-mater"

"With so much national attention that this game received, such a childish stunt merely confirmed to the outside world that N.C. State is a redneck school."

Production Company Apologizes To NCSU Over Jumbotron Image

POSTED: 8:18 am EDT October 20, 2005
UPDATED: 8:18 am EDT October 20, 2005

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The company that produces images and content for North Carolina State home games has apologized to the university for an offensive image that appeared on the Jumbotron during last week's game against Clemson.

CanesVision, which is owned by the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes and also produces content for the hockey team, has reprimanded employees involved in the incident, a team official said Wednesday through spokesman Kyle Hanlin. It was unclear how many employees were reprimanded, though none was fired.
The incident occurred during the Wolfpack's 31-10 loss to Clemson last Thursday. After several fans were featured on the video screen with titles such as "Kissing Cam" and "Fan Cam," an image appeared with the title "Mexi-Cam," according to an editorial Monday in N.C. State's student newspaper, The Technician.

The person featured on the video screen was a CanesVision employee, and company director Pete Soto has sent a letter of apology to the university, Hanlin said.

"Obviously this was an unfortunate mistake that was in extremely poor taste," Matt West, vice president of business operations for the Hurricanes, said through Hanlin. "It is in no way representative of CanesVision's work."

Annabelle Vaughan, a spokeswoman for N.C. State, referred questions about the incident to athletics director Lee Fowler. Fowler did not return a call for comment Wednesday evening.

CanesVision operates in the RBC Center, home to the Hurricanes and N.C. State's men's basketball team. The company _ which also produces commercials and other sports-related content _ works with the university to produce images and video for the large scoreboard at one end of Carter-Finley Stadium, located across the street from the RBC Center.

The incident comes during a frustrating season for the Wolfpack (2-3), which has lost six straight Atlantic Coast Conference home games under sixth-year coach Chuck Amato. With fans growing increasingly impatient with the program's inconsistency of the past two seasons, Fowler recently posted an open letter asking for fan support after they booed an image of Amato on the Jumbotron that night.

The Technician, in its editorial, said the program had already embarrassed itself on the field by not living up to its goals before the incident.

"In addition to the embarrassment, someone had the audacity, prejudice and disgrace to think the 'Mexi-Cam' might bring a bit of humor to the otherwise dismal game," the editorial read.

"With so much national attention that this game received, such a childish stunt merely confirmed to the outside world that N.C. State is a redneck school."


This is a day of many gifts

Police make arrest in Ardeth Wood murder News Staff
Ottawa Police announced Thursday that charges have been laid in the Ardeth Wood murder investigation.

The 27-year-old Ottawa woman disappeared on August 6, 2003, while riding her bike near the Aviation Parkway.

Her naked body was discovered five days later near Green's Creek in the city's east end.
"The major crime investigators have charged Chris Myers, 25 years of age from Ottawa," said Ottawa police chief Vince Bevan at a press conference.

"He is charged with the murder of Ardeth Wood and four other counts of sexual assaults, which occurred between July 2003 and December 2004."

Bevan added that Myers has been in custody in North Bay since May 14th, 2005 on a charge of sexual assault.

"He arose as a person of interest early in the investigation, along with hundreds of others. And as we worked and progressed through all the persons of interest, he maintained that status. We never cleared him or put him aside," Bevan said.

"By May of this year, he rose to the top of our interest list because of the information that we were gathering at the time.

"Having all that information to work with and looking back on what we had so far, we were able to develop those charges that he's now facing, the sexual assault charges," he said.

Wood, a University of Waterloo doctoral student, was visiting her family in Ottawa at the time of her disappearance.

The search for a suspect has been one of the most intensive ever carried out by Ottawa police. About a dozen full-time investigators have remained on the case, which has cost upwards of $750,000.

Police have also received several thousand tips over the past two years.

"It is hoped that the hard work of all those involved in finding Ardeth's body and investigating her body will reduce the chances of another similar death taking place," Ardeth's father Brenden Wood said at the news conference.

"It is good to know that though the wheels of justice grind slowly, they do in fact grind."
Myers is expected to appear in court Friday.

As Myers was in custody since May, he has been ruled out as a suspect in the death of Ottawa teen Jennifer Teague, whose body was found late September. Teague's killer has not been found.


Absolutely Extraordinary

The best piece of news I've heard in a long time:

Bennett case cracked
Police say arrest of Raleigh man solves killing.

Planten was arrested in connection with the 2002 murder of Stephanie Bennett.

Staff Writers

RALEIGH -- A three-year hunt for the intruder who bound, raped and strangled 23-year-old Stephanie Bennett in her North Raleigh apartment has culminated in the arrest of a Raleigh man.

Drew Edward Planten, 35, was charged with murder Wednesday and placed in the Wake County jail, according to a news release from the Raleigh Police Department. He was taken into custody in the 4000 block of Reedy Creek Road at 4:38 p.m., police said.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture's Food & Drug Protection Division is at 4000 Reedy Creek Road. The department's Web site describes Planten as a chemistry technician in a fertilizer laboratory.

Raleigh police would not describe how they cracked the case, other than a statement from Chief Jane Perlov crediting "old-fashioned police work coupled with modern science."
Bennett's father, Carmon Bennett of Rocky Mount, Va., said he first heard Planten's name when police called him about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.

"I'm happy that he's off the street," Bennett said. "We appreciate the Raleigh Police Department and the community of Raleigh. We had a lot of cooperation down there."

Police found Stephanie Bennett's body the afternoon of May 21, 2002, at Bridgeport Apartments near Lake Lynn.

Bennett had celebrated her 23rd birthday three weeks before she was killed. An employee of a contractor for IBM, she was planning to move to Greenville, S.C., where her fiance lived.
Police think a man entered Bennett's apartment by removing a screen and climbing through a window as she slept. Once inside, he bound Bennett's wrists and ankles and gagged her. The man later wrapped a wire or rope around her throat and twisted it from behind until she strangled.

Along with a shelf stereo, the killer took $8 from her wallet.

Investigators said the orderly state of the murder scene indicated an organized and systematic perpetrator.

A few weeks before Bennett was killed, a neighbor reported seeing a man crouching behind some bushes and peering through Bennett's window. A composite sketch of the peeper generated calls but no arrests.

Investigators and the department's psychologist read books, talked to experts and even tied up a police department secretary to simulate the crime. The suspect may have had a rape fantasy involving sexual bondage, which he acted out with a consensual partner before killing Bennett, police said in 2002.

In July 2003, police tipped their hand about what evidence the killer had left behind. A speck of DNA found at the crime scene indicated the killer was white, with 92 percent Indo-European heritage and 8 percent Native American.

Bennett's father offered a $100,000 reward. In May 2004, police released a videotape of the crime scene. In May 2005, police set up a hot line for telephone tips and re-issued a description of a person of interest: a thin build with light brown or blond hair. He walked a large dog and was often seen wearing a dark, hooded sweat shirt.

Five months passed before the police, for the first time, could give their suspect a name.
Bennett said he knew Planten was a chemist but said he had few details about how police focused on Planten. "I think, though, with leads and conversations with a peeping Tom."
A co-worker of Planten's, C. Paul Chitnis, said described Planten as a "simple man" who was quiet and got his work done.

Court records indicate that as recently as June, Planten lived at Snipe Creek Lane, less than a mile from Bennett's home.

Planten has no criminal record in North Carolina other than traffic citations, court records show.
At Raleigh Police Headquarters Wednesday, an elevator opened about 10:35 p.m. and Planten shuffled out.

Detectives escorted the handcuffed man, who kept his gaze on the ground. His long, stringy, brown hair shielded his face, and his thin frame was bent over as he was slowly led to a Raleigh patrol car waiting to take him two blocks to the Wake County jail.



Tired, confused, changing.

I'll get back to you when I have something to say.



October 12, 2005

Theresa's birthday. To celebrate, I'm taking one of my daughters (the middle one, named after Theresa) to the hockey game.

By an astounding coincidence the tickets I have for my eldest daughter (the one always piqued my death and destruction) fall on November 3rd (the day Theresa died).




Now look...

I hear some flack for being "down". Someone commented that I seemed quite depressed. A little, yes... but you wouldn't know it to see me; or if you thought something was off you might think I was tired.

I'm not trying to wallow in anything here. I am trying, on behalf of all people who share similar experiences - and there are so many - to articulate that these circumstances linger, that they are cyclical, that they manifest without control.

I don't need cheering up. Someone died 27-years ago that should be celebrating their 45th birthday. People in positions of power have NEVER done the right thing in this matter. They continue to make mistakes and show indifference in manners that betray the values they purport to uphold. How would you expect me to feel?



Canadian Thanksgiving

This is a holiday that I buried long ago. Then recently resurrected for the kids. I should have left it buried. As this was the last time I saw Theresa alive, the whole thing is just too painful; I'd rather skip it and celebrate the fourth week of November over football (both concepts so alien to me as to make it all quaint and rather palatable).

October 12th, what you call Columbus Day, is in reality Theresa's birthday. She would have been forty-five.

I'm sorry to say that this stuff doesn't get any easier.




NHL Center Ice on In Demand is free all this week!

Check out tonight's lineup:

NH01 7:00PM Buffalo at Ottawa CBC

NH02 7:00PM Carolina at NY Islanders FSNY

NH03 7:00PM Montreal at Toronto CBC

NH04 7:00PM Washington at Atlanta TS

NH05 7:30PM Boston at Pittsburgh FSP

NH06 7:30PM Florida at Tampa Bay SUN

NH07 7:30PM NY Rangers at NJ Devils MSG

NH08 8:00PM Anaheim at Nashville FSS

NH09 8:00PM Colorado at Dallas ALT

NH10 9:00PM San Jose at St. Louis FSBA

NH01 10:00PM Minnesota at Phoenix FSNO

NH02 10:00PM Vancouver at Edmonton CBC

Count 'em two, that's TWO games on Hockey Night in Canada. Bring it on, Grapes



A Brief Update...

Look, I've been busy... I'm taking two courses, I've got three kids and a full time job, so bear with me:

- There's been a change in who we are investigating in Theresa's murder. I spoke previously about a guy who's incarcerated and a guy on the loose. Forget that. We've now got a new incarcerated guy that looks probable, but it's been 27 years; who knows who-done-it?

- Hockey season is upon us. hallelujah... The bad news? we only get games on OLN. Look forward to a Flyers love-fest.

- School takes time: not because it's difficult, but because - if I'm going to shell out all this cash - you better believe I'm going to squeeze every ounce of worth out of it.

- Canada really depresses me; I don't want to think on it right now.

- This is a crappy time of the year for me: we are approaching my sister's birthday, AND the anniversary of her murder. All of that leaves me not knowing quite how to interpret my feelings.

So it goes.



A deserving appreciation of August Wilson in the New York Times

For what it's worth: I met August Wilson at Yale in 1990ish? when he was premiering Two Trains Running (I was an extra in Yale's preentation of Pygmalion). I got to hang out with Larry Fishburne during the run of that play. I met Two Trains director, Lloyd Richards at the Yale train station that same year when we were going back and forth to NYC.

Charles S Dutton's broadway performance in Wilson's The Piano Lesson was one of the most powerful, influencial theatrical events I have ever experienced.


Three-Cheers-and-a-Tiger, They're going back to work!

(umm... did anyone notice they were gone?)


“We've lost a great writer — I think the greatest writer that our generation has seen..."

Playwright August Wilson, 1945 - 2005



Coward of the County

Over in Durham county Shelton Deangelo Epps will stand trial for the brutal murder of Sean Ethan Owen. In a graphic confession, Epps told how he lured Owen to Durham through a gay chat line, shot him twice in the head, beat him and finally dumped his body in the Eno river.

Defense attorneys argued that Epps' confession was obtained unconstitutionally (allegedly Durham police questioned Epps for more than 5 hours before advising him of his Miranda rights. Attorneys further argued that Epps was arrested "without reasonable suspicion or probable cause". But Durham Superior Court Judge Henry Hight was hearing none of it. He will allow the murder trial of Shelton Epps to go forward.

How is it that just one county over the DA can't even get a larceny charge to stick?

Though Andrew Douglas Dalzell is the only suspect in the murder of Deborah Key and he confessed to her murder, Orange County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber threw out the confession because allegedly Miranda wasn't mentioned until after police obtained a confession. Further, we learned this week that it's looking like all current charges against Dalzell - including six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation and one count each of larceny by employee, possession of stolen property, financial identity fraud and obtaining property by false pretense - will be thrown out because visiting Orange County Judge Howard Manning believes information was obtained without reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

All of this must be leaving Orange County DA Jim Woodall feeling very frustrated and wishing he was arguing in front of a Durham court. Recall that Woodall inherited this mess from departing DA Carl Fox, who last year was appointed Orange County's new Superior Court Judge (the deus-ex-machina provided by none other than - wait for it... Wade Barber.)

Orange County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox

I'm no lawyer. I'm sure there are subtleties between the cases of Epps and Dalzell that made the one easier to try than the other. Nor am I a Conservative ideologue with a political ax to grind (Barber and Fox are Democrats). Coming from Canada I'm more of a political fence-sitter; a point of unbearable frustration to my card carrying Democrat wife. Still I would like to point out in this month leading up to local elections that neither Wade Barber or Carl Fox are up for reelection this cycle. Fox's term ends in '06, for Barber you'll need to wait until '08.

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