LordanARTS: A Favorite Part of My Day

LordanARTS
Channel on YouTube
Hosted, Filmed, & Edited by John Lordan
Associate Producer & Researcher: Christy Stracener

In April of this year, I discovered the LordanARTS channel while watching videos on the Asha Degree case. I was a bit skeptical at first; after watching the glossy productions of Cayleigh Elise (who deserves a review of her own), how could I enjoy a man in a baseball cap talking to a camera for forty-five minutes at a time?

But I couldn’t stop watching. Almost every night when I get home from work, the first thing I turn on is that day’s new LordanARTS video.

Sassy usually joins me, perched on my shoulder on the couch, intently watching the screen. I think she wants to pounce at the bouncing logo, or that the spooky, electronic intro music enchants her.

LordanARTS is a mostly-one-man show hosted by John Lordan. Part of Mr. Lordan’s charm is that he never fails to thank the people who make his show possible, whether that be his associate producer (Ms. Stracener), his wife, or his Patreon supporters.

 

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While researching this review: John Lordan followed me back on Twitter and this is one of the proudest days of my life.

Mr. Lordan puts out new content every day Monday through Friday, a rate which easily puts me to shame. Mondays feature “Johnny Vlogs,” usually his reflections on the world. Once-a-week he posts an “Itchy Mystery” review, in the line of what I do here, but featuring more of a supernatural element than I typically include.

The bread-and-butter of his channel, the two features that bring me back time and time again, are “BrainScratch” and “BrainScratch: Search Light.” The former features either cold cases or more recent cases with puzzling public details; the latter profiles missing persons cases in which hope still exists for the missing’s safe return. Family members have often reached out to Mr. Lordan either to thank him for, supplement, or request videos on their missing or victimized loved ones.

The research that goes into these true crime segments is thorough, gathered by Mr. Lordan, Ms. Stracener, and fans of the show. Each segment features Mr. Lordan going through all the known information in his calm, oddly soothing (given the content) voice before offering interpretations of those facts.

Mr. Lordan is a skeptic in the best way possible; in a world where most choose between the most appealing of “alternative” facts, he allows his views to be altered by the facts. He admits to having been a bit of a conspiracy theorist in the past, seriously entertaining the notion of false-flag operations. He has since publicly announced his move away from those lines of thinking, which demonstrates real intellectual engagement and courage. His given reason for this shift was seeing the pain of mass shooting victims’ families when (usually right-wing) conspiracy theorists claimed the victims had never existed and that the grieving families were government-paid actors.

I think that degree of empathy and concern, above all the many virtues of the programming, is what brings me back to LordanARTS again and again.

5/5 stars: the facts, presented with humor and empathy
1/5 ‘fraidy cats: Mr. Lordan humanizes crime, not sensationalizes
1/5 ick-factor: No post-mortem or crime scene photos, as a matter of principle

 

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When Will It End? Vol. 1

I’ve seen the flag at half-mast too many times in my young life.

What happened in Vegas earlier this week is horrible. That goes without saying.

I hesitated to write anything in the immediate aftermath to allow events to develop, and not to rush to judgement about anything. I also hesitated because it’s getting way, way too routine to have to do this.

There’s a paradox here; I love the true crime genre, but I hate people getting hurt. I justify this to myself that reading and watching true crime brings us to a better understanding of justice, and to a better understanding of evil. As much as human beings can comprehend evil.

More about rushing to judgement…

Some have claimed it’s not the time to talk about gun violence in America. These same people never bring it up…except in the wake of a mass shooting. By now, I think, it is clear that this is a uniquely American problem. American gun laws are uniquely lax in the developed world.

Moreover, if the NRA supports the existing ban on federal funds for research on gun violence, I think we can all safely assume it’s because they think the findings would be unflattering.

That we don’t even enable research into this uniquely American problem is a disgrace.

If we don’t understand the causes of gun violence, we have no hope of preventing it in an effective way.

In another rush to judgement, mental illness has been suggested as the primary cause of the massacre in Las Vegas, and better mental health care proposed as an answer.

While I agree there is a desperate need for better access to mental health services, I point out that most mentally ill people are not a threat to others.

There is, so far, little evidence that the Vegas shooter had mental health issues. Moreover, the intensive planning we now know went into this crime indicates the perpetrator knew what he was doing and attempted to conceal it because he knew others would view it as wrong; even if some underlying suicidal impulses or anger issues come to light, his premeditation excludes him as “criminally insane” as recognized by most courts.

Perhaps it is a kind of benign, charming naiveté to believe that a “sane” person could not murder almost sixty of his fellow human beings and wound hundreds more for seemingly no reason.

Behind that charm, however, I fear there is an ongoing assumption that “crazy” and “evil” are synonymous. It is this assumption, along with others, that stigmatizes mental health issues and discourages access to mental health care.

Whatever complex web of motives and drives that led to the Las Vegas shooting emerges, I propose the following:

Evil is real.

Now, what are you doing to thwart it?

May I suggest calling your elected officials and telling them you oppose the Dickey Amendment? If you get the answering machine, keeping trying. That means it’s working. 

Stay safe,

-L

“Zodiac” Audiobook A Roadtrip Staple

Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Nation’s Most Bizarre Mass Murderer
Robert Graysmith
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Blackstone Audio
Approximately 10 hours, 40 minutes of listening time

Back in July, before I was hit in the face by this thing called “grad school,” I took a road trip to D.C. On that same drive, I listened to Ann Rule’s Small Sacrifices and, having finished that, turned to Robert Graysmith’s heavy 1976 Zodiac. This recording, available on Audible, is narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, whose low voice and grave cadence suit the subject matter without becoming overly dramatic.

Graysmith was a political cartoonist at one of the San Francisco papers that received the Zodiac killer’s cryptic letters, often finding himself in the room when the editors opened the missives. Admitting as much, he became obsessed with the case. Considering the gravity and mystique posed by a masked madman with a love of Gilbert & Sullivan shows, I’d have to say the obsession is understandable. The personal element shines through not only as Graysmith enters the narrative as a sleuth on the killer’s trail, but also in his deft and sensitive portrayals of the victims.

In addition to this book on the Zodiac killer, he also wrote the 2002 Zodiac Unmasked. The 2007 movie Zodiac is based on Graysmith’s earlier book, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the author as a young man.

Graysmith’s book is masterfully, even overwhelmingly, researched. I have to conclude I held off on reviewing it for so long because it would be impossible to provide anything more than surface-level analysis in a short-form post. Without the text of the book, I was still able to enjoy the story and learn a lot about the case, like the Zodiac’s aforementioned love of classic operettas.

Why he thought quoting the Lord High Executioner’s comic aria at length would make him more intimidating, I don’t know. I laughed down the Washington Parkway, thinking of my eighth grade class’s abbreviated production of Pirates of Penzance, as I listened to Rudnicki dutifully read the killer’s most bizarre letter in meter. 

If you are looking to learn more about the case, I would definitely recommend purchasing a hardcopy of the book in case you want to take notes.

As for entertainment value, the audiobook drags at a few points, most notably in Graysmith’s intensive focus on victim Darlene Ferrin’s personal life and murder, which occurs early in the book and interrupts its forward momentum. Then again, I was lost in New Jersey during that part, so maybe I was projecting my frustration with the state onto the book.

Graysmith later uses the Ferrin connections of one suspect  to argue he is the killer. This suspect goes unnamed in the book for legal reasons, but is likely Arthur Lee Allen. Allen, who is since deceased, has seemingly been excluded as a suspect based on comparison of his DNA with a partial profile extracted from the Zodiac letters.

In the end, do give Zodiac a listen or a read to experience one of the stalwarts of the true crime genre. Given the killer’s fondness for murdering motorists at night, listening to it in the car as twilight fell, as I did, is sure to scare the living daylights out of you.

4/5 stars: Good research, solid storytelling. A classic, but somewhat dated.
4/5 ‘fraidy cats: A serial killer who dresses up as an executioner and was never caught. Then again, Gilbert & Sullivan can never be made terrifying.
2/5 ick-factor: The crimes are bloody, the murders are heinous, but Graysmith does not relish the details.

Blog News: “Trotsky” Author Reaches Out; My Policy on Ads; Original Content Fun & Games

28 August 2017

Hello, readers,

I hope everyone is doing well this late summer evening. For my fellow Houstonians and Texans, I am praying for your health and safety.

For everyone not surrounded by a newly formed lake, the mayor of Houston has created a hurricane relief fund administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Your donation is tax-deductible and greatly needed.

I cannot endorse GHCF from my personal experience, but that is where city officials prefer donations go.

Turning now to blog news…

Kenneth Ackerman is a Mensch 

For those of you not lucky enough to have discovered the joys of Yiddish, according to Google, “Mensch: n., a person of integrity and honor.”

It takes a lot to open yourself up to criticism. It takes even more to respond to criticism with grace and class.

And for that capacity, Kenneth Ackerman ought to be acknowledged.

In my review of Mr. Ackerman’s Trotsky in New York 1917, I noted an error that, to my obsessive grad student eyes, seemed rather glaring.

Mr. Ackerman reached out to me, thanked me for catching the error, and promised it would be amended in the next edition of the book. You can view our exchange at the top of the comments section of the original review.

I’m Thinking of Selling My Soul

Or putting ads on my blog, depending on your point of view.

This is a one-woman show that started because I love true crime, cultural criticism, and writing. I even think I’m a little bit good at it. The writing and criticism, not the crime part.

I’ve never committed a crime. I swear.

You can only top doing things for love with doing the same things for love and money.

While it would be my desire to keep ads off particularly sensitive posts, such as active missing persons cases, WordAds automatically places ads on all posts. My solution to this is to promise that I will never charge family and friends of missing persons, or victims of unsolved crimes, for an outreach post on my blog. If I am able to see how much money is generated by an individual post, the proceeds from ads on those pages will go to search efforts or a charity chosen by the relevant parties.

Original Content Coming Right Up

My decision to sign up for WordPress’s ad program now is because I feel comfortable enough to share enough of my original writing with you. The response I got to the story of my madcap drive down to D.C. inspired me to make that leap.

Stay tuned for more funny stories about my otherwise delightfully average life, poetry that I promise wasn’t written by me during my middle school Goth phase, assorted fiction, and reflections on current events. Of course, I will keep the book and TV reviews coming.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Boring Yet Important Copyright Stuff

With the exception of some duly-cited historical photos from the public domain, all words and images on this blog are produced by me.

While I am the offspring of lawyers, I am not a lawyer, so I will refer you now to the lovely copyright language provided by WordPress:

© Allison R. Shely and True Crime Librarian, 2016-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Allison R. Shely (alias “the Librarian” and “L”) and True Crime Librarian with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I’m sure none of you lovely people needed that reminder, but I’ll put it in the website footer just for good measure.

Please don’t alienate me from my labor more than is necessary.

Be Happy,

-L

 

 

Ackerman’s “Trotsky” Enjoyable…Except for the Errors

Preface

It’s been a hard few weeks for me, hard for me to face the blank page and (in my own mind, at least) provide some wit or wisdom to anyone who might read this blog.

Me? I, myself, am fine. The news has been deplorable, even more than usual. People in my social circles, including close friends, have been suffering terribly.

But, I remember I promised reviews of my summer reading, and remember that writing for you always makes me feel better.

With that said, let’s talk about violence.

Since Monday was the anniversary of Trotsky’s death (by ice ax, not by ice pick, see Fig. 1) he gets to go to the front of the review backlog line.

The story of his murder is one for the ages. I should feature it some time.

Fig. 1–Know your weapons. This will be on the quiz.


Ice ax. Similar to weapon used to kill Trotsky. (Wikipedia)


Ice pick. Still deadly, but not used on Trotsky. (Wikipedia)

The Book

Trotsky in New York 1917: A Radical on the Eve of Revolution
Kenneth D. Ackerman
Counterpoint Press
2016

Even before the book begins, you can tell Ackerman is not a historian or political scientist.

And, for the most part, it works well.

Ackerman is a New York lawyer who has set his hand to retelling that great city’s history. Trotsky is his second work, chronicling the ten weeks the Russian radical, expelled from war-torn Europe for anti-war writings, lived in the Bronx with his common-law wife and their two children.

I sort this as relevant to true-crime fans because 90% of what Trotsky and his comrades had done in their lives up to this point was illegal. There is also plenty of spy intrigue and conspiracy going on separate from their plan to overthrow the capitalist order.

For “serious” historians of the Russian Revolution, (and trust me, I’ve read them) this period of time gets maybe two pages in a 900-page book. To see so much effort put into a generally-ignored period is like seeing your favorite canon characters in a spin-off movie of the best kind.

For anyone not familiar with Trotsky, Ackerman’s book is a gentle introduction in a novelistic tone.

For anyone not partial to Trotsky, the book is still enjoyable for its portrait of Gilded-Age New York, a time of optimism and social ferment. As the Russian Marxist exiles write and argue, separated from the horrors of WWI by an ocean, oblivious to the wars they will soon begin, even the most cynical reader has to admit there is at least a slight charm to their idealism.

Ackerman’s passion for the project shows even from the dedication, which is to his grandparents, who “fled Poland for America as a result of the 1920 Soviet Russian invasion…led by the then Soviet people’s commissar for military and naval affairs, Leon Trotsky.”

Yeah, spoiler alert: the Bolsheviks win. Next spoiler: Trotsky still ends up losing (see Fig. 1 above).

But passion does not save Ackerman from some egregious factual, or editing, mistakes. One of these, which still makes my eye twitch thinking about it, comes early in the book. Introducing Lenin to readers on page seventeen, Ackerman includes a quote from a contemporary…a quote about Trotsky.

A quote about Trotsky that is a fairly well-known quote about Trotsky.

(For clarity’s sake, this quote is the one that describes Trotsky as stalking around the speakers’ dais like “a bird of prey.”)

I forgive Ackerman these few…infuriating…slips because of his genuine commitment to the book, which shows forth in a novelistic, bubbly style.

3/5 stars: a nice popular history…the errors in which make this thesis survivor histrionic.
1/5 ‘fraidy cats: This is the
Downton Abbey of my summer reading.
1/5 ick-factor: I suppose it depends on your political leanings.

Update: Mr. Ackerman reached out to me in the comments to very graciously thank me for catching the error with the quote. He says it will be corrected in the next edition of the book. I thought his thoroughness deserved recognition immediately after my initial critique.

 

There Are No Coincidences–A Statement on Charlottesville

“If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him”

In the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on last Saturday, I think it is necessary to say something.

I am not a person of any notable influence, but I am a human being, and this is my responsibility to prevent.

I am also a white American. The ugly history of racism in this country, which inspired the “Unite the Right” rally last weekend and the murder of a peaceful counter-protester, is my responsibility to acknowledge and face.

I committed no crime on Saturday.

And the LORD said unto Cain “Where is Abel thy brother?” And he said “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?”

But I abet that crime if I do not decry it. I admit my shame and guilt that it has taken me these last few days to find my words.

And the LORD said, “What hast thou done? Thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”

It is no coincidence that actual Nazis had rallied to protect a public display of support for the Confederacy, which was formed to protect the rights of slave owners.

It is no coincidence that Klansmen showed up with the actual Nazis.

It is no coincidence that a rally in support of genocidal views ends in murder.

“And now thou art cursed from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.”

It is no coincidence that an American president refuses to condemn Nazis and other white supremacists by name on the day of the attack, and instead blames many “sides”.

There is only one side at fault here.

It is no coincidence the aforementioned president only condemned the Nazis and the KKK on Monday after people of goodwill, including many elected officials of his own party, called on him to do so.

It is no coincidence that, Monday night, the Boston Holocaust Memorial was vandalized–for the second time in a season.

It is no coincidence that, today, unable to restrain even his basest and most politically self-destructive desires, the American president reverted to his previous statement, blaming the counter-protesters for being run over.

It is no coincidence that far-right groups are loving his response.

“Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’

And if, after all this, you still think these are coincidences–

I invite you to take a long look in the mirror.

-L

 “Then shall He answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.'”

 

Verses adapted from the KJV translation

 

“Small Sacrifices” Audiobook A Great Introduction to Ann Rule

Small Sacrifices
Written and read by Ann Rule
An Audible audiobook production
Approx. 3.5 hour run-time

Audiobooks are an old friend of mine. Camping with my family as a kid often involved twelve-hour drives across Texas to the Chihuahua Desert; books on tape were how my mother kept everyone entertained and content.

So to audiobooks I turned for my drive down to Washington, D.C., over this past Fourth-of-July weekend. For my choice of book in particular, I turned to one recommended to me by a beloved high school teacher, Mrs. G.

It was in Mrs. G’s AP English class my junior year that we read In Cold Blood, the granddaddy of true crime and my first serious exposure to the written genre. A year ago, when this blog was just starting out, I visited my alma mater and consulted Mrs. G for books to review.

I am very pleased to have finally gotten to Small Sacrifices. It is fitting that this book was recommended to me by a teacher, for the late, great Ann Rule’s reading voice took me back to afternoon story time in elementary school. Just with a far, far darker topic.

This, like some of my favorite books in the mystery and true crime genres, is more a “whydunit” than a “whodunit.” It is the story of a female psychopath (who are, I have to agree with Ms. Rule, not profiled extensively enough in the genre or acknowledged in popular imagination) and how she came to be past the point of empathy. To her, children are “fungible” currency to purchase love.

To write anymore would be to give away the best of Rule’s probing psychological analysis. Her prose is easy on the ears when read aloud: detailed without being overwhelming, descriptive without dragging, incisive without losing feeling.

I never liked the song “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Now I am sure I will never listen to it again.

5/5 stars: excellent book of true-crime, brought to life by the author
3/5 ‘fraidy cats: The murder and abuse of children is described unsparingly. Not even driving through the Hudson River Valley on a sunny day could dim that sense of evil.
3/5 ick-factor: See above