True Crime and I, Pt. 2: Shortbread Cookies and “Cold Case Files”

My paternal grandmother was born on Christmas Eve 1929 and, as such, always insisted on celebrating it as absolutely distinct from Christmas. She was always mindful of birthdays; gifts for the birthday girl were usually accompanied by something small for the other sister.

She loved flowers and cats and painting. All of her children grew up to be cat people, as have all of her six grandchildren. Baking was a passion of hers; cherry pies and shortbread were specialties. Christmas was incomplete without a tin or two of Grandma’s shortbread, sent through the mail from Kentucky.

After a long and often difficult illness, she passed away in early September. While sudden, it was not unexpected. Luckily, Parkinson’s had left her wits mostly intact to the end, so that she could appreciate what would turn out to be final visits with family in August.

On this, what would have been her eighty-eighth birthday, I would like to share with you to inadvertent and formative role my Grandma had on my interest in true crime.

*  *  *

I have written previously on how my childhood interest in Ancient Egypt, encouraged by my parents, likely sparked my early fascination with the morbid and macabre.

Completely unknown to my parents, I fanned this fascination by watching forbidden TV as soon as their backs were turned.

There was Discovery Channel’s “A Haunting in Connecticut,” which I watched while my mom was out shopping. I was nine. I didn’t sleep for days.

Of course, I went on to watch all of Discovery’s “A Haunting” series in secret.

There was the time I watched Stephen King’s “Rose Red” on-and-off for an afternoon at my dad’s house. Big mistake.

Best of all were those chances I had to watch Discovery’s “FBI Files.” Rediscovering the series as an adult, I laughed at how plastic science class skeletons had scared the ever-living **** out of me as a nine-year-old.

Then, there was that fateful trip to Grandma’s.

The moral of this story: if you really want to know what your kids are watching, make sure you can walk faster than they can change the channel.

*  *  *

I don’t think it was that long summer we spent with Grandma after my parents divorced. I think it was an earlier trip, maybe earlier that same year. I was about eleven.

As my younger sister had taken the big-screen TV downstairs, and I did not want to watch Disney with her, my Grandma offered me the little box TV on her vanity. She left to do laundry or read.

I turned it on to find it was on A&E, which was running a weekend marathon of Cold Case Files. 

The original Cold Case Files, which ran through the mid-2000s, featured Bill Kurtis’s chilling narration. It also featured plenty of gruesome postmortem photos. I couldn’t turn away, mostly out of horror. This was beyond anything I’d seen before. I couldn’t process. God knows I still can’t watch it before bed. Speaking of which…

At Grandma’s, I slept on a cot below a large first-floor window. Unfortunately for me, I had just learned who the LA Nightstalker was. The bug-eyed, hollow-cheeked composite sketch appeared every time I closed my eyes.

All the lights were on that night. All of them. 

*  *  *

I was hooked.  On a visit to my other set of grandparents, around the same time, I watched Dateline for the first time, again, surreptitiously. I still remember my first Dateline episode, on the murder of Molly Bish. Years later, moving to Boston, the details of the case would return to me. It haunts me–as a child, Molly had seemed like a grown-up. Barely an adult myself, looking at a picture of her now, I see a child, her life cut away from in front of her.

*  *  *

I flipped over the A&E website, where you can watch Cold Case Files episodes in whole with just a little advertising. I see now they have rebooted the series, beginning earlier this year, but without Bill Kurtis’s voice. Darn.

* * *

I asked my cousin, “Do you think Grandma knew I watched sixteen hours of Cold Case Files on her TV that time?”

My cousin thought. “I feel like she knew, and she couldn’t have approved, but she wasn’t going to really object to it.”

So, Grandma, thank you for spoiling your grandchildren, even if it was with questionable TV choices.

Happy birthday. I miss you. I love you.


How to Medicate Your Cat; or, 101 Ways to Need Antibiotics Yourself

Knives hit me in the stomach. I looked down at the shrieking cat, squirming around in my hands.

Et tu, kitté?

Trying to kick off and escape, she had punched her very sharp back claws into me.

Can’t say I didn’t deserve it. I told her as much the previous day, when she nearly gave me a mastectomy, attempting to launch over my shoulder from my collarbone.

It’s for her own good.

    *     *     *

At the start of the month, Sassy had her dental cleaning. As a kid I heard people make fun of Martha Stewart for brushing her cat’s teeth, but I do think it was for the best. Dental health is a good prevention against various infections, in people and felines. Sassy had rotten teeth, no bones about it.

She came from the shelter like that, I swear.

A thorough dental cleaning requires anesthetics, because–well, have you ever put your finger in an angry cat’s mouth? I’ve been doing it for the last two weeks and I would highly recommend against it. I had been nervous about putting Sassy under, but research and a discussion with my vet have assured me that while risks do exist, they are marginal for an otherwise healthy animal.

Sassy came through the surgery without any complications–and minus two rotten-through teeth.


High as a kite after surgery.


A rare opportunity to give her a belly-rub…and keep my hand

That left me with two weeks of liquid antibiotics to administer orally to a cat who hates being held. Wrapping her in a blanket as a “kitty kolache” only protects me so much. The only comfort she gets from it is hiding her face in the blanket so I can’t bring the syringe to her mouth.

This process, if done to a human, probably violates the Geneva Conventions. Sassy tells me as much.


Between doses. “I’m calling my lawyer.”

She is a good girl and doesn’t scratch to hurt–it’s just that her claws are out when she tries to escape, and my skin happens to be a good place on which to latch. I’ve never seen this cat bite anyone, even when she’s been given good reason (for example, putting her in the crate).

Aside from some nasty scratches, I’ve also had antibiotic paste spit into my eyes, onto my sleeves, and into my hair. I also swear that she woke me up every two hours last night because she knew we were going to the vet for suture removal this morning.

*    *    *

“Can you tell I’m overly attached to this animal?” I asked the vet before her surgery.
“Is that a bad thing?”
“I don’t think so.” He smiled.

*   *   *

It’s all worth it.

We had been concerned her weight loss was a sign that something very, very serious was wrong with her. In the last two weeks, since the tooth removal, she’s put on half a pound and is approaching her ideal weight again. Of course, this makes her even more difficult to wrangle at medicine time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

She also seems a little less afraid of visitors. She only runs away when they approach her, not when she hears the doorbell ring.

Best of all, even immediately after I shoot two vials of antibiotics into her mouth, twice a day, she chirps at me and rubs up against my leg.

All is forgiven; all is well.

Cayleigh Elise: YouTube Queen of True Crime (and Darkness More Generally)

Last week I covered the LordanARTS  YouTube channel; before getting to this week’s main event, I want to thank Mr. Lordan for the lovely acknowledgement of my review on JohnnyVlogs. Check out the 1: 55 mark, specifically.

However, I only found LordanARTS through the video suggestions received while watching Cayleigh Elise’s dark, atmospheric productions.

Since posting her first video in 2015, Cayleigh has amassed nearly 300, 000 subscribers, of which I am one. Having had a chance to watch some of her very earliest videos over the past weekend, I am amazed at her growth and development as an artist.

These first videos tend more towards horror or personal stories of spooky experiences, the latter narrated in a bubbly, delightfully self-aware-yet-self-deprecating style. While engaging, these videos are distinctly amateur in comparison to her more recent work.

That corpus, focusing on the macabre and the mysteries, includes subscriber stories, missing persons, cold cases, and the supernatural. Of the many series and mini-series I have two favorites: Nameless, focused on identifying those poor souls whose bodies have been dumped like trash and whose names have gone unknown; and Dark Matters, which profiles particularly disturbing or mysterious unsolved cases.

Cayleigh’s narration for these dark stories is slow, hypnotic, and always full of compassion. If A&E ever reboots Cold Case Files, I nominate her as successor to the great Bill Kurtis.

The visuals are also fantastic. I want to steal her wardrobe; the changing backgrounds feature bizarre and fascinating decor; the source materials and editing are superb.

Let me emphasize it again: these videos are dark. They are frightening for the narratives alone, before even considering the visuals. I will warn you, as Cayleigh Elise does before the videos in question, that Nameless often features postmortem photographs. She includes these not out of morbid interest, but in hopes that these pictures will trigger someone’s memory where composite sketches have not. When she says “I have to warn you, this next picture is graphic,” I usually duck my head down. Because I’m a wuss.

There have been occasions when I peeked too soon, and mutter something along the lines of “Oh, dear Lord Jesus, help us all.” I don’t know if death is ever ‘pretty,’ but for the John and Jane Does of Nameless, it never comes gently.

Because of the possible Massachusetts connections, I recommend to you especially her most recent video at the time of writing, the case of the Woodlawn Jane Doe. Do you recognize this woman?


I will end this review as Cayleigh Elise always ends her videos, by reminding you that “While these may be dark matters, the darkness always matters.” It matters because our humanity is defined by how we treat others. To acknowledge the dark is to face, head-on, the realities of pain and evil in the world.

The Catechism says that burying the dead is an act of mercy. Naming the forgotten dead, surely, is one as well.

5/5 stars: High-quality visuals and narration. A host with a natural sense of the dramatic, abundant compassion, and tact.
5/5 ‘fraidy cats: Some videos are too harrowing for me to watch after dark. The rest make me check that the door
 is ,in fact, locked.
5/5 ‘ick’ factor: Death is frightening; murder even more so. Crime scene/postmortem photos and descriptions may be particularly difficult for sensitive viewers. You will be warned when to look away. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.




LordanARTS: A Favorite Part of My Day

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.



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


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,


“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,