Otto Warmbier. I’m Haunted. Humbled. Who among us hasn’t deserved a #DarwinAward?

      Otto Warmbier

I’m Haunted. As a mother, as an American, as a doofus who’s done all sorts of stupid things that could’ve gotten me killed, one way or another.

“Stupid White Boy, Stupid Frat Boy: He Had It Coming”

He may look like Hiter’s Aryan ideal, with a German name; he might be the kind of American who makes American tourists look bad; or he might be the kind of kid so many of us were. In college, how often did you see stolen street signs or beer signs in dorm rooms? Anyone who thinks this kid was “asking for it” has a very short memory or no humility.

Haunted. Humbled. Angry. Outraged.

Who among us hasn’t earned a Darwin Award, though most of us get away with doing really stupid things? “The wages of sin is death,” but the wages of stupidity is staggering.

otto-warmbier-released-north-korea-news-2017-dennis-rodman-prisoner-622034[1] cowboy_cop_by_kersey475[1]

Friends described him as a “sports fan who can reel off stats about seemingly any team, a friendly Midwesterner who can break down underground rap lyrics (and craft some of his own), a deep thinker who would challenge himself and others to question their place in the world, a guy from an entrepreneurial family who ate half-price sushi, an insatiably curious person with a strong work ethic and a delight in the ridiculous,” the paper reported..

… Later, he would break down in tears: “I have made the single worst decision of my life, but I am only human.”

“There but for the grace of God” goes any one of us, or our children. Those who blame this college student should try some introspection before casting the first stone. Stupid frat boys, white privilege, none of this shaming and blaming and political division have a place here.

Why am I quoting the Bible when I doubt any God actually inspired its writing? Because my outrage over this incident is of Biblical proportions. I have a son. My sister, at almost 19, was murdered in 1975, and foolish choices had a lot to do with her being in the wrong place with the wrong people. Her cold case remains unsolved.

Turn the other cheek? I’ve had enough of that lamidity (to steal a word my daughter coined).

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” so leave it to God to punish the evil in some next life? No. I have no such hope. Karma sounds good on paper, and hell sounds somewhat gratifying for suffering innocents who turned the other cheek, but no.

The tour group who sent college students to a dangerous country should be penalized – severely – for throwing Otto under the bus. For taking money from Americans to send them to a place where freedom and justice do not exist. Tyrants can steal the lives of others without fear of repercussion.

Be afraid, North Korea. Be very afraid.
Oh, I know you won’t be. Japan was so unafraid, it took not one but TWO atomic bombs annihilating millions of civilian lives to get them to stop acting aggressively and killing others all around the globe. (Pearl Harbor?)

“I worry that my family will be harmed… one final time: I beg for forgiveness…” –Warmbier

“We hold NorthKorea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
and now, death.

He got a death sentence for allegedly stealing a poster from a hotel lobby…

*”I committed the crime of taking out a political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel. The slogan inspires the Korean people’s love for their system. The task was given to me by the Friendship United Methodist Church. At the encouragement of the Z Society and the connivance of the United States Administration, I came to commit this task. The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people. This was a very foolish aim. Growing up in the United States, I was taught that the DPRK is a mysterious, “isolated communist nation” from the mass media and education. This made me an innocent thinking adventurous young man like myself, want to show my bravery in this mysterious country in order to improve my reputation and show Western victory over the DPRK.”

“I have been very impressed by the DPRK Government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself and of the very fair and square legal procedures in the DPRK. And I’ve come to see that the current “human right issues” in the DPRK, consistently highlighted by the United States Administration is simply nothing more than a hypocritical excuse to eventually overthrow the Government of the DPRK. I apologize to the people and the Government of the DPRK and beg for forgiveness.”*

It isn’t “just one” life.

The American I grew up in (last century, yes) esteemed justice, the way all those spaghetti Westerns modeled. It was a fairy tale fraught with misdeeds and heroes who had trampled Native Americans, but now we have trampled every last American ideal of freedom, which depends on respect for others, and punishment of those who infringe on the liberty of others. Those who harm and kill others must be stopped – if not by the arm of the law, then by vigilante justice. No, I don’t mean lynching! I don’t condone law-breaking and I do not condone violence. Except as an absolute LAST resort.

Otto Warmbier, I can only hope there’s such a thing as life after death, and a fitting punishment for those who get away with evil in this life.

“The North Koreans lure Americans” to the country through tour groups, claiming that the region is a safe place to travel, Warmbier (Otto’s father) says. He adds that they agreed to let Otto go because of the claims that it would have been an educational trip. “He was taken hostage at the airport as he was trying to leave the country,” said (Fred) Warmbier.

“Fred Warmbier also dismissed whatever efforts were made on behalf of his 22-year-old son Otto by the Obama administration, which asked the family to keep a low profile when news of Otto’s arrest became public. ‘The results speak for themselves,’ he said in a news conference, adding that President Trump, by contrast, reached out to him personally,” reports Fox News.

Vigilante Man: A type of anithero who operates outside the law to punish criminals. They can almost always tell when a criminal is innocent or not.

The Punisher
The Vigilante
Most versions of Robin Hood
Rorschach from “Watchmen”
V from “V for Vendetta”
Light Yagami from “Death Note”
Yuri Lowell from “Tales of Vesperia”
The Red Tornado from “Romeo X Juliet”
The McManus family from “The Boondock Saints”
Billy Jack from “Billy Jack”
Mack Bolan in “The Executioner”
Erica Bain in “The Brave One”
Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”
Dexter Morgan from “Dexter”
Clyde Shelton from “Law Abiding Citizen”
Eric Draven from “The Crow”
Nick Hume from “Death Sentence”
Harry Brown from “Harry Brown”
Coffy in “Coffy”

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“Sirius: A Novel About the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History” by Jonathan Crown

“To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.” –Hermann Hesse

Well, that’s easier said than done. In historical fiction, more so than the classroom, we find the lessons we must learn and commit to memory, however hard it is to reconcile with any kind of faith in humanity. Toss in a little magic realism, and what harm is done? None, in “Sirius: A Novel About the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History” by Jonathan Crown, translated from German to English by Jamie Searle Romanelli.


On the heels of “The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Letts, a marvelous nonfiction account of priceless horses rescued in the closing days of World War II, I was sorely in need of some feel-good reading. “With charisma, heart, and delightfully spry prose,” the synopsis promises, “Sirius is an enchanting fairy tale about love and humanity and a roving exploration of a momentous historical moment.”

It’s also heart-rending, at times, and unsparing in its honesty. A fox terrier in 1938 Berlin loses his home, his familiar neighborhood where people greet him by name, and even his name. Levi’s Jewish owners, the Liliencrons, rename him Sirius, after the “Big Dog” constellation, to protect him. Levi is flattered. “But at the same time he feels the responsibility weighing down on both himself and the star – of being a glimmer of light in the darkness. Dogs called Rusty have an easier time of it.”

The humor and insight of this preternatural terrier show up in line after line. Make me laugh, and you’ll rise to the top of my list of favorite writers. Like the stereotype of Blacks dancing better than whites, Jews seem to have mastered wit and humor like no other marginalized people in literary history. I’m officially smitten with Jonathan Crown, just as I’ve been with Robert Silverberg (“The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV,” a 1972 short story, is a classic example of what I might label as Jewish humor).

“Jonathan Crown” is a pseudonym. Born in Berlin in 1953, journalist Christian Jämmerling dedicates the book “For my family, who lived in Berlin during that period.” I’ve no doubt that the most wrenching scenes in this story come straight from real life, from first-hand accounts of people who were there, who experienced the worst fates we can imagine.

Immersed in the point of view of a dog, readers might scoff at the cognitive genius of this furry, four-legged creature, but to write off this book as unrealistic is to miss out on a truly fantastic story. As if by magic, Sirius shifts from his native German to understanding words spoken in English. He even learns how to spell and to use the piano to convey what he’s learned via espionage (our magical dog cannot speak human). Any reviewer who’d fault the book for such “plot holes” is missing the boat. And this is one ride you don’t want to miss.

Carl Liliencron is a professor who studies microscopic plankton. “Anything bigger than ten thousandths of an inch is of no interest to me,” he’s fond of saying. He studies living things which are 3.5 billion years old, and they’re rarely mentioned in the newspapers. He doesn’t care to read about politics, Hitler, and the future: these things are “all too big.”

But then Nazi troops storm Berlin. After a harrowing escape, the “Jewish dog” and his family flee to California. Liliencron can’t believe the magnificent villas, the view of a landscape reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands: “Now it’s finally clear where the sun is when it’s absent in Berlin–in Hollywood.” This new life “often plunges him into extistential-philosophical moods.” The dog adjusts well, while the professor wonders if they’re caught in Einstein’s curvature of space-time.

Liliencron becomes a chauffeur, while Sirius befriends everyone from Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant to Rita Hayworth and Jack Warner. Renamed Hercules, he becomes a canine movie star. A series of events, each seemingly the worst thing that could have happened, turn out to be blessings in disguise, reminding me that the Japanese word for crisis can also mean opportunity.

It also reminds me of a Hebrew expression, “Gam zu l’tovah,” (oops, Gam ze letova, my Israeli friend tells me) –“Even this is for the best” — from a column by Lenore Skenazy. She mentions the parable of Rabbi Akiva camping in the woods with his donkey, rooster and candle. While it’s “insulting to say that all bad things are really for the best,” Skenazy concludes, “…taking action, sometimes out of sheer misery, can change life for the better.” (, September 15, 2016).

The story of Sirius illustrates this wisdom in scene after seemingly hopeless scene. Levi, renamed for the Big Dog constellation, “transformed himself into a star, Sirius, and saved his family’s life. Only he who transforms himself survives.”

“Humans have been around for 160,000 years,” murmurs Liliencron. “And yet it only took Hitler five to destroy humanity.”

As World War II unfolds, Levi-Sirius-Hercules accidentally ends up in Berlin again, gets renamed again, and becomes the favorite dog of Hitler himself. How can a mere dog help the German resistance, depose the Führer, and find his family?

An omniscient narrator commands the point of view. Early in the Liliencron family’s assorted adventures, a movie mogul reminds an actor “I made you.” We also get the narrator’s interpretation: “The words sound as though God is speaking to one of his creatures, moved by the memory of the day when it learned to walk upright and become a human being. And that’s exactly how it is. In Hollywood, Jack Warner is God.”

But Warner has his good side: “Good old Jack Warner. He helps countless Jews to escape from Germany, he pulls strings in the White House, he takes the new arrivals under his wing and directs their journey from suffering to happiness, called destiny. He is a one-man dream factory.”

So many real-life people are named in this book, I had to learn more about them. Jacob (Jack) Warner was born in 1892 to a Polish Jewish immigrant family in Ontario. Reputedly crude and difficult, the real Warner sounds worse than Crown’s version. Warner made, or saved, the careers of numerous celebrities from Errol Flynn to Joan Crawford. He also accused some of his staff of being Communists, ruining their careers. Warner ousted his brothers from the family business that they had founded together and severed ties with his son. His brothers never spoke to him again. (

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Propaganda, is another real-life character who appears in this story. “The German people,” he says, “have to defend their most holy assets: their families, their women and children, their beautiful and pristine landscape, their towns and villages, the two-thousand-year legacy of their culture, and everything that makes life worth living.” It’s impossible to fathom how he reconciled this “holy” obligation with the imperative of torturing and murdering millions of other lives. A little bit of xenophobia is part of human evolution, but taking it to the extreme of exterminating others is beyond comprehension. This is one of many facets of a story rich with food for thought.

Here’s another: in desperation, the Germany Army plots fantastical ideas for a new wonder weapon. “The prototype of a UFO, built in the Skoda factories, turned out to be a failure. So now there was a new plan: Why not fire dogs into the enemy lines?” Just inject them with a neurotoxin “which would be released on impact and destroy everything in their vicinity.”

This facet of history may not be well known: a law forbidding Jews from keeping pets. “They are instructed to immediately put their dogs or cats to sleep. Germans are forbidden from keeping Jewish pets.” Jewish cats and dogs? Rational, educated Germans managed to believe this stuff? It staggers the imagination.

This is “the kind of thing that usually gets forgotten,” Crown narrates, but in World War II Germany, “the birds are being looked after… The soldiers on the front receive guidelines on the construction of nesting boxes and feeders. Tons of hemp seed and sunflower seeds are transported to the front, as winter sustenance for the birds.”

Yes, the Nazis cared about small, vulnerable creatures. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? The infamous Third Reich commanded a Department for Bird Protection (and Forest and Nature Conservation). It’s forgotten details like these that keep me returning to that most brutal and horror-laden genre, historical fiction.

“We Germans are a people of the forests,” Goering wrote. “Unlike the Jews. They are a people of the desert.” Well, now this is beginning to sound familiar. “A bird singing in the forest is the most beautiful German song in existence.”

Not so incredibly, then, Walt Disney’s “Snow White” is one of Hitler’s favorites. (For real.) The evil dictator “likes to unwind by watching Hollywood movies.” And college basketball, I’ve read elsewhere. It’s unsettling to see a human side to the world’s most notoriously evil dictator. Hitler had a dog who loved him. More than one dog, in fact.

For a long time, I couldn’t reconcile this gentler, more humane side of the Nazis with their unthinkably horrific torture and mass murder of fellow human beings. Then it dawned on me that vegans will forego dairy products and eggs (potential lives), while allowing millions of human fetuses to be scalded, dismembered, and vacuumed from their mothers’ bodies. I’m not denouncing anyone’s ethics and morality, legal rights and politics, here; just pointing out that people, as a whole, do in fact hold conflicting ideals simultaneously. I’m not defending Germans, Hitler, or Nazis, either, when I marvel at their capacity to display a better side, even a kinder and gentler side.

Help! My brain hurts!

In no way have I come close to summarizing the plot twists, surprises and delights in this novel. No spoilers here. We all know Germany loses. It’s safe to say that one of the most memorable scenes is that of a Hausfrau with her broom, sweeping away the aftermath of war from the streets of Berlin. The woman has gone mad, of course, but this small scene illustrates so much of what I love about the German people as I knew them, all third-generation Americans, all thoroughly “German” in their ways. I grew up with cuckoo clocks, braided blondes in St. Pauli girl dresses, sauerkraut, bratwurst, hard work, thrift and industry, a dad who sometimes yodeled on his tractor, and a certain pride in a heritage that novelist Frank Norris called “a foul stream of hereditary evil.”

As the Hebrew phrase “Gam ze letova” expresses Jewish wisdom, this novel shines a light on the darkest chapter in human history. Crown’s tragicomic approach to themes of exile, flight, expulsion, and homelessness make a profound and lasting impression.

First released in Germany, the novel received overwhelmingly positive feedback. I look forward to more from this writer.

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“Super 12” American soldiers guarding Saddam Hussein discover a villain’s humanity – #PrisonerInHisPalace by Will @WBardenwerper

The Prisoner in His Palace

Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid  by Will Bardenwerper

Monday morning, when the alarm radio went off, NPR’s Rachel Martin was talking to author Will Bardenwerper about his book The Prisoner in His Palace, in which twelve U.S. soldiers in Iraq are tasked with guarding Saddam Hussein in the months before his execution. Trained to aggressively confront the enemy in combat, the “Super 12” – all young, American men – spent the summer of 2006 guarding the notorious Hussein.

I started waking up as the details emerged. This high-risk felon engaged the young Americans in conversation. He charmed them with anecdotes and gradually emerged as a human being, not as a fallen despot who’d taken so many lives with so little regard.

I was all prepared to boycott this book and started listing my objections:

So, Husssein was a human being. Who knew.

And Hitler had a dog.

And the Nazis loved forests and protected birds.

Thanks, Americans, for being so gullible. How noble to make a friend-for-life out of the world’s biggest bad guy (until the next one comes along).

But then this young author spoke.

MARTIN: I’d like to have you, if you would, read a little bit from early on in the book. This is when you’re describing the first few days of what it was like for these guys guarding Saddam Hussein.

(Reading) For these young men, it was like visiting a zoo and being forced to watch a creature who, though deadly, rarely does anything but sit, only occasionally deigning to walk across the cage to thrill the assembled spectators.
….They had to essentially always be within what one soldier called lunging distance of him in order to just safeguard him. It was sort of inevitable that there would be some thaw in this relationship. And then I think, also, part of it was a reflection of just Saddam’s own personality and his charm that he would try to engage them in conversation.

Dang. I did not want to like this book, but the “red flag waving” was addressed before I could even formulate the words in my own mind:

I think that’s one thing that’s important to highlight – is that a lot of these kids were from tough backgrounds. I think their antenna would be raised to someone trying to manipulate them. And, certainly, it occurred to Ellis. You know, this could just be an elaborate ruse to get better treatment from us. But at the same time, if that was Saddam’s only aim, he didn’t really emerge with a lot to show for it. He had a crappy, old exercise bike. He had a stack of loose-leaf paper and a pen.

So I think that’s one of the mysteries of the book – is what was going on here. Was it purely an attempt to manipulate? Was there genuine human affection? Was it a combination of the two? And I don’t think we’ll ever really know. I think human nature is complicated.

That’s where he really got me: “I don’t think we’ll ever really know. I think human nature is complicated.”

In the blackest heart, goodness can be found. Bad men can win sympathy, admiration, even love. Even a bad-ass like Saddam Hussein, in this true-to-life tale of a sordid, mean killer showing grace under pressure and kindness to his captors. The man had dignity. There is something to be said for that.

Over the radio I couldn’t discern the name of this former journalist. I got up, repeating “Prisoner in His Palace” over and over lest I forget it before I got to the kitchen to write it down. After coffee, I looked up the title online. Bardenwerper? How would I ever remember this author’s name?

Oooh, he followed me back on Twitter! And he messaged me privately that I should clarify that he was NOT one of the Super Twelve. He interviewed the twelve and pieced the story together. #GottaLove@WBardenwerper

Say what you will about the duality of good and evil in human nature, I wasn’t ready to “empathize” with a killer. My sister was murdered in 1975, and I am not one of those people who’d cue the film crews as I met the killer face to face and offered him forgiveness. I’d get no satisfaction from seeing him tried, found guilty, and executed, either. I’d like to know who he is and inflict psychological torments on him, but I’d never get away with it, so I read fairy tales and watch cat videos and try not to think overly much about all the evil in this world, and how many thunderbolts I might hurl, if I were God.

But, ohhh, the reviews of “Prisoner” are stunning. And I always fall for reviews like this:

“As twelve young American guards spend their days in the same room with this brutal gangster­ killer, a chilling, Shakespearean portrait emerges. Intriguingly, we meet a man who, while sometimes manipulative and petty, is also avuncular, joking, charming, wistful, and physically affectionate…. This is an unforgettable, essential read.”
-William Doyle, author of A Soldier’s Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq and PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy

And this:

“Through meticulous research and a keen eye for detail, Barden­werper does the near impossible: convinces the reader to empa­thize with Saddam Hussein during his sad final days. “The Prisoner in His Palace” is a deeply human book, and though we all know the ending, I couldn’t put it down.”
-Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk and All the Ways We Kill and Die

All right. Publication date is June 7. I’m buying it. And when I’m done reading, I’ll post a review. Watch for a sequel to this post.

Publisher’s Synopsis:
Living alongside their “high value detainee” in a former palace dubbed The Rock and regularly transporting him to his raucous trial, many of the men begin questioning some of their most basic assumptions—about the judicial process, Saddam’s character, and the morality of modern war. Although the young soldiers’ increasingly intimate conversations with the once-feared dictator never lead them to doubt his responsibility for unspeakable crimes, the men do discover surprising new layers to his psyche that run counter to the media’s portrayal of him. Woven from first-hand accounts provided by many of the American guards, government officials, interrogators, scholars, spies, lawyers, family members, and victims, The Prisoner in His Palace shows two Saddams coexisting in one person: the defiant tyrant who uses torture and murder as tools, and a shrewd but contemplative prisoner who exhibits surprising affection, dignity, and courage in the face of looming death.
In this artfully constructed narrative, Saddam, the “man without a conscience,” gets many of those around him to examine theirs. Wonderfully thought-provoking, The Prisoner in His Palace reveals what it is like to discover in one’s ruthless enemy a man, and then deliver him to the gallows.



5130LQeFg6L._UY250_[1]  Though Saddam Hussein once owned dozens of marble palaces, he seemed reasonably content in his small prison cell, the report said. (Photo: AP)     51isfMRu0hL._UX250_[1]

Amazon Author Bio:  Will quit his job in finance following the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan and volunteered to serve in the United States Army. He has spent most of the last decade engaged in United States foreign policy, beginning in 2004 as an infantry platoon leader. 61ol9YFr2kL[1]After completing his Army service, Will worked in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times, and later as a Director of Good Harbor Consulting, where served as a strategic advisor embedded with an Emirati paramilitary organization in Abu Dhabi.

In 2010, Will received a Master’s Degree from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Upon graduation, he was selected to join the Pentagon in 2010 as a Presidential Management Fellow, where he spent the next four years working on the development and implementation of defense strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Will was an Airborne Ranger qualified infantry officer in the United States Army. He was stationed in Germany and his service included a 13-month deployment to Nineveh and Anbar Provinces, Iraq in 2006-7. While in Iraq, he helped lead his infantry battalion’s reconstruction, civil affairs and tribal engagement efforts in the city of Hit. His unit helped contribute to the beginning of what would later become known as the “Anbar Awakening.” Will was awarded a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Will is a graduate of Princeton University, where he majored in English. He has had Op Eds and other articles published in the New York Times and Washington Post.

In his free time, Will enjoys tough Crossfit workouts, playing ice hockey, and rooting for the New York Mets and Washington Capitals.

Will lives in Colorado with his wife, Marcy, and editorial assistant, Parker the Cat.

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First Big Case for the FBI: The Osage Murders; First Book About It: “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Gann

005_Gran_9780385534246_art_r1-E[1].jpegMollie Burkhart (right) with sister Anna and mother Lizzie. (Credit: David Grann)

29496076[1] In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off.

024_Gran_9780385534246_art_r1[1] Osage in automobile. (Credit: David Grann) See “The FBI’s First Big Case: The Osage Murders” via @History

One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West … virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.(less) (Publisher’s Synopsis)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Gann 

Review by Trish, The Bowed Bookshelf, April 2017:

That we as a nation, less than one hundred years after the Osage Indian killings, have no collective memory of these events seems an intentional erasure. The truth of the killings would traumatize our school children and make every one of us search our souls…

….The Osage Indians once laid claim to much of the central part of what is now called the United States, “a territory that stretched from what is now Missouri and Kansas to Oklahoma and still farther west, all the way to the Rockies.” The tribe was physically imposing, described by Thomas Jefferson as “the finest men we have ever seen,” whose warriors typically stood over six feet tall. They were given land by Jefferson as part of their settlement to stop fighting the Indian Wars in the early 1700s.

Jefferson reneged on the agreement within four years, and ended up giving the once-mighty Osage a 50-by-125 mile area in southeastern Kansas to call their own. Gradually, however, white settlers found they liked that particular Kansas farmland and moved onto it anyway, killing anyone who challenged them, oftentimes the legal “owners”. The government then forced the Osage to sell the Kansas land and buy rocky, hilly land in Oklahoma, land no white man would want, where the Osage would be “safe” from encroachment. This was the late 1800s.

In the early 1900s oil was discovered on that ‘worthless’ Oklahoma land and because a representative of the Osage tribe was in Washington to defend Osage interests, he managed to include in the legal agreement of the allotment of Indian Territory “that the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals covered by the lands…are hereby reserved to the Osage Tribe.” Living Osage family members each were given a headright, or a share in the tribe’s mineral trust. The headrights could not be sold, they could only be inherited.

The Osage became immensely wealthy. The federal government expressed some concern (!) that the Osage were unable to manage their own wealth, and so ordered that local town professionals, white men, be appointed as guardians. One Indian WWI veteran complained he was not permitted to sign his own checks without oversight, and expenditures down to toothpaste were monitored. But this is not even the most terrible of the legacies. The Osage began to be murdered, one by one.

When Grann discovered rumblings of this century-old criminal case in Oklahoma, he wanted to see the extent of what was called the Reign of Terror, thought to have begun in 1921 and lasted until 1926, when some of the cases were finally successfully prosecuted. The “reign,” he discovered, was much longer and wider than originally imagined, and therefore did not just implicate the men who were eventually jailed for the crimes. “White people in Oklahoma thought no more of killing an Indian than they did in 1724.” said John Ramsey, one of the men eventually jailed for crimes against the Osage. A reporter noted, “The attitude of a pioneer cattleman toward a full-blood Indian…is fairly well recognized.”

What we learn in the course of this account is that a great number of people had information that could have led to answers much sooner than it did, but because there was so much corruption, even the undercover agents and sheriffs were in on the open secret of the murders. Those townspeople who might be willing to divulge what they knew were unable to discover to whom they should share information lest they be murdered as well. Grann was able to answer some questions never resolved at the time, with his access to a greater number of now-available documents.

Why this history is not better known is a mystery still. Memory of it was fading already in the late 1950s when a film, The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart, made mention of it. The 1920s are not so long ago, and some of the people who were children then have only recently passed away, or may even be still living. Among the Osage there is institutional memory, and still some resentment, naturally, and a long-lasting mistrust of white people. Need I say this is a must-read?

The audio of this book is narrated by three individuals: Ann Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell. Interestingly, the voices of the narrators seem to age over the course of the history, and it is a tale well-told. But the paper copy of this has photographs which add a huge amount of depth and interest to the story. This is another good candidate for Audible’s Whispersync option, but if you are going to choose one, the paper was my favorite.


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“Both nature and nurture would become the anvil that would forge Raymond Washington into a formidable leader, warrior, gang member, tactician, and eventually an urban legend in the punishing and unforgiving streets of Los Angeles,” Zach Fortier writes.Image result for Raymond Washington crips  51JAQ7bDKjL._UY250_[1] A modern Robin Hood, a self-taught leader, a life wasted: this is a must-read biography of an inner city warrior

Raymond Washington, a name that has been overlooked, is getting some of the dubious “credit” that is his due, thanks to this biography. Everyone’s heard of the Crips,

Image result for raymond washington crips founder but not everyone knows who started the L.A. gang, and even those who were there argue about the origins of the name. Thousands of hours of research, documentation, personal interviews with people who knew Raymond, and judicious sifting and sorting – what to believe, who to trust with the truth – are very much in evidence here.

He didn’t finish school, but he learned more in the street. “You succeeded by being tougher, smarter, stronger, more prepared and, if need be, more brutal than your enemies. This made a lot more sense to his sixth-grade mind than the lessons being taught by his teachers in elementary school.”

At a tender age, Raymond Washington commanded fear and respect, devotion, loyalty, and a roughly equal measure of hatred, vengeance, and fierce competition from rivals and victims. Washington was elusive, showing people different facets of his personality and character, so I can understand why Zach Fortier would have a hard time pinning down a definitive character sketch of a man who could channel Robin Hood or Achilles as readily as Atilla the Hun.

I have so many lines highlighted in my Kindle, I’ll copy some in list form:

— At age 12, “Raymond Washington was in battlefield training” – and “The use of the bayonet against American citizens rather than against enemy combatants in a war zone shows the extreme measures being taken during the Watts riots.” Entirely on his own, at 12, Raymond conducted what the military would refer to as an “incursion”–defined as “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory, especially a sudden one.” He had done it in the dead of night against an occupational force and succeeded (just like his heroes in the war movies). Raymond snuck around cautiously, avoiding the several thousand national guardsmen, and nearly two thousand police officers in the area. Not to mention the snipers and looters. Gunfire and screams were heard throughout the night as “Raymond made his way to a nearby White Front sporting goods store that had been being looted. He returned home a while later, dragging a huge box of basketballs, footballs, softballs, and sporting goods he had taken from the damaged store.”

He could have sold his loot. Instead, he gave it away to neighborhood kids. “Raymond was forging alliances, leveraging relationships with his peers, and showing his future leadership style,” Fortier writes. “Granted, it was with stolen property, but the legend that Raymond Washington would become was being born. He did Robin Hood like charity on one hand, and on the other, he conducted fearless raids into enemy territory against overwhelming odds, and lived for battle in the streets of Los Angeles.”

Memories shared by Raymond’s brother help bring him to life: “Raymond also loved to play with those little plastic army guys we had as kids. But for him it was an obsession. He used real tactics and carefully planned his mini war games with an attention to detail I could never understand.” Derard said that Raymond continued to play with the toys into his teens. Now referred to as “tabletop exercises,” those same moves conducted by 12-year-old boys are used by the military today.

–As Steinbeck so masterfully described in The Grapes of Wrath, “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him–he has known a fear beyond every other.”

–“I found stories about how cold and heartless Raymond could be to his enemies. These were tempered by almost unbelievable stories of compassion and patience. The duality of Raymond Washington was hard to make sense of…

— Raymond Washington “started the Crips between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, with bare minimum education, and absolutely no management or leadership training. He just understood leadership at a gut level and perfected his skills by trial and error.”

He made enemies: “What no one ever tells you in the Robin Hood story is that robbing someone of their possessions really pisses them off,” Fortier writes. “They get mad as hell, and fight back.”

On the one hand, this is a violent law-breaker known for killing the same guy twice: at the funeral, he’d show up, shoot the corpse, and turn over the casket, adding more than mere insult to injury. Fortier sees a parallel in this to Achilles, warrior of Homer’s epic: “Both Achilles and Raymond Washington were more interested in the glory of war, than the spoils of war,” and “Each had a ten-year battle for the possession of a city. Each lost a best friend in the battle. Finally, each desecrated their enemies’ bodies in plain sight of their grieving loved ones.”

Washington also had his own “Achille’s heel” –
“Much like Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, Raymond had a weakness that his enemies had exploited. He valued loyalty and friendship over everything else. That value was used against him as he was called to the car by a familiar voice. He was met by a shotgun blast to the abdomen. The occupants then drove away.”

Raymond knew who shot him, but didn’t tell anyone. He died an hour later.

A few reviewers say the prose is dry, but I found it riveting.

A gang leader who didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, never was seen getting high like everyone else around him: this guy was smart. “He felt he had to always be ready for combat, and had to be sharp to survive.”

I cannot even imagine growing up in the world he grew up in. Here was a young man who had the right stuff, the self discipline, the power and charisma, intelligence and skill, to command armies and earn medals of honor. He deserves to be remembered. Many would say “he had it coming,” but his story is a reminder that we can do better, as a society, a people. How to reach kids like Raymond Washington and channel that passion and power without the senseless violence of life in the big-city streets? I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, sheltered, isolated. Nothing in my world ever prepared me to live in the world Raymond Washington grew up in. My heart aches for the loss, the bloodshed, the tragedy of a life cut short – most likely as a consequence of his cutting short the lives of others.

Sad, It’s all so sad, I’m off to walk my dogs in the meadow and woods, and hope-pray-dream for ways to make the world a better place.

B1jEa3dwcCS._UX250_[1] I am Raymond Washington: The only authorized biography of the original founder of the Crips by Zach Fortier (Author), Derard Barton (Author), Blue Harvest Creative (Illustrator)

Zach Fortier was a police officer for over 30 years, specializing in K-9, SWAT, gang, domestic violence and sex crimes as an investigator. He has written five books about Police work. “Curbchek” the first book is a case by case account of the streets as he worked them from the start of his 30 career. “Streetcreds” the second book details time Zach Spent in a Gang task force and the cases that occurred. The third book is by far the most gritty: “Curbchek-Reload”. In “Curbchek-Reload” Zach is damaged and dangerously so, suffering from PTSD and the day to day violence of working the street. “Hero To Zero” is Zach’s fourth book and recalls cops he worked with that were incredibly talented but ended up going down in flames, some ended up in jail, prison and one on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Zach’s fifth book is just out and is titled “Landed On Black” and covers the constant state of hyper-vigilance required to survive the double crosses and betrayals that occurred on the streets and in the police department. Zach’s latest book I am Raymond Washington, provides the reader with an unprecedented look into the life of the original founder of the Crips gang. Filled with eyewitness accounts and recollections from friends and family give the reader a look into the life of the Original Crip. @amazon Author Page

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Richest person of all time, benevolent African King Musa Keita I, forgotten #BlackHistory

hqdefault[1]  Mansa_Musa_grande[1] #AfricanStrength Mansa Musa Tee

My daughter asked me this morning if Timbuktu was ever a real place. Oh, yes! I rushed to the internet, and quickly got distracted with the story of the man who annexed the ancient, legendary, and REAL city of Timbuktu:

African King Musa Keita I –  the richest person of all time — “richer than anyone could describe” — ruled all (or parts) of modern day Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad. And he was a GOOD king. He conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding districts containing villages and estates, but he traveled far and wide, giving away so much gold, the market value of gold temporarily declined.

Accompanied by thousands of richly dressed servants and supporters Musa made generous donations to the poor and to charitable organizations as well as the rulers of the lands his entourage crossed. On his stop in Cairo, Egypt, the Emperor gave out so much gold that he generated a brief decline in its value. Cairo’s gold market recovered over a decade later.

So why do the evil conquerors live on in history, but Asoka (aka Ashoka), the first Buddhist king, and good King Musa Keita I, are unheard of by most people? Good deeds are worthy of comic books, action adventure movies, and thrillers. Just toss in an evil villain, and bring to life, in graphic novels and illustrated children’s books and Disney movies, the GOOD GUYS.

Musa Keita I was crowned in 1312 and given the name Mansa, meaning king.

Mansa Musa was in charge of a lot of land. He annexed the city of Timbuktu and reestablished power over Gao. His empire stretched about 2,000 miles. Image result for mansa musa

In his 1324 pilgrimage to Mecca, he crossed nearly 4,000 miles:

His procession reportedly included 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves who each carried four pounds of gold bars and heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses, and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Those animals included 80 camels which each carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust. Musa gave the gold to the poor he met along his route. Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but also traded gold for souvenirs. It was reported that he built a mosque each and every Friday.

But Musa’s generous actions inadvertently devastated the economy of the regions through which he passed. In the cities of Cairo, Medina, and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade. Prices on goods and wares greatly inflated. To rectify the gold market, on his way back from Mecca, Musa borrowed all the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo, at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.

After reigning for 25 years, Mansa Musa died in 1337. He was succeeded by his son, Maghan I. “The king’s rich legacy persisted for generations and to this day, there are mausoleums, libraries, and mosques that stand as a testament to this golden age of Mali’s history.

His wealth is estimated at $400 Billion. via @loopfyblog

Musa Keita I (c. 1280 — c. 1337) was the tenth Mansa, which translates as “sultan” (king) or “emperor”, of the wealthy West African Mali Empire. At the time of Musa’s rise to the throne, the Malian Empire consisted of territory formerly belonging to the Ghana Empire in present-day southern Mauritania and in Melle (Mali) and the immediate surrounding areas. Musa held many titles, including Emir of Melle, Lord of the Mines of Wangara, Conqueror of Ghanata, and at least a dozen others. It is said that Mansa Musa had conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding districts containing villages and estates, during his reign. He is known to have been enormously wealthy; reported as being inconceivably rich by contemporaries, “There’s really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth” (Davidson 2015).

From Business Insider:

… Upon his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought Arab scholars, government bureaucrats, and architects. Among those who returned with him was the architect Ishaq El Teudjin who introduced advanced building techniques to Mali. He designed numerous buildings for the Emperor including a new palace named Madagou, the mosque at Gao, the second largest city in Mali, and the still-standing great mosque at Timbuktu, the largest city in the empire. That mosque was named the Djinguereber. El Teudjin’s most famous design was the Emperor’s chamber at the Malian capital of Niani.

Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage boosted Islamic education in Mali by adding mosques, libraries, and universities. The awareness of Musa by other Islamic leaders brought increased commerce and scholars, poets, and artisans, making Timbuktu one of the leading cities in the Islamic world during the time when the most advanced nations from Spain to central India were Muslim. Timbuktu was clearly the center of Islamic Sub-Saharan Africa.

Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca brought Mali to the attention of Europe. For the next two centuries Italian, German, and Spanish cartographers produced maps of the world which showed Mali and which often referenced Mansa Musa. The first of these maps appeared in Italy in 1339 with Mansa Musa’s name and likeness.
mansa musa 1375 Catalan Atlas, one of the most important world maps of Medieval Europe, Wikimedia Commons

Mansa Musa died in 1337 after a twenty-five year reign. He was succeeded by his son, Maghan I.

Moreover, with Israel coming under Greek, Persian and later Roman rule and dependency, renewed waves of Jewish refugees including traders and artisans began to set up more communities in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Nubia and the Punic Empire, notably in Carthage. From Carthage they began to scatter into various historically established, as well as newly emerging Jewish communities south of the Atlas mountains nearer to the modern day Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Congo. Several Jewish nomadic groups also moved across the Sahara from Nubia and the ancient kingdom of Kush towards west Africa.

Who knew? Not I: Various East and West African ethnic nations lay verifiable claim to their Jewish ancestral heritage. Almost 300,000 “of those black Falasha Jews live in the modern State of Isreal as practising Jews. True black history.” Business Insider 

My grandson, Winslow, is the son of a native of Liberia (next door to Ghana). If I believed in reincarnation, I’d swear that Winslow is a great emperor who’s come back as a 21st Century American citizen. This is Winslow at the age of one week (in tux), then one month (with his paternal grandpa), then 2 months (his maternal great-grandpa is a farmer of German descent):

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His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather left Dublin, Ireland, in 1800, for New York; he married an Algonquin named Ruby; he bought land from the Sac and Fox tribe in Cedar Rapids and operated a ferry with his brother Aaron, who married Ruby’s sister Sarah; Ushers Ferry Road is named after this family.

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Joseph Usher, ~1820    Emil Henry (mom’s side), ~1920    Kean, ~1940

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Accountable: The Joseph Usher Story 1903 murder trial still studied by law students today

860951_388366931261109_1525897664_o[1] Joseph Aaron Usher (portrait, ~1820); Joseph Aaron Usher Jr’s father; heritage Native American and Irish

“I did not know there was a murder mystery in my mother’s family,” Nancy Panoch writes.

Neither did I!

Joseph Usher was the great-uncle of my mother; his younger brother William was my mom’s great-grandfather, making Nancy Panoch a distant cousin. I met Nancy at a Barnes and Noble book signing, bought a signed copy of “Accountable,” and learned more about my ancestors. GREAT story–of love and family, mystery and murder, and details of a 1903 trial that is still studied by law students today.

“Not long ago,”Nancy writes, “In the process of exploring my American Indian ancestry, I stumbled on information about that murder and asked for more. … in trying to defend the man who committed the crime, this story grabbed hold of me with a passion I could not let go until I finished writing … becoming an author never occurred to me until this story of love, betrayal and murder took hold of me … I have been working on my ACCOUNTABLE: THE JOSEPH USHER STORY for five years. I looked up the word ‘guilt’ and ‘accountable’ came up. I knew immediately what the name of my book would be because Joseph Usher was accountable for this murder.”


accountable-3D[1] In May of 1903, a hired hand is murdered in the night, in a bed in the house on the dairy farm of Joseph Usher and his family on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nancy Panoch introduces the reader to Joseph, his second wife, and his two youngest sons by his first wife. Otto, at 16, is a sturdy and reliable worker on the farm, a good role model for his 9-year-old brother. The woman of the house is Lucy, a very young woman Joseph had married some time after the death of his first wife. Lucy shows some signs of mental instability.

**Buy the ebook for $3.99 by clicking on this link: Accountable by Nancy Panoch

William Garrity is a farm hand and a good friend, when he’s not drunk. On May 26, Garrity, staying at the Usher home following a drinking bout, is killed. At first, it seems as if he died of natural causes, but then a bullet wound is discovered.

Most of the book “Accountable” is a record of the trial, with detailed testimony over a prolonged period. Circumstantial evidence puts Joseph Usher in jail for a few years (he’s released on good behavior).  are dashed, rekindled, and dashed again.

With a successful motion for a new trial, further developments stretch on into 1909. Young Otto takes on the role of running the family business and keeping the family together. Tense relations between the Ushers and Lucy’s family soften.

The primary mystery is the motive. Was it really Joseph who shot Garrity? Why would he? If he didn’t pull the trigger, who did?

All the character witnesses asserted Joseph was a good, upstanding man, not someone who’d commit premeditated murder.

— From a review by Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English. Read the complete and unedited review here in the Fort Meyers Florida Weekly.

The paperback is out of print, but you can find copies at

5 star review: My Ancestor’s Tale on March 30, 2013   Verified Purchase

This book is written about my Great Grandfather and Great Great Grandfather. It is a fascinating story that was not discussed in our family, and when I learned that this sad story was being written – I can honestly say that I had no knowledge of the events that took place some 110 years ago! I always knew my father’s family to be hard working, devoted, God fearing people – who never hesitated to lend a neighbor or friend a helping hand, and I can only imagine the hardship and isolation that this ordeal caused the whole family at that time. My ancestors were no-nonsense folk who did not partake in idle gossip or openly discuss any type of scandal. I can now understand why that happened to be the case. I knew my Great Grandfather Otto, who is one of the central characters in this tale. He was a man with a great deal of wisdom that most probably was gained by battling the challenges that life presents. He was just a young man when his father was tried for the murder of Bill Garrity. I can only imagine how that horrible experience forced him to age beyond his years. This book is a testament to what a good man he was and remained throughout his life of beyond 90 years.

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About the Author

Until a few years ago I did not know there was a murder mystery in my mother’s family. In the process of exploring my American Indian ancestry, I stumbled on information about that murder and asked for more. With this knowledge, and in trying to defend the man who committed the crime, this story grabbed hold of me with a passion I could not let go until I finished writing. My two brothers, sister and I grew up on our parent’s family farm in Chickasaw County, located in Northeast Iowa. A river, the Wapsipinicon, runs through the back side of our farm. This region is rich in Native American artifacts. As we played in the Wapsie and climbed on the Indian mounds on the banks of the river, little did I realize the connection I had to the Native American heritage. After graduating from the New Hampton High School in 1963, I attended La James Beauty College in Mason City, Iowa. In the fall of 1964 I married Ron Panoch. My first beauty salon began when Susie was two months old. Susie was six, Karen four and Gary three when we moved into our new home in Ionia Iowa, where I operated my second salon from our home for 17 years. In 1986, Ron, Gary — a senior in high school, and I moved to Punta Gorda in South West Florida. When I look back, I wrote reports and took minutes for eight-hour board meetings for the Iowa and Florida Cosmetology Associations, however becoming an author never occurred to me until this story of love, betrayal and murder took hold of me. My father passed away seven years ago. My mother, who is 92, is my love and I see to her needs. She is comfortable in her own home close to ours. Our family ties to Iowa will always be strong, however Florida is our home now and we enjoy the warm weather. Our children live on the East Coast of Florida and we have four beautiful grandchildren. I have been working on my ACCOUNTABLE: THE JOSEPH USHER STORY for five years. I looked up the word ‘guilt’ and ‘accountable’ came up. I knew immediately what the name of my book would be because Joseph Usher was accountable for this murder. As you step back with me into another time, trying to figure out “who done it,” you will admire Otto, the sixteen-year-old, and nine-year-old Walter. Otto displayed maturity and courage with every task placed upon him. I wrote this book with love in my heart. I feel that with a clearer understanding of what happened all those years ago there will be healing for those of us related to these characters.



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