Category Archives: Crime

Treating Our Border As a Battle Zone

At Fusion, Sasha von Oldershausen revisits the story of Esequiel Hernandez, the 18-year old who Marines fatally shot when they were patrolling the border in 1997. They mistook him for a drug smuggler in a part of West Texas that the U.S. Government characterized as the front line of the War on Drugs. But how dangerous is this area? And is militarization the most effective way to reduce the drug trade? Twenty years later, many people here feel less safe. As one longtime resident said, “The moment you employ the rhetoric of war, it becomes a battle zone.”

It was this same wrongful characterization of Redford that would ultimately lead to Esequiel’s death. In some ways, it’s plain to see how the Marines could have mistaken Esequiel for a criminal, given “the fragmentary and sometimes inaccurate picture of local conditions,” as the congressional investigation stated.

JTF-6 was equipped with a cursory understanding of the area gleaned from notes written by their sergeant, recounted in the Marine Corp report, which stated: “Redford is not a friendly town,” and “Connections between town residents and drug traffickers were assumed to be the norm.”

They were not informed that families lived just a stone’s throw from where they were hiding, and that among them were Hernandez and his brothers and sisters, his mother and father, who resided in a small cluster of humble homes below the hill where he was shot. They were not told that Esequiel would herd his goats daily in the very region they were monitoring. They didn’t even know that the Polvo Crossing was a “Class B” entry—a legal route for pedestrian traffic to cross the river—until two days into their mission.

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The Great, Ongoing California Nut Caper

In California, massive nut heists rattled the state for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, which are thought to be linked to a Russian organized-crime ring.

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These Activists Say Marijuana is a Gift from God

Marijuana Book Cover

With Jeff Sessions banging the drum to bring back the war on drugs, access to marijuana — even for medical use — seems more and more remote for red state users. At BuzzFeed, Alyson Martin meets activists who take a faith-based approach to ending marijuana prohibition.

Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she’s endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”

Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.

Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May.

“People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,’” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

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Wrestling With the Truth

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich | The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir | Flatiron Books | May 2017 | 22 minutes (6,102 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from the first four chapters of The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s gripping hybrid memoir of a murder case and family secrets. Blending crime reportage with first-person narrative of her own struggles, the braided story wrestles with trauma, violence, and the ways we try to understand the past, especially when those we trust betray us. Our thanks to Marzano-Lesnevich and Flatiron for sharing it with the Longreads community.

Note: This work is not authorized or approved by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center or its clients, and the views expressed by the author do not reflect the views or positions of anyone other than the author. The author’s description of any legal proceedings, including her description of the positions of the parties and the circumstances and events of the crimes charged, are drawn solely from the court record, other publicly available information, and her own research.

One

Louisiana, 1992

The boy wears sweatpants the color of a Louisiana lake. Later, the police report will note them as blue, though in every description his mother gives thereafter she will always insist on calling them aqua or teal. On his feet are the muddy hiking boots every boy wears in this part of the state, perfect for playing in the woods. In one small fist, he grips a BB gun half as tall as he is. The BB gun is the Daisy brand, with a long, brown plastic barrel the boy keeps as shiny as if it were real metal. The only child of a single mother, Jeremy Guillory is used to moving often, sleeping in bedrooms that aren’t his. His mother’s friends all rent houses along the same dead-end street the landlord calls Watson Road whenever he wants to charge higher rent, though it doesn’t really have a name and even the town police department will need directions to find it. Settlers from Iowa named the town after their home state but, wanting a fresh start, pronounced the name Io-way, even as they kept the spelling. The town has always been a place people come for new starts, always been a place they can’t quite leave the past behind. There, the boy and his mother stay with whoever can pay the electricity bill one month, whoever can keep the gas on the next. Wherever the boy lands, he takes his BB gun with him. It is his most prized possession.

Now it is the first week in February. The leaves are green and lush on the trees, but the temperature dips at night. Lorilei, Jeremy’s mother, isn’t working. She rented a home just for the two of them—their first—but the electricity’s been turned off. Her brother Richard lives in a sprawling house up on the hill, but she isn’t staying with Richard. Instead, Lorilei and Jeremy are staying with Lorilei’s friend Melissa, Melissa’s boyfriend, Michael, and their baby. The baby is two years old, old enough that he wants to play with the boy and screams when he doesn’t get his way.

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How Thieves Are Stealing 6500-Ton Ships Off the Sea Floor

At Outside, Kathryn Miles reports on how pirates are diving down to wrecks on the sea floor in search of scrap and are stealing 6500-ton ships in their entirety, leaving only the imprint of the massive hulls on the sea floor.

What these divers should have found was a 6,440-ton cruiser, complete with tower, turrets, and catapult—a ship long and large enough to launch a seaplane. Instead, they found only the impression of a hull on an empty seafloor. The vessel that had once lain there had first been discovered in 2001. It was surveyed a year later. Since then, recreational divers had visited. And sure, ocean currents can drag debris from a downed plane or even cause a renaissance galleon to resurface. But this was a massive steel ship. The only way it was going to go anywhere was if someone—or lots of someones—had moved it.

The team’s search for other battle casualties in the area was no less haunting. HMAS Perch, a 300-foot-long Australian submarine, was gone. So were two British ships—the 329-foot HMS Encounter and the 574-foot Exeter. Another, the 329-foot HMS Electra, had been gutted. A huge section of the Kortenaer, another 322-foot Dutch warship, was also missing. Seven ships in all—either lost without a trace or grossly scavenged. An eighth, the USS Houston, was mostly intact, but it was clear pirates had begun gutting it as well.

Sunken warships remain the property of their country of origin regardless of where they are found. Laws regarding their stewardship vary a little from nation to nation, but in general, the ships—and everything on or in them—belong to that country’s navy. There are even more specific rules, both stated and understood, for vessels containing human remains. It’s a code of conduct among divers: Let deceased sailors rest undisturbed.

But even for all this disturbance, the vessels and the lost souls they carried remained mostly intact. Until they disappeared altogether.

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The Unlikely Friendship of Long Ma and Bac Duong

When 71-year-old taxi driver Long Ma answered the phone and agreed to drive Bac Duong and a few friends home, he had no idea he was about to be taken hostage by three escaped inmates. Although one of Ma’s captors was set on killing him, he developed a deep bond with Bac, a fellow Vietnamese immigrant. After almost a week in captivity and thanks to Bac, Ma got away alive and today, visits Bac regularly in prison — the two regard one another as father and son. Paul Kix tells their tale in GQ.

Money had always been tight, which exacerbated the arguments between Ma and his wife. He knew she was losing respect for him and knew that everyone in the family noticed it. Rather than suffer the indignity, Ma moved one day, without explanation, from their home in San Diego. He found a little room in the Garden Grove boarding house and began a solitary existence as a driver—a choice that seemed to have led to this: He was a hostage in a squalid motel room, debating whether an accused killer actually cared for him.

The escapees decided they needed to move north, and on Tuesday morning, they drove 350 tense miles to San Jose, where they found another motel. The journey exhausted Ma. And that night he began snoring so loudly that he woke Duong, lying beside him. But Duong didn’t elbow him awake. Instead, he slowly climbed out of bed, careful not to stir Ma, and curled up on the floor, so Uncle might rest more peacefully.

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Carol Blevins: The Confidential Informant Who is Now A Target for Murder

In this epic, seven-part feature from the Dallas Morning News, Scott Farwell tells the story of Carol Blevins, a heroin addict and “Aryan Princess featherwood” (property of a gang member) who became the FBI’s most important confidential informant during a massive, six-year investigation into the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas — an organized crime syndicate responsible for over 100 murders and a huge drug trade. Blevins’ keen eye for detail helped take down 13 members of the gang. Not only does she suffer post-traumatic stress from her undercover work, the gang has signaled the “green light” on her assassination in a bid for revenge.

She lived with the ABT, gathering information the Cold War way – by sleuthing, connecting dots, memorizing detail.

Her spy work offered broad views (the ABT’s strategy for moving meth with Mexican cartels) and small insights (serial numbers on stolen guns).

In covert text messages, she pre-empted murders and interrupted robberies. She led police to drug drop houses, snapped photos connecting criminals to unsolved crimes, and prepped police when it came time to arrest men predisposed to violence.

Carol’s work sealed 13 convictions, contributed key information to at least 16 others, and juiced the careers of her government handlers.

The feds use most spies like matches – to strike fast, burn hot and flame out. Others fill disposable roles in sting operations, as drug buyers or middlemen who fence stolen property.

But agents say the most valuable CIs augur deep inside, where they learn to live in another skin, to lie and believe the lie, to infiltrate silently and investigate invisibly – like a colorless gas filling an empty vessel.

Carol was like that. She would do or say or risk anything to gain favor with the feds.

Then they cut her loose.

Medical records suggest Carol suffers from a range of mental illnesses — bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder — as a result of her work as a confidential informant.

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She Got Hacked So You Don’t Have To

It happened to John Podesta; it happened to Paul Manafort’s daughter; it’s a type of computer hack called “spearphishing,” a much more sophisticated attack than the clumsy mass-mail attempts to gain your online credentials. Social engineers target you alone by masquerading as someone you know, using your natural proclivity to trust against you. At GQ, Sarah Jeong willingly got spearphished in a bid to understand and share the latest shady tactics of computer baddies.

I got a taste of what might have tricked Andrea Manafort when an e-mail from my friend, Parker, inviting me to look at a Google Doc, landed in my inbox.

It had taken several hours to get to that point, hours during which I had sat back, watching Quintin construct an attack against me. He went through my social-media accounts, rifled through my work information, skimmed through my latest articles. The idea was to slip into my shoes and construct an e-mail that I would click on without thinking. The tried-and-true method is to pretend to be someone the person already knows, using social media to scout out connections to impersonate.

Good social engineers persuade people to give something away without a second thought, because the request is so innocuous—like a friend asking me to look at his or her Google Doc. Spearphishing is just another form of social engineering.

But protecting yourself against social engineering is an ongoing chore, like living through an endless April Fool’s Day. Your paranoia must be constantly pitted against a hacker’s persistence. For now I’m turning on my two-factor and my password manager, and squinting at web addresses—living as though the Internet is out to get me. Every day I stake my digital life on the hope that any would-be hackers will run out of time, money, and attention before I run out of luck. And whether you know it or not, you do, too.

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The Complicated Power of DIY Justice

Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for the system to deliver justice? In Esquire, Suzy Khimm enters the underworld of Canadian vigilantes who hunt pedophiles and make popular videos of busts. They have names like Creep Hunters and Creep Catchers. Some members were molested themselves, and they’re done waiting for authorities to help. But going rogue requires walking the line between avenger and criminal, and mistakes have led to widespread changes in the movement. Now some are asking what they want more: to be famous or effective?

When he took over the Creep Hunters last fall, Brady boasts, he created a culture of professionalism for their work: All chats and videos were required to be posted to the “head office” (a virtual workspace) and vetted by a “legal team” (a law student) before being published online. The group required members to sign a service agreement and complete a training program, using a manual called The Book of New Blood. The group even appointed an “office manager,” a 55-year-old former HR assistant who organized all the chat logs—the smutty propositions, the overwrought confessions of love, the dick pics—to send to the police.

So far, Creep Hunters hasn’t gotten anyone convicted, and only one catch—snaring a deputy sheriff in British Columbia—has resulted in charges of child sexual exploitation. But Brady insists that Creep Hunters could be the ideal complement to traditional law enforcement. Compared to the U.S., Canada has been slow to toughen its laws on child sexual exploitation: In 2008, it raised the age of consent from fourteen to sixteen years—the first time it had changed since 1892. Brady believes that the country needs to take America’s lead in cracking down on sex offenders, and that groups like his can help close the gap. Since predator catchers don’t have the ability to make arrests, they aren’t subject to the same entrapment laws that limit how police carry out their own sting operations; they can go where the police don’t, then turn their evidence over to the authorities.

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“That sort of thing doesn’t happen in America.”

Padlock and chain on a green wooden door with keyholes

The memory exploded in my head in the dark, quiet classroom, and suddenly, a recurring nightmare I’d had for years made sense. In those dreams, the lower half of my body was made of kid’s construction toys, and pieces kept breaking off as I frantically tried to keep myself together. I began sobbing at my desk. The teacher kindly told me to catch my breath in the hallway; she thought I was upset over the images I was seeing in the video. Later, at lunch, my white girlfriends talked about being relieved that sort of thing doesn’t happen in America.

Only it does. It happened to Tasneem Raja. At Mother Jones, Raja shares her story — she was cut as a child — and explains why it’s so hard to stop the secrecy shrouded tradition.

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