Casefile podcast looks at Jennifer Pan case

The Casefile podcast has just done a two-hour-plus episode on the Jennifer Pan case. I listened to it as I usually listen to podcasts — while making dinner or walking the dog — and it was pretty good.

Although I knew the case fairly well — from the Toronto Life article linked above and the book, A Daughter’s Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi — it was fascinating to hear the audio from her police interviews. Afterwards, a little bit of googling led to the discovery that all 10 hours of the interrogation played at trial is available on Youtube. Here’s part one:

What else can I tell you? Casefile’s a pretty decent podcast with very few bells and whistles. The narrator, an anonymous Aussie, tells the story of various murder investigations. Whoever writes the scripts does a really good job though not at all the type of writing that calls attention to itself. They make telling complicated crime stories look really easy.

The Pan episode was a bit of an exception because there’s often no additional audio at all — just the narrator telling you about various murders, some of them among the world’s most notorious and others far less well known with an emphasis on Australian cases. One of the best episodes was about the Sherri Rasmussen murder, a Los Angeles cold case that I first read about in Vanity Fair a few years back.

 

Millard-related gun trial starts May 23rd

The Walther PPK pistol used to kill Tim Bosma. At the murder trial of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, the Crown alleged the gun had been sold to Millard by Matthew Ward-Jackson.

The trial of two of the “Three Matthews” charged with trafficking weapons that allegedly ended up in the hands of Dellen Millard will take place in Toronto on May 23rd.

Based on what i saw at the preliminary hearing, held back in 2015, it promises to be a very  interesting trial. But due to the standard pre-trial publication ban, I can’t say anything about the evidence until the trial gets underway.

Both Matthew Ward-Jackson and Matthew Odlum are pleading not guilty. The third Matthew, Matthew Wawrykiewicz, will be tried separately at a later date and is also pleading not guilty. None of the charges against them have been proven in court.

If you are interested in following this trial, please check out my Indiegogo page.

Here are some examples of my past trial and court coverage:

Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments or email me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com

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Andrew Potter’s Quebec bashing meant he had to go as head of Canada institute

Andrew Potter’s article was not criticism but a malevolent full frontal attack

There are some mistakes that are resignation worthy. And Andrew Potter’s malevolent and unfounded essay about Quebec, published earlier this week in Maclean’s, is one of them. The director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada simply can’t write a hit piece like that and go on to do his job effectively. His credibility was shot. He had to go.

Yet because his target was Quebec, in the rest of Canada, opinion is almost unanimous that Potter, who remains on the faculty at McGill as an associate professor, is the one who has been wronged and that Quebecers are just a bunch on thin-skinned crybabies. McGill is being called cowardly and craven, first, for issuing first a statement saying that Potter’s opinion was not shared by the university, and, then, for accepting Potter’s resignation as institute director.

In the space of a day, the Twitter critics went from criticizing the university for dissociating itself from Potter’s article instead of remaining silent to demanding McGill actively defend Potter’s academic freedom and right to remain the head of the Canada Institute. Rumours were floated that powerful politicians had demanded Potter’s head although they were as unsubstantiated as much of Potter’s article.

To Potter’s credit, he owned up to his article’s mistakes although what prompted the diatribe remains a mystery. For many in the chattering classes, his apology was enough and it was time to move on with Potter keeping his job. But this idea is untenable.

Potter’s article portrayed Quebecers as friendless, ungenerous, duplicitous. It went well beyond criticism deep into attack territory. The reaction it provoked is not about an inability to accept criticism but rather shock at the bigotry being directed at Quebec. And this bigotry was not coming from just anybody, but from the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Imagine if the director of a North America think tank denounced Canadians as a bunch of whiney, boring losers. Would we all rally round to demand that director keep their job? Or would we say WTF, time to find a new director, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable for someone in that position. 

The fact that so many of Potter’s defenders see no problem with Potter’s portrayal of Quebec is astonishing as is their ability to ignore the almost unanimous chorus of Quebecers saying they didn’t recognize the place Potter described, that he must be living in a parallel universe.

For an academic and journalist, Potter is surprisingly unskeptical when he quotes a Statistics Canada report showing “the proportion of people who report having zero close friends is highest in Quebec … And (that) while 28 per cent of Quebecers over the age of 75 report having no close friends, the average for the rest of the country is a mere 11 per cent.”

An anomaly like that shouldn’t make much sense to anyone not predisposed to view Quebec as some sinister backwater. There’s simply no logical reason for Quebecers to have fewer close friends. I suspect what we’re dealing with here are possible translation issues and different cultures’ interpretations of what constitutes a friend, close friend or acquaintance. And please note, I say this as someone who — like Potter — has questioned Quebecers cherished vision of themselves as full of joie de vivre compared to uptight Canadians.

Many Quebecers would also likely agree with several of Potter’s points had they been presented in context. Montreal should have long ago put an end to a never-ending police labour protest, where cops wear colourful camouflage pants instead of their uniform trousers. But how? Like Toronto does? By caving in and giving cops everything they want? Montreal may have police in clown pants but Potter never mentions that Toronto has a force where almost everyone who is not on the Sunshine List of Ontario public service employees, who make more than $100,000, is only a few thousand dollars away. Here in Ontario we’ve used our non-social capital to buy off the police, hardly a superior solution.

Perhaps this is something Potter will ponder as the snow melts and he ventures out to one of those many two-bill restaurant he alone seems to know. He can drown his sorrows about a future that is temporarily a little less bright and a career that is slightly less charmed than it was last week. Actions have consequences, but if Potter is truly as smart and affable, as his backers maintain, he will rise again having learned to be even smarter as a result of his very serious mistake.

Mark Smich wants Laura Babcock murder charge stayed

 

Accused Murderer Mark Smich

Mark Smich was charged in April 2014 for the murder of Laura Babcock. His trial is set for September 2017, three and a half years later

By now you may have heard the news that Mark Smich, the convicted killer of Tim Bosma (along with his ex-pal, Dellen Millard), wants the charges against him for the murder of Laura Babcock stayed due to undue trial delays.

You may be panicking. Could this really happen? Oh yes it can, you’re saying. Look at this case in Ottawa where an alleged murderer got off and this one, where charges of sexually assaulting a child were stayed because technical issues caused trial delays.

In the latter case, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco said the accused’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. He cited the Supreme Court’s recent Jordan ruling, which set time limits on the period between charges being laid and the trial getting underway. Those limits are 18 months for most criminal cases and 30 months for the most serious cases, including murder.

Justice Julianne Parfett used the same reasoning when she stayed the Ottawa first degree murder charges mentioned above. In something of an understatement, she wrote in her ruling: “I am well aware that, in deciding to stay these charges, the family of the deceased in this matter will not see justice done as they would want.”

According to the news reports, neither of these judges seemed overly concerned about the possibility their rulings might bring the justice system into public disrepute. Ontario’s attorney general almost immediately asked for a review of Parfett’s ruling. (Ed: I’d like a review of how she became a superior court judge. Can you look into it? And what’s up with this Paciocco guy while you’re at it?)

The news of Smich’s upcoming motion was raised by his lawyer Thomas Dungey in Toronto court today for a routine proceeding.

In another case, whose updates were heard just before Smich’s, there were also concerns raised about possible trial delays. Regarding this other, non-Smich case, Justice John McMahon said, “We’re not going to have a murder case in Toronto stayed because we didn’t do it in the time. It’s not going to happen.”

Smich was charged with the murder of Laura Babcock in April 2014. His trial was supposed to have begun earlier this month but was delayed because his co-accused Dellen Millard said he couldn’t find nor pay a lawyer and he had been denied legal aid. That caused the Babcock trial to be bumped to September of this year. (The court also heard Millard still hasn’t gotten his finances sorted and is appealing the Legal Aid decision.)

Millard’s and Smich’s circumstances are somewhat unusual given that they themselves weren’t available at earlier dates for the Laura Babcock trial. They spent several months of 2015 and the first half of 2016 in court in Hamilton for the murder of Tim Bosma for which they were eventually convicted.

Millard is also charged with the murder of his father, Wayne, a trial which isn’t scheduled to take place until 2018.

Both Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty to all charges against them.

My book, Dark Ambition provides the full story to date.

 

New series on a sexual assault trial: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In 2015, I wrote an eight-part series on a sexual assault trial for the Walrus magazine. It generated so much interest the magazine asked me if I could do another series. I proposed a very different but equally interesting sexual assault case.

The new series, called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is now in progress. Here are the links:

Part 1: She says he raped her. He says he never touched her. At least one of them is lying

Part 2: “I was stupid, I was young, I was ignorant—and that’s all I admit”

Part 3: Why can a witness remember many details yet be so vague about the sexual assault itself?

Part 4: The verdict arrives. And so does Marie Henein—best known for representing Jian Ghomeshi

Part 5: Post-verdict

Part 6: The appeal

As of Jan. 27, 2017, I am awaiting a court ruling to see what happens next. Sign up for my newsletter to ensure you don’t miss the appeal decision and the epilogue of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

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I just heard the most awesomely spectacular rumour

In which, I check out a rumour

Earlier today I was checking the referral stats for my website, which, among other things, sometimes tell me the search terms people use to find this blog. Usually, these are predictable and obvious, but the search words that caught my eye today were just the opposite. They were “Wow!”,  “Holy Shit!”, “”Stop the Presses!” search words.

The words formed a full sentence with a subject (a person), a verb and an object (another person). That sentence fell into the outrageous rumour category. (And just for the record, the outrageous rumour in question has nothing whatsoever to do with my book or anyone in it.)

Now, you should know that when it comes to rumours, I almost always err on the “no way” side of things. I am the unfun person in the room who dismisses rumours, who tells the dinner party, “Sorry folks, not true.” And usually, I am right because most rumours — especially rumours like this one — aren’t true. Or only a teeny, tiny uninteresting part of them turns out to be true.

But there are occasions, very rare ones,  when my “no way” stance has led me to be outrageously wrong, when the the crazy rumour turns out to be true. Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you.

Despite the odds, I felt I should check this rumour out. So I texted a friend who would be in the know about stuff like this. But he hadn’t hear the rumour, which he nevertheless dismissed as impossible. (See text message exchange at the top of this story.)

I told him to google the name of the subject of the rumour and look at Google’s related searches. I wanted to check that he got the same results I did. He did. In its related searches, Google had the name of the subject followed by the name of the object as its top result.

This showed people were googling this rumour. And I am unlikely to be the only media person who has heard it by now.

My friend agreed the google results were weird and then said he had to go. I took the hint.

Now, if I were Buzzfeed, I’d just put this crazy rumour out there and say, “Okay everyone, you decide.” But I’m old school so I’m not saying anything except that if this is true, it’s going to be extremely entertaining. And if it’s not true, well, it amused me for an hour or two and gave me something to blog about.

The Fall Guy by James Lasdun, a fun short read

A fun thriller to read in an evening

I like good short books that you can read in afternoon or evening. And I also like psychological thrillers. The Fall Guy falls into both those categories. I highly recommend it.

But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to talk a little bit about the reviews for The Fall Guy. In general, the professional reviewers liked it. And although I often find that reviewers over praise a lot of mediocre stuff, especially mediocre, literary-wannabe stuff, I’m totally on board with them in this case. (For the record, here’s one example of egregious over praising in the thriller category.)

For all their flaws, Average Joe reader reviewers at places like Amazon and Goodreads almost always call the critics out for over praising albeit often for what I find to be the wrong reasons.

Average Jane, for example, frequently gets shirty if a book isn’t the type of thing she likes. Such was largely the case for The Fall Guy, which has lower-than-deserved reader reviews.

No, it wouldn’t

Average Jillian provides a classic example. She wants another book from the one that was written. She doesn’t appreciate that The Fall Guy is all about its unreliable narrator and his perspective. The reader has to do the rest of the work and imagine what the two main characters are really like. That’s the whole point. We don’t get to see them from any other perspective than the narrator’s.

This idea that you can and should know everything is one I encounter in the real world. People believe they can know the unknowable and get frustrated when they can’t.

In the case of the The Fall Guy, it’s the mystery and unknowing that makes it so good. And it’s a fun, quick read. Have at it.

Thanks to DNA, an alleged serial killer is arrested 20-plus years later

I first heard about the Claremont serial killer listening to the Casefile True Crime podcast.It’s Australian so they cover a lot of crime from down under including this series of murders in Perth.

The man arrested is 48-year-old Bradley Robert Edwards, who was taken into custody just before Christmas. Aussie news outlets don’t have much information on him at all. It’s pretty much a solid chorus of interviewees saying, “He’s such a great bloke,” “I never suspected anything,mate” and “Went to school with his brother.”

This is precisely the type of case that interests me because Edwards managed to fly under the radar.

After an arrest like this, people almost always come forward to say, “He wasn’t really such a great bloke” or “He was kind of weird.” But that hasn’t happened yet here.

BTW, the Claremont serial killer case was also Australia’s biggest and most expensive criminal investigation and a failure until they did DNA testing on some decades-old evidence.

The Bad Seed, psychopaths, and nature vs. nurture

Eight-year-old psychopath, The Bad Seed

In The Bad Seed, an eight-year-old girl with great parents is a successful serial killer

My new year’s resolution did not include weekend blogging, but there’s something to be said for writing while it’s fresh so here goes.

Last night I watched The Bad Seed, the screenplay of which was written by Maxwell Anderson, who wrote Anne of the Thousand Days.

I am extremely interested in the nature vs. nurture debate, and have been for a long time. I remember when my high school biology teacher told us about twin studies involving identical twins separated at birth, I found it strange that there would be enough identical twins separated at birth to conduct this type of study, but back then I only questioned that type of stuff in my head. I couldn’t take to Twitter to express my skepticism and Mrs. Marks was not a huge fan of mine so I didn’t bring it up in class.

Years later when I was living in Germany, however, I heard a report on the BBC World Service about how most of those twin studies were, if not bogus, severely flawed. I kicked myself for having never having looked into it further but I digress.

The pendulum swings regularly in the nature/nurture debate. Back in the seventies, it was all about environment. It wasn’t unusual for women to choose to be gay so they wouldn’t have to deal with men. Nowadays, you’re supposed to be born gay and that’s that.

The proverbial pendulum is now way over in the nature zone. Everything’s brain chemistry, brain wiring and genes and DNA. The media credulously gobbles up nonsense about a neuroscientist diagnosing himself as psychopath based on MRI scans.

The Bad Seed by William March was kind of a precursor to this current phase. It even uses the words “brain chemistry” at one point. Its basic thesis is that murderous tendencies are inherited and can skip generations so that even an eight-year-old girl with wonderful parents can be a successful serial killer. It’s beyond ridiculous, but it’s fiction so let’s give it a pass.

What isn’t fiction, however, is Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare, considered one of the world’s leading experts on psychopathy. In his non-fiction book, he uses the fictional little girl from The Bad Seed as an example of a child psychopath with good parents, presumably because he couldn’t find such a person in real life where psychopaths are invariably bred in dysfunctional homes.