Quantifying serial killing and mass murders

Have you been following the national media story about the South Carolina man, Todd Kohlhepp, who had killed and buried two people on his property? Interestingly, when law enforcement paid a visit to Kohlhepp’s property looking for a 30-year-old woman, whom they found chained in a shipping container, they also found buried at that location her boyfriend, who’d been missing, too.

The newspaper articles I read about Kohlhepp discussed whether or not he was a serial killer, which, per FBI criteria, involves murdering at least two people in separate incidents. What?! While murdering even one person seems pretty wrong, defining the murder of two people as “serial” killing seems, well, overkill (pardon the expression).

We don’t play just two games of baseball and call it the World Series, do we? No. Two similar things happening may still be considered a coincidence. It’s after a third thing happens that we can more confidently connect the dots toward forming a conclusion about evidenced of a pattern. Geez, FBI, an elementary school kid could have told you that. Elementary, Dear Watson!

Thank goodness for the more logical wisdom coming from the reader-generated annals of Wikipedia, which advises, “A serial killer is a person who murders three or more people, usually in service of abnormal psychological gratification, with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant break (“cooling off period”) between them.

Wikipedia states most serial killings involve sexual contact with the victim. What would motivate someone to serial-kill? Here, I must defer to the FBI explanation: anger, thrill-seeking, financial gain and/or attention-getting. Such murders may be completed in similar fashion and the victims frequently have some characteristic in common.

Sometimes serial killing is used interchangeably with the term “mass murder.” Presumably by those who confused greater-than and less-than mathematical symbols back in elementary school, for you can’t get much more opposite. Mass murder, as defined by the FBI, involves the killing of at least four victims in a single incident.

Wikipedia is quick to point out serial killing also should not be confused with spree killing, which superficially sounds like something that could be achieved through poisoned Halloween candy. No, spree killing is what Kalamazoo killer Jason Dalton (who bore a remarkable resemblance to my ex-husband who resides in that area!) engaged in on February of 2016, when he committed murders in two or more locations in a short period of time.

If Dalton had not been apprehended, he might have gone on to engage in a hybrid type of activity some killing experts refer to as “serial-spree killing,” characterized by two or more episodes of spree killing with cooling off/return to normalcy periods in-between. It’s as disgusting as it is confusing.

That said, it appears registered sex offender Kohlhepp, who’d served 15 years’ time for a kidnapping crime committed at the age of 16 (tying up and raping a 14-year-old neighbor at gunpoint) is horribly guilty of some horrible things.

While showing police his most recent body burials, Kohlhepp, 45, admitted to murdering four other people 13 years ago at the Superbike Motorsports shop. Wow! An even bigger wow is directed at his mother, who continues to downplay sonny boy’s behavior. Hard to believe, but perhaps there are some unintentional, parental limit-setting lessons also buried in this gruesome situation.

The mother of this 45-year-old killer, whose body count is now at seven, views her son as the victim, NOT the perpetrator, i.e. he killed the boyfriend of the chained-up woman, “because he got nasty and was smart-mouthed.” Let’s hope the parents of teens don’t start taking similar license.

During his 1987 kidnapping/rape case, Kohlhepp’s mother purportedly said, “Todd knows he did wrong, and he’s sorry, but they won’t even give him a chance to make a good life out of this . . . . ”

Granted, this is an extreme example of excusing unacceptable behavior, but it begs the question: at what point does a person move from the category of a being good person who does bad things to being defined as a bonafide bad person? Perhaps when we no longer know the difference.

Best to play away from the edge to avoid all negative definition.


Electing to take responsibility between elections

I am so glad election season is over. I was getting really sick of hearing people talking about it as if they were in the know. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s people who think they are in the know. About anything. About everything!

It’s the barber who stops cutting hair to pontificate about Trump. It’s the mother on her cell-phone in hushed tones about the latest, greatest conspiracy theory. It’s the grandma holding up BUNCO relaying the latest Hillary gossip. It’s the guy at work who stations himself next to the watercooler or vending machine and monopolizes break times with his self-assured and -proclaimed “vast knowledge” of political pockets.

I am glad the election is over because I am badly in need of a haircut and want to use the bathroom by the breakroom at work. Election years bring knowing types out of the woodwork. I need to be able to strike up a conversation without it turning to political topics, resulting in my wanting to strike a match and set myself on fire and perish prior to having another uninformed political conversation with fictional facts preached as gospel.

You may see the political Cliff Clavins coming (cringe!) but cannot duck them entirely any more than you can dodge 100% of the political phone calls. Even the most studiously avoidant among us eventually makes the mistake of picking up the phone out of habit, without first glancing at the caller ID.

And then we are treated to an earful of mud: recitation of all the latest election dirt, as if the tale-teller personally knows the candidates. This pseudo-confidential information is always related the same, intimate way it would be if they were telling you their son-in-law had a sudden attack of diarrhea while dragging from the woods an eight-point buck he’d baited and shot or that a neighbor found a skunk under the front porch. It all stinks and nobody cares. Because none of it really affects us. Thank goodness!

Even without hearing the content, you can always tell someone who thinks he/she is in the know about a particular subject or person. It’s obvious. Many will start a sentence with the phrase, “Well you know … ” and then dump the dirt about whatever. The dirt-dumping is frequently accompanied by a squinted eye and emphatic finger-pointing, if the dumper is male. Or by eye-rolling and excessive hand-talking, if the dumper is female. If you don’t believe me, start watching.

What I heard most, whether the one being discussed was anyone from dog catcher candidate to Democratic Party Oval Office nominee, was “He”, “She”, and “They”. The election and the state of things to follow was being completely externalized. That’s what really stinks about election years. At no other time do people react as such major victims of politics, yet personally take no responsibility.

Just like real faith is lived out between church services, real political change occurs in real situations outside of the polling places, and in off-years. I’m not kidding. So don’t wait for someone playing politician to change things, Actively work toward affecting change, yourself. Do your part. Be the change you want to see. Don’t just vote at elections. Vote through your daily actions.

As Union City High School alumnus Debbie (Craig) Egnatuk, now of Marshall, posted on Facebook three days before the November 8, 2016 national election:

“On this next election day, and days to come, whether it be Hillary or Donald, we are human beings living in a country with freedom and choices to make.

“We will be kind to each other, help those in need, love unconditionally, love the unlovable, befriend someone less fortunate, treat each other with respect, forgive, believe, never lose hope, work to eliminate un-justice, hug the babies, care for the elderly, and on and on and on!

“Whether it is Hillary or Donald, we can continue to create a world that is united in our care for all life and stewardship of Creation. I have seen this in our families, communities and the world. We may mourn the outcome, but should not lose focus on what is right in front of us on a daily basis.”

Amen, Sister Debbie!

Rental house triggers starting out memories

Early one recent weekday morning, I found myself at the local laundry-mat: washing the heavy comforter that graces the foot of my bed during colder months. I’d just changed to flannel sheets, added a blanket and laundered the quilt that goes atop the bedding. I wanted the whole shebang ready for cold weather.

I periodically turn up at the laundry-mat, like a bad penny. While I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel to go back to hanging out there a few hours each week, the clang of the quarters in my pocket triggered a wave of nostalgia. No rich memories to be mined, just dime-a-dozen fool’s gold from my early adult years. Back when I was certain I knew more about life.

Those were quite the days. I’d spend the week accruing seven dollars in quarters (the change machine was perpetually out of order!) to do laundry. Of course, that included not just my work and home wardrobes, but also towels and 5-6 sets of stinky gym clothes.

I can remember trudging into the laundry-mat, dirty duds spilling out of my laundry baskets, powder detergent box balancing precariously atop one of them. Then I’d spend the better part of two hours vying with other adults and their wild-butt children for possession of the few working machines to do my washing and drying.

The thought of having kids without a washer and dryer of my own is incomprehensible: all of the food spills and bodily fluid accidents that would’ve had to wait the better part of a week for eradication turns me bleach pale at the thought. How tough to have clothing out of commission for that long, not to mention not being able to dryer fluff the crap out of everything!

While I hope never to be washer-less or having to start over, again, in life, I recognize you must start somewhere, especially if you were not born with a silver Tide pod in your mouth. I was reminded of that recently when a friend of mine was accepting applications for a house he had for rent. It featured a washer and dryer. YES!!!

Similar to my laundry-mat era Friday nights, which often involved going to the bar with friends, for every legitimate person who showed interest there was a someone your mother would have warned you about, had you asked. That describes the highly-varied pool of rental applicants.

The spontaneously volunteered stories of need and want of the house ranged from humbly honest, to harmless white lies, to partial-fabrications, to trophy-catch fishing stories – such whales of tales that only the teller could believe them.

As a former probation officer, I know you can’t afford the folly of fiction, but must traffic in truth’s cold reality. Otherwise, you forfeit the happily-ever-after fantasy for an expensive and sad ending. Falling into the believe-what-you-hear (over what you see) potential trap is a bottomless pit. You cannot afford to be seduced by someone’s potential. To quote the William O. Coats Agency’s successful auctioneering business motto, “Performance continues to outsell promises.”

No matter how much you might want to provide a home for someone who seems down on his/her luck, the tables can be turned in no time if you install that someone(s) into your rental home and no rent payment follows. Unfortunately, it’s harder for landlords to evict for non-payment than it is for tenants to not pay!

An amazing number of applicants tried to dodge down-payment. Huge red flag to Mr. Landlord! “I’m applying for jobs” is far different than “I’m working.” Evidence of employment is a must, as is a track record of bill-paying.

Those who openly admitted blowing their parents’ Popsicle stand domiciles (due to oppressive rules) were the most interesting. “My girlfriend and I want to be together, but don’t want to get tied down with jobs until we decide where we want to live.” Talk about getting the cart ahead of the donkey!

It all reminded me that life is a lot like laundry: you’ve got to plan ahead, save your quarters and get up early to get the best washers. Preventing stains from setting in keeps both your clothing and your record clean. It’s called taking care of business!



Car has turned into a mobile disc jockey unit

Over the years, many people have asked me if I’ve carpooled to save gas and wear and tear on my car. Seeing as how I’m always looking for ways to save a buck, they naturally assume carpooling would appeal to my sensibilities. But it doesn’t.

Of course, I always politically correctly reply I’ve considered it, but never found someone with compatible enough work hours or work proximity. That’s kind of true, and most of my jobs have required driving during work hours.

When I attended community college, I shared rides with several people over those two years, including a couple of friends, another friend’s mother, a boyfriend and a boyfriend wannabe (I only figured that out years later, but was oblivious at the time). Nothing much got in the way of ride-sharing back then, for in my late teen years, I still had enough free time that commuter “alone time” wasn’t yet a precious commodity.

That’s the real reason I’ve avoided later life carpooling, not because the hours wouldn’t jive. After I started having greater responsibilities and a family, as well as driving greater distances for work, I recognized my commuting time was the closest thing I’d get to alone time on any given day. That’s a pretty pathetic commentary on my life, I know. But it’s honest and I strive to protect my pockets of patheticism.

I’ve always enjoyed and made constructive use of my car time. I’ve listened to educational and motivational books, practiced speeches and songs, mentally outlined writing ideas, rehearsed difficult conversations, held private phone conversations, given myself pep-talks when I was feeling down and prayed: all things that might push a passenger over the edge and perhaps straight out the door onto the highway while the car was still moving.

Call it crazy, but car time is my sanity-producing therapy. Even when it involves heavy traffic in more urban areas, it remains far more peaceful and calming than the rest of life. Only occasionally do I listen to music – mostly instrumental CDs. Lyrics only clutter my head and ruin the mindless state I am trying to achieve.

Given this perspective, you can guess how I feel on the occasions when my teens, whom I’ll refer to here as “Wolfman Jack, Jr.” and “Katie Kasem”, ride shotgun and think they have license to take over the sound controls of my vehicle. It’s a wonder I’m still of sound mind! The radio station immediately gets changed to something “cool” with sassy lyrics when my offspring board my vehicle.

Sometimes they plug in ipods or other electronic devices and tap into mp3 song playlists, which means a different kind of bad. Worse, they torture me with my own phone, piping Youtube songs through it with the volume cranked. When I tell them I hate a particular singer or suggest they turn down that $#@&! and surrender my phone, they use my deafness to justify the unacceptably high volume levels.

Because I have “such a crappy car stereo system” (per my son), clearly in need of having boosters added so I can more readily pump up the volume, my son has begun bringing along his own wireless speaker. I shouldn’t be surprised because he has a fatal attraction to the thing.

Wolfman took a very long while picking it out and actually parted with some of his hard-earned tomato picking money (from which he cannot easily be separated) to acquire it. He takes it out, gazes fondly at and polishes it. The device actually changes colors as the music pulses, reminding me that (unfortunately) disco isn’t dead. But I would be quite happy if that Bee Gees’ era speaker perished in an inferno, disco or otherwise. Holy ear and eye assault!

Bereft of peace of mind and holding my ears while steering down a dark and rainy stretch of roadway with deer popping out at various intervals, I nevertheless manage to clasp my hands in prayer. “Lord, should our vehicle careen off the road, please allow that wireless speaker to be first among the casualties.”

Rest in peace in the Hereafter, all mobile music devices, next to the youthful deejays who mistakenly thought you were a good idea.

Holy macaroni, enough noodle celebrating!

Who realized the very important event that occurred last Monday? Don’t bother scanning your calendars or searching your datebooks panicking that you missed a special birthday or anniversary (unless you forgot to send your honey something two days prior, on Sweetest Day!). But do use your noodle to try and figure it out. That clue should give it away.

October 17 was National Pasta Day. Hooray! And lest you think I have some kind of radar for these important kinds of events, I will confess publicly I had no knowledge of the occasion until I started receiving email coupons offering special pasta discounts, good only on October 17.

Growing up with my Irish/German/English family heritage and traditions left me youthfully pasta-deprived, so I have spent my adult lifetime overcoming ancestry deficit by dining on pasta whenever and wherever it is available. I do the same thing with eggs, as my mother disliked eggs and avoided cooking them when I was a kid. No wonder I find myself attracted to this Italian food made chiefly through combining eggs and flour.

Because I aim to be educational and enlightening through my writings, let me give you some information about the breadth and width of the world of pasta. Perhaps it will have the effect of deepening your knowledge, along with increasing your appetite for the stuff.

Fresh pasta is typically made from a combination of eggs, water and flour, whereas the dry pasta you buy is made mostly from wheat and water. Pasta’s origins border on ancient, with the first recorded references to it dating back to Sicily in 1154. Out of respect, you should never overlook or overcook pasta!

Pasta was introduced to the United States by President Thomas Jefferson while he was the American ambassador to France. After first tasting it, Jefferson purchased a pasta machine and brought it back across the Atlantic in 1789, along multiple crates of macaroni. The surge in Italian immigration that followed a century later established pasta as more commonplace in the American diet.

There are 310 known specific forms of pasta, known by more than 1,300 different names. In Italy, the names and shapes of the pasta served differ by locale. The most popular pasta sauces are marinara, alfredo and olive oil. But you already knew that.

To celebrate National Pasta Day, I met my Texan friend, Terri Montgomery, at Schlotzsky’s deli in Battle Creek. We attempted to be multi-cultural through eating food outside of our respective nationality categories. It worked well because we both speak the universal language known as BOGO: buy one pasta dish, get another free. No further interpretation necessary.

We chose shrimp pasta and chicken pasta, then traded halvsies so we each could try both. How were they? I have no idea. It had been six weeks since we last connected, so the dinner was more about cheap food and good conversation than it was about the superiority of pasta.

I’ve noted there’s a growing rivalry within the pasta world. Not content to be lumped altogether on National Pasta Day, spaghetti lobbied to have a National Spaghetti Day on January 4th. Not to be outdone, ravioli reserved March 20 to draw national attention to itself. Next, macaroni and cheese got into the act, with July 14 the day to officially observe its merits. Even lowly linguine took a turn, with National Linguine Day celebrated on September 15. Mama mia!

Because I have a warped sense of humor, I couldn’t help checking to see if lowly breadsticks had remained humble, or had gone looking for its own spotlight. Lo and behold, there’s still time to worship at the breadstick altar, as National Breadstick Day has been established for October 30th. Give me a white flour break!

All this pasta talk has made me hungry. I’m guessing you’re famished, too. But where to eat? Take it from someone who knows: the best pasta is not that which is served at an Italian fine dining establishment, but the over-cooked and under-sauced noodles served at a community fundraising dinner to benefit someone who is in great need or to support a worthy community project. Dine to makes a difference!

Accidents continue to happen close to home

It’s universally known that most accidents happen close to home. Whenever there’s talk about an accident, someone always smugly pipes up with that truism, “Well, you know, most accidents happen close to home.” And we all nod and murmur in agreement, as if it’s a foregone conclusion.

But is that belief based on actual data or folk wisdom? Old wives’ tale or factual accuracy? Ever stopped to wonder? I have, so I checked. According to the insurer Progressive, at progressive.com, 52% of vehicular crashes occur within five miles of home and a whopping 77% occur 15 miles or less from home.

Hmm. I thought about trying to validate the survey data based on my personal experiences of being involved in auto accidents, but I’ve so many that it’s too much work. Plus, how do you sift out the times my cars have been damaged in parking lots and places like at the car dealership? That skews results.

My first accident was at age 19. I was exactly one mile from home and not paying attention to the road because I was looking into the rearview mirror, straightening the bow-tie around my neck (In the pre-cell phone/texting era, you had to create low-tech driving distractions). Glancing back at the road, I saw a box turtle right in front of me. Oh, no!! In last-second motion, I tried to simultaneously bring down my hands and swerve. Unfortunately, I over-steered into a curve sign.

A year later, a chipmunk ran in front of the car I was driving, some 10 miles from home. While I didn’t react, the animal-loving passenger in my car did. She grabbed the steering wheel and put us into a ditch. Seeing as how I was not the one who ditched us, that shouldn’t count toward my cumulative accident score.

Anecdotally, I’d say most of my accidents have happened relatively close to home. Including when I got caught in the middle of a multiple-car pile-up about five miles away, on Oakland Drive in Portage during rush hour. As someone in the middle of that pile-up, I shouldn’t be held responsible for the accident. Plus, I was pregnant and trying to drive safer than usual.

I am not especially clumsy or accident-prone, but what else explains my taking my  anonymously-damaged (in a parking lot) leased pick-up into the shop and having it get backed into a pole and dented while it’s there? Or the icy day when my parked car got hit twice by two different vehicles? This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to other people, at least not that I’ve heard.

Just where did this unlucky stuff come from and how am I attracting it? I have no idea. But for simplicity, I’ll refer to it as my Bad Car Karma, or the Curse of Smith Curve.

I did a lot of bad stuff growing up. My mother used to both curse at and put curses on me: that when I became an adult, I would suffer similarly. That’s definitely come to pass. I also grew up on Smith’s Curve, the relatively sharp third curve on Eight Mile Road, straight north out of Union City; the curve synonymous with death and destruction. Cars constantly overshot the curve and met our trees and fences head-on, their drivers seriously maimed. I became accustomed to accident aftermath.

So it felt like business as usual at 3 AM the other morning when a car smacked into the “T” intersection road sign on the south edge of my front yard and impaled itself on the sign’s metal poles. My daughter and I heard the commotion and went outside to see who was hurt. Finding the car empty, we made unsuccessful flash-lighted rounds in the immediate vicinity searching for victims.

We retreated to bed, only to be re-awakened at 4 AM, when the mysterious driver came back to try liberating the vehicle. Enough! I assisted by calling 9-1-1. A State Police Trooper showed up within 15 minutes, the car was towed within the hour and the Calhoun County Road Commission replaced the sign within a day.

Now that’s service! I went to sleep feeling back in my realm at the helm of the Accidents Happen Close to Home Kingdom.

No one knows what lies beneath the lifesaver

Have you ever started losing things to the degree that you started questioning whether you were also losing your mind, if that didn’t actually come first? I’m talking to my sisters out there!

Why am I addressing women and not men? Because I think gender differences have some bearing on this. Most people are familiar with the research that documents how many more words women say each day compared to men. If not, look it up. Women are many times more verbal.

While it would be extremely boring to watch video and listen to recordings of men and women to capture the exact word count data, it is nevertheless achievable and the results are staggering. My take? It shows women have more going on daily they need to attend to and talk about. Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning.

As a woman, especially one who heads a single-parent household, there is a mind-boggling amount of information I must deal with on the homefront before I even get to my full-time job for the day.

To illustrate, let me deal with just one category of daily detail – food. I have to think about breakfast for other people, lunches for other people, my lunch, food to be dropped off for other people on my way to work, evening meals, food to prepare ahead for outside kids’ activities, social occasions and to support others who are going through loss and overwhelm.

Of course this food does not simply grow on trees, at least not in a pre-prepared fashion. It requires recipes, ingredients that must be acquired, and the time and money to acquire them. Once you do all that, preparation and clean-up time come into play. None of food details happen in a vacuum, but if you make preparation messes, you also need to vacuum. Plus, you create waste, which you have to deal with. Tired, yet?

Women have a lot going on, but we usually do it all so automatically that nobody notices or appreciates it because we somehow make it look easier than it really is. However, this level of activity going on non-stop across multiple mental categories is bound to take its toll! We cope by talking about how we feel about it, which explains our extra yacking for relief. Daily detail overload is a surefire recipe for internal crazy-making!

I feel as if I am always poised with one foot on the edge of crazy and the other on a banana peel (that came from a banana I had to hustle to acquire). Fortunately, I have a major weapon of mass destruction in my epic battle for sanity. I call it my purse.

Guys often mock women’s purses – how big, heavy and ever-present they are. But they are also lifesavers, and not just because you are likely to find Lifesavers inside. My purse houses Band-Aids, scissors and a sewing kit, spare USBs, spare keys, back-up hygiene supplies, health information, office supplies, gum, candy, snacks and water, spare change and electronic charging equipment. It’s a cheap substitution for the personal assistant I cannot afford. So you can imagine the mental blow I felt when things started disappearing from it.

“Where’s my chapstick?” I cried out, driving to my daughter’s evening softball game. “It was here this morning!” A comb vanished next, followed by a ring containing key fobs for store discounts. Then a roll of 100 stamps disappeared. Apparently it ran off with a small flashlight and a big handful of loose change. This was getting personal!

Life was already hard enough without someone stealing the small, crucial items that form my lifeline. Both my heart and my purse weighed heavy. Wait?! Why was my purse so heavy? Closer examination revealed something bulging at its bottom.

Reaching into a zipped side compartment, I found a small opening. A hole had worn through its lining, creating a fabric Bermuda triangle into which unsuspecting items were being sucked. Through careful maneuvering, I recovered from the under-the-lining bottom of my purse a missing padlock, dental floss, several pens, $8.83 in change and the other lost items.

In celebration, I used the change to buy myself a much-needed drink: a banana daiquiri.

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