LAW AND DISORDER BONA FIDES – PT. II

It happens more often than not.

Two days after Michael Brown was shot dead by a white cop in a predominately black neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri, 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police in South Los Angeles. That’s Rodney King territory. But I’ll wager dollars to donuts you know absolutely nothing about Mr. Ford’s untimely passing, probably haven’t even heard about it.

Like Brown, Ford was young, black and unarmed. Like police in Missouri, the LA cops did not immediately released the cops’ names that shot Ford or release the autopsy report. But there is no rioting or looting in South LA.

Why is one shooting covered relentlessly for a week and the other completely ignored?

It’s taken 20 years but in the wake of the acquittal of the thug cops who beat Rodney King senseless and the subsequent destructive rioting, police and black community organizers in South LA have learned something about detente.

Immediately after Ford’s shooting local police maintained a relatively low profile – no tanks or armored personal carriers or cops in full army combat gear; rather a handful of bicycle-riding cops in polo shirts patrolled the streets.

As you might expect the whole community was just as pissed as the one in St. Louis but in L.A. the Police Chief and other top-ranking officials showed up for a community meeting at the local church and did more listening than talking. When a private audience was demanded by one of the most prominent community leaders it was granted.

In many precincts in LA, cops stay in regular touch with major community organizers. Likewise, organizers and local church leaders have various cops’ phone numbers memorized. When protests are planned, seasoned organizers let police know, even when they’re the targets.

It doesn’t mean that policing is necessarily any better or different in LA than it is here in my stomping ground or St. Louis.

In fact, it happens way more in Los Angeles the most other places. LAPD police have shot and killed 12 people like Brown and Ford so far this year. Since 2007, 300 people have been shot dead during conflicts with the LAPD.

This time there was nothing for the media to shoot in LA. And there was probably some discussion about the unwillingness to put the Justice system in disrepute if two very similar incidents were sensationalized within a span of 48 hours.

Back to my bona fides:

I have so successfully infiltrated, investigated and written about police and prosecutors, their manipulations and motivations, their ineptitude and malfeasance the powers-that-be decided to make me the subject of an eight-year long investigation.

I was twice arrested and twice put on trial, first in early 1998 for three years and again in 2003 for another three. (On the first occasion I was charged with two or three counts of breach court order/ publication ban.

After a six-month investigation the police concluded that 18 pages in my book “Invisible Darkness: The Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka” could not have been written unless I had seen the visual portion of the videotape evidence restricted by court order during the Bernardo trial in the summer of 1995.

I was acquitted of those charges in late 2000.

In 2003, I was criminally charged with 104 counts, disobey court order/publication ban, 5 counts of improper storage of firearms and the Attorney General of Ontario sued me in civil court as an “Enemy of the State.”

Years later, when they were blatantly shown (i.e. we had the goods on them) that they had committed gross “abuses of processs,” I agreed to plead guilty to one count, misdemeanor, breach of publication ban.

In return the firearms charges were dismissed along with the other one hundred and three court order breach charges, half of which were felonies each one of which carried a penalty of two-years plus a day i.e. hard time in the Big House. Also, the Attorney General withdrew the civil lawsuit.

And so it ended.

As a consequence, I have had more direct experience with police and ministries of the attorneys general than 99.9 % of the population in North America and that is quite remarkable, given my disposition: aging, middle-class, well-educated, law-abiding, white male.

Many of the larger writing assignments I’ve accepted over the years brought me into the ambit of authority. Then again, what is true for the majority of the population is also true for writers.

The majority of writers and journalists in North America do not have any direct experience or exposure to the courts, the offices of the district attorneys or their handmaidens, the police. Certainly not both sides. Certainly not as a thorough researcher and writer on the one hand and a criminally accused and prosecuted on the other.

I am also unique among the legion of talking heads and pontificators with their blogs, books, pedigrees and degrees, in law and criminology and what-have-you; I am not on one side or the other: Got no dog in the fight, no reputation to maintain.

Crime beat reporters might be thought an exception, except theirs is a symbiotic not a critical or even investigative relationship to police and prosecutors. And none that I know of have ever been arrested, criminally charged and prosecuted for almost a decade.

Most appear to be beards or apologists for police. Even so, even were Noam Chomsky and I wrong about how the media functions – or dysfunctions – in the world of daily reportage, crime beat reporters are a small minority of which I am definitely not one. I have never worked for any news media organizations. And I am at this time not aware of any who have ever been arrested and criminally charged with felony crimes.

As described, my expertise is rooted in a couple of the more difficult topics I chose to write about – the sexual homicide of a Toronto shoeshine boy, Emmanuel Jacques by four pedophiles in the late 70s and published in a magazine entitled “Sympathy for the Devil.

More recently, the crimes, trials and incarcerations of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, a large, complicated case I wrote about exhaustively and definitively in two books, “Invisible Darkness” and “Karla: A Pact with the Devil,” both initially published in North America by the Random House Group.

As a consequence of getting the back story right and bringing facts into the public domain that the authorities spent enormous time and money, I was taken down like a drug dealer in the kitchen of my old farmhouse at 6 AM Sunday morning by a dozen heavily armed cops, spent a weekend in jail, was subsequently raided and put out of my house for a 24-hour period while the goon squad ransacked the place.

Both my wife’s and my computers, backup and voluminous files were seized, and in spite of the eventual favorable outcome, never returned, I was relentlessly prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Both criminally and civilly, although there was nothing civil about it.

This sort of thing brings back ugly memories and I’ve never been at all convinced that writing is a cathartic excercise. For me, it’s just hard. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. There’s one more section on this topic to come.

STRANGERS AND STRANGE ANNIVERSARIES – THE BRITISH ARE COMING!

The French Invasion was followed by the British.

In February 2013 yet another television producer, this time from England, reached out to me. As the French are from the British, Mr. Turner was entirely different than Ms. Ladou. “I’m contacting you from a television production company called Twofour Broadcast based in Plymouth, UK. We make a documentary series called ‘Born to Kill?’ (known as ‘Twisted’ in the US) which is distributed worldwide. We’re currently on the fifth series and looking to focus one of the episodes on the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

“The series ‘Born to Kill?’ tells the stories of some of the world’s most notorious killers through the words of the people that knew them, their victims, and communities best. The central crux of the series is to answer the nature vs. nurture argument – were these killers’ actions determined by violent predispositions they were born with, or a result of upbringing and life circumstances pushing them towards it?

“For previous episodes we have interviewed prosecution and defence from the cases, spouses and family members of the killers, the perpetrators of the crimes, criminal psychiatrists, victims’ family members, and expert journalists, always receiving positive feedback from those involved. Through those that knew the killer and the contemporary social environment best, we question the true impetus and drive of the crimes, rather than glorifying or vilifying as I’m aware many crime documentaries tend to do when focusing on serial killers.

“To help illustrate the kind of documentary we wish to produce on Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, you can find a link to a previous episode we have produced in the series on the case of Santa Cruz killer Herbert Mullin here:

As a consequence of my interaction with Mr. Turner and TwoFour which began in November, 2012 and continued over the ensuing four months I sent a missive to to TwoFour’s Chief Executive Charles Wace cc’d to the Managing Directors Mark Hawkins and Melanie Leach, as well as Executive Producer Neil Edwards.

“I am writing you out of sense of frustration and indignation. I am the author of two books on a Canadian crime commonly referred to as the Bernardo/Homolka case. The case has finally caught the eye of the producer(s) of one of TwoFour Groups’ programs ‘Born to Kill’.

“My two books, both published by Random House Group companies are titled ‘Invisible Darkness: The Strange Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka’ (1997) and ‘Karla: A Pact with the Devil’ (2003). In spite of their age, both continue to sell briskly around the world.

“I own the worldwide broadcast, media and digital rights. I am recognized as the leading authority on this case and the books are rightly considered encyclopedic and definitive. “Virtually everything of any consequence in my books is understood to be proprietary information.

“In November 2012 someone from “Born to Kill” reached out to me and since then, off and on, and since February 2013, very much on, I have participated in a well meaning and open correspondence with one James Turner. Just before I was to be interviewed for the program in Toronto on March 28, Mr. Turner unceremoniously and without explanation cut me loose for want of a better phrase. His note from March 22 read

‘Hi Stephen,

Unfortunately we can’t proceed. Thank you very much for your correspondence but the schedule has changed and we’re no longer able to go ahead with the meeting and the interview.

Thanks again for your interest,

James’

“It was obviously the decision of whoever is the exec producer for this segment “Born to Kill” to exclude me. I do know that the project is going ahead because I know a number of the people who are scheduled to be interviewed in Toronto and environs from March 27 through to March 31.

“After all the time I was enticed to commit, not to mention the advice and leads I freely provided, the disrespectful and terse manner in which I have been dismissed cannot stand.

“Mr. Turner thanks me for my ‘interest’. It was not my interest in ‘Born to Kill’ it was the producers’ interest in me and my work. I had never heard of ‘Born to Kill’ or TwoFour Studios before I received an email in November 2012 asking me if I would be interested in participating in the program.

“As Mr. Turner said in his first email to me on February 22, 2013 ‘I’ve been reading your fantastic book, Invisible Darkness, which has helped my understanding of the case immensely. As someone who knows the case and has had direct contact with Karla Homolka, I feel you could offer valuable insight into the case and it would be wonderful to hear from you.’

“To my one line reply asking how I might be of service Mr. Turner said ‘We’d love to interview you for the documentary if that is of interest to you. Any advice you could offer for our own research would also be appreciated.’

Then on February 26 he said ‘Looking at our schedule, the crew is planning to be in Ontario from Wednesday 27th of March to Sunday 31st. Are any of these days convenient for you for the sit-down interview?’

“You might want to review the entire correspondence.

“A great deal of my time has been gratuitously wasted. When it came time to negotiate appearance fees and expenses Mr. Turner, with considerable corporate bombast, he gregariously explained, at length, the TwoFour Studio’s nickel and dime policy.

“Thinking your studio honorable and bona fide and in the interest of getting the story right for the European market I reluctantly agreed to the terms for reimbursement for the bare minimum expenses and nothing else. In return for this agreement, obviously considered by Mr. Turner’s superiors as too generous, I was dismissed.

“I was supposed to be in Boston this week and next. Mr. Turner told me unequivocally that I was going to be involved and I believed him. I rearranged my schedule at considerable expense to accommodate the ‘Born to Kill’ crew in Toronto between March 28th and the 31st.”

In the letter I go on to discuss “breach of contract” and “proprietary rights” inherent in copyrighted material: “Because the case was so complicated and so old, it would be virtually impossible for your lawyers or American lawyers and perhaps, today, even most Canadian lawyers (except for the three or four who did the legal work on both my books) to determine the extent of those rights and if they are infringed. It is virtually impossible to do anything substantial on this case without infringement.

“For example, Mr. Turner explained that the guiding narrative for “Born to Kill” series was the nature v. nurture dialectic. If someone in the segment you are cobbling together were to speculate whether Karla was “mad or just bad” that could constitute an infringement of my rights.

“One of the reasons that the Hollywood movie “Karla” was such a disaster is that the director and producer Michael Sellers was compelled to leave half of what he shot on the cutting room floor because he repeatedly infringed my rights.

“Mr. Sellers was also compelled to pay considerable compensation for assuming he could do his project without consultation with me and/or my agents and the bona fide Hollywood producer who at that time owned the motion picture rights which have since reverted to me. We found it remarkable that Mr. Sellers actually shot his entire movie either thinking that we would not notice or “naively” assuming that no one would raise objection. It is a testament to Mr. Sellers level of competence and his standing within the motion picture and television community that he did.

“For example, one of the things Mr. Sellers had to leave on the cutting room floor was a character based on Dr. Hans Arndt and the entire narrative sub-plot of his controversial, complicated relationship with Karla.

“Dr. Arndt’s relationship, opinions and assessments do not exist anywhere else other than in my books because I had an exclusive arrangement and agreement with him and he died years ago, tragically, a very youthful and fit 60-year-old, without ever speaking to anyone else about the case.

“If you require any more information, I will be happy to provide it. I look forward to your response,

“Sincerely, Sw

DEVIANCE AND THE 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – PT II

As Maureen Dowd points out in her column today (Sunday, November 11, 2012) “Mitt Romney is president of white male America… a patriarchy… so hardcore, so redolent of country clubs and cadillacs, it made little effort not to alienate women.” (Romney is President) This isn’t the era of “Mad Men” but Romney and his people think it is. She points out that the election had the biggest gender gap in the history of the Gallop poll.

Obama won the vote of single women by a whopping 36 percentage points. So it was not the so-called “waitress moms”(Crucial Subset: Female Voters Still Deciding) – the pollster’s phrase that sounds very much like something made up in the offices of “Mad Men” – – who were stupid or out of touch – they understood that Obama inherited what I previously described as “the Titanic of all economies” from two of the whitest patriartic males in American history, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; that it wasn’t “Obama’s debt” as Mitt Romney insisted on calling it, rather America’s debt, and clearly knew all too well that the real travesty in American society and culture were the out of touch minority white males’ sense of entitlement and narrow insularity.

It wasn’t the 47 percent that always vote for Obama who are (according to Mitt) “dependent on government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them;” the people about whom it is not Mitt Romney’s job to “worry about” who are stupid, lazy and out-of-touch, rather Mitt Romney and his tribe of white, male strategists and politicos.

That 47 percent knew that a man who changes his position like most of us change our underwear could not be trusted. They knew that Romney was “faking it.” So did the single women, the “waitress moms” out there, with less than $50,000 in household incomes and therein lay Romney’s fate to be known for what he was, a faker and a Gekko. He wanted to be president so badly he could taste it.

It was Romney and his people who turned out to be the lazy ones, the ones for whom research and fact-checking meant nothing. It is they who are the victims and now, nothing but an historical footnote, if that. I had never heard of Mitt Romney before this election unleashed him on the world. He’s been vanquished along with the venal Karl Rove and the oleaginous billionaires for whom he was the Republican shill. Good riddance. Unfortunately, the Gordon Gekkos out there still run the world. To think that Obama can do anything about that is naïve. But now, at least, he has a mandate to show everyone what he can do and let’s hope that he will take the power that has been invested in him as an agent of change to do just that; change America and therefore the world, for the better. It’s time for him to exercise his “executive privilege” and stop trying to get consensus and cooperation. It’s impossible to work with people who have shown themselves prepared to resort to any means necessary to rid themselves of him and everything he stands for. It did not work over the first four years and now that the Republicans and surprise, recalcitrant and humiliated, it certainly won’t work over the next four. Reason does not work with the unreasonable. Hopefully that is the lesson that Barack Obama has taken from this public rejection of the Republican’s deviance by the “waitress moms” and that 47 percent who together wisely put him back in office.

PRISON OF ASSOCIATION – CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS

Anne Perry, the accomplished British mystery writer has written 60 books and sold over 26 million copies. She is also a convicted murderer who was sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of her best girl friend Pauline Parker’s mother in 1954. (Her fellow crime writer Ian Rankin interviewed her circa 2007. The interview was uploaded to YouTube .)

Unlike Karla, who has never managed to stay completely off the radar, Juliet Hulme, the name Anne Perry was born with, got out of jail in 1959, changed her name, moved to the Oakland area in California, became a devout Mormon and eventually the famous and wealthy writer she is today. In the process she variously lived in England, the United States and even Toronto, Canada, as the Globe and Mail proudly points out. She now lives in a stylish renovated piggery in the remote fishing village of Portmahomak, 50 miles north of Inverness, on the Scottish Highlands.

It was Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures that was Anne Perry’s undoing. The provincial media in New Zealand never completely forgot the sensational case and in the excitement over the movie redoubled their efforts to find out what became of her.

Even though as teenagers Juliet and Pauline had been so close the threat of separation drove them to commit matricide, they never spoke again after their early release from prison in 1959. Ironically, in 1994 Pauline Parker was also found to be living under an assumed name on a horse farm about five miles down the road from Perry’s piggery.

As reported in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail on Saturday, October 6, 2012, Joanne Drayton, an academic and literary biographer currently living in Christchurch, New Zealand has recently written a book entitled “The Search for Anne Perry” and is on a geographically small “tour” of Canada with Ms. Perry herself.

She said “I felt compelled in a way to challenge the way that she [Anne Perry/Juliet Hulme] was perceived. It just seemed to me you can’t leave someone in a prison of association forever. You have to acknowledge that someone has moved on and changed and evolved and developed a useful contributing life apart from the thing they got horribly wrong.”

Parker and Hulme hatched a plot to murder Parker’s mother because she would not allow Pauline to accompany Juliet to South Africa in the wake of Juliet’s parent’s divorce. This enraged the two teenage girls and they devised a plan to override Mrs. Parker’s decision.

Juliet brought a half-brick in an old stocking on a walk with Pauline and her mother in a remote park just outside Christchurch and the two girls battered Mrs. Parker to death with it.

The matricide shocked and reviled New Zealand, as did Karla’s horrific crimes committed 37 years later with her then husband, Paul Bernardo. Similar to the sensational media coverage in southwestern Ontario the Kiwi media speculated that the perpetrators were insane, the Devil’s servants, sexual deviates who deserved to hang. Although sentenced to life the New Zealand government arranged for Juliet and Pauline to be quietly released after only five years.

As I pointed out in “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” Juliet and Pauline were able to disappear as were the very few other women convicted of horrific crimes throughout history who eventually get out of prison one way or the other. Winnie Ruth Judd is a good example.

When Anne Perry’s true identity was revealed in the wake of Jackson’s movie, she had just published her 19th book. Her oeuvre includes the critically acclaimed Thomas Pitt and William Monk series set during the First World War, and her annual Christmas novellas.

Joanne Drayton told the Globe reporter “Because it (the movie and the revelation of her true identity) happened to her we’ve become so, I think, fixated with…that part of her story. But it is only a very small part of her story.”

Very reluctantly Perry invited Drayton to the Scottish Highlands and they spent nine days talking about her life.

“The book is crafted around what Drayton calls a conversation between the adult Anne and the child Juliet, a journey as opposed to an interrogation. While Perry, now 73, participated, this is not an authorized biography. Apparently Perry has not read it.

Recently in what Joanne Drayton described as “a surprise move” Perry decided to appear with Drayton at two upcoming Canadian festivals, Wordfest in Calgary and Banff, October 9 -14and at the Vancouver Writers Fest, October 16 -21.).

“When people can’t allow you to be something better than the murderer ever, then it’s a permanent sentence.”

I don’t know about that. Since I did the research and wrote Karla I haven’t given Anne Perry a second thought – until now. Frankly, I don’t know what the fuss is about. She is whoever she is and it is what ever it is. It seems to me that all anyone is up to in these mysteries that become connundrums wrapped in mental confusion is selling books.

DEFINING DEVIANCE DOWN: MAD OR JUST BAD?

Deviance has been on my mind quite a lot lately. Law and disorder, crime and punishment, deviancy and normalcy – it’s a weedy garden this Eden I inhabit. Not surprising I suppose. I have probably spent too much time starring into the Abyss.

Some people are fascinated by extreme deviant behavior such as Karla Homolka’s -(see earlier posts “Finding Karla”(PT 1,2,& 3) or my book “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” now for sale in the States for the first time.)

Something a bit strange to me is how desperately everyone wants a cogent explanation for incoherent acts. We want to know why someone who is ostensibly just like us could commit such heinous acts.

As I wrote in the first chapter of “Karla,” “There are abiding mysteries in Life such as who cleft the Devil’s foot or what songs the Sirens sang?” It has always been my considered opinion that extreme deviancy is just that kind of mystery – abiding.

As people familiar with this particular case know, by 2003, Karla had been examined by at least sixteen psychiatrists and psychologists, the majority of whom diagnosed her as a battered woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. (That is the official explanation, the one the Justice system accepted but spparently few laypersons concur.)

I continued: “A few contrarians diagnosed her as a psychopath.” Now that’s something many people readily accepted, except technically, by the definition of this so called extreme “personality disorder” as delineated by the DSM-IV-TR and the Hare Checklist (which was administered Karla at least three times by three different “experts”, Karla is not a psychopath.)

“One honest man described her as a ‘diagnostic mystery.’(No more satisfying a concluson than abiding mysteries.) Regardless, the more Karla is studied the more mysterious and inexplicable her past behavior becomes.”

This statement remains as true today as it was when I wrote it. After all, Karla is now a mother of three young children with a thriving online business and a doting husband who divides her time between Montreal and Guadeloupe, a French protectorate in the Caribbean. (Nice life if you can get it.)

The other day I stumbled across an old article I had clipped years ago that comes at deviancy as though it is possible to explain. (Deviancy takes many forms and shapes not just the most extreme such as Karla’s crimes manifest.)

Written by Charles Krauthammer “The Indictment of Ozzie and Harriet” was first published in The New Republic in 1993 and one of the things it strongly suggests is professional explainers such as the psychiatrists and psychologists who tried to explain Karla are at the very root of a much larger conceptual problem than whether Karla was mad or just bad.

In the article Krauthammer, an American Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, political commentator, and physician, also sometimes classified as a Neocon, starts by ruminating on an essay he read in The American Scholar” by Daniel Patrick Moynihan entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” This article is all the more interesting because Moynihan was a life-long influential Democrat and scholar.

Monyihan’s essay argued that deviancy had become an epidemic.

Deviance had reached such incomprehensible proportions that we adopted a unique form of denial that significantly lowered the threshold for what we were prepared to call normal. This in order to keep “the volume of deviancy within manageable proportions.” Obtuse, perhaps, but interesting.

For example: In the thirty some odd years between 1960 and 1993 the incidence of single parenthood had tripled. Almost 30 percent of all North American children in the early 90s were born to unmarried mothers.

“The relationship of fatherlessness to poverty, welfare dependency, crime and other pathologies points to a monstrous social problem” in both Monyihan’s and Krauthammer’s opinion. Obama was born too late. Those were the days when Democrats and Republicans took each other’s ideas seriously.

Moynihan’s second example was crime.

According to Moynihan “we” have become totally inured to levels of criminality considered intolerable in 1960. He gave the example of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre even though it only involved four thugs killing seven other thugs it became the iconic definition of atrocity for an earlier generation.

Whereas in 1992 seven to ten homicides were the tally on an average weekend in Los Angeles.

Monyihan’s last example was mental illness. In the 1990s there had been no noticeable increase in mental illness; that rates of schizophrenia had not changed, but the rate of hospitalization for schizophrenia and other psychoses had dropped – dramatically. In 1955 there were 93,000 diagnosed patients in New York State asylums, in 1992, 11,000.

Where did the remaining 82,000 inmates “and their descendants” go? In one generation a tsunami of mentally ill people flooded the streets of North American cities.

These refugees from the asylum have been systematically redefined as “the homeless”. Today, we routinely step over them sleeping in doorways and over warming grates in the middle of the street. They are now accepted as part of the cityscape, but universally described as folks who lack affordable housing.

Legions of professional helpers, intellectuals and most egregiously, Moynihan and Krauthammer say, “the mass media,” ubiquitous colluders in all degeneration, have defined deviance down by describing it’s manifestations as “lifestyle choices” The homeless are not crazy or sick they’re just very poor – “as if anyone crazy and sick and abandoned would not end up very poor.”

Here’s his point that remains relevant. With what Krauthammer and Moynihan describe as “the moral deregulation of the sixties,” we had an “explosion of deviancy in family life, criminal behavior and public displays of psychosis. “We have dealt with it by redefining deviancy to make “normal” what a more “civilized, ordered and healthy society would have labeled – and did label – deviant.”

FINDING KARLA: FRAUD, FICTION OR BOTH – PT. III

It’s my blog and I can cry if I want to… and blow my own horn. In my first post I pointed out that 2/3’s of Paula Todd’s “Finding Karla” e-essay was an error riddled rehash of Karla’s crimes.

In various media reports breathlessly lauding the Finkle/Todd excercise as the advent of a new form of personalized digital publishing (previously known as “vanity publishing”) – a story that was current about three years ago but news to Canadian media types such as Simon Houpt at the Globe and Mail and Greg Quill from the Toronto Star.

They must have missed all that reportage in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and virtually every other major organ in the United States, Great Britain and Europe about start ups like Byliner and the evolution of long-form journalism. But that’s another topic.

The problem with vanity publishing is exactly Finkle and Todd’s problem – you are your own fact checker and editor. Because they did not made the effort necessary to command the facts, they published a small essay that is severely fact challenged. If it were a dissertation Todd would be denied her degree.

According to Derek Finkle’s well-placed wink-wink-and nod to suggestible scribblers, their little digital vanity publishing experiment took about 75,000 people for $2.99 plus tax. Not a bad sleight of mind.

On the subject of Karla’s crimes, almost everyone alive with any knowledge of the case believes they have been retold too often. It is also somewhat ironic that the best and most succinct account can be had for free.

If I’m not mistaken, you can sample the first two or three chapters of any book you download (I know this to be true for iBooks) to decide if it’s worth putting out $9.99 or $12.95 or whatever. Thomas Pynchon’s recently digitally re-issued “Mason & Dixon” cost almost $14.00 including tax, but I was able to remind myself why it was worth every penny before I shelled out.

Apparently this was not the case with the Todd/Finkle offering but then again it was published as the short stuff i.e. as a Kindle Short. However, this sampling facility certainly applies to my last book on the case, “Karla: A Pact with the Devil”

I’ve included the link to the American Kindle edition below. In first three pages of the first chapter entitled “In the Beginning” is the best and most succinct summation of Karla’s crimes in existence. You can also read the first chapter on my website www.stephenwilliamsbooks.com by clicking the “Books” navigation button and then clicking the “Karla” button.

Given that we are approaching the 20th Anniversary of Karla’s conviction and the 10th Anniversary of her release from prison, it really should have been the last word on the subject.

Link to American Kindle edition. Karla: A Pact for the Devil is now available for the first time in the United States. Currently in Kobo and Kindle editions. Nook and iBooks and Sony reader shortly. Also internationally on Kobo and Kindle

FINDING KARLA: FRAUD, FICTION OR BOTH – PT. II

In early 2002, shortly after I finished the first draft of “Karla: A Pact with the Devil,” the large Canadian publisher who contracted it, General Publishing Co., went bankrupt owing authors and suppliers over $45 million.

Because I had been paid a substantial advance and already collected most of it and somehow managed to keep the property out of the trustees’ hands, I felt extremely lucky. Now I could resell the book for as much or more.

I was certain it would sell like gangbusters. The book was anchored by an 18-month long, voluminous, no-holds-barred correspondence with Karla herself and included interviews with the man who was the architect of Karla’s deals, the man with whom the buck actually stopped. The book, among many other things, told the unknown story about exactly why and how Karla was given a future.

Karla had never spoken publicly to anyone outside of her immediate family. Neither had the lofty government agent, Michael Code who crafted the deal destined to be described in perpetuity as having been done with the Devil. He talked at length and in depth.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Christy Blatchford called the Karla correspondence “the scoop of the Century.” I don’t know about that but the book contained a plethora of hitherto fore unknown information and perspectives and told a compelling story.

I was convinced I had a well-written bestseller on my hands. And a well-researched one to boot. Publishers would be crawling all over themselves for this manuscript. I had sugar plum visions of bidding wars dancing in my head.

I could not have been more wrong. The manuscript was shopped to sixteen or so of the largest publishing companies in the United States and Canada to no avail.

In spite of the fact that “Invisible Darkness: The Strange Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka,” my first book about the case, had been contracted by Bantam/ Random House in New York, no one at any of the many Random House companies in New York had ever heard of Karla Homolka let alone wanted a book about her.

The editor who had originally worked with me had long since left the company. Random House and its affiliated companies literally have tens of thousands of mass-market paperbacks in their backlists. Regardless of the fact that “Invisible Darkness” was the least returned mass market paperback book in Bantam’s long and storied history and continues to sell remarkably well 14 years after it was first published, they did not give a rat’s ass.

My New York agent, the legendary and respected Sterling Lord, could not get anyone in the business to even read the manuscript.

I found no solace in Toronto. Canadian publishers said the same thing although a few felt compelled to elaborate. They said nobody was interested in “her” anymore. “Invisible Darkness” was definitive. There was nothing left to say. Some added, indignantly, that it was an unsavory subject about which Canadians had heard too much already and had real animus to the very mention of her name.

No one bothered to read the manuscript in Canada either, with the exception of Diane Martin, then a senior editor at Random House Canada. When Ms. Martin recommended to the publishing committee that Random House publish it, a number of her colleagues said they would resign rather than see that happen. These days’ committees almost universally make publishing decisions. Of course, it was turned back.

Then Fate introduced me to a crazed French Canadian from Montreal with delusions of grandeur and the strange concept of establishing a bilingual publishing empire in Canada.

One evening while I was in the midst of the rejection fest Pierre Turgeon called because he had negotiated the French rights with General but they went tits up before a contract was signed and any money changed hands. He wondered who had the rights now and when the book was going to be published in English and by whom.

I told him I owned the rights. In the process of negotiating a price for the French ones, I told him my tale of woe. I had no idea when or even if it was ever going to be published in English.

He sent me a check for the French rights. After it cleared he called again. “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” became the cornerstone of his cockamamie notion of a bilingual empire. His checks kept clearing so it took about a month after its English publication in the spring of 2003 for me to realize that Turgeon was not only crazy but also a con man and a crook.

Before the enlightenment, we convinced Fitzhenry and Whiteside, a staid, old Canadian owned publishing house to distribute “Karla” . The former president of General Publishing, Nelson Doucette, had sought refuge there, and fortunately remained an advocate for the book.

Again, the one person who took the time to read it, John Winskill, then the Director of Marketing and Sales for F&W, a lovely man who had recently had a heart transplant and was not long for this world, thought it a significant and important work. Between the two they managed to convince the skeptical proprietor to take it on. After all, they weren’t publishing the thing, just distributing it.

To say initial sales were tepid would be an understatement because they were virtually non-existent. The first couple of weeks after a book is published are critical. We all became extremely concerned.

Even a weekend of terrific reviews across the country did nothing to boost it. The book was flat lined. It appeared that everyone else was right and Diane Martin, John Winskill, Nelson Doucette and I were wrong.

That was before the oleaginous lawyer for the families of Paul and Karla’s victims decided to paraded them before the insatiable media for an hour-long, live, nationally televised “press conference”

Between close ups of the solemn and tear-stained faces of Mr. and Mrs. French, Tim Danson self-righteously railed against the book’s publication, waving it like a Pentecostal preacher’s Bible, pointing out the outrageous and possibly “illegal” color photographs contained therein and avowing it was libelous, he called upon the righteous everywhere, including all booksellers, to boycott “Karla: A Pact with the Devil.”

Many intimidated, confused booksellers took his advice. Heather Reisman whose Indigo/ Chapters chain accounts for 90 percent of all bricks and mortar book sales in Canada did not. (This is all BEB – Before E-Books.) She took the advice of her vice-president of all things public and promotional, Tracy Nesdoly, who happened to be another person who took the time to read it, agreed with the few others who had done so and told Heather so. Ms. Reisman refused to sell “Mein Kampf” but took a stand with “Karla.”

“Karla” sold 20,000 copies in the 3 days immediately after the Danson “news conference”. If Turgeon could have found one printer in Canada whom he had not already swindled, it would have been quickly reprinted and the stores restocked in a matter of days, “Karla” would have sold many tens of thousands more in its first month of publication (It is just recently that the book has been published in the United States, so far only in a Kindle ebook edition.)

Sales and numbers mean everything to professional writers – those who actually feed themselves by their writing, rare birds though they are. But the reason “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” became a bestseller had nothing to do with the remarkable and intimate correspondence I shared with my subject.

Nor was it because the book is a well written, spellbinding tale of duplicity and deceit among the rich and powerful but rather because it became the center of rampant, almost rapid nation-wide publicity campaign the magnitude of which no publisher could ever conceive or finance.

Whether Paula Todd and Derek Finkle’s little fiction, “Finding Karla,” has any merit – and most people who have read it say not – many do feel swindled because it is so insubstantial and the tone is one of almost hysterical confusion and outrage, it drew an inordinate amount of national publicity.

The question is why?

I understand why lawyer Timmy Danson did what he did. You don’t, unless you’ve read “Karla,” but we won’t get into that.

The fact the Karla corresponded with me as long and as candidly as she did, was a real “scoop” but it made no difference. Even after reviewers and commentators across the country remarked on the book’s merits, sales remained stagnate.

I did not expect to be arrested – again – but I was, thanks again to Tim and that did nothing to harm the sales of either book – quite the contrary – but that is also beside the point.

It also lifted Random House’s heavy lidded eyes. A few people in the publisher’s employ, other than Diane Martin, read the book and realized she had been right. They published “Karla” in a finely edited mass market paperback and ebook edition that continues to sell well to this day, a full 19 years after Karla was convicted and incarcerated and 7 years after her release.

The publicity that has accrued to Ms. Todd and Mr. Finkle’s efforts is of an entirely different kind. As far as the old media is concerned it sounds its own death knell because it is characteristic of a malaise that has long lain dormant in its blood stream.

As T.S. Elliot so famously composed endings come with whimpers not bangs. The media’s hysterical reaction to the publication of Finkle/Todd’s work of investigative fiction is a whimper.