Friday, January 29, 2016

Forensic Friday: Human Memory and Eyewitness Testimony

I manage the dining hall at a boarding school that has nearly 400 students. Periodically, we have issues with the kids not taking their soiled dishes to the dish room or other such minor infractions. We have one young man who is a chronic offender, and he tends to sit at the same table for each of his meals. A couple of weeks ago, one of my staff discovered that “his” table had been left particularly messy after lunch. In order to confirm which student was responsible I had her look through the pictorial directory to identify who had been sitting there. She selected this young man.

There was only one problem. He hadn’t been at school that day.

So much for eyewitness testimony.

Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a forensic anthropologist, and an instructor at College of Mount St. Joseph, has  issued two video courses about forensics through The Teaching Company. Here is a paraphrase of what she says about human memory:

·         Memory is not a video recorder, where everything is seen in the mind’s eye objectively and exactly as it happened. A memory is more of an impression of an event.

·         Depending on our past experience, our brains put different things we’ve experienced into different categories for future recall. When an event occurs that fits one of our schema, our brain pulls out all of the bits of that schema to process the new information and the overlap can mix things up a bit.

·         There are two stages of memory: 1) short-term memory involves the information our brain doesn’t process for future recall because it’s seen an unimportant, and 2) long-term or permanent memory where information is seen as important and therefore stored for future recall.

The key to whether or not we remember an event or person depends on how our brain dealt with the relevant information at the time of the event, and there are many variables that affect this processing such as our beliefs, motives, stress, stereotypes, and environmental factors. In addition, studies have shown that some faces are easier to remember than others. Also, some people are simply better with faces than others. You might not be surprised to discover that the amount of time between the event and when it’s recalled affects the way something is remembered.

Currently, the federal standard for eyewitness testimony in court is that if a witness is very sure of his or her testimony, it is admissible in court. If there is any amount of uncertainty, it’s up to the judge to decide whether it’s allowed or not.

However, studies have shown that the degree of certainty of a witness doesn’t necessarily correlate with the reliability of his or her testimony!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wartime Wednesday: Conscientious Objectors

As long as there have been wars, there have been people who objected to them. Some for religious beliefs, others on moral grounds. These folks eventually became known as Conscientious Objectors (COs). Until World War II, the government dealings with COs were ambiguous and inconsistent, but typically harsh.

According to, the World War I draft law recognized the peace churches {those churches such as Quaker, Brethren, and Mennonite, that historically took a stand against war}, but prosecuted anyone else who objected on the basis of their own beliefs. Five hundred objectors were court-martialed – seventeen received death sentences for refusing to fight. Although none of death sentences was carried out, almost 150 objectors were jailed for life, and others were harassed and beaten.

As the U.S. moved closer to entering World War II, Congress, for the first time in history, recognized "CO Status" as a legitimate moral stand. Under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, objectors had two choices — they could go into the military but serve in the medical corps or other non-combat duties, or they were required to do "alternative service" here at home that was "work of national importance."

Of the 34.5 million men who registered for the draft, 72,354 applied for conscientious objector status,  25,000 of whom served in non-combatant roles and 27,000 who were exempted because of their failure to pass the physical exam. There were over 6,000 men who rejected the draft outright and chose to go to jail instead of serving the war effort. And then there were 12,000 men who chose to perform alternative service. Their work was supervised by the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program.

The CPS program called for work camps to be established for assignees to labor in soil conservation or forestry projects. Initially, men dug irrigation ditches, planted ground cover, and built dams and irrigation system. Others served as fire lookouts and smoke jumpers. As the war progressed the program’s opportunities expanded to include dairy and farm labor and mental hospital attendants. Others volunteered to be test subjects in scientific experiments administered by the federal government. Known as “Guinea Pig Units” these programs studied the effects of starvation, climate, hydration, disease, and other issues.

One of the most controversial aspects of CPS was that the assignees served without pay. This was a decision undertaken early in the negotiations for CPS by the Selective Service as they feared the program would not be approved if men received a wage. This proved to be an increasing source of frustration for many of the men and their families as the men received no allotment for dependent care either, leaving many of their families in a difficult economic situation.

Many COs struggled with their decision:

“Alone, I did not know any other conscientious objectors in my community. I don’t think there were any others. I was a na├»ve young man, and I thought to myself, ‘What if I’m wrong and all these millions of other men are right? What if I’m wrong about conscientious objection?’ So in that respect I compromised and agreed to be drafted into the military, as long as I wasn’t required to bear arms." (K. Roy Bailey, Schuyler Rural school teacher who later served as a U.S. Army medic in the Pacific theater.)

"At that time, I registered as a conscientious objector...well, my background was Mennonite. We were in a Mennonite community, and it's one of the 'peace churches.' It was our way of saying we don't agree with violence. We would rather got to work for several years doing alternate service. Well, there was some problem with it. And there would be again today. Probably not as much as there was at that time. But it was considered as being non-patriotic. That was not the case, but it was perceived as such. We were very patriotic people." (Anonymous Mennonite).

What do you think?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mystery Monday: In Harm's Way

I love a good book, and even though I write historical novels I read just about any fiction I can get my hands on. Around Thanksgiving last year, I
picked up books one and three of Irene Hannon's Heroes of Quantico series at my local library book sale.

The first book (Against All Odds) was good, but included a lot of telling rather than showing, so I put off reading book three (In Harm's Way.) A few weeks later looking for something to read, I decided to give Irene another try. Am I glad I did.

The novel is about music teacher Rachel Sutton and FBI Special Agent Nick Bradley who were both foster kids (for different reasons). After work one day Rachel finds a discarded Raggedy Ann doll and when she picks it up, she experiences a panic attack. Despite the negative vibes she gets from the doll, she feels she needs to do something about it. When the local police are disinterested in what she has to say, she turns to the FBI, and Nick is the one chosen to take her statement. His first instinct is to write her off as another nut-case, but he is intrigued by her demeanor and decides to pursue the case.

In Harm's Way is well-written and well-researched. It is obvious Ms. Hannon spoke with subject matter experts to get the technical parts of the novel correct. I learned a lot about several things (won't say what because that would include a spoiler) without feeling like she was hammering me over the head with the information. It is mostly passed along through dialogue. The book was fast paced and I stayed up late a couple of nights to finish it. Highly recommended!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Selah Saturday: Beating the Winter Blues

Have you ever been struck by the Winter Blues? This year for the first time in quite a few years, I seem to have fallen victim to them. The hubbub of the holidays is long behind me, and here in New England the days are quite short - the sun rises late and sets early. The grip of minus temperatures has settled in.

Always a fighter, I didn't want the Blues to win. Here's what I figured out to do:

  • Be active. It's way to easy to come home from work, grab a little dinner and park myself on the couch and watch TV till bedtime. So I force myself to do something - sometimes it's working a puzzle or cleaning out some area of my life (clothes I haven't worn, files, writing notes or research, books, or dishes - how many casserole dishes or soup pots does a person need??). Sometimes it's performing a couple of chores that I normally do on my days off. The satisfaction of getting things done goes a long way to making me feel less "blue."
  • Laugh. It's true - laughter is the best medicine. Read the "funny papers" as my granddad used to call the newspaper comics. Or read an uplifting fun book - Patsy Clairmont has several great ones out. Watch a romantic comedy instead of that suspense or action flick. Recently I dragged out "Romancing the Stone."
  • Use other people to help. I tend to want to solve my own problems, but frankly sometimes you've got to call in the Cavalry. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Let them know you're struggling and they'll take it from there. Even better is getting together.
  • Expect good things. I find that it can be easy to get sucked into the negativity around me - complainers at work or church, the awful stories on the news, etc. Whenever possible I walk away from the complainers and make it a point not to watch the news. At the beginning and end of each day I count my blessings.
  • Sing. Yep, you read correctly. I sing. I put in a CD or stream some music on my computer and sing a long. I may not be the next Taylor Swift, but singing lifts my spirits quickly. Try it!
I love winter, but sometimes I need a pick-me-up. If you do too, I hope you find this information helpful.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Talkshow Thursday: Heavy Water

Happy Thursday, everyone! Ruth Brown (Linda’s fictional war correspondent) here reporting on a sabotage event that occurred in February 1943.

Heavy water is a type of water that is made up of a heavier than normal hydrogen isotope. The nature of heavy water allows it to be used in the production of nuclear energy. Prior to WWII Vemork, Norway became the home of a heavy water manufacturing plant. Located at the Rjukan waterfall, the facility was the world’s largest power plant when it opened in 1911. It was converted to heavy water production in 1934.

Because they were dabbling with nuclear weapons, the Germans were eager to get their hands on the water. But the Norwegians were able to move their supply to France in 1940 before to the German invasion of Norway. However, the plant was still capable of producing heavy water, so manufacturing continued under German occupation. The Allies quickly realized they would have to destroy the facility.

An attempt was made in October 1942. Under cover of darkness, SOE-trained Norwegian operatives were parachuted into Norway. Then over the course of two weeks skied their way to the Vermork facility. In November 1942, a British force tried to land gliders on a nearby lake from which they would commence an attack. Unfortunately the gliders crashed resulting in several deaths of the crew. Survivors were captured and executed by the Nazi’s.

The original group of operatives was still in place and existed on lichen and moss throughout the winter. In February the Allies launched another operation, and these men were able to make contact with the first group. At a few minutes after midnight on February 23, 1943, the force descended into the ravine, crossed the river and climbed the steep hill on the other side. Using tunnels the saboteurs were able to get inside the plant where they placed explosives on the electrolysis chambers before attaching a very long fuse (allowing them enough time to escape).

The raid was successful. The entire inventory of heavy water produced during the German occupation was destroyed, as well as the equipment necessary to operate the electrolysis chamber. Over 3,000 German soldiers searched the area for the saboteurs, but all escaped. Five of the men skied to Sweden, two went to Oslo and the other four remained in the area to conduct further resistance work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Traveling Tuesday: Walter Reed Army Medical Center

As long as there have been wars, there have been doctors and hospitals to patch up the wounded. During WWII, one of those hospitals was the Walter Reed Army Medical Clinic located in Bethesda, MD. The facility, opened on May 1, 1909 and named for the man who was the leading researcher to discover that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitos, was several years in the making and replaced the aging hospital at Washington Barracks.

According to the hospital’s website, “WWI saw the hospital’s capacity grow from eighty patient beds to 2,500 in a matter of months. Through WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, the facility treated hundreds of thousands of injured American soldiers.”
Painting by Lawrence Beall Smith

Some of those injured American soldiers were a portion of the approximately 15,000 U.S. Army amputees. To address the need for care of these amputees, Army Surgeon General Major General Norman T. Kirk established seven amputation centers. As one of the seven centers, Walter Reed (as it was known), had the capability to provide up-to-date surgical, medical, prosthetic and rehabilitative care. In addition, the facility offered general medical services to other injured soldiers. How did a soldier arrive at the facility? WWII combat medic Pfc. Keith Winston explains the journey a wounded soldier made:

“A message was sent back to the forward Aid Station (a distance of 300-1000 yards from the front) making the notification of a wounded individual. The medics rushed a litter to the location and administered first aid on the spot, after which they carried the litter to a jeep. The jeep took the patient to the next Aid Station (anywhere from one to three miles from the front) where a physician would treat the soldier. From there, the patient was rushed by ambulance to a Clearing Company. If the case is one whereby the casualty is so severe and he won’t get better very soon, he was shipped back even further to a General Hospital and eventually back to the States.”
To this day, Walter Reed continues their service to the thousands of amputees Their Military Advanced Training Center is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of American servicemen and women.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Forensic Friday: The Lost are Found

According to the National Institute of Justice website, every year tens of thousands of people in the U.S. disappear under mysterious circumstances. The site also claims that on any given day there are as many as 100,000 active missing person cases on the desks of law enforcement officers. Moreover, there are an estimated 40,000 unclaimed remains on file at Medical Examiner offices or that have been buried before being identified.

In 2005, the realization of these facts was the impetus for the formation of The National Institute of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). A free online system that can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials and the general public from all over the country, NamUs offers three databases: missing persons, unidentified persons, and unclaimed persons.

Thousands of records have been input into the databases, but are of no use unless someone accesses the information. According to a press release issued in 2011 by the Department of Justice, the remains of sixty-two people have been identified through NamUs and returned to their families. Many of the cases were solved because of the opportunity for the public to search the records or to input photos and identifying marks about their relatives.

There are actions the public can take with regard to NamUs – the most obvious being that if you have information about a missing or unidentified person, you should report the information to the local law enforcement agency. Do you personally know law enforcement officials? Make sure they are aware of NamUs. Do you know the family of a missing person? Encourage the family to visit the NamUs website where they can create a case file. Register to be a public user for the missing persons and unidentified persons databases. This will allow you to input new information about cases.

One by one, with the help of NamUs, the lost are found.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Wartime Wednesday: Lentil Curry

The recipe below is from a site I discovered a couple of years ago when looking for information about rationing in England.  Since then I have used quite a few of the recipes. A couple of days ago we tried Lentil Curry and were very pleased with the results. Try it, you'll like it!

8 ounces canned lentils (if you used dried lentils, triple the liquid measurement or pre-cook)
1 teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon butter/margarine
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 apple, diced
8 ounces vegetable stock
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons cooked rice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine apples, raisins, rice, flour, curry powder. Add vinegar and vegetable stock and set aside.

Saute onion and carrot until soft. Add apple/raisin mixture and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir in lentils and simmer for 10-15 minutes until carrots are at desired consistency.

Quick and easy meal with lots of protein. The apple gives the dish a nice sweetness.

Our experience: I omitted the rice because I didn't have any left over in the house, and it seemed silly to make some just to use 2 Tablespoons. Also, we used dried lentils and had to add extra liquid and cook for about 30 minutes. Next time, I'll pre-cook the lentils (we prefer dried over canned because of the amount of sodium in the canned ones). Also next time, I'll add a couple of more carrots and additional raisins.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mystery Monday: The Mystery of Codebreaking

Some scholars differentiate between codes and ciphers, with codes requiring a code book and ciphers using mathematical algorithms. For the purposes of this blog I will be lumping them together into the single concept of secret messages.

Unfortunately mankind has been fighting each other since the beginning of time, and the use of codes has been an integral part of war from early on. One website spoke of the “Caesar Code,” named because Julius Caesar used it himself. It is a fairly easy code to break, but is the basis for many more complex codes. Other codes are: public key, transposition, scytale, steganography, book cipher, and playfair cipher.

Code breaking is much more difficult than code writing. According to Charles Latham, an instructor stationed in Arlington, VA during WWII who taught U.S. Army correspondence courses, there were “two courses in cryptology and four in cryptanalysis, each with ten lessons. In the advanced courses, one lesson could take a couple of months.” He went on to say “solving was a process of trial and error, and when a message finally began to ‘break,’ it gave you a real sense of accomplishment.”

Britain’s central site for code breaking during the war was located at Bletchley Park, located in Buckinghamshire about fifty miles outside of London. The mansion sits on nearly sixty acres and by the end of the war the property held nearly two dozen wooden huts and eight brick “blocks.” U.S. code breaking did not seem to be centralized as there were locations around the country.

There have been numerous books and movies about code breaking during WWII, the most recent being The Imitation Game which is about Alan Turing. As important as Mr. Turing’s accomplishments were, it is equally important to remember the number of unheralded, unnamed staff who worked at Bletchley Park, and other similar locations during the war.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Selah Saturday: Finding God in the Outdoors

I love being outdoors, even during the winter here in New England. Granted, it takes me a bit of time to adjust to the cold temperatures and constant snow removal each year, but the rewards are many. Snow shoe walks where I see myriad animal tracks such as rabbit, squirrel, deer and the occasional moose. Snowflakes frozen to the windows, each flake an individual work of art. The leafless trees and bare shrubs that allow me to witness sights normally hidden by foliage.

Rather than ramble on with more words, I thought I share some of God’s beauty from here in New England.

Sunrise above the house next door. My little camera made the colors more orange and yellow than the vibrant pink and purple actually there.
Midafternoon on the Sewall Woods snowshoe trails.
Autumn in downtown Wolfeboro. It always fascinates me that two of the same kind of tree right next to each other can change differently. (Probably a sermon there!)
Summertime view of Lake Winnipesaukee from Ragged Island.

What are some of your favorite outdoor spots?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Talkshow Thursday: Operation Pastorius

Ruth Brown (Linda’s fictional character) here reporting on the doomed German spy mission Operation Pastorius. Staged in 1942 and named for the leader of the first German settlement in America, the objective was to sabotage the economic infrastructure of the United States.

Eight men were involved, two of whom were American citizens. On June 13th, four of the agents landed on the beach in Long Island from a submarine. They wore German uniforms so that if captured, they would be treated as POWs rather than spies. Carrying explosives their aim was to attack a number of locations such as the hydrroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, several of ALCOA’s manufacturing plants, locks on the Ohio River, and the Pennsylvania Railroad’s repair shops at Altoona. They were also to blow up bridges, railroad stations, water facilities and other public locations. On June 17th, the additional agents landed in Ponta Verde Beach, Florida.

By June 27th, all eight men were in custody without having performed on act of sabotage.

So, what happened? As it turned out, the mission didn’t have much chance of success to begin with. One of the men got drunk in Paris and announced to the plan to everyone in the bar. Another left documents relating to the mission on a train. And yet another of the men, George Dasch, was found by the Coast Guard almost immediately upon landing in New York, but he managed to elude capture.

Realizing that failure was imminent, Dasch decided to turn himself in and betray the others. The agents were picked up within a days and tried before a military tribunal shortly thereafter.

The verdict?

All were found guilty, six of whom received the death penalty. Of the other two men, Ernst Burger received life imprisonment and Dasch thirty years. In April 1948, President Truman granted executive clemency to the two men on condition of deportation. They were transported to the American Zone of Germany, the unexecuted portions of the sentences were suspended upon such conditions with respect to travel, employment, political, and other activities as the Theatre commander might require, and they were freed.
Resettled in Germany, Dasch died in 1988 at the age of 92, and Burger in 1975.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Traveling Tuesday: The Bombing of Fort Stevens

The Columbia River creates most of the border between the states of Oregon and Washingon. Nestled at the tip of the peninsula that juts from Oregon’s northern corner is Fort Stevens State Park, home of Fort Stevens, an Army base constructed near the end of the Civil War. The fort is the only location of an attack on a mainland U.S. military installation by the Axis powers.

On June 21, 1942, in order to avoid minefields, the Japanese submarine I-25 followed Allied fishing boats to the mouth of the Columbia River. Commanded by Tagami Meiji the vessel held ninety seven crew members. Their mission? To destroy enemy ships and to engage the enemy on land with the sub’s deck guns.

That night, under cover of darkness, I-25 surfaced and fired seventeen shells at Fort Stevens whose commander ordered an immediate blackout and refused to let his men return fire in an effort to prevent the sub from ascertaining the fort’s exact location. His plan worked. Most of the shells landed in a nearby baseball field, damaging the backstop and nicking some of the surrounding power lines.

American aircraft on a training mission spotted the I-25 and called in an A-29 Hudson bomber to attack. The A-29 zeroed in on the I-25 and dropped several bombs, but the submarine was able to submerge unscathed. No lives were lost, but the incident created concern of an imminent invasion, and barbed wire was strung from Point Adams southward.
Fort Stevens was deactivated after the war, and became a state park in 1975.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Forensic Friday: Pattern Evidence

Tire track impressions leave behind a unique pattern, therefore are classified as pattern evidence. Just like shoe impressions can help narrow down the brand, style and size, tire tracks have the ability to do the same thing. The type of evidence left behind depends upon the type of surface traveled. A tire can leave an impression in loose sand or snow, but will leave an imprint on a hard surface such as concrete.

There are three types of prints: visible – able to be seen by the naked eye and collected by photography; plastic – three-dimensional and collected by making a cast; and latent – prints not visible to the naked eye. In modern times, latent prints are collected through the use of electrostatic lifter dust.

Once impressions or imprints are collected at the crime scene, experts compare the evidence to a suspect’s shoe or vehicle tire to determine if the item is the same one that left the impression. The reason this works is that as shoes and tires are used, their physical features change over time. For example, a tire out of alignment will create a tire that is heavily worn along one edge.

An example of the use of tire impressions as evidence is in the recent case of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Four stones wedged in the tread of the rear passenger-side tire on a vehicle rented to Hernandez enabled investigators match it to the tire tracks left at the scene of the crime. A miniscule yet crucial piece of evidence.