Interview with the filmmakers behind Dead Man’s Line (2018)

A few weeks ago, I saw an incredible documentary called Dead Man’s Line. The film tells the story of Tony Kiritsis, a man who felt so wronged by a mortgage company that he took his mortgage broker hostage to get the attention of the media to his perceived plight. He tied a shotgun to his hostage’s neck, then tied a line from the trigger to his finger, thus ensuring that, if he was killed, he would take his hostage with him to his grave.

The standoff was intense – and so is Dead Man’s Line.

Below is my interview with the filmmakers behind the film, Alan Berry and Mark Enochs.

Thanks you, gentlemen, for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon.


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Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

AB: My name is Alan Berry and I’m the director, editor, and producer of Dead Man’s Line. In my day job, I’m a Director of Marketing for a private financial firm in Indiana. I’m an avid fan of the band Phish.

ME: I’m Mark Enochs, co-director and writer of Dead Man’s Line. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana with my wife, daughter, and our two dogs. I also share a woodshed out back with a family of chipmunks and a mama garter snake who eats mice at night. Professionally, I’ve been everything from a proofreader to an editor, and I am currently writing for a marketing platform company. Otherwise, I’m a typical binge-viewing, bird-watching, physical-comedy-loving dude.

2) Have you always been interested in true crime?

AB: I’m a fan of true stories of all kinds, especially if there is a video to back up the story.

ME: Alan and I have been friends since high school, and there have always been documentaries in our viewing queue. Whenever there was a movie that was based on a true story, we always wanted the true story, and back before reality TV, one of the best places to hunt for non-scripted, non-editorialized truth was the documentary section at the video store. There wasn’t as wide a smorgasbord as there is now, of course, so whatever we found we would consume multiple times, stuff like Incident at Oglala, all kinds of concert footage, and Hoop Dreams which I remember watching for the first time with Alan all in one go. It was such a commitment from the filmmaker and the families, and it just showed how to use film to tell anybody’s story.

True crime itself is a natural draw for me. Stories like this have a built-in drama, and I love seeing that unfold regardless of whether the stories end with closure or total mystery. So what separates a factual but flat rendering from a dynamic and intriguing one is the filmmaker, that person’s vision, and the way the narrative is built. The Thin Blue Line was an early example to us of how you can add creative elements and enhance the story without misrepresenting the facts. Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness was another early one where we could see how real life and fiction could get mixed up and merge.

3) How did you become a filmmaker?

AB: Part of the path for me in becoming a filmmaker was out of necessity. Up until 2011, I had owned and operated records stores in Indianapolis. I saw the end nearing, so I jumped ship over to video production. Which for me led to more filmmaking.

ME: In high school, Alan had a video camera, and we made comedies, real Monty Python sketch stuff. We shot a lot of the early bits in chronological order, but as we continued to come up with skits made up of more and more shots, we started editing, super primitive, but cutting together scenes was something we loved doing. It just took a couple decades for the stars to align and go about seriously making a film. In 2010, we shot “Band in a Jam” up in northern Indiana, and we learned so many critical lessons there about story-telling, stuff you’re never done learning, but I remember after half a year of shooting that film we felt like not only could we do this but we might be able to do it well.

4) Your film Dead Man’s Line tells the story of a truly bizarre kidnapping and hostage situation from the 1970s. How did you come across this story? When did you know you were going to make a film about this incident?

AB: It’s Mark’s fault. Six years ago now, we had just completed a day-in-the-life documentary of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and when it came time to do the next project, we did an informal survey of friends and family, wanting to know what our potential audience was interested in seeing, and then from the short list that came out of that, we rated each idea. Kiritsis rose to the top, in part because it’s an intriguing story that happened here in Indy and that many people younger than us had never heard of. Also some of the other ideas we had for a project fell through quickly. Kiritsis was the only one where we found people who wanted to talk, starting with Jack Parker, a WTTV cameraman who covered the story in ’77, held on to his footage, and was willing to share it.

ME: So some of it is Jack’s fault, and we are so grateful for that. Another reporter, WRTV’s Linda Lupear, also shared footage and her account. When we were trying to come up with the next project, this was the one with this great historical Indy angle that came to mind for me. We were in the 2nd grade when the incident happened, but I recall watching the footage as it was replayed during the summer of 1977 on local TV as the court proceedings got underway. That image of Kiritsis and Hall and that wired gun had stuck with me for 35 years.

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(Tony Kiritsis and his hostage, Richard O. Hall. Photo: John Hilley / Associated Press)

5) Was it difficult to get people to talk about the event?

ME: Yes. Short answer is yes. We both have real jobs, the ones that pay our bills, so scheduling convenient time isn’t always possible, and then of course, some people just aren’t comfortable being on film, or, in a few cases, on the record.

But of the 40+ interviews we did conduct, the vast majority were eager to describe what they’d witnessed. And not for attention-seeking purposes. There was nothing like that. People were just ready to put their recollections on the record once and for all. This was a one-of-a-kind event in these people’s lives, something they could document in one final work and pass on as local history to the next generation.

6) What do you think really drove the kidnapper, a man named Tony Kiritsis, to undertake such desperate measures? Was he a genuine “working man who’d had enough”, or just a narcissist?

ME: Kiritsis sawed off the barrel and stock of a shotgun and then took a man hostage with it. That’s a crime. There’s no way to get around that.

Did the mortgage company steal Kiritsis’ land out from under him? No. There is no evidence that Meridian Mortgage did anything so overtly illegal in their loan agreement with Kiritsis.

Could Meridian Mortgage have manipulated either Kiritsis or prospective buyers so that Meridian Mortgage could foreclose on the property and then resell it at a great profit? Yes, they could have.

There is no direct proof of that, but one thing I’m convinced of is that Dick Hall was only indirectly involved with the Kiritsis loan. He had been in the office when Kiritsis had come in. He knew Tony well enough to talk with him. On one occasion, he sat in on a heated argument between Dick’s father, M.L. Hall and Kiritsis, but that was it. Dick’s main error was showing up at the office that morning, a mistake none of us would ever have seen ahead of time.

Did Tony feel that M.L. Hall had done something to swindle his land away from him? Yes, he truly believed that. But the way he went about addressing the problem was to flip out and fantasize about revenge, and yes, some of that is because as a narcissist, he had a lot of trouble facing his flaws. But that’s not to say Kiritsis was a bad person. There are hundreds of examples of his generosity and good-natured camaraderie. Tony was an open book in many cases. He got things wrong, but he rarely lied. What he couldn’t face was losing that land. There was no Plan B. Everything past 1977 depended on that land and what it represented to Kiritsis. Think about losing your future. You still can’t wire shotguns to people’s necks. That’s not a solution, but I get the motive.

7) Your film tells the story perfectly: matter-of-factly, without too much background, letting the participants and news video archives tell the story in the moment. It reminded me of some of Oliver Stone’s better films. What techniques did you employ in constructing that intensity on the screen?

AB: I wish I could say I use some fancy techniques when I edit, but I don’t. One of my assets is that I have seen thousands of documentaries, good and bad. So when I’m going through cuts, I keep working it until I get that “Oh yeah, that works” feeling. That gut feeling that makes you want to go show it off. The next crucial step was to have Mark watch it to validate that my ego wasn’t just agreeing with itself. Mark has an excellent eye for crap, and our friendship is strong enough where he would tell me when my work was not up to par. Once it passed Mark’s crap test, the process would start over. Long story short, it’s a process of create, review, analyze, improve.

8) Where can people watch Dead Man’s Line?

Amazon and iTunes

9) What are you working on at the moment?

ME: Fiction. Podcasts are an intriguing idea too.

AB: Trying to become a roadie for Phish and other various video projects.

10) Where can people keep up with your work?

https://www.deadmansline.com/

https://www.alancberry.com/

And finally, my standard questions:

11) Your top 3 films?

ME:

Memento

Seven Samurai

Primer

AB:

Salesman

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

The Killing

12) Your top 3 books?

ME:

Watership Down

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fight Club

AB:

Think and Grow Rich

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Rebel without a Crew

13) Your top 3 songs?

ME:

Could never pick 3 songs. Instead:

Queen. 2)Tool. 3) Iron Maiden.

AB:

1) Phish. 2) Frank Zappa. 3) The Rolling Stones

Ghost Hunt in Finland

On an exceptionally hot Summer day, a group of people have gathered on the front yard of a suburban house in southern Finland. Many of these folks are dressed in black clothing, and look like they’re getting ready for a metal concert.

In reality, they’re readying themselves for something way more terrifying and, potentially, electrifying: a ghost hunt.

This piece was written by my friend Oona, who accompanied me to the event. Follow her on Instagram: @sirutar


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(The house where the ghost hunt took place)

The event has been organized by a Finnish ghost hunting team called Paranormal Investigations Group. Established a few years ago by brothers Mika and Markus Nikkilä, Paranormal Investigations Group do investigations into old houses and mansions, mainly using a ”ghost box”, an electronic device that scans radio stations non-stop, the belief being that it enables ghosts and spirits to communicate through the static noise created by the non-stop scan.

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(The Paranormal Investigations Group guys set up their equipment)

Before we enter the house where tonight’s investigation is to take place, the owner of the property where the house stands briefs us on the backstory that has led to this particular dwelling being chosen for a ghost hunt:

A man and his son used to live here. They were very close, and only had each other. When the man died, his son fell into a deep depression, and ultimately hanged himself in here, using a rope he attached to the top of the stairs leading to the second floor.”

Mika from the Group then gives us the final instructions:

If anobody feels bad or has anxiety during the session, let us know and we will help you out immediately! Try to concentrate on just this investigation, and leave everything else out of your minds. Relax, breathe deep, and immerse yourselves in the story of this house and this moment we’re about to share together.”

And with these words, we enter the house.

Filled with excitement and anticipation I climb the narrow stairs. The upstairs is hot, and being in the same room with a dozen other people is a good way to cause anxiety by itself. There are some small items on the wall reminding of the past, of the fact that human beings once lived here, but otherwise the room is empty. The place has a moldy smell, that specific aroma of an old house that has been unoccupied for some time.

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(the Paranormal Investigations Group guys and their medium, Sanna)

People gather to the back of the room, as the investigators set their equipment in the middle. Somebody switches off the lights, and we’re ready to begin.

The “ghost box” starts buzzing, and the crowd listens attentively. The investigators’ handheld electricity detection devices flash orange and red, the lights indicating that something is present. The investigators ask: “Has something bad happened here?” The lights flash red, the ghost box gives out some words and beeps which, to me, don’t convey any information. The medium explains that the spirit said ”yes”.

She scribbles things to her notebook, and in a moment says that the spirit feels uncomfortable with all the females in the room. I am not surprised, as the man who committed suicide in the house generally didn’t have female company around. Many of the questions asked get answers through the box and the medium. Some are left unanswered. The investigators ask the spirit to give a sign that he’s present. A couple of visitors inform they feel a burning sensation on their arm at that very moment.

The adjacent room is not as active. For whatever reason, the voice in the ghost box sounds more child-like in this room. The answers aren’t as clear or frequent as they were in the other room. I do notice a couple of people stroking their arms like something had touched them, so maybe this spirit just doesn’t feel as talkative, but instead prefers a different approach in making his/her presence felt.

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(What it looked like with the lights off)

After a short break and some fresh air, we head back inside to see if the downstairs rooms will give us more info. We gather again around the room with more questions in our minds.

This time the lights indicate a spirit being definitely near one person in the room; even when this person is asked to move to another spot, the lights still signal the same thing. According to the investigators translating the ghostly messages to us less familiar with them, there seems to also be a female spirit present in the space. She responds to questions, and guides us towards certain topics. She briefly mentions “a lake” (Finnish “järvi”), possibly indicating some sort of a connection to a nearby body of water.

The folks taking part in this expedition seem to be getting a hang of this, and are more relaxed as we step in the last room of the tour. Our guides decide to let loose, and tell whoever is listening from beyond to use whatever means possible to make their presence known. Several people claim to feel rushes of energy, and dramatic changes in their body temperature. The ghost box is suddenly more active than it was before, but no grand narrative emerges; the ghosts keep their secrets with them.

As we prepare to wrap up this unusual couple of hours, one of the Investigations Group members asks: “Would you like us to leave?” The ghost box answers very clearly this time: “Heippa!” (“Bye bye!”)

As the participants walk out of the house, many of them gather around to discuss their experiences. Some are perhaps skeptical while others have had their deepest convictions fulfilled. One thing is for sure, though: we have all just spent our Saturday night doing something very unusual.

One less item on the bucket list.


1 ) Who are you guys? Tell us a bit about yourselves!

MARKUS: My name is Markus Nikkilä. I’m from the town of Valkeakoski. I’m in my thirties, and have been interested in paranormal phenomena for a long time.

MIKA: I’m Mika Nikkilä, 44 years old. This [paranormal field] has always felt like my “thing”. For the past four years, my brother and I have been delving deeper into paranormal phenomena [through Paranormal Investigations Group]

2) Where did this interest in the paranormal start?

MARKUS: It’s been with me ever since I was a kid, a really long time.

MIKA: Neither of us has ever had a paranormal experience of our own, not before this. That’s a good question, it’s really difficult to say where this started…

MARKUS: Yeah, I can’t really say either.

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3) How do you find the locations you investigate?

MARKUS: We use Google to look for interesting spots: manors, strange buildings, et cetera. We also receive messages from regular people, asking us to come investigate their house.

MIKA: We receive literally hundreds of messages from people. Many of them want us to come over and investigate because they suspect they might be going crazy if they witness paranormal phenomena in their homes, and want us to come over and either confirm or deny the presence of something paranormal.

Over time, this [Paranormal Investigations Group] has gotten bigger, to the point where we’ve done some TV appearances even, but these are only side effects: our emphasis has always been and always will be in investigating paranormal phenomena, not on being famous.

MARKUS: The media has become interested in us because people in general are interested in these types of phenomena.

4) Why do you think that is?

MIKA: The way I see it, I think it’s partly because many famous people have come out of the closet with their paranormal experiences, and thus inspired and encouraged regular people to open up about their own experiences as well. They realize that these experiences are very common, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

What has been the most thrilling moment in your investigations so far?

MIKA: We were in a manor in Valkeakoski. Throughout the investigation, we could literally hear someone or something walking upstairs, right above us. This went on for maybe 8 or 10 minutes. But this is just one example – we oftentimes feel touches, hear whispers, those types of things.

And another memorable experience was the Kytäjä manor, because of it’s grim history. I felt like I constantly had to look over my shoulder while we were in there.

[Kytäjä manor has seen several suicides over the decades, and in the 1970s the lord of the manor, Kai Vähäkallio, brutally murdered three youngster who had camped out on the manor’s land. Vähäkallio, too, later committed suicide.]

One thing that’s oftentimes mentioned in connection with the kinds of investigations that you do is the potential danger of it. Do you think it’s possible that something might “follow” you home from an investigation, something malicious? Do you prepare for that somehow?

MIKA: It’s absolutely a real threat! We’re dealing with forces way bigger than us, and totally out of our control. But it’s a chance we’re willing to take.

As for how we prepare ourselves, I’m not a specifically religious person, but I always recite the “Our Father” prayer before we go into a house. Also, if things get too intense inside a house, it’s time to take a break and think about the situation for a while.

MARKUS: You have to be sensitive to your own emotions, and monitor your own feelings throughout an investigation.

Do you guys have a “dream location” you would love to investigate? If you could travel in time and space to anywhere you’d like.

MIKA: I don’t know if it would be appropriate to actually do so, but a part of me would like to spend a night in Auschwitz.

MARKUS: Mine would be an old castle of some sort in England.

Do you have any specific plans for the future?

MIKA: As long as our hearts and minds are dedicated to this, we will keep doing it. There are all kinds of cooperative projects in the works, and they are welcome, but ultimately the inner desire to do this is the most important factor. Once that disappears, Paranormal Investigations Group will stop what it’s doing.

Where will you be this summer?

MIKA: Next week we’ll be filming for a television channel. And in September, we will collaborate with magician Noora Karma on an investigation in a big manor. Those are a couple of certain plans.

But we’re always on the lookout for new houses to investigate, just the two of us, without any cameras or extra partakers.

Thanks guys, and good luck with everything!

Thanks Teemu!

 

 

 

 

Interview with a Homicide Detective

Some weeks ago, I sent a general interview request to the Helsinki Police Department’s Violent Crimes Division, asking them if one of their homicide detectives might be interested in talking to me for a blog post.

Luckily for me, I received a reply from one detective who promised to help me out and be interviewed. There was one important condition, though: no names would be mentioned, neither in our conversation nor in this ensuing blog post.

I traveled to the police building in Helsinki in early June, excited by the prospect of talking to someone who’s job is true crime. I wasn’t disappointed: I was met by a polite, very intelligent gentleman who shook my hand and welcomed me with a friendly smile.

We went to an interrogation room (perfect setting, eh?), I turned on the recorder, and the conversation started to flow.

Most of the questions I asked him were submitted by followers at my Instagram account; thanks to everyone who took part!


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(My interviewee’s ID wallet. Detectives wear this inside the police building and in their field investigations.)

1) What’s your background? What led you to becoming a cop?

Without going into too much detail, my professional background is in the civilian field, where I worked before becoming a cop.

I was 26 years old when I applied for police academy, and was accepted. I’m 44 years old now.

Of course, it requires a certain inner “incitement” to want to be a cop: you have to have the desire to want to try a difficult job like this. And I myself knew from the very start that this particular field of police work [homicide division] was where I was aiming at, where I wanted to work.

As for other reasons, let’s just say that death has always followed by my side ever since my childhood. I’m sure that has played a part in directing me towards a job like this.

2) In terms of police hierarchy, how does one technically get to the position of homicide detective?

The path to being a detective in the Finnish police force does not correlate with the path portrayed in television shows, where they first work the beat, then end up a detective. The role of a detective within the Finnish police is also not similar to the role of a detective in, say, the US police.

Oftentimes the journey to becoming a detective does indeed follow the standard beat-cop-then-detective route, but the Finnish Police also trains people to go straight to the detective bureau. Things have changed quite a bit in this regard since I became a police officer.

3) If somebody wants to work as a homicide detective, what kind of advice would you give them?

The most important thing is life experience: you have to understand life and the human mind before you can do this job successfully. When you know what happens out there in the world, it’s a lot easier to deal with what you see and experience in this job.

It’s a good idea to do something else first, before you become a cop. If you’re overly career-oriented, and enter police academy directly after your military service, your life experience will be quite minimal. And this can backfire on you when you have to actually deal with human beings through this job.

4) Take us through an average day in your job!

There are different kinds of days in my work.

You have days when you’re the detective “on call”, and on those days you work from 7 in the morning to around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, when the next shift comes in. On these days, you’re out in the field responding to calls and cases that come in that day. Once your shift is over, the day is done.

You also have “office days”, which is when you do paperwork, carry out interrogations, communicate with individuals arrested for crimes, et cetera.

When a case hits you that demands greater investigative intensity, days can, of course, stretch quite a bit beyond the usual. But in general, we work during office hours, though we of course also have weekend shifts.

-) does one detective investigate one case, or are cases delegated from one shift to another?

There is always a lead investigator, but usually, in the crucial initial stages of an investigation, extra hands are needed. And bigger cases are investigated by more detectives – the bigger the case, the more investigators work on it.

But, ultimately one lead investigator will put the various pieces together and write a report of the entire case.

5) How long are investigations in general? Does it vary a lot?

It varies quite a bit. If you have someone in custody, there’s only so long you can keep them, and in cases like that the investigation has to be carried out quicker. We’re talking months here, usually.

On average, I’d say an investigation lasts from around a month to around four months.

6) In terms of the “categories” of cases currently on your table, how many of them are killings, how many are assaults and batteries, and how many are missing persons cases?

Missing persons cases flow in regularly, especially over Summer. Inquests are also an integral part of our job [determining the cause of someone’s death. -admin]; I have around fifty inquests on my table right now. As for killings, I have one “open” investigation on my table right now. And also, I have some battery and assault -cases under investigation.

-) You mentioned that Summers create a peak in missing persons cases. Why?

Well, people are on a roll. *laughs* Weekends tend to stretch deep into the next week, and relatives and family members file reports of their lost lambs. But usually, these types of people are eventually found.

People who actually disappear, in the truer sense of the word, are fairly rare, but occasionally you run into cases like that, too. These types of cases can happen at any time during the year. These types of missing persons are usually found drowned in lakes, or dead in forests, et cetera.

7) What is it like to encounter the loved ones of victims? Family, friends, those types of people.

You encounter different kinds of reactions from different kinds of people. There’s really no way to prepare for their reaction, because it can be essentially anything.

Delivering the news of a person’s death or disappearance to their loved ones is one of the most challenging aspects of this job. But there’s a saying I think goes well with this aspect of the job: “A job chooses its workers”. In other words, this job tends to appeal to people who can deal with powerful and difficult emotions. So this aspect of the job is not overwhelmingly difficult for me.

It all comes down to the one’s ability to handle death, and all the various phenomena associated with it.

8) What is the strangest case you’ve ever worked?

*thinks for a long time* There are many of them. Life is bizarre. It’s really difficult for me to pick one. I’ve worked on some sexual crime investigations, and I guess you could say that that’s the area of crime where the “strangest” cases are.

But on average, it’s really difficult for me to pick one case, because there are so many strange cases in all these various “categories”. There are strange suicides, strange murders, and strange incidents in this job in general. Most people don’t even know how bizarre some of the things that happen out there can be. You see a slice of life in this job that most people can’t even imagine.

9) What is the average Finnish suicide like? Is there such a thing?

There are several ways people commit suicides. The most common in Finland is probably hanging, followed by an overdose of medication, throwing oneself under a train, et cetera.

As for the types of people who commit suicides, I’d say that people who have lost control of their lives, and can’t find another solution or way forward. Beyond that, we have all kinds of suicide victims: men, women, old people, young people. From 15-year-olds to pensioners.

-) from the point of view of a detective, do you think suicides are increasing or decreasing in Finland?

From my point of view, during Spring and early Summer, there’s a peak in the number of suicides. I’m not a statistician so I can’t say why, but I think it’s because many people are depressed over the dark Winter, and they have their hopes set on Spring and sunshine, that the emerging Summer will save them from depression. Then, when that doesn’t happen, they feel hopeless, and suicide becomes a prevalent idea in their minds.

10) Is there any one case that has stuck with you for a long time, or are you able to simply move on from one case to the next?

I’d be lying if I said that nothing ever sticks with me, but on average, you can’t get stuck with these matters; it’s unprofessional. If you’re a detective, and you notice that you’re overly bothered by the things you see and experience in your work, it’s time to get a new job. And I personally leave work-related matters at the workplace; I don’t carry them home with me.

11) Is there a certain “category” of cases that tend to stay with you longer than others?

I know you expect me to say “murders” or “crimes related to children”, or something like that. *laughs* But, frankly, my job is to investigate these cases, and the work needs to get done, so in terms of what types of things cause me stress, I’d say I stress more over things like investigative strategies: “What do I ask at an interrogation tomorrow? How do I approach this case? What should I do to break this case?” Those are the types of things I might think about at night when I lay awake in bed.

12) When you are assigned to a case, do you have to start everything over every time (sort of “re-invent the wheel” every time), or are there enough investigative tools and strategies you can apply each time to get you started?

Certain basic things are done each time. Of course it depends on the nature of the case: if it’s a simple case, there’s no need to overdo the investigation, even if it’s a homicide case.

The hardest ones are so called “dark homicides”, cases where you only have a body, and essentially no other relevant information. Those are the types of cases where you have to start anew each time, and they take a much longer time to get solved.

13) What are the sort of basic tools in your job? In other words, when a doctor receives a new patient, he/she will begin by analyzing the patient’s pulse, take a blood sample, listen to the patient’s heartbeat, etc. What is on a homicide detective’s “check list”?

The first thing to do is to talk to the people involved. Family, friends, witnesses. That’s where I start an investigation.

Technical investigation will proceed at the same time. Material relating to the crime is collected and analyzed, and the detective has to decide what is pertinent, what needs further analysis, and what is not so pertinent.

But talking to the people involved is the key element. You have to start by asking “What happened? Why did it happen?”

14) If you look at TV shows and films, the role of DNA in crime investigation is often emphasized. How useful is DNA in real homicide investigation? Can you get a DNA analysis any time you ask?

DNA is a huge help. It plays a huge role in homicide investigations, and it’s importance is constantly increasing. DNA is a little problematic in the sense that it can be contaminated fairly easily. But still, it’s a big help in my work.

I can get a DNA analysis anytime I ask for one. A special laboratory at the NBI [“National Bureau of Investigations”, essentially Finland’s equivalent to the American FBI. -admin] is responsible for most DNA analyses. Our own unit here decides what we send them, then they do the scientific work, and send us their findings.

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(NBI crime lab in Vantaa, Finland. Photo: Compic / Markku Ojala)

15) When you’re collecting evidence and investigating a case, how much do you reflect on whether something will be permissible in court?

You have to take that perspective into account. For example, the investigation report we send forward has to lay out the case and pertaining evidence in a simple, easily understandable form, because you’re ultimately not writing it for yourself – you’re writing it for the court, for the prosecutor, and for the attorneys. So you have to reflect on the material from that perspective.

16) As for unsolved cases, have you personally ever investigated a homicide that ended up going unsolved?

I myself have never had that happen to me, but there are battery and assault cases that are unsolved on my desk. But homicides… No wait, there is one! But that’s just one case over a period of over 15 years, and I’m talking about the “scoreboard” of the entire unit here, not just my own cases.

17) Are there factors that are similar all across the board of unsolved homicides? Some elements that make them particularly difficult to solve?

In some sense, yes. If the victim is a totally normal person with no criminal background, no friends or partners who have criminal backgrounds, no ties to the underworld, the homicide can be particularly hard to solve. What adds to the difficulty is if the person has been dead for some time before he/she is found: that makes it harder to analyze the body and the surroundings.

18) The stereotype about the average Finnish homicide goes something like this: X and Y are drinking. They’re both super-drunk, and haven’t eaten in a while, which makes their blood sugar level low, causing aggression. At some point, Y makes some innocent comment that X interprets as an insult. In the heat of the moment, X stabs Y, and Y dies. The next morning, X doesn’t even remember what happened. How truthful would you say this stereotype is?

It’s quite truthful – it often goes exactly like that. What’s much more rare is when two total strangers meet, and a killing occurs. They happen, but they’re very rare. The scenario you just described is a lot more common.

19) How about Finland’s professional criminals and their circles, are there cases where a person is killed for “business”?

Yes, it happens. Plus there are foreign gangs and criminals who now operate in Finland, and they add to these statistics, too.

The violence in Finland’s professional criminal underworld isn’t nearly on the level of what’s going on in, say, the South American drug gangs, but these professional “hits” do happen here as well.

20) Are you ever faced with situations where someone is clearly guilty of a crime, but the evidence simple is not enough to convict him/her?

Yes. The only thing you can do is just try everything you can, but if the evidence is not enough, all you can do is accept it. You can’t take this work personally. Some cops DO take situations like that personally, and it just makes their lives harder.

21) Does a Finnish detective ever come across these “confessers”, people who try to paint themselves as guilty of crimes they really had nothing to do with?

Yes, we have those here as well. Especially in bigger cases that are featured in the media.

As for why they do it, I think it’s just a matter of need for attention: they want officials and the public to notice them, it gives them a sense of meaning.

22) How much of detective work is intuition and how much is the daily grind of collecting evidence and analyzing it?

Intuition of course plays a part in this, but the thing about intuition is that sometimes it can be really strong, and still lead you on the wrong track. *laughs* But intuition is oftentimes correct, too.

I personally have noticed that intuition plays a big part in cases where we receive a report of a homicide, and go to the scene to investigate. Then when I get to the scene of the supposed crime, I get an intuitive feeling, just from a few glimpses around the scene, that it wasn’t a homicide at all, but much more likely a suicide. When I investigate the scene further, I notice that my intuition was correct.

But overall, this isn’t a game of intuition, but of rigorous examination, investigation, and analysis.

23) How often are cases solved on the basis of one piece of evidence, the proverbial “smoking gun”?

Cases are rarely solved on the basis of one piece of evidence. More often than not, it’s a matter of causalities: one thing connects to another, and so on. The result is a sum of various small parts that, when connected, point in a specific direction.

24) Forensic science is developing all the time. Are criminals coming up with counter-measures?

Well, in general, criminals are aware of new investigative techniques and forensic science. But they will often forget these things in the heat of the moment, when committing a crime. Some of them use gloves more these days to avoid leaving behind evidence. But overall, these counter-measures are fairly minimal and ineffective.

25) Do you ever come across criminals, murderers in particular, who genuinely cold and ruthless?

If we talk about things like serial killers, we don’t have too many of them here [in Finland]. But we do have them. For example, lately there’s been a case in the news that revolves around a genuine serial killer.*

We also have professional criminals, whose “jobs” involve violence. These people are called “torpedoes”, and our unit has had cases where the perpetrator has been just such a “torpedo”. So they do exist.

penttilä

(*The detective is referring to the case of Mikael Penttilä, a serial killer who strangles his victims. He has been in the news lately after yet another murder attempt).

26) Is there something you wish people would know more about, with regard to your work or the lessons you’ve learned in life in general?

I’m hesitant about giving advice to anyone, but… *thinks for a long time* One think I would advice people to do more is use common sense. That’s one thing that’s totally missing in many of the circumstances that produce the cases I work on. Regardless of educational or social background, one thing that connects many of my “clients” is that they’ve acted with no regard for common sense.

27) Has this job changed you? For example, do you avoid certain kinds of movies nowadays, having seen what you have seen?

I’m sure it has changed me. A job always changes a person. But I still like the kinds of things I always liked. So yeah, my job has changed me I’m sure, but not in the sense that I would avoid certain things nowadays.

28) How do you deal with the darker side of this job? Through sports, talking to colleagues, something like that?

I simply try to do things that I enjoy. I haven’t encountered a case that would have proven too difficult to deal with – yet! Let’s see if that happens one day. *laughs* But, like I said before, this is a job that attracts certain kind of people, people who are able to deal with the darker side of things.

29) What kind of a person should NOT apply to be a homicide detective?

The kind of person who takes cases personally. A person who wants to save the world through this job will not last for a very long time.

There have been people like that here in our unit as well, and they’ve usually quickly realized that this job is too much for them, so they’ve and been re-assigned.

30) The law forms the basis of your job. Is the law always 100 percent sacred, or have you ever had to “twist” it a bit to solve a case?

Police work is closely monitored, and everything is based on the law. This is an absolute, unconditional fact that no police officer can get around. Sometimes it makes things more difficult, sometimes the law might produce situations where it’s difficult to function as a detective, but this is how it is. Certain new directives and sections in the law have made this work even more difficult nowadays, but you have to follow the law nevertheless, otherwise this job would be pointless.

31) How are police officers trained in the law?

They teach you the law in police academy, but us cops are not jurists; I often have to pull out a law book to look things up. Judicial oversight is more the responsibility of the police chiefs. But of course, the law dictates what I can and cannot do in my area of work, so I have to be aware of it, too.

32) What kind of a cooperation exists between a detective and the prosecutor?

The cooperation is pretty seamless. We consult each other all the time about cases, and hold meetings between cops and prosecutors to discuss various matters. This cooperation doesn’t exist in all cases, but in many cases it’s very important.

33) The cliche is that detectives hate defense lawyer. Is this true?

*laughs* It’s not true. There are good and bad lawyers. Some are very pro-police, others are very anti-police. Here in Finland nowadays, the defense lawyer is almost always present at interrogations, for example, especially if the crime is serious. Ten years ago, this was different: the lawyer was not present back then.

-) Does the defense lawyer ever tell the client to “shut up”, like in the movies?

Very rarely. In fact, usually they might do the very opposite and advice their client to be honest and come clean.

But sure, sometimes you come across what we call “crook lawyers”, who try everything they can to make the police work more difficult.

34) What goes through your mind when you’re face to face with a killer? Do you think there’s something categorically “different” about them, something “evil” that can be sensed by just being in their presence?

This would imply a true psychopath, but the people I come across in this job are rarely psychopaths. A genuinely “evil” culprit is rare. Even with regard to the more serious offenders, rather than psychopathy, the problem more often is that they simply have a totally different kind of a moral compass: something that’s forbidden to the rest of us might be “OK” in their minds.

A real psychopath can usually be recognized by their attitude towards their crime. They’re emotionally cold, indifferent towards other people’s suffering.

But usually, the culprits of crimes feel very remorseful of their deeds after they’ve sobered up, and the full realization of what they’ve done hits them.

35) How big a part does alcohol play in Finnish assaults and killings?

An enormous role.

-) In your opinion, how could this be changed?

People should drink less, and leave that knife at home when they leave the house. If people followed this advice, we’d have a lot less killings. Because the formula is that someone drinks too much, and when the night doesn’t go as they planned, they pull that knife out of their pocket and use it to try to solve whatever problem they have.

-) in your opinion, what goes into drunk people when this happens? Why does that knife come out?

They lose their temper over something. One thing culprits often mention in interrogations is that moment when everything “blacks out”: it’s like something went “click” in their head, and after that, they just blacked out with rage, so they did whatever it is they did.

36) Any regrets over choices you’ve made in your life or work?

No regrets. It’s good as it is.

37) On average, how accurate are TV shows and films that feature police work?

Sometimes very inaccurate, sometimes very accurate – it varies quite a bit from show to show and from writer to writer. Just like with books.

If you want authenticity, you should always be aware of who is behind a show or movie.

-) What would you recommend as realistic books or TV shows?

If you’re interested in authentic portrayals of detectives working at violent crimes units, I would recommend the Finnish Marko Kilpi or Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Joensuu was one of our detectives here! His books are mostly set in the 1970s and 1980s, but they’re still fairly accurate, and still reflect the work of a violent crimes detective quite well.

joensuu

(One of Joensuu’s books. This one is based on a true story.)

38) What’s the most horrible crime scene you’ve ever been at?

*thinks for a long time* A block of flats with stairs going up to the second floor. Below the stairs lies the body of a victim who has been beaten into a totally unrecognizable state. I go upstairs, and the hallway is covered in blood. As I enter a room, inside I see pools and sprays of blood everywhere.

-) We agreed not to mention names or go too deep into spesifics, but let’s say that in general, what may have caused such a bloodbath?

Alcohol may have a played a part, and contributed to the events. The culprit, still drunk, may have tried to move the body somewhere to hide it, but may have failed.

39) Have you ever had to investigate family killings, where a parent has killed their entire family, including the children?

I haven’t had such cases, but I have investigated a case where the children were spared, but one parent killed the other.

40) These family killings are quite shocking and incomprehensible; it seems to absurd and crazy that someone would kill their whole family, children included. Why do you think these “family mass murders” happen?

They usually involve an enormous anguish. Something has gone seriously wrong, and it seems there’s no way forward, no solution to the problems. And in that dark state of mind, somebody makes the evaluation that it would be best for everyone if all the members of the family perished together.

As horrible as it sounds, family killings are often done out of a sense of love. The person who carries out the killing doesn’t want his/her family to go on suffering. We cops often use the term “extended suicide” about cases like these.

41) Have you ever investigated a case where the evidence pointed in one direction and your intuition pointed somewhere else, and it finally turned out that your intuition was correct?

I’ve had these types of cases. Let’s say we have a potential culprit in custody, and I interrogate this person. Upon talking to the person, I might be overcome with a sense that, despite the evidence, this person is not our guy. And later it turns out I was right.

42) Are you still occasionally shocked by death and blood, these kinds of things?

No. I never have been shocked by such things.

43) Is there any one particular case that has made you hate mankind?

*laughs* No.

44) The ease with which you’re able to handle the darker side of this job, do you think it’s innate, something you’re born with, or do you think it’s something that can be practiced and cultivated?

My opinion is that it’s innate. It’s something that comes from your very personality.

45) Does every detective have a “breaking point”?

I’ve never had a case that would have broken me, but frankly, too much bureaucracy can break any cop. But maybe one day I will be assigned to a case that breaks me! We’ll see.

46) If you were not a detective, what do you think you’d be doing for a living?

I have that background in civilian work, and I might be doing that job. But I’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t see switching jobs as a realistic scenario at this point. Maybe I’ll switch to a different department inside the police organization, but not to a totally different field of work.

47) Do you see this your retirement job?

Well, that’s one option, but… This job is getting more and more entangled in bureaucracy, which makes it harder and harder to do. This is due to changes inside the organization, changes in the law, new directives, all that. But retiring from this is one possibility.

48) Does humankind have any hope?

*laughs* There’s always hope. We’re not doing THAT bad.

49) Do you feel safe in your job? Have you ever had to fear for your safety in your free time because of what you do for a living?

So far, I feel safe.

-) Do professional criminals respect the police? In the sense that they don’t come threaten you if they see you at a pub, or something like that?

Well, if we talk about genuine professional criminals, there’s a certain respect there that goes both ways. You rarely have any such problems with them.

“Wannabe-gangsters” are a bigger problem, and much more likely to cause problems in a cop’s private life as well.

50) Why is the Finnish crime rate relatively low?

This is a question for a statistician; I can’t really say. From my grassroots perspective, we a shitload of work all the time. *laughs*

51) How do you keep the various cases on your table in order in your mind?

Thankfully, we don’t get all the cases in the department, just the ones that are delegated to us because of our expertise. I have various cases on my table, but not all of them keep me busy all the time. For instance, the inquests that I have on my responsibility sit there while I wait for coroner’s statements and other information; once I have that info, the inquests are simply archived. So they only keep me busy for a while, and then move on to await other information.

52) Does Finland have serial killers? I’m speaking of that classic type of serial killer who seeks out a victim, kills the victim, then goes into a “cooling off” period before striking again.

Yes, we do have them. And I believe we might have more of them on our radar if we could connect more cases through evidence.

53) What do you think about mediums and clairvoyants who say they work with the police in solving cases, finding missing people, etc.?

I’m open-minded, and wouldn’t categorically deny the possibility that something like this could possibly happen. However, I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on their claims. I don’t know of a single investigation where our unit would have employed a medium to help out.

Mostly, these mediums tell a person exactly what they want to hear, and this is of no use in a police investigation.

54) Have you yourself ever had a paranormal experience?

Let’s just say that I have received a greeting from beyond the grave.

55) Immigration to Finland has increased quite a bit in the recent years. From your perspective, have immigrants brought with them particular kinds of crime? Or have you seen an increase in immigrants in some area of crime?

I’m going to leave this question unanswered.

56) In terms of missing persons cases, are there certain factors that feature again and again in disappearances? Some types of similarities between the cases?

Unstable youths who have been placed in foster homes are a common group in disappearances. Sometimes we also have cases where someone simply does not want to be in contact with their families, and disappear because of this.

But regardless of age or gender or any other factor, all kinds of people disappear.

57) Do you spend any free time investigating “classic” crime cases?

I have no energy left for free-time homicide investigations. *laughs*

58) If you could travel in time and space and investigate any unsolved crime you choose, which case would you choose to investigate?

Probably the Jack the Ripper murders from Whitechapel in England.

-) what would you do differently than the original detectives?

There’s very little I could do, considering the rudimentary investigative methods of the late 1800s. There was no DNA, no CCTV cameras. All those detectives had were interrogations and witnesses. They basically would have had to catch him red-handed.

And finally, my regular questions:

59) Your top 3 movies?

There are so many of them, as movies are a hobby of mine. But I would say:

  1. Taxi Driver (1976)
  2. Scarface (1983)
  3. Casino (1995)

60) Your top 3 songs?

  1. Metallica – Fade to Black
  2. Opeth – Burden
  3. Alice Cooper – He’s Back

61) Your top 3 books?

Hard one. I’ve been reading since I was ten.

  1. Stephen King – The Dead Zone
  2. Bernard Cornwell – The Last Kingdom
  3. Conn Iggulden – Wolf of the Plains

62) What model phone do you use?

iPhone 7

What does a DMT trip feel like?

DMT is a powerful hallucinogen that has inspired shamans and philosophers for a long time. Shamans used it for spiritual journeys to the proverbial “Other Side” of consciousness. More recently the drug was made famous by the writings and musings of American philosopher and botanist Terence Mckenna, who claimed to have been transformed by an experience of taking DMT, and believed that the drug provides a genuine gateway to an unseen level of existence.

A researcher named Rick Strassman was granted an exceptional permission to study the effects of DMT on the human mind. The result was the excellent book DMT: The Spirit Molecule.

This post was written by my friend “F”, by request from me. It’s a firsthand account of what taking the drug felt like for him.

Thank you, “F”, for this fascinating piece!


DMT-6

(DMT crystals)

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine for long) is a hallucinogenic drug discovered by various different ancient cultures and, used by them for ritual purposes. These cultures, however, only used the natural resource DMT that is produced by several plants, for example the Mimosa tenuiflora, or in the toad species Bufo marinus. The first method of synthetisizing N,N-Dimethyltryptamine was discovered by the Canadian Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske (I would guess of German descent). DMT makes you see things that aren’t real, or simply alters your perception of reality.

In Wikipedia, you can find a lot about it, e.g. that it’s a hallucinogenic drug and what its chemical composition is, but I won’t get stuck on that stuff as there aren’t that many people interested in that aspect.

dmt_structure

(Chemical structure of Dimethyltryptamine)

DMT can be injected, smoked in a crack pipe or snorted. However, if you plan on taking it, you should ask what exact version of DMT you are getting, as for example only the freebase-version can be smoked just like marijuana. If you take it as Ayahuasca (the form favored by ancient shamans to induce spiritual “journeys”) on the other hand, you have to ingest another substance to stop your body from metabolizing it too fast. But, as mentioned before, you should ask your dealer about what exact kind you are getting and what style of consumption he or she recommends.

Also (and this can’t be stressed enough), don’t take any drugs from people you don’t know or don’t know enough about the drugs they are selling, and if you try something you’ve never done before, have a person with you that you trust so that he/she can handle any bad effects. This accounts for all drugs, but especially for things like LSD or DMT, because there might be lasting effects of a bad trip that could be prevented with the right help or medical assistance.

I’m supposed to be writing about my very own experience with DMT, so here goes nothing.

First of all, the trip is short – very short. It lasts only for about ten minutes and after that, it’s completely gone.

I should describe the overall picture, because when you are using any psychedelic drug it’s important to know the circumstances. I had heard about DMT 2 days before trying it, and was quite intrigued as I had two experiences with LSD before, and I am interested in hallucinogenic drugs. This was followed by a hasty bit of research on DMT and reconsidering whether I really want to try it. Two days later my best friend asked me (again) whether I’d like to smoke some with her; she had offered that two days prior, too, but I had stuff to do and wanted to educate myself further on what I am planning to consume, as psychedelic drugs are nothing to toy around with.

When I took the drug, it was roughly evening. It was winter so it was already a pitch black night outside with a cloudy sky, and a pale light where you could imagine a moon. But the environment was still very much visible because of the street lights.

We were three, sitting down on a second-story balcony and about to start smoking.

I consumed it as a freebase-version by rolling it into a joint with tobacco and marijuana, and the first thing I noticed was the taste: Do you remember your gym shoes, drenched in sweat and probably rotting in the corner, developing sentient life? Think about dragging them through a waste depot, then lighting them on fire and inhaling the fumes. It’s freaking disgusting, but once it’s down your throat, you can enjoy the warm hug of the ensuing trip.

dmt_BLUNT

(a “blunt” made of DMT mixed with marijuana)

In my mind, suddenly everything felt light and happy. I wasn’t cold anymore (despite the winter cold), and all the things I worried about felt like they were a million miles away. In general, it made me happier for the moment and made me feel safe and secure. When I looked up, all the lights were shining a little brighter and I noticed all the different particles of dust in the air. I guess you could say it enhanced my perception, but that was just the beginning. Once I went back inside again, I just sat down and stared at the floor. Everything I heard sounded like I was underwater and the visual effects also started to kick in. The effects of drugs are always hard to describe, but to try: Everything looked like it was drawn with watercolor, but the artist had used waaaaaay too much water. It seemed as there was an actual 2-3mm thick surface of water over everything, and on the borders of my field of vision the picture kept blurring and sharpening when I concentrated on it, as if the artist was gently shaking said picture with too much water.

Like I mentioned before, DMT doesn’t last very long, and after I (kind of – my knees still were a bit shaky) sobered up, I checked the clock and about 12 minutes had passed, although it felt like I had been sitting in that chair for ages.

I’ve had my share of hallucinogenics, and it’s common to have a couple of “flashbacks” after e.g. LSD, because trips like that leave a very lasting impression in the brain. For example, after my first LSD trip I had the sudden urge to go for walks in the forest more, and just in general to be closer to nature. But after the ten minute trip on DMT was completely gone, so were any thoughts or decisions I had during the time. I remember how the trip felt and all, but there were absolutely zero things that could lead back to something changing inside me or my world view/view in general during the trip.

To come to a conclusion, I would recommend DMT only for a few people: Either you have money to burn or you want to try out a hallucinogenic drug but aren’t sure whether you’ll like it or not. Because where I am living, it’s 200€ a gram and for about 4 trips with a length of ten minutes, that’s just too much money.

I feel like I should add another thing: Some have probably heard of a so-called breakthrough, something that can be achieved by taking a big amount of DMT. I didn’t have one, but one of my friends did. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t advise going for that on the first few trips, as that is something you need a bit of experience for. Just to encourage further research on your own, a guy I met once described it as “dying, then coming back to life”.

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

Have a safe trip, wherever you are!

Book review: American Kingpin, by Nick Bilton. Portfolio 2017.

american_kingpin

The Deep Web is a kind of “secret” part of the Internet only reachable by a special browser called Tor. The place is basically a digital reflection of the human id: illegal pornography, weird sexual fantasies (often including rape or other crimes), sick videos – it’s all right there.

A few years ago, a new site popped up there, seemingly out of nowhere: The Silk Road, a website that facilitated the buying and selling of drugs, guns, stolen software, stolen electronics, and the like. It became a hit overnight and, considering the nature of the goods changing hands through the site, a fresh nightmare for governments and law enforcement agencies. The anonymous nature of the Deep Web and the Tor browser made finding the creator of the site that much more difficult.

Despite the challenging premise, the creator of the site was ultimately captured. He turned out to be a brilliant young do-it-yourself libertarian named Ross Ulbricht, a physics whiz kid and self-taught computer genius who believed the government should not be able to regulate what people put in their bodies. He was running the multi-million dollar drug empire from a Samsung 700z laptop, borrowing wi-fi from local coffee shops in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California.

This book tells the story of the creation of the website, and the efforts of the various law enforcement agents (from the DEA, Homeland Security and FBI, among others) to find the person behind the “Amazon of Drugs”.

Bilton is a master storyteller, and he knows the tech and start-up worlds well, having written about both before.

The portrait he paints of the young Ulbricht is vivid and alive, the story of a young man who believes he is making a difference in the world by challenging the government on its drug laws head-on. Whatever you might think of Ross Ulbricht, he had the guts to follow through on what he believed: instead of arguing on Twitter or lecturing his friends about the hypocracy of the “War on Drugs”, he built something of his own, and left a lasting impression on the world, for better or for worse.

American Kingpin also succeeds in balancing the stories of the agents on Ulbricht’s trail with the rest of the narrative. Determined, inventive, and loyal to the very government the Silk Road challenged, they worked around the clock to dig up “Dread Pirate Roberts” (Ulbricht’s user name on the Silk Road) from the murky waters of the Deep Web. In presenting these agents as human beings too, Bilton evokes the theme of loyalty vs. rebellion towards authority, an age-old question that gets a fresh treatment between the pages of this book.

An enjoyable read that tells an unforgettable true crime story, while at the same time sophisticating the reader with regard to Internet security, digital crime, and the battle between libertarian political philosophy versus governmental institutions.

Grade: 4.5/5

 

 

 

 

Your scary experiences, Spring 2018

Once again, I made a request to my Instagram followers (instagram.com/mysteries_crimes_curiosities) to send me their creepy experiences. Here they are, presented as they were sent to me, unedited.

Thank you to everyone who contributed!


Jacquie:

So my older sister has a quinsiñera doll and its porcelain so everytime you moved her you hear a little scratch. So one time me and my sister were up till like 3:00A.M and we were laying on her bed playing a game and out of no where we hear the little scratch of the porcelain doll. As we were both scared he went to each others bed and went to sleep.

Kevin:

I was 7 and I went to throw out the garbage at 11 at night. As I was walking back to my apartment door I saw a man following me.

He kept following me for days until I yelled in my squeaky voice that he was annoying and then he simply said “ You will learn that people can be so much worse than annoying!“

I was in fear and I moved with my parents the month after.

Ezequiel:

Last Saturday in Buenos Aires there was a party of electronic music. At 3:30 in the morning a lightning bolt fell behind the stage. If it fell in the middle of the stadium we would be lamenting many dead. My friends and I left when the lightning struck. And outside, a hail storm hit us. We were terrified and I think I never felt so much that I was going to die like that day.

Here’s a video of the lightning: YouTube link

Contributor wishes to remain anonymous:

My husband and I were staying on The Queen Mary one weekend as a short getaway. We love the Queen Mary and have stayed on it before, including once for our honeymoon. This time however, when we checked in the receptionist told us that we’d have a windowless room, and asked if we would have a problem with it. Apparently it makes guests feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic. We told her it would be fine and checked into our room.

We walked around the ship taking pictures to see if we could capture an paranormal activity on film. We didn’t. The next day however, my husband took a shower while I ran to the Starbucks on board to get coffee. On my way back I was walking through the hall and heard footsteps that sounded like high heels, coming up behind me. I got to our door after speed walking, and when I looked around there was nobody in the hallway with me. I got in the room as my husband was coming out of the bathroom. I told him what I had heard. And as he was about to give me a “yeah right” the shower in our bathroom turned on. It wasn’t just a drip or a slow leak. It had turned on and my husband had to turn it all the way off.

I text my sister and mom because they are super into paranormal stuff. My sister asked what room we were in and looked up all the “haunted” rooms online. Turns out we were staying in one of the rooms with the most reported activity. It freaked us out when it happened. But then it was kind of cool to be able to tell the story at the same time.

Josi:

My husband and I have always been fans of the paranormal so when we first started dating our ideal dates involved paranormal/ horror / conspiracy type shenanigans.

I remember we had talked about using a Ouija board  but neither of us had one nor had ever used one. A friend had offered up his for us to use and experience. The night we got the board something came up and I had to go home early, leaving the board at my boyfriend’s house.

Later that night I was doing my usual stuff before bed, falling asleep fairly quickly. I usually wake up a few times at night to go to the bathroom so I’m no stranger to wandering my house in the dark, but but this instance was different. I opened my eyes and usually moonlight goes through my window and lights the room up but everything was pitch black. No outline to anything, just pure darkness. The entire room was so quiet and cold.

I tried to move to get my blanket but I was just stuck, petrified. I had heard of sleep paralysis but this seemed much more sinister. My breathing was so heavy, as if someone was sitting  on my chest. I couldn’t move, as if I were being held down by heavy chains, and in the corner of my eye, three large figures were at the foot of my bed as if observing me. I couldn’t see their faces but I knew they were three. They seemed to be darker than the darkness that filled my room.

This feeling of dread just came over me and engulfed me with such fear. I felt as if I were doomed, that I was losing everything I’ve ever loved, among other feelings I can not describe. I’m not sure out of all that I had remembered a prayer my great grandmother had taught me as a kid and so I began to say it in my head. I heard a voice in Spanish so clearly whisper in my ear: “Dont use the ouija board, return it”, and I felt this warm hug and this milky light illuminated the room. The feeling of dread was vanishing and I fell into a deep sleep.

When I woke up the next morning, I called my boyfriend to tell him we were returning the board. He agreed because he said when he brought it into his house, his mom flipped out and demanded he take it outside (she later told us her ouija story ) so he took it out and put it in his truck.

Later that night he had to take the trash out, and he lives in the woods so there’s always noise going, so he took the trash out and upon walking back he had a weird feeling someone was in his truck. He said everything got quiet and eerily still and  his dog was snarling at his truck showing her full teeth. She’s a fairly docile dog so this was out of character for her. Even weirder: he couldn’t move, he couldn’t look away from the vehicle. He was just standing there in fear. He said he felt so terrified to move, when he finally snapped out of it he turned around to go back in the house. When he stepped foot on the porch the light bulb busted, shattering little pieces of glass everywhere. He locked the doors and didn’t go back out till morning.

Needless to say we did return the board to my friend who insisted he closed it properly but who knows what would have happened if we had used the board.

Contributor wishes to remain anonymous:

I’m [name], I’m from Mexico and I’d like to share what happened to me last February.

It was my birthday on February 24th, I was in a party with my friends. Then I decided to leave the party to go to another place. I went to a friend’s house, and I was waiting for him outside of his house when a guy appeared of nowhere and asked me for a street. I said I didn’t know where it was. He stared at me and I felt uncomfortable so I moved. He pushed me through the wall and I started to scream, I thought he wanted my purse, money or something, so I gave my cell phone to him. He said “I don’t want your cellphone” In that moment he just cut my neck with a cutter and ran away.

My friend arrived and a guy on a bike saw everything so he went looking for this person. The police and the ambulance arrived and they took me to the hospital where I was told it was a miracle I was alive – he cut 15 cm of my neck, 19 stitches were necessary.

2 months have passed and I´m healing. It still hurts but I feel stronger, I feel good. This event opened my eyes in some many aspects of my life but at the same time, sometimes I feel angry, sad, scared, so many things I didn’t think it was possible to feel. So this is what happened, the day I could’ve died, it was the day I started living.

 

Holly:

So I found out once that you can just use a candle to talk to the dead instead of an ouija board. But that was a really bad idea because my house used to be haunted but a couple years ago my family realized that the ghost may have passed on (the ghost was a middle aged woman, we found out through our neighbors). And also my dad used to be a grave digger so he probably carried many spirits. So once I tried to contact someone through a candle and I forgot to say goodbye before I blew out the candle. Which means I left sort of a portal to the other side open…

The next day I was taking a nap and I thought my sister was clapping to try and wake me up but at the time my mum was up stairs and said that there wasn’t anyone up there, another thing that happened when I was asleep was that it felt like someone was bouncing on my bed but again no one was there, then a few nights later someone was literally pulling my hair and when I turned around no one was there and I was in my bedroom alone, and every couple days I get the worst cramp in my leg and I never had it before I lit that candle. I think the ghost is a child playing around but nothing has happened for a few days now but I’m not sure if the ghost is gone.

Alyssa:

So, my mom went to Wilkes University back in 1979/1980, before the Internet. At the time, there wasn’t enough housing for all the students, so the college rented out a nearby hotel, the Hotel Sterling, built in 1897, finished in 1898.

Now, my mom said there was a ghost in her room. She said all the ghost would do was sit in a chair and watch them, but both my mom and her roommate had actually seen her. My mom said the ghost was wearing old fashioned wear, probably around the 1800’s if she had to guess. They called the ghost Emma, because that was the name the ghost seemed to like. As she had only told me the other day, I decided to google the hotel and see if anyone named Emma had ever died there, expecting to get back nothing. Instead, it turns out Emma E. Sterling was the name of the woman who oversaw the building of the hotel, primarily after her husband passed away.

IG @female_snoop

My experience: was arguing with my 5 year old last week and I told her “No”. She turned around and said to me: “Mom, do you remember when you were the kid and I was the mom?” So of course I tell her “No I don’t, because I’ve always been the mom and you’re my baby. It’s been like that for 5 years.” Her response: “Well you’re wrong because I remember. . . They told you and my dad who wasn’t my dad that you had to go somewhere and when I tried to tell them they weren’t taking you nowhere they chopped all our heads off.”

Ummm… What? So I told her “No one has chopped our heads off and don’t talk like that no more”. Her last response “I didn’t say anything bad. I told you what happened when I was the mom, you don’t remember. And I do.”

That was the end. And now I can’t look at my child the same in a way.

Caroline Hochmuth (IG @carolinehochmuth):

Bro once I was watching the movie Grave Encounters 2 with two of my friends in his basement with all the lights off. During the scene where the ghosts pick up the camera and start recording the characters a light turned on in the closet across the room. Keep in mind the closet door was mostly closed, we were the only ones on that level of the house, and it was a regular light switch just inside the closet. We have no idea how it happened and weird shit still goes down in the basement anytime I house sit for them.

IG @trisarahtops1228:

About 10 years ago I was by myself in my car in traffic about to make a left turn, and out of habit I checked for traffic coming from my right. When I looked, a very good friend, Rebecca, was sitting in my passenger seat where no one had been sitting – because I was alone. She looked right at me and smiled. When I realized what I saw I looked again and no one was there, but this made me think about her and I hadn’t spoken to her in a long time, so I decided to go on her MySpace (okay maybe it was longer than 10 years ago lol) and send her a message and see how she was and what she was up to.

When I got to her page there were all these memorials and RIP messages to her! I was so confused so I contacted a girl who had been her roommate. My friend had been killed in a car accident 3 months before I saw her. I think she was telling me goodbye. I never saw her again.

Claire:

My ghost story definitely isn’t the scariest, but it’s the event that made me really question the existence of the paranormal.

There was nothing special about the night that it happened. My father and sister had gone out for dinner, and I had chosen to stay home and work on homework. To help me concentrate, I had put my earphones in and closed my bedroom door. It was about 30 minutes after my family had left the house that a muffled sound had come from the lower floor of the house (my room was on the second, for reference). I know the sounds that my house makes, and what I heard – or thought I had heard – was the door to the garage slamming shut. I had just assumed that it was my dad and sister. Maybe they’d decided not to eat after all? I yelled out “Hey!”, but there was no response. I found it kind of weird that no one replied but didn’t think much of it.

A few minutes later, I could hear footsteps approaching my room, strong enough to be heard over the classical music playing in my ears. I pulled one bud out and managed to catch the noise with a bit more clarity, and whatever was making the noise seemed to stop abruptly at my door. There were no visible shadows that I could see in the space between the door itself and the floor. When the footsteps didn’t continue on, as they probably would’ve if they belonged to anyone in my family, I began to freak out. I didn’t move from my position until later, when my dad entered my room to announce that him and my sister had come back home. I asked them if they had been at the house for a while, but they had only just arrived.

Months later, I decided to talk to both of them about the incident, and my father disclosed that he had had a similar experience when we first moved into the home. It definitely freaked me out at first, but years later, we make light of our haunted house. We even have a name for the ghost: Linda.

IG @ms.aakrity:

When I lived in Roseville California in 2017, I was always so afraid of this apartment.  I don’t know of what or what made me afraid I just had the feeling of being scared, I had the feeling that something was there.  My restroom was across the hallway just a few steps away from my room.  But I was always so mortified at night to go to the restroom.  If I did manage the courage to go to the restroom I would walk in and out as quickly as possible and not even look towards the living room.  I was so afraid that something or someone was in the living room.

While living in this apartment I also had nightmares.  Some really bizarre and scary ones. I’d be so scared that I would wake up and not want to go back to sleep.  But I was awake just shaking in my boots thinking of what was in the living room or outside my door.   In our living room we had a chimney.  I could always hear noises coming from the chimney specially at night it sounded  like wind. One of my dreams was that I had a vision of my living room.  In my dream it was dark. The chimney was on and fully lit.  There was a little boy very close standing right in front of the chimney.  I only saw his back but he was small like 2 years old.  I woke up so scared thinking that the little boy got hurt standing that close to the chimney.

Outside the restroom towards the right side there was a wall filled with cabinets for storage.  They were very big from the floor to the top. One day at night roughly like at 7 pm I was coming out of the restroom.  Outside the restroom door near the cabinets  I saw a little boy standing near the cabinets.  He was looking down, I could only see the top of his head, the forehead and hair.   I thought it was my baby boy.  I was looking at him with a big smile thinking that he was waiting for me outside the door.  But suddenly I saw my baby coming from the left side.  I was so shocked and I look to the right side but the other little boy was gone.  This happened so fast in a matter of seconds but it scared the crap out of me.  At times I thought it was the little boy from my dream, I thought that maybe he had burned in the chimney.

I remember one time I was in the kitchen cooking. My baby boy was roughly a little bit over 1 year old.  He was in the kitchen playing on the floor with his toys.  Suddenly I hear him whining, and he starts crying.  So, I look at him and he comes towards me really quickly.  I ask my baby what’s wrong but he can’t speak because he’s still very young.  But I could see that he was scared he was hiding behind my legs he was still whining and peeking towards his toys as if he was seeing something.

One night while sleeping I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I woke up and looked towards my husband thinking he had woken me up. But he was sound asleep.  I went back to sleep but the days to come I was always so afraid that someone was going to tap my shoulder again.  I used to leave the door from my room cracked open just like 1-2 inches so that when my husband left to work he wouldn’t make noise opening the door since the baby was sleeping.  Most of the time while living in this apartment I had a hard time falling asleep.  At times I would just be on my bed using my phone, other times I’d just be tossing and turning.  But I would always stare at the door.  I was so afraid that someone would open the door completely.  I was afraid that someone was outside the door watching me.

My husband is the type of sleeper that when he goes to sleep he doesn’t wake up at all during the night. He also never remembers his dreams.  He says he never dreams.  One night while playing on my phone and having a hard time falling asleep.  With the corner of my right eye I saw orbs of light towards the side of my husband.  So I turn my head towards him and he suddenly wakes up and asks “where is the baby?” I replied “he’s sleeping.” My husband got up and went to the restroom.  When he came back I asked him if he had a nightmare.  But he replied “something woke me up but I can’t remember what it was.” The next day I asked him about the incident but he had no recollection of what happened or him waking up and going to the restroom.

One night I was in the kitchen washing the dishes.  My baby and husband were already asleep.  As I’m washing the dishes with the corner of my left eye I saw something moving.  I look towards it and saw a bubble of smoke it was small like the size of a quarter.  I smelled it and and it had a burning smell and it disappeared.  I didn’t think much of it but I did get scared thinking that maybe something in the apartment was burning. But I looked around everywhere specially the electrical outlets but found nothing.

In another incident, it was late at night and I was picking up my baby’s toys.  As I’m picking up the toys I hear his train go on. This was my baby’s favorite toy.  It was a huge train 3X3 and you press the buttons and it plays music and it says the ABC and numbers.  On this day I was a few feet away when I heard it playing music.  I tried to calm myself down and kept picking up the rest of the toys but again the train started playing music.  I just got so scared left the toys and went to the room.

During the time I lived in this apartment I was studying for an exam I had to take.  I used to study at night when my baby was sleeping.  I would sit in the living room and study.  But I was always so afraid.  At times I’d be scared of looking at the reflection on the tv I thought that I’d see someone else sitting next to me.  There was always an awkward silence it’s hard to explain.  One time my sister came to visit me and after I didn’t live in the apartment anymore.  I shared with her my stories and how scared I felt living in that apartment.  My sister told me that one day when she visited me she was falling asleep and felt someone sitting on the bed.  She said she was so afraid to look but she felt very scared.

Thankfully I no longer live in this apartment.  These are the  incidents that happened to me in roughly 1 year of living there.  At times I think about it and still get the chills.  Other times I get sad because I was so uncomfortable living there.  I was always tired because of the lack of sleep and my husband is so skeptical he never believed anything I said to him.

Interview with artist Merja Pöyhönen, writer and performer of “Missing Amelia Earhart”.

On Sunday I had the honor and pleasure of seeing Missing Amelia Earhart, a solo puppet play performed by Finnish artist Merja Pöyhönen.

The play tells the story of the famous disappearance of Earhart, an aviator who went missing on her flight around the world, and has never been found. As a result of her mysterious vanishing, her story has become the stuff of legend.

I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Pöyhönen after the performance. We discuss the famous disappearance, but also touch on the role heroes play in human history, the importance of dreams, and the human faces behind historical events. We also hear Merja’s thoughts on what really happened to Amelia.

INTERVIEW IS IN ENGLISH. Just press “Play”.


amelia-10

Link to Merja’s site: http://auraofpuppets.com/services/merja-poyhonen/?lang=en

Link to Tehdas Teatteri, the wonderful theater where I saw the play: http://www.tehdasteatteri.fi