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

 

 

 

 

Interview with Anne Penn, author of Murder on His Mind.

Anne Penn is the pen name of Laurie, a woman with a personal connection to the East Area Rapist / Original Night Stalker case. She has written a book about the case entitled Murder on His Mind.

Thank you Laurie for this interview!


penn_book

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am Laurie. I am also Anne Penn the author of a first and second edition book called Murder On His Mind Serial Killer.  The second edition I added “A Family Member Speaks.”  Anne is my pen name of course.  I am the granddaughter of Lyman J. Smith Senior the father of murder victim Lyman Robert Smith and his wife Charlene Smith.   They were killed March 13, 1980.

My family are longtime Sacramento, CA natives. I grew up in Sacramento, a mile away from my grandparents near Land Park, spending quite a lot of time with them over 35-40 years. I was born at Mather Air Force Base and grew up in the same home for 18 years. I was in Sacramento beginning my career 1976-1978 in downtown Sacramento when the East Area Rapist began his crimes breaking into homes and raping women.

In your own words, who was the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer? What do the terms refer to?

The East Area Rapist was a man who came into my awareness from news reports and people talking about him in 1976. People were saying he was breaking in and attacking women, raping them in East Sacramento. Back then I was made more aware that I should be careful. The reports about him made me think twice about everything I did.  The East Area Rapist was a man to be feared and he was the worst thing I could think of – the idea of being intruded upon and raped was very terrifying. Everyone was worried because it went on for two years. Nerve racking. I do not call him The Golden State Killer. To me and most people that knew of him then (when the murders began) he was known as The Original Night Stalker. Most people who have lived with this case for 35 years or more know that name.

The Original Night Stalker was a person’s worst nightmare. He did not care if he broke in to homes with couples. He began to break in and rather than rape, ransack and leave he began to murder. I would say what those names mean to me is a man who was a terrorist in the truest sense of the word.

You have a personal connection to his crimes. Can you tell us about this?

My connection to the events of EAR and ONS was that I was there in Sacramento when this terrorist began and then less than two years after he left Sacramento attacking elsewhere my Uncle (we called him Bob) Lyman Robert and his wife Charlene were murdered in Ventura, CA.

At the time no one knew that his activity was connected to the East Area Rapist and that he had indeed become a serial killer. That was not proven until many years later through DNA evidence that was tested from the very old crimes. When my uncle and his wife were murdered I was there after my grandparents were told and saw how devastated my grandfather Lyman Senior was at the loss of his son. He was very proud of Uncle Bob and was never the same after that. Just a few weeks after the memorial service for my Uncle I was married in Auburn in an old church there.

As I was walking back up the isle having just been married I realized that my grandparents were in the vestibule of the church where my grandfather was sobbing and sobbing. No one could console him, we could think of nothing we could do. It had only been about 7 weeks since he had learned of his son’s murder. He had not wanted me to postpone my wedding and had insisted he and my grandmother would come as scheduled and would not miss it. My close friends recall the scene to this day 37 years later.

lyman_charlene_smith

(Lyman and Charlene Smith)

How did these crimes affect your family?

The murders affected my grandparents of course. These were horrific murders and the idea that they had been killed in this way was difficult to say the least to come to terms with. I personally was absolutely terrified at hearing the details of how The Original Night Stalker had come into my Uncles home and that he had bludgeoned them both to death. I was afraid from that moment on of sliding glass doors and strangers, work men. I did not want to be seen in my yard or at night in my car. My grandparents were frustrated at the lack of answers and upset that law enforcement went down the wrong path to find their son’s killer.

I moved away from Sacramento in 1984 because I did not feel safe.

What was it like to live in fear of this criminal? What kinds of precautions did people in your area take against him? I have read that burglar alarm systems and personal firearms sold like crazy…

People in the area in Sacramento during the crimes of EAR bought locks and guns and held town hall meetings in order to talk about safety measures.  Classes were held for women to instruct them on many different avenues to try to stay safe.  Personal safety measure like alarms were installed, but it seemed the East Area Rapist could get around all of it and still was not caught.

newspaper_ear

(Newspaper article from the 1970s)

The East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer has recently gained new momentum after decades of being known only to relatively few true crime aficionados. Why now?

It is time to try to resolve the case especially since we have new technologies and advances in testing evidence. DNA linked all of the crimes together in about 2001.  Santa Barbara County finally had their DNA tested about 6 years ago so we then knew the Original Night Stalker had killed at least 10 people and was in fact the East Area Rapist. Chances are good that he is still alive. The detectives that worked the cases in the beginning many are still with us and still want to see justice.

Let’s talk about the criminal himself for a second. What, in your opinion, was the driving force behind this guy’s intense need to rape and kill?

He like other guys who start out as peepers and burglars escalated to rape and then serial rape/killer.  I think he was always different and between his childhood issues and whatever makes a serial killer (a chemical brain issue) personality disorder like Anti-Social Personality disorders and/or Conduct Disorder I think he was compelled to do what he did. He had to work up to it.

In your opinion, what kind of a person was he outside his criminal activity? A transient? A middle-class family guy?

I do not think he was ever a transient. I think he became a middle class family guy after the crimes stopped. I think he is successful and functions very well in society.

This guy would occasionally tell his victims about his life, and a few times he was even heard crying and repeating either the name “Bonnie” or the word “mommy”. How much of his behavior at crime scenes do you think was genuine and how much of it was a ploy to create red herrings for the investigators?

I think that a lot of the time during his crimes when he was telling his victims supposedly about himself he was trying to lead investigators wherever he wanted them. He was smart enough to play everyone.  I think much of his behavior at crime scenes was a ploy to manipulate his victims and law enforcement.

How reliable do you think the composite sketches are? Which one do you think is the most reliable?

I don’t rely on the composite sketches. Law Enforcement knows that they came from people who thought they saw a guy lingering in areas during crimes.  Victims never saw his face. I was told the one the FBI is using currently is the one they are looking at now.

Ear_composite

(FBI composite sketch of the perpetrator)

Some drawings and writings were discovered near one of his crime scenes. What are your thoughts on these?

I hope the writings and drawings are from EAR. I do not know enough about them.  It would seem they would have tested them for fingerprints long ago.  It is thought that the landscape area drawing could be from an area in Stockton.  Others think it is from other areas.

It seems someone fitting the EAR/GSK’s description was spotted driving various different cars around the areas where attacks would soon occur. Where did he gain access to all these different cars? I have often felt that this is one of the key issues in the case, a potential “case-cracker”.

I wish I knew where he gained access to all of the various cars he drove. It could be a friend or family member had a car lot.

Was hypnosis ever used in this investigation to jolt people’s memories?

Hypnosis was used to try to get better descriptions and any information they could.

Why did he choose Janelle Lisa Cruz as his final victim? WHy did he come out of hiding to kill her?

I think he came out of hiding because he could not resist and it was easy.  He already knew the neighborhood from 5 years earlier. Manuela Witthuhn had been murdered in 1981 less than 2 miles away. I also think he had seen the Deliberate Stranger about Ted Bundy on television that night and he just had to do this one last time that we know of.

What do you think happened to him? Why did he disappear?

I think he knew about the advances in forensic technology and knew if he kept going he might be caught. He also likely got married and had children. This way he can become a legend and become a mystery for all time like the Black Dahlia murder.  People are still interested today.  He will be famous as the serial killer who they never found. He wanted fame and he will have it whether he is ever caught or not.

You wrote a book about this case. Tell us about it! What was it like to research and write it?

This was a book I had NEVER thought about writing because it was still too terrifying to look at it. Eventually it became the book I had to write because I had been studying serial killers since 1980. It made the most sense to me that my uncle Lyman and Charlene’s murders were a serial killer and not someone they had known and then it turned out to be true. I could not believe it when I found out.  I was right about that.  I sought to understand why a person does this kind of thing.  Now I know it is a compulsion to become a serial killer. It was very interesting to research the case and to learn as much as possible because I wanted to try and figure out where he came from and where he might be.  It sounded so much like the neighborhood I grew up in I could just picture it.  I lived across the street from a creek that runs all through Sacramento. I wrote it for my uncle and Charlene, for the victims, for my grandparents and for myself – to face the fear it held in my memory.

2018 is here. What do you think this year will bring? Will we finally see and end to this dark saga?

I hope 2018 will bring information and the identity of the man who did these things. We have hoped that every year since 1980 especially in my family.  My grandfather Lyman Smith Senior passed away in 2001 never knowing who killed his son.  He only knew that a serial killer had done it.

Where can people keep up with your work?

People can keep up with my work on anne.penn.wordpress.com as well as Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. My first and second editions of Murder On His Mind Serial Killer are there. The Second edition will be the only one there shortly as I have added my family story as well as DNA, Cold Case information, forensics and information about the cases especially in Sacramento where he began. I have done a few podcasts on the case with a new one coming out on FOX 40 Sacramento February 1 with Ali Wolf.

Anything else you would like to add that I forgot to ask about?

I think you covered quite a lot of ground today. A profile of this man would be good to add in some format some time when you have the space.  Those are included many places on the internet as well as my book and the detective’s books who wrote about the cases.

(Profile of the EAR/ONS aka Golden State Killer)

 

 

 

Interview with Debbi Domingo, serial killer survivor

The East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (nowadays also known as the Golden State Killer) was an American serial murderer and sexual predator who raped at least 50 women, and murdered at least 12 people. He was active in California from around 1976 until 1986. He remains unidentified.

The criminal had a unique mode of operation. He would stake out a neighborhood and choose a house occupied by a lone female or a couple. He would then wait for the night to fall and enter the residence in the dark, wake up his victim(s), tie them up and rape the female. In the early 1980s he began to kill his victims after the rape and home invasion.

In July 1981 he killed Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez – the mother of Debbi Domingo and her mother’s boyfriend.

Debbi very graciously agreed to an interview with Books, Bullets and Bad Omens. Thank you, Debbi, and let’s hope 2018 is the year this serial killer is finally caught!


debbi

1) Who are you? Where are you from? Tell us your story!

My parents named me Debbi Domingo. I always felt my name had a sing-songy quality about it, that I was never really crazy about, but I’ve grown to love it.

I was raised primarily in Southern California in the 1960’s-70’s. I had a very comfortable childhood. No, that’s an understatement. I had a wonderful childhood! I never lacked anything I needed, be it material things, personal interaction, education, music, spiritual guidance, LOVE….. My Mom & Dad really nurtured my brother and me. And it’s not like they set out on some special mission to “be good parents.” That’s just who they were!

2) What was your childhood like?

In my early years, Dad was a preacher, and then a teacher. Mom stayed at home. We had close relatives with whom we spent lots of time. I knew lots of cousins, aunts & uncles, grandparents…. Even great-grandparents! As a kid I read a lot, and sang and danced. My brother and I did crafts, built forts, produced puppet shows, etc. We weren’t much of a sports family, but we liked bicycling, the ocean and the outdoors.

3) What was your mother like?

Mom was beautiful, smart, charming, conscientious, and very considerate of others. She taught us to be givers; to always be grateful and to try to do nice things for other people.

debbi greg

4) How did Mr. Greg Sanchez come into your lives?

My Mom & Dad separated and divorced when I was in 5th grade. Mom was doing secretarial work at Burroughs Corporation (huge computer manufacturer in Goleta, CA) and that’s where she met Greg. They dated off & on for the better part of the next 3-4 years. Greg was such nice guy, and fun to be around. He was always good to my mom, my brother and I.

5) Like so many young people and their parents, you and your mother were going through some turmoil at the time of her death. If I may ask, what was the turmoil over?

Nothing very important. Just basic teenage rebellion over things like rules, curfews, cigarettes, and boys!

6) We’ve all heard the story of the EAR/ONS through television shows and books, but a big part of why I wanted to interview you is because I want the voices of those who lived through this killer’s active period to be heard. So in your words, based on what you’ve heard from the police and your own knowledge of the house etc., what went down that night? How did it all happen?

Mom and Greg had not been seeing each other for a few months, but as near as I can figure, Greg came by the house and ended up staying overnight. I believe the killer had already staked out the house, removed the screen from the master bathroom window, and unlocked the door from the outside into that bathroom. I believe he entered that bathroom and stayed silent, perhaps waiting for my mom and Greg to finish making love and fall asleep. Then he entered the bedroom and began his assault. He and Greg scuffled, and Greg was shot once in the face. My mother was bound very tightly at the wrists and with her ankles tied up behind her buttocks. Greg was beaten to death, as was my mom, with some type of wrench or garden tool. Also, at some point the killer ejaculated onto the bedspread. That’s where the DNA sample was found in 2011, which finally ended up linking my mom & Greg’s killings into the EAR/GSK series.

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(Composite sketches of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer)

7) Where were you when you heard?

I was staying with a girlfriend in Santa Barbara. My mom’s closest friend (who was a neighbor) saw the police activity at our house. She tracked me down and convinced me to come home.

8) In following the news and watching TV, we only ever hear of the perpetrators of crimes, but rarely hear of what happens to victims’ families AFTER the crimes of those perpetrators. So tell us, what happened after the death of your mother and Mr. Sanchez? How does one cope with a shattering loss like that?

I immediately moved to my Dad & step-mom’s house in San Diego, so I was pretty disconnected from the investigation, the media, the neighborhood, even my friends. I just went on with life; attending high school and church. Acting out a bit more I suppose. I adapted to life at my Dad’s house, but just barely. Honestly, I didn’t cope well at all. In fact, I really just suppressed everything for a very long time. I had been raised to trust God, but after the murders, I really struggled with that, and I gradually stepped away from my faith. I ended up on a really long journey of depression, drug addiction and hopelessness. I was lost for a very long time.

9) Does the heart ever heal? Or does the pain just subside enough to allow one to live on?

To be honest, I didn’t even begin to heal until I started to learn about the investigation and to participate. Being active in the pursuit has done wonders for me. It’s given me more of a sense of purpose. Not just to find answers for myself, but to help the other victims & survivors. It’s very therapeutic! I still miss my Mom and Greg, but now I’m able to say that out loud and do something productive with the loss.

10) Do you personally have a “favorite” suspect?

No. None at all, in fact. I am not an investigator by any definition, and do not even look into persons-of-interest (POIs.) I probably should, but I don’t.

11) Did your mother and Mr. Sanchez know the killer, in your opinion?

I highly doubt it.

12) In recent years, you and Michelle Cruz, sister of Janelle Cruz (GSK victim) have formed a dynamic duo. How important is the peer support in a case like this?

Are you kidding? Michelle Cruz has become like family to me! She and I fill a very important void for each other and it’s remarkable. We’ve also been blessed by close friendships with Jane Carson-Sandler and Margaret Wardlow, two of the rape survivors. There’s another survivor we’re starting to get to know, as well. Hoping to meet more! The unity really does make us stronger!

debbi michelle

13) Do you guys have anything planned together? A book would be very interesting.

I hadn’t really considered a book. But Jane and I have talked about all of us doing some public speaking together. We’d need to find a really top-notch agent who could broker engagements for us.

(Do you know of one, dear reader? Contact Debbi in the links below if you do. -Admin)

14) What’s going on with the case in 2017? I imagine this would be the kind of case all detectives and true crime authors (not to mention amateur detectives) want to solve.

I firmly believe that the combination of nationwide publicity and advances in DNA technology will bring the resolution to this case! Whether it will be this year or not is yet to be seen, but I am confident that this case will be solved. We just need for as many people as possible to learn about the case and share information to help identify him.

15) What’s your life like now?

I actually live a pretty low-key, happy life. I am married to a wonderful man of faith who takes good care of me and makes me smile. We have 5 grown children and 5 grandchildren who make my life worthwhile. I work full-time, volunteer at church, and try to spend time with family & friends. But as you can imagine, I devote the majority of my free time to keeping up with the case and trying to raise public awareness about the search for the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer.

16) What’s in your future?

They say you should visualize what you want. Set goals and achieve them. My goal- the picture I keep in my mind- is to be in a California courtroom when the GSK goes down. I want to be able to shake hands and hug everyone who has helped to identify him. That’s how I see my future. Once that happens, I’ll find something else worthwhile to work on. 😉

Teemu,

Thanks for this opportunity.
I hope you can include the following links:

www.facebook.com/whoistheoriginalnightstalker

Official EAR/GSK Channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3rsj-RtvNy4wVGjI2iNpBA

My personal channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqhzzbvXR8z5PsdbCrDTzeQ?view_as=subscriber

Writing to a serial killer. A brief “memoir”.

For a suburban kid like me who grew up in a safe neighborhood surrounded by predictable events, evil occasionally seems so intangible. It feels like something that happens somewhere far away, and the only access I have to studying it are books, films and documentaries, flickering images on a screen or printed words on a page.

At one point around 2009, I was overcome with an almost obsessive need to have something “tangibly evil” in my hand. I suddenly understood fan girls who will rip the shirts off of their favorite singers just to get a piece of canvas, something physical to hold and touch. I sometimes wonder if they don’t go to such extremes in a desperate effort to somehow explain their obsession to themselves: “This piece of shirt/this autograph will help me explain what’s going on in my mind if I just meditate on it hard enough!

One thing is for certain, though: those were my thoughts in the Summer of 2009, when I picked up a pen and wrote a letter to serial killer Richard Ramirez.

ramirez_108a

For those of you who don’t know who he was, Ramirez was a brutal serial killer who murdered 14 people in California in the early 1980s. His modus operandi included breaking into his victims’ homes in the middle of the night and killing them – hence his famous nickname “The Night Stalker”. He was caught in 1985 and sentenced to death, but due to a long delay of some sort ended up dying of natural causes in prison in 2013.

Looking up his address on the internet was relatively easy – the guy had actually placed an ad for a pen pal on a site called lostvault.com. His ad was easy-going and to-the-point, as though written by a surfer dude looking for other cool dudes and dames to hang out with over summer. If you had only read the ad without looking up the name of the person who had placed it, you may have believed the guy was in prison for some minor crime, like stealing a car maybe, or getting caught with marijuana in his pockets.

The first letter I wrote to him was a long, rambling biography of myself. I wasn’t particularly careful in relaying details of my personal life, but then again, if Ramirez would have managed to bust out of prison, it’s pretty unlikely he would have ended up in Finland… The letter was a fairly typical one for someone who hadn’t written too many letters before: a long monologue where one feels as though every single thing about everything needs to be told in that one letter; since then, I have grown much more patient, and more cognizant of the fact that the point of correspondence is longevity – everything doesn’t need to be written onto one letter. The back-and-forth nature of correspondence is part of the enjoyment.

Anyways, I put the letter in the mail, expecting homicidal psychopath Ramirez to be so enchanted by the details of my suburban student life that he would no doubt reply to my letter immediately.

Didn’t happen. A response didn’t arrive at all.

I’m generally not the kind of person who tries once and gives up. Quite the opposite, in fact: for me, a “No” is just a step on the way to a “Yes”. So I decided to do some research and write again.

I read Philip Carlo’s excellent book The Night Stalker with the mindset of looking for clues as to what might get a response from Ramirez. My initial plan after reading the book was to pretend to be a Satanist (which Ramirez himself was) and write a letter praising the Lord of the Underworld, and recounting all kinds of made-up evil deeds I had done. I sketched just such a letter, complete with inverted crosses and references to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

When I read the letter out loud to myself, I burst into laughter. It was hilarious. Hilariously stupid.

Though I had wasted my time drafting it (anybody with half a brain would be able to smell the phoniness from a mile away), it lead me to a pivotal realization: if you’re sitting in a cell 23 hours a day, surrounded by white tile walls, maybe it’s not text and talk you’re looking for from a friendly stranger in the outside world – maybe it’s pictures! As Hannibal Lecter says in that scene in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) where he dreams of a cell with a view:

I’ve been in this room for eight years now Clarice, and I know they’ll never let me out, not while I’m alive. What I want is a view where I can see a tree, or even water.

So I borrowed my wife’s camera and went to work photographing essentially anything and everything there was to see in my hometown. Parks, the river, trees, panoramic views, street scenes, etc. I also enclosed a photo of myself. Once I was done, I wrote a short introductory letter with greetings from Finland, and dropped the whole package in the mail.

A reply from Ramirez came within a few weeks.

As I said at the beginning, I had set out on a quest for something “tangibly evil”. and had believed I would be able to obtain something of the sort from a serial killer. I expected Ramirez’s letter to be filled with obscene talk (“I liked the photos of nature but can U send me photos of naked chicks covered in blood HAHAHAHHA?????”).

Not even close. The tone of the letter is chatty, cordial and polite. Instead of receiving a physical token testifying to the overt nature of evil, I had received a reminder of the very banality of it. Ramirez thanked me for the photos, told me about his favorite music and cars (and asked me about mine), and ended the letter with a polite request for more pictures.

That’s it?!” I thought to myself. I may as well have written my f**king grandmother! What a brilliant disguise, and what a waste of my time. Apparently, I was looking for evidence of evil under circumstances where it’s relatively easy to pretend to be something you’re not – in a letter.

But then I noticed something upon re-reading the letter. A strange question that, upon further reflection, stuck out like a sore thumb from the menial chit-chat:

“So… any nieces or nephews in your life?”

This was a strange question, especially following questions about cars, music etc.

I went to the Internet to research Ramirez’s letters to his other pen-pals, and contacted people who had received replies from him. That’s when I learned of a creepy pattern: Ramirez had, on several occasions, asked his pen pals for photos of children, particularly little boys – had I answered that question with a “Yes”, his next letter would have asked me for photos of those “nieces or nephews”…

I realized I was a hypocrite indeed: somehow, it had been “acceptable” in my mind that he had murdered and tortured people, but now I was outraged and disgusted by his pedo habits. That was the last letter I ever wrote to him.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, I suppose it could be verbalized like this: don’t expect to know the extent of evil, and to thus be able to control your reaction to it. You think you “know”, for example, a serial killer because you’ve read about all his crimes, but you probably have no idea how deep the darkness goes.

None of us, not me or Philip Carlo or anyone, ever really knew Ramirez, despite our letters, our books and our late-night Internet browsing sessions.

Sometimes it’s better not to go digging. If you don’t believe me, ask Jason Moss.