About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Notorious celebrity: John Hinckley, Jr.

John Hinckley, Jr. is the mentally unstable man who, in 1981, tried to shoot and kill President Ronald Reagan.

Hinckley came from a wealthy, well-connected family in the oil business. Young Hinckley had no desire to follow his father's footsteps and instead migrated to Hollywood to seek his fortune in the music business. He had little luck in that effort but developed an unhealthy fixation on child actress Jodie Foster, who had played an underage prostitute in the 1976 film "Taxi Driver." That movie involved a plot to assassinate the president.

The deranged young man decided that he would get Foster's attention by killing then-president Jimmy Carter. When that didn't work out, he targeted Carter's successor in office, Ronald Reagan.

This time he very nearly succeeded. One of the bullets he fired missed the president but ricocheted off the presidential limo and hit Reagan in the chest. Another hit Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, leaving him partially but permanently paralyzed. He also managed to wound a police officer and a Secret Service agent.

At his trial, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He resurfaces in the news from time to time in regard to the length of supervised visits he is allowed with his parents.

Notorious celebrity: Wanda Holloway

Texas takes its cheerleading seriously, so much so that Texan Wanda Holloway had her 15 seconds of fame because she tried to hire a hit man to bump off the mother of a junior high cheerleader who was Holloway's daughter's rival for a spot on the squad. The idea was to cause the child so much grief that she would withdraw from competition.

Although such a scenario hardly sounds possible, Holloway was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Due to a problem regarding one member of her jury, a second trial was ordered. This time she pled nolo contendere and received a 10-year sentence.

Holloway was released after serving only six months and and spent the remainder of her sentence on probation.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Theodore Kaczynski

Known to America as the Unabomber (university and airline bomber), former math professor Theodore Kaczynski pled guilty to sending letter bombs off and on over a span of years. Doing so saved him from the death penalty. Instead, he was given life without chance for parole.

Growing up in Chicago, he was brilliant but a social pariah. Math was his great love, and he and his unusually high IQ graduated from Harvard and went on to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.

Kaczynski was hired in 1967 to teach math at the University of California at Berkley, but he remained there for only two years. Two more years after resigning his academic position, he moved into an isolated cabin in Montana, making a spare living via odd jobs.

The first of 16 letter bombs he mailed to a strange variety of targets was in 1978, the last, in 1995. His letter bombs killed three people and injured 23 more.

In 1995, he offered to stop sending the bombs if a major newspaper would publish his "manifesto," in which he railed at the things that irked him most about modern-day life, especially as regards technology. The manifesto was published both in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

His younger brother David recognized some of his words and thoughts and turned him in to authorities, who arrested him at his cabin.

His lawyer's attempt to have him found not guilty by reason of insanity failed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Alex Kelly

The son of a prosperous Connecticut family, Alexander A. Kelly was accused of rape, then in 1987 fled the country to escape punishment. Presumably supported by his family, he lived in Europe until 1995, when he gave himself up to Swiss authorities.

Kelly was convicted of a rape he had committed in 1986. At his 1997 trial for the first of two rapes, a mistrial was declared. He entered a no contest plea to the second rape, however, and got 16 years.

Eight years later, in 2005, Kelly, then 30, was freed after having served half that sentence, and he remains on probation.

Among the many rapes committed in the United States, his stood out and got heavy media coverage because of his family's prominence and his status as a wrestler in his high school years. Kelly was 18 when he was charged with rape.

Kelly claimed that rather than rape, the act had been consensual, but the young woman's testimony that he had kept one hand on her throat swayed the jury.

Notorious celebrity: Andrew Luster

Overprivileged Andrew Luster, scion to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune, was convicted of multiple rapes in 2003. Luster had never needed to work for a living and instead spent his life in bars and as a well-heeled "surfer dude" in California.

His specialty was using his money and good looks to lure young women to his bachelor pad, slip them the date-rape drug GHB, and have sex with them while they were defenseless. He was tried in 2002 for rapes that had occurred in 1996, 1997 and 2000. Police were in possession of video footage he had taken of each rape.

Luster fled the country in 2003 while court proceedings were underway and, supported by money from his trust fund, reportedly worth around $30 million, continued his dissolute lifetsyle elsewhere.

Luster was tried in absentia, convicted of multiple offenses and sentenced to 124 years.

In 2003, while Luster was living in Puerto Villarta, Mexico, he was located by the colorful bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman, who himself got into trouble for operating illegally in Mexico. Luster was returned to the United States and tossed in the pokey, where he is very likely to remain for the rest of his life. In 2004, he filed for bankruptcy.

Nororious celebrity: Mary Kay Letourneau

Pretty grade school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau in 1997 was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a student, which began when she was 34 and the boy, only 12. She became pregnant and had the boy's child in 1997. Her sentence was 89 months in prison. That sentence was reduced to 6 months in jail, and she was released early, in 1998. Part of her release order specified that she and the young man have no contact with each other. The couple failed to abide by this order, and she again became pregnant. At that point, her sentence was reimposed.

The couple had first known each other when she was his second-grade teacher. They were again thrown together when the boy, Vili Letourneau, was in her sixth-grade class.

The amorous and reportedly bipolar teacher was released in 2004, and the next year, she and darkly handsome Letourneau, then in his early 20s, married.

Sometimes the mysteries of the heart are mysterious indeed.

Notorious celebrity: Sara Jane Moore

Today, Sara Jane Moore has the appearance of everyone's kindly, gentle grandmother, but in 1975, she attempted to murder then-President Gerald Ford.

The place was San Francisco; her opportunity to shoot the president came as he exited the St. Francis Hotel. Ford was saved by ex-Marine Oliver Sipple, who grasped Moore's arm as she was about to fire her handgun at Ford. The one shot she got off missed the president but after ricocheting, struck and injured a cabbie.

Moore was immediately collared by Secret Service guards, was found guilty of attempted assassination, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Moore's personal life had been an unhappy one, complete with five divorces. She had become more than disenchanted with government policies and had decided to take a militant stand, hoping that her act would help bring about an American revolution that would change the prevailing power structure.

In 1979, she escaped from a West Virginia prison but was quickly located and returned to confinement.

Moore was paroled in 2007 at age 77 and apparently has lived quietly since then.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Lisa Nowak

We are unused to hearing or reading anything that isn't absolutely stellar about U.S. astronauts, but despite her good work in the space program, Lisa Marie Nowak let the green-eyed monster get the better of her in 2007.

Americans who follow the news were surprised to learn that she had been arrested for allegedly attempting to kidnap a romantic rival for the affections of a male astronaut, William Oefelein.

The third party in this love triangle was Colleen Shipman, an Air Force officer.

Shipman maintained that Nowak had stalked her over a two-month period. In an Orlando parking lot, Nowak apparently sprayed Shipman through the driver's window of Shipman's car with pepper spray. Police arived to find Nowak attempting to dispose of a bag that held a BB gun, wig, knife, mallet, gloves and other odds and ends.

Nowak was at first denied bail, but that decision was later changed. She was allowed to plead guilty in 2009 to a lesser charge of battery, but her job as a NASA astronaut had been terminated in 2007.

How sad that Nowak's stellar accomplishments were tarnished by something such as this.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Sara Jane Olson

Blog readers who recall the Symbionese Liberation Army of the 1970s might also remember Kathleen Soliah, now Sara Jane Olson.

Soliah was one of the SLA members who fought against "the system" with pipe bombs and a 1975 bank robbery that left one bystander dead.

Soliah was born in Minnesota but went to college in California. There she fell in with people who took protest to an extreme level. She was charged in 1976 for pipe bombing police cars but fled, remaining at large for 23 years.

After a 1999 episode of the TV show America's Most Wanted, she was recognized and police were alerted. She was arrested, and in 2001, she pled guilty to possession of explosives with intent to murder. While at large, she had married a physician and had legally changed her name.

In 2002, she was sentenced to two ten-year to life terms, but that sentence was later reduced to 14 years.

She pled guilty to her part in the bank robbery murder in 2002 and got six years. A judge reduced her sentence, but on appeal in 2007, her full sentence was reinstated.

Due to a clerical error, Olson was released from prison in 2008, but when the mistake was discovered, she had to return. She was released again in 2009.

Notorious celebrity: Richard Reid

London-born militant Muslim Richard Colvin Reid's 15 minutes of notorious celebrity came about in 2001 when he tried to blow an airliner out of the sky with a bomb concealed in his shoes.

Reid had boarded the flight in Paris and was bound for Miami. The 6'4" mule-faced would-be "martyr" was overpowered after a flight attendant saw him lighting a match to the toe of one of his shoes. Happily, the plastic explosives failed to detonate.

Details of Reid's past are still murky, but he had converted to Islam in the 1990s, lived in a variety of other countries and is thought to have trained at terrorist camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and possibly elsewhere. He also has a record in England of arrests for muggings.

In 2003, Reid pled guilty, was convicted of a terrorist act and was given a life sentence without chance for parole.

Notorious celebrity: Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller

One of mankind's most despicable crimes is sexual child abuse, and one of the most prolific pedophiles of them all is Dean Schwartzmiller. No one knows how many children he has molested, but some authorities reportedly think his victims number into the thousands.

That he could do such a thing would seem to be a condemnation of our criminal justice system, inasmuch as he has been arrested and imprisoned multiple times, but has always been released to strike again.

Schwartzmiller's luck ran out, however, in 2005, when he was convicted for abusing two boys and was given a 152-year prison sentence. Unless he manages to escape, this time he is there to stay.

His sorry record of arrests began in 1970 and, punctuated with prison stays, continued until 2005, at which time police found a grisly diary that detailed what Schwartzmiller, then 64, had done to a mind-boggling number of children.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Sam Sheppard

Surely the most famous osteopathic physician ever, Dr. Sam Sheppard, who worked in a Cleveland suburb, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in the couple's home in 1954.

Sheppard's story was that he had fallen asleep on a couch while watching TV and was awakened by his wife's screams. He testified that he had fought with a bushy-haired man, who had knocked him out.

The case and trial received extremely heavy publicity. It came to light that he had engaged in a three-year affair with a nurse, which jurors interpreted as a motive for killing his wife. He was found guilty and sentenced to life.

Sheppard remained in prison for a decade, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review his case and concluded in a 1966 decision that he had been denied due process due to the prejudicial publicity involved and the trial judge's refusal to sequester the jury. He was freed and a new trial was ordered. In retrial, he was found not guilty.

Sheppard returned to his medical practice but that ended after two malpractice suits were filed against him. He then became a professional wrestler known as The Killer.

A drinking problem led to his death in 1970. His sgtory was the inspiration for the popular TV series The Fugitive.

Notorious celebrity: Valerie Solanas

If you recall the name Valerie Solanas, it is probably because of her SCUM Manifesto or because she shot artist Andy Warhol.

Solanas had an extremely unhappy childhood and was set adrift by her family when she was only 15, yet she managed to get a college degree, ironically in psychology.

Dropping out of graduate school, she migrated from the University of Maryland to New York's Greenwich Village in 1966. In the following year, she asked Warhol to produce a play she had written. Instead, he lost the manuscript. She lay in wait for him at his studio called The Factory, and when he arrived, she shot him. She then shot Mario Amaya, an art critic, and her gun misfired when she took aim at Warhol's manager.

Warhol was badly but not fatally wounded. Solanas surrendered to police, pled guilty of attempted murder, and was given three years.

Solanas, a feminist of the most extreme sort, wrote the SCUM Manifesto, a general attack on men. The letters SCUM stood for "Society for Cutting Up Men."

Solanas, more to be pitied than despised, died in San Francisco of emphysema in 1988.

Notorious celebrity: Clarence Stowers

Very few people gain their 15 seconds of celebrity by refusing to give someone the finger, but Clarence Stowers did.

In 2005, Stowers was enjoying a pint frozen chocolate custard he bought at Kohl's Frozen Custard in Wilmington, NC, when he came upon part of a human index finger.

Understandably, he complained. It turned out that the finger belonged to a 23-year-old Kohl's employee who had it lopped off in a mixing machine accident. Management asked to have the finger in hopes that it could be re-attached by doctors. Local physicians also asked the same, but Stowers refused. Instead, he took home the partial digit and put it in his refrigerator for use as evidence in a lawsuit.

For fingers or limbs to be successfully re-attached surgically, the operation must be done within a few hours of an accident.

Many who read this story very likely wished they themselves could give Stowers the finger. Appearing below is a photo of the shop where the finger episode occurred.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Heather Tallchief

Seneca tribal member Heather Catherine Tallchief was an armored car driver who vamoosed with roughly $2.5 million in 1993 and remained on the run until turning herself in to police in 2005.

Tallchief drove off in a Loomis armored car, having planed the heist with her significant other, ex-convict Roberto Solis, who is still at alrge.

The couple escaped (disguised as an elderly couple) to Europe, and Tallchief found work as a maid in Amsterdam. Solis took most of the loot and vanished. Tallchief said she surrendered because she was tired of running and wanted her 10-year-old child to be able to live a more nearly normal life.

Notorious celebrity: Charles Van Doren

Way back in the 1950s, well-connected intellectual Charles Van Doren allowed himself to become involved as a contestant in a rigged television quiz show.

The show was Twenty One, a contest show where two competitors, each in an "isolation booth," tried to be the first to reach 21 points when asked a series of challenging questions. The show was enormously popular, so much so that it appears to have been the first program to top the sitcom I Love Lucy in the ratings for that time slot.

Van Doren's dad was a famous poet and his mother a novelist. In addition, an uncle was a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer. The young professor was, in sum, to the campus born.

The show's producers liked him and decided to feed him answers because of the 30-year-old's upper-crust polish, pleasant manner and general good looks. His biggest rival on the show was a man named Herb Stempel, defeated by Van Doren in 1956--with a little help.

Stempel overheard a conversation about the passing of answers to his rival and alerted the authorities. The viewing public was outraged, and Van Doren no longer was its darling.

In 1958, news about other rigged quiz shows came to light. Congress became involved, and in 1959 Van Doren finally fessed up to the cheating after initially having denied it. He lost his teaching job at Columbia University.

Later Van Doren worked as an editor for Encyclopedia Britannica and authored a number of books. At last report, he was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut at Torrington.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mass/serial killers: David Berkowitz

Note: Many kinds of criminals and miscreants have had their 15 seconds or minutes of fame in the United States. It is hard to say which varieties of criminals are the worst, but surely among that number would be those who become serial killers or spree killers, visiting their hate or disappointments with the world on large numbers of their fellow humans.

The role model for such behavior is the still mysterious Jack the Ripper of London, England. Sad to say, the instance of serial or mass killings has been on an upward trajectory in America during the last few decades--for whatever reasons.

The individuals who follow provide not a census of these evil-doers, but a pretty good sample.

The serial or mass killer's temporary celebrity gains extra shelf life when the killer is given a nickname that resonates with the public. Such a person is David Berkowitz, who murdered six and harmed others in the New York City area. The nickname the press gave him was "Son of Sam." The name came from Berkowitz's assertion that his landlord, whose name was Sam, sent his Labrador retriever to instruct the demented Berkowitz to kill.

This serial killer was born David Falco, but he took the last name of his step-father. The number of his victims was modest compared to some of the killers who followed in his deranged footsteps, but just the same he managed to terrorize New York until he was captured. Part of the suspense of his case came from the letters he sent to the media prior to his capture.

Berkowitz, whose killings took place in the 1970s, was at the time a Satanist, but became an avowed Christian in prison.

He was convicted and sentenced to 365 years. Fearing that he would profit from his misdeeds by selling his story to morals-free media outlets, the State of New York passed the first "Son of Sam Law," which sought to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes in this way. Some other states followed suit, but in 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court found these laws unconstitutional.

Mass/serial killers: Ted Bundy

We have come to expect most killers, especially those who do it wholesale, to be shaggy, unattractive outcasts whose frustrations and disappointments lead them into mental instability, but this is not always the case.

Ted Bundy, who confessed to 28 to 30 killings, was quite the opposite: a handsome charmer whose manner and good looks greatly appealed to the women who became his victims.

From 1974 to 1979, Bundy murdered at least 30 women of various ages in several states: Florida, Colorado, Utah and Washington. In many instances, he also assaulted them sexually, sometimes after their deaths. Most of his victims were attractive young brunettes, and he usually either strangled or clubbed them to death.

Unlike most serial killers, Bundy appears to have had a reasonably happy childhood, but by age 15, his murderous tendencies had surfaced. Ironically, he worked for a time in a rape crisis center and even wrote a pamphlet on rape prevention.

Bundy was arrested for burglary in 1977 but escaped, was recaptured, and then escaped again. He was caught in Pensacola, Florida, when someone spotted the license plate of a stolen car he was driving.

In 1989, Bundy was executed by electrocution. He had blamed his murderous instincts on pornography.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mass/serial killers: Seung-Hui Cho

The most deadly school shooting in America's history took place in April 2007 at this blogger's own university, Virginia Tech. Korean-born Seung-Hui Cho, who had lived in the United States since age 8, became completely deranged, fatally shooting 32 students and faculty and wounding 25 more.

Cho's deadly rampage began early in the morning in a campus dormitory, where he killed two fellow students. His movements after that time are still a mystery, but at about 9 a.m., he visited the downtown Blacksburg post office and mailed a packet of video footage and written ravings to NBC. Then the senior English major returned to campus, where he chained and locked the doors of a classroom/office building and began shooting.

Cho for years had suffered from anxiety and depression. He was extremely uncommunicative and kept to himself. Some of his writings show that he harbored extreme anger against society in general and especially against students he considered lazy and over-privileged.

By the time police were able to enter the classroom building, Cho had killed 30 more people. Rather than be captured, he killed himself with one shot to the head.

The handguns Cho chose for his spree killings were a Glock 19 and a Walther P22. The number of shots he got off was reported to be 170.

The Cho shootings were something no one could really have predicted or expected in a place that is normally so safe and peaceful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mass/serial killers: Charles Cullen

A prolific healthcare "angel of mercy" serial killer was male nurse Charles Cullen, who between 1988 and his arrest in 2003, used drug overdoses to kill 40-45 patients.

Cullen's reported motive was, in his mind, at least, humanitarian. He said he was putting the terminally ill out of their misery. He also said the killings gave him a sense of power.

Cullen's life was marked by depression, many suicide attempts, and general unhappiness. His "mercy killings" were done in 10-16 hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as he moved from one job to another.

Cullen pled guilty in order to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 127 years.

At that, Cullen was a piker compared to a British doctor, Harold Shipman, who put 218 of his patients to death.

Mass/serial killers: Jeffrey Dahmer

Born to a fundamentalist father in Milwaukee, Jeffrey Dahmer grew up in difficult circumstances, which included being sexually molested by a neighbor.

Dahmer became an alcoholic loner and eventually began to perform "experiments" on dead animals. At age 18, he murdered his homosexual lover, who had wanted to split with him. In all, Dahmer murdered 17 boys and men, most of whom were young black homosexuals.

The most grisly aspect of these murders was that Dahmer engaged in cannibalism, kept some of his victims' severed heads in his refrigerator, and had vats of acid into which he placed various body parts of those he had killed.

In some cases, Dahmer drilled holes in his victims' heads, into which he poured strong liquids in an attempt to destroy the victims' conscious will and turn them into obedient "zombies."

When arrested in 1991 and charged, Dahmer pled not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury, however, found him guilty and gave him 15 consecutive life sentences. In 1994, he was slashed by a fellow inmate but escaped death. Almost half a year later, another inmate succeeded in killing Dahmer, by smashing his skull with an iron bar.

Mass/serial killers: Albert DeSalvo

One of the earliest of America's serial killers to gain heavy publicity and hence at least temporary celebrity of the notorious kind, Albert DeSalvo is thought by many to have strangled between 11 and 13 women in and around Boston from 1962 to 1964. He was billed in the press as The Boston Strangler.

DeSalvo, who worked as a handyman, was arrested in connection with serial rapes in Connecticut, where he was dubbed the Green Man because of the green overalls worn by the rapist. DeSalvo was convicted of rape in 1967 and sentenced to life. He was never tried for the murders, which he reportedly confessed to his lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, although police cast doubt on his motives for confessing to murder. The number of rapes he committed remains a mystery. Police put the possible total at 300, but DeSalvo himself claimed 2000, give or take a few.

Whoever did the Boston area killings used some textile item to strangle the victims, who were left with that item tied around the person's neck tied in a bow.

DeSalvo's rape victims were mostly elderly or middle-aged women, an unusual target group. He and two fellow inmates escaped from prison in 1967 but were recaptured the next day. DeSalvo was stabbed to death in his cell in 1973; his killer was never identified.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mass/serial killers: John Wayne Gacy

Among the very spookiest of U.S. serial murders was John Wayne Gacy of Chicago, who was found guilty of murdering 33 young men between 1972 and 1978. The remains of 28 of them were found under Gavy's home, and he admitted throwing the bodies of others into nearby rivers.

Rather like a villain in a Batman comic book, the pudgy Gacy, who owned his own construction company, liked to dress the part of Pogo the Clown and entertain sick children. His own depiction of his clown costume appears below.

He sometimes gained control of his victims by luring them to his house, purporting to show them a "magic trick" involving the use of handcuffs, then rendering them unconscious with chloroform. He would sexually abuse them and eventually torture them to death.

The people who knew Gacy had no idea he was such a sadistic monster. He was a cheerful giver to charities, an award-winning Jaycee and politically active, even managing to have his photo taken with President Jimmy Carter's wife Rosalyn.

Gacy was captured after one of his victims, whom he had allow to go free, recognized his car and tipped off police.

Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection.

Mass/serial killers: Sammy Gravano

Known in the press as "Sammy the Bull," Salvatore Gravano has confessed to killing or helping kill 19 people. His punishment for all that mayhem was five years in prison because of his testimony against the Mafia.

The wonder is that Gravano is still alive.

He began as "muscle" for the Colombo Mob family in New York and for the Gambino family in Brooklyn.

Called Sammy after an uncle, Gravano served two years in the Army in the 1960s thanks to the draft. In 1970, he began his string of murders, and he was inducted into the ranks of the mob in 1976. Smart and tough, he moved up the the criminal ranks and gained great influence in construction and trucking in the New York City area. He became the Gambino family's consigliere under family boss John Gotti, the publicity-hungry Teflon Don (also known as the Dapper Don).

In 1991, Gravano took an enormous chance by testifying against Gotti in exchange for a five-year term in prison. On his release, he entered the Witness Protection Program but dropped out after someone recognized him. He moved to Arizona and had some protective plastic surgery.

By the late 1990s, Gravano was into the ecstasy trade. He was convicted of this crime in 2000 and got 19 years. While in prison, he contracted Graves' Disease.

Mass/serial killers: Leslie Irvin

Known in the press as "Mad Dog Irvin," Leslie Irvin, killer of six, was arrested in 1955. His murders took place in 1954 and 1955 in Kentucky and Indiana.

Irvin's capture was a matter of good luck. He was attempting to pawn stolen jewelry. One of the rings had belonged to someone recently murdered, and police were able to connect the dots.

Irvin is remembered today more for a U.S. Supreme Court decision in his case than for his crimes.

Publicity about his exploits and his capture was so heavy and so lurid that the High Court ruled he had not received a fair trial. In the history of what is called the free press-fair trial controversy, Irvin's case looms large. Due to prejudicial publicity,a new trial was ordered. In 1961, his retrial was held, and again he was found guilty.

Irvin died in prison of lung cancer in 1983 at age 59.

Mass/serial killers: Dylan Klebold & Eric Harris

The names of these two young men--Harris 18 and Klebold 17--were on every tongue in 1999 because of the mayhem they caused in what was termed the Colubine High School massacre.

Both boys committed suicide at the end of their killing spree, which left 13 dead and 21 wounded.

The school where the spree killing took place was located in Littleton, Colorado. The attack was carried out on Adolph Hitler's birthday, and only two weeks shy of the boys' graduation.

Both boys looked quite normal, but they had somehow developed an intense hatred for many of the people around them. They got into trouble of various kinds, apparently viewing themselves as societal rejects, and experimented with bomb making.

This dreadful massacre brought painful attention to school bullying and to the violent video games so popular with American youth. Shown below are weapons used in this mass murder.

Mass/serial killers: Derrick Todd Lee

Known as the Baton Rouge Serial Killer, Derrick Todd Lee was captured after his seventh known murder and is now awaiting execution on death row.

The low-IQ Louisiana man, 34 when captured, committed most of his killings near Louisiana State University. He was unusual in that his methods of killing varied so greatly. The murders took place from 1992 to 2003.

Mass/serial killers: Lee Boyd Malvo

Lee Boyd Malvo, now spending the rest of his life in prison without chance of parole, was the teenage sidekick of John Allen Muhammad in the 2002 Beltway sniper murders that terrorized parts of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The two met in Jamaica, and Muhammad told the impressionable Malvo that the two would so terrorize America that they would be able to extort $10 million from the federal government, which they would use to set up a compound in Canada where they would train other poor black youth as terrorists.

Their plan was to shoot six people a day, but fortunately the two were captured after their 13th killing in the D.C. area. Boyd, 17 when the shootings took place, received multiple life sentences, whereas Muhammad was later executed.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mass/serial killers: Charles Manson

The scariest product of America's strange flower-child culture of the 1960s was the grubby but charismatic Charles Manson, who was found guilty of masterminding the 1969 murders of seven people in an attempt to spark a race war in the United States.

Manson had the bizarre notion that the race war he wanted to occur had been prophesied by the Beatles in some of their songs (most notably "Helter Skelter") as well as by the Bible's Book of Revelation.

The wild-eyed Manson had found it easy to recruit drug-addled young people and to establish Rasputin-like control of them, hinting to them that he was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. By that time he had already spent a good many years in prison for lesser offenses: assault, car theft, stealing pimping, credit card fraud and the like.

Sprung from prison in 1967, he began to recruit followers and moved his "family" to a remote, deserted ranch in California's San Fernando Valley.

From that base of operations Manson ordered three of his followers to execute the people then staying at the home of starlet Sharon Tate, who was at that time married to filmmaker Roman Polanski. Killed alongside the beautiful starlet were hairstylist-to-the-stars Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and Folger's gentleman friend Wojciech Frykowski.

The following night Manson and three of his "family" murdered businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. Another murder had been that of a music teacher, Gary Hinman.

Manson was found guilty and was given the death sentence. That sentence was reduced to life in prison when California dropped capital punishment. As of early 2010, Manson remains in prison, where he is likely to remain.

Mass/serial killers: Timothy McVeigh

Homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001 for setting the truck bomb that killed 168 and wounded 500 more at the Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

McVeigh had served in the Army during the Gulf War. After separating from the service, he had a job as a security guard in Buffalo, N.Y., before returning to the Midwest.

It has been suggested that he might have had Al Qaeda connections and that his experiences in the Gulf brought about his hatred of the U.S. government.

McVeigh, then age 28, and his accomplice, Terry Nichols, were arrested almost immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing because they were stupid enough to speed on an Interstate in a car that had no license plate.

McVeigh was convicted in 1997. He remained straight-faced and unrepentant even in the face of execution.

Mass/serial killers: John Allen Muhammad

John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams) was executed in 2009 by lethal injection for his part in the 2002 Beltway shootings in the Washington, D.C., area.

A native of New Orleans, he served in the National Guard and later in the Army, reaching the rank of sergeant before leaving the service in 1994.

Twice divorced, he was visiting his children in 1999 in Antigua, where he met teenager Lee Boyd Malvo, who became his partner in the fatal shootings of at least 10 people--7 in Maryland, 5 in Virginia and one in the District of Columbia. Three more people were wounded by the Beltway shooters.

It is thought that the two men might have killed as many as 11 more people.

The two were captured in Maryland after Malvo's fingerprints were found on a magazine he dropped during the robbery of a Montgomery, Ala., liquor store.

Muhammad had converted to the Nation of Islam in 2001, and at that time dropped the family name Williams.

Muhammad's role model was Osama bin Laden, and testimony in Malvo's trial indicated that the two had an elaborate scheme to kill more Americans and to extort millions of dollars from the federal government.

Muhammad was tried or murder in Virginia in 2003 and was found guilty. In 2005, he was tried and convicted in Maryland of six more murders. He received the death penalty.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mass/serial killers: Dennis Rader

Sexual sadist/serial killer Dennis Rader of Wichita, KS, claimed 10 victims before his capture in 2005.

American television audiences were horrified by Rader when he described his crimes in tones that sounded self-satisfied and completely calm about what he had done.

His killings ranged from 1974 to 1991. His usual mode op operation was to stalk a woman, gain entry to her home on some pretense, bind her, torture her and finally kill her.

Rader enjoyed sending letters to the press about his sexual fantasy-fueled killings, and he was dubbed the BTK Killer (bind/torture/kill).

In many ways he seemed like an unlikely serial killer. He had served in the Air Force, had a college degree (ironically, in Criminal Justice), had held responsible jobs, had been active in his church and the Cub Scouts, and seemed perfectly normal to many who knew him.

Rader was found guilty and was given 10 consecutive life terms, inasmuch as at that time, Kansas did not recognize the death penalty.

Mass/serial killers: Richard Ramirez

Drug-ridden Satanist Richard Ramirez was arrested in 1985 for 13 murders plus sexual assaults, burglaries and attempted murders. He was found guilty and is awaiting execution.

Ramirez was given the sobriquet The Night Stalker in part because of his fondness for a rock song by the group AC/DC: "Night Prowler." His victims varied in age from 6 to 75, and he sometimes mutilated their corpses or had sex with them after they died.

His methods of killing varied from beatings to throat slitting to gunshots.

Police found Ramirez thanks to a citizen's tip regarding a suspicious car's license number.

His killings are said to have been inspired by the brutal exploits described to him by a relative who was stationed in Vietnam.

Mass/serial killers: Angel Maturino Resendiz

Delusional drifter Angel Resendiz was executed in 2006 for having murdered, robbed and sometimes raped 24 victims.

Resendiz was publicized as The Railway Killer because so many of his victims were conveniently located to his usual mode of getaway.

He often killed his victims by hitting them with a heavy object. Resendiz had a wife and sister in Mexico. His sister eventually tipped off police, leasing to his 1999 arrest in El Paso, Texas.

Mass/serial killers: Gary Leon Ridgway

In 2003, Gary Ridgway of Seattle admitted in court to having murdered a record number of women: 48. The murders covered a span of twenty years.

His aim, he said, was to kill as many women he thought to be prostitutes as possible. His guilty plea spared him the death penalty.

Ridgway got his nickname, the Green River Killer, because many of his victims were located near that Seattle area river.

Ridgway is serving life without possibility of parole.