Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sunset at the CWC

I'm here to wish you all a Happy New Year, and to announce that the Crime Writer's Chronicle is folding after five years of rambling on.

Thank you to all the guest writers who have enlivened this page with their posts. Their names are all in the list, and if you click on them you can read what they had to say over the years.

Thank you to Robin Hathaway, our co-founder, sorely missed since her death in 2013. Thank you to Annamaria Alfieri, our other co-founder, for her thrilling travelogues and feisty political observations. She can still be found on Murder is Everywhere. Thank you to Bob Knightly for opening a window on the life of a big-city policeman. Thank you to Thelma Straw, who knows every crime writer on the planet, for her personal stories and for the guests she was able to draw in. Thank you to Stephanie Patterson, who reads everything, for her book reviews and her personal stories. Thank you to Sheila York for her charming posts and her amazing drink recipes. Thank you to Mike Welch for his movie reviews and his gloomy bachelor travelogues. Thank you to Rosemary Harris, always off someplace improving the world, sometimes reporting back to us with a hair-raising story.

We are moving on now, all of us, to other venues and other forms of expression. Look for our books in the coming months and years. May you all keep reading and writing.

Kate Gallison

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Police Story: Chance Encounters

When I was sworn in as a New York City Patrolman on May 15, 1967,  a college friend asked, disbelief evident in his voice: “You!... How?” We’d gone to college in Brooklyn in the late 1950s, graduating as the Protesting Sixties got under way. I didn’t protest, I didn’t demonstrate. True, there weren’t many sexy targets in 1961 to stir the blood of the young; I even voted for Richard Nixon rather than JFK in the 1960 Election although that was about Kennedy being lace-curtain Irish and my feeling sorry for a sweating Nixon on TV.

Actually I was stumped at first for a reply to my friend’s question. After modest soul-searching what I came up with was: “Cops can go anywhere, even into people’s houses.” That sounds weird, I know, peeping-Tomish, yet it was as much truth as a budding writer could manage. For a 26-year-old just mustered out of the Peacetime Army, police work promised to be the high road to the Great World Experienced a la Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

And it was. I met celebrated people with whom I crossed paths (and swords, on occasion). There was the great Jacques D’Amboise, star of Gorge Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, who taught me to dance, and 300 children from mainland China, and 11 other NYPD cops. We debuted in his Corps de Ballet Recital at Madison Square Garden in May, 1982. Actually, he taught us one routine. Every Tuesday night for eight weeks before the Show, we’d show up at the Dance Studios at Lincoln Center to practice. It didn’t come naturally to me. That last Tuesday I was still failing to execute a small leap to the left when Jacques himself materialized at my side, took my left hand in his right and did a short leap to his left, compelling me to follow. “Remember the puddle there,” he said, and, eureka! I did. He had recruited us cops, instructors at the New York City Police Academy, to perform in uniform, christening us “The Dancing Cops”. On Show Night, waiting in the wings to go on, I stood between folksinger Judy Collins and TV’s Mary Tyler Moore who were having a conversation over my shoulder. Despite a flawless performance that night, I didn’t keep up with ballet.

On July 4, 1986, New York celebrated Operation Sail, on the centenary of the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Thousands gathered on the Piers and FDR Drive to see the Navy warships and hundreds of small craft. I didn’t get to see because I was the Sergeant in command of 50 police officers detailed to the Pier at the end of East 20th Street where a Destroyer was tied up awaiting the boarding of dignitaries for the Fireworks Show. My men formed a gauntlet as the invited guests funneled forward, me at the foot of the gangplank keeping a weather eye out. Then I spied them. “Cagney and Lacey,” in the flesh (actresses Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly, respectively), stars of Network TV as NYPD detective partners working out of the fictional 14th Precinct in Midtown Manhattan. Of course, there was no “14th Precinct” anywhere in the City nor did a pair of female detectives work the streets together out of a Detective Squad in the ‘80s. I’d never seen the show, but I was taken with the sight of them. a blonde and a brunette. (Maybe a hangover from rubbing elbows with Julie Collins and Mary Tyler Moore at the Garden?) Before I let them up the gangplank, I required each to sign her name in my Official PD Memo Book, which they did: “Christine Cagney” and “Mary Beth Lacey.”

In June the previous year, or the year before (who remembers dates anymore), I supervised the police detail assigned for U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s security. He was Commencement Speaker at New York University’s graduation ceremonies held in Washington Square Park in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village—all within the confines of the 6th Precinct where I was then assigned, hence my presence. What I vividly remember of that day was lunch with Moynihan, at his insistence (on NYU’s tab, I presume), at the White Horse Tavern in the West Village, the immemorial poet’s hangout favored by the likes of Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan. I was at table with the Senator, his daughter and some staff when The Troubles in Northern Ireland were mentioned. Apropos of too much death, I mentioned that my grandmother came from the Village of Coonagh near Limerick City, where all the men went to sea, including her brother Tom Grimes who went down with his ship HMS Goliath, all hands lost, off the Coast of Gallipoli in 1915. At that, Moynihan, in a pleasant, lilting tenor, began to sing a sea shanty about the exploits of Coonagh’s sailors on the oceans and we all joined in at the Call and Response. I was a convert that afternoon. My grandmother Catherine would have loved him.

All these past encounters can be classed as pleasant, fun, sociable. This last is none of that, being pure cop business—exactly what I’d hoped for when I joined up. In 1975, I returned to measurable work again in a Patrol Precinct, the 83rd in Bushwick Brooklyn, where the neighborhood was being burned out by arsonists—two kinds, from different motives: landlords for profit and rebuffed suitors for love. The 83rd had more crime then than any other Brooklyn Precinct. Obviously, they needed me, ostensibly because the City had laid off 5,000 cops to avoid fiscal bankruptcy which had left many patrol cars empty. For the six years prior, I had been performing comfortably (in civvies, 9 to 5, no weekends) as a reporter/writer for the monthly Police Magazine SPRING 3100 out of the Press Relations Office at 400 Broome St., known as “The Police Annex”.

Plunked back in a radio car in the 83rd felt like being rudely awakened from a deep sleep, but I’d been in the shit before and soon acclimated. Unexpectedly, I was picked up by an elite Precinct Unit, the Eight-Three Precinct Conditions Car whose sole mandate was to handle, neutralize Precinct “conditions;” namely, drug sales indoors and out, guns toted and sold, stolen car chopshops, counterfeiters, and, of course, arson—essentially, any violent street crime requiring immediate action but beyond the capacities of the regular patrol force. To that end, the Unit ran a stable of a dozen Registered Confidential Informants (CIs) and on the strength of their intelligence procured Judge-ordered Search Warrants for persons and premises which we then executed. That’s where I came in. I’d just graduated from Fordham University Law School, Night Division, which probably made me the only patrolman/lawyer in Borough of Brooklyn North. I interviewed the CIs, drafted the warrants, then took my flesh-and-blood informant and the Warrant down to Brooklyn Night Court where he or she would swear to its underlying truth before a friendly Judge. (No need to bother with hair-splitting assistant district attorneys who’d only gum up the works.)

And that’s how I came to meet Joseph Mad Dog Sullivan on a cold January night in 1977. We had a Search Warrant for an after-hours Puerto Rican “Social Club” (drug market) on Troutman Street, just around the corner from Knickerbocker Avenue, Bushwick’s main commercial drag. We went in without knocking: four patrolmen and our Sergeant, all of us in uniform. From the crowded bar, we were met with a cascade of glassine envelopes floating to the floor like a leaf fall in autumn. At an isolated corner table, I noticed two men staring at us intently, motionless, then the gun under the table. “Gun” I yelled to alert my partners while ordering both men up and on the wall. Before complying, the Irish-looking guy looked me hard in the eyes; he was of average height, muscular build, with eyes like dark pools, dead as a shark’s are said to be. At the Precinct, a call to the Bureau of Criminal Identification at 400 Broome Street informed us we had Joseph Mad Dog Sullivan in custody, on lifetime parole for a murder conviction, the only inmate to ever escape in 1971 from Attica, the maximum security prison upstate. And the gun, a Beretta semi-automatic, operable and loaded with seven live rounds.

In those days, an arresting officer escorted his prisoner to Criminal Court and arraigned him in person before a Judge, after consulting with an assistant district attorney who’d draw up the Complaint. The law permitted charging both men with possession of the gun I found under the table but it weakened the case against either at trial. It was therefore expected by the district attorneys (and approved of with judicial silence) for an arresting officer to solve the dilemma by testimonial creativity; i.e. I swore that I’d observed Mad Dog make a motion under the table where I then found the gun. Pleased with his tidied-up prosecution, the DA and I were in accord that Mad Dog should be on the first bus back to Attica. But that changed when we entered the Courtroom.

Mad Dog’s defense lawyer was Ramsey Clark, former United States Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, in the flesh. Mr. Clark, I learned later, had been instrumental in springing Mad Dog to early parole from Attica in 1975, and Mad Dog had been assisting him ever since in “Prison Reform work”. Star-struck and fawning, those who should have know better decided to dismiss all charges and Mad Dog walked free. Clark, Southern gentleman that he is, approached me in the hallway outside Night Court, and said: “Officer, I think justice was done.” I replied: “I doubt that, sir.”

Of course, hooked on the mystery of Mad Dog and Ramsey Clark, I investigated. Between December, 1975 when Ramsey Clark interceded with New York State Parole to release Mad Dog, and our meeting on January 29, 1977 in Brooklyn Night Court, Mad Dog had killed at least three men he admits to—Tom Devaney and Eddie “the Butcher” Cummiskey, in Hell’s Kitchen bars a few days apart; enforcers for Mickey Spillane who controlled the West Side piers and Hell’s Kitchen; and Tom “the Greek” Kapatos on a mid-Manhattan Street. Mad Dog had just begun employment as a hit man for the Genovese crime family, intent on eliminating competitors for control of the waterfront and the Javits Convention Center rackets. I pieced together that the other man at the table arrested with Mad Dog in the Social Club—identified as Anthony “Snooky” Solimini, a soldier in the Manhattan-based Genovese family—was the go-between who arranged the hits. Solimini and Sullivan had history: cell mates when imprisoned as juveniles upstate. Intriguing is the locale for their rendezvous, around the corner from the Italian Cafes, hangouts for the members of the Bonnano crime family.

Was the Don of the Bonnano family, Carmine “The Cigar” Galante, to be Mad Dog’s next assignment from his Genovese patrons? Mad Dog says yes, in his eclectic autobiography co-authored with his wife Gail Sullivan, self-published in 1997 and memorably entitled Tears and Tiers. But, he claims, he could never get close enough during 1978, before a four-man team shot-gunned Galante to death on July 17, 1979 as he lunched in the back garden of Joe & Mary’s Restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue. Galante’s cousin Joe, the proprietor, and a bodyguard also died. Eventually, an FBI Task Force caught up with Mad Dog for the 1979 murder of a Mob-connected Teamsters Union official near Rochester in late 1979. After convictions for that murder and others in Manhattan, Mad Dog was sentenced to 87 years to Life. He’s now incarcerated at the Sullivan County Correctional Facility (no relation) and goes before the Parole Board for the first time in 2069. He is 77 years old. The FBI credits Joseph Sullivan with 31 mob murders.

Yet, Ramsey Clark has remained Joseph Mad Dog Sullivan’s loyal friend over the years, helping him as he could; Sullivan had christened one of his sons Ramsey. How their friendship came to be and flourished is a mystery. Reminiscent of, yet distinctly different than Norman Mailer’s championing of the convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbott before the New York State Parole Board. Abbott had written a critically acclaimed memoir from inside The Walls, In the Belly of the Beast. Soon after being paroled largely due to Mailer’s efforts, however, Abbott in the course of an argument with a young waiter at an East Village café stabbed him to death. It’s unlikely that Tears and Tiers played any part in the Mad Dog story.

© 2015 Robert Knightly

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Your Marble Angel…

"I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free."

Think of some of your colleagues who have successful mystery novels for sale today: Terry Shames, Alafair Burke, Dennis Palumbo, Tom Savage, Triss Stein, Jenny Milchman, Larry Light, Leslie Budewitz, Matt Coyle, Lois Winston, Mike Lawson, Reed Coleman, Joseph Finder, Sandra Parshall, Hank Phillipi Ryan — to name a few on your long list…

- Contemporary themes…
- Real flesh and blood characters…
- Brainy writers you can communicate with at meetings, or call or email…

You read them all, enjoy most, maybe wish you could have turned in "THAT" novel to your editor this week!

Consider the vast variety of topics these crime writers have chosen — small town Texas, big city crimes, Brooklyn's neighborhoods, kidnapped kids, urban financial crime, small town gift shops, bars, crafts, the law, country life, cops in love — you name it — there's a crime novel on a shelf waiting for your eager eyes!!!

If your thing is international thefts, sex scandals, poisonous foods or French prostitutes — some fellow crime writer will have the book for sale!

Pick a topic that made the news not long ago: Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a onetime presidential contender in France, resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund — after he was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in Manhattan!

How would your favorite writer handle that one? Think, for example, Larry Light, Alafair Burke, Hank Ryan or Jenny Milchman…

You ponder for a moment and YOUR brain tells you at once which authors might tackle that theme!

And which might NOT!

Or food poisoning at the Mayo Clinic. Again, you can imagine some writers taking on that one and some not touching it with a ten-foot pen!

Back to Mr. Strauss-Kahn… There were many real-life issues in his alleged crime… He was also accused of involvement in a prostitution ring in Lille, France. A Serbian high level official said Mr. S-K's history had no bearing on the guy's financial expertise. That questioning Mr. S-K's economic acumen would be like questioning Pablo Picasso's powers as an artist because of his treatment of women!

Which writers on your FAVE list would do the job?

Maybe you yourself!!!

Crime, whatever the genre, color, size, type, location, is brain food for you and your fellow writers.

A crime novelist is: A hunter, always on the prowl for tasty prey…

A homo sapiens with a big brain, gigantic insight, gift of gab and ability to draw and hold an avid audience.

What kind of crime/scene/action/character tugs at your cerebral head strings?

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mike Welch Comes Home

Day 14

I am exhausted. I was able to get Netflix streaming on my Kindle last night, and watched Sherlock. It was the best part of my day, being so tired. I have been walking the city today for what seems like hours. I don’t want to sit down for some reason. I would feel like a loiterer. Finally, I have a beer at a sidewalk café, and converse with a Norwegian business woman about this and that. There is no romance in the air, and I am sad. Vienna by yourself can be a downer, even in November.

In another bar, a guy and his wife are eyeing me. For a threesome? He seems effete, a fop, wearing a too fey scarf ascot thing, and she has on a leather skirt and sexy stockings she should have stopped wearing 20 years ago. Finally, he comes over and explains he manufactures little writers’ notebooks like the one I am writing in. He gives me one.

Day 15

On the train back, I get a Polish girl in my compartment whom I find eyeing me suspiciously every time I look up. I wish I knew how to say I am not a pervert or a rapist on Polish, but I don’t. Weird dreams, even without the Slavic political arguments, and then we are back in Katowice. 5 am I get off the train, and take a wrong turn and end up in the red light district. People are still drinking, and one vomits in the street outside a club named Sex. Now that is creative. Somehow I get back on a street I recognize, and make it back to the hotel. If you lug a back pack a long way, you get sore in weird places, in your hips, feet and shoulders. And if you walk around in sweaty clothes you get chafed in some surprising spots too.

Spent the whole day in my room. Everyone else is in Warsaw at some Chopin concert. I have to admit to myself I think it is pretty cool I went off by myself like that. I know, I know, it wasn’t like I went into the Heart of Darkness or anything, or like I survived in the jungle with a compass and a Swiss army knife, but I did it. Have to go back to normal life tomorrow. Another eight hours crammed into a seat made for a human half my size. And I will have to make my own meals again. No room service, waiters, tour guides—I’ll have to guide myself through life again. This has been fun—I don’t know if any great lessons have been learned, but fun. I do see that there are other ways to live. More economical and ecologically minded, more thoughtful and slower-paced, with more of an emphasis on beauty. And maybe less assurance of our very rightness in the world. They say that a journey without is also a journey within. I don’t know, that is kind of a cliché, but I did learn that I have a taste for travel, and that I enjoyed the quirky comfort of my companions more than I thought I would. Maybe when I retire I will do more of this kind of thing, but like a Hobbit, I think I am going to enjoy the little comforts of my hidey-hole of a home when I get back.

Today, Lufthansa went on strike. I am glad. I don’t want to go home. I like being a stranger in a strange land, and I like being part of this merry band of weird pilgrims. At home, I will be back to the old grindstone, and being ground down with the loneliness of being a 53 year old bachelor. I know, there are a lot worse things, but still, it sucks.

Been back at work for two days now, exaggerating my adventures. It has been fun having people ask me about them. Like it has been fun writing for this blog. Life does indeed move on, both when we want it to and when we don’t.

© 2015 Mike Welch

Friday, December 25, 2015

Strained Credulity

One of the annoying aspects of modern life, especially around the time of the holidays, is the proliferation of signs in shop windows urging us to Believe.

In what? I ask myself. There's a particularly gooey one in the window of a local real estate agency. Believe, it says, in red letters with sparkles and curlicues. In the future of riverside real estate, I guess. Or in the benevolence of your fellow man. Parked nearby is a Florida geezer car covered with cranky bumper stickers. Hilary Lies! says one of them. Well, of course she does. Is she not a politician? Are not her lips moving? They all lie. So what?

That an angry old white man from Florida would not understand this seems sort of pathetic to me. Grow up, old man. It's the way of the world. Forty years or so ago I was married to a man who wasn't Harold. One day about the time of the breakup I realized that it was futile to converse with him, because all he would say was whatever he wanted me to believe. Most people in public life are the same way. After they talk to you, you know nothing you didn't know before except what they want you to think.

If you want Truth, you have to dig for it. It helps to have a solid education. Children should be taught what facts are all about, and to trust their own informed judgment. It helps even more to have trustworthy, hard-working journalists uncovering the things we need to know. An enlightened populace is supposed to be running this country, after all.

Belief is charming, but it's important to know what's real. Once when I was little my sister and I played a game where we blindfolded ourselves and walked around in my grandmother's front yard. I walked into a large elm tree. I had a bump on my head for days. Yet another useful lesson.

Instead of a sign that says Believe, I would post one that says Keep Your Eyes Open. Or even, Study. It may not be as much fun as Believing. It's certainly more work. But for getting through life successfully, it's a lot more effective.

So this is my wish for you for the holidays, and for the coming year: May you study hard and learn things you never knew before. May your eyes always be open. May you find the Truth. May it be nothing you can't stand to hear.

© 2015 Kate Gallison