2022 in reading

Everything sucks, the world’s a nightmare, my productivity is in the toilet etc. But I decided I’d better get around to writing about what I read last year, seeing as how it’s almost February already.

I read 213 books in 2022. A lot of them were true crime books. I really like Ryan Green’s “creative nonfiction” true crime stories about serial killers and the like. They’re all available on Kindle for cheap, and they’re all pretty short, usually under 200 pages. I like Robert Keller’s true crime books for the same reason. I read 16 Ryan Green books this year (if you count his Twelve From Hell anthology as twelve books, which I did, since it’s an anthology of twelve of his books). I read nine books by Robert Keller.

As far as true crime books that were not by Robert Keller or Ryan Green, I read several really good ones. I’m still gradually working my way through the Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths series; I read twelve of them this year. Some notable other true crime books:

  • The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro. This is about the deaths of two teenage girls in northern India, and the investigation and the fallout. It tells the story basically in real time, so the reader finds out stuff at the same time everyone else does. If you’re not familiar with the way things are in India, fear not: the book explains. Let me warn you, though: as intriguing as this story was, it was really hard to get through. It starts with the discovery of the dead girls, with the assumption that it was a double rape-homicide, but the actual truth of the matter is even worse than a double rape-homicide if you ask me.
  • Love as Always, Mum xxx by Mae West. The author isn’t the famous actress from the 1950s, but rather the oldest daughter of serial killer couple Fred and Rose West, who had murdered several young women as well as two of their own children. Mae writes about her bleak childhood and her obviously troubled relationship with her mother. (Fred suicided after his arrest. Rose is still alive in prison.) It’s only 99 cents on Kindle right now and it was very good, very enlightening.
  • Burke and Hare: The Year of the Ghouls by Brian Bailey. I have read several books about the Burke and Hare murders but thought this one to be the best. There are a lot of misconceptions and myths surrounding the story and Bailey makes short work of them.
  • Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy by Tim Cahill. I’ve read a couple of books about Gacy and this, I think, showed the most accurate picture of how he actually thought, how twisted his mind was.
  • Boys Enter the House: The Victims of John Wayne Gacy and the Lives They Left Behind by David Nelson (which actually will be on the 2023 list cause I was still reading it when 2022 came to an end). As the title indicates, the book wasn’t so much about the murders of Gacy’s victims so much as the lives they led, and what ultimately caused them to stray into Gacy’s path. I really like reading stories about the victims of crime, since they are so often ignored. Also, I used this book as a source of info for two cases I added to the Charley Project recently, and two days later the author emailed me. He’s a fan of mine apparently. Well, I’m a fan of his.
  • Violette Noziere: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris by Sara Maza. Violette was a sixteen-year-old Parisian girl who poisoned her father. At first it appeared she’d done it because she was rebellious and her dad wasn’t letting her go out and do all the things she wanted to do, like visit boys and stay out late. But then Violette claimed the murder had actually been to stop her father’s sexual abuse, which she said had been ongoing since she was twelve. Unfortunately, this was the 1930s and society was not ready to believe that a seemingly respectable man could be a sexual abuser. Even after she told the police where to find some physical evidence, she still was not believed. The book is as much about life in 1930s Paris as it was about the murder case, and I found myself skipping over some parts that seemed irrelevant and uninteresting, but the story itself was interesting.
  • Death at Wolf’s Nick: The Killing of Evelyn Foster by Diane Janes, about the mysterious 1931 unsolved death by fire of taxi driver Evelyn Foster, an unmarried woman in her twenties. It was kind of a laborious read. The issue was that the police, due to misogyny and incompetence, decided this wasn’t really a murder, so the author had to prove that it was. And there was lots of talk about what cars were at which specific spots on the road at what specific time. It was quite intriguing though and I admire the author’s diligence, and also the fact that unlike many authors of books on unsolved murders, she didn’t claim to have solved the case.

I also read some Holocaust books, of course. Some notables:

  • Escapees: The History of Jews Who Fled Nazi Deportation Trains in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands by Tanja von Fransecky. About the Jews who somehow found the chance, and the courage, to jump from the death trains that were en route to Auschwitz, Sobibor etc. It had some absolutely thrilling stories in there.
  • A Drastic Turn of Destiny by Fred Mann, a memoir of his surviving the Holocaust in France and Belgium as a teenager. I was impressed by how mature Fred was, though in large part the war conditions forced him to grow up fast. At one point, he was wearing his Boy Scout uniform and I guess he was the only person present in a uniform, because they put him in charge of a small refugee camp of 50 people. He was only like fifteen years old, but he got the camp up and running smoothly. Most books in the Azrieli series of Holocaust survivors’ memoirs are good.
  • “If we had wings we would fly to you”: A Soviet Jewish Family Faces Destruction, 1941–42 by Kiril Feferman. The book is about one extended family of Russian Jews and how they survived, or didn’t survive, the Holocaust. So much of it came down to luck. And so many families endured the same things; we only know in the details of that one’s suffering because their correspondence survives.

Some other notable books I read this year:

  • Urological Oddities by Wirt Bradley Dakin. Just a collection of incredibly weird things various urologists have discovered throughout their career. It was written in the 1940s and besides the stories being grossly fascinating, it’s also an interesting relic of that era. Some parts, for example, were breathtakingly racist. I read it cause I got really into medical stories this past year and saw this book mentioned as a good example of great medical stories. One, I recall, was of a woman who would go to the hospital with kidney stones every time there was a family fight. At one point, after a fight with her husband, she spent five days in the hospital waiting for the stones to pass, then he finally came to visit her and I guess they made up because the woman claimed to have passed some stones. They were, in fact, chunks of brick.
  • The Call the Midwife trilogy by Jennifer Worth. I actually liked the TV show better, but the trilogy was pretty good. I’m really glad we don’t have workhouses anymore.
  • Abandoned Women: Scottish Convicts Exiled Beyond the Seas by Lucy Frost. In England it used to be that if you were caught shoplifting (or any of a large number of what seem like minor offenses to my 21st-century eyes) you could be transported to Australia (which might as well have been the moon; it took months to get there). This book studies the lives of some specific women from Scotland who were sent to Australia. Some of them actually came out the better for it and became prosperous. Some of them, on the other hand, did not.
  • Nightmares of an East Prussian Childhood: A Memoir of the Russian Occupation by Ilse Stritzke. This was the last book I finished in 2022. The author was eleven years old when the Red Army “liberated” Germany. Although her family tried to protect her, she saw and went through a lot of stuff. But she tells her story matter-of-factly, without self-pity.

MP of the week: Samiya Haqiqi

This week’s featured missing person is Samiya Haqiqi, a 24-year-old Afghan immigrant and law student at Quinnipiac University who disappeared from Queens, New York on November 12, 1999. She is described as Asian, with black hair and brown or hazel eyes, 5’5 to 5’6 tall and 128 pounds. She went by the nickname Sammy. She was last seen wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, black platform boots, a baseball cap and a gold and diamond ring.

Authorities believe Samiya was killed by her boyfriend, Fahid “John” Popal, after she rejected his marriage proposal. In 2006, Fahid was sentenced to 26 years in prison for murder. His brother Farhad “Frank” Popal pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution.

Samiya’s body has never been found.

Back. Sorry.

So I felt a bit burned out and it was Christmas and I thought I’d take a bit of time off, to correspond with my husband’s vacation time from his job. Then it turned out I was more burned out than I thought because it was hard to get going again.

Some people got concerned about me. Sorry. I am fine and didn’t mean for anyone to worry.

I had an okay Christmas although Snowmaggedon meant I missed both my and my husband’s Christmas Eve festivities.

Patrick the dog has been the biggest feature in the past month, as we are getting used to each other. A friend gave me an Embark doggy DNA test and Embark says Patrick is 100% Korean Village Dog, not a Jindo mix as the shelter had thought. Essentially he’s a mutt, but a particular type of mutt common in east Asia. I’m not surprised by the DNA result, since I knew he was a meat dog and KVDs are the most common kind of dog used in the meat trade in South Korea. If you Google info on the South Korean dog meat trade you’ll see lots of pics of dogs that look like Patrick.

He chews all kinds of things and I’m constantly having to remove forbidden items from his mouth. He even ate a windowsill! Things with him and the cats are… a work in progress I guess. They don’t like him and I don’t blame them, cause although he’s not aggressive he does get awfully obnoxious around them. He’s been swatted a bunch of times, but no claws yet.

Patrick will be seeing a trainer next week to get his behaviors under control. Wish us luck.

Soooo many missing people were located last year, so many bodies identified. I hope we have an equally good year in 2023.

Stay safe.

MP of the week: Bob Austin

This week’s featured missing person is Bob Perry Austin Jr., a 19-year-old man who disappeared from Jefferson, Louisiana on March 10, 1995. He was, for some reason, “fleeing” Ochsner Hospital, headed in the direction of the levee. He was never seen or heard from again.

Bob is black, 5’10 and 155 pounds, and was last seen wearing green flowered shorts and white socks. No shirt or shoes apparently. I wonder if he was a psychiatric patient who escaped.

Unfortunately that’s all the info I have for this young man. If still alive, he’d be 47 today.

MP of the week: Hattie Jackson

This week’s featured missing person is Hattie Yvonne Jackson, a six-year-old girl who disappeared from Washington D.C. on July 21, 1961. She was black, with black hair and brown eyes, and was last seen wearing a white long-sleeved blouse, brown and white checked shorts, pink sandals and a blue ribbon in her hair.

Hattie was apparently abducted; witnesses saw two men pulling her into a car. For some reason there’s only a description and sketch for one of the men, the driver. He had approached Hattie and some other children earlier that day and offered to give them a ride, but they’d turned him down.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been anything about Hattie in the news for a very long time. I don’t know if any of her relatives are even still alive. I don’t know how seriously the police looked for her in 1961, or if any suspects in her case have ever been identified.

If she is still alive, Hattie would be about 67 years old today.

What’s a barracuda?

So yesterday I was looking for cases on NamUs and found a 1979 one where the missing man was said to be wearing a “blue barracuda” at the time he disappeared.

I was very confused because as far as I knew, a barracuda was a species of fish and nothing else. I wondered if they actually meant a balaclava, a type of ski mask.

I googled it and discovered Barracuda is a clothing company, but they make all kinds of clothes and I don’t think the company existed in 1979.

I called my mom, who was a grown woman in 1979, and asked if she had any idea what it could be. She did not, but told me a Barracuda is also a type of car. This was an interesting factoid but not very useful information.

I shrugged and posted the question to social media. In the meantime, I posted the case but omitted the barracuda from the clothing description.

Social media provided several answers (I learned that Barracuda is a name for an email screening software) but the only one that made any sense was from someone who asked their father and was told that sometimes back in those days, denim jackets were referred to as barracudas.

This is a pretty good example of why police reports shouldn’t use slang terms or regionalisms. Because people outside that particular time and place may have NO IDEA what they are.

I think my office dog likes it here

So Patrick the Charley Project Dog has been here ten days and I think he likes it:

When not walking around grinning like a very happy doofus he’s being an exhibitionist:

He is QUITE the chewer and my husband and I have been forced to pick up most of our clutter lest he destroy it. I’ve gotten him a lot of dog toys and chews (rawhide, deer bones, pig ears etc), but his favorite toy seems to be a dollar-store Tupperware lid.

When not chewing he likes to annoy his cat sisters. He wants so much to be friends. And perhaps he could be, but he’s so darn pushy about it. He sees Aria or Viola and is like “FREN!!!” and goes gallumphing towards them wanting to sniff them all over and give them kisses, and they’re like “Hiss off, you big clumsy oaf.” They are not afraid of him but they ARE immensely irritated.

I plan to address both the chewing and the cat-bothering when I enroll him in obedience classes after Christmas.

Patrick is a very good boy and excellent company. He follows me from room to room. I’ve joined some online groups for Korean Jindo owners and apparently his temperament and friendly trusting nature are pretty unusual for a Jindo. He’s incredibly sweet and I’m absolutely smitten.

Added a bunch of Virgin Islands cases today

Today I added twelve (as of this writing) cases from the U.S. Virgin Islands, working off this list of cases that came out in November. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find enough photographs and information to make casefiles for each of the names on that list.

Most of the people missing from the USVI are persons of color, which makes sense because the general population of the territory is mostly black and Hispanic.

I think it’s telling that the most famous missing persons cases from there–Hannah Upp, Sarm Heslop and Lucy Schuhmann–are all white women and none of them are originally from the USVI. Hannah moved there a few years prior to her disappearance to take a teaching job, and Sarm and Lucy were both tourists. There are quite a few islanders missing but very little press about those cases. Missing White Woman Syndrome strikes again.

I haven’t added Sarm to the Charley Project yet. I expect I’ll get to her tomorrow or something. Hannah I added in 2019. It’s likely she had another dissociative fugue state and went to the water like she had always done, and this time her luck ran out and she drowned. Why she moved to the USVI, when she knew she’d had repeated episodes of losing herself and turning up in water, is a mystery to me. If I were her I would have moved to someplace very far away from any body of water larger than a puddle.

A few years ago I actually spoke to one of Hannah’s island acquaintances on the phone and I asked her if it was possible for a person to go missing without a trace and without leaving the islands, since they’re so tiny. She said it was extremely possible due to the thick jungle terrain. She told me a story about a sheep or something that went missing and how its body was found months later; it had been lying unburied within yards of its home the entire time but nobody had found it before because of how thick the vegetation is there.

Boy in the Box identified; name to be announced tomorrow

If you haven’t already heard, last week the police announced they’d finally identified the Boy in the Box, a young boy aged approximately three or seven years old whose naked, malnourished, beaten body was found in a cardboard box in the woods in Philadelphia back in 1957.

I didn’t think they’d ever be able to put a name to him, frankly, though I know they have tried very hard over the years. But genetic genealogy has been a game-changer for so many cold cases and apparently this was one of them.

They will be announcing the child’s name at a press conference scheduled for 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.

I’m not sure why they’re waiting to announce his name. Maybe there’s a suspect who’s still alive and they’re trying to track that person down before they make the announcement? Or maybe they’re trying to locate and notify next of kin? Word is he came from a “prominent” family, whatever that means.

I’m so happy that they’ve been able to find out his name. I know many people from law enforcement and from the wider community have worked so hard on this case over the past 65 years.

MP of the week: Kevin Lenting

This week’s featured missing person is Kevin Edward Lenting, a 41-year-old man who disappeared from Mason County, Washington on October 3, 2009. Three days later, his truck was found abandoned at a bridge near a campground.

Lenting was having issues at the time of his disappearance: he had a history of abusing heroin, his family thinks he suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness or illnesses, and police believe he was suicidal. Yet there’s no hard evidence he took his own life. He’s just gone. If still alive, he might be among the homeless population.

Lenting is white and 6’3 with a medium to heavy build (there’s a large weight range, 185 to 240 pounds), with graying brown hair and blue eyes. If still alive he’d be 54 today.