An Unexpected Gem: A Fire Museum!

On Saturdays in Allentown, NJ, the New Jersey Fire Museum and Fallen Firefighters Memorial opens to the public. It may sound a tad remote, but if you’re on the NJ Turnpike (unlucky you) approaching exit 7A, you’re only 4.5 miles away!

It’s a volunteer-run facility, and the time investment and thoughtfulness of the volunteers are evident at every turn. The museum building has an interesting collection of esoterica. You find out how fire alarm boxes work. You find out about “fire grenades” (glass bulbs filled with water or carbon tetrachloride thrown at the base of a presumably small fire. They were outlawed in 1954 not only because of hazardous broken glass, but because burning carbon tet produces phosgene, the deadliest WWI gas). You find out why US firefighters’ helmets have such an unusual shape: the long back brim keeps water from running down inside the firefighters’ collar, and the peaked front, often featuring an animal, can be used to break glass), and much more.

The photo above shows a hand-pumper purchased in 1822 by the Crosswicks (NJ) Fire Department for $100. Damaged at a fire, it was rebuilt in 1850 and still being used in 1922—giving the community more than 100 years of service! The horse-drawn fire wagon pictured below is from 1789, the year George Washington became President. (The flowers seem an unusual touch, though early luxury automobiles sometimes offered bud vases, as did the Volkswagen Beetle, with its blumenvasen.)

A barn adjacent to the museum houses a fantastic collection of mostly vintage fire trucks, mostly restored to dramatic beauty (see more here). Lots of red paint. Clearly a labor of love. Kids (adults too, I suppose) can sit in the driver’s seat. Also there’s a gift shop in the museum. If you’re in the market for a stuffed Dalmatian, you’re at the right place. Another reason kids will enjoy this museum? A roomful of fire trucks and related toys.

The memorial component is woven into mission of the organization. The website includes a list of fallen firefighters, noting nine whose Last Alarm was in 2021, 12 in 2020, and a list of 107 whose service dates back more than 200 years. An area is set aside to honor the 343 firefighters and paramedics killed on 9/11. The memorial itself will be on the Museum grounds, when it’s complete.

I Saw You!–or Maybe I Didn’t

Unease about the growing use of facial recognition technology has clustered around some by now well-known difficulties: inaccurate results when non-white individuals are involved; inadequate training of personnel who “read” the results; adoption of privacy-invading systems without public knowledge or input; inadequate monitoring of accuracy.

Despite these concerns, use of this technology is expanding in law enforcement, border control, airport screening, even business, including retail. Remember Rite Aid? How’s it really being used? What are the benefits as well as the unintended consequences? These questions create a fertile arena for authors of crime fiction.

Properly implemented, facial-recognition could help make policing more efficient. It has been used to identify a number of the January 6 rioters, whose participation was then verified by other evidence (their own Facebook posts, often). The UK, whose cities are blanketed with camera surveillance, nevertheless still values the human element—a cadre of super-recognizers who “never forget a human face.” That would not be me.

Unfortunately, an identification facilitated by the facial recognition technology sometimes trumps other evidence gathered in more traditional ways. The arrestee’s alibi, for example. No matter how sophisticated the technology becomes, it remains true that a person cannot be in two places at once.

Police departments say the technology is used only to generate leads, and people should not be charged with a crime until there is corroborating evidence. In practice, though, the algorithm’s output often doesn’t mark the beginning of an investigation, but its end. That perception was borne out by a Washington Post story yesterday about. A Texas man has filed a lawsuit against Macy’s (and others) claiming overconfidence in the technology led to his arrest by the Houston police. While in custody, he was sexually assaulted. This is one of a half-dozen ongoing wrongful arrest cases are around the country.

In the U.S., a growing number of state and local law enforcement agencies have available to them the faces of nearly half the adult population. These photos come from various sources—including billions scraped from social media, as well as government-issued I.D. cards, mug shots, driver’s licenses, etc. (In which case I don’t need to worry, because my driver’s license photo looks nothing like me! Though probably it matches up with the eighty or so “nodal points” that define a particular face.) The Georgetown University Law Center’s project on privacy and technology calls this vast database “the perpetual line-up.” And you’re likely in it, no matter how law-abiding you are.

Maybe you’re thinking, “So what? I’m not a criminal. This doesn’t affect me.” At least not until there’s a misidentification. Crime fiction writers should have a field day with this one. It’s one thing in a traffic stop or arrest situation to attempt to verify someone’s identity; it’s quite another to use the database for a fishing expedition after-the-fact. And fish will be caught, possibly using grainy, out-of-focus, out-of-date, candid selfies, to create a list of possible matches. Facebook for a while identified individuals in the photos on our news feeds. My friend’s wife was consistently identified as me. I didn’t think we look at all alike, but the algorithm did, so I understand the reality of misidentifying people.

Police departments in several major American cities are experimenting with street surveillance cameras that can continuously scan the faces of people in real time. More than a whiff of China here. The People’s Daily has reported that China’s facial recognition system needs only one second to scan the faces of its 1.4 billion people.

Warrants aren’t required for a search of facial databases. The investigations aren’t necessarily limited to serious crimes. Defendants may never be told that it was an algorithm, not a human witness, that identified them. People who don’t trust the justice system, may prefer to take a plea deal and never have their case tried in court and face a potentially longer sentence. This means the true rate of false positive identifications is unknowable. All these aspects of the technology and its implementation, good and bad, lend themselves to situations crime writers can exploit.

Graphic by Mike MacKenzie (www.vpnsrus.com) under Creative Commons license 2.0 Generic.

What’s Down There?

In the last few weeks, a Missouri man (described as a “YouTuber”) discovered the car and body of a man missing since 2013 in the waters of a Missouri pond. It reminded me of a New Yorker story last summer titled “Hidden Depths,” by author Rachel Monroe, who dived (sorry!) deep into this particular specialty in the true crime cold case genre—underwater crime-solving.

The story focuses on a group called Adventures with Purpose (AWP). These are volunteer salvage divers who search lakes and rivers for missing cars—sometimes long-missing, and sometimes with the drivers still in them—and share video of their results for a YouTube audience that numbers in the millions. (Yet another massive social trend I’ve completely missed.)

Jared Leisek of Oregon founded AWP in 2018 intending it to feature treasure-hunts, but found it hard to compete with other dive sites that had much bigger audiences. The next year he found two handguns in the water, and a light bulb went off. He could build a bigger audience by focusing on the cold cases and missing persons.

Once he solved the case of missing man Nathaniel Ashby (a video about the discovery has been viewed more than ten million times), AWP was deluged with requests from friends and family members of other missing people. Responses from local law enforcement cover the gamut. Some welcome the help they can’t afford and the resources (dive equipment, trained divers) they don’t have; other not so much. Cause-of-death also varies. Many of the cases are the result of accident or suicide, but some may be actual crimes.

Interestingly, Leisek told Monroe he hates the true-crime community. Perhaps because of its voyeuristic love of sensationalism can lead to excess. As Monroe said, the true-crime fandom has “a tendency to assume that the official story of a tragic death obscures a more horrific reality.”

(Naturally, in the “no secret is secret for long” in the social mediaverse, AWP is criticized on numerous fronts and long-ago accusations that the teenage Leisek raped his cousin emerged, which at least for a time resulted in lost viewership for his YouTube channel.)

The Missouri case was resolved through the work of independent investigator James Hinkle, a local videographer who has his own YouTube channel, Echo Divers. Although there’s room for abuses here, the families Monroe interviewed are grateful that their days of wondering can come to a close.

Photo by Aviv Perets

Killers of the Flower Moon

You think three hours and 26 minutes makes for an awfully long movie? You’re right. Yet, Martin Scorsese’s true-crime epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, completely held my attention throughout (trailer). Even though I knew the story, because I’d read the fascinating book by David Grann that the movie is based on, still there were no saggy lulls. It is time well spent.

The New York Times calls it “An Unsettling Masterpiece,” which recounts the terrible outcomes of white men’s unrelenting, murderous greed when oil is quite unexpectedly discovered on the Oklahoma lands that had been considered so worthless they might as well be given to the Osage tribe.

If I had a complaint, it would be that there was too much attention to Robert DeNiro as the “King of the Osage Hills,” cattleman William Hale. (Hale even asks people to call him “King.”) He gives an excellent performance, but, unlike the other characters, he doesn’t change; he’s the same throughout—a malicious, manipulative, avaricious local operator—and you understand him from the beginning.

Leonardo DiCaprio sets aside any vanity and is neither handsome nor savvy in playing Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew. Because the tribe members are deemed incompetent to manage their assets, they are required to have white guardians. A quick way for a white man to become a guardian is to marry an Osage woman, just as Burkhart marries Mollie Kyle, memorably played by Lily Gladstone. Then if the wife dies . . . you can guess the rest.

Thanks to the oil, in the early 1920s, Osage members were the per capita richest people in the world. Much too tempting a target for undereducated, unprincipled roughnecks. Believe me, you’re grateful when Jesse Pelmons as Tom White, an agent of J.Edgar Hoover’s nascent FBI, appears on the scene.

The movie was filmed on a grand scale in Oklahoma, though there are plenty of intimate, emotion-packed moments in which Mollie and Ernest demonstrate real love for each other. Her penetrating gaze recognizes Hale and Burkhart’s schemes, but loves her husband anyway.

The film is dedicated to Robbie Robertson, whose last project was composing its music.

At the beginning, there is what seems an unnecessary statement by Scorsese about why he made this movie. That opening fits when he gives its closing words as well, bookending the film during a creative approach to telling “what happened next.”

The ill-treatment of indigenous people was one of America’s two greatest original sins and, in the arc of history, this sorry episode was not so very long ago.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 93%; audiences: 85%.

Healing? Old Wounds

Just over a year ago, I heard a lecture by the author of a then-forthcoming book, Judgment at Tokyo, about prosecutions resulting from Japan’s WW II war crimes. We’re all familiar with the Nuremberg trials in Germany, but many people don’t know about the similar, yet more difficult and contentious, post-war effort in the Pacific theater. The book is out now, receiving rave reviews (New York Times; Washington Post), and is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Now, as the fog of war descends over the Mideast, we’re reminded of the value and the difficulty of trying to understand “what really happened.”

Judgment at Tokyo

Last week was the first lecture in a local lecture series on “Crime and Punishment,” which includes both real-life crime (true crime, writ large), and an examination of fictional crime, as in the works of Raymond Chandler and Victor Hugo.

The first lecture, given by Gary Bass, a Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton was about the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal after World War II and is based on a book he’s been researching for years. I don’t know about you, but I was a tabula rasa for this one. If you’d asked me if there was such a tribunal, I would have said, “Uh, probably.” But I wouldn’t have been sure.

It’s interesting (and sad, really), how popular culture has shaped much of our information about post-WWII actions in Europe. We can probably thank Hollywood and Spencer Tracy for that—at least for periodic reminders of those dramatic events–and it’s a shame there hasn’t been an equivalently memorable treatment of the actions and personalities at the Tokyo Tribunal, which went on for twice as long (two and a half years). Though Americans may be marginally aware of it, most certainly the Asian nations that had suffered at the hands of the Japanese occupiers were acutely aware of these proceedings.

For example, China was consumed with memories of the bombings and privations its population had suffered, as well as the Nanjing massacre of 1937, during which more than 200,000 civilians were slaughtered. Post-war Australia and New Zealand were fixated on the grim fates of their captured soldiers whom the Japanese worked to death. Again, popular culture fills in a few blanks, if you remember the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai or Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the 2014 Booker Prize winner.

One of the most interesting personalities involved in the Tokyo trial was Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal (pictured below), who became the only one of the judges who insisted that all the defendants were not guilty, based in part on his questioning of the tribunal’s legitimacy. The interests of Empire and the U.S. use of the atomic bomb meant, to Pal at least, that no one’s hands were clean.He’s still held in high esteem in Japan today.

Europe-based World War II stories are a staple of crime and espionage thrillers. Thinking about the complexities the Tokyo Tribunal exposed, you may see a deep well of new and compelling inspiration.

Reaching across the Black-White Divide

Two Virginia women—one Black, one White—working on their family histories made a serendipitous discovery and the connection that developed between them was much stronger than this 21st century mutual interest. Betty Kilby Baldwin’s ancestors were enslaved by the Kilby family, and Phoebe Kilby’s ancestors were the enslavers. How they met, how they came to terms with the past, and even more important, how they have become a model of racial reconciliation is an inspiring story. They told it in the book they wrote together, Cousins, subject of a discussion sponsored by the Library of Virginia earlier this week.

The power of their story arises in part from what remarkable individuals they are. Together, they’re even more so. Betty grew up outside Front Royal, Virginia. In 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated school integration in Brown vs. Board of Education, little changed at the schools in Warren County. The local school for Black children ended after the seventh grade. After that, they could attend a regional high school established for Blacks that was an hour away. Betty’s older brother was sent there and boarded during the week. After a year of that commute, her father found a closer school—only a half-hour away—for his two oldest sons, but the dilapidated bus the district provided meant service was erratic.

All the while, of course, there was a White high school in the county. Betty and her family made history, along with the families of more than twenty other Black eighth graders by insisting their children be allowed to attend the local Warren County High School. Betty became the lead plaintiff in a court case. Next came bureaucratic foot-dragging, then threats. But they persevered.

The commonwealth of Virginia retaliated against their efforts, in Warren County and elsewhere, with the Massive Resistance Laws and began closing schools rather than integrating them. As a result, 12,700 Virginia children, Black and White, were locked out of a public education. Eventually, of course, Virginia had to comply with federal law. Betty got her education, became a business executive, wrote an autobiography, and received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Shenandoah University.

Phoebe’s journey was quite different. Growing up in a White Baltimore neighborhood with professional parents, she had a career as a consultant on urban and environmental planning. After 9/11, she began to question the wisdom of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Waiting for business meeting with an official of Eastern Mennonite University, she learned the school offered courses in Peacebuilding, Conflict Transformation, and Restorative Justice. Maybe these courses could teach her to be a more effective advocate for peace. This educational process took Phoebe on a long and meaningful journey. When it came to understanding her family’s slave-owning past, she had skills in reconciliation.

Because of their experiences and education and their compassionate approach to the difficult issue of enslavement, after Betty and Phoebe met, they gradually developed a close bond. They work together in the Coming to the Table project, a nationwide initiative with many local affiliates attempting to create a more just and truthful society.

As Betty said, “We’re about the future, not the past.” Pretending slavery didn’t exist isn’t the answer; it only papers over a wound that, without light and air, cannot heal. As Betty wrote in Cousins, “We can’t change the past. All we can do is learn from it and make sure the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated.”

In need of an inspiring story? This is one.

“Bloom Where You’re Planted”: US Presidents in Rural Georgia

Our swing through the southeast included visits to sites associated with two U.S. Presidents—Jimmy Carter and Franklin Roosevelt. It’s refreshing to think about Presidents of the past, on this day especially when a former president will be arraigned on criminal charges. They may have had flaws, but their vision and strength of character brought the country through dark times. Both men valued contact with “ordinary Americans” in rural Georgia and never lost their sincere interest in and connection to them.

We spent a night at the Plains (Georgia) Historic Inn, in Plains, Georgia, which Jimmy and Rosalynn helped refurbish and which was loaded with charm. Each of the seven rooms is decorated in the style of a decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. (It would be a perfect place for a mystery story. The old building’s squeaky floors provide a challenge to anyone trying to sneak up on a victim, and the building’s former use as a funeral home—complete with a special, still-working elevator to move caskets between floors—imparts the right ghostly vibe.) Ellen, the innkeeper, was most welcoming, had breakfast options available, and went above-and-beyond by returning the raincoat I left in the closet. The rooms contained presidential-related memorabilia and some have views of Plains’s Main Street, possibly three blocks long.

The Jimmy Carter National Historical Park includes the visitor’s center, housed in the Carters’ high school (pictured), with numerous displays of their lives and times, plus an excellent video. The Plains Depot museum commemorates its role as Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign headquarters. The boyhood farm, two and a half miles outside town, showed what life was like in 1938, when Carter was 14. Lots of work, starting before dawn and lasting until suppertime. It prepared Jimmy to be hands-on with his aid to Habitat for Humanity. He knows through experience which end of a tool is the working end.

When Carter was a teenager, his uncle in the Navy wrote him letters about his experiences, inspiring Jimmy to attend the Naval Academy. When he first applied, his would-be Senate sponsor said his high school was too small, he’d never make it. So Carter went to Georgia Southwestern College in Americus for a year, excelled, and tried again. Once more, the school was deemed too small, so he went to Georgia Institute of Technology for another year, and again he excelled. More senatorial foot-draggin. After church one Sunday, Carter and his father visited the Senator, unannounced, and talked to him until late that night. Finally, the Senator said, “If you’ll just go home, I’ll put his name in for the next Annapolis opening.” A good lesson in persistence! The news that he has entered hospice care has prompted a lot of reexamination of his career, including how, as a Navy lieutenant, he saved a Canadian nuclear reactor from a catastrophic meltdown.

Warm Springs, Georgia, was a favorite retreat for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the 88-degree spring-fed pools there (now empty and in need of renovation; model pictured–sorry about the reflections!) allowed him some relief from the debilitating effects of polio. In 1927, he founded Roosevelt Warm Springs rehabilitation center to treat polio patients; it continues today as a comprehensive rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. The photographs of him playing with the kids in the water show his love of life, children, and his indomitable spirit.

We also toured the FDR State Historic Site visitors’ center and Little White House. The visitors’ center museum houses a variety of memorabilia, including FDR’s 1938 Ford convertible retrofitted with hand controls, and a large display of canes sent him by supporters. The Warm Springs retreat gave FDR a chance to visit with neighbors in the area’s rural communities and learn about their problems, which inspired some elements of the New Deal. When we were there, in recognition of the concept of service to the country, the museum included an exhibit about military chaplaincy, including commemoration of “The Four Chaplains.”

The Little White House was built in 1932 to make his recuperative stays more feasible, given the demands of the governorship of New York, soon to be superseded by those of the Presidency. The house still displays the chair where he died April 12, 1945, mere weeks before the end of the War in Europe, which he’d worked so hard to bring the country through successfully. That afternoon, he was posing for a portrait by Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff, and the “Unfinished Portrait” is a highlight of the museum.

Also in this Georgia-Alabama travel tips series:
Brushes with Literary Fame (Lee, Capote, O’Connor, and more)

Oscar Shorts: Documentaries

Oscar, Academy Awards
Oscar, Academy Awards

The themes of the Academy Award nominees for short documentary films are universal—parents and children, of whatever species, coming to recognize what’s right, care for the world around us. Three are from US directors, one set in Russia is a UK entry, and one from India.

How Do You Measure a Year? (trailer) – American director Jay Rosenblatt answers that question by following the relationship of a father and daughter as she grows from a toddler to a young woman. The father made home movies every year on her birthday that recorded her answers to the same set of questions. Spoiler alert: Asked at age three what she wanted to do when she grew up, the answer was “wear makeup and chew gum.”

The Elephant Whisperers (trailer)– directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga. In this beautiful nature documentary, a couple in south India takes on the formidable task of caring for an orphaned baby elephant they call Raghu—“a tender and hopeful product.” [Not based on the book, The Elephant Whisperer, set in Africa; and not the same as the movie Elephant Whisperer, set in Thailand.] (You can see it here)

Stranger at the Gate (trailer) – Directed by Joshua Seftel. A returned Marine with PTSD planned to attack Afghan refugees at their Muncie, Indiana, community center and mosque. But fate and faith had a different plan for him, and again, it was a daughter’s influence that mattered. This one was my favorite. (See the whole thing here)

Haulout (trailer) – The UK’s entry, directed by siblings Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev. In the desolation of the Siberian Arctic, marine biologist Maxim Chakilev is waiting to observe the annual migration of the walrus population. He makes the melancholy discovery that warming sea temperatures are forcing the walruses to swim the entire distance, with no ice to rest on, much to their detriment. Have you ever seen 90,000 walruses at one time? Now you can! Just be grateful Hollywood never perfected Smell-O-Vision. (see the whole thing here).

The Martha Mitchell Effect (trailer) – Directed by Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison – Martha was the outspoken wife of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell. She didn’t like what she saw of that administration’s illegal activities with Watergate and said so. They tried to silence her, claiming she was an alcoholic, mentally unstable, and generally damaging her reputation. (But, as Woody Allen once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one’s following you.”) (You can see it here)

Annals of New Jersey Crime, Part 2

Yesterday’s post described the murder of Atlantic County, N.J., man John Kingsbury and the flawed investigation into his death, in which martial arts gym owner Michael Castro was the chief suspect.

Castro’s Day—Make that Decade—in Court

On April 5, 2013, 15 months after John Kingsbury’s murder at his Atlantic County home, the county prosecutor authorized charges of murder and felony murder against Michael Castro. While Castro languished in jail for 15 months, his lawyer diligently picked apart the prosecution’s case. He made plenty of holes in it, and a judge dismissed the murder indictment in June 2014.

In January 2016, the investigators obtained a second murder indictment. By that time, new evidence suggested that two people connected to Castro’s martial arts gym might have committed the crime or participated in it, further muddying the waters. Castro wasn’t jailed this time, but required to wear an ankle monitor for the next 15 months.

A man known to both Castro and his friend Lauren Kohl (whose missing gun apparently was the murder weapon) was driving Kohl’s Jeep Wrangler back and forth near the Kingsbury home shortly before the murder occurred there, and his alibi for the actual presumed time of the murder didn’t hold up. Investigators waited another 19 months to confront him about these actions.

A teenager whom Reporter Rebecca Everett describes as “Castro’s martial arts protégé” matched a witness description of a person seen near the house. He had no alibi for the afternoon of the death. Again the investigators dawdled, and when they asked for the youth’s cellphone data two years later, the company no longer retained it. By May 2017, prosecutors believed they could not win the case against Michael Castro and dropped the charges.

Impact on Michael Castro

Years of uncertainty had taken a toll on Michael Castro. He’d filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2015, put on hold when the second indictment came down. After the dropped charges, his lawyer dug in, finding in his investigation of the investigation “a pattern of deliberate misconduct.”

Such suits rarely succeed, but in 2021, a U.S. District Judge decided the problems were big enough that a jury should decide. New shortcomings in the investigation emerged—failure to document meetings, text exchanges, and steps in the investigation, including interviews and the results of a photo lineup. Those flaws were on top of the mishandling of evidence, inadequate case preparation, and damaging delays.

In a rare outcome in such suits, Castro received a $5 million settlement.

And in the Court of Public Opinion

Castro made a 37-minute YouTube video posted August 2021. In it, he talks about his initial surprise at being considered a suspect, his arrest more than a year later, and his months in jail and with the monitor. He talks about his abusive mother, his absent stepfather, the ten different schools he attended, his military service and resultant PTSD, and his persistent financial problems. Twice accused of murder, yet never convicted, he can’t escape public suspicion.

Says the dead man’s son, Glenn, “The whole thing’s awful. And it’s gonna go on till the day I die. And in theory, it may go on till the day my children die.”

Did Michael Castro get away with murder, or is he another victim?

Parts 1 and 2 of this story are based primarily on reporting by Rebecca Everett for the Trenton, N.J., Times.

Annals of New Jersey Crime

The Trenton, N.J., Times, recently devoted several pages to a true-crime mystery from the Garden State. Reporter Rebecca Everett detailed the investigation and failed prosecutions of the murder of 77-year-old John Kingsbury. Kingsbury died on Super Bowl Sunday 2012 at his home in Mullica, a rural township in New Jersey’s Pinelands area. His son Glenn, who returned home and discovered the body, as well as first responders, thought a fall or stroke accounted for the blood on and around the elderly man’s head. None of them saw the bullet holes from a gun described as “small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.”

Glenn and his girlfriend, Karen Drew, cleaning up, found two spent .380 shell casings and called emergency services immediately. Too late. John died before reaching the hospital, and they had just cleaned up a murder scene. Now, eleven years later, no one has been convicted of John Kingsbury’s murder. Reporter Everett says the cold case is “filled with enough shocking twists, shadowy characters and law enforcement bungling to fill a ‘Knives Out’ sequel.”

Who are John and Glenn Kingsbury?

John Kingsbury was a retired RCA electronics specialist, a member of Mensa, and Korean War veteran who trained K-9s. In shaky health, he’d moved to New Jersey a few months before his death to live with his son. Glenn and Karen own lucrative cheerleading event companies Cheer Tech and Spirit Brands. When they return home after a typical event, they’re holding tens of thousands of dollars in cash. “Anyone who worked with them would know that,” Everett wrote, “Including Michael Castro.”

Robbery seemed the likely motive.

The Crime

John Kingsbury was at home alone when the killer or killers arrived at the family home. There was no weekend’s worth of event receipts, Karen Drew had already taken them to the bank.

Police found no indication of a break-in, and nothing appeared to be missing, but, unexpectedly, the video surveillance system had been disabled. Karen’s suspicion immediately fell on Castro, who she said had been pestering her that afternoon with cell phone calls about her and family members’ whereabouts. What’s more, Castro owed Glenn several thousand dollars, some of which he’d used to set up a mixed martial arts studio.

After the lead detective, Michael Mattioli, interviewed Castro four days after the killing, Castro immediately called a Camden County Sheriff’s Officer he knew, Lauren Kohl. It wasn’t until after she was contacted by Mattioli that Kohl reported two handguns missing from her home.

An Investigation Botched from the Start

The Atlantic County prosecutors worked on the case against Michael Castro for more than a year, in an investigation “torpedoed by errors and oversights,” Everett was told. Among them:

  • Investigators lost track of John’s cellphone, so it couldn’t be analyzed for years
  • They had a warrant to search Castro’s vehicle, but didn’t do it
  • They didn’t ask the medical examiner to estimate the time of the shooting
  • They didn’t collect surveillance footage from area stores that might have confirmed whether Castro (or other possible suspects) were in the area
  • They didn’t subpoena the cellphones of other possible suspects to confirm their locations
  • And, when it appeared one of Lauren Kohl’s missing handguns might be the murder weapon (and eventually was proved to be, on what basis is unclear, as the gun is apparently still missing), it was months before investigators actually followed up with her.

During this period, the prosecutor’s office had internal organizational problems, handing off the Kingsbury murder to three separate lead investigators in just over a year. Months passed between any investigatory actions they logged, with much not logged at all. The cellphone evidence fell apart. Stories changed. New suspects emerged, fogging the investigatory lenses.

Tomorrow: Michael Castro’s Day—Make that Decade—in Court