Suspended Justice

Some good stuff from the folks over at the Indiana Daily Student:

Katie Mettler:

HE’D ALREADY BURNED HIS PRISON JUMPSUIT AND SECURED A NEW DRIVER’S LICENSE. He’d put back on his finger the wedding ring he wasn’t allowed to wear in prison, the ring his wife gave him before they said he murdered her and their children.

Two juries had convicted him. Then, in October, a third jury acquitted him. Now, he had returned to the house where he grew up, but he still wasn’t free. Camm felt the staring eyes and feared the threats. In his hometown, the 49-year-old was still known as the monster who’d gunned down his family.

As Dr. Phil droned on the television in the living room, there came a knock at the door. Reporters. Camm welcomed them inside, but when they offered handshakes, he opened his arms instead.

“Oh,” he said, smiling. “I’m a hugger.”

American Dad

Michael J. Mooney:

When Rafael Cruz walks into the VIP room at the River Plantation Country Club, there’s  a  spontaneous round of applause.

People who were sipping strawberry punch and nibbling on cheese and crackers put down their plates and cups and gravitate toward the bespectacled 74-year-old pastor. He has just arrived in Conroe, a suburb north of Houston.

The room is full of conservative politicians and powerful campaign donors. There are elected judges, state representatives, and candidates for various public offices. Standing at a table in the corner: former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Making small talk with a couple from Houston: Barbara Cargill, the chair of the Texas Board of Education. But everyone here wants to talk to Rafael. They want to shake his hand and have their pictures taken with him. They want to thank him for all he’s done, for the beliefs he espouses, for the way he raised his son. They tell him they are praying for him, and for Ted.

Throughout it all, Rafael maintains a gracious—if uncomfortable—smile. He takes business cards. He tries to learn names, and the names of spouses. He sees someone he recognizes and reminisces about a campaign he worked on years ago against Lloyd Bentsen. A younger man compliments Cruz’s keen memory. A woman tells him, “We’re blessed to have you with us tonight.”

Kidd Kraddick’s Big Secret

Jamie Thompson:

On the last night of his life, Kidd Kraddick picked out a stranger on a street corner in the French Quarter. It was a broiling evening last July in New Orleans. Kraddick had just left an oyster bar and had spotted the man selling pirated DVDs out of his trunk. Kraddick’s small entourage, a collection of friends and business partners, walked past the young man, nodding politely. But Kraddick stopped.

What are you doing? Why are you selling these? Don’t you know that’s illegal?

Kraddick’s friends, waiting for him, were annoyed, eager to get on with their evening. But that’s what made Kraddick one of the most successful radio hosts in the country—always asking questions, familiar with strangers, forever in search of a story. For decades, he had been plucking people out of crowds and putting them on the air, sometimes even giving them jobs. Kidd Kraddick in the Morning, broadcast from Kraddick’s own studio in Irving, was a ratings juggernaut that was syndicated across the country. He’d built that radio empire by taking an interest in normal people like the DVD hawker, changing their lives.

Lately, though, Kraddick had been making changes in his own life. At 53, he’d proposed to his girlfriend, who was 21 years younger. He’d apologized to his 23-year-old daughter for using her life as material on his show, sometimes without thinking about how it affected her. He had also begun to craft a succession plan to keep his radio show and his beloved charity operating after he was gone.

Speak No Evil

In case you missed it in the comments, here’s a three-part series from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Joan Garrett McClane: Her son’s body was left splayed on a road where the streetlights were broken.

If anyone knew why, they weren’t telling.

So Shonda Mason picked through the weeds that climbed over the jagged asphalt. She searched the leafy overgrowth swallowing a fence. She ran fingers over dirt to find the cave of a bullet hole.

She knelt to study the stains on the street.

Bushes revealed nothing.

The blood had washed away.

Rap. Rap. Rap.

She pounded on the back door of one of the houses that butt against the street.

Rap. Rap. Rap.

She imagined eyes behind the peephole, someone peeling blinds apart to see her face. No answer.

A woman drove up next door, and Shonda ran to the car.

“We was trying to find the spot where my son got killed,” she said, leaning in through the stranger’s window.

“He was laying in the street,” the driver said. That was all she would say.

Five months after Shonda’s 18-year-old son was found dead, his murder remained unsolved. His file sat within a stack of cases of other dead black teenagers, cases without evidence because witnesses wouldn’t talk.

The War Next Door

Mike Hixenbaugh: VIRGINIA BEACH

The man in the grainy surveillance footage strides through the sleepy cul-de-sac with purpose, like someone in command of his own destiny.

Freeze the frame, zoom in close. His eyes tell a different story: wide, unblinking, confused.

He has lost all control.

The disabled veteran had been coming unhinged for months. Security cameras installed by his neighbors captured him that night as he hit bottom.

It was about 1 a.m., a few days after Thanksgiving last year.

He had come to spray paint their houses. Earlier in the week, he had shattered their car windows. Later, he was prepared to take more drastic measures – whatever it took to send a message.

He was convinced that the residents of Loveland Lane were working for terrorists, and he wanted to punish them.

It pained him to go this route.

This same street is where the former Navy Seabee discovered his passion for cycling after being medically discharged from the military. It’s where he battled post-traumatic stress disorder, kicked his addiction to pain meds and overcame depression. It’s where he met his best friends and fell in love.

Ted Olsen had planned to spend the rest of his life in this neighborhood.

Now the voices were telling him to burn it to the ground.

Christmas Books!

For your booklovers, here are a few from our friends from this year.


The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese, by Michael Paterniti.

In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.

It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. . . .

By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale–like place where the villagers conversed with farm animals, lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, and made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.

What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.

Equal parts mystery and memoir, travelogue and history, The Telling Room is an astonishing work of literary nonfiction by one of our most accomplished storytellers. A moving exploration of happiness, friendship, and betrayal, The Telling Room introduces us to Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, an unforgettable real-life literary hero, while also holding a mirror up to the world, fully alive to the power of stories that define and sustain us.


Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness, by Neil Swidey.

A quarter-century ago, Boston had the dirtiest harbor in America. The city had been dumping sewage into it for generations, coating the seafloor with a layer of “black mayonnaise.” Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as “beach whistles.”

In the 1990s, work began on a state-of-the-art treatment plant and a 10-mile-long tunnel—its endpoint stretching farther from civilization than the earth’s deepest ocean trench—to carry waste out of the harbor. With this impressive feat of engineering, Boston was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin. But when bad decisions and clashing corporations endangered the project, a team of commercial divers was sent on a perilous mission to rescue the stymied cleanup effort. Five divers went in; not all of them came out alive.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents collected over five years of reporting, award-winning writer Neil Swidey takes us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and investigators involved in the tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut, action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying DJ Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments as they head into the tunnel, sentencing one of them to death.

An intimate portrait of the wreckage left in the wake of lives lost, the book is also a morality tale. What is the true cost of these large-scale construction projects, as designers and builders, emboldened by new technology and pressured to address a growing population’s rapacious needs, push the limits of the possible? This is a story about human risk—how it is calculated, discounted, and transferred—and the institutional failures that can lead to catastrophe.

Suspenseful yet humane, Trapped Under the Sea reminds us that behind every bridge, tower, and tunnel—behind the infrastructure that makes modern life possible—lies unsung bravery and extraordinary sacrifice.


Pickett’s Charge, by Charles McNair.

A comedy, a tragedy. Threadgill Pickett, veteran of the Civil War, breaks out from an Alabama old folks home and starts a quest northward to kill the last living Union Soldier. This is to avenge his brother, who was needlessly killed by Union soldiers, outside of any conflict. On his journey Threadgill encounters two brothers building a time machine, a trio of Klu Kluxers, a man collecting raccoons that turn out to be rabid, a wannabe country singer, and a truck-driving woman to make men stand in awe. He also encounters a Utopian society of blacks and whites who share family, food, love, and grief.


Thank You For Your Service, by David Finkel

The wars of the past decade have been covered by brave and talented reporters, but none has reckoned with the psychology of these wars as intimately as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel. For The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the infamous “surge,” a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed them all forever. In Finkel’s hands, readers can feel what these young men were experiencing, and his harrowing story instantly became a classic in the literature of modern war.

In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel has done something even more extraordinary. Once again, he has embedded with some of the men of the 2-16—but this time he has done it at home, here in the States, after their deployments have ended. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like—not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done.

The story Finkel tells is mesmerizing, impossible to put down. With his unparalleled ability to report a story, he climbs into the hearts and minds of those he writes about. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of these two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?


Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America, by Jason Fagone.

In 2007, the X Prize Foundation announced that it would give $10 million to anyone who could build a safe, mass-producible car that could travel 100 miles on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas. The challenge attracted more than one hundred teams from all over the world, including dozens of amateurs. Many designed their cars entirely from scratch, rejecting decades of thinking about what a car should look like.

Jason Fagone follows four of those teams from the build stage to the final race and beyond—into a world in which destiny hangs on a low drag coefficient and a lug nut can be a beautiful talisman. The result is a gripping story of crazy collaboration, absurd risks, colossal hopes, and poignant losses. In an old pole barn in central Illinois, childhood sweethearts hack together an electric-powered dreamboat, using scavenged parts, forging their own steel, and burning through their life savings. In Virginia, an impassioned entrepreneur and his hand-picked squad of speed freaks pool their imaginations and build a car so light that you can push it across the floor with your thumb. In West Philly, a group of disaffected high school students come into their own as they create a hybrid car with the engine of a Harley motorcycle. And in Southern California, the early favorite—a start-up backed by millions in venture capital—designs a car that looks like an alien egg.

Ingenious is a joyride. Fagone takes us into the garages and the minds of the inventors, capturing the fractious yet beautiful process of engineering a bespoke machine. Suspenseful and bighearted, this is the story of ordinary people risking failure, economic ruin, and ridicule to create something vital that Detroit had never pulled off. As the Illinois team wrote in chalk on the wall of their barn, “SOMEBODY HAS TO DO SOMETHING. THAT SOMEBODY IS US.”


The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life, by Stephen Rodrick.

On November 28, 1979, squadron commander and Navy pilot Peter Rodrick died when his plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. He was just thirty-six and had been the commanding officer of his squadron for 127 days. Eight thousand miles away on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, he left behind a grief-stricken wife, two daughters, and a thirteenyear-old son who would grow up to be a writer—one who was drawn, perhaps inevitably, to write about his father, his family, and the devastating consequences of military service.

In The Magical Stranger, Stephen Rodrick explores the life and death of the man who indelibly shaped his life, even as he remained a mystery: brilliant but unknowable, sacred but absent—an apparition gone 200 days of the year for much of his young son’s life—a born leader who gave his son little direction. Through adolescence and into adulthood, Rodrick struggled to grasp fully the reality of his father’s death and its permanence. Peter’s picture and memory haunted the family home, but his name was rarely mentioned.

To better understand his father and his own experience growing up without him, Rodrick turned to today’s members of his father’s former squadron, spending nearly two years with VAQ-135, the “World-Famous Black Ravens.” His travels take him around the world, from Okinawa and Hawaii to Bahrain and the Persian Gulf—but always back to Whidbey Island, the setting of his family’s own story. As he learns more about his father, he also uncovers the layers of these sailors’ lives: their brides and girlfriends, friendships, dreams, disappointments—and the consequences of their choices on those they leave behind.

A penetrating, thoughtful blend of memoir and reportage, The Magical Stranger is a moving reflection on the meaning of service and the power of a father’s legacy.


Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II, by Wil S. Hylton.

In the fall of 1944, a massive American bomber carrying eleven men vanished over the Pacific islands of Palau, leaving a trail of mysteries. According to mission reports from the Army Air Forces, the plane crashed in shallow water—but when investigators went to find it, the wreckage wasn’t there. Witnesses saw the crew parachute to safety, yet the airmen were never seen again. Some of their relatives whispered that they had returned to the United States in secret and lived in hiding. But they never explained why.

For sixty years, the U.S. government, the children of the missing airmen, and a maverick team of scientists and scuba divers searched the islands for clues. They trolled the water with side-scan sonar, conducted grid searches on the seafloor, crawled through thickets of mangrove and poison trees, and flew over the islands in small planes to shoot infrared photography. With every clue they found, the mystery only deepened.

Now, in a spellbinding narrative, Wil S. Hylton weaves together the true story of the missing men, their final mission, the families they left behind, and the real reason their disappearance remained shrouded in secrecy for so long. This is a story of love, loss, sacrifice, and faith — of the undying hope among the families of the missing, and the relentless determination of scientists, explorers, archaeologists, and deep-sea divers to solve one of the enduring mysteries of World War II.


The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein.

We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals. Or were they?

The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training?
The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research.

In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence.

Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel. He shows why some skills that we assume are innate, like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball or cricket batter, are not, and why other characteristics that we assume are entirely voluntary, like an athlete’s will to train, might in fact have important genetic components.

This subject necessarily involves digging deep into sensitive topics like race and gender. Epstein explores controversial questions such as:

Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced by Africa’s geography?
Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition?
Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they are destined for stardom?
Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain damage, or even death on the field?

Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.

The Manhunt

Christopher Goffard, Joel Rubin and Kurt Streeter: The man emerged from a charcoal-gray pickup and approached the hotel check-in counter. He wanted a room and the Internet pass code. He was 6 feet tall, with a weightlifter’s build and military posture. But he could transform his soft, round face into a picture of amiability. He struck the night manager as personable and disarming.

Inside Room 116 of the Hi View Inn & Suites in Manhattan Beach, he stared at his Facebook page and a lifetime’s worth of grudges. It is not clear how long he had labored on the unusual document on the screen.

It was a rambling, free-associating screed in which he asserted firm opinions on politicians, journalists, comedians and television shows. It was a brew of hatreds, a sustained cry of self-pity and self-justification, and a blueprint.

One touch of a button would make it public, once people knew where to look.

It was 1:15 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 4.


After The Fall

Jessica Contrera: In the days before they buried her, no one knew how not to come undone. Her roommate dropped out of school. Her father kept abruptly needing to leave the room. And her mother, who looked so much like her already, started wearing her daughter’s clothes. In the news and on campus, Rachael Fiege became known as the IU freshman who died at her first college party. The one who never even made it to her first class.

The scene played out in her parents’ minds again and again – Rachael tumbling down the stairs, her friends watching over her through the night, the paramedics trying to save her.

Angi Fiege, her mom, had a recurring nightmare where her daughter was lying on the couch at the party, dying without anyone knowing. Angi saw Rachael struggling to text her for help, trying to say that she wouldn’t make it to morning.

Every time Angi woke, for a fleeting moment, she tricked herself into forgetting. Rachael was just off at school. Maybe today she would call and tell her about dorm food or getting lost on campus.

A second later, Angi would remember.

Chasing Alexander Supertramp

Eva Holland: Alaska’s Teklanika River runs fast and cold. One chilly, drizzly day in early September, I stood on its eastern bank and watched two young hikers strip down to boxer shorts and sneakers, stuff their clothes into drybags and then into backpacks, and attempt to cross. Three more hikers stoked a small fire a few feet away, in case their friends fell in and needed to warm up fast; the plan was for two members of the group to tackle the river first, with the other three following if the first pair succeeded.

Scott Wilkerson settled his pack on his back. Minutes earlier, when the 22-year-old had agreed to go first, he’d joked, “I volunteer as tribute!” Now he turned to me and deadpanned, “I have a good feeling about this.”

I’d traveled to Alaska because I was interested in the so-called “McCandless pilgrims” – people, mostly in their teens and 20s, who came from around the world to hike to the abandoned bus where Christopher McCandless died.

McCandless’ story had first been told in a January 1993 Outside magazine article by Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent.” Three years later, Krakauer’s book-length account, Into the Wild, was published and became a bestseller. The 2007 movie version, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch, brought the story mainstream movie house fame. In the years since, a growing number of hikers inspired by McCandless’ free-spirited idealism have made the journey to Alaska in search of the famous bus. Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 has become a shrine, its rusting shell etched with motivational phrases left by visitors. But the pilgrimage is risky. One hiker died while crossing the Teklanika in 2010, and dozens more – 12 in the summer of 2013 alone – have become lost, hurt or stranded by the rising river and have needed to be rescued by local authorities.

I wanted to find out what kept the pilgrims coming – more than 100 every year, by one local’s estimation – despite the risks. I wanted to see the terrain for myself. And I wanted to hear what the locals thought of the phenomenon. But what I hadn’t bargained for was learning firsthand just how treacherous the pilgrimage could be.