Homicide as a Steady Diet


When an ordinary person such as myself, through nonstop hard work, rises through the ranks to become a minor public figure based upon my personal tragedy, it gives one pause. Why? First of all, no crime victim or homicide survivor ever signed up for this occurrence. We are unprepared for how we might function on a daily basis. We certainly were not prepared for the long view of life and what twists, turns, hardships and even joys, yes, future joys there would be.

As a passionate person with passionate causes, I am blessed to have a myriad of outlets from which I can deliver my messages. Way back when I was a mere tadpole on the lily pad in Connecticut going from person to person the proverbial skies opened up with opportunities afforded by the likes new people who entered my life, and it has never been the same. From a national advocate, author and radio host, to learning social media and marketing myself from a professional, I was given the step up.

My vessels of expression now include:

However, with this presence comes responsibility. When you achieve a certain degree of success, however you personally define it, one hopes that people respect you for the journey that has been travelled, for your accomplishments, resiliency, intellect, talents and compassion for others.  Regardless of these traits, you travel down the path of least resistance addressing the topics you know best, which in my case happens to be homicide, up close and personal.

Based upon years of experience, meeting others in the same boat, trial and error, and a lot of injustice along the way, I’ve become the authority and serve up various and sundry murder pieces on my blog.  Maybe it’s a reflection of today’s society, but it seems that the public has a veracious appetite for violent crime!

This steady diet thing is akin to being typecast in one role as a famous actor/actress who can never quite shake that persona, past TV show or movie in order to spread their wings and show a diversity of talents. Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Stapleton, are just to name a few.

If I step back and look at it as my alter ego, “Ladyjustice,” I often wonder where my allegiance lies.  Do I give my audience a steady diet of what I perceive that they want, violent crime, just for the sake of gaining readers? No, I think it should be known that I’m multi-dimensional with many interests beyond homicide. I do advocacy work through my employment with persons with disabilities daily. I have more medical experience than most MD’s due to my own health issues and a medical clinical career as a speech-language pathologist for well over 20 years. I have other creative interests and hobbies when I make time to pursue them.

Another dilemma is what many crime victims hear from the outside world that dreaded refrain from those who don’t really understand (and sometimes even in our own immediate families). “It’s been X amount of time, isn’t it time to move on now?” This phrase cuts like a knife to some of us who’ve experienced the injustice of being a victim of crime. But, to be perfectly honest, many of us have found a niche. We, in fact, don’t ever think of moving on, as the frame of reference is always moving up to bigger and better things that fulfill our passions at the time.

Parting words to my audiences – go with the flow; you just might enjoy the ride if homicide is not always the main entrée!


  Solving the Puzzle – The ‘How’ of Death

How and why of death

If I had to take an educated guess, victims’ families are most interested in the “how” of death, followed by the “why,” which may or may not be revealed or known over time.

When a detective, criminologist or medical examiner reports for work each day, chances are, they are confronted with the four pronged question that is referred to as the manner of death.

  1. Natural Causes – when the body ceases to function on its own without mitigating medical factors.
  2. Homicide – the generic term to describe when one person kills another, regardless of whether or not there was intent.  Murder- Is more specific and deals with the malicious intent to commit a killing. All murder is homicide, but not all homicide is murder. 
  3. Accidental Death – This category can include an involuntary manslaughter, the unintentional killing of another person, first or second degree murder, the accidental killing resulting in recklessness, criminal negligence or the commission of a misdemeanor or low-level felony.
  4. Suicide – the intentional taking of one’s life caused by extreme emotional distress brought on by severe depression. This can take many forms such as hanging, drug overdose, slashing of wrists, vehicular collision, jumping from a bridge, etc.

Regarding homicide, I could list recent statistics that I researched for this blog, but decided against it, as numbers are only numbers and do not reflect the manner, the why or the human back stories. As for suicide, I have discussing this topic in greater depth on Shattered Lives Radio.  However, a recent reference from USA Today tries to illuminate homicide and some of the relevant factors depending upon the city in question.  It also includes a revealing chart that says a million words.

Examples – The Manner of Death –What do the experts in the field say?

Dr. Michael Baden-“Our work is different from that of the hospital pathologists who autopsy bodies to study the ravages of disease. Our methods are different from those of doctors who care for the living and whose concern is more the treatment than the cause. 

We want to know how the knife went in, from above or below, and where the person who wielded it was standing; which bullet hole was the entrance and which the exit and where the shot came from. Medically, these things may be irrelevant, but in a courtroom they are extremely significant in deciding the cause and manner of death and reconstructing how it happened.”

Dr. Cyril Wecht- A high-profile case in Pittsburg in which a medical researcher with the University of Pittsburg,  accused of using Cyanide poisoning to kill his wife by inserting it in her energy drink. Dr. Cyril Wecht weighed in on the shoddy work in which the manner of death should have been “undetermined.”

In the end, in November 2014, Dr. Ferrente was found guilty of poisoning his wife and received a sentence of life without parole. Dr. Wecht was being objective initially in his “undetermined” manner of death, but it appears the jury relied on the science in this case as well to reach their verdict.

Jurors said the key factors in their decision included the level of cyanide in Dr. Klein’s blood, Dr. Ferrante’s changing stories during testimony, and his numerous Google searches on cyanide and cyanide poisoning.

“Obviously there was cyanide in the blood and we took into consideration all sides and the main consideration was the 2.2 cyanide level,” jury foreman Brian Maitz, of Ross, said. “We determined that was the best test we could have and the lady that delivered the test has been there 37 years. That was a crutch right there that I knew she was doing her job.

Dr. Jan Garavaglia – Weighing in on the manner of death in the Casey Anthony Case.  This is fascinating testimony as to how homicide was determined.

Dr. G. more than held her own using her skills, medical knowledge and ability to relate her findings clearly. Unfortunately, a cause of death could not be determined with certainty.


Does knowing the “how or why” help families to sleep better at night?

In general, probably not.  But, I would say that unanswered questions are comparable to slow torture, and, therefore, are of utmost importance to the families who are left behind.

Additional references:



Safe and Found: Who Comes to Look for You?

Safe and Found Cover

        A Very Special Project – When children are missing, who comes to look for you?

How to reach children? How to teach children in the most effective way about the perils and the positives of the world?  In the past there have been a variety of programs such as “stranger danger,” “Just Say No” the DARE Program, “McGruff, Take a Bite Out of Crime Dog” and others.

However, when it comes to missing persons, children need to know that the boys in blue or those with the bright red fire truck don’t do it all.

Monica Caison, Founder of the Cue Center for the Missing based in Wilmington, NC, conceptualized an educational, illustrative activity book.  Safe and Found not only identifies what those who search and rescue do, but also teaches children about trust.

Monica Caison, CUE Center for Missing Persons, Donna R. Gore

Monica Caison

The easy to read book features word games and a quiz to test a child’s knowledge and topic suggestions for further discussion.  The 23 page book, Safe and Found is a treasure in that it has the potential to engage children from kindergarten through 5th grade and beyond in a variety of ways. It accomplishes this through reading, active listening, coloring, doing word games and stimulating discussion.

The content is presented in terms familiar to children, discussing getting lost, the feelings surrounding it, sights and sounds a child may hear in the process of rescue. Safe and Found explains search and rescue equipment, the vehicles used, search animals, and advice about getting lost in a crowd.  Most importantly, there are comforting reassurances for children on every page, up to the point where they are reunited with parents.

The section Tips on Trust helps children define a true stranger, the circumstances of trust, and using judgement and responsibility. A final section of Safe and Found contains information about “packing blue” as the magic colors for searchers, as well as safe berries and plants which are edible.

The language is conversational and familiar for young audiences, skillfully written by Anita Sullivan whose brother, Michael Austin Davis has been missing for several years. The illustrations are crisp, clear, animated and truly assist making the story of search and rescue come alive thanks to the artistry of illustrator John Santillo.

Safe and Found has the flexibility to be used in schools, church and civic groups, boys and girls clubs, family gatherings and more.  It also serves as an introduction to the Cue Center for Missing Persons, founded in 1994 and serving more than 9,000 missing persons to date.

To schedule a presentation of Safe and Found for your group with a Cue Center State Outreach Coordinator in your area, contact  CUE Center for Missing Persons, P.O. Box 12714, Wilmington, North Carolina 28404. Address requests as: Attention: Permission Presentations.

CUE Center for Missing Persons


All presentations are done by those who volunteer their time and services to the organization. Donations or honorariums are gratefully accepted which assist the organization to continue to search for those who are lost. Donations can be made securely online, at the CUE Center website, or mailed directly to the address above.

San Diego’s Coronado Bridge: Suicide Prevention Measures Considered


San Diego's Coronado Bridge

San Diego’s Coronado Bridge

As of May, 2015, the City Council responsible for the Management of the Coronado Bridge in San Diego gave a unanimous vote to study the type of suicide prevention barrier that would be the most effective.

The Coronado Bridge Suicide Prevention Collaborative has initiated a project similar to that of San Francisco, for a barrier costing $75 million, consisting of a -20 foot wide steel net.

The numbers of completed suicides in San Diego in recent months appear to differ. Some local articles list 131 in the past 15 years. Other sources, drawing from such resources as the Coronado Police Department and the Medical Examiner and the California Highway Patrol report more than 150 people have jumped off the bridge to their deaths since the year 2000.

Even more devastating is the fact that since January 2015, police have responded to 41 additional attempts.

Homelessness in San Diego County – A Factor, January 2015

According to the San Diego Union Tribune April 2015 article,  the number of people living on the street or in shelters in San Diego County increased by 2.8 percent from last year, according to results of an annual count of homeless people. (This is an estimate.)

Volunteers in the annual count found 4,156 people living on the streets, a 4.3 increase from last year. Another 4,586 people were in shelters, a 1.4 percent increase from last year.

Of the 4,156 people on the street, about 70 percent were males and 15.4 percent were veterans. Almost 28 percent were believed to have either an addiction or severe mental illness, and more than 70 percent said they had been homeless a year or longer.

The WeAllCount Campaign, also known as the Point-in-Time Count, was held in the early morning hours on Jan. 23, 2015.  That’s over 8,700 homeless people!

Sand Diego's Coronado Bridge

Sand Diego’s Coronado Bridge

Suicide Then and Now:

As reported since my previous blog in July, 2011, San Diego’s Coronado Bridge and the City’s Recent Suicides, the signs along the bridge giving suicide prevention counseling information haven’t been working.

CalTrans, the company who oversees the maintenance of the Coronado Bridge seems to have taken their former callous attitude and snuffed it, in favor of a more compassionate stance to at least do a feasibility study.

According to public information officer, Edward Cartagena of CalTrans, many variables have to be considered. What works in San Francisco, may not work in Coronado. Although they have added technology in the event of earthquakes, added weight and wind currents need to be considered (in addition to cost).

Dr. Jennifer Lewis on the faculty of the Department of Social Work at the University of California – San Diego, wants a sense of urgency to be placed on this issue. In reality, a feasibility study can range from six months to two years to complete.  She is in favor of a barrier, saying “other places where they’ve gone in, they’ve been 100 percent effective.”

The Coronado Bridge Suicide Prevention Collaborative is serving as the watchdog.  From recent posts on their Facebook page, it appears they are doing what they can to build awareness and prevention. https://vimeo.com/132130635.

Witnessing of a Suicide

Dr. Lewis wants to protect the potential further witnessing of suicide that can be as traumatic as those who have lost a loved one. Not much is found on internet resources about this aspect. 

An anonymous writer wrote of this experience in 2008 – A haunting experience to witness the suicide of a stranger as a “good Samaritan.” (Some editing)

“Last week I was driving over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and watched someone get up on the railing and jump off. I found out later that he died and was picked up by the authorities.

I did all the things I was supposed to do – called 911, checked in with the authorities, let myself cry before driving a vehicle etc. I’ve been in touch with friends who are therapists and gotten plenty of hugs and loving people to support me.

The image of him getting up on the side of the bridge and the way his body looked as he jumped haunts me. I know it’s probably too early to expect that it go away. I’m just struggling with what meaning to find in it all and how to find people who won’t judge what I am experiencing.

I’ve looked for support sites online and have found a number of places that are for friends or family who have had someone they love commit suicide. However, I don’t even know this guy’s name. I wouldn’t want to be intruding on what is obviously a very sensitive time for someone who has a friend or family member die. 

This situation is challenging for me because I don’t know much about what happened, or why it happened. There is not much more information I can learn. I also have found that while some family or friends have tried to be helpful. They have had a tough time not assigning blame, being judgmental or putting their own issues about death and suicide onto my plate.  As a result of their attitudes, this experience feels even more confusing and alienating.”

I sincerely hope and pray that this person sought professional counselling and was able to focus in the land of the living.

Sand Diego's Coronado Bridge

Sand Diego’s Coronado Bridge

Putting the Pieces Together – One Woman’s Story

As reported in an San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, (some portions edited) investigators with the Coroner’s Office are a special breed of detectives.  Those who are elderly jumpers are few and far between.

Such was the case of Lois Anne Houston.  She was a heavy-set 75-year-old, who jumped from the San Francisco Bridge and apparently hit the water face first. The impact opened up her face from nose to chin, leaving a gaping red wound and a grotesque death mask.

The investigator, Darryl Harris stated, “There must be something pretty outrageous in her life that made her do this.” You just don’t see this occur – hardly ever.”   That would turn out to be true.

Lois chose a cloudy Sunday morning, April 24, in which to end her life. She drove north onto the bridge, in her blue Ford Taurus, put the emergency flashers on and climbed over the divider to the pedestrian walkway. A California Highway Patrol officer spotted the car and went to investigate. He saw that the vehicle was empty and then saw Houston on top of the bridge railing, according to the report.

Inspector Harris found Houston’s body in the familiar spot, on the long tray under a tarp on the dock. He pulled back the tarp and went through the routine of checking the body and looking for identification including her purse.

It was tough to see Houston on the pallet. The impact had shredded her clothing. Her black pants and floral print blouse were in tatters, barely clinging to her arms and legs. Her panties and bra were in pieces.

There was bruising everywhere, on her thighs, chest, back and face. She wore a gold watch and a ring on her finger. She wore black socks and was missing one shoe.

Her wallet had photos, but it was difficult to know with certainty, which was portrayed in the photos.

Lois‘ sister from Florida returned a call received from a police officer, Her sister stated that Lois “had no family out west.”  She had lived with another woman for 40 years, and her partner had died last summer.

In the interim, Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Lois recently had been told that her cancer had spread to her liver.  (I think Lois, still actively grieving, just wanted to be with her partner all the more after receiving the news and decided to “skip a prolonged, painful death“ as her choice.”)

The pathologist reported clinically and coldly that Lois “died of multiple blunt-force injuries, due to a “jump from height.”


Returning to the Trenches and the Effectiveness of Suicide Barriers

Whether stated in 2005, or 2015, Inspectors with the Coroner’s office have their own opinions.

At the time in 2005, Darryl Harris said “he didn’t have an opinion” on whether the bridge should have a suicide barrier. However, most of the jumpers he investigated had significant histories of suicidal behavior.  Harris’ comment,“I don’t know that a barrier would do much good, I think people will find other ways to kill themselves, and it might mean they do something that puts someone else in danger, like jumping off a building or intentionally driving their car into traffic.”  THAT, is an opinion.


We cannot say whether a barrier will help in all instances. But, it may be a deterrent in some cases, as nothing is foolproof. As a friend likes to say… “Let’s get busy” (when it comes to suicide prevention).

Anti-Suicide Resources:

1) National Suicide Prevention Hotline Call 24/7 1-800-273-8255

2)Hotlines listed by State – http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html

3) 917-65-1889- http://sisfi.org/suicidetours.html