A Cry for Help in the Middle of the Night

hand-792920_960_720

The job of a crime victim advocate is by no means a 9 to 5 existence.  Fragile human beings often can’t adhere to time schedules.  Their lives have spun out of control.

Those who are paid advocates answer the phone during business hours, leave an 800 number or advice to call 911 during off hours.  But, the trouble is trauma and life and death situations just don’t conform.

A person may be actively grieving, in physical, emotional or psychological pain. They may be terrified of some event in their life, not realizing why they remain helpless. Past decisions often place them in circumstances they could never foresee.

Armchair critics can easily point fingers and pass judgement regarding the complexities of people’s lives, not realizing that their own situations can change in a New York minute if the Gods foretell.

In the many years I have worked with victims, each is unique in some way, and yet there is a constant familiar ring to their personal stories, their desperation, the longer you listen.

Examples – (Frequently Intimate Partner Violence in nature)

“Please reply before he kills me”  “He ignored the restraining order”  I went to the police, but they did nothing.  I have no money.  I’m afraid for my children. The system in the State of ____ is totally against me.   I can’t escape him as he watches my every move” “I don’t have a phone.”

In a previous blog post, Homicide as a Steady Diet, I discussed the fact that I am at risk of being typecast as a homicide expert with nothing else to offer. Regardless of people’s reading habits or radio listening preferences, I fight against this image, as it is just not true.

Insatiable appetite for violence or not, I will not be painted as a one trick pony. At the other end of the spectrum are the indiscriminate victims reaching out to anyone and everyone. There are two groups of people I worry about:

1)  The truly terrorized, as in intimate partner violence victims and,

2) Those who perceive injustices to themselves. Their pervasive victimization as so great, having been worn down by the system so badly, that they lash out at everyone and become truly toxic in their words and actions. It is a poison that no one can alleviate.

If you read between the lines, the former group may want to be helped and truly lack the resources, the support, the resiliency, and the know how. Fear may have immobilized them. They actually say, “I am going to die and don’t know where to turn.”  Imagine their burdens, but try to imagine the responsibility and the burden it also imposes on the receiving end of compassionate, helpful, well intentioned people.  

The second group of people may say they want help, but their account is so vile, the blame towards others so pervasive, without taking any personal responsibility, that they just want a stage upon which to vent their rage. 

Why is the distinction of these two groups important? It is important to me as you have to think quickly on your feet as it can sincerely be a matter of life and death.

Lucky for me, these desperate cries for help do not come as a steady diet, but they do come to my website, particularly related to intimate partner violence. I do not invite them. They are indiscriminate. They are supposed to leave information about victim impact statement inquiries and they ignore the instructions.

For the record, I do have a working knowledge of IPV, thanks to Susan Murphy Milano and many other colleagues over the years. However, this does not qualify me as an expert, nor do I necessarily want to take on these issues as my own.  It appears that the Tracey Thurman blog post has created a monster of sorts in this area.  I suspect that my well researched, carefully written and wildly popular blog of this historic Connecticut case is the culprit here.   I gratefully accept the exposure it has given me, but it can be a double edged sword.

Readers, please do not confuse my God given talent as a superior writer to tell a story with expertise in every subject matter pertaining to crime!

Just a couple of weeks ago on a December night when I had gone to bed, my phone lit up and “whooshed” a message.  A response was sent by a colleague to a true life or death IPV victim who wrote to me in desperation. I so appreciated her rapid response, for intuitively, we both know it was very serious.

It matters not that this victim did not follow the rules and used my personal website as a call for help.  It only matters that good and useful information was provided at a moment’s notice when needed. I only hope that the women chose to follow through with the information.  Bless you, my friend for helping. Much love to you for caring in my place. You just may have saved a life.  CALL IT GRACE…..

 

 

Shattered Lives Radio: Victim Impact Statement Reverses Parole

 

 

 

Shattered Lives Radio

On a recent episode of Shattered Lives Radio, I was privileged to discuss yet another discrepancy in the Connecticut Pardon and Parole system. As you may remember, my own family’s experience with a parole hearing left us out in left field, scrambling at the last minute to insure that my father’s murderer stayed behind bars.

For the surviving family members of slain Plainville, CT police officer, Robert Holcomb, the incompetence and lack of communication from the Pardon and Parole Board, created the perfect storm and Holcomb’s murderer was granted parole in January, 2015.

Slain Plainville, CT police officer Robert Holcomb

Robert Holcomb

Family members of officer Holcomb were not notified of the upcoming parole hearing and therefore were not in attendance when it was granted. However, they immediately asked for another hearing, it was granted, and the parole was rescinded after hearing the statements of surviving family members.

One of the most influential aspects of the recission hearing was the victim impact statement read by Holcomb’s son, Mac, who was only 3 years old at the time of his father’s murder.  Mac Holcomb Victim Impact Statement (download pdf)

The Shattered Lives Radio episode speaks with Mac Holcomb, his cousin Maria Weinberger, and Plainville Chief of Police, Matt Catania who has become a valued family friend as well. We were able to bring to light many of the mistakes of the Pardon and Parole Board which has had negative influence on the Holcomb family, my family, and countless others we don’t even know about.

Shattered Lives Radio Points of Discussion

click to listen button1

  • You don’t know what you don’t know.  The fact that as a new crime victim they typically are not versed in criminal or judicial procedures.  They also are not familiar with how to navigate the bureaucracies of state agencies, their protocols or websites.
  • Who is a victim? Is it only immediate family vs. extended family?
  • The role of victim impact statements according to Mac Holcomb, nearly forty years later.
  • The police community and seeking justice according to Chief Matt Catania.
  • Creating a victim’s voice, what’s missing?  New beginnings for the future, i.e. legislative recommendations such as earlier notification for victims, examining the appointment and eligibility process of hearing officers, continuing education, etc.
  • Maria Weinberger offers a list of legislative recommendations to address Parole Board Reforms (download pdf)
  • Lessons to be learned for the future.  From a previous Shattered Lives Radio episode, Atty. Michelle Cruz offers several ideas from her experience as the CT State Victim Advocate.

In my opinion, one of the most important lessons learned from the Holcomb family experience, and my own, is the critical need for crime victims to be heard through preparing a victim impact statement. Often, it’s the only time their concerns are able to be voiced.

One way I feel I can help victims who are desperately trying to navigate the judicial system is by offering a Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service. If you are a crime victim, I invite you to learn more about my service by referring to my website for details.

click to listen button1

A New Normal…

 

Crime victims do not have the label emblazoned on their foreheads, but they might as well once their circle of friends and co-workers know what has occurred. They carry on with the business of life, but how can you?

When the crime and the loss of your loved one first occurs, your entire world has been turned upside down and inside out.  You retreat; you’re numb, in shock and disbelief. You “have an idea” what should occur with the police and the judicial system as you are smart and keep up with current events (or so you think.)

You are either a doer and try to arrange, organize, and  call investigators twice a day for the latest information (that they cannot divulge), all in an attempt to postpone the gut wrenching grief …Or you are condemned to the couch in a fetal position looking for a reason to go on.

Your family members are “all over the place” with their emotions. They want to talk about it, or not at all, they try to seek comfort in their own ways and may resist your attempts to band together in solidarity.  If relationships are strained to begin with, thrusting people into this incomprehensible situation can fuel the fire.  It is the rare family who can put aside their differences and be troopers in the face of violent crime. However, it is possible.  Such complex dynamics remind me of the classic movie “The Big Chill”: (Part 1 of 6)  A bunch of misfit college friends are thrown together over the loss of their friend’s suicide.

After violent crime, your friends and co-workers are supposed to be your anchors, right?  Well, not really!

Co-workers and friends may secretly feel that the family did not take measures to prevent or intercede, that they were somehow partially responsible.

If the case is high-profile with the media, there are ever-present reminders, innuendo, rumor and misinformation.

Knowing that your average adult attention span is fleeting for “normal conversation,” how do you engage with them repeatedly with your tragedy? How can they possibly relate? How can they sympathize? Unless they have been through it, they cannot. You do not know it, but you are a burden to the workings of other’s normalcy! It’s not you! It’s they who are so uncomfortable! It is not your job to make them feel comfortable when you are actively grieving.

One of my favorite sayings for this intersection of life was that after the homicide “the casseroles stopped coming after two weeks.” Yup, two weeks is the average attention span for those who cannot relate!

Therefore, you MUST change-up your friends for those you grieve with and have a common bond with, such as a crime victim’s support group become your true friends, your surrogate family for as long as you need them! However, for some, there is that temptation to take on the victim identity for too long, unable to establish a “new normal.” BEWARE my friends of the pitfalls of grief! The pitfalls  can “eat you up and spit you out for dinner” if you do not have the proper guidance to help you navigate for the long haul.

It is rough terrain indeed! Even thirty plus years down the trail, I am not perfect. I wear the scars of vulnerabilities and some regrets for which I have no control.  Ahhh, but wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to dance again, “just like at the end of the Big Chill” movie despite the tragedy that has occurred. It is sign of healing, if only for a minute!  Who wants to dance with me?  The Big Chill Dance Scene: 

With that said another aspect of the aftermath of crime whose drum cannot be beaten enough, is the task and importance of the Victim Impact Statement which can, if carefully crafted, change the outcome of sentencing and any former thoughts of prisoner release with the proper assistance.

Contact me if interested! https://donnagore.com/victim-impact-statement-assistance/

Karl Karlsen Establishes a Pattern of Conduct

 

Karl Karlsen

Karl Karlsen

“I took advantage of the opportunity (of a death.)”

A confession to an ex-wife about murdering his son, it appears he is talking in code of some sort.

“I didn’t push the truck, I said,” Karl Karlsen continued. His second wife, Cindy was wearing a wire and capturing his words during “Operation Abigail” in cooperation with law enforcement concerning the death of his son from a former marriage, Levi Karlsen. Cindy feared she would be his next victim, “the next insurance policy.”

“No, I said I had nothing to do with it,  but I said I took advantage of the situation once it happened.”

Police listened to incriminating statements captured on Cindy’s audio recordings, and they brought Karlsen in for questioning. During a 9.5-hour interview, investigators said Karlsen denied killing his son, Levi, 75 times, and that he’s given several explanations for Levi’s death, including that he accidentally knocked the pickup truck off the jack and onto his son, crushing him to death.

Truth is, a new insurance policy for a son in his 20’s, just 17 days prior his death, seemed fishy.

While Karl Karlsen did admit he caused the truck to fall on Levi during the police interrogation, investigators said Karlsen maintained it was an accident, leaving for a funeral after he viewed his son under the truck and found him “four hours later.”

“He did admit that he caused the truck to fall on his son. He did admit that he left his son on the floor dying, but he never admitted that it was a planned, deliberate act,” said Seneca County Lt. Investigator John Cleere.

Levi’s death was initially ruled an accident in 2008. Police said Karlsen collected a $700,000 life insurance payout after the incident and that Levi had signed a handwritten will before his death, leaving everything to his father. But at the time, authorities said they didn’t know about the life insurance policy or the will.

Levi Karlsen

Levi Karlsen

Another Karl Karlsen money trail now leads to a new charge of murder by arson, New Year’s Day 1991.  Karlsen was motivated by insurance money and 18 years separated two deaths. On the trail from California returning to upstate New York, a pattern of conduct was established. See video from ABC news

Karlsen was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years to life for Levi’s death. Twenty three years later, after his first wife died, California law enforcement decided to pay attention to “a track record of mishaps.”

When California investigators looked at the records, there was an August 1986 car fire, a November 2002 barn-horse fire, and then, they wondered, what happened to Karlsen’s first wife?

Christina, Levi’s mother, perished in a house fire on  New Year’s Day 1991. The only possible escape was a boarded up broken window. As the house burned, Karlsen and his three unknowing young children stood outside and watched. A week after the fire he gathered the three children and left California, heading back to New York to be near his family.

As of August 31,2014, under California law, murder for financial gain  qualifies Karlsen for the death penalty if convicted.

Someone who knows how to “work the system and make everything look like an accident” seems to be a common theme more often than not.

How do these monsters slip by virtually undetected? Is it lack of experience on the part of law enforcement? Is it charm or the cunning nature of the killer? Is it a family held hostage by fear and unanswered questions?  I think all of the above!

When someone in the family “grows a conscience,” or decides they may be the next victim, the tables are turned.

Once the judicial process is on the horizon, only then can they breathe a bit easier.

During such a vulnerable time, going through a trial and forced to face the convicted, an experienced advocate with skill and a sense of perspective can help through the process by assisting in customizing a victim impact statement which is used during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Karl Karlsen deserves to be put away forever. May their victim impact statement assist them in doing so!

For those in need of a professional Victim Impact Statement, please feel free to contact me through this website. For more information see my informational page on Victim Impact Statement Assistance.

 

References:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/york-man-prison-murdering-son-charged-wifes-death/story?id=25164857

http://www.fltimes.com/news/article_bc98b99a-30b3-11e4-9162-0019bb2963f4.html