Pick of the Month, January 2011


A Tale of Two Cities & Great Expectations (two novels in one book) by Charles Dickens, Penguin, $20.00

A Tale of Two Cities takes place in Paris and London during the French Revolution. This novel of two men in love with the same woman is listed among the most popular works of fiction of all time. Great Expectations follows the intrigue-filled life of an orphan and his obsession with a girl with a “cold heart.” Kudos to Oprah for choosing these two classics for her 65th Book Club selection.


Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan by James A. Ramage, The University Press of Kentucky, $19.95

In this extensively researched biography, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan emerges as one of the most interesting personalities of the Civil War. Ramage describes him as a brilliant revolutionary guerilla chief who made his own rules and became a folk hero. Morgan grew up in Kentucky and was expelled from college for dueling with a fraternity brother. During the war, his numerous escapades included a battle in the nude that rattled the Union troops. The chapter on the ingenious Ohio prison-break reads like a thriller. His marriage to Martha “Maddie” Reedy was a major turning point, and his love for her distracted him from his duties. A moral of his story is to beware of the dangerous mix of courage, arrogance, and belief in one’s infallibility. Interwoven with Morgan’s action-packed life are insights into the customs of this turbulent era. Ramage concludes: “In Morgan’s character several of the weaknesses and strengths of the Old South civilization stood out in exaggerated relief.”

With the many Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations planned for 2011-15, including by bookstores, Rebel Raider is a timely book. Highly recommended. Ramage is also the author of Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby.


Tangled: A Dazzling Day by Devin Ann Wooster, illustrated by Britney Lee, RH/Disney, $3.99, ages 4-8

An easy to read book, one of several available with a more assertive Rapunzel than in the original Grimm fairy tale.

Specialty/Small Press

University of California Press, founded in 1893, initially published monographs by its faculty. By the 1950s, it was a  full-fledged university press and now publishes around 200 titles annually.

Its areas of interest include the environment, medieval history, warfare, and poetry. Its Adventures Among Ants is an interesting exploration of the ant society by Mark W. Moffett, dubbed “the Indiana Jones of entomology.” Its biggest seller, Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith, is the first edition to follow the chronology in which Twain dictated it. The book debuted in November as No 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and by end of December was still on the list at No. 5.

While the publisher does consider unsolicited manuscripts, most of its projects are requested by the editors.

White Army poster: “For a Unified Russia.” Russian Civil War, 1918-23

Lydia Koidula (1843-1886), Estonian poet, whose works Shurik found relaxing.

Walt Disney’s hit film Tangled has inspired books and toys about Rapunzel/Tangled.

A man’s wedding ring (with the name Johanna engraved in fading script, matching the ring above belonging to his wife of over 50 years) was stolen by a home invasion gang in 2009. This case is one of many unsolved burglaries. Often memorabilia are taken of little or no monetary value but irreplaceable to the victims.

The D.C. area, notably Maryland, is infected with gangs such as led by Melinda Marie Soto (see Losers) who steal guns, knives, computers, phones, keys, jewelry, photos, passports, Social Security cards, etc. Victims might be bound and terrorized, and some are murdered.

Two of the most horrific home invasions are the Wichita Massacre in Kansas by the Carr brothers in 2000 and the triple murder of Dr. Petit’s family by Komisarjevsky & Hayes in 2007. These crimes were quickly solved because one victim in each case miraculously survived.


U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, 40, was killed on December 14, 2010, near Rio Rico, Arizona by Mexican drug dealers. The death of this heroic man exposed the shocking fact that BP agents are required to fire non-lethal bean-bags first even if facing terrorists crossing the border. The drug dealers, armed with AK-47s, naturally used live ammunition during the shoot-out. Incredibly, there is a proposal to make the site of Terry’s killing, which is an oft used drug smuggling corridor, a wilderness reserve that the BP will be prohibited from patrolling.


Elizabeth Edwards, 61, died on December 7, 2010, from breast cancer. She is survived by her children Cate, 28; Emma Claire, 12; and Jack, 10. The funeral was marred by a disgusting protest by five members of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church, whoever they really are. Edwards was a health-care activist, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, and author of the best-sellers Saving Graces and Resilience. Her favorite poem was “Hope” by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That keeps so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

General John Hunt Morgan (1825-1864)

Although his life contains elements for a hit film, so far the controversial general has been portrayed only as a secondary character. The prison-break segment alone makes an exciting story.

He became more popular after his death than during life as the animosities caused by his raids faded. He evolved into a folk hero, and songs were composed about him. The poem below was published in 1868 (source Rebel Raiders by James A. Ramage):

Although no marble column rise,

Above the hero’s bed,

To mark the spot where Morgan lies,

Among the honored dead;

Although no sculptured stone shall tell,

The stranger passing by

The mournful story how he fell,

His name will never die;

For glory with a jealous care,

Shall guard the hero resting there.

Top 5 Best Civil War Films Ever Made

  1. 1.Gone With the Wind, Vivien Leigh & Clark Cable, 1939, for many the best film of all time.

  2. 2.Gods and Generals, Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall & Jeff Daniels, 2003

  3. 3.Gettysburg, Martin Sheen, Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels & Ronald Maxwell, 1993

  4. 4.The Hunley, Armand Assante & Donald Sutherland, 1999

  5. 5.Glory, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman & Denzel Washington, 1989

Other Civil War Films (in chronological order)

  1. The House With the Closed Shutters, Henry B. Walthall, 1910

  2. The Birth of a Nation, Lillian Gish, 1915

  3. The General, Buster Keaton, 1927

  4. The Littlest Rebel, Shirley Temple, 1935

  5. So Red the Rose, Margaret Sullivan, 1935

  6. General Spanky, Our Gang stars, 1936

  7. A Southern Yankee, Red Skelton, 1948

  8. Drums in the Deep South, Barbara Payton & Guy Madison, 1951

  9. The Red Badge of Courage, Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin & Andy Divine,1951

  10. The Raid, Van Heflin, Ann Bancroft, Lee Marvin, Richard Boone & Peter Graves, 1954

  11. The Great Locomotive Chase, Fess Parker & Jeffrey Hunter, 1956 (remake of The General)

  12. Friendly Persuasion, Gary Cooper, 1958

  13. The Horse Soldiers, John Wayne, 1959

  14. Johnny Shiloh, Kevin Corcoran, 1963

  15. Major Dundee, Charlton Heston, 1965

  16. Shenandoah, James Stewart, 1965

  17. Alvarez Kelly, William Holden & Richard Widmark, 1966

  18. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef & Eli Wallach, 1966

  19. Mosby’s Marauders, Kurt Russell, Jack Ging & Michael Forrest, 1966

  20. The Beguiled, Clint Eastwood, 1971

  21. Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood, 1976

  22. Beulah Land, Hope Lange, mini-series, 1980

  23. The Blue and the Gray, Stacy Keach, Lloyd Bridges & Gregory Peck, mini-series, 1982

  24. North and South, Patrick Swayze, James Reed, Kristie Alley & Jean Simmons, mini-series, 1985

  25. Ride With the Devil, James Caviezel, 1999

  26. Cold Mountain, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman & Renee Zellweger, 2003

  27. The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams, Julian Adams, Mickey Rooney, Amy Redford, Tippi Hedren & Weston Adams, 2007

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Commentary - Cold Cases Part I

Homicide cases that go cold shatter our sense of justice. They are troubling reminders that a killer got away with the crime and may strike again. Victims are denied justice. Survivors face unanswered questions that continue to torment them. Innocent people may remain under suspicion, their reputations tarnished.

Pressure from the victim’s family and concerned citizens plays an important role in keeping a case alive as shown by the death of Michele MacNeill, 50, in Utah in 2007. In spite of the unusual circumstances and contradictory statements by her husband Martin, the M.E. ruled that she died from natural causes. The MacNeills’ daughter Alexis spent a year and a half asking the police to investigate, and she compiled over 60 pages of evidence against her father. The effort paid off. The M.E. changed the manner of death to suspicious, and the police reopened the case. Likewise, media coverage can be crucial in producing leads and spurring on the investigation. The Martha Moxley homicide in 1975, for example, resulted in a conviction 27 years later of her neighbor Michael Skakel because of renewed media interest, notably by Dominic Dunne and Mark Fuhrman (see Murder in Greenwich). In the Judith Dee Kangilaski homicide, the daughters did all they could within their means and more, making a heartfelt plea for information. In their place, many of us would have acted the same way. However, the case failed to attract the media. Not surprising, since there are too many homicides to focus on all of them, and Judith failed to fit the profile of victims favored by the media such as JonBenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway.

I heard of Judith’s murder by accident while compiling material on the landmark Larry’s bar in Columbus, Ohio. Since Judith was a regular and Mr. T., the leader of her clique, was a controversial character, we planned to mention them as part of the bar’s history, relaying on recollections of other patrons. I was researching a cold case unrelated to either Larry’s or Judith and, as I goggled two terms, the top hits included a reference to new evidence in her nearly two decades old homicide, which had the feel of an execution. Our mention of the murder in this blog garnered interest, and we faced more questions than we could answer. Thus, we delved further into the case. Acquaintances described her edgy lifestyle and her appearing to turn her life around. After her death, her younger daughter told of loving and missing her mother, whom she described as kind and generous; her need for answers and justice; and her heartbreaking suspicion as to the killer.

The police have a suspect and have followed up on numerous persons of interest. There are also individuals who have remained under their radar. Some of Larry’s patrons point the finger at Mr. T. At the time of the homicide, Mr. T. and an associate faced litigation and might have feared she would reveal his dark side. When we contacted the plaintiff’s attorney, he would neither deny nor confirm that he wanted a deposition from Judith. Conflicting reports as to Mr. T’s present whereabouts range from his death overseas (the U.S. Consulate refused to confirm this, apparently not convinced of his death) to him moving from Ohio and establishing a financial consulting firm in another state. Also, there is an in-law Judith despised and possibly feared and an ex-lover and an ex-husband who were never questioned. In December, we spoke to a woman, who we expected to be sympathetic to Judith, to obtain background information for a more rounded profile of the victim (e.g. her favorite books and what happened to her dogs) - a take from the point of view of a female friend for a future blog. However, that woman’s response was consistent with a guilty person’s and tempts us to look into her background. Behavior that raises red flags include: Failure to cooperate with investigators. Refusing to answer questions, especially before a person knows what the questions will be. Avoiding the media. Showing no interest in catching the killer even though he/she was close to the victim (e.g. a husband or mother-in-law). Failing a polygraph. Inconsistent statements - why lie when there is nothing to hide? Exhibiting any of these red flags does not prove the person is guilty. However, unless explained, they arouse suspicion and invite closer scrutiny of him or her.

We welcome anyone to present their side. Our policy is not to name those who answer our questions or who contact us with information unless we have their permission or they request credit (which they have every right to ask). We presume the authorities will pursue the investigation of the Kangilaski homicide. This case appears solvable unlike the suspicious death of Larry’s patron Imants Viksne, which only a confession might solve.


Top 10 Most Memorable Quotes of 2010

1. Veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s last words: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

2. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “We have to pass [the health care bill] so you can find out what is in it.”

3. BP chief executive Tony Hayward speaking of the Gulf Coast oil disaster: “I would like my life back.”

  1. 4.Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas: “Tell [the Jews] to get the hell out of Palestine.

    Remember, those people are occupied, and it’s their land.”

  1. 5.Homeland Security Secretary Janet (“The System Worked”) Napolitano at Senate hearings: “I believe [the Mexican-U.S. border] is as secure as it has ever been.”

  2. 6.U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson (D. GA): “My fear is that the whole island [Guam] will become so overpopulated that it will top over and collapse.” (Yes, he was reelected afterward.)

  3. 7.Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, commenting on NFL’s Eagles postponing a game with the Vikings because of snow: “My biggest beef is that this is part of what’s happening in this country. We’ve become wussies.”

  4. 8.Michael Vick, NFL player convicted of dogfighting: “I would love to get another dog in the future.”

  5. 9.Radio host Dennis Miller on pat-downs of every 10th person at airports: “We’re not at war with every tenth person. We’re at war with radical Islam.”

  6. 10. (tie) Jimmy McMillian, New York gubernatorial candidate: “The rent is too damn high.”  Bill Clinton, when he took over the press conference on tax cuts from President Obama: “Please go.”


Winners and Losers


  1. Elizabeth Smart has given hope to other rape victims and inspired them to report their assailants. Jurors were impressed with her powerful testimony against her kidnapper Bryan David Mitchell.

  2. Bay County (FL) School Board member Ginger Littleton and security guard Mike Jones showed courage when they rushed to aid board members attacked by gunman Clay Duke. Littleton auctioned off for charity the purse she used to clobber Duke when she sneaked back into the room. It sold on eBay for $13,100.

  3. Gutsy Angela Pierce, 29, of Ohio, jumped out of the car when she saw Officer Jonathan Seiter in a fight with Otto Coleman, 64. In a case of “woman saves cop,” she pummeled Otto until assistance arrived.

  4. Charity event in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, for children with cancer and vision problems received a boost from Hollywood stars, such as Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin whose rendition of “Blueberry Hill” became a YouTube hit and brought attention to this worthwhile cause.

  5. Jamaica-born Betsy Stanford, 107, a resident of D.C. since 1976, continues to find joy in life. She credits her longevity to a combination of: a diet of steaks, pork chops, and “everything they say not to eat”; Guinness stout beer mixed with Ensure and nutmeg; hard work - she held two jobs most of her life; and “early to bed and early to rise.” She likes Scrabble, crossword puzzles, and reminiscing about her childhood.

  6. The King’s Speech, an outstanding film bound to be an Oscar contender.


  1. The U.S. Government has become inept at best. It mishandled the Gulf Coast oil spill, showing shocking indifference to this disaster, and muddles along in Afghanistan and Iraq at an enormous cost. It is even incapable of building a border fence. Yet it wants to extend its control over our lives.

  2. Fairfax County (VA) District Court Judge Ian O’Flaherty dismissed most of the charges against a major burglary ring consisting of Melinda Marie Soto, her husband Dagoberto Soto-Ramirez, and Francisco Gray. The Soto couple was later convicted in Federal Court of one count, and Gray was merely deported to Peru.

  3. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper faced criticism when he revealed he was unaware of the terror arrests in Britain, resulting in national embarrassment.

  4. Beverly Hills PD lost credibility in their apparent rush to judgement and prematurely claiming the murder of publicist Ronni Chasen, while driving in a Mercedes, was perpetrated by a man on a bicycle (Harold Smith) who acted alone. Much of their scenario makes no sense and leaves too many loose ends. When did Smith acquire the gun? How does the BHPD know he was not in contact with anyone else? If it was a robbery, as they claim, why was nothing taken?

  5. Heisman Trophy, already marred by the Reggie Bush scandal, chose the controversial Cam Newton, leading to ridicule and Cam jokes. Why not be honest and drop the integrity claim and admit it is a popularity contest?

  6. Miley Cyrus’s downward spiral continues - tacky Vanity Fair cover, sleazy attempts to appear sexy, and a video of allegedly smoking salvia.