Commentary

Remembering March 25-29, 1949

Candlelight ceremonies in the cities of Tallinn, Tartu, Narva, and Pärnu commemorated the 22,000 Estonian men, women and children arrested by the Soviets on the nights of March 25-29, 1949. They were deported in cattle cars to Siberia, many of them dying on the way. Those who survived would endure the horrors of the Gulag labor camps. Overall, approximately 35,000 Estonians were deported to Siberia during 1940-1953.


The Boys on the Tracks: A Case that Refuses to Go Away

In the mid-1980s when teenagers Kevin Ives and Don Henry were murdered, cocaine smuggling from Central America was the biggest problem in Arkansas. While their case remains officially unsolved, they have not been forgotten largely due to the efforts of Kevin’s mother Linda Ives.


In 2016, Billy Jack Haynes, a wrestling superstar during the 1980s, contacted Ives’s PI Keith Rounsavall, who had taken her case pro bono, and confessed that he was present during the murders and gave names of those allegedly involved. He admitted that he was at that time a drug trafficker and enforcer and helped to place the bodies on the tracks. Haynes said he was compelled to come forward because of the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, a Bernie Sanders supporter employed by the DNC. Sections of the taped confession have been released. In one part he states, “I come with no mask. I come with no hidden voice. I come to you straight face-to-face because this is reality, man.”


Ives filed a lawsuit against 11 federal and state agencies to obtain information about Kevin’s murder - information that she is entitled to under the Freedom of Information Act yet has continually been stonewalled. She announced that she knows who killed the boys and accused a former prosecutor and a chief of police. While the government is trying to get the case thrown out of court, she is determined that it will not go away until she has answers and is seeking help from the Internet. A website, idfiles.com, is dedicated to the boys, and GoFundMe page has been created. Those who have information can call Rounsavall’s tip line 501-223-3969. (Sources: thy11.com on February 13, 2018 & “Pro wrestler admits to role in 1897 unsolved train track murders of two boys and claims it was linked to a cocaine smuggling ring as he implicates ‘criminal Arkansas politician’ in far-reaching cover-up” by Keith Griffith, dailymail.co.uk, 18 February, 2018)


Winners and Losers

Winners

  1. Deputy Blaine Gaskill, 34, resource officer at Great Mills High School, Maryland. When student Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, opened fired, killing his ex-girlfriend and wounding another student, Gaskill rushed to engage the shooter and shot him. His quick response stopped the rampage.

  2. Jon Albert, founder of the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation, Georgia. This nonprofit helps families of those battling late stage cancer by arranging trips so they can spend quality time together. For his dedication on behalf of cancer patients, he is one of the nominees for 2018 CNN Heroes.

  3. North Dakota. U.S. News & World Report ranked this state as having the best quality of life among the 50 states. The ranking included a combination of numerous criteria, among them air quality, pollution, and voter participation. California was last in quality of life.


Losers

  1. Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive lineman Michael Bennett, 32. A grand jury indicted him in March 2018 for injuring last year a 66-year-old paraplegic African-American woman.

  2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. African elephants have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1979. This year, FWS dropped the ban to bring into the U.S. elephant parts as trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

  3. Cornell University’s chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, New York. In 2017, the fraternity held a “pig roast” competition that demeaned and fat-shamed women who were unaware they were part of a cruel contest. The fraternity was placed on a two-year probation in March 2018, a punishment that many felt was too lenient.



Pick of the Month, April 2018


Fiction

Force of Nature by Jane Harper, Flatiron Books, $25.99


Five women from BaileyTennants, a respected boutique accounting firm in Melbourne, Australia, are pressured by their boss to go on a wilderness retreat to bond and build trust. When the women get lost, the stress of trying to survive leads them to turn on each other. Only four return. One member, Alice Russell, remains missing. The others speculate that she must have taken off by herself since she was anxious to get home.


Federal agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper are investigating BaileyTennants regarding money laundering and are under pressure to get copies of certain contracts. When they hear their inside person disappeared, they join the search for Alice. Did she leave the group and lost her way? Was her cover exposed and the firm had her killed? Had one of the other women done something to her? Or did she fall victim to the son of a deceased serial killer? He has a history of drug dealing and is familiar with the area.


The chapters alternate between the search for Alice and flashback to the women struggling to survive. The litany of things that can go wrong in a wilderness adventure might cause some readers to have second thoughts about embarking on a camping trip. It sends the messages that money laundering is a serious problem and that you should never pose for explicit photos as they can be easily hacked or released by somebody you trust and will surely cause problems in the future. This bestseller is an engrossing read.


Nonfiction

The Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother’s Crusade to Bring Her Son’s Killers to Justice by Mara Leveritt, ebook, $9.99


Kevin Ives, 17, and Don Henry, 16, were murdered on the night of August 23, 1987 in Saline County, Arkansas, their bodies arranged on the railroad tracks to be run over by the train. The parents were stunned when the state coroner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, ruled that the manner of death was an accident, and it took them years to get the verdict changed. The lack of interest by authorities spurred Linda Ives to seek justice for her son Kevin. She discovered that information was falsified, evidence disappeared, investigators failed to follow up on clues, and several young men who allegedly knew something ended up murdered.


Ives’s quest revealed an intertwined world of illegal drugs and political corruption that reached to the highest state and national levels. She was betrayed, viciously trashed, and even President Bill Clinton’s White House lawyer Mark Fabiani reportedly tried to set her up. The resulting inquires revealed to the public the dark side of several prominent individuals. They included Dr. Fahmy Malak, an Egyptian national with medical degree from Cairo University. He was incompetent, faked results, engaged in bizarre behavior, and lied under oath. Yet he enjoyed widespread support, including from then Governor Bill Clinton. His behavior grew so outrageous that his strongest supporters dropped him, and he was transferred to a different job. Another prominent figure, Don Harmon, was a prosecuting attorney, popular anti-drug crusader, and head of the local drug task force. To the shock of many, he was unmasked as a drug user and dealer who allegedly made amphetamine and used his office to shake down those in the drug trade. In addition, he faced domestic abuse charges. The case of Barry Seal, a drug smuggler killed in 1986, drew renewed interest and raised questions about the justice system.


This important book, originally published in 1999, is well-written and extensively researched. It shows the extent of corruption caused by the illegal drug trade and how a housewife from Arkansas made a difference. Thanks to Linda Ives’s refusal to give up, the murder of the two boys is back in the headlines.


Children’s/YA

A Is for Annabelle: A Doll’s Alphabet by Tasha Tudor, Aladdin, $7.99, ages 7 and under


My daughter was two years old when I taught her the alphabet. She loved this book, a gift from family friend Donna Harlan, and had me read it to her over and over again. And I enjoyed doing it. First published in 1954, it is a delightful book with charming illustrations.

 

Specialty/Small Press

Christmas Press, launched in 2013 in Australia, specializes in traditional folk tales from around the world and seasonally-themed anthologies. Their titles include Two Trickster Tales from Russia, retold by Sophie Masson, illustrated by David Allan.

 

Author submissions: At the present time they are not open for submission but will have from time to time open submission periods to be announced on their website christmaspresspicturebooks.com


Grandmother’s doll Annabelle from cover of  A is for Annabelle by Tasha Tudor.

ladylindateacup.blogspot.com

Tõrva Bar was built in 1834 and has been renovated several times. Photographer: MMetsoja, 2011, commons.wikimedia.org

On March 25, 2018, twenty-thousand candles were lit in Tallinn and other Estonian cities for the men, women, and children deported by the Soviets to Siberia on March 25-29, 1949. Photo: estoniaworld.com

Valga Railway Station. Photographer: Sten 153, 2015, en.wikipedia.com

Speed skater Saskia Alusalu, 23, representing Estonia, placed fourth at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Her hobbies are playing the violin, playing soccer, and reading. Photo:  Madis Veltman, facebook.com/Saskia Alusalu