“Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.”
Hunter S. Thompson
On November 24, 1971, a man in his forties bought himself a plane ticket.
I’m guessing you know the rest of this story.
Now, over 49 years since the man who called himself Dan Cooper jumped out of Northwest Airlines Flight 305 and into the pantheon of American folklore, his legacy as a cult figure remains foggy.
For some, D.B. Cooper’s skyjacking represents the ultimate victory for the American ‘little man”. Average in both height and looks, dressed in a cheap suit, and cursed with a hairline in heavy retreat, the non-descript, middle-aged Cooper is an everyday Robin Hood – bundling out of Flight 305 with a new fortune to enjoy his twilight years with.
Cooper was described as being almost pleasant. He never used crass or vulgar language and even paid for the drinks of all the passengers on board prior to their release in the exchange for the ransom money. For Cooper-lovers, his heist wasn’t about ego, bravado, or fragile machismo – it was about ‘sticking it to the man’ and defying corporate greed right under their noses. In an era dominated by unpopular, bumbling bureaucrats, Cooper’s heist was his interpretation of the American Dream. Work hard, come up with a plan, and escape to the countryside with 200 grand.
Two-hundred grand of ”negotiable American currency” as Cooper called it – leading some to conclude that Cooper wasn’t American himself. Once the parachutes and the money were dropped off, Cooper requested the plane take off once again. This time, Mexico City was the destination.
I think one of the reasons why D.B. Cooper has endured in our minds for so long is that he challenged the archetype of what a 1970s aircraft hijacker could be. He wasn’t a long-haired, bandana-wearing Cuban shouting pro-Castro rhetoric, nor was he a frizzy-haired mental patient armed with more bullets than sense. Cooper was, by all accounts, a James Bond-esque type of hijacker who calmly handed a note to flight attendant Tina Mucklow containing his threat to blow the plane up. Aside from his ”no funny business or I’ll do the job” comment later on, his demeanour on Flight 305 remained calm and personable.
Cooper’s loot is almost laughable by today’s standards however $200k was a sizeable bounty in 1971 in certainly would have been enough to provide the hijacker with a comfortable existence considering he was estimated to be in his forties at the time.
Well, that’s if he lived.
This is where the other camp in Cooper case come in.
Facing sub-zero temperatures with a 135mph wind in his face, Cooper launched himself off of Flight 305’s aft airstairs dressed in only a suit and loafers. His reserve parachute was not functional (something he failed to spot prior to jumping) and he failed to request a helmet. None of the money given to him has turned up anywhere in the world (aside from Brian Ingram’s 1980 discovery of $5,200 in Tina Bar) and there was no indication Cooper had any idea where he was when he jumped.
The FBI has always maintained that Cooper’s daring feat was one of stupidity and one that he certainly didn’t survive.
“Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open’‘
Special Agent Larry Carr
Some argue that Cooper’s theft was as pointless as it was stupid. Even if he survived the jump he could not spend any of the money and I am certain Cooper knew this. He was familiar with the Lindbergh baby abduction case – whose perpetrator was caught after investigators tracked both the serial numbers of the ransom bills and then brought in additional handwriting evidence to seal the abductor’s fate. This is why Cooper took back the handwritten note given to Tina Mucklow and why he certainly knew that all of the money he had received was essentially useless.
So why do it? Was Cooper a desperate outlaw with nothing to lose, or was he a bored, directionless man going through the ultimate mid-life crisis? Did he hijack Flight 305 because he felt he had to or did he do so just to prove it could be done and inject some much-needed adrenaline back into his life?
We’ll never know for sure. Aside from a placard and a small percentage of the ransom money, no evidence of Cooper’s fate has materialized anywhere on Earth. Numerous people, from L.D. Cooper to Kenny Christiansen to William J. Smith, have been investigated as suspects but no hard evidence has ever linked any of these men to the crime. Nor has it legitimised any of the deathbed confessions made over the years by men claiming to have been Cooper.
It’s up to you to decide whether D.B. Cooper’s hijacking was an act of heroism or a moronic display of suicide. I prefer to think he did survive the jump. It was 200k. The world would only get darker and aircraft hijackings would only get more barbaric over the years. For me, D.B. Cooper’s crime is just not that big of a deal. He beat the machine at their own game and has infuriated the FBI by doing so. They knew that Cooper got the better of them and whether he died in the jump or not – his heist still represents a victory of some sort.
In 2016, the Cooper case was finally closed and, rightfully so – there are just bigger things to worry about these days. It’s entirely possible D.B. Cooper lived the rest of his life walking around with an expression on his face that was telling of man who knew something we didn’t. It’s also possible that his skeleton still resides in the Hoh Rainforest.
Either way, his name and legacy live on. Isn’t that what the American Dream is really about?
Edgar Allen Poe, the patron-saint of Gothic prose, dies.
A far-cry from the talented, eloquent writer we all all know him to be – Poe dies a haggard, frail shell of a man.
Four days before, he had been seen at Ryan’s Tavern in Balitmore, crashing into furniture in an apparently-drunken stupor – one observer noted his ”beastly state of intoxication.”
Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker
Printer Joseph W. Walker
Poe’s condition was shocking – one observer noted his ”lusterless and vacant eyes” whilst making note of his ”haggard, unwashed face”. It seemed baffling how he ended up in this condition, and Poe himself was in no shape to answer any questions about his plight. With the rain in Baltimore cascading down in a blitz, Poe stumbled its streets mumbling incoherent gibberish.
But Edgar had not always been like this. Just days before, he had left Richmond, Virginia, bound for Philadelphia to undertake some editing work for an up-and-coming writer. Still only forty, Poe was robust, energised, and working regularly. Although hampered by an alchol problem, his career showed no signs of slowing down.
From embarrassing pleas for money to nationwide recognition following The Raven, Poe’s life echoed the archetypal American Dream native of his homeland – somewhat. Despite the immediate success of The Raven, Poe was only paid $9 (around $300 in 2020) for its publication. Although no longer a pauper, Poe’s life was hardly that of luxury.
It had been turbulent since the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm, in 1847 from tuberculosis. Thirteen years his junior, Clemm was also Poe’s first cousin. A bizarre arragement, no doubt, but her death only worsened the poet’s already burgeoning alchohol problem.
He seemed completely out of it at Ryan’s Tavern. Rambling and incoherent, the mystery of Poe’s condition only deepened – nobody was sure why he was even in Baltimore in the first place, or how he ended up so far off-route from Philadelphia. Even the clothes on his back didn’t belong to him. Overpowered by delusions and hallucinations, Poe’s dreadful showing seemed like the kind of gritty mystery found in his own works.
A large figure in the Poe mystery of the identity of the person simply known as ‘Reynolds’. As Poe meandered through the streets, he was heard repeatedly shouting this name – albeit in a slurred fashion. Nobody could verify who ‘Reynolds’ was, or if this person was responsible for Poe’s sudden steep decline. Poe was not conscious enough to answer questions, so the identity of this person has been cast in a dark shadow for over a hundred years. Was ‘Reynolds’ Jeremiah N. Reynolds? The newspaper editor whose presence may have inspired a Poe novel? Only Poe knew the answer to this – and the person’s identity rests with him.
As his condition worsened, Poe was taken to a windowless, cell-like room at the Washington College Hospital. It was here that the severity of Poe’s hallucinations began to accelerate as he repeatedly mentioned wife in Virginia. He could have been delusional enough to think that his original wife, Virginia Clemm, was still alive – or he could have been talking about his fiance – Sarah Elmira Royster – to whom he had offered his hand in marriage. Once again, the name ”Reynolds” was shouted by Poe who was now close to death.
Confused, delirious, and without any of the possessions he took with him, Edgar Allen Poe succumbed on October 7, 1849. Less than a week had passed since his appearance at Ryan’s Tavern, and the relatively young poet died a shell of his former self. A humiliating end for a man of his talents, Poe’s death certificate, if listed, has never been found.
Edgar Allen Poe was buried in an unmarked grave with nothing but a cheap casket for his body to lay in. Few people attended his service, so few that a sermon was not even conducted. Although moved to a nicer gravesite in 1875, Poe’s death did little to gain headlines, and he was quickly forgotten by the contemporary American public.
Only Edgar Allen Poe could have made death such a mystery. Rumours continue to surface regarding the cause of his demise – from alcoholism, to a brain tumour, to rabies, to even a murder plot known as ”cooping”, where a person is abducted by a political party, poisoned, forced to vote, and then thrown out in to the streets. His demise continues to echo the kind of detective mystery so often found in his works, and the curious death of Edgar Allen Poe continues to haunt, intrigue, and fascinate us.
The death of Edgar Allen Poe will remain a mystery – forevermore.
The seawater on Maikhao beach was beginning to froth.
Like a fresh pint of beer, the bubbles in the ocean formed a white, cream-like foam on the top of the surface.
Tilly Smith was ten years old at the time. She was on a Christmas holiday with her parents – for once, Christmas day was going to be spent on a golden, sunny beach instead of rainy England.
The young girl noticed something peculiar.
Not only was it frothy, it had receded all the way back from the sand and was now several metres away from its usual location.
She had seen this before – in geography class, Smith learned that these were the warning signs of an impending tsunami.
She told her father – who brushed off the warning. After all, if the lifeguards weren’t worried, why should he be? Smith was only a kid who didn’t know what she was talking about.
Tilly told her father again and again. Still, he didn’t listen.
Mr. Smith found himself in a tricky predicament.
He could either ignore his daughter, upsetting her, or he could mooch over to the lifeguards and risk embarrassing himself in front of them about this alleged ‘tsunami’ that was apparently just about to happen.
He chose the latter option – a father’s love, right?
Rather than tell the lifeguards, however, he told the security guards about the supposed danger.
The security guards then informed the lifeguards who evacuated the beach.
Shortly after, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami arrived and devastated the whole country.
Two-hundred and twenty thousand lives were lost. Millions of homes were lost. Billions of dollars’ worth of damage occured.
Nobody on Maikhao beach died.
Because one ten year-old girl was listening in class.
Because one ten year-old girl wouldn’t change her mind.
Because one father gave in to his parental instincts.
If I was a better writer I’d think of a profound, insightful lesson to write here.
I’ll try my best:
Perhaps we should listen to our gut feeling more and not give in regardless of what others might think – the result could literally mean the difference between life and death.
Stanislav Petrov was a Russian military officer whose career parallelled with the peak of the Cold War.
There was major beef unfolding between the USSR and the United States – both sides were involved in a perpetual dick-measuring contest to see who was the true dominant force in the world.
By 1983, things were getting heated.
The Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Moneron Island which caused the deaths of all 269 passengers and crew.
Three weeks later, Petrov was at the helm of the state-of-the-art missile detection system, Oko.
Oko can detect incoming foreign missiles milliseconds after they are launched. Even by today’s standards, the speed and effiency of Oko is impressive.
So impressive it was thought to be foolproof.
On September 26, Oko’s alarm was raised – a missile had been launched by the United States.
Then, two missiles were launched.
The Cold War had finally graduated in to all-out battle and by the looks of things, most of The Soviet Union was seconds away from being blasted in to smithereens.
Millions of people were going to be killed by the incoming missiles, and the Soviet Union had no choice but to retaliate. They had weapons capable not only of destroying the United States, but most of Europe as well.
Except Petrov was suspicious.
Why, after 20 years of muscle-flexing and chest pounding, would America only launch 5 missiles in their ”all-out” attack?
Something wasn’t right.
Petrov did the unthinkable – he ignored his training and did not report the incident.
He questioned the ‘foolproof’ technology of Oko.
Oko may be sophisticated but it lacks a human touch.
Petrov’s civilian training equipped him with strong reasoning skills.
Something Oko, and its military subjects, didn’t have.
Now, the sweat-ridden Petrov was in quite a predicament.
He had the lives of millions of people in his hands – the Soviet missile strikes could wipe out the lives of 90 million people. The U.S. counterstrikes could wipe out another 100 million. If he got this wrong, almost 200 million people would die.
So it was a good thing he was completely right.
A freak reflection of the North Dakota sun on the clouds was mistaken by Oko as a missile launch.
There was to be no nuclear war, no widespread destruction, and no incomprehensible death toll.
Petrov’s actions weren’t recognised by the Soviet Union at the time, but he was subsequently awarded with a host of honours such as the World Citizen Award courtesy of the United Nations.
All because he ignored blind loyalty and followed his gut instinct.
”Life doesn’t end here” – Andres Escobar proclaimed after his Colombia side were knocked out of the 1994 World Cup at the first hurdle.
It had been a long road to get here, one rife with hardship and challenges – Colombia’s reputation had been dragged through the mud in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to figures like Pablo Escobar (no relation) whose stranglehold on the nation before his 1993 death had ruined the perception of the country to outsiders.Despite his (overseas) reputation as a greedy, thirsty warlord, Pablo Escobar was a deeply patriotic man whose funds helped build the football pitches so many of Colombia’s players mastered their craft on.
But those days had gone – Pablo was no more, he was killed the end of 1993 and Colombia entered the new year in a state of total disrepair. The nation was still healing from decades of bloody, gruesome internal conflict between militant left and right-wing groups that had been the catalyst of thousands of deaths and hundreds of disappearances. Football, it seemed, was one of the only things capable of bringing the nation together. The team known Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers) seemed to have diplomatic powers stronger than any elected official. For 90 minutes, differences are put aside, rivalries are forgotten, and enemies become allies.
The World Cup, hosted in the nearby United States, was the perfect opportunity to showcase Colombia on the world’s biggest stage. Fans from all over the world arrived in the U.S., donned in the colours of their respective countries and chanting the hymn-like rallying calls of their respective nations. Colombia was no exception – ”football is the only thing that unites us” you’d hear more than once from Cafeteros fans. Thousands of Colombians travelled to the United States in a sea of yellow and blue ready, as always, to spur their team on.
Their tournament began on June 18th at the Rose Bowl in Pasedena, California with an underwhelming 1-3 loss to Romania. Meanwhile, the United States (potted in the same group as Colombia) drew the tournament’s opening game 1-1 with Switzerland. As a result, the upcoming Colombia vs United States game was a must-win for both teams if they had any hope of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Talent was evident in Colombia’s squad. Carlos Valderrama, considered the nation’s greatest ever player, was the captain in charge. The talents of Alexis Garcia and Faustino Asprilla also galvanised the squad, who lost just once in their previous 26 games. Marshalling the Colombian defence was 27- year-old Andres Escobar of Atlético Nacional. Nicknamed El Caballero del Futbol (The gentleman of football), Andres was a reserved, highly professional defender whose calm, stoic play took place behind his more flamboyant teammates. When Pelé suggested that Colombia could go all the way in the competition – he wasn’t lying. They had the talent, drive, and had the advantage of only travelling a few thousand miles to the tournament. However, so far, their campaign had gotten underway with a damp-squib defeat to an under-par Romania.
The Rose Bowl was once again the setting -the game game against the United States was a must-win. Colombia easily possessed the better players, but the U.S. had the home advantage. A whopping 93,869 fans sat down, nervously, to spectate. Colombia hit the ground running – attack, attack, attack. That was the game plan. The ball seemingly playing fugitive to the United States’ goal. “We attacked from all angles, but the ball wouldn’t go in”, remembers striker Adolfo Valencia. Panic begins to set in when your game-plan isn’t bearing fruit – as soon as the opposition has a spell, the pendulum of momentum begins to swing the other way. In the 22nd minute, a low cross by John Harkes flashed across goal – Andres Escobar tried to deal with it and ended up converting it in to his own net. For a few seconds, he lay on his back defeated, before rising to his feet and jogging back to his position. As was typical of his demeanor, the calm defender showed no outward signs of panic or grave concern.
Those watching on TV had the opposite reaction. “In that moment, my nine-year-old son said to me ‘Mommy, they’re going to kill Andrés,” his sister later recollected, to which she replied ‘’No sweetheart, people aren’t killed for mistakes. Everyone in Colombia loves Andrés’’. Escobar was indeed beloved by his teammates and the public alike – the vast majority of the country sharing in his feelings of sorrow following his calamitous mistake, there was still plenty of time to turn the game around and win.
Despite the best efforts of the talented Colombia side, the United States’ goal remained empty until the last minute of the game – by that time, the hosts had scored again and the game finished 2-1 to the U.S. Despite winning against Switzerland, Romania’s win against the U.S. meant that Colombia were out. Andres Escobar and his team went home with their tails behind their legs – Escobar was particularly devastated.
It was shortly after his return that he gave his ”life doesn’t end here” statement to the press. There had been warnings. There had been rumblings and rumours that Escobar would come into harm following his mistake. Still, he was young and full of life – he wanted to live normally and peacefully, and make amends at the next World Cup.
Sadly it wasn’t to be. On the evening of July 2, 1994, Escobar went out to bar, in Medellín, his first night our following the World Cup . He had turned down the opportunity to visit loved ones in Las Vegas – he wanted to be home in the country he loved so dearly. His manager had hold him to keep a low profile – to which he responded ‘No, I must show my face to my people’.” Andres did show his face but, sadly, it was to the wrong crowd. After enduring a night of heckling from the customers regarding his mistake, Andres got in his car and drove towards the group. ”It was an honest mistake”, he insisted with his patented brand of pragmatism – unfortunately, this only made the situation worse. ”Faggot!” they shouted at him, before one man pulled out a gun and unleashed six shots in to Escobar’s bang. Six. One for every ””¡Gol!” shouted by the commentator during the game’s live broadcast. Andres was rushed to the hospital where he died 30 minutes later.
Escobar’s death still haunts the nation of Colombia. Over 25 years later, he remains beloved by Atlético Nacional fans and is still widely mourned in his home nation. His assassination is thought by some as an act of revenge by jaded bookmakers, and, to others, to be merely a case of a man being in the wrong place at the wrong time – either way, his death brought notoriety and shame to a nation whose image was already fragile overseas. ”Life doesn’t end here” were Andres Escobar’s prophetic words – and he was right, it didn’t end there, rather, it ended on the tarmac of a seedy nightclub’s car park.
I guess football, to some, really is more than just a game.
I was stood on stage at graduation last summer and a man dressed in a gown and mortarboard looked at me square in the eye.
”You’ve done the hard work, now it’s time you follow your passion”.
I nodded, thanked him, and pretended I knew what that was.
You see, I had heard the phrase ”follow your passion” several times that day from parents, students, teachers, and chancellors alike – it was a phrase given out so liberally I was beginning to think I was going mad and hearing things over and over again like a broken record.
On the surface, it’s good advice – sure. Graduation is a proud day for everyone, and the sight of wide-eyed students clutching their diplomas and wearing their mortarboards is enough to get any professor misty-eyed as they release their inner Robin Williams and hope the students take their wisdom on board. Follow your passion. Follow your passion and the money will follow. It’s almost sage-like.
Well, ultimatley, it’s banal, hollow, useless, fortune-cookie-quality advice that has no actual meaning for most people when they actually break down the saying.
I’m sure the man who said that to me had the greatest intentions and was just trying to inspire a young man with his whole career ahead of him – so, whatever your name is, it’s not personal – it’s just your advice really sucks and I hate you.
Ok, maybe that’s a bit far.
It’s just most people aren’t born with an innate passion they ‘find’ one day whilst stargazing around a campfire. Most people aren’t born with a talent that puts them in the 1% of their chosen field. If you’ve read my post on mediocrity you’ll know that the vast majority of people on this planet are in the middle of the bell curve – having no extraordinary ability, gift, or passion for any one predetermined thing.
Now imagine if the professor told me that on stage – a lot of awkward silence would have followed, I bet.
So, hold the phone a minute – if ‘follow your passion’ is such useless advice for most people, why do some people end up loving their careers?
Well, Cal Newport answered this question in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. It’s wonderful look at people in differing careers and investigates why some people love what they do whilst most of us loathe what we do.
The results are pretty interesting.
Cal found that passion is hardly ever pre-determined, but is created as a result of years and years of mastery. Ira Glass was once a radio intern with barely any skill in his craft and a voice that was hardly as easy on the ears as some of his much more famous contemporaries. He was born with neither the talent or innate passion for broadcasting – and, despite this, is perhaps the most famous radio man in the world.
He got there by getting really fucking good at what he does. The skills came about after he spent hours upon hours practicing the fundamentals – making sure to increase the difficulty of his tasks along the way. He didn’t stay in his comfort zone only doing the things he knew he was good at. His skills got better and better doing the things he was, well, mediocre at. This is known as deliberate practice – the unrewarding, painstaking, and thankless task of practicing a new skill as soon as you’ve mastered the preceding one.
Glass’s This American Life is a brilliant radio show due to his skills, and that’s why he’s passionate about his job – and mega rich I’d bet. Gordon Ramsay spent years getting yelled at in the kitchen, practicing dishes that pushed his skills each and every day. If he’d spent 20 years cooking fish and chips, he’d still be a lowly sous-chef. Instead, he worked on his weaknesses, took feedback on the chin, and came back stronger each time.
Now he’s a multi-millionaire and his passion is evidently as strong as ever.
Watching yourself get better at a task is one of the most rewarding feelings out there – improvement is addictive, engaging, and does wonders for your confidence. As your skills (in any chosen area) improve, you’ll be hungry for more and more – which is the perfect breeding ground for passion.
So maybe we should chase that instead – mastery. Mastery breeds passion. So you better get real fucking good.
Back in 2008, I received my first ever phone – the LG Chocolate.
I was amazed – it was slick, small, streamlined, sophisticated, had a camera, and could even go on the Internet.
I mean, the Internet browser was painfully slow, sure. However, the pure novelty of being able to go online without a computer more than made up for it.
Fast forward twelve years later and I’m not sure that initial infatuation I had with phones still exists. Like a stagnant marriage, I’ve grown attached to my phone (now and iPhone) at the hip and find myself complaining about it regularly – sometimes forgetting just how incredible and sophisticated it really is. I, like many others, take it for granted each and every day.
However, recently I’ve realised my relationship with my phone isn’t actually that healthy. I check it hundreds of times a day, clock up hours of screen time, and find myself unable to focus as much as a result. Have smartphones ruined us?
Smartphones make our lives easy. We can book cab rides, order food, play games, speak to people thousands of miles away, and watch videos all with a click of a button. They have woven themselves deep into the lives of humans across the globe – and I don’t think we’re ready for them.
Humans, for all intents and purposes, are still evolving. Ten thousand years ago, we were hunting down food in the plains of Africa, outsmarting lions, tigers, and hyenas along the way. One thousand years ago, we were working in the fields, gathering our surplus of crops to put aside for a rainy day. Two hundred years ago, we were beginning to move out of the countryside and into the big, sprawling cities seeking urban employment. Our species has barely evolved to that – let alone living with an omniscient technological companion whose screens rule our entire lives.
Adrian Ward, psychologist at the University of Texas, conducted a study involving 800 participants where they undertook a series of challenging mental tasks. Some of them undertook the tasks with their phones in another room, others were allowed to keep their phones in their pockets, and the rest of them did the tasks with their smartphones on the desk in front of them. Despite all phones being off at all times, the mere presence of the devices were enough to affect the concentration of those in the latter group severely – those who had their phones in another room fared the best. Those whose phones were in their pockets performed mediocrely – their concentration still mildly handicapped by their phones.
The ability to focus, I argue, is one the most important skills in life – and it’s getting harder and harder to do that each day behind the polluting barrage of our noisy mobiles. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport states that the ability to focus on a single task for any substantial amount of time is a skill that is quickly diminishing in the modern world. I fall guilty to this trap, too, dammit, as my ability to focus on tasks has got progressively worse each year I’ve had a smartphone. With the weight of email, Facebook, Instagram, and snapchat, working on tasks is akin to walking through quicksand at times. However, it’s not just our professional lives that are at risk – another study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, researched 300 meal-going participants and told one group to put their phones away for the entire meal, whilst the others’ had free access to their phones. As you might expect, the latter group reported feeling more distracted, less engaged, and did not enjoy the experience nearly as much as the group without their phones.
Smartphones have the ability to aid us, sure. Like anything, however, and over-reliance on them leads to problems down the road. Will humans in the next several hundred years inherit our crappy attention spans and constant need for social approval? I would hardly be surprised if that was the case. They’re also a highly insidious foe – it’s easy to lose yourself in an online game or social app and realise you’ve spent the last several hours glued to your screen – and, in this day and age, everybody else has a smartphone, too. They’ve gone from being convenient companions to dopamine slot machines over night.
I, for one, do not welcome our new smartphone overlords. But, like the sucker I am, I still let my phone rule my life every chance it gets.
Joseph James DeAngelo has pleaded guilty to the crimes that terrorised a state, and left an entire generation scarred for life.
It’s a cathartic conclusion to a long and winding road – one that seemed dead-end for years. People had given up hope at one point in time. His arrest, and plea, have finally began to heal the wounds on those who he harmed so profoundly.
DeAngelo’s long, gruesome, and repugnant career in crime began over 45 years ago, and his evolution from small-town thief to serial murderer was as frightening as it was sickening.
Phase I – The Visalia Ransacker
DeAngelo’s progression into murder didn’t happen overnight. For years he trained himself in home invasions in the town of Visalia, California. Dozens of homes were invaded, trashed, and burgled as the man known as the Visalia Ransacker came to attention.
The first of these instances occurred on March 19, 1974, when the Ranscaker stole $50 in change from a piggy bank. As more and more homes began to be targeted, the Ransacker’s unique hallmarks (such as rummaging through bedroom drawers, collecting and arranging women’s undergarments, and causing more destruction than was necessary to break in to the home) began to come to prominence. This odd MO made it clear that every break-in was the work of one person. Although the assailant was destructive, the Ransacker had yet to physically hurt anyone during his break-ins. After police tied the multiple burglaries together, a witness sketch was created:
The Ransacker’s crimes took a macabre turn on the evening of September 11, 1975. When breaking in to the home of Claude Snelling – the Ransacker attempted to kidnap his 16-year-old daughter from her bedroom. Mr. Snelling heard a struggle and immediately rushed downstairs where he was shot twice in the back. Snelling later died from his wounds as the Visalia Ransacker graduated from a petty thief to an out-and-out murderer. Now, the hunt for the suspect was seriously on.
The assailant had a young face and short blonde hair. He was able to avoid detection by escaping through a complex network of parks, gardens, and hiking trails. A vehicle, if used, was never described by witnesses and it seemed the Ransacker made most of his getaways on foot or on a bicycle. He’d obviously done his homework – as Ted Bundy had recently been caught and his infamous Volkswagen Beetle was instrumental in his apprehension. Although the Ransacker could sprint and scale fences, he was almost always described as heavy-set. His young face made it difficult to estimate his age, but a conservative guess had him between 23-28.
The Snelling murder frightened the local community. One would assume that such a high-profile incident would have forced the Ransacker to move on, but his approach only got more brazen as time went on. His hubris almost backfired one night in late 1975 when he broke in to the home of a woman who lived alone. After she discovered fresh shoe prints under her window, she called the cops – who were staked out in her garage. Remarkably, the Ransacker showed up to the same home the following night.
Officer William McGowen rushed out of the garage and confronted the Ransacker. The assailant shrieked in a terrified falsetto and McGowen saw his face clearly. ”Don’t shoot!” the suspect pleaded. He then feigned surrender as McGowen moved in to arrest him. As he got up close, the Ransacker pulled a gun out of his waist and fired it at the officer, smashing his flashlight in the process. The suspect then sprinted away in the darkness, outrunning a bloodhound and scaling a large fence.
McGowen, luckily, was unhurt. However, the luck of the Visalia Ransacker continued.
Phase II- The East Area Rapist (EAR)
The McGowen incident marked the end of the Visalia Ransacker’s reign of terror. There was nowhere to hide after a police officer had seen his face up-close, so the assailant packed up and moved hundreds of miles away to Sacramento in either late 1975 or early 1976. As the United States was celebrating its 200th anniversary, one of its most notorious criminals had entered phase II of his macabre manifesto.
His MO was the same as before. He would break into the homes of women who lived alone and who, preferably, lived near an open space such as a park or nature trail. However, this time, his crimes went one step further – as he assaulted his victims this time.
June 1976 marked the beginning of such assaults. Once broken into the home, the EAR would aim a flashlight into the sleeping victim’s face and tie them up with ligatures that he had planted at the home in the days before. After his assualt was over, he would often help himself to snacks – and would sometimes remain in the home for hours at a time, leaving the victims wondering if he was still there or not. As if that wasn’t revolting enough, he would often call his victims after and taunt them whilst at work. Although several witnesses spotted him, he, somehow, evaded capture yet again.
One defining, often repeated detail of the EAR was his extremely small penis. This was reported by the majority of his victims, and it’s a shame that the nickname the Tiny Dick Assaulter never stuck in the public memory.
As the EAR’s crimes continued, he began to target couples. It’s suspected that he conducted a long stalking process before his crimes, learning victims’ routines and daily chores, following them to work ,and sometimes sizing up the neighbourhood around them to look for areas to make a getaway. Once he broke in, he would tie the male up, rest dishes and plates on his back, and threaten to kill him if he heard the plates crash. He would then assault the female, sometimes repeatedly, before staying in the home for an indefinite amount of time.
Fifty women were assaulted by a man who always seemed to be one step ahead of the police. It was obvious he had some knowledge of investigative techniques because he always made sure no hard evidence was left behind. He also seemed to know where police were staked out and avoided those areas. As murder began to enter the equation, the EAR rarely used guns to avoid ballistic evidence. A massive police investigation was taking place, and the suspect’s almost miraculous run of luck once again continued.
Phase III- The Original Night Stalker(ONS)
Once again, the area that the EAR terrorised soon returned to normality as the perpetrator seemingly vanished in to the night. Although he had scarred dozens of people for life and left a lasting impression on the community, the public consciousness in Sacramento had seemingly moved on from the EAR after his attacks stopped.
The EAR now had over a decade of experience under his belt from both this days in Visalia and Sacremento, and had accrued both the expertise and confidence to graduate to the third phase of his career of crime – serial killing.
After moving to Southern California in the late 1970s, the East Area Rapist would commit a string of murders that would lead investigators, still yet to tie all of his crimes together, to dub him the Night Stalker. Years later, after Richard Ramirez received the same nickname, he was referred to as the Original Night Stalker.
Just before his relocation to Southern California, the EAR comitted his second and third murders by slaying Brian and Katie Maggiore after an interaction on the street. Although police couldn’t be certain, they were convinced that the murderer was the EAR as he matched earlier police sketches, escaped on foot, and left a shoelace nearby.
With a taste for killing, the Night Stalker was born. From 1979 to 1986, he murdered 13 men and women in their homes, again scoping out his victims way in advance and escaping via foot or bicycle. He bludgeoned the majority of his victims, but sometimes used firearms and knives, too. Once again, he came close to being caught on a number of occasions, but escaped each and every time.
May 4, 1986, marked the last confirmed murder by the ONS. 18-year-old Janelle Lisa Cruz was found beaten to death in her home in Irvine after her parents had gone away to Mexico. The crime had all the hallmarks of a ONS crime, and some began to suspect that the East Area Rapist and the ONS were the same person. DNA, collected from the crime scenes, confirmed this in 2001. Around this time, the EAR/ONS confirmed to the public that he was still alive, and out of prison, by calling up a previous rape victim and asking them ”remember when we played?” before hanging up.
Phase IV – Identification, Arrest, and Conviction
DNA testing was brand new in 1986. The first recorded use of the technique occurred in the same year that the ONS seemingly retired from his life of crime. It was a lucky time to stop. Had the ONS’s reign of terror continued, it was inevitable that he would leave a ‘smoking gun’ behind for officers to catch him.
That smoking gun never arrived – and, as time, went on, it seemed likely that the ONS would go down in history as an unidentified murderer. Although his DNA was on file, finding a match in the most populated state in the country was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Nobody knew where the killer lived, what he did for a living, or even if he was alive or not. The rise of the Internet in the 1990s renewed interest in the case with amateur sleuths, and Michelle McNamara’s 2018 book I’ll be Gone in the Dark became a best-seller and helped popularise the moniker Golden State Killer. Sadly, McNamara passed away in 2016, and her novel was released posthumously.
The summer of 2016 marked a restart in the EAR/ONS investigation. At a June press conference, detectives announced they were conducting a new, more streamlined investigation using existing DNA evidence and new composite sketches.
Imagine what the suspect thought when he saw this billboard on the roadside. Perhaps he was scared to death, wondering if the new developments in DNA would finally catch him, or perhaps he was completely indifferent – if the police couldn’t catch him in the 70s, how would they get him now? Most likely, however, it was shrugged off with the arrogance that he almost certainly had in abundance. ”They’re never going to catch me!” I can imagine him saying before speeding off, as he did so often, in to the dark.
However, this time, his luck had run out.
Using the online genealogy service GEDMatch, which links uploaded DNA to distant relatives, the EAR/ONS sample matched to several relatives, alive and dead, throughout the country. From there, a team led by forensic investigator Paul Holes constructed a large family tree. Suspects were eliminated based on their age, location, and gender until only a handful of relevant suspects remained.
Three suspects were left. One had been dead since 1982, so he was off the table, and one of them, once considered a suspect, was ruled out by a DNA test in the 1990s. There was only one suspect to go.
A possible match came when Joseph James DeAngelo was uncovered. Authorities knew the DNA sample matched some of his familial DNA, but, without a full-sample from him, it was impossible to determine whether the EAR/ONS sample completely matched his DNA.
DeAngelo was an officer throughout Northern and Southern California for the majority of the 1970s. He became sergeant in 1976 and was head of Exeter’s burglary unit until his relocation to Auburn. He was fired in 1979 after shoplifting dog repellant and a hammer. Ironically, the store owner detained DeAngelo by tying him up in his store after he tried to escape. DeAngelo ranted to his brother-in-law after the shopfliting incident, threatening to kill the police chief who fired him – and he even broke in to his house and shined a flashlight on his teenage daughter’s window. Somehow, this incident was never reported and was dismissed as a professional argument gone wrong.
Whilst DeAngelo matched the witness sketches, and possessed the investigative knowledge the EAR/ONS was known to have, he couldn’t be arrested until there was a positive DNA match. In April 2018, two samples were collected from DeAngelos car door handle, and a tissue that he had discarded in his rubbish bin.
Both samples were a match. The Golden State Killer, East Area Rapist, and the Visalia Ransacker was finally caught – and he was one of the police’s own, after all. His response to detectives when they finally showed up outside his door?
”There’s a roast in the oven.” He said, before allegedly slamming his head in to a wall as the reality of his capture began to sink in.
DeAngelo, now thin and wasted, is at last behind bars. On June 29, 2020, he pleaded guilty to everything he is charged for. His performance as an old, vulnerable, mentally challenged, wheelchair-bound pensioner is as disgusting as it is transparent. His performance is fooling no-one, and it’s a pleasure seeing him facing justice for the lifetime of misery his crimes have caused his victims and their families.
DeAngelo will now spend the remainder of his life behind bars, whilst his victims’ families can finally receive closure as they move out of the darkness he caused.
They’re now free, at last, to walk in to the light.
If 1968 was the year the world changed, the following year was its even darker, more sinister sequel.
The Hippie dream was fading – and fading pretty fucking quickly. The Vietnam War was still ongoing, the Summer of Love had come and gone, and both Kennedy brothers had been shot dead. The attitude of the public was beginning to sour, as free love and peace began to sag under the weight of a changing world landscape.
Dr. Martin Luther King was also dead – gunned down on a hotel balcony in Memphis. His death sparked massive riots across the U.S. in a sight all-too-familiar to us today.
Despite what modern, revisionist history has us believe – Martin Luther King was not always a beloved, celebrated figure. In fact, he was hated by the U.S. State and was considered, at a time, to be the number one threat to the security of the United States. The emotion of the Civil Rights Movement conjured up extremely powerful emotions on both sides of the movement, and Dr. King, despite his peaceful ways, was seen as the main reason why America seemed to be falling apart at the seams.
By the time Dr. King was gunned down, the Black Panther Party was already firmly established. Formed in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newtown, the Black Panther Party rallied to combat against the systematic treatment of African-Americans and to help fight social issues facing the black community, such as food and housing, as a whole. Its members were armed in public a lot of the time, carrying out ‘cop-watching’ in order to keep an eye on police officers.
The Panthers’ ten point program, which advocates full equality for African-Americans, is listed as follows:
We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
We want full employment for our people.
We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
The young Fred Hampton, still only a teenager, joined the Chicago branch of the Panthers in 1968. His charisma and organising skills quickly propelled him to the organisation’s stratosphere – and he became head of the Chicago branch when he was only 20. He managed to secure a non-violence treaty between two of Chicago’s most powerful street gangs – stating that interacial violence between factions would only keep them submerged in poverty for even longer. His philosophy was that every under-represented person, no matter what race, needed to unite under a conscious pact and work together to dismantle the barriers that they all faced to different degrees.
Hampton taught political education classes in church every morning at 6am. He also constructed a citywide police supervision program which was designed to distinguish law abiding, honest police officers from dangerous, corrupt, and racist ones. Furthermore, he was one of the main architects of the Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program which aimed to feed every poverty-stricken child in the country.
Hampton achieved all of this by the age of 20 – which makes this even more incredible. He was quickly becoming one of the Panthers’ major players and was a beloved figure in his native Chicago. He had also caught the attention of the FBI – who had noted Hampton’s verbal skills and penchant for organising as a major threat to the security of the country.
“The whole problem is the blacks…The key is to devise a system that recognises that while not appearing to.”
By late 1969, Hampton had become chairman of the Illinois Panthers and was skyrocketing toward becoming the head of the whole party. His activities and movement were closely monitored by the FBI – and J. Edgar Hoover was relentlessly trying to suppress Black unification as it, in his mind, would threaten the nation’s security severely. Hampton was in the process of recruiting an influential street gang to the Panthers which would double its capacity.
With the FBI on his tail, he rented a safehouse with his pregnant girlfriend to help protect his security. By this time, counterintelligence agents had already infiltrated the Panthers, and the FBI’s strategy of causing internal unrest within the party, which would later wreak havoc, was underway. One of the undercover agents submitted the location of Hampton’s safehouse, so the Chicago police department began preparing for a raid.
On the night of December 3, 1969, Hampton taught his usual political class before returning to his apartment. He was staying there with several other Panthers, including the undercover agent, William O’Neal. O’Neal prepared a dinner upon Hampton’s arrival, and had also slipped sleeping pills into his drink. Hampton quickly grew weary and retired to bed. In the early hours, armed Chicago police officers raided the apartment and fatally shot Hampton multiple times at point-blank range. Once an officer described him as ”good and dead now”, his body was dragged to the doorway of his room and dumped there. The remaining Panthers were arrested on weapons charges and held on bail. One other Panther, Mark Clark, was killed instantly by police once they entered the apartment.
“The immediate, violent, criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther party. So does their refusal to cease firing at the police officers when urged to do so several times.”
State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, speaking after Hampton’s death.
Fred Hampton was murdered. A promising young man was brutally slain next to his pregnant girlfriend for no good reason. Hampton’s murder was not about protecting the nation’s security, it was about suppressing a young man’s voice in the most inhumane way possible. It was about silencing a man who challenged social convention. It was about the ‘land of the free’ killing whoever dared challenge its paradigm. J. Edgar Hoover was scared of Hampton, so ordered that he be gone from this world. I think that’s disgraceful – I think Hoover, much like Nixon, was himself a disgrace.
Hampton remains beloved within the Black community – but a large amount of people are not familiar with his name or life. I think it’s a damn shame history like this is not included within the school curriculum – as history from all walks of life should be taught to the young to help them contemplate the craziness of the world surrounding them. I never learned about Fred Hampton in school, and, chances are, neither did you. Who knows what he could have achieved had he been allowed to live. Hampton was anti-capitalist, a view you have every right to agree with or not, but, most importantly, he dedicated himself to helping society’s most vulnerable – and made people feel like they could make a difference in this world. His death is a shameful stain on a system symptomatic on silencing any voice who dares slander it.
Think of some of the famous slogans and catchphrases you’ve seen over the years (let me know any of particularly memorable ones in the comments!) and I bet your brain will be flooded with adverts from both today and yesteryear.
But you only remember only a tiny, tiny percentage of the adverts you’ve seen in your life. Upwards of 90% of the ads you’ve ever laid eyes on in your life will be forgotten soon after you see them. Adverts have become a part of life as regular to us as breathing, eating, and sleeping.
This was, of course, a group effort – no one man or woman is responsible for the over saturation of ads that has become part and parcel of the modern human existence.
There was, however, one person who, more than anyone, was the catalyst – Edward Bernays.
Bernays was the nephew of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud. Using his uncle’s work as a springboard, Bernays revolutionised everything people thought about marketing at the time.
He was the first to utilize the power of people’s insecurities in order to get them to buy a product.
Born in 1891 to a Jewish family in Vienna, the Bernays family moved to the United States shortly after Edward’s birth. In 1912, Edward graduated from Cornell University with a degree in agriculture. Realising his talents lay in the media rather than farming, Bernays pursued a career in journalism instead.
The 1920s proved to be a pivotal decade for not only Bernays, but the world in general.
War was out, jazz was in. People were changing. Attitudes were changing. Technology was changing by the day – it seemed like there was a new piece of equipment being invented daily. Society seemed to be on the up.
Women never smoked in those days. It was seen as unfeminine and unsexy to do so, and, as a result, cigarette companies were missing out on half the population. There were millions of dollars of untapped potential just laying on the table – and it seemed like it was going to remain that way.
This is where Bernays came in.
Bernays realised that people made emotional decisions when buying products just as often as pragmatic ones – if not more.
He concluded that people were naturally irrational and they could be easily persuaded by a careful string-pulling at their emotions. Women had just got the right to vote – centuries of under-representation and oppression were over, and women had become a pivotal force in society during the war effort.
Bernays thought there was no better way to exploit this by encouraging women to tear down another prejudice – the right to smoke.
Using the tagline ”torches of freedom” – Bernays transformed cigarettes into a flaming representation of liberation. Cigarettes now went hand in hand with the feeling of freedom – and sales shot up as a result.
He also insinuated that cigarette use was linked to physical beauty. It’s always been known that cigarette use stunts the appetite, so Bernays marketed them as an effective weight-loss tool. His adverts (like the one above) often featured thin, attractive women.
This accomplished two things – it made cigarettes seem healthy and it also made women feel self-conscious about their own bodies.
Edward Bernays had uncovered an asset that could be easily bought and sold – insecurity.
Make people feel like shit and they’ll buy anything you want them to – cars, alcohol, cigarettes, clothes – you name it. Edward Bernays is the principal reason why adverts are so adept at appealing to our inadequacies. Car adverts are often marketed to people’s emotions – wanna feel masculine? buy a truck. Wanna feel feminine? Buy a Mini. Wanna feel like a responsible, family-orientated person? Check out the Range Rover in the back.
The actual practicality of these products is secondary – whether or not the car makes you feel complete is the most important factor.
Is it a sleazy tactic? Yes. Were these philosophies used by abhorrent, despicable people – like the Nazis? Sadly, yes. The power of emotional propaganda was used liberally by the the Nazis, and they credited Bernays when they used them.
Bernays, for better or worse, is seen as the father of public relations. He’s the reason why the term exists in the first place – as the emotional presence of companies is now understood to be a huge component in their overall success. The synthesis of product and emotion was a Bernays invention and, regardless if you had heard of him before today or not, he has influenced all of our lives in all sorts of different ways.
He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1995, at the age of 103.